Spiritual…but not…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

About Fr. Stephen Freeman

Fr. Stephen is a priest of the Orthodox Church in America, Pastor Emeritus of St. Anne Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He is also author of Everywhere Present and the Glory to God podcast series.



45 responses to “Spiritual…but not…”

  1. Dominic Albanese Avatar
    Dominic Albanese

    Yes and no. Religon even the orthodox version is too man power centerd not gender just the fallen nature of man. the guilty secret is that personified. All the robes all the censors all the candles all the chanting, has beauty, but also has a higherachal mumbo jumbo to it. We can not all be monks and live a prayer life that is all consuming. As a recovering addict and alky, I must use tools that religon does not provide, rules and cannons and dogma that fly in the face of if I do not do it your way I am not in the club/ well third step prayer and take me and make me as you will. I am orthodox but not fully churched, because the holy is in my own view limited to those who “get it right” well coming from the hell I lived in for years, I am quite happy to claim spiritual progress rather than spiritual perfection. I am not a saint, I admire the ones who live the Church calender and observe the sacraments, I must keep myself in moderation in all things, because I have been so overboard so many times, the simple “O God pleas help me” and the life I live is my way of showing Him I value his grace and with His help and mercy I can have one more day sober and clean I do not condone the make it up as you go along crowd, and the profiteers who claim to be holy well they have some serious flaws to sort out. Keep up the good work Fr Steven, but I must just follow the AA path it works and has for many years now/

  2. Johnathan Avatar

    Thank you for your insight. Some days, actually most days I think I need to fit into the the world to be truly happy but the world could never truly make me happy. It is like trying to put a square peg into a round hole,it doesn’t work. It will never work, thats why we need the church and all her wisdom.
    peace, please pray for me a sinner.

  3. fatherstephen Avatar

    Somewhere along the way, you got “sideways” with the Church. I probably feel about the Church the way you do about a good AA meeting. If the 12 traditions were not carefully observed in AA, then the 12 steps would soon be overwhelmed by our own broken personalities. There is great wisdom there. There is great wisdom in the life of the Church as well – and sometimes the various things are used wrongly. Stay sober. Remember God. Work the program. I would never counsel you otherwise.

  4. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Dominic, my God-father has also suffered greatly from alcohol: lost marriages, the whole thing. His solution is to combine the Church, AA and service to others. I’m sure he would tell you that he is still recovering, but I’ve seen him grow tremendously, he even found a wife who is a partner in his life in all things.

  5. Beth Avatar

    Fr Bless!
    Thank you for your honesty. I have been struggling with questions like this over the past few months. Prior to my conversion to Orthodoxy 3 years ago, I was a fundamentalist Evangelical [Bible-thumping] Christian. I grew up and was steeped in an environment that was all about being “spiritual” and “close to God” but rejected “religion/ritual/tradition”. While I love the traditions of the Church now, it has still been very difficult to really understand traditions and rituals [in particular individual fasting and formal prayer] and the role they play in my own walk with Christ. In the homily this morning, Fr Gregory talked about the Fruit of the Spirit, and trying to “put it on ourselves” through doing. The quote he used likened it to decorating a Christmas tree, which looks nice, but the real fruit comes from within. I liked the thought, but wondered: if the real fruit [of the Spirit] comes from within, or from our own lives, where do spiritual traditions and rituals fit in. . . and why does keeping them not always make me “feel close to God”? Isn’t that what they’re supposed to do?

    Of course, I don’t expect you to answer all of my many worries there, I would love to know your thoughts on any of that, as it seems to speak some to the topic above. Thanks for your time and patience to help me/us understand these things.

    Love in Christ from Nashville!

  6. Cheryl Leo Avatar

    as of September 9th I became Chris mated into the orthodox faith be in from the Baptist origin of religion I was never really fulfilled until I started studying the orthodox. it took me awhile to take on the saints because I did not believe in that. now thanks to the holy ghost I cannot thing of spiritually without them. They truly are the teachers. Jesus himself was not impressed with religion. I think somewhere even with spiritually and the real environment to which one is put into this life plays a role in a lot of things. the barrier is between the economy of who gets to play, the one with the money and the one who don’t, the poor.

  7. Ben Avatar


    If I may, I would like to comment on the thought about “feeling close to God”. I converted to Orthodoxy from a Pentecostal background (Assemblies of God), in which there was a lot of emphasis on “feeling close to God.” In time, this became one of my objections, so to speak, to the whole Evangelical church. It seems to me that very little of what I read in either the Gospels or Epistles has anything to do with “feeling close to God.” Now of course, feeling close to God is a wonderful gift, one that can be transformative and even at times necessary for our salvation. And indeed this is where I think the emphasis on “feeling close to God” comes from in Protestant Evangelical circles, the desire for a good thing. However, my understanding is that Orthodoxy doesn’t emphasize feelings at all but rather something different: Theosis, or as St. Seraphim of Sarov puts it “acquiring the Holy Spirit.” Why to we fast? Why do we Pray? Why do we give alms? First because the Lord expects it (“when you pray…”, “when you fast…”, “when you give alms…”), but secondly because the church Fathers teach us that these practices, if they are practiced correctly (which is to say as the Lord taught) put us in a place where we are able to receive the Holy Spirit. One might liken these spiritual practices to weeding the thorns (cares of this life, and wealth) in the Parable of the Sower. After all, prayer (my time is given to God) and fasting (my body is given to God) can be seen as putting the cares of this life in their proper place and giving alms can be seen as putting wealth in it’s proper place.

    The issue for us is that even though we sometimes feel close to God, these feelings are much rarer than the times in which we don’t feel anything at all (at least in my experience). Sometimes God just feels absent, so we long for the moments that we feel close to Him. I’m not sure, but it seems that this might be part of the way of the Cross. The Lord told us to take up our Cross and follow Him, and when Christ was on the Cross He cried out, “My God my God why has thou forsaken me?” Of course God didn’t forsake Christ and neither does he forsake us, but sometimes it feels like it.

    Don’t be surprised if growth takes a little while. 🙂 Speak to your spiritual Father on this point, he knows you and will be able to give you guidance.

  8. bob Avatar

    Dominic, it’s now over 25 years ago an Orthodox seminarian went to his first AA meeting. he went with an alcohol counselor, himself an AA and an Orthodox layman. Later the counselor said the seminarian came away from the meeting saying “This is exactly what the desert fathers were talking about!” Keep on showing up and keep on the steps. You’re keeping good company.

  9. jude Avatar

    Thank You again Fr. Steven,


  10. Dino Avatar

    Beth et all,
    interesting conversation here!
    Concerning: “where do spiritual traditions and rituals fit in. . . and why does keeping them not always make me “feel close to God”? Isn’t that what they’re supposed to do?”, wouldn’t we do well to keep in mind this particular image? :
    For a person to live in (for God to make His abode) we need to build a house (we need to build a ‘new’ [pure] heart), but to build a house we must use scaffolding (spiritual traditions and rituals, even “all the censors all the candles all the chanting” Dominic mentioned above).
    The scaffolding might one day become obsolete, but that does not mean it is anything other than indispensable to the making of the ‘house’…
    Also, we clearly see in those (rare perhaps) moments that orientate us correctly (moments of Grace) that there is beauty and grace in all those ‘outward things’ – even if the rest of the time these seem bereft of much meaning… We re-ignite the memory with some effort, but that is always dependant on our zeal to fight distractions. Distraction is such a powerful adversary that it even puts on ‘spiritual’ clothes if we are zealous enough to fight the obvious forms of it.
    Even heeding the thought ‘why do I not feel close to God’ is a distraction from the one thing needful, the one thing in my power: joyous ascesis in prayer, fasting, vigil, watchfulness, standing, etc that does not ‘expect returns’, just offers oneself. Of course, such ascesis itself, invariably yields returns of a ‘fiery state’ that allows us to see God in absolutely everything.

  11. Byron Gaist Avatar
    Byron Gaist

    Fr Stephen, this is a very interesting topic, thank you for approaching it. You correctly identify the dangers of a spirituality without religion as (a) a potential lack of focus, and (b) potentially self-serving ‘supermarket spirituality’ to please our egos. I think you’re also right that a guide is necessary, someone who already knows how to live in a material world in which spirits, both good and evil, also abide. Philip Sherrard first drew my attention to the fact that matter has an inseparable spiritual aspect.

    My difficulty however, is with the question of the imagination. If some of those people who claim to be ‘spiritual but not religious’ have a problem precisely with dogma, because they deem that no revelation is possible without the mediation of the human soul – that is, everything passes through the filter of our imagination, why is Christian revelation an exception?

  12. Susan Avatar

    Beth, one of the ways I view the traditions and rituals is the way I view physical exercise. It is something we do for ourselves to make us healthy. It isn’t always fun, but it is good for us (thinking of fasting, particularly in the run up to Christmas). It’s training. Just like there are times we don’t want to exercise, to run or workout, but we do it anyway, there is a benefit, even if we don’t feel good afterwards and of course, when we do. But the benefit is deeper in the body and long lasting when we exercise regularly.. With the traditions and rituals, it’s deeper in the spirit. When we skip working out, we don’t get the benefit. And when we skip for longer periods of time, our health declines. I find it easier to not judge others when I keep to the fast. Weird, but that’s how it is. (If you knew me, you would say that I need to do a lot more fasting.)
    I hope this helps a bit.

  13. Amanda Avatar

    The challenge is to examine and go deep within ourselves and question what being “spiritual” really means. Modern day spirituality rejects religion, but nowhere can I find that religion rejects spirituality. Religion is primarily an acceptance of “forms”. To be religious is to be bound to a state of life, a set of forms and conduct that indicate a belief in God. And isn’t belief in God and the unseen the epitome of spirituality? So I asked myself this question, what conduct indicates faith in God, what form, what practice? I was hard pressed to find anything that better expressed spirituality than prayer. Prayer is actually talking to God with in my heart.

    Prayer connects me to God, who is Spirit. Fasting is a natural spiritual expression even for spiritualists…have you noticed all the health and natural food ideology present in modern day spiritualism? Even new age religions acknowledge the need for the human to cleanse and purify. Fasting is a part of religion, but I find it to be a difficult spiritual struggle in that it requires my flesh to submit to my spirit, it brings these two realities into better harmony, in essence it makes me more like Christ who was the perfect harmonious man.

    Almsgiving is not exclusively about money…in its deepest sense it is about mercy, a kind of pity that breaks the heart of the giver. It just so happens that money is a readily available resource. But one is reminded of the apostles’ words, “Silver and gold have I none, but such as I have give I thee.” Even those who have no currency are still expected to give what we have been given and give with a broken heart full of mercy and joy, and that is not a religious mandate or a sterile practice. It is life giving and extremely spiritual.

    Those are the three religious practices that Christ himself observed. He also participated in the Jewish rituals, but when he is questioned about how he observed those rituals he responded, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” True religion always acknowledges and maintains that its practices, rituals, and forms are for man and meeting the needs of the spiritual man. Incense is for man, not man for incense. Candles are for man, repetition is for man, vestments are for man, cathedrals are for man, icons are for man. If it were not so then we would be no better off than those who offered these things to a dead god in fear of His /Her wrath or seeking favors or protection. We would be pagans.

    So what do we need as spiritual creatures that religion provides. Why do we need external forms and repetition? I think it is because I am dying and the process of dying includes the awful loss of memory. I easily forget that there is a God, and I have to have forms to tether me to God. Religion and ritual is first and foremost an exercise of memory. In etymological terms one of the meanings of religion is re-“again” + legere- “read”. Without the rereading men forget. And I think the modern world has cut off its nose to spite its face…in its presumption, thinking that spirituality absent of religion was the way to become spiritual, it has lost its mind, its memory, its remembrance of God. Therefore it has lost also its spiritual health.

    The Eucharist as the Savior instituted it is a ritual “in remembrance.” All the rituals that spiritual people claim make up dead religion are not tolls, or payments, or requirements for membership. They are needful and in the purest since spiritual because they meet the needs of man as he is, both body and soul. True religion is always spiritual because it proclaims the incarnation, the seen and unseen, and it tethers these two worlds together, these two realities. To be spiritual without religion is to put these two worlds or realities at odds, to elevate the unseen over the seen. And this to me is to deny the Gospel and to not be Christian. The Gospel is the good news. That good news is best revealed by the incarnation, God loves man. God came in the flesh observing all the laws of nature, and physics, and anatomy, and physiology, and chemistry, and even gynecology. His ascendancy over the laws of nature were miracles, the miraculous power of the Holy Spirit. And the sacraments, rituals, and religious practices are miraculous also, in that they confer on this dead flesh the life giving energy, or grace of God. How awesome is that! I too have a “guilty secret”, I forget, I start off good, but I end up treating holy things with contempt, most tragically my neighbor, my brother. I do not have spiritual eyes to see that I am standing in the midst (in my neighborhood) of the holy and that everything bears the weight of God’s glory.

    Thank God for religion, and the very little I have. Possibly the most meaningful and needful thing I have found in Orthodoxy is the repetitious reminder, “Wisdom, Let us Attend.”

  14. Dino Avatar

    great metaphor. If I may, I would also add that we must reach the stage that we enjoy the working out for itself, it gives us a ‘buzz’ as they say…
    I say this because one cannot maintain a life of ascesis if he doesn’t taste of the fiery zeal – at least a little – in order to keep up the ‘motivation’.
    Our adversary never tires of fighting us until we “lay down arms”, but God allots us the necessary means to whet our appetites too – especially when we ‘do our bit’…
    In Greek we have and expression for these things (whether training spiritually or physically): “apetite comes to those who start tasting”. This has come to imply that we need to encourage ourselves, in order to make progress.

  15. Dino Avatar

    Please forgive my impetuous typing and typos!

  16. fatherstephen Avatar

    Amanda, very well said! And to underline prayer, fasting and alms – and the incarnate character (for our sakes) of holy ritual.

    I have generally found that people who treat “Spiritual” as an opposite of “religion,” do so because they’ve never had a proper experience of the Tradition, or were subjected to one of the man-made forms of Christianity.

  17. Kev Avatar

    I can’t think of the Orthodox faith as a religion. It doesn’t seem like a religion at all. It is more of a kind of therapy to me. And the so called rituals are like medicine far our sick souls. Or like theraputic exercises.

  18. TLO Avatar

    Hey! This same article was posted on 2/26/2013 and 11/29/2011. Can I get a refund? 🙂

  19. TLO Avatar


    if the real fruit [of the Spirit] comes from within, or from our own lives, where do spiritual traditions and rituals fit in. . . and why does keeping them not always make me “feel close to God”? Isn’t that what they’re supposed to do?

    If I may be so bold as to chime in here. Aren’t the traditions and rituals rather like eating a healthy meal? There are times when you may be nonplussed by the steak and asparagus on your plate and there are other times when that is one of the most delicious combinations you can contrive. In both cases, the food sustains you regardless of your personal “experience” with it.

    To use another simile, when you were in school learning Algebra, did you ever come across something that made no sense to you at the time but the teacher told you, “just do it this way” and then a few lessons later you saw how that applied to a larger concept? I think that the traditions can be like that at times.

    Without knowing it, the constancy of the rituals develops something in you that later comes out as “fruit.” You may never even make the connection.

    One of the things that I appreciate about Orthodoxy, inasmuch as I have looked at it, is that it doesn’t always have to make sense. Evangelicals need to comprehend everything but the Orthodox don’t. I believe the position is that it’s already all been figured out. Like following a guide through the jungle, you don’t really need a machete because the Fathers have already made the path. You cannot see far down the path but the path is there. That doesn’t mean that you won’t be pricked by brambles along the way but that’s OK. In a way, the traditions and rituals are like the footsteps along the path. If you take the steps, you’ll progress. If not, you’ll remain where you are.

  20. TLO Avatar


    Modern day spirituality rejects religion, but nowhere can I find that religion rejects spirituality.

    May I disagree with you here? It seems to me that Patriotism can be a religion. The same might be said of Liberalism or Conservatism, each having its set of leaders (priests?), devout followers, and daily rituals in the form of talk radio and television programs and neither really relying on “spirituality” per se. I have even seen instances where people cling to atheism with religious fervor (Dawkins, surprisingly, is not one of these although many would like to place him on that pedestal).

  21. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Amanda, really good. I would add only that even the most “spiritual” develop their own rituals and forms. Having grown up in the 60’s I’ve seen enough spirituality to make me sick, in fact some of it did.

    The other danger that awaits the spiritual are the demons. Seen way too many go down that path.

    The Church acts as Ark, guardian, guide, catalyst and retort for the transformation of the Holy Spirit.

  22. fatherstephen Avatar

    I have generally used the word “religion” in a negative sense on the blog (following the usage of Fr. Alexander Schmemann) and would agree that in his sense (similar to yours) Orthodoxy is not a religion.

    I would even want to say that in the way that most Christians use the word Church, Orthodoxy is not a Church either. Indeed some Greek Orthodox writers of late, have started using the Greek word “ecclesia” instead of the English “Church,” to avoid the misunderstanding when the non-Orthodox think of the Orthodox Church as being like the Presbyterian Church, or the Baptist Church, etc. It is certainly correct to say that it is not “like” them in the most fundamental way.

    It would be more accurate to say that the Orthodox ecclesia is a sacrament or mystery but not “a Church.” Indeed, “a Church,” would only mean a building. In Russian, you would not call the building a “Church.” Thus some writers in English use the word “Temple” to refer to the building rather than “Church,” though I’ve heard a complaint about this from one prominent American Orthodox leader.

    The Elder Porphyrios always said, “the uncreated body of Christ,” if I recall it correctly.

  23. Rhonda Avatar

    Well said, Fr. Stephen, on the use of the word “Church” & “religion”. In my talks with the non-Orthodox I, too, have found these words confusing to my counterpart.

    But I have also run into problems with causing (unintentional) offense when referring to the Church as the Body of Christ…it seems that the great majority of Protestants view themselves as the Body of Christ & hence “the Church” (which is something spiritual, metaphysical, & ethereal “out there”–2-storey universe), but not as part of a distinct or concrete existence in our physical plane of existence (hence going to Church, while helpful, is totally unnecessary). Have you come up with a work-around word/phrase for that?

    Normally, I refer to the early Church Fathers & early Church History in an attempt to show that the early Church was not what they think it was…sometimes helps, but seldom.

  24. Rhonda Avatar

    Wouldn’t you know…I haven’t posted for the better part of a week or 2 & I’m already stuck “awaiting moderation” 🙁

  25. Rhonda Avatar


    “It seems to me that Patriotism can be a religion.”

    Very astute & spot on! It seems the past few decades that our religion has been patriotized & our patriotism has been religionized, both to extremes.

  26. Amanda Avatar

    TLO… Great comment, and I would agree that all three of your political examples are the substance filling the religious void at this moment in history. It even seems that the atheists have opted for a more sophisticated creed, political identification and allegiance. Attaining social reform and an addiction to justice as defined by the separate camps seem to be the new requirements for the “good human being” club.

    However, I would not define patriotism, or liberalism, or conservatism as religion. Man may treat these like a religion, but it does not make them a religion. If anything I would say that, if treated improperly, they become false religions. I may worship a god, but my worship, practice, and ritual does not make that god real.

    Religion, as I was referring to in my comment has everything to do with belief in the unseen, in God, and how man keeps that belief and lives out that belief. As far as I know being a patriot, or liberal, or conservative has nothing to do with reaching out to God in faith, and they most certainly do not offer the ultimate religious experience, God reaching out to man. For me the rituals that surround these separate groups have nothing more to offer than ideas based on theorizing and a false security in philosophical dogmas. Religion is the opposite of theorizing. Religion is not an idea.

    “To hold, therefore, that there is no difference in matters of religion between forms that are unlike each other, and even contrary to each other, most clearly leads in the end to the rejection of all religion in both theory and practice. And this is the same thing as atheism, however it may differ from it in name.” [Pope Leo XIII, Immortale Dei, 1885]

    To accept that being a patriot and saying the Pledge of Allegiance is the same as being a Christian and saying my morning prayers is dangerous, it is the lie of secularism. All religious practices are not equal. There is such a thing as false religion.

    Colossians 2:8 – Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ.

    Thank you for your comment, it really made me look at my own ideological addictions.

  27. Amanda Avatar

    Michael…Your observation that demons await the spiritual is something that I almost included in my comment, however I was running way too long and that conversation is lengthy in itself.

  28. Amanda Avatar

    Fr. Stephen…it is true that those who pit religion against spirituality have never had a proper experience of Tradition. I was one of those people. I am still struggling to be religious. But, the joy that I have found is that religon does not destroy my spirit. It quickens my spirit, and it restores faith, hope, and love. Thank you for your post and your all your efforts to teach us The Way.

  29. Cheryl Leo Avatar

    spirituality is experiencing a liturgy service. local churches are or is a religion. until someone experiences them both than they will understand

  30. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Yes, Amanda, it can be long but I have found it best to acknowledge their existence and praise God for victory in His Church. The have after all been sent into the pigs.

  31. Cheryl Leo Avatar

    that is because it is spiritual

  32. TLO Avatar

    Hi Amanda:

    Please accept the following not as confrontational arguing but as observations from the outside (besides, I don’t want Drewster thinking I’m intentionally being an offensive twit!).

    I may worship a god, but my worship, practice, and ritual does not make that god real.

    I think every agnostic and atheist would agree with this statement and say that it applies across the board.

    …it is true that those who pit religion against spirituality have never had a proper experience of Tradition.

    I think one has to ask about which Tradition you are speaking.

    One could say that the Christians usurped, redefined, or ignored the Hebrew Traditions in much the same way that the Mormons have done to Christian Traditions.

    “Tradition” in and of itself seems to have no intrinsic value. It’s value appears to be found (and defined) by those who choose one over another.

    Which leads to…

    There is such a thing as false religion.

    All my life I have heard sermons that included why “we’re right” and “they’re wrong.” The Protestants think that Orthodox/RC followers are idol worshippers and therefore a “false religion.” (Nevermind how the Muslims, Christians, Jews and Hindus regard one another!)

    I guess what I’m trying to say is that the term “false religion” all depends on the individual’s point of view. There is no objective criterion on which to base such an assessment. Indeed, I think it can be demonstrated that within each religion there are sects that look down on one another as being “false” even though they worship (essentially) the same god.

    From Webster:

    re·li·gion (noun): a cause, principle, or system of beliefs held to with ardor and faith

    Patriotism certainly falls within that definition.

  33. fatherstephen Avatar

    You’re kind of stating the obvious – at least I think everyone is aware that everybody else makes truth claims, too. It doesn’t make them all equally wrong, or even relativize their truth claims. I only means, surprisingly, that people tend to think that the things they do are true (or else they wouldn’t do them).

    And, I think this is true as well of modern relativizers, only they use the relativizing arguments as a way of keeping other people’s truth claims at arm’s length. It’s a post-modern way of saying, “Go away and don’t bother me.”

  34. Rhonda Avatar

    I think one has to ask about which Tradition you are speaking. One could say that the Christians usurped, redefined, or ignored the Hebrew Traditions in much the same way that the Mormons have done to Christian Traditions. “Tradition” in and of itself seems to have no intrinsic value. It’s value appears to be found (and defined) by those who choose one over another.

    To those living in our current age, spirituality has been reduced to feeling & emotionalism towards some being; increasingly this is the self, the false ego of which Fr. Stephen has written so eloquently. Tradition has been reduced to history, canons, rules, rituals, dogmas, rituals, “ancient writings by a bunch of dead guys” (as one evangelical told me) & etc. These definitions/perspectives can only come about if the Church is reduced to a mere “earthly institution”, which only happens when the Church forgets who is mystically its head (Christ) & that it is a mystery. If this is truly all there is of spirituality & tradition then yes, it is a matter of choosing what makes you happiest & most fulfilled…If this is truly all there is of spirituality & tradition, then “No, thank you!”

    Thankfully, these things are not “Spirituality” nor “Tradition”. In the Christian East “Spirituality” is the seeking of an ever deepening union with God–salvation, theosis, deification, transformation–i.e. sacramental life in Christ, the Head of the Body the Church. “Tradition” within Orthodoxy is nothing other than the continual experience of the Holy Spirit by the Church–the bestowing of God’s grace–therefore it is living & vibrant.

    As each Orthodox Christian today lives out their life as sacrament/mystery, they are both recipients & contributors to that living Tradition. When we do prayers at home, we are not outside of the Church performing “individual prayer” instead. When the Scriptures are read at home, we do not put aside the understanding of the Church by replacing it with our own just because of our location. A home icon corner is not just a place with where religious art is arranged nor “my own little church” where I go when I need to feel spiritual.

  35. TLO Avatar

    Sorry Fr. Stephen. What seems obvious to me has not always proven to be obvious to others. 🙂 That said, in the morass of “truth claims” how is one to choose? Some truth are self-evident. I would suggest that it is the presence of so many “truth claims” which are not self-evident that is at least partly responsible for relativism in the first place.

  36. TLO Avatar


    To those living in our current age, spirituality has been reduced to feeling & emotionalism towards some being

    To say that “spirituality has been reduced to” these things in a negative manner seems strange to me. I think at its core, feeling & emotionalism are the foundation for spirituality in the first place.

    Can a sociopath be spiritual? I think that is a good starting point when evaluating how emotion and “spirituality” relate to one another.

  37. Dinos Avatar

    the incontrovertible criterion of the one Truth in a relativizing world is much sought after by many. I have posted this interesting conversation on this topic here before:
    Ultimately however, Orthodoxy does not seek to convince with strong apologetics to the extent we see this happening in Protestant Christianity (there is a slight touch of enforcement in that, and it is directed to the mind and not the heart) – even though apologetics have their place; Orthodoxy charms those who taste of its cup…

  38. drewster2000 Avatar


    I wanted to take this opportunity to let you know how much I appreciate your participation in this blog. Though it may not be obvious, any comments of correction I make (however clumsy) in your direction are given out of love. You ask great questions and have taught me much about not judging a book by its cover. Thank you for your presence here.

  39. Amanda Avatar

    TLO…I completely understand your point…with all these claims of truth, how is one to determine what is truth? As far as “self evident” truth goes, I have a hard time accepting that there is such a thing.

    Something about Orthodoxy has put me at odds with my intellect. For some reason, I cannot reason my way into Christ, or truth for that matter. This has become clear as I have reached the end of Christian history. At some point I have to stop this quest for evident truth. At the end of this search I find that I am standing at a manger, and all I have is revelation. Revelation is very different than “self evident” truth, or a proclamation of doctrine. This is why Christianity is not like any other religion, and at this point I am not sure that I can say that I am all the way there. But, I keep standing, I keep attending, I keep coming back. Jesus is the revelation of God, if I am to accept the Christian message. He is Light of Light, true God of true God. But if that claim is not scandalous enough, the Christian revelation goes on to Acts, the Church. How do I know about Christ, I was not there. Because the Apostles told an outrageous story to the world, and asked us all to believe them. They assured us that when we believe the Holy Spirit would fill us with Christ. So, when I say false religion, what I am really saying is, any religion that is not One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic.

    I know this religion of belief is scandalous, I know this is ridiculous. But, it is what I BELIEVE. (What I struggle to believe everyday.) The truth to me is this, if I am looking for some self evident truth that Christ is real and the revelation of God, I will never find that. I must accept Christ in faith, and that message comes from the Apostles.

    When I became Orthodox one of the most frustrating things was that I had to put reason in its proper place. I am a western woman, and this is very hard. The Orthodox Church does not claim to be the true religion because it is the oldest Christian denomination, nor do they claim to KNOW, or have a special knowledge (a kind of secret or exclusive knowledge) that no other religion has. What is does claim is that it is the keeper of the revelation of God that came through Christ Jesus that was seen and told by the Apostles. Every church makes this claim, and this is where history and long hours of study have a place in the active search of those who demand truth. But at each juncture in this long conversion, I thought I was going to find something in Christian history that would settle every doubt, every dispute. I kept hoping God Himself would show up and speak audibly, or at least in writing. But, that never happened. What I did find were countless testimonies of those who walked with the Apostles who told a story that was quite different than my post Reformation experience of religion. But, still I had to BELIEVE.

    My brother-in- law is Buddhist, and he once told me that he would never accept anything that demanded faith or belief in anything outside of self knowledge. I have thought about that for years, and I have come to understand that self knowledge is not the Christian Gospel, although we do become our true selves as we become like God. However, I am becoming by grace, what God is by nature. This implies that something OTHER is at work, not something that is self evident or already inside of me. I think you will find that out of all the Christian claims, only Orthodoxy claims to know by not knowing. And this absolutely demands that I BELIEVE in God, in a power outside myself. Orthodoxy has never backed away or apologized for its lack of reason, or its scandalous claim. When I read the stories of the martyrs and saints of the first century, I am confronted with their raw faith, and it seems foolish. But, faith makes fools of us all. Faith in Christ is foolishness to the world.

    Orthodoxy proclaims that the Christ has come, he died, rose again, ascended, and the Father then sent the Holy Spirit. Pentecost is the final revelation. There is no new “knowledge” or truth to pursue. The revelation has come, the revelation is sealed. The search is over. God has given us everything, Himself, all of Himself.

    If we are still speaking about spiritual vs. religious, I think this line of discussion is at the heart of the matter.

  40. […] Spiritual…but not… […]

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  42. […] often describes themselves as “spiritual but not religious”. (I first encountered this term on Father Stephen’s blog earlier this year). For Ian, this is an opportunity, a call for us to reconsider what it means to […]

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