Knocking Down the Gates of Hell

resurrectioniconThe Swedish Lutheran theologian, Gustav Aulen, published a seminal work on the types of atonement theory in 1930 (Christus Victor). Though time and critical studies have suggested many subtler treatments of the question, no one has really improved on his insight. Especially valuable was his description of the “Classic View” of the atonement. This imagery, very dominant in the writings of the early Fathers and in the liturgical life of the Eastern Church, focused on the atonement as an act of invasion, the smashing of gates and bonds, and the setting free of those bound in hell. Aulen clearly preferred this imagery and is greatly responsible for its growing popularity in some segments of Western Christendom.

The language of the Classic View was obscured in the West by the later popularity of propitiatory suffering (and the various theories surrounding it). Aulen claimed that Luther tended to prefer this older imagery. I had opportunity to do a research paper in grad school on the topic. I surveyed all of the hundreds of hymns written by Luther and analyzed them for their atonement theology. All but about two used the Classic View. Aulen seems to have been right.

In Orthodoxy, this imagery is the coin of the realm in the hymns surrounding Pascha. All of Holy Week is predicated on the notion of Christ’s descent into hell and His dynamic actions in destroying death and setting free those held in captivity. St. John Chrysostom’s great Paschal Homily, read in every Orthodox Church on the night of Pascha, is an “Ollie, Ollie, in come free!” of salvation.1

I have written on this topic before. I thought, however, to share some of the verses from the hymns of the Matins of Holy Saturday. Their language is a pure expression of the spirit of Orthodox Pascha and the atonement teaching of the Fathers.

Hell, who had filled all men with fear,
Trembled at the sight of Thee,
And in haste he yielded up his prisoners,
O Immortal Sun of Glory!

Thou hast destroyed the palaces of hell by Thy Burial, O Christ.
Thou hast trampled death down by thy death, O Lord,
And redeemed earth’s children from corruption.

Though thou art buried in a grave, O Christ,
Though Thou goest down to hell, O Savior,
Thou hast stripped hell naked, emptying its graves.

Death seized Thee, O Jesus,
And was strangled in Thy trap.
Hell’s gates were smashed, the fallen were set free,
And carried from beneath the earth on high.

O Savior, death’s corruption
Could not touch Thy holy flesh.
Thou hast bound the ancient murderer of man,
And restored all the dead to new life.

Thou didst will, O Savior,
To go beneath the earth.
Thou didst free death’s fallen captives from their chains,
Leading them from earth to heaven.

In the earth’s dark bosom
The Grain of Wheat is laid.
By its death, it shall bring forth abundant fruit:
Adam’s sons, freed from the chains of death.

Wishing to save Adam,
Thou didst come down to earth.
Not finding him on earth, O Master,
Thou didst descend to Hades seeking him.

O my Life, my Savior,
Dwelling with the dead in death,
Thou hast destroyed the iron bars of hell,
And hast risen from corruption.

These examples could be multiplied many times over. The section of Matins from which these are taken has over 100 verses! Orthodox Holy Week and Pascha has many ways of acting out this theology. Lights go up at the hint of victory, particularly as we sing the Song of Moses celebrating the drowning of Pharaoh’s army. In some parishes, bay leaves are tossed in the air by the priest in a fairly violent and joyous celebration of the victory. In yet others, at certain points during the Vesperal Liturgy of Pascha,  loud noises such as the banging of pots and pans are heard as the liturgy describes the smashing of hell’s gates. There’s is one village in Greece where two parishes have developed a custom of firing rocket fireworks at each other in the Paschal celebration.

Such antics completely puzzle the non-Orthodox and even seem comical. The Paschal celebration in Orthodoxy is far more akin to the wild street scenes in American cities when the end of World War II was announced – and for the same reason!

All of this also explains why many Orthodox are very reluctant to engage in “who’s going to hell” discussions with other Christians (though some Orthodox sadly seem to relish the topic). The services of Holy Week, as illustrated in these verses, are filled with references to hell. I daresay that no services elsewhere in all of Christendom make such frequent mention of hell. But the language is just as illustrated above. It’s all about smashing, destruction and freedom. It is the grammar of Pascha. It is the grammar of Christianity itself.

Hell is real. Jesus has come to smash it. It is the Lord’s Pascha. It is time to sing and dance.

Footnotes for this article

  1. “Ollie, Ollie, in come free!” and other similar phrases (“oxen free!”) is a children’s cry that ends the game of Hide ‘n Seek.

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.



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89 responses to “Knocking Down the Gates of Hell”

  1. Steve Etter Avatar
    Steve Etter

    “All the, all the outs, in home, free.”

  2. nancy holloway Avatar
    nancy holloway

    Does this mean hell is no more, thus no one will go there, i.e. universalism???

  3. Karen Avatar

    And more of such verses to come tonight and in the wee hours tomorrow!… In the Liturgy this morning as our Priest was praying the Anaphora of St Basil, I was thinking I ought to print out a copy of that to meditate on because it pretty much sums up the entire gospel preached by the Apostles and early Christians.

  4. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    My parish uses the bay leaves and your description as violent joy is quite apt. It still brings to mind an assistant priest we had years ago who was a former soldier and street cop. Physically imposing and very direct in his approach to circumstance and people that seems to get him into trouble.

    He would fling the bay leaves at us almost like a drill sargent issuing orders with this wild grin on his face that was somehow the grin of a warrior going into battle mixed with that of a little child, barely civilized yet deeply innocent at the same time.

    Every year I remember him there with us and it never fails to uplift me and make me laugh with joy.

  5. Nicholas Stephen Griswold Avatar
    Nicholas Stephen Griswold

    Amen and Amen

  6. Hugh McCann Avatar
    Hugh McCann

    Glorious hymn. Esp. this:

    Thou hast destroyed the palaces of hell by Thy Burial, O Christ.
    Thou hast trampled death down by thy death, O Lord,
    And redeemed earth’s children from corruption.

    Thou hast trampled death down by thy death, O Lord!

  7. Russ Mangiapane Avatar
    Russ Mangiapane

    “Today, hell cries out groaning: “I should not have accepted the Man born of Mary. He came and destroyed my power. He shattered the gates of brass. As God, He raised the souls that I had held captive.”
    Glory to Thy cross and resurrection O Lord.

    Today, hell cries out groaning: “My dominion has been shattered. I received a dead Man as one of the dead, but against Him I could not not prevail. From eternity I had ruled the dead, but behold, He raises all. Because of Him do I perish.”
    Glory to Thy cross and resurrection O Lord.

    From Holy Saturday Vesperal Liturgy

    Today hell cries out groaning: “My power has been trampled upon. The Shepherd is crucified and Adam is raised. I have been deprived of those whom I ruled. Those whom I swallowed in my strength I have given up. He who was crucified has emptied the tombs. The power of death has been vanquished.”
    Glory to Thy cross and resurrection, O Lord.

  8. Michelle Avatar

    Where Im from its “Olly, olly oxen free!”

  9. Robbins Mitchell Avatar
    Robbins Mitchell

    “The gates of hell are locked from the inside”

    ~C.S. Lewis~

  10. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Lewis, had he been Orthodox, would have understood that it doesn’t matter which side they’re locked on, Jesus is smashing the gates. The same promise is given to the Church, “The gates of hell will never prevail.” Strangely, most people misunderstand that verse and think it promises that the Church will be protected from the gates of hell. But it’s the opposite. It is a promise that the gates cannot remain shut against the might of the Church. We will conquer death and hell.

  11. Robbins Mitchell Avatar
    Robbins Mitchell

    We as Christians might conquer it….but I don’t like the odds of those angels who got tossed out of Heaven for the original rebellion and then their subsequent abominable behavior here on Earth vis a vis mankind….they weren’t about to worship and adore a human infant….and they never will….they earned their damnation in spades….and I’m fine with that

  12. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    St. Paul said that we will judge angels. I suppose we’ll get our chance… 1 Cor. 6:3

  13. Robbins Mitchell Avatar
    Robbins Mitchell

    No….the Almighty already did a right passable job of judging and damning them and their offspring……who am I to try and improve on that?….I’m no John Milton either….they already had Paradise and threw it away with both hands….quod erat demonstrandum

  14. Byron Avatar


    Father is not advocating Universalism. We hope but we do not know. Glory to God!

    I’ve been exhausted these last few days, but it is a good exhaustion!

  15. Brianchaninov Avatar

    “Trampling Down Death by Death” messages pervading our hymnology
    leading to Pascha and following have always encouraged and uplifted
    me. (Christ rescuing our Godly ancestors from Hades is indeed beyond most Evangelical Christian’s understanding).
    Yet we Orthodox repent and seek His mercy repeatedly asking Him to forgive our many sins.
    Satan took a big hit when Christ shattered the gates of hell but he remains the arch-enemy of our souls. We must flee him!

  16. Sunny Avatar

    Father, bless! Christos anesti!

    I wanted to let you know that I am going to start blogging. I realized when I started writing that there was quite a lot of “you” in what came out of me. I wanted to share with you. Any input of yours would be highly valued.

  17. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Nancy, the power of hell is no more: fear not for He is Risen.

  18. chad m Avatar
    chad m

    did you ever come across P.P. Waldenstrom’s theory of the atonement in your research?

  19. Emmie Avatar

    I have been reading Metropolitan Hilarions book called Christ Conqueror of Hell, and it has been very rich reading. This Lent was long and difficult but so worth it. I don’t know if I can ever understand the depths to which Christ went to to free us from our sin. What incredible joy! Christ is Risen!

  20. Nicholas S. Avatar
    Nicholas S.

    Amen! I cannot hear or read St. John Chrysostom’s Paschal Homily without tears coming to my eyes. Christ is Risen!

  21. Dino Avatar


    for me the most remarkable sanction of St Isaac’s, or St Gregory’s ‘kind of universalism’ [although I really do not like that term at all] is to be found in the OT’s words spoken between Jonah and the Lord concerning God’s punishment of the Ninevites and His subsequent revocation of this, against the backdrop of Jonah’s anger at God’s mercies and “lack of justice”. It’s a remarkably rich passage.

  22. Hugh Doyle Avatar

    Hello Father Stephen. Happy Easter to you and all your Orthodox readers. He is risen; Hallelujah! And so are we and all creation saved.

    Thank you for the reminder that Easter is not about satisfying God’s need to punish someone, but rather about Christ’s victory.

    But I am not quite sure about the use of the word ‘hell’ in the post and especially in the following discussion.

    In my understanding, the bible affirms that Christ’s victory was essentially a victory over death (i.e it was a Resurrection). In Matthew 16.18 when Jesus says that ‘the gates of Hades’ will not be able to withstand the assault of the church, he means the church’s advance will tear down the gates of death’s kingdom. Hades was the Greek land of the dead. It wasn’t what the later church came to think of as ‘hell’ a place of punishment for sinners. It was the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew Sheol, which also meant the land of the dead. Neither Sheol nor Hades were places of punishment per se (although in some Greek and especially Roman versions there was punishment for some in Hades) but the places where everyone went when they died. So when Jesus is talking about the ‘gates of Hades’ he means the gates of the kingdom of death. By his death and resurrection he would destroy for ever the power of death.

    The point is that in the bible, I think, death is seen as God’s enemy. Death is the opposite of everything that God intends. God is the God of life always and forever, the God who brings the new and the living out of what is formless and void and empty. God loves life and death represents everything opposed to God (so it includes sickness, barrenness and hopelessness). Isaiah says that death hangs like a terrible, great shroud over the creation (Isaiah 25.7) and death is pictured as a primeval monster which gobbles up everything and everyone. It is only when God Himself gobbles up death (Isaiah 25.8) that the promise of true life (in all its abundance and without limit i.e eternal life) can be realised and the hope of resurrection life become a possibility (Isaiah 26.19).

    So when Jesus rose from the dead he destroyed the power of death. That’s why in Revelation we see that Jesus holds the keys of Hades (i.e the kingdom of death) (Revelation 1.18) and later death (the process of death and decay) and Hades (the land where the Dead dwell) are thrown into the great fiery lake which consumes everything opposed to God’s good and loving purpose (Revelation 20.13-14). That’s why in the New Jerusalem, God’s Kingdom established at last on the earth, there is only life (the great Tree of Life) and ‘no more mourning or sadness or pain’ (Revelation 21.4).

    Unfortunately when the King James translators came across the word Hades (or Sheol) in most instances they translated it as ‘hell’ which of course in our modern thought is the place the wicked are sent after death (which doesn’t actually exist in the bible). So for countless generations of Christians in Britain and its colonies and in the USA Christ appeared to promise that the gates of ‘hell’ would be broken down.

    Anyone who is interested in the ‘what the bible really says about the afterlife’ (as the tag pompously announces it) can read more at my blog at

  23. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Orthodoxy doesn’t make all of these neat distinctions between hell, hades, sheol, etc. And, since we’re talking about the tradition of the Spirit-bearing Fathers, we’re not talking about human speculation but what we know to be true. You seem to have some sort of system worked out that satisfies you. As an Orthodox Christian, I simply read the Fathers and leave the speculation to Protestants. Hell has a kind of existence (not that it is real or true), but is nonetheless not to be desired. I prefer the teaching of the Fathers that sees the suffering of hell not as retribution but as remedial. As such, the word “hell,” is a useful placeholder for whatever that may be.

  24. Dean Avatar

    Hugh Doyle,
    Orthodox philospher, Clark Carlton has a pertinent discussion of these terms on Ancient Faith Radio under archived podcasts. His is Faith and Philosophy, the podcast,” Hell, a Modest Proposal.”

  25. Hugh McCann Avatar
    Hugh McCann

    Father Stephen,

    From our reading, the Fathers were as speculative as anyone at times, and -as you know- we take them as being no more authoritative as anyone else in the post-apostolic ecclesiastical world.

  26. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Hugh McCann,
    I’m sorry, but, if by “we”, you mean Reform thinkers, then you need to understand that I have no more interest in what “they” think about anything than a Buddhist etc. it’s just made up self invented indulgence, not a true submission to the Christian mind. It’s continues its constant churning and discussions and iterations of its own nonsense. It killed Scotland, and is dying in America. It has been the source of great sadness. If you want to understand Orthodoxy, fine. But I have no care about how Reformed folks think about the Fathers or Scripture. It simply has no standing.

  27. Hugh McCann Avatar
    Hugh McCann

    Father Stephen,

    I understand you. I am not here to argue (much), but to clarify and explain what I believe to be true as long as you’ll allow me.

    BTW, it’s “Reformed,” not “Reform,” and I must say in all charity that your aspersion -in comparing Luther, Calvin or whomever, to Buddhists- is unhelpful & unkind.

  28. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    My intention has to do with hermeneutics. A Buddhist lacks the frame of reference to understand Christianity properly. By the same token, the Reformers lacked the proper frame of reference to read the Scriptures or the Fathers. It is a fundamental problem, and very important.

    If an unbeliever, for example, picks up a Bible and starts reading, he might come to any number of conclusions. The text is not some sort of object. It is seen and understood in a relational manner. For an Orthodox Christian, there is a particular character to the relationship with have with the Scriptures and with the Fathers that is essentially different than those of others. We read them as our own. We see and know them primarily in a liturgical/ascetical/devotional manner, in the very same form as they have been known for the better part of Christian history. They experience and context provides a basis for a hermeneutical experience that simply is not available anywhere else.

    Everybody has a matrix of their hermeneutic. To become a Christian requires, finally, that we become part of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, not some Reformed version, but the very same Church. That is the community of interpretation. When a Buddhist speaks like a Buddhist, it does not surprise me. It’s what they do. They have a community of belief and interpretation. When someone Reformed speaks and says Reformed stuff, it’s the same. But it has nothing to do with my Christianity, my faith, my life, my Church, or with the Christ whom I know. It’s an artifact of culture, but not an artifact of the Church. It is extra ecclesiam.

    Now, obviously, I can have a conversation with a Buddhist, and even profit by it (and vice versa). But I do not expect that conversation to bear much weight in my faith.

    When someone from outside that living tradition of Orthodoxy starts speaking about the Scriptures as though they understand and share something in common with me, they are mistaken. There is an Orthodox experience of the Scriptures, for the reasons noted above, and it is essential. We never(!) remove the Scriptures from the ecclesial context.

    As to the Fathers. We don’t just read them. We sing them. We sing them in a particular order. Some have far more weight and representation than others do. Hymnographers, for example, pretty much never read by the non-Orthodox, have an extremely important role in our patristic consciousness. From the outside, you can have no idea of how thoroughly this experience permeates all that we do. The Fathers are old dusty books, they are the “ear worms” that will be singing in our heads throughout the week after the weekend’s services.

    Orthodoxy is not a collection of texts (and neither is true Christianity). It is a dynamic, living experience of the very God-breathed Tradition that is the Life of the Church, given to us in all we do. It shapes the very movements of the services and writes the melodies. It is taken up in the “dance” of the faithful as they respond with body and soul. It paints our icons and designs our buildings. It shapes the character and content of the food we eat. It clothes our priests and bakes our bread. And these things are not simply cultural artifacts. They are God-breathed and embued with power that is life-transforming. It is the context of our lives.

    And all of these things are as related to the Fathers and the Scriptures as the very texts themselves. We do what the Fathers did. We eat what they ate. We smell what they smelled. And I could go on.

    But you want to bring me a sterile, modern reading and talk about meaning? Forgive me, but the greatest Reformed scholar of Patristics would be more clueless than the average grandmother in an Orthodox Church. We don’t know things in that manner, and the things that matter can only be truly known in the manner they were given to us.

    The rationalized abstractions of Protestant thinking is just so much thinking. It long ago abandoned everything that was given to us from our ancestors in the faith. It invented modernity and secularism. Thank God that the faith has been preserved and that by God’s grace it abides.

    I do not mean to be unhelpful nor unkind. But I seriously mean to share how far removed what you think is from what we know. It’s just how it is.

  29. Hugh McCann Avatar
    Hugh McCann

    Thank you, Father, for this explanation.

    If our “fathers” (Reformers and their heirs) simply “lack… the proper frame of reference to read the Scriptures or the Fathers,”

    and, are “more clueless than the average grandmother in an Orthodox Church,”

    and if we Reformed Christians are no more spiritually minded than Buddhists,

    do you charge all we Reformed Christians to actually be bereft of the Holy Spirit, like a Buddhist?

  30. kLutz Avatar

    “You have said so,” Jesus replied. “But I say to all of you: From now on you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.”

  31. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Anyone who calls Christ “Lord,” is a Christian, and no one can say “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit. But Christ gave us the Church for a reason beyond convenience. Human beings are created to be social beings. Everything we do is social in nature. Language, biology, etc., are all social in nature. Everything we think, and what we think we know, has a basis in social constructs. And this is proper. The Church is Body of Christ and is that context of living Tradition for the salvation of our souls.

    The Reformed movement is simply bereft of “Church.” It cannot self-generate a living continuous Tradition by reading the Bible and talking to itself. Christianity is “traditioned,” not invented. You cannot disrupt that reality without consequences.

    How bad are the consequences? Worse in some cases than others. Less bad in others. Is Orthodoxy perfect? Absolutely not. Does it need Reform. No. It’s living the same life it was given in the beginning. And that life clearly guides and preserves it.

    Hugh, the Reform movement has historically, been the location of some of the worst biological racism ever taught in the name of Christ. Many in the American South denied that blacks even had souls. And they used Sola Scriptura to back it up. Clearly, there is a repenting over this now. But it is an example of the defenseless nonsense that cannot be corrected. If you’re not aware of this dark side of Reformed thought, you should be. It was an evil that rivaled anything ever expressed by Nazism. Many young Reformed minded folk are unaware of this history. The authors of apartheid in S. Africa were Reformed. I think that none of this is accidental. I was taught as a child that black people were black because they were descendants of Ham and had been cursed with their dark skins. This blasphemy came out of that same movement.

    Now, you obviously don’t subscribe to such things and you would abhor them as much as I do. I cite this only as an example of the kind of error that has been produced from time to time in Reformed movements. Bereft of the Fathers and the living Tradition of the Spirit, it is possible to fall into all kinds of errors.

    Orthodoxy is not immune to troubles. All of the ancient heresies began, to a large extent, in the mind of an Orthodox Christian. That heretic and his followers, however, began to reject the Church and the guidance of her bishops, seduced by their own imaginations. And repeatedly throughout history, the Church has identified, met, rebuked, and, when necessary, anathematized these errors. It preserves the life given to the Church in the Common Cup of Christ (hence no so-called “open communion”). Orthodoxy is not a power structure (as in the case of Rome). It is a communion in the One Cup and the One Mind of Christ. We think what the Fathers thought, and for the same reasons.

    Don’t underestimate the necessity of a “hermeneutical community.” That error is itself among the many problems within modern Reformed thought.

  32. Byron Avatar

    So when Jesus rose from the dead he destroyed the power of death. That’s why in Revelation we see that Jesus holds the keys of Hades (i.e the kingdom of death) (Revelation 1.18) and later death (the process of death and decay) and Hades (the land where the Dead dwell) are thrown into the great fiery lake which consumes everything opposed to God’s good and loving purpose (Revelation 20.13-14). That’s why in the New Jerusalem, God’s Kingdom established at last on the earth, there is only life (the great Tree of Life) and ‘no more mourning or sadness or pain’ (Revelation 21.4).

    I find the illustration of Jesus holding the keys of Hades and death and throwing them into the great fiery lake interesting. If fire is the expression of God’s Love (as it is often shown in icons) and death/hades the expression of non-being, then this illustration may reflect the final destruction of non-being by God–it would be an illustration of the complete victory of God and the Life He created for us in the garden over Adam’s bringing of death into creation. This is essentially an illustration of the action of Christ on the Cross, not necessarily an “end point” yet to come. Just thinking out loud; please correct me if I am off-base here.

  33. Hugh McCann Avatar
    Hugh McCann

    Thank you, Fr Stephen.

    Buddhists are without the Spirit of God and by necessity, without the Church.

    Reformed Christians have the Spirit of God and yet are outside “the Church”?

    “By the same token” sounded as if you equated the two. Thanks for the clarification.

    He is risen indeed. Hallelujah!

  34. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    The exact nature and character of Christians who are outside the Church has never been defined by the Orthodox Church. But, the Church can only be One, and it cannot be One in some vague, “mystical company of all faithful believers,” sense invented by Protestantism to cover up the fact that they were destroying the entire classical doctrine of Church.

    It’s not a problem that Orthodoxy has to solve. It’s a problem for those who have separated themselves from the historical Church and yet make claims for themselves based on promises not given to them. Orthodoxy doesn’t say anything about the Church that the Fathers and the Councils didn’t say. We say the same thing. It’s those who now want to say something different to explain by what authority they can possibly make such a claim.

    To set the Scripture as some sort of authority separate from the Church is facile and self-serving and denies the historic Christian faith. I have written previously (“Has Your Bible Become a Quran?”) about the notion of Scripture separated from the Church.

    These should not be puzzling questions for me, but for you. How can you claim to have the same faith as Athanasius and yet stand outside and apart from him (for example)?

    I honestly don’t like pushing things to this point, but it does indeed clarify. Where do you stand when you read the Scriptures? Who stands with you? Are you claiming a private God and a private Holy Spirit? What is the Church?

  35. Hugh McCann Avatar
    Hugh McCann

    Fr Stephen,

    You repeatedly denigrate our tradition with historical sins that may or may not be validly traced to our theology. You see necessary logical consequences. I respectfully do not agree with your conclusions, of course.

    But I know that we too often return the favor with the Eastern Church. 🙁

    I read 1 Corinthians 12 this morning, and see us all in Christ/ in the Spirit therein, not one person, denomination, church, or tradition above another.

    Else, we’re not in the same Christ and same Spirit at all. The Buddhist, for instance.

    3 Wherefore I give you to understand, that no man speaking by the Spirit of God calleth Jesus accursed: and that no man can say that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Ghost….

    12 For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ. 13 For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit.

    14 For the body is not one member, but many. 15 If the foot shall say, Because I am not the hand, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body? 16 And if the ear shall say, Because I am not the eye, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body? 17 If the whole body were an eye, where were the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where were the smelling?

    18 But now hath God set the members every one of them in the body, as it hath pleased him. 19 And if they were all one member, where were the body? 20 But now are they many members, yet but one body. 21 And the eye cannot say unto the hand, I have no need of thee: nor again the head to the feet, I have no need of you.

    I claim the same faith as Athanasius, as I believe we are one in the Spirit in essentials. Would we agree on ALL things? I doubt it. Just as you and I disagree on many things, and yet, call each brother in the Lord (I hope!).

    Where I stand when I read the Scriptures, is with all who have the Spirit. We all make mistakes and we all get some tunings right. I read Basil or Luther, Chrysostom or Calvin, praying God helps me to agree with them where we are biblical, and rejecting ALL our errors, where we err.

    “Who stands with” me? All in Christ, all in the Spirit, whether they be Reformed, Orthodox, Evangelical, Baptist, or even {shudder} Roman Catholic.[1]

    Am I “claiming a private God and a private Holy Spirit”? Of course not. Just the same Spirit Who has baptized us all into Christ.

    “What is the Church?” All those whom Christ has redeemed with his most precious blood.

    As one has said: The saying of Rupertus Meldenius strikes the right balance. It calls for unity on the essential things, the core of truth in our union with Christ. In non-essentials (not the unimportant, but those things that if lacking do not prevent our union with Christ), it calls for liberty so that all might follow their consciences under the Word and Spirit. In all things, however, there must be love (“charity” from the Latin caritas, or “love”), “which binds everything together in perfect harmony” (Col. 3:14).*

    [1] Those who are united by faith in Christ are thereby united to one another in the church, the body of Christ. We call this union the communion of saints. It is a mysterious thing, and to understand it properly we will need to see it both in its “now” and “not yet” aspects. Because it is a union created by Christ in baptizing us all by one Spirit into His body, the church (1 Cor. 12:12–13), it is true of all Christians now, a fait accompli. But the manifestation of that unity is not always apparent. Christians can display ugly divisions between one another, as at the church of Corinth (1:10–17). Their disunity could be seen in the public square as members sued one another before the ungodly in civic courts (6:1–8). Even the Lord’s Supper was not sufficient to bring them together in love and unity (11:17–34). Manifesting fully the unity in Christ that already is given to us belongs to the “not yet” perfection of the faith that will come at our glorification. With deep longing our Lord prayed for our unity, knowing that on it rests our own blessing and the credibility of the church’s witness for Christ (John 17:20–23).*

    * “In Essentials Unity, In Non-Essentials Liberty, In All Things Charity” by Mark Ross.

  36. Hugh McCann Avatar
    Hugh McCann

    The typo above should read:

    “We all make mistakes and we all get some things right.”

    Not, “tunings,” though that kind of works. 😉

  37. Onesimus Avatar


    Mormons? Jehovahs witnesses?

  38. Hugh McCann Avatar
    Hugh McCann

    Cults, Onesimus.

    Not latter day saints, nor YHWH’s true witnesses.

  39. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    I understand. But that is not 1 Corinthians’ meaning. You’re taking the sin of schism and many heresies, and reading it back into a whole new concept of “One Church.” Such a meaning is absolutely contrary to the meaning of “One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic” in the Creed. And that portion of the Creed is far older than the 4th century. The rule you’re citing is simply a defense of the indefensible.

    The doctrine of the Church is as much a part of the Christian faith as the atonement. Protestantism and the Reform movement clearly, and undeniably have invented new doctrines of the Church in order to not face what they have done nor the conclusions they should draw. And if you’ll do this to the doctrine of the Church, why not to all the other doctrines so that you finally get only a convenient version of Christianity but not the real thing.

    I made this journey because it’s the truth. The conclusions were difficult, but ultimately undeniable. I only cited the racism stuff in order to awaken your understanding that this stuff has been wrong, and deeply wrong in the past. It is not the bulwark you imagine it to be.

    I do not seek to create disunity. I am simply discerning the ugly reality that is there. You are in schism from the Church and part of a group that is willing to change the changeless doctrine of the Church in order to justify its own schism. Orthodoxy has suffered for nearly 2000 years to live the fullness of the unity that was given to us in Christ. But you would invite us into the schismatic nightmare that is the Protestant make-believe “church.” You have no unity in essentials. That’s just fiction and convenience. There’s not even unity within the Reform Movement, nor can there be. But saying these hard things seems to provoke you to suggest that it comes from lack of charity. That’s not the case. But it is a hard saying, I’ll grant you. You’re living in a two-storey universe. There’s the reality of what you’re doing in a very private manner. And there’s the fiction of “all those whom Christ has redeemed with His precious blood.” It’s convenient that this theoretical group remains theoretical. There’s nothing to submit to, only people to chat with.

    Orthodoxy is not theoretical. It is a true communion, visible, historical and real. It is difficult and painful, but it’s true unity has been sustained through time with the shedding of martyrs’ blood. Your theoretical unity would probably have helped us avoid a lot of trouble through the centuries, but then, there would no longer be a Church. Just individual Christians in our chat rooms.

  40. James Isaac Avatar
    James Isaac

    Reading the above discussion, I am reminded of previous words of Fr. Stephen which helped me to understand that the only way we know – truly know – is by participation, just as we can never know love if all we do is talk about it. It must be experienced. Which is why the only way to really *know* Orthodox theology is to immerse yourself in Orthodox worship/prayer. It has been a huge hurdle for this hyper-analytical, intellectual soul, but it has been setting me free in ways I could only dream of before.

    Christ has shattered and destroyed the gates of hell; may we ever participate with Him in this Life of the Resurrection, and *know* His salvation!

  41. Hugh McCann Avatar
    Hugh McCann

    Thank you, Fr Stephen, for your very clarifying posts.

    I truly enjoy reading your articles & comments, and learning.

    Yours in Christ,

  42. DM Avatar

    Fr. Stephen, you write:
    It’s not a problem that Orthodoxy has to solve. It’s a problem for those who have separated themselves from the historical Church…

    Why is it that everywhere I have lived has had at least one Roman Catholic parish and one Episcopal/Anglican parish, usually around the block, but the nearest Orthodox parish is, if not over 100 miles away, virtually unseen and unheard from (and not really interested in welcoming outsiders)?

    In other words, Orthodoxy has quite literally never been an “option” in my Christian journey, until recently. I and those like me didn’t “separate ourselves” from the historical Church… it simply wasn’t around to be added to. Why not?

    It seems to me that, to a large extent, mission (for lack of a better word) IS Orthodoxy’s problem to solve, in that there are a great many Christ-followers who are separated from the Church through no intent or desire of their own. The Church (OCA, Russia, Antioch, Greek) hasn’t seen fit to open a mission parish anywhere near me. So, my options are TEC, RC, or other. I’d gladly join myself to the One Church… if I could find it.

    The Church can’t have it both ways, in my estimation. Orthodoxy is unwilling to open parishes where the people reside, but more than willing to place the burden on those same people to return to what they never left. That sort of double-bind clouds all the ecclesiology and theology, it’s a pastoral failure. To hide behind the Fathers and the Councils seems a bit disingenuous.

    At least Campbellites will start a church around a farm pond and a picnic table with three people if there is no other church around. Heh, even if there is…

  43. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    My late archbishop was accused of being willing to start a mission anywhere he could find “2 old ladies and a cat under a tree.” That’s how we came to have Churches here in TN.

    History clearly presents real hurdles in our lives. Just like our genetic inheritance, our ecclesial inheritance is sometimes problematic. If you had born in China in the first century, you could wonder why the Church was not there. Historical circumstances did not make it a possibility.

    The Orthodox Church continued in the Eastern part of the Roman Empire and spread from there. But the schism and persecutions by the Western Church and Islam certainly isolated it. Russians first sent missionaries to America (Alaska) and the Church continues to exist there. Eventually, migrations from Orthodox lands has brought the Church to most of America. But you have to remember that many of those lands were under Ottoman rule until the 19th and early 20th century. They were oppressed and persecuted. In Turkey, we are still not allowed to open our seminary. Add to that the Communist Yoke that covered most of the 20th century.

    But we’re here, and we’re growing. If not where you are, yet, then it will come. The Orthodox have missionaries all over the world, and are receiving converts, in some cases by the 10’s of thousands at once!

    But, of course, historical circumstances can still leave someone without a local Orthodox presence. But that lack does not negate the reality of Orthodoxy, it only underlines the tragedy of schism and heresy. Of course, the West has sought to return the favor. At the fall of the Soviet Union, American Protestants sought to flood Russia with missionaries, before the Orthodox Church could even get on its feet. Reformed groups have sent missionaries to places like Romania when formerly Reformed Countries like Scotland don’t even have 5% of their population in Church on a Sunday.

    I have spent the 18+ years of my Orthodox life doing mission work. I have had a hand in starting 5 Churches, written over 2,000 articles and fielded over 50,000 comments (and that in only the last 9 years). We’re working on it. If God would give us more hours in the day, we could do so much more! The fields are white. I’m praying for more workers.

    BTW, the only Church in Antarctica is Orthodox. And, arguably, the International Space Station is Orthodox since it has icons and relics of the saints (brought by Cosmonauts).

    Patience. Rome wasn’t brought to its knees in a day…

  44. Onesimus Avatar


    6o million orthodox Christians were martyrdom in the last 100 years alone. Those unfamiliar with how the Church has been persecutEd by Satan and his forces may blame the Orthodox for their “lack of zeal” but ultimately, history proves such accusations to be hollow. Clawing out from persecution and near extinction, the church continues to proclaim the faith and die doing it.

    most immigrants to America who were Orthodox were escaping near extinction and massacres and found a new kind of resistance in the West to their “heresy”.

    While I understand your plight, please consider what the Orthodox have gone through in maintaining this faith so that it is even an option at all.

  45. Eleftheria Avatar

    Christos Anesti!
    As a Greek-American living in Cyprus, I have been exposed to what I refer to as “raw” Orthodoxy. It is still possible here to worship in churches where people worshipped 1500 years ago, and of course that worship was Orthodoxy. It is still possible to visit rivers where the Apostles Paul and Barnabas baptized people and ordained bishops. It is, of course, a blessing, but no less a blessing than this blog and all the wonderful comments.
    St John Maximovitch had said that it is necessary to understand the Gospel as the Orthodox understand it. I think this blog goes a long way towards helping the Saint’s words to become reality;so, thank you Fr. Stephen.
    Through the many homilies I have been blessed to listen to on radio programs here, again and again, I have heard Met. Athanasios say that Orthodoxy is the Kingdom of God and not a religion…and it is. It is why our liturgies, weddings, baptisms begin with “Blessed is the Kingdom of God”. So, to read in the comments that this Kingdom is “one” with religions is disconcerting.
    Forgive me.
    Christos Anesti!

  46. Nicholas Stephen Griswold Avatar
    Nicholas Stephen Griswold

    DM, Churches are planted by believers not by the hierarchy. If you desire an Orthodox Parish to attend and there is not one where you live, plant one. Find a few other people who have the time, talent and treasure who have the same desire and start forming a parish. Study the Faith and be a leader until you are ready to seek conversion to the faith and when you have enough who are converted and accepted into the Faith then you can petition the ruling Bishop of your area for clergy or you can attend Seminary yourself and prepare for ordination.
    It is the way everyone plants churches. When I was an Associate Pastor in a Protestant denomination I was in a church plant for five years until I converted. I moved to another State and entered into an Orthodox Church plant in a very unlikely place (a small town which is the headquarters of the State’s Chapter of the White Knights of the KKK). I am now serving in another parish nearby that was a church plant 30 some years ago. Every Orthodox Church in my area (we have all the major jurisdictions here) were started by the same method of church planting that I described. The big ones are the oldest and they are full of American converts.

  47. DM Avatar

    Fr. Stephen,

    I stand [er, sit] corrected. Orthodoxy has made it to where I am. An old-calendarist monastery is nearby. Apparently the rest of Orthodoxy has apostated themselves and these fellers are the remnant.

    {sigh} It defies logic. No further comment.

    Thank you, Fr. Stephen, for your work here.

  48. Dee of St. Herman's Avatar
    Dee of St. Herman’s

    I’m a recent convert to Orthodoxy with much to learn. But I’m confused by your comment as there are “old-calendarists” as I think you are calling them who take the same body and blood of Christ with me in my Orthodox parish.

    You mention “apostated” as though there is some kind of schism, I am supposing, by your comment. But there might be more peace and good will between us than you might realize. Yes they follow the “old-calendar” and yes I do not. But as a new Christian, they are also my teachers, teaching by their brotherly love and support of my life in Christ even as someone who is not following the Old Calendar. We live in communion with each other at the same Cup.

    Perhaps Fr Stephen will say more on this. As I say, I’m newly baptized and have so much to learn. I wish to present my comment more as a question rather than critique.

  49. Mark Basil Avatar
    Mark Basil

    Dear to God Hugh McCann;

    I just want to say to you how much I have appreciated your irenic presence in the comments section of the blog. Being the ‘only Reformed’ on an Orthodox blog (esp. with many converts *from* Reformed thinking to Orthodoxy) would require some real perseverence, tact, patience, and focus. I have been amazed many times when I have ‘cringed’ at some comments to/at you, expecting you to give up or react, yet you have not done so.
    Thank you for being a bright light in the anti-incarnate ‘blogosphere’ where it is so easy to abuse our neighbour or take offense.

    As to the content of your position and disagreement regarding the nature of the Church I have little helpful to add. But as to the framing of the discussion at this time, only that we Orthodox have just come through the greatest ascetic struggle into the dazzling light of the Feast of feasts– it will be impossible for our joy and zeal at the treasure we have in Christ’s Pascha to not affect our dealings with all who are ‘without’ and cannot, by any fault of their own, ‘get it’ from outside this experiential context. Bear with us in our zeal, we are also gentle and patient. 🙂

    Love in Christ;
    -Mark Basil

  50. Hugh McCann Avatar
    Hugh McCann

    Dear to me Mark B.,

    Thanks for the kind words. Flattery will get you just about anywhere. 😉

    Happy Pascha!

  51. DM Avatar


    The monastery I speak of is schismatic (again, for lack of a better, kinder word) of their own accord and actions, not at all because they are “old-calendarist.” I only use that as a neutral description. Their published literature states as much, that they are the only “true” Orthodox and all others are apostate (the “new calendar” being one of the listed heresies). Their “archbishop” has been excommunicated by several jurisdictions and continues call out most other patriarchates for apostasy, mostly due to ecumenism.

    They do, however, paint some beautiful icons and print some lovely books.

  52. DM Avatar

    Fr. Stephen, Dee, et al.

    I bring this up, not to somehow prove that Orthodoxy’s house is not entirely in order (no one here is denying that), but to demonstrate that, to a potential convert like myself, the theological and ecclesiological appeal by Orthodoxy to being the One Church can sometimes come across as tone deaf when it comes to the practicalities of boots on the ground.

    As a simplistic example: I am a potential catechumen. I am searching into Orthodoxy. Fr. Stephen tells me the historical Orthodox church is the One Church. Later, I come across Archbishop (so-and-so) of (such-and-such) Monastery of the (one-true) Orthodox Church that says, “No, we are the True Church, and that patriarchate and jurisdiction Fr. Stephen is a part of is apostate.” In not that many words.

    Which is it? Are they both not Orthodox? They seem a whole lot alike, but aren’t in communion.

    Can you see how this might put a damper on the phrase in the hymn, “I have found the true faith?”

    Jerusalem and Antioch, recently, broke communion. Which one is now the One Church? (I understand there may be progress in that arena, but the point holds.)

    A former pastor of mine once accused my then-current pastor of “sheep rustling.” Basically, that’s the same as calling, “apostasy!” This is an earnest, honest question: Given conditions on the ground, how is Orthodoxy different?

  53. Hugh McCann Avatar
    Hugh McCann

    Here in our town where I am investigating Orthodoxy, we have an OCA, a ROCOR, and a very conservative parish under a Bulgarian bishop. Next town over, a Greek Orthodox parish. Seems they get along pretty well. And essentially, is there any difference?

  54. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Antioch and Jerusalem are temporarily out-of-communion concerning a jurisdictional matter in the Middle East (as far as I can tell, Jerusalem trespassed). They are not in any way declaring each other to be not Orthodox, nor does it mean that their people may not take communion from the other. It’s not a schism.

    The One Cup is also a disciplinary matter in Orthodox. When things are seriously out-of-order, communion is stopped until it is repaired. That is the ancient manner of dealing with these things.

    There have been, since nearly the beginning of the Church, occasions of “episcopi vagantes” (“wandering bishops”). Men who somehow gained what they claim are legitimate apostolic orders and then declare themselves to be the Church, etc. Their absolute isolation is itself a testimony to their bogus claims.

    There are plenty of nut-jobs in the world. I don’t claim to be the one-true Church. I claim to be a priest in communion with all of the Bishops of the Eastern Orthodox Church, its patriarchs, etc. Submission and synodality are important.

    The existence of the multiplicity of Protestant denominations/groups, etc., does not negate the teaching and reality that is clearly, demonstrably part of the identity of the Eastern Orthodox Church. No one of much standing at all denies that we are who we say we are. What is denied is that the teaching regarding the One Church, clearly professed in the Scriptures and in the Conciliar fathers, still applies to anyone.

    I can understand someone saying that it no longer applies to anyone. That, somehow, the Apostolic Church just disappeared or something.

    But, the claim that the “Church is one,” now means something different than it once did, seems to be utterly fraudulent.

    The third possibility is that Orthodoxy is what it says it is and would love for everyone to come back home. My own experience more or less went from the first option (disappeared) to the third. That was a journey of 20 years. I absolutely recognize and understand that we have all inherited an absolute historical mess that was not of our making. What I don’t want to do is declare the mess to be the new normal. Lord Michael Ramsey (101st Archbishop of Canterbury) once wrote that it was the vocation of the Anglican Church to be reunited with the Orthodox. I cam to the conclusion that such a reunion was only going to happen one-at-a-time.

    I decided that, as a Christian, it was better to spend my life doing the essential work of the Orthodox Church than to spend my time trying to fix or reform something else. I have found by experience that what I expected and hoped for is indeed what I have found in the Orthodox Church. It’s messy (like the NT), but it works. It produces the same saints. It’s worth spending the rest of my life in its labor.

    But in our modern world, there will always be a multiplicity of voices. There were plenty of messiah’s in Jesus’ day. It didn’t negate the real one.

  55. Onesimus Avatar


    In regards to Antioch and Jerusalem, one would have to understand that the “breaking of communion” here is not excommunication proper or even schism proper. It is a formal process in coming to reconciliation. I know that might not make sense…but one has to understand canonical and ecclesiastical norms to understand what this move means and what processes it starts on the back-end for these two jurisdictions.

    It is not “I’m done with you” — it is “this is serious – and by doing this – we now must take this issue more seriously and solve it.”

    The difference in the case of these vs. Protestant churches is that the move here is an attempt to put into motion specific diplomatic and ecclesiastic structures and dialogues to negotiate a solution – all with the ultimate view for unity. If it were a Protestant church or a schismatic group- they’d simply be done with one another and start their own thing. That is NOT what is happening with Antioch and Jerusalem. While it is difficult to understand – Antioch and Jerusalem are actually continuing dialogue within the bounds of canon law and this is a movement which has reconciliation and unity as its “telos.”

    Perhaps someone else can explain better…but this is not a schism. Nor do I think it will be one.

  56. Onesimus Avatar


    I also understand there is a deeper question you are getting at…and I don’t want to dismiss it by explaining the Antioch /Jerusalem issue. I’d like to respond…but I’m unable to at the moment.

    Perhaps someone else can…or I will later.

  57. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    DM, there are two major factors that, so far, have limited the penetration of the Orthodox Church into the United States: 1. The immigrant mindset coming from lands where the Church has been persecuted for centuries, 2 the inoculation of the religious in this country to authentic Christian expression by prejudice and ignorance some of which Father alluded to in previous posts.

    The founders of my parish came to this country fleeing Islamic pogroms in the late 19th century. They were met with a prejudice almost as implacable. They were spit on in the streets and allowed to live only on the west side of town, the former red light district and called “West side Indians” or worse.

    Still they persisted and have built a parish community that welcomes all, has a Traditional private school, extensive charitable work in the community including ministry to unwed mothers to allow them to birth and keep their babies plus a small monastary of monks who all happen to be converts.

    Not only that but our Bishop has established a missions fund to help support new parishes in his diocese.

    Not only that they graciously received me, an old syrcretistic heathen, and my family and not a few others like me.

    In the land between the mountains there is a burgeoning Orthodox community with out posts in Garden City and Hillsboro KS, Springfield and Ash Grove, Mo, DeQueen, Arkansas and lots of places all over Texas.

    You might read Fr. John Peck’ s web site “Journey to Orthodoxy” for more current information. He even has a referral service to connect inquirers with people and resources.

  58. DM Avatar

    I cannot shake the feeling that all the explanations I receive (not only yours, but others’ in addition) seem to be begging the question. At the same time I feel I may be too cynical, too obtuse, too skeptical.

    But, moving on…

    Onesimus and Fr. Stephen, I don’t understand the Eucharist any more than any one else, but to use it as some sort of institutional chastening rod just doesn’t seem congruent. But my questioning doesn’t seek to solve that issue. I’m out over my skis on that one.

    Michael, thank you for the tip for Fr. Peck’s site. I have spent many hours there. I have made contact with a “local” parish and priest. He has been very helpful and kind.

    As have all of you, here.

  59. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    The Eucharist is deeply misunderstood in our culture, having become of sort of sign of hospitality and matter of private devotion. I have compared it, instead, to the conjugal union of a husband and wife. Just because you “can” do it, doesn’t mean you always should. It is an act of union, and there may be many very good reasons to pause when there are serious relational issues. This is much, much closer to how traditional Christianity sees this.

    Indeed, the Eucharist as an act of hospitality, “All baptized Christians come!” or “All people come!” in some denominations, is pretty much paralleled by our casual attitude to sex. No commitment necessary. No promises. Just your private pleasure. See you later.

    Orthodoxy sees communion as a true union with Christ and with His body. The instructions in the liturgy, the very first thing noted, is that a priest must be “at peace with everyone” before he can celebrate the Divine Liturgy.

    Jerusalem and Antioch are having a marital fight. And they are very responsible in their refraining from commemorating each other in communion until it is settled.

    It should not be used for chastening. But it is part of an overall pattern of asceticism that marks the Orthodox Christian life. We’re not in it for the fun and games. The discomforts it sometimes brings are for our salvation.

  60. Alan Avatar

    “When someone from outside that living tradition of Orthodoxy starts speaking about the Scriptures as though they understand and share something in common with me, they are mistaken. There is an Orthodox experience of the Scriptures, for the reasons noted above, and it is essential. We never(!) remove the Scriptures from the ecclesial context.

    Orthodoxy is not a collection of texts (and neither is true Christianity). It is a dynamic, living experience of the very God-breathed Tradition that is the Life of the Church, given to us in all we do. It shapes the very movements of the services and writes the melodies. ”

    Father, thank you, thank you, thank you for these comments!!
    It almost seems like most Evangelicals believe that when Christ ascended to Heaven, the last thing He said was “Here’s a book, it’s the New Testament. Read it, study it, and understand it. Read it on your own if you like. Or, gather with a few folks, have a latte, sit under a tree and study it together. You’ll easily understand all of it.”

    What Christ actually left was The Church.

  61. Hugh McCann Avatar
    Hugh McCann

    Dear Fr Stephen (& Alan),

    There is an Orthodox experience of the Scriptures, for the reasons noted above, and it is essential. We never(!) remove the Scriptures from the ecclesial context.

    Orthodoxy is not a collection of texts (and neither is true Christianity). It is a dynamic, living experience of the very God-breathed Tradition that is the Life of the Church, given to us in all we do. It shapes the very movements of the services and writes the melodies.

    Again, is not Orthodoxy a collection of texts AND this experience of Tradition (much of which is found in texts!)?

    As to the Fathers. We don’t just read them. We sing them. We sing them in a particular order. Some have far more weight and representation than others do. Hymnographers, for example, pretty much never read by the non-Orthodox, have an extremely important role in our patristic consciousness. From the outside, you can have no idea of how thoroughly this experience permeates all that we do. The Fathers are old dusty books, they are the “ear worms” that will be singing in our heads throughout the week after the weekend’s services.

    We don’t just read them.

    But you do read them. So, it’s properly not either/ or (texts or no texts), but it’s both/ and.

    From the outside, I of course hope that I have SOME idea of how thoroughly this experience permeates all that you do, though I cannot know this to the degree or in the same way you all do. I at least now know THAT this experience permeates all that you do!

    When someone from outside that living tradition of Orthodoxy starts speaking about the Scriptures as though they understand and share something in common with me, they are mistaken.

    As one outside the Tradition, I do not pretend to fully understand your tradition, but hope that I do understand SOME things. Some I believe, too; some I do not.

    To say that we share nothing in common in the Faith is too extreme, but if that is the judgment of Orthodoxy upon us, so be it.


  62. Mark Basil Avatar
    Mark Basil

    Fr Stephen, I have since being baptised Orthodox 10 yrs ago agreed with and accepted the understanding of communion that you put forth here to DM.

    Recently though, it is not sitting well with me. I emailed a friend to bounce ideas off of and he has increased my uneasiness. May I ask a few questions?

    1) Is the analogy to conjugal relations really grounded in the way the Eucharist is given to us, and administered, in the Scriptures and early church? Specifically I am thinking of Judas sitting at the Last Supper- and he is not *withheld* the eucharist (but surely eats condemnation unto himself).

    2) Elsewhere in the scriptures it always seems witholding of the eucharist is for ‘moral’ reasons (behaviour totally incongruent with union to Christ) and not doctrinal (e.g. an upright Roman Catholic for his different beliefs).

    3) I have never met a priest who cared to be at peace with everyone before serving. Of course this is a matter of conscience and subjective judgement, but honestly there’s so little care to enforce these lovely words that it’s almost hypocrisy.
    Honestly, is it not the case that in practice witholding communion is used *exactly* for chastening another all the time?

    4) I will offer a ‘raw quote’ from my correspondence with a friend for this one. He was writing privately to me so forgive its terse tone:
    “Jerusalem and Antioch are having a marital fight. And they are very responsible in their refraining from commemorating each other in communion until it is settled.”

    ​No. They are responsible to refrain from partaking themselves until it is settled. The logic here was horrendous: if I am not at peace with my brother, I should not partake with him but I can partake for myself? No. If I am not at peace with my brother, I should not partake. Period. ​

    5) I will quote again from my correspondence:
    “But it is part of an overall pattern of asceticism that marks the Orthodox Christian life. We’re not in it for the fun and games. The discomforts it sometimes brings are for our salvation.”

    ​The discomforts he speaks of are withholding from others because I disagree with them. More correctly, the discomfort should be from refraining from the table myself until I love others as brothers.

    Please be gentle with me. 🙂
    Like you, I have a fragile ego and I am asking very sincere questions here.
    -Mark Basil

  63. Matt Avatar

    “To say that we share nothing in common in the Faith is too extreme”

    I’m with you on this. But I also believe that it is too extreme to say that the Holy Spirit is not at work in a Buddhist. (Or a Mormon, a Muslim, an Orthodox Jew, a neopagan, an atheist, etc.)

  64. Hugh McCann Avatar
    Hugh McCann

    As was referenced above: 1 Cor. 12:3 ~ Wherefore I give you to understand, that no man speaking by the Spirit of God calleth Jesus accursed: and that no man can say that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Ghost.

    I’ll just add some from 1 John 4 here:

    1 Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world.
    2 Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God:
    3 and every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God: and this is that spirit of antichrist, whereof ye have heard that it should come; and even now already is it in the world.
    4 Ye are of God, little children, and have overcome them: because greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world.
    5 They are of the world: therefore speak they of the world, and the world heareth them.
    6 We are of God: he that knoweth God heareth us; he that is not of God heareth not us. Hereby know we the spirit of truth, and the spirit of error.

  65. Nicholas Stephen Griswold Avatar
    Nicholas Stephen Griswold

    Hugh, It is obvious from your posts you are a scholar of faith and a man of very good intelligence who is struggling to “understand” the faith in the same way I learned to learn as a Wesleyan Arminian and as student in other ares. What I discovered is that one cannot understand Orthodoxy that way. I studied all the texts, read all the great Orthodox writers, but I really did not begin to understand it until I experienced it. The Hebrew word for “know” Yada” is the key. This is to know through experience (Adam Yada Eve). Yo will have to wait a year, but going through Great Lent, fasting the fast, attending the services and participating to include the prostrations, the prayers, the words of the hymns.
    Consider the words of Saint Paul in Galatians 1:8 “But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed.” (NKJV). Orthodoxy is that Gospel, we know because we are that Church founded on Pentecost and continued without change in the Faith until this day. The Holy Spirit brings Truth and there is only one truth. If someone teaches/preaches something other than this how can it be from this same Spirit? He is the Spirit of Truth not confusion. There cannot be endless versions of Truth because there is only one truth and to answer Pilates’ question the Truth stood before him.
    Come and see. Experience, taste, see, hear, smell and touch worship as you have never had anywhere else that involves all of you, mind body and spirit. Then you will begin to understand by experience. For me, part of my conversion began during my first full prostration. I had said before that I submitted to Christ, but I never acted it out. Being on my face on the floor before the Cross was experiencing the Faith and the Truth and acting out my convictions. We promise to be gracious and not hold you prisoner.

  66. Onesimus Avatar

    …the theological and ecclesiological appeal by Orthodoxy to being the One Church can sometimes come across as tone deaf when it comes to the practicalities of boots on the ground.

    Which is it? Are they both not Orthodox? They seem a whole lot alike, but aren’t in communion.


    One of the things we deal with as potential converts (and must resist as Orthodox) is that the word “orthodoxy” in most Christian groups has become about having the right ideas and doctrines and rubrics. There is a temptation to reduce Orthodoxy to that same set of standards. Who has the right theology,? who has the right history? who has the right this or that? Who has rightful claim and authority? Certainly many Orthodox think this way too. It’s a temptation and we don’t always resist it. But this is not the Orthodox standard….and its teachings make this clear.

    None of the things that are “right” about Orthodoxy flow from its history, doctrines and praxis alone….or from correct formulations of thought….outside of the core of how those doctrines and practices come into being in the first place….In conciliar Love….through the Spirit. Without this as the center and authority of ecclesial life, the outer expressions begin to slowly lose coherence and fall by the wayside. Then, what was The authority of Love Himself in our midst must be replaced with some kind of “token” or “figure” which begins to serve as object of faith. Conciliar Love and parity on all levels of ecclesial life can be the only true authority to which all other “authority” is tied. It is the glue…the Holy Spirit who “binds all things in perfect unity.” (Col 3:14). All the appeals of Orthodoxy “theologically and ecclesiologically” as you put it, are not the true authority on which the true Church rests (though we point to them as fruits). Love is the only authority. love always seeks a method of reconciliation and mutual agreement amongst equals. Those who don’t Love deny this process is even important or legitimate or are caught up in outer expressions which are but fruits of an inner life of Love. One group may get obsessively focused on a particular “infallible” figure…a “vicar” if you will….another group on a particular sets of texts “alone”, another group on strict adherence to minute details with legalistic and rigid precision. These are all attachments of the flesh and the mind to what are just external expressions of the Church’s inner life, instead of embracing the inner life which births the outer expression. The result is always a disaster.

    Does human sin get mixed into the process of working out these issues in conciliar Love? How could it not? But here’s the thing, Love overcomes that, and accepts that it’s not pretty….and it shares in that process of co-suffering Love…just as Christ chose to share in our condition and suffer along with us to reconcile. So too…we must bear our cross and follow Him. Whatever agreements come from consiliar Love…..THESE are Orthodox, and the Holy Spirit inspires them…and there the Church remains, for they are made in Love and by Love Himself in our midst.

    So how do you know who is or is not “the true church?” Do they seek to “be of the same mind” and “have the same judgements” about all things and find a way to united in “all things” —or do they simply give up on all of it, say none of it matters and go about blazing their own trail without their brothers?

    Every schism is a matter of one side completely denying or abandoning the ecclesial process of concilarity itself because it can’t get what it wants through of the hard process of Love in concilarity and will not listen to the rest of the Church. It either starts its own new process of solving issues and remaining “United” (usually authoritarian) or it abandons any notion of visible unity at all.

    In the two examples you give…the old caladerists reject consilarity and are attached to an outward rubric as object instead of an inner life based on mutual Love in concilarity.

    In the case of Jerusalem and Antioch…both are still committed to concilarity and both are still in communion with other Orthodox jurisdictions. No one is blazing their own path. Their actions are meant to work towards increasing consilarity, and if it continues, at some point the rest of the Church will arbitrate in consiliar Love.

    Their actions are completely Scriptural and canonical…and yes…conciliar expressions of love even if they are being misinterpreted. (See Matt 5:24)

    The unfortunate truth is that the Western churches have a deep, scathing memory of the bloodshed of the civil wars it fought in Europe…and it’s only solution was to find a way…ANY way not to kill one another. The problem is that the western churches came to mistake the accomplishments it achieved of stopping the wholesale killing of one another over doctrine and praxis as in itself the peace of God. It’s the peace of men…and as a practical solution to the Wests ills….it works….but the peace of God goes further than simply stopping bloodshed and ignoring differences….the peace of God unites and seeks unity in “all things.” One settles for what it can get, the other seeks out the full depths of what the Spirit can give as gift.

    The following speech by Christos Yannaras is worth a read.

    Perhaps it will help shed some light on what you may be wrestling with.

    I would also recommend reading “being as Communion” by John Zizioulas.

    May God bless you on you journey, wherever it may lead.


  67. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    The “nothing common,” if extreme, is the right place to start a conversation. There are many things that would appear to be in common. But, since the context in which they are experienced differs so strongly, those seemingly common things can be the most maddening when another assumes that he knows what you’re saying.

    For a brief example – we don’t experience the texts as texts, per se. That would be like describing my body as “meat.” Yes, if you will. But if you’re describing my body as “meat,” then I take it you might be dangerous (to say the least). Or, to be softer, if someone used the same word to describe having sex with a stranger to describe what he does with his wife, I would be very doubtful that he has any understanding of marriage. “In common” is a rare thing.

    So, when I say we do not experience the Scriptures as text, you shouldn’t argue with me and try to get me to admit that I do. Instead, you should ponder how it is possible that I do not experience them as text. When you argue with what someone says, particularly trying to tell them that they mean something else, it mostly means that you’re not listening or trying to listen.

    The Orthodox experience the Scriptures and the Fathers in a very different manner from say, the Reformed. We find your manner of speaking about them to be foreign to our experience, for example. That’s not necessarily saying anything bad about your tradition – it’s just trying to say something true.

    Orthodoxy belongs to a different classification of experience (here I’m struggling for the right word).

    One of the main purposes of my book, Everywhere Present, is to help readers, particularly those interested in Orthodoxy, begin to see that there is something profoundly different here, and, perhaps, to want to enter.

    Oddly, one of the things that is different, is beginning to understand the contextualization of knowledge. Modernity (and Protestant thought belongs to modernity in almost all respects) generally thinks that context doesn’t matter – not really. The notion of “objective knowledge,” so common in modernity, presumes that there is some “common ground” between any two people. It’s where you get the idea of “common sense.”

    I’ve lived in both worlds, which gives me a certain advantage. I can’t apologize for that.

  68. Onesimus Avatar

    To say that we share nothing in common in the Faith is too extreme, but if that is the judgment of Orthodoxy upon us, so be it.

    Hugh…but this is not what has been said. Perhaps there is too much nuance for you to appreciate what Orthodoxy says (and doesn’t say).

    There are lots of leaps taken based on how you understand things….rather than how we do. We do not believe the same things you do about the nature of sin, the nature of judgement, etc. etc. for us, to say you are not part of the One True Church does not mean you’re damned. And this is and will continue to be an uphill climb for you to wrap your head around. Which is fine. Time, patience and grace.

  69. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Mark Basil,
    I agree that Eucharistic discipline is subject to abuse, meaning, it’s in the hands of sinners. So, I’m trying to speak about it in good hands, the sort of hands in which it’s supposed to be.

    Antioch and Jerusalem, be sure, are in a marital spat. The breaking of communion has not been mutual. It is Antioch’s decision not to commemorate the Patriarchate of Jerusalem or commune with him, (that’s between the two of them), until this matter is settled. Much of that has come after repeated efforts to solve this by lesser means. Antioch has been making the only canonical appeal that she can, and endangering the “unity” of the Church because it’s actually the only recourse she has. It’s not something being taken to civil courts.

    Moscow and Constantinople went through this a decade or two back after Constantinople engaged the Estonian Church in a manner that Moscow objected to. In the end, Moscow conceded for the sake of unity.

    Communion is the only disciplinary action that the Church allows. In that sense, it is non-coercive.

    Now, on the local, parish level, some priests do indeed have people refrain from communion for a period of time, more or less as a penance. This is common, and is rooted in the earliest councils of the Church. I personally think it is frequently abused. I have never asked anyone to refrain, finding other ways to be of spiritual help. I don’t say I won’t, or that I never should. Rather (and many priests agree), I’m very unsure of the consequences of such an action and so I live by the medical admonition, “non nocere,” “do no harm.” If a matter rose to such a serious concern, I think I would consult with my bishop first.

    Now, lots of priests “pull the trigger” much more quickly. In some cultures within Orthodoxy, it’s extremely common. A number of Orthodox cultures approach eucharistic discipline in a manner that would probably fry the tender neurotic minds of Americans. I am astounded by many of the stories I hear.

    The history of eucharistic frequency is another matter, not unrelated, but requires a much longer, more complicated conversation.

    I did not want to make light of the problems between Antioch and Jerusalem, unattended, they would be disastrous. They are the most serious level of broken communion that can occur between bishops and it is deeply distressing to everyone. I will not be surprised to see the matter adjudicated at the upcoming Council.

    As to priests being at peace with all, your description of its lack more or less scandalizes me. The priests I know (who are very many indeed) take it very seriously. Now, living in a parish, there’s all kinds of problems with it. And there, it falls on the Pauline maxim, “As much as it depends on you, be at peace with all.”

    I have a standing request in my parish that if there is a difficult matter you need to discuss with me on the day of a Divine Liturgy, please wait until after. Just being emotionally distracted is very damaging in the liturgy. Now, on a practical level, when there are continuing conflicts within a parish, which is not infrequent, this ideal is clearly violated. Believe me, it’s torture. And it’s the kind of thing that, if unattended, can destroy a priest, his ministry, a perhaps others around him as well. I’ve seen it, and darned near been there myself.

    Mostly, I simply try to understand these things. I don’t question whether something that has been in place since the earliest canons is correct or not. I accept it and then ponder it.

  70. Hugh McCann Avatar
    Hugh McCann

    Wow, this is going downhill FAST.

    Orthodoxy is that gospel. Oy vey.

    And I’m not Orthodox, so. . .

    So now, I’m anathema (accursed), Nicholas?!

  71. KC Avatar

    Dear Fr. Stephen,

    Thank you for your comments in this thread, which have been very clarifying for me. I’m aware that Orthodoxy once declared Calvinism to be heresy. Does Orthodoxy regard Protestantism to be heresy? I.e., would heresy be the right word?

    Thanks & may God bless you.

  72. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Gee Hugh,
    You’re using the Scripture to establish a sort of Protestant minimalism for the Church. It’s an error. This letter, for example, is written to the Church, for use by the Church. It’s not written to the general public for their use. Arguably, you are not in the Church, if the Church is historically and visibly, One, Holy and Catholic.

    The Holy Spirit is “everywhere present and filling all things.” But there is an obvious difference in what is meant when we say that the Spirit works in the Church, and the Spirit works in the world. It’s the same Spirit, and has the same purpose. That all things might be gathered together in one, in Christ Jesus. That “One,” is what the Church is.

    I’ve had a great deal of pushback from people when I write about the One Church. I think it is because this understanding is the most quintessentially un-modern thing about Orthodoxy. It’s not anything I care to argue. It’s simply a matter of the teaching of the Church. It is also a matter of the rejection of the modern paradigm concerning “difference” in the world. Orthodoxy believes in communion. Modernity believes in politics (if I were allowed to use that term in a properly nuanced manner).

  73. Hugh McCann Avatar
    Hugh McCann

    Fr Stephen,

    I apologize for referring to the word of God as a “text.” I agree with you and dislike that term, myself. It is the living word[s] of God.

    But if we have nothing in common, spiritually;
    if I am to you as spiritual as a Buddhist,
    if my tradition’s “fathers,” even the greatest Reformed scholar of Patristics would be more clueless than the average grandmother in an Orthodox Church,
    if we are so far apart on everything,
    it does me no good to even correspond here.

    I realized it was inappropriate to debate, but now I’ll entirely retire from commenting at all, as it merely leads to my greater condemnation by more participants, and frankly, I’m not interested in merely being berated, teased, demeaned, and all with no recourse to answer back.

    Be for now, and may God (however you conceive of Him) bless you richly.

    P.S. I’ve already left my email, if anyone else cares to discuss things.
    But not if I am to be regarded as an unbeliever. No thanks.

  74. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Most Orthodox are loathe to say that Protestantism is, per se, a heresy. However, it holds many views that are, in fact, heretical. They are views that, if espoused by an Orthodox priest, would get him deposed, for example.

    But, it’s largely not a helpful word in conversations, unless something really has to be clarified. “Getting along” is not the highest value in Orthodoxy.

    I recall listening to my beloved late Archbishop, Dmitri of Dallas. He reflected that for many years (centuries in fact), Orthodoxy had refrained from missionary work in Protestant and Catholic lands. They found themselves there by accident of immigration. But then stayed to themselves and left others alone, considering that Protestants and Catholics, though incorrect on many things, were perhaps not so incorrect to worry about all the time. That’s why many potential converts were turned away. But, he said (correctly), that the landscape has changed. Many Churches that were once generally “orthodox” are not very heterodox. And the exodus from the Church is destroying Christianity in these parts of the world. Therefore, he said, we have no choice but to do mission. I think this is quite accurate. But with this awareness, has come a much more critical examination than was engaged in once upon a time, and a realization that things were much worse than we thought they were, all along.

    Anglicans presented themselves to the Orthodox in a manner (early 20th century), that seemed so Orthodox, that discussions of actual communion seemed possible. St. Tikhon of Moscow famously thought that this was the case. But he later repudiated it, recognizing that Anglicanism had actually been seriously misrepresented. He was told what some “wished” it were. Etc.

  75. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    I apologize. I do not regard you as an unbeliever. I have only meant to clarify that things are more different than you seem to understand. Again, I’m sorry for comparing it to being a Buddhist. On the other hand, the Grandmother thing has to stand because they are pillars of the Church!

    Protestants argue things out by quoting Scripture at each other. And you do that here (like the 1 John quote). That’s not an Orthodox conversation, nor a conversation that interests an Orthodox Christian. We share most of the same Scriptures, but they are different for us. There’s simply things about an Orthodox conversation that are different. It is indeed frustrating on my side to have to keep saying this, much less to have had to resort to plain rudeness in order to get you to come close to hearing what I’m saying.

    But, if you only hear it as insulting you, then you’re still not hearing me.

  76. Hugh McCann Avatar
    Hugh McCann

    Thank you, Father Stephen. I appreciate that! 🙂

  77. Nicholas Stephen Griswold Avatar
    Nicholas Stephen Griswold

    Hugh, I did not say that. I am speaking of the doctrines involved. I did not equate you with an anathema, I never mentioned you as a person being the object of the sentence that Saint Paul, not me said. I cannot and will not try to judge you heart as a person but I do know that the doctrines of both the Magisterial and Radical Reformed are not the doctrines that Saint Paul taught.
    Neither are the Wesleyan-Arminian ones I was taught in Seminary and accepted. I assume from your continued presence rather, that you are a man seeking after the heart of God and a genuine believer. I started in a place similar to you with a burning desire to know and to experience the Lord and submit to Him. I gather from your zeal that you are the same. I would not call you anathema, for those were not my words, but I do know that the teachings of the Orthodox Church have been received from and remained unchanged from the lips of the Apostles. I only understand them by experiencing them, not studying them in a text book and engaging in debate. Hence, the invitation to come and see and experience for yourself so that you can judge.
    Orthodox is not a faith that can be debated in Academia. It is the Self Revelation of God to His Apostles, passed on and preserved unchanged. I deeply apologize if I offended you, for I try never to address a person as less than the Image of God even though I may disagree with their ideas. Pray forgive the offense.

  78. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Here’s some autobiographical reflection that might interest you. I was raised in Baptist country, with all of the assumptions Baptists make about Scripture. I became an Episcopalian at age 15, but was radicalized as a Jesus freak at age 17. I lived in a commune for a couple of years and had a very intense experience, including with Scripture, within that. In college, I was pursuing a scholarly track, majoring in Greek and Latin, and took a lot of course in Higher Criticism and Interpretation from at least one top scholar. That was followed by 3 years in an Episcopal seminary, with pretty much everything that implies.

    The nature and the authority of Scripture was a major issue for me. Anglicanism offered the 3-legged stool of Scripture, Reason and Tradition, though in practice they only read Scripture through what they like in the culture.

    The whole question of epistemology was large for me (and still is). How do we know what we know. To sum it up, I eventually, especially through Orthodoxy and also through some very, very good scholarly convesations/debates when I was later in the doctoral program at Duke, that included a lot of very sharp Post-modernists and Anti-Foundationalists…well I eventually came to believe that reading the Scripture is itself a Tradition and that they can only be read within a Tradition. In truth, I think we know, believe, etc., within a Tradition and that if we think we don’t then we are a Modernist who thinks that Tradition doesn’t matter, even though Modernism is itself a tradition…an extremely successful one.

    That conclusion preceded my conversion to Orthodoxy. My conversion ratified that understanding repeatedly and is foundational. Orthodoxy speaks about the “phronema” of the Fathers, the “mind of the Church.” Acquiring that is fundamental to the Orthodox life…and it goes on all your life.

    When we talk about someone “having the Holy Spirit,” that is loaded language. No one can have this in a private manner. There is a relationship to the Spirit, no doubt, though the status of Baptism outside of Orthodoxy is actually a matter of serious debate, the Great Council is going to be discussing it. But a Protestant assumes that he has the Spirit, and when he prays, the Spirit guides him in reading and interpreting the Scriptures. This is not true and is not the teaching of the Scriptures. The “Spirit will lead you into all truth…” is to “You” in the plural, not in the singular. No individual gets that kind of inspiration. Even the Fathers write and think and breathe in the context of the Sobornost of the Church (don’t have a good English word for this).

    When someone reads the Fathers, for example, outside of that phronema, or outside the Sobornost of Orthodoxy, they can easily assume that they’re understanding what they read.

    I love Dostoevsky and have read and studied him all my adult life. I’ve taught courses on him. But I’ve never read him in Russian. And I cannot imagine that I hear him authentically. The truth is, that Dostoevsky, in translation, has assumed a place in English literature, even if it’s a truncated, diminished Dostoevsky. But when a native Russian starts discussing Dostoevsky, my ears perk up. I assume that I might get an important insight. There is a “tradition” that belongs to every language.

    I very much, for example, value Dino’s presence in our comments community. He’s a well-grounded, educated, native Greek, with extremely good English. When he says something about a Greek phrase, I listen carefully. And, in truth, very few of us who read Greek will ever really acquire a “Greek ear.”

    Orthodoxy is primarily an experience. It is sung and liturgized in a manner that has nothing comparable in the West. Things are still “dawning on me” within every service that I serve. Most of those things, I cannot write about yet. My intention in writing is, above all else, to invite people into that experience, and to invite the Orthodox to go deeper in that experience. Sometimes I do that by exposing wrong ideas, especially ideas that we most commonly have not examined.

    I have heard it said that there are things about Jesus you cannot know until His mother tells you. If I say to a Protestant Christian that you cannot really comprehend what Christ has for you unless you venerate His mother, they mostly get upset. But I know it’s true. Nobody told me that I have to say it. I know it’s true because I’ve experienced it, repeatedly. I could multiply such points many, many times.

  79. Alan Avatar

    Much of this gets old and tiresome quite rapidly.

    For some reason, Protestants want to back the Orthodox into a corner, almost screaming at them, “well, do you say that we’re really Christians or not?!?!?”

    Nevermind that all the while it’s seemingly fine that the famous reformed pastor from Southern California, who shares the same last name as a famous American WW2 general, has basically called the Orthodox heretics. sigh…..

    Earlier this year, a reformed relative of mine asked my wife this question: do you think there are any people who are saved at Alan’s (Orthodox) church? Ugh….the question itself reveals the deep, deep chasm between Orthodoxy and the reformed view.

  80. tess Avatar

    This conversation keeps recalling to me the bit of Thomas Kuhn I read in undergrad, specifically the idea of the paradigm shift. It is extremely difficult to communicate across paradigms, requiring much patience. 🙂

  81. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    I think that the real problem is within Modernity itself. A certain part of ecumenism is inherently modern. The notion, for example, that everybody’s basically the same, only different, tied up with notions of equality and such. All opinions should be respected (which is a kind of equality). American ecumenism grew out of the American missionary and evangelism experience. The sudden explosive growth in the diversity of denominations in the 19th century led to a small crisis in American Evangelicalism (which at that time included practically all Protestants in America).

    The notions of “unity in essentials,” etc. were born of the make-shift peace that eventually came to be the norm. None of these groups, however, had a very serious ecclesiology. They were all anti-Catholic, the only group with an ecclesiology of any serious weight. When the Orthodox refuse that conversation, it is offensive. It breaks the peace. We sound extremely arrogant and rude.

    But, it’s like the problem of tolerance. Everything should be tolerated except intolerance. Well, in our terms, we can be as “orthodox” as we want, so long as we’re not “Orthodox.”

    When I converted, many Protestant friends politely said they were glad that I found the place that made me feel happy. But it did not make me feel happy. I was miserable for a number of years! But I thought it was the truth. And not for me, but for them as well. And if I hadn’t thought it was the truth for them as well, then it couldn’t have been the truth for me.

    But, it’s hard to say these things repeatedly without sounding rude, or simply crossing the line and being rude.

  82. Mark Basil Avatar
    Mark Basil

    Thank you for your reply Fr Stephen. And thank you for your gentleness.

    I overstated regarding “no priests care to be at peace.”
    I am blessed to know several good priests who do follow St Paul’s maxim to be at peace with all “as far as it depends on” themselves. I also know the greatest priest I’ve met (a holy monk) said once that if he had to go out to regular Orthodox functions he would have to break communion with them all! (This was ironically precisely because they say “peace, peace” with words smoother than oil… so for me it was an icon of the sort of ideal praxis you are speaking of).
    Somewhat painfully and confusingly though, I also know several- almost a majority I think- who are in serious conflict with other local priests (not to mention laity).
    My beloved Mission priest had a challenge getting together 7 priests for Holy Unction… so many local spats, whereby “I wont serve if so-and-so is serving” made it impossible in the end (we had, I think more prophetically, the symbolically incomplete 6 priests serve).
    Is this not the constant use of the Eucharist as a ‘weapon’ (perhaps seen only as defensive), always to say, “there’s a problem with *you*”, while all of these priests continue to serve in their own little circles as if there is peace. They make no efforts (anymore) to heal this brokenness, they simply ignore each other.
    And this does seem to be rather the same at least in my country, from experiences visiting other provinces and conversations I’ve had across jurisdictions in different parts of our home and native land.

    I would be very curious to hear from anyone else, if they were able to hold a Holy Unction service with the fullness of 7 priests, without a big political mess at the same time. Anyone?
    Or have others perhaps had an experience more similar to the one I have described?

    Would you mind addressing the other theological and scriptural questions I asked when you are able?

    Thank you again for any light shed;

  83. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Mark Basil,
    Some of the questions weren’t clear as questions. On the matter of Scriptural treatment of only moral matters rather than doctrinal – and you cited a devout Roman Catholic, it’s not a situation that would have existed exactly like that. But the RC and Orthodox are in schism, which, by definition means out of communion. The Cup is less of a moral issue and more of a matter of true union. The difference between a RC and an Orthodox is less a matter of doctrine, and more a matter of who they are in communion with (even though that sounds tautological). To be in communion means to intend to believe the same thing, to mind the same thing, to obey the same thing. It means to be one.

    The situation you are describing does not intend to be one (and this is not a matter of private judgment, nor of global sentiment). It’s quite practical and real. If you come to the Cup, but tomorrow go to another Cup, how is that true communion, etc.?

    Not every matter of the life and discipline of the Church is found in Scripture. We’re not Protestants. The Church is also guided by its theology and teaching, which agrees with Scripture.

    But the practical stuff you’re bringing up is simply examples of sin. Sin is more in some places, less than others. But it doesn’t really make a point. It just means it’s sin.

  84. Mark Basil Avatar
    Mark Basil

    Hello again Father…
    I think my questions have not come from a clear place. Perhaps even they are unhealthy in me and on the blog. You may feel free to disregard them unanswered and even delete them. Instead I ask your prayers.


  85. Eleftheria Avatar

    To Mark Basil,
    Christos Anesti!
    I have never attended a Holy Unction Service, either here in Cyprus or back in New York, in which 7 priests were present or officiating. Given the sheer number of Orthodox in Cyprus, it would be impractical that one church would suffice to hold so many. Also, Holy Unction Services, in many towns here, occur 3 times a year…although not everyone attends.
    I do not know if this is the type of response which you were expecting.

  86. DM Avatar


    That makes sense. I wonder if most of the time I’m talking around people (apologies to you, Fr. Stephen). I’m going to have to re-read the C.Y. address several times; I seem to get lost at the last three paragraphs.

    Zizioulas is on my reading list, now… I may have to alter the queue.

    O, you wrote:
    So how do you know who is or is not “the true church?” Do they seek to “be of the same mind” and “have the same judgments” about all things and find a way to united in “all things” —or do they simply give up on all of it, say none of it matters and go about blazing their own trail without their brothers?

    Although it is rare, I have witnessed this outside of the Orthodox, at least the attempt. The trailblazers seem to, more often, win out in the end.

    Again, thank you for your kindness and patience with my questions. And thank you, Fr. Stephen, for this space to explore.

  87. Alan Avatar

    Thank you Father for your reply to me last evening. It was very helpful.

  88. Patty Joanna Avatar
    Patty Joanna

    To Mark Basil: In my geographical area, we are offered Holy Unction a couple of times a year, 7 priests serving. The priests are OCA, Antiochian, Greek, Romanian, and I *think* ROCOR. We as laity obviously have a home parish, but when we go a-visiting, we are are communed in the parishes of other jurisidictions in our area. And I have a great deal of certainty that the priests take very seriously the charge “as far as is possible, be at peace with all.” It’s not that we don’t have scuffles, or that we all agree about every last thing in the parish. It’s that we love each other anyway, and all seek God together.

  89. Mark Basil Avatar
    Mark Basil

    Alithos Anesti!

    Thank you Eleftheria. I am encouraged to hear how it works there. Would you be so kind as to send me an email? I have some questions about your experience of Orthodoxy in Cyprus. all one word, my address is: man or they [at] gmail [dot] com

    Thank you also Patty Joanna. I truly hope that we might come to dwell in such unity in our locale one day. My wise confessor let me know that he does not see our local situation as ‘tragically’ as I do; I would go with his perspective over mine any day. 🙂
    Still, perhaps you and your priest will pray for us?

    Love in Christ;
    -Mark Basil

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  1. Greetings, Father Stephen, Thank you so much for this reflection and all of the tremendous amount of work you have…

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