Thinking about the One God

ws_E=mc2_852x480There are many things Christians can learn from science – among them is how to think. In thought about the deeper matters of science (particle physics, mathematical theory, etc.), there are a number of accepted rules that are useful in theology as well. One of those is the requirement of “elegance” when constructing a plausible theory. It is understood within scientific and mathematical thought that what is true and accurate as explanation and theory should somehow be “elegant.” For example, there is a simple elegance in Einstein’s E=mc2. That something as universal as the relationship between matter and energy could be expressed in such a simple manner is indeed elegant. Doubtless there might be another manner to express this relationship, a more convoluted and complicated manner, but science would rule it out in favor of Einstein – elegance and simplicity are somehow more accurate as a description of reality. The continued search for a “unified field theory,” a theory that “explains everything,” is not a pipe-dream or figment of the scientific imagination. It is an instinct and understanding that reality is one, that it ultimately “makes sense,” and does so in a manner that can finally be understood and stated in an elegant manner.

There have been numerous theories throughout human history that gave an “account” of the world. Some of them were quite complex. I think of Ptolemy’s explanation of the movements of the planets, complete with “epicycles” injected into their overall movement to account for why planets sometimes seem to “move backwards.” Such movements, it turned out, were far more simply and elegantly explained once it was learned that the planets, like the earth, revolve around the sun. Their movements therefore appear different from those of the surrounding stars we see.

Christian theology, when done rightly and in a mature manner, has something of the same quality as good math and physics. Theology is, after all, speech or thought about the One God, and not about complexities and multiple theories. Christian theology is not, when rightly done, a collection of Trinitarian doctrine, Christology, soteriology, ecclesiology, sacramental theology, moral theology, etc. Such compartmentalization of Christian doctrine is a holdover from medieval scholasticism, perhaps the lowest point in the history of Christian thought.

The Protestant Reformation, though seen by some as the beginning of the modern period, must also be seen as a development within Christian scholasticism. Both Luther and Calvin were products of the scholastic model and their theologies (and particularly those of their successors) reflect this historical reality. Thus there are within the Christian movements founded by the reformers, the fragmentation and compartmentalization of medieval thought. Though the sacraments of Baptism and Eucharist have been fundamental realities of the Christian life since its beginning, many Christians can give no proper account for their significance. To say that they are “commandments” of Christ simply begs the question and leaves the sacraments as afterthoughts, Ptolemaic epicycles, glued to the surface of some scheme of justification, which is glued to Christology, which is glued to Trinity, all of them only lightly connected, even carrying within them mutual contradictions, held together only by some sense that they should all be there (perhaps because they are actually mentioned in the New Testament).

Such presentations of Christian thought lack elegance and simplicity. They present a confusing array of theories (complete with their own specialized jargon) but without unity or a proper sense of the unity of God and His relationship with His creation. It is little wonder that such fragmentation is often utterly powerless to answer the questions of the culture that surrounds it. A few isolated verses of Scripture are simply useless in the face of the “unified” theory of human sexuality and gender being offered by the modern world (to give but one example). A Christianity that cannot present a gospel that is, in fact, a truly complete world-view, is a neutered artifact, an antiquity that is both boring and sterile. It does not “preach.”

I embrace the traditional teaching of the Church on matters of gender and sexuality, but struggle to do so in a unified manner. Mere assertion of tradition is finally insufficient, a symptom of theology’s abandonment.

In the years that I have studied (and lived) Orthodox theology, among its most profound and enduring aspects is its inner unity. Orthodox theology is not a collection of thoughts – but rather a single thought which may been seen from various angles. In the centuries of the great councils, a common language of Trinity and Christology developed, such that we may speak of the Person of Christ (hypostasis) with regard to the Trinity, and the Person of Christ with regard to the Incarnation, using the same word, with the same word carrying the same meaning. Some refer to this as the “Neo-Chalcedonian” thought of the Cappadocian fathers (Basil the Great, Gregory the Theologian, etc.). It was the failure to embrace this completion of theological language that created the schism between the “Eastern” Orthodox and the “Oriental” Orthodox, the so-called “Monophysites.” The language of St. Cyril of Alexandria, championed by the Orientals, was correct in its place, but inadequate for the growing synthesis of expression that was giving a growing account of the fullness of the faith.

My experience has been that the whole of the Orthodox life, its theological expression, its understanding of moral activity, its sacraments and liturgy, are but one thing. I sometimes describe this one thing as union with God. It is certainly the only phrase I know that holds everything in its proper place and understanding. To stand within such a theological “structure,” is to be shielded from the fragmentation of the world and an undisciplined, scattered collection of doctrines. The One God is not readily perceived by a scattered mind, and is even more obscured if the theology of that scattered mind is itself a collection of discrete fragments.

It is in this context that I raise periodic objections to the penal substitution theory of the atonement. As epicycles go, it is a major gloss on the fabric of the Christian faith. When I read discussions of this theory I see a variety of fragmentations introduced. God’s holiness and its inability to endure sin; God’s justice and the necessity for equity; God’s mercy and love sometimes pictured as rivals of His holiness and justice. And all of these aspects of God stand divorced from the sacraments, Trinitarian thought, and other areas. Indeed penal substitution theory, at its worst, wreaks complete havoc on Trinitarian dogma. The Son is made subject to the Father’s wrath to such an extent (in some accounts) that He is utterly cut-off and separated from the Father. The Orthodox certainly confess that “One of the Trinity suffered in the flesh,” but in the same hymn declare, “Who without change didst become man and wast crucified, O Christ our God.” I was recently told by an Evangelical that the Incarnation represented a “change” in God (not to be confused, he said, with God’s immutability). It is just such compartmentalization that creates the confusion of much Protestant thought and occasionally absurd statements (similar sources have spoken to me about the beauty of hell and of the sinner’s condemnation).

The fragmented character of most non-Orthodox theology is a reflection of its poverty and the loss of a proper Christian vision. The unity and simplicity, even the intuition of the early fathers that such a unity should exist, are reflected in the Creeds and liturgies of the Church. St. Irenaeus of Lyon said, “Our doctrine agrees with the Eucharist and the Eucharist confirms our doctrine.” Such a statement makes no sense in the context of modern Christian thought.

Modern Christians attend Church, celebrate the Eucharist, are justified and are working on being sanctified. They think about various aspects of God. They are liberal or conservative, tough on sin or soft, Biblically-centered, or culturally sensitive. They are many things but never one thing. Thus when engaging them I have to ask, “Which of your gods are you now describing?”

God is One, and His creation is one. Good speech about either has this in mind. I have acquaintances who are “Young Earthers.” Unable to reconcile an old universe with the absence of evolution and literal readings of the Creation story, they build a box and a wall between themselves and much of modern science. They protect themselves by arguing, “It’s only a theory,” as though their various hermeneutical creations were somehow not theories and more reliable. But as theories go, theirs has little unity and is only a strange combination of confusing assertions.

True theology has no need to fear human science when it is done well. It does better to insist on elegance and simplicity and other hallmarks of the truth rather than to set forth medieval scholasticism of any sort. The world should, in turn, demand as much of Christians theologians.




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.


178 responses to “Thinking about the One God”

  1. Dino Avatar

    I find it interesting that, even though it might appear unrelated at first, Saint Isaac the Syrian’s renowned aphorism about the unequalled value of “seeing one’s sin”, is very much connected to “repentance for all” and prayer for all of mankind.
    “Seeing sinfulness only in me” and “seeing all others – no matter how corrupt they might act- as saints”, naturally prepares the ground for our personal prayer (our “have mercy on ‘me’”) to become a pan-human intercession.
    Of course, we can intellectually ruminate on this concept all we want, but there is a world of difference between that kind of meditation, and the sudden consciousness bestowed on a person through the Holy Spirit.

  2. mary benton Avatar
    mary benton

    Not that I know much on this topic…but I have learned to pray the Jesus prayer with both “have mercy on us” and “have mercy on me”.

    I initially was saying the former, thinking that that was less “selfish” than just praying for myself. Then I realized that doing this took the emphasis off MY need for God’s mercy. (With the “us”, I could minimize my sinfulness or feel part of a crowd of sinners where I didn’t have to look so closely at myself.)

    So I say both – to remind myself that I am part of a community and to remind myself that I personally very much need mercy. I’m a long way from St. Silouan’s level of prayer.

  3. leonard Nugent Avatar
    leonard Nugent

    There’s a form that I know that goes… Lord Jesus Christ, Son and Word of God, through the prayers of your most pure mother and all the saints have mercy on us and save us. I use it sometimes

  4. simmmo Avatar

    That was one of your best Father.

    Just on evangelical compartmentalization , consider this self-description of one type of Protestant Christian:

    “I am an Amillennial, Calvinistic, charismatic, credo-baptistic, complementarian, Christian Hedonist…”

    He’s a what?! Yes, very confusing indeed!

  5. Dino Avatar

    that is a fairly dogmatically complete form of the ‘Jesus prayer’ indeed.
    There is a definite tendency for it to become shorter and shorter the more one uses it and the more one’s being becomes unified in itself and with all others. It is often ‘given’ to the seasoned practitioners of the Jesus prayer (given by God and not decided by the practitioner) to just say ‘Lord Jesus Christ!’ or they might catch themselves saying little to nothing, or just their heart fervently repeating ‘Jesus’ for hours, -for example straight after partaking of the Holy mysteries.

  6. leonard Nugent Avatar
    leonard Nugent

    Dino, I don’t prefer one word use. How many times has someone been cut off in traffic and then uttered in exasperation “Jesus Christ” I use the dogmatically complete version when I see someone and want to pray for them then and there. Otherwise I use “Lord Jesus Christ Son of God have mercy on me a sinner. One of my favorites though is “Holy Mary, Mother of God pray for us sinners now and at the hour our death” But I digress.

  7. Martin Avatar

    As a RC my biggest problem with the Orthodox is simply one of authority. There are many questions which have been raised by the modern world which Orthodoxy seems unable to contend with because of their lack of unity in authority.

    For example, is it permissible to contracept (either artificially or naturally)? As a RC the answer is simple: No. I have asked many Orthodox about this and no one seems to have an answer, or at least there is no unity in the answers given. The most common answer to this question is that it is permissible but the couple should consult their spiritual director/pastor (and it seems that there is a prohibition on contraceptives that cause abortions) (document: Bases of the Social Concept of the Russian Orthodox Church). That said there are at least a couple bishops who do not agree with the above position (+ HILARION of Vienna and + ARTEMIJE of Kosovo among others). Then there is the Encyclical Letter of the Holy Synod of Bishops of the Orthodox Church in America on Marriage in which it is stated: “The greatest miracle and blessing of the divinely sanctified love of marriage is the procreation of children, and to avoid this by the practice of birth control (or, more accurately, the prevention of conception) is against God’s will for marriage.” This seems like a fairly hard line anti-contraceptive statement, but, in almost the same breath, they muddy the waters with this statement: “In all the difficult decisions involving the practice of birth control, Orthodox families must live under the guidance of the pastors of the Church and ask daily for the mercy and forgiveness of God. Orthodox husbands and wives must discuss the prevention of conception in the light of the circumstances of their own personal lives, having in mind always the normal relationship between the divinely sanctified love of marriage and the begetting of children.” So which is it? Is it against God’s will for marriage (which in my mind means it is sinful to contracept) or is it sometimes ok and sometimes not? Well there is no final authority in Orthodoxy to say which is correct, so the faithful are left to just wander through the darkness hoping they are doing the right thing while getting contradicting teachings depending on which bishop they listen to.

    With authority there is simplicity and truth, without authority there is diversity of opinion and confusion.

    As far as your comments on validity are concerned you are saying essentially the same thing RCs mean when they use the word “validity,” you are just using different words. At the end of the day “validity” is shorthand for “does the Church accept this?” Sacraments never, ever, happen apart from the Church. Or in Father’s words: “They have no validity in and of themselves apart from the Church.” Hence for baptism to be valid (ie accepted by the Church) the person doing the baptism must use the proper formula AND “will to do what the Church does when she baptizes” (CCC 1256) (as Father said, “They are never to be seen as outside the context of the Church”).

  8. fatherstephen Avatar

    Martin, your concern puzzles me (though I understand what you’re saying). Viz. Orthodoxy, the only question would be whether it is what it says it is, the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church. What you are saying is that you think there is a problem in one aspect of its management. So it would seem that you’re not asking a question about Truth, but about management.
    On the management question…Rome’s “clear authority” doesn’t seem to be all that effective as a management approach. RC abortion rates in the US are higher than the national average. (I didn’t look at the Orthodox ones, though I doubt they’re any better). Most RC’s in America ignore the Church’s teaching on birth control, so clear authority would only give someone the chance to argue authoritatively with someone, not actually make a difference. You don’t seem to be saying that you don’t know what to do about contraception.
    The OCA position you cite (I’m in the OCA) is misinterpreted. The Bishops are saying that procreation is normative in a marriage and the birth-control should not be used in order to have a non-procreative marriage. Most spiritual fathers do not disagree with the notion of our role in spacing of children and their number. Some take a position not unlike Rome. The Church condemns all forms of abortifacients, including forms of “birth control” that might cause abortions.
    But there will be many situations in our lives in which we don’t find specific directions, canonical, etc., from the Church. The simple fact is that if what you want is salvation, true salvation, you will find guidance and be saved. If what you want is a legal authority so you know what to do and what not to do, you won’t be saved. The universe is not a law court – it’s a hospital.
    The first question I would have for someone on questions of birth-control, etc., would be: “Do you want to be saved? Do you want to be healed and conformed to the image of Christ?” If the answer is yes, then we start from there, and as a doctor of salvation, I give them the medicine of immortality as they are able to bear it. If the answer is no, there conversation isn’t ready to begin.

    On validity,
    I don’t think you yet understand what I’ve said.

  9. Dino Avatar

    I conjured up an answer for Martin and then read Father’s comment! and thanked God for the discernment he bestows on our beloved Fathers, a discernment which goes to the root of every problem, providing counsel for all…

  10. Dino Avatar


    The universe is not a law court – it’s a hospital

    in the above context is a most fine interpretation of “the Sabbath for man, not the man for the Sabbath”

  11. leonard Nugent Avatar
    leonard Nugent

    I’m coming to understand the orthodox view of validity. It seems it’s more that something is valid because the church accepts it than it’s valid so the church must accept it. This last view is crazy. It’s the exact opposite of whatsoever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven. Strict validity would say whatsoever is bound in heaven shall be bound on earth. On entering a church certain things are asked of you. If you don’t accept them you don’t enter. pretty simple

  12. mary benton Avatar
    mary benton


    I am RC too and am surprised that you say that natural “contraception” is not accepted. It has long been my understanding that our church accepts people learning fertility cycles and avoiding conception by abstaining if conceiving would be unwise or ill-timed.

    My own opinion is that invoking too much “authority” has some real downsides. Some people view the right/wrong teaching as so black-and-white that they do things in a way that does not make sense in the context of Christianity, e.g. staying with an abusive spouse because divorce is wrong (always, no exceptions).

    And, as Father Stephen implied, invoking a black-and-white authority on too many things may backfire. People often reject teachings that are so inflexible as to be irrational to personal circumstances, e.g. to be banned from contraception when a doctor warns that another pregnancy could kill a woman.

    The Church should provide teachings based on Truth of the Gospel and Tradition. A priest/bishop/spiritual father who knows the individual(s) can best help them discern how to apply these truths to the realities of their lives. (Just my opinion – I obviously speak neither for RC or OCA.)

  13. drewster2000 Avatar

    Fr. Stephen,

    Way up in the comments you talk about having thoughts of even the Evangelical mega church still in some respects being the Church – and then you had a heart attack. Is there a connection, or am I just creating one that isn’t really there? (grin>

  14. Martin Avatar

    Perhaps what I said could have been, and should have been, clearer. And for that I apologize. I would also like to say that I did not intend to misinterpret the OCA position on birth control. If I did (and it seems like I did since Father says so) then I apologize for that too.

    I’m not worried about questions of management. That is irrelevant when it comes to determining truth. What is also irrelevant is whether or not people live by the truth (ie. that RC Church says birth control is evil, and abortion is evil, and murder is evil does not change because (some) RCs don’t follow these teachings).

    I think we can at least agree that the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church teaches the truth and what it says is true; She has not, does not, and will not, nor can She, teach error. Jumping off this implied premise, what I was trying to say is that because there is a multiplicity of teachings, some of which are contradictory, amongst the Orthodox, Orthodoxy cannot be (at least as a whole) the One True Church. I was attempting to use the teaching on contraception to demonstrate that there is a contradictory teaching on one subject. Perhaps a clearer example should have been used, like the canon of the Bible.

    OCA and the RCC use the same canon (according to the OCA’s website’s Q&A section). The Greek and Russian Orthodox Churchs add 3 Maccabees, the prayer of Manesseh in 2 Chronicles, and Psalm 151. So who has the correct canon of the Bible? Whose teaching is authoritative? In the RCC if Rome speaks that is the final word; if some crazy bishop dissents that is irrelevant because they don’t have the authority to overrule Rome. In Orthodoxy the Greeks do one thing, the Russians another, and the OCA yet another, yet no one has the “final say,” so who is correct? There is no way of determining who has the truth.

    As far as validity is concerned apparently I misunderstand. I have read your comments a number of times now and I still understand them in the same way I did after the first couple readings. It seems that the OCA (like Rome) accepted your baptism, so it was valid. It did not accept your chrismation or ordination, so it is invalid (which Rome would have done the same thing). The only difference is you use the word “accept” and we use the word “valid.” Perhaps I am a hopelessly imbued in Western thought and can never hope to understand.

    Mary: I would note that natural family planning is “birth control” or control of births, however, it is not “contraception.” The distinction is in the act. With NFP, the marital act is always open to life and therefore, never contra-ceptive or against life. In contraception, you actually change or mare a life giving act. That’s why it is different. A person can “naturally” contracept (Onan). You said “People often reject teachings that are so inflexible as to be irrational to personal circumstances, e.g. to be banned from contraception when a doctor warns that another pregnancy could kill a woman.” No one ever said that living out the Gospel and being faithful to Christ and His Church would be easy, or pleasant, just worth it. Lying is wrong, it is a sin, and one should never sin. This may mean that you are killed because you tell the truth (are you a Christian? Are you hiding Jews in the basement?). Sometimes the only right answer is the difficult one.

  15. Dino Avatar

    I think that you might need to look into the idea of what we call “Economy” of the application of what we know to be the ultimate will of God (often translated as dispensation or discernment), it really is all about the danger of knowing what that ultimate Will having the ability to cloud one’s preference for the “man for the Sabbath” or for “Sabbath for the man”
    One’s medicine is another’s poison, and my medicine today might be my poison tomorrow…
    It is extremely common to see a huge disparity between what a Father says in their general speech (often the unbending, absolute version of the truth) whereas a minute later they go against their previous words (seemingly) by giving personal counsel to a weaker member of their audience that is the exact opposite!

  16. Laura Avatar


    I don’t think Father was suggesting that if people don’t follow the teaching of the RCC that makes the RCC church wrong (which is always a poor argument anyway), but I think that highlights maybe what you’re missing about the idea of validity. Through the pope, the RCC has an easier way to have a clear “final say” or a way of “determining the truth,” (this is what he’s referring to as management) and yet that doesn’t necessarily make them more effective at teaching their people. And teaching people, changing hearts or bringing about metanoia, is what matters.

    You said, “I’m not worried about questions of management. That is irrelevant when it comes to determining truth.” But the idea of validity, if I understand correctly, is the concern with making pronouncements about Truth. The Orthodox concern is for changing hearts in truth, the living out of the truth, rather than the pronouncement of it. This is why oikonomia makes sense for us. In the case of contraception – For RCs, following the rules is what is valid, for Orthodox doing what causes metanoia (and leads to union with God!) is what is acceptable.

    Forgive me if I’ve spoken incorrectly.

  17. Dino Avatar

    I think contraception is a very good example indeed. I say this because outside of marriage – as in monasticism in other words – problems might have a clear solution. But, as St Chrysostom says, in marriage I end up curtailing the truth for the sake of the other… What should one do if they want to do the absolute best, yet their partner is adamant they want no kids and no abstinence? So correct “management” is crucial…

  18. leonard Nugent Avatar
    leonard Nugent

    Laura you said This is why oikonomia makes sense for us. In the case of contraception – For RCs, following the rules is what is valid….John Paul II did an entire “Theology of the Body” explaining the “rules” I have been studying this for years. I’ve been told that I can’t really know the orthodox church unless I’m a member of it. Maybe that goes both ways. I admit I don’t have much experience with the Orthodox church since I’m an RC but I hope someday to know more.

  19. Laura Avatar

    I am familiar with Theology of the Body – and I’m currently wading through how it is similar/different from Orthodox theology. There is much value there, and I don’t mean to dismiss it in any way. I only mean to help explain what is meant by “validity.”

  20. Mary Lanser Avatar

    Validity in the Catholic Church simply means that an action or text, when it is done as prescribed, accomplishes what the Church intends for it to accomplish. So there are rules for the liturgy, rules for how to perform the sacraments, and so on. When those things are followed then the action or the signs that result are the actions or signs that the Church intends. Whether anyone follows the rules or actually opens themselves spiritually to the actions and signs or texts is another question and cannot be controlled because they depend on the free actions of a free will. Not even God interferes with the exercise of a free will, so why would the Church?

  21. leonard Nugent Avatar
    leonard Nugent

    If you want a good laugh about validity here is something from a traditionalist blog I read. I happen to be banned from this particular blog. It’s typical of the kind of thing that gets dicussed……”My friend and I got into a similar discussion about this with regards to the Corpus Christi epistle (it contains “hoc est corpus meum”) and a priest filling in as subdeacon chanting the epistle, if, once he got to that part, sung the words of consecration with intent, he would consecrate the hosts in the ciborium and on the paten under the Chalice veil”…..I have to assume this poster wasn’t joking.

  22. Laura Avatar

    Mary said,
    “Validity in the Catholic Church simply means that an action or text, when it is done as prescribed, accomplishes what the Church intends for it to accomplish.”

    I think for Orthodox it is the reverse – when the Church does what it intends to accomplish, the form is acceptable. This is what Dino is suggesting is the meaning of “the Sabbath for man, not the man for the Sabbath.”

  23. Mary Lanser Avatar

    The valid act or teaching has to conform to well known norms of praxis or faith. Validity is not to be fabricated out of the febrile minds of the faithful. And the teachings and instructions are not rule-bound in that they exist for themselves but they exist to be faithful to tradition and Scripture, to the truths of revelation for the salvation of souls.

  24. Mary Lanser Avatar

    I guess that means that as long as Baptism illumines then, it does not matter what particular form it takes. If it illumines then whatever form is acceptable. Do I have that right?

  25. Robert Avatar

    I believe our brother Martin is right in pointing out that NFP and the use of abstience is not contraception, nor is contraception necessary because another preganancy might mean the wife’s death, since husband and wife have but to moderate and properly time their seasons of intercourse. It’s not going to kill them to do so; in fact it will probably increase their sensitivity and love for each other.

    Dino, if a spouse wants no children and no abstience, then, his passions are disordered and the marriage may have been null–and perverted–ab initio. The sacramental rite is full of prayers for the blessing of children and we accept the martyrs crown when we wed to give up ourselves for the good of the other and to worthily represent the fruitful unity between Christ and his Church.

    I am in sympathy with Martin’s desire for authority. Our Lord spoke with it. Exceptions (whether of akribia or ekonomia) prove the rule, so to speak, but neither can be wisely invoked without knowing and appreciating the rule itself.

    As for “validity”,it may be best to avoid the term because it leads to thinking in minimalist terms to define what is “valid” or “invalid”, at its root is the Latin valere meaning to be “strong, well, whole, complete.”

    Father, I’m not sure whether Martin failed to understand you or vice versa. The difficulties of communication truly grieve me. It seems to me that one reason Catholic and Orthodox don’t understand each other is that we won’t read each others writings–or if we do so only surrepticiously and we seldom discuss them. The are taboo. Who among us Orthodox have read with a sympathetic, if careful eye, and discussed them with other Orthodox the office documents of Vatican II, of Cardinal Ratziner/Benedict XVI, of JP II, of Yves Congar,of Von Balthasar, of Dietreich and Alice von Hildebrandt–not to mention Bonaventure and Aquinas, Bellarmine, Anselm and Augustine? Some of them we make our whipping boys–especially, Augustine and Anselm and Aquinas or scholasticim in general. We do this by caricature and by a failure to hear and translate what they may have been trying to say.

    We are too quick to condemn, and too nonchalant too seek and find a way to understand their witness in a way that may be harmonized with and complement our own appreciation of the Faith and our own experience with the mystery of our God.

    I know a priest who says there are more than 39 egregious ways in which Roman Catholicism differs from Orthodoxy. but I’m at page 350+ or the Catechism of the RCC, and I haven’t found more than 3 or 4 and none that cannot be explained and harmonized with kindness, intelligence, magnanimity and good will and without harm to the Truth.

    I see St. Leo the Great of Rome is cited in one place as the earliest source for the “double procession” of the Holy Spirit as from a single Source. That caught my eye. I found and read the cited text and context in Latin and struggled with it. While problematic, it is not inexplicble in Orthodox terms–but post-schism it is verboten for us to go there lest we be labelled heterodox or worse.

    My heart breaks over this, and Christ God weeps knowing what always befall the house divided.

  26. fatherstephen Avatar

    There are matters, pastoral matters, that allow for a difference in the application of canon laws. The matter of contraception, as it is today understood, has been a fairly modern problem, hence Humanae Vitae was written in the 20th century, not in the 8th. What you encounter in Orthodoxy is probably what might have been encountered today in Rome absent Humanae Vitae. But the day before Humanae Vitae, apparently you think Rome was as perfect as the day before, though a local pastor might have handled the same pastoral matter differently.

    Orthodoxy lives without that document, as it has without a lot of recent RC pronouncements. And it wrestles with the salvation given to us in Christ in good conscience, with the same body of teaching it has always had. But you encounter a range of application because it has not spoken in the kind of definitive manner ex post Humanam Vitam.

    Concerning the Canon of Scripture – you apparently like only one answer to a question – which is itself a problem. I think your Church (the one in your head) is too rational. These matters viz. certain variations within the Canon represent the reality of the Spirit-Created Church from its beginnings. The Canon represents what the Church reads in its services and holds as worthy of study and free of error. Actually the OCA uses the same Canon as Russia (it is the daughter Church of Moscow). It may have been slightly misstated on its website. We honestly don’t worry about this stuff very much. The fact that there are slight variations doesn’t matter and never has – none of the variations have had any bearing on doctrine or practice. If there were variations in doctrine, that would be a problem. If there were variation in practice that implied doctrine, that would matter, too. But Greeks are Greeks and Russians are Russians. Neither of them are Latins. In Orthodoxy, the final say is conciliar – and we do assemble councils for such matters when required (not often). Many things are handled without a general council. For example, the Sophiology taught by Fr. Sergei Bulgakov in the mid 20th century was objected to by some others and referred to the Holy Synod in Moscow – its jurisdiction – where it was condemned. Fr. Sergei recanted and submitted to the Synod. And that took care of that – and the matter has been a part of universal Orthodox understanding since. The matter of the Slava Imya (Holy Name) was a controversy in the early 20th century on Mt. Athos. It was suppressed by Moscow, but has some continuing discussion to this day. I expect it will find a resolve in time. In the meantime, it is handled with great care and caution.

    The lack of centralization in Orthodoxy has worked for 2000 years and has done so despite great persecutions and difficult circumstances. Many times there have been pressures and rewards that could have taken the Church off of this course. Many times those pressures and rewards were the blandishments and bribes of Rome. Orthodoxy chose to lose Constantinople instead (to simplify a difficult time in history).

    Rome’s centralization has not always been the exquisite instrument that you seem to think it. The current madness begotten of Vatican II was a result of Rome, not of its margins. You can’t blame the liberals or anyone but the Vatican for the mess, because the Vatican could always have made a difference. What exists must be laid at the foot of the papacy. To plead weakness simply undermines the argument of centralization.

    But there is a “theoretical Rome” for some. The “Church that cannot err,” etc. Mental gymnastics and reservations, couched with precise caveats excuse the Papacy from any responsibility of Rome’s errors, misdeeds, horrors, genocide, etc. If I could find someone to put such fine arguments to my service, I could stand shamelessly before the dread judgment seat of Christ without need of God. It seems these arguments and reasoning are always incredibly unassailable – not because Rome is unassailable – but because you rig the game. If a situation admits of any error or sin – then it was part of the Papacy.

    But the whole of Orthodoxy is laid at the feet of Orthodoxy. And you know what? We don’t mind. We have no straw man to defend. We don’t have to because we never invented one. I’ll live the the reality of history and Orthodoxy’s real existence within that history – in which – quite obviously – God has preserved the Church – and I’d rather live there than in the make-believe world of ideological dreams.

    Back to validity – you really do not understand. You say:

    It seems that the OCA (like Rome) accepted your baptism, so it was valid. It did not accept your chrismation or ordination, so it is invalid (which Rome would have done the same thing). The only difference is you use the word “accept” and we use the word “valid.”

    The OCA said nothing about my Baptism. It accepted ME. In accordance with the canons, it chose to receive me by Confession and Chrismation. My Baptism was a moot point, or made a moot point by my reception into the Church. My life prior to Orthodoxy is left in an undefined state – it does not need to be defined – it simply was what it was. The same is true of my ordination. The Church chose to ordain me – first as a taper-bearer, as a reader, as a sub-deacon, as a Deacon and as a Priest (the first 4 happened the same day – my priesthood was some 4 months later). But the Archbishop who received me (Vlayka Dmitri of Dallas of blessed memory!), when I was first Chrismated (and not even yet made a taper-bearer) instructed that I was to be addressed as “Fr. Stephen,” and to wear the cassock. I was placed in charge of our fledgling mission as the “lay pastor” as I was awaiting ordination.

    Vladyka said, “Priests are born. Ordination just reveals them.” He met me 4 years before I was received in the Church (while I was an Anglican priest). He always addressed me as Father, and treated me like a son. I received more respect from that man while I was still an Anglican, than I ever received from any Anglican bishop in my life – ever! But we never discussed the nature or ontological character of the sacramental acts I performed (including the Baptisms of my 4 children) as an Anglican. There’s simply nothing to be said about them. My children, like myself and my wife, were received by Confession and Chrismation.

    “Valid” is your word, not ours. We don’t need it. Somethings aren’t known, probably can’t be known. They can, however, be dealt with. And that was the decision of the Church historically. There is a variety of language used in describing this situation. You’ll find the language of “recognize” used in a manner that would suggest an idea of validity – but this is a modern convention and not the language of the Councils.

    The nature of actions such as Baptism outside of the Orthodox Church is a mystery (something not known) – there’s not a theology (among the Orthodox) of what such things are or could be. As of Vatican 2, Rome has made some attempts to do this – but I think it’s pretty much wrong on the topic. Good try, no cigar. The same could be said about the workings of grace, always and everywhere. God hasn’t told us everything, but we see His grace always and everywhere. Rahner, I think, falls into error when he speculates on the character of “hidden Christians.”

    Orthodoxy does not deny rationality – it just thinks that some people need to learn how limited rationality is. The Church is a mystery – bring your rationality inside – but expect it to be ignored occasionally – or “slapped up side of the head” now and again.

  27. Mary Lanser Avatar

    Robert: What an astonishing perspective. Thank you also for offering the Latin definition of validity. We fail to realize that the formal teaching of the Church and her canons are held in the Latin, and not in translations, where creeping modernity tends to begin to warp and bend, even with all good intent.

  28. Mary Lanser Avatar

    The impeccability of the Church can be laid at the feet of the theology of the Body of Christ. The Body of Christ cannot sin. Her members however seem to have a field day when it comes to venality and perversity…that would be all of the members, not just some or a few.

  29. Laura Avatar

    Thank you for that clarification, Father! It is especially helpful for me now as I am preparing for my own chrismation.

  30. Dino Avatar

    This splendid answer Father reminded me that I always hoped some of these type of illuminating clarifications (I mean the ones we find in the comments usually rather than the actual main posts) can make it into your future book somehow, especially some of those other very succinct historical ones that are rarely heard in the West.

  31. fatherstephen Avatar

    While I appreciate your efforts to make a certain peace – and your irenicism – I think that it’s misplaced. I would not be disagreeing with Martin if I did not understand him. I do. I haven’t read all of the documents you mentioned from the West – but I’m not unacquainted. Unlike most Orthodox priests – I have degrees in Western theology – it is territory with which I’m very familiar. I’m not an expert per se, but the differences are worth noting.

    The modern tendency has been to blur things – for the modern tendency wants (right or wrong) for everything to get along. We, probably rightly, have an instinct to mediate and seek peace and understanding. But certain kinds of peace only come by first understanding differences – and in those cases – things should not be blurred, but brought into even greater focus.

    On the subject of “validity,” for example. This is not new ground or unfamiliar territory. It is a very real and distinct difference between some of the historic (though not entirely) differences between Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism. I say, not entirely, because there has been a further movement on Rome’s part, in the wake of the modern ecumenical movement (and pressures within Orthodoxy, too). That is a movement to, more or less, develop an ecumenical view of the Church and of the sacraments, particular Baptism and Eucharist. The document Baptism and Eucharist and Ministry (Lima, 1982) was an effort by the World Council of Churches to set forth a “common recognition” of these sacraments. The director of my thesis at Duke was one of its primary authors. I think this effort is misguided, and along with many (even a growing number) of Orthodox, think it needs to be regarded as error. Indeed, I think the WCC form of ecumenism is on the brink of formal extinction, though the damage it has done of the decades will be around for a very long time. I wrote briefly on the ecumenical movement’s history not long ago – it has been – from the beginning – intentionally destructive of traditional ecclesiology.

    “Validity” as a concept, is inherently part of the two-storey universe. It is an attempt to judge something “outside” the Church as having a meaning in-and-of-itself. There is simply no such thing as validity, so conceived. Just as there cannot be Church outside the Church (that is an absurdity). There cannot be a God outside God. The Church is One, not Two, etc. That’s the starting point of the problem. It doesn’t make the problem go away, but it states what is essentially true. Then the question becomes: okay, if there is no valid, then what is it. How do you describe the baptism of the heterodox? There are a couple of ways to approach the matter: Either, accept that such things belong to a realm that cannot be described, and thus stay silent – in which case you still have to decide how to receive such an individual into the Church (this is what I’ve described); or, you say this action is mystically connected to what we call Baptism in the Church, the exact nature of which is simply not known (I’m comfortable with this, too). Florovsky generally took this latter position. I think they’re pretty much the same thing.

    But in neither case are we saying that there is a way to be Baptized outside the Church (“validly”), or that there is anything other than One Church.

    Many people feel “unchurched” by such language – but the problem is not with the language – the problem is the the NT is quite clear (as are the Fathers), the Church is One. It cannot be Two or something else. Do we have a problem today? Absolutely and everybody agrees. But Orthodoxy does not and will not abandon the first language given to us: the Church is One. So it must find other ways to speak and relate on this matter. It doesn’t mean to “unchurch” someone, or to “unbaptize” anyone, or say that anyone who claims Christ is not a Christian. But by retaining the language and mind of the Creeds, it keeps the problem definied, not blurred, and painfully, painfully real.

    There is an easy ecumenism, that I’m sure you reject. It says that none of this makes any difference because we’re all already one. No we’re not. We are not already one – heck, I’m not even one with myself! If I were I would be holy, a saint.

    But the problem on these things is not language, or failure to read each other (though that can be a genuine problem). There are fundamental, first things, that must be addressed before all of the similarities actually become true union.

    Lately, on the blog, we’ve had lots of traffic in the comments from non-Orthodox (of all sorts). I’m glad – more than anyone. If I’m only read by the Orthodox, I think I would be failing somehow. But those conversations do tend to make me focus on differences rather than similarities, they keep me from blurring. One reason is that the culture of modern ecumenism majors in blurred vision – it abhors distinctives. And that’s the majority culture. If I don’t sound a sour note in that false symphony then my voice will be quite superfluous.

    I recall reading a book by a Jesuit who was doing mission work in India. He would talk about God and everybody would agree with him – it was driving him crazy because he knew that there was no agreement. His struggle was to find a way to say something new – to say what was distinctive (very hard in the ultimate syncretistic culture). He eventually, in conversations, came across the word “Brahmavidya,” (“God-as-he-cannot-be-known”). When he understood what was meant, he said, “We Christians believe that Brahmavidya became flesh and dwelt among us.” That startled those in conversation with him who said, “Now we know why you’ve been arguing. That is something truly unique. We will have to think about this.” I first read the book in ’73 (and not since). I hope I’ve remembered it correctly.

    I don’t want to harmonize anything or complement my appreciation of anything. Life’s too short. I would rather be one complete with the inner struggle that requires as well as suggesting to others that they struggle as well. We’ll be one when God makes it happen. In the meantime, I think it may be enough for Christians to agree not to kill each other and to be kind. But telling someone they are wrong is not unkind. In fact, most of these conversations (on the blog) start by someone telling me that I am wrong. Then we clarify. If we come to understand clearly how the other is wrong (or right, etc.) that too is conversation – darned good conversation.

  32. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    The key is to not be offended when someone says, “You are wrong.” Thank God and ask, “What do you see that is wrong and why?”

    It works both ways. The older I get, the easier I find it possible to not be offended when someone says I am wrong. I’ve been wrong so often.

  33. fatherstephen Avatar

    I’m no stranger to being wrong – it’s my most common experience throughout any given day. Being offended is generally fairly rare for me – “challenged” is another story.

    But, to be fair and accurate, a commenter comes on the blog and says that Rome is right and the Orthodoxy, respectfully are wrong…and this is why…I will disagree with them. I am an Orthodox priest.

    There are suggestions of a “house divided.” I grieve over divisions between Christians…but I do not believe that it’s “one house divided…” It’s tragic. The divisions we suffer, as well as many of the successes Christians enjoy, are quite frequently just one of the many ways sin reveals itself. When people are fragmented within themselves, even their unity is not pure. Only the pure in heart see God…which is to say that we generally see anything very clearly. Nor do we think clearly.

    But the desire for “unity,” can frequently be driven as much by passions as by anything else. Just because a goal is noble or can be filed under the heading of good things doesn’t mean that my desire is therefore pure.

    It is God alone whom we must desire – everything else flows from that. If I do not have God, if I do not know God, if I am not united to God, then everything else is just delusion – a passing entertainment to distract me from the one thing needful.

    In this series on the “One,” I have suggested repeatedly things that demonstrate that we want “two” things or any number of things – but not the One. This reflects the fragmentation of the soul – it is a reflection of the disease that is killing us and has been since the fall. It infects everything we touch – including theological conversation.

    I have suggested that the compartmentalization of theology, as in scholasticism, is a manifestation of this disease. So, I think, are explanations such as “validity” in which something is somehow two things instead of one.

    But, I’ll not push much further. I’ll be writing in a different direction (ostensibly) in a short time and the conversation will resume in another fashion.

    We do not disagree with each other, near as much as we disagree with God. He is relentless!

  34. leonard Nugent Avatar
    leonard Nugent

    Father, when you were received nothing was said about your baptism. However, if you had not been baptized I’m guessing they would have baptized you. As with ROCOR they are not re-baptizing anyone. They are baptizing them.

  35. Mary Lanser Avatar

    Father: I’ve been a little lost, per usual, over this issue of “validity”…I think in fact that there are indeed two distinct things going on and the papal Church falls into an easy trap. Validity, formally speaking, is really only something that can be directed to praxis and teaching and liturgical texts that are internal to the Church. Reaching outside the earthly boundaries of the Ecclesia and accepting a Christian baptism because of its form, is not really an instance of validity as it is formally understood in the Church. It is an instance of economia instead. It didn’t even occur to me what you were saying. With respect to Orthodoxy, the Catholic Church has in the past and does now recognize Apostolic Succession, and so it is not for the papal Church to speak of validity of Orthodox praxis, teaching or texts. That has to come from within Orthodoxy.

    I realize you won’t give this much credence but I explained it often enough to converts in RCIA classes that I came to believe it myself…. It is what I was taught by Catholics whom I trusted to teach me the truth. I don’t trust all Catholics to do that BTW.


  36. fatherstephen Avatar

    Yes. Leonard. There is only One Baptism, there is no such thing as “re-baptism.” Anyone who uses such language is speaking incorrectly, or has a theology I do not understand. It’s certainly not ever the teaching of the Orthodox that anybody be “re-baptized.” If someone Orthodox were performing a “Second Baptism,” they would be rebuked by the other Orthodox.

    Canon 95 of the Quinisext Council (5th-6th), states that there are 3 ways for receiving converts: by Profession of Faith (Nestorians and Monophysites), by Chrismation (Arians, Macedonians, Novationists, Cathari, Aristeri, Tetradites, and Apolinarists), or by Baptism (Paulinists, Eudomians, Montanists, and Seballians).

    Generally, schismatics were received by profession of faith – as is the practice today with Coptic Christians. ROCOR’s present practice deviates from what would have been Orthodox practice from most centuries, but we live in difficult times. Interestingly, it was the Roman Catholic “re-baptism” of Orthodox converts in Greece and that historically got this ball rolling, a practice Rome would not engage in now, and a practice that is lost in the mind of many Orthodox. But there was a “retaliation” of Baptizing RC’s afterwards for awhile. Thus was set in the Orthodox mind a variation in the matter (this was never the case in Russia).
    Today the issues generally are attached to what ROCOR calls the heresy of “ecumenism,” which, when defined as they do, is certainly a heresy. They are resisting what they see is a false understanding of Baptism (as set forth in documents such as BEM). It is thus in the context of a defense of Orthodoxy that they currently have in place such a strict practice for the reception of converts. They make no distinctions between them, nor do they try to (at least as it was explained to me by my local ROCOR priest friend).
    I hope that is helpful. I think more conversation on this at this time would be redundant and unhelpful.

  37. fatherstephen Avatar

    Mary, that makes far more sense to me. Anglicans use the “valid,” “invalid” language. But their ecclesiology is in a fog so it’s pretty unclear what they mean about anything. I appreciate your explanation. Indeed, stated in that way, I’m not sure they’re saying anything particularly different than the Orthodox (except when they speak about each other). 🙂

  38. mary benton Avatar
    mary benton

    Fr. Stephen

    You wrote, “But the desire for “unity,” can frequently be driven as much by passions as by anything else.”

    While I agree with this, sometimes I sense that you are resistant to unity. (I say this respectfully and recognizing that I am probably wrong.) I understand that you do not want to pursue unity by diluting Truth. And I agree that our first desire must be to seek God with a pure heart. (If we all lived that, we would be One and have no need for this conversation.)

    Your above analysis of the failings of Rome and the papacy were not without some validity (oops, used that word :-)), IMO. However, I almost got the feeling that you were arguing for the infallibility of Orthodoxy – as though the teachings and perspectives of Orthodoxy could never be modified at all in dialogue with Catholics or other Christians.

    Were you intending that meaning? (I am asking genuinely, not trying to be provocative. After all, I am admitting that I see my own RC Church as having fallibility in some regards.)

  39. Mary Lanser Avatar

    Father: Ahhh! Good. I am happy to have been of service. It is impossible to teach the already baptised the theology of Catholic baptism without them saying “Wait a minute!!…I don’t know that my Baptism meant all that…” And then you’re off to the races. So in the end it has to be understood as economy or it makes no sense. But as with a few other things that happen in the day to day sloppiness of Catholic-speak, it is easier and faster to just use the word, without noting it is not being used in its technical sense.

    Many years ago, a priest for whom I had a great fondness because he brought me back into the Church responded to a woman’s question on grace, as he was racing off to an appointment “Oh! We don’t teach about that any more because it is too confusing to people!” My relationship to him as a priest was forever changed though the fondness remained till the day he died and to this moment. We do no favors being lazy in our teaching. Whether we like it or not as Catholics we are obligated to come to know no matter what it takes nor how difficult…especially our priests!

    So for me, your work and courage to speak publicly on many things is deeply appreciated!


  40. fatherstephen Avatar

    Mary Benton,
    It’s a good question. Am I resistant to unity? Yes – even with God – all the time.

    But, more to the point. I am Orthodox and do not want to conceive of myself in any other manner. It is the only means by which I can be one with God. I certainly cannot be one with God apart from Holy Orthodoxy – for that would be to make of myself the Church. But I don’t have to defend it – it defends me. My understanding of Orthodoxy is and certain always can be flawed. And there are things within the sphere of Orthodox culture, et., that are more than flawed. But Holy Orthodoxy is the very life of God among men. I say that in affirmation and not with respect to anything else.

    Rightly understood, the whole universe is Orthodox (“this is the faith of the universe!”) we say on the Sunday of Orthodoxy. For, creation itself is the Church and always has been. The “Church” as we use the term is the Body of the First Born of All Creation – He is not simply the first-born of the Church – only as the Church is All Creation. And so we sing, “All of Creation rejoices in Thee, O Theotokos!”

    The sort of unity that I’m resisting in the present conversation, would be something much less.

    I have no idea how to get from here to there. I used to think about an “Anglican reunion with Orthodoxy.” Lord Michael Ramsey, 101st Archbishop of Canterbury, of blessed memory, whom I had the honor to know, wrote that it was the vocation of Anglicanism to be reunited with Orthodoxy. I believed he was right. But I also came to the conclusion that I would be sinning to postpone my union because of some awaited “reunion.” Such a thing was destroying my soul. I see now that I was right. I can’t tell, and don’t tell anyone else what to do in such matters. But I do say, “Do not lose your soul.”

    I have no vision about Rome and Orthodoxy – it’s not been given to me to see such things. I’m doing my best not to be given to fantasizing about anything, ever. What I know is Holy Orthodoxy – and the fullness that dwells there.

    Strangely, since most Christians seem really interested in unity (I’ve heard about all my life), I’m not certain that I should be that interested in it. I say this particularly in light of what I’ve written about the true nature of One. Almost everybody I ever hear speak on the topic, as well as those who comment on it, don’t seem to be talking about a unity of such a nature.

    Anything less than a full union in Christ in the fullness of the truth, in the fullness and commonality of union – one life – is nothing worth thinking about.

  41. Gene B Avatar
    Gene B

    As I sit in my hotel on the Reichenau, in Southern Germany, a famous monastic island and named by UNESCO as one of the cradles of western civilization, this beautiful place clearly demonstrates the essence of the West-East changes. With my new job I get to travel a lot in Europe by myself, and this year I decided to, wherever possible, visit famous relics that once brought streams of Catholic visitors but now sit in museums, with booklets and explanations describing those foreign, ancient practices as if they are simply not done anymore. It is certainly obvious to this reader that in none of these explanations could an understanding of why relics are (were) venerated be found. The famous relics and their reliquaries have simply been classified as “Art”, “Treasures” or forgotten. Nowhere is this more prevalent than in the Paris church of Saint Leu-Saint Gilles where the relics of St. Helena are laid in a small room under the altar. In the room a large number of Russian icons can be found, evidence of Russians’ pilgrimages – but otherwise there are no signs anywhere in the church that the relics even exist, and nobody else comes but those Russians. And this is for St. Helena, the finder of the True Cross!

    I think the essence of the East – West gulf can be seen in the virtual absence of this practice of venerating relics in the Western Church. It confirms Father Stephen’s Two Storey Universe thesis. In the two storey universe, God’s presence simply is not here to be found. Why bother looking? The funny thing is, the Catholic Church never changed it’s teaching on relics – so what happened? I think we are witnessing how our culture has changed us beyond our ability to perceive it ourselves. We argue points incorrectly based on experience that has robbed us of grace and holiness all our lives. When presented with it, it is completely foreign. As a (trying to be) committed Orthodox Christian with three children going to a local Catholic School, I am often in conversation with serious Catholic parents. When I discuss any of these and other practices, my Catholic friends and acquaintances are mystified, particularly when confronted with beliefs and practices that really should be their own.

    You know, the more I get to know my Catholic friends through the school, the more I feel not that they are wrong, but that they have been cheated. By taking on too much of the surrounding culture, their own has been watered down to a bare minimum. We live our western lives like everyone else and pay lip service to Christ and his Church as if that’s all that’s needed. To get to the essence of the faith is a huge internal undertaking, and any Catholics present on this blog should be made to feel welcomed, as in my opinion the journey is made even harder for them than it is for us. Once on a plane I met our local Catholic Bishop and his assistant Priest, whom I sat next to while flying to Switzerland. We had hours-long conversations about the faith. It was a lovely and fascinating experience. They were taking a pilgrimage trip to Southern Italy to venerate famous Saints. From a diocese of 700,000 they had about 20 people in the group. 20! We had almost that many from our Parish go on such a trip to Russia – and our Parish only has 150! Yet I am certain there so many good Catholics looking for closer relations with God with pure hearts and pure intentions. As Orthodox we should pray for them and love them. We are all under assault, fighting to live in a One Storey Universe.

  42. Dino Avatar

    I know it sounds fairly severe and polemical – besides, it is a ‘blanket statement-, however, it is customarily said by quite a few Orthodox that: ‘Catholicism erred on the side of secularism from the very start’. I do not want to defend the statement but I admit to often seeing many things that seem like “worldliness” (as opposed to the “hesychastic-ness” of Orthodoxy) to an Orthodox in Catholic circles. The secular influence is of course a problem for all of us now.

  43. fatherstephen Avatar

    Gene, thank you for your reflections. When the belt of the Mother of God was brought from Mt. Athos to Russia two years ago, for the faithful to venerate, it drew enormous crowds – estimated in the millions for its visit. After 70 years of a secular regime millions still come. A beloved priest friend, now departed, Fr. Jacob Meyers, is one of those rare souls whom relics seem to “find.” His parish in Atlanta is filled with them. In the back of the Church are two links of the Chains of St. Peter – really – the remainder of the links being in Rome. I was staggered. I asked him, quite skeptically, how he got them. He told me that a Catholic priest gave them to him. They had been on loan to America when Vatican 2 took place and then were more or less forgotten. They’d been in a closet of the Church for decades when he gave them to Fr. Jacob. It was not an unusual story, I learned.
    It’s not an indictment – but a symptom that I think you well described – and precisely a symptom of the 2 storey universe of secularism. That these things are ignored does suggest that a cultural sea-change has occurred. It will increase everywhere and among all so long as we neglect our true union with God.

  44. fatherstephen Avatar

    I’ve been turning your comment over in my mind this morning and must say that is among the more beautiful things I’ve read in a while. It is particularly beautiful because I think your own soul perceives this correct – an inadvertently has brought mine own up short! Yours is the right attitude and thought. We are indeed fighting the same battle, regardless, and are surrounded by a common enemy. If we can help each other to see the Kingdom more clearly, then we’ll have done well. Thanks. May God be with you on your pilgrimages! When you remember, mention my name and my family in your prayers!

  45. mary benton Avatar
    mary benton

    Gene –

    I agree with Fr. Stephen – a wonderful reflection. As a RC, I think you are quite right, that we are badly infected with secularism. At the same time, some of the efforts to “correct” things have been as much or more disturbing than the initial problem (e.g. the near witch hunt conducted on our American nuns). Please do pray for us.

    On the topic of relics, I can only share my own feelings. I think that there is a crisis of trust in our modern world because too many people have flocked around things that were weird and improbable (e.g. seeing a sacred image on a water tower). We don’t want to be duped or associated with this “weird” sort of devotion. There is also something in me that recoils at relics that are body parts, as it creates an image of desecration of the body of a holy person.

    This being said, I would be grateful to re-learn (or learn) or more healthy understanding of relics. Have you written on this, Fr. Stephen?

  46. leonard Nugent Avatar
    leonard Nugent

    Mary I think the witch hunt on “american nuns” is likely to turn up quite a few.

  47. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Father I tried replying to you on the e-mail link with some book preferences but my e-mail won’t go through. Any suggestions?

  48. PJ Avatar


    Leonard’s right. The sisters earned that so-called “witch hunt” with their wayward theology and dubious political activism. Have you seen the speakers they invite to their yearly conferences? To call them New Agers would be to insult New Agers.

    Last year’s speaker at the LCWR convention was Barbara Hubbard Marx, who runs the “Foundation for Conscious Evolution.”


    Anyway, not all sisters are under investigation, only those affiliated with the LCWR. The Council of Major Superiors, which is solidly orthodox, is not under any suspicion whatsoever. Thankfully, it represents those orders which are vibrant and growing, unlike those of the LCWR, which are by and large withering away. The sisters have betrayed their wonderful and admirable legacy with their secularized liberal heterodoxy. Once they abandoned the habit for the pantsuit, it was all downhill…

  49. mary benton Avatar
    mary benton

    PJ –

    Again, you and I think differently. I am friends with a nun who experienced the “investigation” personally and there was much that was offensive about it. I also think that you have jumped to conclusions about a large group of beautiful and holy women. (I am not saying there are not any who are/were off track, but it is curious that there was no parallel investigation of priests, despite some very serious deviance that was much more harmful than just some ideas you may think goofy or too liberal.)

    Anyway, this is not the place to air our personal differences. My primary point was to offer my opinion that methods used to improve problems within the Catholic church have often been both hurtful and ineffective. You may certainly disagree with me – but hopefully we can agree that the prayers of our Orthodox brothers and sisters is quite welcome.

  50. Martin Avatar

    “Rome’s centralization has not always been the exquisite instrument that you seem to think it. The current madness begotten of Vatican II was a result of Rome, not of its margins. You can’t blame the liberals or anyone but the Vatican for the mess, because the Vatican could always have made a difference. What exists must be laid at the foot of the papacy. To plead weakness simply undermines the argument of centralization.” I beg to differ; Rome’s centralization is an exquisite instrument, but that does not mean it is always used in an exquisite manner (or even that it is used at all). Think trying to use a can opener to peel an orange; there is nothing wrong with the can opener, it is fine, but it must be used properly. I’m not entirely sure what “madness begotten of Vatican II” you are speaking of, but Rome didn’t cause the madness, perhaps She was just a bit too slow in reacting to it. For the slow reaction time, that blame can be laid at Her feet (and given the fact that She is 2000 years old and plans in generations, it is no surprise that it has taken Her 40 or 50 years to take care of some funny business that has been going on, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it took another 40 or 50 years before everything that has gone on and continues to go on in the name of Vatican II is finally put to rest).

    “I think your Church (the one in your head) is too rational.” I’m not exactly sure what you meant by this, but I would like to say that my aim is not to construct some “Church in my head” but rather to think and act as a member of what in my best judgment (and a judgment which is not altogether poorly informed and I am constantly seeking to learn more) is the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. I am not perfect at thinking and acting this way, I am a sinful man. I recognize that many, who have sought in good faith just as I am seeking, have come to different conclusions as to which Church is the True Church, and I struggle to understand where they are coming from and why they ended up with a different conclusion. After all that is why I read your blog (although have only commented on perhaps 3 posts in 4 or 5 years) and am engaged in this discussion.

    As far as wanting one answer to a question, yes this is a true assessment (and I’m not sure how that is a problem in itself, but I digress); there is ONE true canon of the Bible, not TWO true canons. In my Western mind (and I make no apology for having one) either a text is in the true canon or it is not, and it’s not in for one group and out for another group (law of non-contradiction at work here). So we don’t see things the same way.

    Father, and everyone else for that matter,
    Thank you for the very interesting discussion; I have been given much to ponder and can’t help but think that perhaps you understand what I am saying but I only think I understand what you are saying, but in reality I do not. And Father, thank you especially for this tidbit: “The divisions we suffer, as well as many of the successes Christians enjoy, are quite frequently just one of the many ways sin reveals itself.” At the end of the day the problem is sin, and this isn’t punting, this is acknowledging the real. I will pray for you and hopefully we will meet one day. God bless all of you.

  51. PJ Avatar


    I agree that there are many holy and orthodox women in the orders under investigation. But it’s not every nun who is being investigation, but the Leadership Council itself, which has betrayed the very women it is supposed to protect by inviting false prophets like Barbara Marx Hubbard to speak at conventions. If this was a “gender issue,” as the mainstream media would like us to believe, then the Council of Major Superiors would also be under investigation. But it is not.

    I agree that Rome has too often used the big stick instead of the soft voice. But I don’t think this is one of those cases. Anyway, no need to sully this beautiful blog with talk of our own sad, sad troubles.

  52. mary benton Avatar
    mary benton

    It is easy to judge others. Especially if we have never met them or listened to their point of view.

    It is hard to pray for those whom we think are in error. It is even harder to acknowledge that we ourselves may be in error.

    (I am not saying this to judge anyone else; it is something I know to be true of me.) May God have mercy on us and teach us to be merciful as well.

  53. mary benton Avatar
    mary benton

    PJ –

    The above comment was not a response to you – it was in response to some comments that have now disappeared.

    (Sorry, Father Stephen, if I went too far afield.)

  54. fatherstephen Avatar

    Martin, perhaps I wrote too obliquely and not bluntly.

    I was finding fault with what I assumed to be your opinion (based on your comment). That being of the “tidiness” or “authority” of the Papacy. My point was simply that this is only true on paper – a theoretical tidiness. The Papacy is, in fact, a very messy bureaucracy, currently presiding over a Church in free-fall decline in Europe and spinning out of control in other places with a frequently insane practices (“Star Wars Masses” only the latest of the liturgical nonsense that has yet to disappear) that rival those found anywhere. I don’t think that comparing “how bad your stuff is” to “how bad my stuff is,” is all that useful. However, my point is that this insanity (and I left out the vast sexual scandals that have almost put a bullet to the head of the Church in places like Ireland) is often treated as if it had nothing to do with the Papacy. My suggestion was simply to call for honesty in the matter. That there can’t on the one hand be the wonder of Rome’s authority when it comes to things like the canon, etc., without at the same time giving Rome the blame for the rest of the nonsense that takes place. My point, continued, is that defenders of Papal authority like to frame their defense in a manner that privileges the success stories of world-wide Primacy, without admitting what a tragic screw-up it has been in other matters.

    Orthodoxy has different expectations of authority – we tolerate certain things on purpose (like tweaks in the canon). In truth, if you knew enough about the real history of the canon of Scripture and what it actually means in the life of the Church, you wouldn’t think of this as a problem. We don’t. And strangely, Orthodoxy seems to have managed to defend the faith successfully for 2000 years, despite its lack of a centralized Primacy of the Roman sort.

    Frankly, I get tired of Papacy being given a free ride on the Crusades and being told that they were not part of the infallibility. They were among the most egregious sins in the history of the Christian faith with specific authorization of the Papacy. If that’s not heresy, then I don’t know what else to call it. But, defenders of this nonsense like to “rig” the arguments, so that they can defend a theoretical infallibility, while allowing the same supreme office to get away with genocide. It just doesn’t cut it.

    At the same time, every sloppy problem found in the history of Orthodoxy is trotted out to suggest that Orthodoxy is not the true Church because there are sloppy things that a nice, tight, centralized authority could fix (good grief the Russian Biblical canon typically differs slightly from the Greek, much less Ethiopia)! How many people did the canon kill? This, to me, is just ideas – just notions and nonsense.

    Orthodoxy abides – without a centralized, Roman-style Primacy. How is that possible? And strangely, it seems to have more inner consistency world-wide than the Catholic Church has in any single parish. How is that possible?

    If I seem grumpy about this – I am. Forgive me. But God has called us to pray for one another. And I do. The problems of Rome hurt everyone. The problems of the Orthodox hurt everyone. The problems of the Protestants and Pentecostals hurt everyone. None of us, regardless of the lack of unity, is immune to the disease of the other. If Rome catches a cold we all sneeze. On the other hand, I pray God that the health of one will redound to all – and pray that the health begin with me! Glory to God.

  55. fatherstephen Avatar

    Leonard and Mary,
    I removed the conversation about a specific nun. It’s outside our bounds.

  56. Mary Lanser Avatar

    Thanks Father, your latest clarification helps a great deal. I would add to your observations that the papal office tends to not intrude on the individual bishop…for a good long time…in the hopes that corrections will be made appropriately and in due course. Most Catholics do not realize that if they happen to write to Rome to report a bishop to the appropriate curial office, that letter is immediately sent to the offending bishop who is directed to solve the problem at home. Same thing happens if a priest writes to complain without an encampment of canon lawyers to advise and guide and guard him from the repercussions. As you note, it is messy and sometimes quite cruel business.

    I learned all of that the hard way when a bishop, seeming out of the blue, came new into a diocese and immediately attacked my spiritual father with a vehemence that frightened and angered me, and wound up terrifying me when I realized the paucity of recourse for anyone vis a vis the bishop in his see. There is nothing nice and neat and tidy about a wolf pack.

    There is a horizontal aspect to the papal Church as well as a vertical one. Canonically, the horizontal aspect rules…and even more strongly since the Second Vatican Council. There is due process to which even the papal office is subject…short of invoking a right to over-rule and that simply does not happen first, second, third or sometimes ever. The bishop has every opportunity to shepherd his flock…period. There are times when I wish it were so that the papal office rules as freely as most think that it does.

  57. Mary Lanser Avatar

    Gene: Your observations and prayers are duly noted. One is sad news and the other most welcome.

    With respect to relics, I have had some wonderful experiences. There is a Chapel in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania named St. Anthony’s Chapel. Here is a FAQ for the chapel:

    A friend of mine and I used to go there a couple of times a year and it is a steadily busy place.

    Also some years ago now, I joined a candle light procession of the relics of St. Therese of Lisieux in Loretto, Pennsylvania. The nuns from the Carmelite cloister there were allowed to leave the cloister and join the procession. It was the first time in several generations that the nuns had been allowed outside of the cloister walls. There were many tens of thousands of people from the region who came to venerate her relics during the time she was at the cloister, with the Franciscans and in the diocesan cathedral. It was an amazing few days for me who, with the help of local religious, was able to stay with the relics as they moved from venue to venue in a tight little knot there in central PA. Even as a Carmelite I was not to drawn to the stories of the Little Flower, but being in such close and extended proximity to her relics, after a time I began to have a different and deeper regard for the young woman who said that she wanted to spend her heaven doing good here on earth.

    Thank you for praying for our wounds.


    So mileage varies

  58. Dino Avatar

    I find an additional reason the finger gets pointed at the RCC in traditionally Orthodox countries in recent years (albeit, a great deal less significant than the Crusades of course) is that, since the RCC is considerably more conspicuous in the worldwide media (eg: we even see Orthodox Greek kids playing ‘pretend Barbie weddings’ singing the RCC famous organ wedding-music! –TV influence – rather than our traditional Orthodox version). The consequence of this is that any contemporary ‘scandals’ (I mean even those that could be considered restricted to Orthodox Christendom) are easily perceived as owing to Western influence… It is as if ‘secularism’ is now mainly professed as a ‘western thing’…

  59. drewster2000 Avatar

    This blog is just a drop in the ocean of the world, and yet in this comment stream it feels very much as if a small bit of progress has just been made in RC & EO relations – again, on a blogsite that has no interest in ecumenism. (grin) The Lord works in mysterious ways.

    I greatly appreciated Mary Benton’s comment to Fr. Stephen that “I almost got the feeling that you were arguing for the infallibility of Orthodoxy – as though the teachings and perspectives of Orthodoxy could never be modified at all in dialogue with Catholics or other Christians.”

    This touches on my sense that “all have fallen short of the glory of God.” I have deep respect for Orthodoxy, but I do not believe in its infallibility as an institution, being that it is maintained by fallible human beings.

    This was followed by Fr. Stephen’s response which seemed to use the term “Orthodoxy” in such a way that “true Christian faith” could be put in its place – and I fully agree.

    And right after this was the beautiful comment by Gene B, which put things into perspective once more: the focus should not rest on who is wrong and where but on this rejoinder from Fr. Stephen: “We are indeed fighting the same battle, regardless, and are surrounded by a common enemy. If we can help each other to see the Kingdom more clearly, then we’ll have done well.”

    Conversations like this are why I remain at this blog. They part the clouds and cause the sunshine to warm the heart. Blessed be the name of the Lord!

  60. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    “I almost got the feeling that you were arguing for the infallibility of Orthodoxy – as though the teachings and perspectives of Orthodoxy could never be modified at all in dialogue with Catholics or other Christians.”

    Mary, that depends on what you mean by teachings and perspectives. Certainly the doctrine of the Church can never be changed or we cease to be Orthodox. As I’ve said before, all that is true, and beautiful is in the Orthodox Church, i.e., the fullness of the Person of Jesus Christ and the Holy Trinity, though not everything that is in the Orthodox Church is true and beautiful.

    There is truth and beauty elsewhere too. In that we share. We have our own sins, although some of those we share too.

    The history of the Orthodox Church has shown that she is quite flexible and able to absorb a great deal of variation as long as it reflects the fullness of the Truth. As has been revealed on this blog, some folks are uncomfortable with that equating oneness with sameness and uniformity.

    For those of us who journeyed through the morass of untruth that lives outside the Church, there is simply no other recourse than the Orthodox Church if we really want the truth and are not permanent “seekers” seeking perfection.

    As I’ve have written, the biggest problem with re-union is: “who shall unite with whom?” Worldly compromise and some weird admixture is just not going to do it. If Jesus words that the “gates of hell will not prevail [against my Church] mean anything, we cannot be equally wrong. Oh we each have much of which to repent, but the reality of Church is that She is one and always has been. Jesus is not a bigamist.

    The split between the Orthodox and the Bishop of Rome has always been primarily about the authority of the said bishop. Whether the pope and the Papacy has universal jurisdiction over the whole Church as Vicar of Christ or not.

    I don’t see a third option there. Do you?

    The position of the RCC remains the submission of the East to the authority of the Papacy. Pope Benedict re-iterated that position at the beginning of his Papacy.

    The position of we Orthodox is still that the Pope needs to submit to the Body with Jesus Christ as the only head and lead as first among equals in accord with Apostolic practice.

    The idea of the Vicar of Christ is, IMO, the seed from which the two storey universe grew and it is incompatible with the entire body of teaching and practice that we Orthodox hold and attempt to tradition to others.

    Institutional re-union this side of the Second Coming is a distraction. Holding to the calling to which we have been called (Eph 4) and acting to “…sanctify the Lord God in (our) hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear…” 1 Peter:15

    That will lead us to the heart of the matter: the truth we share. The Grace of God and personal obedience will determine the rest.

  61. fatherstephen Avatar

    Thanks – well said. It reminds me, as I have had 7 years experience on the blog, the importance of “staying in the conversation.” Regardless of God’s promise to the Church, I am not personally infallible 🙂 I have noticed that the conversation finds places of resolve and commonality, given time. There have only been a few rare instances when things have turned out otherwise.

    I will perhaps rerun some of my thoughts on “staying put,” a rare virtue in today’s fast-paced world.

  62. leonard Nugent Avatar
    leonard Nugent

    The position of the RCC remains the submission of the East to the authority of the Papacy. Pope Benedict re-iterated that position at the beginning of his Papacy……Huh? I missed that one

  63. leonard Nugent Avatar
    leonard Nugent

    Cardinal Ratzinger has an excellent book..”Church, Ecumenism and Politics: New Endeavors in Ecclesiology”, that I have read.
    He covers the topic pretty well there

  64. fatherstephen Avatar

    I really don’t want us to beat a dead horse. Nuanced versions of universal jurisdiction are still universal jurisdiction. It is, in Orthodox understanding, an error – not a position to be nuanced. I’m happy for various Popes as they feel they’re way forward and learn to say things in a more nuanced manner. But the conversation isn’t between the nuances of theologians of the Vatican and the Phanar (though Rome often imagines this to be the case – to the detriment of genuine conversation). Universal jurisdiction, along with a number of other things will have to be jettisoned in a non-nuanced fashion, before Orthodoxy takes any of these conversations seriously. If the Patriarch of Constantinople himself signs off on some proposal it doesn’t mean beans. It’s been done before and rejected by the people of God. No universal jurisdiction is just that. I think this is, more or less, Michael’s point.

  65. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    The particular statement by Pope Benedict was, I believe, in the first major address of his Papacy. It was a clause in a sentence and the entire speech was not focused on re-union. I am not surprised it escaped the notice of Roman Catholics.

    I remember reading the speech at the time and it popped out in blazing colors to me and many other Orthodox, because it was about us and our relationship with the Vatican. There was a conversation about it on the AOI blog and I remember talking with my brother about it too. He noticed it as well. Its there.

    It was not subtle to me. Not subtle at all. I was glad actually because he made it quite clear and there had been a blurring of the lines under John Paul II. Clarity is always better than diplomatic obfuscation.

    Father Stephen is correct as to my meaning. As usual, I use too many words.

    If the Patriarch of Constantinople himself signs off on some proposal it doesn’t mean beans. It’s been done before and rejected by the people of God. No universal jurisdiction is just that.

    Roman Catholics have difficulty understanding that even our Patriarchs are not Popes. Sometimes our Patriarchs have difficulty remembering. Yet there remains obedience to the hierarchy as long as they don’t preach what is contrary to Holy Tradition which is the deposit of the Holy Spirit in the Church passed on to and received from generation to generation. If any one, even a Patriarch, decides against Holy Tradition, some will follow, but the Church will remain whole and one. The Patriarch and those who follow will have placed themselves outside the Church. Such a thing is literally impossible in the RCC is it not?

    Side note:

    I have a friend who was a Roman Catholic priest for many years and a faithful one. When in seminary he was introduced to Orthodox Theology and he appreciated it. He chose for a long time to remain Catholic because he felt that the Papacy was better equipped to maintain the integrity of the truth than the Orthodox Church with our lack of central authority.

    Over the years, he gradually came to believe otherwise, that the deposit of Holy Tradition and the manner in which it is passed down and received within the Orthodox Church actually worked better.

    He is now an Orthodox layman and practicing psychologist.

  66. Mary Lanser Avatar

    Dear Father: I am no good at tone in this medium, so I beg your pardon from the beginning and hope for the best:

    The first thing that comes to mind is that I can readily understand any and all resistance to changing one jot or tittle of the fundamental truths and practices of Orthodoxy. In that I am with Orthodoxy 100% and without reservation.

    The second thing that I hope to have you consider over time is the fact that in Orthodoxy, within the Phanar and without, there are unionists and non-unionists. It seems as though it has always been thus. In my estimation they are all the people of God. They are all Orthodox.

    The third thing that I hope that you may also consider over time is that universal jurisdiction probably ought to be discussed in light of not only the first thousand years but also in light of the changes that have occurred in Orthodoxy over the question of primatial power and authority in the ensuing thousand years. The question of papal power and authority is inextricably bound to the question of primatial authority, in practical terms, in theological terms, in ecclesiastical terms, and in spiritual terms. I do not think we should shut the conversation down by outright rejection of something called universal jurisdiction.

    The fourth thing is that it is not right or honest or kind or charitable to suggest that the Christ is not the head of the Body of Christ with respect to the papal Church’s own understanding of itself. So that papal power and authority takes its life from the Holy Spirit who guides us all. There is no authority in reality but that of the Logos, the Author of All, that comes to us by the power of the Holy Spirit. Any and all else flows from there.

    The fifth thing is that we are living in a time when it is entirely possible to have unprecedented access to one another as people and as Church, with growing access to the writings of our collective and respective holy fathers, past and present. We have an astounding advantage of communication at all levels of the ecclesia and my prayer is that we do not squander it, or fail to use it, in our bi-lateral discussions and dialogues.

    And the sixth thing is that there is a real and growing understanding that the world is demanding that we join together to assert the morality of the new and everlasting covenant…and we cannot join morally and remain separate in all other forms. That is insufficient witness against evil. It always has been. It always will be. Our very moral teaching and praxis depends on our theology and doctrinal agreement. It is just white noise without the heart of it intact and unified…not necessarily uni-vocal.

    There’s more but I start to cry when I do this and can no longer see the monitor……oh well…

    In the love of Christ Ascended!


    PS: Me too…September, 1953

  67. leonard Nugent Avatar
    leonard Nugent

    As Pope John XXIII used to say every night. “It’s your church Lord, I’m going to bed.”

  68. fatherstephen Avatar

    Points: On the second: I don’t know any Orthodox “unionists.” I can believe that there are such people, but I’ve never met any…and I’ve met many of the leading figures of modern Orthodoxy. I can say that any “unionist” who “came out of the closet” on the matter – would likely have a tricky time of it in the Orthodox world. It is not an “accepted” position. Those Orthodox who speak positively about our bi-lateral conversations have to quickly nuance their interest.

    Third: Primacy is very much part of the current round of conversations. In “politics” of Orthodoxy, Constantinople has generally led the way in positive agreements with Rome, with Moscow reacting conservatively and negatively. The ground is shifting very quickly – what was the case in the 80’s and 90’s is disappearing and becoming something else indeed.

    What interest does C (Constantinople) have in reunion with R (Rome)? The suggestions you make in point 6 would find great resonance there. The weakness of the Church in Greece is similar to the weakness of the Church in Italy. It’s a strong institution, but suffering popular difficulties. This weakness shouldn’t be too strongly compared to those in the West. Orthodoxy is a part of Greek identity over-and-against the West. It’s not the same as devotion – but even secular Greeks wouldn’t like reunion with Rome.

    Why is M (Moscow) resistant? Capitulation to the West is a very heinous thing in Russian history. The fall of the Soviets was haunted more by the dominant bogey-man of the West than it was by ghosts of the past. Today, the Russian Church is growing in stature and influence and presently enjoys a place in Russian culture that Churches in the West can only envy. Would M want to partner too closely with R, when R seems sclerotic, scandal-ridden and in decline? R needs M rather than the other way around. Also, R has no political state that shares its interests. M does.

    This changing political scene is, I think, gradually reshaping the ecumenical conversations. I’ve been watching the Pat. of M’s present visit to Greece with great interest (on Youtube). Quite interesting and rather “grand.” Just before this visit, he entertained the Pat. of Jerusalem in Moscow (Jerusalem is a surrogate for Constantinople). In the 90’s there were great tensions between C and M, with even a few months in which M refused to commemorate C on the ditypchs in the Liturgy. But today, we’ve had Russia offering to bail Cyprus out of its bankruptcy bind, with the EU nixing the deal, insulting Cyprus in the process (Cyprus is virtually a Patriarchate and another surrogate for Constantinople). In Syria, where Assad protects Christian minorities (especially the Orthodox), America and the EU have teamed up to destroy his regime (for whatever Western interests). Only Russia is standing by Assad, with M asking the state to defend the Christians in that ancient land. The EU and the US don’t even know that there are Christians in the Middle East – and care even less. I’m a veteran “Kremlin-Watcher” with a strong interest in Balkan and Middle-Eastern history.

    To draw a conclusion – right now, I things are shifting such that the heirs of Byzantium have much to gain from one another, and little to gain from Rome. Rome, on the other hand, may have something to gain from Byzantium (for a change). That means the nature of the conversation might take a turn that none can predict.

    My own estimate is that there will be greater cooperation on things such as shared moral issues, but not union. Not likely ever. At present, I think Rome needs to figure how it’s going to come to grips with its own precipitous decline and decide straightforwardly about its identity. There is currently such a resurgence of Orthodoxy and growth that it’s hard to imagine it doing anything to step back. The creation of a Guatemalan Orthodox Church (actually Mayan) with over 150,000 converts is an example. Why was the Patriarch of Moscow visiting Cuba, Venezuela, China, Korea, etc.? American radar tends to ignore these things – but they are very, very significant.

    Point 4 – when a member of the Roman Catholic Church converts to Rome, the formal service includes renunciation of Papal authority and the affirmation of Christ as head of the Church. What you’re objecting to is official Orthodox language.

    Point 5 – indeed.

    Point 6 – I don’t care what the world is calling for. A local columnist in my Tennessee newspaper recently complained about a God who cares nothing about keeping up with the times. The media (which today passes for the “world”) was all agog at the papal election, wondering whether there would be a change in the Church’s stand on sexual morality or women in the priesthood. The world is an idiot. If there were a union, there would be less than a week’s worth of interest on the news and boredom shortly afterward. The world is silent today about everything except its own self-interest. Europe is rushing head-long towards its own extinction – aborting and euthanizing itself as quickly as possible. It is ashamed of its own history and will consider itself to have done the world a favor by disappearing.

  69. Rhonda Avatar

    “Europe is rushing head-long towards its own extinction – aborting and euthanizing itself as quickly as possible. It is ashamed of its own history and will consider itself to have done the world a favor by disappearing.”

    Such is becoming the dominant view & has been practice of Europe’s daughter, the US…

    The world is an idiot.

    Agreed! Eesh!

  70. Mary Lanser Avatar

    Just a final note Father: Point 6–What I meant by the phrase “the world is calling for” is that secularism demands a strong moral and catholic response and it is my position that we would both be stronger if we were not at logger-heads. The world may not notice for too long, if we we resumed communion. But I have noticed that the world does notice that we cannot speak with one catholic accord.

  71. fatherstephen Avatar

    The moral leadership that the world needs is not for our respected Church’s to speak: “Blah, blah, blah.” It would actually be significant if Catholic and Orthodox Christians quit aborting their children and sleeping with each other outside of matrimony (for a start). We could add some other things, but that might make a good start. Popes and Patriarchs can’t say anything meaningful if their people aren’t living by it. What leadership do Orthodox and Catholic Christians need to quit killing? Those who believe in prayer should pray.

    The need is overwhelming indeed – but all I can think of is what I can do within myself – in faithfulness. It’s all any of us can do. The outcome of history has to be in God’s hands – otherwise we’d go mad.

    1953 was a very good year. 🙂

  72. Mary Lanser Avatar

    Father: That comment is guaranteed to inspire agreement.

  73. Rhonda Avatar


    The secular world cannot be pleased. Our unity or disunity is irrelevant to the world despite it’s claims. IMO even if we all joined in some sort of blessed unity & all of our differences magically just disappeared, the secular world still would not be happy. But rather it would contrive some other fault to squawk about…probably it would be the fact that we are now united. Consistently the world throws out the baby & keeps the filthy bath water. We are to live in the world, not for the world; we are to be concerned with our life lived in Christ (& pursuit of the virtues), not life lived according to the world’s terms (pursuit of the passions).

  74. Dino Avatar

    The secular world is traditionally considered – it’s spirit most certainly recognized as – our great enemy.
    Out of the three adversaries, I mean “Ego, World, Devil”, the World is greater than the Devil (although admittedly lesser than the Ego). This speaks volumes.

    Besides, as St John Chrysostom has said, what people want to see from Christians (he clarifies “the reason the whole world is not converted”) is that those who call themselves Christians are not the Saints they have been called to be(!), (which to the ‘outsiders’ is scandalous if Christians go on to openly peach in any shape or form…)

  75. Mary Lanser Avatar

    Living memory: When I was a child my father used to take me to old colonial Catholic Churches where the entry way was well hidden, in a city where Irish Catholics were sent to carry and burn the plague victims because their lives were worthless while the black slaves had great value. I then was migrated, for a time, to a small town where, during the Kennedy-Nixon presidential campaigns, I and my little Catholic friends were pelted with stones as we walked home from school, and called dirty little Catholics. But then also, a priest or a nun still aroused public shows of reverence and at least respect on the street.

    Then I lived through the more secularizing aspects of the aftermath of the Second Vatican Council, which included the grim realities of the venal behaviors of priests and of their bishops. Now we live in a world where the Catholic Church has lost a great deal of moral authority and we, Catholics, are watching the slow erosion of our ability to teach and give alms in ways that aided everyone, not just Catholics.

    I have seen the charred bodies in town squares where entire Catholic congregations have been burned out in Africa, and I saw and heard those stories long before there was a Facebook. I have nightmares of Catholics, Orthodox an papal, fleeing east-central Asia and the Levant.

    The time may come, as Father Stephen noted earlier in his comments on the decline, where the Catholic Church falls into disuitude. He seems to celebrate that decline in comparison to Orthodoxy’s rise. I may not live to see Orthodoxy replace the Catholic Church as the one true Church, with Moscow or NYC or Pittsburgh as its center, in the eyes of the world. But there are many who would be more than willing to help with our removal, seeing us go back to hiding in the shadows, if we exist at all, and rendered ineffectual.

    At that time, I wonder then who will defend Orthodoxy?…and will she be the same then as she is now? Is she prepared to build schools and hospitals and seminaries, for others, as well as for themselves? Will you be allowed to prosper in our wake?

    If you don’t mind I remain thoroughly unconvinced that the resumption of communion is not necessary.

  76. fatherstephen Avatar

    Mary Lanser,
    You’re mistaken in thinking that I celebrate any decline within Christianity. Christianity has been the salt in Western Civilization, even if the salt has sometimes been somewhat adulterated. As the salt loses its flavor, its power as a preservative is lost. In a very short amount of time civilization begins a downward spiral from which it is hard to recover.

    My reflections on the cultural suicide of Europe bring me nothing but sadness – and they bring death to an increasing number along with the ennui of our dying civilization.

    My reflections (the ones offered) are perhaps the most sober, sad thoughts that I have. The outcome of history is in the hands of God – so I dare not despair. But I do not see a “happy” future for quite some time.

    Orthodoxy is in a precarious position. It’s rise through Russian kindness is as precarious as the present Russian state. That’s quite dangerous. The marriage of many American Christians to a very pronounced political agenda is currently boomeranging badly.

    Resumption of communion would increase numbers, more or less, for a while, but the crisis in RC is not something that communion with the Orthodox will fix. At present, resumption of communion would destroy Orthodoxy – in many, many ways. It’s time to pray.

  77. Mary Lanser Avatar

    In this clarification we are fully agreed, even to the thoughts about resumption of communion as things stand at the moment. And I am grateful for your patience with me…very grateful.

    I do hope for an act of God to clear the path and make the path clear to us.

    In the love of the Son of the Living God!


  78. Dino Avatar

    Elder Sophrony once said that the world does not need larger numbers of people calling themsleves Christians and we must not fear a temporary decline in number of those who attend Church. The example of Christ, abandoned and alone on Calvary, must strengthen us to walk in His footsteps.

    To paraphrase :
    “I must conform to Him to make a change of cosmic dimensions”….
    One person who truly knows God first hand is a far greater blessing (and an effective ‘change’) to this world than thousands who simply know about Him.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Subscribe to blog via email

Support the work

Your generous support for Glory to God for All Things will help maintain and expand the work of Fr. Stephen. This ministry continues to grow and your help is important. Thank you for your prayers and encouragement!

Latest Comments

  1. Matthew, You asked how I would feel. I just glanced at my previous comments. I’m not sure I have presented…

  2. Matthew you might want to consider the Feast of the Synaxis of the Archangels celebrated on Nov. 8. To me…

  3. Thanks Dee. You said: “Regarding the notion of testing the spirits: this is indeed a biblical reference. However when implemented…

Read my books

Everywhere Present by Stephen Freeman

Listen to my podcast