Broken Communion

The holidays can make it all too poignant: the terrible fact of broken communion. Often, our festivities bring us into close contact with some (few or many) whom we most commonly avoid. An uncle, an aunt, a brother, a parent whose relationship is marked with pain, misunderstanding, shame, and various other torments. Statistics say that these times (particularly Thanksgiving to Christmas) are frequently marred by things we would otherwise avoid. The holidays do not break our communion, but our close proximity often reveals it.

On the one hand, it is easy to write off such encounters as unpleasant facts of life while doing all in our power to minimize the damage and the discomfort. Walking on egg shells becomes a mode of existence. It has long been noted that “Sunday morning is the most segregated hour of the week.” It is an observation that was first made with regard to racial relations. In point of fact, it is much broader and deeper. Churches tend to be “affinity groups,” that is, self-selected groups of similar people. Socio-economic realities, educational levels, political affiliations, world-view, etc., all play a role in the make-up of a congregation. Of course, a Church is no simple slice of a random population sample. Its first great filter is that of common belief. No doubt, there are some congregations in our culture that do everything possible to minimize that filter (often substituting other, less obvious, versions).

The earliest Christian community in Jerusalem had a glaring cultural rift within its membership. There were Greek-speaking Jews, and Aramaic-speaking Jews. The former were likely far more engaged with the surrounding Greek-speaking Roman world, while the latter were likely more guarded and suspicious of anything non-Jewish. The rift broke into the open with the complaints surrounding neglected widows. Apparently, the Greek-speaking community felt that their widows were getting neglected in the congregation’s early relief efforts. The Apostles settled the matter by appointing seven “deacons.” It is noteworthy that all seven deacons had Greek names. You may draw your own conclusions.

St. Paul confronted an even greater rift as the fast-spreading Christian community began to incorporate the uncircumcised – that is, Gentile converts who had never formally become Jews. The amount of time he spent addressing the issue of circumcision reflects more than a concern for a point of doctrine. It was primarily a point that threatened the unity, and thus the existence, of the early Christian world. That there is “neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female,” is not really a statement about what it means to be Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female. It is a statement about the nature of Christ Himself. St. Paul goes on to say, “…for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.” (Gal. 3:28-29)

The “unity” we experience in communities of affinity are secular in nature. Anybody can have a sense of unity with people who are fundamentally “like” them. This pushes us towards an important point about the nature of the Church.

It is possible to give a sociological definition of the Church. Such a definition would describe beliefs and relationships that make the Church distinctive. I could be compared and contrasted to other affinity groups. Such a definition, of course, need have no reference to God. It’s just sociology.

Sadly, it’s possible to inhabit the Church as a sociological space. Our shared community of relationships and shared beliefs can give a sense of belonging as well as identity. We are bound by what we have in common as well as what we reject. As such, our enemies are as essential as our friends. And though our shared beliefs may make reference to God, it is, in point of fact, something merely sociological holding us together. This example is the Church as tragedy.

The truth of the Church is found in the Eucharist – indeed, we only truly exist as a eucharistic community. And it is in considering the nature of the Eucharist that we see the true nature of our own being.

There is a theme of “union” that runs throughout the Liturgy. To confess the Creed, we pray that we might be of “one mind.” This is not mere human agreement, but the very mind of Christ. One aspect of the Liturgy is the constant gathering up of various threads. The litanies take us through prayers for bishops, churches, government leaders, the sick, the suffering, the departed, etc. At a climatic moment in the Liturgy, the consecrated elements are lifted up in an act of offering with the words, “On behalf of all and for all.”

For those who may at this point think I’ve gone off on some ecumenical rabbit trail, I want to pause and visit the essential problem of unity. For the Scriptures say that God has “purposed in Himself, that in the dispensation of the fullness of the times He might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven and which are on earth—in Him.” (Eph. 1:9-10) There is a vast array of objectionable and reprehensible things (and people) encompassed in the phrase, “all things.” Anything less than this, though, is a denial of the central thrust of God’s purpose.

In 2 Corinthians 5, there is a significant passage that points towards the eucharistic life of the Church:

Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation,that is, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation. Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God. For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” (5:18-21)

The Church gathers, not as a sociological phenomenon, not as a community of the like-minded, but as the Body of Christ that is a small portion and foretaste of Christ’s reconciliation of the world to God. If it is true that Christ was made “to be sin for us,” then, in Him, we also “become sin” for others, that is, we do not separate ourselves as though we pray from a place above and apart from them. In the Eucharist, we are the voice of the world, of “all things.” This is the very nature of reconciliation – that we gather all things together within ourselves, within Christ.

With that, I bring us back to the problem of broken communion. This is a deep condition of our sinfulness. It is not healed by avoidance. When Christ “became sin for us,” He restored our communion with Him from inside our sin. Only love can dare go to such a place, to say to us, “Even if you descend into hell, I am there.” (Psalm 139:8) This is the very heart of the Eucharist, that point to which God is gathering all things. There creation groans, waiting for us to be revealed as the children of God.

I think of the poem by George Herbert:

The Agony

Philosophers have measur’d mountains,
Fathom’d the depths of the seas, of states, and kings,
Walk’d with a staff to heav’n, and traced fountains:
But there are two vast, spacious things,
The which to measure it doth more behove:
Yet few there are that sound them; Sin and Love.

Who would know SIn, let him repair
Unto mount Olivet; there shall he see
A man so wrung with pains, that all his hair,
His skin, his garments bloody be.
Sin is that press and vice, which forceth pain
To hunt his cruel food through ev’ry vein.

Who knows not Love, let him assay
And taste that juice, which on the cross a pike
Did set again abroach, then let him say
If ever he did taste the like.
Love is that liquor sweet and most divine,
Which my God feels as blood; but I, as wine.

 

 

 

 

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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56 responses to “Broken Communion”

  1. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    So, Father,
    How do I, when I encounter such brokenness, work to heal it? Is healing symptom specific or can the healing be more general? Is the healing approach different with each person, or each underlying cause?

    How much carries over as the broken communion is within my own heart is healed?

    My daughter-in-law and in our hearts are father-daughter will not even come as a guest. She is afraid she might like it which is covered by the “too many hypocrites” objection plus her, (second husband is an Evangelical.

    Or do I repent more fully of the brokenness within my own soul and ask God to give the increase?
    .

  2. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Michael,
    We cannot expect to see the brokenness healed (that belongs to the mystery of someone’s relationship with God). Christ offered Himself on the Cross, and the world (to most eyes) remained unchanged. Our entering into the Cross of Christ within and on behalf of the brokenness, entails us being willing to bear the burden of that brokenness into His presence and stand there. We stand there not viewing the broken others as “others,” but as our own selves.

    And, as St. Sophrony would say, “Then step back and have a cup of tea.”

  3. John Avatar
    John

    “He restored our communion with Him from inside our sin.” It’s still hard to get my head around, but this helps me understand why the cross could not be avoided and what Jesus really accomplished during the ‘harrowing of hell’. Thank you, Father Stephen!

  4. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    John,
    It is a difficult concept, for sure. I think that if 2Cor. 5:21 didn’t exist, we would never dare say such things. But there it is – and it invites us to ponder it. St. Maximus said, “He who understands the mystery of the Cross understands all things.”

  5. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Father, if I am understanding the closest answer is “to continue to learn repentance im myself and let God give the increase.” But the way I phrased the question is not comprehensive enough in light of 2 Cor. If I understanding St. Sophrony correctly, my daughter’s denial is part of the Cross for me.

    Interestingly enough I am reading an Evangelical magazine called “Bible Study” published by Logos. The author approaches the same essential question but he seems to shy away from your conclusion — falling back on a form of the “unity in diversity” trope…

    As I interpret your direction, I must become (if possible) my daughter’s sin and denial for her sake as I, hopefully, continue to enter The Cross of repentance.

  6. Valentina Avatar
    Valentina

    Fr.Stephan, it’s time to tell you thanks. The other word that I have is edifying.
    I have trouble reading books or newspapers anymore, but on a computer, I’m able to read. And what a gift to me when I have this chance. As we are walking to Bethlehem, this brought nourishment.

  7. Mark DeLaurentis Avatar
    Mark DeLaurentis

    Venerable father, please make pretend I’m six years old and make it accessible to me

    Did not the Messiah come to reconciled us to our Father in heaven, and also to each other?

  8. Simon Avatar
    Simon

    If it is true that Christ was made “to be sin for us,” then, in Him, we also “become sin” for others, that is, we do not separate ourselves as though we pray from a place above and apart from them. In the Eucharist, we are the voice of the world, of “all things.” This is the very nature of reconciliation – that we gather all things together within ourselves, within Christ.

    This is the depth of Orthodoxy speaking.

    And it makes the radical, eyebrow-raising humility of the dessert dwellers seem more sensible. In other words, we can walk around parroting the saints, “I am the worst of all sinners.” OR, we become the sin of all–in union with Christ otherwise it’s mere sentiment–and, in becoming the sin of all, it becomes quite natural to say, “I am the worst sinner…blah, blah, blah.” It also follows from the first principles of the Orthodox faith: Communion and ontology. We are ontologically assimilated to Christ through communion. Communion is ontological or it’s nothing. Therefore, what is true of Christ becomes ontologically true of those in communion with Christ.

  9. Dee of St Herman Avatar
    Dee of St Herman

    Father,
    I’m grateful for this reflection, which elaborates more on the theme of hypostatic prayer. (At least, this is what it seems to me.) I’m saddened that this prayer is so rare. And I pray that I might be given such grace.

    As I reflect on this theme of communion and some of the points you’ve made, it seems that the deep divides in this culture (US) migrated into the Orthodox Church among those who have converted from other confessions (and various politically associated groups). This reality may make it difficult for true communion within congregations. I frequently see correlations between the internal US-Orthodox Church ethos and the early Church tensions between Hellenistic-Jewish Christians and the Aramaic-Jewish, or the Gentile-Christian vs. the Jewish-Christian. Despite my efforts to ignore expressions of evangelical perspectives among the Orthodox, I’ll admit that I can relatively easily recognize former evangelicals in the ranks of priests and congregations. To some degree, this is a form of ethos that is still invisible to many born into that context and perhaps hasn’t had sufficient catechesis to recognize the distinctions between the ethos. There is a similar phenomenon that has been described of Native Americans who have been raised on reservations. Indeed my mother (Seminole) wanted to assimilate into the American culture very much, but many of her mannerisms and ways of thinking were distinctive, yet she wasn’t always aware.

    It takes a certain amount of humility and bearing a little shame to recognize these influences and, with such awareness, begin to adopt with more heartfelt authenticity the Orthodox Way. However, if one is born into an environment that sees itself as ‘righteous,’ such an undertaking would be complex, if not impossible, without intervention from the Holy Spirit. Even St Paul felt compelled to circumcise Timothy at one point, against what might seem to be his beliefs that it would be unnecessary to do so according to the faith.

    Please forgive me, Father. Sometimes I struggle and groan deeply to hold fast to the faith. And I thank God I’m in a Greek Orthodox Church (knowing full well that each jurisdiction and congregation has its problems). Many are ‘cradle’ Orthodox in my congregation, which I believe adds to the fruitfulness of the leaven of the Orthodox ethos. Glory to God for all things. I pray for the Theotokos’s intercessions to protect the US Orthodox Church across all jurisdictions.

  10. Merry Bauman Avatar
    Merry Bauman

    Growing up in a time where Thanksgiving and Christmas were celebrated by gathering the whole multi generational family in one house and celebrating, the contrast of today illustrates exactly what you said. We had a fun celebration with my daughter and youngest son and their families-yesterday. I am part of a very large family, but we don’t gather together anymore.
    In our church we have many cultures and origins. They do tend to have “circles” of their own backgrounds, and languages, but I have never seen those as boundaries. We are all together in our faith and our church home. I enjoy being a part of all of the “circles”, and sharing fellowship and friendship with all ages and cultures . We are first ,and most importantly- brothers and sisters in Christ! We share the same Heavenly Father and Mother, and the Saints love all of us. We work together and share our lives and families -in our church home. Being an example for others of living what we believe- loving, praying for, and caring for each other-is my small way of trying to heal the divisions others may feel safest in. We are all one-in Christ. Thank you Father for reminding us.

  11. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Mark,
    Yes. The Scripture says that Christ has reconciled us and “given to us the ministry of reconciliation.” So, we do what He does (in Him, through Him, with Him), but not apart from Him, not instead of Him, not without Him.

  12. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Dee,
    I have this chapter in the forth-coming book on the “shame of conversion.” I look both at the shame of those coming in, and of those receiving them. One of the points that I make is that, in many ways, it is only quite recently that Orthodoxy has begun to “encounter America.” In doing so, it encounters American Protestantism, American Catholicism, etc. It also means that the true Orthodox ethos (not the thing that self-promotes itself as such) has to figure out how to do this new mission – how to encompass this in itself – how to heal it. What can be assimilated and what must be cleansed? Etc.

    It’ll be a few generations, I suspect. Orthodoxy is a long-term process. And, for what it’s worth, despite how much convert Orthodoxy sometimes complains about the Greeks (and Arabs, occasionally), they likely have a very unique role in this process – rooted in the depths of their 2,000 year-old inheritance.

    Humility all-around is the way forward.

  13. Dee of St Herman Avatar
    Dee of St Herman

    I can’t wait to read your book, Father!!!

  14. Byron Avatar
    Byron

    There is a similar phenomenon that has been described of Native Americans who have been raised on reservations. Indeed my mother (Seminole) wanted to assimilate into the American culture very much, but many of her mannerisms and ways of thinking were distinctive, yet she wasn’t always aware.

    Dee, this is (to me) like finding out that one has an accent! I’ve had people come up to me and ask me where I was from, because they had not heard my accent before. It always seemed strange to me–and, to a certain extent, insulting. Surely I have no accent, thought I! I just speak “normal”! Sometimes the struggle is to recognize that we are, at times, viewed differently for reasons we never realized existed. And to accept that with humility and love. It’s a very odd thing–and the oddness of it makes it all the more difficult to accept, I think!

    There is comfort in the sociological gathering. There is vulnerability in the Eucharistic gathering. But the latter opens our hearts to God and each other; the former closes them in a “safe space”. Reconciliation is more than shared acceptance. Communion has depths far beyond simple inclusiveness. Forgive me if I’ve spoken poorly. There is a lot to chew on in this post….

  15. Dee of St Herman Avatar
    Dee of St Herman

    Dear Byron,
    Thank you so much for your thoughts. Indeed there is more to communion than reconciliation regarding the usual definition ascribed to the word in the ethos of US history. You’ve described it well, communion has depths far beyond simple inclusiveness.

  16. Dee of St Herman Avatar
    Dee of St Herman

    By the way Byron,
    I once asked someone where the “washroom” was. The person responded and asked where in Canada did I come from. I laughed, completely surprised. They were correct. I had spent a good chunk of my adult life in Canada. However, I was asked this question while living in Florida at the time, where I spent a lot of time as a child and where coincidently, many Canadian snowbirds go in the wintertime. Also, there are a lot of Cajuns in the south, and funnily, some of the ‘Seminole’ dishes my mother made came from Quebec.

    Regardless of our backgrounds, I think there is more of us in each other than we are aware. There is a true communion that Christ has given us if we learn, open our hearts and accept the cup He has given us.

  17. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Dee,
    Reading your comment I suddenly found the story of Peter in Acts coming to mind. The Lord presents him with the vision of unclean animals and told him to eat them. That had to be hard!

  18. Dee of St Herman Avatar
    Dee of St Herman

    Indeed, Father! The passage is revelatory. Also, I will emphasize my appreciation for your words:

    It also means that the true Orthodox ethos (not the thing that self-promotes itself as such) has to figure out how to do this new mission – how to encompass this in itself – how to heal it. What can be assimilated and what must be cleansed?

    No one should think of themselves as ‘experts’ in the Orthodox Way. As father Zacharias has mentioned, our point of comparison is Christ. No one measures up. But the Church is still The Church, God willing and with the help of the Holy Spirit, we will endure and follow Christ.

  19. Janine Avatar
    Janine

    Father, you wrote (replying to Michael Bauman): ” Our entering into the Cross of Christ within and on behalf of the brokenness, entails us being willing to bear the burden of that brokenness into His presence and stand there. We stand there not viewing the broken others as “others,” but as our own selves. ”

    This made sense to me in light of my upbringing in the Armenian Apostolic (Oriental Orthodox) Church. Because of the destruction of the monastic system and persecutions of the community (in Ottoman Turkey), there were not enough priests for private confession. The Church developed a corporate confession in which all kinds of sin is named, but the point is that the priest is intercessor on behalf of the confessing community. That corporate confession remains part of the liturgy today. But the idea that the priest is intercessor for all — and all manner of sin — made sense for me of the words you wrote. So, if we are also part of a priesthood because of our participation in the life of Christ, then we may bear our sin before God in some sense on behalf of all and for all.

    Does that make sense?

    I really like the idea that we just come before God with all of it, like an offering. It’s the only thing that makes sense to me, because really, what else can we do?

  20. Janine Avatar
    Janine

    PS In this sense, I’m bringing all my broken relationships with me — and that extends out a long ways I would think.

  21. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Janine,
    Yes, what else can we do? There have been occasions (particularly within the ministry of St. John of Kronstadt) where a form of “public” confession was used. I do not hear of it being used anywhere at present. But your account reflects the fact that the work of the Church cannot be stopped. God gives us a way forward.

  22. Michelle Avatar
    Michelle

    This whole topic reaches deeply into my heart as I do not understand it all but feel it, and it is a deep sorrow in which I always seek the hope of Christ.

  23. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Michelle,
    Words always seem inadequate before such mysteries. But the heart knows them.

  24. Matthew Lyon Avatar
    Matthew Lyon

    Fr. Freeman,

    I deleted 4 paragraphs to shorten this…

    The worldview of union (Biblically, OT and NT) in Christ’s whole Life must be emphasized to combat the worldview of death and fear of death. To the extent this is ignored, or people lack the vision, their sorrow will ultimately be ungodly. How many Christians would be assured, Left or Right, that if anyone made the switch to their party that this was as good as genuine Christian conversion? This ungodly sorrow (just using politics as an example and not as the focus here) will center around me and what makes me feel safe from fear of death. But godly sorrow desires repentance, for the entire world, including me, realizes the physical/mental toll/risk benefit/reward, and works to deepen repentance internally, and to draw others to repentance by love – to Christ their Creator.

    Revelation 4:11
    “You are worthy, our Lord and God,
    to receive glory and honor and power,
    because you have created all things,
    and because of your will they existed and were created.”

    Hebrews 2:14 Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things… 17 Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.

    The sorrow I feel, on my best day, is the sorrow that many of Christ’s creatures do not see Him worthy and will not worship Him with us, in union. As that relates to biological family, the pain is deeper than with people I don’t know.

  25. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Not saying I am perfected but I lost my fear of death when my late wife reposed shortly before Pascha in 2005.

    I am stil tempted and succumb now and then but I have the bench mark: Christ is Risen!

  26. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Byron, there is “a lot to chew on in this post”. It has been rolling around in my mind and heart all day but I still do not have ways to articulate what it is except a little more seasoned joy in my heart, a little less selfish and more patience with my wife’s idiosyncratic ways which of course are perfectly natural and normal to her… and of all the people in the world besides me I have the most communion with.

  27. Josh Kimbril Avatar
    Josh Kimbril

    Fr. Freeman,

    I love your blog and I also have great regard to for the Orthodox Church (I am Continuing Anglican). However, I have recently come across some versions of the Synodikon that anathematize those that use unleavened bread. It seems with so many issues dividing Christians that this is mean-spirited at best and Pharisaical at worst (I understand and agree with the anathemas of the 7th ecumenical council; the anathemas from 1583 are what concern me). Does the Orthodox Church still anathematize all Western Christians? If so, what is your take on this. I have read many Orthodox priests’ and theologians’ writings that attempt to show some rapprochement with the West, and I have yet met others that denigrate everything in Western Christianity. God bless you and I appreciate any insights on this.

  28. Simon Avatar
    Simon

    Josh,
    This question is interesting. In following up–briefly–with my own reading (i.e. googlefication) something that I came across is that persons were also anathematized for saying that the bread Jesus used was unfermented. Almost certainly Jesus used unfermented bread. It was the Jewish passover and unfermented bread is what they prepared.

    I think it’s interesting that in the Orthodox Church that not all of these pronouncements are given much weight…if any at all. When I come across this kind of stuff I ask myself, “Is this what I see practiced in the life of the Church?” If not, I brush it aside. The Church is 2000 years old. It is going to have dust bunny’s in the corner. It is no surprise really. Another metaphor: We learn to eat the meat and spit out the bones.

  29. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Josh,
    Your questions give rise to several thoughts. The language of “anathemas” was quite widespread in the early Church, in both the East and the West. It’s a way to say, “We oppose this.” Somewhat milder language would like be used today (except by some on the internet for whom the strongest possible language is the only acceptable form of speech).

    Technically, all Christians who are not “in communion” with the Orthodox Church are (in some manner or another) “anathema,” in that they are not in communion with the Orthodox Church. But, that is a technical use of the term. Generally speaking, it is not a common term used today in that it implies a level of animosity that is not fully intended.

    What is not very well understood in Protestant circles (and increasingly in RC circles), is that the great “heresy” of Protestantism is the rejection of the Church as “One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic.” Particularly, it is a rejection of the Church as “One.”

    All of the Reformers danced around the problem of ecclesiology because it was, more or less, impossible to solve from within the Protestant model. The result was (from its utter inception) a plurality of Churches, all of whom were, to one degree or another, “out of communion” with each other. Indeed, the phenomenon of “open communion” (all Baptized persons may receive communion) is extremely modern, dating back to only around the 1950’s as a result of the ecumenical movement. No Church practiced “open communion” (with almost no exception) until that time. When I became an Anglican back in 1968, I could not take communion until I was confirmed…which took about six months. That was the common practice for Anglicans then.

    When Christians say that they believe the Nicene Creed, but practice a multiplicity of Churches, they are simply ignoring, or re-defining the Creed. But it really is there and should “stick in our craw.”

    In this sense, the Orthodox Church simply says and teaches what she has always said and taught. It is others who have changed and have forgotten what was once held by all. Orthodoxy serves as an accurate memory for Christianity (in this and in so much else).

    That said – I should be quick to add that none of us created the present mess that is Christian ecclesiology – we inherited it. As such, we often just have to do the best we can. Circumstances often make it very complicated – I should know – I spent 20 years moving towards Orthodoxy and had a very checkered conscience much of the time – something that was terrible for my soul.

    What is also the case is a matter of personalities. Some Orthodox folks (theologians, etc.) are very generous in their treatment of the non-Orthodox, and some are quite stern. For me, that only tells me something about the personality involved, not about what is “Orthodox.” However, the practice of what is required for communion will not differ from Orthodox to Orthodox. That is a very clear matter.

    On the matter of leavened/unleavened bread. This was, interestingly, one of the earliest controversies between East and West. Apparently, the historical record is clear – leavened bread is the older and original practice. The adoption of unleavened bread in the West, was a later innovation.

    Today, it strikes most Christians that this difference should just be a matter of toleration between the Churches. But, interestingly, that was decidedly not the case when it first arose. It tells me that modern sensibilities take ritual differences to be minor things – which also tells me that ritual practices themselves are seen as minor, inconsequential matters, which is obvious throughout Western Churches.

    “Orthodoxy” (orthodoxia) in its original meaning, does not mean “right doctrine.” It’s proper meaning is “right worship” (literally, “right glory”). Thus, Orthodox worship (including it’s ritual actions, etc.) are quite conscious and centered on rightly glorifying God in the fullness of right teaching, etc.

    That being the case, the innovation of unleavened bread seemed to be a clear violation of right glory. It would be similar to the use of grape juice in place of wine. Leavened bread is “living” (the yeast is alive), whereas unleavened bread is “dead.” Of course, theology being what it is, it would be possible to theorize differently about unleavened bread – but what is clear – is that in the mind of the primitive Church, the Eucharist was not a re-enactment of the Jewish Passover meal. It was a new thing – a new covenant – etc.

    It is an error to denigrate everything in Western Christianity. Most of what is found in Western Christianity is found in Orthodoxy as well, and so there’s a danger of throwing the baby out with the bath water. But Orthodoxy remains precisely what it is – the abiding, living memory of the fullness of the faith.

    I hope that’s of some use in your thoughts. Forgive me.

  30. Dee of St Herman Avatar
    Dee of St Herman

    Simon,
    Thank you for your comment that gave me my first smile today.

  31. Dee of St Herman Avatar
    Dee of St Herman

    Father,
    Thank you for your clarifying words, considering the use of the word anathema. Indeed, there are some in Orthodox circles who would enforce a stringent aggressive meaning. Generally, I don’t find many Orthodox in that category but there are a few.

    I consider myself more of a ‘hardliner’ regarding the distinction between Orthodox Christianity and Western. Due to personal circumstances that spanned several generations, my family has not had pleasant interactions with Western Christianity. However, while on my father’s side were Quakers who are Protestants, they too were persecuted by other Protestants. I have never liked Christianity much in my life up until the day I met Christ in the Orthodox Church. Of course, that upturned the internal landscape. Nevertheless, I still have to swallow hard the cup I need to drink when it comes to obvious Protestant characteristics among the Orthodox who have converted (and even among those who have not converted).

  32. Dee of St Herman Avatar
    Dee of St Herman

    Simon,
    I’ll add a short story revealing a little bit about Orthodoxy. Someone in my immediate family (not Orthodox) was playfully criticizing the Orthodox Church for its lack of organization. I laughed, then prayed under my breath, “thank God!”

  33. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Dee, thank God for the lack of the type of organization that the Protestant folks are looking for. It, when we let go, at our best is of the Holy Spirit. In my experience, Lebanese women in the kitchen is often the epitome. Impossible for me to describe. But, oh my goodness! Order, beauty and joy out of seeming chaos.

  34. Josh Kimbril Avatar
    Josh Kimbril

    Fr. Stephen,

    Thank you for your kind and thoughtful answer. I agree that the Protestant experiment was mostly a failure, especially in the area of ecclesiology (I am one of those “Anglicans” that strongly identifies as “Catholic”). Furthermore, I am being forced to pause and really consider the issue of leavened vs. unleavened bread in communion. In the West of course, for a sacrament to be “valid” it has to be valid “matter”. For us, it has to be wheat bread. I was recently informed by my Bishop that “gluten-free” communion wafers were “invalid” matter and could not be used in communion. I cringe when I read about Protestants using Cheetos and grape soda to get teens into the “Lord’s Supper”. I have to consider that the Eastern Church may well have viewed unleavened bread in the same manner as I do the Cheetos. Just as I would never use rice crackers and water for the Eucharist, so I need to respect the aversion to unleavened bread in the East.
    As far as the issue of ecclesiology: I agree that it is fundamental to being Christian. There is only one Church, ontologically speaking, since there is only one Christ. On a personal note, I hold to the sacramental reality of the Church as One. It’s expressed most fully in the celebration of the Eucharist. This is following from St. Ignatius of Antioch who spoke of the Bishop and the Eucharist as being synonymous with the local instantiation of the Church. Where ever the Eucharist is celebrated, that place is “being” the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. I think this is probably similar to the Eastern view. The Church is not bound together by it’s hierarchs (popes or patriarchs) but by its sacraments. This of course, begs the question of what is necessary for the Eucharist. I would answer a validly ordained Bishop or priest in Apostolic succession.
    Thank you Fr. Freeman and God bless you and your ministry!

  35. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Josh,
    Thanks for your questions and your patience. Oddly, I’m not particularly concerned about the gluten situation and do not know of any Orthodox refusal to consecrate such. I would not do so for the main Lamb, but possibly some particles set to the side – and (Orthodox-wise) dipped in the wine – intincted, even in the smallest possible way if the fermentation in the wine is an allergy trigger.

    These kind of health problems (allergies), when they are genuine, should be met with a very generous pastoral approach, to my mind. Of course, it’s a bishop’s call. I’ve dealt with similar things over the years. There’s always a way.

    I have to share a humorous thought. When I was in an Anglican seminary, we had a running joke about there being two issues of faith in the Liturgy. One was the miracle of the bread becoming the Body of Christ. The other was to believe that the wafer was actually bread.

    There is no parallel in the West to the Orthodox service of preparation (proskomedie) of the bread and wine for the Eucharist. It takes about half-hour to an hour to complete, and is done in quiet before the Liturgy. The careful cutting of the bread, it’s arrangement on the paten (diskos) in which it is arranged, more or less, as an “icon” of the Kingdom to come, with particles being taken out and placed on the paten and named for those being remembered (as in, the whole membership of the parish, etc.) as well as the departed, etc. What happens, over time, is that a priest develops a deep piety and attachment to this service. It is quiet, intimate, and profound in its own way.

    Of course, it’s a later development and not primitive, but it well expresses the piety and devotion of the Church. There are variations in practice, mostly between Greek practice and Slavic practice. But it’s quite rich.

    May God give you grace in all your thoughts.

  36. Byron Avatar
    Byron

    Leavened bread is “living” (the yeast is alive), whereas unleavened bread is “dead.”

    The more I mull over the questions of our time (whether social, theological, or any other), the more I find the answers seem to be guided by “life” over “death”. Our humanity, as a reflection of God, produces (or has the potential to naturally produce) life (by His blessing) in the marriage of man and woman. All our actions and goals should be life-affirming in order to glorify God, Who is Life itself. I wonder, Father, is this a good guide (generally speaking) for when we ponder these issues?

  37. Michelle B Avatar
    Michelle B

    Dear Fr. Stephen,

    Thank you for this reflection. Amazing how timely it is.

    I converted several years ago and attend services at a monastic community that employs many priests in its attached seminary. I am fond of everyone in the community for various reasons. However, as a young, single mother with no plans to marry and “living in the world,” I don’t really fit in.
    Prayer during the services is strengthening (except as you say, we say the “our father” together — I admit I cannot chant/psalmodize with the others as I do not speak Russian / Slavonic, but that’s different –) but I often panic after Liturgy ends and we gather to share a meal. I sit with the old women, two of them widows. When my young daughter is with me every other weekend it is tolerable as I have her to draw strength from, but when she is absent I am terrified in my alienation from the others. It’s against the culture of our community for the men to speak to single women — so I cannot speak with the monks, seminarians, or clergy (in theory this is acceptable but in practice I have found that the clergy prefer me not to approach, as they prefer to socialize with each other) — and the women, except the two widows, are married and stay home with their children, and they spend the weekdays visiting one another and developing relationships while I am at work. So among the women, there is a narrative thread that is common to them that I am unaware of, and it requires too much effort for me to be brought ‘up to speed.’ Please understand that this is all good and I am not bitter or regretful, it just is the natural way of things. But the shame and estrangement that I feel at the end of the meal when others socialize and I walk through the crowd a few times, making myself available, but to no avail — and then leave of course, back to my home, my work, and the week ahead of me, alone — the shame is very public, though unspoken, and it feels irreconcilable. No one really knows how to move beyond it, least of all myself.

    So thank you for this post here, which I needed to read especially this week. And for giving me the space to say such things aloud.

    In Christ,

    Michelle B

  38. Dee of St Herman Avatar
    Dee of St Herman

    Michelle,
    I understand your feelings. I’m not sure what to suggest, but I offer my thoughts by sharing similar experiences in the past. I’m very introverted. I clumsily manage social interactions, which may be partly due to early childhood inculcation into a culture that is different from the primary culture of this nation (US). It may seem like an odd thing to do, but I have brought edifying reading to the social hour. When there are conversations around the table that I’m not privy to, I’ll just open the book and read and look up from time to time to smile or acknowledge others. Sometimes it works out that someone asks what I’m reading, and then we have something to talk about. I’m ok with looking like/being the odd duck in a crowd. It’s been my way of life for a long time. It also inhibits others from having conversations with me. I trust that over time, and with the familiarity with my presence and their presence with me, such walls may start to come down. But I’m honestly not looking for such an occasion. I’ll also admit that if the conversation is animated (in a different language), it is harder to read!

    And if you’re up for it, I have arranged a conversation in advance, centered on a theological question, and had arranged a conversation during the coffee hour. The question was addressed to the clergy (specifically to a priest with seminary training). It was not impromptu but very arranged. I benefited from learning, and the discussion was edifying for others who listened to the conversation. Doing that periodically helps to break the potential tension and indicates your intentions to have worthy conversations.

    May God bless you, dear Michelle, and bring you peace and joy.

  39. Mark Spurlock Avatar
    Mark Spurlock

    Michelle,

    A couple of ideas: 1) You could journal about your experience. I think it might make for interesting reading as yours sounds like a unique story that others would want to read. If you decide to make your journal public in some way, you could develop a relation with your readership. 2) Perhaps you could “advertise” a desire to learn some Russian/Slavonic and develop one or more relationships this way.

  40. Dee of St Herman Avatar
    Dee of St Herman

    Mark,
    Those are good suggestions!

  41. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Michelle, keep in mind that you are not the only one feeling shame. Other folks there do as well. The other side of it. For myself, although I am a novice at this–the more I learn to honestly laugh at myself, the less shame there is–on both sides.

    Good, clean, laughter is healing and tends to promote sharing.

  42. Dee of St Herman Avatar
    Dee of St Herman

    Father,
    Would it be appropriate to describe what variations there are in the Eucharistic service between the Greek and Slovic? I ask to learn. Is it solely in the language? Or are you referring to how the Cup is presented to those who receive?

  43. c. Avatar
    c.

    Dear Michelle, God bless you. The grace of God must be helping you to keep returning to worship. Thank you for your bravery in speaking up. You are precious how you are. Shame is not the real you. Feelings of rejection say something about the lack of vision in others, not about you. Of course that doesn’t make it any better. I will pray for you.
    My family had 20 years in a small ethnic parish (many were related) and felt very left out..I stopped going for a time. Resentment, envy, shame, fear and inability to communicate on both sides crowded out love and worship. Drowned out the desire for the sacrament of confession. And led to some disastrous consequences.
    I have often felt , and sometimes still feel somewhat that same shame. I am a mostly retired, divorced, widowed woman. often in need of talking with someone else about life issues. I have 2 grown children, 1 married and with a child, who is estranged, and one with mental health issues who is in an abusive relationship, yet is dependant on me. I do have a counselor. I have a few friends, but know this is my cross and my opportunity. It is difficult to separate shame from the need to be acknowledged. I am always so near to tears. I understand it is difficult for others to be OK with tears. I tell them don’t be afraid of them. It is the way I am. I live by grace. It is hard to relate to the busyness of others lives as it must be for them to relate to the mental health struggles of mine. I do talk to God, but my love is variable. I am sorry that our parisheners do not live in a close community. It is only after services that we have a chance to meet. I think that I have to be the one to take the initiative to visit them. Truth is I get afraid of rejection. And worried about the cost of gas. Both excuses. Mostly it is that my mind is so busy with the past, wrongs and rejections and things not expressed, and how it bears on my actions in the present that I get frozen in my day. Avoiding the things I think I should be doing.
    I am sure I project some of my rejection. I pick up my grown daughter and bring her to church with me most Sundays. She was baptised orthodox as an infant..but had not been to the church for many years. She is growing in her trust in God . She states it is Jesus who is helping her in making changes in her life. She still is often troubled and will go in and out of church to sit in the car. She thinks people avoid her and don’t like her but again some is projection and some is probably not knowing what to say. Confession is healing , is most healing in all of this.
    We are a small mission parish, what we need is the new testament deacon. We have been together 8 years I think. We have had people come and go. As time goes by ,together we have come to know of each others difficult struggles, and to share in them. Broken family relationships , addiction and mental health struggles. death and illness, lonliness, are common. Hard to voice them. Confusing to know what is the best next action. Even outside the church local help is weak if existant. I am considering driving an hour to go to a support group. Al Anon for families does help and there is a christian group, Grace Alliance that has (I believe) international outreach.
    I have heard some church people say that they feel like their life is too good, that they need something hard to happen. I think to myself, befriend the poor, the downtrodden, visit the jail, help at the shelter. Sometimes the communities we live in, the places we shop, the work we do insulates us from where we might meet Jesus in His disguise. We can choose to change, and be confronted with dilemnas that only respond to the healing of Christs touch in their lives and ours.
    Glory to Christ. Come and heal our hurt as we open ourselves to your love through others.

  44. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Dee,
    The differences between Slavic and Greek practice in the Eucharist is likely not noticeable by the laity (as far as I can see). It is noticeable to priests, though. For example, Slavic practice normally uses 5 small loaves of bread for the Proskomedie – the Greek practice uses one large one. Greek practice will place the small particles that were taken out for the living and the departed into the chalice together with the Lamb to commune the people. Slavic practice only gives communion from the Lamb, the smaller particles are placed in the chalice after communion and consumed.

    There are other small practices – not always strictly adhered to – that differ in these two general ways of serving. The history is interesting (as I understand it). Essentially, there was more development in the Greek practice, whereas the Slavic practice was more conservative, striving to keep things exactly how they had been handed down to them (by the Greeks). The great change in Slavic practice that happened under Patriarch Nikon of Moscow in the 1600’s that led to the schism of the Old Believers, was caused by Nikon’s efforts to update Slavic practice to more closely follow what was then taking place under the Greeks. Nonetheless, there remain differences. They are, in Orthodox thought, differences that do not make a difference. I have, on occasion in the OCA, been called down privately about doing something that was “Greek” rather than the Slavic practice. I travel so much and concelebrate in various Churches (including having a son-in-law who is an Antiochian priest) that I tend not to make a careful distinction, or to take as much care, perhaps, as I should.

    I recall a wonderful story about a very holy priest who always saw his guardian angel with him when he served the Liturgy. Once, the bishop was there and corrected the priest about some small matter in the ritual. Later, the priest said to his guardian angel, “Why did you never point that mistake out to me?” The angel replied, “I’m only an angel. It is not for me to correct a priest.”

    I love stories like that. I will add that Orthodoxy has many such stories. They are correctives, I think, to the occasional tendency to make a big deal out of something that is probably just a small deal and to remember that the point of our life is union with Christ.

    I was also once told that a priest is allowed 7 mistakes (not sure that’s the right number) per liturgy. No one told me what happens when you exceed them. 🙂 I’m sure I long ago ran over my quota.

  45. Dee of St Herman Avatar
    Dee of St Herman

    Father,
    Thank you for your helpful and informative response. The Orthodox Church has a long history spanning the globe. There are bound to be variances and I’m grateful with how they are treated.

    I also love that story about the angel, Father. It rings true. Indeed the point of our lives is union with Christ. I don’t think He counts our mistakes. At least, I hope not. I wouldn’t have a particularly good batting average. In that regard, I’m grateful for the sacrament of confession.

    Thank you again!

  46. Nikolaos Avatar
    Nikolaos

    Fr Stephen

    I occasionally used to attend the Divine Liturgy at the Russian church where Metropolitan Anthony Bloom used to be. In the Greek churches our custom is not to kiss icons or even the hand of the priest distributing the antidoron, after we had Holy Communion (many Greeks do though and they also fall on their knees on Sunday and other practices which are done mostly out of ignorance and good intention).

    The point is that once you had Christ, there is no need for anything else, even the grace from the icons and the hand of the Priest pales into insignificance in that moment where one should be completely fulfilled with the Body and Blood of Christ.

    In the Russian church they kiss the Holy Chalice after Holy Communion. The priest offered me to kiss the Chalice like everyone else and I did not do so, getting a stern look from him. It was a bit scary and as we are now not allowed to commune in Russian churches (I could be wrong), I have not been there for a while. This is unfortunate as it was convenient to celebrate a missed great occasion 13 days later, when I could.

  47. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Nikolaos,
    Good examples. Of course, my heart grieved when you spoke of the present difficulties in the Church (Constantinople/Moscow). Because of my rule on avoiding discussions of such things on the blog, I have remained silent in the matter. I am of the mind that the present troubles will be resolved and healed, though it may take the passing of a number of personalities before it happens. Such matters are best commended to the providence of God.

    A couple of years ago, in the worst of the pandemic, I started reading several books with the intention of retaining some kind of sobriety amidst all the noise. One was a book (Justinian’s Flea) that detailed the difficulties and tragedies of the 6th century with the first outbreak of the plague and so much else. Another was a book on the Hundred Years War in Britain and France (1300’s-1400’s) during which the Black Death swept Europe. The third book was on the 17th century in England with their Civil War (a religious/political strife that has never really gone away). All three eclipsed anything in our present time for ludicrous madness and tragic circumstance. There’s nothing like looking at something far worse to help get a perspective on your own present troubles.

    All three served as reminders and examples of God’s providence in the midst of natural/political disasters. They were also reminders that the passing of a century or two does wonders to heal a difficult political matter.

    All that said, it is still the case that my heart breaks within me in the present, and I long for God’s providence to make right what has been made wrong and bring us to our senses. In the meantime, we pray and wait on the goodness of God.

  48. Evan Avatar
    Evan

    Thank you, Fr. Stephen, for this reflection. Early in the comments, you talked about entering the Cross of repentance by becoming the sin of others, as Christ did for us. I am really wrestling with what this means for me. Practically, how do I become the sin of others?

    “We stand there not viewing the broken others as ‘others’, but as our own selves.”

    What does this look like?

  49. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Evan,
    I can only describe my own feeble practice – though this can be done at an extreme sublime level.

    For me, it is praying not just “for” others, but as though I were actually them (in some manner). This is not play-acting, but acknowledging that it is how our lives are actually constituted. I would suggest that someone simply start with that simple intention and stand before God. It is of note to me that at the monastery of St. John the Baptist in Essex, the Jesus Prayer is offered thus: Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on us (and there is often added, “and on Thy whole world”). But it is for “us,” not just “me.”

  50. Evan Avatar
    Evan

    Thank you, Fr. Stephen. “To pray as though I were actually them.” Does this mean repenting of our sins when we see the sins of others, recognizing that we fall short in countless similar ways? Are we praying in repentance on their behalf? I think I’m just having a hard time wrapping my mind around this. Forgive me.

  51. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Evan,
    To a certain extent, we repent on their behalf. I think of the prophet Jeremiah who did repentance on behalf of Israel. It is not a substitute for their repentance, but, I believe, makes their burden lighter.

  52. Nikolaos Avatar
    Nikolaos

    Fr Stephen

    I have read that Elder Porphyrios was advising one of his spiritual children as follows :

    Do not set yourself apart from the rest of the world. It is not right at all. As we love ourselves, so we must love our neighbour. I love the whole world as myself. That’s why I don’t see the reason why I should say: “ Our Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on us” and not “have mercy on me”. Since I and the world are one and the same! This is how you will say it too: Have mercy on me.

  53. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Nikolaos,
    Yes. Different elders, different words. All to one and the same goal.

  54. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Father, It is one and the same is it not?

  55. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    The one prayer I would NOT want to pray is “have mercy on them”

  56. jacksson Avatar
    jacksson

    “He in whom there is love, does not consider anyone alien to himself, but all are to him his own people; he in whom there is love, does not become irritated, is not proud, does not become inflamed with anger, does not rejoice over injustice, is not mired in falsehood, does not consider anyone as his enemy; he in whom there is love, endures everything, is compassionate, is long­suffering. Therefore, he who has acquired love is blessed. God is love; and he that dwells in love dwells in God (1 John 4:16).”

    – St. Ephraim the Syrian
    As you stated, Father:
    St. Maximus said, “He who understands the mystery of the Cross understands all things.”

    The Cross is the fulfillment of Divine Love. I like the story of Saint Moses (Desert Father):
    The fathers were gathering to judge the actions of a monk who had erred. St. Moses appeare at the meeting with a huge bag of sand on his back with holes in it that were spewing sand everywhere he went. The brothers asked him the meaning of the sack of sand and he replied:
    “the bag represents my sins which I do not see and I have been called to judge the sins of my brother.”

    That is love, I am to judge my own sin and not my brother, who I am called tolove.

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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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