The Fullness

tree_cross_0001I am fascinated by what  Holy Tradition does with the idea of “fullness” or “fulfillment.” The Church is described as the “fullness of Him that filleth all in all” (Ephesians 1:23). And it is not unusual for Orthodox Christians to express the meaning of Orthodoxy under the rubric of “fullness”: Orthodoxy is the fullness of the Church.

The Scriptures do much with the concept – speaking of the “fullness of time,” or the “times being fulfilled.” It says far more than something being merely large (full) – but of a completeness in which nothing is lacking, or of a completion in which that which was anticipated is now here.

I believe that the word or concept of fullness is very expressive of what we look for in the Resurrection – not a destruction of the Person nor of the replacement of a Person, but of a Person who is finally existing in his fullness. The American Miltary may once have advertised “be all that you can be,” but such is only possible in Christ and in the fullness of time. A uniform will not fulfill you.

I use the example of a tree. I have not seen a tree in the fullness of what a tree should be. I know that in some sense all trees have been changed by the One Tree which is now the “invincible weapon of peace.” In that sense trees have seen their fullness in the Cross which was transformed from instrument of torture into instrument of life. Just as the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil once became the instrument of our death – so now the Tree of Life has become the instrument of our life. The Cross itself, and how we see it, is an excellent example. Before Christ the Cross could only be seen as an instrument of execution. After Christ we have to be reminded of its original use. After the Cross, all trees must be seen with at least a hint of their fullness.

There is a peculiar Appalachian folktale which posits the Dogwood tree as the substance of the Cross (Holy Tradition is much more elaborate, with a tree that was a composite of three different evergreens – a biological impossibility but irresistable to medieval writers). The Appalachian folktake goes on to say that the Dogwood is now a short, twisted tree as a curse, so that it could never again be used as a cross. But, of course, this runs so terribly contrary to what the Church understands of the Cross. Christ’s death on the “tree” was not an event to occasion new curses, but an event to lift all curses. Were the Dogwood the tree of the Cross, it would be the most honored tree in the forest. As things stand – we must instead give the honor to all trees and include the Dogwood (and the evergreens) among them.

After Christ, we must look at human beings differently as well. In Christ we have seen the fullness of the human. What it means to be “fully man” is revealed only in the God/Man.

All things will have their fullness – though very few yield up to us clear hints of what that fullness will be. We cannot know the fullness of a man until we see him in the fullness of Christ. Reading the lives of saints occasionally carries revelations of such images. That which seems to escape the ability of our language to describe is often a fullness for which language is inadequate.

The Mother of God comes to mind in particular. I am certain that what many Protestants find troubling about the place of the Theotokos in the Church is the problem of someone who has been made known to us in her fullness. She is “full of grace,” and we stagger before such a revelation. She is not mere mother, but Mother of God. We are accused of saying things about her, or offering a devotion which is inappropriate, but none of this is true if we are understood to be standing before someone who stands in her fullness.

Everything around us has a fullness – which also says that we do not yet see the Truth of the things that surround us. How carefully and joyfully we would move through the world if we knew or could see that fullness already – but this is the mind and the eyes of Christ. Such eyes could see a fisherman who seemed more talk than action and call him a “rock” while seeing in him a character and possibility that were years away from their fulfillment.

The same eyes could see a Publican and yet see a saint. The same eyes saw Jerusalem and wept for that great mother of all cities that has yet to see her fullness though her name is married and synonymous with the Fulness that is to come.

And so we sing with the angels, “Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of Sabaoth, heaven and earth are full of Thy glory!” We do not yet see such a fullness. But as St. Paul reminded us – that which we do not see we await in hope. I hope to see us all in that fullness as well as the whole world.

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.



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17 responses to “The Fullness”

  1. Marion Latiolais Avatar
    Marion Latiolais

    Bless Father,
    What a timely blog today as I prepare for work. I work as a jailer and part of my prayer time before I go to work, is spent in prayer for my inmates, their families and their needs. They are a truly broken community with family issues often going back generations. They have all of our problems plus. Often once I get to work I fail to see the Image of God in them but only the brokenness of sin. My patience wears thin and all my good intentions flee. That’s usually sometime in the first hour. I often share with them, when they ask me for prayers or spiritual advice (which I feel woefully inadequate to offer), that in God’s eyes we are all sinners. The only difference being that society approves of my sins, at least those they know, while society does not approve of theirs. Pray for us all Father, we are in great need.My prayers are with you and your family. Truly Glory to God for All Things !!!

  2. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Even with people we love and are close to it can be difficult to see Christ in them. We tend to see things we like and try to ignore the rest. The more we allow the Holy Spirit to conform our inner mind to the Truth, the more we see.

    Jesus Christ is always beautiful, but for me at least, beauty in ohters can be an offense to me because of the darkness of my own soul.

    I like what you said Marion about sin and that our culture approves of some and not of others.

    We often look for the lack of fullness in other traditions because we are, I think, afraid to experience the fullness in ours or because we are still angry at hurts received there. Instead, we ought to follow the Orthodox tradition of seeing the truth elsewhere and then explaining the ‘rest of the story’

    If we listen closely enoung we will hear and see the truth.

    Glory to God.

  3. Andrew (@cathfacingeast) Avatar
    Andrew (@cathfacingeast)

    May God’s mercy go before you Marion. By entering fully into the holy mysteries, your work environment will be transfigured.

  4. AR Avatar

    Marion, I hope your comment brings you and the people you work with lots of prayer support. We really ought to bring them to mind often.

  5. Marion Latiolais Avatar
    Marion Latiolais

    Thanks for all who left comments referring to me. I wasn’t expecting that at all. Please pray for our inmates. What they did was wrong and most often self destructive. Their religious traditions, largely Protestant if any, leave them no clear way to deal with their sins and their lives. They struggle with their passions and a lack of self worth or a false, exaggerated sense of self worth. Often they are at a loss to understand and could not tell you why they engage in behaviors they know are self destructive. In fact they are fleeing life although most would tell you that they are pursuing it with vigor. Another sad fact is how often we have multiple family members incarcerated at the same time on totally unrelated offenses. Instead of bringing them together they often denigrate one another. I have had literally a grandmother, mother and daughter in at the same time on separate drug cases. I’ve had fathers and sons who blamed each other for the way their lives turn out. Yet in the midst of all that hate and despair I have seen violent inmates get on their knees and cry at night. Whether they are crying out of repentance or just regret at getting caught is between them and God. As Scripture tells us, some of these demons only come out with much prayer and fasting. What I do is sadly minimal. The true martyrs who sacrifice themselves for lost souls are the parish priests and those monks who pray and fast silently, hidden away giving their lives for us as well as themselves. I have literally felt others praying for me and those I serve. Never saw or heard them. Couldn’t begin to say who they were, but it was real and undeniable. It was when I was dealing with an attempted suicide (which I have done far too often). I know some monk or perhaps a saint was there with us as surely as if I could see him. This has happened before but not often. Again there is nothing special about me or what I do. I am a sinner, even THE sinner. Please pray. Offer your fast for those poor souls near you who need it most. You might have no idea how much good is accomplished but someday you will. Glory to God for All Things !!!

  6. Charlie Avatar

    Marion: it’s not until I saw your response about the fulness/=emptiness of your inmates lives that whole concept of ‘fulness’ began to make sense.
    Lord Jesus Christ, Son of GOD, have mercy on us, sinners.
    (you’re all on my prayer list now)

  7. Michael Patrick Avatar
    Michael Patrick

    Marion, this came to mind when I read your post. I am pretty faithless but will try to remember you and your ministry in my prayers.

    Attributed to St. Patrick:
    Christ within me, Christ behind me, Christ before me

    I bind unto myself today
    The strong Name of the Trinity,
    By invocation of the same
    The Three in One and One in Three.

    I bind this today to me forever
    By power of faith, Christ’s incarnation;
    His baptism in Jordan river,
    His death on Cross for my salvation;
    His bursting from the spicèd tomb,
    His riding up the heavenly way,
    His coming at the day of doom
    I bind unto myself today.

    I bind unto myself the power
    Of the great love of cherubim;
    The sweet ‘Well done’ in judgment hour,
    The service of the seraphim,
    Confessors’ faith, Apostles’ word,
    The Patriarchs’ prayers, the prophets’ scrolls,
    All good deeds done unto the Lord
    And purity of virgin souls.

    I bind unto myself today
    The virtues of the star lit heaven,
    The glorious sun’s life giving ray,
    The whiteness of the moon at even,
    The flashing of the lightning free,
    The whirling wind’s tempestuous shocks,
    The stable earth, the deep salt sea
    Around the old eternal rocks.

    I bind unto myself today
    The power of God to hold and lead,
    His eye to watch, His might to stay,
    His ear to hearken to my need.
    The wisdom of my God to teach,
    His hand to guide, His shield to ward;
    The word of God to give me speech,
    His heavenly host to be my guard.

    Against the demon snares of sin,
    The vice that gives temptation force,
    The natural lusts that war within,
    The hostile men that mar my course;
    Or few or many, far or nigh,
    In every place and in all hours,
    Against their fierce hostility
    I bind to me these holy powers.

    Against all Satan’s spells and wiles,
    Against false words of heresy,
    Against the knowledge that defiles,
    Against the heart’s idolatry,
    Against the wizard’s evil craft,
    Against the death wound and the burning,
    The choking wave, the poisoned shaft,
    Protect me, Christ, till Thy returning.

    Christ be with me, Christ within me,
    Christ behind me, Christ before me,
    Christ beside me, Christ to win me,
    Christ to comfort and restore me.
    Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
    Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
    Christ in hearts of all that love me,
    Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.

    I bind unto myself the Name,
    The strong Name of the Trinity,
    By invocation of the same,
    The Three in One and One in Three.
    By Whom all nature hath creation,
    Eternal Father, Spirit, Word:
    Praise to the Lord of my salvation,
    Salvation is of Christ the Lord.

  8. Marion Latiolais Avatar
    Marion Latiolais

    Michael, thank you. That is one of my favorite prayers since the time I was a Roman Catholic. Since I was a cradle Catholic, I initially learned this prayer as a young boy preparing for Confirmation. Now I am an old man, who was led by Christ into the fullness of the Faith that is Orthodoxy. Glory to God for All Things.

  9. Anna Avatar

    Father, bless!

    Reading the article, I thought about making a comment; reading the comments, I now forget what it was. I’ll get back to it later.


    May the Lord help you and all those that you pray for! I was very moved by your story and all the comments on it. It somehow made me think about St. Silouan and his prayers that all humanity may know God and His love for us. I don’t know if his writings have been translated into English. Then I thought about St. Moses the Ethiopian, who after leading a life of crime repented and became a saintly monk. These two saints, I think, are the most apt to help you and your prisoners with their prayers.

  10. Marion Latiolais Avatar
    Marion Latiolais

    Thank you for you kind comment. Both St. Silouan and St.Moses the Ethiopian are among my favorite saints. I have icons of both. I consider St Moses the Patron Saint of my little corner of the jail.I also have an Icon of Christ the Bridegroom in front of which I pray everyday before going to work.

  11. Anna Avatar

    Father, bless!

    I agree — the fullness is a fascinating and deeply moving concept. Everything that gives us joy and happiness is a fulfilment of something, even something pedestrian like a birthday, but also graduations, weddings, being reunited with one’s family and so forth. These are small compared to the fulness of the Second Coming, for which there are no words to describe it, although St. John the Theologian and Evangelist does so in a poetic manner. The relics of the saints, which transcend the behaviour of human remains in the fallen cosmos, make this fulness tangible, like a foretaste of it. Words like forestaste and foreimage almost suggest that the Lord gives us small sweet bites of grace to make us hungry for the fullness which is to come.

  12. AR Avatar

    Anna, how lovely!

  13. Sbdn Nick Avatar
    Sbdn Nick

    A most valuable and insightful post, with a discussion equal to it.

    My humble two cents concerning the dogwood, the state tree of my home state of Virginia: I, too, have heard the story that the dogwood was cursed for providing the Cross, and so remains a smallish tree, not good for providing wood for anything. I simply ignore that story as unhelpful, as you say, Father, for if it were true the dogwood would be glorified. And our Virginia dogwoods have their own charm and dignity.

    What I know is that the dogwoods’ springtime blooming happens in time for our Lord’s Passion. The flowers, at least on the tree in my yard, are an icon of the Passion: four ivory petals in a cruciform shape, with a small stain of blood red on each petal that evokes a nail print, and the pistels in the center appear as a crown of thorns. This is a tree approaching fullness.

  14. Anna Avatar

    With these saints on your side, everything becomes possible. I’m sorry for missing your comment until now; it was because it took me some time to get back to my comment box and wasn’t aware of the conversation that continued in my absence.

    Thank you, but I’m afraid I’m plagiarizing Elder Paisios of Mt. Athos, who said that the Lord likes to give us “candy” from time to time to make us happy, because otherwise nobody could bear the askesis and repentance until being made worthy of the heavenly kingdom.

    Sbdn Nick,
    I searched pictures of dogwood and suddenly in was spring on my screen: they are beautiful. Also, I think I wrongly assumed that dogwood is a plant with very small, but very fragrant flowers, a favorite of the monarch butterfly.

  15. drewster2000 Avatar

    Fr. Stephen,

    This post easily reminds me of the passage in Lewis’ Great Divorce when he first sees his hero, George MacDonald in a kind of double vision: old, bent shepherd – and yet also at the same time a large, beautiful angelic creature.

    Thanks once again for your ministry, whether it be popularizing or originating – makes no difference to me as long as you keep doing it. (grin)

  16. baptism quotes Avatar

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  17. Andrew (@cathfacingeast) Avatar
    Andrew (@cathfacingeast)

    WONDERFUL piece Father!

    Contains all the elements that pertain to the fullness that is unmistakably Pascha shaped!

    (Hat tip to Michael Patrick for the “lorica” pointer!)

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