Mary: The Blessing of All Generations

In my childhood, it was not unusual to hear someone ask, “Who are your people?” It was a semi-polite, Southernism designed to elicit essential information about a person’s social background. The assumption was that you, at best, could only be an example of your “people.” It ignored the common individualism of the wider culture, preferring the more family or clan-centered existence of an older time. It was possible to be “good people” who had fallen on hard times, just as it was possible to be “bad people” who were flourishing. Good people were always to be preferred.

I am aware of the darker elements of this Southern instinct so foreign to today’s mainstream culture. I am also aware that within it, there is an inescapable part of reality: human beings never enter this world without baggage. The baggage is an inheritance, both cultural and biological that shapes the ground we walk on and the challenges we will inevitably confront. Fr. Alexander Schmemann is reported to have said that the spiritual life consists in “how we deal with what we’ve been dealt.” In some families, it seems that no matter how many times the deck is shuffled, the same hand (or close to it) appears.

The Scriptures are rife with this element of our reality. It is a story of fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, tribal destiny and inherited blessings. Two of the gospels give a chapter to rehearse the genealogy of Christ. Modern thought wants to imagine each human being entering the world as a blank slate whose life will be formed and shaped by their desires and choices. This is our imaginative version of freedom and we work to maximize its reality.

Nevertheless, human experience continues to be doggedly familial. Those who do family therapy carefully ask questions about the generations that have gone before. The battles of our lives are not about theory, but the cold hard truth of what has been given to us.

The Scriptures relate the stories of families, including their tragedies and horrific crimes. No Southern novelist ever did more than echo the iconic behaviors of Biblical failure.

This familial treatment is intentional and tracks the truth of our existence. There is never a pain as deep as that inflicted by someone who is supposed to love you.  Such injuries echo through the years and the generations. The face that stares back at us in the mirror is easily a fractal of someone whose actions power our own insanity. We can hate a parent, only to be haunted by their constant presence in us.

This, of course, is only the negative, darker side of things. Blessings echo in us as well. In the delusion of modern individuality we blithely assume that we act alone in all we do. Life is so much more complicated!

What I am certain of, in the midst of all this, is that our struggle against sin and the besetting issues of our lives is never just about ourselves. If we inherit a burden within our life, so our salvation, our struggles with that burden, involve not only ourselves but those who have gone before as well as those who come after. We struggle as the “Whole Adam” (in the phrase of St. Silouan).

There is an Athonite saying: “A monk heals his family for seven generations.” When I first heard this, my thought was, “In which direction?” The answer, I think, is every direction. We are always healing the family tree as we embrace the path of salvation, monk or layman. Our lives are just that connected.

When the Virgin Mary sings her hymn of praise to God, she says, “All generations will call me blessed.” This expresses far more than the sentiment that she will be famous (how shallow). It has echoes of God’s word to Abraham, “In you, all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Gen. 12:3). It is in the Offspring of Mary that the word to Abraham is fulfilled. In the Scriptures, God is pleased to be named the “God of Abraham.” That His name is tied to that of a human being brings no offense. Indeed, paradise itself is called the “bosom of Abraham.” It is right and proper that Christians should see the same treatment in the Virgin, the one in whom all these things are fulfilled.

“All generations” is a term that includes everyone – not just those who would come after her. For the salvation of the human race, in all places and at all times, is found only in Jesus, the Offspring of Mary. She is “Theotokos,” the “Birthgiver of God.” Mary is exalted in the bosom of Abraham.

When I look in the mirror these days, I see the unmistakable reflection of my father. No doubt, his reflection is seen elsewhere in my life, both for good and ill. I’m aware that some of my struggles are with “my daddy’s demons.” Of course, my vision is limited to just a few generations. I see my own struggles reflected in the lives of my children (for which I often want to apologize). I do not see the link that runs throughout all generations – throughout all the offspring of Adam – it is too large to grasp. What I do see, however, is the singular moment, the linchpin of all generations that is the Mother of God. In her person we see all generations gathered together. Her “be it unto me according to your word” resounds in the heart of every believer, uniting them to her heart whose flesh unites us to God.

Across the world, the myriad generations of Christians have sung ever since:

My soul doth magnify the Lord.
And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Savior.
For he hath regarded the lowliness of his handmaiden.
For behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed.

To which we add:

More honorable than cherubim,
And more glorious beyond compare than the seraphim,
Without corruption you gave birth to God the Word,
True Theotokos, we magnify you!

We are her people. Glory to God!

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.






65 responses to “Mary: The Blessing of All Generations”

  1. Sally Brower Avatar
    Sally Brower

    Wonderful refection on the Theotokos and the expanded notion of ‘all generations shall call me blessed’ is very helpful.

  2. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    This coming Sunday is the Sunday of the Righteous through the ages (from Adam forward), just as last Sunday was the Sunday of the Forefathers (the Ancestors of Christ). I like the largeness of the Orthodox commemorations, particularly of the Old Testament. Somehow, it just reminds that we are all being gathered together into Christ.

  3. Eric Avatar

    Glory to God!
    Thank you, Father Stephen
    As uncannily timely as is often the case
    Salvation springs from the Virgin Womb in every moment
    God give us eyes to See
    Lord Have mercy

  4. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    It is important to know and celebrate the fullness of Mary’s participation in Jesus’ Incarnation and salvation. Otherwise the fullness of Jesus redemption is missed too.
    She is anathema to the modern project.
    Her soul “magnifies the Lord”.
    “Therefore, rejoice o earth!”
    She is one of the greatest witnesses to the goodness of God that we have.
    The icon that heads this article speaks volumes.
    God forgive me the times I forget her.

  5. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Though the world gets her wrong, and many Christians miss the point as well, I rejoice that at this time of the year she is remembered.

  6. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Dear Father Stephen,
    At this time of year there is a cultural tradition of families drawing together. And frequently such circumstances are a challenge, full of pitfalls where old family wounds that have festered out of sight become visible again. Our crosses (and our sins) become all the more visible too.

    This article speaks to this phenomenon, and yet it calls to the soul to look beyond. Particularly edifying are your last words: “We are her people”. I needed to hear this. And I want to believe it, yet it seems a little too good to be true! The implications are deep and humbling.

    In her person we see all generations gathered together. Her “be it unto me according to your word” resounds in the heart of every believer, uniting them to her heart whose flesh unites us to God.

    Your words encourage me to get up when I fall, rather than to get stuck in the proverbial ‘pothole’ (of family-related, self-induced perceptions). The heavy yoke is made transparent and lifted.

    Dear Father, thank you for your ministry.

  7. Andrew Roberts Avatar
    Andrew Roberts

    The Theotokos, another great mystery. A young humble girl, conceives of the Holy Spirit and give birth to our Lord Jesus Christ. God becomes man through a particular woman at a particular time. It’s mind blowing to think that Mary is eternally the Mother of our Lord and also our Mother.

    ‘Greater in Honour than the cherubim and beyond compare more glorious than the seraphim, undefiled you gave birth to God the Word: truly the Mother of God, we magnify you.’

    Orthodox prayers are rich and beautiful.

    How can some Christians completely ignore the Theotokos and not give her the honour and veneration that is due to her?

  8. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Probably the greatest weakness in Protestant/Modern thought, was that it evolved in a situation in which being anti-Catholic was a deep, driving force. If something drove another nail in Catholicism’s coffin, it was seen as brilliant. Some, even much, of that antipathy has withered away – for one, contemporary Catholicism is a different critter from its Medieval past (in many respects).

    But the earlier antipathy served the cultural purpose of guiding a stream-lined non-Catholic version of Christianity. So many babies were tossed out with the bath water!

    The weakness of Reform (and there was a great need for certain kinds of reforms – Medieval Europe was a train wreck) is its tendency to focus on the easy stuff – much of which may be either harmless or, even, salutary. The mess of Medieval Europe was largely driven by the absence of virtue. It was deeply, deeply corrupt. The answer wasn’t to fix the religion, per se, but to become virtuous. Though there are particular points of difference between Orthodoxy and Catholicism, it remains the case that a virtuous Catholic is a very good thing (as is a virtuous Orthodox Christian). A virtuous Protestant is a good thing as well, though it tends to be a much thinner version of virtue.

    The deepest problems of modernity are found in our lack of virtue. We are as corrupt as the Middle Ages (only we hide it so well) with a governing cultural philosophy that doesn’t even remember what virtue is supposed to look like, much less how to acquire it.

    This brings me back to my earlier topic of the “small things” or the “next good thing.” Virtue is only acquired at the most immediate level. We cannot be made good stewards of large things if we are not first good stewards of the small.

  9. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Father, You are right. Our modern political class, regardless of party, tends to make the Medicis look like amateurs. In fact it is not too difficult to historically connect the corruption of Medieval times directly to us now.

  10. Matthew Lyon Avatar
    Matthew Lyon

    Fr. Freeman,

    Hebrews 2:10 For it was fitting that he, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering. 11 For he who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one source. That is why he is not ashamed to call them brothers, 12 saying,

    “I will tell of your name to my brothers;
    in the midst of the congregation I will sing your praise.”

    The, “not ashamed to call them brothers,” I think is a step behind the Theotokos’s “Be it done unto me.” It goes together that since the source of sanctification is one and the same for all, that we with her, with those who are willing to participate in suffering-love, become the assembly of those, with whom Christ is not ashamed to identify with in the deepest familial ways. And the ripple effect backwards and forwards is evidenced in chapter 11, where, many of the people who were deeply flawed it seems in the OT, are now the Saints and none of there past failures are mentioned again, only their faith/faithfulness. It’s not a white-washing of history, it’s really the effect of Christ’s “unashamedness” towards us who find their sanctification in Him. I’m not denying the Theotokos the particularity she deserves, her uniqueness has been to me, her non-hesitancy to exercise faith in moments where faith would be severely challenged. Original Sin always ruined my view of the Theotokos because, if she had had to be kept from sin through an Immaculate Conception, then where was her virtue? It wasn’t really hers, it was forced upon her. It was as if she was the exemplary “elect”. And I think Reformed theology (I do believe when you refer to Reform theology it should say Reformed by the way) took the logic, of elect, due to OS/OG, and when you apply it to all believers, it levels the playing field in ways unwarranted, by removing virtue. In the imagination, heroes of faith, and the everyday believer who has imputed righteousness (another need due to OS/OG), are the same. It wasn’t until I ditched this that I could look at the Theotokos as someone who truly willed for herself, with all the baggage she was born in to, the “Be it done unto me,” and to have seen that as a monumental statement of faith, the exemplary disposition. After, I could appreciate the Incarnation in a much fuller way. And finally, to have seen the undoing of Adam and Eve, the intentionality beforehand, that would be worked out with her and with Christ. The moments, especially in Orthodox soteriology, where the intentionality is shown, that Mary be the new Eve, that Christ be the New Adam, that they with us would undermine and overthrow the ancient enemies, as a family, in love, it shows the heart of God if we can put it that way, to work backwards and forwards.

    Longer than I meant to be…


  11. Andrew Roberts Avatar
    Andrew Roberts

    The reformation did indeed throw out much of the baby with the bath water. The RC Church was immensely corrupt; indulgences for example we’re are great money spinner.

    The search and effort to find or create a pristine Christianity is a great delusion, that still persists. One only has to read St. Paul to see the problems in the nascent Church.

    Correct me if I’m wrong but the USA was built upon European ideals of leaving the old world corruption behind and building the New Jerusalem in the here and now.

    Some modern RC commentators, deny that the account of the early Church living and sharing things in common as recorded in Acts, is idealistic and didn’t really happen. It smacks too much of communism for those who would support a capitalist system.

    I have no problem with people having private property and would not endorse communism. However, much of RC teaching on property, etc, was of a time when most of the populace didn’t have such access to ownership. It favoured the wealthy. Subsiduarity is a good idea, but in practice wealth does not trickle down. It stays at the top.

  12. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    The New World was built on a variety of things. The colonies were not entirely compatible with one another. New England was largely Puritan and had something of the “better world” dream about it. The South (Virginia and the Carolinas) was settled primarily by Anglicans and Presbyterians/Baptists, who wanted to make money or just be left alone – not utopians in the least.

    Pennsylvannia, and some the others around it were intended as collections of various groups who wanted to be allowed to work out their lives in some peace (Quakers, Germans, etc.). The great “engine” of American independence was largely New Englanders and the wealthy Virginians. The “Scots Irish” (Presby’s and such) were drawn from Northern Ireland and the border country between England and Scotland. They were pretty wild, disliked the English establishment and powered the success of the revolution in the South (often practicing terrorism against the Tories).

    America was not Utopian so much as a product of the Scottish Enlightenment (that accompanied the Industrial Revolution). It’s the heart of modernity – a belief that we can build a better world. The Industrial Revolution, along with the Capitalism that grows at the same time, discovered how to monetize and maximize profits. It is, to a large extent, the amazing wealth generated by all of that that gave fuel to the myths of modernity. Money can do a lot – and can easily be mistaken for virtue or divine blessing – when actually, it’s just money (power). Mammon is the invisible hand of modernity.

  13. Andrew Roberts Avatar
    Andrew Roberts

    Thank you Fr. Stephen and please excuse my too simplistic generality about the US. Things are not so one dimensional, as you have illustrated.

    It was money and profit, the merchant class that had much of a hand in the British Empire (the British East Indian Company for example), with its private armies, before the Crown got more involved. Mammon is indeed rampant.

    I hope I have not veered to much off topic, but rightly or wrongly I have the Magnificat in mind.

  14. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    In the Bible, very little is said explicitly about the Theotokos outside of the Gospels. If my memory is correct, there is nothing at all. Therefore, to some extent, to a Protestant that is ‘sola scriptura’, it seems reasonable to ignore “Mary” beyond the treatment which is reflected in the Gospels.

    The Epistle says so much about the early Church. But nothing about her role in the early Church. I know that the Orthodox have ‘outside the canonical Bible’ texts that speak about her. However, on the basis of Protestant “canon” those works would be extraneous and spurious, tainted perhaps by non-Christian culture.

    These are just some of my reflections. I’m not given to reading Protestant writings on such, so these thoughts may be completely wrong.

  15. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Some Protestant Churches describe themselves as the “ancient” Church. As this happens, it seems to blur the lines to the uneducated what the difference is between Orthodox and Protestant. I had a conversation with a lapsed Catholic who strongly adhered to the idea that Orthodoxy began post Reformation.

  16. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    It’s true – not much is said of her more extensive history, however, what is said is quite significant – the “sword will pierce your own soul also,” for example is very rich in its implications.

    Sola Scriptura has always been a smokescreen, I think. The pre-history of Protestantism, as seen in the Lollards and the followers of Hus, showed what would become the dominant thrust of later Protestant thought – that is to say – there was already a cultural preparation for ground that would take up sola scriptura as one of its slogans.

    I believe it is always the case that theology precedes the reading of Scripture – and is the lens through which it will be interpreted. That theology can be explicit (as was often the case in the Eastern Fathers) or implicit. The frequent problems associated with an implicit theology is that it allows someone to pretend that they are “only using Scripture” and to avoid ever critiquing the implicit theology. That is very, very much the case in Protestant thought. At least in conversations with Catholics, the theology is explicit and able to be examined and discussed. Many Protestants are very difficult to have a conversation with because they are unaware of their own thoughts and assumptions.

  17. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    I return now to your response you gave to my comment regarding the Theotokos and the kind of justifications given for why she is not venerated in the manner of the Orthodox in other confessions.

    In particular I appreciate your mentioning that “sola scriptura” as a kind of smoke screen and that there was more of a context and pre-history to Protestantism which proceeded the use of sola scriptura. I plan to learn more about it.

    Also, it seems that neither Protestants nor Catholics are aware of the necessity of implicit theology and how this might impact their interpretation of the Bible. I often see an orientation toward ‘reason’ and philosophical argument, putting priority on rationality first rather than to a development of the heart. Sometimes such an orientation runs so deep that it is unseen and difficult to let go of even after conversion to the Christian life of Orthodox Church.

    I too had been acculturated to put priority on rationality (I wasn’t a Christian but believed in God) before I was received into the Orthodox Church. As I contemplated entering the Church, I too was analyzing Orthodox theology even while knowing full well that such an approach was not sufficient. Nevertheless, having grown up in the western culture, that was my default approach, my habit.

    Initially, my veneration of the Theotokos, or for that matter any saint, even the icon of Christ Himself was awkward and self-conscious. Such was my own initial habit of giving precedence to conceptualizations and questions/perceptions that derived from them, rather than to experience (“taste and see”). That’s not to say I left my rationality at the door of the Narthex when I converted, but instead, I had some basic, heart-felt understanding that the life in Christ would not yield all that well to my preferred pre-set ‘rational’ conceptualizations. And I still struggle with them when I read the Bible.

    Again, thank you for your ministry, Father.

  18. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    On one further note: I think is important to have a conversation about implicit theology. But as you say, in some cases there is a door bolted shut that will not open to such revelations. In regard to a comparison between Protestantism and Orthodoxy, I have yet to hear a tale of how the Orthodox theology undergirded such wide sweeping disparagement (and destruction) of indigenous cultures and spiritual life as was (is) the case with Protestantism and Catholicism, as it was conducted here in the US.

    I attribute this history to their theology as being different in this regard, relative to Orthodoxy. I would appreciate your thoughts on this as your knowledge of the Protestant and Catholic theology and history is so much more extensive than my own. For me, this isn’t just a matter of individuals doing this or that to hurt others, but a theological paradigm of subordination and subjugation. However, now among Protestants, this might be seen as politically incorrect and just a past mistake, not a problem of their theology itself. However, without deep reflections on the implicit theology itself, the fruits of such theology can be repeated because the implicit theological antecedents are not yet grasped.

  19. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    I’m not certain that I would point to anything with Protestant or Catholic theology that led towards their disastrous treatments of indigenous cultures and peoples. Rather, there is an appropriate question as to why this was different on the part of the Orthodox. The Orthodox world, post Constantine, was an inheritor of the Roman Empire, whose appetite for conquest was insatiable. But the Romans, by and large, turned conquered peoples into “clients,” rather than just subjugating them.

    But the Byzantine Empire, on the whole, engaged in defensive wars, or in wars to regain lost territory. It was not expansionist. Some suggest that this was part of its Christianization – but it could also be an accident of history.

    The Russians (and other Orthodox states) tended not to be expansionist in the sense of subjugating or enslaving indigenous peoples. The work with native Alaskans was typical of their work elsewhere – education, translation, training of indigenous clergy, etc.

    The “Latinization” that marked Rome for many years tended, I suppose, to subjugate peoples – certainly to make them subject to a language (whereas Orthodoxy translated, and thus paid a lot of attention to other cultures).

    The doctrines of original sin could be pointed to as a lens for seeing human beings as inherently sinful and in need of “civilizing” which meant “subjugating.” The racial theories of subjugation really don’t appear until the 1600 or mostly 1700’s – and then, they were “pseudo-scientific,” decidedly claimed to be a matter of modern science. Modern science, in some of its early years, has a very terrible track record.

    America has, obviously, a very nasty bit of history in all of this (which we really don’t feel nearly bad enough about). England was demanding that colonial expansion not move beyond the seaboard – but was resisted by the colonials, particularly those along the “Western” edge. Independence unleashed that “manifest destiny” and there was a relentless bloodbath until the job was done. At a certain point, the Department of the Interior divided all the tribes up and assigned different denominations to different tribes for evangelism. The Episcopalians got the Lakota Sioux (I was in seminary with a couple of Lakota – really great guys – they indeed prayed to “Great Spirit” (Wakankanka) which is how the Episcopalians translated “God” in their prayer book.

    But it’s all very tragic. I will say that Orthodoxy’s doctrine of human beings (its “anthropology”) has always been extremely positive, one in which we assert both that human beings are in the image and likeness of God, but that we are inherently good (rather than evil). I suspect that has been an ameliorating force. The extremely negative view of human sinfulness that has marked some Western versions of the faith (not all) probably had much to do with the “blind eye” that allowed the tragedies of our past.

    It is bad enough that we have this as a past history. It is, I think, compounded by American arrogance in which our national mythology sees us as the protectors and spreaders of “democracy” and “free markets” when, in fact, we are nothing of the sort. We do not tell ourselves the truth. The Left-wing critical narratives tend to be just as bad – they would condemn one form of historical oppression, but gladly put a later one in charge themselves.

    What is lacking in the world, totally irregardless of political system, is virtuous people. That is something that we can work on within ourselves, and within these parish communities that seem to be God’s plan for overthrowing all darkness.

  20. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Dear Father,
    Thank you for your insight and elaboration of the history involved. Indeed the appearance of non-virtuous people can be seen in all places, and in the Orthodox Church, too. May God grant us strength of heart to be virtuous.

  21. Byron Avatar

    Fr. Ambrose, our parish Priest, has mentioned in the past that the Orthodox faith is one of expectation. We await Christ’s birth, His resurrection, His return throughout the cycle of the year. We share this expectancy with blessed Mary and the Saints. We see it in them, in the pattern of the services, and the cycle of Creation.

    I have begun to realize (although I struggle with the actual living) that the expectation of the Church, especially in this time of Nativity, cannot be embraced without thanksgiving. I have been stuck in the (forgive me) “Protestant” mindset of “getting better every day”. Of not making the same mistakes, over and over again. Of building a kingdom of “good” within myself, or around me. Acquiring virtue, I think, is not about becoming good (however one might define that). I think it is about becoming holy, in thanksgiving and expectation. “Let it be done unto me, according to your Word.” Humble acquiescence in the face of God’s Providential Will. The more I consider it, the less I find myself able to imagine it! Lord have mercy…. How can one live such a thing?

  22. Michelle Avatar

    This has been a good conversation to follow. This blog often puts into words things I think and see and notice. Although I am not Orthodox for various reasons known by some here, I feel more Orthodox in mind than Protestant. I am thankful Fr. Stephan clarified his comments towards Kent, however, and I too agree with the “theology of suffering” as a huge game changer in my faith walk and a weak point in modern Protestant life. The heavy emphasis on the importance and value of suffering in Catholic and Orthodox writers make the culture of Protestantism and faith around me feel weak and thin comparatively. And as the Lord has led me to embrace the suffering He has willed for me, He enlightened those truths to me in a way that made it not just “Catholic or Orthodox theology,” but the Scripture brought to life (speaking as a Baptist with my emphasis on Scripture). From my current perspective, the Orthodox seem to best be able to describe my knowledge of what Scripture says to what I experience. It is strange because I feel like God brought me around through the back door so to speak… although I wouldn’t consider myself fully there. However, I understand Fr. Stephen’s difficulty in discussing various theological issues with Protestants because I do not even know how to discuss with my own family and friends how my own mind has transformed concerning all the things of which we all speak. I tried to once explain to my husband why Orthodoxy appealed to me using the term “holistic,” but I still don’t think it is “seeable,” without God changing something fundamental about how one sees the world, salvation, God, and human nature. I also imagine how I would have felt had someone tried to convince me of of Orthodoxy before I “saw” these things, and I even imagine that it would have been unhelpful and even dangerous to my spiritual journey if I was convinced of its being the True Church
    while viewing it through my former lens. And I still can’t get past the feeling that getting hung up on being in the “right church” or needing to partake of certain sacraments to further my salvation feels wrong to me on some level that I can’t fully explain or shake–even though I think I understand and can rationalize the Orthodox view and reasoning of it. I am so thankful for this blog as it is such a support to me and just nice to see my deepest thoughts expressed by someone else.

  23. Katie Prothro Avatar
    Katie Prothro

    I’ve always sadly struggled with “connecting” with the Theotokos. I’ve wanted to, I’ve read books, I’ve asked for prayers but this week I had a beautiful moment and my eyes were opened. I stood in the church wrecked and faithless and asking God, “WHY?” Then I heard someone walk in the door and saw it was a beloved Matushka. I said to myself, “Here comes a woman who has buried her own child and grandchild. She is someone to comfort me.” She had put her coat on over her pajamas, came to church, and cried and prayed with me. I suddenly had a picture of the Mother of God. Here was a woman who had heard of my sorrow, grabbed her coat and prayer book, came and cried as she prayed with me. Are my problems gone? No. But she gave me a physical picture of a Mother who stands along side us, cries with us, and asks god for mercy. It was one of the most powerful moments in my life and now I have my own personal experience with the Mother of God and I more boldly ask for her prayers. I want to grow up to be like her.

  24. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Just a wild speculation, Father, but the anthropology you reference and the solution you postulate in parish communities also reveals a key to the difference in theology: the nature of man in community. In western politics , and theology too, actual human community is given lip service only and only used to manipulate.

    My father spent his professional life as a widely recognized exceptional local public health officer. One of his first acts taking over the local department was to rename it the department of Community Health. As long as he was head of the department, it was that and healing occured but very few understood it. As soon as he retired both the concept and the principals where rapidly destroyed.

    The emphasis on the strictly personal permeates RC and Protestant theology, I think. That created the abuse. I have long felt that the only person who mattered in the RCC was the Pope. For Protestants each individual was part of “the elect”. Less true in the Episcopal and Lutherans but there nonetheless.

    Orthodox theology and practice values the person (not the individual) as a distinct part of The Body of Christ–not unlike the Native American tribes who often identify as “The People”.

    IMO a good deal of that understanding has been lost or corrupted in many of our jurisdictions. The Russian/Slavic jurisdictions have, IMO, maintained it the best.

    The doctrine of Theosis, the full sacramental approach as ‘the work of the people’ (as opposed to priestly magic or dead symbol) is integral to that. Our community prayers, Akathists, etc, etc. Even our approach to burying our dead and confessing our sins (with the priest as guardian and guide) rather than to the priest or to Christ alone are distinctly different. Virtue is given a place to be born, grow and come to maturity. A gift.

    I will stop by saying that my first appreciation for real Sacrament came from experiencing and studying Native American worship and piety. Quite similar to Israel under Moses and the Patriarchs.

    Mary as an embodiment of that revelation and Holy Tradition into which God became Incarnate brings that Tradition to fulfillment. We Orthodox still recognize and practice that type of community holiness even though we do it poorly for the most part–at least I do Still it allows for not only living virtue but genuine reconciliation of all the fake divisions modernity churns out. Racial divisions, sexual divisions, divisions of earthly wealth, divisive and destructive political ideologies, etc., etc., etc.

    Just some thoughts. Many ideas I would need to flesh out more completely but I think the premise is sound.

    May God’s enduring mercy be with all of us here. Glory be to God.

  25. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    I believe your reflection brings out an important observation. One worth pondering and praying.
    Thank you.

    If my comments are disturbing please forgive me. The Orthodox Way does not ‘condemn’ and should not judge those who are not in their faith walk. If my words seem to suggest that, it is not my intention. I will convey here something that I heard from Fr Thomas Hopko, a former Orthodox priest who has since reposed (memory eternal).

    He was upset that his grandson was agnostic and he expressed his sadness to his Orthodox Bishop. But his Bishop said something to the effect (my memory fails of the specific words), perhaps he (the grandson) will find himself in the Kingdom of Heaven in the end, and we (Fr Thomas Hopko and the Bishop) shall not!

    Being in the “right” Church, at least for an Orthodox, is not a garantee of salvation. And I think this might bother or at least confuse some (even Orthodox) people as well.

    Father, if I have misspoke please correct me.

  26. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    I want to express gratitude for your reflections as well. Indeed there is a sort of individualism in western theology that seemed foreign to me when I was old enough to get the gist of it. Among my mothers’ people (this was my first encounter) a noetic life was a kind of norm at least in my mother’s generation. And there is indeed a sense of ‘community health’ in Orthodoxy (I might even go further and call it a universe health), an ontological stance that doesn’t seem to have an equivalent in other confessions as far as I know.

  27. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Dee, you got my point and expressed far more simply than I did. Thank you.

  28. Michelle Avatar

    Dee, your reflections were in no way disturbing…I am just still trying to wrap my head around some things. But I have been learning that “trying to wrap my head” around anything is part of the problem. Revelation from the Lord is a whole different thing. Praying and waiting on Him is what I am learning to do I think, not just for myself but others. Thank you for all you contribute here.

  29. Mark Northey Avatar
    Mark Northey

    Dear Fr Stephen;
    I teach outdoor education. Last week a Metis father of two of my students joined us and when we passed the talking stick to him he said, “I’m going to do this tradish: I belong to…”
    He then proceeded to name his children, his wife, his wider family and friends, his people lineage and ancestors, and the land that God has given him to cultivate and work out his salvation within.
    Last after all this he gave us his name and job.

    It was very illuminating.
    -Mark Basil

  30. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Thank you for sharing this. Such mothers’ participation in the Mother of God remind us that God Himself had no interest in entering our world, enduring the Cross and death without such a woman beside Him. She teaches the world something essential about our humanity. May God grant us the grace to become truly what He created us to be!

  31. Matthew Lyon Avatar
    Matthew Lyon


    If a Protestant correctly used their own doctrine of Sola Scriptura, or if you looked at the Westminster Confession for the Reformed, that it is justifiable to reasonably deduct certain truths from Scripture which are not explicit, they would arrive – and do in part, some of them, like R.C. Sproul – that the Theotokos is the mother of God, or the birth-giver of God. But, they can’t make the next step, the reasonable deduction, totally warranted according to their own method, that this would mean the Theotokos was a “spiritual paradise”, or grant her virtue in the true meaning of the word. And if you combined this, with all the statements regarding our destiny as Saints and rulers in the Age to Come, and even now, it’s very Biblically coherent – all of it. But they can’t see this because of Original Sin and Guilt. Most Evangelicals or Baptists think they are not Reformed, when they fully are. Talk about salvation to a Baptist and it’s something that can never be lost because otherwise Christ died such that you could ruin what he secured for you. Why? If you’re so bad that God overpowered your will to save you, that would be a lose for Christ. But even when a Baptist or an Evangelical deny a belief in Total Depravity, they hang on to the same picture of salvation that was created by Total Depravity, and they don’t see it, that it is necessary if you want to believe that salvation is instantaneous and permanent no matter what. I say all of the time, Evangelicals are Reformed-lite. If the Theotokos is depraved for them, you can’t deduct from Scripture, the things we believe about her. Or, if being Justified, is in the manner they believe, which derives/arrives from Original Sin, then you negate her there as well.

    I fully believe that to have justification for the subjugation or enslavement of people groups, you must have Original Sin, as this will create an “elect” class, the “saved” or the baptized, who are ontologically different now than the Pagan barbarians. It’s an evil, logical deduction, that if God has chosen some, and a people group “walks in darkness”, then the enlightened should claim right over such people, it’s an implied duty almost. Then you can force conversions in “love”, and absorb them into the elect. Or, you can eventually evangelize such people. How many Christians are soothed over the millions of abortions, that the babies will go straight to heaven? They are automatically elect, and this conscience alleviating heresy, perpetuates apathy. Apply the same logic to people groups where, they are barbarians, or at least, have it in your back pocket as an excuse for the plundering of South America perhaps, and you have justification.

    This would never, ever work, with Orthodox anthropology. And I think it’s because we don’t have a “justifier” for evil since everyone is made in God’s Image, retains it after the fall and after sins. A perfect Adam who falls into sin, is fully broken. A very good Adam who sins, leaves open synergy, virtue, willing, etc.

  32. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Matthew, thank you for your insight regarding total depravity and original sin. The effect of those doctrines is enormous and unhealthy. All the more reason to strive for repentance and transformation.

  33. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Thank you for your thoughts on this topic. Your history in the Reform Church no doubt provides substantive insight into this topic, of which I know little. Thank you again!

  34. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    I’m curious. How or what events might have brought you into the Orthodox Church. Was it the theology alone or some experience?

  35. Seraphima Avatar

    Another very interesting discussion. Personally, I am wary of generalizing about other denominations, and have personal experience with quite a few, as a church musician. So much is dependent on the local congegration/parish and the local pastor/priest, even in the Orthodox church. While a denomination might have certain theological tenets it purports to follow, there are always people in every group who read the scriptures and seek God and are holy and are not necessarily living out the group’s stated theology fully, and there are those who seem to be virtuous but are not. One can follow the true God anywhere.

    I am thinking of my own upbringing in an independent Congegrational church, which was in the tradition of the Puritans. My own ancestors were the early Pilgrims and Puritans, as well as Native Americans. I actually appreciate the Pilgrim and Puritan mentality in some respects — there was great faith involved and some of the writings could have been written by a Father of the church, but, of course, not all. The church I grew up in was very much still in the Puritan mind set as to salvation, the elect, and such things; but, in practice, it was a New Testament type of community in a rural, small town where everyone depended on each other. There were very virtuous people there, in all senses of the word, and some who were not as in every religious group I have ever been in. What I know about living from the “heart” in the full Orthodox understanding I learned there by observing certain people, participating in that community, and reading the scriptures for myself, which was encouraged. I was at odds with the stated theology on some points, and now understand that my understanding was more Orthodox then than anything, and I was glad to find the Orthodox theology and its positive take on human life and Incarnation later in life. I am very grateful for the people in my childhood who selflessly served others, and for some it was extremely inconvenient to do so, as everyone was poor, and for the modelling that was shown as to how to live a Christian and holy life. What I learned there has stood me in good stead my entire life, and formed my idea of what is moral and what is not. This experience left me with a sense of the inherent goodness of humans, which did not fit with the theology I was being taught — and I did not fit in well theologically in that tradition, and certainly was not left feeling like I was one of the “elect”, and searched a long time before ending up in the Orthodox church. This is just by way of saying that it is a good thing to have an open mind and heart when dealing with anyone – you never know when you’re meeting an angel, for instance, but you also never know whether you are meeting a holy person, perhaps seeing it after the fact. I am not sure being in the right Christian theology has much to do with holiness, at least as far as being Christian is concerned, although it is certainly of the greatest help not to have to be fighting theological battles in a parish or within oneself and to find a spiritual “home” theologically and have the tremendous support that a full good theology and liturgy gives you. Wherever one is, in our time one can read the scriptures and see and follow what it says, whatever one’s denomination has to say about it. It is much harder to follow the Way if one does not have a good theology and liturgy, however, and I feel for people who do not have it yet. I wouldn’t want to say holiness cannot be pursued or developed outside of the Orthodox way, however. A lot of us are searching in our own way, and ultimately God is in charge of the process with our participation. I was very happy to read the Didache when I found it before I became Orthodox, and the idea of there being two ways to pursue — that is one of my touchstones when dealing with troublesome situations. What is the way that leads to Life? I hope we will each end up in the right place and be saved.

    I do not have any stories or spiritual tradition from my Native American ancestors, either familial or tribal – that is because the tribe was nearly totally wiped out by the early 1700’s, by the early colonials. My immediate familial ancestors were hiding out in the forest to avoid being sterilized and foraging because they were so poor, trying not to be found out as Native American, and this in the 1940’s and 1950’s. My family was very poor. I read now and then on this subject. The experience I had at the funeral I mentioned was one where I felt God was a felt presence at the ceremony, so I concluded that the “Great Spirit” was the same God I have known, but this is just one person’s experience.

    As far as the ethnic issues, I am also personally wary of concluding that any of us or any one Christian tradition has a better record on things like slavery, wiping out or converting indigenous peoples, and other issues. I personally don’t fit into any of the dominant ethnic groups in the Orthodox church and I have been made to feel this keenly in certain Orthodox parishes, despite being willing to learn a foreign language just to be able to participate. I would say the same about Protestant and Catholic parishes in which I participated earlier; and Buddhist and meditation groups, for that matter. I don’t think any one group or theology has a purchase on being more virtuous in this regard. Slavery and killing off people in the next family, clan, town, tribe, or nation-state has been with us for most of the past 10,000 years, as far as I can tell, and certainly far before. I was very disappointed to see the actions of Buddhists in southeast Asia in recent decades, as I had thought that at least they would not indulge in that kind of thing. The miracle is that in some times and places humans, often under the influence of the Church, have been able to overcome these sins and do something more humane. It is a hop, skip, and a jump from an ethnic sense of wanting to be mostly in one’s own ethnic or religious group, and going overboard and seeing people outside as less than, as not entirely human, as not as good as, as objects, or other things, and that can and has led to many terrible things. I think my focus is on not being that person — I think the Church teaches that we are all brothers and sisters, and anything less than that, whether colonization, wars, slavery, ethnic bias, religious bias, or whatever, does not meet the mark, and needs work. The positive view of the human of the Orthodox church is helpful and that can be the foundation for not falling into these sins, personally or as a group. I prefer to focus on myself, and try to do my best, sometimes failing, because, of course, it is much more comfortable and pleasing to spend time with the people one knows best or feels culturally or religiously attuned to, but sometimes I can overcome and grow in the process. The next interaction is the focus to me, a propos of Father’s emphasis on the next good thing. One great thing about the Orthodox church is that its holy people are not forgotten, and the tradition of what holiness looks like in practice is passed on from generation to generation — it has not been lost through genocide or other events. I don’t remember much of the passing down of the holiness tradition in my Protestant church experience, or even in the Catholic experience, despite the many saints in that tradition. I had to do my own research to find them. That is one of the great gifts of Orthodoxy when one finds it.

    As far as the Theotokos, I can relate to not being able to connect. The Puritan tradition as I experienced it in my personal life was not conducive to warm, attentive family life, being a lot about duty and responsibility — the negative thing about that was that it was hard to relate to the Theotokos, or to have mother or father images that are healthy; a positive thing is that the lack of that resulted in a search for the mothering experience, that led to the icon experience, and has grown over time, with a lot of healing. I have been a mother type figure to quite a few people, while feeling that I have no idea what I’m doing, but anything I know I learned from the icons, and holy people and healers I ran into in the course of my life. There are lots of routes into the experience of relationship with a mother figure, or father figure and into healing from the past.

    All the best to you all.

  36. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Father suggested that there is a difference in how the Orthodox Church related to the Native American peoples. A book I have enjoyed on this topic is “Orthodox Alaska: A Theology of Mission” by Fr Michael Oleksa. You might enjoy reading it too.

    Also I’m wary of ecumenism and describing the Orthodox Church as another “denomination”. No one here has used these words explicitly but sometimes it does seems to be implied whether unintentionally or not.

    Over the years of participating in this blog I’ve learned a lot about how my own thinking has been influenced by Protestant theology which is pervasive in this culture. And sometimes others are better able to see the implicit theology that underlies my words and have gently helped me to see it. It isn’t a comfortable realization but it is edifying to learn and I’m grateful for such revelations.

  37. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Dee, et al
    I have said before (when asked) that I don’t have an ecumenical bone in my body. That probably reassures the Orthodox and confounds others. I know plenty of outstanding Christians who are not Orthodox. But, as you note, Dee, the Orthodox Church is not a denomination among denominations and its entire way of life would disappear were it to ever imagine itself in such a manner.

    What I believe to be the case, however, is that present historical circumstances are not something that the present generation itself created. We inherited it. I am fortunate in my life to have found my way home to Orthodoxy. I also have to be clear that I did not become Orthodox because I liked it, or because I thought it was superior. I found Orthodoxy to be terribly inconvenient and frequently hard to accomodate myself to. I became Orthodox because I believe it is what it claims to be – the Church founded by Christ. On the other hand, if all Christians were Orthodox, and there were no denominations, we’d still likely be the same bunch of broken sinners that we are at the moment.

    Modernity tends to think in comparative terms (as such, it is “rational” and not “noetic”). In certain aspects, Orthodoxy is more messed up than others – in that it is 2,000 years worth of messes, unreformed, unfixed, still stewing, etc. But, for me, I returned “home” – as in the “home” that has never tried to raze the village and build something new. Once I knew that Orthodoxy existed, nothing else could satisfy or substitute. I was blessed to be married to a like minded woman and we left everything behind for Orthodoxy – and it turned out in a way we would never have imagined.

    I think the biggest surprise for me has been that I discovered myself in Orthodoxy, that who I was born to be was only going to be made manifest to me in this setting. I would like to imagine that to be true of everyone – but I could not generalize on such a thing. That is in the hands of God.

    I do not question the salvation of other Christians – that is in the hands of God as well. But I do know that Orthodoxy has preserved intact the inheritance it was given. Sometimes you have to dig a little, or overlook some personalities and such.

    But, enough of all that. I felt the need to affirm this in the string of our discussion. Blessings!

  38. Seraphima Avatar

    Dee, thanks for the book suggestion – it sounds interesting. I have learned a lot from reading all of the comments on the blog and the blog posts. I don’t view the Orthodox church as just another denomination (I think, however, I used that word a few times previously), but I understand what you are saying. I am sorry to be imprecise in my language, not being used to the language on this blog necessarily and struggling with expression on these topics generally. I’m sorry if I offend or my understanding is limited. In my understanding of Orthodoxy, which is probably not very much, I don’t think I was Protestant even when I was Protestant, or Catholic. It just took a long time to find the Orthodox church, so I have quite a bit of experience with other approaches to Christianity. I am not an ecumenist, and would not have kept searching except that the weaknesses of the approaches I experienced became apparent. Protestant (and Catholic) theology covers a wide range of thought, and it depends on which part of it one is looking at, as to how far it has diverged from the original teaching. I was reading the Fathers at most points along the way, and looking for what followed the earliest tradition, and I would have become Orthodox much earlier if I had known where to find it or anyone had told me about it. When I started reading Orthodox books, I recognized truth in them, and I was always looking for truth. I think my only point is that God can work wherever God will work and give grace wherever grace is needed, and that may be in a broader field than perhaps we sometimes think. I know God was in my life in a real way, all the way, before I became Orthodox, and I honor that. That’s likely true for other people who convert, too.

  39. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Dee, intriguing post. It makes me want to look more deeply into my own assumptions and I was never involved in any mainline Church before being received into the Orthodox Church inn1986. And yet there is a level of theology at the foundation of the modern world.
    My wife gently scolded me this afternoon because she thinks I am too negative about theologies that are not Orthodox. Yet I just thought about the fact that when I started becoming Orthodox, I fell in love with the reality described by our theology much like I fell in love with my wife. As no other woman can compare with her in my heart so it is that the theology of the Church that describes so well the reality of how to approach and more deeply live a Christian life is so central to my life. Accepting other theologies as on the same level is a bit like commiting adultery.
    It would violate both my heart and the interrelationship I have with Jesus (by Grace). I just can’t go there. Even though my own sins and those of others create ugliness and pain. That does not diminish the glory and beauty of the Truth.

  40. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Dear Father,
    Thank you for your reflections. You provided more depth to what I was trying to say, and I appreciate it.

    Over the years of my life, I never knew I was going to end up in the Orthodox Church and become a Christian. Even when I contemplated my first step through the doors, not invited but ‘on my own’, I had heavy doubts. Similar to your experiences, converting to Orthodoxy was difficult. But it was particularly difficult for those who loved me most. For most of my life I had been a staunch critic of Christianity on the basis of what I had encountered (non-Orthodox). For my beloved, who has yet to step into an Orthodox Church, my decision remains a mystery.

    I didn’t stay away from Protestantism and out of Protestant Churches just because I got hurt in my youth. There was more than this, some of which you have spoken well here, and some of which entailed formal studies in Judean Late-Antiquity history and theology (an area of academia in my youth before going into science). I haven’t written much about this juncture in my life mainly because there isn’t that much to say about it. At the time I was unequivocally not Christian but yet a firm believer of God. And as I mentioned in previous comment streams, I was looking for God too.

    As for the Christianity that I had been exposed to, I knew there was nothing in it healthy or healing for me. There was a clear and fiery bright line I would not cross. Thanks be to God for His mercies for providing such clarity. Nevertheless, I see the providence of God in this trajectory of my life, because the path also seemed unequivocable and clear when I finally made a decision to convert. There would be only one place where I would go.

    I’m grateful that God gave me the courage to take that final step, not just into the Church, but up to the Cross. My conversion required a commitment equal to that of death to the life I had known, of which I cannot write much in public. This was certainly no easy transition. And yet in the end, I would not change a thing.

    Glory to God for all things.

  41. Dean Avatar

    Our lives and our conversion to Christ are all so different. I am grateful for that. Life would be very dull were it to be otherwise. As it is, our differences, even after becoming Orthodox, make us to shine even more brilliantly, as do the facets on a finely cut diamond reflect and refract light each in its own way. So, Seraphima’s, Michael’s, Dee’s, my own conversion are all varied. I was raised in a Christian church. Mine would be more akin to Seraphima’s experience. I have known many pious believers in life. Some of them helped lead me to Christ. Michael, like you, I would not place other churches on par with the Orthodox Church. I believe the fullness of faith can only be found in Her,
    Her sacraments, saints, liturgy, etc. However, I could never disparage the believers I have known in life. They helped mold and form me and move me, albeit unwittingly, toward the Orthodox Church. So, I am grateful for all that Christ has allowed in my life, for my family, for all the wonderful people it has been my privilege to know, and most especially, that God brought me and my wife into the Orthodox faith, some 26 years ago. Glory to God for all things!

  42. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Dean, continued blessings to you and your family. Merry Christmas. “Rejoice O Earth!”

  43. Matthew Lyon Avatar
    Matthew Lyon

    Seraphima, Dee, Michael,

    I want to say that while I really do believe a false vision of man and a false vision of what the Gospel is, leads to very bad places (ideas have consequences), I don’t have a negative view of people with those beliefs. I don’t consider my Reformed friends, my Baptist father, my Methodist grandfather, etc. – bad people. I consider them mostly as good Christians trying to be loyal to Christ. I still have love for Puritans and for even people like Jonathon Edwards and John Owen and John Knox and so forth. But I don’t love their theology, and I think it ultimately damaging. I still own more of their books that I do Orthodox, and I don’t plan on donating them or selling them on eBay.

    I don’t have any other reason to be Orthodox, than that the Gospel is in the Orthodox Church, and has always been there. It’s hardwired in, it’s part of the “motherboard”. David Brainerd, with close ties to Jonathon Edwards (who was instrumental in the Great Awakenings – he even died from one of the first experimental smallpox vaccinations), was a missionary to Native Americans. If you listen to what he preached, it’s sort of appalling, but, with the theological suitcase available to him, he did what he could with it and lived a very hard life among the Native Americans preaching the Calvinist gospel to them. But the logic, of why preach and how they would be saved, is entirely different. Reformed Christians (and Edwards was a Congregationalist and probably very responsible for American Christianity’s idea of heaven, he wrote more on heaven than Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God) evangelized out of love, in part, for the not regenerated, and did so, in the expectation that – if the means of Grace were available through preaching – and Sola Scriptura is laden in the presupposition – but following Paul’s admonition that the Gospel is the power/dynamic of God for salvation, the Elect will come alive in that preaching. They never would have believed there was anything to appeal to in the sinner/person, they were trying to be obedient, and God was supposed to act through the Holy Spirit to regenerate those who had heard the preaching of the Gospel. But what was this Gospel anyway. That you were utterly depraved, hanging by a thread over the precipice of hell, with God’s wrath stored up like a dam about to break, but, that if God would have mercy on you – in the whole of the system with God punishing Christ on your behalf, Christ being “good enough” to obtain the righteousness you could never get, or even want to get for yourself, on and on – then you would be saved. What would happen to your husband who remained “a sinner”? God would demonstrate his righteousness, by tormenting the sinner in hell forever, and you, would actually be thanking God for ridding the planet of practically, another Hitler – because if God pulled back the curtain on how evil men really are, and how He had been repressing their evil (Original Sin) then, you would pray that God would damn your husband/wife for all eternity.

    You may think I’m exaggerating, I promise I am not. In fact, I’m sort of on the lighter side.

    Yes, it’s true, many Calvinistic churches don’t broach the subject of election. Many Calvinists ignore the ramifications because they feel outrageously contradictory – not that they feel untrue – but if you know the Bible, cognitive dissonance is an ongoing problem, and you eventually have to default yourself somewhere, and often it’s to a generic understanding and piety that leaves out ideas that cause headaches. I mean, who wants to sit around asking, are my children Elect? Will I really glory over their suffering in the next age? Or, you will likely get yourself into Universalism, or annihilationism eventually.

    I want to give an example and close. Say someone became Orthodox and they were intent on believing in something like “assurance of salvation” – that you definitely know, following salvation (again what does that even mean) that you will enter heaven at the end? Our assurance, is always the goodness of God for anything, but we are not or should not be, very assured of/by ourselves. But the person who hangs onto this idea, must have logically, the entire Reformed system. Now, I can’t make people think logically, but if you started out “born evil” there’s no reason to think you’re ever going to use your will properly, but if God did save you, apart from your will/choice, you should be safe/assured, as it would make no sense why God would override your will in one instance, as a necessity, and not the other – in that you would never choose against Him, to lose your salvation. So, all along, and this would take a greater degree of unpacking, but it is true nonetheless, the problem was, a false anthropology made salvation into an instantaneous transaction. Even if our heart was really in it, it became – not a race to the finish – it is done. Even the “It is finished” from the Cross, is taken to mean, “Salvation procured”. in the sense of, the saved/or the elect, have been securely and definitely secured forever.

    But none of this has actually taken place in reality. Original Sin set the whole thing up. Instead, salvation is first, deliverance from death – which has been doggedly tempting us to live as though God will not take care of us, and Satan, who wants us to die in our cooperation with him and with fear of death. Hebrews 2 is my go-to Christmas place. All this, and, the granting of the Holy Spirit. If the motivator of your sins is dead, following the Resurrection, Satan defeated, the Holy Spirit granted, with all the other real means of salvation, the will has a shot, and God expects us to work with Him, not for Him to have to constantly work against us, in spite of us, etc. – though I don’t deny that we are less helpful! This turns salvation back into a race, the boxing match. You’re saved, many, many times, before final salvation. They aren’t the same thing. We never save ourselves in the true sense of “by ourselves” but we do, prove love and loyalty, in the race, by not giving up, not bowing out, not being overcome with sins, not avoiding suffering, etc.

    Once this was clear to me, and it took a very long time, and It is more than I could ever write here, I had to be Orthodox, because, I had to be where this vision of salvation, still exists. From there, all the other questions about Orthodoxy fall in place eventually.

  44. Dean Avatar

    Blessed Nativity to you and to Merry!
    We pray she has healed, finally, from her surgery.
    And to all here…Merry Christmas also! May Christ’s presence be born anew this season in each of our hearts.

  45. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    And perhaps such early and difficult experiences in the soul prepared me for what I would meet in the Orthodox Church.

    As you say, Father, we are still broken sinners. But the Orthodox Church is indeed what it says it is.

    Most Holy Theotokos save us!

  46. Matthew Lyon Avatar
    Matthew Lyon


    I love your analogy. I likely come across mean, and that it by no means is my intent. I really love my other Christian friends. First, I’m worried about my own soul. Second, I’m worried that if the wrong Gospel is preached, the wrong theology, how will we face the race successfully, especially if one party believes the race is over. Church Fathers would have been delivering anathemas, so, we’re softer than they are :).

    But, you know, whatever you think it is Christ accomplished, or what God’s love means, is what you glory in about Him, what you praise Him for, what you love about Him. And analogically, even though the analog is not very good outside Orthodoxy much of the time, Christians love God for His love. The Reformed Christian believes all of it, the system, is love. And I know that, and I appreciate that. It’s just, they love God for reasons that largely don’t exist, but, they do analogically love God for reasons that do exist, in poor analogical form. That’s how I’ve seen this for some time. Say you love God because He worked out the whole of redemption such that once you place faith, you are assured of eternal life (not true), assured that every event in life was destined (not necessarily true), that God will go to any length to save you (true, but not true if the stated “extent” doesn’t really exist), on an on. Or, say the Christian who thinks all roads lead to heaven, or that people have nothing wrong with them (death and Satan and sins are practically not a problem), that social conditioning is the real issue in the world – and they love God for all these things are not true. The analogy is there, but it is much weaker. And this reminds me of concentric circles, the outer bands being more heretical than inner. I would rather people believe in Original Sin and Guilt wrongly, than to believe in some Freudian mashup of ideas, or some blank-slate, nothing’s wrong with me, sort of nonsense. But both are wrong. And I think what we can appreciate about the theology of other’s, even while knowing it is wrong, is the closeness of the analog, and it’s effect on believers.

    And getting back to the topic, the everyone’s depraved version, which makes the Theotokos “a vessel”, a pipe, and the “everyone’s fine” version, makes the Theotokos, not into what we know her to be. The uniqueness to our theology, besides being demonstrably true, is same thing as the goodness of the Gospel. Here, veneration and devotion can go to the Theotokos, without confusing her with Christ or the Trinity, and in a lot of ways, I think, this is sort of proof, that the Gospel is something different for us. Man can be deified, without losing his “creatureliness”, in the family of God that He intended to make, that He stuck with the Edenic plan (this is what makes Him righteous to a large degree in the Bible – He sticks with things), and to leave (rather zealously I know) on Hebrews 2 again, “Since the children share in flesh in blood, He Himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death, He might destroy the one who held the power of death, that is, the Devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to life-long slavery.”

    The Gospel of Hebrews 2, is not the Protestant gospel. And John 3:16, the “shall not perish but have eternal life”, is not usually read literally, as not die, gain eternal life, on the New Earth, with your old body back but better without the death-disease, for life as Saints, ruling with Christ, it’s more, “going to heaven when you die.” Protestants who know better wouldn’t be mad at me for saying these things. Read death literally, Satan and the demonic literally, not as sin nature/Original Sin, read sins as cooperation with death and Satan, which amounts to failing to believe God, failing to love God, and the method of salvation, will be the destruction of fear of death by love. Repentance will mean love. Faith and love and hope, are, essentially, or will orient us to, love. What you get in the modifications due to being offended by Augustinian soteriology (to slightly differentiate from St. Augustine) often is the “love”, without the right definition, that love is, not some generic altruism, but, faith in the Resurrection, in the goodness of God such that, true love lays down its life, in expectation of Resurrection, because of the work of Christ, the whole Orthodox soteriology. But I’m going on too long!

    Christ is Born!

  47. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Michael, I like your analogy very much for its physical dimension of the faith as much as the spiritual.

    I’m with Dean on wishing you and Merry a joyful Nativity.

    And a Merry Christmas to you and your wife, too, Dean!

  48. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Matthew, once one steps into the mercy of Christ, in reality and not just as theory, it becomes rather difficult to condemn anyone else. At the same time, it becomes difficult to not object to theologies that deny the living reality of God mercifully with us. I cannot abide the lies. God is good. His mercy endures forever. His mercy is a living energy that transforms and transfigures even those with hard hearts like me.
    My theological journey to the Church is unusual. My mother was determined that my brother and I knew that God is real. As a child she instituted a “church a week” plan so we would be exposed to a variety of options and ideas. We went to a different church every Sunday for awhile. I grew up in a Catholic neighborhood three blocks from a Society of Friends University and meeting house. I walked past both a Methodist church and what became my first Orthodox parish. I am old enough that there was a program given by a local Baptist church that, with parental permission, kids would walk to the church once a week during school time for “Sunday School” My mother encouraged me to explore all of it.

    Plus she was quite aware of the unseen reality herself. Ultimately, Jesus and Mary found me. Why they did is still a mystery but my journey to the Church was therefore one in which I was looking for them fully. As real people.

    The first time I walked into an Orthodox Church, each of them greeted me and let me know I was home.
    We are an often a dysfunctional family to be sure. Certainly my first parish is. Yet Christ is in our midst. Literally.

    Theological oddity example: The first time I heard Simon and Garfunkel sing “Bridge Over Troubled Water” in 1968, I was flooded with love for Mary. She instantly came to my mind and to my heart even though I had not been in an RC Church for years and was never a member. But we did have a painting that hung in our dining room, quite old, of Our Lady of Guadalupe complete with the roses. I still have it.

    I also remember reading “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God”, I was repulsed. Still am.
    Yet, I am beginning to see even that as part of a true Cruciform Life that I must enter and be embraced by because of the amazing mercy of God that is so simple to know– “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand”.

    Simple, but not easy .
    Still Christ is Born!

  49. Dean Avatar

    I too, Michael, have been taken by the image of our Lady of Guadalupe ever since living in Mexico some 40 years ago. My earliest recollections of Mary were as a young boy, peering into the open door of the Catholic church near our home, its interior dark and mysterious, lit only by flickering candles near the altar. To one side was a statue of Mary. Even then something (Someone) drew this young Assembly of God boy.
    Dee, I gain so much by your presence here. A blessed and joyful Christmas to you, husband and son too!

  50. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Matthew, thank you for reminding of Hebrews 2. I will be contemplating the Truth revealed there for awhile.

  51. Seraphima Avatar

    Michael – I think you said it well from my point of view that “it is difficult to condemn anyone else” once one has known the living God and God’s energies. And thank the rest of you for sharing your journeys. Matthew – I can totally relate to what you said about your experience of that kind of theology, and the difficulty of even expressing it as it is quite convoluted. I used to hear more sermons (being in church twice on Sunday, several times on Saturday and Bible study during the week) that followed those thoughts and dynamics. My eyes glaze over just reading your comments and remembering one pastor in particular whose diatribes for some years resulted in my leaving any church totally for a long period of time, though not a sense of God’s presence, because the theology being preached did not make sense, was internally inconsistent, and did not cohere with the real love expressed by the people in the congregation to each other. It was difficult for me to reconcile the care I saw being exercised with the extreme rhetoric, and in the time of that pastor, the congregation had an internal crisis because of the disconnect which resulted in a split. That is the problem with Protestantism for me generally, that any one pastor in some approaches can preach what they think, and you hear radically different things depending on which congregation you are in and which pastor you are listening to. In Orthodoxy, there is internal consistency in the theology, which greatly appealed and appeals to me, even though individual priests have varying levels of understanding about what they are preaching. The Orthodox theology is in the liturgy, so no matter what the priest and the people are doing, one can connect with the teaching through the liturgy. I reached the point early in my adult life where I just could not go to church one more time and have to work through the Reformation battles at every service in my mind, and try to reconcile the irreconcilable. I basically gave up. In Orthodoxy, there is much less of that sort of issue, and one can relate to it at the level at which one is at the moment. (I like the “ladder” icon especially because of the suggestion of multiple layers on the path.)

    I also relate to the comment on Jonathan Edwards’ famous book which is a tough read; however, he wrote a lot of other things and in some of his books his love of God, however mixed up with other ideas it was, comes through. I think people were trying, and reacting to some very bad things happening in the organized religion of their time back in Europe, which would have led any reasonable person who was really trying to follow God to want to reform the church, and maybe just escape it to a new world to start over with a new set of ideas. Some of my ancestors were these early preachers in Massachusetts (not Edwards) – I have mixed feelings, as I would not be here except for them, and this country would not be here, but my other ancestors’ tribe were massacred by the same religious group. This is among the irreconcilable things in my life.

    There is a wonderful book, I think the title is Albion’s Seed, which has a lengthy section on the effect of the Puritan culture (the Pilgrims were less doctrinaire) on parenting styles. It shed true illumination on the type of culture I grew up in which still had a large residue of the early religion established in the early years (as does the whole country still). It is amazing how these things have a life of their own and get passed down over hundreds of years. It matters whether one is following a True theology or not, which is why I am not an ecumenist (not sure if that’s a word). While there are good things about that culture, there were terrible things, too, and I have spent my life emerging from the understandings of that religious tradition and its effects on my experience in life. I think you can find the same sort of contrast in the Catholic experience, and other Protestant churches, and similar journeys.

    I do think those early people were people of great courage, faith, an admirable earnestness, a desire to be doing the right thing and to follow God no matter what, and will power, to do what they did going to a new continent. If I had a tenth their determination, it would not be a bad thing. I wish that their religion had been more life-giving, and I can imagine a whole different scenario vis-a-vis the Native Americans — it could have been life-giving instead of death-dealing, although I don’t know what anyone could have done at that time about the plagues that were brought over. I try to remember the good of that part of my heritage, as well as the good of other traditions I have experienced in my journey, as humans are paradoxical creatures, capable of good and evil almost in the same breath, and our various theologies can reflect that split. The work ethic was one good thing, although I have a tendency to overdo it and have toned it down in recent years. I think we can all learn from each other (including other paths that maybe were theologically ill-advised) and appreciate what we have. When I became Orthodox, someone said to me that “we don’t know what other people have, but we know what we have”, in response to these theological issues. That’s really all I need – to know I am following something that is true, and then I don’t have to spend so much time analyzing and worrying about theological questions, and can get on with trying to live in the Way. (Not that I don’t love reading theology, thinking about it, turning over conundrums. 🙂 ) Too much of it is too much of a good thing, though. I felt relief when I found the Orthodox church and just had to learn what the teachings were in more detail, being convinced that there was truth in them. And the teachings were life-giving, which is most important to me — I am focused on how to live this life while I am in it, so a path that enhances life is the way to go to me.

  52. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Please forgive me for saying this, but for other readers who might be considering Orthodoxy and reading this blog to see what kinds of conversations take place in this community, I believe it is better to express this.

    I don’t agree with your perceptions of the Puritans and Pilgrims. Among my father’s side were the Quakers and my father’s family trace their lineage back to the William Penn community. A stool upon which their ancestor sat upon on her passage to North America was passed down through the generations up to my father’s generation. The Quakers were/are proud of the fact that they purchased their land from the local Native Americans rather than just overtaking their lands, which according to them, everyone else stole rather than paid. From the Quakers, I got the impression that their lives were lived in harmony with the indigenous peoples much more than others.

    But there are more layers to these stories, and which “truth” is true seems to be dependent upon from whom we hear them. I don’t aspire to lionize the Quakers or the Pilgrims or the Puritans. Their story is deeply and inextricably tied to the history of subjugation, pillage and death of the indigenous peoples of this continent, whether we like it or not.

    Furthermore, there is a trend among some people in the US who have predominant European decent to claim indigenous heritage and with it, suggest their ‘nativism’ associated with it. I am very sensitive to this form of appropriation such that I am more comfortable speaking of “my mother’s people” rather than to make such claims about myself, knowing that even doing this might suggest more associations with my mother’s culture than is substantive. My mother dearly wanted to assimilate to the dominant culture but learned slowly (inadvertently through her children) how far she was from her intended goal.

    In the early 1930’s my mother and her family were beaten and some of the children raped by the so called “good Christian” people of their area, who wanted their land from which they refused to leave. After this episode, my grandfather could no longer physically support the family due to his sustained injuries and they did leave to live in northern Florida. That history lived on in my mother’s psyche. When my father had to leave home for business, sometimes lasting 2 to 4 weeks, she would board up the windows and had barricades at the doors and slept with a gun under her mattress. I was taught to ‘walk carefully’ in this western culture, one example is that I was taught not to look policemen in the eye. When I asked my mother why, she told me that “they kill children like you”. This was in the 1960’s.

    It’s probably difficult for you to believe any of this. And neither do I speak of this to solicit pity. I don’t want or need it. Rather I want to bring awareness that there are those reading this blog who think differently about the history that you reflect upon. However unintended, such words can illicit far more pain associated with that history than what you suggest that you are aware in your writings.

    Please forgive me. We approach the feast of the Nativity. I do want very much to approach this feast with the expectation of thanksgiving and joy of which Byron spoke earlier in the comment stream.

    Mark Basil,
    I enjoyed reading your comment very much. When I lived in Canada, the local Metis considered me to be one of their extended family, and I was grateful for such generosity. I had a similar experience when I went to Hawaii for graduate school, that experience was the first time I actually felt ‘good in my own skin’.

    Now I’m a chemistry faculty for a ‘tribal university’. Students look up to me (undeservedly) for me to show them ‘the way’ to survive in this culture. Many have been brought up in Orthodox homes. I feel that the best way to support them is simply to show them all the love in my heart that I can. I am so grateful for their presence in my life.

  53. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    The history of enslavement and abuse is rooted in fallen man. Orthodox Russia while full of saints also had the degradation of serfdom. The drive to enslave and erradicate ‘the other’ is universal.
    The only remedy is reconciliation in Christ through repentance and forgiveness– not in a facile way but in Spirit and Truth. There is such a thing as ancestral sin and ancestral forgiveness as well. I have been greatly blessed by my mother’s interaction with Native American culture of the SW US and the Central Plains. My love of both Jesus and Mary was seeded there.

    As the article tells us all of it is somehow recapitulated and forgiven through Mary, the Incarnation, Crucifixion, Ressurection and Ascension. Yet we still languish in sins and rememberance of wrongs. Large and small.
    Blessed Mary, Theotokos, intercede for the salvation of our souls.
    Forgive me, a sinner.

  54. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Dee, there are stories that both Merry and I would love to share with you directly. If you are open to that, Father has my e-mail. We were married in an Native American Methodist Church here in Wichita. Merry was part of their community. She landed there broken and in despair when her husband, Sean, died. Their love, in Christ, healed her.

  55. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Michael, dear brother in Christ,
    Please forgive me. For now I don’t want to discuss further. For now I’ve had enough of this.

    I know already of your and Merry’s lives are and were entwined with the Native American peoples. And I sincerely hope that my words were not insulting or insinuating anything concerning yourselves.

    May God grant you Merry peace and joy in this Nativity season.

  56. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Dee, Seraphima, Michael, et al
    Our experiences in the “community of comments” runs a very wide gamut, including across many nations (not just the US). As I write and moderate, I often bear that fact in mind. I’m bold in writing about the American experience, because it is my experience, about because, whether we like it or not, America is, at present, the dominant culture across the world. If we catch a cold, everybody else sneezes.

    The American experience is a mix of ethnicities and histories, some of which are pretty obscure and removed from our experience. I joke among my friends about how the “Normans treated my people (the Anglo-Saxons) though that was a 1,000 years ago and has nothing to do with my experience. On the other hand, I’m deeply aware of Dee’s stories that are of an experienced reality (not just on paper) and how that changes things in her life. My own experience, viz. racism, includes the terrible scenes and practices of the Jim Crow South of my childhood – where the oppression was real, quite ugly, and participated in by myself and my childhood friends and all the adults around me. It was palpable, and I know that those experiences are still “living memories” for many people.

    Tomorrow’s gospel focuses on the “Righteous Ones” of the Old Testament. Of course, the other pre-Christmas feast that remembers the “Ancestors of Christ” include some very not-so-righteous ones. It strikes me as interesting that Orthodoxy commemorates them.

    I try to write generously about the many variety of Christians who might stumble onto this blog and our conversations (though I have been known to say a few “stinging” things regarding Protestantism, or Catholicism). I usually have to pay for those statements when the day is done. I am mostly cognizant that contemporary Christians are largely what they are because they had little choice about things. Even many who have an interest in Orthodoxy have no viable parish nearby. Orthodox Christianity has only “spoken English” since 1962, when the first major book on Orthodoxy was published in English.

    Thus we are what we are, largely because of the providence of God and not because of anything about our own virtue (or lack). And we are the inheritors of a terrible history (both personally and corporately). The only healing of the past can be found in the resurrection of Christ, whose triumph over death sounded history’s death knell.

    I judge no one to be evil because their were Protestant, Catholic, or whatever, just as no one should be judged righteous because they are Orthodox. Our righteousness, and our evil, do not come with mere associations. I take Orthodoxy to be what it is – the living witness of the fullness of the faith. But the faith remains, however attenuated, even in other corners. The grace of God is such that He will use even very attentuated (thin) witnesses in order to save us. I want to be like Him. I have to recognize that what I have received is a gift – while recognizing that the same precious gift is more often abused than preserved.

    These feasts of the Ancestors and of the Righteous Old Testament saints remind us of the largeness of the net Christ has cast as He gathers all 153 of us unto Himself (Jn. 21:11).

    Give us grace, O Lord!

  57. Seraphima Avatar

    Father’s last post is a good conclusion for the discussion, but it would be remiss not to ask for forgiveness for any offense or hurt caused to any one, certainly not intended; nor was I appropriating anything I have no right to speak about, nor am I unaware of the pain of our various mixed heritages and histories. I am sad if any pain was caused and regret speaking on the subject. I mentioned it only because the blog was on the subject of healing generations, I struggle with this, Orthodoxy is a way of healing generational issues, and generally I try to look for the good in people in spite of the terrible flaws. I hope we will all find healing during Nativity.

  58. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Dee, nothing you have ever said has caused me or Merry offense. I always learn from you. We both think your arr a neat lady.

  59. Matthew Lyon Avatar
    Matthew Lyon


    It is precisely because, Orthodoxy can truly say, consistently and wholeheartedly : dogmatically, that the end of the Jew/Gentile distinction is here, because of Messiah, that generational pain and heartache, has a Healer, and He invites us into His One Family, and does Family therapy. This is the Gospel in part, in a big part. So, practically speaking, and any theology worth having is practical in the end, this is quite hopeful. Those who sat in darkness, and those with the Promises, both with sin and failure, have seen a Great Light. And I’ll just say, that when my rants over Original Sin and Depravity are done, this is what you get: reconciliation of the nations under Messiah, with the Father, the Holy Spirit, and of all the Saints. This is why replacing the problems we’ve assumed them to be, and rooting them out, isn’t just about polemics, in fact, the polemics are only there to make way for what the Gospel already was. Both Jews and Gentiles were under the power of sin, of death, but thanks be to God, He will save us both from this body of death by faithfulness/faith and make us into One Body, united with His Resurrection, that we too may walk in newness of life.

    Christ is Born!

  60. Matthew Lyon Avatar
    Matthew Lyon

    Seraphima, Interested parties…

    I think often, not that Orthodoxy as a whole always lives up to its ideals, but what if, America had been founded upon an optimistic vision of man rooted in the Incarnation. Christ elevates man, all mankind, not only the elect, in the Incarnation. All will be raised, all, not the elect only, in the Resurrection. This is just a plain fact Biblically. So, in part, I think often we blame people, and of course they are culpable, but who ever thinks to blame theology as a form of social conditioning or as forming the social imaginary? Yet, when you think of American heritage, there is no way to divorce (not that I think you think this) theology from the social imagination. I have long wished, that in the racial conversations going on now, that someone think to evaluate the presuppositions that made slavery possible, or that perpetuate inequality – where there is true inequality that is based on race – not just on exacerbating people’s fears and anger. Because, in the end, we would have a common enemy : heresy. Now we are at the point, where racial equality, instead of having Image of God or something quite sturdy to base human dignity on, is based on something very flimsy. But, if Orthodoxy was to have a say, to present a vision of man both ancient and historically Christian, and I don’t know that this opportunity will come, and I’m not saying again, that Orthodox people always live up to ideals, but there is another anthropology and soteriology, that would not have supported logically or Biblically, racial subjugation or anything like slavery.

    And to reinforce what I’m saying, almost all of the theological “heavy-weights” weighing in on slavery in support of slavery, or against abolition, were Presbyterian or Reformed. and the Baptists (who were Reformed in every way except in sacraments – they mostly held a Calvinistic soteriology. They basically copied word for word the WCF without infant baptism and the Reformed view of the Lord’s Supper, and named it the London Baptist Confession of Faith. To this day, many Baptists call themselves, Reformed Baptists, and the Reformed reject this, but they keep the title). To be honest, Presbyterians have done most all the heavy lifting from the Fundamentalist controversies to inerrancy to evolution, etc. They are – I know people don’t like this but I can prove it in part – the brains behind Evangelicalism. Carl Henry, who is sort of the founder with Graham and others of Evangelicalism, was mainly influenced by Gordon Clark, a Presbyterian. Cornelius Van Til, practically (with Clark) changed the course of apologetics for all of the Presbyterian churches who were conservative. Henry, who founded CT with Graham and others, depended on the Butler philosophy/Presuppositionalist/Calvinist – he was also, a type of Calvinist (can’t think of the term) who believed God hated the non-elect, and that the offer of the Gospel, that God loves you or that Jesus died for your sins, was never to be preached as there was no way to be confident this was so. So, today, under Albert Mohler, the head of the SBC, Calvinism has revived in a major way. He fired a ton of faculty that was not Calvinistic. Getting back to my point, the theological defenders of slavery were from places like Princeton (a Calvinist divinity school), Harvard (a Calvinist divinity school), and from others in the North and South, who espoused a Calvinistic worldview. Now, others, like Edwards’ children, and people like Whitefield, before the Civil War, saw a contradiction in slavery and Christianity, but, there was an equally “for slavery” position among other Calvinists. So, you could argue it either way. This shows a major contradiction in my opinion. But after the Civil War, find a timeline somewhere that tracks the development of denominations, and this is what fragmented them most – and exposed their lack of unity and lack of authority. If not for the Civil War, I don’t know that the denominations would have lost their influence they way they have. But, you end up with Presbyterians in the South, the PCA (and several others end up composing the PCA), the Southern Baptists, I’m not that familiar with the effect on Lutherans, but those with a Calvinistic soteriology, had the most support for slavery. But the same logic would have been there for Native Americans. Other denominations did not fare well either, and most all splintered, then we’re regathered under new or existing denominations.

    Now, if you come to appreciate, that basically the Quakers and the Methodists, and some outliers, were sort of alone as the exception, what is it about them that made them different. They had a completely different anthropology and soteriology, that was much more Orthodox. Wesley actually was accustomed with some Greek Fathers, though he was converted through reading Luther’s take on Galatians I think, maybe Romans. Wesley and Whitefield, both traveling Evangelists, almost severed ties over Whitefield’s Calvinism. But Whitefield, I don’t know that he openly disavowed slavery, but he did preach to slaves, and this would have had the effect of seeing them, as potential Christians, as more human or human.

    So, my thesis is, Calvinism, and how it was modified, or rejected, is the meta-narrative over why we’re in much of the mess we’re in. But no one blames it. They blame bad people and structure, etc. I don’t deny that these exist, but what enabled them to exist? Even our modern structures, banks, for one, would have been opposed by Luther vehemently, as predatory lenders in today’s jargon. But what would ruin the Calvinistic system in one fail sweep? If Original Sin was not true. And it isn’t.

    And the atheistic, man and mosquitoes are equals, or the humanistic without Image of God, or the self-righteous attempts to assume that we are more righteous just because we are chronologically further than those before us, won’t fix anything. Every now and then I get in a discussion with an atheist, and most will say, slavery is wrong. But when? Before abolition or after? They can’t really say before, many of them, and they can’t say why it’s wrong now, because, they are basically Christian heretics as well. But, Messiah ending Jew/Gentile as part of the Gospel, where every human has inherent potential and capacity to become, Saints, this is a destruction to an atheistic vision ,and the Calvinistic, I was born evil, Augustinian notions. If it can make its way, into the imagination of people, through the spread of – the actual Gospel, I tend to hope it might make a difference. In our parish, and I know it’s largely because there are not enough ethnically based churches around for people to choose accordingly, there are over 30 ethnicities present. I haven’t heard of one group segregating, even when in reality, some of those ethnicities are presently not getting along nationally.

    Cognizant awareness, not just that “Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world, red and yellow, black and white…,” which is probably unfit to be sung today, but in that, He came, to destroy the division, on purpose, it was His mission in part, to regather Israel, and all the nations together, all being equally suited for participation in the Family of God as Saints, and defeating death was crucial to this, as fear and death drive national pride and exertion over others, this was on purpose. It is because God loves us all that He comes, but realizing, He comes in part, in large part – so much so that for Paul, to keep the distinction in place by demanding Gentiles be circumcised, that he openly says he wished those who enforced this anathematized gospel be emasculated and not to believe it, even if it came from an angel – to end the world family division created at – guess where – Babel.

    Pentecost is the destruction of Babel, finally.

    There’s so much going on that we didn’t know, or didn’t appreciate, because salvation was thought to be deliverance from Original Sin.

    Christ is Born!

  61. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Matthew, I commend you to The Fellowship of St. Moses the Black founded by my friend and brother, Fr. Moses Berry
    It is a ministry of true racial reconciliation.

  62. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    My parish’s priest preach quite a sermon today on the Ancestors of God. He concentrated not on their virtue but on their sinfulness, particularly David “an adulterer and murderer”. BUT what set him apart was his willingness to repent. So Jesus, through Mary, with Mary also took up the sinfulness reconciled through repentance.
    He went on to say that none of us is judged on our sins. We do not “go to hell” because of our sins but for our refusal to repent.

    In my experience rememberance of wrongs requires my repentance to be healed in me. Forgiveness and mercy are always there for me when I repent. Our Lord will no longer remember my sins when I no longer remember the sins of those who have hurt me. A tall order to be sure, especially the rememberances that have festered the longest in my heart.
    Their were points in the sermon where I was nearly in tears–of contrition and joy.

    As Jesus said Himself in Mt 4: “Repent, for the Kingdom of heaven is at hand.

  63. Matthew Lyon Avatar
    Matthew Lyon


    I think the reason that in Matthew 25, the Judgment mentions nothing of moral lapses/crimes, is because Christian morality, is love, and this is what is spelled out in Matt. 25, 1 Corinthians 13, and all over the place. I’ve been thinking, if you look at what Jesus preached, repent and believe the Gospel, with John and the other Apostles, what is it to repent but to start to love? You can’t repent truly if you do not believe God is good, any behavior modification, if God was evil or vindictive, is pure fear. You can’t have faith, truly, in the same way. Faith, hope, and love, repentance, are all, really, in the end, love. To not forgive, is to not love. And I think of the parable of the unforgiving servant. He couldn’t love after such love was shown him. And the “she was forgiven much, so she loved much.” The condition in the Lord’s Prayer, that we forgive in order to be forgiven, seems very much like, “If I love you and you cannot or will not love in return,” then God’s love has not found a home in that heart, at least, not yet. And 1 John spells this out. “If we cannot love our brother who we do see…” It’s sort of amazing, that when you take this view away, you’re back to moral improvements as the key to staying in the right with God. But, if you left this view in place, morality would be loving people, forgiving them 490+ times, and this, would be required – at least the effort – for being in the right.

    Because Christ has come, defeated death, defeated Satan, you repent/faith/love. I try to tell this to people who may not know, but gospel is a genre of literature preceding the NT, that would announce the new reign/rule/way of life, after someone had conquered. This is so very telling, because, it means, for the NT writers to have used the term, this is how they saw what was happening. This is why, for us, when the Gospel is read, even snippets, even yesterday’s genealogies, it’s all Gospel. Matthew 1, is Gospel, as it is the story of the takeback from Satan, forgiveness for sins, the defeat of death, etc. Getting off my zealous horse now. But, you’ve got to love this stuff, how could we not.


  64. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Matthew, “Christian morality is love”. What a wonderful statement to be zealous about. Yet it is a love that requires repentance to enter. My repentance. It is a bit like getting ready for a shower. I have to know I am dirty and want to he clean. Strip off all of the outer wear, turn on the water and step in. Often.
    Truly God is good or it would not be possible for me let alone efficacious.
    Thank you for your words and your zealousness.

  65. Joshua Avatar

    Always enjoy your writings on Mary.

    She’s great.

    It’s tragic that Mary has become a stranger to protestants. In theory, we could have had a protestant Marian devotion.

    Martin Luther still said quite a lot of right things about Mary, and I guess she was somewhat present still in the baroque lutheranism. I really know very little about it, but you can see that there is a Marian presence in early lutheran music and art, more than a modern protestant would find to be in good taste.

    But a great argument against protestantism, is that they are unable to keep even the good parts of their traditions.

    Each century changes them.

    And thus a protestant version of respecting Mary never developed.

    I think I remember reading somewhere here in the comments that some orthodox mystic/seer/old guy, somewhere in deep orthodox land, was praying that protestants would learn to love Mary again.

    I like this story.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Subscribe to blog via email

Support the work

Your generous support for Glory to God for All Things will help maintain and expand the work of Fr. Stephen. This ministry continues to grow and your help is important. Thank you for your prayers and encouragement!

Latest Comments

  1. Matthew, You asked how I would feel. I just glanced at my previous comments. I’m not sure I have presented…

  2. Matthew you might want to consider the Feast of the Synaxis of the Archangels celebrated on Nov. 8. To me…

Read my books

Everywhere Present by Stephen Freeman

Listen to my podcast