Healing the Tragic Soul of the Modern West

Fr. Georges Florovsky did far more than forge a path back to the fathers for the Orthodox Church: he also mapped a route for the return of Western Christianity to its own Orthodox roots. Discussing the modern encounter of Orthodoxy with the churches of the West, he wrote:

A historiosophical exegesis of the western religious tragedy must become the new “polemical theology.” But this tragedy must be re-endured and relived, precisely as one’s own, and its potential catharsis must be demonstrated in the fulness of the experience of the Church and patristic tradition.

If you’re like me, then “historiosophical” is a new word. It is an analysis of history in terms of ideas, concepts, and movements. Florovsky is suggesting that the Western world cannot be approached or understood on the grounds of idea versus idea. Rather, the very process that gave rise to those ideas must also be examined – and that must be in the light of the fullness of the experience of the Church and patristic tradition. Perhaps, even more to the point, this examination must be deeper than mere intellectual argument and curiosity. It must be “re-endured and relived, precisely as one’s own.” Conversion to Orthodoxy does not mark the winning of an argument or a way of making a point. It is the gathering of the whole of the West within oneself and plunging it into the depths of the Orthodox way of life. This is not a mental exercise – but the fullness of existence in the very roots of our being.

For example, to say that Christianity in our contemporary world is dominated by the ideas of modernity is part of such a historiosophical analysis. It is insufficient to argue that “making the world a better place” (a thoroughly modern notion) is wrong. Rather, we must see how such an idea came to be, how it came to dominate certain forms of Christianity, and, perhaps most important of all, how this has distorted the souls of believers. When I have observed the problems associated with the “soul of democracy,” it is not a suggestion that monarchy is to be preferred or to engage in any sort of political discussion. Rather, it is to ask how the rise of modern, democratic ideas has changed the souls of believers.

We cannot rightly engage the experience of the Church and patristic tradition with souls that have already been formed and shaped by the notions of modernity. At the very least, there is a need for self-awareness, an ability to examine how the filters and assumptions of modernity affect our perceptions. This is the problem with those who suggest the path of “dialog” with modernity. By-and-large, they speak from a thoroughly modernized soul (“dialog” itself is a modern suggestion), without an awareness of the tragedy that infects us all.

Our dominant culture is driven to “fix” things. Everything must improve; all problems must be resolved. We are particularly impatient with anything slow and organic. Florovsky suggests that we must “re-endure” and “relive” the tragic crisis of the West within the living context of the Church’s experience and patristic tradition. This re-endurance is a deep work within the soul, requiring patience, compassion, and sympathy.

I will turn to my own experience to offer some reflection. My earliest exposure to Orthodoxy was in the mid-1970’s. There were but a handful of books (in English) on the topic. There was enough for me to understand that the claims of Orthodoxy were serious and challenging. This was not a mere voice among the denominations. As a “High Church” Anglican, I had been taught a story of English Christianity in which the Church of England was, essentially, the Orthodox Church of the English people. Its argument with Rome was depicted as having long predated the Reformation. As such, reading the early Church and the fathers was, for me, as much a reading of who I thought I was as it is today as an Orthodox Christian. The tragedy of the English Reformation was, as yet, not something I saw and understood.

That understanding began to unfold slowly during the ‘90’s. My studies of Orthodoxy had deepened (I did a Masters’ thesis on the theology of icons). At the same time, my study of Anglican history deepened. As the Church around me was abandoning many important points of traditional teaching, I found my voice of protest to be an empty cry in an echo chamber. Sadly, though I had once been taught I was not a Protestant (High Church Anglicans always denied being Protestant), I began to come to the conclusion that I was, in fact, deeply in the backwash of the Reformation and modernity’s rush towards madness.

By God’s grace, I was introduced to Archbishop Dmitri of Dallas, the first convert to become an Orthodox bishop in the Western Hemisphere. He was kind, gentle, never judging, and always understanding of my inner struggles and the subsequent practical difficulties that accompanied my efforts to convert. As a priest (I had never done anything else), finding new employment to support a wife and four children was a major obstacle. That obstacle was later removed by nothing less than a miracle.

The inner soul work of my conversion would not have been obvious to others. Coming to understand that you have been terribly wrong for years is a serious thing. If that was wrong, why should I now think I was right? Many converts wrestle with this paradox. How do we know? To make matters worse, there were terrible jurisdictional battles at the time. Several months before my reception into the Church, a nearby monastery entered schism and broke communion with Vladyka Dmitri. He was heart-broken (as was I).

If Orthodoxy was the ship of salvation, it was clear to me that the ship was leaking. Some wags warned me, “What is happening to the Episcopal Church will happen to Orthodoxy in 10 years.”

My soul had plenty of agony. A ray of peace began, however, when I saw that I had spent the whole of my ordained life trying to “save” the Anglican Church. I wrote, I spoke, I was deeply involved in Church politics. It consumed me. The peace came when I thought: “I do not need to save the Church. I need the Church to save me.” What I saw in Orthodoxy was the storm-tossed life of the very same Church that had sailed the waters of this world for 2,000 years, saving souls and yielding saints and martyrs. Safety could be found, but only in stormy waters.

My heart came to see that renouncing the modern project of “fixing” the Church (i.e. the Reformation) was not itself a way of solving my problems: what was needed was the path of “fixing” me.

Very little peace came with my reception into the Church. Florovsky wrote of re-enduring and reliving the tragedy of the West. There are far too many stories and experiences over the first years of my Orthodoxy to describe in this short article. In hindsight, however, I can see that my soul was enduring and reliving so much that had gone on for centuries before. Bringing all of that to peace (and myself with it) was difficult. I encountered many converts who suddenly imagined themselves to be different creatures – to have embraced a Byzantine purity that excused them from all participation in heresy, all guilt and shame, and provided them with a platform from which to judge the world with impunity. I can painfully recall hearing accusations thrown at me saying, “He’s still an Anglican.” Of course I was. Indeed, there are many things within me that still carry that experience, just as I continue to carry my Baptist childhood and the world of a charismatic commune from my late teens. Salvation does not provide erasure.

Oddly, among the most helpful words during that time came from my Archbishop who consistently said, “Never condemn where you came from. It is likely the place you first met Christ.” His generosity towards the non-Orthodox always called me back from the dark abyss of condemnation that beckons. What has taken place in the West, as well as all that is now taking place in our midst, is within the providence of God. I could not be who I am had I not been who I was. I do not credit God for the sins that are mine, but I recognize that “He made Him to be sin who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God.” God is redeeming us, not condemning us.

We do not solve the mistakes of history. They are what they are. Wrong decisions were made, and they cannot be undone. The medieval synthesis that preceded the rise of modernity has all but disappeared. We live in a world of fragmentation and disintegration. But it is at just this time that a viable Orthodox presence has been placed in our midst. That is no accident.

These words of Father Alexander Elchaninov come to mind:

When a man finds in himself the power to acquiesce in the ordeal sent by God, he accomplishes great progress in his spiritual life. (From The Diary of a Priest)

Of course, I came to believe that the Orthodox faith was true. In fact, I think I had thought that for years. What was lacking was acquiescing to God in the ordeal that is the path of the Church. I had to acquiesce to the tragedy of the Christian West, as well as the sad little witness of immigrant Orthodoxy in our midst. There is the simple acquiescence that the first victim of the Reformation, as it had been at the Great Schism, was ecclesial.

I am no longer saving the Church. Among the rules on the blog is one that forbids discussions of Orthodox politics, or the criticism of clergy. There are times and places for such discussions – they are described in the canons. What is required of us, however, is the deep soul-work of acquiescing to the providence of God (including the whole of our past – in its past) learning to give thanks always and for all things, and the patient work of acquiring the Holy Spirit.

Thousands around us will be saved.

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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208 responses to “Healing the Tragic Soul of the Modern West”

  1. Byron Avatar
    Byron

    Many thanks, Father. Developing a spirit of generosity to others is a very difficult virtue to cultivate. It requires such great humility. Thank you for reposting Vladyka Dmitri’s wonderful advice!

  2. Jeff Avatar
    Jeff

    “Among the rules on the blog is one that forbids discussions of Orthodox politics, or the criticism of clergy.”
    -Is that your policy or one from Ancient Faith Ministries?
    What is the reasoning behind that? I can understand not criticizing clergy, but there are some very interesting and at times alarming things going on in church politics that people should be aware of. Shouldn’t they? Why not discuss it?

  3. Deanna Hershiser Avatar

    “We do not solve the mistakes of history.” Thank you, Father Stephen. You are writing my history, as well. Early into my now nine-year Orthodox journey, I recognized the question inside me, “Why not just become what God is leading you to be, and pray for your friends?” I couldn’t fully accept this then, and I still struggle with the desire to prove my points to others. A blessing has been to engage, a zillion times, in imaginary dialog with Protestant friends who likely think I’m delusional. It has helped me (while thankfully the opportunity has not appeared in real life), because I am the person posing their questions. I can’t know where they come from, apart from a bunch of previously shared assumptions and traditions.

    I’m reading a book that, for my brain, is like food for the starving: “Theology as a Surprise: Patristic and Pastoral Insights,” by Bishop Maxim Vasiljevic (the bishop of my Serbian diocese). Bp. Maxim quotes Georges Florovsky and others, along with Scripture and Church Fathers. Being Serbian, he offers non-Western, surprising nuggets to someone like me, who, like you, carries gratitude for my Western journey to Christ.

  4. W. Nicholas Avatar
    W. Nicholas

    So nice to hear some these words
    “Oddly, among the most helpful words during that time came from my Archbishop who consistently said, “Never condemn where you came from. It is likely the place you first met Christ.” His generosity towards the non-Orthodox always called me back from the dark abyss of condemnation that beckons.”

    concerning the place where I first met Christ and lived the the sweet, innocent, pure faith of a child…

    Your admonition to stay at the plow is a beacon for me. In some ways both of us being former episcopal has given me some peace… I’ve moved and so has my priest and that’s okay. It’s solace for old wounds, but truly it’s more peace and joy that I find now, even in the struggle, than I ever thought I’d find.

    A place of rest? Truly! “What strange wonder…!”

  5. M. Cannaverde Avatar

    “We cannot rightly engage the experience of the Church and patristic tradition with souls that have already been formed and shaped by the notions of modernity. At the very least, there is a need for self-awareness, an ability to examine how the filters and assumptions of modernity affect our perceptions.”

    I’ve been reading your blog for years, Father, and have only commented a couple of times. I’m glad that you keep reminding us of this pernicious problem facing the contemporary Church, i.e. modernity. Often we’re slow learners. Last year I taught a weekend “workshop” on this very topic. We went through a few Enlightenment (and post-Enlightenment thinkers) and how their ideas radically changed how people perceive the world. We then discussed how the Church ought to respond to the -isms of today, all of this done with the focus on education within local parish life and the Church’s mission. I think people were shocked when I told them that we pride ourselves on being Orthodox but we’re not medieval Russian peasants, but are products of a secularized, materialistic culture, and we all have brought our presuppositional baggage into the Church.

    In a culture that encourages and enables the feeding of one’s ego, what it comes down to, and by the grace of God, is a daily dying to self and lifelong repentance to overcome the enticing evils of modern life. Thank you, Father!

  6. Anna Avatar
    Anna

    Replying to Jeff: There are Facebook groups for that. Go look ‘em up. Personally, I’m really glad there are no politics here.
    Father Stephen, have you written an autobiography? Or can you recommend another convert’s journey to read? Thanks.

  7. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Shucks Father. You keep making me have to enlarge and expand my essay on the Church and America which is a mean attempt to engage in the historiosophical process.

    That, alas, also means more research but as I am going to be leaving the paid work force soon, perhaps I will be able to do so by God’s grace.

    I have long felt that history properly done is a subtype of theology and for it to be done at all well one must take on the trials and tribulations inherent in any history.

    What came to mind immediately in reading you post: “What is not assumed (taken on) is not saved”

    That applies to each of us as well as to the Church. The bearing of one another’s burdens is essential to our communal life as you have pointed out(at least that is my translation).

    We all certainly have the marks on our souls already of the eccelsial tradgedy of the west and the terrible fragmentation created. Those wounds are already a part of the Church. It does no one any good to condemn our fellow sufferers. Indeed by trying to deny that we bear those wounds, a certain part of that tragedy seems to have infected the Church. Only repentance and mercy bring healing–not anathemas and denial.

    The Sunday of the Pharisee and the Prodigal should still be fresh in our minds at least.

    May our Lord forgive me, a sinner.

  8. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Jeff, Father’s rules. There are other sites readily available for researching the matters you mention. Fact is if allowed the politics would quickly overwhelm and destroy the peace and learning here that is critical to Father Stephen’s ministry and to the obedience under which he writes. That would mean the website would be shut down.

    While I have my own interest in such matters I would not dream of bringing them here. Here is a place of surcease from such things.

  9. Christopher Avatar
    Christopher

    “…What was lacking was acquiescing to God in the ordeal that is the path of the Church. I had to acquiesce to the tragedy of the Christian West, as well as the sad little witness of immigrant Orthodoxy in our midst. There is the simple acquiescence that the first victim of the Reformation, as it had been at the Great Schism, was ecclesial…What is required of us, however, is the deep soul-work of acquiescing to the providence of God (including the whole of our past – in its past) learning to give thanks always and for all things, and the patient work of acquiring the Holy Spirit.”

    What would you say to the ‘chicken or egg’ situation here Fr. Stephen? If on the one hand the Orthodox ecclesia and its witness within western Europe/NA is as ‘sad’ as you admit (let alone how I see it which is significantly worse in degree and probably in kind), and the other hand we don’t do ‘deep soul-work’ individualistically/alone and without a minimally functioning ecclesia (whatever that minimum is)…well, where exactly and how are we to begin?

    I appreciate how you are emphasizing here how at the core of Fr. Flororvorsky’s thought and “project” was a spiritual and ascetical recapitulation of the essence of Christianity – a ‘new synthesis’ yes but one that was very *personal* in essence. IMO a central tragedy of the history of his work is that it is almost always discussed/studied in a formal “ecclesiastical” frame, as if a ‘neopatrastic synthesis’ is a mere formal theological concept to be accomplished in committee at the institutional level.

    I have been recently pondering the meaning of the little evidence I see of any new synthesis occurring within the formal walls of immigrant/convert Orthodoxy itself while I think I do see an enduring and a catharsis within individuals (again, not at the formal ecclesiastical level) within western RC & Protestant Christianity. In practical terms, C. S. Lewis and even current figures such as R. Scruton or J. Peterson are examples of a real “patristic” synthesizers if you will, even if largely unconsciously. Just two Sundays ago I was talking to a young new member of our parish at coffee hour who recently moved here to attend the local state university. He is a freshman in English, and so I was asking him about what he was reading and what they were teaching him. The answer is summed up by the fact that the title of one of his classes has the word “intersectionality” in it! I told him how I am currently reading Tolkien to my daughter, and about T.S. Eliot, and C.S. Lewis, F. O’connor and the like (he had only heard of them and read none). If he is to be a classical western Christian (of the convert Orthodox type or any other) in 10 years I deeply suspect it will be because of these types of figures more than say a St. Chrysostom or a St. Andrew of Crete…

  10. Ann K. Avatar
    Ann K.

    Thanks, Father! Fr. Seraphim Rose has an excellent lecture series on modernity and its historical underpinnings: http://orthodoxaustralia.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/course.pdf

  11. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    “A historiosophical exegesis of the western religious tragedy…must be re-endured and relived, precisely as one’s own, and its potential catharsis must be demonstrated in the fulness of the experience of the Church and patristic tradition.”

    Father…thank you for continuing a this conversation. And for explaining what Fr Florovsky means by ‘ historiosophical’ for us here in America. It is a great help to listen and consider what you have found (in hindsight, as always) in the unfolding of your own journey to Orthodoxy. As your Bishop, Dimitri, was instrumental in your conversion, we so very much need to learn from those who set a similar example.

    I have a question, Father. Forgive me if it is too much of a diversion from the message of this post. But I’d rather get the answer from you than do a google search…
    What does Fr Florovsky mean by “patristic tradition”? The word ‘tradition’ has caused many a quarrel, as has ‘patristic’. It would help to know what is meant here.
    I admit, the question does stem from my own sense of brokenness and the divisions (quarrels) within Orthodoxy.
    Again, thank you.

  12. Russ Mangiapane Avatar
    Russ Mangiapane

    “Safety could be found, but only in stormy waters.”
    Brilliantly stated! Thank you!

  13. Steven Clark Avatar

    Fr. Stephen,
    A very good and difficult blog entry.
    I would venture one point of clarity: Dialogue is not a “Modern Suggestion”. It goes back to the Garden. It is the communion enjoyed by Adam and Eve with God. At the partaking of the Tree of Experiencing Good and Evil, dialog was instead filled with thought, and became an exchange of these thoughts rather than a communion. The prophet Isaiah realized this when he saw a vision of God and cried: “Woe is me; I am undone; I am a man of unclean lips dwelling among a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the Lord” He realized that the impurity he lived with reached to the level of the very words he spoke.
    And yet the WORD of God took flesh for our sake. The Light shining in darkeness; and the darkness comprehends not. He is the source of all true Dialogue. He is the source of all true meeting.

  14. Fr William Keebler Avatar
    Fr William Keebler

    Father; An excellent convert story! Trying to “save” an ecclesial Community is futile as you found out. In the Catholic Church I remember the changes of Vatican II about the time I was attending an Episcopal High School (Sewanee Military Academy; my father went there so that school was an expectation) and remember the High Anglican approach as being almost Catholic but not really. What struck me about Anglicanism was all the formalities whereas the Catholic Church was all about the Faith, the Sacraments (confession as an expectation, not an extra and the doctrine of transubstantiation and the sacrificial nature of the Mass). Our big change was the congregation led by the choir or cantor reciting or singing the responses versus just the altar boy, hence the altar was pulled forward and the priest faced us so that we could participate. Down south in the 1950’s/60’s the Catholic Church was not even five percent of the population, but regardless, except for the statues versus icons, the Catholic Church (Creed, the seven sacraments, the commandments and the Our Father (prayer) are key to understanding any possibility of uniting the west with the east. Where it is going to come down to is both apostolic authority and catechesis.

  15. Fr. Cyprian Craig Avatar
    Fr. Cyprian Craig

    Amen

  16. William Avatar
    William

    Fr. William,

    I’d been a part of joint Lutheran/Catholic worship services (before becoming Orthodox) and so have often heard opinions in praise of Vatican II’s decision to turn the priest toward the congregation. The most frequent praise I heard is the one you gave: it allows the congregation to participate in the worship to a greater degree.

    But my experience of both (priest facing East or West, so to speak) is the exact opposite. When the priest faces the congregation, worship became for me a performance in which the priest performs (and, increasingly, entertains) a passive audience, who sings along like at an anthem rock concert–think Queen or U2.

    On the other hand, St. Paul’s understanding of the priesthood of all believers is most evident to me when the priest faces East along with the rest of us, worshiping God together and facing the same direction.

  17. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Mr. Clark the modern dialog mentioned involves a particular fallacy, i.e. egalitarianism.
    It is endemic to the modern concept of democracy and the elimination of any hierarchy of being, faith and values.

    It has been used quite successfully to attack any proper sense of Tradition and the ability to hand it on in a living form. It reminds me of Aldonza’s Lament in the musical Man of LaMancha. Aldonza sings bitterly that “One pair of arms is like another, I don’t know how or who’s to blame. I’ll go with you or with your brother, it’s all the same”

    That is the dialog of modernity. Thus the God ordained boundaries that are inherent in the very essence of creation are rejected. The sacred is denied and walled off. The Two Storey Universe is the result. Not God “Everywhere Present”

    Indeed that dialog induced fragmentation seems to be the nature of the eccelsial tragedy. Living Traditional communities of which the Orthodox Church is still one, by God’s Grace, are able to assume the fragments both our broken humanity and wrong ideas: healing and transforming through the dual practice of humility and repentance.

    Modernity and its people (all of us for the most part) hates that.

    It does indeed go back to the temptation in the Garden though as you suggest as it affirms God lies at best. All dialog from there on out is about how 5o divide up His corpse.

    The recovery is the Cross and the recognition that life is recovered in God’s offering of His living Body and all previous Blood.

    Christ is Risen!

  18. William Avatar
    William

    Steven,

    I could be off on this, but I took Fr. Stephen’s mention of the modern invention of “dialog “as referring to the idea that two parties with seemingly contradictory views can enter into dialog with one another in order to come to a “happy medium” or some other such nonsense. I think this can often work in interpersonal contexts, but it does tons of damage when it comes to theology–think Hegelian dialectic, etc.

  19. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Jeff,
    Those discussions elsewhere have done very little in terms of the Kingdom of God, as far as I can see. More prayer, less talk. In America, everybody’s got an opinion, no one has callouses on his knees. They may discuss it elsewhere, but, for me, it’s a waste of time. Besides, I have no blessing from my hierarch for such a thing. I do not write for my own pleasure or anyone else’s. I write in obedience.

  20. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Christopher,
    The acquiescence is a surrender to the grace and providence of God with as much good conscience as we can bring to our lives. I can’t imagine that we will ever do more than that.

  21. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Paula,
    Florovsky wrote about a “Neo-patristic synthesis.” It’s really an error when people simply say, “the Fathers,” as if the Fathers only ever said one thing and in perfect agreement. They did not. And this becomes the difficult point. There is, and always has been, a living appropriation of the Fathers in a “synthesis” that lives out a sort of agreement manifested in the life and prayers of the Church. Florovsky was well aware of that and wrote several volumes in which he described Fathers of various centuries.

    For example, the Cappadocians clearly have a dominant place in the 4th century, as they developed and displayed the implications of the Nicene Council. It is worth noting that St. Basil and his brother and friend, were very much aware of the work of Origen, who had been the teacher of St. Gregory the Wonderworker – who had so much to do with the faith of these later Cappadocians. They were not “Origenists” but filtered and took what was best from the one who is rightly described as the “Augustine of the East.”

    None of this is something that can be described mechanically, or, even cleanly. It’s why Orthodoxy has never been “systematized” in a manner like Calvinism and its ilk. It has to be embodied. Certain aspects of all this make some in the West panic that there’s no controlling authority like a Papacy to guarantee the outcome. But, the papacy hasn’t really been very successful at this in the West, either. In a strange manner, it is maintained through the Providence of God and the cooperation of the saints who, through the ages, have deeply and consistently willed to be “Orthodox.”

    I think, through history, it “wobbles a bit.” It’s really not accurate to describe Orthodoxy as though its path has been as straight as an arrow. We’ve had bad centuries, off and on. We’re at some very critical moments just now, I think. No challenge in our history has been as serious as the heresies that comprise modernity – for none were as powerful and successful. As such, I think it is those who are willing to be small who will save us, while those who want to be great will fall.

  22. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Steven,
    I’m sorry, but I disagree. It is better to be rather clear about this than to lose it in the mists of a sermon point.

  23. Byron Avatar
    Byron

    Steven,

    I agree with both Michael and William: Modernity holds the view that anything can be dialogued into an acceptable position for two parties; you give some and I give some and we’ll eventually find an equitable (it is rooted in the modern heresy of “equality”) solution.

    I do agree with your observation that “the impurity [of our lives] reache[s] to the level of the very words [we speak]”, but you’re talking about something very different there. It may help to realize that the modern world would not agree with that statement, while the ancient one likely would.

  24. Maria Avatar

    Not being political – but it does seem to me we all come from Orthodox beginnings. We converts were lost sheep in the divides and schisms that took place. The blessing is, that we found our way back home! God called us and we responded. Now we just have to give thanks and live it as it was so beautifully left for us by Jesus and the Apostles.

    God bless!

  25. Margaret Avatar
    Margaret

    Dear Fr. Stephen, thank you for this blog post. I did not know how much I needed to read these words: “…I could not be who I am had I not been who I was. I do not credit God for the sins that are mine, but I recognize that “He made Him to be sin who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God.” God is redeeming us, not condemning us.”

    And this encouragement: “These words of Father Alexander Elchaninov come to mind:

    When a man finds in himself the power to acquiesce in the ordeal sent by God, he accomplishes great progress in his spiritual life. (From The Diary of a Priest)”

    God bless you, Fr. Stephen! Glory to God for All Things!

  26. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    Thank you Father. Very helpful answer on the meaning of patristics.
    Interesting that Fr Florovsky wrote several volumes on the Fathers of various centuries. Sometimes you don’t know who people are talking about when they say ‘the Fathers’. There were many of them.
    I am learning, too, to appreciate the non-mechanized, un-systematic “synthesis” of the mind of the Church. Takes time for us westerners to condition ourselves to that way of thinking.
    And I have to agree that those who are willing to be small will save us – beginning with a willingness in our very own soul.

  27. Fr William Keebler Avatar
    Fr William Keebler

    Father. The proper experience for me was when it first happened. Some English came in late 1965 but (the Roman canon was still in Latin) opening the Mass up to active participation but the current Mass came in 1969 (the first Sunday of Advent so 1970 was the first full year of the English Mass). At no point did anyone even think about tampering with the Mass but yes, later there was quite a bit. Everyone could see that was disobedience.

  28. Lina Avatar
    Lina

    Some reflections on my journey and this article.
    At the age of 72, kicking and screaming, God brought me into the Orthodox Church. out of the Episcopal Church, following 20 years as a missionary. At one point I sat down and wrote a letter to God stating about ten reasons why I couldn’t do this. His reply, “I want your heart.”

    Well, If that is the case… 10 years later I will say it was a good decision on God’s part and I am glad I didn’t listen to me.

    Having grown up sailing small sailboats, I soon learned that “calm seas do not a sailor make.”

    Having read both Episcopal and Orthodox blogs where people try to reason the present political situations out, I came to the conclusion that reasoning does’t work. Recently I reread “The Life of St Anthony the Great.” I came across the following: “Now we Christians hold not our secret in the wisdom of Greek reasonings but in the power of a faith which is added to us by God through Christ Jesus. ” …. “Faith in Christ is the only true faith.”

  29. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Fr. William,
    A very sad truth is that the various philosophies of modernity – the ideas that dominate our present culture – are convinced that we can make the world a better place, that we can make everything and everybody better – and with such a philosophy we dare to “fix” all kinds of things with the constant result of unforeseen consequences.

    I am convinced that much of what has taken place in the Roman Catholic Church since the 60’s is the result of lots of well-meaning people fixing all sorts of things they were certain needed fixing – with the unforeseen result of a lot of unintended failures and problems. To a large extent, the result has been a sort of infection of Catholicism with many of the same problems of mainline Protestantism – because those ideas are the vanguard of modernity. They have been destroying a number of Churches.

    Now, I do not think Orthodoxy is immune to any of this. Rather, it is the case that, for a variety of historical reasons, Orthodoxy was unable to embrace such notions. There were and are folks who would love to “fix” Orthodoxy as well. If they were to have their way, we would catch up with everyone else in a short time. Oddly, Orthodoxy’s failure to “modernize” has been saving it. If anything – we have been saved by our incompetence. Because, believe me, on the whole, we didn’t know any better and would have been just as clueless as anyone else had God not shackled us with our own circumstances.

    I attend seminary (Anglican) in the 70’s. Many of the principles of liturgical change – the same as was being taught in Catholic seminaries – was being indoctrinated at that setting as well. It was often based on a number of lies and many false assumptions. But that’s a long discussion for another time.

    It is good to put our faith in God and shelter within the truth. We should pray to be corrected, where possible, and forgiven for all else.

    It’s odd. I know priests who fought tooth and nail to move their altars and assume a West-facing position in the Mass (these were Anglicans), who, at the same time, did not believe the Creed, much less the traditional moral teaching of the faith. How is it, one must ask, that they were so damned certain about which way to face when they prayed, when they weren’t even certain that anybody was listening?

    Solzhenitsyn once said about Soviet Russia that the terrible things that took place in Russia happened because they had forgotten God. People were certain that they knew how to fix the Church that they forgot God in the process. The mess that now exists is quite dark indeed. The numbers don’t lie.

    I only use the altar position as a single, silly example, the tip of an iceberg.

    Lord, have mercy.

  30. Maria Avatar

    Lina: I enjoyed your story very much offering so much down to earth inspiration and hope! I and a few others I know, became Orthodox at a mature age and we had much sorrow for those we left behind praying one day they will understand the beauty, history and Truth of Orthodoxy. We came to understand our whole journey better and how God is calling us home on this path. I agree with you that “reasoning does not work” because we tend to rely on our own ideas when we need to rely on God who is fathomless in all eternity. We cannot begin to understand the depths, heights and widths of God. All we need to know is He is all merciful, love and peace while we take up our Cross and follow Him! (*I have sailed too – the stormy seas – on land and water)
    God bless…..

  31. Fr William Keebler Jr Avatar
    Fr William Keebler Jr

    Father. Anyone who wants to fix anything has an agenda; that is “my” will be done (i.e. hypocrites). The Second Vatican Council gave us English which isn’t fixing anything, rather, it was a deeper entry into the prayer of the Church. Trust me the old Mass was stiff, you couldn’t hear it and you didn’t get much out of it until after the Gospel the good Irishman would turn around, put both elbows on the Gospel side and give the sermon right there and then turn around and move over to the center for the Creed. The organist played chords while the Latin prayers were said. That had to change (can you imagine today if they had left that alone!!!). The Roman Mass has its entire history in Rome and the west so the current decline in the west is going to be felt in the Roman Catholic Church as the Church doesn’t exist in a vacuum. The key is, fix nothing and strive for personal sanctity.

  32. Karen Avatar
    Karen

    Thank God for Bp. Dimitri of blessed memory! What a beautiful encourager he was!

  33. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Fr. William,
    The Orthodox had been telling Rome that Latin was a mistake for centuries before then. It wasn’t language that created problems following Vatican II. On the other hand, it is also true that the services in Orthodox Churches themselves are, in a few places, celebrated in a language that the people do not understand – a violation of Orthodox tradition (usually done in the name of tradition).

    There can be no Orthodox gloating in any of this regardless of the fact that we are right about everything. 🙂

  34. Maria Avatar

    Fr Stephen: Your comment re: silly and the altars is really not that silly! I was stuck in those situations for many years in the RC Church and believe me it was the beginnings of more hell to come! I can’t speak for the Anglican situation, but I saw in the RC situation, how God was there, however ignored by those who wanted to fulfill their own agenda. I often wondered if anyone was actually praying to God to see what HE wants us to do about the Church and our worship. It didn’t seem so! Having said that, why should we have to pray to see what God wants us to do about the Church and our worship? He already came and taught us and for many selfish reasons, we (or they) decided that wasn’t good enough and change upon change is better to suit our agendas – personal agendas with strong “I” messages. Thus, here we are. I think being in Orthodoxy is a lesson on how to cherish what the Lord gave us and keep it that way in simplicity. Orthodoxy is a huge example in the world of faith for having what is original and authentic and in no need of trendy changes.
    God bless…..

  35. Byron Avatar
    Byron

    Maria,

    Thank you for your 4:48 post. Simplicity, and the clarity it can possess, is often lost in conversations of this nature. Well said!

  36. Anonymous Avatar
    Anonymous

    For me, coming to Orthodoxy has been like “ironing” out the wrinkles in my faith after years in the Catholic and various Protestant Churches. I received the garment of my faith in Western Christianity. I will always be thankful, and I recognize Christ’s presence, filling all things. The wrinkles are slowly coming out, and some may need steamed out. I’m learning to be thankful for the wrinkles. I wouldn’t be who God fashioned me to be today without where He has taken me through in the past. He is the Potter.

  37. Maria Avatar

    Anonymous: I’m sure I and many others will appreciate your comment and ponder the points you have made!

    Thankyou and God bless…..

  38. Fr. Steven Clark Avatar

    William, It may well be that what you have suggested is what Fr. Stephen means by “dialogue”. If so, then he needs to say so for clarity’s sake.

  39. Eric Avatar

    Thank you for this deeply moving post

  40. Jp Esnouf Avatar
    Jp Esnouf

    Glory to God for “all” things just got more weight! I will need to read this post a few times over.

    Thank you Fr Stephen

  41. Anonymous Avatar
    Anonymous

    I realize my comment above is probably a response to inner emotion, after reading previous comments in this thread. I think something I need to be aware of as a convert is certain reactions inside to what I perceive as causes of the wrinkles, should be acquiesced in silent peace. This path is even higher, as I believe is some of the meat of this article I need to chew on. But I think finding gratitude for the wrinkles is a big step. Next step, silent peace….a doorway to true prayer. Thank you for the meat in this article Fr. Stephen.

  42. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Fr. Steven,
    Obviously, when two people speak to each other, it can be called a “dialog.” Thus, dialog can mean nothing more than simple communication. However, in “modern-speak,” “dialog” is frequently code-language for moving a modernist agenda forward by asserting oneself as an “equal.” For example, a group with a revisionist agenda on human sexuality call for “dialog” on the topic. The moment such a “dialog” is agreed to – they have been elevated to a legitimacy of equal partner. That falsely created legitimacy will thereafter be elevated as a platform for spreading their nonsense. Historically, when such modernist “dialog” partners achieve their goal of majority – all “dialog” ceases and the suppression of the truth begins. Been there, watched it happen numerous times.

    We do not dialog with heresy. We refute it. Again and again and again. Or, at least we should. That refutation does not have to be angry or mean (it’s best if it is not). But – in our contemporary world – calls for dialog are generally everything but. I hope this clarifies my meaning.

  43. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Father, indeed. I saw the same process initially in the bloody politics of Central America
    in the 50s and early 60s whenn insurgents– usually communist, would launch a rebellion, kill and terrorize enough people long enough to gain a foothold for “negotiation” which would inevitably result in dialog to form a coalition government. Not long after the non-revolutioary people in said government would be dead or in prison.

    Such dialog has been the tactic of most revolutions in history. It is the dialectic at work. George Orwell nailed it in Animal Farm. It is driven by a lust of power, inflamed grievances and a twisted sense of ideological “justice” without mercy.

    Such a process is totally foreign to the Church. It is always letting the nose of the camel under the edge of the tent.

  44. Matthew Lyon Avatar
    Matthew Lyon

    Fr. Freeman,

    I won’t write much because you typically don’t approve my comments.

    We cannot rightly engage the experience of the Church and patristic tradition with souls that have already been formed and shaped by the notions of modernity. At the very least, there is a need for self-awareness, an ability to examine how the filters and assumptions of modernity affect our perceptions.

    My comments, that are often the same, emphasizing how such presuppositions change the Gospel, change soteriology, change methodology – for the catechumen or the convert or the evangelized – is really the same thing you’re suggesting. My concerns over Ancestral Sin, are really just a faster track to get the presuppositions examined, and to give someone a more unshakable confidence that they are in the right place. You could not move me to another form of Christianity because I know that it’s “gospel” is wrong Biblically, historically, etc. So, I can embrace the Church in it’s fullness, while reliving whatever tragedy necessary, because I don’t live in a place of constant uncertainty of if “I can really know” because I do know – and I wish this for others – not to become annoying apologists – but that we all get on the path to selfless love acquisition – because we need each other I think in that endeavor.

    I just think your method of providing this examination is very good but very slow. Some people wouldn’t object to that, some revel in the fact that it took them 20 years to become Orthodox. I don’t. I think, wow, that’s a long time living in uncertainty unnecessarily.

    What was lacking was acquiescing to God in the ordeal that is the path of the Church.

    This is what happens when we lack certainty. People cannot submit to what they are suspicious of intellectually, and if they do, it will not be whole hearted. But the intellectual path is outrageously slow because suspicions are hard to overcome. What is not hard to overcome is the reality that the gospel outside of Orthodoxy is not Biblical, not historical, provides no continuity between the testaments, etc..

    God bless you,
    Matthew Lyon

  45. Jeff Avatar
    Jeff

    “We do not dialog with heresy. We refute it. Again and again and again.”
    The code word, ‘dialog’ and these sort of things is what I was referring to when I mentioned church politics. I didn’t mean petty squabbles or secular politics. So, how do we refute heresy, if we don’t first call it out and discuss it? I would call that politics. But, maybe I am just using the wrong language here? I agree that arguing over social/political issues is pointless, but when genuine evil and heresy pop up, should we not confront it and speak out against it? I am not trying to be contrary here, I genuinely want to understand.

  46. Maria Avatar

    Matthew Lyon: I read your comment to Fr Stephen a couple of times and feel I do understand what you are expressing being that I am a convert to Orthodoxy. Just to share – my conversion had nothing to do with the state of Churches or the world today, it had to do with never being able to put it out of my mind, that God was calling me to an earlier way of worship being closer to Jesus and the Apostles and following that, with research, I learned what the problems are and why I was experiencing this call and difference within myself. This only made the conviction within me stronger. I did search out Orthodoxy for a short time several years ago but with the passing of my mother, my mind was off track for a while. However saying that, the call never left me and I knew I would be back searching it out. It happened! I then started Catechism classes with a well-known Priest and was received into the Orthodox Church 1 yr later. Conversion is a grace, not as you are saying more or less, intellectual. It is also not changing from one religion to another, but is a change of heart – a turning around – a metanoia. I believe through Orthodoxy, I have come to see more clearly what Christ left for us and it really only needs to be lived in a simplistic way. (the word dialogue has suffocated my mind and I wish it would just go away) Prior to my conversion I was already rooted in Scripture (and parish ministries) and find in reading the Orthodox Bible dictionary, the interpretation I had before, is really not that far off – perhaps deeper – but not really incorrect. Of course there are the more profound differences which I accept without any difficulty including the filioque. My former denomination rid themselves of prayers, rites, etiquette, morals, Tradition and now they are suffering for that whereas the Orthodox cherished it and suffered that out – thank God! I hope you understand my comment and God bless!

  47. Maria Avatar

    Jeff: We do have a right to call out heresy and so do the Bishops, Priests and Cardinals. The problem as I see it, is there is oppression – even with their so called dialogue! I am particularly referring to the RC Church at the moment. God bless…..

  48. Sinnika Avatar
    Sinnika

    Fr Stephen, I have read your articles with great interest for some time, and feel nourished by them. I was born into the Swedish Lutheran Church, but lost my childhood faith after Confirmation, as there was nothing there for my soul. After moving to England, I started going to the local Anglican, sensing an echo of something. But, after 5 years, the Lord heard my cry to take me out of there! So I discovered the Roman Catholic Church, and I must say I was quite happy there, until Pope Benedict XVI resigned. I now find myself yet again, asking to be taken out, and to move into the Orthodox Church, where I find a bottomless treasure of wisdom and holiness. When you said you tried to “save ” the Church, I realised that is what I am now doing with the RCC. I wrote to the parish priest about a secular annual day which I thought was hijacking a Feast Day of the Mother of God. He got angry and refused to talk about it. Next I wrote to the bishop about the Deacons letting extraordinary servers distribute the Hosts while they offered the Chalice. I got a very strange reply, shortly after that, the parish priest got very angry with me for going behind his back and said “You are not the guardian of Orthodoxy! You should go back to your former parish! ” Now, I humbled myself, as the Lord asked me to and continued going to the local Church, rather than follow my instinct and stop going there. We have since made peace, but I feel silenced. Now, I am not sure if I should stay or, follow my heart and ask to be received into the Orthodox Church, or does God want me to stay and pray for the RCC? I do miss not having an Elder or anyone to talk to, to guide me.

  49. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Matthew,
    I do not personally revel in the fact that my conversion was some 20 years in the making. It was what it was – and the 1970’s, when it began, is nothing like the present – Orthodoxy in America was certainly quite different. Things are what they are – and I rejoice that God is at work among us. Mere intellectual certainty is cheap – so many people are intellectual certain of so many things – including things that are wrong. Real certainty takes time.

    True conversion is the true transformation of the person. I have yet to see that happen on a fast scale in Orthodoxy. I’ve seen lots of quick delusion, but not true transformation that was swift. God is patient, and we are repeatedly commanded to be patient as well. Modernity is marked by its hurry and need for speed. We should think in terms of generations.

    I now have an interesting place within the parish. I am “pastor emeritus,” a retired priest, and, by normal standards, an old man. It takes years to produce old men, much less old priests. In the world of convert Orthodoxy in America, we are only just now beginning to have old convert priests. That’s healthy and normal and cannot be rushed. In a matter of time, I’ll be a dead convert priest, and, God-willing, will add my prayers to those who have gone before as we pray for the life of the Church in America.

    We need generations of such faithful. I’m in no hurry for that next stage, but I’m grateful for those who have already taken up that mantle.

  50. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Jeff,
    No doubt, heresy and error need to be called out. On the other hand, it is often the case that we get heresy because we have failed to teach the truth in its fullness. We are confused, for example, about sexual issues in our country because we have been living a delusional version of sexuality before that. I do not have time here to go into all of that – but the refutation of heresy is a slow process that requires real health.

    St. Gregory the Theologian complained that it was impossible to even get a haircut in Constantinople without hearing people going on and on about Arianism. He found it annoying. Apparently, barber shops were the social media of the 4th century!

    Mostly, I think we need less argument. In large part, it’s because we lack the spiritual depth to sustain us through prolonged debate. Many people lose their souls because they’re so consumed with argument. The devil doesn’t care whether we’re right or wrong. He’s glad so long as we’re angry. So, generally, I counsel a peaceful approach – when possible. I also know that there are and will be ever-so-many places on the internet engaged in the debate. I need not worry about a lack.

  51. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Sinnika,
    Be patient and pray. In time, the answer will be clear.

  52. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    I probably sound like a fool but the growing popularity of Orthodoxy worries me. It isn’t that I don’t want the Church to be strong with vigor. It’s just that the Holy Spirit has kept her alive, and her dependency on the Holy Spirit for her life came about through adversity.

    I didn’t really come from a life of “Christianity” into a life of “ another, better Christianity” in my conversion. By God’s love for this sinner, I simply entered life, admittedly with significant struggle, suffering and death.. Consequently, I have a lot of love and compassion for the ones who say they do not believe and have not entered the life of Christ.

    Not long ago someone mentioned to me that the primary reason that they would never convert to Christianity was due to the self righteousness of hateful people who call themselves Christian. I completely understand the disparaging remark. And I responded that I thought it was good not to join with with such people. I’m not sure that the person thought I was sincere. Yet I was. God is indeed merciful and loving to the humble heart. Slowly, within such humility, God finds us and keeps us, no matter where we are, He finds us.

    Father, God led you to your realization that “you needed di”fixing”. God bless your humble heart! Please forgive me but this is indeed how you are able to weald the sword so well. Such is the paradox of the gift of the Holy Spirit. May God grant me a humble and loving heart, to be His faithful servant.

    Thank you for your witness of your life experience in this article.

  53. Dino Avatar
    Dino

    Matthew,
    The equation “virtue = grace+effort+time” is quite an axiomatic one.
    The same equatiin can be applied to any ‘conversion’ .
    Of course one can waste time… Goes without saying.
    I guess in *that* sense you can sort of speed things up.
    The fastest assimilation of Grace is therefore invariably in stillness. No wonder St Paul spent those initial years in the desert. Modern man is in the greatest need of some “desert” away for certain intervals.

  54. Maria Avatar

    There is a book on Ancient Faith called Ancient Path and the teaching in the book is how God told the Israelites, “When you have lost your way, return to the Ancient Path.” That comment from God can still apply today. There have always been converts including St Paul who had a dramatic conversion as well as many Saints. This is the main reason Jesus came – to bring people to conversion – to cast out evil – to heal the sick – to preach. In these turbulent times in the world and Churches, we really could be thankful there are people coming to the realization of the Early Church and that it just might be God calling them all back. I think one who is in good Catechism classes with a good Priest doing the formation, then we have to trust his response to whomever is being called. If it is not right, either the candidate will know or the Priest. There are always people walking around saying the Church go-ers are too self-righteous and it’s not for me. Well, that happens in all denominations and more than likely, they have also picked this up from others in their life because when we study it more carefully, should we put everyone in the same basket of bad apples? Perhaps they were introduced to the wrong people. We need to give them a chance as well as ourself and be mature about God calling the individual soul – not the group they connect with per sei. This boils down to human nature and if one is having a problem connecting with those more divine, then search out more divine and holy prayerful friends. We cannot all be at the same level and arrive here on the same bus. God bless…..

  55. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Wield— typo gee wiz

  56. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    Amen, Dee. Amen.

  57. Christopher Avatar
    Christopher

    Matthew Lyon,

    Have you taken in the work of Charles Taylor (e.g. “A Secular Age”)? If he is right about the Cartesian contours of the modern mind (and I think he is) then even if you could compel enough philosophical rigueur (my sense is that only about 1 in 20 manifest enough) you’re still left with it all being a “construal” as Taylor puts it.

    So even a catechesis that self consciously tries to get at and under the secular/protestant/modern presuppositional assumptions (around exegesis or anything else) has this pre-presuppostional ‘bracketing’ of any and all “certainty” that Taylor describes. At this level, I don’t know of a direct dialectical attack on this sort of ‘certain uncertainty’, and so all the other sorts of wisdom and experiences normally described a being “spiritual” come into their own and we live the fact of the limits of the rational dialectic…

  58. Ivan G. Avatar
    Ivan G.

    Good morning, Fr. Stephen and friends,

    Commenting here again feels like coming home after I had a long bout of flu late last year. I caught up on reading the blog posts I missed in January, so I’m up to date now.

    I think my comment will seem cynical, but I think that is a generational difference – people under 25 years old are much more atheistic and post-Christian than those over 40 or 60 years old, so my experience of what Western Christians and American people in general believe is very different than the experiences of older people. And I use surveys about religion like Gallup polls to analyze sociological data.

    In my experience, most Americans say they don’t see the need for Orthodox tradition. They expect to live forever and do not fear eternal punishment in Hell, because they believe that God forgives all sins. So from their perspective, what is the Tradition’s purpose? It’s difficult to demonstrate the value of something people consider outdated.

    Most Western Christians I have talked to about Christianity where I live in Northern California do not really believe in Jesus Christ’s Resurrection. So I think the main challenge for secular Westerners is to accept that God has the authority over humankind to hold us accountable, while Western Christians struggle to understand the Incarnation, Passion, and Pascha. In both cases, the crucial movement is from human justice to divine mercy.

  59. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Matthew, my conversion to the Church began on the day I was born outside her. Twenty years later, Jesus Christ answered a desperate prayer of mine and let me know He is real and who the Bible reveals Him to be. It so happened there was an Orthodox parish about twenty minutes from that spot but it took another 20 years before He led me into the door of the Orthodox parish where I and my family were received. The priest there who laid hands on us to bring us into the Church was a defective priest who inflicted a lot of pain on me and my family after giving us an indifferent catechesis. It took me another 20 years to realize that that priest did more to bring me to God than most other people I have known. Thirty two years in, I am, by Grace, perhaps beginning to acquire the basic rudiments of an Orthodox mind. I pray that one day I may actually become Orthodox and have a good defense before the Dread Judgement Seat.

    Until then, if ever, I try to hear the Word of God in and through other people. Fr. Stephen and Dino indeed everyone here have been helpful. Many others along the way: Orthodox and not.

    So, my conversion has been going on 71 years now although you could say it took only 40 for our Lord to lead me out of my wanderings in the wilderness where, unbeknownst to me, He sustained me with manna. So I figure I have Fr. Stephen beaten for slowness.

    I have found over the years that the Parable of The Seed is accurate. Those who spring up quickly frequently lack sufficient root to endure the hardship and troubles that always follow.

    A proper podvig requires both endurance and patience after all.

    Glory to God–Christ is Risen and fills all things. May His mercy endure forever and lead me into His Kingdom– and you as well.
    .

  60. Sinnika Avatar
    Sinnika

    Thank you Father, I will.

  61. Alan Avatar
    Alan

    Dino, yet again….thank you for your great comments!!!

  62. Maria Avatar

    Conversion is a lifetime experience; we will never have it all in the bag so to speak and to believe so, is really a little overconfident. Life is full of lessons, change and moving forward and at times backward,, so it is important we continue to take our lessons to heart and be thankful God is still presenting them to us. When we convert into Orthodoxy, the journey, the search, the conversion has just begun for the rest of the journey. All of our life’s experiences prior to that, were still part of the journey, part of the conversion except that we crossed a major threshold when we became Orthodox. But this does not mean it is over, it is done, we’ve got it made! We must continue to convert, and look for the Lord in deeper ways and moments. Since I became Orthodox, I have met other Orthodox who do not seem as interested in their faith as I am while I have also met others who are deeply interested. I have been told by one person that I could not bring my friends here, and thought this was outrageously un-Christian if we are called to conversion. Did this turn me off of Orthodoxy? No! That is where they are on they’re journey and here is where I am, so as God would ask of me, I pray for others – better than me or not so much better. Why compare if we know we are all individuals who God knows before he knit us in our mother’s womb and has counted every hair on our head? We must live our life and our journey as we learn and share but not compare. God bless!

  63. Maria Avatar

    “I say to you that likewise there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine just persons who need no repentance.” Luke 15:7

  64. Isaac Avatar
    Isaac

    I appreciate this post very much. I have been struggling a great deal lately with my spiritual life. I have been seeking Christ’s church, but have encountered many struggles, especially of late. The main, overarching issue is that my wife is not in agreement with me on this. We were both raised Mormon, and began our family in the Mormon faith. I no longer believe in Mormonism but my wife does, and even though she is vocally supportive of me doing what I feel I need to do, it is incredibly difficult for me to act without her by my side.

    I have also been looking into Catholicism lately. Your post helped me realize something I had failed to articulate before: why I have been so bothered by Catholicism’s liturgical issues. In the end it is not so much the fact that the liturgy changed, but that the liturgical problems reveal a modernist mindset that feels the liturgy needs to be fixed by its members. I have been to mass where the songs sounded like show-tunes; I’ve been to mass where the songs were played by a guitarist, a mix between campfire songs and James Taylor; and I’ve been to one incredible mass that took my breath away in a cathedral in Atlanta.

    “What was lacking was acquiescing to God in the ordeal that is the path of the Church. I had to acquiesce to the tragedy of the Christian West, as well as the sad little witness of immigrant Orthodoxy in our midst.”

    This is helpful to me. I have taken a bit of a pause of late, to ask myself and fundamentally examine whether I am truly capable of joining another church without my wife. I’m not sure I can do it. But your words have given me something to think about.

  65. Sue Avatar
    Sue

    Hi Isaac,

    This past autumn I went to a wedding at a Greek Orthodox Church and was dismayed that the music for the bridal procession was a secular, pop-country music CD! Oh well.

    It is very , very difficult (and painful) when a couple is not in spiritual agreement. I spent the first seventeen years of my marriage in disunity with my husband; thankfully, he has always been the better Christian, ever patient and kind. I don’t think anyone can go wrong in his marriage if he seeks the love of Christ and prays continually, in genuine humility, for unity, and tenderly loves his spouse with a servant’s heart. The LORD is merciful and kind and will not leave us where we are.

    God bless you.

  66. Anonymous Avatar
    Anonymous

    Something that also strikes me, is although the comparative numbers of the Orthodox in America are very small, I remember being truly taken by spiritual leaders (Saints) like St. John of Shanghai and San Francisco who gave and give such light in America. This was very striking to me while I was converting. I thoroughly enjoyed a book about his life during this time. St. Herman of Alaska also, and amongst others.

  67. Burt Avatar
    Burt

    Thank you Father. Definitely one of the best articles I’ve read recently. Acquiescence to God is a beautiful thing.

  68. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Sue, Isaac,
    Such an example – secular music at a wedding – is highly unusual (I’ve never heard of such a thing). But, I suppose things get done from time to time to shock even old priests.

  69. Sue Avatar
    Sue

    Father, I have no idea how common this is (secular, recorded pop-country music) at Greek Orthodox weddings, but I trust your word when you say you have never heard of such a thing. I also trust Isaac and others who have suffered through inappropriate music at Catholic Masses, even though I myself never have (and I have had the pleasure of visiting many Catholic churches In the northeast). So much depends, I think, on priests and laity together holding up the sacred boundaries for each other.

  70. Dean Avatar
    Dean

    I saw something a few weeks ago while visiting an Orthodox church (not the Orthodox congregation we usually attend), that I had not seen before. When the priest came out to pray the litanies he came out with a tablet, reading from the electronic device. Have others seen this? I was somewhat taken aback when I saw this. I’m not an old priest, just an old layman who I’m sure am behind the times.

  71. Fr William Keebler Avatar
    Fr William Keebler

    About a year ago the local funeral home called me for a funeral home funeral (-not unusual since that was done in the Latin days if the person wasn’t coming to church or married outside the church). In that case you just do the wake service and be done with it but I asked the family why and they said because the last priest didn’t allow a canned Barbara Mandrel song so as a result they said, “ We’re done with the Catholic Church; that did it for us.” Folks, it has gotten ridiculous. As for guitar players at Mass, I actually don’t see the problem with it if it’s Mass music and not something else, but yes, the organ is more reverential.

  72. Isaac Avatar
    Isaac

    Dean, I have seen that at a small mission parish I attended once on vacation. It was a lovely service. I was surprised by the tablet, but it seemed quite functional, the chanters were using one as well.

    Fr Keebler, it was indeed Mass music. It certainly wasn’t my taste, but I can understand why it would seem acceptable.

  73. SC Avatar
    SC

    Father bless
    I found your article very helpful (especially being a high Anglican who has been contemplating Orthodoxy for several years), thank you. There has been a lot of discussion on secular influences on Catholic/Anglican liturgies; I was wondering what the Orthodox Church’s view is on lunar new year celebrations in the church and ancestor commemorations. I have several Catholic friends of Asian ancestry who would vigorously defend these being part of Catholic practice (for example lunar new year masses and distribution of “lucky” food), but this has always concerned me.

  74. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    SC,
    I’m not an Asians mission specialist, so I don’t know how the Church handles those sort of customs. I do know that Orthodoxy is very cognizant of cultural context.

  75. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Fr William,
    The topic of modern liturgical practices in Catholicism and in Protestantism is large indeed – particularly when viewed from an Orthodox perspective. What has gone “off the rails” in the West is not entirely recent – but is far deeper than questions of musical taste. Essentially, it is the question of modernity itself – that set of philosophies and beliefs that dominate our present age. They are deeply pernicious, and yet, because they are so dominant within the culture, often seem innocuous. I would prefer that we not get into specifics – out of respect. It would be a very bumpy ride if we went down that road.

    Orthodoxy is not immune to the challenges presented by modernity – which is one of the reasons why I write on the topic so often. Its ideas represent the great heresy of our times and are devouring Christians day by day. I pray that everyone will find the articles here helpful.

  76. Matthew Lyon Avatar
    Matthew Lyon

    Fr. Freeman, Maria, Others,

    I’m actually glad I sparked a response. I’m not criticizing anyone, especially not Fr. Freeman over how long it took to become Orthodox. I realize the distinction between being “Orthodox” and being “orthodox”. I am as far as I know, “orthodox” but have no claim on transformation. Not being a heretic is not the same as being a Saint. Transformation only becomes the goal when you know what the goal is. That’s my point. And my 20 year comment wasn’t directed at anyone, it was arbitrarily thrown out – maybe I read it and it was in my mind – I’m not sure, but it wasn’t personal. Intellectual certainty, at least to the degree that someone can trust the Church, which is not the same as 100% epistemological certainty, is usually required to get someone to seek transformation.

    So my basic thesis is this: once you realize, and many people don’t realize because it’s not taught or only in passing, that Orthodox don’t believe in Original Sin but as death as the result of the fall, not depravity, not damnation in Adam – once someone gets this, and sees that Orthodoxy is the only Christianity that kept the Gospel of Jesus and the Apostles – and I’m not saying it doesn’t take time – it took me two years but it didn’t have to if I hadn’t had to figure it out by myself (and I believe in Providence too) – the Christian concern for the Gospel and the certainty – which can be provided, it really can – that Orthodoxy alone kept the Gospel of the Gentile/Israel re-unification, of forgiveness for sins which include ritual impurity and moral impurity, of death as actually a bad thing that needs overcome, of Satan and his legions as real enemies and not tools of God or psychological coping with “evils” in your life/the world, of man’s goal being participants in the life of God in theosis, of the absolutely “critical to your person need” for the acquisition of selfless love by the Holy Spirit – all of this is ours, and it is the fast track to “orthodoxy” or “Orthodoxy” – in terms of, now you’re not a heretic – and this not being our ultimate goal – avoiding heresy alone – the impetus for transformation is laid on you and you can get to work with God to become gods by Grace.

    Using Isaac’s comments as an example, and hello there… If someone like Isaac moves from wondering about Orthodoxy, feeling intuitively like it’s right, feeling a sense of satisfaction but at the same time bombarded with doubts over family – which are fair to consider of course – to, “this is the only place with the Gospel” – or “this is the only place where the Gospel was kept in tact for 2000 years” – you go from intuition/discursion to decision. “Where else can we go…only You have the words of life” – paraphrase.

    Once someone is in this place the Church can be trusted through doubt and transformation can be sought regardless of issues in the Church that may distract us.

    Transformation is inherently an Orthodox goal – not that other Christian don’t want to become holy, better people, etc. – but who believes that we are destined to rule and reign with Christ as gods cured by selfless love? You don’t seek that type of transformation outside of Orthodoxy. Being a good person, the moral person Fr. Freeman attacks rightly, is not our goal. How will you seek more than this outside Orthodoxy? It’s a slim maybe.

    So, should it take 20 years, or 5 years, or whatever to know that you should start the path of transformation? No. It may take that long, but it shouldn’t. Can you imagine a Christian parent delaying baptism 20 years for their child? Then why think God is just fine with everyone staying outside His Church for 20 years? I know no one thinks this way, they just think this is often how long it takes for God to Providentially move – or that what God is persuading someone of is of such a degree that it is quite reasonable to take so long. I really can’t see that. God is patient with us, but in our case it’s not usually our rebellious hearts that are the issue – us kicking and screaming our way into Orthodoxy. It’s usually, why didn’t I know about this sooner? But when we are welcomed into the Church we remain uneducated and are expected to pick up after a year, two, more on what’s going on through osmosis. Reading books, upon books, etc. – and sometimes a catechumen can be “satisfactorily given confidence” that Orthodoxy is true through something like Fr. Hopko’s (may his memory be eternal) introduction – but what is missing to me – and I cannot help but be convinced, and I doubt it would take long reflection to be convinced, that the worldview of depravity or blank slates, the free-will/no free-will, sin as legal contract breaking or being human, the impossibility of Saints or everyone’s a Saint, hell as torture chamber or full blown universalism, Christ dying to absorb the wrath of God or Christ dying as mere example – these all and many, many more are products of Augustinian/Reformed theology we all grew up with (and I’m part way through Taylor’s book but I understand his thesis) – they are either full acceptance or reactions – but if you’re Catholic, Evangelical, Reformed, any other American brand of Christianity, and even if you are Mormon, Jehovah’s Witness, etc. – you were shaped through acceptance or rejections of this worldview – Original Sin – escaping that is impossible. But we never knew the world of death, Satan, sin that Orthodoxy always held and does to this day. We never knew the Incarnation mattered so much or that Eden wasn’t a perpetual resort vacation.

    This, Ancestral Sin, and where Original Sin has taken us, and all of Christianity, clears stuff up quick (relative to 20 years) and then you can even think to see transformation as a goal, and it could be done together. I don’t want to be who I am now for another 5 minutes let alone eternity.

    God bless you Father, I mean it.
    Matthew Lyon

  77. Anonymous Avatar
    Anonymous

    I have heard it said by several people, “Orthodoxy is the best kept secret in America”. Whenever this statement has been made, I have noticed the same reaction. Everyone silently pauses a moment, then gives thanks to God for His Church. I say this not out of any type of meaning other than to just humbly say what I have witnessed.

  78. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Matthew,
    I agree that the general notion of original sin – particularly in the form it takes in a juridical view of God – is a terrible error. I have no argument with that. Indeed, I first saw that when I was in seminary (as an Anglican). I didn’t quite know what to do with it – it was a while before I read enough to see its place within Orthodox teaching. What was, at that time, something that was barely mentioned anywhere, has become a much stronger and louder stream within Orthodox understanding. The juridical world-view is so strong that, in large measure, it was beginning to dominate Orthodox thought as well. So, recovering from that is still part of a process that is on-going.

    Having thought about this for some 40 years or more, I see that it is a very large topic. I would put it under the larger heading of an “ontological” approach versus a “juridical” approach. And that, I think, is the manner in which I most often write about it.

    I am, however, content to be part of the process. God is at work in all of this and His providence is often inscrutable. The human heart is equally inscrutable. What came like a revelation for you – rightly so – might not strike someone else as quite as significant. At least, that is my experience, after teaching so many for so many years. It is, all in all, why I write so much. I have no idea what will speak to this one or that one. Only God can know. So, I write. I travel. I speak. God alone can give the increase.

  79. Maria Avatar

    Matthew Lyon: Thankyou for your deep response and reflection. I would only comment that God’s time is not our time and he does plant seeds along the way in our souls until we arrive to thee day He has in His plan for our conversion. Other factors work into that day – the people we will meet, the priest who will catechize, the community we will belong to and any possible research and prayers that have to take place as well prior to our commitment day. One can be Orthodox in their heart for many years before making the final step and commitment and there could be 1,000 reasons for doing this. We cannot compare and wonder about such things; it is between the soul and God – conversion is not a mathematical equation; it is a grace and a grace God dispenses as He wills and when He wills – a lot at once and a little at a time. I have lost friends due to my conversion to Orthodoxy and stand alone now in terms of family who are non-practicing RC’s. So, this can be painful and one needs to discern about that kind of separation and hurt, however one can also begin to pray for them as well – that God will use us as an example and begin to plant seeds in their souls. This is like the “leaven” in the Bible – it grows and spreads – it does not stand still. Neither does the H Spirit who moves, grows and touches souls. It is the evil and spiritual blindness causing limitations to His work. God bless…..

  80. Matthew Lyon Avatar
    Matthew Lyon

    Christopher,

    By certainty, I only mean, enough trust to trust the Church. I don’t think philosophical riguer is the path because my concern is for the average person, the average lay person outside Orthodoxy, it wouldn’t be understandable to them nor may it prove persuasive – and maybe it shouldn’t anyway. I don’t think the path is getting underneath modernity or secularism. I think the path is Biblical soteriology. To give a quick example, and this will be my life project I’m coming to think, look at Leviticus and you’ll see that there are no animal sacrifices for moral sins, none. The most you get is the animal sent away. But you have tons of sacrifices for impurity due to death, and anytime life has left/is leaving the body you are unclean/sinful – unfit for Sacred Space – which is the distinction between Israel and the nations in large part – they have no access to Sacred Space. So, death is the issue that is most largely addressed in the Sacrificial System. There’s no need to remain in uncertainty about that, it’s plain. So, to move quickly, if Christ is the fulfillment of the Sacrificial System – there should be corollary. But, if in much of Evangelical (and all of them coming from the Reformed tradition) and in Catholic theology, Christ is punished for our sins – you have a break. Leviticus shows death with it’s temporary fixes through sacrifice are a huge, huge, huge part of the problem keeping you from God and that temporary life is needed to cover your death, to make God safe to approach. So, ritual purity provides us with not only death (dying, sickness, bleeding, emissions of life) as a major problem – and it is the problem of the Gentile through their uncircumcision, they are just cut off from the get go – but it shows that death and depravity are not the same thing, you can be sinful without every morally sinning. Being sick is not being evil. Moral sins are all punished or if they are unintentional can be forgiven or reparations can be made. Play this out and what do you get in Christ’s sacrifice? Not PSA. You have Christ defeating death and forgiving moral crimes at the same time. I could keep going but the point is, getting underneath the presupposition (and I don’t know where Taylor is, I thought he became Catholic) of Original Sin, will do away with PSA and you won’t have to read that into Leviticus. Because, Original Sin, sets up the need for punishment not transformation. What can you do with a sinner who will refuse eternally to repent unless monergistically regenerated? Punish them. How to save them? Punish Christ instead. He’s the only one who can absorb the wrath of God on behalf of the elect without being destroyed. Okay, so, say someone says they don’t believe in PSA. Well, from there you can either demonstrate how they reacted against this doctrine or how they modified it. Another quick example. Say someone believes that what you become after being “born again” – includes a new nature. Here’s Original Sin again. Or someone believes that you are eternally secure after faith, same thing. In every case of doctrine that touches soteriology, anthropology, teleology, eschatology, ecclesiology, Saints, etc. – this is going to play a role, a leading role either by acceptance or reaction. And we can, using Scripture, the witness of the Church, liturgical documents, hymnody, etc. – show, we kept the Gospel. We are Sacred Space and we approach God in Christ with the Holy Spirit – we are clean by means of the Resurrection. Glory be to God! Christ has trampled down death by death! But, how will they accept this when they basically accept death as natural? Defeating death will not be so much a thing to rejoice in because having the will repaired to eventually become quite moral will be the “joy” producer. I’m taking broad strokes I know, but you can’t have such a foundational belief as Original Sin, and assume some go unaffected.

    Once it’s set aside, you can pursue theosis. Until then, I think someone will live in uncertainty. How many converts I wonder, do not really embrace the entirety of the Church. I know Orthodox who will not venerate icons, who are extremely suspicious of the Blessed Virgin Mary, who believe in assurance of Salvation they way a Baptist would, on and on.. Why? They have never examined Original Sin and what it’s done to their mind. But the same is true for those who are looking from the outside. It looks nice, it feels right, almost – then contradictions form in the mind, uncertainty sets in, quite possibly a new quest for certainty, and what happens? Not transformation. But this could have been avoided. I’m speaking from experience with people. So, what to do? Answer their questions all over again without examining their presuppositions. Doesn’t work. I can’t imagine how busy a Priest could be with those converting or the recently converted. And is transformation being done? How can they focus on transformation when their minds are not at peace? Long story short, if it was spelled out to them, and if they were able to examine their own presuppositions, the Priest would get a few hours back to his week and they would have more time to pray and fast.

  81. Maria Avatar

    Matthew Ryan: I don’t see we have to “focus” on transformation to be transformed however we can pray to be transformed – have our stoney hearts changed to hearts of flesh. When grace comes upon us, we will be transformed. All we are required to do really, is be open to receive the grace, read and live the Gospels, and live the Sacramental life while maintaining a prayer life – minimal or of great depth. (this depends on what God asks of us and according to our state in life) For me personally, turning this into volumes and volumes of books, complicated essays, wracking my brain out with thoughts, methods and trying to think exactly like God, would be exhausting and lose simplicity. We are supposed to be like little children as Jesus said – that means simple and trusting in Him – not ourselves. Let go and Let God! He will lead us to a more angelic state. God bless!

  82. Maria Avatar

    Matthew Lyon: Sorry, in my last comment to you I addressed you as Matthew Ryan in error. Sorry….God bless!

  83. sgage Avatar
    sgage

    Matthew,

    “So, should it take 20 years, or 5 years, or whatever to know that you should start the path of transformation? No. It may take that long, but it shouldn’t.”

    Who says it shouldn’t? I don’t really quite know what to make of “should” and “shouldn’t” in this context. Do you mean “I feel that it ought not take x years”? Or do you mean “I feel that it need not take x years”? Do you think God gets upset if it takes 20 years? Is nothing happening inside a person during those 20 years, or is it just a big fat waste of 20 years? As someone mentioned above, our time is not God’s time.
    – Steve

  84. Matthew Lyon Avatar
    Matthew Lyon

    Maria,

    Thanks for your response. I just think, in the case of someone who would gladly embrace the Church, being the fullness of the Body of Christ, but can’t because objections and uncertainty keep raising their heads, this person is not someone God needs to “work on” forever to overcome their unwillingness. They need a new narrative, the Biblical one that Orthodoxy believes and has kept. For the person who won’t convert because it’ll destroy their family, their career as a pastor, who knows but doesn’t act, this is altogether different. My basic presupposition is this, having been Reformed or Evangelical for 20+ years, is that many people in Protestant or Catholic churches, would quickly embrace the Church if they had these presuppositions challenged and a new narrative introduced and we could all get to work together in becoming Saints. Because, the Gospel is everything for a devout Christian outside of Orthodoxy and they are committed to the Gospel, but they really don’t know what it is. The transition, though potentially difficult, would be gladly undertaken. I believe this about them. They are zealous and ignorant of what the Gospel is and it’s not their fault. I’m not naïve in thinking everyone would convert, but many would. Who wouldn’t want the Church as their Mother and God as their Father? Instead, Orthodox are always on the defense and won’t do the work of lovingly telling people that they need their “Augustinian” glasses off. This may be in part because Orthodox don’t know how much a Catholic/Protestant’s world is built on Original Sin or it may be an underlying assumption that you have to experience Orthodoxy and that anything else is intellectual – I don’t know. As to Providence, I don’t presume to know how it works. I guess leaving behind my strict predestinarian past, I imagine things being more fluid without denying Providence or foreknowledge – just that I don’t imagine anymore God picking a day for me to get Chrismated. My imagination of God’s working with people, and against Satan, has changed such that I don’t focus very much on God’s choosing dates and times, but on His real activity on our behalf in time. Maybe this imagination plays into how people view their own Chrismation or reception into Orthodoxy. My inclination, is not to focus on God’s timing, but on His overall working, patience, love. Most people received into the Church see their journey as something far different than a baby being baptized, but should they? Were the circumcised predestined to be so on the 8th day after their birth? Was the child baptized predestined? Well, yes I suppose, but at the same time we don’t imagine it that way, it’s just doing what we’re supposed to do. I don’t mean “just” as if it’s not monumental, it is. So, I guess I view the Church more in this light. The Church is a reality that we embrace or deny. This is just normal. It’s just normal, normative to be saved in baptism when you believe or when you are a baby – it shouldn’t be delayed. That doesn’t take away any sentimentality or meaningfulness about the event. But thinking God predestined us to be outside the Church confuses for me my imagination informed by Scripture and the Church, that God is working. When it happens we don’t know if it could have happened sooner or not. My assumption is, most of the time, it could have happened sooner without disturbing God’s foreknowledge and that God wasn’t the one holding us back from the Church. This could get hairy quickly but without getting into a bunch of discussion on foreknowledge/predestination – I think Scripture and Tradition teaches us to see God as working and whenever someone embraces the Church, God’s grace is there, but imagining this to have been the day to be saved, and no other day, just doesn’t satisfy me. Again, if someone delayed the baptism of an infant for two years, the Priest would be telling you to have the infant baptized, not assuring you that when it happens it will have been the right time on God’s watch. I’m not sure what happens in the case of a refusal to baptize an infant in Orthodoxy. I know in the PCA church we were in they thought, without telling us, that we were sinning and jeopardizing our children not to baptize them while the Baptist in me was being done away with. Anyway, I think, I could be wrong, that the right imagination to have of God bringing people to Orthodoxy is not, “this was the day God chose” but “God worked with me this long” – something like that. Even baptisms in Orthodoxy are often delayed so that they fall during Pascha or Christmas. So, included in “coming to Orthodoxy” needs to be some equation or consideration of reception and baptism. The point is, when the Grace of God appeared to us, he saved us. But, we glory that we are saved, not when or how long it took. When is the day of salvation? Today. To say, tomorrow only works if tomorrow becomes today. I wonder how much of this plays into our evangelism because predestination (and I can’t help but throw Blessed Augustine under the bus again) assures that God’s timing is what it is, the fact that tomorrow is not promised to anyone, is given an “I don’t know shrug”. I’m not after you in my comments, just something I observe often in Orthodox discussion on conversion or converts…”God will do what He’s going to do in His time”. Sure, of course, but what are we going to do with our time? I need to stop being caffeinated writing on this blog all morning for one. God bless you sister.

    Matthew Lyon

  85. ScottTX Avatar
    ScottTX

    Matthew Lyon,

    I see you’re definitely down on PSA as a system, but it seems to me you’re trying to set up an alternate system in its place. A system, as in carving up the gospel at its metaphysical joints so that the pieces fit together like a machine. Just like God manipulates the “rules” in PSA toward His desired end, God manipulates the “rules” to defeat death and ritual impurity.

    The thing is (and this applies to views other than yours too), why is almost every attempt to explain the gospel done as a humanly-understandable narrative? In a good story, the protagonist has to overcome problems in a logical way to reach the conclusion, so we imagine God having to operate in a context of necessity to reach His goals. God wants to save X,Y, and Z, so He has to incarnate and bear their moral desert, or die and be resurrected to defeat death, and so on. God isn’t under the same constraints as a person, so if He has to pull metaphysical levers to defeat damnation or death, the story rings hollow to me.

    Then again, maybe the Church didn’t start out as a group of folks working the gospel as a system just to save themselves. They were also to love one another and share things in common and be the salt of the earth. I wonder how much each motive pulled early converts, saving your own butt vs. the poor banding together. In Texas, I see billboards that say, “If you die tonight, where will you go? Heaven or Hell?” I never see billboards that say “The ears of the Lord are open to the poor.”

  86. Christopher Avatar
    Christopher

    “…So, what to do? Answer their questions all over again without examining their presuppositions. Doesn’t work….”

    I agree. It is a dialectic (an exegetical “dialogue”) that is not very fruitful most of the time

    “… Long story short, if it was spelled out to them, and if they were able to examine their own presuppositions, the Priest would get a few hours back to his week and they would have more time to pray and fast…”

    ‘If they were able to examine their prepositions’ is key here. My overall experience tells me that in any given circumstances only about 1 in 20 actually do this. The reasons for this are multifaceted and complex (e.g. some folks never seem to display the basic {philosophical} rigour; our own normative ontology, and even nature, seems to reveal to us that the end of dialectic is fulfilled in the heart, and not vice versa, etc.).

    By the way, Taylor is a “progressive” or modern/secularized RC. His ultimate aim is not to defend orthodoxy and traditional anthropology/Christology but to justify the modern Cartesian critique of it. One way to think about it is that he is defending a ‘certain uncertainty’ exactly at that crucial “trust” step; he is explicating why the modern person can never trust *any* certainty, whether it be a the Church, a Kantian or some other metaphysic (e.g., the particular Original Sin you are focusing on), etc. Taylor explains to us how modern man only trusts his own Cartesian metanarrative…

  87. Nicole from VA Avatar
    Nicole from VA

    Father, does the process you describe here within an individual soul roughly correspond to a process of transitioning from slave to son through God’s grace?

    I don’t even know what I am quoting in that slave to son phrase, but I am fairly sure I have encountered it.

    I have realized I have had so many misconception about God in my heart and I don’t know where they came from.

  88. Maria Avatar

    Matthew Lyon: Jesus said that only His Father knows the day and the hour. This can apply to many things but the main point is that it is the Father’s plan. I do not say God has a date book for example, but that when something comes to fruition, it was His plan for His purpose and in His time. In other words, He does not worth with the same calendar as us. Perhaps delaying a Chrismation or Baptism is God allowing the person to make a “choice” – God wants to know we are with Him and not lukewarm. I know people who convert due to marrying one of the faith. It is also astounding how that convert will take on the faith more seriously and committed than the original person who was already of that faith or born of that faith. Again, this is God’s doing and He used the situation to bring this about – who are we to say? Keep in mind that Jesus said, “The first go last and the last go first.” We also come to understand more of the faith when living it out day by day, problem by problem and prayer by prayer. God speaks to us in scriptures, in others and in circumstances. He is a lot less complicated than we realize because He comes down to meet us at our level and place. WE are His children. If we are incapable of learning it all, experiencing it all, having it all, He will continue to love us and bring us back home to Him. All we need to do, is keep our soul ready and packed. (I have enjoyed the conversation – you are not coming after me – I know that.) God bless!

  89. Michael Avatar
    Michael

    “I have realized I have had so many misconception about God in my heart and I don’t know where they came from.”

    Nicole from VA. The misconceptions come from the society around you and even at the best of times when you are fully aware they can slip by into your consciousness. Every TV Show you watch, every movie you see, every thing you read, all the advertisements you are exposed too, even the people you associate with, and probably plenty of things I’m not thinking of. All of it is constantly working to alter your consciousness and ultimately your soul. The secular world now works 24/7 to turn you to its ends.

    1 Peter 5:8 “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walks about, seeking whom he may devour”

    I believe the quote you are looking for is Galatians 4:7 “Therefore you are no more a servant, but a son; and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ.”

    In some translations servant appears to be interchangeable with slave.

  90. Maria Avatar

    From all the comments I have read regarding this topic, I can clearly see how each one comes from a different background and journey however was led to the same place. One is inspired by a book they read, another by a garden they made, another by a person they met, and another by a candle they lit. THIS is the blessing; THIS is God calling us as who we are, back to Him. Remember Jesus said, “My Father’s House has many mansions.” Why? So we can all live there! (haha!!) We could prepare for that and not be so concerned over the less weightier matters. (not that I am judging what is considered to be weightier to one and not to another)

    God bless!

  91. Matthew Lyon Avatar
    Matthew Lyon

    sgage,

    If you knew the Gospel was preserved in Orthodoxy and no where else, and it took you 20 years to convert, that would be your fault. But I assume that wasn’t the case. I assume it wasn’t any fault of yours, only you know. But for someone who would come, come home, wondering where this Mother had been all their life, but couldn’t because Saints, Mary, soteriology, what salvation is, all these icons, why do you pray to anyone but God, on and on…, wasn’t challenged with, “you can’t see it because of Original Sin” – that’s my short answer, that’s just a shame. Do you not believe that some will never embrace Orthodoxy simply because they don’t know any better? Of course some will never embrace the Church simply because they don’t know any better. Should that be the case?If you say yes, I think that’s sad. If you say no, and blame God’s Providence this implicates God in a negative way – or you have to hold Orthodoxy as a type of denomination and we’re all doing our best groping our way to God. Or you could just say, Christ is working as God the Father works, that the Kingdom suffers violence, that there is a struggle, that God is relentless in bringing many sons to Glory. The “‘should” remains. I guess we could think God judged us all as children of the Reformation and the schism? I mean, it’s possible. I think of backward and forward motion, Kingdom advance, and violence suffered, eventually the Mustard Tree stretches over the earth. That’s why we didn’t know about Orthodoxy sooner in my mind and I think that’s pretty easy to demonstrate historically. Expansion and retraction. God claiming ownership over Creation and Satan fighting to hold on to his wrongful claim on land and souls. So, would God have desired something different than Orthodoxy coming to America only recently? Depends on how you see the story being played out. I say yes. I see struggle. If you say, no, it’s all in God’s timing – I may need corrected – but I don’t think that’ll move too many missionaries. It’s not that God is powerless, it’s that free will is real.

    I don’t take my past to have been worthless, or that nothing was gained before Orthodoxy. God is gracious, but I had held to blatant heresies most of my life – that for many make the goal of Saint/theosis/transformation impossible. So, I guess, did God desire for me to have been shaped this way or would He have avoided it if say Orthodoxy had been a presence in my life growing up? I mean Paul see’s his life as preparatory but even there Paul has a very special vocation planned for him that I doubt we would claim as our own. Maybe it’s a deeper question for some than others? For myself, I’m glad to be here, wish I had been much sooner and I don’t blame God, the Protestants and Catholics, if anyone the Devil. But while I see the hand of God throughout my life, and as I am completely convinced that theosis is what God wishes me to undergo, I have a really hard time thinking that God doesn’t desire things to happen a bit quicker. If today is the day of salvation, if repentance is for today, if today we hear His voice, if claiming this and that will be done tomorrow apart from saying, “if God wills” is bad – I think we should not assume God desired twenty year conversions but was waiting, ready to run to us when we came to Him. Is not coming to the Church coming to God? I don’t think many people really believe this. It sounds mean I guess to our past and our friends. So, God is completely gracious and loving and patiently bringing us into the Church. To ignore the role of the will, or it’s interaction with the intellect, and that the means of Grace used by God throughout Scripture to turn people to the worship of the Living God are often polemical attacks on heresy, or polemical discussions on where a “worldview” dead ends – the Scripture’s and the Church’s apologetical method – is to render ineffectual the methodology of Scripture and Tradition. Instead, we gradually convert over lengthy amounts of time. Why? I really don’t see the necessity. Again, I’ve already made the distinction between reception and theosis, they aren’t the same thing, but one enables the other.

    That was probably longer than solicited. I’m not attacking anyone’s conversion, by no means, God forbid! I’m saying, you might have got on track for transformation sooner if – someone had pointed these things out sooner, instilled the Biblical narrative/meta-narrative, and put you on track. And either way, when you “came to” God would get the glory and we would appreciate whatever time it took to get here. Just as a 15 year old cradle Orthodox should appreciate their baptism whether they remember it or not.

  92. Matthew Lyon Avatar
    Matthew Lyon

    ScottTX says:
    February 12, 2020 at 10:31 am
    Matthew Lyon,
    I see you’re definitely down on PSA as a system, but it seems to me you’re trying to set up an alternate system in its place. A system, as in carving up the gospel at its metaphysical joints so that the pieces fit together like a machine. Just like God manipulates the “rules” in PSA toward His desired end, God manipulates the “rules” to defeat death and ritual impurity.

    I’m not reducing the Gospel to a system. But to dismantle the OT from the NT, as if there should be no continuity, dismisses the Jewishness of Jesus and the Apostles, which is quite fashionable in some quarters I know. If the death is the problem in the OT, I think it follows that it would be addressed in the NT. I’m assuming you’re not Orthodox to argue otherwise. What is all this manipulation language?. Nothing is manipulated, what “rules”? The law of death? The law of the Spirit? Those are “rules” if you want to call them that. Theosis is in the OT.

    The thing is (and this applies to views other than yours too), why is almost every attempt to explain the gospel done as a humanly-understandable narrative? In a good story, the protagonist has to overcome problems in a logical way to reach the conclusion, so we imagine God having to operate in a context of necessity to reach His goals. God wants to save X,Y, and Z, so He has to incarnate and bear their moral desert, or die and be resurrected to defeat death, and so on. God isn’t under the same constraints as a person, so if He has to pull metaphysical levers to defeat damnation or death, the story rings hollow to me.

    The first sentence there is not a claim Orthodox would make, to know exhaustively and to have an explanation for everything the Gospel is – precisely because we are talking of the Incarnate God whose Essence is unknowable – nobody claims to know all that the Gospel is. God is not by necessity bound to any method or course of action but works/has worked in ways understandable to our finite capacity. Anything else is skepticism. Metaphysical levers? I don’t know exactly what the accusation is? If the story rings hollow, or unimpressive, Lewis had a similar reaction finding pagan mythology much more exciting.

    If you desire a gospel that does something but accomplish in time what is needed for the salvation of man, you are the one with a very metaphysical gospel, one which no one could accept because nothing of it would be understandable even by the most remote analogy.

  93. Matthew Lyon Avatar
    Matthew Lyon

    Christopher,

    I don’t know if it’s been tried on the basis of Ancestral Sin in any comprehensive manner. In every introduction book it’s been breezed over. In every semi-scholarly work, I mean the smart Orthodox in my parish have an extremely hard time understanding Romanides’ Ancestral Sin. I doubt it’s been tried well enough to know.

  94. Matthew Lyon Avatar
    Matthew Lyon

    ScottTX,

    Last, and I’m shutting down the computer…

    The Incarnation in Orthodoxy was something that would have happened had the fall never taken place. Bear their moral desert is Original Sin like I’ve been saying. The line you draw between metaphysical and physical I assume, is suspicious at best.

  95. Christopher Avatar
    Christopher

    Matthew Lyon,

    My (granted one man’s subjective) evaluation is that this important Orthodox point around Ancestral Sin is generally well understood *at the clergy and scholarly* level within NA Orthodoxy. At the seminary I went to, it was explicitly taught though IMO most of the students already had read and grasped it at least to a certain extent. I can’t recall every meeting a deacon/priest/bishop who (when it comes up) did not have the basics of it down – which is not to say they don’t each evaluate its relative importance differently. For example, Fr. John Strickland has made it a central point in his excellent “historiosophical exegesis” work for a number of years now, it is a central concern in David B. Hart’s philosophical/theological meanderings, and of course Fr. Stephen here. Whether all this is good enough – has it been emphasized and taught well enough? I lean toward a mostly “yes”, but I could be wrong.

    What IMO is much less common at all levels (laity, clergy, scholarly) is (however you link it to the historiosophical western doctrine of Ancestral Sin – cause, a factor among many, etc.) is grasp of Secularism and its relationship to the present Church – how to “be” Church in the secular gulag. Here however one might say I am emphasizing by bias and personal history and there is no doubt truth in that…

  96. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Fr. Stephen, of course we are “right” about everything. Being right unfortunately, as you know, does not overcome sin/death and can actually compound it. What is confession after all but the acknowledgement to God and before man that I am wrong. Damned wrong. I am begining to appreciate St. Sophrony’s dictum: “The way down is the way up”.

    Why? Because the only place most of us, and certainly me, can encounter the Living God in the person of Jesus Christ is to die in the process of contrition and honest acknowledgement of my wrongness-without excusing that wrongness because others are wrong too as the parable of the Pharisee and the Publican shows us only my wrongness matters to my salvation and transformation.

    My heart has to break again and again with the knowledge of how wrong I am in my being. Of course at the same time I have to submit my brokenness to Jesus’ love and mercy. It is literally the only gift I can give Him who IS. I am immolated as the incense but made whole at the same time. I am the sinner, the original one.

    From those tears come love, joy and the peace that passes understanding. It is not “right theology” that saves, although it is much better than heresy which destroys. It is encounter and communion with our Lord, bearing one another’s burdens on the way to the Cross.

    Being here, reading and listening and too often speaking is a significant part of that for me. Glory to God now means something to me it never meant before. Or as my much simpler, God loving wife declares: Yea God!!!!!

    But she does that in the context of knowing the nearness of death and the reality of God’s power over it. Doctors have many times told her that her chances of living even a year where quite low. At least three times before she turned 21. Multiple times since in the last 50 years.

    Yet she lives. She lives with a deep and abiding knowledge that she lives only through Him.
    I share this here only because she is extrordinarily open in sharing it with others and has made reference to it herself here.

    I introduced her to the Orthodox Church, although several other Orthodox believers had told her she needed to come. She needed me in particular to get her here. It was her recognition that the Jesus who sustained her(her Jesus) is present here in a way she had encountered nowhere else that has kept here in praise, worship and Thanksgiving. She saw Him enthroned above the altar seated on the throne. Not metaphorically.

    In church during worship she does not need to hold a candle, she is one.

    It is only in age that such things can mature I think–like good wine. Thus I agree with what you said to us at one point here in Wichita–getting old is a good thing!

    I have less time and energy to engage in the pretzl making of my youth.

    Jesus brought me to the Church and greeted me personally when I arrived. He continues to graciously reveal Himself to me as I can stand it. It is a journey that can only be undertaken in safety and in fullness within the embrace of His Church and the boundaries He has established here.

    Any other alternative will end in futility, madness and death. So, we are called to bear with each other as He cures each of us from our own unique form of death and madness but none of us is ever alone. There really is a living cloud of witnesses to help and share our journey.

    I began our morning prays this morning with the expostulation: Get ready saints, here we come! That is how my wife approaches them you see.

    Thank you Father and all who are here. Even if you do not speak, you participate.

  97. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    Aaaah Yes! er, rather… Yea God !! 🙂

  98. Byron Avatar
    Byron

    Instead, we gradually convert over lengthy amounts of time. Why? I really don’t see the necessity…. I’m saying, you might have got on track for transformation sooner if – someone had pointed these things out sooner, instilled the Biblical narrative/meta-narrative, and put you on track.

    Matthew, perhaps we are simply stiff-necked? And far more complex than you are allowing? I know of very few people who, even as (arguably) a “christian”, would be swayed, or shaped, by someone “pointing these things out sooner”. We are simply not swayed by such things on a regular basis.

    I find it interesting that the other conversation happening here is one that includes the benefits of age. Many of us are able to look back and see how our journey into the Church was a long one, and really could not have been shortened.

    I tend to recall that, generally speaking, the main method of Orthodox evangelism is to go build a parish and live the Orthodox life among the people. Our lives are our evangelism. That sometimes takes a lifetime! Glory to God.

  99. Maria Avatar

    Regarding the comments on this blog, I noticed some very good points in light of today’s Epistle and Gospel which I have taken from the Greek Orthodox Church. There is mention of God’s time and our time which may be of interest and shed some light on the points we were all striving to cover. Hopefully, you will have time to read them. God bless!
    Peter 2 Chapter 3 Verses 3-18
    Mark Chapter 13 Verses 24-31

  100. Matthew Lyon Avatar
    Matthew Lyon

    Christopher,

    My (granted one man’s subjective) evaluation is that this important Orthodox point around Ancestral Sin is generally well understood *at the clergy and scholarly* level within NA Orthodoxy.

    I assume you are right, but translating this to the lay person, that’s the challenge I think. As to your “gulag” question, I think this would address it somewhat at the parish level. Because when the wrong narrative is successfully replaced, a lot of modernity will go with it. The Original Sin narrative is outrageously comforting to many. You can’t help it, it’s who you are, you were born this way. I mean evolutionary naturalism is the corollary to Augustinianism except you get blamed for it with hell in one of the systems. For others it leads to despair. But the idea that you’re baptized and you’re okay, how ludicrous! I remember saying in a class at our parish that having been baptized, we should glory in this, but that it also makes everything the worse for those of us who do not persevere in loyalty. Several people smiled and laughed at the guy who takes stuff too seriously. My priest saved me here but I find these situations telling. You know personally, the knowledge that esotericism and paganism and popular culture are all so intertwined make me want to have less to do with them than ever. This is just the return of the belief of the nefarious gods, the fallen which is part and parcel of the worldview of the ancient Fathers, Biblical authors. But this is the replacement, the actual historical account of what went wrong, for Original Sin. The narrative of the fall, of nations under the gods, of God delivering His people and those without the Covenants under the grip of sin and Satan, the reality of the unseen is the narrative that is put in place after OS is removed. The liturgy would come alive for many if the ancient worldview of the Biblical authors and the Fathers was alive, of Athanasius and Cyril of Alexandria. I love Fr. Strickland by the way, he’s great. One of the greatest ways I assume would make a difference is the return of the catechumenate. The fact that the Church is the place where you get life, where the devil is renounced, where Christ is present, etc. – a lot of this is lost with no catechumenate. The rationale for fasting for example with the catechumenate for their entry into life, and reliving our baptism, is largely lost with no catechumenate and turns into advanced “chocolate” fasts. I remember someone showing me an infographic for Lent on their phone that mocked the fast expecting me to be amused. But I realized, that of course they don’t understand. The weight of what we are doing on a Sunday morning doesn’t fall on us because we don’t have the presuppositions of the early Church – yet it’s in everything we do, in every liturgy, in every Saint and their conquests in God, on and on. Living out secularism (and I’ve read Dreher) I think will happen when the Church really feels like the Ark it is. This includes calling out heresy whether in culture or elsewhere. The antithesis has to be emphasized because no one sees a real antithesis between Church and culture, which is the work of Satan. How to do this? Preach and live the Orthodox Gospel together. It’s got to be hard to be a Priest in this milieu and do what I’m suggesting. Living under the fear of death has to be called out and stamped out as much as possible. Besides this, I think this emphasis, that people sin because they fear death, and that Satan exacerbates this fear -this is the modern project in many ways – to live forever as gods – it’s the theosis of the anti-Christ, of Satan in Eden . This bringing death to the forefront, how we live under it’s power though we are to be Resurrected, would shock a lot of people out of complacency. Once you see what’s really wrong with you, you can’t un-see it.

    God bless you,
    Matthew

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