How to Find the Answers

And behold, an Ethiopian, a eunuch, a minister of the Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, in charge of all her treasure, had come to Jerusalem to worshipand was returning; seated in his chariot, he was reading the prophet Isaiah.And the Spirit said to Philip, “Go up and join this chariot.”

So Philip ran to him, and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet, and asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?”

And he said, “How can I, unless some one guides me?” And he invited Philip to come up and sit with him.Now the passage of the scripture which he was reading was this: “As a sheep led to the slaughter or a lamb before its shearer is dumb, so he opens not his mouth.In his humiliation justice was denied him. Who can describe his generation? For his life is taken up from the earth.”

And the eunuch said to Philip, “About whom, pray, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?”Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning with this scripture he told him the good news of Jesus.

And as they went along the road they came to some water, and the eunuch said, “See, here is water! What is to prevent my being baptized?” (Acts 8:27-36)

I can think of no passage in the Scriptures that better illustrates the inherent problem surrounding their reading: you must already know the answer to the question to find the answer to the question.

If that sounds like a tautology, it is. For the “answer” is not found in the Scriptures, per se, but in Christ as the Church knows Him and has received Him (Jn. 5:39). This is precisely what St. Philip is doing with the Ethiopian Eunuch.

The passage from Isaiah, on its face, is rather opaque. The Eunuch reads it and wonders whether the prophet is speaking about himself or someone else. There is no clue in the text that would yield an answer. However, this text belongs to the poetic passages known as the “Suffering Servant Songs.” They were seen by the Church as pointing to Christ, the fulfillment of the suffering servant. But the Church did not arrive at this conclusion by its own careful study. It was given to them.

In St. Luke’s gospel, we hear the account of the two disciples with the risen Christ on the road to Emmaus. They are puzzled about what has happened in Jerusalem and are not sure what to think:

And [Jesus] said to them, “O foolish men, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself. (Lk. 24:25-27)

“Moses and all the prophets…” Christ begins to set out for them the trail of interpretation from the five books of Moses through the rest of the prophets, no doubt including Isaiah. These men were not ignorant of the writings (or Christ’s words would have found nothing in them). But they did not know how to read them in a Christian manner.

We see something similar in St. John’s gospel. After the footrace between Peter and John to the tomb of Christ (having heard that the body was missing) we read:

Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not know the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. Then the disciples went back to their homes. (Jn. 20:8-10)

We’re told that they did not “know” the Scripture “that he must rise from the dead.” The teaching that the Messiah would be put to death and then rise on the third day was not a teaching to be found in the Judaism of the time. No one reading the Scriptures saw this coming! The clearest hint of a three-day burial and resurrection is the foreshadowing in the book of Jonah. Of course, the leap from that account to the historical event of Christ’s resurrection is obscure. Christ Himself, in the gospels, gives reference to it, and doubtless does so again in his conversation with the two disciples on the road. But no one within the Jewish religious world, including the disciples of Jesus, “knew” this until it was explained and taught by Christ after the resurrection.

Of course, after that teaching, the story becomes obvious. The Church later takes it up in its hymns of Holy Saturday:

Jonah was caught but not held fast in the belly of the whale.
He was a sign of Thee who hast suffered and accepted burial.
Coming forth from the beast as from a bridal chamber… (irmos, ode 6).

As various versions of Christianity have become popularized in modern culture, many people think that they “understand” the Scriptures. The error comes when we think that we can understand the Scriptures without any mediation. “I just follow the Bible,” I’ve been told. But none of us does. We necessarily come to our reading with a host of ideas and assumptions. There is already a narrative in our minds before we begin to look for the story.

The Scriptures are only ever read through the eyes of a tradition, even if that tradition claims not to be a tradition but the “Bible only.” Indeed “Bible only” is a tradition with a narrative that is often less than 200 years old. We cannot pretend to understand God’s word when we refuse to understand ourselves, or to examine how understanding itself works.

It is as though the Scriptures were a piano. It has the same 88 keys for everyone. But the music you play is what you see on the sheet music. You do not “play the piano.” You use the piano to play your sheet music. We use the Scriptures to play our tradition. Too many players pretend they have no sheet music.

The place and role of tradition within Orthodoxy has been understood and taught from the beginning. Without apology, the Church refers to the Tradition which it has received, by which and through which we understand the Scriptures and everything else. We do what the two disciples did on the road. We do what Peter and John did. Christ has taught us how to read. Not only do the Orthodox speak honestly about this process, but, in doing so, we are able to speak carefully and wisely, and even critically about that by which we read. When such a mechanism (tradition) is denied, all that can result is a certain uncritical ignorance.

Fr. Thomas Hopko famously said, “You cannot know God. But you have to know Him to know that.” In a private conversation with him, I once said, “The more I write, the less I seem to know.” He smiled and said, “Good! Keep writing! Someday you’ll know nothing. Then you’ll be holy!” Somedays I think I’m holier than others…

So the question becomes, “Then how do we learn the answers so that we can find the answers?” The answer to that is found in the life of the Church. The Ethiopian Eunuch does not disappear from the Scriptures. Philip baptizes him, but he does not then take his Bible and go off to Ethiopia. Indeed, he shows up later in Antioch, during the time when St. Paul was there.

Now in the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers, Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen a member of the court of Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. (Acts 13:1)

Tradition has come down that this Simeon (called Niger – “the Black”) was none other than the Ethiopian in Acts. Only now he is a prophet or teacher. He has been nurtured in the fullness of the Tradition. Later, he will become an Apostle to his homeland. There he is known as “Simeon Bachos.”

We learn how to read the Scriptures just as Simeon did – someone teaches us. That teaching is far more than reading a collection of texts. It is also the formation of the heart. This formation, like that of the Apostles, happens in the context of the life of the Church.

All of this reveals Sola Scriptura to mean little more than a particular Protestant version of sheet music. The Scriptures cannot and do not stand outside the community of interpretation that has received them.

We do well to follow Simeon Bachos into the community of the Apostles. There we can learn to sing the Lord’s song.


  1. Father Stephen,
    Indeed, without holy tradition we cannot correctly understand scripture.
    That’s why we have the multiplied thousands of churches/denominations, each with their own “lens” to interpret, its own sheet music.
    I once was in the California Highway Patrol. Our “Bible” was the California Vehicle Code. It had to be correctly interpreted, usually by the courts. A young patrolman friend once saw a man riding a motorcycle with his dog on the back seat. Pooch was seated with its front paws on the man’s shoulders. Well, our youthful patrolman in his zeal, quickly paged through the code book. He wrote the man a ticket for, “passenger not having feet on foot pegs”! When our sergeant saw what the ticket read, he went through the roof, furious over this bumbling interpretation of the law code! I’ve read just as ludicrous “interpretations” of the Bible from different sects. Thank God for His holy Church which guides us to understand Her book. It keeps the river water of life flowing in its proper channel, without which the water turns into a murky morass of fanciful views,

  2. A couple years ago I began to realize the impossibility of anyone truly living by sola scriptura for the reasons you give. Those I spoke to in my reformed church couldn’t even dialogue with me about it as I tried to work this out. I’m sure it was threatening to them. Much of reformed theology fell apart from there.

    I’m trying to grasp even a little of Orthodox tradition. There is just so much. It gets a bit overwhelming. I am encouraged by your post, to see my own thoughts expressed much better and with confidence by you.

    Thank you.

  3. I have wondered how to explain to a largely ‘sola scriptura’ crowd the idea that we are *always* using a particular hermaneutic (without using the word ‘hermaneutic’… 😉 ) even when we don’t think we are.
    I’m constantly asked “How did the _______ not see ________ in Scripture?” For example: To us, the Trinity is proclaimed from the first couple of verses in Genesis. This doesn’t mean that it’s obvious to anyone who reads the creation account… yet, once you see it, you can’t unsee it.
    If we are left to our own devices in interpretation, Scripture becomes a distorted mirror and not a lens.
    Thank you, Fr. Stephen.

  4. I find the piano analogy extremely apt on a number of levels. For true theology is meant to be played (prayed), not merely studied – and of course one can study sheet music, but the whole point of it is to be played. Also the fact that the piano can be played with all the right (Orthodox) notes and yet still sound off is what we see with those who, at some level, have confused theology with intellectual study and not approached it as an art which must be groomed by practice, by prayer. Certainly I see this tendency in myself, so this analogy can be helpful to me on a personal level (not just “why person or group X is off-key).

    I give thanks to God for this wonderful blog and the community here, as ever.

  5. Have you written an article on “partakers of the divine nature “? I’d like to read it. I didn’t see a search function.

  6. I liked the metaphor. Wrote it in the margin of my Bible. However, it seems to me that the teaching of theosis is very plainly taught in the “New Testament” and can be readily discerned, as long as you aren’t trying to interpret the scriptures through some other lens. Part of the reason I am drawn to Orthodoxy is that it told me what I already knew. However, the “Old Testament” definitely requires the interpretive apparatus of the Tradition.

    I also like the idea that other sheet music may put notes (verses) together in a way that makes noise rather than music and that the right sheet music is recognized for its beauty and elegance.

    What I think is interesting is that while the disciples fumbled around failing to understand that Christ was to be resurrected the Pharisees understood it, anticipated it, and placed a guard there so that the disciples wouldn’t steal the body.


  7. Fr. Stephen Freeman,
    The image of the piano worked for you, do you play the piano? If you don’t I can understand you using in your imagery of making a point. But the point is, those who play without a music sheet have the music in them, the music being the free spirit of God in the world, or Church, where ever it wills and blows. You can not catch it or harness it, perhaps write down a few tunes of a gigantic orchestra of Gods world. He loves his world and gives sheet-music each according to their understanding, cultural environment etc. I am sorry to disagree with you, agreeably, that there is only one sheet of music. We have Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Schumann, Tchaikovsky and the list goes on. Talent abounds in God’s world, and it would be sad if they were all repressed to play only an Orthodox tradition. Tradition is only a tradition, it is not the thing or God. Just like Judaism is not, and added to Christ’s death a resurrection as you stated. Love and peace, I love much in your tradition as well.

  8. Fr Stephen,
    I believe your imagery of the piano/Scriptures would have been very useful for me in a conversation I had with a loved one who lives at a distance from me and has a ‘protestant’ view of the Bible. He believes he doesn’t need a ‘tradition’ to help him read it. His thinking was that the Holy Spirit will reveal to him what he needs to know from it. The one thing that stumped him however (to use your analogy) was that his ‘piano’ was missing some keys. I told him he was reading a ‘protestant’ bible and that the original Bible (the one that Christ and the disciples used) was the Septuagint. (His bible didn’t reference the Septuagint in its translations references). This unsettled him. He was certain I was wrong that there is actually only one Bible, and in the moment I had the unfortunate grist, to say “yes, mine”. (Lord have mercy on my stupidity and pride). Also his Bible did not have the apocryphal writings (which was the initial indicator to me that his bible was different and would likely not have the reference of Isaiah’s prophetic reference of the Virgin Theotokos.

    A better way might have to used your analogy and say something to the effect: even a musician who improvises and seems to have “no sheet music” relies on a tradition and theory of music to be able to improvise in a way that is recognizable as music rather than random noise. (although these days I will admit that some “modern” music sounds like noise me even if it is grounded in theory– ok that’s another tangent.)

    Indeed there is a tradition in science, even when we explore “new frontiers” we use a traditioned system for that exploration. A random “hit and miss” approach would waste too much time and resources, if not lives.

    And salvation is a matter of life and death.

  9. I’m sorry to keep coming back to what I gleaned from St John of Damascus, but if each of us has our own cognitive filtesr created by our individualized experiences, then relying on “the Holy Spirit” to protect us from our cognitive history (which may be real) is assuming that we are always compliant to the Holy Spirit. Now are we really? And how would we know?

  10. P.S. I’m an accordion player wannabe. (Lord have mercy on my family and neighbors)

  11. Maria,
    I do indeed play the piano. Every metaphor has its limits. You have given a good example of where this metaphor does not work. Yes, the music can be formed “in” us. But it also has to be formed and shaped in us. I learned to play with the classics. In my teen years I learned blues and jazz, in which there is lots of improvisation. However, improvisation has its own highly developed grammar. It is not just anything whatsoever.

    The difference is – in Orthodoxy – the music was given in the beginning. God did not give us a Bible and say, “Make of it what you will.” He gave us a tradition and with that we read. The New Testament is the Old Testament as read through the Tradition. In Orthodoxy, if you understand what we mean by tradition, we understand it to be the living and abiding presence of the Holy Spirit in the Church guiding us into all truth.

    Christianity is a tradition not of our own composing.

  12. Maria W,

    Those are very good points. However, don’t take the metaphor too literally. Music like math like good epistemology loses its beauty and elegance when it is incoherent. So, whereas I completely sympathize with your remarks. I can honestly say without any qualms of conscience (which I realize means nothing to anyone else and probably shouldn’t matter to me either) that truth may be presented in a variety of mediums, but the substance is the same. So, arguably Tolkien, Dostoevsky, and the icon of the Ladder of Divine Ascent are very different in their content, but they communicate the same core substance.

  13. David, Maria
    Good illustration. When the so-called various traditions are, in fact, incompatible, then there is a problem. This is not to say that much of what is found in Orthodoxy is not entirely absent elsewhere, it still does not make all things equal, interchangeable, or merely a matter of “beauty.” 30,000 different Protestant denominations is not beauty – it’s chaos.

  14. Maria, what I heard you say is this “God is free to work inside or outside any tradition as he pleases. And no one is obligated to play any other tune, except the one God uniquely gave them to play.” Is that correct?

  15. Fr Stephen-
    The piano analogy *mostly* works for me, but it might work better if we ‘flip’ it.
    I am a guitarist- I can read piano sheet music and produce something that sounds similar to the composer’s intent- but not exactly.. and not with the depth that my wife, a pianist, could.
    My son plays saxophone. He could read the same music, but only play the melody line.
    Another son is a drummer. As a drummer, only the time values of the notes would be playable.
    Yet another son plays kazoo. His interpretation of the music would be based more on what he’s heard of the score than what it actually says….

    Our traditions put rules and limits on what we can “play”. The sheet music (scripture) stays the same, but the instruments (our traditions/hermaneutics)put very hard and fast physical limits on what can actually be played. Only if one uses the instrument that was intended can he fully realize the music as the composer intended.

    (This reminds me a bit of the work of Jeremy Begbie. If you have a few minutes, look up a couple of his talks on YouTube.)

  16. Our traditions put rules and limits on what we can “play”. The sheet music (scripture) stays the same, but the instruments (our traditions/hermaneutics)put very hard and fast physical limits on what can actually be played. Only if one uses the instrument that was intended can he fully realize the music as the composer intended.

    I think the metaphor is quickly being stretched well beyond its limits. However, that being said, I think the focus of Father’s attempt was that the Tradition (sheet music) directs the musician in the correct way to play the song. It is a matter of focusa and direction, not personal revelation, that is the point. Theosis is, I think, very much a communal effort within the Church.

  17. Byron- you are most likely correct. I probably missed the point in my recasting of the metaphor. For that, I apologize and offer no excuse aside from the dissonance provided by my Protestant background.

    What’s interesting to me is that we’ll work and hash through a metaphor, trying to tie it into our experience… but it always seems to be that our experience guides our reading of a metaphor, and not the other way around…

    Seems we do a lot of that…

  18. Father Stephen,

    Beautiful essay. This is precisely why I read your blog. To be clear: not merely for the beauty, but for your instruction & its resultant formative affects on my heart, which are proving to be invaluable.

    Thank you so much for your tireless & diligent labors!

  19. Dee

    It may help your friend to observe that the selection of the 27 books of the New Testament we have today, was made in the 4th century. The selection of some books and rejection of others could only be made in the Church’s Holy Tradition. God did not hand us over a book containing 27 chapters and Orthodox Christians do not perceive the NT as the word of God, in the literal sense that Islam perceives the Kuran.

  20. Thank you Nikolaos! I didn’t think about that history and I’m glad that you have pointed it out. I’ll be better prepared next time. I’m a recent convert and have a lot to learn.

  21. Excellent illustration Father. I played in Orchestra and Band many years ago and I can relate so well to that analogy. One can mechanically play the notes of sheet music and yet never truly play the music until all the instruments are together and a conductor teaches them the inward beauty of the music and leads them through it. Solos never show the depth of the music and until all are present the piece can never truly be played.

  22. Thank you all for your kind responses. I do not like to argue about denominations. Many of them have been a blessing to me and some an irritant where I walked away. We all come from different parts of the world and have different ways of responding and seeing God. Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder, meaning we do not always see things in like manner. I agree, good Theology is very important and sometimes it does not exist in denominations where Intellectualism is not the road-map to living a Christian live. And sometimes it can be an obstacle and get in the way of the application of loving one another in our differences. It is what we do with the Theology and how we apply ourselves to the command of loving one another so the world knows we are his disciples. I like Bonhoeffers, Dietrich’s book on discipleship, and how can I make less of his understanding just because he was a Protestant. I don’t think I have a right to say your understanding is wrong and mine is right. I may not agree, and it may not be for me, perhaps in close proximity daily an irritant and incompatible, that is, if I feel an aversion and do not let you be you and me be me. Our growth is determined much by our DNA, what has been learned and what we still have to learn. Therefore I can only pray for the churches to come together in Love and commit to each other not to compete, (spouses would not, unless there is a gender war going on) accept each others differences and find ways and understandings to unite. It is the only hope. In the end there is no Orthodoxy, Catholic, Protestant etc. there is only being in Christ, and in BEING there can be no other but an instant of unification. This is always worth our effort. (music of the heart)

  23. Maria,

    I find many insights in Taoism, Buddhism, and Catholic texts. It doesn’t surprise me at all that people throughout history and different cultures have developed meaningful ways of being human. This is what you would expect from person’s endowed with the image of God. Personally, I pay other religions the respect to tell me what it means to be Taoist, Buddhist, etc. Taoism never claims to be a path of theosis and neither does Buddhism, Hinduism, Catholicism, Lutheran, or Baptist. Orthodoxy uniquely preserves an ancient tradition that offers a discipline for growing in communion with God. I appreciate your sentiments and they resonate with me because they demonstrate a sympathy for the human condition. A sympathy that Orthodoxy shares. By the same token, if God’s plan is to bring the deepest communion with humankind by virtue of a relationship mediated through a community, how can we argue with that?

  24. Maria,

    Thinking about your remarks has reminded me of one of Jesus’ parables: “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking beautiful pearls, who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had and bought it.” The parable is short, but rich with meaning. First, it doesn’t say that the merchant seeking fine pearls went empty handed until he found one pearl of great price. The parable suggests that the merchant probably found many pearls of REAL value along the way. The merchant perhaps had a valuable assortment of fine pearls. Second, the parable in no way devalues those other pearls. In fact, the parable indicates that the one pearl of great price had all the value of the other pearls combined and then some. The very fact that the others could be given in trade for the one pearl affirms that they had a value of their own. Third, the merchant’s experience in searching for and exchanging pearls of high value placed the merchant in a perfect position to recognize the one pearl of great value when he came across it. So, I would never argue with what you have said. It makes sense to me. By Jesus’ own words there is only one pearl of great value. There are many pearls of value, but only one pearl of great value.

    Peace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with you

  25. David A Foutch,
    We can’t argue with that.
    I never looked into any of the Eastern Religions, I always stayed with the Christian, because for me there could be no other, but never knew there were so many here in the US. It was overwhelming and I lost trust in them. Church starts at home with the intimacy and the love of your parents. When that gets destroyed thru divorce by fault, it tears at the trust of your faith as well, because they are the ones who taught you as well by example. So yes, the broken unions are of deep concern to me, micro to macro, and it tears my heart and soul apart. I could not mend my family, and so I desperately always want to mend those where there is still hope and time. And time runs out for everyone at some point. Church I considered at one time my life and love as well, and found it so fractured here in the US competing and Unchristian. I am just struggling to keep what faith I have left and make peace with my world.

  26. Maria,

    I resonate DEEPLY with your sentiments. I can truly say that your words are mine. I am going through something very similar myself RIGHT NOW. I take consolation in three things. First, the job of mending and bringing integration to dis-integration is not mine. It is truly beyond us. Second, there is a truth that is God’s truth because there is a God. Third, people are not to blame for most of the confusion in their life. God is gracious to the human condition and my faith is that in God nothing good is ever lost. So, there are good reasons for patience!


  27. Food for thought:
    Dietrich Bonhoeffer once said . “We must learn to regard people less in the light of what they do or omit to do, and more in the light of what they suffer.”

  28. David, very well put in your responses to Maria’s concerns!

    Maria, your longing for the healing of the world–your world and the whole of Christendom is certainly God-given. The fracture of your capacity for trust is understandable, given what you describe having been through. It is the same on some level for all of us. None of us escapes the loneliness of shame. It seems to me as if you may also feel a bit hopeless and stuck. Am I understanding that right?

  29. I am not a musician but my late wife was and I have known some extraodinary ones in my life. One thing the good ones have is the ability to listen to the whole composition and hear more than just what is written. The masters are those who are able to reproduce much of what they hear faithfully even beyond the limitations of their instrument. (I knew a Hatian conga drummer who could and did play symphonies on his one drum– Alphonse Cimber)

    I think of the scene in the movie Amadeus when Salieri has written this nice composition that he worked hard over. Mozart takes that bit of music and begins to do all kinds of variations on the theme. The variations just role out of him. Variations that he hears that Salieri did not.

    The Orthodox way listens to the whole score that God writes. No one person hears it all but in the sacramental community of the Church what each person hears, will hear and has heard and more are somehow available to all and God manages to bring even the sour notes into His Harmony.

    Non-Orthodox may make some nice music now and then but it often is just one note music. Worse some take sour notes and think they are music.

    To me the fullness of the Church is standing every day able to listen to all the music as I am able. Most I am not able to reproduce but the music is still there.

  30. Michael Bauman,

    I understand what you’re saying, However, in John 1 Jesus is called the Logos. This is without doubt a reference to the Logos of the pre-Socratic philosophers. When Christianity arrived in China it became very easy to connect the Logos of the Greeks to the Tao of the Chinese. I think it is proper to give give the Holy Spirit and the image of God in man a little more credit in the lives of thinking, honest people outside of Orthodoxy. The language of neo-Platonic philosophers was used to construct a coherent theology of the Trinity. Paul quotes from Roman poet. And Jude contains a reference to a pseudepigraphal book in Judaism. There are other non-canonical references as well.

  31. David,
    Because of my infancy in the faith, I know I need to have caution in my assuming too much in my reading, where my interpretation of the Bible or of the Saints’ writings follows the Orthodox Way. That’s one reason why I participate in this blog, to present my thinking to spiritual elders and specifically to Fr Stephen who inspires me to write, to receive instruction as the case might be. And it is also possible that I misunderstand others here in this blog too, which is why I’m writing this to you, hopefully to understand what you’re writing.

    In my talks with my spiritual father about what I read and do, especially during my catechism, I would present something that might not be of the Tradition of the Church. Sometimes he might say that what I was thinking or doing wasn’t harmful and sometimes we would discuss another way of thinking/doing about a subject that would be closer to the Orthodox Tradition; and sometimes, if necessary, he would encourage me to leave something alone if he thought it wasn’t appropriate. There is trust in this relationship and he is also my confessor priest. This relationship also is the conduit among others whereby I am guided, “traditioned”, into the Orthodoxy way. I welcome that guidance here in this blog too. So I’m working on right now what you have written to Michael, as what Michael wrote, it seems to me, follows closely with what I have learned so far about Orthodoxy.

    What I believe Michael is saying about the ‘one note’ among the non-Orthodox, (Michael correct me if I’m wrong), is that Orthodoxy is the fullness of the faith. This appears to me to be indicative of what the Orthodox elders say, generally. I think Nicholas Griswold was saying something very similar. In your writing to Michael, what you wrote after “however” leaves me a little confused. It’s as though you are presenting something as a counterpoint. But I don’t know how what you wrote would be a counterpoint to what Michael wrote. Are you saying that the use of terms within the Tradition that might have originally had different meanings in other cultures/ systems indicates that the Tradition does not carry the fullness, is that the counterpoint?

    I’m mentioning this because technically, I don’t think Michael or anyone here would argue with you that there might be words, or concepts that might be incorporated into the Tradition that originated elsewhere. But within the Tradition, these words, or concepts take on a deeper meaning that belongs to the Tradition, and that deeper meaning may not necessarily be appropriately ascribed to the original sources. Is it that the notion that these concepts attain meanings in the Tradition and then with using these concepts, that the description of the Tradition as “larger/deeper/fuller”, becomes problematic, in your perspective?

    My interpretation of what people experience who come into Orthodoxy from lives practicing Christian traditions outside of Orthodoxy might be really off because I don’t share that experience. But one commonality that I’m beginning to see with people coming from other Christian faiths into Orthodoxy is a crisis in their faith and a seeking of a resolution of that crisis before finding Orthodoxy. This doesn’t seem to be what happened in your case, is this correct? If it is not what happened to you, could that be the reason that a description of the ‘fullness of the faith’ in Orthodoxy which I think Michael is alluding to, might evoke your response?

    Please forgive me for this long submission. I’m trying to understand if you’re making an objection. or expressing disillusionment, or something else that I didn’t get. I wouldn’t ask if I didn’t appreciate your participation.

  32. Dee,

    I agree completely. Orthodoxy is the fullness of not only Christian faith, but all other faiths as well. But, that is only my conclusion. And I believe that it is implicit to the parable that I referenced earlier.


  33. David I give credit to those outside the Church I honor and have learned much from the personal piety of many non-Orthodox but it is a mistake to see an analog between the pre-Incarnation philosophies and modern day hetrodoxy and heresy.

    The first was a preparation to receive the Truth. The latter a truncation or distorted version of the Truth-a lie. Then there are the damned lies. What the Church has declared heresy.

    If we take seriously the statement “No one comes to the Father except through me” It makes a difference how the “me” is understood. Even more how the “me” is experienced. I have seen too many people led into darkness because they were lied to or tried to approach Jesus as an idea.

    That being said, Jesus is merciful and if anyone seeks Him, He will lead you through any amount of lies, truncations and misunderstandings. Otherwise I would not be here.

    He draws all men to Himself and all descriptions are inadequate. Still in the Orthodox Church alone is the fullness of the mercy revealed.

  34. Forgive me, I don’t play an instrument.

    When I first heard the music of God, I was tone deaf. Later in life, it occurred to me to listen once more. Once I gave myself over to it, I was captivated by its beauty, goodness, and truth. It spoke to the depths of my soul in a way that only music can. I played it over and over. I began to study the sheet music and to sing along. I longed for others to hear it, to sing, too.

    After awhile, I became a Pastor so that I might help others hear for the first time or to hear more deeply.

    One day, I noticed a note out of place. It was a small thing, one note in a grand score, but there it was. Then, I began to hear other wrong notes. And, parts of the arrangement itself seemed somehow off. I was becoming aware of the very faint echo of a more complete orchestration playing in my soul.

    I sought silence in my life to try to hear more clearly what was so faint within. The occasional mis-played note and the sections of poor arrangement were becoming an irritant in the music I once loved. How could this be?

    I joined with a group of pastors who were studying the Catholic mystics. The music was set aright; beauty, goodness, and truth returned. But over time, the inner music that continued to play grew louder and more distinct. The new music I was hearing with my pastor friends was still off in some way I did not understand. What I did know, however, was that I could no longer be content with the music surrounding me, I had to hear the music within.

    When I first attended a Christian Orthodox Church, I knew immediately that I was hearing the music I was longing to hear, the music that had once been so faint within me. I’ve been listening to it for several years now, letting it wash over me and permeate my heart and mind. Slowly, I am hearing nuances previously unnoticed. I try to hum along, but my voice seems croaked in comparison to the glory of the music. I look forward to the day when I might sing along with the voices of the angels and the saints. I have a long way to go

  35. Michael,

    I agree with everything you said. However, here is my one (and as far as I can see) only reservation regarding Orthodoxy: It seems very binary in what it regards as heterodoxy. And that’s fine. However, I cannot and absolutely will not deny my life’s experience for the sake of conforming to a doctrine that doesn’t make any sense. Does that make me heterodox? Fine. Then I’m heterodox. I don’t think there is a single church that doesn’t regard me as heterodox. Regardless, I have seen the deepest faith in Jews who survived the holocaust, profound humility among the Hindus, deep devotion among Muslim’s, reverence among Catholics, great compassion among Buddhists, and love among the Protestants. The image of God is not diminished in any one of us and there are many people in who that image is greatly expressed. My regard for the icon that is humankind compels me to honor the God and the truth in all people. And for me this is not up for debate.

    If you care to know where I stand with respect to Orthodoxy then read my earlier posts. I think I make it clear to the discerning reader.


  36. David,
    Isn’t it great that we can leave all judgment about who will be saved or not to God? I often have trouble discerning where my own heart is, let alone that of my neighbor. I can only do the thing at hand. If that is giving someone a drink, I’ll do that. If another asks for money, I’ll offer that if I have it. I’ve stopped watching world and national news because it tends to overwhelm me and often arouses my passions. I can’t handle it. Village life was so different. You knew your neighbor. You could help them whenever possible. One could offer Christ to a neighbor who was open to receiving him. And you usually did not have to worry about Muslims, Hindus, or those of other religions, because you may have not even been aware of their existence. Local life, ones sphere of influence, is much more manageable. Our daughters are not Orthodox. But they are Christian. We love them. We respect who they are. At Easter, I can pray Orthodox prayers with all the extended family, with no ones objection. We can only do that, I think… whatever we believe is the next right thing. Anyone of us can say to one seeking, ” Come and see.” At least, this is how I must live without being stressed out.

  37. Since I started learning about Orthodoxy there seems to be disagreement amongst the Orthodox about who can and cannot be saved, and the concept of salvation is quite different from my Protestant roots.

    The differences seem to fall along a continuum, from ‘we can have no idea who is saved and who is t, only God knows,’ to the opposite extremes of ‘only those baptized in the Orthodox Church can be saved.’

    For a Protestant, for whom salvation from Hell was taught as an utmost, urgent concern, I find this bewildering. It brings discomfort to me as I try to understand.

  38. Dean,

    You remind me of two scriptural passages:

    Matthew 25:37-40 “Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You? Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.”

    The righteous in these verses are not aware of the connection between humanity and God. As a result, when they show compassion it is without thought of reward. However, Jesus says in Matthew 10 “And whoever gives one of these little ones only a cup of cold water in the name of a disciple, assuredly, I say to you, he shall by no means lose his reward.”

    …he shall by no means lose his reward.

    This reminds me of another verse Acts 10 “In every nation whoever fears Him and works righteousness is accepted by Him.”

    Dare we hope that all men be saved? Maybe as Orthodox Christians we cannot say that all people will be. but that does not mean that we should not hope that all men would be. In fact, I would argue that if your heart is like that of Fr. Zossima who said “”Love all God’s creation, the whole and every grain of sand in it. Love every leaf, every ray of God’s light. Love the animals, love the plants, love everything. If you love everything, you will perceive the divine mystery in things. Once you perceive it, you will begin to comprehend it better every day. And you will come at last to love the whole world with an all-embracing love.” In other words, ‘you will come at last to love the world as God loves it.’ And in so doing I would imagine that such a heart would ONLY hope that all people would be saved.


  39. Dean I wanted to mention here that I thought your description about the ticket and the dog was hilarious. It is amazing how this happens, the zealousness and the blindness.

    Your description of your family life sounds beautiful. I am grateful for your stories about such life.

    My own family is somewhat mystified (probably putting it mildly) about how it happened that I am now here (an Orthodox Christian). The one I describe above at May 17, 12:35, is someone I love dearly and that love is mutual, even though we sometimes squabble about religion, the love endures. He goes to church once a year, but prays grace at every meal and reads his Bible daily. When he came to visit, he wanted to come with me to Divine Liturgy, but he was frustrated that he would not be allowed to come to the cup. He believed he was entitled to it. His personal observation (which he never mentioned) perhaps between the two of us, was that he seemed to be much more closer to God. He saw me at prayer in the Divine Liturgy, but didn’t see me at prayer at home (my morning prayers are quite early and I prefer to do them privately). But at home I have another loved one, who is abjectly anti-religion (though not atheist). Christian religion to him and specifically Protestantism to him, is the epitome of what the typical Christian might call the ‘anti-Christ’. Its taken me quite a while to help him realize that Orthodoxy is not the same as the Protestantism he has and is exposed to. He now has a new word in his vocabulary, “Evangelicals”. So now instead of making a disparaging remark about “Christians” he now says the “E” word in its place. I don’t make a habit of saying grace out loud at the table in his presence. It would upset him. But he does see me pray before the icons at home, and glory be to God that doesn’t upset him. This is all about what he sees “Protestants” or “Evangelicals” do and say to him or in public. These real events do not help him appreciate my entry into Orthodoxy, but throw him into a panic that he might be “losing” me. It is always important to us both that I show him continually that I love him not ‘despite’ my coming into Orthodoxy, but all the more through the life that Christ has transformed in me.

  40. Kristin,

    God does not tell us everything. Personally, I fill the voids in my understanding with as much hope as humanly possible.

  41. Karen,
    Hopeless in the sense that I realize it is not up to me, stuck in the sense of where do I go from here. You can not go back (as for me to my homeland, time has changed me and them as well). As a Christian I have not been able to fit into any denominational Church here. I’ve always listened to a different drummer, the still small voice within, and I have become a Stranger in a stranger Land/World. Most of all, I have never felt WELCOMED and always get thrown out, even in my family, unless I give up my values, believes, culture, mind/thinking, and speaking etc. And I can’t do that. I am the sum total of all my ancestry, my present life’s experiences and learnings and I have to live and make the best of it. Keep what is worth keeping for the sake of LIFE, and let go what does not matter anyhow.
    I do carry a deep abiding religious, intuitive sense, experience and learnings from my early years and vigorously defend it. It has kept me alive and on a straight and narrow path throughout all of my life, of course distained after a while by everyone I meet. My life is best described as an outcast, though sometimes I really don’t know what unforgivable crimes I have committed. (blind-spots) Thought and ego crimes for sure and I am sorry for those.
    I just don’t know where to go from here….call it cross roads, asking what is still worth doing as we are getting older. Making Peace with my world seems appropriate since I’ve been living in a war-zone here in the US and everyone finds it quite normal, thrives and feeds on profit, poor and rich alike. It is heart breaking to watch. I live by my faith, as every man that comes into to this world has been given, and it so happened I was born into a Christian family where most of their ancestors before the wars came from Eastern Europe, Christians also. I am just a continuum from times past, blessings and curses I must work with today. Understanding my/the faith of my ancestors and parents is relevant if it is of the “TRUTH”. Truth of being is what I am after, if that makes any sense.

  42. Also, I might add that sometimes I’m a sloppy writer and I ask for forgiveness in that. But in the case of the word cup above, I believe it was appropriate to use the lower case c. I believe that it is the cup he understands and wanted and not the Cup, which he does not yet know. I sincerely believe we don’t know the Cup until it is given to us.

  43. Brief thoughts on Orthodox and Heterodox (etc)…

    It’s beside-the-point in many ways. Orthodox Christianity is what it is – the path of union with God through Christ in the Holy Spirit. It does not have to declare anything about everything else in the world, all of which exists through the multitudinous iterations of history. Orthodox Christianity is called to be faithful to what it has received and those who enter it should be about the business of working out their salvation from day to day with fear and trembling. It is very easy to be distracted by many things and forget that the point is union with God.

    Fr. Thomas Hopko’s son, Fr. John Hopko, was asked about what his father was up to after he retired. Fr. John replied, “He’s traveling around telling people to remember that it’s all about God.”

    And now for a quick word on the Modern Project:

    The Modern Project has been around for a few hundred years, largely the result of a lot of things in the political/social world. It is committed to building “a better world” and has notions like progress, prosperity, global trade, etc. It has an antipathy for anything that gets in its way, particularly religious beliefs. All religious beliefs are ok, so long as they don’t matter. If your religious beliefs begin to conflict with the agenda of the modern project, then your religion will be seen as “backwards” “reactionary” etc.

    Most religions in the context of the modern world have learn to carry themselves rather lightly – to have their beliefs, but in a way that they don’t matter. Thus, people talk about their “spiritual lives” as if there was anything in our lives that is somehow not spiritual.

    Orthodoxy proclaims the Christian faith in the same manner that it has for 2000 years – and many times it has gotten us killed. We do not have to speak about those outside of Orthodoxy, but whenever we cease to speak of Orthodoxy itself in relativistic ways, or minimalizing ways, we simply give way to the culture gods are begin to agree that only the powers of the culture matter.

    The Church’s “boundaries” are clear and defined by the canons…we don’t have to guard them. But it is essential in our lives to leave the boundaries and move into the higher country (higher up and further in).

    At the same time, be kind and merciful to all.

  44. Kristen,
    Sometimes I had concerns also by different things said among Orthodox or even the clergy. Fr Stephen has the blessings of the hierarchy of the Church for his ministry. Address your questions to him. I encourage you because I have always considered his words helpful.

  45. Dee,
    Thanks for your encouraging words.
    As Michael said, your comments encourage him also.
    I had forgotten about Peter’s words in Acts 10. I had underlined them years back. Thanks
    Remember, we don’t have to have a lot of faith to be saved. Jesus said faith as small as a mustard seed could move mountains. Shortly before my father passed, he grew anxious about his salvation. I reminded him of this verse. And Kristen, as David notes, we as Orthodox can indeed hope that all will be saved. I once saw a list of verses that seemed to point toward this hope. I only remember one, …”He is the Savior of all men, especially of those who believe.” ITim.4:10 Please remember that God desires that your loved ones be saved even more than you.

  46. Maria,

    Here is what I know as matter of fact:
    You are on the right path.
    God is with you–you are not alone.
    And you are in the right place at the right time.

    You said “Truth of being is what I am after, if that makes any sense.” I could not agree more Truth of Being is the only truth that matters.

    Lord’s Peace be with You

  47. David,
    Bonhoeffer wrote this during WWII in prison waiting to be executed. We judge people mostly by their actions of what they do and not do , because it affects our life’s. It starts in the family to politics. Like, show me you love me, words are cheap. If thirsty and I have no water will you give me a drink? By their fruits you will know them. Do we give LIFE, or do we hand out a death sentence to another. (Jesus offered freely to anyone who is thirsty to drink from the fountain of life he will offer them) What we do and leave out, or not do does matter. But in case you do not give me a drink of water, how am I to see you as it may be a death sentence for me, as it was in Bonhoeffers case. Perhaps it is best to view my abusers, perpetrators, or those who disagree with me, by what they are suffering to make them so hateful, revengeful and unreceptive to see life and goodness in the other. Meaning the perpetrators needs as much redemption as the victim does. Hope this makes sense.

  48. David,
    I wish to point out that by’ fullness’, the Orthodox Church speaks humbly of its ontological reality. It isn’t a personal conclusion of any of its members, even if they make the mistake of thinking of it as such. And this is the thinking encouraged by the Modern Project that Fr Stephen refers to.

    All are in the Image of God but that does not speak of the ontological and individual reality that all are not in the Likeness of God. It is not in our place to say where we are in that likeness, we are not God and don’t know. But it is given to the Church to be the Bride of Christ, not to others. It is an ontological reality not a political discourse. Though Christians other than Orthodox have suffered or have been put to death for their beliefs or political participation, that does not change the ontological reality of the Church.

  49. Maria,

    Victim and perpetrator alike need God’s mercy. That is so true, Maria. But the scripture says, “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved…And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.” If you love the light, then God is with you and you will be drawn to the light. But, there are people who love the darkness. If you love darkness and you choose to do evil things, then you will reap what you sow, as the scripture says “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap. For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life. And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart.” God does not force anyone to love the light.


  50. Fr Stephen, I seem to be standing at the boundary still. Please forgive me. I’m getting off now.

  51. I have seen the deepest faith in Jews who survived the holocaust, profound humility among the Hindus, deep devotion among Muslim’s, reverence among Catholics, great compassion among Buddhists, and love among the Protestants. The image of God is not diminished in any one of us and there are many people in who that image is greatly expressed.

    I would only add that the Image of God we possess is an image of communion. It is “Let US create Man in Our image”. It encompasses all things and brings all things into it. Any truth, any profound love or humility, is of that image. The fullness of all these things is in the Orthodox Church but God works in all things for the salvation of mankind. “We know where the Church is, we do not know where it is not.”

  52. Dee,

    When I couch my language in subjective terms it is because I eschew any attempts ON MY PART to treat faith and the things of faith as objects. What I DON’T mean is “true for me” or “my personal opinion.” When I use subjective terms I mean “I have experienced it as such.” You said in your comments” “The Orthodox Church speaks humbly of its ontological reality. It isn’t a personal conclusion of any of its members, even if they make the mistake of thinking of it as such.” This will sound horribly arrogant. I apologize in advance. But in all sincerity I would say that there is a mistake in that statement. And the mistake stems from how you regard the value of human experience. I would be more explicit, but if you don’t see it, then I doubt I would have the wherewithal to explain it.


  53. Byron,

    I’m trying to relate what you are saying with what I said. Aren’t we saying the same thing? I don’t see anything in statements that diminish the idea of communion. In the context in which I was writing I just didn’t lay emphasis there. That doesn’t mean that I am not aware of its significance. Or am I wrong in saying that?

  54. David,

    I didn’t mean to say your weren’t aware of the significance of communion, only that it seemed to me it was not being recognized in the general conversation. At the time I wrote that note, there were also fewer comments (the conversation is moving quite quickly)! Forgive me if I’m mistaken in that.

    I don’t want to overlook the human experience but I wish to emphasize that our experience(s) will only find the fullness of God, of Theosis, within the Church. I think that understanding is important. Our experiences are of great importance, but we cannot correctly interpret and bring proper focus to them outside of the Body of Christ. I think there is a parallel to the nature of scripture here and perhaps the nature of icons (humans?) as well.

    Perhaps Father could make sure I am not thinking incorrectly?

  55. Please forgive me David. Your words were more precisely “only my conclusion…” I interpret “only my” as “in your head/mind only” and I interpret “conclusion” to mean a summation of a logic or logical set of statements. Both these statements and those you subsequently provided to clarify that you are referencing your experience, express an internal state of faith. The reality of the Church I spoke of isn’t an experience ‘only’ but an objective reality. My intention to say that, is not to diminish your or anyone else’s personal experience but to describe a reality that encompasses all.

  56. Dee,

    You’re making my point. What does it mean to say something is an “objective reality”?

  57. Dee,

    I would like to add that I’m not asking you that to be dogmatic. I think that it is an important question to answer.

  58. To answer that faithfully I shall defer to my spiritual elders here. As I will likely answer that in terms of science rather than faith and I’m an infant in the faith.

  59. Bryon, well said and I totally agree. You said:
    I would only add that the Image of God we posse is an image of communion. It is “Let US create Man in Our image”.
    And so it is for those who were created in the light. The image is the light without a shadow. (my conclusion)

  60. Dee,

    Simply put, something that is ‘objectively real’ is something that can be experienced, like a sunset. We all can experience a sunset. Everyone can watch the sun “go down.” And we all know what it means to say that the ‘The sunset is beautiful.’ So, we experience sunsets as objective realities, but is the concomitant experience of beauty an objective reality? We all know what that experience feels like, it seems fairly universal, but is it objective? I would say that it is not objective. However, I would argue that just because the experience of beauty, awe, wonder, or love is subjective does not take away from the meaning and transformative power of those experiences. Ontology is not objective, but the person’s experience, participation, and communion in that fullness is highly subjective.


  61. David, it might be helpful to read Fr Stephen’s book, “Everywhere Present”.

  62. Byron,

    “I wish to emphasize that our experience(s) will only find the fullness of God, of Theosis, within the Church. I think that understanding is important.”

    I agree completely. And this, for me, IS the one pearl of great price. The pearl for which I would give up all other things of value: Communion with God. Having said that, I am not threatened or feel put out by any work of salvation that God may be performing outside the Church. That’s His business, not mine. I trust that God is working out all things for Good.

    Peace, brother

  63. Hi David,

    Thank you for your response. My post was only intended to play with FrS’s music metaphor, which attracted me.

    I have an MA in Christian Apologetics, which, of course, means that I spent many hours reading and writing and engaging in conversation about the arguments for this belief or that belief. I enjoy the ‘head’ side of our faith, if one were to try to bifurcate it. However, the argumentation became tiresome to me.

    From within Orthodoxy, I believe I have nothing to say outside of Orthodoxy…which is what I believe FrS said more eloquently in a comment just above. That is not to say that I believe that you or the people you mentioned will experience the heat of God’s love. I simply have nothing to say about it one way or the other.

    I try (and mostly fail) to indeed be about the business of working out my own salvation without distraction. I also now just say to others who seem interested, “come and see.”

    Christ is risen.

  64. Mike B,

    I am working on a PhD in Genome Science and Technology. I presently am conducting research in theoretical immunology using numerical analysis to solve a system of differential equations to model the behavior of CD4 and CD8 T-cells. I have also contributed to research in bioinformatics, systems biology, and comparative genomics. I understand your position. However, I have a compelling love and sympathy for my fellow humans. This discussion for me is anything but academic. Academic wrangling for me entails determining why a model is over-fitting data. I could neither worship nor love a God for whom there was no hope at all for people outside Orthodoxy. I am ANYTHING but apathetic towards the human condition if for no other reason than I happen to be one. And if I take seriously the idea of our common humanity is made in the image of God in the sense of communion and if I take seriously the idea that the human heart is a microcosm, then from that I can only conclude that my fate is deeply connected to the rest of creation. Ergo, I cannot leave my involvement at “come and see.” BUT, I will end my contribution to this thread by saying that I pack the voids of my understanding full of hope in a God who is merciful and loves mankind.


  65. David and Mike B,
    While I studied data involving the Higgs potential energy field and the implications that data revealed regarding space and ‘material reality’ I stumbled on an icon of Christ, while I was yet an unbeliever. My attempts to understand that data eventually brought me into the Orthodox Church. I rely heavily on my spiritual elders and the Tradition of the Church to help me with the understanding of that icon and even to understand what an icon is. That’s one reason reason why I’m so grateful for Stephen’s ministry, here. It is also one reason why Protestant and Catholic theology was insufficient to help me.

  66. Thank you, Maria!

    Btw, I am an admirer, too, of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. I read the new biography of him by Eric Metaxas just a few years ago. He was quite an amazing example of Christian intelligence and courage, who gained significant wisdom through the trials of his time he endured. Yes, seeking for truth of Being (which we might identify with Jesus Christ, as He knows Himself to be) is the only search worth making. I don’t believe any who seek this foundational truth in integrity will ultimately be disappointed, no matter the roadblocks and setbacks in this life they may endure. It is the gospel (the character of God revealed in Jesus Christ) that gives me that hope. In that, I am sure you and I have a lot of common ground.

    I am of East German (Prussian) descent on my mother’s side and English on my dad’s, though only one of my grandparents was born in another country, and he came here when he was four. I spent part of my upbringing living in N. Ireland and later in Lancashire Co., England (a total of about six years during my formative years before the age of 15), so I am what is known as a “third culture kid”, which has some unique challenges and gifts. (I also recently discovered how I came by my many social hang-ups when I watched a series on Netflix entitled “Very British Problems”!) I know what it is like to feel a bit out of place no matter where I go or who I am with. The more at peace I become with my own neediness and weakness (shame), which only a growing vision of the boundless compassion of our Savior allows (a compassion most times revealed for me through people who have come to know Him well–some of whom I only know by reading about them), the less it matters that I seldom , if ever, fully feel I belong. Like those who launched out in faith seeking God before us, we, too, are foreigners and sojourners , pilgrims only, in this world, seeking a better kingdom, the one which is to come (Hebrews 11:11-16).

    Thank you for sharing a little bit of that journey and yourself with us here!

  67. Wow, David. I sure would love to pick your brain on the science you are doing. Dee’s story, too about how physics gave her an icon of Christ that led her to Orthodoxy is fascinating to me. I would love to know more of those details. I am continually in wonder at how God has written Himself into the very fabric of the cosmos, if only we have eyes (and heart) to see.

    Your last comment where you begin, “However. I have a compelling love and sympathy for my fellow human beings….” and to the end fully describes my own perspective (though far more eloquently) and why I found the fullness of Orthodoxy was the only Christian tradition with a vision of God in His love big enough to hold that hope. One of the biggest struggles I have in the Church as things are “on the ground” so to speak is that every member of the Orthodox Church (including me) and Orthodox parish will have their own limitations in terms of how clearly that vision given us in Christ is seen and reflected. This is true no matter where we go–another aspect of the reality that we are all, in this life, on a journey…

    It’s been a pleasure to interact with you (and others) here, brother!

  68. Fr. Freeman says:

    We do not have to speak about those outside of Orthodoxy, but whenever we cease to speak of Orthodoxy itself in relativistic ways, or minimalizing ways, we simply give way to the culture gods are begin to agree that only the powers of the culture matter,

    .. Does this mean anyone outside of Orthodoxy is irrelevant and there is no other but Orthodoxy? It resembles much the Jewish mindset, they feel and think the same way. To them even Orthodoxy is heretic.

  69. Karen,
    thank YOU for sharing your story. I am with you too. Funny, I am 2/3 Eastern European and 1/3 British. We are practically related.
    Peace and Love my Sister.

  70. Hi David,

    In both your responses to me you seem to be reading into my comments what is not in my mind or heart. Please forgive me my apparent inability to communicate well with you. If I have misunderstood your responses to me, please forgive me that, as well.

    I hope your studies go well.


  71. David, if anything I said led you to believe I would not agree with what you said, I communicated badly.

    I never said nor meant to imply that salvation is only for the Orthodox.

    However, discernment is important. I have seen too many people for whom I care damaged by untruth.

    As one who was trained in history and have practiced it as an avocation my entire life primary sources are key. The Orthodox Church is the primary source for experiencing communion with Christ. Without it, the secondary sources lack both context and meaning.

  72. Karen,

    I could not agree with you more. The God of Orthodoxy is the only God I found in my searching worthy of my devotion and capable of sustaining my hope.


  73. Maria,

    Here are some words you may appreciate from a contemporary Orthodox Bishop familiar with the American context. (He has now been formally recognized as a Saint within the Orthodox Church):

    My own immediate family members remain in the Evangelical Protestant church where I was for decades and where I met my husband. My own parents and many of my extended family members are devout Christians in various Protestant churches.

  74. Fr. Freeman,
    A strange answer coming from a Priest. What if Jesus would have thought that…none of my business, ….he engaged in the “other”, the ones who were despised. He showed and was concerned about the survival of his Tribe, and made it his business to judge the spirit of his time and upcoming doom, inside and outside of the accepted spheres of Teachers, Rabbis and Priests.
    I thank God for my Teacher who made it his business outside of his fold to accept me. I guess I am still far from the hope of a Church.

  75. Maria,
    I’m sorry, I believe you missunderstand Fr Stephen. Taking his words out of context doesn’t usually help. Perhaps look at his last sentence at the end of what he wrote at may 18, 12:34.

  76. Maria,

    Fr. Stephen can also clarify, but I believe you will find you have misinterpreted his statement. What he means falls under the principle outlined by the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 5:9-13:

    “9 I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— 10 not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world. 11 But now I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister[c] but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler. Do not even eat with such people.

    12 What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? 13 God will judge those outside. “Expel the wicked person from among you.”[d]”

    Orthodox Christians (and especially Bishops and Priests) are to engage in spiritual discernment and discipline of those in their charge who have already been properly instructed and had access to the grace of God in the Church. But we are not to treat those who have not been so instructed in the same way for reasons that should be obvious. This does not mean we do not engage such in Christian love and outreach–rather, the opposite (and Fr. Stephen is very actively involved in such, not the least of all in this blog, but certainly in other ways as well). But we don’t attempt to discern and discipline in matters of faith and conscience in the same way with the uninstructed and with those outside our own province of knowledge and responsibility. It seems to me that the principles in Romans 14 also apply, especially vs. 4.

    When somebody becomes Orthodox, part of the understanding of what this means is he has given his assent and is willing to submit to the teaching, discernment and discipline of his own Bishop, Priest and parish. It is then the business of Orthodox Bishops and Priests to teach and discipline and do their best to discern together with the help of the Holy Spirit when there is a need for correction, when a member of his flock is spiritually endangering their soul by some spiritual belief, practice or moral infraction that may be leading them away from salvation and Christ. It is not their business to do this for someone who has not given this permission, nor even asked for this. These are properly left in God’s hands, knowing He is able to care for these sort of needs where we not been given either permission, nor adequate experience and information to engage in this level of discernment.

    In summary, if I am an Orthodox Christian, it is my responsibility to love and pray for everybody, and to be faithful as God gives me grace to the teachings and practices of the Church in my own life, which means I will also proclaim them as I am able. It is not my job to judge another’s status before God, especially in terms of what the final outcome of their life will be (in truth, I can’t even know this for myself!)–that is His business.

  77. Karen-

    I, too, am a third culture kid (US military brat who spent 6 years in Germany, from 12-18, very important years). I also find I do not feel I belong in any particular place. Sometimes that seems ok, other times I struggle deeply.

    For everyone, I am going to sum up a couple thoughts from this blog post and comments.

    Salvation of others, to the Orthodox, is God’s business. You are to love and pray, extend kindness and forgiveness to all. Your primary desire is for theosis in your own life, which comes through The Church, the life of the Church, the sacraments. You seek holiness. That is not to say to lack concern for those outside the church, on the contrary. This does not mean you do not share the Gospel, but you also do not hammer people with it or scare them into faith (as if that were truly possible).

    Protestants, in my experience as one, is that the question of salvation is the primary concern, for self and others. Salvation means saved from the fiery pit of Hell. Interactions with perceived non believers become fraught with the attempt to persuade, even cajole, the other into a salvation moment. Fear and dread. When you throw reformed theology into the mix, it gets even messier. There is a driving desire to parse it all out, to have a complete, comprehensive soteroology, to know that which belongs to God alone perhaps, and becomes an exercise in futility mixed with desperation. This is MY experience, maybe no one else’s.

    Is this a fair understanding in the collective experience of y’all? I am very open to corrections in my thinking. I truly desire it.


  78. Karen,
    Thank you for the explanation, I get it and I agree. I stay away from deceitful, etc. people too and know it is beyond me to figure them out why they are the way they are. Don’t throw your pearls before the swine’s. I’ve learned my lessons in life too. Arrogant and prideful people too.
    I was looking in from my perspective of being an outsider to your Orthodoxy, and knowing myself, I am even writing to you here, struggling with words, and then read” outsiders are none of my business to figure out” (from my perspective of where I am being a neighbor to you on this blog writing), it read/felt to me like a blow, you are not Orthodox and outside and therefore NONE-EXISTING, not so much by my co-learners, you and David who have responded in kind manner to me and invited me into your conversation to be a part. To me it is important how outsiders are viewed and treated. Any foreigner would understand what I am saying and what this in and out group mentality brings with it. I lived by being in the world, but not off it. It has become increasingly more difficult with the assaults and leveling of making all things equal. No differentials or discernment’s, even within the Christian culture. I do not seek a cult or cult-mentality, Jesus broke and went outside to give his message, because within they were out to silence him and he found his death for speaking the truth. I personally still want to live.
    My earlier comment was that Orthodoxy and Judaism have this rigid in and out group mentality which has caused so much bloodshed of centuries past, and of which I do not want to be a part of. Yes, what does Orthodoxy stand for and how it governs and sees their world, dominance or lording over the flock, or dishes penalties etc. not interested going back to the middle-ages either. YOU do not stand outside of me as a Church, and I do have BEING no greater or lesser than your being an inside member of Orthodoxy. Many stood outside of the Temple and they were Abrahams children. My defense feels a little ridiculous to me. Pretty haughty to think or limit God to only his Church activity, an audacity to presume that. May God show his mercy.
    If I am of no concern to the church, the church is of no concern to me. Lessons learned.
    Karen thank you again, I totally agree and appreciate the time you took and to clarify, make and give me your understanding. I got it. Not sure if it was his point, perhaps and I will presume it was. Peace and Thank

  79. Fr. Stephen, if you still have it up somewhere on the blog, this might be a good place to link to the blog article where you paid tribute to your father-in-law, recognizing the role of his faith in your life. I remember you wrote in a comment somewhere surrounding that subject that those unable to recognize a person like your father-in-law as a true friend of God (just because of the brute fact he happened to live his faith–for the reasons St. Philaret describes in the quote I linked to–outside the normative bounds of the Church) are in delusion.

  80. Pardon the reference to Fr Stephen’s words were located at May 18 at 12:13. Last sentence.

  81. Dear Fr. Freeman,

    Thanks for this excellent article!

    Your use of music as an analogy for Sacred Tradition reminded me of the Ainulindalë at the beginning of the Silmarillion. Knowing your admiration for Tolkien, I was expecting you to throw in a mention of the Music of the Ainur somewhere in the article! 🙂

    Yours in Christ,

    P.S. A link for the (unlikely) reader of this blog who is not familiar with Tolkien’s legendarium:

  82. Maria,

    You remind me so much of myself that I’m shocked. That last post of yours could have been one of my own. That poor guy has two people giving him trouble now. I promise you that he actually cares very much for people inside and outside the Church. But as a priest he has a very specific domain within which he functions. All he is communicating to you is that he has to be realistic about what he can do as well as faithful to what he has been called to do. The man isn’t insensitive to those outside of Orthodoxy, I promise you that.

    But, I tell you, we’re two of a kind. And because I resonate with your passion and concern for others let me say this to you: You are on the right path. Just be patient, read the blog, continue to interact with people here, and pray. More than anything else…pray.

    Peace be with you sister!

  83. Maria,
    You’ve misunderstood my comment. I am deeply concerned about the non-Orthodox in every possible way. What I meant was that it is none of my business to judge them, or to try and fix them, etc. I love them and serve them – probably as much or more than I do the Orthodox flock that is mine as a priest. I can say that God is at work everywhere for the salvation of all. But I cannot describe that work or say too much about it because it’s not at all clear how God is doing that.

    I speak of Orthodoxy because I understand that this is what God has given us in Christ. It is the Church. Not perfect, not “better than yours,” or any such thing, simply the faithful, unbroken tradition of the faith going back directly to Christ Himself. It is the Church spoken of in Scripture. The Scriptures do not describe denominational Christianity or explain it, or support it.

    When I write, I do what I can to share what I know. I don’t know everything, just some things.

  84. Maria,
    I have been interested in converting to Orthodoxy for the last couple of years and haven’t yet because of the issues you raise. I’m currently an Evangelical and struggle with the certainty of their thinking, like Orthodoxy is the truest form of Christianity. It feels arrogant to me when they state that they don’t know where the Spirit is in relation to other churches, like it’s a miracle that He (God) even deals with them. Also their claim that our goal is union with God…..that feels narrow and insular. When you look at the nineteenth century it was Protestants that had the greatest missionary zeal for Africa and Asian continents. Scripture says that Love the Lord your God and your neighbor as yourself the rest of the commandments hang on these two. Not an individualistic pietistic approach of the flight of the alone to the Alone. Nuff said

  85. Hello Bob. Welcome to the blog (if you’ve been here a while and I missed your input, please forgive me)! I would point out that Orthodoxy is almost the opposite of the “individualistic pietistic approach”; communion is central to the faith and the working out of Theosis within the Body of Christ. The individualism of the modern world, and the primacy it holds, is anathema to Orthodoxy. Additionally, while the idea of piety is not completely absent in Orthodoxy, the legalism of the pietistic approach is lacking. Orthodoxy is very much about humility and repentance in all aspects of life.

    We don’t claim to know “where the Spirit is in relation to other churches” because it is not revealed to us; God works where and how He will and we accept that. But we also know the shape of what has been revealed by God – the Church that Father Stephen described so well: “simply the faithful, unbroken tradition of the faith going back directly to Christ Himself. It is the Church spoken of in Scripture.” The shape of the Church is the shape of our salvation.

    I’m not clear on what you mean by union with God being “narrow and insular.” Perhaps you could expand on that thought?

  86. Hi Byron, What I mean by “narrow and insular” is the striving for union with God seems very individualistic. I think of “heaven” as a community around the table at the feast of the Lamb, enjoying one another and God. It seems like union with Christ alone is boring, because we know so little of a relationship with God.

  87. Bob,
    I understand your sentiments. I really do. The question that really pushed me towards Orthodoxy concerns theosis. Evangelicals act like that idea is absurd, heretical, or even satanic depending on how they interpret Genesis 3. Yet, clearly the scripture points to theosis as what is intended for those seeking communion with God. Every evangelical minister that says the eucharist is for memorial purposes only is denying the heart and soul of worship. Every evangelical minister that says that baptism is only the first step in obedience is denying the intended purpose of baptism. Can I say that God isn’t there saving people? Nope. God is every where working to save every one. However, the sacraments have been at the heart of worship for nearly 2000 years and there is an ancient tradition that traces back to the apostles that guides how we are to understand the sacraments. In my less dogmatic moments I understand the impulse to try and start over from scratch (actually I did that and ended up in Orthodoxy) , what I don’t understand (now) is why throw away 2000 years of tradition and sources that date back to the apostles?

  88. Bob,
    You’re right. Union with God as individual would be boring, or much worse. It’s why, for example, there’s so much presence of the saints in Orthodox life and practice. The Church’s services and buildings are full of them! The Scriptures describe God as the “Lord of Sabbaoth,” the “Lord of Hosts,” or, better, the Lord of a vast crowd. To draw close to God (theosis) is necessarily to draw closer to people, both living here and living there.

  89. Thanks for the clarification, Bob. I would (generally speaking) agree with your assessment of heaven; the communion of the Saints at the throne of God is very real. We do not know the fullness of that communion yet but even the glimpses we are given are unbelievably fulfilling and salvific – anything but boring! Union with Christ is truly union with everything; God sustains all of Creation, ourselves included, at all times.

  90. Bob,
    I might also add that the Eucharist/ Communion is never a solitary event. It is done in the context of Community. Yes, we strive for Theosis, but it is not an individualistic process. It requires us all, including those who have gone before us. Our struggle against the passions within ourselves may seem individualistic on the surface, but we all do it together, encouraging, lifting each other up and praying for each other. We are all in this together, the Saints who have gone before and us who are yet to leave for we cannot go on to perfection without all of us.

  91. Thanks guys, for the nuanced interactions and kindness towards those who are wandering towards Christ

  92. Maria,

    I knew Fr. Stephen’s real attitude and position would be clarified, and it has been. Like David, I’m sure each of us (especially from Protestant backgrounds) have “been there, done that” in terms of sometimes wildly misunderstanding what is meant by certain Orthodox expressions of biblical faith and traditional Orthodox practices before we finally (usually over the course of years, not hours, days and months) start to understand something of their real meaning and implications in their own context–a context that is very different from that of the Reformation-Counter Reformation polemics between the Protestant Reformers and the Papacy of 15th and 16th centuries. The latter context has come to be the predominating one for how those in Western Christian traditions, both Catholic and Protestant, tend to evaluate the teachings and practices of various denominations in the West and the meaning of the Scriptures themselves. The Orthodox context and understanding of Scripture is completely outside that whole context and actually predates it by several centuries. The modern Western dilemmas and dichotomies of “faith vs. works”, “Pope/bishop vs. no Pope/bishop”, “the action of grace vs. the freedom of the human will”, etc., do not exist in at all the same way for the Orthodox. That’s why, “Come and see!” is the only really viable plan and method for us to effectively share what our faith really means and does not mean with others. Hanging around this blog and continuing to dialogue and ask questions is one way to do that. If you have any local Orthodox friends or a parish you can visit would be another.

    I feel that I both said too much and too little in my (overly complicated) attempt to make more clear for you the meaning of “not my business” in the sense Fr. Stephen was using it. The passage in 1 Corinthians 5, though the principle does apply and that language is actually used in vs. 12, is also loaded with potential to add to serious misunderstanding in the context in which we are speaking in that various modern Protestant Christian groups have used it as the basis for the practice of what is known as “shunning”–which means to cut off all contact with members no longer willing to comply with the norms of the group or who leave their particular sect. These forms of shunning are very legalistic, sometimes quite arbitrary, coercive and abusive (even if those who believe they must practice this to be faithful to Scripture don’t intend it that way), and many groups that understand this passage as teaching “shunning” are also very cult-like in their social dynamics. This is not, from an Orthodox perspective, the proper meaning and application of what Paul teaches here. An Orthodox parish that seems cult-like in its dynamics, even after you get used to the liturgical style and traditional expressions of respect for God (such as standing through most of the Liturgy, the way we may formally greet clergy, kissing the cross, the presiding priest’s hand, or an Icon before which we are praying, crossing ourselves and bowing before a member of the clergy and each other at a certain point in the Liturgy, observing various fasts and Feasts of the Church year, etc.) as not being automatically or necessarily the derivation of a rigid legalistic mindset, is probably not a healthy parish, and you should move on..

    There’s more that could be said on that, but I will leave it there, and you can ask questions and explore more as you have need or interest.

  93. Kristen,

    Hi fellow traveller! Yes, by Jove, I think you’ve got it! 😁

    I’ve been trying to find more words myself to explain the difference in the two mindsets. I think it’s important to state this is not so much a difference between the mindset of every Orthodox person and every Protestant (or non-Orthodox) person as it is the difference between the mindset of true apostolic and biblical traditional Christian faith (which many Protestants may hold in large measure, and which has some analogs also in the mindset of people in other religious traditions that predate modernity–such as Buddhism, animism, and Hinduism) and that of modernity in which we are all today steeped and ruthlessly indoctrinated daily from cradle to grave (unless we have been home schooled all our lives by premodern parents, have thrown out all our electronic devices, do not subscribe to any journal of mass media, don’t go to theater or movies, and have become hermits living in the Styx somewhere!).

    Here are a few of my thoughts based on observation and reflection from my own experience in both contexts (subject to revision as necessary):

    True Christian faith is very down-to-earth and humble and concrete and doesn’t try to know what it really can’t know directly right now from experience or revelation (and God does not typically reveal to me what does not concern me, but only Himself and my own heart and place in His will as I am able to bear this knowledge). For example, I can barely understand the workings of my own heart–so how can I presume to judge such matters for another, nevermind a whole culture or class of people I may know precious little about? There’s a reason Jesus taught in parables using everyday images of the concrete and familiar and why the desert Fathers did the same. Meanwhile, as classic examples of the theology of modernity, there are Thomism and Calvinism!

    Modernity rapidly moves from the concrete data of experience (in a religious context, statements of Scripture, Creeds, and writings of Church Fathers may form part of that data) and works to cobble this all together into abstract conceptual rationalistic principles and systems (in which unconscious and critically unexamined presuppositions of modernity form the framework that bind the data together) and which is then “proved” by syllogisms and propositions of logic divorced from full life context. This becomes the preferred method for judging how the data of our experience fits and should be assigned its place in the now abstract, conceptual, imaginative scheme. This habit of thought continually forces us to adopt a mindset of a sort of semi-omniscient or at least bird’s eye conceptual view of “the world” and to judge what’s going on outside our own experience (and even much within it) from this imaginary vantage point. Except that insofar as that imaginative scheme does not represent reality (and it never fully can, and rarely even comes close in matters of spiritual reality) and I use it to govern my life, life will not work very well for me, and there will be lots of cognitive dissonance as my concrete experience repeatedly does not match what my beliefs lead me to expect. This is often most painfully evident in what I expect from my relationships with others (or a group of others) vs. what actually happens in this arena.

    Attempts to communicate with each other across traditions about all this is complicated by the reality that there will be many Orthodox who have more or less modern mindsets and unquestioned modern assumptions in how they interpret and apply the teachings of their own faith while many Christians of other traditions (or even folks in other religious traditions or no particular tradition at all) may have a genuinely faithful biblical mindset in many areas and applications of their spiritual/relational life.

  94. Reflections:
    Having now reached past four-score in years my read of Old Friend is touching and very true.
    My remembrances go back to my grand mother and great grandmother who both lived into their late 90’s and both of whom were peacefully alive and shared their faith and presence with my brother and me. Their special quality of kindness, patience and humility is something I have come to know and fully appreciate now that I have reached the time of being at a place of sitting on my bench.
    Your wonderful book Everywhere Present has been my daily read and re-read. Our times of facing an evermore isolated sectarian society has ruled my attention and the need to fully understand the need to center ones existence on traditional values and God who is everywhere present.
    I cannot thank you enough for your writings that provide the necessary steadiness in faith and values.
    God bless you Father

  95. R. F. I had grandparents who lived into their nineties, also. I treasured the experience I had with them, then and now. Thank you for your comment and reminder.

    I find Fr Stephen’s book helpful in many ways. I encourage everyone who might have an interest in Orthodox devotion, practice and theology, to read it.

  96. Dee,
    You are a real encourager, a feminine Barnabas who was Son of Encouragement. (in Acts) Some days that is all one needs to make it through. that smile, touch of the shoulder, note of thanks. May God continue lifting you up so that you can do the same with those around you.

  97. Bob,
    thank you for addressing me with your concern that you see me raise and question in my prior post.
    I did misinterpret Fr. Freeman posts and he and others have cleared the misunderstanding for me. Of course I still question that Orthodoxy goes back to Christ’s day. I probably would say to Constantin not having read to much about it. The Gospels were many during that time as I understand it, probably much like all the protestant denominations of our time. I do not question that God is not in Orthodoxy, but like all others, Catholics a Protestantism take so many twists and turns thru their political and cultural evolution to have survived alongside Judaism, which has always exerted itself to be the chosen and true Children of God. All kinds of Theologies came to govern ithe various Church bodies from this competitive relationship..
    From my place I can not say this Body is right and another is wrong. Some may not even resemble Christianity at all and still have the Name like Christian Science. They are all offspring’s from perhaps once Orthodoxy. Judaism has the same development. Reformed, Progressive, Conservative, Orthodox etc. Even when I think of America, it’s governing entities are Western and of European origin, its inner life and culture is mixed from all over the world with many taking seats in politics now representing their own ethnicities and resulting in always someone being left out of justice or benefit.
    This should not happen under Christianity. In Christ we are all united no matter what parts of the world we come from culturally. The spirit of Truth and Love as you mentioned fulfills the law. The day’s will come when my children will worship me in Spirit and in Truth, the laws will be written in their hearts etc.. Is this not so written? (me paraphrased) Learn as much as you can, study and let your conscience be your guide. God will lead you. I love many things here I read, and I also question some things that would not be a topic for me. Wishing you the best and sorry I can not be of more help. I could say more, but I lack the words of expression. By the way that Union, or a system to unite with God is also found in Judaism under Kabbalah. Union with the shekinah, also a day to have union with your spouse in Orthodoxy. Think of Christ’s saying: Where two or more are gathered together in my name, there I will be also. It is in communion with like believing spirits in/of him, they will be one. (unadulterated)

  98. Bob,
    You haven’t mentioned whether you have gone into an Orthodox Church or have done reading to help with your discernment whether you will come into Orthodoxy. Sometimes watching the talk in the blogs will give you perspectives of lay-people who are in different places in their understandings of where and why they are in or not in Orthodoxy. And it might be difficult at first to even know who is speaking as an Orthodox person or not. I’m a recent convert and to a discerning ear, I will sound less Orthodox than others.

    When I first started to read this blog, I was unnerved also, but I came from the perspective of a person who was an unbeliever becoming a convert to Christianity through Orthodoxy. Among those of us who are Orthodox, no one of us is perfect and all of us are sinners. If you are looking for a perfect church you will not find it here. However, without triumphalism, the Orthodox do have a history dating back to Christ, as does the Roman Catholic Church, also. There are historians who come from many backgrounds who would corroborate this history. But its’ possible also that you might have been exposed to a different historical account.

    If you are interested, I might recommend Dr David Ford’s book, “Wisdom for the Modern Age”, which was recommended to my by my priest in my catechism. Dr Ford is an historian in St Tikon’s (Orthodox) Seminary. Dr Ford received his Master’s of Divinity in the Oral Roberts University. This book starts with the historical account in Acts and then proceeds into the history of the seven councils. I recommend it because he is careful to point out theology similar to Protestant views and how the early councils engaged in discussion about these views and then established what would become part of the Orthodox Tradition.

    I thought I might mention a few things about myself that might help with someone who might be just starting to read this blog. I have been participating in this blog a little over a year now, by the standard of several commentators here, I’m a very recent participant as well as a recent convert. When I first started participating, I presented parts of my story and so some of the people who have been on this blog for sometime, already know this history.

    My family on my dad’s side was Protestant (Quaker) and my mom’s side was an interesting mix of Seminole spirituality with Christianity of some kind. I loved (parents died while I was a teen) and still love my family and they love me. Orthodoxy has become a topic in my family, however, now that I have converted from being a non-believer. I was brought up in a home that was a mixture of Quaker and Seminole belief systems. The Quakers were the only Protestant group that helped my mother’s people when they were persecuted. My mother was severely traumatized in her childhood and then ostracized in the most harsh ways psychologically by Protestant churches when I was a child. As a family we went to several churches in hopes of finding a home. My mother eventually stopped going to church altogether, and by 8 years old, as young as that age is, I was already disgusted with all of Christianity. My dad attempted to encourage me to continue to go to church, but for various reasons there were problems. I had the audacity to challenge the teachers in those churches and didn’t exactly fit, and was happy to stop going too.

    Because of what happened to my mother, I’ve had an abject hatred of all Christianity (and particularly the Protestant version) for more than 40 years. I didn’t seek engagement nor confrontations with Christians since my teens, but incessantly I was approached and then attacked by Christians who considered themselves doing ‘missionary’ work, when I refused their offers to be “saved”. This continues to happen to my loved one, who is himself a non-believer. For reasons of privacy, I will not say where or by whom he is confronted, but it doesn’t help him think of Christianity in a positive way. And I have to work hard to convince him that I do not espouse these same views. I have never gone up to a stranger and attempt to ‘save’ them. This behavior seems like a kindness to some Protestant groups who do this, but it to him, the experience is closer to a form of imperialistic propaganda and intimidation. I become frustrated as it seems to be a life long struggle to deal with this.

    When I decided to become a Christian, through the Orthodox Church, you might have some understanding why I was a little apprehensive at first too. The Hand of God is in all of our lives. And that Hand intends to heal us if we let Him. Unknown to me initially, I entered a parish where almost every person is a convert from some Protestant denomination! Being there has helped to heal my heart.

    With patience, you might find yourself growing more comfortable here and elsewhere that you might go to meet Orthodox people.

    A final recommendation: Fr Stephen, is the priest of this blog and he also has the blessing of the hierarchy of his diocese. This recognition is significant and important. It indicates that what he says reflects the views of the Church more fully than those of us who are not clergy. If in the future you might find yourself at odds with what someone says in the comment section. I encourage you to address Fr Stephen in this blog or in his email, if needed, for clarification. He is a gentle and loving priest, as anyone who has been here for any length of time, will attest.

    Last, one of my favorite orators is Gary Habermas, who describes himself as an Evangelical. And I learned about him through a very positive description of his lectures on this blog.

  99. Sorry, I need to correct myself: Dr Fords book title is: “Wisdom for Today from the Early Church”. It is a book that is based on the history course he teaches.

  100. The description of you, Dee, as a female Barnabas is apt. I love your comment to Bob! No matter how new you are to Orthodoxy, you will always be an expert on your own experience, and if you have had a real encounter with the Christ of Orthodoxy (and you have), it will show if you will only speak honestly about what you do and do not know. Fr. Stephen models that well for us here.

  101. Maria, and Bob,
    Lest there be false or confusing information…

    Maria’s suggestion about a large, confusing competitive Christianity with many gospels up until Constantine, or even the notion that the Church somehow changed after Constantine is factually incorrect. There is a new school (cf. Bart Ehrman) of historical interpretation that has been suggesting this – both their methods and their assumptions are false – driven by an agenda to dismiss traditional Christianity. It creates confusion in the minds of many who may not have the means or training to refute them.

    It essentially posits a sort of denominationalized Christianity from the very beginning. It is not true. The history of the denominations is not mysterious. It is quite clear in every case. The various heresies in the early centuries were quite small, frequently isolated to a circle around a single teacher. We say “Gnostic” as if it was one thing, when it was a collective term for some of the most crazy, outlandish ideas ever uttered. But, in no way, a Church or an alternative to the Church. However, the great teachers of the primitive Church, their writings, their prayers, their words, are still with us. We’re not having to guess about these things. And what you find in those writings is of a piece with both what you see, hear and experience in the contemporary Orthodox Church. It is the same Church.

    Orthodoxy was not monolithic, and still isn’t. It is One, while having a great deal of variety and freedom. It is One while not being a monolithic institutional force. It has existed as a communion of Christians, united in the One Cup, One faith, One apostolic ministry, etc. And it has done so since the beginning, and can illustrate that and document that with great detail and accuracy.

    This historical reality does not mean that anyone therefore has to accept Orthodoxy or be Orthodox.

    I understand Maria’s thoughts – but there are inaccuracies. It’s inaccurate, for example, to compare the notion of union in the Kabbalah with theosis in Orthodoxy. I do not mean to be unkind. Maria, you seem to have a good amount of knowledge, but it’s easy to make generalized statements that are not correct when examined.

    What I hear is the pain of the disintegration of Christianity. We all see this. Our families and friends are scattered and the present day is littered with the wrecks of history. It is easy in that to want to say that history is just a mess and it will all work out some day, and the present is too confusing to do more than simply follow what feels right. The wreck of denominationalism is a modern phenomenon – representing something that happened in the Western world following the Reformation. The Reformation turned out to be a practical disaster.

    It is a miracle of God that Orthodox Christianity actually exists – that it has survived. I take that to be significant. I am a convert to Orthodoxy, having abandoned a former life as an Anglican/Episcopal priest. That decision came after years of wrestling, study, self-examination. It was extremely disruptive in my life and relationships. I understand the Orthodox Church to be what it claims to be. It is not, nor has it ever claimed to be perfect. It’s not what it is because it’s more excellent than other things. It is what it is because Christ established it and has preserved it. It is a communion in the truth.

    I don’t want to turn the blog into a place to argue these points. But it is unabashedly an Orthodox blog.

  102. Karen-

    Thank you for your words in response to mine. Your thoughts are much better and thoroughly expressed.

    As a modern through and through, I struggle with trying to understand the faith in pre enlightenment ways. It became apparent to me that I am trying to understand Orthodoxy by slicing and dicing it into small bits to understand systematically. Ugh. I am almost in a panic to know…it is all so different from what I have previously learned and I want to catch up, so to speak.

    The Orthodox friends I have made in our local parish keep telling me to take it slowly, come and see, experience the Liturgy. I guess I just need to take a deep breath and settle down a little!

  103. Father Stephen-

    Your last post brings great comfort to me…the present day littered with the wrecks of history…the wrecks of denominationalism…because this is what I see. I am grateful for your honesty regarding the struggles you had when moving from Anglicanism to Orthodoxy. It helps to know that others find this transition of the mind and interior self hard.

    Thank you. Please forgive my words of struggle that come through poorly.

  104. Kristin,
    Indeed. We indeed live in the ruins of what was once a Christian civilization. The Reformation and the aftermath of denominationalism as well as the rise of the nation state have created a terrible cultural landscape for us all. In the middle of that, I can judge no individual Christian for simply doing the best they can and working with what they have. Often, people face huge conflicts within families and such within the midst of the wreckage.

    What is problematic, for me, is when the “doing the best I can,” is turned into model of explanation, as if this is the way its always been, or as if the tragedy of the modern world should somehow be normative. Modernity (particularly the political and cultural elements) wants us to hold our religious beliefs in a light, private manner, not interfering with the larger social and economic agenda. The Church that once excommunicated emperors with effectiveness and preserved learning and culture, is today unable to even persuade her own members of its most basic moral teaching. Christianity is becoming a subset of a larger lifestyle set of choices. In such a manner, people are being shaped into exactly what the culture wants: consumers.

    It is obscene. But the very collapse of Christian civilization is used to relativize all forms of Christianity. Major news networks pump out religious programs that are so filled with factual error and nonsense that are passed off as authoritative. But the same nonsense is espoused from the pulpits of many Churches.

    Orthodoxy is, indeed, a cultural shift. But, like learning a new language and grammar, it takes time. But time actually works. God has preserved the Church, and he will preserve you as well. May He give you grace!

  105. Maria,

    Since I think you said you like to read, I wanted to let you know about a book I enjoyed which examines the question of how traditional Christianity came to be such a powerful force force in the Western world from such obscure and besieged origins as a sect of first century Judaism. It is called The Rise of Christianity. It is from the perspective of an academic whose area of expertise is not history or theology, but rather as a professor of sociology, which was part of what made the book interesting to me (as I did my B.A. in Psychology). The author, Rodney Stark, examines all the social dynamics of life and conditions in the Roman Empire at that time as well as the actual beliefs and practices of the various pagan cults among which Jesus, the Jews, the Apostles and their immediate successors and flocks found themselves. Though Stark is an academic, the book is written for a popular audience and quite easy to follow, so I don’t believe the fact that English is not your first language would present a problem for your being able to follow and appreciate its thesis. As a professional academic working in his field, Stark has to pay careful attention to the primary sources and their details to support his thesis. Aside from reading the Gospels in the New Testament and comparing them with some of the various early Gnostic “gospels”, Stark’s is a good type of to book to read to expose the deceitfulness of the recent arguments of some modern academics that in the early period there were many competing “Christianities”. Academics like Bart Ehrman and Elaine Pagels both are driven by an agenda much less disinterested (objective) than Stark in their study of Christianity’s early development (in that these both have a significant axe to grind with modern Evangelicalism, which is the faith in which they were both raised). The strangeness of those various Gnostic cults to the various traditions of Protestant faith in which you and I were first solidly grounded and nurtured in the great love and truth of Christ would be readily apparent! Mainline Protestantism and even much of Evangelical Protestantism in their beginnings, unlike the Gnostic cults, are all solidly rooted in the core teachings about Christ of the apostolic writings in the NT.

  106. Father Stephen–

    The obscenity of turning Christians into consumers–YES! I get that. That’s a fear I have of myself as I leave one church to look into another. It causes introspection on this very thing.

    In your last paragraph you mention that a cultural shift takes time. My pile of books is growing…Fr Schmemann, Kalistos Ware, Frederica Matthewes Green, your book. I can only read a bit at a time. Today I set the pile aside for a little and instead
    read Gerard Manley Hopkins’ poems, most particularly ‘As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame…’ He is so good at making me stop and consider what has been before me all along, that God infused His creation with grace at every point, in every moment.

    Thank you again!

  107. Kristin,
    I love Hopkins! One very noted monk used to encourage people considering the Church to read novels more than heavy theology. He recommended Dostoevsky (of course) as well as Dickens. I would add Hopkins poetry to the list. The heart’s journey towards God should be marked by beauty if at all possible.

    I’m sure others might have suggestions as well. But it’s absolutely possible to get “too much theology” – as in “too much rich food.”

    I read theology in small snatches. History in a little larger pieces. Novels and good writing always.

  108. I have been trying to figure out what I could possibly add to this that would be meaningful and I’ve reduced it to terms that I would speak to my son on my death bed.

    1) The fullness of the Christian faith is in the Orthodox church. How do I know that? There many reasons. But, the most important of them has become a) I now know what it means to worship, b) I now know what it means to pray, and c) I now know the work God began in me when I was a child would have come to fruition in the Orthodox church.

    2) For all things outside the church, I COMPLETELY trust the mercy and love of God. I don’t worry about people’s “salvation” because if I did what would that say about the kind of person I believe God is? Which, by the way, is a very Orthodox thing to say.

    I don’t know that says as much as I think it says, but it is what I would say.

  109. Fr Stephen-

    I’m so glad you mentioned Dostoevsky. I first read Brothers Karamaxov the summer after I graduated college and credit him with turning me into a reader.

    I read Crime and Ounishment last year, and Anna Karrenina by Tolstoy last summer for the first time, prior to setting foot in an Orthodix church. I was enamoured by the scenes of the deathbed, Levin’s confession, marriage, and his intense faith crisis at the end. The way the priest approached his doubt was the kindest, calmest thing ever. My doubts have always been met with fear and questions of my salvation by protestants. Reading Anna showed me an entirely different way.

    Brothers K is on my pile again so I can read the Pevear/Volokhonsky translation. I will definitely take your advice! Happy to do so!

  110. Hi Kristin!

    What you describe doing and experiencing as you are exploring Orthodoxy sounds very familiar. Yes, I agree with your Orthodox friends–don’t sweat it. It takes time and experience to assimilate to a completely new mindset. Sometimes especially we from Evangelical (and Reformed) backgrounds can feel a sense of panic as it starts to sink in as to how alien to the world of the New Testament and early Christians some of our heterodox teachings and practices have been –particularly our ecclesiology and non-sacramental understanding of Baptism and Eucharist. What fuels that panic, too, is the way we have always been taught to understood salvation and the threat of hell, as I think you mentioned earlier in the thread is so central in Evangelicalism.. Several years ago when this subject was touched on in a comments thread here, and I was still pretty newly Orthodox, Fr. Stephen wrote to an inquirer struggling with this very thing words to the effect, “God is not in a hurry, and we don’t need to be either.” I found that really helped me to embrace the breathing room God gives us as we grow. As he also wrote earlier in this thread about our non-Orthodox loved ones, it is true for us too as we become inquirers, catechumens and new members of the Orthodox Church–we can be confident in God’s provision for this because He is far more concerned with our salvation than we are. As Paul writes in Romans 8, “If God is for us, who can be against us?”

  111. Karen,
    thank you for your advise about the Book, My son has the book and I think he came from it with a lot of objections and Anti-Christian. Not sure why. I will ask him for it and see how I will understand it. I appreciate your thoughtfulness.

    Fr. Stephan Freeman,
    it is difficult to take anyone’s word for true these days. Everyone including Churches have an agenda. Since Orthodoxy mostly stayed rooted in the far East, I don’t recall seeing or hearing of any Orthodox churches playing a role in peoples life’s in Western Europe, it is difficult for me to fall head over heel’s and profess Orthodoxy to be the true and fullness of the Church. I am happy for everyone who thinks and believes to have found this in their live. I am sure at one time you felt that about Episcopalism .
    Knowing ones past is important and knowing the History of Orthodoxy is important to me, as it appears for me now as a place of worship here in the US. But growing up with Catholics, Protestants and Baptists I’ve learned that Christianity’s History is not taught to the Disciples, but only to the so called elite who will some day rule the next Generation in matters of Truth and Belief. The same may be true in Orthodoxy. I don’t like finding out later there was never an honest discourse of who and what Christianity or Orthodoxy is, was and may become, or better said how it evolved, apart from who Jesus was and endlessly studied and talked about.. Because Church live resembles nothing of what I see in the Gospels Church-life , as their understanding was rooted in Judaism. I don’t doubt the sincerity of the early formed Orthodox Church already separated from the Jews, and I know the intellect, wisdom and many debates that was put into it to make it a cohesive body. Judaism, after the fall of the Temple had to do the same thing and they did stand as rivals against Christianity taught by hundreds of Rabbis in this and other countries.
    It is sad that so much trust has been lost in or for the Church, but people still believe and have no choice, but commune with what is available in their community no matter how much is being manipulated, truth, distorted and agenda driven messages.
    I for one could not stand in one spot for 2 hours, not sure if you even give a message during that time, I think someone said no sermon, I heard I would not be able to take part of communion as though I have to join the club first, and my personal faith and baptism would be invalid. It would be an offense or insult to the many years I lived. Icons, I could not worship, communion, if I was a member I could not take believing it is/was the actual body and flesh of Christ, unmeasurably repulsive to me, as I would think of cannibalism, or the superstition of eating an animal to gain their powers. I love Christ I don’t want to consume him barbarically. I’d rather would die for him because I love him. This Idea is unimaginable to me and don’t understand how and who came up with it in the early formation of the Church. Do this in remembrance of me, yes always, and I will honor and never forget . In the end, just from the little I know I don’t think I can be or become Orthodox, just like I can not become a Jewish convert and deny Christ. I love and try to live my life with a few people that are trust worthy. I don’t think the Churches have done a good job anywhere to instill and promote trust. By their fruits ….. Though I do not cower from my life’s mission, and sorry if I was being too honest. I took nothing the wrong way you said in your post to me and I appreciate and respect how you see it from your place and thank you for it., Sincerely and honorably, that is all I/we can hoped for.

  112. Maria W, the life of the Orthodox Church in the west is hidden but not insignificant. You can find it in the saints and elders.

    St. Innocent of Alaska, St. Herman of Alaska, St Raphael of Brooklyn, St. John of San Francisco, Matushka Olga of Alaska, St Silouan, Elder Sophrony, Archimandrite Zacharias and there are many more some still deeply hidden.

    The 20th century saints of Greece are not of the far East. Our brother Dino who comments here knew several personally and was taught by them.

    Each of them deals with the modern mind and is familiar with the ruins in which we live.

  113. Maria,
    Do you regard yourself as having “found” God or “searching”?

  114. Karen-

    I really appreciate how you ordered your thoughts about the difficulties I am experiencing in my inquiry into Orthodoxy. You hit the nail on the head, several times!

    I have such a feeling of relief after reading the comments. I’ve been sharing them with friends as much as I can.

    We had the priest and his family of the parish we’ve been visiting over for dinner Friday night. What a wonderful experience. They were so kind, listen with care to our church troubles from the past, and affirmed that we should relax. In fact, after that my husband and I decided to actually say that this parish is where we now attend. So now we can settle into church life, continue to learn, and not worry about what God has in His care, which includes us and our desire to know and honor Him. We are quite happy about this.

    Thank you everyone. You both challenge and encourage me.

  115. I for one could not stand in one spot for 2 hours, not sure if you even give a message during that time, I think someone said no sermon, I heard I would not be able to take part of communion as though I have to join the club first, and my personal faith and baptism would be invalid. It would be an offense or insult to the many years I lived. Icons, I could not worship, communion, if I was a member I could not take believing it is/was the actual body and flesh of Christ, unmeasurably repulsive to me, as I would think of cannibalism, or the superstition of eating an animal to gain their powers. I love Christ I don’t want to consume him barbarically. I’d rather would die for him because I love him. This Idea is unimaginable to me and don’t understand how and who came up with it in the early formation of the Church. Do this in remembrance of me, yes always, and I will honor and never forget . In the end, just from the little I know I don’t think I can be or become Orthodox, just like I can not become a Jewish convert and deny Christ. I love and try to live my life with a few people that are trust worthy. I don’t think the Churches have done a good job anywhere to instill and promote trust.

    Maria, forgive me for my confusion concerning your comments. Is your concern centered around a lack of trust in the Orthodox Church or in the teachings you have noted? Or both? The ideas seem to be running together in your post and I am not clear on if/how they intersect. Blessings to you, my friend.

  116. Bryon,
    forgive me if I cause confusion, it is so hard to communicate some things which perhaps I can not convey, or be reduced into a small paragraph. Too many years unable to speak. I apologize.. Since my entry into the US many, many years ago I’ve been told I needed to change and become American. I was very young, grew up with Nuns, Protestant sisters and Baptists. They were all that filled me as a young person, their teaching was all I possessed that was of value me. And from the moment I entered this country I was asked to change, from my dress to my way of life. Some things did not matter, but other things mattered that were live and death to me. And as I mentioned before in another post, my faith was the greatest asset I had, and it carried me thru times I would otherwise not have survived. Basically ….don’t touch my faith. I’ve been ridiculed, made fun off, it broke relationships, because I can not become partner in crime (matter of speech) , I’ve been called unsaved not Christian, viewed as stupid and dumb and I did not know how to defend myself. My walled off Church with Nuns, Protestants and tight Baptist Church did not teach me the real world and life outside of their walls.
    Come Home my Lord says: and I can’t find it, because it is in a community where people cared for one another. I remember a time when life was whole and wholesome, we did not consume each other. It all stood in balance.
    Change is hard, some things are for life, and God is one of them. Maybe it is OK being a little of this, and a little of that, taking nothing away from him who has made us all. He is still all in all in my heart.

  117. Maria-

    I’ve been listening to your conversation from the sidelines. My heart aches for you, for the depth of longing you have been in for such a long time…for community, understanding, belonging, safety to be who you are, with your own thoughts, beliefs, loves.

    I truly hope you find these things. I fear this life will not have them, only glimpses of the true, the good, and the beautiful. I struggle, too. I don’t know what belonging feels like. So I try to remember that it’s ok, that one day I will completely belong, but I will have to wait until this life is over.

    There are safe people out there who will enjoy you for who you are and find your story remarkable. They may differ in some beliefs, but can accept you anyway. I hope you can find them. I am so glad you have tried to express what might seem inexpressible.

    May God bless you this day.

  118. Father,

    You’ve often recommended reading Dostoevsky. I’ve asked around and most have told me that he’s pretty deep and his books are tough sledding. I’m not the sharpest tool in the shed either, so I’ve been a bit hesitant to jump in. What book of his do you recommend starting with?

  119. Alan,
    19th century Russian literature can be a bit of a slog…many characters…lot’s of dialog…but I enjoy it. There are treasures within it. By far, I recommend reading Crime and Punishment first. I think it’s the easiest for Americans – there’s a single main character and the story is pretty straightforward. the translations by Pevear and Volokhonsky is, by far, the best.

  120. Thank you Kristin and Fr Stephen for your mentioning Gerard Manley Hopkins. Wow how did I miss this? Beautiful poetry.

  121. Come Home my Lord says: and I can’t find it, because it is in a community where people cared for one another. I remember a time when life was whole and wholesome, we did not consume each other.

    A community in His love is certainly and idea. I have not had serious issues with Orthodox theology because I have seen the limits of my own and I am fortunate to have found the (very loving) parish I am now a part of. One person whom I met there said one thing to me over and over during my time as a catechumen, “Orthodoxy is hard.” And I have found it very true, but well worth the effort. Please don’t give up on the Church. We often do a very poor job of being the Body of Christ but that’s us, not you. Forgive us with a hug! May you be blessed in your journey.

  122. Community is tough in this life, I find that I do not fit anywhere. The only fit I have is with my wife who seems to fit pretty near anywhere. But she is a beloved of God who in the normal course of things should have been dead about 5 times over.

    Community rarely seems to form around people’s strength but rather around common suffering and the willingness to share it.

    I had a moment of community at the grocery store the other day. I have a bad back and it is painful to walk. There was a black woman who was also struggling. We shared a moment of real humanness on our way into the store because we both felt pain and did not hide it from each other. No fear and no pity either.

    It is much more difficult in a parish for me to have that same level of honesty. I approach it sometimes in confession but rarely anywhere else. After all I have an image to maintain. “Fear is the soul killer, the little death that leads to total annihilation.” Frank Herbert in Dune.

    Lord help us all to be open to Your grace in and through others and to recognize that you are the Incarnate Lord risen from the dead.

  123. Amen to Michael’s prayer.

    Yes, being in community is never going to be perfect in this life, but there is something to be said for trying with the help of God’s grace to be the person we hope to find there. It’s just a fact of human psychology that if we approach others with a fearful, guarded mindset, we put them on alert that we ourselves are not a safe person to be around, and we reduce the chances of a mutually encouraging exchange. It becomes a case of “self-fulfilling prophesy.” It takes a lot of courage to work through this, especially where there is a history of the experience of a lot of rejection. My heart always goes out to the one I sense is struggling with this, and I am always working to overcome my own social anxieties and reach out to those I don’t yet know (sometimes successfully, some days not so much). When I have managed to meet someone new, who at first was a bit intimidating, I have rarely, if ever, found the “bogeyman” of my fearful imagination existed! (There are a very few jerks out there that are best avoided, but they are in the minority.)

  124. It’s so good having this virtual community. I have only met one of you in person…a real blessing, Mary. I visit an unbelieving neighbor. He mainly complains, is very negative. But I listen. Yesterday I was with my brother in law as he got chemo. He is very negative, has made life very hard for 57 years on my lovely sister. I listen. Yet even in those surroundings one can be uplifted. One man was there next to us, alone, receiving chemo. I believe American Indian. What a beautiful smile…as pleasant as he could be. It is strange how you can feel love toward a stranger. I did toward him. Life can be hard, terribly hard. But our Lord sends moments of refreshing, often through strangers we meet. Sweet nectar of life….I see signs from expensive cars, “Life is good!” How much more genuine to silently hear, life is good, from a dear one suffering.

  125. Michael Bauman, “Fear is the soul killer, the little death that leads to total annihilation.” Frank Herbert in Dune.
    This is so true and sometimes this is what I am fighting for with others “NOT to be afraid”. People are being afraid of the “Stranger” the person they do not know, or a person who is unwilling to reveal himself, who he/she is, out of fear they may not be liked or loved. What is worse though is what the fearful person leaves behind in others in/thru the engagement. The feeling what did I say or do for this person to turn his/her back on me.? This never knowing, only to come to the understanding at some point like my friend Bryon wrote in a previous post. It is not you, it is us. There was an honesty and I would have loved to return his hug, because then there is hope for “what can we do better to welcome people”, like being more genuine, a real human being,” which Jesus was”. He never asked us to do anything that was hard, he never asked us to be God, he asked us to love one another, we all suffer and hurt, life is unjust at times, unfair and so on, and why is it so hard to be real with one another as people. Because our values are misplaced. We have no time, we must accept the notions that life is not fair, or it all our fault, that we must know a lot to be powerful, after all knowledge is power, we must be perfect in this or that, have money, a big house to be something and be accepted in society, we must have a good image, and an image it is. It is not You.
    Like you Michael, I see peoples smiles, a moment of an instant of human-kindness and being real, no image or pretense. And I think this pretense is what injures us so subtly, because in it no connection can be found.
    Thank you for your post, and for being real about it. The same for Bryon, love your honesty. 🙂

  126. This is an amazing and overwhelming discussion – given that I just jumped into it tonight. I could not read every comment from beginning to end but appreciate the deep love and honesty and questioning and responding that surfaced throughout. Thank you, Fr. Stephen, for the article and for being so generous with your forum.

    I have a few thoughts that likely will add little to the conversation but I offer them anyway. Never stopped me in the past. 🙂

    Some people, though relatively few, can play the piano (or other instruments, sometimes all instruments) without any formal training or ability to read music. They hear music, recall it perfectly and sit down and play it. Some of these hear music in their minds without effort and write it down (or have someone else write it if they do not know how to). Some of these people understand music in a cosmic, mathematical manner that so far exceeds my comprehension that I have no idea if what they say is true.

    Then there are the rest of us who range from tone-deaf to those who become pretty good pianists with hard work and practice. We are the people who need sheet music. And how well we can read it and play from it depends on an interaction of what/how we have been taught and how hard we work at it.

    Now I realize, Fr. Stephen, that your analogy was meant to be only an analogy. But what if we try to understand faith from this perspective on music, i.e. taking your analogy backward?

    From this perspective, we might recognize that there are some people, probably relatively few, who are able to know God profoundly regardless of what “religion” they find themselves in (if they even find themselves in any religion at all). Somehow they simply know because it has been given to them to know.

    Then there are the rest of us. We need both to be taught and to work hard to come to know God. And we still find ourselves on a continuum, ranging from those who seem unable to recognize God at all (the “tone deaf”) to those who stand on the brink of theosis. The latter, those on the “very-close-to-God end of the continuum” are more likely to be in or find their way to the Church – from which comes the instruction of the Holy Spirit in Scripture, sacraments and tradition – both because these souls are formed by good teaching and have been given a longing for it.

    However, simply being part of “the Church” does not automatically bring individuals close to God because, sadly, some do not work hard while others are “tone-deaf” (are weighed down by any of the many inner obstacles that afflict humans).

    When it comes to the faith of others, we naturally have little if any understanding of who is inherently gifted, who works hard with good teaching, who works little and who is burdened with hidden obstacles to knowing God. To even understand ourselves in this regard is challenge enough for a lifetime.

    What is most important is that God’s love for everyone, regardless of their “musical” ability, is limitless and unconditional. There is no one that Christ did not die for. He alone understands what abilities and burdens, good and bad teachers, each person has had to contend with – and He has a plan to draw every person to Himself – if only they say “yes”… Not just the word “yes” but a “yes” with their lives in whatever fashion they can say it. He does not expect the tone-deaf to write symphonies – but He still wants their hearts.

    This is not a “modern” message, implying that it doesn’t matter what we believe. It is the Gospel – a Gospel in which the broken, the sinners, the prostitutes are welcome with their sincere but feeble “yes”.

    (BTW, this is a long and rambling way of saying I’m agreeing with you, Fr. Stephen, and thanking you. A great gift are your words that do not judge but instead refocus each of us on working on our own salvation.)

  127. A couple of other details.

    Actually Catholics do believe in theosis (referring to a comment quite a ways back), though this term may be less commonly used in the west. There also may be differences in understanding between the Orthodox and Catholic on this, I do not know. But I have no interest in trying to parse out differences. Union with God is what we were made for – trying to define it is beyond us all.

    Also, Fr. Stephen, I was curious about your mention of the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts as being the same person as “Simeon who was called Niger”. I have never heard this and haven’t found it referenced in the few sources I have to consult. A minor point, but I am interested in the sources for the connection. (I’m not debating it – I don’t know enough to do that.) Wondering if this aspect of “Tradition” is considered on par with Scriptural accounts or is it more speculation?

  128. Mary,
    I think you pushed the limits of my metaphor beyond the bounds, perhaps revealing just how weak metaphors are.

    If we were to use the analogy of music to God, then I think we have to let Him provide the song, rather than ourselves. All of us, even the tone deaf, are “being sung.” There are, however, so many who want to sing their own song and distort the true one.

    It was not uncommon for the fathers to use the image of a flute (we’re the flute) and the Holy Spirit is the wind, etc.

  129. Fr. Stephen – sorry if I pushed too far. I was able to relate to the metaphor in this way but perhaps it makes no sense to anyone else.

    It had struck me that some people come into the world with exceptional spiritual giftedness while others, due to genetic, environmental and unknown factors, may have immense struggles in trying to know God. Those who find themselves in this latter group need not be disheartened, however, for God’s love for them is as endless as it is for those who are saintly even as children. His plan is for all of us (the Plan, as well individual plans that move us along the way). He wants none to be lost. And, while all of us must work at our salvation, He does not expect from everyone the same outward fruits from their labors.

    Some will orchestrate symphonies while others will play the tin whistle. Some will play for the Cleveland Orchestra (rated 7th best in the world, BTW) while others will play in their garage with a small group of friends. The most important thing is that God provides the music that flows through us all. (There I go stretching your analogy again…)

  130. Amazing, how analogies help us to understand and if taken too far might distort the intended meaning. Teaching and researching chemistry contantly involves the use of models and metaphors. Sometimes if taken too literally, they might derail the science or understanding. When that happened, experiments could help rectify– but only if the methods were mutually accepted.

  131. I forgot to mention that I really like the flute metaphor! Amazingly helpful in my readings of Orthodox theology at this time.

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