Facing Up to God


And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. 2 Cor. 3:18

Among the most striking of all images in St. Paul’s writing is his description of beholding the glory of God with an unveiled face. It’s a very difficult passage to translate. The word rendered “beholding” in the translation quoted above is actually “to see something as in a mirror” (κατοπτριζόμενοι). One commentary describes this as a mirror making something visible that would otherwise be invisible. This is, in fact, Christ Himself, who is the “glory of God.” In Christ, we see God Himself. It is equally striking that St. Paul describes this “seeing” as transformative. How is it that merely gazing at something, we are changed into its very image?

This question takes us into the heart of Biblical and Orthodox understanding. The Greek word for knowing, is related to the word for seeing. Indeed, it has the same root as our word “video.” It imagines a form of seeing, a depth of seeing, that is often absent in our conversations. It is there to a certain extent in our phrase, “Do you see what I mean?” There is an assumption that truly seeing, truly understanding, and truly knowing are one and the same act. We hear this echoed in St. John:

Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when He [Christ] appears we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him as He is. 1 John 3:2

Of course, a key in all of this is found in the word “truly.” Its implications are found in Christ’s saying, “Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God.” When read in the light of St. Paul’s “beholding as in a mirror,” this is revealed to be an ongoing, reciprocal action. As we see, we become pure. As we become pure, we see more clearly.

This same action could be described as a “refining fire.” What we see (of God) also reveals the truth of ourselves. The sight of that truth, when compared with the sight of God, “burns.” This burning, refining image is the only true mirror of the soul. It is this aspect of seeing God that often causes us to turn away.

It is a very rare thing to have an accurate glimpse of ourselves. The amount of debris and dissonance that shroud the soul make it difficult clouds our vision. We look for the self, but see shame. And though we imagine that clarity of sight would merely be a matter of the will, it is not that simple. The life of the soul has a great complexity and is not obedient to the whims of what we imagine to be the “will.” Our “willing” is largely the work of the “gnomic will” (when we’re not merely obeying our passions and calling that “willing”). This is a distortion of the true will (the “natural will”). To see the truth, even of ourselves, does not belong to those things we have at our demand.

The Tradition is filled with a different language regarding the heart. We pray, “Open to me the gates of repentance,” and “create in me a clean heart,” and “grant me an image of repentance,” and so forth. The “will” is evident in the offering of such prayers, but it is not in our power (alone) to make it so.

I once heard it said that if we were to see the true depth of our sin and brokenness in a single moment, we would not be able to bear it. I have also heard it said that if we were to see the truth of our existence in the image and likeness of God, we would be overwhelmed by the beauty and imagine that we had seen God Himself. Both are true and neither are to be taken lightly or deemed a minor matter. In plain speech, we’re not ready for such truth.

In the Scriptures, Simon Peter does not see the truth of himself. The first intimation is a revelation of glory – Christ names him, “the rock.” Another revelation comes when he is rebuked by Christ who says, “Get behind me Satan!” He is warned of his impending failure when he will deny Christ and is told that “the devil has desired to sift you like wheat.” A deeper and greater moment comes, following his denial, when he “went out and wept bitterly.” His restoration after the resurrection begins to reveal yet more. He sees both the failure of his love, as well as Christ’s steadfastness. He is told to “feed my sheep.” Lastly, we are told in a veiled manner of the final test and revelation of Peter who will end his life in martyrdom – having become the rock that is the truth of his being. It is the story of a lifetime.

St. Peter’s story points to the very character of our salvation. The journey towards the true vision of God is lifelong. It is as much or more the outworking of God’s providence than the outcome of some long chain of excellent choices on our part. What we see of St. Peter is a guide for us. He remained loyal to Christ. When he fell, he returned. When he returned and the questions became difficult, he remained. When his last trial of martyrdom came, he finally resisted the temptation to flee and journeyed to the place that Christ Himself was leading him.

This is a map for every day, as well as a lifetime. When you fall (and you will), get up. When the fall reveals more of yourself to you, don’t run, justify or pretend otherwise. Be steadfast and patient. You do not yet see as you will see – either of yourself or of God. But, we have a promise, when it is all said and done, we will see Him as He is, and we will be like Him.

In all faces is seen the Face of faces, veiled, and in a riddle; howbeit unveiled it is not seen, until above all faces a man enters into a certain secret and mystic silence where there is no knowledge or concept of a face. This mist, cloud, darkness or ignorance into which he that seeks Your face enters, when he goes beyond all knowledge or concept, is the state below which Your face cannot be found except veiled; but that very darkness reveals Your face to be there, beyond all veils. – Nicholas of Cusa, The Vision of God

Photo: from a Youtube by the iconographer Liviu Dumitrescu.

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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52 responses to “Facing Up to God”

  1. Brandon Avatar

    Father, could you please briefly elaborate on the gnomic vs natural will? I think the paragraph above is close to helping me understand the extent of the role “cultural inheritance” plays in our salvation.

    Thank you in advance.

  2. Adam Avatar

    Is it the case that we can really only see the Face of Christ in retrospect considering the “flame of refinement” (or hell) burning away the false-self into acquiring the new-self is so painful in the present moment and it’s hard to see His face in the present due to the “bearing of shame”?

    If I’m wrong here, how should I understand this?


  3. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    The “gnomic” will, is what we generally experience as we make choices and decisions. They are very much “either/or” sorts of things. The “natural” will, is the will of human nature itself, as it infallibly desires the goal of its existence – union with God. If the natural will were utterly muted, doing good would be impossible. But, we generally experience the “gnomic” will – which is a product of the fall, the fragmenting of our proper unity of being, and are caught up in the noise of our brokenness. The “stillness” that is part of ascetic practice, is a sort of quietening of the passions (and the noises surrounding our choices) so that the natural will is more clearly manifest.

  4. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    I do not think the Face of Christ is only seen in retrospect. We see it “dimly” to use St. Paul’s expression (King James translation). We also experience that dim sight with an accompanying fire of refinement – that, too, can be mercifully dim. God does not intend to destroy us.

  5. Adam Avatar

    Ah, I see. So both the fire and the sight happen both at once.

    Thanks for the help!

  6. Arlyn Avatar

    What you have written though is EXACTLY what I needed to wake up to this morning. No series of life long good choices can save me. I must rest in God’s providence in the struggle and not fear the revealing of myself. Sometimes the encounters are wrapped in beauty and not soaked in shame. I just taught little ones the difference between Judas’s denial and Peter’s betrayal, including how each man’s heart was revealed. They got it.

  7. Matthew Lyon Avatar
    Matthew Lyon

    I woke up the other morning thinking about how, and I’m still being overly influenced by Father Romanides, an effect of gnomic/natural willing (although I wasn’t thinking in those terms) is evidenced by compartmentalizing our lives – our family goes in one box, God goes in another box, etc. There is no unity. This is why someone can truly love God and sin against him. But part of the problem is that we do not want such consciousness all of the time, we want a break from consciousness of God either to fulfill our passions, to be lazy; to relax from God. Now I see why bringing God into our memory at every moment is crucial to decompartmentalizing and that this is the beginning of theosis, and why people pray the Jesus prayer constantly.

  8. David Waite Avatar
    David Waite

    Father – I never before thought about being loyal to Christ. Thank you for your explanation of the experience of St. Peter.

  9. Brandon Avatar

    Father – Does it then follow that there is some sense of determinism (I.e subtleties in the environment due to sin) that always distorts our will to some degree, hence it is our gnomic will and not our natural will? And only when we “see” underneath those distractions can we possibly glimpse at/utilize our natural will-which aligns with His will for us?

    Thank you

  10. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    To a large extent, I think “loyalty” is a better word for translating “pistis” rather than “faith.” Faith can easily mean “what I think,” and we often betray what we think. “Loyalty” means being faithful to something, even regardless of what I might think.

  11. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    I wouldn’t want to say “determinism.” But, our inner world is simply distorted, such that we are alienated from our true nature. We do not live as we were created to live. That nature remains. One way to think of that nature, and the natural will, is to think of it as an infallible inclination towards the good for which we were created – union with God (and everything that comes with it). For one, this means that when we follow that, we are not doing anything “unnatural” or “contrary” to our true existence.

    How “aware” we might be of that underlying natural will is a question. I would think that we’re not often aware of it – because we live in the noise of the passions. But, I think there are true and powerful moments when that fundamental drive within us is very manifest.

    I don’t spend time in my day thinking, “Is this my gnomic will or the natural will?” Instead, I simply work at keeping the commandments of Christ – those reveal the character of the natural will. That and struggling a bit against the passions, being still, praying, repenting, etc.

    What I can assure almost anyone is that you’ll not notice great progress any time soon. Therefore, don’t think about that. Think about Christ.

  12. David Waite Avatar
    David Waite

    Thank you, Father. I spent most of my life thinking that faith meant “believing when there is not any reason to believe.” Hence, I thought Kierkegaard’s famous “leap of faith” referred to an irrational belief in God. Some years ago, I learned to start thinking of faith as trust and that has served me quite well. I shall now begin thinking of faith as loyalty, as well as trust. They are closely related, after all.

  13. Byron Avatar

    I just taught little ones the difference between Judas’s denial and Peter’s betrayal, including how each man’s heart was revealed. They got it.

    A wonderful idea for a lesson, Arlyn!

  14. Brandon Avatar

    Thank you Father. One last point I want to clear up. It’s often said that our nature is fallen. Is that true? Or is it just that we are fallen human beings because we live in a fallen world (with no distinction about our nature) Is this a crucial distinction at all?

  15. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    The Orthodox Church does not teach that human nature is fallen. A “nature” is the very being of something – what it is. That we have sinned does not make us into something other than what we are. Sin (and evil) is not a “something,” it’s actually “nothing.” It is, at most, a misdirecting of our thoughts, actions, etc. There is nothing in our nature that directs us towards such a thing – it is extrinsic to us.

    If our nature itself were fallen, our situation would be hopeless. Doing evil things would be “natural” to us. As it is, despite all that people do wrong, our nature is still quite strong, and, on the whole, people are more good than not – even unbelievers. Were this not so, we would long ago have killed each other off. There is the drive of our nature that “inclines” us towards good things. This is itself a saving factor in our lives – something that safeguards us from becoming like a demon. Although, according to the Fathers, even the demons do not have a fallen nature. But the subject of angels, fallen and unfallen, is a topic for another time.

    The world itself is never described as “fallen” anywhere in the Scriptures. St. Paul says that the world has been made “subject to futility,” for our sake. What he means by this is that it has been made subject to death and corruption – it is a fitting place for us in that the “death” consequences within creation also serve to direct us back towards the right path. We “naturally” seek to avoid death.

    But, creation remains good by nature. St. Paul says that nature (all creation) groans like a woman in childbirth, awaiting the full liberation of humanity so that it can be set free as well. We see the wonder of this bond, from time to time, in the lives of some of the saints. That bond is perfectly natural. CS Lewis, having this in mind, opined that “pet animals” were closer to Eden than those in the wild. Interesting.

    Hope that’s helpful. This teaching is quite clear in the Cappadocian Fathers, and in St. Maximus the Confessor, if you’re interested.

  16. Agata Avatar

    To a large extent, I think “loyalty” is a better word for translating “pistis” rather than “faith.”

    I once read somewhere that “to believe in God” is to “belong to Him”.
    I found it so beautiful and helpful.

  17. Jeff Avatar

    Father, after reading your post and the comments, as is often the case, I begin pondering, holding what I’ve read. As I did so, it occurred to me that I have not fully understood (of course, isn’t that a constant? 🙂) our Lord’s words regarding our suffering.

    I have understood it as that I must choose suffering. But now I’m reconsidering that reduction. It’s more that the only way to become what we are in Christ is to endure the suffering that naturally comes from being transformed into His likeness. Hence, His suffering was a model of our own journey.

    Is this a correct observation?

  18. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    I think you’re spot on. There is ample suffering in our lives (rightly lived).

  19. Dino Avatar

    Father, Jeff,
    A view that Elder Aimilianos (and practically all Spiritual teachers) preached, is that genuine spiritual progress – {as in: the continuing revelation and transformation of our being into Christ’s likeness through the acquisition of His Spirit, his love and humility} – is, amongst other things, brought about most effectually, through our right response to pain and suffering, through loving all our struggles, through increasingly knowing that such tribulations as are allowed us are the best thing for our salvation – these can be our greatest benefactors –, so, trials and difficulties eventually help us immensely to acquire the love of God in earnest.

  20. Jeff Avatar

    Dino & Father,
    Thanks to both of you for your responses, and, Dino for your elaboration on this point.

  21. Diana Christina Avatar
    Diana Christina


    You wrote: The “natural” will, is the will of human nature itself, as it infallibly desires the goal of its existence – union with God.

    Is that also something akin to our intuition? [Intuition: ) Late Middle English (denoting spiritual insight or immediate spiritual communication): from late Latin intuitio(n- ), from Latin intueri ‘consider’ (see intuit).]

    Also: I think it interesting that another definition of face is to turn toward something.

  22. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    It should not be equated with intuition. It’s even deeper – it’s the very direction of our being. Compared to anything conscious it is ever so much deeper. It would certainly be possible to be aware of this fundamental drive – though generally after much prayer, fasting, repentance, etc. It’s something to be “uncovered” over time.

  23. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    Dear Father Stephen,
    It was a blessing to have read this post yesterday, as it took me on a search for further meaning…of words like “face”, which led to how we define “person”, the meaning of “hypostasis”, and the like…and the meaning of all this with regard to Christ and His salvation for mankind. That is, how Orthodoxy uses these words in a Christological manner.
    I came across several articles by Christos Yannaras. I found them very helpful. His writings remind me of Met. Zizioulas when he says it the Person that gives essence (nature) its reality, and not the essence alone (I hope I state this correctly).

    I found these words particularly helpful:
    ( http://jbburnett.com/resources/yannaras/yannaras_ess-hyp-pers-nrg.pdf )
    …”What does “person” mean? It seems difficult to define and the definition is, perhaps, finally unattainable…In principle certainly, there is an answer which it is usual to give to these questions: We all understand that what differentiates personal existence from every other form of existence is self-consciousness and otherness. We call the awareness of our own existence “self-consciousness”, the certainty that I have that I exist, and that it is I who exist, a being with identity, an identity which differentiates me from every other being…Nevertheless, the awareness of one’s existence…is not plainly and simply a product of the mind…Self consciousness is something much more than an intellectual certainty; it has “substrata” which are explored by a whole science, depth psychology… In countless ways it tries to define this ultimately intangible and indeterminate something which is man, beyond bodily functions and bio-chemical reactions and irritation of cells or any other objective interpretations.
    … depth psychology tries to trace the way in which the ego is formed and matures, and this way that the ego both is formed and matures is nothing other than relationship, reference. It is the potential which constitutes man, the potential to be opposite someone or something, to have one’s face-toward someone or something, to be a person. …He exists only as a self-conscious otherness, consequently only in comparison with every other existence, only in relation to, in connection with.
    Therefore only the direct relationship, encounter, reference can make a person known. … it is impossible with objective formulations of our everyday language to mark off the uniqueness and dissimilarity of a person. ”

    Then in the next section (and here I have a question, Father…):
    “…approaching the truth of the person, then we can say that the Church has this experience in her encounter and relationship with the Hypostases of Divinity. We have seen that from the beginning the experience of the patriarchs of Israel confirmed the personal character of Divinity: They meet him “person to person”, they speak with him “face to face”. The God of Israel is the true God, that is, the really existing, living God, since he is the God of relationship, of personal immediacy. Whatever is beyond the possibility of a relationship, what is unrelated, is also nonexistent, even if human logic confirms its existence.”
    My question:
    You mentioned to a response to Brandon that sin and evil are actually “nothing”. Could you tie your statement (which I believe to be true) to Yannaras’ last sentence I put in italics? I think there is a connection, but it beyond me to put into words.
    Also Father, I am interested to know what your thoughts are on Yannaras’ writings.

    One last thing…on the “face”. I am currently reading “The Stripping of the Alters” by Eamon Duffy. When I look at the pictures of the statues and artwork where the iconoclasts destroy the faces of Christ and His Saints, it actually turns my stomach. I do not think the iconoclasts realized the depth of the meaning behind destroying the “face”, I mean, the way we teach it. But the evil in these actions is beyond words.

    Thank you Father Stephen. Your efforts to teach us are invaluable. Glory to God.

  24. Dino Avatar

    It’s interesting that some Fathers (somewhat confusingly) actually do use the expression of a human ‘fallen nature’ (πεπτωκυία φύση). It is essentially the scriptural notion, “from the sole of the foot even unto the head there is no soundness in it; but wounds, and bruises, and putrifying sores: they have not been closed, neither bound up, neither mollified with ointment” [Isaiah 1:6 KJV]. This is verified by our personal experience of human thralldom to corruption and vice.
    However, this, as Father Stephen expounds, is theologically a kind of ‘artistic license’.
    This is because the clear understanding of our natural will (essentially the principle -‘logos’- of human nature) is of something that can never be altered or fallen. Furthermore, the notion of “gnomic willing”, as contrasted with “natural willing”, precisely signifies the movement of a person (who supposedly does not know what they ‘truly’ want), towards the customary process of human deliberation in order to reach some decision between a range of choices. This is very much opposed to our other movement ‘in accordance with one’s nature’s principle’ -or ‘logos’- i.e.: towards the fulfilment of one’s being.
    St Maximus -more than anyone- made a great deal of the teaching that, since our Lord was never in a state of ignorance regarding what He wanted and had utter congruence of His two [divine and the human] wills, He possessed no gnomic will.
    To the measure that man approaches ‘theosis’, a similar ‘unification’ without confusion of all his energies becomes manifest.

  25. Nikolaos Avatar

    Father Stephen

    Reading your various translations of ancient Greek, your knowledge of Greek is definitely greater then mine. I am more questioning rather then suggesting translations on 2 points above:

    “pistis” (faith) relates more to “trust” ( εμπιστοσύνη) rather than “loyalty”. Would you agree?

    On the Corinthians passage do you understand “κατοπριζόμενοι” as “ to see something as in a mirror” ? In modern Greek the passage translates losely to, us being spiritual mirrors that reflect the glory of God….

  26. Christopher Avatar


    Yes, gnomic vs. natural is the difference between a *mode* of the same “thing”.


    I don’t think “trust” captures the import of what Fr. Stephen is saying. I can “trust” something, say the fact that the earth orbits the sun, without having any loyalty to it at all (it really does not matter to me either way – earth around the sun or sun around the earth – the sun still comes up every morning to light my day, but I trust what the experts tell me). Loyalty captures the all-in character that is missing in modern connotations of “faith” and “trust” in my opinion.

  27. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    On the translation of “pistis,” I’m not thinking so much about the Greek – indeed, a standard Greek-English dictionary will always give, “belief or trust.” But trust is a very passive think, many times, and fails to convey the action that is faith. Vladimir Lossky defined faith as a “participatory adherence.” It was that sense of adherence that made me think of “loyalty” as a useful term. Also, “faith works by love,” St. Paul says. I don’t have to love someone to trust them. I trust the government to take my money, without fail. But “loyalty” implies an adherence and a love. Translation is always difficult. What I’m suggesting is a “theological translation.”

    On the verb in 2 Cor. – yes, I think the modern Greek is more accurate. The “beholding as in a mirror” is an old English version (King James) very familiar to many readers. The passage has a sense that as we see Christ we reflect his glory. It is also possible to conflate the meaning with 1 Cor. 13:12 – on which St. Paul seems to be playing with a version of the same imagery.

  28. Dino Avatar

    I find the translation of loyalty extremely successful theologically. Of course ‘πίστις’ (pistis) had to be used in the original with its ‘width’ but the narrower precision of ‘πιστότης’ (pisstotis) – the understanding of pistis as loyalty- is certainly the most important notion that is contained therein.

  29. Dino Avatar

    There is also at least one facet of loyalty that is almost ‘sacramental’. What I mean is that beyond the aspect of loyalty-as-human-devotion-which-naturally-wavers, the term loyalty, as used here, encompasses the notion of “the unwavering”, “the steadfast”: permanence.
    The reason I call it sacramental is because such permanence is God-like, there is no such permanence in human life unless it comes from ‘above’. Take the sacraments of marriage, or of baptism, tonsure or priesthood… From the secular, non-sacramental point of view, a human would find it ‘unnatural’ to stay with one spouse for life-no-matter-what, or to stay loyal to the promises of baptism or monastic tonsure, or priesthood for life-no-matter-what. But God bestows the grace for this to be done. It is this “being faithful unto death”(Revelation 2:10), which I liken to sacramentality. Faith, in this sense, is the agent of Grace.

  30. Nikolaos Avatar

    Dino, following Father’s explanation, I also felt that loyalty enriches our understanding of faith further. However, upon reflection, I think that it too can be somewhat narrow.

    The loyalty of Socrates to Athens’ laws, despite his mistrust and criticism of the corrupt authorities, comes to mind.

    Whilst no single word can capture the meaning of faith fully, we know that faith (loyalty, trust..) and love are complimentary and together they yield the works that are acceptable to God.

  31. Agata Avatar

    Dino and Nicholaos,
    When I read yours and Father’s beautiful comments, the one word I feel missing is “obedience”. Trusting, loyal, faithful, loving obedience of the us creatures to our Creator. Maybe I missed it in earlier comments, but it seems to me obedience is a forgotten virtue theses days, even in Orthodox circles (considering all that is going on in the world)…

  32. Agata Avatar

    Now that I am thinking about it, I feel like “participatory adherence” is just a fancier term for obedience, no? 🙂

  33. Esmée La Fleur Avatar
    Esmée La Fleur

    Thank you Father Stephen for another incredibly insightful post.

    Good discussion on faith versus loyalty. This seems akin to what Saint James was saying in his epistle that faith without works is dead. I guess loyalty and works are the same thing, as both require action? I have a dear friend who keeps telling me she doesn’t love Christ because she doesn’t feel anything, yet she does many things in obedience to Christ’s commandments. I think this is the same issue. True faith and true love can only be expressed through action; believing and feeling are certainly helpful and encouraging , of course, but not really the essence of a life in Christ.

  34. Jeff Avatar

    Yes. Obedience. Bending the neck. Being subject. I am stiff necked and arrogant. Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.

  35. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Obedience in its best sense, as you’re using it, has an element of “participatory adherence.” With “loyalty” I have a sense of “clinging to” that the “adherence” suggests to me. But obedience certainly is a word that belongs there as well.

  36. David Waite Avatar
    David Waite

    Christopher – You said, “to choose some examples, what do the words ‘moral’, ‘fairness’, and ‘repent’ mean? Do folks within traditional Christianity . . . use these words consistently, without any reference/influence from the wider culture?”

    The answer is yes. We Orthodox strive to use them in reference to and under the influence of the prophets, the saints, the Apostles, the Fathers, our priests, our bishops, the Tradition, the Holy Spirit and Our Lord Himself.

  37. David Waite Avatar
    David Waite

    For what it is worth, it seems to me that trust is necessary for loyalty. So when I think of faith as loyalty, I am necessarily thinking of faith as trust as well.

    Of course, I don’t know any Greek. I tried to learn a little earlier this year. At the end of the month, I still didn’t know the alphabet, so I think I need to work on something easier. Like Russian.

  38. Byron Avatar

    Maybe I missed it in earlier comments, but it seems to me obedience is a forgotten virtue theses days, even in Orthodox circles

    I heard of a monk who said that the most difficult thing for young monks to learn is obedience. Our society places a very low value on this virtue, so that is not surprising.

  39. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Byron, et al
    There are very good reasons our culture has a low value on obedience. It has a terrible history of abuse in many places. Military settings come to mind: “I was just obeying orders.” Many will also be aware of the abuse of obedience in settings of spiritual abuse. To a large extent, obedience has almost no place in the parish other than the broadest sense – when actual permission is needed in order to do something.

    Monastic obedience is a very different thing (though I know of cases where it has been abused even there). In the setting of a healthy monastery with a healthy abbot, it is wonderful. Its abuse, however, is demonic, to say the least.

    Obedience is hard to learn because it is so easy to get it wrong. The one exercising obedience cannot be tempted with control of others – or it becomes destructive. There are those who want to be controlled for wrong reasons.

    Forgive me, but much of what is written about the virtue of obedience is romanticized (as in hagiographies). That same romantic treatment fosters a false desire that leads to delusion. Those who are lay people in parishes are not monks, and they should not imagine that they are, or fantasize about the spiritual lives of monks. Our path is different in many ways and for good reasons.

    The best “obedience” for those of us in the world, is to be thankful in the midst of the providential circumstances of our lives. Getting out of bed in the morning and going to work with a bit of joy is a difficult obedience. Paying attention to your life and where you really are rather than imagining how much better things could be elsewhere is a difficult obedience.

    There are enough “contrary” experiences in anyone’s life on a daily basis to nurture the virtue of obedience as profoundly as in any monastery. Christ has given us the way – to live by His commandments (love your neighbor, your enemy, share what you have, forgive everyone for everything, speak the truth, etc.) – If we want to practice obedience the path is clear. Obey Christ, with joy.

    If our culture places a low value on this virtue – I suggest that Christians have given them little reason to do otherwise.

  40. Dean Avatar

    Fr. Stephen,
    Thank you for these wise and profound words to us as lay folk on obedience. Throughout my Christian life I too have witnessed some ways in which obedience, wrongly applied, to oneself or to others, has had tragic results. For us, daily life lived in loyalty and faithfulness…today’s reading in Proverbs 3, is a long obedience in the same direction.

  41. Esmée La Fleur Avatar
    Esmée La Fleur

    During my catechism, one of the things my parish priest taught us was that a layperson should be obedient not to the priest but, rather, to the Church calendar, i.e. attend as many services as your time and strength allows and follow the cycle of feasts and fasts as outlined by the Church. This has always stuck with me.

  42. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    That sounds wise and sane. And even then, we can (and should) be given economy where needed. The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.

  43. Agata Avatar

    Thank you for your explanation, of course I agree that in our culture the understanding of obedience is warped… I really just wanted to add obedience to the list of components of Faith that Dino and Nicholaos were working out.
    And I meant more what Esmee is describing, the obedience to Christ’s commandments and prescriptions the Church gives us (for fasting, attendance, almsgiving, forgiveness, etc, etc), to which we can be obedient by our own choosing (out of loyalty and trust).
    I like to always come back to the person of the Most Holy Theotokos, who we are told to imitate in our Faith and Love for God. Father Zacharias says that Her most important virtues were humility, purity and obedience, as these virtues are most pleasing to God (of course the Mother of God had all the virtues, but these three stand out).
    I think our relationship to obedience depends to some extent on our personality. It’s not difficult for me to be obedient (in general, I am a pushover), but I can see how for others it may pose a bigger problem. Not to mention any sad abuses of it.
    May God guide and protect us!

  44. Christopher Avatar

    I am certainly aware of the romanized, delusional ‘religious’ obedience to which Father refers. Obedience in my life has been more positive, though I admit it has been almost entirely outside of formal religious experience. For example, I have been a Judo/Jiu Jitsu player for most of my aldult life. In this (or athletics of any kind), to the very end, you simply have to obey if you want learn. So much of what your coach says, “do it this way”, simply makes no sense at all – in fact it very often *degrades* your performance at first. Only later (sometimes much later) does it become apparent why it is the only way. Of course, the context is different from the religious one. I *knew* my “masters”, coaches, and organization were reliable because I myself had the tools/perspective to make a reliable judgement. Religiously, do any of us have the tools, the perspective, to make a judgement that this or that religious “leader” or “spiritual guide” is reliable? If so, would we have the desire to seek and place ourselves under obedience to a guru in the first place?

    That said sin is obviously been classically described as a “rebellion” and the cure an “obedience”. Many have a romantic relationship to the Church, her liturgical life, the calendar, etc.

  45. Esmée La Fleur Avatar
    Esmée La Fleur

    I agree Father, hence the qualifications of both one’s time and strength. A single person who does not have any family responsibilities is able to attend more services than a family with five children; or, a person who is strong and healthy is able to maintain a stricter fast than someone who is elderly and frail, etc. for example.

  46. Dino Avatar

    The key factor discouraging decisive commencement of traditional obedience,
    …as well as traditional fasting, is fear.
    Modern man is actually scared to fast – far more than he might think himself unable to ‘resist the temptation’ to eat.
    He is also ‘scared’ to trust obedience to the Church or his spiritual guide, far more than he thinks he might be noncompliant.
    It follows that one who truly has fasted in their life, becomes vigorously fearless, and one who has truly been through obedience –as understood in our Tradition–, has absolutely nothing to fear.
    We have a very long history of verification on this. Fasting and obedience “moves mountains”.

  47. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Perhaps so. However, again, a cautionary word to laypeople in the world. Fear has its place. Oftentimes it is guide that warns us of dangers that are real. We live in a world greatly marked by charlatans and false leaders, even within the life of the Church. We do well to pay attention to fears. They should not rule our lives – but if they raise a cautionary flag – it should be heeded – at least until greater certainty has come.

    Christ Himself issued cautions to the faithful.

    I will simply point to Orthodoxy on the internet. It is so fraught with false brethren, that even the Church has organized international groups to discuss the danger and possible ways to be safer. I was invited this past summer to one such meeting but was unable to attend.

  48. Dean Avatar

    I did a quick search…not exhaustive. Obedience in the NT
    usually refers to obedience to the gospel or to the apostolic teaching or obedience to the faith. I just saw something in the RSV that I had not noticed before. In vs. 20 Jesus notes that faith as small as a mustard seed can move mountains. Verse 21 is a footnote added to the text by some ancient manuscripts. It reads, “But this kind never comes out except by prayer and fasting,” Jesus referring to the demon that He had just cast out of a lad. Mark 9 also mentions this episode as does St. Luke.

  49. Dean Avatar

    Oops…verses 20,21 are found in Matt. 17.

  50. Dino Avatar

    I appreciate the cautionary note Father for our World and our times. I see it’s necessity. I tried to keep the caution very terse, by merely repeating ‘Traditional’ (fasting or obedience) and ‘as understood in our Tradition’ (for both fasting & obedience.)

  51. Dino Avatar

    Regarding the faith that through prayer and fasting can move mountains, Fr Aimilianos goes so far as to say that there has never in the history of mankind been performed a saving miracle by any Saint without fasting! And – he typically prempties our response by carrying on – “if you bring up any examples of miracles without fasting, you can rest assured that someone, somewhere else, unbeknownsst to you, fasted so that your miraculous prayer moved whatever mountain it moved…

  52. Scott Avatar

    “I will simply point to Orthodoxy on the internet. It is so fraught with false brethren, that even the Church has organized international groups to discuss the danger and possible ways to be safer.”

    Not just what people say, but *how* people discuss Orthodoxy. Arguing can get to a point where it’s not edifying for either party. It’s good that you run around here like an ontological handyman ripping rotten boards out of the conversation.

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