Flying Home

Today we fly home, with an overnight lay-over at Heathrow. Many thanks to all of you for your prayers. As God wills, I’ll be posting photos and writing more when I reach home. Doubtless there will be parish matters to attend to – thus how quickly I get back into rhythm is anybody’s guess. May God grant us all to make pilgrimage to the true Jerusalem of the heart.

A pilgrimage cannot be measured in photographs or souvenirs – though I have invariably acquired both. The acquisition that I think will be most lasting became clear yesterday as we visited the Tomb of the Mother of God (which, of course, is empty). My wife and I were discussing the Feast of the Dormition, which we celebrated just last month. She remembers many of the hymns for the day (she sings in our choir). In one of the hymns Mary speaks to the Apostles to “take my body to Gethsemane.” Prior to the pilgrimage those were words to simply know and sing, part of the Traditional teaching surrounding the Dormition of the Virgin Mary. But to have stood at her tomb, as did the Apostles there in Gethsemane, suddenly gave a proper form to the words. For though the words have theological meaning – meaning is not divorced from place in the Orthodox faith. Meaning transforms place as grace makes of earth the Paradise it was meant to be – one place at a time – one heart at a time.

It was this realization that made me know that none of the feasts associated with the Holy Land will ever again be quite the same for me. They will doubtless carry a double-meaning – both the memory and knowledge of the reality they proclaim as well as the memory of place, full of darkness and light, smells and sounds.

The places I have been and prayed now take their place in the silence of the heart where I may still stand and pray in wordless contemplation of God made man.

May God have mercy on us, forgive us, and may we all forgive one another by the resurrection.

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.





17 responses to “Flying Home”

  1. logismon Avatar

    Holy Archangel Michael be with your flight home !

  2. shevaberakhot Avatar


  3. Ian Avatar

    Amen, Father.

    And thank you for sharing a the joy and blessing of your trip with us all; I know I have been blessed and encouraged reading.

  4. Lucian Avatar

    Uhm … if You were by any chance trying to say that Orthodox have less abortions, I’m sorry, but I have to contradict You here vigurously: in Romania, for instance, after the 1989 Revolution, hospitals have been transformed into baby-slaughter-houses … which would’ve been OK were it to have paralleled the 1789 French Revolution, but it didn’t: people shouted on the streets: “There is a God!” and thousands fell on their knees in front of the Timisoara Cathedral to pray the Our Father … and a few months later it was all gone and forgotten.

  5. Ben Avatar

    I don’t really see where father is speaking about abortion here. . . He’s merely speaking about his experience in the Holy Land and how it has transformed Him and how we must all, even if we don’t ever travel to the holy land, take the pilgrimage to the Jerusalem of the heart.

  6. shevaberakhot Avatar

    I think what Lucian is trying to say is that the pilgrimage of the heart, like the pilgrimage to Jerusalem, is not to be taken lightly. Formidable obstacles must be overcome, and it is by the grace of God that they are!!

  7. fatherstephen Avatar


    I am at home now. I cannot reconstruct through anything written here that I have made a claim about Orthodox and their moral superiority in any manner. But it is impossible to look at any “Orthodox” country, emerging from 40 to 70 years of God-hating rulers to expect that those people would have within themselves anything like a fullness of Orthodox spiritual formation. It takes generations to form such. The Church’s position on abortion is the same as it has been since the beginning. It is wrong and a sin. Nothing changes, except the wickedness of man and his ability to cooperate with evil from time to time to try to silence the Word of God that is birthed within us at Baptism.

    Abortion is a terrible sin that afflicts much of the world – including the “Christian” land of America where evangelicals have as many abortions as non-believers, too. This is not a word of condemnation but simply a statement that one should not use these things to beat up on other groups.

    It’s good to be home. I’ve got some jet-lag. I’ll be doing some work today.

  8. shevaberakhot Avatar


    Welcome home.


  9. Ben Avatar

    Welcome home Father,

    I pray that you will be able to rest.

  10. shevaberakhot Avatar


    I read somewhere that since 2003, over 7 million abortions have taken place in the land of the free. I can’t vouch for the veracity of these figures but one would seem that even one would be too much. Abortion is nothing less than premeditated murder of the innocent and defenceless. It is legal in most EU countries except Poland, Ireland and Malta.

    We must not forget however that it is the Spirit that gives life to the dead letter of the law, and unless that seed falls to the ground it cannot produce fruit.

    Sincerely in Christ.

  11. Mary Lowell Avatar
    Mary Lowell


    I suggest reading “May God Give You Wisdom”, the collected letters of Russia’s righteous elder, Archimandrite John Krestiankin of the Pskov-Caves Monastery, in which he counsels hundreds of broken people, their children and grandchildren, who are finding their way back to the Church after 70s years of forced atheism. Almost every letter in some way deals with deeply troubled souls who either had an abortion or were related to someone who had an abortion. The prevalence of these state-sponsored acts of pre-meditated murder is staggering.

    Many times in response to some troubled one who comes to him, the clairvoyant Elder just states that infanticide is at the bottom of their troubles, without any overt clues to their affliction. As Fr. Stephen says, the darkness that lay upon our brothers under the God-hating communists is unfathomable to us, yet we in the West have willingly embraced this very darkness without being forced by any totalitarian regime or demi-god ruler such as Stalin. Let us be merciful and thankful that God has given these poor crushed ones many saints to lead them to repentance.

    We here are engaged in a desperate struggle with powers and principalities on high that are not so recognizable as the man-demons the Eastern Europeans faced. May God likewise have mercy on us the poor, blind, lost citizens of Western Europe and America and give us saints to lead us home to God’s Holy Church!

  12. Myrna Avatar

    Thanks be to God for safety on your trip back home. Welcome! I enjoyed reading about your experiences…One day..I pray maybe i will be abe to visit those places…what a pilgrimage! Lokking forward in hearing you in person at St. Ignatius in Franklin.

    Thank YOU,

  13. Lucian Avatar

    Uhm, … Evangelicals are against it as well. (And abortions were illegal during Comunism, at least in Romania). — I was talking about what You’ve said in Your speech on Ancient Faith Radio, “Heaven Ain’t Up Hell Ain’t Down”.

  14. fatherstephen Avatar


    You need to give such references as to what you are responding to the rest of us or it seems like a non-sequitur. The Romanian government’s communist opposition to abortion was strictly about population matters, not moral matters. Of course evangelicals oppose abortion. But, if I may bring us to the almost constant topic of my posts: it is the heart that must be changed, for nothing else will do. This, too, is an Orthodox doctrine. And I am sure there are some if not many evangelical pastors who would agree with it as well.

  15. Shevaberakhot Avatar


    In 1959 the Vatican asked all Catholic Bishops worldwide to comment on, amongst other things, how they thought Catholic worship should change to meet the challenges of modernity. Most of the responses were quite mundane. One response, written by Archbishop Karol Wojtyla, the future Pope John Paul II stood out.

    How, he asked, “did a 20th century that had begun with such high expectations for the human future produce, within five decades, two world wars, three totalitarian systems, Auschwitz, the Gulag, mountains of corpses, oceans of blood, the greatest persecutions in Christian history, and a cold war that threatened the future of the planet? What happened?” (G. Weigel, 2004, pp 43-44).

    What happened is simple. Mankind placed an extraordinary amount of confidence in politicians and prelates who don’t do God, or who do but for the wrong reasons.

    What the eternal Father offers us through His Son Jesus Christ is divine participation in the Life of God as sons and daughters, which is what He intended from the very beginning, and which we lost through our own wilfulness.

  16. Lucian Avatar

    Well, Father, … in Your three-part speech here, entitled “Heaven Ain’t Up Hell Ain’t Down”, there’s a part where You (try to) bring in some statistics about abortions, and You mention the U.S., and then say something about the Orthodox … and since the thought You’ve tried to express there is not clear, I was just curious … You weren’t by any chance trying to kinda imply we Orthodox have a lower abortion rate, or anything, did You? 🙁 — `cause I know for a fact that’s not true.

    The Romanian government’s communist opposition to abortion was strictly about population matters, not moral matters.

    Which makes it even worse: that godless people driven by godless reasons had better fruit than the pro-Christian, pro-faith, pro-Orthodox, pro-freedom society that followed afterwards. (I’m grief-stricken). 🙁

  17. fatherstephen Avatar

    Except that the godless people driven by godless reasons had fruit (fear) that I would judge similar to Christ people who sin as well. The ends do not justify the means, nor do they necessarily make the means any good.

    The heart is a difficult thing. Why should we think otherwise (in accordance with the gospel)? Offer your grief to God as a prayer and offer repentance on behalf of those who sin. This is our calling.

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