Authority: Answers Without Questions

gods-willWe imagine that life is made up of questions seeking answers. The opposite is also true: life is often made up of answers seeking questions. More troublesome than this are pseudo answers seeking questions, for the questions created by pseudo answers are inevitably pseudo questions. This, I suggest, goes far in describing the landscape of modern Christianity. For whatever the real question might be, what we see in modern Christianity cannot be the answer. Christian Rock music (to give only one example) is not an answer to a question: it is a fashion and a fad with no more substance than a hemline and less permanence than a tattoo. There are larger pseudo questions, some that have been around long enough to seem perennial. Such a question is the problem of authority.

Authority is simple if it is considered carefully. There can only be two sources of authority: God and the self. Ever other source is something the self accepts as authority. But in the end, we only do what we want to do or what, in view of God, we have to do.

The question of authority (in its many pseudo guises) is evident in the pages of the New Testament. The opponents of Jesus ply him with questions of authority. “By whose authority do you say and do these things?” It is a pseudo question which masks the simple assertion: “We do not want you to do these things.”

Christ is quite clear in His answers: “The Authority is of God and His will is the only thing I want to do.” He offers no other answer.

And His interaction with His opponents reveals the weakness of every other assertion of authority. The scribes and Pharisees assert Scripture, but, Christ notes that they pervert Scripture. Had they wanted to know God, the Scripture would have revealed Him. But they do not want this. He has much the same to say of the Sadducees.

In the primitive Church, as evidenced in Acts and the Epistles, the question of authority is also raised from time to time. Famously, in the Church in Corinth, there are rival attempts to assert the superiority of one Apostle over another. St. Paul rebukes the notion and unmasks it as a failure of love. There is no crisis of authority – only of love.

In the early centuries of the Church there are continuing crises that raise the question of authority. St. Ignatius tells his readers (early 2nd century) to do nothing that is not approved by the Bishop. St. Irenaeus points to the right-reading of Scripture as well as the Apostolic succession within the Churches. But in all the cases that arise, authority is not the real problem. The problem is that of the self and the manifold attempts to assert the self above all else – ultimately to assert the self above the revelation of God in Christ.

This is the dark problem behind the various crises of authority in Christian history. The Reformation, in which Scripture was pitted against Hierarchy and Tradition, was a raw debate about power – for it centered on the nature of the self and the question of which God.

The Reformation Self was ultimately an autonomous reader, the locus of all activity. The Catholic Self was more collectively based, hidden in layers of feudalism and hierarchy. Authority was the word used in the debates that raged across Europe for more than two centuries. It is not surprising that the same religious debate that dismantled the Medieval world, also dismantled feudalism and created the various nation states. For the nation state was the assertion of the King’s Self (and later Parliaments that usurped the King’s place of rule).

Orthodoxy’s great crises took place in an earlier time and a different place. The stability of Byzantium tended to moderate wholesale challenges to authority. The various heretical assertions (Arianism, Monophysitism, Nestorianism, etc.) have themselves as much to do with assertions of the Self as the later battles in the West – though none of them matched the radical claims of the 16th century.

But to a very great extent, the argument of authority within the Byzantine and Orthodox world turned inward rather than outward. The great debate, championed in the deserts of Egypt, were those of the Self versus God, without the use of surrogates.

As noted earlier, the only authority that exists is that of the Self and of God. And it is the authority of God, as the Sole Author and Sustainer of our existence that matters. The authority of the Self, is itself a pseudo-authority, created only in our rebellion and the false choices (gnome) that it creates. The only true solution to the problem of authority is repentance, the emptying of the self in the presence of the true and living God.

That repentance is, ironically, modeled first by God, who emptied Himself in the presence of our non-being and rebellion (Philippians 2:5-11). The centuries have witnessed repeated distractions from that single problem of authority. The general instinct of Orthodoxy is to step back from the constant bickering over authority. The mutual submission and conciliar life of the Church has been maintained with continuity for 2000 years.

The current proliferation of disparate Christians groups represents an extended distraction from the true question of authority. The assumptions of a rational approach to authority fail completely by the measure of proper, self-emptying repentance. The authority within Orthodoxy is not a rationally accessible deposit. It is not a magisterium, sola scriptura, nor the various codified statements and confessions of the Reformation. It is not, properly, the conciliar definitions and canons of the Church. The authority within Orthodoxy is the actual life of the Church as it is lived. This is the sole content represented in Scripture, the Creeds, the Councils and the Canons. And that life, when it is properly lived, is nothing other than the self-emptying repentance of persons before the Self-Emptied Christ.

Orthodoxy is truth-embodied. And though this can be described, no description is the same thing as the truth-embodied. An argument never approaches the true question of authority – it ultimately only distracts the soul and disguises the true and appropriate questions. The dogged resistance of Orthodoxy to various ecumenical overtures are found precisely in this organic instinct for the truth. For there are no propositions that can be accepted that would, in fact, make one Orthodox. And even accepting all so-called Orthodox propositions still fall short. For it is only the self-emptying life of repentance that has any standing. Its proof is found in a deified life.

That is an answer whose eloquence leaves us as “mute as fish.”

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.


36 responses to “Authority: Answers Without Questions”

  1. Byron Avatar

    “The authority within Orthodoxy is the actual life of the Church as it is lived.”

    I’d love to see/read more about this, in greater depth. The statement itself makes sense, but only vaguely. What constitutes “the actual life of the Church as it is lived”? Is it the liturgical life? The prayerful life? The public life? All of the above, wrapped in repentance?

    I tend to think it is the latter but would love to hear more.

  2. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Byron, at least “all of the above,” wrapped in repentance.

    “Living the life of the Church,” is liturgical, ascetical, mental, physical, etc. In Orthodoxy, it encompasses the whole of a human life. And the sole purpose of the Orthodox life is union with God through Christ. That union begins sacramentally and is nourished sacramentally, and by all that we do in the Church. But at its core, part of every sacrament and all that we do, is true repentance – the self-emptying we make in the presence of the Self-Emptying God.

    This is a lifetime thing. It is done incrementally, for we are only able to do it incrementally. I am writing a follow-up article on repentance and shame that might be of further help.

  3. David Armstrong Avatar
    David Armstrong

    Fr Stephen:

    Would you agree that this is partly why the goal of ecumenism is not really to reach theological agreement, but to discern and recognize the life of the Church in one another, in which pursuit theological dialogue is but one part?

  4. Byron Avatar

    Thank you Fr. Freeman. I look forward to your next article!

  5. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    I do not think so. The concept “the life of the Church in one another” seems foreign to Orthodox ears. For the life of the Church is also visible, historical and continuous. That elements of that life might be manifest elsewhere goes without saying, I think. A tree or a rock has elements of the same life. But the One Church is not parceled out among the various Christians. It is, scandalously, only in one place.

    The great ecumenical task is for the Church to be clearly manifest in the world so that all men may come to Christ, including those who have been separated from the Church through schism, etc.

    That, I know, sounds frightfully triumphalist, but I truly do not mean it that way. But your question to me would be like “trying to find the Christ in the Buddha, etc.”

    All Christians clearly have elements of the Orthodox faith within their lives, or they would not be Christians. But Orthodox Christianity is the fullness established by Christ and, with great sadness and tragedy, has maintained that life for 2000 years. It cannot deny its only reason for existence. Orthodoxy as something less than the fullness is simply not Orthodoxy.

  6. David Armstrong Avatar
    David Armstrong

    Fr. Freeman,

    I certainly don’t disagree with anything you said. I was more reflecting on the ecumenical discussions and documents I’ve seen and read, which seem to use this language, particularly with our discussion with Rome. The North American Orthodox-Catholic Theological Consulation, for example, speaks of the process of “recognizing and accepting each other as integral parts of the Church founded by Jesus Christ” as the goal of their dialogue in this document

    Again, I agree that Orthodoxy is the fullness of Christianity. I’m not here suggesting that the Orthodox Church is deficient or lacking in her faith, truth, or tradition. I’m just trying to understand what you’re saying here in light of what documents like the one above–which I recognize have different and debatable degrees of authority, but are still produced by Orthodox theologians in ecumenical dialogue with Rome–say.

  7. Paula Hughes Avatar
    Paula Hughes

    Father, I have two very devout ( and very intelligent) Italian Roman Catholic young friends , one studying to be a priest, and the other a Carmelite monk. They are both confused and even hurt that the Orthodox Church refuses to unite with them, or be in communion. They see us as stubborn , proud , and hardhearted when we say that we can not unite with them, and they truly believe that we are the schismatics, not they. They also think that our lack of hierarchy under a supreme pope is a sign of our structural and theological weakness.

    I love these two young men and I can see that they are truly Christian and have given their lives to Christ. I just don’t know what I can say that they would be able to understand , or if I should just keep silent and not disturb their chosen path of faith. What do you suggest?

  8. Makedonka Avatar

    I really liked this article. Thank you fr. Stephen. I’m looking forward to your next one on repentance. I’ve read that it is not good to argue about faith,but also not correct to keep quiet. It would suffice to say that the fullness of God’s grace is in the Orthodox Churh. It was Elder Paisios I think.

  9. Ken Kannady Avatar
    Ken Kannady

    The entire Church is in error by not obeying our Lord : “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder, and whoever murders will be in danger of the judgment.’ But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment. And whoever says to his brother, ‘Raca!’ shall be in danger of the council. But whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be in danger of hell fire. Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. Agree with your adversary quickly, while you are on the way with him, lest your adversary deliver you to the judge, the judge hand you over to the officer, and you be thrown into prison. Assuredly, I say to you, you will by no means get out of there till you have paid the last penny.”

    – Matthew 5:21-26 There is great need of a council ! Again, the Church is the Family. The above shows us our sin of being both self righteous and of being wrong. Ken

  10. Dallas Avatar

    Without the kenosis of sincere repentance, there is no Christianity, Orthodox or otherwise. Institutionally, all flavors seem all too worldly and proud.

  11. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Thanks for the clarification. The language in the dialog often proves problematic. It is, sometimes, the language of diplomacy rather than the language of a carefully parsed theology. Viz. Rome, I would never state things theologically in the manner of the documents. Rather than speaking about finding the Church, or “integral parts,” etc., I would speak clearly and precisely about schism. For schism is the heart of the issue – not “the Church in me greets the Church in you…” (sorry). But diplomacy reigns in these things.

    What I’m resisting is the idea of speaking about Church in a manner that idealizes it, or treats it like some free-floating essence that “dwells” in this place or that place. This is a language that violates everything we know and profess about the nature of existence. There is no existence that is not hypostasized – all existence is particular and concrete – never general. This begins with God. There is no essence of God in which the persons participate. The essence is hypostatic and only hypostatic and is not properly discussed apart from the actual existence of the Persons.

    This is true of human beings. There is no human nature that exists apart from particular humans, etc.

    By the same token, there is no Church apart from its concrete, particular historical reality. The notion of the “invisible Church” has been a very common idea among Protestants – it solves intellectually their problem of multiplicity with a huge theologically amorphous idea.

    Particularity creates very real problems – but the problems are indeed the REAL problems. There was and is a schism. Theologically, and really, it is a separation from the Church, not a division of the Church into two – for Christ cannot be divided. It is like a divorce. When people divorce the marriage ends. Divorce may be repented of – but we do not then spend time trying to discern the “marriage” in our ex-spouse.

    It creates pain. But the absence of communion is the precise indicator of the nature of the problem. Communion has been disrupted.

    Now, having said that, I will state the positive side. Obviously, in a schism, we do not have everyone ceasing to be a Christian. Something is lost, but not everything is lost. So, generally speaking, we don’t re-baptize, etc. But this is often a matter of degree. There is still some sort of relationship with the Church, something that we don’t really have words for. Diplomacy tends to say things too broadly in this matter.

    The bottom line, I believe, is that though Orthodox history has its share of sin, etc., the error of the Schism was in Rome. It was not a mutual error. The matter of the filioque and Papal Authority were and are error. And though they do not have a big effect on the day-to-day life of the average Roman Catholic, they remain errors that are stumbling blocks to reconciliation (they are non-starters, deal-breakers).

    Schism is not an insurmountable problem. It can be healed. I think it quite likely that the schism with the non-Chalcedonians may indeed be healed in time. I am very doubtful about Rome.That doubt rests primarily with the fact that the error regarding the Papacy has been so institutionalized that it will not be abandoned. But God is Lord of history and I leave that to Him.

  12. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    They are young and zealous. I’m not sure there is much to say.

  13. David Armstrong Avatar
    David Armstrong

    Fr. Freeman,

    Thanks for the clarification. I appreciate what you have to say. I’m somewhat more positive about the situation with Rome. I don’t believe the Lord would summon us to the work of overcoming schism if indeed he did not intend to heal our division through such work. But I, like you, submit that to the Lord, and simply remain hopeful.

  14. Leonard Nugent Avatar
    Leonard Nugent

    For it is only the self-emptying life of repentance that has any standing. Its proof is found in a deified life……this is profoundly true and I fall far short of it.

  15. EPG Avatar

    “And even accepting all so-called Orthodox propositions still fall short. For it is only the self-emptying life of repentance that has any standing.”

    Thank you for this one. After several years of attending an parish in the Antiochian Archdiocese, I find myself still not Orthodox. I keep coming back, yet something still holds me back from the catechumenate. (I once approached the parish priest about it, but he told me that I was not ready). I think this sentence hints at part of the issue (at least). Strangely, it gives me a great deal of comfort. I just keep coming to the liturgy, singing with the choir, trying to pray, and keep on loving my wife and kids (none of whom have any interest in Orthodox Chrisitanity). Sometimes that bothers me, but your words are encouraging. In good time, something will ripen.

  16. Paula Hughes Avatar
    Paula Hughes

    Yes , indeed. I met them at Abbaze Santa Maria di Pulsano, a restored ancient monastery on Monte Sant Angelo in Gargano Italy, which used both Byzantine and Roman Rite. It also had an icon painting course and studio ,and the teachers there produced icons for the churches all around. In fact most of the churches there have icons and very few ,if any ,statues. The monastery was home to some 40 hermitages built or carved into the cliffs around it, inhabited over the ages by hermits. The cave church of St Michael in the town is wonderful and has been a place of pilgrimage for centuries.( and still is) Pilgrims often carved the outline of their hands or feet into the rock walls, I think because st Michael was said to have left a footprint in the stone.
    So my young friends have had an introduction to Orthodoxy at least. I would not want to discomfort them or alienate them , so I will just love them like sons.

  17. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Father says:
    “All Christians clearly have elements of the Orthodox faith within their lives, or they would not be Christians.”

    And it is these elements that both lead us to seek greater union with one another and at the same time confuse us into thinking we are already there in a sense.

    Would you agree, Father, that along with a proper anthropology we need to re-assert a proper ecclesiology? Can we do one without the other?

  18. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Paula, your experience get to the crux of the divergence between RCC and the OC–the Papal claims. If one accepts the Papal claims it is impossible to be anything else other than a Roman Catholic. If one rejects any notion of a physical Church with a visible hierarchy then one is left with Protestantism of one sort or another.

    BTW it is not about ‘authority’ it is about proper order and the incarnation. Authority is always about power and its enforcement.

    Perhaps your Catholic friends are seeing we Orthodox as Proto-Protestants?

    But you can’t say a thing to them. Love them, pray for them and let God take care of the rest.

  19. mary benton Avatar
    mary benton

    Fr. Stephen,

    You mentioned in your 10/21 8:03 AM comment that the filioque and Papal authority are errors and deal breakers. I appreciate your indicating that they have little impact on the daily lives of most Catholics.

    I’d like to take it a step further. Although I haven’t done any formal research, I’d venture to guess that most Catholics outside of clergy and academics don’t even know what the filioque is – nor would they care if you told them. In our liturgy, we have the option of saying the Nicene Creed or the Apostles Creed. My priest told me privately that he always chooses the Apostles Creed out of respect for the Orthodox -because it does not include the filioque.

    We Catholics tend to love our Popes (though not always) because they are our leaders. It is good to love one’s leaders. However, papal authority is greatly misunderstood by Catholics and non-Catholics alike. Some say that the much-debated “infallibility” has only been exercised twice. That doesn’t make it correct. Just a rather insignificant deal breaker.

    I know, I know. Getting all of the theologians and Church hierarchy (mostly ours, don’t know about yours) to ever agree to get over it would be monumental. There is just so much more that Church is about. In my parish, we have a group of Liberian refugees worried about their families back home threatened by the Ebola epidemic and we are trying to gather a bit of money for medical supplies. There are so many more important ways to be Church.

    Let us be Church. I will keep praying.

  20. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    I could have multiplied the list, but it would be pointless. There is a deeply uneven character to the relationship between Rome and Orthodoxy. Compare it to a broken marriage. One partner says, “None of these things matter, I’d take you back just like you are.” The other partner says, “No. These things are extremely important and you continue not to hear me. There’s no way I would go back.”

    Rome, in fact, would pretty much take Orthodoxy back right now, with almost no questions asked. But the reason is that the problems that the Orthodox have don’t bother Rome at all. Rome will already give communion to the Orthodox. Rome has shown in its relationship with the Unia just how gladly they would take the Orthodox back. But in all of these things the actual integrity and life of Orthodoxy are dismissed. They would be an “option” within a bigger picture. Orthodoxy would become a spiritual “life-style” choice. Nothing more.

    So, we sound intransigent. Rome is in error and its error and arrogance in the Schism has done untold amount of harm to the Church and to Orthodox Christians for centuries. And it continues. Rome is a large umbrella with many spiritual life-style choices beneath it. I have no doubt that some of them are salutary. But its a corrupt model – large numbers of Catholics themselves complain about all of this.

    I don’t want to overdo things in this – but I think that it’s very easy for Catholics not to hear what the Orthodox say. Hope that clarifies a little.

  21. Dana Ames Avatar
    Dana Ames

    Mary, and others interested:

    I am just finishing a book by Philip Sherrard (one of the team including then-Timothy Ware, who began the translation of the Philokalia into English) called “The Greek East and the Latin West”. It doesn’t have a lot of pages but is very “thick” so has taken me a while to get through it, and I will have to read it again for everything to stick well to my brain, but I have found it very helpful for understanding the divergent ways of thought between E. and W. regarding how we know, particularly how we can know God, and how those ideas arose from, affected and interwove with the theology of them both. There were places in the book that had me very much calling to mind the 1-storey vs 2-storey universe, as well as some of Father’s latest writings on democracy, secularism, and related.

    Along with this book, Sherrard’s “Church, Papacy and Schism” (3rd ed.) has also given me insight into the real and deep differences in the way Catholics and Orthodox see things. This is a “thin-but-thick” book, too, but easier to digest than GELW. The Filioque, “papal claims,” and much else are simply the presenting issues that stem from the differing views on how we know, how we know God, and what the Church is meant to be. These 2 books have helped me see what the real problem is. They might help you, too.


  22. mary benton Avatar
    mary benton

    Thanks, Dana.

    Fr. Stephen –

    I know I cannot understand it from your point of view, anymore than you can understand it from mine. Without the profound repentance of which I wrote, you are right, Orthodoxy could easily be another “lifestyle choice” in the Catholic Church if it let itself be.

    I think I am hearing you (as best I can) and I think there are others who want to and would be able to as well. The event that I mentioned a few posts ago where Fr. Hopko spoke was co-sponsored by Catholic and Orthodox, was the 30th annual, took place in an Orthodox Church and the talk was preceded by 30 minutes of Orthodox-style prayer (I’m saying that on the basis of its great similarity the Vespers I attended).

    Having done a lot of marriage counseling, I have come to believe that, even when one spouse is an utter scoundrel, both spouses feed into the negative cycle to some extent. The world is not a black and white, total good guys vs. total bad guys place. But even it were in this instance, we have the Holy Spirit calling us to both repentance and forgiveness. May it be so.

    I’ll try to be quiet now and pray. Forgive me if I annoyed with my persistence on this theme.

  23. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Father, one of your comments seem to indicate that this shame can be for actions, etc that other people are responsible for?

    Am I reading you correctly?

  24. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Yes. My comment referred to my own experience – that of shame for some things that were not at all my fault. That may not be the most common thing. But, for example, I grew up in a lower income family and my father was a mechanic, my grandfather had been a “sharecropper.” During adolescence I was ashamed of this around my friends at school whose parents were educated and affluent. Economic segregation in America is very, very strong.

    Was it a sin? Not in any legal sense. But the shame was as devastating in my spiritual and psychological life as if I had done something terribly wrong. Shame is about “who we are.” Who we are is seldom an action. There are actions that have the character of shame around them rather than guilt. Murder is one. Lying can be another. There are actions which cause us to feel that we are actually bad people. Those are shameful.

    Of course, true toxic shame, is the stuff that others do to us – purposefully shaming us for their own perverse or ignorant ends. Victims of abuse are very often deeply shamed – and the shame is far more devastating than what was done in the first place.

  25. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Interesting, I was ashamed for the opposite reason. My father, a public health doctor, made significantly more money and was much more educated than most in the working class neighborhood we lived in.


  26. Nathan Avatar


    I was seeking to better understand why you have labeled all Protestants (you know that many of us Lutherans do not like this label and want to distinguish ourselves) and think that I find the beginnings of an answer in this post.

    You say:

    “Orthodoxy is truth-embodied. And though this can be described, no description is the same thing as the truth-embodied. An argument never approaches the true question of authority – it ultimately only distracts the soul and disguises the true and appropriate questions. The dogged resistance of Orthodoxy to various ecumenical overtures are found precisely in this organic instinct for the truth. For there are no propositions that can be accepted that would, in fact, make one Orthodox. And even accepting all so-called Orthodox propositions still fall short. For it is only the self-emptying life of repentance that has any standing. Its proof is found in a deified life.”
    I really do think I get the idea of Orthodoxy being truth-embodied and how no description can capture this. I believe I am someone who thinks more or less in the same way about my Confessional Lutheranism (who as you know, also have a reputation for dogged resistance to various ecumenical overtures, stubborn lot we are). The issue that perplexes me is this : are you not an authority making *an argument* about why we, for example, lack true authority? And if I listened to what you said and, by the power of the Holy Spirit turned from my Lutheran errors, how would I not become [Eastern] Orthodox?

    I am guessing that I am not the only person thinking about questions like this. Or perhaps this is one of the first keys in helping me and others to understand our own captivity to the Rationalism you speak of? I am guessing that the word “understand” is not part of what you would say the problem is.


  27. Nathan Avatar

    I was seeking to better understand why you have labeled all Protestants

    should say:

    I was seeking to better understand why you have labeled all Protestants Rationalists….


  28. Mule Chewing Briars Avatar
    Mule Chewing Briars

    I’m just curious, Nathan. Would your conscience allow you to prostrate yourself before an icon of the Most Holy Mother of God?

  29. Mule Chewing Briars Avatar
    Mule Chewing Briars

    mary, beloved sister.

    I cannot begin to tell you how much love there is, in my heart anyway, for Rome’s humble faithful. The only thing the Orthodox Church wants is for Rome to revert to an earlier version of herself, a face that we see clearly reflected in the faith of people like you, and not very deeply obscured.

    I’m a worse sinner than anybody else here. I provoke people on the internet for my own enjoyment, so take what I say with a whole shaker of salt, but I think real holy unity will be restored from the ground up, step by painful step, not from the top down, and will come about through the prayers of Our Lady.

  30. Nathan Avatar

    Mule Chewing Briars,

    I’m not averse to answering your question, but

    a) I’d really prefer that Father Freeman would do me the honor of answering mine first, as I sense it might affect how I answer yours


    b) What is the EO gloss on the passage in the book of Revelation where John is told not to bow to the angelic messenger? (honest question – another honest question is whether all EO consider Revelation to be antilegomena)


  31. Mule Chewing Briars Avatar
    Mule Chewing Briars

    It would be more salutatory for Father to do the heavy Biblical lifting here, but the physical act of bowing seems to be a sketchy thing in the Bible; sometimes it’s OK, and other times it’s one of the worst things you can do, and there doesn’t appear to be much guidance as to when is when.

    I have noticed that one of the ways we get ourselves all balled up in the Scriptures is when we generalize abstract principles from concrete actions that some Biblical figures display. It is the worst sin to worship someone besides God, but what is worship? I don’t think I’d get very far with just my own brains, my kidneys and the truncated Protestant Bible.

  32. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    The question has been asked before on the blog (viz bowing in Rev.). Bowing (proskynesis) throughout the Scriptures to someone other than God is by no means condemned. Thus, the Revelation passage has to be understood differently. It’s not until much later that the Church is forced to differentiate between latreia and proskynesis in order to make a clear distinction between worship and veneration. But this one word, proskynesis, gets used in both senses in the Scriptures.

    Of course, the word “worship” has a history of being used both ways in English. “With my body I do they worship” the groom says to the bride in the older Anglican (Protestant) version of the marriage service. Added to that are such titles as “Your Worship” given to certain persons in British usage.

    But the use in Revelation in no way forbids the veneration of those who are not God (including the Virgin).

    All the Orthodox receive Revelation as canonical, but it is not appointed for reading in any of the services. That is a historical artifact about which we could speculate, but there is no official statement about why this is so. One simple historical reason is that it is so because it is so. It was read in the West but not in the East. It was accepted in the East as canonical out of respect for the Western usage, but this did not change the Eastern usage.

    I like the book. It has provided many hours of entertainment and speculation for Christians who might use their spiritual leisure for much worse pursuits.

    But Nathan. I’m not interested in answering questions viz. your continued monologue about Confessional Lutheranism.It belongs on your blog, not mine. If I’m interested in the topic I’ll visit it there. But it has become lengthy, repetitive and a distraction here. I “get it” that the self-understanding of Confessional Lutheranism is that it’s not Protestant, that it is somehow a continuation of the early Church, etc. Orthodoxy rejects that as spiritual delusion. But since it is a self-understanding I do not expect to disabuse you of the notion. But I’m not particularly interested in it nor in spending the time and space of the blog on it.

  33. Mule Chewing Briars Avatar
    Mule Chewing Briars

    Father has been very patient with both of us, Nathan. If you want, we can take up the discussion on your blog.

    I think the Orthodox take on faith, practice, the Bible and the passage in Revelation would be more along the lines of

    ‘Dedushka prostrated himself before an icon of the Bogoroditsa and he taught me to do so. Even when the commissars reported him and he went to prison for it, he wouldn’t stop. Now here comes Pastor Whelk from the church down the street and he says Dedushka was an ignorant, superstitious bumpkin who didn’t know Greek and Hebrew and just did what Father said. He says here in the Bible it says we aren’t supposed to bow even to angels. Would Dedushka do something against the Bible?’

  34. Dino Avatar

    Mule Chewing Briars,
    You made me laugh with your very germane example!
    When we hear some of the post-reformation rhetoric trying to proselytise us, we cannot help first wondering what are we, – as fervently believing Orthodox folk- being proselytised to?, and second, it really feels like someone is trying to sell us a little £12 Bontempi keyboard as a replacement for a £130000 Steinwey Grand…

  35. 'lex Avatar

    I’d laugh as well if it weren’t for the fact that I’m afraid Dedushka was indeed taken by the commisars for prostrating himself before the icon of Bogoroditsa :/

    Whenever my faith becomes a shaky ground, I think of the Dedushkas and come back to my senses.

  36. Nathan Avatar

    Hello all,

    I don’t think Father Freeman would mind me noting this (quote from the other thread I was commenting on):

    “I have deleted some of Nathan’s answers. It is a continuing conversation that needs to end.”

    This is after I had asked him on that other thread if he would let persons know, since I don’t want all of you to think that I am no longer interested in talking with you….

    Thank you again Father Freeman for the opportunity to converse with you and everyone else here.


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