To Live Within the Tradition

For a period of about three years in my late teens and early 20’s, I was deeply involved in a charismatic house church. It was a deeply committed group of people (some of us lived in a commune together). Our services could run for hours with very intensive Bible teaching. A feature of that time and the charismatic movement was a concern for the “latest word.” By that was meant new insights, new emphases, and a very heightened sense that we were hearing moment-by-moment what God wanted to say to His people. It was exciting. It was also exhausting. It was also spiritually problematic.

I will not describe all the problems (there’s not time). For myself, I had a growing sense of questioning and unreliability. If the Church is led by the “latest word,” then its reliability depends entirely on the personalities involved in bringing such news. A survey of the charismatic, pentecostal, and evangelical movements over the past 50 years would necessarily include the many failures of key leaders and of various dangers associated with ever-changing emphases and fashions.

My questions brought about a crisis of faith. I left that movement and floundered a bit, eventually settling into the Episcopal Church in a search for greater stability (mind you, this was the early to mid-70’s). Of course, that move was something of a jump from the “frying pan into the fire.” But my instinct was correct. Christianity is not rightly built on moment-by-moment updates, or “every wind of doctrine” (Eph. 4:14). The history of the primitive Church is a consistent movement away from such excitement and towards the solidity of a reliable hierarchy grounded in a received body of teaching. Its instinct was that the locus of change was within the heart of each believer rather than a constant flow of fluctuating information.

The early heresies had just the opposite instinct. “Gnosticism,” a label invented by modern historians, was never a single thing. Rather it is a collective term for scattered individual teachers who promised new insights, exciting, even “secret” information, which would grant its adherents a quick passage to a higher existence. There is evidence that these teachers (almost always existing outside the eucharistic structure of the Church) were already a problem within the time span of the New Testament. Modern liberal thought has sought to describe these teachers as “alternate Christianties,” largely in an effort to discredit the traditional Church. Over time, these groups fell into silence, particularly in that they were deeply driven by single personalities. They lacked the institutional reality required for generational survival.

My abandonment of charismatic Christianity and move towards received tradition led me, over time, to Orthodox Christianity. It was a renunciation of the “latest thing” in order to embrace the faith “once and for all delivered to the saints.” It was a movement from charismatic excitement towards sacramental stability. When people are young, there can be an excitement that surrounds dating, moving from relationship to relationship, dreaming of possibilities and riding the wave of romantic energy. That is a far cry from the daily life of a stable marriage extending through the years, giving birth and nurture to generations of children. Christianity, in its traditional form, is like marriage, not dating.

The most institutionalized element of Orthodox Christianity can be found in its worship. We have documents describing, in some detail, the structure of worship from as early as the 2nd century. It is worth noting that the word “Orthodoxy” is perhaps best translated as “right glory [worship]” rather than right opinion or doctrine. What the Church teaches is primarily found embodied in its worship. An old Latin formula has it: Lex orandi, lex credendi. It means, “The law of praying is the law of believing.” It explains how it is that Orthodoxy’s primary word of evangelism is “Come and see.”

There are roots for this understanding that run deep into the heart of the Old Testament. Exodus 25 describes Moses’ meeting with God on Mt. Sinai for a period of 40 days. In that encounter he is shown a “pattern” of the heavenly tabernacle, and given detailed plans for the building of the tabernacle and all that it contained. He is repeatedly told to build things “according to the pattern.” This heavenly pattern was of great interest within the writings of both Jews and early Christians. The instinct within that interest was that the heavenly pattern served as a template for God’s dwelling place among us. This was the understanding that marked the Temple in Jerusalem, and became a hallmark of Orthodox Christian understanding of worship, including the building itself. This pattern is itself an example of holy tradition. It was given by God [handed down] to Moses (not simply evolved through Jewish practices). But if what Moses saw was a “heavenly” tabernacle, then his vision was also of eternal consequence and merit.

Orthodox Christian practice recognized this fundamental layer of tradition. St. Paul describes Christians as the “temple” of God (1 Cor. 3:16). St. John’s apocalyptic vision centers around the temple in the heavens. The construction of Orthodox Churches has intentional parallels with the Jewish Temple, as do certain aspects of our worship. We speak of the Divine Liturgy as “heaven on earth,” and describe ourselves as doing here what is being done there.

“Let us, who mystically represent the cherubim and sing the thrice-holy hymn to the life-creating trinity, now lay aside all earthly cares, that we may receive the King of all, invisibly escorted by the angelic hosts. Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.”

This hymn was added to the Liturgy in the 6th century but represents a thought and understanding that is far older. Perhaps more striking, and echoing the deepest level of Orthodox tradition can be found in this excerpt from the first homily of St. Macarius. He looks at the imagery of Ezekiel’s chariot vison, often understood as an image of the throne of God in the heavenly temple. St. Macarius applies it to the soul:

And this that the prophet saw, was true and certain. But the thing it signified, or shadowed forth beforehand, was a matter mysterious and divine, that very mystery which had been hid from ages and generations, but was made manifest at the appearing of Christ. For the mystery which he saw, was that of the human soul as she is hereafter to receive her Lord, and become herself the very throne of his glory. (H. 1.2)

His thought is of a piece with St. Paul’s description of Christians as the temple of the Holy Spirit.

There is a dynamic present in these images that carries the very essence of tradition as a way of life. Modern thought imagines human existence and even its “improvement” as a process of ever-increasing personal choice and freedom. It is a product of the imagination in which the individual becomes whatever they might choose to be. It is a model well-suited to a market-driven world. In many ways, the constant change and “latest revelations” in many forms of contemporary Christianity, echo that instinct, with theological insights and biblical themes arriving as marketed ideas. Like clothing fashions, such changing insights help establish a spirituality that has its own sense of “coolness.”

In the spirituality of Orthodox Tradition the point is to receive that which has already been given. There is nothing new to be revealed (as information), even though what has been made known is constantly revealed as life-creating truth within the soul itself. It is a life grounded in the Divine Life both in the temple of the Church (in praise and sacrament) and in the temple of the soul. It is ultimately within the soul that we perceive the face of God in Christ. It is in the soul that we perceive Him in the least of those around us and serve them as our service to God. It is in the soul that we offer the Eucharist (our giving of thanks for all things) in union with the earthly/heavenly Liturgy of Christ’s Body and Blood.

There is a stability in this way of life, grounded in the stability of heaven itself (which never changes). That same abiding reality has weathered the storms of 2,000 years even as its saints and martyrs join themselves together with the souls who currently labor and fight on earth. It is not a movement, nor a revival, nor a new thing. It is stubbornly ignorant of market forces. It is a sweet promise and gift.

He who overcomes, I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God, and he shall go out no more. I will write on him the name of My God and the name of the city of My God, the New Jerusalem, which comes down out of heaven from My God. And I will write on him My new name.Therefore they are before the throne of God, and serve Him day and night in His temple. And He who sits on the throne will dwell among them.

About Fr. Stephen Freeman

Fr. Stephen is a priest of the Orthodox Church in America, Pastor Emeritus of St. Anne Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He is also author of Everywhere Present and the Glory to God podcast series.



60 responses to “To Live Within the Tradition”

  1. Byron Avatar

    I was immediately struck by the thought that God does not chase us, as we meander to-and-fro, back-and-forth with every fashion and decree of the times. Instead He calls us softly to Him.

  2. Robert Fortuin Avatar
    Robert Fortuin

    My journey parallels yours father – from the Charismatic movement to the more traditional and from there to Orthodoxy. The unequivocal repudiation of Montanism very early in the history of Christianity is quite remarkable. It is not only the novelty (the always “new” move of God, accompanied by prophesies) but also its alternative, attendant authority structure that was solidly rejected. Very worthwhile to read about this, quite sobering, especially for those of us that were (or are) involved in charismatic and pentecostal groups.

  3. Kristyn Hall Avatar
    Kristyn Hall

    In the late 90s we were part of a charismatic house church movement that was loosely connected to the International House of Prayer in the midwest. At the time I was frustrated and disillusioned by what I called “organized religion.” I honestly think the only cure for my frustration was a foray into “disorganized religion.” Oh dear. After being told my reliance on the Bible was like studying “an old dusty family tree” instead of going to the family reunion, I began to have my doubts about the “words of knowledge” and “prophetic pronouncements” that were usually vague and often little more than what we all want to hear anyway (blessing, prosperity, etc.). The people were sincere and good-hearted people, but they were misled. It reminds me of the Athenians in Acts 17, who spent all their time talking about whatever was new. I sort of inched my way back to the beginnings of the Church after leaving that group, beginning with Calvin and ending with Justin Martyr. What a rug was pulled out from under me, who had grown up envisioning the early Church as a group of hippies! I read the epistles very differently after that.

  4. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Father, about half way through your piece it occured to me that it would make no sense at all without the reality, the experience and the personal manifestation of The Incarnation.
    While it is certainly possible to meet and know Jesus Christ as Son of God outside the Church–I did by a gift of Grace. It is only possible within the Church to become one with Him and each other. To come into Him as He comes into us.

    No matter the sins, foibles and foolishness of myself and others, that is always there in the Church in a very particular way that does not change with the fades, foibles and fancies of man.
    He is there in the darkness and the light, the same yesterday, today and tomorrow sharing with us all that we are and all He calls us to be. Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner. That prayer is only possible because of the Incarnation, Crucifixion, Ressurection and Ascension.
    His mercy endures forever.

  5. Nikolaos Avatar

    In the spirituality of Orthodox Tradition…..There is nothing new to be revealed….

    This reminds me a story about a priest in a village in Asia Minor, who after the Divine Liturgy would go to the cafe, where the villagers would ask him: Father, what news ? And he naturally answered them: there is no news after the Resurrection !

  6. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    The fullness of the faith is the content of Holy Tradition. In giving the Holy Spirit to the Church, the Church received the Tradition in its fullness. That, through the years, the Church articulated clearly what had been known in silence (such as the content of the Creed and the Councils) does not represent a development or a new revelation. They are always and only the articulation of the One faith given in its fullness from the beginning. This is the faith and true confession of the Orthodox Church.

    Saying this, also presses upon each of us to immerse ourselves in the fullness of that Divine Life so that what was given in silence, and was then made known in words, is revealed inwardly in our hearts where we ourselves, being conformed to the image of Christ, become the living epistle of God to the world.

    “Clearly you are an epistle of Christ, ministered by us, written not with ink but by the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of flesh, that is, of the heart.” (2 Corinthians 3:3)

    This is the fullness of the Scriptures and our high-calling.

  7. Matthew W Avatar


    Given the premise of permanence within the worship of the Church, and the timelessness of the weekly liturgy, could you also speak to the variability?

    As a Catechumen, I learned of the weekly cycles, but I’m thinking more specifically of the seasons of the church – its Lenten cycles, Pascha, and feast days.

    How would you expand your discussion to include such things?

  8. Janine Avatar

    Thank you Father.
    This week at church we finally had a fellowship (coffee) hour. We were discussing how the framework of the liturgy is something that is so solid to rest in. My fellow parishioner comes from a Protestant background, and was saying to me that it was just a sort of new made-up thing every week: let’s try this hymn, let’s do this kind of arrangement, etc. It is so interesting that you speak of pattern and structure. I can’t explain in any worldly terms how the liturgy is so wonderful time after time, that it puts me in a certain place where I know I am in Church, where I can separate everything else out and pray with a freedom and release that rarely comes anywhere else. I do sense it is precisely because it is a structure, a framework, one made for my soul to rest in its spaces, and grow in those spaces as my soul changes.

  9. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    This is an amazing icon in the words and painted picture.
    The painted icon shows the 8 pointed star– a motif I frequently see behind Christ.

  10. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Janine, your comment got me thinking about the necessity for order and structure to communicate. When I was beginning to approach the faith back in the late 60’s an assumption I ran into a lot was that the Holy Spirit was a bit like an amorphous gas. Part of my learning(still going on) is that the Holy Spirit is a Person, a Divine Person who creates order (Gen 1:2 ff). Plus real beauty, as the icon reveals, is ordered.
    Maybe what inspires us is not ‘change’ or imposed order (the political solutions) but revealed order that allows us to safely navigate the mystery of our own being.

    Just some thoughts your post triggered. Thank you.

  11. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    As years of Orthodox services have gone by (as well with my responsibility to be sure we’re doing the right thing at the right time) what at first felt a bit bewildering fell into a far more noticeable pattern and flow. First off, things actually change very little, even with the seasons. Very likely, it seems, there was an association of certain psalms with certain times of the day and other occasions. For example, when Christ and the disciples walked from the upper room to Gethsemane, the “sang a psalm.” It was likely Ps. 118, I’m told, because that was the traditional post Passover psalm (if I remember that correctly).

    The basic structures of the Liturgy remain largely unchanged throughout the year, regardless of the seasons. It’s, instead, various currents of changing cycles that affect small things: psalms (as in the Prokeimenon verses), hymns (Troparia, Kontakia), readings from Scripture, that change. Those changeable things largely follow other rhythms. There is the daily cycle, the weekly, the cycle of the 8 tones, etc. Interwoven with this is the remembrance of the saints and feast days with their accompanying material.

    For me, it’s a lot like nature itself. Many of the things taking place in nature follow their own cycles: wind, rain, the seasons, the migrations, etc. Some cycles are very slow (the life of trees or the life measure by geology). I am aware, for example, when hiking here in limestone-rich East Tennessee, that I am walking on uplifted ancient seabeds, the bones (calcium mostly) of ancient critters that are now the rocks beneath my feet. We often ignore these cycles and just hike. We would benefit by paying better attention.

    Someone could describe all these layers and currents as “developments” in the Liturgy, and they are. But they are “natural” developments that already had precursors in the patterns and flows that preceded them (in Jewish worship). Some, for example Pascha, seem to have already been taking shape during the time of the Apostles. St. John kept Pascha on the 14th of Nissan (he was a Quartodecian). We know this from St. Polycarp who was one of his disciples. Interestingly, the OT (in Greek), describes Passover (which is “Pascha” in Greek) as an “eternal festival.”

    It’s a very large topic.

  12. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Well said.

  13. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Thank you Father.

  14. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    I notice the translucence of the icon. At first I thought that might be simply an quality of its age, but then I looked at the new reproduction of St Xenia above my prayer table. It to has that same quality in which the foreground and background somehow reveal each other and create a dynamic whole. Indeed the icons that draw me the most seem to have that quality.

    I wonder at that.

  15. Matthew W. Avatar


    I’m sorry if you felt compelled to address any and all differences that take place throughout the year. I was more interested in the the patterns of Liturgy, which you discussed, and how those patterns are expanded in time outward in the intervals that they are. The use of the word “seasons” in my description was intentional.

    As Moderns, we haven’t messed too much with the rhythms of the day – we have morning and evening – a day.
    The week is much the same – the French tried to mess that up with their Republican/Revolutionary Calendar – but by-and-large the ancient pattern of weeks has remained unchanged for centuries.
    The Year is a little different though – as office workers and wage slaves – I think we – as a culture – have lost touch with the cycles of the year. We don’t plant, we don’t thresh. we don’t harvest. Maybe long-haul truck drivers or road construction crews are more in touch with this reality – but speaking for myself – I frequently am not.

    I find that the patterns of the church are enough that I can keep grounded in the patterns of the year, and I have to say that even living as a Protestant among Protestants, I find the changeless pattern of the yearly cycle kept by the Orthodox Church to be a comfort.

    It was more to that realty that I was curious about.

  16. Byron Avatar

    Maybe what inspires us is not ‘change’ or imposed order (the political solutions) but revealed order that allows us to safely navigate the mystery of our own being.

    An excellent observation, Michael! Well said.

    It’s, instead, various currents of changing cycles that affect small things: psalms (as in the Prokeimenon verses), hymns (Troparia, Kontakia), readings from Scripture, that change. Those changeable things largely follow other rhythms. There is the daily cycle, the weekly, the cycle of the 8 tones, etc. Interwoven with this is the remembrance of the saints and feast days with their accompanying material.

    Father, is there a good resource, ideally a book, that explains and outlines the structure of the Church year and what you have outlined here?

  17. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Thanks for the clarification. It is of note that the Liturgy we keep is pre-modern (or the Liturgy that keeps us!). It’s authors lived in a far more natural state, and one that was vulnerable to nature. When it was hot, they sweated (no air conditioning, etc.). I remember sitting in the cave/cell of St. John of Damascus at the Monastery of St. Sabbas in the Kidron Valley in the Holy Land. It’s carved out of solid rock…a bench carved out for a bed, etc. I imagined his work and writings being carried out in such a setting – it was a startling exercise.

    Oddly, my retirement has strongly affected my awareness of nature and seasons. I walk a lot outdoors. My daily interactions are as much with trees and plants as with anything else. The last year’s isolation has increased that. This year, in particular, I noticed that not all trees begin to get their leaves at the same time in the Spring…and began to watch and study the slow progress of that annual change. I’m seeing lots of details like that.

    Living in a world of almost unlimited abundance, the natural rhythm of the fasts is often missed. We eat far more meat all the time than our ancestors, for example. Great Lent is perceived in a far more extreme manner for us as a consequence. My parents grew up on small farms in poverty. You ate a large breakfast, because you were immediately going to the fields to work (pick cotton, hoe, etc.). You had a small meal at lunch and lots of water breaks in the afternoon. Supper was a large meal, of sorts. And that was it. No snacks to speak of.

    In our offices, our snacks are always right there (in my experience). Last year, when the shortages of March and April hit the stores (toilet paper, etc.), it was an interesting experience. Scarcity is such a rare thing in our world and yet such a universal constant throughout much of history. The Church’s living reminders, through the Liturgy and rhythms of the year, try to draw us back to a more essential human life. It is a call to sanity.

    All of it, it seems to me, is of a piece with the call to the local, the thing at hand, the next good thing, etc.

  18. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Probably…but I can’t think of it offhand.

  19. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Matthew W.,
    Not being contentious but we moderns have messed a great deal with the week. Industrialization and then digitizing of time and making it “cosmic” not to mention the elongation of our life span have drastically changed our perception of time and our interrelationship with it. Some historians have tried to wrestle with that reality. My personal favorite is Henry Adams and his short essay “The Rule of Phase as Applied to History” written in 1909.
    The change is not obvious because it is a bit like the parable of boiling the frog.
    One of the great blessings of the Church is that, by divine Grace, She has preserved an older appreciation of time and the fact that it is, thanks to the Incarnation, interpenetrated by the divine. Not just in a generalized fashion but as a human/Divine person.

    Modernity is wholly at odds with that reality. Moderns tend to think humans control time.

  20. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Byron, an excellent resource for such questions is 8th Day Books. 800-841-2541. Unfortunately, the search function of their website is not real good but the human resources there are exceptional. Plus going into the place takes you into a sense of the interpenetration of God into time I mentioned above. 1-800-841-2541.
    It is a truly human store.

  21. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    These seasons in our Liturgical cycles, cycles within cycles, create layers (yes Michael, indeed they are translucent!) And these cyclical layers in turn create a blend of experience, of hymnody, that make each day unique, and God willing, unforgettable. Over the years these layers become the rock under our feet and a solid foundation, a ‘hold fast, for our souls in the tempests that inevitably come.

  22. Matthew W. Avatar


    To the week you could also add, I suppose, the 24 hr. news cycle. Even the phrase 24/7 means nothing to my parents who retired in the 1990’s. Time has been messed with everywhere. The fact that I have largely divorced myself from what passes as “news”, I guess, has insulated me somewhat from the more egregious distortions of time that have taken place.

    Since my initial question, I’ve been pondering exactly what I’m trying to ask. As I’ve been forced to clarify my initial question, I’m beginning to form a thought. Just as the incarnation is a point in time that radiates out through the ages, so too does the pattern of liturgy. I don’t know what the high point of daily liturgy would be, but obviously the high point of the weekly liturgy would be Sunday, and the high point of the yearly liturgy would be Pascha. The ancient Jews also had the 7 year Jubilee, which would fall into those radiating patterns of liturgy.

    If life is to be lived eucharistically, I would think that these patterns are our circadian rhythms, our heartbeats, and our breaths. The lifegiving patterns of the spiritual life.

  23. Steve Gage Avatar
    Steve Gage

    Speaking of the rhythm of weeks… “Blue Laws” were enforced in my New England town well into my teens (1970’s). Businesses were simply closed on Sunday, except for the pharmacy 1/2 the day. Sunday was for church in the morning, and relaxing in the afternoon – playing sports with friends, reading, making things, going out in the boat, whatever. But downtown was silent and empty. I realize now how different a world that was.

  24. Matthew W. Avatar


    It’s interesting that you bring that up. I grew up a Sabbatarian – we were convinced that these laws were just the beginning of mandatory Sunday observance. Religious liberty demanded that we fight these things.

    In personal hindsight these abolitionist tendencies were overwrought. Though I’m sure there are still those who would call the repeal of these laws a real achievement. Under the guise of religious liberty, much has been lost in the public sphere.

    As an aside, to those who may wonder, I would say that one primary reason that Orthodoxy attracted me was because of statements like this, “In the Orthodox tradition, Saturday always has the feastly character of the Jewish sabbath; it is never a strict fasting day. Moreover, it has always been the liturgical practice to serve Divine Liturgy both on Sabbath and the Lord’s Day, and this remains the case in Orthodox monasteries.”

  25. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    The same was true in South Carolina through the 70’s. When I first moved to Chicago for seminary, I recall being scandalized on my way to Church one Sunday, as I noticed people playing tennis. That would not have been done until Sunday afternoon back home. Then someone pointed out to me that I was driving through a heavily Jewish township on the way to Church. It was a bit of a cultural awakening.

  26. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    In the language of the Church, Saturday is called the Sabbath to this day. Sunday has never been the Sabbath – it is the First Day of the week and the Eighth Day of the week. The Sunday Divine Liturgy is an observance of the resurrection that took place on a Sunday and (as the eighth day) is an “eschatological day” – a day outside of all time. In Holy Week, Holy Saturday is officially called, “The Great and Holy Sabbath.”

    I was recently asked to speak on honoring the Sabbath to a large group of the Orthodox. They were surprised when I spoke about the Sabbath system of the Old Testament and its fulfillment in the New, particularly the coming of the Kingdom of God as the fulfillment of the Jubilee Year, etc. In the course of the talk I was quite careful to note that Sunday is not the Sabbath. It was a “teaching” moment – but pointed to the frequent habit of many Christians who mistakenly call Sunday the Sabbath Day. It never has been, nor will it ever be.

  27. Matthew W. Avatar


    Orthodoxy is unique. Absolutely, utterly, unique. I’ve studied many things in my quest for spiritual life, and Orthodoxy ticked all the boxes. There are some places where I’ve picked up odd statements – but by and large when I’ve spoken with a priest who knows I’m a Sabbatarian, they’ve been quick to point out the high regard Orthodoxy has for the day. Rather than dismissing it, it has been contextualized and integrated into the faith in a way that I appreciate.

    Dojcin Zivadinovic submitted a paper for a class at Andrews University that makes the case for Sabbath Observance being a contributing factor to the Great Schism.

  28. Steve Gage Avatar
    Steve Gage

    The Blue Laws in my home town weren’t really the beginning of anything – they were a remnant of New England’s Puritan past. The church I grew up in was formed in 1638 in New Haven CT for the sole purpose of founding my town in 1639. My home town was a theocracy for many years until trouble with the natives caused the town to seek membership in the Connecticut Colony for military assistance. This meant allowing non-church members to vote. I doubt, however, that there were any non-church members. 🙂
    Even so, the Puritans had a lot to say about what happened on Sunday, or any other day. But by the time I came along, The First Church of Christ had become Congregational, and was a very liberal church for the time.

  29. Kristyn Hall Avatar
    Kristyn Hall

    It seems to me that in the U.S. it was the influence of the Puritans that made Sunday into a Sabbath day of rest. Even in the “Little House” books Laura mentions not being allowed to play on Sundays. I had friends who were not allowed to read any books but religious books on Sunday, and the house stayed quiet between the morning and evening church services. Another friend’s grandmother would “tsk tsk” on the way to church if she saw clothes hanging on the line or someone mowing the lawn. I think the Blue Laws originated with the Puritan understanding of the Old Testament idea that work was prohibited on the Sabbath. I wonder about the line of thinking that transferred the Sabbath day to Sunday, and how they determined which aspects of Sabbath-keeping to observe and which to discard.

  30. Jeff (Theophanes) Avatar
    Jeff (Theophanes)


    I’ve had time only to skim the paper you linked, but it is fascinating and tragic that the Roman practice of fasting on the Sabbath contributed to the Great Schism.

    The 7th/8th century historian St. Bede the Venerable, whose feast day we commemorated yesterday, wrote that in his day the English Church still fasted on Wednesdays and Fridays (not on Saturday).

    In the 20th century, the Roman Catholic Church almost entirely dropped the remnants of the weekly fasting rhythm which the Church had practiced since the 1st century (Didache). Perhaps this would not have happened if Rome had not first muddied the waters by introducing a Saturday fast.

    Lord, have mercy.

    Jeff (born to a Jewish father and a Catholic mother, I was a Protestant for 32 years and am now Orthodox)

  31. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    The Puritans in the US and in England earlier, argued for a strengthening of Sunday (as Sabbath) prohibitions. But the idea was already around long before them. I think it can be found in both Eastern and Western Christianity at certain times and places.

  32. Dean Avatar

    Another interesting aside on the Sabbath/Sunday. After liturgy on these days, and before if they have animals, monastics are busy working. Visiting men are usually put to work also, in the afternoons both days.This is what I’ve observed at a women’s monastery.

  33. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Orthodoxy does give a special honor to the Sabbath/Saturday. I will say unequivocally, however, that I find no merit whatsoever in the notions surrounding such that came out of 19th century American Protestant groups. It was a time of great strangeness and delusion. The Orthodox practice, as we find it, represents the life of the Church as it unfolded in history. I have no interests in any reform or isolated, private practices. Such things have seeds in them that never bear good fruit.

  34. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Father and commentators,
    As far as I know religious Jewish people (Orthodox but not necessarily Hasidim) would not be playing tennis ordinarily on Saturday morning either.

  35. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Of course not. I was living next door to Skokie, IL, about 95% Jewish.

  36. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    But Sunday was of course another matter😄

  37. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    On Saturday, you could have gentiles hit the tennis balls for you. 🙂

  38. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    It is so easy to obsfucate simple things for me when I wish to be disobedient and make law things that are deeper than the law. Lord have mercy on me!

  39. Matthew W. Avatar


    I would not suggest that Orthodoxy change a thing.

    What I am saying is that while I knew that Sabbath had a place, I began to question the narrative I had grown up with.

    I tried to find a paper I read by an orthodox priest that laid out much the same information without the heterodox bias, but couldn’t find it. This one was easier to locate, and the factual details, I think, are sound.

  40. Matthew W. Avatar

    Speaking to Liturgy as something beyond something that just happens once a week, and incorporating it as part of a larger eucharistic life I think is the point I wanted to originally make. Like circadian rhythms, heartbeat and breath, the life of the Christian needs these memorable points within the course of the day, the week, and the year.

    Speaking to a particular question as to whether something practiced is “lawful” or not, misses the point of theosis, which is to acquire the phronema of Christ; and the antithesis of legal jurisprudence.

  41. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Yes, I agree. On the paper…I think there is some murkiness viz. how the Sabbath was or was/not observed in the Apostolic period. He notes the 2nd century evidence of Justin Martyr, but, I think, tends to treat that as if the 2nd century was somehow at a remove from the 1st century – for which there really isn’t any evidence. Thus, I would tend to argue for more continuity – likely a strong result of the mission to the Gentiles as well as growing ruptures with the Jewish community. The Council of Jamnia in the 1st century would seem to indicate an early date for that rupture. But – those are all academic arguments.

    The liturgical rhythms are indeed like circadian rhythms – and point to a normalcy in what it is to be human. Christ is our pattern and the Church nurtures the pattern within us.

    Again, it’s been interesting in my retirement. Generally, I do not have a time to get up in the morning (no office to got to, etc.). Mostly, I like to be up in time to make breakfast for my wife, who still is working part time. But, I think that I could use more rhythm in the day. This conversation has been helpful.

  42. Matthew W. Avatar



    I am Listening to your lecture on YouTube Right now…

  43. Dean Avatar

    Matthew W.,
    Thank you so very much for this video link for Fr. Stephen’s teaching on the true meaning of the Sabbath. Without the link I think I would have missed it. Father’s teaching here is simply wonderful…Glory to God for all things!

  44. Dino Avatar

    Father, Matthew,
    A bit of a tangent: A remarkable monastic short conversation that has stayed with me and I keep coming back to for nearly three decades now concerns the prominence of ‘rhythm’ in our lifelong spiritual struggles.
    Just as we have the beautiful Liturgical rhythms and cross-rhythms,
    We likewise have the supplementary (programmed) rhythm of one’s ‘personal’, daily spiritual pattern. Or we should…
    This is often referred to nowadays in the Greek language, simply as: one’s daily ‘Programme’.
    It is thought-provoking actually that this ‘Programme’, i.e.: the ‘personal cannon’ of a monastic (or of a layperson) is traditionally referred to as his/her ‘liturgy’! (it’s something distinctly different from the Communal Eucharistic Divine Liturgy and yet the two utterly complement each other). Some persons, despite the many shifts people’s lives often undergo, have completed their entire life without having once omitted this daily/(nightly to be more precise) ‘cannon’/programme.
    The conversation I had in mind is this: after a renowned Abbess had slept in the Lord, the freshly appointed one (still the current one today) –who was then only in her late twenties, filled with an awesome fear as to the immensity of her newly allotted responsibility- kept praying with tears for things like courage, discernment, patience, love, acumen etc and many other such qualities that she thought she might urgently need bolstering inside of her, in order to live up to her sudden and profound calling. Becoming quite anxious, she consulted a –now canonised – Holy elder, “what is the one thing that I should concentrate on and ask the Lord to please bestow upon me in order to carry out this ministry worthily?”
    And the paradoxical yet authoritatively firm answer was: “only three things: Programme, Programme, Programme!”
    A Greek ancient proverb goes: “Along with Athena, you have to move your hand.” (i.e. Divine help comes to the degree that you become responsible and recruit whatever is at hand for you), and it is true that, as far as things that are within our powers, at hand, even if just partially, (if we really want to show God our sincerity in asking for His power to become manifest through us), the “daily personal canon” ranks extremely high.

  45. Matthew W. Avatar

    Not a tangent at all. While the week culminates with the Sunday Liturgy, and the year culminates with Pascha, I was wondering if there was still a liturgical pattern to the day, or if that had been lost amidst modernity.

    Is the Programme outside or separate from the canonical hours/divine services, or considered part of them? I’ve often thought that a monastic’s life would be very structured. If the Programme is done during one’s personal time, realistically, how much time does one have before called upon to do other things?

  46. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    It will vary from monastery to monastery, and even from monk to monk within the monastery, depending on whatever work assignments they might have. The liturgical hours and such are generally done in an organized fashion each day – but are frequently grouped together in blocks. Each monk will also have his “cell rule” that is accomplished alone in the cell – mostly the recitation of the Jesus Prayer.

    It is often said that it is the work of the cell rule that prepares for the fruit of the Liturgy itself. But the rhythm of the day is felt quite strongly, regardless of how it is carried out.

  47. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    The older I get the more convinced that we only know God in two ways and both involve mercy: giving mercy to others especially by giving alms and receiving mercy from Him in confession of our sins both formally and in in our supplications.

    I am bad at both. I cry out for His mercy only when I am deeply desperate and only love those who love me.

    I am an unprofitable lump of coal, yet God still sustains me and draws me because unlike me, He is really merciful and giving.

  48. Janine Avatar

    Michael Bauman,
    I have only just read your response to me about order and the Holy Spirit. That makes quite a bit of wonderful sense, and it’s nice to think about. It also conveys the importance of timing and rythm. There is only so much we’re ready to know at a time, so much we can change at a time or season
    All the radical movements are absolute. Compare to Christ who came not to destroy but to fulfill

  49. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Janine, thank God. I frequently do not make a lot of sense. The perception just struck me as I read your post.

  50. Dino Avatar

    As Father Stephen clarified, the term ‘daily programme’ mostly refers to the ‘cell rule’ of a monastic – not the common canonical hours/divine services, even if these are done in personal privacy.
    This also suggests that laypersons who cannot possibly attend to as many canonical hours/divine services as monastics can, have the ability to keep to a lesser ‘cell rule’. Dependent upon circumstances this would vary hugely.
    The initial, natural ‘fruits’, understandably, depend on one’s commitment and earnestness. It might sound dull to have such similar requirements as what fitness programmes might also have for ordinary fruits, but it is only natural. We are not talking about any great transformative gifts of Grace here, just about the portion of human effort that is within human reach (not that that is not a gift too, of course).
    Unmistakably, the core of a ‘programme’ is standing before the Lord while invoking His Name through the Jesus prayer, however, if this “stance” is constantly intended and aimed at, other things like reading the Gospel, praying the Psalter, spontaneously thanking Him, reading out set names of people, doing prostrations… doing nothing at all even, (with this “stance” and this exclusivity assigned to that time, whether little time or a lot), is what enables a person to go from calling to the“the God of the holy Fathers” to addressing“my God”. And this is what will increasingly influence every aspect of the rest of the hours of one’s day/life.
    The most seemingly irrelevant things will gradually start to be performed qualitatively different because of this exclusive time before the Lord. Especially since the interplay between the ‘programme time’ and all the ‘other time’ inevitably comes into focus by the training of the soul’s attention taking place during the ‘programme time’.
    Again, a little like a very serious fitness programme would normally start to affect a person’s moving about etc at all other times, though this is much more subtle and sublime…

  51. Janine Avatar

    Dino, very nice guide to a prayerful life

  52. Janine Avatar

    Don’t know why, but just wanted to comment about the seasonal quality of natural life. I have lived entirely in city apartment buildings in my adult life (just the nature of my husband’s work and where the jobs were). But in one apartment building in San Francisco, my front window faced across a wide driveway toward a hill. This hill had been carved out of a rock cliff near what was once a busy seaport, because the rock was used once upon a time as ballast in the old ships. When I lived there, all kinds of native plants had taken over, including blooms of wildflowers. It was wonderful to watch the change of seasons by looking at the hill outside my window, even though San Francisco weather is pretty steady without loads of change. I don’t know why, but that is what some of the comments, especially Father Stephen’s, reminded me of. I still think about that and miss that seasonal observation. I miss looking at that hill. Most professional landscape, no matter how nice, isn’t the same. I suppose farmers see it all the time too. My grandparents had a farm — mostly grapes for making raisins, and my grandmother was always busy with every season’s work and the things made from her crops. I think this was a good life.

  53. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Janine, I live in Kansas. There are wheat fields all around my house, outside the ring of trees. There is a place not far away, The Flint Hills. It is literally named. The ground is do stony it cannot be cultivated and never has been. It is virgin prairie. The Giant Blue Stem grass that can grow over 6 feet tall is still there(the grass that Cortez and his men trod through on their excursion into Kansas. The foot soldiers would march all day unable to see beyond a few inches but kept their eyes on Cortez on horse back. It is kept short by the cattle that graze there. Several years ago I was driving up through the hills during deer mating season. This huge 10 point buck appeared on the side of the two lane road, in rut. I stopped and waited until he crossed the road. He was totally unaware of our little car and could have destroyed it on impact

    The Flint Hills have little of modernity about them and what they do have sits litely on the surface. I have not been there in a long time–too long.

    It will be there long after I have reposed and my son too.

  54. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    I’m adding to what Dino has said, regarding prayer rule for the lay person. I’ve been encouraged, since the time of my initial catechumenate, to discuss with the parish priest the appropriate approach (program or prayer rule) for personal prayer. The reason this is done is to avoid the pitfalls of self-initiating practices which are vulnerable to pride, self delusion or slothfulness.

  55. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Dee, Dino, et al
    I make no secret of the fact that I have ADHD. That makes certain kinds of things very difficult (and other things rather easy). I’ve always had to adjust my “prayer rule” to that reality. For me, it means something that would probably look quite disordered by any objective measure. The monastic life would be very difficult – especially in its cenobitic form. There are reasons why some monks live in more variable settings, I suspect.

    The rule is: pray. Indeed, the goal is: pray without ceasing. As a parish priest and confessor, I’m always keenly aware of the great variety of personalities – with strengths and weaknesses. The question is, how can the rule (“pray”) be lived. The simple rule of the printed prayers work for some but can be deadly for others (in that it doesn’t fit them and their failure gives an occasion for the enemy to condemn them, etc.).

    Dee’s reference to the local priest helping with pitfalls recognizes this need for wide variation. Even the cell-rule of monastics will vary greatly. I wanted to add this comment lest someone get a wrong impression regarding the notion of prayer rules, or program, etc.

  56. Dean Avatar

    Thank you Fr. Stephen for the note regarding written prayers. They have always been hard for me. This is complicated by an eye problem. I have memorized a good number so this helps resolve the problem. My wife and I do read together the small compline in the
    evening. We divide it up. Even this gets memorized by the constant daily reading. Scripture is not a problem since so much is online and in audio format. The Jesus prayer is such a blessing and something one can pray almost anywhere, anytime. Fr. Hopko’s admonition has helped me much…pray as you can, not as you think you must.

  57. Matthew W. Avatar


    Years ago I made it a point that if I was board, whether it be standing alone in a line, driving without the radio on, or waiting on something, I would make that time useful until I could think of something by reciting the Jesus Prayer.

    Without direction, I suppose it could be considered ill advised. But that’s what I’ve done – for years at this point. You would have to ask those around me if its been transformative or not. I’m a little too close to myself to be objective, but I feel that it’s been helpful.

  58. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    I think that kind of use of the Jesus Prayer is fine, even without any particular direction. It’s more the concentrated form (such as that described in The Way of a Pilgrim) that calls for direction.

  59. Dino Avatar

    Indeed that kind of ‘defaulting’ to the Jesus Prayer is considered a very good habit to pick up!
    Admittedly I have read how some authorities of the concentrated form (I mean the real “front-line commanders of the spiritual life” – the term Saint Sophrony used for Saint Joseph the Hesychast) might have warned that, “well, make sure you don’t only say it every time you go to the toilet and every time you lie down and that is it!”
    But I still think that even this is better than nothing for a while, Saint Joseph was addressing mainly monastics anyway when saying those words.
    The “concentrated form” can become extremely difficult, and requires a capable guide as soon as it starts extending itself into one’s night-time rule and bringing up unconscious depths into the open.
    But a small, regular practice of it is still utterly invaluable, no matter how small. It is this pre-appointed, serious, tet-a-tet quality of it that makes it a profound rendevouz with our Maker – a thing we can only glorify Him for gifting us.
    Also, for many hyper-rationalised “moderns” (like most of us lot), the Holy Psalter can be almost as fruitful, when read (concentrated) in like manner, seriousness and regularity. It has been rightly labelled by some of the “front-line commanders of the spiritual life” as the “birthing womb” par excellence of the Jesus prayer itself.
    The real variety of the personal ‘cannon/programme’ is quite astounding though.

  60. Dino Avatar

    Besides, any expression of our “being there present for God to look upon us” stance, during the appointed time of our ‘programme’, (from standing still, to crying from gratitude, to doing summersaults because that is what someone feels like doing, or something crazy like that), because of its mere exclusivity, its “consecrated-ness”, without ever even mentioning God’s Name, will lead to the general ‘defaulting’ at all other times to the incantational/invocational mode of the heart itself unceasingly repeating “Lord Jesus!”

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