Unecumenism and the Sins of All

crumbling-churchThe concept of the One Church shifted during the Reformation. I offer a case in point as well as a reflection on how it changes our current understanding.

The old Anglican Book of Common Prayer offers one of the early examples of a subtle shift in Christian thinking and speech. In the Thanksgiving after Communion we read:

Almighty and everliving God, we most heartily thank thee for that thou dost feed us, in these holy mysteries, with the spiritual food of the most precious Body and Blood of thy Son our Savior Jesus Christ; and dost assure us thereby of thy favor and goodness towards us; and that we are very members incorporate in the mystical body of thy Son, the blessed company of all faithful people…

Here we have the context for a new meaning of the “one Church.” Thomas Cranmer wrote this prayer for his first prayer book (1549), and it has continued its presence in subsequent versions. Like all of Cranmer’s prose, it is a thing of beauty. But Archbishop Cranmer would need to answer some serious questions:

Does “the blessed company of all faithful people” include the Roman Catholics that you assisted your King in overturning? Does it include all of the monastics butchered by your king so he could steal their lands? Does it include the Pope?

The fact is, Cranmer would have excluded them. They were not “faithful” people, because they held to the Catholic faith. He would have been more kindly affectioned to Lutherans, Calvinists and Zwinglians, but in typical Cranmerian fashion, a very vague, undefined phrase of piety filled the space of the prayer and left certain questions to go begging.

But we must ask further questions: What constitutes being “faithful”? Is there a least common denominator for Christians that makes them faithful? Would the word have a different meaning than when it is used in the marriage service where a husband promises to be “faithful” to his wife?

For Cranmer, historical evidence suggests that “faithful people” did not included “Papists.” It was a generic term used to suggest that some group of people known only to God were “the faithful.” But for the first time, this collection is abstracted from the actual, historical manifestation of the Church. In that sense, the gathering of those on earth, was perhaps not “the Church” in the sense that the word was used prior to Cranmer. Cranmer’s beautiful prayers presented a sanitized version of the rebellion and mayhem that was actually taking place within the kingdom. For the work of Henry VIII and Cranmer was not a spiritual work. It was political, financial and violent. Cranmer served his king well. 

What was Christianity in England before Cranmer? From its earliest days, “Church” had a pretty clear meaning. There was only one. Though Celtic Christians in the north had been missionized quite early and were often out of contact with Christians on the continent, they nevertheless did not think of themselves as part of a “Celtic Church.” When St. Augustine was sent by St. Gregory the Great in 597, he established the Church among the Anglo-Saxons, under the authority of the Bishop of Rome. Eventually, that Roman Church (in communion with the Orthodox of the East) met in council with the Celtic Christians (the Council of Whitby, 663 a.d.) and worked out differences between them. They all understood that there could not be two Churches in Britain. The crisis had arisen precisely because the Church could only be one.

A good example of the unity of the English Church can be seen in the appointment of the eighth Archbishop of Canterbury some 71 years after St. Augustine’s arrival. Bishop Valerian of Rome sent a Byzantine Greek monk, St. Theodore of Tarsus, to fill the see of Canterbury. He became responsible for the reform and organization of the English Church. Prior to Augustine’s time in England, three bishops from Britain were in attendance at the Council of Nicaea. The One Church extended from Britain across the European Mediterranean world, Africa and deep into the Middle East. It was the One Church – one faith, one practice, one teaching, one mind. And the life of the One Church was universally expressed in the unity of her sacraments. Communion was not an act of hospitality, but itself the manifestation of the One life of Christ in His One Body.

That unity was shattered in the 11th century in the Great Schism between the Church in the East and the Bishop of Rome. This schism continues today. But both understood, then and now, that the Church can only be one.

But with Cranmer, and the other reformers, something new was set forth. There simply was no longer an expectation of the One Church. There were no particular efforts to form a single Protestant or Reformed Church. Something fundamentally new came into the world. It used all of the language of the One Church, but gave new meaning or subtle shifts of usage. Cranmer can speak of the “blessed company of all faithful people,” and get away with it. His language was so generic that to dismiss it seems an affront to all faithful people. But it is also so generic that it defies any particular meaning.

The One Church had always known what “faithful” meant. It meant to accept without reservation the one faith of the one Church and to live in conformity with her canons and teachings. This was the ship of salvation established by Christ.

Charles Taylor notes that with the coming of the Reformation, the Church is no longer the ship of salvation, but rather a collection of row boats.

My contention in these articles is to point to these fundamental changes in meaning. You cannot claim to rightly interpret the Scriptures if the words are no longer allowed to mean what they meant without interruption for 1500 years. If the Church is the blessed company of all faithful people, then they may be recognized by their visible communion in the one life of the one visible Church. And the One Church never meant anything other than this.

I do not write in order to scold people from a triumphalist position of historic Orthodoxy. I write in order to draw attention to what Fr. Georges Florovsky called the “tragedy” of the West. That tragedy is not just found in the schism that split the Catholic Church from the Orthodox. It is even more profoundly encountered in the continuing fragmentation and atomization of Western Christianity in general. To speak of the unity of an invisible Church is make-believe, and one which seeks to obscure the true tragedy in which we live.

The fragmentation and atomization of Christianity has also contributed to the growth of radical individualism and the psychologization of our culture. Just as the unity of the Church has become an abstraction, at best a psychological moment of sentiment, so, too, the unity of our humanity has become nothing more than a slogan. When classic teachings of the Orthodox Christian faith that are rooted in the true spiritual and organic unity of mankind are presented, modern Christians are confused and reject them.

An excellent example is the simple assertion that each individual person has a share and participates in the sins of every human person. “Each man is guilty of the sins of the whole world,” in the words of Dostoevsky. This profound reality lies at the very heart of the classical Christian faith. It is only because it is true that Christ could take upon Himself the sins of all. Our union with Him as we are Baptized into His death, as we are daily crucified with Him, receives its meaning and reality from this fundamental Christian understanding.

But modernity has removed such solidarity from its consideration. Every man is an island, with a personal, i.e., “private,” Savior. Church is whatever he wants it to be while at the same time he insists that “we are one.”

Orthodox Christianity is not a denomination. It is not a church among churches. (Indeed, I defy anyone to describe it as “organized religion.”) It is the union of humanity with the Crucified Christ through history. The one faith of the Orthodox has been maintained through history. Modern Christians may not realize or understand the sacrifice of love that this represents nor the great ascetic effort involved in maintaining the “unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” It continues to be a great struggle.

In the modern model, such a true union would have been abandoned long ago and justified by announcing, “We are one.”

Classical Christianity is a marriage, a true union. It is not maintained in its One existence by the casual treatment of denominationalism. The modern charges that “you are just one of us,” seeks to deny the sacrifice of the centuries and even deny that such union is possible. But Orthodox union of life is a witness to the Apostolic faith:

Now I plead with you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment. (1Co 1:10)

Finally, brethren, farewell. Become complete. Be of good comfort, be of one mind, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you. (2Co 13:11)

And here is the great mystery. Although all Christians do not have union in the One Cup, we at least have union in our sins. And in our sins we have union with Christ, who became sin that we might become the righteousness of God. And it is perhaps there that we shall all be saved:

But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have communion with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin. But if we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. (1Jo 1:7-8)

Forgive me.

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.


47 responses to “Unecumenism and the Sins of All”

  1. TimOfTheNorth Avatar

    “Communion was not an act of hospitality, but itself the manifestation of the One life of Christ in His One Body.”

    This caught my eye, as it seems to go directly against a certain strain of thinking within some evangelical and mainline congregations. For them, “communion” and “hospitality” go hand-in-hand. There is a strong impetus to welcome and include all at the communion table. To turn someone away for any reason is to be inhospitable.

  2. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    I try to explain to people when they question me about the Orthodox practice viz. communion that it is precisely like sex in a marriage. It is an act of union. You can’t share the cup as non-Orthodox for the same reason that you can’t sleep with someone else’s spouse. But of course, in our modern world, sex is increasingly become a matter of hospitality. It fits.

  3. Catherine Avatar

    Father, bless!
    Thank you for this series. Relativising everything is a disease. Born into an Orthodox family in Greece, only some years ago I remember my poor mother objecting that “there is only One truth”. I angrily argued that there cannot be one truth, nobody can define the truth, and the Orthodox are snobby egoists (I’m still wondering where I got that from. I had heard it absolutely nowhere.)
    Funnily enough, argueing that “there isn’t One truth” regarding dogmatic issues is being exactly what it accuses the Orthodox of: an authoritative dogma. With the difference that it is based on non-experience!
    God must really love us to drag us out of such darkness and pride.

  4. Janis Schmidt Avatar
    Janis Schmidt

    I simply do not understand this, “we share everyone’s sin.” So I share with the murderer like I committed the heinous act?

  5. Albert Avatar

    You may need forgiveness for something, but not for this article! I was going to copy it for my family and friends who can’t understand why I abandoned my life-long identity as Roman Catholic in favor of a small “foreign” church. But I will omit the “Forgive me,” with your permission.

    Or maybe, Father, you could explain to us newcomers that this is not just a formula (I hope) but a sincere expression of. . . what, a theological concept – – that we are all sinners – – or an awareness of having offended someone through your writing? I am having trouble understanding a concluding remark that seems to undercut what came before.

  6. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Jesus did that indeed. Are you and I so good that we should be immune to this? The truth is that we never forgive anyone until we are willing to bear their sins. Christ did not forgive us from a distance – that would be a purely legal/psychological matter. Christ enters into our sin and makes it His own. He makes our death His own so that we can make His life our own.

  7. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    If I am counseling others to enter into the union we have with Christ in our sins, then I have to do the same. And the first words of a sinner have to be, “Forgive me!”

  8. Dino Avatar

    Reading some St Silouan and then Janis’ comment brought to mind a multitude of (perhaps disjointed) thoughts on the matter, but most especially the importance of ‘traditional Orthodox’, humble solidarity with all, a thing that was actually quite natural to the human mind of humble believers prior to modernity’s (unrelenting) promotion of individualistic ‘disunification’.

    St Paisios the Athonite, a man of a very ‘traditional’ natural personality, would instinctively think that “if a murder somewhere murders, it is my fault for not being a saint and not having prayed effectually for his repentance, the murderer’s ‘nature/nurture’ background makes him blameless, and mine actually makes me blameworthy”… This is humility, but it is also a very traditional way of thinking, considering where Paisios came from (the heart of Asia Minor where family life was more ‘monastic’ than even Athos is perhaps today).

    God is, of course, known [only] by such a humble soul, which is not bound to the earthly things and thoughts and their ‘disunification’ but lives in a heavenly unity with all. Doesn’t such a humble soul accept her neighbour, granting forgiveness to all for all? Doesn’t she innately defend weakness in others and condemn it only in her self? The Holy Spirit inspires her to repent for all sin: that of her own and the sin of all others, and this makes her come to know God deeper and become like Him profoundly. The Lord God won’t show Himself to the proud, discordant and self-preoccupied soul however, as she already has the ego for lord and god. Such a selfish soul wants no other god, (not even a neighbour – unless for selfish exploitation) and if she could see the heavenly truth of God Himself and His Kingdom, she would only interpret this heaven as a hell in her proud state.

    We might read about Him, believe in His existence (from the ‘safety’ of our still-unreceptive-of-a-true-Other state), but to know Him is something entirely different. The proud soul’s neighbour too, is interpreted as ‘hell’ -even though he was given to her as a ‘paradise’… In fact, Christ has so loved man that He has not desired a paradise other than man for Himself!

    Don’t many saints, for instance, speak of the Theotokos as the mystical paradise of all – including of God? However, through the Mother of God, the Son by the Holy Spirit makes sinners to also become a paradise for man and for God [eg.: St Mary the Egyptian] – and this paradise of a true human always involves a Christ-like union of all in the one. This overwhelming solidarity with the rest of creation effortlessly leads to the bearing of the sins of others; that is the way that the Spirit of the Lord makes a paradise out of hell, a cosmic saint out of a previously self-enclosed individual. (The reverse is also true when we separate ourselves from another).

    We are not saved alone but as the Body of Christ. To live the Gospel without compromise is to be in Christ through the Holy Spirit, until, through grace, we reach the cosmic stature of the fullness of Christ. Starting with the bearing of the cross of self-denial, in accepting whatever and whoever God sends us, we become a single body with all, our ‘I’ encompasses all. Our dogged focus on God alone, ultimately, inevitably reveals to us that, in Him, we are united to all. But this is not a unity of carnal sentiments, it’s a unity in Christ by the Holy Spirit. Love of God inspires authentic love of neighbour, even to the extent described by Elder Sophrony, of being one with ‘all of Adam’, and love of neighbour is then testament to genuine love of God.

    Please forgive the disjointed, long and tiring message.

  9. ajt Avatar

    This series of articles is like a sledgehammer crushing the rocks of any doubt to pieces. By Gods grace, these difficult words will bring salvation to those lost in the confusing mess of our current secular society. I remember the years of searching for a Christian theology that made sense of the world and my own inner dialogue, it was quite despairing. Thank God for the ark of salvation that is Orthodoxy.

  10. Leonard Nugent Avatar
    Leonard Nugent

    And here is the great mystery. Although all Christians do not have union in the One Cup, we at least have union in our sins. And in our sins we have union with Christ, who became sin that we might become the righteousness of God. And it is perhaps there that we shall all be saved……Father I have to say that that is truly a profound and deep statement! It’s one of the greatest things I’ve read in this blog!

  11. AJ Avatar


    Perhaps a way I might suggest understanding your question is; our individual sins are not merely a matter of “guilt” between a specific person and God, but instead much more akin each of us contributing to air or water pollution.

    We are all polluting the world with sin one way or another. What’s more, there is no way for us to isolate ourselves from the effects of others sin…and our own. We “breathe in” each other’s sins and “breathe out” our own once into the “environment.”

    I’m reminded of a story about fish. Two young fish and two old fish are swimming past each other, in the vast sea. In passing, the older fish ask the younger fish, “how’s the water?” The young fish respond, “what’s water?” The older fish tells him it what he’s been relieving himself in. The young fish is disgusted, but can’t get out of the water, nor can he stop relieving himself.

    Many christians have lost the understanding for the communal aspect of sin, and how “polluted” in makes our environment. In some sense, It’s not a matter of us being able to discern whose sin is whose once it is released into the water…it all simply becomes part of the ether we love in. We can blame others for their part in the pollution…but their pollution is shared by us, and we are responsible for it in the sense that we share in it.

    I’m not advocating a denial of “personal responsibility” here. But there is more to it.

    I hope the analogy helped.

  12. […] his most recent post in the series, Freeman takes a fair number of pot shots at Anglicanism, complaining that Thomas […]

  13. Wordsmyth Avatar

    Forgive me. This particular discussion of the One Church is so … “eurocentric.” What of the Copts, Ethiopians, Indians, etc.? Even at the time referenced, there was disagreement among Christians as to who/what the One Church was.

    When was there ever a consensus amongst all Christians as to what “faithful” meant? Today we cannot agree as to where “monophysite” ends and “miaphysite” begins. And so it is with a whole plethora of terms.

    I cannot make sense of it all. It’s all so tiresome. When I was a little boy in the 80s, I wondered why storybooks that told of travels “around the world” were actually about travels to different places in Europe (with a passing reference to China or Japan).

    I have a similar feeling as an adult. Orthodoxy seems Russian, Greek, even British sometimes. I’m mostly of a lineage that has no connection to Orthodoxy. My people speak a different theological language for lack of a better term. I’m probably conflating issues, but my ramblings make sense in my own mind if no one else’s.

    I guess I’m taking issue with 1) the notion that there ever was a universal sense of “oneness”; and 2) that because European Christians spoke with one voice, that was *THE* voice that mattered. I don’t think anyone is saying it mattered by virtue of their being European; instead, it is more so a result of a eurocentric worldview.

  14. Trav Avatar

    Father, as an Anglican Catholic, your opening comments on the Prayer of Thanksgiving were confronting. But, as a theological student, confrontation has become a daily ritual. If the Prayer was rather written by Greek Clergy, would it be more palatable? Are the prayers of Clergy not to be trusted if we, rather than recognise their office, recognise their faults? I’m not a fan of Cranmer either, but I also don’t think the Prayer is not heretical or contra to the true Faith.
    Father, I do not expect you to answer these questions that are already known to have clear answers. They are to simply illustrate my point. Rather, please provide guidance on whether I should be praying this Prayer or not?
    PS. Probably with immature excitement, I think it well overdue for Orthodoxy and Anglican Catholicism to be in Communion. The origins of the Church in England were very Celtic in nature, and resembled very much the Church in Constantinople. It wasn’t until we were nurtured through Rome with the visit of St. Augustine when identify with Western Church becomes a ‘thing’. And now with the growth of the Anglican Catholic Church, I find the differences between Eastern Orthodoxy and Anglo-Catholicism somewhat limited to mere language. Please tell me that the term “Catholic Orthodoxy” is more important than “Anglo” or “Greek” or “Russian” or “Armenian” or ….
    God bless you Father.

  15. Shaun Avatar

    But modernity has removed such solidarity from its consideration. Every man is an island, with a personal, i.e., “private,” Savior. Church is whatever he wants it to be while at the same time he insists that “we are one.”

    Fr. Stephen,

    I have a question on a slightly different topic. When Christ redeemed us in the incarnation, did he redeem persons or the human nature? Or would it be both? I hope this question makes sense because I’m not sure how else to express it.

  16. George Engelhard Avatar
    George Engelhard

    Is it not , also, true that we bear the burden of the fall for all of creation?

  17. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    I do not share your historical skepticism. The One Cup in Orthodoxy, both Eastern and Oriental, and in Roman Catholicism, is a reminder of both that primordial unity, but also a commitment to it in the present as a practice, despite the difficulties. It is certainly not an ethnic nor European thing. Gosh, I’m a Southern Appalachian!

  18. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    That prayer is used in the Western Rite of Orthodoxy, where it is given an Orthodox meaning, though I think its flaws remain.

  19. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Christ redeems both. When He assumed our human nature, our nature was redeemed. And in Holy Baptism and our subsequent life of grace, He is redeeming us as persons.

  20. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Not exactly. Creation has been made “subject to futility” in the words of St. Paul, which is not the same thing as being fallen. But, it was made subject to futility for our sake, just as it will eventually share our “liberty”. Romans 8

  21. RusynByz Avatar


    Thank you for this reflection. Something that has been a bit difficult in my journey toward Orthodoxy is the rupture between Eastern Orthodoxy and the Oriental Orthodox. How would you fit them into this discussion of ‘unecumenism’ and visible unity?

    In my brief days as a Roman Catholic it was popular to hear that the Church was in complete unity until the beginning of the second millennia… It seems that that really was not the case.

  22. Guy Avatar

    Father Stephen,

    (1) Don’t Orthodox people have their own “invisible church” explanations about persons outside the canonical church still being saved in the end? What i mean is, how is the claim that there are saved persons outside the visible Orthodox Church not an acknowledgement of some sort of “invisible church”?

    (2) You say that “invisible church” unity is make-believe; that rings true to me. But, in what sense do i, an Orthodox christian living in Oklahoma City, have non-make-believe unity with an Orthodox Christian in Albania? If you say the sacraments, then couldn’t other churches claim that very same unity with “all faithful people”? (2a) Couldn’t an Episcopal claim that God uses Methodist’s communion to unite Methodists and Episcopals? (2b) Don’t Orthodox persons make this same move? In my diocese, converts need not be baptized if they have a baptismal certificate that affirms the trinitarian formula. The explanation i was given was that the Orthodox church recognizes its own sacraments being practiced even in other churches.


  23. fr john cox Avatar

    While the Catholic Church does and *some* denominations could make use of a similar line of reasoning regarding connection through the sacraments in all but the RCC sacramental theology is somewhat optional. In other words, an Anglican may believe that in communion he is mystically united to all other Anglicans who also take communion but he is not required to believe this. Many other denominations cannot employ this line of reasoning at all because they do not believe communion does anything. It is simply a symbol not an actual participation in the body and blood of Christ that gives all who partake the ontological identity of sons and daughters of God.

  24. Brian McDonald Avatar
    Brian McDonald


    As someone else said in another post to this topic, I don’t have time to make my thoughts coherent, but the way the stream of discussion moves so swiftly, it’s important to jump in right away, even at the expense of full; clarity.
    (1) is a painful puzzler. An essay by Fr. Meyendorff quotes St. Cyprian’s famous dictum “outside the church is no salvation” and makes the observation that “the very strength of this statement lies in its tautology; there is no salvation outside the church since the Church is salvation.” Fr. Meyendorff doesn’t quote this to claim that the nonOrthodox can’t be saved but to identify a conundrum. Somewhere in his book, The Orthodox Church, Metropolitan Ware, referring to the same quote by Cyprian, speaks of those who might share “ties to the church that God has not willed to reveal to us.” We are confronted with a paradox here. On the one hand, it seems necessary, for the salvation of the world that the church in fact be one, visibly, expressing the full apostolic truth with no compromise or watering down. If the foundations be destroyed what can the righteous do. The logic of that would seem to say that those who adhere and transmit this faith are in the Church. Those who oppose it or not. The minute we concede that any group bearing the name “Christian” is part of one invisible communion together with us, we relativize that apostolic inheritance and in so doing betray it. On the other hand, our hearts and guts tell us that insofar as human beings can judge such things, we know plenty of devout earnest Christians that are not part of the Church who seem closer to Christ than we’ll ever be. And thus the tautological quote from Cyprian hits us square in the face. How can any genuine lover of Christ not be in the Church? As Fr. Meyendorff once said in a talk I heard, “What do you do with St. Francis?” It seems necessary to affirm both sides of this painful paradox and yet they seem to be in flat contradiction to each other. Fr. Stephen, have you anything more to say to this dilemma?

    As far as (2) goes, I don’t know why geographical distance would make communion “make believe.” Even football fans, in “Raider nation” or “Patriots nation” can feel kinship with those they don’t personally know, based on their common passion. Surely the same holds true on a much, much deeper level for Orthodox who share a common faith. Nor does concrete proximity, even with those with familial and friendship bonds, guarantee communion in the ecclesial sense. Despite the warmth and natural bonds I feel for fellow Christians of other persuasions near at hand, the minute we get past the initial agreements into in-depth discussions about substantial differences it becomes pretty clear that in some awfully important areas we are not of one mind and heart. I find my Orthodox perspective no matter how gently I try to express it, can arouse a lot of emotion and with one or two very devout and decent Christians, outright hostility.

    As for why Orthodox (usually) do not rebaptize, you might find this URL helpful.

  25. David P Avatar
    David P

    I have long tried to concisely describe the difference between the Orthodox and Protestant takes on the Church for the sake of explanation to my Protestant friends. It sounds like a big difference is that for Orthodox, being a “faithful” member of the Church is an objective, visible thing; it is plain to yourself and others whether you are or not. But in the Protestant view, it is something subjective and invisible, a matter of opinion, on which those calling themselves “Christians” may disagree, as you point out.

    Where is that Charles Taylor quote from?

  26. Nicholas Avatar

    Father, I’m really enjoying this series of posts. I must admit they are quite challenging for my irenic nature. I was wondering if you might comment on the idea from Fr. Schmemann that the Church is a sacrament of the Kingdom. In For the Life of the World he writes:

    The Church is the sacrament of the Kingdom … because first of all she is the possibility given to man to see in and through this world the “world to come”, to see and to “live” it in Christ. It is only when in the darkness of this world we discern that Christ has already “filled all things with Himself” that these things, whatever they may be, are revealed and given to us full of meaning and beauty. A Christian is one who, wherever he looks, finds Christ and rejoices in Him. And this joy transforms all his human plans and programs, decisions and actions, making all his mission the sacrament of the world’s return to Him who is the life of the world.

    One of the themes of that Fr. Schmemann employs through out FtLotW is the idea that all this has been done for us already, but is sacramentalized in the Church. For example, Christ has washed away our sins, but it is through baptism that we enter into this mystery.

    Gregory of Nyssa wrote that God entered human nature through Christ “thus by his power raising to life the whole of humanity.”

    I guess I’m trying to hold together the idea that the Orthodox Church alone is “the union of humanity with the Crucified Christ through history,” when at the same time the Church is meant to be a sacrament of the union of the divine nature and the human nature (which extends to all humans) in Christ. You hint at this a bit at the end.

    Thank you, I apologize for the length of this comment. Forgive me, Father!

  27. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    They agree on the understanding of what “one” means. There are serious conversations between the two towards a full and complete agreement. Neither has an understanding that would have union with true agreement and understanding.

  28. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    There is no “invisible” Church in Orthodoxy. There is trust in the mercies of God that He is working for the salvation of all. Just as there is no salvation apart from Christ, so there is no salvation outside the Church. So, indeed, there is “something” there, but not an “invisible” Church.

    In Vatican II, Rome made a foray into saying positive things about Protestants and their sacraments, etc. It said things that are decidedly different from Orthodoxy.

  29. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    David P,
    It’s in the bowels of Sources of the Self…

  30. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    The landscape of modern Christianity, littered with denominations, creates a great deal of confusion in thinking about the Church. For one, it makes people think in institutional terms – “my organization versus your organization.” It’s just a wrong way to think about the Church. For example, you see bumper stickers that say, “Orthodox Christianity since 33 AD.” It’s incorrect. It would be more accurate to say that the Church begins at “Let there be light.” For the Church is indeed creation itself as God “gathers together all things together in one.”

    The Church is the great sacrament of unity, the foretaste of the Kingdom. It is one of the reasons that thinking and grappling with this matter of “One” is so essential. Without it, the teaching of the faith gets changed and becomes something less.

  31. Alice C. Linsley Avatar

    Classical Anglicanism takes “all faithful people” to mean those who regard the authority of Scripture as first and last in matters of doctrine. Cranmer knew that there were faithful people in the Roman Church and in the Eastern Church.

  32. Trav Avatar

    Father, thank you very much for your response.

    I am currently writing an essay on ‘One’, ‘Holy’, ‘Catholic, ‘Apostolic’. As an Anglo-Catholic I dislike the discussions on the Church as an organisation and the movement of management theory to progress the Church. I view those terms mentioned above as Fruits of the Vine, rather than endeavours of man. It was recently St. Jerome’s day (author of the Vulgate) and he stated during his time in Bethlehem, “[Gauls and Britons] Then the Armenians, the Persians, the peoples of India and Ethiopia, of Egypt, and of Pontus, Cappadocia, Syria, and Mesopotamia! … They come in throngs and set us examples of every virtue. The languages differ but the religion is the same; as many different choirs chant the psalms as there are nations.”

    I think this is an observation of the Fruits of Church, of course made circa 400AD – prior to the Great Schism. I think it is an observation of heeding the warnings of the likes of St. Jeremiah (Prophet of OT) and fulfilled by Our Lord. But I think it also points to the ‘invisible’ part of the Church. Perhaps ‘invisible’ is a strange word, albeit it is used in the Nicene Creed (describing something else?). Rather, it may be more accurate to use the term ‘Mystery’.

    Another thought on the use of ‘invisible’; what of those people who are not yet converted, but shall be in the future? In an eschatological sense, is there an ‘invisibleness’ in their current state of being members of the Church, as they would therefore have to have their hearts softened, not unlike the command of Our Lord to be as little children? The eschatological sense is that they will be in Communion with God (not wanting to get into any discussions on the theological mess of predestination).

    Finally Father, my apologies for my ignorant clumsiness in coming into your Orthodox Faith blog. It has been remiss of me to not recognise the context of this site, but I do enjoy it and thank God for your writings and discussions.

    God bless you Father,

  33. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    There is doubtless a reality that is described as “invisible” or “not yet revealed.” I would even grant that there is a “not yet revealed” aspect of what we describe as Church. As noted in an earlier response, the whole of creation will be gathered together in “one.” That One will be the Church. The Church we see at present is, as also noted, a sacrament of that final and fulfilled union. But that final and complete union will not be fulfilled without fire and purification.

    In these articles I have not meant to offend, but to bring fire. If there is a criticism of the ecumenical vision, it is that it is too mediocre, too modest, too much of this world or of a second-story make-believe. The emphasis on the visibility (which is certainly required of a sacrament) is the only manner of controlling the nonsense that we use in order to avoid the fire.

    And in Orthodoxy, the fire has not ceased, only intensified. An example:

    Prayer of St. Symeon the Translator
    O Thou Who givest me willingly Thy Flesh for food,
    Thou Who art fire, and burnest the unworthy,
    Scorch me not, O my Maker,
    But rather pass through me for the integration of my members,
    Into all my joints, my affections, and my heart.
    Burn up the thorns of all my sins.
    Purify my soul, sanctify my mind;
    Strengthen my knees and bones;
    Enlighten the simplicity of my five senses.
    Nail down the whole of me with Thy fear.
    Ever protect, guard, and keep me
    From every soul-destroying word and act.
    Sanctify, purify, attune, and rule me.
    Adorn me, give me understanding, and enlighten me.
    Make me the habitation of Thy Spirit alone,
    And no longer a habitation of sin,
    That as Thy house from the entry of communion
    Every evil spirit and passion may flee from me like fire.
    I offer Thee as intercessors all the sanctified,
    The Commanders of the Bodiless Hosts,
    Thy Forerunner, the wise Apostles,
    And Thy pure and immaculate Mother.
    Receive their prayers, my compassionate Christ.
    And make Thy slave a child of light.
    For Thou alone art our sanctification, O Good One,
    And the radiance of our souls,
    And to Thee as our Lord and God as is right
    We all give glory day and night.

  34. Karen Avatar

    I love St. Simeon’s prayer (and the translation you quote here is exceptionally clear). Great place to be reminded of it. Thanks.

  35. Dana Ames Avatar
    Dana Ames

    I am trying to absorb the action of the California legislature and our governor, who passed and signed a euthanasia bill modeled on Oregon’s. Lord, have mercy.


  36. Lina Avatar

    This quote was taken from another place concerning Luther. Out of curiosity, are these comments regarding Luther on target.

    “Subsequent to this break with Rome (which he did not initiate), Luther had the freedom of reassessing 1500 years of Christian thought and practice, and, not surprisingly, his views began to diverge from those of Rome in some areas:

    He rejected the “healing” metaphor of salvation in favor of an instantaneous and lasting forensic declaration of “righteous.” This positive verdict could be obtained without the intercession of priests and the administration of sacraments.

    He rejected the idea that believers could ever reach God’s standard of righteousness, let alone supersede it (as in the case of those worthy of canonization).

    He dismissed 1500 years of tradition as non-authoritative in order to make sure that his interpretation of the Bible remained unchallenged. “

  37. jamesthethickheaded Avatar

    If denominationalism… inspired by nationalism (as I read) is the undoing of the Church – and there’s certainly a germ of truth in this as it conforms to at least one telling of the Fall of Constantinople, how do we explain the continuance of synagogues after the falling of their Temple? There is observably a protestant-like development in the 18th century (I believe) that we see in the US as Reformed Judaism, but there is also still a very, very, very strong identification of themselves as a chosen people…. even within the Reformed. Post-Temple Judaism changed… and you have outlined post-Schism, post-Reformation changes in Christianity and its people as they became part of the nations rather than the one, true Church. But there is also another change within Israel… in the re-establishment of the state… and people. Judaism has a very strong identification with Tradition… a Tradition at once different and similar to ours as they live it out. But today as I think I observe there seems at times to be very much a praxis that is “christianity without christ” in their synagogues and lived very much as we might wish… as it is fair to say that the Jewish people have punched way above their weight to their communities… their LARGER communities (all peoples) and have been a light to many, many nations in its continuing diffusion across the globe at the same time it has been persecuted by all. Christians have contributed, too… but not as readily identifiably above their weight class. Yet it seemed odd to me to speak or write of Europe and its once-upon-a-time Christendom… without mentioning that within it lived (albeit perhaps uncomfortably) a Jewish people who were never part of our “one”… unless you go back to a time before the end of cohabitation in the temples between Christians and Jews in 1st or 2nd centuries.

    And yet I wonder: Is there not more to be learned by carrying your analogy and “theoria” to analysis of the transition of the Jewish peoples through modernity… and how they have managed? Surely there are costs as Christians navigate modernity… no question there. But if the Jewish people have never been a majority, nor prior to the foundation of Israel been territorial in almost 2,000 years… then surely there is more to be understood, absorbed, and transformed than a transition to despair… or just “Oh… hmmm… that bad and that long, huh?” Maybe the choice is less to decry the errors of intervening Protestant theology, but instead to transform it …or what we have learned outside of it… in some way that strengthens our faith, our Church, and her people? I can’t begin that… but simply speculate it might not be first choice… but the one that is open to us… and if so, then what?

    For me this is more a puzzle than a test. I am very interested in how we become a people of God in the midst of those with no interest in the matter. And it does seem we do in fact have God’s first chosen people as more of a continuing example than we typically credit as they remain our forebearers in the faith. Should we endeavor to learn what we can? or do you have a different path ahead in mind? Maybe you can suggest better? Next article in the series? Just thinking… and a bit stuck at my end. Keep up the good work and thank you for all of it!

  38. Joseph Barabbas Theophorus Avatar

    Dana, the sin of euthanasia is not only something we already share in due to the connections we have as humans, but something we share in much more immediately. Like a lot of things that we deal with in the modern world, I don’t think we can look at this as something that was merely foisted upon us from without. Sure, we can point to some very short-term, proximate decisions as turning points, but I think that misses the point. These decisions did not come out of a vacuum, but out of a world we in large part created or allowed to exist. We bear a great deal of responsibility here and this [unsurprising, long-time-coming] decision cannot be undone without some pretty serious repentance. What do I mean? Well, in the case of euthanasia, this is not the first time it has been championed. I am not referring to Oregon or other states, but animals: it seems perfectly normal for people to kill animals not for food, not for clothing, not for protection, but to end their “suffering”. This is utterly demonic. Nonsensically, this form of euthanasia is supported by lots of Christians. But the theology is the same: “suffering is worse than death”, “death is the solution to suffering”, and even “a ‘dignified’ death is good” (whatever that means). Every time an animal is euthanized, the people involved proclaim those demonic maxims. And this in turn stems from an earlier error, the idea that suffering is inhuman, to be avoided, evil, etc.. Of course, we know that suffering is not only part of being a Christian but, as Fr. John Behr very eloquently argues, part of being human; it is part of God’s plan from the beginning. But Christians support the very opposite teaching, for the most part.

    We can look at the recent decisions on marriage the same way. These are hardly new, shocking developments, but rather decisions that have been centuries in the making. We can trace homosexual “marriage” back to the acceptance of contraception, something that is universally condemned in the Church (though some modern sources contest this and say there was debate, this “debate” is manufactured “out of whole cloth”, as they say; look through the Fathers for yourself). The Fathers understood the subject better than we do in many cases, including the distinction between abortifacient and non-abortifacient contraception. St. John Chrysostom himself declared that *non-abortifacient* contraception was “something worse than murder” [i.e., abortion] in his Homilies On Romans. But regardless of how strongly the Fathers condemned it, the logic is clear: when procreation is divorced from sexuality, heterosexual and homosexual intercourse are little (if any) different. And Christians have bought that lie. And it goes deeper: step back a few centuries more when we decided to rename “lust”. What did we rename it to? Love. Now when we desire someone, we say “I love you”. Love doesn’t [usually, if ever] mean “I will die to myself and serve you regardless of how I think and feel, working for your salvation at all costs to my life, happiness, finances, emotional well-being, career, and self-image” anymore but rather “I want to posses you as an object”. Marriage ceased to be about God and family and started to be about “choice”, desires, and all the other passions. When Christians redefined love, the redefinition of marriage was a natural consequence—and actually, I am surprised it took *this long*.

    All that is to say that these recent decisions are not something we should have to bend over backwards and strain to “absorb” or accept as sins that we share in. We don’t even have to get to the mystical level of sharing in the sins of humanity. No, for these sins, our participation is far more direct. And until we can deal with the root causes and get on board with real, painful repentance (no demonic animal euthanasia, no running from suffering, no contraception, no marriages for the sake of false “love”, and so on) we should not expect anything but the next set of logical conclusions and decisions to be quickly implemented and enforced.

  39. Dana Ames Avatar
    Dana Ames


    I understand your point. Intellectually, I struggle to absorb; in my heart, I know well that I contribute, and it pains me. That’s why I left the comment here, for people who would understand and likewise commiserate together, knowing that we share in it.


  40. Mack Avatar

    Well said (well, “up to a point, Lord Copper”). So how do we keep working together when a Green Pope and a Green Patriarch sometimes seem to have lost the plot?

  41. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    It’s not a problem for Orthodoxy. We don’t believe Patriarchs are infallible.

  42. Caio Avatar

    Who is the Green Pope?

    The Green Patriarch I happen to know, but this Green Pope is new to me.

  43. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    I assume the reference was to the present pope, since there is only one of them.

  44. BillB Avatar

    Fr. Stephen,

    I keep coming back to this thread in particular to pose this “question”. You bash Protestantism so hard, but where was Orthodoxy in the West in the 15th Century when the Roman Church had “run off the rails” in so many ways that it was taking many to a ruinous end? As I see it Protestantism arose because there was no other Light in the West at the time. Archbishop Cranmer was aware that he could not read the Mind of God and was inclusive because he, Cranmer, did not fully know who was in and who was out. I wanted to put much more here in this reply but am trying to keep it succinct.


  45. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    I am harsh on that period of the Reform only so that we can respond to its legacy in our own lives. There’s nothing to be done about the past. But it is important, in the case of Cranmer and Henry, to tell the truth. I was an Anglican priest, and I know full well that we covered up the truth of our history. The English became Romaphobic in the extreme. I think it is important to understand that the Reformation was not a popular uprising, but very, very much from the “top-down” (particularly in England) at its inception. It destroyed more than the Roman Catholic Church. It destroyed the cultural heritage of a thousand years.

    Its again not just to blame them, there’s plenty enough sin to go around. But if we are truly to recover authentic Christianity, we must tell the truth and stop perpetuating the sins of the past (where we can). I picked on Cranmer and Henry only because I know them better than any others.

    Where were the Orthodox? They were mostly under the thumb of the Ottoman Empire. There’s plenty of sin among the Orthodox. All they have to their credit is having preserved alive the authentic Christian tradition.

    Cranmer was a man of his time, living in a dangerous world. He did what he thought he could and what he thought he had to. He is no saint nor hero. But he was a darned good writer of liturgical English.

  46. Jo Avatar

    I found this post refreshing.

    Regarding Cranmer Fr. writes: “His language was so generic that to dismiss it seems an affront to all faithful people. But it is also so generic that it defies any particular meaning.” Cranmer was a skilled prevaricator. Prevarication is not of Christ Jesus.

    I’m not sure why Fr. writes, and some commenters state, that Christ Jesus became man’s sin(s). Christ took man’s sin upon Himself when crucified. Jesus did not become sin nor did He commit sin. He is a truly blameless victim.

    And @jamesthethickheaded: Judaics are not forbears in the faith. This comment indicates a disconnect from the reality of what is Judah-ism.

  47. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    I stated that Christ “became sin,” because that is the Scriptural teaching. 2 Cor. 5:21 “For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”

    It does not mean that Christ became a sinner, or sinned, or was sinful. But it means He became sin, just as He truly died. In Orthodox understanding, sin and death are rather synonymous (also the Scriptural understanding). This is the theology of union as taught in the Fathers.

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