To Believe and Not to Believe

I have written extensively about the “two-storey universe.” In short, this is a description of how many modern Christians see the world. There is the first floor – the natural world which operates according to naturalist, “secular” rules, and the second floor – the world of God, heaven, hell, angels, etc. The spiritual crisis of modern man is the inherent disconnect in these two worlds. It is a belief construct whose history goes back some centuries yielding a deformed Christianity and a rising tide of unbelief. As I have written elsewhere, many Christians have serious doubts about whether there actually is second floor.

One interesting component of this world-view is unbelief. When a Christian whose world-view is dominated by the two-storey universe ceases to believe – what he ceases to believe in is the second storey. There need be little change, if any, to the first-floor on which he perceives himself to live. He does not cease to believe in the God who is here, but in a God who is “out there.”

Of course, what remains in such a situation of unbelief, is an acceptance of a universe that is less than a full account of how things truly are.  The first floor of a two-storey universe is not the same thing as the “one-storey universe” I have described: it is simply a house with the second floor blown off. It is in this sense that I have commented on Christian fundamentalism (one of the primary proponents of the two-storey universe) and contemporary atheism as two-sides of the same coin. Their interminable arguments are a conversation that takes place in half a universe. One argues that there is a second floor while the other argues that the truncated, detached debacle of a first floor is all there is. However, they do not disagree about the fundamentals of the first floor. The daily world (and often the daily life) of a two-storey Christian can be as empty and secular as his atheist counterpart. He differs only in his anxiety to prove the existence of a second floor.

I believe it is important to go to the heart of these matters – to realize that when arguments take place between such inhabitants of the two-storey world – nothing authentic is taking place. Both positions are inheritors of a broken view of the world and neither will ever state the truth in a satisfactory manner.

It is interesting to me that there are atheists who do not belong to this category of “two-storey unbelievers.” Their lack of belief in “God” includes deep questions about the very character of the universe and the nature of human existence. As such, they share much in common with the Tradition of the Orthodox faith. Many converts to Orthodoxy must undergo something of an “atheist” stage in order to leave the mythology of the two-storey world and enter into the revelation of God as Christ has given to the Church. It is for this reason that in the service for the reception of converts there is included a formal renunciation of various errors. You cannot follow the “only truly existing God” while at the same time believing in a God who does not exist. We are to believe in but one God.

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.





92 responses to “To Believe and Not to Believe”

  1. […] Pick it up!☦Nothing But Orthodoxy☦ var pulltime = 'Mon, 07 May 2012 01:32:18 +0000';1) To Believe and Not to Believe fatherstephen on […]

  2. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Father the brokeness of which you speak, the disjointed dualism, is at the very heart of much of the anger we see all around us. People whose very being has been stealthly attacked any understanding of who they are as human being ripped from them in the womb are bound to be angry don’t you think?

  3. simmmo Avatar

    “Christian fundamentalism (one of the primary proponents of the two-storey universe) and contemporary atheism as two-sides of the same coin…However, they do not disagree about the fundamentals of the first floor. ”

    This is very true. I think this plays out in a number of ways. One of the peculiar beliefs of fundamentalists is that spiritual gifts, or the charismata, have ceased. Do you see this as a symptom of this two-storey cosmos? Really plays right into the strict naturalists’ hands.

  4. danielwalldammit Avatar

    Honestly, I think you are over-extending the metaphor a bit. It is simply easier to tell a story in which the object of understanding is clearly reduced by atheism than it is to actually show specific pieces of information that we fail to understand. Hence, the meaningful questions are begged while a compelling story does the hard work for you.

  5. Andrew C Avatar
    Andrew C

    Could you elaborate? Again, I feel I am wondering which fundamentalists we are talking about here. There is a cessationist strand to church thinking, but that is by no means the whole, or even predominant, picture at all. Yesterday at the church I attend, with all its contemporary flummery, the preacher reminded us that the word “sozo” means both salvation and healing, that God is present in our midst and delights in healing both body and soul – and people humbly availed themselves of this truth. (I don’t know if anyone was healed in a Benny Hinn style extravaganza.) I had no hint of a two-storeys.

  6. fatherstephen Avatar

    Yes. It’s one of the strangest examples of Christian secularism.

  7. deanofschools Avatar

    Father, I like the story you tell about the foreign monk here in America with an icon that weeps. Folks were coming from all around to see it, asking him all sorts of questions about the cause, the start, the regularity, and the background of weeping icons. They were examining the miracle.

    The monk sighed. “It’s like they don’t believe in God!”

    (He was more interested in the question: WHY is it weeping?)

  8. fatherstephen Avatar

    Probably so. Though I describe this as a “controlling” metaphor, in which the metaphor itself shapes the story, rather than using the metaphor to help. I use the image of two-storey universe to illustrate the notion of secularism (modernity) in which the universe is conceived as self-existing and “natural” with God only acting from the “outside.” The book, Everywhere Present: Christianity in a One-Storey Universe, does a more complete treatment (forgive the shameless self-promotion).

  9. fatherstephen Avatar

    Indeed the cessationist strand is rather limited today. And it is true that to a certain extent, Pentecostalism and its various forms have a far more unified view of the world. Pentecostalism has its own strange historical development – and in one of history’s odder twists is having an influence on Protestants. I think, however, because Pentecostalism is rather weak in its theology that it is vulnerable to cultural suasion. On the other hand, when Pentecostals encounter sacramental theology, they are often far more interested than the average Protestant, and “get it.”

    Benny Hinn is obviously bizarre (to be mild). It is also interesting that he was born Orthodox in the Middle East.

  10. marshmk Avatar

    Father, I wonder if belief in a two story universe in some way is a reflection of what we believe about ourselves. It seems that a two story universe ultimately is a denial of the incarnation, the separation of divinity and humanity, and an interior fragmentation of our humanity. To recover a unified worldview may help recover a more authentic anthropology.

  11. rmdoson Avatar

    Very edifying blog as usual. Once again you have put into words many of my experiences when interacting with non-Orthodox.

    “Christian fundamentalism…contemporary atheism…two-sides of the same coin.” And “there are atheists who do not belong to this category of ‘two-storey unbelievers.’” Spot on! The most frustrating discussions I have engaged in have been with those typified in the 1st quote; the most enjoyable from the 2nd. I always find this fascinating.

    Like Andrew though I wonder about the word “fundamentalism” & have been searching for a different word. I know that it is more encompassing than mere classification (fundamentalist vs. evangelical). I suspect that my problem lies in that there are no real clear lines in the basic philosophical basis of heterodox beliefs. They are varied while yet there is an underlying sameness. A perfect example of the “deformed Christianity” you mentioned…in many ways reminiscent of the Tower of Babel story.

    “The first floor of a two-storey universe is not the same thing as the ‘one-storey universe’.” I have actually started to use your two-storey/one-story universe analogy in discussions. It is very effective as you use it. As with any metaphor/analogy, things can be pushed too far, but they are very useful to explain much in far fewer words. Please keep expounding occassionally on this particular metaphor; it is quickly becoming one of my favorites.

  12. rmdoson Avatar


    Few are aware of their two-storey mindset. For example, I have never had a conversation with a heterodox Christian who did not quickly agree that God is “everywhere present & fillest all things”. But many (most actually) quickly reject as impossible the idea of communion with God; a communion that is possible because God IS everywhere present & DOES fill all things. For me it is impossible to believe that God was experienced in the past & will be experienced in the future, but cannot experienced in the present.

  13. Rhonda Avatar

    i agree. Most of my conversations with other Christians are dominated by the defense of the Incarnation.

  14. allsaintsofnamericahomer Avatar

    Luke 9:49-50 – Then John broke in (as in Mark), “Master, we saw a man driving out evil spirits in your name, but we stopped him, for he is not one of us who follow you.”

    But Jesus told him, “You must not stop him. The man who is not against you is on your side.”

    My 26 year old son is a leader in YWAM (Youth With A Mission) a pentecostal/charismatic mission outreach group that works with young adults worldwide to preach the gospel and bring people to Christ. He invokes the name of Christ, prays fervently (in his own way), has devoted his life to Christ, lives a life of voluntary poverty, likes some things about Orthodoxy, and yet he rejects tradition, sacraments (as we define them), and many other things we hold sacred. I grieve for him, his wife, and my grandchildren, and pray for them constantly. The passage from Luke above gives me hope, and I am always looking for ways to connect with him and other heterodox without being ecumenical (denying the truths of our faith). I love him and others who are devoted to serving the Lord, but I confess that sometimes I am overcome with despair when I think about the possible consequences of their heretical beliefs. Forgive my personal sharing and confession, but I wonder how others struggle with this especially here in America.
    Rd Andrew

  15. fatherstephen Avatar

    The Scripture you quote seems quite apt. Much of my extended family are not Orthodox. It is important to remember that we proclaim a merciful God who loves mankind. Pray for him, and trust God. Our path in life is a mystery known only to God. Never despair – our hope is in God. Your faithful trust will be a light for him and a testament to the Orthodox faith.

  16. Drewster2000 Avatar

    rmdoson says: “I suspect that my problem lies in that there are no real clear lines in the basic philosophical basis of heterodox beliefs. They are varied while yet there is an underlying sameness.”

    Most of us like lines & boundaries, but beyond a certain point I think it is unwise to search for them too hard – especially when are goal is to categorize human beings. We must begin to ask ourselves why we want those lines. So that we can immediately write off one person, and just as immediately allow the next person entrance into the conversation?

    We can make general statements about secular protestantism, but we have to keep them general or it gets personal in a bad way: Is Pentecostalism OK? If so, then what about my particular flavor of it? While this is natural, the truth is that we should always follow God – no matter where He leads us – but that following doesn’t involve turning around and condemning those we left behind.

  17. fatherstephen Avatar

    I only here rmdoson saying that it’s often difficult to converse about some things (such as ranges and aspects within Protestantism) because there are no good definitions for many things. No attempt or history here to categorize or write anyone off. I use the word “fundamentalism” rather strictly, for instance, to refer to something similar to the classical fundamentalism of Bob Jones University. “Evangelical” is a word I use for the wider range of biblically-oriented Protestants. Even the Evangelicals wrestle with how to describe one another in a way that facilitates certain necessary conversations. Christianity Today has perennial articles on the topic.

  18. simmmo Avatar

    Yes Andrew, I am talking about a (perhaps narrow, but intellectually influential) strand of fundamentalism. The great American fundamentalist hero, Jonathon Edwards, was a cessationist. And there are many today who take this line in evangelicalism.

    Father, if Bob Jones University is the intellectual center of fundamentalism, then fundamentalists are in massive trouble! I know many lament the secularization of universities, but seriously, I’d prefer to go to or send my children to any state university over some of these indoctrination houses – Bob Jones, Liberty, Oral Roberts etc. These sorts of places teach people to distrust facts as a matter of faith. And I simply don’t know why Protestants refer to themselves as “evangelicals”. Why not just call yourself a Protestant? Either you stand in that tradition or you don’t. I don’t use the word “evangelical”. As far as I can tell, Protestants is the correct term to use for those who subscribe to the basic Protestant confessions i.e. the five solas. “Evangelical” seems like a flakey term to me. What is the difference between a Protestant and an Evangelical? Are the terms interchangable? Just confusing if you ask me.

  19. simmmo Avatar

    My apologies to any who may have attended the above institutions that I have swiped at… It’s not to say that no one has ever derived a decent education from those places. But I personally distrust those institutions and don’t consider them to be places where real intellectual debate can thrive. That is all.

  20. swallison50 Avatar


    I come from a cessasionist heritage, the Churches of Christ and am a graduate of an affiliate school, Harding University (just missed meeting Ken Starr who left a year before I arrived). What I heard from the pulpit as I grew up was that post New Testament miracles were not possible. In fact, my great grandfather back around 1900, was attracted to this fellowship (according to my Dad, a CofC minister) because he was unable to have some kind of emotional conversion experience others from other churches were recommending to him. Pat Boone grew up in the Church of Christ and when he left for the charismatics he was berated by certain people prominent in fellowship of those days (the late sixties). You might know of Max Lucado, he is likewise a CofC product and is still persona non grata to the old guard, though most of them are pretty old now. I enjoy reading this blog because it clues me in to another world that is foreign but fascinating to me. Must confess I do not understand the experiences described and recognize my perceptual shortcomings.

  21. fatherstephen Avatar

    Thanks for the comment. I appreciate the statement, “…do not understand the experiences described…” Yes, this is crucial. Perception is a deeply ingrained thing. The secular world-view (of which the cessasionist is an extreme example) being shared by both culture and religious institution, makes perceiving anything else to be nearly impossible. The acquisition of silence and awareness of the heart are a place of beginning in such perceptions. Of course, the world as sacrament means that everything has this “depth” of reality. Silence, stillness, interior prayer are again the primary means.

    It sounds strange, perhaps, to perceive something both with the eyes (etc.) and with the heart. That is closer to describing this “double reality.” We get used to seeing the world with the rational mind and the senses and to a limited way of using them. We do “see” things with the heart, but tend to ignore this because we’ve been taught to.

    Generally, it is taught teacher to student, or priest to parishioner, or spiritual father to disciple, etc.

  22. swallison50 Avatar

    Father Stephen,

    Thanks for the explanation. I am glad I stopped by your blog tonight.

  23. […] background-position: 50% 0px ; background-color:#222222; background-repeat : no-repeat; } – Today, 9:41 […]

  24. rmdoson Avatar


    Fr. Stephen is right when he mentions a conversational basis in my posting about no clear lines & etc. Please rest assured that I do not look for them in order to write someone off…my local parish priest would be most upset & very quick with some stiff correction if I did!

    I try to find a common ground between Orthodoxy & the heterodox I am dealing with before we go into differences; this can be quite the challenge. Most of my conversations with the heterodox are actually taken up by us defining what we mean by certain terms (salvation, deification/theosis, communion, God, Trinity, Tradition…) before we can even begin to converse intelligently.

    I too am a convert to Orthodoxy from a varied Protestant background: raised Presbyterian, Southern & Freewill Baptist relatives, RC husband, heavy CofC & Disc. of Christ, a short flirting with Judaism & Anglicanism, & many friends from the charismatic/pentecostal, nondenominational or independent churches. Lutherans were about the only group I did not experience in any great measure before my Charismation. Therefore I can speak with most people regardless of their background if I know where they are coming from.

    Even then however, the differences are vast even among individuals within the same denomination or parish as many seem to pick & choose what they want to believe. A close evangelical I know is actually more fundamentalist (in Fr. Stephen’s usage) than he is evangelical although he does not hold to all of the 5 solas.

    I also now focus on Church history & the writings of the Church Fathers. This approach on history & historic writings seems to be better received (probably because they are relatively unknown so new information is being presented) rather than approaching from religious group differences of right/wrong motif which can quickly & easily offend no matter how careful one is.

  25. dinoship Avatar

    In Europe, God has been exiled from secular life to such an extent that even mentioning the word “God” is a huge taboo, I find that secular atheism has shaped popular thinking to such an extent that saying “thank God” for something (meaning what you say) verges on making you a “Confessor” out of you.
    It is similar with criticizing abortion “rights” or homosexuality, you are not allowed that(!)

  26. fatherstephen Avatar

    This is beginning even now in America. Someone recently told me of an incident here in the South (which is popularly known as the “Bible Belt” with large majorities attending Church), that someone sneezed in a store and they said, “God bless you!” (the traditional polite response), and were then accosted by the sneezer for the blessing. We need to prepare for becoming Confessors – the Day is drawing near. I am deeply surprised and distressed at such a turn of events.

  27. Philip Jude Avatar
    Philip Jude


    “What is the difference between a Protestant and an Evangelical? Are the terms interchangable? Just confusing if you ask me.”

    Not all protestants are evangelicals, though all evangelicals are protestants. Indeed, not all protestants are protestants (I’m thinking High Church Anglicans). 😉

    Cessationism — bah, this subject always ruffles my feather. Can there be a greater blasphemy against the Spirit? Do these blind fools not realize that everything is a miracle?! They are the deaf and dumb children of Newtonian materialism — deism dressed up in Christian garb.

  28. fatherstephen Avatar

    Philip Jude,
    But some of them come by and read articles. Thus, “blind fools,” is a bit strong, though it be true. Even blind fools need to be welcomed with kindness and given a cup of water. Were I walking in the midst of “their temple” (not their Churches), I might cry, “Blind fools!” if Christ so bade me – but we’re not prophets here. Just kind strangers with cool water drawn from the well of the fathers and Orthodox life.

    BTW, High Church Anglicans are deluded protestants – but protestants nonetheless (I speak from my former deluded protestant experience). It’s like imagining Elizabeth to be a Queen (as though parliaments make royalty). 🙂 Laying on of hands does not create apostolic succession.

  29. Philip Jude Avatar
    Philip Jude

    I realize it is harsh language. But to blaspheme the Holy Spirit in such a manner — I don’t know . . . It shocks and horrifies me. To say there are no “miracles” (that word is in itself noxious) is to say, basically, that God is impotent or unconcerned or variable. That is, to say that God is not God. But I apologize if I spoke too strongly.

  30. Drewster2000 Avatar

    Fr. Stephen,

    “Laying on of hands does not create apostolic succession.” It gives me peace to hear you say this. In my experiences I have run into more than one Orthodox personage who believed it did. I have no doubt you believe in strong protocol, but it sounds like you also believe in something more being necessary as well. As you were saying in another post, we need form – for example, the Law – but that alone doesn’t give us life; we need essence as we – for example, the Spirit.

    Thank you for that comment.

  31. rmdoson Avatar

    Many hate-crime laws are also written so generically in some countries that 2 Christians having a theological discussion in a public place that is overheard by someone nearby but otherwise uninvolved can be charged with a hate-crime. There have also been several largely-unnoticed headlines within the US where religious groups, predominantly Christian, have come under fire by various governmental levels.

    Some have been justified, but many have not. We must strive to cause no offense when & if possible. If your bible study group is averaging 30-40 every week, please move it out of your suburban house to a more suitable location because the 20+ cars parked on the street are an impediment to the safety & movement of local traffic. However, it is not a hate-crime nor do Christians hate women &/or homosexuals because most of us refuse to adhere to the politically correct mantra regarding abortion or homosexual marriage.

    The secular world’s thinking is very convoluted & our modern culture is rapidly becoming a culture of death as is evident in abortion, euthanasia of the elderly, & now euthanasia of the mentally infirm. There are proponents now attempting to promote infanticide of children after birth & at least one group is pushing the elimination of 90% of the world’s human population! The proponents naturally consider themselves important enough to be in the 10% that get to live.

    While the great majority of people do not take such outlandishness seriously, their arguments are beginning to appear in the mainstream. A recent radio show here in the very conservative & very rural Midwest promoted the idea that children cause global warming featuring enlightened young couples who made the wonderful sacrifice to not have children. One couple even declared that child-bearing is a hate-crime against nature & right-to-life proponents are eco-terrorists. They went on & on about how great & fulfilled their lives were with constant exotic travel & luxurious living. As a woman who cannot have children, I found this utterly heart-wrenching. I also find it very ironic that my husband can be sentenced to a very lengthy prison sentence if he starves one of his horses to death, but not if he starves his wife should she become mentally incapacitated in some sort of accident. As I said very convoluted!

  32. Karen Avatar

    PJ, I note blasphemy of the Holy Spirit takes many forms, not just the denial of miracles per se. Any denial of the conviction of the Holy Spirit in one’s own heart and conscience is a form of the same it seems to me (Father, correct me if I’m off here). Also, attribution to the Godhead of qualities not worthy of Him (into which I would classify many modern understandings of Gods “wrath” and of the nature of the Atonement) is blasphemy, too. My understanding is that we are all guilty at some points in our lives of blasphemy (and most the time it is unintentional).

    Personally, I don’t see modern cessationism as equivalent to the sin of the Pharisees in the passage from which this is drawn because my understanding is there are precedents among the Fathers for noting that the “sign gifts” mostly faded from manifestation in the public ministry of the Church after the Apostolic era, and cessationists are aware of this historical development. Secondly, the abuses of Medieval Roman Catholic Church and the resulting confusion of Protestant schisms makes it much more difficult for modern Christians, many of whom sincerely love Christ and seek to honor Him, to discern where the truth about such matters lies. They are not facing the fulfillment of Scriptural prophecy and teaching of which they are unambiguously aware and denying it because it threatens their power and exposes their hypocrisy like with the Pharisees of Jesus’ day. There is also biblical admonishment to “test the spirits” and beware of miracles worked by satan disguising himself as an “angel of light.” Plus, most of the cessationists I know don’t deny the power of prayer and that God might still choose to perform miracles of healing and deliverance today in answer to the prayers of His people. They just deny that these will be regularly manifest as “signs” through particular individuals (such as the Apostles and their successors) known to be so gifted in the Church. They would be very skeptical of the “charismatic eldership” as it has been manifested in the Orthodox Church, for example.

  33. easton Avatar

    thank you, father stephen. i am one of those “blind fools” who could certainly drink cool water from a kind stranger…; )

  34. fatherstephen Avatar

    Karen, PJ,
    Quick thoughts. I never speak of blasphemy of the Spirit. Never see good definitions, and its association as the “unforgivable sin,” makes it too charged for any kind of conversation.

    Second, I think the cessationists are simply doing their best to make sense of things. It’s a failed attempt, of course, but nothing more than attempt to make sense – which is perfectly, well, sensible. My sins – intellectual, visceral, etc. – far outweigh theirs, no doubt.

  35. Drewster2000 Avatar

    Fr. Stephen,

    I look at the comment of this blog as being an ongoing conversation, a Bible study if you will. It is from this perspective that I bring up a topic for a few weeks ago: symbol.

    Ever since you stated that the modern definition (a representative of something that is absent) is actually directly opposite of its true meaning and how it was originally understood (a representative of something which actually makes that something present), I have been wrestling with this, trying to wrap my head around it.

    What about these examples?

    When I meet the wife of a good marriage but her husband isn’t present, she is symbolic of the couple themselves. Only one is present but it is as good as if I’m meeting both of them.

    Or when I call customer support of a company, that representative is actually standing as a symbol of that company for me. For me, in that moment, he or she IS that company.

    In the same way, the bread and wine ARE the body and blood of Christ. This idea does not accord with those who start thinking of grisly flesh being up on the altar. Instead, it is in a mystery that that particular wine and bread are being a symbol of His flesh and blood – but in the true understanding of symbol, they are His true flesh and blood.

    Just as with the wife of the couple or the rep of the company, I’m not experiencing his body and blood in its fullness, probably Christ isn’t there in His fullness – and neither is the Church.

    Does this speak in the right direction considering the understanding of ‘symbol’?

  36. Karen Avatar

    Thank you, Father. Wise approach. I have known of more than one believer who, afflicted with a case of clinical depression, was convinced they had committed blasphemy of the Holy Spirit. It can be used as a terrible torment from the enemy.

  37. markbasil Avatar

    “I never speak of blasphemy of the Spirit. ” This seems best to me, so I wont say much.

    However when I was trying to ‘figure this out’ I think I read something that linked it with unforgiveness– where again Jesus says if we do not forgive, we will not be forgiven.

    For me at the time this created a satisfying explanation, that to blaspheme the Holy Spirit is to refuse the Spirit’s work in us, which is the work of mercy toward others. Only God can forgive, so we have rejected His Spirit if we do not forgive.

    -Mark Basil

  38. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman


    …and if we do not repent.

  39. Philip Jude Avatar
    Philip Jude

    I actually wasn’t referring to that particular passage, which is among the most opaque in all the New Testament. I was saying more generally that it is profane to believe that miracles are restricted to ages bygone when indeed the Spirit is constantly working great wonders among God’s people.


    I think you are confusing a symbol for a representative.

    “In the same way, the bread and wine ARE the body and blood of Christ. This idea does not accord with those who start thinking of grisly flesh being up on the altar.”

    Consider what Cyril says, “Contemplate therefore the Bread and Wine not as bare elements, for they are, according to the Lord’s declaration, the Body and Blood of Christ; for though sense suggests this to thee, let faith stablish thee. Judge not the matter from taste, but from faith be fully assured without misgiving, that thou hast been vouchsafed the Body and Blood of Christ.”

    The bread becomes real flesh and the wine becomes real wine. Our senses cannot detect the change, but our senses are wrong all the time, even concerning the most fundamental matters. Our senses would have us believe that there exist solid objects, when in fact there is nothing solid in the whole universe. Faith tells us truly: the bread is flesh,

  40. Philip Jude Avatar
    Philip Jude

    *the bread is flesh, the wine is blood.

  41. fatherstephen Avatar

    I think your examples are in the right direction, particularly in the sense of understanding that it “makes present what it signifies.” It is weak in that in the examples something is absent (the husband, or whatever). Symbol is stronger still than that. One of the difficulties is that we “privilege” a certain kind of presence. That which we see or sense we posit is “really there.” What I don’t see is “there” but in some weaker sense. It is less than the realism of the fathers.
    Perhaps an example from physics. We see light only in a certain spectrum. But we know that light is far more than the “visible” spectrum, with infrared on one end and ultraviolet on the other. That I do not see them does not mean they are there. And, if you will, the visible light is a symbol of their presence. This would be closer, perhaps, to the fathers.

    The bread and the wine of the altar, are the “bloodless sacrifice.” They are not a new sacrifice, a re-sacrificing. But they are indeed a sacrifice, indeed they are The Sacrifice. What is made present is nothing other than the sacrifice of Christ (hence blood). It is “bloodless” only in the sense that no knew blood is shed. It is the shed blood of Christ that is made present. Thus, perhaps, something rather grisly.

    Herbert’s Poem:

    Philosophers have measured mountains,
    Fathom’d the depths of seas, of states, and kings,
    Walk’d with a staff to heaven, and traced fountains
    But there are two vast, spacious things,
    The which to measure it doth more behove:
    Yet few there are that sound them; Sin and Love.

    Who would know Sin, let him repair
    Unto Mount Olivet; there shall he see
    A man, so wrung with pains, that all his hair,
    His skin, his garments, bloody be.
    Sin is that Press and Vice, which forceth pain
    To hunt his cruel food through every vein.

    Who knows not Love, let him assay,
    And taste that juice, which on the cross a pike
    Did set again abroach; then let him say
    If ever he did taste the like.
    Love is that liquor sweet and most divine,
    Which my God feels as blood; but I, as wine.

  42. Andrew Avatar

    Easter Wings by George Herbert

    Lord, Who createdst man in wealth and store,
    Though foolishly he lost the same,
    Decaying more and more,
    Till he became
    Most poore:

    With Thee
    O let me rise,
    As larks, harmoniously,
    And sing this day Thy victories:
    Then shall the fall further the flight in me.

    My tender age in sorrow did beginne;
    And still with sicknesses and shame
    Thou didst so punish sinne,
    That I became
    Most thinne.

    With Thee
    Let me combine,
    And feel this day Thy victorie;
    For, if I imp my wing on Thine,
    Affliction shall advance the flight in me.


    (If one turns the screen to the left by 90 degrees, the words of Easter Wings become wings that appear to fly “upwards”. Truly wonderful).

  43. simmmo Avatar

    PJ/Father, are Anglicans properly classified as Protestants? They were not part of the classic Reformation. They have picked up some Protestant theology over the years – many factions within Anglicanism do lean heavily towards Reformed theology. But still, I’m not sure whether they should be properly classifed as Protestant in the classic sense. Their disagreement with Rome was not theological as with the Reformers. Well perhaps it was with Henry VIII wanting to change wives… holy matrimony is a theological matter. But it was more a political disagreement I would say. Canadian Anglican Ron Dart does not consider Anglicans as Protestant. It would be a stretch to call someone like C.S. Lewis a classic Protestant. Rowan Williams? Probably not a what we would call a Protestant let alone an Evangelical. N.T. Wright plays via media quite well, but he is now outright rejecting the classic Protestant doctrine of imputed righteousness, which is upsetting many Evangelicals. Ok there are evangelical Anglicans like J.I. Packer. The Anglican Diocese of Sydney, Australia is very Evangelical of the Calvinist variety. But apart from that, you’d have to say that most Anglicans aren’t really Protestant right?

  44. PJ Avatar

    Anglicans are a funny breed, yes. I’ve heard some claim that they are merely in schism, as the Orthodox are in schism from Rome, and this argument has some weight, but not enough. Neither east nor west recognizes Anglican sacraments and orders as valid, whereas there is reciprocity between Orthodox and Catholic. Correct me if I am wrong — this is indeed a confusing matter.

    Ultimately, there is one Church, holy and apostolic, sadly cleaved by division — “east” and “west” pitted against each other. Naturally, as a Catholic, I find that the east bears the burden of this separation, though there is certainly fault on both sides.

    In the end, I do believe the Orthodox will find their way back into communion with Peter, but who knows when this happy day will come. Until then, we remain estranged brethren. God help all of us.

  45. fatherstephen Avatar

    PJ, Simmo,
    Sorry, PJ, to disagree. The Orthodox did not lose their way from communion with Rome. As I recall, a Roman cardinal laid a bull of excommunication on the altar in Constantinople during a Divine Liturgy (rather brazenly). But, of course, that is past. The happy day will be when there is unity in the truth.

    Some Anglicans claim not to be Protestant. Henry VIII butchered monastics and stole their lands (had many of them drawn and quartered). Perhaps that was simply political. But the Anglican Church has never condemned his actions, nor asked that the lands he stole from the Church be returned (the Orthodox asked the Russian government to return land). The Anglican Church, particularly T. Cranmer, is quite Protestant. Exactly what kind of Protestant is best answered: Anglican. Until the 70’s the official name of the Episcopal Church was the Protestant Episcopal Church of the USA. It has fallen out of fashion to be Protestant, just as many Protestants have ceased putting their denominational affiliation on their outside signs. It’s just a fashion.

  46. Drewster2000 Avatar

    Fr. Stephen,

    One more attempt at symbol. How about the Church as His body? Can we not look at any congregation (making allowances) and say that it is a symbol of Christ’s body? While it is very real, it does not represent the full body of Christ, since there are “other parts” of his body elsewhere both in time and space – thus those who’ve gone before us and will come after us.

    Just a thought.

  47. rmdoson Avatar

    A very cloudy issue indeed. According to my limited knowledge it is best summed up as thus: the RCC canon law allows the EO to receive communion & in special circumstances will allow their RCC faithful to commune in the EO. However the EO will not commune those that are not Orthodox nor does the EO allow their Orthodox faithful to commune in the RCC. There are great differences in the faith between the RCC & the EO. Reciprocity between the two groups concerning Communion implies a doctrinal unity that simply does not exist.

    I mean no offense by what comes next & I apologize now. You wrote, “…there is one Church, holy and apostolic, sadly cleaved by division—’east’ and ‘west’…” As an EO I adamantly disagree with this statement. This is what is called the “Two Lung Theory”–two halves of the same Church–as if we are two squabbling siblings that refuse to get along. The RCC is not the same Church as the EO & vice versa, & this applies to doctrine as well. The mindsets between East & West are polar opposites. According to the Creed the Church has 4 characteristics–One, Holy, Catholic & Apostolic; this is not the equivalent to “…one Church, holy & apostolic…” For the EO “Catholic” means fullness of truth rather than mere universal truth; also “Catholic” does not mean the RCC.

    Another statement you wrote is definitive of why there will not be communion between the RCC & EO: “…I do believe the Orthodox will find their way back into communion with Peter…” This one-sided view of the issue of we’re right–you’re wrong by the RCC towards the EO is much more of an impediment to the future unity of the two groups than the lack of reciprocity in the receiving of Communion. The EO faithful are not “wayward & unruly children” to be brought back in line under Peter (i.e. the Pope). Yes, the EO do believe that “we’re right & you’re wrong”, but that attitude is towards doctrinal differences that resulted in broken communion rather than acknowledgement of who is in control.

    Part of my extended journey to Orthodoxy included being in concurrent dialogue with both RC & EO priests. When making my choice between the two groups I did not focus on who was more at fault for the schism. I focused on history & doctrine, both before & after the schism. The RC priest focused on the Pope as the final determiner of true doctrine & his explanations for doctrine, old & “new”, always went back to that one man’s infallibility, who ironically was the determiner of his own infalliblity because he was, well, infallible. The EO priest focused on true doctrine & its historical development; there were no “new” doctrines nor was Church doctrine ever determined by one man alone. Part of what I learned was that almost all of the heresies condemned by the Ecumenical Councils inevitably came from bishops. My question then became if bishops going back to the early years of the Church were fallible, then how could the bishop of Rome be infallible?

  48. dinoship Avatar

    I have to agree with Father Stephen and rmdoson wholeheartedly. There is a world of difference between the Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Orthodox Church and Western Papism.
    A particularly good source for an explanation of this is the Hesychastic vs. Scholastic writings of Saint Gregory Palamas.
    He explains, with the most robust theological arguments (and not using any historical facts against the West, i.e: “Catholics raped us then, tortured us the other time etc..”), exactly why the “fulness” of truth resides in Orthodoxy.

  49. fatherstephen Avatar

    These are such good questions – and every “attempt” opens up more. More “mystery” here. Christ is always present in His fullness, never less. There is a prayer prayed by the priest in the Divine Liturgy at the breaking of Christ’s Body (called the “fraction” in the West). It goes: “Broken and distributed is the Lamb of God, broken, yet not divided; ever eaten, yet never consumed, but sanctifying those that partake thereof.” Wherever the Body of Christ is (Church even), it is whole, One, Holy, Catholic, etc. It is the Church. Never simply a part of the Church. The whole Church in its fullness, Christ in His fullness, dwells there. Met. John Zizioulas, a very prominent contemporary Greek Orthodox theologian, has written extensively on this Eucharistic mystery of the Church. The Church isn’t just One, Holy, Catholic, Apostolic – it is always and only One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic or it is not the Church. Thus the ecclesia, the assembly itself, is a mystery. The Church gathering and gathered is a Eucharistic event. Just as we pray for the Holy Spirit to come upon the gifts, so we also pray for the Holy Spirit to come upon the assembly.

    Again we offer unto Thee this rational and bloodless sacrifice, and we ask of Thee, and we pray Thee, and we entreat Thee: Send down Thy Holy Spirit upon us and upon these Gifts here set forth.

    The Eucharistic mystery is everything – the assembly, the gifts, the time and space in which it takes place – all of it. The is the great miracle of the Church, “which is His fullness.”

    And yes, there are other assemblies, but in the Eucharistic mystery, there is only one assembly, one space and time – “One Lord, one faith, one Baptism, etc.” Some of this understanding even includes why Orthodoxy opposes the notion of special attributes (infallibility, etc.) to the Pope. But that’s a longer story…

  50. Philip Jude Avatar
    Philip Jude

    Your average pious Orthodox is rather indistinguishable from your average pious Catholic. This is especially true when you note the multitudinous oriental Catholics: Maronites, Armenians, Ukranians, Melkites, Ruthenians, and so on. Pick up a book by, say, Jean Corbon. “The Wellspring of Worship,” perhaps. It is extraordinarily “Orthodox.”

    I understand that Father and many readers here believe there exists a vast difference between the Catholic and Orthodox, but I for one do not believe that this is so. The conciliatory statements produced by Orthodox-Catholic bishops over the last few decades is evidence of this.

  51. fatherstephen Avatar

    Philip Jude,
    “Orthodox” thought has found a deep resonance in the thought of many writers, both Catholic and Orthodox. Though I would not make the mistake of thinking that those writers are “Orthodox.” As to conciliatory statements. They’re are worth noting, and are to be taken seriously. But that is somewhat the nature of such dialogs. But you should not underestimate the great distance. I have spent ample time, and privately, in conversation with Orthodox bishops. Believe me, the chasm between East and West is as great as the East says it is. It’s not just particulars of “content” but the very methods by which the content is reached. Based on Catholic writers, I could imagine Rome to be anything from radical Protestant to Buddhist. Sometimes writings that seem “Orthodox,” only do so to the non-Orthodox. I really don’t mean to be harsh about this – just honest.

    Orthodoxy, particularly in Europe, is very interested in the common interests of Orthodox and Catholics. Those interests are vast. Both are now surrounded by hostile, secularized cultures that are daily becoming more hostile. That hostility will make for common cause, but will not create unity any more effectively than the pressure of the Turkish invasion of Byzantium did.

    Depending on how hostile the environment becomes – and I am beginning to imagine it becoming extremely hostile – there will be great difficulties ahead. For a time, many things will likely seem more important on a daily basis than those things that genuinely separate. Nothing less than the conversion of Europe to Christianity will suffice. The fall of the Berlin Wall was a small matter in comparison – but God is wonderful. I pray for the day.

  52. dinoship Avatar

    yes, no doubt the average believers might be “virtually indistinguishable”, especially in the ‘world’, (much less so in monasteries though), but, the context within which they live their lives affects their potentialities and the two ‘contexts’ really are worlds apart when you delve deep.

  53. rmdoson Avatar

    Conciliatory statements do not mean that there are no differences nor that those differences are mere minor deviances in philosophical thought &/or linguistic semantics. The EO & RCC are not two sides of the same coin. Fr. Stephen does a wonderful job of showing this through his blog…may he continue to do so for many more years.

    Conciliatory statements from the EO & RCC bishops merely show that both sides desire to heal the breach between us. I too look forward to that day. But for the EO it is true unity of faith & truth that is desired, not a false unity at any cost that sacrifices faith & truth on the altar of humanism.

  54. Philip Jude Avatar
    Philip Jude

    I would actually be hesitant to see reunion occur today: we Catholics need to get our house in order first. In a tragicomic twist of fate, the schism (along with other historical accidents) actually protected the eastern church from various evils and deviations that have flourished within the heart of Catholicism, evils and deviations only now being extirpated. God chastised both sides of the divided house for their wicked obduracy in schism — albeit in different ways.

  55. Philip Jude Avatar
    Philip Jude


    You are fine fellows, yes, but schismatics nonetheless. Until you return to communion with the Pope, you will not have the fullness of the faith. Long live Peter! 😉

    I think we can drop this topic. I am Catholic. You are Orthodox. We will not resolve the problem in this blog, which is father’s. It would be rude for me to proclaim Petrine supremacy, which my conscience demands. So . . . adieu to this topic!

  56. rmdoson Avatar


    Agreed on the adieu 🙂

  57. Philip Jude Avatar
    Philip Jude

    See? The conciliatory spirit abounds!

  58. dinoship Avatar

    You will know them by their fruit…

  59. Andrew Avatar

    If I may:

    I have just returned from a brief but fruitful visit to the Emerald Isle. On the one hand, the stark pre-schismatic monasticism of Monasterbois with it’s prominent Celtic High Crosses that function much like the iconostasis in Orthodox Churches today and on the other, the ornate 12th Century Millefont Abbey founded by Sts Bernard and Malachy. My guess is that the Church tried too hard to Latinise the liturgy. Sort of bent it out of shape a little.

    The primacy of the Bishop of Rome is certainly more than an honorific title — but such authority can only be expressed as a pre-schismatic (paschal) manifestation.


  60. simmmo Avatar

    Yes it does seem that Orthodox and Roman Catholics have much in common and there are overlapping interests for both communions.

    I was watching a lecture by His All-Holiness the Archbishop of Constantinople New Rome and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew at Georgetown University on Youtube yesterday. He was stressing the importance of non-violence, health care for all, environmentalism. I think on these issues all Christians can unite and work towards social and environmental justice, as the Patriarch so eloquently put it in his speech.

    However, I did watch a very interesting documentary on Western Civilization by Professor Niall Ferguson of Harvard on TV last night. He’s staunchly politically conservative. He thought that he could trace dominance of Western civilization back to the Reformation and what Max Weber famously termed “the Protestant work ethic”. Weber travelled throughout North America and saw that industriousness seemed to be coupled with vibrant Protestant pluralism. Competition. You had the state monopolize Church in Europe and this was obviously bad, just al like other state-run enterprises. In America you had no state religion and people were “free to choose” just like with all other consumer choices. Freguson is an atheist, yet what he was doing (probably unknowingly) was sketching out how secularism has played out in Western society through the Reformation. He rather ironically bemoaned “relativism” in society, without recognizing that the Protestant pluralism that Weber noticed in America paved the way for such a development in society. He was asking us to go back to the “Western values” that the Reformation introduced into the world. Radical individualism of Protestantism plays right into the hands of the things Ferguson wants – namely secularism, a dogmatic secularism. Its funny that he doesn’t see Protestantism as a threat to his vision. Far from it, he thinks that the Reformation brought all these things on. He’s right of course. But the shiny veneer of Western society and culture masks a rather hollow existence for many. NYC has been described as the loneliest city in the world. Loneliness, depression, sadness, emptiness – these are the by-products of Western society that Ferguson fails to deal with.

    I found Patriarch Bartholomew’s vision for the world far more hopeful. It was, of course, diabolically opposed to Ferguson’s and most Evangelical’s worldview. “Creation is a sacrament” he said. I find the sacramental worldview incredibly hopeful. This is definitely something Catholic, Orthodox and perhaps Anglican Christians can agree on and work on together, particularly in the things that Bartholomew outlined in his lecture. It was clear to me that we need to fight the kind of society Ferguson wants. His is a powerful narrative. But, of course, the Gospel is far more powerful if only we’d proclaim it and live it.

  61. Andrew C Avatar
    Andrew C

    You have opened a can of worms there and found a hornets’ nest to boot. When I was at school, a popular book was by the historian R.H. Tawney (an Anglican and slightly-to-the-left kind of person) entitled “Religion and the Rise of Capitalism” which charts similar waters to Ferguson, but which concludes that the Protestant Reformation – owing to the virtues of thrift, sobriety, honesty and hard work which it fostered – indeed led to prosperity but which ultimately saw those virtues and Christian morality in general subordinated to the needs of wealth creation. (The Wesleys saw that within a generation, the most reprobated individuals could be turned into nice, decent bourgeois.) And it is easy to argue that the west tried to gain the world and thereby lost its immortal soul: but we also, in the west, enjoy many of the benefits of what has been achieved. Personally, I am deeply thankful to live in Britain and the various cultural bequests of past generations. As Kipling puts it:

    Yes, makin’ mock o’ uniforms that guard you while you sleep
    Is cheaper than them uniforms, an’ they’re starvation cheap;

    If it can be shown that such-and-such a kind of society is a consequence of its religious beliefs and practices, which is undeniably true, what are to make of predominantly Orthodox countries (or Catholic) countries? There will doubtless be good points and bad points as in the west. An Hungarian friend of mine used to say that heading east, from Catholic Hungary into Orthodox Romania and Russia “was like dropping off the edge of the cliff” in terms of manners, civility, and the general probity of people one met. My next-door neighbour has been to Russia on business (at a very senior level) and found his opposite numbers to be the nastiest and most untrustworthy people he had ever encountered. Publicly available data reveals that Russia comes high on the list of bad social outcomes: abortion, drunkenness, drug abuse, etc.; and some particular specialities like the trafficking of young women. Now, following 70 years of the Bolshevik abomination it’s perhaps difficult to lay any of this directly at the door of the religious practices of the Orthodox Church, but the picture painted by Dostoyevsky is not so very different (albeit with a redemptive note).

    Banner-wavers for Orthodoxy must also critique those societies as well as those of the west.

  62. fatherstephen Avatar

    Cans of worms and hornets’ nest,

    Comparing national characters, success, etc., seems to be a non-starter. As for nations, by all accounts Japan is perhaps the most civil and industrious. Its religions certainly are part of that culture, though I’m not sure I would argue that they were the primary factor. New Zealand, again by anecdotal evidence is one of the most pleasant, friendly and amicable places on the planet. But its religious character is not really different than a number of other coarse, Western examples. There are so many layers of complexity that it is difficult to make an analysis as sweeping as those suggested here. The Swedes are a very pleasant group of Lutherans. Germany is quite pleasant as well – if you overlook several decades of their history – though by all accounts the outward pleasantness and efficiency of the country continued unabated while the mass murders took place in hidden corners. Weber was simply overwhelmed by the Reformation critique that elevated religion to the primary place of social analysis.
    For myself, I write and think as a Westerner, or a voice within the West, and speak to the West. I have no choice about that – it’s the reality. We live in the middle of crumbling empires, with the next historical moment being quite unclear. In matters of the faith, triumphalism during a time of crumbling empires seems quite silly. That said, for many reasons (stated often enough), I believe the Orthodox faith to be the faithful expression of the Christian faith given by Christ. How well it has been practiced and manifest is in the hands of God. We will not be judged on our national character. The criteria of judgment are quite clear in the gospels. I find nothing in the Orthodox faith that impedes my obedience to the commands of Christ, and I pray others, regardless of their beliefs the same unimpeded obedience.

  63. rmdoson Avatar

    Thank you, Fr. Stephen for your comments on our can o’ worms! We are treading the path many an atheist has used to discredit all religions. Let’s take care not to throw the baby out with the bath water because none of us conducts our lives perfectly according to our proclaimed faith 100% of the time, at least I don’t. As I am Orthodox, does my sinfulness then negate the greatness of that Faith? No, it simply means that I continue to be subject to the passions & I am the weak link in my relationship with God.

    Your preconceived notion towards an issue will usually determine your outcome. This is especially true with scientific studies in the field of sociology. Where culture/society is concerned there are too many factors (government, environment, geography, religion, economy, history, ethnicity, laws, human nature…) to be able to neatly separate out any one factor such as religion as the root of all evil or all good in such an all-encompassing fashion.

    As regards the Protestant work ethic, one must ask, was that responsible for the rise of Capitalism or was it that the U.S. had a newly-formed government & relatively undeveloped legal system that was not yet powerful enough to be so far-reaching into our lives as is our current one? Or was it a combination of both? Let’s also not forget that many of the early Protestants, despite their claims of freeom of religion, separation of church & state, & freedom from an all-powerful government, actually passed many laws in many states requiring membership into a specific Protestant denomination & the early founders of this nation almost succeeded in the establishment of a monarchy rather than a republican form of government.

  64. Philip Jude Avatar
    Philip Jude


    “Health care for all” is certainly an issue that should energize Christians. The question is: How? When it comes to means, Christians are divided because the Gospel is not a social program. I for one do not support socialized medicine. There is nothing inherently “Christian” about a state-dominated healthcare system.

  65. Andrew C Avatar
    Andrew C

    Father Stephen: a typically gracious and insightful response. I was certainly not trying to be triumphalist: God knows the West, let alone the Western Church, has little cause for that!

    The commands of Jesus are pretty clear: love God and your neighbour as yourself, and of course illustrated the second of these with the parable of the Good Samaritan. I can readily persuade myself I love God, but how difficult it is to love people unlike me: how is it even possible? Paul, in several places, added some things best avoided in the Christian life: drunkenness, foul language, fornication and the like. How difficult it is not to find sin enticing, thrilling and enjoyable: how is it even possible?

    Finding practical answers to these two questions keeps me busy enough.

    I suppose that tracing believable threads of causation is the stuff of Ph.D. theses in History Departments the world over. (As another factoid to toss on the heap, I wonder if capitalism did not originate in renaissance Italy: I have a feeling the oldest banks date from the 15th century and flourished on the backs of Florentine and Venetian commerce.)

  66. Philip Jude Avatar
    Philip Jude


    I don’t think you need to feel warm and fuzzy about your enemies in order to love them. You need only act mercifully, refrain from judgment, and remember their dignity as children of God. If you act this way (arguably no easy task), then fraternal tenderness will inevitably arise. At least, this is my personal experience. Though I’ve never had a really genuine reason to hate someone (never had a child killed by a drunk driver, etc.).

  67. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    From Fr. Stephen’s comment above: “We live in the middle of crumbling empires, with the next historical moment being quite unclear.”

    “I find nothing in the Orthodox faith that impedes my obedience to the commands of Christ, and I pray others, regardless of their beliefs the same unimpeded obedience.”

    My observations:
    Let us not forget that our entrance into the Kingdom is the result of personal and extremely intimate actions, thoughts and beliefs within the context of a believing community. It is neither indvidualistic or communal.

    Our salvation is most definately not the result of the actions or inactions of governements of any stripe. One can be obedient in the midst of great pain and great oppression as the martyrs are. One can be disobedient when there is no legal or social pressure against being virtuous as I often am.

    The difficulty I have with Pat. Batholomew’s vision is that it dovetails so nicely with the statist agendas of the ruling elite in Europe and the U.S. and therefore tends to be more reflective of the ideologies of the crumbling empires than of the Gospel.

  68. simmmo Avatar

    yeah I think the use of religion or anything else in a parochial, triumphalist way is distasteful as well as being intellectual dubious. Most importantly it shows a lack of love. I think this was the core problem with Ferguson’s presentation, and with most theories about how the world works.

    PJ, I was merely making a factual comment on what Patriarch Bartholomew said in his speech. How we achieve these things is a matter for debate – a debate that, for Christians, should be shaped by their faith. It was interesting in his remarks about health care in the ancient world that he pointed out that hospitals were a Christian initiative in the Byzantine Empire. He noted that the Empire as well as the Church funded these hospitals. Something worth thinking about I think in the current debate in America. And of course the Church is not defined by these social issues. He made that quite clear in his speech. But there is no escaping the Christian responsibility to do these things. That was his point. It was very well made and I recommend anyone to view that lecture. Bartholomew is exactly the kind of prophetic voice the world needs right now.

  69. fatherstephen Avatar

    Sorry to remove a few comments. Political conversation (during an election year no less) is out of bounds. It has the potential to quickly derail conversation.

  70. PJ Avatar

    Speaking of similarities between east and west: St. Hildegard of Bingen was just named a Doctor of the Church. She seems to have experienced the “living Light” known to so many eastern luminaries (pun intended).

  71. deanofschools Avatar

    Some call it “hijacking” the thread. 😉

  72. fatherstephen Avatar

    During election years, our threads are hijacked pretty much everywhere. 😉

  73. dinoship Avatar

    St. Teresa of Avila is a classic example of what ‘looks’ like hesychasm in the West. However, upon closer inspection, comparing her (brilliant life) or other western mystics to Orthodox Saints such as Macarius, Nilus of Calabria, or Palamas, or Silouan it is plain to see there are big differences in the “taste” of the thing… (say, for example: loads more use of contemplative use of imagination in the former and a striving for total purity of prayer -from the outset- in the later, loads more ‘activism’ compared to ‘stillness’, etc. etc.)

  74. fatherstephen Avatar

    The use of imagination in the West, not uncommon, is virtually forbidden in Eastern practice. It is a very major difference.

  75. dinoship Avatar

    Indeed, it is often overlooked, as a difference, in the west, although it is truly crucial, and is one of the first things that strikes someone from the east, when comparing the two.

  76. PJ Avatar

    First, who mentioned Teresa of Avila?

    Second, there is no “western” way of prayer. The Cloud of Unknowing is not like the Spiritual Exercises. The Spiritual Exercises is not like Interior Castle. Interior Castle is not like Journey of the Soul to God. The spiritual arts of the Cistercians are not like the spiritual arts of the Dominicans. The spiritual arts of the Dominicans are not like the spiritual arts of the Franciscans.

    Let’s not traffic in stereotypes and bogeymen.

  77. dinoship Avatar

    I am sorry, but I feel very honoured that there is a (good type of) “stereotype” in Orthodoxy and believe there is at least some homogeneity in Catholicism, lack of it would seem much more of a problem (as in the multitude of Protestant branches where almost each man could possibly have his own opinion).

    You probably must mean it differently, as saying there is no western way of prayer is giving the West a seriously unfavourable trait.

  78. PJ Avatar

    Okay, I misspoke. There is no *one* way of prayer, no *one* school of spirituality in the western church. There is much Catholics hold in common, of course, but a Cistercian brother in a monastery in France is not likely to approach God the way a Maronite nun in Lebanon.

    Of course, this raises the question as to what constitutes the “west.” There are twenty-two eastern Catholic churches in communion with the See of Peter. Are they western? Certainly, they are Catholic. Yet the Nasranis in India are hardly “Latin” in the traditional sense.

    Very interesting.

  79. Andrew Avatar

    When the Church comes to mean something other than Christ the Lord made visible(*)…

    (*) Which is to say much.


  80. fatherstephen Avatar

    Actually, I have no idea of what it is that you hint.

  81. Andrew Avatar

    The Church is Christ made visible. If therefore, Christ is not visible then there is no Church. Or there is schism, which is the same thing.

  82. fatherstephen Avatar

    Schism is not the same thing as “no church.” The Church is one, and remains one. Schism means someone has divided themselves by action or faith from the One Church, and is in danger of being “no Church.” There is a dynamic, perhaps, in which a schism could be seen as process rather than fait accompli. But the Church can only be One. It is this difficult reality that Orthodoxy will not avoid, despite the fact that it makes for problems. It cannot embrace language that would make the reality of the One Church easier. Roman thought has sought by many measures to suggest that the Church has “sisters,” or “two lungs,” etc., that we only have a measure of difficulty. This is often urged on the Orthodox in a manner that privileges Rome and would destroy the very existence of the Orthodox faith. For resisting which we are judged obstinate. Ecclesiology is very important – worth a discussion. I don’t think Rome would say “if there is schism, there is no Church.” The Orthodox certainly do not. Do you have a private ecclesiology?

  83. Andrew Avatar

    There cannot be schism where Christ is.

  84. dinoship Avatar

    The “two lungs” theory seems both ridiculous and cunning.

    To even come up with it in the first place sounds, to me, like the excuse created by an impostor, his “crutch”.

    It also sounds like the reasoning of an ‘outside’ observer. The unfathomable depth of the One True Faith presupposes that immersing oneself in it precludes such an “outsider’s observation”.

  85. fatherstephen Avatar

    Andrew, you have rules that sound interesting but are simply not theologically correct. Christ is everywhere – even with non-believers. Christ is everywhere, even with sinners. The Scripture warns of schism, so apparently it can actually happen. A schism from the Church, is a group of believers, regardless of doctrine, who abandon the unity of the One Cup in faith and truth. When they do so, they have excommunicated themselves from the One Church. Of course, between Rome and the Orthodox, there is not an understanding of “mutual schism.” There is an disagreement about who is in schism. But there is no disagreement that someone is in schism. If you think there is no schism, then you need to drop a note to the Vatican and to the Phanar and let them know, because it would be news to them. Novel ecclesiologies are protestantism.

  86. Andrew Avatar

    Father, if I may, a quick note or two:

    Schism is a historical recorded “fact” that has been utterly eclipsed by Pascha. It is if you will, a mere footnote in history. In the real world, in the slums of Calcutta, it is less than this.

    Also you say:

    “Christ is everywhere – even with non-believers”

    If however, we exclude him, he will not be there. This of course, is nothing less than a manifestation of God’s great love for mankind.

  87. PJ Avatar


    I think you are denying historical facts and engaging in serious revisionism. As late as the fifteenth century, the Orthodox understood the Catholics to be divided brethren, and vice versa, as is evidenced by the councils which aimed at reunion. Indeed, before your church was swallowed up by the Turk, it had conceded the issue of Petrine primacy and tied itself again to Rome. Your Patriarch Joseph II, along with all the eastern bishops at Florence saved Mark of Ephesus, agreed to return to the fold. Had it not been for that terrible event, we might not be having this discussion.

    Now, do you deny that there is a difference between say, Catholics and Baptists? If not, then I cannot help but find you well outside the normal boundaries of Catholic-Orthodox dialogue.

  88. Michael Patrick Avatar
    Michael Patrick


    P.J. Allow me to remind you that you were going to “point to chapter and verse” in a prior comment you made about Fr. John Behr’s book, “The Mystery of Christ”. This is under in Fr. Stephen’s recent “Intuition of Narnia” post. MarkBasil and I still hope that you will respond as you said you would.

    If you’d rather not follow this through, that’s OK too; just let us know.

  89. dinoship Avatar

    All Orthodox know that Mark Evgenikos is the true representative of Orthodoxy in that example you have used though!
    We hold him to great esteem because of that very fact.
    Just like in the early Church Saint Basil was in a huge minority or like Prophet Elija thousands of years before, (sheer numbers do not mean much at all as you already know).

    Forgive me, but, I sincerely think you are punching above your weight in an unknown ring here…

    There is nothing “revisionist” whatsoever in Father’s words, they rather exude the very spirit of Orthodoxy actually, could you please refrain from such characterisation…

  90. Michael Patrick Avatar
    Michael Patrick

    OrthodoxWiki says about him:

    Our father among the saints Mark Evgenikos, Archbishop of Ephesus, was famous for his courageous defense of Orthodoxy at the Council of Florence (1439 A.D.) in spite of the Byzantine emperor John VIII Palaeologus and the pope of Rome Eugenius IV. He held Rome to be in schism and heresy for its acceptance of the Filioque clause added to the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed and for the claims of the papacy to universal jurisdiction over the Church, and was thus the only Eastern bishop to refuse to sign the decrees of the council. Sometimes he is called “the conscience of Orthodoxy.”

  91. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    PJ, you have some really interesting points and perspectives, but when you lapse into the Roman doctrine of “all would be fine if the Orthodox just submitted to the Pope” it gets tiring very quickly and your posts turn a bit unctious and condescending.

    We are never gong to return to submission to the Pope because we’ve never been in submission to the Pope. but I think you know that.

    I’d appreciate it if you would simply refrain from continuing such calls, no matter how subtle, on this Orthodox blog. It just doesn’t seem very polite for a non-Orthodox to tell Orthodox not only what we believe and how to believe it, but also revise history in the process.

    It is more than a little offensive to me and I suspect others as well.

    Forgive me if I have over-reached Father I do not mean to offend, but I just felt it needed to be said.

  92. fatherstephen Avatar

    Philip Jude,
    Gosh. This just seems to be polemic for the sake of being offensive. A minute or two looking at even web sources(such as Orthodoxwiki or the like) should tell you what the Orthodox think of these things. It is St. Mark of Ephesus that is received by the Orthodox as having the definitive word on the councils. The Patriarch of Moscow never accepted it, and the Orthodox condemn it to this day. But to say, “before your Church was “swallowed up by the Turk,” is simply beyond the pale. Perhaps you have a mechanical or automatic view of councils (like declaring councils to be “Ecumenical” even before they are held), even those in which bishops are coerced. Coercion was a common tool of Rome during that period, but something renounced these days. It is shameful to assert otherwise.
    There are a variety of practices among Orthodox jurisdictions viz. the reception of converts from Rome. Some jurisdictions would indeed receive them by Baptism, some by chrismation, and some by confession (including the renunciation of heresies). These things differ and are at present a subject of discussion that is ongoing among the Orthodox and scheduled to be decided by the Great and Holy Council that is in the process of planning. How the Orthodox understand the matter of the reception of converts varies, because all of the Orthodox have a very different understanding of the sacraments than Rome. Thus is there any difference between Catholics and Baptists? Of course. One group are Catholics and the others are Baptists. Some of the Orthodox would receive a Baptist by Chrismation, though most would direct that they be Baptized. The notion of “valid” is foreign to Orthodoxy – as is the question, “Are Roman Catholic sacraments valid?” It’s like asking, “Is this tree valid?” It’s a question that makes no sense.
    Florence is not a council, except in the sense that Rimini was a council. It instead is an event of sadness to be considered alongside the sack of Constantinople, the creation of the Unia and other painful aggressions by the RC’s. You do not do well to bring the subject up – much less to assert that I am engaging in revisionism.
    The conversation has gone far enough afield, I think. As to the normal boundaries of Catholic-Orthodox dialogue – that the Orthodox are polite enough not to bring up the obvious insults by Rome throughout our history is generous. But don’t mistake politeness for acquiescence, nor is it helpful to be less than polite yourself.
    I think it’s enough said.

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