“Knowing With My Knower” – The Nous

Years ago, I had a parishioner whose spiritual life was quite rich and occasionally astounding. She cared for a handicapped husband for years with a gentleness and love that radiated joy to people around them. One of her phrases that has stuck with me was, “I know it with my knower.” It was what she said when she was trying to express a spiritual perception of something she knew to be true. There was no syllogism or reasoned argument: some things she “just knew.” My experiences with her made me pay attention when she “knew” something.

I think there is something in her knowing that is related to what the tradition describes as “noetic” experience. “Noetic,” the adjective from the noun, “nous,” has a range of meaning that is difficult to express. For one, it refers to an aspect of human perception that has been seriously neglected in our modern experience. You cannot read anything in the spiritual writings of the ancient fathers without encountering this word over and over. They wrote with ease about something that seems to have been common knowledge. Things have changed such that it now sounds “esoteric.” I am offering a reflection in this article on the meaning of “noetic” and the reality of the “nous,” for us beginners. I am not trying to give an exhaustive study, much less a definitive treatment. Instead, I want to offer some suggestions and observations that might de-mystify something that is as natural as breathing – only you might not know it yet.

When we actually begin to ask questions about how we know what we know, it quickly becomes obvious that it is difficult to talk about. Indeed, if you turn your attention away from something and towards the attention itself, the whole process has a way of disappearing. Even the simple reality of consciousness completely baffles science as well as philosophy. It baffles them, even though every human being experiences consciousness all the time. And though we can’t quite say what consciousness is, when we use the word, everyone knows what we mean because everyone experiences consciousness.

The nous is a bit like that. The harder you “look” for it, the more likely you are not to find it – it will keep disappearing. That fact makes the whole topic quite frustrating for most people. The truth is, we use many mental/thinking/perceiving terms in a very sloppy manner. When we are driving down the road, paying attention to our position in traffic, road signs, conditions, etc., we are not doing something irrational, but neither are we engaging in active reasoning. When you first start driving and have little experience, you are quite likely to use active reasoning, and just as likely to have an accident because reasoning is too slow for the activity. When we drive, we engage in perception. We are aware of many things, but not entirely aware that we are aware. As soon as we focus on a single thing, we are quite likely to lose the perception of everything else.

There is also the strange experience of memory. It isn’t unusual to be stuck in an effort to remember something. We stop the effort and turn our attention to something else, only to have the memory suddenly pop up by itself. It is, at best, a delayed reaction rather than a “willed” action. It is the action of the will within perception that is worth thinking about.

In our efforts to experience God, we often get frustrated by the ineffectiveness of the will. We “try” to see God, hear God, sense God, etc., and come up empty. A great difficulty in the experience of God lies in the fact that He is not an object. Objects, whether living or not, are there to be observed regardless of what they might want. We can “objectify” anything and anyone…except God. The only objectification of God is the creation of a false idol. Even an icon cannot be seen objectively – at least, not as an icon. As a painting or print, it can be viewed objectively, but that is not an iconic manner of existence. It is the icon’s ability to make present what it represents that makes it iconic. An icon is only seen in the act of veneration.

This ineffectiveness of our willed perception gives rise to statements that would emphasize what noetic perception is not. We simply cannot make God be still so that we can look at Him and know Him in some sort of masterful manner. Neither is our noetic perception something that we do for our own sake. We cannot see God or know God in a manner that “makes Him mine.”

Having said all that, I would put us back into the driver’s seat and our attention on the world as our car moves along. This is a situation in which we frequently find ourselves paying attention though not mastering. We become aware and the awareness is simply there. Frequently, this larger awareness is interrupted as we give close attention to a necessary detail. We are then able to return to the road. Many times we seem to avoid this kind of awareness, finding it boring. We turn on the radio, play a podcast, or do other things that, in one manner or another, distract us. This same habit often carries over into our prayers or participation in the liturgy.

Imagine that you are driving your car through a rural scene. You are generally aware of the beauty of the countryside. Going around a turn, you begin entering a valley of Redwoods, tall, majestic, sublime. You continue in the same manner of driving, but, at a point, the beauty is simply overwhelming and you pull over to just sit quietly in the car.

This last experience is a version of a trip my wife and I had during a series of West-Coast speaking engagements. The experience of sublime beauty has a great affinity for the experience of God.

The word “apperception” was invoked in a recent comment that offered a definition of the nous. I prefer Vladimir Lossky’s definition of faith as a way of approaching an understanding of the nous. He describes faith as an “organ of sight,” thus making it somewhat synonymous with the nous. His definition of faith is a “participatory adherence.” And here, I beg the reader’s patience.

Our “objective” knowledge seeks a mastery of a thing, or even a concept outside of us. It is how we know objects. It is not participation nor is it adherence. We want to “use” the objects outside us (or gather information that is useful). Noetic perception has as its work actual participation in that which it perceives. It does not seek to make distinctions, but to know by communion. Noetic participation is more akin to love than to objective knowledge. This participatory knowledge explains how it is that such knowledge seems fleeting. When we turn away from that participation and seek to watch or examine that participation, we have passed over to an objective exercise that removes us from that communion. We may have communion with God – but we do not watch our communion with God. It is not an object.

One faculty that is quite helpful in noetic perception is music, most particularly, singing. The angels are inherently noetic in character, and could be described as noetic creatures. It is not without note that they are most commonly described as singing (ceaselessly). In my experience, singing frequently places us in the place of communion. Ideally, the Liturgy is an extended exercise in noetic perception.

It is a property of our critical consciousness (observation) to question and examine objects and ideas. This is a useful and essential gift. It can also be ruthless and destructive. It is possible, for example, to so examine and observe the love we hold for someone (or them for us), that doubts enter in and crush it. Love does not exist for examination but for loving. The same is true for noetic experience. We may know God. We can also overthink such knowledge into oblivion.

In summary, I would suggest to anyone struggling with “knowing” God, not to overthink the problem. Sing more, think less. Sing from the heart. Sing in the presence of the icons. If at all possible, join in the singing in the services of the Church (I know this is not possible everywhere). St. Paul says:

…be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord in your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

In prayer, work to be present where you are and don’t engage in thinking and observation during that time. Do not watch yourself praying! The Fathers speak of “nepsis,” or “watching.” It is not an active watching (observation) but a guarding against intrusive thoughts and distractions. God called to the child Samuel. The child responded, “Here I am!” That is the place of prayer and noetic awareness.


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.



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139 responses to ““Knowing With My Knower” – The Nous”

  1. Fr. Barnabas Powell Avatar

    “Knowing with my knower” Sounds like my grandmother. Southerners are naturally Orthodox! But I’m not partial, mind you. Just honest! 🙂

  2. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Not to disappoint, but this dear lady was from Long Island. Southerners are everywhere!

  3. Nicholas Stephen Griswold Avatar
    Nicholas Stephen Griswold

    Father Bless,
    Your analogy of driving is spot on. It describes perfectly the quiet inner stillness required to communion with God. As the Prophet Habakkuk says, “But the LORD is in His holy temple. Let all the earth keep silence before Him.” I find that when in worship or in private prayer that when I simply let the words wash over my soul without objectively thinking of their meaning two things occur. One is that time is not a factor and two I come to know things with my knower, as you describe it. It is amazing to me how much more theology I learned by the hearing of the Psalter versus studying theology and I did not seek to learn anything by the hearing of the Psalter.

  4. Maria Avatar

    Interesting topic and I think each one of us has a different term we use for “knowing”, an unfortunately with all the noise and cares of this world, we can tend to suffocate this God-given gift out.

    Doesn’t Scripture say, “these things (including God’s law) are written on our heart?” So, this is why we would have this built-in “knowing.” Perhaps God has written certain things on your heart that He has not written on mine or He has written the same things on all of our hearts – we just need to be more open and aware. How? The virtuous sacramental life and prayer!

    This goes the same when Scripture says, “Don’t worry, the Holy Spirit will give you the words to say within the hour;” and again, “I knew you before you were conceived in your mother’s womb.”

    It seems our relationship with God didn’t just start here, but long before and we each need something to jog our memory or faith. We left Him, He didn’t leave us! We are sojourners here and also belong to Him.

    Thankyou and God bless!

  5. Isaac Avatar

    Father, I enjoyed this article very much. I have a question and would love your thoughts on it. What roles do the nous and the rational mind play in our quest to discern between differing faiths — that is, differing claims of a revelation from God?

    I ask because I am currently a seeker, striving to make sense of both of my previous experience in this life and in my previous faith tradition. I was raised a Mormon, and in Mormonism the way we are taught to discern between faiths, and specifically to know if the Mormon church is the true faith, is to pray and ask God, and seek a spiritual experience that confirms to us that it is true.

    The issue is that I have come to believe that method to be unreliable, at least in relation to deciding which face is true and which is not. I no longer believe the claims of the Mormon church, but I have experienced God and had witnesses of his love and Glory within the Mormon tradition.

    as I have battled and fought to maintain my faith in Christ as I have lost my faith in my previous tradition, it has been incredibly difficult to know where I should apply purely rational means of knowledge, and where I should make room for a more noetic understanding of truth.

    If you have any thoughts about this I would love to hear them. I am striving with great difficulty to know what tools should be used to maintain faith, to decide and discern between faiths, and when I should reject something as untrue.

  6. Adam Avatar

    Hi Fr. Stephen,

    Very insightful.

    So one could day that the noetic faculty is wherethe attention is focused?

    Also, thanks for clarifying the nous and watchfulness at the end. It seems that the nous is only active in the present moment when one isn’t attentive to the thoughts or images in their mind. Is this correct?

  7. Maria Avatar

    I think it is not that we become focused on it – but that God reveals Himself to us – He gives us glimpses of the Kingdom and “knowings” that teach, guide and lead us back to Him. We wait in silence having the right disposition to receive His grace when He gives it to us. Grace, He determines when, who and why. “Be still and know that I am God.”

    God bless!

  8. Karen Avatar

    Another very helpful post. Thank you.

  9. Esmée La Fleur Avatar
    Esmée La Fleur

    Isaac – I highly recommend a series of lectures by Fr. Josiah Trenham titled “American Holiness: A Religious History of America and her Saints.” Lecture 5 focuses specifically on Mormonism, but all of the lectures are relevant to helping you understand your question I believe, as Fr. Josiah explains how each of the different Protestant sects he discusses came into being and how they differ from the Orthodox Church tradition. Fr. Josiah is very well versed in the Mormon beliefs and has several good Mormon friends and he has even met with one of the 12 “Apostles” at their headquarters in Utah.


  10. Andrew Avatar

    I’ve recently started chanting my morning and evening prayers vs. just speaking them, which has historically always been my practice. There is a definite difference. But as said above, when I try to step back and assess/evaluate the difference, I can’t quite put my finger on it. I only ‘know’ it feels right. It draws me in in a different sort of way to prayer.

  11. Maria Avatar

    Proseuche! I know exactly how you feel about chanting your prayers – this is a lofty mystical way of praying and I am sorry if I am using the wrong words, however this is the only way I can explain it. It draws one/me and obviously others, into a space where the angels are taking our chanting prayers up to God. Praying with incense and candles also puts us into this realm. Beautiful! Thankyou for sharing. God bless…..

  12. Nes Avatar

    Father thank you for this reflection. Would you be willing to give a longer reflection sometime on music and song? It’s such a contentious subject at many parishes because everyone has different “taste” and a song (or style) that might augment prayer for one is distracting and frustrating for another. What do the Father’s tell us about what kind of song is best for our souls? Does the Church give us guidelines for what amounts to beauty in way of melody or meter? It would be such a blessing to read your thoughts on the matter, many thanks.

  13. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    Thank you Father. You words here surely put to ease my thoughts about the nous. Thank you for your patience.
    Your example of the levels of consciousness while driving is very helpful.
    As is your explanation of “participatory adherence”.
    You counsel us not to overthink. I do believe that is the point some of us were trying to make in the previous post.
    As you say:
    ” Noetic participation is more akin to love than to objective knowledge…When we turn away from that participation and seek to watch or examine that participation,
    we have passed over to an objective exercise that removes us from that communion.”

    Also, I thought I’d share this:
    When I am distracted while in prayer, I notice, with eyes closed and head bowed, my eyes are actually gazing upward (actually up and outward) in the “thinking position”. My lips are moving in prayer but my mind is preoccupied. When I notice this I reset my eyes (still closed) to gaze toward my heart. I remember this little point when reading about the Jesus Prayer. I do it as many times as needed.

  14. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Father I admit that I do in science what I do in Liturgy. I pray. That others do not do this has more to do with secular culture and politics. Objectivising thinking slips into ‘a modern’s’ approach into Liturgy, and to the best of my limited understanding, Liturgy in the Orthodox Church does not stop that from happening. Rather it is a matter of the heart what happens in the head.

    I’ll need to preface this before I say the following, I’m quite naive and still very tentative rather than confident in my thinking about the noetic life. But I hope I’m not upsetting others when I say that I believe that science has helped me to hold on to a noetic life (what little there was of it), that is until I came into the Church, to experience it (albeit as an infant) in a manner that is participatory with others. This came about solely, I suppose, from an introduction early in life in a household of a different culture that enabled it, where it was working and witnessed so to speak.

    Here’s my impression, please forgive me if this seems trite:. I have sung to molecules and they have sung back to me albeit in frequencies that our ears do not hear. We sing praises to God. Some will say that this is just my imagination. But for me anyway, “they” are “us”. They are participating in us as we are in them. This will sound reductionist to some, however I don’t reduce everything down to molecules either.

    It’s true we objectify the things in this world. Perhaps the processes at work in the objective understanding is secular generally in this culture but to the best of my knowledge, it need not be. Generally it seems to me to be a process where there is a concensus at work among people to affirm ‘what is real’— not unlike the conciliatory processes at work within the seven councils. But we have a secular culture that would put a wall around direct interactions, of participatory adherence with God in the process.

    Aa far as I know, I’m not alone in my awareness of the noetic life in science. What I mean by this is that I have met others who have ‘that sense’ so to speak. They are often humble people who marvel at the wondrous workings in the world and attempt to commune with God’s uncreated light. But they may not have the language or the theology to express this. Rather they are doing it and on the whole don’t talk about it. They avoid discussions about God, they are in a secular world (not just in science) where such words are either not welcomed or terribly misconstrued.

  15. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Dee, science should be noetic. After all you are seeking the revelation of great mysteries. It is impossible I think to be an objective observer. You are always on inimately connected and participating in anything you are studying.

  16. Maria Avatar

    Hello! I’m not a scientist, however I am wondering if your experience is really about Nature and the things of God – even the molecules. When I read your post, the first person I thought of, was St Francis of Assisi who would speak with all of nature – praying with the birds, writing Canticles to the Sun and Moon and seeming to be at one with the whole Universe.

    Just thought I would share that with you….(?)

    God bless!

  17. Esmée La Fleur Avatar
    Esmée La Fleur

    Dee – Thank you for sharing your wonderful experience! I don’t think scientific knowledge works against our belief in God at all, but rather supports it. When I learned about the Periodic Table in Chemistry 101, I was simply overwhelmed by its perfection and my immediate response was, “How could someone NOT believe in God after learning about this?”

    However, as Fr. Seraphim Rose explains in his book Genesis, Creation, and Early Man, there are ways of knowing that transcend the study of our current corrupted (since the fall) world. This knowledge can only be gained through our noetic faculty and not through scientific enquiry. This is where the teachings of the holy Fathers must take front and center in our Orthodox understanding precisely because they have come to their knowledge via their noetic faculty, not through the study of the current state of things. We must rely on their explanations until such time as we ourselves have direct personal experience through our own noetic faculty.

    Regarding the singing of molecules, I recall Saint Porphyrios discussing his “knowing” that all of creation is continually singing praise to God. He especially mentions birds, but he was using them as a concreate example of what he experienced of all creation. I also remember that Mother Gavrilia communicated with trees and experienced their joyfulness.

  18. Tikhon Avatar

    Father, this has been a very informative post–thank you! I will simply echo Isaac’s question, as I feel that he has more articulately captured my question as well.

  19. Ann K. Avatar
    Ann K.

    Dee, thank you for sharing that beautiful image! I have a layman’s interest in science and it seems to me that quantum entanglement is very Orthodox.

  20. tess Avatar

    Father Stephen, is the difference between attention and noetic awareness the same thing (or similar to) Martin Buber’s distinction between I-It and I-Thou relations?

  21. Christopher Avatar

    I second Tikhon, Isaac’s *frame* of the question is quite good.

    “…The issue is that I have come to believe that method to be unreliable, at least in relation to deciding which *face* is true and which is not…”

    You meant to type “faith”, but you typed “face” instead Isaac…interesting that 😉

  22. Isaac Avatar

    Christopher, yes sorry! I was using voice-to-text to write that and failed to catch the mistake!

  23. Blagica Avatar

    Father Stephen,
    All of this explains the reason why the saints are so simple in action, reasoning and expression.
    Theology should be a way of life, not a philosophical act. Living a life in obedience means that you accept every step that is asked of you believing is for your salvation. Then , you don’t go to Christ, but Christ comes to you, to build a home in that obedient,simple soul. When you refer to the nous ,as a term I think is the spiritual sight or spiritual eyes that the Elders of the church use and in the begining maybe it is open as a undoubted knowledge and continues to appropriate developments to the measure of growth in Christ.
    Nevertheless, the point you make is incredibly healthy and loving towards the believer, Christ comes to the simple, and obedient soul who will learn Love out of the strive for perfect meaknness and humbleness.
    Can we put it this way?🙂

  24. Christopher Avatar


    It might not be a mistake. On a deep level, your question is about trust, and not “what” to trust but whom…but I don’t want to get ahead of Fathers Stephens answer.

  25. Isaac Avatar


    Yes that is exactly right. The issue is that if I only relied on knowing with my knower, I would still be a fully believing Mormon, ignoring all counter-evidence because I could simply say I somehow “knew” deep inside what is true.

    It was allowing myself to take an honest, critical (ie analytical) look at the evidence that caused me to first doubt and then lose my trust in the origin stories of Mormonism.

    I think I was right to do this. I think it was right to question my subjective experience by comparing it also with objective data. But I don’t want that to be the sum of my life oh, and I have had many choice experiences the continue to convince me of God’s reality.

    But I now feel a bit lost as to the proper role of trust, spiritual knowing, and rational thought. How does one arrive at faith? And how does one do it without deceiving oneself?

  26. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    I did not go into the noetic perception of created things – but that is a very strong theme in the Fathers. Specifically, it is about perceiving the “logoi” in all created things. This has to do with their purpose and place in the Providence of God (and more). I strongly suspect that it should have a place in the scientific life – particularly for those engaged in creative inquiry.

  27. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Isaac, Tikhon,
    There are many things that come into play in discerning truth. Truth involves everything and so everything is in play as well as all our sense and faculties. I might very well on the basis of reason come to a reasonable acceptance of the claims of the Orthodox Christian faith, for example. Perhaps even enough to begin the journey of life and faith that it invites. Indeed, I would easily argue that simple reasonableness and historical study points towards Orthodox Christianity as “original” Christianity and to be what it claims to be. I believe quite strongly in critical inquiry and I do not think that Orthodoxy makes any claims that do not withstand critical examination.

    The place of noetic perception is within the context of the whole Orthodox life and is a practice that has been described now for at least 1700 years. I think it describes something very human, when understood.

    So, competing claims can be weighed, compared and examined.

    Mormonism, when examined in a critical manner repeatedly reveals itself to be the product of a charlatan and a fraud. The number of times and ways this has been demonstrated are too numerous for me to get into. That said, they are nice people and live moral lives in accordance with American notions of morality. The teachings are nonsensical, make historical claims that can easily be proven to be false, and has ever so many of the hallmarks of 19th century America which was the breeding ground of cults and nut-jobs, some of whom actually succeeded in creating new religions. Mormonism is not Christian. It’s doctrine of God is utterly contrary to the teaching of Scripture.

    I would go about such questions in a very sober way, gathering all the information that you can. The more you know about Orthodoxy, the more assuring it can be. The more you know about Mormonism, the more you’ll want to run away.

    I spent 20 years as an Anglican priest and left my position and my Church in order to become Orthodox. I did not do that on the basis of any experience. I came to the conclusion that Orthodoxy taught the fullness of the Christian faith and tradition and was the direct continuation of the Church founded by Christ. That, I think, is simple historical fact. It doesn’t claim to have a clean history or to be better than anything else. It is simply the self-same Church founded by Christ. Just as the New Testament Church had problems as evidenced in the epistles, so the Church has always had problems. It’s the arena of our salvation.

    When I pray, I do not pray to Orthodoxy, or try to discern Orthodoxy. I pray to God and seek communion with Him. The context and communion of the Orthodox Church is the play established by Christ and maintained for 2,000 years for that practice. In a sense, all other Christian groups have to explain why they exist as they do. Orthodoxy doesn’t have to because we have simply always existed this way. What we say is what you’ll find both in the New Testament and in every century since (among the Orthodox). We are not modern or ancient – we’re simply what we’ve always been. Our teachings do not and have not changed…and they will not.

    There are probably more likeable groups of Christians or simpler forms of Christian practice. Certainly those denominations that have modernized themselves and been careful to shape their life in conformity to the culture around them are much more comfortable places to be. But that is not an argument for the truth – only an argument of convenience.

    Orthodoxy is often inconveniently foreign. Oddly, so is Jesus. You cannot read the Scriptures without knowing something about cultures other than America. I have a private saying that any denomination that had its foundation in America cannot possibly be the real thing – because America is a distortion of human existence – possibly even the whore of Babylon in Revelation (or very much like her).

    I appreciate being in a Church with lots of people who are not American, as well as people who are. It broadens the perspective and helps limit the insanity that is constantly being spewed forth by our culture. The same is true from reading other Orthodox Christians across the many centuries and cultures. The tradition we have received saves us from ourselves and the blindness of our own times.

    When I read the book of Mormon, it seemed to be filled with ideas that were uniquely 19th century American. They are the kinds of things you’d expect to find in a book written by a 19th century American. There is nothing in it that even remotely seems authentically old. But I’ll not beat that dead horse any further.

    To answer Tikhon as well – to make decisions about truth requires everything – every form of knowing and inquiry. There’s nothing magical about it. The noetic faculty (the nous) is one of the faculties of knowing – which – in the Christian tradition is best suited to the knowledge of spiritual things. That said, it’s not a good part of critical study, comparison, argument, etc.

    How do you choose a spouse? Lots and lots of ways. Having married them, then you begin the long, slow work of getting to know them. That can take a lifetime. But those comparisons and information etc. that might have entered into the original decision are no very appropriate to that long, lifetime work. That is something else.

    Hope this helps.

  28. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    I think it’s something you go slow with. For myself, I have a mix of all these things, often on a daily basis. Just trying to live a balanced life is helpful. My steady things are in the sacramental/liturgical life of the Church. They do not change based on my inner life. On the other hand, my inner life changes a fair amount according to a number of things. I treat it like a marriage. I’m in the Church for life. I have given myself to Christ. On a daily basis, I do better some days than others. And you move forward. I’ve been married for 43 years and like my marriage now more than at any other time in my life. But there is much in a relationship that makes every day different. So, my answer is – use everything and slowly find the balance that seems best for you. Ask God to help.

  29. Fr. Andrew Jarmus Avatar

    Romans 12:2 becomes even more powerful when you realize that in Greek, “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind…” reads “…be transformed by the renewing of your nous…”

    Thank you, Father, for another wonderful post.

  30. David Waite Avatar
    David Waite

    Thanks to those who wrote about chanting, instead of reading, their prayers. I have recently started to chant my prayers, including the Psalms, in a rapid monotone similar to that used by a reader. How blessed it is! I no longer think and interpret. I hear and accept. Thanks be to God.

  31. Isaac Avatar

    Fr Stephen,

    Thank you for that long, detailed reply. I appreciated it very much. I agree (though maybe a little less harshly, as I’ve had 35 years of good experience in Mormonism) with pretty much everything you said about Mormonism.

    You said:

    “I might very well on the basis of reason come to a reasonable acceptance of the claims of the Orthodox Christian faith, for example. Perhaps even enough to begin the journey of life and faith that it invites. Indeed, I would easily argue that simple reasonableness and historical study points towards Orthodox Christianity as “original” Christianity and to be what it claims to be. I believe quite strongly in critical inquiry and I do not think that Orthodoxy makes any claims that do not withstand critical examination.”

    I think this is obviously true once you are within the context of Christianity. If one accepts Christianity as true, a compelling case from reason can be made in favor of Orthodoxy.

    In line with this, at present my real stumbling blocks are with Christianity in general. I worry about the reliability of the Old Testament. I worry about (in different ways) the reliability of the New Testament. I simply wonder sometimes whether Christianity really is true: that Christ rose from the dead, that He is the Son of God, a co-eternal member of the Holy Trinity.

    When I wrote in my first comment that I wondered how to discern betweens faiths — that is, between competing claims about which revelation of God is true — I mean faiths in the broadest sense: Christianity, Islam, Judaism. Or are they all false? I do believe in God (this is based on my personal experience and my reason), so I am seeking a true revelation about Him. I don’t want a vague belief in God: I want to know specifics about Him, how to follow Him, how to commune with Him.

    So my real question is how one comes to accept Christianity in total. Certainly within the Christian framework weighing the different denominations is useful and has its own methods, but how does one arrive to the point where you say, “I believe this. This story, this revelation of God in Jesus Christ, this is true. He really was God”?

    You say, “I do not think that Orthodoxy makes any claims that do not withstand critical examination.” I don’t know what Orthodoxy claims about the reliability of Old Testament narratives, or even the literalness of some other traditions (like the Theotokos being raised in the temple), but some of the stories on a surface level seem a little … suspect to me, as a novice. (Though I admit these aren’t necessarily the core claims of Orthodoxy.)

    Anyway, if you have any additional thoughts about how to approach Christianity in general, the best ways of knowing if it is true, I would appreciate that. I am struggling to overcome my doubts, though they give me no pleasure.

  32. Isaac Avatar

    I should also say, as I’ve tried to rebuild my faith I’m taking it in a step by step approach: first I investigated the question of God. Now I am approaching the question of Christ: who was he? Did he rise from the dead? Is he God? Is Christianity true?

    As such I’m trying not to (at the point) bog myself down with specific questions like “Is Orthodoxy true?” The time for such questions will come, if I accept Christ and Christianity, but I’m not there yet.

    Perhaps that’s a foolish way to approach the problem. I don’t know, I’m doing the best I can.

  33. Cyneath Iann Avatar
    Cyneath Iann

    Without getting too much into being “Buddhist in the Bishopric” (the working title of the Mormon years of my autobiography) I would like to respond somewhat to your inquisition: “it has been incredibly difficult to know where I should apply purely rational means of knowledge, and where I should make room for a more noetic understanding of truth.
    If you have any thoughts about this I would love to hear them. I am striving with great difficulty to know what tools should be used to maintain faith, to decide and discern between faiths, and when I should reject something as untrue.”

    I have found that I am preserved from much harm when I do NOT believe what I think I know. For that knowledge – gnosis – cast me into the depths of Hades which required the casting off of my self to be extricated. To God be the glory that at that time I had Him upon which to cast myself. And to replace me.

    How dependable is ‘rational’ knowledge? Perhaps you have heard the truism: the more I learn, the more I don’t know.” Especially in modern thought, learning comes from assimilation of data. However, data estranges us from each other: when you don’t know what I know you are ignorant, at least, more ignorant than I, regardless of the relevancy of the data.

    I have long abandoned the construction of faith as intellectual: ‘I believe that …’ Even yet I struggle with the inclusion of ‘in’ within the opening line of the Creed as it externalizes (objectifies) that which follows in contemporary usage. In the Greek eis indicates direction ‘to, towards, into’. And pisteuo as ‘I believe’ no longer admits the pro-active trust which was essential to the archaic affirmation. The maintenance of faith is the doing thereof; the discerning of other (non-Orthodox) faiths is a fools errand, i.e. the rabbit hole is deep, and wide. Whatever is True conforms without coercion to the life and word of our Savior as expressed in the Gospels and conforms to the Councils and Creed of His Bridegroom, the proscribed Church. Anything other and beyond that is distraction.

  34. Cyneath Iann Avatar
    Cyneath Iann

    P.S. Isaac, the primary tool for the preservation of faith is humility: ‘I don’t know.’

  35. Maria Avatar

    For David Waite & others…..I am using the Psalter for Prayer and A Prayer Book for Orthodox Christians (morning, evening, vespers, compline & meals) and am wondering what others are using for their prayer life?

    I also just purchased an e-book from Ancient Faith titled: Orthodox Worship Early Church and looking forward to reading what was involved in Div Liturgy that we still continue to have and use.

    Thankyou and God bless! *Proseuche means Prayers in Greek.

  36. Vasilia Avatar

    I would love to sing or chant my prayers. Does anyone have a good resource, a how-to for chanting?

    Thank you and God bless!

  37. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    There is certain a reasonable case to be made for the Christian faith. I use the word “reasonable” versus “rational” in that I think it is broader. The key, I believe, is the resurrection of Christ. One of my favorite treatments of the question is Gary Habermas’ work. Here’s a video

    I sometimes think that this case requires more knowledge than less. But good, sound, reasonable scholarship, like Habermas’, presents a strong case for the reliability of the resurrection claims.

    As to the Scripture questions, they are, to a degree, typical in a Protestant world. The Old Testament, I think, should be viewed for what it is – a collection of books rather than a single thing. Some books are more historical than others. But the nature of Scripture, as Scripture, is not rooted in claims of historical reliability. That’s a much more modern, secular concern. The Scriptures have been read in a variety of manners – some of them not very historical at all. The Church’s witness is that the Scriptures are useful of doctrine – and, that read within the Tradition – reveal Christ. I think it’s a mistake to create a “package” deal, such that the resurrection of Jesus and a literal, historical Adam (for example) are in the same boat and are claims of equal weight. They are not. The faith turns of the resurrection and everything else is relative to that claim.

    I’ll pray that God will help you in this important part of your journey!

  38. Isaac Avatar

    Thank you all for your kind and helpful words.

    Fr. Stephen, I agree with you that the key rests with the resurrection. Even in the gospel narratives, the resurrection appears as a surprise, a shock to the disciples. To me this suggests that they were not expecting it, that it didn’t fit within their own paradigms, and that even spending years with Christ didn’t prepare them for the reality of what was to happen. This leads me to believe that the resurrection really did change everything for them — and potentially can for us as well.

    I am approaching the question of Christianity, at least right now, from three areas: (1) A deeper study of the New Testament; (2) researching the resurrection, learning more about it; (3) reading about what the Christian life is like (here I have on my list, “Surprised by Joy” by CS Lewis, “Orthodoxy” by GK Chesterton, and a recent publication “From Fire, By Water” by Sohrab Ahmari).

    One thing I very, very much appreciate is how I have been encouraged, by every Orthodox person I have met (priest and lay alike) to just study the heck out of anything I have questions about. This is refreshing because, in my background in Mormonism, that was rarely the case. Typically I was told not to study, or if I did that I be extremely selective and careful about choosing my sources (basically only choose faithful sources).

    I also appreciate what you’ve said about Old Testament scripture. I agree that the literal historicity of certain books of scripture is often not their primary concern. (Unlike the Book of Mormon.) It is a question that has some nuance, and I’m still figuring it out for myself.

    Cyneath, I would love to hear more of your story. If you’re ever interested, feel free to reach out to me (isaachess at gmail . com). The model of faith you outline is incredibly attractive to me. But I still think that it’s a model that works once you are within a system, and doesn’t make much sense when you are on the outside looking in. That is, outlining faith as trust, seeing it as a relationship to which we must be faithful — and this presupposes that at some point we had enough reason to commit ourselves to this path. After commitment it makes perfect sense, so long as those original reasons continue to be sound, to approach faith as a lifelong commitment of love and trust.

    I often compare it to a marriage. We enter a marriage with good reason (hopefully) to trust, love, and commit for a lifetime. And it would be foolish to walk around constantly questioning the marriage, its foundations, your commitment, etc. It depends on constant give and take, enduring worse days and enjoying better ones. It would be the definition of unfaithful to constantly be reevaluating what I “know” about my marriage and relationship with my wife.

    And yet, circumstances may change such that beginning to question is perfectly reasonable. Perhaps my wife begins lying to me, staying out late without telling me where she is, changes in her attitude toward me. If that continued long enough it would be reasonable to finally say, “Perhaps I am wrong. Perhaps the foundation of this marriage is no longer strong.” And then it would be reasonable to reevaluate to see if my trust, belief, and love are misplaced.

    I feel I went through that process in Mormonism. Most of my life I had no reason to suspect or doubt it. But when those reasons popped up and I took the step of investigating, it crumbled beneath me. Now I am in a position of considering whether to enter into a “new marriage” with God through a specific faith. That is terrifying, as one who has been burned before. (Once bitten, twice shy.) If I do make that commitment I fully intend to live a faithful, trusting, dynamic relationship with God, not relying on rational inquiry for my spiritual life.

    But BEFORE I make that commitment I must make sure the foundations are strong, that I have good reason for entering into it, that it won’t crumble beneath me again at some future date. And that is why I am taking a more critical stance at this point in my journey, poking and researching and learning. Putting one’s faith in something is an act of terrible vulnerability. And act of extreme trust. It is surely a beautiful thing, but never to be done lightly, and only to be done for the purest and surest of reasons.

  39. Christopher Avatar


    God bless Mormon people! When I was young, right after my parents divorce, my mother who at the time had custody took my sister and I to Salt Lake for about 9 months for job reasons. The kindness, the calmness, the *joy* of the Mormons in our school, our neighborhood (and for my mother at her job) was (is) no less than part of our salvation.

    I wonder what you think. You have described your story, your narrative of being *in* a story, then experiencing the limits and collapse of that story (a divorce), and now standing on the outside of stories and weighing , considering, approaching them – all with a certain trepidation of one who now *knows* the limits and failures of stories. You now know betrayal. What if Church is not like that? What if your still in the story – a story of stories?

  40. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Isaac, I encourage patience. The Protestant approach is pressure to decide ‘right now’.
    Rather the process can take time to build trust. I endorse what Fr Stephen says regarding the reasonable versus rational. In my case going into a Church where priests dress in cassock and have beards seemed irrational. But my prompt to ‘go in’ came from outside.

    But I encourage you to visit the services. No one should be manipulating you to commit. Also I found the talk associated with the link Fr Stephen provided very much worth listening to. —And this statement of ‘worth’ is coming from someone (myself) who has very few positive words on the topic of Protestant theology or theologians.

  41. Ann Huff Avatar
    Ann Huff

    My dad’s death from cancer when I was 36 ripped the fabric of my faith in who I believed God and what I believed Christianity to be. Having grown up in the Anglican church and the age of Aquarius (lol), I did not have a strong backbone of scripture to lean into and instead determined that God was essentially a myth and went about my business. For years. Except God wouldn’t leave me alone. People kept popping up in my life, or a song would bring me to tears, or something would make me think about God. I have given birth to three sons. Pregnancy brought with it an awareness of God (although I wasn’t formally acknowledging Him) in that while I am well aware as a nurse and a human being of the science behind conception and birth, there is that sense of “other” about it. This was another person inside of me. Where did that person really come from? I know where the biological part came from, but that person-ness. Where did that come from? I knew for a fact that my husband and I didn’t participate in that part – that was above and beyond us. But I still ran away, if you will, from even thinking about God. As Issac’s so well thought out questions have shown me, I was afraid that “the house of cards” I thought God and Christianity to be would come tumbling down again. But the Trinity would not let up! I see it now in retrospect, but at the time it was sometimes annoying and sometimes terrifying. I finally decided to face it head on and read the Scriptures, looking for all the “inconsistencies” and “fables” and just be done with it. Then I bumped into CS Lewis. How I had gotten into adulthood without meeting his writings, I’ll never know (I love to read). Once my thinking brain had some questions answered in ways that I could understand and that made sense with and was consistent with what my up to that time life experiences were, it was as if I could finally trust what I now know as nous. Which, of course, was what I had been experiencing all along. My Baptist grandmother had a picture of Jesus knocking on a door that hung in her house. I used to think it was silly. Now it makes sense. I have a long way to go but I’m finally on a path that I can trust and “know with my knower”. I love that expression. And I give glory to God for Fr. Stephen’s writing and all the discussions. I am so humbled by the erudite and thoughtful things you all write. But God bless that lady and her “knower”. I think we could have been friends.

  42. Isaac Avatar

    Ann, thank you for that beautiful story. Which works of CS Lewis would you suggest for someone in my position?

  43. Esmée La Fleur Avatar
    Esmée La Fleur

    Maria, I use The Psalter According to the Seventy by Holy Transfiguration Monastery, as well as the prayer book and The Great Horologion they translated and published. I hope to eventually get the Menaion so that I can also chant the hymns and canons for the saints of the day when I do the Matins and Vespers services. I don’t do all of these things every day, but I do them as time and strength allow.

    In addition to what others have stated about chanting the prayers and psalms, I have found that if I can get myself going, then the power of the Holy Spirit often comes and joins me in my small effort. It’s hard to explain, but it feels like the words are being prayed through me.

  44. Maria Avatar

    For Esmee La Fleur & others: thankyou so much for your info regarding the prayer books you have. I am new coming into Orthodoxy but know prayer, chant and meditation is something that has been with me in the past and will continue much more deeply in Orthodoxy.

    I noticed about the Menaion you mentioned that these are 12 books containing all the Proper Offices and hymns, Saints for each month. When looking this up on the internet though, I saw that Menaion is also referring to Icons for each month – just wondered what that is about – or are the Icons covers for the books?

    Thanks so much and happy to know your prayer and chant experience is WITH the Holy Spirit!

    God bless!

  45. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Isaac, possibly CS Lewis’ book ‘Mere Christianity’, whic is one I read beforehand. Other commenters have mentioned other books.

  46. Matthew Avatar

    I do not know if this is a valid take to the subject or not, but when I first started attending services, it was very important to me to follow along with a copy of the printed text. I found that when I did, my mind didn’t wander as much, since I was following along ( and trying to hear what was being said, given that my hearing is terrible after years around loud machines). I’ve been told by some, that to follow along may not be actually a good idea. As to that, I have no comment, other than than to say that I did, and I found it focusing. Over time I could actually remember phrases and sections, nevertheless, following along with the text helped keep me centered.

  47. Isaac Avatar


    You said:

    “I wonder what you think. You have described your story, your narrative of being *in* a story, then experiencing the limits and collapse of that story (a divorce), and now standing on the outside of stories and weighing , considering, approaching them – all with a certain trepidation of one who now *knows* the limits and failures of stories. You now know betrayal. What if Church is not like that? What if your still in the story – a story of stories?”

    When I read this I thought, “Wow, this is really deep … but I don’t grasp what he’s saying.” 🙂 Could you elaborate your meaning on your thoughts, especially those final few sentences?

  48. Esmée La Fleur Avatar
    Esmée La Fleur

    Isaac – If it’s any consolation, I read books on Orthodoxy for 4 years before I finally got the courage to call a priest at a local church and eventually get my foot in the door. I was looking for Truth, but I had no idea that Christ was that Truth. My own religious background was the teachings of an East Indian Guru that my mother embraced during my childhood. When I finally rejected that philosophy, I went through a long period of Agnosticism and Atheism and I really had no clue what to believe. My studies in Anthropology only deepened my sense that there was no absolute Truth, but only relative truths that we humans created to make meaning of our life experiences depending on the socio-cultural milieu that we were born into. Even after getting baptized into Orthodoxy, I held onto a lot of my wacky, very non-Orthodox beliefs from all the other religions I had studied. I even left the Church for a number years because my thinking and understanding was still so mixed up. Thank God my priest was patient with me! I am still – after almost 15 years in the Orthodox Church – discovering beliefs that I have held onto from the past which are utterly non-Orthodox. God in His mercy reveals these things to me when I am ready and slowly at a pace I can accept. So, my point is, no need to rush (as others have already said), and no need to fully understand every aspect of Orthodoxy in order to enter into relationship with it, in my humble opinion and based on my personal experience. May God continue to guide and bless you on your journey to find Him in all His Truth.

  49. Esmée La Fleur Avatar
    Esmée La Fleur

    Maria – I have no idea about the Menaion refering to Icons…. hmmm? I only know it as the collection of hymns and canons for the saints of the day. I will add that I was blessed to live in a Monastery as a guest for a year and the services were chanted daily by the nuns as a “reader” service without a priest. The hymns and canons from the Menaion were included regularly and I really grew to love hearing them in the services. In parish churches, very few of these are included in the services due to time constraints sadly and I do miss hearing them. The same goes for the reading of the Kathismata from the Psalter appointed for both Matins and Vespers; they were included regularly at the Monastery but never in my parish church. Lay people only have so much time they are willing or able to be in church, so the extra canons and psalms are left out of the services.

  50. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Isaac, a couple of reading suggestions: C.S. Lewis “Chronicles of Narnia” particularly ‘The Voyage of the Dawn Treader’ and ‘The Last Battle’. I also like Father Lawrence Farley’s book, “The Christian Old Testament”. A simple but good look at the Orthodox approach to the Old Testament.

  51. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Fr Stephen,
    Thank you for the reference to noetic perception. I’m still very new to the language and appreciate your description of what I try to say into an Orthodox language and theology. This is very helpful for me.

    Ann K., I enjoy reading the current experiments in entanglement substantiation. I’m curious (even will suggest a sort of enchantment with) about entanglement because there is still so much unknown about it. I completely agree with you regarding the ‘Orthodox’ tenor in the phenomenon as we understand it at this time. Perhaps it will always be a mystery to us. Phenomenon such as this ought to help us maintain awe of God and His creation.

    Esmee, Thank you for your thoughts on science. I particularly enjoy the words from St Porphyrios and Mother Gavrilia. Additionally, Fr Stephen has provided particular advice on what commentaries to read (or not recommended to read) on Orthodox thought in relation to scientific theories in a previous posts. I have always found Fr Stephen’s wisdom and advice on these topics sound and trustworthy.

    I don’t like all science theories, indeed some can be ‘bogus’. However the grounds upon which I will reject a ‘scientific’ theory is based within the rubrics of science itself.

    I am Orthodox Christian also. I am comfortable as scientist and Orthodox Christian without internal conflicts. Thanks be to God for His mercy.

    I should probably stop there. I might get into trouble going further.

    Glory to God for all things!!

  52. Cyneath Iann Avatar
    Cyneath Iann

    Isaac said: “The model of faith you outline is incredibly attractive to me. But I still think that it’s a model that works once you are within a system, and doesn’t make much sense when you are on the outside looking in. That is, outlining faith as trust, seeing it as a relationship to which we must be faithful — and this presupposes that at some point we had enough reason to commit ourselves to this path. After commitment it makes perfect sense, so long as those original reasons continue to be sound, to approach faith as a lifelong commitment of love and trust.”
    I was given this faith upon being resurrected from Hades, some years before I found Orthodoxy. My Savior revealed Himself to me in the Gospels. As I began learning Biblical Greek (primarily from Strong’s Concordance and Thayer’s Lexicon) a whole new perspective opened to me which was much more experiential and, at the same time, less temporal, less linear, less intellectual. I had found grace and mercy and forgiveness that were all way out of proportion to what I could give. Yet, as I passed these on to those around me they kept (and keep!) multiplying which highlighted the insufficiency of my thanksgiving, the offering of a crushed spirit, of a broken and humbled heart (c.f. Psalm 51, 50 in the Septuagint).
    I sought for a Christian faith-group that lived the Faith that was expressed in the Acts and the Epistles of the New Testament. But most of the house-churches I found that attempted such were either legalistic, or proud in their escape from denominational-ism, being Protestants without pedigree. About this time I relocated to Santa Fe NM and there came to my attention along a much-traveled byway an Orthodox Church, of which I knew nothing except it being a eastern branch of Catholicism. I started perusing some Orthodox blogs, including this one, often leaving some hostile comments particularly countermanding the seemingly arrogant surety of the Tradition. Father Stephen, upon one such exchange, suggested reading “The Historical Road of Eastern Orthodoxy” by A. Schmemann, which I did. Reading as well some other other Early Christian histories at the time, I was struck by the difference in tone: Father Schmemann’s tome was gentle and compassionate, while the others were concise and impersonal. Of course I was drawn to the inclusive. And attended a Sunday morning liturgy shortly before Pascha/Easter. I am overwhelmed! For nearly three years now.
    I was prepared for a long three-year catachumanate when I submitted for that. Yet, that which I Knew with my Knower upon first entering, including my active trust of God, was and continues to be confirmed, daily, weekly, yearly. And Fr. John B., our priest here, recognised that concurrence and abbreviated my investigative period to about 8 months. I still am learning much as I continue in the Inquirer’s Class that broadens, deepens, the holistic experience I have with God.

    I fear I have gone on far too long. Yet I pray that the same Spirit that guided the writings of the Prophets, inspires the reading of them. Lord, have mercy.

  53. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    Meant to say, Father…that is an amazing picture heading the post. Says it is Ezekiel’s vision of God.
    Can you imagine….?!

  54. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Thank you for that quote.

    It’s fair to critique science from without science. I hope I am not misunderstood. I am being consistent with what I had written in a previous post on another of Fr Stephen’s articles. But critiquing a theory ought to require a rigorous understanding of the theory. And I often find that critique as it is often given in most venues (I’m generally referring to blogs), are taken as ‘rock solid’ when they ought not. Theories are either substantiated or they are not, and sometimes there’s enough conflicting evidence that either the theory is revised or more experiment is undertaken. Sometimes additional evidence suggests a paradigm shift (I’m drawing on ol’ Piaget here) and a very different theory emerges to be fruitful.

    I haven’t read Fr Rose’s work. I’m not in a position to critique it at all. Fr Rose appears to be using an operational definition of what science is. The question I have is whether such a definition ought to be accepted by scientists and laymen alike and to ask the question why or why not. Personally, I operate on a definition that is traditioned within science however I also keep in mind while working in the field how easily such definitions are colored by culture. Therefore, I do not make a personal definition of science. I live and work within a community that attempts, with some degree of success and failure, to collaborate and corroborate their findings. Theory is established slowly and by debate if needed and ‘settled’ by data or not settled. I hesitate to say this but theory is not written in stone. But neither should it be trivialized (unless it’s not well substantiated), just because it’s ‘not written in stone’.

    I apologize for the length and the use of euphemisms. They are not always so helpful.

  55. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Dee, Esmee,
    I sent a note along to Esmee that basically said that I like to steer clear of the discussions surrounding Fr. Seraphim’s work. I’m not well-enough schooled in the various debates and issues to arbitrate the matter on the blog. I had a long conversation with my Archbishop and some others this past week about some related matters. The outcome of that confirmed my sense that I would prefer to not make his work a discussion point. Mostly, I’m aware of some problems, and some issues, all of which are better treated elsewhere in a better manner. Forgive me. My own ignorance sets certain boundaries on the blog.

  56. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Thank you Fr Stephen,
    As always, I sincerely respect and appreciate your decision.

  57. Esmée La Fleur Avatar
    Esmée La Fleur

    Father Stephen – As always, I respect your decision. Thank you for your email and explanation. Please forgive me.

  58. David Waite Avatar
    David Waite

    Maria – I use the Ancient Faith Prayer Book and Ancient Faith Psalter.

  59. Jeff Avatar

    Father, I have a question. I was sitting here, with the goal of being present. As I took in my surroundings, I noticed something. As an example, I was looking at a clear, blue vase with water and one carnation in it. My eyes stopped at the intersection of the water and the air. I took in the difference between the refraction and that which was not refracted. And then it happened. I noticed that I started to think about it and wonder. It was long before my mind was interpreting it. And lo and behold, the interpretation (please don’t ask what it was. It was just the very early stages) seemed linked to be linked to something that had been concerning me about an hour earlier.

    All this to ask, Are any of our thoughts “original?” Is there not an inescapable ‘referentiality’ to every thought? The framework from and within which one is consciously or, or most times, unconsciously, working seems that it is what would drive our perception. It seems to me that the the iconic or sacramental way of being is within our DNA, and that the question then is, will those icons be used in referencing and drawing ourselves into death or unto life.

    Does this explanation work or am I “out in left field?” (😏 I certainly can’t seem to write without metaphors.)

  60. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    “Thinking” (and all the various forms that it takes) is much more complicated than we often imagine. The one thing that seems for certain is that it is only ever marginally a matter of willing, directing, etc.

  61. Jeff Avatar

    Thank you, Father. Given that reality, it would seem that here is where humility and “I don’t know,” show themselves to be the best way to travel.

  62. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    “The one thing that seems for certain is that it is only ever marginally a matter of willing, directing..”
    Father…this brought me the words of the morning prayer, “in all my deeds and words, guide my thoughts and feelings …”

    Jeff…it definitely caught my eye where you said “My eyes stopped at the intersection of the water and the air”. I briefly mentioned above one that when in prayer I focus and refocus my eyes upon my heart to keep my mind from wandering too far. Similarly, when I am out for a walk I focus my gaze at the intersection of…any two things…ex. where the mountain intersects the sky…or simply a utility pole, a tree, the asphalt, where it meets the air. I think because that very very very thin spot of intersection is neither the mountain nor the sky, but something else (there’s something significant, but that’s all I can say), I simple plant (and replant) my eyes there and pray.
    It is interesting though, that even in the particular thing we do to aid in a single focus, even in that our minds wander! That’s why we pray that God guide our thoughts!

  63. Jeff Avatar

    Father & Paula AZ,

    And in giving this example, it was only that, an example of something I noticed. And I was describing how one thought led to another, and only that. Much like you said, Father, of the mind watching the mind. And I was completely fine with this progression. Where I ended up–was at my question about our lives being referential.

    My larger point, and perhaps this came through, was through this experience, I seemed to hit upon what I thought to be a structural piece of what it means to be, i.e., that of our referential existence; and that a referential existence is not limited to God as reference. It occurred to me that everything has a connection of some sort to a “source.” It doesn’t seem to be very beneficial to try to name what these sources are. What does seem best is to create open space and opportunity for God, the source of Life, so that other “sources” are pruned and let go by doing as you’ve outlined here and other posts, Father, by giving thanks, alms, time and material to others.

  64. Byron Avatar


    I was just wondering about these things. It has been stated before, on this blog I believe, that the Nous is located in the heart, not the head. It has also been stated here that the Fathers considered the soul as “the life of the body”. Your post, concerning the Nous as “the purest part of the soul”, the “power of the soul”, the “whole soul”, etc. is enlightening.

    If I understand correctly, the Nous is the part of us (I use that phrase as I can think of no other) that draws us to communion of Life with God. It is not that we lack communion with Him, but that the Nous is what makes possible the fullness of that communion. If we are wounded in sin, the Nous is what draws us to healing; it is, perhaps, the Image of God within us that calls out to God Himself. Just thinking out loud.

  65. Christopher Avatar


    I saw that you used the framework of “narrative” to describe the various incommensurable faith claims. I saw that you understand that as human beings, we are all *in* a narrative which is a reasonable, mental, emotional, even physical stance (to use a word that is inadequate) toward the world and everyone and everything.

    So here you are, with this awareness of a narrative that has failed for you (Mormonism). Your like a man on the outside looking into other narratives/faiths as if you are standing on the outside of a building looking into a window and observing the life that is going on inside. Your wondering about how you judge the ‘correctness’, of these various goings on, and you wondering about your judgement – how do you weigh this aspect of reasoning, how do we know what we know, what is the relationship between “objective facts/history” and spiritual/religious “knowing”, etc.

    My point was to ask about that place you are standing, outside the building looking in. What is the story of that place? If all places you can be have a story, then what is special about the place you’re standing that leads you to believe that it is the place from which you can judge “competing” faith claims?

    However, go too far down this rabbit hole and it more often than not leads to despair and nihilism. Rather, why not see that there really is only one story – one creation, one humanity, one reality, one God – and that the story of betrayal and the resulting perplexity is part of that story, and that story *is* the story of the Church – the people of God?

  66. Maria Avatar

    For Byron: I noted that your comment was addressed to Dino, however I thought it was interesting so I hope you don’t mind that I contribute something – even though small. I like your comment and it reminded me of scriptures saying “there is a veil over their conscience.” I think from what you said, it seems there is something within, put there by God and carried by us and slowly or quickly according to His will, it is uncovered until it becomes more and more and then almost totally pure – in His light. It would only become totally pure after our death. Does this make sense in relation to your comment?

    Thankyou & God bless!

  67. Byron Avatar

    Yes, Maria, it makes sense. I do not want to go so far as to say our healing is only complete at some point after our death, but that extrapolation makes sense. I only wanted to mull over the fact that God draws us to Him and, perhaps, the Nous is that within us which actively seeks Him.

  68. Dino Avatar

    it never quite occurred to me that the “Nous is what draws us to healing” and “calls out to God Himself”. Probably because in Greek ‘nous’ is so closely tied to the notion of the more rational/conscious part of our soul’s perception, what rationally speaks and hears God.
    On a side note, the Nous is what ought to be “lord” over all other faculties of a person (even if the reality of vices/passions turn this originally-designated-master into little more than a helpless slave…).
    Back to your comment, what I mean is that there is a great deal that is not as conscious in us that ‘calls out to God’, obviously our heart, but also our body, everything in us really…

  69. Byron Avatar

    Thanks Dino. Good thoughts.

  70. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Christopher, I think you’re asking an interesting and perceptive question. I like it because (as it was in my own case) I had seen myself on ‘the outside’ before committing myself to Christ through the Orthodox Church.

    Perhaps I had constructed a ‘two story’ (or multi-story) universe. And there is only one story in this universe.

    I’ve used words just now that I haven’t used before in the second sentence (“committing myself to Christ”). Father, is this an Orthodox expression? I think I hear it more often from the Protestant perspective and that makes me nervous.

    Since we are speaking about the nous in this article, I would like to mention one thing Father wrote that stood out for me:

    We cannot see God or know God in a manner that “makes Him mine.”

    I realize now that what I have written about the phenomenon in physics that brought me eventually to Christ, could be misinterpreted as a special condition that could be ‘possessed’. In other words, do ‘this’ (ie make these calculations) and then you’ll see God, or you’ll see what I see. Father I hope I understand you correctly by saying Christ comes to us, not the other way around. We don’t acquire God. We don’t line up (because we are not able to do such things) a certain set of pre-requisites and then say aha, now I’ve got ‘it’.

    Please forgive me I hope I’m not going off track.

  71. Dean Avatar

    I use “receive” Christ from John 1:12…as many as received him….Or our baptismal response is good. We “unite” ourselves to Christ. I don’t think the Bible uses “accept” Christ. The same is true of “commit”, I believe, although synonyms are utilized.

  72. Nicholas Stephen Griswold Avatar
    Nicholas Stephen Griswold

    The actual word in the Greek is elabon, the aorist indicative of lambano meaning to take in one’s hand or to take upon one’s self. Receive is a passive verb but this one is active. Using the sense of taking upon one’s self the words “have put on Christ” get at the same idea, an action meaning more than passive acceptance. Our faith is an active faith calling for response in action from us, not mere passive acceptance.

  73. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Forgive me. But Lambano is a very odd word (from an English perspective) and can have both the meaning of “to take” and “to receive.” Context is important. In theological passages in the NT (according to TDNT) it is most often “receive.” I suspect to meaning is closer to “acquire” which is ambiguous in English as well. We “acquire” sometimes actively, sometimes by accepting.

  74. Nicholas Stephen Griswold Avatar
    Nicholas Stephen Griswold

    Father Bless,
    I based my comment on the following which is the lexicon entry for the word:
    λαμβάνω,v \{lam-ban’-o}
    1) to take 1a) to take with the hand, lay hold of, any person or thing in order to use it 1a1) to take up a thing to be carried 1a2) to take upon one’s self 1b) to take in order to carry away 1b1) without the notion of violence, i,e to remove, take away 1c) to take what is one’s own, to take to one’s self, to make one’s own 1c1) to claim, procure, for one’s self 1c1a) to associate with one’s self as companion, attendant 1c2) of that which when taken is not let go, to seize, to lay hold of, apprehend 1c3) to take by craft (our catch, used of hunters, fisherman, etc.), to circumvent one by fraud 1c4) to take to one’s self, lay hold upon, take possession of, i.e. to appropriate to one’s self 1c5) catch at, reach after, strive to obtain 1c6) to take a thing due, to collect, gather (tribute) 1d) to take 1d1) to admit, receive 1d2) to receive what is offered 1d3) not to refuse or reject 1d4) to receive a person, give him access to one’s self, 1d41) to regard any one’s power, rank, external circumstances, and on that account to do some injustice or neglect something 1e) to take, to choose, select 1f) to take beginning, to prove anything, to make a trial of, to experience 2) to receive (what is given), to gain, get, obtain, to get back For Synonyms see entry 5877
    True, it can mean receive but that is a ways down in its possible meanings. In a sense we receive Christ as to welcome Him but the language in the Baptismal Service seems to rely more on the idea that we must “do” something, “put on Christ” My point is faith is not passive, but active and it calls us to live it out not just hold it as a theological concept.

  75. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    I agree with your theological point, but do not think it can be argued on the basis of the verb itself. Context is required.

  76. Nicholas Stephen Griswold Avatar
    Nicholas Stephen Griswold

    Father I agree context is required. Perhaps Saint Paul’s choice of verb is a bit clearer in context. In Romans 13:14 and Galatians 3:27 Paul uses a different verb to address this idea with the verse from Galatians being the one used at Baptism. In both instances Saint Paul is saying we “put on Christ” and in Romans it is very obvious that has a meaning of changing our behavior. The Lexical entry for the verb Saint Paul used: ἐνδύω,v \{en-doo’-o}
    1) to sink into (clothing), put on, clothe one’s self
    I might well be mistaken but I see these two verses of Saint Paul as a mirror to what Saint John is getting at but using a different word.

  77. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    Some verses that came to mind regarding the last few comments:
    Christ’s words to the Twelve “You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit…” Jn 15:16.
    And “We love because he first loved us… For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. 1Jn 4:19-20
    And “Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door , I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.” Rev 3:20.
    We see that it is Christ who draws us to Himself, but, as Steven points out, we are also called upon to both respond and keep responding. Saying “yes”. Or to use Father’s analogy of a “dance”, Christ leads, we follow.

    Dee, I did not get the impression at all that you may have implied a deliberate use of a calculated method in search of God and “found” Him, to thus be used by others if they so wish. Then again, I know you are Orthodox and the Orthodox does not use the language of “choosing”, and I don’t think you would have been influenced (at least knowingly) by the Protestant theology of salvation. But I think it is safe use the word “commitment”, in that you have committed yourself to Christ. Father used similar language in a comment to Tikhon in the previous post:
    “My “faith” is that I believe this [Christ’s Pascha] to have happened and to be true. In addition to that, and this I think goes to the heart of what faith actually is, the loyalty of my life is wedded to the suffering, death and resurrection of Christ. Good days, bad days, dark days, bright days – my loyalty is to Christ’s Pascha…”.

  78. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    Well…I just noticed Father and Steven’s discussion. My thoughts in writing my comment did not go that far! Just thought I’d mention that…!

  79. Santosh John Samuel Avatar
    Santosh John Samuel

    Nice always Father. And for no particular reason (at least not what i can articulate), i was reminded of this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hDfONXLBztc.

  80. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Wow a lot of good food for thought here! Thank you all. Good words to meditate on.

    Yes ‘receive’ sounds more like what I ought to say. (ie it sounds familiar).
    And yes now I remember the hymn: ” as many as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ, Aleluia”. This is perhaps another example of co-adherence? Not sure now if I’m using the correct words.

    Paula, thank you for that quote by Fr Stephen, also very helpful.

  81. Maggie Avatar

    Hello Father Stephen,
    I am a seeker of Orthodoxy and you mentioned praising God in song. I have found some immensely edifying Russian Orthodox chants, but really can’t find some songs I can sing. I wanted to ask you or anyone here if they could lead me to some of the beauty of song in Orthodoxy?

  82. Byron Avatar


    I would recommend learning to sing the songs that are included in the Liturgy every week. Just my thoughts.

  83. Dean Avatar

    Go to the St. Paisius Monastery website. Just Google the monastery. Go to the gift shop. The nuns have 3 very beautiful cds and almost all are sung in English. A wonderful site and even more wonderful monastery near Safford, AZ. God bless your journey toward the Orthodox Church. Do read Fr. Freeman’s book seen on this site and the great wealth of past articles he has written. You are on a blessed path.

  84. Blagica Avatar

    I’m sending you a link of Divna Ljubojevic,her songs are sang in the Byzantium style although it is maybe commercialised, but the authenticity of the orthodox singing is preserved in her songs with the spice of her original interpretation and angelic voice.
    There are songs in Serbian and there are number of them in Greek as those from the link I am sending, Aksion Estin-it is truly meet and Kyrie Eleison-Lord have Mercy, you can always Google the meaning, it is not an obstacle as the lyrics of the Byzantium singing are usually in Greek and Russian.There many others ,but I recommend Divna because it is easy for interpretation and a real joy for listening.
    I hope you’ll enjoy 🙂


  85. Blagica Avatar

    You can check out these links too as these chants are a real classic in the Orthodox singing.
    Hristos Anesti -Christ is risen!
    Agni Partene-“O Pure Virgin”
    Greetings from the heart and God bless you all
    you great people❤️

  86. Maggie Avatar

    Thank you so much Dean and Blagica. I appreciate you taking the time to guide me. I will certainly check those songs out!
    Byron, I’m waist deep in Protestantism and I’m unable to go to Liturgy at this time. My sons attend an Orthodox Church and occasionally I make Saturday morning liturgy. I’ve been reading tons a beautiful and inspiring Orthodox books given to me by my son. I’m on a journey that I never thought I’d be on and I’m awestruck at all that I’m learning/ relearning.
    God bless you all! I gain so much from your comments too.

  87. Jeremias Avatar

    Fr. Stephen,

    I am very appreciative of your response to Issac and Tikhon above, and I am wondering if you could expand upon the remark that “America is a distortion of human existence.” The phrase seems perfectly to capture something I’ve long felt about my nevertheless beloved country. Your previous posts related to western economies also resonate deeply with my own convictions about the modes of American life.

    I’m guessing that, in part, America’s very ideals and underlying conception of a fulfilled human self imply a twisted metaphysic…?

  88. Drewster2000 Avatar


    I like stories. So when thinking about C. S. Lewis’ works, I prefer things like The Great Divorce, Til We Have Faces, The Pilgrim’s Regress, or his space trilogy. Oh, and the Screwtape Letters. Hope this helps.

  89. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    Maggie…you bring a smile to my face…God bless your journey!
    I thought I’d chime in to say that Ancient Faith Radio, in addition to streaming radio, has streaming music. Go to Radio & Podcasts>>Streaming Radio and it is on the bottom of that page.

    Blaglica….Greetings and love to you too, dear friend!

  90. victoria Avatar

    For all the comments of singing Liturgical music and of the soul singing… about a decade ago I was in a very bad car accident. Someone hit me going 5 0 mph while I was stopped. I had a serious head injury (I always say my guardian angel must take the hit for me… because several years later my brother actually died of basically almost the same accident)

    In the months and years following the accident I have had many many many MRIs. I do not like the MRIs. They are loud machines and even if one is not closterphobic – they can make you feel like you are.

    On some of my appointments I was in the MRI tunnel for 45 minutes… when I had my appointment with a brain surgeon after the first few MRIs – he asked me – off the subject of my injury “what are you thinking about when your in the machine?”

    I said, well I’m the choir at my church, and the Liturgy is about over an hour. I sing the music in my head of the Liturgy from start to finish.

    This man looks at a lot brains and brain waves and brain imagining. He never told me what he saw in my scan, I also have never asked him.. But he put down his papers, took off his glasses and gave me a really big hug and said, “don’t ever stop doing that.”

    Like Father Stephen said, “sing more, think less”

  91. Maria Avatar

    Victoria: Sounds like you were having some very good results! Thank God you are doing well….
    God bless!

  92. victoria Avatar

    Maria Amen … I thank Him every day ❤️

  93. Blagica Avatar

    While I am with the links, I want to share one it was recently released this week by the Bigorski Monastery of Saint Johns the Baptist. The song is written by a monk from Mount Athos and for the first time it is translated into Macedonian and it is describing the everyday life of the monks. It is called “In the middle of the Dessert Beauty”.
    The video is very impressive of the real nowadays life in the monastery and it is known for its hospitality, there are special rooms where guests can stay and be part of the monastic life for some time.This monastery is also known for the Miraculous icon of Saint John the Baptist and also for the mission of saving many addicts who stayed there until cured. There is a rich monastic life and a very fruitful one.
    You can also visit the web page
    So ,whenever you come to Macedonia you can visit this place and many other testimonials where the Faith of the Living God is preserved for centuries.

  94. David Waite Avatar
    David Waite

    Dee of St Herman’s – You say, “I have sung to molecules and they have sung back to me albeit in frequencies that our ears do not hear. We sing praises to God. Some will say that this is just my imagination. But for me anyway, ‘they’ are ‘us’. They are participating in us as we are in them. ”

    I talk to my dog. I talk to my cat. (Irritates me wife, who often thinks I am speaking to her because there is “no one else in the room.”) They talk back, “albeit in frequencies that our ears do not hear.” So do the trees and the sticks and the stones and the streams. The bird are sometimes easier to hear, although not always.

    This has been going on for decades and I have frequently been mocked for it. It did not start with Orthodoxy, although Orthodoxy has certainly helped me understand it.

    Many years ago, God gave me the grace to live in an enchanted world. (I feel quite at home in Narnia.) It made me feel foolish and I spent most of my life trying to deny and escape from it. But there it is. That is where I live.

    So, when folks ask me why I became Orthodox, I reply that I did not “become” Orthodox. I realized that I am Orthodox. Always have been. Only now, I understand the enchanted world He was so kind to give to me. And I am learning, at long last, how to give Him praise and thank Him for it.

    Wish I was a poet.

  95. David Waite Avatar
    David Waite

    A stick a stone
    It’s the end of the road,

    It’s the rest of the stump
    It’s a little alone

    It’s a sliver of glass,
    It is life, it’s the sun,

    It is night, it is death,
    It’s a trap, it’s a gun.

    The oak when it blooms,
    A fox in the brush,

    The knot in the wood,
    The song of the thrush.

    The wood of the wind,
    A cliff, a fall,

    A scratch, a lump,
    It is nothing at all.

    It’s the wind blowing free.
    It’s the end of a slope.

    It’s a beam, it’s a void,
    It’s a hunch, it’s a hope.

    And the riverbank talks.
    Of the water of march

    It’s the end of despair,
    It’s the joy in your heart.

    Link to the song: https://youtu.be/6MNknFy2gdQ

  96. Nikolaos Avatar


    In modern Greek “ελαβον” translates to “εδέχθησαν”, “…those who accepted Him (as Saviour)…”.
    Is this how it is understood in English ?

  97. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Beautiful David! thank you for sharing your experience. Your words bring much joy and gratitude.

    And here is a little more from that song:

    And the river bank talks of the waters of March
    It’s the promise of life, it’s the joy in your heart

    I can ‘hear’ the joy in your heart! Thank you!

  98. Nicholas Stephen Griswold Avatar
    Nicholas Stephen Griswold

    That is how Evangelicals would interpret the word but it is only one of a number of understandings when looking in the Lexicon for the understanding of elabon. in English. What Evangelicals understand for “accepting Christ is also very hard to nail down as there are almost as many understandings of the process of salvation as there are Evangelicals. I can see understanding the verb as received but I think of it in terms of a receiver on a football team. The ball is thrown to him but he has to do something to catch the ball. He has to position himself to be in the right place to receive, he has to look at the ball and he has to reach to grasp the ball. Then he has to tuck it away safely and run down the field. Similarly one can use European football to describe the process. My whole point is that for a person to enter in to the journey of salvation requires an active process that is far more than a mental acceptance and the receiver has an active role to play.

  99. Nikolaos Avatar


    Good reference to the “active role”. I guess we can call it “faith”.

  100. Dean Avatar

    Maggie, You say you are waist deep into Protestantism. I recall the place. We were the head deacon couple in our church before converting. So I’ll just share a little of what I have experienced of the beauty of Orthodoxy. There are so many things. Of course there is the most sublime partaking of the Lord’s body and blood each liturgy. Our hymns, besides being beautiful, very much teach the truth of the ages. They commemorate those who have gone before us, having fought the good fight. Really, much of what we believe is sung. I knew next to nothing of prayer before Orthodoxy although I had been a Christian for many years. Prayer of the heart was unknown. Ancient prayers and hymns of the Church had never passed my lips. I did not know that we could worship Christ with all of our senses. Worship before was a rather homogeneous gathering…white, middle class. Yet now I regularly worship with Russians, Greeks, Ukrainians, Lebanese, as well as Heinz 57 Americans like me. Glorious! The same liturgy is celebrated worldwide, daily. I could walk into any liturgy and be able to join the worship no matter the language. I am reminded of Malachi’s words foretelling of this. “For from the rising of the sun to its setting my name is great among the nations, and in every place incense is offered in my name and a pure offering….”
    1:11 And I have not mentioned the Theotokos, tradition and so much more. Such truth and beauty and holiness…wholeness I never knew possible.
    Others on this blog could continue better than I. We have truly found the Pearl of great price!

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