Orthodox Dialog


Metropolitan Kallistos Ware is among the better known figures in English-speaking Orthodoxy. One of the Greek Orthodox hierarchs in Britain, he is an articulate spokesman for the Orthodox faith. In this small video he speaks about three areas where Orthodoxy in the contemporary world needs to be in “dialog” – not to learn what it does not know – but to bring the riches of Orthodox understanding to places that should be of particular concern to the Church.

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.






64 responses to “Orthodox Dialog”

  1. Bruce Avatar

    Today’s January 2nd “For Consideration” Reading from the Prologue From Orchrid might have something useful to say about how best to proceed in this dialogue…the context or frame of reference one might maintain. If we see our objective as fitting the thimble of our logic into the barrel of His, we are probably in the right mindset.
    How do we reply to those who say that there is no room in our logic for Christ the worker of marvels? Answer simply: Place yourself within His. In His logic are contained all eternity and all transient goodness, so you could, if you wished, find a place therein for yourself. If you cannot fit a barrel into a thimble, you can fit a thimble into a barrel. Blessed Clement of Alexandria says:’Philosophers are as children until they become mature in Christ…’ for the truth is never contained only in the processes of rational thought. Christ came to make men new, and so also to make new the logic of men. He is our Logos and our logic. Thus we must direct our minds in accordance with His, not He with ours. He is the corrective of our minds. The sun does not adjust itself to our clocks, but they to the sun.

  2. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Dialog #1. Having heard Met. Kallistos speak at length with regard to this dialog I find that he is far too willing to concede to the philosophical naturalists. The big difference between the Fathers and the current day is that pagans still held a concept of the divine. The Greek science and philosophy was not as twisted–it still took them roughly 400 years and several Councils to come to a final integration. An integration that the west promptly threw away with their ‘discovery’ of Plato and Aristotle. Using them to reform Christian theology.

    Today’s philosphical naturalists and rationalists wish to destroy the divine. Given the vast chasm that separates the two approaches I find little or no basis for a dialog with the scientistic establishment. We do need to be more involved with the genuine scientific philosophy that is growing in oppostition the the philosphical naturalists.

    Dialog #2: Again I find the same difficulty. The western rationalists have largely sought to remove the divine from the Bible and/or to remove the sense of the ecclesial community as the proper interpreter of the Holy Scripture. We Orthodox need to reassert our own vision and understanding of the Holy Scripture. Reading this web site and some of the titles (not yet the books) being published and my own bishop’s homilies gives me hope that we are beginning to respond.

    Dialog #3: Met. Kallilstos is quite correct, although Freud and Jung no longer dominate the psychcological discourse. The quite work of Fr. George Morelli I find excellent. There are other Orthodox who are working to integrate the anthropologicial wisdom of the fathers with modern understanding. Tristram Engelhart’s work on bio-medical ethics is also quite important. The brand new American Orthodox Institute (www.aoiusa.org) is attempting to meet the challenge in a direct and practical manner. Paramount in this dialog however, in my probably arrogant opinion, is the work of St. Silouan and his successors.

    Even more important that engaging in dialog, or perhaps the most effective way of doing it is to equip the people in the Church with the knowledge and the tools on what the Orthodox view of Creation, Holy Scriptures and our own being is. As Met. Kallistos said, we must live the Holy Tradition in our own time. However, unless we know what the Holy Tradition is, that is tough.

    We are involved and becoming more involved.

  3. outofthedesert Avatar

    I am interested in reading more about what an Orthodox view of Creation and the Human Person would be. Any ideas of any books or materials that would be good resources in terms of this?

  4. Robert Avatar

    outofthedesert I can recommend Met. Zizioulas “Being as Communion” (http://www.amazon.com/Being-Communion-Personhood-Contemporary-Theologians/dp/0881410292) it is a great read about personhood.

  5. fatherstephen Avatar

    Having spent two and a half weeks in close conversation with His beatitude, I have every confidence that the shares the concerns of other Orthodox, myself included. He does not need the approbation of the secular academic world. On the other hand, he is a true and great apologist, with a very irenic spirit. Orthodox should not fear him, but pray for him, for he holds a unique position. He will not disappoint.

  6. fatherstephen Avatar

    Kalomiros as a good small work on creaton (don’t know it’s title). The person several sources:

    John Meyendorff on Christ in Eastern Christian Thought by St. Vladimir’s.
    John Zizioulas on Being as Communion by St. Vladimir’s.
    Papanikolaou on Being with God by Univ. of Notre Dame Press
    Also, anything by the Elder Sophrony and Archimandrite Zacharias published in England (all available through Amazon.)

  7. david peri Avatar

    Capitulation….In the country where I live in, one of the churches are capitulating to the pressures of society to accept the norms of societal “sins”. I.E. what the church use to see as sin in decades past are now okay. Some examples: clergy blessing same-sex relationships; And, it´s okay for women, without husbands, to have babies with a live-in male or female partner.

    The church has to be on its guard to enter into these arena of `dialogue with the world´.

  8. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    I must confess that the whole concept of being irenic is quite foreign to me especially when it involves ideas that are clearly anti-Christian and nihilistic. One of the reasons I was able to open my heart to Christ is because some less than irenic Christians gave me a couple of shots between the eyes with a metaphoric 2X4. It woke me up confronting me with my own ignorance and arrogance in a way I could not ignore.

    I can see it benefits of being irenic when done in the spirit of someone like Fr. Stephan but there are those people who claim to be irenic and are really only accomodating the world and betraying the Gospel. Clearly Met. Kallistos is not suggesting such a course by any stretch of the imagination and I don’t mean to say that he is guilty of that in any way personally.

    There are ideas that are simply so wrong that no dialog can or should be entertained. Philosphical naturalism as a foundation for a cosmological and anthropological theory of the universe is one of those. Fortunately, some scientists are begining to realize that and are attempting to move away from it as bad science (I’m not talking about either creationists or intelligent design folk either).

    One of the things that unsettled me about Met. Kallistos talk is he seemed to be wanting to entertain dialog with ideas that were at their peak 50 to 100 years ago, not what is going on currently. That was confusing.

  9. selena Avatar

    Thank you Father, I enjoyed this and it comes at an important time for me. The defensive attitude about which he speaks at the end of the recording is, I think, common for new converts. In my case I am at a point where I just want to curl up in a little ball, in the arms of the Church, and unlearn everything I have known in the past, and not listen to any nonsense from the ‘outside world’. I need to have faith that as I mature and grow in Orthodox wisdom, this stage will pass. Can anyone relate to that?

    Mr Bauman, thank you for your useful comments. In my humble opinion, (and I’m often wrong) he spoke about things that were at their peak 50-100 years ago because those are the things that have most influenced the influential practitioners and decision-makers that we have now. I think generally the contemporary philosophical and scientific discussions (in academic circles, journals, books, conferences etc.) only very slowly become mainstream. They were just examples, anyway, of the kinds of things to which we should pay attention.

  10. Margaret Avatar

    Fr. Stephen, we just listened to this. Thank you for posting it. As former Episcopalians and High Church Anglo Catholic at that, we are always disturbed at any “hint” of “dialogue” with any part of the world view. That said, I understand that the Church is in the world and not of the world. I believe Met. Kallistos Ware has that attitude ingrained in his very nature. I am concerned that the world will not give him the time that you had with him to fully “hear him out”. He is in our prayers, as are all our Orthodox Church leaders. Thank you for all you do. God bless you!

  11. Steve Avatar


    Met. Kallistos defines tradition as the life of the Holy Spirit in the Church, the continuing Presence of Christ who says “see I am with you to the end of the world”.

    The nature of all things is fully revealed in Christ, not just in their beginnings or their middles.


  12. fatherstephen Avatar

    I can assure that I know of no one in Orthodoxy who would entertain changes or capitualation as David Peri describes. It’s not there. I have been with Met. Kallistos on many occasions, including when there is “dialog” taking place. He is quite irenic, but does not yield any part of Orthodox Truth. He is a rock. I understand the various concerns. I think he is literally an important voice to hear. He is also capable of saying hard things (I’ve heard those too).

  13. fatherstephen Avatar

    I would point to writers such as Fr. John Behr and Andrew Louth for words addressed to more contemporary issues and debates. Both were trained by Met. Kallistos at Oxford. I think both are god examples of the fruit his work has born. Both are very much in the forefront of debate, both are bringing the Tradition to bear in a way that has been absent in Western thought. They are articulate spokesmen for the Orthodox faith and doing good work. In time those numbers will grow (in English) as Orthodoxy continues to nurture men who are able to enter the fray. I might add that part of the power of Met. Kallistos’ work is that he is also a monk (attached to the Monastery on Patmos) and knows the life. Fr. John Behr, though married, has a brother on Mt. Athos and himself is a man of deep prayer and asceticism. What is needed in our day and time are heroes like St. Gregory Palamas, who was both a true Hesychast and also a brilliant defender of the Orthodox faith. I do not know Andrew Louth except by reading. But Fr. John Behr is as irenic as Met. Kallistos. It works for me.

  14. ochlophobist Avatar


    The interview at the above link, in my mind, reveals something of the problem Michael Bauman suggests. Met. Kallistos goes to the very edge of the precipice. I have never spent time conversing with Met. Kallistos, but I have heard him speak, listened to many of his recorded lectures, and visited his home parish in 2000 (very unfortunate church, architecturally speaking). He has done immeasurably important work for anglophone Orthodoxy, especially with regard to his translations. But at this point, between statements such as those found in the Lambeth interview linked above, his statements and writing regarding his now “open” position regarding women’s ordination, his changing of language concerning contraception (and apparent openness to even the pill, which is an abortificient) in the second edition of “The Orthodox Church” and elsewhere, I think that his irenicism has become almost cartoonish. He does speak with an Oxford accent, requisite affects included, and is the picture of English charm, but it seems that such an intellectual pedigree has had its influence. The milieu of the theological world at Oxford, where Rowan Williams, the good friend of the Met., is considered a conservative by many, might eventually incline a man toward certain intellectual paths better left untrodden. Then again, there may also be the influence of the Ecumenical Patriachate – as another Orthodox priest blogger who spent time in Constantinople recently commented, “the EP culture has become infected with Eurospeak.”

    In the Lambeth interview linked above, Met. Kallistos seems quite impressed that conference attendees publicly protested (many; virtually all?) injustices – “we marched through the streets of London with placards about poverty and justice.” The Met. thought this the real important work of Lambeth, and not so much the dialog concerning homosexuality and women in the episcopate. That being the case, it sure sounds like he is quite taken with the idea of the Church changing the world, or being an agent of change, or being in league with agents of change. This is quite a different message than the one I read on this blog. Increasingly, Met. Kallistos strikes me as being given to two-storied speak. I can see how there could be an evangelistic quality to such language, but is it worth it?

  15. fatherstephen Avatar

    I’m aware of the concern. My most recent experience was 2 weeks solid, for about 18 hours a day with many, many conversations, both private, and “table talk.” I do not find in him those things that worry others. I share concern about the EP. I also spoke at length with him viz. Rowan Williams and found him no more favorable about Williams theological position than myself. He is, however, also a British gentleman, and it shines in his demeanor. He’s actually rather conservative politically (in a quiet way).

    I think he has been completely misunderstood on Women’s ordination, by the way. But we don’t need to make parsing the parson a necessary activity. Concerns are duly noted. I thought it was an interesting “peak” at His Beatitutde.

  16. ochlophobist Avatar

    Fr. Stephen,

    I think that the apparent “position” on women’s ordination is quite nuanced and not something easily dismissed, though in part because it is so fluid. I simply do not see the prudence in putting it forth now, considering the spirit of the age. And it begs the question of motivation – at what point does irenicism become accomodationism?

    That said, I am happy to read your report. My priest, deacon, and sub-deacon were on your trip, and my deacon has spent a great deal of time with Met. Kallistos as well. They seem to share your sense on the matter. My only wish is that for those of us who do not have access to the Met’s private conversation there would be on his part more clarity and a bit of a firmer rhetorical hand with regard to these exchanges between Orthodoxy and modernity.

  17. Lewis Avatar

    The comments regarding Met. Kallistos’ recommendations for dialogue sound like steel on steel to me. On the one hand, I love vigorous and aggressive dialogue, but for the love of Christ, I cringe at the sound of divisiveness. I do hope this dialogue yields wiser practices of Orthodox and orthodox Christianity for everyone.

    My decades immersed in Protestantism have made me wary of “brotherly discussions.” The Church must not be divided between theonomists (Kingdom now!) and ecumenists (Kingdom lite) over language and perspective. All of us have callings and talents to bring light and salt where we work. Some of that work is more difficult, and Met. Kallistos is working in a most precarious environment. He must take stock in his conservative brothers’ warnings, but his counselors must pray for him as he battles where they can not or do not. However we judge Met. Kallistos’ steadfastness, the volume of our prayer should be louder than our counsel.

  18. fatherstephen Avatar

    I think your observation is spot on. To be irenic when speaking to those outside the Faith can be misleading. On the women’s question, he is similar to Fr. Thomas Hopko who does not deny the Tradition, but believes its meaning, like that of the Trinity prior to Arius, needs to be articulated so that it can be properly propounded and defended. I agree with this. For me the starting place would be St. Maximus’ distinction between male and female as “energies” of the one human nature. That suggest some fertile ground for development or what have you.

  19. Mark Avatar

    I am very grateful for this discussion here, between those concerned and those unconcerned about His Beatitude’s desire for this sort of dialogue.

    I have often been puzzled why Orthodox who speak publicly in a way that does not immediately repulse the rest of the world, are seen by their own brethren as conceding too much simply by virtue of their language and approach. As I’ve listened to these often very credible voices, critical of this ‘irenic’ approach to dialogue I’ve come to realize the wisdom in their reservations:
    –often this ‘dialogue’ is a mask for syncretism, plain and simple.
    –it seems those Orthodox who are ‘first’ to want to engage in this dialogue have a hidden agenda; there is an unvoiced desire to change the Church in this or that way.
    –it is part of the ethos of our times to presume ‘healthy dialogue’ is the solution to everything, so those Orthodox who are quick to engage in it often betray a little too much ‘of the world’ in their, well, worldview.
    –converts to Orthodoxy are especially aware of the devastating effects this sort of dialogue has had on other ‘christian denominations’, who have given so much ground away without even realizing it.
    –similarly this high valuation of dialogue is so embedded in the consciousness of non-Orthodox Christians (esp. Protestants), that those Orthodox who have escaped it are extremely sensitive when they detect it in their new home, the Orthodox Church.

    All of this said (and more can be added to this list), it still seems to me that the sort of dialogue Met. Kallistos endorses is possible and can be done rightly.
    Is it not possible for us to be aware of all of these dangers listed above, and yet out of love to try our best to meet those in the world where they are at and share the light we have received, to the measure others may receive it?
    I admit that I do not know exactly how and where to apply St. Paul’s directive to “be all things to all people.” And likewise I do not know to what extent we who are in Christ, can and should follow His example and condescend (out of love and in humility) to those who are far off? To what extent may we follow the example of our Father who very often would seem to ‘accommodate’ the brokenness of His people, enter into their distorted concepts of reality, and patiently draw them out from these false understandings into the light and knowledge of Himself?
    I am honestly seeking answers to these questions.

    I have heard it said, “If you dont like the Orthodox position (on such and such a subject), fine. Leave. There are plenty of other denominations out there.”
    It has been said that the traditional Orthodox position on any given issue does not need to defend itself; it can carry on indefinitely without ever having to offer an ‘explanation’ for why it is as it is.
    I agree with this.
    However I would say, then, that we might *volunteer* to explain ourselves, simply out of love. We might volunteer to enter into public discussion, and do so with an irenic tone, and even do our best to articulate Orthodox truths in new language that is admittedly constricting and imperfect. So long as we are prepared to unveil the full truth again, once Christ has ‘wooed’ a few who saw this light and submit themselves to His Body.

    It seems to me that the only license one could have to participate in this sort of dialogue, is the presence of that inner “Rock” that Fr. Stephen perceives in His Beatitude Met. Kallistos.
    Because there are many (I would wager considerably more) Orthodox who enter into these dialogues too hastily, and without the Rock of Tradition firmly planted in their own heart of hearts, Orthodox Christians in general have become suspicious of *anyone* who attempts to enter this dialogue.

    One final thought. It is true that the Fathers often did not use an ‘irenic tone’, when defending the Faith. Laying aside the difficulties of simply mimicking this in our own, very different culture and age, it is also true that the harsher tone was used against those opponents who claimed to speak *for* the Church.
    It seems that there are quite different tones one might take.
    When dealing with those who are explicitly in the Church, and claiming to speak for the Church, if they speak contrary to the faith then it is time to be blunt and forceful in our opposition to their false teachings.
    However when dealing with those who are not in communion with us, and who have often much worse understandings of God and reality, we may have to traverse a long stretch of ugly terrain in order to meet them and win back these ones who have strayed so far. In this case it seems more appropriate to *begin* the conversation with an irenic tone, and out of love try to celebrate and build on the points where we agree; to add light and deepen understanding of what little truth they already posses (even as bent and bruised as it may be). This will require using their own language and concepts at first, with full awareness of the limitations of these, and with every intention to move away from these misunderstandings as soon as possible (hopefully taking our interlocutor with us). Here is not the occasion to quickly reveal all that is wrong with their understanding and position.

    Thanks all, for your insightful and thoughtful discussion here.
    Christ is born!
    -Mark Basil

  20. Karen C Avatar
    Karen C

    Dear Father, bless!

    Thanks Mark Basil for your observations–all valid points it seems to me. I have to admit that I and members of my family have been much more adversely affected by the absence of an irenic tone and understanding from those advocating for this or that “orthodoxy” (all within a conservative Protestant and evangelical/Fundamentalist context– though I have also experienced this now within the American Orthodox communion as well I’m sad to say), and so I lean heavily toward giving those like Met. KALLISTOS the benefit of the doubt in this respect. I have great respect for Met. KALLISTOS’ good reputation.

    In dialogs of this nature it is too easy to begin to forcefully attack this or that heterodox ideology and philosophy in a sort of abstract vacuum (the Internet is notorious for this) and forget that these ideologies are often held relatively innocently through ignorance or for very human reasons with which we should identify. They are always nested in the context of the human heart and all its experiences. How many souls, I wonder, are being destroyed by forceful defenses of “Orthodoxy” thrown out in such a way into an abstract vacuum that fails to consider the whole person? I would rather err on the side of seeming to compromise “Orthodoxy” in my attempts to connect with the whole person in order to convey love and real grace (thus laying a foundation where the fullness of Tradition can be understood rightly) than risk reinforcing a distortion and further alienating a lost brother or sister from God’s love in the process. That, I admit, is my strong bias. It is also why Fr. Stephen’s blog has my deepest appreciation.

  21. ochlophobist Avatar

    Mark Basil,

    Part of the poverty of our age is that rhetorical tone has lost its more or less objective quality – nearly all rhetoric in our time is subject to being interpreted as one form of flattery or another by those who are disinclined towards it. I am as guilty of this as anyone. It is a tiresome matter to discuss – for you will need to use far more words parsing out this or that speech or writing than were used in the speech or writing in the first place! It is an easier thing to discuss the hard content of a text, and as I write above, I sometimes find that Met. Kallistos goes to the very edge of the precipice – almost flirting with positions not Orthodox. He has his reasons, I am sure. Where he does not clearly cross the line, perhaps I am too given to shrug and shake my head.

    What I find somewhat, hmmm, troublesome, regarding contemporary Orthodoxy in the West is this: it seems we are all pulled to either the one side, which is in most things “West friendly,” constantly irenic, essentially pacifist in its rhetoric, on pins and needles over worry to cause offense, and insisting on finding “the good” even in intellectual environs which deserve no respect (Bp. Hilarion Alfeyev on Anglicanism is the way to go, in my opinion), and infatuated with intellectual fads and thus enslaved to various ideologies (take a certain Patriarch’s statements on abortion prior to being made Patriarch), or, to the other side, which is fundamentalist, anti-intellectual to the point of being navel-gazing and dangerously insular, a Jew and a Mason under every rock and around every corner, and crassly rote in its dismissal of every modern ill, with no appreciation of the true, the good, and the beautiful that can occasionally be found in modernity. I do not like either prospect. There are alternatives. Just watch Fr. John Behr – he seems to “fit in” when he is with hyper-ecumenist theological modernists, and he fits in when at the Old Believer ROCOR parish in Erie (I have seen him in action at another ROCOR conference – nobody was complaining about modernism at St. Vlad’s after seeing him that weekend), and he quietly goes about writing theology that confronts theological modernity with more subtlety and poise than any other Orthodox theologian writing today.

    Some years ago Ken Myers, from Mars Hill Audio Review, wrote an excellent essay on what went wrong with Evangelicalism. In large part because of the work of Francis Schaeffer, American Evangelicals came to embrace modern culture (film, modern art, modern music, modern literature, social science, the academy, etc.). But they embraced these things just as modern culture was finally spinning down the toilet, just as these arenas where becoming fully successful in their aggressive institutional hostility toward traditional Christianity, and the Evangelical embrace was essentially wholesale – unthinking, adolescent in its intellectual infatuations, and blown by every wind of intellectual fad and ideology. Hence the intellectual side of Evangelicalism today, which is a second or third rate mimicry of the intellectual whims of, always, the last decade.

    Myers’ take on Evangelicalism reminds me of what we see with Orthodoxy in the West today. Orthodox intellectuals want a place at the table, just as Evangelicals did a generation ago. Evangelicals, a generation ago, had the same hopes with their irenic engagement of modern language and method. They were given, so they thought, to St. Paul’s all things to all men.

    In my estimation, our embrace of such broad tactics will influence the culture at large just as much as the Evangelical’s embrace did, which is to say, not at all. And we are even smaller on the cultural radar, so the attempt will be even more, well, pathetic.

    This is not to say that we will not, on occasion, use modern methods and words. Of course we will. But we should strive to do so not in a spirit of infatuation, or with an agenda, even an evangelistic agenda. We should speak words only because they are true words, and good words, and beautiful words. If we can use modern words to express truth, say as Eliot used a modern form to express truth in poetry, great, but just because a Jackson Pollock is all the rage does not mean we should go splattering our work in every popular direction, in keeping with the spirit of the age. What is called for is discernment, and Godly confrontation. When St. Paul was on Mars Hill he did communicate to his hearers that they were wrong. Eliot used an original and ingenious modern form to speak to moderns, but he spoke to them of the banality and spiritual poverty of modernity. The cinematic director Whit Stillman uses modern bourgeois forms to expose the urban haute bourgeoisie in a manner that expresses a love for them but also a clear and explicit knowledge of their spiritual deadness.

    When one considers these examples one might ask, where is the irenic quality? Was St. Paul irenic on Mars Hill, simply because he used the local idiom and showed some respect to rhetorical form and common piety? Maybe, but his direct message was not irenic in the sense that he confronted falsehood rather directly, as do the other examples I offer. When I use the term “accomodationist” I use it in the sense that I think the “accomodationist” is speaking in such a way that those non-Orthodox who hear him are given no reason to believe that there is any substantial gulf of belief between them. When I read Met. Kallistos in the link I provide above, I get the sense that if I were Anglican I might think that there may be a gulf between us, or there may come to be a gulf if we go in this or that direction with haste, but I see no clear confrontation, along the lines of St. Paul, or Eliot, or even Whitman, of the reality at hand – that Anglicanism has already left fairly far behind any honest appropriation of the form of apostolic Christianity. Though we do have Bp. Hilarion to say that.

    Then again, perhaps Bp. Hilarion and Met. Kallistos have a good cop, bad cop routine going, and are in cahoots. It is fun to keep folks on their toes.

    Thank you for your always thoughtful comments.

  22. fatherstephen Avatar

    Met. Kallistos has been Orthodox since his teenage years. He was never clergy anywhere else. He has overcome enormous odds within Orthodoxy itself to be and become what he is. He has been a faithful rock all of his life, one of the most important voices in all of English speaking Orthodoxy. When he wrote The Orthodox Church, he had been Orthodox for but a few years. All of his life he’s been faithful, now that he is near the end of his life, why would he betray the work of a lifetime? Honor where honor is due!

  23. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    I am blessed to give tours of my parish during our annual big dinner. I find that real conversation on many levels is quite easy with real people. This year I gave a long tour (thanks to their questions) to a couple from an Assemblies of God Church and developed an interesting connection with them. They tell me I strengthened their faith. I suspect we will remain in communication. The reason: they have an active love of Jesus Christ. We are able to communicate on that level despite our obvious differences.

    I typically have little trouble with Protestants even when I reject almost every aspect of their theology. Where I have experienced conflict, unsought and even on tours, is with Roman Catholics.

    Then there are those who have rejected God so fully that the only proper approach is prayer. They are unreachable except by the Holy Spirit from the deep recesses of their own hearts. Any direct approach will only further harden them.

    When I hear Fr. Andrew Louth make statements such as, “St. Maximos must be re-interpreted in the light of modern science” (meaning science based on philosophical naturalism), I cringe (that is a direct quote from Fr Andrew from a lecture of his I attended). I have no confidence in the academic mind that tends to think that anything ‘modern’ is automatically better and tends to an unhealthy egalitarianism because it tends to the gnostic.

    When I seen the GOA Chancellor and prominent GOA lay people proclaiming Obama a messianic leader, I pretty much go ballistic.

    I personally feel that ‘dialog’ as acedemics usually use the term is equivalent to the ‘coalition’ governments made in third world countries with communists that always ended in the jailing or killing of the non-communists and the complete take over of the country by the communists. At best it is a form of intellectual masterbation.

    We have a responsibility to engage the ideas of the world with love (which is not always gentle) from the foundation of Holy Tradition. In so doing, we will bring out what is true and reject what is false, but I see nothing to be gained by dialog. Maybe I am not properly understanding the word.

  24. fatherstephen Avatar


    As always you cover a lot of ground and do so quite well. It’s always a pleasure to read your thoughts. I’ll add a story which Met. Kallistos told me (sorry to use these unpublished bits – but they are so good). When, as a teen he announced to his family an intention to convert to Orthodoxy, a well placed uncle (he came from privileged roots) arranged for him to meet privately with Bishop Michael Ramsey (I believe he was then Bishop of Durham) and one of the finest minds in contemporary Anglicanism. He explained his intentions, defended them against the questioning of Lord Michael, who, when finished, admitted that he largely agreed with him and blessed him on his way to Orthodoxy.

    The Metropolitan is not in the least enamored of Anglicanism, but it is the state Church of his homeland, and he shows respect even as he would to the Queen. But he is quite clear, particularly in private on the substantive differences. I say, privately, simply because it is not generally considered polite in Britain to launch out with attacks on the establishment, particularly one which has, over the years, been quite kind to the Orthodox Church. We should not ever suspect his “irenic” tone to be unclear on the truth. He is truly one of the great figures of Orthodoxy, without a hint of “craziness” about him, which is occasionally true of some of our firebrands. He’s a monk and he prays. Would to God that I knew God as well as he.

  25. Andrew Avatar

    I think Met. Kallistos is spot on in his assessment of what we as Orthodox need to do. I believe we as a whole have spent far too long in isolation from the outside world.

  26. Margaret Avatar

    Thank you for your reference to Fr. John Behr and Andrew Louth. The rest of the world may not give Met. Kallistos the time and venue that you have made available for him, but the more people he encourages in the Christian faith, the more people — as you say, Fr. Stephen — “to bring the riches of Orthodox understanding to places that should be of particular concern to the Church.”

  27. ochlophobist Avatar

    Fr. Stephen,

    Sometimes the noncomformist Welsh blood that runs in my veins and my somewhat roughshod background amongst poor but proud freechurchmen may cloud my thinking, and my heart.

    When I read your comment above, and I considered the cultural “demands” that might influence the Metropolitan’s language, I thought of the polar opposite of my own culturally ingrained biases, or cultural pushes, if you will. I come from a culture of constantly fragmenting low church Protestantism – the county I grew up in had 15 different kinds of Baptists and 6 different kinds of Methodists (or so I was told). It was a culture that taught one to disdain all establishment religion, and to confront the Mainline/Oldline Christianity whenever an opportunity presented itself. Thus my occasional impatience with the public language of Met. Kallistos has its own cultural setting, I suppose. Here I am the American that I so enjoy to critique – impatient, impudent, and desirous of a clear confrontation.

    One of my mentors in life, who has influenced me in no small measure, is an Episcopalian who was kicked out of the Baptist college he taught at because he happened to mention (as an aside in response to a tangential question in class one day) that he thought monogomous homosexual relationships were not necessarily unchristian. When I think of him, I am reminded of what a another man I know who studied under Rowan Williams said of Williams, that if you knew him personally he was impossible not to love. This is the struggle, it seems to me, to honor the love we have for those who embrace error, even grave error, while at the same time refusing to give ourselves to all of the lesser gods running about, and getting caught in the fray.

    I suppose that while I am uncomfortable with some of Met. Kallistos’ language I should let him be a man who struggles well to love.

    Thank you for sharing those private remembrances. Much appreciated.

  28. fatherstephen Avatar


    Despite my years among the Anglicans, I’m the descendant of free-church welsh, irish, scots, and wiley Englishmen. I sympathize. You’re a kind-hearted man to give a well-born Englishman like Met. Kallistos the benefit of the doubt – which he well deserves. God bless you many times.

  29. Karen C Avatar
    Karen C

    Dear Ocholophobist,

    I have read, been challenged, and enjoyed much at your site, so having understood a bit of your background and also having lived in the UK part of my formative years, I had pretty much considered some of your reactions to the communication style of Met. KALLISTOS to be largely the result of the different cultural contexts in which you have each to contend. All that to say, it’s nice to see you beat me or others to the punch in bringing that realization to light. Best regards!

  30. Hosea Avatar

    I do enjoy the blog and this has been quite an interesting discussion. I have read it all, and I think I’m still going to continue to pursue Orthodoxy.

  31. fatherstephen Avatar

    A couple of short words about “dialog.” I would have written this earlier, but I had to get up, drive 200 miles, serve liturgy and visit in a newly planted mission – a true joy – then drive back home. So I was delayed…

    From my years as an Anglican, the very word “dialog” makes me cringe. When it was used in that context it meant, “We’re going to call it dialog, but we’ve already made up our minds and we’re giving away the farm.” I do not exaggerate. When used by Met. Kallistos, or in the context by Andrew Louth, neither means an actual conversation with a scientist or psychologist, etc. Instead it means to consider what modern science or psychology has to say, consider it in light of the Tradition and the Fathers, consider if it clarifies anything, or if there is a need to find a way to clarify the Tradition for those who do not understand it. But it does not mean to accommodate the Tradition to any other construction of reality.

    My own use of the image of a “two-storey versus a one-storey” universe, is simply a way to find a contemporary metaphor to teach what the Church has always taught in a way that addresses modern misperceptions by many Christians and others – particularly under the influence of secularism. It is good apologetics (and gentle, at that) and helps to clarify things.

    Most people who read St. Maximos the Confessor, for instance, do not understand him. His work is quite dense. It needs good interpretation, and, when speaking to a contemporary audience, probably needs to be able to intelligently address modern psychology, since that is part of modern culture. I think that a lot of modern psychology is quite poor and could use the depth that St. Maximos and the Tradition offer. If someone ever does a good job of this, I’ll be on the reading list.

    But I do not think the Orthodox theologians discussed here have any intention of engaging in “dialog” in the liberal Protestant sense of the word. They are Patristics scholars, after all.

  32. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    I have the same negative connotations attached to the word dialog. That is why I used the word engage and asked about what was meant by dialog. Remove those negatives and change the word dialog to something else and some of my concern is alleviated. The direction of interpretation is also quite important. If Fr. Louth had said that modern science needed to be intrerpreted in light of St. Maximos, I’d have no problem. However when he said the opposite, I have a big problem.

  33. fatherstephen Avatar

    I understand. These men, as I know them, however, have no interest in modernizing Orthodoxy, or gaining the respect of modernists. They truly care for the salvation of the world and seek to serve that care in the place where they are. Like all of us, they could do what they do better. Though I could not do what they do. I am not cut out to be an academic. I tried, but it was not my calling. Apparently, blogging is as academic as I get. Glory to God.

  34. Dana Ames Avatar
    Dana Ames

    Met. Kallistos is only speaking good sense with grace. Not that my opinion matters much; the little knowledge I have could be dangerous… Nonetheless, the riches to be found in Orthodoxy do need to be brought to the discussions he references, and kindly. Why ever not?

    I don’t know how Orthodox Tradition will meet the natural sciences. But it was what unfolded for me in reading NT Wright (biblical history & text) that showed me the road to Orthodoxy. And a well-known and respected American author on religion who has also helped me (and whose name I hesitate to mention because I’m afraid that her view will be dismissed because she’s not Orthodox- not dismissed by Fr. Stephen, but by others) makes quite a case that the major question of this century for aware human beings will be, “What does it mean to be a human being?” I am a bit sensitive about these things. Forgive me.

    Fr. Stephen, as of Jan. 1 I am now an Inquirer. Please pray for me.


  35. ochlophobist Avatar

    Michael Bauman,

    I wonder if by “modern science” Fr. Andrew meant something more along the lines of “contemporary science.” I do not have a clue as I have not heard the lecture in question. However, following what I have read in “Discerning the Mystery” especially, but also some of Fr. Andrew’s other writings, it is quite clear that Fr. Andrew is no friend of modern scientism, nor of what is generically referred to as Enlightenment Rationalism.

    But with contemporary science one finds thoughts of various sort which Fr. Andrew finds keenly helpful. The insights of Thomas Kuhn and Michael Polanyi have shown how scientific theory is formed in the human intellect, and has given those who subscribe to their insights reason to have more reserve with regard to confidence in empiricism, and in the theoretical constructs resulting from supposed empirical observation. There are also certain theoretical “advances” in certain fields, such as quantum mechanics, which are seen by many Orthodox (and other Christian) thinkers to compliment our cosmology and theology.

    This is where we could, in a sense, loosely say that St. Maximus might be “interpreted” in light of modern (contemporary) science. Offhand, I can think of two arenas of St. Maximus’ thought where this is so: recapitulation, and also the cosmological hierarchies. With regard to recapitulation, modern theories within the fields of both physics and microbiology describe the way in which “lower things” mimic, as it were, and are influenced in form by, “higher things,” to the point of “acting” or taking on the mimetically influenced activity of that which is “above.” With regard to cosmological hierarchies, modern physics gives us rich avenues of thought regarding how it is things relate, and questions the old divisions between matter and non-matter in a way which might be seen as assuming a holism in creation where division was seen in older scientific and rationalist paradigms. In other words, the student of modern physics might have been, should he have been influenced by the right thought in the right way, “pre-evangelized” (to borrow a term from Lewis) with regard to reading St. Maximus.

    Now, let us say that an Orthodox writer makes clear many of the ways that St. Maximus’ thought might be read in light of these contemporary sciences. If he does so, he has opened up a cosmological and theological vocabulary and paradigm to the contemporary reader that draws that reader toward the truth of our Tradition, without necessarily compromising it in the slightest.

    Again, I know nothing of the quote from Fr. Andrew mentioned here. I offer this only as one possible interpretation of what he may have meant, given in light of what I believe to be the overall direction of Fr. Andrew’s corpus.

    Might this be plausible, in light of what you heard?

  36. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    In the context of the lecture which was given at my parish, it was quite clear that Fr. Andrew (then Prof. Louth) was referring to the biological sciences, that is what made it so shocking. He was clearly referring to evolution in a way that, IMO, turns Orthodox cosmology, anthropology and St. Maximos in particular on their head. A friend of mine had the opportunity to talk with Prof Louth privately after the comment. I was not present but the hearsay testimony was that I had not misinterpreted the comment. This was my first exposure to Prof, Fr. Louth. Given the full context, I have been quite distrustful of him ever since.

    In the cases you mention, I would agree there can be genuine conversation.

  37. fatherstephen Avatar

    Of some interest in this vein is the article by Kalomiros (who wrote the “River of Fire”) entitled “The Six days of Creation.” Kalomiros was a student of Fr. John Romanides. I find him well-grounded in the fathers and prefer his treatment of creation to that which I’ve seen in Seraphim Rose (despite its massive length). It can be read here.

  38. handmaidleah Avatar

    Karen C Says: “I would rather err on the side of seeming to compromise “Orthodoxy” in my attempts to connect with the whole person in order to convey love and real grace (thus laying a foundation where the fullness of Tradition can be understood rightly) than risk reinforcing a distortion and further alienating a lost brother or sister from God’s love in the process.”

    This is the issue – that of erring “on the side of seeming to compromise “Orthodoxy” in order not to offend. Given that one must never compromise Holy Orthodoxy, it is better not to speak on an issue (dealing with one on one discussions) if there is a possibility of compromising the Truth. People offend far too easily these days.

    In some discussions it takes the 2×4, as mentioned earlier, for others it takes patience and prayer. Yet, never is Holy Orthodoxy and the truth of Jesus Christ, to be compromised. As Orthodox we cannot be afraid of speaking the truth just to appease a person because the truth might hurt a bit. None of us wants to give up our well-developed delusions, they are comfortable, but we have a duty to speak the truth in love.

    thank you guys for a great discussion…

  39. Karen C Avatar
    Karen C

    Handmaidleah, thanks for your comments.

    “Yet, never is Holy Orthodoxy and the truth of Jesus Christ, to be compromised.”

    I agree without qualification–actually I think that is what I was saying. (Yet the reality is I compromise Holy Orthodoxy daily–as well as affirm it–in the way I live my life! Lord, have mercy on me!) The operative qualifications in my statement you quoted above were the word “seeming” and the quotations around the word Orthodoxy. There are those whom we should never scandalize by what we say (e.g., the weak in faith), but there are also those whom we must scandalize if we are to uphold the fullness of the Truth that is in Jesus (e.g., the Pharisee). I hope this clarifies what I meant.

    “In some discussions it takes the 2 x 4”

    This is undoubtedly true. Because of my experiences, however, the only One I trust to actually wield said proverbial 2 x 4 in a healing way is the Holy Spirit! God save the one I’m trying to help if I too readily believe this is what is called for, because I know I’m not qualified to wield a 2 x 4. I don’t trust myself to do that without causing serious damage to those weak in their faith (and this is coming from experience of having failed to wield “truth” in a truly wise and loving way many times). We Orthodox do indeed have a duty to speak the truth in love. The trouble is, it is far more easy to speak (in my experience) than to truly love!

    Your site is a good example of the proclamation without compromise of Holy Orthodoxy. It is a blessing.

    Warm regards,

  40. William Avatar

    I’ve enjoyed this conversation, all the comments, very much.

    I think one of the reasons dialogue is such a touchy subject is that it is indeed necessary and it is indeed dangerous. It’s necessary because if we don’t engage in dialogue with the world, then we are isolating ourselves from it. It’s dangerous because in the midst of it, it is quite possible, even quite easy, to be led into making statements that compromise the truth. This fact is exemplified in one of the first saints of the Church to publicly engage in dialogue with the society of his day: St. Justin Martyr. Who would not admire his efforts to engage with second-century philosophy, out of which he came, and to seek out common ground with it whenever possible? But at the same time, we recognize that his effort resulted in some articulations of the faith (i.e. what it meant that Christ is the Logos) that opened the way for ideas foreign to the faith that had to be corrected by later fathers (Fr. Behr’s “The Way To Nicaea” offers an excellent overview of this). And this is one we know to be a saint!

    We must engage in dialogue with the world in the place where God has put us. Academics do this in their settings, and their settings are perhaps more dangerous both because of the nature of academic dialogue and because of the influence it can have on society and the Church. Perhaps what’s utterly necessary to keep in mind for Orthodox people who engage in dialogue is that they must do so as witnesses to the truth of Christ. It seems like something that would go without saying, but I think it always needs saying. A dialogue with the world is not so much needed for learning something new about the truth of Christ, but for finding ways to speak that truth to people who do not know that truth. By this, I do not mean that we cannot learn anything from science, psychology and whatnot, but I mean that inasmuch as anything is true in those fields, it is founded foremost on the truth of Christ.

    I’m not sure if what I’ve written reads like a truism, but I think it’s easy for us on all levels of discussion to forget that at all times we are the witnesses of Christ in the world. I know it’s easy for me to forget this and instead get carried away by the discussion itself and a fascination with the terms of the discussion rather than the substance of it.

  41. ochlophobist Avatar


    Well put. For some reason, what you have written reminds me of a quote I have on some of my bookplates:

    All things can be said of God, yet is nothing worthily said of God. Nothing is wider than this utter want. Thou seekest a name befitting Him and findest none, thou seekest in what way soever to speak of Him and thou findest Him all things.

    – Augustine In. Joan. Evang. XIII, 5.

  42. Steve Avatar


    As Fr. Stephen and indeed Met Kallistos has previously stated, the filioque is no longer thought to be the obstacle to unity, it once was.

    That the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father, in no way reduces the stature of the Son. Of course, any child can see this.

    And so, from today’s reading of the Rule: “whoever listens to these words of Mine and acts upon them, I will liken to a wise person who built a house on rock” (Matt. 7:24).

    This is what defines the child, labels matter precious little!

  43. Visibilium Avatar

    I don’t see a problem in reinterpreting any of the individual Fathers in light of modern science, as long as it’s science and not academic fad. The Fathers articulated an unchanging Revelation in a language that doesn’t remain static. It’s entirely appropriate to make sure that those of us who operate within a better conceptual framework obtain the benefits of the Fathers’ holiness.

    For example, I think there’s plenty of room for reinterpreting prohibitions on the charging of interest and other economic activities that had been based on ancient Greek science.

    On the other hand, I very much have a problem with using reinterpretation as a pretext for re-inventing the Fathers.

  44. fatherstephen Avatar

    The Filioque if understood in an Orthodox manner which marks most of the current conversation is not considered a necessary stumbling block, though that can only be authoritatively said by a Holy and Great Council of the Orthodox bishops and received as true by the body of the faithful. Until then my opinion or that of a Metropolitan are just opinions and nothing more.

  45. fatherstephen Avatar

    David N.

    Feel free to post comments. I hope you’ll be treated with kindness. It’s the rule on the blog…

  46. handmaidleah Avatar

    Thank you Karen C. for the kind comments and we do agree.
    The 2×4 is of course not literal – as all of us know. My 2×4 moment came in high school and was delivered by a 14 year-old Greek American girl. When I gave mentioned that, “I believe in a loving God,” meaning not one that would judge or condemn, and actually was a God of my own creation, she pointedly told me that this was prideful and then we went swimming.
    Pride? What had that to do with my 17 year-old world view? Nothing. Because I was taught pride from the cradle.
    The truth hurt at that moment, I remember that distinctly, but she just planted a seed of doubt that perhaps I didn’t know everything I thought I did.
    A couple of decades later, I entered the Holy Orthodox Faith. Glory to God.
    That young friend of mine was full of the Holy Spirit, especially when she said what she did to me, because I needed to hear it.
    Today as our Lord and Saviour sanctifies all of creation, it is good to know that He can and does use every possible means to save us, if we will accept it.

  47. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Something has occured to me during this conversation. One of the great things I have always loved about the Church is that she gets and practices both halves of the Pauline approach to teaching. St. Paul in his letters frequently makes comments on the immutability of our approach to God and the negative consequences if we sin. On the other hand, he also says frequently that we need to avail ourselves of God’s grace when we are unable to live up to God’s standards, calling himself the greatest of sinners.

    My experience before coming to the Church was that different traditions tended to concentrate on only one half of the Pauline formula. Emphasizing the sinfulness of man and the consequences or God’s forgiveness. The Church encompasses both-using both the hammer and the velvet, the 2X4 and the loving embrace. I am afraid I’m guilty of the one-sided approach too often. I’ve seen the personal tragdeies brought about by unsound doctrine and wrongheaded belief–the spiritual and physical suffering BUT the throne of grace is the only place healing can occur.

    Thank you all for you insight and patience.

  48. Karen C Avatar
    Karen C

    Thanks, Handmaidleah. Yes, good comments all. There is a time and place for both Pauline emphases. The danger is when one is emphasized at the expense of the other. For Leah, it sounds like at 17 she had adopted a false idea of grace and needed the corrective word. For myself, it has never been hard to believe in a god of judgment (as accusation and condemnation of sinners). I have struggled to believe and accept that God is truly good (that mercy triumphs over judgment as the Scripture says). That said, there have also been many moments in my life that the Holy Spirit has allowed me to bump up against His truth in a way most painful to my pride–that was necessary and continues to be necessary to my salvation. What has got me through that pain, and what sustains me in the midst of it, has been encouragement to hope in His unfailing mercy and grace.

  49. ochlophobist Avatar

    Michael Bauman,

    So if we staple some velvet around the 2×4……..

    I jest, of course. I think that your comment is spot on. I think the right discernment of when to use the velvet and when to use the 2×4 is a charism. Many of us think we have that charism when we in fact do not.

  50. Stephen Avatar

    Ochlophobist, Fr. Stephen and others,

    There are many interesting avenues to explore here and I often wonder as an Orthodox Christian, how one should view contemporary science?

    Ochlophobist writes:

    “But with contemporary science one finds thoughts of various sort which Fr. Andrew finds keenly helpful. The insights of Thomas Kuhn and Michael Polanyi have shown how scientific theory is formed in the human intellect, and has given those who subscribe to their insights reason to have more reserve with regard to confidence in empiricism, and in the theoretical constructs resulting from supposed empirical observation. There are also certain theoretical “advances” in certain fields, such as quantum mechanics, which are seen by many Orthodox (and other Christian)” thinkers to compliment our cosmology and theology.”

    I am somewhat familiar with Polanyi, through his book personal knowledge. In your opinion does he represent an Orthodox or patunderstanding of the way faith and science should be upheld?

  51. Stephen Avatar

    Sorry did not intend to send before finished:

    Ochlophobist, Fr. Stephen and others,

    There are many interesting avenues to explore here and I often wonder as an Orthodox Christian, how one should view contemporary science? I wish that I had something to add towards this discussion other than questions.

    Ochlophobist writes:

    “But with contemporary science one finds thoughts of various sort which Fr. Andrew finds keenly helpful. The insights of Thomas Kuhn and Michael Polanyi have shown how scientific theory is formed in the human intellect, and has given those who subscribe to their insights reason to have more reserve with regard to confidence in empiricism, and in the theoretical constructs resulting from supposed empirical observation. There are also certain theoretical “advances” in certain fields, such as quantum mechanics, which are seen by many Orthodox (and other Christian)” thinkers to compliment our cosmology and theology.”

    I am somewhat familiar with Polanyi, through his book “Personal knowledge”. In your opinion does he represent an Orthodox or patristic understanding of the way faith and science should be upheld? Besides Louth, which other Orthodox writers deal with these issues of modern science and faith? As we all know the relationship between the Church in the west and Science, has been troubled at best. What does the picture look like in the East during the development of modern Science?

  52. Robert Avatar

    Is it just me, or does it seem to others as well that in actuality there is very little dialogue (discussion, engagement) going on? We like to lecture about it, argue about it, blog about it. But I mean, where are the books, conferences, papers, meetings? Any thoughts how we could change this and start engaging??

  53. fatherstephen Avatar


    I do not think there is or will be an Orthodox or Patristic understanding of science – for one, science is a constantly moving target. Secondly, this kind of position is generally not a large issue in Orthodoxy, if only because the primary goal of Orthodoxy is the fullness of salvation and not finding ways to prop up the secular world.

    Having said that (and this addresses Robert’s comment) there is much more discussion and engagement going on in contemporary Russia, simply because they are having to rethink a lot of things, and the Church is a major part of the culture as well. Thus there are lots of books, conferences, papers and meetings if you speak Russian.

    Orthodoxy in the U.S. and Canada is still in its infancy. Though it has made significant contributions to Orthodoxy across the world, we generally don’t have the man-power or the time to do lots of conferences, etc. They are expensive and we are poor. Thus we pray and discuss among ourselves more than publishing papers, etc.

    I would say that the largest contribution of Orthodoxy to science, etc., is to be found in the holy lives of its living saints. Their prayers, by the mercies of God, help sustain the world. We teeter on the edge of non-existence as it is – but God is merciful.

  54. ochlophobist Avatar


    “…does he [Polanyi] represent an Orthodox or patristic understanding of the way faith and science should be upheld?”

    No. His understanding of intuitive knowing is not hostile to an Orthodox anthropology, his writings regarding the limits of scientific knowing are a reprieve from a totalizing scientism, but his work does not constitute an articulation of how a patristically informed Christianity might relate to modern science.

    With Kuhn and Polanyi and their intellectual kin, we get a slight break from the prior 200+ years of rather totalizing materialism that was so propagated and defended on the basis of technological advance and various scientific fields, insofar as Kuhn and Polanyi, in different ways, suggest that scientific knowledge is far more limited, and follows a less “logical” path than once thought. For Fr. Louth, this signals a inclination towards a break from the intellectual catastrophe in the West he describes in “Discerning the Mystery.” But as we see from the popularity of Richard Dawkins, Steven Jay Gould, and the like, totalizing materialism is still very much with us. Of course, one only needs to turn on a TV to discern that.

    If you peruse the Light & Life and the 8th Day Books catalogs, I am confident that you will find nearly two dozen English language titles dealing with Orthodoxy and modern natural science, and Orthodoxy and modern social science (particularly psychotherapy), and Orthodoxy and the new physics. I am not one to recommend any of these, as each time I pick one up from our church library or a bookstore and begin to read I quickly realize it is not a work I am keen on. I like Metropolitan Hierotheos Vlachos’ “Orthodox Psychotherapy,” and those sorts of works, which I imagine specialists in corresponding secular fields may not find to be much of a “dialog.”


    It is unclear to me, in the context of this discussion, whether you refer to books, conferences, papers, and meetings regarding the relationship between Orthodoxy and science, or Orthodoxy and other faiths, or Orthodoxy and contemporary culture at large. In any event, I find myself bemused by the situation at hand, namely, that we like to lecture about, argue about, and blog about this need for books, conferences, papers, and meetings when in fact we have had a plethora of books, conferences, papers, and meetings, and the fruit these have born is often rather nominal. With regard to Orthodoxy and the modern sciences I refer to the couple dozen of books in the catalogs mentioned above, and the modest number of lectures given at various Orthodox seminars and conferences on these issues, from bioethics to psychology to hard sciences. In my mind Orthodox in North America probably discuss evolution too much. With regard to ecumenism, we have SCOBA’s official statements with the RCs, we have those conferences turned into SVS books comparing Wesleyan and Orthodox theology, spirituality, and praxis, we have those conferences for Episcopalians and Lutherans looking into the Orthodox faith, I could go on and on (as many of you know). Some of this engagement is no doubt helpful, some of it not so much. What surprises me is that we talk so much about the need of engagement when, for such a small community in North America (or in the Anglophone West), we have engaged beyond what one might expect for our size. I worry that this sense of urgency with regard to cultural engagement results in engagement for engagement’s sake, which again reminds me of some of the unfortunate aspects of Evangelicalism in the last generation.

    I fear that I have written way beyond my share in this thread. We are over Fr. Stephen’s 50 comment mark. I have very much appreciated the conversation here, from all sides. Thank you.

  55. Stephen Avatar

    Is there a rule here of not going over 50 comments, that I am not aware of? This is all very interesting and seems to be only touching the surface of many different thoughts and ideas. Is there a place where one could find a continuing dialog on these topics?

  56. fatherstephen Avatar


    It’s not a rule. Ochlophobist is remembering a rule I once made up during some early writing I did on the Pontifications blogsite for my friend, Fr. Al Kimel. Fr. Kimel loved to have “Pontificator’s Laws.” So I created some “Aphorisms” (sayings). One of them was that anytime comments exceeded 50, not much was being said of value. It was arbitrary. Good discussions can go for quite awhile. For me a good discussion genuinely pursues information, remains polite even when disagreeing, and realizes the inherent limits in this form of communication. Feel free to go over 50 if it seems worthwhile.

  57. […] 9, 2009 by Wei Hsien In his introduction to the following video, Fr. Stephen Freeman (from whose blog I learned about it) summarized its […]

  58. Visibilium Avatar

    Orthodoxy deals with science a lot, a little, and sometimes not at all. The relationship between the uncreated and created worlds isn’t well defined or well known, especially in Orthodoxy. The Mystery remains intact as a Mystery, even in our age of brash exposes.

    Thank goodness.

  59. fatherstephen Avatar

    In a conversation with Fr. Thomas Hopko this past November in Pittsburgh, I told him that the more I wrote, the less I seemed to know. He replied, “Someday you’ll know nothing. Then you’ll be holy.”

    It’s a goal.

  60. Stephen Avatar

    Fr. Stephen,

    In that case, I will tell my children not to study! Then, they are already holy! I could almost include myself in that since I know next to nothing but something tells me that I’m not holy. Maybe it’s the blatant sin staring me in the face. I’m sure that this is much more nuanced but Orthodoxy teaches that it is through the Nous that we know God and not through reason. What is the purpose of the reason then? It seems to serve a purpose, maybe too large of one.


    “The relationship between the uncreated and created worlds isn’t well defined or well known, especially in Orthodoxy.”

    Is not God uncreated and everything else created. In this sense science can never study the uncreated. For the sake of clarification, what do you mean when you say uncreated world? Do you mean the heavenly or spiritual world? This too was created? This is not a critism just a question.

    I think that someone above made a distinction between modern science and natural science. I can see nothing wrong with having a good understanding of the terminology of modern science and bringing to it the light of Orthodox understanding and applying it as much as is possible. There are many new issues, moral and ethical to think about all the time. Dialog to me would not be compromise but facing the reality of the modern world and being aware of the problems. It is my belief that Orthodoxy has much to say. Sometimes non-Christians and other Christians as well have a distorted idea of God, salvation, communion, etc. Dialog could simply be presenting a side of God that many have never seen before. Who knows, this could have implications in the field of science. There have been many times that I see some protestant friends studying all kinds of theories over the years and ending up with(on particular points only) something that looks very much like Orthodoxy in the end. If only they would explore Orthodoxy first, some time might be saved.

  61. Visibilium Avatar


    Yes, by “uncreated” I meant God. I agree that God isn’t the proper subject of scientific study. I’d further state that theological truths aren’t the same kinds of truths as scientific truths. Orthodoxy is an Incarnational Mystery and participates in both realms. Orthodoxy therefore isn’t the proper subject of scientific study, either. Likewise, Orthodoxy doesn’t provide a method of scientific inquiry.

    The invisible, spiritual world is created, and therefore is the proper subject of scientific study, although, scientists have tended to ignore this world owing to the difficulty of quantitative verification. Seeing measurement as a criterion of that which constitutes science is a shortcoming of modern philosophy. My personal view is that the existence of the created spiritual world is indisputable. In short, I believe in ghosts.

    I don’t know who made the distinction between modern science and natural science, since I’ve followed this thread only sparingly, but the distinction is one with which I agree. Natural science, which deals with the visible, created world, properly uses a radically different methodology than social science. Natural science is all about causality. Social science, on the other hand, cannot be separated from man and therefore is all about human purposiveness, which underlies the causality of human phenomena.

  62. Mark Avatar

    Dear Owen;
    if you are still reading at 15 past 50, I thought I’d say that I’ve continued thinking about and puzzling over your first comment, specifically this paragraph:

    In the Lambeth interview linked above, Met. Kallistos seems quite impressed that conference attendees publicly protested (many; virtually all?) injustices – “we marched through the streets of London with placards about poverty and justice.” The Met. thought this the real important work of Lambeth, and not so much the dialog concerning homosexuality and women in the episcopate. That being the case, it sure sounds like he is quite taken with the idea of the Church changing the world, or being an agent of change, or being in league with agents of change. This is quite a different message than the one I read on this blog.

    In the way that I take Fr Stephen to mean, “we (Christians) are not called to change the world,” I agree. Christ has already changed the world, and it is for us now only to become completely hidden in him.
    However isn’t this a statement about our ‘aim’ or our ‘motivation’, and not to say that it is in fact *wrong* to try to make changes in the world, if these changes are a natural outgrowth of love? I have always thought that the ‘social dimention’ is not particularly emphasized in Orthodoxy b/c it is the natural fruit of a healthy spiritual dimention (i.e., focus on one’s own salvation will in due time bear the ‘social’ or outward fruit; we dont need to focus on this fruit and thus force it unnaturally and without a maturity of love).
    And so I have not had trouble yet, both reading and agreeing with Fr Stephen that we are not called to change the world, and at the same time continuing in my own local activism, raising awareness of the serious problem (and injustice) of homelessness in my city of Vancouver.

    Would you say that this activism and that which Met. Kalistos celebrated is *wrong* as an action and something we should not really participate in as Orthodox, or simply that it is often done for the wrong reasons?

    Would you say that this sort of activism– trying to reduce homelessness through political change; participating in anti-war rallies; raising awareness of social justice issues, etc.– is a different sort of participation in the world than say joining the March for Life as His Beatitude Met. Jonah will be doing? (http://www.oca.org/news/1746)

    I know when I participated in a political action raising awareness of homelessness in our city, some of my Orthodox friends seemed to think this was a bit ‘extremist’, yet they themselves had been involved in anti-abortion activity!
    Why the one and not the other?
    I sincerely wonder if I am missing something that differentiates between these two sorts of ‘activity’, as the latter (anti-abortion ‘activism’) seems fairly common and celebrated among Orthodox, while the former (anti-war, or generally ‘social justice’ activism) seems almost frowned upon or at best left silently un-acted upon by Orthodox. This has bothered me.

    Of course I will be grateful to hear any helpful insights (Fr Stephen?) not just Owen’s (the Ochlophobist).

    Thanks again all, for such a thought provoking thread. It has really helped me.
    Love in Christ;
    -Mark Basil

  63. ochlophobist Avatar

    Mark Basil,

    I am an ochlophobist, and therefore am pretty much opposed to all gathering of crowds having to do with political agendas of any sort, and I am especially fearful of marches. As for the moral aspect of your question, whether it is right or wrong to engage in such activities, you would be far better served to direct that question to Met. Jonah than to me, I have no idea. I do support large church processions, and the Met. will show up in Church regalia and with icons, so that is at least a good sign. I shudder to think of what sort of icons the Anglicans bring to their Marches against everything bad.

    What bothered me regarding the conference rhetoric surrounding the March for Justice at Lambeth was the quite explicit message – such political machinations are integral to the Church’s witness in the eyes of most Anglican clergy. Met. Kallistos’ commented to the effect that such a march had more to do with the real work of the Lambeth than discussions over homosexuality and female bishops. But then again, perhaps he was slyly suggesting that the Anglican church is at a point where it might as well only deal with worldly matters, as its ecclesiology is in such a state.

    As for anti-abortion protesting vs. social justice protesting, the divide you suggest corresponds with the fabricated so-called “culture wars” of our time and place. I don’t know that there is a necessary hypocrisy here, there are so many causes and so little time, and prudential judgments regarding what action is appropriate to what cause are influenced by a host of concerns and ideological influences coming at us from all directions. When I was younger I was involved in both anti-abortion and social justice protest activities, but those days are long behind me.

    When I worked at a homeless shelter some years ago, we would get the church groups who came once a year or once a quarter to cook a meal and dish it out. Nice folks, to be sure, but as resident manager most of these groups created as much work for me as they gave me. What I really needed was a few more volunteers who would commit to be there during a given 4 or 8 hour time slot once a week, folks I could train and then rely on to help with essential tasks. But few want to do that, the crowds instead want their one time only 4 hours of almsgiving to cross off their almsgiving requirement during Lent and go on with life. That is what I think of most marches and such things, unless they have icons with a procession behind them. Such holy images pronounce God’s merciful judgment upon a land soaked in blood. I suppose that certain other protest actions might act in the manner of holy foolishness, and icon to our age its madness, but these, in my estimation, will not usually involve crowds, though I have known one instance of such activity in my life that did (though in that case the crowd came to beat up the protesters). Please know that I say all of this to you in love and respect, because of many things you have written in the past, I know that you are a fellow who gives far more than 8 hours a week to those who have fallen upon great hardship.

    Please take everything I say with a big grain of salt, there are so many mites in my pockets, I have not even begun to give alms. I pray that I have time to do so before I die. And forgive my many words.

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