Politics and the Princes of This World

The tenth chapter of Daniel records the prophet’s final vision, one that contains a very interesting tale:

Now on the twenty-fourth day of the first month, as I was by the side of the great river, that is, the Tigris, I lifted my eyes and looked, and behold, a certain man clothed in linen, whose waist was girded with gold of Uphaz! His body was like beryl, his face like the appearance of lightning, his eyes like torches of fire, his arms and feet like burnished bronze in color, and the sound of his words like the voice of a multitude. And I, Daniel, alone saw the vision, for the men who were with me did not see the vision; but a great terror fell upon them, so that they fled to hide themselves. Therefore I was left alone when I saw this great vision, and no strength remained in me; for my vigor was turned to frailty in me, and I retained no strength.

Yet I heard the sound of his words; and while I heard the sound of his words I was in a deep sleep on my face, with my face to the ground. Suddenly, a hand touched me, which made me tremble on my knees and on the palms of my hands.

And he said to me, “O Daniel, man greatly beloved, understand the words that I speak to you, and stand upright, for I have now been sent to you.” While he was speaking this word to me, I stood trembling.

Then he said to me, “Do not fear, Daniel, for from the first day that you set your heart to understand, and to humble yourself before your God, your words were heard; and I have come because of your words. But the prince of the kingdom of Persia withstood me twenty-one days; and behold, Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, for I had been left alone there with the kings of Persia. Now I have come to make you understand what will happen to your people in the latter days, for the vision refers to many days yet to come.” (Dan 10:4-14)

Daniel is clearly being spoken to by a heavenly messenger (who is probably the Archangel Gabriel based on Daniel’s earlier visions). Oddly, the angel had trouble getting to Daniel and was delayed in his journey (for 21 days). He explains the reason for the delay: “the prince of the kingdom of Persia withstood me….” This “prince” is not a reference to any earthly being. It is not a political figure in Persia. It is, instead, a spiritual figure, along the lines of an angel, that has fought against the messenger and tried to prevent him from reaching Daniel.

And the story gets more interesting. The delayed angel gets assistance. Michael, “one of the chief princes,” came to help in the battle. With his assistance, the messenger manages to complete his assignment.

Daniel is giving us a description of a “behind the scenes” battle that accompanied his prayer. It also points us to a role played by what the New Testament describes as “principalities and powers.” On a human level, we see nations as political entities. In Daniel, they are but reflections of spiritual realities, not all of which are friendly or on the side of God. This aspect of things is brought into even greater relief when we read a little later:

Then he [the angelic messenger] said, “Do you know why I have come to you? And now I must return to fight with the prince of Persia; and when I have gone forth, indeed the prince of Greece will come. But I will tell you what is noted in the Scripture of Truth. (No one upholds me against these, except Michael your prince.)(Dan 10:20-21)

The angel is describing a great battle taking place. He is fighting with the “prince” of Persia, but says that the “prince of Greece” will come. In history, this occurs a couple of hundred years after the conversation with Daniel. The earthly reflection of this battle is fulfilled in the coming of Alexander the Great, who conquers Persia. But this conversation intimates that the real struggle had already begun on the level of the heavens. He also notes that the only help he is getting in this cosmic struggle comes from “Michael your prince.”

St. Paul, in his letter to the Ephesians, says:

For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. (Eph. 6:12)

He also makes an allusion to this aspect of reality in 1 Cor.:

Howbeit we speak wisdom among them that are perfect: yet not the wisdom of this world, nor of the princes of this world, that come to nought: But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom, which God ordained before the world unto our glory: Which none of the princes of this world knew: for had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. (1 Cor. 2:6-8)

“Princes” here does not mean anything earthly. It is the demonic powers who crucified the Lord of glory.

Of note, for me, is the connection between political entities and the principalities. St. Michael is the “Captain of the Lord’s Army,” and is described as “your prince,” meaning, “Israel’s holy protector.” The Orthodox Church addresses him as “Chief Captain of the Bodiless Hosts.”

The modern world has drawn its populations deeply into the matrix of political existence. Prior to the rise of the nation states in the 18th century, the world was generally divided among various monarchies. Territories and peoples often shifted (and life carried on with prayers for tax relief and justice). Only on occasion would a population be drawn into the fever of ethnic identity and loyalty to a ruler. Armies were often hired mercenaries. Nation states, described as democracies, have made the political notion of a nation identical with the people who live in that nation. We are told that “we” are the government and that the army (etc.) fights for “us.”

If we stand back a moment and look at our world from the perspective shown in Daniel, we will understand that the “we” in a nation’s life includes something “off-world” as well. There is something not-so-nice behind many of the machinations of the “earthly” powers. The exact nature of their role is not given to us, but it remains.

One author, exploring this topic, compared the principalities and powers (of this world), to the “garments of skin” in Genesis. The fathers often saw in those garments an expression of God’s provisional arrangement of our life. The man and the woman have been expelled from paradise, but still need protection in this world. The covering they get is the product of a killing. It is not the covering we long for (the righteousness of Christ, sometimes called the “garment of light”). Among the garments of skin are the civil arrangements of our world. The laws protect us (or should), but they cannot save us, make us better people, or bring forward the Kingdom of God. They are useful but lack true goodness. As such, they are, more or less, “necessary evils” or, at best, “permitted less-than-good things.”

This “ruling” aspect of the principalities and powers is clearly a part of the New Testament understanding of the world. Christ tells Pontius Pilate that he would have no power over Him if it hadn’t been given to him from above. But Paul clarifies this. The “powers” acting in and through Pilate are not the Imperial ones in Rome. They are the “princes of this world.” They clearly have their limits. Their darkness can sometimes descend into our midst and reveal just how unholy they are in their intents. They love murder. Where death is rampant, you can be sure of their presence. If the evil of Hitler’s Germany seems more than human, you are right. It was demonic. The prince of Germany unleashed hell on earth.

There is a character to these princes, and they even seem to war among themselves (for reasons we do not know or understand). St. Paul notes that we have a role in that warfare ourselves. Our warfare is not the earthly form that appears in the merely political realm. Our true warfare is to intercede as Daniel did through every means given to us.

An important insight within all of this is that what we ourselves see is not the full extent of the story. Human history is not entirely human. When Pilate questions Christ, he assumes that he is a key player in a human drama. But the true drama is being acted out in the heavens. The entire cosmos surrounds what happens on Golgotha. Our daily lives are no less intertwined in the business of the heavens.

This unmasks the foolishness of modern thought. We have reduced our world to the merely secular, presuming that we ourselves are the driving force of history and that the outcome of things is in our hands. The Church, however, has its “citizenship” in heaven (Phil. 3:20). Actions that might seem out-of-the-way in the light of secular history have more to do with reality than is realized. The offering of the Bloodless Sacrifice at the altar in even the smallest congregation carries more eternal weight in heaven than all the votes cast by men. The outcome of history in Sodom and Gomorrah turned on the possible presence of but ten righteous persons.

We should remember to live lives that matter. Pray. Forgive. Repent. Intercede. Confess. Commune. The Lord sustains the universe through the prayers of the faithful.

Artwork: St. Michael the Archangel by Daniel Mitsui

About Fr. Stephen Freeman

Fr. Stephen is a retired Archpriest of the Orthodox Church in America, Pastor Emeritus of St. Anne Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He is also author of Everywhere Present: Christianity in a One-Storey Universe, and Face to Face: Knowing God Beyond Our Shame, as well as the Glory to God podcast series on Ancient Faith Radio.



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96 responses to “Politics and the Princes of This World”

  1. Allen Long Avatar
    Allen Long

    Thank you, Fr. Stephen for this reminder that our lives are in the intersection of visible and invisible reality. The Mystery of the Incarnation is profound.

  2. Todd Issac Avatar
    Todd Issac

    Thank you Fr. Stephen, this is really fascinating.

    You wrote:
    “One author, exploring this topic, compared the principalities and powers (of this world), to the “garments of skin” in Genesis. The fathers often saw in those garments an expression of God’s provisional arrangement of our life. The man and the woman have been expelled from paradise, but still need protection in this world. The covering they get is the product of a killing. It is not the covering we long for (the righteousness of Christ, sometimes called the “garment of light”). Among the garments of skin are the civil arrangements of our world. The laws protect us (or should), but they cannot save us, make us better people, or bring forward the Kingdom of God. They are useful but lack true goodness. As such, they are, more or less, “necessary evils” or, at best, “permitted less-than-good things.”

    Would you share with us who this one author was?

    Also, I did a quick search on garments of skin in patristic thought, and Gregory of Nyssa and Origen came up a lot. Do you know of a good “go to” guide for looking at this topic more widely in the Fathers? Surely the Fathers thought we needed to “live in the real world,” and that this world, this “real world,” (said with air quotes but with skepticism about the same air quotes) was part of how we are saved. It would be interesting to follow up on how the fathers think about this. The Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture (ed. Thomas Oden) , in 29 volumes and costing 800 bucks, seems to be about the best there is. But I wish there was something more accessible than this. Having used this a bit too, it is sometimes overly selective. I suppose I should look at the Orthodox Study Bible on this, but have not.

  3. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Very provocative and helpful! Thank you Fr Stephen. ‘The kingdom of heaven suffers violence and the violent take it by force’ (Matthew 11:12) I read this a couple of nights ago and wondered what this meant. Perhaps a reference to the multiple layers of the world in which we sojourn.

  4. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    That author (if I remember correctly) was Walter Wink – whose work “Unmasking the Powers” is somewhat interesting. His series on the topic got progressively weirder (in my opinion). But some of the ground work (prior to his conclusions) was quite good. Panayiotas Nellas’ work, Deification in Christ, has a bit on the garments of skin as well.

    The general thought is that the “garments of skin” stand as a metaphor for all the provisions made for us after the fall that are for our safekeeping, but do not make for our salvation. They are useful, even necessary, but not salvific. Oddly, even death itself has something of this function. In Genesis 5-6 we get the idea that our lives are shortened (120 years) so that we might not become too evil.

    In doing studies like this – what you find is bits and pieces, a statement here, another there. I’ve been reading the Fathers now for nearly 40 years. Sometimes things are noted and filed away (mentally). Pulling pieces together, etc., is just part of living with it. It becomes a problem, of course, when asked for chapter and verse. I cannot think of anywhere that this topic is expanded on at length. You can bet, however, if it is found in Origen and Nyssa, that it is a thought that is encountered by many others.

  5. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Indeed – the real warfare is not exactly on this planet.

  6. Kevin Avatar

    Are all nations, as we consider them, associated with fallen angels or demons, or do righteous and fallen angels constantly struggle for the “soul” of a nation at any given time?

  7. Esmée La Fleur Avatar

    “The offering of the Bloodless Sacrifice at the altar in even the smallest congregation carries more eternal weight in heaven than all the votes cast by men. The outcome of history in Sodom and Gomorrah turned on the possible presence of but ten righteous persons. We should remember to live lives that matter. Pray. Forgive. Repent. Intercede. Confess. Commune. The Lord sustains the universe through the prayers of the faithful.”

    Thank you for always helping us to keep things in perspective and focus on what is actually important.

  8. Geri Priscilla Avatar
    Geri Priscilla

    This gave me chills…in a good way. Update on our son-in-law: he came home Saturday with hospice help. But overnight, everything seems to be changing…for the better! It’s a mystery…unable to drink, talk or eat last week, he is doing all of the above this morning. Many are praying for him, of course, and he was anointed with oil from St. John’s reliquary last week. We are in awe. Please pray for him (Lance) and our daughter (Laura). Don’t know what’s going on. It is definitely a gift.

  9. Peter Greenman Avatar
    Peter Greenman

    Jonathan Pageau makes frequent reference to the garments of skin, e.g. here: https://www.orthodoxartsjournal.org/the-cave-in-the-nativity-icon/, and also in his videos.

  10. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    I’m not sure there’s an answer to that. My thoughts are that the principalities are perhaps somewhere in between, with motives and aspirations that we do not understand. St. Michael is associated with Israel (God’s people – not necessarily the same thing at all as the modern nation state that uses that name). Instead, in the NT, he is the angel of the Church and fights for us. I daresay that no nation stands entirely on the Lord’s side.

  11. juliania Avatar

    Thank you so much, Father Freeman, for this eloquent post reminding us of the unseen warfare that hovers over our turbulent times.

    As a very amateur Greek scholar, it always fascinated me that the final New Testament work is entitled ‘Apocalypse’ – which in essence has one meaning of ‘from the island’ in my mind, as recalling that Odysseus commences his journey home from war from the island of Calypso. (I hasten to add it probably doesn’t have this particular meaning for anyone other than me.) To continue – this did give me the idea that the word as a whole could indicate what in my native land is called the ‘paramoana’, the land which is revealed when the sea draws back at low tide. (And here you have the common meaning for the term, ‘revelation’, as expressed in physical terms of land and sea.) To the Maori of New Zealand, where I was born, this extension of their small place of habitation is very sacred.

    And to me, it was very natural for Saint John to have been writing an apocalyptic work in exile on Patmos, where he had come by force, already having experienced some part of the cataclysmic persecutions of Christians, his dearest friends, all over the empire. So he wrote, as the seas pounded the shores and drew back, again and again, often in storms of a violent extent, apocalyptically.

    My grandmother was part native, and she wasn’t Orthodox, but as a child I remember her telling me that to read the Apocalypse of Saint John counted as a great blessing. So, I did that, finding it an extremely difficult task at that age.

    How many grandmothers would set such an assignment? Now I realize that she had very recently lost her eldest son in the second world war. She wanted to prepare me, perhaps, for what life could hold in store.

  12. Byron Avatar

    Geri, Glory to God! It is wonderful to hear this news of your son-in-law!

    Father, the first thing that jumped into my mind while reading this was the Space Trilogy by C.S. Lewis! I wonder if there are people, on “both sides” who are aware of these battles?

    There is so much to consider here, but the root seems to be: “We should remember to live lives that matter. Pray. Forgive. Repent. Intercede. Confess. Commune.” This, I expect, is the only real way we take part in these conflicts….

  13. Nes Avatar

    I’ve never understood why these principalities would fight against God. Don’t they have great wisdom? Don’t they know they are fighting a battle in which they will ultimately lose? Who decides to do direct combat with their Creator?

    Humans at least have an excuse—we are embodied and share nature with animals: we don’t have epistemological certainty about God and his power and we are subject to fleshly passions that often control us. But the angels seem to have no such excuse.

    It’s always struck me as odd. What’s their goal in all this? Or do they know something we do not?

  14. Simon Avatar

    It is an interesting way to contextualize Christian action. Given that governmental and political agencies (kingdoms of the world) are being orchestrated by invisible powers, then how can a person(s) ever really interfere with or change the course of history of those things? Start an special interest group? Sway the direction of voter turn out? How does one ‘wrestle against principalities, powers, rulers of the darkness of this age, and wickedness in the heavenly places’?

    Therefore, take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Stand therefore, having girded your waist with truth, having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; above all, taking the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God; praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints.

    To me this sounds like we have a position that we stand on and we guard that position with prayer and watchfulness. Sooo…that seems very inward. The challenges come from without, but we meet them from within.

  15. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    My only thoughts in that direction is to suggest that embrace more of our ignorance. What precisely do we mean by angel/archangel/principality, etc.? We only have the few stories of their intersection with us and that only gives us the “need to know” sort of stuff.

    My primary thought in the article is to rebuke our secular thoughts – our imaginings that the world is simply as we see it – and that it is “our” world and that it’s management is up to us. We are a small part of a great drama. Our part is magnified and drawn to the center in the Incarnation of Christ. But the whole story is not given to us.

    What is the purpose of so much else in the universe? We are wrong to consider it as only “so much stuff.” Everything has its “logos” its direction and creaturely purpose. Awe and wonder are our chiefest and most proper responses.

  16. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Yes. I think one of the mistakes of modernity (primarily created by the illusions of mass media) is that we actually see the “big picture.” We see nothing of the sort. The “big picture” would mean positively everything in the picture, to the tiniest detail. In fact, we only see movie stars, and their political equivalents, or whomever among us little ones has been exalted into the limelight at any given moment. We think of “political action” and focus on the big people, when, it is inevitably all the “little people” who pay the price in the collateral damage of our make-believe action.

    It’s not a hard rule, but there is a reason to pay attention most of all to what is at hand. It is the realization that we only live at hand and not from some satellite world-view. We do good, primarily where we are, because that is the true arena of our lives. Doing good where I am, I have to pray and depend on God to take care of where I am not. It is, in the end, admitting the limitations of our existence.

  17. MamaV Avatar

    I love the Space Trilogy. Thanks for mentioning it! 🙂

  18. David Waite Avatar
    David Waite

    Much for me to ponder, Father. My first reaction was fear. “What kind of weirdness have I gotten myself into?”

  19. David Waite Avatar
    David Waite

    Yet, faith is trust.

  20. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    David Waite,
    Thank you! I’ve been waiting all day for someone to bring up the weirdness factor. First, the weirdness belongs to the Scriptures. We read passages such as Ephesians 5, speaking about spiritual warfare in the heavenly places, and, somehow either think we know what it means or never bother to actually consider it. What I’ve shared is not esoteric or gnostic or some imported idea. It’s just basic stuff – but generally ignored.

    It is also, (since no one has brought it up), not an abandonment of the “one-storey universe,” but an actual example of it. The world does not exist as a secular/neutral/independent entity, but is utterly enmeshed in the heavens (indeed, the area of the “air” is itself thought of as the “first level” of heaven). The adversary is often called the “prince of the power of the air.” He’s down here, doing is deeds, as we well know.

    Most of what I’ve written is about stuff that is “none of our business.” Daniel merely got a quick glimpse. But, because it is none of our business, we live and pray as we are taught.

    But the language of this warfare in woven into the prayers of the Church. We pray for rulers, regardless of who they are, and you will look in vain for Orthodox prayers asking for certain kinds of rulers. Indeed, the Church’s prayers pretty much presume monarchs. And, in truth, governments do what monarchs do, only justifying with the language and window-dressing of democracy. They still send us to war without so much as a “by your leave.” Same with taxes, etc.

    We don’t sweat the details of who’s in office so much because they are only part of the show. They have their own power, but are probably surprised that it is easier to do certain things than others. The playing field is sort of tilted. People are often thinking in terms of conspiracy. My own thoughts are that their imaginations do not go high enough in the vein. We, in fact, know that we are being conspired against, and Christians should never think otherwise.

    The myth is that, somehow, we have taken charge of history and it is ours to do with what we will. We have “wiggle room,” I think, but not nearly so much as we think. We are free – but free on a tilted field. There is a direction to history that has been made known to us by Christ Himself and affirmed by the Apostles. We are not given to know exactly where we are in terms of history, but we can rest assured it is not a story of gradual progress until things reach a wonderful paradise. Quite the opposite.

    It would be wrong (and truly weird) if I were to suggest that we stop and pay attention to these things that we know so little about and which are none of our business. My point in having brought it up is to unmask the futility of the secular vision. We can only do so much. We are not masters of our own destiny nor the arbiters of history’s outcome.

    We do well to pay attention to where we live, how we live, how we pray, how we give, how we love. My pastoral interest rests in the madness that has gathered people into political passions. We are being played for fools and directed towards delusion (not by one group or another, but by the whole process). That “process,” if you will, is more the work of hidden powers. The principalities and powers ultimately don’t care what happens in some election – so long as we keep electing the same kind of people and thinking about the whole thing in the same way. So long as we do not repent and come to our senses they are fine.

    But, it’s not the sort of thing to bring up in a discussion with the average group of friends out there. They’ll lock you up.

  21. Kevin Avatar

    Another of those “weird” things is when Paul describes his vision of the Third Heaven and hearing things that were unlawful for men to repeat. What could that have been? We kind of gloss over it as poetic language, but what could possibly be said in Heaven that cannot be repeated on earth if Christ has done His work?

    Another question that comes to mind: does Orthodoxy have the same idea of “territorial spirits” you might find in certain charismatic Protestant belief systems, and are there generational curses? There is certainly the idea of angelic powers at the national level, but is there any warrant for preachers to be walking around neighborhoods casting demons out of buildings? Years ago, I encountered this stuff in The Bondage Breaker and it seemed like a demons under every rock worldview. The Athonite monks might agree, though, but what they do really ticks the demons off, so there may be demons under many rocks on Mount Athos–some perhaps put there by the monks themselves. The average person may rarely encounter a demon or ever be made aware of one’s existence, which might in itself be a bad sign.

  22. Janine Avatar

    Thank you Father. What a good exposition of the power of prayer (and the rest of the things that you name at the end of the article).

    I will add one quotation: “By their fruits you will know them.”

    The really amazing thing is how some things seem obvious in the Gospels from a spiritual point of view. But they’ll never be obvious to those without the eyes and ears to see. I’m certain it’s all playing out still. What an awesome mystery. When you think of it in this way, it seems clear that the options you recommend are the best options we have in the midst of it.

  23. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    We stand in such a fearsomely wonderful place in the Divine Liturgy! A priest does what an angel does not dare to do.

    There is a story about an old priest who, in serving the liturgy, made a particular mistake each time (I cannot remember what it was just now). This old priest was very holy and angels commonly stood by him as he served (though not visible to others). Some young priest noticed the mistake and pointed this out to the old priest, who accepted the correction with great humility. Later, when serving again, he turned to the angel that was often with him and said, “Why did you never point this out to me?” The angel replied, “I’m only an angel. Who am I to correct a priest?”

  24. Janine Avatar

    Hahaha! But it’s so true what you say. As for me, there are some people I’ve had decades of pain and frustration from (you know, some old family stuff). And it’s in the middle of the liturgy that is the place I find myself forgiving and prayer, separating sin from sinner and remembering my love for them. Just there. I don’t even have to understand the language of the liturgy either for this to happen!!! sigh.

  25. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Fr Stephen,
    I was thinking of bringing up the “one storey universe” but wrote “layers of the world”. The “one storey” is a better phrase I think, because it provides a better conceptual model of the reality.

    I’ve been doing a quick google search for the Orthodox Tradition on the ‘kingdom of heaven’ to find out whether this notion I’m contemplating is something I concocted or read it somewhere. As I’m about to write what the notion is, I hesitate because I know I’m about to describe something about which I barely have any understanding. So here goes:

    Is there in the Tradition somewhere a notion that heaven is in a dimension at a kind of ‘right angle’ to our own? In which both occupy the same space, allowing angels and humans to contact each other, among other things such as speaking to those who have reposed, etc. –I hope I haven’t accidentally delved into New Age stuff, somewhere along the way.– In some ways, this notion ‘works’ for me as a model, but I want to know whether it fits within Orthodox Theology.

    I enjoy reading the OT story about Tobit. These next questions might seem silly, but they have been on the ‘back burne’r of my mind for asking what the Tradition my say: But I have wondered, how does one know one speaks with an angel, as apposed to something (or someone) else? How would one differentiate? Is it better for someone like myself (young in the faith), if I should have any such similar experience to say ‘it’s just my imagination’?

  26. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    asking for what the Tradition *might* say

  27. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    What an awesome post Father…and great comments. .
    I had the same question as Kevin about the spiritual warfare ministries. I encountered this in a couple of churches I went to. I think your view on this is pretty clear though: “It would be wrong (and truly weird) if I were to suggest that we stop and pay attention to these things that we know so little about and which are none of our business.” But admittedly, it is all so very alluring. Even the disciples boasted about their ability to cast out demons.
    Father, you direct us well, to repent, pray, forgive, and attend to “things” locally. And to just be aware, as St. Paul says, to walk circumspectly.

  28. Kevin Avatar

    Instead of “spiritual warfare,” maybe we should call what they do “spiritual paintball.” What they’re doing is incredibly stupid and dangerous when you consider the 2,000 years of Church experience in the matter. You don’t just go yelling at demons inside someone in a crowded room and you certainly better not do it if there’s even the tiniest sin or unconquered passion in your life. Even Paul wasn’t quick to cast a demon out and the result of finally doing so was a distraction from his work. Sure, people saw a show, but it generally just stirred them up and created hassles Paul really didn’t need.

  29. Mihai Avatar

    Father Stephen,

    I really don’t know what to say about this. You mention garments of skin in connection to those powers and principalities.
    While these garments are indeed something less-than-good but I don’t think God would ever appoint demonic entities even to temporally rule over nation. That wouldn’t even classify as a necessary evil- that would be a complete evil.

    Perhaps there is a struggle, like someone suggested, over the soul of each nation, but not that demons are specifically appointed to rule over nations.

    Also, I understand the passage in John regarding Pilat to refer to God, that is God allows this to happen.
    I don’t think Christ is saying that the power from above refers to demons channeling their power through him- but that God is the ruler of all history.

    In any case, the passages in Daniel are very difficult, I don’t even know which of the Fathers and how they treat them, but just starting from them, I wouldn’t draw any definite conclusion.

  30. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    “Spiritual paint ball” – love it.

  31. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    I’m not aware of anything in the Tradition that speaks of that.

  32. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    And yet God permitted death to reign until His Pascha. There is so much in this that we do not know – though the Daniel passage is not that opaque. Indeed, regarding Pilate, Christ is referring to God. But the “princes of this world” in St. Paul – the one’s who crucify are heavenly = not earthly.

    Also, “demon” is probably not the right way to think about these principalities and powers. They’re not the same thing. I could say much more but it would not be useful or proper, I think.

    I understand your reservations. I would caution anyone from much speculation on this topic. Our knowledge about this is quite liminal – mostly because it’s none of our business. The little we do know (and this is my point) suggests that there is much, much more to the world in which we live than we imagine. And so, my encouragement at the end of the article remains the best path in life.

  33. Dino Avatar

    regarding differentiating:
    Even those mature in the faith, with spiritual discernment and with experiential knowledge of escalations and reductions of Grace to compare to, would still consult with another who is experienced. We see that the very Mother of God goes to Elisabeth, or the ‘first after the One’ – as Chrysostom called Paul – going to Ananias, remember.

  34. Mihai Avatar

    Well death can be described as a necessary evil, and is often so described by the Fathers: it puts a limit to sin and evil.

    But demons ruling over whole peoples, who instigate all kinds of evils and cause the loss of so many souls, that certainly doesn’t qualify as such.

  35. Mihai Avatar

    You seem to have edited your reply after I responded.

    Ok, we’ll leave it at that.

  36. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    I agree…it is incredibly stupid and dangerous. What is more incredible to me is that they believe wholeheartedly that they are doing good. Of coarse, this is a perfect image of delusion. But what is most incredible is the mercy of God. If it weren’t for His restraining the power over these entities, they would all be overcome in the blink of an eye. They are playing with a demonic fire of angelic strength, and have no clue. None. I’m not the sharpest knife in the box, but I knew from the beginning this was just not “kosher”. One thing, the ones doing the “warfare” were not exactly ones that I would want to emulate…they were quite troubled themselves. But it is very easy for people to get involved in this…for one, they are not guided by 2000 yrs of Tradition (as you say), so what they are doing is outside the protection of the Church, even though they invoke Jesus’ name and base their performance on scriptural accounts. When they hear the “possessed” speaking in “another” voice, having bodily manifestations of possession and then bodily reactions when the demon “departs” from the possessed, is incredibly alluring; two, this dealing with demons and believing they have power over them feeds the ego tremendously. That right there I believe is a very strong force…and of coarse the cunning intent of the one they blindly serve. Yes, God’s mercy is the only reason they can breath their next breath.

  37. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    sorry….*breathe* their next breath.

  38. Drewster2000 Avatar


    I’ve never understood why these principalities would fight against God. Don’t they have great wisdom? Don’t they know they are fighting a battle in which they will ultimately lose?

    This is a great question. I don’t claim to know anything about the principalities but I do know that with human beings, there is a blindness that comes through practice/habit. In verses like Ephesians 4:18, God tells us that if we continue to harden our hearts toward something, we come to the point where our understanding is darkened concerning it.

    This seems to be one of those principles whereby we were created. To use a trivial everyday example, I remember when I first moved into my own place as a young man. There was a period of time when the alarm would go off in the morning and I would end up hitting the snooze bar about 5 times. It got to the point where I simply couldn’t hear the alarm beeping at all anymore. In fact I finally had to stop using the alarm for a couple of weeks in order to regain my “hearing” of it again – and never use the snooze button again.

    I think it’s quite possible that even principalities can have minds which are darkened to obvious truths through a continual hardening of their hearts to these things.

  39. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Thank you Fr Stephen and Dino. I appreciate your experience and knowledge on these matters.

  40. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Regarding dimensionality, I’m often immersed in the ‘unseen’ aspects of our reality in physics. I can’t help contemplating these things with a faithful heart, especially when I think I might have come upon them in scripture or other writings in Orthodox theology. But when I ‘flesh them out’ in my own thinking, I don’t want to go too far afield from the Church’s teachings. This is exactly why I ‘check-in’ as I have done above, and again, thanks to both Fr Stephen and Dino.

  41. Debra Anderson Avatar
    Debra Anderson

    ‘Actions that might seem out-of-the-way in the light of secular history have more to do with reality than is realized. The offering of the Bloodless Sacrifice at the altar in even the smallest congregation carries more eternal weight in heaven than all the votes cast by men.’

    It is so very helpful to hear a clear voice in the midst of such chaos – live small, focus locally, forgive, repent, intercede, confess, commune. Please keep teaching us how to live right side up, reminding us that we live in an upside down modern world – thank you, thank you, thank you.

  42. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Please forgive for these several entries of comments:
    Having not been exposed to the religious activities of people who profess that they are Christians and yet conduct non-Christian lives (we all do this to some extent) that fall way out of the proverbial norm of Orthodox life, I’m blown away by the conversation between Paula AZ and Kevin that describe these activities. This phenomena appears to be part of the general frenzy we see everywhere in this society, which shows itself in varied forms.

  43. Janine Avatar

    I’m not exactly certain what practices this conversation is referring to which are described as spiritual warfare, but I can guess based on some television programs I’ve seen on “modern” American-style exorcism.

    It just seems so typical in some sense. Spiritual warfare, as I understand it, is what the monks of the desert practiced by facing themselves and their own struggles. You know, the blindness of the plank in our own eye that we need to address in order to have the ability to correct and help others, to have discernment. Any spiritual gift is going to come from this, and it’s what the practices Father Stephen mentions above, are really shoring up and helping us with. At least that’s what I thought.

    But it’s so typical, because it’s all about what’s out there and not what’s “in here.” In a way that fits a great deal of the pattern of modern heresy. If humility is the greatest virtue of classical understanding of our faith, how does one build faith without it? No matter how well-intentioned, it’s similar to the blind leading the blind, wouldn’t you say? Please correct if I am mistaken in this.

  44. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    I’ve received some interesting reading suggestions in this vein that I’ll be following up on…we’ll see if it fills in the blanks better.

  45. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Mihai, Nes, et al.
    One parallel to this aspect of the principalities and powers are the simple “laws” of the universe (or so we call them). We treat such things in an impersonal manner, thinking of them as “forces,” etc., in a purely materialistic manner. On the other hand, Christ does not “make” the winds and the seas be still, they “obey” Him. A modern reads this as metaphorical speech – but I take it quite literally. What we think of as the laws and forces driving wind and wave have yet another character about them (that we also perceive materially) such that they can “obey.” This aspect of creation is not good or bad – it’s sort of neutral. Though when a tsunami wipes out your town, killing your family, it doesn’t feel very neutral. The number of “nature” miracles among the saints, and a few of the conversations with holy elders (such as Porphyrios), suggest much more along the lines of something trans-material being involved in these things.

    I do not think it appropriate to attribute to them the “intelligence” of the angels – (they’re more like a force) – but, neither are they merely the stuff of the material universe. The same with the principalities and powers. They do not govern the nations with an absolute writ of raw, random, chaotic freedom. They have their limits beyond which they cannot go. But, within those limits, they can be troublesome. It is particularly the case when human wills start having converse with them. Hitler’s Germany became enamoured of the mythic and archetypal elements of Teutonic lore, both a mix of paganism and a bit of satanic nonsense. I think they called dark powers down on themselves and their nation that carried them to a great pitch of madness. Some of these powers are quite old. Some are not. America is young – but we should not imagine that modernity is of purely human origin. It is not. Its hallmark includes a love a death (a “culture of death” in the worlds of John Paul II). I am fearful, for example, when we invoke certain patriotic themes without restraint. The “prince” of America wears red, white and blue – you can rest assured.

  46. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    “Christ does not “make” the winds and the seas be still, they “obey” Him. A modern reads this as metaphorical speech – but I take it quite literally. What we think of as the laws and forces driving wind and wave have yet another character about them (that we also perceive materially) such that they can “obey.””

    Father, is this what you meant @ July 9, 2018 at 2:45 pm, where you mentioned the logos of created things? So in that these forces of nature we speak about are actually according to their logos (their mode of existence), hence neutral? But something is the cause of all this. Would it be best to say these events are Providential? Also, the “allowance” of the principalities to act within limits, including people who converse with them (who I think are greatly tempted with power and control) Providential…God working things out in ways beyond our understanding?
    Thank you Father for your hearty comments. Such food for thought….

  47. Karen Avatar

    “My own thoughts are that their imaginations do not go high enough in the vein. We, in fact, know that we are being conspired against, and Christians should never think otherwise.”

    Yes. My thoughts as well.

  48. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Thank you for this elaboration, Fr Stephen, to Mihai and Nes. I find your words provide a helpful distinction: how the forces are not made to conform but that they obey Christ. This is important.

    In this vein of what you have written I think of the words chosen to describe Christ’s action and words: (Mark 4:39)

    “Then He arose and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, Peace be still!”

  49. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    To Janine…I do not think you are mistaken at all. I think because we are in need of healing, humility needs to be learned and taught. That the desert monks who deal with these entities are taught “how” to be humble, first, by obedience to a spiritual father even before becoming established in a routine/rule of prayer and labor/working with the hands (correct me if I’m wrong) is the very thing that is missing in those who are involved in these warfare ministries. They are not subject to obey an experienced elder, who themselves have descended from those who have had these mystical experiences of, for example, the uncreated light…no, they do not recognize this tradition. Neither do they believe in purification, illumination and theosis, union with and participation with the Divine nature as the utimate goal of their warfare. Their goal is simply to cast out “demons” and guide the person to “believe” in the Holy Spirit for protection without the covering of the Sacraments and/or the Church. So yes, they were taught, or rather, have learned by observing others who have these ministries, but they obey no one in particular. So where the humility?
    Janine, I thought the same thing, that it is like the blind leading the blind. We, every one, needs the covering, protection, and guidance we have in the Church. It is nothing to boast about, but to be very very thankful for….because none of us deserve it.

  50. Mark M. Avatar
    Mark M.

    Lossky has a great bit in Mystical Theology, how we see these things radically differently from inside the Church than from outside. From outside, what you can see is labeled Providence with Miracles and maybe a very occasional demon (though the non-Pentecostal Protestants operate as though demons were not a legitimate possible explanation for anything). From inside, we see the Divine Energies pouring through all creation and catch glimpses of the invisible battles waged over souls and creation. The apocalypse shows us the dragon going off to make war against the children of the woman, and woe to the earth for his wrath is great.

    Earlier in my road to from Protestantism to Orthodoxy, I used to be unsettled by the angel prayers (I had sort-of gotten used to the saint prayers). Now I am so glad for them. It’s like remembering to be thankful for your kidneys… they are always silently doing complicated work, and boy do you need them.
    In Christ,

  51. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Paula AZ
    The mystery of Providence would seem to be that despite all of our abuses of freedom, He works in all things for our salvation. He “has set limits and bounds to the seas,” etc. In the Old Testament, the seas are also a constant threat of chaos. We do not live in a chaotic world, but in an ordered world. The ordered world we live in, however, is ordered by more than the mute laws of physics, etc. There is this other dimension to the whole thing. One of the temptations of modernity has been to forget so much that we once knew about such things (prior to scientism) and to presume that everything that could be known was the same thing as all there is to know.

    CS Lewis in his Space Trilogy, is not being entirely creative in his imaginary account of the worlds. He is drawing on the older tradition of things, even if he mythologizes it for the sake of the novels. What is new about this is that modernity, including most Biblical/spiritual writings in modernity, have forgotten it. Of course, the memory of Pentecostalism is defective – even when their instincts are not.

    In a conversation with another clergyman today, it was suggested that I direct people to just read the prayers said over the water in Holy Baptism. This understanding is echoed throughout the text.

  52. Kevin Avatar

    Beyond the “spiritual paintball” ministries, the general paradigm of many churches is similar–no sense of eldership or guidance for pastors. I was thinking about Justin Bieber’s engagement and that brought to mind his “celebrity pastor” at Hillsong. Those guys like Lentz, Furtick, etc., are really out on their own and having to make it up as they go. In God’s Providence, people might find some truth, but it’s not surprising when the whole ministry implodes because of scandal. The Bible, the Fathers, the Saints, the clergy, and the laity all act as moderating forces to resist radical changes in direction and prevent one charismatic personality from wrecking the whole thing.

    As for fallen angels, there seems to be confusion about their state. In Jude, they are described as being in chains awaiting the Judgment, but Paul mentions these “Powers of the air” and evil forces in heavenly places. Which is it, then? There’s some borrowing from Jewish apocryphal and apocalyptic literature here, I presume. Another question that came to mind was how angels battle each other. I never thought about that when reading Daniel before. They can’t kill each other because they’re incorporeal, so what do they do? What is an angelic weapon?

  53. Janine Avatar

    Truth is a weapon. A battle for hearts and minds is no joke.

  54. Janine Avatar

    Hi again, Paula,
    It seems like this rigorous “work” within is just not a popular part of our current mindset in general in our culture. And you’re right, we need guidance for it and we need to pray for it IMO.

    I suppose humanity has always tried to make God in our own image, and I for one am susceptible to that too. But God always surprises me, and I suppose that surprise will accompany growth. Mystery is another thing that is missing from popular culture; it’s scary and also weird! There is always a mystery to holiness it seems to me.

  55. Janine Avatar

    Thank you Father for the prayers of Baptism

  56. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Thank you Fr Stephen,
    I note that ‘Putting on Christ’ as a garment are words used in the Baptismal hymn which contrasts with the ‘garment of skin’ that represents our ‘self made world’, which incurs death to ‘others’ (not us whomever and whatever ‘we’ might think we are) for our so called advantage or ‘benefit’.

    And in Baptismal prayer I note that pride and vanity appear in the exorcism as the means by which we fail to follow Christ. This too is important. So much rhetoric and polemic in our society these days and in even our so called mundane conversations invite and involve these passions.

  57. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    Thank you Father Stephen. So, Providence is in fact working all things for the good, despite our misuse of freedom. Thank you too, for reminding us that the world is not chaotic. I think may be chaotic is how our mind processes the vast amount of sensory input. We have trouble seeing our commonality with all things and we tend magnify (understandably) our abuse and misuse of creation, which distorts our perception of its inherent goodness. But the world itself – the sun, moon, stars, the waters, the air, creatures both rational and irrational – is good in and of itself in its perfect order, in an ordered universe. And in that created things exist in their true nature (being calm or forceful), they glorify their Creator (for rational beings, when we live according to our true nature). I get a sense of this as I read the prayer of the Blessing of the Waters of Baptism. Our Creator God orchestrates the entire cosmos. That is awesome, Father. Thank you and the clergyman who recommended that.
    As for modernity obscuring the “other world”, I am reminded of how Charles Taylor speaks about the “age of enchantment” vs our secular age. People who lived prior to modernity simply never questioned the existence of the world of spirits. So the blending of the two worlds was a known fact. Their cause and effect was taken for granted.

  58. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Father, does the Book of Job give an account of how the “Princes” work and their limits?

  59. Mark Avatar

    Your blog seems to fit fairly well in an anabaptist perspective, and I am personally convinced by it, but I find it more difficult to argue for such an approach to the state using the Church Fathers. I find the best support for it in the pre-Constantantinian church tradition. Cyprian has some great stuff. George Kalantzis’s book Ceasar and the Lamb is very good. But still…it seems like after Constantine, this was NOT the standard interpretation of the state.

    Have you found anything from a recent Church Father to support your interpretation of the state?

    I’m probably more radical than you. I actually agree with Jacques Ellul’s “anarchism”! I’ve just consigned myself to live with the fact that I can only get the Pre-Constantinian Church fathers to even come remotely CLOSE to my position. I just feel like if we are for non-violence, then we must be anti-state because that’s all that the state has at its disposal (or the threat thereof).

  60. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Don’t know.

  61. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    I guess I’m wondering about what you’ve read post-Constantinian that contradicts this. There’s not a lot of Church/State stuff, really. And there’s a lot of Church/Emperor which is a very different thing. The Emperor/Tsar can be spoken of in certain ways because he is a Churchman and a believer. I think there’s some bad stuff down that pike, but it’s not the same pike as modern nation-state stuff.

    But, I’ll share a short anecdote. I was sitting with the late Archbishop Dmitri of Dallas (whom many of us believe to be a saint). I asked him about the Orthodox Church as the “state church.” “Well,” he said, “On the whole, we’ve never found it to work out.”

    Patristic material has to be read with a critical eye in certain regards. Post-Constantine has to be read along with Pre-Constantine. There is no “evolution” of dogma. Plenty of Emperors turned out to be heretics and did real damage. Justinian was not a heretic but did almost as much damage in his efforts to enforce Orthodoxy, some of which has continued into this very day.

    It has always been the case, and remains so, that taking a human life is wrong. Even in service of the state in a so-called “just” cause, a soldier should do penance before returning to the Cup if he has taken a life. The state cannot be identified with the Church, much less the Kingdom of God. It is provisional, always, at best. I have noticed lots of bad theology out there among many Orthodox that flows from an effort to somehow (in various ways and forms) marry Orthodox Tradition with a political tradition (monarchy, conservatism, ethnic homeland, etc.). Indeed, to some degree, this article is meant to say that it cannot be done. The state is never(!) pure. It is always coercive. That it can be less coercive, and promote justice, etc., is true. But efforts to make of it more than that are, I think, wrong.

    There are some very dark forms of this bad theology, including neo-Nazis, who should be expelled from the Church without hesitation (I have this from a formal statement of my Holy Synod).

    I’m not an Anabaptist, though I studied with Stanley Hauerwas who was greatly influenced by Yoder. I think what I write stands firmly and securely within Orthodoxy, even though certain elements haven’t been expressed this way in a very long time. For one thing, Orthodoxy is utterly new to the realm of the nation-state and really hasn’t had a chance to think it through. Kings and monarchs at least believed that their authority derived from God. The modern nation state thinks its authority is derived from the “consent” of the governed (even if most of the governed didn’t vote). It is a completely secular understanding of power and authority – one that is ultimately unchecked and unanswerable to God. It is its own God. So, we have to think more carefully about this. I hope what I write is suggestive to some about how to think about our place in this modern world.

  62. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Fr Stephen,
    I’m so grateful you’ve written this article and comments and this includes the latest to Mark. I’m hopeful and praying more priests will follow your leadership regarding resisting participation to the political ends of particular groups in the current political fracases.

    I grieve over Orthodox clergy who are wowed by the passions that others stir up.

  63. Janine Avatar

    There were even Byzantine emperors who were excommunicated for a time after doing battle. There was a rite (which some suggest should be revived) for “receiving” a soldier back into society that I believe you may be referring to, Father, which included formally removing his soldier’s garments and weapons and putting on civilian clothes in addition to penance. This might help our society a great deal if one thinks about problems of returning soldiers.

    FWIW if we look at the Councils, most of the time the emperors seemed to lose out (for instance, Arius was favored not only by Constantine but also a couple of successors).

    Maybe too much information, but here’s an interesting article on St. Basil’s recommendations regarding participation in warfare by Fr. McGuckin

  64. Mike Avatar


    Coincidentally, and for a different reason, I became interested in the “garments of skin” that covered Adam and Eve. I asked a friend of mine who knows Hebrew what the actual word in Genesis meant. The answer astonished me: the word is pronounced the same way but can be spelled out in at least two ways. There are silent symbols attached to the word. Written one way it means “skin,” as in the skin we have on our bodies. Written another way it means “light.”

  65. Dino Avatar

    The tradition is that (whether divinely appointed like King David, installed like Nero or Mao, or even elected), we ought to spiritually consider all governance –both virtuous as well as torturous– as God’s will: ultimately a blessing (that is often in a hard-to-fathom-at-the-time, pedagogic disguise). Our faithlessness becomes manifest in any other case.

  66. Dino Avatar

    Of course, and since it is the day of the falling asleep in the Lord of Elder Sophrony, it’s perhaps worth additionally mentioning that being thankful and trusting in God, while under a torturous governance (or in the face of the concealed desperation of a Huxleyan -rather than Orwellian- governance, as is the case in the majority of consumerist affluent countries) is clearly a “keeping one’s mind in hell and despairing not”.

  67. Agata Avatar

    One of my favorite stories/sayings about Father Sophrony (as related by his spiritual descendants at his monastery) is that he advised against phrasing any of our questions towards God with the word “why” (why is this happening, to me, to others, in the world?) but rather to ask “how?”. “How can I bear and endure, how should I act in a given difficult situation in a way that is pleasing to You, my Lord?”
    I found it to be such a healthy and helpful approach, even if difficult in many life situations.

    May we have his holy prayers especially today on this day he departed! His presence in the monastery is so strong and so deeply felt in his spiritual children. I had a great blessing to visit recently, actually just about a week ago. I prayed for his blessing for all friends here on this blog. 🙂

  68. Dean Avatar

    Good to see you’re back home! Thanks for your prayers for all of us. Lord knows I need them.

  69. David Waite Avatar
    David Waite

    God grant me the humility to accept in faith such wisdom of my spiritual fathers as I cannot understand.

  70. David Waite Avatar
    David Waite

    I thought of Flannery O’Connor this morning, and much of this came into focus. I suspect that it was not an accident that I came upon her picture.

  71. biermonk Avatar

    For those interested in an Orthodox understanding of angels, I recommend “The Holy Angels” by Mother Alexandra (Light and Life Publishing.)

    Mother founded Holy Transfiguration monastery in Elwood City PA. Fr. Hopko served there after retirement.

    The book has three sections: Angels in the Old Testament, the New, and the Church. The Church section covers the Fathers, the Liturgy (east and west), and Art.

    The section on Art traces the de-evolution of angels in icons and frescoes into the effeminate harp players and floating fat baby heads of western paintings.

  72. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    Father…I thank you as well for your response to Mark. Thank you for ever pointing us back to the center, to think about our place in the world, which is beyond categories like pacifist, militant, conservative, liberal. While it may be helpful categorize for the sake of comparison, it is so important to see ourselves beyond that, for the Kingdom of God is much more than an ideal. It is hard not to systematize and compartmentalize our thoughts and look at people only as a member of a certain group. It is written into our nature to ‘belong’ and so we find ourselves searching. I think for many of us, what we found in Orthodoxy was way beyond our expectations. Her wisdom and knowledge about God, salvation, life, eternity, creation, time, beginnings, fulfillment, is not exclusive to the world but inclusive of all things…people, tribes, nations, tongues, polity, worship, not to forget nature/ecology, and the arts. It is truly universal. It is almost overwhelming to contemplate, yet at the same time, a wondrous joy.
    So Father, you bring up a good point that I think many of us have not yet considered:
    “Orthodoxy is utterly new to the realm of the nation-state and really hasn’t had a chance to think it through. Kings and monarchs at least believed that their authority derived from God.” And now we are governed by a godless entity, a modern nation-state. Still, Orthodoxy, like you said, has not “evolved”…and all the things I just mentioned above still stands. So, in light of Orthodoxy being new to the nation-states, are we making an effort to think this through? How does this play itself out, I guess is what I am asking. Does this ‘thinking it through’ occur both though discussions within the Church as well as with the passage of time? (Boy, I’m having trouble forming the question. I hope you can pull out what I’m trying to ask). Do you yourself have informal discussions with others on this issue, like the one you had with your Bishop? I hope so Father, because I’ve not heard anyone else speak about these things. I wish I could say how thankful I am to you. You have an amazing understanding of things and the ability to express it where we can understand.
    I think I need to correct in myself a sense of urgency, because after all, Orthodoxy is not going to be extinguished. God has brought us through all the trials, great tribulation, and bloodshed throughout the years. I just wonder about that statement you made.

  73. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    I think this is happening in fits and starts. Everything in Orthodoxy is slow. People should remember that the largest part of the Orthodox world has only been free of state oppression (all of them “democracies”) since 1990, more or less. The Russian Orthodox Church produced a document on Basic Social Teaching of the Orthodox Church. To date, it is the most thorough, authoritative treatment of the topic. The Russian setting is quite interesting. From a persecuted institution to shortly being looked to for the moral and spiritual foundations of a new Russia – they have had to rush to get things together. Nearly 30,000 Churches have been rebuilt or newly built – almost 1000 monasteries opened. Seminaries constructed (there were only 2 before 1989). Nothing in the history of Christianity can be compared to what has happened there in the past 30 years.

    It must be remembered that it’s only 30 years. Nothing matures in 30 years. I should be noted that the same Church is currently the target of unmitigated negative propaganda in the West. Fox News, just last week, had a guest editorial that spoke of an “open window to preaching the gospel” in Russia during the World Cup games – as if the state was still atheist and opposed to the Church. Religion is taught in schools there. Solzhenitsyn is required reading. The West is full of make-believe, delusion and commercial Christianity, bent on bringing the whole world into its market.

  74. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    Thank you so much Father. Your response is very encouraging. And thank you for the link…can’t wait to read it!
    The statistics you quote of Church growth in Russia are just amazing, in light of what Russia has gone through. Those people must have some strong resolve…they come from”good stock” as the backbones of societies say!
    Yeah, I notice very much how main-stream news talks about Russia, especially of late. The few locals here who I know from my Protestant days become very silent when they here our congregation consists of Arabs, Russians, Serbians, Romanians…oh I can just imagine their thoughts! They suddenly stiffen up. How I wish they knew….

  75. Dean Avatar

    Yes, thank you Father for your words on Russia. Besides all the Church has given me spiritually, I too am like Paula when it comes to how many of the world’s nationalities have become real to me. We were first brought into Orthodoxy through a Serbian congregation. Many warm, welcoming folks. A couple years later the conflict in Kosovo began. Did the Serb govt do wrong in this conflict? Of course. But the news coverage was decidedly anti- Serb and pro Muslim. What happened in Kosovo was a tragedy…for many on both sides.
    At the monastery we attend there are Russians, Greeks, Lebanese, Serbs, Ukrainians, and others, including heinz 57 variety Americans like me. I so much appreciate the widening of my view of the world through these wonderful believers. So variegated background, melded into one faith, one baptism, one Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. Thank our gracious God.

  76. biermonk Avatar

    The Jehovah’s Witnesses are a Ponzi scheme / multi-level marketing trap, crossed with a mind control cult. Just like Scientology. Plus, the JW’s adhere to the Arian heresy. Remember that Constantine thought Arianism destructive enough to call for the Council of Nice a.

    BTW, I’m not Russian. My ancestors are Poles and Lithuanians, who were suppressed by Tsarists as well as Bolsheviks.

  77. Simon Avatar

    I know exactly what JWs are…

    I could not care less about accusations of heresy. The fact that the organization is holds to ideas deemed heretical DOES NOT JUSTIFY DEHUMANIZING TREATMENT…or has the Russian Orthodox community already forgotten what that feels like??

  78. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    They’re not arresting people – but they’re certainly discouraging its spread in a variety of ways. I think it seems like an alien encroachment on their culture – and is not always perceived as being what the Orthodox went through. There are plenty of non-Orthodox groups that have complete freedom. But, for whatever it’s worth, there was an effort to slow down the vast avalanche of richly funded outside groups who were rushing into the vacuum created by the fall of the Soviet Union. It was seen as destabilizing and problematic. We can disagree with that, but, at least understand what the thinking is behind it.

    The state was not interested in fostering groups who come in, target the culturally Orthodox and attack an institution that is almost synonymous with Russian culture. That’s generally the explanations I’ve heard and the nature of some of the conversations. The American free-for-all was deeply destabilizing in the 90’s. They’ve slowed it down.

    As to the particular case someone mentioned – without details it would be a mistake to see it as more than an isolated incident, or even an over-zealous policeman. But, leave it to our press to play it up. I recommend the document referenced earlier on the Basic Social Teaching put out by the Russian Church.

  79. Simon Avatar

    I’m no fan of no JWS…

  80. Nicole from VA Avatar
    Nicole from VA

    On September 11th my husband was a student at Georgetown. The campus was immediately evacuated and he has described walking down the hill, across the Key Bridge with many others from campus and seeing smoke coming up from the Pentagon. He has had the sense over the years about terrorists ‘they are not the enemy but the enemy works through them.’

    If anyone has a chance to define Huxlian please do. I was glad to read that comment.

    I have often wondered why people don’t wonder more about WWII. How do we simply move on from that as a culture with such ease….

  81. Todd Issac Avatar
    Todd Issac

    hi Fr S and everybody,

    I just went back and reread Fr S’s post so that I would be sure that I was tracking with it correctly. One of the main points in the piece is that we should avoid the secularist thinking of trying to “make the word a better place, ” a notion we need continual reminder of, and a leitmotif in Fr S’s posts. We are also remined in this post that that the world is not just not political, but that spiritual powers work together with the unfolding of politics. This is a bit tricky because if we follow it to heartily then we are back to trying to “make the world a better” place on our own, and without the humility of the prayer of St. Ephraim and the lenten mentality we really need to cultivate all year long, and not just at Lent.

    On the subject of how the west treats Russia and the Orthodox church, I ran across this video the other day with Danish journalist Iben Thranholm (who’s very interesting) the other day discussing these maters. She has spent lots of time on the ground in Russia, and is very aware, as a European, of what is going on in Europe. I wonder if she is treading the line carefully enough of keeping the the spiritual and political separate enough. When I listen to her I tend to get a bit alarmed and start to see both the left and the right in the West as totoally complicit in the destruction of contemporary soceity. I am aware that I cannot live in fear. But Thranholm reminds us that this is a spritual battle too. At what point do being to over politicize these things and enter the same secularist mindset which we are trying to get out out?


  82. Byron Avatar

    Wonderful link, Todd.

  83. Maria W Avatar
    Maria W

    I can’t think of the right words to say how fascinating I found this whole read with all the comments added. A deep sense of Thank you and wow.
    On the subject of principalities I wonder ……it is so true, battles are being waged and my concern is were will it lead to in my life. If principalities are systems, organs of Law’s, ideologies, religious or otherwise, and minds are fighting for their habitations in this world as in life or death, I often wonder of the religious battles tracing it back to Judaism. If Orthodoxy arose out of Judaism, but the story line about Jesus differs, what will this last war or fight reveal? That death was truly conquered, no bloody wars anymore? Will Judaism and Christianity live in true PEACE together {from the heart} and not in appearance only? Orthodoxy and all other Christians as well? Sometimes I can understand the hatred for us, on the other hand what are we doing wrong? Why have we not been able to communicate and convince others of the wellness of our way of life. ? So many questions remain open with so few answers. Always at war when I don’t want to be at war, always defending myself, my faith, my believe in knowing, and shrugged aside by those who question me and want to know if I had something they didn’t. And it is always to break me, to confess something else, like Science is the highest good or Reality. (though I love Science and the discoveries are fascinating and thankful we now have means to measure and explain some phenomena) Why are we lacking behind in rational and convincing means to explain “Christianity” ? I come to the conclusion that life and death of our faith or Religion is in our God given hands with the Spirit and breath God gave us to sustain it or let it succumb. Europe let it die, Russia is picking it up, so are all the Latin Countries impoverished as they are. But another Christianity will come from it. Orthodoxy may hold the lead there for a while. Will we ever all come together? (sorry for my bleeding heart comment} It pains me to no end.

  84. Esmée La Fleur Avatar

    Saint Paisios said no one can truly be a missionary for the faith until they have experienced communion with Chist themselves. And all the saints I have read say that the best and most effective form of missionary work is to live as a Christian, i.e. love God and love our neighbors. If we can somehow manage to do that (through His grace), I strongly suspect God will take care of the rest.

  85. Maria W Avatar
    Maria W

    Esmee La Fleur,
    Who has the desire to be a Missionary? Most certainly NOT ME! I abhor being put in that position or being their subject. I guess I was not making myself clear. Esmee La Fleur. You must know what others have experienced thru books you read. Others experience without the knowledge of your books. That does not make them automatic a Missionary or gifted for this work, therefore I do not deny others their knowledge of God, experiences or gifts. (not the slightest implication.}

  86. Esmée La Fleur Avatar

    Maria, you said… Why are we lacking behind in rational and convincing means to explain “Christianity”? Yes, that does sound to me like a question about “Missionary” work. Forgive me for misunderstanding you.

  87. Maria W Avatar
    Maria W

    Esmee La Fleur,
    No harm done. I can not talk of a Christianity in the sense that it is so ridiculously violent from the OT to the NT, historically and to the present. I just have to think of my childhood. We live in different Lands as Christians and we kill each other—-collateral damage? What is the life of a Christian to another in another part of the world with different customs, ways, historically different evolutionary developments? Orthodoxy remained mainly in Eastern Europe (and I am over 62% Eastern European) and Russia. Does this give Orthodoxy or any other form of worship or theological development the right to say we are the “True” Church and all other developments are heresy, though some are? God develops his people in different ways, just as we have all different ways of learning or learning abilities and we’ve all gone astray, including me. But once a Child of God, always a Child of God, anything other implied holds a member of any other Church, Orthodoxy or a Priest included, above God. That is to me an a front and a terrible offense to the life that God lives in me and individual others. As a free moral agent I stand to learn and guided my conscience as I am able. And I would like to be respected as such, as I respect you and others here. The Questions remain: How does one explain Christianity rationally, religiously and the political developments to this day, arising from these scriptures that are so insane, with the ongoing life and death story-line. I kept my Religion to myself (it was a private matter), as was custom where I came from, but I am paying the price for it now here in the US where it is not and openly attacked. I have no defenses or learned to defend myself, because I was never attacked like I am here in the US, even from other Churches claiming others are not saved, or have spiritual knowledge, and only a certain FORM, Tenants or Creeds of worship is the true Church. The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, and it includes me. And for that I am thankful whether anyone cares about what my pain is or not. I care and God cares!

  88. Esmée La Fleur Avatar

    Maria – I’m really not understanding what your question is in all of this.

  89. Maria W Avatar
    Maria W

    How do we defend and support Christianity in light of all that is known, has been done in it, or thru it, by Christians. Is Orthodoxy an escape for western Christians (general audiences) from these questions, because it does not know the History, before the split and the times after the split into Catholicism, since it remained in the East for Orthodoxy, but not so for Catholicism . They battled it out continually with Judaism in the west. Are Christians Shell-Shocked by the Truth or feeling dubbed? Perhaps these questions are off the table and too hard to understand for some, deal with or come to terms with. But In order to keep it alive we call on those who’ve lost their lives defending it. The Saints and those who’ve found wellness in-spite, or in the mid’s of these insanities or divisions. Perhaps, Never-mind is a good conclusion here.

  90. Byron Avatar


    I think we, as a society, have gone to such lengths to make the faith intellectual that we no longer have patience for simply living life in Christ. It just takes too long! We all tend to look for a way to explain, and angle to communicate, our faith with the implied desire that it will make sense to others and they will change their ways.

    But the Saints simply lived the faith among the people with whom they shared the land and life. Father has said that the salvation of the world was not given to us; it was given to Christ. We can rest in His accomplishment and work on our own hearts (which, honestly, is not my favorite description of “rest”). This work is evident to those around us. As Saint Seraphim said, “Acquire a peaceful spirit, and around you thousands will be saved.” Orthodoxy is world-wide but that does not mean everyone in the world knows of it. Yet it matters that we live as Christ lived, in Holiness (to the best of our ability).

    Orthodoxy is true. And that is the reason for it being the One Church. But those close to God are careful to not use that in exclusion; we sometimes define the Church as the work of the Holy Spirit. We know what it has revealed, and that is the Orthodox Church, but we do not know what is not yet revealed. God will work as He will and we must walk and live humbly so as to not be a stumbling block.

  91. Esmée La Fleur Avatar

    Ditto everything that Byron has said. That is what i tried to convey with my original comment. The only thing Christ has ask us to do is to love God and love our neighbor. We “defend” our faith by living it.

  92. Maria W Avatar
    Maria W

    thank you for your thoughts.

  93. The Rev. Timothy Fountain Avatar

    Thank you, Father. The “culture wars” that absorb American churches are a defeat for all. We cease to proclaim the kingdom that God alone is bringing, and claim the ability to build it on our own. We are willing to coerce the unwilling to practice what we perceive as holy, all the while rejecting the example and teaching of Jesus and the Apostles, as well as confusing others when we divide to up as chaplaincies to contending political factions.

    The kingdom is not pie in the sky; it certainly calls us to a way of life on earth. But the earthly pie over which we fight as though it is essential is full of empty calories.

  94. Esmée La Fleur Avatar

    “empty calories” – what a great metaphor!

  95. Nicole from VA Avatar
    Nicole from VA

    Thank you for the link Dino

    Father I remember a few years ago you posted that you had just gotten back after a very difficult flight with extreme turbulence. It reminded me of Elder Sophrony who mentioned his experience in a very difficult flight to help console those grieving after a different plane crash. Fr. Tim who visits our parish also told of a flight to Alaska and realizing his cross was hot because of some distress the plane has been thrown into. I was quite amazed to have three such stories. Elder Sophrony used the time of his plane’s distrss to try and thank God for everything. I am grateful for your comments on a small congrgation offering the Divine Liturgy outweighing all the votes of men. A few years ago I learned that participating in the Divine Liturgy is the greatest honor given to humans.

    Agata, the how question you cited has been so wonderful to learn. Thank you.

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