crookedI beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God. (Rom 12:1-2)

The ideas of the modern project have been in place for over three centuries. Across that time they have come to permeate every aspect of our lives. They shape our institutions and the way we think about them. They shape our understanding of what it means to be human. They shape our instincts and gut reactions. Given the Apostolic commandment to “not be conformed to this world” we rightly struggle to be transformed and to have our minds renewed according to the truth. This work of renewal requires careful thought and reflection and the willingness to have our hearts changed through the daily efforts of repentance. All of this lies at the heart of my frequent writings and critique of modernity. We cannot refuse conformity to this world if we do not see it for what it is. How we think of the Church is a crucial part of the modern project – for, in large part, it was in reaction to classical Christianity and the Church that modernity came into existence. It is worth noting that with regards to the Church, the project has almost been entirely successful.

To think carefully about this, we need to look at the position of the Church prior to the rise of modernity. In Western Europe, the Church was synonymous with the Catholic Church. In thinking about this, lay aside issues you might have with Catholicism itself or the Papacy and simply think about the position of the Church. All of the peoples of Western Europe were Christian, and all were members of the One Church (as far as the West was concerned). In large measure, they lived in peace with one another. When Henry II of England went to war in France, it was not a case of England versus France. Rather, it was the claim of a king to territory that he believed to be his by right. The French were not his enemies – indeed they had been subjects of the English king from time to time. Rather it was the Dauphin and his noblemen that constituted the challenge.

In such struggles the Church could and did frequently intervene. Sometimes the Church was sought out as mediator. In daily life, the parish Church permeated every aspect of life. In Eamon Duffy’s exceptional book, The Voices of Morebath, a single parish in a single village are examined in detail over the period of 50 years, spanning the years of the English Reformation. It is a case study in the radical reshaping of every aspect of life and an example in particular of the movement from the classical Christian world to the foundations of modernity. It is also clearly demonstrated that this reshaping was in no way a popular uprising and force of history. It was a conscious, ideological imposition by the state and certain religious forces that enjoyed state sponsorship. 

The picture of the pre-reformation parish was  of a Church life that permeated every aspect of culture. Every trade guild had its place and role in the Church. The culture was itself but the public expression of the Church’s life. We learn the names and details of individual lives in Duffy’s work as he draws from the records of those 50 years. And we see the changes. What we see is, interestingly, the secularization of parish life and the substitution of the state in places that had once belonged to the Church. Prior to the Reformation, the European state was integrated with Church, even an aspect of Church in many ways. At the end of the Reformation, the state had begun to take the shape of the modern state. Prior to the Reformation, the king’s subjects are the Christian people of the realm. After the Reformation, they are Englishmen, etc. above all else. It is worth noting that the nation state first comes into existence in Protestant lands. It was a slow and fitful, even very late development in Catholic lands.

Today’s denominational form of the Church is itself a creation of the modern project. It is incorrect to see it as an inner project of late Christianity. It was never an intentional plan, but is the result of modern principles consistently set in place. The Church is steadily diminished in the life of the nation, privatized and relativized. Its loyalty becomes subsidiary to the loyalty of the State. The Church need not be One, indeed, it is the more easily reduced to subsidiarity if it is not One. The Church can no longer challenge the actions of the state, for it’s far too busy arguing with other Churches over one thing and another. Today, it is the state that appears as the most natural institution in modern society. The Church is a private matter, best served if it stays out of the “public” business.

Stanley Hauerwas at Duke once noted that the rise of the nation state and its success could be seen in its wars. Prior to the Reformation, Christians attacked and killed non-Christians. After the Reformation, Christians were glad to kill each other in the name of the state. The madness of the First World War is the apotheosis of the modern world. All history since can easily be seen as nothing more than the continued working out of the problems created in that conflict. In truth, we are still in the very same war. But the larger war of modernity waged against the classical world has been generally settled for more than two centuries. The state today enjoys a place within the minds of its citizens that includes a loyalty once only enjoyed by the Church.

The monopoly of the state is an interesting feature of the modern world. If I were to suggest that the institutions of the state be treated like the institutions of denominational Christianity, I would be taken for a madman. On your street, one family is German, another is Polish, another is Greek and a third counts themselves as American. Each of you has separate loyalties. If they have political or state needs, they apply to their own preferred identity. You can change “nationality” pretty much at will. Some people have been members of a half dozen different states, depending on who has the more attractive programs, etc. While this sounds crazy, it is in fact rendered absurd mostly because of its ineffectiveness in organizing war. It would be the state as gelding. But this describes the reality of denominational Christianity. It is only the Body of Christ, after a fashion, but one that has been gelded and made irrelevant and beside-the-point. If you have “religious needs” or you’re “into that sort of thing,” then Church is nice. But in no way is it The Church.

The success of modernity has been to reduce The Church into an idea, a concept. When Christians of the modern world think of Christian unity, they mean something vague and ethereal, mostly including mutual recognition of sacraments, and open communion. And though American Christians often like to fantasize about a coming persecution, the truth is that they’re simply not worth the effort.

In the countries of Eastern Europe and Russia, the Church (Orthodox or Catholic) was a largely unreformed entity. It retained its identity as the One Church and its place in the lives of the people and the culture. What Pope John Paul II said in Poland could bring down a government. They feared him. And though the Church in Russia was deeply wounded by a sustained persecution of 70 years’ length, it remained. Nothing replaced it, nor was it gelded. In Romania, when the Ceaușescus were overthrown, the announcement on the radio was, “The anti-Christ is dead! Romania is a Christian country!” That carried power because Romania was 95 per cent Orthodox. The Church had continued to exist in an unreformed condition. Such an announcement in America would naturally bring the question, “Which Christians?” Indeed, many Christians in America today think that their nation is a Christian nation. It is not, nor has it ever been. It has been a country without The Church.

All of this brings me to the ecumenical question. For ecumenism is a deeply modern movement. Indeed, it can be said to be an unthinkable movement apart from the concepts of modernity. It is not a movement towards the One Church. It is a movement that assures that One Church will never happen because the inner consciousness of its people will have been completely conformed to this world.

What is modern about the contemporary ecumenical movement?

The consciousness of the ecumenical movement is of the Church as an abstraction. Beginning primarily in the 18th and 19th centuries, the notion of the Church as an “invisible” or “mystical” reality, not entirely identified with any earthly institution arose. It becomes the “churchless Church.” It could just as easily be asserted that everyone on earth is a citizen of the same country, that individual nations are not actually true nations, but only human constructions of the real nation.

But the Church, as taught by Christ and as established in actual history, is not “invisible” or “mystical” in any sense that abstracts it from the concrete historical manifestation of that Church in the world. Just as the Body and Blood of Christ in the Eucharist are not somehow abstracted from Christ in any way, so the Body of Christ that is the Church, is just as concrete and real as the Incarnate Christ Himself. Indeed it cannot be otherwise. St. Paul’s challenge to any other concept is simple: “Is Christ divided?” (1 Cor. 1:13). That the answer could be anything but “no” was unthinkable to him. The Church is “One,” in the words of the Creed. It cannot possibly be two, much less 20,000.

That the Church is One is a sign that it is the creation of the One God. As soon as this is removed from human consciousness or its meaning rendered inert, the Church is reduced to a human institution, a lesser reality among other lesser things. And while the Church is reduced to a multiplicity of human creations, the state retains its unity and authority from God (Romans 13:1). It is ironic in addition to being false.

But the modern project has so deluded Christians that they cannot face the topic of the One Church with anything more than shame, defensiveness and denials of what was, and is, a clear, fixed, Apostolic doctrine. And I recognize that in even broaching the topic, I set some readers’ teeth on edge. But I beg a short indulgence.

For once, quit taking ownership of a false consciousness created by modernity itself. Denominational Christianity is not your fault, nor is it worthy of defending. Allow yourself to consider what the reality of “One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic” means when not reduced to an abstraction or some eschatological dream. We do not confess that the Church shall be “One, Holy, etc.” We confess what is true. And that phrase means what it meant, and it was not and is not an abstraction.

Allow it to stand as true on its face, and then ponder the current modernized, diminished ecclesiology. But refuse to reconcile the two by acquiescing to modernist claims.

The pressure of ecumenism (which is not about unity but about diminishing the ecclesiology of the faith) has been felt deeply within Roman Catholicism. The document Lumen Gentium in Vatican II, declares that the Mystical Body of Christ “subsists” in the Catholic Church, thus no longer saying that the two are one and the same. It seemed a gesture of generosity, but it was a capitulation to the centuries-old demands of modernity. Orthodoxy feels the same pressure, and there are some within it who would gladly embrace such language. It is a fulcrum point, and modernity has its hand on the lever.

At stake is not just the true character of the Church and the Kingdom, but also the outrageous and unchallenged claims of the modern state. That Leviathan is currently eating the souls of its citizens and would gladly swallow the Church itself. We should refuse to come to the table.

Next: Consequences of the One Church


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.





97 responses to “Un-Ecumenism”

  1. Byron Avatar

    Thank you, Father. I am very much looking forward to the next of this series. Blessings!

  2. Todd Avatar

    There is a lot I appreciate here, but in the spirit of there being not appreciation like critical engagement, I raise the following. In the final paragraph you write:

    “The document Lumen Gentium in Vatican II, declares that the Mystical Body of Christ “subsists” in the Catholic Church, thus no longer saying that the two are one and the same. It seemed a gesture of generosity, but it was a capitulation to the centuries-old demands of modernity. ”

    could a Roman Catholic not come back at you and say that you’ve not gotten to the bottom of what this document means by “subsists” here? By subsist they might mean that the RC’s have an absolutist ecclesiology that energizes the Christian believer beyond the confines of modernity and the claims of the modern state. Why could “subsist” not mean more than what you are saying it means? I wonder what kind of ink has been spilled on this, and how the term appears in the rest of the document and other documents from the same time? ‘Jus sayin’


  3. Mary E. Lanser Avatar
    Mary E. Lanser

    Anyone who plans again on writing about “subsistit in” found in Lumen Gentium most probably ought to read the following very important and precise analysis and definition:


    These diverse elements have stimulated within Catholic thought a debate which has been both lively and enriching, but which has also been characterized by certain misunderstandings; most importantly, perhaps, regarding the meaning of the phrase subsistit in (subsists in).4

    For instance, there is now a widely held view that the expression subsistit in was introduced because of the recognition of elementa veritatis et sanctificationis (elements of truth and sanctification) present in other Christian communities and therefore with the intention of weakening the identification of the Church of Christ with the Catholic Church. In order to evaluate this contention we need to examine carefully the actual intention of the Council.5

  4. Alex Combas Avatar

    Thank you Fr Stephen,

    But it raises some questions in my mind, what about the unity of Orthodoxy in America?


  5. Sharon Joy Avatar
    Sharon Joy

    Blessings Father – this article is well worth re-reading, deeply pondering and sharing.

    Thank you.

  6. an Orthodox Avatar
    an Orthodox

    To say that the one Church of Christ subsists in the Catholic Church is not to say that the one Church of Christ is divided. To subsist means to be concretely realized. Lumen Gentium says that the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church finds its concrete identity in the Catholic Church, but that elements properly belonging to the Church nevertheless exist outside of its visible structure. Because they are “gifts belonging to the one Church of Christ”, the Council says that they “impel towards Catholic unity.” Joseph Ratzinger made clear that the unicity of the Church is not something which is realized as the goal of the Ecumenical Movement, but instead is a gift belonging to the Catholic Church which can never be lost.

  7. Christopher Avatar

    “….We should refuse to come to the table.”

    I agree. Your own bishops/synod does not. My Bishop does not. Only bishops in USA that do (if I understand the current lay of the land) is ROCOR and Antiochians, though Moscow and Damascus do not so what is the real weight/significance…

  8. John Timothy Avatar
    John Timothy

    “And though American Christians often like to fantasize about a coming persecution, the truth is that they’re simply not worth the effort.”

    Amen Father, great post.

  9. J. Yance Avatar
    J. Yance

    Where does this leave our parents and grandparents who tried to lead a Christian life outside of the Church? Especially ones who would have deeply believed Orthodoxy as un-Christian due to their denominationalism?
    The question has always gnawed at me.

  10. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Perhaps oneness will only be recognized in persecution. Those not of the Church will fall away. It has happened before.

    Those who refuse to recognize the state as god will pay the price.

    Those who try to serve two masters….

    Yet we still spend so much time fighting ourselves because “everybody knows the Greeks are crazy, the Russians stuck in the 19th century, the Antiochians worldly and nobody knows what the OCA is.

    I live 30 minutes on a high speed highway from my parish. A big improvement in the 74 minutes it used to be.

    Antioch is my only “choice” to be Orthodox yet most of my Orthodox friends around the country are OCA. My brother a priest in the Patrichial Bulgarian Archdiocese.

    Indianapolis IN has a good working model of how to be one yet multiple jurisdictions. Not perfect, not ideal but a start.

    Seek Jesus Christ and Him crucified if you seek unity.

  11. Karen Avatar

    Michael, good words. Thanks.

  12. Leonard Nugent Avatar
    Leonard Nugent

    Father the old statement used to be the Church of Christ is (Latin est) the Catholic Church. I think they changed it to subsists because the use of est produces an utterly ridiculous statement . Here is the full statement….This Church constituted and organized in the world as a society, subsists in the Catholic Church, which is governed by the successor of Peter and by the Bishops in communion with him, although many elements of sanctification and of truth are found outside of its visible structure. These elements, as gifts belonging to the Church of Christ, are forces impelling toward catholic unity.

  13. Matt Avatar

    “Prior to the Reformation, Christians attacked and killed non-Christians. After the Reformation, Christians were glad to kill each other in the name of the state.”

    But surely Christians killed each other too? (Nevermind the violence surrounding the Great Schism, but the territorial wars between the kings)

  14. David Brault Avatar
    David Brault

    “Prior to the Reformation, Christians attacked and killed non-Christians. After the Reformation, Christians were glad to kill each other in the name of the state.”

    Could you clarify this a bit further, Father? For it seems to me that earlier, you described how the King of France (say) would march to war against the King of England in the medieval period, and what is this if not Christians attacking and killing Christians, not non-Christians. Also, prior to the Reformation, what non-Christians would Christians attack and kill except for Muslims? Or is that what you had in mind?

    I wonder if the phrase “in the name of the state” is the important bit here. Prior to the Reformation, people didn’t see themselves as Frenchmen or Dutchmen or Englishmen as much as Christians who were the subjects (presently) of some monarch or other. No doubt the development of the secular state as a competitor to church power changed the dynamics of political and civic conflict. After the Reformation, soldiers viewed themselves more and more according to their national identities rather than their Christian ones. Thus even though Christians killed Christians before, the conflicts were mediated and ameliorated by the common understanding that “we are all Christians”. Thus rules of chivalry and so on could take hold and govern conflict. But if everyone sees themselves primarily in terms of national identity, the fact that the opponent is Christian, too, is less significant. “Sure he’s Christian, but he’s also a bastard!” And so the restraining influence of common humanity/christianity was lost.

  15. David Brault Avatar
    David Brault

    Sorry about my previous post. I used angle brackets, and they weren’t rendered. One of my sentences should read “…but he’s also a (insert nationality here) bastard.”

  16. Protopresbyter Peter Heers Avatar

    Dear Father Stephen,

    Thank you for this post and the others you plan on sharing.

    You may be interested in my book which will be available in just over a month, “The Ecclesiological Renovation of Vatican II: An Orthodox Examination of Rome’s Ecumenical Theology Regarding Baptism and the Church.”

    Your point about the change in identity from pre to post Vatican II is examined exhaustively, with hundreds of references to the views of the theologians behind the new stance taken at Vatican II, the minds of the Nouvelle Theologie.

    See here: https://uncutmountainpress.com/books/the-ecclesiological-renovation-of-second-vatican-council–english/

    And here: http://www.pravoslavie.ru/english/82431.htm

    Sincerely in Christ Jesus,

    Fr. Peter

  17. Dana Sumar Avatar
    Dana Sumar

    If Father Hopko was right and we are getting closer to the end of the Age, then at least we should be aware the Christ said we should be the salt of the Earth. And, it seems to me that the pot of salt is getting smaller…….

  18. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Fr. Peter,
    I read your article at Pravoslavie with great interest and thought that it was entirely correct. I pray that as the coming years move on, such clarity will help those in positions of leadership see their way through.

  19. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    I think you are not entirely well-informed on this.

  20. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    No doubt the word can be parsed differently. In practice (which is what matters) it is certainly being parsed as I have described it. I’m far from alone in this observation.

  21. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    As I noted to Todd, the practice of Lumen Gentium speaks volumes (as does the rest of the implementation of Vatican II). While scholars debate with great precision the meaning of subsistit in modernity is running rampant inside the walls.

  22. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    If by unity you mean a single jurisdiction, then you’re worrying about the wrong thing. It is the unity of the Cup, one faith, that matters at present. We always at every moment stand in danger of being overwhelmed by the mind of this world. I’m not describing some pristine reality of Orthodoxy. I think denominational consciousness is frequently present within Orthodox minds. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t have written the article.

  23. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    J. Yance,
    I trust in the mercy of God and pray for my ancestors. I have no fear in this, nor should you.

  24. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Yes. I know the passage well. And I think there is a way to read it that would be fully Orthodox. I do not think that is how it is being read. The modern consciousness is relentless and permeates almost ever fiber of our being. I’m not here arguing about the Catholic Church. I’m shouting, “Wake up!”

  25. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    That indeed is how I understand Hauerwas. The King was relativized. It was his war and there was only so much he could ask. But in the modern nation state, every war is our war against them. We hate them, etc. The “total war” invented in the 20th century made everybody a legitimate target. Everybody is the state. It’s demonic.

  26. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Indeed. Benedict’s reading was certainly less modernist than others. I applaud him. But my point is not to argue over the correct meaning of “subsist” in Lumen Gentium. But Benedict is no longer on the throne, and others are at work. Most nefariously is the new “lifestyle ecumenism” espoused by Cardinal Schonborn. In his hands, subsist becomes precisely what I have described. Thus saying that “although many elements of sanctification and of truth are found outside of its visible structure. These elements, as gifts belonging to the Church of Christ, are forces impelling toward catholic unity.” Schonborn is pressing this to say that same-sex marriage is one of those “gifts with elements of sanctification and truth” outside of the visible structure.

    Benedict is, doubtless, fuming over such a construal, but there’s not much he can do about it. Doubtless, Schonborn’s radical proposal will be rebuffed, but the underlying modernist construal of Lumen Gentium will not be.

    My point here isn’t to attack Rome, etc. It’s to wake up our own minds and focus on repentance from the false consciousness of modernity. None of us will fix the present mess of the ecclesiological state of Christians. But we can at least refrain from adapting Christian teaching to cover the sin of that mess. That line of reasoning not only does no good, it does positive harm to the consciousness of every Christian in the present day.

    It is, of course, very hard to reject a modernist take on the Church. People are driven to “make sense” of the world. But that “making sense” is, in fact, a lie. I live as an Orthodox Christian and I embrace the Church as the One Body of Christ. That is simply the Apostolic teaching. But I resist the modernist temptation to define or speculate about other Christians. As soon as I begin to engage in that speculation, modernity gains the upper hand.

    I suggest others should do the same, wherever they are. And if you do not believe that where you are is the One Church through time, then leave it. Why would you want to be there?

  27. Maximus Avatar


    Christ is the “Head” of His Body the Church because He became incarnate. St. Augustine said that the whole Christ is actually the Savior and the Saved. The Logos has no “body” before the incarnation, so obviously this terminology cannot be said to obliterate the distinction between uncreated discarnate God and the created order. This is what Chalcedon is all about. St. Paul said that the Church is the fullness of Him that fills all. How does that occur when you understand the Church, which is one with His Spirit and of His very flesh and bone “figuratively”? Only one with scant knowledge of Orthodox triadology and christology is in danger of pantheism.

    A ecclesial view such as yours makes the church too merely human, and thus much less important to man’s salvation in my opinion. Our high view of the one Church and our calling to become one with the God-Man and to thereby participate by grace in the life of God is what motivates articles such as the above by Orthodox.

    Paul Evdokimov: “The essence of the Church is the divine life unveiling itself in creatures; it is the deification of the creature in the strength of the Incarnation and Pentecost.”

    Fr. Florovsky: “The Church is the living image of eternity within time”.

    Vladimir Lossky: “the Church is an image of the Holy Trinity.”

  28. Mary E. Lanser Avatar
    Mary E. Lanser

    Father: You now change you focus from the actual meaning of the text to how it is actualized. Had you started there your original posting would have been a bit different. Knowing what the truth is and actualizing it…well…I would think that Orthodoxy would have some startling historical examples of the truth being known but having the devil’s own time getting it actualized. I would have thought that the best understanding of the current Catholic situation would have come from the Orthodox who have lived it as well. Of course in our personal lives we are confronted by the same situation. Knowing the truth and being able to articulate but not actualize it is common among sinners of whom I am second. My son says he is the first!….Mary

  29. Mary E. Lanser Avatar
    Mary E. Lanser

    One cannot judge the worth of the visible Church by her dissenters. Think twice about how all that plays out in Orthodoxy. I will demure from naming names, times, dates, places or circumstances….Mary

  30. Mary E. Lanser Avatar
    Mary E. Lanser

    It is possible to believe that the Church is bruised and bent but not broken. In that way one can love and revere the entire Catholic world, in and out of communion….Mary

  31. Boyd Camak Avatar
    Boyd Camak

    Thanks for this. Prayers appreciated.

  32. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Since I am in this article talking about a matter of modern consciousness, the point is very much how we think about something. Just because Lumen Gentium can be rendered in an Orthodox manner does mean that is what is in fact happening. Frankly, in a world in which most minds are already conformed to a Modernist mentality, any language susceptible to that misinterpretation should be surrounded with caveats or avoided.

    My word to us all is that of St. Paul. Don’t be conformed.

  33. MichaelPatrick Avatar

    Father, please allow a minor grammar alert re the main article: “Indeed, many Christians in America today think that they’re nation is a Christian nation.” Better is: “their nation”.

  34. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    As you’ll see in follow-up articles, I’m not specifically faulting the Catholic Church – or even the denominations. There are plenty of Orthodox who also accept a modernist consciousness.

    The non-modernist consciousness that existed in Morebath (and all of Western Europe) prior to the Reformation, was, in fact, a Roman Catholic consciousness. I have my disagreements with Rome – but a self-consciousness of the Church as One, visible, etc. is not one of them. Frankly, if Rome doesn’t think it is the One true Church, then it would be beside the point for the Orthodox to even talk with them. There is a schism. But that schism need not mean a wholesale abandonment of a proper consciousness.

    Denominational Christianity is inherently opposed to that proper consciousness. It needs to repent. I’ll be saying more about that, too.

    What I am doing here is a bit tricky – helping people see something they have not yet seen but which is essential to our life as Christians. And I’m trying to get them to see that in the midst of a disarray that is itself the product of a false consciousness. But I think there are ways to begin to see with new eyes. I hope you’ll stay tuned.

  35. Michael Avatar

    Father, bless!

    You wrote:

    None of us will fix the present mess of the ecclesiological state of Christians. But we can at least refrain from adapting Christian teaching to cover the sin of that mess. …

    You also wrote:

    .. if you do not believe that where you are is the One Church through time, then leave it. Why would you want to be there?

    I want to follow up on this with two observations, concerning people who are “converting” to Orthodoxy in order to pursue agendas which have nothing to do with the Church at all.

    First, Fr. Peter Heers has publicly warned that adherents of the so-called “Traditionalist” or “Perennialist” philosophy of Julius Evola and Rene Guenon are gradually “converting” to Orthodoxy, not because it is the One Church, but because it is the “best of the bunch” and the “least” compromised” of the “churches.” Alexander Dugin in Russia is a clear example of this, and we are now seeing it in the Anglosphere as well. There is a pseudonymous blogger who posts under the name of “Mark Citadel” who is ostensibly Orthodox, and who is pushing the “Perennialist” line.

    The other example is the number of people of the so-called “Religious Right” in the U.S. who are (in my opinion) using the Orthodox Church as a “flag of convenience” in order to wage an essentially secular political battle. I have, reluctantly and with sadness, concluded that the columnist Rod Dreher is one of these people. His insistence that being “small-o orthodox” is all that really counts, tells me that secular politics is his only true religious faith. This is an American version of the Phyletism which has so plagued the Churches in Balkan countries, in which (for example) you can be “Greek Orthodox” without being an Orthodox Greek. What this leads to is a Religious Right version of the “Branch Theory” of ecumenism. A good example of what I am talking about is this post:


    I have referred him to the great treatise by St. Hilarion Troitsky, “Christianity or the Church.” He has responded by either downplaying its significance, or by explicitly rejecting the parts he doesn’t like. It is one thing to be new to the Orthodox faith, and not to fully understand certain things at first. This is why I gave Dreher the benefit of every possible doubt for years. However, when you are directly confronted with the clear apostolic teaching of the Church, and you explicitly and publicly reject that teaching, then I begin to doubt if you were ever sincere to begin with.

    Ultimately, this is a problem our bishops will have to deal with. Canonical sanctions are a last resort, and I am no advocate of squashing grasshoppers with sledgehammers. However, if that is what it takes to preserve Orthodox ecclesiology, and to prevent subversion of the Church by outside elements, then so be it. Those who publicly claim to be Orthodox, and who publicly deny the plain apostolic teachings on the Church, need to be held to account for this in some way.

    As you say, we cannot fix the ecclessiological mess outside our borders. On the other hand, “judgment begins in God’s house” and we must keep our own house in order.

  36. Christopher Avatar

    “I think you are not entirely well-informed on this.”

    “Our own church holds that rapprochement between the various Christian churches and fellowship among them is not excluded by the doctrinal differences which exist among them…. It would be useful in many ways for the real interest of each particular church and of the whole Christian body, and also for the preparation and advancement of that blessed union which will be completed in the future in accordance with the will of God… Finally, it is the duty of the churches which bear the sacred name of Christ not to forget or neglect any longer his new and great commandment of love. Nor should they continue to fall piteously behind the political authorities, who, truly applying the spirit of the Gospel and the teaching of Christ, have under happy auspices already set up the so-called League of Nations in order to defend justice and cultivate charity and agreement among the nations….”

    (Synodal letter of the Partriarchal Throne, probably penned by Germanus V, 1920)

    “The commitment of the Ecumenical Patriarchate to the vision and mission of the WCC – from the early formative and creative years through even the more difficult and contentious moments – has always been unwavering and paramount…”

    Bartholmew I, 2012

    As far as the American “jurisdictions”, they all are explicitly committed to these visible manifestations of (i.e. WCC and NCC) of the secular yes to ““Is Christ divided?” (1 Cor. 1:13)” excepting perhaps (as I noted) ROCOR and the Antiochians (neither of which is part of the NCC).

    Despite some (important?) internal hand wringing, the men in black remain explicitly committed.

    I would go as far as to say that the Church of the East IS the ecumenical church in way that even outdoes the protestants, and as such, have internalized ” the concepts of modernity.”. This is defended of course along “…peace, goodwill among men” lines of thought. I used to think it was nativity – it is now clearly a deep internalization of modernity…

  37. Protopresbyter Peter Heers Avatar

    Father Stephen,

    How might I correspond with you personally, by email?

    Thank you.

    Fr. Peter

  38. Mary E. Lanser Avatar
    Mary E. Lanser

    Oh yes, Father Stephen!! The heart of your message is in no way marred by my own observations and I agree with you more than I can express here and am heartened to know that you are going to serialize your thoughts on the matter because so often we get sound bites and do not have the opportunity to think things all the way through with guidance. And there always seems to be a disconnect between an expression of truth and the putting of that truth into practice and that is something that is of great concern to me as a person and as a member of an Orthodox jurisdiction because we operate at two levels at very least as Orthodox Catholics in the world. I am very much looking forward to this series you are unfolding. Forgive me that my first posts seemed so critical. They were not meant to be destructive in any way!!….Mary

  39. Psalti Avatar

    The point of this article is important. I look forward to hearing more.

  40. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    One of the hallmarks of the modern mind is while great pains are taken to dissect everything so that the whole is not seen, we are also directed to not discern or discriminate : all choices are equally valid. Everything becomes an idea.

    That is antithetical to the Gospel and to the incarnate reality of the Church.

    The Truth is neither an idea nor does it exist in parts and pieces scattered hither, thither and yon.

    The Truth is a person. The Church if she is anything is the visible expression of that person.

    There can be only one.

    Those outside the Church can and do share in elements of the one, but the Church is the source through which the truth is made known and the experience of the truth is manifested. That life-giving reality flows in such abundance even in our truncated lives that it cannot be contained.

  41. drewster2000 Avatar

    Fr. Stephen,

    This is my attempt to understand your point concerning the Church and its wholeness. It is in raw form but I know from experience that I must comment while the topic is fresh in the communal mind (strike while the irons hot) if I am to gain the benefit of correction by the same.

    I am one of those who has entertained the idea of the one mystical church. I can tell from your thoughts that this is wrong. It always seemed to have holes in it but it was the closest answer I had when my intuition told me that there is a unity at some level.

    I still believe there is cohesion at some level. We can go back to saying that we are all God’s children, all descended from Him through Adam. I could perhaps parallel that analogy and say that we are all the Church but some don’t manifest it – or do so to varying levels of correctness, fullness or clarity. While I still don’t have confidence in this answer, I think it draws closer to the truth.

    One of the things that get in the way of discerning a better understanding of the Church and its place is the concern of who’s in and who’s out. No one wants to be left out. This is quite understandable. My heart tells me that we are all in. God didn’t create any of us for the purpose of perishing.

    But somehow we must put that foundational truth aside when we are discussing how to be the Church. My brother may be a Hindu, atheist, or devil-worshiper, but he is still my brother. But as a Christian I have a better chance of growing closer to my Creator and exemplifying true and redeemed humanity to those around me.

    some raw thoughts…

  42. Mark Citadel Avatar

    Father Freeman, I was deeply touched by this piece, both its frankness and its intellectual rigor.

    As an (imperfect) Orthodox Christian myself, to have a father stand for the truth of God in relation to Modernity is truly inspiring. Many ignored thinkers since the so-called ‘Enlightenment’ have warned us time and time again about the necessary conflict between Tradition and Modernity, but so many compromisers are willing to immerse themselves into the boiling water of this truly dark age. They embrace secularism, suffrage democracy, humanism, and all other such bile because they want to be of the world, not of the Divine Realm. They spit on the ancestors, the upholders of the faith!

    It is my deepest hope that Eastern Europe at least will disentangle itself from this evil before it swallows the West in anarchy and eventually the black flag of Islam. We can preserve Occidental Christianity in the East, but we must return to those principles that all Christians once considered unquestionable. We must, in the words of Evola, revolt against the modern world! Let us suffer no delusions, not a single ‘Christian’ country remains in the West. All of them are oriented against God, and worse still, are proud of it. Are we to abandon our centuries’ old principles to be approved of by the faux elites in the United States and elsewhere? I say, NO!

    God bless you, and God bless the one apostolic church!

    Let the cry ring out from the snow-blasted Carpathians to the fields of Serbia, the same cry of generation upon generation of holy soldiers and martyrs.


  43. EPG Avatar

    “On your street, one family is German, another is Polish, another is Greek and a third counts themselves as American. Each of you has separate loyalties. If they have political or state needs, they apply to their own preferred identity. You can change “nationality” pretty much at will. Some people have been members of a half dozen different states, depending on who has the more attractive programs, etc.”

    Writer Neal Stephenson has posited just such an arrangement in at least two of his novels, Snow Crash and The Diamond Age, each of which is set in a dystopian future in which consumerism underlies ever aspect of society. Both novels have many flaws, but the worlds Stephenson portrays are fascinating, and disturbing (deliberately so).

  44. Leonard Nugent Avatar
    Leonard Nugent

    I agree that Lumen Gentium and the whole of Vatican 2 is not being implemented properly. One problem is that the majority of people who concern themselves with the implementation know little or nothing about the Orthodox. I’ve said many times that there are two groups involved, one thinks the church is 50 years old and the other believes it to be 500 years old. Until that is overcome little progress will be made.

  45. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    I’m not familiar with M. Citadel, but I am familiar with the Perennialist philosophy. It is an alluring compromise with Modernity (funny that they don’t see this).

    I know Rod Dreher, and have close friends who know him even better. I find his work too political…but he’s a journalist and not a theologian. It is doubtless good to engage him about errors. He’s not in-correctable. Many, even most, priests are not actually trained in theology. They are trained in dogma, which is utterly necessary. The problem and limitation of this is that to think through and discern the way forward, we must “think doctrinally” (or some such thing). It’s basically what I’m doing in these works on Modernity. I’m working on a book that pulls all of this together, but I keep writing and it delays the book. Pray for that, if you will.

    I sometimes like to suggest to people that they learn to engage in a “thought experiment” – or at least those who want to use theology more widely. What I mean by that includes being able to use the imagination to think about possibilities. “What would it look like if … were true?” When I was doing doctoral studies in Systematic Theology, we had to read massive amounts of theology that was just junk. Pretty much everybody’s stuff. Even Rosemary Radford Reuther! I recall in a seminar on her systematic, the presenter’s paper described the doctrine of God found in her work. When he finished, there was a stunned silence in the room (it was just that bad). Then someone quietly said, “That’s the Force in Star Wars isn’t it?” The room fell apart in howls of laughter. It was absolutely spot on!

    But some of that training helped me to get over reading very repugnant things – and to be able to think more carefully about what a fitting critique would be.

    People assert all kinds of things, most of which go unexamined. As we move forward thinking about the One Church in modernity, I’ll be pointing us to our unexpressed assumptions. Christianity has been hijacked. We need to think carefully.

  46. Ben Rinehart Avatar
    Ben Rinehart

    “That indeed is how I understand Hauerwas. The King was relativized. It was his war and there was only so much he could ask. But in the modern nation state, every war is our war against them. We hate them, etc. The “total war” invented in the 20th century made everybody a legitimate target. Everybody is the state. It’s demonic.”

    I generally view this in the lens of another very important dichotomy between the modern age and that of the previous classical Christian era: that of the Overthrow of Christian Monarchy.

    In a nutshell, the locus of power shifts from God to “the People.” When this occurs is up for debate but I believe it fundamentally changed the nature of power in the world, and this itself is a large demonic root of our Modern Problem.

    At first this trend kept monarchy alive in word only using Constitutional Monarchy to rule by retaining the monarch but removing his power (for instance with the Magna Carta) and giving it to the people. Then, after “the people” had sucked all of his power from him by convincing him to abrogate his divinely given powers to them instead of retaining them as was his God-given right, they discarded him and chose instead “democracy. ”

    Democracy itself has taken several economic forms in the modern era (Capitalist, Socialism, Communist) but it is clear that even in those societies where monarchs still reign, they are reigning at the will and behest of the people and not of God. They fear the people, but do not fear God. Imagine what would happen if in several years the future King Charles of England chose to excercise his divine right as King to veto some anti-Christian legislation, the people would have his head and the UK would revert to a democracy by the “will of the people.”

  47. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Michael , not to downplay your observation or its reality but the Church has always had such people. She likely always will. Ideally we converts should not speak on matters of the Church until our confessor believes it prudent. That level of patience and obedience is rare unfortunately. Itself part of the modern mind.

    I learn the most when I am challeged. Keep up the respectful challenges. They might do more good than you realize. The truth has a way if taking root in a person’s heart and baring fruit latter.

    We live in a heretical world a world full of apostasy and blasphemy–not surprising if we are deeply affected. We need each other.

    We need to pray especially for our priests and bishops — I can only imagine the various temptations and attacks to which they are subject. May God bless them, guard them and strengthen them.

    Especially you For. Stephen.

  48. Christopher Avatar


    You approach Dreher from an angle I had not quite thought about before. I have been assuming a “practical” angle to the small “o” stuff (and that a big “O” was presupposed/understood) – I will have to give it more thought. The question I have, is there a place for a “small o” paradigm in our relations with our natural allies in the culture?

    On the other hand, Dreher is a political/cultural commentator. I would be weary of saying that this level is all that “counts” to him. His poignant writing about the recent death of his father (or him and his son at services during during Holy Week) tells me his Orthodoxy and “spirituality” (hate to put it that way) is more than some utilitarian possession subsumed under a political eschatology. I did exactly see such a thing in piece you linked.

    I think the fact that it is he who seems to be leading the charge on “the Benedict option” from a practical and even “theological” point of view (Fr. Stephens work notwithstanding) is a sad indictment on the current state of something that might be termed “leadership” in the English speaking/western Orthodox world. But then, I do not fully side with the “we are not worth the effort” evaluation of Fr. Stephens article either so for me it is a more present concern…

  49. Alan Avatar

    Father, When I first read this post, I thought it was great. Then I did about 15 minutes of light “research”, and realized that this post is truly outstanding.

    To your readers I suggest going to Amazon and looking up the book that Father Stephen mentions, “The Voices of Morebath: Reformation and Rebellion in an English Village.” Like many books on that site, you can “Look Inside” this book and read the introduction. Doing that, along with a basic reading up on the Prayer Book Rebellion (1549) will help you, I believe, to really get what Father Stephen is refering to in this post.

  50. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    I think that had I read The voices of Morebath when I was in seminary (Anglican), I would simply have quit in disgust. It is interesting to me that in a seminary that was completely enamored of a critical approach to everything – the treatment of “Anglican” history was not one of them. I’ve read other works of Duffy, equally devastating in their analysis. I came to the conclusion that Henry VIII was one of the most evil kings in English history and that the Reform in England was foisted on a population who wanted none of it. It was from the top down, driven by academics and political figures. Having watched modern academics shove stuff down people’s throats, it made me want to gag. Duffy is a must read.

  51. William Tighe Avatar
    William Tighe

    A “Duffy reader:”

    In addition to *The Voices of Morebath* there are three other related books by Duffy that one could read with profit:

    *The Stripping of the Altars: Traditional Religion in England 1400-1580,* Yale University Press, 1992 (ISBN: 9780300060768)

    *Fires of Faith: Catholic England Under Mary Tudor,* Yale University Press, 2009 (ISBN: 9780300168891)

    *Saints, Sacrilege and Sedition: Religion and Conflict in the Tudor Reformations,* Bloomsbury Publishing, 2012 (ISBN: 9781441181176).

    The first is Duffy’s magnum opus, long but too short, which unfolds and explains “traditional religion” in England at the time of the Reformation, and then chronicles its dismantling and destruction from the 1530s through the 1590s; the second, perhaps the most difficult to read, discusses the Marian restoration of Catholicism in its various facets, and insists that the persecution of “obstinate” dissidents was an essential, and successful, aspect of that restoration; and the third is a book of essays, some previously published, others not, about various aspects of the English Reformation, including its long-term effects on shaping English “national consciousness.”

    Another related book, written by a scholar who characterizes himself in its preface as an “agnostic Anglican,” but which outstrips Duffy in its emphasis on the unpopularity of the Reformation and Protestant soteriological notions among the common people, is *English Reformations: Religion, Politics, and Society under the Tudors* by Christopher Haigh (Oxford University Press, 1993; ISBN: 9780198221623).

  52. Boyd Camak Avatar
    Boyd Camak

    Anyone read Howe’s “Our Anglican Heritage?”

  53. Lina Avatar

    I recently received an email from Christianity Today announcing a new venture.. I am not quite sure what it is trying to attempt. However, the title of this new venture is ‘Beautiful Orthodoxy.’ Has anyone else seen this?

  54. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    No, but I’m skeptical.

  55. Wordsmyth Avatar

    Father Stephen,

    Perhaps my question is not exactly on point, but I wonder if Roman Catholics, Oriental Orthodox, Old Believers, etc. are not “denominations” from the Eastern Orthodox point of view, despite not having origins in the Reformation.

    I’ve heard that Fr. Schmemann believed that all Christians (whether Orthodox or not) were ontologically linked.

    If the Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, and Oriental Orthodox all claim to be the Body of Christ to the exclusion of the others, somebody is wrong.

    I’ve been reading Orthodox criticisms of 40,000 Protestant denominations for years. But divisions existed long before the Reformation.

    I find all this troubling. “Is Christ divided?” No, but … apparently his followers are, and each faction says the others have it wrong.

  56. Leonard Nugent Avatar
    Leonard Nugent

    The pilgrimage of Grace was a good indication of where the reform in England came from. It ended with Robert Aske hanging from chains until he died and then left there until he was nothing but bones.

  57. Jacob Avatar

    This was an excellent post on historic Christian society and the rise of the nation state, until the part about the modern ecumenical movement started, at which point it devolved into equivocation (there are many types of ecumenism, not one heretical monolith) and a very unsophisticated critique of Lumen Gentium’s “subsistit in.”

    Ecumenism that understands Orthodoxy and Catholicism in a historically accurate way understands that we have largely the same theology, the same ecclesiology (yes, including “subsistit in”), and equivalent religious cultures.

  58. Jacob Avatar

    I will add that Catholic-Orthodox and Oriental-Orthodox ecumenism are unique among modern ecumenical movements in that they are not centered around papering over differences, but rather healing historic divides to the extent possible. Their aim is atoning for past sins, not ignoring the effects of those sins.

  59. Dana Avatar

    Honest to God, I am overwhelmed and filled with dread and despair over this issue. What is the Church? I’ve never received a straight answer to this. Why did Christ leave his followers and those who would hear them with such ambiguity in meaning and structure? I can only imagine that it was intentional—that there is a meaning to our factionalism—perhaps it is a test, or an obstacle to be overcome. If there is no meaning to it—if those who seek to follow Christ cannot do so in unity because Christ failed to give us the power to do so—what kind of a leader does that make our Lord?

    It fills me with unfathomable anxiety that I am like a child—wanting something as simple and good as unity—but never understanding why it cannot be possible, why it has never been possible. Must every Christian read thousands of years of history, understand the project of modernity, be versed in Hegelian dialectic, German idealism, Biblical Criticism, conflicting Patristic discourses and texts etc. in order to set their minds and spirits free? No—it cannot be. The deeper I dive into these waters the more I find myself slipping into total madness, total chaos.

    How are we to understand anything at all? Did Christ not leave us with a voice to speak on our behalf? Is there no indisputable authority? If the Church does not contain this voice, if it is *not* this voice, and if we have no or little access to this voice, then I cannot see the point of a Church at all. Saints in heaven, pray for us, like me, who do not understand this madness.

  60. Dino Avatar

    I wouldn’t heed those thoughts. Your perfectly plausible dread and despair over this issue might predominantly stem from the proximity we all have to this madness nowadays. Just as being in the crazy Coliseum in the early days of Christianity and witnessing the madness of that persecution could have driven us to despair through (essentially) ‘not seeing the forest for the trees’, and even produce questions about ‘where is God?’ – failing to comprehend that God never takes these questions away form us if we don’t: Just as we see God expecting (demanding even) his people’s trust in Exodus (even if nothing short of a most incredible miracle could save them from the Egyptians or from being parched in the desert or starved to death etc.), a hope in Him against an apparent ‘absence’ of logical leadership by Him, so too, it is in the predicament you described. There is a hidden victory even in this failure. Due to our falleness (which actually includes a real ‘evolutionary’ degeneration) and the greater falleness of the place in history we find ourselves, we might often have these thoughts. Thoughts can be one way today and another tomorrow though…
    Generally the “lack of meaning” is always a corollary of our misused freedom which God respects or else our high calling to ‘Theosis’ could not stand. Our trust despite a seemingly desperate state though, is rooted in His ability to eventually extract meaning even from such an apparently ‘existentially meaningless’ state. It is from chaos that He can bring forth His Light to shine upon us – even if we don’t get to see this in the next few hours, or months or years as we might like.
    There’s a period in the life of all Saints who were once ‘addict’s that –at the time- would have produced even worse thoughts about there being no point at all to what their life was at the time. But in the end they realize that man cannot be saved -while his freedom (obviously) also being safeguarded- through any other route.

  61. Dino Avatar

    …not advocating any external chiliastic peace on earth here BTW, (rather more speaking of Christ eventually being all in all).

  62. Robert Avatar


    Never in the history of time and of the Church was it clear as to who is who and what is what. We delude and seduce ourselves when we think otherwise, or imagine we can understand without the gift of the Holy Spirit.

    We take it as Gospel that the wheat and the tares grow together, side by side. Why this paradoxical arrangement is allowed, we may never know. But it is a reality nonetheless. So mankind lives in a tension, a paradox in which things are not always what they may seem, a paradox marked by complexities and ambiguities.

    Now there are several ways to come to terms with this. One such is to explain away the complexities with black and white constructs – everything is clear and there are no mysteries. Another response is to allow anger and despair to fester – the arrangements are wrong and someone is surely to blame! Another approach is one of agnosticism, a capitulation to meaninglessness and irrationality – nothing can be known because nothing has been known because paradox is all there is.
    Yet another response is faith. A faith in God who is present, who has made himself known in the midst of ambiguity and complexity.

  63. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Indeed schism produces just such oddities. It would be worthwhile, perhaps, to read about the Novatianist schism and how it was treated in its time. It was not as large as the Great Schism, but was not insignificant.

    Viz. Fr Schmemann, if there is any link at all, it is ontological. I would agree that there is such a link. But it is not a link “between Churches”. That is not the right way to speak of it or think of it. Another article is coming.

  64. Bob Avatar

    Isn’t the claim we are the One True Church a modernistic claim itself

  65. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    There is not an easy intellectual resolve in this, an easy way to understand it. But all things are sent from God, so the patience that Dino describes is important.

    I’m writing a follow up that I hope will be of help. I think that we cannot resolve the divisions that exist. It is not given to us to do that. But we must not give up the Apostolic teaching of the truth that the Church is One, and in a concrete manner. What is necessary is to learn to live without being able to resolve certain things, while living fully into what has indeed been given us. I am an Orthodox Christian. I believe that it is simply the case that the Eastern Orthodox Church is historically and ontologically that One Church founded by Christ. It is the fullness of that life. There is a conversation with the Oriental Orthodox and the Catholics that has the advantage of a largely common understanding of the Church. It is possible with them to speak of the Church without lapsing into the madness of modernism. This is not so easy with Protestants. If there is a single great error within Protestantism it is in their understanding of the Church. That is largely a fact created by how they came into existence in the first place.

    But we are always surrounded by brokenness and a sort of madness. Christ’s leadership is found in the Cross. There He enters our madness and brokenness and it is precisely there that we find Him.

    If an Orthodox Christian rashly declares that he is part of the One Church, as though that were some sort of institutional reality, then he will miss the point. It is a dynamic reality of the Church and is found in the Cross. The union we have with Christ is also the “One” of the “One Church.”

    When I come to communion each Sunday, I cannot approach the Cup as though it were static. I have to come to it as the Cross, as that place where I am emptying myself and dying, where the reality of my brokenness is revealed and no longer hidden. I only find Christ in my sin and my weakness, not in my strength or excellence.

    The “One” of the “One Church” breaks me, and even crushes me (for the good). It draws me to itself (to Christ) and in the fullness of its light it reveals all that within me hates the “One.”

    The madness of modern Christianity is similar to the problem of evil. And apparently God saves us that way.

    When I was not Orthodox, it haunted me. Not so much as a conundrum, but as a possibility. I began to read the Fathers in the early ’70’s. I encountered some modern Orthodox writing. I heard things there that pointed to a reality and a union with God that made me ache. I ached throughout my 18 years as an Anglican priest. I turned the question every possible way I could imagine (the question of Church). Finally, the question, by God’s grace, became overwhelming in its precision. It ceased to be a large, vague thing, and began to be more and more precise. It was finally as precise as leaving my job, etc., and taking my family into the Orthodox Church. But that was not a matter of seeking institutional shelter. It was a matter of the unavoidable encounter with God and union with Him – in the fullness of the truth.

    Like Peter, I could have looked at so many others and said, “But Lord, what do you want them to do?” And I would be told that it’s none of my business. My business is to share what I know.

    If at the end of any day, I felt perfectly at peace and had an intellectual satisfaction that everything was in its proper place (the pain of the madness had ceased), then I think I would be in great delusion. The answer to union is in the Cross of Christ. That, however, is not a vague thing, or something removed from the Church. The Cross is the Church and it is extremely specific, even transcendently so. Jesus did not die for “Sin” in a general sense. He died for each sin in the most particular sense.

    The Church as One and Concrete is the scandal of particularity. It is “this” and not “that.” If it were otherwise, we could just ignore it. Here is a long quote from Fr. G. Florovsky on the ecumenical question. It is worth thinking long about.

    Orthodoxy is summoned to witness. Now more than ever the Christian West stands before divergent prospects, a living question addressed also to the Orthodox world. Therein lies the entire significance of the so-called “ecumenical movement.” Orthodox theology is called to show that this “ecumenical question” can only be decided through the consummation of the Church in the fulness of a catholic tradition that is unpolluted and inviolable, yet constantly renewing itself and growing. Again, return is possible only through “crisis,” for the path to Christian recovery is critical, not irenical. The old “polemical theology” has long ago lost its inner connection with any reality. Such theology was an academic discipline, and was always elaborated according to the same western “textbooks.” A historiosophical exegesis of the western religious tragedy must become the new “polemical theology.” But this tragedy must be reendured and relived, precisely as one’s own, and its potential catharsis must be demonstrated in the fulness of the experience of the Church and patristic tradition. In this newly sought Orthodox synthesis, the centuries-old experience of the Catholic West must be studied and diagnosed by Orthodox theology with greater care and sympathy than has been the case up to now.

  66. Boyd Camak Avatar
    Boyd Camak

    Fr. Stephen,

    Did you see God working in your Anglican parish? I see God working in mine, though I also ache.

  67. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Well, the Church has formally confessed itself as “One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic” since nearly its beginning. We cannot confess to be the “One” Church and not be the “true” Church. But actually, only the Orthodox and Catholics say this without being weird. If a Church founded in Kentucky in the 1800’s claims to be the “one true Church,” then that is strange and weird. But the Orthodox were saying this when there was no other Church. And we haven’t quit saying it just because others are doing something else. If we no longer confess ourselves to be what we always have been, then we are no longer Orthodox, and there will be no witness remaining to that original meaning of One. That would be modernism triumphant.

    Generally, the Orthodox don’t say “one true Church.” The words of the Creed are sufficient.

  68. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Yes, I did. I was also tragically aware of how quickly distorted that work became. The priest who is now the Rector of my first parish, publicly announced his joy at the Obergefell decision and that he couldn’t wait to perform his first same-sex marriage. And that seems to be just fine with everybody. They are lovely people and still speak of me with great affection. But my work, with a few exceptions, was hay, wood and stubble. It could have been more. Interestingly, a couple in that parish converted to Orthodoxy back in the mid-90’s. And they largely gave me credit for pointing them there. They, in turn, introduced me to the OCA and Archbishop Dmitri, where a few years later I myself became Orthodox. That same couple a few years later, served as sponsors for my 79 year-old parents when they were received into the Orthodox Church.

    Other individual stories are surely known to God. He is always and everywhere working for our salvation. But there was no foundation underneath the work I did and it crumbles so easily. It’s hard enough as an Orthodox priest. But I know that in a few decades when I lay beneath the sod, the priest at the parish I founded will likely confess the true faith. And, I feel almost certain, he will do a greater work than I have.

    I haven’t been responsible to solve the large problems. I’ve only been able to drag my sorry soul into a place where God might do something with it. And, I am staggered by what He has done – at least around me. When I converted, I thought that the rest of my life would be in a store-front Church, living in a trailer park. And I chose to do it because there was finally no other choice. As it turned out, I was wrong about my life. I am blessed to the point of embarrassment. But I would rather be in the store-front and trailer park than not be here at all.

  69. Leonard Nugent Avatar
    Leonard Nugent

    While none of us can heal the great schism and it will probably exist until the end of time I try to imagine that at the fearsome judgment seat of Christ the possibility that he might ask me to explain it to him and then ask my opinion of it.

  70. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Dana, part of what leads to your quandary is the modern insistence on egalitarianism. The various claims to being the true Church are not of equal standing. Most can rather easily be discounted. Discounted without going heresy hunting.

    I like Fr Stephen’s term: fullness.

    Some criteria are inevitably subjective because faith is experiential. There are only three bodies which can reasonably lay claim to the One: we Orthodox; the Oriental non- Chalcedonians; the RCC.

    Simplistically a rational discernment can be made between the Orthodox and the Orientals on whether one accepts the decrees of Chalcedon and the subsequent Councils or not. The fundamental divide between the Orthodox and the RCC is and always has been the authority of the Bishop of Rome.

    The rest of the squabbles internal and external is just sin. No one is asked or required to defend sin. The existence of sin in the Church should surprise no one. We are all sick. Where is the best hospital that has the most proven method of healing?

    Where do you experience the fullness of the truth even when that fullness is not often realized fully?

    As long as you will not settle for a lie in your own heart, it makes little difference where you start. Let your eye be single…..

    Wherever you see the truth, rejoice. That is a great gift.

    Read the Book of Job. Offer all things to God in thanksgiving–even your doubts and fears.

    Psalms 22 and 23 (western numbering)

    Lord have mercy.

  71. Christopher Avatar


    Well spoken, well spoken.

    I have observed the modern ecumenical movement for a long time (>20 years). It’s existence and the Orthodox’s leadership in it (participation is too weak of a word) delayed my entrance into the Church for about a year. It is all about *what* (and who) IS the Church.

    Here is one for ya: our bishop visited our parish a few months ago. Someone asked him a question I don’t remember. The answer was, and I quote:

    “The Orthodox would be in communion with Rome if it was not for Moscow”

    Don’t try to swallow that one in one setting, it is too big (and, for goodness sake, don’t dismiss it as a “throw away line” – it emblematic of the ecumenical movement on at least two very important levels I can think of).

    Some time back, I asked one of the other bloggers here at Ancient Faith who is an implacable champion of ecumenism (as are most of our bishops and seminary professionals are) and a sort of student of Florovsky: “What would it look like for Florvsky, Germanus V and his successors, et al. to take *responsibility* for what the modern ecumenical movement has become? What would be their evaluation now of the beast they created?” I have always wondered at the non-answers I get to this and similar hard questions (such as ontology behind Church-behind-ecumenism, etc.). The old re-runs of “witness” and “peace, goodwill among men” answers I rejected 20 years ago, and I reject today – as anyone should who looks past the sentimental and/or modern answers.

    I will have to ponder this:

    “Again, return is possible only through “crisis,” for the path to Christian recovery is critical, not irenical…But this tragedy must be reendured and relived, precisely as one’s own, and its potential catharsis must be demonstrated in the fulness of the experience of the Church and patristic tradition.”

    ‘…critical, not irenical…precisely as one own…’. Anyone who does not see the depth in the those hard words has not seriously accessed the situation.

    Still, I have been here before. Just when the Orthodox leadership in the ecumenical movement/philosophy starts making sense, it collapses back into madness. If it truly IS the Cross, so be it. However, I see too much delusion and madness around the subject to believe that now. I look forward to the your next post Fr. Stephen…

  72. Boyd Camak Avatar
    Boyd Camak

    Fr. Stephen,

    Did your family just follow you in? Or did they wrestle too?

  73. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Again, I know many of the bishops (OCA) and many of the faculty (St. Vlad’s and St. Tikhon’s), and frankly, they are not nearly so ecumenical as I think you fear. I try to be generally pleasant on the topic, but I have almost no ecumenical bones in my body. I would agree that the EP is far more “ecumenical” in the modern sense than is proper (I think). And Moscow is, fortunately, quite implacable on the topic. But Moscow is far from alone. Again, fortunately, Orthodoxy is not a single patriarch. Thus, the leanings of one is not the same thing as the leaning of all. I believe that ecumenism is actually less popular now than say 50 years ago. I think the trend is away from it.

    On Florovsky, he would be beyond scandalized at what became of the World Council.

  74. Christopher Avatar

    Fr, I think you meant myself and not Robert. According “the student”, Florovsky by the end of his life was quite critical – and yet, quite committed.

    The thing is (having just read your new post) your critique can be turned ‘inward’ (i.e Orthodoxy) as much as ‘outward’ (everyone else). I will say more on on that post…

  75. Texan Avatar

    Father Stephen,

    Thank you for this wonderful, timely, and thought-provoking essay. I struggle much of the time to make sense of the messy state of Christianity in our country and how we arrived at this point. You help clear the waters a bit.

    Your essay makes me believe even more than the protestant reformation was the worst thing to happen to mankind in Western Civilization. Yes, the original reformers may have had good intentions, but as the saying goes, “the road to hell is paved with good intentions.”

    And even I, as an Orthodox Christian, struggle with the fruit of the reformation. We go to a small mission parish (storefront, as many are), with no “programs” at all (we are too small), our choir sounds like it’s on its last legs at times (I can say this since I sing in the choir), and we have irregular/inconsistent attendance and struggle maintaining a consistent monthly income.

    Most of my friends are not Orthodox, and many go to larger protestant or mega-churches or even to Catholic churches that have childcare (or at least separate rooms where you can take your children to calm down), large choirs, men’s and women’s groups that meet a couple times a week at night, etc. Those things sound so attractive. If it were not for the vapidity and emptiness of worship at these places, I would be inclined to go. Yet the depth and truth of Orthodoxy continues to draw me back, despite the struggles and the lack of creature comforts.

    I have friends who were seriously interested in Orthodoxy but never went through with it because they liked the childcare offered by their protestant church. (An aside: I feel bad for their kids. My 2-year-old son absolutely loves icons, candles, vestments, incense, receiving Holy Communion and the blessed bread, etc.. He continually points out “Jesus” and “Jesus’s Mommy” in our iconography at church. We go to church and he says, “Where’s Jesus?”)

    I realize that some of what I wrote above is complaining. But what do you say to a friend when they ask why do you go to a small, storefront Orthodox church when you could come to our presbyterian/Baptist/Methodist/Catholic/whatever church that has childcare, a coffeeshop, a large established choir, etc. In my heart I know the answer — because Christ draws me to Himself and to His Church — but this never comes out sensibly in words and probably sounds offensive to them. And how to stop feeling sorry for ourselves that we don’t have a large, established church building like the protestants down the street?

  76. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    The answer is simple: “I believe it to be the truth.” About half my congregation on Sundays is young children. It’s often quite chaotic. But, I think it’s how Church is supposed to look. There is only one place in the universe without children: hell. Why would we want the Divine Liturgy to mirror hell?

    Just do the truth. Tell the truth. Apologize if it offends, but keep telling the truth. We are called to suffer a little bit.

  77. Byron Avatar

    But what do you say to a friend when they ask why do you go to a small, storefront Orthodox church when you could come to our presbyterian/Baptist/Methodist/Catholic/whatever church that has childcare, a coffeeshop, a large established choir, etc. In my heart I know the answer — because Christ draws me to Himself and to His Church — but this never comes out sensibly in words and probably sounds offensive to them. And how to stop feeling sorry for ourselves that we don’t have a large, established church building like the protestants down the street?

    Texan, I think you’ve answered your own question very well. I wouldn’t worry about it sounding offensive; your friends will realize what you mean and how you mean it. But so much of Orthodoxy (and truth) is experienced, you may add “come and see” to your answer(s).

    I, myself, have found that I do not feel at all “full” when I am not at the parish in worship. In spite of my sometimes dread to enter into God’s presence (due to the nature of myself and “my week”) I am never more loved or full when I am there. That is something I don’t think I could properly put into words when discussing it with others. “Come and see” helps me quite a bit in that regard.

  78. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Texan, the Christian life is messy. It always has been because life is messy.

    A couple of typical ways to deal with the messiness: impose order from above and outside; understand messiness and seek a deeper foundation of reality that is constant despite the messiness.

    If it us true it is dynamically stable and enduring leading to peace and reconciliation. No amount of imposed order can ever match the reality of deeply lived truth.

  79. Mark Citadel Avatar

    If I may defend myself, I am not a Perennialist, nor have I ever claimed to be. This is a vicious slander. In fact, nor were Guenon or Evola. Perennialism and Traditionalism are two schools of thought only tangentially related, confused by people who have only the most basic grasp of early 20th Century scholarship. I would hazard a guess that ‘Michael’ has never picked up Schuon at all, and knows about Perennialism through a Wikipedia entry.

    So I have been attacked by pseudonymous commenter ‘Michael’ who knows nothing about my theological line, which is no different to that of Ivan Ilyin (and I doubt he would question Ilyin’s Orthodoxy for a moment). And the attack on Dugin is also bizarre, as I am sure Dugin has been Orthodox for longer than this ‘Michael’ has been (Baptized at 6), and under much greater threat for being so.

    Alas, these arrows are expected. The faithful Orthodox soldier has always had calumnies and lies heaped upon him. Just look at Codreanu.

    And for the record, I am Orthodox not because it is “least compromised” for I’m sure most honest men would say it is indeed compromised particularly by liberal Western practitioners and profiteers. However, Orthodoxy is the Apostolic Tradition. There are only two churches that have a direct link to the early Christians, and I reject papal supremacy, filioque, etc. as heresy. It says a lot about American Orthodoxy when slander such has just been aimed at me is unchallenged.

  80. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    It says, as far as this American Orthodox is concerned, that we are cautious. I suspect that you are too in your own sphere.

  81. Matth Avatar

    Interestingly, I ran across this piece on the BBC just now. It has a description of a place, a parcel of land, between two parishes, that was effectively outside the bounds of the law until the 19th century, when it was made public land.

    The description really gave some flesh to the outline presented above, specifically about how Christianity gave shape to reality rather than the state. I thought I’d share it here as others may find the story illuminating.

  82. drewster2000 Avatar

    Matth: link?

  83. Matt Avatar

    But what do you say to a friend when they ask why do you go to a small, storefront Orthodox church when you could come to our presbyterian/Baptist/Methodist/Catholic/whatever church that has childcare, a coffeeshop, a large established choir, etc. In my heart I know the answer — because Christ draws me to Himself and to His Church — but this never comes out sensibly in words and probably sounds offensive to them. And how to stop feeling sorry for ourselves that we don’t have a large, established church building like the protestants down the street?

    Which of them, the megachurch or the storefront, looks more like the sort of setup you’d have read about in Acts? 🙂

  84. Mark Citadel Avatar

    Caution is always fair, but across national boundaries, be they American, Russia, Eastern European, etc. at least some spiritual courtesy from people such as ‘Michael’ would be appreciated. Since I have had very productive conversation with Orthodox intellectuals within both Russia and Romania, it is surprising to find this kind of hostility, especially when it is backed up with poor scholarship that classes my work as ‘Perennialist’, when the gulf between myself and someone like Frithjof Schuon is pretty cavernous.

  85. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar
  86. […] Father Stephen Freeman quotes it to open another challenge to the unrenewed, conformist thought patterns of modernity as regards, this time, the Church — and its supplanter, the nation-state. […]

  87. Guy Avatar


    ‘The state was almost an aspect of the church’–how good of a thing was that arrangement? This is still something i struggle with as a new convert (and for semi-Hauerwasian reasons).


  88. Monica Avatar

    Thank you, Dana for sharing your overwhelm, and to you Fr. Stephen, Robert and Dino for your generous responses.

  89. Jim Forest Avatar

    >> Prior to the Reformation, Christians attacked and killed non-Christians. After the Reformation, Christians were glad to kill each other in the name of the state.

    In fact the problem of Christians warring against Christians in Europe before the Reformation was a factor in Pope Urban II’s decision to initiate the first Crusade. Here is an extract from an essay of mine:

    If notable efforts were being made to restrain warriors from killing each other in Christian countries, war against Moslems was a different matter. In 1095 Pope Urban II proclaimed the first Crusade with the goal of gaining Christian control of the holy places in and near Jerusalem.

    While no exact transcription survives of the speech delivered by Urban at the Council of Clermont on 27 November 1095, the chronicler Robert the Monk attributed the following to the pope: “This land which you inhabit … is too confining for your large population … and it furnishes scarcely food enough for its cultivators. Hence it is that you [Christians of Europe] murder one another, that you wage war, and that frequently you perish by mutual wounds. Let therefore hatred depart from among you, let your quarrels end, let wars cease, and let all dissensions and controversies slumber. Enter upon the road to the Holy Sepulcher; wrest that land from the wicked [Moslem] race, and subject it to yourselves … God has conferred upon you above all nations great glory in arms. Accordingly undertake this journey for the remission of your sins, with the assurance of the imperishable glory of the Kingdom of Heaven.” [http://faculty.cua.edu/pennington/Medieval%20Papacy/UrbanSpeech.htm]

    According to Robert, the whole assembly responded, “It is the will of God! It is the will of God!” — words that became the Crusaders’ chant.

    Another participant in the Council, Fulcher of Chartres, recorded that Pope Urban promised pardon for anyone who died while a Crusader: “All who die by the way, whether by land or by sea, or in battle against the pagans, shall have immediate remission of sins. This I grant them through the power of God with which I am invested.”

    Pope Urban added, Fulcher reports: “Let those who have been accustomed unjustly to wage private warfare against the faithful now go against the infidels and end with victory this war which should have been begun long ago. Let those who for a long time, have been robbers, now become knights. Let those who have been fighting against their brothers and relatives now fight in a proper way against the barbarians. Let those who have been serving as mercenaries for small pay now obtain the eternal reward. Let those who have been wearing themselves out in both body and soul now work for a double honor.” [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pope_Urban_II]

    — From “Christianity and the Challenge of Peacemaking”:

    * * *

  90. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    I did not mean to put forward a trenchant fact, but simply to quote Stanley Hauerwas…he was generalizing.

  91. Jim Forest Avatar

    Thanks for the note! I understood that but failed to make it clear. I greatly respect Hauerwas but on this occasion he grossly oversimplified our all too blood-stained Christian history.

  92. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    I recall the context of his statement being in a conversation about the rise of the nation state. His point was primarily about the creation of a new loyalty, one that trumped the Church. He thought that a failure of democracy was its natural tendency of “total war.” It’s not the king’s war, it’s everybody’s war.

  93. Christopher Avatar

    “…This land which you inhabit … is too confining for your large population … and it furnishes scarcely food enough for its cultivators. Hence it is that you [Christians of Europe] murder one another,… Accordingly undertake this journey for the remission of your sins, with the assurance of the imperishable glory of the Kingdom of Heaven….”

    Pope Urban II, a proto-fascist? 😉

  94. Jim Forest Avatar

    Re nationalism and the Reformation: Erasmus of Rotterdam saw how nationalism, one of the driving forces of the Reformation, was taking precedence over the baptismal bonds that unite all believers:

    “The populace is now incited to war by insinuations and propaganda, by claims that the Englishman is the natural enemy of the Frenchman and the like…. How can anything so frivolous as a name outweigh the ties of nature and the bonds of Christianity? The Rhine separates the French from the German but it cannot divide the Christian from the Christian. The Pyrenees lie between the French and the Spaniards but cannot break the indissoluble bond of the communion of the Church…. In the midst of the non-Christian world Christians are set as a city on a hill to give light, but how will they move the heathen to embrace the faith when they so contend among themselves? If we would bring the Turks to Christianity we must first be Christians…. How impious are those who think blessedness can be attained by war, seeing that blessedness consists of the ineffable communion of souls.”

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