I Don’t Know About That

DSCF0620A hermit advised, “If someone speaks to you about a controversy, do not argue with him. If what he says makes sense, say, ‘Yes,’ If his comments are misguided, say, ‘I don’t know anything about that.’ If you refuse to dispute with his ideas, your mind will be at peace.”


There is an element of this story which makes many want to cry out, “Yes, but!” It is a story similar to Christ’s admonition to “turn the other cheek.” And like the instruction to give the cheek – this suggestion of ‘I don’t know anything about that,’ feels like a guaranteed way to allow those who have false ideas to win. And the anxiety it creates, I believe, is the same anxiety. To a degree it is the anxiety of ‘Christian atheism.’

We have an option: either we believe that God is alive and working for our salvation or we believe that God, though alive, is removed from our lives and that we must do all in our power to advance His cause (for it seems He will do little of that Himself).

I am overstating the option on purpose. The second option is overstated to the point of the Grand Inquisitor in The Brothers Karamazov. An anxiety besets us in which we feel that the success or failure of the truth of the faith is dependent upon our actions. We can cite very active saints such as St. Athanasius who tirelessly sought to defend the Orthodox faith and to counter the arguments of the heretic Arius. Or we can even think of St. Nicholas of Myra (today known as ‘Santa Claus’) who at the Council of Nicaea even smote Arius on the cheek for his impious statements (St. Nicholas was disciplined for this but restored at the miraculous intercession of the Mother of God.

I should therefore state that I believe some are called to be like St. Athanasius and some are perhaps even to be like St. Nicholas. But Athanasius is known for his lonely persecutions and exiles – which things we should seek to imitate if we plan to take up his great defenses as well. And St. Nicholas was known primarily for his wonder-working miracles and his extreme charity towards children and even towards convicted felons. Such extreme charity should also mark our lives if we feel called to follow in the apologetic footprints of the kindly saint.

But for many, I fear, it is neither saint that is the model for their vigorous defense of the faith, but rather a certain anxiety, that heresy and ideas opposed to the Orthodox faith will somehow go uncorrected. It is here that we must stop and ask ourselves, “Is the Orthodox faith a set of ideas or a divine reality?” If it is a set of ideas then we’d better get our arguments together and do it soon.

Christ himself said, “…if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight…” But His kingdom is not of this world – it is not among the things that are passing away. It is that which is coming and it will never pass away. Many accompanying aspects of the Kingdom have come and gone and come and gone (I think of the outward trappings of empire and the like). Those things which have come and gone are of this world and should be of no concern to us.

The ability to remain silent even in the face of an invitation to argue is not weakness, but confidence in the truth.

My father-in-law, a wonderful man of God, often met my many arguments with, “Well…I don’t know about that.” It was frustrating for me but also a great learning over time.

The faith has never failed because we lacked good arguments and the will to carry them forward. The faith has failed at points because we failed to believe it. If the Orthodox faith flourishes in this world, at this time, it will be because it flourishes in the lives of those who have embraced it.

We live in a 24/7 news cycle – marked mostly by talking-heads and interminable arguments. Does anyone actually believe that another argument, even when brought by a Christian, will matter?

An argument won’t matter. But a Christian will – precisely because an authentic Christian is so hard to find.

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.





68 responses to “I Don’t Know About That”

  1. Aaroneous Avatar

    Years ago as a young undergraduate at a Chrisitan university I remember when the Jimmy Swaggart scandal broke. The very point you’ve made began to form in my mind for the first time as I saw him reject discipline by the leaders of his denomination to step down for a time. He refused because (in his thinking) his $6,000,000 ministry would fail without him and God NEEDED his ministry to support and reach all of those people.

    It was just too much for me to swallow and made me rethink much of what I’d come to “know” about God up to that point. Soon thereafter I was exposed to Orthodoxy and the path was laid for a flat out sprint into a new way of “knowing” God.

  2. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Fabio Leite, Ζωντανό Ιστολόγιο. Ζωντανό Ιστολόγιο said: I Don’t Know About That: A hermit advised, “If someone speaks to you about a controversy, do not ar.. http://bit.ly/22t3Hk […]

  3. AlyssaSophia Avatar

    Fr. Stephen,

    I still find myself trying to shake off the anxiety of urgency to defend the faith from time to time. Orthodoxy is slowly settling into me in a way that makes it more acceptable to remain silent, but man, the noise ringing in my head is hard to clear. And of course, when I open my mouth and the noise inside my head is released for others to hear…oh how often I wish I could get a “do over” and keep my mouth shut.

    Lord help us believe.

    As always, thank you!
    Alyssa Sophia

  4. […] This is an absolutely excellent post by Fr. Stephen on the blog Glory to God for All Things.  Anyone who feels the need to argue for and defend Christian truths really ought to read it.  That is why I loved it so much – I fall into this trap far, far, far too often.  It is ingrained in me that I need to speak, and it will take a lot to get that out of my head.  For now, I suppose all I can do is try my best, repent, and pray, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” […]

  5. James Avatar

    This severely convicted me.

  6. Ryan Avatar

    Yet heresy is everywhere. I try (often fail) to respond to heresy in as loving a way as possible. If we don’t counter the arguments somewhow, how do we teach others the truth?

  7. fatherstephen Avatar

    Sometimes I think I am arguing with myself when the noise starts ringing in my head. I have slowly listened and gathered in my heart many amazing stories of conversions to Orthodoxy. So many of them contain very little argument but are absolutely full of other things – unexpected kindness – and encountered that defies description – many “chance” happenings that beggar the imagination. It is clear in these stories that the point is the need for God to deal with our heart. When the defenses of argumentation are raised, almost nothing gets through the gate. So I ask myself, “Do I want to be of help in the salvation of souls, or do I want to win arguments?”

  8. fatherstephen Avatar

    God will give us ample opportunities to share the truth. An argument with someone whose heart is closed does not result in teaching the truth. Pray and ask God for opportunities. They will come.

    There are some who use almost any pretense to start the argument – or teaching the truth – but mostly succeed in annoying people.

    One guide that is helpful to me is: answer questions people are having. If there are no questions – or I have not yet heard enough to understand their questions – then I think I have little if anything to say that is of use. But if there is a question, then, by Grace, there is an answer.

  9. Scott Avatar

    I’m convicted and very guilty! Providentially, I have just started reading the story of Father Arseny. Father Arseny did not try to convert others with sly arguments or any arguments at all. He bore his sufferings and practiced charity as a true Christian even in the gulags, and the power of God manifested itself in everything he did. O, to be a Christian as Father Arseny was! I believe, Lord, help thou my unbelief…

  10. Marigold Avatar

    It’s interesting that I should read this today. I go to a Bible study run and attended by evangelical Protestants. Why I started and keep going is a long story; suffice to say I am the only Orthodox there. Yesterday’s study was especially frustrating. Much as I love these people *as people*, I find it very difficult to prevent a sense of righteous indignation when I feel they interpret Scripture ‘wrongly’, and when they deny the validity of so many things, starting with the Church and coming down even to written prayers.

    I’m struggling with how to approach the situation. I seem to become very inarticulate around them, which is probably a grace from God, or my ego would block out the sun. Until now, I have been trying to bring in an Orthodox viewpoint when I can, and agree when I agree, and keep quiet when I don’t.

    As much as it makes me the perfect example of what *not* to do, according to the wisdom of the fathers in this post, I can’t help but be aware of my conscience in this situation. If I truly *believe* the Orthodox Church is the Church that Christ founded, there is little justification for sipping tea politely while my beloved fellow humans suffer under what we know to be a delusion. Gah!

    x M.

  11. David Avatar

    Father Stephen did not assist me in coming to Orthodoxy because he argued with me, but because he loved me.

  12. Victor Avatar

    Perhaps we should look at our inner anxiety in these moments as an occasion for our own conversion, not that of the ‘erring’ person. We are the ones expressing and experiencing anxiety so we need to be converted from our anxious state.
    Once we give up our ‘apopleptics’ we may then be ready for apologetics.

  13. Andrew of Homer, AK Avatar
    Andrew of Homer, AK

    This was a timely post for me for many of the same reasons stated already. I am a mental health therapist, and I have a client who is a Jehovah’s Witness. He knows I am Orthodox, and often engages me in discussions of faith as he has not had a Christian therapist before. This past Monday he wanted me to explain the idea of the Trinity to him, and like a hungry salmon, I took the bait. As someone mentioned above, through God’s grace, I became confused, and I didn’t know how to express myself clearly. Clearly my arrogance, and desire to “correct” this man’s beliefs were getting the best of me. I promptly stopped and told my client, that I didn’t know enough to clearly share the church’s teaching on this, but even though there things we disagreed on, I still cared about him and wanted to continue to support his growth. I went home feeling frustrated with myself in that somehow I had gotten drawn into something that was clearly passion driven. This post helped me clarify my future stance with this client and others, as well as once again humble me and get me to trust that God when wants me to evangelize, he will give the tools guidance to do it.

  14. fatherstephen Avatar

    If I were running a Bible Study and discovered that someone had come in order to argue some other point of view and had no regard for me as a teacher – I would politely ask them to refrain from comment or leave. At least it is one option that would occur to me. To enter in honestly we must be upfront with why we are there and have other’s permission to be there. Freedom is required of both if there’s going to be any true personal treatment. I’ll pray. On the other hand, sipping tea sounds ever so fetching!

  15. Barbara Avatar

    Dear Fr. Stephen,

    Thank you so much for this posting. It is especially convicting for all of us former protestants because we are so conditioned to trying to make conversations happen, believing that the Word can only be heard if preached as proofs. We forget that we were wounded by the proofs. We forget to be like God who ‘encloses himself in the silence of his suffering love’.

    Marigold, I too attend a Protestant Bible Study for many complex reasons. But I did have to stop for a while because I knew, under the guidance of my spiritual father, that my motivations and my heart were all wrong. I didn’t feel like I could be there with purity of heart – a singleminded love for them and respect for their freedom. Even though I have returned, I still struggle to be in real dialogue with them. My voice is still so loud, so hard to veil. It does help me to know that to be silent is to be like God who veiled himself in the incarnation and loves us with infinite patience.

  16. Barbara Avatar

    Some further quotes on silence that I have found helpful.

    God’s silence shadows the world with peace. St. Maximos the Confessor.

    Find peace within and silence, and a multitude of people will find their salvation near you. St. Seraphim

    God created the angels “in silence”. God guides those who are silent. Those who remain agitated make the angels laugh.

    The Lord fights for you, remain in silence. Ex. 14:14

    The Lord God closed the Door on Noah so that he could become a sign of the Covenant. (Gen 7:16)

    Job places the hand on his mouth and awaits the life-giving Word of God.

    It was when Zacharaiah the priest became silent, deaf and dumb, that the people understood he had received a revelation.

    Silence is the language of the world to come. St. Isaac the Syrian

  17. Karen Avatar

    Dear Father, bless! Thank you so much. This paragraph of yours especially resonates with me:

    “The faith has never failed because we lacked good arguments and the will to carry them forward. The faith has failed at points because we failed to believe it. If the Orthodox faith flourishes in this world, at this time, it will be because it flourishes in the lives of those who have embraced it.”

    This is a good reminder also because the temptation to resort to argumentation about what constitutes authentic Orthodox expression also exists among those who are Orthodox (perhaps more true for those of us who are culturally more “western?”) and yet have different visions of exactly how that should look in certain contexts.

    Marigold and Barbara, I have been asked many times to rejoin the small group women’s Bible study of my former evangelical church that I was a part of for many years. I have resisted precisely because of the reasons Fr. Stephen mentions in comments above and the frustrations/temptations you have mentioned from your own struggles. I have realized if I were to join them again, I would have to make it very clear that I would be bringing a distinctively Orthodox perspective to the discussion (with the caveat that my understanding of the Orthodox perspective is highly imperfect!) and make sure this was acceptable to the leader. I would also not be arguing for the Orthodox perspective, merely attempting to faithfully represent it in my own reflections and responses. That would, I’m sure, many times be a hard line to walk. I’m thankful my Priest is starting up an adult Bible study that I can attend, because I definitely have more to learn than to contribute in a Bible study setting as an Orthodox neophyte.

  18. Fr. Christian Mathis Avatar

    The response that most comes to mind from reading your post Father is….Yes.

  19. Fr Alvin Kimel Avatar
    Fr Alvin Kimel

    The following quotation from St Isaac was just posted over at Fr Gregory’s website:

    “Someone who has actually tasted truth is not contentious for truth. Someone who is considered by people to be zealous for truth has not yet learnt what truth is really like; once he has truly learnt it, he will cease from zealousness on its behalf.”

    – St. Isaac the Syrian

  20. Barbara Avatar

    Wonderful – thank you, Fr. Alvin!

  21. Barbara Avatar

    Karen, thank you for your wise words.

  22. Mariamna Avatar

    Thank you, as always, Father Stephen.

    You mentioned that conversion stories you’ve heard contain few arguments but many other things. As a convert, and one who loves to hear other people’s conversion stories, I can attest to this. From what I have heard (and experienced as well) most conversions have come about through participation in Orthodox services, experiencing during the services the presence of something holy. The words, the apologetics, the understanding of the teachings of the church have come later (sometimes much later).

    So, a better response would perhaps be: “I can’t really explain it, but come and see”. The people who only want to argue won’t take you up on it, but those perhaps who are really seeking just might.

  23. Mariamna Avatar

    I meant, of course, rather than arguing…

  24. stephen Avatar

    “We live in a 24/7 news cycle – marked mostly by talking-heads and interminable arguments. Does anyone actually believe that another argument, even when brought by a Christian, will matter?”

    How true!

  25. MichaelPatrick Avatar

    This lesson is one I’ll probably keep learning until my end in this world because my passions are stubborn. The way Fr.Stephen said it and the quotes from everyone here are helpful. Everything about this post is clear, convincing, and convicting.

    By God’s grace I have recently just begun to see how much I need the prayers of others, especially from God and His saints, and how many prayers are indeed offered up for me and for others by those who prayerfully love us with their time and their hearts. The lesson for me is to let prayer fill the void left by abandoning arguments.

    If I am with someone who I think needs something –anything!– I want to learn to run first to the Holy Spirit inside with an intercession, putting all my reasons at His feet. He knows what they need. In this way I will imitate the saints and Christ Himself who’s intercession for world required Him to put everything, including His eternal life, into His Father’s capable hands.

  26. Damaris Avatar

    A wise friend once told me, “Often it’s more important to talk to God about people than to talk to people about God.”

    Thank you for this excellent post.

  27. MichaelPatrick Avatar

    Damaris, please thank your wise friend for me if you can. That little jewel is a keeper.

  28. TheraP Avatar

    Here’s what I’ve found: If someone honestly wants to sincerely struggle ‘together’ for meaning, it is a worthy and fruitful discussion. (In that case it’s not a controversy.) If they are already ‘convinced’ and they have “hardening of the categories” – further discussion is fruitless. In that case I simply say (or write) “Peace be with you” or something of the kind.

    Thanks for sparking this wonderful and thought-provoking discussion. Finding ways to disentangle ourselves and rise above difficulties (of whatever type) is something we all need to consider and put into practice. But I would add this: Be forgiving of yourself too. Some people can lay traps that anyone can fall into. (I know this as a therapist.) It’s not ‘falling into them’ that’s the problem, so much as working your way out of them. I honestly suspect the hermit’s sage advice was won from the struggle of learning to work his way out of such controversial discussions. Thus what we have is the end-result, likely, of wisdom that came after long prayer and effort – and many failures along the way.

    One final thought. We can often leave evangelism or defending the faith up to God. God knows the heart of each person. And God knows the way into that heart. Rarely will we be given that task by God. If a heart is closed, I leave that heart to God.

  29. Damaris Avatar

    MichaelPatrick —

    I’ll do that!

  30. Theo1973 Avatar

    How do you plea sir? GUILTY

  31. Theo1973 Avatar

    Father Paisios once said that if we happen to think we have swayed someone Christ’s way we are mistaken. He said that the same person who turned to God could have just as easily been converted by witnessing a fox pass by.

  32. Miha Avatar

    Bless, Father!

    Another excellent post and another enlightening discussion!

    One of my first encounters with orthodoxy was through a friend, who made it his “mission” to convince me, that orthodoxy is the Truth, by means of verbal argumentation. My heart stayed closed. No, I correct myself – my heart got closed off more and more with every sentence he uttered, with every argument he presented. I realise that my own ego felt attacked and that I had a large share in my friend’s “failure” to make me a convert.

    Nevertheless, at some point later in time I decided to visit my local orthodox church, not at the time of any services but just to go there and sit and think and let myself be there. In my egotistical fashion I decided to “give God a chance to impress me.” In the half hour of my presence, a couple of people entered, lit the candles, venerated the icons, prayed silently and left. Their silent testimony, their obvious conviction of being in the presence of the Divine opened my heart.

  33. Marigold Avatar

    Thank you Father and everyone who has contributed. This discussion has brought some light upon the matter of the Bible study I go to. I think I’ve been approaching it from the wrong angle entirely… Thanks again for your thoughts.

    x M.

  34. hilary Avatar

    Father Stephen, thank you.

    I’m more familiar with coffee shop and local pub conversation about how God doesn’t exist than I am Bible study groups. What I’ve found to be true, time and again, is that if someone really wants to ARGUE about these things, if they’re focused on them and maybe even hostile to any faith, the “I don’t know about that” is the only response. These kinds of people (oh, it’s hard to watch at first) go home that night thinking only of the unfulfilled arguments, the “un-won” points of the night. They remember who remained at peace through the discussion-debate-word brawl. Then they spend time thinking up those “trap” questions (hat tip, TheraP above in comments), but they come back and are more prone to engage. Still, “I don’t know about that.” More thinking. More questions. Even more prone to engage, maybe they ask to talk one on one this time. Even more reason to keep to “I don’t know about that,” with even more love and acceptance and patience. This isn’t about you, or your faith. It’s about them. And they are not a project. This one-on-one or continuing discussion is a big step for them. They could be terrified.

    I try to get out of the way of the Holy Spirit. This troubled person has a way of wording things in their heart, and the way I word anything will be different/ not effective/ dangerous? even. I try to keep my adjectives and imagery out of their heads. I’m only there to be a sounding board. Just listen. Pray for patience and calm instead of “understanding,” even.

    People are dying to talk about these things. Literally. Let them talk. They might have a decade’s worth of stuff to sort through. Their questions might at some point land in familiar territory. I’ve felt a green light go off in my head before: now, talk.

  35. katia Avatar

    Fr Stephen Bless,

    The Holy Apostle Peter’s exhortation towards a “right way of
    life” clearly echoes the words of our Saviour:
    “Let your light so shine before men that they may see
    your good works and glorify your Father Who is in Heaven.”

    “To believe is not all that is required, but also to abide in love.”
    In addressing ourselves to those in error, St. John of Golden Word
    teaches us that we should not forget the following:
    a) “we do not speak in enmity, but so as to correct them”;
    b) our purpose is not “to strike our adversaries down, but to lift them
    up when they have fallen down”;
    c) the power of our words “does not inflict wounds, but heals
    d) we should not “be angry with them, nor make a show of our wrath,
    but we should converse with them gently; for nothing is stronger than gen-
    tleness and mildness.”

    Likewise, let it not escape us that we express our genuine love for
    heretics not only in words, written and spoken, but also in fervent prayer:
    “Let us leave everything to prayer,” says St. John Chrysostomos; “the more
    impious they are, the more [we should] beseech and entreat on their behalf
    that they might at some point back away from their madness…. Let us not
    cease making supplications for them.”

  36. (another) Elizabeth Avatar
    (another) Elizabeth

    God’s timing is present with this post: this week I am struggling with (finally) writing a letter of contrition and reconciliation to my sister, from whom I have been estranged for a number of years.

    How thrilled the powers of darkness must have been, to divide two siblings, formerly very close, over matters of Christian belief — me as Orthodox convert, her as an Evangelical who daily pursues a “prophetic” and “supernatural” lifestyle, with the accompanying signs and wonders.

    I struggled because I have not understood the way forward, and after reading this post and comments, realize I mostly have all along, but rejected it in my pride and arrogance: just love her, and talk to God about her. If I love her, how much more does God — something I managed to forget in my zeal for rightness.

    Forgive me.

  37. fatherstephen Avatar

    May God bless you Elizabeth and your sister. Indeed.

  38. Luke Avatar

    Thank you Father,
    I confess I have trouble with the whole premise:
    “……what he says makes sense, say, ‘Yes,’ If his comments are misguided, say, ‘I don’t know anything about that.”………

    ‘I don’t know anything about that.’ Is not true since clearly he has some opinion about the issue, if he believes they are misguided’ .

    It seems to me rather than not being genuine to himself, it might be better if he found a way to disagee without being disagreeable… I know sound like something Obama would say.

    The other person might just want an argument and that’s OK as long as it’s civil an not personal.

    What I am tring so say is that arguing people can ‘push our buttons’ and it is really a big struggle not to let that happen. Is this not a spiritual sruggle?
    Having said all of that, I can see saying “I can’t talk about that right now’ might be a better alternative to a diagreeable argument.


  39. fatherstephen Avatar

    “I don’t know about that,” is not the same thing as “I don’t have an opinion about that.” People have opinions about everything, especially about everything they do not know.

  40. Karen Avatar

    Thanks all for your contributions! There has been a wealth of encouragement here for me. I realize I have to really struggle to be (appropriately) silent because I can easily become driven by a felt need to be validated and understood. Such a need can only be properly met in the Presence of God. It is good to be reminded of the power of silence to bring God’s good purposes to pass, first in our own lives and secondly to witness it come to pass in the lives of those we care about. Among those good purposes, I think of such things as the ascetic discipline of self restraint, the cultivation of good listening skills along with the requisite humility, empathy and compassion, the cultivation of prayer, watchful waiting, and trust in God. I’m sure there are many others as well.

  41. Tony Avatar

    To my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. My situation is a little different. I was a cradle Greek Orthodox and then I became an Evangelical because of the geniun love of Christ I found in the people who helped me convert to Evangelicalism. Later in years as time went by I found true faith as an Orthodox Christian. Alot of Evangelical converts helped me along the way and I am truly greatful.

    My story though is as a Greek Orthodox Christian I find very few in my church who would listen about Christ and even having Bible study. It has becaome so ethnic in alot of churches that they forget the true meaning of Orthodoxy. I pray and venture out to as many Greek Orthodox with Love to know about their own faith that they know little of. May God grant me the wisdom to use the right words or show the right pure life I should be living for him. I started a homeless drive in my church (with the blessing of my spiritual father) and a lecture series on Orthodoxy every Monday.

    Does anyone who is cradle Orthodox have any similar struggles.


  42. David Avatar

    Tony, I am so happy for God’s great work in your life.

    However, for my experience, I have been to few Bible studies that had anything to do with Christ. In fact, I find the trend towards encouraging more of these and like activities in Orthodoxy, unfortunate.

    I have no cure for the “ethnic” or any other problem in the Church. But I can tell you that Bible studies (or patristic studies, though my spiritual father loves them and I love him) aren’t it.

    This post ties into my deepening suspicion that whenever we feel the need to “do something” we are probably most needful to “do nothing”. Or at least “do nothing but pray”.

  43. fatherstephen Avatar

    Tony. I’ve heard similar stories. Yours is a very important ministry. The life of St. Cosmas of Aetolia was one of reawakening those around him. May he pray for your ministry!

  44. fatherstephen Avatar

    The rediscovery of grace can happen in almost any setting. I think it is not so much Bible Study or no Bible Study but whatever one does, to do it to the glory of God and with prayer for His people.

  45. David Avatar

    Forgive me Father. You are too kind. I stuck my foot in my mouth again.

  46. Molly Sabourin Avatar

    “But Athanasius is known for his lonely persecutions and exiles – which things we should seek to imitate if we plan to take up his great defenses as well. ”

    What a profoundly excellent point, Father Stephen.

    Thank you, thank you for this.

  47. fatherstephen Avatar

    May God help us all. Pray for me.

  48. Tony Avatar

    Forgive me for my not understanding all your kind answers, but am I understanding that I should not even try to have any kind of Orthodox Bible study. I thought as Orthodox we should be “swimming in the scriptures” as St. John Chrystodom said.

    Another thing I’d like to say is I know firsthand many Evangelicals want to glorify God above all else, as true Christians that is what were supposed to do. The truth is indeed in the written Word of God, but why does a modern church’s interpretation outweigh the wisdom of the Fathers, Councils and Creeds? That is an idolatrous confidence in someone’s own ability to understand the Bible.

    I try to explain to my Evangelical friends that Our individual interpretations of the Bible are valuable, however when our individual interpretations conflict with the collective voice of the saints down through the ages (some were taught by the disciples themselves) then our individual interpretations are most likely wrong. In the end, the voice of the many (the Church) is to be preferred over the voice of one, regardless how sincere that one voice may be.

    I pray that when I speak to Evangelicals about this I can do it with LOVE and not with an argumentive Spirit because that only comes from the flesh.


  49. fatherstephen Avatar

    You misunderstand me. I think it’s great to have Bible studies – and that we should swim in Scripture as St. John said. I think it comes as a surprise to many Orthodox as they study the Scripture that the services of the Church consist almost entirely of Scripture. I meant to say – look at the ministry of St. Cosmas – who did so much to awaken and reteach the faith at a time of great need. We live in such a time. May God richly poor out grace on your work!

  50. David Avatar

    This time I will only speak for myself, Tony.

    I was a protestant who wanted to honor his god above all else. For me the problem was that I was honoring my god, not God. This is not the same thing even though I fashioned my idol from the pages of scripture.

    Understand, I come from a tradition that values Bible study over all else, so this is why my comments are potentially confusing. Perhaps I’m like an alcoholic who struggles with taking the Eucharist. Bible study is a good thing, but a terrifying to me.

  51. Robert Avatar

    Tony said

    “I try to explain to my Evangelical friends that Our individual interpretations of the Bible are valuable, however when our individual interpretations conflict with the collective voice of the saints down through the ages (some were taught by the disciples themselves) then our individual interpretations are most likely wrong. In the end, the voice of the many (the Church) is to be preferred over the voice of one, regardless how sincere that one voice may be.”

    I agree. R.C. Sproul taught this, and this was the teaching that planted the seed in my mind that over time grew into Orthodoxy. I was a very confident and cocky Calvinist who probably did more to turn people away from Jesus, but then I wasn’t bothered, clearly they were resisting the gospel, and if they were not elect then it really didn’t matter. (Truth is, it wasn’t the gospel they were resisting, it was me.)

    I cannot remember who said it, but I think it is worth repeating that more people are convinced by time than they are by arguments. I have learned to mind my own business, be open and friendly,and to be respectful and humble. I do believe that there are moments for debate provided they do not generate more heat than light.

  52. Justin Avatar

    I tend to argue in my head all the time; and it is such a source of suffering. This post clarifies for me the fact that I don’t have to be having such an internal struggle all the time. I need to learn to let go of always trying to craft an argument all the time. It’s a humbling post, thank you Father Stephen.

  53. MichaelPatrick Avatar

    Jusin, I also have a busy mind and a symptom of my own frequent sickness is that my thoughts and passions make a short circuit to my heart and flood it with nauseating ferment like you describe. It is like having food poisoning but worse, because my whole self gets shaken. The proper food for any heart is Christ, who, by the Holy Spirit, can turn them into a refuge where thoughts and feelings, no matter how strong, can be subjected to His illuminating and loving reign. Quiet prayer is the only way I know to be well and escape the tyranny of my mind and feelings.

  54. Karen Avatar

    Tony, I think there are many in your situation. Dr. Brad Nassif is one well-known American Orthodox (who has coauthored at least one book in a series published by IVP), who found his way to an awakening to grace through evangelicals. I don’t think he ever formally left the Orthodox Church, but I could be wrong about that. I’m sure your experiences would resonate with him.

    My conversion from evangelicalism to Orthodoxy has provided an interesting twist in my evangelical family, since my parents attend a prominent and large evangelical Church that is now pastored by a man whose parents left their Orthodox Church when he was young because they were dissatisfied with the work being done there with their children. (They also attend the church.) They left to find a church with a more vibrant outreach to youth and became evangelicals. There are also a couple of other former Orthodox in my parents’ SS class, who I suspect have found my conversion a bit mystifying (as do my parents)!

  55. Tony Avatar

    Karen how interesting about the former Orthodox. I know I feel that way sometimes about the Orthodox people not being vibrant enough (missions, Evangelism) but I know it is the faith of the Church passed down thru Holy Tradition that counts, because people will always fall short if you put your trust in them.

    I am not leaving I am trying to set an example for the people around me (a light).

    By the way I know Brad Nassif very well, he is still in the Orthodox church. He is a good man and we communicate alot with each other.

  56. Luke Avatar

    After your response, reflection and a recent experience, I think I understand the passage more. I tend to overanalyze and sometimes that’s a problem for me.
    Saturday we saw the Michael Jackson movie, I had conflicting opinions about him. I listen to other people. Some people love him and think he is a great human being others see him as a poster child for evil and decadence. About 1/2 thru the movie a thought came into my head:
    “I don’t know about that”
    as if to say my experience is more real than any opinion I may have. My opinion is really inconsequential.

    Now with regard to others, my neighbor, my brother and even my enemy I realized we should regard their opinion with the highest regard even though that opinion might be from ignorance, confusion but most likely from their own unique experience.

    The prayer of St. Frances comes to mind.

    ……..I may not so much seek to be
    to be understood, as to understand…

    Peacemakers by definition have to understand the conflicting party’s opinion.
    The words of our Lord make more sense to me.

    Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.

    Thank you Father for your post,

  57. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    While I still have a lot of noise and feel compelled to speak sometimes a new (to me) paradigm has begun to grow in me since I fell in love and married a wonderful Protestant woman who loves God but had never been exposed to the Church. I began to see early on that it was our shared love that would lead her to the Church to the extent I was actually in the Church. The saints have done much more than I have.

    I’m going through the catechisis with her, but rarely do I try to explain anything in an attempt to convince her. Occasionally I will respond to a question or explain why something from her previous experience is not what the Church has always taught.

    It has been quite a journey for me learning to be a little more silent and hold my peace–allowing God to do the work.

  58. fatherstephen Avatar

    What a great way to learn patience and meekness! May God bless you and your good wife.

  59. Karen Avatar

    Tony, I do know Dr. Nassif, too. What you say about the riches of the Orthodox faith and Tradition passed down is so true.

  60. Christine Avatar

    Hi everybody!
    I red all your comments to acknowledge your points of view, and I respect them, even though I don’t like the dispute about the denominations (Orthodox Christian versus Protestant Evangelical or any other), I had an urgent need to reply (not to argue, so please take it with love).
    Ideally, there should have not been any divisions within the church of Christ, but all who believe in Him as God’s Son and obey His commands should be brothers and sisters in Him, like one family, one body, One Spirit!
    But human inability to separate from their own opinions led to what we have today, a ‘civil war’ within the family of God…
    It should be not about traditions, not to mention “Holy Tradition” (not to disrespect the commentator, but this is idolatry), no matter how old it is, if it were about that, than Judaism were the one to go with…
    We are Christians, orthodox or not, what matters is not the denomination, but Christ alone!!! We are to go and teach others about the Gospel of Christ, not the one from Orthodox church or Evangelical church (salvation is by grace through faith in Christ, not by faith in the church).
    I like the title of the blog “Glory to God for All things”, but how come that some of you give thanks to saints and ask them to intercede for you, instead of praying to the Heavenly Father in Jesus Name, who intercedes for us and all the thanks are due Him?
    I pray to our Heavenly Father that He might grant us His grace, and open the eyes of our heart, so we may see His One and only Son, who died for our sins and rose again so we can live through Him. He is the Truth and the Way, to Him be the Glory for all things! In Jesus Name, Amen

  61. NW Darla Avatar
    NW Darla

    Christine, many of us here have been evangelical Christians in the past, who have or are now converting to Orthodoxy, and speaking for myself, I am so *thankful* to be discovering the original church. I don’t know if you know this — I didn’t for 23 years as a protestant believer — but there actually WAS just one church, as described in the Bible, for the first 1000 years of Christianity. God *did* start a Church (and speaks much of this Church in the Bible), and the gates of hell did not prevail against it. So, Orthodoxy is not a denomination — it’s “pre-denominational.” I know you passionately believe what you wrote, but I would ask that you maybe look into church history and what God did do. There are writings available from people who knew the apostles, or within just a few years after them. It’s amazing to see what the church was REALLY like back then!

    There’s a great book available called Becoming Orthodox by Peter Gillquist about a group of evangelical Campus Crusade ministers, and thousands that were associated with them, who started studying the early church and realized that there had been ONE church as the Bible described, and that this church still exists. They converted in the 1980s. The thing in that book that convinced me to look at Orthodoxy more seriously was this graphic: http://www.stgeorgeaz.org/images/Timeline.jpg … I realized I was up in the tangle of the many branches of protestantism, when there was a Church (the bottom line in the graphic) that is the original church still in existence. Denominationalism had always bothered me and I finally understood why; it’s an affront to a holy God who says that the Church is the body of Christ — it cannot be divided so!

    It’s been an awesome journey! I’ll leave you with this link: http://www.gettoknowtheoriginal.net/ … glory to God.

  62. Anna Avatar

    Why would we not ask our brothers and sisters in Christ to pray for us? I cannot walk the Christian walk by myself; I fail miserably when I try. The Christian life is fundamentally about right relationships: with the Triune God and all elements of His creation, including all of humankind. More importantly, we must all strive to see Christ as He is, not as we think Him to be. Jesus Christ, who we honor as the Way, the Truth, and the Life, is a person, not a collection of axioms. May we all be called into a dynamic, living relationship with the Truth +

  63. Christine Avatar

    Thank Darla for your answer, yes I’m pationate about Jesus Christ being the focus of our faith, He said Himself ‘I’m the vine you are the branches, those who remain in Me will have life’ and in Hebrews it says “He who hath builded the house hath more honour than the house.” The believers in Christ are known as the house of God, so why are we fighting about who is the original und who is not, when we are to be One in His Spirit? Jesus is rebuking the churches in Revelation to listen to the Holy Spirit and repent of their wrong ways (these is to all churches and we are all to examine ourselves that we don’t fall pray to man-maid tradition or false teachings).

    And to Anna, yes, I totally agree with asking our brother and sisters in Christ to pray for us, those who are alive, but this is not what the praxis is about, when I understand the ‘veneration of the saints’ correctly. Jesus is our intercessor not the saints, He is standing in the gap and bridging over to the Father not the ‘saints’ (dead people who were declared holy, even though the whole community of believers in Jesus as the Saviour was addressed as saints in Paul’s days…) We are to imitate them in their faith, shown by obedience to Christ, but not to make images of them and pray to them…
    May the LORD Himself reveal the Truth to all of us and come in and have communion with us!

  64. NW Darla Avatar

    Christine, I do understand what you are saying, but I do also disagree with it. God DID in fact start a Church, with a specific plan in doing so, and meant it when he said there would be “one body, one faith, one baptism.” An honest look at church history will reveal this. It’s hard to get past the fact that there was one universal church for more than a thousand years. I never knew that before about a year ago. Honestly, I used to believe as you do (something along the lines of “We’re all one body, no matter or denominational affiliation or lack of one; the most important thing is to love Jesus!”), but it just doesn’t make sense that God left it up to people to design church — the Body of Christ! — however they see fit, whether with oversight from others or not. To me, the denominations/independent churches/etc. are manmade traditions! And as such, I really have no interest in being a part of them. I just want Church, you know? The way God designed it and set it in motion from the earliest days of Christianity. It has been so wonderful, so freeing, such a relief to “come home” to the original church. It really does matter; and it does glorify Him to honor that. Anyway, I know you passionately believe what you do. I, too, pray that God will continue to reveal his Truth to us all — I agree with you in that! 😉

  65. Rosita Avatar

    I was referred to this post from another website, and I found it very interesting and challenging. I also enjoyed reading and learning from the comments. I am not Orthodox, but my sister and brother-in-law recently converted.

    I did have a question about the above link to a graphic showing the Orthodox church as in continual existence while Protestentism being in so many branches. I have no comment on the way the Protestent part was portrayed, but I did have a question about the way the Orthodox church was portrayed. In my admittedly limited experience with the Orthodox church, I do know that there are several different branches. So why is that not shown? Which branch is the original? The graphic seemed a little too facile for me. I appreciate any enlightenment you could give me on this subject.

  66. fatherstephen Avatar

    If by “branches” you mean Greek Orthodox, Russian Orthodox, etc., these are not branches but simple names given to the Orthodox Church in different countries – but it is one and the same Orthodox Church. In America these various national groups have Churches here – which creates the problem of multiple jurisdictions. This is contrary to Orthodox canon law and is being slowly corrected. Orthodoxy tends to be patient about such things. But there is only one Orthodox Church.

  67. dale Avatar

    Father, One question that I have had ever since seeing this graphic. While I fully accept what is on this graphic I too wonder about what is not included and it is likely do to my own lack of understanding. I have always thought that the Oriental Orthodox would branch off similarly to the branch of Rome as they did not accept that council which was accepted by the remaining churches. Is this due to charity that the break was not “hostile” or am I missing something. It is my understanding that the two are not in full communion.

  68. fatherstephen Avatar

    The timeline conveniently ignores the Oriental Orthodox. They would, in the reckoning of the graph, branch off as well.

    However, it is true that the relationship between Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox is quite close.

Leave a Reply

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

Subscribe to blog via email

Support the work

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

Latest Comments

  1. Fr. Stephen, At times like this I find it helpful to remind myself that God promised the fullness of life,…

  2. Father Stephen, Can a person have a strong appreciation for another religious tradition – such as Buddhist or Hindu -…

Read my books

Everywhere Present by Stephen Freeman

Listen to my podcast