Ever Being Formed in our Heart

In our modern world we sometimes forget that a single person is not able to do much on their own. If Wittgenstein was right, then we really can’t do anything on our own. We live, for good or ill, within a culture, within a social matrix that makes most aspects of our life possible. Language is a social construct; world-views are a social construct; family is a social construct and I could continue for quite a long period of time.

To say that we cannot do much on our own does not mean we are powerless within the constructs around us. Societies change – and for various reasons. A construct can be rejected and replaced. But where do we go for our alternatives?

An inherent part of modern societies is their belief that social constructs can simply be chosen and invented according to what seems best to a society. Thus we have seen the great social experiments of the modern world, from Communism to Fascism, to Free-Market Democracy and a host of others. All primarily sharing in the idea that societies are self-defining.

This is an aspect of what I have earlier referred to as “cultures of forgetfulness,” or “cultures of amnesia.” It is not the past or any inherited limit or commandment which informs the structure of a society – only the will of its people (or whatever will is governing).

This, of course, is in deep conflict with the Christian understanding of what it means to live in communion with the living God. The Christian understanding assumes and expects that God has spoken to us and made Himself known. At the same time He has also revealed to us what it truly means to be human (Christ is fully God AND fully man). Thus we accept that there are parameters given to us as human beings and as a society. This, to a large extent, is a function of Christian Tradition – to hand down from one generation to another the reality and living understanding of what it means to be truly human as well as what it means to truly be in communion with God. The Orthodox Church adds to this that the Tradition is a function of the Holy Spirit, ever revealing in each generation the one Truth of the one God.

The inherent problem of the modern world and its view of the individual, is that a culture is more than one man can do. Society is more than a collection of individuals, an average of what is thought – it is a powerful collective, forming and shaping the lives of its members regardless, to a great extent, of the individual choices they may make.

It is thus that we all live according to some tradition, be it a figment of our cultural imagination or the Tradition of Holy Orthodoxy. What none of us can be is people who have no tradition. The tradition we have may be the thin ice of modernity – but even modernity, though it be anti-tradition, is itself a tradition.

Thus the question of tradition becomes inherently important. If it is unavoidable, we do well to give it some thought. I have said in any number of places that the Orthodox Church is the last “traditional” Church. I would, of course, add to that the “Oriental Orthodox,” those Churches who refused to accept the Council of Chalecedon (Armenian, Coptic and Ethiopian). But all other “churches,” including Rome to a large extent, have rejected Christian Tradition in favor of the tradition of modernity. I understand that to say this of Rome is controversial – but until a traditional liturgical life is restored, modernity will remain largely triumphant within Catholicism.

Of course, the Holy Tradition of Orthodoxy is now surrounded by foreign cultures. In fact, it has been an extremely rare thing in the life of the Church for it to be surrounded by anything other than a foreign culture, even when that culture was nominally Orthodox.

Thus the Scriptures tell us that our “citizenship is in heaven” (Phil 3:20). There is a culture to which we belong within the life of the Church. That culture is not Byzantine, nor Russian, nor any ethnicity of the earth, but the ethnos of heaven. It has a language, even if the language is spoken in many languages of this world. The Church has a way of taking language and raising it up to become the language of heaven. There is an art with a grammar that refers us beyond itself and to the coming reality of heaven. And we have a King who sits enthroned before us and within us. Praying, confessing, forgiving all for everything, this culture is ever being formed in our heart.

It is, of course, a difficult task to live with our “citizenship in heaven.” The powers outside the Church – especially these modern powers – want the Church to be a subset of their ethnos – a part of the larger culture. But how do you fit the whole of heaven into the small confines of a single human culture? The culture of the Church will either cease to be the Church, if it agrees to become but an artifact of something else, or it will come the empty tomb of Christ – proclaiming that the “kingdoms of this world are becoming the kingdoms of our Lord and His Christ.”

What can one man do? He can refuse to be reduced to a receptacle for modernity. He can proclaim the reality of his Baptism. And he can pray, fast, repent, give alms, forgive as though these were the most important activities in his life. In the Kingdom of God these are the “coin of the realm.” He can become “rich towards God.”

This has apparently been possible in the very worst of human circumstances. Even the Gulag had its saints. What can one man do? “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Phil. 4:13).

About Fr. Stephen Freeman

Fr. Stephen is a priest of the Orthodox Church in America, Pastor Emeritus of St. Anne Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He is also author of Everywhere Present and the Glory to God podcast series.





42 responses to “Ever Being Formed in our Heart”

  1. Jonathan Deane Avatar

    Father, Bless!
    In many ways I understand where you are coming from with regard to Rome, but how is your criticism based on its foundations (creeds, councils canons, etc.) as opposed to certain practices that are due to human failings? These liturgical thoughts especially have echoed your own, coming from the top down, where Pope Benedict XVI has written/quoted the following:

    “..in the place of liturgy as the fruit of development came fabricated liturgy. We abandoned the organic, living process of growth and development over the centuries, and replaced it–as in a manufacturing process–with a fabrication, a banal on- the-spot product.”

    and this as well:
    “I am convinced that the crisis in the Church that we are experiencing today is to a large extent due to the disintegration of the liturgy…in that it is a matter of indifference whether or not God exists and whether or not he speaks to us and hears us. But when the community of faith, the worldwide unity of the Church and her history, and the mystery of the living Christ are no longer visible in the liturgy, where else, then, is the Church to become visible in her spiritual essence? Then the community is celebrating only itself, an activity that is utterly fruitless.”

    I guess where I as a Catholic see your analysis as having a tu quoque would be with some Orthodox groups which have yielded in actions but not in principle to the modernism of their day, be it via communism or what have you.

    During those dark times, my first thought is more to ask God for mercy than to see the failings as proof of less tradition. Again, this is only if there is not a substantive issue that leads the particular church to modernity inevitably.

    Therefore as a Catholic, my deepest desire in this dialogue that is carried out between Orthodox and Catholics is to ask where our objections about each other are philosophical/foundational/substantive, and where they are more fleeting/historical/based on human frailty.

    Any thoughts that you would be willing to share are appreciated.


  2. fatherstephen Avatar

    My thoughts would be quite similar to the quotes you offered from Pope Benedict XVI. He clearly recognizes a “crisis in the Church.” That crisis is indeed a very powerful divorce between the people of the Church and the philosophical/foundational/substantive life of the Church which is lived out in her liturgical life and the daily practice of her people. It may be possible for Rome to put the “genie” back in the bottle but there is a very serious rift that has developed between theory (foundational) and practice due to many reforms. Without this organic existence, there can be no resistance to the surrounding culture. It just sweeps through.

    Orthodoxy is not invulnerable. During its most difficult times – the Turkish yoke – the Communist Yoke, etc. – whether intended or not – the liturgical life of the church and its pattern of piety – did not change. Though the Church was often weakened during these periods of persecution – she was not changed. Thus, when waves of renewal began to be manifest – the life that was renewed was/is the same life of the Church throughout the ages.

    This is a constant struggle in the life of the Church. Not just to preserve something of the past – but to live the same life “once and for all delivered to the saints” now and always.

    I was careful in my critical remarks concerning Rome not to say that its situation was hopeless, only that it has passed to a very serious stage. It remains to be seen whether its traditional life can be restored. It is a very serious thing to disrupt the liturgical life and pattern of piety of the Church – and this has now taken place for better than a generation. My understanding as an Orthodox Christian is that of lex orandi, lex credendi. Foundational documents, etc., mean nothing if they are not rightly lived and prayed. The Episcopalians printed the Creeds in the services – but any true consensus of belief long ago departed from their ranks – and this departure was certainly hurried along as liturgical experimentation and fragmentation occurred.

    There is indeed a “crisis”. Benedicts words are accurate: “But when the community of faith, the worldwide unity of the Church and her history, and the mystery of the living Christ are no longer visible in the liturgy, where else, then, is the Church to become visible in her spiritual essence? Then the community is celebrating only itself, an activity that is utterly fruitless.”

    One man doesn’t make a Church. Hence the crisis.

  3. Sean Avatar

    My knowledge of matters pertaining to the differences between Roman Catholicism and Orthodoxy are rather limited but I would humbly say that Rome broke away from tradition long long ago. The Novus Ordo mass (and the consequences it brought along with other liturgical changes) may be a recent development but Rome has had its own history of modernist practices since the day it decided to break away from the conciliar tradition of the Church and let one man govern the whole Body of Christ (and this comes from a man who once considered becoming Roman Catholic). I have no more earnest desire than to see Rome united with the other 4 Ancient Sees and its Patriarch as Primus inter Pares, honestly. But its own tradition of changing over the last millenium has brought it where it is today. It is not coincidence that Rome looks eastwards. I am not saying it’s a bad thing. But the Pope should realize that looking eastwards is not enough to make bridges and heal crises.

  4. Yannis Avatar

    That langauge, culture and family are social constructs while religion copletely lacks a cultural dimension at all levels find me in disagreement F. Stephen.

    In my view language is something far more organic than a construct, and it comes in many shapes and forms; grins, posture, moves, the way faces look at various instances mirroring thoughts/moods/feelings, and verbal language are no different imo. Spoken languages could not have been developed in any other way other than from direct expression of one self in order to communicate with other co-beings, something that is a vital part of human existence.

    Culture is pretty much the same imo, as it expresses the inner character of a people as well of their immediate environment, the land that sustained them, the sea and skies that surrounded them, the crisis that befell them, the wonders that awed them, the values that attracted them. Again it is an organic part of the vital interelationship between man and its surrounding environment and other men from which he cannot be separated as well as from his natural predisposition; human life is part of a dynamic net of interdependencies in the physical and psychological level and it cannot be conceived apart from that.

    Family is similarly far more organic and necessary to everyone than a social construct would be, although parents that have fixed ideas of how each member of the family should be, may attempt to place family members in fixed roles according to their ideas. However -even so- there is an undoubtable link between family members (even those that don’t particularly love each other) that is unpretensious, alive and vital to my experience rather than something forced from the outside.

    Its true that all these three (language/culture/family) are to a certain extend forms and as all forms they have to be trancended in order for one to see clearly, however transcended does not equal discarded in my opinion. Christ and the Kingdom of Heaven are beyond relativisms, but the earth and all thats in it are not; as the ego, so do they have functions that are imperative for the world to being the way it is and take the course it should take for if they were not they wouldn’t be there.

    I agree with you that the struggle for salvation -as Orthodox Christianity understands it- is an individual affair and that Orthodox Christianity, as every great religion, is at its inner substantial core beyond cultural (or other for that matter) boundaries: “Achieve inner peace and thousands around you will be saved”; Saint Serafim of Sarov springs to mind.

    However people fall in love with religions prior to following them seriously as they do with everything else. This is because at an exoteric level religions themselves have a cultural dimension that expresses their character and focus in regards to their approach to the Divine. It is then up to people to pick up the clues and match the Divine archetypes that resonate with their being against those that a religion expresses, which usually results them in following it.

    Orthodoxy at the innermost level talks the language of the Kingdom of Heaven no doubt of that for me, however until all people have reached sainthood and even after then, it cannot do otherwise but express this with the means available to it on earth. As such its expression, focus and approach could not have been otherwise but being the mixture of the Jewish, Arab, Syrian, Armenian, Greek and Slavic psyches they currently are.

    Of course this by no means translates that Orthodoxy excludes other cultures, but rather that, like everything else in this world and for good reason, it has a form. The a-morfous (that with no-form) needs form to make itself evident as the wind needs sand to be visible.

    Best Regards


  5. fatherstephen Avatar

    Good points. I perhaps should have been more careful or more in depth on social constructs. Religion, including Orthodoxy, of course has social constructs. My point is that we are never able to escape “tradition” whether it is the tradition of modernity or the tradition of the life of the Church – we are social beings and we cannot not be social beings.

    Thus, I noted, the importance of tradition. The ultimate social construct is the life of God given to humanity (this is what the Church, properly, is).

    Of course, there are many things within the experience of the Church that do not properly form part of the this God-given construct. And of those things we do well to be aware.

    Thus I would not argue for a no-form life of the Church (that would not be in the least Orthodox). And it must be expressed in forms that are accessible for us as human beings. Thus it will necessarily be Russian, Greek, Arabic, etc. Indeed, I think Orthodoxy recognizes this more fully and ocmpletely than anyone. I don’t deny it but only meant that those things that are not ultimate should not be made ultimate. It is the kingdom we seek and nothing less.

  6. Yannis Avatar

    F. Stephen wrote:
    “My point is that we are never able to escape “tradition” whether it is the tradition of modernity or the tradition of the life of the Church – we are social beings and we cannot not be social beings.

    Thus, I noted, the importance of tradition. The ultimate social construct is the life of God given to humanity (this is what the Church, properly, is).”

    I fully agreed with your point fom the beginning which is why i didn’t mention it at all in my post above, i think. It is a very good point and very important indeed.

    “Of course, there are many things within the experience of the Church that do not properly form part of the this God-given construct. And of those things we do well to be aware.

    Thus I would not argue for a no-form life of the Church (that would not be in the least Orthodox).”

    I agree with you. What i meant was that God is not in need of an approach or of a form as he is beyond partiality and relativism.

    Human beings on the other hand do posess a form and are dependednt upon an approach in order to have a relationship with Him hence as you say it is impossible to have a no-form life of the Orthodox (or any other for that matter) Church.

    “It is the kingdom we seek and nothing less.”

    The finger is not the moon, very true.

    Best Regards


  7. TheraP Avatar

    Seems to me Rome is being tugged at least 3 ways: a laity that is confused and bereft of spiritual care, and angry (but different groups are angry for different reasons) or very pained; a hierarchy which has in many ways lost its moral authority (for a variety of reasons) and is trying to regain it by brute force (which is contrary to the Gospel!); and an authentic spiritual tradition in many monasteries, many of which have “resourced” their “foundations” and in some ways could just as easily shift over to the Orthodox Church (IMHO). I’m not saying the latter would be “easy” – but I’m saying that those who are immersed in that monastic spiritual culture would likely feel very much at home with the Orthodox. (And I believe the monastic tradition is keeping the Catholic church alive at the moment – barring some exceptions – as it has been doing for some decades now. ) You, Father Stephen, may differ here. And be my guest!

    Regarding culture, of late I have been so struck by the psalms. Very stuck by how the psalmist at times is dealing with the same issues we deal with. Dealing with atheists who claim “there is no god” and dealing with a sense that religion has not been lived from the heart. Also much that is inspiring of course. But it does seem that Israel’s plight then is the plight of the church now – and I think of the wider “church” that has failed to unite as Jesus urged, as Paul and so many of the Fathers also urged. Need I say I love the psalms?

    What I notice as hugely different is that the Catholic blogs, by and large, are angry. And the Orthodox blogs, it seems to me, are busy providing spiritual food. That says it all, doesn’t it?

    For myself, I simply don’t know what lies in the future. God is very real to me. I feel His constant Presence. I say that in all humility. I pray for guidance. I try to follow the leading of the heart here. I hope you forgive this personal anguish expressed here.

  8. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    The difficulties of Rome, her deficencies and the deficencies of all the hetrodox are our own temptations. When we expend too much time and energy decrying them or attempting to unite with them, we externalize the problem and the solution.

    The same can be said for internal difficulties of the Church, thus we do better if we keep in mind that God forgives all sinners…”of whom I am chief”

  9. David Dickens Avatar

    Michael is correct. The solution for both those within and without is not that we analyze and correct them, but ourselves. Ultimately a few saints will change the world where an army of volunteer passionists will have no avail.

  10. Fr Alvin Kimel Avatar
    Fr Alvin Kimel

    This thread has brought to mind two books, neither of which I have read but which may be of interest:

    *Heresy of Formlessness* by Martin Mosebach.

    *The Mass and Modernity* by Jonathan Robinson.

    A review of Mosebach’s book can be found here: http://www.andrewespress.com/formless.pdf.

    I have to agree that the post-Vatican II liturgical reforms have been disastrous for the life, witness, and mission of the Catholic Church. Just as the spirit of iconoclasm invaded the Eastern Church in the first millenium, so this same spirit has now invaded the Catholic Church. How things can be righted, I cannot see. We must pray.

  11. TheraP Avatar

    Ah, yes, David and Michael. One can only change oneself. I so agree.

  12. Irenaeus of New York Avatar

    TheraP said,
    What I notice as hugely different is that the Catholic blogs, by and large, are angry.

    That’s because Catholics actually engage the world and try to change it for the better. If you actually view what is happening in the world, you would be angry too. When is the last time you heard an Orthodox person denouncing abortion, or euthanasia in the public square? How about defending the sanctity of marriage? Where can I find the local Orthodox hospital? Or the local Orthodox school? Or the local Orthodox orphanage? They don’t exist because Orthodox have no concept of what it means to be a “Mission” church. Therefore they don’t “struggle” against society like Catholics do. When the Orthodox decide to leave the upper room and engage beyond their ethnic boundaries, they might be better equipped to give opinions. Where is your tradition of evangelism? Where is your tradition of servicing the poor? Where is your tradition of engaging the community? 99% of Orthodox converts were already Christians before hand. It’s basically through Catholic and Evangelical attrition that you claim any success in this area. It’s easy when you are an “ethnic” church that doesn’t have universal appeal to fall back on the ethnicity to which your traditions have been nurtured….

  13. Irenaeus of New York Avatar

    To illustrate my point-

    The Ecumenical Patriarch visited NY recently. What did he do? Did he talk about the culture of death in the USA? Did he talk about the destructive nature of atheism and relativism? Did he talk about the sanctity of life?


    He talked about resource conservation.

  14. jad Avatar

    Bless, Fr. Stephen!
    One man does not make the Church, Deo gratias!

    Our Pope of Rome is not the only one who has criticized the tendency towards modernity seen among many Catholics. Ultimately, I thank you for your thoughts and pray that they will awaken those slumbering in “relevance” but ignoring the beauty of Tradition. Your ultimate point in this blog is that no man is an island. Perhaps I should have said an Amen to that before defending Rome. But I would be remiss if I did not say that this lack of communion between us all (in both charity AND truth) is a cause of deepest pain in my heart.

    May the lex orandi lead to a deeper union in our lex credendi, and may our bishops take the call from Pope John Paul II seriously, as expressed in Ut Unum Sint, where he called for the East to speak to the West with regard to the role of the Bishop of Rome in the first 10 centuries of Church history. I am convinced that recovering that element of tradition will be an integral step towards recovering the communion between bishops, be they Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, or Oriental Orthodox.

    May we be one as Christ and the Father are one!

    Many years, Father.


  15. Steve Avatar

    Time magazine reports Patriarch Kirill calling for a harsh response against the presumably unknown perpetrators of the Russian train bombings. This is not a very wise move in a country that has few checks and balances as it is.

    One world and all in it, changed irrevocably at Golgotha. The other world stayed the same. All that changed were appearances. Sorry to be so harsh but after nearly 2,000 years, these blunders are unacceptable.

  16. Vince Avatar

    I don’t know how many of you have lived your lives in both Churches,I have. I am a life long Roman Catholic who converted to Orthodoxy some years ago. While much has changed in the Roman Church and the movement away from tradition is very clear, much also stays the same. For traditional Catholics there is still the rosary, adoration, the daily mass and weekly confession. The lives of the saints are available for those who take the time to read them and there is no shortage of english translations of all major Roman Catholic writers. There is also no shortage of Catholic confraternities and organizations that are truly Catholic. There is more to the Catholic scene then pop theologians and protestant converts. You might have to look a little more closely but Catholicism is alive and well among many Catholics. If you are lucky enough to live in a big city there are often more than a few churches where you can hear the latin mass. While I have a great love for the Orthodox Church I have to say its current state in this country seems far from healthy. I don’t say this to attack but it seems to me to be the way it truly is. While a great many of the Catholic Churches where I live enjoy a viberant life most of the Orthodox Churches are in serious decline. In spite of the terrible liturgies and the sex abuse scandles and the destruction of church interiors you can still find Catholic Churches filled with young and old Catholics. The Orthodox Churches I have been to look like geriatric centers and are devoid of people in their 20s- 50s. The Orthodox also seem to spend more time arguing then building their churches and when they do church build they sound more and more like mainline protestants. Sorry I don’t mean to be overly critical.When I became Orthodox I was shocked at how little there was in terms of services and mutual help and support at every level. When I was Catholic I felt as though I belonged to a Universal Church, extensive and connected. It may have moved away from its traditions to some extent but with a little bit of searching one could always find them. In the Orthodox Church I have begun to feel very isolated. When I was Catholic I never thought twice about attending mass in a different church. In fact because of my work I often attendend mass in a different church every week. I can’t say that I feel the same way in Orthodoxy. The Orthodox seem much like protestants if the can’t attend their own parish they don’t go to church. Sorry but I can’t get use to the idea that this jurisdiction is my home and I might not even be welcome in another.

  17. fatherstephen Avatar


    First, there are plenty of angry Orthodox blogs. This, I pray, is not one of them.

    On the other hand – I think you are incorrect in your criticisms, as well meant as they are. There are less than 3 million Orthodox in America. We have no hospitals because we have no money. But we have hospitals in Orthodox lands, and a long tradition of care for the poor. We indeed speak out on abortion. My Metropolitan was one of the initial signatories of the Manhattan Declaration. We are doing missionary work around the world. I am hosting the founder of the Orthodox Church in Indonesia this weekend in my parish (a convert from Islam). A priest in Moscow was just murdered for his evangelistic work among Muslims. We have orphanages (one in Guatemala City among the poorest of the poor in this hemisphere – my daughter has been on a mission trip there). I could go on and on. Orthodoxy in its majority has just emerged from one of the most oppressive experiences in the history of the Church. It has been baptizing people in former socialist countries at a very fast pace. Raising up the rest of the work that must be done will take time. The documents on the Basic Social Teaching of the Church issued by the Moscow Patriarchate makes a very complete case for the scope of Christian witness and ministry in society and is being guided by this important document in its current steps of re-building.

    Orthodox have flaws – plenty of them – just not the ones you cited (or at least not in the measure which you intimated).

  18. fatherstephen Avatar

    The situations you describe are certainly accurate – depending on location. Orthodoxy has a wide variety of history in the U.S. There are young, vibrant parishes and many that have had a very different experience and are in need of renewal in the faith.

    It is also the case that Catholic tradition has not perished from the earth. My point was the danger confronting it – a point with which the Pope, apparently, agrees. Thus, a Catholic cannot argue with me 🙂

    Orthodoxy is in a very interesting point in its life – globally and locally. In many ways it is increasing in health rather than waning, though it has plenty of challenges. In some places it is almost moribund and will likely not reawaken easily or soon. But there is much that is growing. Monasticism in the U.S., barely existent a generation ago has seen significant growth and new monasteries, etc. A generation ago, the OCA had about 6 parishes in the South. Now there are nearly 70. That’s very small but a ten-fold increase is still significant. Conversations and a serious process for the unification of varying jurisdictions have been set in place by the meeting of the Patriarchs in Chembesy earlier this year. This process will be slow, but it has begun. And I think it will gradually have a very salutary effect.

    I am an Orthodox missionary, and serve as the Dean of the Appalachian deanery in the Diocese of the South (OCA). I am very aware of the full gamut of challenges that face Orthodoxy. It is not a matter of whose Church is the healthiest, etc. We face a common challenge. I am grateful as an Orthodox Christian to have the fullness of the Church’s life and tradition intact and at hand to serve in the work of mission. But there is only mission. The time for triumph will come when the Master returns.

  19. Vince Avatar

    My point was not to be overly critical. When I think of tradition I don’t just think of liturgical tradition but rather the entire historical life of the church preserved as a living reality by its members. What I wanted to say is that while much of the Catholic tradition has been destroyed much of it still lives. Its litugical tradition is in ruines but in many ways it has kept alive the faith. Again I commend your work and your love of the Church I am glad to hear of the positive things that are going on in the Church and I hope and pray for growth and health. I would add that I hope both Churches recover that which is lost or in danger of being lost. And that the fullness of tradition is recovered by both.

  20. yeamlak fitur Avatar
    yeamlak fitur


    Growing up in a mainly Orthodox country and witnessing all comparisons, what you said is not true. You said…. “When is the last time you heard an Orthodox person denouncing abortion, or euthanasia in the public square? How about defending the sanctity of marriage? Where can I find the local Orthodox hospital? Or the local Orthodox School? Or the local Orthodox orphanage? They don’t exist because Orthodox have no concept of what it means to be a “Mission” church. Therefore they don’t “struggle” against society like Catholics do. …

    … Let me tell you I grew up seeing priests and monks in all the Orthodox Churches I was attending; voicing the sins loud and clear passing the message of repentance and teaching the consequences of all these sins. They did not have the money to do missions let alone survival was hard. Or either they were struggling to survive communism or wars against moslems heading to remote areas and hiding books and writings. They are beaten up so bad and are minorities in most of the countries where Christianity started. It is because of them and the tradition they passed down and their prayers we are here today and growing. That is not to be called “not engaging” in their world. They might not have hospitals but in these countries when someone is sick, it is so different than what I see here. They are surrounded with lots of love and there is not a day passing by without having a visitor at their home and being taken care of. On marriage and morality, that is not even heard of. Schools… the Orthodox are the basis of any education, you start school with a priest in the neighborhood; start reading prayers or the psalms when you first know the letters, that is how it is. Orphanage, there are families always around or even the neighbors. There are lots of poor too, but they all live together, the rich and the poor. That is their mission and their way of life as God provided them.

  21. Darlene Avatar


    If I may ask, where did you grow up?

  22. Miha Avatar

    Irenaeus, with regard to your words on lack of missionary activity within orthodoxy, I beg to differ. I am a convert to orthodoxy and I live in Slovenia, a predominantly roman catholic country, so I am well acquainted with missionary activities of various monastic orders and other lay christian groups. At least in Slovenia (and I suspect also in other countries where orthodoxy is a “minority religion”) the voice of orthodox missions in whichever form is relatively quiet. But quiet is not the same as non-existant. From what I can see in my local orthodox church, the priest is very socially engaged, he never misses an opportunity to publicly speak-up on challenging issues, be it of intimacy of faith or life in general. His voice, I might ad, is always calm, though stern and convincing in essence. Even when confronted or directly provoked, a kind smile and a calm answer dissipates the tension in a second – to me this is profoundly “missionary”. He also tries very hard to encourage people to be active as christians, firstly in their own homes with their families and secondly outside of their homes.

    The financial side of any activity is especially problematic in countries where orthodox people are largely members of diaspora. In Slovenia, today’s generation of orthodox believers in their 20’s, 30’s is practically the first generation that is born and raised in Slovenia. Their parents (or grandparents at best) are most likely cradle orthodox who have come to Slovenia in past decades when we still shared a common country, namely Yugoslavia. I believe it is on the shoulders of this young generation to confirm the foundations of their parents and build the next level. This concerns also the missionary aspect of the Church. A parish home is being built precisely at this moment, which shall serve for many of the activities, either directly linked to church life or as a bridge-building venue between Slovene and Serbian culture (language and history lessons, literary evenings etc.). I am very much looking forward to this. Perhaps in the future, God willing, we’ll see a manifestation of missionary activities also in the form of an orthodox hospital or school or kidergarten or whatever. The time is, imo, not quite ripe yet.

    However, I can honestly say that in my own search for God, I was never approached by an orthodox christian and started a debate about the Truth, God, Faith etc., like I have been by members of other christian, mostly protestant denominations. I remember a part of an interview with Metropolitan Kallistos (Ware) of Diokleia in which he answers a question regarding this particularity of orthodoxy. The question was: “Do you think that orthodoxy is still a hidden treasure?” And Metropolitan Kallistos answered something like this: “I do believe that orthodoxy is a hidden treasure. Orthodoxy tends to mean bearded clergy in strange hats. Not only is it a hidden treasure, but a sphynx! People ask questions and we don’t answer or we utter riddles.”

    The interview, among other fascinating videos, can be found here: http://www.goarch.org/multimedia/video.

    I always smile at that, for in a way, I as an “outsider” felt exactly this. However, the intimacy of my relationship with God, the feeling that my faith is something very precious and should not be born on the shoulders but in my heart, is also a feeling I connect to orthodoxy. Of course, I might be wrong altogether.

  23. Yannis Avatar

    Thank you for the very nice post Miha.



  24. leonard Nugent Avatar
    leonard Nugent

    I think Metropolitan Kallistos Ware is truely a great man!

  25. Mrs. Mutton Avatar
    Mrs. Mutton

    TheraP — *great* analysis.

    Irenaeus — your posts here strike me as pretty angry at Orthodoxy. While it’s important to be engaged in this world, I love that Orthodoxy reminds us that it’s not our permanent home, and that our time here is meant to be spent in preparation for our permanent home — and that we are obligated to make those preparations in harmony with the life God has given each of us. So, is a less angry person doomed to hell for eternity because he just can’t get mad enough to forget to glorify God?

    For what it’s worth, my priest is from Romania. His father is Orthodox, and his mother Catholic. They tell me that Catholicism in Europe has remained faithful to its tradition, and his mother considers Mass in this country a travesty (she goes on Saturdays, so she can attend her son’s Liturgy on Sundays).

    Nice to know that traditional Catholicism still reigns somewhere in this world, but the funny part is — now that I have been Orthodox for nearly 19 years, I find that I’ve grown too much ever to fit back into the confines of Rome. My husband and I lived in Europe for some years and experienced a very nice melding of tradition and modernism (which made the re-entry into American Catholicism all the greater a shock), and I feel the experience set us up for our conversion to Orthodoxy. Now, having experienced the reality and Personhood of God for so long — I don’t think I could ever go back, not even to European Catholicism. I’ve grown too much.

  26. yeamlak fitur Avatar
    yeamlak fitur

    Darlene, I grew up in Ethiopia, which is predominantly Orthodox. I grew up when it was ruled by an Orthodox anointed King, but it was like that for thousands of years, then ruled by a military Communist regime (where most are here because of that brutal ruling).
    It has also survived wars against Moslems. But I was talking also about the other countries all the middle east regions and Egypt. Now they are all taken over by Islam and the christians are minority and meek. The Christian countries like Russia and Eastern Europe who were taken over by Communism.

    Ethiopia has its own alphabets and writing so it was where the schooling basically started in the church and surroundings by priests who start you with the reading.

    Not to be too far of Fr.’s post here…that a single person is not able to do much on their own… in Orthodox countries that is how it is, social issues are communal.

  27. Steve Avatar

    Mama Heidi, the co-founder of Iris Ministries speaks of a whole Muslim village being converted to Christ when the brother of one Church leader, killed in the line of duty, publicly remitted their sin. I believe the poor man’s brother was burnt to death, but I may be wrong. Now either Christ is, or is not the Truth. I know the answer to this question, and He certainly can’t be both, else the house is divided and what shall befall a house that is divided?

  28. TheraP Avatar

    From Psalm 102, some verses, which pertain to this discussion and provide a good prayer – and its answer. Even where the church is in ruins, we love her. And we pray for unity and peace:

    12 But you, O Lord, are enthroned for ever;
    your name endures to all generations.
    13 You will rise up and have compassion on Zion,
    for it is time to favour it;
    the appointed time has come.
    14 For your servants hold its stones dear,
    and have pity on its dust.

    15 The nations will fear the name of the Lord,
    and all the kings of the earth your glory.
    16 For the Lord will build up Zion;
    he will appear in his glory.
    17 He will regard the prayer of the destitute,
    and will not despise their prayer.

    We can love and pray for the church – regardless of its external appearances. And we can especially reverence its stones and even its dust.

  29. leonard Nugent Avatar
    leonard Nugent

    I’m reminded every ash wednesday that I am dust, I think it’s a great blessing to be reminded of this often! God bless you!

  30. Yannis Avatar

    Steve wrote:
    “Now either Christ is, or is not the Truth. I know the answer to this question, and He certainly can’t be both, else the house is divided and what shall befall a house that is divided?”

    The question you phrased seems innapropriate to the nature of the problem you are asking it to address. If you follow this reasoning to its conclusion all that is left is a worldview that rejects a huge part of the world, essentially as false.

    The Church then must operate as an organisation that first and foremost aims to spread the “truth” in the world, to the point that all other false “truths” are extinct or overwritten.

    Imo such a vision of the world and the Church cannot be part of the Truth, because the Truth cannot be limited, partial or one-sided else it wouldn’t be Truth but truth.

    Christ being the Truth does not necessarily mean that this spiritual tradition/religion or the other are false. Christ certainly talked of “wolves in sheep’s clothing” but also of “others, not of this flock” and who may they be, i wonder?

    And although he was clearly breathing the scriptures, he was adamant in his conviction that the spirit of the law takes precedence over the letter of the law – actual inner state of man over doctrinal requirements, in more theological terms.

    Becoming fully Christian means according to the Orthodox Church to “see Christ in everyone” – not to see everyone as Christ’s.

    Best Regards


  31. leonard Nugent Avatar
    leonard Nugent

    Yannis, thanks for your post. I think to see Christ in everyone is exactly what it means to be fully Christian. My problem is that I don’t. I still have a good deal of blindness that needs removing. I’ve often wondered what kind of follower I would have been had I walked with him. Based on your post it’s probable that I would have been angry alot.

  32. Carolina Avatar

    First let me say that I am new to these conversations. However I am not new to Christianity. In my training as a missionary, I learned that Jesus said “to go and make disciples, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost, teaching them to observe all the things that I have commanded.” Matthew 28:19-20

    My observation of the Church in general, has been that it has become so busy becoming a social service organization, that it has set aside this commandment. However, unless disciples are made there will be no Church.

    For example, it is much easier, to set a new comer to the Church to a social service task, then it is to say, “You need to take time to learn what being a Christian is all about.”

    “Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God is the only Lord. Love the Lord your God with all you heart, with all you soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. ” How much time and effort do we expend learning to love God?

    The second is like unto this: Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these.” mark 12:29-31

    If we make disciples, who learn to love God, social service will follow because we love God. But social service coming first rarely leads to discipleship. It leads to burnout.

  33. Joe Avatar

    Growing up a roman catholic, working in social services and in becoming Orthodox my views have changed. When I was still a catholic I felt a need to go out and ,”help people”, now I see things differently. I am not being mean or unkind now it’s just right worship and love of God does not mean helping people in a secular way. I wonder did I really help people in social services or did I just give them material support, which the Gospel is not as concerned about as much as the person’s heart. Social services may even harm people into developing into a strong person; just some thoughts from a excounselor 🙂

  34. TheraP Avatar

    To add to what Carolina and Joe have said, there is really no dividing line between “Divine work” and any kind of service to others. But it depends upon the heart – as Father Stephen (along with the Gospel and our spiritual Fathers and Mothers) has made so clear. If our “gift” flows from the heart, from our participation in the Divine Life, that is one thing. And that “participation” lifts our “gift” as much as any prayer. If, however, the word or the action flows from our selfishness or neediness (a “need” to help as Joe said, or a need to “play God” or pride and so on), then we are not truly “giving” but we are “using” the person for our own needs.

    I do not claim to live up to this. But I believe it is true. And the next post by Father Stephen bears that out. For the Elder “holds” the person in his heart and he leaves the person “space”.

  35. Steve Avatar


    I spoke only that the flock might not be scattered. I am sorry if I offended you or anyone else. I felt it had to be said.

    Bless you.


  36. Yannis Avatar

    No offence taken, thank you for your post and God be with you.

    Best Regards


  37. Steve Avatar

    Thank you.


  38. Anna Avatar

    During my first conversation with an Orthodox person, I asked what the Orthodox thought of evangelism. He, now my priest, replied that evangelism was to be the hands and feet of Christ in every moment of our lives. To a culture that generally focuses on words as the the most important part of evangelism, such a quiet approach would seem passive and ineffective.

    Our priest also said that we must be careful not to speak words that have not yet changed us. Initially, I ignored this warning, and seemed to only meet trouble. In each relationship I am a part of, I am amazed at how rarely I change another’s beliefs or behaviours through my words, and at how rarely I have the strength to change my thoughts or behavior because of something another has said. However, when I see someone’s life manifesting something beautiful and Christlike, whether they say something about it or just continue acting in such a merciful and beautiful way, I have such a strong inner drive and desire to remember those things and do my best to be like that.

  39. Margaret Avatar

    I am so thankful for this post, I am printing it and taking it with me –don’t worry, Father, you’re not alone, I also keep the words of Our Lord and Church Fathers with me as much as possible!

  40. NW Neil Avatar
    NW Neil

    Anna, I just wanted to tell you your words touched me. Thank you for sharing them here.

  41. NW Darla Avatar

    The above post was from me, my apologies. My husband and I share a computer and I neglected to see who had logged in last before posting. Thank you again, Anna.

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