The Ascetic Imperative – A Matter of Communion

Among the more interesting experiences in my life was the two years spent in a Christian commune. It was not West Coast fancy, much less connected to anything historic such as the Bruderhof. It started with two very zealous Jesus freaks (myself and a friend), an apartment, and something of a necessity thrust on us by accident. The accident was a housefire where two other young Christian friends were living. The fire claimed the life of one and left the other injured as he jumped from a window to survive. We took him in (first, as something like a border). Somewhere, in the course of prayer, we decided to live communally. At the time, immersed in the daily study of Scripture, it seemed the most obvious way to live.

I was working 40 hours a week in various jobs (they seemed to come and go – well, actually, I got fired more than once, but that’s another story). My friend was working part-time and doing college courses the rest of the time. Turning my money over for the common good simplified my life.

The communal life didn’t stop at money. We began to explore what it meant to share a common life. Our questions were framed in the only language we knew: what does the Bible say? The questions and answers of that dialog were informative. With those questions in mind, we became aware of a steady stream of admonitions in the New Testament urging believers towards a life of asceticism. Fasting, vigils (praying through the whole of a night), sacrificial giving, radical forgiveness are all considered commonplace and normative. We had no tradition to draw on, and thus we practiced such things without guidance. We learned many things the hard way. There is now a long string of decades that separate me from those fervent years.

No one told us to do the things we did, and no one told us to read the Scriptures in the manner we undertook. What we did was to read the Scriptures with the question in mind, “What should we do?” That stands in stark contrast to the typical question, “What should we believe?” Had our study been primarily directed to matters of doctrine, I think we would have lost our way. Strangely, our instincts were correct.

The teachings of Christ are not, primarily, metaphysical pronouncements about the nature of things. Instead, they are commandments regarding what we should do – based on who God is. “Love your enemies – because God is kind to both the good and the evil.” This pattern holds throughout Christ’s teachings. It is a directive that intends to shape our lives such that our lives themselves become a “living theology,” a revelation of the nature of God made known in the shape of our actions.

In our secularized world, most people behave in the same way: as consumers bound by the passions and commands of their economic masters. The “good life” is described in terms of money and pleasure. If you have enough of both, then you are living the “good life.”

I can see, in hindsight, that many of the things of my youthful fervency were less than perfect. We had no ear for holy tradition and the experience of the Church through the ages. Nonetheless, we were struggling to become deaf to the demands of the culture. There is a gap in my culture memory, for instance. My awareness of popular music stops with the year 1971 (the year that we began the commune). I simply quit listening. I’ve never re-entered that marketplace. I’m not interested.

I could wish that this same deafness extended to much else (news cycles, etc.). With those things, I struggle as much as others.

St. Paul wrote to the Corinthians saying:

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.” (3:2-3)

If we do not “become the Scriptures,” then reading them will have been in vain.

Christ says the same thing in a different manner:

If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. (John 15:10)

In this saying, Christ reveals that the keeping of His commandments is a means of communion. It is not a legal or moral matter. Rather, keeping His commandments is a means of embodying Christ Himself. This is theosis in its most immediate form.

Understanding the commandments and the discipline of putting them into practice is a matter of communion

For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what communion has light with darkness? What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever? What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said,

“I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Therefore go out from their midst, and be separate from them, says the Lord, and touch no unclean thing; then I will welcome you, and I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to me, says the Lord Almighty.”(2 Cor. 6:14–18)

God “walks among us” as we walk “in His commandments.”

This last passage also points to the contradiction that such a practice brings about with the secularized world. Living in the world, we often fail to see that our lives are always an act of communion. To live mindlessly in this culture is inevitably an act of “channeling” the culture, of living as an expression of the culture in human form. We shop because the culture shops. We “care about stuff” because the culture “cares.” We worry because the culture worries. We weep when it weeps and become angry as it rages. We unconsciously live as “epistles” of the culture (the Scriptures would name it as “Mammon”) even as the culture whispers to us that these are our own thoughts. We imagine ourselves to be willing individuals, centers of consciousness defined by our choices. In point of fact, we are often little more than mouthpieces of the culture-mind, our “consciousness” created elsewhere and marketed to us. If you feel no tension with the culture around you, then you have been swallowed alive and are being digested.

There is an ascetic imperative, an utter necessity to enter into the struggle that is Christ’s own struggle. We fast because Christ in us fasts. We pray because Christ in us prays. We forgive because Christ in us forgives. We love because Christ in us loves. We give because Christ in us gives. Such a life is a sign of contradiction, a repudiation of the world’s claims to be “normal” or “just the way things are.” The life of Christ is the true life of the world, the purpose of all things.

People came to Christ with this question: “What must we do to be saved?” Ultimately, the answer is, “Do Christ.” We walk in Him and He walks in us. This is the ascetic imperative. This is the crucified life of grace, the salvation of the world.

About Fr. Stephen Freeman

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



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109 responses to “The Ascetic Imperative – A Matter of Communion”

  1. Robert Law Avatar
    Robert Law

    “Among the more interesting experiences in my life was the two years spent in a Christian commune.”
    Why and how did it end?

  2. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    We were young. We sort of melted away as our lives took up their next steps. When I left, I started college. I remember the culture shock of being at college. One of my first courses was Sociology. My text book was marked up with comments that I scribbled in the margins critiquing the cultural assumptions of the text. On the other hand, another of my first courses was Greek. No culture problems – is was a relief and a joy to study. It became my major.

  3. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    So frequently we see an emphasis on Orthodox theology differentiated from other theology for good reasons. Nevertheless, this isn’t ultimately what feeds the soul with the bread of heaven. Communion with the Holy Trinity in all the meaning you describe is what feeds us and enlivens us, body and soul. Thank you for this timely article.

  4. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Quite so. Orthodox theology is not just “ontological” in its concepts – it is ontological in its content. It is only rightly “thought” when it is actually embodied. The life of a believer is the true content of theology. Everything else is talk.

  5. Sally Brower Avatar
    Sally Brower

    What I love about Orthodoxy as a Catechumen is that it is a life lived in communion, in community. It is thoroughly countercultural in its asceticism which is how I truly experience the fullness of life with our triune God.

  6. Dino Avatar

    I found the description of that fervent youth period of yours utterly fascinating. It actually reminded me of the youth period of Saint Joseph the Hesychast a bit. Of course, you might say that the key difference might be how his youth had strong anchors in tradition (although it was also utterly radical -and seemingly non-traditional for all around him at the time – early 20th century. You might also protest that his intensity was comparatively inconceivable (I don’t know how familiar you are with his early life). I note how later on, Saint Sophrony once met him (in Athos in Joseph’s later years) and exclaimed in amazement that, in his presence, it was impossible to escape the strong feeling that you have the ‘chief general commander’ of the spiritual arena right before you!
    His early life while still a layman was a testament to the visceral “repudiation of the world’s claims to be normal” – a young man consumed by a fire that was urging him to “Do Christ” as you said, and which later placed him at the very forefront of the spiritual arena, where extremely few have ever ventured.
    Even a fraction of such fervour as his can liberate us from the clasp of this secular world.

  7. Seraphim Avatar

    Hi Father Stephen,

    “Understanding the commandments and the discipline of putting them into practice is a matter of communion”

    Brings to mind the beatitudes where Christ says “when” you fast, not “if” you fast. We need to put all these things into practice because if we love Christ we will do His commandments. So, as you succinctly say: “God walks among us as we walk in His commandments.” Love it!

    Also, just want to say a big thank you. I have followed your blog off and on for more than a decade. I found it by accident. I was not Orthodox at the time. Your writings on shame helped me through a great time of individual despair….not knowing if God truly loved me and forgave me. I eventually made my way into the Orthodox Church. I was baptized last year at this time. My wife and our two youngest children also came into the the Orthodox Church.

    Thank you for all you do. I am sure your writings, more than you would ever believe, touch many people and help bring healing to them.

    Glory to God for All Things!


  8. Dean Avatar

    “If you feel no tension with the culture around you, then you have been swallowed alive and are being digested.”
    Father Stephen, Thank you for these words. I have felt like a salmon battling upstream for many years now.

  9. Margaret Avatar

    I find this blog post so comforting, because when I read these words they remind me to cease struggling to do all this “on my own” or “from my own heart and mind” I am not God. But with the words of the final paragraphs I am comforted knowing that Christ will do these things in me: “There is an ascetic imperative, an utter necessity to enter into the struggle that is Christ’s own struggle. We fast because Christ in us fasts. We pray because Christ in us prays. We forgive because Christ in us forgives. We love because Christ in us loves. We give because Christ in us gives. Such a life is a sign of contradiction, a repudiation of the world’s claims to be “normal” or “just the way things are.” The life of Christ is the true life of the world, the purpose of all things.
    People came to Christ with this question: “What must we do to be saved?” Ultimately, the answer is, “Do Christ.” We walk in Him and He walks in us. This is the ascetic imperative. This is the crucified life of grace, the salvation of the world.”

    Thank you Fr. Stephen! Glory to God for ALL Things!

  10. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Many years to you, your wife and family! May God grant you grace to walk in Him as He walks in you!

  11. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    I would add to your words the thought that we were specifically appointed to live in this time as the vessels of Christ. That is our purpose, nothing more. Scripture says, “Love endures all things.” I frequently think that the best, the absolute best, that we can do with these present times is to endure them. It can be more than enough.

  12. Margaret Avatar

    Thank you, Fr. Stephen, your encouraging words are very much appreciated and I believe you speak the truth about life in these present times.

  13. Andrew Avatar

    I was struck by a verse from the Psalms shared by Deacon Michael Hyatt once that I’d often glossed over. It’s particularly poignant in the KJV:

    “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom: a good understanding have all they that DO his commandments: his praise endureth for ever.”

    Or, as a professor in Bible school captured the same sentiment by saying, “the knowing is in the doing”. The idea is deepened more so now by my understanding as an Orthodox Christian of ‘knowing’ in an intimate sense not mere intellectual information.

  14. Cliff Avatar

    Father your time in the commune reminds me of my time in the Navigator Ministry (I lived in a communal house that was owned by them.) The result of every bible study was to apply to our lives what we learned. It was from their instruction that I learned to memorize and meditate on scripture, and that itself was an application of Joshua 1:8. Truly God uses both good and bad together to guide us, for there is no darkness in His presence.

  15. Byron Avatar

    If you feel no tension with the culture around you, then you have been swallowed alive and are being digested.

    This reminded me of another statement (paraphrased) you made on this blog:

    If you feel unable to pray, you have touched the wood of the cross

    I have had trouble praying for some time now. I have had no desire for it and have typically avoided it. When I have prayed, I have done little more than read prayers I had at hand.

    Today I went and walked around a park trail and decided to learn a prayer as I went (I have done this several times in the past). I walked, I prayed, I memorized. Throughout this time, I felt peace and the burdens I’ve been under were lifted. I wasn’t job hunting. I wasn’t digging for news. I wasn’t distracted by entertainment in its many forms. I wasn’t bored. I wasn’t shopping or even just “window shopping”. The passions of my life seemed to lose their grip in this simplicity. So much of what has been a part of my life lately was simply removed. I was at peace and I was aware of praying to God and not feeling shame, or concern, or annoyance, or anything else.

    I think too often we hear “communion” and think someone else needs to be physically present or that we need to be sweating blood in prayer with God. Perhaps it is more about the connectedness of all things in a life rightly lived? Right living brings us into communion; too often we think of this backwards and expect that a (forced) communion will make us live right(eously). I have been told by my Priest in the past that, if I lack love, just do things in a loving manner and God will fill my heart with love. But I have never thought of communion in this way. Many thanks for this writing, Father. Glory to God.

  16. Agata Avatar

    Thank you for this beautiful comment. You put in words what I have been feeling lately, including the difficulty to pray. I can barely keep the most minimal prayer rule. The only thing that ‘saves’ me a little is having a few prayers and Psalms memorized – thanks for that reminder to memorize more.

    I also wanted to comment (as Dean and you did) on that ‘tension with the culture’ Father described. I recently heard someone point out that the word culture has “cult” as its root. Culture is what we built ‘around’ the admiration of what we value most. That person was saying that a culture built on admiration of money and pleasure is worse than any other kind. And it is something that makes us enter the apocalyptic times… I wish I could retell it better, but this is the best I remember.

  17. Matthew Lyon Avatar
    Matthew Lyon

    Fr. Freeman,

    Hope you’ve heard the song Jesus Freak at least once.

    “If you feel no tension with the culture around you, then you have been swallowed alive and are being digested.” That is the picture. The theme of awakening the sleeper comes to mind. It’s always the same challenge I think here, personally and with others. And it’s the same problem as insobriety in us and others, how do you make some progress.

    While I think it’s important, very important, that we do what we can in the ways suited to us to awaken others through living and believing that this world is not normal, and we reinforce the same in ourselves and with the help of our brothers/sisters, and this leads to deep criticism of how we got here doctrinally – the fact is the average believer doing their best – I would never criticize this person. They do better than me I assume with obedience while I have all the reasons you should get to the point of obedience. Now, they go together, but obedience is better.

    Matthew Lyon

  18. Matthew Lyon Avatar
    Matthew Lyon

    Fr. Freeman,

    One more thought. I haven’t made this clear in all my attacks on Original Sin and Guilt, but the end goal is to open up the ascetical struggle as normal. Practically, I can’t see why people will endeavor when they think it is unnecessary, and this is what OS&G does to the imagination, it makes it unnecessary, at least in the Protestant context and to the extent that Orthodox are affected by this, or by invalid deductions, we won’t have ascetical strugglers.

    The logic employed in Protestantism, which makes being moral central, and asceticism useless and even evil, is that if God is the lone Actor in salvation necessarily, then I am passive. I won’t belabor the point with an essay but it’s true. Assurance of salvation becomes the Gospel. Knowing I’m saved by Christ, and nothing I have done or could do has any contribution, becomes the main sign that I am saved. I’ve tried lately to show that you have to assume an Originally Perfect Adam to believe this, and that this belief is almost as bad as Original Sin and Guilt on its own as it automatically necessitates Original Sin and Guilt. When that belief is removed, and “very good” meant for theosis is in place, the Gospels and what Christ “becomes”, and what we are to become, makes sense. The pattern of the Gospels alone, defining Gospel for what it is/was: Christus Victor, show the pattern: Exodus (monergism, God gets this done), Desert/demons (ascetical struggle, synergism), loyalty (the devotement of love), vindication/entry to Promised Land. Christ’s life follows this exact same pattern as He is New Adam.

    I keep saying this, but Protestant and other mutations, they or we, skip the desert and ask for Promised Land, when that’s not there Biblically, in fact it’s deliberately refuted over and over. The Orthodox Christian who trusts their Baptism and avoids asceticism does so by the same principle, the desert is removed as Exodus and assurance of final salvation are collapsed. Vindication by Resurrection is only for the Just, and you can only prove Just by means of loyalty, and you cannot train yourself to be loyal without asceticism. The means to loyalty are negated in the ignorance of protecting “the Glory of God” or emphasizing the positive effect of Holy Baptism.

    Exodus/Holy Baptism, desert/demons (this exile life), loyalty, vindication/Resurrection. This I think, at least somewhat, has to be in place to see asceticism as necessary/normal. It rubs against every sloth filled fiber, and every delusion of the imagination. But if you remove the logic of Scripture where desert/demons are issues, where death is an issue in the most negative way motivationally, then you will get assurance psychologically but it’s not really there. God moves alongside us every step in love, and this is assuring, but the focus will be on moving forward in Him, not living off a moment.

    There’s a scene in the Matrix where Cypher chooses to go back to the artificial world as he’d gotten tired of the desert, “Ignorance is bliss,” obviously not original but he was promised to have anything he wanted in the fake world if he gave Smith the access codes to the Zion Mainframe. If all this world is, is struggle, with no Promised Land, if we integrate with the thought, we become dejected, but that means we’ve accepted the world as normal, and this is the world in general: trading Life for non-life/death. If we refuse the desert/suffering, in the false assurance of salvation which in the end – is escapism – for whatever reason we have rejected the means to Promised Land/Kingdom.

    The only way I think people wake up is to realize they’ve been lied to, they’re being used, there is a conspiracy, and to feel as though they must fight back through struggle with the knowledge of the love of Christ and in imitation of Him who conquered.

    Didn’t mean to go on…

    Matthew Lyon

  19. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Yes. I appreciate you sharing this. May God give us grace for each day’s struggles.

  20. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Father, when you write that the Church is ontological in Her fullness, that explains a lot. My home parish had our 87th annual Lebanese Dinner Sat and Sun. Every able-bodied member and Catechumen participated in some way age 7 up. I hosted tours of our Sanctuary. This year I focused on the beauty and awe of the icons and the worship rather than theology per se. The feed back given to the Tour “chair” was quite good.
    Awe by the way is a root of venerate. I find that folks relate to awe more than venerate.

    Being a Cathedral Parish we have a big space including a 2.5 storey dome with Jesus, The Panocrator at the apex.

    Yet the much smaller 1 storey parish across town gave me the same sense of awe when I first entered 35 years ago. A deep ontological response that I am still investigating. I do not think there is an end to the depth of mercy revealed at the heart of that awe.

  21. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    I think it’s possible to overthink all of this. There are many problems out there. Christianity Today published an article with results from a survey – in which 43 percent of evangelicals said that Jesus is not God. There are other very disturbing results as well. We have, I think, long passed the time of correcting Protestant errors. We are in a time in which even those who think of themselves as believers are holding only the most thin version of loyalty to Christ. In that sense, we’re in a time of doing fundamental evangelism (at the very least). And, it’s incorrect to try to trace all of this back to various Protestant mistakes and say that it’s all their fault.

    Everyone in this culture – is under a relentless assault that is undermining the faith (to say the least). The “doctrine” of human beings that can accommodate the sexual revolution and consumerist pleasure-seeking is bearing the culture away. In the face of it, there is a growing “soft-take” on Jesus that meshes with all of this. Seminaries and other Christian educational institutions are frequently yielding to this – substituting various notions of social justice for true transformative asceticism. It is, of course, very inticing. Social Justice, most of the time, is nothing more than holding certain opinions – it’s cheap – morality in its worst form. It is exceedingly well-suited to the world of social media.

    I suspect that the survey given to the evangelicals would yield very embarrassing results were it given to Orthodox in America. No one is safe.

    Arguments are insufficient. Only the gospel enfleshed is sufficient. And, as we are noting, even that is a great struggle.

    God give us all grace for the day.

  22. Nathan Fischer Avatar
    Nathan Fischer

    Regarding the survey you shared, Father, I find it interesting that the number jumped so radically from 2020 to 2022 – the number of people who do not believe Jesus is God, but instead that He is only a teacher.

    I can’t help but wonder if so many staying home during the Pandemic and no longer attending their churches played a role in that shift. I understand why many did, and I am not trying to judge or accuse anyone of anything. It is what it is at this point. Without more information, I can’t say for sure what the reason might be, but perhaps it’s an example of: what we think often follows what we do, not the other way around.

    In a way, maybe they’re not describing a “belief” as much as a relationship. If we don’t see an icon rightly without venerating those depicted in the icon, then it makes sense that we won’t see Jesus as God if we relegate Him to words in books. If they’re not worshiping God in their churches but are now merely retaining a “belief in God” from the comfort of their homes on Sunday morning, then Jesus has actually become for them a teacher (perhaps “the greatest teacher), but not their God.

  23. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Things in the culture are shifting at an extremely quick pace. Some of that has to do with demographics. Surveys of Baby Boomers (like myself) describe a world wholly at odds with Gen-X or Z (or whatever they call it). The evangelization of the young is extremely poor (including within Orthodoxy itself).

    I think your insight that faith follows action is spot on.

    But, it is not for us to overly concern ourselves with large demographics. It is for us to do the small things at hand (because that is the place of action). God give us grace.

  24. Nathan Fischer Avatar
    Nathan Fischer

    Yes, you are right, Father. I see things like this, and my brain goes into “let’s figure it out” mode. It’s just an impulse, and one I don’t even always realize I’m engaging in.

    I have greatly appreciated your comments over the years regarding doing the small things at hand. It helps orient me almost daily (or, in my case, more likely numerous times a day), in what is otherwise a very disorienting world.

  25. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    At the wrap up of my parish’s Dinner, my wife and I commented on a wonderful occurrence: at one table a bunch of young men(early 20’s, late teens) sat together unwinding and enjoying each other after a couple of days labor. The leading member of the group who was recently tonsured sub-deacon. He is a stellar sub-deacon and always a joy.

  26. Dino Avatar

    Father, Matthew, Nathan,
    one reason I mentioned earlier that I was fascinated by the parallels of youthful spiritual fervour between Father and the [young] Saint Joseph the Hesychast was that despite the generational gap (and the cultural one too), the key common element is once again the radical rejection of this world and all that is within it.
    The greater the fire of faith, the more one becomes separated from this world.
    The greater the connection to all –brought about by the fire (of the Spirit) we ought to continuously rekindle–, the greater the detachment from all.
    All spiritual knowledge without some fire is helpless, whereas even a limited amount of knowledge when accompanied by fervent divine fire does the job.
    May God grant us more of it in this fire-quenching world.

  27. Matthew Lyon Avatar
    Matthew Lyon

    Fr. Freeman,

    I don’t think I’m overthinking it. I think, if I’m told to live an ascetical lifestyle, there must be a logic to it. That logic is destroyed in most of Christianity except in the sense of being moral, and this is where the expansion of “what is moral” is taking place. I’m saying you can’t logically expand on real Christian morality; you can only act it out in different circumstances. Morality – the kind you denounce, is expandable once you ditch the logic of asceticism (Exodus/desert/etc.) – as morality was adherence to a fiat rule without a logic behind it other than God’s prerogative. What is the underlying logic to Christian morality? Love. But how does it play out? Keeping the Commandments, as they are the means to love God and neighbor. When Christ had obeyed the rules for me so that I could go free, and I am now perfect in His sight, but the rules were in many instances seemingly arbitrary. Christ kept the Law so that, I, the sinner, who could not and would not, can have the perfect obedience of the Law credited to me. I am now perfected. And He takes the infinite wrath of God due me on Himself. Just standard stuff here.

    But underlying the whole Law was love for God and neighbor -It was always ascetical. This Protestants destroyed utterly. Today, if you just repeat the equivalent of Justification by Faith Alone culturally, as the culture demands for you to be accepted, you are justified in the sight of the culture. All you have to do is pray this prayer/repeat this mantra, and voila, the bullseye is off your back. It’s simple to be loved by the world, you just say what they say, you don’t have to really do anything – at first – but later it turns into a full-blown liturgy of the demonic. And it’s simple to be accepted by God in Protestantism as you just say this and that, blame Adam for your failings, and get a pass on never doing anything, as doing something might actually mean you are trying to work your way to heaven with Pelagius. The obedient Christian has to literally bypass their own doctrine to obey Scripture, and this many do out of respect for God and Scripture. Why pray? God knows and determines the future. The only reason is because the Scripture says to pray. The deterministic logic would destroy prayer, but Scripture is taken at face value.

    If we need to fight, we must feel that we are in a fight. Protestantism and every school of thought that minimizes fight for assurance and comfort now, makes Christianity into a psychological commodity. The image is always one of athletic or military dedication Biblically. The only people who take the way of the athlete, is the one who takes Scripture fairly literally. But Orthodoxy has held it out all along.

    As to the fact that we are under assault, I know. Realizing that the ongoing fight/schism between the Christianities of the West has led to the secularization, led to the doubts and criticisms, led to the backlash from atheism to modernist takes on Jesus, led to the reestablishment of the aspirations of pagans – makes those aware of the actual Biblical alternative want to bring it to bear on the madness. The doubt over Scripture is largely due to Protestants trying to beef up Sola Scriptura contra Papal Infallibility by introducing a million more manuscripts into the discussion of the “original text”. Atheism is a giving up on a Christian theodicy where God meticulously ordains everything. It’s too easy to criticize Western theology as soon as you are safe to do so. In one sense we can say this was all predicted, Christ doesn’t return to a perfect world after all. But, to me, I hold out the possibility that if things are wrapping up, that a truly Biblical/Traditional apologetic arises which will open a door to hearing the Gospel and doing it – and it will be found in Orthodoxy, and in people who are discovering what early Christians really believed because what the world is facing, is more a return of the gods than it is secularization. I predict that as Christianity wanes and Satan is comfortable to be in the open, we will see a more dramatic rise in religious affiliation of the Pagan or Gnostic sort. But who can confront Pagan and Gnosticism? It’s not going to be Protestants, some Catholics maybe. We have untapped resources.

    Last, I keep coming back to this, when Christians denounce immorality, they often only do so by reference to the command, but not to the logic behind the command. This may make no real difference in how we are treated, but by doing so, the ascetical path is hidden. If I am meant to love God and neighbor, if I am meant for participation in God’s Family, etc. – then restrictions on behavior are not arbitrary, they are medicinal or “nutritional” – they support health. And you can play out logically the Commandments and their implications and see how they curb selfishness and promote selflessness. The Jubilee comes to mind. Some people are going to get out of a jam, others will be forgiving that “jam”, and all ideally will celebrate this. But simply, if you want to figure out how to love your neighbor, you’re not going to mistreat them, and you will deal in fairness. The Law is ascetical. Love your neighbor as yourself is ascetical. Fr. Reardon just recently said that we’ve traded this for, “Treat me the way I demand to be treated.” not so golden anymore and much more “iron”. The iron rule turns into the iron-fist.

    All along Protestants in the culture wars never utilized a view of sin defining sin as that which makes you selfish, untrusting of God to take care of you, the idea of unclean was completely misunderstood. Sin is the opposite of faith, not the opposite of obedience to an arbitrary law. The Biblical injunction is often, faithlessness. Faith is the opposite of selfishness, as selfishness arises due to mistrust in God. If you can’t trust Him you can’t “faith” or “work-faith” Him.

    What I’m getting at is, there is an ascetical ideal of the Christian life that was mostly never modeled. The culture war we feel is in part due to this. Now, it wouldn’t make an Orthodox country/person immune from the temptation to mix allegiances out of fear, but hopefully it would make for a few more men with chests. The reactions to Christian morality have never been along the lines of ascetical ideals (here that is), but arbitrary rules. And the “progressive” Christians see the OT and the NT through a lens which has no vision for ascetical pursuit of selfless love in a Tradition of medicinal development/trials. They have just expanded the Protestant “morality”, added to, in fear of survival more than anything. They don’t have Saints who are perfected ascetically, they have “forgiven sinners” on their way to heaven. How to get there? Say the right things. The SJW are just like them, they just have to change with the tide. They often, just say what will keep them out of trouble preemptively.

    Death to self, to the selfishness, to the impulsive short-term self, to the possibility of neuro-disadvantaging yourself for selfishness, narcissism, etc. – these most people sort of understand. People don’t understand how arbitrary rules get you heaven or damnation, even if Jesus makes the provision. People understand, usually, AA, counseling, therapy, that they are not the person they wish they were, etc. But they make no connection to these and Christianity as morality is legal. I may be too optimistic now that I’m Orthodox as before I was totally pessimistic, that if people understood, the reason I cannot really get a blessing from God on my marriage or as me as a husband perhaps – if it is nothing but a selfish endeavor for security/pleasure/to avoid loneliness/etc. – because that is the antithesis of what God designed me to be – and in the process people/persons are made into servants of my pathologies and manipulations – and I live out a life of fear and not faith, that’s why it wouldn’t really be “blessed”. It’s the selfishness that ruins it.

    If people reacted to Christian morality, it should be more like in the early centuries, they should think we’re crazy and that it’s impossible to live it out. But that’s not the reaction. It’s the accusation of hate, both for others and basically for ourselves. This reaction I don’t remember in any of my reading of the early Church. I know the reasons are different with people who identify with their fleeting psychology, but still, if Christians were ascetical, truly, the reaction would be one of strangeness and maybe ridicule, but not usually personal offense. But that’s how it plays out when moral means obey arbitrary law. it’s not arbitrary, but when it’s reduced to “legal” and not ascetical, that’s the response, and it’s somewhat valid.

    So, yes, the Gospel is central in all of this. Christ conquers that we may conquer with Him. “If you put to death the deeds of the flesh, you shall live.”

    I don’t mean to make these so long; I don’t know how to condense it well.

  28. Alan Avatar

    So much great stuff in this post Father. Thank you!

  29. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    To put the matter more clearly – by “overthinking,” I mean working out the entire Protestant problem regarding everything. It is an important thought for you, but it becomes too much (for me). My point is that the problems confronting Protestants are far more immediate than whatever their historical wrong-turns might have been. Those sort of historical Protestants are simply disappearing as the culture swallows them whole. At the same time, even Orthodoxy stands in the same danger. The culture doesn’t care about original sin, justification, morality, or any of the classical conversations. The culture has moved on and destroying the world in a far more fundamental level. It is for us to get on with living an Orthodox life, in the small ways that present themselves. We cannot save this civilization. It’s historical outcome is in the hands of God (as was Rome, or Byzantium, or Medieval Europe, etc.). What belongs to us is more immediate. My fear when I caution about “overthinking” is that it’s easy to get lost in an analysis that becomes a distraction from the things that are at hand.

  30. Alan Avatar

    Forgive me Father. It seems that Matthew Lyon is simply making the same points that I’ve seen you make, many times on this blog. I always appreciated them when you made them and I appreciate them coming from Matthew.

  31. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Yes, I see your point. I don’t disagree with him. I came down too hard and I’ve removed that comment. I’m at the beach this week (with my two wonderfully loud grandsons in a small space). I’m a little overwhelmed, off and on.

  32. Matthew Lyon Avatar
    Matthew Lyon

    Fr. Freeman,

    You’re more right than wrong, at least about me. Finding the cause of an error or cause of conditioning doesn’t fix the problem, but it may motivate you to want to, at least for yourself. I’m not trying to convince you to do something different than what you do, I just regularly feel the need for the return to the world of Orthodoxy/early Christian witness as this period knew how to deal with the nutso landscape, the gods, the challenge of true Christian morality. We are unprepared to the extent that we lose their/our Apostolic mindset, which is why it must be contended for. We must return to consciously to a repudiation of death and Satan’s influences. To leave Life, you’ve got one other option. If there was ever a time to be confident that Christianity is true, surprisingly, it’s now – and it has shown itself by the principle of the impossibility of the contrary. But my concern is the same as yours to find what it is that gets people thinking, “I’m going to have to pick up this cross now.” Yes, among those who wish to have the Communion of Christ’s sufferings, it is an invitation to a depth most of us do not know well, or only have memories of. My greatest hope for life in the Body of Christ, is to find people who will carry the Orthodox imagination/worldview, and here are my cards – who will be a help to me and I to them – as we live out exile life. That’s going to be a custom bumper sticker for me. Instead of “Life is Good”, or “Salt Life”, or whatever… “Exile Life”. Disneyland is going to come crashing down and those who wish to continue in the illusion will have to bow to those who will grant them access to the illusion. Christians should be deepening relationships now and encouraging faithfulness now, mutually, in the Church.

    Matthew Lyon

  33. Alan Avatar

    Again, forgive me Father.
    Enjoy the beach. GO VOLS!

  34. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Yes. How to speak in the present moment is a daily challenge. I remind myself (and others) that creation itself is eloquent in its support of the truth of the gospel. If people are arguing in a manner that is actually contrary to nature (a common thing at present), then nature will, in the end, rebuke them. Even Orthodoxy, for all of its depth and seeming complexity (to some), is actually quite simple with the very eloquence that is the speech of nature itself.

    That we actually acknowledge suffering, and preach a God who has entered into its very depths, invited us to join Him there, and from there gone forth in victory, is the very pattern of our faith and the Orthodox life. I’ve long ago come to the conclusion that if it’s not “ontological” (a matter of being), then it’s just ideological, a matter of make-believe. Juridical accounts of morality and such are that – just make-believe. Only being is real (as it is grounded in Being).

    Living as normal a life in union with Christ is an eloquent answer. We may have to do so for many generations for it to be heard by the culture around us. Orthodoxy will have much to suffer before that comes about.

    BTW, thank you for your patience with me.

  35. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    This year’s football season is torture (as a late-in-life Vols fan). The Florida game – I was taking part in a retreat and purposely ignored the game until I thought it was over. As it was, I caught the last 17 seconds during which we almost lost.

    I will be on the road Saturday during the Alabama game, and will also be purposely ignoring the game. Should the Vols win (mathematically possible), I will watch the game Sunday afternoon in replay. If they lose, I’ll weep with those who weep, while acknowledging that there are Alabama fans among my readers. God causes His rain to fall on the just and the unjust…but Tennessee wants a victory to rain on them (for the first time since 2006).

    I actually mention the Vols and Alabama at the beginning of one of the chapters in the forth-coming book. The chapter deals with envy, go figure.

  36. Alan Avatar

    Great stuff Father. Delighted to hear about the mention of The Third Saturday in October in your upcoming book. Although being the eternal pessimist that I am, I assume it will once again be the Tide smoking the cigars on Sat night. Ugh.
    The game vs Florida probably took tens years off the end of my life. At one point during that game, my beloved wife made me stop watching and sent me outside to mow the lawn.

  37. Nikolaos Avatar

    “…43 percent of evangelicals said that Jesus is not God”


    I always wondered why Protestant Christians call Him “Jesus” whereas Orthodox almost always call Him “Christ”. In Greece at least, in day to day conversations I don’t think anyone ever uses the name “Jesus”, we always say “Christ”. We do of course in prayer.

  38. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    It’s just cultural. There really is no Englis equivalent for “Panagia,” for example, when speaking of the Mother of God. Oddly, when I was an Anglican, it was the Liberals in the Church who avoided saying “Jesus” and used other terms such as “Christ.” The simple name Jesus is associated in some circles with the poor, uneducated Evangelicals and Pentecostals. I have reasons why I prefer it often in English speech and writing. Often, it is a preference for the personal and a desire not to be abstract. But I use both Christ and Jesus as a matter of course. If there’s too much formality, I find it off-putting. Also, I have a deep devotion to the Name.

  39. Mark Spurlock Avatar
    Mark Spurlock

    I much enjoyed the post and shared with my two children “If you feel no tension with the culture around you, then you have been swallowed alive and are being digested.”

    “Tension,” however, I think is not an entirely negative word because it describes something unwilling to let go. You mentioned, Father Stephen, that more than half a century has passed since you quit listening to popular music. Tension can occur in a marriage, but divorce often releases most of it. (Besides being digested, then, I suppose one could also opt for the life of the desert, but in that case I would not be on the Internet engaging with the give and take of your blog!)

    Much of the time I think humans argue semantics because the nature of our disagreement (and the tension that accompanies it) arises from the words we choose to frame our views. The survey about “Evangelicals,” for example, requires a working definition of the word “Evangelical.” (Incidentally, by clicking through I could look at the survey data and see that it covers different denominations and their responses.) Given that we are discussing groups that ought be defined by their beliefs rather than how they label themselves, a poll about beliefs is inherently problematic. You write that the survey might be embarrassing for the Orthodox as well…but if someone denies Jesus is God, would you define that person as Orthodox?

    I recall a woman I used to argue with years ago who was of the position that Christianity at this point was purely cultural. She believed none of it that matters, but (much as Christmas has been appropriated by the prevailing culture, which seems now to want to give it back except for the economic activity it generates) she seemed to see “Christian” as part of her Western identity and ethnic inheritance. She wanted the “p” in WASP without, you know, actually being Protestant.

    All of this is to say as someone raised Protestant and who loves very many Protestants, I think it is better to explore the beliefs and practices that align with a true faith and discuss stumbling blocks, rather than critique our fellow laborers. To be sure, a desire for concise language does cause us to reach for shorthands, but just as Orthodox connotes a certain minimum set of beliefs, the beliefs that define a Protestant are not completely flexible.

    In class this past Sunday, we discussed the Chalcedonian schism, which, when I read the text describing it, I could not even understand how the disputed language differed. Our teacher said that contemporary thought is that the schism itself was caused by trying to translate the concept into a language that had no equivalent word (much as you say about “Panagia”).

    And I think that takes us back to your post. The Word was made flesh so we can see how to live, rather than having to grapple with all the inadequacies of human language inherent in written doctrine: “Show, rather than tell,” as they say in creative writing classes. A person ignorant of theology may not be able to formulate exactly what is meant by consubstantiation but can understand the parable of the Good Samaritan.

    Perhaps that is what Jesus meant in saying, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children.”

    Finally, as to Jesus and Christ, I think what you write of yourself is true of me as well. Jesus has always seemed like a personal name, whereas Christ is “the,” as Peter proclaims. I can talk more comfortably about Jesus because as a person we see what he did and read what he said. When we start to talk of the Christ, I feel–not being a priest!–much more like Job and want to put my hand to my mouth.

  40. Mark Spurlock Avatar
    Mark Spurlock

    Father Stephen,

    Also, I am happy for you and your family and the time you have been enjoying together at the beach! It is truly heart-warming.

  41. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    I meant no criticism of Evangelicals in citing those statistics. Indeed, the article was in Christianity Today, and Evangelical magazine. My intention was to point out something about Christianity’s moment in the present culture. Those numbers of wrong belief among Evangelicals, who have long been the most “orthodox,” statistically of American Protestants, simply point to something new and of note – even alarming.

    I noted as well that the Orthodox would likely not fair very well in such a quiz. Of course, we could say that this would be true of the “nominally Orthodox,” but we bear a very serious responsibility for them. If they are only “nominal” where are we failing?

    All of this is quite striking compared to 50 years or so ago (maybe 60 now). The culture did not have the same aggressive secularism, nor the ubiquitous presence of the digital world. On television, the government sponsored ads encouraging people to “attend the church or synagogue of your choice.” At present, the faith is under assault across-the-board.

    As a side note, I think I would disagree about the Chalcedonian Council. I really don’t think the matter turned on language (though that’s a common way to explain it). Rather, it turned on a breakdown in trust and political interference. The Chalcedonians were suspected of Nestorianism in their use of “two natures.” Its opponents championed the language of St. Cyril who had been the hero of the earlier council that condemned Nestorius. There was also a tension between Alexandria (Cyril) and Constantinople (home base of the Chalcedonians). There was a failure of love more than a failure of language.

  42. Dean Avatar

    Father Stephen,
    Glad you can spend time with your grandchildren. The time we have passed with ours through the years have been tiring, at times, but joyful. I cherish the memories, especially those of camping together. Monday, Columbus Day, we had breakfast with our two youngest, a 17 year old and his 14 year old sister. They still want to be with us…though now we are a much smaller part of their lives with studies, sports, cheer, friends, etc. I remember with fondness my own grandparents, together picking berries, feeding chickens, small things, but they shared their time with us. And my grandma’s yeast rolls!
    I can still smell that delicious aroma in her kitchen. Well, enough of this old man’s ruminations.

  43. Alan Avatar

    Dean, I for one, thank you for your ruminations. I loved reading of your experiences.

  44. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Father, Matthew, and Alan,
    I missed the deleted comments, so I haven’t read them. What I have noticed in myself and in Matthew is a frequent referable back to the problems with Protestantism and specifically with Protestant theology. Matthew regularly and specifically speaks against Reform and Reformists’ arguments. I have a tendency to lump all Protestants together as an example of one colossal blunder of deadly self-righteousness that kills bodies and souls.

    Having said these things, Father often corrects me, and occasionally it seems Mathew on this occasion. There are important issues that I know that I’m dealing with when I outrageously bash Protestants. I reflect on these issues that pertain to my personal history (I have not been a Protestant-thank God : ) ) and the impact that Protestantism has had on the dominant culture in the US, and I realize that my ‘gut’ reaction has a lot to do with this personal history.

    With such baggage, it’s pretty easy to focus on arguments and philosophical and theological distinctions and logic. But I believe what Father Stephen says is very accurate and true, there is no better argument than the life one lives, that is of course if we genuinely bear the image of God. It may be a ‘silent’ argument. But it is the actual living of the truth and the power of the Lord, not so much about or through our own self-interests, shame, and covering of our shame or power-seeking ways. In this latter way of living, the influence of this culture has its full force upon us all. But in the Way of Christ, such a path is delicate and unforced, as Christ knocks in His love for us rather than bashes down the door.

    I sincerely appreciate Father Stephen’s corrections for me, and I’m particularly impressed that Matthew is willing to receive Father’s response (whatever it was) graciously.

    These lessons on the simple living of the commandments are indeed a hard path to follow. As our Lord teaches, love endures and is gracious.

  45. Mark Spurlock Avatar
    Mark Spurlock

    Father Stephen,

    I was more trying to contribute in my comment than to refute or disagree with you; indeed, your remark about the survey said, “It’s incorrect to try to trace all this back to various Protestant mistakes and say it’s all their fault.”

    A personal irony is that some of the older Protestants who I would consider the best exemplars of Christian faith for me over my adult life are also those most concerned that I have been attending an Orthodox church. They are fully aware of the same sea change at work in the world around us, but instead of being pleased that I have begun to live much more in the past year as they might want, their misconceptions (I think) about Orthodoxy have deprived us of what should be mutual joy.

    For me, therefore, important distinctions between Orthodoxy and Protestantism are something that I don’t deny, but can at times seem like family members arguing with one another while a horrible sickness is spreading through the house. Historically, I think of the tragedy of the Fourth Crusade.

    “There was a failure of love more than a failure of language.”

    Yes, although I don’t know the specifics in the Chalcedonian case, this is generally true in that, with enough love, we will work through the failures of language. A very good pop song (in my opinion) about this subject is “The Living Years” by Mike and the Mechanics…if you want to listen to something more recent than 1971 (circa 1988).

  46. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    The family stuff can be problematic – and says much about family. Generally, I had the support of my wider family (though most had no idea what was going on in my life). My parents became Orthodox some five years after me, at age 79, and gave a good witness to the faith with their few remaining years (my mother died on the 6th anniversary of her Chrismation).

    My late Archbishop Dmitri of Dallas often cautioned against “speaking ill of where you came from.” He said that it was quite likely where you first encountered Christ. That was certainly true for me. Of course, he converted in 1940, and the world he came from was starkly different than the religious world at present. He was a very generous man, gentle, and kind to a fault.

    I have had a number of opportunities to speak to groups of Coptic Christians over the past number of years – and have generally found them to be acceptably “Chalcedonian” as far as anyone could actually tell. They have been persecuted for a very, very long time, yet still profess the faith.

  47. Matthew Lyon Avatar
    Matthew Lyon

    Dee of St. Hermas, Fr. Freeman (just the last paragraph),

    I get what you’re saying. I don’t bash Protestants; I bash unbiblical theology. People are not my target. I will never offer criticism to a sincere believer doing their best. I keep in contact with many of my Reformed friends. Today, we’re talking about the social breakdown, and I bring up that Americans never had (as I said above) asceticism modeled for them. I did not bring up why, just that it didn’t happen. The monastic ideal was never really here. But it is the corrective to overblown masculinism and feminism, and the search for identities that create meaning as your identity is consciously in Christ as you have renounced all else. The ideal, is upheld. But when you denigrate such a thing as impossible or foolish, when Jesus and Paul were single, and all along underneath the “impossibility” it traces back to a fatalistic anthropology with Original Sin and Guilt, then you actually say that the ideal is not ideal. Now, there are severe consequences as it relates to femininity and masculinity. We talked about this for 15 minutes and it all resonated. I did not wish to press the conversation further, but I mentioned that historically, many Saints were monastic or celibate martyrs.

    Last night at 12:30, my mind doesn’t shut off often, I was thinking about this whole topic. I was thinking, you know, if you were going to emulate some NT Christian, who would it be? Now, you can answer that, but I can tell you who it wouldn’t be if you are an American Christian: St. John the Forerunner. Paul, maybe? Peter, surely for many of us, or at least we identify with him or Thomas. And then it hit me, Orthodox actually model in part, the ascetical life after St. John the Baptist for the simple reason that Jesus said he was the greatest of the prophets.

    To end, I’ll quote Jesus Freak by DC Talk (since Fr. Freeman said he lived among Jesus Freaks)

    There was a man from the desert with naps in his head
    The sand that he walked was also his bed
    The words that he spoke made the people assume
    There wasn’t too much left in the upper room

    With skins on his back and hair on his face
    They thought he was strange by the locusts he ate
    The pharisees tripped when they heard him speak
    Until the king took the head of this Jesus freak

  48. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    One of the more interesting moments in my ministry came after a reference I made to “Jesus Freaks” in a catechumens’ class at the Church several years ago. An older teen in the class had never heard the phrase so I explained its historical occurrence. Well, teen that she was, she went home and googled the term. Lo, and behold, my name was mentioned in the article. Don’t know who wrote the wikipedia article on the Jesus Movement (or contributed that part in it), there were some factual errors, but my name was mentioned prominently. Next Sunday, she told me about it, and was impressed beyond measure. Fleeting fame. You just never know when it’s going to pop up out there (or disappear).

  49. Byron Avatar

    I was thinking, you know, if you were going to emulate some NT Christian, who would it be?

    I’ve always tended towards the Panagia. Working out my humility in life, no doubt (among so many other things).

  50. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman
    St Raphael is not a New Testament Saint but one I deeply honor and pray to. My parish played a significant role in his canonization and our icon of him was the Proto-icon written just prior to his official canonization.
    Pray for us Saint Raphael of Brooklyn. As I honor him, I also remember in thanksgiving the original founders of the Holy Temple in which I am blessed to worship who endured being exiled from their native land and families and once they settled here continued to be persecuted being spat on in the streets and called vile names. Yet persevered in the faith.

    I am blessed to worship with the ancestors of these founders and continue to be humbled by their witness. That is about as much as I can aspire to.

  51. Heather Avatar

    Fr. Stephen, I am reminded of a farm cat we brought in a few years ago. He was a relocated feral cat, completely unused to humans and basically wild. Let’s just say he was skittish and unfriendly. But he seemed to deeply admire an older male cat who was already here at the farm.

    Now, the thing with this older cat is that he spends his life in complete relaxation, sunbathing with his belly to the sky and being petted by whoever happens to be passing by. He feels totally secure here.

    Despite their differences, the younger cat would imitate whatever the older cat did. If the older cat lounged on the front porch, the younger one would lounge nearby in the same posture. The older cat liked to sleep under the front stairs, sprawled out on his side, and in time, so did the younger cat; if we walked over the stairs, he would startle but soon get back to his state of relaxation, almost like the older cat. It took him a while (you could tell it was against his instinct) but as time went by he became more and more like the one he imitated. Never quite as friendly, but friendly enough that if I held out my hand, he would push his head under it.

    All this to say that perhaps this is a picture of one of your points here. When we behave a certain way because of Christ, we gradually become more like him.

  52. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    I sincerely admire your distinction concerning what you criticize.

    I’m honest and flawed and a sinner. If I “bash” people because it is people not philosophy or theology that attempt to justify what people do to hurt others. And I’m referring bodily harm, not just hurt feelings. Perhaps for you Protestantism has nothing to do with such behavior. However for me, all I will say here, is that I have a different outlook.

    You describe people “doing their best”. However I don’t see most doing their best, rather I see people do whatever might come easiest. “Best” seems to require a lot more work than what is commonly taken on.

    I apologize for what might come across as contrarian. I could explain my position if it should be called that. But I’m not sure such an explanation would be fruitful. Instead, I still hold to what Father Stephen says. It’s not so much what people say they think but what they do in their behavior and what they hold in their hearts (I’m not referring to theology or philosophy) in the manner of love that counts.

    Father, please forgive me for this interjection and the tone. May God continue to bless your work and forgive me, a sinner.

  53. Nikolaos Avatar


    I have always been quick to reject Protestantism and any non-Orthodox Christianity. Recently I came across and watched numerous testimonies in the “One for Israel Ministry” YouTube channel. It seems to me that the Jewish people that came to love Christ, mostly managed to do so through an encounter with a Protestant friend or encounter. Since then, the thought occurred to me (logismos) that the Grace of God works through everyone and who He seems appropriate for the salvation of man.

    Now, I still thank God that I have found my way to the only true faith, Orthodoxy, but remain humbled by the work of non-Orthodox Christians and try to focus more on myself than what I see their theological shortcomings.

  54. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    If I might continue to be bold, I will add that I only met Christ for the first time in the Orthodox Church. I wasn’t a Christian until I came into ‘the’ Church. And I know this is not true for most of your readers, but it might shed some light on why or how I might see things differently.

    Last, I wholeheartedly do not believe that people are better just because they are members of the Orthodox Church, but I will say that it is the body of Christ. And as you say, this has to do with the ontological reality of the Church rather than mere talk. This is a simple fact rather than a premise or a theological thesis.

    Also, I reflected on what Nikolaos said about using the name Jesus rather than Christ in prayer. I have a slightly different take on that topic as well. I have come across people in my life whose name is Jesus. It isn’t common, but it is a given name to boys. However, I’ve never heard of a person named Christ other than the Son of God. In my prayers to Christ, I may pray, “Lord Jesus Christ…” as I would in the Jesus prayer. But my heart prevents me from praying just “Jesus….” alone without acknowledging and embracing His relation to me as Lord and Savior. I’m only making an observation about my own tendencies, which seem like they might be similar to Nikolaos’.

    Once upon a time (a few decades back, by my reckoning), a Protestant asked me whether I “knew Jesus”. And at the time, I wasn’t Christian, but I answered yes (who hasn’t heard of Jesus?). But in honesty, I’m not sure I even know myself, let alone fathom who (as God and man) Jesus is, other than Christ Crucified, who has suffered as I and others have suffered and loves sinners, such as the likes of me. Sometimes, I sense a certain amount of presumptuousness when people claim that they know Him.

    As far as I know, we only ‘know’ by embodiment. That’s a very different kind of knowing, as far as I know. We eat the body and the blood of the Lamb. Perhaps it is better to say that it is Jesus Christ who knows us? I don’t recall in our prayers that we say things like “I know….” but that “I believe…”. Is this a false distinction? Can we believe with complete conviction and yet find the reality of Christ beyond our capacity to know?

    Dear Father, please forgive me for my rambling.
    Thank you for your patience, and may God continue to bless your work.

  55. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Dear Nikolaos,
    Thank you for your reflections. Good lessons. Indeed you are right. I have enough logs in my own eyes to worry about.

  56. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    These comments last I made might look odd, but I wrote and submitted my last comment to Father Stephen before reading Nikolaos’ last comment to me.

  57. Nikolaos Avatar

    Dear Dee

    I share most of what you mention and I am always amazed at how your mindset (phronema) is so similar to Greek Orthodox traditional Christians, despite your very different background and having joined the Church at an adult age. This common phronema shows that there are no ethnic boundaries when it comes to life in Christ.

    My view (and I could be completely wrong) is that those who mainly call Him Jesus, focus more on His humanity, whereas those who call Him Christ, focus more on His Divinity. This might explain why in day to day Greek expressions, we always say Christ (in fact we say “my Christ” as it is common to use “my” in affectionate terms, like my Dee…) and only in prayer the full name Jesus Christ is used. Just a thought.

  58. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Dee, Nikolaos, et al
    I have come to think of believers less as individuals and more as examples or instances of things beyond themselves (at least I think of them this way in certain circumstances). So, in speaking with a Protestant (of one stripe or another), I’m aware simultaneously that I’m not speaking to someone who “invented” his own point of view, but inherited it, or was absorbed by it, etc. To some degree, this is true for us as Orthodox as well. At one point I might find myself speaking to the 16th century (as though it had become the person in front of me), or mid-19th century, etc. Many times it’s just the madness of post-modern America doing the talking.

    Beneath these things, of course, are persons, the image of God possessed of infinite worth and value no matter what they might be channeling in their religious life.

    Fr. Georges Florovsky once wrote, and I think it was prophetic in a way. He described the religious experience of the West as a tragedy (and there’s no other way to describe something that became over 30,000 denominations and such). He said of the Orthodox that “this tragedy must be reendured and relived, precisely as one’s own, and its potential catharsis must be demonstrated in the fullness of the experience of the Church and patristic tradition.”

    Matthew is, I think, a good example of this. Entering Orthodoxy, he is (probably of necessity) also having to explore and understand the tragedy of his own origins (Reformed Christianity). Most of us are like him in that same way – we have to work through the narrative of our life and see how it has come to be what it is.

    There is, as well, a tragedy within Orthodox life. It is not, I think, the kind of tragedy that wrecked our worship and liturgical inheritance, but it is the tragedy wrought by centuries of persecution and oppression. The present distress in the Church (such as the severed communion of Moscow and Constantinople, etc.) is nothing new – but only the latest act in a tragic play that has been enacted over and over for centuries. We are in need of healing, but it’s going to take a much longer time. I wish I could see through it, but I cannot. I can only pray.

    My hesitancies when I moderate our discussion is mostly caused by always trying to remember that our conversation is being read by many others (who say nothing). I want us to speak the truth to one another, not practicing a false hospitality. But I’m cautious about generalizations that can dismiss large groups of people without needing to.

    I have to say that I’m always fascinated by the variety of experience and background our community of conversation brings to the table. We are all of us, “re-enduring and reliving the tragedy” of Western Christianity “precisely as our own.” The point of that reliving is to heal it within us.

    I would submit, asking your forgiveness, that my small book, Everywhere Present, is an example of re-living the tragedy that created modernity’s “two-storey universe.” It represents having digested it, made it my own, and lived into the answer that is the life of Orthodoxy. It is the same path for us all – whether we can write about it or not.

    Nikolaos, I’m not very happy about the Protestant mission to the Jews. It is filled with many errors. However, I am reminded of St. Paul’s statement:

    Some indeed preach Christ even of envy and strife; and some also of good will: The one preach Christ of contention, not sincerely, supposing to add affliction to my bonds: But the other of love, knowing that I am set for the defence of the gospel. What then? notwithstanding, every way, whether in pretence, or in truth, Christ is preached; and I therein do rejoice, yea, and will rejoice.

    Phil. 1:15-18

    The original “missions to the Jews” in Israel quickly changed their focus and mostly worked to convert Orthodox Palestinians to Protestantism. Today, there is a bizarre theory of eschatology that drives this work – part of a strange mix of geo-politics and American religion.

    But, “nevertheless, Christ is preached.” Sigh.

  59. Dean Avatar

    I have not connected with you in a while. It is wonderful to see how you have grown in the Orthodox faith these past years, I’m sure, surpassing me and my paltry efforts. God is so good to us. I enjoy reading your posts and I note your tender spirit.
    Father is right. We go with what we’ve inherited, we use the cards we have been dealt. Your background is so different than mine, coming as you do from a Native American background and viewing our culture with those lenses. I inherited my own, as we all do. I grew up evangelical. I was a fish swimming in the only water I knew. Yet even there God was merciful to me and pointed me to His Son Christ Jesus. I did not have the fullness of faith, but I followed Him as best I knew. Long story short, at 49 my wife and I entered the Orthodox Church, for which I am, and will be, eternally grateful. It truly is “the pillar and ground of truth.”
    Because we join the heavenly liturgy as we celebrate it here on earth, it never grows old, tiresome or redundant. It is always alive, with “times of refreshing,”
    as the book of Acts mentions. I feel literally “reborn” each time I partake of His blood and body in the chalice. So… different backgrounds, for sure, Dee. But oneness in our one Lord, one faith, one baptism, One Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church.

  60. Mark Spurlock Avatar
    Mark Spurlock

    Thank you for that comment, Father Stephen. To appropriate your description of our need of healing, I find much balm in it.

    One aspect of Orthodox worship I have much appreciated is the focus on God and trying to attune ourselves to that experience while shutting out distracting thoughts about other worshipers. In church the communal expression that we all want to do “the right way” can cause us to let human insecurity (or perhaps the shame of which you so often write and speak) seek our own conformity. And if someone else then does not do as we have been taught, we may seek to correct. As someone new to Orthodox practices and who attends Divine Liturgy with my adult daughter, I have felt tremendous relief at being freed of both impulses.

    I was first curious about Orthodoxy when I was probably in my early 20s and felt a desire to go back to the church and faith as they began. If I can remember that time correctly, I think what stopped my exploration was reading bad sources that resulted in my misunderstanding some of Orthodoxy’s teachings. If I had come across “The Orthodox Way,” then, who knows how things would have turned out!

    Instead, I experienced my first Divine Liturgy just previous to the invasion of Ukraine. Despite the distance I had to drive, I knew that this was what I was seeking in trying to reinvigorate my faith. As the next few weeks unfolded, however, I became less and less comfortable with the world situation and certain stances that I won’t go into so as not to distract from your blog’s purpose.

    Consequently, I began driving even further and wound up at my current parish. The Orthodox faith spoke to me enough to overlook the temptation of believing one human practitioner–no matter his worldly prominence–could through preaching of “envy and strife” invalidate the goodwill of the gospel.

  61. juliania Avatar

    Thanks so much, Father Stephen!
    Like you I loved my college Greek studies, and I came across a fragment I had copied from a Father Florovsky essay recently, just the first part. His first sentences state that the idea of Creation was “foreign and alien to the Greek mind.” So, I have been wondering how that is, since the largest church in Christendom is Hagia Sophia and many other cathedrals have that name.
    I love what you point out Saint Paul is saying to the Corinthians (Greeks!) here, that they, his Christian flock, are his epistle, his letter of commendation as it were, to the world at large. Plus we can also remember his saying that Christianity is “folly to the Greeks”.
    When I went back to Father Florovsky’s essay, I was taken aback – it is in twelve short parts, and it is exceedingly dense. I floundered through it, but then came back with the help of your essay here, and extracted from each one telling sentence. I will have to keep doing that because what I had taken from the first sentences and woven in my own mind turned out to be an inadequate understanding entirely.
    There is so much to learn! And your essay provided the key – thank you again.

  62. juliania Avatar

    The article by Father Georges Florovsky is titled “The Idea of Creation in Christian Philosophy”. It is available online. I will just add that my own thoughts had centered on the opening verse: “Behold, I have graven Thee upon the palms of my hands. Isaiah xli, 16”. As you say, Father Stephen, it is a matter of communion.

  63. Linda Avatar

    This is one of the best essays you’ve written, Fr. Stephen. Thank you so much for articulating the truth.

  64. Byron Avatar

    We are all of us, “re-enduring and reliving the tragedy” of Western Christianity “precisely as our own.” The point of that reliving is to heal it within us.

    Father, this leaped out at me. How are we to, perhaps, balance “reliving” our past Christianity with the approach of “Beauty first” from Dr. Patitsas’ book, The Ethics of Beauty? I have not yet finished that book but it seems it may dovetail nicely into the “doing” part of this conversation on communion.

  65. Drewster2000 Avatar


    Thank you so much for the cat story. I do indeed think it illustrates the point about becoming more like Christ. I also think animals have a lot to teach us about our true nature. So does everything God created, but because our pets are with us constantly, we have more opportunity to learn from them those lessons which must be repeated over and over or unfold over time.

  66. Robert Moyer Avatar
    Robert Moyer

    Father, thank you for this message. For 16 yea4s I taught, or attempted to, math at a Community College. One of the “controversial” statements I repeatedly made was that one can not understand before one does. I did not understand why this was offensive, and have struggled with the persecution it generated. Now, though, it makes clear sense to me. Unintentionally and unaware, I was directing students to a Christ centric view, a very grave offense. Now I am at peace
    Thank you

  67. Michael Avatar


    On a completely unrelated side note, as goofy as it’s probably going to sound, it’s a real relief to me that you mention your enjoyment of football. I’ve taken up casual enjoyment of baseball and hockey in my 40s as a conscious endeavor of connecting with other men and overcoming my old and deep-rooted shame of being male from an upbringing and a culture that’s beaten the innate evil of my existence into me for decades. I’m a long-time admirer of your writings, but also prone to scrupulosity, and at the Blue Jackets game last night I kept wondering if I was just allowing myself to be “swallowed by the culture.” At the same time, after more than a decade in the Church I’m intentionally focusing on just doing the work rather than reading about it. One side effect of my scrupulosity is that it takes me out of engagement with “the life of the world” for which Christ gave himself, and I was smacked in the face the other day with the realization that the life of the world is not the one in my head but the one right in front of me. Probably an otherwise obvious insight, but for an introvert like myself, it’s rather disorienting and of course applicable to so much more than sports.

    So anyway, I realize this was a tangent, but what probably seemed an innocuous comment was edifying for me. Thank you.

  68. Priscilla Avatar

    Regarding the earlier discussion of praying to Jesus or Christ…an evangelical friend once told me that she doesn’t feel comfortable praying to the Father. She much prefers praying to Jesus or the Holy Spirit. Likely that’s because, in her understanding of the Atonement, the Father is seen as the one who punishes Christ in our stead. In other words, in her understanding, the Trinity is not one in essence and undivided. Sad.

  69. Janine Avatar

    Thank you everybody for your enlightening comments.

    Dee, thanks for speaking up on this post — your comments are helpful and enlightening to me. It just seems to me that Orthodoxy is the faith of indigenous peoples all over the world, so what you say seems really easy to receive to me and makes sense. I mean, if you look at the history, from Byzantium, to Coptic people, to Ethiopians, Armenians, and many others, what we find is that Orthodoxy has been the faith of the indigenous populations especially in the face of other religious traditions or Christian denominations which historically supported a strong conquering or colonizing tradition. To this day, that is the experience of what we might call “indigenous” people who have preserved this ancient faith among those who colonized and even embraced forceful conversion or imposed hardships because of faith. Now, I’m not a historian, and clearly empires have always been with us, but this has been the historic experience of many Orthodox peoples.

    Or so it seems to me anyway. Please forgive me if I unintentionally offend, and I do not write this for political points or debate — just to say that what Dee writes about her acceptance of faith makes sense to me, esp in context of my own history.

  70. Janine Avatar

    PS I also believe that Orthodoxy’s retaining of the Mystical component to faith is part of its potential for acceptance among many peoples with received cultural traditions that require subtle sensibility to deeper issues of belonging, rather than limited to intellectual acceptance alone

    (Please excuse me if I sound ridiculous, trying to express something I probably haven’t quite grasped myself! Again, I pray I do not offend, correction welcomed)

  71. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    I’m glad that was helpful for you. Scrupulosity is a hard-taskmaster.

  72. Andrew Roberts Avatar
    Andrew Roberts

    I have recently read about St Peter the Aleut and St Herman of Alaska, also Ephraim of Arizona. It is very interesting that Orthodox mission is mainly carried out by monastics and that it hasn’t brought the sword along with the Cross.

  73. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Historically, there were many missions carried out by monastics. But the main work of mission was and is still done by priests and laity. St. Innocent of Alaska was a married priest who did not become a bishop until after his wife died. St. Yakov Netsvetov (Alaska) was married and a priest and did amazing work. One of my favorite hymns to the North American saints tells the story:

    Rejoice, mountains of Pennsylvania,
    leap for joy O waters of the Great Lakes,
    rise up, O fertile plains of Canada,
    for the elect of Christ who dwelt in you are glorified.
    Men and women who left their homes for a new land,
    with faith, hope, and patience as their armor,
    they courageously fought the good fight.
    Comforted by the beauty of the Orthdoox faith
    they labored in mines and mills,
    they tilled the land,
    they braved the challenges of the great cities,
    enduring many hardships and sufferings.
    Never failing to worship God in spirit and truth,
    and unyielding in devotion to his most-pure Mother,
    they erected many temples to his glory.
    Come, O assembly of the Orthodox,
    and with love let us praise the holy men, women, and children,
    those known to us and those known only to God,
    and let us cry to them:
    Rejoice O saints of North America and pray to God for us.

  74. Andrew Roberts Avatar
    Andrew Roberts

    Fr. Stephen,
    thank you for pointing that out and the hymn.

  75. Dean Avatar

    Fr. Stephen,
    I heard a priest say that perhaps why evangelicals have such a great impetus to evangelize is because, after conversion, they are sort of left adrift and that evangelizing gives them focus, purpose. I’m not sure this is true. Perhaps.
    I do know that, like Michael Bauman, I was overwhelmed by the first liturgy I attended. It wasn’t the “bells and whistles”, for I did not understand with my mind what was occurring, Rather, it was a deep, settled assurance in my heart that what I was experiencing was true, was the answer to my heart’s longing. And that longing is satiated even now, years later, with every liturgy. We have so much that most Protestants do not…the Eucharist, our blessed Theotokos, the saints, the sacraments, the fasts and feasts of the Church calendar, the icons, etc. Through these, we are given focus, meaning. For me, “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” means more to me than it did in my previous Christian walk. I like what one elder said. “Work on your own salvation, and if you can, help 5 or 6 others.”
    So, evangelizing for
    me is a “come and see,” made more difficult as no Orthodox Church is close to where we live. Yet, at opportunities the Lord presents, I do speak of Him and of His Church. And a few have responded over the years to my feeble efforts.

  76. Janine Avatar

    That’s a beautiful hymn, Father. Thank you.

    It occurs to me, also in this context, that for the ancient Christians, Christ was a figure who did not “replace” everything but rather transfigured culture and history. For example, the Fathers Basil, Gregory, Chrysostom were people groomed for state service at the highest levels, and the best of their generation in terms of their education, which would have included everything from philosophy to medicine to mathematics. But they chose to serve the church and we have theology; as it has been explained to me (and I hope I have understood properly), whatever was true served the Person who was Truth. So all these elements of classical culture, in those whom we might say were the “cream” of classical civilization and education, were transfigured in the light of Christ. Philosoohy served theology. What came before was not simply thrown out wholesale as “wrong” or “bad.” The ancient plays, and philosophers, etc were kept in the monasteries. They were looked upon as limited, where Christ gave fullness. Of course this meant change, but not hatred.

    It seems to me that such movement means Orthodoxy may accommodate cultures in a certain way, make room for that experience of something revealed in the liturgy that allows for transfiguration, if you will, of the sort tha Dean’s comment describes. Anyway it’s a theory

  77. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Thank you so much for your thoughts. They were edifying and reassuring that there are readers here such as yourself, Nikolaos, and Fr Stephen, that have a lived-in understanding as you allude to your own history.

    And I also appreciate the readers who respond and lovingly accept my words and outlook. While different, lovingly take my clumsy and perhaps confrontational words in the spirit of Christ (I’m thinking of you, dear Dean!).

    Andrew, if you don’t already have them, here are two books I recommend: Orthodox Alaska, a theology of mission; and Alaskan Missionary Spirituality, both by the author Fr Michael Oleska. I consider myself a spiritual child of St Herman who defended the Alaskan indigenous peoples from the assaults of the colonizing administration from Russia. And subsequent Orthodox priests and monks continued to protect and defend the people from the assaults of non-Orthodox ‘Christian’ missionaries whose tactics included breaking up families and effectively stealing children.

    Sometimes I hear Roman Catholics refer to their ‘eastern’ heritage in Alaska as if they were the Orthodox that defended the people. But that simply is not so. The opposite is what is true. Their tactics to obfuscate the history of the Church and, worse, to claim it as their own takes a certain amount of gall, for which I have no patience, sinner that I am.

    May God help us to speak the truth in love.

  78. Andrew Roberts Avatar
    Andrew Roberts

    thank you for the book recommendation. I have not read extensively on the subject, but two books that have stuck in my mind are Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, by Dee Brown and The Devastation of the Indies, by Bartolome de las Casas. The destruction of pre-existing cultures and the cruelty that accompanied it is astounding.
    I appreciate your perspective and honesty.

  79. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Dee, et al
    The grace required to make belief possible in the face of so much wrong that has been done in the name of Christ is one of the miracles of the modern period. This is true both on the personal level as well as on the larger level as well. That Christ has gathered all of our sins into Himself and His life-giving Crucifixion is the Great Mercy.

    In my own life, it has been a singular grace that my knowledge of Christ, in my inmost being, has remained steady and unconfused with so much that (I would have thought) could have overwhelmed it. It has made it possible to say, “God is good,” and to trust in that goodness even when the evidence to the contrary was being heaped up all about me. The evidence, like Nebuchadnezer’s fire, was made to burn “seven times more than was wont,” but within my heart the quiet presence of the crucified Christ remained like a cool mist and a friend walking amidst the flames.

    God preserve us from the flames of the evil one and all his lies, and preserve our hearts in peace.

  80. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Father, et. al. My faith was transmitted to me by my mother through her dance and her experience with the Native American culture of the US southwest, the Pueblo people. The inner nature of faith and the importance of one’s “center” . Her one specific instruction to me was: “God is real, and you need to find Him!” She always practiced kindness and mercy especially to people different from us or less fortunate.
    She and her twin sister put on the American Dance Symposium over three years that featured top artists in Ballet, Modern and Ethnic dance. The third one, Ethnic Dance, had Jeoffrey Holder as a presenter. From the Caribbean he is best known for his “Uncola” commercials. He was a large man with a mesmerizing voice who had remarkable fluidity to his movement. In his master class he took the stage and announced in his musically deep bass voice: ‘I have seen God baby, and He is right here (pointing to his physical/spiritual center) and everytime He wants to talk to me, He starts my body moving.”
    The dance of many native cultures is prayer.
    Coming from that place in joy, thanksgiving and community.
    In my experience, only the Orthodox still have that in its personal and transcendent expressions.
    In our private and corporate worship I can cry out to Him: “Lord, Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner”… and He responds.

    Forgive me.

  81. Matthew Lyon Avatar
    Matthew Lyon

    Dee of St. Hermas,

    The majority of believers I know from Protestant backgrounds are sincere. I don’t have a bunch of horror stories. My family runs the gamut from Methodists to Fundamentalist Baptists to agnostics, lapsed Catholics, and the Therapeutic Deists. But I realize deeply now that the main reason – the main reason – heresy is really bad, is that it creates alternate pieties that are detrimental. The means of therapy are what they are due to the problems they try and address. Get all the problems wrong and get all the wrong, or many wrong solutions. It affects you very much on the practical level. It hit me the other day that in the Bible the word for lawyer and doctor are often the same, and for good reason, both get people out of a jam. The “doctor” of the law or the theologian and the physician should all help people heal. But if you assume all of your patients are dead already (as in Calvinism and in a lot of Catholic theology that they can own or relegate to the dustbin of history) your methodology will be damaging.

    I was talking this over with my wife today (I refer often to a Christian imagination) and thinking of our Reformed past. Think about this as an example. If you are thoroughly Reformed (and all Evangelicals are what I call Reformed-lite, they just reformed the Reformed) you have to conclude that God ordained all of your sins to be actual – and – that you are also culpable for all of them. How to move forward, how do you get better? You can and you can’t at the same time. You can if God wills it/willed it, but you can’t if He didn’t. At the same time, you can’t change God’s will and you can’t change your will. You really just have to live with anxiety and guilt and assurance that you’re fine while trying to do what is right – or- if you want to do what is wrong, either way it’s all planned. Now, technically, all non-Orthodox Christianites and non-Christian religions have to deal with this. But practically, how will it play out? You will be assured every time you sin that you are fine because the sign that you are elect is to believe Christ already forgave all your sins, past, present, future – and this because you were so dead in sins that you were a corpse as it relates to your will. The only options are assurance, doubt, or depression. And you cycle through these all your life if you are a thinking Christian in this tradition, but assurance is the default ideal position. Really, this whole situation is hopeless though and filled with uncertainty of every kind unless you are elect, and again, showing you are elect is demonstrating assurance so you must fall back here eventually or consider yourself reprobate. This would drive a person crazy, and it has. Now, think about this, how would or might these ideas affect you on a day-to-day basis? Would they encourage health? They are your “top-level” stories that work down into the “bottom-level” actual lived life: your piety. What is ruined? A lot. So, this is what I mean when I say, I’m not down on people. But take any topic that Orthodox harp on and they all have these results. Take the idea that Christ suffered the wrath of God, that He was punished for you, by God. Well, in one sense this is loving if this is the requirement for your salvation. But what will be lost? Incarnation as God’s fidelity to humanity, to the human project, to complete identification with those He created for union and Communion with Him. That’s the short of it. Instead, Christ’s body is a body for punishment, the medium of punishment. Start thinking this way and the Blessed Virgin is a medium for the medium of the punished Christ. Everything in a sense becomes a means but not the thing itself. Keep going and Christ’s Body is not necessary to Union but the memory of Him is enough. In a few short steps you can be a Gnostic and destroy the path to salvation. This is why the Fathers get worked up and thank God they did, because we are idiots compared to them. But once you see this (speaking for myself) you can’t unsee it. But the end result of seeing this stuff should be to follow the logical piety that follows which is Orthodoxy. Fasting is missing in other Christianities because it doesn’t logically follow. Almsgiving is works-righteousness possibly.

    What I’ve tried to impress is that yes, in one sense I might be attacking a strawman in that most people are not Calvinists, but – here’s the but – our country was at one time almost entirely Calvinistic. The Great Awakenings and the revival cultures that morphed out were also driven originally by this theology. Once you get to the Jesus Freaks, they are the result of a debate with Calvinism, but the debate never really ended or gave anything like certainty, even mildly, except among Fundamentalists earlier.

    I hold out both a regulated pessimism and some optimism about people given God’s desire and intent for them. Who has heard that Christ conquered Hades and Satan and Death? Who has been made aware that the addictions and slaveries of this world are rooted in the gods/demons/ancient nemeses? Who has heard of the Christianity where free will and real bondage of the will are both recognized? Not many. As once you throw in one unbiblical/heretical doctrine, like, assurance of salvation, or some Pelagian hoax, or some Penal Substitution, or some social justice Jesus – you’ve introduced a break and not a development. Everyone has their ‘My Personal Jesus” but most have never heard of the one whose been believed in for 2000+ years. I think, for me at least, this is where I have some opportunity to present Him and I can do so within the bounds of Orthodox Tradition because it is Biblical, interesting, engaging, etc. The Jesus I love and fear, and the Jesus I know to love me, is here and preserved in our Faith/the Faith. My pessimism that is regulated by some optimism just recognizes the bondage of the will and the activity of demons.

    My point is not that this is everyone’s issue, the things I’ve mentioned, but that if you play out how it would make you live in light of those heresies, it would give you a little bit of pause in judging such a person, and for the sincere believer, you can already assume goodwill towards the truth if they just had some idea off what it was. So, I’m pro-Protestant believer and anti-Protestant theology. I didn’t know better when I was Reformed, how could they, and where was the means to support a truly Christian piety? There was some surely, but it was mixed with ideas that created contradictions, and those contradictions in theology create contradictions in behavior. I guess I could have just said that last sentence, but to add that, it’s not just contradictions in terms of having a logically tight system because Calvinists have this, but to have a Biblically logically tight Christian imagination should lead to Orthodox piety and asceticism.

  82. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Having grown up in the heart of Protestant-land, I actually rarely ran into a Calvinist. There’s been a sort of revival of Reform stuff in the past generation among some, but most Evangelicals are Arminians and tend towards Therapeutic Deism.

    Please forgive me, but your tendency to think this stuff through, especially with tight causations, reminds me Reformed thought itself. I think stuff is ever so much messier, especially when you throw in the influence of Hollywood (the religious Mecca of our time).

  83. Matthew Lyon Avatar
    Matthew Lyon

    Fr. Freeman,

    I’ve been thinking about what you’ve said that we don’t really have the luxury right now to take the time to spend a lot of energy on these things while bullets are flying our way (my paraphrase), and I’m taking that to heart. Most of my encounters with people in conversation where we’re discussing Christianity focus on the “why” of our behavior or morality, that’s what questions or doubts or what I believe is the lack of a Christian imagination does when there is a logical disconnect, it lives in an area where you don’t put movement to what you believe because you don’t know what to believe. Most of my questions from relatives about Orthodoxy are always about fasting or the long services or something like this – on top of the popular objections or doubts raised by critics and culture. If they had no idea what Christianity was, I could just say it, but that’s not the case. There is an imagination already there and I have some idea of the influences that formed it. But what’s often missing when people do take an interest in what were the conditioning factors, just like children eventually dissect their parent’s behaviors to see how they shaped them positively or negatively, is that the theological conditioners were taken for granted as representative of historic Christian belief. This Reformed have done for some time culturally and I’m glad they have. They just find misidentify problems. But culturally Orthodox have more in common with Reformed cultural criticism that many others, in the approach and in the sensitivity. So, I find more overlap here than contrast. But, I admit that I have yet to figure out how to state what we believe in a quicker way that doesn’t necessitate long explanations as eventually you have to find something authoritative to move someone to the point of action. I mean, for me, I argue for a Biblical soteriology up to Orthodox ecclesiology not backwards from authority to Gospel and then response because once you remove the Original Sin narrative the argument is there that Orthodox had the most interest in preserving what were the original teaching of Jesus and the Apostles, they did and it’s demonstrable, and therefore this actually establishes authority, and that authority actually has meaningful practices to engage in because they are congruent with and necessarily follow from the mind of the NT. The questions are answered and doubt or relegating Orthodox practice to merely something old is removed. In fact, a consciousness of death influencing you competing for belief in Resurrection becomes a constant awareness, and the logic of self-denial as a faith-counter to believing in death as ultimate or normal or this is as good as it gets is necessary and not optional. The body needs subjected to the heart/mind and I must put it under subjection because the body prefers survival and Disneyland. It’s the same lines of reasoning as in Paul. Anyway, yes, I do think these things out causally, but I do think there’s some precedent for this, but I don’t rule out messy by any means.

    To add one example, using Hollywood, how many people are anxious to find aliens in the concern for finding our parents? There’s a gap in the imagination created by random evolution and by and large God is already out of the picture, so a hunger arises for finding out who my parents are. But all of that traces somewhere. The multiverse in Hollywood is a fantasy solution to all of the design arguments for God as the universe is not that unique if there are infinite numbers, you just change the game, and it sells and is good for endless spin-offs.

    Matthew Lyon

  84. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    I suppose one question I would have for you is, “How’s that approach working out?” And I don’t mean that in any derogatory manner.

    Years ago I once had a mentor say to me, “Don’t answer questions people aren’t asking.” When you describe the causation relationships and how all of this makes sense to you – I can see what your questions have been. The problem is that what your questions are may not be the same as what others’ questions are. So, the first problem is finding out what their questions are.

    The coin doesn’t drop for anyone until they hear an answer that meets their question. In my own work and writing, that question is always present. What is it that the world (my readers and others) is asking? Like you, I understand Orthodoxy as the answer – but there is a listening process involved, on some level.

    Of course, there’s a sense in which we have to help others find their questions. People aren’t always very good at that. Our culture blinds us, for one. Americans tend to ask, “What will make me happy?” When they really should be asking, “What is the meaning and purpose of happiness?” The first question is that of a consumer – and will only serve to make them into slaves. The second question serves to help them go beneath the culture into the very problems that matter.

    I was once caricatured by a detractor as writing “existential despair and moral futility.” I plead guilty. The existential despair cuts through all the cultural nonsense and goes to the heart of modern angst and dread. It stares meaninglessness in the face. The moral futility is an honest look at how unproductive and empty most of our moral efforts are. They are themes that help bring a useful conversation to light.

    Even my work on shame is directed towards a question. No human experience is more universal, more hidden, and more denied than shame. It is a doorway into the soul and is a vast world of unanswered questions.

    Sometimes it’s useful to ask oneself, “How would I explain this to a teenager?” People are far less sophisticated than we imagine and the really important questions aren’t complicated.

    The emptiness of the PSA (for example) is that it says that everything important has and is happening outside of you. Inside, you’re just a bunch of crap and there’s nothing to be done about it. A simple question to that is – “Is that the best God could do?” Why did Jesus bother to say all these other things?

    But…those are some early morning thoughts. Be well!

  85. Mark Spurlock Avatar
    Mark Spurlock

    An illuminating comment in many ways, Father Stephen:

    ““I have become Dostoevsky!””

    There are worse fates.

    Both my children–who are very science oriented–have remarked often about how so much they learned in science classes when they were young was not strictly accurate because of the need to simplify the answers for young minds. As their education has increased, they are able to absorb more elaborate and precise information and ask more demanding questions.


    As far as the two specifics you mentioned and in accordance with what Father Stephen is saying, the answers would depend on the audience that is asking. For fasting, I expect you could give a much more learned and complex answer than I could, but saying fasting gives you a greater mindfulness and appreciation of a basic part of life is often sufficient. And an Orthodox diet can certainly be more healthful. Those are good enough reasons for me as I gradually acquire a greater understanding of the faith. In the *practice* of fasting, I learn more of its positive effects–much as you tell children to eat their vegetables without necessarily explaining why as a nutritionist would, and eventually the child develops a taste for vegetables (hopefully).

    For other Christians, I’d also point out that Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount, “When you fast,” not “if.”

    For the length of the service, the simplest answer is, “That’ s how long it takes.” Why do eight hours seem about right for sleep, give or take? Why are TV shows most often 30 minutes (comedy) or 60 minutes (drama)? Personal tastes vary, but again I’d say experience the thing for a bit before judging it. Liturgy does not seem as long to me as when I started–partly because I understand the structure now and know where we are in it at each point. I can observe the “mile posts” as we pass them.

    Also, if we believe we are spending time with God, then we should hope that the time is not seen as a burden. Presumably eternity will be made of similar moments (which might explain a lot about the Orthodox description of heaven versus hell). That may not be an answer that someone wants to hear or is ready for early in their journey, but, if we believe that much of a Christian life is suffering, then the truth of it is made clear. That is, if a person spends life outside church in pleasure, then, yes, the life in church might seem a tiresome duty, but if you are living in sacrifice and self-denial, communion is the reaffirmation of the truth of your shared faith.

    Of course I’m not telling you anything you don’t know yourself. But it may be all that those asking you need to hear.

  86. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    The majority of believers I know from Protestant backgrounds are sincere.

    But culturally Orthodox have more in common with Reformed cultural criticism than many others, in the approach and in the sensitivity. So, I find more overlap here than contrast.

    Please forgive me for pulling out a few sentences from your lengthy exposition. You have touched on several topics, and I’m selecting these at this time.

    People, including Protestants, kill with sincerity. Sincerity isn’t a virtue if it isn’t adherence to and abiding in the love of Christ Himself. Because it seems you translate sincerity as some sort of good in and of itself, you value the sincere actions of others, I suppose.

    I do not hold the same values. Adherence to and love in Christ is not a personal perspective, but a lived reality. Delusion is a common attribute promoted in this culture.
    To the best of my knowledge, most Orthodox teachers who wish to teach what Orthodoxy is do not engage in philosophical arguments. Most simply say, “come to Divine Liturgy and services of the feasts”. I have heard some people say that the Mennonites have an asceticism similar to Orthodox asceticism. Perhaps it might be possible to say that Seventh-Day Adventists have fasting practices similar to Orthodox. And perhaps many Buddhists and atheists have more morals than many Orthodox.

    I’m not sure such comparisons are helpful in understanding what Orthodoxy is. Simply put, it is ‘right worship’. And that has everything to do with what is in the heart and Who is worshiped. Sincerity is not sufficient to make arbitrary or contrary actions (regarding the life in Christ) take on (“put on the wedding garment”) the reality of Christ, for want of better words, unless it is the reality. That is unless the life of Christ abides in the heart and soul. Perhaps you desire to be generous and ascribe such a life to anyone who says they are a Christian. I acknowledge that I’m far more reluctant to do so. I have learned that even the Adversary acknowledges that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.

    It seems that you want to say that your life in Christ rests solely on persuasion in an argument. Is this correct? Is this what you intend to say or imply? Please forgive me this is how the content in your comments comes across to me. Perhaps I’m just not seeing something that perhaps is there, but I’m just not able to see it.

    Last, you refer to me as Dee of St Hermas. Sometimes I think it’s just a typo thing, and sometimes, it seems intentional. It is my intention to write in this blog with the name of Dee of St Herman. Once upon a time, I used an apostrophe -s ( ‘s to indicate I am a member of his Church and among his spiritual children). However, the blog software oddly kept my comments in moderation until I one day, I accidentally left off the apostrophe, and the system admitted my comments. So I stopped using the apostrophe and continued to leave it off. I continue to add the s because I belong to the Church that St Herman helped to establish in America. I belong to St Herman’s Orthodox Church. St Herman is well known to be the protector of indigenous peoples.

    I want to believe that I’m a spiritual child of St Herman. Of course, you have the right to disagree. If so, please don’t attach a new nickname. Respectfully, I ask that you address me as Dee if you want to address me without the grace of St Herman’s name.

  87. Mark Spurlock Avatar
    Mark Spurlock

    Hi Dee,

    Apostrophes are special characters in HTML and PHP, so it’s likely the blog software (WordPress) treats them cautiously, which might explain why your posts used to be moderated. If you want to include an apostrophe in your name, you may be able to enter the following code in place of the apostrophe, and it show up without moderation:


    // sorry for the digression

  88. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    You are correct, when teaching chemistry to first-year students, I use pedagogy that simplifies models of atomic theory rather than delving into quantum mechanics. If I did so, that is, launching into the differential equations of quantum mechanics to explain “reality,” students would know automatically that I wasn’t trying to talk to them or enable them to understand the topic of chemistry. They would leave the room because I’d be speaking nonsense and gibberish to them.

    Also, interestingly, chemistry is learned ‘in-body’. This might seem weird because most people associate it with abstractions. But it isn’t such stuff. While there is such a thing as theoretical chemistry, it has no value unless it can be demonstrated empirically. Furthermore, a demonstration isn’t cogent if someone talks about it but when it is learned by experience with hands-on body-centered experiences in the lab.

    By analogy, I make prostrations when I pray. I need the reminder in my body to be humble. And then my body, in its own way, speaks to my heart, and my heart speaks to my body. And God willing, by the grace of our Lord, the eyes of my heart and soul are on the face of Christ.

  89. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Hi Mark,
    I think the code didn’t come through. That’s ok. I’ve been doing St Hermans for about six years now. I’ll just keep doing it unless people find it too irritating.

  90. Mark Spurlock Avatar
    Mark Spurlock

    Hi Dee,

    Yes…unfortunately I couldn’t preview the post to see how it would be rendered (which was, naturally, as an apostrophe). The code is in the source, if you are able to right-click and view it. Or (assuming this link will go through), it’s here:

    The lack of it does not bother me, but trying to help people deal with frustrating technology is what I do in real life. So it’s kind of instinctual 🙂

  91. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Thank you Mark! I’ve got it in my notes, and I’m grateful for your support in helping me navigate the software!

  92. Dee of St Herman&aposs Avatar
    Dee of St Herman&aposs

    Well, here goes let’s see if it works without needing moderation.

  93. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Don’t think the code worked. But, the way the blog dashboard is set up, anytime it sees a name for the first time, it automatically puts it into moderation. I clear it, and, thereafter, it automatically approves them without moderation.

    My vote is that you stay, “Dee of St Herman”

  94. Matthew Lyon Avatar
    Matthew Lyon


    My examples are/were just for example. I’m trying to show how one imagination leads to or could lead to particulars in behavior. I’m not saying anything new. To me, I’m arguing in the same fashion as, “Whatever is not assumed is not healed.” Well, if you start with the wrong problems, then what is assumed by Christ really isn’t assumed, and if you have the wrong solutions because of the wrong problems, then they won’t be healed. I have no problem thinking logically in this way. I know too many sincere Protestants to reject them as brothers. Sincerity can leave you sincerely wrong, but I hold out that they don’t know better, many. Once I realized Protestantism doesn’t have the Gospel I rejected it and asked where is the Church who believes it, does it still exist? My fidelity to whatever the Gospel was, was greater than any alliance with some church. But once I realized that one Church kept it, their authority imposed itself on me, because it is Christ’s Church – but you could never really know where/what Christ’s Church was/is on the basis of finding continuity with Scripture as everyone explains Scripture differently.

    The only reason we have right worship is because we have right dogma or the only reason we have right dogma is because we have right worship, it’s so interrelated you can’t speak of one without the other.

    If am I shaped by death and Satan, such that survival is of greater importance than faith, then practices that voluntarily show my most basic instincts for survival do not actually preserve my life, but only faith, then fasting/almsgiving/self-denial are necessities. To disconnect asceticism from the concern of living in light of Resurrection then you destroy its actual basis in exchange for the logic of meditation, yoga, mindfulness.

  95. Janine Avatar

    Okay, Father, not being a smart aleck here, but I just need and would love to know your answer. I might have some ideas of my own, but I bet your answer would get me thinking.
    “What is the meaning and purpose of happiness, please?
    That really is a good place for me to start this morning, I think.

  96. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    It’s a big question and a good one. The culture’s notion of happiness tends to be self-pleasure (in one form or another). The messaging that surrounds us is generated by a consumerist culture – that is – it’s a message given to us by people who want to sell us lots of stuff. It is endorphin-driven (and mostly requires lots of shame in order to work).

    True happiness is to be at peace with God, with ourselves, and with those around us. And I use the word “peace” in the fullest sense of “shalom.” It is possible to have such happiness even in the worst of circumstances in that it is ultimately rooted in right relationship with God.

    Monasticism, in its most primitive form, was the jettisoning of all earthly cares in order to be at peace with God, the self, and others. That “experiment” has taught us a lot of things. It took us inside ourselves (discovering that the universe within us is large than the one outside us) and helped us begin to map the many things that take us away from true happiness.

    The purpose of true happiness is communion with God in its fullest sense – theosis. I’m posting a link here to a talk by the late Fr. Roman Braga. He speaks on prayer (but it’s also about happiness if you listen between the lines). He spent a number of years in the worst of Communist torture prisons and there found prayer and union with Christ. It’s an extreme example. The video is utterly worth the time to watch it.

  97. Janine Avatar

    Thank you Father! 🙂 Looking forward to the video.

    Think of how really huge that answer is!

  98. Mark Spurlock Avatar
    Mark Spurlock


    I did want to comment about sincerity, but also wanted to let you have space for a response to Dee before chiming in.

    “I know too many sincere Protestants to reject them as brothers.”

    Yes. I would say something like this: there are those (and I don’t just mean Protestants) who sincerely seek the truth, whatever it is, and despite their sincere search, they may not have found it. Yet even were the truth to conflict with long-held beliefs, they long to be convinced. And there are those who claim to seek the truth but want it to fit into their preconceptions.

    An example of the first for me is Nicodemus, who could not understand Jesus immediately about being born again but visited in the night even as a Pharisee, because of perceiving Jesus was a “teacher come from God.” Nicodemus wanted to learn.

    A similar narrative of starting off in need of education but sincerely having an open heart is the woman at the well.

    In contrast, the rich young ruler of Mark 10 is insincere about what he seeks. When he is told the truth, he cannot accept it because he values something–his goods–more than the truth. He wanted only confirmation of beliefs.

    Finally, all of us would (I hope) admit to being wrong about something in the past–which should give us pause about being certain in the present. Communicating with one another in sincerity is how we learn and correct our errors. Neither C.S. Lewis nor G.K. Chesterton were Orthodox, but they have helped me understand many fundamentals of the Christian faith, as well as the necessity of their preservation.

  99. Dee of St Herman Avatar
    Dee of St Herman

    I don’t know whether it is fruitful to continue but for the sake of those who might be exploring Orthodoxy and wondering about Orthodox dogma, I’m copying one explanation of what dogma means to the Orthodox (Father I ask for your judgment whether this is appropriate)
    Taken from the “OrthodoxWiki” on dogma:

    Among the early Church Fathers the word “dogma” was used most often for the doctrines and moral precepts taught by Christ and the holy Apostles with a distinction made for dogmas as having been taught by Christ, by the Apostles, and having come from the Church.

    But according to long-standing usage, a dogma is now understood to be a truth appertaining to faith or morals, revealed by God, transmitted from the Apostles in the Scriptures or by tradition, and proposed by the Church for the acceptance of the faithful. It might be described briefly as a revealed truth defined by the Church—but private revelations do not constitute dogmas, and some theologians confine the word defined to doctrines solemnly defined by general councils, while a revealed truth becomes a dogma when proposed by the Church through her teaching office. A dogma therefore implies a twofold relation: to Divine revelation and to the authoritative teaching of the Church.

    And I now copy what Father Stephen has said in this article:

    The teachings of Christ are not, primarily, metaphysical pronouncements about the nature of things. Instead, they are commandments regarding what we should do – based on who God is. “Love your enemies – because God is kind to both the good and the evil.” This pattern holds throughout Christ’s teachings. It is a directive that intends to shape our lives such that our lives themselves become a “living theology,” a revelation of the nature of God made known in the shape of our actions.

    What is especially meaningful to me are his words, “our lives become a living theology a revelation of the nature of God made known in the shape of our actions.”

    I shall defer to Father Stephen if more needs to be said on this topic. Please forgive me.

    May God bless you and keep you.

  100. Matthew Lyon Avatar
    Matthew Lyon

    Mark/Dee/Fr. Freeman,

    I totally agree with you. C.S. Lewis though, the reason so many share an affinity for him (including me, I wish I’d dived into his works early) is that he was able to answer objections well. But he had a tempered anthropology that was optimistic while not naive.

    Last night I sort of realized we’re just arguing about methodology. There is part of me that agrees, “Come to the liturgy/services/etc.,” is right. And there’s something else that says that’s not nearly enough. The liturgy is not a substitution for catechism which often included apologetic material. The liturgy was where you “did” the stuff you learned. The takeaway from reading something like St. Cyril of Jerusalem’s Catechetical Lectures, for me, is the pastoral/shepherd feel/concern. All the apologetics, all the denouncement of heretics, all the explanations were for one particular goal: health, and true health is Communion with Christ and His Family. To me, the things I get zealous over explaining follow the same concerns. If my Evangelical family tells me I’m worshipping the Theotokos, I make the normal distinction between veneration and worship, and then explain to them why they don’t venerate anyone, using the logic/tradition I know them to employ, and I know that tradition and how it developed far better than they do almost all of the time. But where I believe Orthodox go wrong in their explanations, almost all of the time, is that they appeal first to authority and then to belief/dogma. But really authority is granted to those, only those, who have kept the Faith once delivered. The Faith precedes the preservation, and it is a lived preservation/continuation. Showing Protestants, or whomever else (especially those who have rejected Christianity, when all they have known is Protestant theology and caricatures thereof), why their faith is not the same faith as the Apostles (think… “this is the faith of the apostles”) (why the faith the skeptics doubt is already dubious) to me, if we desire for our family to be full and if we seek to answer skeptics with more than, “just come to liturgy,” our method must be more comprehensive. And at this point, I realize, most people are up for doing this as it either seems unloving or would take too much time. But the solution is simple actually. remove Original Sin and Guilt, a Perfect Adam, put back death, put back Devil, put back faith as love, put back selfishness in survival as sin, and you’ve already made major progress. We should not be content, and I’m not saying this negatively towards anyone I understand your comments, we shouldn’t be content with the idea that someone would do Orthodox practices as alternate mindfulness/dieting practices. If I am not consciously aware that the thing in my way, to becoming holy, is fear of death, is Satan, is a fatalistic view of myself, is a fatalistic view of God, then my method of dealing with these will not match the demand. Paul’s, “I beat my body into subjection,” will sound like self-hatred and medieval torture. Voluntary hardship supports/meets the competition of the passions and the Devil with, “No, I trust God here. I will not die if I do not eat, I already died. I will not be destitute if I give my money, God takes care of me. I will not be defeated if I am persecuted, Christ has already overcome the world.” This is the entire logic for hope in the NT and the subject of Christ’s temptation. Each temptation was one of survival, and in an interesting and telling pattern. After fasting for 40 days, Jesus faces temptation. There’s something in and of itself. Fasting is preparation for temptation. But it starts with bread, the temptation. Then presumption. Then the promise of ultimate survival.

    But, what is weird to me in this whole discussion that I didn’t mean to prolong if it was unnecessary or not beneficial, is the overarching theme is that beliefs make for a certain piety, and that piety either helps or hurts people – I don’t see why this is controversial. If I ruin the logic/reason for fasting say, yet I find it in Scripture and Tradition, then I will find another logic for doing it, but it won’t be the original reason. Jesus won’t be asking us how many whole milk lattes we substituted for almond, even if the almond milk was less fattening and so forth. And I know you know this. It was already evident that after you ditch (for whatever reason, including just not knowing) the reason for self-denial (and here there are numerous references in the Bible that show the rationality – you train the body into obedience or the desires of the body control you) you must find another basis for doing such things, and mindfulness might be a pragmatic swap, but it’s not the original intention even if there is slight/more than slight overlap in effect on the body.

    Dogma about Christ leads to piety. If for example I believe Christ assumes human nature common to all humans, I cannot treat another human poorly without also treating Christ poorly. Made in the Image of God and the Incarnation go together as it relates to anthropology. But, and this is where I feel it is naive not to make these connections, if I believe Christ assumed human nature to suffer for the elect, I can treat some humans poorly or even subject them to slavery if I assume a whole race or ethnic group is not elect, because then He didn’t die for them or assume human nature for them. Sometime read the Calvinist supporters for slavery, ideas have consequences. And here, apologetically, when someone raises, “Christians supported slavery.” what is the response, here in America. It should be, they based their support or allowance of slavery with heresy, and then go on to explain how Original Sin and Guilt with reprobation, both unbiblical and un-Orthodox was necessary, and then how eventually Civil Rights leaders like Martin Luther King Jr. reappealed to the truth of Image of God – in all men – not just some. Orthodox Christianity changed the minds of people over the heresy of Calvinism. See, there is an imperative to set the record straight. And even when Orthodox are implicated in not carrying out their own beliefs, we can at least say, they really were inconsistent whereas in other Christianities they could be or they could not be, inconsistent. The possibility that you could argue theologically for slavery shouldn’t exist. It means there’s something wrong in the system as the themes of Jew/Gentile inclusion are clear and evident, that God is love and not partial, that all are under sin and not just some people – all entirely evident. But throw in Original Sin and Guilt and you can now assign a whole people or continent to reprobation, at least theoretically. Why people don’t see this stuff, I don’t know. But my interest before converting, since I was well aware of how dependent Calvinism was on Original Sin and the bulk of Catholic theology (as an aside, this is the entire reason for what appears to be an anti-science persuasion among Christians, they have to preserve the genetic link to sin in Adam) was figuring out how did the claim of death as cause for depravity with Satan, that Orthodox claim, stand up? And this is where I’ve camped out for some time. All I can say is, once you see death as the main conditioning factor in the world, the only way out will be Resurrection, and reinforcing Resurrection in yourself, will be quite necessary. So, can that all be shortened down. Of course. Do I want to shorten it. Not really, I want people to know why they believe what they believe. But, this could all be put in short form. I don’t think we can meet the apologetical demand properly – and I need to comments on apologetics – we are just explaining the faith realizing we need to contrast it with already held beliefs unless by odd chance we have a blank slate in front of us – we can’t meet it properly without educating people in part on what we don’t believe and why and the effects that might have had on the popular imagination of God. It’s very hard for me to see something like secular humanism arising out of a devout Orthodox population, but it makes perfect sense if you’re reacting to Calvin/Anselm, because you realize without death and Satan, you can only modify that system so far, eventually you ditch it wholesale. Now, I don’t know if secular humanists (who developed out of Christian contexts, same with everything hyper-liberal by and large) would have embraced that or not, but it wasn’t even an option conceptually – they had no imagination for it. The devil went by the wayside a long time ago in Protestant circles (not all) – imagine that effect on piety – because of Original Sin and Guilt. The devil makes no sense in that system as you and the devil are basically the same until you are born again. He doesn’t provide explanation; he adds a difficulty that Occam can razor off, and they did. I could go on and on, but I think to deny the effect Western anthropology and the resulting view of God, has had on everyone you meet almost in some way, is just – and I mean no disrespect, not realistic. This is the sign to me, that it is so deeply engrained that we don’t notice it. And this is my concern, if it is not brought up, the Tradition carries potentially, many dissonant themes that are hard to want to follow.

    Assuming the majority of us don’t fast well, why? When’s the last time some of us did a 3 day fast? Now, that’s not something I want an actual reply to, please don’t, but why don’t we? We don’t believe it works, that it does something (I know I’m not speaking for everyone) worthwhile, and so we settle for Impossible Whoppers and pretend we’re fasting. Tell that to a starving person. I’m fasting with my Impossible Whopper meal. I’m criticizing myself here entirely. Maybe I’m wrong, but I know this, when I take my life in Christ seriously, when my conscience is awake, when I feel the threats, I will fast without compulsion or to basically keep Kosher. What did that? Belief. What keeps me from doing better ascetically. Beliefs. The body competes with the mind and the mind rationalizes wrongly for the body – yet – if you can’t spot the mistruths the body is pumping out, as the body is still dying, they will be persuasive. Now, you could think yourself, your body to be evil, but this is heresy. The body must be servant to the heart. How? Training. There’s no getting around this. The Protestant methodology makes this all unnecessary as Christ’s sacrifice and righteousness imputed perfects you while you are still evil, counts you as righteous – therefore, if you fast, it will be for some other reason: to intensify the strength of a prayer, I’ve heard of churches who fast in anticipation/longing for Christ’s return (this I can appreciate some, you don’t fast when the Bridegroom is here but while He is away), but it’s not, and cannot be, to help you attain unto something as Christ attained all for you, and insinuation otherwise takes from His glory. Most every Evangelical or Reformed person would agree with whose statements if they believed consistently with their church’s teaching.

    Protestantism’s assurance of salvation, only possible truly with Original Sin, though held by most Evangelicals except Wesleyans (and this because Wesley knew some Greek Fathers – there’s something interesting) and Methodists rests on Luther’s take on Romans and Galatians, but his presupposition is already borderline Calvinistic anthropology. All the talk in the world of grace versus works and so on is based on this assumption, that man is not capable of willing anything good. To protect God’s glory you need people so bad they could never do anything truly good. All of this falls apart without Original Sin.

    The question from Fr. Freeman, to me, is this persuasive or are we past time for these discussions when the world is falling part, yes and I don’t know. I make headway in conversations often. My Reformed friends don’t wonder if I’m really a Christian at least. But they have hung with me through discussions much longer than these, I have attacked Protestant beliefs openly and they tell me I have not offended them. My neighbors, heck anyone who has to be around me (I feel sorry for them), is going to hear eventually about the hope of Christ and why hopelessness exists apart from Him. I have 2-hour conversations with agnostic neighbors regularly explaining and answering objections to Christianity. I don’t think these are a waste of time, and at the very least, they know I do so because I care. I care that they have hope in Christ. That I feel good about. I’ve never believed the oft quoted, “If necessary, use words,” misattribution to Fracis of Assisi. Speaking the truth in love, if you really do love people, comes across as love, even if it comes by way of someone whose mind runs faster and doesn’t shut off as easily as others.

    The themes that are actually present in the Bible and in Orthodoxy, for our practices to be genuine, and not pragmatic/bare altruisms, they must follow the same reasoning. The Tradition is telling us, “You already died, live like you believe that.” And the practices we have largely center around supporting this belief, as it is fully an affirmation of Resurrection. But, they also do as the article lays out, draw us into communion with Christ, as we share in/participate in His life and love in our actions which show we trust Him, that we’ll be safe in Him even if we sell everything we have and give it to the poor. In fact, without the practice of self-denial, communion is impossible as we are living in unbelief if we do not trust that we can go a day without a hamburger, without anything, as we are in Christ, and Christ is God’s, and everything is ours. Who will face the temptation coming, whenever it comes, well? The person self-consciously preparing by self-denial in full expectation of Resurrection, or the dieter/mindful? And it seems to me, it’s quite the concession to esteem one as highly as the other. And that leads me to another rabbit trail so I’ll stop here. But, Mark, I don’t mean to imply you believe dieting and fasting are the same, but so many do I couldn’t help but bring it up. I do, when it comes up, bring out the science of fasting. If you didn’t know, the Mediterranean Diet was based on guess what? An Orthodox population. They forgot to mention they fasted, and that food availability changed drastically following WWII. So, yes, there is a positive health effect which should be expected if there is a synergy between mind and body. But if the body is a negative, fasting would still be a form of torture. That’s interesting, I think. Fasting/self-denial is actually healthy for the body, whereas unrestricted consumption (looks like survival from death having all the food/sex/money you could have) kills you or makes you sick. But if the body was superfluous, then it makes no difference either way. I can’t help but blame the Gnostic dualism of our culture on this same inheritance from Western theology that the mind or soul takes every priority over the body, and then later, when that is rejected, we are right back to, “Eat, Drink, Be Happy – Tomorrow you’re dead,” as Paul quotes with biting sarcasm. And without getting much farther, I have come to think that the denial of death in Western theology was eventually, inevitably going to be countered – with modern atheism. They acknowledge death, death is all they know really, and it filled the gap that would have never existed, hypothetically, in a Christianity that confronted death with ascetical hope in Resurrection. Take Satan and death out of the imagination, or either one really, and you leave this massive hole that will not stay void. Popular atheism exists to support the pursuit of selfishness by another theodicy, the “there is no theodicy.” But why? I can’t help but blame Western theology. If God predestines all the evil, what does it matter? Read Darwin’s interactions with Calvinism sometime. Forgive the length and any typos please.

    Matthew Lyon

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  1. Greetings, Father Stephen, Thank you so much for this reflection and all of the tremendous amount of work you have…

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