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



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

  1. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    I absolutely agree that understanding the whole of salvation within an ontological model is essential in teaching the Orthodox faith and directing spiritual formation.

    However, it’s important not to over-simplify. There’s so much to be done in the life of a parish, in the lives of converts, in the lives of children – and all of that is the life of the parish. The reason I speak about patience as much as I do in these matters is because all of this is the work of generations – necessarily. Only in America would we imagine any of this taking less time.

    I have seen about 40 years of the Orthodox life – 20 from outside and 20 from within. I might have another 20 years left, if God is generous and so wills. I recently “handed-over” my parish to a new Rector, letting go of 22 years of work (though I remain attached as Pastor Emeritus). First, the simple fact that there was another priest of the next generation who have been a convert, trained and prepared for this work is its own tremendous accomplishment in the Orthodox life.

    I’ve met with diocesan leaders. There’s a large number of men in my age cohort who will be retiring (or dying) in the next bit of years. We’re actually not training young priests quickly enough to fill what is coming. I trust that God will raise up what is needed. These are crucial needs.

    I’m serving on a group, appointed within the OCA, to develop catechumenate materials that can be used throughout the Church. I’m just one of a number serving in that role. I’m excited about what is in the works.

    I could add to that the growing work of Ancient Faith Ministries – another development of the last 15 years.

    Much is happening. Of course, at the same time, the world around us is getting crazier by the minute. So much is beyond anybody’s control. We do what we can and then place it all in God’s hands. When the Son of Man returns, will He find faith on the earth?

    Don’t know.

    The topic of certainty regarding the Orthodox Church seems very theoretical. Given the insanity of Christian history, it’s hard to use such a thing as a starting point. It’s in the mix – but – I do not think it is where many people start – or even that it is where they should start.

  2. Ziton Avatar

    Fr Stephen, thank you so much for this article which for me anyway works as an answer to many questions I sort of fired at you about the last article – and then some. And you have been very generous about relating it to your personal journey. I am continuing to ruminate on it, and the many interesting comments and I may put in an oar later. But for now, it‘s mainly just thank you.

    And maybe to mention in case it’s relevant (and in any event I see that you are a Tolkien fan) that for some reason the whole thread has reminded me of one of my favorite scenes from the LoTR. At the end of chapter 7 of book 4 Gollum has rather ominously brought Frodo and Sam to a crossroads, from where he is going to (treacherously) lead them by a hidden path into Mordor. There is an unnatural dark coming from Mordor that has darkened the sky to make afternoon like night. ‘“Standing for a moment filled with dread Frodo became aware that a light was shining: he saw it glowing on Sam’s face beside him. Turning towards it, he saw, beyond an arch of boughs, the road to Osgiliath running almost as straight as a stretched ribbon down, down into the West. There, far away beyond sad Gondor now overwhelmed in shade, the Sun was sinking, finding at last the hem of the great slow -rolling pall of cloud, and falling into an ominous fire towards the as yet unsullied sea. The brief glow fell on a huge sitting figure, still and solemn as the great stone kings of Argonath. The years had gnawed it, and violent hands had maimed it. It’s head was gone, and in its place was set in mockery a round rough-hewn stone, rudely painted by savage hands in the likeness of a grinning face with one large eye in the midst of its forehead. Upon its knees and mighty chair, and all about the pedestal, were idle scrawls mixed with the foul symbols that the maggot-folk of Mordor used. Suddenly, caught by the level beams, Frodo saw the old king’s head: it was lying rolled away by the roadside. ‘Look,Sam’, he cried, startled into speech. ‘Look, the king has a crown again!’ The eyes were hollow and the carven beard was broken, but about the high, stern forehead there was a coronal of silver and gold. A trailing plant with flowers like small white stars had bound itself across the brows as if in reverence for the fallen king, and in the crevices of his stony hair yellow stonecrop gleamed. ‘They cannot conquer forever!’ Said Frodo. And then suddenly the brief glimpse was gone.”

  3. Matthew W. Avatar

    Mr Lyon,

    I appreciate your fervor in emphasizing the idea of “Ancestral Sin”.

    As an adult, I had gotten fed up with the “me too” sameness of mainstream Protestantism. It worshiped a demonic god, and the theology didn’t make sense.

    As I was studying, what I felt, to be the linchpin of the Reformation – Indulgences – it was an off phrase that caught my attention and directed my gaze eastward.

    Something like, “because of the unique soteriology of Eastern Orthodoxy, indulgences, as practiced by the Roman Catholic Church, never gained ground”, or something to that effect.

    Later, I spoke to a Priest, who I think is probably much wiser than he lets on, and he told me that I might like Romanides. He said that he “couldn’t really understand it”, but that the author was very deep, and might be meaningful to read.

    All of this happened long before 2015. I read the phrase probably close to 2006, and met with my Priest friend probably close to 2014.

    I’m still a catechumen and still attend a denominational church with my wife, our kids, and our parents. I need not belabor the reasons for this in this discussion – they have to do with church politics, family politics, and God’s providence. But just because I’ve found and embraced the Ontological model, doesn’t mean that I am yet fully Orthodox. I am still Healing the Tragic Soul of the Modern West in my soul.

    There are no short-cuts.

  4. Maria Avatar

    Matthew W: In reading your post I had to wonder if you were aware in the RC Church, that many years ago, indulgences were paid for by those requesting them from the Church. However, I am told that stopped and now there are just indulgences offered by those who pray. I thought the “payment” part was terrible for those seeking prayers. I really don’t believe in prayers for dollars – if you know what I mean. God bless…..

  5. Matthew W. Avatar


    Does it really matter what the RC church does anymore?

    Protestantism was a predictable response to bad, wayward theology. In my eyes, the RC Church never repented, never did rejoin the ecumenical church. They just counter “Reformed”, continuing down the path of modernity with their progeny.

    Ontological Salvation keeps me Christian. I would be a church going atheist otherwise.

  6. Maria Avatar

    Matthew W: No, it really doesn’t matter what the RC Church does – LOL and once we have found the Truth, we don’t need to compare – as a wise Orth priest explained to me! God bless….

  7. Fr William Keebler Jr Avatar
    Fr William Keebler Jr

    -but if the topic is reaching out to the west the RC Church does matter if for no other reason it’s both western and includes the apostolic authority of the Petrine ministry, not to mention it is the See of Saints Peter and Paul.

  8. Maria Avatar

    Fr William Keebler Jr: For the Orthodox, they see the Pope as a Bishop of Rome being 1st among equals and not having authority over all. As far as I know, Andrew was chosen before Peter and at one time there was a misunderstanding between Peter and Paul because Peter was teaching something incorrect and Paul corrected him. As for Peter having the keys to the kingdom – it might just be that Peter held more knowledge or Truths from Jesus than the other Apostles being he was the elder in the group – which would be the custom in the Jewish culture. I find it difficult to vision Jesus choosing someone to elevate them to such high rank and level when He himself was so humble and meek. It doesn’t fit the description of Jesus. He always preached and lived that way and said, “whoever thinks he is the greatest is the least among you.” Just because the Orthodox Church is alive in the West, does not mean they accept the Pope’s seat and the See of Peter. There is also the issue of the Creed and filoque. East-West – there is a lot to work out here.

  9. Matthew W. Avatar

    Fr. William,

    I am not – equipped – to argue points of RC authority, other than maybe to say I am an Orthodox catechumen, still subject to my Protestant biases.

    I come from a form of Protestantism that sees itself as the continuation of the Reformation against both the RC Church, and Apostate Protestants. There was never a moment that I was ever going to consider the RC Church as anything other than the Beast of Revelation.

    The Ecumenical Orthodox Church, with its history of continuous faith amidst severe persecution, the absence of significant schisms except against heretics as defined by collegial ecumenical councils, it’s continuation in spite of its lack of a single authoritarian head, its preservation of certain distinctives, and its oversight in the commentaries of the West when discussing ecclesial failure that gave rise to the Reformation, give it the opening I never would have given the RC Church.

    I am sorry if this is bothersome. The history of my own denomination isn’t without its own skeletons.

    It is only after immersing myself in Eastern Orthodoxy, that I might even consider claims of Patristic Authority, and that discussion has been going on between the Latins and the Orthodox since the schism. Others more versed in the subject could probably do a much better job of arguing these points.

    The bottom line is this. I have no opinion other than I see the Orthodox as having preserved true Ontological Theology since the time of the apostles. If it weren’t for the Ontological model, I would be a church-going atheist (for the sake of my family).

    Fr. Freeman
    Please feel free to remove this post if you feel it falls outside of bounds. I’m merely trying to answer what I perceive to be an honest question.

  10. Fr William Keebler Jr Avatar
    Fr William Keebler Jr

    Fully understand particularly since the topics are ancient and haven’t changed (the papacy and the filioque) going back to the Council of 5 October 869 – 28 February 870 and the negation of that Council ten years following. Since Florence didn’t work either the best recourse is biblical exegesis according to Tradition.

  11. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Fr William Keebler,
    It is my hope that Fr Stephen will correct me as needed,

    However, as far as I know, your words: “…RC Church does matter if for no other reason it’s both western and includes the apostolic authority of the Petrine ministry, not to mention it is the See of Saints Peter and Paul…”, underscores a particular path of separation from the Orthodox.

    If “apostolic authority” is to mean that the RC has authority regarding it’s own ministry over it’s own flock, then this is a mute point. However if you intend by these words to mean the RC has some sort of authority over the Patristic Tradition and how it is manifested in the Body of Christ, I will say that I certainly disagree.

    As the creed says, there is only one Holy Catholic Apostolic Church. And I’m not expecting that you and I will agree on what that means either.

    But I do agree that the RC does indeed matter, and I say this with sincere love in my heart for the RC, but just not for the reasons you propose.

  12. Sinnika Avatar

    Fr Stephen, I just read your article again, and saw it in a different light, As you said, you do not write for your own pleasure or anyone else’s, You write in obedience. My you continue to write for the Glory of God. I agree with you that it is those who are willing to be small who will save us, while those who want to be great will fall. God Bless you

  13. Anonymous Avatar

    This article seems to give a good overview of the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church.

  14. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Comments viz. the current struggles with the Ecumenical Patriarch are not published – according to the rules for the blog. It is not that they are unimportant – perhaps it is because they are too important. I am a priest of the Orthodox Church in America. We are in communion with both the Patriarch of Constantinople and the Patriarch of Moscow. However, we are not in communion with the schismatic group in Ukraine and remain officially supportive of Met. Onufry in Kiev.

    I grieve deeply over the present troubles and pray they are resolved in a proper, canonical way, without innovation. In the meantime, having said my prayers, I write the blog. I am fairly confident that neither of those Patriarchs reads this particular blog. Since the situation can only be solved by them, my opinion (our opinions) on the matter are not of great interest. If, however, a false doctrine were being asserted (as a doctrine), we should all be certain that it would be addressed. Moscow, and a number of the Patriarchs have already spoken about the error of the language of “first without equal.” I pray that I will live to see this resolved. When it is, and it will have been resolved without my having to blog about it, I will be reminded of the sufficiency of God in all things.

  15. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Fr. William, I am one Orthodox who is glad to see you here. I have learned a great deal from other faithful Roman Catholics here in the past when they have shared the content and foundation for their faith. About 50 years ago I met a retired RC priest up in Fargo, ND. He was serving at the convent in Morehead, MN right across the river. He had been a priest 50 years. He is one of the most luminous and joyful men I have ever met. I am sure he reposed in the hands of our Lord and I pray the same for you.

  16. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    But not anytime soon

  17. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Fr. 3illiam I would like to mention that when Fr Stephen says the “west” it is not about the typical divisions so much as it is about a philosophical mindset and approach to God that we all struggle with no matter where we live or what faith we espouse.

  18. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    Michael B. – Fr Keebler can take the heat. Maybe its me, but your accolades sound like the old adage “I’m not prejudiced, some of my best friends are _____”.
    It goes without saying that there are stand-up RC’s.
    Fr Keebler…I am not talking past you.

    Blogs are a strange place. Never blogged before the age of 62. They are a new invention! Strange…

    The blog “community”, unlike the receiving of the Cup, is not impervious to other faiths. All you have to do is follow the rules. Fr Stephen knows what he’s doing. Father, your last comment about the EP is a great example. God work’s things out for the good.

    Besides the divisions between the Christian faiths, there is equal division within the Orthodox…so no one here need tout their horn. I know well the source of division…it goes through the midst of my own heart. It is there so plain as day…in our own hearts.

    Personally, I have no desire to hash and rehash-hash and rehash-hash and rehash-
    the reasons why we are not in communion with other faiths. I know where my home is. It is established and settled. I have zip patience and am too old to listen to all the opinions. I mean, who cares….

    The Church will be one when Christ the Lord returns…and no sooner than that. In the meantime it is all we can do just to get along. This world is damn crazy.

    And if I have insulted anyone, you really shouldn’t take me so seriously either.

  19. Fr William Keebler Jr Avatar
    Fr William Keebler Jr

    Michael B. Absolutely. We’re on the same page. The Catholic Church clearly teaches there were Twelve Apostles, not one or two.

  20. Matthew Lyon Avatar
    Matthew Lyon

    Fr. Freeman, Matthew W,

    Well, I think I’ve made my point as well as I can. Fr. Freeman, my concern for “certainty” again isn’t some 100%, all or nothing sort of thing. When you realize what your problem is, what you need saved from, what you need saved for, where to get this done, where you can’t get this done, etc. – it eliminates thousands of other “options/uncertainties” within Christianity. From there, you can get to work. I have to say, that though I’m long winded on blogs sometimes, the ability to focus on my own soul was greatly freed up after entering Orthodoxy. Partly because, now my salvation is actually something to work with God towards and that basically doesn’t exist in most Protestant settings, but also because I could rest in the Mind of the Church. I didn’t have to figure out everything I should believe which is a very lengthy, arduous task to do as a Solo Scripturist, so I was freed up. Obviously I’m still full of opinions and concerns, but my point is – rescuing people from often a fruitless Christianity where the soul has already been saved eternally, or where Jesus teachings are mere solutions to poverty, people who would I believe gladly embrace the Gospel if they knew what it was, and at the same time restoring a “supernatural” worldview that isn’t two-tiered, it just sounds good to me.

    Maybe instead of saying there is a faster track I should be saying that the usual methodology I see in seeking those outside Orthodoxy, and for keeping those Orthodox in, and awake, is unintentionally or intentionally slow or “seeker-sensitive”. I just don’t see this as helpful but most people think that abruptness/being polemical means rudeness.

    Abruptness is only rudeness if the person is a jerk. When I used to go evangelizing in my Reformed days, I remember approaching a much larger, intimidating looking man, and then telling him after some questions that he just admitted to me, a stranger, that he was a lying, thieving, adulterer and that he would have to face God on Judgment Day. I regret my presentation of course and how I explained the gospel, but this guy, I mean he looked like he was 6′ 4″ and 300 pounds, said to me, “You came down here to tell me this?”, and then gave me a bear hug. I had many encounters with people like that. We shouldn’t be scared of offending people if we are showing them love and they can tell it. So, I hope in your material that you develop, you spend adequate time on these issues. This is extremely significant what you are doing because of the potential audiences you will reach. If it were me, and I know I don’t know much, I would dedicate 3-5 hours at a minimum on where Original Sin leads, and where we differ. It will disarm a thousand questions because once they see the connections, they will connect the dots themselves.

    Protestants struggle most with the Blessed Virgin it seems to me before and after conversion, but this is so because they already believe Saints are impossible, and that all Christians are Saints because of Original Sin. Catholics have made the matter more confusing because they give her veneration but she is so unlike the rest of humanity as she is spared from Original Sin and Guilt. But Ancestral Sin leaves the will capable to be Theotokos. A million other free will questions will go away and hopefulness that it actually matters what someone “wills”, can be restored for many. It is a freeing thing to know that your choices matter, that you are not forever programmed to be the same.

    Matthew W,
    But just because I’ve found and embraced the Ontological model, doesn’t mean that I am yet fully Orthodox. I am still Healing the Tragic Soul of the Modern West in my soul.

    No, of course not. Because when Ancestral Sin is fully grasped you will get ecclesiology too, and you need Apostolic succession to have a Bishop, and you need a Bishop to have a temple, to have a Priest, and so on. Because it is those to whom revelation has been given that we get Scripture, and this experience of God is the same experience of the Prophets, the Apostles, and all the glorified, which is preserved by the Bishops; you need a Bishop to be Orthodox. The connections to Original Sin/Ancestral Sin are extremely comprehensive.

    God bless you,
    Matthew Lyon

  21. Anonymous Avatar

    When I converted, I had to handle the hard questions of “am I in Communion with the Church founded by Christ, and is this Church the Orthodox Church as it claims?” These questions took quite a bit of time to be answered, but I continued to seek, to search, to ask the Lord….and in time, I found my home as Paula referred to, and my answers as Matthew Lyon referred to. I believe God calls us to Communion…and this begins with prayer. St. Alexis Toth showed the importance of this in his life as he greatly helped reunite thousands of Uniates to the Orthodox Church. This Communion does matter to the soul. I simply know this well, experientially, from my life. St. Alexis Toth simply touted the Truth. The Truth is important, and is what and particularly Whom we all seek. He preached respect, but he also preached the truth. He has been glorified by the Orthodox Church and his relics rest at St. Tikhon’s Monastery in Pennsylvania. The Truth as it applies to the modern “West” as Michael B. refers to as a mind set that needs healing, and the Truth as it applies to heresies that need brought to light, and the Truth as it applies to reuniting in Communion if one finds themselves outside of Communion as I did. God knows every hair on our head and can be trusted as we seek Him in Truth.

  22. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Paula, that is not what I was thinking. I just genuinely learn from the Catholics who come here. My encounter with the priest in Fargo I will remember always. It was and is a blessing. Frankly I was seeing a bit of contention under some of the comments so I just wanted to say howdy, glad you are here.

    Now it so happens that some of my best friends are ex-Catholics, now Orthodox. I knew them well before they made the decision to enter the Orthodox Church officially. It cost them but what they actually believed was more congruent with Orthodoxy. One was an RC priest. I grew up in a Catholic neighborhood with the parish and school and a small convent just blocks away. My best friend in college was Catholic, unfortunately lapsed. My dear wife was a Catholic for awhile. I just don’t care for their theology much.

    Still, Modernism has done great damage to the RCC that saddens me immensely. The RCC witness was instrumental in furthering my journey to Christ. The priest in Fargo was a significant part of that. I want what he showed me. He knew it and suggested I join the Catholic Church. Coming from him, I had to actually consider that.

    Oh, I also have some close friends who are Afro-American. Shoot I even mange to get along with some Greeks. If I had a daughter, I am not sure I would want her to marry a Greek though(to complete the trope you started with).

  23. Byron Avatar

    I’m serving on a group, appointed within the OCA, to develop catechumenate materials that can be used throughout the Church.

    Father, this is very exciting!

    As what may be an interesting aside, my Priest has renamed our Catechumen class “The Fundamentals of Orthodoxy” and invited everyone interested to join. I want to but I have yet to make it there!

    I say this to note that, coupled with Father Freeman’s comment of the work being done, I think there is a recognized need for this instruction in the OCA (at least). I am very glad to hear this.

  24. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    I’m with Byron. I too am grateful for the prospect of receiving materials expressly for adult education for potentially converting inquirers and catechumens.

    I see too much writings/books etc by those who simply do not have the depth and authority (by the grace of the Holy Spirit and your Bishop) that you have. Please forgive me. I’m not so glib to encourage reading that was written expressly to ‘evangelize’ — to convince by some sort of rhetoric.

    If my suggestion is helpful I would encourage the inclusion of what you describe of your own conversion in this article. Those who have ears and sincerely seek will hear.

  25. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    p.s. I very frequently use your articles for discussion with catechumens already.

  26. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    I should also be more clear:

    “Potentially converting inquirers” means to provide materials for those who are already inquirers considering the possibility of conversion and not to Orthodoxy in some form as to ‘convert’ (verb) them by sort of persuasion or argument.

  27. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    Michael…and I was raised Catholic!
    And modernity has wracked all of us.
    And I genuinely learn from every person. No matter what their affiliation. Unless, that is, if they insist on telling me what or how I should believe. Or that I can’t say certain things that are unacceptable to them. In that case, I’m ‘outta there’.

    I am very much interested in the ‘person’, face to face. Whether they are Catholic, Orthodox, Prot’s, atheists, Hindu, etc etc. Theology or lack of it does not add or subtract from their personhood. There are so many experiences intertwined within each life that make a person who they are.

    Anonymous – I am so not fit to get into a discussion about truth! We all have arrived through very different paths, at the place we find ourselves. So I know and am clear in what I believe and am confident in what I have learned since becoming Orthodox.
    Truth is Jesus Christ. And He exists everywhere. I first encountered Him in the pits of hell, then He followed me to a hellish church. Now go figure. There are more people who die, knowing Christ, that have not in their life become Orthodox. Most people in America don’t even know what Orthodoxy is. Father says that’s changing, slowly. I am thankful for that. I think our actions will speak louder than our words.

    I tire at even a hint of triumph-ism. So I probably err in trying to avoid that.
    I remember where I came from. I haven’t even begun to shake it off.
    But I am Orthodox. No more, or less, than anyone else. If someone asks about my faith, I will gladly respond. But knowing my weaknesses, I simply can not endure lengthy discussions.

  28. Sinnika Avatar


    I can recommend/ orthochristian.com/ because, this is where I came across Fr Stephen and his spirit-filled writings, so I assume he would be happy too?

    Also, there are some very interesting articles on Fr George Florovsky in the Ancient Faith Ministries from 2014, on “A sign of contradiction”, and “Ecumenism of Fr George Florovsky”. The requirement for real Union in Faith, is agreement in “Historical Truth, with all the ages” not submission or rigid uniformity.

    ” Fr Florovsky observes a certain ‘hyper-historicism’ in Roman Christological consciousness – as if the Ascension marked Christ’s exit from history, leaving His deputy behind to govern.”….(sounds familiar to me)…
    “ecumenism in time” searches the shared past of Apostolic Tradition, seeking recovery of a ‘common mind’. ”

    Can anyone recommend a book by/on Fr George Florovsky, still in print?

  29. Maria Avatar

    I know what you mean about being cautious with other blogs and this would apply to any topic really. We must use caution and do our homework as well as connecting with the right people. I have a problem too, being catechised or looking for answers from members of the community – I feel it is very important with those types of questions, to speak with a knowledgeable priest. During my catechism I feel I was blessed to have a very good priest who came from Ancient Faith. My lessons were via videos (he provided) and through email. I had the option of video/emails, skype or in person. I took the video/emails and we met 3 times in person. I submitted lessons daily (although this was my own timeframe – it might not be for others). Sometimes sharing too much with too many is not a good thing – it can be of course, but we need to know when to bow out or pop in. God bless!

  30. Nikolaos Avatar

    @Michael Bauman

    “Shoot I even mange to get along with some Greeks…”. I know the feeling even as a Greek. Greeks, especially those who live in Greece, are a strange lot. I have been elbowed out from the Holy Communion queue, by people wanting to get to the front !

    Nevertheless, this mysterious country probably produces more relics per capita than any other country. I am sure if you had a daughter that decided to marry a Greek you’d have trusted her judgement with the upbringing that you offered her !

  31. Maria Avatar

    I am of English/Irish background and converted from RC to Greek Orthodox. I have a Greek Orthodox Godmother and attend Div Liturgy regularly at the local Greek Orthodox Church. I had my first house blessing by a Greek Orthodox Priest. I must say I could not ask for a better community and Godmother who took a lot of care and kindness during my conversion. Many to most of them speak both English and Greek while there are some who speak only English being born and raised in Canada. Sunday Liturgy is always Greek and English. Greece is very beautiful and offers soooo much in terms of the ascetic life for us to draw from. Having made these changes in my worship does not mean I have completely tossed out my own personal history of being English/Irish and there are Orthodox Monasteries, Monks, communities in the Isles that are also available for learning and communicating. Really, we are surrounded by good holy Orthodoxy; if we are open to it! There is also an Orthodox community in one of the larger cities not too far away from where I am and their Div Liturgy is totally English. I do understand now that God not only called me to Orthodoxy, but to a specific community as well which only brought more grace and friendships.
    God bless…..

  32. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    I’ve taken the liberty of removing the last bits of the conversation viz. Catholicism and Orthodoxy. Generally, everyone was “behaving” themselves, and I’m deeply grateful. Moderator-wise, I felt that the conversation might provoke some or be a stumbling block for others and would prefer that we just let it rest.

    Michael Bauman said it well – that historical tit-for-tat will always be endless. I would add my own thoughts that arguments that tend to reduce historical complexity are also inaccurate and unhelpful. I have stressed repeatedly that Orthodox, in its 2,000 year journey is messy and filled with historical contradictions and problems. That is the very nature of its ecclesiology. It also in no way nullifies what it is anymore than the sins of the 1st century Church (which occasioned many of the Epistles) nullified them. That kind of reasoning is unhelpful.

    I take Florovsky’s words as very insightful. We have to take the tragedy of the West into our heart and heal it there – which is not the same thing as merely fleeing. The source of error and schism is found within each of us. Orthodoxy, rightly lived, is a healing balm. God give us the grace to live it.

  33. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    To all Greeks, I mean no offense. Whatever difficulty I have with Greek-ness is the result of my own sins. That is just the fact. Forgive me. I am quite aware of the tremendous gifts from God that have come from the Greek mind and heart.
    That being said, there is a great deal about contemporary Greek-ness that is a thorn in my side but (on my good days) that leads me to repentance. Glory to God!

  34. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    There are many great resources available through Ancient Faith,. Nevertheless even there is at least one writer whom I would not recommend to catechumens . If you’re an inquirer I would encourage the recommendations of a priest whom you know . Or otherwise Fr Stephen’s recommendations. The internet is full of misinformation of all sorts.

  35. Sinnika Avatar

    Fr Stephen, please forgive me! The last thing I want is to add to your grief, may God forgive me for my ignorance!
    This is the very first Blog ever for me, as I am usually very careful and avoid social media. Having learnt my lesson I shall unsubscribe to the blog, but keep reading your articles. Your kind advice to be patient, and pray, is something I will do, thank you so much.

  36. Agata Avatar

    I just need to add my “I’ll second that!” about the Greeks… the more of them I know, the more wonderful and (at the same time) hard-to-understand they are, especially lately… LOL, this is meant in the best way!

    My Love and best wishes to all friends on this blog, and especially to you Father Stephen! Thank you for all you do for us.

  37. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Father, I would add that the study of history is not a search for evidence to prove a point. The study of history has done two things for me: moved me toward repentance/humility and shown me the working of God’s Providence in the midst of human perfidy and arrogance. In Christian matters it has shown how horribly destructive the drive to be “right” is to the Body and to each of us personally.

    My perception of what you have taught here: God is with us fully present through His Incarnation. We are all connected to each other through Him. Any sin I see in another is actually my own. By God’s mercy, all sin can be forgiven and it’s ravages healed.

    My experience has led me to understand that time is no barrier to God as long as we continue to repent. That is tremendously hopeful. It seems to me the true foundation for apocatastasis–not as some mechanistic puesdo-determinism.

    “Behold I make all things new.” (Rev. 21:5)

    Christ is Risen, trampling down death by death!

  38. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Sinnika, I have been part of this blog since 2008. I have had a number of posts removed during that time, thank God. Learning to communicate on a blog takes practice. This 8s the best one to learn because of the boundaries Fr. Stephen maintains.

  39. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    I would encourage you to remain subscribed. Your comments have been welcome and well-said. Sometimes, if I think a conversation is headed towards a problem or distraction, I’ll delete that part of a string just to avoid problems. Very few blogs do this – and they can get unpleasant and unhelpful to read.

    Mostly, it’s just a matter of sticking around a while here to see how things work. They’re not perfect.

    I should note that my own comments get deleted sometimes when I think that I have taken things in an unhelpful direction. So – please know you’re in very good company! Stick around.

  40. Ivan G. Avatar
    Ivan G.


    This chapter, especially 1 Corinthians 1:10-19, seems very relevant to the question of church divisions. St. Paul explained how God unites His flock and how to maintain that positive connection while struggling with disputes. I think a major cause of misunderstanding is an understandable reluctance to ask for clarification when something is unclear. Complex differences can easily seem like errors when there often is little actual disagreement.

    Further, few Christians read enough theology books – even books written by patriarchs or popes are unpopular. So many of us do not fully know what our faith teaches, making intellectual conflict more likely when we encounter another denomination’s or religion’s theology. I think that a summer course (4-6 weeks) for laity at a seminary would be helpful for many laypeople to learn the Orthodox faith at a deeper level (and other denominations could do this too). It would be an affordable, good investment. The more we learn about God, the easier it becomes to find places of agreement about Him with all sorts of people.

  41. Sue Avatar

    Hi Fr. Stephen,

    I think you know that my comment was not meant as historical tit-for-tat.

    Matthew W. was allowed to bring history into his comments, even though his presentation was one-sided and incomplete. In my comment to Matthew W. (and Matthew Lyons), I said nothing untoward or untrue about the Eastern Orthodox Church, nor would I ever do such a thing! I have a deep appreciation and respect for Eastern Orthodoxy—why else would I continue to read here (mostly without comment) year after year? I sought only to provide a somewhat more balanced view of history, yet my comment has been deleted and cast into an unfavorable light.

    He was also allowed to make this statement: “There was never a moment that I was ever going to consider the RC Church as anything other than the Beast of Revelation.” Although he wrote this vile expression in the past tense, the rest of his comment reveals that his view of the Catholic Church has not significantly changed. Even he knew his comment was egregious (mind, it was directed to a Catholic priest!), for he ended by saying that he would understand if you did not find it fit to post. But you did post it. And his comment still stands.

    Would you—or your readers–allow someone to call the Eastern Orthodox Church “the Beast of Revelation” on this blog? Would THAT comment be allowed to stand?

    God bless you.

  42. Sinnika Avatar

    Thank you Michael, it is just so easy to say something, thinking at the time it sounds like a good idea, and then after a bit more thinking realising that it was not as good as you thought. An unintended spark can set a house on fire. But I think this has proved to me that I am not up for this kind of socialising, as any feeling of upsetting anyone makes me physically sick, I guess 26 years of angry shouting and verbal abuse has made its mark, although, it forces you to humble yourself. Glory to God for that.

  43. Maria Avatar

    This is me personally, but I have found when I choose one or two points out of the post or article, then I make short and hopefully meaningful responses. It helps to stay on track, but also be brief for others to read. I realize that is not the way for everyone.

    Just to mention briefly that I can see at times there are assessments or conclusions about other denominations that simply are not true – not specifically here on the blog, just saying since I happened to read something in a book this morning – that really is incorrect and I was never taught or heard of in my former denomination. So, my point for mentioning this, is that I have to wonder about mis-interpretation and just plain understanding being a negative aspect of what someone else’s religion might be teaching/believing. (I won’t go into detail of what I read; just making the point about mis-interpretation.)

    God bless…..

  44. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    For what it’s worth, I understood him to be saying that in his pre-Orthodox background (he was talking about conversions) he would never have considered the RC Church to be anything other than the “Beast of Revelation.” At least that’s how I read it. That’s not the same thing as alleging such an identification at the present time. Had I read his comment as a present-tense thing, I would have removed it.

    Your comment was not inaccurate. It’s just a judgment call as a moderator – trying to keep the conversation from heading down the road of historical tit-for-tat. I’m sorry for doing this badly or clumsily. I suspect the Beast of Revelation is located somewhere in Washington, DC, at present, though, I suspect it moves around a bit.

    Please forgive this and put it on my head.

  45. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    Sinnika…For you:
    the collected works of Fr Georges Florovsky

    Thank you for your contribution here, Sinnika.
    You seem like a very gentle person. It has been a pleasure.

  46. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    Oh Father! …let us carry with you what you ask to be put on your head!
    Yes, God gives you the grace.
    That which you ask for is exactly what Christ did on the Cross…He put our sin “on His head”. Now we are to bear our cross…our part, too. Right?!
    God help us….!

    Father, thank you….

  47. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    My rules for blogs:
    1. It is astoundingly easy to take offense because
    Full context is missing–inflection, body language, etc
    Hypersensitivity is frequent because posts are quite personal
    2. Humor especially subtle humor does not carry
    3. I am guilty of anything anyone else accuses me of
    4. Do not give your peace away or let someone else steal it
    5. What I say, no matter how well thought out and written will be misconstrued by someone, possibly everyone because I am not a great writer, astute theologian or staertz.
    6. Try hard to learn from what everybody else writes remembering that I have my own bias and so does everyone else.
    7 When all else fails–do not hit ‘submit’
    8 Pray and repent

  48. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    An interesting thing that I’ve learned over the years, is that the blog and its comments sticks around for a long time, even after I’ve moved on and posted something else. One of the more recent conversations on the blog began with someone commenting on an old post – over a year old, I think.

    So, sometimes, I think about whether a direction in the comments will be ok as time goes on. Though the article is the “meat” of things (at least I intend it so when I write it), it is obvious that the comments are often equally of value, and often even greater.

    So, we’re actually all in this ministry together. Taken like that, it’s a helpful perspective. The “weakest link” in the whole of the blog is my own judgment. On the whole, it’s been ok, I think. But, it’s useful for us all (myself included) to let the blog and its conversation be larger than our own selves.

    I have to confess that lately I’ve been a bit more gun-shy that usual. Some of it is related to things that no one sees – comments, private emails, and the like, that are not fit for the light of day. You’d be both surprised and scandalized if I shared them.

    Our world is becoming increasingly sick, I think, and there is an increasing darkness in the hearts of many. It’s dark enough in my own.

    Darkness does not do well in the light. But the light it needs is not the light of public display – it is the light of Christ’s own truth.

    My heart went out to Sinnika’s comment on how negative things make him feel sick. I share that to a degree. I grieve and feel sad and dark temptations creep in.

    Be cheerful when possible and quick to forgive. Take God seriously and yourself as unseriously as possible. If you could see how all of this was going to turn out – you’d never feel anxious again!

  49. Matthew W. Avatar

    Thank-You Father, Sue,

    To be clear, the hard line my denomination took towards the RC Church was something that gave me a great deal of pause, and it was always clear that it was the institution and not the people – even priests were to be respected. The charge was against, “the Papacy”, which, even itself isn’t exactly the best distinction, and I don’t think anyone would suggest being impolite to the Pope, just because they could be.

    My thinking is the denomination itself has moderated it’s views over the years. You certainly won’t see the things published now that you would have 30 years ago. Ironically, this is one of the things that bothered me about my denomination, not really that they moderated their views towards the Papacy specifically, but rather that it would moderate itself so thoroughly on a subject that was supposed to be a distinguishing factor to our identity.

    My Grandma converted from the RC Church to the denomination I grew up in before my father was even born, its influence in hindsight was pervasive. Religious “artwork” all over the walls, hot cross buns on Easter, all of this was part of my upbringing, and I missed the subtle presence of it after she died.

    Latin Church writers though were to be thoroughly mistrusted. J.R.R. Tolkein, for instance, was not approved of. It was only through his fiction in the Lord of the Rings that he began to gain ground in his more serious work as writer worth reading.

    So even though I had no idea as to whether or not the RC Church was actually what my denomination might claim it to be, I did know that, based only on the theology that could lead to indulgences, I would never consider it. I didn’t have any options until I discovered the Ontological model found in the EO Church.

    I checked the books. There was no commentary on the Great Schism as odd as that may sound, no commentary on anything outside of the struggle of the plucky little protestants against the Latins – almost like the subject of a current popular science fiction franchise.

    The icing on the cake is this, when I seriously stated digging into Orthodoxy, I found enough trappings familiar to the Latin West that I really had to get a handle on the Ontology before I could see it making sense. Further, As much as I was having a difficulty, my fellow Protestant travelers were having even greater issues, since they don’t know about the Great Schism, since they don’t know the difference between the RC Church and the EO Church, since they are ignorant.

    Their concern?

    I was becoming (undifferentiated) Catholic.

    So back to Father’s Blog post – Within my soul I am still Healing the Tragic Soul of my Modern Mind.

  50. Maria Avatar

    “Comments equally of value; all in this ministry together” – thankyou Fr Stephen for these 2 comments in your last post. It came to me suddenly as I read them about your being on a Council or in an Assoc. who are organizing Catechism for the Church which can be used by converts to the faith. So, from your comments about equal value and ministry together, I could see how you would benefit from hearing others’ experiences, books they read, discernment processes they went through and backgrounds they came from. This would all be a fit for what may come out of the Catechism being prepared. Do you agree?

    God bless…..

  51. Agata Avatar

    I think it would be good for everyone to re-read your first post on the blog (at least I always thought it was the first one):


    It we accept what you wrote there into our darkened hearts, everything changes. Thank you again for your work and patience with us.

  52. Maria Avatar

    Fr Stephen and Agata: I read the link you posted about “What Matters.” I also left a comment even though the blog dates back to 2006 and this is 2020! Hopefully this is alright….

    God bless and thankyou for your insightful sharing!

  53. Dn. Andrew Short Avatar

    “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.’”
    Thank you Fr. Stephen! My spiritual father, the Archpriest Gordon Walker (+2015), guided my family and me into Orthodoxy 24 years ago and was also guided into Orthodoxy himself in 1987 by the wise and gentle counsel and spirit of Archbishop Dmitri of Dallas. Fr. Gordon often told me the same advice as I sorted through my 20 years as an Evangelical campus pastor and foreign missionary. Such a wise perspective for converts to Orthodoxy and those of us who continue to gently guide others to Orthodoxy. Sometimes I find myself still scratching my head trying to “make sense of it all” as I see the path on which I have walked these past 6 decades. I am most grateful for where I am and I’m still learning that, “My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways,” declares the Lord. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways, And My thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:8-9)

  54. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    Thank you for your last comment, in sharing your thoughts, Father.

  55. Sue Avatar

    Thank you Fr. Stephen, and all of the readers here, for everything you have shared.

    Matthew W., I appreciate your most recent comment (addressed to me) and for all of the background details you shared. It truly explains a lot. In your Protestant denomination’s view, it is the Catholic Church as an “institution” that is “the Beast of Revelation”, specifically the Papacy, rather than the people. I’m not sure if this is also your view or not. I assumed it was (perhaps mistakenly) based on how the issue of Catholic indulgences factored into your becoming a catechumen of Eastern Orthodoxy. I’m not sure if you got to read my comment and the link I shared (from an Orthodox website) regarding the history of indulgences in Eastern Orthodoxy before my comment was removed. In any case, it really doesn’t matter.
    I have duly noted that no one has answered my question about whether it is acceptable on this blog for someone to call the Eastern Orthodox Church “the Beast of Revelation.” Let’s say a person makes this statement as part of his conversion story. In order to negate its import, wouldn’t he have to also state that “this is what I once thought to be true, but now I think differently” in order for it not to be offensive?

    I do not take offense easily. As stated in the comments on Fr. Stephen’s previous post, there are boundaries we all uphold. Nevertheless, I appreciate everyone’s honesty here and hold nothing against anyone, least of all Matthew W. who is a true seeker and should be encouraged on his path to Orthodoxy. As always, I am grateful for Fr. Stephen’s insightful blog posts and generosity in inviting discussion.

    Peace be with you,

  56. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Thanks. For what it’s worth, I’ll address the Orthodox indulgence question. They did exist for a time in the Middle East, and do seem to have been an effort to match ministry with the Catholic Church. You pre-emptively ruled out such an explanation which was unhelpful. The fact is that they disappeared and serve as an embarrassment in Orthodoxy – indeed, it’s hard to account for them at all from within an Orthodox framework.

    I do not know their present status in Catholicism. They were clearly abused at a certain point. I well imagine that their present status is much more nuanced.

    On the Beast thing – I do my best to hold us to some sort of standards of politeness. I did not understand Matthew’s statement to be impolite – simply a reporting of his history. The fact is, I could easily find any number of monastics on Mount Athos who would quickly say that the Roman pontiff is the anti-Christ. That kind of rhetoric has floated around some circles of Orthodoxy for quite some time. Indeed, Dostoevsky had strong ideas in that direction.

    Today’s Roman Catholic Church is a very different entity than that of, say, the mid-1800’s. At that time, the Papacy was also a temporal power, complete with armies (very small by then) and more than willing to go to war. That structure/bureaucracy/ecclesiology easily came under “beast” labels and was quite provocative. It declared that only Catholics could be saved, etc.

    But, that is no longer the case. When I write (following Florovsky) about the religious tragedy of the West, it is not an exercise in comparative denominationalism. It is an effort to move deeper and into the darker heart of our past. The fact is, many things in that darker past were virtually demonic. And I do not exonerate Orthodoxy from problems – and I think I’m clear about that.

    I wrestled, during the years that I contemplated conversion, with the claims of Catholicism. I rejected them at the time as wrong (regarding the papacy) and as something of an abberation in Christian theology. If Orthodoxy has any edge, intellectually, it’s in being stunted in its growth – and having largely avoided development in false directions after about 1000 a.d. Most of that, I think, has been accidental. Orthodoxy has been “stunted” as much by accident and circumstance of history as it has by intentionality and such. There were efforts, for example, to develop a sort of Eastern scholasticism that pretty much collapsed with the loss of the Byzantine Empire.

    The “modern” recovery in Orthodoxy, largely starting in the 19th and 20th centuries, has been one of the more unexpected things in history. Any Orthodox partisan who describes us in some pristine, historical manner is simply not reading history very accurately. It’s a mess – but, I think it is God’s providential mess through time. For that matter, I accept that the whole Christian world is a providential mess in which God is at work.

    The best I could do with the mess – other than just create more mess – was to head home – go back to from where we came and seek shelter. I don’t sit here with a sense that I am now exempt from the mess. Instead, I seek to hold the mess within my heart and find healing and resolve there in the grace of God and the sacraments of the Church.

    Lastly, is it acceptable to call the Eastern Orthodox Church the “Beast of Revelation”? Probably not – for one – it’s not nearly organized enough. On the other hand, that label has been part of anti-Roman Catholicism for a very long time. I do my best to tamp down anti-Roman Catholicism when it raises its ugly head. Sometimes, just discussing things that are necessary questions will bring up criticisms. Telling the difference between the two is a judgment call that I have to make. As I explained, I did not hear that in Matthew’s comment – or I would have treated it differently.

  57. Matthew W. Avatar


    Ontologically speaking, the Pope, himself, if he were nothing more, is still my brother.

    in love,
    Matthew W.

  58. Sue Avatar

    Fr. Stephen,

    Thank you for taking the time to write such a long and thoughtful reply to me. You touched on so many topics—I could never attempt to offer an adequate response, as I am truly out of my depth. I do, however, have a question.

    On the topic of indulgences in Eastern Orthodoxy, I have read the following:

    “…the Patriarch Anthimus who denounced indulgences in his reply to Pope Leo XIII could have been ignorant of the fact that Orthodox bishops and patriarchs had themselves issued indulgences which were popular among their people from the 16th to the 19th centuries. It is ironic that in 1846 he himself wrote a Letter of Pardon (Indulgence) “in virtue of the power of binding and loosing which has passed from the apostles to us by succession; we have absolved and loosed from all sin the soul and the body of the deceased servant of God Christodoulos remitting all the faults and offenses committed by him against God.”
    These Letters were a form of indulgences termed “Absolution Certificates” and came into common use in Greek Orthodox churches suffering under the Ottoman yoke from the 16th to 18th centuries. This was doubtless due to increased contacts with Latin theology by Greek scholars and theologians studying in Western schools. These certificates which constituted real indulgences, moreover, could be obtained for a specified sum of money!
    In the 1722 “Confession of Faith” issued and signed by the Patriarch of Constantinople Paisius II, Patriarch Chrysanthus of Jerusalem, and Patriarch Sylvester of Antioch as well as other bishops, the practice of issuing indulgences received formal confirmation: “The power of the forgiveness of sins, which is termed by the Eastern Church of Christ ‘Absolution Certificates’ is given to the Holy Church of Christ. These Absolution Certificates…are issued by the four most holy patriarchs, Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem.”
    A later Council of Constantinople in 1838 dealt with the scandalous abuse of the sale of indulgences by condemning the practice. However, the theological validity of patriarchs issuing indulgences was not questioned. Interestingly, “Absolution Certificates” remained popular in Greece into the middle of the 20th century.”
    From Wikipedia:
    “Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem Dositheos Notaras (1641–1707) wrote: “It is an established custom and ancient tradition, known to all, that the Most Holy Patriarchs give the absolution certificate (συγχωροχάρτιον – synchorochartion) to the faithful people … they have granted them from the beginning and still do.”[45]
    Indeed, starting from the 16th century, Orthodox Christians of the Greek Church rather extensively, although not officially in penitential practice, used “permissive letters” (Greek: συγχωροχάρτια), in many ways similar to indulgences. The status of an official ecclesiastical document is obtained at the Council of Constantinople in 1727, the resolution of which reads: «The power of the abandonment of sins, which, if filed in writing, which the Eastern Church of Christ calls “permissive letters”, and the Latin people “indulgences”… is given by Christ in the holy Church. These “permissive letters” are issued throughout the catholic (universal) Church by the four holiest patriarchs: Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem». The practice of using “permissive letters” existed in Greece until the middle of the twentieth century. From XIII to XVII century, it was used in Russia. Indulgences as a means of enrichment were condemned at the Council of Constantinople in 1838. Even conciliar decisions were difficult to eradicate the practice of indulgences, rooted in the people. “Permissive letters” (or indulgences) survived in Greece until the mid-twentieth century[46][47][48][49]”

    Do you know, Father, if this information is true or not?

    Peace be with you,

  59. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    I don’t quite know why the focus of this comment stream has been on the relationship between OC and RC, but in reference to my own background before I converted to Christianity through the Orthodox Church, most of my interactions as a non-Christian were with Protestants. Most of these interactions were not invited on my part and were consistently repugnant because of the self righteous behavior and words spoken to me were very difficult to ‘swallow’. (I’m being as gentle as I can in this description). My reactions were even worse if my non-Christian family were similarly accosted.

    The biggest stumbling block I had to becoming Christian were these encounters with Protestants. Whereas the dim light of hope was planted in my heart by an RC priest who came to my bedside and prayed for me and my broken body after a car accident. No RC theology spoke louder than the prayers of this priest whose name I have long forgotten. But I never forgot him. I was 17 years old, now 65. And I attribute to him and his thoughtful prayer that my heart was never completely closed to God and His Church.

  60. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Sue I don’t know what Father will say about these quotes but you clearly put stock in the entries on Wikipedia. I’m a scientist and a devout Orthodox. I for one don’t go to Wikipedia for science info or for Orthodoxy info.

    If for some reason I want to access something in which depth or veracity wasn’t an issue or concern then I might use it.

    I don’t recommend it to learn about Orthodoxy. And my priest wouldn’t recommend it either.

  61. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    I think the articles are correct, in so far as they go. The “letters of absolution” that I am familiar with, are a written form of prayer of absolution from the service of Holy Unction – a rather all-inclusive sort of absolution – that is signed by the spiritual father of a deceased person and placed in their hands in the coffin. That practice is not uncommon among the Slavs. I’ve done it myself. It is not bought nor sold, and represents only a written form of what was actually done as a sacrament of the Church. It is not a sacramental act extended to the departed – after death. We do, of course, pray for the departed and make offerings on their behalf. There is no teaching of purgatory in Orthodoxy, but there is a clear belief that our prayers for the departed “are of benefit” for them – and there are clear indications in the prayers themselves, that, in some cases the departed are even released from hell. Most of the prayers for the departed are specifically for the forgiveness of their sins.

    That is understood, as far as I can see, in a very ontological manner rather than juridical.

    Now, as to the subject of these so-called indulgences among the Patriarchs in the East in the 16th to 19th centuries – we are here seeing very good evidence of the corruption of the Eastern Church during the era of the “Turkokratia.” Under the Turkish yoke, all of those Patriarchates were severely corrupted. The sees were bought and sold, and Patriarchs frequently removed and replaced for political and financial reasons by the Turks. All of the Patriarchates were placed directly under Constantinople and did not function as true Patriarchs. The Turks shut down theological education for the larger part. If you wanted to study theology, you had to go to Europe and study with Catholics or Protestants. Russia had more freedom, but had its own problems and restrictions. The financial corruption in the Patriarchates under the Turks was quite terrible.

    These were truly dark years in Orthodoxy. The sell of these certificates of absolution were generally done out of Jerusalem and served as a means of making money. They were a corruption. Moscow refused to support it. Messy business.

    Beginning in the end of the 18th and early 19th century, under the work of St. Paisius Velichkovsky, the Hesychast teaching of the monastic fathers, preserved in practice among some of the fathers of Mt. Athos, was taken to the Slavic lands and initiated a new study of the Fathers and the rebirth of Hesychasm in the Slavic Churches. St. Seraphim of Sarov is an example of its early fruit. Continuing in the 19th century, there began to be a renewed interest in Orthodox thought – in and of itself. Groups such as the Slavophiles in Russia gave great impetus to this. That was a slow movement that had its own maturation.

    To a great extent, the exile of the intelligentsia from Russia, following the Bolshevik Revolution, served to spread this renewed and deepening recovery of Orthodox thought. The spread of schools such as St. Sergius in Paris and St. Vladimir’s in New York, St. Tikhon’s in Pennsylvania, Holy Cross in Boston, nurtured generations of Orthodox scholars who have also been active in nurturing, in turn, the re-establishment of Orthodox theological schools elsewhere in Europe.

    It’s been a slow work of recovery after centuries of oppression and persecution. What remained untouched was the liturgical and, to a degree, the monastic life of the Church. There has been a very strong Eucharistic renewal in the 20th century as well, spurred on by such saints as St. John of Kronstadt and others.

    That Orthodoxy is sometimes rather assertive these days is actually sort of new. It has, interestingly, greatly contributed to things like Liturgical Theology outside of its own boundaries.

    So – I hope that’s useful.

  62. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Thank you Father Stephen,
    I appreciate your elaboration Fr Stephen, this information is indeed helpful.

  63. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Also Fr Stephen,
    If I understand your reference to the new assertive Orthodoxy and the Theology of Liturgy going outside of it’s own boundaries, I believe also that we might be seeing the development of the “theology of iconography” outside of it’s own boundaries as well.

    When I once attempted to describe a topic of “Orthodox theology” and relate it to a similar topic of “Roman Catholic Theology” in a discussion, I was corrected by a spiritual elder who said that the Orthodox don’t have ‘theology’ of the sort that is described within western theology. I understood and accepted the correction seeing the truth of it. But it would be difficult to explain to someone outside of the faith what was going on in that correction.

  64. Fr William Keebler Jr Avatar
    Fr William Keebler Jr

    The Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraphs 1471-1479 defines an indulgence as “…a remission before God of the temporal punishment due to sins whose guilt has already been forgven ….” Essentially an indulgence is a form of purification from sin. Since conversion proceeds from God Who is Love, personal conversion from sin involves both forgiveness from God and personal conversion through penance.

  65. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Fr. William,
    Yes, I understand. Orthodoxy would not think in terms of temporal punishment for the guilt of sin – primarily because the concept is juridical in nature and tends not to be how Orthodoxy thinks.

    The division between an ontological approach which became dominant in the East and a juridical approach that became dominant in the West seems to have begun rather early. The flavor of it is present in St. Augustine – and more strongly in some such as Caesarius of Arles and others who popularized the application of Augustine. The gradual loss of Eastern influence in the West, for whatever reasons (linguistic not the least of them) tended to diminish any place for an ontological understanding.

    In the East, the language of ontology: being, person, nature, etc. – were the same language employed into thinking about the nature of sin and forgiveness. Interestingly, when St. Athanasius wrote his On the Incarnation, in which he is defending and teaching the divinity of Christ – he begins his treatment with sin as a movement towards non-being and the Incarnation as God’s rescue of humanity from death. It’s a very non-moralistic/non-juridical approach. That way of treating sin and such actually got the East later accused of never having developed an actual atonement doctrine. My classical Anglican textbook on the doctrines of the early Church (JND Kelly’s work) actually said as much.

    I remember puzzling about that – and later found Gustav Aulen’s Christus Victor to be very helpful in seeing what the East had actually done.

    One upshot of how the East handles atonement and forgiveness is a relatively undeveloped treatment of life-after-death. There’s no real explanation of exactly what the prayers of the Church do for the departed – other than to say, “they are of benefit.” The East, in the person of St. Mark of Ephesus, rejected the doctrine of purgatory at the Council of Florence, and his writings on the topic are treated as representations of Orthodox thought in the matter. But, mostly they say what is “not” the case rather than what is.

    In the debates between Rome and Protestantism, where all of this reached a sort of fevered pitch – positions tended to get hardened in mutual counter-charges. The East had no part in those discussions and pretty much avoided the whole question.

    I will say that prayers for the departed are taken quite seriously in the East – more so, I suspect than in Rome. For example, prayers for the departed are offered on the 3rd day, 9th day, 9th month, and the anniversary of a death. There are also 7 saturdays in the year, known as “Soul Saturdays” in which prayers for the departed are offered with special services and other devotions. All these are simply the formal practices of the Church. The faithful always pray for the departed (particularly family) always in their prayers – and the departed a specifically remembered, by name, in every service of the Eucharist.

    But all of this remains somewhat covered in the mystery of God’s love and mercy – with no particular discussion of the mechanism or effect. The quantifying of purgatory (how many days, etc.) seems quite odd to an Orthodox mind and foreign to its ethos. It’s one of those larger cultural gaps between East and West.

  66. Fr William Keebler Jr Avatar
    Fr William Keebler Jr

    Father. The more I hear of differences between that of the Orthodox east and the Catholic west the more I find oneness in Faith, differences in culture.

  67. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    The elder was quite correct. Orthodox theology, when taught in its best form, is what I call a “seamless garment.” The “theology of icons” is just the theology of everything else – of God’s work in saving us. I’ve said before, that you could take a single, well-painted festal icon and teach the entirety of the Orthodox faith with the icon as the “starting text.” The whole of the faith is there. Indeed, the whole of the faith is in every single part of Orthodoxy – because it is only one thing.

    The compartmentalization of theology that became popular in the West created many “theologies,” not all of which work well with each other. All of this is why it is sometimes said that Orthodoxy does not do “systematic theology.” I would say that we do “organic theology” in the sense that the whole of a tree can be found in each individual cell of a tree. That is the nature of living organisms. The faith is living and is best modeled by living things. Living things do not change – they only become ever more fully themselves. The seed and the tree are one and the same thing.

  68. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Fr. William,
    There is much that is true in that. I do not think, however, that the “culture” of the two are always reconcilable. Sometimes, in certain respects, that are quite in opposition. On the other hand, if I found a laywoman in Greece and compared her faith to her counterpart in Italy, their commonality would be much greater than the intellectual versions we would find elsewhere (like blogs).

  69. Byron Avatar

    All these are simply the formal practices of the Church. The faithful always pray for the departed (particularly family) always in their prayers – and the departed a specifically remembered, by name, in every service of the Eucharist.

    When my brother, a non-Orthodox and perhaps even non-believer, died, my Priest was kind enough to add his name to the prayers of the Church every Sunday. I very much appreciate that he did so. It was a very strong indication of the love of God and the loving practices of the Church towards not only my brother, but also myself. The “formal practices of the Church” are very much the practices of life itself.

  70. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    I have a question that I do not mean to be offensive: many Catholics I have met say things much like Fr. Keebler. I do not understand that because I see almost no resemblance in content. I do not understand the similarity they see. For me the clearest example of the difference I see is in the Sacrament of Confession. The Orthodox priest says early on “Know that you confess not to me, a sinner, but to Christ Himself….”
    The Orthodox absolution rarely involves a penance and if it is, it is specific to the person and the sin. The absolution is also without condition: “Go forth, having no further care for the sins you have confessed…”.

    Plus the manner in which the priest and the penitent approach Jesus together, the priest leading the way but at the same time he has my back, keeping me safe from the world so that I can be really open and vulnerable. We are not in separate boxes.

  71. Fr William Keebler Jr Avatar
    Fr William Keebler Jr

    Michael Baumann. The so-called confessional in the west serves as simply a practical way to go to confession. Any sacrament is an act of Christ, not the Church, meaning, when one goes to confession one is confessing through the ministry of the priest but to God. Again, except for the manner (before the Icon of Christ or in the confessional (which has a crucifix above the screen, I fail to see the difference.

  72. Sue Avatar

    Father Stephen, thank you so much for your thoughtful reply to my question about the history of indulgences in Eastern Orthodoxy. It was very, very helpful to me!

    For a concise understanding of indulgences in the Catholic Church, I recommend this short article that explains what they are and addresses many common misunderstandings about them, including what was meant by “days” (this terminology has since been replaced by “partial” and “plenary”): https://www.catholic.com/tract/myths-about-indulgences

    The Sacrament of Penance in the Catholic Church (also called Confession or Reconciliation) involves confessing our sins, expressing contrition, receiving absolution, and performing penance (because even after our sins are forgiven, we must still deal with their consequences by doing all we can to make amends to those whom we have hurt and by replacing worldly attachments with heavenly ones through prayer, acts of mercy, etc. Simply put, indulgences are God’s mercy working through the Church).

    Peace keep you,

  73. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Byron thank you for sharing your story regarding the prayers offered for you and your brother. I’m also grateful this was done for your family. May God keep your brother in peace and joy in paradise.

  74. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Fr. William,
    It is not my purpose, here, to magnify our differences, but I think it is important to say that what might seem “cultural” is, indeed, substantive. Thank God for how much we have in common – but the differences matter. There are some good writings on the “ethos” of the Church – in which that ethos is understood, to a large extent, to be an expression of Holy Tradition – not simply that which is handed down – but the actual expression of the fullness of the Holy Spirit.

    I am a student of languages. One thing I have learned through the years is how difficult it is to translate from one to another. So much is lost in translation. We can do a “word for word” translation and still not have truly represented what is being said. Words in one language may be similar, but never the same. I think the Orthodox experience of Catholicism would be something like: “Yes, I know those words sound similar, but somehow, that is not what I meant.” The concern in such a thing would be whether what is lost in translation is, in fact, something of the substance of what was being said.

    There have been many efforts through the past half-century to speak more carefully, to listen more carefully. But, for all that, the mis-translations continue. None of this, of course, begins to address the original difference: the unique claims of the papacy. Those seem quite foreign to the Orthodox understanding and to have produced many problems through the centuries. There will never be a way of re-phrasing those claims that will make them acceptable. Ecclesiology cannot be separated from theology. The Western ideas of the papacy ultimately say something about the nature of the godhead as well. What it says is something Orthodoxy would never say about God. As such, it represents far more than culture and runs to the substance of the faith.

    The culture and ethos of Orthodoxy have been my primary teachers over the past 22 years of my life – it is difficult to put into words other than to say that I do not know how to “speak” of God in a manner that was in any way separable from that ethos. Some Orthodox have questioned whether the so-called “Western Rite” in Orthodoxy is adequate to that task. It has only been around a few decades, so, I suppose the jury is still out. I do not have any experience of Western-Rite Orthodoxy so I am unable to speak to it – ultimately, it’s a matter for bishops. The jurisdiction of Orthodoxy of which I’m a part has no Western-Rite Churches and has made that a conscious choice.

    Michael Bauman,
    I understand what you mean. I think that there is a failure to see something that is vitally important to the Orthodox as actually being important. I suspect that the attitudes towards ecumenism are part of this phenomenon. Ecumenism is a stated goal in modern Catholicism – where it is generally anathema to the Orthodox. That it is as anathema to us is baffling to those outside and appears like stubbornness or worse. To the Orthodox, it feels like an existential threat – and it is.

  75. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Thank you Father Stephen for your last comment. I am part of the jurisdiction that has the Western Rite and I’ll admit difficulty with it, as did Fr Alexander Shmemann of blessed memory.

    This conversation in this comment stream is indicative of the conversations I’ve encountered with RC over the past year. The main approach is to obfuscate differences. You are always kind and generous. But the repetitive confrontations are an indication of a lack of respect. I have attempted to attribute to it ignorance. The insistence however points to another motivation.

  76. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Fr. Keebler, thank you for your reply. Fr. Stephen’s explanation is a perfect reply. You see, he and I are, by the grace of the Holy Spirit of one mind in this. We come from radically different starting points but God brings us to a common understanding. I am arrogant enough not to simply leave it there however.

    The approach to confession in the RCC speaks of a separation between God and His creation and between the people of God and the Church. What Father Stephen calls a two story universe. There is not, nor should there be any such separation. We are one I’m Christ and interconnected by His Incarnation, Death, Ressurection and Ascension.

    I have been to many Catholic services in my life: regular Masses, weddings, funerals and a Baptism. Not once have I encountered the Jesus Christ I know. Three times I have.outside the formal Church 1 Through a 100 year old painting my mother got in Taos, NM of Our Lady of Guadalupe; 2. In the person of that luminous priest in Fargo, ND and 3. when my Catholic boss brought me an icon of Jesus saving St. Peter as he was sinking. Because of those moments I have to assume He is there somewhere. But those are the only three in my 70 years of encounters. I can number them because I have looked, hoping to see.

    The very first time I entered an Orthodox Temple, both the Theotokos and our Lord greeted me. Jesus was walking with the priest as he carried the Holy Gifts down the aisle up into the Altar. Prior to that, Mary was there above the altar with outstretched arms of welcome and praise.

    I have never once found any attraction to the RCC.

    I suppose that says more about me than about the RCC. I know you do not understand how profoundly off putting it is, this litany of “that’s what we believe” when that is simply not true. It is really bizarre.

    I had a personal encounter of Jesus Christ 50 years ago that left no doubt in my mind and heart about who He is or how to recognize Him and to whom I confess. The Orthodox way verified and reinforces the reality of that encounter. The RCC does not. If we really were of the same substance I do not think that would be so consistently the case.

    Father Keebler, you have no idea how much I honor you as a priest, a man dedicated to serving God. My hope is that we meet in the Kingdom. But in this life there is more separating us than you realize and that saddens me.

    Forgive me for the hardness of my heart.

  77. Byron Avatar

    Thank you , Dee.

  78. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Modernity, as a philosophy, seeks to find common ground and the minimize differences. It is an instinctual habit formed in a large number of ways. It is, for one, the very nature of the project of secularism. The differences are “first-storey” things, while, on the “second-storey,” everybody and everything is really the same. It nurtures tolerance and a kind of unity. But, secularism is always, always, always in service of the State (and its economy, etc.). America is the great secular project (and was the first one). It necessitated tolerance. So, in the 50’s, we began with public service announcements telling us to worship in the “church or synagogue of your choice.” The younger folks will not remember these. It didn’t matter where you went – only that you went. Eisenhower, for example, never went to Church until he decided to run for office, at which time he became a Presbyterian, disappointing several others.

    In becoming Orthodox, you’re baptized in an ethos that is (at its best) anti-secular. Those Orthodox compromises with secularism feel like deep betrayals, oftentimes. Of course, the dark side of this is for it to degenerate into mere tribalism. The narrow path always has two sides to be avoided.

    I am assuming the best of my interlocutors.

  79. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Father I share your concerns about tribalism among the Orthodox.
    The narrow path is a difficult one. I’ve been questioned by non Christians as well. However the quality of such questions and interactions are quite different. Admittedly it seems I have more tolerance for secularized nonbelievers. I have heard them say ‘all self professed Christians’ are the same. And once upon a time I too believed that.

  80. Sue Avatar

    Hi Dee of St Herman’s,

    Your last comment puzzles and troubles me. I read on a Western Rite website that Fr.. Alexander Schmemann approved of their church and had some involvement there: http://journal.orthodoxwestblogs.com/2018/05/16/fr-alexander-schmemann-and-the-western-rite/

    I do not minimize the very real differences between Catholics and Orthodox as it is why the Great Schism has persisted for a thousand years! I do not think East and West are close to resolving our dividing differences, especially since the list has substantially grown in the last two centuries and continues to grow. Catholics have a desire for unity and the Orthodox do not—that is one major difference. However, even if unity were desired on both sides, it could not be achieved without much, much effort, prayer, active listening with a desire for understanding, and yes, politeness. On the Catholic side, if it appears sometimes that we obfuscate our differences, it is only because we desire to begin this work.

    One of the essential differences between East and West is the East’s overt hatred for all things Western and Catholic. That is a wall that would have to come down before either side could hope to make any headway on the other issues, such as the Papacy , Filioque, Mariology, Ancestral/Original Sin, and differences pertaining to divorce and contraception (to name a few).

    “You are always kind and generous. But the repetitive confrontations are an indication of a lack of respect. I have attempted to attribute to it ignorance. The insistence however points to another motivation,”

    My motivation in entering the conversation here is to learn about and understand Eastern Orthodoxy, which sometimes requires my asking questions and sometimes requires making clarifications about the Catholic Church I apologize for being too polite about it.

    For. Stephen, please do let me know if my participation in these discussions is unwelcome.

  81. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Here is a quote directly from Fr Shmemann’s words. Please read it carefully.

    Fr Alexander Schmemann [St. Vladimir’s Seminary Quarterly, Vol. 2 – New Series, No. 4, Fall, 1958, pp. 37-38.] on the introduction of ‘Western Rite’ into the Antiochian Archdiocese

    For me, the only important question is: What exactly do we mean by conversion to Orthodoxy? The following definition will, I presume, be acceptable to everybody: it is the individual or the corporate acceptance of the Orthodox faith and the integration in the life of the Church, in the full communion of faith and love. If this definition is correct, we must ask: can the “conversion” of a group or a parish, for which its spiritual leaders have signed a formal doctrinal statement and which has retained its Western rite, however purified or amended, can such a “conversion” – in our present situation, i.e., in the whole context of the Orthodox Church as she exists in America today – be considered as a true conversion? Personally, I doubt it very much. And I consider this growing interpretation of conversion in terms of a mere jurisdictional belonging to some Orthodox Diocese, of a “mimimum” of doctrinal and liturgical requirements and of an almost mechanical understanding of the “Apostolic Succession” as a very real danger to Orthodoxy. This means the replacement of Orthodoxy of “content” by Orthodoxy of “form”, which certainly is not an Orthodox idea. For we believe that Orthodoxy is, above all, faith that one must live, in which one grows, a communion, a “way of life” into which one is more and more deeply integrated. And now, whether we want it or not, this living faith, this organic spirit and vision of Orthodoxy is being preserved and conveyed to us mainly if not uniquely, by the Orthodox worship. In our state of national divisions, of theological weakness, in the lack of living spiritual and monastic centers, of unpreparedness of our clergy and laity for more articulate doctrinal and spiritual teaching, of absence of a real canonical and pastoral care on the part of the various jurisdictional centers, what holds the Orthodox Church together, assures its real continuity with tradition and gives the hope of a revival is precisely the liturgical tradition. It is a unique synthesis of the doctrinal, ethical and canonical teachings of Orthodoxy and I do not see how a real integration into the Orthodox Church, a genuine communion of faith and life may be achieved without an integration in the Orthodox worship.

  82. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Interesting article, viz. Fr. Schmemann and the Western Rite. These days, both ROCOR and Antioch have a Western Rite – and it’s been a bit checkered in its history, though I gather it has become far more regularized. It is probably a less touchy subject these days than back in the 80’s. The larger question regarding the Western Rite has been whether there is a sufficiently complete Western tradition from which to reconstruct the fullness of Orthodoxy in a Western context. There are other significant questions that only time will reveal.

    I could imagine a Western-like Liturgy – but wonder about the question of ethos. Anglicanism has an ethos – that I think is entirely insufficient. Catholicism had an ethos that might be adequate. Oddly, when people speak about Orthodoxy being “mystical” in character, they are indeed identifying something of its ethos that I think should not be confined to the East – but is the patrimony of the whole Church. So, I wonder if that is present in a Western Rite. I have no experience of it in an Orthodox context. My Anglican experience was devoid of such a thing. So, that’s just a puzzle.

    I suspect one question viz. a Western Rite is “why?” Those like myself who converted from a Western background and have slowly assimilated to the fullness of the Eastern litugical experience – sort of think, “Just get over it. Everything you want is already there.” But, again, I’ve not had the conversations required to understand. The arguments based in evangelism do not seem to have held up – again, only time will tell.

    Your participation in these discussions is welcome – just know that sometimes it might get a bit awkward. That’s not a problem for me. Part of the awkwardness is that there are always several conversations happening at the same time – with a lot of varying questions and such. It’s why I’ll occasionally step in and even delete a string.

    You are very right about what would be required for the healing of the Schism. There are several different agendas at work within that topic. The Orthodox don’t even trust each other when it comes to these things. By and large, for example, ecumenical statements viz. Rome issued by Constantinople have been rejected and even condemned by most of the Orthodox, creating a distrust on the topic. Orthodoxy, at its best, is quite de-centralized, which is a radically different construct from Catholic ecclesiology. When the Orthodox look at Byzantine Catholicism, they see everything that they fear in ecumenical dialog. There’s a bit of nasty history surrounding that – a history that is felt more by Russians than by Greeks, I suspect.

    I know that the Gordion Knot of history is often unsolvable. My instinct is that only by moving deeper are we saved – rather than moving wider. There are mysteries in all of this.

  83. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    The “walls” of this age, are indeed within the heart. But the way to overcome them is not by laying siege to someone else’s walls. It’s looking and ‘dealing with what’s’ inside our own.

    Here are Fr Stephen’s words from this very article:

    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.

    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.

  84. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    I had not read this before, but it says quite well what I feel in my heart to be the case. In particular, it should be noted how he emphasizes our weaknesses: “national divisions, theological weakness, lack of living spiritual and monastic centers, unpreparedness of clergy and laity for more articulate doctrinal and spiritual teaching, absence of real canonical and pastoral care on the part of various jurisdictional centers.” These have all seen slow improvement over the past generation (he died in 1984), but we are far from where we need to be.

    For example, in Russia, there is still not a program for a PhD in theology (and associated studies) anywhere in the country. They are working on it, but, at present, much of the university system is resistant to the idea (leftover secularism). The history of the past 20 years in inter-Orthodox relations only serves to illustrate Fr. Alexander’s observations.

  85. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Dee, Sue,
    I think Dee’s quotation from the article points a good way forward: a conversation about the context of modernity and its work in distorting our hearts would be quite fruitful and of great use. It points us past the worst of obstacles and towards a deeper path.

  86. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Sue, Father Stephen will let you know. It happens seldom but it has occured when folks have been overtly in opposition to the nature of the blog and it’s message. I do not believe that is so in your case

    The contention between us and the RCC has its origins and persistenence in, as Fr Stephen pointed out, the institution of the Papacy and associated claims. Despite the efforts of some to make the Papacy compatible with Orthodox eccelsiology, it is not. Since all eccelsiology is ultimately Christology, it is foundationally serious.

    While such differences can become overblown and magnified the modern trend is to minimize rather than to seriously engage. Your comments strike me as of the minimizing type, even dismissive. When I fall into that trap I usually do not learn much.

    For my part I seriously considered the Papal claims and take them seriously to this day. I do not agree with them. Indeed, they are considered heretical according to long standing Orthodox teaching. In a similar vein the teaching of the RCC is that we Orthodox are schismatics both outside the Church and salvation.

    That teaching was affirmed as recently as the ascension to the Papacy of Pope Benedict. In the Orthodox consecrate a Bishop, he proclaims publicly anathemas to many beliefs. Some of those include elements of Roman Catholicism. I am not one who believes those anathemas to be mere formulas without substance or meaning from either perspective.

    These foundational differences cannot be simply overcome. Nor should they be. Truth demands that. Repentance to, deep and sincere is necessary. I have no clue as to what that would look like.

    The first step in my mind is for people on both sides to recognize we do not believe “the same thing”.

    It is axiomatic in modernity that if someone disagrees with you, hatred and predjuice is the cause that allows for and even justifies violence. That is representative of the demonic foundation of modern philosophy which I call nihilism.

    That philosophy is a lie. Just because I cannot and will not accept Papal claims does not mean I hate. Nor does it mean you are outside salvation though I am bound to say such beliefs are profoundly dangerous. You are bound to say the opposite to me. There is no dialectic process that will allow combination. Testifying to the danger can be an act of love. Unfortunately, it can also create the temptation to judge and argue. I work hard not to fall prey to the ravenings of that temptation or whatever truth my admonition held is made into a lie

    I get that. It does not bother me. It just means we profoundly disagree. Asserting otherwise I find to be unhelpful. Even in our foundational and abiding disagreement we can find, without compromise or dialectic synthesis, moments of profound agreement. Those moments are wonderful but they are no more than moments. The fundamental Christology of each cannot really co-exist in the same human heart. We cannot serve two masters.
    Modern dialog is an attempt to force incompatible realities into some type of hideous chimera. The fullness of the Church is in one of two places, the existential mess called Orthodoxy or the equally hot mess that is the RCC. Even our messiness is not compatible.

    Salvation is dependent on one thing only: accepting or rejecting the unwarranted mercy of Our Lord in repentance. The Life of St. Mary of Egypt is a perfect example. Sin and ignorance always make things messy. It is much better to acknowledge the messy than to artificially try to put it under a rug or in a nicely wrapped box.

    Forgive me, a sinner especially if I have grieved your heart or offended you.

  87. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    To the Orthodox “Intellectuals”…Father, Michael, Dee…let me begin by saying thank you!
    Father…I’d like to add something to your example here: “if I found a laywoman in Greece and compared her faith to her counterpart in Italy, their commonality would be much greater than the intellectual versions we would find elsewhere (like blog).”
    Yes, this is true. For the sake of brevity I use these categories of (intellectuals, laywoman) to make my point. I do realize that categorizing can be used as a ‘dividing line’. That is not my intention. And yes, I do get defensive. Please, if you can, overlook my defensiveness for a moment.
    Ok, so… I am that laywoman you speak of. Yet my faith is no different than any of you, except that you have the ability to express it in words . We need that. I learn from you. But….
    That laywoman, the Greek, who finds a camaraderie with her Italian-laywoman- friend, if she should inadvertently, one Sunday, walk through the doors of a RC church…it would be within seconds that she’d say ‘oop’s – wrong house…’ . My point…and the point I think you are trying to make here about Orthodox ethos being difficult to explain, even though you are a student of language, is that no explanation is necessary to “know” the difference. You just know. Like the laywoman.
    I am one of those laywoman.
    Father…that must be why I ‘could care less’ about this endless discussion. I know to some ears that sounds obnoxious. Well, so I am obnoxious then.
    But I know the difference between the two faiths. I have experienced it. And when I became Orthodox, because I needed some additional form to my thoughts (I need at least to explain it in words to myself) I read and study the ‘intellectuals’ . But intellectualism is not at all necessary to have faith.
    That’s all I want to say.
    And yes, I agree with you Father, and assume the best of the RC’s .

    Oh, and one more thing. I think that the schisms are caused by cultural misunderstandings. Because we are unable to place ourselves fully in the shoes of one who is of another culture. And we can not explain in words those subtle but substantial differences. And that is why I believe, in some crazy way, that the schisms are necessary to maintain these particularities that are the substance of a culture. Otherwise there would be a blending that would ‘exterminate’ those particularities and thus, that particular culture.
    I think that’s what you were also trying to explain, Father, in one of your comments.

  88. Michael Avatar

    “I would say that we do “organic theology” in the sense that the whole of a tree can be found in each individual cell of a tree. That is the nature of living organisms. The faith is living and is best modeled by living things. Living things do not change – they only become ever more fully themselves. The seed and the tree are one and the same thing.”

    Thank you for this Father Stephen. I have been trying to gain a deeper understanding of how some of the martyrs of the church endured some of the horrors they did and this is very helpful. Through communion with Christ they became what they were truly called to be, so no amount of torture or abuse could cause them to reject who they were and still are in glory.

    I hope that is somewhat the proper way to think about. Matyrdom is not a matter of will but a matter of witnessing Christ as the center of who we truly are. Please correct if my thinking is off here.

    Eventually we all have to face this moment, where we find out just how strong our living faith is, whether it be slow death by illness, death by sudden injury, or even martyrdom at the hands of violent actors in the world.

    As an aside, regardless of what ‘denomination’ we are from , it is always good to remember that the World seeks to destroy Christians and doesn’t care what your denomination is.


    Please note that I am not familiar with this think tank and am myself apolitcal so I don’t know what their motives are. Maybe just truly to bring these facts to Christians but I have not investigated them further. The author seems to track this topic and writes on it.

    When I read this I could not help but think of the martyrs I have been thinking about recently. We are fairly comfortable in the West at the moment, but it is worth considering that such conditions can change very quickly and every day available to freely worship is a gift. Hopefully this is not too off topic. I appreciate the ongoing discussions and continue to learn from them.

  89. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Paula you reveal the important reality of the noetic life in Orthodoxy that defies argument and discussion. Thank you!

  90. juliania Avatar

    This subject is important in my own life, having come to this country as a teenager and being placed in a Catholic high school then because it was the only all girls school available . I was the only non-Catholic in the school, probably accepted because I was a foreigner. Not only that, I had never been close to nuns and here I was – the school was on monastery grounds. To begin with I was terrified.

    I have to say, there were so many good as well as agonizing experiences for me there. I found the sung mass extremely beautiful (it was before all the changes.) Most of the nuns were very kind – in fact I can’t remember one that wasn’t.
    Thing is, I am sure I would not be Orthodox now if I hadn’t had that experience. Later on, Orthodoxy filled in the gaps in my hesitancy about joining the Catholic church. Quite a bit later, indeed, after I’d been through a rigorous liberal arts education in college, started a family – – I came then to a little Orthodox church…and that was it. I had found my home.

    The nuns had sung “Ubi caritas et amor Deus ibi est.” That stays with me.
    Thank you, Father Stephen. I love the Father Florovsky quote. Our priest was taught by him.

  91. Christian Cate Avatar

    Fr. Freeman, please pray for me the sinner.

    I’ve been Orthodox for 13 years. but I have fallen out of communion after a very storm-tossed year of 2019.

    I absolutely love your writing. Your blog is one of my constant go-tos.

    I am seeking a return to full communion in the Holy Orthodox Church, but I will have do it without my wife and children.

    My wife has admitted to me that although she is “orthodox in her heart” that she is more Protestant in her views. I steered her to a local ACNA parish she likes and away from the local Episcopal Church where her parents attend.

    She had two panic attacks last year when we were on our way back to Saint Mark’s Antiochian Orthodox Church. That’s when we diverted to the ACNA Church that Sunday. I’ve been attending a men’s Bible study there, but never intended it to be my church.

    I’ve been clear recently in my belief that The Grace of the Orthodox Church is truly unique, and at least for me personally might be my only path to peace and salvation in
    Jesus Christ.

    I’m seeking some sort of economic for my current predicament where I can worship with my wife while only communing at Saint Mark’s.

    I do have a fallback position, and that is Saint Mary’s Anglican Catholic Church in the Anglican “G-4” Communion.

    Again, please pray for me the sinner.

    I might be able to obtain a similar economia through Saint Marks. It might be more limited, and I’ll have the opportunity before me to accept it.

    My Bishops are Bishop Basil Essey, and Vicar Bishop John.

    My Archpriest has been Father John Connely, and our young upcoming Priest is Father James Tochihara.

    Lord, Have Mercy.

    Please Forgive Me

    Blessings in the Holy Trinity and in Christ our God,

    Christian Cate
    (Reader Columba Silouan)

  92. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    I would think that attending with your wife with the Anglicans, and communing at the Orthodox Church would be a very workable economy – I hope your priest will bless such an arrangement for you. God is a good God and is deeply patient. God give you grace!

  93. Christian Cate Avatar

    Thanks and blessings, Fr. Freeman!

    A brother from Saint Marks e-mailed today with encouragement, so I think The Lord is moving. Glory be to God for all things!

    Reader Columba

  94. Christian Cate Avatar

    Hello brothers and sisters.

    Regarding the Western Rite, I can offer my experience, struggles and testimony about it.

    I truly believe Orthodoxy is big enough and strong enough to handle this project, but those who are involved with it must not be knuckleheads with it.

    If need be, I’m willing to sacrifice it.

    My parents were divorced when I was young, and we were “Southern Expatriates” from Nashville who settled away from our extended family, in Colorado due to my father’s position as a Doctor.

    I was seeking a heritage to replace the current one failing and being lost. I moved from fundamentalist baptist belief through the Francis Schaeffer movement, on to Biola and had a massive crisis of faith due to competing systems of truth over the issues of emotional and spiritual healing approaches among the Protestants, specifically Bible Only Counseling as opposed to Christian Psychology and Vineyard Deliverance Ministry.

    During this time, I encountered Arminian Pentecostalists and the contrasting writings of Reformed author
    Michael Scott Horton.

    He was involved with the Reformed Episcopal Church in those days, and this was my first experience with any kind of Anglicanism.

    I loved C.S. Lewis and started to realize that his Anglicanism was part of what made him who he was.

    I later learned after moving to Virginia Beach for graduate school at Pat Robertson’s Regent University about the Anglican founding of the Jamestown colony in 1607.

    My mother’s maiden name is Harwood, and one of the names of my father’s side is Armistead. Armistead and his family converted from Roman Catholicism to Anglicanism and served on the Virginia House of Burgesses.

    The Harwoods helped to found Martin’s Hundred.

    I learned about Anglican Parson Hunt who with the first colonists dedicated the new colony to God with a flag of Saint George and a (problematic) Geneva Bible.

    But, they did use a form of The Book of Common Prayer.

    So, my Western Rite Heritage runs very deep.

    I’m happy to discuss these things further if the blog rules permit.

    I simply wish to be helpful and add such light and experience that I have to the discussion.

    Blessings in Christ, our God

    Reader Columba Silouan

  95. Christian Cate Avatar

    I’m pondering many things this fine morning.

    Many discussions going on regarding RBH’s book, this topic of the western mindset and some of its problems and challenges, and The Western Rite came up as well.

    Our wonderful faith is never boring! Glory to God for All Things!

    It’s seems we’re almost meant to live with paradox as a good thing. There is a danger of hell, yet we can hope for the Salvation of all.

    Sometimes something has to be seen instead of being argued.

    That’s why the Orthodox simply say “come and see.”

    I’m seeking a formal return to the Orthodox Church after straying this past year. One of my Orthodox brothers said “You’ve been Chrismated. You’ve never stopped being Orthodox.”

    So falling out of Communion is not permanent ex-communication. Thanks be to God for his Mercy.

    The Western Rite is not entirely trusted within all of Holy Orthodoxy, and this becomes a source of tension and frustration for those of us who are its ardent supporters.

    Our Bishops who have allowed The Western Rite have been very kind to us by doing so, but sometimes it seems like they unnecessarily limit the freedom that could truly be had.

    So, it’s still a work in progress. And patience and prayer is the most needful thing.

    It’s tempting sometimes to conclude that it’s simply not worth the trouble and to return to a western confession, where our cherished forms are not disparaged but simply appreciated and used.

    The problem is in losing the unique Grace found in Orthodoxy, and the good corrections to the errors that remain in Western Theology that dog the steps of Christians and lead to real and practical problems.

    I believe God’s Grace is everywhere present, but precisely in Orthodoxy.

    That’s why I’m trying to come back now.

    If you want to simply witness what a western rite service might be like with possible helpful adjustments and tweaks, you can always go to U-Tube and watch the services at Saint Peter’s Anglican Cathedral in the ACNA out of Tallahassee Florida.

    The problem on our Orthodox end is when we get so rigid with the WR that we fail to make “game time” adjustments at halftime to play better in the second half. The Western Rite as with everything else, should be For The Life of the World.

    Jesus did mention a little matter of pouring new wine into old wine skins. Making our Western Rite old wine skins can be a problem, imo.

    The ACNA is far from perfect. I am praying for them a lot. I love them. They are also my brothers and sisters.

    But they are trying to seek and serve Jesus and the Holy Trinity as Lord, and are resisting the moral compromises the Episcopal Church fell into.

    When you pair that sincerity with High Liturgy, there is strong Grace present.

    When I watch their services, I think and feel “This must be what worshipping in the Hagia Sophia was like for the Byzantine Greeks.”

    Just because the parishioners of Saint Peter’s aren’t Orthodox doesn’t mean we can’t watch them and learn from what they’re doing well and right. They are still in God’s image, and live that image out, though imperfectly.

    Forgive me.

    Reader Columba Silouan

  96. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Any thoughts or doubts I would have viz. the Western Rite, are theoretical. The fact is that they are canonical rites within the Orthodox Church, and no one should be hesitant to go there thinking that they are in a somehow inferior setting. I would put all such questions aside as distractions.

  97. Christian Cate Avatar
    Christian Cate

    Good evening, Father Freeman, and Happy Saint Matthias Day.

    I am deeply grateful to report that as of today I have been restored to Holy Orthodoxy and full Communion with the Economia I was seeking and with Dianna my wife present and sitting with me in full support.

    Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!

    Richest Blessings,

    Christian Cate

  98. Isaac Avatar

    Fr Stephen, you said:

    “I’m serving on a group, appointed within the OCA, to develop catechumenate materials that can be used throughout the Church.”

    Is this meant to replace (or update) Hopko’s “The Orthodox Faith”? Do you consider Hopko’s work to still be a good place for someone to find a basic presentation of the church’s beliefs and teachings?

    I ask because in spite of investigating Orthodoxy for over a year, there are still many areas where the church’s teaches feel very fuzzy or slippery to me — something I feel I almost grasp but can’t quite get a firm handle on.

  99. Byron Avatar

    Thanks be to God, Christian! So good to hear.

  100. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    I think Hopko is a great place to start. Very readable and reliable.

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