That Thing You Do – Right Worship

In my Anglican years I watched the introduction of a new prayer book. Among its most notable features was variety. In a certain manner, it brought under one roof that most obvious feature of modern Christianity: options. Our culture has an understanding that ideas, thoughts and sentiments are what matters; how they are embodied is largely a matter of private choice – perhaps a lifestyle preference. Confronted with radical differences in worship practice, a modern American Christian would most likely respond, “Does it really matter?” This stands in stark contrast to an ancient understanding of liturgy. Perhaps the most heated debate between East in West during the time of the Great Schism was over whether the bread of the Eucharist was to be leavened or unleavened. At the time, it was seen as far more important than the filioque. Modern sensibilities recoil at such a debate and again want to shout, “What does it matter?”

Our modern protest assumes that we are the masters of our thoughts. Actions and words are fungible, evidence only of style. We believe that substance is a matter of thought and intent. This philosophy is geared towards allowing us to ignore the words and actions of others. In a world of variety and multicultural complexion, such a strategy is understandable. However, it tends to value the private and the notional at the expense of the public and common experience. We imagine that our inner thoughts are what matter and that those thoughts are the product of our own choices. Such is not the case.

Psychological studies have long shown evidence for what is termed “confirmation bias.” We tend to find proof of what we already think. We might also say that you will tend to think like you live – your actions determine your choices to a great extent, long before anything that we describe as “reason” comes into play. The Church has long known this and enshrined it in a formula: lex orandi, lex credendi: “the law of praying is the law of believing.” In simple terms, we believe what we pray – and not just what we pray, but what we pray publicly – the Liturgy.

Historically this referred to the fact that Church doctrine agreed with the Church’s liturgical life and its liturgical life agreed with its doctrine. It can be taken prescriptively, that the one should mirror the other. I take it, however, to be a principle (lex): whatever you do in your praying will eventually determine your believing. I think that because we are wired that way. It is worthwhile to look at a Church service, and, apart from the words, to ask, “What does this action mean?” There is a meta-message that is far deeper and more important than the words you say and the songs you sing.

The modern options in liturgical life (found all through the contemporized denominations), have a hidden, and, perhaps, unintended message. Their constantly changing structures suggest that what matters is what you think/feel/believe. What you do in Church is pretty much “immaterial,” a matter of preference and style. Indeed, many moderns believe that this is the great advantage of denominations – everybody can “do Church” in the manner that they like. But what you do is, eventually, what you will think (no matter what you say).

A simple observation: You cannot say that children matter and exclude them from Baptism and the Cup of Communion, much less isolate them and remove them from the public liturgy of the Church. Their exclusion is a teaching regarding the full humanity of children, regardless of what you mean it to say. There is a connection (whether we want to admit it or not) between the repudiation of infant baptism and the repudiation of the humanity of a child in the womb. Adulthood is not required in the Kingdom of God.

This is a crucial matter. Any time there is some component of worship that “doesn’t matter,” the whole liturgy will begin to not matter. The modern thought, “I don’t need to go to Church to worship God,” simply says that all sense of a Eucharistic life is gone. The notion that some part of life, much less some part of worship, doesn’t matter is already an embracing of secularism. Secularism holds that the world somehow exists apart from God. God only cares what we think or feel; intention and sentiment are what is essential. All that sort of thinking can yield is a bifurcation of our lives, a rupture in the fundamental unity of our being. It is a disintegration of the spiritual life. And, in the end, what you do will win. The modern secularization of Christianity (and then the heart) is an inevitable result.

If there is one saving feature of Orthodox Christianity, it would be its failure to alter its liturgy in a significant manner for the bulk of its history. Anyone who says that what you see in an Orthodox service today is the unchanged liturgy of the early Church is mistaken. Much of what we see is unchanged, but centuries have added things here and there. And those additions were intended. When doctrines have been expressed in a definitive manner, for example, they generally gain a place within the worship life of the Church.

As I study the history of Orthodoxy it is primarily the liturgical life of the Church that remains a constant. Periodic corruption within the hierarchy, cultural captivity and other failures are quite notable in Orthodox history. Indeed, very little in its history can be singled out as an outstanding feature of stability and faithfulness. But corrupt characters and cultural hegemonies come and go. Various religious fads and fashions have passed through. That it is possible to speak of an “Orthodox phronema” (mind), is perhaps solely due to the stability of its liturgical life.

The fact that most of Orthodoxy spent the better part of the 20th century stagnated under various communist regimes may have been far more salutary than not. For many Orthodox, mere survival was the greatest concern of the time. There are some who wring their hands over the controversies and failures of the recent Council in Crete. I am not one of them – primarily because I had very low expectations. St. Gregory the Theologian, who took early leave from the 2nd Ecumenical Council, said: “I have never seen a council produce anything but anger and rancor.”

But the same participants who argue and scheme eventually return to the liturgy that faithfully bathes them in the unchanging truth of the faith. The prayers of the Church produce saints. No decisions, made anywhere at any level, have such effective power.

Ortho-doxa is sometimes translated as “right worship.” This is proper and goes to the point of our lives. It was said by many Jews in Hitler’s camps, “We did not keep the Sabbath; the Sabbath kept us.” The same can be said regarding Orthodox worship in the life of the Church. The Church proper is the Church gathered in Liturgy.

The whole of our life, ideally, becomes a liturgy, and, as such, is rightly lived. We were created to make Eucharist of all things, to give thanks. We are not the masters of our existence. We are its servants.

About Fr. Stephen Freeman

Fr. Stephen is a priest of the Orthodox Church in America, Pastor Emeritus of St. Anne Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He is also author of Everywhere Present and the Glory to God podcast series.



151 responses to “That Thing You Do – Right Worship”

  1. Dean Arnold Avatar

    Very nice diagnosis of our culture, which sees no need for liturgy or any forms, only the mind and thinking, beliefs and intent.

    This is something I’ve been meditating on the past couple of days (and discussed with Bishop Alexander Saturday).

    How do address the problem? We don’t need to come up with the best advertising slogan. The customer has no interest in our product (at least consciously). I am seriously at a loss.

  2. Tom Avatar

    Thank you, Father, for another wonderful post. Right at the moment notification of your post hit my email inbox, I was in the middle of telling a dear friend how it just hit me experientially, as I attended a run-of-the-mill Novus Ordo (Catholic) Mass last week, where the Liturgy was said/performed in a way that made it seem like it was just window dressing to the priest’s jokes at the beginning, middle and end, that the change to worship versus populum (facing the people) after Vatican II incentivizes even the most well-intentioned priests to become showmen and entertainers for their congregants, and prayers addressed to God suddenly seem addressed to the people instead. Sad!

  3. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    The model of what it means to be human (our anthropology), particularly within Protestant/Catholic and thus modern culture, is that we are thinkers with utterly free wills, who consider information and decide. Most Protestant notions of salvation are predicated on this very shallow model. We only barely resemble this in reality – and have constant frustration about the fact that it somehow doesn’t work.

    The “liturgies” of our lives are unavoidable, and they are everywhere. The question isn’t that we are non-liturgical – we cannot help but be liturgical. The problem is that the “liturgies” of our lives are terrible. They make us sick, shamed, and angry.

    I do not know how to address the problem on a wider basis other than to point out the fact that it is true (thus the blog, etc.). And then, put myself into the Church’s liturgies as often as possible.

    Don’t you just love Bishop Alexander? I am reading a lot of his stuff and enjoying myself.

  4. Byron Avatar

    This is wonderful, Father! Just this past Sunday, we spoke with the Youth of our parish on The Church and why it is important. This adds much to that discussion! Many thanks!

  5. Matth Avatar

    Fr. Stephen,

    Are you suggesting that even Catholicism teaches through its liturgical life that children are not fully human? This is something I can imagine being argued in regards to Protestant churches that send the children to Sunday school shortly after the opening hymn, but I’m surprised by this claim in regards to the Catholic practice of delaying First Communion until about the age of 6.

    Can you elaborate on this at all?

  6. Sharon MacKinnon Avatar
    Sharon MacKinnon

    Where to begin to express my appreciation of this essay? Thank you, Fr. Stephen. Some of my thoughts as I view what you have written through a mother’s eyes:

    My child will not grow up to be a Christian if I give him all the right thoughts (make him read all the right books), correct his emotions (“should” on him), or make him do correct things (moral behavior). These are not bad things – but they are not sufficient to “make a Christian” – a disciple.

    I pray that my child will grow up to be a Christian because he will know one simple thing: who he is.

    The liturgy – and particularly the Eucharist – tells us who we are, over and over again: “We are the people who give thanks to God for all things” – where Christ returns our meager offerings to us as transformed, resurrected Life.

    I pray my child will also know his purpose: “To be a person who gives thanks to God for all things”. He will learn – as he observes his parents and his community, that when we give thanks to God for all things (the good, the bad, and the ugly) we also “let go and let God”. 🙂 No scheme or plan or great intellect (or perfection) required.

    The littlest child gives thanks and then goes to play so much more readily than any adult I know.

  7. GretchenJoanna Avatar

    I read a book on infant baptism written by a Calvinist theologian – you know, if you follow John Calvin closely you have to baptize infants – who said that not baptizing infants denies them what is rightly theirs as children of believing parents, and that a refusal to baptize them expresses hostility to our children. That made a huge impression on me, and made me regret that I had not understood this when my own children were born. But of course, these same people would deny the Body and Blood of Christ to their children.

  8. Ann Avatar

    One night while at prayer, I was asking God about all the different denominations because I was thinking about the apostle’s assertion “never the less, the Word is preached. The world (and our adversary) wants us to see this discord as a failing of the church universal – and there are good arguments for this. But God showed me a different thing. He showed me a huge ark comprised of the churches, with Orthodoxy and the “old Christian traditions” as the rudder. I understood that the Anglican church my parents so faithfully attended, and therefore in which I was raised as a sort of ramp and one of the “rooms” on this ark. But I also understood, to quote CS Lewis, that I must go “higher up and deeper in”. I asked him about churches like the “gain is godliness” ones and He whispered in my spirit, “every boat must have a head”. (a boat’s bathroom”.) I think He might have even winked and laughed. The joy of this interaction is that God always meets us exactly where we are, and shares Himself with us. Glory to God for all things!

  9. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    If we ignore what people “say” they are doing, and simply look at what they do, then, yes, the non-communion of infants and young children denies their humanity, or suggests that there is, in fact, something lacking. The truth is, there is absolutely no theological justification for this practice.

    Now, I understand all of the explanations that might be offered, but those are just words. Our “liturgies” are more eloquent and accurate.

  10. Albert Avatar

    Although there is no arguing about ” The truth is , there is absolutely no theological justification for this practice” , the practice itself as I have observed it (mothers, right after deacons/readers/ nuns, ushering small children up, or carrying infants, but not receiving communion themselves) is puzzling. I know about the importance of preparation, but the general impression to an outsider (me a couple of years ago) might be that the prayers, chants, hymns– the whole mystery of the Liturgy — is for adults and communion is a rather pleasant and beautiful ending, those angelic children representing the innocence we can only pray for. I don’t believe this, but I struggle with it–especially since I don’t see many teen agers in church.

  11. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    In Orthodoxy you often see the reverse. Parents bringing their children up to receive communion…but the parents not communing because of their own lack of preparation. Children are exempt from preparation. It is a liturgical action that affirms the innocence of children – and calls adults to be more like them.

  12. Charles R Williams Avatar
    Charles R Williams

    I would propose that the practice of not communing infants expresses an exclusively individualistic and therapeutic view of communion. When my 1 year old godson is communed I am blessed. When baptised infants are not communed the whole body of Christ is diminished. The logic behind not-communing infants is that they do not benefit because they do not sin. But this is certainly a narrow, one-sided theology. Infants, because they do not sin, cannot profane the Holy Gifts, which are, as the liturgy reminds us, for the Holy.

  13. John Stansbury Avatar
    John Stansbury

    That “green book” that the Anglican Church called the new Book of Common Prayer, is one of the many reasons I left the Anglican Church. The book made the liturgy a grocery store of beliefs where you could pick and choose how to worship our God. It watered down the faith to the point you know what you were worshiping. I thank GodI found the true faith in Orthodoxy.

  14. Paula Avatar

    Father Stephen, Dean Arnold ,
    Could you please give Bishop Alexander’s full title so I can look him up?
    And yet another thank you, Father, for this and all of your posts. They greatly enhance my learning of Orthodoxy….even those posts that I stumble over. The comments are a great help as well.

  15. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Sorry, the conversation with Dean got too private. He was referring to Bishop Alexander Golitzin, bishop of Dallas and the South (OCA). For years, he taught patristic theology at Marquette. He is also a monk of Simonapetra on Mount Athos.

  16. mary benton Avatar
    mary benton

    Tom, (& Fr. Stephen)
    I cannot comment on the Catholic liturgy you attended, of course, but your characterization of Catholicism is inaccurate. As a RC, I can attest that our liturgy is a very sacred thing to us – and it is not “performed” nor are our priests “showmen” trying to entertain us. All priests have their own style of preaching and some may use a bit of humor or tell a story in their homily as a way of connecting and engaging with people. I have never seen a priest acting as you describe.

    What Fr. Stephen said about confirmation bias is quite true. I had an atheist friend many years ago who described his impression of pre-Vatican liturgical behavior as “the priest was talking to the wall”. His belief confirmed what he perceived and vice versa. So we can be criticized or made fun of, whichever way the priest is facing.

    Vatican II changes occurred when I was a young teen and I welcomed them. Seeing the priest made me feel joined in prayer with him – otherwise, I seldom saw his face! Although I had picked up some Latin, hearing the liturgical prayers in my own language deepened my understanding of and joy in the liturgy.

    Regarding communion for children old enough to understand, there is no implication whatsoever that they are “not fully human” before this. They are simply not “old enough to understand”, a phrase used by Nehemiah for those to whom the Law of Moses was read. We want children to understand what they are receiving so that they will hold it sacred, not simply regarding it as another kind of food.

    I know this sounds like a pro-Catholic rant but I do not write it in that tone. While there are differences in practice between the Orthodox and the Catholic, what we have in common is far greater and far more important. We believe in and celebrate the Eucharist, the real presence of Christ’s Body and Blood. We honor and pray to the holy Mother of God. We celebrate the communion of saints. We strive to love God above all and our neighbor as ourselves.

    Do we sometimes fail to do these things adequately? Of course – and that is our human sinfulness, which knows no distinction between East and West.

    Fr. Stephen, you wrote, “Our liturgies are more eloquent and accurate.” I would not try to argue with your belief and experience. But I can say that the liturgies I attend as a Catholic are profound and beautiful encounters with Christ our Savior, regardless of what flaws they may or may not have. Christ makes Himself present when we come to Him with faith and humility.

    Eloquence is not a criteria for His presence. One RC church I attend is a small, older parish in the city where the blind come (and the priest describes what he is doing) and the deaf have the entire liturgy signed for them. Creaky elevators welcome wheelchair users. Many in the congregation are dressed plainly and sometimes their children have behavioral problems. The singing is…well, not so great. But Christ is very much present in the Word and in the Eucharist in that little church. And I often come away deeply renewed in faith when I join them.

  17. Deacon Nicholas Avatar
    Deacon Nicholas

    I think it was CS Lewis who observed that Christ said, “Take, eat,” not “Take if you understand.” Understand the Eucharist? That would truly be miraculous….and somehow I think infants are more understanding than we are.

  18. Dean Arnold Avatar

    Fr. Stephen, yes I enjoyed my visit with +Alexander. He is not the charismatic type. But I found him very thoughtful, and he seems to have a genuine passion for the Orthodox goal of theosis.

    On your very helpful response to my question, I have a question: one of my favorite Protestant commentators (who ought to be Orthodox), teaches that Adam and Eve conducted liturgy in the Garden. What do you think? I have no idea. But the concept in many ways helps address this question, it seems to me.

  19. Paula Avatar

    Father, thank you for the info on Bishop Alexander.
    Oh! No problem regarding the “private conversation”! Didn’t even occur to me!

  20. Paula Avatar

    Mary Benton,
    You know, I appreciate when you explain your experience, your life, as a Roman Catholic. You do not take personally when an Orthodox believer speaks of the differences, whether it be in the liturgy, or the theology in general…or even when a step further is taken and the meaning of the differences are defined (this is where it becomes “touchy”). When you speak of your experiences, it offers a totally different perspective, a personal one, or rather, coming from a person as opposed to a description read from a book. You clearly love God, the Church, and all She stands for, and from what I gather in your posts, you live it (your job, etc.) to the best of your ability. I’m saying all this because I have always had a hard time accepting divisions within the Church, between Her people. I don’t think I’ll ever be comfortable with that subject, and many times have defended those who are being opposed, if only just for that very reason. (and please, I am not insinuating here that anyone’s comments had that intention)
    And now I apologize for once again derailing the subject of the post! I seem to do that quite often!

  21. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Mary Benton,
    You’ve misunderstood my statement that our “liturgies” are more eloquent and more accurate. I meant by that that ALL public liturgies, of any stripe, themselves give expression to what is really going on, and in that sense, more accurately represent what we believe, even when we say we believe something else. Every explanation of why a baptized child is not given communion is just that – an explanation. But the liturgical reality is that the child does not receive. And there are consequences beyond our consciousness that come with such things.

    My article was describing the effect of the liturgical life – something that is largely unconscious, something that may differ in a particular case, but nevertheless is inexorably true in the general.

    My thoughts regarding the Novus Ordo (as generally practiced) are echoed by many Catholics, including, to some degree, Pope Benedict.

    The eloquence has nothing to say about how the liturgy is done. Every liturgy, even the plainest mega-church production is an “eloquent” liturgy – in that it speaks volumes about what we think and believe – even more than we know. Sorry to have been so opaque in my comment.

  22. Byron Avatar

    “You do not fail in obedience through lack of love, but have lost love because you never attempted obedience.” -C.S Lewis

  23. mary benton Avatar
    mary benton

    You are right, Fr. Stephen, I did misunderstand your comment. With more careful reading, I see that your intended meaning was that our liturgies are more expressive of meaning than our words (not that one group’s liturgies are more beautifully expressive than another’s). My apologies for derailing the discussion.

    Dean Nicholas, just to clarify, I didn’t mean that children (or adults, for that matter) need to understand the Eucharist. Rather, to understand that it is sacred. Probably the first time I ever experienced a Protestant liturgy, many years ago, I was surprised at how their words of consecration were virtually identical to ours. It was only after the service was over and the unconsumed bread was set aside, that I realized the difference in our belief. The bread was treated as though it were mere bread. Small children came up and grabbed a handful and stuck it in their mouths. If some fell on the floor, no one seemed concerned. They were innocent, of course, but I was uncomfortable that the adults were so casual with something they had just pronounced to be the Body of Christ . And I do know that the Orthodox do not treat the Mysteries in such a casual manner. But we live in a time when the notion of sacredness has virtually disappeared.

    I’m probably reacting to the implication that we Catholics are harming and/or demeaning our children by having them wait. For a Catholic, First Communion is a very important event. As we prepare for it, we learn the meaning of Eucharist and (ideally) feel very special that Christ has come to us in such a deeply personal way. It is something we do not forget. I cannot know what it would have been like to be raised otherwise. I’m not saying the Orthodox way is wrong.

    Some of this discussion helps demonstrate Fr. Stephen’s point, I think. We are likely to believe what our liturgical experience expresses. Sometimes this creates a tension when we encounter differences in experience. And tension increases the likelihood of misunderstanding (as I misinterpreted Fr. Stephen’s comment).

    Thanks, Paula, for your words. Though you give me more credit than I deserve, I am heartened by our shared sadness over division. May it one be turned to joy as we become one in Christ!

  24. Karen Avatar

    It’s interesting to me I did not become Orthodox because of the Liturgy (I did not know it, nor was I even familiar with the ancient understanding, “Lex orandi, lex credendi”), but rather because of the faith. More than that, it was because of the Orthodox understanding of the Central Event of the faith in the Cross. I had two burning questions after 30+ years as an Evangelical to which the Western Christian traditions did not seem to have answers I could fully embrace. Those questions were: 1) Why did Jesus have to die (i.e., what exactly did His Death accomplish and why?), and 2) What exactly is “Hell-fire” (Gehenna)? There were certainly many elements of the Orthodox responses to these questions in my Western Christian background, but also messages about the Cross in my Western Christian background that were nowhere to be found in the Orthodox understanding (such as a sense that it was Christ’s suffering and death, or His punishment in itself, that appeased or satisfied and turned away God’s wrath against sinful humanity, rather than the obedience of Christ and the destruction by Christ of the sin and death that held humanity in bondage). Of course, now that I am Orthodox (and it quickly became true for me), I drink from the fullness of Orthodox Liturgy like a woman once stranded in a dry desert drinks from a deep, cool and bottomless well at an oasis! Anything less falls short. The myriad ways the Liturgy supports and amplifies on the answers I found to my quest that finally tied all the elements of the gospel together for me in an organic way to make an intelligible whole are never ending. I know I will never finish sounding the depths. That organic unity of the faith as One thing, (as opposed to a particular group of “essential” tenets as a collective), is an unassailable anchor for my soul and a palpable (for me) difference in how I experience life in Christ.

    One thing I might add to the constancy of the Liturgy as, perhaps, being the only thing has sustained the Church through corruption and cultural captivity is that there have also always been those within the Church, namely her holy monastics, who have continued to celebrate that ancient Liturgy in a maximal way to preserve that fullness for the rest of us.

  25. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    I would, myself, point to the monastics. But it is sadly the case that, from time to time, even the monastic life has suffered and undergone periods of corruption. There have been any number of “renewals” (I don’t like the term, sorry) through the centuries. We are in one right now. I would point to the work of St. Paisius Velichkovsky (the one who assembled the Philokalia and brought it into the Russian language) as another example.

    I dig around a lot in primary historical materials. I’m embarrassed sometimes by the evidence of corruption. I long ago had any romantic notions of our history blown out of the water. But, always, always, there has been the liturgical life. It is actually amazing that it has suffered so little. Some would point to the importation of the so-called “Italian School” during Russia’s own “captivity,” as an example of corruption. The music of Bortniansky, that my dear sainted late Archbishop loved so much, would be an example. There are writings by none other than the Patriarch of Moscow (Alexey I think) excoriating such music in no uncertain terms. The “Italian” School of art that one finds so commonly in many 18th-19th century Russian Churches is another.

    But the liturgy remained. The liturgical life of the monasteries, sometimes neglected, is nevertheless, stronger than at perhaps any time in history. That Russia has seen 1,000 monasteries opened and populated since 1989 is unparalleled in modern times. Not since the days of the desert have we seen such a thing.

    The liturgy has been the great preservation of theology and teaching. You would have easily found plain teaching about the penal substitionary theory of the atonement in the Orthodox theology manuals of the 17th-19th centuries, despite its absence in the liturgical tradition. They were poor adaptations of Western (Catholic and Lutheran) manuals. When I read Church Fathers of the relative modern period (as in those centuries) I always bear in mind the Church-world in which they lived. I do not treat everything they say as in keeping with the Tradition – because it’s not. But that’s a difficult sift – and upsetting to some to hear anyone say it. But faithfulness requires it in our generation.

    The Liturgy has preserved us.

  26. Dean Avatar

    I only met Bishop Golitzin once, about 20 years ago. He was filling in for our priest that Sunday, at an OCA mission church. At that time he was the “token” Orthodox professor at Marquette, a term he gave to himself. The liturgy was celebrated in a little chapel in the priest’s home. The altar area was very crowded, like trying to serve inside a Fiat. As he processed around the altar, a candelabra was knocked to the floor. It could hardly be helped. Another picture I have of him is after liturgy. He was wearing a cassock that had turned grey and tattered from overuse. Atop his head was a straw hat and he was puffing a corn cob pipe. My wife and I had lunch with him along with another couple. It was a delightful time for all!

  27. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Well, all I can say that the conversations here in which faithful knowledgeable Roman Catholics like Mary Benton participate have given me a much better view of that actual faith in the RCC. I am grateful for their testimony.

    My personal experience prior was not uplifting to say the least. I has never met a Roman Catholic who seemed to care about the faith. None could answer my questions. Even after attending a number of Masses with friends, I simply saw no reason to even consider the RCC during the 20 years I spent looking for a place to be home. As a serious amateur actor, it did seem more than a bit like a stage show.

    When I attended my first Divine Liturgy, I was hooked by the living presence of Jesus Christ. Took 9 more months for my brain to catch up.

    That is my experience. I am Orthodox because of my initial and continuing encounter with Jesus Christ, first in the Liturgy then gradually in all we do even as I loose attention and bumble around in my sins.

  28. JohnH Avatar

    Mary, As an Eastern Orthodox Christian, it seems odd to demand adult “understanding” by a child of the Holy Gifts. Surely my Children understood the value of food before “understanding” the value of nutrition and we do not deny food to them for that perceived lack. Likewise with spiritual food I would not deny them. In many ways I believe those very infants and children understand the Gifts better than I do despite all the teaching I have received. As our Lord said, “Let the little children come unto me and do not hinder them… “

  29. Karen Avatar

    Father, thank you for the clarification. I admit I was speaking from ignorance partly but also faith about the monastic tradition. I was, of course, aware that monasticism, like the Church in general, has waxed and waned and often suffered from corruption. I recall the story about Elder Iakovos of Evia, who received the call to revive the monastery of St. David that had fallen into ruin and had the three idiorhythmic monks that remained there (along with some shepherd families who had taken up residence) try to run him off and even murder him! I was thinking of the monasteries, though, as those places that largely preserved the liturgical books, relics, and records, etc., during times of decline, but perhaps that’s an unwarranted assumption.

  30. Karen Avatar

    I should add I’m very grateful to be living in an age of revival and recovery of more traditionally Orthodox ways of thinking about the meaning of the Atonement rooted in the early Fathers like the Cappedocians. I’m also very grateful the Liturgy hasn’t had anything added to it since centuries before the movements you describe. There certainly has been a lot of Western Influence on the Church since the fall of Byzantium.

  31. jacksson Avatar

    I also, along with Dean, recall the day that Bishop Golitzin served at our small OCA mission; he had previously been assigned as the priest some years before. I was a new convert of about a year and we didn’t have young lads available, so I was the (ignorant) altar server. He came out of the altar during the Small Entrance holding the gospel up in the air and I got very concerned because with his height and holding the gospel up in the air, I thought that he was going to run afoul of the ceiling fan that was about the same height, but he was careful. That was a very special Divine Liturgy.

  32. Eric Avatar

    Just to clear things up: the Catholic Church does indeed allow for/promote communion alongside infant baptism, it’s just not common place: Trent wanted to make clear that receiving communion is not necessary for salvation after the infant had been regenerated through baptism:

    “The same holy council teaches that little children who have not attained the use of reason are not by any necessity bound to the sacramental communion of the Eucharist; for having been regenerated by the laver of baptism and thereby incorporated with Christ, **they cannot at that age lose the grace of the sons of God already acquired.** Antiquity is not therefore to be condemned, however, if in some places it at one time observed that custom. For just as those most holy Fathers had acceptable ground for what they did under the circumstances, so it is certainly to be accepted without controversy that they regarded it as not necessary to salvation.”
    — Council of Trent, Sess. XXI, chap. iv

    The idea of the innocence of the child is actually preserved more here in affirming that communion isn’t another necessary step for their regeneration before they come to reason.

    Plus, VII:

    “confirms and approves the ancient discipline of the sacraments existing in the Oriental Churches, as also the ritual practices connected with their celebration and administration and **ardently desires that this should be re-established if circumstances warrant it**”

    Also, the Eastern Rite will pretty much always celebrate infant communion, so there’s no sense in saying the CC precludes this form of Liturgy.

    Regardless, I think it more helpful to understand Liturgy in terms of “telos” rather than “pliability”. Liturgy resists meaninglessness precisely when in it every movement, every action and word and smell and taste, is ordered towards The Kingdom of God. The problem with so many Protestant liturgies isn’t “variety” so much as it is a sense of arbitrariness, which Fr, you pointed out here in the beginning. Nothing really “matters” because what church you attend is just a stylistic choice.

    Catholicism and Orthodoxy both defiantly resist this by proclaiming that every little detail within the Liturgy is purposed and meaningful because the Liturgy is prayer, and prayer to an end.

  33. Decon Stephen Hayes Avatar

    In my Anglican days, when we were offered a revised liturgical text with a choice, I gradually came to associate different options with different circumstances, not all that different from using the Liturgy of St Basil in Lent, and the Liturgy of St John Chrysostom at other times.

  34. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    No doubt, God has always preserved faithfulness here and there. Mostly, I wanted to stress the “wax and wane” part. Sometimes, we Orthodox get so triumphalist that it distorts our real history. God saves us in weakness. If you will, my take on the liturgy preserving us is to boast in God’s mercy. I do not mean to imply that you were being triumphalist…only that I wanted to make a certain emphatic point.

  35. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Deacon Stephen,
    Yes, that was a pattern I used as well. But, also, we had 3 masses per Sunday. Low Mass, then Folk Mass, then High Mass. Then there was the outdoor Mass at Pentecost. The variety has grown and when the matters of “style” are added to its celebration, my point about variety stands.

  36. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    My point viz. action being more important than words remains. I think that the variety of celebrations unleashed after the Second Vatican Council changed the order of things. One no longer serves the Mass – but the Mass becomes pliable, manageable, with “liturgical committees,” etc. It’s place viz. the people has changed.

    A boiler plate dictum of the liturgical movement has been the elevation of the people in a manner that, I suspect, is contrary to the Council’s intent. I’m writing about what is actually happening, not what this canon says or that. Again, our actions are far more eloquent and accurate than our talk about our actions.

    However, the talk of not receiving communion by necessity because children are innocent – is itself a tragic theological position. Communion does indeed forgive our sins, but it does so because it is the Kingdom of God on a spoon (or however it is administered). Children should be nourished. But the almost morbid fascination with sin itself seems a theological distortion – one of the many subtle differences between East and West. Perhaps too subtle to tease out into the open.

  37. Karen Avatar

    Father, I’m glad I wasn’t totally off the mark about monasticism. I totally take your point.

  38. mary benton Avatar
    mary benton

    Another clarification: we Catholics do not “demand adult understanding” of our children regarding the Eucharist. The common practice is that they have a very basic (child level) understanding of right and wrong and the notion of the sacrament. We do not expect them to be able to understand the fullness of Eucharist – but we want them to know that it is different from what they had for breakfast.

    I am finding myself frustrated with the portrayal of the Catholic Church I’m reading here on this issue. It’s fine if you think we are theologically incorrect but the implication of a destructive intent is a value judgment that I do not think is appropriate.

    To interpret our practice as meaning that we consider our children not fully human or that we are “starving” our children spiritually suggests that we do not love our children or desire to nourish them with the faith as much as you do. Our belief is in nourishing them with what they are ready to receive. So we see it differently.

    Although the analogy is admittedly imperfect, would you feed your newborn infant solid food? I imagine not – because they are not ready for it. It is not “starvation” to have a child wait to eat something until they are old enough to eat it – as long as you feed them what they are ready to consume.

    You believe they are ready for communion as infants – I respect your practice. We “feed” them spiritually with love, prayers, stories and instruction to prepare them for Eucharist. Please do not speak of us as spiritual child-abusers because of this.

  39. Dean Avatar

    I am also grateful for Mary Benton’s input here. An outsider trying to look at something but not really participating in it often misses it’s true essence. It’s somewhat like looking at another person’s job. From the outside looks like a piece of cake. But once you experience that job from within, it’s a whole new ballgame. You learn things from within that you would never have thought about from the exterior. It’s much the same when I hear some Orthodox speaking about Evangelicals. They don’t have a clue, sometimes lumping them together with Jehovah Witnesses and Mormons. Some will do the same looking at Catholics…this is not to say that one cannot point out some very real differences between Catholic and Orthodox. But as Mary says, both have very many essentials in common. I have heard Metropolitan Jonah say the same thing. Before critiquing Catholics, first note all that we have in common, he adds. And in his talk he goes on to mention quite a few, as did Mary above. Mary’s obvious love for our Lord Jesus, of His mother and the saints comes through in her writings. The same love exudes in her website. Next month, God willing, we will meet for the first time as she visits friends in California.

  40. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    I have said nothing about intent to harm. I would argue with anyone who suggested there was an intent to harm. I have said, and repeat again, I am referring to an unconscious effect of our liturgies – things they do that transcend what we might mean for them to do. I do not think there is a Catholic intention to do anything other than good.

    No one has commented, interestingly, on my equal excoriating of the absence of children in Church (nurseries). This is originally a Protestant invention, given that their services were almost exclusively about adult content (preaching). It gained popularity elsewhere, and is not unknown in Orthodox Churches. It is simply a mistake regardless, and for the same reason.

    I really do not mean for this to be any sort of diatribe on the Catholic Church. I’m even saying that the Orthodox “correct” practice in this matter is relatively accidental – it is there despite our failings. It is gift and not an evidence of Orthodox superiority.

  41. mary benton Avatar
    mary benton

    Dean & Fr. Stephen,

    Thank you both for your kind/helpful comments. I do understand your point, Fr. Stephen, about the unconscious impact of our liturgies and, overall, agree with the point. We must remain alert to how even the most seemingly innocent practices may be shaping us in ways we do not recognize.

    And conversely, how greater awareness of our practices may enrich our faith. If we say that some element “doesn’t matter”, not only do we erode the liturgy but we may be missing out on a deeper understanding because we have not sought it. We assume that our personal opinions and preferences are inherently correct. I did that a lot when I was younger and, now that I am older, I am learning how much I need to learn.

    I appreciate your patience with me, Fr. Stephen. I know that I can get defensive – but my overall desire is for greater understanding, not division.

  42. Nicholas Stephen Griswold Avatar
    Nicholas Stephen Griswold

    Thank you Father. I heartily agree with your post. The Lord was very specific on Right Worship. Not because, He requires certain actions for proper worship, but that we do. As I have studied and mulled over/ meditated on “Right Worship” I began to see the benefits. The primary is our submission to His will. Without our submission, all we seem to be doing is pleasing ourselves. Secondly, it seems to dispose us so that we are receptive to the Lord.
    One of the things I am very attracted to is that through the medium of a very stable prayer life established by our unchanging prayer books but also our unchanging liturgical life. As i pray and attend worship, I am very aware that all around the world all Orthodox are doing roughly the same routine. It creates in me a sense of the greatness of our communion with others, not just in the present, but throughout the ages and in Heaven.

  43. Paula Avatar

    Mary, or any who can answer….
    Trying to get a picture of how children in the RC Church receive communion, I gather once baptized, they are instructed about the Eucharist before receiving….or do they receive right after baptism…how is this played out in the Church? Does it vary from Church to Church? Or do they receive it after Confirmation? (I was raised Catholic, baptized, confirmed, went to Catholic school, but nevertheless, our practice in the home was nominal. If I remember correctly, I received communion after confirmation, but my memory is blurred.) I ask this because the difference I see between the RC and the Orthodox is that in Orthodoxy it is the very substance of the Eucharist and the movement in the liturgy where it is consecrated…we offer, then it is given back to the offerer…that is the primary focus…the Eucharist itself is the primary mover of the union/communion in Christ, so the “readiness” (schooling) of the child receiving (having already been baptized, of coarse) is unnecessary. It is the mystery of the sacrament itself that is effectual, rather than the reasoning level of the receiver. If I’m not mistaken, this is why Fr. Stephen said “However, the talk of not receiving communion by necessity because children are innocent – is itself a tragic theological position. Communion does indeed forgive our sins, but it does so because it is the Kingdom of God on a spoon (or however it is administered). Children should be nourished…”
    Mary, I ask you, please avoid being defensive in taking these comments as an attack on the RC Church, because it will distort the intent of our dialogue. The dialogue is mutual, a sharing of our experiences as a way to better understand each other, and any type of condemnation should not enter into it. We all have already chosen where we practice our faith. So here Fr. Stephen has provided a platform to discuss the many facets of Christianity, remembering that he leads from an Orthodox perspective.

  44. Paula Avatar

    Mary….of coarse after I posted my comment I see your beautiful response to Father Stephen. God bless you!

  45. Byron Avatar

    I wonder why it is so difficult to establish and hold to a time of prayer at home? Is it the perceived lack of communion (we tend to be more responsible to others) that can help bring focus?

    I just read a small book entitled, “With Christ in Prison” –essentially an interview with Aspazia Otel Petrescu who was imprisoned by the Communists for 14 years. Her prayer focus was required by necessity; how do we recognize the necessity of our need when we have such an abundance? Do we assume that the right heart will follow the action(s) (this is undoubtedly a Grace given us)? How do we find the Liturgy at home “…that faithfully bathes [us] in the unchanging truth of the faith”?

    I find these questions very difficult although the answers may be very simple. It is hard for me to exist “on my own” in this manner.

  46. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    In my experience, people eat breakfast and do their morning routine in almost the same way every day. I eat the same thing every morning, for example, and cook breakfast for my wife. Morning prayer routine easily conforms to “routine.” I think that it is best if we structure it in a repeatable manner. What do I do first? etc. And then build it into the morning routine. It requires getting up on time. Indeed, it begins there.

  47. Victoria Avatar

    I agree with Fr Stephens comments About children in Church – there has also been the issue in some Orthodox Churches of holding Sunday School during Church. I think this is mostly in Churches with non-English services. The practice thankfully is slowly dying out.

    Liturgy isn’t taught – we experience it. and the services absolutely permeate us – young and old alike.

    A good example – My youngest was allowed to attend a Protestant Bible study when she was about 8. She said to me afterward “they were talking about the Bible but they definitely are not Orthodox, mom”

    No one had told her about differences between the Protestants and the Orthodox – and yet she knew. Because all those years when it seemed she might not be paying any attention – the hymns and icons, the petitions and the readings in the services were instructing her in a way in which even her parents were unaware.

  48. Nicholas Stephen Griswold Avatar
    Nicholas Stephen Griswold

    Paula, your memory is sound. In standard practice, the Roman Catholic Church baptizes infants but waits until a child is instructed via Confirmation classes, normally completed around age 8 before they experience “First Communion.”

  49. Eric Avatar

    Fr Stephen,

    Baptism is communion, is it not? The infant is grafted into the body of Christ at the instant of baptism. The receiving of the Eucharist is indeed another form of communion—but so is marriage, and confession, and Holy Orders. Really, are not our entire lives themselves a kind of sacrament? Even so, we do not live all of our lives at once—we are temporal beings, as God has situated us. There may therefore be space and time (with reason for space and time) between the conferring of different forms of grace.

    The sacraments are distinct, and in their distinction find their unity: as different components of God’s communion/grace with us. As such, I think it perhaps dangerous to conflate baptism and the receiving of the Eucharist, as if they were the same thing. I know of course you’re not saying this, but, as you say, what you do is more important than what you say. Because of their difference, can these sacraments not inhabit different spaces within the Liturgy itself? This beckons a longer conversation about what exactly baptism is, and what the Eucharist is, and why they are administered (an even more fleshed-out (forgive the pun) conversation would include all sacraments and their role in communion).

    As a Catholic, of course, I am trying to communicate why it is not against God’s heart—and indeed still exists as beautiful Liturgy—that baptism and Eucharist may be administered at different times in one’s life. As for your comment about “the talk of not receiving communion by necessity because children are innocent” as a tragedy, you perhaps misunderstand my intent invoking the Councils. Trent doesn’t say “it’s necessary that children don’t receive the Eucharist at a young age because they are innocent” rather, that infants needn’t partake of the Eucharist *in response* to those who would profess that it is necessary for salvation. And this has always been the position of the ancient Church, East and West: that baptism is totally salvific.

    Finally, the bit about Catholics being “morbidly fascinated” with sin seems quite snide. I might say that Christ himself was “morbidly fascinated” with sin—even unto death. But sin is fascinating, and morbidly so. The distinguishing mark of the Catholic from say, the Calvinist, is that the fascination doesn’t terminate with death, but is rather raised with Christ and elevated to communion. Again, this has to do with ends: The telos of the Liturgy is always communion.

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

    Fr Stephen, Or to anyone else familiar with the history:

    (I will reiterate for any newcomers on this blog that I am a recent convert to Orthodoxy and have some but certainly not a lot of introduction to Orthodox Church history.)

    What were the historical circumstances for the divergence of the Western and Eastern Churches, regarding the Liturgical separation of the Eucharist from Baptism? In this case, I’m only asking for the historical circumstances rather than current or recent rationalizations. I’m asking this question partly because I have heard of the existence of the “Western Rite” in a few of the Orthodox Churches. Does the Western Rite as it is currently seen in Orthodox Churches also separate Eucharist from Baptism?

    Also, as I’m writing questions about the history of our (Orthodox) Liturgy, my relatives visited me and came to my parish for Divine Liturgy. When my Roman Catholic family member witnessed the similarities and differences they (this is one person but I’m keeping the pronoun non-specific), had the impression that the Orthodox Church came about through the Reformation. Therefore they attributed the differences to the Reformation. To some degree I hoped that I helped to clarify their understanding of the history of the schism, still they also wondered why the Orthodox “changed” the Creed. I knew enough about the filioque to answer part of their question, however, the question that I got stuck on was this, “why did the Orthodox Creed say that “Christ was crucified and was then buried” and leave out the word *died*. After exploring this question with a few of my spiritual elders, there seems to be a little uncertainty how this happened or whether there is significance to the difference. Some have suggested that the word “crucified” carried enough physical trauma that is assumed death accompanies crucifixion.

    I wonder whether more information about this difference is known here, among those participating in this blog. Specifically, what I understand from a historian was that the difference came about because the Western Church was abiding to the “Apostles Creed” whereas the Eastern Church was not. Is there more history about this distinction known here among the commentators?

    Also, before ending my comment, I wish to thank you all for your respectful engagement and comments here, Roman Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox.

  51. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Your points are well-taken. I do not mean to be argumentative. What was tragic about sin (in Western traditions) is found primarily in its legal aspects. In that sense, a child is innocent. But Orthodoxy does not see sin as primarily in a legal/transgressive form, but ontological in character. Children are “innocent,” but they are mortal. They are victims of others’ sins, etc. And they are easily damaged. As such, the grace of communion is important for their constant sustenance in grace. They need it. The manner of theological reasoning that was occasioned by the legal metaphor distorted grace, when compared to the Eastern treatment.

    Orthodoxy, for example, would not just say that it is of benefit for a child to receive communion, but that parents/godparents who do not bring their children to the Cup are doing them harm and are committing sin. It is to say, that the reasoning of the West, viz. baptism/communion (these are the normative sacraments required for salvation, unlike the others), is flawed, i.e. Rome is wrong about this. The separation of confirmation from Holy Baptism was a novelty when it occurred and became a practice in search of an explanation. The explanation came later…and is wrong because the practice was wrong, novel, not according to the Tradition of the Apostles.

  52. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    The general explanation for the divergence between Eastern and Western practice viz. communion and baptism, is that originally, Bishops alone would “confirm” or “chrismate” the newly Baptized. As the community of the faithful grew, this became less and less feasible. In the East, the problem was solved through the Holy Chrism. It is blessed by the bishop alone (actually, it is reserved to a Patriarch or Metropolitan of an Autocephalous Church), but administered by a priest at the same time as Holy Baptism. Thus, communion follows immediately.

    In the West, for whatever reasons, Bishops did not want to delegate any faculty for confirmation to priests, and separated the two sacraments (that originally had been celebrated as a single rite). with the sacrament of chrismation/confirmation administered only by the bishop as he visited. Communion is available only to those who have been confirmed/chrismated in both Rome and Orthodoxy. But Orthodoxy solved the bishop not being everywhere in a manner that left the rite of Baptism/Chrismation as a single unit and created no explanation for delaying it.

    The Roman Catholic (Western) explanation only evolved later. Many Catholic theologians favor the Eastern practice and have argued that Rome should return. It’s not just me that thinks this.

    In the so-called “Western Rite” permitted in some Orthodox jurisdictions, baptism/chrismation is administered in the same manner as in the East. This is not something the Church thinks can be a matter of “no difference.”

  53. mary benton Avatar
    mary benton

    To answer your question, in the Catholic Church as I have experienced it, children are often baptized as infants. I was baptized at 10 days old. It is common then for children to receive their First Confession and First Communion in 2nd grade, at about age 7 (which is when I did). Confirmation then comes after that, completing the Sacraments of Initiation. I was confirmed at age 8. These days, this is considered unusually young but previously it was not seen that way.

    I am only speaking from my own experience. It may happen differently in other countries or areas of this country, especially where priests may have to cover more than one parish or travel to many villages because of the shortage of priests. Also, when someone is initiated into the Catholic Church as an older child or an adult, they may receive all of the sacraments of initiation at one time (Baptism, Confirmation, Communion).

    It is also my understanding that Eastern Catholics permit communion for infants and young children – so it is not that it is forbidden in Catholicism; it is simply not customary in the West. I also understand that, in the early Church, both East and West, the age at which people received Baptism (and therefore received Eucharist and Confirmation) also varied some by local custom and pastoral preferences. Some accepted infant Baptism, others did not. It was not until later that infant Baptism became universally accepted. And certainly communion was not permitted before Baptism.

    I must admit that I am glad that I can remember my First Communion and my Confirmation. They were very special experiences for me. I appreciate being able to share these memories and am interested in learning of others’ experiences.

  54. Paula Avatar

    It’s good to know my memory is somewhat sound 😉 !!
    Father, Dee, and all
    Father, your answer to Dee’s question regarding the “historical circumstances” (very helpful to frame the question as such) of the diversion between the RCC and Orthodox in baptism/confirmation/chrismation gives a clearer picture as to how over time, these practices developed into their current form.
    Appreciate all the comments/questions…thanks.

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

    Thank you Fr Stephen, for your answer to both my and Eric’s questions. Coming into Orthodoxy in the ontological perspective, as it happened in my conversion, the details you have provided to Eric are helpful to me. And these distinctions between the Roman Catholic and Orthodox as they happened in their historical contexts as well as in their ontological contexts are very helpful clarifications.

  56. Paula Avatar

    Mary B.
    (Again you post appears after my last post…it’s my timing!!!)
    Thanks for refreshing my memory. I do remember something special regarding communion/confirmation happening when I was in 2nd grade, but I do not have a clear picture of whether first communion and confirmation were the same event. But I do remember the little white dress and the little red circle of roses (crown? I don’t know what to call it!) on my head. I still have the photo!! And I still have my white rosary beads!! I’m so glad for you that you remember these special events in your childhood so clearly! Although my family was “nominal” in the practice of the faith, these events were always cause for big celebration.
    Another thought….how I just took for granted the role of godmother/godfather as being, well, sort of like a special title, a term of endearment. It was not until very recently that I learned of the obligations of a godparent. We chose both a godmother and godfather, and they were both a “special” aunt and uncle…kept a special eye toward us.
    Back to your comments… it seems sensible that adults entering the RCC receive the three sacraments at the same time. In our jurisdiction (Antiochian) if you are already baptized in the RCC, all that is required is Chrismation to enter the Church and to receive communion. I believe this is true for all jurisdictions, and is in the end left up to the Bishop, although I hear some debate on this issue, so I’m not 100% sure. By the way, I will be receiving Holy Chrismation this coming Holy Saturday….and words can’t express how thankful I am for that!!! (You’ll have to pardon me…in all my posts when referring to the Orthodox I use the term “we” and “us” as if I were already officially Orthodox…but I tell you, in my heart, after my very first Church service, I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt I was “home”…I just had to wait for some time to be “in”!!)
    Mary, thank you for your input and the mutual sharing of memories!

  57. mary benton Avatar
    mary benton

    Thanks for sharing. I’m so happy for you that you have found your home.

    There are far too many spiritually homeless people in our world. Let us give thanks for what we have been given and keep the doors of welcome ever open.

  58. DMA Avatar

    Hi Fr. Stephen,

    I did a little research on this unique phenomenon of the Roman Catholic Church not communing children when they are baptized as beginning around the same time the blood of Christ in the chalice was withheld from the laity. It was in the 13th century during the pontificate of pope Urban IV. You are correct in your assessment, it is contrary to Apostolic Tradition. Rome has certainly changed from the deposit of faith that was once delivered unto the saints. And this despite the protestations of Roman Catholics that their Church has not changed the Apostolic deposit.

  59. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    mary benton, while I appreciate the sentiment of your post I cannot help but see more than a bit of the egalitarian choice that is so much a part of the modern project.

    So easy to do and I am sure such items appear in my own thoughts as well. It is pervasive. Is it a matter of choice though. Isn’t really about finding the truth

    There is one Church as St Paul points out in Ephesians 4. The Church is not in pieces. Excluding the Protestants who have zero claim to being the Church that leaves the RCC, the Orhodox and the communion of believers such as the Copts etc. Is it a matter of choice or a matter of reality and truth.

    We cannot all be right. Two of those three are living in schism. Certainly that is the official teaching of the RCC about we Orthodox and all who do not accept the Pope as head of the Church, Vicar of Christ. Pope Benedict reaffirmed that teaching shortly after he became Pope. I can never figure out what Pope Francis is doing or what he believes.

    My life following Christ has been and continues to be to find the truth wherever that is.
    I continue to ask myself the same questions I always have, Is this true, is it beautiful, is Jesus Christ revealed. If so, how and to what extent. Lord, lead me!

    While I am not arrogant enough to definitely declare which of the three communions are in schism and which one is not the answers I have received to my questions over 50 years clearly and undoubtedly point to the Orthodox Church as the one. Still do. And believe me there is enough nonesense in the Orthodox Church to keep me asking.

    Therefore I cannot, will not be happy when someone chooses any other body as their “spiritual home” especially if they have been Baptized/Chrismated in the Orthodox Church. That way lies death. If you fully believe the RCC is the one not in schism, how can you possibly be happy when someone leaves for a schismatic communion?

    Certainly, the Holy Spirit fills all things being everywhere present and so there is evidence of the truth every where ( I have gained much in conversation with RCC faithful over the years including you) but not the fullness. Jesus still goes out to find His lost sheep to be sure, even in the bowels of death, but why “choose” death over life?

    May His mercy and grace over flow in your life and may you always know His presence.

  60. Z Avatar

    “We tend to find proof of what we already think”.
    I remember a time when I constructed my own reality based on the ideas and the beliefs collected from people I admired. I liked to surround myself with the *right* people because they were validating the very path I wanted to walk on. In turn, I liked to validate their own ideas because it made them feel good, too! Slowly but surely, I was building up a foundation where the measure of success was completely up to me, regardless how others felt. I constructed a reality outside God, and without shame I watched how sincerity became distant; I became deceived, but yet empowered with the ability to project the beauty found on the cover of magazines.
    Thank God for destroying all the bridges that I built! Feeling defeated, in despair, broken and beyond the capacity of rebirth has given me the understanding of true worship.
    Thank you all for your comments. Your struggles and searches are certainly mine, as well.
    Pray for us, Father Stephen!

  61. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Could you provide a link or two on the topic?

  62. Paula Avatar

    The pervasiveness of the egalitarian mind-set is indeed a thing we have been drawn into. However, with that mind-set we are presented with a quandary . In the search for truth, there can be only one truth ( in the absolute sense of the word). This is the very reason why many of us have embraced the Orthodox faith. It comes to pass in our quest for truth… “My life following Christ has been and continues to be to find the truth wherever that is.” And so we enter into Orthodoxy (despite the “nonsense” we find within (the human element) ).
    The choice is a personal one, yet simultaneously a communion/union within the Body. And again, there can only be one Body. So here is my difficulty…how do I, with grace, respect the personal choice of another, without compromising my faith (Truth) and without giving the impression that “we’re all ‘right’ in our thinking”…because I know we’re not. Z, in her comment above, touched on this…we want to please and be liked by others. The bottom line is *someone* is going to feel offended…and that is what bothers me.
    One last comment…and I will let Mary B. speak for herself, but I do not think she was implying that she’d be happy if “someone chooses *any other body* as their spiritual home”, but rather that the spiritually starved find their home in the true Body of Christ.
    (and, oh, you mention the Copts…this is another area in the schism which causes me to stumble…again, I hate the disunity….I read the history, trying to come to terms with it…I can’t)

  63. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Paula, there is no way to reconcile what you wish to reconcile in human terms or in institutions. It is a work of Christ and Him alone. I do not try to offend anyone and the older I get the less offense I take in other people. No matter what sin or offense someone thinks I have committed, I know that I have either committed far worse or am capable of it. I am sure Mary is a better person than I am.

    Christ is an offense to the sin in my heart and to the way of the world. It is quite literally impossible to speak the truth without offending someone.

    Seemed Mary said she was happy for you that you had found your spiritual home even though you had previously been RC. If a person who had been Baptized and Chrismated Orhodox said they had found their “spiritual home” as a Roman Catholic I would be really sad as they have turned back from the plow. But part of honoring a person’s choice is recognizing the consequences. You or anyone becoming Orthodox from the RCC is leaving a great deal behind. Ways of acting and believing that from an RCC point of view leave your salvation in doubt.

    That is as it should be. It is a difficult decision that should be done with prayer, fasting and sobreity. I am glad I did not have such a weighty decision. I just had to come out of a heretical syncretism. Far easier, yet it took many years to loose the baggage.

    Councils are always divisive as Fr. Stephen mentioned. I do not believe councils cause division so much as they reveal it and make its existence impossible to ignore. Sin and error create the division. Certainly there was a great deal of politics involved in the schism after the 4th Council. It pains me to think of it. Yet the healing of the schism is not mine to do. I respect and honor Coptic people who suffer for Christ but I do not, cannot share the cup with them, at least in this life. We do not share a common belief. Even when we share common sins.

    As my bishop has said, we are friends but not in communion.

    It is important to know what heresy is not to find it in others but to recognize it in one’s own heart so that by God’s grace it may be rooted out and enable us to guard our heart against intrusions. All of the ancient heresies are with us still. In the past, I harbored many of them in my own heart but God led me into and through that desert. He helped me avoid many others. He can do the same for anyone

    So, you long for unity? Pray for mercy. Give alms to the just and unjust. Repent. Give thanks to Him for His gifts to us. All of the activities of mind, heart and body the Church commands during this holy season. Allow God to give the increase.

    Pray for me, a sinner.

  64. Byron Avatar

    We tend to find proof of what we already think

    A very interesting article on this subject. Hopefully not a tangent that distracts. Father, please delete if you see fit.

  65. Paula Avatar

    Thank you.
    A very helpful reminder that reconciliation, unity, is in and done by Christ Himself…
    offense can not be avoided in recognizing first, the offense of our own sins… especially the last paragraph…pray for mercy, give alms, repent. Trust in the goodness of God.
    Offering prayers for you, as well as for us all.

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

    Thank you very much DMA for your contribution. I hope you will help us with your sources and or links as Fr Stephen, asks. They will be helpful for us to learn more of this history.

    Michael and Z, I’m very grateful for your contributions as well. From Michael I receive more depth of the meaning of the ‘ontological’ grounding of the Orthodox faith. If Orthodoxy expresses the truth, then others that profess something else, does not have the fullness of the truth. I acknowledge that in our society of choice, this statement appears cavalier and ‘unfriendly’, although in reality, it is not.

    When I was a catechumen to the Orthodox Church, the process itself leading up to Holy Saturday brought deep anxiety and grief because I was facing death to the life I had known. The process also deeply affected my family and loved ones who are neither Orthodox or Christian. There was a lot of grief to go around. This was no picnic. In crisis mode, I had a long conversation with my spiritual father about a week before Holy Saturday. He said with great empathy knowing that I and my family were suffering, that this is the experience that one goes through when one approaches the cross. After my first Communion, there was no personal or familial celebration, rather, ‘my’ celebration was the “Pascha” Divine Liturgy itself, the celebration that we Orthodox share together in the Body of Christ.

    In retrospect, there are no words to express how grateful I am for this experience.

    Our society is saturated with the modernist perspective ‘of choice’ as Fr Stephen and Michael describe. It is incredibly hard to see it sometimes let alone attempt to extract oneself out of it.

    [For what it’s worth I share a personal history here—my apologies for this digression, but perhaps it might be helpful as it pertains to science and the idea of “choice” as a parallel to this discussion] The first time (and not the only time) I realized I had a serious problem with that characteristic of the modernist project that I will simply call “choice”, I was defending my master’s thesis in chemistry. In the calculations I used a ‘constant’–a number that I had taken out of one of my favorite reference books. I supposeI loved the tome because it was big, very old and had the smell of an old book. When the thesis defense happened, one of the committee members asked me, “where did you get that (constant) number?” I gave him the reference. He was shocked. He said, something to the effect: didn’t you know that volume isn’t used (because of its inaccuracies), why did you use it? I actually told him in honesty that I used it because it was my favorite book. While he expressed appreciation for my love of it, he admonished me to realize I wasn’t allowed such choice in a reference as a scientist. I dared to express that I thought it really didn’t matter that much. It was just my thesis and who cares if the constant is off only by a very small amount–who was going to read it? He admonished me to realize that if I were to have integrity as a scientist, I must do my best to make the best report of the data that I could. He insisted that I “owed” it not only to my advisor or the committee, but to whomever might read my thesis and use it for their work, and he insisted that I develop a character befitting a role that would be given to me in my service as a scientist. —I changed the constant, redid a lot of calculations, and stopped using my favorite book, although it remains in a box in my office. One day I might let go of it entirely.

    Sentimentality about ‘ones’ home, favorite idea, book, or past profession (speaking of my own) can be a trap, especially if it obfuscates reality. This is why I appreciate what Fr Stephen, Z, Michael and others have contributed to this thread. Emptying oneself of ones favorite ideas that one might hold because of sentimentality or pride, will likely be an occasion of suffering, and quite difficult. For this reason, it is in all our prayers to empty oneself, to see “ones own sins” , and to follow Christ where He leads us.

  67. Paula Avatar

    I appreciate you words. I can not add anymore to this discussion than what has been expressed already. I just want to say that the experience of separation between friends and family you shared with us was in a strange way helpful, as I am going through the very same thing. It’s quite painful. I appreciate the wise words of your spiritual father. Thank you.

  68. Z Avatar

    Dee of Saint Herman’s,
    Thank you for your last comment- that was uplifting. When you said, “I was facing death to the life I had known” , I was thinking that maybe that is pretty much what we need to do every day: facing death to the life we had known the previous day. (“For I know my transgressions and my sin is ever before me. “)
    Thanks again!

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

    Paula, Glory to God for His grace in your life and in your walk to the cross. May His grace fill you with peace, love, patience and endurance.

  70. mary benton Avatar
    mary benton

    I appreciate all of the comments here. If I may, I will offer an additional thought or two.

    I believe that Christ has only one Body. And I believe there is only one Church.

    I agree that we can’t all be right (Orthodox, Catholic, Coptic, etc.). But I do believe that we can all be wrong.

    We are all sinners and the human ecclesiastical institutions we call by the above names are all flawed because of our sins and limited vision. But for Christ, we would all be inexorably lost.

    So who do I believe is “the one Church”, the one Body of Christ? It is the community of faithful here on earth.

    And who is part of this “community of faithful”? I do not believe that we can define that by which human ecclesiastical institution we belong to. I have known Lutherans who were far more faithful than some Catholics. There are some Orthodox who are more faithful that some Catholics – and vice versa.

    Much of what divides us is not dogma essential to the Christian faith. And even where there are dogmatic differences, we can debate them indefinitely and what will we have proved? Probably not much, if we debate. Very little changes as a result of debate.

    While ideally, we would all have perfect theology and perfect love, we do not, of ourselves, have “perfect” anything. We can only be made perfect by God, listening and following with a sincere heart. I am certainly not perfect in either area.

    That said, perfect love is worth far more than perfect theology. I believe that God will quickly forgive theological misunderstanding as long as our pursuit of the truth is humble and sincere. However, if we fail to love… well, that is violation of the “greatest commandment of all”.

    When the Lord Jesus tells of the final judgment and the separation of the sheep and the goats, He tells of them going in different directions as a result of whether they showed love for Him in the least of the brethren. He doesn’t mention any points of theology or what human ecclesiastical institution any belong to. He doesn’t say the heretics go to the everlasting fire – no, it is the ones who did not feed Him, clothe Him, visit or minister to Him.

    So, am I saying it doesn’t matter what one believes or which “Church” one belongs to? Or that one can pick and choose from a modern-project-sort of menu?

    Not at all. I am happy for Paula because, from what she has written here, it sounds as though she has found her home in the community of faithful. From what she described, she did not find that in her personal experience of the RCC – which was undoubtedly influenced by her family’s nominal participation and so on (not to speak for you, Paula, just repeating what you wrote). God led Paula to find her home in Orthodoxy – and she listened and followed. How could I not be happy for her?

    And I love Orthodoxy. Why then, you might ask, am I not Orthodox?

    Some time ago, I struggled with that question. Without going into the details of my spiritual life, I can only say that I received an answer to the question – and I must say it was not a comfortable experience, as it would be if I were choosing my favorite flavor of ice cream.

    The answer was, “You already have a home.” There was nothing in that message that suggested to me that my home was better or that Orthodoxy was worse. Simply, I was being told that I had already been given a home and I was to remain there. I was sent to the Orthodox to study and learn. But then I was to return to my own home.

    I do not and cannot know all of the reasons why God has called me to be where I am. But, in my effort to be obedient, I see the meaning unfolding before me on a regular basis.

    I believe that I am part of the community of faithful, by the grace of God. I believe that many/all of you (not for me to judge, of course) are also part of the community of faithful. Hence, we are one Body. We are the Church.

    This is what I see – not with my human eyes but with the eyes of my heart.

    As I grow in following Christ, I seem to become increasingly blind to what is different. Though analogies are never perfect, it is somewhat like when I see people of different racial and ethnic backgrounds. I notice our differences (and sometimes even enjoy them) but what my heart sees is another person. A person made in the image and likeness of God.

    Thus, when I look out upon all of you in this virtual community, I notice our differences but I love you as part of the Body of Christ. How can I let the differences keep me from loving Him as He lives in you?

    I am not a “better person” than anyone here. I am a sinner, repenting. (Forgive me, BTW, for going on so much about infant communion. It’s simply one of those differences. My passions sometimes get stirred when I hear what sounds to me like criticism of the home God has given me.) May God do with me what He wills. I am His.

    If you do not see it as I do, that is fine. I will not offer any defense of what I have written here in this comment. I pray for all of you and ask you to pray for me in return.

    In this world of conflict, let us be Love.

  71. sbdn andrew Avatar
    sbdn andrew

    May I sum this rich discussion with:
    What is my baseline and how deeply has it changed to conform to itself, to myself or to Christ?
    Perhaps a trite simplistic…but perhaps something I can use as a living guide?

  72. Karen Avatar

    It was never a problem for me changing church affiliations, until I became Orthodox. Then there was a great deal of upheaval and readjustment in relationships with family and friends! It was made especially hard because I am by nature the sort who does not like to make waves and would pretty much like to be invisible in group situations. I virtually never insist on my way or assert myself unless it has to do with what is for me bedrock and unmovable truth! It has definitely gotten better for me over time (it will be ten years Holy Saturday), but the transition period was eccruciatingly intense!

  73. Z Avatar

    A zoom in to the crucifying of self-will from Fr. Michael Reagan’s blog

  74. Paula Avatar

    To All….
    We are blessed to engage in such peaceful dialogue…it keeps our hearts softened (although I miss hearing from you, Father Stephen!).
    Dee, thank you for your kind words…and blessing, as a sister.
    Karen, nice to know from yet another person that the transition to Orthodoxy was not a walk in the park. Ignorantly, I thought my loved ones would be happy for me. They even say they are happy, when in reality it is obvious their hearts are a million miles away.
    Mary, again, you express yourself so well. You are correct in saying my nominal Catholic upbringing had some bearing on the choice I made. I just want to add, after I left home as a young adult, I ran around for 45 years like a horse unbridled. When I finally fell on my face and couldn’t get up, I cried in desperation to God. I ended up in non-denominational Protestant churches (2 over 12 years) before turning to Orthodoxy. So the nominalism was in part a reason for not choosing to return to the RCC, as well as the entirety of life’s experiences up until the time I chose. I’m sure you understand that! Also…..
    I, honest to God, hesitate to say what I’m going to say here, especially because I agree wholeheartedly about your comment about endless debate. For what it’s worth though, where you say the true Church is “the community of the faithful here on earth”, let me explain what I was taught. In catachumen class I expressed the very same thought as yours to my priest…his response was (paraphrasing here) that when one says ‘the community of faithful (on earth) are all those who are true Christian’ regardless of the denomination/building, is to, or it can, imply that there is an ‘invisible church’, and that the building doesn’t matter. It is for that very reason that the Orthodox do not use those words, but proclaim a ‘visible’ Church, evident for all the world to see, in Her dome and Cross pointing to the heavens. He went on to explain that even the inside…the narthex, nave, and alter very much symbolize the Church ‘on earth as it is in heaven’. This is one of the ways the Orthodox proclaims Herself as the one true Church. Now, having said that, do I believe that the Lord is going to consider what building we worship in? I say, first, how this is all going to play out, no one knows. But I do believe He will consider how, in what manner, therefore where, we worshiped Him here on earth. My priest clearly said in no uncertain terms, that the building, in some sense, does matter. What I say here is my full (although incomplete) understanding at this point in my life, of the importance of a visible Orthodox Church. (and it’s important if not for the fact that the Orthodox Churches in this part of the country are few and far between!)
    Anyway, thank you all for this ‘endless debate’!

  75. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Mary Benton,
    My thoughts viz. Church, etc. I’ll set it for a make-believe point in history.

    Adumdatus is a Frankish peasant, who lived in a village that is now France. He’s a devout Christian, goes to Mass, says his prayers, etc. It is the year 1054. Unknown to Adumdatus, he is “out of communion” with the Patriarch of Constantinople because there have been mutual excommunications between the Pope and Patriarch. Adumdatus will live the rest of his life and not be in the least aware that he is in “schism.” Indeed, were Adumdatus to have traveled to Constantinople at the time, he would have been admitted to communion without any bother, the schism being seen as a matter between 2 bishops.

    Adumdatus’ grandchildren might (though doubtfully) have no awareness of the matter. Probably, it is only after the tragic events of 1204 when in the 4th Crusade, Constantinople was sacked by Crusaders, that a sharp awareness that “these are not my people” begins to appear. And not until 1438-39, with the failure of the Council of Florence is the Schism truly ratified into a strong conscious matter for average believers, East and West.

    And so today, people are born, live and die as Christians, sometimes knowing very little about the details of differences. They may think Roman Catholics are going to hell, or that the Orthodox (if they’ve even heard of them) are just Greek versions of Roman Catholicism. And most will live lives not very different from Adumdatus.

    Enter, however, the information age and the internet. And Florence is relived, the sack of Constantinople becomes a contemporary event, and matters of differences become major parts of personal identity.

    But we look out at a landscape of a fragmented and fractured Christianity, which none of us created. We inherited it. We live in a culture that is itself fractured, and by the very same social/economic/political/religious forces that fractured Christianity. I personally think that America was wrong to revolt against the Crown of England. But I live in America, and can do nothing to bring about the rupture between those two nations, etc.

    We come to the Church. I believe in one true Church. It is a matter of doctrine (in the Creed). But such an affirmation cannot pretend that for the vast majority of believers, the slate is clean (no history, no present circumstances, etc.) and that we each stand in some sort of religious marketplace and shop for the one, true Church.

    I’m a convert to Orthodoxy, and so I think conversion is a legitimate action. For me, it was the only action to which I could be reconciled – and, I have to say, I did it in spite of a whole host of problems in the reality of Orthodoxy as its exists.

    There is, in Orthodox tradition, no real language to describe the present landscape of fragmented Christianity. Frankly, the older language and categories are inadequate. I think it is possible, even necessary, to use the language of the Church when we speak of the Church (“the Church is One”), and that this language only refers to a concrete, historical expression (not making it a fuzzy, feel-good thing).

    But God is not make-believe. I do not think He looks at the world and says, “Only those in communion with the historical, Orthodox Sees are in my Body.” I don’t know how to describe what that relationship is – but there is some kind of relationship.

    Here’s an analogy. We speak of marriage as the primary analogy to the Church and Christ. The NT would recognize as “One” a relationship of a man and a prostitute, regardless of how “illegitimate” that relationship might be (“Or do you not know that he who is joined to a harlot is one body with her? For “the two,” He says, “shall become one flesh.” (1Co 6:16) Thus, there exists a possibility of union that is somehow “outside the sacramental bounds” (such as matrimony). Again, we don’t have language for this in the Tradition, but we have to admit there’s a reality for which we don’t have language.

    I would that everyone were Orthodox. But I cannot say to the non-Orthodox, “You’re not a Christian,” or “you’re a heretic” (certainly not in the true meaning of that word). I confess the One Church (Orthodox), and I look at the world of believers and say to God, “This is a mess! Help us!”

    For myself, the only means of reconciling the fragmentation was within myself. And I converted. It becomes a moot point. But I was a believer before I converted, regardless of how fragmented.

    Just some thoughts.

  76. Karen Avatar

    Thanks, Paula. Blessed journey!

    I appreciated Mary’s comment, too, because it eloquently expresses the concerns and perspective of a genuinely pious, thoughtful, respectful, humble and God-loving heart, yet without obviously also quite having a grasp on why the Orthodox Church, as long as she faithfully maintains the very fullness and purity of the gospel tradition in her dogma, Liturgy and institutional sacramental self-understanding, must never compromise in proclaiming herself as such, or all Christians everywhere would lose a vital witness to and manifestation of the very fullness of the truth of the Incarnation. Let it also be proclaimed again that should she ever fail in this way, and if this were possible, then she will have also ceased to exist as “the Church” in her institutional expression on earth, and no Christ-follower or would be Christ follower anywhere would have any kind of continuous, external, historically identifiable markers of apostolicity through which to confirm or correct his own convictions about the truth of the nature of God, Christ and the Church. I believe Christ’s promise in Matthew 18 means this will never happen. We are so steeped in the modern Christological and ecclesial error of the doctrine of the “invisible Church”, now tacitly upheld it appears even by Roman Catholics, that this is the most difficult error for pious Christians in other traditions to work through and overcome. This was certainly the case for me. There is much more that could be said here, but this is all I will say at this point.

  77. Margaret Avatar

    Fr. Stephen, thank you for this blog post and all your comments here. I appreciate very much the comment where you describe Adumdatus and his possible life as Christian and all your thoughts put forth there. God bless all you do!

  78. Paula Avatar

    Father Stephen…..thaaank yooou!
    Very helpful perspective…very good points, especially regarding the Church’s history.

  79. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Thank you Father. Not having the language or even the concepts to describe the reality of the situation makes it difficult. Still there are lines that can be drawn and should be drawn don’t you think? Lines with significant elasticity but lines to be sure between what is Christian and what is not.

  80. Karen Avatar

    Thank you, Father. That was a very helpful response to Mary’s comment. It is so helpful istm to keep addressing these matters on as concrete a level as possible because a lot more confusion and error can worm its way in when we speak in abstract terms. I think abstraction is exactly one of the “worm holes” the enemy exploits in many different directions when we are trying to find our way through the disorder of our present circumstances as faithful Christians in the modern age.

    Building on a distinction Met. Kallistos (Ware) makes in his book, The Orthodox Church, between the kind of spiritual succession and eldership exercised by ordained Institutional Bishops and Priests of the Church (where the charism of the Spirit resides in the Office of the institution and its organic dogmatic and canonical unity with the rest of the Church, regardless of the level of sanctity of the Priest) and the kind exercised by the Saints and “charismatic Elders” where it is directly dependent on and related to their personal level of sanctity and personal giftedness of the Holy Spirit and not on their Office in the Church. (Many of these do not hold the Priesthood and many are not even men.) He calls the first “institutional” and the latter “charismatic” succession and eldership.

    I believe it would be possible to speak in a fully Orthodox sense of a sort of “charismatic” expression of the Church within other religious traditions and their members in varying degrees of fullness, always lacking *something* of the grace of the Holy Spirit that Orthodoxy intrinsically and by definition has intact and in its fullness in her midst, but also by the grace of that same Holy Spirit not *everything.* I realize what I am saying is that only the Eastern Orthodox Church can refer to herself as “catholic” in the full apostolic sense.

  81. mary benton Avatar
    mary benton

    “The Church is called body, because it is a living entity; it is called the body of Christ, because Christ is its Head and Founder; it is called mystical body, because it is neither a purely physical nor a purely spiritual unity, but supernatural.” (from Wikipedia, undoubtedly quoting someone else, on the Mystical Body of Christ).

    By my reading, not quite the same as being “invisible”.

  82. Nicholas Stephen Griswold Avatar
    Nicholas Stephen Griswold

    I think the line has been drawn by Saint Paul in Galatians 1:6-10. Those who preach another Gospel are not Christians. They may and often are very loving and sincere people, but they are not Christians. Admittedly Saint Paul did not leave us with a systematic textbook of the Faith, but we can be pretty sure that if people teach contrary to known creeds of the faith, the teachings of the Church and the canons of the Ecumenical Councils, they have stretched the elastic band to breaking.
    For instance, Jehovah’s Witness Doctrine denies the Divinity of Christ. That is clearly contrary to Saint John’s Gospel and to the canons of the Ecumenical councils. However flawed the JW doctrine might be< I know more than a few that adhere to that faith and they are wonderful people and they strive to lead righteous lives. However, their faith is not Christian, although many call them that.

  83. Karen Avatar

    Nicholas, yes, and this begs the question of how far down the slippery slope away from a fully Orthodox and apostolic definition of the gospel and Christology we must be willing to go before we are no longer willing to grant the word “Christian” can in some sense meaningfully describe adherents in that faith and the word “church” meaningfully describe their gathering together for worship and self definition as a group. Do you know if Jehovah’s Witnesses even self describe as Christians? They seem much more concerned to identify themselves in relationship to “Jehovah”.

  84. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Lines are always important. I would not, of course, draw the line of what it is to be a Christian at the boundaries of the Orthodox Church. And though outside of those boundaries is still, somehow, connected, we can’t really give it a name or proper definition. But even there, there are lines. The difference between a Lutheran and a Mormon, or Jehovah’s Witness are very clear, for example, and I would make a clear distinction. There are some Pentecostals who Trinitarian teachings are suspect, and some who baptize in the name of Jesus only, etc.

    There are many, from an Orthodox perspective, who primarily lack the proper sacramental connection.

    My parents were age 79 when they became Orthodox. They could not accept (at all) the Episcopal decision to consecrate a practicing gay bishop back in the day. My father called and got the number for his local Orthodox priest (OCA). The priest called me that night and said, “Your father came by. What should I do?” I told him, “They’re 79 and a very simple Christians. I’m not sure how much you can teach them, but get them to Cross themselves correctly, confess them and chrismate them and they’ll never leave you.” And so he did after about 6 weeks or so. And they were as good as my word. They came to love Orthodoxy, kept icons in their home. They were both buried from that parish. My mother died on the 6th anniversary of her Chrismation, my father, a couple of years later.

  85. Paula Avatar

    Thank you for expressing so well the importance of a visible Church…and for your blessing!
    And Z…the link to that sermon… thank you!

  86. Nicholas Stephen Griswold Avatar
    Nicholas Stephen Griswold

    I look to the canons of the 7th Council for guidance. This seems to be fairly easy to apply to the groups we see around us. Again, I apply this only to faith systems and not to people. Members of my own extended family fall outside the bounds. but I refrain from judging them or debating them. I merely invite them to come and see as I do others. I also am more concerned to find who is a Christian than who is not.

  87. Karen Avatar

    In bold strokes, I believe I fall in with you, Nicholas. None of my family members are Orthodox, but they are Christians in the sense I believe most Orthodox are willing to grant the word applies as an accurate description.

    I brought the question up because the whole discussion with its various tensions reminds me of an illustration the founding Rector of my parish used when we were discussing the issue. He said if those dogmas and definitions describing the boundaries of Orthodoxy could be pictured as a wall of bricks, then other churches and sects could be described as walls with varying amounts of bricks missing. They are still recognizable as walls, despite the missing bricks. He said even a Mormon retains a brick or two of commonality with those in the Church one can build upon, such as a sense of the importance of family.

  88. MamaV Avatar

    James K A Smith put his finger on this in his book “Desiring the Kingdom”. Smith is a reformed Protestant, so he doesn’t have many options except to try to make better worship choices that will shape his life better. Fortunately for me, however, he quoted Fr Alexander Schmemann extensively in one of his books, which resulted in me reading “For the Life of the World”. My husband and children and I are now on track to be baptized Orthodox! Glory to God!

  89. Byron Avatar

    Not having the language or even the concepts to describe the reality of the situation makes it difficult. Still there are lines that can be drawn and should be drawn don’t you think? Lines with significant elasticity but lines to be sure between what is Christian and what is not.

    I think, perhaps, that this goes back to Solzhenitsyn’s quote about the line of good and evil running through our own hearts. Certainly we see the physical manifestation of the Church as Orthodox and others as lacking the fullness of the Truth. However, our focus should always be on our own hearts. If challenged, proclaim with love. If not, love will be enough. Just my thoughts (from one who too often goes looking for a fight).

  90. Dean Avatar

    Interesting how things work out. I was moved toward Orthodoxy by non-Orthodox… Catholics Peter Kreeft, Thomas Howard, G.K. Chesterton, Cardinal Newman and others. And by Anglican C. S. Lewis. I simply do not know why those of brilliant mind and sincerity, such as Tomas Howard become Catholic, and not Orthodox. And even though much of the Catholic apologetics was persuasive, I with my not so brilliant mind, became Orthodox. Too much for me to sort out. Thank you Fr. Freeman, and others, for your comments. I sometimes find your comments, Father, to be very tasty morsels after the meat of your article. 🙂

  91. Karen Avatar

    Dean, if I had been coming to Orthodoxy by sorting through all the arguments and trying to look “objectively” from the outside based on external criteria, “Too much for me to sort out”, would be true of me as well! I’m nowhere near smart enough to sort all that through. As it was, (out of desperation) I just kept following those nudges of the Holy Spirit until He turned on the light sufficiently for me to know that Orthodoxy was the door through which I would finally find the steady and true vision of Christ I had, had teasing glimpses of all my Christian life and knew from experience was the key to my salvation.

  92. mary benton Avatar
    mary benton

    Fr. Stephen,
    I enjoyed your story about Adumdatus. I made a comment here recently on another post that I aspired to be a fool for Christ. Perhaps that is what I am! (Though not so holy as the true ones.)

    I don’t seem to know that we are in schism. And as much as people keep trying to tell me that we are, I fail to comprehend it. I keep learning and smiling and loving, seeing oneness where others see fracture. It is my heart that sees!

    I am not trying to persuade or teach anyone else to be like me. My heart simply wants to love God and my neighbor. If I bring my mind into it all, I will lose my love amidst all of the history I do not understand and the debates that stir my passions.

    So I will continue my blind and foolish quest to live a life of love and leave the serious questions to greater souls than mine.

  93. Dean Avatar

    So true, Karen. The Holy Spirit nudged, or pushed!, me over the edge when I attended my first liturgy. I knew in the depth of my being that I was home…the liturgy wasn’t even in English! And I have never looked back. I think many of us, like you, can now retrospectively see how He was guiding us, but unbeknownst to us at the time.

  94. Paula Avatar

    It sure is interesting how the Lord moves…amazing how He meets us where we’re at. You, Mama V, Karen…all of us who are not ‘cradle’ Orthodox! We each have a story….and all so interesting!
    I heard Fr. Patrick Henry Reardon on one of his podcasts highly regard G.K. Chesterton’s book “The Everlasting Man”. I assume you read it already, yes? It is now in my ‘to read’ pile! I hope it’s as good as he says.
    for sure love comes first. A beautiful church without the love of Christ inside is just a warehouse. The physical parts (church, icons, worship) go hand in hand with the faith. But love sustains.

  95. jacksson Avatar

    Fr Stephen, thank you for the reply to Mary Benton. I noticed that you said,

    “I personally think that America was wrong to revolt against the Crown of England. But I live in America, and can do nothing to bring about the rupture between those two nations, etc.”

    I came to the same conclusion quite a few years ago, but have never said much about it. The result of the American revolt against the King of England is the first secular nation (by choice) in the world and we see the mess we are in today as a result.

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

    Fr Stephen, thank you so much for your reflections about your parents. Very uplifting and gives me hope.

  97. Karen Avatar

    Mary, I believe you and I (and likely many here and on all sides of many boundaries) embrace a common faith philosophy and disposition of heart. I found it in poetic form when I was in junior high, and it has guided my way ever since:

    He drew a circle that shut me out–
    Heretic, rebel–a thing to flout.
    But love and I had the wit to win:
    We drew a circle and took him in!

    It took me a lot of struggle to figure out what Orthodox ecclesiology really did–and did not–mean before I could take the plunge in good conscience knowing it would confirm me in, not steer me off the way of love in Christ I had found. Until a person can see that clearly, I’m not convinced it would be safe or right for him to become Orthodox (as paradoxical as that may sound).

  98. Dean Avatar

    Paula, Yes, each pilgrimage is unique! I too very much enjoy hearing others’ stories. I have not read that book by Chesterton. I’ll look in Amazon for it. On my quest I did read his “Orthodoxy,” written while he was still Anglican. Some years later he entered the Catholic faith. Doesn’t treat of the Orthodox faith per se. I have read more than one of his Father Brown mysteries.

  99. sbdn andrew Avatar
    sbdn andrew

    Mary Benton,
    Regarding your comment at 7:37pm: “I don’t seem to know that we are in schism. And as much as people keep trying to tell me that we are, I fail to comprehend it.”

    You might fully appreciate the life of Mother Gavrilia in, The Ascetic of Love, by Nun Gavrilia. I think she would and did echo your sentiments very strongly but quite softly. For her, the only “lines” that are drawn are those connecting people and not between them. She spoke with her life and not her words, which I think was the point of Father’s essay to begin with.

    Our baseline, as Mother Gravilia believed, comes from a central point and the farther out from that point we travel, the farther apart we grow from others. May God help us all in the grace of incomprehensible love.

  100. mary benton Avatar
    mary benton

    sbdn andrew,

    Thank you so much for the reading suggestion. I would like very much to read this book but I have not been able to locate a copy at a reasonable price ($186 at Amazon). No catalogued libraries in the US seem to have it.

    Can anyone help me? It seems that the book is out of print and people who have it don’t readily give it up for resale.

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