Love Has No History

St. Nikolai Velimirovich’s Prayers by the Lake are a theological feast. St. Gregory the Theologian wrote wonderful theological poems – it is a form deeply suited to theology but too little used. I first heard this poem on a broadcast from Ancient Faith Radio – it came at a very timely moment and allowed me to see and pray. Images such as “wandering through my soul like a wayfarer in the night,” has no counterpart in prose.  Worth pondering in wonder is: “Aimless wanderers and loveless people have events and have history. Love has no history, and history has no love.”  I offer this today with prayer that by God’s grace “love will meet love,” and that no events will befall you. 


White doves fly over my blue lake, like white angels over the blue heaven. The doves would not be white nor would the lake be blue, if the great sun did not open its eye above them.

O my heavenly Mother, open Your eye in my soul, so that I may see what is what–so that I may see who is dwelling in my soul and what sort of fruits are growing in her.

Without Your eye I wander hopelessly through my soul like a wayfarer in the night, in the night’s indistinguishable gloom. And the wayfarer in the night falls and picks himself up, and what he encounters along the way he calls “events.”

You are the only event of my life, O lamp of my soul. When a child scurries to the arms of his mother, events do not exist for him. When a bride races to meet her bridegroom, she does not see the flowers in the meadow, nor does she hear the rumbling of the storm, nor does she smell the fragrance of the cypresses or sense the mood of the wild animals–she sees only the face of her bridegroom; she hears only the music from his lips; she smells only his soul. When love goes to meet love, no events befall it. Time and space make way for love.

Aimless wanderers and loveless people have events and have history. Love has no history, and history has no love.

When someone makes their way down a mountain or climbs up a mountain without knowing where he is going, events are imposed upon him as though they were the aim of his journey. Truly, events are the aim of the aimless and the history of the pathless.

Therefore the aimless and the pathless are blocked by events and squabble with events. But I tranquilly hasten to You, both up the mountain and down the mountain, and despicable events angrily move out of the way of my footsteps.

If I were a stone and were rolling down a mountain, I would not think about the stones against which I was banging, but about the abyss at the bottom of the steep slope.

If I were a mountain stream, I would not be thinking about my uneven course, but about the lake that awaited me.

Truly terrifying is the abyss of those who are in love with the events that are dragging them downward.

O heavenly Mother, my only love, set me free from the slavery of events and make me Your slave.

O most radiant Day, dawn in my soul, so that I may see the aim of my tangled path.

O Sun of suns, the only event in the universe that attracts my heart, illuminate my inner self, so that I may see who has dared to dwell there besides You–so that I may eradicate from it all the fruits that seem sweet from the outside, but smell rotten in their core.

About Fr. Stephen Freeman

Fr. Stephen is a retired Archpriest of the Orthodox Church in America, Pastor Emeritus of St. Anne Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He is also author of Everywhere Present: Christianity in a One-Storey Universe, and Face to Face: Knowing God Beyond Our Shame, as well as the Glory to God podcast series on Ancient Faith Radio.



71 responses to “Love Has No History”

  1. […] Has No History, Dec 14th 8:25 amclick to expand…Humanism For Children […]

  2. Karen Avatar

    Father, bless!

    This is really lovely. His address of the prayer to “O heavenly Mother” is a bit startling to the formerly Protestant ear, but it put me in mind of one of my favorite Psalms (130/131):

    ” Lord, my heart is not haughty,
    Nor my eyes lofty.
    Neither do I concern myself with great matters,
    Nor with things too profound for me.

    2 Surely I have calmed and quieted my soul,
    Like a weaned child with his mother;
    Like a weaned child is my soul within me.

    3 O Israel, hope in the Lord
    From this time forth and forever.”

  3. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Quietness and silence boom in the stillness.

  4. Dominic Albanese Avatar
    Dominic Albanese

    Hey Fr Steven I have a lot of poems I wrote about becoming Orthodox and lifing my self from the dregs of addiction and despair, I am retired and live in Florda but I would love to send you some email me back if you are intersted. I am also a big fan (wrong word) of St Mary of Egypt, my mother was a tragic alky and the icon of St Mary looks just like her at the end her name was Mary too. Dominic

  5. dinoship Avatar

    “O Sun of suns, the only event in the universe that attracts my heart, illuminate my inner self, so that I may see who has dared to dwell there besides You–so that I may eradicate from it all the fruits that seem sweet from the outside, but smell rotten in their core.”
    “Love has no history, and history has no love.”
    “O heavenly Mother, my only love, set me free from the slavery of events and make me Your slave.”

    Make the point of many previous posts extremely well…!!

  6. John Avatar

    This is one of my issues. Why give the praise to “heavenly mother” instead of Jesus, where it rightly belongs? This is amazing to me and perhaps blasphemous.

    On the flip side, “Love has no history” was great.

  7. drewster2000 Avatar

    It’s not blasphemous, John. When you learn to give honor and glory to Jesus, He then turns around and asks you to honor and praise everyone else – not to the same degree, but as is appropriate.

    When the honor and praise is just coming from you, the supply is limited and you must reserve it all for Christ. When He is your only source, then you can give it to all without worrying about running out.

  8. fatherstephen Avatar

    It is simply an example of: “All generations will call me blessed.” And from the Psalm 45:

    She shall be brought to the King in robes of many colors;
    The virgins, her companions who follow her, shall be brought to You.
    15 With gladness and rejoicing they shall be brought;
    They shall enter the King’s palace.
    16 Instead of Your fathers shall be Your sons,
    Whom You shall make princes in all the earth.
    17 I will make Your name to be remembered in all generations;
    Therefore the people shall praise You forever and ever.

    The line in Luke (“all generations will call me blessed”) is a reference back to this Psalm. This poem does not worship Mary, but it gives her proper honor and praise (as suggested in the Psalm) for something she does.

    Obviously the Psalm thinks (at the very least) that someone, will be praised forever and ever – and it’s not a reference to God, but to this “daughter.” If you profess to believe the Scriptures, then you actually have to deal with what the Scripture says. First, to admit that the Scripture envisions that there is such a thing as “praise” being given forever and ever to someone besides God. It’s there. Now, who is referred? Some foreign princess marrying Solomon. Sure, let’s honor some concubine but not the Virgin Mary. The Psalm refers to Mary and is fulfilled in the life of Orthodox Christianity.

  9. Andrew Avatar

    In a very real sense, one cannot get past the ugliness of the crucifixion, without first understanding the gift of the Theotokos. It’s very deep. Certainly beyond words…

  10. Eric Avatar


    Thank you for sharing this Father

  11. John Avatar

    I will look at Psalm 45. Apparently the translators thought v 17 referred to God because they have capitalized You and Your. I have understood “call me blessed” in the sense that Mary was blessed to be the mother of the Messiah. I feel that God has richly blessed me and my family all my life. I am “blessed” in that sense. Others might say, “John is really blessed.” I think you would have to prove that your understanding is the only possible meaning for it to stand.

  12. fatherstephen Avatar

    You won’t like this answer. In the Orthodox Study Bible, the note on Psalm 45:17 says that although the plain reading would be referred to God, the Church as traditionally seen this as referring to Mary, as echoed in the “all generations” of the Magnificat.

    As to “only possible” I don’t think there is such a thing when it comes to interpreting anything.

  13. John Avatar

    I see that not all translators use capitals. You appear to be using NKJV. ESV and NIV I think do not. V 17 appears to be referring to the king’s wife. She would be praised in the sense I mentioned in the comment above.

    I have been concerned for some time that the Orthodox simply call what they do with Mary and the icons veneration to avoid calling it worship, when your actions are the same as if you were worshipping. If it walks like a duck, etc. I can’t pick up a hammer and call it a screw driver just because I don’t want it to be a hammer. I believe that is what you do with veneration.

    Still, I think “Love has no history” is a great thought.

  14. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    John, I don’t worship Mary or icons. It is entirely different although what you see from the outside may look similar. If you look at icons of Mary, Jesus Christ is always there and being referenced as Lord. Even in the icon of the Annuciation the message is clear, Jesus is Lord, God and King.

    It is also possible to worship not worshiping. That is to say, I’ve known folks who worship the idea of Jesus alone. Reductionism solves nothing and can lead to a dark, dark place.

    I have an honest question, what difference does it make to you what we do in the Orthodox Church and have done since time immemorial.

    The new thing is not giving Mary honor and entreating her intercessions.

  15. Shane Avatar

    John said “I have been concerned for some time that the Orthodox simply call what they do with Mary and the icons veneration to avoid calling it worship, when your actions are the same as if you were worshipping.”

    John – when you kiss your wife, is it the same as kissing your grandchildren? It might look the same to an outside viewer but I bet that it means and feels very different to you.

  16. fatherstephen Avatar

    I went back to the Hebrew and the Greek LXX. It seems indeed to refer to the King himself. However, as noted, the Church has traditionally interpreted as referring to the Mother of God. It’s because we’re very consistent. 🙂

  17. fatherstephen Avatar

    An essential difference between us is historical. You posit the existence of a Christianity without venerating saints, without a liturgy, without the traditions found in Orthodoxy. In its place you posit that there was a “pristine” form of Christianity that wrote the Scriptures, but then somehow became corrupted. As its evidence you suggest only the texts of the NT, arguing that if the historical evidence is not found in that text, then it didn’t exist.
    I respond that your uncorrupted Christianity is a 19th century fiction, born in the hills of Eastern Tennessee, and driven by a rigid understanding of sola scriptura that was equally invented at the same time and place. You have no corroborating evidence for such a Christianity having existed. While I can point to the evidence of the continued line of its successors, their lives and work and interpretation of the Apostolic writings, all of which point to Orthodox Christianity being the true continuation of the Church Christ founded (pace RC’s).

    Though you champion the Scriptures, you would not own a single scrap or verse of the Bible if Orthodox Christians (not the pristine guys) had not copied them laboriously by hand. And yet you posit that they belong to someone you imagine to have existed.

    You judge us, not by Scripture, but by the rules of 19th century American Tennesseeans. I think your argument doesn’t hold water. It is not plausible, reasonable or historically worthy. Just a thought.

  18. dinoship Avatar

    I completely agree with Michael Bauman’s comment above John, as well as Father Stephen’s of course. (But, your earlier opinion reminded me that the Prophet Zachariah was slain for expressing similar comments when allowing the virgin Mother where only virgins were allowed to go in the Temple).

  19. Karen Avatar

    John, the Apostle Paul writes in 2 Timothy 2:12, “If we endure, we shall also reign with Him and the Apostle John writes in Revelation 20:6 that those who have a part in the first resurrection (i.e., the redeemed), are “blessed and holy” and “shall be priests of God and of Christ” and “shall reign with Him . . . ”

    Here’s a suggestion. Why don’t you do a Bible word search of the word “bowed” and tell us what you find there? Under what circumstances in the Scriptures did people bow, kiss, etc.? Is there more than one word used in different contexts for the same English word, “bowed?” Where was such bowing prohibited and what was the word used in that context and the object of the bowing? What did the people of God (the OT Patriarchs, etc.) do when they encountered a king (whether Hebrew or pagan) and when they encountered a priest of God? Bear in mind that ancient Christianity was birthed in the Middle East and is a continuation of the same culture of showing “honor to whom honor [is due]” (Romans 13:7) Why would those ancient Middle Eastern gestures of bowing to show honor then not be retained in the faith that genuinely has its roots there?

  20. Brian Avatar

    A bit more of Psalm 45. The Epistle to the Hebrews specifically states that THESE words refer to Christ:

    “Your throne, O God, is forever and ever;
    A scepter of righteousness is the scepter of Your kingdom.
    You love righteousness and hate wickedness;
    Therefore God, Your God, has anointed You
    With the oil of gladness more than Your companions.
    All Your garments are scented with myrrh and aloes and cassia,
    Out of the ivory palaces, by which they have made You glad.
    Kings’ daughters are among Your honorable women…

    (and the very next verse reads)

    “…At Your right hand stands the queen in gold from Ophir.”

    The “queen” in the kingdom of Judah (the Davidic line) was not the king’s wife (of which there were often many); it was his mother. Unlike the Chronicles of the kings of the northern (apostate) kingdom of Israel, every king’s mother in Judah (the line of David – the line of Christ)is specifically mentioned by name, for she was held in the greatest honor by both the king and the people. Solomon “rose up to meet” his mother [kings do not typically rise to greet their subjects], “and bowed himself unto her, and sat down on his throne, and caused a seat to be set for the king’s mother; and she sat on his right hand.”

    Would it not be unthinkable, even to a thoughtful Protestant, that He who fulfilled the law would fail to honor His mother as well as His Father, exalting both in the measure appropriate to each?

  21. Lynne Avatar

    Thank you, Brian, for this information.

  22. fatherstephen Avatar


  23. mary benton Avatar
    mary benton

    Quite honestly, I thought St. Gregory was referring to God in the feminine, given the capital letter (“open Your eye”). Could this be? Certainly not in the radical feminist sense of modern times but perhaps in another sense.

    My limited knowledge of St. Gregory suggests that he had a particular interest in the Holy Spirit (the gender pronoun for “spirit” being variable, depending on the language). The imagery in the poem is, to me, more consistent with spirit imagery (e.g. white dove) than Marian.

    Also, even among those honoring the Virgin, it would seem a bit extreme for him to have written, “You are the only event of my life, O lamp of my soul.”

    One of the nice things about poetry is that no one, sometimes not even the poet, can say “this is the one true meaning” of what was written. Hence, all of you can tell me the reasons why I am incorrect in this interpretation – but this is how I experience this poem and I do so joyfully 🙂

  24. Karen Avatar

    Mary, actually that’s how I read the poem as well.

  25. Greg Avatar

    Did I misread this or is the poem by St Nicolai? In any case feminine noun (such as Sophia – ie Wisdom) is different from Mother – the poem is clearly about the Theotokos.

    By the way, you all should read John’s blog – it is clearly heartfelt, earnest and Christ centered: dare I even say essentially Orthodox in its reflections. I happen to strongly disagree with him on this point but I do appreciate his sincerity and continued engagement here.

    As we prepare to receive the Incarnate Lord born of the Holy Theotokos let us pray for each other and bear our differences with love.

  26. Michael Patrick Avatar
    Michael Patrick

    Father, I’m ignorant and curious to know more about your reference to a “19th century fiction, born in the hills of Eastern Tennessee”. I mean is this rhetoric for John’s sake or a reference to something historically significant for American Protestantism?

  27. mary benton Avatar
    mary benton

    Greg –

    I appreciate your comment. However, can we say that God is “Father” but not “Mother”? This would seem to say that God is one gender and not the other, has one role and not the other. I believe that God transcends all of our notions of gender and role, fulfilling and exceeding them.

    Poetry, especially mystical poetry, sometimes involves images that seem odd or incongruent to the outsider. The poet is likely singing from his soul, not intending a theological statement. Thus, I don’t believe we can know absolutely what the poet meant. (I write poetry and sometimes learn new meanings from what I have written; this is part of the gift of art.)

    I fully agree with your words, “let us pray for each other and bear our differences with love”. Blessings.

  28. PJ Avatar

    No doubt we would see God in a fundamentally different light were we to call Him “Mother.” Lex orandi, lex credendi. While Scripture occasionally attaches to God certain feminine images, He revealed Himself through the Son as Father. We ought to respect that and not tinker, thinking we know better than the All-Wise One.

  29. fatherstephen Avatar

    Karen and Mary,
    It’s St. Nikolai and the You is the Theotokos.

  30. fatherstephen Avatar

    Priest speaks authoritatively:

    The poem does not refer to God in the feminine. It is the Theotokos whom he addresses.

    God can be said to be “like a mother, etc.” (metaphorically). We may say He is “like a father.”

    But He revealed Himself as Father (a Name, not a metaphor) through Christ and this is not imagery. He does not say, “I am like a Father.” But “My Father and your Father, my God and your God.”

    Mystical poetry, particularly in the West, is famous for its liberties, which have given comfort to those who would change the revealed truth of God to a culture image (pagan) that suits their own perceived desires and needs.

  31. fatherstephen Avatar

    Michael Patrick,
    I’m referring specifically to the Restoration Movement of the early mid-nineteenth century. I could say more later. American Evangelicalism, in the various forms that arise out of the Great Awakenings, has changed the modern face of Christianity. Sadly, it has Americanized the face of Christianity, making it often into something that is decidedly contrary to the Tradition. This process continues today, and will be, I think, the end of much Christianity when it finishes its course. Protestantism has revealed its deep weaknesses across the cultures where it began. I do not rejoice that such an ending is coming for in its wake is a vigorous secularism that will turn on the Orthodox as well. Christians everywhere probably fail to see the true nature of the razor’s edge upon which we are currently balanced. Certainly, American conservative Christians are largely clueless. These are times for prayer.

  32. fatherstephen Avatar

    The various evangelical movements that grew out of the First and Second Great Awakenings (late 1700’s and early 1800’s) in America generally created modern Christianity. So-called “mainline” Christianity of an older sort is almost moribund and passing away. What is surviving today is the culturally aware (even “hip”) evangelicalism. On frontier America, the accoutrements of institutionalized religion were a heavy burden to bear. They largely disappeared. In its place were simple congregational Churches with a plain-sense Bible and a preacher (often uneducated). Baptists, the second largest group of Christians in America, barely existed in England and did not come to America a immigrants. Rather, the Baptists in America were the result of a home-grown evangelism, stream-lined and well-suited to frontier life and the entrepreneurial spirit that so marks American culture. Churches from this cultural model have constantly morphed for the past 2 centuries, adapting as necessary to find a niche within the culture. Some would put this under the heading of “becoming all things to all men” though this is an abuse (I believe) of St. Paul’s teaching.

    The result today is often a Christianity without sacraments, with minimal (extremely) doctrine, with minimal connection (and therefore minimal accountability). They do “what works.” “What works” means: “What builds the building fills the pews (seats) and keeps the organization funded. Its ministers tend to be extremely well-paid. It is not unusual for coffee to be served in Church. Sunday can be something similar to Christian entertainment (it’s what works).

    It is consumerist Christianity (“all things to all men”). If we live in a consumerist culture, then why shouldn’t the Church be consumer driven? This, of course, becomes a problem when it is recognized that consumerism is driven by the passions.


  33. Andrew Avatar

    Father, if I may:

    I look forward to your forthcoming molieben service …

  34. Karen Avatar

    Thanks for the clarification, Father. That does make more Orthodox sense. 🙂

  35. mary benton Avatar
    mary benton

    I apologize if my comments created confusion. Father Stephen – I am not clear how St. Gregory the Theologian fit into your introduction, though surely you know the origins of the poem, not I.

    The point I was trying to make was NOT that God should be addressed in the feminine. In calling God my Father, I am calling upon a deep, abiding, loving relationship and I use that word because it was given to us by Jesus.

    I believe that Jesus gave us the word “Father” to invite us into that relationship – not to tell us that God is a male. The latter would make no sense: Genesis 1:27 tells us that God created them in His image, male and female. God cannot be limited by our human experience of gender – for He created both of our genders, both in His image. Hence, I felt open to this interpretation of the poem (even if I am incorrect) and did not intend disrespect.

    Father Stephen – in referencing mystical poetry, I was thinking of such writers as St. John of the Cross and St. Teresa of Avila. I do not know how the Orthodox view them but your words came across to me as rather harsh. Perhaps “mystical poetry” brought to mind something else for you than what I intended?

  36. PJ Avatar


    RE: Baptists

    I read the 1689 Baptist Confession the other day. While the understanding of the sacraments was impoverished by Orthodox or Catholic standards (or even the standards of the more “catholic” Protestants), a sense of holiness, gravity, and even a hint of mystery, persisted.

    “The Supper of the Lord Jesus was instituted by Him the same night on which He was betrayed to be observed in His churches until the end of the world for the perpetual remembrance, and showing forth of the sacrifice of Himself in His death. It was also instituted by Christ to confirm believers in all the benefits of His death; – for their spiritual nourishment and growth in Him; – for their further engagement in and commitment to all the duties which they owe to Him; – and to be a bond and pledge of their communion with Him and with their fellow believers…

    Worthy receivers, outwardly taking the visible elements in this ordinance, also receive them inwardly and spiritually by faith, truly and in fact, but not carnally and corporally, and feed upon Christ crucified, and all the benefits of His death. The body and blood of Christ is not present corporally or carnally but it is spiritually present to the faith of believers in the ordinance, just as the elements are present to their outward senses.”

    Deficient, yes. Quite deficient. But I can’t imagine any low church evangelicals of the present day embracing such ideas or expressing those ideas in such solemn and grave language. “Feed upon Christ crucified” — such language would raise the hackles of many, perhaps most, evangelicals. Or, more likely, it would just confuse them. I attended a “Bible church” about a year ago for the sake of a friend and I was shocked to see a little table in a corner with crackers and grape juice, from which people could eat and drink buffet-style, whenever they pleased, with the utmost casualness. I just kept thinking of Paul’s admonition about eating and drinking unworthily…Bible church indeed!

  37. PJ Avatar

    That said, even at the beginning, there was much madness among the “hotter sort” of Protestant. I recently read a 16th century Puritan’s critique of the Elizabethan church. He was particularly enraged by respect for the Holy Name of Jesus.

    “The great conformity and likeness, both continued and increased, in our Church to the Church of Rome… praying towards the east; the bowing at the name of JESUS; the bowing to the altar, towards the east…”

    Seriously? I just can’t wrap my head around that mindset. What Christian could possibly take offense at bowing at the name of the Lord? It’s hard not to sense something frankly demonic in such words.

    (Also, why did they so “abomindate” candles? Weird.)

  38. PJ Avatar

    One more awful sacrilege, from said Puritan: “When the Old Testament is read, or the lessons, they make no reverence; but when the Gospel cometh, then they all stand up…” How scurrilous!

  39. fatherstephen Avatar

    Such Puritans and Baptists of early England Reformation are a thing apart from that which came from the American Revival movements. They bear little resemblance to one another. The conversation is very present tense.

  40. fatherstephen Avatar

    That Christ revealed the “Father” to us, says nothing about gender. Gender is not a category with regard to the Uncreated. God the Word became flesh, and in doing so became a man. There gender is important. Christ cannot be imaged other than as a man.

    I was being rather harsh, Mary, though I had the likes of Hildegaard of Bingen and a few others in mind. Orthodoxy gives some latitude to poetry, but the “mystics” of the West are very unlike the “neptic” fathers of the East. There is an excess in the writings and imaginative works of the West, where there is reticence and unspokenness in the East. The West says to much, and dares its thoughts with flights of imagination. The East rejects the imagination for the sobriety of the God beyond words and imagery. It’s strange that the Orthodox so treasure icons, but use little imagery in its asceticism. The Orthodox take on Western mysticism is that its tendencies are always ripe for delusion. It is delusion that Orthodoxy most fears in the spiritual life.

    You are kind-hearted and asked me a question in such a soft manner. May God bless you. I am sometimes harsh, forgive me. I have witnessed untold amounts of silliness with regard to gender – and so few have anything remotely useful to say. Our culture is utterly confused and confounded on the topic of gender, sex, etc. We are the last people in history God would entrust a new insight to in the matter. People speak of “male” and “female” as though they knew what those things mean (apart from genitalia). It is one of the greater mysteries of our existence. Most of the fathers have nothing to say on the subject (thus far I’ve only found St. Maximus the Confessor to have anything of note). It’s a subject I am very wary about (and thus a bit grumpy). Again, forgive me.

  41. davidp Avatar

    Can´t figure out why some of these posts become is just tiresome to read.

  42. davidp Avatar

    Just to add this thought by Thomas Merton:

    If you want to have a spiritual life you must unify your life. A life is either all spiritual or not spiritual at all. No man can serve two masters. Your life is shaped by the end you live for. You are made in the image of what you desire.

    To unify your life unify your desires. To spiritualize your life, spiritualize your desires. To spiritualize your desires, desire to be without desire.

    To live in the spirit is to live for a God in Whom we believe, but Whom we cannot see. To desire this is therefore to renounce the desire of all that can be seen. To possess Him Who cannot be understood is to renounce all that can be understood. To rest in Him Who is beyond all created rest, we renounce the desire to rest in created things.

  43. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Argumentation comes from the desire to be “right” in oneself as Fr Stephen has oft pointed out. Speaking truth requires that we listen.

  44. Micah Avatar

    Father, this is exceptionally beautiful prose. Thank you for posting it.

  45. Annie Avatar

    Father Stephen,
    I appreciate so much your wisdom and have been following your blog for some time now. Also, I found your book very helpful.

    Might you write on gender at some point, if I may ask this of you? I loved Alexander Schmemann’s discussion of the feminine in his discussion of marriage in “For the Life of the World,” and found it opened some new doors for me. Since I have a French heritage, I often find the excessive blurring of gender identity sad, but wonder, beyond emotion and inclination, what you might make of its theological implications.

  46. mary benton Avatar
    mary benton

    Father Stephen,

    Thank you for your kind words. I realized, upon reflection, that my initial post had been a bit provocative – perhaps more than I realized. (A reflection that might have acceptable in my own cultural group, among friends who know me, could be offensive in another group who might take my meaning a different way.) Again, MY apologies.

    You make a good point about the risk of delusion. In the RC tradition, there are those who almost seem to reach that level in their devotion to Mary – NOT that I am saying she does not merit devotion – but that some seem to raise her to a level of greater importance than God.

    Perhaps for this reason, I felt that some of the lines of the beautiful poem you posted seemed to me more befitting to God, e.g. “O Sun of suns, the only event in the universe that attracts my heart…” However, it is not for me to judge the words another (especially a saint) utters in prayer. Rather than judge, I can learn and benefit from them.

  47. tess Avatar

    I’m certainly not trying to fan a fire, but in support of your thought, mary, regarding the interpretation of the poem and the use of the feminine gender, Christ uses the imagery of himself as a hen with chicks in Matthew’s Gospel. That’s maternal imagery, spoken by Christ the man. 🙂

  48. John Avatar

    I continue to be overwhelmed by the events in Connecticut.

    Thank you for your responses, Stephen. Is your son pursuing a science degree? That is a fascinating area of study. Two of my three were biology majors.

    What we try to do is duplicate the worship and practice of the church as revealed in the New Testament. I am aware of the canonization process, but I just leave that to God’s providence. I assume if God had wanted the “fathers” in the New Testament, He would have providentially got them included. So, we tend to not weight their thoughts. It would probably be good if we studied them more, but their writings would just be someone’s opinion. We try to not add anything to the actual worship that there is not some kind of precedent for in the NT. I love history. I seriously considering trying to get a PhD in history back in the eighties. I never pursued it because UA required two languages. That was a deal breaker for me. I already knew two languages anyway: American English and Southern English, but they would have been loathe to count those. 🙂 We don’t value history from a doctrinal standpoint like you do because of our emphasis on the NT for Christian practice.

    As I think I have mentioned before, I am interested in a deep spiritual relationship with God. Some things (but not all) about Orthodox spirituality are interesting. You might write on Philippians 4:8 sometime. I have been reading in Ezekiel. Why do you think God chose Noah, Daniel, and Job in chapter 14? Where was David, the man after God’s heart? Interesting to ponder.

    It is sometimes difficult for us to discuss our differences because our sources of proofs are not the same. It is kind of like we are fencing in different rooms. You accept the councils, I do not. You know, I think if you could prove apostolic succession, you might win. But, you can’t, so, you’ll just have to lose. If you can prove it, then I guess whatever the councils have said is the deal. If they say up is down, then that’s the truth. But Judas’ successor had to be a participant in Jesus’ ministry and a witness of the resurrection. All those guys would have died out by early second century at the latest. So, no candidates, no succession.

    BTW, I think some of your commenters enjoy supporting your thoughts when I challenge you. Probably adds to your comment count. I’m trying to come up with a way I can charge for that. I generally talk only with you (1 Kings 22:31). Anyway, you owe me…

  49. Lina Avatar

    There is the old saying that fools walk in where angels fear to tread. So here goes.

    I think I know where John is coming from because it is the same place I have been. For my part having been raised in the Episcopal Church, I grew up on such hymns as, Jesu, Jesu, fill us with your love, Jesus all my gladness, Jesus calls us o’er the tumult, Jesus Christ is risen today, Jesus, lover of my soul, Jesus! name of wondrous love, Jesus shall reign, Jesus the very thought of thee, What a friend we have in Jesus, Glory be to Jesus who in bitter pain, At the name of Jesus every knee shall bow, and etc etc etc. There are many many more love songs, hymns of praise sung to Jesus.

    It was Jesus, God’s Son who came to earth. It was Jesus who preached and taught and healed. It was Jesus who died on the cross for our sins. It was when Jesus died that the temple curtain was rent in two from top to bottom, giving us access to the holy of holies. It was Jesus who went down into Hades and freed the sinners therein. It was Jesus who rose from the dead, spent time with His disciples, and then rose to heaven on what we now call Ascension Day, and, taking our humanity with Him, is seated on the right hand of God to make intercession for us. Heb 7:25. It is Jesus, the Messiah, the One anointed by God, who saves us.

    And now it seems to me in the Orthodox Church, that Jesus is this very inaccessible person. The only way I can get to Him is to ask Mary or a saint to intercede for me. Apparently I shouldn’t talk with Him directly.

  50. mary benton Avatar
    mary benton


    If I may…while it is not for me to defend Orthodoxy (given that I am not Orthodox), I do not get the impression that anyone here is making the argument that one should
    not talk to Jesus directly.

    My own perspective is that of the Communion of Saints. In my relationship to God, I am called to not only be one with Him but to be one with the eternal community of all who are also hearing that call. To ask Mary or a saint to pray for me (or my grandmother, now deceased 20 years), is to celebrate this community and the love for one another God has taught us. I ask my friends to pray for me. Some of them are living in this life and some in the next.

    I also believe that Mary has a very special role in this community because her “yes” enabled us to have God among us. We also have the very call to accept her as Mother from Jesus Himself as He was dying, as spoken to John (“behold your mother”).

    I’m sure my stating of this is inadequate but I just wanted to share my feeling that the Communion of Saints enhances my relationship with Jesus – it does not distract from or replace it.

  51. MOTO Avatar

    To Lina and Mary,

    Well put Mary. Another small thought- I am also not Orthodox (I am a Latin Rite Catholic), but perhaps the phrase “praying to the saints” is troubling. Make no mistake the saints and even Mary are created beings and are not prayed to the same way we pray to God. God alone is worthy of our adoration. We honor the Saints for their cooperation with God. Maybe another way to look at it is that we pray “with the saints”

  52. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Lina, the communion of the saints (which includes we less than saintly folk) ia all about a deep, abiding and intensely intimate communion with our Lord Jesus Christ.

    For me one of the most articulate statements of that intimacy is in Bridegroom Matins, a service celebrated at the beginning of Holy Week. In that service we sing the following: “I behold the bridal chamber, richly adorned for my savior, but I have no wedding garment to worthily enter. Make radiant the gament of my soul oh giver of Light and save me.”

    We look to the saints and especially to the Theotokos because they have received the wedding garment and their souls are radiant with the light of salvation for which we long.

  53. fatherstephen Avatar

    I’m making a PDF of a small booklet on Apostolic Succession written by my second daughter’s father-in-law, an Orthodox priest who was a convert from the Church of Christ. He has a doctorate in Church History from the Univ. of Chicago – sounds like you two would have interesting conversations! His small book is quite good with Biblical and Patristic evidence on Apostolic Succession. I’ll send it along to your email address – it’s just for what it’s worth.

    Thanks for building my comments!

  54. PJ Avatar


    “And now it seems to me in the Orthodox Church, that Jesus is this very inaccessible person. The only way I can get to Him is to ask Mary or a saint to intercede for me. Apparently I shouldn’t talk with Him directly.”

    “Talking to Jesus” is not very Biblical, to be frank. Read the prayers of the New Testament. Almost always, they are to the Father through the Son in the Spirit. Christ Himself taught us one prayer, and it is to the Father. I believe there are some direct prayers to Christ, but it is not normative.

    That said, it is not illegitimate to speak or pray directly to the Son, or the Spirit, or the Father, and I can’t think of any church which forbids or discourages the raising up of the mind and heart directly to the Godhead. On the contrary, it is everywhere encouraged.

    And, truly, to pray to the saints — or, more properly, through the saints — is to pray to Christ, for the church is the Body of Christ, and it is His power which works in, through, and with them.

  55. fatherstephen Avatar


    You have not yet made your way into the depths 🙂 There is a treasury of such devotion in Orthodoxy – too many times people only skim the surface (going to the services of the Church – when there is so much more to know). A rich source of such devotion can be found in various Akathist hymns which are prayed by the faithful, and used in Churches on many occasions. They are particularly beloved in Russian tradition.

    I think immediately of the Akathist to Our Sweetest Lord Jesus.

    Here are a couple of verses (called Eikos) from the hymn. There are 12 such verses. It can be read or chanted.

    It holds up well when compared to any of the lovely devotional hymns of the West. My wife is extremely fond of Akathists and prays them very regularly. It’s one of the delights of my heart to hear the melody of her chant in the morning. It is a practice that I commend to all.

    There is a book “The Book of Akathists” that is a wonderful collection of such hymns.

    Jesus, most wonderful, Astonishment of Angels.
    Jesus, most powerful, Deliverance of Forefathers.
    Jesus, most sweet, Exultation of Patriarchs.
    Jesus, most glorious, Dominion of kings.
    Jesus, most desired, Fulfillment of Prophets.
    Jesus, most praised, Steadfastness of Martyrs.
    Jesus, most gladsome, Comfort of monastics.
    Jesus, most compassionate, Sweetness of presbyters.
    Jesus, most merciful, Abstinence of fasters.
    Jesus, most tender, joy of the righteous.
    Jesus, most pure, Sobriety of virgins.
    Jesus, pre-eternal, Salvation of sinners.

    Jesus, Sweetness of my heart.
    Jesus, Strength of my body.
    Jesus, Light of my soul.
    Jesus, Liveliness of my mind.
    Jesus, Gladness of my conscience.
    Jesus, Hope unexcelled.
    Jesus, Remembrance everlasting.
    Jesus, Praise most exalted.
    Jesus, my Glory most sublime.
    Jesus, my Desire, reject me not.
    Jesus, my Shepherd, seek me out.
    Jesus, my Saviour, save me.

  56. John Avatar

    Yeah. I’d like to meet him. Did he meet Indy while up there? I guess you saw about that package that was in the news lately. Give him my email address if you like. I would be glad to converse with him. I will watch for the pdf. Thanks.

  57. Micah Avatar


    This prayer is like the act of creation depicted in the first four verses of Genesis:

    “I behold the bridal chamber, richly adorned for my savior, but I have no wedding garment to worthily enter. Make radiant the gament of my soul oh giver of Light and save me..”

    Wonderful, thank you for posting this.

  58. PJ Avatar

    Then there’s the little matter of the Jesus Prayer…

  59. davidp Avatar

    Lina and Fr Stephen…this is one reason I have loved and still enjoy St Ephrem of Syria….his rich commentaries of biblical themes in poetry or teaching songs inspire in that it goes beyond the straight-forward teaching of doctrine and theology.

  60. todd Avatar

    John wrote, “I have been concerned for some time that the Orthodox simply call what they do with Mary and the icons veneration to avoid calling it worship, when your actions are the same as if you were worshiping.”
    The actions of Orthodox worship center upon the celebration of the Eucharist, where the Life of God is ingested by the faithful. We worship none other than God; He has provided His own Life in the body and blood of our Lord, Jesus Christ. Our actions of veneration are not the same as our worship of God, as we certainly do not drink the blood of Mary or of any of the Saints. But in the lives of these holy ones, we behold the reality of our God’s transformative power, as they are lamps glowing with the true Light. We honor those who have proven to be true co-laborers with God; God is glorified in His Saints.
    Some defective understandings of worship exist that are not rooted in the Incarnation in such a way. Some of these would reckon ‘worship’ as consisting primarily, if not exclusively, in the form of ‘giving praise’. Under such a restricted paradigm, praising anyone for anything might easily confused for worship.

  61. Micah Avatar

    Father Stephen said:

    “(T)he “mystics” of the West are very unlike the “neptic” fathers of the East. There is an excess in the writings and imaginative works of the West, where there is reticence and unspokenness in the East. The West says to much, and dares its thoughts with flights of imagination. The East rejects the imagination for the sobriety of the God beyond words and imagery. It’s strange that the Orthodox so treasure icons, but use little imagery in its asceticism. The Orthodox take on Western mysticism is that its tendencies are always ripe for delusion. It is delusion that Orthodoxy most fears in the spiritual life.”

    Father, could you provide some real life examples of the mystic versus neptic approach to spiritual formation and worship? Not necessarily as a response to my comment, but as a post, perhaps?

    Thank you!

  62. mary benton Avatar
    mary benton

    Father Stephen,

    I was washing dishes when this occurred to me, rather belatedly… You wrote:

    “The East rejects the imagination for the sobriety of the God beyond words and imagery. It’s strange that the Orthodox so treasure icons, but use little imagery in its asceticism.”

    I was struck by the irony that the poem that began this post uses beautiful, rich imagery. I am not pointing this out to be argumentative – but just wondering – is the writing of St. Nikolai (or this particular poem) atypical of Orthodox writing?

    You wrote that the East “rejects the imagination”. I am puzzled by that. It seems that most anything – words, images, music, etc. – can be courrupted or can be used to give glory to God. I would like to understand this view better. Thanks.

  63. dinoship Avatar

    Mary Benton,
    the rejection of “imagination” in the East is obviously not applicable to poems, parables etc. It stems from the hesychastic practice of the Jesus Prayer (image free practice) and guards a person from the beginnings of delusion. It is one step above “logismoi” (thoughts) ascetical practice, which we also guard against while praying. Imagination can indeed be put to good use, but it is still “milk” rather than “solid food”…
    There is indeed a situation where someone “Lives” in God to such a great extent that all thoughts and imaginations cease of their own accord, but we inevitably fall back down to the more usual life after some time in that blessed state.
    The Church has both milk and solid food and there is a time and place for everything. It is important not to lose sight of their qualitative difference though.

  64. dinoship Avatar

    Sorry, I meant “Imagination is actually one step above “logismoi” (thoughts) which we also valiantly guard against while praying in ascetical Orthodox practice”

    For someone to hope to arrive at true freedom, they need to ignore and renounce a great deal, and this joyous liberation from “my” thoughts, “my” feelings, “my” imaginations makes the space that the Spirit takes up so that one can say like Paul, “not I but Christ”

  65. fatherstephen Avatar

    I was specifically speaking about the use of imagination in prayer – sorry that I was not clear about this. Obviously, our creativity demands imagination. But prayer is not the place where we engage in creativity. Catholic spiritual tradition has various approaches to this subject – some of which would agree with the East, some would not.

  66. mary benton Avatar
    mary benton

    Twice now I have written a response and the computer “ate” it when I tried to post it. It seems I am being called to silence 🙂

    May I share a poem/prayer that I posted last Christmas? It was a gift to me, poem/prayer/image. (Father Stephen, you may remove it if you think it inappropiate – and the computer doesn’t remove it first!) Here’s the link:

    Blessings to all.

  67. Micah Avatar

    Mary, if I may:

    Beautiful. Thanks for posting. Blessings to you too.

  68. Rhonda Avatar


    And now it seems to me in the Orthodox Church, that Jesus is this very inaccessible person.

    One of the things I enjoy & experience since becoming Orthodox is the fact that the Son of God is very much accessible, much more so than in my Protestant upbringing.

    The only way I can get to Him is to ask Mary or a saint to intercede for me.

    Whoever told you that is most definitely wrong & definitely not an Orthodox Christian! Have you never asked a friend to pray for you or to help you in some way? Or vice versa? That is what we mean by asking intercessions of the Theotokos & the Saints. They are part of the Body of Christ, the Church, just as we are; bodily death does not change this.

    Apparently I shouldn’t talk with Him directly.

    Again, you have been greatly misinformed. The most famous prayer to Christ for the Orthodox is “The Jesus Prayer”:
    <O Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner!

    Check out: for numerous prayers used by the Orthodox. Note how many are addressed to Christ directly.

    For more about Orthodox Spirituality:

  69. Westy Goes East Avatar
    Westy Goes East

    Regarding our veneration of the Holy Theotokos, the following is from the liturgical texts for the Forefeast of the Nativity on December 20th:

    You have magnified the Theotokos who bore You, O Christ.
    From her You have put on a body like our own, our Creator,
    which releases us from our errors.
    Blessing her, we in all generations magnify You!

    Note that last line – in blessing the Virgin Mary, we magnify and honor Christ Himself. As I’ve heard Father Thomas Hopko say a number of times, “The Gospel is not about Mary – but Mary is ALL about the Gospel!” We don’t worship her, we honor and venerate her. But not because of her herself – we do so SPECIFICALLY because of her obedience and her “yes” to God.

    I understand your hesitancy about Mary, because I had the same doubts myself. There are some people in some faith traditions who almost elevate her to the level of Christ Himself. As a recent convert, I had to repent of treating her with contempt. But to be honest, accepting the veneration of Mary was one of the easiest things I had to do as a convert coming out of Protestantism, once I found out what and why the Orthodox believe in regards to her – as opposed to standing on the outside and making my own incorrect judgments of what was really going on.

  70. Greg Avatar

    Lina, take a look at an Orthodox prayer book: you will see it is filled with prayers to Jesus, prayers in Jesus’ name, instructions to pray unceasingly to Jesus, etc. There are prayers to the Holy Spirit, the Father and the Trinity as whole as well. Even prayers that involve the saints (which form a very small fraction) are prayers to God.

    Or look at the services – they reflect this same reality.

    (PS this is not to imply that Orthodox don’t pray extemporaneously, just a note that the “model” prayers very much reflect an intimacy and immediacy together with Christ).

  71. Laura Avatar

    Father, if I may, could you send that pdf along to my email as well? I come from the same background and I always appreciate it when I see Orthodoxy engaging the Restoration mindset. 🙂

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