The Fullness of the Fullness

It is frequently the case that Orthodox theology uses the word “fullness” to describe its understanding and life of the gospel. This is a far more apt expression than simply saying “we have the truth.” Fullness, I think, better describes something. Truth, in our modern vocabulary, can mean something quite flat – as in a correct answer on a test. However, “fullness” describes not only the truth but the truth with an embodiment, the life of grace, but life as it is lived. The truth, but as it is incarnate.

Part of the celebration in which I participated during this last week, was a recognition on the part of the Diocese of the South (OCA) of a fullness – most particularly as we have experienced in the life and ministry of our Archbishop DMITRI. It is a recognition that for 30 years, the diocese has been formed and shaped by someone whose primary concern has been for the fullness of the faith and its embodiment, both in himself and in his priests, and not simply a concern for the machinery of the diocese.

Most of the priests of the diocese have been ordained by him, and their ministries have been formed and shaped by this living model we have before us.

It is the case in Orthodoxy, that when we speak of Holy Tradition, that, although we mean the abiding presence of the Holy Spirit in the Church, we also mean that presence as it is mediated to us in the liturgical life of the Church, in our communion with God, and as embodied in our midst through the minstries which God has set among us. Without the gospel expressed in a life, it is only the gospel as an idea – some abstract. It is the incarnation of the gospel in the ministries in which God has set in His Church that saves us from the obscurity of the Gospel as mere “idea.” Anybody can preach an idea – but an idea that has become incarnate is a different thing. The life itself says more than words, and it gives to its words a meaning that the words would never have by themselves.

That is the experience of the Diocese of the South. We have both heard the Gospel, but it has also been enfleshed among us. I am challenged by the humility of Christ because I have lived with the meekness of my Archbishop.

This, of course, is the great crisis of Christianity. It’s modern temptation is to be reduced to ideas and slogans. Indeed, this has often been its temptation during times of safety. By the grace of God, monastics and other Christians of serious commitment have rescued the gospel from the mediocrity of mere idealism.

Humility is a difficult task, as is the kindness of a good heart. I have never known anything else from my father in God.

I know that “God resists the proud,” and I have seen this illustrated amply in my years of ministry. I know what it is for God to resist my own pride or the pride of a parishioner. I have seen Him resist the pride of those who believe that their titles “entitles” them to something – which is simply not true.

We honored 30 years of the gospel enfleshed in the Diocese of the South last Thursday night at a banquet. We also celebrated the possibility of an Auxiliary Bishop (Jonah Paffhausen) who is himself a model of meekness.

Orthodoxy faces many deep challenges in the modern world. Some of them are brought on us by both the abuses of the past century as well as the new challenges of the present century. Our ecclesiology, which is never more than love (a canon cannot produce the Church), is and will be tested to the maximum. But the world is not hungry for the Canons or for pride of place, but for the self-sacrificing love of Christ and the fullness of His emptiness on the Cross.

The way forward for Orthodoxy in America will only be through the Cross, God help us. But there is no other way forward for anyone, ever, anywhere.

The Cross is the emptiness of God, but also His fullness. The Church will truly embody that fullness only as it embraces the emptiness set before us.

I am only an Orthodox priest with a limited scope of responsibility. I stand in awe of the men who have been brave enough to embrace the Cross of the Episcopacy. I believe that as much as anyone is not more than everyone, they will have to face the temptation to live something less than the Cross. I pray for grace for each and all of them. May God grant us servants of the Cross – crucified Bishops who proclaim the crucified God – crucified priests who proclaim the crucified Christ – crucified laity who proclaim the crucified life of the Gospel.

For this the world has hungered for all its life – for the Crucified life is the only life. May God hear us and keep us. May God give us grace to take up the cross and live for nothing else. Glory to God.

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.


6 responses to “The Fullness of the Fullness”

  1. Benedikt Avatar

    my english is poore, my heart is filled up. Yes! Father, what a wonderful, what a dangerous and loving service our bishops take upon them. Thank You for better understanding why my bishops needs for our PRAYER. I did it mechanically, I won’t in the future.
    Thanks Father and bless

    from Sweden

  2. Ian Avatar

    [Benedikt: your English is definitely not poor!]

    Thank you Father; and what a blessing to the Church in the US to have Archbishop Dmitri. May God grant him many years, and may faithful servants like him be raised up in the Church [God knows we need them in areas of the Antipodes].

  3. Basil Avatar

    Christ is in our midst.

    Thank you for this perspective on the “fullness” of Orthodoxy.
    I know you prefer to speak of our faith this way; I have had trouble recently understanding even this description (less triumphant than others out there).
    I have tried to understand this description at the level of “ideas” still– I see things that are ‘lacking’ in our (modern) expression of the Faith.

    But the fullness is in the living of the reality of the gospel of Christ and him crucified.
    This takes us to the one place where I always lose my reservations of feeling ‘triumphal’ about my faith– the lives of the Saints. Abba Isaac; blessed Silouan; my beloved patron. The lives of these shining people were/are living witnesses to that fullness; the truth of the incarnation. They are genuinely little christs to the world, hidden in Him.
    This makes more sense to me now. Thanks.

    -Mark Basil

  4. […] Reading Matter A number of pieces on American Orthodoxy have appeared lately from Fr. Jonathan, Fr. Stephen, and from Fr. Gregory. All of these are helpful. But for me, Fr. Stephen sums it up rather […]

  5. Harlemite Avatar

    Thank you so much, Fr. Stephen. Your words on the subject of fullness help much more than you know. For that I am grateful.

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