To Tell the Truth

Abba Poemen said, “Teach your mouth to say that which is in your heart.


Speaking the truth is as fundamental as the Ten Commandments. It also receives a great deal of attention within the pages of the New Testament.

Do not lie to one another since you have put off the old man with his deeds, and have put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him (Col. 3:9)

It is very easy to think of lying and telling the truth as simple “moral” issues. We do not lie because it is wrong, and we tell the truth because it is right. The weakness of such morality is its failure to understand either the nature of sin or the nature of the life to which we have been called as Christians.

Within a purely moral context, the question could be asked: “If you were able to tell a lie, and no one was hurt by it and no one but yourself knew it, where would be the wrong?” The answer would come back in a purely moral form that would involve the breaking of a commandment and the righteous judgment of God. Christianity as a moral system is Christianity misunderstood.

I have stated before that Christ did not die to make bad men good – He died to make dead men live. Christ’s teachings on the Kingdom of God, when measured by a moral yardstick, often seem to ask too much or to push Christians beyond the boundaries of morality. Thus the moralizers of Christianity have often described the Sermon on the Mount as an “interim ethic,” a teaching that only makes sense if the end of the world is but a short time away.

In various times and places the “Christian” moral teaching has been largely indistinguishable from the accepted morality of society at large – thus making the Church the underwriter of culture. A number of denominations are in serious difficulties today as the culture around them is undergoing serious moral changes. Those who have had the deepest investment in underwriting the dominant culture have largely been the first to find reasons to change their moral teaching to continue their cultural position.

The problem with morality (as we popularly understand the term) is that it misses the point of Christian teaching. Christian “moral” teaching frequently does an injustice to the faith by corrupting the nature of the Church’s life and the purpose of its teaching.

Truth is not a matter of morality – it is a matter of existence and non-existence.

This is the fundamental insight and teaching of St. Athanasius in his classical work, On the Incarnation.

For the transgression of the commandment was making them [humanity] turn back again according to their nature; and as they had at the beginning come into being out of non-existence, so were they now on the way to returning, through corruption, to non-existence again. The presence and love of the Word had called them into being; inevitably, therefore when they lost the knowledge of God, they lost existence with it; for it is God alone Who exists, evil is non-being, the negation and antithesis of good (De Incarnatione, 1.4).

As St. Paul would observe, “The wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). Right and wrong are not measured by abstract laws but by their relationship to existence. That which is wrong has about it – the nature of death.

This is the reason that Scripture gives such a priority to telling the truth. The nature of a lie is found precisely in its non-existence. Thus the devil is characterized in his rebellion against God as “a liar and the father of lies.” Evil has no existence, but in the malevolence of the wicked one, it seeks to draw everything that has existence into non-existence.

The Christian life is an acceptance of the true life in Christ – a life which is nothing other than communion with the true and living God. In this alone do we have true and authentic existence. In this alone do we have eternal life.

The various lies and distortions of the truth which we utter or in which we participate are enemies of our own existence. We give consent to corruption which is our non-existence when we give voice to a lie. The life of salvation is a constant movement towards the Truth, being conformed to the image of Truth.

We have the added difficulty that the truth is often opaque for us. We do not see it clearly. This is a manifestation of the state of our heart, our inner disposition. The admonition “to say what is in your heart” is an encouragement to move towards an authentic existence. It may be that “what is in your heart” is darkness. That darkness needs to be brought into the light. In Orthodox practice, this is normatively done in the mystery of confession. We reveal the darkness of our hearts and bring them before the Truth of Christ. In that healing light, we receive the forgiveness of our sins – we receive the life of Christ Himself.

Of course the Law, or rules, are not without benefit. They serve as a “tutor” in the language of St. Paul, to point us to Christ. They teach our heart that the process of healing might begin in us even at an early age.

But the clarity that comes with the light of Christ begins to remove the opacity of our vision and allows us to live without delusion and to see the Truth. “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”

The admonition “to say what is in your heart” is not a call to say aloud every dark thought that infects us and to spew the darkness wherever we go. But there can be no integrity within us until our hearts and our lips are united. We cannot say one thing and mean another and remain in the light.

“The Light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.” God give us grace to speak the truth. May He drive the darkness from our hearts.

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.



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67 responses to “To Tell the Truth”

  1. […] that is that we… »See All Of This Item By Clicking Here!« ☆ ☆ ☆ 3) To Tell the Truth fatherstephen on Tuesday, Jul […]

  2. breadeater Avatar

    Thank you Fr. Stephen. This ties in very well with your previous entries where you contrast the (non-existent) ego with the heart which is our true self. These thoughts are challenging for me to grasp as I have been believing the lies of the ego for so long. May Christ open the eyes of this blind man and save me from my delusions.

  3. PJ Avatar

    “Evil has no existence, but in the malevolence of the wicked one, it seeks to draw everything that has existence into non-existence.”

    This is an ancient and eminently orthodox understanding of the “ontology” of good and evil. I am sympathetic to it. However, I do wonder how hell can exist if evil is tends toward non-existence. Perhaps God nurtures even the wickedest being, but what about the end times, when God is “all in all”? Obviously, some of the Greek fathers struggled with this problem. What do you think, father?

  4. fatherstephen Avatar

    The fathers in this “ontological” approach understand that since all things that exist, come from nothing, they only continue to exist because God sustains. Thus, yes, God sustains even the demons in existence – and this – because of His goodness. He does not begrudge us our existence. This is pretty fundamental St. Athanasius in De Incarnatione.

    You point to a very obvious problem – how is God “all in all,” if hell continues to exist? It is a thought that takes you towards the conclusion put forward by St. Isaac of Syria – it at least says that none of us should jump to the conclusion that St. Isaac is just wrong. “All in all” holds a great mystery. I pray that St. Isaac is right. An ontological approach on all of this – inherently takes you in that direction. I am utterly committed to an ontological approach – it is the heart of the patristic teaching (at least in the East), and I think it is deeply there in the NT as well. Pretty much everything I write is rooted in it, ultimately.

  5. PJ Avatar

    1. It seems the early church was fairly receptive to the idea of universal reconciliation, even if few significant figures embraced it without qualification or hedging. At very least, it was willing to hope and consider possibilities that today tread the very edge of orthodoxy. I sometimes wonder why.

    2. Ultimately, everything is a question of ontology, because the one question always looming in our mind is: Why do I exist?

  6. fatherstephen Avatar

    A couple of short, quick reflections.

    On an ontological approach. Everything else always begs the question, it seems.

    On universal reconciliation, the ontological approach does seem to have an inherent tendency in that direction. On the other hand, a forensic model, under a heading of “justice” tends to steer away from it. I think that the tendency in orthodox Christianity (little ‘o’) to stay away from a universal reconciliation is a response to Origen, who was not condemned for the reconciliation, per se, but in his establishing it as a philosophical necessity. His real error was to accept the Pagan notion of a creation that was “co-eternal” with God, thus necessitating reconciliation. Athanasius’ emphasis on the creation ex nihilo, which becomes accepted Orthodoxy, undoes Origenism. But it does not undo the possibility of reconciliation.

  7. dinoship Avatar

    In pretty simplified ontological terms, the significance of a person’s ‘distance’ from the complete fulfilment of the first commandment (as well as the fulfilment of all other commandments ‘because’ of the first commandment), actually determines that person’s “tasting” of God’s revealed presence as “all in all” as either Heaven or Hell -to various degrees…

  8. The Orthodox Lady Avatar
    The Orthodox Lady

    “Teach your mouth to say that which is in your heart” This is a quote which truly speaks to me. Is not speaking what’s in your heart by choosing to be silent the same as lying? I keep mulling this over in my head.

  9. PJ Avatar

    I guess I’m just curious as to what caused the decisive pivot from cosmic optimism to cosmic pessimism. Surely, the great catastrophes (invasion, economic collapse, plague, famine, the mini ice age) of late antiquity and the early middle ages didn’t help. Perhaps the triumph of Christendom also fostered a sort of chauvinism, a triumphalism, a lack of understanding for those outside the fold. Then again, the rise of Islam might have something to do with it on two fronts: first, the Church needed a stick as well as a carrot to prevent apostasy; second, the fearsome Muslim doctrine of hell might have seeped its way into Christian theology.


  10. markbasil Avatar

    I have a good, brilliant friend who has written extensively on this subject. I will see if I can acquire from him privately some of his published or to-be-published writings, and see if he minds if I send them to you.
    He is an Orthodox theologian, a good man, but a tough read. I think you’re more up for the challenge than I am. 🙂
    please email me privately if this interests you (and I make no promises- but I can say that one of his papers I labored through was tremendously helpful in clarifying things for me).

    reach me at: man or they [all one word] at gmail dot com.

    (Father please feel free to delete this comment after a day or something- pardon the clutter!- to you I bow and kiss your hand; I only ever kiss Christ with tender thanksgiving).


  11. fatherstephen Avatar

    Orthodox lady,
    No. There are plenty of reasons not to speak what is in your heart. Does what we know or think need to be known and why? Sometimes it is only the ego that wants it to be known. Is it judging, comparing, etc. (those things we have described as products of the false self)? As such, it is not “in your heart” – it’s just more stuff that the ego needs to press upon others.

  12. eternallypresentfillingallthings Avatar

    Fr. Stephen,

    Great stuff as usual! As well as very timely for me. Thanks,

  13. David Avatar

    Fr. Stephen –
    With the point you make that we do not need to tell everyone about everything – made in the 2nd to last paragraph in this article, I have often thought about how many of the “reality shows” and talk shows that have gained so much currency seem to be a secularized form of confession in which the guest “lets it all out” in front of millions of viewers and the host exercises a pseudo-absolution. What a sad attempt and lifeless gesture. And in the end it only serves to present a spectacle to serve as entertainment and sell products.

  14. Karen Avatar

    Fr. Stephen comments: “No. There are plenty of reasons not to speak what is in your heart.”

    This puts me in mind of the Gospel’s description of the Theotokos who “kept all these things and pondered them in her heart.” (Luke 2:18-20). Undoubtedly, she kept most of them there treasured for many years until she shared them with the Evangelist, and still, undoubtedly, there are many things there that she can only share with her Son.

  15. fatherstephen Avatar

    Karen and Orthodox lady,
    I didn’t mean to be too brusque in my response on keeping silent. There might be things that should be said (regarding an injustice that can be corrected, or a feeling that should be shared within a relationship) as there are things that need not be said. It there is a relationship (husband and wife, etc.) in which there are things that cannot be spoken – then the relationship may need help (counseling or the like). I do not want to imply that such silences should be kept. Those kinds of silence can be as destructive as many other things. If there is to be union between two people – secrets and unspoken things can be deadly (though not always). This is a good thing to discuss with your priest.

  16. zoe Avatar

    Thanks, Fr.

  17. markbasil Avatar

    Father you wrote, “The moderation thing is a mystery. I think it automatically moderates past a certain length (just a guess). It always moderates a comment with a hyperlink. ”

    A thought, since you’re spending money on your site: Ask them to let you choose “safe” people, who are permitted to comment anything wihtout being blocked (I’m thinking here of longtime helpers like Karen).

    A suggestion.
    -Mark Basil

    (PS I post this here because I love Aaron too much to post on the other thread)

  18. markbasil Avatar

    Also (ala Karen), please loose the automatic smiley face!
    it’s a grin, not fitting to the gentle smile I’m writing.

  19. fatherstephen Avatar

    Markbasil, good suggestion, most welcome.

  20. PJ Avatar


    This is fairly random, but I don’t know where else to ask it: We Catholics read from the Old Testament, the Psalms, the epistles, and the Gospels every Mass; is this also the case for Orthodox? If not, why the difference? I ask because I heard in passing on the radio that Orthodox don’t necessarily read much of the OT in Church, but this sounded strange…

  21. fatherstephen Avatar

    There was no OT reading in the Roman Mass until after the reforms of Vatican II. There certain had once been, but had long ago disappeared. People today tend to expect the Mass (Liturgy) to cover everything – which is essentially a Protestant idea. For the Protestant Reform streamlined everything, over-simplifying the liturgical life of the Church, with an emphasis on increasing the reading of Scripture. There were so many false assumptions and bad theology that gave rise to those Reforms that to catalog them alone, would take quite a while.

    In Orthodoxy, which has not undergone such reforms, the pattern is to expect that a day is served by the entire cycle of services for the day, which includes the hours (9th hour, Vespers, Matins, 1st hour, 3rd hour, 6th hour, liturgy). Old Testament readings a read at Vespers, if any are called for. There is not an OT lectionary for the year as there is for the Divine Liturgy. Instead, the lessons are drawn from in a typological manner, matching the meaning of the feast.

    The assumptions about Scripture are far different than those that were brought forward by the errors of Sola Scriptura.

  22. PJ Avatar

    Yes, I knew the the lectionary was greatly expanded by the Second Vatican Council, though I don’t think the OT was totally excluded from the Mass.

    That said, I’m not sure if the expanded lectionary was a bad idea. Reform is not in and of itself negative.

    I sometimes attend an eastern Catholic parish that uses the Liturgy of St. Chrysostom. It is beautiful, of course, though I do miss the readings. It is nice to see the dovetailing of the Law/the Prophets, the Psalms, the Letters, and the Gospels all in one sitting.

  23. fatherstephen Avatar

    The addition of the OT readings, like the expansion to a 3 year lectionary (which was done in conjunction with Ecumenical partners) was to put forward the reading-in-course idea of reading the entire Scriptures (sort of) in the course of a 3 year period. This is essentially the idea of some of the Reformers. The Anglican lectionary was a 1 year lectionary, with no OT lessons until the reforms of the 70’s.

    Nothing wrong with more Scripture – but it often misses the point of Scripture – indeed it often gets the point backwards. The Church reads the Scripture in a “selective” manner, because its reading was and has been Christocentric from the earliest days. The Protestant reforms sought to make things “Bibliocentric” which is backwards.

    But Christ is frequently “revised” by modernist readings from a Bibliocentric direction. The 20th century is among the most upside-down in all of Church history – and arrogant to boot. The “we now know better” has done untold damage to Christianity.

  24. PJ Avatar

    I understand your hesitations, but I’m not sure they’re warranted. I suppose I just don’t see the harm in giving the Holy Writings a place of honor and prominence in the Mass (or Divine Liturgy). The Bible is a sacrament in its own right — “sacramentum audible,” as St. Augustine explained — and we are enlightened by its proclamation. Scripture cannot be made auxiliary without compromising the nature of Christian worship, which is in all ways receptive to the Word.

  25. fatherstephen Avatar

    Of course the Scripture does no harm. It cannot, it is indeed a sacrament. It is the assumptions behind the “matrix” of its reading that I was questioning. For instance, a simple reading “in course” (from Genesis to Malachi) assumes something about the nature of the Scripture (for one, such an arrangement is independent of its relationship with the calendar and feasts, etc.). Gen. and Proverbs are read in this daily course manner during Great Lent for other reasons.
    It’s perhaps a quibble on my part. But the cart has a tendency to drive the horse – and under the great abuse of Scripture in the post-Reformational period – it seems a quibble worth noting. That’s all.

  26. PJ Avatar

    Can’t deny that reading the Old Testament straight through does leave something to be desired, especially as regards the feast day problem. There are on-going discussions about this among the bishops. We’ll see.

  27. dinoship Avatar

    The selection of OT readings in many of the Orthodox Feasts “opens our mind, that we might understand the scriptures” (Luke 24:45) of these OT readings -pregnant with meanings normally lost in a ‘straight through’ reading- in extremely profound ways. I could mention numerous examples, but the recent Feast of Pentecost comes to mind, with the densely packed meanings it reveals in the reading from Numbers 11:16 onwards…

    We do also read the Psalms (well, at least we should, and monasteries stick to this) once through every week.

  28. PJ Avatar

    “The Introduction to the Lectionary for Mass explains that the guiding principle for the selection of the readings on Sundays and feast days the principle of “harmony.” It calls for texts that complement one another thematically, usually centered on the gospel reading. In particular, readings are chosen from the Old Testament that anticipate or reflect the event or theme of the Gospel reading or the feast. For example, on Christmas Eve at the Mass in the Night, the Gospel reading, Luke 2:1–14, tells the story of the birth of Jesus in the stable at Bethlehem. The first reading, from the Prophet Isaiah (9:1–6), announces the birth of the child who is named “Wonder–Counselor, God–Hero, Father–Forever, Prince of Peace.” The harmony of these texts demonstrates what Catholics believe about the Bible, about Jesus, and the relationship between the Old and New Testaments: the context of salvation history for Christians is Jesus, and the Old Testament, as it depicts the unfolding of God’s creation, covenant, and relationship with his people, prepares for and leads to the coming of Christ in human history in his Incarnation in the flesh. The Second Vatican Council’s Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation, Dei Verbum, summarizes it well:

    ‘God, the inspirer and author of the books of both Testaments, in his wisdom has so brought it about that the New should be hidden in the Old and that the Old should be made manifest in the new. For, although Christ founded the new Covenant in his blood, still the books of the Old Testament, all of them caught up into the Gospel message, attain and show forth their full meaning in the New Testament and, in their turn, shed light on it and explain it. (Dei Verbum # 16).’”

    –Father Richard Hilgartner, Executive Director of the Secretariat of Divine Worship, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops

  29. dinoship Avatar

    Where the Lectionary is Bibliocentric rather than Christocentric, I believe it is a backwards step towards “the tail waging the dog”. However, where the Lectionary (as described above) is a step towards a Christocentric reading of scripture, it is undeniably, I think, a most significant step in the right direction…

  30. PJ Avatar

    It is worthwhile to note that the presence of the Scripture in the liturgy is not limited to the lectionary readings. To assume that it is would be a very Protestant mistake. The liturgies of the ancient sacramental churches are laden with Scriptural references. Furthermore, in a real sense, the liturgy is Scripture “come alive,” though not in the sense of a passion play. The liturgy is participation rather than performance. The sacramentality of Holy Writ allows the congregation to transcend performance and enter into participation. It is “recreation” (re-creation) in the true sense: for the Holy Spirit is at work in the community as a whole and in every individual heart.

  31. fatherstephen Avatar

    This sense of the liturgy as Scripture “come alive” is much closer to what I’m thinking. My mind/heart stuff has been in lousy shape for a lot of the day, so I’m trying to be careful what I say. There is in our culture a long heritage of “dialectical” thought. We like things in two’s and in tension, thus, virtue is found in “balance” or some sort of Hegelian synthesis. This is very non-Eastern (and non-Orthodox). Orthodoxy never thinks of balance: it thinks of fullness. Thus things like word/sacrament, Old Testament/New Testament, Transcendent/Immanent, traditional/contemporary, liberal/conservative, and on and on, are typical in our modern thought but foreign to Orthodoxy. Whenever it is suggested that we “need” something more, it makes me think that we’re looking for a “balance” and that someone is thinking in “two’s” again.
    What we need, and so rarely find, is fullness. The Orthodox liturgy not only has Scripture read in it, but by virtue of what the liturgy is (Scripture fulfilled), it is the whole of Scripture every time, everywhere. The liturgy has no lack.
    There is an instinct in the liturgical reform movement, to simplify, clarify, etc. In some cases it is a misapplication or misunderstanding of Baumgartner’s Law (but I’m being to academic). I’m not certain where the idea came from, but it is a principle that is foreign to the liturgy itself.
    It is possible for a liturgy to have so many “accretions” that its true character is obscured. Or for something lesser to overwhelm something greater. But reforms have tended to grossly underestimate the possibilities of humans to grasp multi-dimensional and multi-valent realities. There are layers and layers of meaning, symbol, mystery and revelation that are part of the liturgical cycle of any major Orthodox feast. I’ve been doing this for 14 years, and it only gets richer – my understanding more impacted. I frequently feel speechless in the midst of a service (thank God for service books!).

    So, more Scripture, sure, perhaps. But I’m not certain why. It’s like ordering Baklava and asking someone to bring you the syrup. Why would you do that?

  32. PJ Avatar

    On another liturgical note: What exactly, in the Liturgy of St. John, is meant by “rational worship”?

  33. fatherstephen Avatar

    A wonderful phrase. It’s from Romans 12:1 “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.” Reasonable service is “logikos latreia.” The liturgical material loves to refer to us as “rational sheep” meaning God’s “logikos” sheep. It’s very hard to translate, and “rational” is about as poor a translation as I can imagine, except for when I hear it I think, “logikos.” Of course “logikos” means “like the Logos.” Christ is the Logos of God, and we are like Him such that we are “logikos.” It doesn’t mean we are logical, or rational, but that somehow, we are in His image, including in the very dignity and humanity of our being. Our humanity is “logikos” and it identifies us as human such that nothing else in all creation is called “logikos.” No machine could ever be “logikos.” No plant no animal could be logikos. Only man is logikos. Dinoship needs to help us out here. Some who speaks Greek and understands English. What would you do with this Dinoship?

    I should add, that “logikos latreia,” is the latreia (worship) that is appropriate for a human being. It is the offering of the whole of our self.

  34. PJ Avatar

    This is surely related to St. Paul’s distinction between the natural man (psychikos anthropos, or animalis homo in the Vulgate) and the spiritual man, as in I Corinthians 2.

  35. dinoship Avatar

    I am afraid I cannot help any more than what you have said yourself!

    Quite a few native speakers often have a restricted, simplistic understand of this saying actually, since in modern Greek the same word does exist and merely means “logical worship” and nothing more.
    The old Greek language used throughout the Liturgy however, certainly makes you suspicious of something profoundly more weighty hidden behind every word…
    All I can now think of is that God’s grace (sometimes puts the necessary “1”), combined with a little of man’s experience (which resembles the many “0’s” following the “1”) and this “opens our mind, that we might understand” and even experience sayings such as “reasonable service”, or “Blessed be the Name of…” or “Thine own of Thine own” in unimaginably profound ways as “My Lord and my God and my Paradise”, or “The Kingdom come” or “The Eternal Eucharist” respectively.

  36. PJ Avatar

    Is it always translated as “rational worship”? In some Bibles it reads “reasonable service,” but that is equally lame. Why not simply say, “Logos-like”? Or “Word-like”? “Worship after the fashion of the Word”?

  37. fatherstephen Avatar

    It is a difficult phrase, and translators tend to struggle to make the difficult into at least a “best guess.”
    “Reasonable worship or service” is indeed lame. St. Paul himself helps us with the sentence: “Present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God.” Thomas Cranmer, the Anglican reformer, offers a version of this in his eucharistic prayer, “And here we offer and present unto thee, O Lord, our selves, our souls and bodies, to be a reasonable, holy and living sacrifice unto Thee…” But of course, he does not solve the riddle of “logikos.”
    I hear in it, not so much “reasonable” (as in “what is to be expected”), but “as befitting those who are the image of the Logos”).

  38. PJ Avatar

    Another thing:

    I sensed in the Liturgy of St. Chrysostom a Eucharistic theology that, while similar (and superficially identical) to that of Roman Catholicism, is actually fairly different.

    The difference, I believe, is that for western Catholics, the Eucharistic “change” is metaphysical, while for eastern Catholics and Orthodox, it is mystical.

    I know that’s rather ambiguous, but it has been nagging at me. While the liturgy clearly expresses a firm — indeed zealous — belief in and love of the Body and Blood, it does need appear to affirm its “reality” as understood by western Catholics.

    The new prefect for the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith caused a brouhaha by stating that the terms “flesh and blood” can cause “misunderstandings … when flesh and blood are considered to mean the physical and biological components of the human Jesus.”

    This has angered many orthodox Catholics. Catholicism is ferociously committed to a kind of brutish physicality when it comes to the Body and Blood. I sometimes think this is misguided.

    I do not mean to slip into a Lutheran conception of the Eucharist, of course…

    Father? Anyone? Comments? Help?

  39. fatherstephen Avatar

    I’ve long thought that for some Catholics, the great fear surrounds anxieties about the Body and Blood of Christ being “real.” And that becomes problematic. Schmemann wrote on the difficulties associated with the response to Berengar. Some of the difficulties are rooted in what became the Catholic understanding of “real.” “Physical” and “biological” components are, for some, the sine qua non of reality. Which is why, inter alia, they wind up in a 2 storey universe (mundus bitabulatorum). sorry for all the Latin. Thinking about medieval Rome and I just couldn’t help myself.

  40. PJ Avatar

    Indeed. The confusion (or conflation) of the real and the physical is a substantial part of the problem. It leads to inane debates, like how long the grace lasts (does it expire with digestion?).

    Of course, we must be careful in discussing these most sacred matters — it is all too easy to cross over into heresy.

  41. fatherstephen Avatar

    Yes. Indeed. I understand that Rome has another German in charge of the Office of the Inquisition. 🙂

  42. dinoship Avatar

    The fact St, John Chrysostom uses the word ‘logiki’ instead of ‘noitiki’ certainly clearly points to “as befitting those who are the image of the Logos”, rather than just to words such as reasonable, logical, rational, cerebral. However, it also does contain that more simple notion in a sense.
    According to the Fathers, man’s soul is both “λογική” – (rational/logical) and “νοερά” – noetic (of the Nous). Therefore there exists two corresponding kinds of worship…
    Babies have the energy of the Nous and can perceive angels, saints, God’s Light; however, their intellect develops its reasoning/logical faculty later.
    The Liturgy is both ‘noetic’ (as the priest prays before the Gospel reading “open the eyes of our intellect – i.e.: the Nous – as in Luke 24:45) as well as “rational”.

    The beauty of the ancient Church language (which is almost impossible to translate) is how it contains both notions in a few words: that of the worship of the Nous (an “apperception” of ineffable words), as well as that of the ‘reasonable worship’ as in a “living sacrifice that does not pertain to animals but to rational beings created in the image of the Logos Himself”…

  43. dinoship Avatar

    The combined, aforementioned two notions contained in the expression “reasonable sacrifice” can also be described in English (somewhat inaccurately but still very pertinently) as of “both mind and heart”

  44. fatherstephen Avatar

    With due respect to Chrysostom. I’m not sure we can press the word in its New Testament setting to the refined place it comes to have within patristic usage. Words became more precise. St. Paul could easily have used noetic, logiki, and pneumatic, almost interchangeably, whereas Chrysostom would never have been able.

    It is the connection with latreia that gives the word its force in Romans 12:1. Alone, it could certainly mean reasonable or rational. But in combination with latreia, it is as we’ve agreed, “in accordance with the worship properly given by human beings.” Wonderful phrase, though, so rich.

  45. dinoship Avatar

    your phrase, “in accordance with the worship properly given by human beings.” is actually a very precise translation of what a Greek would spontaneously understand by the expression.

  46. James Mahoney Avatar
    James Mahoney

    Some time reader, first time commenter (:

    Something, tangential perhaps, to add to the discussion of the phrase “rational worship:”

    In the Roman Canon, or Eucharistic Prayer I in the “New Missal,” just before the Consecration the priest prays, “Quam oblationem tu, Deus, in omnibus, quaesumus, benedictam, adscriptam, ratam, rationabilem, acceptabilemque facere digneris: ut nobis Corpus et Sanguis fiat dilectissimi Filii tui, Domini nostri Iesu Christi”

    “oblationem…rationabilem” is the phrase I want to point out and seek others’ commentary upon in relation to “rational worship”.

    I don’t have my hand Missal with me to see how this was translated into English in “the old days.” Disappointingly, the vaunted new English translation of the “New Mass” seems to punt on “rationabilem.” I will post again once I have seen the 1950s era hand Missal translation again.

    Thanks in Christ.

  47. fatherstephen Avatar

    Romans 12:1 is too obvious for writers of Anaphorai over the centuries to have overlooked. It is one of very few places that “latreia” (worship) is used. As every anaphora is rich with Scriptural references, Romans 12:1 finds its way into most of them. Of course, they lift the words straight-forwardly “reasonable,” “rationabilem,” “logiki,” and, avoid the necessity of actually expounding the meaning of the phrase. Thus the word means whatever St. Paul meant by the word. I look with interest to see how rationabilem was translated “in the old days.” My money is on some form of “rational”.

    A favorite phrase in Orthodox liturgical works, as noted earlier, is “rational sheep.” It is so richly suggestive, mostly of very funny images. 🙂

  48. PJ Avatar


    I believe “rationabilem” is translated as “spiritual” in the current Roman canon. In the previous missal, it was translated, curiously as “in spirit and in truth,” which is not totally without merit, though the allusion is totally different.


    The phrase “rational sheep” is actually, really, truly spoken? That’s marvelous.

    Too bad it brings to mind such amusing imagery, because I do love that old patristic vision of the Logos as shepherd. There is an old Latin expression that Christians are “sons in the Son.” Perhaps this gets to the heart of “rational worship.”

  49. PJ Avatar

    By the way, Father. I just read a little quip that you might want to add to your “How the West Lost Its Way” narrative, especially as the tale regards nominalism, for it is said that Ockham exclaimed, “God could have crucified a donkey to atone for our sins.”

  50. Nicole Avatar

    In our Orthodox Church I hear the phrase “this reasonable and bloodless worship” and I have always interpreted it as an affirmation that we are not recrucifying Christ in the Eucharist, rather being connected to the point in time of our redemption

    I have enjoyed learning more about the Greek. Thank you Father Stephen and those who discussed.

    It also links well with the issue of how Orthodox Christians see the Eucharist. From Schememann I took a strong sense that in truly being the Body and Blood of Christ the Eucharist does not cease to be truly bread and wine as well. The Eucharist does not need to migrate away from the reality of being bread and wine, or transubstantiate past being bread and wine, rather through God’s merciful love and the action of the Holy Spirit coming down upon the bread Christ is made present within the bread for the healing of our souls and bodies. We have faith that Christ truly is present and at the same time are not required to have faith that bread and wine is no longer present, rather the bread and wine have been brought to their fullness. Our reasonable and bloodless worship, given to us by Christ Himself, involves bread and wine being brought to its fullness through the indwelling of Christ and human beings brought to their fullness in receiving the Eucharist, growing as Christians week by week.

    Please forgive me if any of this is incorrect. Father I hope you will have a chance to fact check my comment. I just very much identify with trying to sort through Orthodox understanding as compared to Catholic understanding. I was raised Orthodox but did not realize the blessing. I was engaged to a Catholic man and In sorting out these issues years ago we both arrived at Orthdoxy. I continue to grow in faith through this blog!

  51. Karen Avatar

    Mark Basil, my vote is that Fr. Stephen continue to moderate me as much as anyone else! I’ve been known to throw out some comment duds and also to get off-topic as well. I rarely have occasions where my mind is even remotely in my heart (that I can tell, anyway), and if ever it seems to be, this is purely an accident of grace!

  52. fatherstephen Avatar

    Karen and Mark Basil,
    I’ve more or less developed a mystical relationship with the akismet moderation thing on WordPress. Since I don’t entirely understand how it works, I take an apophatic approach. I check the spam filter a number of times a day, to deliver those souls (and their comments) who have been temporarily held there (trampling down spam) and restoring them to the fullness of the blogosphere. Then there is the true spam that I deliver to digital oblivion, though I’m not sure about that. Then there are simply those mystical comments, “awaiting moderation,” for unknown reasons. I try to restore them to the conversation, and assume that there were reasons which reason itself knows not of for their having been temporarily diverted. I have a sense that it’s for their (and our) salvation, and thus, important. Occasionally, I will be working on a post, and it just disappears. This I take to be Divine Intervention, and I strongly resist the temptation to be angry and curse my computer. It’s the only way God has of moderating me!

  53. Patty Joanna Avatar
    Patty Joanna

    Your humorous mysticism gave me a smile. Thank you.

  54. dinoship Avatar

    It made me laugh out…

  55. Karen Avatar

    Well, then, we can’t ask for more than that, can we, Father?! (-:

  56. PJ Avatar

    Then again, St. Thomas himself wrote:

    “The body of Christ is not in this sacrament in the way a body is in place. The dimensions of a body in place correspond with the dimensions of the place that contains it. Christ’s body is here in a special way that is proper to the sacrament. For this reason we say that the body of Christ is on different altars, not as in different places, but as in the sacrament. In saying this we do not mean that Christ is only symbolically there, although it is true that every sacrament is a sign, but we understand that Christ’s body is there, as we have said, in a way that is proper to the sacrament” (ST 3a.75.2).

  57. rivercocytus Avatar


    Comments will get set into the moderation queue because they have certain things like links or other characteristics – not sure what all may put them in the moderation queue these days. This is done by WordPress itself and is just a simple matter of scanning the comment text for things like http://, etc.

    Akismet is kind of like reverse Google – the comment is ‘searched against’ in its database to see if it is like comments that have been reported as spam in other places and over time. The various heuristics it uses probably change over time and are secret. Akismet is not local (it’s not on the WordPress server) and it combines information from across the internet where it is being used and the sites using it report back which comments are marked as spam that it missed.

    We can hope it also does the opposite – corrects its errors in identifying certain comments as spam when they aren’t! I for one was not one to check the spam list to ‘unmark’ comments unless someone let me know they were getting stuck in there.

  58. fatherstephen Avatar

    The only “yes, but” to St. Thomas, would be Schmemann’s objection to the phrase, “only symbolically there.” He argues that this represented a change in the meaning of symbol from the realism of its past – and he makes rather a big deal out of this change.

  59. PJ Avatar

    Mmm. St. Augustine spoke of the Eucharist as a “sign.” Evangelicals love to wave his words about as proof that certain Church fathers denied the reality of the bread and wine as real flesh and read blood. I’ve attempted to explain that what he meant by “sign” is not what we mean by “sign.” I’ve also tried to explain that we do not believe the pit of bread is like a morsel of skin, but both points are typically lost on my interlocutors. Hatred blinds one to all distinction — I think CS Lewis said that.

  60. PJ Avatar

    I was actually surprised to find that Fr. Schmemann buys into the old Protestant myth that the Church borrowed the idea of the sanctifying, grave-giving “mysteries” (sacraments) from the pagans around the time of Constantine.

    Is this the case? This review alleges as much:

    “The author [Fr. Schmemann] adheres to the concept that the idea of “sanctification,” of “mysteries,” and in general of the sanctifying power of sacred rites was foreign to the ancient Church and arose only in the era after Constantine. Although the author denies a direct borrowing of the idea of “mysteries-sacraments” from the pagan mysteries, he nonetheless recognizes the “mysteriality-sacralization” in worship as a new element of “stratification” in this era. “The very word ‘mystery,’ ” he writes, citing the Jesuit scholar (now Cardinal) J. Danielou, “did not originally have the meaning in Christianity that was subsequently given it, a mysteriological meaning; in the New Testament Scriptures it is used only in the singular and in accordance with the general significance of the economy of our salvation. The word ‘mystery’ (mysterion) in Paul and in early Christianity always signified the whole work of Christ, the whole of salvation”; thus, in the author’s opinion, the application of this word even to separate aspects of the work of Christ belongs to the following era.”

    Further on he quotes Fr. Schmemann again:

    “In the early Eucharist there was no idea of a ritual symbolization of the life of Christ and His Sacrifice. This is a theme which will appear later…under the influence of one theology and as the point of departure for another. The remembrance of Christ which He instituted (This do in remembrance of Me) is the affirmation of His ‘Parousia,’ of His presence; it is the actualization of His Kingdom… One may say without exaggeration that the early Church consciously and openly set herself in opposition to mysteriological piety and cults of the mysteries.”

    I admit that I have not read the actual book, but this review has me rethinking spending money on the thing to begin with. I figured Fr. Schmemann would be solidly orthodox. What’s all this, then? Is he being badly misrepresented?

  61. fatherstephen Avatar

    Excellent source quote. However, it’s very easy here to misunderstand what Schmemann is saying (many Orthodox misunderstood him, too. The writer of this article simply has no idea what he is reading). It is not the old Protestant bugaboo of borrowing the mysteries from the pagans for a “non sacramental” Christianity paganized by Constantine. By no means (it is important to note that both the rite of St. Basil and St. John Chrysostom are based on prayers and patterns that predate Constantine. Their name is only lent to something which they approved and which became, more or less fixed under them).

    What Schmemann is saying is that the more pervasive “mystery as eschaton in our midst” is to a large extent replaced (in popular piety) with the sacraments as “holy things” surrounded by a lot of not holy things, a “sacred and profane” mix that is contrary to Scripture and the mind of the Church. He certainly critiques this as the development under medieval Rome (the turning of symbol into something that is “not real”). Instead, the incarnate Christ, does not result in the few holy changes in some bread and some wine, some water here and there, and a bit of oil. He radically reveals the truth of all things, and the universe as the Mystery of God. Surely the bread and wine become His body and blood, but everything is properly revealed to be full of His glory.

    It is the loss of this last piece, substituted with a Christianized “holy thingism” that he is writing about. His eschatological mystery has been postponed by most to a “someday it will be true that…” version of eschatology, which is a violation of almost everything given to us in Christ. In Christ the Kingdom is fulfilled and the universe is revealed as the realm of its fulfillment. It shall be revealed, it’s true, but what will be revealed will not be different than what has been and is being made known in Christ.

    Is that helpful?

  62. Andrew Avatar

    Hugely — thanks for putting into words what icons do with colour Father.

  63. PJ Avatar

    This guy must really be cherry-picking, because many of these quotes are straight out the fundy handbook.

    “In the broadest terms this change may be defined as follows. The ’emphasis’ in the cult of saints shifted from the sacramentally eschatological to the sanctifying and intercessory meaning of veneration of the saints. The remains of the saint, and later even articles belonging to him or having once touched his body, came to be regarded as sacred objects having the effect of communicating their power to those who touched them… The early Church treated the relics of the martyrs with great honor — ‘But there is no indication,’ writes Fr. Delahaye, ‘that any special power was ascribed to relics in this era, or that any special, supernatural result was expected by touching them! Toward the end of the fourth century, however, there is ample evidence to show that in the eyes of believers some special power flowed from the relics themselves’ (quoted from Fr. Delahaye’s book). This new faith helps to explain such facts of the new era as the invention of relics, their division into pieces, and their transfer or translation, as well as the whole development of the veneration of ‘secondary holy objects’ — objects which have touched relics and become in turn themselves sources of sanctifying power

    The original Christocentric significance of the veneration of saints was altered in this intercessory concept. In the early tradition the martyr or saint was first and foremost a witness to the new life and therefore an image of Christ.” The reading of the Acts of the Martyrs in the early Church had as its purpose “to show the presence and action of Christ in the martyr, i.e., the presence in him of the ‘new life.’ It was not meant to ‘glorify’ the saint himself… But in the new intercessory view of the saint the center of gravity shifted. The saint is now an intercessor and a helper… The honoring of saints fell into the category of a Feast Day,” with the purpose of “the communication to the faithful of the sacred power of a particular saint, his special grace… The saint is present and as it were manifested in his relics or icon, and the meaning of his holy day lies in acquiring sanctification (?) by means of praising him or coming into contact with him, which is, as we know, the main element in mysteriological piety.”

    This sounds remarkably like the Reformed Christians I argue with. They are especially fond of belittling icons and ridiculing relics by likening them to animistic totems or other primitive religious devices.

    Nonetheless, if you say Schmemann is top notch, I’ll go ahead and read him. I have that much trust in your judgment. This fellow must really dislike him, to twist his words so. He makes him sound like Hans Kung for crying out loud!

  64. PJ Avatar

    And yes, your explanation was helpful. Perhaps I am myself guilty of this “holy thingism.” ;-/

  65. fatherstephen Avatar

    The polemics during the 60’s and 70’s between ROCOR and the OCA were deeply bitter (especially the attacks on Schmemann and others who were dubbed the “Parisians” – having been part of a Russian theological elite who had settled in Paris following the revolution). The attacks were often poorly grounded theologically, especially with very little understanding of the larger context of theology. Schmemann, Florovsky (who was not particularly attacked), Evdokimov, Meyendorff, Bulgakov (who was his own kettle of fish), as well as some others, were far better educated than their detractors, with much more contact with Western scholarship of a very mature sort. They worked hard on establishing Orthodox theology in a place that was independent of the Westernizing Latin tendencies that had been dominant for several centuries (particularly in Russia). Greece had become something of a theological backwater for a while under the Turkish yoke.

    The attacks on the “Parisians” were very vociferous, though from a very small,vocal minority within Orthodoxy. Because those critics almost always couched the criticism as a championing of “tradition,” it became somewhat popular among those who wanted to prove their traditionalist credentials. However, I find very little accurate understanding of Schmemann’s work among his critics, and I find even less that I would critique. I’ve been criticized because I’m a convert, with the notion that growing up Orthodox with very little education and training somehow makes you a better theologian than someone who has done lots of training, reflection, repentance and careful writing (submitting it for judgment and correction). I’ve got my limitations, no doubt. I try to write within those limitations.

    Sometimes Schmemann is used as a cypher for a “modernizing” trend found among a few American priests. Most of this should not be laid at his door, but simply at some varying culture differences between OCA and ROCOR. Originally, the OCA was not made up of Great Russians fleeing the revolution. It was largely Little Russians (Carpatho, Ruthenians, Ukrainians, etc.) with a large number of converts from the Unia. ROCOR was Great Russian, made up (originally) of exiles, who came first to Western Europe, then America. For a while the two groups were one – with a split occurring in the 50’s (I think it was). Schmemann thus was always dealing with a group (OCA) that was far more Americanized, having been in America for a couple of generations longer (though Schmemann himself was Russian born in Estonia). The questions that dogged the OCA for a long while had to do with the pressures of dealing with congregations that were quickly becoming Americanized (such that clinging to the old world was a losing proposition). ROCOR tended to cling strongly to its Russian identity, but had a very different complexion.

    Much of this is evening out with time. The OCA is over half convert now, so it has no old world identity driving it, other than slavophile wannabe’s like me and my ilk. 🙂 I’ve always loved Russia, and the Russian flavor of Orthodoxy. ROCOR is now reconciled with Moscow so it’s own need to preserve all things Russian is not quite so critical (I would suspect). Both Churches have many members who are new to all this and far more in common than otherwise. Theological education is also become much broader and deeper so that the polemics of earlier decades is lessening. Nonetheless, the critiques are still out on the web. The anti-Schmemann stuff is, frankly, dated.

    I think he is quite solid, when read with understanding. I hope this little vignette of American Orthodoxy is accurate enough and useful, and not so problematic as to cause difficulties for readers – who cross all the jurisdictions.

  66. PJ Avatar

    He reminds me somewhat of the ressourcement crowd, those “conservative reformers” of the Vatican II era: de Lubac, Danielou, Congar, even a certain Joseph Ratzinger. I say “conservative” because, in the aftermath of the Council, they formed in opposition to the liberal reformers like Kung, Schillebeeckx, Rahner, etc. It’s funny to think that the two crowds were once united against the likes of Cardinal Ottaviani and other old school scholastic Catholics. Now Kung is more Protestant than most Protestants, while Ratzinger goes by the nom de guerre of “the Inquisitor.”

  67. James Mahoney Avatar
    James Mahoney

    Well, over a year later, here’s what I promised:

    From the Saint Joseph Daily Missal, 1959, which my Dad used when he was a child:

    “Quam oblationem tu, Deus, in omnibus, quaesumus, benedictam, adscriptam, ratam, rationabilem, acceptabilemque facere digneris…”

    “O God, deign to bless what we offer, and make it approved, effective, right, and wholly pleasing in every way…”

    If I’m following what the translators are doing, “rationabilem” is being translated as “right.” As in, according to right reason? I am more disappointed in this than what the current Roman Missal in English has. Alas. (:

    There are other hand Missals of the “Usus Antiquior.” I wonder what they have.

    Fr. Stephen and PJ, thanks for your replies.

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