Belief and Practice

russianorthodox0906aA friend sent me a review of the book The Byzantine Lists: Errors of the Latins by Tia M. Kolbaba (University of Illinois Press). The review is by Elesha Coffman, associate editor of Christian History. An excerpt from the review offers an interesting insight:

According to Kolbaba, historians have never really studied the lists because of their unusual content: a mixture of theological, liturgical, and seemingly personal disagreements. Keroularios’s list accuses Latins of, among other things, using unleavened bread in the Eucharist, eating unclean meats, shaving [this refers to clergy], adding “and the Son” to the Nicene Creed (the “filioque” clause), forbidding priests to marry, allowing bishops to wear rings, and baptizing with only one immersion. Keroularios sums up by saying, “Therefore, if they live in such a way and, enfeebled by such customs, dare these things which are obviously lawless, forbidden, and abominable, then will any right-thinking person consider that they are at all to be included in the category of the orthodox? I think not.”

In the lists, we see one of the main differences between Western and Eastern thought. Latin antiheretical works focused on doctrinal differences, but to Greeks, Kolbaba writes, “It is the things these ‘Romans’ do—not what they believe and teach—that place them beyond the pale.” To Latins, practice, including liturgy, is an outgrowth of doctrine and therefore secondary; to Greeks, practice shapes belief and is therefore of ultimate importance.

“Practice shapes belief,” a principle frequently cited by scholars both East and West in its Latin formulation: Lex orandi, lex credendi. The phrase is accurately translated, “the law of praying is the law of believing.” It is a formula primarily used to discussed liturgical practice – and frequently only in reference to the words in liturgical use. Kolbaba’s work demonstrates a more global meaning.

The Christian faith – indeed all of human life – is far more than a set of ideas to which we subscribe. It is not unusual for our professed ideological faith to differ from what we actually do – and not just because of hypocrisy or our failure to live up to what we say we believe. Our lives are grounded far more in our actions and activities than in our ideas. What we do is a far more accurate description of what we believe. Lex orandi can also be described as lex vivendi (the “law of living”).

This is an important basis for considering the place of asceticism – and all of spiritual discipline – within the Christian life. It has become commonplace for asceticism to be disregarded in modern Christian practice – to either be seen as a misguided relic of the past or as incompatible with the needs of contemporary society. It is indeed incompatible with the needs of contemporary society. In our modern cultures we best serve the “needs” of others by being as open as possible to manipulation by advertising and the many false deities that guide our daily lives. Of course that service will not be of aid in Christian formation.

I have written before that our modern lives are lived in a manner that is almost indistinguishable from that of non-believers. A secular culture offers only nooks and crannies for the practice of religion – and is not troubled in the least so long as religion “stays in its place.”

The keeping of fasts and feasts, a daily rule of prayer, disciplined almsgiving, modesty of dress and modesty of action are frequently ignored or even unknown in the contemporary Christian world. “Why should we fast?” is a common question posed by catechumens in the Orthodox Church. The answer does not appear obvious within our culture. The short list I have mentioned is only a fraction of the practices normatively expected of an Orthodox Christian. The cultivation of repentance as an attitude of heart – the constant remembrance of the name of God – the right honoring of the saints and the living experience of the communion of saints – are among the practices which properly permeate the Orthodox life.

Examined from without – it is possible to suggest that such practices are not, in and of themselves, necessary to salvation. But, I would argue, a secular lifestyle is not necessary to salvation and may very well endanger it. The errors bred by secular thought already cost our nation the lives of over a million unborn children each year (to give but a single example). “Heresy” as an ideological sin may be of less danger than the disappearance of the traditional practices of the Christian faith. Indeed, what does it matter what a secularist believes?

This same understanding is properly a challenge to the Orthodox faith as it exists in the modern world. Everywhere – including within traditionally Orthodox countries, the culture of modernism lives at enmity with the traditional practices of the Christian faith. The pressure to accommodate the practices of the faith to contemporary lifestyles is relentless. Indeed, with the growing influx of converts, Orthodoxy stands in need of greater emphasis and teaching on the daily practices of the Christian life (and I speak as a convert).

Lex orandi must always be lex vivendi. Without them there will be no lex credendi. My apologies to those who struggled with Latin (or never studied it). The Byzantine Lists today would have to be greatly expanded from the original “errors of the Latins”: the errors of the moderns exceed anything that has gone before.

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.



, ,



44 responses to “Belief and Practice”

  1. Robert Avatar

    This would make an excellent rejoinder to this baptism of our secular order at AOI.

  2. fatherstephen Avatar

    I’m not certain that I read his article as an endorsement of American culture. I would certainly agree that we have to engage the culture and not live as a ghetto – but for Orthodox to engage a culture they have to first be Orthodox. The secular life is not and cannot be Orthodox (or Christian). Our engagement with secular culture is to unmask its bankruptcy and help ourselves and other Christians see its deadly dangers for the life of Christians. The author cites the motto e pluribus unum. Fine, as long as among the pluribus is the rightly lived Orthodox life. Otherwise we have nothing to say and would indeed just be one of many interest groups.

    But I do not think he is endorsing the American secular culture in the least. Rather, he is writing more to the Greek American audience that is a significant part of the AOI readership. Those questions are frequently different than the ones I address on Glory to God…

  3. Robert Avatar

    Father, bless.
    Thank you. Yes. I suppose what disturbed me in the article was its not recognizing that e pluribus unum in practice means the making secondary of all communities, including the Church. The unum of the state is a competitor to and underminer of the unity of the Church, not an icon of it. I pray that the alternative to ghettoization is not assimilation. Apologies for distracting from the posts main point.

  4. Jon who is called Mark Avatar
    Jon who is called Mark

    As a recent convert what drew me to the Orthodox faith was the emphasis on the spiritual disciplines of the Christian life which is so lacking in conventional American christianity. I had long suspected that living out faith was more about what we do than what we say (or think) we believe. After taking the plunge into the Orthodox Church I saw it even more clearly. What we do is what we believe. Thanks for the reminder.

  5. jeffsdeepthoughts Avatar

    As a Protestant (Latin?) I hope you will all forgive me if I breach etiquette– perhaps around modes of adress. I’m open to correction if there’s a manner in which I ought to be writing these comments that I’m not doing.

    The insights offered in this post are truly universal, I think, as are the challenges to Christianity by the secular world, and I’m thankful for the oppurtunity to be reminded not only of the specific ideas here but also that there are many important things we have in common.

  6. Brantley Thomas Avatar
    Brantley Thomas

    Unclean meats? Did I miss a memo?

  7. coffeezombie Avatar

    Yeah, the “unclean meats” bit kinda jumped out at me, too. Everything I’ve heard from Orthodox sources has stressed that we *don’t* believe in clean/unclean meats (though this topic only seems to usually come up when trying to explain to people that the fasting rules don’t really have anything to do with the Jewish food laws).

  8. fatherstephen Avatar

    Indeed. I would go so far as to say that Orthodox is ultimately not an Eastern thing – but is the common heritage of East and West – recent history (500-1000 years or so) have worked to obscure it more in the West – but the East is fighting the same battle. We have a common foe, and a common Lord.

  9. fatherstephen Avatar

    Yeah, I need to research that one, too. Probably has to do with meat and blood (book of Acts) but that’s just a guess.

  10. Fr. Christian Mathis Avatar

    Very good post Father. Thank you for the reminder.

  11. fatherstephen Avatar

    Canon LXIII of the Apostolic Canons affirmed in later canons as well, follows the Council in the books of Acts and forbids the eating of blood. Having said that, I should be quick to add that the “blood” that people speak of in a rare steak is not, in fact, blood but a different fluid. The blood is drained from meat in normal butchery. Some of the fathers cited in the commentary on the canon uphold the OT teaching that “the life is in the blood” and thus should not be eaten. It is my understanding that this canon is normative for Orthodox Christians. If someone knows otherwise, I’d be interested to hear it.

    It is, of course, a canon in agreement with NT teaching Acts 15:28-29.

  12. elizabeth Avatar

    Father Bless! Thank you for this post.

  13. Boulos Avatar

    Father Stephen, allow me to quote further from Coffman’s review:

    — quote
    Kolboba asks, “To say that such matters are petty or trivial reflects a very modern and very intellectual bias. Why are we so sure that the doctrinal content of a religion is more important, more central, and more characteristic than its ritual and normative content?”
    — end quote


    But Orthodox contemporaries of Keroularios did, in fact, think that such matters were petty and trivial.

    Keroularios was harshly criticized by his contemporary Patriarch Peter of Antioch for his attacks on Latin practices; Peter said that the Filioque was the only real issue between Rome and the East.

    Theophylact of Okhrid accused him (Keroularios) of being ignorant of church history, saying that “church unity is threatened only by those practices which have a doctrinal implication.”

    And two hundred years earlier, no less a Rome-basher than Patriarch St. Photios takes a most moderate position in a letter to Pope Nicholas I, when he enumerates the differences in local customs between Rome and Constantinople, and concludes: “When the faith remains inviolate, common and catholic traditions are also safe; a sensible man respects the practices and laws of others; he considers that it is neither wrong to observe them, nor illegal to violate them.” (Cf. PG 102, 604 ff.) Photios concludes that “tradition avoids disputes by making practice prevail over the rule.”

    Meyendorff’s “The Byzantine Legacy in the Orthodox Church” describes these vignettes, in context, quite clearly (pp. 119ff.; I have used his English translations of Photios and Theophylact.).



  14. fatherstephen Avatar


    I certainly agree with their observations. If you will, my point was not so much the historical situation of the Byzantine lists – but a meditation on a paragraph from the review that, for me, points to something true – that belief should not be divorced from practice. That everything got out of hand and a bit silly in the Byzantine lists is granted. But our divorce between belief and practice has gotten out of hand and a bit silly and it will be the death of us if we do not all come back to our senses.

  15. Anonymous Avatar


    I am not smart enough to rightly have a dialogue about this post…but it does leave my Roman Catholic mind with some reflection. We Catholics used to make a habit out of practicing our faith quite regularly. Way back when when we still had most of our Liturgy intact and it was required that we offer a great sacrifice of fasting on Fridays. But our faith has been so whittled down by liberals that it is hard to recognize this almost entirely spoken Liturgy, this “take it easy on Fridays” except during Lent and then just leave the pepperoni off the pizza, this “partake in the Eucharist at least once a year” obligation. We rarely hear anymore from the pulpit, “Get in the habit of taking the Eucharist – the Body and Blood of Christ – as often as you possible can, because without it there will be no life within you.” We hear this on EWTN, on Catholic television, but these priests are not in our parishes, and the beauty of EWTN is not the reality of American Catholic parishes.

    Everything is so nonchalant now that we are barely required to practice anything at all. Where once there was incense at every Mass, you only get the scent of it on High Holy Days. Where once, the priest bowed toward the altar during the Consecration, he stands and faces us as if we are the ones changing the wine to blood. Where once we knelt for most of the Mass, we can now sit in our shorts with our feet resting on the kneelers.

    I am of the belief (as were many of my beloved Catholic Saints) that if one does not practice, one cannot possibly continue believing. And if one, even if they start out with great unbelief, begins to practice the Sacramental life regularly, God’s grace will grow and they will believe even in things they once called foolishness.

    I am this close (making a space of about once inch between my thumb and forefinger) to entering Orthodoxy, because it is what I want from my Roman Catholic faith, but just can’t seem to quite find inside my American Catholic Church anymore. Your blog, I discovered by accident one afternoon over a year ago. I stayed, because it gave me insight into my Russian Orthodox grandmother’s faith. Thank you for your words.


    Anonymous for now

  16. fatherstephen Avatar

    It is a battle that is quite significant. Some churches seem to have surrendered (as Rome has to some degree) while others do not have the tradition of ever having joined the fray.

  17. thesprucetunnel Avatar

    Hello, Father Stephen. Your posting and the comments give some important things for us to ponder. As a Traditional Catholic (Latin), I’m familiar with “lex orandi, lex credendi,” but I like tying it together with our actions. Praying, believing, acting, all integrated within a person. I think one meaning of the word integrity is living in accord with your deeply held values and beliefs. I’m so new at this, I’m still learning to pray, learning the meaning of what I believe, and struggling with behaving in a manner pleasing to Our Lord. As you indicated, there is scarcely any room for a Christian way of living in the modern secular world. We are becoming more and more invisible to popular culture, so it seems all the more important that we live deliberately authentic Christian lives.

  18. Fr. Maximus Avatar
    Fr. Maximus

    Modern Greeks consider certain foods to be unclean: things like frogs, turtles, reptiles, rats, mice, carnivores capable of devouring a human, and the like. There is a prayer of forgiveness for those who have eaten such foods. I believe that Patriarch Cerularios was referring to something similar, since his contemporary, Peter of Antioch, refers to bear meat as unclean.

  19. Bruce Avatar

    Father Stephen

    Bless you and thank you. If we, the Church, are indeed the Body of Christ, how important is daily liturgical practice to the “glory of God in all things”? How much of what we believe changes when we practice and center our lives in this daily discipline of church service? How much brighter would Christ’s light be if these practices were available and practiced each day? If our lives, both physically and spiritually, were organized around a set of church services would we not move closer to allowing the Body of Christ to be strengthened and renewed? Is it possible that organizing our lives in the daily practice of a Matins and Vespers (and perhaps the 1,3,6,9th hour services) would rekindle the Light so needed in our secular world, but more importantly in each of our hearts? Would we not be reminded of how much we have to repent for each day? And is it possible that supporting these services by personal prayer and contemplation of our daily scripture readings and lives of the saints would transform who we are by what we do? Would we also begin to experience the beauty and Grace of the church calendar and the seasons of our Faith? I have had an opportunity to experience daily Matins since I was drawn to Orthodoxy in January, 2008. Somehow, showing up every day (especially when I didn’t want to be there) has chipped just a little of the hardness from my heart and allowed the grace of God’s Light to shine through me very, very darkly in new ways. I’m so grateful for the incredible Feast the Church puts on each time it opens it’s doors and the Light and Wisdom of thousands of years expresses itself in the words, sounds, smells, and actions of whatever service is called for this day, today. It is very cool to know that in reality the Church never sleeps and God is present in even the most clumsy of services. These daily church services are gifts we Orthodox should cherish, celebrate, and allow to shine as we learn to praise God in all things. We may find these daily hidden Pearls are the very thing needed to transform ourselves and our 21st century America in ways pleasing to God as we invite Him to come abide in us each day. Somehow I suspect we would find that this Light would overcome whatever personal darkness may be convincing us that our lives are too busy to abandon ourselves and discover Him, each day, in the richness of these services provided to us by those who have gone before. Somehow, as we seek HIm and praise Him; we also discover Him and ourselves more deeply….and we learn to humbly right size ourselves as simple, empty bulbs in an incredible Light Show He is more than able to direct each day.

  20. fatherstephen Avatar

    I found some similar material. Some of it was simply a way of describing what were considered “disgusting” habits of the Latins – perhaps among the more extreme parts of the Lists.

  21. Alex Avatar

    Why do commentaries on the canon against meat with blood would allude to the ‘life’ being in the blood? Wasn’t that tied in with the system of animal sacrifice?



  22. fatherstephen Avatar

    You may have heard it taught as tied in with the system of animal sacrifice – but the teaching goes back to Genesis 8:4-6. And the prohibition seemed important enough that the twelve apostles included it as a requirement for the Gentiles (as well as all others). Where in the book of Acts or elsewhere are we told that the decision of that first council of the Apostles has been annulled?

  23. Alex Avatar

    Nowhere – as a Jewish convert I always wondered about this. I had always just assumed that it had indeed been annulled.

    Concerning Genesis 8:4-6 though, I had thought that the command was still tied in w/ sacrifice even though it is not explicitly stated? Certainly it is not as though animal sacrifice did not start until the law. I had thought that G-d allowed man to eat meat and use the blood for animal sacrifices so that they would not be drawn to idolatry. I seem to remember hearing something similar on search the scriptures.

    I do not want to make it seem as though I am arguing Father, but I am curious. Is it possible that the command is related to the fact that early Christians continued to practice animal sacrifice (in the temple for example)?

    If it is not related to the sacrificial system, then what is the spirit here?

    Also, how are we as Christians supposed to go about following this canon?

    Thank you for your patience. Please pray for me.

  24. Karen Avatar

    Dear Father, bless! This is the first time, I have considered that the ruling of the First Council in Acts 15 has never been repealed! I’m glad that blood sausage has never had any appeal to me!

  25. fatherstephen Avatar


    There is no difficulty in following the command. Meat in our food system is not normally sold containing blood. It is drained when it is slaughtered. The juices you encounter in a rare steak are not blood. It would not be healthy, actually. But the sense that the “life” is in the blood, is present in the Apostolic consciousness, and I see no particular reason to not observe their commandment – it works no particular hardship. Do not eat meat that has been strangled or died a natural death. But these do not come up for sale in our system – thus no particular problem. Though I am aware of blood being consumed in certain elements of Western culture – I am not sure where – and would personally want to avoid that option anyway. 🙂

  26. alex Avatar

    Thank you, Father.

  27. alex Avatar


    Please forgive me. Your enlightening answer brings to mind another question.

    What exactly is meant by ‘strangled’? Does it actually mean ‘choked’? Wouldn’t this be rather difficult anways? This might be an important thing to know for people that hunt or fish.

    Thank you again,


  28. fatherstephen Avatar

    It means that if you plan to eat it – drain the blood – meat that died of suffocation (however you do that) needs to be drained of blood (without my giving the gory details). If you do not know how to drain blood from the meat, then don’t hunt, unless you’re not an Orthodox Christian and couldn’t care less about Apostolic injunctions. Just don’t invite me to supper. 🙂

  29. Sea of Sin Avatar

    Haha I tried to choke an ox once. I gave up and went to MacD instead. 🙂

  30. coffeezombie Avatar

    Hm…so I suppose blood pudding and blood soup are out, then. Looking this up on Wikipedia, I’m surprised to see a number (not very large) of Western dishes that use blood.

    Actually, I had never really given much thought to the Apostolic injunction…not that I can recall ever eating blood (that seems to be one line I can’t cross).

    It is good to know that a rare steak, however, is still okay. 😀 😀 😀

  31. fatherstephen Avatar

    This discussion came up a while back on a clergy email group that I belong to, and a priest contributed an email with a rather detailed medical explanation as to what the juices are in a rare steak. Glad to know it wasn’t blood, but the rest of the information made me glad I’m a “medium well” guy when it comes to my steaks – and “extremely” well for any kind of burger.:)

    I’ll pass on the “blood” dishes (are they really made with blood?

    This also has the benefit of putting vampires in a very dubious situation with regard to Church – which is just fine by me. 🙂

  32. fatherstephen Avatar

    I think I’ll pass. My breakfast – when ideally prepared – consists of eggs, bacon, grits, toast and butter, orange juice, milk and coffee (black and sweet). It’s what my mother sat before me for virtually the whole of my young life. How can I not love her?

  33. Karen Avatar

    Well, Father, I wasn’t going to bring up the traditional Massai tribe in Africa who rely heavily on cattle for everything (economy and food), and for whom cow’s blood is a staple part of their diet (along with the milk and meat)! I don’t suppose that situation might call for some sort of “oikonomia?” I’ve read that they are among the healthiest people in the world on their traditional diet. I’m reminded of a story about one of the Sts. in Alaska writing back to Moscow of thankfulness for success in a hunt for deer to feed the starving tribe during Lent. The home Church couldn’t understand that for those people, this venison during Lent was the only thing that stood between them and starvation (meat comprising the bulk of their diet) and did not break the spirit of the fast though it was against the letter, obviously.

  34. fatherstephen Avatar

    Economia is always possible in some form and lies in the purview of bishops.

  35. bethanytwins Avatar

    I’m not sure I entirely agree that we ‘in the West’ hold practice secondary to doctrine. That might be true for a certain strand of intellectual Catholic teaching, but it’s certainly not the case ‘on the ground’ (at least not in the Anglo-Catholic tradition, where we still have incense, kneeling, eastward facing celebration and fish on a Friday!!). Most of us immerse ourselves in the “what” long before we start trying to understand the “why.”

    Now, forgive me, but I cannot contain my curiosity any longer, and I must ask: Why did (or, perhaps, do) beardless clergy and episcopal rings cause such consternation for the Orthodox?

  36. fatherstephen Avatar

    They are behaviors that contradict the canons.

    Father Stephen+

    Sent from my iTouch

  37. fatherstephen Avatar

    I’m not entirely certain about Anglo Catholicism. My experience of it from my years as an Anglican have left me with a very jaundiced view. It is of course a very recent invention not a living tradition. I should add that it is quite possible that Anglo Catholicism in the US and in the UK are very different things (I do think they are). I have almost no experience of UK Anglo Catholicism. Though both do not particularly predate the 19th century. It was a noble effort to recover some important things – but as Newman himself noticed – it is still lacking something. For one thing, for years it was in communion with the rest of Anglicanism which made it only a “option” like a “lifestyle choice.” The ACNA thing in America still leaves Anglo-Catholics in an odd marriage here (if they profess Tradition). If one actually believes Anglo-Catholic teaching (as I understand it) I cannot see how communion can be maintained with many of the other expressions of Anglicanism.

    The other problem is that the Tradition as assimilated by the A-C’s is an assimilation in which choice plays a role. There is no wholeness nor completeness to the Tradition – just the parts that were chosen to be assimilated. It is a very different experience in Orthodoxy (or should be). I might choose to be an unfaithful Orthodox Christian – but the Tradition is what it is and not what I might want it to be. Which seems an important thing to me.

    But I could be wrong in my thoughts on the A-C things. Forgive.

    Father Stephen+

    Sent from my iTouch

  38. Joseph Avatar

    Father, I have a question. How do we explain to the latins that when Christ breathes on them and says,” receive the Holy Spirit.” I am unsure how to approach this one thanks!

  39. fatherstephen Avatar

    I would think that the point would be to live in communion with the Spirit and not just talk about it. Same thing for the Greeks as for the Latins.

    My only use of the Byzantine lists is to quote a paragraph from a review to make the point of proper relationship between belief and practice. It would be all to easy for any of us in the modern period to substitute thinking about the faith to doing the faith – it’s part of the great temptation of modernity. I have not suggested that there is no Holy Spirit given in the West and would not suggest such a thing. I would suggest that when the Tradition becomes utterly truncated and our faith reduced to convenience (which can happen almost anywhere) then the gift of the Spirit is made less effectual. I don’t mean to say more than that.

    That the Holy Spirit is poured out on us makes possible our life in Christ – but synergy remains – nothing is automatic or theoretical.

    Fr. Stephen

  40. […] of those things will move you away from God.  Father Stephen had a post the other day about belief and practice that seems to me to fit like a glove with this idea. What we truly believe is to a very large […]

  41. Reid Avatar

    The Ochlophobist once made a post on this point that I found thoroughly, mind-changingly persuasive. He described the faith as something we are supposed to learn like a craft, imitating the masters, imitating those more advanced than we. The primary instruction for the novice is “do it this way.” (Of course he put it far more poetically).

    This explained conclusively for me how one can learn something important without it being a purely rational, academic endeavor (the classical Western approach) or a purely irrational, ecstatic, noncommunicable endeavor (the modern Western approach according to Francis Schaeffer). And of course once someone points it out, it is obvious that this is how we learn almost everything of importance. Children, for instance, learn to talk neither by academic effort nor by sudden irrational enlightenment, but simply by imitating their parents and older siblings.

  42. fatherstephen Avatar


    Interestingly, I first learned this point while studying under Stanley Hauerwas at Duke. He contends (in a manner that is quite Aristotelian) that we learn virtues by “practice,” that is, by doing them as a sort of apprenticeship. His most common illustration was brick-laying. I think it is quite apt and correct. Liturgy, as I wrote, is learning by doing. Children learn this way (we call it “play”). But adults do too. We just call it something else.

  43. […] theology is basically liturgical theology. This goes back to the ancient theological principle: lex orandi, lex credendi (the rule of prayer is the rule of faith). In focusing on written texts to the exclusion of the […]

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

Read my books

Everywhere Present by Stephen Freeman

Listen to my podcast