Culture and the Fullness of the Faith


I have posted several articles recently about the relationship of the Orthodox Church to American culture – most of which have been critical of one element or another of culture. I want to look at the whole question from a different angle today.

First, it has to be observed and emphasized that, wherever Orthodox Christianity has existed in anything like its proper form, it has been productive of culture and will always be productive of culture.

Thus in Orthodox nations (or nations where Orthodoxy has existed for centuries) there is always a literature, music, all of the arts, indeed, the whole that we describe as culture – and it exists in a form that is not destructive of the Orthodox faith. One simple theological reason for this: if Orthodoxy is the fullness of faith, and leads human beings towards the fullness of what it is to be human – how can that humanity not be productive of what is completely natural for human beings? Human beings will sing the praises of God (liturgical music), but they will also sing of everything in their world: love, death, marriage, courtship, etc. Human beings will participate in the choreography of the liturgy but they will also dance – and do so for the fullness of their human life. Dancing will be expressive of the whole of their life. The same will be said of art and literature and of everything that is part of our life.

It has occasionally been the case in the history of Christianity that theology has set itself up as the enemy of culture. Thus Oliver Cromwell marches through England not only “purifying” the Churches by destroying much that existed of liturgical art, but also outlawing Christmas and much that had been normative in a nation that had embraced Christianity in the very earliest years of the faith (indeed, when St. Augustine of Canterbury came ashore with his mission to the Angles, as recorded in the history of the Ven. Bede, he is described as carrying “a portrait of Christ on a board, and a cross of silver.”)

There had never been a Christianity in Britain that was not productive of culture, indeed it largely baptized the culture of its native peoples. Thus the Book of Kells is uniquely British (or Celtic if you prefer), and properly so.

The madness of iconoclasm includes the destruction of culture (not just pictures). Orthodoxy in America, in its rush to embrace the fullness of the faith (I speak especially here to converts like myself), must not at the same time embrace an anti-American iconoclasm that would replace culture with Church (falsely conceived). Such a Church would not be the Church but would be an Apollinarian assembly (Apollinarius denied parts of the essential humanity of Christ), moving closer to gnosticism than to the fullness of Orthodoxy.

Orthodox Christians should write and paint and sing and dance. We should make movies and television shows. We should make clothes and produce textiles as art as well (the fullness of culture is itself too large to describe in a sentence, a paragraph or even a book). And in all these activities, they will be expressive of the fullness of our humanity without having to stick an icon on everything to prove its Orthodoxy. The hallmark of Orthodox cultural produce will be that it will not be destructive of human beings and the fullness for which we are created. Thus demeaning human beings, objectifying human beings, or reducing us to mere objects of sex or commerce, is not Orthodox. Where I have been critical of American culture is at precisely these points.

The Orthodox Church exists within an American culture that is indeed a mixture of many things. There are inherited elements of Puritanism in America that can trace their roots back to Oliver Cromwell and his religious cousins and forebears. These elements will not yield a Christian culture but a culture that diminishes our humanity and is, at best, a heretical Christian culture.

There are elements within American culture that have virtually no reference to Christianity – after all, secularism has a long history among us. We needn’t condemn everything simply because of its origin. But if we take up segments of the culture in which we live we must bring it into relationship with Christ. Ars gratia artis (“art for art’s sake”) if examined closely is likely not Orthodox, though the very same item of culture could be Orthodox. This is, to my mind, a matter of living in a one-storey universe.

As Orthodox Christians, we cannot agree to live with anything for which we cannot give thanks to God nor offer to Him as a product of His grace. Art for art’s sake is something for Nothing. We do not create for the sake of creating, but because we exist in the the image of the Creator and, like Him, take joy in the work of our hands (or minds). But Art for the sake of Christ need not be obviously “Christian” with the exception that it is not destructive or exploitative of what it means to be human in the image of God.

Years ago, before entering college, I lived for a couple of years in a “commune.” It’s roots were Protestant and Pentecostal, and had a number of Puritan strains within the theology that marked its life. I recall starting college very cautiously (some of this was unique to my own religious neurosis). At the end of my first year, it turns out that I had been and was a very good student. I was majoring in Greek and Latin (perhaps, at first, because they were acceptably “Christian”). I remember asking my fiancee (now my wife of nearly 32 years) whether she thought it would be acceptable were I to get a doctorate and teach college. Admittedly, I was pretty far gone as a Puritan. She laughed at me – as she has frequently over the last 32 years. Her laughter was part of the sound of the spell of Puritanism breaking its hold in my life. There were years of healing yet to come. But I have remained a friend of those who understand that Christianity, in its fullness, should indeed be evidenced by a fullness. The culture in which it dwells should be ever more reflective of Paradise for this is the vision that is whispered in our heart by the One who gave us Paradise in the first place.

I have noted with some satisfaction that the statement I made recently in one of the comments sections has been quoted far and wide in the world of blogdom: “There’s something wrong with a nation where people don’t sing and dance.” The Orthodox mission in America will show signs of how deeply it has taken root as it begins to yield the fruit of culture as well as building Churches and making catechumens. I have no idea what the fullness of God’s plan for Orthodoxy in America will be. But I do know that whatever it is, if we truly exist in this land as Orthodox Christians, we will be a source of culture to ourselves and others around us. If Orthodoxy could help us learn to sing in dance in a way that expresses the fullness of what it is to be human rather than some narrow market niche, sexual or commercial enterprise, then I for one will rejoice. There are times in my life that I would gladly dance with those around me. May God teach my feet!

About Fr. Stephen Freeman

Fr. Stephen is a retired Archpriest of the Orthodox Church in America, Pastor Emeritus of St. Anne Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He is also author of Everywhere Present: Christianity in a One-Storey Universe, and Face to Face: Knowing God Beyond Our Shame, as well as the Glory to God podcast series on Ancient Faith Radio.



37 responses to “Culture and the Fullness of the Faith”

  1. David Avatar

    I wonder how monastic living interacts with this. I mean, they appear to my eyes to be (forgive me) puritanical or at the least anti-cultural. Or maybe there is a Athosian culture?

    If I give into my incarnational ideals (largely formed by reading this blog and Irenaeus, Athanasius and Origin) how do I understand monastic strictures?

  2. fatherstephen Avatar

    Their strictures, when rightly exercised, allow them to go deeper inwardly, and thus, if you will, take culture into a different, but essential direction. But if a monastic argues against the other natural elements of culture in the life of non-monastics, then he is not doing his job. If the girls in the village dance, it is of no concern to the monk. He should not be in the village watching the girls anyway.

  3. Matt Avatar

    (If you find this comment inappropriate, I apologize, and please feel free to pull it.)

    This reminds me of a Simpsons episode (which I have, admittedly, only seen clips of on YouTube) where Bart and Homer convert to Catholicism. At one point in the episode, Rev. Lovejoy reminds Marge Simpson, “Different religion, different afterlife…” As a result, Marge daydreams of showing up in Heaven, where everyone is wearing polo shirts and khakis, and playing croquet. Some guy, with a high-class British accent greets Marge, and she asks where Homer and Bart are.

    The man points out that this is “Protestant Heaven,” and says Bart and Homer are in “Catholic Heaven” (which is on another cloud). In “Catholic Heaven,” Marge sees a stark contrast to Protestant Heaven, with Italians having a huge dinner party, Irish men drinking and fighting, Mexicans holding a fiesta, and, after Bart knocks open the pinata, the star of Riverdance shows up and says, “Now, dance, you heavenly gobs!” and everyone breaks into Irish dance.

    While, certainly, such things as drunkenness and fighting are negative aspects of some cultures, I think this scene illustrates some of what you’re saying (especially regarding the Cromwellian/Puritan influence on English/American culture). (BTW, Fox has had all the illicit recordings of this scene removed from YouTube since I last saw it; which is probably for the best.)

    In addition, I like the reminder that we don’t have to go stamping an icon on everything to prove it’s Orthodox. It reminds me of when I was a teenager in an Evangelical church, and heard all the controversy about secular vs. Christian music. Among some of us, these ideas gave rise to the joke about the “Jesus index:” judging the Christian-appropriateness of a song by how many times the name “Jesus” is used. The sad part is, the joke wasn’t much of an exaggeration.

  4. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Perhaps the degradation of the arts is in part the result of Christians leaving them.

    Monastaries have historically produced quite a bit of art particularly music and visual arts and have often been the conservators of culture.

    Dance and theater have their roots in religious festival and community prayer. While the Divine Liturgy has necessarily replaced that, there is no reason to abandon the disciplines altogether.

    After all, as Snoopy said: “To live is to dance, to dance is to live”

  5. Scavenger Avatar

    Seems like most countries where Christianity hasnt been stifled have progessed.
    And those nations and cultures that have stifled the Christian message havent gotten anywhere, except for the aid of the ones above.
    And now we have a strange situation in the media where Christian nations get blamed for all the evil and poverty in the world.
    How bitterly ironic…

  6. Basil Avatar

    Glory to Jesus Christ!

    There is a part of me that would love to see a fitting delegation of Orthodox attend this:

    It makes me curious what a North American Orthodox equivalent would look like?
    I wonder.


  7. Mark Krause Avatar

    Father bless,
    I’m new to reading the blog and I’ve really enjoyed these last few posts on culture. I really do think that in order for American culture to regain its soul it needs an American Church for said culture to flourish. However, I really believe that this will not happen until there’s one American Orthodox Church. Jurisdictionalism seems to be a huge impediment to the creating of a distinct Orthodox American culture. How do you think jurisdictionalism affects this issue? Thank you for the insightful blogging.

  8. fatherstephen Avatar

    Mark, I’m sure that the problems include that and many more things. Thus a good list of things to pray for. However God brings these things about, it will have to be God. Thus we may patiently go about our work – the work we have at hand – and slowly we will begin to see things. What I (we) must not do is make a plan and try to make happen what we think should happen. Other than – I plan to pray more. And to give support to those who are doing the right thing. If they are artists I will encourage them, if they are writers, I will encourage them to write, etc. Mostly I do not want to be guilty as a priest of squelching Orthodox culture before it has really begun.

  9. […] the day, but I would most strongly recommend as a rewarding read his post from yesterday, “Culture and the fullness of the Faith“.   Really very good.  Learned that he came to Orthodoxy from a […]

  10. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    In the late 19th and early 20th century important Christian writers (McDonald, Lewis, Tolkein for instance) used imaginative fantasy imbued with with Christian sensibility to counter the destructive fruits of industrialization, nihilism, and materialism. Now that realm has been invaded as well it seems.

    As long as we are simply nostalgic for the “mother country” rather than using the experience and insights of the our various mother churches, adapting them to our current situation and allow ourselves to express authentic Tradition, we will never be able to do our job. As long as there is the attitude that Greece, Russia, Syrian culture has to be substituted for American barbarism, we will remain divided and ineffective.

    While Fr. Stephen’s approach is wise and true, I’m concerned that it can be interpreted a little too passively. We must each of us as part of our prayer look to our own attitudes that fuel the parochial spirit. It is interesting to me that the jurisdictionalism tends to be the fault of the other guys (whoever they are). From my early days in the Church to the present I keep running in to the idea that, the Greeks are crazy, the Slavs morose, the Antiocheans too worldly, the OCA irrelevant because Americans can never really be Orthodox anyway. Anytime I give assent to that idea, I make it that much harder for the reality of the Church to be manifest here and now. We seem to hate each other and oursevles. Not exactly Christian.

    As important as the arts are to culture, they are not “the culture” in and of themselves. Culture is the sum total of the way we live and why we live that way.

    St. Raphael of Brooklyn, St. Herman, St. Innocent, St. Tikon, St. John and other saints unknown to us have shown us the way out of that trap–serve others, especially fellow Orthodox. Use the talents we have, in Christ (not for our own gain), to strenghten other people, the ones right in front of us where ever we happen to be. Celebrate not just a particular heritage alone, but the Apostolic heritage that we all share. We need to be in the world, not of it rather than of the world, not in it.

    Somehow a few words from St. John of Kronstadt seem appropriate to end: “Let simplicity accompany you everywhere. Be especially simple in your faith, hope, and love, for God is not a complex Being, and our soul is also simple. The flesh hinders the simplicity of our soul when we gratify it; let meekness be its crown.”

  11. asinusspinasmasticans Avatar

    I hope I can say this correctly without “embittering or embarassing” anyone, but one thing that really gets me cranked for some reason is the parallel “Christian” culture in the US. We have a radio station in our area that plays “Contemporary Christian music”. This is a mtter of some discord in our house, as my wife likes to keep it on all the time. My kids don’t care for it, and I don’t either. The music is saccarine and the lyrics are banal. All told, it isn’t very good music. Mostly, it is a pale imitation of commercial music for the “broader” (unChristian?) audience. When I turn the music off, I get accused of “not liking Jesus” or prefering worldly things.

    When we were Pentecostals, my son got badly burnt out on the whole Youth Church scene. He says, all they are doing is bringing cool stuff into the church, letting the kids have piercings and soul patches and saying “look, you can be a Christian and be cool” Well, if being cool is so important, he continues, then you don’t need the church to be cool. If smoke bombs and dry ice and indie rock are what is important, the club down the street does it better than the church. This isn’t a fight the church can win.

    So you have “saved” culture and “unsaved” culture, just like you have “saved” Americans and “unsaved” Americans. According to most observers, the difference between them as far as attitude and behavior isn’t worth a bucket of spit anyway.

    We had a friend in one of our old parishes. Basically, he was a hobo. A troubled young man from a difficult family, he had been riding the rails and working odd jobs for a few years. He hung around the church long enough to get himself catechized and chrismated. Then there was an unfortunate split in the church and he was traumatized by some of the uncharitableness that manifested itself at that time. He relapsed into his old ways. My kids asked me about him.

    “You think there weren’t any hobos or alcoholics in 19th century Russia? Of course there were. There are always going to be hobos and alcoholics. But they were Orthodox hobos and alcoholics. If they needed help, they knew where the help was.” We ran into that young man shortly after that, and yeah, he did look rough. But my kids went up and gave him a big hug and so did my wife and I. He didn’t feel right about coming back to church. I invited him to another parish. I told him “You’re as Orthodox now as Maximus the Confessor. You have as much right to be in church as any other sinner.” He came the next Sunday, and brought flyers for his band.

  12. […] Pachetul de atenţie [6 dec. 2007; ediţie aniversară] O sută de cărţi interzise./ Concurs de miss pentru femei care şi-au pierdut un picior în urma detonărilor accidentale de mine de război./Siteul parohiei ortodoxe Sfântul Gheorghe Vechi din Bucureşti./ Părintele Ioan Pintea şi însemnările sale în Convorbiri Literare./ Despre cultura naţiilor şi dreapta credinţă cu părintele Stephen./ […]

  13. Ron Avatar

    This question arises from a different conversation, but it may fit here: Would there be anything wrong with replacing the hymn “Receive the Body of Christ, Taste the Fountain of Immortality” with “Just As I Am,” which, it has been suggested to me more than once, is perfectly Orthodox in its teaching and has the benefit of having been a familiar part of Anglo-American Christian hymnody for 150 years?

    (Michael Bauman, would you please provide a source for that great St. John quote?)

  14. David Avatar

    The problem for me as an inquirer to Orthodoxy is that I see American culture as very damaging to my relationship with God. There is a baseness to it that draws the participant necessarily downward. Marketing executives have penetrated even the most unlikely cultural eddies searching for new hooks to convince the populace that giving in to their materialism means participating in culture. (even punk-rock anarchists support the very consumer society they claim they despise)

    I bought Christmas decorations at Home Depot this year. They offered a $75 in store credit to whoever would start a home depot card as long as you spent $75.01. I bought $83 worth of lights and lawn decorations.

    I told the woman behind the counter that I would be closing my credit card as soon as I paid the $8 balance when the bill came in the mail. She seemed utterly unconcerned that I was “gaming” the system this way. In fact, she thought I’d gotten a good deal.

    Worse than that at 21% interest Home Depot offered me $10,000 in credit (I couldn’t afford to make payments on that if I used it).

    I am horrified about the entire experience. The temptation of the card, Home Depot would only offer $75 because they know most people would fall prey to their scheme and run up charges far greater than $75, both in the short term and the long term. They knew that having a Home Depot card in the wallet will pull customers from shopping at other stores, where people might have made better economic decisions with future purchases.

    But then I was also operating dishonestly, because I knew I wasn’t going to use this card. I knew that I would receive goods for money I did not earn because I was willing to play the game Home Depot was using to harm others.

    This thinking can become over burdensome. Is it OK to go to Best Buy and only purchase their “loss-leaders”? Am I stealing from healthy people by not loosing weight knowing that I’ll need more heath care services in the future from a system we all pay into more or less equally?

    But if I want to walk in Grace with every step I take I have to ask some of these questions and confront my sinful nature.

    By participating in Home Depot’s promotion I was not only accepting the harm it would do to those tempted, but also in essence stealing from them and all of this to fulfill a desire I have to purchase trinkets to show off my “Christmas” spirit. (note the small “s” in spirit)

    I am ashamed. Not because of this only, but because it is the central story of American culture. I have no idea how to sanctify it. “Jesus junk” as I call the items on the “Christian bookstore” shelves doesn’t do it. “Christmas” decorations don’t do it.

    This is why someone like me seeks other, older, stable and known cultures. Like CS Lewis’ writings on reading old books, old cultures that are still around are by definition “enduring” and with the prospective time gives us, their individual foibles and errors are easily identifiable.

    If someone can tell me there is American culture apart from consumerism, usury, appropriation and homogenization of the sacred into affections, and the destruction of healthy human relations from marriage to community to nation… well, I’d love to hear about it.

    Please pray for me.

  15. fatherstephen Avatar


    This would be completely in the competency of a Bishop and beyond my competency as a priest to suggest. It’s not always the theology, but that the words have been approved by the Church. Thus, other than my sermon, I am not responsible on Sundays to have to make a decision on the Orthodoxy of the rest of the service. It is a given.

  16. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    David, while I agree with what you write on one hand allow me to try and balance it a little: the essence of American culture is freedom. The true freedom, knowing the Truth and living in the Truth is what the Church offers. Another positive aspect of the American culture is care for others. A third aspect of American culture, which we inherited from England but is deeply Orthodox as well, is the rule of law in civil and criminal matters but in a manner that is not excessively legalistic. Justice and mercy have always been more important in American jurisprudence than in many other countries.

    As you lament, our ideals are not easy to see in our world today and have often been abused and degraded. Consequently, we are faced with many unpleasant choices that can quickly become mind numbing if we allow them to. It is the nature of the Christian life to challenge us, to challenge the sinfulness in and around us. “Take up your cross, daily and follow me”. You accurately describe the cross we face in the United States. Our real choice personally and corporately is accept that burden or not. The more who personally accept the struggle and as Fr. Stephen directs, “Love God. Say you prayers. Go to Church. Keep the commandments. Forgive everyone for everything. It is a rare thing indeed that requires us to do more on a daily basis.”

    The three great Christian cultures to which we are heir as Orthodox in the United States, the Greek, the Slavic, and the Syriac have endured and continue to bear fruit. They each have a different ethos, a different way of maintaining the Truth and expressing it. None of them are fully adaptable to modern life in the United States, but we learn from each of them. We have the opportunity to continue in the Tradition of holiness in our own time and place.

  17. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Ron, I have lost the source. I read it many years ago liked it (although I struggle with what it reveals about me) and put it on my short list of favorite quotes that I keep. Sorry.

  18. Mary Lowell Avatar
    Mary Lowell

    Source for a quote of St. St. John of Kronstadt’s that is close to the one Michael cites is found in “My Life in Christ,” page 205:

    “God is an incomplex, most perfect Being; that is, the purest holiness, the purest good and truth; and in order to be in union with God, in order to be one spirit with Him (for we are from Him), we must acquire, through His grace, the most perfect simplicity of goodness, holiness, and love. All the saints who are in heaven were cleansed by the blood of the Son of God, through the Holy Ghost, and have not a shadow of sin in them. It was for this that they struggled in this life, that they mortified their flesh in order to cleanse themselves “from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God,”Corinthians vii. 1., in order to become eternally united with that most glorious Being; it is for this reason also that the Holy Church with all her institutions now exists upon earth, the hierarchy, the Divine services, the sacraments, the rites; fasts were likewise appointed in order to cleanse and sanctify the children of God, in order to unite them with that most blessed Being, glorified in the Holy Trinity: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.”

    I have recently moved and have not unpacked all my books, but an online source for St. John’s “My Life in Christ” is:

  19. irenaeus Avatar

    Even traditionally Orthodox countries are struggling to preserve their culture in this day and age:

  20. Mary Lowell Avatar
    Mary Lowell


    Good article, an excerpt:

    “The irony of the Serbian predicament is that they still imagine they are talking to the Westerners of another era, the era that had produced Nixon and Reagan, de Gaulle and Mitterand, Adenauer and Schmidt, Rebecca West and Alfred Sherman . . . and others of the generation born between, roughly, in the quarter-century before 1920, with whom such arguments could be reasonably expected to resonate. The problem is that they are all dead, and have been replaced in the positions of political and cultural influence by the new, post-modern breed of Westerner. He is distinguished from his predecessor exactly by rejecting the value and importance of the historical, cultural, spiritual, and civilizational legacy of our common civilization.”

    The imagination of the Serbian people should have been thoroughly shaken on Pascha, March 29, 1999. Photos later circulated in newspapers everywhere of smiling American bomber crewmen loading their bays with “Happy Easter” scrawled across the bombs they were preparing to deliver to Kosovo in the first morning light. These poor American flyboys, under presidential order, of course had no memory of the Serbian people saving more than 600 American fliers during WWII. To this day, the “Halyard Operation” remains the largest one-time rescue of Americans from behind enemy lines in American history.

  21. AR Avatar

    Dear Ron,

    “Receive the body of Christ, taste the fountain of immortality” …that’s all I’ve longed to do ever since I first heard the song: and half the glory is that everyone else in other parishes is singing the same words as they do the same thing – not only in my time but throughout Time. If my parish ever substituted “Just As I Am” for the immortality song I would probably nail myself to the door until they stopped. The agony could not be worse that way.

    I promise, the theology of “Just as I Am” is quite unOrthodox. If it sounds Orthodox to an Orthodox person, it’s because they are reading it in an Orthodox way – a case of admirably mistaken. That is not how the song was written however, and it is not how it has been sung for 150 years. It would be importing more into the Church than just a collection of familiar words.

    “Come” is the operative word in “Just As I Am,” and to the vast majority of people who sing it, “come” refers to walking the aisle, not toward the body of Christ in the Eucharist, but toward a decision card, counselor, or kneeling-step in order to make that reductionist one-time decision that is supposed to “save” you… or at least get you as saved as you can ever hope to get in revivalist/evangelical theology. Which isn’t all that saved. Singing that song during the Liturgy would most surely alter our understanding of what we are doing in the Eucharist.

    Please everyone, don’t try to conform yourselves to American culture. You are so so so so beautiful just the way you are, Russian, Greek, Serbian, Antiochian, OCA, you name it… American Orthodoxy will come in time, and it will come, I am certain, the way Father Stephen says it will come…by Americans being Orthodox, by Americans obeying the gospel. The center, not the periphery alone, will save us…and the center will save the periphery, too, that it may take part in our salvation.

    Let’s not despise our incubator cultures in the meantime, since the Church has embraced and transformed them. Let’s trust her that there’s a reason she sings the songs she does.

  22. asinusspinasmasticans Avatar

    Interestingly –

    In 1975 I attended a Catholic Charismatic service at Loyola University in New Orleans. I don’t remember a great deal about the particulars of the service, except that there were a lot of Protestants there. A priest gave an impassioned plea to the CCs to remain Catholic and to uphold the traditions of the Catholic church. Then he explained to us Protestants why we couldn’t participate in the Cup and the Loaf. It appeared to me kind of standoffish at the time, but I was the visitor, so I went along.

    During the Communion service, as the CCs went up to receive the Body and Blood, the choir sang “Just As I Am”. I thought to myself – ‘so, this is what Catholics do instead of an altar call. Except they do it every week. ‘

    I would be outraged if my parish used “Just As I Am” in a Divine Liturgy. I wouldn’t care for it now in a Roman Mass, either, but it proved very useful that day, and began the “catholicization” of my imagination.

    Go figure.

  23. jacob Avatar

    Would there be anything wrong with replacing the hymn “Receive the Body of Christ, Taste the Fountain of Immortality” with “Just As I Am,” which, it has been suggested to me more than once, is perfectly Orthodox in its teaching and has the benefit of having been a familiar part of Anglo-American Christian hymnody for 150 years?

    I cannot hear that song without thinking of Billy Graham crusades. I would hate, hate, hate, hate, hate (to borrow from Roger Ebert) having to listen to it every Sunday.

    Also, it’s a salvation/get-saved/come-to-Jesus-for-the-first-time song, and says not a single word about partaking of the body and blood of Christ, so I don’t think it’s appropriate for the Eucharist:

    – Words: Charlotte Elliott, 1835
    – Music: William B. Bradbury, 1839

    Miss Charlotte Elliott was visiting some friends in the West End of London, and there met the eminent minister, Cesar Malan. While seated at supper, the minister said he hoped that she was a Christian. She took offense at this, and replied that she would rather not discuss that question. Dr. Malan said that he was sorry if he had offended her, that he always liked to speak a word for his Master, and that he hoped that the young lady would some day become a worker for Christ.

    When they met again at the home of a mutual friend, three weeks later, Miss Elliott told the minister that ever since he had spoken to her she had been trying to find her Saviour, and that she now wished him to tell her how to come to Christ.

    “Just come to him as you are,” Dr. Malan said. This she did, and went happily away. Shortly afterward she wrote this hymn.

    About these words, her brother said:

    “In the course of a long ministry, I hope I have been permitted to see some of the fruit of my labor, but I feel that far more has been done by a single hymn of my sister’s.”


    Just as I am, without one plea,
    But that Thy blood was shed for me,
    And that Thou bidst me come to Thee,
    O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

    Just as I am, and waiting not
    To rid my soul of one dark blot,
    To Thee whose blood can cleanse each spot,
    O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

    Just as I am, though tossed about
    With many a conflict, many a doubt,
    Fightings and fears within, without,
    O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

    Just as I am, poor, wretched, blind;
    Sight, riches, healing of the mind,
    Yea, all I need in Thee to find,
    O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

    Just as I am, Thou wilt receive,
    Wilt welcome, pardon, cleanse, relieve;
    Because Thy promise I believe,
    O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

    Just as I am, Thy love unknown
    Hath broken every barrier down;
    Now, to be Thine, yea, Thine alone,
    O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

    Just as I am, of that free love,
    The breadth, length, depth, and height to prove,
    Here for a season, then above,
    O Lamb of God, I come, I come!

  24. fatherstephen Avatar

    So apparently there are at least 4 votes against using Just as I Am as a communion hymn. It is our great good fortune that we won’t get to vote on any of them. Instead, we may continue to pray that God will continue to inspire writers of music for His Church. The tune of Receive the Body if I remember correctly is a popular folk tune within Orthodoxy.

    I remember Just as I am, as a communion hymn while an Anglican. Sung in the context of communion (and Anglicanism at that time was a world removed from an Evangelism crusade) the hymn took on very rich meanings that seemed entirely appropriate. I would not use it now (there’s not a blessing to) but it does not behoove us to make light or disparage a hymn from another tradition. It was not written to dishonor God. Archbishop Dmitri warns us (converts) not to disparage where we came from. It’s not seemly. It also gives a false impression to the non-Orthodox who drop by to read. We should not scandalize. Sorry. But it needed saying.

  25. jacob Avatar

    Fr. Stephen:

    My apologies, if your remarks were about my comments. I am not / was not disparaging where I came from, only (inappropriately) expressing my musical tastes and dislikes. I have no problem with the theology or use of the hymn, but do not think that in its content and origin it is a Eucharist/communion hymn – which, of course, is simply my personal opinion, and not necessarily a correct one.

    Forgive me.

  26. Mary Lowell Avatar
    Mary Lowell

    Father, forgive, and please remove my remark to AR.

    Let better intentions stand.

    “Just as I am, of that free love,
    The breadth, length, depth, and height to prove,
    Here for a season, then above,
    O Lamb of God, I come, I come!”

  27. AR Avatar

    OK, I guess I know how to defer to better judgment. So I’m sorry to: Ron, Father Stephen, and any one else I may have hurt, offended, or led off. You may delete my comment as well.

  28. David Avatar

    One of the most profoundly “evangelical” things about this blog, its author, its community of commentors, and the Church that connects them is the genuine confession of sin.

    I’ve simply never encountered it. I mean by that not to say anything bad about the rest of Christendom, but rather to point out the singularly powerful “invitation” of Orthodoxy to a life that testifies to Christ through love and humility instead of the alternative methods others take, may God have mercy on them.

    May God have mercy on me as try to figure out what to do about that clear witness. Pray for me.

  29. Ron Avatar

    I have searched for one source that inspired my remark that “Just As I Am” is consistent with Orthodox teaching, but the closest I can come is a remark in Touchstone’s “Mere Comments” blog by someone who refers to the person I had in mind. See , then scroll down to the third comment, written by Mr. Walker.

    (2nd try. The first time the URL did not appear.)

  30. handmaidmaryleah Avatar

    Just be yourself, what was that phrase???
    Just as I am…
    Its good enough for all of us, David.
    We all have to start somewhere, I know I make a new start everyday and by God’s grace, its enough…

  31. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    There is a difference between disrespecting other traditions and zealously upholding one’s own. There are many Protestant hymns that I enjoy hearing and singing privately. There is not a one that I would willingly allow to be sung in the Divine Liturgy. Neither the words, nor the music fit. They are informed by an entirely different approach to Jesus Christ and the Church.

    IMO Orthodox music can only be composed by Orthodox musicians who have been Orthodox for some time.

  32. Mary Lowell Avatar
    Mary Lowell

    “For the sake of our faith alone, the spiritual mountains— that is, the heights and burdens of sins—are removed. This is why, when Christians release themselves from the burden of their sins by repentance and confession, they sometimes say, “Thank God, a mountain has fallen off my shoulders!”

    My Life in Christ, page 456; St John of Kronstadt (1829-1909)

  33. fatherstephen Avatar

    I would not argue for their inclusion, by any means. I have noted of late, that with over 1500 views a day. What we say can have a profound impact. There is much each of us would say of Orthodoxy. The first thing someone reads, however, should not be a disparaging of an old favorite. Sometimes, and I enjoy the feeling of intimacy, those of us who comment can forget that we are doing so in an extremely public forum. Let us cause none to stumble for the wrong reason. I have to say this, too, because, as a priest, I’m gonna get in wose trouble than most of you!

  34. William Avatar

    Michael, I would dispute the notion that all Protestant hymns are informed by an “entirely” different approach to Jesus Christ. What I learned about Jesus as a Protestant was consistent with Orthodoxy. What I’ve learned in Orthodoxy hasn’t negated anything (about Christ) I learned before, but has rendered more clear its full dimension and implications. But I do appreciate what you’re saying.

  35. […] M sent me this great post rom Father Stephen about the role of the [Orthodox] church to American culture. Along the lines of Staub’s […]

  36. Gabriel Avatar

    It is wonderful to see so many coming into the fullness of faith. May God be glorified, the harvest is plentiful!

  37. […] Cultural Christianity, which is not the same thing as denominationalism, shares something in common with Islam. Both struggle against forces of division, that have been internalised to such an extent that they cannot be distinguished from the genuine article. Thus we have liberal or conservative churches. […]

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