In Christ is True Existence


I have written recently that the true central question of our relationship with God goes to the very fact of our existence, that “in Him we live and move and have our being.” I have also written some short comments on statements of the Elder Sophrony reminding us that all we do, we do in the presence of God. Both of these bring us to the question of true or authentic existence. I do not wish to look at something around me (or someone) and say “that does not exist.” Such a statement would be both untrue and silly.

But I do want to be able to look at myself (you’re invited into this as well) and distinguish between mere existence and authentic existence. The purpose for which we were and are created is not mere existence. I can think of many days in my life of mere existence and not one of them has had much to recommend it (though I’m grateful to begin even there). But to exist authentically, is to exist not just before and in the presence of God, but consciously present to Him as the very center of my being – as the very center of all that is.

I have become increasingly aware of this during Church services lately. I suppose I could have become aware of it anywhere, and I’m sure that I should be aware of it everywhere. But lately, it has been in the services of the Church that this awareness has opened to me (or me to it). The awareness is simply that at the heart of every word, every action, every sound and movement, God is there. And more than that – but that God is in us, in me, in the midst of all that us. It in no way distracts from words or actions but gives them their proper meaning.

It has brought to my mind the understanding that regardless of what we do at any time, within our heart our attention should be toward God. My directions to those who come to the Church inquiring about the Orthodox faith is not to be distracted by anything, but in all things to seek God. The Orthodox Church exists for no other reason than to unite man to God in Christ. Indeed, the Church is nothing other than the union of God and man in Christ.

This is authentic and true existence – that for which we were and are created: Christ.

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.


9 responses to “In Christ is True Existence”

  1. artisticmisfit Avatar

    So how do we bring someone back into the church who left and refuses to come back and is living a sinful life and denying Christ?

  2. fatherstephen Avatar

    Prayer, love, forgiveness, much mercy. Ultimately God has to do this work. We have to be forgiving and kind, etc. But we cannot make another human heart do something if it does not want to. It’s a great grief.

  3. Ioannis Freeman Avatar
    Ioannis Freeman

    Dear Friends in Christ,

    Father Stephen’s distinction between authentic and mere existence leads me to reflect on how baptism changed me, and what I am doing to live this change (or not doing most of the time). It is a difficult consciousness to raise, namely that God is present or to say that Christ is in our midst. But the difficulty grows less for me when I sing in the assembly of the faithful that Christ is among us.

    But, inside church, is one but one place to see that Christ is among us, as Father Stephen says. When I provoke or aggravate a spat over non-sense at home, church, or on the job, surely I don’t bear in mind that there is a silent witness to not only my words, but also my thoughts.

    One who stands at the door of my heart witnesses me. Yet I return to repeat mistakes and ask for mercy, after the fact. Therefore, it was for the sake of Christians like me that the Apostle discouraged wrath, evil-speech, and all manner of ills, because these have been put to death in my baptism, where the same Divine Witness sealed me in Christ. My substance changed in baptism, and my existence could become authentic, in turn, if I could make up my mind to act in faith.

    This leads me to wonder how my “being-ness” in Christ authenticates any choice that I make along the way to act accordingly or not. The choice to authenticate my existence (maybe an alternative way to define theosis) flows from change in substance received in baptism. Therefore, I place the question before us: Would any one of us make peace in our lives today? As the sun sets on another day: Have any one of us made peace in our lives today?

    I recognize some of my mistakes toward peace-making today, and can keep all of this in perspective by making a few amends before going to bed, and then pray before bedtime to sleep in safe Hands, and for all who have made mistakes toward expressing authentic existence. Tomorrow will be another day, if God wills.

  4. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Baptism, yes, the cleansing, the restoration the entry into the Church in Chrismation. Joy, not happiness, but joy even during times of duress and pain. The connection to others in prayer. The gradual dawning awareness that that connection moves forward and backward in what we call time and beyond time

    Mere existence for me seems bounded and controled by my sinfulness. Of course that is an ongoing invitation to move through the doorway into reality through repentance.

    Love of others, even just one other person.

  5. artisticmisfit Avatar

    Love of others is agape, love of one person is eros.

  6. Petra Avatar

    Fr Stephen, I recently listened to your archived podcasts…your description of a one-story universe has been incredibly helpful in my understanding of what it means that “God is everywhere present and fillest all things.” What you’ve posted here is exactly what I’ve been contemplating lately (in light of your teaching). “The awareness is simply that at the heart of every word, every action, every sound and movement, God is there.”–Awesome (amazing and a bit scary for me, a sinner.) Thank you again and again for your wisdom. Glory to God!

  7. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Love of another can be philia like Jonathan and David. Deep friendship in the Lord.

  8. fatherstephen Avatar

    Agape, eros, philos, and storge are not distinguished by their objects but by the nature and character of the love itself. Eros, is best translated “desire” and has a proper spiritual role to be contrasted with erotic desire for another human being. Though we’re a bit off topic.

  9. nsittler Avatar

    I just read this morning in Fr Schmemann’s “Historical Road to Eastern Orthodoxy” (thank you Fr Stephen for the recommendation — it’s awesome!) that The Word of God was not only the testimony about Christ’s life for us, but the Actual Life of Christ IN US. Of course, we see this in the beginning of John’s gospel, but I’d never thought of it that way. Once again, I’m struck by the rich and continuous and living tapestry that the Orthodox Church keeps. Fr Schmemann goes on to write that because of this reality, there is an organic connection between the word preached and baptism. I love that. I’m not Chrismated and baptized yet, but I’m looking forward to it, someday. To fully join with the body of Christ that way — that real and living way — so cool.

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