Shadows, Icons, and the Age to Come

What will heaven be like?

It is not an unusual question. Sometimes it is asked with all the freshness of a child, other times with the anxiety of the old. It is not a question that admits of easy answers, nor a question for which language is sufficient. The cynic says, “Nobody knows.” That attitude falls short of the fullness of human experience. There are stories. There are also things that point and make suggestions. There is, also, a pattern of reasoning and seeing that stands beside the various witnesses that have come down to us. A pattern of particular note is the statement that “the Old Testament is shadow, and the New Testament is the icon of the age to come.” This idea is stated plainly in both St. Maximus the Confessor (East) and St. Ambrose of Milan (West). It represents part of the primitive consensus of the Church, a foundational way of seeing the world and the nature of our spiritual life.

The notion is simple: the age to come (heaven) is the true Reality, towards which everything else can only point. This does not deny that what we now know is “real.” Instead, it says that it lacks something in its reality. It’s real, but not completely so. Putting this into words is nearly impossible. However, it gets put into stories, and the stories have enough commonality to suggest that they share a common experience.

Consider these passages:

At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.” This phrase, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of things that are shaken—that is, things that have been made—in order that the things that cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken… Hebrews 12:26-28

The earth (the created universe as we know it) is such that it can be “shaken.”

“…as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” (2Cor. 4:18)

The reality that we see is “transient,” it “passes away.” There is, however, a Reality (the unseen) that is eternal. It is this that cannot be shaken. There is a relationship between the two. When we think of the Incarnation of Christ, we see not the change of the material world (Christ’s flesh is human flesh). We see that which cannot change (the Divine) united to that which changes (the human). It is that which changes that is, in the end, transformed.

So is it with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power. It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. Thus it is written, “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. But it is not the spiritual that is first but the natural, and then the spiritual. The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. As was the man of dust, so also are those who are of the dust, and as is the man of heaven, so also are those who are of heaven. Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven. 1Cor. 15:42-49

This pattern, a movement from the less-real to the truly-real, from the transient to the eternal, from the shakable to the unshakable, is the same pattern that we see referenced in St. Maximus and St. Ambrose. It is the pattern that is common to typology and patristic allegory.

Of interest to me is how this understanding preserves the integrity of the “lesser” things. The shadow is not abolished by the icon, nor the icon by the Reality itself. In Christ’s word, they are “fulfilled.” It is a pattern that can guide our thinking about things that are beyond us.

An example worth considering can be seen in the topic of male and female. Few things are stated as clearly in the tradition as this particular pattern. Genesis states that God made humankind “male and female.” Jesus Himself focuses our attention on that specific statement when teaching about the nature of marriage. We may presume that the pattern exists (or may be seen) first as shadow.

That shadow is described in the opening chapters of Genesis. We are given interesting information. The two (male and female) have the reality of being “one flesh” (rather than as two utterly distinct realities: one does not exist without the other.) All of the commandments in Genesis (be fruitful; multiply, govern, increase, etc.) are all given to “you plural” (male and female). Also, we are told about the first sin and the role of male and female within that action. The consequences fall upon both of them together.

The shadow of male and female continues throughout the Old Testament – in the Law (particularly in the laws governing marriage and family) – as well as in the prophets (where the image of Israel as a spouse is introduced). Perhaps most striking of all, the first hint of redemption (and Messiah) are seen within the context of male and female in the promise of a “seed” (offspring) who will crush the serpent’s head. (Gen. 3:15)

The shadow passes to icon in the pages of the New Testament. Matthew’s gospel opens with a genealogy, moving then to the birth of Christ. St. Luke opens with the Annunciation and the birth of Christ, followed by a genealogy. A birth (in which is gathered up the promise of Genesis) is the New Testament’s introduction of the Icon. The story of Israel’s deliverance is rooted and fulfilled in the “yes” of a woman, only, this time, the role of “husband” (in some sense) is fulfilled by God Himself.

The New Testament pulls the curtain from the icon throughout its text. The image of the marriage feast, prominent in the parables of Jesus, are revealed in St. Paul to be pointing towards the relationship between Christ and His Church. Just as there is no Adam without Eve, no male without the female, so Christ is not without His bride, the Church. It might strain the ears of some to hear that Christ is “without” anything (such is the blindness wrought by Protestant interpretations of Scripture). But St. Paul, working from the given that the woman is the “body” of the man (“bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh”) teaches that the Bride of Christ, the Church, is the Body of Christ. And not just that the Church is the Body of Christ, but that Christ is the “head” of the Church (as he will say elsewhere that man is the “head” of the woman). Even so, shockingly, he says:

The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” (1Cor 12:21)

The “whole Adam” is the human race. Christ is the Second Adam, and the “whole” Second Adam includes Christ and His bride, male and female (neither of which disappears into the other). Modern individualism has largely destroyed the Biblical understanding of Church, replacing it with an institutional interpretation in which it becomes a mere fellowship. However, the reality abides. The New Adam and His bride exist among us as icon of the age to come in which the fullness of that union will be made manifest.

As we look towards the age to come, those who mistakenly take St. Paul’s statement that there is “neither male nor female in Christ Jesus” to intimate a disappearance of gender, take up the notion of the abolition of the past, contradicting everything that we know. Instead, we must understand that what passes away is that which is less, that is, a lesser reality of male and female. What remains and is unshaken is a fullness and greatness of male and female compared to which what has gone before pales.

Mary is “more woman” than Eve, an iconic fulfillment of which Eve was but shadow. The Bride of Christ (and the brilliance that she shall be) gathers in the Mother of God and is more like her than like Eve. The greatness of Mary that so scandalizes some is simply an expression of what is being revealed in her. It is in this direction (lesser to greater) that we should turn our hearts when we consider these things.

By the same token, it is of note that Christ’s primary revelation within the Church comes in the Divine Liturgy, the marriage feast of the Lamb. There, the Bridegroom, together with His Bride, enter the marriage chamber in a communion of Divine Life. That we frequently lose sight of Christ as Bridegroom and the Church as Bride says much about our own distractions and distortions. The prayers of the Church constantly invoke the language of our common life, remembering the Theotokos and all the saints, reminding us that our communion is in the totality of Christ, in behalf of all and for all.

What is heaven like? It is something like what we already know, but not in the way we know it. Adam and Eve of the Garden are like the Bridegroom and the Bride, but you do not see the former until you see the latter. Those who begin to see and understand the Eucharist, and the risen Christ revealed in that feast, begin to see everything else in a different light, and under the dawning rays of the age to come, the outline of what they shall be.

About Fr. Stephen Freeman

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





43 responses to “Shadows, Icons, and the Age to Come”

  1. Byron Avatar

    So much to ponder, Father! Many thanks for this.

  2. Maria Avatar

    “Adam and Eve of the Garden are like the Bridegroom and the Bride, but you do not see the former until you see the latter.” We must live our lives going forward but we can only understand them – if you could even call it that – looking back. Like my own epiphany five years ago, I realised this was the only way it could have been. Looking back, it all made sense. But try and tell the same story going forwards (virgin birth, etc) and it doesn’t hold. Understanding is retroactive. And patience takes a lifetime. Thank you for another fulfilling article, Father.

  3. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    I was first introduced to the shaking while in high school. The school choir, of which I was part, sang portions of Handel’s Messiah around Easter every year. My senior year, the director gave me a Recitative to sing which was new to the selection because he liked the quality of my voice. “Thus Saith the Lord”.

    Taken from Malachi and Haggai it describes the shaking. The best part though: “I will shake all nations. The desire of all nations shall come. Behold, whom ye seek shall suddenly come to His Temple. Even the messenger of the Covenent, whom ye delight in. Behold, He shall come! Saith the Lord of Hosts!

    The experience of trying to sing all that beautiful music focused on Christ changed my heart. I was shaken.

    The shaking comes in ways both small and great.

    Thus saith the Lord!

  4. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Handel shook, but he did not rattle and roll.

  5. Joseph Barabbas Theophorus Avatar

    Good post today. As gender is one of the main topics I study (theologically, canonically, and biologically), for numerous reasons, it is good to read writing that has theological depth to it. Usually I’m stuck trying to get past people reading Genesis: 5.2, etc as “He created them male or female”—which is most certainly *not* what it says.

    I especially like the point about Mary being “more woman”. Femininity is really under attack from all directions: from physical attacks like makeup to spiritual attacks like female clerical/liturgical leadership over men, it is hard to find a sane example of womanhood in modernity. All these things, however, just mock the sublime mystery of femininity, the modest silence of Mary, and ultimately her Son Jesus. Instead, the Birthgiver Of God (Theotokos) reveals to us that femininity is only rightly understood (and rightly lived) in relationship to true masculinity—primarily the Man Jesus Christ. And in that relationship, neither masculinity or femininity are diminished in any way, but made more masculine and feminine, more radically gendered, and yet simultaneously more inseparable—without being confused!

    And congrats on the manuscript!

  6. Janine Avatar

    Father, 🙂

    I’m all shook up!

  7. Matthew Brough Avatar

    These may be poorly-formed questions for the well-read in Orthodoxy, but I find this to be among the most interesting of all topics, and hopefully the questions will be relevant to it.

    When Christ reveals himself to his disciples after the crucifixion, is the manner in which he appears (not immediately recognized, only “seen” once a non-physical familiar quality is discovered), is this gesturing towards the way in which we are to engage in Heaven as corporeal beings?

    And is it generally thought of in Orthodoxy that this ‘union which does not consume the other’ means even we as individuals will to some extent maintain our individuality? I once heard Jonathan Pageau refer to our becoming one with God without losing “our particularity,” which greatly impressed and agreed with me. In other eastern (possibly westernized versions) beliefs, and new age-y ones, there is this tendency towards looking forward to an annihilating “Oneness” – i.e. the drop of water returning to the sea. I have never quite understood the draw to that vision.

  8. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    The Orthodox faith clearly teaches in our life eternal and individuality and not a loss of identity. It is, I think, best described as a “personal” existence – but grasping the fullness of what true personhood means is far more than most imagine. St. Sophrony (20th century) had much to say about it.

    The model of our eternal existence is the resurrected Christ.

  9. Janine Avatar

    Echoing Matthew Brough’s thank you

  10. Tikhon Avatar

    This reminds me of our father among the Saints, C. S. Lewis in his book, The Great Divorce. The Reality of heaven’s grass was like needles to those who had not yet fully transformed into solid people.

  11. Byron Avatar

    Tikhon, I am regularly reminded of that picture from Lewis’ story. It has stuck with me over time.

  12. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Grass like needles: the continuing temptation to turn away from the Grace and Communion with our Incarnate Lord to one’s own will in body, mind and spirit.
    “All we like sheep have gone astray everyone to his own way; everyone turn aside to his own way and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all”… Isaiah 53:6.

    He is literally the Way, the Truth and the Light/Life.

    Mt 4:17 Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.

    The Sacramental community of the Church is the living matrix that supports, encourages and allows for such repentance.

    Such repentance is both a great grace and a proper exercise of one’s will. It involves embracing the Cross of one’s own Cross moving from the shadows toward the Light.

    The Orthodox Church alone, despite our disarray in many things, retains the fullness of theology and practice that allows the movement toward the living Light of God.

  13. Jamie Avatar

    Hi Fr Stephen,

    As I’ve struggled with the idea of my “identity” and where/what exactly it is, my priest had this to say, “Pursuing Christ will change you. It will make you more you.” I’m preparing to be baptized at Pascha, with hope to become more me, and more human, and again I am indebted to your struggle with the topics of shame, identity and modernity. I will even dare to quote you and say that sometimes I’ll read something you say and I’m surprised that I didn’t say it. Very much looking forward to your book on shame. -Jamie in Indianapolis

  14. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    With apologies. In the Orthodox world, Lewis is not “numbered among the saints.” Though he is extremely well thought of.

  15. Byron Avatar

    Jamie! Welcome! How wonderful to be baptized at Pascha! May God hold you close in your continuing journey. You are in my prayers.

  16. Dino Avatar

    Father, Matthew,
    I often witness how Far-Eastern notions of the annihilation of persons (within the divine), are endorsed by the ideologies of modernity’s materialistic humanism. It initially seemed strange that atheism speaks of a ‘divine’, but I realised it fits nicely –and provides a much needed ideological unity of religious overtones– to the relativism of atheist scientism and unbridled technological advancement. The proponents of these ideas consider this novel ‘divine’ notion as no more than a collective human construct, (besides these are staunch materialists we are talking about) but that doesn’t matter much, as it can –crucially- still take the form of (a propitiously unrestricted-by-eternal-principles) global morality.
    This is because, instead of the traditional understanding of Man as an intelligent observer and “incarnator” of pre-existing meaning/”logoi” – a mediator between Heaven (Logos) and Earth (Incarnation) – this type of evolutionist humanist sees any ‘meaning’ as but inventions, imaginations, constructs, of the collective imaginations of men. The heavily promoted Yuval Noah Harari has poisoned many minds with this ideological model that supposedly thoroughly debunks the traditional one. He coins the ‘inter-subjectivity’ notion regarding eternal principles, to both debunk them (as truly real and divine) as well as support their recreation (as utilitarian and globally useful for a global new spiritual narrative).

  17. Matthew Brough Avatar

    Dino, thanks for your interesting response.

    I hadn’t really connected annihilating one-ness with materialistic relativism but I think I follow you and there is something to what you say. And I know the sort of ideological model you mean because I – at least provisionally – believed it myself not long ago.

    The draw to this idea is obvious to me, illustrated in the case of morality. If we believe we all have our own subjectively-constructed morality – not something eternal or independent of our own minds – then we can still believe in a ‘de facto’ objective morality (not really objective) so long as we think of it as a kind of emergent property of many individuals happening to agree. The perceived problem with traditional ideas of morality from the perspective of the materialist is that everything goes along quite well most of the time until you run into someone who seems to have a totally different morality than you – a sociopath or something – and it seems to make no difference to him/her whatsoever that their moral paradigm is completely alien. The presence of such a person shatters the ‘illusion’ of objective morality which, usually, we don’t notice because we tend to share bedrock principles with others. At least to me this was how it seemed to function in practice.

    But the problem, it seems to me, with this constructed view of morality (never read Harari but it sounds like how I thought of it) is not it’s logic (which is at least somewhat internally consistent) but rather just how profoundly alien and unsatisfactory it is in the actual world. You get moral theorists saying things like ‘no one is actually responsible for anything but we have to still act like we are, and have jails and things, because otherwise society falls apart.’ And people just nod along to this absurdity because they can follow the logical chain. It takes a hyper-rational focus on logical models, as opposed to real life, to accept this as moral progress, So for me it just fell apart not because I was argued out of it but because it was profoundly unsatisfactory and seemingly had no grounding in our actual life. I would have had to ignore the most phenomenologically obvious things in my life to sustain it. And maybe it is the case that these absurd mental models are followed to their extreme conclusions in the case of annihilating one-ness too.

  18. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    I must be out of touch (or somebody else is spending too much time on the internet) – I’ve never heard of this guy. He’s probably never heard of me, either.

  19. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Father, these days his name is legion.

  20. Dino Avatar

    He seems to be the key ideologue – his books always at the forefront of popular bookshop windows, also behind Davos mesmerising that crowd, heavily endorsed books of his are Homo Sapiens and Homo Deus (by presidents and prime ministers everywhere)
    The Akathist’s “Rejoice, who reprove the sophists as ridiculous” seems apt.

  21. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Dino, the “conservative” rationalists who argue for unity based on “natural law” are no better. One such guy I have run across thinks that we Orthodox fit in quite well in his scheme. When I politely replied on his blog that, as an Orthodox believer, I had to say he was wrong, he told me, essentially, that I did not know what I was talking about.

    It is all ideology.

  22. Dino Avatar

    I understand and agree with your point, very much so. However, the greatest current public intellectual influence (actually affecting the trajectory of culture rather globally) seems to be coming from this particular ideology.
    I’ve also had numerous people parroting Harari’s ideas with great enthusiasm and when I point him out they admit him to be their greatest influence. I have been quite shocked how many people (people who do not even generally read much) have read him. It is also more disquieting how enamoured he is by the so-called ‘elite’.
    These two facts together help us understand how public-opinion-shaping has the trajectory it does…
    I think one key reason people like Harari are being so heavily promoted is because they formulate the ideological model upon which post-modern technocratic totalitarianism can be predicated. Their thorough debunking of the old ‘natural’ law (that traditionally stood above rulers and governments, checking their powers) is valuable for the acceptance of the 4th industrial revolution, transhumanism, the great reset etc. This supreme law, which required rulers to protect concepts such as “freedom”, stemmed from the higher principles of the (often Scriptural) concept of the “law of God”. The dissolution of this historical standard and its replacement with the new secular-humanist & relativist model, supplants the law of God with the law of Man, exchanging such notions as the inalienable value of freedom, for concepts of human-defined “rights”. The inevitable trajectory of this path is that any authority becomes unrestricted by ‘divine Law’ above it, free to “progress” towards totalitarianism. This new ideology also has a new philosophical basis to support it, generally of a materialistic atheism combined with evolutionary scientism. This ideology worships unbridled technological advancement, has no need of moral restraints by any higher principles, and what is key is that it creates its own ‘principles’ while attempting to discredit traditional, eternal principles as nothing but “constructs” of the collective imaginations of humans –‘inter-subjective’ imaginations as Harari says– (which ironically, is only the case regarding its own “principles”).

    It is an ideology predicated upon the belief that science alone has all the answers, even if these are yet to arrive in the far future; and yet refuses to admit that this is but a [religious] belief.
    It’s worth remembering that science is firstly the search for explanation while religion largely the search for meaning.
    However, despite what this ideology would have you believe; the phenomenon of “Meaning/logos” is not some ‘inter-subjective’ creationof collective imagination. (As Harari often muses).
    The exact opposite is true: in reality we do not create the phenomenon of “Meaning”, we just observe it and then describe it. It pre-exists. We do not imagine, for example, the concept of “femininity” (simply because half of us are “Sapiens with wombs” according to Harari and our evolutionarily-unexplained brain tends to invent the ‘femaleness’ concept as an attempt to “make sense”) and then simply live the consequences of this ‘imagined phenomenon’.
    No, even sheep exhibit femininity and masculinity, without these concepts having their source in the evolutionarily-unexplainably large brains of humans or the sheep’s imaginations … the whole world has feminine and masculine manifestations, they pre-exist, (like the ying & yang or the pos/neg of electrons and positrons) and we subsequently -as intelligent observers- observe the “concept” and describe it. The phenomenon predates its observation and description.

  23. Matthew Brough Avatar

    Dino, very well put. For what it’s worth, the chink in the relativist armor to me was when I realized I couldn’t find in that ideology any grounds for defense of the infinite value of a human soul. The scenery started to collapse from there.

  24. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    I readily confess that I have very little interest in the latest machinations of whatever passes for the “powers that be.” They are less than a “puff of wind”. May God preserve us from whatever nonsense is out there. I do not care to see the space on the blog needlessly speculating about what they may be up to next (on the whole, I think it is simply a tempting distraction). Their defeat and destruction does not depend on us, nor does their success depend on them. All things depend on God and it is God with whom we should concern ourselves.

    God is with us, understand, O ye nations, and submit yourselves:
    Give ear even unto the ends of the earth.
    For if you again strengthen yourselves, you shall again be vanquished.
    And whatsoever counsel you shall take, the Lord shall bring it to nought.
    And the word, whatsoever you speak, shall not remain with you.
    And of your fear we shall be neither afraid nor in dread

  25. Dino Avatar

    What you say is ever so true and ever so constructive.
    We occasionally have these unavoidable confrontations with the ‘machinations of the powers that be’ , usually because of closest friends and family who have bought into all that.
    It’s funny how we come back from the great compline these days where we sing these words and filled with their confidence we meet up again with friends&family who cannot fathom our confidence and, in fact, it is that faith that “even if they are strengthened again they will fail for God is with us” (which they explain away as subjective and psychological) which creates cracks in their – polar opposite – “faith” in this new materialism they try to “evangelize’ zealously.

  26. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Father and Dino, To me it is all covered in essence in the Prayer of St. Ephraim, especially “lust of power” and”idle talk”.
    The way of the world is alluring even in battling it. Just the simple act of telling the guy of whom I spoke we Orthodox did not believe in his idea of “natural law” put me in an arena. I was amazed at the vicious energy that became focused on me all of a sudden. Such viciousness even though I was mostly on his “side”.

    I took it as a warning in many ways. That is why I said the opponents are legion. You are much better prepared than am I but still…

    “This is the day the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it!”

  27. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    I was thinking of my dear step-daughter tonight and her refusal to allow anything about God in her heart, despite the belief of many aroun above d her including her mother and husband.
    She thinks in a utilitarian manner such that if there is any suffering in the world God does not exist.

    My wife shared the words of Elder Paisios above as we were discussing her lovely daughter.

    I have to remark how easy it is to lapse into that mind.

    God forgive me.

  28. Agata Avatar

    Dear Father and blog Friends,

    What an interesting – and exhausting to read !! – conversation tonight.

    I think I said this many times on this blog before: I am so surprised that people prefer to engage in such mental ‘acrobatics’ and intellectual ‘gymnastics’ in creating their views of the world (as this Yuval Noah Harari Dino mentioned) instead of just surrendering to the reality in which “All things depend on God and it is God with whom we should concern ourselves.” (as Father says). I am so grateful for – and so reassured by – this reality.

    And as for the question with which Father started this article – “What will heaven be like?” – one of my favorite answers came for a (now departed) Fr. Dmitry Smirnov in Russia. He said “Heaven will be like Church. If you are bored in Church, you will be bored in Heaven.” I personally like this answer very much!


  29. Dino Avatar

    We were saying the same thing regarding one’s appreciation of Church Services being indicative of one’s appreciation of the Kingdom with my brother yesterday. I largely agreed, there is something to that saying, but I also cannot help think it is far more nuanced than that. Our own appreciation has a great deal to do with our particular background and we can be there from before the priest and leave after because of this too. (I am sure that the innocent kid that’s super bored and asking to go out is far readier for the Kingdom than us two, for example).

  30. Dino Avatar

    your point that “the way of the world is alluring even in battling it” is always in my mind.
    There is great danger – as you warn – there. It is certainly not for everyone, not for all times.
    The times, the situations, the preparations required and -above all- the underlying ‘bed’ of hesychasm needed, are all quite special. That is not to say we can make an unbending ‘law’ against it, but the warning stands indeed.
    There was a particular elder, (it is rumoured he is one of the next ones to be officially canonized as a saint) who had all these and was famous for his apologetics, his ability to enter that ‘arena’ and exit unscathed while saving souls reminded me of St Paul, there are countless gems (long discussions he had with various atheist figures of his times) that are worth checking out. His name was Fr Epiphanios Theodoropoulos.
    In Greece -in these circles – there is great familiarity between all these recent saints and many persons remaining in life nowadays.

  31. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Dino, Michael, et al
    I would not want to take anything away from a saint – but, atheists and others become Christians for all sorts of reasons, and in parishes all across the world. In many ways, it’s rather commonplace. That someone “converts,” according to St. Paisios, can be the result of something as simple as “watching a fox cross the road.” What is rather rare, in my experience, is that anyone converts because they were out-argued or out-reasoned. Argument and reason, though we tend to think they are important, are among the lesser things in human lives. I believe they are secondary, at best.

    Blaise Pascal famously said, “The heart has reasons of which reason itself knows nothing.” Something will make no sense to us one day, and the next day will seem obvious. Such is the human heart.

    Most of the “world’s” conversation is driven by imaginative narratives that populate the airwaves and the internet. On the whole, it is little more than drivel in the light of how people actually live and think. The most eloquent “argument” for the Christian faith is the actual practice of the faith in the context of a loving, Christ-like community. That is the life of a local parish, when we bother to do the right things Christ has asked of us.

    It is difficult, of course, when someone whom we love, such as a family member, is drawn away into the various eddies and currents of the world. They represent stinging “failures” in our witness to Christ. Not because we have failed to out argue them – but because our life is itself such a poor “argument” for Christ. The most amazing conversations I’ve ever seen have been the few in which the non-Christian says to the believer, “I want what you have.”

    St. Paul said to the Corinthians, “You are our epistle written in our hearts, known and read by all men; clearly you are an epistle of Christ, ministered by us, written not with ink but by the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of flesh, that is, of the heart.” (2Cor. 3:2-3)

  32. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Father, I completely agree. Logic is dependent on the premise. If the premise is wrong, the logic is wrong. The premise of modernism, i.e., all political philosophy, is catastrophically wrong. To one degree or another the premise it seems to me is: “We live in a naturalistic world in which human beings and our will/desires are king. In that milieu, even a mild disagreement seems to be enough to trigger some folks.

    God was after me before I was even possible in human terms. Still, it took me 39 years to begin to realize what that meant by finally walking into the Orthodox parish that was part of the neighborhood in which I grew up and to which I was oblivious until my late wife pointed it out as we were driving by one day.

    It has taken another 35 years to begin to actually repent.

    Still, I had to listen. So many people I know and love are refusing to even think about listening I want to shake their cages, rattle their presuppositions and roll them in the door.

    Does not seem to work.

  33. Dino Avatar

    That is very much what I have encountered in real life.
    You could even come up with a fine definition for a Saint based on just that (irrespective of the saint’s ability or inability to argue finer points) :
    “a Saint is a person in whose presence the question of God disappears”.

    Of course, one could argue that “I still want some rational argumentation for support, at least for when the question of God’s existence etc. resurfaces, because I am not in that saints presence, the special presence that makes the question disintegrate,” but again, I find the remembrance of the saint’s presence to be as (or more) effective.
    I guess the balance that ‘knows’ there is a place for everything will always have some value?

  34. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Dear Father,
    Thank you for your temperance (responding to your last comment). And on the side, I didn’t know who the author mentioned above was also. I’m late to this conversation (started reading today) because of my work schedule. Has part of the conversation been edited? I had to ask my husband about the author who listens more to the news than I. And he helped to fill me in on the ‘buzz” but he’s not caught up in culture trends either.

    I’m not sure why this topic entered this conversation but , it seems that it might be more of a distraction than something helpful for our struggle to follow Christ as we near Pascha.

    Nevertheless I’m grateful that there seems to be agreement with Father Stephen thoughts and conversational resolution.

    Dear Jamie, may God bless your journey in Christ.

  35. Dino Avatar

    Also, on a more lighthearted note, Pls remember us Greeks often spend an inordinate amount of time after meals with 10 or more people discussing hot subjects. 🙂
    It’s in our culture, and we therefore face this sort of arguments far more frequently…

  36. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Father, my apologies.
    As it happens I’m writing on my phone again and a phrase was edited in my phone. To clarify, my husband listens to general news more than I and he knew of the author.

  37. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Dear Dino,

    I sincerely love our Greeks (both you and Nikolaos) participating in this blog. And your words in your last comment brought a smile. I love very much my Greek parish and culture. I hope one day, I may visit Greece, God willing.

  38. Justin Avatar

    “A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still.”
    The few times I have seen someone “argued” into Orthodoxy, they have been “argued” back out of it within 2 years.

  39. Eric Avatar

    The idea that we can argue someone into faith is in a sense a misplaced sense of our place in the scheme of things. We imagine we are at the top of the mountain. Everything is obvious . . . Silence speaks far more eloquently, especially when it is the outflow of the soul at rest. Words can only point and at best only very approximately. But we control the world through words, or believe that we do. (I have been reading much of Dr Iain McGilchrist’s work on how the two hemispheres of our brain see the world differently and how in our age, the left hemisphere which is about power, and control, and also usually the centre of our speech, dominates. Words . . . words . . . words . . . So much noise

    If I might change topic, but only as a means to ask you a question Fr Stephen, something has been troubling me about a practise amongst some Christians of acting out the trial and crucifixion of Jesus, in which the members of the church play the crowd and call out ‘Crucify Him!’ (I even have trouble typing this) Somewhere I thought I had once read in one of your posts that this practise was demonic? Forgive me it may have been one of your fellow Ancient Faith writers, but I cannot find the reference. What I do know is that the practise seems to me to be far from healthy. I’d be most grateful if you had a moment to comment.

    My prayers for all Orthodox brethren

  40. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    On your question. It has long been a practice in a number of Churches, including in my Anglican experience, that during the reading of the gospel on Palm Sunday (which is pretty much the whole of the Passion), different parts are read by different readers: Christ, Judas, and, as you note, the Crowd. Thus, the Crowd says, “Crucify Him,” and “We have no king but Caesar,” etc. I have no idea who described this as “demonic,” but they are completely off-base. It might be more drama than some would like to see in Church – but Holy Week has long had dramatic elements in it (including within Orthodoxy).

    What I think is the case (in my experience) is that a congregation is made deeply mindful that the crucifixion of Christ was not something somebody else did to Him, but something we have done to Him (and still do in our sins every day).

    In Orthodoxy, Christ (His icon) is ritually nailed to the Cross by the priest during one of the services of Holy Week. Though no one is saying anything at that moment, it is, nonetheless, quite dramatic (this is commonly an action seen in the Greek Church, though not in the Slavic Churches).

    Frankly, I suspect that someone has gotten over-zealous in their condemnations and attacked something with suspicions simply because its done in the West. I would imagine that this practice could be found in Western Rite Orthodox Churches as well.

  41. Eric Avatar

    Thank you, Father Stephen
    Most helpful

  42. Nikolaos Avatar


    The link of St Paisios might give the wrong impression to some, that the Elder was reluctant to accept medical advice or help. This was not the case and in my experience, no Elder ever avoids medical advice and care.

    My uncle, Dr Georgios Blatzas ( was his surgeon and treated him first for his hernia and finally for his colon cancer, which metastasised to his lungs and liver. His endurance of cancer inspired and strengthened many people. The Elder’s last words leaving the hospital were “I wish I could live a little longer”.

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