Speaking With Authority

And when Jesus finished these sayings, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes (Matt. 7:28-29).

cimabue2Authority is an interesting phenomenon – though not often what people may think. I remember the first few years of my ministry – fresh from seminary. There is probably no one in the religious world who knows more than a newly-graduated seminarian. I was no exception.

The first summer in my first parish (Anglican), I recall wearing sandals to Church. After the early service one elderly member of my parish who was never reluctant to speak her mind said to me: “I think your shoes are beneath the dignity of your office!”

I replied, “Jesus wore sandals.”

“You’re not Him!” was her terse response. And with that I had one of my first lessons in authority. Just because they’ve ordained you and put you in a position of authority doesn’t mean you have any. My years with this parishioner included walking her through serious health problems and a near-death illness. Before I left that parish my experience of authority was a very different matter.

There is an authority that has an “official” capacity. On paper you have all the authority you imagine. But the real thing comes from somewhere other than the paper. I believe that the authority of the priesthood is given in ordination – but the authority of the priesthood is nothing like what a young man imagines. The authority of the priesthood comes only from the Cross and anyone who would take a share in that authority must do so only at the cost of his life.

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth (Phil. 2:5-11).

That is the true account of authority.

This same understanding is particularly true when it comes to the authority of Scripture. There is certainly an authority that lies within the Scriptures – but such authority is not a ready weapon to everyone who would seek to wield them. The story of the sons of Sceva in the book of Acts is a precise example:

And God did extraordinary miracles by the hands of Paul, so that handkerchiefs or aprons were carried away from his body to the sick, and diseases left them and the evil spirits came out of them. Then some of the itinerant Jewish exorcists undertook to pronounce the name of the Lord Jesus over those who had evil spirits, saying, “I adjure you by the Jesus whom Paul preaches.” Seven sons of a Jewish high priest named Sceva were doing this. But the evil spirit answered them, “Jesus I know, and Paul I know; but who are you?” And the man in whom the evil spirit was leaped on them, mastered all of them, and overpowered them, so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded (19:11-16).

The authority of Scripture is Christ Himself – and the authority of Scripture comes only through union with Christ – crucified and risen. The authority of St. Paul (at least the authority to which he pointed) is not found in his apostleship – but rather in his weakness – his union with the crucified Jesus:

If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness (2 Corinthians 11:30).


I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me (Gal. 2:20).

This, it seems to me, is a particular problem for those who would exalt a method of interpretation and the “authority” of the Scriptures over the lived reality of the Apostles and those appointed to succeed them – most of whom died a martyr’s death. The authority of the Cross, of a life lived in conformity with the crucified Christ, bears an authenticity in interpreting the word of God that is simply missing in various modern systems of rational interpretation. Where are the marks of the Lord Jesus in man-made rational systems?

Henceforth let no man trouble me; for I bear on my body the marks of Jesus (Gal. 6:17).

By the same token the word of God in the hands of someone who lives the crucified life has an authority that cannot be taken away. It is not subject to rational argument. In the years of the early persecutions of the Church, men who had survived tortures (those known as “confessors”), were considered ordained by their suffering and served as priests without ordination (The Apostolic Traditions attributed to Hippolytus of Rome describe this, as do the writings and controversies that surrounded St. Cyprian of Carthage). Ordination is a sacrament whose authority flows from the Cross.

With this in mind, it is always with fear and trembling that any of us should take up the Scriptures to use them with authority. I cannot count the number of times I have seen Scripture used as a weapon to bully the faithful or to crush opponents. The use of “spiritual” authority that is not the authority of the Cross inevitably does harm and brings no life.

Christ spoke with an authority that was somehow different than that of the Scribes of His day. I think the essential difference was that He spoke consistently from a love that would take Him to the Cross – indeed a love that had been “slain from the foundation of the earth.” It is the true authority of God always revealed to us in the Cross of Christ. To read Scripture in any other manner is to lose its authority altogether.

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.





101 responses to “Speaking With Authority”

  1. Karen Avatar

    Dear Father, bless! How true are your words! The other day my son, now 12, and I had a conversation about supernatural phenomena. His friend claimed to have taken a photograph of a “ghost” in a haunted house while on vacation with his grandpa, and naturally my son was intrigued, claiming he could discern a dark shape with a scary face in the middle of the small screen image in his friend’s digital camera. We talked about the reality of demons and their intent and God and His purpose and the Holy Angels who serve Him. I showed him an online photo of an Orthodox Chrismation, where one of the newly illumined, a woman, is completely filled with light, so that only her shape in silhouette brightly lit is visible. It looks very authentic that the woman is aglow with the uncreated Light, though I pointed out we can have no way of knowing how authentic something is only from photos. In that context, I also told my son the story of the seven sons of Sceva, making basically the same point as you (the only real spiritual power comes through a heart loyal and submitted to Christ).

  2. Dean Arnold Avatar
    Dean Arnold

    Interesting words. Thank you. The later verses you quoted are rarely preached on.

  3. omorphia Avatar

    It’s interesting that in the early church, as you mention, confessors were considered ordained. And I also read, I think in Didache, that prophets could celebrate the eucharist.

    Didn’t they have enough priests and bishops back then? : ) Perhaps the Spirit that worked the ordination, was present in a special way in the confessors and prophets…

  4. fatherstephen Avatar

    The pattern reflected in Hippolytus and Cyprian tended to have a bishop who served within a “college” of priests (presbyters) in a more synodal form within the parish. This model would have had more priests (presbyters) than we would think of today. There was also a very great reverence for certain “charismatic” ministries, such as the unique work of grace in the lives of the confessors, etc. As the persecutions ceased these ministries took on other forms and the priesthood settled in more towards its present form. The place of monasticism within Orthodoxy has been a primary repository of these “charismatic” ministries. The ministry of eldership which is informal and yet quite vital in the history of Orthodoxy is one such example. Strict adherence to the discipline of ordination became the norm – quite likely a necessity in the face of the numerous heresies that plagued the centuries of the great councils. It is fascinating to see how the liberty of the Spirit and the discipline of the canonical life have worked in harmony throughout Orthodox history.

  5. spiritof76 Avatar

    Authority… It is a cetainty of life in this fallen world that authority will always be abused. Authority is always abusive! Even in the Church. With one, and only one, exception: the authority of God. For it is the authority of Love- the authority of the cross.

    “Oh! God, your way is in the Holy Place…. Your way is in the sea.”


  6. […] ..a good reminder.. 2009 August 3 by a.lenore Here’s another gem from Father Stephen. […]

  7. Steve Avatar

    This is an excellent post Father.

    It is according to the measure of indwelling love within us “slain” as it were “from the foundation of the earth” that we are given a measure of spiritual authority on earth.

    Who could have known that God’s zeal for His children (Exodus 19:5) was the unquenchable fire of His perfect love, for all?

  8. Romanós Avatar

    This post contains absolutely foundational thinking on authority and related issues, and everything here is true. Thank you, Fr Stephen, for your willingness in this, as well as all your other posts, to speak the truth boldly out of a humble heart, regardless of the consequences. Axios!

  9. Lewis Avatar

    In thirty years as a professor, I often encouraged graduate students to venture into research topics they wanted to know more about. Once and only once, a student chose to write on “authority”. He was a native African and, evidently, understood what he was writing about. Discussion of his topic revealed what a foreign concept this was to the American students — not to mention this professor.

    This is foundational, Father Stephen, and bears repeating.


  10. Nader Alfie Avatar

    Thank you for this, Father. I think very often we suppose we are helping the young people with whom we work by showing them strength and “success” models. Thus, we hide the Cross, the source of authority. I thank you greatly for this reminder.

  11. Stephen Avatar

    This certainly goes along the lines of the “inverted pyramid” concept. Everything, through the cross is turned on it’s head, back to the natural order of things, as they should be. This should be required reading in seminaries.

  12. fatherstephen Avatar


    I am deeply indebted to Elder Sophrony and his word on the “inverted pyramid” and the spiritual legacy of his life and teachings. I can think of few texts in the modern world that have as much value as his writings.

  13. John Avatar

    Do you not need a NT text that authorizes going beyond the NT for authority? It seems to me to be essential if you are going to jump from the NT to church history. I am not aware of any such text.

    On the appeal to martyrdom, what about the other religions who can introduce a long list of their own martyrs? I have had that point offered to me as an objection to Christianity. I do not believe you can prove the truthfulness of a doctrine by the martyrdom of its proponents.

    We all appeal to reason every day. We would be dysfunctional without it. Why do you have such a problem with using the mind God gave us when it comes to the Bible? Did God reveal Himself so that only a few could understand His message? How do we know which “few”? We have to use reason whether we read the Bible for ourselves or allow someone else to do that for us. You can play the “Locke card” all day and all night, but you can’t escape the use of human intellect to understand God’s message, or any other communication. I ask again, Is God not capable of giving a communication that can be understood?

    It is getting awkward talking with you without using your name. You know I can’t call you “Father,” and hopefully you know by now that I am not attempting to be rude. I just can’t do that. I will call you “Stephen” and please call me “John.” Also, as you know by now, I am not a prospect for conversion to Orthodoxy. However it is hoped that we both can grow by discussing Biblical teaching with the desire to trust and obey Biblical truth.

  14. fatherstephen Avatar


    I understand about the use of the title “Father.” You shouldn’t violate your conscience in the matter – I wouldn’t want you to.

    Reason plays a part, though what many people mean by reason (as in system, etc.) is not the same thing as saying “using our reason.” There are many ways reason may be used that are not synonymous with rationalistic schemes.

    For instance, we certainly use our reasoning faculties to drive a car – but if you have to “think” in order to drive – you’ll wreck. We certainly use our God given faculties but not in a reductionist manner.

    Many approaches to Biblical interpretation that are put forward as a use of “reason” are, in fact, reductionist and not a natural use of human reason.

    The absolute distinction between Scripture and the Church in which it was written is, to me, an example of a reductionist principle. The Scripture cannot be lifted out of the context of the life of the Church – it would be as though one was “disincarnating” the word of God. The life of that Church has a real history with real people whose names we know and whose testimony we know. That the Orthodox Church is that same Church is simply historically accurate. That the Scriptures are taken away from that Church to be used to serve another group, is, of course, possible. But not reasonable except according to certain a priori assumptions.

    Where you and I probably differ the most is that we have very different a priori assumptions. You would say that your assumptions are “Scriptural.” I would say that the assumptions come first and have then been applied as a hermeneutic to Scripture.

    As an Orthodox Christian, I would say that the hermeneutic of Scripture begins in the Church – the community founded by Christ – to whom the Scriptures were written and through whom they were and are interpreted.

    There is something of a “hermeutical circle” that has to start somewhere which always gets us into a priori assumptions. Even reason has to have a tradition by which it reasons.

    One of my complaints with Locke (to use the card) is that the Enlightenment understanding of reason (whether it is Locke or some other Enlightenment figure) is a cultural tradition that is mostly an illustration of its century (ies), not an absolute objective example of some God-given faculty.

    Another objection to the “rational” approach to Biblical interpretation is that the Scriptures are not given in a “rational” form. The Scriptures are not a collection of syllogisms. They are letters, gospels (which is a very unique form of writing) prophetic books, poetry, Law, etc. The Church bears witness that these are the Word of God but how that functions in the life of the Church is not to treat them like syllogistic texts. A story and a syllogism are very different things.

    How does a person learn a profession? They study and learn facts, of course. But there are things that cannot be taught by the facts. They have to be learned by apprenticeship, or something like it. One of my daughters in an artist. She certainly has to use her God-given faculties for what she does, though it could never be expressed syllogistically. She begin Art School (college) this fall. How she will study will not be “rational” but it will make her a more mature and competent artist.

    Biblical interpretation, I suggest, is similar. It is good to know the original languages (I would say it is essential). It is also important to know how the Church has read the texts through the ages. But it is also important to “apprentice”. Thus there is priestly and spiritual formation that occurs in the life of the Church (certainly within the Orthodox Church). This apprenticeship is a living thing and (enabled by the Spirit) has produced the steady life of interpretation that has existed for 2000 years in the Orthodox Church – correcting where necessary (as would be true in any apprenticeship), strengthening, etc. It seems to me that this is how human beings actually live and were meant to live.

    Rationalistic approaches always diminish this fullness of human life (it seems to me).

    I’ll give another example of rational diminishment from a seemingly unrelated area of life – but illustrative of the principle. Breast-feeding (really I’m not straying from the topic). My mother’s generation was taught not to breast-feed their children. Doctor’s in the 50’s and 60’s were convinced that medical science knew best and that rationally designed formulas were the best things for babies. Nevermind the fact that we are mammals and have nursed our young (as we were designed to do) as long as we have existed. Modern rationality knew better.

    Women in my generation were among those who sought to return to breast-feeding (my first child was born in 1980). Whenever they ran into difficulties their doctors were often of no help. The medical profession had strayed from a proper human tradition and substituted a rationalized version of the human (which was less than human). Women in my wife’s generation (and at present) found help through La Leche league, an organization of women who helped restore the traditional knowledge of breast feeding to the Western world. Fortunately the medical profession has “rediscovered” this aspect of human life (I suppose the market forced them to). Now there are “lactation specialists” on the staffs of ob-gyn’s. As I say, it may seem unrelated but this is an easy example of where modern “rational” approaches lorded it over “tradition” with the result of a diminished life for human beings. The modern era has been the witness of many rationalized schemes (Marxism is one of its most famous failures – a system that “rationalized” the human and economics with wholesale disaster). The Scriptures must be rightly used – and not mishandled by modern rational theories.

    There, of course, is a place for reason – but it must be a truly human reason and not an artificial form created out of the imagination of modern thinkers. The Orthodox interpretation of Scripture is not “irrational” but is a use of human reason that is, in fact, more fully human. Christ was fully man and fully God – not a human syllogism and a divine syllogism. This latter reduction is what I encounter in many so-called rational schemes.

    If you will, their problem is that they are not fully reasonable but only simulacra of reason.

    Sorry to go on so long – but I hope this gives a better account of my side of the conversation.

  15. Brantley Thomas Avatar
    Brantley Thomas


    If the authors of the text of the New Testament were God inspired, weren’t the ones who decided which texts to include in the canon also inspired?

    And with respect to the New Testament “authorizing” some tradition outside of itself, it seems that 2nd Thessalonians 2:15 would seem to be a direct answer to your question. Any other way of reading it would seem to be a twisting of meaning to make it mean what you want it to mean. (I’m aware that you’ve already commented on this passage in another thread, but if it’s not possible for you to read those verses without honestly realizing that there were traditions that were not documented at that time, I don’t know that there’s anything anyone here can tell you that would be edifying for you.)

    Not to be ironic, it seems to me that it may simply NOT be possible to encapsulate the Logos of God with words.

    For example, when Luke and Cleopas were on the road to Emmaus, they talked extensively (hours!) with Jesus. Where is the record of that conversation? Did Luke and Cleopas take it to their graves? What do you suppose they talked about? Why was it not written down?

    Just my $0.02, of course.

  16. fatherstephen Avatar


    Of course, I agree. I am at a loss as to how 2nd Thess. 2:15 should be read other than as the Orthodox having always read it. The example of Tradition’s role in the authorship of the NT seems obvious to me (but I’m exposed to the Tradition every day).

    For instance, the structure of St. John’s gospel – which is not apparent to the non-Orthodox – is revealed by its use in Tradition. It is appointed to be read in the Church between Pascha and Pentecost – precisely the time in the ancient Church that the newly-Baptized underwent the “Mystygogical Catechesis” (the instruction in the Sacraments of the Church – prior to Baptism at the time the non-Baptized were not allowed to be present during the celebration of the Holy Mysteries). We have examples in the writings of the fathers of instruction that took place during these catecheses. But John’s gospel is arranged in a manner that follows the needs of this catechetical instruction. After the prologue, there is a series of water-related stories (actually Baptismal related stories) then the great Eucharistic story of the feeding of the 5,000 with Christ’s instruction following it (which almost makes no sense except that this account be used for instruction on the Eucharist). John’s gospel does not include the narrative of the Last Supper (not because he does not know it as some non-sensical liberal scholars would claim). St. John’s gospel has the most profound eucharistic instruction of any place in Scripture – but is set in the context of the feeding of the 5,000. But the Church has always understood those miracle stories as being instructive of the mystery of the eucharist and more than just a “miracle.” Everybody understood the miracle – but that was their problem. They could not see beyond the miracle to the great paschal mystery of Christ’s body and blood. St. John reveals this more clearly.

    But many “rational” approaches (which tend to focus on links between words and verses, etc.) fail to see the larger structure and therefore fail to read correctly. Again, it is the example of the lack of the “Apostolic Hypothesis” about which St. Irenaeus teaches. St. Irenaeus, by the way, did not make this stuff up. He was personally acquainted with St. Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna and early martyr, who was (as a young man) a protege of the Apostle John. St. Irenaeus himself undergirds his own apostolic succession and authority in interpreting Scripture with this historical fact: “I knew Polycarp who knew John.” To dismiss such historical evidence makes no sense to me – except that someone has a man-made rule about the function of the Bible in the life of the Church. Orthodoxy does not (nor did Irenaeus) deny the authority of Scripture. Indeed, we were the first to proclaim it. But we also were the first to interpret it – because this ministry was given to us by Christ Himself (personally and not just by a Bible verse).

  17. J.D. Avatar


    “Do you not need a NT text that authorizes going beyond the NT for authority?”

    It seems to me that if one accepts that there were followers of Christ (Church) roaming around before any NT writings were even contemplated (pick you inspiration definition) and then penned, the predponderant challenge would be to find when, where and how the switch was made from “word of mouth” to “apostles memoirs” (Justin Martyr).

    Just wondering.

  18. Irenaeus of New York Avatar

    ‘Since, therefore, the tradition from the apostles does thus exist in the Church, and is permanent among us, let us revert to the Scriptural proof furnished by those apostles who did also write the Gospel, in which they recorded the doctrine regarding God, pointing out that our Lord Jesus Christ is the truth, and that no lie is in Him.’
    Irenaeus, Against Heresies 3,5,1 (inter A.D. 180/199).

  19. Irenaeus of New York Avatar

    ‘For how should it be if the apostles themselves had not left us their writings? Would it not be necessary to follow the course of the tradition which they handed down to those whom they did commit the Churches?’
    Irenaeus, Against Heresies 3, 4:1 (inter A.D. 180/199).

  20. Steve Avatar

    John’s teaching handed to him by the angel in Revelation 19:10 is nothing less than a call to live out the Decalogue, to give flesh to that which is in essence pure Spirit.

    Part 1: Worship God (as if anything else mattered!)

    Part 2: Give testimony of the reconciliation brought about by Jesus’ act of self-sacrifice. This is the spirit of prophecy because it carries us directly into the one eternal reality, which is God (compare Ezekiel 8).

  21. Damaris Avatar


    I approve the use of reason as a God-given faculty, but we must use this faculty in considering the place Holy Scripture has in our lives. You ask for a NT text that authorizes looking elsewhere for authority. Others have offered answers to that question. But consider this: You drive a car, I assume, yet the NT never says to drive a car. You use a computer, perhaps watch TV, fly on an airplane — none of these are permitted nor addressed at all in the NT. There is nothing about them because the authors knew nothing about them, of course. Your reason can make sense of the lack of reference to such important things in the Bible. We reasonably use those things without considering ourselves unbiblical.

    The authors of the NT, though divinely inspired to write everything necessary for salvation, didn’t write about a future they didn’t know. But they also didn’t say very much about something that they knew so well that they almost didn’t notice it: that the Good News was and always would be spread by human contact, by mentors to disciples. I suspect it would have surprised them that we were even having this conversation. How else did people learn? they would ask. Mothers didn’t give their children a book to read about manners and cleaning and cooking. Carpenters and fishermen didn’t hand manuals to their apprentices and expect not to have to teach them. (The fact that most teaching now is done that way goes a good way toward explaining why education is in such a mess today.)

    I once heard the Bible compared to the Code of Law. Our society respects and follows the Law — it’s one of the best things about this country. But the Law, though complete and excellent, has no power by itself to make arrests or to teach people civic behavior. Those things must be done by people. These people are not in competition with the Law Code, they are working with it; if they differ from it they condemn themselves. In the same way the Bible is complete and perfect for what it is; but it does not have hands and feet, or a voice, or a lap and a loving face. It is through the Church that the Bible is alive, just as it is through judges and policemen and mothers and teachers that the Law is alive.

    The Church, according to the Scriptures we both respect, is the Body of Christ. We are invited to the wedding feast; we may equate the Bible with the invitation. What proper guest clings to his invitation and stares at it once he is at the feast and has the Incarnate Christ to adore? How can we ignore what the Bible tells us is the Body of our Savior? I love the Bible with all my heart, but it mustn’t come between us and the relationship it is inviting us to. Then it becomes an idol.

    Father Stephen and other readers, please correct me if anything I have said is wrong or unkind.

  22. spiritof76 Avatar

    I’m a real Christian. I believe in Jesus Christ and he’s a real person. And I worship Him because he is God. We have a relationship. I don’t think that I would want to substitute a book, even a Holy Book, for this relationship. How does one commune with a book?

    I suppose that I would use the Bible like John does if I were afraid of the real thing. (Yes, I remember how it was before. When I avoided mystery. ) I will pray for John, that he lose his fear. I will think of him as I say vespers tonight.

    “Oh! God, your way is in the holy place….Your way is in the sea.”


  23. fatherstephen Avatar


    Works for me. I am particularly drawn to the aptness of the image of apprenticeship (which I also noted in an earlier comment). Stanley Hauerwas at Duke has used the image quite effectively in his theological work (I studied with him when I was at Duke). The human quality of this mode of reason is important when we speak about what proper “reason” is in the first-place. Much of what many people describe as reason is simply simple math (or something similar). Simple math is useful but insufficient to describe the universe as it actually is. There are very sophisticated mathematical models that come closer – but they can only ever approximate because in terms of math – the simplest of natural structures and processes are too complex for such expression. Though the most sophisticated math falls short – a child is able to comprehend and express and be something that transcends such “rational” attempts. It is because the “reason” of a child (and a normal adult) transcends reductionist models.

    An extremely common expression in Orthodox hymnography (and thus in our liturgical life) is the description of the members of the Body of Christ as “reason-endowed sheep.” In the service of Baptism the prayer is offered that the person to be illumined may become a “reason-endowed sheep in the flock of Thy Christ.” This expression particularly relates to the logos of human nature. Our logos (or reason) is, according to the fathers, not the mere “thinking ability” but that within us which is in the image of the Logos, Christ. It is our existence in the image of Christ (healed and restored in Baptism) that makes us “reason-endowed.” Apart from Christ we dwell in delusion. We are invited to flee our “former delusion” in our entry into the Church.

    There is, ultimately, no such thing as “unaided” reason, for there is no reason that exists apart from union with the Reason (Logos). Unaided reason is just another myth of the secular view of the world. The Scriptures teach us that “in Him we live and move and have our being,” which would obviously include our reasoning. Apart from Christ, “we can do nothing.” The gospel accounts make it clear that the disciples only understand the Scriptures after the resurrection and because Christ makes them known. It is not reason (unaided) that reveals – but reason, in the Light of Christ, that can see or understand.

    The “common sense” of the 18th century philosophers is simply an effort to underwrite a secularized view of reality in which we live and reason as independent agents. There is no doctrine of union or participation (koinonia) in the Divine life in such a philosophy. It is inadequate.

  24. Brantley Thomas Avatar
    Brantley Thomas

    Father Stephen,

    This actually raises a good question for me. One of the things that interested me greatly when I was a developing catechumen was the idea of “nous”. I first encountered it in +Kallistos Ware’s book (the shorter one…can’t remember the name).

    It seems to me that leaving the nous out of the “rational thinking” process is what leads to the reductionist philosophy particularly prominent in Protestant exegesis.

    I don’t know if you’ve ever written on the nous before (and its distinction from the “logical” faculties). Could you expand on this? Is this nuanced translation of “nous” explained anywhere but in Orthodoxy?


  25. GVM Avatar


    You’re thinking of The Orthodox Way, and I just read it recently (as a current Catechumen).


  26. fatherstephen Avatar


    Western spiritual writings are familiar with the nous, which, interestingly was translated intellectus in Latin – but obviously has a meaning that is not the same as the English “intellect.” I have not written particularly on the nous primarily because it is quite difficult to give adequate expression. Also, interestingly, it is not a dominant word in the writings of the Elder Sophrony (and those of St. Silouan of Mt. Athos) whose expressions have been the most helpful to me in my efforts to articulate the tradition. Both Sophrony and St. Silouan worked primarily with the word “heart” which carries the same meaning as nous (more or less) and, in Sophrony, a particular development of the doctrine of personhood.

    One of the driving forces of my writing is an effort to give expression to the Tradition of the faith in words and images that help translate it for modern readers and those who want to know more about the faith. I am very far from expertise in these matters. I know a very few things and work to express them with care and any insight God might give. It is a very small thing (indeed). But we live in a world that is wrapped in a great darkness such that even a little light is welcome.

    Some modern writers have done very good work with the language of the nous. I especially recommend Archimandrite Meletios Webber’s book Bread & Water, Wine & Oil. He writes with very helpful insights on the nous. I have been slowly digesting the book for the past number of months. Perhaps in a year or so I will have digested it enough that I can reflect on his language in a way that is useful. By your prayers.

    The writings of Met. Hierotheos Vlachos are also very articulate with regard to the nous – but my own journey has been most helped by the works of the Elder Sophrony, hence the direction of my writing.

  27. Lizzy L Avatar
    Lizzy L

    In Buddhist tradition, adherents are taught not to confuse the finger which points at the moon for the moon itself. It seems to me that the insistence on “sola Scriptura” mistakes the finger — the written words of Holy Scripture — for that to which it points — the Living Logos, Christ. If all the New Testaments in the world were suddenly to go up in smoke, we would still have the guidance of the teaching of the Church, the written testimony of the saints, the lives of the martyrs, through the liturgy and the sacraments, especially the Eucharist, and through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit Who leads us to Christ.

  28. fatherstephen Avatar

    The Orthodox theology the 7th Ecumenical Council drew the comparison between Scripture and Icons – “Icons do with color what Scripture does with words.” There is very fruitful thought to be found in that simple statement (I have a particular interest in the topic – it having been the subject of my thesis at Duke – which is to say I’ve been thinking about it for 20 years now – and I’m not through).

  29. Sea of Sin Avatar

    Perhaps it was St Anthony the Great whose life teaches us about authority that is most revolutionary: he shunned wielding authority over others, but equally avoided being under someone’s authority so as not give the other occasion to sin. Quite radical.

  30. Sea of Sin Avatar


    “….it is hoped that we both can grow by discussing Biblical teaching with the desire to trust and obey Biblical truth.”

    It is a noble desire, but impossible given the diffferent starting points. These must be laid bare before any fruitful discussion can commence.

    So, for instance, what makes a teaching “biblical” from your point of view? And, how is this determined? Which method is used to come to this answer? Why so?

    How precisely do your answers to these questions, how does your approach differ from the Orthodox approach? How do they come to answer these questions, and why so?

    Not until these fundamental questions are examined can we move on to growiing together.

  31. spiritof76 Avatar

    Fr. Stephen,

    I would like to thank you very much for this blog. I’ve been reading it for about a year. You all teach me a lot. All of you.

    I think that the two different ways of knowing, that you speak of, can easily be experienced by anyone. I think that it can be demonstated to your self.

    I have read the bible through the years ( over 40 years as a Christian) in two differnt ways. I can read it and try to understand what it means like I do when reading a text book. That has gotten me a long ways with my Christian freinds. I have been a bible teacher and a catechist. Or I can read the bible while paying attention to my “inner man”. Like I would in trying to understand a person. Or as I would in reading a letter from a loved one. That has gotten me a long ways with God. In this way I let the bible speak to me as the Holy Spirit opens my heart.

    Maybe I could put it this way: I can read the bible to acquire understanding or I can read the bible to aquire the Holy Spirit.

    I know that I am not putting this very well, but I think that any one can learn to do this. And demonstate the difference to himself.

    It is very dificult to help a “reasoner” like John, with more reason. Sometimes I think that if we could just get such a one to try an experience of God it would be more helpful. But we would have to get him to experience silence. At least for a moment.

    What say you?

    “O God, your way is in the holy place….Your way is in the sea.”


  32. handmaid leah Avatar

    John wrote:

    “On the appeal to martyrdom, what about the other religions who can introduce a long list of their own martyrs? I have had that point offered to me as an objection to Christianity. I do not believe you can prove the truthfulness of a doctrine by the martyrdom of its proponents.”

    Actually, I think you can. There are examples of Buddist monks in Viet Nam and back in 1976 – Oskar Brüsewitz, a German Lutheran preacher, committed self-immolation to protest the war (seek peace) and Communist repression of Christianity, respectively. This act also occurs with regularity in Afghanistan where women set themselves on fire because they do not want forced marriage or to get out of abusive ones. Can we agree that these are acts of desperation? Yet some consider them martyrs.
    The suicide bombers of extremist Islam are another example – and they are considered martyrs for their faith, indeed instructed that this is the fastest way to Paradise and the more infidels you can murder, the better.
    These are examples of individuals who self-destructed and/or took innocents with them when they committed their act – this is unknown in Holy Orthodox Christianity.
    In Orthodoxy- St Sophia and her daughters come to mind as one example of those who encouraged their loved ones to remain steadfast unto death for Jesus Christ’s sake. And there are a few examples of those who sought to atone for sin and made themselves available to the pagans or Muslims knowing what would probably occur- but even then they did not kill themselves anymore than Christ did by allowing Himself to be arrested and put on trial.
    Christians would accept whatever God willed – even if that be life without their loved ones, physical death and suffering, or a lifetime of monasticism or marriage. The goal is to be like Christ.
    I think the answer to those who would challenge Christianity on the basis of martyrdom is found in the type and quality of those martyrs. Who an individual is willing to die for and What they are willing to die for and How that death occurs reveal the answer… were they like Jesus Christ?

  33. Karen Avatar

    Handmaidleah, I agree. There is a huge qualitative difference, and a radical difference in meaning, between the martyrdom of genuine Christians (all of whom in the first millenium AD were Orthodox), and those of other religions. One of the delusions of my relative’s “Boston Movement” church, was that, a priori, because such “Christians” were outside their group/tradition, Christians in other groups, such as the Orthodox, who had given so many martyrs for Christ over the past centuries, were not to be considered genuinely converted to Christ and were therefore “prospects” for conversion, as John has put it above. Therefore, the significance of their martyrdom had to be overcome and minimized (no doubt, using biblical rationales) in effort to convince them of their need for Christ. Shameful and sad!

    The account you linked to was very moving for me as the mother of a nine year old girl with special needs. My daughter’s vulnerability is a source of anxiety for me that I continually have to offer to the Lord. I was very comforted by the account of the Lord’s faithful sustaining of these young Saints and their godly mother through their torture. It was a reminder and encouragement to me that the Lord will always provide what we need as we are faithful to Him. It is accounts like these that continue to bring the real meaning of the Scriptures fully to life. Thank you.

    This past Sunday morning, our Priest dedicated a new icon on our iconostasis of St. Maria of Skobttsova of Paris, who died as a martyr in the gas ovens of the Nazis after taking the place of another prisoner condemned to death–another reminder that the life of Christ continues to be expressed in the faithful in His Church to the present age.

    Father, bless!

  34. John Avatar

    “And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” (John 8:32 NKJV)

    This statement was made before any post 100 AD church council ever met. No one disagrees with that. Could the people who heard that statement from Jesus know the truth and be freed from the guilt of sin through it?

  35. Sea of Sin Avatar

    “And so it is that I see the Orthodox faith confronting me yet again!”

    Yippie! Go around in circles. Look Ma, no hands! 😀

  36. Sea of Sin Avatar

    John I fail to see how your last post relates to your earlier post and the responses to you. Would you explain, please?

  37. Stephen Avatar

    “And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” (John 8:32 NKJV)

    John says:

    This statement was made before any post 100 AD church council ever met. No one disagrees with that. Could the people who heard that statement from Jesus know the truth and be freed from the guilt of sin through it?
    This statement was also made before any of the NT was written down. The truth is a person, “Jesus Christ”. He established the church as His body and within and through this body the NT was written and decided upon. I personally would like to know the person and be conformed to His image and likeness in and through the Church which He established and promised would prevail. “…I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.” (Matt. 16:18b).

  38. Steve Avatar


    There are special graces to be obtained in unity, chief of which is that peace which passeth all understanding.

    The flip side to a lack thereof (disunity) is evidence that a deeper redemptive work is required (which of course starts and finishes with myself).

    The Kingdom of God is within, and I have to keep reminding myself of this every day.


  39. Steve Avatar


    Just wanted to add a couple of points.

    The fact that the Kingdom is within, is not to deny the corporate nature of redemption, but rather it is to say that God has provided all means by which we may attain a perfect redemption here on earth.

    Nor do we take denominational labels (if we even have them) with us when we stand before the Throne of God, which is where we really ought to be, all of the time.

    Keep seeking and you will find even more than what you already have. There is more to this than we can imagine. Much more.


  40. John Avatar

    I take ‘the truth’ of John 8.32 as parallel to the ‘perfect [note perfect] law of liberty’ of James 1.25 and ‘the faith once for all delivered’ of Jude 3. The point is that the NT claims within its own pages to be God’s complete revelation. If they (in the first century) could be saved without the church councils, then so can we.

    Jesus certainly is the truth, per John 14.6. But in the John 8 text, He was talking about His word, note v 31.

    The NT itself was obviously and work-in-progress during the first century, but the full teaching was available orally (tradition, if you will). However by 100 AD or so that was all written down and (with the texts cited above) we do not need any further tradition or whatever you want to call it.

    The later canonization process had nothing to do with the original manuscripts being God’s word. They were already God’s word. They did not become so 400 years later.

  41. Brantley Thomas Avatar
    Brantley Thomas


    Re-read the prologue to the Gospel of St. John, particularly the bit about “The Word was with God, and the Word WAS GOD”.

    The word isn’t the book. If you think so, then you’ve just created what Fr. Stephen calls a “Christian Koran”.

    Jesus is all truth, and not some part of it. As I said earlier, it’s not possible to encapsulate the Logos (which by the way is the word that is used in the Prologue of John) with words.

    Finally, I don’t see how you can separate the canonization process from the creation of the bible. There were many texts floating around and that had been used (and others ignored) by the different churches. Was the discussion of which ones to reject and which ones to include not inspired?

    As I’m sure you’re aware, the Apocalypse (i.e. the Revelation) very nearly did not make it into the canon. Was the discussion that finally canonized that not inspired?

  42. Barbara Avatar

    Darlene’s words, “…then I can worship in my own home with Bible in hand, trusting that the truth of the Scriptures will be revealed to me and my household,” were especially poignant for me. Many of my protestant family and friends are in exactly this place, as was I before I gratefully came home. I believe this is a growing trend in Protestants who get the end of what protestantism offers, become cynical about the church, and refuse all authority except their own. I’ve also noticed that many are pouring their lives into charitable projects as a way to soothe their souls and live “authentic” Christian lives.

    My heart weeps for them.

  43. GVM Avatar

    “And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” (John 8:32 NKJV)

    Yes, and the Truth is Jesus Christ Himself. You can only know the Person of Christ through the Body of Christ, His Church, who not only wrote and brought together but also protects the New Testament. There is no “NT Church,” there is the Church’s NT, as Fr Stephen has said previously.

  44. fatherstephen Avatar

    I agree with John – the Scripture was the Scripture before the Church canonized it – to this the fathers agree. But even the Church in the NT had a Council (in Jerusalem). Those saved before the council were still saved – but the council was necessary. The other councils of the Church were brought about by necessity – not because the Church wanted to say anything different than it had always said or intended. The fullness is given from God. However, I think, John, you have an improper focus. You focus on the “perfection” and “completion” of Scripture – but it is of the Church that the Scriptures say it is the “fullness of Him that filleth all in all” and that it is the Church that is the “pillar and ground of truth.” Your extraction of the Scriptures from the Church is non-biblical. But I think I’ve made that point before. We disagree.

    I should make a small remark to Steve – on the matter of denominations.

    Orthodoxy is not a denomination. Denominations are Protestant inventions. The Church is eternal and is our union with the Divine Life of God. It is one, holy, catholic and apostolic (though nowhere described as “invisible” as some say). It is also Orthodox (giving “right glory” or “right worship” – holding to the Truth).

    I know that this runs counter to the thoughts of my protestant readers – but this is the faith as we have received it and my stewardship of the blog site requires me (I think) to uphold this.

    Peace to you both.

  45. GVM Avatar


    Good points, and also don’t forget that Jesus said the Pharisees searched the Scriptures but did not know Christ from that search.

    The Word is a Person, not a Book.

  46. Darla Avatar

    “You shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free.” I also think it worth mentioning that the Church is in fact the “pillar and foundation” of that truth. It’s the church, is it not, that both holds the truth up and gives it its foundation? The Church is doing this, not the words in the book called the Bible.

  47. J.D. Avatar


    Yes if the church is invisible, with my ipod I can stay home and hear the “best preaching” and the “best music” and even have personal communion and not have to mingle with all those “hypocrites”.

    But thank God, the church is real,visible, tangible with blessed sensory perception.


    As a recent convert I love your comments, your passion and your perception. I think the word you are looking for is “Geronimo” as you pull the rip cord. I continue to pray for you and your journey.

  48. J.D. Avatar


    I love your comittment to what you belief. I have been there and now have been set free from the bondage or rationalism. Perhaps someone spiked your punch with a dose of John Locke.

    Again, may God have mercy on you and on me as we seek to be in harmony and communion with the Holy Trinity through the Church, the pillar of truth.

  49. fatherstephen Avatar


    There was a madness begotten at the Reformation. Men in their eager criticism of the Roman Catholic Church gradually gave themselves over to an anti-church spirit (just as they embraced a spirit that did not regard the saints or despised the most holy mother of God). This spirit has led them to despise their own churches as mere human institutions (believing instead in a make-believe, second-storey “invisible” church). It is similar to the madness that breaks out from time to time against holy images. The icon smashers seem to stop at nothing. This is the spirit of revolution and historically has wrought great harm to mankind.

    Your instinct about the Church – and recognition of its proper place as taught in Scripture – is indeed the medicine against this madness. The Church is the Body of Christ (and not to be dismissed or despised). The great good news is that we can be in union with God in His Church. Despite every human failing and sin – God has preserved His Church.

    May He protect you during this very vulnerable time and bring you safely to the heavenly shore. I will keep you in my prayers – weak as they are.

  50. Darlene Avatar


    You said, “However, it is hoped that we both can grow by discussing Biblical teaching with the desire to trust and obey Biblical truth.”

    I have heard this idea expressed by many within Protestantism who are not members of the Church of Christ. Within this paradigm it is inferred that there is an objective Biblical truth that can be arrived at. So far, so good. However, the manner (HOW) one arrives at this “Biblical truth” differs within the various Protestant camps. Yes, Sola Scriptura (Bible Alone) is affirmed by all these various strains of Protestantism, but the conclusions arrived at differ from camp to camp.

    I have found myself at the edge of Orthodoxy for the last few years. Just when I think I am ready to take the leap, I try to convince myself that I need to give Protestantism a fair shake once again. After all, how can I leave the camp with which I am so familiar? Was this not the place where I came to be saved and introduced to Christ as my Lord and Savior? How can I abandon this camp and live in good conscience?

    As questions of this nature begin to bombard my mind, a reality hits me like a ton of bricks. OK, WHICH church should I attend? This is where the process of “church shopping” (for lack of a better term) begins. I begin doing my homework. I look into the Methodist churches, but many of them have departed from John Wesley’s teachings. And one can get a “mixed bag” where liberalism abounds in one parish and fundamentalism in another. There is no consistency to be found. So on to the next denomination. The Calvinist Reformed are serous about doctrine but their TULIP is an invention from the 16th century. Lutheranism (Missouri Synod) practices the sacraments of Baptism and The Lord’s Supper. But they are extreme in their view of “no works necessary” and their understanding of “faith alone.” Then there are the Baptists. Yet most of them while stressing baptism think little of what it actually does or means. And the Lord’s Supper is minimized and open to anyone who merely claims they accepted Christ at some point in their life. And which Baptist church do I attend? Southern, American, Independent, Free-will, Primitive, Reformed, yadda yadda. Each has its nuances of belief and practices that differ with the other.

    So it is that I start ruling out each denomination one by one and am left with Orthodoxy staring me in the face. All of the Protestant denominations would say they “desire to trust and obey Biblical truth.” Yet they ignore the Church that passed on the Scriptures and canonized them, saying that creeds and councils are not “infallible.” So how can they trust this Church that infallibly canonized the very Scriptures that they read? IOW, how can they trust the very Scriptures when they don’t trust the Church that canonized them? And why do they reject some of the books that were accepted as the Canon of Scripture for over 1,000 years? By what criteria? If the Church was wrong about the Deuterocannonicals, maybe they were wrong about some of St. Paul’s letters. Again I ask, HOW CAN THEY TRUST THE SCRIPTURES WHEN THEY DON’T TRUST THE CHURCH THAT PROCLAIMED AND CANONIZED THE SCRIPTURES IN THE FIRST PLACE?

    And so I am left with the sad conclusion that Protestants extract the Scriptures from the Church, putting them at odds with each other. Only the Scriptures are trustworthy and capable of being believed, they say. All other sources are fallible and prone to error. WE BELIEVE ONLY THE SCRIPTURES, they say. With one word they point to the SCRIPTURES ALONE, and with another slight of hand, they point to themselves. Listen to us and what WE say about the Bible. They claim the BIBLE ALONE while pointing to their teaching at the same time, which is an outside source of the BIBLE ALONE. That outside source rejects the teaching of the councils, creeds, and early fathers and replaces it with their own beliefs and statements of faith. It is a duplicity that many Protestants are blind to as I was for so many years.

    Hey, if all I need is the BIBLE ALONE and the church is invisible, then I can worship in my own home with Bible in hand, trusting that the truth of the Scriptures will be revealed to me and my household. After all, “is God not capable of giving a communication that can be understood?”

    The question is, is that “comunication that can be understood” in spite of and apart from the Church or because of and connected to the Church? If the first premise be true, how can one know the communication they are receiving is in harmony with the Author’s intentions? If the latter is true, then WHICH Church has been established and in existance, unchanged in its doctrines and beliefs since the Apostles?

    And so it is that I see the Orthodox faith confronting me yet again!


  51. Ryan Avatar

    This may have been said before, but I believe a common confusion in American Christianity is that John 1 refers to the words of God, as opposed to God the Word who became flesh. the Logos was a stone of stumbling yet became a cornerstone, and a rock onto which the strong building was built. The faith of the Apostles were the rocks of foundation upon which the Church was built, and the believers are the little stones to make up the rest. Nowhere does Scripture say that the words of God in any way equate to the ekklesia. They are instead for our teaching, refutation, correction, and training. (exactly how 2Tim3:16 justifies sola scriptura remains beyond me). And so they are for us as Orthodox, as well as for you. We in no way ever try to downplay the words of God. We just acknowledge that there were more words. The Scriptures don’t, for instance, explain in clear terms how to worship. (Unless of course someone shows you how it does).
    John, we know from Acts that the apostles worshipped on saturday in the synagogues. We also know, as it was foretold, that the Christians were expelled from the synagogues. They worshipped liturgically in the Synagogue. Would they have stopped once the Jews kicked them out? We know from Hebrews that worship on Earth is patterned after heavenly service (leitourgos). Our worship is based upon this pattern – shown to us throughout the OT and into Revelations. John saw 7 lampstands because the altar has 7 lampstands. In 100AD and today.
    I would agree that this is not necessarily obvious. The “plain text” could be interpreted differently. Like other elements to Tradition, instruction as how to worship was passed down from the apostles to their disciples to today.

  52. John Avatar

    Darlene – I wrote a rather lengthy comment this afternoon, largely in response to yours. Regrettably, my aim was faulty in the key I was going for and I deleted the whole thing. I was trying to delete one sentence that I thought was off topic in the thought I was pursuing, and lost everything. After that I just put up a shorter comment.

    I truly believe that we have in the church of Christ restored the basic framework of the church that existed in the book of Acts. I believe we are the true church. Stephen believes exactly the same thing about the Orthodox. He can correct me if I’m wrong. Many of their practices I believe to be extra-biblical. Stephen knows that and that is why we’re having this discussion. I think it all comes down to the matter of authority – The Orthodox believe the church has authority, I believe all authority is in the gospel, the written word, that is the New Testament. I understand the OT to be God’s word, profitable, indeed extremely valuable in understanding the NT, but that the NT is our sole law for today.

    Stephen – If I have misstated your position, just correct it in a new comment or post. The council in Jerusalem is not a consideration for our discussion because it was before the completion of the writing of the NT and apostles were present. Councils after 100 AD do not meet these two criteria and therefore cannot be justified by the Jerusalem council. It is apples and oranges. Also, I am not sure what you mean by attributing to me, ‘the extraction of the scriptures from the church.’ 1) Christ’s purpose was to establish the church and 2) the church’s mission is to preach the word. The church is simply the saved and Jesus came to save people. I am stating that very simply and one could talk about many subpoints under each of the two. I imagine we would agree on the basic statement above, but would disagree on some particulars.

  53. Darla Avatar

    John, I don’t presume to speak for Fr. Stephen, but I’ll comment since I have a moment and a thought: You say you believe the church of Christ is “restored” the New testament church framework, and then say you think the Orthodox church says the same thing about itself. But in Orthodoxy, I don’t believe this IS true. In Orthodoxy, nothing needs to be restored — God’s church was never destroyed or lost. To me, as an inquirer who is not yet Orthodox (but plans to be), this has been a “deal breaker,” if you will, for me. I’d much rather be a part original Christianity than a “restored” version since it’s the former that is in accordance with the Bible (the Bible says the gates of hell would not prevail against the church, so if you’re saying it has needed restoration, you’re saying this Scripture is not true).

  54. fatherstephen Avatar


    Yes, we differ. I would characterize the Orthodox position a little differently. It is not the authority of the Church instead of Scripture – we see all authority as in Christ – it is manifest in His Scriptures – it is manifest in His Church – it is manifest in all those places where He has caused it to rest.

    That you see all authority as being in the Scripture is precisely why I describe your position as having removed the Scriptures from the context of the Church and why I think you not only do not read them correctly, but cannot, and are sadly mistaken about the Church and any relation that has with the contemporary “Church of Christ.” It’s simply another Protestant group following theories of modern men – not established by Christ but by your own opinion of the Scriptures. I understand the points you make and, I think, what you mean by them, I simply think their wrong.

    Were the 18th century to have been missing from history, the Church of Christ (denomination) would have never come into being, since its founding philosophy dates back no further. Had the 19th century in America been missing from history, there would be no Church of Christ (denomination) because its uniquely American situation for its founding would have been missing.

    Had the Orthodox been missing from the 1st century there would be no Church – for it is they whom Christ established and who have kept what was once and for all delivered to them – by the mercies of God.

    I’ve heard before that the Church of Christ believed itself to be the true Church. It is among the stranger theories to have come out of Protestantism. The period between 1800 and 1860 was a period of great crisis in Protestant thought – particularly about the question of the Church. There are interesting reasons in Protestant history – particularly in England and America that brought this about. The mainline groups settled the crisis with the theory of the “invisible church,” relativizing all earthly structures as of mere temporal interest. Various other groups sought to create a single coalescing Protestant Church – built around various theories. The Reformed Episcopal was founded in Eastern Kentucky around that time and, of course, did not succeed in becoming the one Protestant Church. The Restoration Movement began in the same area of the country and succeeded in becoming three (at least) new denominations – of which yours is now the true one. Cult movements such as the Mormons and others (as a truly aberrant manifestation) sought to solve the same crisis with their own re-inventions of the church. (I know you see them in as much error as I do.) But all of these movements are representative of the same social forces at work. Thus, I think of the Restoration Movement as a mere manifestation of historical anxiety – peculiar to a point in modern history – brought on by some of the errors inherent in Protestantism. It is not the restoration of the church – but a historical artifact.

    The greatest danger to the Restoration Movement is the honest study of history.

    Sorry for any unkindness in my words. I do not mean to be unkind but honest. I deeply appreciate the humility and patience you bring to this conversation and offer my respect.

  55. J.D. Avatar


    Do you accept that the resulting conclusion of the Council of Jerusalem was based on what the leaders of the church deemed appropriate to mercifully bring the Gentiles into the Church. There were no words from Jesus as to how to accomplish this and the only available writings were from the Hebrew writings that dimly but consistently offered up the notion that one day the “nations” would be drawn into communion with God. Stating that their decision also pleased the Holy Spirit, they promulgated their decision with great authority (decree/dogma).

    That’s the authority of the church especially in this case being devoid of scriptures. By the way, I’m awfully happy as a Gentile to be brought in without having to become a Jew first.

  56. Brantley Thomas Avatar
    Brantley Thomas


    I’m sorry, but your entire premise is simply flawed. The Church came before the scriptures and not the other way around. Paul had to have someone to write to before he could write. History, tradition, archaeology and a little common sense will to bear me out.

    Once you come to the realization that the Church came first, you get an idea about where the authority comes from. Without someone to grant them authority, the texts of the scriptures are just writings of (heretical) Jews. (And by the way, as you’ll note, the scriptures do grant the Church the authority to bind and loose.)

    This is what Father Stephen means (I believe) when he says that you’re extracting the scriptures from the Church. And this is why saying that something is “extra-biblical” isn’t quite the bombshell for Orthodox as I think you believe it to be.

    Please forgive me if I offend by being so blunt. I understand and appreciate your concern, and give all glory to God for it. We were created with this hunger to know Him better. I believe that I have contributed all that I can to this conversation, but please know that the Orthodox don’t “think” we have it all right. We know we do, beyond any shadow of doubt. We were promised in scripture that the gates of hell would not prevail against His Church. Tradition is the reason that you have any bible with which to study in the first place.

    Peace, and once again I ask for your forgiveness.

  57. Darlene Avatar

    I posted to John as I did because I wanted to see what advice he would give me. I keep coming back to the Orthodox Church because it has preserved the gospel and the Christian faith for 2,000 years. Does one need to improve upon the Church that Christ established through His holy Apostles, fathers, martyrs, saints, and prophets? Or, did this Church disappear somehow or did God stamp it out of existance? If so, how and where does Christ want us to worship today and why?

    John, I am very familiar with the verse in St. John 8:32, “And you will know the truth and the truth will make you free.” I used this verse frequently when I went street witnessing. That along with many verses from the gospel of St. John. However, your answer does not help me in my current dilemma. I have no church home. While I attended an Orthodox Divine Liturgy 3 times this summer, I began to go through the questioning of which I mentioned above. With your answer, I can continue praying and reading the Bible at home with my husband. After all, if Christianity is about Sola Scriptura, and the Bible alone is sufficient for my growth and salvation as a Christian, then why should I attend church anywhere?

    Perhaps I should meet with the home fellowship folks I met a few weeks ago who tried to convince me that the current “churches” are of man and not God and all the hierarchal and pastoral/deacon positions within these churches has strayed from what Christ intended for His church. They don’t call themselves a denomination either but they would say they are patterning themselves after the New Testament Church in Acts. So why is it that they are wrong and the Church of Christ right? Or on a larger scale, who can say they are wrong and _________________ (fill in the denomination) is right? Should we all just meet in our homes and trust that “God is capable of giving a communication that can be understood?” Why do I need to be part of any visible church? God can meet me in my backyard right where I am. 🙂

    Church, what church? Church is whatever and wherever you make it. (I speak as one of the mad women. :))

  58. Jesse Avatar


    You wrote

    “I take ‘the truth’ of John 8.32 as parallel to the ‘perfect [note perfect] law of liberty’ of James 1.25 and ‘the faith once for all delivered’ of Jude 3. The point is that the NT claims within its own pages to be God’s complete revelation. If they (in the first century) could be saved without the church councils, then so can we.”

    With these scriptures and the way you interpret them, your presuppositions are clear. There is no reason a REASONABLE person would look at these three verses (in or out of context) and think that they were all (or any of them) referring to the New Testament. It seems that you have started with premise that the the NT is “God’s complete revelation” and gone looking for scriptures to support that idea. I do, however, agree that the scripture (NT included) is “perfect”, but it is perfect for what it is for. A nail could be perfect, but that does not make it a house (the analogy is not perfect, though, so don’t push it :)).

    And as for the way you speak of the councils – please don’t think that the church of Christ was able to figure out from scripture alone things like the doctrine of the Trinity. The word is not even used in the Bible, in fact it wasn’t used (in writing) until the mid 2nd century. The councils did not create truth, but set out to defend it by stating it in a definitive way (to the best of my understanding). And the church of Christ has done something very similar (though, I believe with incorrect conclusions and without authority) by stating “the five acts of worship” (somehow leaving out fasting, among others) and “the five steps of salvation” (which inexplicably ends at baptism). These lists are nowhere found in the NT except by proof-texting them into being. They were created by human interpretation, and any other entirely reasonable person could have come up with a very different list.

    Jude says one of the signs of false teaching is division (v. 19), and, though I realize that that alone doesn’t prove anything, the church of Christ (with its one-cuppers, non-institutionalists, instrumentalists, progressives, no Sunday class-ers, etc.) as well as all of protestantism, certainly meets that criteria.

    I certainly mean no disrespect with my comments. To be disrespectful of you would mean also being disrespectful of my parents, grandparents, and many others who have loved me all my life. But, at the same time, I believe you are wrong.

  59. asinusspinasmasticans Avatar

    One of the things tipped the scales for me was to learn that the Orthodox Church venerated illiterate and mentally-challenged saints, and that it communed children.

    All of us are human, but not all of us are rational, however, all of us can be saved.

    Holy fools, holy children, and you unlettered just of all ages, pray for us complicated modern men, that we may attain to the childlikeness of your faith.

  60. fatherstephen Avatar


    I find it hard to respond to you because I cannot spell your name. It kinda looks like something from Hogwarts. 🙂 But I’ll pray for you…

  61. Damaris Avatar

    (It means donkey chewing thorns.)

  62. fatherstephen Avatar

    Ah! Mule-Chewing Briars! Of course! Sorry to be so dense.

  63. asinusspinasmasticans Avatar

    Father bless –

    I’m sorry. I have a blog on WordPress under my Latin “name”. WordPress seems to want uniformity in all things.

    In anything which I need correction, Father, feel free. I too am pretty dense.

  64. fatherstephen Avatar

    Yes, indeed. I realized at the translation that it was you. I’ve added the blog to the blogroll – always worth reading.

  65. […] the authentic expression of the hidden life of God, as Father Stephen so ably expresses in his Speaking with Authority post. I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; […]

  66. Teranne Avatar


    In response to your post:
    “I’d much rather be a part original Christianity than a “restored” version since it’s the former that is in accordance with the Bible (the Bible says the gates of hell would not prevail against the church, so if you’re saying it has needed restoration, you’re saying this Scripture is not true).”

    To say that the church does not ever need any kind of restoration or reformation is just a bit scary. (I do not use the word reformation only referring to The Reformation, though I think some important criticisms were brought forth in that movement.) Shouldn’t we always be humble and open to discipline by scripture and greater understanding? For example, the church has largely disinherited the Jews throughout history, in oftentimes very, very gruesome ways (taking an authority that I don’t believe really belongs to the church…to just start re-writing salvation history…). I’m glad that people are beginning to challenge that stance and investigate deeper into scripture (as a record of salvation history, not the end of the story, though, of course).

    I would be wary of any institution or church or group of people by any name who refuses to submit to correction or critical thought (and I’m NOT saying that the Orthodox church refuses this).

    And as for “original Christianity”, I am also passionate about our “roots” and would encourage you to look even further to Biblical geography and Hebraic roots. A great site (though we should also always read with an alert mind and heart) is http://www.jcstudies.com/


  67. Teranne Avatar

    And an addition, we should be humble to Scripture and greater understanding, but not just (as the debate seems to be covering as well) the “modern rational mind”, but rather to the Holy Spirit, praying for understanding, and communing with God through prayer and reading the scripture. The “community” is also a good place for finding understanding of truth and accountability, but lets not forget that communities can also grow into very wrong directions, bodies, and statements when unfettered and unchecked.

  68. Sea of Sin Avatar


    Even prayer and reading scripture are not sufficient safeguards. I speak from first hand experience, unfortunately. 🙁

  69. fatherstephen Avatar


    Your point is well-taken. Actually one of the testimonies of God’s faithfulness is the correction He has consistently given to Orthodox Christianity throughout the centuries. Orthodox Christians have suffered much (under pagans, mis-guided Emperors, Islam, Communism, etc.) and produced many martyrs. It has suffered battles with heresy and apostasy. But throughout its 2000 years God has corrected it. We do not believe that any individual or even a synod of Bishops is protected from ever making error. That would be an ideological Church – not a real Church. Just as the Christians to whom the letters of the Apostles were addressed needed correction, so the Church always needs correction. This is an inherent part of Orthodox ecclesiology. I see that correction as something different than we have come to see in “reform” movements.

    But there certainly is nothing that would never need correcting.

  70. Sea of Sin Avatar

    Father Stephen,

    This is brings up an issue regarding ecclesiology about which I could use some clarity.

    The Orthodox believe the Church is not broken or in schism. Yet she does need correction as you point out. How can this be. And how is this different from the “Invisible Church” concept (she is perfect, but not anywhere in particular).

  71. oruaseht Avatar

    What I am coming to realize more and more (as a Protestant Pastor) is the Orthodox understanding of Tradition isn’t Tradition vs. Scripture. Lutheranism is full of dichotomies like this. However, Holy Scripture is part of Holy Tradition, as St. Paul says in 2 Thess 2:15 (stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter). I think that as Protestantism has reacted against Roman tradition “gone wild,” authority had to be placed in God’s ‘objective’ word as a hallmark of the faith. However, nobody reads the Scriptures in a purely objective vacuum. This is where Sola Scriptura starts breaking down – it’s never sola! Everyone brings their own set of lenses to read with. The proof is the 30,000+/- protestant denominations, who all have “the Bible alone” as the authority source, who all have the Holy Spirit guiding their hermeneutics. If this is the case, why so much division?! Lord have mercy.

  72. GVM Avatar


    The Scriptures warn us against Judaizing several times in the New Testament, as a serious distortion of the Gospel. There must be a very clear distinction between “finding” “original Christianity” and judaizing the Faith and destroying the Gospel of Christ through an undue emphasis on “Hebraic” roots to the exclusion or contradiction of the Gospels and Christ Himself.

    Just a humble thought from a sinner.


  73. Steve Avatar

    Dear Gabe,

    You seem to be confusing facts.

    The Jews are a people not a race (the original “ekklesias” of Mount Sinai) and do not practice a religion called “Judaism”. Hence they cannot be said to be “Judaizing”.

    Have you understood what Fr. Vasile means by the Feast of the Transfiguration?


  74. GVM Avatar


    I’m not sure what you’re talking about. My only point is that Christians have no business celebrating Passover or doing animal sacrifices any more than we should let the Old Testament over-rule Jesus’ teachings. Not really directed at anyone in particular, just a thought spawned from what Terrane posted. Many in the Reformed churches seem to do this very thing, letting portions of the Law or Torah over-rule the teachings of Christ in the Gospel (or explain them away), and this is wrong by my understanding.

    Take care,

  75. fatherstephen Avatar

    Gabe and Steve,

    I take Gabe at his word for what he meant. I would state things slightly differently. The Orthodox understanding of these things is that they (OT practices) are not abolished but fulfilled. In Greek, Pascha is the word for Passover. The Pascha which the Church keeps is the very same Pascha as in the OT, but is fulfilled (“Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us”). Thus it would be wrong for the Church to keep something in a manner which only looked to the fulfillment if it had now been fulfilled. Thus the Church does not keep Passover as is instructed in the OT, but keeps Passover as it has been received in Christ, etc. Of course there are no animal sacrifices, for Christ’s sacrifice fulfills what those sacrifices foreshadowed (as noted in the book of Hebrews).

    The NT work “Judaizers” refers only to those Christians, who during that period, argued that gentiles were required to keep all of the Law (circumcision included). This argument ceased after a time (within Orthodoxy). Given the history of Christians and Jews since that time – it is good to tread carefully – particularly with our words lest we easily be misunderstood.

    God’s peace on this good day.

  76. Steve Avatar

    Hi Gabe,

    Thanks for responding. This is thorny ground, but it really shouldn’t be!

    The decision to observe the Law (Torah) hinges on whether one wants to live as a Jew or a Gentile. It is of course true that in Christ, there is no difference between Jew and Gentile yet it is also true that the Law remains relevant “until heaven and earth disappear”, if we read Matthew 5.:18 correctly.

    The Lord Christ brought out the true beauty of the OT by making God visible to us (like He was at Sinai). He didn’t over-rule the OT and the OT didn’t over-rule him.

    Be blessed.


  77. fatherstephen Avatar


    I know that there are Protestant groups who choose to observe certain aspects of the OT law (and some Jewish Christian Protestant groups in particular). But in Orthodoxy, there are canons that would forbid this. The Law is not abolished in Christ, but has been fulfilled. Orthodoxy and its life (in Orthodox understanding) is the keeping of all of Scripture as it has been fulfilled. Historically, the observance of the OT Law by Christians has frequently been accompanied by growing misunderstandings of the meaning of that practice and something that obscures the Law’s fulfillment (I am not saying this is necessarily so – but historically so). Thus the fathers of the Church gave canons which forbade this practice. It can be argued that they were wrong – but it is the discipline of the Orthodox faith.

    Protestantism certainly allows for a wide variety of interpretations of many things. I cannot criticise it for being self-consistent. But Orthodoxy is a way of life that includes obedience to the canons which rules out certain options.

  78. Steve Avatar

    Thank you for the clarification, Father. Personally, I have absolutely no issue here. Christ is the fulfillment of the Law and Prophecy. Period. However, the extent to which we remain in Christ or rather in the ineffable Glory that he brings, is another matter altogether. I am sure though, that Orthodoxy is the fullness of the Christian expression for it seems to allow for all that is good, while being uncompromising with that which is not. What more can one ask for, this side of heaven? Not that there are any walls…

    Thank you :-).

  79. Teranne Avatar

    I have to disagree fully with the statement that Christians have no business celebrating the feasts of Israel. Yes of course we don’t do sacrifices, they are not needed, and I wouldn’t encourage anyone to keep kosher, etc., but the wealth of understanding of what Jesus fulfilled helps us understand how He fulfilled it and why. For sure the first followers celebrated these festivals. Why wouldn’t they.

    And sorry to say, the Christian (any tradition) celebration of Pascha or Easter or Pasqua, etc. all fall VERY short of reaching the depth in meaning of Passover, understanding that our Lord WAS that Passover Lamb, and in dying, has covered us with His blood and purchased our redemption. With His resurrection we have even greater cause for rejoicing. For that matter, scholars now basically all agree that Jesus was born during the time of the Feast of Tabernacles, a time after the Day of Atonement (hmmm, similar call to repentance as what John the Baptist called) where the Israelites celebrate God dwelling with them in the Tabernacle. How fitting that Immanuel (God with us) was born during this time. Perhaps this yearly cycle of celebrations was given by God as a gift to help us understand His divine plan.

    I’m not saying that we should submit to Rabbinic authority, but I am saying that there is a wealth of insight and discipleship to be found by studying and celebrating the feasts. Our church does not yet do this and neither does my family, since we had no heritage whatsoever of doing it, but since spending a couple years in Israel, we are now trying to bring that into our year. This spring we had a Passover dinner, which was awesome remembering all the ways that Jesus has fulfilled that. And this fall we hope to celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles and remember that Jesus dwelled with man, and that now He continues to do so in the Holy Spirit in our hearts.

    So, sorry to say, but I think you’re short-changing yourself growth in the Spirit if you insist on rejecting EVERYTHING that God gave to remember and celebrate His awesome plan. We wouldn’t have even recognized the Messiah if not for the Jews who had understanding of who he was through prophecy and their own traditions.

  80. Darla Avatar

    Teranne, we were looking into Messianic Judiasm about a year ago when we “discovered” Orthodox Christianity. We longed for the yearly cycle of feasts, the history of the faith, etc. and at first we thought maybe we were supposed to enter into the Jewish feasts as described in the OT.; we read a book called Our Father Abraham which was about Christians honoring their Hebraic roots. But in the end what we found missing there was the apostolic church — the Church that the apostles and early fathers were a part of. I don’t believe now they were “messianic Jews” at/after Pentecost, but I’m not learned enough to know all the ins and outs of that.

    When we were reading this book about a year ago, someone suggested to us attending an Orthodox church and we were all “no, no we think THIS [Messianic Judaism] is where it’s at for the church.] But now that we HAVE begun attending an Orthodox mission church, we have breathed a sigh of relief — we’re finally home. We’re part of what God intended for the church.

    Maybe you’re not aware that the Orthodox Church DOES celebrate feasts; has an annual cycle of them. Not just as a replacement of the Jewish feasts, but in fulfillment of them. And I’m guessing you’ve never been to an Orthodox Pascha service because if you had I don’t think you would say that it falls short of anything! We went to our first Pascha service this year and it was nothing short of amazing. Christ is risen! Truly he is risen! The Orthodox Church is the fullness of the faith (Fr. Stephen wrote about this in another entry recently).

  81. Darla Avatar

    [sorry I hit Submit before I was done] …

    The Orthodox Church is the fullness of the faith that we’d longed for. It’s the unbroken line back to Pentecost, through Judaism, and back to creation.

    Father, I’m a simple gal who maybe tries to simplify too much. Forgive. Please correct me where I might misrepresent the Orthodox faith.

  82. GVM Avatar

    In other words, the Orthodox Church is the fulfillment of Hebrew religion.

  83. fatherstephen Avatar


    I am not certain how some of these things are treated today in wider Orthodox culture – i.e. attending a Bar Mitzvah, Brit Milah, etc. It does not come up much in this area of the South. As for a Christian group holding a seder, I would decline such an invitation. The canons, I am rather certain, would preclude attending other non-Christian services – but how the canons are applied today in these matters I am not certain. There can be a great amount of latitude in application because circumstances differ from those foreseen in a canon, for example. I would have to ask a more experienced priest.

  84. Teranne Avatar

    My husband said my post sounded a bit “biting” and I didn’t mean it to be, so I wanted to make sure anyone reading knew that 🙂

    I just want to clarify that I’m not arguing for a specific church. That’s another lengthy discussion, though it need not be.

    What I want to say is only that I believe it’s a loss to not at least study the feasts of Israel. I think we all (at least all in this conversation) agree that Jesus fulfilled what God had established as recorded in the OT. But I believe that all Scripture is God-breathed and useful for teaching, as the apostle Paul said. Might we not benefit by studying the OT and perhaps in doing so find greater depth in our spiritual understanding?

    As for Orthodox Pascha, I can only speak for the quite interesting things I saw going on in Jerusalem.

  85. Teranne Avatar

    Fr. Stephen,

    So even though Passover celebration is ordained by God as a lasting ordinance in Scripture (just like God told us to remember Him by taking the bread and wine) and was also celebrated many times by Jesus himself, you believe that Jesus nullifies that celebration and would be displeased if one celebrated Him in it as it’s fulfillment? As Christians, are we not actually celebrating Jesus Himself when we celebrate the Passover and remember He is our Passover Lamb, the fulfillment?

    (Note, I’m not speaking of any particular order of Passover Seder, just the celebration itself.)

  86. fatherstephen Avatar


    I am saying that Christians (Orthodox at least) do keep Passover (Pascha) in its fulfillment. It is what Pascha (Easter) is.

    We should certainly study and understand the feasts of the OT, and understand how specifically they are fulfilled in Christ. No question.

    The position that became canon law in the Orthodox Church is that the fulfillment having come, it is incorrect to observe or celebrate things in their shadow-form (to use shadow as the book of Hebrews does). This is not to despise or to in any way discredit the form in which they were first given – simply to recognize that the New has come.

    Thus it would certainly have been incorrect for a Christian (during the 1st century) to have offered an animal sacrifice in the Temple after the sacrifice of Christ has fulfilled all these things (the book of Hebrews makes this point). If the marriage feast has come – how can we return to anything less?

    The Orthodox would say that the Old is present in the New.

    I might note, as well, that Passover is indeed an ‘eternal’ festival, as noted in the Scripture. This means both that it has no end, but also that it has no beginning. Christ is our Passover – the ‘Lamb slain before the foundations of the earth.’ The Passover of the OT participates in that eternal festival – but the festival is revealed in its fulness – indeed revealed as eternal – only in Christ.

    It is also of note that the canons from the Council of Nicaea on the date of Easter (Pascha) specifically forbid it being kept on the same date as that of the Jewish Passover. The reasons are complex but are rooted in distinguishing the New from the Old.

  87. Brantley Thomas Avatar
    Brantley Thomas


    I know from nothing on any of these issues, but I recall once hearing either Fr. Pat Reardon or Fr. Peter Gillquist (sp?) say that it was well known that Yom Kippur (The Day of Atonement) had been transformed into the Elevation of The Life Giving Cross.

    If that’s true, then I would look for the feasts to have been transformed by the incarnation into what they were supposed to have been. The take home lesson then is that the feasts weren’t lost, at least the ones that were a product of Jewish Holy Tradition. They’ve been fulfilled.

    Just my $0.02 on what has become a fascinating conversation.

  88. Darlene Avatar

    Ok, now I need some clarification. My husband and I were invited by a Protestant friend to celebrate the Seder meal at his church this year. We intended to go, but things didn’t work out. Also, my Protestant Christian friends attended a Brit Milah (jewish ritual circumcision) when their Jewish neighbors invited them.

    As an Orthodox Christian, would I be expected to decline going to these kind of events? Not that it concerns me one way or the other. Just curious.


  89. Steve Avatar

    Brantley Thomas,

    When John speaks of “The Word” as it dwelt among us” he would have been invoking the Aramaic “Memra” (“The Word of God” or “Logos”), equivalent to the Hebrew “Shekinah”.

    The Shekinah was not present in the Second Temple.


  90. Steve Avatar

    Thank you for your note on denominations Father Stephen. Offshore 🙂

  91. fatherstephen Avatar

    I would have thought Doxa would have been a more likely candidate for Shekinah or Memra.

    On the Shekinah’s absence from the Second Temple. One of the great ironies, commemorated in the feast of the Entrance of the Theotokos into the Temple, is the appearance in the Temple of the one in whom the glory of God will dwell, the “animate Ark of God.” What the Second Temple never was – is what the Virgin will be.

  92. Steve Avatar

    Agreed, all five of them :-).

  93. Irenaeus of New York Avatar

    I don’t think one could keep the Easter date tied with the Jewish calendar even if one tried. Jews arbitrarily added years, days, and weeks to their calendar at different points in history after Christ’s crucifixion. As I understand it, this also added confusion to the Easter controversy in the church.

    As for following mosaic law… the first thing that comes to my mind on this topic is the image of the curtain over the holy of holies being torn in two. Not only was God no longer present in the tabernacle of Jewish temple, but the tear in the curtain was symbolic of that rift between the old and new law.

  94. Teranne Avatar

    Fr. Stephen,

    Just a note (a rather long one) on the fact of Passover as an eternal celebration:

    In the OT we have directions given by God on how and when to celebrate each festival that God ordained, as a pattern of what would happen and what had eternally always been. Just as the Tabernacle was based on the pattern that God showed Moses (the heavenly pattern), I believe God established a certain way and especially specific times to celebrate the festivals because it did indeed reflect the eternal timeliness of His plan. Jesus is the fulfillment, but when you say that in order to separate the old from the new certain leaders changed the time of celebration and also rejected the “old way” of celebrating it, they then had to create a new way and a new time. Jesus did not fulfill the new way and time, he fulfilled the “old”, or rather God-given, way and time. It seems to me that it would be better to follow the example (based on the heavenly reality) that God set forth rather than taking the pieces and reorganizing them. And maybe we can’t know the exact time to celebrate and perhaps the ways that people would work out what’s written on how to celebrate would differ, but surely that’s not as important as recognizing that God did give a way and time and honoring that. I sense pride and scorn in the way that the church has said, “oh that’s the old way, now WE have a better way!” A better way than God’s way? And by quickly responding to every inquiry to what and how God established it on earth by saying “Jesus fulfilled that, and that’s the end of this discussion” and then renaming special days (i.e. Day of Atonement is now the Elevation of the Cross????”) and choosing new times it in some ways makes God’s actual plan unrecognizable and destroys the eternally unending link between the “old” and “new”. I respect tradition, traditions of interpretation more so than traditional stories or practices, but not when it conflicts with what we do have in Scripture. There is no reason to change the way God set it up. The only reasons I’ve seen given are usually based on decisions later Christians made because of societal or historical thrusts (Jewish rejection of Jewish and Gentile followers of Jesus…so we reject them and do it our own way…). I always defend that the apostle Paul did not “set up a new religion” with Christianity and Jesus as its founder, but the more I look into church history I realize that perhaps other, later Christians did. Yes Jesus inaugurated the New Covenant, but it was not a replacement of all God had done and revealed before, but as we both and Jesus himself claimed, a fulfillment of it. It was not a new religion…so why does it look so much like one? Jesus said he came not to abolish the law but fulfill it, or as a more 1st century Jewish understanding translates that, “not to reinterpret it, but to interpret it correctly”. Everything God gave was just the way it should be, but Jesus came to BE it’s meaning, purpose, and practice they way God meant it to be and to come as the complete fulfillment of the whole “system” that God set up (he was lamb, priest, scapegoat, etc).

    I just did a great study on the Tabernacle this year (by Beth Moore) and realized how God is a God of consistency and a God of intention. By changing His ways and times we are basically saying that these sacraments are in the hands of man to determine, but in truth only God gives the appointed times…

    Anyway, those are my thoughts and entering into debate with Orthodoxy is interesting to me because it seems you don’t “argue your case” but rather defer to the decisions and canons of church fathers through the ages. We shouldn’t act like the rebellious adolescent and just discard the work of our elders, because very wise leaders have wrestled with interpretation and practice and come to those conclusions, but I truly believe we cannot read without a critical and alert eye and that we shouldn’t rob ourselves or our church of interacting with God’s given way. The church doesn’t need a replacement way. And no matter how you say it, perhaps that the feasts haven’t been replaced or lost, but merely fulfilled…the fact that the church has determined new times and ways of celebrating is a replacement of the original times and ways. Yes, Jesus is the Passover lamb, so no lamb need be sacrificed for our covering at Passover, but that doesn’t mean that everything else is wrong. Instead it is what points to the fulfillment, makes it recognizable as God’s intended plan and not man’s. Traditions can be very enriching and enable us to grow deeper in the spirit, but only if they grow out of the Scripture and can be well-understood from it. I can see why dates were changed at that time, but when I read Scripture and interact with it, I want engage with it as it is as much as possible. We can’t deny the influence of history on the way that man understands God, faith, church, etc. just as we shouldn’t ignore and be wary of the ways our own current culture plays on that understanding and practice.

    Those are my thoughts. I’m still processing it all as well, as I said before we’re still investigating how my family can interact with Scripture and honor a God-given festival in a modern day context. But what fun!


  95. Teranne Avatar


    So the curtain’s torn. Now what do we do? I guess lets just make up our own times and ways of celebrating? For sure the early believers had to work through all those changes, but I historically don’t see a Jewish believer deciding to change the times and underlying practices of a festival. No doubt they rejoiced that now their festivals had fulfilled meaning.

    Ironically, to me this seems like the debate that Orthodoxy and Catholicism have with Protestant movements, that they just broke away and reinterpreted their own way. Well, in many ways that’s what the later church fathers seem to have done with what the Jewish believers, say Paul for example, would have done.

    And yes, the rabbis did add days, weeks, even years, which is why I would 1) NEVER say we should submit to Rabbinical authority, and 2) why I think that finding the exact day is not as important as recognizing that God did set a day and that He gave ways He wanted us to celebrate and honoring those as best we can, rather than replacing them in name, time and practice.

  96. Teranne Avatar

    And I see the tearing of the veil as the image that now there is no divide between God’s dwelling with man, we now through the Holy Spirit have direct access to the throne room of our Holy God. And His holiness does not separate us anymore because Jesus’ blood cleanses us and his Spirit transforms us to be more and more like him.

    Why change the times? I think this article really beautifully expresses the amazing intention and beauty in God’s appointed times and feasts and how it plays out God’s divine plan of redemption:

  97. fatherstephen Avatar


    The early generations of the Church certainly kept Christian feasts – with the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem in 70 A.D., Judaism also had struggles with how the feasts were to be kept. What then evolved gradually became what are the various forms of Judaism that exist today. Likewise, Christianity, which had already begun to interpret the OT in a radically new way (following the interpretations given by Christ cf. Luke 24:27 and 24:44-45). But what many think of as the manner of “keeping the feasts” differs from that of the time of the Temple. The Church kept the feasts in the manner which Christ’s death and resurrection reinterpreted rather than going through the struggles which Judaism necessarily endured following the destruction of the Temple.

    But the matter becomes something of a “moot point.” The Church (I believe under the guidance of the Holy Spirit) set in place the Christian manner of keeping the Passover as well as the other feasts of the Christian year. Things are as they are (within Orthodoxy) because that is how they unfolded in the life of the Church. We generally do not go back and ask “could it have been different or wouldn’t it have been better if…” Because we live in a Church whose historical life we believe to be a gift from God.

    It is true that many things might have been different – but I trust that God has done what He has done. Studying the relationships between the feasts of the OT and the feasts of the Church reveals much to me of my faith and insights into the work of Christ. But, for instance, the Christian initiation rite is Baptism, not Circumcision (when the latter is practiced it is only a medical procedure, not a religious rite). Why did Christ (as is clear in the teachings of St. Paul and the rulings of the Apostles in Jerusalem) essentially abolish something that dates back to Abraham and is affirmed in the Law? Because, as Scripture teaches, Baptism is a “circumcision of the heart.” It is a fulfillment. When that which is complete has come – that which is only the anti-type passes away or is taken up into the other. That is the pattern in the NT as well as the early Church.

    As an aside, on the curtain. I understand the curtain’s tearing to be symbolic of the fact that our access to God is now free – our sins are forgiven and we have access to the throne of God. Some note that Orthodox Church’s often have a curtain, as well as doors into the altar that are sometimes closed. But they forget that the doors and curtain are opened as well – particularly as the priest brings the Body and Blood of Christ forth with the words, “In the fear of God, with faith and love, draw near!” Thus the access is complete – we partake of the very life of God.

    The article and website you reference is interesting – but is essentially the brain-child of a protestant pastor. It is meant well – but it ignores the life of the Church founded by Christ and its rites, seasons and feasts. It’s as if Orthodoxy never existed and now he’s gone back and rediscovered feasts, etc. It’s well intentioned, but without authority or warrant from God.

    Christ established the Church, not man. It’s life has been Divinely ordered and directed from the time of the Apostles to the present. It does not need to be reinvented.

    It interests me that someone (as in the website) would go to the holy land to study Judaic matters, but not spend time with the Christians who have been there since the beginning. I worshipped with descendants of the Shepherds in Beth Shahour just outside of Bethlehem. They are Orthodox Christians. I concelebrated in the Church of St. Gabriel in Nazareth with Christians whose ancestors have been in Nazareth since the earliest days. This is not to mention the Churches and monasteries found at virtually every Christian holy site in the Holy Land.

    Indeed, just as the Apostles did not understand the Scriptures until Christ “opened them,” so too, I do not think a Christian will understand the OT, its feasts or anything, until they are thoroughly immersed in the life of the feasts and cycles of the Church as God has given them. We’re not starting from scratch here in the 21st century. There are generations who preceded us who have marked the way.

  98. Irenaeus of New York Avatar

    Teranne said-
    Irenaeus,So the curtain’s torn. Now what do we do? I guess lets just make up our own times and ways of celebrating?
    Jesus said he came not to abolish the law but fulfill it, or as a more 1st century Jewish understanding translates that, “not to reinterpret it, but to interpret it correctly”.

    I would say all those question are answered for me by the Church in its teachings. Why would I accept such authority from sinful men? Because the Church instituted by Christ is a supernatural entity that is divinely protected and guided. If you believe the scripture as written by sinful men can be divinely inspired and without error, then its not such a stretch to believe that our sacred tradition and teachings also have that weight. Thats about as concise an answer as I can give:)

    As to your second quote pertaining to scripture; In my personal opinion, if you fullfill a prophecy that means it is no longer extant because it cant be re-fullfilled. In the same sense I would claim that fullfilling the Old Law, means it is either abrogated or no longer extant.

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