Healing the Tragic Soul of the Modern West

Fr. Georges Florovsky did far more than forge a path back to the fathers for the Orthodox Church: he also mapped a route for the return of Western Christianity to its own Orthodox roots. Discussing the modern encounter of Orthodoxy with the churches of the West, he wrote:

A historiosophical exegesis of the western religious tragedy must become the new “polemical theology.” But this tragedy must be re-endured and relived, precisely as one’s own, and its potential catharsis must be demonstrated in the fulness of the experience of the Church and patristic tradition.

If you’re like me, then “historiosophical” is a new word. It is an analysis of history in terms of ideas, concepts, and movements. Florovsky is suggesting that the Western world cannot be approached or understood on the grounds of idea versus idea. Rather, the very process that gave rise to those ideas must also be examined – and that must be in the light of the fullness of the experience of the Church and patristic tradition. Perhaps, even more to the point, this examination must be deeper than mere intellectual argument and curiosity. It must be “re-endured and relived, precisely as one’s own.” Conversion to Orthodoxy does not mark the winning of an argument or a way of making a point. It is the gathering of the whole of the West within oneself and plunging it into the depths of the Orthodox way of life. This is not a mental exercise – but the fullness of existence in the very roots of our being.

For example, to say that Christianity in our contemporary world is dominated by the ideas of modernity is part of such a historiosophical analysis. It is insufficient to argue that “making the world a better place” (a thoroughly modern notion) is wrong. Rather, we must see how such an idea came to be, how it came to dominate certain forms of Christianity, and, perhaps most important of all, how this has distorted the souls of believers. When I have observed the problems associated with the “soul of democracy,” it is not a suggestion that monarchy is to be preferred or to engage in any sort of political discussion. Rather, it is to ask how the rise of modern, democratic ideas has changed the souls of believers.

We cannot rightly engage the experience of the Church and patristic tradition with souls that have already been formed and shaped by the notions of modernity. At the very least, there is a need for self-awareness, an ability to examine how the filters and assumptions of modernity affect our perceptions. This is the problem with those who suggest the path of “dialog” with modernity. By-and-large, they speak from a thoroughly modernized soul (“dialog” itself is a modern suggestion), without an awareness of the tragedy that infects us all.

Our dominant culture is driven to “fix” things. Everything must improve; all problems must be resolved. We are particularly impatient with anything slow and organic. Florovsky suggests that we must “re-endure” and “relive” the tragic crisis of the West within the living context of the Church’s experience and patristic tradition. This re-endurance is a deep work within the soul, requiring patience, compassion, and sympathy.

I will turn to my own experience to offer some reflection. My earliest exposure to Orthodoxy was in the mid-1970’s. There were but a handful of books (in English) on the topic. There was enough for me to understand that the claims of Orthodoxy were serious and challenging. This was not a mere voice among the denominations. As a “High Church” Anglican, I had been taught a story of English Christianity in which the Church of England was, essentially, the Orthodox Church of the English people. Its argument with Rome was depicted as having long predated the Reformation. As such, reading the early Church and the fathers was, for me, as much a reading of who I thought I was as it is today as an Orthodox Christian. The tragedy of the English Reformation was, as yet, not something I saw and understood.

That understanding began to unfold slowly during the ‘90’s. My studies of Orthodoxy had deepened (I did a Masters’ thesis on the theology of icons). At the same time, my study of Anglican history deepened. As the Church around me was abandoning many important points of traditional teaching, I found my voice of protest to be an empty cry in an echo chamber. Sadly, though I had once been taught I was not a Protestant (High Church Anglicans always denied being Protestant), I began to come to the conclusion that I was, in fact, deeply in the backwash of the Reformation and modernity’s rush towards madness.

By God’s grace, I was introduced to Archbishop Dmitri of Dallas, the first convert to become an Orthodox bishop in the Western Hemisphere. He was kind, gentle, never judging, and always understanding of my inner struggles and the subsequent practical difficulties that accompanied my efforts to convert. As a priest (I had never done anything else), finding new employment to support a wife and four children was a major obstacle. That obstacle was later removed by nothing less than a miracle.

The inner soul work of my conversion would not have been obvious to others. Coming to understand that you have been terribly wrong for years is a serious thing. If that was wrong, why should I now think I was right? Many converts wrestle with this paradox. How do we know? To make matters worse, there were terrible jurisdictional battles at the time. Several months before my reception into the Church, a nearby monastery entered schism and broke communion with Vladyka Dmitri. He was heart-broken (as was I).

If Orthodoxy was the ship of salvation, it was clear to me that the ship was leaking. Some wags warned me, “What is happening to the Episcopal Church will happen to Orthodoxy in 10 years.”

My soul had plenty of agony. A ray of peace began, however, when I saw that I had spent the whole of my ordained life trying to “save” the Anglican Church. I wrote, I spoke, I was deeply involved in Church politics. It consumed me. The peace came when I thought: “I do not need to save the Church. I need the Church to save me.” What I saw in Orthodoxy was the storm-tossed life of the very same Church that had sailed the waters of this world for 2,000 years, saving souls and yielding saints and martyrs. Safety could be found, but only in stormy waters.

My heart came to see that renouncing the modern project of “fixing” the Church (i.e. the Reformation) was not itself a way of solving my problems: what was needed was the path of “fixing” me.

Very little peace came with my reception into the Church. Florovsky wrote of re-enduring and reliving the tragedy of the West. There are far too many stories and experiences over the first years of my Orthodoxy to describe in this short article. In hindsight, however, I can see that my soul was enduring and reliving so much that had gone on for centuries before. Bringing all of that to peace (and myself with it) was difficult. I encountered many converts who suddenly imagined themselves to be different creatures – to have embraced a Byzantine purity that excused them from all participation in heresy, all guilt and shame, and provided them with a platform from which to judge the world with impunity. I can painfully recall hearing accusations thrown at me saying, “He’s still an Anglican.” Of course I was. Indeed, there are many things within me that still carry that experience, just as I continue to carry my Baptist childhood and the world of a charismatic commune from my late teens. Salvation does not provide erasure.

Oddly, among the most helpful words during that time came from my Archbishop who consistently said, “Never condemn where you came from. It is likely the place you first met Christ.” His generosity towards the non-Orthodox always called me back from the dark abyss of condemnation that beckons. What has taken place in the West, as well as all that is now taking place in our midst, is within the providence of God. I could not be who I am had I not been who I was. I do not credit God for the sins that are mine, but I recognize that “He made Him to be sin who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God.” God is redeeming us, not condemning us.

We do not solve the mistakes of history. They are what they are. Wrong decisions were made, and they cannot be undone. The medieval synthesis that preceded the rise of modernity has all but disappeared. We live in a world of fragmentation and disintegration. But it is at just this time that a viable Orthodox presence has been placed in our midst. That is no accident.

These words of Father Alexander Elchaninov come to mind:

When a man finds in himself the power to acquiesce in the ordeal sent by God, he accomplishes great progress in his spiritual life. (From The Diary of a Priest)

Of course, I came to believe that the Orthodox faith was true. In fact, I think I had thought that for years. What was lacking was acquiescing to God in the ordeal that is the path of the Church. I had to acquiesce to the tragedy of the Christian West, as well as the sad little witness of immigrant Orthodoxy in our midst. There is the simple acquiescence that the first victim of the Reformation, as it had been at the Great Schism, was ecclesial.

I am no longer saving the Church. Among the rules on the blog is one that forbids discussions of Orthodox politics, or the criticism of clergy. There are times and places for such discussions – they are described in the canons. What is required of us, however, is the deep soul-work of acquiescing to the providence of God (including the whole of our past – in its past) learning to give thanks always and for all things, and the patient work of acquiring the Holy Spirit.

Thousands around us will be saved.

189 comments:

  1. Many thanks, Father. Developing a spirit of generosity to others is a very difficult virtue to cultivate. It requires such great humility. Thank you for reposting Vladyka Dmitri’s wonderful advice!

  2. “Among the rules on the blog is one that forbids discussions of Orthodox politics, or the criticism of clergy.”
    -Is that your policy or one from Ancient Faith Ministries?
    What is the reasoning behind that? I can understand not criticizing clergy, but there are some very interesting and at times alarming things going on in church politics that people should be aware of. Shouldn’t they? Why not discuss it?

  3. “We do not solve the mistakes of history.” Thank you, Father Stephen. You are writing my history, as well. Early into my now nine-year Orthodox journey, I recognized the question inside me, “Why not just become what God is leading you to be, and pray for your friends?” I couldn’t fully accept this then, and I still struggle with the desire to prove my points to others. A blessing has been to engage, a zillion times, in imaginary dialog with Protestant friends who likely think I’m delusional. It has helped me (while thankfully the opportunity has not appeared in real life), because I am the person posing their questions. I can’t know where they come from, apart from a bunch of previously shared assumptions and traditions.

    I’m reading a book that, for my brain, is like food for the starving: “Theology as a Surprise: Patristic and Pastoral Insights,” by Bishop Maxim Vasiljevic (the bishop of my Serbian diocese). Bp. Maxim quotes Georges Florovsky and others, along with Scripture and Church Fathers. Being Serbian, he offers non-Western, surprising nuggets to someone like me, who, like you, carries gratitude for my Western journey to Christ.

  4. So nice to hear some these words
    “Oddly, among the most helpful words during that time came from my Archbishop who consistently said, “Never condemn where you came from. It is likely the place you first met Christ.” His generosity towards the non-Orthodox always called me back from the dark abyss of condemnation that beckons.”

    concerning the place where I first met Christ and lived the the sweet, innocent, pure faith of a child…

    Your admonition to stay at the plow is a beacon for me. In some ways both of us being former episcopal has given me some peace… I’ve moved and so has my priest and that’s okay. It’s solace for old wounds, but truly it’s more peace and joy that I find now, even in the struggle, than I ever thought I’d find.

    A place of rest? Truly! “What strange wonder…!”

  5. “We cannot rightly engage the experience of the Church and patristic tradition with souls that have already been formed and shaped by the notions of modernity. At the very least, there is a need for self-awareness, an ability to examine how the filters and assumptions of modernity affect our perceptions.”

    I’ve been reading your blog for years, Father, and have only commented a couple of times. I’m glad that you keep reminding us of this pernicious problem facing the contemporary Church, i.e. modernity. Often we’re slow learners. Last year I taught a weekend “workshop” on this very topic. We went through a few Enlightenment (and post-Enlightenment thinkers) and how their ideas radically changed how people perceive the world. We then discussed how the Church ought to respond to the -isms of today, all of this done with the focus on education within local parish life and the Church’s mission. I think people were shocked when I told them that we pride ourselves on being Orthodox but we’re not medieval Russian peasants, but are products of a secularized, materialistic culture, and we all have brought our presuppositional baggage into the Church.

    In a culture that encourages and enables the feeding of one’s ego, what it comes down to, and by the grace of God, is a daily dying to self and lifelong repentance to overcome the enticing evils of modern life. Thank you, Father!

  6. Replying to Jeff: There are Facebook groups for that. Go look ‘em up. Personally, I’m really glad there are no politics here.
    Father Stephen, have you written an autobiography? Or can you recommend another convert’s journey to read? Thanks.

  7. Shucks Father. You keep making me have to enlarge and expand my essay on the Church and America which is a mean attempt to engage in the historiosophical process.

    That, alas, also means more research but as I am going to be leaving the paid work force soon, perhaps I will be able to do so by God’s grace.

    I have long felt that history properly done is a subtype of theology and for it to be done at all well one must take on the trials and tribulations inherent in any history.

    What came to mind immediately in reading you post: “What is not assumed (taken on) is not saved”

    That applies to each of us as well as to the Church. The bearing of one another’s burdens is essential to our communal life as you have pointed out(at least that is my translation).

    We all certainly have the marks on our souls already of the eccelsial tradgedy of the west and the terrible fragmentation created. Those wounds are already a part of the Church. It does no one any good to condemn our fellow sufferers. Indeed by trying to deny that we bear those wounds, a certain part of that tragedy seems to have infected the Church. Only repentance and mercy bring healing–not anathemas and denial.

    The Sunday of the Pharisee and the Prodigal should still be fresh in our minds at least.

    May our Lord forgive me, a sinner.

  8. Jeff, Father’s rules. There are other sites readily available for researching the matters you mention. Fact is if allowed the politics would quickly overwhelm and destroy the peace and learning here that is critical to Father Stephen’s ministry and to the obedience under which he writes. That would mean the website would be shut down.

    While I have my own interest in such matters I would not dream of bringing them here. Here is a place of surcease from such things.

  9. “…What was lacking was acquiescing to God in the ordeal that is the path of the Church. I had to acquiesce to the tragedy of the Christian West, as well as the sad little witness of immigrant Orthodoxy in our midst. There is the simple acquiescence that the first victim of the Reformation, as it had been at the Great Schism, was ecclesial…What is required of us, however, is the deep soul-work of acquiescing to the providence of God (including the whole of our past – in its past) learning to give thanks always and for all things, and the patient work of acquiring the Holy Spirit.”

    What would you say to the ‘chicken or egg’ situation here Fr. Stephen? If on the one hand the Orthodox ecclesia and its witness within western Europe/NA is as ‘sad’ as you admit (let alone how I see it which is significantly worse in degree and probably in kind), and the other hand we don’t do ‘deep soul-work’ individualistically/alone and without a minimally functioning ecclesia (whatever that minimum is)…well, where exactly and how are we to begin?

    I appreciate how you are emphasizing here how at the core of Fr. Flororvorsky’s thought and “project” was a spiritual and ascetical recapitulation of the essence of Christianity – a ‘new synthesis’ yes but one that was very *personal* in essence. IMO a central tragedy of the history of his work is that it is almost always discussed/studied in a formal “ecclesiastical” frame, as if a ‘neopatrastic synthesis’ is a mere formal theological concept to be accomplished in committee at the institutional level.

    I have been recently pondering the meaning of the little evidence I see of any new synthesis occurring within the formal walls of immigrant/convert Orthodoxy itself while I think I do see an enduring and a catharsis within individuals (again, not at the formal ecclesiastical level) within western RC & Protestant Christianity. In practical terms, C. S. Lewis and even current figures such as R. Scruton or J. Peterson are examples of a real “patristic” synthesizers if you will, even if largely unconsciously. Just two Sundays ago I was talking to a young new member of our parish at coffee hour who recently moved here to attend the local state university. He is a freshman in English, and so I was asking him about what he was reading and what they were teaching him. The answer is summed up by the fact that the title of one of his classes has the word “intersectionality” in it! I told him how I am currently reading Tolkien to my daughter, and about T.S. Eliot, and C.S. Lewis, F. O’connor and the like (he had only heard of them and read none). If he is to be a classical western Christian (of the convert Orthodox type or any other) in 10 years I deeply suspect it will be because of these types of figures more than say a St. Chrysostom or a St. Andrew of Crete…

  10. “A historiosophical exegesis of the western religious tragedy…must be re-endured and relived, precisely as one’s own, and its potential catharsis must be demonstrated in the fulness of the experience of the Church and patristic tradition.”

    Father…thank you for continuing a this conversation. And for explaining what Fr Florovsky means by ‘ historiosophical’ for us here in America. It is a great help to listen and consider what you have found (in hindsight, as always) in the unfolding of your own journey to Orthodoxy. As your Bishop, Dimitri, was instrumental in your conversion, we so very much need to learn from those who set a similar example.

    I have a question, Father. Forgive me if it is too much of a diversion from the message of this post. But I’d rather get the answer from you than do a google search…
    What does Fr Florovsky mean by “patristic tradition”? The word ‘tradition’ has caused many a quarrel, as has ‘patristic’. It would help to know what is meant here.
    I admit, the question does stem from my own sense of brokenness and the divisions (quarrels) within Orthodoxy.
    Again, thank you.

  11. Fr. Stephen,
    A very good and difficult blog entry.
    I would venture one point of clarity: Dialogue is not a “Modern Suggestion”. It goes back to the Garden. It is the communion enjoyed by Adam and Eve with God. At the partaking of the Tree of Experiencing Good and Evil, dialog was instead filled with thought, and became an exchange of these thoughts rather than a communion. The prophet Isaiah realized this when he saw a vision of God and cried: “Woe is me; I am undone; I am a man of unclean lips dwelling among a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the Lord” He realized that the impurity he lived with reached to the level of the very words he spoke.
    And yet the WORD of God took flesh for our sake. The Light shining in darkeness; and the darkness comprehends not. He is the source of all true Dialogue. He is the source of all true meeting.

  12. Father; An excellent convert story! Trying to “save” an ecclesial Community is futile as you found out. In the Catholic Church I remember the changes of Vatican II about the time I was attending an Episcopal High School (Sewanee Military Academy; my father went there so that school was an expectation) and remember the High Anglican approach as being almost Catholic but not really. What struck me about Anglicanism was all the formalities whereas the Catholic Church was all about the Faith, the Sacraments (confession as an expectation, not an extra and the doctrine of transubstantiation and the sacrificial nature of the Mass). Our big change was the congregation led by the choir or cantor reciting or singing the responses versus just the altar boy, hence the altar was pulled forward and the priest faced us so that we could participate. Down south in the 1950’s/60’s the Catholic Church was not even five percent of the population, but regardless, except for the statues versus icons, the Catholic Church (Creed, the seven sacraments, the commandments and the Our Father (prayer) are key to understanding any possibility of uniting the west with the east. Where it is going to come down to is both apostolic authority and catechesis.

  13. Fr. William,

    I’d been a part of joint Lutheran/Catholic worship services (before becoming Orthodox) and so have often heard opinions in praise of Vatican II’s decision to turn the priest toward the congregation. The most frequent praise I heard is the one you gave: it allows the congregation to participate in the worship to a greater degree.

    But my experience of both (priest facing East or West, so to speak) is the exact opposite. When the priest faces the congregation, worship became for me a performance in which the priest performs (and, increasingly, entertains) a passive audience, who sings along like at an anthem rock concert–think Queen or U2.

    On the other hand, St. Paul’s understanding of the priesthood of all believers is most evident to me when the priest faces East along with the rest of us, worshiping God together and facing the same direction.

  14. Mr. Clark the modern dialog mentioned involves a particular fallacy, i.e. egalitarianism.
    It is endemic to the modern concept of democracy and the elimination of any hierarchy of being, faith and values.

    It has been used quite successfully to attack any proper sense of Tradition and the ability to hand it on in a living form. It reminds me of Aldonza’s Lament in the musical Man of LaMancha. Aldonza sings bitterly that “One pair of arms is like another, I don’t know how or who’s to blame. I’ll go with you or with your brother, it’s all the same”

    That is the dialog of modernity. Thus the God ordained boundaries that are inherent in the very essence of creation are rejected. The sacred is denied and walled off. The Two Storey Universe is the result. Not God “Everywhere Present”

    Indeed that dialog induced fragmentation seems to be the nature of the eccelsial tragedy. Living Traditional communities of which the Orthodox Church is still one, by God’s Grace, are able to assume the fragments both our broken humanity and wrong ideas: healing and transforming through the dual practice of humility and repentance.

    Modernity and its people (all of us for the most part) hates that.

    It does indeed go back to the temptation in the Garden though as you suggest as it affirms God lies at best. All dialog from there on out is about how 5o divide up His corpse.

    The recovery is the Cross and the recognition that life is recovered in God’s offering of His living Body and all previous Blood.

    Christ is Risen!

  15. Steven,

    I could be off on this, but I took Fr. Stephen’s mention of the modern invention of “dialog “as referring to the idea that two parties with seemingly contradictory views can enter into dialog with one another in order to come to a “happy medium” or some other such nonsense. I think this can often work in interpersonal contexts, but it does tons of damage when it comes to theology–think Hegelian dialectic, etc.

  16. Jeff,
    Those discussions elsewhere have done very little in terms of the Kingdom of God, as far as I can see. More prayer, less talk. In America, everybody’s got an opinion, no one has callouses on his knees. They may discuss it elsewhere, but, for me, it’s a waste of time. Besides, I have no blessing from my hierarch for such a thing. I do not write for my own pleasure or anyone else’s. I write in obedience.

  17. Christopher,
    The acquiescence is a surrender to the grace and providence of God with as much good conscience as we can bring to our lives. I can’t imagine that we will ever do more than that.

  18. Paula,
    Florovsky wrote about a “Neo-patristic synthesis.” It’s really an error when people simply say, “the Fathers,” as if the Fathers only ever said one thing and in perfect agreement. They did not. And this becomes the difficult point. There is, and always has been, a living appropriation of the Fathers in a “synthesis” that lives out a sort of agreement manifested in the life and prayers of the Church. Florovsky was well aware of that and wrote several volumes in which he described Fathers of various centuries.

    For example, the Cappadocians clearly have a dominant place in the 4th century, as they developed and displayed the implications of the Nicene Council. It is worth noting that St. Basil and his brother and friend, were very much aware of the work of Origen, who had been the teacher of St. Gregory the Wonderworker – who had so much to do with the faith of these later Cappadocians. They were not “Origenists” but filtered and took what was best from the one who is rightly described as the “Augustine of the East.”

    None of this is something that can be described mechanically, or, even cleanly. It’s why Orthodoxy has never been “systematized” in a manner like Calvinism and its ilk. It has to be embodied. Certain aspects of all this make some in the West panic that there’s no controlling authority like a Papacy to guarantee the outcome. But, the papacy hasn’t really been very successful at this in the West, either. In a strange manner, it is maintained through the Providence of God and the cooperation of the saints who, through the ages, have deeply and consistently willed to be “Orthodox.”

    I think, through history, it “wobbles a bit.” It’s really not accurate to describe Orthodoxy as though its path has been as straight as an arrow. We’ve had bad centuries, off and on. We’re at some very critical moments just now, I think. No challenge in our history has been as serious as the heresies that comprise modernity – for none were as powerful and successful. As such, I think it is those who are willing to be small who will save us, while those who want to be great will fall.

  19. Steven,

    I agree with both Michael and William: Modernity holds the view that anything can be dialogued into an acceptable position for two parties; you give some and I give some and we’ll eventually find an equitable (it is rooted in the modern heresy of “equality”) solution.

    I do agree with your observation that “the impurity [of our lives] reache[s] to the level of the very words [we speak]”, but you’re talking about something very different there. It may help to realize that the modern world would not agree with that statement, while the ancient one likely would.

  20. Not being political – but it does seem to me we all come from Orthodox beginnings. We converts were lost sheep in the divides and schisms that took place. The blessing is, that we found our way back home! God called us and we responded. Now we just have to give thanks and live it as it was so beautifully left for us by Jesus and the Apostles.

    God bless!

  21. Dear Fr. Stephen, thank you for this blog post. I did not know how much I needed to read these words: “…I could not be who I am had I not been who I was. I do not credit God for the sins that are mine, but I recognize that “He made Him to be sin who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God.” God is redeeming us, not condemning us.”

    And this encouragement: “These words of Father Alexander Elchaninov come to mind:

    When a man finds in himself the power to acquiesce in the ordeal sent by God, he accomplishes great progress in his spiritual life. (From The Diary of a Priest)”

    God bless you, Fr. Stephen! Glory to God for All Things!

  22. Thank you Father. Very helpful answer on the meaning of patristics.
    Interesting that Fr Florovsky wrote several volumes on the Fathers of various centuries. Sometimes you don’t know who people are talking about when they say ‘the Fathers’. There were many of them.
    I am learning, too, to appreciate the non-mechanized, un-systematic “synthesis” of the mind of the Church. Takes time for us westerners to condition ourselves to that way of thinking.
    And I have to agree that those who are willing to be small will save us – beginning with a willingness in our very own soul.

  23. Father. The proper experience for me was when it first happened. Some English came in late 1965 but (the Roman canon was still in Latin) opening the Mass up to active participation but the current Mass came in 1969 (the first Sunday of Advent so 1970 was the first full year of the English Mass). At no point did anyone even think about tampering with the Mass but yes, later there was quite a bit. Everyone could see that was disobedience.

  24. Some reflections on my journey and this article.
    At the age of 72, kicking and screaming, God brought me into the Orthodox Church. out of the Episcopal Church, following 20 years as a missionary. At one point I sat down and wrote a letter to God stating about ten reasons why I couldn’t do this. His reply, “I want your heart.”

    Well, If that is the case… 10 years later I will say it was a good decision on God’s part and I am glad I didn’t listen to me.

    Having grown up sailing small sailboats, I soon learned that “calm seas do not a sailor make.”

    Having read both Episcopal and Orthodox blogs where people try to reason the present political situations out, I came to the conclusion that reasoning does’t work. Recently I reread “The Life of St Anthony the Great.” I came across the following: “Now we Christians hold not our secret in the wisdom of Greek reasonings but in the power of a faith which is added to us by God through Christ Jesus. ” …. “Faith in Christ is the only true faith.”

  25. Fr. William,
    A very sad truth is that the various philosophies of modernity – the ideas that dominate our present culture – are convinced that we can make the world a better place, that we can make everything and everybody better – and with such a philosophy we dare to “fix” all kinds of things with the constant result of unforeseen consequences.

    I am convinced that much of what has taken place in the Roman Catholic Church since the 60’s is the result of lots of well-meaning people fixing all sorts of things they were certain needed fixing – with the unforeseen result of a lot of unintended failures and problems. To a large extent, the result has been a sort of infection of Catholicism with many of the same problems of mainline Protestantism – because those ideas are the vanguard of modernity. They have been destroying a number of Churches.

    Now, I do not think Orthodoxy is immune to any of this. Rather, it is the case that, for a variety of historical reasons, Orthodoxy was unable to embrace such notions. There were and are folks who would love to “fix” Orthodoxy as well. If they were to have their way, we would catch up with everyone else in a short time. Oddly, Orthodoxy’s failure to “modernize” has been saving it. If anything – we have been saved by our incompetence. Because, believe me, on the whole, we didn’t know any better and would have been just as clueless as anyone else had God not shackled us with our own circumstances.

    I attend seminary (Anglican) in the 70’s. Many of the principles of liturgical change – the same as was being taught in Catholic seminaries – was being indoctrinated at that setting as well. It was often based on a number of lies and many false assumptions. But that’s a long discussion for another time.

    It is good to put our faith in God and shelter within the truth. We should pray to be corrected, where possible, and forgiven for all else.

    It’s odd. I know priests who fought tooth and nail to move their altars and assume a West-facing position in the Mass (these were Anglicans), who, at the same time, did not believe the Creed, much less the traditional moral teaching of the faith. How is it, one must ask, that they were so damned certain about which way to face when they prayed, when they weren’t even certain that anybody was listening?

    Solzhenitsyn once said about Soviet Russia that the terrible things that took place in Russia happened because they had forgotten God. People were certain that they knew how to fix the Church that they forgot God in the process. The mess that now exists is quite dark indeed. The numbers don’t lie.

    I only use the altar position as a single, silly example, the tip of an iceberg.

    Lord, have mercy.

  26. Lina: I enjoyed your story very much offering so much down to earth inspiration and hope! I and a few others I know, became Orthodox at a mature age and we had much sorrow for those we left behind praying one day they will understand the beauty, history and Truth of Orthodoxy. We came to understand our whole journey better and how God is calling us home on this path. I agree with you that “reasoning does not work” because we tend to rely on our own ideas when we need to rely on God who is fathomless in all eternity. We cannot begin to understand the depths, heights and widths of God. All we need to know is He is all merciful, love and peace while we take up our Cross and follow Him! (*I have sailed too – the stormy seas – on land and water)
    God bless…..

  27. Father. Anyone who wants to fix anything has an agenda; that is “my” will be done (i.e. hypocrites). The Second Vatican Council gave us English which isn’t fixing anything, rather, it was a deeper entry into the prayer of the Church. Trust me the old Mass was stiff, you couldn’t hear it and you didn’t get much out of it until after the Gospel the good Irishman would turn around, put both elbows on the Gospel side and give the sermon right there and then turn around and move over to the center for the Creed. The organist played chords while the Latin prayers were said. That had to change (can you imagine today if they had left that alone!!!). The Roman Mass has its entire history in Rome and the west so the current decline in the west is going to be felt in the Roman Catholic Church as the Church doesn’t exist in a vacuum. The key is, fix nothing and strive for personal sanctity.

  28. Fr. William,
    The Orthodox had been telling Rome that Latin was a mistake for centuries before then. It wasn’t language that created problems following Vatican II. On the other hand, it is also true that the services in Orthodox Churches themselves are, in a few places, celebrated in a language that the people do not understand – a violation of Orthodox tradition (usually done in the name of tradition).

    There can be no Orthodox gloating in any of this regardless of the fact that we are right about everything. 🙂

  29. Fr Stephen: Your comment re: silly and the altars is really not that silly! I was stuck in those situations for many years in the RC Church and believe me it was the beginnings of more hell to come! I can’t speak for the Anglican situation, but I saw in the RC situation, how God was there, however ignored by those who wanted to fulfill their own agenda. I often wondered if anyone was actually praying to God to see what HE wants us to do about the Church and our worship. It didn’t seem so! Having said that, why should we have to pray to see what God wants us to do about the Church and our worship? He already came and taught us and for many selfish reasons, we (or they) decided that wasn’t good enough and change upon change is better to suit our agendas – personal agendas with strong “I” messages. Thus, here we are. I think being in Orthodoxy is a lesson on how to cherish what the Lord gave us and keep it that way in simplicity. Orthodoxy is a huge example in the world of faith for having what is original and authentic and in no need of trendy changes.
    God bless…..

  30. Maria,

    Thank you for your 4:48 post. Simplicity, and the clarity it can possess, is often lost in conversations of this nature. Well said!

  31. For me, coming to Orthodoxy has been like “ironing” out the wrinkles in my faith after years in the Catholic and various Protestant Churches. I received the garment of my faith in Western Christianity. I will always be thankful, and I recognize Christ’s presence, filling all things. The wrinkles are slowly coming out, and some may need steamed out. I’m learning to be thankful for the wrinkles. I wouldn’t be who God fashioned me to be today without where He has taken me through in the past. He is the Potter.

  32. Anonymous: I’m sure I and many others will appreciate your comment and ponder the points you have made!

    Thankyou and God bless…..

  33. Glory to God for “all” things just got more weight! I will need to read this post a few times over.

    Thank you Fr Stephen

  34. I realize my comment above is probably a response to inner emotion, after reading previous comments in this thread. I think something I need to be aware of as a convert is certain reactions inside to what I perceive as causes of the wrinkles, should be acquiesced in silent peace. This path is even higher, as I believe is some of the meat of this article I need to chew on. But I think finding gratitude for the wrinkles is a big step. Next step, silent peace….a doorway to true prayer. Thank you for the meat in this article Fr. Stephen.

  35. Fr. Steven,
    Obviously, when two people speak to each other, it can be called a “dialog.” Thus, dialog can mean nothing more than simple communication. However, in “modern-speak,” “dialog” is frequently code-language for moving a modernist agenda forward by asserting oneself as an “equal.” For example, a group with a revisionist agenda on human sexuality call for “dialog” on the topic. The moment such a “dialog” is agreed to – they have been elevated to a legitimacy of equal partner. That falsely created legitimacy will thereafter be elevated as a platform for spreading their nonsense. Historically, when such modernist “dialog” partners achieve their goal of majority – all “dialog” ceases and the suppression of the truth begins. Been there, watched it happen numerous times.

    We do not dialog with heresy. We refute it. Again and again and again. Or, at least we should. That refutation does not have to be angry or mean (it’s best if it is not). But – in our contemporary world – calls for dialog are generally everything but. I hope this clarifies my meaning.

  36. Father, indeed. I saw the same process initially in the bloody politics of Central America
    in the 50s and early 60s whenn insurgents– usually communist, would launch a rebellion, kill and terrorize enough people long enough to gain a foothold for “negotiation” which would inevitably result in dialog to form a coalition government. Not long after the non-revolutioary people in said government would be dead or in prison.

    Such dialog has been the tactic of most revolutions in history. It is the dialectic at work. George Orwell nailed it in Animal Farm. It is driven by a lust of power, inflamed grievances and a twisted sense of ideological “justice” without mercy.

    Such a process is totally foreign to the Church. It is always letting the nose of the camel under the edge of the tent.

  37. Fr. Freeman,

    I won’t write much because you typically don’t approve my comments.

    We cannot rightly engage the experience of the Church and patristic tradition with souls that have already been formed and shaped by the notions of modernity. At the very least, there is a need for self-awareness, an ability to examine how the filters and assumptions of modernity affect our perceptions.

    My comments, that are often the same, emphasizing how such presuppositions change the Gospel, change soteriology, change methodology – for the catechumen or the convert or the evangelized – is really the same thing you’re suggesting. My concerns over Ancestral Sin, are really just a faster track to get the presuppositions examined, and to give someone a more unshakable confidence that they are in the right place. You could not move me to another form of Christianity because I know that it’s “gospel” is wrong Biblically, historically, etc. So, I can embrace the Church in it’s fullness, while reliving whatever tragedy necessary, because I don’t live in a place of constant uncertainty of if “I can really know” because I do know – and I wish this for others – not to become annoying apologists – but that we all get on the path to selfless love acquisition – because we need each other I think in that endeavor.

    I just think your method of providing this examination is very good but very slow. Some people wouldn’t object to that, some revel in the fact that it took them 20 years to become Orthodox. I don’t. I think, wow, that’s a long time living in uncertainty unnecessarily.

    What was lacking was acquiescing to God in the ordeal that is the path of the Church.

    This is what happens when we lack certainty. People cannot submit to what they are suspicious of intellectually, and if they do, it will not be whole hearted. But the intellectual path is outrageously slow because suspicions are hard to overcome. What is not hard to overcome is the reality that the gospel outside of Orthodoxy is not Biblical, not historical, provides no continuity between the testaments, etc..

    God bless you,
    Matthew Lyon

  38. “We do not dialog with heresy. We refute it. Again and again and again.”
    The code word, ‘dialog’ and these sort of things is what I was referring to when I mentioned church politics. I didn’t mean petty squabbles or secular politics. So, how do we refute heresy, if we don’t first call it out and discuss it? I would call that politics. But, maybe I am just using the wrong language here? I agree that arguing over social/political issues is pointless, but when genuine evil and heresy pop up, should we not confront it and speak out against it? I am not trying to be contrary here, I genuinely want to understand.

  39. Matthew Lyon: I read your comment to Fr Stephen a couple of times and feel I do understand what you are expressing being that I am a convert to Orthodoxy. Just to share – my conversion had nothing to do with the state of Churches or the world today, it had to do with never being able to put it out of my mind, that God was calling me to an earlier way of worship being closer to Jesus and the Apostles and following that, with research, I learned what the problems are and why I was experiencing this call and difference within myself. This only made the conviction within me stronger. I did search out Orthodoxy for a short time several years ago but with the passing of my mother, my mind was off track for a while. However saying that, the call never left me and I knew I would be back searching it out. It happened! I then started Catechism classes with a well-known Priest and was received into the Orthodox Church 1 yr later. Conversion is a grace, not as you are saying more or less, intellectual. It is also not changing from one religion to another, but is a change of heart – a turning around – a metanoia. I believe through Orthodoxy, I have come to see more clearly what Christ left for us and it really only needs to be lived in a simplistic way. (the word dialogue has suffocated my mind and I wish it would just go away) Prior to my conversion I was already rooted in Scripture (and parish ministries) and find in reading the Orthodox Bible dictionary, the interpretation I had before, is really not that far off – perhaps deeper – but not really incorrect. Of course there are the more profound differences which I accept without any difficulty including the filioque. My former denomination rid themselves of prayers, rites, etiquette, morals, Tradition and now they are suffering for that whereas the Orthodox cherished it and suffered that out – thank God! I hope you understand my comment and God bless!

  40. Jeff: We do have a right to call out heresy and so do the Bishops, Priests and Cardinals. The problem as I see it, is there is oppression – even with their so called dialogue! I am particularly referring to the RC Church at the moment. God bless…..

  41. Fr Stephen, I have read your articles with great interest for some time, and feel nourished by them. I was born into the Swedish Lutheran Church, but lost my childhood faith after Confirmation, as there was nothing there for my soul. After moving to England, I started going to the local Anglican, sensing an echo of something. But, after 5 years, the Lord heard my cry to take me out of there! So I discovered the Roman Catholic Church, and I must say I was quite happy there, until Pope Benedict XVI resigned. I now find myself yet again, asking to be taken out, and to move into the Orthodox Church, where I find a bottomless treasure of wisdom and holiness. When you said you tried to “save ” the Church, I realised that is what I am now doing with the RCC. I wrote to the parish priest about a secular annual day which I thought was hijacking a Feast Day of the Mother of God. He got angry and refused to talk about it. Next I wrote to the bishop about the Deacons letting extraordinary servers distribute the Hosts while they offered the Chalice. I got a very strange reply, shortly after that, the parish priest got very angry with me for going behind his back and said “You are not the guardian of Orthodoxy! You should go back to your former parish! ” Now, I humbled myself, as the Lord asked me to and continued going to the local Church, rather than follow my instinct and stop going there. We have since made peace, but I feel silenced. Now, I am not sure if I should stay or, follow my heart and ask to be received into the Orthodox Church, or does God want me to stay and pray for the RCC? I do miss not having an Elder or anyone to talk to, to guide me.

  42. Matthew,
    I do not personally revel in the fact that my conversion was some 20 years in the making. It was what it was – and the 1970’s, when it began, is nothing like the present – Orthodoxy in America was certainly quite different. Things are what they are – and I rejoice that God is at work among us. Mere intellectual certainty is cheap – so many people are intellectual certain of so many things – including things that are wrong. Real certainty takes time.

    True conversion is the true transformation of the person. I have yet to see that happen on a fast scale in Orthodoxy. I’ve seen lots of quick delusion, but not true transformation that was swift. God is patient, and we are repeatedly commanded to be patient as well. Modernity is marked by its hurry and need for speed. We should think in terms of generations.

    I now have an interesting place within the parish. I am “pastor emeritus,” a retired priest, and, by normal standards, an old man. It takes years to produce old men, much less old priests. In the world of convert Orthodoxy in America, we are only just now beginning to have old convert priests. That’s healthy and normal and cannot be rushed. In a matter of time, I’ll be a dead convert priest, and, God-willing, will add my prayers to those who have gone before as we pray for the life of the Church in America.

    We need generations of such faithful. I’m in no hurry for that next stage, but I’m grateful for those who have already taken up that mantle.

  43. Jeff,
    No doubt, heresy and error need to be called out. On the other hand, it is often the case that we get heresy because we have failed to teach the truth in its fullness. We are confused, for example, about sexual issues in our country because we have been living a delusional version of sexuality before that. I do not have time here to go into all of that – but the refutation of heresy is a slow process that requires real health.

    St. Gregory the Theologian complained that it was impossible to even get a haircut in Constantinople without hearing people going on and on about Arianism. He found it annoying. Apparently, barber shops were the social media of the 4th century!

    Mostly, I think we need less argument. In large part, it’s because we lack the spiritual depth to sustain us through prolonged debate. Many people lose their souls because they’re so consumed with argument. The devil doesn’t care whether we’re right or wrong. He’s glad so long as we’re angry. So, generally, I counsel a peaceful approach – when possible. I also know that there are and will be ever-so-many places on the internet engaged in the debate. I need not worry about a lack.

  44. I probably sound like a fool but the growing popularity of Orthodoxy worries me. It isn’t that I don’t want the Church to be strong with vigor. It’s just that the Holy Spirit has kept her alive, and her dependency on the Holy Spirit for her life came about through adversity.

    I didn’t really come from a life of “Christianity” into a life of “ another, better Christianity” in my conversion. By God’s love for this sinner, I simply entered life, admittedly with significant struggle, suffering and death.. Consequently, I have a lot of love and compassion for the ones who say they do not believe and have not entered the life of Christ.

    Not long ago someone mentioned to me that the primary reason that they would never convert to Christianity was due to the self righteousness of hateful people who call themselves Christian. I completely understand the disparaging remark. And I responded that I thought it was good not to join with with such people. I’m not sure that the person thought I was sincere. Yet I was. God is indeed merciful and loving to the humble heart. Slowly, within such humility, God finds us and keeps us, no matter where we are, He finds us.

    Father, God led you to your realization that “you needed di”fixing”. God bless your humble heart! Please forgive me but this is indeed how you are able to weald the sword so well. Such is the paradox of the gift of the Holy Spirit. May God grant me a humble and loving heart, to be His faithful servant.

    Thank you for your witness of your life experience in this article.

  45. Matthew,
    The equation “virtue = grace+effort+time” is quite an axiomatic one.
    The same equatiin can be applied to any ‘conversion’ .
    Of course one can waste time… Goes without saying.
    I guess in *that* sense you can sort of speed things up.
    The fastest assimilation of Grace is therefore invariably in stillness. No wonder St Paul spent those initial years in the desert. Modern man is in the greatest need of some “desert” away for certain intervals.

  46. There is a book on Ancient Faith called Ancient Path and the teaching in the book is how God told the Israelites, “When you have lost your way, return to the Ancient Path.” That comment from God can still apply today. There have always been converts including St Paul who had a dramatic conversion as well as many Saints. This is the main reason Jesus came – to bring people to conversion – to cast out evil – to heal the sick – to preach. In these turbulent times in the world and Churches, we really could be thankful there are people coming to the realization of the Early Church and that it just might be God calling them all back. I think one who is in good Catechism classes with a good Priest doing the formation, then we have to trust his response to whomever is being called. If it is not right, either the candidate will know or the Priest. There are always people walking around saying the Church go-ers are too self-righteous and it’s not for me. Well, that happens in all denominations and more than likely, they have also picked this up from others in their life because when we study it more carefully, should we put everyone in the same basket of bad apples? Perhaps they were introduced to the wrong people. We need to give them a chance as well as ourself and be mature about God calling the individual soul – not the group they connect with per sei. This boils down to human nature and if one is having a problem connecting with those more divine, then search out more divine and holy prayerful friends. We cannot all be at the same level and arrive here on the same bus. God bless…..

  47. Matthew Lyon,

    Have you taken in the work of Charles Taylor (e.g. “A Secular Age”)? If he is right about the Cartesian contours of the modern mind (and I think he is) then even if you could compel enough philosophical rigueur (my sense is that only about 1 in 20 manifest enough) you’re still left with it all being a “construal” as Taylor puts it.

    So even a catechesis that self consciously tries to get at and under the secular/protestant/modern presuppositional assumptions (around exegesis or anything else) has this pre-presuppostional ‘bracketing’ of any and all “certainty” that Taylor describes. At this level, I don’t know of a direct dialectical attack on this sort of ‘certain uncertainty’, and so all the other sorts of wisdom and experiences normally described a being “spiritual” come into their own and we live the fact of the limits of the rational dialectic…

  48. Good morning, Fr. Stephen and friends,

    Commenting here again feels like coming home after I had a long bout of flu late last year. I caught up on reading the blog posts I missed in January, so I’m up to date now.

    I think my comment will seem cynical, but I think that is a generational difference – people under 25 years old are much more atheistic and post-Christian than those over 40 or 60 years old, so my experience of what Western Christians and American people in general believe is very different than the experiences of older people. And I use surveys about religion like Gallup polls to analyze sociological data.

    In my experience, most Americans say they don’t see the need for Orthodox tradition. They expect to live forever and do not fear eternal punishment in Hell, because they believe that God forgives all sins. So from their perspective, what is the Tradition’s purpose? It’s difficult to demonstrate the value of something people consider outdated.

    Most Western Christians I have talked to about Christianity where I live in Northern California do not really believe in Jesus Christ’s Resurrection. So I think the main challenge for secular Westerners is to accept that God has the authority over humankind to hold us accountable, while Western Christians struggle to understand the Incarnation, Passion, and Pascha. In both cases, the crucial movement is from human justice to divine mercy.

  49. Matthew, my conversion to the Church began on the day I was born outside her. Twenty years later, Jesus Christ answered a desperate prayer of mine and let me know He is real and who the Bible reveals Him to be. It so happened there was an Orthodox parish about twenty minutes from that spot but it took another 20 years before He led me into the door of the Orthodox parish where I and my family were received. The priest there who laid hands on us to bring us into the Church was a defective priest who inflicted a lot of pain on me and my family after giving us an indifferent catechesis. It took me another 20 years to realize that that priest did more to bring me to God than most other people I have known. Thirty two years in, I am, by Grace, perhaps beginning to acquire the basic rudiments of an Orthodox mind. I pray that one day I may actually become Orthodox and have a good defense before the Dread Judgement Seat.

    Until then, if ever, I try to hear the Word of God in and through other people. Fr. Stephen and Dino indeed everyone here have been helpful. Many others along the way: Orthodox and not.

    So, my conversion has been going on 71 years now although you could say it took only 40 for our Lord to lead me out of my wanderings in the wilderness where, unbeknownst to me, He sustained me with manna. So I figure I have Fr. Stephen beaten for slowness.

    I have found over the years that the Parable of The Seed is accurate. Those who spring up quickly frequently lack sufficient root to endure the hardship and troubles that always follow.

    A proper podvig requires both endurance and patience after all.

    Glory to God–Christ is Risen and fills all things. May His mercy endure forever and lead me into His Kingdom– and you as well.
    .

  50. Conversion is a lifetime experience; we will never have it all in the bag so to speak and to believe so, is really a little overconfident. Life is full of lessons, change and moving forward and at times backward,, so it is important we continue to take our lessons to heart and be thankful God is still presenting them to us. When we convert into Orthodoxy, the journey, the search, the conversion has just begun for the rest of the journey. All of our life’s experiences prior to that, were still part of the journey, part of the conversion except that we crossed a major threshold when we became Orthodox. But this does not mean it is over, it is done, we’ve got it made! We must continue to convert, and look for the Lord in deeper ways and moments. Since I became Orthodox, I have met other Orthodox who do not seem as interested in their faith as I am while I have also met others who are deeply interested. I have been told by one person that I could not bring my friends here, and thought this was outrageously un-Christian if we are called to conversion. Did this turn me off of Orthodoxy? No! That is where they are on they’re journey and here is where I am, so as God would ask of me, I pray for others – better than me or not so much better. Why compare if we know we are all individuals who God knows before he knit us in our mother’s womb and has counted every hair on our head? We must live our life and our journey as we learn and share but not compare. God bless!

  51. “I say to you that likewise there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine just persons who need no repentance.” Luke 15:7

  52. I appreciate this post very much. I have been struggling a great deal lately with my spiritual life. I have been seeking Christ’s church, but have encountered many struggles, especially of late. The main, overarching issue is that my wife is not in agreement with me on this. We were both raised Mormon, and began our family in the Mormon faith. I no longer believe in Mormonism but my wife does, and even though she is vocally supportive of me doing what I feel I need to do, it is incredibly difficult for me to act without her by my side.

    I have also been looking into Catholicism lately. Your post helped me realize something I had failed to articulate before: why I have been so bothered by Catholicism’s liturgical issues. In the end it is not so much the fact that the liturgy changed, but that the liturgical problems reveal a modernist mindset that feels the liturgy needs to be fixed by its members. I have been to mass where the songs sounded like show-tunes; I’ve been to mass where the songs were played by a guitarist, a mix between campfire songs and James Taylor; and I’ve been to one incredible mass that took my breath away in a cathedral in Atlanta.

    “What was lacking was acquiescing to God in the ordeal that is the path of the Church. I had to acquiesce to the tragedy of the Christian West, as well as the sad little witness of immigrant Orthodoxy in our midst.”

    This is helpful to me. I have taken a bit of a pause of late, to ask myself and fundamentally examine whether I am truly capable of joining another church without my wife. I’m not sure I can do it. But your words have given me something to think about.

  53. Hi Isaac,

    This past autumn I went to a wedding at a Greek Orthodox Church and was dismayed that the music for the bridal procession was a secular, pop-country music CD! Oh well.

    It is very , very difficult (and painful) when a couple is not in spiritual agreement. I spent the first seventeen years of my marriage in disunity with my husband; thankfully, he has always been the better Christian, ever patient and kind. I don’t think anyone can go wrong in his marriage if he seeks the love of Christ and prays continually, in genuine humility, for unity, and tenderly loves his spouse with a servant’s heart. The LORD is merciful and kind and will not leave us where we are.

    God bless you.

  54. Something that also strikes me, is although the comparative numbers of the Orthodox in America are very small, I remember being truly taken by spiritual leaders (Saints) like St. John of Shanghai and San Francisco who gave and give such light in America. This was very striking to me while I was converting. I thoroughly enjoyed a book about his life during this time. St. Herman of Alaska also, and amongst others.

  55. Thank you Father. Definitely one of the best articles I’ve read recently. Acquiescence to God is a beautiful thing.

  56. Sue, Isaac,
    Such an example – secular music at a wedding – is highly unusual (I’ve never heard of such a thing). But, I suppose things get done from time to time to shock even old priests.

  57. Father, I have no idea how common this is (secular, recorded pop-country music) at Greek Orthodox weddings, but I trust your word when you say you have never heard of such a thing. I also trust Isaac and others who have suffered through inappropriate music at Catholic Masses, even though I myself never have (and I have had the pleasure of visiting many Catholic churches In the northeast). So much depends, I think, on priests and laity together holding up the sacred boundaries for each other.

  58. I saw something a few weeks ago while visiting an Orthodox church (not the Orthodox congregation we usually attend), that I had not seen before. When the priest came out to pray the litanies he came out with a tablet, reading from the electronic device. Have others seen this? I was somewhat taken aback when I saw this. I’m not an old priest, just an old layman who I’m sure am behind the times.

  59. About a year ago the local funeral home called me for a funeral home funeral (-not unusual since that was done in the Latin days if the person wasn’t coming to church or married outside the church). In that case you just do the wake service and be done with it but I asked the family why and they said because the last priest didn’t allow a canned Barbara Mandrel song so as a result they said, “ We’re done with the Catholic Church; that did it for us.” Folks, it has gotten ridiculous. As for guitar players at Mass, I actually don’t see the problem with it if it’s Mass music and not something else, but yes, the organ is more reverential.

  60. Dean, I have seen that at a small mission parish I attended once on vacation. It was a lovely service. I was surprised by the tablet, but it seemed quite functional, the chanters were using one as well.

    Fr Keebler, it was indeed Mass music. It certainly wasn’t my taste, but I can understand why it would seem acceptable.

  61. Father bless
    I found your article very helpful (especially being a high Anglican who has been contemplating Orthodoxy for several years), thank you. There has been a lot of discussion on secular influences on Catholic/Anglican liturgies; I was wondering what the Orthodox Church’s view is on lunar new year celebrations in the church and ancestor commemorations. I have several Catholic friends of Asian ancestry who would vigorously defend these being part of Catholic practice (for example lunar new year masses and distribution of “lucky” food), but this has always concerned me.

  62. Fr William,
    The topic of modern liturgical practices in Catholicism and in Protestantism is large indeed – particularly when viewed from an Orthodox perspective. What has gone “off the rails” in the West is not entirely recent – but is far deeper than questions of musical taste. Essentially, it is the question of modernity itself – that set of philosophies and beliefs that dominate our present age. They are deeply pernicious, and yet, because they are so dominant within the culture, often seem innocuous. I would prefer that we not get into specifics – out of respect. It would be a very bumpy ride if we went down that road.

    Orthodoxy is not immune to the challenges presented by modernity – which is one of the reasons why I write on the topic so often. Its ideas represent the great heresy of our times and are devouring Christians day by day. I pray that everyone will find the articles here helpful.

  63. Fr. Freeman, Maria, Others,

    I’m actually glad I sparked a response. I’m not criticizing anyone, especially not Fr. Freeman over how long it took to become Orthodox. I realize the distinction between being “Orthodox” and being “orthodox”. I am as far as I know, “orthodox” but have no claim on transformation. Not being a heretic is not the same as being a Saint. Transformation only becomes the goal when you know what the goal is. That’s my point. And my 20 year comment wasn’t directed at anyone, it was arbitrarily thrown out – maybe I read it and it was in my mind – I’m not sure, but it wasn’t personal. Intellectual certainty, at least to the degree that someone can trust the Church, which is not the same as 100% epistemological certainty, is usually required to get someone to seek transformation.

    So my basic thesis is this: once you realize, and many people don’t realize because it’s not taught or only in passing, that Orthodox don’t believe in Original Sin but as death as the result of the fall, not depravity, not damnation in Adam – once someone gets this, and sees that Orthodoxy is the only Christianity that kept the Gospel of Jesus and the Apostles – and I’m not saying it doesn’t take time – it took me two years but it didn’t have to if I hadn’t had to figure it out by myself (and I believe in Providence too) – the Christian concern for the Gospel and the certainty – which can be provided, it really can – that Orthodoxy alone kept the Gospel of the Gentile/Israel re-unification, of forgiveness for sins which include ritual impurity and moral impurity, of death as actually a bad thing that needs overcome, of Satan and his legions as real enemies and not tools of God or psychological coping with “evils” in your life/the world, of man’s goal being participants in the life of God in theosis, of the absolutely “critical to your person need” for the acquisition of selfless love by the Holy Spirit – all of this is ours, and it is the fast track to “orthodoxy” or “Orthodoxy” – in terms of, now you’re not a heretic – and this not being our ultimate goal – avoiding heresy alone – the impetus for transformation is laid on you and you can get to work with God to become gods by Grace.

    Using Isaac’s comments as an example, and hello there… If someone like Isaac moves from wondering about Orthodoxy, feeling intuitively like it’s right, feeling a sense of satisfaction but at the same time bombarded with doubts over family – which are fair to consider of course – to, “this is the only place with the Gospel” – or “this is the only place where the Gospel was kept in tact for 2000 years” – you go from intuition/discursion to decision. “Where else can we go…only You have the words of life” – paraphrase.

    Once someone is in this place the Church can be trusted through doubt and transformation can be sought regardless of issues in the Church that may distract us.

    Transformation is inherently an Orthodox goal – not that other Christian don’t want to become holy, better people, etc. – but who believes that we are destined to rule and reign with Christ as gods cured by selfless love? You don’t seek that type of transformation outside of Orthodoxy. Being a good person, the moral person Fr. Freeman attacks rightly, is not our goal. How will you seek more than this outside Orthodoxy? It’s a slim maybe.

    So, should it take 20 years, or 5 years, or whatever to know that you should start the path of transformation? No. It may take that long, but it shouldn’t. Can you imagine a Christian parent delaying baptism 20 years for their child? Then why think God is just fine with everyone staying outside His Church for 20 years? I know no one thinks this way, they just think this is often how long it takes for God to Providentially move – or that what God is persuading someone of is of such a degree that it is quite reasonable to take so long. I really can’t see that. God is patient with us, but in our case it’s not usually our rebellious hearts that are the issue – us kicking and screaming our way into Orthodoxy. It’s usually, why didn’t I know about this sooner? But when we are welcomed into the Church we remain uneducated and are expected to pick up after a year, two, more on what’s going on through osmosis. Reading books, upon books, etc. – and sometimes a catechumen can be “satisfactorily given confidence” that Orthodoxy is true through something like Fr. Hopko’s (may his memory be eternal) introduction – but what is missing to me – and I cannot help but be convinced, and I doubt it would take long reflection to be convinced, that the worldview of depravity or blank slates, the free-will/no free-will, sin as legal contract breaking or being human, the impossibility of Saints or everyone’s a Saint, hell as torture chamber or full blown universalism, Christ dying to absorb the wrath of God or Christ dying as mere example – these all and many, many more are products of Augustinian/Reformed theology we all grew up with (and I’m part way through Taylor’s book but I understand his thesis) – they are either full acceptance or reactions – but if you’re Catholic, Evangelical, Reformed, any other American brand of Christianity, and even if you are Mormon, Jehovah’s Witness, etc. – you were shaped through acceptance or rejections of this worldview – Original Sin – escaping that is impossible. But we never knew the world of death, Satan, sin that Orthodoxy always held and does to this day. We never knew the Incarnation mattered so much or that Eden wasn’t a perpetual resort vacation.

    This, Ancestral Sin, and where Original Sin has taken us, and all of Christianity, clears stuff up quick (relative to 20 years) and then you can even think to see transformation as a goal, and it could be done together. I don’t want to be who I am now for another 5 minutes let alone eternity.

    God bless you Father, I mean it.
    Matthew Lyon

  64. I have heard it said by several people, “Orthodoxy is the best kept secret in America”. Whenever this statement has been made, I have noticed the same reaction. Everyone silently pauses a moment, then gives thanks to God for His Church. I say this not out of any type of meaning other than to just humbly say what I have witnessed.

  65. Matthew,
    I agree that the general notion of original sin – particularly in the form it takes in a juridical view of God – is a terrible error. I have no argument with that. Indeed, I first saw that when I was in seminary (as an Anglican). I didn’t quite know what to do with it – it was a while before I read enough to see its place within Orthodox teaching. What was, at that time, something that was barely mentioned anywhere, has become a much stronger and louder stream within Orthodox understanding. The juridical world-view is so strong that, in large measure, it was beginning to dominate Orthodox thought as well. So, recovering from that is still part of a process that is on-going.

    Having thought about this for some 40 years or more, I see that it is a very large topic. I would put it under the larger heading of an “ontological” approach versus a “juridical” approach. And that, I think, is the manner in which I most often write about it.

    I am, however, content to be part of the process. God is at work in all of this and His providence is often inscrutable. The human heart is equally inscrutable. What came like a revelation for you – rightly so – might not strike someone else as quite as significant. At least, that is my experience, after teaching so many for so many years. It is, all in all, why I write so much. I have no idea what will speak to this one or that one. Only God can know. So, I write. I travel. I speak. God alone can give the increase.

  66. Matthew Lyon: Thankyou for your deep response and reflection. I would only comment that God’s time is not our time and he does plant seeds along the way in our souls until we arrive to thee day He has in His plan for our conversion. Other factors work into that day – the people we will meet, the priest who will catechize, the community we will belong to and any possible research and prayers that have to take place as well prior to our commitment day. One can be Orthodox in their heart for many years before making the final step and commitment and there could be 1,000 reasons for doing this. We cannot compare and wonder about such things; it is between the soul and God – conversion is not a mathematical equation; it is a grace and a grace God dispenses as He wills and when He wills – a lot at once and a little at a time. I have lost friends due to my conversion to Orthodoxy and stand alone now in terms of family who are non-practicing RC’s. So, this can be painful and one needs to discern about that kind of separation and hurt, however one can also begin to pray for them as well – that God will use us as an example and begin to plant seeds in their souls. This is like the “leaven” in the Bible – it grows and spreads – it does not stand still. Neither does the H Spirit who moves, grows and touches souls. It is the evil and spiritual blindness causing limitations to His work. God bless…..

  67. Christopher,

    By certainty, I only mean, enough trust to trust the Church. I don’t think philosophical riguer is the path because my concern is for the average person, the average lay person outside Orthodoxy, it wouldn’t be understandable to them nor may it prove persuasive – and maybe it shouldn’t anyway. I don’t think the path is getting underneath modernity or secularism. I think the path is Biblical soteriology. To give a quick example, and this will be my life project I’m coming to think, look at Leviticus and you’ll see that there are no animal sacrifices for moral sins, none. The most you get is the animal sent away. But you have tons of sacrifices for impurity due to death, and anytime life has left/is leaving the body you are unclean/sinful – unfit for Sacred Space – which is the distinction between Israel and the nations in large part – they have no access to Sacred Space. So, death is the issue that is most largely addressed in the Sacrificial System. There’s no need to remain in uncertainty about that, it’s plain. So, to move quickly, if Christ is the fulfillment of the Sacrificial System – there should be corollary. But, if in much of Evangelical (and all of them coming from the Reformed tradition) and in Catholic theology, Christ is punished for our sins – you have a break. Leviticus shows death with it’s temporary fixes through sacrifice are a huge, huge, huge part of the problem keeping you from God and that temporary life is needed to cover your death, to make God safe to approach. So, ritual purity provides us with not only death (dying, sickness, bleeding, emissions of life) as a major problem – and it is the problem of the Gentile through their uncircumcision, they are just cut off from the get go – but it shows that death and depravity are not the same thing, you can be sinful without every morally sinning. Being sick is not being evil. Moral sins are all punished or if they are unintentional can be forgiven or reparations can be made. Play this out and what do you get in Christ’s sacrifice? Not PSA. You have Christ defeating death and forgiving moral crimes at the same time. I could keep going but the point is, getting underneath the presupposition (and I don’t know where Taylor is, I thought he became Catholic) of Original Sin, will do away with PSA and you won’t have to read that into Leviticus. Because, Original Sin, sets up the need for punishment not transformation. What can you do with a sinner who will refuse eternally to repent unless monergistically regenerated? Punish them. How to save them? Punish Christ instead. He’s the only one who can absorb the wrath of God on behalf of the elect without being destroyed. Okay, so, say someone says they don’t believe in PSA. Well, from there you can either demonstrate how they reacted against this doctrine or how they modified it. Another quick example. Say someone believes that what you become after being “born again” – includes a new nature. Here’s Original Sin again. Or someone believes that you are eternally secure after faith, same thing. In every case of doctrine that touches soteriology, anthropology, teleology, eschatology, ecclesiology, Saints, etc. – this is going to play a role, a leading role either by acceptance or reaction. And we can, using Scripture, the witness of the Church, liturgical documents, hymnody, etc. – show, we kept the Gospel. We are Sacred Space and we approach God in Christ with the Holy Spirit – we are clean by means of the Resurrection. Glory be to God! Christ has trampled down death by death! But, how will they accept this when they basically accept death as natural? Defeating death will not be so much a thing to rejoice in because having the will repaired to eventually become quite moral will be the “joy” producer. I’m taking broad strokes I know, but you can’t have such a foundational belief as Original Sin, and assume some go unaffected.

    Once it’s set aside, you can pursue theosis. Until then, I think someone will live in uncertainty. How many converts I wonder, do not really embrace the entirety of the Church. I know Orthodox who will not venerate icons, who are extremely suspicious of the Blessed Virgin Mary, who believe in assurance of Salvation they way a Baptist would, on and on.. Why? They have never examined Original Sin and what it’s done to their mind. But the same is true for those who are looking from the outside. It looks nice, it feels right, almost – then contradictions form in the mind, uncertainty sets in, quite possibly a new quest for certainty, and what happens? Not transformation. But this could have been avoided. I’m speaking from experience with people. So, what to do? Answer their questions all over again without examining their presuppositions. Doesn’t work. I can’t imagine how busy a Priest could be with those converting or the recently converted. And is transformation being done? How can they focus on transformation when their minds are not at peace? Long story short, if it was spelled out to them, and if they were able to examine their own presuppositions, the Priest would get a few hours back to his week and they would have more time to pray and fast.

  68. Matthew Ryan: I don’t see we have to “focus” on transformation to be transformed however we can pray to be transformed – have our stoney hearts changed to hearts of flesh. When grace comes upon us, we will be transformed. All we are required to do really, is be open to receive the grace, read and live the Gospels, and live the Sacramental life while maintaining a prayer life – minimal or of great depth. (this depends on what God asks of us and according to our state in life) For me personally, turning this into volumes and volumes of books, complicated essays, wracking my brain out with thoughts, methods and trying to think exactly like God, would be exhausting and lose simplicity. We are supposed to be like little children as Jesus said – that means simple and trusting in Him – not ourselves. Let go and Let God! He will lead us to a more angelic state. God bless!

  69. Matthew,

    “So, should it take 20 years, or 5 years, or whatever to know that you should start the path of transformation? No. It may take that long, but it shouldn’t.”

    Who says it shouldn’t? I don’t really quite know what to make of “should” and “shouldn’t” in this context. Do you mean “I feel that it ought not take x years”? Or do you mean “I feel that it need not take x years”? Do you think God gets upset if it takes 20 years? Is nothing happening inside a person during those 20 years, or is it just a big fat waste of 20 years? As someone mentioned above, our time is not God’s time.
    – Steve

  70. Maria,

    Thanks for your response. I just think, in the case of someone who would gladly embrace the Church, being the fullness of the Body of Christ, but can’t because objections and uncertainty keep raising their heads, this person is not someone God needs to “work on” forever to overcome their unwillingness. They need a new narrative, the Biblical one that Orthodoxy believes and has kept. For the person who won’t convert because it’ll destroy their family, their career as a pastor, who knows but doesn’t act, this is altogether different. My basic presupposition is this, having been Reformed or Evangelical for 20+ years, is that many people in Protestant or Catholic churches, would quickly embrace the Church if they had these presuppositions challenged and a new narrative introduced and we could all get to work together in becoming Saints. Because, the Gospel is everything for a devout Christian outside of Orthodoxy and they are committed to the Gospel, but they really don’t know what it is. The transition, though potentially difficult, would be gladly undertaken. I believe this about them. They are zealous and ignorant of what the Gospel is and it’s not their fault. I’m not naïve in thinking everyone would convert, but many would. Who wouldn’t want the Church as their Mother and God as their Father? Instead, Orthodox are always on the defense and won’t do the work of lovingly telling people that they need their “Augustinian” glasses off. This may be in part because Orthodox don’t know how much a Catholic/Protestant’s world is built on Original Sin or it may be an underlying assumption that you have to experience Orthodoxy and that anything else is intellectual – I don’t know. As to Providence, I don’t presume to know how it works. I guess leaving behind my strict predestinarian past, I imagine things being more fluid without denying Providence or foreknowledge – just that I don’t imagine anymore God picking a day for me to get Chrismated. My imagination of God’s working with people, and against Satan, has changed such that I don’t focus very much on God’s choosing dates and times, but on His real activity on our behalf in time. Maybe this imagination plays into how people view their own Chrismation or reception into Orthodoxy. My inclination, is not to focus on God’s timing, but on His overall working, patience, love. Most people received into the Church see their journey as something far different than a baby being baptized, but should they? Were the circumcised predestined to be so on the 8th day after their birth? Was the child baptized predestined? Well, yes I suppose, but at the same time we don’t imagine it that way, it’s just doing what we’re supposed to do. I don’t mean “just” as if it’s not monumental, it is. So, I guess I view the Church more in this light. The Church is a reality that we embrace or deny. This is just normal. It’s just normal, normative to be saved in baptism when you believe or when you are a baby – it shouldn’t be delayed. That doesn’t take away any sentimentality or meaningfulness about the event. But thinking God predestined us to be outside the Church confuses for me my imagination informed by Scripture and the Church, that God is working. When it happens we don’t know if it could have happened sooner or not. My assumption is, most of the time, it could have happened sooner without disturbing God’s foreknowledge and that God wasn’t the one holding us back from the Church. This could get hairy quickly but without getting into a bunch of discussion on foreknowledge/predestination – I think Scripture and Tradition teaches us to see God as working and whenever someone embraces the Church, God’s grace is there, but imagining this to have been the day to be saved, and no other day, just doesn’t satisfy me. Again, if someone delayed the baptism of an infant for two years, the Priest would be telling you to have the infant baptized, not assuring you that when it happens it will have been the right time on God’s watch. I’m not sure what happens in the case of a refusal to baptize an infant in Orthodoxy. I know in the PCA church we were in they thought, without telling us, that we were sinning and jeopardizing our children not to baptize them while the Baptist in me was being done away with. Anyway, I think, I could be wrong, that the right imagination to have of God bringing people to Orthodoxy is not, “this was the day God chose” but “God worked with me this long” – something like that. Even baptisms in Orthodoxy are often delayed so that they fall during Pascha or Christmas. So, included in “coming to Orthodoxy” needs to be some equation or consideration of reception and baptism. The point is, when the Grace of God appeared to us, he saved us. But, we glory that we are saved, not when or how long it took. When is the day of salvation? Today. To say, tomorrow only works if tomorrow becomes today. I wonder how much of this plays into our evangelism because predestination (and I can’t help but throw Blessed Augustine under the bus again) assures that God’s timing is what it is, the fact that tomorrow is not promised to anyone, is given an “I don’t know shrug”. I’m not after you in my comments, just something I observe often in Orthodox discussion on conversion or converts…”God will do what He’s going to do in His time”. Sure, of course, but what are we going to do with our time? I need to stop being caffeinated writing on this blog all morning for one. God bless you sister.

    Matthew Lyon

  71. Matthew Lyon,

    I see you’re definitely down on PSA as a system, but it seems to me you’re trying to set up an alternate system in its place. A system, as in carving up the gospel at its metaphysical joints so that the pieces fit together like a machine. Just like God manipulates the “rules” in PSA toward His desired end, God manipulates the “rules” to defeat death and ritual impurity.

    The thing is (and this applies to views other than yours too), why is almost every attempt to explain the gospel done as a humanly-understandable narrative? In a good story, the protagonist has to overcome problems in a logical way to reach the conclusion, so we imagine God having to operate in a context of necessity to reach His goals. God wants to save X,Y, and Z, so He has to incarnate and bear their moral desert, or die and be resurrected to defeat death, and so on. God isn’t under the same constraints as a person, so if He has to pull metaphysical levers to defeat damnation or death, the story rings hollow to me.

    Then again, maybe the Church didn’t start out as a group of folks working the gospel as a system just to save themselves. They were also to love one another and share things in common and be the salt of the earth. I wonder how much each motive pulled early converts, saving your own butt vs. the poor banding together. In Texas, I see billboards that say, “If you die tonight, where will you go? Heaven or Hell?” I never see billboards that say “The ears of the Lord are open to the poor.”

  72. “…So, what to do? Answer their questions all over again without examining their presuppositions. Doesn’t work….”

    I agree. It is a dialectic (an exegetical “dialogue”) that is not very fruitful most of the time

    “… Long story short, if it was spelled out to them, and if they were able to examine their own presuppositions, the Priest would get a few hours back to his week and they would have more time to pray and fast…”

    ‘If they were able to examine their prepositions’ is key here. My overall experience tells me that in any given circumstances only about 1 in 20 actually do this. The reasons for this are multifaceted and complex (e.g. some folks never seem to display the basic {philosophical} rigour; our own normative ontology, and even nature, seems to reveal to us that the end of dialectic is fulfilled in the heart, and not vice versa, etc.).

    By the way, Taylor is a “progressive” or modern/secularized RC. His ultimate aim is not to defend orthodoxy and traditional anthropology/Christology but to justify the modern Cartesian critique of it. One way to think about it is that he is defending a ‘certain uncertainty’ exactly at that crucial “trust” step; he is explicating why the modern person can never trust *any* certainty, whether it be a the Church, a Kantian or some other metaphysic (e.g., the particular Original Sin you are focusing on), etc. Taylor explains to us how modern man only trusts his own Cartesian metanarrative…

  73. Father, does the process you describe here within an individual soul roughly correspond to a process of transitioning from slave to son through God’s grace?

    I don’t even know what I am quoting in that slave to son phrase, but I am fairly sure I have encountered it.

    I have realized I have had so many misconception about God in my heart and I don’t know where they came from.

  74. Matthew Lyon: Jesus said that only His Father knows the day and the hour. This can apply to many things but the main point is that it is the Father’s plan. I do not say God has a date book for example, but that when something comes to fruition, it was His plan for His purpose and in His time. In other words, He does not worth with the same calendar as us. Perhaps delaying a Chrismation or Baptism is God allowing the person to make a “choice” – God wants to know we are with Him and not lukewarm. I know people who convert due to marrying one of the faith. It is also astounding how that convert will take on the faith more seriously and committed than the original person who was already of that faith or born of that faith. Again, this is God’s doing and He used the situation to bring this about – who are we to say? Keep in mind that Jesus said, “The first go last and the last go first.” We also come to understand more of the faith when living it out day by day, problem by problem and prayer by prayer. God speaks to us in scriptures, in others and in circumstances. He is a lot less complicated than we realize because He comes down to meet us at our level and place. WE are His children. If we are incapable of learning it all, experiencing it all, having it all, He will continue to love us and bring us back home to Him. All we need to do, is keep our soul ready and packed. (I have enjoyed the conversation – you are not coming after me – I know that.) God bless!

  75. “I have realized I have had so many misconception about God in my heart and I don’t know where they came from.”

    Nicole from VA. The misconceptions come from the society around you and even at the best of times when you are fully aware they can slip by into your consciousness. Every TV Show you watch, every movie you see, every thing you read, all the advertisements you are exposed too, even the people you associate with, and probably plenty of things I’m not thinking of. All of it is constantly working to alter your consciousness and ultimately your soul. The secular world now works 24/7 to turn you to its ends.

    1 Peter 5:8 “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walks about, seeking whom he may devour”

    I believe the quote you are looking for is Galatians 4:7 “Therefore you are no more a servant, but a son; and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ.”

    In some translations servant appears to be interchangeable with slave.

  76. From all the comments I have read regarding this topic, I can clearly see how each one comes from a different background and journey however was led to the same place. One is inspired by a book they read, another by a garden they made, another by a person they met, and another by a candle they lit. THIS is the blessing; THIS is God calling us as who we are, back to Him. Remember Jesus said, “My Father’s House has many mansions.” Why? So we can all live there! (haha!!) We could prepare for that and not be so concerned over the less weightier matters. (not that I am judging what is considered to be weightier to one and not to another)

    God bless!

  77. sgage,

    If you knew the Gospel was preserved in Orthodoxy and no where else, and it took you 20 years to convert, that would be your fault. But I assume that wasn’t the case. I assume it wasn’t any fault of yours, only you know. But for someone who would come, come home, wondering where this Mother had been all their life, but couldn’t because Saints, Mary, soteriology, what salvation is, all these icons, why do you pray to anyone but God, on and on…, wasn’t challenged with, “you can’t see it because of Original Sin” – that’s my short answer, that’s just a shame. Do you not believe that some will never embrace Orthodoxy simply because they don’t know any better? Of course some will never embrace the Church simply because they don’t know any better. Should that be the case?If you say yes, I think that’s sad. If you say no, and blame God’s Providence this implicates God in a negative way – or you have to hold Orthodoxy as a type of denomination and we’re all doing our best groping our way to God. Or you could just say, Christ is working as God the Father works, that the Kingdom suffers violence, that there is a struggle, that God is relentless in bringing many sons to Glory. The “‘should” remains. I guess we could think God judged us all as children of the Reformation and the schism? I mean, it’s possible. I think of backward and forward motion, Kingdom advance, and violence suffered, eventually the Mustard Tree stretches over the earth. That’s why we didn’t know about Orthodoxy sooner in my mind and I think that’s pretty easy to demonstrate historically. Expansion and retraction. God claiming ownership over Creation and Satan fighting to hold on to his wrongful claim on land and souls. So, would God have desired something different than Orthodoxy coming to America only recently? Depends on how you see the story being played out. I say yes. I see struggle. If you say, no, it’s all in God’s timing – I may need corrected – but I don’t think that’ll move too many missionaries. It’s not that God is powerless, it’s that free will is real.

    I don’t take my past to have been worthless, or that nothing was gained before Orthodoxy. God is gracious, but I had held to blatant heresies most of my life – that for many make the goal of Saint/theosis/transformation impossible. So, I guess, did God desire for me to have been shaped this way or would He have avoided it if say Orthodoxy had been a presence in my life growing up? I mean Paul see’s his life as preparatory but even there Paul has a very special vocation planned for him that I doubt we would claim as our own. Maybe it’s a deeper question for some than others? For myself, I’m glad to be here, wish I had been much sooner and I don’t blame God, the Protestants and Catholics, if anyone the Devil. But while I see the hand of God throughout my life, and as I am completely convinced that theosis is what God wishes me to undergo, I have a really hard time thinking that God doesn’t desire things to happen a bit quicker. If today is the day of salvation, if repentance is for today, if today we hear His voice, if claiming this and that will be done tomorrow apart from saying, “if God wills” is bad – I think we should not assume God desired twenty year conversions but was waiting, ready to run to us when we came to Him. Is not coming to the Church coming to God? I don’t think many people really believe this. It sounds mean I guess to our past and our friends. So, God is completely gracious and loving and patiently bringing us into the Church. To ignore the role of the will, or it’s interaction with the intellect, and that the means of Grace used by God throughout Scripture to turn people to the worship of the Living God are often polemical attacks on heresy, or polemical discussions on where a “worldview” dead ends – the Scripture’s and the Church’s apologetical method – is to render ineffectual the methodology of Scripture and Tradition. Instead, we gradually convert over lengthy amounts of time. Why? I really don’t see the necessity. Again, I’ve already made the distinction between reception and theosis, they aren’t the same thing, but one enables the other.

    That was probably longer than solicited. I’m not attacking anyone’s conversion, by no means, God forbid! I’m saying, you might have got on track for transformation sooner if – someone had pointed these things out sooner, instilled the Biblical narrative/meta-narrative, and put you on track. And either way, when you “came to” God would get the glory and we would appreciate whatever time it took to get here. Just as a 15 year old cradle Orthodox should appreciate their baptism whether they remember it or not.

  78. ScottTX says:
    February 12, 2020 at 10:31 am
    Matthew Lyon,
    I see you’re definitely down on PSA as a system, but it seems to me you’re trying to set up an alternate system in its place. A system, as in carving up the gospel at its metaphysical joints so that the pieces fit together like a machine. Just like God manipulates the “rules” in PSA toward His desired end, God manipulates the “rules” to defeat death and ritual impurity.

    I’m not reducing the Gospel to a system. But to dismantle the OT from the NT, as if there should be no continuity, dismisses the Jewishness of Jesus and the Apostles, which is quite fashionable in some quarters I know. If the death is the problem in the OT, I think it follows that it would be addressed in the NT. I’m assuming you’re not Orthodox to argue otherwise. What is all this manipulation language?. Nothing is manipulated, what “rules”? The law of death? The law of the Spirit? Those are “rules” if you want to call them that. Theosis is in the OT.

    The thing is (and this applies to views other than yours too), why is almost every attempt to explain the gospel done as a humanly-understandable narrative? In a good story, the protagonist has to overcome problems in a logical way to reach the conclusion, so we imagine God having to operate in a context of necessity to reach His goals. God wants to save X,Y, and Z, so He has to incarnate and bear their moral desert, or die and be resurrected to defeat death, and so on. God isn’t under the same constraints as a person, so if He has to pull metaphysical levers to defeat damnation or death, the story rings hollow to me.

    The first sentence there is not a claim Orthodox would make, to know exhaustively and to have an explanation for everything the Gospel is – precisely because we are talking of the Incarnate God whose Essence is unknowable – nobody claims to know all that the Gospel is. God is not by necessity bound to any method or course of action but works/has worked in ways understandable to our finite capacity. Anything else is skepticism. Metaphysical levers? I don’t know exactly what the accusation is? If the story rings hollow, or unimpressive, Lewis had a similar reaction finding pagan mythology much more exciting.

    If you desire a gospel that does something but accomplish in time what is needed for the salvation of man, you are the one with a very metaphysical gospel, one which no one could accept because nothing of it would be understandable even by the most remote analogy.

  79. Christopher,

    I don’t know if it’s been tried on the basis of Ancestral Sin in any comprehensive manner. In every introduction book it’s been breezed over. In every semi-scholarly work, I mean the smart Orthodox in my parish have an extremely hard time understanding Romanides’ Ancestral Sin. I doubt it’s been tried well enough to know.

  80. ScottTX,

    Last, and I’m shutting down the computer…

    The Incarnation in Orthodoxy was something that would have happened had the fall never taken place. Bear their moral desert is Original Sin like I’ve been saying. The line you draw between metaphysical and physical I assume, is suspicious at best.

  81. Matthew Lyon,

    My (granted one man’s subjective) evaluation is that this important Orthodox point around Ancestral Sin is generally well understood *at the clergy and scholarly* level within NA Orthodoxy. At the seminary I went to, it was explicitly taught though IMO most of the students already had read and grasped it at least to a certain extent. I can’t recall every meeting a deacon/priest/bishop who (when it comes up) did not have the basics of it down – which is not to say they don’t each evaluate its relative importance differently. For example, Fr. John Strickland has made it a central point in his excellent “historiosophical exegesis” work for a number of years now, it is a central concern in David B. Hart’s philosophical/theological meanderings, and of course Fr. Stephen here. Whether all this is good enough – has it been emphasized and taught well enough? I lean toward a mostly “yes”, but I could be wrong.

    What IMO is much less common at all levels (laity, clergy, scholarly) is (however you link it to the historiosophical western doctrine of Ancestral Sin – cause, a factor among many, etc.) is grasp of Secularism and its relationship to the present Church – how to “be” Church in the secular gulag. Here however one might say I am emphasizing by bias and personal history and there is no doubt truth in that…

  82. Fr. Stephen, of course we are “right” about everything. Being right unfortunately, as you know, does not overcome sin/death and can actually compound it. What is confession after all but the acknowledgement to God and before man that I am wrong. Damned wrong. I am begining to appreciate St. Sophrony’s dictum: “The way down is the way up”.

    Why? Because the only place most of us, and certainly me, can encounter the Living God in the person of Jesus Christ is to die in the process of contrition and honest acknowledgement of my wrongness-without excusing that wrongness because others are wrong too as the parable of the Pharisee and the Publican shows us only my wrongness matters to my salvation and transformation.

    My heart has to break again and again with the knowledge of how wrong I am in my being. Of course at the same time I have to submit my brokenness to Jesus’ love and mercy. It is literally the only gift I can give Him who IS. I am immolated as the incense but made whole at the same time. I am the sinner, the original one.

    From those tears come love, joy and the peace that passes understanding. It is not “right theology” that saves, although it is much better than heresy which destroys. It is encounter and communion with our Lord, bearing one another’s burdens on the way to the Cross.

    Being here, reading and listening and too often speaking is a significant part of that for me. Glory to God now means something to me it never meant before. Or as my much simpler, God loving wife declares: Yea God!!!!!

    But she does that in the context of knowing the nearness of death and the reality of God’s power over it. Doctors have many times told her that her chances of living even a year where quite low. At least three times before she turned 21. Multiple times since in the last 50 years.

    Yet she lives. She lives with a deep and abiding knowledge that she lives only through Him.
    I share this here only because she is extrordinarily open in sharing it with others and has made reference to it herself here.

    I introduced her to the Orthodox Church, although several other Orthodox believers had told her she needed to come. She needed me in particular to get her here. It was her recognition that the Jesus who sustained her(her Jesus) is present here in a way she had encountered nowhere else that has kept here in praise, worship and Thanksgiving. She saw Him enthroned above the altar seated on the throne. Not metaphorically.

    In church during worship she does not need to hold a candle, she is one.

    It is only in age that such things can mature I think–like good wine. Thus I agree with what you said to us at one point here in Wichita–getting old is a good thing!

    I have less time and energy to engage in the pretzl making of my youth.

    Jesus brought me to the Church and greeted me personally when I arrived. He continues to graciously reveal Himself to me as I can stand it. It is a journey that can only be undertaken in safety and in fullness within the embrace of His Church and the boundaries He has established here.

    Any other alternative will end in futility, madness and death. So, we are called to bear with each other as He cures each of us from our own unique form of death and madness but none of us is ever alone. There really is a living cloud of witnesses to help and share our journey.

    I began our morning prays this morning with the expostulation: Get ready saints, here we come! That is how my wife approaches them you see.

    Thank you Father and all who are here. Even if you do not speak, you participate.

  83. Instead, we gradually convert over lengthy amounts of time. Why? I really don’t see the necessity…. I’m saying, you might have got on track for transformation sooner if – someone had pointed these things out sooner, instilled the Biblical narrative/meta-narrative, and put you on track.

    Matthew, perhaps we are simply stiff-necked? And far more complex than you are allowing? I know of very few people who, even as (arguably) a “christian”, would be swayed, or shaped, by someone “pointing these things out sooner”. We are simply not swayed by such things on a regular basis.

    I find it interesting that the other conversation happening here is one that includes the benefits of age. Many of us are able to look back and see how our journey into the Church was a long one, and really could not have been shortened.

    I tend to recall that, generally speaking, the main method of Orthodox evangelism is to go build a parish and live the Orthodox life among the people. Our lives are our evangelism. That sometimes takes a lifetime! Glory to God.

  84. Regarding the comments on this blog, I noticed some very good points in light of today’s Epistle and Gospel which I have taken from the Greek Orthodox Church. There is mention of God’s time and our time which may be of interest and shed some light on the points we were all striving to cover. Hopefully, you will have time to read them. God bless!
    Peter 2 Chapter 3 Verses 3-18
    Mark Chapter 13 Verses 24-31

  85. Christopher,

    My (granted one man’s subjective) evaluation is that this important Orthodox point around Ancestral Sin is generally well understood *at the clergy and scholarly* level within NA Orthodoxy.

    I assume you are right, but translating this to the lay person, that’s the challenge I think. As to your “gulag” question, I think this would address it somewhat at the parish level. Because when the wrong narrative is successfully replaced, a lot of modernity will go with it. The Original Sin narrative is outrageously comforting to many. You can’t help it, it’s who you are, you were born this way. I mean evolutionary naturalism is the corollary to Augustinianism except you get blamed for it with hell in one of the systems. For others it leads to despair. But the idea that you’re baptized and you’re okay, how ludicrous! I remember saying in a class at our parish that having been baptized, we should glory in this, but that it also makes everything the worse for those of us who do not persevere in loyalty. Several people smiled and laughed at the guy who takes stuff too seriously. My priest saved me here but I find these situations telling. You know personally, the knowledge that esotericism and paganism and popular culture are all so intertwined make me want to have less to do with them than ever. This is just the return of the belief of the nefarious gods, the fallen which is part and parcel of the worldview of the ancient Fathers, Biblical authors. But this is the replacement, the actual historical account of what went wrong, for Original Sin. The narrative of the fall, of nations under the gods, of God delivering His people and those without the Covenants under the grip of sin and Satan, the reality of the unseen is the narrative that is put in place after OS is removed. The liturgy would come alive for many if the ancient worldview of the Biblical authors and the Fathers was alive, of Athanasius and Cyril of Alexandria. I love Fr. Strickland by the way, he’s great. One of the greatest ways I assume would make a difference is the return of the catechumenate. The fact that the Church is the place where you get life, where the devil is renounced, where Christ is present, etc. – a lot of this is lost with no catechumenate. The rationale for fasting for example with the catechumenate for their entry into life, and reliving our baptism, is largely lost with no catechumenate and turns into advanced “chocolate” fasts. I remember someone showing me an infographic for Lent on their phone that mocked the fast expecting me to be amused. But I realized, that of course they don’t understand. The weight of what we are doing on a Sunday morning doesn’t fall on us because we don’t have the presuppositions of the early Church – yet it’s in everything we do, in every liturgy, in every Saint and their conquests in God, on and on. Living out secularism (and I’ve read Dreher) I think will happen when the Church really feels like the Ark it is. This includes calling out heresy whether in culture or elsewhere. The antithesis has to be emphasized because no one sees a real antithesis between Church and culture, which is the work of Satan. How to do this? Preach and live the Orthodox Gospel together. It’s got to be hard to be a Priest in this milieu and do what I’m suggesting. Living under the fear of death has to be called out and stamped out as much as possible. Besides this, I think this emphasis, that people sin because they fear death, and that Satan exacerbates this fear -this is the modern project in many ways – to live forever as gods – it’s the theosis of the anti-Christ, of Satan in Eden . This bringing death to the forefront, how we live under it’s power though we are to be Resurrected, would shock a lot of people out of complacency. Once you see what’s really wrong with you, you can’t un-see it.

    God bless you,
    Matthew

  86. Matthew,
    I absolutely agree that understanding the whole of salvation within an ontological model is essential in teaching the Orthodox faith and directing spiritual formation.

    However, it’s important not to over-simplify. There’s so much to be done in the life of a parish, in the lives of converts, in the lives of children – and all of that is the life of the parish. The reason I speak about patience as much as I do in these matters is because all of this is the work of generations – necessarily. Only in America would we imagine any of this taking less time.

    I have seen about 40 years of the Orthodox life – 20 from outside and 20 from within. I might have another 20 years left, if God is generous and so wills. I recently “handed-over” my parish to a new Rector, letting go of 22 years of work (though I remain attached as Pastor Emeritus). First, the simple fact that there was another priest of the next generation who have been a convert, trained and prepared for this work is its own tremendous accomplishment in the Orthodox life.

    I’ve met with diocesan leaders. There’s a large number of men in my age cohort who will be retiring (or dying) in the next bit of years. We’re actually not training young priests quickly enough to fill what is coming. I trust that God will raise up what is needed. These are crucial needs.

    I’m serving on a group, appointed within the OCA, to develop catechumenate materials that can be used throughout the Church. I’m just one of a number serving in that role. I’m excited about what is in the works.

    I could add to that the growing work of Ancient Faith Ministries – another development of the last 15 years.

    Much is happening. Of course, at the same time, the world around us is getting crazier by the minute. So much is beyond anybody’s control. We do what we can and then place it all in God’s hands. When the Son of Man returns, will He find faith on the earth?

    Don’t know.

    The topic of certainty regarding the Orthodox Church seems very theoretical. Given the insanity of Christian history, it’s hard to use such a thing as a starting point. It’s in the mix – but – I do not think it is where many people start – or even that it is where they should start.

  87. Fr Stephen, thank you so much for this article which for me anyway works as an answer to many questions I sort of fired at you about the last article – and then some. And you have been very generous about relating it to your personal journey. I am continuing to ruminate on it, and the many interesting comments and I may put in an oar later. But for now, it‘s mainly just thank you.

    And maybe to mention in case it’s relevant (and in any event I see that you are a Tolkien fan) that for some reason the whole thread has reminded me of one of my favorite scenes from the LoTR. At the end of chapter 7 of book 4 Gollum has rather ominously brought Frodo and Sam to a crossroads, from where he is going to (treacherously) lead them by a hidden path into Mordor. There is an unnatural dark coming from Mordor that has darkened the sky to make afternoon like night. ‘“Standing for a moment filled with dread Frodo became aware that a light was shining: he saw it glowing on Sam’s face beside him. Turning towards it, he saw, beyond an arch of boughs, the road to Osgiliath running almost as straight as a stretched ribbon down, down into the West. There, far away beyond sad Gondor now overwhelmed in shade, the Sun was sinking, finding at last the hem of the great slow -rolling pall of cloud, and falling into an ominous fire towards the as yet unsullied sea. The brief glow fell on a huge sitting figure, still and solemn as the great stone kings of Argonath. The years had gnawed it, and violent hands had maimed it. It’s head was gone, and in its place was set in mockery a round rough-hewn stone, rudely painted by savage hands in the likeness of a grinning face with one large eye in the midst of its forehead. Upon its knees and mighty chair, and all about the pedestal, were idle scrawls mixed with the foul symbols that the maggot-folk of Mordor used. Suddenly, caught by the level beams, Frodo saw the old king’s head: it was lying rolled away by the roadside. ‘Look,Sam’, he cried, startled into speech. ‘Look, the king has a crown again!’ The eyes were hollow and the carven beard was broken, but about the high, stern forehead there was a coronal of silver and gold. A trailing plant with flowers like small white stars had bound itself across the brows as if in reverence for the fallen king, and in the crevices of his stony hair yellow stonecrop gleamed. ‘They cannot conquer forever!’ Said Frodo. And then suddenly the brief glimpse was gone.”

  88. Mr Lyon,

    I appreciate your fervor in emphasizing the idea of “Ancestral Sin”.

    As an adult, I had gotten fed up with the “me too” sameness of mainstream Protestantism. It worshiped a demonic god, and the theology didn’t make sense.

    As I was studying, what I felt, to be the linchpin of the Reformation – Indulgences – it was an off phrase that caught my attention and directed my gaze eastward.

    Something like, “because of the unique soteriology of Eastern Orthodoxy, indulgences, as practiced by the Roman Catholic Church, never gained ground”, or something to that effect.

    Later, I spoke to a Priest, who I think is probably much wiser than he lets on, and he told me that I might like Romanides. He said that he “couldn’t really understand it”, but that the author was very deep, and might be meaningful to read.

    All of this happened long before 2015. I read the phrase probably close to 2006, and met with my Priest friend probably close to 2014.

    I’m still a catechumen and still attend a denominational church with my wife, our kids, and our parents. I need not belabor the reasons for this in this discussion – they have to do with church politics, family politics, and God’s providence. But just because I’ve found and embraced the Ontological model, doesn’t mean that I am yet fully Orthodox. I am still Healing the Tragic Soul of the Modern West in my soul.

    There are no short-cuts.

  89. Matthew W: In reading your post I had to wonder if you were aware in the RC Church, that many years ago, indulgences were paid for by those requesting them from the Church. However, I am told that stopped and now there are just indulgences offered by those who pray. I thought the “payment” part was terrible for those seeking prayers. I really don’t believe in prayers for dollars – if you know what I mean. God bless…..

  90. Maria,

    Does it really matter what the RC church does anymore?

    Protestantism was a predictable response to bad, wayward theology. In my eyes, the RC Church never repented, never did rejoin the ecumenical church. They just counter “Reformed”, continuing down the path of modernity with their progeny.

    Ontological Salvation keeps me Christian. I would be a church going atheist otherwise.

  91. Matthew W: No, it really doesn’t matter what the RC Church does – LOL and once we have found the Truth, we don’t need to compare – as a wise Orth priest explained to me! God bless….

  92. -but if the topic is reaching out to the west the RC Church does matter if for no other reason it’s both western and includes the apostolic authority of the Petrine ministry, not to mention it is the See of Saints Peter and Paul.

  93. Fr William Keebler Jr: For the Orthodox, they see the Pope as a Bishop of Rome being 1st among equals and not having authority over all. As far as I know, Andrew was chosen before Peter and at one time there was a misunderstanding between Peter and Paul because Peter was teaching something incorrect and Paul corrected him. As for Peter having the keys to the kingdom – it might just be that Peter held more knowledge or Truths from Jesus than the other Apostles being he was the elder in the group – which would be the custom in the Jewish culture. I find it difficult to vision Jesus choosing someone to elevate them to such high rank and level when He himself was so humble and meek. It doesn’t fit the description of Jesus. He always preached and lived that way and said, “whoever thinks he is the greatest is the least among you.” Just because the Orthodox Church is alive in the West, does not mean they accept the Pope’s seat and the See of Peter. There is also the issue of the Creed and filoque. East-West – there is a lot to work out here.

  94. Fr. William,

    I am not – equipped – to argue points of RC authority, other than maybe to say I am an Orthodox catechumen, still subject to my Protestant biases.

    I come from a form of Protestantism that sees itself as the continuation of the Reformation against both the RC Church, and Apostate Protestants. There was never a moment that I was ever going to consider the RC Church as anything other than the Beast of Revelation.

    The Ecumenical Orthodox Church, with its history of continuous faith amidst severe persecution, the absence of significant schisms except against heretics as defined by collegial ecumenical councils, it’s continuation in spite of its lack of a single authoritarian head, its preservation of certain distinctives, and its oversight in the commentaries of the West when discussing ecclesial failure that gave rise to the Reformation, give it the opening I never would have given the RC Church.

    I am sorry if this is bothersome. The history of my own denomination isn’t without its own skeletons.

    It is only after immersing myself in Eastern Orthodoxy, that I might even consider claims of Patristic Authority, and that discussion has been going on between the Latins and the Orthodox since the schism. Others more versed in the subject could probably do a much better job of arguing these points.

    The bottom line is this. I have no opinion other than I see the Orthodox as having preserved true Ontological Theology since the time of the apostles. If it weren’t for the Ontological model, I would be a church-going atheist (for the sake of my family).

    Fr. Freeman
    Please feel free to remove this post if you feel it falls outside of bounds. I’m merely trying to answer what I perceive to be an honest question.

  95. Fully understand particularly since the topics are ancient and haven’t changed (the papacy and the filioque) going back to the Council of 5 October 869 – 28 February 870 and the negation of that Council ten years following. Since Florence didn’t work either the best recourse is biblical exegesis according to Tradition.

  96. Fr William Keebler,
    It is my hope that Fr Stephen will correct me as needed,

    However, as far as I know, your words: “…RC Church does matter if for no other reason it’s both western and includes the apostolic authority of the Petrine ministry, not to mention it is the See of Saints Peter and Paul…”, underscores a particular path of separation from the Orthodox.

    If “apostolic authority” is to mean that the RC has authority regarding it’s own ministry over it’s own flock, then this is a mute point. However if you intend by these words to mean the RC has some sort of authority over the Patristic Tradition and how it is manifested in the Body of Christ, I will say that I certainly disagree.

    As the creed says, there is only one Holy Catholic Apostolic Church. And I’m not expecting that you and I will agree on what that means either.

    But I do agree that the RC does indeed matter, and I say this with sincere love in my heart for the RC, but just not for the reasons you propose.

  97. Fr Stephen, I just read your article again, and saw it in a different light, As you said, you do not write for your own pleasure or anyone else’s, You write in obedience. My you continue to write for the Glory of God. I agree with you that it is those who are willing to be small who will save us, while those who want to be great will fall. God Bless you

  98. Sinnika,
    Comments viz. the current struggles with the Ecumenical Patriarch are not published – according to the rules for the blog. It is not that they are unimportant – perhaps it is because they are too important. I am a priest of the Orthodox Church in America. We are in communion with both the Patriarch of Constantinople and the Patriarch of Moscow. However, we are not in communion with the schismatic group in Ukraine and remain officially supportive of Met. Onufry in Kiev.

    I grieve deeply over the present troubles and pray they are resolved in a proper, canonical way, without innovation. In the meantime, having said my prayers, I write the blog. I am fairly confident that neither of those Patriarchs reads this particular blog. Since the situation can only be solved by them, my opinion (our opinions) on the matter are not of great interest. If, however, a false doctrine were being asserted (as a doctrine), we should all be certain that it would be addressed. Moscow, and a number of the Patriarchs have already spoken about the error of the language of “first without equal.” I pray that I will live to see this resolved. When it is, and it will have been resolved without my having to blog about it, I will be reminded of the sufficiency of God in all things.

  99. Fr. William, I am one Orthodox who is glad to see you here. I have learned a great deal from other faithful Roman Catholics here in the past when they have shared the content and foundation for their faith. About 50 years ago I met a retired RC priest up in Fargo, ND. He was serving at the convent in Morehead, MN right across the river. He had been a priest 50 years. He is one of the most luminous and joyful men I have ever met. I am sure he reposed in the hands of our Lord and I pray the same for you.

  100. Fr. 3illiam I would like to mention that when Fr Stephen says the “west” it is not about the typical divisions so much as it is about a philosophical mindset and approach to God that we all struggle with no matter where we live or what faith we espouse.

  101. Michael B. – Fr Keebler can take the heat. Maybe its me, but your accolades sound like the old adage “I’m not prejudiced, some of my best friends are _____”.
    It goes without saying that there are stand-up RC’s.
    Fr Keebler…I am not talking past you.

    Blogs are a strange place. Never blogged before the age of 62. They are a new invention! Strange…

    The blog “community”, unlike the receiving of the Cup, is not impervious to other faiths. All you have to do is follow the rules. Fr Stephen knows what he’s doing. Father, your last comment about the EP is a great example. God work’s things out for the good.

    Besides the divisions between the Christian faiths, there is equal division within the Orthodox…so no one here need tout their horn. I know well the source of division…it goes through the midst of my own heart. It is there so plain as day…in our own hearts.

    Personally, I have no desire to hash and rehash-hash and rehash-hash and rehash-
    the reasons why we are not in communion with other faiths. I know where my home is. It is established and settled. I have zip patience and am too old to listen to all the opinions. I mean, who cares….

    The Church will be one when Christ the Lord returns…and no sooner than that. In the meantime it is all we can do just to get along. This world is damn crazy.

    And if I have insulted anyone, you really shouldn’t take me so seriously either.

  102. Michael B. Absolutely. We’re on the same page. The Catholic Church clearly teaches there were Twelve Apostles, not one or two.

  103. Fr. Freeman, Matthew W,

    Well, I think I’ve made my point as well as I can. Fr. Freeman, my concern for “certainty” again isn’t some 100%, all or nothing sort of thing. When you realize what your problem is, what you need saved from, what you need saved for, where to get this done, where you can’t get this done, etc. – it eliminates thousands of other “options/uncertainties” within Christianity. From there, you can get to work. I have to say, that though I’m long winded on blogs sometimes, the ability to focus on my own soul was greatly freed up after entering Orthodoxy. Partly because, now my salvation is actually something to work with God towards and that basically doesn’t exist in most Protestant settings, but also because I could rest in the Mind of the Church. I didn’t have to figure out everything I should believe which is a very lengthy, arduous task to do as a Solo Scripturist, so I was freed up. Obviously I’m still full of opinions and concerns, but my point is – rescuing people from often a fruitless Christianity where the soul has already been saved eternally, or where Jesus teachings are mere solutions to poverty, people who would I believe gladly embrace the Gospel if they knew what it was, and at the same time restoring a “supernatural” worldview that isn’t two-tiered, it just sounds good to me.

    Maybe instead of saying there is a faster track I should be saying that the usual methodology I see in seeking those outside Orthodoxy, and for keeping those Orthodox in, and awake, is unintentionally or intentionally slow or “seeker-sensitive”. I just don’t see this as helpful but most people think that abruptness/being polemical means rudeness.

    Abruptness is only rudeness if the person is a jerk. When I used to go evangelizing in my Reformed days, I remember approaching a much larger, intimidating looking man, and then telling him after some questions that he just admitted to me, a stranger, that he was a lying, thieving, adulterer and that he would have to face God on Judgment Day. I regret my presentation of course and how I explained the gospel, but this guy, I mean he looked like he was 6′ 4″ and 300 pounds, said to me, “You came down here to tell me this?”, and then gave me a bear hug. I had many encounters with people like that. We shouldn’t be scared of offending people if we are showing them love and they can tell it. So, I hope in your material that you develop, you spend adequate time on these issues. This is extremely significant what you are doing because of the potential audiences you will reach. If it were me, and I know I don’t know much, I would dedicate 3-5 hours at a minimum on where Original Sin leads, and where we differ. It will disarm a thousand questions because once they see the connections, they will connect the dots themselves.

    Protestants struggle most with the Blessed Virgin it seems to me before and after conversion, but this is so because they already believe Saints are impossible, and that all Christians are Saints because of Original Sin. Catholics have made the matter more confusing because they give her veneration but she is so unlike the rest of humanity as she is spared from Original Sin and Guilt. But Ancestral Sin leaves the will capable to be Theotokos. A million other free will questions will go away and hopefulness that it actually matters what someone “wills”, can be restored for many. It is a freeing thing to know that your choices matter, that you are not forever programmed to be the same.

    Matthew W,
    But just because I’ve found and embraced the Ontological model, doesn’t mean that I am yet fully Orthodox. I am still Healing the Tragic Soul of the Modern West in my soul.

    No, of course not. Because when Ancestral Sin is fully grasped you will get ecclesiology too, and you need Apostolic succession to have a Bishop, and you need a Bishop to have a temple, to have a Priest, and so on. Because it is those to whom revelation has been given that we get Scripture, and this experience of God is the same experience of the Prophets, the Apostles, and all the glorified, which is preserved by the Bishops; you need a Bishop to be Orthodox. The connections to Original Sin/Ancestral Sin are extremely comprehensive.

    God bless you,
    Matthew Lyon

  104. When I converted, I had to handle the hard questions of “am I in Communion with the Church founded by Christ, and is this Church the Orthodox Church as it claims?” These questions took quite a bit of time to be answered, but I continued to seek, to search, to ask the Lord….and in time, I found my home as Paula referred to, and my answers as Matthew Lyon referred to. I believe God calls us to Communion…and this begins with prayer. St. Alexis Toth showed the importance of this in his life as he greatly helped reunite thousands of Uniates to the Orthodox Church. This Communion does matter to the soul. I simply know this well, experientially, from my life. St. Alexis Toth simply touted the Truth. The Truth is important, and is what and particularly Whom we all seek. He preached respect, but he also preached the truth. He has been glorified by the Orthodox Church and his relics rest at St. Tikhon’s Monastery in Pennsylvania. The Truth as it applies to the modern “West” as Michael B. refers to as a mind set that needs healing, and the Truth as it applies to heresies that need brought to light, and the Truth as it applies to reuniting in Communion if one finds themselves outside of Communion as I did. God knows every hair on our head and can be trusted as we seek Him in Truth.

  105. Paula, that is not what I was thinking. I just genuinely learn from the Catholics who come here. My encounter with the priest in Fargo I will remember always. It was and is a blessing. Frankly I was seeing a bit of contention under some of the comments so I just wanted to say howdy, glad you are here.

    Now it so happens that some of my best friends are ex-Catholics, now Orthodox. I knew them well before they made the decision to enter the Orthodox Church officially. It cost them but what they actually believed was more congruent with Orthodoxy. One was an RC priest. I grew up in a Catholic neighborhood with the parish and school and a small convent just blocks away. My best friend in college was Catholic, unfortunately lapsed. My dear wife was a Catholic for awhile. I just don’t care for their theology much.

    Still, Modernism has done great damage to the RCC that saddens me immensely. The RCC witness was instrumental in furthering my journey to Christ. The priest in Fargo was a significant part of that. I want what he showed me. He knew it and suggested I join the Catholic Church. Coming from him, I had to actually consider that.

    Oh, I also have some close friends who are Afro-American. Shoot I even mange to get along with some Greeks. If I had a daughter, I am not sure I would want her to marry a Greek though(to complete the trope you started with).

  106. I’m serving on a group, appointed within the OCA, to develop catechumenate materials that can be used throughout the Church.

    Father, this is very exciting!

    As what may be an interesting aside, my Priest has renamed our Catechumen class “The Fundamentals of Orthodoxy” and invited everyone interested to join. I want to but I have yet to make it there!

    I say this to note that, coupled with Father Freeman’s comment of the work being done, I think there is a recognized need for this instruction in the OCA (at least). I am very glad to hear this.

  107. I’m with Byron. I too am grateful for the prospect of receiving materials expressly for adult education for potentially converting inquirers and catechumens.

    I see too much writings/books etc by those who simply do not have the depth and authority (by the grace of the Holy Spirit and your Bishop) that you have. Please forgive me. I’m not so glib to encourage reading that was written expressly to ‘evangelize’ — to convince by some sort of rhetoric.

    If my suggestion is helpful I would encourage the inclusion of what you describe of your own conversion in this article. Those who have ears and sincerely seek will hear.

  108. I should also be more clear:

    “Potentially converting inquirers” means to provide materials for those who are already inquirers considering the possibility of conversion and not to Orthodoxy in some form as to ‘convert’ (verb) them by sort of persuasion or argument.

  109. Michael…and I was raised Catholic!
    And modernity has wracked all of us.
    And I genuinely learn from every person. No matter what their affiliation. Unless, that is, if they insist on telling me what or how I should believe. Or that I can’t say certain things that are unacceptable to them. In that case, I’m ‘outta there’.

    I am very much interested in the ‘person’, face to face. Whether they are Catholic, Orthodox, Prot’s, atheists, Hindu, etc etc. Theology or lack of it does not add or subtract from their personhood. There are so many experiences intertwined within each life that make a person who they are.

    Anonymous – I am so not fit to get into a discussion about truth! We all have arrived through very different paths, at the place we find ourselves. So I know and am clear in what I believe and am confident in what I have learned since becoming Orthodox.
    Truth is Jesus Christ. And He exists everywhere. I first encountered Him in the pits of hell, then He followed me to a hellish church. Now go figure. There are more people who die, knowing Christ, that have not in their life become Orthodox. Most people in America don’t even know what Orthodoxy is. Father says that’s changing, slowly. I am thankful for that. I think our actions will speak louder than our words.

    I tire at even a hint of triumph-ism. So I probably err in trying to avoid that.
    I remember where I came from. I haven’t even begun to shake it off.
    But I am Orthodox. No more, or less, than anyone else. If someone asks about my faith, I will gladly respond. But knowing my weaknesses, I simply can not endure lengthy discussions.

  110. Dee,

    I can recommend/ orthochristian.com/ because, this is where I came across Fr Stephen and his spirit-filled writings, so I assume he would be happy too?

    Also, there are some very interesting articles on Fr George Florovsky in the Ancient Faith Ministries from 2014, on “A sign of contradiction”, and “Ecumenism of Fr George Florovsky”. The requirement for real Union in Faith, is agreement in “Historical Truth, with all the ages” not submission or rigid uniformity.

    ” Fr Florovsky observes a certain ‘hyper-historicism’ in Roman Christological consciousness – as if the Ascension marked Christ’s exit from history, leaving His deputy behind to govern.”….(sounds familiar to me)…
    “ecumenism in time” searches the shared past of Apostolic Tradition, seeking recovery of a ‘common mind’. ”

    Can anyone recommend a book by/on Fr George Florovsky, still in print?

  111. I know what you mean about being cautious with other blogs and this would apply to any topic really. We must use caution and do our homework as well as connecting with the right people. I have a problem too, being catechised or looking for answers from members of the community – I feel it is very important with those types of questions, to speak with a knowledgeable priest. During my catechism I feel I was blessed to have a very good priest who came from Ancient Faith. My lessons were via videos (he provided) and through email. I had the option of video/emails, skype or in person. I took the video/emails and we met 3 times in person. I submitted lessons daily (although this was my own timeframe – it might not be for others). Sometimes sharing too much with too many is not a good thing – it can be of course, but we need to know when to bow out or pop in. God bless!

  112. @Michael Bauman

    “Shoot I even mange to get along with some Greeks…”. I know the feeling even as a Greek. Greeks, especially those who live in Greece, are a strange lot. I have been elbowed out from the Holy Communion queue, by people wanting to get to the front !

    Nevertheless, this mysterious country probably produces more relics per capita than any other country. I am sure if you had a daughter that decided to marry a Greek you’d have trusted her judgement with the upbringing that you offered her !

  113. I am of English/Irish background and converted from RC to Greek Orthodox. I have a Greek Orthodox Godmother and attend Div Liturgy regularly at the local Greek Orthodox Church. I had my first house blessing by a Greek Orthodox Priest. I must say I could not ask for a better community and Godmother who took a lot of care and kindness during my conversion. Many to most of them speak both English and Greek while there are some who speak only English being born and raised in Canada. Sunday Liturgy is always Greek and English. Greece is very beautiful and offers soooo much in terms of the ascetic life for us to draw from. Having made these changes in my worship does not mean I have completely tossed out my own personal history of being English/Irish and there are Orthodox Monasteries, Monks, communities in the Isles that are also available for learning and communicating. Really, we are surrounded by good holy Orthodoxy; if we are open to it! There is also an Orthodox community in one of the larger cities not too far away from where I am and their Div Liturgy is totally English. I do understand now that God not only called me to Orthodoxy, but to a specific community as well which only brought more grace and friendships.
    God bless…..

  114. All,
    I’ve taken the liberty of removing the last bits of the conversation viz. Catholicism and Orthodoxy. Generally, everyone was “behaving” themselves, and I’m deeply grateful. Moderator-wise, I felt that the conversation might provoke some or be a stumbling block for others and would prefer that we just let it rest.

    Michael Bauman said it well – that historical tit-for-tat will always be endless. I would add my own thoughts that arguments that tend to reduce historical complexity are also inaccurate and unhelpful. I have stressed repeatedly that Orthodox, in its 2,000 year journey is messy and filled with historical contradictions and problems. That is the very nature of its ecclesiology. It also in no way nullifies what it is anymore than the sins of the 1st century Church (which occasioned many of the Epistles) nullified them. That kind of reasoning is unhelpful.

    I take Florovsky’s words as very insightful. We have to take the tragedy of the West into our heart and heal it there – which is not the same thing as merely fleeing. The source of error and schism is found within each of us. Orthodoxy, rightly lived, is a healing balm. God give us the grace to live it.

  115. To all Greeks, I mean no offense. Whatever difficulty I have with Greek-ness is the result of my own sins. That is just the fact. Forgive me. I am quite aware of the tremendous gifts from God that have come from the Greek mind and heart.
    That being said, there is a great deal about contemporary Greek-ness that is a thorn in my side but (on my good days) that leads me to repentance. Glory to God!

  116. Sinnika,
    There are many great resources available through Ancient Faith,. Nevertheless even there is at least one writer whom I would not recommend to catechumens . If you’re an inquirer I would encourage the recommendations of a priest whom you know . Or otherwise Fr Stephen’s recommendations. The internet is full of misinformation of all sorts.

  117. Fr Stephen, please forgive me! The last thing I want is to add to your grief, may God forgive me for my ignorance!
    This is the very first Blog ever for me, as I am usually very careful and avoid social media. Having learnt my lesson I shall unsubscribe to the blog, but keep reading your articles. Your kind advice to be patient, and pray, is something I will do, thank you so much.
    Sinnika

  118. Michael,
    I just need to add my “I’ll second that!” about the Greeks… the more of them I know, the more wonderful and (at the same time) hard-to-understand they are, especially lately… LOL, this is meant in the best way!

    My Love and best wishes to all friends on this blog, and especially to you Father Stephen! Thank you for all you do for us.

  119. Father, I would add that the study of history is not a search for evidence to prove a point. The study of history has done two things for me: moved me toward repentance/humility and shown me the working of God’s Providence in the midst of human perfidy and arrogance. In Christian matters it has shown how horribly destructive the drive to be “right” is to the Body and to each of us personally.

    My perception of what you have taught here: God is with us fully present through His Incarnation. We are all connected to each other through Him. Any sin I see in another is actually my own. By God’s mercy, all sin can be forgiven and it’s ravages healed.

    My experience has led me to understand that time is no barrier to God as long as we continue to repent. That is tremendously hopeful. It seems to me the true foundation for apocatastasis–not as some mechanistic puesdo-determinism.

    “Behold I make all things new.” (Rev. 21:5)

    Christ is Risen, trampling down death by death!

  120. Sinnika, I have been part of this blog since 2008. I have had a number of posts removed during that time, thank God. Learning to communicate on a blog takes practice. This 8s the best one to learn because of the boundaries Fr. Stephen maintains.

  121. Sinnika,
    I would encourage you to remain subscribed. Your comments have been welcome and well-said. Sometimes, if I think a conversation is headed towards a problem or distraction, I’ll delete that part of a string just to avoid problems. Very few blogs do this – and they can get unpleasant and unhelpful to read.

    Mostly, it’s just a matter of sticking around a while here to see how things work. They’re not perfect.

    I should note that my own comments get deleted sometimes when I think that I have taken things in an unhelpful direction. So – please know you’re in very good company! Stick around.

  122. https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=1+Corinthians+1&version=KJV

    This chapter, especially 1 Corinthians 1:10-19, seems very relevant to the question of church divisions. St. Paul explained how God unites His flock and how to maintain that positive connection while struggling with disputes. I think a major cause of misunderstanding is an understandable reluctance to ask for clarification when something is unclear. Complex differences can easily seem like errors when there often is little actual disagreement.

    Further, few Christians read enough theology books – even books written by patriarchs or popes are unpopular. So many of us do not fully know what our faith teaches, making intellectual conflict more likely when we encounter another denomination’s or religion’s theology. I think that a summer course (4-6 weeks) for laity at a seminary would be helpful for many laypeople to learn the Orthodox faith at a deeper level (and other denominations could do this too). It would be an affordable, good investment. The more we learn about God, the easier it becomes to find places of agreement about Him with all sorts of people.

  123. Hi Fr. Stephen,

    I think you know that my comment was not meant as historical tit-for-tat.

    Matthew W. was allowed to bring history into his comments, even though his presentation was one-sided and incomplete. In my comment to Matthew W. (and Matthew Lyons), I said nothing untoward or untrue about the Eastern Orthodox Church, nor would I ever do such a thing! I have a deep appreciation and respect for Eastern Orthodoxy—why else would I continue to read here (mostly without comment) year after year? I sought only to provide a somewhat more balanced view of history, yet my comment has been deleted and cast into an unfavorable light.

    He was also allowed to make this statement: “There was never a moment that I was ever going to consider the RC Church as anything other than the Beast of Revelation.” Although he wrote this vile expression in the past tense, the rest of his comment reveals that his view of the Catholic Church has not significantly changed. Even he knew his comment was egregious (mind, it was directed to a Catholic priest!), for he ended by saying that he would understand if you did not find it fit to post. But you did post it. And his comment still stands.

    Would you—or your readers–allow someone to call the Eastern Orthodox Church “the Beast of Revelation” on this blog? Would THAT comment be allowed to stand?

    God bless you.

  124. Thank you Michael, it is just so easy to say something, thinking at the time it sounds like a good idea, and then after a bit more thinking realising that it was not as good as you thought. An unintended spark can set a house on fire. But I think this has proved to me that I am not up for this kind of socialising, as any feeling of upsetting anyone makes me physically sick, I guess 26 years of angry shouting and verbal abuse has made its mark, although, it forces you to humble yourself. Glory to God for that.

  125. This is me personally, but I have found when I choose one or two points out of the post or article, then I make short and hopefully meaningful responses. It helps to stay on track, but also be brief for others to read. I realize that is not the way for everyone.

    Just to mention briefly that I can see at times there are assessments or conclusions about other denominations that simply are not true – not specifically here on the blog, just saying since I happened to read something in a book this morning – that really is incorrect and I was never taught or heard of in my former denomination. So, my point for mentioning this, is that I have to wonder about mis-interpretation and just plain understanding being a negative aspect of what someone else’s religion might be teaching/believing. (I won’t go into detail of what I read; just making the point about mis-interpretation.)

    God bless…..

  126. Sue,
    For what it’s worth, I understood him to be saying that in his pre-Orthodox background (he was talking about conversions) he would never have considered the RC Church to be anything other than the “Beast of Revelation.” At least that’s how I read it. That’s not the same thing as alleging such an identification at the present time. Had I read his comment as a present-tense thing, I would have removed it.

    Your comment was not inaccurate. It’s just a judgment call as a moderator – trying to keep the conversation from heading down the road of historical tit-for-tat. I’m sorry for doing this badly or clumsily. I suspect the Beast of Revelation is located somewhere in Washington, DC, at present, though, I suspect it moves around a bit.

    Please forgive this and put it on my head.

  127. Oh Father! …let us carry with you what you ask to be put on your head!
    Yes, God gives you the grace.
    That which you ask for is exactly what Christ did on the Cross…He put our sin “on His head”. Now we are to bear our cross…our part, too. Right?!
    God help us….!

    Father, thank you….

  128. My rules for blogs:
    1. It is astoundingly easy to take offense because
    Full context is missing–inflection, body language, etc
    Hypersensitivity is frequent because posts are quite personal
    2. Humor especially subtle humor does not carry
    3. I am guilty of anything anyone else accuses me of
    4. Do not give your peace away or let someone else steal it
    5. What I say, no matter how well thought out and written will be misconstrued by someone, possibly everyone because I am not a great writer, astute theologian or staertz.
    6. Try hard to learn from what everybody else writes remembering that I have my own bias and so does everyone else.
    7 When all else fails–do not hit ‘submit’
    8 Pray and repent

  129. An interesting thing that I’ve learned over the years, is that the blog and its comments sticks around for a long time, even after I’ve moved on and posted something else. One of the more recent conversations on the blog began with someone commenting on an old post – over a year old, I think.

    So, sometimes, I think about whether a direction in the comments will be ok as time goes on. Though the article is the “meat” of things (at least I intend it so when I write it), it is obvious that the comments are often equally of value, and often even greater.

    So, we’re actually all in this ministry together. Taken like that, it’s a helpful perspective. The “weakest link” in the whole of the blog is my own judgment. On the whole, it’s been ok, I think. But, it’s useful for us all (myself included) to let the blog and its conversation be larger than our own selves.

    I have to confess that lately I’ve been a bit more gun-shy that usual. Some of it is related to things that no one sees – comments, private emails, and the like, that are not fit for the light of day. You’d be both surprised and scandalized if I shared them.

    Our world is becoming increasingly sick, I think, and there is an increasing darkness in the hearts of many. It’s dark enough in my own.

    Darkness does not do well in the light. But the light it needs is not the light of public display – it is the light of Christ’s own truth.

    My heart went out to Sinnika’s comment on how negative things make him feel sick. I share that to a degree. I grieve and feel sad and dark temptations creep in.

    Be cheerful when possible and quick to forgive. Take God seriously and yourself as unseriously as possible. If you could see how all of this was going to turn out – you’d never feel anxious again!

  130. Thank-You Father, Sue,

    To be clear, the hard line my denomination took towards the RC Church was something that gave me a great deal of pause, and it was always clear that it was the institution and not the people – even priests were to be respected. The charge was against, “the Papacy”, which, even itself isn’t exactly the best distinction, and I don’t think anyone would suggest being impolite to the Pope, just because they could be.

    My thinking is the denomination itself has moderated it’s views over the years. You certainly won’t see the things published now that you would have 30 years ago. Ironically, this is one of the things that bothered me about my denomination, not really that they moderated their views towards the Papacy specifically, but rather that it would moderate itself so thoroughly on a subject that was supposed to be a distinguishing factor to our identity.

    My Grandma converted from the RC Church to the denomination I grew up in before my father was even born, its influence in hindsight was pervasive. Religious “artwork” all over the walls, hot cross buns on Easter, all of this was part of my upbringing, and I missed the subtle presence of it after she died.

    Latin Church writers though were to be thoroughly mistrusted. J.R.R. Tolkein, for instance, was not approved of. It was only through his fiction in the Lord of the Rings that he began to gain ground in his more serious work as writer worth reading.

    So even though I had no idea as to whether or not the RC Church was actually what my denomination might claim it to be, I did know that, based only on the theology that could lead to indulgences, I would never consider it. I didn’t have any options until I discovered the Ontological model found in the EO Church.

    I checked the books. There was no commentary on the Great Schism as odd as that may sound, no commentary on anything outside of the struggle of the plucky little protestants against the Latins – almost like the subject of a current popular science fiction franchise.

    The icing on the cake is this, when I seriously stated digging into Orthodoxy, I found enough trappings familiar to the Latin West that I really had to get a handle on the Ontology before I could see it making sense. Further, As much as I was having a difficulty, my fellow Protestant travelers were having even greater issues, since they don’t know about the Great Schism, since they don’t know the difference between the RC Church and the EO Church, since they are ignorant.

    Their concern?

    I was becoming (undifferentiated) Catholic.

    So back to Father’s Blog post – Within my soul I am still Healing the Tragic Soul of my Modern Mind.

  131. “Comments equally of value; all in this ministry together” – thankyou Fr Stephen for these 2 comments in your last post. It came to me suddenly as I read them about your being on a Council or in an Assoc. who are organizing Catechism for the Church which can be used by converts to the faith. So, from your comments about equal value and ministry together, I could see how you would benefit from hearing others’ experiences, books they read, discernment processes they went through and backgrounds they came from. This would all be a fit for what may come out of the Catechism being prepared. Do you agree?

    God bless…..

  132. Fr Stephen and Agata: I read the link you posted about “What Matters.” I also left a comment even though the blog dates back to 2006 and this is 2020! Hopefully this is alright….

    God bless and thankyou for your insightful sharing!

  133. “Oddly, among the most helpful words during that time came from my Archbishop who consistently said, ‘Never condemn where you came from. It is likely the place you first met Christ.'”
    Thank you Fr. Stephen! My spiritual father, the Archpriest Gordon Walker (+2015), guided my family and me into Orthodoxy 24 years ago and was also guided into Orthodoxy himself in 1987 by the wise and gentle counsel and spirit of Archbishop Dmitri of Dallas. Fr. Gordon often told me the same advice as I sorted through my 20 years as an Evangelical campus pastor and foreign missionary. Such a wise perspective for converts to Orthodoxy and those of us who continue to gently guide others to Orthodoxy. Sometimes I find myself still scratching my head trying to “make sense of it all” as I see the path on which I have walked these past 6 decades. I am most grateful for where I am and I’m still learning that, “My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways,” declares the Lord. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways, And My thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:8-9)

  134. Thank you Fr. Stephen, and all of the readers here, for everything you have shared.

    Matthew W., I appreciate your most recent comment (addressed to me) and for all of the background details you shared. It truly explains a lot. In your Protestant denomination’s view, it is the Catholic Church as an “institution” that is “the Beast of Revelation”, specifically the Papacy, rather than the people. I’m not sure if this is also your view or not. I assumed it was (perhaps mistakenly) based on how the issue of Catholic indulgences factored into your becoming a catechumen of Eastern Orthodoxy. I’m not sure if you got to read my comment and the link I shared (from an Orthodox website) regarding the history of indulgences in Eastern Orthodoxy before my comment was removed. In any case, it really doesn’t matter.
    ******************
    I have duly noted that no one has answered my question about whether it is acceptable on this blog for someone to call the Eastern Orthodox Church “the Beast of Revelation.” Let’s say a person makes this statement as part of his conversion story. In order to negate its import, wouldn’t he have to also state that “this is what I once thought to be true, but now I think differently” in order for it not to be offensive?

    I do not take offense easily. As stated in the comments on Fr. Stephen’s previous post, there are boundaries we all uphold. Nevertheless, I appreciate everyone’s honesty here and hold nothing against anyone, least of all Matthew W. who is a true seeker and should be encouraged on his path to Orthodoxy. As always, I am grateful for Fr. Stephen’s insightful blog posts and generosity in inviting discussion.

    Peace be with you,
    Sue

  135. Sue,
    Thanks. For what it’s worth, I’ll address the Orthodox indulgence question. They did exist for a time in the Middle East, and do seem to have been an effort to match ministry with the Catholic Church. You pre-emptively ruled out such an explanation which was unhelpful. The fact is that they disappeared and serve as an embarrassment in Orthodoxy – indeed, it’s hard to account for them at all from within an Orthodox framework.

    I do not know their present status in Catholicism. They were clearly abused at a certain point. I well imagine that their present status is much more nuanced.

    On the Beast thing – I do my best to hold us to some sort of standards of politeness. I did not understand Matthew’s statement to be impolite – simply a reporting of his history. The fact is, I could easily find any number of monastics on Mount Athos who would quickly say that the Roman pontiff is the anti-Christ. That kind of rhetoric has floated around some circles of Orthodoxy for quite some time. Indeed, Dostoevsky had strong ideas in that direction.

    Today’s Roman Catholic Church is a very different entity than that of, say, the mid-1800’s. At that time, the Papacy was also a temporal power, complete with armies (very small by then) and more than willing to go to war. That structure/bureaucracy/ecclesiology easily came under “beast” labels and was quite provocative. It declared that only Catholics could be saved, etc.

    But, that is no longer the case. When I write (following Florovsky) about the religious tragedy of the West, it is not an exercise in comparative denominationalism. It is an effort to move deeper and into the darker heart of our past. The fact is, many things in that darker past were virtually demonic. And I do not exonerate Orthodoxy from problems – and I think I’m clear about that.

    I wrestled, during the years that I contemplated conversion, with the claims of Catholicism. I rejected them at the time as wrong (regarding the papacy) and as something of an abberation in Christian theology. If Orthodoxy has any edge, intellectually, it’s in being stunted in its growth – and having largely avoided development in false directions after about 1000 a.d. Most of that, I think, has been accidental. Orthodoxy has been “stunted” as much by accident and circumstance of history as it has by intentionality and such. There were efforts, for example, to develop a sort of Eastern scholasticism that pretty much collapsed with the loss of the Byzantine Empire.

    The “modern” recovery in Orthodoxy, largely starting in the 19th and 20th centuries, has been one of the more unexpected things in history. Any Orthodox partisan who describes us in some pristine, historical manner is simply not reading history very accurately. It’s a mess – but, I think it is God’s providential mess through time. For that matter, I accept that the whole Christian world is a providential mess in which God is at work.

    The best I could do with the mess – other than just create more mess – was to head home – go back to from where we came and seek shelter. I don’t sit here with a sense that I am now exempt from the mess. Instead, I seek to hold the mess within my heart and find healing and resolve there in the grace of God and the sacraments of the Church.

    Lastly, is it acceptable to call the Eastern Orthodox Church the “Beast of Revelation”? Probably not – for one – it’s not nearly organized enough. On the other hand, that label has been part of anti-Roman Catholicism for a very long time. I do my best to tamp down anti-Roman Catholicism when it raises its ugly head. Sometimes, just discussing things that are necessary questions will bring up criticisms. Telling the difference between the two is a judgment call that I have to make. As I explained, I did not hear that in Matthew’s comment – or I would have treated it differently.

  136. Fr. Stephen,

    Thank you for taking the time to write such a long and thoughtful reply to me. You touched on so many topics—I could never attempt to offer an adequate response, as I am truly out of my depth. I do, however, have a question.

    On the topic of indulgences in Eastern Orthodoxy, I have read the following:

    “…the Patriarch Anthimus who denounced indulgences in his reply to Pope Leo XIII could have been ignorant of the fact that Orthodox bishops and patriarchs had themselves issued indulgences which were popular among their people from the 16th to the 19th centuries. It is ironic that in 1846 he himself wrote a Letter of Pardon (Indulgence) “in virtue of the power of binding and loosing which has passed from the apostles to us by succession; we have absolved and loosed from all sin the soul and the body of the deceased servant of God Christodoulos remitting all the faults and offenses committed by him against God.”
    These Letters were a form of indulgences termed “Absolution Certificates” and came into common use in Greek Orthodox churches suffering under the Ottoman yoke from the 16th to 18th centuries. This was doubtless due to increased contacts with Latin theology by Greek scholars and theologians studying in Western schools. These certificates which constituted real indulgences, moreover, could be obtained for a specified sum of money!
    In the 1722 “Confession of Faith” issued and signed by the Patriarch of Constantinople Paisius II, Patriarch Chrysanthus of Jerusalem, and Patriarch Sylvester of Antioch as well as other bishops, the practice of issuing indulgences received formal confirmation: “The power of the forgiveness of sins, which is termed by the Eastern Church of Christ ‘Absolution Certificates’ is given to the Holy Church of Christ. These Absolution Certificates…are issued by the four most holy patriarchs, Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem.”
    A later Council of Constantinople in 1838 dealt with the scandalous abuse of the sale of indulgences by condemning the practice. However, the theological validity of patriarchs issuing indulgences was not questioned. Interestingly, “Absolution Certificates” remained popular in Greece into the middle of the 20th century.”
    From Wikipedia:
    “Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem Dositheos Notaras (1641–1707) wrote: “It is an established custom and ancient tradition, known to all, that the Most Holy Patriarchs give the absolution certificate (συγχωροχάρτιον – synchorochartion) to the faithful people … they have granted them from the beginning and still do.”[45]
    Indeed, starting from the 16th century, Orthodox Christians of the Greek Church rather extensively, although not officially in penitential practice, used “permissive letters” (Greek: συγχωροχάρτια), in many ways similar to indulgences. The status of an official ecclesiastical document is obtained at the Council of Constantinople in 1727, the resolution of which reads: «The power of the abandonment of sins, which, if filed in writing, which the Eastern Church of Christ calls “permissive letters”, and the Latin people “indulgences”… is given by Christ in the holy Church. These “permissive letters” are issued throughout the catholic (universal) Church by the four holiest patriarchs: Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem». The practice of using “permissive letters” existed in Greece until the middle of the twentieth century. From XIII to XVII century, it was used in Russia. Indulgences as a means of enrichment were condemned at the Council of Constantinople in 1838. Even conciliar decisions were difficult to eradicate the practice of indulgences, rooted in the people. “Permissive letters” (or indulgences) survived in Greece until the mid-twentieth century[46][47][48][49]”

    Do you know, Father, if this information is true or not?

    Peace be with you,
    Sue

  137. I don’t quite know why the focus of this comment stream has been on the relationship between OC and RC, but in reference to my own background before I converted to Christianity through the Orthodox Church, most of my interactions as a non-Christian were with Protestants. Most of these interactions were not invited on my part and were consistently repugnant because of the self righteous behavior and words spoken to me were very difficult to ‘swallow’. (I’m being as gentle as I can in this description). My reactions were even worse if my non-Christian family were similarly accosted.

    The biggest stumbling block I had to becoming Christian were these encounters with Protestants. Whereas the dim light of hope was planted in my heart by an RC priest who came to my bedside and prayed for me and my broken body after a car accident. No RC theology spoke louder than the prayers of this priest whose name I have long forgotten. But I never forgot him. I was 17 years old, now 65. And I attribute to him and his thoughtful prayer that my heart was never completely closed to God and His Church.

  138. Sue I don’t know what Father will say about these quotes but you clearly put stock in the entries on Wikipedia. I’m a scientist and a devout Orthodox. I for one don’t go to Wikipedia for science info or for Orthodoxy info.

    If for some reason I want to access something in which depth or veracity wasn’t an issue or concern then I might use it.

    I don’t recommend it to learn about Orthodoxy. And my priest wouldn’t recommend it either.

  139. Sue,
    I think the articles are correct, in so far as they go. The “letters of absolution” that I am familiar with, are a written form of prayer of absolution from the service of Holy Unction – a rather all-inclusive sort of absolution – that is signed by the spiritual father of a deceased person and placed in their hands in the coffin. That practice is not uncommon among the Slavs. I’ve done it myself. It is not bought nor sold, and represents only a written form of what was actually done as a sacrament of the Church. It is not a sacramental act extended to the departed – after death. We do, of course, pray for the departed and make offerings on their behalf. There is no teaching of purgatory in Orthodoxy, but there is a clear belief that our prayers for the departed “are of benefit” for them – and there are clear indications in the prayers themselves, that, in some cases the departed are even released from hell. Most of the prayers for the departed are specifically for the forgiveness of their sins.

    That is understood, as far as I can see, in a very ontological manner rather than juridical.

    Now, as to the subject of these so-called indulgences among the Patriarchs in the East in the 16th to 19th centuries – we are here seeing very good evidence of the corruption of the Eastern Church during the era of the “Turkokratia.” Under the Turkish yoke, all of those Patriarchates were severely corrupted. The sees were bought and sold, and Patriarchs frequently removed and replaced for political and financial reasons by the Turks. All of the Patriarchates were placed directly under Constantinople and did not function as true Patriarchs. The Turks shut down theological education for the larger part. If you wanted to study theology, you had to go to Europe and study with Catholics or Protestants. Russia had more freedom, but had its own problems and restrictions. The financial corruption in the Patriarchates under the Turks was quite terrible.

    These were truly dark years in Orthodoxy. The sell of these certificates of absolution were generally done out of Jerusalem and served as a means of making money. They were a corruption. Moscow refused to support it. Messy business.

    Beginning in the end of the 18th and early 19th century, under the work of St. Paisius Velichkovsky, the Hesychast teaching of the monastic fathers, preserved in practice among some of the fathers of Mt. Athos, was taken to the Slavic lands and initiated a new study of the Fathers and the rebirth of Hesychasm in the Slavic Churches. St. Seraphim of Sarov is an example of its early fruit. Continuing in the 19th century, there began to be a renewed interest in Orthodox thought – in and of itself. Groups such as the Slavophiles in Russia gave great impetus to this. That was a slow movement that had its own maturation.

    To a great extent, the exile of the intelligentsia from Russia, following the Bolshevik Revolution, served to spread this renewed and deepening recovery of Orthodox thought. The spread of schools such as St. Sergius in Paris and St. Vladimir’s in New York, St. Tikhon’s in Pennsylvania, Holy Cross in Boston, nurtured generations of Orthodox scholars who have also been active in nurturing, in turn, the re-establishment of Orthodox theological schools elsewhere in Europe.

    It’s been a slow work of recovery after centuries of oppression and persecution. What remained untouched was the liturgical and, to a degree, the monastic life of the Church. There has been a very strong Eucharistic renewal in the 20th century as well, spurred on by such saints as St. John of Kronstadt and others.

    That Orthodoxy is sometimes rather assertive these days is actually sort of new. It has, interestingly, greatly contributed to things like Liturgical Theology outside of its own boundaries.

    So – I hope that’s useful.

  140. Thank you Father Stephen,
    I appreciate your elaboration Fr Stephen, this information is indeed helpful.

  141. Also Fr Stephen,
    If I understand your reference to the new assertive Orthodoxy and the Theology of Liturgy going outside of it’s own boundaries, I believe also that we might be seeing the development of the “theology of iconography” outside of it’s own boundaries as well.

    When I once attempted to describe a topic of “Orthodox theology” and relate it to a similar topic of “Roman Catholic Theology” in a discussion, I was corrected by a spiritual elder who said that the Orthodox don’t have ‘theology’ of the sort that is described within western theology. I understood and accepted the correction seeing the truth of it. But it would be difficult to explain to someone outside of the faith what was going on in that correction.

  142. The Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraphs 1471-1479 defines an indulgence as “…a remission before God of the temporal punishment due to sins whose guilt has already been forgven ….” Essentially an indulgence is a form of purification from sin. Since conversion proceeds from God Who is Love, personal conversion from sin involves both forgiveness from God and personal conversion through penance.

  143. Fr. William,
    Yes, I understand. Orthodoxy would not think in terms of temporal punishment for the guilt of sin – primarily because the concept is juridical in nature and tends not to be how Orthodoxy thinks.

    The division between an ontological approach which became dominant in the East and a juridical approach that became dominant in the West seems to have begun rather early. The flavor of it is present in St. Augustine – and more strongly in some such as Caesarius of Arles and others who popularized the application of Augustine. The gradual loss of Eastern influence in the West, for whatever reasons (linguistic not the least of them) tended to diminish any place for an ontological understanding.

    In the East, the language of ontology: being, person, nature, etc. – were the same language employed into thinking about the nature of sin and forgiveness. Interestingly, when St. Athanasius wrote his On the Incarnation, in which he is defending and teaching the divinity of Christ – he begins his treatment with sin as a movement towards non-being and the Incarnation as God’s rescue of humanity from death. It’s a very non-moralistic/non-juridical approach. That way of treating sin and such actually got the East later accused of never having developed an actual atonement doctrine. My classical Anglican textbook on the doctrines of the early Church (JND Kelly’s work) actually said as much.

    I remember puzzling about that – and later found Gustav Aulen’s Christus Victor to be very helpful in seeing what the East had actually done.

    One upshot of how the East handles atonement and forgiveness is a relatively undeveloped treatment of life-after-death. There’s no real explanation of exactly what the prayers of the Church do for the departed – other than to say, “they are of benefit.” The East, in the person of St. Mark of Ephesus, rejected the doctrine of purgatory at the Council of Florence, and his writings on the topic are treated as representations of Orthodox thought in the matter. But, mostly they say what is “not” the case rather than what is.

    In the debates between Rome and Protestantism, where all of this reached a sort of fevered pitch – positions tended to get hardened in mutual counter-charges. The East had no part in those discussions and pretty much avoided the whole question.

    I will say that prayers for the departed are taken quite seriously in the East – more so, I suspect than in Rome. For example, prayers for the departed are offered on the 3rd day, 9th day, 9th month, and the anniversary of a death. There are also 7 saturdays in the year, known as “Soul Saturdays” in which prayers for the departed are offered with special services and other devotions. All these are simply the formal practices of the Church. The faithful always pray for the departed (particularly family) always in their prayers – and the departed a specifically remembered, by name, in every service of the Eucharist.

    But all of this remains somewhat covered in the mystery of God’s love and mercy – with no particular discussion of the mechanism or effect. The quantifying of purgatory (how many days, etc.) seems quite odd to an Orthodox mind and foreign to its ethos. It’s one of those larger cultural gaps between East and West.

  144. Father. The more I hear of differences between that of the Orthodox east and the Catholic west the more I find oneness in Faith, differences in culture.

  145. Dee,
    The elder was quite correct. Orthodox theology, when taught in its best form, is what I call a “seamless garment.” The “theology of icons” is just the theology of everything else – of God’s work in saving us. I’ve said before, that you could take a single, well-painted festal icon and teach the entirety of the Orthodox faith with the icon as the “starting text.” The whole of the faith is there. Indeed, the whole of the faith is in every single part of Orthodoxy – because it is only one thing.

    The compartmentalization of theology that became popular in the West created many “theologies,” not all of which work well with each other. All of this is why it is sometimes said that Orthodoxy does not do “systematic theology.” I would say that we do “organic theology” in the sense that the whole of a tree can be found in each individual cell of a tree. That is the nature of living organisms. The faith is living and is best modeled by living things. Living things do not change – they only become ever more fully themselves. The seed and the tree are one and the same thing.

  146. Fr. William,
    There is much that is true in that. I do not think, however, that the “culture” of the two are always reconcilable. Sometimes, in certain respects, that are quite in opposition. On the other hand, if I found a laywoman in Greece and compared her faith to her counterpart in Italy, their commonality would be much greater than the intellectual versions we would find elsewhere (like blogs).

  147. All these are simply the formal practices of the Church. The faithful always pray for the departed (particularly family) always in their prayers – and the departed a specifically remembered, by name, in every service of the Eucharist.

    When my brother, a non-Orthodox and perhaps even non-believer, died, my Priest was kind enough to add his name to the prayers of the Church every Sunday. I very much appreciate that he did so. It was a very strong indication of the love of God and the loving practices of the Church towards not only my brother, but also myself. The “formal practices of the Church” are very much the practices of life itself.

  148. I have a question that I do not mean to be offensive: many Catholics I have met say things much like Fr. Keebler. I do not understand that because I see almost no resemblance in content. I do not understand the similarity they see. For me the clearest example of the difference I see is in the Sacrament of Confession. The Orthodox priest says early on “Know that you confess not to me, a sinner, but to Christ Himself….”
    The Orthodox absolution rarely involves a penance and if it is, it is specific to the person and the sin. The absolution is also without condition: “Go forth, having no further care for the sins you have confessed…”.

    Plus the manner in which the priest and the penitent approach Jesus together, the priest leading the way but at the same time he has my back, keeping me safe from the world so that I can be really open and vulnerable. We are not in separate boxes.

  149. Michael Baumann. The so-called confessional in the west serves as simply a practical way to go to confession. Any sacrament is an act of Christ, not the Church, meaning, when one goes to confession one is confessing through the ministry of the priest but to God. Again, except for the manner (before the Icon of Christ or in the confessional (which has a crucifix above the screen, I fail to see the difference.

  150. Father Stephen, thank you so much for your thoughtful reply to my question about the history of indulgences in Eastern Orthodoxy. It was very, very helpful to me!

    For a concise understanding of indulgences in the Catholic Church, I recommend this short article that explains what they are and addresses many common misunderstandings about them, including what was meant by “days” (this terminology has since been replaced by “partial” and “plenary”): https://www.catholic.com/tract/myths-about-indulgences

    The Sacrament of Penance in the Catholic Church (also called Confession or Reconciliation) involves confessing our sins, expressing contrition, receiving absolution, and performing penance (because even after our sins are forgiven, we must still deal with their consequences by doing all we can to make amends to those whom we have hurt and by replacing worldly attachments with heavenly ones through prayer, acts of mercy, etc. Simply put, indulgences are God’s mercy working through the Church).

    Peace keep you,
    Sue

  151. Byron thank you for sharing your story regarding the prayers offered for you and your brother. I’m also grateful this was done for your family. May God keep your brother in peace and joy in paradise.

  152. Fr. William,
    It is not my purpose, here, to magnify our differences, but I think it is important to say that what might seem “cultural” is, indeed, substantive. Thank God for how much we have in common – but the differences matter. There are some good writings on the “ethos” of the Church – in which that ethos is understood, to a large extent, to be an expression of Holy Tradition – not simply that which is handed down – but the actual expression of the fullness of the Holy Spirit.

    I am a student of languages. One thing I have learned through the years is how difficult it is to translate from one to another. So much is lost in translation. We can do a “word for word” translation and still not have truly represented what is being said. Words in one language may be similar, but never the same. I think the Orthodox experience of Catholicism would be something like: “Yes, I know those words sound similar, but somehow, that is not what I meant.” The concern in such a thing would be whether what is lost in translation is, in fact, something of the substance of what was being said.

    There have been many efforts through the past half-century to speak more carefully, to listen more carefully. But, for all that, the mis-translations continue. None of this, of course, begins to address the original difference: the unique claims of the papacy. Those seem quite foreign to the Orthodox understanding and to have produced many problems through the centuries. There will never be a way of re-phrasing those claims that will make them acceptable. Ecclesiology cannot be separated from theology. The Western ideas of the papacy ultimately say something about the nature of the godhead as well. What it says is something Orthodoxy would never say about God. As such, it represents far more than culture and runs to the substance of the faith.

    The culture and ethos of Orthodoxy have been my primary teachers over the past 22 years of my life – it is difficult to put into words other than to say that I do not know how to “speak” of God in a manner that was in any way separable from that ethos. Some Orthodox have questioned whether the so-called “Western Rite” in Orthodoxy is adequate to that task. It has only been around a few decades, so, I suppose the jury is still out. I do not have any experience of Western-Rite Orthodoxy so I am unable to speak to it – ultimately, it’s a matter for bishops. The jurisdiction of Orthodoxy of which I’m a part has no Western-Rite Churches and has made that a conscious choice.

    Michael Bauman,
    I understand what you mean. I think that there is a failure to see something that is vitally important to the Orthodox as actually being important. I suspect that the attitudes towards ecumenism are part of this phenomenon. Ecumenism is a stated goal in modern Catholicism – where it is generally anathema to the Orthodox. That it is as anathema to us is baffling to those outside and appears like stubbornness or worse. To the Orthodox, it feels like an existential threat – and it is.

  153. Thank you Father Stephen for your last comment. I am part of the jurisdiction that has the Western Rite and I’ll admit difficulty with it, as did Fr Alexander Shmemann of blessed memory.

    This conversation in this comment stream is indicative of the conversations I’ve encountered with RC over the past year. The main approach is to obfuscate differences. You are always kind and generous. But the repetitive confrontations are an indication of a lack of respect. I have attempted to attribute to it ignorance. The insistence however points to another motivation.

  154. Fr. Keebler, thank you for your reply. Fr. Stephen’s explanation is a perfect reply. You see, he and I are, by the grace of the Holy Spirit of one mind in this. We come from radically different starting points but God brings us to a common understanding. I am arrogant enough not to simply leave it there however.

    The approach to confession in the RCC speaks of a separation between God and His creation and between the people of God and the Church. What Father Stephen calls a two story universe. There is not, nor should there be any such separation. We are one I’m Christ and interconnected by His Incarnation, Death, Ressurection and Ascension.

    I have been to many Catholic services in my life: regular Masses, weddings, funerals and a Baptism. Not once have I encountered the Jesus Christ I know. Three times I have.outside the formal Church 1 Through a 100 year old painting my mother got in Taos, NM of Our Lady of Guadalupe; 2. In the person of that luminous priest in Fargo, ND and 3. when my Catholic boss brought me an icon of Jesus saving St. Peter as he was sinking. Because of those moments I have to assume He is there somewhere. But those are the only three in my 70 years of encounters. I can number them because I have looked, hoping to see.

    The very first time I entered an Orthodox Temple, both the Theotokos and our Lord greeted me. Jesus was walking with the priest as he carried the Holy Gifts down the aisle up into the Altar. Prior to that, Mary was there above the altar with outstretched arms of welcome and praise.

    I have never once found any attraction to the RCC.

    I suppose that says more about me than about the RCC. I know you do not understand how profoundly off putting it is, this litany of “that’s what we believe” when that is simply not true. It is really bizarre.

    I had a personal encounter of Jesus Christ 50 years ago that left no doubt in my mind and heart about who He is or how to recognize Him and to whom I confess. The Orthodox way verified and reinforces the reality of that encounter. The RCC does not. If we really were of the same substance I do not think that would be so consistently the case.

    Father Keebler, you have no idea how much I honor you as a priest, a man dedicated to serving God. My hope is that we meet in the Kingdom. But in this life there is more separating us than you realize and that saddens me.

    Forgive me for the hardness of my heart.

  155. Dee,
    Modernity, as a philosophy, seeks to find common ground and the minimize differences. It is an instinctual habit formed in a large number of ways. It is, for one, the very nature of the project of secularism. The differences are “first-storey” things, while, on the “second-storey,” everybody and everything is really the same. It nurtures tolerance and a kind of unity. But, secularism is always, always, always in service of the State (and its economy, etc.). America is the great secular project (and was the first one). It necessitated tolerance. So, in the 50’s, we began with public service announcements telling us to worship in the “church or synagogue of your choice.” The younger folks will not remember these. It didn’t matter where you went – only that you went. Eisenhower, for example, never went to Church until he decided to run for office, at which time he became a Presbyterian, disappointing several others.

    In becoming Orthodox, you’re baptized in an ethos that is (at its best) anti-secular. Those Orthodox compromises with secularism feel like deep betrayals, oftentimes. Of course, the dark side of this is for it to degenerate into mere tribalism. The narrow path always has two sides to be avoided.

    I am assuming the best of my interlocutors.

  156. Father I share your concerns about tribalism among the Orthodox.
    The narrow path is a difficult one. I’ve been questioned by non Christians as well. However the quality of such questions and interactions are quite different. Admittedly it seems I have more tolerance for secularized nonbelievers. I have heard them say ‘all self professed Christians’ are the same. And once upon a time I too believed that.

  157. Hi Dee of St Herman’s,

    Your last comment puzzles and troubles me. I read on a Western Rite website that Fr.. Alexander Schmemann approved of their church and had some involvement there: http://journal.orthodoxwestblogs.com/2018/05/16/fr-alexander-schmemann-and-the-western-rite/

    I do not minimize the very real differences between Catholics and Orthodox as it is why the Great Schism has persisted for a thousand years! I do not think East and West are close to resolving our dividing differences, especially since the list has substantially grown in the last two centuries and continues to grow. Catholics have a desire for unity and the Orthodox do not—that is one major difference. However, even if unity were desired on both sides, it could not be achieved without much, much effort, prayer, active listening with a desire for understanding, and yes, politeness. On the Catholic side, if it appears sometimes that we obfuscate our differences, it is only because we desire to begin this work.

    One of the essential differences between East and West is the East’s overt hatred for all things Western and Catholic. That is a wall that would have to come down before either side could hope to make any headway on the other issues, such as the Papacy , Filioque, Mariology, Ancestral/Original Sin, and differences pertaining to divorce and contraception (to name a few).

    “You are always kind and generous. But the repetitive confrontations are an indication of a lack of respect. I have attempted to attribute to it ignorance. The insistence however points to another motivation,”

    My motivation in entering the conversation here is to learn about and understand Eastern Orthodoxy, which sometimes requires my asking questions and sometimes requires making clarifications about the Catholic Church I apologize for being too polite about it.

    For. Stephen, please do let me know if my participation in these discussions is unwelcome.

  158. Sue,
    Here is a quote directly from Fr Shmemann’s words. Please read it carefully.

    Fr Alexander Schmemann [St. Vladimir’s Seminary Quarterly, Vol. 2 – New Series, No. 4, Fall, 1958, pp. 37-38.] on the introduction of ‘Western Rite’ into the Antiochian Archdiocese

    For me, the only important question is: What exactly do we mean by conversion to Orthodoxy? The following definition will, I presume, be acceptable to everybody: it is the individual or the corporate acceptance of the Orthodox faith and the integration in the life of the Church, in the full communion of faith and love. If this definition is correct, we must ask: can the “conversion” of a group or a parish, for which its spiritual leaders have signed a formal doctrinal statement and which has retained its Western rite, however purified or amended, can such a “conversion” – in our present situation, i.e., in the whole context of the Orthodox Church as she exists in America today – be considered as a true conversion? Personally, I doubt it very much. And I consider this growing interpretation of conversion in terms of a mere jurisdictional belonging to some Orthodox Diocese, of a “mimimum” of doctrinal and liturgical requirements and of an almost mechanical understanding of the “Apostolic Succession” as a very real danger to Orthodoxy. This means the replacement of Orthodoxy of “content” by Orthodoxy of “form”, which certainly is not an Orthodox idea. For we believe that Orthodoxy is, above all, faith that one must live, in which one grows, a communion, a “way of life” into which one is more and more deeply integrated. And now, whether we want it or not, this living faith, this organic spirit and vision of Orthodoxy is being preserved and conveyed to us mainly if not uniquely, by the Orthodox worship. In our state of national divisions, of theological weakness, in the lack of living spiritual and monastic centers, of unpreparedness of our clergy and laity for more articulate doctrinal and spiritual teaching, of absence of a real canonical and pastoral care on the part of the various jurisdictional centers, what holds the Orthodox Church together, assures its real continuity with tradition and gives the hope of a revival is precisely the liturgical tradition. It is a unique synthesis of the doctrinal, ethical and canonical teachings of Orthodoxy and I do not see how a real integration into the Orthodox Church, a genuine communion of faith and life may be achieved without an integration in the Orthodox worship.

  159. Sue,
    Interesting article, viz. Fr. Schmemann and the Western Rite. These days, both ROCOR and Antioch have a Western Rite – and it’s been a bit checkered in its history, though I gather it has become far more regularized. It is probably a less touchy subject these days than back in the 80’s. The larger question regarding the Western Rite has been whether there is a sufficiently complete Western tradition from which to reconstruct the fullness of Orthodoxy in a Western context. There are other significant questions that only time will reveal.

    I could imagine a Western-like Liturgy – but wonder about the question of ethos. Anglicanism has an ethos – that I think is entirely insufficient. Catholicism had an ethos that might be adequate. Oddly, when people speak about Orthodoxy being “mystical” in character, they are indeed identifying something of its ethos that I think should not be confined to the East – but is the patrimony of the whole Church. So, I wonder if that is present in a Western Rite. I have no experience of it in an Orthodox context. My Anglican experience was devoid of such a thing. So, that’s just a puzzle.

    I suspect one question viz. a Western Rite is “why?” Those like myself who converted from a Western background and have slowly assimilated to the fullness of the Eastern litugical experience – sort of think, “Just get over it. Everything you want is already there.” But, again, I’ve not had the conversations required to understand. The arguments based in evangelism do not seem to have held up – again, only time will tell.

    Your participation in these discussions is welcome – just know that sometimes it might get a bit awkward. That’s not a problem for me. Part of the awkwardness is that there are always several conversations happening at the same time – with a lot of varying questions and such. It’s why I’ll occasionally step in and even delete a string.

    You are very right about what would be required for the healing of the Schism. There are several different agendas at work within that topic. The Orthodox don’t even trust each other when it comes to these things. By and large, for example, ecumenical statements viz. Rome issued by Constantinople have been rejected and even condemned by most of the Orthodox, creating a distrust on the topic. Orthodoxy, at its best, is quite de-centralized, which is a radically different construct from Catholic ecclesiology. When the Orthodox look at Byzantine Catholicism, they see everything that they fear in ecumenical dialog. There’s a bit of nasty history surrounding that – a history that is felt more by Russians than by Greeks, I suspect.

    I know that the Gordion Knot of history is often unsolvable. My instinct is that only by moving deeper are we saved – rather than moving wider. There are mysteries in all of this.

  160. The “walls” of this age, are indeed within the heart. But the way to overcome them is not by laying siege to someone else’s walls. It’s looking and ‘dealing with what’s’ inside our own.

    Here are Fr Stephen’s words from this very article:

    We cannot rightly engage the experience of the Church and patristic tradition with souls that have already been formed and shaped by the notions of modernity. At the very least, there is a need for self-awareness, an ability to examine how the filters and assumptions of modernity affect our perceptions. This is the problem with those who suggest the path of “dialog” with modernity. By-and-large, they speak from a thoroughly modernized soul (“dialog” itself is a modern suggestion), without an awareness of the tragedy that infects us all.

    Our dominant culture is driven to “fix” things. Everything must improve; all problems must be resolved. We are particularly impatient with anything slow and organic. Florovsky suggests that we must “re-endure” and “relive” the tragic crisis of the West within the living context of the Church’s experience and patristic tradition. This re-endurance is a deep work within the soul, requiring patience, compassion, and sympathy.

    Of course, I came to believe that the Orthodox faith was true. In fact, I think I had thought that for years. What was lacking was acquiescing to God in the ordeal that is the path of the Church. I had to acquiesce to the tragedy of the Christian West, as well as the sad little witness of immigrant Orthodoxy in our midst.

  161. Dee,
    I had not read this before, but it says quite well what I feel in my heart to be the case. In particular, it should be noted how he emphasizes our weaknesses: “national divisions, theological weakness, lack of living spiritual and monastic centers, unpreparedness of clergy and laity for more articulate doctrinal and spiritual teaching, absence of real canonical and pastoral care on the part of various jurisdictional centers.” These have all seen slow improvement over the past generation (he died in 1984), but we are far from where we need to be.

    For example, in Russia, there is still not a program for a PhD in theology (and associated studies) anywhere in the country. They are working on it, but, at present, much of the university system is resistant to the idea (leftover secularism). The history of the past 20 years in inter-Orthodox relations only serves to illustrate Fr. Alexander’s observations.

  162. Dee, Sue,
    I think Dee’s quotation from the article points a good way forward: a conversation about the context of modernity and its work in distorting our hearts would be quite fruitful and of great use. It points us past the worst of obstacles and towards a deeper path.

  163. Sue, Father Stephen will let you know. It happens seldom but it has occured when folks have been overtly in opposition to the nature of the blog and it’s message. I do not believe that is so in your case

    The contention between us and the RCC has its origins and persistenence in, as Fr Stephen pointed out, the institution of the Papacy and associated claims. Despite the efforts of some to make the Papacy compatible with Orthodox eccelsiology, it is not. Since all eccelsiology is ultimately Christology, it is foundationally serious.

    While such differences can become overblown and magnified the modern trend is to minimize rather than to seriously engage. Your comments strike me as of the minimizing type, even dismissive. When I fall into that trap I usually do not learn much.

    For my part I seriously considered the Papal claims and take them seriously to this day. I do not agree with them. Indeed, they are considered heretical according to long standing Orthodox teaching. In a similar vein the teaching of the RCC is that we Orthodox are schismatics both outside the Church and salvation.

    That teaching was affirmed as recently as the ascension to the Papacy of Pope Benedict. In the Orthodox consecrate a Bishop, he proclaims publicly anathemas to many beliefs. Some of those include elements of Roman Catholicism. I am not one who believes those anathemas to be mere formulas without substance or meaning from either perspective.

    These foundational differences cannot be simply overcome. Nor should they be. Truth demands that. Repentance to, deep and sincere is necessary. I have no clue as to what that would look like.

    The first step in my mind is for people on both sides to recognize we do not believe “the same thing”.

    It is axiomatic in modernity that if someone disagrees with you, hatred and predjuice is the cause that allows for and even justifies violence. That is representative of the demonic foundation of modern philosophy which I call nihilism.

    That philosophy is a lie. Just because I cannot and will not accept Papal claims does not mean I hate. Nor does it mean you are outside salvation though I am bound to say such beliefs are profoundly dangerous. You are bound to say the opposite to me. There is no dialectic process that will allow combination. Testifying to the danger can be an act of love. Unfortunately, it can also create the temptation to judge and argue. I work hard not to fall prey to the ravenings of that temptation or whatever truth my admonition held is made into a lie

    I get that. It does not bother me. It just means we profoundly disagree. Asserting otherwise I find to be unhelpful. Even in our foundational and abiding disagreement we can find, without compromise or dialectic synthesis, moments of profound agreement. Those moments are wonderful but they are no more than moments. The fundamental Christology of each cannot really co-exist in the same human heart. We cannot serve two masters.
    Modern dialog is an attempt to force incompatible realities into some type of hideous chimera. The fullness of the Church is in one of two places, the existential mess called Orthodoxy or the equally hot mess that is the RCC. Even our messiness is not compatible.

    Salvation is dependent on one thing only: accepting or rejecting the unwarranted mercy of Our Lord in repentance. The Life of St. Mary of Egypt is a perfect example. Sin and ignorance always make things messy. It is much better to acknowledge the messy than to artificially try to put it under a rug or in a nicely wrapped box.

    Forgive me, a sinner especially if I have grieved your heart or offended you.

  164. To the Orthodox “Intellectuals”…Father, Michael, Dee…let me begin by saying thank you!
    Father…I’d like to add something to your example here: “if I found a laywoman in Greece and compared her faith to her counterpart in Italy, their commonality would be much greater than the intellectual versions we would find elsewhere (like blog).”
    Yes, this is true. For the sake of brevity I use these categories of (intellectuals, laywoman) to make my point. I do realize that categorizing can be used as a ‘dividing line’. That is not my intention. And yes, I do get defensive. Please, if you can, overlook my defensiveness for a moment.
    Ok, so… I am that laywoman you speak of. Yet my faith is no different than any of you, except that you have the ability to express it in words . We need that. I learn from you. But….
    That laywoman, the Greek, who finds a camaraderie with her Italian-laywoman- friend, if she should inadvertently, one Sunday, walk through the doors of a RC church…it would be within seconds that she’d say ‘oop’s – wrong house…’ . My point…and the point I think you are trying to make here about Orthodox ethos being difficult to explain, even though you are a student of language, is that no explanation is necessary to “know” the difference. You just know. Like the laywoman.
    I am one of those laywoman.
    Father…that must be why I ‘could care less’ about this endless discussion. I know to some ears that sounds obnoxious. Well, so I am obnoxious then.
    But I know the difference between the two faiths. I have experienced it. And when I became Orthodox, because I needed some additional form to my thoughts (I need at least to explain it in words to myself) I read and study the ‘intellectuals’ . But intellectualism is not at all necessary to have faith.
    That’s all I want to say.
    And yes, I agree with you Father, and assume the best of the RC’s .

    Oh, and one more thing. I think that the schisms are caused by cultural misunderstandings. Because we are unable to place ourselves fully in the shoes of one who is of another culture. And we can not explain in words those subtle but substantial differences. And that is why I believe, in some crazy way, that the schisms are necessary to maintain these particularities that are the substance of a culture. Otherwise there would be a blending that would ‘exterminate’ those particularities and thus, that particular culture.
    I think that’s what you were also trying to explain, Father, in one of your comments.

  165. “I would say that we do “organic theology” in the sense that the whole of a tree can be found in each individual cell of a tree. That is the nature of living organisms. The faith is living and is best modeled by living things. Living things do not change – they only become ever more fully themselves. The seed and the tree are one and the same thing.”

    Thank you for this Father Stephen. I have been trying to gain a deeper understanding of how some of the martyrs of the church endured some of the horrors they did and this is very helpful. Through communion with Christ they became what they were truly called to be, so no amount of torture or abuse could cause them to reject who they were and still are in glory.

    I hope that is somewhat the proper way to think about. Matyrdom is not a matter of will but a matter of witnessing Christ as the center of who we truly are. Please correct if my thinking is off here.

    Eventually we all have to face this moment, where we find out just how strong our living faith is, whether it be slow death by illness, death by sudden injury, or even martyrdom at the hands of violent actors in the world.

    As an aside, regardless of what ‘denomination’ we are from , it is always good to remember that the World seeks to destroy Christians and doesn’t care what your denomination is.

    https://www.gatestoneinstitute.org/15507/christians-persecution-global-catastrophe

    Please note that I am not familiar with this think tank and am myself apolitcal so I don’t know what their motives are. Maybe just truly to bring these facts to Christians but I have not investigated them further. The author seems to track this topic and writes on it.

    When I read this I could not help but think of the martyrs I have been thinking about recently. We are fairly comfortable in the West at the moment, but it is worth considering that such conditions can change very quickly and every day available to freely worship is a gift. Hopefully this is not too off topic. I appreciate the ongoing discussions and continue to learn from them.

  166. Paula you reveal the important reality of the noetic life in Orthodoxy that defies argument and discussion. Thank you!

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