How Do We Know One Another?


One of the more curious aspects of Christ’s resurrection appearances are the stories told of Him not being recognized at first. I have heard what seem to me to be silly explanations – that “the disciples were grief stricken and therefore did not recognize Him” – is one that seems completely implausible to me.

It seems implausible primarily because grief does not work in such a manner. Indeed, my own acquaintance with grief (I once worked as a grief counselor), is that we are more likely to think we see somebody deceased even when we do not. This would be the opposite experience as related in the resurrectional accounts. The Scriptural accounts of the resurrection reveal something of great importance – that of how we must know Christ (and one another). 

Many times our knowledge of other people is based on something objective – their face, their height, the color of their hair, their weight, their body-type, etc. In many extreme cases we see someone less as who they are and more as what they are. In modern parlance, we objectify one another. Instead of encountering each other as persons – we frequently encounter each other as objects. Just a few clicks away from this webpage lies a world of objectification – the pornography that drives the internet (it makes some people a lot of money).

It is not just sexuality that makes others into objects. Many cannot see beyond the color of skin, or the shape of a nose, or the clothes someone wears. While doing graduate studies at Duke some years back, I worked for a while as a medical secretary at the University Hospital. I also worked on the weekends as an interim priest at a local Church. I began to notice that when I walked by parishioners who knew me on Sunday (in my vestments) I would be completely unseen as I was dressed in “civilian” clothes for my secretarial work. It gave me the strange sense that only by wearing a clerical collar could I be visible to some. It also made me realize that on Sundays, I was a collar, or a set of vestments, and perhaps not myself at all.

All of this has a certain legitimate aspect to it. I understand that a priest is also a symbol, that his vestments point beyond himself to Another and to a priesthood in which he can only partake but never make his own.

But it is also true that Christ was not recognized by those who would not see Him as person. Mary Magdalene failed to recognize Him (mistaking Him for the gardener) until He spoke her name, “Mary.” At this introduction of relationship, Mary saw the risen Christ for who He is. Others found that they recognized Him in the reading of Scripture and the breaking of bread.

Thus the Church continues to approach Christ through Scripture and the breaking of bread. We continue to approach Him as person – to know Christ as who and not as what.

Many people walk past us on any given day. We see them and yet we don’t see them. The same can be true of those who are standing or sitting with us in Church (I know some Orthodox sit). We see them and yet we don’t. This is always true so long as the other remains a what: “the man with the funny voice;” “the woman with the offending perfume;” “the one who disagreed with me last week at coffee hour.” These are all characteristics of “what”: people who have become objects and no longer exist for us as persons.

How do we know one another? Very rarely do we know another. True knowledge comes only as gift (requiring freedom and love) and must be received with cherished joy. It is partly for this reason that the icons of saints never portray them in profile (which would objectify them) but always face to face (in relationship with us). The Scriptures promise us that in the End, “we shall know, even as we are known” (1 Corinthians 13:12). But before that, it seems to me, we must learn to know in the first place.

About Fr. Stephen Freeman

Fr. Stephen is a priest of the Orthodox Church in America, Pastor Emeritus of St. Anne Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He is also author of Everywhere Present and the Glory to God podcast series.



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8 responses to “How Do We Know One Another?”

  1. Theron Mathis Avatar

    Wow, another revelation of my own sinfulness. When understood as an aspect of love, I once again realize how hard it is to truly love. I work in sales and interact the same group of 100-200 people throughout the year. I know all their names and even have made a point of trying to know personal detail through small-talk. However, if I run into those same people out of context such as the grocery, mall, or baseball game; I can’t remember their name. They are so tied in my mind to what they do and how it affects my job, that I see past them in other parts of life. What a revelation, that I am missing their person all together! I wonder how much I am doing that with my family and close friends. Hopefully less so.

    Lord have mercy

  2. rdreusebios1 Avatar

    I too am stunned through to the heart of the matter, at least for me. I recognize this tendency in myself as the most vile aspect of my life, as it often leads to a sense of superiority, a self absorption that is after all, the core of our sin disease.
    I recently finished a piece written by my good friend, and godson Fr. Dcn. Daniel Mathewson on confession.Many of the quotes he presents from Saints and spiritual fathers center on this necessity of knowing and loving the penitent. Knowledge implies not a gnosis, but an intimacy. Thank you Fr. Stephen for the reminder.

  3. Andrea Elizabeth Avatar

    That His disciples didn’t recognize Him at first makes me wonder if His appearance changed after the resurrection. Or maybe they were so convinced of the permanence of His death, that they didn’t let themselves believe, but like you say, when grieving, you look for the person everywhere, hoping their departure didn’t really happen.

  4. Dolly Avatar

    It seems to me, Father, you have just opened the door of clarification to the previous discussion “On Loving Your Enemy”. Understood in the light of “knowing”, loving our enemies begins when we participate in the metamorphosis of first recognizing Christ’s person then the metamorphosis of recognizing Him in others regardless of how faint the image or how faint our perception. Participation also means that my own heart morphoses from stone (cold, hard, “what”) to flesh (warm, living, “who”), thereby rightly imaging God. (All understood as an onging process, struggle, battle.)

    Taking a great leap here, but using the lives of the Saints as precedent, I believe that in the same way we are changed from “glory to glory” as we “behold” the image, or”glory”, of Christ (which leads to intimate “knowing”, ref. rdreusebios1 above) we, to a lesser extent, grow into the capacity to effect, or jumpstart, glory in others.

    This is submitted with much fear and trembling.

  5. Matthew N. Petersen Avatar

    Dolly, I think that’s exactly what Christ says in John 7.38 “He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water.”

    And St. Paul in II Corinthians 1.3-6 “Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort;
    who comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God. For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also aboundeth by Christ. And whether we be afflicted, it is for your consolation and salvation, which is effectual in the enduring of the same sufferings which we also suffer: or whether we be comforted, it is for your consolation and salvation.”

  6. […] FR. STEPHEN: “One of the more curious aspects of Christ’s resurrection appearances are the stories told of Him not being recognized at first. I have heard what seem to me to be silly explanations – that “the disciples were grief stricken and therefore did not recognize Him” – is one that seems completely implausible to me.” …. (fatherstephen) […]

  7. mrsfalstaff Avatar

    My priest has preached on this, and what he said was that the resurected Jesus is closer akin to the angels than to us, and that he had to choose to reveal himself in order to be recognized by people. Seems a reasonable explanation to me.

  8. fatherstephen Avatar


    I think that’s something of it – a useful analogy. The nature of Personhood is that it is always free and always a gift of love. Thus we only can know the Risen Lord because he calls us, and we respond, He loves us, and we respond. But for the point I’m underlining in the article, it is this Personhood that marks the Resurrected Christ. He is no longer subject to the things we “objectify”. We cannot see the Resurrected Christ, as the Resurrected, in an objective manner.

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