To Behold the Beauty of the Lord

00-vladimir-yeshtokin-a-joyful-place-07-12-12By using the elements of this world, Art reveals to us a depth which is logically inexpressible. It is in fact impossible to “tell” poetry, to “decompose” a symphony, or to “tear apart” a painting. The beautiful is present in the harmony of all its elements and brings us face to face with a truth that cannot be demonstrated or proved, except by contemplating it. – Paul Evdokimov

A while back, I suggested that the experience of Beauty was far more fertile ground for conversation (and conversion) than the various reasonings of what passes for theology. This is both true because the experience of Beauty, even for the non-believer, is less laden with warnings, hesitations and arguments than the traditional language of belief, as well as the fact that there is the possiblity for some level of mutuality of experience between believer and non-believer.

The immediate doubts and questions that some would raise: “What do you mean by Beauty,” etc, is actually an abandonment of the conversation and a return to philosophy and argument. Rather than argue about the meaning of Beauty, we can simply ask, “Describe an experience you have had of something beautiful.” More to the point, “Describe an experience you have had of something profoundly beautiful.”

It is a fertile ground for conversation (from an Orthodox perspective) because of the nature of Beauty itself. Orthodoxy holds that Beauty is a revelation and reflection of God. Within some of the Fathers, there is a Trinity of ideals: Goodness, Truth and Beauty. I have read treatments that use this to reflect on the Persons of the Trinity, but I will not pursue that here. Rather, I will offer this brief summary:

God alone is good and goodness only find its meaning within God. Truth is the Good presented for our understanding. Beauty is what Truth looks like.

In our modern culture, discussions of the good have become deeply fragmented and politicized making them difficult if not impossible. Truth is at least as strained. Beauty, however challenged and relativized, still offers possibilities for conversation: if not for the discussion of a particular object of Beauty, then at least for our common capacity to perceive Beauty. The conversation becomes even more fruitful if we eliminate more moderate experiences and concentrate on those that are profound. These are relatively few, but not so uncommon as to make conversation impossible.

The experience of the profoundly beautiful elicits from us a response that is not far removed from worship. Rudolf Otto’s classic, The Idea of the Holy, speaks about the experience of the numinous, the mysterium tremendum. His descriptions and categories could also be applied to certain experiences of Beauty.

I first heard Rachmaninov’s Vespers when I was in college (the early ’70’s). It was not nearly as well-known or ubiquitous as it is today. My wife and I were working in our apartment when the Vespers came on the radio. We stopped what we were doing and sat transfixed for the whole of the performance. I was no stranger to Church music, including the finest of the West, but I had heard nothing like Rachmaninov’s Vespers. I waited carefully for the end of the recording to hear the announcer’s description. I went out the next day to find the album (the old Melodiya recording by the National Chorus of the USSR – still the best performance I have heard).

Hearing the Vespers was an experience of profound beauty. I had tears. It awoke a hunger in me that, to some degree, has to be credited with my conversion to Orthodoxy decades later. Nowhere else have I ever encountered such beauty – in sound, in sight, or words. As St. Vladimir’s envoys said of their experience of Orthodox worship in Constantinople, “We did not know whether we were in heaven or on earth. But we know of a truth, that there, God dwells among men.”

The continuity between sound, word and image is a hallmark of Orthodox Christianity. The historical doctrines of the Church are generally stated in succinct aphorisms rather than in lengthy works of qualifications and nuance. Poetry often carries theology in a manner superior to prose.

Beauty has become detached from modern culture in general. It has not been abolished from our lives, but has often been isolated. It’s isolation reveals that we do not live our lives well. But the experience remains. The experience does not call forth words so much as silence. It has the power to draw us outside of ourselves. Beauty can create within us a deep sense of peace and wholeness as we participate in it, or, conversely, create a great sense of our own emptiness. But it does not leave us unchanged.

The witness that in Beauty we encounter God or something deeply united to Him, is an article of faith. It is not a point of argument – for the argument quickly distances us from the Beauty itself. Rather, the witness points to Who God Is when Orthodoxy speaks of God. At Pascha, the prologue of the Gospel of St. John is read and we hear the witness:

And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth (1:14).

It is similar to the witness of the Temple Guards:

Then the officers came to the chief priests and Pharisees, who said to them, “Why have you not brought Him?” The officers answered, “No man ever spoke like this Man!” (Jn. 7:45-46).

In part, the recognition of Christ’s divinity was found within the experience of His beauty (words, glory, goodness, etc.).

It is this union of the Christ of history and the experience of Beauty that draws from the mouth of believers, “My Lord and my God!” Believers bear witness that in Christ, they have encountered the very content of Beauty itself. As such, the very fact of His existence bears witness to the existence of God and the Goodness of God. If Christ exists, then God exists. And if Christ is God, then God is Good and Beautiful in all things.

But in our conversations, we need not be anxious and press others into the fullness of our own conclusions. In our day and time, it is often enough simply to stop and recognize Beauty and the union we have with one another in that mutual recognition. There is so much history of a tragic nature that shapes the heart of atheism. As I have noted elsewhere, the agnosticism and unbelief of many is entirely understandable and should not be judged. The ugliness that mars the lives of Christians makes the mutual acknowledgement of Beauty difficult for many. We do well to bear witness to the Light and offer fewer arguments. In the mutual experience of the Light we may find a human vocabulary in which Christ can be known.

The poetry of the Book of Job offers this observation of Beauty (in contrast to its many, many words):

Then Job answered the Lord and said: “I know that You can do everything, And that no purpose of Yours can be withheld from You. You asked, ‘Who is this who hides counsel without knowledge?’ Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, Things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. Listen, please, and let me speak;  You said, ‘I will question you, and you shall answer Me.’ “I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear, But now my eye sees You. Therefore I abhor myself, And repent in dust and ashes.”




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.


42 responses to “To Behold the Beauty of the Lord”

  1. David Gilchrist Avatar
    David Gilchrist

    What an amazing picture! is it a photograph or a painting?
    What’s the story?

  2. fatherstephen Avatar

    Painting. Don’t know the story. It is by Vladimir Yeshtokin and called “A Joyful Place” (2012) It seems to picture a priest in one of the many buildings that are slowly being returned to the Church by the State but are in dire need of repair. Nevertheless, even in their sad state, they remain “A joyful place.” I found it on the site Christ is in Our Midst – one of my favorite Orthodox blogs. Even the times when I am too busy to read it – I like to just look at it. It’s always beautiful!

  3. Annie Lockwood Avatar

    I particularly like Von Balthasar on this subject. Thank you for another wonderful post, each which I anticipate with so much pleasure.

  4. Anna Avatar

    Father, bless!

    Truly, this is a beautiful story, from your experience of Rachmaninov’s music to the citation from Job.

    I think that perhaps some people never come in contact with Beauty because they are too busy with the beauty surrogate of this world, which is probably pleasure. Just as that, perhaps some people never come to experience Goodness because they experience everyday surrogates such as utility and correctness. There are many wordly surrogates of Truth, undoubtedly. It is as if the world is creating fake images around us, in order to prevent us from reaching our Lord.

    But our Lord breaks through this wall by creating arresting moments, such as the one you have mentioned (music). For me it was probably the beauty of traditional churches, so unlike everything built in the past couple of centuries. Perhaps this is one of the possible interpretations of Dostoyevski’s words: “Beauty will save the world.” It places a tremendous responsibility on the shoulders of all artists concerned with liturgical arts.

  5. PJ Avatar


    You write, “A while back, I suggested that the experience of Beauty was far more fertile ground for conversation (and conversion) than the various reasonings of what passes for theology.”

    I don’t disagree with this at all. Yet I wonder if perhaps there isn’t beauty in logic — to a certain kind of mind. I know that mathematicians, for instance, consider their equations wonderfully splendid. As for me: Not so much. But being a theologically minded man, I can see beauty in, say, some of Aquinas’ elegant “proofs” (so to speak) for the existence of God, or in Athanasius’ beautiful explication of the incarnation.

  6. PJ Avatar

    I find that these unaccompanied, congregationally-sung Gaelic psalms have an otherworldly beauty.

  7. Fr Aidan Kimel Avatar

    Ultimately, it was beauty that brought me to Orthodoxy. I made a short stop in the Catholic Church, but realized that I could not survive the lack of beauty. Truth cannot be divorced from beauty.

  8. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    The secular culture attacks the wholeness of man, the sacred, and beauty. Look at what passes for art, literature, music and the human form from piercing to pronography.

    Everything is trivialized and profaned.

  9. fr john cox Avatar

    Two days ago I was mowing grass; a field of buttercups. I was staring at those buttercups as I pushed and all at once I really saw them and I was a child again: divested of all that wasn’t wonder.

  10. fatherstephen Avatar

    Michael, I find it revealing, however, that in piercing and even pornography, there is still a distorted pursuit of beauty. Dostoevsky has some thoughts on this. I’ll track them down tomorrow.

  11. Grant Avatar

    And there is beauty in your writing too, Father. Thanks again.

  12. Dino Avatar

    Concerning ‘piercing’, ‘pornography’ and other distorted pursuits of beauty, I was reminded of a famous Elder (Abbot of a monastery on Mount Athos), who most emphatically once said that (in my own rendering of how I remember his words):

    “Once we discover -in the Holy Spirit- Who God really is
    and then return to our everyday life,
    then we come to a most profound realisation that
    all desire, even the most carnal,
    all seeking, even the most lecherous,
    all aspiring, even the most twisted,
    all loves and interests, from the most banal to the most all-consuming, from the most admissible to the most perverse,
    are nothing other than a misplaced version of our desire for Him!”

    Activating that knowledge can, indeed, help make Spiritual Warfare from a titanic struggle into an effortless joy…

  13. Dino Avatar

    Concerning ‘piercing’, ‘pornography’ and other distorted pursuits of beauty, I was reminded of a famous Elder (Abbot of a monastery on Mount Athos), who most emphatically once said that (in my own rendering of how I remember his words):

    “Once we discover -in the Holy Spirit- Who God really is
    and then return to our everyday life,
    then we come to a most profound realisation that
    all desire, even the most carnal,
    all seeking, even the most lecherous,
    all aspiring, even the most twisted,
    all loves and interests, from the most banal to the most all-consuming, from the most admissible to the most perverse,
    are nothing other than a misplaced version of our desire for Him!”

    Activating that knowledge can, indeed, help make Spiritual Warfare from a titanic struggle into an effortless joy…

  14. PJ Avatar


    This is off topic, but I think you will find it edifying. I just returned from a Greek food festival at the local Orthodox church. I was perusing the little bookstore which is attached to the parish hall when I came upon “Everywhere Present.” You’re influence has reached little old suburban Rhode Island!

  15. Brian Avatar

    “I find it revealing, however, that in piercing and even pornography, there is still a distorted pursuit of beauty.”

    I couldn’t agree more. The pursuit of beauty and goodness (however distorted it may be) is, at its core, a search for God. It is a sign that there is hope.

    In sinning we were seeking what is good (life, pleasure, power, health, esteem, satisfaction, etc.). Human beings do not commit acts of evil in order to be evil. We do them out of a desire for something good, something that we are deceived into believing will be true to who we really are, something that will fill the infinite void within us. This is true even for those who are given over to depravity. We sin because we were ignorant of our only true Good. For only God is good; only He is the Archetype of His image within us, and only in union and communion with Him can we find the fulfillment of who we are.

    Understanding this leads us into greater depths of compassion.

  16. Rhonda Avatar

    My entry into Orthodoxy was delayed by several years when I believed a Christian radio host’s claims that Orthodoxy was heretical & nothing more than a form of RC. Eventually, I researched for myself & quickly discovered his information was false. Not long after I became Orthodox I came across his show in which he was lamenting the large numbers of Christians leaving Christianity for Orthodoxy. His biggest lament was that Orthodox Churches & services were “just too beautiful” as chant, incense, & the color in icons apparently are deceiving people & that plain & barren Protestant Churches just couldn’t compete! He actually wished that Protestants could once again destroy icons because they were beautiful.

  17. dino Avatar

    that is quite shocking!

  18. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    He is at least admitting that he is an iconoclast.

  19. Rhonda Avatar

    Furthermore, he was very proud of his stance! Like many Protestants he feels that the Church fell into idolatry with the Ecumenical rulings on icons which is what he is trying to “save” us from. He can’t get beyond the wood & paint…

  20. PJ Avatar

    Good thing he wasn’t snake-bitten in the desert. Idols — and an idol of a bronze snake at that! — can’t save!

  21. drewster2000 Avatar

    Fr. Stephen, another excellent post. 2 commments:

    “God alone is good and goodness only find its meaning within God. Truth is the Good presented for our understanding. Beauty is what Truth looks like.”

    This is beautiful. My first instinct of course is to unpack it, but then that would be the antithesis of your post. Instead I will simply allow it to rest on me like a beautiful fragrance. Thank you for these words.

    The other comment was that I was reminded of the scene from Shawshank Redemption where Andy Dufraine played the beautiful Italian opera music over the loudspeaker. All the convicted criminals in the exercise yard simply stopped – captivated by the wonder and becoming for one moment human beings united in the act of appreciating beauty.

    Thanks again for your wonderful post.

  22. fatherstephen Avatar

    “Human beings united in the act of appreciating beauty,” is at its highest level, a definition of worship.

  23. drewster2000 Avatar


  24. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Father, the appreciation of beauty can be just an esthetic experience. To me worship entails, also, the acknowledgement of the presence. For Christians, the personal presence of our Lord. Beauty can invoke the openness to His presence, but it alone is not sufficient.

  25. PJ Avatar


    I agree. There is a sort of heresy of aestheticism. It’s not uncommon, for instance, among certain liberal and modernistic high church Anglicans, whose liturgies are beautiful but utterly meaningless.

  26. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Eventually such unreal beauty eventually deteriorates into parody. Have you seen the rainbow vestments some Anglicans wear?

  27. fatherstephen Avatar

    I agree, which is why I qualified my statement by saying, “At its highest level.” Aesthetics falls short of true perception – but is not useless. True perception, as I am describing it, would include participation (communion). At that level, it is indeed worship – which is why discernment is required. One reason that pornography is so devastating is that we not only “see” it, we see it in a manner that is indeed “participation” (communion). This is fueled largely by eros, misdirected. But, oddly, would be an example (however misguided and misdirected) of union and participation. I often try to think of examples for the purpose of teaching people about the true nature of worship (so few have much experience at all in this). I have thought about the example of such participation, but have avoided using it for obvious reasons.

    But, as seen in the article, Dostoevsky sees it, profoundly. He was amazingly insightful.

    PJ, Those are outstanding examples as well. The aesthetics of the 19th century were sheer romanticism. Anglo-Catholicism, when its true history is properly described, was an aesthetic movement. It is, I think, why Newman became a Roman Catholic – he was not an aesthete, but the real thing. I can’t begin to describe the terrible conversations I suffered, and shared, as a High Church Anglican (particularly in my seminary days). The aesthetic judging, the preciousness! It was awful and soul-destroying. I came to loathe it. I can’t bear it when I hear it within Orthodoxy (where it is generally rare but not utterly absent, as it can also be found within Catholicism). Nothing could be a more banal and empty expression of Post-Modernism than a modernist Episcopal liturgy, with all of the medieval trappings and none of the medieval faith.

    I have seen plenty of examples of fairly “shabby” vestments on Orthodox priests (especially in the American missions) where we start off with hand-me-downs. I had a set that smelled hundreds of years old (if you get my meaning). But the “shabbiness” (including the make-shift settings we have to use to set up Church in warehouses, store-fronts, etc.), still reveals true beauty – precisely because of that in which it participates! True beauty is never merely on the surface – it is profound and possessed of depth – even infinity. The picture I posted with one of these articles on beauty is of a liturgy in the setting of one of the buildings ravaged by the Soviet period. Yet is beauty is truly profound! Maybe even enhanced for the eye that can see!

  28. mary benton Avatar
    mary benton

    “The aesthetics of the 19th century were sheer romanticism. Anglo-Catholicism, when its true history is properly described, was an aesthetic movement.”

    Fr. Stephen,

    Could you explain a bit more what you mean? “Aesthetic” = “concerned with beauty of the appreciation of beauty” (per online dictionary). How is this different from what you are referring to?

    I ask because there is some disparaging tone (possibly rightly deserved) about what you call “an aesthetic movement” and I do not know enough history to understand. I do know that what people perceive to be beautiful (and what I have perceived to be beautiful at different stages of life) varies greatly across individuals, cultures and time periods.

  29. Mrs. Mutton Avatar
    Mrs. Mutton

    I know of so many people, among them myself, who came to Holy Orthodoxy through Rachmaninoff’s Vespers. Sometimes I wonder if that single composition saved his own soul, because so many came to the truth through it.

    We were having trouble with many aspects of the church we belonged to when, one winter’s day, we drove out to the beach for a long walk. When we returned, we put on the car radio, and the Vespers was playing. None of us, parents or two teenagers, uttered a sound as we drove home; eventually, we found out what it was. A month later, we attended our first Orthodox worship service. That was 22 years ago, and I still thank God every day for bringing us Home.

  30. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Mary, I’m looking forward to Fr. Stephen’s answer too, but I’ll wager that it has something to do with the 2-storey approach in which beauty becomes a “thing-in-itself” and rather than revealing God, excludes Him. We fall prey to the disease which St. Paul warns us of in Romans 1. We worship the created thing more than the creator.

    From the Great Schism onward there was movement in the West particulary to replace the things of God with the things of man. It began to take clear form in the run up to the Reformation. Many Protestants were/are clearly iconoclastic, but part of their iconoclasm came from their correct perception that much of the beauty in the RCC was not to glorify God, but to glorify man. Just as the RCC approach to Mary had taken on undertones of Marian worship.

    As with many things, the Protestants over-reacted and threw the baby out with the bath water.

  31. fatherstephen Avatar

    In the mid to late 19th century there was a reaction to the rationalism of the Enlightenment – I mostly familiar with it in England. It was a Romanticism, a celebration of “feeling” and “sensibility.” Many celebrated themselves as “aesthetes” “sensitive souls,” and gushed about beauty and emotion, sentiment, a whole range of things. A popular interest was a revival of things “Medieval,” “antique,” (sometimes even pagan). Anglo-Catholicism, particularly in the Ritualist Movement concerned itself with the “trappings” of Medieval Catholicism, even if it was rather weak in genuine doctrinal Catholicism. Such persons have been parodied any number of times, none better (in my mind) than the character of Cecil Vyse in EM Forster’s A Room with a View. The “tortured soul” of the artist is part of this package.

    The “aesthete” has come to be associated with a “cult” of “beauty,” or an appreciation of fashion, rather than a true devotion to the true depth of the Beautiful.

  32. Annie Lockwood Avatar

    That is why it often becomes parody, not because true Beauty every deteriorates so, but because that which is “worshipped” is an idol, rather than he who is Truth, and Beauty, and Goodness. Von Balthasar explains this well, I think, when he argues that true Beauty radiates the Glory of God, which can be seen shining glorious in all its veiled forms. God encounters us as the irradiation of personal, trinitarian love. Objects that draw man to contemplation are those in which man can take delight. The adjective “beautiful” need not be limited to what is perceptible. It can exist in the realm of the relationship of ideas, in a well constructed mathematical proof or a methodical argument. God’s formlessness is not like that of created things, a defecxt. God is that to which all forms attain. (“at its highest level”). For God, besides being absolute Being and Oneness, truth and goodness, is also absolutely beautiful.

  33. Anglican Peggy Avatar
    Anglican Peggy

    I find the Anglican liturgy to be anything but empty beauty when it is full of the spirit of true faith. I don’t disagree that there are some who miss the point entirely but I think its unfair to speak of the whole tradition as if it came from nowhere and amounts to nothing.

    You would have me believe that the Anglo-Catholic liturgy had nothing to do with the tradition of worship in England as if it was possible to perfectly isolate this worship form from a thousand plus years of Christian English culture and faith. It just doesn’t make any sense to me and never will.

    I have found that my greatest experiences of beauty have been during Anglican liturgies. They are not only beautiful but they also feel like home to me in a way that Orthodoxy never will. I think there is great beauty to be found in the concept of home.

    Now with all of that out of the way..

    I personally prefer to use the term Anglican to describe faithful orthodox Christians who worship in the tradition that arose from England and her/our culture. I’m not sure what the opposite would be called over in England itself, but in America there is a convenient term for those who love the trappings and haven’t a clue otherwise. I call them Episcopalians.

  34. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    There is an Orthodox liturgy based on the older Anglican liturgy. It is used by the Orthodox western Rite parishes in the Antiochian Archdiocese.

    There are quite a few Western Rite parishes around the country.

    The object is to address the experience of people like you while remaining fully Orthodox.

    In addressing a group of people like you a few years ago, Met. Jonah called on them to move away from the Calvinism that was part of their tradition.

    I don’t know if that fits you, but there is no beauty that is worth sacrificing the truth for. There is much in all Protestant traditions that is corrosively untrue.

    Without the fullness of Truth as the foundation of the liturgical beauty, it can become a bit like the Picture of Dorian Grey.

  35. fatherstephen Avatar

    Anglican Peggy,
    There is indeed great beauty in the traditional Anglican liturgy, Anglo-Catholic and otherwise. My critique and observation was of a divorce between liturgy and faith (mere aesthetics). This would surely not have been true of everyone, but was true of many. There are wonderful examples of faith within the Anglican story – the Non-Jurors are very dear to me. There were men imprisoned for refusing to obey certain rubrics that were being read in a non-Anglo-Catholic manner as recently as the beginning of the 20th century. Nevertheless, the drift of Anglicanism, both in England and America, away from orthodox Christianity, is itself proof enough of the role of mere aetheticism. There are, of course, today, faithful Anglicans resisting and even anathematizing this drift. The “Liturgy of St. Tikhon” as some call it, is a lightly edited Anglican liturgy used by some of the so-called Western-Rite Orthodox. The Western Rite has some critics within Orthodoxy, but not because of a lack of beauty – only a nervousness about the ability of a Western-Rite to sustain Orthodoxy. I have served from time to time on the panel that is engaged in conversation with orthodox Anglicans and am very sensitive to their cause. I was given many great things in my years as an Anglican, and I don’t despise them. However, the disease that was eating away at its institutions was deeply dangerous and deadly. I grieve for the friends I have lost through the years more than I can begin to say. Perhaps that grief sometimes colors my tone. Forgive me.

  36. Annie Lockwood Avatar

    “There is much in all Protestant traditions that is corrosively untrue.” With this I struggle. While I have deep reverence for both the Catholic and Orthodox traditions, read as many of its theologians as I do Protestant, and enjoy this blog, and while my own Protestant theology is orthodox, that statement does not reflect the tremendous faith of many Protestants who hold fast to their faith and have lives and theologies deeply committed to Christ.

  37. Annie Lockwood Avatar

    We all need grace. Even those whose orthodoxy is perfect. 🙂

  38. fatherstephen Avatar

    To say “there is much that is corrosively untrue,” is not to say that everything there is corrosively untrue. But the destruction of Christianity as sacramentally based would be one example. To have faith in God is good. But when that faith is removed from the sacramental life, over a long term, even generations, that becomes corrosively untrue. A further example, probably a vast majority of Protestants consider Baptism to be only a sign and not a mystery (sacrament). That is corrosive and creates a 2 storey universe. The result of this loss of a sacramental world has been the construction of secularism. Secularism (the world seen as existing apart from God – a neutral zone, etc.) historically is a construct of Protestantism, though it has taken on its own life. I’m not sure that this point can be denied historically. I’d be willing to hear other suggestions on its origins, but have thought long and hard, and published on the topic, I’m pretty certain. Secularism is corrosive to the faith of all Christians, Protestants included, and is proving to be the most difficult test in the history of Christianity. Maintaining an “orthodoxy” that actually contributes and nurtures a secular world-view, however unintentional, is, to my understanding, corrosive.
    Absolutely we all need grace. Our culture stands on the edge of an abyss, and Christianity will be among its first victims. Of course God will save whom He will, but we have a larger responsibility than just worrying about the salvation of individuals. If we ourselves are helping to create a culture that is destroying lives and making salvation yet more difficult (from our perspective), then there is a need to speak and act.

    I frequently write a strong critique of Protestantism. I don’t do this out of “my Church is better than yours.” But out of a recognition that Protestantism has been a disastrous movement with vast consequences that are beginning to bear fruit. I don’t know if there is time to rescue our culture, or if that is God’s will. But a physician doesn’t refuse to diagnose in order to be polite.

    The grace of God produces wonderful believers wherever He wills. His mercy is beyond understanding. But that is no reason not to speak the truth, nor to call others to the task at hand. The non-sacramental life is sub-Christian, or rather para-Christian, a novelty. It ultimately changes the meaning of almost everything – including the heart of the gospel. Someone may have a “life and theology” deeply committed to Christ, but that is already non-Church or para-Church. Individuals have “theologies” – but this is not the way of the New Testament or the Church. “Mind the same thing,” St. Paul says, or “Be of one mind.” Protestantism thinks its ok to have “theologies” so long as they are committed to Christ. This is simply a novel idea, a Churchless Christianity (which was the ultimate result of a Churchless infallible Sola Scriptura). No. This is corrosive. Forgive me, if you will. But accepting such things is making peace with corrosion.

  39. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Ms. Lockwood, no one’s orthodoxy is perfect and indeed, without Grace we all perish. I am not impugning the faith of any one. I have had many Protestant friends over the years who have strengthened me and stories of faith from the Protestant world as well. Indeed, I feel far more comfortable and at home in most Protestant churches than I do in Roman Catholic ones.

    I had an experience several years ago as I was getting a cheeseburger at a Dairy Queen in Indianapolis. A distinguished looking man walked in. It was immediately evident to me that he was a man of God because in some subtle way he glowed with light and joy. I was compelled to talk to him by a strong inward urging.

    I found out that he had come late in life to the pastorate and served at a nearby nursing home that had originally been established for Protestant missionaries of his particular denomination but later had to accept a wider range of people to stay alive. We had an interesting talk and shared deeply with one another our struggles and our faith. We strengthened each other and the example of his plain, upright but deeply rooted faith I will carry with me always. (It doesn’t really matter except it unfortunately does, he is a black man).

    A sticking point with him was Mary, the Theotokos. Not unexpectedly he did not understand our devotion to her, but he did not blaspheme her as many Protestants do. He simply asked if I thought that all Christians, to be Christian, must approach Mary as we do.

    A tough but sincere and insightful question. I responded by telling him that at the very least, all Christians must call Mary blessed as her words in the Bible command us to do. We prayed then, holding hands across the table each of our hearts full of the love of Christ. I pray for him still and the remembrance of our God arranged encounter is a blessing I will always have.

    That does not negate the fact that there is a great deal in all forms of Protestantism that has departed from the truth (I do not say that in any way as an Orthodox triumphalist but out of a deep sadness for the hardness of my own heart that has allowed such a thing to occur and continue).

    Calvinism, which has impacted virtually all Protestants in some way or another is a real problem. I can say that because it has been condemned specifically as a heresy. Like all heresy, it lies about the nature and purpose of God and salvation.

    The iconoclasm with is deeply imbedded in much of the Protestant expressions is a symptom of the larger problem of theology that has the tendency to deny the Incarnation. I find it no coincidence that the Reformation was often most fervid originally in areas of Germany that had been strongly Arian at one point, having learned the faith from Arian missionaries.

    There are two trends in western faith and culture which helped form the two storey view of which Father Stephen speaks so eloquently: Catholic humanism and the theology of the Protestant Reformation which split early on into the intellectual and pietist camps. The “Enlightenment” followed which enthroned the mind of man as the ultimate reality. (Great over simplification of a massive cultural movement but essentially accurate I think).

    That does not mean that every Protestant is a heretic for to be a heretic in the Church is to teach untruth, be confronted with the truth, refuse to repent and be judged by a synod or council of bishops as having departed the faith which the teaching of Calvin has been.

    I have suffered greatly and seen many people I love suffer even more from the corrosive nature of such untruth. It eats at the soul in ways that are both gross and subtle, it hardens the heart and closes one’s ears. It works so well because there is always at least some truth mixed in and it is the truth for which our hearts long to which we respond.

    Believe me when I tell you all that is good, holy and beautiful in the Protestant faith (and there is much) can be found in the Orthodox Church, but so much more. In fact it is my belief that all that is good and holy in the Protestant faith actually comes from (through) the Orthodox Church as the graces She has been given and continues to receive overflow and spread throughout the world.

    I have no intent to cause personal offense, but as with Fr. Stephen the sorrow which I carry in my heart for the victims of heresy do effect my tone as well as my conviction to make others aware as the opportunity arises. I have not yet learned to affirm the truth I see and then tell the rest of the story as revealed in the Orthodox Church. That is something I’m working on, but clearly not there yet.

  40. Anglican Peggy Avatar
    Anglican Peggy

    I actually agree with many the above comments regarding Protestantism. I am an Anglo-Catholic so I believe strongly in the need for a high sacramental view of the Church. However, I can’t forget that the whole Protestant movement was a reaction, albeit an over-reaction for sure, to a real need for reform of the Roman church as it was at the time. For that reason, I can’t bring myself to wholly regret the influence of Protestantism even in high church Anglicanism. In fact, that is part of the beauty of it for me.

    However, in my view the Anglican church is not a true Protestant church. I see it rather as the same body that was founded by St Augustine however fallen she may be today from her theological origins. For me, this makes her the Orthodox Church in England. She may not be Orthodox as it is strictly defined by the Eastern Church, but no other church body is as much the specific and distinctive product of England’s history and culture. This includes of course the Protestant revolution. Where the Protestant revolution did good was that it brought the Anglican church closer to the spirit of Orthodoxy by asserting its English-ness and its independence from Rome and allowed the English people to worship God in the language and music of their hearts. By extension, that heritage belongs to us in America also. As much as we are the product of England, England’s church is our church too. It is truly home for someone like myself who appreciates that about her. As much as I try, I can’t forget that.

    Now to bring this discussion back to beauty. I really wanted to expand on my remarks about the beauty of home. Hopefully, you can see now why I think of the Anglican church as home and why I think that is beautiful. But I also wanted to say that if a tradition of worship was really invented by the efforts of human aesthetes alone, then it wouldn’t be truly beautiful. Anglican worship is truly beautiful because it is the product of the entirety of Christian English culture ie it is English Christianity’s worshipful and heartfelt response to the Love of God. That is the only way anything of human origin can be truly beautiful.

    Finally, I wanted to say that I’m not mad any at anyone here and I appreciate the positive comments in the wake of my little rant in defense of my church. I have a lot of respect for the intelligent perspective on the Christian faith that I find on this blog. That means I enjoy you people even when you get my dander up.

  41. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Thank you Anglican Peggy. You bring up some good points in a moving way. I just have to say that the reform was needed primarily because Rome had split from the Church. Luther only wanted reform but that was not allowed and then his successors rejected the opportunity to go back to the historic Church.

    Much of what you say has been implicitly recognized by the Orthodox, particularly the Russians. That is the reason for the dialogs that have been going on for a long time. Those are coming to an end though (mostly) because of the continued slide into apostasy of the many body of the Anglican communion (the seed which was planted, IMO, at the birth of that communion despite much that was right).

    One does not heal a schism by more schisms however noble the purpose. One heals the schisms by repentance and return to the first love.

    The Orthodox Church is always open to those who wish to enter as long as the desire for union with Christ is present and the humility to repent of all ancient and modern heresies with the intent to be guided by the Holy Tradition. The Tradition is amazingly flexible for time and culture.

    May God bless you and keep you from all harm and deepen your faith.

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