The Nativity Fast – Why We Fast

November 15, marks the beginning of the Nativity Fast (40 days before Christmas). The following article offers some thoughts on the purpose of fasting.


Fasting is not very alive and well in the Christian world. Much of that world has long lost any living connection with the historical memory of Christian fasting. Without the guidance of Tradition, many modern Christians either do not fast, or constantly seek to re-invent the practice, sometimes with unintended consequences.

There are other segments of Christendom who have tiny remnants of the traditional Christian fast, but in the face of a modern world have reduced the tradition to relatively trivial acts of self-denial.

I read recently (though I cannot remember where) that the rejection of Hesychasm was the source of all heresy. In less technical terms we can say that knowing God in truth, participating in His life, union with Him through humility, prayer, love of enemy and repentance before all and for everything, is the purpose of the Christian life. Hesychasm (Greek Hesychia=Silence) is the name applied to the Orthodox tradition of ceaseless prayer and inner stillness.

But these are incorrectly understood if they are separated from knowledge of God and participation in His life, union with Him through humility, prayer, love of enemy and repentance before all and for everything.

And it is the same path of inner knowledge of God (with all its components) that is the proper context of fasting. If we fast but do not forgive our enemies – our fasting is of no use. If we fast and do not find it drawing us into humility – our fasting is of no use. If our fasting does not make us yet more keenly aware of the fact that we are sinful before all and responsible to all then it is of no benefit. If our fasting does not unite us with the life of God – which is meek and lowly – then it is again of no benefit.

Fasting is not dieting. Fasting is not about keeping a Christian version of kosher. Fasting is about hunger and humility (which is increased as we allow ourselves to become weak). Fasting is about allowing our heart to break.

I have seen greater good accomplished in souls through their failure in the fasting season than in the souls of those who “fasted well.” Publicans enter the kingdom of God before Pharisees pretty much every time.

Why do we fast? Perhaps the more germane question is “why do we eat?” Christ quoted Scripture to the evil one and said, “Man does not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” We eat as though our life depended on it and it does not. We fast because our life depends on the word of God.

I worked for a couple of years as a hospice chaplain. During that time, daily sitting at the side of the beds of dying patients – I learned a little about how we die. It is a medical fact that many people become “anorexic” before death – that is – they cease to want food. Many times family and even doctors become concerned and force food on a patient who will not survive. Interestingly, it was found that patients who became anorexic had less pain than those who, having become anorexic, were forced to take food. (None of this is about the psychological anorexia that afflicts many of our youth. That is a tragedy)

It is as though at death our bodies have a wisdom we have lacked for most of our lives. It knows that what it needs is not food – but something deeper. The soul seeks and hungers for the living God. The body and its pain become a distraction. And thus in God’s mercy the distraction is reduced.

Christianity as a religion – as a theoretical system of explanations regarding heaven and hell, reward and punishment, is simply Christianity that has been distorted from its true form. Either we know the living God or we have nothing. Either we eat His flesh and drink His blood or we have no life in us. The rejection of Hesychasm is the source of all heresy.

Why do we fast? We fast so that we may live like a dying man – and in dying we can be born to eternal life.

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.





58 responses to “The Nativity Fast – Why We Fast”

  1. Jeremiah Avatar

    Thank You Father for sharing the wisdom of the Church in an accessible way. I have found that even as a Catechumen I miss the point of fasting and fail to benefit from it. Thank God that He mercy on us, and once we recognize and repent, He teaches us the true meaning of fasting.
    I have recently discovered the book Making God Real In The Orthodox Christian Home. I think if I teach the meaning of this season to my daughters, I will be teaching myself more than them, and finally begin to learn the meaning and spirit of fasting.

  2. Lewis Avatar

    The first time I fasted, I expected to persevere through personal stoicism. But the good counsel of things I had read gave me the mindset about which you write, Father Stephen. Mysteriously, instead of struggling to subordinate the flesh, I found myself heartened by the sure sense of spiritual nourishment. Fasting was not a chore, rather, a benefit.

    Anyone who has not fasted before should rightly prepare himself or herself and expect God to meet them at His table, which will be superior to all the tables of dead food you will pass.

  3. Darlene Avatar

    I have anticipated this Nativity Fast more than any other since attending the local Orthodox parish and being received into the Holy Orthodox Church.

    Thank you , Father, for giving me spiritual food for the journey! A Blessed Fast to you and all Orthodox Christians who read your blog.

  4. mike Avatar

    ..reading this post is something of a direct frontal assault on my fundamentalist protestant psyche…I was taught that fasting was to be used as a ‘tool’ to move the hand of God in a given situation for desired results or to increase my spiritual power to cast out demons, heal the sick and even raise the dead..non of which looking back..ever actually happened..i think my understanding of scripture and hence God has been for the most part superficial and only scratching the surface…with my limited exposure to Orthodoxy through blogs such as this one I am slowly seeing a ‘depth’ to the christian experience that was never percieved by either me or my protestant brethren…this is disturbing to my intellect and i am at times hesitant to what im being shown yet this is so much ‘richer’ in substance to what ive known thus far of God……Lord help me.

  5. sonia gabriela edwards Avatar
    sonia gabriela edwards

    thank you!

  6. Lazarus Avatar

    I believe we fast mainly to teach our mind, body, and soul how to defeat self-will, the passions, and pride, i.e. the taking up of the Cross by which we die to the old man, and begin to grow into the new man. By prayer, fasting, alms, etc., we are being transformed from glory unto glory, becoming ever more like Him, moving towards theosis…

    There is a struggle and discipline involved here, for spiritual progress comes through testing and difficulties.

    When Christ was fasting in the wilderness, the Devil came and tempted his body, his mind, and His spirit to follow self-will rather than the will of the Father. He tempted him with food, to perform miracles, to exercise power… all of these were a temptation to self-will, to follow the passions, and pride. Jesus rejected them all. He knew this would involve the Cross, and would later again confront this agony in Gethsemane.

  7. Rob Avatar

    I am not Orthodox, but I read your post twice. I have begun my annual dread of the cultural season of “Christmas” which commences in full the day after Thanksgiving. Even my own church will put up “Christmas trees” on the first Sunday of Advent. Sigh. That’s like passing around Easter eggs on Ash Wednesday. I much prefer Advent as a quiet, penitential alternative, so I read your post with interest. Thanks for your post.

    As a recovering Evangelical/charismatic who was spiritually abused for years, much of what I have heard of Orthodoxy and some of what I read here reminds me of the fasting and innumerable spiritual disciplines of my past. Consequently, I usually run the other way from those who seemingly point me to myself instead of Christ and Him crucified for me. Perhaps I just misunderstand.

    With the warning of the Apostle John in mind — “Little children, guard yourselves from idols!” — I wonder if our own hearts are not the real source of heresies, hearts that can produce nonsense even in the midst of fasting.

    I do not mean to equate Orthodoxy with my past abusive experiences; rather, I merely point out my honest perception. Indeed, I am not the least bit tempted by Orthodoxy, and perhaps my past has something to do with this aversion. Even with your rich tradition, it still reminds of my sad past in charismatic circles. Of course, you will not agree with my perception. 😉 I am just letting you know of how I perceive your tradition. You’re the first Orthodox brother I have told this.

    May your own Nativity fast be filled with God’s grace, mercy, and peace in Jesus!


  8. Lazarus Avatar

    Through the spiritual disciplines (prayer, fasting, etc.) God makes His entrance into the Garden of the Heart, and there we begin to walk and talk again with Him in the cool of the day. He then begins to write the Law upon our hearts with the ink of His blood (the Cross) and His love towards us, causing us to strive to draw ever closer to Him. The tablets of stone are now no longer our motive. The heart is being transformed, and while it does not yet appear what we shall be, we know, that when He appears, we shall be like Him.

    To put it in philosophical terms for Western man, we are seeking existential encounter with God, we are seeking communion…

  9. Jessica Avatar

    Thank you so much for your blog. It is truly a treasure for a searching soul pointing toward what it most needed. I have spent much of my life with “Christianity as a religion – as a theoretical system of explanations regarding heaven and hell, reward and punishment…” but the current trial my family is enduring as thrust me into the depths of God’s love and mercy. I hope to never return to the distortion.

    I have played with fasting before. Now there is an urgency, perhaps desperation is a better word to better know God and fight spiritually speaking through it. Is is a shame it took such extremes for God to be sought so fully. Thank you for the reminder and encouragement to seek God in this way.

    Please pray for my family.

  10. NW Juliana Avatar
    NW Juliana

    Rob, you don’t have to answer me, but can I ask what it is you read that reminds you have your charismatic experience? My husband and I converted to the Orthodox Church over the past two years, from the charismatic tradition, and we’ve been nothing but refreshed by the change. We had been word of faith for a few years at one point, and if we’re thinking along the same lines, I think of that movement as spiritually abusive (it abused the Word anyway). I appreciated your thoughts and the perspective you shared.

  11. NW Juliana Avatar
    NW Juliana

    Correction: I should have said, “It abused the Scriptures” not “it abused the Word.”

  12. Prudence True Avatar

    Fasting of any sort should not drive people away from Orthodoxy. The strictest fast is followed in a monastery, and if you don’t live in a monastery, then you fast and pray in a private manner as best you can.

    The truth is … fasting can easily get out of control and come from somewhere beside the heart.


  13. fatherstephen Avatar

    I heartily agree.

  14. MrsMutton Avatar

    For me, one of the best aspects of fasting is that we *do* fail at it — it teaches us how far we have to go, as well as teaching us to redefine our notions of “success” and “failure.” A blessed Fast to all!

  15. […] nativity fast began yesterday, more […]

  16. Dianne Avatar

    DEAR ROB, usually the night before Thanksgiving, most Orthodox churches have a service called “Akathist for thanksgiving for all things.” This is one of the most beautiful services I ever attend. It was written by a priest in a concentration camp in WWII. Even if you just slip into a back row, try to attend one of these services, OR look it up on the computer. You will be moved…

    Thank you, Father , for this post on Fasting. it was forwarded to me on FB.

  17. […] Read more here: Why we fast. […]

  18. MrsMutton Avatar

    Actually, Dianne, I don’t know of *any* Orthodox churches that do it locally. They mostly participate in ecumenical Thanksgiving services, or don’t do anything at all. A pity, since it really is a beautiful akathist.

  19. fatherstephen Avatar

    Mrs. Mutton,
    Practices obviously differ from place to place. Here in the South, I generally do not know of Orthodox Churches who participate in ecumenical services.

  20. […] Source: […]

  21. MrsMutton Avatar

    Father, bless! That was my point, that practices do differ. In all of my state, there’s only one OCA church, and it’s at least three hours from where I live. By contrast, there are 3 GOA churches in a 15-mile radius, and if you expand that out to a 50-mile radius, there are 6 GOA churches, a ROCOR parish, and a Moscow Patriarchate parish. Out of all of them, only the two Russian parishes refrain from ecumenical participation, and none (that I know of — certainly none of the GOA parishes) use the Akathist of Thanksgiving. For what it’s worth, mine is the ROCOR parish.

  22. Darlene Avatar

    Mrs Mutton,

    I would love to attend a ROCOR parish. Just my opinion, but I think you are blessed to be able to attend one.

  23. Lucille Avatar

    Thank you! This will part of my daily reading. And I recommend it as such.

  24. MrsMutton Avatar

    Darlene — I *know* I am! 😀

  25. mike Avatar

    …im a ‘former’ protestant but not yet Orthodox either..i had to google ROCOR to find the meaning…for me personally its very disturbing to see the divisivness and ethnic clustering among believers who claim lineage to the first christians and Apostles…i will never understand this…i think Orthodoxy could rightly learn better..I just recently found an Orhtodox church where i felt comfortable just being a human being without any link to the ethnic nationalism of any country or race…also im puzzled by the absence of african americans in Orthodoxy…whats up with that?

  26. fatherstephen Avatar

    What you are seeing is a result of the unique circumstances of the 20th century and its effects on Orthodox organization. The Bolshevik Revolution created a great deal of disarray in America. America had been under the Patriarch of Moscow (or his appointed diocesan bishop for America). The revolution caused a breakdown in that arrangement. Many of the ethnic communities (fairly new immigrants in many cases) began to send back to their mother church’s for help. The Greek Archdiocese was created in the 1920’s, for example.

    Most Americans have little or no knowledge of the history of Eastern Europe – how it suffered under Turkish domination for a long time, then passed on to Western Imperial Domination (such as the Austro-Hungarian empire). Both the Turks and the Western Europeans interfered in the natural organization and functioning of Orthodox and inter-Orthodox relationships.

    Only at the end of the 20th century has Orthodoxy been able to return to something approaching normal – but this “normal” comes after a period that, in some cases, dates all the way back to the 15th century.

    In much of its 20th century life, Orthodoxy was not equipped (by language and translated material) to mount effective evangelism in America. The first major work on the Orthodox Church in English (Kallistos Ware’s The Orthodox Church) was not published until 1962.

    A process has been put in place by the Patriarchs of the various autocephalous Orthodox churches, in which the Bishops in areas where multiple jurisdictions exist (like America, Canada, Australia, Mexico, etc.) are now meeting in officially sanctioned assemblies to begin the work of unifying the Orthodox Church in various locations and solving current problems.

    The Orthodox Church in Africa is strong and growing very quickly. Historically, most African Americans have been Protestant or Catholics, following the lead of the slave-owners Churches, though most African Americans eventually separated themselves and created their own denominational structures. There are a growing number of African Americans within the American Church, though this is a very recent phenomenon.

    Orthodoxy, because of its unique history, is not exactly a “cross-section” of America. On the other hand, learning more about this unique history is eye-opening. The persecution of the Orthodox Church goes much further than what was suffered under communists. The work of the Turkokratia was far more devastating – and only deepened by the Imperial policies of the West (and I am using “Imperial” in its literal sense). There are left-overs from those policies which continue to this day.

    The national borders of the world were drawn up by a hand-ful of diplomats after World War i, without any consultation of the people who lived in those borders. Nations were created without respect for culture or history – some of which is contributed to several wars since.

    It took hundreds of years to do such damage to the Orthodox Church, and yet the Orthodox faith has remained unchanged and is emerging with renewed strength and confidence. There are things (such as the reconciliation between ROCOR and Moscow that are fairly miraculous).

    You have found a welcoming parish. Relax, learn the faith (which is as much the assimilation of a way of life as it is learning new facts), and seek God above all else. Be cheerful – there is much hope all around us.

  27. Doug C. Avatar
    Doug C.

    Father Stephen, Thank you for your post. As a former restoration church protestant, and now becoming Othodox Christian I greatly appreciate your description of the purpose of the fast.
    Regarding the state of the Church, my family and I attend the local mission parish which is a GOA church. Within our parish however are Lebonese, Russians, Greeks, Ethiopians, Egyptians, Palistinians, Finish, OCA, and converts like ourselves. It is an example of how the Chruch can and will be in the future. It is amazing to hear the Creed in liturgy in many different languages. To see people from such diverse cultures and languages celebrating the liturgy gives me hope for the future of the Church in America. We eat, pray, and worship together, our own traditions melting into the Tradition of the Church. Are we perfect? No. Do our cultural traditions differ? Yes. But we are able through the grace of God to come together as the Body of Christ.
    It will take time, humilty, and patience for the Church in America to resolve its issues. Yet I as well as many others have great hope for the future.

  28. Yannis Avatar

    had Byzantium fallen to the west instead of the Ottomans, Orthodoxy may well have been completetly absorbed in Catholicism in the lands of the former empire and its cultural/religious satellites in the Balkans (Serbia, Bulgaria and what is today Romania) and so it would have continued intact only in Russia.

    There was considerable freedom of worship within the Ottoman empire, especially in regards to other Abrahamic traditions (that is Judaism and Christianity), that is quite responsible for Orthodoxy surviving as intact as it did from those centuries. It is telling that the numerous Spanish Jews, fled the Iberian peninsula due to very hard persecution of the Catholic rulers of the then united kingdom of Spain into the Ottoman Empire in the 15th century and remained there for the next 4 centuries that empire lasted ever after.

    Of course it wasn’t all flowers and chocolate; the Ottomans were conquerors and rulers and as such were at times imposing and cruel as their authority allowed them to be. Regardless of the fact though, they were far more religiously tolerant as well as theologically minded in a way that allowed for Orthodox spirituality, than a possible union of the Eastern Church with Catholicism would have been. At the walls of Constantinople in May 1453, people – both laity and clerics – prefered the “turban of the Sultan to the tiara of the Pope”, and for good reason. They sabotaged all union attempts that were politically motivated by the last Byzantine emperors in order to save the state.

    Tensions between subject peoples and Ottoman Turks rose high as nationalism was imported as an idea from the west, and became slowly a binder for the subjects of the Ottoman empire to gain their independence, especially as the empire seemed to be on a downward spiral in terms of strength from the late 18th, early 19th century onwards. In that process, there were terrible ethnic cleansings of large populations often over large areas from actually all sides – just each side highlighted the ones the other did, for obvious reasons.

    Until that time, Turks and their subjects lived well together and their cultures in many ways fused harmoniously. Characteristically, the Ottomans left the monasteries of Mount Athos intact, reckognising that it was a place were “the name of God was praised night and day”. Something tells me that under Western rule, hesychasm would have been forcibly turned into rationalistic philosophising.

  29. On Christian Fasting…

    Father Stephen Freeman has a terrific and timely post up on fasting:”Fasting is not dieting. Fasting is not about keeping a Christian version of kosher. Fasting is about hunger and humility (which is……

  30. fatherstephen Avatar

    The point remains that the normal operation of the Orthodox Church was disrupted by all of these various situations. The Turks subordinated the Patriarchates of Jerusalem, Antioch and Alexandria to that of Constantinople (they only wanted to deal with “one” patriarchate). I agree that any union with the West would have been far worse. The simple point is that the Church has not enjoyed freedom from domineering powers, for the most part, in about 600 years. We’re still coming out of the effects of those various difficulties.

  31. Yannis Avatar

    You are absolutely right Father Stephen.

    My point was that often difficulties and failures is what makes one. Through these difficulties Orthodoxy escaped the spiritual degradation the west experienced at that time as it turned increasingly bent into science and technology and politics and at the same time had many Saints and martyrs made by living through those difficult years of hardship and persecution. The very act of entrenching in order to survive preserved much of its original spirit intact.

    While the present time is indeed one of much hope and opportunity for Orthodoxy, i would say the biggest challenge is to maintain that original spirit, in view of the rapid westernisation of its hub ie Russia, Eastern Europe and the Balkans.

    In that sense, its quite possible that the Orthodox Church in America may prove a pioneer, in the sense that its facing the dangers of the diffusion of that original spirit first hand.

  32. Vasiliki Avatar

    The Christmas fast is also a symbolical period in which we remember the Exodus of the Israelites and “mimic” them, who for forty years were being prepared by God in the desert, to receive the the “Promised Land”.

    We too prepare during this period to receive the “Promised Land” which is Christ 🙂

    I am Greek and so I wanted to share that with everyone since it is something that was taught to me in Greek … it is not something that I have read from any English source, forgive me for not being able to offer a theological link to any specific writings.

  33. Prudence True Avatar


    I agree. A transfusion of the spirit of Orthodoxy here in America will happen if we can all work together. If not, we will probably see a diffusion (dilution) into a pop culture American Orthodoxy.

    Big screen Liturgy, anyone?

    Stadium communion?

  34. fatherstephen Avatar

    I have confidence in Christ’s promise to the Church. Church history gives us the perspective (I think) to know that difficult times are just that – difficult. These are hard times (in keeping the faith within a culture that is so utterly inimical to the faith but not obviously enough to rivet our attention. Thus sobriety and vigilance are important.

  35. mike Avatar

    …i must readily confess my lack of any solid knowledge of european Orthodox history Father Steven…your painstaking explanation gives me ample fodder for much interesting research…..I thank you …

  36. mike Avatar

    ….”A transfusion of the spirit of Orthodoxy here in America will happen if we can all work together”….Prudence..this speaks to me that you are envisioning america to become an Orthodox ‘State’ at some point..(to which i would have no objections)…but know that EVERYONE that i have mentioned the Orthodox church to here immediately thinks im refering to the Jewish tradition…no one even knew there is “such a thing” as Orhtodox Christian…so..that ‘transfusion’ may take a while….:)

  37. Yannis Avatar

    lol Prudence True,
    i live in Europe and never been in the US yet (not by choice, just hasn’t happened).

    My impression of Americans is that they are clever, hard working, impulsive, caring and with a strong sense for justice and freedom and the fear of God. All excellent traits to go with Orthodoxy.

    The only “problem” i can see is that they seem to be want to use things a little too much and expect results a little too quickly sometimes, and then one of their greatest virtues – that’s simplicity – can turn into a vice ie being superficial and simplistic. Orthodoxy as a spiritual discipline has and requires – to a certain extent – depth. And depth in turn requires patience and ego shedding to be reached.

    the fact that Orthodoxy is new in America brings difficulties, but also brings opportunities. It means that the tradition is in an exciting fluid state in which it is still being absorbed and so is still forming its bonds with the national character and culture. In that sense, great times are most likely ahead, because it will give its flowering in the future.

    For you, that you are just approaching – as i gather – it, is even more so. It is a whole new world that is opening up to you to wander and discover it. Just take it slow and easy and one step at the time. Don’t think too much “i have to be Orthodox now” – let your self walk the path and admire the view and take it from there.

  38. Prudence True Avatar

    Mike –

    No, not an Orthodox Christian ‘State,’ just we Americans have a way of seeking the trendiest…and in a sense the ‘discovery’ of Orthodox Christianity here in America is trendy and will become more trendy over the coming years as it becomes better known outside cultural or ethnic borders. And without a blending of backgrounds (those newer to the faith with those raised in the faith) this transfusion or diffusion will happen rapidly – and is already happening in some circles.

    Yannis –

    I sensed your depth of background within Orthodoxy. And your observations are accurate regarding a rush here to acquire Orthodox spirituality – a spirituality that does not happen by wishing it would. Orthodoxy is deep, vast, and requires patience. Americans often come to Orthodoxy from faiths driven by rules and intellectual knowledge. They use this same approach with Orthodoxy. Without a tidy list of rules (fasts are great for this), and lots of books, they’re at a loss.

    The more our Orthodox clergy reinforce this comfortable and familiar approach to Christianity, the farther we wander away from finding a true Orthodox Christian heart.

    Combine this desire for rules with an intellectual knowledge warehouse, and you have a self-righteousness that is in conflict with the spirit of Orthodox Christianity. This is the path I see Orthodoxy on now in this country. Sorry.

    In reality, Orthodoxy is a fluid and dynamic faith which molds to your heart over time. The more you chase the Faith and try to grab it in your hand, the faster if flees from you. The lumbering Faith you see practiced by the ‘ethnics’ is often a pure and ancient Orthodox Christianity, as you see it across the globe . . . outside a monastery. The Orthodox heart is not obvious from the outside. And only God sees your heart on the inside.

  39. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Prudence, as real as your observation is in some circumstances it is also entirely false. It is not about ethnic or American-whatever those categories actually mean. Continuing to think in those terms combined with the ‘old country’ nostalgia and triumphalism or the ‘new country’ arrogance that often comes with it is detrimental and, frankly, a bit snobbish.

    People with eyes to see and a heart to hear will do both and there are plenty of us in the United States already in the Church and yet to come. There are plenty outside the United States already in the Church and yet to come.

    We will all be tested and we will all struggle to forge a witness that is congruent with Holy Tradition and still communicates with people in the modern world with an ancient heart and anyone else who cares to listen.

    The Church is the Church and ‘the gates of hell will not prevail against it”. So I rather think that things will be just fine and all our little worries are just that, little worries.

    Pray with intensity and faith, fast with humilty, give alms with liberatlity and realize that one’s own sins are greater than one’s brother: the truth will manifest regarless of the circumstance.

    May the Holy Spirit enliven us all with his life as we prepare for the nativity!

  40. Prudence True Avatar


    You are spot on with it all – except the snobbishness . . .

    Somehow when ethnicity comes into the discussion some get testy. There are differences in frame of reference and always will be. I cannot look through your eyes, but I can try and understand your view – thus the reason I’m visiting here.

    We learn from those around us and their experience. Some have had a lifetime within the Orthodox Church, and others are newer to Orthodoxy. . . . we all work together, or we don’t.

  41. Yannis Avatar

    Orthodoxy in the US seems to me that has the advantage that Christianity is widespread. It also has the disadvantage that Christianity is widespread though, because although it is still Christianity it is a very “different” one in many senses. For this, the actual challenge would appear to me to hit on the very roots of misconceptions that create this differenence – that usually have to do with the quiet acceptance of a deeply secular worldview within a metaphysical worldview, which is what the Christian faith really is. F.Stephen takes these things head on, hence the “One story Universe” is his flag ship concept.

    As far as the national enclaves are concerned, their ways are equally a gift and a curse. They are a gift, because deep in them lies the true spirit of the tradition that they carry and express, without even realising it many times. They are a curse because they identify that spirit with its concrete symbols and their national identity too much, and so not only they cannot properly translate it in the language of another culture, but they also often view this as improper and deleterious.

    In short, what is needed in my opinion is young American people that will seep into the tradition and merge it – as only young people can due to their ability to view things more flexibly, freshly and directly – with the deep roots of their own culture, before passing it on. There are such people around this blog already, seems to me.

  42. easton Avatar

    the problem is the way orthodoxy is portrayed, at times. it is misunderstood by many. for example, the “orthodox heart” statement is seen by some, not me, because i now understand, as arrogant and exclusive. for example, did mother teresa have an “orthodox heart?” what about cs lewis? neither were baptized in the orthodox church. there really is no “orthodox heart.”

  43. Yannis Avatar

    There isn’t and yet there is.

    Orthodoxy should open up enough in order to embrace and be embraced by a certain culture. But not that much that it loses its essence.

    Its essence is printed in its outward manifestations but it does not spring from them, but from an inner attitude that is centered around humility, honesty, cheerfulness, beauty, compassion and prayer.

  44. easton Avatar

    yannis, i would agree. my point was that here in the u.s., many don’t know enough about orthodoxy to understand that saying “orthodox heart “really means “a true christian heart.” they don’t know the history of the church.

  45. anonymous Roman Avatar
    anonymous Roman

    Father Bless,

    I am a Roman Catholic who reads (and loves reading) your blog nearly every day, or at least, with every post:) Thank you for your words, and thank God that He has given them to you.

    May your Church know the unity that only Christ can create. He is the great Bond inside the Sacraments, the Eucharist being the most visible example of this. I am eternally grateful for my Orthodox ancestry, family, and friends who encourage and strengthen my Catholic faith. I hope I do the same for them, but I am, after all a Roman and we have been known to put our feet in our mouths…oh, a lot.

    God Bless the Orthodox, as we say in the Roman Catholic Church very often. You are all much loved over here in Rome (no matter what Satan tries to tell you).

    Pax Christi!

    Anonymous Roman (who need not be named, because who cares?;)

  46. Yannis Avatar

    Indeed easton, you are absolutely right.

    Its easy to lose sight of this simple but crucial fact because as you say a particular way with a particular mindset and symbols is proposed as the “true” one.

    There is wisdom though in keeping with that particular way, and that particular mindset and those particular symbols, and that wisdom consists in that they are tried and tested in leading one to become a true christian heart. And for that power, they are indeed true.

    If they are allowed to be changed too much too quickly, then that power may be compromised or perhaps even lost. For someone who is new to a faith, there is an “Orthodox heart”, and that’s hard to deal with in the beginning but in a way unavoidable and so ok. As one progresses and makes the connections between his experience and of what the teachings, way of prayer and modes of worship mean, then it becomes clear what that “Orthodox heart” consists of. Making this discovery is part of the journey, and in a way it is the journey.

    Of course some insist that these things are exclusively true, and not just true, valuing more the letter than the spirit of the law. But there is no way out of this, it is a reality as old as man himself. How true a spiritual path is, in the end can only be measured against what we become through it, and not merely in examining in what it consists of. “You shall know them by their fruits”.

  47. Janice Avatar


    Thank you. The wisdom in your posts is obvious, and reflects a deep understanding of ‘true’ Christianity. We need to hear more from you and others like you who sit back so quietly here in this country.

    We should call Eastern Orthodoxy or Orthodox Christianity by the more accurate name of True Christianity – but, I fear this would be considered arrogant by those who already see Orthodoxy as arrogant . . .

    Fascinating how the truth stings, and great comfort is found in lesser truths.

  48. Darlene Avatar

    Yannis, Easton, Prudence, et al,

    Wouldn’t you agree that Orthodoxy is not a “one-size-fits-all” faith? How many times I have read that we should consult our spiritual Father about a particular matter because the prescription for each person may vary, depending on the unique circumstances of each individual. This is because our faith is like a medicine which heals the soul of its diseases. Thus, each patient heals differently, some more quickly tthan others.

    Some new to the faith may grasp the Orthodox mindset and practice it with a genuine heart, and thus discover the substance of our faith, all while bearing the fruit of humility. Others may do all the “right” things of which our faith consists, (the rule of prayer, fasting, giving alms, partaking of the Holy Mysteries, reading Holy Scripture, venerating icons, etc.), and yet their hearts are changed very little because the motivation from which they practice the faith comes from the passions. In this case, the passions being things such as pride, self-righteousness, love of the praise of men, egocentrism, legalism, anything that is not motivated by the love of God and humility.

    One of the most valuable lessons I have learned, albeit through much falling and getting back up again, is to examine myself (take a personal inventory if you will), each day. I’m not speaking here of scrupulosity, but rather asking for the wisdom from above that enlightens the dark spaces within our hearts, clearing out the clutter and refuse (rubbish).

    I think there is an over-emphasis, even an angst about the path which Orthodoxy will take in America. In times past, didn’t the faith reach cultures that were utterly pagan, worshipping multiple gods? Didn’t the faith have to confront licentious cultures where sexual immorality and promiscuity flourished? Wasn’t the faith introduced to the barbarians of whose notorious fame we have already heard?

    So why should the United States be any different or more challenging than any of these other cultures? Is any task too great for the Holy Spirit? Is there a particular phenotype/genotype akin only to Americans that makes most of them impervious to the true Orthodox mindset? Can’t our hearts be changed by the true faith as were our ancestors before us?

    I cannot help but believe that the answer is most certainly “YES!”

  49. fatherstephen Avatar

    Darlene Extremely well said!

    Sent via DROID on Verizon Wireless

  50. Karen Avatar

    Thank you Father, once again, for this most edifying post.

    Darlene, istm you’re showing yourself to be a good student! Now, go ponder one of your failures so as to remain humble after my compliment! 🙂 Of course, I’m just teasing. You have had (and we all have) to struggle a lot with many traps of the devil to come by the kind of wisdom you have just articulated.

    Rob said: “As a recovering Evangelical/charismatic who was spiritually abused for years, much of what I have heard of Orthodoxy and some of what I read here reminds me of the fasting and innumerable spiritual disciplines of my past. Consequently, I usually run the other way from those who seemingly point me to myself instead of Christ and Him crucified for me. Perhaps I just misunderstand.”

    Rob, I’ve shared some of that same experience, and I think Fr. Stephen’s site is a good place to start putting the disciplines back in their proper perspective. It is completely natural, given what you have been through, that this type of discussion should trigger that old baggage. Go as slow as you need to, and do whatever you need to do to keep your focus firmly on the grace of Jesus Christ. That is the most important thing (really the only thing) for our salvation/sanctification. God is profoundly merciful and faithful. Trust Him. That’s really all you need to know.

  51. Yannis Avatar

    That personal invenotry you speak of Darlene is the key, the binding glue to the spiritual life. Inner watchfulness, or nepsis in greek.

    As for “barbarians” its good to remember that “Quisque est barbarus alio” – everyone is a barbarian to someone 😉

  52. mike Avatar

    …Karen…thnks for your comment…i needed to hear that last paragraph…it’s interesting the difference(s) i percieve now in the ‘essence’ of my works of righteousness when i was a practicing charismatic and what i feel/understand that Orthodoxy is teaching in conveying its ‘practice’ of faith….my charismatic experience was at times intense emotionally..and at that time in my life i needed got me through the learning curve (so to speak) to where i am now with God..studying the Orthodox Tradition….and this new ‘take’ on God is so much Deeper than anything ive ever known before…….

  53. Prudence True Avatar
    Prudence True


    No task is too great for the Holy Spirit, but some tasks provide more resistance; a strong will and a heart sealed shut is an obstacle, even to the Holy Spirit.

    This is the type of dialogue we need more of in this American Orthodox Church. We need to hear from all types of Orthodox Christians … and we need to listen to each other.

    Yes, we will receive guidance, but this would not be the first time in the history of The Church where our own wills prevailed with negative results. Flowerey Holy Spirit wishful thinking is charming, but we need an awareness of all aspects of change within Orthodoxy today.

    Sealing yourself inside convert euphoria is not practical, nor is isolationist behavior among other groups . . . together we comprise a growing, dynamic Orthodox Church. And we can all learn from each other . . .

  54. Theodora Avatar

    In my area, the Orthodox parishes come together to hold a joint Thanksgiving Eve Divine Liturgy on the evening before Thanksgiving. Different parishes take turns hosting. It’s been happening since the mid-90s or before.

  55. Karen Avatar

    Mike, you’re welcome. Yes, what you describe of your current experience sounds very familiar. 🙂

  56. Yannis Avatar

    Thank you for your kind words Janice.

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