The Strange World of Ecumenism

I remember in my early years as an Anglican priest being appointed as the “Ecumenical Officer” of the Diocese. It was a tip of the hat from my Bishop that my interest in other Churches (including the Orthodox) would make me a very good candidate for ecumenical representative. As it happened, there really were no great ecumenical events in South Carolina in those years with the single exception of the visit of the Pope to Columbia (yes, he even visited Columbia, S.C.). I thus found myself one bright sunny afternoon, with a field of other strangely dressed clergy, sitting on the football field of the University of South Carolina, while we watched Pope John Paul II and many others address and entertain us. It is hard to know what the event was all about – other than that we all got to see the Pope – and he got another photo shoot.

Ecumenism, at least as it evolved in the 20th century, became largely the play-thing of denominational bureaucrats. Organizations such as the National Council of Churches and the World Council, long ago became the pawns of political concerns (whether of the Communists of old, or of today’s American religious left). As such, they were religiously irrelevant – human organizations that had no relationship to God.

There has been a growing sentiment within Orthodoxy that we need have no relationship with these organizations. This sentiment has been more clearly expressed since the fall of communist regimes gave freedom for churches to express their thoughts.

But there are forms of ecumenism that do not involve Churches making statements they do not believe and which clearly contradict the faith. There is an ecumenism, far more nefarious, that presumes that Churches are but human creations and that the real goal in life is simply the betterment of the planet and its peoples. It is, indeed, simply a restatement of the secular goals of any number of organizations. The Churches are coopted to agree that goals are good and noble and worth pursuing.

I will not argue here about the nature of Churches. Most of them do not make much of a claim for Divine origin, so I will not have to point out the obvious. But the Orthodox Church is indeed of Divine origin and would sell its birthright for a mess of pottage, were we to every allow ourselves to be defined as of an origin other than that of Jesus Christ.

There are many goals of this form of ecumenism – all of them laudable from a distance. People everywhere should be well fed; healthcare should be readily available at least on a minimal basis, etc. It is also the case that such lofty goals will frequently come with attached agenda: the population must be controlled in its growth; the distribution of food must be controlled to some extrent, and other such things common to the secular goals of the secular man.

I can well understand that the Church does not want to appear to be against feeding children, nor is the Church against such a thing. So long as the price extracted is not too high.

We have just come out of 70 years of oppression in which the stated goals were always undeniably good. The extracted price was genocide and the virtual extinction of the Church in places (as if that would help grow more food). The goal of the Church, however friendly it may be towards the goapl of the utopians, is not, however, the improvement of the world. As I have repeatedly written: Christ did not come to make bad men good, but dead men live. It is only in the true transformation of human life, from the merely psychological to the truly spiritual – the true entering into communion with God – that will save us or those around us.

This world should be cared for wisely and well, but the plans of those who do not believe there is any goal for man other than survival cannot possibly understand the goals of the gospel of the Kingdom. There is only one true ecumenism. It is set forth in Scripture:

For he has made known to us in all wisdom and insight the mystery of his will, according to his purpose which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fulness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth (Eph. 1:9-10).

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.



, ,



69 responses to “The Strange World of Ecumenism”

  1. Zacharias Avatar

    “Christ did not come to make bad men good, but dead men live.”

    Wow. This is a powerful statement and I really like! There is such a disturbing trend in Christianity today, especially within Protestantism, to turn the message of Christ into one of social responsibility. “It’s okay, you’re not a bad person, God loves you! And we’d be better people in God’s eyes if we fed the poor!”

    I agree with you, it’s not that you shouldn’t be out helping the poor, etc. but that isn’t the point of why God entered into human history. God created us with ability to become perfect, and it was by using the tools towards perfect, that we cut ourselves off from that perfect. God came to re-open that pathway.

    It seems to me that if you’re following that narrow road towards theosis, then the good works would necessarilly follow, but there’s a grow trend to forget the end, and focus on the means.

  2. Mary Avatar

    BRAVO, Father! Keep this line of commentary up, PLEASE!

    “Organizations such as the National Council of Churches and the World Council, long ago became the pawns of political concerns (whether of the Communists of old, or of today’s American religious left). As such, they were religiously irrelevant – human organizations that had no relationship to God.”

    There are many morphologies of this “pawn,” all sounding “good” but with goals and consequences other than those stated, whether they be “genocide” and “the virtual extinction of the Church” under Communism, the denial of the Resurrection by the Social Gospel, or the current para-religion of Environmentalism, at the bottom of which is not the stated goal of the survival of mankind, but its annihilation. I say annihilation, not meaning the overt Green agenda of “clean air and water,” but its covert dogma that the natural world is good and human beings are evil. Thus, the environmentalism gospel of salvation (that is, for the natural world) is the elimination of its one evil species: us.

    Forgive me, Father, if this is too stridently stated; your meekness solicited in response.

  3. J.S. Bangs Avatar
    J.S. Bangs

    Slightly OT: What is that photograph from? Because it bears a striking resemblance to ruined monastery in my wife’s hometown of Suceava, Romania.

  4. Mary Avatar

    This photo was taken in late July, 2005, on the road between Yaroslaval and Vologda. Through the bus window, we spied cupolas in ruins against the eastern sky. As we drew nearer, there were hundreds of black birds roosting in their skeletons. It wasn’t on our itinerary, but Fr. Ilya Gotlinsky, our tour guide, challenged us, ”Do you want to go see?” And, of course, we did!

    The local youths followed us to the abandoned church, like haunts of a familiar grave, though they didn’t seem to know name of the church. They may have even been responsible for the graffiti that desecrated its frescos. “Beloved,” Fr. Ilya said to us, standing on a pulpit of refuse in the gutted nave, “Behold your future.” We understood…a thousand years of Christianity turned to this in a mere 70 years of forced neglect, and worse, much worse.

    Oh Lord, help us, can American Christians expect less from our own homegrown, state-sponsored atheism? From our own children, if we fail to catechize them for the Cross?

    Photos of interior, its peeling frescos and local youth available upon request.

  5. Mary Avatar

    This photo was taken in Russia in July, 2005, on the road between Yaroslaval and Vologda.

  6. Mary in Tennessee Avatar


    May I please see those photos?

    My email is ellyzahm at aol dot com.

  7. Margaret Avatar

    Thank you, Fr. Stephen, for taking time to post these thoughts. These words are necessary to hear and need to be repeated. (Of course I came into Orthodoxy from Anglicanism, so perhaps I am biased!) I agree totally with what you are saying, and thanks again!

  8. handmaidleah Avatar

    Awesomely put as always Father Stephen…

  9. J.S. Bangs Avatar
    J.S. Bangs

    Thank you, Mary, for letting us know about that. The one I was thinking of is in Romania, obviously, so it’s not the same one. But there’s a happier ending: at the foot of the ruined tower in Romania is a vibrant parish church, and repairs on the tower are scheduled to begin this year.

  10. Dana Ames Avatar
    Dana Ames

    Fr. Stephen,
    Thank you for these thoughts.

    I would be grateful for some words regarding whether theosis is the same thing as the idea of the Lord coming to open the pathway to “perfection”. As a person with a past but thankfully waning “sensitivity” regarding perfectionism (“I must be perfect or else God and everyone else will not love me or accept me….”), I wonder if I simply have a problem with the terminology making me squirm a little, or if the idea of “perfection” is a holdover from notions of “original sin”/Anselmian satisfaction.

    Dana Ames

  11. fatherstephen Avatar


    First it would mean healing of any of our “needs”. Theosis or deification is simply the word used to describe our being conformed to Christ. I cannot conform myself and you can’t conform yourself. Only God can do this. Perfectionism is of no use to us. Rather kindness, humility, and love for others is the simple path God sets before us. And even on this path we will fall down. But His mercy is still such that He will do in us what we cannot do ourselves. Go to Church, say your prayers, remember God. That’s about as good a summary of the Orthodox life as I can think. It is also a quote from Fr. Thomas Hopko’s mother.

  12. kay Avatar

    Thank you Father Stephen – I’m very worried at how easily many ‘green’ objectives
    overtly and covertly promote the idea that people are evil, and that ever tighter political control of them is “best for the planet.” (Mary, thanks for your comment, I’d like to see the photographs also if I may. My email address is: email hidden; JavaScript is required)

  13. Dana Ames Avatar
    Dana Ames

    Thank you, Father.

  14. Hugo Avatar

    Oh, Father, I hope you don’t spend much time on ecumenism, truly. The more decadent the faith traditions become, and the more uniformly worldly and hip, the less they have to disagree with you about anything. It’s such a lot of lip service and pabulum Christianity; even more an affront to Judaism—there, a kind of denaturing beyond blasphemy.

    Just let them do it, and prattly on as I did when I had to do it, and stick to your last. Please.


  15. fatherstephen Avatar


    First time I’ve written on it. Probably won’t come up for ever so long. No worry. There is far more to be dwelt on profitably. I only see in ecumenism another false hope, a Babel of sorts, and I see Babel in my heart and all around me. Much of me would have heaven on my terms, which is no heaven at all. By God’s grace I pray to see every last brick of the tower dismantled in my wicked heart.

  16. Mary Avatar

    J,S. Bang,

    There are hundreds of such crumbling churches in the vast countryside between cities. But in the cities and their environs, there toiling thousands – artisans, iconographers, monks, nuns and simple laborers rebuilding their churches on almost every city block: 400 out of the once more than 800 become active churches again in Moscow alone. Holy Russia is reclaiming Her pious majesty? What an anomaly, the wreckage left by God-haters being swept clean by young men and girls, and withered-faced babushkas! This is going on all over Eastern Europe, as well. Meanwhile, poor Serbia is again becoming the flash point of Islamic invasion while the West simply looks away and hands Kosovo over to them – certainly a plumb chip in the domino play to take Western Europe.

    But I apologize to Fr. Stephen for taking his incredibly profound essay so far off point. Participation in the WCC might have been one of the only contacts suffering Eastern European Orthodox had with other Christians during the period of the Communist yoke, but a “strange” bed-fellow in the final analysis, indeed, as Father so aptly notes.

    Thankfully, “There has been a growing sentiment within Orthodoxy that we need have no relationship with these organizations. This sentiment has been more clearly expressed since the fall of communist regimes gave freedom for churches to express their thoughts.”

    It is not difficult for the wide awake to see this “strange world of ecumenism” of the WCC for what it is, but, as Fr. Stephen says, “There is an ecumenism, far more nefarious, that presumes that Churches are but human creations and that the real goal in life is simply the betterment of the planet and its peoples. It is, indeed, simply a restatement of the secular goals of any number of organizations. The Churches are coopted to agree that goals are good and noble and worth pursuing.”

    Our enemy is a sly publicist and Christians must always be cautious about utopian sentiments that preach “betterment” and legislate oppression. The disguise is sometimes so agreeably “good and noble” that we cannot readily see what is beneath it, unless we constantly hold before us that “Christ did not come to make bad men good, but dead men live.”

    Thank you, Fr. Stephen, for the prod to be vigilant.

  17. tyrporter Avatar

    If you have time Father, could you please email me the photos of the interior? email hidden; JavaScript is required

  18. fatherstephen Avatar


    I’ll have to look to see if I still have the interior shots. Mary (who posted above has the collection) they are her photos.

  19. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    When I was young I did a brief stint as a street minister in Detroit. An education. I can’t help but make the connection to the ideals of official ecumenism and the street people I met. Often those looking for a fix or a bottle would come up and ask for money because they were hungry. We were instructed to never give money. When money was refused, invariably the next statement was “What kind of a Christian are you?” Even if you offered to go with them to buy some groceries or a meal, they’d ofen say something like, “If you were a real Christian, you’d trust me.”

    T.S. Eliot wrote in his play “Murder in the Cathedral” Becket’s reply to the tempter of martyrdom for one’s own glory:
    “To do the right deed for the wrong reason is surely the greatest treason”

  20. Hugo Avatar

    Father, the concept of Babel has been like a fisherman’s sinker on my heart for such a long time that it feels as though it’s accumulated barnacles. Not in the sense of old and useless, but in the sense of an upbuilding threat. Were I a postdispensational alarmist, I’d say that that Tower is precisely our chattering agora, the Web.

    But no. I feel the wrongness of that flighty sentiment. Still, The Tower does loom, it really looms. (This sick thought flashed through: The Beijing junta in control of all Internet communications, and utterly unafraid of what anyone might say to anyone else.)

    What in hell do we do?

  21. Hugo Avatar

    Father, with the greatest respect, I could not be more serious than I was in my earlier laments.

  22. Hugo Avatar

    I guess that, believing in nothing in partiducar, they have nothing in particulrar to argue about, poor friar. I guess that makes them, at the end of the day, the Ultimate Boors.

    As rippin good fun as as it may be to tot at this one or teet at the next and get away with it, it’s sti’ll just something biggetr (we hope. tee-hee!) and better: and that is that your patriarch’s Memorably Manifest and Seriousy Down-Home true, says it’s true, then you’ve got something to count on, something from home, like no other drifter you ever may meet, not other

  23. fatherstephen Avatar


    We have nothing to fear in Christ. If we are appointed to live in very difficult days, then live them we must and there will be grace to do so. Thus, like the faithful in every generation, we pray.

    St. Paul did alright without an internet and we can if we must. We pray, we worship, we forgive, because Christ has already won the victory, truly.

  24. Hugo Avatar

    Thank you, Father. I know to the bone that you are right, and honor Paul’s bloody failures, but the forces arrayed, now, aren’t they terrifying? I see them taking our 13 year-old girls and 15 year-old boys as though their other influences didn’t matter a whit. And I’m not even a parent nor educator; I just see these young ones going up as so much livestock into the tornado. Then we mark their passing; one of them, perhaps, a distinguished pole-vaulter; another a star of the state spelling bee.

  25. Hugo Avatar

    It’s the same theodical crisis as ever I mean, Father. The same one that flummoxed Aquinas after the death of his friend’s young boy. The same one that made the deadliest generals in history vomit upon the discovery of Belsen Kamp.

    How can my shoe leather possibly be adequate to this walk through this place?

  26. fatherstephen Avatar

    It will not be adequate. Someone will have to drag us, carry us, get us through somehow. Grace.

  27. Hugo Avatar

    Yes, sir. I understand.

    Thank you for telling me the Truth.

    And Godspeed to you, and may the Lord lavishly bless your ministry.

    It’s hard, but it’s true.

  28. Hugo Avatar

    Thank you again, Father Stephen. The truth you tell somehow strenghtens me a bit, and sets me aright. Thank you.

  29. Aitor de la Morena Avatar

    Very good post, father. I’m a catholic seminarian from Spain, quite concerned about this ‘recent’ pulse on Ecumenism. I’ve had the grace to live 2 years with two greek-catholic seminarians from Romania, and there’s something we should not forget: John Paul II saw the West and the East as the two lungs of the Universal Church. Most of the problems in the ecumenical dialogue come from a rush, a big wish to solve things quickly, when it must take -as everything does in the Church- time. The steps that have been done are reasons of joy for all Christians in the world, or should be. It’s important to study -specially History of the Church, Dogmatic Theology and Liturgy- and pray, and embrace Christ’s love towards everyone despite their Church. I firmly believe that someday, we will be only one Church -as we are now, invisibly, mystically- under His crook.

  30. fatherstephen Avatar

    Perhaps, as you say, things will work positively. From and Orthodox perspective it is always good to go slow. On the “ground level” there is a very deep mistrust among many Orthodox of anything from Rome. It’s such a long history of hurt, oppression and political machinations to weaken the East. I doubt there there is now an invisible, mystical Church that exists in unity. These are protestant doctrines.

  31. Lucias Avatar

    Father Stephen,

    Your ability to see through the “noble goals” of various movements is refreshing. And the other larger point of this post, that truth should not be sacrificed is correct.

    Thanks for your continued blogging.


  32. Aitor de la Morena Avatar

    That mistrust is not unknown to Rome neither, father Stephen, that’s why I said that study is important. In my case, the need of it because of my reference to an invisible Church has turned evident, but what I meant is that every human, and specially the baptized, participates mysteriously in the mystery of the Church, since God was made flesh. Thank you!

  33. fatherstephen Avatar


    I’m sorry I misunderstood your statement on the mystery of the Church. I agree with your earlier statement.

    Indeed, I’ve been reflecting some lately on what it means that Christ is fully man (as well as fully God), and in a particular manner everyone is thus “born” in the faith, though it is not yet found its realization. To be complete in Christ is also to become “fully human” which none of us are yet. And yet everyone born is human.

    Forgive my misunderstanding. Language is a bridge as well as a barrier.

  34. Hugo Avatar

    Father Stephen, you’re a longsuffering pastor to put up with such as me. Please let me bring to you something that’s troubled me, Christianly, for too many years. (I’ve just prayed that this not add to your burdens, as it has done to mine.) Ours is such a tragic worldview, Father! I’ve taught Christian Bible to Chinese grad students (secretly, of course), and they MARVEL at what far-out stuff we Western squares (we goyim, anyway) believe: that God not too long ago incarnated himself in humble form and in a sort of backwater place, and on pilgrimage managed so to outrage the powers that be that He, God Himself, was railroaded and stripped and humiliated and tortured to death—“in front of God and everybody”—to prove something that should matter to all people, from all places and times. “It’s so….’fantastic’,” as it was delicately put by one of my most attentive student, herself accomplished in English Literature and in the concept of fantasm.

    “Do you really believe this?” she asked, wide-eyed. “Do all Christians BELIEVE this tale?”

    “We do,” was my answer. “A great many millions of us down through the ages, yes. And many deeds attest to it.”

    Her response: “WHAOAHH!” “But this is fan-TAS-tic!”

    (I felt she had in mind the Latin American authors and their magicalism.)

    “Do you REALLY believe this?”

    “I do, yes,” said I, blushing. “And so do–so have done–so many others, you see.”

    This filled her with laughter. She was so delightfully incredulous! It was charming! I was seeing for the first time how ridiculous, how bloody impossible is our Pauline claim! It made me want to sort of pirouette with her in laughter at the pure, funny absurdity.

    Here’s my hard part. I find it difficult to explain as honestly as I can to such people that we also hold that God, once incarnate, got taken out and rendered like that.

    It’s a sort of a deal-killer, if you know what I mean.

    Ever faithfully yours,


  35. fatherstephen Avatar

    Ah, but the whole of the story is about the God who became small, finally into the very smallness of hell itself and there He could not be held but trampled down death by death. It was a God who entered Hades, and, according to one Father of the Church, seeks for Adam (as He had in the Garden) only this time He finds him and brings him home. This is not just the story of the Prodigal Son, but of a love so great that it went to the pig pen and brought the son home.

    The gospel is foolishness to the Greeks and weakness to the Jews. And it’s the only good news anywhere in the world.

    I appreciated the story. I have Chinese and Japanese members in my congregation – converts to Orthodoxy. One couple just returned from China with wonderful stories of the Orthodox mission work there. If a bunch of blue-painted tree worshippers like my ancestors accepted the gospel then surely it can be preached anywhere.

    God bless.

  36. Mary Avatar

    Amazing exchange between Hugo and Father, simply amazing! I am in awe of this. Lord have mercy!

  37. AR Avatar

    Hugo, please forgive me for intruding on your conversation with Fr. Stephen. Your mention of Pauline thought being unacceptable to your Chinese students reminded me of Paul’s saying that the Cross was foolishness to the Greeks. I think the Greeks and the Chinese are similar, not in their actual thought, but in the fact that both cultures have a proud heritage of great philosophy.

    What is really encouraging about all this is that Paul goes on to explain (Is it in I Cor 2?) that the wisdom of man never could attain to the knowledge of God, and therefore foolish things were needed to reach us. And that is why not many wise people were chosen to fill the ranks of the Church.

    So it helps me to know that when the gospel seems to fail with smart people, it is not disappointing the expectations of those who formulated it. I think the power of the gospel is not that it’s a great idea (though considered from within it certainly is) but mainly because there’s a Person at the center of it, full of grace and truth. Where Christ meets a human soul, that is where the words about him make sense, I think.

  38. Karen C Avatar
    Karen C

    It occurs to me that the way to anyone, intellectual or not, is ultimately only through the heart. Surely, the Chinese also understand the value of self-sacrificial love, or would if they were to experience it. Always, the way of the Cross . . . The way of the Cross is foolishness until you feel the depths of your need for unconditional love, then it is the wisdom of God.

  39. Hugo Avatar

    AR, if I may presume to say so, I welcome your joining this “conversation”, as you sweetly call it, and both Mary and Karen C amplify different aspects of your reflections. Personally, I feel always that I am the one intruding, because Father Stephen is patient with his correspondents and lets them volley over the net a time or two if need be. He’s truly called, is he not?

    So I mostly read this website, but when I do think to ask something, it’s with trepedation that I’ve chosen the wrong fork. (Not your fault, Father; mine.) AR, what you say in tribute to both the Chinese and the Ancient Greeks is so, frankly, gracious. And true, of course. In St. Paul’s training they all were lumped together as simply “Pagans”. And the tidbit I’d like to forward, in response to your observation about the Chinese and Greeks is one made by the late historian Eric Voegelin: The chief barrier to the conversion of First-Century Pagans was not the miracle claims, to which they were accustomed; was not even the supernatural claim of resurrection from death, for they enjoyed tales of magic; rather, it was the Jewish idea of history as a timeline, with a beginning, middle, terrible climax, etc. This was ludicrous to them. Most of them couldn’t even entertain it as fleetingly as we might do a hummable pop song. Too weird. No, to them it was obvious from the seasons: eternal renewal. Cycle after cycle after cycle. Nothing ever really dying, or being held to account as though its life meant something, or paying a cost or reaping a reward or in any other way acknowledging that all this has a purpose more sentient than a dandelion.

    Fr. Stephen’s forebears and mine plastered our chests and bellies indigo and made various charicatures of copulating with the Earth—as madcap and utterly unhinged as that—before we could grasp even the idea that we are creatures of a divine and purposeful creator, who built us for love and our planet as a stage for a story with a beautiful storyline.

    Prof. Voegelin’s point is that it was a hard sell, and still is.


  40. fatherstephen Avatar


    I’ll venture another thought or two. When I came to Orthodoxy, the priest who received me had waiting nearly seven years from our first conversation. I visited many times with my family and discussed the possibility of becoming Orthodox, etc. Later when I was received I asked him, “In all those years, why did you never try even once to ‘close the sale?’”

    He replied: “I believe everyone who comes through the doors of my Church is called to be Orthodox. My task is to practice hospitality – God’s task is to convert.” It was deeply true. I have had members who were five years in coming to the faith, but I worked at trusting God that what I had been told was true. Thus far it has been.

    I think too many “Christians” today have become so by argument and sales pitches which is not really the same thing as having a God. If there is a God (and there is), we all called to preach the gospel in its fullness, and God adds to the Church such as He will. The door that God opened in Japan was quite unique but gave an effective foothold in that ancient land.

    Korea, though not particularly Orthodox, is now half Christian in its demographics (S. Korea). The North recently gave permission for the Russian Orthodox to open a Church and allowed several young men to travel to Russia to train for the priesthood (the North!).

    God is building His Church. Orthodoxy has spent a large part of its years under the Turkish Yoke, the Tartar Yoke, the Communist Yoke, and yet survives intact and constantly renewing (despite its weaknesses and problems). It now faces modern democratic capitalism and the many-heade hydra of modernist philosophies and materialism. But I believe that God has preserved us for such a time as this.

    What the world does with the gospel is a mystery known only to God. But the Church simply has to be faithful, preach the word in season and out of season, and be found working even til the Lord’s return. But success is not a commandment.

  41. Margaret Avatar

    God bless you, Fr. Stephen, for taking the time to comment. Of course, I do believe that God is with you. Our (Orthodox) priest is also patient and kind to all who come through the doors. We are so thankful for him and his family!

    It was brought to my mind something I learned last year about the spread of the early Church. Many pagans were converted by the selflessness of Christians who would minister and care for the diseased, sometimes putting themselves in the way of spreading a disease and dying with it. So I believe that Christians lack of fear of death has converted many to Christ; of course, that conversion may be at death’s door and unknown to the world at large.

    As healthy Americans and most healthy young people of all cultures do not fear death, this aspect of Christianity may not be so convincing to those who are unconverted, but eventually, hopefully, all will come to Christ!

  42. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Fr. Stehpen says “…success is not a commandment.”

    What foolishness and weakness in modern western eyes. We’ve accepted the teleolgical time although we’ve secularized it and made the eschaton into a achieveable goal, but to live in constant ‘failure’ without significant measurable ‘achievement’, whoa! Can’t have that can we. So we have the success Gospel, the Social Justice Gospel, the Liberaton Gospel, the Name it and claim it Gospel, ad nauseum all of which forget both the Incarnation and the Cross and the genuine encounter with the person of Jesus Christ.

    It is depressingly easy to fall prey to the idol of achievement, success and ‘building’ the Church expecting to see the fruits of our labors. It is a clear example of akedia (forgetfulness of salvation) as Archmandrite Zacharias describes it.

    Thank you so much for that comment Fr. Stehpen, it a such a hopeful, freeing one.

  43. Hugo Avatar

    Oh Michael Bauman and Father Stephen both, thank you deeply. (This is beginning to sound kitsch; what I mean is, that your respective statements are to me a balm and a rare one.

    Margaret, Christians were not noted for any particular care for the sick until well into the Fourth Century. The “fear of death”, therefore, rather than what you term “the lack of fear of death”, was as animate in the early martyrs as in anyone.

    Did you think the family and loved ones of Lazarus cowardly for their mourning and even anger whilst our Lord tarried?

    The red carpet you lay before the prospect of inevitable death, Margaret, it strikes me as purely Nietschean, and quite estranged from Christianity.

  44. Hugo Avatar

    Father Stephen, you and others probably will be angry with me for my response to Margaret, but before I’m cast out I want you to know that your story of your coming, so volitionally, to Orthodoxy is purely beautiful in my eyes, as have all your teachings in response to my queries been graceful and sensible and sweet. And yes, I agree that God has steeled us for a purpose. It’s that I’m frightened, and you’re not.


  45. LynneA Avatar

    For a readable, well-researched, historical report of the early Christian church, I recommend How Christianity Changed the World, by Alvin J. Schmidt. According to Schmidt’s research, compassion, with regard to the sick and the dying, was a Christian innovation. “Tertullian (d. ca. 220), the Latin church father in northern Africa, informs us that the early Christians had a common fund to which they gave…that supported widows, the physically disabled, needy orphans, the sick prisoners incarcerated for their Christian faith, and teachers requiring help.” (pp.125-6)

    About hospitals: “During the first three centuries of Christianity’s existence, when its members were subjected to frequent and severe persecutions, the most that Christians could do was to care for the sick where they found them, in many instances by taking them into their homes. But after the Edict of Milan in 313…Christians were able to direct more attention and energy toward providing care for the sick and the dying.” (p.155)

    Schmidt also describes how Christianity, in the first three centuries of the church, changed world views concerning women, sanctity of life, education, labor, science, liberty and justice, slavery, art, architecture, music, and literature.

  46. Hugo Avatar

    Yes, LynneA, and you may think this a cheap dodge, but yours was just my point: It was a Fourth Century thing. And Hospitalling, I wish more people would remember (how nerdy is that, though?) really came into its own in the Twelfth Century—to me, so recently, that the implications for our present struggle with responsibility for each others’ health are, just, huge.

    But I have this weird clock in my head. It’s sort-of like, geologic time, only faster. Much faster. Golgotha, to me, seems like last week.

  47. Margaret Avatar

    Well, let’s just say I have misstated my thoughts.

    Forgive me.

  48. fatherstephen Avatar

    Margaret, I think Hugo is in error on when Christians took up care for the sick (it’s already in Christ’s commandments and would doubtless be present in the earliest communities, though those communities would have been small enough to make but little impact). We know that in the first century they regularly visited the Christians in prison. I think your point about the lack of fear with regard to death is quite correct. St. Stephen showed no such fear in the Book of Acts. The earliest descriptions of the first martyrdoms – which are largely completed by the 4th century – include very fearless deaths. St. Ignatius of Antioch, according to eyewitnesses, urged the lions to come and eat him, even taunting them.

    I agree with your assessment.

  49. Margaret Avatar

    Thank you, Fr. Stephen!

    I do believe I gain more more (and probably contribute more!) when I am silent, and even more when I pray about what I read.

  50. Hugo Avatar

    You’re right, Margaret, and Fr. Stephen also is right of course, and I was wrong. Later I’ll ask you to understand why my harsh, shameful reaction: I’ve been studying what really must be called the “historicity” of these things, in the hope of understanding how and when such (organized) activities were taken over by the Powers that be, in the various names of things penultimate to Christ, and Him crucified. The degradation of Christian love, I mean; the travesty and corruption of it.

    Like the grandmother who collapsed, unalone, and died on the Emergency Room floor last week with nothing but a surveillance camera marking the fall of that sparrow.

  51. Hugo Avatar

    I do apologize, Margaret.


  52. fatherstephen Avatar


    Read lots of Dostoevsky – it always helps me. 🙂

  53. Hugo Avatar

    Dostoevsky. Got it.

  54. Mary Avatar

    “The Grand Inquisitor is really an atheist. What the poem is saying is that if the Christian faith is combined and corrupted with the objectives of this world, then the meaning of Christianity will perish. Human reason will abandon itself to unbelief, and in place of the great ideal of Christ a new Tower of Babel will be built. Where Christianity had an exalted view of mankind, under the new world order of things mankind will be viewed as a mere herd, and behind the appearance of social love there will arise an open contempt for humanity.”

    Fydor Dostoevsky, 1879: Introduction to a reading of The Grand Inquisitor

  55. Margaret Avatar

    Hugo, your apology is accepted. Thank you.

  56. fatherstephen Avatar

    Mary, more powerful even than Ivan’s poem (the Grand Inquisitor) is the previous chapter, “Rebellion.” Dostoevsky uses the character Ivan to state the case against God. In later letters he feared he had made the case too well. But his refutation of Ivan’s unbelief is classic Orthodoxy. It is not an argument, but a person, the Staretz Zossima. It’s genius.

    I generally suggest people start with Crime and Punishment. I also specifically recommend the translations by Larissa Volokhonsky.

  57. Mary Avatar

    Yes, Father, I thought the quote significant only because of your incisive essay: “There are many goals of this form of ecumenism – all of them laudable from a distance. People everywhere should be well fed; healthcare should be readily available at least on a minimal basis, etc. It is also the case that such lofty goals will frequently come with attached agenda: the population must be controlled in its growth; the distribution of food must be controlled to some extrent, and other such things common to the secular goals of the secular man.”

    ” … if the Christian faith is combined and corrupted with the objectives of this world, then the meaning of Christianity will perish. Human reason will abandon itself to unbelief, and in place of the great ideal of Christ a new Tower of Babel will be built.”

  58. fatherstephen Avatar


    Fr. Justin Popovich has had much to say on this topic in the past decades. I’ll look for some quotes.

  59. Hugo Avatar

    Psst. The thing is, I know Dostoevsky, and take him to heart and find his art undeniably inspired. (Doesn’t mean I won’t keep re-reading him forever, if only on Fr. Stephen’s recommendation.) But I do think I know and understand the tragic worldview that such works demand. Likewise those of the Dane, Kierkegaard. They make the Gospel the opposite of “Teflon”; they make it as corrosive and abbrasive as it is: a sanding-wheel not one of us has the courage to grip and hold onto.

    So my question, Father, is: how do you bear up? How can I have the assurance of Christ’s surrogate victory—in my case, over my own cowardice—that you have? Truly, simply, what should I do?

  60. fatherstephen Avatar

    Pray for faith, for one thing. For another, what would cowardice give us? Even cowards die. But dying well – that’s for Christians.

    I like the last line in the movie, Ostrov. “Do your best, and try not to sin so much.”

    Or Elder Sophrony’s, “Stand at the edge of the abyss until you can’t take it any longer, then have a cup of tea.”

    I don’t mean to take any of this lightly, but I’m serious that sometimes we simply have to let God drag us into the Kingdom kicking and screaming. We’ll still make it. He truly is a good God.

    Also continue to talk with Christians who encourage you. Make communion frequently, make confession as often as possible, and give alms. All of these bring great grace, our only hope and sure anchor. And like Dostoevsky’s Raskolnikov, pray for a Sonja in your life. My Christian life is sustained daily by the prayers of my wife.

  61. Mary Avatar

    Dear Father, I think very many of your cyber-flock also pray for you, I among them.

    Father, Bless!

    We are grateful witnesses to how you tenderly “feed My sheep,” and seek the little lambs, quivering on the ledges.

    God guard your heart! We “have not many fathers” in this wilderness.

  62. Dale Avatar

    Dear Father, a have a couple questions for you,

    you said “People everywhere should be well fed; healthcare should be readily available at least on a minimal basis, etc. It is also the case that such lofty goals will frequently come with attached agenda: the population must be controlled in its growth; the distribution of food must be controlled to some extrent, and other such things common to the secular goals of the secular man.” do you suggest that this control is necessarily ‘bad’ or often is used towards unworthy personal benefit of the ‘controllers’? I think you would agree that even secular government is something God has an interest in and is a worthy occupation for one of his children (even if challenging to do well) How do we determine what is an apropriate government intervention (maybe a legal system) or inappropriate one (maybe the chinese approach to birth control?). It is certainly not easy to always know which are good or not and usually those objecting the loudest have very little comprehension of the issues at hand. Just curious of your further thoughts on the issue.

    now a bit of a tangent and I apologize if this is not the appropriate place to throw in more of a personal question but not sure where else to do it and others in a similar place to me may have an interest. I commented a few weeks back about my struggle between staying in my protestant church and trying to bring orthodoxy to it or to make the jump into an orthodox church. it just so happens that do to a employment change my wife and I will be moving to another city and would like to join an orthodox church there. I asked the father of the orthodox church that we occasionally attend here if he had any recommendations as to which one to go to. As there are no Antiochian orthodox churches there he didn’t know of any of the churches there to make recommendations. so the question is… if we have no previous relationship with any of the churches there, how ought we to decide which one to go to. We would like it to be english. that is about as far as we have got.

    While I rarely write comments I find your blog a daily edification of my soul and appreciate you taken the time to do this for us.

  63. Dale Avatar

    for the info we are moving to Winnipeg, MB, Canada just in case you have any first hand knowledge of the city.

  64. Fatherstephen Avatar


    I have a good friend with much knowledge of Canada. I’ll ask him. I don’t know that there is any particular point of view viz. the government’s structure which Orthodoxy prefers. We have no doctrine in the matter, per se. That we should hold governments to justice and mercy, etc. is obvious to me. We should also be aware that government inherently works through a certain amount of coercion and therefore has a natural capacity for abuse of that power and we should be wary of that.

    Generally, my concern is that we not make the mistake of confusing the good done by government with the coming of the Kingdom of God (something that has not always been understood well enough by any number of Christians).

    I’ll get back on Winnipeg

  65. fatherstephen Avatar


    Holy Trinity Cathedral (Sobor) in Winnipeg has a Russian history, but seems to be a thriving Church which also houses the St. Arseny Institute (which does all its instruction in English) training readers, deacons, etc. for the Church. It would certainly be worth visiting.

  66. Hugo Avatar

    Father Stephen,

    Your counsel is steel to me, and I’ll try to do as you say. I can’t help doubting that this cowardly lion ever will be given his Sonja, but the rest I can and will, by Grace, do.

    Also, I join your wife, and Mary, and so many others in uplifting your pastorate in prayer.

    Thank you.

    Thank you. (…something about vain repetitions — oh fooey.)

  67. Dale Avatar

    Thank you for the recommendation, Father. More specific than I was expecting. Any specific things that you would suggest we consider when joining a parish. Maybe this is an odd thought but should we be choosing a parish or should the parish choose us either by proximity to a home or through some other method. The idea of going around seeking what is most comfortable seems somewhat wise but also rather like church shopping which makes me uncomfortable.

    as for the questions of the role of government, I agree with the concern for the abuse of power and coercion that exists in that realm but is the same concern not present in every minute of my life whether it be as husband, father or companion. My flesh always seems to seek a certain level of power that needs to be kept in check at least until transformation is made more complete through His mercy and hopefully my obedience which is likely mostly or entirely due to His mercyas well.

    Again, I thank you for your words.

  68. fatherstephen Avatar

    I don’t know that I’d “shop” around for a parish. Try the closest thing first, always. But if English is important you may have to look around. I do not know all of the Canadian situation by any means, but I know that as a nation they take multiculturalism very seriously and encourage ethnic identity, where there is pressure to join the “melting pot” in the U.S., although it’s changing here as well, I think.

    But it’s not unusual in an Orthodox life to belong to a parish, but be very aware of a neighboring parish, and perhaps even have a spiritual father there (though normative practice is for one’s spiritual father to be your parish priest – with plenty of exceptions).

  69. Dale Avatar

    Many thanks, Father. I continue on this journey with trepidation which I try to lay at His feet and hope to be able to report my day of chrismation to you with complete joy in the near future. (But the present trepidation still dwells within me… Lord, have mercy)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Subscribe to blog via email

Support the work

Your generous support for Glory to God for All Things will help maintain and expand the work of Fr. Stephen. This ministry continues to grow and your help is important. Thank you for your prayers and encouragement!

Latest Comments

  1. Wow. Beauty has been on my mind a lot lately. Your words, Fr. Stephen, and those of St. Maximus blew…

  2. You often write of beauty, Fr. Stephen, and each time, my own understanding and embrace rises a little. Thank you.…

Read my books

Everywhere Present by Stephen Freeman

Listen to my podcast