A Difficult Orthodoxy

The difference between “right glory” and “right doctrine,” noted in my previous article, goes much deeper than services of worship. It is true that the Church has, throughout her history, taken great care with liturgical practice so that what is done gives expression to what is believed. The two should be seamless. This, however, becomes ever more difficult when it extends to our lives. Frequently, we settle for “right doctrine,” and “right glory,” but ignore the right inward life and disposition (technically called “orthopraxis”).

Fr. Georges Florovsky described doctrine as a “verbal icon” of Christ. Anyone can master a system of thought, its rules of speech and patterns of understanding. But to rightly speak and live within the Orthodox faith requires something of a very different sort. The verbal icon is indeed a true icon, and it must be presented rightly in every way. The recitation of the Nicene Creed in the Liturgy is introduced in this manner:

“Let us love one another, so that with one mind we may confess: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, the Trinity, one in essence and undivided.”

No matter how carefully we pronounce the words, or what intention we may bring to them, if they are not spoken in the context of the mutual love within the Body of Christ, they cannot be rightly spoken: the verbal icon will be distorted. We cannot speak rightly of Christ, for example, while we hate our enemies, even if those enemies are the enemies of Christ Himself. For we cannot be of use to Christ by disobeying His commandments.

Of course, this is a great handicap for Christians. It has always been the case that in fighting evil, we cannot use evil, regardless of how handy it might seem, or how temptingly effective it might appear. You cannot defend Christ by crucifying Him. The nature of the Cross and its reality in our lives is such that it cannot be rationalized: it cannot be turned into an ideology among ideologies. It is a mode of existence or it is nothing at all. No matter how noble and grand the sentiments associated with the gospel, only the gospel embodied in a Christ-formed life is of any value.

In recent comments, I was asked what could be done about things that endangered the Church. My response, perhaps not clear at the time, was to say that what can be done is to be the Church. Not even the gates of hell can withstand the Church, according to Christ’s promise. St. Seraphim’s admonition, “Acquire the Spirit of Peace and a thousand souls around you will be saved,” is deeply frustrating to some. It is taken for a path of “Quietism” in which “doing nothing” is the answer to everything. I have heard this path assaulted particularly by those who want to be more active in evangelism. But if we have not acquired the Spirit of Peace then we actually have nothing to give someone even were they to visit the Church.

The anxiety of our age is the anxiety of competing “projects.” Political agendas, moral agendas, culture wars – all of them gather on the field of battle and all of them vie for the leadership of modernity. For some, the better world they wish to build is some sort of vision out of Aldous Huxley, or so it would seem: test-tube babies, gender fluidity, and a humanity reinvented to maximize its pleasure. Others imagine a classical society, even some version of a Christian society. As Orthodox, we worry about our tiny place within the culture and whether we can find a saving “option.”

The management of culture is not something that has been given us by God. The notion that such might be the case is simply our own version of the modern project. The Kingdom of God is something quite different. It is decidedly not a human project – it cannot be built, furthered, or helped along. It may come forth, be manifested or revealed, but only as the work of God. It might be possible to say that God has a “project” (if that’s not irreverent). It is the Church. As such, it seems weak, and extremely susceptible to decay and corruption. It has a long history of incompetence. And yet, as cultures have come and gone, the Church remains (and not as a result of long-range planning).

I often think that we are misled by the institutional aspects of the Church’s existence. I know that those who have the most “responsibility” (or think that they do) take great care for the Church’s life. But the “life” that matters is something that cannot be cared for – it cares for us. The Church is preserved by holiness (sanctity) within the midst of the faithful. As such, the Church is indestructible, even when its institutions are attacked (from within or without).

In our own lives, we fail to see things clearly. It is easy to discern a line of thought or institutional suggestion that is faulty and in error. However, we fail to see that our own sins are the greater danger. Holiness is the only effective argument – even its silence is overwhelming in its eloquence. Holiness is “right glory” in the life of an individual.

It is of interest to see with what great interest the statements of various holy elders are sifted in search of political and ecclesiastical prophecies and critiques. These extracted sayings are then brought forth into the swamp of social media as trump cards in our daily arguments. How few seem to be combing the sayings of the elders in order to examine their own lives! It is true that holy elders are a preserving force in the life of the Church – but not by their arguments. It is their very life and prayer that uphold us.

A single prayer, a single candle is worth far more than any argument set forth, while our anxiety and anger burn false candles before the idols of our imagination. In this season of the year, many memes will appear celebrating St. Nicholas’ famous slap of the heretic Arius. That slap did nothing to rebuke heresy. It was St. Nicholas’ mercy and love of the poor that found pardon and support from the Theotokos. Any fool can slap a heretic; only a saint can refute them.

Be the saint. It is our only weapon.




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.


72 responses to “A Difficult Orthodoxy”

  1. Scott Avatar

    “Anyone can master a system of thought, its rules of speech and patterns of understanding. But to rightly speak and live within the Orthodox faith requires something of a very different sort.”

    This is a big part of what has brought me to Orthodoxy.

    Thank you, Father.

  2. Dallas Wolf Avatar

    Amen. All else is not the Ekklesia.

  3. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    I don’t understand your question. Can you describe it better or fuller?

  4. Dean Avatar

    Fr. Stephen,
    You write, “The Church is preserved by holiness (sanctity) within the midst of the faithful.” My mind goes to the faithful Russian Christians, mostly peasants, through whom this holiness shined forth in their 70 “Babylonian” captivity. I believe it was Solzhenitsyn who wrote that in prison camp these believers would flicker forth their light, for a moment, like tremulous candles, then be snuffed out. But look at the fruit their martyrdom is now bearing in Russia.

  5. Mario Naziris Avatar
    Mario Naziris

    Your blessing Father

    Orthopraxia – This has reminded me of many things, one of which:

    I once heard a holy elder from my local Monastery of St John the Baptist in Essex UK say:

    “There are three main ways that we can build the Kingdom of God within us or the presence of Christ within our hearts. 1) Reading and understanding the word of God – The Holy Gospel 2) The Name of Jesus Christ 3) and receiving the Eucharist.

    We live in a world full of too much noise. I am no saint, but my personal experience of following the above helps greatly in clearing the mess I have created with my own pride. In fact Christ clears the mess.

    If we work consistently on the interior life we begin to recognise how God communicates with us through our Spiritual Father, and even through our conscience, and other miraculous ways. We will then discover that quite often God gives us opportunities to do the right thing.

    I was once given one of those opportunities. In this instance it was to donate financially and meet at least 5 beggars outside by the Church doors one Sunday morning. My wife went before me and gave her donation. I however didn’t donate anything because i’d felt my wife had done this on my behalf. By the time I walked inside the Church towards the front, my conscience was burning.
    Bearing in mind I had prepared to receive Holy Communion, I’d begun to read the sermon on the Archdiocese leaflet handed to me.
    The sermon ended in this way: ‘As Saint John Chrysostom said’: ” If you do not find Christ in the beggar by the Church doors, neither will you find Him in the Chalice”!

    Well, needless to say, I was convicted to the core and compelled to go back outside and donate. Divine providence? I think so.
    Christ speaks, admonishes and guides us even when we are being foolish, providing we constantly invite Him into our lives every day, even though we make many mistakes.

    Notice how many times I’ve used the word “I” in the above? I think I have a long way to go in obtaining humility.

  6. Dean Avatar

    Oops…70 year BabylonIan captivity.

  7. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Yes. I see. St. Paul certainly embodied the doctrine and life of the Church, and he did right to confront Peter. He did not slap him, as St. Nicholas slapped Arius. Slapping a priest is actually a canonical offense for which the penalty is excommunication in one form another. St. Nicholas was deposed for it. He was only restored because the Mother of God appeared in a vision/dream and ordered it. It was a heavenly intervention of economia. But it was not a heavenly endorsement of slapping heretics (which is they way I see it treated popularly – and people imagine that citing St. Nicholas’ sinful example excuses their own rudeness and cruelty.

    Had St. Paul merely confronted St. Peter with words and arguments, but not actually embodied the gospel, the situation would likely have gone badly.

  8. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Please greet Fr. Zacharias for me – and remember me when you visit the monastery. I long to be there again.

  9. Mario Naziris Avatar
    Mario Naziris

    Father, I shall God willing visit again in a few weeks. Consider it done.

  10. Paula Avatar

    Father, thanks for bringing out that the intro to the Creed is the words spoken during the Kiss of Peace. I hadn’t noticed that connection, but I shall remember from now on…and its implications.

  11. Mario Naziris Avatar
    Mario Naziris

    Father, let me know if you plan on visiting

  12. Nicholas Stephen Griswold Avatar
    Nicholas Stephen Griswold

    How right you are Father. Here in the West many of us are converts and we carry the baggage of the Modern Project into our faith. We see Orthodoxy as something to be defended and argued for. I have had many Protestant friends attack me for our understanding of the Eucharist. It is way too easy to launch into a polemic and attack their misunderstanding and distortion of Scripture. I am learning to let it slide.
    I recently watched a series on You Tube of the English Civil War. One aspect jumped out at me. I saw fervent, pious men hacking those who disagreed with them on faith with swords and burning them at the stake. Somehow, this is not Christlike but it is our inheritance in many ways in the West. We converts need to have our minds renewed in order to be able be at peace in ourselves and offer this peace to others.

  13. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    It is impossible to have an argument without at least two people.

    Many people, including myself, mistake reaction for action.

    The Truth needs no defense and those that defend it/Him most assiduously often fall into evil.

  14. Esmee La Fleur Avatar

    Thank you, Father, very well said.

  15. Daniel Avatar

    Thank you father for this post. Truly, the sanctity of my life in Christ is the true defense against evil.

  16. Daniel Avatar

    Thank you father for this post. Truly, the sanctity of my life in Christ is the true defense against evil. I like to share some of the sections of your posts that I find very useful to me and (especially with my Facebook friends)…I’d I seek your blessing on this.

  17. Maria W Avatar
    Maria W

    I have to think and ponder on Marios Nazinis post about the Beggar.
    I went shopping the other day and a man passed by me smelling so badly I started to convulse. My whole body was getting sickened ready to vomit in the store. I turned around to look at the person and it was a homeless man pacing up and down the long corridor with his head down, a Denny’s plastic bag in his hand, dressed in filth etc. It upset me that he was making me literally sick more than nauseated. Somewhat shaken it took me a while to recover physically. I then felt outraged that no one had noticed him and that he was allowed to pace the floor back and forth in the store as others also registered the grotesque smell on this man . That this man was a human being was clear to me, a very sad human being. But I would not have been able to put my arms around this man , or shake his hands without the fear of getting very sick. I also experience anger at the thought that as a Christian I was supposed to love him, probably like washing his feet. It all came to my mind and senses. I felt ashamed that such a demand had or was even being made by Christianity without him needing to clean himself up first so one can even stand to be near his presence.. I felt angry for this unreasonable conception to love all, even a beggar. I have compassion and would never harm this person and I also grant him his being, but I do not believe it is my duty or mission to love all, criminals, murderers, strangers in this day and age where danger lurks for all. That is why any kind of organized religion who teaches those demands indiscriminately without discernment and reason, loses its rational and validity for me. This Beggar has his place in the world, just as it has been written that we will always have them with us, but our concern should be for the living, those who can and will live the faith. I f I should be wrong in my assessment of reality and do not engage in dangerous braveries of loving “everyone”, then I will ask God to deal with me and offer me people of wisdom who are not suicidal, defeatist or after my demise.. My duty is to live within present time and not in a make believe, or when social conditions where much different.. My God is also a God of reason not sweet sentiments, Gods compassion is not (enabler) what we do. Sorry if I come across offensive, all the more reasons to pray for me too. Just in keeping it real.

  18. Janine Avatar

    “The Church is preserved by holiness (sanctity) within the midst of the faithful. ” It makes me recall, “For the sake of ten, I will not destroy it.”

  19. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    “Keeping it real” has become a phrase that to me means succumbing to one’s passions whatever they may be. But, I would certainly done no better than Maria in a similar circumstance because I know myself as a selfish man who has to be forced beyond my comfort zone to actually give anything. Christ demands nothing of us really. Only to recognize Him for who He is.

    It is possible that the man was not a man. My late wife was a street minister for years and tokd a number of stories in which she encountered street people who may have been angels.

    One never knows for sure.

  20. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Fr Stephen,
    These words are so edifying. Particularly regarding the ramifications of viewing the Church as an institution. I fall into that frame of mind, and I’m grateful for this illumination and reminder that it is the life of the Church that takes care of us.

    Given that it is the life lived in Christ and that lived in the Spirit of Peace that of offers the greatest witness to the world, do I understand you correctly that there may be times that we might ‘speak’ as an icon might speak? For encouragement or clarity regarding that life? How might we decern our motives, that is a motive drawn from love rather than from some anxiety? It seems that embodying the life is far more difficult in the culture we live in than what we may be aware.

    Last, will you describe what and who is in the picture? It seems to be an Orthodox priest in a place that once was a building of a church, and perhaps by his life, his actions and sanctity, in Liturgical rite, it becomes a Church once more? Or the blessing of the service reveals what the place is, a holy place?

    I seem to be asking a lot of questions. But want to end by saying how grateful I am for the words.

  21. Mario Naziris Avatar
    Mario Naziris

    How wonderful that many of us can see and share our weaknesses.

    Many years ago I remember my first confession with my late Spiritual Father Simeon. He gave me the following prayer by Saint Ephrem the Syrian:

    O Lord and Master of my life, take from me the spirit of sloth, despair, lust of power, and idle talk.

    But give rather the spirit of chastity, humility, patience, and love to Thy servant.

    Yea, O Lord and King, grant me to see my own transgressions, and not to judge my brother, for blessed art Thou, unto ages of ages. Amen.

  22. Juliania Avatar

    Thank you, Father, for your blog and for this reflection. I am one to whom , for my own shortcomings, the phrase ‘a single prayer, a single candle’ has great significance.

    In light of this, I hope I can offer a small reflection this Thanksgiving weekend. After I read your recent post on worship, I went to the linked discussion about the Mother of Christ, where the question was raised concerning her status – i think the phrase used was that she,is,merely ‘a sweet saint’, no more than that.

    You gave a wonderful response, that she gives her flesh to her Son, as we call her Theotokos, bearer or birth-giver of God. I simply see a linkage in states of giving, from the Holy Spirit, whom we address as ‘ the Giver of Life’, through Mary, the Giver of her flesh, all the way down to each of us giving worship and thanks.

    Happy Thanksgiving to all!

  23. David A Kontur Avatar
    David A Kontur

    Hi Maria and all –
    As I read Maria’s comments and reflected on them I would suggest (to all of us, as I probably would have had the same initial reaction Maria had) that maybe the stench of this poor homeless person can be a reminder for us of the stench that we have all become way too comfortable with in our daily lives – the hatred and hateful speech that is increasingly becoming pervasive through our society; the consumerism, greed and lust that are nothing less than a form of idolatry; and the constant noise that we surround ourselves with to escape having to face ourselves and encounter the living and true God Whom we cannot control, manipulate or cajole into blessing our schemes. And yes Maria, and all of us – the Gospel does demand of us the impossible… that is, impossible without God’s gift of Himself. Reread and reflect on the narrative about the “True Vine” John 15: 1-17. It is also interesting that when Jesus went to the tomb of Lazarus and asked the people there to open it… their first warning to him was that the stench would be terrrible by now. May God grant us all the grace to see with HIs eyes in situations in which we are repulsed and would rather turn away and the discernment to know when we truly should be repulsed and turn away.

  24. Nicholas Stephen Griswold Avatar
    Nicholas Stephen Griswold

    Remember the love you are called to have for others is Agape. It is not emotional love or even affectionate love. It is a self sacrificial love in which you do for the other at the expense of the self. Obviously, it is not always easy nor is the path clear. Buying the man some food (if you were in a grocery store) or some clothing (if you were in a clothing store), (if in Walmart, you could choose either) would be a good way to express agape for someone.
    Having done many years of prison ministry, I can empathize with your feelings regarding this man. I will never forget the first time I went inside with y Evangelism Professor to do Prison Ministry. The first thing that struck me was the awful stench. It smells in prison. Then I realized I was in an area surrounded by 60 criminals and I was definitely in the minority. All I wanted to do was to flee. Then I remembered: I had prayed to the Lord that He would grant me to see others as He sees them and to have my heart broken for those things that break His heart. Suddenly, I saw them as they are….the least of His brothers. I also realized I was not any better in the Lord’s eyes than they were in mine. It made all the difference.

  25. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    I hear the emotion in your comment, though what you describe is not really about “keeping it real.” Keeping it safe, keeping it bearable, keeping it manageable, I understand. But it is not about reality. The beggar you saw (was he begging?) was real. In the 1970’s, in America, the government changed a policy to “de-institutionalize” mental patients. The theory was that they would do better outside with people than in a hospital. Medication and medical management would do the rest. It was terribly misguided. The number of homeless people soared. They were not the traditional homeless, they were (and still very much are) largely a population suffering from one form of mental disease or another who have been pushed out the door (saving us all lots of money) and wound up on the streets.

    They don’t do so well. There are some mental disorders in which the sense of smell and revulsion is lost. So, it’s quite possible, even likely, that the person you encountered was as he was because he can do no better. He is also a symptom of our (yes “our”) callous policies. He is like the sin of our culture walking around so we can see it (and smell it).

    Sin is smelly. Sin is disgusting, etc. But it’s also real. Somewhere, we pray, we should all pray, that someone will love this man, and get past what is revolting to help him. You and I are just a few brain cells or chemicals away from him.

    Actually, America is not at all real. Our prosperity, sanity, safety, etc., all come at a fearful cost. In some cases they come at the cost of our international gambits in which we slaughter thousands (always with plausible justifications). Globalist trade policies help support slave labor to keep our prices pleasantly affordable – almost at Black Friday levels. We have found a way to saddle youth with over a Trillion dollars in debt to keep a nice return for bankers and their wealthy investors, who do not want to solve the problem of a decaying educational system (not when the profits are so good). I could go on – but the pleasantness of our life is a lie that hides the truth of our world from us.

    Social conditions are not as you imagine. Lazarus is at the gate and he stinks. Reality stinks. Reality is below the decks in the boiler rooms and hidden filth that makes this ship sail…while some dance and drink on the upper decks waiting for an iceberg.

    I understand your thoughts and revulsion, and share them myself. But let’s not call them reality or seek to justify them. Let’s pray for one another to see reality as it truly is, and find some path of salvation.

    “The world’s a dangerous place…a man’s lucky to get out of it alive.” W.C. Fields

  26. Dean Avatar

    Fr. Stephen,
    You mention that perhaps because of this man’s mental condition, he can do no better. Empathy…. I have lived in Mexico and ministered here among Hispanics. Sometimes it is literally impossible to put ourselves in others’ shoes. The couple I will describe are professionals, Mexican American. He has a PHD, she a Masters. When they were first married, going to school, they were looking for a new church. They drove up to a church parking lot and watched the people enter. All were white. They said they wanted to enter, but just sat there for a while, unable, because they had not seen anyone with color enter. A barrier I do not have. Another time I was talking to a friend, Mennonite, who had grown up in Mexico. I was saying to him that a certain couple from Mexico should move out of the barrio and seek a better life. He said, “They can’t.” At the time I didn’t understand. I do now. Some barriers that seem like molehills to me are mountains to others. I know that I certainly need to judge less and “see” more. God, have mercy!

  27. Paula Avatar

    Thank you Maria for your honesty.
    Thanks to Michael, Mario, David and Nicholas for your thoughtful responses.
    Thank you Father for putting a cap on the reality of Maria’s experience.
    I did take offense, Maria, initially…but after thinking about what is being said here, especially the reality of sin, I believe we do not realize how dark it is. As I see it, that man you saw happened to be wearing on the outside much of what we harbor in our hearts (as was already said). I don’t know what I would have done, but my ego suggests only a self-righteous supposition.
    I think of Christ taking on the sins of the world in His flesh.
    I think of Christ embracing the lepers.
    I think of the Fools for Christ.
    I can’t help but think that this man you saw has more in common with Christ than we do.
    I do not see this as defeatist…but simply real.
    Thank you all….

  28. Paula Avatar

    Didn’t see your response Dean, until after I posted. Thank you too.

  29. Janine Avatar

    Maria and all,
    I think it’s important to remember that love doesn’t mean approval. If a child needs discipline, it is part of love to give the discipline. For some reason, we continually confound love with blanket approval. Love transcends all things and seeks the good for others, whatever that may be. God gives us discipline out of infinite love. One can always pray for another if nothing else is possible. It is the love that is important.

  30. Nicole from VA Avatar
    Nicole from VA

    I have some gentle reflections and possibly a question. Just to share some thoughts , back in college a classmate asked one of my math professors what her husband did. She said he was a researcher at a major university and he studied the brain as it related to smell. My immediate reaction was ‘that’s silly’ but five seconds later I was amazed. How does this even happen? How is it even possible we can smell?

    I have struggled with smell too. There are some public libraries I avoid because even when no one is physically there the scent of others somehow permeates, the smell of my homeless neighbors, and I can smell it even after I leave. I am not exactly sure how, but it seems to be a reminder of our interconnectedness.

    A few years ago Father Stephen told a wonderful story of a visitor to his parish who walked in and almost immediately started crying. Father asked her why and she said “it smells like Heaven.”

    Perhaps these experiences of difficult smell remind us all of our common vulnerability. Somehow we physically experience a connection through smell, our brains processing information in a way we cannot fully comprehend and pointing out a connection we might otherwise ignore.

    Maria, also just to share another small thought, I have a hunch God protects our physical contact with the homeless when we keep our faith in Him. Should our hands touch as we pass them money it may watched over by God in a special way until we can wash or clean our hands.

    Father, I have started thinking that when someone is content with a lie I should not attempt to correct them, but if they are actively seeking the Truth I can share a bit more of my heart. I noticed in Fr. Thomas Hopko’s 55 Maxims that we are advised not to try and convince anyone of anything. I recently chose not to reply when my aunt said Christianity was fully agreeable with Hinduism, that there is essentially no difference.
    Please let me know if this was an error. I would also like to share that I am very thankful for this community.

  31. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Sorry, for removing the comment…it was indeed too sentimental…particularly regarding me. But thank you!

  32. Dean Avatar

    That’s fine, Fr. Stephen,
    Past 3 score and 10 I think my head gets more dense and my heart more porous! 🙂

  33. Mario Naziris Avatar
    Mario Naziris

    “Frequently, we settle for “right doctrine,” and “right glory,” but ignore the right inward life and disposition (technically called “orthopraxis”).”

    I have noticed Father everything you have stated in this article. Is very scriptural. I understand the above comment to also mean that sometimes it is as though we are still living according to the law, just like the pharisees, The Pharisees would observe everything to last minor detail, whilst ignoring the Spirit of the law. This makes worship rather wooden or dead.

    However, for many of us a relationship with Christ, at the beginning can seem to be a very slow process. We experience growth as painfully slow, but it is still growth.
    On the rare occasion there are people who get off to a flying start, a road to Damascus experience, these are however the minority. Even all of the Saints had spent all their lives repenting right to the very end – an important part of orthopraxia. I remember but can’t cite the source I’m afraid, our late Holy Elder Sophrony of Essex in response to a question stated that: after all these years he has still not learnt how to be a Christian. Such was his humility and of course we know that this man is a saint.

    The parables of Christ in the Scriptures point to a process of growth. If we look at the mustard seed, it is not immediately a tree. First it needs the right conditions for germination. In the same way our hearts need to feel remorse and contrite and open for Christ the Sower to do the work of salvation. Then this seed is carefully cultivated over many years. We have the potential to grow in Christ.

    The prodigal son recognised that his heart was in the wrong place. When he discovered this he returned to his Father. This is significant because in this parable Christ shows us His incredible love and patience and meets us on the road of our own repentance.

    Naturally as we experience the love of Christ we want to share it. Sometimes rather too enthusiastically, we just can’t help ourselves, but it’s never about talking people into submission, but rather the simple things that we can express to others through our way of life. (I know we touched on this on a previous article).
    Even a simple “Good Morning” or “How are you” can change someone’s outlook. I have seen this and it is incredible when it happens. It can even bring someone back from the brink of suicide, and yet we may not even know how we played a part in Christ’s work to save that person.

    I know this is well known, but I have just remembered a famous quote from St. John Chrysostom:
    “Let the mouth also fast from disgraceful speeches and railings. For what does it profit if we abstain from fish and fowl and yet bite and devour our brothers and sisters? The evil speaker eats the flesh of his brother and bites the body of his neighbor.”
    — Saint John Chrysostom

    Here St. John makes the link between just doing the physical act of fasting from food and our behaviour. Good Orthopraxia is to repent and fast/abstain from sin, only then does fasting have value.

    Father Stephens has opened up in this article an opportunity for us to re-examine our behaviour, and to see if our Spiritual life is real or fake.
    It certainly has given me a push to examine myself in a much more thorough way. Thanks be to God!

  34. victoria Avatar


    What a beautiful reflection.

  35. Christopher Avatar


    Perhaps you can address the chicken & egg problem. If we are to “be” the Church, how are we to do that if/when the Church becomes distant or veiled through corruption in practice/doctrine (or an ideal, or memory)? Is not the Church needed before we can “be” ourselves holy and faithful and thus “be” the Church? As you point out the Church takes care of us, which in this temporal existence means that it has to “be” itself (Holy, Church, etc.) before I can “be” it (i.e. a Saint).

    I suppose I am seeing the more embodied side of the Church, and putting more weight on the “institutional” aspect of it. Where does one find, encounter, and is taught (both practically and ascetically) in this holiness if not by the Church?

    “Holiness is the only effective argument – even its silence is overwhelming in its eloquence. Holiness is “right glory” in the life of an individual.”

    I read you to be saying that the Church that is not free from embodiment, institutionality in this world, and thus the corruption that is a part of everything in this world but at the same time God always provides the Church that we all need. Yet all, or at least most of us, have encountered or been raised in a “church” that is irretrievably corrupted and does not even know/embody “holiness” at all. How can one “be” a saint without a Church that can “be” Holy in the reality of our everyday lives?

    To say that it is incorruptible (or “uncreated” in as some Fathers put it) is true on a mystical level, but I see a two story “embodied” problem here in that whole Churches and peoples have in fact been corrupted. How do I know your word on this matter does not itself come not from a Holiness found in the Church (fully realizing you are not Holy) but rather from the all too real corruption, compromise, and faithlessness that is everywhere found in the Church…

  36. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    I very much want to be clear that this is not a two-storey thing. The idealized, abstracted notion of “Church,” is pretty much a late Protestant, Ecumenical notion that is anathema to me. That said, I’ll try to think out loud on this.

    The corruption that exists, is to be thought of like the sin in our lives – indeed, that’s all it is. And yet, our sin does not make us “not Christian.” The corruption/sin, however, has no abiding force or life. Its existence is quite ephemeral – though dangerous. I suppose the question of “being” the Church is sort of sacramental to me (when I think of it). Its reality is a gift (not a human construct). It abides within everything that we name “Church,” and, in some cases is coterminous with it (as in the case of saints). What I would say is that we do not lack anything that is required to truly “be” the Church. Everything needed has been given to us. When leaders are corrupt, etc., that do not take away what is needed that has been given to us. They increase our temptations and cause some to stumble.

    It is worth thinking about what we mean by “institutions.” The institution of the Church is sacramental/hierarchical. But it is not business/management. When the Church has been utterly without the modern accouterments of bureaucracy, it has, nonetheless, been the fullness of the Church. But bishops, priests, deacons, laity, sacraments have always continued.

    It is certainly possible for people to be corrupted, or for the mechanisms they use to corrupt them. I think there is a great danger whenever power is concentrated (and money). The potential for abuse increases the amount of abuse. But this abuse does not touch what I think is – in fact – the Church.

    It’s similar to the parable of the wheat and the tares in my mind. There are many things that are “tares” among us – structures, some aspects of bureaucracy, and in our own individual lives. In that sense, the Church is “hidden.” It is wheat in the midst of tares.

    This verse comes to mind:

    “…whose voice then shook the earth; but now He has promised, saying, “Yet once more I shake not only the earth, but also heaven.” Now this, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of those things that are being shaken, as of things that are made, that the things which cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us have grace, by which we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear. For our God is a consuming fire. (Heb. 12:26-29)

    This “shaking” is the judgment of God…that has already begun in the house of God (1Peter 4:17). When I suggested that the only way to resist these things is to “be” the Church, I mean to be and become that which cannot be shaken. That which is necessary for this to be formed in us is never lacking – God supplies. Doesn’t mean it isn’t hard – or nigh on impossible – yet not impossible.

    We use the word “Church” in a very undisciplined way. It’s not a two-storey thing – but here, in this one storey, we are not alone – there’s a lot of tares here as well. The shaking will reveal them. I should add that this is an inner thing as well – the shaking judges and removes the “tares” within our own heart – if we let it.

    How can we judge a word? With time. God will judge it.

  37. Mihai Avatar

    Father Stephen,
    I understand the context you are writing from- one filled with activism and moralist do-gooders and you are trying to balance it out.

    I also agree with what you are saying about the inner transformation as being an indispensable elements and- in the final count- the only element that truly matters and has eternal consequences.

    But in doing all this you are driving things to the opposite extreme. If the activism you are condemning often leads to people quoting the action of St Nicholas to justify their own hatreds and passions, so too can I say that what you are getting at here all too easily can lead some to justify their own cowardice and intimidation in the face of modernity- I say this because it is an all too tempting point of view for me too.

    It can also lead to the paralyzing of any possibility of discernment and order- just like you have the current pope saying something to the extent “who am I to judge? so let’s just accept homosexuals and transgenders transwhatevers, because we are all sinners”. By accepting meaning not accepting them as people repenting, but justifying the sin and accommodating the Church so it makes room for something like this.. And I see this attitude slowly creeping into Orthodoxy too. Double-think and all the like galore.

    There is a very fine line between humbleness, acknowledging that we are all sinners and simply accepting and tolerating all the degeneracy and relativism of the modern world inside the Church because “who are we to judge?”.
    I know you probably had this thrown in the face innumerable times, but I can’t help it to give it as an example- Christ’s cleansing of the temple was an example of “holy violence” if I may put it so boldly. That passage cannot simply be ignored or relativized.
    St Paisios of Mount Athos addresses this problem in one of his recorded conversations- in which he equates inaction in the face of blasphemy as cowardice and even a sort of denying Christ in public- of course he is very nuanced about cases when answering a provocation is worth it and so on, but the thing remains.

    Now if you were to say that the problems the Church and society is today facing is not something which can be dealt with by the majority of us layman I would understand and agree. But that doesn’t mean we should stop calling out evil for what it is under the pretext that we are not free from it ourselves…

  38. Dino Avatar

    Just thinking out loud here: one delicate, social aspect of the problem you mentioned – i.e.: action or inaction regarding the modern-day prevalent promotion for the ‘visibility’ of sin and it’s proclamation as ‘not-a-sin’– is that the age-old social “reaction” to it, (a deeply Christian cultural response of two thousand years), was, in fact, to shield it… to cover up it’s visibility with silence and deter it’s advancement -not through violent reaction to it, (what debauched pride-parades might seem to try to generate), but through an intentional reorientation elsewhere, to what is good and wholesome. This was seen as the natural, way of creating the communal conditions that are right to ‘accept the sinner but not the sin’.

  39. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    It’s not the activists, etc. It’s watching people being consumed by their fears, anxiety, etc. And it’s watching Orthodoxy used as a tribal identity. There are, of course, any number of real trials that face us, though many of them are greatly magnified by the media attention they generate. In the midst of that, somebody needs to get on with the work of actually becoming the thing they want to defend. The simple point that I’m making is that you “must not lay the hand of flesh on the ark of God.” Yes, the example of Christ in the Temple is apropos. But we do well not to imagine ourselves in that role everything some post on social media upsets us. The Scriptures say, “Be angry and sin not.” If you can drive them out of the Temple without sin, feel free. But, I see a world caught in anger. Our adversary can use a good cause as a means to trap us as easily as a heresy.

    And it is easy (because these things get so much attention) for the young-in-Orthodoxy to be caught up in this stuff. I have seen more than one neophyte suddenly rebuke priests and bishops.

    I am urged, from time to time, by others, to use the “platform” that I have – with lots of views and lots of “followers” on social media, etc., in one cause or another. I set a rule for myself (its on the rules for the blog) at the beginning (2007) to avoid ecclesiastic politics, etc. I’m sure I’ve missed the chance to soar even higher in the blogosphere by avoiding controversy. However, I believe that actually teaching and urging the true practice of Orthodoxy is the surest “whip” to use in the Temple.

    It is the mind of modernity that thinks we must control the outcome of history, including the perceived outcome of the Church’s path in the world. We must not see the path of Athanasius as a successful “movement.” It was not. At one point, only a tiny handful of bishops supported the Nicene position. Almost all had gone over to the Homoian position (semi-Arianism) – including the Emperor. And yet, the Nicene faith prevailed.

    Athanasius did not mount a great campaign. He stayed faithful. The monks stayed faithful and prayed. God removed an emperor or two and raised up new, faithful voices.

    The cry, “But if we do nothing!” is also the faithless lament that God is doing nothing. We have to save Him. There is absolutely a time for various kinds of actions. But, discerning that is not as easy as you seem to be saying. “A word in due season, how good it is!” What word, and what due season?

    If you will, my writing viz. modernity, has, at many points, been a bit of a lone voice. Where were the others identifying and describing the single greatest temptation of the Church? And it is so insidious it attacks every single believer, from the least to the greatest. But I didn’t get here alone. Fr. Alexander Schmemann’s For the Life of the World described “secularism” as the greatest heresy of our age. That secularism is a part of the modern project. I’m just continuing to pay attention to something given by a great teacher. Too many have concentrated on his thoughts as a liturgist. I think those things are relatively minor, and take him at his world viz. the danger of secularism.

    But all of this work is nothing more than “casting bread upon the waters.” Only God ever makes anything effective. So, if there is any good that comes of such efforts, it is solely due to God.

    You cite St. Paisios. It is an excellent example of what I pointed out in the article. Such statements of holy elders are true, no doubt. But they are combed out of everything else they said and presented repeatedly. Over and over, far more than anything else they said. Those words become a mantra justifying sinful behavior on the part of many. How can it be wrong to rebuke a heretic? If you lose your own soul in the process, then the heresy won. And many are losing their souls because they pay more attention to such things – guarding our tribal boundaries – and ignoring the one thing needful. There is no Orthodox Church to defend if nobody is actually living the fullness of the faith.

    Should we call out evil? Certainly. But only by the Spirit of God and not the mind of the flesh. Only in the peace of the Spirit and not the anger of man (“the anger of man does not work the righteousness of God,” St. James says).

    I hold no part of those pushing doctrinal change, liturgical innovation, gender nonsense, etc. I touch on these things in my writings on a fairly regular basis. But such things are distractions from the one thing needful. If they hold a large part in anyone’s life, there is something wrong. I see people being consumed.

    Thank you for your careful thoughts.

  40. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Yes. I might also say to others, “Look at the monks and the monasteries.” There are occasional pronouncements from Mt. Athos – quite rare, actually. But generally when I visit monasteries, these issues are not a topic of conversation or concern. And the monastics are the best prepared for these battles. I think I shouldn’t be more concerned than a monk when it comes to these trials, and that i should imitate their example as much as possible. God is preserving the Church – and He’s doing a really good job. Christ tells His disciples, “Be of good cheer. I have overcome the world.” When I see the absence of cheer, then I know that faith is being lost.

  41. Mihai Avatar

    Thanks for the answer.
    If that’s your position, then everything is well and good. I also know your position relative to innovations and the like.
    But the trouble I had with this type of article is that these clarifications were not at all obvious in this and some other articles, which like I said, can be cited (also out of context) in favor of a pseudo-humbleness of the like “only God can judge, so let’s just accept everything.”

    By the way, I fully agree with you vis-a-vis “Ecclesiastic politics”, there are far too many experts on canon law across the web.

  42. Karen Avatar


    Good question as usual. It is actually one I see asked or, more often, the reason offered, for peoples’ atheism or refusal to align themselves with any “institutional church” even if they believe in Christ/God (ie., the “nones”). I always share some guilty sympathy with such a question because what sincere believer does not long for a concrete, shining example of God’s Kingdom come in their own nieghborhood? I have many a time engaged in a deluded pity party that I would manage to live a better Orthodox life if only I had the kind of spiritual father as had many of the Saints I read about and not just an ordinary, faithful though flawed parish Priest (though, to be honest, I find the genuine faith of my Priest to be a precious commodity through which God truly fulfills all that is lacking on the human level!).

    What has been important for me to recognize in order to correct my own … self defeatism I guess you could call it (self-excusal from the struggle for personal holiness is what it amounts to–and this is an ongoing battle)…is that it is NOT accurate to imagine what the Tradition means by “Church” (which by biblical definition necessarily genuinely has a continuous historical and concrete visible manifestation) is her concrete manifestation is something simply contiguous with everything and everyone that exists or has existed throuhout history within the formal boundaries of canonical Orthodoxy. This is the modern usage, but not the Church’s spiritual understanding nor the biblical and Apostolic understanding. For example, in addition to Christ’s parable of wheat and tares, I think it is St. Paul in one of his epistles who talks about those in the midst of the Church who were not truly “of” the Church, otherwise they would not have gone out from her (ie., broken communion and started their own rival group) and so forth. It is what within the institutions of the Church really participates in her spiritual life that truly constitutes “the Church”–that would be the Liturgy, Mysteries/Sacraments and Saints. Our own sins and the sins of our leaders are excluded (though our repentance is not). These are outside the Kingdom and shall never be allowed within it. Though we may be without a perfect parish or canonical jurisdiction, we are not without a perfect Savior, Who yet resides within and among us, unworthy and unkempt though we be (who fittingly for this season are compared to the soiled manger and stable into which Christ was born in one pre-communion prayer).

    What this means for me is that if I hope to be useful to God I have to focus on the Scriptures, the Liturgy and prayers, the lives and words of the Saints, and work on “just showing up” more in front of my Icons, in my parish, and with my family and community duties, all the while asking the Lord to help me be the change I want to see in the world one moment, one day at a time. If I could succeed just to do that, it would be all the Lord needs to effect the advance of his Kingdom in the world in the way He desires to do through my life.
    Mario’s first comment further up in this thread and the quote he offered really said it all (here): https://glory2godforallthings.com/2017/11/24/a-difficult-orthodoxy/#comment-124848

  43. Agata Avatar

    “There is no Orthodox Church to defend if nobody is actually living the fullness of the faith.”

    Thank you for your beautiful response to Mihai (and to Mihai for raising these questions, I often struggle with these doubts myself, especially when I choose not to react/respond to controversial issues). The words I quoted above reminded me of how sad I felt last Saturday night at our first beautiful Vigil of this Advent season…. There were only maybe 5-6 people in attendance, how sad that so many deprive themselves of the joy that is so easily available in these services. I was so grateful that our Father Andrew is willing to serves them and a few more people are willing to sing most beautifully. “The one thing needful” is available to us, but we don’t choose it..

  44. Karen Avatar

    Btw, Christopher, I was not meaning to “shout” my “not” in my comment to you-I was just being too lazy to code for italics and wanted to emphasize the distinction.

  45. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Out of context, everything can be misconstrued.

  46. Mario Naziris Avatar
    Mario Naziris

    Hello Father, please forgive me, I am not meaning to hijack this article, but it is so interesting a topic and have found the responses from everyone equally interesting.

    It has taken my mind back to questions i’d asked before at the Monastery. I had revealed what one of my hobbies was and asked if it was the ok to carry on with it. The answer was :”yes that’s fine as long as it is not a passion”.

    Well, this taught me a few things about my relationship with Christ. And the Ultimate question was and is: “Do I desire Christ more than anything else”. Do I love my hobbies, work, money, house, family, projects, even good crusades etc more than Christ? Have I become an idol worshipper?

    I realised that where my treasure is my heart would also be (Matt: 6: 21). Saint Paisios also stresses the importance of desiring God more than anything else.

    One of the questions we ask ourselves is: “do we include Christ in the things we do?” Has Christ sanctified the works we do? If He has, then it is Christ who works in us, so that the Glory is given to God, not to us. This is a fundamental Christian value that we all too often forget.

    If we are on a mission to save the world from pollution because we believe the environment is important, how do we reconcile this act with our faith? Of course we can reconcile it to our faith in the right way if Christ is in the driving seat, not us. By being vessels of the Holy Spirit we can be the hands and feet of Christ if He wills it.

    Since we are talking about the environment, what about the environment of the heart? This is the environment we need to work on first, or at least together with our good works giving thanks to God.

    Without Christ, our acts although well intended, are purely mechanical.

    Christ has already done the good work for us, even to the point of death and Resurrection and forgiveness. Participating in Christ’s perfect sacrifice is the only work which is salvific. From this streams forth many fruits or gifts (including good works).

    Christ knew the dangers of pride associated with good works and the commandments, which is why He says this to His disciples:

    Luke 17:10. “So likewise ye, when ye shall have done all those things which are commanded you, say, We are unprofitable servants: we have done that which was our duty to do”.

  47. Christopher Avatar


    Thanks for your reply. I will have to contemplate it further and I appreciate its “ontological” angle. I agree with you (i.e. in your reply to Mihia) that your focus/emphasis on secularism vis-a-vis the Gospel, Christian life and the Church is an all too often lone voice. I don’t know anyone else who does it as well and as doggedly as you do. I also believe that it is THE focus/emphasis that is needful for are particular time and place (i.e. these latter days of the collapse of western Christendom). As elder Sophrony said just before he died, the question “what is man (anthropos)” is THE theological/spiritual battleground of the Church in our time. In my opinion, this is where the Church is in a sense “losing” (know that you will immediately point out that She is always losing, always being Crucified 😉 ), in that secularism is in fact the “religion” of modern man. In that sense Orthodoxy as done in western civilization (I have no experience of it in its traditional homelands) is just so darn vacuous – almost everyone I *commune* with is in fact layering and mashing it on top of the deep secularism of their heart to one extent or another. I have said before with seeming exaggeration (though I mean it quite literally) that I am not sure Orthodoxy even *exists* in North America, Western Europe, etc. In this I appreciate your “ressourcement” approach to “being” (ontologically) Orthodox and your unabashed calling out of the elephant in the heart/mind/intra & extra Church culture – secularism.


    Thanks for your comment as well, as I have been contemplating it as well.

    Gots to run now but will say more later – again thanks to Dino, Mihai, as well!

  48. Agata Avatar


    You must hang out with Fr. Zacharias from Essex… 🙂

    This is his favorite “trick” question about the Gospel Commandments: which one is the greatest commandment of the New Testament?

    I like your question very much, “how to include Christ in our daily life?” How to sanctify our life and work in the everyday situations? We talked about this on this blog several times before, but actually implementing it is a whole new thing…

    One of my favorite quotes ever is from Elder Elder Epiphanios:

    “God appointed the salvation of the world to His Son and not to us… We must first look at our soul, and, if we can, let’s help five or six people around us”..

  49. Mario Naziris Avatar
    Mario Naziris


    Yes I believe that’s where I first heard it from. It made a big impression on me.

    Christ’s message through His saints and in the Gospel is always the same. I have not heard that quote before, thank you for sharing. Very inspiring.

  50. Esmee La Fleur Avatar

    Mario – i have appreciated this conversation very much and your last comment is very much to the point, I believe. Thank you!

  51. Karen Avatar

    Agata, Elder Epiphanios’ is one of my favorite quotes, too.

  52. Agata Avatar

    Hi Karen,
    Yes, it’s a wonderful quote if we can wrap our minds around it, and truly believe it… That the only thing that matters is working on our own soul… Somehow it feels self-centered and selfish, and is especially difficult for us mothers, how can we ever let go of trying to “fix” our children…? Or the rest of the world for our children…?
    But this is what that quote tells us, along with many other Saints saying the same thing in many different ways… This is what Mario is saying too, I think, the Gospel message is the same always, directly from the Lord and through His Saints: REPENT (in the most full meaning of this word), not “make others repent”…

    I read somewhere recently that the Holy Spirit, when we acquire the Holy Spirit, makes us strict with ourselves and very lenient towards all others… We see that in all the Saints…

  53. Maria W Avatar
    Maria W

    Fr Freeman,
    Let me tell you my first encounter with beggars and homeless men that shook me to the core of my being and which changed my life and the way I see Christianity and the Church for ever. I used to love the church from where I came from, but no longer can for the way I found it here and the pain it has put me thru. I once worked for a church here when in between jobs and still fairly young then. God had been good to me despite of many ups and downs, tragedies, culture wars and personal divorce drama. God never left my consciousness and I always was aware of his presence. He was my first love and I was sort of returning home to my first love after my divorce. It was the first American Church I entered after encountering so many different denominational people here wanting to convert me I did not know existed. I had a Baptist background as this Church did, but it was different than what I had known and grew up in Europe. I wanted to give back to God, and the Church needed someone to managed a store they owned down town. Little did I know that it was in the middle of the poorest part of town filled with homeless people, beggars, woman and children barefooted, etc. where I was supposed to sell clothing and all kinds of new household items on this mall. I personally had known poverty, having little to live on etc. living under the ruins of war growing up after WWII, but I had never seen a rich country with so much filth on the street, poverty going unnoticed by the Church and State, it all seemed to be normal here, and then sell goods to the poor instead of tending to their needs in a human manner. Needless to say I was robbed three times, and so angry with the Church that I gave most of the stuff to the poor, or paid for them myself so I had something to deposit for the Church at the end of the day, and quit not long there after. I felt that I committed the gravest sin that a Christian (and I considered myself one) could commit in selling, or I thought more like taken from the poor. ( a crime against humanity and my conscience.) The poverty I saw was so horrendous it broke my heart. I was so mad at God that he allowed this and I questioned of whether I had been told fairy tales all my life about God, the Church, integrity and so on. It caused me great anguish and turmoil. This was all too much for me. I can not fix the plight of these people and in a relative short time it took its toll on me. I started to hate living in America, I did not want to be here.. America was one big fat lie and so was the Church. It did not care about the people, only the money for a basket ball court on the Church campus. I just can’t seem to recover from these experiences long ago. They haunt me like a plague, and all the love and good I thought I had for the Church is gone. Only safe for me from a distance. Every time I see the beggars on the street corners at intersections or any where else, I see what I had seen and witnessed on the streets of a down town mall. Terror! Forget about volunteers, they never showed up either, and no one in the Church even bothered to fill me in on the dangers of that part of town I knew nothing about or existed. I left everything behind here (including my Children who did not want to come with me) and returned to Europe for 7 years before I returned to the US. But I have to say, all this has also taken me on a journey of learning I would otherwise never have learned. It is and it will always be and remain a painful good bye so to speak and a new hello.
    BTW, thank you for your comment Fr.Freeman

  54. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Thank you for the background story. You came to America expecting the fantasy that we brag about only to discover the truth that we so often hide. Our economic and political system is deeply flawed and has created an underclass and homeless situation that is largely ignored and forgotten.

    The “Church” of which you speak is, sadly, itself a product of America’s distorted ideas of itself and God. It is not Orthodoxy. Orthodoxy is also not perfect – though I think you would not see such an attitude to the poor. Orthodoxy, in that way, is not very American.

    I understand the pain you encountered and your experience that continues to live on. I pray God will help you bear it and preserve your heart.

    Lazarus is at the gate of us all.

  55. Byron Avatar

    That the only thing that matters is working on our own soul… Somehow it feels self-centered and selfish

    Agata, I tend to think this way too but it is possible that the work for our own soul enriches those around us to a far greater extent than we care to think. Giving alms, caring for the widows and orphans (and homeless, etc.), and loving our neighbor requires great humility and service; the very things that draw us close to God and heal us. We are communal; working on our own soul by nature is working in others lives. Just my thoughts.

  56. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    “Working on our own soul” inherently includes how we treat others and relate to them. A damaged soul damages others. The opposite of working on your own soul is working on the souls of others…something deeply presumptuous and oppressive in practice.

  57. Nicholas Stephen Griswold Avatar
    Nicholas Stephen Griswold

    There is a great deal of truth to what you say. If I work on me and with the Lord’s Grace, my behavior and treatment of others reflects my spiritual growth, then I become less of a problem to others. I am the only one that I can rightly control. Trying to control others leads to all the abuses we see in the world. There is great merit in “fixing”ourselves instead of trying to “fix” others.

  58. jacksson Avatar

    Nicholas, as we all know, Saint Seraphim said something like, “acquire the fullness of the Holy Spirit and a thousand around you will be saved.”

    Metropolitan Hierotheos Vlachos stated in one of his early books, “the function of the church is to produce ‘relics’.” May we all become relics.

  59. Agata Avatar

    I love this, a new goal for life: to become a relic… 🙂
    So many ways interpret this, especially for those of us who are getting old…

    Thank you Father, Byron and Nicholas for your comments.

  60. jacksson Avatar

    That should be the goal for all of us who are older, but should include the children.

    We are having a homeschooling conference here at the monastery this weekend and when looking at the schedule of presenters, there should certainly be some ‘relic’ training going on for parents and other interested parties. I will be in with about 70-100 relics to be while parents will be learning. I understand that about 200 people are attending.

    This is the 2017 St. Emmelia Orthodox Homeschool West Conference, Dec. 1-3 2017 at St Nicholas Ranch and Retreat Center, Dunlap, CA.

  61. Esmee La Fleur Avatar

    I recently read a wonderful book titled A Layman in the Desert by Daniel Opperwall. He uses John Cassian’s Conferences as his point of departure. He explains that – according to the holy Fathers – the goal of every Orthodox Christian is purity of heart and the telos of every Orthodox Christian is the Kingdom of God. Saint Seraphim said, “The purpose of the Christian life is the acquisition of the Holy Spirit” (i.e. the Kingdom of God – the telos). And the way we are to do this, according to Saint Seraphim, is by “acquiring inner peace” (i.e. purity of heart – the goal). Neither the holy Fathers interviewed by Cassian, nor Saint Seraphim, said anything about the need to change the world or other people in it. The only person we can truly change is ourself (with the help of God’s grace). The way that we do that is to follow Christ’s commandments, engage in ascetic practices according to our strength, and pray unceasingly to the best of our ability. All of this is work we must do for the purification of our own hearts and none of it is about trying to purify the world or other people in it. If we can succeed in purifying our own hearts, we will naturally manifest God’s love in the world and to those around us, but how this might change the world or those individuals we directly influence is a secondary consequence and not a primary aim of our Christian life.

    Terrific discussion! Thank you everyone for your very thoughtful comments.

  62. Agata Avatar


    May God bless your effort at the conference. Today’s parents need even more help.. I pray for the new families with all my heart. Some who read (and generously answered) my comments over the past couple of years on this blog know my struggles with raising 3 boys (young adults now) all too well…

    I have heard of the Dunlap monastery, but have not made it there for a visit yet. I usually go north of SF to Manton and Platina (when I go on my pilgrimages from Minnesota).

  63. Dean Avatar

    I’m in Dunlap also (monastery) with Jacksson and many others. Please do visit next time you need to thaw out from the frigid north! You’d receive a warm welcome in Christ.

  64. Dino Avatar

    I agree with all that is being said here regarding the focus on personal repentance and the avoidance of dispersion: intervening in others’ lives under the guise of saving them, or any other pretext misses the mark both cleverly & stupidly.
    However, God’s Spirit brings about a state of cosmic proportions in the person that remains wholly focused upon Him alone. God makes him/her “all-embracing” through the action of His Spirit so that, the more he remains focused on God alone, renouncing his/her mind and heart from all attachments, thoughts, opinions, memories, emotions for the sake of union with God alone e.g.: invoking Him with ‘have mercy on me’, the more he finds that this ‘me’ is made universal, containing all creation, God makes him see he is one with all and that God’s Spirit makes him and intercessor for all in His image and without a need to change ‘me’ to us’ or them’. He prays alone to God alone and yet comes to realise that God sees him as the face of the entire creation that is facing Him truly. He thus ‘hypostasizes’ the whole, in his personal address towards the Creator of all. Saint Silouan and Saint Porphyrios are contemporary examples of this. Both started with this exclusivity of personal repentance commanded of us and soon found themselves transformed into images of Christ interceding for the salvation of all, without externally burdening anybody (as we usually tend towards).

  65. Agata Avatar

    I really look forward to visiting you some day soon. I heard a lot about your monastery, from monastic friends too, so I hope to visit for sure. Even better if I can meet blog friends… I extend the same invitation to all who visit Minnesota, to please connect with me…

    Thank you Dino for such a wonderful addition to our conversation – you always take us deeper into our Church’s teaching and wisdom, and illustrate it with the most perfect examples of the Saints.

    St. Silouan and St. Porphyrios, pray to God for us!

  66. Karen Avatar

    “Working on our own soul” inherently includes how we treat others and relate to them. A damaged soul damages others. The opposite of working on your own soul is working on the souls of others…something deeply presumptuous and oppressive in practice.

    Thank you, Father, for this succinct and direct summary of the truth of the matter! This is also so very freeing when we are able to wrap our minds and hearts around it, so we begin to live according to this conviction.

  67. Esmee La Fleur Avatar

    Karen – I agree, it is so freeing because we are relieved of the responsibility to “fix” others which we clearly cannot do anyway! And to presume that we can fix someone is an effort to make ourself into God, Who the only true Healer. I’ve made this mistake more than once in relationships and it was a complete disaster each and every time.

  68. Agata Avatar

    Karen and Esmee,
    You might enjoy this podcast by Dr. Clark Carlton on why we really should only be concerned with our own sins, and not sins of others… It’s a wonderful summary of all the topics touched upon in this conversation. Thank you all for sharing your thoughts, and Father for guiding us.


  69. Suzie Avatar

    It is scary to see the homeless begging on the corners, shuffling along unclean, being fearful of getting a disease. But we have to understand that every person, just like you and I, has a story. There are so many reasons why people are homeless, or living on the streets. Some simply have lost their jobs and the cost of living is too high, some became addicted to numb the hurt and pain in their lives from abuse or, broken relationships, some are mentally ill. While we do need to be discerning, who are we to judge when we no nothing of their life and what brought them to that point? And even if they did make mistakes, we are still to have mercy on them as God has on us. None of us is without sin. We are all broken people that God wants to heal, that Christ came into the world to save and heal mind, body and soul. When I put away my clean laundry enjoying the fragrance, get into bed on clean sheets, or take a shower, I often cry because I think of people who don’t have a place to sleep, clean clothes or a way to shower to feel human. I am fortunate at this point in time. I cannot imagine what I would do if I had no place to lay my head, no way to shower. Their situation grieves me. I know that what I have could all be gone in an instant and I could find myself in their position perhaps. There are many ways that we can help people in need, and it doesn’t require hugging or putting yourself in danger. Everyone has a different way they can help. We can donate money to organizations that are experienced in assisting people in need with food shelter, addiction treatment and other services. We can donate unwanted items that are sold in stores like Goodwill and Salvation Army where the money supports programs to help people. We can volunteer to work with experienced groups and churches. For those who are braver and have experience, they can work directly with people. There are some people who panhandle to make easy money, but most are truly in need. I am sorry for your experience with the church you mentioned, but encourage you not to be angry with God for what we rational creatures get wrong. There are many devoted Christians of all types who work to take care of the poor, the homeless, the widowed, the needy and those in prison. As society has become more fragmented and people are not connected to each other anymore, the Evil One uses the fear as a tool to make love grow cold for each other. Through the power of the Holy Trinity, and the love of Christ, we must keep the flame of agape alive. Lord have mercy on me, a sinner.

  70. Alan Avatar

    Thank you Dino. Great comments, as always.

  71. Karen Avatar

    Thank you, Esmee and Agata! I’ll have to check out that podcast.

  72. Meg Avatar

    Hi Fr Stephen, ( and also all the other wonderful commenters )
    I’ve read all of the above article and comments, and I want to thank you for your insight ! Its wonderful to see such a thoughtful group of people !
    For clarity:…..my question: when we see the world out there,…all the environmental things: air pollution, food pollution, and as you mentioned in other articles: this modern culture thing of test tube babies, and all the other stuff one hears about that is going on;………………is it the case, that we just pray and leave it all in Gods hands then, ( remembering there is a distinction: we are in the Kingdom of God and then to stay there so that we stabilize ourselves there? ). It seems so, because most of us can do nothing about all this type of external situation at all. So,.. Just to work on our own souls? And leave the rest to God? Avoiding what we can, and praying for what is not in our control/ the: ie. everything else? It seems logical to do this. Because if people can’t do anything about it, then it does no good to worry about it all. Thank you for your insight ! Meg

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