Human Tradition in a Modern World

Strange women lying in ponds distributing swords is no basis for a system of government. Supreme executive power derives from a mandate from the masses, not from some farcical aquatic ceremony.  – Monty Python and the Holy Grail

The comic genius of Monty Python often shows it face when interjecting the present into the past. The charming Arthurian legend of the transmission of Excalibur from the Lady of the Lake is demolished with the prosaic treatment of modern rationalism. It is easy to imagine what they might do in the midst of the medieval pomp of the Queen’s Address to Parliament. Of course, the Queen’s address has itself become farcical in that she reads a policy statement written by whatever party is in power. Thus the Labor party can make her sound like a raging Leftist revolutionary. It is Monty Python in reality.

But the point raised by the quote is, strangely, quite germane. Where does executive power come from? Is there nothing higher than the “mandate of the masses?” It is a question that sheds much light on the nature of our modern world and the assumptions by which we live. I am part of a hierarchical Church. The “mandate of the masses” is ritualized in a ceremonial cry of “Axios” [“He is worthy”], sung at an ordination. But executive power itself is vested in the hierarchy who serve the Tradition. In point of fact, the Tradition has executive power, and the Tradition is from God.

This contrast between the modern concept of governing and the traditional concept represents a deep division in the understanding of human life. With the rise of modernity, in the 17th and 18th centuries, the desire to “rationalize” all authority came to the forefront. “Reason” replaced tradition and was expected to yield the fruit of continual improvement. Reason allowed for standardization. Standardization allowed for greater central control. Life was transformed into an engine of prosperity and efficiency. Tradition became an obstacle to be removed.

Traditional societies are extremely messy. They do things in a manner that evolved for a great variety of reasons. An “inch,” a “foot” and a “yard” varied over a single Kingdom. A “foot” was, literally, more or less the length of a man’s foot. A traditional society was quite comfortable with measurements that were “more or less.” Efficiency and accuracy were not paramount. But just as measurements varied even within a single country, so institutions varied. Local courts and customs, even local laws might vary. The effect was a deep decentralization of life. To live in a village was quite distinctly to live in a particular village and not in a village in general. Place mattered. People mattered. History mattered.

Obviously such complete decentralization made efficiencies impossible. The great exemplar of modernity in the 18th century was the state of Prussia (in modern Germany). It was the first state to successfully make centralization and standardization a dominant feature in its life. It became the ideal of every monarch. Even in Russia, the Tsar began to envy the Germans. Various Tsars introduced rationalizations into the highly traditional Russian life. To this day, the strict regime within the Church of “awards,” consisting in various hats, crosses and liturgical items, reflects the Tsar’s rationalizing of Church affairs. Each award or rank was the equivalent of a civil servant’s rank. Everyone knew where they stood. The goal, of course, wasn’t to make the Church rational, but to make more of society serve the goal of efficiency and productivity. And those goals were directed towards war. Historically, the Tsars imported Germans to help with this project. It is how you find Russians with names like “Schmemann” and “Meyendorff.”

Of course, rationality brings tremendous benefits. Imagine how efficient it would be if the size and shape of people could be standardized. Clothes would not need to come in various sizes. The price of clothing would drop and no one would need be naked. One size fits all! But actual human beings are not “rational” in such a manner. They differ widely and dramatically; we treasure that difference. The rationality of the Prussian state produced an extremely powerful war machine. It eventually made possible the military success of Germany and Hitler. When Germany was developing a ruthlessly efficient army in preparation for the First World War, Generals in France were still insisting that their soldiers wear their traditional bright red pants. In 1913, the French Minister of War, Eugene Etienne, responding to the suggestion that the red pants should go, replied, “Abolish red trousers?! Never! Red trousers are France!”

The rationality of the modern project did not stop with armies. It gradually came into almost every area of life, including the Churches. One manifestation of this standardization was the production of catechisms. The Reformers wrote small tracts with detailed organization of doctrine, capable of memorization and rapid reproduction. They were extremely effective and efficient tools for the instruction of the population. The Catholic Church responded with its first Catechism after the Council of Trent. The Orthodox eventually developed one of their own as well. (I personally feel that the Catechisms represent a low-point in the “Western Captivity” of Orthodoxy).

These developments might seem to be innocuous or even as real improvements. But they represent a shift in the center of gravity for human life. Traditional ways of thinking, living and interacting are organic rather than purely rational. Just as the standardization of human size and shape would actually diminish humanity and human experience, so the rationalization of every area of life does the same. A catechism tends to state succinctly things that should be stated at great length, or not even stated at all. They produce a form of knowledge, but not the form that is called Tradition. We do not learn Tradition; we are formed in Tradition. In the West, generations of children were drilled in their catechisms. Completion of the catechism was then greeted with the sacrament of Confirmation. The result was a rational Christian. The unintended result was a dull, moralistic, overly rational Church (sermons became dry treatises that often lasted two hours). A predictable reaction occurred. Deeply emotional revivals such as the First and Second Great Awakenings in America, the Methodist movement, and various Pietist groups on the Continent, all sought a return to something that was actually felt and not simply thought. There is no catechism that could capture or communicate the fervor of a Methodist brush arbor revival. Of course, those emotional reactions (precursors of modern Evangelicalism) were often accompanied with a decline in doctrinal instruction. Western Christianity was fractured.

Traditional forms of living are simply human forms of living. We are capable of assimilating highly rationalized life-styles and customs. But we love what is truly human. Who hasn’t quietly rejoiced when a bureaucrat at a counter bends a rule for their convenience and simply makes something work? Or who hasn’t cursed when greeted by a computer-generated list of choices and responses in a service call and simply begged for a human being at the other end of the line? These are components of our lives that indicate that, though we are capable of the rational, we transcend it and prefer to live above it.

We are several hundred years into the Modern Project. Much that was once traditional has been erased and replaced by rationalized structures. The pendulum has swung many times, with rationalization and reaction producing wave after wave of change and disruption. One result of this process is the disruption of childhood and adolescence. Human beings actually learn by tradition. There is no other way. Rationalized traditions have the inherent weakness of theory. On paper, this new math ought to be a great improvement. Of course, only a generation of children can actually prove whether it is so. And, modernity being what it is, another change will have been set in place before that generation has passed. Our rationalizations fail repeatedly, only to be corrected by new rationalizations and Johnny still can’t read.

The Church is similar. Almost no modern Christian worships in a manner similar to his grandparents (unless he is Orthodox). Does your grandmother actually like rock ‘n roll in Church? Years back, as an Anglican priest, I favored a High Church version of the Mass. We chanted and had bells, etc. One Sunday, a young Catholic couple visited, looking to explore a bit. After the service they told me that they preferred a more “traditional” service. I was dismayed, wondering what more I could do. When I questioned them more closely, they told me that they preferred a service with guitars. Post-Vatican II. Guitars are Tradition.

The presence and life of Tradition are essential to humanity. We are an adaptable species, meaning we can tolerate a tremendous amount of nonsense. But there is a reason why there is a Christianity that has remained largely unchanged, or, at most, has evolved rather than having been reformed. It is simply the continuation of a very human way of believing. I contend that this is God’s will. Human beings live best and become more fully what they are meant to be when they are actually allowed to be human. The march of modernity continues apace. It is increasingly sweeping traditions aside. Even restrooms are no longer safe from some “rational” regulation.

God deliver us from the rationalizers.


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.



, ,



34 responses to “Human Tradition in a Modern World”

  1. Dean Avatar

    Fr. Freeman…
    Thank you again for another excellent article. I don’t know how you do it, sometimes two or more in a week; but grateful to God for your talent and heart. Your sentence–We do not learn Tradition; we are formed in Tradition– reminds me of language learning. I went to language school in Guadalajara to learn Spanish (supposedly). However, as anyone knows who has learned to speak another tongue can tell you, you simply cannot learn to speak a language in school. You have to be “formed” in it, and that formation occurs by living in the context of the new language, by being immersed or traditioned in it. Same with our faith. I’m still being formed and shaped in the Tradition after more than 20 years.

  2. Sharon Joy Avatar
    Sharon Joy

    Thanks for your clear writing about the Modern Project.

    The message boards and blogs are replete with would-be “Ben Oppers” like myself who continue to address the problem of modernity like addicts who keep doing the same things (with the same tools) but expecting different results.

    So I need to ask the question: If we don’t know what we don’t know, how will we do what we have never done before? (or what no living generation has done before?)

  3. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Language is, indeed, an absolutely traditioned thing, and, therefore, just about the most human thing we do. I have written before of the “grammar of theology.” Grammar is that deep part of language that is internalized long before vocabulary takes off. The same is true in Orthodoxy. We can be formed in the grammar of the faith, even with a very small theological vocabulary. Peasants have spoken it fluently for many generations.

  4. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Well, we start, as Christians, by returning to the Orthodox faith, the last form of Traditioned Christianity. (My apologies to Roman Catholics. I consider the last 50 years to have radically changed much that was traditioned). The Church helps us slowly to recover our humanity. We live in a modernized culture, and we won’t be able to change that any time soon, if ever. But we can learn more fully how to live as a human being. It will save our souls.

  5. Tullius Avatar

    Very nice. Efficiency is so, so problematic as a purported “value” of rational, modern life. I’m reminded of Treebeard’s remark about his name in Entish:

    “It is a lovely language, but it takes a very long time to say anything in it, because we do not say anything in it, unless it is worth taking a long time to say, and to listen to.”

  6. Nicholas Griswold Avatar
    Nicholas Griswold

    Well said Father. Your post says everything I feel about modernity and the attempt to make us all fit the mold.

  7. Byron Avatar

    Thank you, Father! Blessings!

  8. Byron Avatar

    A catechism tends to state succinctly things that should be stated at great length, or not even stated at all. They produce a form of knowledge, but not the form that is called Tradition. We do not learn Tradition; we are formed in Tradition.

    A thought (or perhaps a “think”? (Kuddos to anyone who knows the B.C. reference, the inspired nonsense of which interestingly applies here). I am preparing for my catechism in the Orthodox Church and it occurs to me that the learning I’ve been going through, as enlightening as it is, is really just the shallow end of the pool. The Orthodox invitation, “come and see”, takes on far more weight in light of your writings on Tradition, Father. It is so difficult to live this life. I greatly desire to be closer to my parish, and to be immersed in the Church, but I love my home. Reading about monasteries makes me long for them, but I think I would be running away from the world and not working in it for God’s glory. It is an odd tug-of-war in my life. Stability of any kind is a very dangerous temptation.

  9. Alex Combas Avatar

    Thanks Fr Stephen,

    I have to do a project for my St Stephens course, and I was thinking about writing a short catechism. Basically “small tracts with detailed organization of doctrine, capable of memorization and rapid reproduction. They were extremely effective and efficient tools for the instruction of the population”.

    Haha, anyway, so now I feel a little discouraged in that. But tell me if you don’t mind, surely all catechisms aren’t bad in themselves. What would a good catechism look like?

  10. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    I always assume that the catechetical process is on about learning in a minor way. We touch on larger things, but the learning comes in attending services, praying, and learning to live the life. I was once told that it takes about 10 years. That sounds about right. I did not start writing until I had been Orthodox for 8 years, and then rather carefully.

  11. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Sorry to be discouraging, Alex. I suppose it might look like seven years’ worth of blog postings. 🙂

    But, perhaps it would do well to look at truly basic things. Like the goodness of God. The nature of evil. And build from that.

  12. Joe Avatar

    When I read these things I feel grateful to have a sense of what a traditional life might look like, but at the same time I wonder whether I’ll ever experience even a fraction of it. Most people are not particularly eager to “play along” with a traditional life. I don’t mean this in such a way as to make light of the idea, but rather as a reflection on the simple fact that families are kept at a distance for lack of a common thread of belief. People in general are obsessed with their own desires as opposed to a common pursuit of a goodness outside ourselves.

  13. Brian Avatar

    I am not a school teacher, but I know those who are – or have been. I couldn’t help but think of the experiences my school teacher friends have shared with me as I read this post. Not only the teachers but the students as well are subjected to inhumane levels of standardization and measurement. They are told not only what to teach but how they must teach it.

    It is a tyranny of so-called ‘experts’ in education, as well as a drive for funding based not on the value of a child’s educational formation but on almost meaningless test scores. Doubtless there is a place for accountability, but accountability itself has become strictly impersonal, completely unrelated to the child or the teacher’s creative ability to engender a love of learning.

    One wonders why a Masters degree (or working toward it) is even required to qualify one as a teacher in this environment. There was a time when teachers were considered professionals and given the freedom to fulfill their vocation with accountability to the principal of the school who knew the teacher as well as the circumstances of particular students personally. But in this great Modern Project (that all of us know to be working so well for our public educational system) they may as well hire a high school drop-out with the ability to follow instructions.

    The same could be said of medicine. No longer are medical professionals allowed to be concerned primarily for a patient’s well-being. Instead, the focus is on protocols upon which reimbursements are based. BP? Normal. Temp? Normal. Blood sugar? Normal. Weight? Unchanged. Diabetic patient? A1c and microalbumin documented. Lipids? Normal. Correct ICD-10 code documented? Check. Chart fully documented? Check … Patient satisfaction survey completed? Check. Never mind the malady for which the patient is here.

    It has invaded all professions and industries.

    God save us from ‘experts’ and keep us human.

  14. Brian Avatar


    I have and am praying for you. Please pray for my freedom as well.

    I’m curious (based on your comment above) , how far do you live from your parish?

  15. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    The deep dysfunctionality of things like schools and medicine are an indictment of American Modernity. But their dysfunction could have been predicted. It will get much worse.

  16. Alex Combas Avatar

    Reading 7 years of your blog postings are certainly good catechism!

  17. Brian Avatar

    “…their dysfunction could have been predicted. It will get much worse.”

    Indeed it could have been, and indeed it will.

    I apologize for the rant. It is tempting to think we can diagnose the problem and alter the direction by our efforts, but the Orthodox Christian Faith reveals this as just that – a temptation and a delusion. Not that diagnosis isn’t necessary (for us), but that it is not within our power, political or otherwise, to effect a change in direction. I can’t even change myself apart from the Grace of God. How can “I” or even “we” presume to have the power, to say nothing of the wisdom, to change the direction of a culture? It is enough to resist its seductions, strive to be human, and pray.

    Forgive me.

  18. Gregory Manning Avatar
    Gregory Manning

    I have known two priests, one Greek, one Russian, (both now reposed) who told me that they learned their theology in the Church, whether serving in the altar or standing with the parishioners. Their knowledge helped them get into their respective theological academies.
    I was later very surprised to learn that Fr. Georges Florovsky had a similar experience. At the age of 80 he wrote: “I had no regular theological training.” “My theology I have learned not in the school, but in the Church, as a worshiper. I have derived it from the liturgical books first, and much later, from the writings of the Holy Fathers.”

  19. Byron Avatar

    Father, thank you for the focus you provide! Too often we want quick, easy change in our lives–to learn a “key” and see everything change for the better. I will continue to take part and allow myself to be molded as God wishes. I will concentrate on humility (one of the things that drew me to Orthodoxy) and service.

    Brian, I live some 20-25 miles from my parish. I will add you to my prayers; many thanks for your prayers!

    Another tangent: This past Sunday morning on the way to Liturgy, I became stranded on the roadside due to a flat (scooter flat caused by a burst valve stem; no replacing the tire or airing it back up) so I ended up sitting underneath a bridge waiting for the tow truck. As I mentioned above, I had been wallowing in a rather banal sin during the week and now I was to miss worship and this initially annoyed me. However, I quickly came to realize the opportunity for silence and prayer and spent the time, with only a couple of interruptions from concerned motorists, sitting quietly and praying. This, it turned out was extremely edifying in my present state.

    I found that it was easier to be silent and focused there under the bridge than anywhere else, including in my parish or at my home. I think this is due to the way I, and perhaps others, purposefully surround ourselves with distractions in our lives. This is another manifestation of the Modern Project, that we not only are constantly barraged with options to drive away boredom (or, as often, focus on any true thing), but that we regularly take part in building the distraction ourselves. Sitting under the bridge, I found prayer easier and fuller than before. “Getting away from it all” took on a new meaning and I could sit and worship God easily there. Just my thoughts.

  20. Dino Avatar

    great thoughts!

  21. Laura Avatar

    Brian, What you said about teaching applies to me, a special education teacher. I am very close to leaving the profession as no one in charge (on the district or state level) seems to trust that I know how to give students a love of learning. I believe God has something better for me to do with my life.

  22. Dino Avatar

    I echo Laura’s comment above too…

  23. Dean Avatar

    Fr. Stephen,
    I think you said this in one of your comments…there is only one place in the universe without children–hell. I’d never thought of that but it was priceless, especially thinking about some of the curmudgeons I’ve known in church, who get upset when a child even sneezes! Let the little children come unto me….

  24. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    I first thought of the comment when a curmudgeon (years ago), complained about children attending the early service at the Anglican Church I pastored. I told him that the only place in creation without children was hell. I did not suggest anything further…

  25. Dino Avatar


    I should hasten to add however that any escapist tendencies we encounter ought to be seen with some watchful suspicion: The grass is always greener and looks thicker on the other side, until you get there and realise it’s all just a matter of viewing angle…
    In all situations we must remind ourselves constantly that everything that happens is either because God wants it or because He allows it, there isn’t a third. This experience of complete certitude in Him -down to the number of the hairs on our head- is the great destroyer of all stress.

  26. Agata Avatar

    Laura and Dino,

    I appreciate your conversation so much, as I have very similar thoughts about my life.

    If you were to take steps to make changes in your life, feeling that God has “better things for you to do”, where could we expect that direction to come from? From an inner feeling (or even certainty), from some set of life circumstances, or from some deep desire in our heart (most of us don’t have a blessing of a really discerning Spiritual Father to offer that very specific life direction)?

    One advice I once heard is that we should “stay where we are” and do our very best in the position and circumstances we are in (as if Christ was doing the job we are doing), even if we don’t feel it’s ideal for us, or meaningful, or important [for God], and in time, if it is God’s will, the circumstances around us will change and take us to that next place. But what if things are not changing visibly enough?

    Thank you for your thoughts!

  27. Reid Avatar

    Brian and Laura,

    Some years ago my job required me to work extensively with academicians in the field of math education. At that time the movement to teach “reform mathematics” was all the rage (perhaps it still is–I have lost touch with that field), and various universities and consortia were producing curricula according to the “reform” ideology. One aspiration they sometimes pursued was to make their curricula “teacher proof” (this was their term), meaning that the teacher could not get in the way of the students interacting with the curriculum materials exactly as the creators of the material intended. One approach to this involved giving the teacher a rigid and comprehensive script to follow in class, thus rendering him little more than an automaton with benefits.

    Of course, as best I can make out, the modern public school itself developed primarily from a desire on the part of certain leaders to make the raising of children “parent proof” (my term, not theirs) so that children, instead of growing up in the traditions of their families, would grow up into some rational ideal (usually having to do with producing, consuming, and meeting the needs of government and industry, “competing successfully in a global economy” as the mission statement says). This project continues to advance with states making kindergarten (a sweet German term) mandatory, increasing compulsory school attendance ages from 16 to 18, and cooperating with a push for the funding of free and voluntary (for now) P-4 and P-3 programs. The constant push for “accountability” in the form of data collected on measurable objectives to “prove” that schools and teachers are teaching well appears to be an attempt to apply the methods of statistical quality control–so successful in the Japanese and, later, the American auto industries–to the raising of children. This is, of course, why schools segregate children by age (something that cannot happen in the natural family), to make the units of “raw material” as identical as possible so that the manufacturing process will result in products (graduates) as consistent as possible (at least according to the standards of measurement applied).

    As a professor trying to develop Orthodox sensibilities, I fight against this industrial model of teaching. I try to teach my field in much the same way that I learned it, having had the experience that this way “works.” Also I have come to believe that good teaching is something very much like a minor act of communion in which someone who has looked deeply into the beauty of some facet of God’s creation invites his students to see what–and as–he sees so that they can delight in it together.

  28. Dino Avatar


    My own experience is that a discerning Spiritual Father will abstain from voicing a very specific life direction – at all costs. These directions ought to transpire of their own accord. Even if they happen to sometimes come to us with great force, as a clear (interior or exterior) impetus, even this has to occur naturally.
    The discerning, clairvoyant and often prescient Elder Ephraim of Katounakia would (unlike many other Elders) say that, “even if the Mother of God tells me that you must become a monk [he obviously faced the “be-a-monk-or-get-married” question quite often], I will not tell you! What would happen once you encountered the ‘great difficulties’ down that road? Would you blame me instead of yourself for having coerced you?”

    That advise of “Staying where we are” and doing our very best in the position and circumstances we are in (as if Christ was doing the job), is, I think Elder Sophrony’s Agata, he once said to someone ‘how would Christ do your job, (e.g. of teaching maths according to a set curriculum)’?…

    Besides, that ‘sense of futility’ in the world comes to us for a myriad of reasons, not just because of the ridiculously dysfunctional workplace of modernity, and the ‘sense of meaning’ is brought about through our constant struggle to keep communion with our Father in Heaven in all situations.

  29. Brian Avatar

    Dino’s advice is superb, as always. I would add one thing, if I may.

    It is common in some circles to search for “the perfect will of God” when it comes to major decisions (vocation, etc.) and agonize over them as though the wrong decision would remove us from God’s will, destroy our entire life, and cause us to be damned. Not that these decisions should be taken lightly, but it is utter nonsense to think (and worry) in these terms. Truly holy elders testify to this by their refusal to, essentially, make others’ decisions for them.

    We have been given freedom – including, I think, the freedom to make decisions that may turn out poorly in the short term. But God never abandons us. Seek good council, be patient, don’t force anything, and above all pray. Pray that He will close doors as well as open them. If you are miserable in your job, there is no harm in looking for another. If the door to another job is closed, you have your answer. If it opens, you may have your answer as well.

    And if a bad decision is made, remember God’s faithfulness to Abraham when he said of his wife Sarah, “She is my sister.” (Genesis 20) God never abandons us to our foolishness.

    This fool can testify to that.

  30. Dionysius Avatar

    Thank you Fr for your work and relentless pursuit of clarity! Thank all of you commenters for contributing such wealth!

    Joe says: “People in general are obsessed with their own desires as opposed to a common pursuit of a goodness outside ourselves.”

    I would have to wholeheartedly agree with you Joe! That is up until just a few weeks ago. I actually thought of the value of ” a common pursuit of a goodness outside” MYSELF! Something is changing in me!

    Having been baptized as Orthodox 4 years ago I am BEGINNING to see many changes developing in me! It’s nice now to look at what my perspectives and “personal” opinions were, and see them slowly but surely changing.! If I begin to doubt or grow weary, I double down, with much prayer and developing trust! For me as I’m sure for many, “becoming Orthodox” is as much an “unlearning” process, washing away the mud, as I leave and lose so many false concepts, and begin to be “steeped” in these truths and traditions, and indeed become human in ways I had always longed for and see slowly coming to fruition.
    Be encouraged! Really real is… Real!
    Real good! Really! Gracias!

  31. Agata Avatar

    Dino and Brian,

    Thank you both for your words and beautiful reminders. Even if we know these things, we forget so easily…..

    Dino, I suspected that much, that even the most discerning and loving Spiritual Father would not make the decisions for us, but maybe he/she would at least help in the decision process (knowing us, and knowing God’s will better than we do). I was once blessed to have Fr. Thomas Hopko answer my email in some difficult times and what I remember most is his words “You cannot ‘figure it out’. You can only pray and hope that the solution will be revealed to you”. If we are faithful and patient, that indeed happens (this fool can testify to that 🙂 ).

    As for God’s will for our life, I like how Fr. Zacharias from Essex puts it: if we are faithful in small things, God will give us strength for the major things. 99% of God’s will for us is spelled out for us in the Gospel Commandments, and the guidance of the Church (expectations of praying, fasting and alms-giving, calls to come to confession, to participate in the Liturgy, and so much more). Fr. Zacharias says that if we are not participating in the life of the Church (especially the Liturgy), “even God cannot help us”…. (because we don’t give Him access to our life). [This is my invitation and reminder to all those who read this blog but continue to stay on the “sidelines”. Don’t wait, “come and see” and experience what Dionysius described above].

    May God give us all strength to follow Him along the path that is straight and narrow, without taking our eye off Him no matter what life throws at us… I love Dino’s quote from some post a while back: “The more we take not our eyes of Him, the more we ‘walk on water’”….

  32. Salaam Avatar

    Father, could you say a little about language here.?

    I find that our (Ethiopian) priests, when seeking to make some point, will present a quote from the Bible or some Fathers in the Ge’ez language, which is our equivalent of Old Greek, and then explain what they said in the vernacular.

    I don’t think it’s just because that’s the language they’ve learnt it in, but because the more ancient language just conveys something more. And, not having been exposed to modernity, is less ‘rational’ and more correct!

  33. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Despite the enormous vocabulary in English, the modern world has tended to narrow meanings to very modern concepts. Often we have to resort to older words and foreign words to convey the intention of Scripture and the Fathers.

  34. TimOfTheNorth Avatar

    I know the discussion has moved on, but this post seemed the best place to drop a thought I had this morning. I was mulling over the almost hagiographical fervor with which Martin Luther and the other Reformers have been remembered in my evangelical church recently. All of which has been in anticipation and celebration of “Reformation Day” last Sunday. And which has made me very uncomfortable.

    It seems to me that if you can say, in so many words, “Without person X [or historical contingency Y], this church [or the gospel] would not be here today,” and X is someone other than Jesus Christ and Y is something other than the events recorded in the Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles, you are on very shaky ground. I am not convinced that it is an improvement to replace a dependency upon Tradition with a dependency upon some historical contingency. Even where Orthodoxy commemorates people like John Chrystostom for their contribution to the liturgical life of the church, it sounds very different to my ears than the (desperate?) necessity of people like Luther, Calvin, Wesley, Darby, Campbell, etc, within the Protestant stories. One can imagine a counter-factual history in which Chrysostom or Basil or Maximus are missing and yet the church continues–impoverished, yes, but intact. But could there be a Lutheranism without Luther or a Presbyterianism without Calvin? If not, can these traditions really be said to carry the Tradition? Or are they transmitting something else?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Subscribe to blog via email

Support the work

Your generous support for Glory to God for All Things will help maintain and expand the work of Fr. Stephen. This ministry continues to grow and your help is important. Thank you for your prayers and encouragement!

Latest Comments

  1. Matthew, You asked how I would feel. I just glanced at my previous comments. I’m not sure I have presented…

Read my books

Everywhere Present by Stephen Freeman

Listen to my podcast