An Atonement of Shame – Orthodoxy and the Cross

Some decades ago in my early (Anglican) priesthood, a parishioner brought a crucifix back from South America. The question for me as a priest was whether I would accept the crucifix as a gift and place it in the Church. I like crucifixes, my taste was always towards the Catholic direction. But, you have to bear in mind that Spanish/Latin crucifixes have a tendency to be, well, rather gory. My congregation was pretty straight-up WASP. But, I was young, a still largely unbruised banana, so I installed the crucifix over the rear door of the Church. Everyone could see it as they exited.

The first Sunday was the test. I got my clock cleaned pretty quickly. An irate woman said, “I want that thing removed! I do not want my children seeing it. I believe in a risen Lord!” We had a short theological discussion the outcome of which was that I left the crucifix where it was. I do not think she adjusted. I also do not think her children were scarred for life.

But I understood her sensibilities. The brutality of the crucifixion is easily overwhelming. It is particularly overwhelming if the brutality is depicted in Spanish splendor. My defense of the brutal crucifix, however, did not prepare me for my later encounter with Orthodox presentations of Christ on the Cross.

Like all Orthodox icons, the Crucifixion is somewhat stylized, conforming to the norms of Byzantine grammar. It is a theological rather than historical presentation. Typically, the icon presents a very calm Christ on the Cross. He is clearly “dead” (His eyes are closed). But there is no particular sense of agony. The suffering is more a note of sadness rather than pain. And, contrary to history, the plaque over the Cross reads: “The King of Glory.” As glory goes, it is indeed subdued. There is a profound stillness that comes with it.

The icon of the Crucifixion could also be placed with two other icons that are common to Orthodox Holy Week: the icon of “The Bridegroom,” and the icon of “Extreme Humility.” The portrayal of Christ in both icons is similar. He is seen with head bowed, arms folded in a dropped position in front of Him. It is a picture of submission and acceptance. The Extreme Humility makes a certain obvious sense: it is Christ in death. The wounds are obvious; He is seen in the tomb; the Cross is placed behind Him; the spear and the sponge are there as well. Indeed, the placement of the hands are reminiscent of the hands on the Shroud of Turin.

If Christ in death is extreme humility, then Christ as Bridegroom is extreme irony. For the term “bridegroom” is a title for Christ associated with His coming in glory (Matt. 25 ff.) The Orthodox focus on the Bridegroom, however, is a Holy Week devotion, a call to repentance. On the first three days of Holy Week we sing with great solemnity:

Behold, the Bridegroom comes at midnight!
And blessed is the servant whom He shall find watching,
And unworthy is the servant whom He shall find heedless.
Beware, therefore, O my soul.
Do not be weighed down with sleep, lest you be given unto death,
And lest you be shut out of the kingdom.
But rouse yourself crying, Holy, Holy, Holy art Thou, O God.
Through the Theotokos have mercy on us!

This is the Great Irony: the Great becomes small; the Rich becomes poor; the Mighty becomes weak; the Author of Life enters death; the God of All becomes the servant of all. This same irony lies at the heart of the Christian way of life. It strikes down every pretense to power and exalts the emptiness of humility as the fullness of being.

Of great note, however, is the absence of pain and torture in this presentation. The theme of the Orthodox account of Christ’s suffering and death is that of bearing shame and mockery. You can search the texts of Holy Week for the word “pain,” and come up with almost nothing. The mocking and the shame, however, color everything.

The same is largely true of the New Testament as well. When St. Paul describes Christ’s self-emptying (kenosis) on the Cross, he says that Christ “became obedient to death,” and adds, “even death on a Cross.” The point of the “even” is not that the Cross is painful above all pain, but that the Cross is shameful above all shame. There are no gospel accounts of characters taking some sort of masochistic pleasure and delighting in Christ’s pain. However, there are repeated descriptions of His humiliation. The purple robe, the crown of thorns are not unique images of pain, but torturous bits of mockery.

All of this runs counter to the penal theories of the atonement. In those theories, Christ is punished on our behalf. It is His pain and suffering as sacrificial victim that come to the fore. What Western (cf. Spanish) art did to the Crucifixion, Western rhetoric did to the atonement. The Reformation did nothing to change this other than to avoid its artistic presentation in Churches (it looked too “Catholic”).

But what role does shame play within an understanding of the atonement? It is, I think, essential, though hard for us to understand. America has been described as a shame-based culture where shame itself is not acknowledged (it’s too painful). It helps if we understand the nature of shame itself.

Shame is the natural response to broken communion. [Kaufman, The Psychology of Shame, 1996, pp. 32-33] The relationship of communion with others is the very essence of safety and comfort. Its most primal expression is the bond between mother and nursing infant. Face-to-face, the child is held and nurtured. There the child is comforted and protected. [footnote] Every later experience of union draws on this primal experience. It is not accidental that the ultimate relationship, that of union with God in Christ, is described precisely in the language of face-to-face.

The first instinct of shame is to look down, to turn the face away and hide. Blood rushes to the face (it “burns with shame”). Shame is the very sacrament of broken communion, the most proper and natural expression of sin. When Christ enters our shame (and bears it), it is as though God Himself stands before us, takes our face in His hands, and turns our eyes back to Him. This is the action we see in the parable of the Prodigal Son. The Father’s actions demonstrate his running to meet his son in his shame. Had the father remained in the house, the son would have born his shame alone. The father not only shares the shame, but in sharing it, restores communion, illustrated by the robe and the ring. Even the shame of the elder son is met with the same meekness and shame-bearing.

The shame that we experience in the natural settings of our lives is an image of something truly and ontologically real: sin shatters our union with God. Christ’s incarnation is an entrance into this realm of ontological shame and brokenness through union with our human nature. That reality is made manifestly clear in the events of His passion and the description that has come down to us.

Pain and suffering are tragic parts of our lives. They are the burden of our mortality. But far deeper and more profound is the shame that represents our ruptured union with God. Pain and suffering are only symptoms.

The Orthodox portrayal of Christ in the events of Holy Week clearly reflect the themes found in Scripture. It is only in understanding Christ’s bearing of shame and mockery that we will fully understand what has been done for us in His death and resurrection. Our culture, as noted above, has an aversion to shame (it’s one of our greatest secrets). We have somehow come to prefer stories of violence. Our cultural treatment of the Cross majors in violence. But nothing sinful can be understood apart from the role played by shame.

In the Ladder of Divine Ascent we hear: “Shame can only be healed by shame.” As difficult as this is for us, it is the place of atonement and exchange that Christ has set. I have been learning recently, however, that to speak of “bearing a little shame” (in the words of the Elder Sophrony) is overwhelming to some. Popular shame researcher and author, Brene Brown, uses the term “vulnerability” when she speaks of confronting and healing shame. Vulnerability, at its core, is nothing other than “bearing a little shame.” It is the willingness to be real, to be authentic with the risk that it entails. This is on the psychological level. There is a deeper level, though we cannot really go there without enduring the psychological first.

God give us grace to be vulnerable in His presence, vulnerable enough to discover our true selves.

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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74 responses to “An Atonement of Shame – Orthodoxy and the Cross”

  1. Byron Avatar

    Thank you, Father. This is always difficult to absorb; please continue to speak! Glory to God.

  2. Nicholas Griswold Avatar
    Nicholas Griswold

    Excellent summation of the teaching of Shame Father.

  3. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    My parish has the icon of Extreme Humility above the table of preparation. It can be clearly seen from the soles.

    Years ago I was leading a tour and pointed out that icon and mentioned why it was placed where it is placed.

    One gentleman was deeply and obviously moved and, I believe, encountered Christ a new and deeper way.

    It is an incredible icon.

    Thank you Father for your explication.

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

    Thank you for these reflections, Fr. Stephen. I believe this posting helps to clarify our understanding of Christ’s Crucifixion. I believe the understanding I had was more focused on His suffering from pain rather than suffering vulnerability or shame. Your words uncover more depths. Thank you!

  5. Deacon James Avatar
    Deacon James

    One of my most profound spiritual experiences was a prodigal son moment with my parents when I was 10 years old. Your explanation of shame and its role in communion has illuminated that experience for me and explains why it was a foundation storiesne in my own life for my later conversion to Christianity. The restoration of parental love and trust which I had voluntarily broken was only accomplished through my experience of shame and consequent restoration of love and communion with my family. To understand this more deeply now will profit my Lenten journeys for this and future years. Thanks be to God.

  6. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Deacon James,
    My studies in shame are opening up lots of stuff for me. Very fruitful, more than I would dare write.

  7. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    It should be noted that in our prayers, the equivalent of paradise is “to stand without shame or fear before the great judgment seat of Christ.” That, I believe, is the essence of Pascha. The resurrection of Christ is the forgiveness of all sins, the abolition of shame and the banishment of fear.

    “Let us call ‘brothers’ even those that hate us, and forgive all by the resurrection…”

  8. Paula Avatar

    Thank you, Father.

  9. Michelle Avatar

    So then is the greatest sin to shame someone else?

  10. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Traditionally, the Church has always held murder to be the “greatest” sin. But all of this needs to be viewed in a very connected manner. “This sin,” “that sin,” treats sins in a manner that can seem disconnected. Shame is, according to some clinical discussions, the “master” emotion. It has more to do with the shaping of personality than any other emotion. It creates certain boundaries, for example. I do not think that murder takes place outside of the context of shame. Cain kills Abel – we can say it was envy or jealousy – but it is clearly driven by his shame that God seems to prefer the sacrifice of Abel over his.

    To shame someone else is sinful – and depending on the level, form and depth of that shaming, is lesser or greater. Certain forms can virtually destroy another human being. I just finished reading a clinical guide for the analysis and treatment of shame. It was staggering. There’s pretty much nothing out there in the mental field that isn’t shame-based, or for which shame is not a primary, or the primary factor.

    Shame is an affect – not just an idea. It has a root physical component that can literally shut a person down. It’s one reason why some medications actually help (they can turn down the shame response, for example).

    It fascinates me that the Tradition of the Church is so utterly insightful here – far wiser than many psychological/scientific theories have been. But becoming aware of that part of the Tradition is required in order to understand what we’re hearing and seeing.

  11. Paula Avatar

    Father, you really hit the nail on the head. Thank you for making some kind of sense to the craziness, living with “secrets”, the shame I grew up with. Some things were never spoken of, some whispered, some came out in the form of abuse, anger, even in joking (making fun of) about a particular personality trait. In these later years, I often wonder what in the world was that all about…my family…on the outside everything is “just fine”…oh, we’re doing this, doing that, going here, going there…but now, years later, we’re all scattered and separated…and we’ve developed some serious problems, mental and physical. My family, who used to live in the same area, where we did things as a family, where it was an unspoken thing that you NEVER went against “the family” (Italians…gangster mentality),,,we are now all strangers to each other. Now if I said this to any relative, they wouldn’t have a clue as to what I’m talking about. In 1978 I moved as far away from the craziness as I could, and I’m still trying to sort things out. Yes, SHAME has everything to do with it. The duality (all is well, but is not) confusing and conflicting.
    Deacon James mentioned a restoration of parental love…like the prodigal. That indeed leads to healing. The kind of love that many people experience is, however, quite conditional. That may not have been my parent’s intention, but that’s what I experienced. A frequent response to my behavior would be “what would THEY think???”….again, shame, as plain as the nose on my face.
    I better stop here. Forgive me for vomiting all this out. God help us all.

  12. Trevor Avatar

    Thank you very much for this Fr. Stephen. In C. S. Lewis’ book The Great Divorce, there is this interchange between a ghost and one of the Bright Spirits:

    The Ghost made a sound something between a sob and a snarl. “I wish I’d never been born,” it said.
    “What are we born for?”
    “For infinite happiness,” said the Spirit. “You can step out into it at any moment. .. .”
    “But, I tell you, they’ll see me.”
    “An hour hence and you will not care. A day hence and you will laugh at it. Don’t you remember on
    earth-there were things too hot to touch with your finger but you could drink them all right? Shame
    is like that. If you will accept it-if you will drink the cup to the bottom-you will find it very
    nourishing: but try to do anything else with it and it scalds.”

    This passage has always struck me whenever I have read it.
    Father, do you have any thoughts on this passage from Lewis?

  13. Buck Avatar

    I read all your articles as they truly help dust off the eye of my soul; I am truly thankful for the gift of your insights. Whenever you speak of shame I am particularly attentive. One specific thought regarding shame is a distance I feel with one of my sons. It’s a feeling that I am on the “discount rack” with him, at a deep level that he is really not interested in me. This certainly feels shame based as in truth I suspect that I am of vital importance to him as he is to me. Somehow shame gets activated in our relationship and it is a source of great grief. That said, your mentioning of the prodigal and his father as exemplary of mutually facing shame is most interesting and perhaps a step I can take in his and my behalf. I think this takes the form of exposing my “secret” of shame as a way to initiate healing to the shame that activates our mutual distance/broken communion. If you have a particular response I would be interested and thankful.


  14. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Is there any way to help a loved one recognize the root of their struggles may lie with unaddressed shame without shaming them further?

  15. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    May God give you grace. Shame is “sneaky” stuff – it hides and is not always easy to see or understand. For men, particularly, shame can be difficult to deal with or even admit. To heal shame requires vulnerability. We have very few male models in our culture of vulnerability. My prayers are with you.

  16. Sam Avatar

    As a Catholic, I’ve always found it difficult to identify with the painful descriptions of the crucifixion. Not that I think they are entirely wrong, but how can one truly imagine the pain of the scourging, the crown of thorns, etc., having never experienced that level of pain? As a former protestant, I used to listen to hour long sermons on the pain of the crucifixion and I found they always left me repulsed rather than with feelings of love or repentance. Also, I think this emphasis on pain is often based on the idea that Christ’s death was the most physically painful in history, when I don’t know how we can possibly know if it was. Human beings are masters at inflicting pain on each other. The cross was horrific, yes, but there have been many agonizing deaths in history, likely equally as painful or more so as Christ’s, and yet none of these atoned for the sins of the world. A mere measure of pain cannot be the basis for reconciliation with God.

    Shame, on the other hand, I can identify with. It is a universal experience, and we have all felt it at one point or another. Sometimes, it even visits us in our dreams (like the dreams in high school of showing up to class in my underwear!). Seeing the crucifixion through the lens of a healing solidarity does often seem to make more sense than atonement through the infliction of a great degree of pain. Thank you for this reflection, Father.

  17. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    It is striking, I think, and of great historical significance, that there is a virtual absence of meditation on the pain of the crucifixion in Orthodoxy. It is, for me, continuing evidence of the absence of the penal theories of the atonement in the East. Their presence in the West, for me, is evidence of a deviation from the Tradition.

  18. Nicole from VA Avatar
    Nicole from VA

    Noting the scarcity of male role models in our culture for bearing shame, here are two saints that may be relevant if anyone is interested.

    Blessed David IV King of Georgia

    St. Vakhtang King of Georgia

    Paula you noted your Italian family. I have wondered in the past how being an immigrant may create a burden of shame, both perceived and real, that are an additional stress to people. The Flight to Egypt by our Lord may speak a bit to him bearing that shame as well.

  19. St. Longinus Avatar
    St. Longinus

    Can you tell when and why you think the West deviated from the East regarding the pain and atonement of the crucifixion? I find that the Eastern tradition is almost “light-hearted” for lack of a better description when it comes to the passion of Jesus. They don’t talk about the crucifixion in the same manner as the West.
    The West describes the pain Jesus had to endure for our sins. (The Stations of the Cross of Saint Alphonsus Liguori comes to mind.) The East talks about the humiliation he had to endure. I see pain and humiliation as two sides of the same coin. Not all pain is physical, although emotional pain often has physical consequences. Not every humiliation is emotional, although humiliation may be accompanied by physical pain.

  20. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    St Longinus,
    The reason I see it as “deviating” is that it is not a particular theme in Scripture (the death is more strongly associated with shame, as are the accounts of His passion). It is the pain/punishment theme that seems to take root at a certain point in the West, coupled with the notion of atonement as punishment that begin to create a way of thinking about Christ’s Passion that, in certain hands, becomes a serious distortion of the gospel.

    Pain and humiliation certainly have a relationship. It is interesting to me that the West has found it necessary to pull back from time to time from the excess that the pain/punishment occasionally engenders. Those excesses were absent in the East. It is not true that there is anything light-hearted in the East about the matter. Indeed, the spiritual Fathers of the Eastern Church write about uniting oneself with Christ in Hades. Nothing light-hearted there.

    I have worshipped in “both keys” (as a former Anglican). I think there are problems (deviations) in the Western development viz. the Cross. It might only be the place that the punishment theory of the atonement came to hold – (I believe it is a false theory) – that drove the imagery to an extreme pitch.

  21. mary benton Avatar
    mary benton

    As a lifelong Catholic, my sense is that much of the emphasis on the physical suffering of Christ in my childhood was an effort to bring us to a deeper compunction for our sins and greater love/gratitude for Christ’s sacrifice.

    Though not necessarily stated directly, there was the implication, “See how much He suffered for you.” Or worse, “See what your sins have done to Him.” I emphasize the word “see” because I think the visual was employed to make tangible the enormity of Christ’s sacrifice.

    Unfortunately, there were/are some problems in this approach, in addition to the theological ones noted above. First, it created a great deal of guilt in a lot of people, particularly in children who were of a more sensitive nature. Second, it failed to provide a positive and cogent understanding of how Christ’s suffering brought about our salvation.

    This suffering-focused model created a bottomless pit of shame for sin but didn’t offer a clear remedy. I take that back – partly. We were given the Resurrection as a remedy, but little or no bridge of understanding between the shame of what we did to Christ and the joy of His victory over death.

    Hence, a great emotional relief occurs as the horrible sadness and emptiness of Good Friday gives way to the joyous celebration of Easter. But we were not really given much to help us grasp the meaning of it all. I don’t believe that I was indoctrinated with the penal substitution model as much as I was just left in confusion.

    I recall being in highschool back in the 1970’s and pouring through a Catholic Encyclopedia, trying to figure out how Christ’s death saved me from my sins. I really wanted to understand – and there was a sort of shame that I didn’t, having had so much religious education. I was able to pull up enough to help me then – and later, to even try to explain it to a friend’s child. But it remained uncomfortably murky.

    Just in the last year or two, after much reading here and elsewhere, I think I finally understand – at least at the level any of us can comprehend so glorious a mystery. Though I regard it as sad that my Christian education was so limited in this way, I am not sure that it is purely an East-West issue.

    I sense that many people who have grown up with the faith do not have a deep understanding of this beautiful mystery. Those who have lived with persecution and had to fight to keep their faith from being quashed are likely to understand more. Those who have struggled with the truth so as to accept, reject or convert have also probably plunged deeper into the mysteries of redemption.

    However, there are many, I suspect, who have just followed what their parents did, without really understanding – until they grew up and were swallowed up by the modern project. Sadly, this has happened to too many from both Western and Eastern Church traditions.

    (This view of mine is by no means a criticism of the Eastern Church. It is simply a statement about our common fallen nature and corrupted culture. I remain very grateful to God for leading me here and for all the spiritual growth that has resulted.)

  22. mary benton Avatar
    mary benton

    As I just re-read my own comment, I noted also that the suffering-focused model was more directed to what we did “to Christ” by sinning than it was on what we did to ourselves. This is a crucial error, I believe.

  23. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    “What we did to Christ” is, indeed, a common part of the punishment/pain approach. I can recall long, long sermons/talks on the pain of the Cross, how it was our fault, etc. It distorts Christ’s passion.

    There is a deep emphasis within Eastern liturgical texts on the voluntary character of Christ’s sacrifice – both Chrysostom and Basil are very careful to state this. Though our sin is the reason we are in bondage – it is Christ’s compassion and humility that are emphasized.

    I think that the punishment model carries with it the equal notion that we deserve punishment and that Christ took what we deserve. It is part of the Western tendency to view humanity in a very dark manner – such as the depravity spoken of by Calvinism.

    The East does not have so dark a view, though it certainly takes sin seriously. But always at the core is the proclamation of our goodness and God’s love. The tone of the prayers tends to see us as victims of sin and death as much or more than willing sinners. St. Basil:

    When You created man by taking dust from the earth, honoring him with Your own image, O God, You set him in a paradise of delight, promising him eternal life and the enjoyment of eternal blessings in the observance of Your commandments. But when man disobeyed You, the true God Who had created him, and was misled by the deception of the serpent, he became subject to death through his own transgressions. In Your righteous judgment, O God, You expelled him from paradise into this world, returning him to the earth from which he was taken, yet providing for him the salvation of regeneration in Your Christ Himself. For You, O good One, did not desert forever Your creature whom You had made. Nor did You forget the work of Your hands, but through the tender compassion of Your mercy, You visited him in various ways: You sent prophets. You performed mighty works by Your saints who in every generation were well-pleasing to You. You spoke to us by the mouth of Your servants, the prophets, who foretold to us the salvation which was to come. You gave us the law as a help. You appointed angels as guardians. And when the fullness of time had come, You spoke to us by Your Son Himself, through Whom You also made the ages.

    Oftentimes, I feel like I’m attending two different plays about the same subject. I feel strongly that the liturgical tone in the East is more faithful to the gospel itself and the core teachings of the faith. It’s like the same song – only one is in a major key, the other in a minor.

  24. Jessica M. Avatar
    Jessica M.

    There’s much to reflect on here. Indeed, shame in the Crucifixion is something that I have not thought about enough, as an American Protestant. But one thing that I found and still find helpful about reflecting on the physical pain of the Crucifixion is in relation to the problem of suffering. The PSA model I was taught caused me plenty of doubt and misery. But for many years now I have also thought of the physical pain of the Cross as a time when our Lord entered into the physical suffering of the world. I was a sensitive child and read too many news magazines too young. But thinking about the Cross allowed me to trust that Christ could enter into that suffering and be present with the sufferers. I once spent a wonderful afternoon meditating in front of the Isenheim altarpiece. I didn’t find the plague wounds disturbing, but rather reassuring in that no amount of gore, pain, or misery can separate us from Christ. As I type this it occurs to me that as others said above, physical pain and shame are not that easy to separate – surely part of the misery of contagious disease is the disgust it engenders in others and the shame that brings in return. Nevertheless, I think that a great source of comfort would have been missing for me if my teachers had never emphasized the pain of the Cross.

  25. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Yes. This is pretty much the same way that I think about Christ’s pain on the Cross. That pain on the Cross is indeed the pain of the whole world – which, somehow, is a very different way of thinking than in terms of punishment.

  26. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Jesus mystically took on both the spiritual and physical pain of us all in deep empathy.

    That includes death.

    It is the polar opposite of punishment.

  27. GretchenJoanna Avatar

    St. Longinus, Have you participated in a Matins of Holy Friday service with its Twelve Gospel Readings? The tone is anything but “light-hearted,” probably because in all of the Scriptures we hear that evening, Christ’s deep shame and humiliation are impressed on our hearts.

  28. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Gretchen Joanna and St. Longinus,
    Indeed the 12 gospels readings are all of the passion gospel narratives in Scripture. Anything lacking there would, it seem, be extraneous to the gospel.

  29. Dan Avatar

    I wonder if the difference between East and Western language about the Cross is in part due to the West’s emphasis on Christ’s humanity against the East’s emphasis on His divinity? If we look at Catholic art, especially since the Renaissance, it is realistic and naturalistic portraying Christ as a man. He may or may not have a halo for example. In contrast, Eastern icons deliberately portray Christ and the saints in their glorified state and naturalistic art is shunned. In liturgy, prayer and meditation this is again a clear point of contrast.

    I wonder therefore if this extends into language about the Cross? In the West, the Crucifixion is suffered in place of us – we each deserve to die for our own sins and suffer as He did. Christ’s suffering in His humanity is relatable and can be touched and felt. Each nail can almost be felt, each blow of the whip is to be imagined. However, with the East’s emphasis on the Divine Logos entering into history and His rejection by His own Creation, we focus instead of the shame of the Cross – Creatures rejecting and despising their own Creator and subjecting Him to death.

    The West’s focus on Christ’s humanity results in meditation on His pain and suffering; the East’s focus on Christ’s divinity results in meditation on His shame.

  30. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    The East would not perceive itself as emphasizing Christ’s divinity at the expense of his humanity. Indeed, the dogmatic nature of Orthodox liturgical services generally means that that conciliar dogmas concerning Christ’s two natures are repeated again and again. Orthodoxy often describes itself as the original humanism.

    The difference, I think, particularly from the Renaissance forward, is an emphasis on a false humanity. We begin to get the revival of a pagan (later secular) humanism that considers humanity in isolation from Christ – and frequently comes up with a frighteningly negative view.

    The West took Protagoras’ saying “man is the measure of all things” and began to apply it within its culture. The East would have said that “Christ is the measure of man” – since Christ is what it means to be truly human. That, I think, preserves a continued dignity for human beings.

    We do not “subject Christ to death.” At least, that is not our language – the voluntary character of His death is never forgotten.

    Naturalistic art is shunned in Orthodoxy because it does not represent the truth – the world viewed apart from God is not the true world – nor even the true nature of the world (thus not “natural”). In religious art, or art in the Church, the doctrinal content of an icon matters. The West began to use naturalism as a way of saying “this is how the world really is” and thus placed “truth” within history rather than within God. In the course of it, the West began to doubt that you could actually find truth in history, and today to think that there’s not really any truth to be found.

  31. St. Longinus Avatar
    St. Longinus

    Much to think about here. Thank you Fr. for putting the word ‘misled’ in bold font. The tempter was victorious. But the ones tempted were not forced, but made an act of their wills.
    And thank you to others who have made comments. I’m a traditionalist refugee from what is called the Novus Ordo Missae.
    Yes, GretchenJoanna, I have indeed attended the 12 gospel readings quite a number of times. I’ve made a point of doing so. I guess my upbringing makes it difficult for me to separate the agony of the 14 stations of the Cross and my own guilty tears
    To JessicaM.: I think of Jesus’ entire life as one of suffering since He had to endure human, physical and emotional pain throughout his time on Earth. Yes, there must have been moments of what we might call ‘happiness’ or ‘joy’, but my interpretation would be that those moments were colored by what He knew to be His impending/eventual sacrifice and His only reason for taking flesh.

  32. Byron Avatar

    If we look at Catholic art, especially since the Renaissance, it is realistic and naturalistic portraying Christ as a man. He may or may not have a halo for example. In contrast, Eastern icons deliberately portray Christ and the saints in their glorified state and naturalistic art is shunned.

    Of interest is that I recently went on a two week pilgrimage to Russia with my parish. We visited several monasteries and over 80 churches! I was amazed at the amount of “naturalistic” icons in the churches. There were many churches “done in a Western style”. I only add this to note that the distinction is not hard-core; Orthodoxy finds a great deal of beauty in the portrayals of Christ and the Saints in the West.

  33. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    For what it’s worth, that Westernizing period in Orthodox Churches, is sort of embarrassing within Orthodoxy. It reflects, especially, the influence, first of Emperors (Tsars), who sought to ape the West for all the wrong reasons. As you track the rise of such art, you can also track a corruption of Orthodoxy and a spiritual decadence in its society as a whole. It is not a sign of Orthodoxy, or a version or a style. It is a sign of decline and captivity.

    Naturalistic religious art was largely devoid of doctrinal content, substituting sentiment. The love of sentimentality is a mark of a deep deviation from Orthodox tradition in which sentimentality would quickly have been identified as delusion.

  34. St. Longinus Avatar
    St. Longinus

    Some traditional Roman Catholics clerics have pointed out that the Renaissance was the beginning of the decline of the Roman Catholic Church and that the Middle Ages were not quite as “dark” as current ‘history’ has made most believe. One revisionist, in fact, contends the decline began in 1515 under Pope Leo X (Giovanni di Lorenzo de’ Medici) when he opened the Monte’ di Pieta’ bank and began to gradually ‘relax and dilute the immemorial dogmatic law against the charging of interest on loans of money’, which led to a papal revolution, in that ecclesiastical penalties for usury were abolished by Pope Pius VIII in the bull Datum in audientia (1830), and those penalties were also absent in the 1917 and 1983 Codes of Canon Law.

    I would agree that the art of the Renaissance was a direct result of the infestation and decline of the Latin Catholic Tradition. And that infection has unfortunately spread.

  35. Dan Avatar

    Do you think the anti-Western rhetoric in which everything Western is wrong is a barrier for potential converts from the West? How does this relate to making Orthodoxy plausible for Western converts and Orthodixy no longer being an “Eastern” religion but finding its feet within the Western world, in the same way that a Russian will not see their church as Greek due to inculturation?

  36. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    I am not engaging in anti-Western “rhetoric” in which everything Western is wrong. I am describing a genuine difference and a genuine deviation from the deposit of the faith. It’s a topic that is not only natural in this context, but necessary.

    I see little difference between that and a critique of modernity – given that the seeds of modernity lie in certain turns within Western civilization. If Orthodoxy is attractive to someone in the West, or in modernity – it certainly won’t be because of its Westernism or its modernism. To enter Orthodoxy as a convert is already, to some extent, an action of critique and rejection.

    If I were to extol Orthodoxy as Russian or Greek – I think that would be a barrier. But the average modern person in the West is neither aware of being modern nor of being Western. A hallmark of modernity is that they think they’re just normal. The critique of that normality is, I think, a necessary part of waking up.

    Do you say to John the Baptist, “Don’t you think that you’re turning people off with all of this talk about them being a ‘brood of vipers’?”

    Dan, I don’t I do anything other than “make Orthodoxy plausible” for Western converts. My experience over the past 10 years with this blog is that, on the whole, I’ve got the tone about right. Not that I don’t get off key now and again.

    That said, I think it is possible to make false judgments about the West and just bash something for being Western. I generally try to avoid the term “West” and “Western” and locate the problem in a different manner for just that reason. I did a global search of the blog for “West” and “Western” and actually turned up very little. My efforts to tone that specific “rhetoric” down have been consistent and successful, I think.

    I will note, for the record, that my first exposure to the critique of the “West” and of modernity was not in Orthodox conversations, but in an American University in conversations with post-modernists. Now there’s some heated rhetoric!

  37. Karen Avatar

    Hebrews 12:2 “…looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. ”

    It seems to me joy (which is something far more profound and weighty than light-heartedness) is inextricably bound up with the shame of the Cross in this way.

    I cannot explain it, but in a very, very tiny way this week I, in my bumbling blind groping way was thrust by my infirmities through the mysterious hidden hand of God, into a situation where shame was heaped on me. I bore it as well as I could, but as you all know that shame is difficult to bear. The whole situation stirred me up so much with grief, anxiety and confusion, I haven’t slept more than a few brief hours for 3-4 days now, for the roiling thoughts in my mind. But the confusion fairly quickly resolved into understanding as several pennies, a few of which have been from time to time noisily jingling around in my soul niggling at me for more than a couple decades now, suddenly dropped one-by-one neatly into their places. One of those was to make crystal clear what you were teaching, Father, in your post about our sins being our salvation! This may not be quite the miraculous (to me) burst of illumination that brought me to the Church in the first place, but it’s been ground-breaking for me–a monumental gift of grace I did absolutely nothing to deserve. Glory to God!

    I only want to say that somebody must have been praying especially fervently for me lately (not long ago I confessed some pretty serious and dark struggles with despair right on this blog, so perhaps it was a few of you! If so, thank you from the depths of my heart!).

    Much more to say, but not now…

    Blessed repentance to all!

    (P.S. Agata, my dear email friend, thank you for your note–it was much appreciated, and I hope to restore some order and peace soon so we can connect again.)

  38. Paula Avatar

    Regarding the above posts on the East and West,
    Dan’s question “Do you think the anti-Western rhetoric in which everything Western is wrong is a barrier for potential converts from the West? ” comes from hearing over and over again in Orthodox circles this anti-western talk. This is not our imagination.
    Father, you seem to have taken this question personally, where I don’t see that Dan pointed a finger at you specifically. You no doubt have objectively researched this topic and have a clear understanding of what brought about such differences, and it’s impact on Christianity. I most certainly respect that. However, most of us do not have that clear understanding. I ask you, do you agree there is much anti-western talk within Orthodoxy? If so, how are we to accept this one-sided approach? It is enough for us just to have some kind of basic understanding, to accept the differences, and to do the best we can, having been born and raised in the west. It is very hard to be deemed the “illegitimate child” of the world. We know our faults. We hear over and over how the conflicts in the east (north, south, all over) are our fault. OK, I get that. I ask, is there any responsibility on the part of the east for allowing western influence? And, is there anything redeeming that can be said about western influence….anything? Changes that Orthodoxy has encountered that “watered down” the faith is blamed solely on the west, with little mention of why the changes were accepted. And is all change as bad as we think? Does ones view have to do with how closely one adheres to the fundamentals? Are fundamentals in any way fluid? (I am not talking here about Christology, Trinity, etc)
    This endless rhetoric is critical and divisive, serving to separate further an already fallen humanity. Is there a better way to speak of these things? Is there a solution, so that we do not become so defensive? Does this rhetoric not present a very real barrier to loving our neighbor? The barrier extends as far as the east is from the west. This is quite the conundrum.

  39. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    There is indeed some “West bashing” out there that becomes a tiresome drum beating. And I can completely understand, sympathetically, how bothersome it is. Internet Orthodoxy has some very, very scary places. It’s hard, for example, if you don’t know the players to discern between what is of value and what is not. It is one of the reasons I write with my hierarch’s blessing. This is “official” Orthodoxy, if you will, rather than a few guys who’ve dabbled a bit in very shallow treatments of the Fathers, etc., and are now proclaiming themselves as the guardians of the faith. Among some of them, I’ve been labled a “heretic.” So, I understand that, absolutely.

    But simply because others may abuse that rhetoric cannot be for me a reason to refrain from a critique. I am a Westerner, born and bred. What can be labled “the East” is only “the East” because its representatives in the “West” became silenced by certain historical events and movements. What can be called “the East” is simply the early faith of the Fathers.

    Some of what you are vocalizing is the effect of what we could call “West-shaming.” If our primary response is to feel shamed – then our reactions will themselves become dark. I’ll give an example of something different. As my own study of Orthodoxy became deeper and more consistent (during my time as an Anglican), the rhetoric that I had been fed in seminary of the so-called “branch theory” and the notion that I was, in fact, in communion with the ancient Catholic Church, simply fell apart. I can recall the day that I had to admit to myself that I was actually in a Protestant Church and was simply a Protestant minister. It was hard. It was also a recognition for me that regardless of how difficult the journey might become, I had little choice other than to enter the communion of the Orthodox Church.

    The critique was necessary. On the other hand, there were many aspects of my Anglicanism that were quite salutary and remain with me to this day. I’m not sure where a critique of “the West” (which for me means little more than modernity, and I prefer to speak of modernity) creates divisions. It illuminates differences, to be sure. But ignoring those differences can be more than a little problematic.

    Here’s something that I do. I don’t read the noisy complainers. I read very little on the internet…I prefer books…and I prefer them to be meaty and scholarly, or meaty and well-grounded in the Church.

    The sins of the “East” are manifold – though it has not adulterated the faith. That much remains. One of the nasty parts of historical geo-politics is that what we might call the “West” has worked endlessly and tirelessly to subjugate the East, culturally, politically, religiously, for around a thousand years. It continues today, up to and including bombing them. The push-back we see today is but a drop in the bucket compared to the wholesale onslaught of Western scholarship and political powers over the centuries. It’s just true. I suppose there is the notion of “why can’t we just get along.” But that hasn’t actually been the case. The “getting along” has consistently been accompanied by pressure from Western forces to subjugate the East. It just is what it is.

  40. Cody Avatar

    I finished listening to your talks at the Climacus Conference in Louisville. Thank you so much for coming to our parish, I’m sorry I missed it. Your ministry was instrumental in my conversion. Please make a book out of all of these thoughts on shame, this is so powerful and liberating.

    I have a question about the theme of shame and our salvation coming through “bearing a little shame.” What do we make of God’s miracles? I am struck by your message that God is with us in the darkness, and especially, as you said in your talk, if there is someone in Hell then Jesus is with him there.

    I find this comforting as God does not deliver me from my shame, but rather voluntarily bears it alongside me as He saves me through it. It then made me wonder whether we should hope for a miracle to save us from our shame. When Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, I feel like we see Jesus in this very victorious moment, not bearing, but taking away Lazarus’ shame. However, the flip side of that coin is John the Baptist in prison asking Jesus if he is really the One (I kind of wonder if he is asking Jesus ‘If you are the Messiah, aren’t you supposed to break me out of here?’). Jesus does not save him from prison or raise him from the dead (at least not yet).

    In the one story universe everything is a miracle of communion, and as we bear our shame it makes sense that he doesn’t liberate us from saving shame. What are we to make of these miracles of healing and such that raise us above our shame in some regard? Is it wrong for us to long to be released from our shame?

  41. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Paula, we cannot just “all get along”. Untruth needs to be clearly identified.

    I will agree that the epithet “heretic”is wildly and inappropriately used. There are hardly any real heretics in today’s world. Unfortunately there is an heretical mind, the modern mind,the mind of this world that impinges on us all. It is quite harmful to go “heresy” hunting as in that effort we condemn ourselves. It is a manifestation of the same mind we say we reject.

    That mind can be devastating in its effects.

    In the early years of the Church those who were actual heretics sought to divide the Church. Siphoning away folks from the life-giving reality of the Church.

    They failed in dividing the Church as that cannot actually be done. However there was great success in drawing people away.

    Now the effort has changed focus. The effort now is to recognize no differences. To proclaim all belief and practice equal even identical. Any attempt at distinction is labeled “unloving” even hateful.

    Many high profile religious leaders are doing that right now. That is a lie.

    One of the overt yet subtle tactics in this battle is to deny the reality of the Incarnation of our Lord, God, King and Savior as became man, fully man, remaining man with no loss or dimimuation of His divinity.

    Many “western” innovations are of this ilk including the institution of the Papacy, the anti-sacramental Protestants and both the denial of Mary as Theotokos and her elevation to some type of near goddess. It also includes those “Orthodox”who proclaim a truncated legalism rather than the fullness of the faith. Many manifestations of illusion and delusion. Only one Jesus Christ and Him crucified.

    Everywhere the Incarnation is rejected, death follows.

    Salvation only comes in union with Christ which is made possible only by His Incarnation.

    The way to union is by embracing His Cross and Ressurection.

    None of these are theories but are embedded in the reality of the Church.

    It is not often found in crowds or in the marketplaces, especially the “marketplace of ideas”. It can neither be bought nor sold nor bargained for. It is a gift given freely to all and it lies underneath the brambles of one’s heart. Clear the brambles and there it is.

  42. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    I don’t think it’s wrong to hope for miracles in anything. The fact, however, that Christ specifically urges us to take up our Cross, tells me that I will die. But whatever shame I bear in my dying (even daily) is united to Christ’s death and thus tramples down death. It’ll be ok.

  43. Paula Avatar

    Father Stephen,
    Thank you. Your response helps clarify some of my thoughts communicated in frustration. And yes, a response to feeling shamed. Forgive me.
    A better way is to not take offense, as per your example of your exit from Protestantism to Orthodoxy. It is in light of ‘critique’ that you simply could not justify remaining, and took courage to move forward. So yes, critique is necessary to tackle the issues. Where I see ‘critique of the west’ causing divisiveness is in the endlessness of the “west-bashing”. And in truth it may not be quite so endless, but only seems that way to me because of my sensitivity to the subject.
    I will take your advice on limiting my reading time on the internet. The wealth of information becomes too confusing, and I actually do prefer books. I admire your wisdom in doing your writings with the blessing of your hierarch. Also, it is very easy to call one a heretic when your put yourself as a guardian of the faith!
    As for subjugation, there is no way to get around the oppression this causes, whether imposed exteriorly (nation upon nation) or interiorly . That saying…power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely… power, wealth, the need for control/domination…the hunger for it feeds on itself. I understand.
    Finally, Father Stephen, may God bless you *as far as the east is from the west* 🙂

  44. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Thank you. That was very gracious (full of grace). It is an interesting part of Orthodox history that it was indeed under the domination of Western European ideas and theology for a time. The dominance of those countries in their technology and science, and especially military, made them very attractive. In what is today the Balkans and Greece, the Turks were in charge and oppressed them without mercy. In those days, to get an education, one had to leave the Orthodox lands in the Balkans areas or Greece and travel to Western Europe and study there. They were often treated as though they were primitive, lacking in sophistication, and simply not as “evolved” as the denominations of the West. And, in a not unusual response to such shaming, often responded by “Westernizing.” They believed that perhaps they needed to “get with it.”

    Russia was a different story. There the Tsars (from Peter the Great forward) tended to admire the tidiness and efficiency in the Germans and the Swedes. They sought to modernize the country in almost every way – from agriculture to engineering to military to government bureaucracies. Again, the universities of the West seemed very sophisticated, so that model was copied. In Russia, for example, up until nearly the end of the 19th century, theology was being taught in Latin (in order to be like the Western European countries).

    But it was in the 19th century that local and national movements began to arise that began to ask critical questions. Greece and the Balkans overthrew their Turkish masters. Slowly (and I mean very slowly) they began to take their civilizations back. Believe it or not, theology only began to emerge from that period of “captivity” in the mid-20th century. In some ways it’s still happening.

    So, on a serious, official level, the critique you hear is part of an important historical movement of recovery within Orthodoxy. It also get trivialized in internet arguments where children are mimicking their parents – and not doing a very good job of it.

  45. Paula Avatar

    I appreciate your comment…and agree with all you say…there can be no compromise in our faith. If it weren’t for the defenders of the faith Christianity as we know it would’ve scarcely survived. I may have led you to believe that I would lean toward compromise due to my statement about the fundamentals, but that is because I was piling question upon question, unable to find the right wording.
    And again, I must have implied that we must ‘all get along’. While I very much want that, and always hope for nothing less than that, I know realistically this is not going to happen in this “age”. My hope can be likened to the same type of hope that ‘all will be saved’…it’s unlikely, yet a hope not to be dashed. I agree that our faith needs to be reiterated and reinforced. Michael, I simply need to understand more fully the reason for the much “west-bashing”, but as Father said, with a careful eye to the limits in reading and with discernment. And with an understanding that proper critique is needful. So I ask, forgive my rants, my passions released.
    In the end, it is as you say “Only one Jesus Christ and Him crucified.” This is Truth.

  46. St. Longinus Avatar
    St. Longinus

    Fr. Freeman; an honest question.
    Why is it that I have so often read (over these last 8 years) that Eastern worship is so much deeper than Western Liturgical worship because of what is deemed by those in Eastern rites to be the necessity of ‘participation’ by the people during Liturgy?. The Eastern tradition places great emphasis in oral (singing) participation by the faithful. If you aren’t singing, you aren’t participating. I come from a tradition wherein silence doesn’t mean one isn’t ‘participating’ or ‘assisting’ in the Liturgy. Silence doesn’t mean you aren’t paying attention.

  47. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    St. Longinus,
    Those using that comparison are quite mistaken. There are plenty of Orthodox Churches in which the singing is primarily by choir or chanters. The “everybody must participate” thing is actually a thing from the contemporary liturgical renewal movement – and was pushed endlessly by the liturgical renewal scholars. Some of that bled over into Orthodox thinkers as well.

    I would never use that point of comparison. What I would point to (if I was pointing) that justly indicates deeper worship is the vast amount of liturgical/musical/poetic/theological material that is pretty much gone now everywhere in Western practice. I had no idea about this before I converted. There is simply nothing whatsoever to compare with it outside of Orthodoxy.

    These texts, or similar ones, existed once-upon-a-time in the Western tradition, but have been reformed and reformed out of existence.

    Paying attention, by the way, is overrated. Everybody’s mind wanders. Only a really jazzy entertaining megachurch production can hold your attention through an entire service.

  48. Paula Avatar

    I find the history of the East, in the bits and pieces I have read, like the events in Greece and Russia you mention, so very interesting. The oppression (Turks) of the Greeks, the submission of the Russians (to the Latins), really does help in understanding the form Orthodoxy has taken up to the present time. It is interesting that the dominance of science and technology (knowledge/wealth) you mention, usurped True knowledge. How very tempting, the lust for power. So yes, I see in this, the west is culpable. And the east, for entering into it’s temptation.
    What gives hope and is most uplifting is that, as Jesus declared regarding His Church, the gates of hell will not prevail. With all that the Church has endured and still is…She is still here. Yet, St. Paul told us to keep putting on the whole armor…it’s going to be a rough ride.
    Again, many thanks, Father.

  49. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Alas Paula, some of the bashing is due to a sort of institutional and familial rememberance of wrongs for all the bad things Rome in particular has done down through the centuries. The Roman list for us is probably as long but those are not remembered. It goes back to at least the Sack of Constantinople in AD 1204 and the imposition of Roman Patriarchs after that.

    Some of it is an over-reaction to the dominant cultural expression which comes up with some pretty bizzare and astoundingly wrong theological propositions that do great damage to people. We seem to forget that most of the great heresies were originally propagated in what is now considered the East.

    But as Fr. Stephen alluded to the western political powers have at best routinely turned a blind eye to the oppression and genocide of indigenous Christian communities and people’s in the East as is happening right now. A few specifics:

    The last US President to take a genuine stand against Moslem enslavement of Christians, for instance, was Thomas Jefferson.

    Ulysses Grant sent Presbyterian “missionaries”to Alaska to “convert the heathen natives” most of whom were Orthodox — doing great damage to the Native communities in the process.

    A similar feat of amazing arrogance has been replicated in our own time with many of the “missionaries” to Russia when the Soviet Union fell. Not to mention the machination of Western powers to over-throw Czar Nicholas so Lenin could gain power. More recently Clinton bombing the capitol of Serbia on Pascha and turning over the Serbian Orthodox heartland to Muslims, the “Arab Spring” and the decimation of Apostolic Christians in their homes.

    There are lots of reasons. Doesn’t mean we have to buy into them or nurture them in our own hearts. Certainly we can and should listen and respond to particular people in an open manner, as Christ Himself does.

    In any case there is little in the west that has been a benefit to Orthodox Christians. Least if all the philosophical nonesense that are the foundation for the modern project and the myth of progress.

    It is now nothing less than unadulterated nihilism.

    The only antidote is in the Orthodox Church. But we have to guard our own hearts to keep as much of the darkness out as possible . That is not easy. Many are likely to succumb even within the Church.

    Lord have mercy.

  50. St. Longinus Avatar
    St. Longinus

    Thank you for confirming my suspicions.

  51. St. Longinus Avatar
    St. Longinus

    @Micahel Bauman
    Would you please specify what you mean by ‘western’ powers in this, your sentence from your comment above:
    “Not to mention the machination of Western powers to over-throw Czar Nicholas so Lenin could gain power.”

  52. John (Ioannis) Chiladakis Avatar
    John (Ioannis) Chiladakis

    Father, thank you. Could you please clarify what you mean with “the deeper level” of vulnerability? (… though we cannot really go there without enduring the psychological first).

  53. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Germany boxed up Lenin and shipped him back into Russia after supporting him monetarily. Britain and allies played footsie with the Ottoman Empire for decades despite their treatment of Christians including the Armenian genocide facilitating the “population exchange” between Greece and Turkey. France has been the only country to try to make Turkey reopen Haliki Seminary and try to protect Hagia Sophia. The US from Clinton to Obama as Presidents has the blood of thousands of Christians in Serbia, Iraq, Egypt and Syria on our hands. The woman Gen. Matis wants as one of his too assistants is a known supported of the Muslim Brotherhood. The Christian Zionism of political powerful Evangelicals in the US has made life for Orthodox Christians in Israel more difficult.

    There has been a consistent foreign policy to ignore the plight of Christians in the East because we hold no political power or influence.

    This is just off the top of my head.

  54. Paula Avatar

    Thank you Michael. Some of the history you mentioned I am more familiar with than others. One thing, I did not realize that Clinton bombed Serbia on Pascha….how gross. The atrocities are grievous. So yes, I’m beginning to understand the “illegitimate child” picture of the west. I don’t like it. It’s a hard truth. You also make two interesting points… with some it is an over-reaction and most great heresies originating in the east. And no doubt, we are to listen and respond in an open manner.

  55. Eleftheria Avatar

    Fr. Stephen,
    Your blessing.
    I ask your forgiveness if what Inhave to say is too political; it is, however, necessary.
    From my perspective as an American residing in the Republic of Cyprus, things in Greece are actually worse than they have ever been with regard to being ashamed before the West (EU, IMF, Troika) and with having an avowed atheist as Prime Minister. Policies have been put in place to destroy the Orthodox phronema (mindset/frame of mind) of the people, including in the schools. One example is that the ringing of church bells has been banned in some areas for being too noisy…. yet the calls from the muezzin are allowed “to show consideration for the refugees”. What a paradox that is in a country that lived centuries under the barbarism imposed by the Ottoman Empire! I think that I am in agreement with the primates in Greece, who are calling for the people to return to the church, to patriotism rightly practiced and to stand firm against EU policies that subvert Orthodoxy and the Greek culture.

    Michael, Paula
    To emphasize Michael’s point to Paula ( in the hopes that it will wake us all up to what all such policies, be they EU or US, are really up to), here is a quote from Henry Kissinger (Turkish Daily 1997):
    “The Greeks are hard to govern, so we must strike deep into their cultural roots. That we may knock some sense into them. What I mean is that we must strike into their language, their religion, their cultural and historical heritage in order to eliminate any possibility of their progress, prominence and domination so that they would stop having a say in the Balkans, the East Mediterranean and the Middle East which are the key areas of a great strategic importance for the policy of the USA.”
    There is more, but I think that that is enough to convey the general idea. One thing is very clear for majority Orthodox countries in the EU, and that is that we are well on the way to becoming, once again, a church of the catacombs.
    The clouds are indeed gathering, Fr. Stephen.

    In Christ,

  56. Eleftheria Avatar

    I forgot to mention that here in the Eastern Mediterranean, for Cyprus, home to the last divided capital in the world, Kissenger’s words continue to play a role. Once again, talks for the reunification of our island republic seem to have hit solid walls – on all sides. Interesting though, that every time talks about the Cyprus problem make headlines, bones of contention in the form of uninhabited rocky islands “suddenly” crop up between Turkey and Greece, while the EU, the US and the UN all seem to be trying to foster the talks…hmmm.
    OK, enough politics! They are, however, unfortunately tied in to the Hellenic religion and culture due to comments such as Kissenger’s.
    Forgive me.
    A blessed Lent to all! Kalimera Stadio!

  57. Eleftheria Avatar

    Kalo Stadio!

  58. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    So, what is the Christian response to all of this? Prayer for our enemies, be wise as serpents, gentle as doves, prepare for maryterdom. Nothing new. Pray, fast, give alms, worship, repent, forgive. Most of all, fear not. The spirit of the age is the spirit of fear Fear and shame and intimate cousins.

  59. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    John (Ioannis),
    The Elder Sophrony made a distinction between the psychological and the spiritual. He said that most will not, in this lifetime, do more than experience things on a psychological level. He didn’t disparage this, but said that the spiritual was quite difficult and rather rare. There are levels of experience that are more ontological, a matter of our very being. They are not unlike the psychological, except that they are deeper more profound. An example: someone might very well become very well-integrated psychologically, and healthy. But the spiritual man will not only have that experience, but it might well be accompanied with the uncreated light, etc. Both are forms of holiness – but very much of a different level and intensity.

  60. Paula Avatar

    Appreciate your comments. I am not familiar with many details in past and current history, but I get the gist of how the players play. Kissinger’s comment proves to be a continuation of the quest for power…it’s horrible. I also appreciate Michael’s response that this is not new…pray, fast, etc,…and most important, fear not. I might add, bear the shame. I do not like to use the word ‘must’, but here I will…that we Christians *must* walk in unity. It is so important to live within the Church, and observe how those in the past endured persecution…looking to the Author and Finisher of our Faith.

  61. Eleftheria Avatar

    Paula, Michael,
    Of course, this is not new, and of course, there is no other way to live but with our hope in the risen Lord.
    My maternal grandmother, from whom I had learned my rudimentary prayers, had emigrated to the US from Eastern .Thrace at the height of the Asia Minor Holocaust. Even after waking us all with her screams as she re-lived horrors in her nightmares, she would always compose herself afterward by signing herself with the cross and with prayer, “Panaghia mou, help the children of the world.”
    I pray that I have one ounce of the strength of her faith; may the Lord grant such faith to all.
    It is indeed, Paula, the prayer of all faithful to pray for all, or as you had said, our walk in unity.

  62. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    What Fr. Stephen calls the modern project is the philosophical, cultural, political and economic ethos that the west is founded on. It is fundamentally Nihilism in action, denying Christ and His Church. It cannot help but try and destroy us.

  63. Paula Avatar

    Just a thought…
    I recall in a recent post you stated that you’ve studied Nihilism for 40 something years now, so I know you have a firm grasp on it’s intricate workings. In my basic understanding, this ‘ethos’ of the modern project, the root of which you describe as Nihilism (the belief that there is no truth in the world; unbridled pessimism), is that it is an ‘ideal’ that was propagated. I also recall Fr. Stephen saying that Christianity is not an ‘ideal’, not a ‘religion’, not even a ‘way’ of life, but truly life itself. So, of necessity, this ‘ideal’ which denies Truth, Christ, and His Church, as you say, can not help but try to destroy us. Try as it may, this quest for destruction, this warfare, is as old as creation…they are fighting a battle that was already won.
    Now a question…where would be a good place to start reading on Nihilism? I want to know how it all started. I have on my list the book Father recommended “The Unintended Reformation”, but I’m unsure if it will answer my questions.
    Through the prayers of your grandmother, and yours as well, I trust the Lord will give you that measure of faith in those times of need! How wonderful to have her as an example.

  64. Thomas Avatar

    What I would point to (if I was pointing) that justly indicates deeper worship is the vast amount of liturgical/musical/poetic/theological material …

    Which saved the Orthodox faith when the Ottomans forbade all religious education in the Balkans and when the communists banned religious education in the Soviet Union and its satellites. I’ve heard it said that to attend all the services for a year (Matins being the most important, IMO) is to receive a thorough theological education.

    Also, when the Greeks gained independence from the Ottoman Empire, it was with the help of the Western powers — who promptly installed a Bavarian (who hated Orthodoxy) as king.

  65. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Paula, your definition of Nihilism is not correct. Nihilism is neither pessimistic nor is it dissmissive of truth. It posits that all truth is human in origin and humans can and should achieve their greatness without God or any external code of virtue or morals(over simplifying).

    The best book I can recommend is by Eugene (Fr. Seraphim) Rose. Nihilism: The Root of the Revolution of the Modern Age. You can also watch the movie The Never Ending Story. Both the book and the movie give you a taste of what Nihilism is without immersing you in it. That is a dangerous place to go without guidance and protection. We are immersed in it enough already. Read Genesis 3. Pay particular attention to the devil saying we shall not die but be as God. That is the essence of Nihilism.
    Nihilism is literally everywhere. You don’t need to go looking for it. It can be quite seductive but leads quite literally to nothing, indeed to nothingness. I was led through all that as part of my salvation. I did not choose it. I would caution against choosing it. As you are already in the Church it might be a bit like Lot’s wife.

    Several key writers though: Nietzche, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Epicurus. Many of the Enlightenment philosophes were fundamentally Nihilist. I suspect you have read more than you realize. Emerson’s nihilist proclivativities means that there is much nihilism at the heart of American literature. Melville certainly picked up on it. Look at Ahab’s quest for Moby Dick and the destruction it wrought. Or Bartelby, the Scrivener. The list is quiet long

    No, look to the Truth, immerse yourself in Life in what is real not the seductive darkness of nothingness. Trust me when I say there is nothing there.

  66. John (Ioannis) Chiladakis Avatar
    John (Ioannis) Chiladakis

    Father, thank you for giving so much with your articles and comments (to substantiate the aphorism of Elder Sophrony “The Christian’s great tragedy is the inability to find a spiritual father”)

  67. Karen Avatar

    Your last two comments on this thread have been incredibly helpful to me, too. Would it be possible for me to correspond privately with you and Merry? Father has my private email information if you are okay with that, and he has my permission to give it to you.

    For the readers, I will only add that everything I have suddenly been more deeply sensitized to by the revelations that came from the political email leaks (in news reportage) confirms your assessment of Nihilism’s influence on American culture.

    I will also ask for readers’ most fervent prayer for a group of grassroots led protesters in the midst of planning a peaceful demonstration for this March 25 at 11:00am in Lafayette Park near the White House in Washington DC. The purpose of the protest is #ALLCHILDRENMATTER. I believe these protesters, unlike many up to this point which have been corporate sponsored, are bravely actually risking their lives and reputations to speak (the real) truth to power here. It is no accident I believe that this secular group has chosen this date on which to try to get their message out to a wider public (though I suspect mainstream news reportage will be minimal, if not also quite distorting of the facts about it). May our Lord, Who Himself became a Holy Innocent for our sakes on this Feast, and His Most Holy Mother be the Protectors of the organizers and participants and all like-minded others and fight this battle for and with them, for indeed “the battle is the Lord’s”. In fact, there is another Stand Up for the Children (Beyond Borders Haiti) group on Facebook also planning a “Million Lost Children March” in DC on March 18. Details are at the FB page. May the Lord do the same for them.

  68. Paula Avatar

    Thank you so much…your advice is well taken. You say “I suspect you have read more than you realize”…yes, I’ve experienced some of that darkness you spoke about when I had involved myself much in the world of “conspiracy theory”. I had to stop…it was bad. But I did learn of this other world of darkness. As for reading about Nihilism, I will read Fr. Seraphim and watch the video it for a ‘taste’, as you say, though I have already tasted it. My thoughts are that I feel like I have to be aware, lest I be taken by surprise. Or to put it another way, a help towards discernment, yet knowing that discernment is a gift, to be received with care, by immersing in Life…yes, the darkness is seductive.
    …Lot’s wife….God forbid!

  69. Adam Avatar

    Fr. Stephen,

    Thanks so much for this post. Can you talk a little about how this framework of shame for the atonement helps inform Old Testament sacrifices, and in particular, how it relates to the Day of Atonement and the Passover.

  70. William David Wallace Avatar
    William David Wallace

    The Orthodox hold to the Christus Victor model of the atonement as best I understand your position. As a Protestant, when I 1st became acquainted with the Orthodox position I found the name new but not the concept. As best I can tell there are a number of models of the mystery of the atonement taught in the NT. Could you recommend a few good seminary level books on Christus Victor as understood by the Orthodox. For me the fact of the atonement is substantially more important that the particular model one holds to.

  71. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Fr. Patrick Reardon’s book on the Reclaiming the Atonement is an excellent piece of work. I would start there. When I read it, I also chased down some of the major scholarly works that he cites and read them, too. That’s often a good way to dig into a book.

    Oddly, you don’t find so much classically on the atonement in Orthodoxy. It was once said in the West (very commonly) that the East had never developed a theory or doctrine of atonement (JND Kelly says as much in his classic work on early Christian doctrine). Of course, it’s absurd to suggest such a thing, as if the Orthodox never speak about the work of Christ. Rather, it’s that everything is atonement. I would say, even more than Christus Victor, it is the doctrine of union and the Divine Exchange. Yes, He tramples down death, etc., but He doesn’t just do this “for” us. We are united to Him and thus, we, too trample down death by death, in Him. That’s Romans 6. When you begin to think in terms of our union with Christ – that He becomes what we are that we might become what He is (cf. 2Cor. 5:21), you begin to see it everywhere. It is not “a” model in Scripture – it is pretty much “the” model in Scripture. It certainly dominates the Eastern Fathers. But, they don’t always say it explicitly. It’s implied in everything they say and is the content of the sacramental life. Orthodoxy is very much a “seamless garment.” You never just see “one” thing, you see “everything.” All of the great Councils are about our salvation – and they matter only because they are about our salvation.

    If Christ is not God, then we are not saved. If Christ is not man, then we are not saved. That, in a nutshell, is the content of the Councils. But to understand that Christ is God, is stated in terms of union: Essence and Person. That Christ is human, is stated in terms of union: Person and Nature.

  72. Fr. Steven Clark Avatar
    Fr. Steven Clark

    how come I am only now reading this? This is excellent. I used to get auto-notifications back when you were hosted on WordPress

  73. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Fr. Steven,
    I’m not sure. Try subcribing again.

  74. Jerilyn Burgess Avatar
    Jerilyn Burgess

    Life-changing, Fr. Stephen. I was raised Catholic, and since I was a young girl, I was ashamed that I couldn’t comprehend how the blood and gore of the Crucifixion meant God loved me. It was a constant teaching and one that evaded me. I felt so alone because it seemed everyone around me understood–what was wrong with me that I couldn’t? To think instead that Jesus entered into the shame of the Cross to heal my lifelong shame–this touches me deeply. It is a balm to my soul. Thank you!

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