The Icon of Music

logoThis Sunday, the First Sunday of Great Lent, marks the return of the holy icons to the Churches in 843 A.D.  It is celebrated as the “Sunday of Orthodoxy.” This article offers a reflection on a different form of the icon – of equal importance – and equally worth protection and care.

Orthodox theology is a “seamless garment”: no part of Orthodox doctrine, worship, prayer or life stands in a category of its own. Everything refers and reveals the one thing in Christ – our salvation. Even the doctrine of the Trinity, as utterly sublime as it is, remains a matter revealed for our salvation. Because this inter-relatedness is true, it is possible to speak of Scripture as a “verbal icon” (Florovsky), or to say that “icons do with color what Scripture does with words” (Seventh Council), or that “one who prays is a theologian and a theologian is one who prays.” In my limited reading I have never read any particular commentary that spoke of the music of the Church as an icon, but I feel confident in describing it in that manner. It is possible to say this, at the very least, because all of creation can properly be seen as icon – a window to heaven.

To say that music is an icon is not to have said all there is to say about music. But it does say something about the proper place of music in the Church. Music is not about us. Music in the Church does not exist for our enjoyment or entertainment, even though the joy associated with it may at times be exquisite.

Archimandrite Zacharias (of St. John’s Monastery in Essex) describes the heart of worship as “exchange.” It is not an exchange in the sense that we offer something in “trade” with God. Rather, it is an exchange that is also named “communion” and “participation.” God becomes what we are and in and through Him (by grace) we become what He is. This “exchange” is our salvation. In the mystery of Holy Baptism the candidate is asked, “Do you unite yourself to Christ?” The union which is brought about in Holy Baptism (Romans 6:3-4) is our salvation, “newness of life.” All that takes place within the Christian life is union and exchange – it is the means and manner of our salvation.

Music exists for exchange and union. It is the sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving in which we unite ourselves in offering our bodies (the voice) as a living sacrifice to God.

Let us who mystically represent the Cherubim,
And who sing the thrice holy hymn
to the life-creating Trinity,
now lay aside all earthly cares.
That we may receive the King of All,
Who comes invisibly upborne
by the angelic hosts,
Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia.
(Cherubic Hymn from the Divine Liturgy)

Not all paintings are icons. Not all music is iconic. Not every voice is raised in union with the heavenly hosts. To write a true icon is a great and holy thing. To sing in a manner that reveals heaven and unites us with the heavenly hosts is a great thing indeed. We were created to sing in just such a manner.

Lest I be misunderstood, I do not claim that all music in Orthodox Churches is iconic in character. Many Churches are decorated with religious art, which, though beautiful, is not iconic. Some music falls short of its intent within the Tradition. By the same token, there is music outside of the Orthodox Church that is iconic – both by accident and by intention.

Music that renders heaven opaque – particularly music presented as Christian – is tragic. We were meant to sing with angels – just as they delight in singing with us.


  1. As one who studied iconography for a number of years and wrote many icons and led numerous icon workshops, I appreciate your words about the icon’s purpose in the life of the church. And I love the comparison with music, which I also believe can be an icon. I say “can be” because sometimes I feel that it falls short, just as religious art can fall short of this goal. But I’m trying to listen to your words here about how music is not about us. That it doesn’t exist for our enjoyment. That said, I still struggle with chanting that sounds strongly middle eastern, especially within a mostly convert parish in the Southern U.S.

    When I was studying iconography under instructors from Russia, I had a discussion with the (Romanian) Abbess of an Orthodox monastery where the classes were being taught. I asked her whether the church would ever have indigenous iconography with a style that reflected our culture rather than the culture of a foreign civilization. I mentioned that I wondered the same thing about our music within the Orthodox Church. Her answer was that I should just pray and continue to write icons keeping within the canons (not choosing to paint the Mother of God wearing pink, for example) and let the style develop organically. She said it might take many generations for such an indigenous style to emerge, but the main thing was to create something Holy that helped people pray.

    I wonder if this is also true with our music. Your thoughts?

  2. Susan,
    First, I think it is inevitable. Culture always expresses itself in the end – only an extreme control would keep it from happening and that would produce a distortion. I think, though, that we are wise to allow the Tradition time to form and shape us. If you study the history of Orthodoxy among the Rus – it was very Greek to begin with – and today it is decidedly Russian. The same will happen here. Of course, what that means is something neither of us can see. I have made peace with the fact that I will not see it in my lifetime. There are many things I will not see in my lifetime. 🙂 But I think of great Apostles in our days, of Vladyka Dmitri of Dallas, the first convert bishop in America. The story of his conversion in 1940 is simply miraculous. He was 16 and he said he was 21 before he ever heard any of the service in English. His legacy (and that of many others) surrounds us today. And that was just the short span of 60+ years. I think of Met. Kallistos Ware, who is a giant within world-wide Orthodoxy and a pillar for the English speaking Orthodox world. And he was repeatedly turned away in the 1950’s, being told he wasn’t Greek, and then that he would never be a priest, etc. But God is doing a work. I/we should be glad to be part of that work and pray that we be useful in some small way. I write, you paint, others sing and others do other things. I cannot help but write like an American (and I’m sure it bothers some). But I struggle to write according to the Tradition. What I want in our native land is a God-breathed American Orthodoxy, not one that we simply produced because we thought about it. Such efforts are always so much smaller and less full.

  3. Quote: It is not an exchange in the sense that we offer something in “trade” with God. Rather, it is an exchange that is also named “communion” and “participation.” God becomes what we are and in and through Him (by grace)….Unquote

    This became very clear to me several years ago especially when in the Cherubic hymn…now lay aside all earthy care. When my wife had breast cancer, I came to the realization that I cannot do anything and tears streamed down my eyes when this was sung. Months after and now several years later she is fine. Many times I “just” have to close my eyes and listen to the music that is sung and I am uplifted.

  4. Davidp
    I think music has a transformative power that far exceeds the spoken word. A few times in my life I have witnessed a death surrounded by singing. It’s a fine way to go – perhaps the best.

  5. Thanks so much for your reply, Father Stephen. I no longer write icons because I’m focusing on writing essays and books now. Also because I don’t truly feel called to the work. And I know I “sound” American, because I am. I have no desire to sound Arabic, Greek, Russian, or any other tribe to which I don’t belong, simply because I embraced the Orthodox faith. I think you’re right that we won’t see these changes in our lifetime, so I will try to find a way to participate (in our music) with peace.

  6. Susan,
    I can’t help observing that you are part of an Antiochian parish, which necessarily brings more Greek/Arab/Middle Eastern music into your life. Those musical traditions are indeed somewhat alien to the European experience of most Americans. I’m in an OCA parish, where the musical tradition is Russian, one that itself has been strongly influenced from the “West,” and is far more accessible to my Anglo/Appalachian ear. I suspect that this difference accounts for my relative comfort with Orthodox music in America. Other than the fact that it likes minor keys a lot (but only some), it sounds quite normal.

    Indeed, a number of English hymns actually borrowed tunes from that Tradition, “Let All Mortal Flesh keep Silence” being one of them.

  7. I like your use of “exchange.” Don Sheehan used it in the same way in his LXX Psalms translation, *The Psalms of David*:
    Remember the contempt, O Lord, I suffered in my heart, contempt all thy servants suffer from all the nations,
    Contempt, O Lord, thine enemies have used to darken that reconciling exchange given by thy Christ. (Ps 88:50–51)

  8. Father, are you familiar with the singing of the monks at St. John of Shanghai monastery in Manton, California. A couple of their songs sound quite American – take this version of “It is Truly Meet”, for example, which sounds like it could easily be soulfully sung over top of a banjo or guitar chord progression.

  9. Susan,

    I replied to you on this before. There are scores of American composers producing A+ quality music. If you have not heard or sung music by Finley, Morosan, Wood, Zakkak (to name but a few) then I suspect this is because of choices made by your music director/priest. It’s there, it’s good, it’s growing!

  10. Dear Fr. Freeman and Readers (in reference to various comments),

    To discuss liturgical music in a distinctive manner, as opposed to a crucial function of worship, in my experience frequently ends up focusing almost obsessively on its style per se, further subjected to the impossible-to-agree-on criterion of a truly American sound. Just as I can’t ever recall observing a meaningful conversation about icons needing to look more American (which is not the same as conveying American content), aiming for an American sound can just as often result in caricature and cliche as anything truly liturgical. America has not one, but many, many sounds, including the sounds associated with other cultures.

    Rather than going down this slippery slope, I firmly believe — and have always taught — that the discussion doesn’t begin with music, but with liturgy, in which music has a particular form and function. Music becomes liturgical when it elevates the text being sung in a way that is comprehensible and appropriately weighed and balanced for meaning; when the manner of singing directs the community of faithful gathered to the liturgical moment being reenacted or about to be celebrated; when a refrain liturgically designated as a common response is set to music that actually can be sung, if desired, by a congregation, and so on. Music is a crucial means by which liturgical action achieves efficacy and the actual pulse and flow of theology. Its style of sound is important, but doesn’t supersede liturgical consideration.

    Therefore, the iconographic comparison resonates more meaningfully, I believe, when we consider the icon’s use of inverse perspective, not to reach out, but to draw in the worshipper. Essentially that is the same ultimate liturgical objective of sacred music designated for worship. And just as inverse perspective is a technique, so too do we have compositional and singing techniques to help enable music’s roles toward enlivening worship.

    Any number of musical sounds can achieve this, as long as the process always takes into account the text and the liturgical purpose the music intends to serve.

  11. Ryan, thanks for sharing that beautiful sample of the monks of St. John of Shanghai and San Francisco monastery in CA.

    Mark Bailey, very good comment and context for this discussion it seems to me.

    As a bit of an aside, on the sheer power of music (as a vehicle of grace), I recommend the documentary “Alive Inside”. There’s a video excerpt at this link:

  12. I am sorry Father, maybe you could delete those two failed attempts if they are bothersome!

  13. Mark, I think your comment is spot-on, and I happen to know that you are very well-qualified in making it!

    I used to be very interested in the emergence of an “American” liturgical music style, until I began looking more into the Orthodox theology of music. Now, and especially after having taken some chanting classes with a priest trained in Greece, I am not so interested in that pursuit. I have come to think (as strange as the idea would have seemed to me two years ago!), that there is something actually UNIVERSAL about traditional Orthodox liturgical music (despite the forms they have taken, whether Byzantine or Slavic). It definitely takes some getting used to for modern ears, no doubt. But surely the beauty described by the envoys sent from Kievan Rus to Hagia Sophia was not limited to the architecture itself but encompassed the entirety of the liturgy, including the music. It was strange to them, but beauty somehow existed within that strangeness. So, while I very much agree with Fr. Stephen that an “American Orthodox” full liturgical style will eventually appear (I would say it already has in many places; you don’t hear organ music in churches in Greece, or see too many pews), sometimes, I must confess, I shudder at the thought. What is “American” music today, anyway? I don’t know about you, but I am not really interested in hearing a rap arrangement of the Great Doxology, or a death metal version of “Rejoice O Unwedded Bride.”

    Additionally, we often assume that the “style” of a given liturgical music piece is independent of the verbal content of that piece. The hymnographers I have studied would beg to differ…

  14. Mark,

    Spot on, and my apologies for leaving you out of the list of composers. Keep up the good work!

  15. Interesting topic. As a chanter in a Greek parish, I often wonder about several things mentioned here.

    Trying to chant in a way that is prayerful can be difficult. Too often, Chanters are thinking of the performance and not the overall liturgy and how they fit into things. Chanting prayerfully is very hard.

    As far as an American style..well, someday it may happen, but for now I am glad we have the Byzantine music. I think it best to try and stay faithful to what’s tried and true, rather make efforts to be innovative. A North American style will develope gradually on its own out of the Slavonic or Byzantine music we have now. But let’s not rush it. Let it grow organically over long use in parish liturgies., Not some attempt to write anything new from scratch.

  16. As a convert I too am wary of an Americanization of our liturgies and services. Too often I’ve heard zealous converts actually say that the Orthodox Church needs to adapt to America! The desire of modern Christianity to remake Christ in it’s own image seems to remain part of the baggage converts bring with them into Orthodoxy.
    I was laid up with a cold recently and I spent hours watching YouTube videos of all the various Eastern Orthodox liturgies I could find. I agree with what others have noted: Orthodoxy and it’s music are organic to our brothers and sisters there. It comes from within because the faith has been internalized over centuries. Their devotional gestures and actions do not stand alone. Like their music, it is all an outward manifestation of what is in their hearts and souls and whatever it is rightly called, it has been planted and nurtured within them, generation after generation. Let us be patient.

  17. Beauty is the key– not just ordinary beauty, but beauty that reveals heaven.

    The standards of beauty that are used for painted icons are rarely questioned as far as I know.

    The standards of beauty for music are frequently questioned. Why?

    IMO it is because music in our culture has become personalized as an expression of our ego.

    “My Tunes”.

  18. >IMO it is because music in our culture has become personalized as an expression of our ego.

    This makes a lot of sense. My impression is that many people use the music they listen to as a “soundtrack” to a movie they’re in (that stars themselves, of course). And if the music doesn’t fit the movie (or what the person thinks [or wants to think] the movie is about) you’ve got to change the score!

  19. Beauty is very subjective though. As Mark noted above, the liturgical function is what is crucial here.

  20. I think Mark Bailey’s comments are quite helpful. The liturgy itself should properly be the “controlling” factor in worship. It would be possible, for example, that a setting of music, though quite beautiful, could be very inappropriate to the liturgical moment in which it occurs. I have seen this sometimes in parish contexts where little time or attention has been given to the entire liturgical musical setting. It can be quite disjointed, jumping from one “favorite” to another, with little sense of what is going on. As a priest, I could probably drone on and one about music (we famously have our own thoughts).

    I recently had opportunity to be in a series of services in Florida where the Men’s choir from St. Tikhon’s Seminary (in PA) served as the choir. It was not only flawlessly performed, but had an organic integration in every service. I have rarely been in such services. I was deeply grateful to their Dean for having brought them with him for our conference.

    Of course, this is rarely replicable in a parish. Though I’ve been in some parishes that have done wonderful things. Many of our parishes do not have trained directors or musicians, even though our musical tradition is probably of greater importance than anywhere in Christianity. With that in mind, I’m amazed at how good things are in general.

    I do not think beauty is very subjective. I think the experience of beauty is necessarily subjective and speaks volumes about a person. But I think beauty itself can be discussed with care. But it takes knowledge, understanding, and insight – and sometimes genius.

  21. Robert,
    It’s a very good question. In a sense it is asking, “Is beauty there because I see it? or is it beautiful whether I can perceive it or not?” The question reveals two very different things. When I read the Fathers, particularly the Cappadocians and the Tradition in the East, (being pretty consistently Platonist in such matters), there is very much a Realist take on this, in which Beauty is real and our perception is yet another thing. A subjectivist approach (it’s only a perception) is quite problematic across the board.

    Music is a good case. You might not “like” something but it’s beauty can still be described. The criteria of beauty (the study of aesthetics) can be very detailed. For example, we could discuss Rachmaninov’s Vespers (or one of his piano concertos). We can describe certain common effects (his music often conveys a poignant longing). It can easily be analyzed for how he achieves such a thing, etc.

    If something is “ugly” we can also discuss why it is so. It’s not just “I don’t like it.” I don’t like baked squash. My wife loves it. What does that say about baked squash? Nothing, other than the fact that it is not as universally appealing as sugar or chocolate. But we could certainly analyze the taste components and discuss why one person might like them and another not.

    That is not entirely objective, but neither is it purely subjective. In a Realist approach, we would be more likely to say that something beautiful participates in Beauty or that Beauty coinheres in something. Theologically, Beautiful and Good are often the same word in Greek (kalos). Thus God is Beautiful and Beauty somehow has a role in revealing God and in our perception of God. As Dostoevsky is quoted, “God will save the world through beauty.”

    There is ever so much more to say about this. It is deeply important in Orthodoxy. In Catholic thought, Von Balthasar has been exquisitely magisterial in his writing on the topic.

  22. Yes, I am aware of the Realist/Nominalist distinction. Theologically/philosophically, yes I am in complete agreement. However, I find it a case of hairsplitting – in the practical sense about how we experience life. As the old saying goes, “beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” The criteria of beauty (and what is not) to which you refer are deeply enmeshed in subjective elements.

    It appears to me that we are correct philosophically, but completely miss the mark in regards to communicating this to people’s experience.

    Which brings me to what I perceive to be the weakness of the Realist (and often, Christian) position – if it is so “real” and universal – how do we explain the obscurity and the need for interpretation?

  23. I think that if, in order to avoid the distorted concepts of beauty that plague this world, we stipulate -as a prime condition of what ultimate & true Beauty is- that the ‘yardstick’ for beauty must always be God’s Uncreated Light, His Glory, His Divine Love, then, human expressions (like all art creations) partake of beauty to the degree of their communion with this vision of wonder at the Absolute. The difficulty in determining such a thing concretely (ie: the “polysemousness” involved in this) is because interpretation of all things (art included) is always subject to the beholder’s state of Grace.

  24. Good point Dino.

    Which is why communicating our understanding of “how things really are” (i.e. the Realist position) is often perceived as mere imposition.

    Our failure to relate and to communicate results in a perceived imposition of values, beauty, norms etc.

  25. And it goes without saying that any earthly beauty of any “Holy art”, no matter how ‘true’, can become an idoltrous couterfeit if it somehow distracts us “back down and away” from the vision of its all-transposing ‘Origin’ -God.

  26. On the other hand, following the Realist position, we have nothing to worry about IF what we claim is really in accordance with God’s uncreated grace and light, then it will (by some at least) perceived as such, i.e. to be really in accordance with true beauty, values, norms, “rightness” etc.

    The above is my basis for taking the position as I did in the comments section of the “sexual immorality” post.

  27. Robert,
    The problem with a subjectivist position is that before long we’re just talking to ourselves – and everything is lost. But the fact that we live in a community of sorts points to a Reality and not just a Subjectivity.

    Within the life of the Church, that Reality, is also witnessed by the community through time in the Tradition – hence the teachings viz. sexuality.

    There are always questions, particularly when we’re simply alone, in which we become swamped in our subjectivity and lose all bearings. But we also know in a communal manner (this is all too often dismissed). It is interesting that the gospel of John constantly refers to this “we know” “we saw” “we touched” “we handled” etc.

    This is also part of the liturgical grounding of knowledge (of beauty, of God, even of sexuality).

  28. I had an unexpected experience of beauty tonight: I attended the funeral of a 6 year old fellow parishioner, Helen

    First time I’ve ever been to an Orthodox funeral for a child.

    It was the music, well sung to be sure, but more than that — the layering of the music with the Psalms and other Scripture chanting.

    One of the hymns used the same tone we use for the Churching of a 40 day old infant. Another the same tone as used in the Adoration of the Cross as Helen was conveyed to the Kingdom.

    Robert I would say that beauty is not subjective so much as contextual and deeply personal. The more someone is part of the context of the community the more beauty is revealed.

    The hermit saint whom the world has forgotten as he/she contemplates the uncreated light knows the greater context yet.

    Our priest in an achingly exquisit homily actually referred to the mystery on the union of husband and wife as an example of the mystery of the Helen’s soul united with our Lord.

    Mysteries we cannot fully penetrate but are drawn more deeply into as we learn to love.

    Memory Eternal.

  29. The trustworthiness of the Church’s Tradition, this “we know” “we saw” “we touched” “we handled”, is very different to the palpable experience of the “world”. It’s “liturgical grounding of knowledge of sexuality” for instance, contains the spiritual and the psychosomatic experience of the “true ones” (viz. Saints).

    For example, Sister Magdalene of Elder Sophrony’s monastery in Essex mentions a striking psychosomatic aspect concerning sin as well as repentance in her book ‘Conversations with Children’,

    Some violent people have an extra chromosome. That doesn’t mean it’s right for them to assault others. It does perhaps mean that they will be less severely judged by God. More crowns are given to someone who has to try harder. It may be that some people’s cross is the way their body is. But it doesn’t make wrong wright.
    ‘There is something else relevant here. You can actually alter your bodily constitution by the way you think, the way you deal with feelings. In our society people are not helped to fight lust and unnatural sexual desires, because they are not thought of as wrong. In their eyes St. Paul, the Church, are out-dated and homophobic. If you let thoughts and feelings take over your judgement, your body will follow. This happens in a positive way with people who struggle to be chaste; they eventually calm their body. [Explicit biological details about ascetics were given.] But it can happen in a negative way too.

    This certainly concerns beauty perception.
    This [positive] transfiguration that eventually even alters our bodies impacts on our capacity for beauty. Graced eyes and ears eventually attract permanent alterations even to one’s chemical make-up in ways that make someone like, say, a St John the Baptist, …”more angel than human…” Such a person obviously then knows what is natural and what is not, what is beautiful and what is not in an automatic, visceral manner, without delusions or the need for rationalisations and deliberations.

  30. Would you mind expounding a bit on what you said about not all much in the Orthodox Church being iconic? Are you referring to the content of the hymns/songs themselves, or the actual melody/tone/music that is used?

    Also, when you say music outside of the Church may possibly be iconic, what exactly do you mean? Are you saying other music from other Christian traditions may be iconic?

    Thank you for your writings. Im a frequent reader, but i rarely chime in.

  31. All good and well Dino for those of us on the inside, but what remains is the obscurity of what we claim is Real, the Platonic proto-type if you will. It is not obvious that God created the universe, for instance. There’s no proof that demonstrates God’s existence. Which then begs the question – why does it take faith to observe what is more real than the reality we see?

    There is this contradiction between the obviousness and clarity we claim, and the inability to communicate and relate this to “outsiders”.

    And it is not mere obviousness, but also rightness and goodness. It is not obvious that hetero coupling is the only expression of sexuality (aside from pro-creation) let alone its rightness and goodness – this cannot be deducted from mere observation of nature.

    This all to say that it appears to me that we are in the habit of overstating our case – appealing to nature or natural law, such as when we appeal to a common understanding of beauty. This overstating tempts us to be blind to the functioning of social conditioning, experience, and the importance of scientific discoveries and developments; instead, we present issues as if they are set-in-stone, pre-determined by nature, obvious to all. That may have worked 800 years, not with today’s educated populace. Changing times which call for a new, robust, informed “neo-patristic synthesis”.

  32. Robert: “There’s no proof that demonstrates God’s existence.”

    No proof that materialists accept. No proof that the worldly mind accepts. There is an incredible abundance of proof for those who open their minds and hearts in love and humility. “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: Matt 7:7”

    Robert: “why does it take faith to observe what is more real than the reality we see?”

    Because it does. “Faith is the substance of things hoped for.” Faith is not passive but a determined exercise of the will and heart to know the truth and accept nothing less, especially the truth about oneself.

    Robert: It is not obvious that hetero coupling is the only expression of sexuality (aside from pro-creation) let alone its rightness and goodness – this cannot be deducted from mere observation of nature.

    Yes, it is and yes it can. All ‘facts’ deduced from observation are evaluated by the context and assumptions of the observer (see my earlier comment). Faith or lack of faith changes the context dramatically. The more complete the context the easier it becomes to see clearly. Anyone who has even begun to penetrate the mystery of marriage in the Church knows that nothing else can even compare (even if there are a multitude of problems and tragedies). It takes work. Even Nietzsche understood the effort involved in becoming as a little child he just took that truth out of its proper context and was filled with despair, darkness and destruction as a result. BTW, if the purpose of human sexual interaction is to be fecund in fullness, not just pro-creation, is any other observation really necessary?

    If someone starts observing from an assumption (faith) that God is everything that person sees, hears and experiences will resonate off that assumption.

    As more specifics about God (all assumptions to begin with) are added: God is one, God is love, God is triune, I am not God, etc., etc. the context expands and deepens

    The direct experiential communion with the living God changes the assumptions from a simple matter of faith to a living reality and the proofs start to multiply.

    I have long held that no one can long remain Orthodox except in the most shallow sense who does not have some sort of direct encounter with Jesus Christ. That is why the real ‘proof’ of the Church is her saints. For thousands of years, they have followed the same way of life that produced the same results. It is the longest running most conclusive and consistent scientific experiment ever. But neither the experiment itself nor the results will ever be considered by the material minded. (He who has eyes to see…).

    All of our theology is an attempt to articulate the reality of various such encounters to enable others to navigate to their own point of communion.

    Sinfulness intervenes to muddy and break that communion (if possible) even with the greatest of saints (or so they tell us).

    A good question to ask oneself: How do I doubt? Do I doubt like Zacharias when the angel told Zacharias that he would have a son and should name him John? Do I doubt in awe and wonder like the blessed Theotokos who asked “How can this be…?”

    Another: “What are the limits of my love…”

    It is the love and the overcoming of sin that compels and empowers the Church and her people to testify to the truth of Jesus Christ and Him crucified.

    Love wins, Life wins, corruption is over come and death conquered. That is what the Church always dares to affirm even in the midst of tragedy and suffering. Especially in the midst of tragedy and suffering. It remains the only true source of hope.

    It is not superstition as you seem to believe, quite the opposite.

    The education of the world that lacks the context of faith is all about death as it can be nothing else. Some of the insights that the disciplines of the world produce when placed aright in the context of the life of Jesus Christ and His Church can be quite salutary but never salvific on their own.

    For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.

    21 For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles. Romans 1:20-22.

    I am deeply skeptical of the veracity of people who continually cry: “There is no proof!” I am suspicious that they know quite well the proof exists but just don’t want to embrace it because that means deep and drastic change. In my experience such folks always find ways to narrow the context and define the conversation in such a way as to only accept their own ‘doubts’ into evidence.

  33. Robert,
    So great is this contradiction that the Saints who have tasted, verified and been united to the Truth would rather pray to God in tears for others to come to that Truth than attempt to communicate it in words.
    To the degree to which one’s eyes are ‘graced’ he deduces everything rightly in nature and to the degree that one is attached to “the world and all that is within it” (1 John 2:15) he is prone to numerous mistakes.

  34. Robert,
    Things are not “obvious” on purpose. Were they “obvious” to a darkened heart, they would be oppressive. We would be forced to accept God even though we hated Him. It is His mercy that hides Him. But this does not obscure Him for a pure heart.

    But, many hearts that proclaim “God” are not pure and they proclaim Him incorrectly and for wrong reasons. And they would use their proclamation to oppress others. They would gladly force all to see Him.

    And, many who do see Him with a pure heart are mistaken for those who do not have a pure heart and are lumped together with them. In time, all things will be clear. But there are lots of tares mixed with the wheat at present.

    Your statements viz. sex and what is “natural” seem rather absurd to me. That the act of procreation is also pleasurable makes good, natural sense. That mimicking that act is found pleasurable by some is also sensible, sense the pleasure is not removed from certain aspects of the act. But you are more or less suggesting that what is “natural” is an orgasm and that a hetero-sexual, procreative orgasm is only incidental, almost accidental, but that what is “natural” is just orgasms. That’s just absurd, forgive me. And I do not want a further discussion of orgasms, etc.

  35. I am somewhat sympathetic to Robert’s dilemma (I will call it the Reality vs. ‘reality we see’ or ‘nature’ – that which ‘educated people see’). In a sense, he is right, “we” (i.e Christians) do “overstate” our case – because we admit evidence, truth (which is really nothing but Truth Himself) that is quite beyond the categories of “educated people”. So how do you “communicate” with “educated people”?

    The answer (I think) is found in the word itself “communicate”, that is, to communion with. In what way can I/we “commune” with them? We are not “in communion” with them liturgically, theologically, but somehow ontologically. We don’t limit the ‘real’ to the self created material (though we are very material – looking even for a resurrected material world), beauty to the subjective, sexuality to the utilitarian/self defined.

    In a very real sense, we are hardly in communion with them at all – except (very big except) we are all God’s creatures/creation and if we are to follow Him (and thus follow/be/express/commune with the Real) we are to find a way to Love the “educated man”. I being an inveterate sinner, I find that only in those few and small moments when by grace I put aside my “old man” (along with the passions and desires Gal 5:24) can anything approaching this be accomplished – and frankly I have no idea if it is “successful” in any sort of spiritual sense, never mind on any level that an “educated man” would admit is “real”. To put it another way, “The heart has its reasons which reason knows nothing of… We know the truth not only by the reason, but by the heart.” – Blaise Pascal. Of course Wisdom is something much larger than “reason”, but “reason” as used here can be thought of as those limited and limiting categories that are the prison (and woe, what a real prison it is – much harder to scale it’s walls than those of an actual, material prison) of “educated people”. What can overcome such a prison, how do we “commune” through it? Love is the answer (as He commands), but beyond that I can not say.

  36. I would also agree that it is in our capacity for suffering that we have hidden potential to deeper communion. An often forgotten key here, however, is Joy. Retaining this joy that cannot be taken away due to it being ‘not of this world’ is key to informing others (unconsciously) that our compassion and our demeanour and our faith is truly that of a “prince” and a “princess” – meaning a son and daughter of the Almighty.
    The worldly facade of happiness can never be stronger than the Christian’s authentic spiritual joy.
    The recollection of saints who exhibited this is a great starting point. St Ignatius the Godbearer or Elder Aimilianos come to my mind often, and retaining that radiant spirit when confronted with what makes us internally weep with great tears like St Silouan (quite a balancing feat obviously) ingrains such a Christian’s impression upon the unconscious of the ‘educated people’ – in order for it to resurface with strength at the appropriate moment that God chooses.

  37. The quest for a proof of the existence of God is a fruitless quest. If memory serves, it was the late, lamentable Alan Watts who poked a major hole in such a quest when he observed that, if there were such a proof, that proof would become the object of veneration, not God. The existence of such a proof wouldn’t change much of anything.
    Every time I hear doubters questioning the existence of God, my first thought is: “I wonder why they don’t want this to be true?”. The absence of this proof seems to be a cop-out, an excuse to go on living their lives as they choose.

  38. Dino,

    What you say about joy reminds me of a conversion story I read a few years back. Going from memory, this women was a professor at some university in the NE and was in quite a bit of despair about her life, the very negative and competitive (and petty) university politics and relationships, etc. There was this american monk however who was doing some graduate work at the university, and she noticed how he kept himself above it all, and how his face radiated joy every time she would talk to him, even about mundane things. She wisely started to seek out the source of his joy and eventually came to Orthodoxy.

  39. Fr Stephen, Michael, Christopher, Dino, Gregory et al.

    Thank you for your responses.

    As I indicated to Dino, and as an important preface to this discussion, is that my concern is in regards to those who are outside the faith. So the questions I raise about obscurity, sexuality, proofs for God, etc. is from the perspective of those who do not share the context of Tradition with us.

    The pertinent question, as I see it, pertains to the nature of the “point of contact” we share with unbelievers.

    So we can drone on about these issues, but what we are assuming, what we are bringing into the picture – and this is the key point that I am trying to make – is the whole gamut of the Christian worldview. Every issue and perspective is through and through influenced and shaped by it. And well they should be – however, this makes our POV on these not so obvious (or worse, unintelligible) to those who do not share our theological and philosophical assumptions. We must not under-value these assumptions, or altogether forget that we use them. Appeals made about the “laws of nature”, how nature functions, or established convention, or custom, or how correct and moral something may be – these have absolutely no purchase.

  40. Fr Stephen,

    It must be obscure by design, and the oppression that would result from clarity, this is quite a powerful argument – I wholeheartedly agree.

    This would appear to simultaneously raise God’s 1.) respect for our unobstructed moral agency; and 2. His role in overcoming by love, freely, this obscurity. As there appears to be a tension between the two, they do both together affirm His love for humanity. A deep paradox I suppose.

    Suffering – yes, empathy!

  41. Robert,
    Your comments reminded me yet again of an answer I have often received about these sort of questions. It’s nothing new to the what has already been stated in the previous comments. I do therefore think that your concern in regards to those who are outside the faith has been mostly answered in the said comments.
    To restate this answer in a “different way” (which is what I was just reminded of) one could use St John Chrysostom’s expression that:
    ‘the only reason that unbelievers exist is that us believers are not great enough Saints’.
    It’s a claim that there is far more involuntary persuasion in a radiant saint whose concern is not the aforementioned persuasion of others (but how to himself become one with Christ) than in endless efforts to convince unbelievers by lesser believing ‘evangelists’.
    So it is not really about the language of evangelisation that will cleverly adjust to communicate with them. One could empty the entire wisdom of the Fathers in an unbeliever’s ears -all in language that would be intelligible to them- and still get nowhere.
    Look at the martyrdom of Saint Catherine, she did not so much convince with her unsurpassed logic, (speaking in the language that the 150 erudite philosophers would understand), what she really did is convince all those philosophers and the 200 soldiers with her example. And a few still remained unconvinced. Besides, great holiness would be required to do it “through words” anyway. The closer one gets to the world in order to save it the more tainted I find they become, and the further away from it (in spirit) one distances themselves in their pursuit of God, the more grace they are given, and it is this grace that ultimately has the power to permanently persuade the unbeliever.
    Our task is to fan its flames; if God wants to use someone to persuade others, God is “able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham” to do this work for Him.

  42. Dino,

    Point well made and taken – however, I am not arguing for one without the other, and neither did the Fathers. Nor am I reducing this to a matter of mere words, of language as you seem to suggest. (tweak a few clever words together, and voila! we are in the missions business).

    The truth of it is that Saint Catherine did use learning, words, persuasion in addition to her life’s witness. And the same can be said, without end, about the Church Fathers. Their powerful persuasions are communicated to us in words, intelligible, carefully crafted, brought about by decades of study of theology, language, rhetoric, the classics, philosophy, and so forth.

    So let us not simplify this to the point of error. The Fathers didn’t forego persuasion, indeed they relied upon and heavily utilized it.

    You wrote:
    “The closer one gets to the world in order to save it the more tainted I find they become, and the further away from it (in spirit) one distances themselves in their pursuit of God, the more grace they are given, and it is this grace that ultimately has the power to permanently persuade the unbeliever.”
    It seems to me you suggest a two-storey construct – learning is secular and in order to obtain it one becomes worldly.

  43. Robert,

    Respectfully, I think you misunderstand Dino’s words. Neither he nor those from whom he quotes despise the study of theology, language, rhetoric, the classics, philosophy… He is simply saying (quite truthfully) that apart from Grace such knowledge and skill remain lifeless and therefore unconvincing. The Saints used these things to be sure; but they baptized them, as it were, through the Grace within them. They used them, but they did not rely on them.

    And when he writes that…

    “The closer one gets to the world in order to save it the more tainted I find they become, and the further away from it (in spirit) one distances themselves in their pursuit of God, the more grace they are given, and it is this grace that ultimately has the power to permanently persuade the unbeliever.”

    …I take this to mean that we can only save this world by standing apart from it while living in its midst, testifying to the Eternal Life that is not of this world. Our love for the world and our true relevance to the world is demonstrated and realized through our steadfast refusal to become a part of it. Our primary, most effective and most loving effort on behalf of the world is the acquisition of the Holy Spirit within ourselves. When I consider the many inordinate attempts to be ‘relevant’ – the attempt to gain a thorough understanding of the perspectives of those caught up in the wisdom of this world that we might learn to speak in their language, I am reminded of the Wisdom of Sirach who wrote, “At no time is the knowledge of evil wisdom.” The ability to speak in language that can be understood by the hearer comes primarily through Grace, as on the day of Pentecost when the Grace of the Holy Spirit was poured out in abundance: “We hear them speaking in our own tongues the wonderful works of God.” And though we speak English to English speakers, apart from this Grace we might as well be speaking in an unknown tongue.

  44. Robert,
    I can see why you might perceive it as a potential ‘two-storey’ construct, but it is nothing of the sort! There’s little I would add to Brian’s justification, I would perhaps just recap that “in Christ” (and only in Him) you find all of the world anew (and then you ‘see Christ in all’), but in “this world” (1 John 2:15) you are without a shadow of a doubt distracted away from Him and the Grace through which “all things are possible”.

  45. I also cannot help but remember that the first offspring of humility, simplicity (as in integrity and joyful genuineness, perhaps the most practically efficacious aid to living in a ‘one-story universe’), is regrettably the first thing that recedes in our contact with the world.
    There is a reason why the Fathers speak so highly of Hesychasm. True evangelisation always has its counter-support in Hesychasm.

  46. Finally and once again, we mustn’t forget that, as the insightful convert Fr. Peter Heers explains, from experience, those who seek and come to the Truth do so through God alone; and (deludedly) trying to make any changes to that Tradition that they are led to -through His Grace – in order to make it more “accommodating” for them, contrary to what we imagine, does not help them at all.

  47. Dino/Bryan,

    What in my writings makes you suppose I am for an accommodation to the world, a compromise of Tradition, a stripping away of God’s grace?

    I am for no such. In my call for a renewed “patristic synthesis” I am merely echoing the likes of Frs. Florovsky, Schmemann, Meyendorf et al.

  48. Robert,
    I am sorry, the last comment wasn’t directed towards you – I just went off on that tangent as a universal caution…

  49. ” In my call for a renewed “patristic synthesis” I am merely echoing the likes of Frs. Florovsky, Schmemann, Meyendorf et al.”

    The use of “patristic synthesis” seems to mean different things to different people. I have noticed that it has of late (or perhaps for longer than I know) been part of the vocabulary of those who, quite frankly, appear to be “secular minded” and/or are not satisfied with some part of the Tradition and are thus looking for what they believe and justify as “the work of the Holy Spirit” but is really just a simple accommodation of one or more parts of the current modernist philosophy/culture.

    Perhaps someone can say something about what Schmemann and others meant by it because on the surface it seems redundant – as if the Fathers are really part of a diverse “Traditions” that somehow need synthesizing by contemporary Orthodox “theologians” (whom are usually in over their heads in the modern academic world). To the extant that “patristic synthesis” means the idea that the Fathers don’t speak to the modern world (for whatever reason – whether because of archaic language or because modernity is somehow truly “new” or contains “science” that demands recognition as true new spiritually relevant knowledge) and thus have lost some of their “relevancy”, is to me the extant that the idea itself is an artifact of the modern mind.

    I agree with Robert about the “Christian worldview” and its/our “point of contact” with a modernist, it is hard to overemphasis just how incompatible these two are. I might go even further as say that Christianity is truly “unintelligible” to the modernist simply because modernism has this strange inwardness – it really believes it’s own story about how it is a “meta philosophy/worldview”, and that it sits above (and thus sits in judgement) of all other philosophy/science/religion.

    The inwardness is not really that strange, because it is a result of it’s belief in the myth of “progress”, so of course it is at the pinnacle of all human thought/understanding/experience that has come before. Yet, all human tradition and thought tends to believe in it’s own “superiority”, so why does the modernist have this singular inability to step out of itself, consider other understandings/experiences on their own terms, and even more importantly, examine and admit the limits of it’s own presuppositions? It has a diabolical confidence and narcissism that has to be unrivaled in the history of thought/philosophy/religion.

  50. I should add to the above that Brian, Dino, Michael, etc. are right in that it takes a personal encounter, an encounter in the heart, with Grace (rarely directly, mostly through others and inwardly) to break through any calcified form of thinking, feeling, and experiencing. Fr. Stephen continues to preach to the modernist no doubt (beyond the simple Commandment to do so) because Grace of course can “strike” at any moment – even in my harden heart.

    Still, on philosophical level, I still maintain that modernism is particularly resistance to non-conforming information, ideas, discussion, etc.

  51. Robert,

    Forgive me. I was only commenting on what I perceived to be a misunderstanding.

    Where a patristic synthesis might lead (or even precisely what it is) I cannot say. No one is opposed to godly Orthodox scholarship. I have one in my own family who was recently published by SVS Press, but…

    In his essay about Orthodox missions, Archbishop Anastasias of Albania wrote, “The world is asking us to reveal the beauty of the Christian message by conscientiously living its principals in the light of the Crucifixion and Resurrection. The world is looking for us to reveal, in the course of our daily reality, the beauty, radiance, glory and power of a life that has been made new in Christ. The world is calling upon us to radiate the presence of the Holy Spirit…It longs for the virtual transformation of human existence and for a communion with the transcendent power of Love.”

    When people read our lives as Orthodox Christians, what do they learn about Truth? The apostle wrote to the church at Corinth, “You are our epistle…known and read by all men…written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone, but on tablets of human hearts… Now the Lord is that Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. But we all…beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are changed into that same image, from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.” We ourselves as partakers of the divine energies through our personal encounter, our union and communion in the Blessed Trinity – our lives are the most convincing evidence of the Truth, the incarnate testimony to the truth of our dogma, the only real significance to the Tradition we have received. If people see the power of God among us in all the struggles of our everyday lives – with our friends, our enemies, our parents, our spouses, our children, our employers…the deserving and the undeserving – the power to love, to give and forgive, to forbear, to persevere, to have self-control, to show mercy, to have inner peace and true joy…even sometimes the power to work miracles, then those of goodwill will see and believe the Truth within us.

    “Let your Light so shine before men that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in Heaven.”

    This is not to suggest disagreement on your part. It is to emphasize the primary importance of the one thing needful.

  52. Christopher,

    This from Met. Timothy Ware in a discussion about the “patristic synthesis” –

    …Florovsky affirmed: ‘”To follow” the Fathers does not mean just “to quote” them. “To follow” the Fathers means to acquire their “mind,” their phronema.’ …what matters is not simple the exact words of the Fathers but their vision, their primary intention and their existential attitude. We are to advance beyond the letter of the patristic writings to their inner spirit. It is not enough to reproduce word for word what the Fathers said in the fourth and fifth century. We are to ask what they would be saying if they were alive today. Meyendorff took the same view as Florovsky: ‘Simply to repeat what the Fathers said is to be unfaithful to their spirit’; it is not enough to use ‘yesterday’s arguments to confront new heresies.’ We are to treat the Fathers as living masters, as partners in a continuing dialogue. What the Fathers provide is not fixed and irrevocable solutions but essentially a way, a path of ongoing exploration. The Patristic heritage has to be re-thought in each new generation.

    – from A Celebration of Living Theology: A Festschrift in Honour of Andrew Louth T & T Clark, p. 222

    So, yes, it is agreed that this re-appropriation of the Fathers does not mean a departure from Tradition.

    There’s much writing on the “neo-patristic synthesis”, just pick about any title by Florovsky, Schmemann, Lossky and such.

  53. Robert,
    It is fair to say, however, that the neo-patristic synthesis can easily become a cypher or slogan that simply provides cover for other agendas. That said, I utterly agree with Florovsky, etc. I would suggest that it is precisely what I work at in my blog (and my whole ministry). What it comes down to, however, is remaining an honest broker. Some have violated that and provoked a reaction that can indeed become anti-academic, etc.

    But I think all of these things are predictable simply on the basis of sin. The great heart of the Fathers is repentance and hesychia. The mind of the Fathers cannot be appropriated and simply used in the same mode as just any other philosophy or systematic theology, etc. Before long, I think some of these things will be unmasked, and then our souls will be tried. That trial, I think, will center precisely on a demand for a greater rapprochement with Modernity. It is time to be sober and to be wise.

  54. Interesting (the two quotes from Florovsky and Meyendorff). I believe I understand what Florovsky was saying, but Meyendorff is another matter entirely. He seems to have appropriated the thought of modernity, of “progress”:

    “… a continuing dialogue. What the Fathers provide is not fixed and irrevocable solutions but essentially a way, a path of ongoing exploration. The Patristic heritage has to be re-thought in each new generation.”

    Wow. “dialogue”, “ongoing exploration” and “rethought in each ‘new’ generation”. Would a modern liberal protestant say it any differently? I have never heard of our salvation, “the Way” described as an “ongoing exploration” – wait, I have, by modern christians.

    Now I don’t know when this was written but clearly such language is bankrupt today.

  55. Christopher,
    It is useful to know and understand the history of Orthodox thought in the modern world. Florovsky was, in many ways, trying to get Orthodox thought out of a slavery to the “manuals” books of systematic thought that had been developed under Western tutelage. They just repeated rote slogans, almost, and were almost a death-knell to Orthodox thought. Florovsky wanted on the one hand, to study and reappropriate the thought of the Fathers (therefore not simply doing what the West was doing in modern Protestant thought), but also not just sit back and quote things without understanding what was being said (and therefore not really able to apply it).

    Meyendorff was a giant, and tremendously important in recovering the teaching of St. Gregory Palamas, for example. Sometimes the things they said could be taken in the wrong way – but they have been essential – I think – in the life of the Orthodox Church.

    Florovsky, for example, wrote a “history of Russian thought” that is simply magisterial (though some criticize him for this detail and that). But he certainly seems to have gotten the “sweep” of things quite right. It’s only when you go back and try to read the stuff that came before them that you realize what they were up to and how essential they have been to our lives today.

  56. Father,

    I should have added that I have never heard anyone credible say that Meyendorff was a “modernist” or some such thing (I read parts of “Byzantine Theology” years ago). I assume that the language of the above quote made more sense in the context in which he said it, or at the very least was more “innocent” then – it just does not seem to make sense in today’s context. Then perhaps I am too sensitive to language that falls too easily in line with “the development of doctrine” concepts.

    Is the work of Florovsky you are referring to “ways of Russian Theology” (part I and II)? I received these books as a gift quite a while back and have never read them. I have never felt compelled to take a close look at Florovsky simply because so many Orthodox who seem to support “bad” ecumenism extensively quote him. I understand that Florovsky himself however was growing weary of the WCC towards the end of his life however. Could he have foreseen what it has become today? I don’t know, but there seems to be a certain naivety within most things “ecumenical” that while I have never quite seen adequately defined, is definitely there.

    I am not sure if the “fundamentalism” or “anti-academic” bias or “reaction” of the monks is right either, but on the whole they seem to be proven more right as the “spirit” of “bad” ecumenism is more and more revealed. Also, when you consider what modern Saints have to say about the efforts of the EP for example (such as St. Porphyrios and St. Paisios) it appears that the “reactionaries” might be correct.

  57. Father and Robert,

    Because of the day I took down my copy of “St. Gregory Palamas – The Triads” published by the RC’s in the “The Classics of Western Spirituality” series. I have not looked at this book in 15 years probably. Anyways, the introduction is written by Meyendorff. I am about half way through but it is hard to believe this introduction is written by the same man of the quote above – clearly I am colored by the meaning such language is given today…

  58. Christopher,

    The Met. Ware passage was written in 2014, so it is very recent (and timely as ever).

    The books by Meyendorff : “Byzantine Theology – Historical Trends and Doctrinal Themes” (Fordham 1983), and “Christ in Eastern Christian Thought” (St Vladimir, 1987).

    I am of the opinion that an anti-academic position is a perilous overreaction and indeed a departure from Tradition.

  59. Fr Stephen,

    I do believe that your writings here constitute a most wonderful and faithful (re)appropriation of the Fathers, thank you for that.

  60. “I am of the opinion that an anti-academic position is a perilous overreaction and indeed a departure from Tradition.”

    I am not sure what an “anti-academic” position is, exactly, and who is supposed to hold it in the Orthodox world. Are the monks (particularly Athonite) “anti-academic”, or are the Old Calendarists? If one disagrees with the allegedly “academically informed” or “learned” position of certain academics, for example when George E. Demacopoulos who is “Professor of Historical Theology; Director and Co-Founder, Orthodox Christian Studies Center at Fordham University” writes an ambiguous (intentionally so – it is part of a subversive tactic very much part of that culture and often employed in academic circles) article about something called “Orthodox Fundamentalism”, does that make one an “anti-academic”?

    Many a moon ago, I was both a graduate student and an employee in a university. I thought maybe I was going to be in the humanities when I grew up. However, it did not take too long (and this was before I was Orthodox) for me to figure out just how poisoned the modern American Academy truly is. It is a real dark corner of our darkened modern culture. The state of the American Academy has been commented on by those far more qualified than I, so don’t take my word for it (Bloom’s “Closing of the American Mind” perhaps being the most accessible/popular place to start). Does recognition of the state of the current Academy make one a “anti-academic”? For most folks like me, it is a lamented fact and we would like to see many things turned around, so we don’t really fall into such a definition.

    What about the state of most protestant/RC seminaries? Reports from those who have taught in them in the past (my current priest for example) are pretty abysmal – Does opposing the apostasy coming out of these sorts of places make one an “anti-academic”? If so, then sign me up.

    What about Orthodox seminaries? Well, I don’t see any obvious apostasy coming out of them, but that is all I can really say as I am not a scholar and I don’t stay up with Orthodox technical scholarship unless perhaps it breaks into the more general Orthodox world, such as Demacopoulos recent article, though it is more of a hit piece and if it is supposed to be scholarship, then the errors contained within it (e.g. his characterization of St. Peter and Paul and circumcision) paints a pretty poor picture of Orthodox scholarship at least at Fordham.

    I have noticed that it tends to be the relatively young scholar’s (those who have earned their M.Div’s or MA recently, and PhD’s in either Orthodox seminaries or at in secular university) who seem to be among the most vocal supporters of modern, EP style “ecumenism” in the Orthodox web/blog worlds (some of whom maintain blogs right here at Ancient Faith). While I disagree with this form of ecumenism for a host of reasons, I don’t begrudge them for their scholarship. That said, I have noticed a tendency of theirs to claim an “anti-academic” or “anti-intellectual” bias on the part of those who disagree with them. I think they are dead wrong about this and I don’t mind telling them. Now, they might run in to the true “anti-academic” or “anti-intellectual” on occasion, but they also too easily dismiss certain realities that don’t reflect well with their project.

    Perhaps someone can point me to real examples of this “anti-academic” bias (i.e. name names which Demacopoulos studiously avoids) explain how it is truly “anti-academic” and not just a disagreement, and how it is relevant to the wider Orthodox world and the majority of faithful…

  61. Christopher,
    When I was an Anglican, we used to joke than a fundamentalist was “anyone who believes more of the Bible than you do.” There are certainly some anti-academic types within Orthodoxy. An example would be a refusal to look critically at writings of the Fathers – a tendency to stay on the surface and not dig deeper – or simply to say, “The fathers were inspired” and then treat them as though they were Scripture (I don’t even read Scripture like that).

    It’s not uncommon, but neither is it properly monastic, Athonite, etc. It’s just true of some Orthodox here and there. They’re not on seminary faculties, in my experience.

    Sometimes, seminary faculties have the occasional member who has drunk too deeply from the well of Modernity – they are not common – but they’re not anybody’s imagination either. And they will indeed use most of the language of the academy to defend themselves (using words like fundamentalist to attack their critics).

    I am personally aware of a certain tension at present associated with some personalities at Fordham (as you mentioned). As the culture stuff heats up, we’ll likely see the rhetoric heat up a bit as well. With the expected Great and Holy Council coming in 2016, I am also expecting a bit of rhetoric to push at issues between Constantinople and Moscow (more or less as the representatives of two poles – though it’s far more complex).

    The truth is that the Synod was probably settled when it was agreed that only unanimous decisions would be taken (over the initial proposals of the EP). Although Orthodoxy is not monolithic, it is pretty solid outside of certain circles. There is a decided anti-ecumenical tenor across most of the Patriarchates – those who are not are mostly subsets of the EP. But I’m not certain that the EP is actually ecumenical – only that the rhetoric of ecumenism is politically expedient for a variety of reasons – most of which concern Europe and Turkey. I think there is a genuine interest on the part of many for reunion with the Oriental Orthodox – which, though having some problems – does not really rise to the level of ecumenism in my book.

    The position of Orthodoxy with regard to its local situations across the world has tremendous variety and perceptions. I simply expect the next couple of years to “smoke them out.”

    I plan to remain calm and carry on and resist the temptation to react. When acting by unanimous consent, very little will take place, but some good discussions, maybe even some arguments will be set forth.

    It is possible to overreact from several directions. Almost all of which will be a distraction from prayer and repentance. My salvation mostly needs those rather than the settling of any issues.

    I favor a true criticality – a true “patristic synthesis.” But it requires a good heart more than anything and the renunciation of other agendas.

    Here is a test of agendas. Anyone who can complete the sentence: “The Church needs to be more…” has an agenda and needs to get over it. It is a huge distraction from the work at hand.

  62. You know Father, I would be more at ease with the EP’s activities if he simply gave us (the faithful) a wink and a nudge so we could have some hope that the political/theological maneuvering was out of practical contrivance (and lets be frank, a real desperation) and not because anyone has actually bought into the program. Perhaps those “in the know” know. Obviously, I tend toward the “Moscow” side of the spectrum generally (well, more accurately, I am considering a second home there 😉 ) but as you say most of this is complex.

    Your test is interesting. Up until recently, mine were “more English”, “more culturally adaptive (in music, etc.)”, “more administrative/ecclesiastical unity”. I still cling to “Bishops need to have speak/act with more clarity on the anthropological issues”, “the EP’s situation needs to be resolved with a move or outright dissolution”. None of which has anything to do with my acesis…

  63. Christopher,
    Yes. It would be helpful, were it true. I respect the word “Byzantine” (as in very complex, sneaky with lots and lots of layers), and am therefore willing to believe that underneath all that stuff does not beat the heart of a Brussels bureaucrat.

    But I personally suspect that there are lots of layers of yucky stuff still left around from the Late Ottoman empire in some of the ancient Patriarchates. And so I have my head-scratching moments. But I see much difference between the pronouncements of the EP, and some of the more “progressive” academics here in the US.

    Orthodoxy is very, very messy. I believe it is the true Church (the NT Church was messy as well). But I maintain that, on the whole, our messiness has saved us from many things. I.e. it’s not all bad.

  64. Christopher I note an anti-academic bias such as when you dismiss Met. Ware’s word’s out of hand and equate them with liberal Protestants’ words.

  65. “Christopher I note an anti-academic bias such as when you dismiss Met. Ware’s word’s out of hand and equate them with liberal Protestants’ words.”

    That is a very strange thing to say. He himself uses such language in the modern “western european” context and he is perfectly aware of the trends in our culture. I simply do not believe his can be ignorant today of the meaning behind such language (I give him too much credit as an observer of the human condition). I can only assume it made some sense to use such language (less likely) or he said them before they came to mean what they mean (more likely). In any case, without more context I am willing to give him the benefit of the doubt.

    On the occasion I have the chance to recommend a “beginners” book to someone interested in Orthodoxy, I usually recommend Ware’s “Orthodox Church”, unless the person seems more suited to Clark Carlton’s “The Faith”. Following an old acquaintance of mine who actually did his doctoral work under Ware at Oxford in the 90’s I prefer older editions because he writes with much more confidence about the Faith. The more modern editions have a certain “hand wringing” quality about them when it comes to things like what is and what is not the Church, womens ordination, etc.

    Now, if all one has to do is disagree with Ware’s stance on women’s ordination, or ecumenism, or war (to name 3 off the top of my head) and such a disagreement makes one an “anti-academic” then I guess I am guilty as charged. Where do I send in my contribution to become a charter member of the “anti-academic” society?

    Look, as a well traveled member on the “Orthodox lecturer circuit” Ware finds himself in front of all sorts of people (mostly heterodox – the only time I saw him he was speaking to mostly RC’s and Jews). He is bound to say things that in the context might make some sense (at least to him) but to the faithful sounds, well heterodox (or “modern” or “liberal”, etc.). I admit this reality. However, I disagree with Ware on some really important, substantial things that I don’t think are even at the “edge” of the Faith. I suspect (though I don’t know) that if I ever had a chance to sit and talk with him, it would be apparent that we disagree on even more than what I know now.

    Not sure how any of this is due to some generalized “anti-academic” thinking that I supposedly have (or the many others who have the same criticisms)…except I will say that in almost any modern academic setting (putting aside real Orthodox seminaries) to be anything other than politically liberal and “ecumenically minded”, to have not appropriated modern definitions of anthropology (and thus to not support womens ordination, etc.), and to not be a knee jerk pacifist – that simply means you are not “educated” and most likely a “fundamentalist”, possibly even a “creationist”…. 🙂

  66. One thing that I have encountered, time and again, is pastoral ‘inconsistency’ – as in a truly blessed and intentional disparity – between what is said to the one and what to the other – discernment. Eg: The staunchest critic of cremation I know of –a Metropolitan- told a woman –who was unimaginably fixated with not being buried but cremated- and who was ‘testing’ him to see if it’s ok (or else she was absolutely ready to angrily leave the Church for good – [something the priest could only discern intuitively as the woman had concealed it from him]), that it’s perfectly ok! -an obvious “œconomic”, temporary compromise on his behalf… She’s now enamoured with everything he says and is opening up to the idea of a burial coming from his mouth…

  67. I have wondered a lot about ecumenism myself. My guess is that it will blow over fairly soon, in a generation or two, and most of the work done in ecumenism will be forgotten (maybe a small handful of the most liberal will be denounced as heretics). Orthodoxy, and all Christian denominations, simply had to engage in a certain amount of these discussions over the past few decades, and that will continue to be true for another few decades until all the non-Orthodox Christians have died out.

    But I may be wrong, and it’s certainly not easy to listen to some of the more secularized statements coming from people of authority.

  68. Robert, Christopher
    I need to call a halt on this part of the thread. Met. Kallistos a very solid Churchman, and actually very solid even on those things where some accuse him of being otherwise. I have spent extended periods of time with him and been with him on many occasions. He has produced a generation of exceptional Orthodox scholars. But, more to the point, criticism of priests or bishops is not allowed on the blog (though this has been quite a mild thing). I simply don’t want it crossing the line.

    But lastly, Robert, you need to drop this. You’re more or less “goading” Christopher. Just let it go. It’s Lent guys.

  69. I hope this is sufficiently off that topic, but Dino’s comment:

    -an obvious “œconomic”, temporary compromise on his behalf… She’s now enamoured with everything he says and is opening up to the idea of a burial coming from his mouth…

    reminds me: Father, given your more recent articles about symbol, nominalism, etc., I would like to express my utmost gratitude for your much gentler handling of the issue last year. The question has indeed suggested quite a journey.

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