The Secular Challenge

concelebrationFr. Alexander Schmemann held that secularism was the single greatest challenge of the modern era. I took up this understanding and made it the heart of my book, Everywhere Present: Christianity in a One-Storey Universe. It is at the heart of every serious challenge the Church faces in our time. The news is not so good.

A recent article by Damian Thompson in the British publication, The Spectator, estimates that at the present rate of decline, British Christianity will cease to exist by 2067. The numbers are simply staggering. The most precipitous decline is within the Church of England (Anglican). The culprit, well-noted in the article, is secularization.

Secularism, in the sense that I use it, is a view of the world in which God is optional. God, if He is seen to exist at all, is in no way an inherent part of life. The world is a neutral zone, not good, not bad, not religious in any way. Religion, God, etc., is nothing more than a belief system that some may choose to bring into their lives. As I have written, many Christians quietly, even unconsciously, hold to this view. Awash in the cultural waters, they feel the world to be devoid of God. The world has been “disenchanted.”

This view of the world has been centuries in the making and it permeates Western societies. Many of the Christians who live here have long ago adapted Christian theology to secular culture, and believe in a form of “secularized” Christianity. I would even venture to say that the vast majority of Orthodox living in the West have a fairly secularized view of their faith. One reason this is so common is because, within our culture, it does not present itself as a rejection of the faith.

Recent conversation on the blog about the nature of language is a very good example. Secularized culture is also Nominalist culture. It presumes as a matter of course that words only have meaning within the minds of their listeners. And by the same token, things only have a particular meaning within the mind of a person. In that way objects are never intrinsically holy, but are rather considered to be holy. They are sacred because someone thinks they are sacred. Religious beliefs may be asserted as personal rights and freedoms, but not because they are inherently true and holy.

The world view of Nominalism/Secularism is atheism waiting to happen. Christianity that has this as a worldview need only drop the “extra baggage” of religion to feel like everyone else. No other change is required.

But what of those who hear about the earlier form of Christianity and wish to practice it. How do they go about acquiring a worldview that is foreign to the world they live in?

I have thought and wrestled with this transformation for over two decades. It is a gift of grace, but we may cooperate in the work.

One beginning step is to recognize the flaws within the secular worldview. Christian teaching holds that God not only created all things, but also holds them in existence moment by moment. It is relatively easy to question the claims to self-existence of the secular worldview. I sometimes engage in “thought experiments” in order to re-train my mental habits.

I generally start with the so-called Big Bang itself, as well as the whole unlikely scenario of the formation of the universe and its Laws. Many Christians have strong and very reasonable beliefs in the necessity of a created universe. The universe is not an accident. It is but a small step from that to the recognition that every atom and particle exists at every moment only by the will and Divine Energy of God.

A second thought experiment might seem odd. There is a heresy called “Pantheism” that holds that all created things are, in fact, a part of God. I imagine such a worldview, but step back from it, to the Orthodox position of everything having a created logos, a spiritual meaning that gives it order, direction and purpose. Indeed the logoi are identified with the Divine Energies. This is not Pantheism itself, but Pantheism would be closer to it than the emptiness of secular Nominalism.

We go through our days treating objects as solid, even though we know scientifically that atoms are mostly nothing. We use language that says, “The sun rose in the East,” even though we know that it is the earth that turns and makes the sun appear to rise. Learning to engage creation as the sustained work of God, representations and participants in the Divine logoi, is not unlike this. The difference is found in paying attention to the truth of things, remembering and considering their constant and continuing relationship with God.

Nominalism and secularism are perhaps the most convenient worldviews ever imagined. If the things around us are self-existent and have no inherent relationship with me, then they may be ignored. Other than those times in which I want to use something or in which it gets in my way, I can live as though the world has nothing to do with me. In Nominalism and Secularism, the idea is the thing. All that matters is what I think about something, and how I relate to your thinking about something. The patent absurdity of such a life hardly requires comment. We are materialists who live as idealists (when it suits us).

Repentance (metanoia) means a change of mind – and this is a change of the deep mind (nous). That it means a change of worldview should not surprise us. How could it not?

And do not be conformed (suschematizo) to this world (ainos), but be transformed (metamorpho) by the renewing of your mind (nous), that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God. (Rom 12:2)

I think the words of St. Paul’s admonition are very much to the point. Being “suschematized” to this “ainos” (the schematic of this age) could easily be rendered “see the world according to the spirit of the age.” Having our minds renewed includes a rejection of the age’s worldview.

The world is sacrament and icon, a manifestation of the Divine Energies. Our words and actions are themselves a participation or rejection of those same Divine Energies. That is to say, how we see and approach the world and everything in it is part of our salvation.

In the life of the Church, through sacraments and icons, we are being taught how to see and think, how to rightly handle the things of this world. The challenge of Secularism is not political. It is on the most fundamental level of our existence. Be transformed. 

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.


58 responses to “The Secular Challenge”

  1. Beth Avatar


    Thank you so much for this!

    “everything having a created logos, a spiritual meaning that gives it order, direction and purpose. Indeed the logoi are identified with the Divine Energies.”

    I feel this is such a profound truth that it needs some several hours of joyful contemplation.

    Just yesterday I had a conversation where the issue of ‘realness’ of things was the topic, and how nowadays there is so little Real anything around. Everything is a product. Products have replaced so many Real things, almost everything around us is manufactured, contrived, digital, virtual, “scientifically formulated”. In short unnatural and un-real.

    The question is then, if the wonderful, natural, real world that God created which contain the logi – which is identified with the Energies of God, is replaced by man-made contrived products – then on a very physical level, is modern living is slowly alienating us from a certain presence of God?

  2. Byron Avatar

    As beautiful as it is difficult, Father!

  3. Wayne Avatar

    This little video is not perfect– will not please everyone –but it serves to introduce the idea of Trinitarian Panentheism which seems to me to be a decent “map” to help orient our little minds to the reality that is the mind of Christ.

    This young man appears to be a protestant, but is appealing, here, to the Orthodox theology mentioned in the OP which distinguishes between God’s essence and his energies (ala Gregory Palamas and Maximus the Confessor), but which finds its roots (he says) in Clement of Alexandria, St Irenaeus, and Athanasius the Great.

  4. chad Avatar

    can you say more about what “secularized Christianity” looks like? is there a post where you’ve further developed that concept?

  5. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Excellent video.

  6. Dino Avatar

    I very much enjoyed that video Wayne!
    A lot of ‘isms’ but, (irrespective of the true and primary need of direct encounter with God that man has), this indirect rational comprehension, admittedly, is what needs to be cleared in western minds too… thanks

  7. Jemima Avatar

    It is hard to refute the pervasive attitude that something is holy because I consider it holy… My atheist roommate may treat my icons respectfully, but only because she knows they are special *to me*, and respects my valuing of them, not because she sees an intrinsic value to them. It’s so subtle…

  8. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    I don’t think we have to refute it, but live the truth. They will not understand, but can always be thankful that they at least respect the thoughts of others.

  9. Corey Avatar

    I’ve often wondered…Met. Kallistos wrote that if we believe in God it is because we have an experience of God. Would that imply that if someone has never had an experience of God, they stand no chance of believing in God? Most people are secular simply because they don’t seem to see God in the world.

  10. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    This is true. I think it is also true that most people don’t see God because they don’t know “what” they’re looking for. The God most people don’t believe in, is a God I don’t believe in either. Helping people “see” what they “see” is part of what constitutes preaching the gospel.

  11. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    It is tough to even think of God when one has been indoctrinated all of one’s life by secular media, secular education, secular politics and secular Christianity where there is no sense of the sacred or the holy–only various ideologies of the moment to stir up our passions.

    Even with good teaching and modeling at home it is tough to overcome the onslaught of secular thought when to do otherwise puts one outside the norm.

  12. Dino Avatar

    Yes but that’s somewhat oversimplified. You could, for instance, pray for the salvation of your Grandmother whom you have met, but that doesn’t mean to say that you cannot equally pray for the salvation of the Grandfather you never met but have heard of through others.
    Likewise, there are persons with tremendously powerful first-hand encounters of God who’s story can influence others –lacking such experience- profoundly. These others become fervent believers, and eventually live God’s presence themselves too…

  13. Allen Long Avatar
    Allen Long

    Thank you, Fr. Stephen. Your writings are wonderful corrections to wrong thinking.

  14. Andrew T. Avatar
    Andrew T.

    Gandhi said “your Christians are not like Christ”, but since all miss that mark, I wish more were like St Paul. The real Christians are always attentive to the potential for making disciples of foreigners, for more change to the self, for building the Kingdom however possible, for inviting God’s Transfiguration … maybe only some have it in them to smile at you, but in any event they don’t scowl at you. Perhaps there are some of these even in churches whose signs bear corny slogans which are plays on something with household familiarity, but in general “modern Christianity” is NOT well equipped to make saints. It may just be well equipped enough to make us behave.

  15. Fr. John Cox Avatar
    Fr. John Cox

    If you want to find God look for the devil within. Once you find him you and God will have something worth talking about.

  16. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Fr. John,
    Nice aphorism

  17. Todd G Avatar

    as somebody who’s done alot of academic writing–with its tentativeness and constant fear of overstepping its boundaries—over the last few years, I think we can easily throw the baby out with the bathwater here too. There is a vast difference between the way that that an early medieval historian, whether they be writing in greek, arabic, syriac or chinese etc, did “objective” history. It was completely common then to just make up what you thought somebody may or may not have said in the past, as long as it was in the spirit of the age. Sure, people read documents carefully and tried to be objective. But our penchant for objectivity and not overstepping boundaries with our language can be a good thing too. It’s not just a rejection of absolute reality. Postmodernism has got an apophatic side and an anti-materialist metaphysic in some camps that traditionalist aren’t willing to look at, and often seem incapable of even fathoming.

  18. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    No doubt. I am deeply indebted to Postmodernism, to tell the truth. I probably learned as much from them about doing theology as I have anywhere. The “apophatic” assumptions of anti-foundationalism, for example, were very helpful for me. At first it felt sort of strange, until I read Fr. John Behr’s work and I thought, “He gets it!” He came by it on a different route, by I have very fruitful conversations with him. I think that there is much about classical Orthodox thought that is quite “postmodern,” in that postmodern and premodern have more than a little commonality.

    I do not see Postmodernism as inherently secular. It is certainly not inherently Nominalist, to my mind.

  19. Nicholas F. Avatar
    Nicholas F.

    Father Stephen,

    I have a question pertaining to nominalism. I am wondering if Nikolai Berdyaev would be considered a nominalist or not due to his criticisms of objectivization. Would his instance on the subjective make his thought nominalistic or do I have a misunderstanding of either his work or what you mean by nominalism. If you do not know much about his work, feel free to disregard the question, but as Nikolai Berdyaev has been a thinker who has had much influence on changing my outlook on the world, it has been something that I’ve been wondering.

  20. David Avatar

    Father Rochelle, who has podcast talks under the title “Musings in the High Desert” on Ancient Faith Radio has a talk posted from a few years ago on John Scotus Eurigena in which he talks at some length about panentheism, God’s sustaining presence in all that exist, as distinguished from pantheism – that everything is part of God. It is well worth listening too.

  21. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    I confess that my knowledge of Berdyaev is extremely limited. Perhaps someone else could shed light in a comment.

  22. fr john cox Avatar
    fr john cox

    Fr. Stephen,

    I’m sort of cribbing Lewis. Near the end of what I think his best work of literature, Till We Have Faces, the protagonist, faced with her own neurotic obsession with a perceived wrong by the gods and the blindness to her own soil it engendered, says, “How can they meet us face to face till we have faces?” Until then why should they listen to the endless jabber we only think we mean?

  23. Reverend Scott E. Herbert Avatar
    Reverend Scott E. Herbert

    Thank you, Father. Glory be to Jesus!

  24. Christopher Avatar

    Nicholas F., I too would be interested in a comment on your question. I am pretty sure the answer is no…

    David, the link to the Fr. Gabriel’s talk:

    John Scotus Eurigena was right there, in the court of Charlemagne and battling against the “dialectical theology” that was already defining the west and it’s subsequent internal history and debates (i.e. the scholastic dialectics which lead to the protestant cul-de sacs of nominalism, “grace vs. free will”, etc). This is interesting:

    To quote John Scotus Eurigena critisicing what were already central themes of western theology:

    “… spend their quiet minutes filling the air with long and tiresome disputation on the Mass, of the Body and Blood thus debated:

    “It’s real, therefore a symbol,” says Radbertus; true enough, no argument there, but then “If a symbol, not real,” replies Ratramnus.

    And again, these same four monks, with ridiculous presumption, spend their hours filling the air with noxious winds about divine predestination!

    Permit me, please, Your Eminence, to summarize the malodorous essence of that debate:

    “If predestined by God, not free as men,” say Gottschalck and Ratramnus; “If free as men, not predestined by God,” respond Radbertus and Rabanus…

    …Therefore, heap up all the quotations of Augustine you wish, you four, and find in them an answer that satisfies not only my mind but my soul, and I shall then embrace your Augustinism and its filioque and all its “mysterious predestination to damnation for the greater glory of God.” But until you do, I, for my part, will follow the Sublime Orient and Her Orthodoxy.”

    Fr. Gabriel touches on many important aspects behind all this (but just touches), including how St. Maximos and St. Gregory Palamas handle the difference between essence and energy, free will and predestination (and foreknowledge). I tend to side with those who believe the west sort of internalized a neoplatonic rational when it comes to God and his essence vs. energies vs attributes. Thus they end up declaring John Scotus Eurigina as a pantheist – which means the whole Christian East is also because he held to an Orthodox mindset in all this I think.

    Fr. Gabriel says something to the effect that John Scotus Eurigena had a profound impact on the west. I respectfully disagree – if only he had, the whole subsequent character of western theology would be different.

    p.s. David, are you a deacon?

  25. Mark Avatar

    I used to think that apologetics was about how to win arguments with unbelievers – at least in practice. But winning arguments is very far from changing hearts. Winning my own internal arguments is far more profitable.

    It is easier to adopt an outward form and know who to quote than it is to be transformed. I think this is at least part of what St. Paul is referring to in the passage from Romans 12. Interestingly, the word used for “transformed” is where we get the word that describes the process by which a caterpillar becomes a butterfly – an outward change in appearance that is due to an inner change of nature. But we do not transform ourselves any more than we can do brain surgery on our own heads. We can “present our bodies”, find our devils as Fr. John suggests and talk to God about them, but the ultimate transformation is His work.

    To some extent, transformation is a better answer to secularism because it is a demonstration of a vital interaction with something that is more than an “idea”.

  26. Christopher Avatar

    Fr. John (and Fr. Stephen),

    What you are discussing reminds me of Archimandrite Aimilianos “On the progress of the soul”, except he emphasizes Genesis and our nakedness, nothingness, and fig leaves (a narcissistic ego covering itself up with delusions, mostly centered around a false understanding/rating of it’s importance and solidity) and just how far God is from us, even when we have some sense of our state of exile. I appreciate this characterization of the “evil” (i.e devil within) quality of this state of the soul (which is not to say the soul IS evil). I sometimes wonder if the Orthodox understanding of evil (a negation/privation of the real/good) does not quite say enough about the positive quality of evil, it’s reality…

  27. Christopher Avatar


    The Guenon quote is interesting on several levels (epistimic, metaphysically, etc.) and has a certain affinity to some Orthodox explanations I have read. Still, in the end it ends with a dialectical synthesis. The particularity of Christianity (“persons” not being confused or synthesized with essence, the physical/material not being confused or synthesized with the God/ transcendent, etc.). That is my point I think, that “evil” has a positive (as opposed to a pure apophatic) quality and “presence” – it is not mere “illusion” or “point of view”. It’s not always “all in your head”, even if it is very often “all in your head”… 😉

  28. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Christopher and Wayne,
    I removed the Guenon quote. It’s outside the boundaries of our discussion on the blog. Frankly, its too thick and specialized in an idiosyncratic vocabulary to be of much use in the conversation. Wayne, you asked why I was treating you like a Perennialist – well Guenon is a good example. It’s just esoteric stuff – not that there is nothing good there – but the winnowing required isn’t worth the effort. I only recommend that people read within the Orthodox canon (which some notable exceptions). I certainly don’t have the time or interest to winnow such stuff for my readers.

  29. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Sometimes it is just as simple as saying: Yea God!

  30. Wayne Avatar

    [I only recommend that people read within the Orthodox canon…]

    Following Christopher’s recommendation, I have been listening to Fr. John Behr as I do the dishes at bedtime (last two nights). I was very impressed by this lecture on “Orthodox Life and Learning” and the liberating nature of a liberal arts education (from the perspective of many of the church Fathers).

    Perhaps you have special personal and/or pastoral concerns that make you uneasy with the discussion of Guenon here– I can respect that –but would you acknowledge that, on balance, it is important for Christians to be liberally educated and not simply to restrict themselves to Orthodox literature?

    With regard to “perennialism”, it is natural to pigeonhole people and “treat” them accordingly, but when we do so, we tend to mistake them for the idea we have in our heads (just as we sometimes mistake ourselves with an idea we have in our head).

    Would you care to speak to Christopher’s question regarding “the positive reality” of evil from within the Orthodox canon?

  31. Matth Avatar

    I’m interested in Wayne’s question about liberally reading Christian sources. My sense – and please correct me if I’m mistaken, Father – is that there is no real reason to read outside of the Orthodox canon. This is assuming, of course, that one believes the claim that Orthodox keeps alive the fullness of the Apostolic Faith (clearly this does not apply to Wayne, but may apply to communing Orthodox, catechumens, even inquirers).

    That’s not to say there isn’t merit to reading outside the canon; many of those more literate in theology and Orthodoxy than I find C. S. Lewis to be quite useful, partly because he was so thoroughly steeped in the historical writings of the Church pre-Schism and partly because he was able to put those concepts into straightforward, modern prose. But there’s nothing in Lewis that isn’t contained within the Orthodoxy, as he himself would admit.

    So I am quite intrigued by your response to this, and I think I’ll ask my parish priest this same question later this evening.

    In Christ,


  32. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    I am a liberal arts major myself (Classical Languages). I strongly recommend real education. Liberal Arts, languages, etc. Guenon is interesting – not part of what I would call part of the liberal arts canon (much less an Orthodox canon). He is exotic and idiosyncratic.

    There is no such thing as evil (ontologically). Evil has no existence. It is the bending or distortion of good (such as a demon as a bent angel). It is the misuse of the will, contrary to nature. But all natures are created good and remain so. This is the teaching of the Orthodox faith. Thus there is no “evil” qua “evil.” Someone could say, “I sensed the presence of evil.” But that (if valid) only means the presence of a malevolent will. There is no “impersonal” evil – though an evil will has a distorted drive towards the non-personal.

  33. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    If someone wants to be a theologian in the modern world, they should be very familiar with a broad spectrum of theological works, not just Orthodox, for we have to speak to many. A good example of a great theologian (one of the best) of our times would be Fr. Dumitru Staniloae. His training and command of theology, including outside Orthodoxy, was encyclopedic.

    But such reading is not for everyone. It’s too boring, for one.

    But good literature, good science, good math, etc. are important. Orthodoxy, rightly displayed, produces profound cultures, not insular religious groups

  34. Andrew T. Avatar
    Andrew T.

    Have you read this? It’s very revealing as to why youth get distanced from the church, and the right way to go about it:

    On a related note: probably even the intelligent Manichaeans and Cathars understood that evil is a twisting of the Good, not coequal in any way. It is natural knowledge because it is true.

    But you know, there are some who would even winnow “safe” from “non-safe” Orthodox authors and voices. I imagine reading Rene Guenon is rather tortuous, but c’mon, let’s not be afraid of the mere name drop. Fr Freeman casts the net of education too wide to be “safe” according to one internet list. This blogger seems to me a perfect example of “correctness disease” even though, as a Seraphim Rose disciple, she says she’s not. You tell ’em many Church fathers learned in the pagan institutions, they’ll say that none today have the spiritual armor to do something parallel. It’s a bit cultic.

  35. Wayne Avatar

    [“Guenon is interesting – not part of what I would call part of the liberal arts canon…”]

    Of course, I was speaking loosely… But part of “the challenge of secularism” is that the academy has become somewhat insular in its own way and doesn’t seem to have kept up with some rather profound movements in philosophy and religion. For good or ill, there is another canon (of western esotericism and eastern spirituality) that has had and continue to have a profound effect on religion and spirituality (and, now, even popular culture). And, as Fr. Behr points out, part of the task of educated Christians is to be able to translate Christian truths into language which those who stand outside of Christendom can understand.

    With regard to C.S. Lewis, he was already liberally educated prior to his conversion. Part of his appeal is that he can distinguish between the innovations of his protestant contemporaries and the enduring teaching of the church. Since he is also acutely aware of the many points of intersection between pagan thought and Christian thought, he is better able to present the latter in its most universal light.

  36. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    When I was a freshman in college, I wrote my first term paper, “Gnostic Elements in TS Eliot’s the Wasteland.” (How much did I overreach?). But I spent a semester reading Grant’s works on the Gnostics, Jessie Weston’s From Ritual to Romance, The Golden Bough, even plowed through the Pistis Sophia and some other very strange stuff – even a bit of Jung. Liberal Arts can indeed cast a very wide net. I would say to someone pursuing Orthodoxy that Guenon is a waste of time. Indeed, he represents a sort of Romanticism (of the late 19th century sort) of the religious variety.

    Lewis was properly educated when the Western Canon was worth reading – and he knew a lot of stuff. But he took a first in Greats (he was a Classics man). The Brit’s of his generation were some of the last educated men in the West. I have ministered for 35 years among a college-educated population (first Episcopalians, now Orthodox). The historical education for most has been abysmal. They lack enough knowledge to have the context for deliberative thought. You have to know enough to deliberate.

    So I certainly encourage lots of reading and learning. But, I also encourage being grounded in the faith. Orthodox Christianity is eminently defensible if you are well grounded. Added to that, a grounded in a good sacramental life and prayer life.

    Of course, the academy has become so politicized that real education has become an exception rather than the rule. We have people educated with a “point-of-view.”

    I strongly recommend reading Homer and the classical pagan poets. But don’t waste time reading modern so-called “pagans.” They’re just silly.

    The foundation of education consists largely in texts written before the printing press.

  37. Andrew T. Avatar
    Andrew T.

    Fr Freeman, that is impressive if you had it in you to read Pistis Sophia. I call that “the most pretentious Christian text ever written.” Nobody could ever simultaneously read, understand, and enjoy that thing. It’s like Finnegan’s Wake. What it lacks in the licentiousness of other late Gnostic comic books (texts, sorry), it more than makes up for in extreme cosmo-psychobabble and obscurity. Thomas and John weren’t intending any of this.

  38. Wayne Avatar

    [Andrew T. wrote: “Fr Freeman casts the net of education too wide to be “safe” according to one internet list.”]

    LOL 🙂 I saw that . . .

    [Fr. Stephen wrote: “I strongly recommend reading Homer and the classical pagan poets. But don’t waste time reading modern so-called “pagans.” They’re just silly. The foundation of education consists largely in texts written before the printing press.”]

    My undergraduate degree (from a state university) is in the humanities with an emphasis in philosophy and with ancient Greek as my language (such as it is). That program put us through the paces pretty well with Homer, the 5th century poets, and some Latin literature, too. Then, in graduate school (at a Jesuit university) I had core courses in Plato, Aristotle, and Aquinas (and I had extra courses in Augustine and Plotinus). And, of course, all the usual suspects in the modern period… I attended Catholic mass occasionally (and almost every day during one Summer that I remember). And toward the end of my graduate studies– and for several years thereafter –I attended an Orthodox church regularly. But something was still missing… Something not right… (in me, I mean–or at least in my understanding).

    Later, Aldous Huxley and “The Perrenial Philosophy” did provide some clues, but that doesn’t mean that I am a perennialist or that I think perennialism is “the Truth”. And, FYI, Guenon and his hard-core followers (Traditionalists) distance themselves from Huxley (who, if I understand them correctly, they deem to be syncretistic and ultimately superficial).

    As you may have gathered, I don’t like labels much, but when really pressed, I tell people that I am a “Trinitarian Panentheist” (a name I thought I originated until I googled it awhile back). But the important thing– as I see it –is not believing in the Trinity, but recognizing the light of the world and entering into the life of the Trinity NOW. But that is something that no one in church ever called my attention to… But having recognized that light and having entered into that life, it is frustrating to hear (from Christopher, et al) that I can’t really understand what those words mean because I am not in communion with an Orthodox church.

    [“I would say to someone pursuing Orthodoxy that Guenon is a waste of time. Indeed, he represents a sort of Romanticism (of the late 19th century sort) of the religious variety.”]

    He — and especially some of his followers — strike me as rather ideological and reactionary. Perhaps they are Romantics. I’m am still learning… But my point was not to suggest that he was of value to someone pursuing Orthodoxy, but that he might be of value to someone who wants to be well educated (just my opinion).

    There are no texts prior to the invention of the printing press that can shed much if any light on “The Reign of Quanity” (which is really the problem of the modern age — the problem that lies at the heart of so many of your posts). Where does one learn of this?

    I began to learn of it when I read “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance”, by Robert Pirsig. C.S. Lewis sheds a bit of light on it in “The Abolition of Man”. Heidegger has something to contribute in this regard (e.g. “What is Called Thinking” and other writings–some specifically on technology). And, finally, I have learned a good deal in conversation with someone who has long recommended that I read “The Reign of Quanity” by Guenon (which I did in fact read earlier this year).

    Quite a few people, it seems, return (or convert) to Catholicism or Orthodoxy after reading Guenon. Valentin Tomberg and Boris Mouriavieff seem to have a similar effect on people. They are all three included in some versions of “the Traditionalist canon” (though each very different–Tomberg coming out of the Theosophy movement; and Mouriavieff having spent time with Gurdjieff and Ouspensky; and with Gueon having a top-notch education in every respect, as far as I can tell).

    I understand that if everyone were Orthodox– grew up eating, drinking, and sleeping Orthodoxy –the reign of quantity would not be a problem. But that is not the world we live in. So Guenon seems helpful to me (but is understandably frowned upon because he is not Orthodox and does not give preeminence to Orthodoxy).

    My apologies if this seems off topic. I understand if you feel it is best to delete it. But I am here… Attempting to participate (loosely speaking) in an Orthodox Christian community. Fr. John Behr emphasized in the talk (the one Christopher recommended on “The Shocking Truth of Orthodoxy) that the heretics left the church– they no longer wanted to participate in the dialogue… That is not the case with me. I recognize and honor the risen Christ (despite my skepticism with regard to the historicity of the gospel narratives). That somehow seems consistent in an odd sort of way with what Fr. John said about us being in exactly the same position as people who were there… Seeing the empty tomb… Seeing the Lord on the road… It didn’t necessarily help… They still didn’t get it…They understood later what had happened–after he “disappeared from their sight”.

  39. Wayne Avatar

    ^^^ Tomberg comes out of the *Antroposophy* movement… (not Theosophy)

  40. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Thanks for sharing some of the road map of your journey. Mine had lots of twists and even some dead ends (though even some of those were interesting). I find that the search for God has at least as much to do with the search for self as anything. And the self is such a messy bundle, a gordian knot of sorts. I’m in my 60’s now, and only feel like I’m just beginning to get a handle on any of it – or that it is getting a handle on me.

    I’m aware both of the incredible amount of distraction that can be found in Orthodoxy (or anywhere), as well as the undistracted truth. I’ve met a couple of examples of the real thing (Real Thing). I usually then discover more twists and tangles in my Gordian knot.

    But God, the Risen Christ, is utterly present in the Divine Liturgy, much like Fr. John’s not-understood-Jesus. I like being there a lot and occasionally the pieces seem to fit. I, for a host of reasons, do not doubt Orthodoxy. I think the puzzle is in ourselves. And that’s where the best conversation occurs.

  41. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    I would note, shortly, that the Russian mystics (or whatever we call them, like Gurdieff, etc.) are “Orthodox” in many ways because Orthodoxy just permeates Russians, even in ways they do not know. Tolstoy is definitely a “heretic,” but he’s an “Orthodox” heretic, born of Russia. I like Russians a lot. Americans (as I most thoroughly am) have very hard to find souls. I’m not certainly if they’re buried too deeply, or if they’ve become too thin. But we’re much more alienated from our souls, I think. I don’t know if that’s the right word for it or not. I’m talking about something I intuit and have seen repeatedly.

    They tend to be more “mystical” than Americans, and yet far more detailed and interested in careful performance of ritual. Great fascination with detail while still going to the heart. Just late night musings. Peace.

  42. Wayne Avatar

    [Orthodoxy just permeates Russians, even in ways they do not know. Tolstoy is definitely a “heretic,” but he’s an “Orthodox” heretic, born of Russia. I like Russians a lot. ]

    That makes sense… I haven’t read Tolstoy, but have read about him… Have read lots of Dostoyevsky… Tomberg was also of mixed Russian decent (even though he was not, in the end, Orthodox).

    Americans live in their heads… We’re like Doestoevsky’s “underground man” (lost in a mental and emotional labyrinth — at least that is my impression in retrospect). That is what I mean when I say our categories give us our world. Our erroneous beliefs superimpose a imaginary world over the real one and then we react emotionally to the imaginary one and make it all that much worse…. (also musing– bedtime chores are waiting –thank you for your last replies).

  43. Dino Avatar

    Traditional Russians, as well as Greeks, have a very long collective pre-history of solitary/monastic / away-form-the-world (i.e.: not derived from human teaching, but, directly and ‘undistractedly’ impressed) divine instructions. These are always inevitably intermingling with the intuitions of their subconscious, and, coupled with centuries of an unceasing Liturgical life, give them a very different “haste” towards God alone. Have a look at this, I hope you enjoy it:

  44. Agata Avatar


    Thank you so much for sharing the chapter (one of my favorite books, along with “Wounded by Love”). I love it how in the third paragraph he says that the matters of the soul are strictly practical, what we encounter in our everyday experiences. But it seems most people are much more interested in theories and academics than in practice. I once heard Fr. Tom Hopko say, a bit sarcastically, “How many people today are interested in Jesus Prayer? Not many are interested in Jesus, or in prayer.” (with his wonderfully expressive tone of voice).

    You said this a while back (I loved it):
    “The more we take not our eyes of Him [Jesus Christ], the more we walk on water”.

    The Orthodox Church is the only place that still preserves this “full access” to Jesus (and His Truth)… What are people waiting for, hoping for in other places?

    It’s later than we think…..

  45. Dino Avatar

    Archimandrite Aimilianos never took his eyes of Him [Jesus Christ], and showed many people around him that we can “walk on water” because of that single-mindedness. Amidst fires and earthquakes that made others tremble he remained utterly composed, never losing site of the two axes his life revolved around: God and His image.
    There’s an anecdote [one of many] I have heard on Athos and from certain pilgrims who frequent the monasteries at Essex and Simonopetra concerning the Elders Aimilianos and Sophrony. The former was the spiritual Father of the latter during his last years on earth. Despite being 38 years his junior, an authoritative and established completeness characterised him from youth. Months before Fr Sophrony’s actual repose, he had the clear presentiment that his death would be in three days and therefore telephoned Elder Aimilianos, bidding him to urgently come over to England. Yet Fr Aimilianos couldn’t travel at that time and replied, “I cannot come over now! You haven’t got my blessing to die! Wait for a little more time.” And it was exactly so…!

  46. Dino Avatar

    There’s numerous similar stories from the Kiev Lavra of course…

  47. Sh. Geri Avatar
    Sh. Geri

    Just a thought that’s been coming to mind today, prompted by the discussion…prayer truly can help us “see” the Glory of God which is everywhere present and filling all things. Perhaps more of the secularists can begin to see this “Real” dimension of the universe if we who pray are seeing it and sharing it. Isn’t that what all the people who are looking to Eastern religions longing for–mystical connectedness that they think is only in those exotic systems? When I first became Orthodox and started praying the morning Trisagion Prayers, I began to see everything in a new way–all of Life is ever more precious. Now I’m regularly praying the prayer of the Hours which talks about “being compassed about with Thy holy angels that guided and guarded by their array we can come to the unity of the faith and the apprehension of Thy Glory.” Can I–even I–begin to apprehend God’s Glory? As I go about my day now I keep looking for it–and catching beautiful glimpses. So, let us remember that our prayers form our minds and hearts as much as anything–and transfigure both ourselves and the world around us: “O Heavenly King, Comforter, the Spirit of Truth Who art everywhere and fillest all things; Treasury of good things and Giver of Life: Come and abide in us. Cleanse us from every stain, and save our souls, O Good One! Amen.

  48. David Avatar

    Hi Christopher –
    To answer your question as to whether I am a Deacon, I am not. I am actually a lay Roman Catholic (RC) who has progressively become a closet Orthodox (chuckle) over the years as I have read and reflected on the writings of many Orthodox writers/theologians. I am convinced that Orthodoxy has continued to stay connected to living streams flowing from the earliest apostolic and Patristic witness, something that it seems to me that the Roman Catholic Church has deeply lost sight of and become disconnected from (and this has happened over a long period of time). While I would at times love to just become an Orthodox, I feel compelled to remain RC and bring these influences into the RC Church, the problem is that I am just not sure how or where to begin at times. Father Freeman’s Blog has been a wonderful source of material that I have often shared with other RC’s – not as a club, but as a way and source of reflecting on the mysteries and sacramental nature of our faith. Those I have shared some of posts with have found them very refreshing, insightful and helpful. Any other suggestions would be very welcome.

  49. Agata Avatar


    Thank you for this story. I love stories about Elder Sophrony, I did not know there was such close connection between him and Elder Aimilianos. Those stories are such an inspiration and guide for us to live our life in Christ. And I would love to hear more about Kiev Larva stories…..

    I have asked Fr. Stephen to give you my email address, if you were willing to connect offline…. I had a couple questions I wanted to ask you and comment on a few more things you said in the past. If you accept the request….

  50. Andrew Avatar

    I did a short research project on Berdyaev a few years ago, so I might venture to answer Nicholas’s earlier question.

    I think that the issue with ‘objectivisation’ that Berdyaev is dealing with is a different one than the difference between Realism and Nominalism. Berdyaev was attacking our tendency to identify our fallen experience of reality with the Truth of God’s reality and his purpose for creation. Because of sin we fail to adequately ‘realise’ the fullness of the spirit in our lives, thus creating a world that is stuck in a mechanical objectivity and gross materialism that is not open to the transfiguration that the personal God brings. The reason that he may give the impression of being unfriendly to Realism is that he is aware of how much of what we think is ‘real’ is not quite real (and he had a temptation towards Idealism as well).

    Hope this helps.

  51. Chris Avatar

    It’s interesting that secular news is even catching hold of the shallowness of secularism. Author David Brooks, who refers to himself as a “recovering secularist” – and incidentally a Christian – wrote the following article in The Atlantic:

  52. Christopher Avatar


    I have family who are RC (a serious and zealous father in law who converted to RC a few years back from a lifetime of southern baptist for example), and I send my oldest daughter to a wonderful little RC school. Living in a small city in the desert southwest, many RC around here are only vaguely aware that not everyone is RC and that there was a protestant revolution – Orthodox folks are as exotic and unknown as martians 😉 , so I have occasion to ” bring these Orthodox influences into the RC Church”. The only way I know how to do this is to simply be Orthodox (to the best of my ability). Externally, I have on occasion had an opportunity to quote a Eastern Father (I try to keep it to our common 1st millennial heritage), but much more often it is more relevant to be simple and keep it simple, “biblical”, to “Listen when people talk to you”, etc.

    I think what you are doing (what has been termed the “ecumenism of the trenches”) is much more important than “high level theological consultations” and the photo-op meetings between Popes and Patriarchs.

  53. Christopher Avatar


    Interesting article. I love this:

    “… But as the sociologist Peter Berger has pointed out, the phenomenon that really needs explaining is the habits of the American professoriat: religious groups should be sending out researchers to try to understand why there are pockets of people in the world who do not feel the constant presence of God in their lives, who do not fill their days with rituals and prayers and garments that bring them into contact with the divine, and who do not believe that God’s will should shape their public lives. Once you accept this—which is like understanding that the earth revolves around the sun, not vice-versa—you can begin to see things in a new way…”

    I have been accused of being “anti academic” (I find this ironic as in my youth I wanted to be a philosophy professor when I grew up, was in graduate school to this end, however I quickly learned the “spirit” of the academy and fled) but I don’t think people always quite understand the perniciousness of this “professoriat”, its influence on our culture and our outlook, etc. Those of us with children espically have to think about this in relation to their education. I hope projects such as this find their identity and survive:

  54. Byron Avatar


    I did not know about St. Katherine’s. God bless their Orthodoxy and impact in higher education; it is much needed.

  55. Byron Avatar


    And then there was this article at the same link you posted:

    It fairly screams against the focus of faith and tradition, ending with the very “secular” statement: The argument that lingers after having read the book is that the sooner having children is approached from a rational standpoint rather than an emotional one, the better for humanity, even if the result is that there are slightly fewer people left to enjoy it.

  56. drewster2000 Avatar

    In deciding what to read one should consider what is healthy. We are children of God in the process of becoming. Instead of “what am I attracted to?”, the question should be “what is best for me?” Not all has to be “nutritious” of course but the overall diet should be monitored.


    In this same vein a parent should always discern what is going to advance the growth and development of the child. As we leave the home of our natural parents, we are wise to find spiritual fathers, priests, counselors,etc. – someone who can know us and give educated counsel about what is nourishing for us, what is ambivalent, and what we should avoid. We don’t all have that luxury, but it is still best to have a wise authority to speak into our life.

  57. David Brent Avatar
    David Brent

    I finally get to say “Thank you”.
    For what?
    The book.
    You see, I finally got my hands on my own copy of your book.
    Rarely have I read a book and felt that I was listening to an old friend.
    But with this book it is different.
    As I read through the book, it was as if we were taking a walk and you were talking.
    I just listened and soaked up everything I could.
    Thank you for blessing me.
    You really should whip me for taking so long.

  58. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    The whip is in the mail. When it arrives, arrange to have a stout friend do the whipping for me. Be blessed!

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