The Sacrament of the Heart

Scholars of the New Testament occasionally conjecture about what is termed the ipsissima verba of Christ, the “very words themselves.” It is a term for those sayings that are considered historically authentic beyond question. One saying which in my opinion belongs to such a category are the so-called “words of institution” (“this is my body…this is my blood”). They are certainly the words with the earliest attestation of any spoken by Christ. They can be found in three of the four gospels, and even found within one of St. Paul’s earlier letters (1 Corinthians). St. Paul’s citation is given in a very peculiar form: he describes them as a “tradition” which had been given to him.

For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you: that the Lord Jesus on the same night in which He was betrayed took bread; and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, “Take, eat; this is My body which is broken for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” In the same manner He also took the cup after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.”

The words, “received,” and “delivered,” are technical words, used for the transmission and reception of tradition (indeed the word “delivered,” is the word “traditioned”). St. Paul’s statement is not that he had received some Divine revelation of these words (a voice in his head or from heaven), but that they were words of the Lord Himself which had been “handed down” (paradidomai) to him. Thus we have several separate attestations to these words of Christ: first, St. Paul, then Matthew, Mark and Luke. They certainly belong to the oldest layer of oral Tradition.

It is not insignificant that the oldest layer of oral Tradition should be the Eucharist itself. The Holy Eucharist is not a later ritual development of the young Church, a pagan import or imping of the mystery cults. There is no record of a Christianity without the Eucharist.

Some would perhaps interject that the gospel of St. John omits the story of the last supper. The words, “do this,” etc., are not found in St. John’s gospel. Some foolish scholars go so far as to say, “John knows nothing of a last supper.” St. John says more about the Eucharist than any other gospel, only he says it in the context of the feeding of the 5,000.

Most biblical scholars agree that Christ’s words in John’s 6th chapter are about the Eucharist (“whosoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me and I in him,” etc.), but they see them as “misplaced.” They fail to understand that the feeding of the 5,000 is itself a story of the Eucharist. Indeed, in Matthew, Mark and Luke, Christ uses the words of the Eucharistic tradition in their correct form and order (“take,” “bless,” break,” “give”). The feeding of the 5,000 is a Eucharistic story.

What is lacking in most approaches to these stories is a proper understanding of sacrament. In the hands of Christ, bread always becomes His body: all things become what they truly are. In Christ the Kingdom of God is revealed and made manifest. Thus where Christ goes, “the blind see and the lame walk; the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear; the dead are raised up and the poor have the gospel preached to them” (Matt. 11:5). The sacramental life is not a special instance in which Christ initiates an ecclesiastical ceremony. What the Church may experience as “ceremony” is nothing other than the revelation of the Kingdom of God. Any claim which is less than that is a denial of the ministry of Christ.

What the world is revealed to be is also true of ourselves: in Christ, the sacrament of our humanity is made manifest. I use the term “sacrament” here both to broaden our understanding of the word and to draw attention to what is truly happening within our lives. The mystery of existence, any existence, is only made clear when seen in the light of Christ. It is this mystery of existence that we properly call sacrament. Things are revealed to be what they truly are when they are brought into proper relation to Christ. It is because the truth of all things is sacramental that we can say this.

Nothing in creation is self-existing. The true existence of everything is revealed only in relation to God. As such, creation is sign and symbol, mystery and sacrament. The Orthodox Christian faith bears witness that this is the very nature of creation.

To live in such a creation, it is necessary to live the life of the heart. The ego/mind is useful for judging, critiquing, comparing, measuring, reacting emotionally (when it is doing its useful tasks). However, it is not able to be the primary organ of perception in the sacramental world. The quiet life of the heart generally perceives intuitively, dwells in the present, accepts the reality that God gives in the moment. It does not distance or dominate or label. It is not governed by fear or desire and has no need to defend or justify. It is that within us which is capable of perceiving the sacramental character of creation.

Much that is described as “sacramental” in modern Christian thought is transferred from the heart to the mind. Thus we think about the Body and Blood of Christ and concern ourselves with questions of why and how. We also reduce the sacramentality of the world to the discreet moments that we label as “sacraments.” In this, the mind distances itself and becomes blind to the true nature of reality. We become strangers to creation. If the heart does not perceive the sacramentality of all bread, then it will likely be blind to the true mystery of the bread of the Eucharist.

In the same manner, those who do not perceive the true mystery found in the saints and the Mother of God, will not be able to see the true life of the people around them. The saints are not of note because they are unusual: they are of note because they reveal our true humanity.

The disciples began their ministries in a state of delusion and blindness. They ate many meals with Christ in which He “took, blessed, broke and gave” them bread. They were given the Eucharistic life. They would later remember both the Eucharistic feeding of the 5,000 as well as the Eucharistic revelation of Christ in a meal on the road to Emmaus. It took centuries for those who claimed the name “Christian” to forget the truth of every meal. They would blindly seek to restrict the sacraments and give the land of the Kingdom over to meaninglessness and amnesia.

But the Kingdom of God has come in Christ and the whole world is a sacrament. Christians are called to take, bless, break and give with eyes wide-open. Then the wonder of God’s mystery will unfold before us: every morsel of bread revealed to be His Body; every tree His Cross; and every human being a saint. Then we can begin to love as we are loved and become what we already are.

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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101 responses to “The Sacrament of the Heart”

  1. […] Pick it up!☦Nothing But Orthodoxy☦ var pulltime = 'Wed, 08 Aug 2012 18:17:08 +0000';1) The Sacrament of the Heart fatherstephen on […]

  2. Lenora Bearer Avatar
    Lenora Bearer

    Another home run, Father. God bless you!

  3. frjakob Avatar

    “The Lord is in this place, and I did not know it.” So he was afraid and said: “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven” Genesis 28:16 – 17

    I truly believe that when our ancestor Jakob spke about “this place” he prophisized about the whole world. The earth is none other than the house of God and the gate of heaven.

    Thank you father for sharing your gifts.

  4. breadeater Avatar

    Wow, still unpacking this one…it hurts my head but I like it and must re-read. “Lord open my eyes that I might see.”

  5. Nick D Avatar
    Nick D

    There’s also the Eucharistic passages in the account of the Risen Lord at Emmaus (Luke 24:30) and in John at the seashore (John 21:13). All these Eucharistic passages, and I would include the accounts of the feeding of the multitudes, say that our Lord took bread, gave thanks, broke it, and gave it. Our Eucharistic prayers–whether of Saints Basil or John Chrysostom–repeat these verbs in the same order, but add that He “blessed and hallowed” it, which is found nowhere in Scripture. I offer this in ignorance, something I found when I looked closely at the liturgical prayers of Basil and John Chrysostom and compared them with Scripture.

    On John’s Gospel account of the Last Supper, I believe the Eucharist is there, somewhat veiled, in the account of the washing of the feet. Getting our feet dirty–just living in the world and accumulating minor sins along the way–are washed away by the Eucharist, which is “to those who partake for remission of sins.” Obviously those sins that keep us from the Eucharist–especially the “sins unto death” need to be confessed and repented of.

  6. fatherstephen Avatar

    It has been a commonplace in academic liturgical studies to recognize the four-fold verbal formula in the Eucharist, and its presence in these NT locations. Again, some scholars understand the eucharistic character of those stories, but tend to see them as references to The Eucharist (the Church sacrament) instead of seeing their extension to the sacramental character of these stories themselves (and thus to the Kingdom of God). If there is a mistake in some modern liturgical scholarship, it is making sacraments too small. But there are many who would agree with what I’ve offered here.

    If there is a difference, it is the inherent sacramental (mystical, symbolic, etc.) character of all Orthodox thought and life.

  7. Andrew Avatar

    I’m an inquirer in to the Orthodox faith. The idea of sacrement is still pretty new to me. I feel like there’s something truly beautiful here but I’m only just catching a glimpse of it out of the corner of my eye as it were. Would you be able to point me to some good starting resources on the Orthodox understanding of the sacrementality of life? Thanks in advance!

  8. Westy Goes East Avatar
    Westy Goes East

    The first book that comes to mind, and that helped me as a recent convert, was Father Alexander Schmemann’s wonderful book “For the Life of the World”. His book “Eucharist” was just as good.

  9. The Orthodox Lady Avatar
    The Orthodox Lady

    The first book I read on Orthodoxy was “The Orthodox Church” by Timothy Ware. And you can’t lose with the book by Fr. Stephen himself called “Everywhere Present”.
    Thank you for yet another rich piece of writing Fr. Stephen!

  10. Brian in Baltimore Avatar

    “Much that is described as “sacramental” in modern Christian thought is transferred from the heart to the mind. Thus we think about the Body and Blood of Christ and concern ourselves with questions of why and how.” …

    Isn’t this the truth!? As always, excellent post, Fr. Stephen.

  11. mary benton Avatar

    Father Stephen
    Thank you – this is profound on many levels. Eucharist, sacrament, heart, “In the hands of Christ … all things become what they truly are”, healing and so on.
    There is much to re-read and reflect on here.

  12. Karen Avatar

    Nick D.,

    It seems to me “blessed and hallowed” is probably best regarded as the Church’s expansion on the meaning of Christ’s blessing of the elements of creation. Anything that has been blessed by Christ and thus revealed in its true meaning and connection to Him has also been “hallowed”–that is, made holy and set apart for God’s purposes (which is the same as having its true relationship to Christ revealed). However, I’ll be interested in Fr. Stephen’s take on that. My take is purely intuitive/speculative. Fr. Stephen’s is properly educated and informed.

  13. fatherstephen Avatar

    Westy’s suggestions are spot on. For the Life of the World is probably the best read on the topic. God bless your inquiry!

  14. PJ Avatar

    “Thus we think about the Body and Blood of Christ and concern ourselves with questions of why and how.”

    Concern for “why” and “how” were (and are) sadly necessary, given the existence of so many treacherous heresies. The eastern churches never had to deal with the blasphemies of Berengar, Waldo, Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, and so on. Just as “consubstantial” is a reaction to Arianism, so “transubstantiation” is a reaction to Berengar. Indeed, the word was first used by Hildebert de Lavardin, an archbishop from Tours, Berengar’s home turf.

    “If the heart does not perceive the sacramentality of all bread, then it will likely be blind to the true mystery of the bread of the Eucharist.”

    But there is a difference between the “sacramentality” of the bread I eat at lunch and the bread I eat during communion, no? So the dichotomy remains. Christ is not present in a tree the way He is present in the Holy Eucharist. I understand this “world as sacrament” idea — the universe is the means by which created persons come to know and fellowship with the Uncreated Persons of the Trinity — but mustn’t we afford special status to the ‘liturgical mysteries,’ as we may call them?

  15. mary benton Avatar

    Hi PJ – I will be interested in Father Stephen’s response to your comment – as it is a good comment. My thoughts are certainly less educated. Nothing we say or do should ever attempt to detract from the liturgical mysteries – they are our connection to the most holy of all human experience. Yet through them I believe we can come to better see the complete holiness of all of creation. I do not often eat my lunch with my eyes open to the holiness of what I have been given – but sometimes, when I consciously “have lunch with God”, I see more the great gift in the grains in the bread that I eat. My heart learns from Eucharist to see God more fully in a sacramental world (no less in Eucharist but more in the people/objects to where my eyes are blind).

  16. fatherstephen Avatar

    I’m not particularly sure that I would make such a distinction. I think, sometimes, it would be like the disciples saying at the feeding of the 5000, “Well this is really excellent, but not as good as the Last Supper is gonna be.” These distinctions are the work of the mind, that makes such distinctions not because it perceives something, but because of intellectually agreed a priori notions. Before long you’re simply back to an empty world that is “theoretically sacramental.”

    Let things be what they are rather than deciding what they should be. What they should be is an accurate description of what most people bring (at best) to the Eucharist, and they perceive pretty much nothing. We must speak the truth among ourselves. I’ll stand by the statement as made in the article.

    A question: what does it mean to say that Christ is not present in the same way? Is He less present? Is less of Him present? Is He inaccessibly present? Should we say, “The universe is one-storey, but some parts are more one-storey than others?”

    It is indeed possible to say that the sacramentality of bread is somehow different than the mystery of the Eucharist – but it’s probably not a very useful thing to say. Better to meditate on the sacramentality of bread and the mystery of the Eucharist and be silent.

  17. frjakob Avatar

    PJ, I understand your point. I understand it becuase I sometimes catch myself thinking that “liturgy on Sunday is special, it is set apart”. But I also believe that it is us, man, that has come up with this thinking. So, since we think this way we feel that the “set apart bread” is “special” (becuase we give it that designation). I think we would be better of in having thinking that “bread is bread”, “wine is wine”. Not to take away from the awesome mystery of the Eucharist but to recognice that all of life, all of creation is awesome mystery.

  18. PJ Avatar

    With all due respect, it sounds to this ear (which admittedly belongs a layman with no formal training) that you are denying, at least implicitly, the doctrine of that the Eucharist is really, truly the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. I have never seen any father dare equate the Eucharist with common bread. Let us examine a few sources.

    The Catechism of St. Philaret tells us:

    315. What is the Communion?

    The Communion is a Sacrament, in which the believer, under the forms of bread and wine, partakes of the very Body and Blood of Christ, to everlasting life.

    316. How was this Sacrament instituted?

    Jesus Christ, immediately before his passion, consecrated it for the first time, exhibiting in it by anticipation a lively image of his sufferings for our salvation; and after having administered it to the Apostles, he gave them at the same time a commandment ever after to perpetuate this Sacrament.

    317. What is to be noticed of the Sacrament of the Communion in regard to divine service in the Church?

    This: that it forms the chief and most essential part of divine service.

    338. What is the most essential act in this part of the Liturgy?

    The utterance of the words which Jesus Christ spake in instituting the Sacrament: Take, eat; this is my body. Drink ye all of it; for this is my Blood of the New Testament. Matt. xxvi. 26, 27, 28. And after this the invocation of the Holy Ghost, and the blessing the gifts, that is, the bread and wine which have been offered.

    339. Why is this so essential?

    Because at the moment of this act the bread and wine are changed, or transubstantiated, into the very Body of Christ, and into the very Blood of Christ.

    340. How are we to understand the word transubstantiation T

    In the exposition of the faith by the Eastern Patriarchs, it is said that the word transubstantiation is not to be taken to define the manner in which the bread and wine are changed into the Body and Blood of the Lord; for this none can understand but God; but only thus much is signified, that the bread truly, really, and substantially becomes the very true Body of the Lord, and the wine the very Blood of the Lord. In like manner John Damascene, treating of the Holy and Immaculate Mysteries of the Lord, writes thus: ‘It is truly that Body, united with Godhead, which had its origin from the Holy Virgin; not as though that Body which ascended came down from heaven, but because the bread and wine themselves are changed into the Body and Blood of God. But if thou seekest after the manner how this is, let it suffice thee to be told that it is by the Holy Ghost; in like manner as, by the same Holy Ghost, the Lord formed flesh to himself, and in himself, from the Mother of God; nor know I aught more than this, that the Word of God is true, powerful, and almighty, but its manner of operation unsearchable.”

    You clearly have a “setting apart” of the Eucharist, which is the “most essential act” of the liturgy.


    St. Athanasius writes, “So long as the prayers of supplication and entreaties have not been made, there is only bread and wine. But after the great and wonderful prayers have been completed, then the bread is become the Body, and the wine the Blood, of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

    St. Cyril of Jerusalem writes, “For just as the bread and the wine of the Eucharist before the holy invocation of the adorable Trinity were simple bread and wine, but the invocation having been made, the bread becomes the Body of Christ and the wine the Blood of Christ.”

    St. Gregory of Nyssa writes, “The bread again is at first common bread; but when the mystery sanctifies it, it is called and actually becomes the Body of Christ. So too the mystical oil, so too the wine; if they are things of little worth before the blessing, after their sanctification by the Spirit each of them has its own superior operation. This same power of the word also makes the priest venerable and honorable, separated from the generality of men by the new blessing bestowed upon him.”

    And so on and so on. The Eucharist is the “source and summit of Christian life,” as the Catholic fathers of Vatican II declared. You need not listen to them: those holy men we share in common make clear that the Eucharist is something especially holy, uniquely precious.

    Isn’t this clear from the prayer in the Liturgy of St. Chrysostom?

    ” I believe and confess, Lord, that You are truly the Christ, the Son of the living God, who came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the first. I also believe that this is truly Your pure Body and that this is truly Your precious Blood. Therefore, I pray to You, have mercy upon me, and forgive my transgressions, voluntary and involuntary, in word and deed, known and unknown. And make me worthy without condemnation to partake of Your pure Mysteries for the forgiveness of sins and for life eternal. Amen.

    How shall I, who am unworthy, enter into the splendor of Your saints? If I dare to enter into the bridal chamber, my clothing will accuse me, since it is not a wedding garment; and being bound up, I shall be cast out by the angels. In Your love, Lord, cleanse my soul and save me.

    Loving Master, Lord Jesus Christ, my God, let not these holy Gifts be to my condemnation because of my unworthiness, but for the cleansing and sanctification of soul and body and the pledge of the future life and kingdom. It is good for me to cling to God and to place in Him the hope of my salvation.

    Receive me today, Son of God, as a partaker of Your mystical Supper. I will not reveal Your mystery to Your adversaries. Nor will I give You a kiss as did Judas. But as the thief I confess to You: Lord, remember me in Your kingdom.”

    Unless we eat the Flesh and drink the Blood of the Lord, there is no life in us. Christ Himself says as much. He does not say, “Eat whatever you like — lobster, corn, steak, it’s all good — and you’ll have life within you.”

    As for this, “Better to meditate on the sacramentality of bread and the mystery of the Eucharist and be silent,” I can ask: Would you have recommended Athanasius just meditate on the consubstantiality of the Son and the Father and the mystery of the Trinity and be silent? I think not.

    When error abounds, it is important that the Church speak with clarity and force. As Paul instructed, “Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine” (II Timothy 4:2).

    By your logic, there is no need for councils or anathemas or excommunication, all of which are sanctioned by Scripture and Tradition.

    The “one-storey universe” doesn’t logically demand the equal distribution of grace. It is not threatened by the priority of the Eucharist as the greatest and most wonderful mystery.

  19. PJ Avatar

    Fr. Jakob,

    “PJ, I understand your point. I understand it becuase I sometimes catch myself thinking that “liturgy on Sunday is special, it is set apart”. But I also believe that it is us, man, that has come up with this thinking. So, since we think this way we feel that the “set apart bread” is “special” (becuase we give it that designation). I think we would be better of in having thinking that “bread is bread”, “wine is wine”. Not to take away from the awesome mystery of the Eucharist but to recognice that all of life, all of creation is awesome mystery.”

    All creation is an awesome mystery. No argument there.

    But that does not demand total uniformity of grace, as though God is the great Socialist in the Sky. Certain things are “set apart” because of their great holiness. This is clear throughout all of Scripture and Tradition.

    Furthermore, all the fathers tell us that the Eucharist is the heart of Christian life, that it is especially awesome and wonderful.

    I am shocked to find such resistance to this reality, which is everywhere present in the liturgy, the fathers, and the Scripture.

  20. PJ Avatar

    “These distinctions are the work of the mind, that makes such distinctions not because it perceives something, but because of intellectually agreed a priori notions. ”

    These “a prior notions,” as you call them, are thoroughly Biblical and patristic, Father. I’m amazed by your evasiveness on this issue. You sound rather like a Protestant.

    The fathers literally gush with awe and reverence for the Eucharist, which they know to be truly and really the Body and Blood of the Lord Jesus Christ. They exhibit fear and trembling before the Mystery of Mysteries, as it is called. I can’t imagine them writing such bold statements — speaking of it as though it’s nothing unusual! My Lord!

  21. fatherstephen Avatar

    Nothing evasive in my answer. But you’ve turned things around. I’m an Orthodox priest, and I in no way lack in reverence for the holy Eucharist – which is truly and really the Body and Blood of Christ. What I am affirming, however, is the other side of things – the sacramentality of all creation. I do not diminish the Eucharist, I marvel at its true extent.

    My concern was not to be evasive, but to avoid, if you will, engaging this on the level of the “mind.” The distinctions you are making, theologically correct, become problematic in the life of piety. Our struggle is not with correct theology – it is with the fact that we’ve been formed and shaped by a secular culture and though we profess the theology of the Church, we have no perception of the very thing we profess.

    I’m not trying to expound a doctrine of the Eucharist, but to expound the mystery of creation as sacrament.

    The patristic quotes are of little use in this. St. Athanasius is writing about this in another manner and it is not useful in this. Philaret (his catechism) is certainly Orthodox, but is a very good example of what Florovsky calls the “Western Captivity.” It’s just Roman Eucharistic theology – it is not said in a manner that the Orthodox would generally speak today.

    It is of little use to discuss the how, etc., of the Eucharist, when we stare blindly at it’s opacity. It has become opaque to us because our hearts are hardened and we do not see the truth of things. It doesn’t matter if we say things correctly when we see nothing. I still hold that if we cannot see the sacramentality of simple bread, we will not see the mystery of the Eucharist. This is because to rightly see one is to rightly see the other – and not to see one is not to see the other.

    The Eucharist is more than a Churchly moment – it is the salvation of all creation. The created becomes Uncreated. The Eucharist is the fulfillment of the Eschaton. All things find their fulfillment in the Eucharist. We not only receive Christ’s Body and Blood, but receive the glorified creation. The bread of the Eucharist is itself a “sacrament” of all creation (“the work of human hands” to quote the Roman rite). We offer to God, “Thine own of Thine own.”

    Far from denying any aspect of the Eucharist, I am affirm its fullness. And I am doing that in harmony with the Orthodox faith and in the face of a dominant Christian denial of the sacramentality of God’s good creation. But if you want to understand what I’m saying, then look within yourself and look at the truth of what you see and don’t see. I don’t mean to disparage the doctrine – but doctrine that is not truly experienced is just words. It is these “just words” that I’m referring to as a priori notions.

    The doctrine of the Church, and the Biblical and Patristic teachings, are not a priori notions. But they are only truly known and professed in the heart. Thus they are known and spoken in a manner distinct from how they are known and spoken from the mind. In the Orthodox liturgy the deacon cries to the people, “Let us love one another that with one mind (nous) and one heart we may confess, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, the Trinity, One in Essence and Undivided.” And then we say the Creed. It is not possible to rightly say the Creed if we do not love one another. Without love it is just noise (cf. 1 Cor. 13). Unless perceived and known in the heart, talk of the sacraments is just talk (“a priori notions”).

  22. PJ Avatar

    I suppose that, as usual, I don’t feel that we need to reject the mind in order to live by the heart. This is very Catholic, of course, but I don’t think it is alien to Orthodoxy, either, which has a scholastic tradition of its own (established prior to any “Roman captivity”).

    It seems to me that the Church has always emphasized that doctrine is greatly important, while at the same time recognizing that we are not saved by right thinking, but by right relationship with God.

    After all, the creeds of the councils were written to edify and enlighten the faithful, but also to educate heretics. Had this not been the case, the Church never would have assembled in the first place: it would have gone on worshiping correctly, ignoring the ignorant and allowing heretics to stew in self-imposed darkness.

    As for the Eucharist, all I mean to establish is that it is Jesus Christ — body, blood, soul, divinity — and thus in a category of its own. I, for one, do not think this damages the one-story universe: after all, a one-story house is full of all different sorts of objects, some of which are more important or more expensive than others. Christ Himself named the Eucharist to be paramount among the mysteries of His kingdom.

  23. Karen Avatar

    PJ, respectfully, could I request that you slow down your postings at times like this and wait to see what response may be given? Forgive me, if I’m off target here, but it seems to me your difficulty with Fr. Stephen’s comments stems from *your interpretation* of those as being a sort of “dumbing down” of the meaning of the Eucharist. I do not believe for a moment that is what Father is saying. And now he has confirmed that in his own comment.

    I do believe the Church’s emphasis and insistence on the real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist is precisely in order that, in learning to so recognize and worship Him there (no doubt whatsoever that He IS THERE), we will begin to perceive all of Creation in its right use and proper relationship to Christ as literally alive with the radiance of God’s Presence, Who is (in the words of one of the most oft-repeated Orthodox prayers and as the title of Fr. Stephen’s book says) “everywhere present and filling all things.”

    Here I can’t help but think of the various theophanies in the Old Testament as instances of the revelation of this Eucharistic reality of all things where the patriarchs suddenly perceived, “Surely the LORD is in this place, and I did not know it!” (Genesis 28:16) or “I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved.” (Genesis 36:30). Moses and the burning bush is another instance like this, also the rock from which Moses brought forth water and the manna that fell from heaven in the wilderness. We are told in the NT that Jesus is the true bread (manna) from heaven and He *is* the rock from which the OT forefathers drank (John 6:32-33, 1 Corinthians 10:4).

  24. frjakob Avatar

    I wanted to express that the Eucharist is not “common” (as you so fervently pointed out) but the Eucharist makes the “common” holy (whole). And in a Eucharistic reality everything in creation deserves our awe. Yes, some things are set apart, but in the eschaton of things is not the whole of creation set apart for the glory of God?

  25. fatherstephen Avatar

    You err in thinking that the words of the fathers and the councils are mere reason and can be discussed as such. Councils, anathemas, etc. are all necessary, but not by meeting mere reason with mere reason. The words of the Councils have force because they carry the Holy Spirit. No heretic was ever converted by the reasoning of the words, but by the Spirit was brought to accept the true force of the words which is God Himself.

    Confronted with the spiritual demands of the heart, you run to the defense of the mind. As I am using the term, the mind is indefensible in these matters. As I am using the term, it is the “flesh,” which cannot perceive spiritual things. There is a use of reason, rightly guided by the heart. But what you are offering is the misuse of reason. I am not denying any Council or doctrine or teaching of the Church.

    As to grace, according to Orthodox doctrine, it is nothing other than the Divine Energies. God only comes in fullness. You can’t get “part” of God. There are certainly ways in which He differentiates His Divine energy. We can speak in that manner. I am not saying that every bread is the Eucharist. But all bread is Eucharistic.

    For the purposes of this article, the distinction is of little importance. The point is the heart that can perceive both. When you can perceive neither, it is of little point to discuss the distinction.

  26. PJ Avatar

    This is, quite appropriately, the feast of Blessed Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein), martyred at Auschwitz, whose philosophical genius was no doubt critical in awakening her spiritual genius.

  27. Margaret Avatar

    Fr. Meletios Webber’s book, “Bread, Water, Wine and Oil: An Orthodox Christian Experience of God” has been immensely helpful toward my understanding of the mind and the heart and Orthodox Christian worship.

  28. fatherstephen Avatar

    I am not familiar with her. Rome and Orthodoxy are in many ways miles apart in the understanding of the mind and heart – though the same writings are often authoritative in the matter. But certain forms of monastic spirituality are, more or less, seen as interesting options (“spiritualities”) in Rome. There is no distinction between monastic and lay “spirituality” in Orthodoxy, and there is only one monasticism. It makes the Orthodox understanding of these things much more integrated to all of Orthodoxy than is true in Rome. It is one of those places where the “ethos” of both are so foreign to one another.

    In Orthodoxy, the union of mind and heart, are not one thing, they are part of the One Thing. It is this sense of the One Thing (as in the “One Thing Needful”) that makes it possible for me to say such things as “unless you view the sacramentality of bread, you will not be able to see the sacrament of the Eucharist”). It is simply one expression of the One Thing. The life of the heart is not a special thing, or even merely desirable, it is part of working out our salvation. Most of us will only engage this to a small degree, but engaging it is not optional for an Orthodox Christian. The life of the ego is no life at all.

  29. simmmo Avatar

    Thank-you Father. I think those of us who have been brought up in the various Western traditions (particularly the Protestant traditions) tend to think about the Eucharist and the atonement in abstract theories. In fact, the Reformed confessions (e.g. Westminster catechism) dogmatized just one theory of the atonement. The operative word is “think” – as you have alluded to above, it is all in the mind for Westerners, especially for Protestants. (Note that these Protestant Confessions went much further than any of the Councils)

    Jesus, on the other hand, gave us a meal not a theory. All the wrangling over theories has really prevented us from coming to the cross/Eucharist and simply saying “thank-you”. When I say that these western arguments about the meaning of the Eucharist have “prevented” us from giving thanks I mean this quite literally (as well as spiritually). As you know, many Protestant groups have almost ignored this sacrament.

    As to now, I have not been part of a Church that is sacramental in its world view. So I don’t think I’ve really understood the power of the Eucharist in transforming our view of the world – seeing the world as a sacrament, seeing Jesus in the least of men (Matt 25). Meeting Christ in the Eucharist, then letting this shape how we live. I think that I am moving in this direction.

  30. fatherstephen Avatar

    The more you see and understand the Eucharist, the more impossible it is to live without it.

  31. orthodoxwomen Avatar

    beautiful thoughts! Thank you!

  32. handmaid leah Avatar

    wonderful Fr Stephen!
    I posted this on my blog tonight and then wandered over here… Its from Elder Paisios
    “The Holy Fathers saw everything with the spiritual, the divine eye. Patristic tests were written in the spirit of God and it was in the spirit of God that the Holy Fathers gave their interpretations. Today this spirit is lacking and Patristic texts are hard to understand. People see everything with secular eyes and cannot see beyond that; they do not have the breadth of spirit that results form faith and love.”

  33. mary benton Avatar

    “My longing for truth was a single prayer.” – Edith Stein

    I suspect her dissertation for her doctorate in Philosophy was much longer than this – she was not yet a Christian. But as a seeker of truth, she found Him, heart and mind together.

  34. Karen Avatar

    Leah, that’s a very apt quote, indeed!

    I decided today to pick up and start using as a “heart-warmer” St. John’s The Ladder of Divine Ascent. Perusing the introduction, I came across a quote (below), which I think may underscore a part of the point Fr. Stephen is trying to make for PJ, that the truth of things cannot be explained or defined with the mind that merely conceptualizes, but must be experienced/encountered through the heart which loves, i.e., exists in communion with God, in order to be *known* in any true Orthodox biblical sense of that word (1 Corinthians 2).

    St. John says that the goal of the teacher of true Orthodox faith (spirituality), is not to “give instruction by copying out what other people say.” Rather, he is one who uses his own experience and what he has seen for himself to help him guide another “to the point of crisis and confrontation” so that the disciple, through his own experience, comes to see for himself the same things. Taking as an example, he discusses the experience of the beauty of (true) prayer. He says:

    “Do you imagine that plain words can . . . describe the love of God . . . and assurance of the heart? Do you imagine that talk of such matters will mean anything to someone who has never experienced them? If you think so, then you will be like a man who with words and examples tries to convey the sweetness of honey to people who have never tasted it. He talks uselessly.”

    As the Eucharistic hymn for the Orthodox “Presanctified Liturgy” states, “O, taste and see that the Lord is good.”

  35. Karen Avatar

    PJ comments:

    “I suppose that, as usual, I don’t feel that we need to reject the mind in order to live by the heart. This is very Catholic, of course, but I don’t think it is alien to Orthodoxy, either, which has a scholastic tradition of its own (established prior to any “Roman captivity”).”

    PJ, I suspect that along with the term “mind,” you are using the word “scholastic” in a different sense than Fr. Stephen as well, and perhaps some further clarification will help.

    There is a sense in which your comment is quite correct. Again, from the introduction in my copy of The Ladder (this is coming in handy tonight!), it is mentioned that St. John has the title in Greek of “John the Scholastic,” and goes on to explain that this term “scholastikos” can mean “lawyer,” but is “more often applied to someone who is well educated or widely read, and this seems to be the sense in John’s case.”

    So in the sense of being well educated/widely read and drawing from their education and learning in their articulation of the faith as opposed to various heresies, the Greek Fathers were indeed also “scholastikos,” and the Eastern Orthodox have a “scholastic tradition” in this sense.

    On the other hand, Fr. Stephen employs this term “Scholastic” as a descriptor in a more narrow sense to reflect a particular philosophical approach or method to attaining what is termed “knowledge” that came to predominate in the Western Christian theological traditions (see Wikipedia definition below). This Scholastic method is actually quite different from the biblical way of “knowing” St. Paul alludes to to in 1 Corinthians 2, this biblical sense being the Orthodox understanding of true theological “knowledge.” Hence St. John of the Ladder’s description (in my comment above) of the role of the instructor in Orthodox monastic tradition (as Fr. Stephen points out, this is the same as Orthodox spiritual tradition in general, whether in or out of the monastery.)

    From Wikipedia:

    “Scholasticism is a method of critical thought which dominated teaching by the academics (scholastics, or schoolmen) of medieval universities in Europe from about 1100–1500, and a program of employing that method in articulating and defending orthodoxy in an increasingly pluralistic context. It originated as an outgrowth of, *and a departure from,* Christian monastic schools.[1]
    Not so much a philosophy or a theology as a method of learning, scholasticism places a strong emphasis on dialectical reasoning to extend knowledge by inference, and to resolve contradictions. Scholastic thought is also known for rigorous conceptual analysis and the careful drawing of distinctions. In the classroom and in writing, it often takes the form of explicit disputation: a topic drawn from the tradition is broached in the form of a question, opponents’ responses are given, a counterproposal is argued and opponent’s arguments rebutted.”

    The phrase surrounded by asterisks is a detail I have highlighted in this description that I think is key to understanding why Orthodoxy retains an entirely different “ethos” from that of the Roman Catholic Church, and one that is experienced as rather “foreign” to those of us schooled in the Western Christian traditions, whether Roman Catholic or Protestant. I hope this helps to eliminate some of the confusion in the discussion.

    In conclusion, might I offer the thesis that whereas in Orthodoxy, scholastic knowledge is subsumed within and made to serve real spiritual experiential knowledge, in the Medieval Scholastic tradition, this order has often become reversed? Would that be fair to say?

  36. PJ Avatar


    I think you would be surprised by Catholic spirituality if you were actually familiar with it. It is my experience that Orthodox have a great many misconceptions about Catholicism. Perhaps this is because so many Orthodox convert from Protestantism, and take their anti-“Roman” biases with them. I’ve long suspected that your suspicions and even hostility toward the Church is part of your Protestant heritage.

    For instance, this notion that there is a clerical or monastic spirituality on one hand, and a lay spirituality on the other hand, is not at all the case, although many Catholics were under this delusion for a time. The fathers of Vatican II went to great lengths to underscore this point; to reiterate the universal call to holiness through chastity, obedience, and poverty (rightly understood). This was also the motivation for the creation of such fellowships as Opus Dei and Communion and Liberation, not to mention the “third orders” of the various monastic traditions.


    I agree that “the truth of things cannot be explained or defined with the mind that merely conceptualizes, but must be experienced/encountered through the heart which loves, i.e., exists in communion with God, in order to be *known* in any true Orthodox biblical sense of that word.” Absolutely. What I reject, however, is the idea that the mind has NO place in the process, that it is somehow burdensome or an obstacle to holiness.

    As I wrote in a post that seems to have disappeared into the cyber-ether, it seems to me that reason is a “form” of grace, so to speak. We could say that what is begun by the mind is consummated by the heart.

    Scripture tells us, “For from the greatness and the beauty of created things their original Author, by analogy, is seen.” This analogy, perceived by reason, was the beginning of my own journey toward Christ. Of course, the mind (reason) can only take a person so far. At some point, the heart (love) must take over.

    It appears that many Orthodox, in reaction to the scholasticism of the so-called Latin captivity, have gone too far in the other direction, denying that there is any role for the mind and viewing reason as a hindrance. This seems an unfair denigration of a great gift. Indeed, it is perhaps even impious, for our rationality is certainly a facet of our likeness to the Divine.

    “Faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth; and God has placed in the human heart a desire to know the truth—in a word, to know himself—so that, by knowing and loving God, men and women may also come to the fullness of truth about themselves.” –Blessed Pope John Paul II, Fides et Ratio (

  37. Yaakov Avatar

    Thanks to Handmaid Leah for posting this conversation w/ the Elder Paisios:

    “- Elder, when I feel my heart become hard like a stone, what should I do?

    – Your problem is not a hard heart but a mind-driven heart. Your entire heart has been taken over by your mind and is now at its service. But there is still a chance for your heart to go back. Each day you must read prayers to the Theotokos. If you want your heart to get back in shape, that’s the best medicine. You do have a heart, but it has been clouded by “logic”…. Things are different in the spiritual life. What is needed is simplicity. Act with simplicity and trust in God.”

  38. Yaakov Avatar

    Father, did you perhaps mean that the more you see the Eucharist the more “impossible it is to live without”?

  39. fatherstephen Avatar

    Thanks! I got tangled up in the multiple negatives. English doesn’t formally allow for double negatives, but the dialect I spoke as a child does – and occasionally I get tangled in it. I’m a child of Appalachia.

  40. fatherstephen Avatar

    Forgive me, PJ, but where does Scripture say, “by analogy”?

  41. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    PJ, I don’t think that most Orthodox would disagree with you that the mind has a place in our journey to God. God made it after all, His grace infuses it with knowledge when we allow it to. The point is abour the proper order, i.e., the anthropological hierarch so to speak.

    Unfortuantely, the rational mind, as Elder Paisios points out tends to make things complicated and has difficulty simply allowing for the reality of God’s presence to break through

    Still, the Orthodox Church has produced some of the most brilliant theological writings that the Christian Tradition has. The Cappadocian Fathers and others of that time mangage to take Hellenistic philosophy and digest it in such a way that it became Christian. No mean feat.

    The unfortunate thing IMO is that the west largely ignored their work and tried to start all over again when it encountered Aristotle and Plato anew.

    I also do not dispute, in general, your observation that too many Orthodox carry anti-Catholic feelings. In my own case they stemmed not from Protestanism, but from seeing several of my dearest friends spiritually raped and abandoned by the RCC. That took a long time to get past and I’m still working on it. Your, usually, patient explanations help. It is easy to compare the worst of someone else’s tradtion with the best of your own. It is refreshing to see a knowledgeable, dedicated Catholic. Not my typical experience.

  42. PJ Avatar


    “For from the greatness and the beauty of created things
    their original Author, by analogy, is seen” (Wisdom of Solomon 13:5).

    That’s from the Missal, which I believe is the New American. The Orthodox Study Bible puts it very similarly:

    “For from the greatness and beauty of
    created things
    The Creator is seen by analogy.”

    In the Septuagint, ἀναλόγως, analogos, right?

  43. PJ Avatar

    “But from seeing several of my dearest friends spiritually raped and abandoned by the RCC.”

    That’s awful, though surely these tragedies are not exclusive to Catholicism. I’ve been to a handful of Orthodox churches and I’m always amazed (and saddened) by how old the congregations are. This is, of course, the case with many Catholic parishes, as well as many mainline Protestant churches. Entire generations of western Christians have abdicated their spiritual responsibilities — and many of these people are clerics!

  44. Ken Avatar

    There is no record of a Christianity without the Eucharist. Genius in simplicity. Dominus Vobiscum !

  45. Karen Avatar

    PJ, thanks for your reply. Yes, I agree that this is not to say that the reasoning mind has no place in the process of our sanctification. The mind itself must become sanctified. In Orthodox parlance, the mind must “descend into the heart” and be properly ordered there. If you haven’t read it, you might pick up a copy of Fr. Meletios Webber’s book, mentioned by Margaret above. Fr. Stephen’s reference to “mind” in his particular sense and discursive reason as a function of the ego is a specific aspect of our fallen human “mind” that is expounded upon by Fr. Meletios in this book in a very helpful way. He would also distinguish between a proper use of the reasoning mind and the ego-driven use of the reasoning mind. One of the distinctions he makes between this ego-driven aspect of the “mind,” and the proper God-directed use of the mind is that the first is where your thoughts have you, the second is where you have your thoughts. I want to make a point of emphasizing also that “mind” in this sense in Orthodoxy is inclusive of both thoughts and emotions, (emotions being merely the body’s response to thoughts). The thoughts/emotions distinction within Orthodoxy is *not* one of mind=thoughts and heart=emotions as is more common in Western thinking. Rather both thoughts and feelings in Orthodoxy are products of the human “mind.” The “heart” in this particular Orthodox use, as I think Fr. Stephen has explained elsewhere in his blog, refers to the deeper faculty of spiritual perception and the seat of a person’s capacity for direct experiential awareness of God. Forgive me if I’m merely repeating here something you have already read and digested.

    If you haven’t done so, I do think it is very important to give yourself some time/opportunity to reflect on these different nuances vis-a-vis your own experience for discussion here to be most fruitful.

    In your quote from Pope John Paul II regarding “faith and reason,” how would you define “faith” on the one hand and “reason” on the other in the sense being used here?

    I, too, made a long post regarding your mention of Orthodoxy’s own “scholastic tradition” (probably superfluous anyway) that disappeared into the “cyber-ether!”

  46. PJ Avatar


    Good points. I’ll take your offer for some time to think!

  47. Karen Avatar

    Regarding Fr. Stephen’s brief comment on the Roman Catholic assertion that we can come to understand truth “by analogy.” From an Orthodox perspective, we do not come to truly “know” in the biblical and experiential sense (the only sense that has any spiritual import, btw) anything of a spiritual nature by analogy, but rather by direct experience (via the faculty of the heart). It may be true to say, however, that these experiential spiritual realities can only be expressed in words in an apophatic way through the use of analogy. The analogies as well as propositional statements of “truth” may then be seen not as defining descriptions, but rather as signposts that point the way, but not the point of actual arrival at the spiritual reality. Another way to put this is, if we have actually come to experience the spiritual reality itself, we may then recognize–in an intuitive “Aha!” sort of way, the use of an apt analogy (or the truth of a statement of the Scriptures, perhaps). But, as with my example in an earlier comment from St. John of the Ladder, if a person has not yet had such a spiritual encounter, any analogy, no matter how reasonable or apt, will leave him just as in the dark as he was before.

  48. fatherstephen Avatar

    The Latin model of faith and reason is problematic in many ways to Orthodoxy. The single most important treatment of it is found in the Hesychast Controversy of the 14th century, the champion of Hesychasm being St. Gregory Palamas. It is something of a specific refutation of Latin scholasticism.
    There is no a disparaging of the true mind (which would include the proper use of reason) but only when it is in union with the heart, and thus a human being perceiving and thinking in a proper wholeness. There is a penchant in the West for “two things” (faith and reason are good examples – grace/law, OT/NT, faith/works, word/sacrament, etc.). It likes two-wings, two-lungs, and the notion of balance. The idea of balance is largely foreign to Orthodox thought. Orthodoxy instead would speak of fullness in which everything (and not just two) is present in its proper measure and relationship. It is rather organic and integrated.

    The bifurcations of Western thought, centered in the notion of balance tend to produce the notion of compromise rather than integration. The result is almost invariably one-sided with lip-service paid to balance. Things don’t work in balance – it’s a false model of the world and created systems. Things work in harmony, integration and symphony. The human body is not “balanced.” This notion grows out of our need to identify systems and describe them in isolation. In truth, the Body functions as one thing, and everything is related to everything. We frequently kill people (or injure them) by not knowing enough about this.

    Reason never functions properly in isolation and cannot actually be considered in isolation except in an impaired state (the way I am using the word “mind” or “ego” in this series of writings). It its proper state, it is governed by the heart and acts in union with the heart and is not impaired. There is a vast difference between the mind in its impaired state and in its state of fullness. The teaching of the Hesychastic fathers is that we begin with the heart – to learn to know it, to enter it, to remain in it, to pray from within it, and to unite the mind to the heart and dwell there. This inner union is a healing of one of the fragmentations within us and is a crucial part of the life of salvation.

    Hesychasm was defined by the Hesychastic Councils of the 14th century. The last of these, in 1351, defined Hesychasm as the doctrine of the Orthodox Church.

    In conversations with RC theologians, it would probably be possible to find common language – but a common ethos is much harder to come by. Particularly when Rome tends to want to make Orthodoxy one of two things. The thoughts, when politely accepted by Orthodox thinkers, is always impolitely rejected by the faithful and thus does not stand as an Orthodox teaching. Thus, the “two lung” theory of the Church, or the concept of “Sister Churches,” though offered in such past dialogs, has been rejected by the faithful as not accurately expressing Orthodox self-understanding.

    One of the problems in the Wisdom passage’s use of analogy, is the later Roman definition of analogy being read into it. Eastern teaching would read analogia as a larger term for mystically, typologically, symbolically, etc., and not simply as the use of reason comparing two things. The Eastern view would much more accurately represent the cultural Platonism of the period during which Wisdom was written.

  49. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    PJ, such things are not exclusive to the RCC. I did not mean to imply that they are. However, it was the bulk of my experience with the RCC and one of the main reasons I never considered joining her.

    The reality of fullness as experienced in the Orthodox Church has been enormously healing for me. The bi-furcation dilemma was one I had faced my entire life before coming to the Church. Even in my unknowing, I sensed the essential falseness of such bi-furcation.
    The modern mind is obssessed, IMO, with false dicotomies of all sorts.

    Fr. Stephen does an excellent job of explaining it, but the reality experienced is far deeper yet. Lossky in his book “The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church” disccuses at length the antinomies of the Christian faith, the greatest of these is that Jesus Christ is fully man and fully God. Most heresies have arisen out of the inability of man’s rational mind (uncoupled from the heart) to accept the wholeness of that. Instead, we tend to, as Fr. Stehpen mentions, go to one side or the other. We emphasize the divinity of Christ over his humanity or vice versa.

    Some things just are. Whether we understand them or not is not really all that important as long as we accept them and enter into them.

  50. Yaakov Avatar

    “I think you would be surprised by Catholic spirituality if you were actually familiar with it. It is my experience that Orthodox have a great many misconceptions about Catholicism. Perhaps this is because so many Orthodox convert from Protestantism, and take their anti-”Roman” biases with them. I’ve long suspected that your suspicions and even hostility toward the Church is part of your Protestant heritage.”

    I used to be Roman Catholic and I think Fr. Stephen is correct. (I was a convert to R.C. and taught classes in R.C. Spirituality and R.C. bible study)

    As you stated, the fathers of Fatican II did act to remove ‘delusions’. However, it’s disengenous to say that those errors were/are not characteristic of Catholic spirituality. If the Orthodox church taught one spiritual path for 1000 years, then all of a sudden switched to a more ‘Catholic’ way of thinking, would you then accuse a Catholic of speaking falsely by highlighting the former spiritual practice as Orthodox? A lot of Orthodox would be willing to say that Vatican II moved the Catholic practice and mind towards a more Orthodox one, but no amount of word games fundamentally change what the Catholic Church actually teaches, or what her approach(es) to God have been for centuries.

    A lot of these differences that Fr. Stephen is highlighting, by the way, can be seen clearly in the Catholic Encyclopedia (available at, but not so much in the newer catechism of the Catholic Church.

  51. Yaakov Avatar

    sorry, *the fathers of VATICAN II. typo.

  52. Marie Avatar

    Father Stephen, In light of the topic, the following book was recently recommended, have you heard of it?

  53. fatherstephen Avatar

    Marie, I have not read it.

  54. RobH Avatar

    Father, to this Byzantine Catholic, your writings have been tremendously helpful in my family’s growth in Eastern spirituality. I’m most grateful for your ministry.

    I am curious, based on some of your comments above regarding several theories/approaches of Catholic theologians to Orthodox relations (sister churches, two lungs, etc) how you would conceive of a possible visible union between East and West? And not to nitpick on the regular standbys of the Filioque, nature & jurisdiction of the Papacy, and so on, but rather I’m interested in how you might see a reunion to be possible given the intrinsic differences between Catholic and Orthodox identity and thought – things that I would suggest wouldn’t be possible for either “side” to give up or sacrifice in the interest of ecumenism.

  55. Andrew Avatar

    Andrew (August 8, 2012 at 10:20 pm), if I may: It sounds like you are exactly in the right place. Cor ad cor.

  56. fatherstephen Avatar

    I might be the wrong Orthodox writer to ask. And I apologize for any offense I may give.

    I have great respect for the history and much of the content of Catholicism, but I personally believe that the “ethos” of Latin Catholicism is in a very sad state – and I would be quick to add that in many places Orthodoxy itself is in disrepair. There is a serious renewal taking place within Orthodoxy, one that encourages me, though there is such a great uphill climb ahead. I am uncertain about the Latin Church’s renewal. Much that is called renewal by some is simply Protestantism. A weakness of Rome has been a gradual substitution for institutional unity at the cost of true unity of faith. It is a great umbrella – but there is so much nonsense to be found in that shadow. As for the Eastern Rite – there is real hope there – but it would be in a return to Orthodoxy and traveling the same uphill battle.

    I wonder that Americans of the Byzantine Rite don’t feel like “yo-yos.” The privileges (such as ordaining married men and such) come and go. I think the rite has respect only where it has a political reality are significant ethnic population. It seems clear to me that the Byzantine Rite has been far more loyal to Rome than Rome has been loyal to them. And I wonder why this remains acceptable, or why it does not raise doubt about the true attitude of Rome. I cannot fathom a Church that embraced the winds of Vatican 2 and wanted to include a Byzantine Rite as well. I would not have wanted to be an option under such an arrangement. It devalues the Eastern Rite. It becomes the equivalent of a brief, spoken Mass with banjos (to say it rudely). This seems incompatible. In America these “Rites” become matters of personal choice. I have friends who have successfully made appeals to be allowed to become Byzantine Rite, though they have no ancestry there (this is already insulting on the part of Rome – that such must be approved). But such appeals are themselves clearly a “choice,” a “preference,” that can only be justified in a personal manner. The liturgy is not nor should never be a matter of personal choice and preference. Such possibilities do not make the possibility of Orthodox spirituality possible. It’s like pretending to practice obedience and thinking of oneself as a monk. But no obedience has been offered, only an obedience to preference, which is the enslavement of the modern world.

    It would only be from a place of real health that either Church should proceed in conversations regarding reunion. Even then I am doubtful. Rome’s concept of institutional unity and of itself holding the umbrella is utterly contrary to Orthodox understanding (as I understand it). Orthodoxy would cease to be Orthodox in such an arrangement. We would become another spiritual flavor in the Baskin-Robins of Rome. What Orthodox preserves in its existence is not a flavor of Christianity, but its fullness.

  57. RobH Avatar

    Thank you very much, Father. No offense taken!

    It is without a doubt that we Ruthenians (as well as the other so-called ‘Uniates’) walk a difficult line between obedience and allegiance to Rome in the course of practicing what we consider our Orthodox faith. For many in the Eastern Rite, allegiance toward Rome is no more than a matter of episcopal jurisdiction than an indicator of theological disposition. To be sure, there remain difficulties over and beyond that…

    I suppose that what you mention is and of itself a core difficulty in this type of dialogue – what Orthodoxy preserves is the fullness of Christianity, yet that’s exactly what Catholicism claims as well. And there’s ample arguments from either side why both are correct. Can both exist and at the same time be mutually compatible? It’s a foregone conclusion that Catholic-Orthodox unity cannot subsist visibly in a Roman-rite image of jurisdiction.

  58. Yaakov Avatar

    If I recall, most of the Orthodox bishops that gave their assent to Florence withdrew it upon their return from the council.

  59. Yaakov Avatar

    PJ – I think one way in which this different approach to the mind between the R.C Church and the Orthodox can be seen also in that we commune our infants, whereas in the R.C. Church one must be of the age of ‘reason’.

    Why do you think this difference in practice exists?

  60. PJ Avatar

    The fathers of Trent wrote, “The same holy council teaches that little children who have not attained the use of reason are not by any necessity bound to the sacramental communion of the Eucharist; for having been regenerated by the laver of baptism and thereby incorporated with Christ, they cannot at that age lose the grace of the sons of God already acquired. Antiquity is not therefore to be condemned, however, if in some places it at one time observed that custom. For just as those most holy Fathers had acceptable ground for what they did under the circumstances, so it is certainly to be accepted without controversy that they regarded it as not necessary to salvation.”

    To be honest, your own practice seems more reasonable. It seems the practice ended in the west between 1000 and 1200. I am not well versed in the issue.

  61. fatherstephen Avatar

    It is not my purpose in the blog to attack Rome or RC theology, unless there is a need to clarify some point of Orthodoxy. I do not have the expertise to discuss Rome’s self-understanding. I suspect that you do not as well. I will be moderating the conversation accordingly. Banter about Florence, etc., is simply internet chatter and not worth discussing.

  62. fatherstephen Avatar

    Indeed. There are, more or less, differing understandings of fullness. Roman “catholicity” has always seemed to stress the notion of “universality,” either of Papal jurisdiction, or of international inclusiveness. The latter has simply become an object for odd liturgical moments in Papal liturgies. Inclusivity is a frightening concept in the hands of some.

    The Orthodox understanding of fullness is rooted more in the root of the Greek word “catholicos”. It is “kata holikos” i.e. according to the whole. That wholeness is seen more in the sense that something, whatever it may be, is complete and full. It does not require international or territorial or demographic superiority. It exists wherever the Church is gathered – in every Eucharist. For there the Church is the fullness of Him who fills all in all. The Church can never exist as part of the Church, for the Church is one and cannot be divided. Schism does not create two Churches, but cuts someone off from the fullness.

    Fullness is a very useful and descriptive understanding. It can be applied to a single person to describe what we mean by saint. It describes the Eucharist.

    It is interesting to me that in the NT “fullness” and related words is commonly associated with the Holy Spirit. Thus we are “filled” with the Holy Spirit. No one is ever anything but filled. I think that where the Holy Spirit is present, there is fullness because God is never less than full.

    From an Orthodox perspective, the Unia makes too little of jurisdiction, allowing it to matter little. But the results have been centuries of constant pressure against the fullness of Orthodoxy within those who recognized Rome’s authority. Other than the lip-service paid during John Paul II’s time, when has Rome ever done anything to encourage the actual health and growth of Orthodox fullness within the Unia? If the Orthodox had to struggle as hard to maintain their Orthodoxy as the Byzantine Catholics do, we would be a Church of saints. But you shouldn’t have to struggle against the very spiritual father you given yourself to.

    The OCA, under whose jurisdiction I serve, consists historically not only of many Orthodox from Orthodox lands, but probably over half its members (historically) trace their roots to former Byzantine Catholics (Ruthenians (Rusyn), Galicians, the Lemko, Carpatho-Russians, some Romanians, etc) who embraced Orthodoxy after coming to America and discovering that life apart from the political protection of the homeland consisted in the destruction of much that they came to America to keep and cherish. St. Alexis Toth was one such priest who led many thousands into union with Orthodoxy (under Moscow at the time). I have prayed at his relics and tried to understand something of the inner conflict he must have endured, and that must still go on in the hearts of many of his spiritual kindred. It is a struggle I deeply respect.

  63. mary benton Avatar

    Father Stephen, PJ, Karen and all of you who are much more learned than me,

    This has been a fascinating discussion on many levels and I thank you for all that I am learning from it. However, at times I fear we are becoming “bifurcated” – East/West, Orthodoxy/Rome, etc. Undoubtedly there will always be differences in traditions, language, theologies, etc. and there are, sadly, hurts that have been experienced. May we come to discover our common heart in Christ.

    As I was reading these many comments, this passage of Scripture came to mind for reasons unknown,

    “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” He said to him, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22: 36-40) [Catholic translation used only because it is most familiar to me.]

    It is interesting the Jesus gave two commandments when asked for one because, of course, they are not really two but one. May we find oneness in this call to love – with heart and soul and mind.

    Thank you again, Father Stephen, for providing such a thought-provoking post and drawing us together in lively sharing.

  64. PJ Avatar


    That’s fine. It’s your blog, after all. I didn’t mean to provoke anyone, least of all yourself, for you do such a service hosting this fine blog.

    “The Orthodox understanding of fullness is rooted more in the root of the Greek word “catholicos”. It is “kata holikos” i.e. according to the whole. That wholeness is seen more in the sense that something, whatever it may be, is complete and full. It does not require international or territorial or demographic superiority. It exists wherever the Church is gathered – in every Eucharist. For there the Church is the fullness of Him who fills all in all. The Church can never exist as part of the Church, for the Church is one and cannot be divided. Schism does not create two Churches, but cuts someone off from the fullness.”

    This sense of “fullness” is also part of Catholicism’s self-understanding (Catechism 830 – 835), though perhaps you are right when you say that we focus more on universality.

    However, if we over-emphasize universality at the expense of fullness, it seems too often Orthodox do the opposite. Just consider the hornet’s nest of jurisdictions drawn along national and ethnic lines. The very fact that there is a “Russian Orthodox” and a “Greek Orthodox” — how is this not division? How can there be hyphenated catholicism? Where is the union? This is one element I have never been able to wrap my head around.

    So often, it seems that the weakness of one Church is the strength of the other. This sense leads me to hope beyond hope that the two may someday be one.

    Anyway, I appreciate the space you’ve given over to this very important discussion. God bless.

  65. fatherstephen Avatar

    Thank you for your irenicism. The ethnic hyphens are for those outside the Church. In Greece it is just the Orthodox Church. In Russia it is just the Orthodox Church. The hyphens, in their most positive sense, is the great regard Orthodoxy has for the particularity of persons and cultures. The Church is One as God is One. The Father is not the Son, and yet they are One. The identity of what the Orthodox call “the local Churches” is an incarnation of a Trinitarian model of unity.

    It has been deeply endangered in the 20th century – particularly in places like America where there came to be multiple jurisdictions. This situation did not obtain before the Bolshevik Revolution. All of America was under Moscow, and the Orthodox worshipped side-by-side in what were often multi-ethnic congregations – some of them quite famously so. The vision of St. Tikhon when he was Bishop of the American Diocese (he was later martyred by the Bolsheviks when he became Patriarch of Moscow) has yet to be fulfilled – though the mechanisms for that fulfillment have been put in place in the last 3 years by all of the Orthodox Autocephalous Churches across the world, working in conciliar harmony.

    Eastern Europe, Greece, Russia, etc., have their own bumpy road – again brought about both by the centuries of Turkish domination and the 20th centuries communists.

    Christians outside of those areas often have very little real historical knowledge of that period and the struggle within Greece and the Balkans to find freedom. That freedom was constantly hampered by the Imperial powers in Europe trying to thwart it, control it and dominate it once it was achieved. Britain’s efforts to deny Russia a “warm water port,” (as Western history books describe the Crimean War) were more an effort to deny the possibility of reconstructing an Orthodox unity and freedom in the Mideast and the Balkans. They didn’t want the competition.

    The present silliness that is disguised as the “Islamic Spring,” has much more to do with the interests of the Western powers (as did their incursion into Serbia, etc.) than with democracy and human rights. The real victims in the Spring is the coming Christian Winter in those lands, as the minority Christians, protected by very dominating dictators, are subjected to the raw, unregulated fury of their Sunni majorities.

    William Dalrymple’s article in the Australian is an absolute must-read for Christians in the West.

    The present position of ORthodoxy is not a comment on any inherent weaknesses. It has survived intact through the most brutal persecutions from enemies and friends that could ever be imagined. And it survives and continues to come back and thrive. This is not a sign of weakness or lack of unity. Its present position is an indictment on the sad interference, willful ignorance and hostility of first a Catholic, then Protestant and now secular West. The East has fared badly under all three friendships who have always congratulated themselves on the various virtues of their own. With such friends, the East has rarely needed enemies.

  66. mary benton Avatar

    Father Stephen

    I cannot help but cringe some at your words, “interference, willful ignorance and hostility of first a Catholic, then Protestant and now secular West”. I am certainly not going to try to question your account of our churches’ history for, frankly, I do not know it. Which I guess is my point. Most Catholics, I suspect, know very little about Orthodoxy and therefore have no hostility (and even the ignorance is rarely wilful) nor do we congratulate ourselves a great deal.

    I am sorry if the hierachy of my church (Catholic) has wounded your church or you personally. I know we are very imperfect as an institution and as individuals. Some would question why I stay in a church if that is how I feel about it. I stay because every church is full of sinners. As a sinner seeking redemption, I cannot flee the company of other sinners who also say they are seeking the same. It is not for me to judge who is genuine in seeking salvation. I am not saying there would never be cause to leave one’s church but only that it is like leaving one’s family – not to be taken lightly.

    Whatever pains you have experienced at our hands, I ask you to pray for us and forgive us. Since I found your site through C.S. Lewis, I will close with a favorite quote by him:

    “If they are wrong they need your prayers all the more; & if they are your enemies, you are under orders to pray for them.”

  67. fatherstephen Avatar

    I’m sorry if my description was uncomfortable. It is one of the sadder moments in Christian history – today we are witnessing another chapter in the Middle East in which the plight of Christians there is being overlooked or simply unknown. It is a story that has failed to engage the interest of our media or our government.

    There is plenty of fault to go around. The Orthodox account of history tends to be blunt but accurate. There are no needs to defend any of the players. By God’s grace the Church is preserved – but our own repentance only comes when we encounter the truth. Of course your church is imperfect as an institution as well as its individuals. This is true as well of the Orthodox. That is part of the correct and true account of the Church. If we read the book of Acts or Paul’s Epistles, nothing could be made more clear. None of the Epistles, it seems, would have been written had the Church or its individuals been perfect.

    And so your advice is absolutely correct. We pray and we forgive. Indeed it is the only way to live in a broken world.

  68. PJ Avatar

    Today’s epistle reading seems relevant:

    “Brothers and sisters:
    Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God,
    with which you were sealed for the day of redemption.
    All bitterness, fury, anger, shouting, and reviling
    must be removed from you, along with all malice.
    And be kind to one another, compassionate,
    forgiving one another as God has forgiven you in Christ.

    So be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love,
    as Christ loved us and handed himself over for us
    as a sacrificial offering to God for a fragrant aroma” (Ephesians 4:30-5:2).

  69. Karen Avatar

    This morning at my husband’s Evangelical Church the sermon was on the topic of “Forgiveness,” using the illustration of the story of Mephibosheth, in 2 Samuel 9. After the deaths of Saul and Jonathan, King David sought to show “God’s kindness,” for the sake of his love for Jonathan, to Jonathan’s only surviving descendant. King Saul, the boy’s grandfather had been David’s most treacherous enemy, making David a fugitive and attempting to take his life numerous times over the years. There is no way forward for any of us, either with God or with one another, without forgiveness. This story is a poignant illustration of the life-creating and sustaining transformative beauty of forgiveness.

    On the other hand, just a few short chapters later there is the story of King David and Bathsheba, where the Prophet Nathan had to confront King David with his sins (of covetousness, adultery, and even murder) by telling him a parable. How awful those words, “Thou art the man!” must have sounded in King David’s ears after he had just accurately condemned as worthy of death the man in the parable that represented him (2 Samuel 12:7). The real events Nathan’s parable symbolized were horrifically ugly, but there was no way of getting around that truth in order for true repentance and healing to take place in David’s life.

    There is no way forward to healing for us either without confronting the truth about ourselves and the wrongs we may have done or, for most sincere believers today in this issue of a divided Christendom, unintentionally become complicit in. There is no repentance without full acknowledgement about the truth of ourselves or of a situation, and there is no healing where a proper relationship has been ruptured unless both repentance and forgiveness are present. There may indeed be forgiveness, but if there remains no repentance (or only a partial repentance) from falsehood or evil, there will still be no perfectly restored relationship. The formula a counselor gave me many years ago for a relationship ruptured by abuse was forgiveness on the part of the victim + repentance on the part of the abuser = restored relationship.

  70. PJ Avatar

    Wonderful, Karen.

  71. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Karen, sounds nice, but I really don’t see how it fits with the split between Roman and us. The Protestant solution obviously does not lead to unity, so the choice comes down to either the Orthodox or the RC understanding of ecclesiology and anthropology.

    Since we are human, neither is practiced perfectly, however one is more accurate and closer to what God had in mind that the other.

    I rather think it is asking too much of either to abandon the belief, practice and tradition of centuries on a mass basis. I honestly think the best thing to do is learn to work together on the things we can do in harmony. By the grace of God that may lead us to greater unity.

    Of course, a world-wide apostasy and persecution would drive us together and tend to weed out the small stuff.

  72. Karen Avatar

    Michael, I’m sorry my post was not clear. I’m not advocating a Protestant solution. It just so happened that we were in my husband’s church this morning and I saw this juxtaposition in the two Bible stories of King David and saw that they reflected the two sides of this issue of relational reconciliation–in ecclesial terms, restoration of communion. I was really bearing in mind Mary’s protest of what she saw as some harsh words from Fr. Stephen, and Fr. Stephen’s reply where he acknowledges:

    “There is plenty of fault to go around. The Orthodox account of history tends to be blunt but accurate. There are no needs to defend any of the players. By God’s grace the Church is preserved – but our own repentance only comes when we encounter the truth.

    I was especially resonating with the last part of his last sentence here.

  73. fatherstephen Avatar

    I understood your thought. I didn’t hear Mary as thinking that I needed to change what I said – but acknowledging how painful it was. Thus my response on how difficult an accurate account of history is.

    The arguments between Protestant and Catholic have often taken a form of “comparative excellence.” “You’re wrong and we’re better,” in which histories become the fodder for discussion. Thus both get defensive. This has been elevated by the idea of Papal infallibility, though that concept is very narrowly defined and practiced within Rome. But there has been a tendency to carefully shield the papacy from historical charges. The various back-and-forths viz. the papacy’s actions, non-actions in WWII are an example. These same back-and-forth’s get taken up by Orthodox from time to time as well. I was suggesting that Orthodoxy does not need to engage in such an exchange because we have no theory of perfection or infallibility. God preserves the Church in the truth however He manages to do it. There is no ecclesiological mechanism that does this.

    I think this last point is very important for Orthodoxy to acknowledge and embrace. It allows us to speak frankly and without fear about ourselves and our failings as well as about the tragedies of our past, of which there have been many. Every other attitude is a yielding to temptation. The series that I wrote on the “Ecclesiology of the Cross” addresses this with some detail.

  74. Karen Avatar

    Thank you for that clarification, Father. That post on the ecclesiology of the Cross is one of your most memorable for me. I do think of it often since I have read (and reread) it, and I have referred others to it as well.

  75. frjakob Avatar

    The conversation between the theologians at Tubingen and Patriarch Jeremiah II (16th cent) is a very interesting read if one is interested in how conversation and communication may work between the east and the west. I think it describes very well how cataphatic approach (say Melanchton) may lead to the “proper apophatic questions”. After asking the proper questions I believe the answer can only be given by means of entering.

  76. mary benton Avatar

    Another thought or two…

    You are correct, Father Stephen, that in my last comment, I was not intending to protest what you were saying or suggesting you change it. I “cringed” because I sensed your anger – and I also had to admit that I did not know the historical basis for it (and therefore am not suggesting it is not well-founded). It sad and painful that our churches have experienced such alienation.

    Karen, I appreciated your comments on forgiveness. My priest has often preached that we need to forgive, even if the other person doesn’t “deserve” it. I believe this is our call. This does not always mean, on a human level, that we can restore relationships because it is not always safe or wise to do so, especially when there has been abuse. But the forgiving can help us transform our own hearts so that we do not remain stuck in painful pasts that cannot be changed.

    I don’t know if our churches, as human institutions, can ever restore their relationship. But we, as individuals, can offer each other invitation into a shared relation in Christ.

    It was for this reason that I offered what I intended to be words of repentence to Father Stephen for the hurts caused by my church. Of course, I am not my church’s spokesperson. And Father Stephen offered prayer and forgiveness, though (I am assuming) not as the spokesperson for all of Orthodoxy.

    It is a small step. It is my hope and prayer that, as individuals striving to find a common ground in Christ, we can heal the larger wounds a little bit at a time. I believe that this is “sacramental”, even if in a very small way.

  77. fatherstephen Avatar

    If I have anger – I would suppose it’s of an intellectual sort in the matter. I’ve have read history very deeply for many decades now. In the years that I’ve been Orthodox, I’ve worked hard to gain an education in the history of Russia, Eastern Europe, Greece, the Mideast, etc. I have been surprised in that study both by how neglected that area and history have been in the general treatments given in most Western surveys of history. Most people, even those who have studied (or majored) in history, have virtually no knowledge of the lands and histories of the Orthodox peoples. Most people do not realize, for instance, that the Renaissance in Western Europe was a direct result of the fall of Byzantium and the refugees it sent into Europe. Standard treatments write as if the West had somehow, suddenly invented new knowledge (this is but a minor point).

    The political history of the same area has often been treated in a very sad fashion.

    All of this would be purely academic, merely sad but true, were it not a continuing pattern of ignorance and abuse. Western foreign policy in the Balkans (the war in the 90’s) was deeply flawed and astonishingly tone-deaf to the history of the area. Current approaches to Russia also ignore the place and importance of Orthodoxy within that culture and even its foreign policy. We continue to read that area of the world through the lens of the Cold War.

    The failure to understand the plight of Christians in the Middle East (who are largely Orthodox), will soon bring the likely result of their eradication from the very lands in which our faith had its beginnings. This will all happen without much notice by most Christians in our part of the world. Indeed, the fact that most people in the West have never heard of Orthodoxy, though it is the second largest group of Christians in the world, is not a failure of Orthodox public relations.

    I’m not angry. What I feel is more like consternation. Most people bear no blame in any of this. But I used the term “willful ignorance” to apply to their leaders. Our political leaders and State Department experts should know better. Our history departments should and could know better. It is clear that at certain times in Western history there was a conscious choice to “re-write” the history of these areas in a manner that would benefit the West’s political, social and economic goals. It was a form of historical and cultural imperialism.

    My ramping up the emotion somewhat in the matter is because it requires some emotion in order to draw attention to the reality. In that these things continue and are currently costing human lives and destroying cultures, it is not a time to concern ourselves with historical forgiveness. It is a time of cultural repentance. It is time to make straight certain of our highways.

    I’m a tiny voice in this. If I manage to say to my readers, “Look at this…” and they hear it…I’ll have done something rather than nothing.

  78. JD Ballard Avatar

    I find Eucharistic overtones in John’s gospel not only in the story of the feeding of the 5000, but also in the earlier turning of water to wine at the wedding of Cana. A Eucharistic Gospel indeed!

  79. Michael Patrick Avatar
    Michael Patrick

    Fr. Stephen, if you have any reading recommendations on the topic of Eastern Christian cultural histories I, for one, would be grateful.

  80. Karen Avatar

    Thanks, Mary, for the kind comments and the honesty. If we all took this attitude with one another, healing would likely speedily take place between our communions as well. In the meantime, I think Michael Bauman had a couple of good suggestions/insights in his last two paragraphs in reply to one of my earlier comments.

    My own concern and hope is that falsehood and sin, wherever it exists and comes between us and God or between us and other Christians, would be dispelled. My attitude is that anyone who genuinely has begun to pursue and love Christ is a friend of God’s and of mine as well, regardless of where he communes, and I pray everyone may come to know the fullness that is Orthodoxy (even myself, because I have hardly yet begun to know it).

  81. Karen Avatar

    Father, your last comment puts me in mind of the familiar aphorism, “Those who forget history are doomed to repeat it.” Included, of course, would be those who revise history. On that account, there is another specific example I recently read here:

  82. Elizabeth Avatar

    Father, bless! I was wondering if there is any book (Orthodox, or even Catholic or traditionally-minded Protestant) that you could recommend as a sort of “introduction to St. Paul.”

    I read the Church’s daily Epistle readings, but I find that I often really don’t understand the context in which they were written, and, frankly, I don’t know much about St Paul himself, other than what is in Acts. I haven’t ever read the Epistles in their entirety, only in little snippets throughout the Church year, so I don’t really even have a sense of where all Paul went, or exactly what he was doing in all of those places. Moreover, I often find his prose (at least in translation) hard to understand.

    I grew up in a liberal Episcopal church that held Paul pretty much in contempt, so I’ve never really gotten to know him. I dare not venture out into the world of Pauline studies or commentaries without some guidance on what to read, because so much of it is revisionist at best, and (I suspect) positively blasphemous at worst. I’m not looking at this point for a line-by-line commentary of each Epistle — those I know where to find — but a sort of general introduction to his life, time, and works, from a traditional perspective. Thanks to you any anyone else who has suggestions.

  83. fatherstephen Avatar

    Michael Patrick,
    A fine request. Lost to the West: the Forgotten Byzantine Empire that Rescued Western Civilization is a very quick and easy read. Rebecca West’s Black Lamb and Grey Falcon is a must read on the Balkans. Paris 1919: Six Months that Changed the World is a very enlightening read and has good insight on how the Western Powers betrayed the Balkans and Greece after WWI, and the utter arrogance of one of the saddest chapters in world history. The mistakes of that period laid the groundwork for most of the wars the world has seen since.

    There are things worth reading on the sites pertaining to Fr. John Romanides, though it has to be sifted through. Not everything is worth reading, and there is a great deal of driven agenda in the work. But I’ve mined it occasionally for help.

  84. PJ Avatar

    In a way, ‘Byzantium’ (who, as far as I can tell, conceived of themselves as Romans) was more “western” than Europe, if we define “western” as that which results from the marriage of Israelite, Greek, and Roman culture and law, purified and overseen by the Church of Christ. The Greco-Roman dimension of Europe was to some extent corrupted by various barbarian influences (Goths, Franks, Arabs, etc.), and the oriental flavor of Israel never really penetrated the European continent, even when Jews were prosperous and powerful.

  85. PJ Avatar


    Pope Benedict XVI wrote a short but compelling text on St. Paul:

    This is an excellent (if brief) lecture that covers his road to martyrdom, touching a bit on his conversion and spiritual life as well:

    If you want a sense of the Apostle, consider his own words, from the 24th chapter of II Corinthians, wherein he boasts of his weakness by describing the trials and torments he endured for Christ:

    “I repeat, let no one think me foolish. But even if you do, accept me as a fool, so that I too may boast a little. What I am saying with this boastful confidence, I say not with the Lord’s authority but as a fool. Since many boast according to the flesh, I too will boast. For you gladly bear with fools, being wise yourselves! For you bear it if someone makes slaves of you, or devours you, or takes advantage of you, or puts on airs, or strikes you in the face. To my shame, I must say, we were too weak for that!

    But whatever anyone else dares to boast of—I am speaking as a fool—I also dare to boast of that. Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they offspring of Abraham? So am I. Are they servants of Christ? I am a better one—I am talking like a madman—with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death.

    Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food,a in cold and exposure. And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches. Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to fall, and I am not indignant?

    If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness.”

    Beautiful, no?

  86. fatherstephen Avatar

    NT Wright is probably the best read on St. Paul. He’s Anglican, but he’s an honest scholar who does not despise him or underappreciate his worth. His book, What Paul Really Said is good as is the beefier Paul in Fresh Perspective.

    I remember how easily people were allowed to dismiss St. Paul when I was in an Anglican seminary back in the 70’s. It was pretty ridiculous.

  87. simmmo Avatar

    Father I have to concur with you – Wright is right on the Apostle Paul! “What St. Paul Really Said” is an absolute classic. I just got done reading it and gave it to my Dad to read. The other good book on Paul is “Justification”, written against his Reformed critics – John Piper in particular. It’s funny (and telling) that his work on Paul has been received with anxiety and alarm in the Evangelical world.

    Would it be fair to say that, although the Orthodox have never really sought to define technical terms in St. Paul such as “justification” and “righteousness”, NT Wright’s treatment of Romans and Galatians would be, more or less, consistent with Orthodoxy?

  88. PJ Avatar

    “I remember how easily people were allowed to dismiss St. Paul when I was in an Anglican seminary back in the 70′s. It was pretty ridiculous.”

    Any particularly ridiculous examples? I’d love to hear them. Probably the best I’ve encountered is that Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” is a thinly veiled allusion to homosexuality. I mean — really!

  89. fatherstephen Avatar

    It’s closer than most other treatments. I find it very compatible. Though I would be even stronger on the importance of union, communion in Paul.

  90. fatherstephen Avatar

    It’s just that he was not only dismissed, but reviled, and they had to quote him in order to condemn him. 🙂

  91. Elizabeth Avatar

    PJ and Father Stephen,

    Thank you so much – these are exactly the kinds of things I have been looking for. I’ve put in library requests for the one by Pope Benedict, and one of the Wright books.

    I did look at the first chapter of Wrights’ *What St. Paul Really Said* on Amazon, and was delighted by his head on address of the very contempt that Fr. Stephen mentions:

    “I sometimes wonder what Paul would say about the treatment he has received in the twentieth century. ‘plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose,’ perhaps”


    “People who are afraid to tell God, or even Jesus, how angry they are with him or them, are often glad to be able to take such anger out on someone like Paul, about whom they cherish no such inhibitions.”

    Anyway, thank you both. A very blessed feast of the Dormition to new calendarists, and a blessed beginning to the fast to old calendarists.

  92. Drewster2000 Avatar

    Fr. Stephen,

    Excellent words as always. I took away two big gems from this:

    1. The tendency of the West to look at all of life as “two things”. I suspect I’ll take years to unpack that one. Currently I’m of the mind that “fullness” and “two things” are both valid signature of God’s work in our world, but maybe time will tell otherwise.

    2. This one is hard to put in a single phrase. I believe it’s what Philip Jude was wrestling with. You presented the idea of sacrament as I’d never heard it before. As you said, most people “think about the Body and Blood of Christ and concern ourselves with questions of why and how.”

    But you instead suggested that all is sacrament. The Liturgy where we “meet Christ” in the Eucharist may in fact be the place where we first begin to see bread and wine in the proper way, but it is only the beginning of sight. Once we begin to “see” through that weekly experience, we should move on to view all of life through those eyes. We also need to move forward in the way we look at the brothers and sisters around us [The Day the Earth Stood Still] and understand how they are part of us, how we all are one body.

    Truly I’m not surprised you’ve had such a huge number of responses to this post. If people pay attention and understand at all, this is mind-blowing stuff and not the least bit neutral.

    May God bless your ongoing ministry. Oh, and I wouldn’t be surprised if God chose to witness to those around you when you go through the process of “falling asleep”. Best not predict what you have no control over. (grin)

  93. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    I would suggest that ‘all is sacrament’ because that is the way in which all things are created. Men are created for direct, loving communion with the Holy Trinity, becaue we are “in His image”. That enables, among other things, the Incarnation.

    The rest of creation is meant to be part of that communion through us. It has built into it the proper form to bear the presence of God and be part of the celebration of His Life that sacrament is all about.

    Please Fr. correct me if I’m wrong.

  94. fatherstephen Avatar

    Quite correct. I’ve been reading a new volume of Fr. Dumitru Staniloae’s Dogmatic Theology (recently translated and published). It’s quite magisterial. But in writing about creation he says:

    The Logos, or the Word of God, was in the world since its inception, on one hand through the reasons/inner principles of things, which are created images sustained by God’s eternal reasons, and on the other hand through human persons who, in their living rationality, are the images of the Word of God’s own Hypostasis. They were created in order to think the reasons of things through together and in dialogue with the divine Personal reason.

    The divine reasons are not only meanings of the divine Logos’ infinitely deep richness, but they are also rays of divine life and power which radiate from the ocean of life and power that is hypostasized in the Son and Word of God as well as in the Father and the Holy Spirit. Created things, too, as rational images of these rays radiating from them, are therefore units of power and life. Their ultimate substratum is the energy which has in itself a meaning or a complexity of meanings. This energy includes in itself the tendencies of certain indefinite interferences, which produce those units that are connected among them. Created things are the created images of the divine reasons given material form, images filled with power and carried by the tendency of innumerable references among themselves. In the state of these images given material form are reflected the meaning, the power, and the life of the divine reasons in their unity, which comes from the divine Logos.

    I daresay this is fairly thick reading for most. Two quick observations. He does not mean by “reason” the mere thinking process we often mean by the word. Rather, it is a play on “Logos.” Thus “logicity” would be a way to render “rationality.” “Logoi” would render reasons, etc.

    More to the point: every thing in creation exists as “image” of the “logoi” or “reasons” in the One Logos. They are “rational images” (logika ikona) and hypostasizations of the “rays of divine life and power.” Their “ultimate substratum” is the “energy which has in itself a meaning or a complexity of meanings.”

    I find it easier to say, “The world is a sacrament.” I also like to say that “everything is an icon.” Sacrament and icon are ways of speaking about the relationship that everything (Everything!) has to the logoi that exist within God. When Staniloae (or St. Maximus or other fathers) speak about these logoi and their images as a “meaning” or a “complexity of meanings” they do not mean “meanings as mere ideas.” That is the nonsense of two-storey secularism (which is a variation on Nominalism as I’ve described in earlier posts). It is important, it seems to me, to find language to stress the realism of these things. Sacrament does that fairly well.

    This is probably the most indecipherable response I’ve ever written to a comment. 🙂

  95. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Fr. Stephen, it is quite beyond normal language and thought, but I think to say it is ‘indecipherable’ is not correct. I’ve been reading the new English translation of Evdokimo’s Orthodoxy which is written in a similar style and says many of the same things.

    My own simplification (translation) is that because of the identity of each thing that God implants in each thing as He creates it, that thing is able to respond to His voice and be ordered by Him, through us (and directly from time to time). It is what enables us to carry out the commandment to dress and keep the earth and bring it under our dominion.

    It is not in our intrinsic power to do so, any more than it is intrinsic to the priesthood to celebrate the sacraments, but an authority delegated to us by God and only properly carried out when we are in obedience.

    All the world is sacrament, because (in a non-liturgical sense) all people are priests (or the other way ’round?) That is the other aspect to you thought I think that deserves some further exploration and comment. I’d like to see it any way.

  96. fatherstephen Avatar

    Yes, Michael. It is the true sense of the priesthood of all believers. It’s not indecipherable (I wouldn’t be reading it if it was – but I thought many of my readers might find it so). The “logicity” of all creation lies at the heart of our ability to speak of creation as sacrament and mystery. And it allows us to say it in a true and real manner. It is profound beyond understanding.

  97. drewster2000 Avatar

    It IS profound beyond understanding. And it is at this point that I refer back to your earlier post about Adam naming the animals. See here again how human it is, trying to put everything into words, even that which is beyond understanding. I’m not tsking us, just noting once again how real and deep this naming need is within us. Try as we might, we simply cannot leave well enough alone. God love us!

    Thanks once again Fr. Stephen. You make me sometimes younger and sometimes older but always better.

  98. PJ Avatar

    The naming prerogative was granted to us by God. It is something good, noble: it is a way we participate in God’s creative love. No?

  99. dinoship Avatar

    It sure gladdens this Greek to read: “Most people do not realize, for instance, that the Renaissance in Western Europe was a direct result of the fall of Byzantium and the refugees it sent into Europe.”

    Regarding your post, as well as the fabulous comments, I was reminded of (Saint Silouan’s I think) notion that: once a person’s heart becomes the altar and the throne of God it was intended to be, (His true temple), he does not even need to visit the earthly Temple… -although he probably does so and desires to do so more than all those who expound on the earthly temple’s significance.

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