The Sacrifice of Worship

When God asked Abraham to sacrifice his son, Isaac (Genesis 22), there was no questioning on Abraham’s part about what was intended. He understood precisely what was involved in such a thing. There was wood to be gathered, an altar of stones to be constructed, the victim to be bound, and then the slitting of its throat with the gushing forth of blood, all consummated in the burning fires of the now-completed offering. What Abraham did was repeated in a variety of forms throughout the ancient world. Homer writes about Poseidon being absent from the Hellenic scene in order to attend a massive sacrifice in Libya. Sacrifice itself was part of the universal language of ancient religion. What differed was what/whom was being sacrificed and to Whom/What the sacrifice was being made. This was worship.

Today, “sacrifice” has passed into more generalized cultural metaphors that have nothing to do with worship. “Worship” itself has become a vague concept, generally associated with prayer/praise and hymn-singing. As such it has become increasingly difficult to distinguish what many contemporary Christians describe as “worship” from the treatment of various Rock, Sport and Entertainment stars (or patriotism and ideological fetishes).

At a large gathering of some tens of thousands, hands are lifted in the air, people are singing, the music swells. If I stop the description at that point it is possible to assume that this is a moment of praise/worship. If, however, I note that the venue is a concert, then it’s mere adulation of a celebrity. But the grammar of the action is utterly the same.

Fast forward to the setting of an Orthodox Church. Here there are numerous icons of holy men and women (saints) adorning the Church. Candles and lamps burn before them. A non-Orthodox contemporary Christian, visiting for the first time, becomes distinctly uncomfortable and thinks to himself, “They are worshipping saints!” Somehow, the psychological confusion that is contemporary culture can distinguish between the worship of God and the adoration of celebrities but accuses traditional Christianity of violating the second and third commandments.

What we have is a clash of grammars.

I suggest a working definition for contemporary worship: any number of activities, including singing, dancing, waving hands, shouting, weeping, when in a religious setting. The same actions in a non-religious setting are not worship.

In the grammar of Orthodoxy, and in the grammar of Scripture, worship has a different definition. Worship may be defined as the offering of a sacrifice to a Deity.

The trouble comes when one grammar seeks to understand the other. That which the Orthodox render to saints and holy objects (relics, the Cross, icons, etc.) is understood to be honor or veneration. No sacrifices are ever offered to saints as though they were gods. This distinction is difficult for contemporary Christians because the notion of sacrifice, in its original meaning, has been lost.   It is certainly the case that honor and veneration are given to God, but they do not, of themselves, constitute worship.

The contemporary roadmap of religion consists almost exclusively of various psychological states. The honor given to a Rock Star is understood to differ from that given to God based on the intention within the person who is giving the honor. To an outside observer, the actions might appear indistinguishable. But, “God knows the heart.” And so, “God can tell the difference between the two.”

My son was around eleven or twelve when he first encountered a patriotic event within a Church. He had grown up in the Church (Episcopal) and had become Orthodox a year or so earlier. However, we were on summer vacation with family who were faithful Baptists. That Sunday was also July 4th. The Church service consisted of patriotic songs and a sermon on Christian America. My son was deeply upset. On the way home, he expressed his distress and kept insisting, “That’s idolatry!” In hindsight, I think he was right and I think the seamless ease with which that particular group of Christians could move from religious event to patriotic is more than a little problematic.

Sacrifice has largely disappeared from the experience of contemporary Christianity. The Protestant Reformation mounted something of a frontal assault on medieval Catholicism’s treatment of the Eucharist as a sacrificial offering. Catholics were accused of “re-sacrificing” Christ, despite the clear statement of Scripture that His sacrifice was once-and-for-all (Heb. 7:27). Catholics defended their practice by explaining that the Mass was not a re-sacrificing, but the re-presentation of that once-and-for-all sacrifice. Their arguments fell on deaf ears.

It is all well and good to say that Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross was once-and-for-all, and to file it away as such. However, such historicizing of the Cross places ever more distance between the believer and the event. “Do this in remembrance of me,” (as mere memorial) has come to be a means of forgetting.

The Scripture reminds us that the “Lamb” was “slain from the foundation of the world.” That, is, the death of Christ occurs within history, but has an eternal reality that transcends history. The Catholic contention that the Eucharist is a re-presentation of that sacrifice in the present was, in fact, correct and a restating of the received teaching of the Church. The Orthodox to this day continue to emphasize this understanding. The Eucharist is described as the “bloodless sacrifice,” meaning that there is no “re-shedding” of the blood of Christ.

The mystery of our salvation, as well as the mystery that we describe as worship is found within the sacrifice of Christ. Abraham, and all of ancient Israel, would have understood worship to largely be identical with sacrifice. The Psalms of praise were written for use within the context of the Temple and its sacrifices. Praise could be described as “sacrifice” only by analogy.

Let my prayer be set forth in Your sight as incense,
The lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice.

Christians of the first millennium-and-a-half understood that the “bloodless sacrifice” of the Eucharistic offering was the central act of worship. Their hymns and psalms happened as part of that context. We no longer offer the sacrifice of bulls and goats. But we continue to offer the bloodless sacrifice of Christ’s death. It is the single, perfect offering of all humanity, made through the Person of God’s Son. Because he is also God, that sacrifice is eternal, always present and able to be offered and shared by His people.

Look at this piece of Scripture. St. Paul is explaining our true worship to the Corinthians:

The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion [koinonia] of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion [koinonia] of the body of Christ? For we, though many, are one bread and one body; for we all partake of that one bread. Observe Israel after the flesh: Are not those who eat of the sacrifices communicants [koinonoi] of the altar? (1 Cor. 10:16-18)

St. Paul’s entire understanding of the Eucharist is rooted in its sacrificial character. The Eucharist is the Christian sacrifice, once and for all. This is also at the heart of Christ’s teaching that whoever eats His flesh and drinks His blood has communion with Him (Jn. 6).

By a strange twist of history, the praise that took its meaning from the sacrifice itself, by analogy, has come to displace the sacrifice and made praise itself the essential element of worship. This confusion not only creates false accusations against those who offer praise and honor to the saints of the Church as well as all holy things, but also makes all praise and honor, including that accorded to celebrities more than a little problematic.

Of course, the absence of ritual sacrifice in most modern religions does not mean that idolatry has ceased. However, our analysis of idolatry should remain focused on sacrifice rather than the objects of mere adulation. The ancients often made sacrifices to obtain favors or to avert disasters. Idolatry sought to control the outcome of history through the management of the gods. By that understanding, idolatry is alive and well and is the primary object of the Modern Project. Having abolished the ancient sacrifices, we have replaced them with science, technology, politics and war. Rather than learning how to live well, we make sacrifices to technology so that we might not need to live well. Modernity is building “heaven on earth” and needs no gods beyond itself.

Perhaps Modernity has itself become our god.

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.



79 responses to “The Sacrifice of Worship”

  1. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Father, our god to whom we will sacrifice the last vestige of our humanity is “progress”.

  2. Jay Avatar

    Your description of contemporary worship being almost identical with rock concerts, sports games, etc really hits the nail on the head.

  3. Nicholas Stephen Griswold Avatar
    Nicholas Stephen Griswold

    I have often thought that contemporary “worship” is an emotional display of self. It is done to get, what a Protestant writer termed, a “liver quiver.” This ecstatic experience (reminds me of the cult of Dionysus) is what is termed “worship.” I completely agree with your assessment that the concept of “worship” in modern terms has totally become disconnected from sacrifice. My Protestant friends constantly speak of their emotional highs in “worship” and how they need a “Revival” to recreate that emotional high. It truly seems that the world has lost contact with what true faith really is.

  4. Katy B. Avatar
    Katy B.

    Thank you Father for validating the feelings I’ve had inside my heart for many years. Well said.

  5. Kristin Avatar

    I appreciate the timeliness of this post for me. I’ve begun reciting Ps 51 in the mornings and stumble a bit on the last part regarding sacrificing on the altar. I will reread your post.

    Your post makes me want to read Leviticus again. Christ’s sacrifice is understood a little better every time I read it.

    You give me much to ponder as I learn about Orthodoxy. Thank you!

  6. Taffy Avatar

    Well said! Please build on your points with “Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.” I look forward to hearing more of your thoughts. And keep the podcasts coming please.

  7. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    There is something (I hesitate to use the word) “objective” about worship as sacrifice. Meaning, it is not necessarily “inside” my head. We offer the bloodless sacrifice. My mind wanders from time to time, but the bloodless sacrifice is not affected. It remains. It becomes my anchor. There is indeed something “Dionysian” about modern psychologizations of worship. There’s nothing wrong with having thoughts and feelings. They occur to me all the time. Indeed, there are some events that seem truly “noetic” in character to me. But my mind is not the anchor of worship (thank God!).

    It is ironic that those who wanted to speak of the objective sacrifice of Christ on the Cross have removed that objective reality from worship itself.

    In classical Anglicanism, reference to the sacrifice was present (Cranmer couldn’t bring himself to leave it out), though was constantly modified with various caveats. The rise of Evangelical and Pentecostal movements changed much of the language and thought regarding “worship” and largely identified worship with various ecstatic experiences. The variety seems to run from pleasantly emotional to outright ecstasy. This phenomenon has had very sweeping influences even within mainline Protestant denominations. It has also changed the character of Catholic worship in many ways (at least in a large number of instances).

    Strangely lost, I think, is the connection of “offering” with the sacrifice. The offering (money) is mostly about paying bills but has largely ceased to be seen as a matter of worship (and it is). I’ve just finished reading a work by Peter Brown on the place and role of wealth in Western Late Antiquity in the Church. It’s been quite interesting. Quite removed from our modern ideas.

  8. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Can any blasphemy surprise us anymore?

  9. Dean Avatar

    Fr. Stephen,
    My grandson was with me at the Greek monastery we attend . He was raised evangelical. We had gone out for a minute during liturgy. I then said to him, “Let’s go back into worship.” He responded with, “What worship?” Of course he was thinking, as you write, that worship was prayer, singing choruses with hands up raised, etc. Praise unconnected from sacrifice. And it was
    even more puzzling to him since it was all in Greek. Yet. how wonderful for us as Orthodox that Christ’s words, “I will be you unto the end of the age,” mean more than solely the presence of the Holy Spirit with us and in us. Christ is with us, spiritually and physically in every liturgy, through His body and blood in the common Cup. And through the Cup, He is withIN us through the bloodless sacrifice. “He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me and I in him.”

  10. Nicholas Stephen Griswold Avatar
    Nicholas Stephen Griswold

    Father, You hot the proverbial nail on the head. Worship is not in our heads and it is not about us. Thoughts and feelings are part of our being but when they become the focus of “worship” then we are far astray. I personally find the machinations of modern “worship” very uncomfortable especially when I was taught in Seminary how to manipulate this to boost the take in the plate and the attendance in service. When I compare this outright cynical view of manipulation of the masses with my experience in the Divine Liturgy it is two different worlds. Yes, I think about my aching back, but there is something other worldly that occurs despite my discomfort. (I have significant arthritis issues in my lumbar) but there is a point in the Epiclesis that my pain status is no longer present. It is not about my emotion nor me in any way. It is something that changes outside of me that affects me. It is the moment of Kairos when God breaks into our time and all is made right at the completion of our sacrifice by the actions of the Holy Spirit.
    Strangely enough, one of my Seminary texts does list Tithing as an element of worship and of offering. I was confronted in my thinking by this text book and have ever since made tithing my first bill to be paid. Somehow, despite the numbers, when I tithe first before all things, I always have enough to meet the other demands and more. I truly believe that offering my wealth (as little as it is) is an act of obedience and worship. I am deeply grateful that I was taught this in Seminary because it has made a huge difference in my being available to serve.

  11. Byron Avatar

    It occurs to me that Christ’s crucifixion is an act of worship. The self-emptying of “giving Himself up” is what we are called to be before God.

    I have often told non-believers with whom I’ve spoke that God never desired the sacrifice of Isaac but rather He desired Abraham’s whole heart. Not sure if that is a bit of a protestant holdover in my understanding but it is effective in changing the tenor of that particular conversation!

  12. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    My beloved late Archbishop, Dmitri of Dallas, taught very carefully about tithing. It was echoed by my Baptist father-in-law who stressed that the first tenth belonged to God. Vladyka said that if this were true in the OT, how much more should it be so for us now. My beloved wife, who is truly her father’s daughter, very quickly intervened in our marriage when I was not tithing. She spoke, and we have never failed in the tenth since. I once told my father-in-law that I was teaching tithing, and suggesting that people start where they were and raise it gradually. He told me that this was like weaning oneself from adultery. 🙂

  13. Andrew Avatar

    As someone coming to Orthodoxy from neo-paganism, understand Liturgy as a meaningful sacrifice, and and true worship has greatly untangled confusions that drove me to literal idolatry in the first place.

  14. Dean Avatar

    Fr. Freeman,
    As far as I know there is only one place where God says that Israel can put him to the test, Malachi 3:10. It is in the tithe. He promises great blessing upon them if they first give the tenth unto Him. Long ago, and it’s probably still true, I read this…if every Christian in the U.S. were on welfare and tithed on this, giving to the churches would double over night! Somehow, in our marriage of over 50 years, I believe God has made the 90% for us stretch further than if we had kept it all to ourselves. And of course the blessing is many times in non-material ways, such as joy, health, in peaceful and loving relationships, etc.

  15. ook Avatar

    Reading this I was reminded of a visit to the US in 1999. My hosts took me to an RC church on Sunday July 4, where there were flags on display inside, and they ended the liturgy with My Country ‘Tis of Thee. My hosts reacted poorly when I asked what the object of worship was.

  16. mary benton Avatar
    mary benton

    Thank you, Fr. Stephen, for this excellent article. Very well explained.

    In your 7:30 PM comment, you mentioned the impact of the emotional-without-sacrifice style on the character of Catholic worship. I’m not sure what you may have had in mind, but I’d like to share a thought or two as one of the resident Catholics here. 🙂

    The “sacrifice of the Mass”, i.e. the Eucharist, is the heart of our worship. This has been true regardless of whether the language was Latin or vernacular, whether music was traditional or contemporary. However, as you once pointed out, our “tent” is very large and surely instances can be found under that tent that represent deviation or distortion of this Truth. Despite all of our faults, our heart is still our heart – may it always be so.

    However, I do see a disturbing trend that I do not think is uniquely Catholic – because it is the creeping influence of the Modern Project (as you so aptly name it) on all of us. It may be expressed in a simple comment someone makes to the priest on the way out of church, “That was a good Mass, Father!”

    Although on a conscious level the individual was surely attempting to express appreciation to the priest, I cannot help but raise the question inwardly, “Is there any Mass that isn’t good?” The sacrifice offered is perfect – even when the sermon is poor, the singing off-key and the church building is unbearably warm (or cold).

    Similar evidence of the creeping influence is found in the words of young people (or not so young) who do not want to go the church because, “I don’t get anything out of it” or “It’s boring”. Not only does this reflect the entertainment addiction of modernity but it also suggests a frighteningly poor understanding of what is happening in the liturgy.

    When we understand and experience the liturgy as encounter and communion with God (and each other) in the mystery of Christ’s sacrifice, it certainly is not boring and it seems inconceivable that one could partake and not receive something of great value.

    But part of the entertainment addiction is the loss of insight into some important realities. One such reality is that events are not inherently boring; boredom has to do with our expectations and evaluations of experiences. In other words, it is something our minds generate, often when pleasure-seeking passions are not being indulged.

    Another lost awareness is that life’s primary purpose is not about enhancing my personal comfort. Our culture projects this myth (comfort = happiness = fulfillment) so pervasively that many people simply cannot
    countenance experiences not based on comfort.

    I think it is a great mistake to try to counter these trends by trying making the liturgy more “entertaining” – that only feeds and validates the myth. Sometimes the word “meaningful” is substituted for “entertaining” – but we are certainly incapable of adding any meaning to what is the most meaningful event to occur in our midst.

    It is sad and painful to see so many fall prey to the lies of our culture. Yet I pray and trust that enough of us living joyfully in the Faith may stir some to look more deeply into what they once dismissed.

  17. Nicholas Stephen Griswold Avatar
    Nicholas Stephen Griswold

    Father Stephen
    In my experience I have found that the only way for me to learn to do anything faithfully is to simply do it. When I started in Seminary the rule was to spend an hour a day in prayer. I could not imagine how one spent such a LARGE amount of time doing that but, applying my experience in learning to do, I did. After a short while an hour slipped by quickly and later when the requirement was raised to an hour and forty minutes (a 10% tithe of our waking time) I found the expansion easy. I do find your Father in Law’s statement very true in many levels of meaning.

  18. Jeff Avatar

    While still on the path to Orthodoxy, as I have not yet converted, I can relate to your sons experience Father Stephen. Several years ago, I accompanied my brother to a protestant church he attended, and was quite honestly appalled by what I saw and heard. It too was sometime around the 4th of July and upon entering and sitting down, I observed two very large banners hanging from behind the pulpit, one displayed the image of a fighter jet, the other of two soldiers lying prone with machine guns. Between that, the contemporary music of the band on stage with the drums and guitars playing and finally the American/patriotic theme of what the priest spoke about, was enough to make me get up and walk out.
    I felt bad that I did so, but I knew that this was not what I had come for, that it was not authentic.
    I have long desired to faithfully worship our Lord and live a life that reflects that.
    I hope and pray for an Orthodox life, to be able to bear a little shame and continue to pray for the faith and courage to continue this journey.
    Thank you Father Stephen.
    Your blog has truly been a source of inspiration and help.

  19. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Theologically, the sacrifice of the Mass has remained important, and is quite central for a number of good Catholics that I know. The liturgical liberties of the last number of decades have often served to obscure that reality (a point of complaint by many of the faithful).

  20. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Father, what would you say to someone who could not partake of the Body and Blood because of penitential reasons? Why should one be there?

    My son is going through that right now.

  21. Mary Avatar

    Fr. Stephen, in the OT, did the people or priests eat the animals that were sacrificed afterward? Forgive me, I think I should know that answer! I have always thought it unusual that our central act of worship involves eating, but if eating the sacrificed animal was part of how the Jews participated, that would make more sense. The once-for-all sacrifice feeds us perpetually.

    [on a side note – I’ve been reading Being as Communion, and I’m finding it not *as* hard to understand as I had expected. I realized that reading your blog for the last 10 years was a good introduction!]

  22. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Faithfully “being there” is itself a participation in the sacrifice – indeed, it helps make the penance itself effective in our lives and hearts. Being away from the Cup for a time for various causes does not sever us from Christ, nor from the sacrifice. If possible, he should still keep the Eucharistic fast and do everything else as though he were going to receive. Penance should not be treated as a punishment, but as a medicine. It is important with a medicine to actually take it.

  23. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Leviticus 6 and 7 have some of the regulations regarding eating the sacrifice. Indeed, at least the priests eat part of it. Also, all of Israel ate the lamb of the Passover.

  24. Mary Avatar

    Ah, yes, I forgot about the passover sacrifice! Thanks!

  25. Albert Avatar

    Thank you, Michael, for bringing up the topic. Your response, Father, is very helpful for me.

  26. Eugene Avatar

    I remember every time I’d ask my godfather how Liturgy was that morning, he’d say: “It was Divine!”

    On a separate note, however: I understand about the Lamb slain before the foundation of the world (as well as that can be understood, which is to say, not much); but some of my current uneasiness in the Church comes from pondering the question of whether or not the idea of sacrifice is productive at all. Sometimes it seems to me that a lot of Christianity is rooted in specific historical problems or questions no longer relevant to us: the relationship between the Law and faith in Christ; the relationship between Temple sacrifice and the Crucifixion. To say that my healing must be based on an act which fulfills everything that the Jewish Law and the practice of animal sacrifice required … well, I sometimes sense a sort of disconnect or irrelevance. I want to be healed. Appropriating the inner meaning of what used to be an animal sacrifice is… what? How helpful?

  27. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    If you dwell on the outer stuff, then it would probably mean feeling quite disconnected. However, the inner reality expressed in sacrifice, even in its primitive forms, is an eternal reality – that of communion. The modern world, for all of its “wonderfulness,” is, in fact, terribly shallow. Families, the most fundamental reality of human community, is notably unsuccessful in our culture, despite everything that we think we know.

    Christianity assumes that there is such a thing as wisdom. Wisdom must be gained beneath the surface (including beneath the surface of our own lives). If you want to ponder whether sacrifice is productive at all, then you’re going to have to go deeper – into the Tradition, into sacrifice, into yourself. This stuff cannot be gained in a cursory manner.

  28. Nicholas Stephen Griswold Avatar
    Nicholas Stephen Griswold

    I understand your thinking but we must remember who said the Eucharist is important and why it is important and why it leads to healing. In John Chapter 6 in the pericope from verse 49 through 66 The Lord explains the importance of consuming the Eucharist. Now many will argue that He was speaking symbolically but the Greek text makes it very plain that He literally meant what He said. Unlike English Greek has moods in its verbs that directly explain what the speaker means. The verbs used in this pericope are in the Indicative Mood which indicates the speaker is speaking literally and not figuratively.
    Remember the Jewish Law was also a Type of that to come. The idea of Sacrifice, as Father Stephen says, is as old as religion itself. Gd appropriated that idea and turned it to His own Good Purpose. To a people that He directed to sacrifice He gave all the hints that He could. They were supposed to recognize Him as the Divine fulfillment of all the types He exposed them to.
    God is the same yesterday as today, with no shadow of change so all that He has decreed is of utmost relevance even today. When it is proclaimed that He is the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world, its meaning is that from the beginning the Incarnation and Crucifixion were always in view.
    As to the discussion of Law versus Faith, it is still very relevant today. There are many who try to use Scripture as a Law book and pass judgment on others. As Solomon said, there is nothing new under the sun and all of the issues and problems of the past remain today. We dress up old heresies in new clothes, but they are the same old ideas. Man still is faced with the struggle of Good and Evil in his nous as he vacillates between the two. We still are concerned with Self over the Other and we still deal with Passions.
    I hope this helps some…….

  29. James Isaac Avatar
    James Isaac

    Sacrifice and communion….this recovering soul never would have seen such a connection in a million years! Though upon brief reflection I think I begin to see the Logic (Logos) of it…

    Perhaps that begins to explain the importance of the re-presentation of the Eucharist to God…as a good Lutheran I was always taught that the re-presentation is exclusively to us, for our forgiveness. (Hence why they rejected Rome’s explanation as Father described.) Am I right in seeing that it’s more of a both-and: God’s communion-establishing sacrifice for us and our offering the sacrifice back to Him in Thanksgiving?

  30. Eugene Avatar

    Thanks for both responses, Father and Nicholas. I guess I would or will have to go deeper. I think what makes that difficult is that the whole imagery of blood and pain at a religion’s core touches off parts of me that I think are better LEFT untouched, in every way. There are far too many people in the world who in unfair and unspoken ways require us to recognize and respond to their pain (note: I’m not talking about the legitimate demands of the starving and bombed). Divorcing these unfair requests from salvific sacrifice on my behalf is difficult for me. “Shed for the life of the world.” I do believe very much in the Resurrection. That makes problems like this truly problems. Not sure the Church has given me many good answers (e.g., purification – illumination – theosis). This is making me wonder, after many, many years as an Orthodox Christian, whether one particular way of seeing things is how reality MUST be seen. I used to believe that; not sure now.

  31. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    James Isaac,
    Indeed – both-and. What is frustrating is the introduction of created time into what is an eternal and timeless reality. The Cross is as much now as it was then. It is eternal. Exodus 12:14 describes the Passover (Pascha) as an eternal feast. The Cross was present in the Jewish passover (and in every sacrifice). The OT was “shadow,” the new is “icon” and the age to come is the Reality itself – this is from St. Maximus the Confessor. The age to come “tabernacles” among us in many ways. Every sacrament is the presence of the Kingdom to Come. Thus, the priest begins, “Blessed is the Kingdom…”

    Communion is never one-sided (by definition).

  32. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    You seem to be describing wounds within your soul (“better left untouched”). It is understandable. However, accommodating our wounds by changing how we think and process life in order to avoid them is, in medical terms, one of the definitions of neurosis. It’s not healthy, even if it is less painful. No one can (or should) make us deal with our own pain. However, as a priest, I would encourage you to find ways and places to do just that – whether it involves counseling or what-have-you.

    May God give you grace in your life!

  33. Karen Avatar

    Mary, I really appreciate what you have brought up about boredom and expectations influencing our attitude toward the Liturgy. That is an issue with my children that is not helped by the way cultural expectations have been more or less uncritically embraced in the non-Orthodox church setting in which they were raised. This was not the case in the Methodist church when I was being brought up, and, consequently, I have never considered church attendance optional. In contrast, our son at 20, although he believes, does not feel the need to attend church now that we have left it for him to decide, which troubles my husband, who is Evangelical, just as it does me. I believe the subject of Father’s post in no small measure part of reason for this attitude (though likely not the only one). My daughter also has expectations of being entertained at church.

    Father, if you have any suggestions about how to address these things with our children (where a spouse may or may not be Orthodox), I would appreciate that.

  34. maria Avatar

    Father Stephen
    I hope you will respond to Taffy’s comment, as i also had that question.

  35. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    In the context (OT), God’s complaint is that Israel is offering sacrifices (Temple stuff) but neglecting their obligations to the poor and the weak, instead engaging in unjust practices that grind them down.

    Christ in chapters 9 and 12 of Matthew’s gospel cites this in something of a similar manner. In the first case, the Pharisees are complaining because he is eating with tax collectors and sinners (showing them mercy and reaching out to them). In the second case, the Pharisees are complaining because he is doing things on the Sabbath, perverting the Sabbath as an excuse not to show needed mercy.

    From our perspective, the Eucharistic sacrifice cannot be isolated as a mere thing-in-itself. The whole of the Christian life is a participation in that Eucharistic sacrifice. Everything done for the poor, every action of kindness, every instance of forgiveness, etc., participates in the self-emptying offering of Christ on the Cross. By the same token, every refusal to show mercy, etc., sets us in oppposition to the Eucharistic sacrifice. Our presence in worship then is either gross hypocrisy or humble repentance.

    If I could offer one observation that sums this up – we are too guilty of making the Eucharist too small a thing. It is everything if we rightly understood it.

  36. Karen Avatar

    Regarding the showing of honor, I have been watching a Turkish epic drama series called “The Magnificent Century” on Netflix based on the life and reign of the Ottoman Sultan Suleyman, who brought the Ottoman reign to its height during the period of the Protestant Reformation. It is interesting to watch how honor was paid to royalty in that culture (with rigid attention to hierarchical order even within the hierarchy), which istm is rooted in age-old human traditions seen in the biblical narratives as well as being seen to this day in the Orthodox Church. Subjects of the Sultans approached their rulers (and spiritual leaders) with head bowed and cupping the Sultan’s hand in their hands and kissing then touching it with their forehead, which is exactly how many Orthodox from traditionally Orthodox cultures venerate the Icons to this day after making the sign of the Cross. It was also forbidden to turn one’s back on the Sultan while exiting, which is similar to how Orthodox traditionally refain from turning their backs on the Altar Table while in the Nave (by exiting down a center aisle, for example, instead of the sides). I’m sure the grammar of honor was much the same in the Byzantine Orthodox monarchical and spiritual settings.

  37. Catherine B. Avatar
    Catherine B.

    Father, can you say more about Tithing? Also, whom exactly do we give it to? For example, is it still “Tithing” if we give a part to an orthodox christian organisation helping unwed mothers? (Sorry for the ignorance).

  38. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    My understanding would be that it would still be tithing. I was also taught “tithes and offerings,” giving a 10th to the Church and offerings above that elsewhere. Whatever you do, do it with thanks to God and He will bless it, surely.

  39. Dana Ames Avatar
    Dana Ames

    in Father’s reply to Taffy he wrote this:
    “From our perspective, the Eucharistic sacrifice cannot be isolated as a mere thing-in-itself. The whole of the Christian life is a participation in that Eucharistic sacrifice. Everything done for the poor, every action of kindness, every instance of forgiveness, etc., participates in the self-emptying offering of Christ on the Cross. ”

    When I listen carefully to the Anaphora, I hear many references to thanksgiving. Father has written eloquently on this elsewhere, how giving thanks unites us with Christ, especially in suffering. On my way into the Church, I was reading some commentary on Christ being The Truly Human Being, and then later, after I had been received, I came across Fr John Behr’s ideas on that same subject. Putting this all together for myself, it seems that one of the things that happens in every Liturgy is that we are able to offer ourselves with Christ to the Father – even unto death. This self-sacrifice is a central part of what it means to be human, created in God’s image – the fullness of which image is that of our Lord on the Cross – and culminates, as Fr J. Behr writes, in our own death, when we are finally become clay. But it also has ramifications that inhabit our sacrificial self-offering of our Christian life, as Fr Stephen wrote in the quote. It’s all of piece.

    One other thing that strikes me about the Anaphora is that at the Epiclesis we pray for the Holy Spirit to come down on the gifts **and on us here present**, making the change of the bread and wine – and by inference some kind of change in us too. This is echoed in the litany before the Our Father, when we pray that “our God, who loves mankind, receiving [the gifts] upon his holy, heavenly, and noetic Altar as an odor of spiritual fragrance, will send down upon us in return his divine grace, [even] the gift of the Holy Spirit”. (Remember, “grace” and “gift” are the same word in Greek.) We need the action of the Holy Spirit to change us into persons who can commend our spirits unto God at our death, and in the meantime to participate in that Eucharistic sacrifice by those smaller deaths-to-self in forgiving, being kind, caring for the poor, etc.

    Hope that is clear, and helpful.

  40. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Thank you Father Stephen for this article and your discussion and elaboration with Nicholas G. (Thank you Nicholas for your contribution on the Greek words used to describe the Eucharist).

    As part of my professional work when I was both a scientist and faculty member in a university setting, I had to help science faculty better understand their work as it is framed within pedagogy. In one case I had to insist that a faculty member add the word ‘validity’ in addition to his word ‘reliability’ into his curriculum document (my credentials in this context allowed for such ‘authority’). Based on my place in the hierarchy of the institution, the faculty member was obliged to incorporate the word ‘validity’, into his curriculum documents. I mention this story just to say that people trained in science also have difficulty understanding what they are doing in ‘the larger picture’, if I might use that analogy (but I like the meaning of the word ‘ikon’ better). The Modern Project limits what is seen and done in science but that doesn’t mean that such limits that are created by the Modern Project are necessarily inherent in science. Admittedly in the current situation, it might be nearly impossible to separate them. There are some scientists who are aware of a fundamental problem about how science is now conceived and taught and have been involved in a rather long career dedicated to change this (I have been among them, long before I became Orthodox). Among them, are one or more the chemistry faculty who teach at the Alma Mater of the Heiromonk Alexis (Trader). I have wondered whether one of them might have been one of his teachers in chemistry.

    The Eucharist and the Church are indeed profound, not mere ‘things in themselves’. But it helps me to use the word “objective” as an adjective in the context of conversations with my family who more easily see the Eucharist as a “symbol” (and a mental configuration to be held in the mind to create an emotional setting and experience) than as “reality”. Your words to Taffy underscore this deeper meaning. But as an infant in the faith I can get tangled up in the form and use of words that are still new to me and forming meaning in my life as an Orthodox Christian.

    I’m grateful for the grace of God that I found the description of the Eucharist (when I first read about it in Met, Kalistos Ware’s book on The Orthodoxy Way) thrilling. I wasn’t taken aback and it didn’t seem to contradict what I had come to understand “about our reality” in particle physics. But nevertheless, I was afraid in the moment just as I came to the Cup, that the analytic modality of which my mind is capable, might rob me of perceiving the fullness of the Cup. (What I’m describing here is not a rational– I was afraid I would hinder in some way God’s Grace.) Glory be to the grace of God that this infant received the fullness of the Cup, without this perceptual hindrance.

    I might add this regarding mercy and sacrifice: The reality of the Sacrifice in the Eucharist, isn’t possible without God’s mercy. Further, our participation in the Cup is not possible without our mercy. I think I’m repeating what I think you’re saying, Fr Stephen.

    Last, to Nicholas or to whoever might have this info: I believe I’ve read somewhere in the Bible that when some (perhaps Jewish who might have observed laws prohibiting blood in eating) followers learned the meaning of the Eucharist, that the wine is Blood and the bread is Body, they were taken aback and stopped their following. Where was this located in the Bible? Might this also indicate the literal meaning observed in that early time? Or am I mixing things up?

  41. Dean Avatar

    It’s found in John 6:60 following . Had Jesus been speaking figuratively, he then had a moral obligation to say to those leaving, “Hey, men. Come on back. You missed my point. I was speaking symbolically. ” But he let them go. This chapter was instrumental in bringing me to Orthodoxy. I kept wondering, what if Jesus is speaking literally here? I then began reading the early Church fathers. From there on, I was a goner. As Cardinal Newman wrote, “He who delves deeply into history ceases to be Protestant.” Or something very close to this. Hope this helps.

  42. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Fr Stephen,
    Please forgive me for this additional post but I would like to add that I find your use of the word “tabernacles” regarding the in-breaking of the Kingdom into creation to be very helpful. And your book “Everywhere Present” I found the chapter, “We Live in an Alter” also very helpful on this topic and describes in more detail the words you ended, in response to Taffy, that we are guilty of making the Eucharist too small a thing.

    Regarding the perceived separate realities of wine and blood I provide a couple of quotes from your book pg 32:

    “In all these things, the Church bore a faithful and consistent witness to the very character of the world created by God. We do not live in a world of mere things, disconnected and without reference to one another and to God. Creation exists with the capacity to reveal God: “For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead” (Romans 1:20)

    And from page 33:

    “The “two realities” are not separate but one, given to us in a mystery.”

    And pg 33: “These great mysteries of the Church unite us with God, but they do not unite us in such a manner that ignores creation through which this union occurs. Creation is not made to be other than creation. The truth of creation and its relationship to man and God are revealed to be what they truly are: the communion of heaven and earth.”

    And pg 35: “We do not live in a world of mere matter. We live in a world filled with holy matter. We live in an altar.”

    Perhaps just giving quotes might not be useful but for me these words elaborate on this thought that you write about here regarding our communion in the Eucharist, and what it means by the words “to worship” in the form of sacrament and sacrifice.

    Thank you Fr Stephen

  43. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Yey!! Thank you Dean!!! I’ve been looking all over for it.

  44. Nicholas Stephen Griswold Avatar
    Nicholas Stephen Griswold

    It also might be interesting to you to note that the Greek word for tent/tabernacle is “eskenosin” which literally means “pitch a tent.” It is interesting that the Lord instituted a feast by that name in the Jewish calendar and that is the same word that John uses in 1:14 where we see “dwelt” in the NKJV. John is saying that He pitched a tent in flesh among us.

  45. James Isaac Avatar
    James Isaac

    I thank you, Father, for the kind and helpful reply. It helps to remember the ‘fractal iconicity’ (as I believe our friend Dino once termed it) that permeates the Divine Liturgy (i.e. all the cosmos).

    One of the more profound insights I was once given was to see, along the lines of what Dana mentioned, that indeed it is also OUR body and blood which we ask to be transformed into the body and blood of Christ – that we become wholly united with Him in a mysterious yet true way. The penny starts to drop again for me…

  46. Karen Avatar

    Dana, your comment on the unity between life as a Christian and the Liturgy of the Eucharist put me in mind of where the Apostle Paul wrote;

    Romans 12:1 “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service.”

    The word here rendered “service” may also be rendered “worship” and is directly connected to the offering of sacrifice. It refers to the adoration offered to God alone.

    A different Greek term meaning literally to “prostrate” oneself or “bow down” means to “show honor” or “pay respect” to someone (i.e., venerate), and in the Church we offer such veneration to Christ and the Saints (including one another and any human being as bearer of the image of God). Typically in human traditional culture this is done before a social superior. This is one very practical way we obey the instruction of the Scriptures in Philippians 2:3, “Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind *let each esteem others better than himself.*”

  47. Michelle Avatar

    I wouldn’t mind hearing about how tithing is an act of true worship. I’m having a hard time connecting the dots. Is it a sacrifice because it’s a loss on our end, and 10% is enough to sting a little?
    Also, as one who never meets the 10%, what is some advice for those of us whose spouses have different ideas about how much to give? Thanks in advance.

  48. Dean Avatar

    I’m not certain that sacrifice always entails a “sting” as you put it. Heb. 13:15 reads: “Through him (Christ) then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name.” Verse 16 says that doing good and sharing are also sacrifices that please God. I seem only to share stories. During the first 3 or 4 years of our marriage I was not Christian. My wife was. I can remember how incensed I got when she gave $100 dollars to help put a new roof on a church she attended. This was 1966 so that money was quite a lot. I do think that, however, she continued to tithe on the monies she earned. I didn’t fuss too much about that. I’m not sure I would push the issue of 10% too much with your husband. You can indeed do what vs. 16 states, do good to others and share what you have. Peace in the household is also very important. 🙂 God knows your heart’s intent.

  49. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    It’s easy to connect “sacrifice” with “sting,” based on our popular use of the word. In that use, it means to give up something that you really want or need. “He made many sacrifices for his children.” But that’s not our Biblical notion. Sacrifice (“to make holy”) means to give something to God – to offer it to Him. A tithe is a sacrifice, if given to God. A penny is a sacrifice if given to God. It is simply an offering. Whether it stings or not may be beside the point. There is, if you will, an entire “spirituality” of making offering to God that has largely been lost for a variety of reasons, though it is deeply embedded in the Scriptures and the tradition.

    With spouses, whatever you do, if possible, do with agreement and unity. If you want to do more, do it out of money that you have been for your private use. The kindness and cooperation we give to our spouses is itself an “offering” that can be given to God.

  50. Michelle Avatar

    Thank you, Fr. Stephen and Dean.

    This is good news for me. I’ve been torn for a while between pleasing God with the tithe and pleasing my husband. Good to know that keeping the peace in the household is pleasing to both.

    Equating the term “sacrifice” with “to make holy” with any and all simple offerings does not naturally register in my brain. The idea of “sacrifice” being the giving up of things that are of great and crucial importance, that always results in pain or hardship to some degree, has been ingrained in me.

    Its hard to relearn these things. It feels unnatural. I guess it will just take time.

  51. Michelle Avatar

    So should I think of sacrifices to God as being similar to the “offerings” of love and thanks I get from my four year old daughter (usually in the form of hugs and crayon drawings)??

    I trying figure out how “sacrifice” should be registering in my brain when I hear it.

  52. Ryan Avatar

    Fr. Stephen, I’m not Orthodox, but to put it simply, I am sympathetically inclined towards it. With regards to tithing, I don’t struggle at all with the concept, but in practical terms I’m afraid of what it might mean to carry it out. I don’t want to go too much into detail, but following a prolonged illness I’ve been living with my parents for years and trying to get back on my feet so to speak. I didn’t have that period of relationship and community building which often accompanies one’s 20’s, and so in the abscence of…well, people, I have no serious expectation of anything changing unless I find a way to brute force it financially speaking. I have my own business which I do from home, but it doesn’t make a lot of money. Not enough at least to regain that independence which many take for granted. All the same, it’s one of the few things I can think to do with the lingering effects of my illness. Conventional jobs are closed off to me now and I feel in a sense apathetic (and plain old pathetic much of the time) and maybe even somewhat despairing after so long an ordeal.

    I’m getting to the point now. I’m aware that there are those poorer than me, and I am grateful both for kind parents and for the means to sustain myself in basic ways through my work. I can’t help but feel though that my tithing is like the poor giving to the poor (and I say that being aware of the woman who gave from her lack). It’s not that I don’t give at all, but it’s small bits, infrequently. Is it wrong for me to want some kind of a future that doesn’t involve being relegated to shameful circumstances that seem to always require rationalization and justification? Even trying to reach for 10% is way more painful for me, possibly even prohibitively so than someone who already has their basic needs met with their remaining 90%.

  53. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Poverty is difficult…particularly in a culture that attaches so much shame to it. I would encourage you to push back on the shame…because at its most fundamental level – it’s not true. We are not good, bad, worthy, etc., based on our productivity, success, etc. It is a false consciousness. I’m not a Marxist or anything, but I will say that Capitalism has much about it that is false and full of darkness.

    That said, whatever you give, little or much, give with thanksgiving. Simply work at being generous. Don’t hate your poverty. I have seen wonderful acts of generosity from extremely poor people. One drunk in the gutter shares half his bottle of wine with another drunk. It sounds like a terrible example, but there’s more generosity and kindness there than many very successful people will ever know in their lives.

  54. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    I suspect that our association of pain and suffering with sacrifice is rooted in the false consciousness born of the penal substitutionary model. “It has to hurt” to have value, we think. I like your illustration of your daughter’s gifts and offerings. They have the innocence and purity of a child’s heart and are probably one of the best examples of what offering and sacrifice look like.

  55. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    I hope it is appropriate to write this and offer it just to corroborate that Ryan is not alone and there are others who are struggling mightily. It seems that we do have a system, whether or not one would call it capitalist, that lures us into debt. Add to that agencies (looking for the right words here) such as a higher educational system and a medical system involving extraordinary costs, plus collusion between credit card and banking systems, the ‘operatives’ of the economy (perhaps rightly called the Modern Project) seem to stretch our capacity to give, whether to our parishes or others, to the extreme.

    I hope that it might be helpful to offer one of my own experiences (I don’t believe it is unique however): I have an old lung injury with lots of scar tissue. Just recently, it begins to compromise my health (I am aging). When I needed medication, it costs $300 in the U.S. but $60 in Canada. To pay for it online (my only option as I don’t live in Canada), I wanted to use a debit or credit card, but was not able due to the collusion of the credit card/ banking agency with the US pharmaceutical company that makes the medication I needed. Instead, I was required to take a picture of a check (using my phone) and using that electronic avenue, managed the transaction and carried on in a process (taking about 5 weeks) to allow me to receive the much needed medicine that I could not afford in the US. (there is more to this story but I’m keeping it brief)

    When I look at a biblical precedent for tithing, I have looked at the circumstances of the biblical period as well. There are differences between the circumstances of the bible and what we now have in this society. For example, the ancient Hebrew people had a jubilee year, however, we do not. And from what I understand, there are a lot of people deeply in debt in this society–I am willing to say that the level of debt is a form of enslavement and notice that for many, it goes on for years. As I write this I hope that I don’t bring into this thread rancor, I really don’t want that. And I apologize if it looks like I’m ‘sounding off’.

    If it is appropriate to use deep debt that many experience in this society as a parallel to enslavement, are there passages in the bible about how slaves were to pay their tithes in the biblical period (referring to the OT or NT)? Perhaps it is the same as the free (10%) but I seem to remember that I read somewhere in the OT that the enslaved Hebrews explained at some point that they could not give to the temple service, and that evoked at least a scolding of the rich about enslaving others through debt, but perhaps I remember incorrectly. I am an infant in the faith and sometimes that makes the processing of the biblical passages and integrating of the Way into my daily life not always obvious or easy.

    As it might be apparent, I have felt frustration about the amount I am giving. Not because I don’t want to give but because I want to give more and my limitations frustrate me. I appreciate your responses to Michelle and to Ryan, Fr Stephen. I have found discussing these circumstances with my confessor helpful as well. As you have mentioned already, and this is important, that whatever we give, give with thanksgiving. I will also note that when I have given in times that were difficult and yet felt compelled to give as much as I could plus a little more, where it frightened me a little but wanted to do it anyway, it seems our circumstances were not worse but coincidently, improved. Glory be to God for these mercies. But such situations are not at all easy to bear. And I engage in them cautiously, particularly as non-Christian family is involved.

    Dean, your story about your perspective you had before you became Christian, is very much the circumstances of many of us who don’t have spouses who are Christian or Orthodox. I appreciate your sharing your story with us.

  56. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Dee, Ryan,
    I am not an economic theorist. However, the frequent conflating of the present market capitalism with Christianity is deeply tragic. It is a product of the Enlightenment and its efforts to rationalize everything. It has bred a host of bad habits in Christian thinking, particularly about money and debt. The creation of debt is, theologically speaking, a terrible thing. That a society finds it acceptable to create the kind of debt that people are shouldering for an education is more than tragic. It is unsustainable in many ways and there will come a reckoning – it will not likely be pretty.

    I am not writing to say “Do not borrow money.” We frequently have little choice. But debt is bondage and is viewed almost on a par with slavery in the Scriptures. I think we have many debt slaves today. We’re on the plantation, and we’re allowed to choose the jobs that we want on the plantation, and we are told that we are therefore “free.” If you do work for any length of time among the poor and disadvantaged, you quickly learn how terribly stacked the system is against them. I have seen lives unbelievably complicated by the lack of $100. I’m talking jail. Losing car. Losing house. Losing job. All for lack of $100. It’s crazy.

    We do not get from Christ an over-arching theory of how to establish a just economic system. Christianity has survived under a wide-range of them. We have rarely been as married ideologically to the system as we often are now. The Medieval West came close in reading feudalism into theology (that’s the real origins of the penal substitutionary model). We have done much the same with our conflating of “free-will” and “free-market” etc. Churches in the modern West, especially conservative ones, took up a very strong anti-communist line during the cold war and tended to hallow our economic system as a result.

    Christ’s teaching seems to focus mostly on the at-hand situation. As much as possible, we should practice generosity. Generosity is simply part of love. Learning to be generous is similar to learning kindness. Those with less, have less to be generous with, but they should take care to be generous.

    We are not bound by the tithe as though we were bound by the Law. If you have substance, it’s a very good measure. But, even then, generosity can be something else. I’ve lived so long with the tithe, that I’m generally not even aware that the money was ever in my hand (indeed, it’s on one of those automatic bank things). In Christmas season, I took some care to have cash on me (I normally do not) on account of the many opportunities to give cash that arise.

    As much as possible, we should avoid making anyone into our debtor. At least, if you lend, be grateful if it comes back, but be careful about demanding it back. If I have it to lend, I probably have it to give.

    Pray for one another.

  57. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Thank you for your response, Fr Stephen. I appreciate your insights into the history and larger context you mention. I’m grateful always for your suggestions for the daily life in Christ. Prayer for one another and giving generously out of love is a necessity for all us, and that we should take care to be generous. I believe you mentioned in another post that generosity to those in need is a way to our salvation.

  58. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Offering. It s a dense topic. To whom, what, the nature of the offering. It seems to be central to our life in communion with God. Abel got it right, Cain got it wrong down to the present day.

    The example that Jesus holds up for us is the poverty stricken woman who gave all her living. Christianity is radical in the expectation that we give all. Even that is insufficient but God makes up the rest.

    As a man I have been contemplating the topic for most of my Christian life, long before I became Orthodox. My contemplations keep coming back to the Book of Job. Corintians for marriage. Men are made to be offerings. We, in fact, seem to be made to die for others. (I won’t address women). That is part of the reason Christ Incarnated as a man and the priesthood is for men only.

    In marriage we give ourselves to our wives as Christ as Christ gives Himself for the Church. No honest man will ever claim to be successful at it. Yet the radical expectation, model and fulfillment is always before us.

    Two non-Christian examples: the statement of the U.S. Founding Fathers that they pledged their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor has always reasonated with me no matter how far short they fell.

    There is also the popular song by the Proclaimers: I’m Gonna Be(500 Miles).

    It seems that if a man is not willing to strive to offer himself to his wife with the complete evervesent joy of the man in the song, he probably ought not be married.

    Complete offering is the radical call of our faith because that is what Christ gives us.

    God forgive me a miserly sinner.

  59. Kristin Avatar

    In the past I’ve heard of people talk about tithing in terms of giving and doing much for others. Since we’ve been between churches for a time, much of our giving has been in terms of paying bills for others, providing meals, listening, doing anything needful. This has all been for individuals who each go to different churches, if they even go at all.

    Now we have started attending the Divine Liturgy consistently in one parish. I don’t know how we will change what we’ve been doing. We haven’t been doing 10%, just giving freely when and where we’ve encountered need.

    I’m not saying this has been the best approach, but it has been fairly freeing in some ways. I do appreciate the comments here. My husband and I are not in agreement as to how to proceed, although I keep giving as we have been, adding a bit of cash to the box at this new parish.

  60. Ryan Avatar

    Fr. Stephen, Dee, I appreciate the responses and reflections. On the bigger scale concerning the ideological questions of how we got to where we are and the nature of our debtor economy with the hefty shame it invites, I couldn’t agree more. On a personal level, I also find extremely valuable the advice regarding practicing generosity with thanksgiving and also not measuring my value on based on the values of society. I was fortunate enough the other day to be able to share a bag of food with a pair of homeless people.

    I feel ashamed to admit it though (there it is again), but the family aspect of this is where the real struggle comes. It seems to good to let people be who they are if you’ll allow for that dangling description. However in the context of a family, it can weigh heavy on the soul to have get-togethers revolve around everyone talking about their success and promotions and vacations and what not. It’s often a weird parallel of social media where pleasant things are brought to the fore, and unpleasant ones politely brushed aside. The fact that much of my experience falls into the scope of the latter brings with it some implications which I don’t think I’ll elaborate on. I’ll just say that many people don’t quite seem to understand what it means either to not have enough money or to have health that prohibits doing certain kinds of things.

    To tie this in with the previous discussion, I think what I’m getting at is there’s a sort of alienation which occurs when you’re not on a certain economic level or level of health which is deeply unpleasant. And I’m not at all saying that unpleasantness is an indicator that something is fundamentally wrong and in need of remedy in the person experiencing the unpleasantness (though I don’t discount the possibility either). There is, as you’ve pointed out Fr. Stephen, a great occasion to practice gratitude and generosity even and maybe especially in the face of poverty. Rather my experience has been that the separation from others can become so profound as to be debilitating. Especially when it comes to venturing to create friendships or even in a more minor sense, simply relating with another person. The burden usually falls on the one outside of conventional experience to be formed to the convention in order to partake of that kind of communion so to speak. When you can not or choose not to adhere to such conventions, whether because of health, wealth or ideology, the difficulty is compounded.

    I’ve never quite known what to do with that.

  61. Karen Avatar

    Father, another example that may feed the pain and suffering we associate with sacrifice is the OT example where David refused to accept the land (threshing site) chosen for the building of the Temple as a gift, insisting on paying for it and bearing the cost of this himself, thus making it a true offering to God from himself. I think this had more to do with integrity in what we offer to God as truly coming from our own resources and not just pretending or giving for the sake of appearances (like Ananias and Saphira in the NT perhaps).

  62. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    For various reasons due to my life experiences I commiserate with you in your description of your perception of your separation and feelings of lack of communion with your family (or friends). The outward appearances and the values/imagery of this culture certainly reify that perception. I find what Fr Stephen said above a helpful reconfiguring of that imagery of the “free” who have the vacations, nice clothes, new cars, etc.: “We’re on the plantation and we are allowed to choose the jobs we want on the plantation, and we are told that we are therefore “free”.” It is very likely that the ones you encounter believe themselves free but remain on the plantation. The distractions that they have may hold their attention, but Glory be to God for His grace in your heart, such distractions do not hold your attention, otherwise you might not have shared your food with the homeless. Pride and hubris of this culture is so ubiquitous that it is hard not to be engaged in it. I fall into it myself daily, if not hourly. The true fundamental reality of our circumstances is that all of us is in a field of spiritual battle in our hearts. We attempt to muffle this reality with our distractions and shun those among us who might point to that reality with their very lives. I am grateful that you see through this. But to acquire such sight also required having an open heart that I believe you have. Such an open heart also involves vulnerability, and in that vulnerability a susceptibility to toxic shame. Healthy humility is what a life in Christ is like, prayer helps but it also helps greatly to have support along the way. At one point when I was a catechumen, I almost fell into deep despair. Please understand you are not alone and the Church offers you a ‘life boat’ (borrowing words from Fr. Stephen 🙂 )

    If you feel inclined, I would like to encourage you to visit an Orthodox Church. Even when I wanted to go, it still took me about a year to drum up the courage to step through the door of a Church. Looking back I sometimes wish I hadn’t waited so long, but my heart wasn’t ready. I feared being vulnerable to people. What I found however is a culture evolving from a Tradition that would have a deep understanding and appreciation of the ascetic life (if I might take the liberty to call it that) that you now live. I believe you would be encouraged there. Meanwhile, please guard yourself from despair. You are not alone. May God’s grace of peace and joy fill your heart.

  63. Ryan Avatar

    Thanks Dee!

    You know I’ve been thinking about Orthodoxy for nearly 9 years now. I even reached out to the local Orthodox priest during the worst of my illness. He didn’t reply and I tried again a year later. He acknowledged having received the first message when I went to the church to meet with him in person, but joked (I think it was a joke anyway) that he wasn’t about to come meet with me because I might be a murderer. I was also told by some random Orthodox people online that whatever my physical limitations were (and indeed still are, albeit somewhat less after a big surgery) that I just needed to suck it up and go to liturgy because even 90 year old ladies make it work. That’s actually a more generous and polite version of what was actually said, but I’ll just say that I don’t hold anything against the priest or the other Orthodox people. I wish only God’s mercy and love towards them. Yet like Bilbo, “I feel thin, sort of stretched, like butter scraped over too much bread.” Years of illness and anxiety have made me something of a ruin.

    I want to be Orthodox. I really do. But I don’t feel like I can do it until I’m able to move somewhere else. I mean this in a practical sense and in a personal one. I have an icon corner. Sometimes I even manage to use it (my prayers are fleeting, feeble things lately). I even have an icon of Saint Anthony across from me where I’m typing. I listen to Orthodox talks on Youtube including a great one from Fr. Stephen just last week. But I know I don’t have the Eucharist, and I know I don’t have the community. I also comprehend what a profound deficit that is in so far as I can from the outside. I’m under no illusion that I can be Orthodox without the church and the Eucharist either.

    I’ve watched my sister in law and her family become Orthodox. I think I may have even had some small role in that. It’s such a strange thing though having my mind (the rational part) and my heart be of one will in that regard, but to have my body and the other part of my mind (the anxious, irrational part) hinder me. It’s not purely one or the other, but rather an ill defined mixture of the two. Forgive me if any of this seems elusive or obscure. It really just comes down to the consequences of my particular ailment. It might help at least if I say that it’s Crohn’s disease….and all that implies. :/

    I have much appreciation for your framing of this kind of life as something of an ascetic experience. For all of my anxiety, I don’t pity myself (usually) and I do try to look at the positives. Glory to God for all things, right? In all that I’ve experienced, I never sought to embrace suffering for suffering’s sake, but I have tried to bear it where necessary and to learn it’s lessons where possible.

  64. sbdn andrew Avatar
    sbdn andrew

    What about tithing one’s time? Time IS “money” in a very real sense.
    I was once admonished by a priest to tithe all that I have to offer–myself.
    I would propose that worship, sacrifice, tithing has everything to do with my participation and being as offering back to my Creator what He has created. No one can give what I have to give even when it comes from the very least of what I think myself to be. Just standing in prayer is an act of “tithing” myself to God. Money is just a papered (and very much devalued) representation of our value as a “contributing” body within a fiatized economy. Time is our real value. Even if you barter in raw materials, it is time you have invested that gives those materials value. Gold does not just fall from the sky–it has to be found, mined and processed, etc. If gold were as plentiful as grass it would be just that and very little time in harvesting it. And if you have but one day left to live and give it to God, that would be more than a lifetime of giving. Time volunteered is a tithe beyond any monetary value. If we are asking whether our tithe is justified, then it may imply an expectation of return–giving with a clenched fist instead of an open hand. No one can say I have unlimited time. Every day could be my last….

  65. Alex Volkov Avatar
    Alex Volkov

    Ryan, I will be praying for you. May the Lord bless, help and save you.

  66. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Ryan, forgive me fr the hardness of my heart. May the grace of the Lord bring you where you need to be. Crohn’s is tough.

  67. James Isaac Avatar
    James Isaac

    I came across a helpful quote a while back (from an Oriental Orthodox place, IIRC) which said about the Christian life, “We do not welcome suffering, but we welcome [patient] endurance in suffering”. Not really sure why this seemed relevant to share, but it helps me whenever I am graced to remember it.

  68. Zee Avatar

    This post gave me a light bulb moment regarding a Southern African practice of ancestor veneration (which some argue that it is worship). Since learning about Orthodoxy (I am currently Anglican), I found myself growing sympathetic towards the ancestor venerators – until I realized that there is always animal sacrifice involved. Now I do wonder if those who insist that the so called veneration is indeed worship have a point.

  69. Ryan Avatar

    Alex, Michael, James,

    Thank you. I’m glad for the wisdom and the prayers.

  70. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    I was grieved to read your story that the priest didn’t return your call. One of the things I had a great admiration about Fr Stephen early on when I first started reading his blog, was that when he was asked what he did to ‘evangelize’ (I forget the specific word used), he answered, “Answering the phone”. What I had appreciated about Fr Stephen’s response, was that he seemed not to be into the kind of hurtful and denigrating kind of proselytization that I had been exposed to in my life.

    But what you experienced instead was isolation and likely hurt. Archimandrite Sophrony writes in his book on St Silouan that: “Every sin, manifest or in secret, committed by each one of us affects the rest of the universe.” What the priest did by his omission affects and hurts me too. But at the same time, similar to Michael Bauman’s response, I realize my own omissions and even rudeness on the phone, especially when I’m called while I’m working at home. Your response evokes from me a contrite heart and I too must ask for your forgiveness. I’ve been like the priest you have described and worse. Who knows what hurt I have caused to someone whose one needful thing that day and in that moment was a kind word that I wouldn’t give them. Lord have mercy on my dark soul. Thank you for your willingness to share your story, Ryan. May the Lord continue to bless you with wisdom.

  71. Ryan Avatar

    I’ve very much taken to heart the notion of sin’s rippling effects, so rest assured that all is forgiven. This is a minor point, but for clarity’s sake, I reached out to the priest by email rather than by phone, but everything you mention applies all the same. At any rate, I’m not without sin, so forgive me as well. For my part, I have let my frustration with others manifest as a seething hatred and have to whatever degree become something of a self-absorbed neurotic. Lord have mercy on me.

  72. M Avatar

    Awful post, and a lack of understanding of what worship is in scripture.

  73. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Could you summarize what you think worship is in the Scriptures?

  74. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Father it has always seemed strange to me (even when I wasn’t Christian myself) how it is that self professed Christian groups would lay a bright line between ‘the times of the scriptures’ and now. While somethings do change, we drive cars and not horses, generally, but how such changes might suggest worship should be different or ‘modern’, I’ve never understood. Similarly the miracles are described as taking place ‘then’ and ‘there’ but not now. God’s intervention happened then, and God’s Kingdom will ‘happen’ and will be inaugurated at the ‘end times’. The thinking appears to leave little room for a tangible/palpable ‘now’ and ‘here’ .

    I think perhaps the economic pressures of this time may have something to do with this thought. Such pressures may rob ‘time’ to attend to the ‘one needful thing’. Life in Christ isn’t a rushed affair. But speaking from experience of late, these pressures/ cares can be crushing. Under such circumstances prayer becomes a fleeting thought— a hope that God is with us, even in our blindness.

    “Worship” then becomes attractive when it becomes entertainment, a distraction from our misery.

  75. Byron Avatar


    I typically tell people that, while many things in the world have changed, the human heart is not one of them. We still suffer from the same sin as always–and, indeed, it tends to rear its head in the same manner as always, even if the trappings, generally speaking, have changed.

    I think what you are describing is the emptiness of our society. The Divine Liturgy, to me, is so full that I cannot help but be healed in the prayers, the songs, the teaching (aside from the homily) that it presents. It is not distraction, but the fullness of God’s Grace. The “crushing” is healed in the Liturgy. God is good.

    We have built a world that is dehumanizing. Even worse, so many of the various “churches” of the world have bought into and embraced the dehumanization of our society. The distraction, the noise of the world’s worship is what happens when the world suffers from an empty faith. It has no hope; it is worship empty of God and His Grace. Just my thoughts.

  76. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    These are good and helpful words. Thank you Byron.

  77. Dean Avatar

    Yes, “worship” in many churches has become entertainment. That’s why church marquees can say such banal things such as…come worship with us, where worship is fun!
    Whatever happened to, “Worship God in spirit and truth,” and ” our God is a consuming fire?” They’ve gone the way of 24/7 distraction, I guess. Indeed, Byron. The liturgy is so full of God and His glorious presence. “Taste and see that the Lord is good!”

  78. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Our culture is dehumanized and de-sacralized. The sense of the sacred and the intrinsic awe inherent in that is largely missing. That awe at the sacred presence is a prerequisite to worship. Worship is always a communal sacrifice although we no longer bring animals. As a ram was substituted for Isaac so has Our Lord, slain before the foundation become the once and living sacrifice that we are graced to enter into in remberance: an act of making present and participation

    The iconoclastic Cartisian view coupled with the revolutionary Nihilism of the late 19th century has laid waste our souls. We are told we no longer need to worship an absent and incomprehensible God. We are god. We just need to celebrate our godness.

    We have satisfied the dictum of St. Athanasius by institutionalizing the second part only–man has become god. All the while remaining mud, our true humanity being eroded by the acid of our passions which have now become idols.

    We cannot even begin to approach worship without sincere and consistent repentance, throwing down the idols in the process.

    Glory be to God that He is with us nonetheless. Indeed abounding somehow in the midst of the dung heap we call modern and progressive. He does not merely cover the dung heap and scent the air, He can and does transform and transfigure every heart that opens to Him, crying Lord God of Hosts, have mercy on me, a sinner.
    That is the beginning of worship, each and every time we hope to approach the Throne of Grace, the veil having been rent by His death and Ressurection as fully God and fully man: harrowing hell and opening the gates of Heaven so that we might return.
    Repent, for the Kingdom of heaven is at hand.

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