The Invisible Christian

But you, when you pray, go into your closet, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly (Matt. 6:6).

You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven (Matt. 5:14-16).

Blessed is he who is not offended because of Me. (Matt. 11:6)

There is an invisible side of the Christian faith, known only to God and the believer. St. Matthew’s gospel refers to this as the secret place. It is not only intended to be secret, but exists only in secret. If we refuse to protect the secret then we will find its door closed to us as well.

Our faith also has a very public aspect and cannot normatively be practiced solely in secret. I say, “normatively,” recognizing that circumstances of persecution make the public confession of the faith difficult. However, as the lives of the martyrs attest, even under persecution, the Christian life maintains a public aspect – unto death if need be. Our modern culture frequently asks us to hold these matters in reverse. We speak of secret things and hide those which should be public.

In the liturgical discipline of the early Church, the mysteries (today often called “sacraments”), were indeed mysteries: they were not open to public view. The catechumens, those who were preparing to be baptized, were dismissed from the service to attend other prayers and instruction, while the faithful, alone, remained for the celebration of the mysteries. In Orthodox liturgies, the dismissal of the catechumens remains, at least in word. The mysteries of Baptism and Eucharist are now open for public attendance, though the mystery of the Eucharist may only be received by the faithful.

In our larger culture, many things that should remain “secret” are open for public knowledge and scrutiny. The most sordid details of private lives are openly discussed before audiences on our screens. Magazine covers of relatively innocuous magazines promise “how-to’s” of great sex. I need say nothing about environs of the internet.

Secret matters of the religious life are often treated in a very public manner. St. Paul only obliquely refers to a man who was “caught up to the third level of heaven.” Most scholars agree that he is referring to himself – but such speech would have been deemed inappropriate. His oblique reference skates up to the very edge of acceptability.

Today, Christians often boast about their innermost experiences – we would seem to be a civilization of mystics. It is very difficult to find a balance in our lives.

The secularity of our culture constructs a false world-view for us, creating confusion within the spiritual life. Secularity presumes that there is such a thing as “neutral” territory. The world exists as a vast, neutral ground, inherently objective with no loyalties one way or another. People who subscribe to various versions of secularism see religion as an import, something which does not naturally belong to the order of things. It is not that secularism sees the world as “atheistic”: the world is simply nothing one way or another.

The “natural” spirituality of secularism is indifference. If you want to think about God, that is your business. If I don’t want to think about God, that is my business. But nothing in the world should make me or anyone else inherently think about God. The world and all of its stuff – is indifferent. The expression of the world is thus found in its neutrality. All expressions that deny this neutrality are disruptive. T-shirts and crosses, “Tebows” in the end zone, a creche in the public square – all are disruptive of the neutrality of the secular order.

Those who have been born to this order, those who are the children of the modern world, find that their inner lives are as “naturally” neutral as the world around them appears to be. Reading about the lives of saints creates a longing, a homesickness for a land that is as foreign as any fantasy. Do people actually see angels? Can bread truly be more than bread? Do waters part? Do voices speak from fiery clouds? Even the quiet efforts of prayer and the best intentions within the liturgy can be experienced with an emptiness that mocks our attempts at piety. No convert from ancient paganism ever suffered the numbing lassitude of neutrality’s temptations.

The “neutrality” of nature has moved beyond perception in contemporary society – it has now become a positive value. Thus, the disruptions of religious actions are seen as distractions and disturbances to the way things “ought” to be. They are unnatural and unwelcome. A reader of the blog relates public rebukes (in Greece!) for simply saying, “Thank God.” Of course, I am certain that oaths  and curses invoking God receive no such rebuke! Here in the Bible belt of America, a friend relates being publicly attacked for offering the traditional English “God bless you!” when someone sneezed. A recent letter to the editor in my local Tennessee newspaper requested that letters mentioning religion be removed to somewhere other than the editorial page, since the newspaper is “secular.” Little wonder that wearing a cross is increasingly forbidden in the work place.

The enforced “neutrality” of secularism asks Christians to become invisible.  Christians are the new pariahs. Invisibility is not a difficult request for modern Christians. Our religion is often enough invisible to us as well. Some will even argue that this is as it should be – Christianity belongs in the closet (Matt. 6:6).

Man is not meant to live a closeted life. If we are the light of the world, then the light will burn a hole in our secularized baskets and burn the closet down! But this is to describe what should be rather than what is. Modern experience teaches us that baskets and closets simply snuff the light. We go into our closets and pretend to be the light of the world.

The context of Christianity in the modern world differs significantly from the context of first-century Palestine. Our context is the fantasy world of secularism. Our struggle is not against the false public piety of the Pharisees but against the false humility of invisible Christianity. Religion should be understood as a set of practices. Religion or spirituality as a set of ideas is a fiction of secular thought: “keep your religion in the closet of your head.” How we eat, how we speak, how we marry, how we die, how we mourn, how we order our time, how we dress, how we manage our money – all of these and similar “folkways” rightly involve practices that are identifiably religious. For the modern invisible Christian – folkways are  largely indistinguishable from those of the surrounding culture.

To live as the light of the world is to be a transforming presence. We do not transform the world by coercion – we transform the world by our Christian existence. Much of our culture, even in its secular form, owes its shape to the transforming presence of Christians. That the world today has a concept of human rights is the direct result of Christian Trinitarian thought and its understanding of personhood.

However, the offspring of Christendom has learned to reject its history and to imagine itself to be self-invented. Christians cannot agree to this myth and pretend that we have not lived within the world for 2,000 years. We are locked in a struggle.

The primary weapons of that struggle remain the inner life of prayer and the purification of the heart. We will not be the light of the world if our hearts are filled with darkness. Christians do well to be confident and hopeful within their daily lives – for “greater is He that is in you than he that is in the world.” Despair and anger are the tools of darkness and have nothing to do with light.

By the same token, Christians should not be fearful of the growing aggression of radical secularism. We should not abandon Christian folkways (where they exist). The return to traditional Christianity (as opposed to secularized market-based Christianity) should include embracing a transformed life expressed in public as well as private. If we are the light of the world, we need not fear the darkness.

I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God (Romans 12:1-2).

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.





59 responses to “The Invisible Christian”

  1. Drewster2000 Avatar

    Dear Fr. Stephen,

    This is another excellent post that I wholeheartedly agree with, but it swirls many thoughts of my own, a couple I will share here:

    As human beings we have many limitations, one of them being that we can only look at, process, and understand one thing at a time. The “one thing” in this post discusses the subtle but gradually closing noose the secular world is trying to hang Christians with.

    But in truth I believe both God and the devil have multiple things on the go, and since “greater is He that is in you than he that is in the world.”, that gives me a lot of hope. Because as soon as (or even before) satan devises with the secularism strategy, God comes up behind it with yet another master plan for using this to His advantage.

    Which leads me to my second thought…

    With tongue-in-cheek you say that we seem to be a civilization of mystics. This is true. But economics has taught me that something doesn’t sell unless someone is buying. Just as with drugs crossing over the southern US border all the time, spirituality is “in” because people are so hungry for it. The image and likeness of Him in every person is crying out for something real.

    I do believe this is one of the hidden blessings of postmodernism. They level the playing field by saying that nothing matters. And is this not the first great step to finding God? Is this not one of the first lessons of the desert?

    Paraphrasing a desert father, weird and wonderful things – and odd friendships – will be made in the last days. Everyone’s true selves lie closer to the surface. And since these TRUE selves are children of God, there is in some sense more hope of these children returning to their true Father. Just as satan once swallowed Christ and had to vomit Him up, now he is swallowing the world and will find them escaping through the several holes Jesus made in him when He destroyed the gates of Hell.

    Maybe someone can paint the picture better, but you get the idea. In a state of nominalism, souls slip off quietly to be damned. When the world is actively killing everyone’s soul, more and more the gig is up and people are making conscious choices to be with God or not. A blessing in disguise.

    Grasp the hope. Recognize the serpent but be the dove.

  2. PJ Avatar


    This is an edifying, encouraging, and astute post. You’ve weaved together many disparate threads to form quite the rhetorical tapestry.

    I was moved by this paragraph in particular:

    “A reader of the blog relates public rebukes (in Greece!) for simply saying, “Thank God.” Of course, I am certain that oaths and curses invoking God receive no such rebuke! Here in the Bible belt of America, a friend relates being publicly attacked for offering the traditional English “God bless you!” when someone sneezed. A recent letter to the editor in my local Tennessee newspaper requested that letters mentioning religion be removed to somewhere other than the editorial page, since the newspaper is “secular.” Little wonder that wearing a cross is increasingly forbidden in the work place.”

    “White martyrdom” (as opposed to red — bloody — martyrdom) is indeed on the rise: martyrdom by a thousand paper cuts.

  3. PJ Avatar

    I must say, I never dreamed I’d see the phrase “Tebowing” on this blog! 😉

  4. John Avatar

    I’ve always found it difficult to find that sweet spot where such and such goes into the privacy of my room (like prayer, alms giving, etc.) and what is proclaimed publicly.

    I’ve read something from Elder Iakovos that said “the faithful shouldn’t tell others of the things they’ve confessed, of details of their life or their spiritual endeavor.”

    That says a lot, as does the Sermon on the Mount, but sometimes I still wonder. Should the sign of the Cross be public or private? At what point do the details of my struggle help someone (by sharing it) or become something I “shouldn’t tell others of the things [I’ve] confessed.”? It’s walking a fine line, I think.


  5. JT Avatar

    Thank you! This is great to hear- I was recently thinking of starting an evangelistic outreach in the area of my local church where we simply go out and talk with people who are open to talk and invite them to liturgy. I think we are called to be shining lights and burning candles too.

    In Christ,


  6. fatherstephen Avatar

    I think the sign of the cross should be public, without shame or ostentation. That the Church encourages us to have a prayer rule, to fast, to confess our sins, etc. need not be private. What my prayer rule is, with what rigor I fast, or what I confess as my sins should be private. Bumper stickers and t-shirts, I apologize to any offended, are sort of protestant or cultural “loyalty badges,” and not particularly Orthodox folkways. The same can be said for wearing prayer ropes, or wearing a beard. I think men look great with beards (so does God). But there is no particular religious reason to wear them if you are not a priest or monk. But, no one, please, shave on account of me! We ought to avoid trying to “look holy” in Church in a noticeable way (that is the sort of thing that comes under the Matt. 6:6 rule). Humility gains great grace, but “God resists the proud.” I’ve got enough resistance in my own heart without God resisting me, too.

    That said, Christians should strive to dress modestly in public (which doesn’t mean we have to look like Russian peasants). If you’re not sure what counts as modest, ask your priest (or maybe your grandmother).

    We should avoid wasting money on more frivolous things, despite the brainwashing of our consumer culture. Better to give alms. Simplicity doesn’t have to be radical, but a simpler life is a less anxious existence.

    We should avoid cursing and likewise avoid jargon (if you’ve used “theosis” outside of a classroom more than twice in the last month, examine yourself :)).

    Those are brief thoughts on Orthodox “folkways” that are worth considering. I hope it’s useful. It’s not a set of rules, just some thoughts.

  7. Juliana Avatar

    Fr Stephen,
    You mention beards. What about the headscarf for women? Male monasteries and some female monasteries require them. And, I’ve heard of one Orthodox parish that requires it. But, generally speaking, in her own parish, it’s left up to the woman. That being the case, why do many monasteries require lay women to cover their heads?

  8. PJ Avatar

    My wife just began wearing the headscarf (her choice, not mine). It is beautiful and dignified. I am incredibly proud of her. Nonetheless, some of the women — especially those who matured in the 60s and 70s — shoot her dirty looks. If it is rare in Orthodox churches, it is even rarer in Catholic churches.

  9. iblase Avatar

    “Those who have been born to this order, those who are the children of the modern world, find that their inner lives are as “naturally” neutral as the world around them appears to be. ”

    This, as well as your entire post, reminds me of “Flight from God” by Max Picard. In the past, one had to consciously abandon God and religion; nowadays the state of abandonment is the norm and one must muster all strength against all foes to have faith.

  10. fatherstephen Avatar

    Headcovering for women is a practice of modesty rooted in long tradition (and in 1 Corinthians 11:13). All of the monasteries that I know of require women to cover their heads. Most require men to wear long-sleeved shirts. Short pants on men are not acceptable (that’s pretty common in most parishes as well). As recently as 1950 or so, women covered their heads in Anglican and Roman Catholic parishes as well. When I first took a girl to visit my church (Anglican) when I was a teen, I had to provide her with a head-covering. It is only recently (in the present generation) that head-coverings became more-or-less optional in some parts of the globe. Monasteries rarely change anything (thank God). Parish fashions are more ephemeral. Such things provide fodder for minor squabbles from time to time. It’s better than squabbling about the faith. 🙂 The decades since the 1960’s have seen a great upheaval in our culture regarding women in almost all respects.

  11. Darlene Avatar

    Father, it it alright if I link your article to my Facebook page?

  12. fatherstephen Avatar


    Sent from my iPhone

  13. Michael Patrick Avatar
    Michael Patrick

    P.J. Allow me to remind you that several times now you agreed to “point to chapter and verse” in reference to a critique you made of Fr. John Behr’s book, “The Mystery of Christ”. This was under in Fr. Stephen’s recent “Intuition of Narnia” post. MarkBasil and I still hope that you will follow through as you said you would.

    It’s OK if you don’t want to continue, but for our sake, for civility, or even for your own credibility you could at least say whether or not you intend to do what you said you’d do.

    I find it hard to respect anyone who takes pot shots. This is indicated by your refusal to engage a relatively small debate on fair terms. It seems you are happy to make claims and are willing to say you’ll support them – twice. But what we get is silence.

    Sorry if this is hard. It is what it is.

  14. fatherstephen Avatar

    I love pithlessthoughts! (Steve the Builder)

  15. PJ Avatar


    I don’t have the time to cull through that book right now. Sorry. When I do, I will.

  16. Juliana Avatar

    Fr Stephen,
    Regarding this upheaval that began in the 60s (I was born in the late 70s), is it possible that women who came of age during the 60s are turned off by the idea of wearing the scarf because they see it as a sign of submission to or being worth less than a man? I didn’t grow up during the women’s revolution of the 60s so it’s hard for me to comprehend some of these older women’s disdain for so simple an act of participation in the faith and imitation of the Theotokos. In my parish, women who were born in the late 60s and afterwards are the ones who typically wear the headscarf.

  17. Juliana Avatar

    Fr Stephen,
    Forgive me if these questions seem pretentious. I ask out of curiosity based on my own experiences in my parish and feel it best to ask in anonymity outside my parish to someone wiser than I. I know there’s not an answer that fits everyone but this question seems to me to highlight our own secularity and how it has crept into the Church.

  18. fatherstephen Avatar

    I think your ideas about the matter are pretty much on the mark. I don’t think women were “oppressed” before the 60’s, and I don’t think women necessarily saw head-covering as a sign of less worth, but I think “fashion” in the larger culture saw things that way (and some in the Church may have seen things that way as well). There were many customs and practices that were swept aside across the culture in the 60’s and early 70’s. Some have not been recovered. My experience is similar to your own – those born after such a shift are less touchy about things – and even see the head-covering as a sign of participation in the tradition. Today, things are sort of a mix.

    These are certainly reasonable questions – and priests often try to side-step them because the answers are sensitive for some. I hope my answer is helpful.

  19. Juliana Avatar

    Fr Stephen,
    Your answers are very helpful. Thank you!

    May I ask one more question? How does ones respond to the statement “St Paul was sexist.”

    I grew up Baptist and heard the “wives submit to your husbands” sermon more times than I can remember. Sometimes, a mention was made of “husbands do likewise” but the focus was often on the responsibilities of the woman and man’s authority over her. That sermon echoed in my own childhood home to the point of my parents’ divorce. My father, thanks be to God, is more merciful and compassionate towards his current wife. And, my mother is learning to forgive him. That being said, what is the proper response to a comment like that about St Paul, knowing that whatever faults he had were most definitely small in comparison to all the good he did for the Church, and his commentary on the roles of husbands and wives? I assume there’s not just one answer. I heard a Catholic Bishop say once that in the home the man rules but the woman reigns. My husband’s family, though never particularly frequent in church attendance (Protestant), seem to have grasped and lived that bishop’s statement better than my own family who were at church weekly.

    Forgive me.

  20. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Juliana, if I may: The vast misinterpretation of St. Paul’s words by the Protestants (and others) reveals the misgony of the interpreters not anything about St. Paul.

    Speaking as a man who has sought the truth about how I should behave as a Christian man from the moment I started becoming Christian (some 40 years), it is clear to me that “…Man is head of the Woman, as Christ is head of the Church…” has little to do with authority but is a call to service and sacrifice on the part of the man that is really difficult to live up to (hence one of the reasons the responsibilty is too often placed on the woman alone). Christ gives himself wholly and completely for the life of the Church. We men too are called to the same level of giving in the care we give our wives. That means seeking the truth, leading in prayer and submitting to Christ in all things, especially submitting our own fallen will to the love of Christ so that we may love our wives properly as a part of ourselves and a God-given helpmate. The man’s role in the home is priestly. Men are made to offer sacrifice, women to receive the gifts and magnify them. There is no contention or legalism here at all and the woman’s obedience should be a natural outgrowth of the man’s obedience–each strenghtening one another. Real obstinance can exist just as real male tryanny exists, but that is not what St. Paul or the Church are talking about.

    As Father Stephen has said several times, “the Protestant’s really don’t know the Bible.”

    Further to call St. Paul a ‘sexist’ is farcical. It is an misuse of history that is called presentism–projecting backwards the beliefs and mores of the current observer. It rips all context from what is observed and so is simply untrue at inception. In theological terms it would be called eisigesis, which is how the misinterpretation of the reality of marriage got started in the first place. The Bible itself was ripped from the context of the life of the Church and made an idol.

    Placing the responsibility on women to obey is a bit like Adam’s comment in the Garden when God asked Adam why he ate of the apple: “….this woman you gave me….” It is also redolent of the Islamic attitude toward women–an attitude which is, at best, heretical.

  21. Lynne Avatar

    “How we eat, how we speak, how we marry, how we die, how we mourn, how we order our time, how we dress, how we manage our money – all of these and similar ‘folkways’ rightly involve practices that are identifiably religious.”
    I don’t join in the discussions about Greek or Hebrew words, but I’d like to say that from the language of sociology, I think there is a better word than “folkways” in this context. Folkways describe norms for routine or casual interaction. Perhaps dress falls in this category. I think that using palms or pussy willows on Palm Sunday is an example of folkways.
    The word “mores” (MORE-ehs) in sociology refers to norms that are widely observed and have great moral (or in the Eastern sense–increasing our life in Christ) significance. (Definitions outside of parentheses are from Wikipedia.)

  22. Juliana Avatar

    Thank you for the reply. You state what I know and expect of Christian men and reaffirm the fact that, yes, the Bible was ripped from the context of the life of the Church and made an idol. Since coming to Orthodoxy I am relearning the Bible. But, one of my biggest challenges at the moment is learning how to become Orthodox in a congregation vastly made up of converts who have made statements like “St Paul was sexist” which flowed from mine and Fr Stephen’s prior conversation about modesty in worship, most particularly as it relates to women and St Paul’s exhortation about husbands and wives and their conduct towards one another and in church. I appreciate your comments.

  23. fatherstephen Avatar

    My thoughts are very much along the lines of Michael’s – particularly the problem of “presentism” looking at St. Paul in the context of late 20th century issues rather than within his own context.

    The feminist re-interpretation (re-imagination is even better) of history, first off, is simply bogus. Much of the many “re-readings” of history is simply a take on Marxism. Marx was among the first to “re-interpret” history, using the matrix of the struggle between rich and poor, etc., as the means for interpreting everything, everywhere at all times. It was, of course, convenient, since Marxism was primarily a theory of history. When you can re-read history using your theory, then voila! history proves your theory!

    In the same manner, Feminism and the many so-called liberationist readings of history, find that straight male rich white guys are the source of all evil in the world. Everyone else is a victim and all victims have special claims. Truth is, we are all victims, and we are all oppressors. Some more than others – but all have sinned – end of argument.

    Various movements crop up in history. I’ve always thought that when a movement arises that is “revolutionary” but gets its revolution accomplished without having to go to prison or war, then the oppression wasn’t really all that bad. Women have consistently had major impacts abolition, suffrage, prohibition, sexual revolution, liberation, all of these were woman-led movements. All succeeded to a large extent (for good and for ill). With the exception of abolition, these all occurred without the need to fire a shot. It’s hard to see that the “glass ceiling” is all that bad.

    I come from a blue-collar background. My grandfather was a share-cropper, my father an auto-mechanic. We did not have money, etc. I am educated, mostly scholarshipped. Not bad colleges, but not Ivy League. It’s hard to look at an Ivy-League daughter of a doctor like Hillary Clinton and feel like I’m an oppressor. She has a better shot at the presidency than blue collar folk like myself. I have to admire Bill Clinton, as much as I disagree with his policies and character. He actually managed to get a shot at the top, Ivy League and all, with as more strikes against him than I’ve ever had. He simply proves that I’m not all that oppressed either.

    St. Paul lived in a culture that was not misogynist. There were many possibilities, both good and ill for men and women, and for people of color. Rome was equal opportunity oppressor and liberator.

    His writings on men and women have both a mystical side and a practical side. He believed that the mystery displayed in the world and its structures (including men and women) were a reflection of a Divine Mystery. Marriage for him, pointed to the mystical relationship of Christ and the Church, and he seems to have taken seriously the idea that we have a mystical, iconic relationship with those deeper things. Much of his teaching on men and women should be seen in this manner.

    For instance, he describes man as the “head” of woman. It is a play on words. He is writing in Greek, but it’s a Hebrew play. “Rosh” the Hebrew for “head,” also means “source,” like the “head of a river.” He can say:

    Now I praise you, brethren, that you remember me in all things and keep the traditions just as I delivered them to you. But I want you to know that the head of every man is Christ, the head of woman is man, and the head of Christ is God (1 Cor. 11:2-3).

    This is a wonderful, rabbinical, play on words.

    Christ is the “head” of man (man here means both Adam, and men, and mankind). Christ is the head because He is both source and ruler (as the head is to the body). Man is the head of woman (because Adam is the source of Eve). God [the Father] is the source of Christ, because Christ proceeds from the Father.

    But all of these rabbinical word-play is Paul treating the question of women and their head-coverings, the “tradition” to which he refers. Like a rabbinical commentator, the tradition is a given. It contains a mystery that can only be understood by going beneath the surface and seeing the deeper meaning. This he does with words and images, etc. But, of course, the point remains: women cover their heads. Why? Because Eve was taken from Adam’s side and Christ proceeds from the Father. 🙂

    The revisionist/Marxist interpretation(s) of history have no fun at all. Everything is reduced to its story of violence and struggle. The world consists of good guys and bad guys, and the bad guys are continually re-defined as new oppressions are discovered. Thus, political correctness is a constant, moving target. There is nothing I can do, ultimately, as a white, male, straight, “rich” guy (I’m not on government assistance) who oppresses women (won’t let them be priests, etc.) and others. The target will always move, I will always be a bad guy, because someone needs me to be a bad guy so they can be the good guy. It’s a silly game and has nothing to do with the Kingdom.

    As an Archpriest in the Russian tradition, I get to wear a perfectly silly looking hat called a Kamilavka. I’d rather wear a veil, but that’s not permitted. So I wear a silly hat and sit behind the altar screen. My hat and my chair oppress some people. Others discover that none of us are oppressed and enter the Kingdom of God.

  24. fatherstephen Avatar

    “Folkways” is a new term for me (I had all of one course in college sociology). It’s used very interestingly in the book, Albion’s Seed, that I’ve been reading. He uses it in the sense that I’ve used it here (and he was working from someone else’s terminology). I understand “mores,” but see him doing something different with “folkways.” I’m not even sure how or if I would distinguish them from “mores.” He does a very useful and interesting analysis of four historically different settlements within America from various English periods and places and looks at how their “folkways” were continued up into the present (even by the non-English in those areas). I obviously have a lot more to learn – but I found his analysis very interesting and helpful in trying to get a handle on some things. Thanks for the tip.

  25. Andrew C Avatar
    Andrew C

    Having attended an evangelical church for about 15 years and before that an Anglican church for 10 – twenty five years of error – I can honestly say that I have never heard the words of St Paul regarding the estate of marriage and the respective roles of women and men to be interpreted in any way other than how you have put it above!

    We all know what marriages ought to look like, and how we, as men, ought to conduct ourselves. I’d suggest that this new sensitive interpretation owes something also to the 60s in overthrowing a more authoritarian interpretation.

    But Paul echoes Ovid: “I see the better way and approve it; yet I follow the worse”. (If you like Latin: video melior proboque; deteriora sequor.) Much as I love her, sometimes my wife irritates me and I perform seemingly trivial tasks with bad grace: “why can’t she make her own cup of tea – and one for me while she’s at it?” So much for my servant heart, eh? I am quite sure she can find me equally irritating. Learning to bear with each others’ faults is an important lesson.

    On the subject of head-covering, this practice enjoyed something of a revival in what I might call the “new churches” but it fizzled out. I’d put it in the category of things which are a nice gesture provided first, that the person doing it does not see it as a source of spiritual pride – which in a context where it is not regularly practised it can easily become; and secondly, does not become a thing of pharasaical devotion: “got my hat on, I’m sorted!”.

  26. PJ Avatar


    Albion’s Seed is excellent, no?

  27. Juliana Avatar

    Fr Stephen,
    Thank you for your reply. I most appreciate the comments about “rosh”. Understanding the language is important which unfortunately was not imparted to me or my father in our Baptist tradition. I knew his application towards my mother was incorrect because it was not loving and her response was incorrect as well because it was not loving. But, I was a child and words failed me for this is what they were taught in church every Sunday and how could I, a child, dispute the pastor? But, forgiveness fills me and I am not angry at any of them.

    I wholeheartedly agree with everything you’ve said and certainly didn’t intend to evoke such responses about oppression and Marxism. Forgive me for seeking child-like answers to complicated questions. I appreciate the language insight. I guess my heart is sometimes heavy and seeking a short but loving and respectful answer for these older lady friends whose lives were no doubt positively and negatively impacted by these upheavals in the 60s and who are so dear to me and so much wiser than I in so many ways.

    Perhaps, sometimes, silence is the best answer I can give them.

    Forgive me.

  28. Elizabeth Avatar

    Juliana and Fr. Stephen,
    Father, I agree wholeheartedly with everything you say about how ridiculous and exaggerated the sense of “oppression” against everyone who is not a white male is in our culture, and also that “oppression” and “victimization”, and really, for that matter, most of what is called “social justice” don’t have anything to do with our salvation.

    But I think it’s important not to gloss over (and, indeed, as a woman, I feel sort of called to mention) that there really are differences between men and women, and pointing them out (or even “enforcing” them, as in the case of women being excluded from the priesthood) does not make anyone sexist, woman-hating, or chavinist, least of all St. Paul.

    In Orthodoxy (and in all of the traditional world) there is a theology of sex (or gender, if you must): women and men are complementary icons of divine attributes. An excellent discussion of this can be found in Paul Evdokimov’s “The Sacrament of Love.” But any normal person who is not brainwashed by feminism or postmodernism can see, individual variations notwithstanding, that men (at their best) are outward, assertive, active, strong, and discerning, and women (at their best) are more inward, loyal, tender, and accepting. Evdokimov argues that a woman’s essence, whether her earthly path turns out include children or not, is essentially that of a mother — giving, accepting, loving, etc.

    It seems to me that the real woman-haters are the feminists, because they revolt against their femininity. They hate feminine love, passivity, self-sacrifice, and motherhood, and they want not only to wrestle that which is properly masculine away from men, but they also oftentimes want to take on the vices of men (e.g. “sexual liberation” — that is, promiscuity).

    Before my conversion, I casually considered myself a feminist. But even then, I longed for a sense of female identity, which the modern secular world (I was born several decades after the 1960s) didn’t offer me. Most of the roles that were once particular to women, that gave them as sense of identity and belonging, had been broken down — women worked in offices, dressed almost exactly like men, handed off their child-care to low-wage workers, and expected their marital roles to be identical to those of their husbands.

    I’m grateful that Orthodoxy has given us women the honor of preserving our differences from men, because by doing so, they insist that women and femininity matter, that women are not just weaker, lamer versions of men, but something beautiful in and of themselves.

  29. Michael Patrick Avatar
    Michael Patrick

    Elizabeth, your words express a holy kind of freedom that blessed this crusty old white-skinned grandfather. Thank you.

  30. Julia K. Moore Avatar

    Elizabeth, I am saving your comment for future encouragement. Your conclusions are the ones I have reached, and I am glad to read your words.

  31. Juliana Avatar

    I hope folks didn’t think I was calling St Paul a sexist man or white men sexist and oppressors. I certainly didn’t expect such a lengthy thread in response. Just looking for a loving and simple response for folks I care about. I can’t deliver them an essay, as that would seem inappropriate in conversation and would seem rather like pontificating, so I shall instead ponder all of these things in my heart and pray to the Lord to reveal to these friends what is best for them and their salvation.

  32. Michael Patrick Avatar
    Michael Patrick

    Juliana, I, for one, read your comments as questions worth pondering because we are in a confused and confusing time. You enabled a good discussion, I think, because your questions and willingness to share them struck a resonant chord.

  33. Julia K. Moore Avatar

    Juliana, I agree with MP…your questions led to good reading!

  34. Elizabeth Avatar

    Forgive me! I didn’t think that you were implying those things in the least. My indignation is with the culture at large, and many of the churches (including the one I grew up in) that seem to have it in for St. Paul and white men.
    As a woman (and therefore a member of a “certifiably oppressed group”, as they’ve been called), I feel a calling to talk bluntly about these things — at least under the cloak of anonymity that is the internet! 🙂 — because I think many men are afraid to do so or are disqualified from participating in the conversation because they are men (and therefore “oppressors” — cf. C.S. Lewis’ “Bulverism”). But I apologize if I came off as harsh. Your questions are very good ones, and they deserve answers. These are just the conclusions I’ve come to after asking some of the same questions.

    Julia and MP: Glory to God and thank you for your kind words.

  35. Elizabeth Avatar

    One last thought, Juliana: It is undoubtedly true that men often have and continue to abuse their position in relation to women; if they hadn’t, I can’t imagine feminism would have developed. Thus, St. Paul’s injunction to husbands is as important as the one he gives to wives.

  36. fatherstephen Avatar

    I indeed apologize if my wordy answer (sort of a rant) made you think anything wrong about your questions. They are good questions, very appropriate and opened up good conversation. You had no way of knowing that I’ve had a rant penned up inside me on the topic! Elizabeth’s answer was so much more to the point. I heard no disparagement of the blessed Apostle in your questions. May he pray for us all!

    May God help us all as we sail through the waters of this culture.

  37. Drewster2000 Avatar

    The relationship between man and woman has always held a lot of mystery, but today meaning is being wrenched away from everything and understanding of a marital relationship seems to be getting lost even more.

    “The man is the authority, but the woman is the power.”

    Someone once it explained it this way. I can’t say I fully grasp this saying, but it has stayed with me for many years and seems to carry a lot of truth. I have thoughts about how this presses out, but anytime I try to put them into words, they simply don’t measure up.

  38. simmmo Avatar

    I think you’re right Elizabeth. Orthodoxy does preserve the differences between men and women in a dignified way. The trouble with Western Christianity is that the fundamentalists assert that men should be “authoritative” in a very mysoginistic way. It’s taking the biblical language and legalizing it, without even trying to understand the proper relationship between men and women. “Men rule because the Bible says so. If you don’t like it then tough!” the thinking seems to be. Of course there was going to be a reaction against this. Of course post-modernity will always follow the folly of fundamentalist modernity. The answer is not to go back to the “modern” way of thinking about society. The 1960s will always follow the stultifying social conservatism of the 1940s and 1950s. The key is the Tradition of the church. Men and women have the proper places. And these are to be equally respected. There is no place for the power trips that are read into the Bible by fundamentalists. What you now have, in the Protestant world, is a polarization on the issue of the proper roles of men and women. And once you have polarization, you will never get understanding. It just becomes a shouting match and never the twain shall meet.

  39. Lynne Avatar

    Getting back to folkways and mores–I was thinking of the categories in broad terms. Eating in relation to fasting, marriage in a church with a priest, mourning with certain times of memorial prayers, spending money in relation to tithing–these seem to be closer to mores. These seem to be related to Tradition. I agree that the choice of corn dogs or pierogi (Polish lesson: that’s plural for pierog), buying symphony tickets or football tickets are examples of folkways.

  40. Brian Avatar

    If one reads this passage…

    “…for he (man) is the image and glory of God, but the woman is the glory of man. For man is not from the woman, but the woman from man. Nor was man created for the woman, but the woman for man… Nevertheless, neither is man independent of the woman, nor woman independent of man, in the Lord. For as woman came from man, even so man also comes through woman; but all things are from God.”

    …in the context of Christ (the MAN) and the Theotokos (the WOMAN [and archetype of the Church]), it provides a perspective that is both beautiful and completely counter to what our culture (both fundamentalist and secular) seem to perceive. In this greater context the same passage would read:

    “…for Christ is the image and glory of God, but the Theotokos is the glory of the Christ. For Christ did not originate from the Theotokos, but the Theotokos from Christ. Nor was Christ made for the Theotokos, but the Theotokos for Christ … Nevertheless, neither is Christ independent of the Theotokos, nor the Theotokos independent of Christ, in the Lord. For as the Theotokos came from Christ, even so the incarnation of Christ came through her; but all things are from God.”

    Simmo mentioned differences with dignity. How very true. All is love. All is self-giving. All is from God and an image of His supreme goodness. There can be no greater dignity.

  41. PJ Avatar

    A friend of mine offers this suggestion:

    The Church is the Body to Christ’s Head. Now, who is the living image of the Church? The Virgin Mary. The veil conceals the woman’s head, thus emphasizing her body and signaling her Marian vocation.

  42. PJ Avatar


    What does Saint Paul mean when he writes, “The head of Christ is God”? Isn’t Christ “God from God, Light from Light, True God from True God”? Or does “Christ” refer to His human nature? But then that would be divisive statement . . . I’ve always puzzled over that line. I’ve heard it used by Jehovah’s Witnesses and other neo-Arians to deny Jesus’s divinity. What say you?

  43. fatherstephen Avatar

    It’s the operative word “from” in the Creed that you’re missing. That the Father is “head,” i.e. source, is quite clear in Orthodox teaching (and thus the resistance to certain versions of the filioque). The Son is “Begotten of the Father.” The Spirit, “Proceeds from the Father.” The Father is the Source of the Godhead (pege in Greek). It is also known as the “Monarchical Principle.” Met. John Zizioulas’ book, Being as Communion, will make your hair hurt when you read it, but I’ve found nothing that was better on Orthodox Trinitarian doctrine, or at least truly introduced me to an understanding.

    To say that the Son is God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, does not make Him subordinate to the Father in the sense of heretical subordination. It means that He is not the Father, but the Son, as the Father is not the Son, but the Father. The very names revealed to us in the Trinity carry with them a revelation of sorts. The Father is a name that implies another (Son). The Son implies another (Father). The Spirit (breath) implies another (the Father, etc.).

    The East has always approached Trinitarian doctrine from the Persons, rather than philosophically (from the One). Oddly, considering some of our earlier conversations, this approach avoids the pitfalls of Platonism (which, oddly again, dog the Western approaches to the Trinity). It’s Augustine who had a more Platonist Trinitarian understanding (in some passages) when compared to the Cappadocians, the great Eastern champions of Trinitarian theology.

    The Father as Source only works (it seems to me) when Trinitarian dogma is understood by starting with the Persons. But it is in the Persons that the revelation comes to us. We do not know “God.” When know Christ, who makes known to us the Father through the Spirit. Of course, Christ is God (“God from God,” the “Only-Begotten of the Father”), but He is always known in a Trinitarian fashion (as “God from God,” etc.).

    Hope I haven’t caused pain to your hair. 🙂

  44. PJ Avatar

    This helps immensely.

    Honestly, it seems that failure to grasp this “monarchy” of the Father has led to borderline tri-theism in parts of western Christianity. The Jehovah’s Witnesses aren’t all that wrong to object to the aberrant trinitarianism that sees no difference between God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, as is so often the case (at least among average believers).

    Athanasius’ “On the Incarnation” first led me to really understand that it was the Father’s Word — rather than “God” in the generic sense — who was incarnate through the Virgin. With this epiphany, I finally began to see that the Trinity, far from being an invention of men, is thoroughly Scriptural.

    Thanks for your help.

  45. PJ Avatar

    Is there *ANY* kind of subordination? For instance, it would seem that though the Son is not subordinate in nature to the Father, He is subordinate in Person, for He is begotten, while the Father is unbegotten.The Son is the Word, the Father is the Speaker. Furthermore, the Son clearly does the will of the Father.

  46. fatherstephen Avatar

    There is a kind of “subordination” of the Son, not by nature, for He is God as the Father is God. But in that the it is Father and Son, there is a kind of subordination that is appropriate in speaking of the Persons. Christ Himself emplys this sort of “humility,” when speaking of the Father.

    Orthodoxy refers to all of this under the heading of the “Monarchy” of the Father. There are many ways in which the Orthodox approach to Trinitarian doctrine is more helpful and less bothersome than the more rigid, philosophical approach of the West.

    As to the JW’s, you are very kind to them – more than I would be. 🙂

  47. PJ Avatar

    I once shared a hospital room with a JW for about a week. He was a little slow: when I said something about Arianism, he cried defensively, “I’m not a Nazi!” He could not understand the difference between nature and person, which made explaining the Trinity a challenge. And he bought into all sorts of myths: the great apostasy, the intentional editing of John 1:1, the whore of Babylon, and so on. (Needless to say, he was horrified when a priest came to give me absolution and communion.)

    Despite all this, he was very gentle and very kind. He believed what he believed, but he was not so much concerned with dogma as he was charitable and merciful living.

    I learned much from the experience. First, I am incredibly weak: how hard it was for me to see him as a human being rather than a Jehovah’s Witness! Second, we orthodox Christians do a rather pitiful job of explaining crucial dogmas like the Trinity and the divinity of Christ.

    I do believe they’re a cult. The fact that he couldn’t read any non-JW material was more than a tad disturbing. But until Christians start (a) living Christlike lives and (b) proclaiming the Gospel with clarity and intelligence, who can we blame but ourselves?

  48. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    PJ, doctrine wins few converts fewer still disciples. it is the person of Jesus Christ and wanting to know Him that is the crux. The principal statement of faith that one makes in the Orthodox sacrament of baptism is wanting to be one with Christ and becoming one with Christ.

    As long as someone desires anything else, it is easy to be led astray with itching ears.

    I personally do not believe that any other human being can fire up that longing for the truth. Another human being may slightly unveil the truth in another’s heart, but that truth must be in good ground and be nurtured in order to grow and bring forth fruit itself.

    All we can do when we are given the opportunity is to show forth what we know either in words or deeds. Mostly we will do that poorly but God gives the increase.

  49. fatherstephen Avatar

    I agree. I think that conversion also includes an instinctive search for “what does that look like?” We cannot become something (or someone) that we do not see. The first Christian that I ever met who struck me as attractive was a priest. It was not great and powerful, but it was the first adult who struck me that way (I was 15 at the time). I later met a “Jesus freak” who struck me that way, and drew me much deeper into the faith.

    The older I’ve become, the less often I find such affinities. But such persons have not disappeared from my life. Thank God.

  50. dinoship Avatar

    I remember the following comparison which emerged in me after encountering two very, very different approaches to “converting”:

    The first one was a, more or less, failed attempt using impressive arguments and robust reasoning by a formidable mind. He demolished all opposition in one of those heated conversations which sometimes take place concerning Christianity, with his admirable eloquence. He gave his opponents food for thought possibly, but their lives defaulted back to agnosticism eventually.

    Now, the second one was a famous Elder, (o.k. he wore a cassock, but that is not what spoke the loudest, it was rather his unshakeable Joy and Faith, Freedom, Love, Fire, and the nature of his countenance and boiling internal Prayer). He never spoke a single word about Christ – he almost avoided it – but, he did not need to! …as the others all agreed they felt that they had ‘seen’ Christ Himself afterwards (like Luke and Cleopas), and he has been “implanted” in their hearts, and is still doing his ‘work’ in it…
    When he eventually did talk (after being pressed on the matter of faith) he said similar ‘words’ to the other person (the first comparison), but, boy! did those words carry tons more weight and authority!

  51. dinoship Avatar

    However, I would also like to sort of go against what I just said by adding that, no matter which of the two comparisons one encounters, a person who has “100” in him, will take away 100, whether the speaker speaks 5, 50 or 500 -that’s what he will take away with him…

  52. PJ Avatar


    “PJ, doctrine wins few converts fewer still disciples. it is the person of Jesus Christ and wanting to know Him that is the crux. The principal statement of faith that one makes in the Orthodox sacrament of baptism is wanting to be one with Christ and becoming one with Christ. ”

    I don’t know. I think people are drawn to God in many different ways. I certainly wasn’t looking to become one with the person of Christ. I didn’t even know such a thing was possible. My faith was purely intellectual for a long time: I believed the faith was true and that was that. It was only later that I began to enter into the life of prayer and really encounter the “person” of Christ and the reality of God. Even now, I am in the “shallow end,” so to speak. Of course, the Spirit was always at work, though I knew it not . . .

  53. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Ah, but PJ, who drew you into the life of prayer?

    Some are drawn, some ask, some are dragged kicking and screaming (methaphorically speaking).

    We have to make the first step. Later even if we think we can turn away, He is always there to remind us and turn us back.

  54. markbasil Avatar

    I agree with Michael Bauman.
    I take myself as an example. I was raised somewhat liberal, very faithful, extremely social-justice, political activisitic anabaptist-inclined Evangelical-Protestant Christian.

    Did I love Jesus and Jesus love me? Well, that’s a very complicated answer. On the one hand, of course! On the other hand, was I really experiencing salvation? I dont know. Certainly God was “setting things up” in my heart for my salvation.

    However, ‘back then’, if a simple Orthodox Christian had explained in clear, honest terms what Orthodoxy was (prayer life, asceticism, inner work of the heart, silence, etc.), I would have said, “thanks but no thanks.”
    This is because my jaundiced view of Jesus would have persuaded me that Orthodoxy had it wrong.

    So, how did I become Orthodox? Long story short, I was attracted to certain superficial similarities between Orthodox dogma and my very eccentric ‘un-Evangelical’ theology (esp. universalism, pacifism, etc.). I made vast assumptions about what Orthodoxy must *really* be, that lined up nicely with what I already believed or wanted to believe. Of course I met “a few good men” who lived attractive Orthodox Christian lives, and of course I was an utter, desperate mess, so I converted.
    But what sort of conversion was this?!
    Was my heart really ready to accept what Orthodoxy *really* is? Not at all! I was a deluded, puffed up, fragmented mess! Because of how sick I was, if I had been fed any ‘solid food’ from the Tradition, I would have vomited it up.

    What followed my baptism was a devastating, agonizing, ongoing discovery that I had been duped! Again and I again I saw how the Orthodoxy I thought I accepted was actually very different from the genuine Tradition.
    Every time, at every step, I had to make a new decision from the depths of my heart whether to accept or reject this rebuke. It was really nausiating and brings tears to my eyes when I think back to what Christ brought me through, to rescue me and save my life.

    A couple years after being baptized, God arranged for my meeting with Fr Gregory, an old monk who happened to live not far away. Fr Gregory worked with me for two years as a holy physician, and now I can say that it was really him who baptized me into Orthodoxy. He ‘traditioned’ the living faith to me, he prepared me to really receive the Holy Spirit.

    So, I agree with Michael Bauman.
    There is only One Christ- and the ‘flavour(s) of jesus’ I happened to enjoy before Orthodoxy were not really Him.
    It was Him all along who worked patiently through my theological and spiritual ‘tastes’ and perversions, to prepare me for Himself. But there is a world of difference between the sort of ‘christianity’ I participated in before, and that which has been given to me as life, peace, and true joy now.
    I would never have ‘chosen’ this latter if I saw it honestly presented to me, outlined in straighforward theological and spiritual terminology.
    God tricked me, utterly deceived me- He found the real me deeply burried and converted him, but the ‘me’ that had control and made decisions was deceived.

    -Mark Basil

  55. PJ Avatar

    God tricked you? God is a deceiver? A trickster? This seems a strange notion to me.

  56. markbasil Avatar

    PJ, the human heart is complicated and deeply mysterious. When I write of God deceiving me, the “me” I am referring to is not the real me that God has created. (on the Last Day, Christ will tell those without mercy “Depart from me for I never knew you“).

    Think of Lewis’s Emeth and Aslan relationship; though outwardly he served the false god, his heart had good in it and this Aslan took to himself.

    In my case, my mind was tangled up and confused about Jesus and the Christian faith. Because of this confusion I would outwardly have rejected the true Christian Way. This “false me”- which was dominant and in control- is not the real me in the image and likeness of Christ. This false self was indeed deceived by God, that my true being buried below might be raised up from the grave.

    It is less dramatic for me than for St Paul’s scales falling from his eyes, but it is a similar matter of the “secret heart” being something quite hidden even from self-knowledge.
    Paul of course write about this division within himself and the conflict regarding his true identity in Romans 7:
    We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.

    So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!

    -Mark Basil

  57. Thomas B Avatar
    Thomas B

    “We go into our closets and pretend to be the light of the world.”

    This sentence is such a gem! Thank you Father.

    I’ve been reading your post in the light of your “one storey universe” book and the posts about shame. How we carry ourselves, dress, present our Christian way of life says a lot both about our perception of God as detached from our floor and the shame that we are trying to hide.

    I feel very blessed to be reading your posts. The things I don’t understand remain a mystery to me and I am grateful they do, too.

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