Do You Know God?


My childhood was surrounded with very committed Evangelical and Fundamentalist Christians. Street preaching was quite common and even expected. In the downtown, the bus stopped in front of the Dollar Store before it made its trip to the Southside where I lived. Those waiting for buses were a captive audience. Saturdays especially brought bright young men with floppy Bibles and crew-cuts. They were largely students from Bob Jones University. They expounded a version of the gospel, often punctuated with the question, “If you died tonight, do you know where you would go?” I never liked it.

In my late teen years, I became a Jesus freak, at least, that’s what Time Magazine called us. We looked like hippies (long hair, jeans, beads), but we were into Jesus rather than drugs. And we did our own street work. Not unlike the friendly approach of panhandlers in the park (“Hey, man. Got any spare change?”), our question to the unsaved was kind, “Do you know Jesus?” When everything was said and done, the methods of salvation would have been the same – admitting you’re a sinner, professing faith in Jesus Christ and asking Him to enter your heart. That’s just how it was done.

I have never lost sight of that question and think it was indeed the right way to describe the human problem. I have long ago abandoned the assumptions behind the Evangelicalism that fed the question, however. The question has matured. It is still, “Do you know Jesus?” But it also asks, “Which Jesus do you know?” as well as “How did you come to know Him?”

Speaking about knowing is almost impossible. But “knowing” itself is not. For example, most adults know how to ride a bicycle. It is actually an amazing feat, requiring careful balance. But if anyone asked you “how” to ride a bicycle, you would be without words. There are simply not words for that sort of thing.

Knowing God is much closer to knowing how to ride a bicycle than it is to knowing the multiplication table. God is not a fact – but neither is riding a bicycle. The insight of Orthodox Christianity, derived from Scripture and the Traditioned-life of the Church, is that we know God through communion with Him. Christ’s words to His Father are filled with reference to this communion:

Father, I desire that they also whom You gave Me may be with Me where I am, that they may behold My glory which You have given Me; for You loved Me before the foundation of the world. O righteous Father! The world has not known You, but I have known You; and these have known that You sent Me. And I have declared to them Your name, and will declare it, that the love with which You loved Me may be in them, and I in them. (John 17:24-26)

But how do we have this communion? Frankly, it is also similar to how we know how to ride a bicycle. We learn to ride by riding. I well recall my older brother running along behind my bicycle, holding me up, then telling me he was holding me up (after he had quit!). We ride with help, and then we fall. We get up and ride again and do this until we know how. We can do it because it is a knowledge for which we were created. It is the kind of thing we can know.

We were created for communion with God. And though many “facts” about God, and the depths of theological reasoning, are beyond the grasp of many, actually knowing God is possible to all.

Now by this we know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments. He who says, “I know Him,” and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. (1Jo 2:3-4)

Knowing God involves doing something. Keeping the commandments of Christ is paramount. But so is prayer and fasting, generosity to the poor, and learning how to repent.

Perhaps the most awkward thing about Orthodox Christianity for an outsider is how much stuff we do. We do not go into Church, find a seat, and wait passively for the service to begin (though that temptation is always present – everywhere). But normatively, we enter the Church, light candles and say prayers before the icons, etc. The “etiquette” of all of this can be extremely off-putting for a visitor. No one likes to be anywhere and not know what to do – much less, not know what it means or if it’s the sort of thing they are allowed to do, or if they are certain that they believe in doing it!

But this is the ancient instinct of our faith. The things we do help us learn what we must know, particularly God Himself. And this is actually how we know almost everything in our lives. Riding bicycles, driving cars, writing words, typing, reading, eating a lobster, dancing, making love, and the whole panoply of our lives is learned by doing. Thinking about most things can be done, but no amount of thinking will ever teach them.

A great mistake was made at a certain point in Christianity. That point was the reduction of the faith to a set of facts. Preaching was elevated to first place. Congregations became audiences and worship became lectures. Over time, sheer boredom and Christian competition have modified the utterly tedious character of lecture-style Christianity. At present, our entertainment-based culture is now populated with entertainment-oriented Churches.

I tell inquirers and catechumens in my parish to expect to be bored in Orthodox worship. It has no intention or expectation of entertaining them. What takes place is an offering to God. But if they will engage in the opportunities it offers and “do the service,” then, over time, they will come to know God in an Orthodox manner, which is to say, as He has traditionally made Himself known in the Christian faith. We will also learn that being entertained is not terribly important. The virtues learned in that exercise will also help in keeping the commandments. The “virtues” (which are actually vices) nurtured through entertainment make keeping the commandments ever that much harder and it shows in our culture.

No Christian can keep the commandments of Christ (and thus know Him) if their primary concern is the comfort of themselves and everyone around them. The error put forward in modern religious revival movements (1st and 2nd Great Awakenings and later) has been the knowledge of Christ as a sudden experience acquired by choice or decision. I am not at all certain what is acquired in such an event, but it is not the knowledge of Christ as described in the New Testament. What is gained in such actions can be understood in emotional terms, or in terms of loyalty, but it is not the saving knowledge promised by Christ.

The early Church required converts to undergo a period of preparation, often lasting for three years, before receiving Baptism. This was not an extended period of information gathering leading to a decision. It was a period of teaching and formation through certain practices of the faith that culminated in Baptism, Chrismation and full participation in the Eucharistic life of the Church. Converts were first taught to keep the commandments and then given what the Church described as “illumination,” i.e. Baptism.

Much of modern decisional Christianity supports its model by a careful selection of Scriptures, particularly from the Book of Acts, to invent a modernized version of Christian initiation. Acts serves a particular purpose in describing the successive missions of St. Paul. However, it is not a “how-to” guide to Christian initiation. The “born-again” process so common in Evangelical circles is an 18th-century Protestant invention that was resisted by the mainline Protestant Churches at the time. Its worldwide success is a testament to its marketability, but not to its theological pedigree or reality.

I do not mean to suggest that those who cite the “born-again” experience do not know God. But if they have come to know Christ in their lives, then it will have been through keeping the commandments and the slow, patient practice of the faith.

In Orthodox practice, candidates for Holy Baptism are asked, “Do you unite yourself to Christ?” The question is put to them three times. The response is, “I do unite myself to Christ.” In Baptism, they receive Holy Illumination (the light of Christ). But the One Who is birthed in them makes Himself known in the slow, patient work of the Christian life. It is how we learn everything else in our life. It is how the Creator created us. It is how His Church teaches us to know the Lord.



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.



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34 responses to “Do You Know God?”

  1. Byron Avatar

    I am ever more convinced that we only know God because He reaches out to us. Taking part, communion, is a great difficulty at times; it is harder than it should be as I am too easily distracted (not by any great thing or person; just the minutiae of life around me), even in worship. My prayer life is not only stale, it is lost. How do we take part in these circumstances? This is not nearly as easy as it seems it should be.

  2. marybenton Avatar

    I do not think that the greatest importance lies in what we are doing (within reason) – but how we are doing what we do.

    “We do not go into Church, find a pew, have a seat and wait for the show to start.”

    Undoubtedly there are people who do this, people who are simply making an appearance at church. However, it may be that some of us are quieting our minds and opening our hearts to God to prepare for Eucharist after we have found a pew.

    There are likely others who go to church with other inappropriate attitudes (to be entertained, to socialize, to gossip, etc.) However, for each of these, there may be others who are deeply drawn into worship by sacred music; who find God present in the neighbors they may not otherwise encounter; who ask about or share information about those who need the loving attention of the community.

    There are also likely to be people who venerate icons in Orthodox churches (or carry out Catholic rituals – I’m not discriminating here) in auto-pilot, doing it out of habit rather than devotion; or imagining the admiration of the community for the devotion they think they are displaying.

    All of these pitfalls occur because we are sinners. It can be easy to judge the other person’s (or group’s) presumed pitfalls because we can see them more easily than our own.

    It is not simply “doing things” that helps us to know God. We must have sincerity of heart in what we do – and, as you stated, keep the commandments and do the daily work of prayer, fasting and repentance. And we continue that work, in good times and bad, both when it feels good to do so and when it is a great labor.

    Ultimately it is not our action that enables us to know God – but God’s action in revealing Himself to us. Our work is to keep our ourselves awake and open so that we can receive what He gives.

    Forgive my presumption in elaborating on your fine article. I am a sinner.

  3. Rick Burrows Avatar
    Rick Burrows

    I can say with absolute authority that you are wrong. What authority you ask. The authority of 26 years of walking in an intimate and powerful relationship with God. January 1990 I was active in the church and wanted to be a good Christian but there was no power and I was a mess. I had angry interactions with God, even calling HIM impotent because I had presented my life to HIM with all my heart over and over again and yet the fruit of my efforts were rotten. To go into full detail of what God did in my life during the first 3 1/2 months of 1990 would take a book, but to greatly over simplify: God started to speak to me – oh I know – you just wrote me off as a kook – but then you must think Jesus a liar when HE promised that HIS sheep would hear and know HIS voice. That’s one of the strangest part of this story – I did not believe at all in God speaking but I knew from the very first phrase that it was HIM. The first thing HE taught was spiritual warfare – I knew NOTHING of spiritual warfare. Oh, I knew there were verses in the Bible like “we wrestle not against flesh and blood but against principalities and powers” but they were just verses in the Bible that had no real application to my actual life. In 7 weeks of 24/7 warfare I was free of all the sexual stuff I had been in total bondage to. From that day in late February I heard God voice speaking to me all day long, every day, and HIS constant emphasis was how HE loved me. HE would show me the worst things I’d ever done and HIM right there loving me with a Perfect unconditional, unchanging love. I thought I believed that God loved me because it was one of the most critical components of my doctrine, but after 7 weeks of my Heavenly Daddy pouring out HIS love on me I believed in my innermost being. That revelation transformed me completely! I was unrecognizable, consumed with passionate love for the ONE who loved me just the way I was. But this wasn’t a short lived emotional explosion. I am still that passionate lover of God 26 years later. And yes, I do keep the commandments, but not to get anything. “If you love ME you will keep my commandments”. I live my life to please HIM because I love HIM!

  4. Chris Avatar

    I’ve always thought and asked myself, “I know of God, but do I really know God?” This is something I have struggled with since a very young age…….from my protestant evangelical background in my youth and early adulthood to my more orthodox beliefs today. The entertainment mode of the churches always left me filling empty…..all based on feelings and an emotional high that they would call the movement of the Holy Spirit. It was like a drug. You are eventually left with a hangover after the high wears off. You then need more of the emotional stimulation to achieve the same “high” as before. Eventually I was left feeling like a bag of dry bones.

    I won’t say I truly or fully know God today as it is still a work in progress. But it is more rooted in silent prayer and in communion with my brothers and sisters in Christ….both the Saints and those that dwell with us today in this life. My focus is more Christ centered with a quiet effort to keep His commandments the best that I can.

    Not perfect, but that is why I continually pray for Jesus to have mercy on me.

  5. Nicholas Stephen Griswold Avatar
    Nicholas Stephen Griswold

    Your post, Father, is quite appropriate for what we should be meditating on during Lent. Mary Benton hit it squarely when she spoke of doing a ritual rather than do a devotion. Ritual, I think, comes from knowing about God. Devotion comes from knowing Him. Quietly sitting may be as much devotion as waiting, it all depends on the spiritual state of the one sitting. If we listen to the call to “Let Us Attend” and do so, we seem to be better disposed to knowing God.

  6. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    All that you say is true. However, my point in that section of the article was catechesis. The tradition of catechesis is a formation in the knowledge of God. But the modern model assumes that we maybe want to know God and perhaps will have good motives and pay attention, etc. And, of course, that might be the case. But the core of the formation, I think, is a false notion of the self.

    Catechesis in the Tradition certainly requires, in the long run, the willing intention of someone. But the very actions in the liturgy itself, including all that comes before, etc., are part of that formation in the knowledge of God. It requires instruction as well.

    It’s hard to express the role that veneration plays in Orthodox liturgical practice. I just come from a monastic retreat with sore legs from all the prostrations! And there’s plenty of them here back home. Slowly, you begin to get the point that God is bigger than you, etc.

    There is a “meta-message” in our actions. Go back and read this article on the Sin of Democracy.

  7. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Thank you for sharing your testimony. However, your account looks at a single point (you). It does not look at anything else, nor examine your own experience critically. May God strengthen you and keep you in your walk.

  8. Alan Avatar

    Thank you Father for this beautiful post. I needed this.

  9. kLutz Avatar

    First, an intellectual aside:

    You wrote: “A great mistake was made at a certain point in Christianity. That point was the reduction of the faith to a set of facts. Preaching was elevated to first place. Congregations became audiences and worship became lectures.”

    You also wrote “The early Church required converts to undergo a period of preparation, often lasting for three years, before receiving Baptism. This was not an extended period of information gathering leading to a decision. It was a period of teaching and formation through certain practices of the faith that culminated in Baptism, Chrismation and full participation in the Eucharistic life of the Church.”

    What happened? How/why did the faith get reduced to a set of facts? Why/how did the preaching become elevated and the congregants reduced to mere observers? How/why was the catechumen duration reduced?

    I suspect that these changes occurred in response to the change of status of the church from tolerated/persecuted to state-endorsed/operated. Many many Roman citizens sought inclusion to the Emperor’s new-found religion in which Baptism constituted of marching the army through a river. Were these soldiers Chrismated upon reaching the other side? Nevertheless, there were now millions seeking membership for reasons other than knowing God. Pagan temples were sanctified into churches, and the bishops sought to out-do each other in the elaboration of their roles (and robes). And the laity was dumbed-down to a formulaic recitation of the basic tenets of Christian belief, codified in the Apostolic and Nicene creeds, and the performance of specific sacramental acts. Thus it became impediment upon the Presbyters, et al, to teach/preach the faith to the unscrubbed masses in hopes that they would catch the fire, so to speak, and seek experience and relationship with God. Was it not for this purpose that Lent was instituted, to draw the ignorant through a compelling ‘christian’ experience?

    Yet Jesus, in identifying the saints as ‘the salt of the earth’, sees no potential of the kingdom of God becoming the earthly empire. It seems that ubiquity pretty much proscribes against proving the faith in adversity. It can’t be surprising that a number of ascetics rejected this nominalism and ventured into the wilderness to test their covenants, while the church catholic celebrated the exoneration of the state.

    Please note that I am neither a historian nor theologian, that my preoccupation has been with more mundane matters. Directed readings of this period may indeed fill in some of the gaps in my understanding.


    You wrote: “The question has matured. It is still, “Do you know Jesus?” But it also asks, “Which Jesus do you know?” as well as “How did you come to know Him?” ”

    The Jesus I know lead me to reconciliation with God, through His example of being the express image of God as noted in the Gospels. He lead me to the Cross where I hung my self that by Father’s grace I could receive His robe of righteousness, to stand unashamed before the creator and sovereign of the universe. This was no mere capitulation, but a drastic metanoia, illuminated in the simplicity and humility by which I repented of my trespasses against my fellows through the prompting and direction of the new Lord of my life in the Holy Spirit. Is it not in the celebration of our adoption that we perform God’s will? that we come to appreciate and incorporate His commandments as essential to maintain our restored Relationship? that we come to Give Glory to God in All Things?

  10. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    I think that the end of the persecutions brought about many changes, but not as many or as profound as many moderns imagine. The formation shifted pretty quickly towards children (who were now the primary candidates for Baptism) and not adult converts. But the very nature of the Orthodox life involves the believer in certain practices (not just ideas) that are essential in our spiritual formation. Today, many of those practices are also challenged by the practices of the dominant culture and are difficult sustain in the family and elsewhere. But they remain.

    There is no doubt that people make decisions for Christ, repent of their sins, etc. and that God accepts them. He is good and merciful. However, there has been and continues to be an erosion of the proper formation of Christians in the knowledge of God. Jesus is being slowly and surely morphed into a culture god. Any many corners of America, Jesus is America.

    Classical Christianity (Orthodox, Catholic) have had little to no influence on modern culture. Modern culture is essentially Protestant and Evangelical (not by profession, but in terms of the basic assumptions about what it means to be human, etc.). Modern Christians, if they are serious, certainly engage in metanoia of a sort. But their knowledge and understanding of many things will be misformed, mis-shapened by the uncorrected mind of the culture in which they dwell.

    I’ve touched on many of the themes and problems within modernity in articles over the past 2 years, more than I can duplicate in a comment.

    The truth is, we cannot simply leap into the Christian faith as though the only content is our decision. The refusal to embrace the fullness of the Tradition inevitably creates a truncated, diminished, culture-Christianity. Jesus can and does still save in the context (because He is good). But that context is slowly changing Christianity into something that it is not and presents a Jesus who is not.

    Christ, separated from the Church He founded, will slowly become something else (if He’s not already). Lot’s a people are already invoking Christ as the creator of their own agenda. Abortionists are now calling what they do a “sacrament.” Churches are re-writing what it means to be human and married, etc. These are actually just natural results of modern culture. When the anti-Christ is revealed in America, he’ll probably claim to be a Christian. Will we be able to discern him?

  11. Anastasia Avatar

    thank you Father. I have been dealing with anti-Authority evangelicals all Lent so far and I am just worn out with their “me and Jesus got it going” arguments.

  12. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    It’s what they know. If possible, avoid the arguments. If possible…

  13. kLutz Avatar

    This is a frustrating response!

    I may be presumptuous in evaluating the consequences of the evolution of the church from covert to overt But it seems disingenuous to claim an alternative understanding with nary a source, that my eyes may be opened.

    You write: “But the very nature of the Orthodox life involves the believer in certain practices (not just ideas) that are essential in our spiritual formation.”
    And again: “However, there has been and continues to be an erosion of the proper formation of Christians in the knowledge of God.”
    So I (continue to) ask, in the name of Jesus Christ, are these practices salvific? Or, are they merely the means to the end of showing that one is Orthodox?

    I have no zeal for the Modern Project that has verociously stripped me (and the each of the rest of us) from humanity. Yet I am unconvinced that it was not in direct response to a classical christianity that enforced the ignorance of the masses for the utility of their masters.

    “Modern Christians, if they are serious, certainly engage in metanoia of a sort. But their knowledge and understanding of many things will be misformed (sic), mis-shapened (sic) by the uncorrected mind of the culture in which they dwell.”

    And when we seek the corrective to the deformation of the ‘modern’ culture, we are told our repentance is invalid because it doesn’t look like what you are programmed to deal with.


    It is my understanding that Gospel of reconciliation with God is for the reunification of humanity that His will be unimpeded on earth as it is in heaven. “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall called the children of God.”

  14. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    I’m not sure you know much about the history of Orthodox Christianity and are just lumping it in with “classical Christianity.” I use the term generously to include Roman Catholicism in its most traditional forms, though, I consider Orthodox Christianity to be the Church in its fullness and unchanged form.

    It did not lapse into some sort of complacency. It was smothered, for the most part, by the Ottoman Empire and Islamic states. And yet, it has survived that intact and whole. It underwent terrible suffering under the Communists, and has come out stronger and is growing and is actively resisting the ideology of modernity.

    I haven’t said that nothing outside of it is salvific. But there is much that is missing outside of it. Are its practices salvific? Yes, in some measure. That’s like asking if exercise will save your life. Not ultimately, but it will sure make it healthier.

    The practices of Evangelical and Contemporary Christianity are, in fact, becoming deformative of Christian character. I think that the entertainment ethic of contemporary Christianity creates false expectations and a Christianity that does not understand suffering or nurture the virtues. There are exceptions, by God’s grace, but there are things at work in modern Christianity that will inevitably work for the aggregate demise of Christianity. When the mega-Church fad fails, it will be a real mess.

    Classical Christianity was not eclipsed, nor did it disappear. It’s still here. In a thousand ways it has been persecuted by modern Christianity over the past several hundred years and it still continues.

    Are you a recent reader on the blog? You might need to back up a bit, and read a bit more to see where in the conversation this fits.

  15. Anastasia Avatar

    oh yes!

  16. Patty Joanna Avatar
    Patty Joanna

    Several years ago, at the Vespers of Holy Friday, the hymn “Come, Let Us Bless Joseph…” struck me deeply. In it, the line, “Give me this stranger…” (the “stranger being Jesus) is repeated 3 to 5 times, depending on the version. I have been a Christian all my life, and been a participant in the “Do you know Jesus?” world and in the audience-style of worship, this hymn got under my skin…because I realized that the Jesus I “knew” was one of my own creation. That hymn became my prayer. Let me know Jesus, not the creation of my fallen mind, imagination and world.

    It freed me to take Jesus seriously when He said, “This is my body…” and “take up your cross” and “judge not” and “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” It freed me from putting grace and works into conflict. It freed me to take up my cross and mean something by it.

    Jesus is indeed a stranger to us, even more, maybe as we come to know him. In the same way that my husband of 34 years is a stranger to me–the more you know, truly, the more you know you don’t know. But that hymn has become a theme song for me, and I’m so thankful for the Church in bringing union into possibility.

  17. Matt Avatar


    “Yet I am unconvinced that it was not in direct response to a classical christianity that enforced the ignorance of the masses for the utility of their masters.”

    The direct response I think is true, but that relative clause at the end seems to be a self-serving invention created by that response itself when it won and started writing its own history.

    Fr. Stephen is in a vastly better position to comment, but just in case it’s not linked: this piece by Dominic Selwood is an excellent start. (I don’t remember who first linked this for me, whether someone in the comments on this blog or my own priest…)

    This last paragraph also comes to mind. No sources or citations, but the underlying facts supporting his point shouldn’t be too controversial if you think about it.

  18. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    The modern treatment of Christian history is predominantly written by non-Orthodox authors. They do not know or understand what they are seeing or describing when they write about the early Church because it is foreign to their experience. It’s not foreign to Orthodox experience because it’s the same Church. We tend to read the history very differently. Read Schmemann’s Historical Road of Eastern Orthodoxy (since you want a source). My experience (which has included doctoral studies in theology and Church history) is that Western writers have a very skewed version of their own history and frequently re-write early Christian history in order to make sense of their own notions.

    I’ll give some examples on spiritually formative practices. Modern Christians generally have no notion of the communion of saints and are repelled by practices like praying to the saints, etc. And they misinterpret what we are doing. There are things about Christ you cannot know if you do not actively hold His mother in veneration. I can tell you that, and you might argue with me, but I know from experience what I’m talking about. I was once an active, believing, modern Western Christian. I didn’t even know what I didn’t know.

    I can multiply that example. Repeatedly, even small things such as lighting a candle or making the sign of the cross, seem so superfluous, like silly little habits. But they are actually profound, over a long period of time and in the context of the whole life of the Church.

    The whole life of the Church is too big to acquire by thinking about it. That’s why God has given us the Tradition. In the OT, He gave a whole set of practices to form the people of God in knowledge of Him. Not just ideas, but things to do. And you can’t make it up for yourself because you can’t know what you don’t know in order to design something to teach you what you don’t know.

    Christianity, like pretty much everything we know, is traditioned. It cannot be had in any other manner. If it is not the tradition of the classical faith, then it is somebody’s newly invented thing that cannot teach you what the inventers did not know.

    Start wherever you are. But if you want all that God has for you, then you have to come to the well where the water is.

    There was a whole lot of me that found it quite irksome that this was true of Orthodoxy and that acquiring that treasure was going to require that I give up my contemporary life and faith, associate with non-anglo’s and put up with all of the various embarrassments in Orthodox history. And then, that I would sound like some sort of a bragging fool when I told anyone else about what I have found.

    I’m just grateful that God preserved the Church and its treasure. I’m grateful for the many generations of Orthodox Christians who suffered to keep what I once despised. I’m grateful that I was welcomed like a returning son and haven’t been treated like a foreigner or an outsider.

    I’m just sharing about some riches that God has provided for us and suggesting why they are important and should not be ignored.

  19. kLutz Avatar

    Apparently you are as impotent as all the rest which espouse a program for the sake of the program.

    I have repeated claimed ignorance of church history, whether Orthodox or otherwise. So, I repeated ask for guidance in discerning the truth in these matters. But all I get is a polemic against ‘modern’ christianity. Do you really think that helps? I cannot defend this modernism, for it is obviously not informed by God and His desire for us. I seek the Lord and his blessing. If you cannot reveal the sources for this, I am sorry to have wasted your time.

    Trust God.

  20. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    I suggested a book. Also try the Orthodox Church by Timothy Ware. But it was your assertions about the “ignorance of the masses for the utility of their masters,” that made me think you were making claims to some kind of knowledge in Church history.

  21. kLutz Avatar

    Please forgive my above post.

    I shall look into Schmemann’s “Historical Road …”, as I concur that most histories are revisionist in that that they exonerate those facts which support their position and ignore those that mitigate against it.

  22. Gene B Avatar
    Gene B

    Somehow a major shift happened – we had to keep the commandments to BEGIN our relationship with God – requiring an intense three year admissions period – whereas now we try to begin a relationship with God to help us keep the commandments, because we are so weak. I suppose our modern world makes it so much more difficult, with all of our bad habits, distractions and temptations. I know many elders have warned us how hard it will be in the last days to stay faithful. Still, in my experience as one to needed to make major behavioral changes to get back in the door, I didn’t see my relationship with God start growing until I stopped certain things. I had to “cut off the hand” in a certain sense.

  23. EPG Avatar

    “Knowing God is much closer to knowing how to ride a bicycle than it is to knowing the multiplication table.”

    Does that also mean that, like riding a bicycle, it comes back after a long lapse? One can only hope . . .

  24. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    kLutz, as someone who has studied history all of my life and as I am sure you also know, all writing of history has a bias. The best we can do in evaluating historical accounts is to vet the writer as best we can as to his/her integrity and to understand and make allowances for the bias the author is apt to have.

    Non-Orthodox Christians have a bias that is decidedly different than we Orthodox. Protestant writers have a bias that is usually, but not always antithetical to much that the Orthodox Church understands and can validate through her own experience throughout her life–a life that is ongoing.

    For me, as I originally approached the Church, reading Fr. Schmemann and Bp Kalistos (Timothy Ware) and others after years of reading other types of history was a bit like taking a refreshing cool drink on a hot day.

    One thing the Orthodox Church is not, when lived seriously, is a program. The histories began to show that to me. The Church is a living entity by the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. All that we do, or should do, is designed to allow us to become a much more integrated part of that entity (theologically known as The Body of Christ).

    God bless you and strengthen you as you seek the truth.

  25. kLutz Avatar

    Thanks, Matt. That relative clause was rather spurious, especially as I was not there and cannot know.

    The re-evaluation of 16th-century England’s response Catholicism is rather enlightening in this latter-day of propaganda masquerading as journalism.

    Stephen, I already have T. Ware’s “The Orthodox Church” in the que.

    Gene B., I, too, am confounded by this shift, though it was noted as ‘tradition’ by Hippolytus, circa 215 a.d. in The Apostolic Tradition.

  26. Matt Avatar

    Glad to be of help!


    “Does that also mean that, like riding a bicycle, it comes back after a long lapse? One can only hope…”

    Random anecdote: I bought a bike last Holy Week. Hadn’t ridden one in ~20 years. Took me 2 hours biking 13km uphill* in the sun** from the bike shop near my work to the church just in time for that evening’s service. Also managed to memorize the prayer of St. Ephrem during that time.

    There is hope for everyone. 🙂

    *okay, not all uphill
    **okay, there were trees

  27. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    The author cited, I think, overplays the concern of Hippolytus viz. the tradition. Every writer at almost any time would also offer concerns about the dangers faced by the tradition and a concern of a possible shift. It’s simply endemic to life with a tradition. I would not read too much into this.

    The largest shift occurs as the Church in the Empire becomes normative. At the same time, however, the rise and prominence of monasticism added a new force for both catechesis and the life of the Church. Orthodoxy, however, has maintained its continuity.

    I think you’ll like Fr. Schmemann’s historical treatment. He is extremely candid and willing to criticize and note problems. His book is not a work of apologetics. Orthodoxy should never have to apologize for its history, other than the fact that we have sinned repeatedly. To be the “true” Church is not at all the same thing as the “best” Church or the “perfect” Church. We had problems during the NT period (hence the Letters of St. Paul). In fact, one of the problems of denominations is the recurring effort to fix the Church. Those various “rational” attempts are not rooted or formed in the living tradition that is the Church, but are simply great ideas.

    Orthodoxy is the messiness that God created and the furnace of our salvation.

  28. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    At least there’s the chance of it remaining.

  29. Janine Avatar

    There are two gems that stand out in this post for me:

    “We can do it because it is a knowledge for which we were created. It is the kind of thing we can know.”

    “The whole life of the Church is too big to acquire by thinking about it”

    Thank you Father. You remind me that with God all things are possible, and that we are growing (sort of) Christ/the Church within us. Truly a mysterious process, like the man who planted seeds and they grew while he slept.

    You mention emotionalism. Just in way of passing, there is a sort of sentimentality about Christ I find in a lot of places and maybe moreso in the West, I’m not certain. But I am rather certain there is not “sentimentality” in Christ’s praise of children and the “least of these.” And our faith isn’t about sentimentality but truth and love. I find they are very different places. Often sentimentality will pull me somewhere that I don’t think Christ necessarily wants me to go. It’s like the difference between the little “cherubic” angels we see commercially reproduced everywhere, and what it must be like to encounter a true angel

  30. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    I have edited the article with your comment in mind.

  31. marybenton Avatar

    Thank you, Fr. Stephen. Quite helpful…

  32. Martin Avatar

    Two consistent themes seem to be present in mainstream Christianity that relate to knowing God through communion with Him and union with Christ and the Body. One, the gospel is primarily judicial framed as an offer needing a decision that then creates a judicial shift in how God will deal with us, now and when we die. Knowing “how” this shift works, especially in contrast to the other “wrong” hows, takes up much of the doctrinal discussion and application. Sort of like thinking that talking about how a bicycle must work, and how everyone else’s explanation is wrong, will make you a better rider. The promises and blessings of union with Christ are presumed to be true, but it is entirely an abstract, intellectual assertion. It is seldom cruciform or contemplative. Two, the goal of it all is often a better and/or happier me. Problem is, a better or happier me is almost always a more efficient and hard-hearted sinner living with a reductionist understanding of the church and what it actually means to be healed of sin.

    In the end I think this creates lonely, confused, and desperate people that fight off the awareness that it really is all in their head, and that when they don’t keep convincing themselves it’s true and working, it won’t. They realize they were, and are, essentially alone. Not only are the sacramental, material, and communion dimensions diminished, they are often held in suspicion and described in terms of what they are not. Not salvific. Not true communion. Not efficacious. Not as important as one’s attitude toward them, etc.

  33. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Yes. Sometimes when I’m asked about believing in God, I reply, “Believe in Him? I eat Him!”

  34. Maryjo Avatar

    I feel I’m being pulled to Orthodoxy…after being raised Protestant and researching just about every denom from within, Many questions are raised regarding this fractured belief systems and after poor experiences, pain and hurt from individuals, I feel strongly and because of many a myriad of wrong conduct and behavior and contradictory theology, especially the all to familiar OSAS…I feel God leading me on a journey of discovering the true Christ…but I am afraid…my age, status and health caused me to see the hipocrosy from within the Prostestant Pentecostal movement and once you are an object of ridicule and fear! the wounds are still fresh, who can i trust to tell me the truth and give me solid teaching…who can I trust to love me and not hurt me…I know i can trust Jesus…but those in the Protestant camp are individualistic claiming to be “the body”…well, if we are the body, why aren’t our arms reaching?…I yearn for truth and authenticity in discovering who my precious Lord Jesus is…i want him..but how do i get to him and discern in a sea of false teachers false christ’s and false gospels….Is there any who are teaching the truth? also, everything is so unfamiliar…how do new inquirers of the Orthodox Church overcome this alone? Will I be welcomed? or will I be shunned bc I am a “loser”…thank you Father Stephen for any input…Maryjo/Asheville NC

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