Living a “Spiritual” Life

spiritual metaphors collideIt has become a commonplace to hear someone say, “I’m spiritual but not religious.” Most people have a general understanding of what is meant. I usually assume that the person holds to a number of ideas that are considered “spiritual” in our culture, but that they are not particularly interested in “organized religion.” I understand this, because organized religion can often be the bane of spiritual existence.

I am an Orthodox Christian – which is not the same thing as saying that I have an interest in “organized religion.” There is much about organized religion that I dislike in the extreme, and I occasionally see its shadow seep into my experience within Orthodoxy. But I repeat unashamedly that I am an Orthodox Christian and admit that one clear reason is that I am not very “spiritual.” Without the life of the Church and its Tradition – I could easily drift into a shapeless secularism – living a mediocre existence, marking time until my time is done.

The shapeless contours of spirituality often reflect nothing more than the ego within. How can I escape the confines of my own imagination? It is, of course, possible to ignore the question of the ego’s input and be satisfied with whatever we find comfortable as our “spirituality.” But, as noted above, I do not think I am an inherently “spiritual” man.

The Church is spiritual – indeed it is far more spiritual than “organized.” It is standing in the midst of the holy (whether I am aware of it or not) and yielding myself to that reality that largely constitute my daily “spirituality.” I pray and when something catches my heart, I stop and stay there for a while.

In earlier years of my life, as an Anglican, I learned about a  liturgical phenomenon known as the “guilty secret.” It referred to the extreme familiarity that grows up between priest and “holy things.” Holy things easily become commonplace and their treatment dangerously flippant. More dangerous still, is the growing sense of absence in the heart of a priest as the holy becomes commonplace and even just “common.” Of course the things which God has marked as “holy” are just “common.” A chalice is holy though it is only silver or gold (still “common” material). God uses common things in the giving of grace.

The “guilty secret” can afflict anyone. It’s the old phrase, “Familiarity breeds contempt.” It is particularly dangerous on account of our secular culture which holds most things in equal contempt. Things are only things within our culture, and any value it may have is imputed and not inherent.

This same problem holds true with “spirituality” itself. Words easily revert to mere words; actions to mere actions; ideas to wispy drifts of nothing. I have written elsewhere that secularism breeds atheism. The guilty secret that stalks us all is nothing more than the suspicious voice of secularism whispering, “There’s nothing and nobody there.”

The life we are called to live as Christians is not one long argument with the voice of secularism. The voice of secularism is not the sound of our own doubt, but the voice of the evil one. He has always been a liar.

The essential question for us is clearly stated by St. John:

By this you know the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God, and every spirit that does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not of God. And this is the spirit of the Antichrist, which you have heard was coming, and is now already in the world. (1Jo 4:2-3)

It is the question of Christ’s incarnation – but, in turn, it is also the question: “Is the flesh capable of bearing the Spirit?” Do we live in a world that is capable of God? There are many, who have partaken of a semi-gnostic spirit within modern secularism, who are not comfortable with Spirit-bearing material. Christ is someone whom we have fenced off, demarcated as a unique event such that He alone bears Spirit. He is the God who became incarnate in a world that was, by nature, secular. His incarnation would thus be a sign that does not confirm the world in any way, but by its very coming condemns all flesh.

This, according to St. John, is the spirit of the Antichrist. It is as though the evil one had said, “Fine. Take the flesh of this child born of Mary, but everything else is mine, and tends towards nothing.”

The Incarnate Christ is not only God with us, but reveals the true reason for all creation. “Heaven and earth are full of Thy glory.” Nothing is merely anything. Everything bears the glory of God.

Thus my “spirituality” is to learn how to live in a material world that is everywhere more than I can see or know. For such a life I need a guide. Without a guide I am left to the devices of my own imagination. My parents were not raised in such a situation. They were not teachers in this matter. It is the life of the Church, the way of knowledge that is the lives of the saints that teaches me how to live. They help me eat (or not eat) in a manner that reveals God. They teach me to read, to honor icons, to forgive enemies, to hold creation in its proper, God-given place. I am an Orthodox Christian. Who else remembers how to live in the world, holding that Christ is come in the flesh?

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.


57 responses to “Living a “Spiritual” Life”

  1. Sabrina Avatar

    I, too, have experienced the “guilty secret” when I grew up in the Roman Catholic church and also during my forays into evangelical Protestantism. Unfortunately, there is some of that even in Orthodoxy, particularly on the Internet with the various memes that even go so far as to take the holy icons and post jokes and what not on them. Call me “hyperdox” if you like, but to me those are disresprectful. It seems to me that if people spent as much time really studying scripture and reading the writings of the Church Fathers as they do on silly stuff that one sees at facebook and other places online, we’d go much further as Christians and we’d know it’s much, much more than “organized religion.” Mind, I’ve only been Orthodox slightly under two years, but I hope I will never get jaded enough to fall into the ‘guilty secret.’

  2. Paula Hughes Avatar
    Paula Hughes

    I read Abraham Joshua Heschel when I was converting. He said that you need a structure of worship, doctrine, and a community to worship with. Otherwise you get lost in your own imaginings and end up worshiping yourself. That statement was what propelled me to the Orthodox Church.
    His writing was a great benefit to me because he was so serious about God. He said that either God is of utmost importance. or none at all. A challenge.

  3. Rhonda Avatar

    Without the life of the Church and its Tradition – I could easily drift into a shapeless secularism – living a mediocre existence, marking time until my time is done.

    Agreed! Such was my life before I entered the Church. Thank you, Fr. Stephen for the reminder.

  4. davidp Avatar

    Again, thank you for addressing this common attitude among so many people….being spiritual without the living Christ. I remember one of my earlier teachers said of Martin Luther when Luther said..there are many spirits in the world but only one Holy Spirit.


  5. Grace Avatar

    I was just thinking about this. I’m glad to know that it’s not just me that we’re getting fascinated by complex aspects of the faith without always keeping the basics in mind.

    It wouldn’t make any sense to try to master intricacies of noetic prayer, etc. before being sure you actually believe in Jesus Christ. But for some, it’s less scary.

  6. Mark the Zealot Avatar
    Mark the Zealot

    Father, bless.

    Though I did not hear it referred to as such, I experienced the “guilty secret” as an Episcopalian acolyte. Our priest told us there was a danger of being “overly-familiar with Holy things.”

    I accept the truth of this danger and realize that we must work out our salvation with trembling. I think, however, that this is more of a danger to those who are “religious” rather than the “spiritual.” I really don’t know what is meant by “spirtual-but-not-religious,” but I conclude that it is just a shorthand expression of rejecting usual church or synagogue worship. It may include a rejection of the incarnation, but I don’t think that is usually a conscious rejection.

  7. Steve Avatar


    Great comment. Funnily enough, it was AJ Heschel who provided much of the theoretical framework that led to my own Orthodox confession. Along with some other notable Rabbis. By this I mean, an acknowledgment that Orthodoxy is “the ground and pillar of truth”.

    We should not be surprised that the image of God is less distorted in those who to worship God in spirit and truth (cf. Jn. 4:23). The Church Fathers maintain that mankind contains within himself, the undistorted image of God. In other words, if I do not see the divine image in my brother or sister, that is my problem, not theirs:

    “He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes, or decide by what he hears with his ears; but with righteousness he will judge the needy, with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth”(Isa. 11:3-4)


    Orthodoxy has a wonderful way of reconciling freedom and love. In the words of Met Kallistos Ware:

    The Orthodox Church repudiates any interpretation of the fall which allows no room for human freedom [….] the image of God is distorted by sin, but never destroyed”


    It’s not simply a matter of confessing Jesus in name, but of living the life. This is what the Fathers teach…

  8. Grant Avatar

    And I am glad that you are, Father, for my sake and that of the others in this little commenting community.

  9. Steve Avatar

    I would also add that AJ Heschel et al. provided much of the spiritual framework (some really crucial bits) that led to my Orthodox confession.

  10. Bruce Avatar

    As I read your post today, I thought of Father Alexander Schmemann’s final words to his congregation and the picture he paints of thankfulness and thanksgiving which seems to be such an important part of transforming what is material into the participatation with the Giver of Life He desires. It seems fitting and near to seeing ‘Glory to God for All Things’:

    Final words
    Protopresbyter Alexander Schmemann celebrated the divine liturgy for the last time on Thanksgiving Day. This was particularly appropriate since Father Alexander had devoted his whole life to teaching, writing and preaching about the Eucharist; for the word eucharist in Greek means thanksgiving. At the conclusion of the liturgy, Father Alexander took from his pocket a short written sermon, in the form of a prayer, which he proceeded to read. This was a strange occurrence since Father never wrote his liturgical homilies, but delivered them extemporaneously. These were his words, which proved to be the last ever spoken by him from the ambo in Church.

    Thank You, O Lord!
    Everyone capable of thanksgiving is capable of salvation and eternal joy.

    Thank You, O Lord, for having accepted this Eucharist, which we offered to the Holy Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and which filled our hearts with the joy, peace and righteousness of the Holy Spirit.

    Thank You, O Lord, for having revealed Yourself unto us and given us the foretaste of Your Kingdom.

    Thank You, O Lord, for having united us to one another in serving You and Your Holy Church.

    Thank You, O Lord, for having helped us to overcome all difficulties, tensions, passions, temptations and restored peace, mutual love and joy in sharing the communion of the Holy Spirit.

    Thank You, O Lord, for the sufferings You bestowed upon us, for they are purifying us from selfishness and reminding us of the “one thing needed;” Your eternal Kingdom.

    Thank You, O Lord, for having given us this country where we are free to Worship You.

    Thank You, O Lord, for this school, where the name of God is proclaimed.

    Thank You, O Lord, for our families: husbands, wives and, especially, children who teach us how to celebrate Your holy Name in joy, movement and holy noise.

    Thank You, O Lord, for everyone and everything.

    Great are You, O Lord, and marvelous are Your deeds, and no word is sufficient to celebrate Your miracles.

    Lord, it is good to be here! Amen.

    by Fr. Alexander Schmemann

  11. Eric Avatar

    Thank you for this Father
    Powerful, compelling and Truth Full

    It addresses something I have been struggling to express as I teach on the nature of The Church, through Lent, particularly with reference to the overwhelming dominance of Individualistic pietism even within the church

    With your permission I’d would like to reproduce your words for further consideration in my congregation

  12. Fr. James Guirguis Avatar


    The idea of the necessity of a guide such as “the Church” is daunting to so many. I tend to think that the more daunting experience would be to go through life like the Ethiopian eunuch before he met Philip. There are simply too many places to stumble and get confused and lose your way without proper guides.

    As always, thank you for your edifying words.

  13. Jeremy Avatar

    Father, thank you for this post. I host a group here in my city that is a very open spiritual-discussion forum. About 90% or more of those that come are what you describe above: “spiritual, but not religious.” What you wrote above helps me to articulate my own thoughts and feelings.

  14. Byron Gaist Avatar
    Byron Gaist

    “I’m spiritual but not religious” is sometimes also a way of saying: “don’t imagine that because you’re religious, that makes you smarter or better than me in any way”; in which case, I would have to agree. God enlightens everyone who comes into the world. But secular society has lost touch with Tradition to such an extent, that today some even imagine ‘religion’ to be a bad word. Thank you for this and so many other posts, Fr Stephen. They nourish the spiritual life of your readers.

  15. Kevin Avatar


    Some institutions have contributed to making ‘religion’ a bad word by making it about what I must do to be right with God rather than what God has done to reconcile the world to himself.

    @ Fr Stephen

    “Without the life of the Church and its Tradition – I could easily drift into a shapeless secularism – living a mediocre existence, marking time until my time is done.”

    Do you ever see the same thing within religious tradition? From the many Jesus followers I know who live it outside of the walls of the church and its tradition they might write it this way . . .

    Within the life of the Church and its Tradition – I could easily drift into a structured religiosity – living a mediocre existence, marking time until my time is done.

    Institutional tradition and structure, non-institutional innovation and formless – all of us have preferences and places we feel more at home. We can seek God with all our hearts on either side of the spectrum and God is capable of meeting us wherever we are.

    I have come to enjoy both spaces – wherever I am find the living Christ. I have also come to realize I can be in either place and miss the living Christ who is there when I am not mindful.

  16. George Engelhard Avatar
    George Engelhard

    When I was in a new age school of self-awareness I did spiritual exercises through which I became extremely high, ecstatic, but could still, and did, live an extremely sinful life.

  17. Steve Avatar

    Good point George. It is the soul (not the body) that sins. Spending an hour or two in a cemetery can be a salutary experience, almost like a Pascha within Pascha. One of the characteristics of a cemetery is that it is a place in which very little sin is committed.

  18. fatherstephen Avatar

    Sin is “always at the door,” according to the Scriptures. I do find that outside life in the Tradition I’m left to my imagination and the world of my own preferences. I’m not sure that Consumer Man can be saved like that. To live inside the Tradition does not mean “structured religiosity” (though someone could imagine that structured religiosity was the same thing as Tradition). Rather it means that the path to God is not my private invention, but a well-trod path with plenty of teachers if I’m willing to be a disciple. Christians must be disciples. How would I know the Living Christ apart from the Tradition? Clearly Christ is free and gives Himself whenever and wherever He wills. But the Tradition is, in Orthodox understanding, the living Christ giving Himself to us in the Church. It is an ecclesiological (in the fullness of its life) icon. As I yield myself to its rhythms and disciplines, its revelations and songs, sacraments and mysteries, I am united to the Living Christ a day at a time. It transcends my moods and preferences. It reigns me in when I become choked on my own grandiosity and lifts me up when I am crushed. Why would I want to live outside it?

  19. Kevin Avatar

    Fr Stephen, I think it is awesome that the orthodox tradition does all what you describe for you. I don’t know why you would want to live outside it either, and I hope nobody is asking you to or suggesting it.

    My point is that all what you described are a means of engaging the Living Christ. There are those who are not part of the orthodox church, and perhaps not part of any institutional church (a house church for instance), who are also apprentices / students of Christ – and are engaging the Living Christ through different means.

  20. fatherstephen Avatar

    I certainly wish them well. But I politely think that Protestantism, whether house church or whatever, errs in its knowledge of the Living Christ. It means well, but does not know the fullness which is found only in the continuity of the living Tradition of the Church. I lived in a commune as part of a house church long ago (in the early 70’s). We had much that was good, but there was so much we did not and could not know. Having the gift of the fullness in Orthodoxy is no guarantee of living it – of course. And many do even better outside than many Orthodox do within. But if they knew the treasure that now eludes them, they would sell all that they have for this pearl of great price.

    I don’t mean to disparage – only to speak about something that so few actually know about.

  21. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Having lived in the wilderness outside the Church for 39 years (didn’t quite make the 40) and lived within the Church of another 26 so far. I can attest to the savage effects of heresy, especially unrecognized heresy on people’s souls and how easy it is to fall into such error.

    I can also attest to the fact that Jesus Christ is active outside the Church, He found me were I was and brought me home.

    The key is not seraching for spirituality but a thrist for the truth. Even in the Church we are constantly called upon to discern the truth rather than settle for the diseased imaginings of our own mind and thus fall into idolatry. It is easier in the Church, or can be, because of the standard and witness of the tradition, particularly the lives of the saints.

    If you live without Mary, the Theotokos; if you live without the sacraments and the communion of the saints; if you live without a call to deep and constant repentance; if you live without being called to obedience you are not really experiencing the Living Christ in His fullness.

    When I was approaching the Church, my sponsor mentioned to me the incredible, inexhaustible depth of life that exists in the Church. I nodded sagely as if I understood. I was clueless and didn’t even begin to understand how clueless I was until I had been received.

    The Truth or an idol; life or death. No unformed spirituality will ever be sufficient.

    Jesus Christ incarnated. He became flesh and blood. So it is today. Those who wish to dis-incarnate Him and be simply ‘spiritual’ miss the point, the wonder, the incredibly radical difference the Incarnation makes in everything.

    God is merciful but He is not tolerant. Universalism, despite its appeal has consistantly been rejected by the Church.

    Egalitarian relativism assumes that God tolerates all things without the need for obedience; without the need for repentance; without the need for the mentanoia, the total change of being to which He calls us.

  22. Rhonda Avatar

    Fr. Stephen,

    If you feel this is out of line, then please feel free to block it.


    No Orthodox Christian worth their salt would say that if you are not Orthodox you cannot seek salvation. We are not fundamentalists that rant “Believe God my way or go to hell!” Judgement belongs to God & God alone. It is not our place to judge anyone for we have no guarantee of our own salvation. We are free to walk away from God at any time. We are merely saying, “Here is your true home. Here is your true life in Christ God.”

    I too travelled through the great majority of Protestantism, RC & even Judaism before I was received into the Orthodox Church. There were times when I was spiritual-but-not-religious & other times when I was religious-but-not-spiritual. In most of the groups I experienced there were good things that benefitted me in faith, but there were also bad things that hindered & even harmed me in faith.

    I did not know what I was missing through it all, but I did know that I was missing something. Many though do not realize that they are missing anything at all. They have their religion, their God, their Christ, all worked out. This “working out” has resulted in over 38,000 Protestant religious groups worldwide which is in stark contrast to the one Orthodox Church worldwide.

    I too can attest to the fullness of the Truth of the Orthodox Faith revealed & lived through Orthodox Tradition. In the Orthodox Faith there is nothing missing & I do mean nothing. It is the fullness of Truth which is what Catholic truly means rather than merely universal.

    Does that mean that all Orthodox Christians are pure, holy & righteous & never sin? No, because there are Orthodox that use the actions as the ends rather than the means to the end. Yes, even an Orthodox can just go through the motions & put on a show. But to take this & say that it doesn’t matter & to reject Orthodoxy out of hand is also wrong because that can be said of any group; trust me I know.

    As an Orthodox Christian I am neither spiritual nor religious; I am Orthodox.

  23. Rhonda Avatar

    Well said, Michael 🙂

  24. PJ Avatar

    “Fr Stephen, I think it is awesome that the orthodox tradition does all what you describe for you”

    There it is, that little phrase that is the bane of post-modernity: “For you.” One qualifier has turned the whole world on its head!

    Orthodox Christianity and non-sacramental, non-liturgical, non-creedal, biblicist evangelicalism can’t be equally valid. They just can’t be. Their means are so different, so dissimilar, as to lead to different ends.

    Bah! Perhaps I’m a narrow-minded curmudgeon, but the do-what-feels-right-for-you mentality seems nothing less than “diabolic” in the literal sense of the word — divisive.

    People have always differed. But the heresy of the contemporary age is that the difference does not reflect confusion but insight — that the profusion of sects is somehow admirable in and of itself.

    If we’re all alright and we’re all okay, none of us are alright and none of us are okay.

    I don’t speak with venom and malice, but with frustration and exasperation.

  25. Dino Avatar

    what you describe rings very true and is unbelievably prevalent. Unknowingly to most, it is actually based on (occultist /satanist) Aleister Crowley’s “Do what thou wilt is the whole of the law.”
    However, I try not to ponder on those type of insights as they are not really beneficial… What is is far more so , is knowing that “busying myself with the sins of others demonstrates that I have not yet even begun to repent or to examine myself so as to discover my own sins…” as St. Maximos the Confessor says.
    I do agree though…

  26. Kevin Avatar

    “Orthodox Christianity and non-sacramental, non-liturgical, non-creedal, biblicist evangelicalism can’t be equally valid. They just can’t be. Their means are so different, so dissimilar, as to lead to different ends.”

    What is the end for you in the Orthodox church? I ask because I’m not entirely familiar with it.

    In my view the end is trinitarian fellowship, transformation in the character of Christ, love for God and neighbor – being and making disciples to become the kind of people who can observe all that Jesus commanded.

    We are all wired so differently and enter relationship with Christ with so many different issues, it doesn’t surprise me at all that the prescription and path toward wholeness in Christ would vary.

    “There it is, that little phrase that is the bane of post-modernity: “For you.” One qualifier has turned the whole world on its head!”

    I understand what you are saying. Hopefully I wasn’t being so broad as that. All paths certainly don’t lead to God. But God can find you anywhere and bring you home. The context was not Orthodox Christianity or Paganism, but two people who I thought were journeying in the same direction toward the same goal, perhaps with different means.

    I don’t think that was a faulty assumption. I look forward to learning more about Orthodox Christianity.

  27. Dino Avatar

    I cannot speak for PJ, as far as I know (from his commenting here that is) he seems a fervent Christian first and a Catholic second, with a growing respect and appreciation for Orthodoxy, I respect your response immensely though. May the Lord lead you to the fullness of His knowledge!

  28. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Kevin, you are right: “Christ can find you whereever you are and bring you home” He did with me and I was quite a bit further a way that you appear to be.

    Still a couple of questions: Which Christ? Where is home?

    Not all the Christs presented as the real thing are the real thing. The experience and wisdom of the Orthodox Church helps a very great deal in knowing reality from fiction.

    While mere words and even the best doctrinal statements will still be incomplete, don’t you think it is best to know where not to look?

    Heresy always divides as it presents a rational picture of God that is not true. Heresy is a bit like the difference between carbon monoxide and oxygen. Carbon monoxide is orderless and even has oxygen in it, but it does not allow the body to accept and be nourished by oxygen, thus the body dies.

    In economics the principal is that bad money drives out good. So in the life of the Christian, bad doctrine and bad ecclesiology drive out the good and the soul can be aphyxiated without even knowing it.

    Each person’s path to salvation is different, but the way is still narrow.

  29. TLO Avatar

    So, today my wife and I went to the Catholic cathedral in downtown Denver and I confess that the incense got to me. I was really missing our old, broken-down CEC church. I am considering visiting an Orthodox church this Sunday, largely due to the goodness of the people that I have met here. But I am meeting with an issue that speaks to this post.

    I am an Orthodox Christian – which is not the same thing as saying that I have an interest in “organized religion.”…The Church is spiritual – indeed it is far more spiritual than “organized.”

    True that. I am reading through some of these websites for churches in my area and finding all manner of qualifiers that are used to help new people understand what kind of Orthodoxy is practiced there.

    One states that it “conforms to the Book of Common Prayer (with necessary corrections).” Who decided that corrections were necessary?

    Another says that it is “A GREGORIAN LATIN-RITE PARISH of the Self-Ruled Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese.” Self-ruled? What on Earth?

    And there are Ethiopian, Greek and Coptic Orthodox churches.

    I confess, I haven’t the stomach for any of this.

    If “Orthodox” means that it is the right way, why are there so many variations of it? I’ll give the Roman Catholics this; if you go to one in Manila you’ll get pretty much the same thing as you’ll get in Madrid or Sao Paulo or Rome. It seems there are more flavors of “Orthodoxy” than Baskin Robbins offers.

    How can all these claim to be Orthodox if they aren’t the same?

    I am far to simple for all this. I want to drive my car, not understand how it works. Why must Christianity be so difficult? And this is just one sect of one religion. The cacophony of spiritual ideas out there is overwhelming. Why bother? Better to just go off into a desert or forest to find god, eh?

  30. PJ Avatar


    I’m not Orthodox, I am a Catholic of the Roman rite. Don’t get me wrong: God can work wherever He wants and save whomever He pleases. But I am firmly convinced that Christ intended His Church to be one: unified in terms of creed and cult. Scripture I think makes this pretty clear, but if and where it is ambiguous, tradition is loud and clear. There is certainly room for variation. For instance, there are several liturgies used throughout the Catholic Church, all of them legitimate despite their (sometimes significant) differences. However, there is unity through the apostolic ministry, the eucharist, and the creeds.

    Now, I admit that the Catholic Church may not be the Body and Bride of Christ. But if it is not, and I figure as much, then I am high-tailing it out of there and doing my darned best to discover the true Pillar and Ground of Truth, the true “one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church.” And, when I find it, I will conform myself to it. I refuse to buy into this postmodern nonsense, wherein we make our own reality. “Whatever floats your boat.” No, not so much, thank you.


    It is good to hear that you were in church. The basilica in Denver is something.

    That said, I think you might be overstating the differences between the various Orthodox churches. It’s basically just a matter of jurisdiction, which has always existed in some form or another. Even in the Catholic Church, there are different rites with their own liturgies, although the Latin or Roman rite is dominant, and all the rites are ultimately united under one patriarch, the Bishop of Rome.

  31. fatherstephen Avatar

    It’s because America is a land of “many cultures.” Orthodoxy has always observed the principle of enculturating the faith. The “one size fits all” of Rome (which actually isn’t even true there) would grind all cultures into one culture. There are some efforts, under the Patriarch of Antioch (Syria) who has a number of parishes in the US, as well as under the Russians, that are allowing the use of a “Western-Rite.” In these cases, they have been Anglican groups who converted to Orthodoxy and are allowed to use a version of the Anglican liturgy, corrected with the approval of Orthodox bishops for it to conform to Orthodox teaching. It’s small. It is something of a debate within Orthodoxy (should we or shouldn’t we). I tend to think that the Western rite might be a mistake – but I’m just a priest and I would not be interested in arguing the point (I’m a convert from Anglicanism, and in my experience the fullness of the Byzantine tradition is needed to carry the fullness of Orthodoxy).

    Denver is actually one of the few places where you find this, btw. If I can make a suggestion…if you can get a little travel time, go down to Col. Springs and visit at Sts. Constantine and Helen and meet Fr. Anthony Karbo. He’s an outstanding priest and it’s an outstanding parish. He’s worth getting to know and he could help you with the lay of the land up in Denver. I would suggest treating the whole thing (Orthodoxy) as an adventure, without a lot of expectations to start with. It’s easy to come at the whole thing with an assumption of what the “true church” should look like. Might be different than you really expect.

    Relax as much as you can. Glad you’re looking around. I’ve heard very good things about the Catholic bishop in Denver. My friend, Terry Mattingly, a journalist, has written some pretty interesting things about him.

  32. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    TLO: As PJ points out there are several different liturgical ‘rites’ : Byzantine; Western-Latin; Western-Anglican.

    St. Tikon of Russia blessed the Western rites with appropriate corrections to keep them in line with Orthodox liturgical tradition. Even in the Byzantine rite there are 3 distinct liturgies that can be celebrated although the Liturgy of St John Chrysostom is the primary one.

    Diversity within Truth.

  33. Steve Avatar

    PJ, indeed Kevin et al.:

    If I may.

    Conformity has nothing to do with outward things (like rites, whether east or west, etc.) but rather with internalising the preeternal image of God so that we act justly, becoming translations of his grace on earth. If this were not the case, salvation would cease to be an act of mercy, heaven forbid.

    A pertinent quote by Fr. Stephen:

    I do not think the healing of the tragedy comes as a combination (as in “two lungs”). The Orthodox East and Christian West cannot be combined. I think it is rather as Florovsky said: the tragedy must be reendured and relived. The peace can only be found within the one who does so.

    In the hymnography of Holy Mother Church, we see how She offers the holy incense of intercession for all mankind:

    O Silouan, beloved of God,
    Truly amazing preacher of humility
    And radiance warmed by the love for mankind of the Holy Spirit:
    The Russian Church rejoices in your labors.
    All monks on the Athonite mountain
    And all Christian people are rejoicing as well,
    Turning themselves towards God with the love of children.

    We must not judge according to outward things (like the Pharasies) but rather, to the divine image within.

    Bless all.

  34. Steve Avatar

    We must not judge according to outward things (like the Pharisees) but rather, be conformed to the divine image within.

    Bless all.

  35. Byron Gaist Avatar
    Byron Gaist

    Surely both are important: what God has done to reconcile the world to himself, as well as what this implies about my own lifestyle, making it pleasing to God. This is why living by the traditional teachings and participation in the communal, sacramental life of the Church is important. I think you are right, Kevin, in finding inspiration both within and outside the structure of organised religion – even when we do try to live within the framework of the Orthodox Church, it remains up to us how we will work through the specifics of our salvation. My concern for the way you are expressing your insight, however, is that in valuing both the Church and secular culture in this particular way, I think you may risk benefiting from neither. I’m definitely still working out how to be in the world but not of it; without the help of Tradition, I would definitely lose my bearings in this journey.

  36. Steve Avatar

    I’m definitely still working out how to be in the world but not of it; without the help of Tradition, I would definitely lose my bearings in this journey.

    The fullness of Tradition is perfectly preserved in the Eastern Church. “East” of course is not defined by canonical boundaries but by a constant turning toward the rising son, which is the banishing of all shadow. What God did on the cross (a “historical” event) he continues to do through the community of saints in heaven and on earth (“the fullness”).

  37. Steve Avatar

    “The sun of righteousness” even (Malachi 4:2).

  38. Kevin Avatar

    “valuing both the Church and secular culture in this particular way, I think you may risk benefiting from neither.”

    That is not a leap I made in my comments (at least I didn’t intend to.) I don’t value secular culture. Jesus taught about reality. Life in the kingdom of God is available now in him. Yes, there is a greater fullness still to come, but our’s is an invitation and a call to live in the kingdom of heaven now, in the midst of a “crooked and perverse generation.”

    “I’m definitely still working out how to be in the world but not of it; without the help of Tradition, I would definitely lose my bearings in this journey.”

    I understand where you are coming from. I am not for abandoning or throwing out tradition.

  39. PJ Avatar


    “Conformity has nothing to do with outward things (like rites, whether east or west, etc.) but rather with internalising the preeternal image of God…”

    Nothing? Nothing at all?

    As sacramental Christians, we believe that those “outward things” influence the “inward things.” Thus, a Christianity without liturgy and sacraments is bound to effect the conformity of the inner man to the likeness of Jesus Christ.

  40. Steve Avatar


    Yes, “Tradition” conforms to the divine image of God. Just as the Sabbath was made for man, so too are the sacraments given for the salvation, edification, healing, etc, of man. It is always divine grace acting through the Trinity of Persons…

  41. Karen Avatar

    Kevin, et. al.,

    Thanks for your comments and questions. I’ve enjoyed the conversation. This is tricky because as Fr. Stephen said:

    . . . many do even better outside than many Orthodox do within.

    There is much of Orthodoxy outside Orthodoxy, and because God is faithful, those who are pursuing and holding to that measure of Orthodoxy will by the grace of the Holy Spirit reap good fruit. Similarly, humanly-speaking on the ground, there is much that is not truly Orthodox among the Orthodox! Individual Orthodox come in as many ranges and stages of spiritual states as their Evangelical counterparts (actually a greater range), and certainly all do not hold the faith with an equal depth of experience and understanding. So discernment is necessary both within and outside the (Orthodox) Church.

    On the other hand, there is much outside of Orthodoxy that is not Orthodoxy, yet that masquerades as “orthodoxy” within the Evangelical realm and which if pursued/trusted will eventually frustrate the one who is seeking to come into a full, living experiential communion with the Holy Trinity. (That was actually my experience after four decades within Evangelical circles.) I can really appreciate that you (Kevin), are not for abandoning or throwing out tradition, but from an Eastern Orthodox perspective, simply as a result of historical developments in the theology and practices of the churches in the West, that has already been done for you. You are in fact, operating with less than the fullness of the apostolic tradition. What is being offered to you in the name of the fullness of that apostolic tradition is different from it in many respects (and in which respects will vary to some degree from one particular Evangelical group to another).

    Speaking as a former Evangelical, I can affirm with Fr. Stephen that only the fullness of Orthodoxy qualifies as the “pearl of great price.” This is seen in her sacramental understandings, her Liturgy and especially in her Saints. I have realized since entering the Church, that though I did indeed have glimpses of the true and Living Christ outside the Church and was being drawn toward God by the Holy Spirit (and that He used the truth that was in the traditions I was taught), I also was at other points led astray by having a concept and ideology of Who God/Christ is and what the Church is that is false.

  42. Dino Avatar

    regarding the “outward things”, we cannot build a house without scaffolding, it might be discarded once the house is built, but nevertheless, it is essential to the process of building it….

  43. mike Avatar

    ..As a non-denominational christian, I appreciate the intuitive child-like logic in Kevin’s comments.Such purity leaves no space for rebuttal.

  44. kelly Avatar

    Excellent post Father. I find that believing that matter can bear the Spirit is the root of so many of my problems. It was my primary problem entering the Church, accepting that the elements of Communion were truly Christ’s body and blood, and it remains to be the source of my disbelief as I walk through the difficulties of life. This post is a good reminder to fight. I’m totally in love with your sentence, “Nothing is merely anything.” – perfectly said!

  45. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    mike, not rebuting anything, just saying there is more.

  46. Steve Avatar

    Well said Dino, Michael B!

  47. easton Avatar

    karen, your point about reaping good fruit is a good one. isn’t that what we all look for? in any church or individual…in ourselves? the problem (i think) for many is we see as much of that fruit on the outside as we do in the church. one third of catholics have left their church because of all the scandals…one can’t help but wonder how all of this points towards the truth. are the leaders truly being lead by the spirit?? if so, shouldn’t the fruit be obvious, or at the very least, shouldn’t we see a slice of the fruit? don’t think it’s a “protestant problem” as much as a “fruit problem” !

  48. Karen Avatar

    Easton, I expect that the many scandals and worldliness of professing Christians is a problem simply everywhere (especially if we were able to see with God’s eyes). I rejoice in grace and goodness wherever it is found. I’m glad to see God working wherever that is the case. If we could see a difference in fruitfulness (quite sure we as individuals are incapable of judging this very accurately, though–appearances can be deceiving and there can be many mitigating factors of which we are simply unaware), I think it would be seen most clearly in the quality of the lives that are deemed heroic and truly saintly within each tradition.

  49. mary benton Avatar
    mary benton

    A very interesting post and discussion…

    I sense that the notion of “obedience” may be at issue for many of the “spiritual but not religious” folks. Not just that people in American culture don’t want their personal “freedom” limited by obedience (though many don’t), but that many are left feeling confused or disillusioned with those they were taught to obey. Scandals can be a major source of this difficulty but lesser hypocrisies score strongly as well.

    Witnessing such things, people may rightly wonder whether they can trust those leading the churches any more (or even as much as) they trust themselves. This is a tricky situation because, if we are honest, we must acknowledge that we ourselves cannot be trusted in many matters either – but we might think, “at least I don’t do THAT”.

    The value of Church, Tradition and Community of Saints is that we may be taught by those who have stood the test of time. Yet even this is difficult for some people because our culture of investigative news often reveals the tragic flaws of widely accepted heroes. For some, this results in a cynicism that would doubt that even the holiest of saints was truly holy.

    Sheldon Vanauken (friend of C.S. Lewis) wrote, “The best argument for Christianity is Christians: their joy, their certainty, their completeness. But the strongest argument against Christianity is also Christians…”

    And so we are challenged to make our lives “the best argument”.

  50. Steve Avatar

    The metaphor of the garden and the gardener springs to mind, as does “having root within”, the mysteries of eternity are not to be found in the invented world synonymous with the consumer society, like so many car dealerships to paraphrase Fr. Stephen, or shopping malls. As Karen says, God completely ignores all that and engages the sacred heart. Jerusalem is a city without walls, I am it’s glory within and the fire around (Zech 2: 4-5)

  51. Katina Avatar

    Journey to Self “A Being of Love” By Katina Williams is a great book that discusses how the ego is not really the real you. I wrote it to inspire. Others on their spiritual journey.

  52. Karen Avatar

    Mary, it seems to me you’ve raised a good point in your last comment. I recently listened to this podcast:

    If you get the chance to listen to it, I would be interested to know if it resonates with your experience as it did with mine.

  53. easton Avatar

    mary, you make some very good points. we never know another, even those very close to us. i have known a few (in the church) and a few (outside the church) who are close to saints. the “fruitfulness” we are to look for in others and ourselves i find in unexpected places…that makes me wonder about the truth. i’m sure i’m not using the right words to explain myself. sorry…and thank you, father stephen, for being a true witness.

  54. Steve Avatar

    I have known a few (in the Church) and a few (outside the Church) who are close to Saints. the “fruitfulness” we are to look for in others and ourselves I find in unexpected places…that makes me wonder about the truth.

    Fr. Stephen’s one-storey universe is a vine of three strands: the cross, tradition & prayer. All these, when taken as one, constitute Pascha.

  55. mary benton Avatar
    mary benton

    easton – thank for your comment. I’m not sure if I know what you were trying to communicate but that’s OK. It is often hard to find words.

    Sometimes we find saintliness in unexpected places – and that is a good reminder to us that it is a gift to those who are open to it. (We do not achieve it by our efforts, though we need to cooperate with grace; signing up with the “right” church does not ensure it.)

    Sometimes we find evil in unexpected places – where we expected to find good, because of a person’s role in the church or their outward appearance. This is a good reminder that any of us (even those who do much good) can be drawn in by evil, in ways large or small.

    While Church and tradition provide us with much help, we need to be ever-vigilant in our personal discernment when listening to the teachings of others. If I give my heart to God foremost and completely, I will more likely be edified by the truly holy and less likely to be disillusioned by the wolves in sheep’s clothing.

  56. aegian Avatar

    I am deeply grateful to our Lord for finding this site and this thread. You may find it hard to believe but He pointed me towards it in a dream becuase I have been feeling bereft of late at the idiocies of the secular world. It is wonderful to find so many people who believe in our Holy Church and our beloved Theotokos, who has been such a mainstay to me throughout my life.

    This thread about being spiritual though not religious is very timely. I have spent over 10 years on an atheistic talkboard,( trying in every way that the lord inspired me to tell them the Gospel. My only visible success was that I am the last Christian left on that board. All others were chased away with mockery, threats and hatred. By the grace of God I am tolerated still, though I feel the task is too great and I am now taking a Lenten break. On this Forgiveness Sunday I forgive them and ask God to forgive me for not having touched their hearts more movingly.

    Many of them are out and out atheists. Some are secular and agnostic and another third claim to be spiritual but not religious. That third hope to meet their deceased dearly beloved in Heaven but do not believe in God.

    They are deeply confused and cannot see the truth, that the scientism in which they have cast their faith is not letting them see the truth. My husband is a scientist and I have spent my life also studying science, in order to understand what is currently known and what is not known. I assure everyone on this forum that science is limited and we do not know much about the creation. Evolution is a strongly supported theory but not dogma. The Big Bang is evern now being questioned but sadly secular people imagine that physics prove there is no God, a totally ludicrous position.

    Meanwhile our precious Church is much derided. May the Lord be praised that so many here believe. May His blessings be upon us all in this Lenten season. I hope nobody has been insulted by this post which is by way of introducing myself.

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