Providence – God in Extension

There are aspects of the Orthodox faith that require that we reach beyond what we think we know and dig more deeply into the writings of the Fathers. This is particularly the case when Orthodoxy uses similar language to Western theological models. We see a word (in this case, “providence,”) and think we know what it means, supplying that meaning from our inherited Western theological/cultural vocabulary. Sometimes, however, it is necessary to correct such meanings. So – I’m going to dig a bit into the writings of Dionysius the Areopagite, a major touchstone in Orthodox thought and, interestingly, important for certain writers in the West as well. My primary source in this article will be the work, Mystagogy: A Monastic Reading of Dionysius Areopagita, by Archbishop Alexander Golitzin. I do not know of a better work on Dionysius.

Here is the passage I want to explore (be patient and keep reading):

But still, Dionysius asks, how is it possible for us to ascribe names to God given the impossibility of conceiving the Trinity? It is possible, he answers a few chapters later, precisely because it is not the divine essence that is in question, but “the divine names revelatory of Providence,” of “Providence the creator of good that has revealed itself,” and is therefore justly celebrated as “the cause of all good things.” Providence, God in extension, is God as revealed, and God as revealed is revealed as “the reality of goodness, the cause of everything which is;” therefore, “one must celebrate the Providence of God as source of good in all its effects.” Cause and ground of all, Providence embraces everything, and everything may therefore be seen as in some sense expressive of it. God may thus be called by any of the names of his creation. His name is every name and no name. [from Golitzin]

Ok, it’s a thick read. But, before giving up on this article, think through this next paragraph with me.

In popular theological thought, when the word “providence” is used, people assume it means “God somehow guiding history to make things turn out right.” This way of thinking is filled with problems. Most people think of history as a series of cause-and-effect events. We were taught to write history papers like this: “Describe and discuss the causes of the War of the Roses…” When this is our notion of history, then we have a very difficult time figuring out where God fits in to things. Does He work by making this king think and do one thing, and another king think and do another (multiply it out to include everybody and everything in the whole world and you come close to seeing God as a giant puppet master)? If you have fled from puppet master theology – you have done well.

A somewhat sneaky way of saying the same thing is found in the mouths of many modern thinkers (including a number of the Orthodox). It goes like this: God is utterly committed to working in and through history. He has done this in choosing Abraham and creating the chosen people, and from the chosen people, taking a pure virgin, and from her He becomes man and dwells among us. Then He gave us the Church which is now God’s means of acting in history, and the Church is now “building the Kingdom of God in this world.” Any challenge to this is sometimes attacked as a denial of the Incarnation. You can get labeled a Gnostic (been there, got labeled).

So what is it? We turn to Dionysius.

Abp. Alexander describes Providence as “God in extension.” In Dionysius, Providence is the primary manner in which the Divine Energies interact with all of creation. Dionysius worked with many major categories and terms from Greek philosophy, something that was already part of the Orthodox theological tradition. However, his work “Christianized” those categories and terms and gave us perhaps the most mature presentation of the faith up to that time. A strong theme in his work is our “going forth” from God and our “return.” God’s intentions for us existed “in Him” from before our creation (think of Jeremiah the Prophet – “before I formed you in the womb I knew you”). Those intentions continue with us and in us – they are the “Divine Energies” that uphold, sustain, and work within all of creation. Those energies are “God in extension.”

This is in no way a form of pantheism. The divine energies are, indeed, God Himself. That is Orthodox dogma. But the divine energies are not the divine essence. We may know and participate in the life of God in His energies, but we do not know nor participate in God in His essence. There is both immanence and transcendence.

Dionysius explores much of this in his treatise, On the Divine Names. We see (and know in varying measures) the names of God – Goodness, Being, Truth, Beauty, Kindness, Mercy, etc. We would quickly have to say (as regarding God’s essence) that He is Goodness beyond Goodness, Being beyond Being, Truth beyond Truth, Beauty beyond Beauty, etc. This kind of language is heard repeatedly in the liturgical life of the Church. It reflects the reality both of God’s unknowableness together with the mystery of His energies, everywhere present, filling all things, and making Him known.

All of this “God in extension” is summed up in the word “Providence.” Our story is not primarily historical – it is eternal. The existence of this historical universe shimmers with the brilliance of the eternal Providence of God that makes it possible. Its purpose is not defined by its history, as such, but by the will of God: “…that He might gather into one all things in Christ Jesus.” (Eph. 1:10) What we experience and call history is the movement of the goodwill of God, the love of God, unrelentingly creating and drawing all things towards Him. That is our daily drama and the proper focus of our attention.

The secularization of Christian thought begins primarily through the shift towards a self-contained history in which God is limited in His relationship to us by certain chosen actors. He becomes a player among players. But this is not the God who is everywhere present and filling all things. One of the many lies of modernity is to center our existence in the historical process, and then to focus on that process as “that which can be discussed on the news cycle.” The Church becomes captive to the political process through the fetish of history (and then brag that you’re focusing on the Incarnation).

To say this is not to diminish the Incarnation. Indeed, the fetishization of history reduces the Incarnation to an event among events – God’s horse in the race – but only one horse among many. What is often missed in this diminishment is the extravagant and overwhelming greatness of God Incarnate. The One from whom all things come, the source of being, goodness, beauty, truth, became a creature among creatures. It is the promise and foretaste of our union with God. He is the revelation of Providence and Image that directs our attention to see the world properly (and to give Him thanks and worship).

Our cultural masters seek to direct our attention to the petty narratives of their faux history. It is like looking in a toilet bowl trying to discern the mystery of existence.

History – whatever the term might mean – is seen best and rightly through the lens of Providence. St. Paul says:

whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are noble, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things.” (Philippians 4:8)

Christ is true, noble, just, pure, lovely, of good report, virtuous and praiseworthy. In God’s Providence, the Incarnation is seen reflected in all such things – the “names” of all good things. “For He is every name and no name.” He is above every name and everything receives its name in Him.

Glory to God for all things!

P.S. I look forward to our conversations about this.

 

 

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.


Comments

196 responses to “Providence – God in Extension”

  1. Dee of St Herman Avatar
    Dee of St Herman

    Indeed Father, I believe only love gives us the capacity to forgive. And it is love that I pray for.

  2. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Love is the essence of Mercy. Just sitting in my parish hall for our annual Pancake Breakfast to benefit Christ, the Savior Academy our K-12 school. 10 years now. Sitting next to my lovely wife who is beaming her gorgeous smile. Such a diversity of people. Still mostly of Lebanese ancestry. Most of the people have no clue who I am but if I needed something any of them would help.

  3. Dee of St Herman Avatar
    Dee of St Herman

    Dear Michael,
    Thank you for your prayers and words of encouragement. I suppose we all struggle on our path with Christ. May He hear our prayers and comfort us.

  4. Dee of St Herman Avatar
    Dee of St Herman

    Mark thank you for your comment as well. I have enjoyed listening to “Under the Protecting Veil” YouTube channel as well. One of the great things about Father Stephen’s talks is that one can relisten to his talks and become edified each time. I listen to these and other podcasts for the company and comfort of hearing people talk who live in the Orthodox Way. I suppose I read the lives of the saints and the words of the saints for similar reasons.

    I have been grieving regarding my writing in this blog stream. Sometimes it helps to read St Sophrony’s words for comfort. And Saturday night, I returned to listen to him again in his book, “His Life is Mine” and randomly opened and came upon these words that I have copied below.

    On the cover of the latest printing of his book is a picture of a tree in a mosaic form. At first, I was dismissive of the picture, not in any purposeful sense–just not paying attention to detail. I missed a couple of aspects of the tree in the picture, and it didn’t really mean much initially other than the usual association of the ‘tree of life’. Having seen that in so many forms in modern culture, I had become numb to the image and its capacity to speak in an Orthodox way. The roots are shown in detail, and they lie underground, where the foundational ground is shaped in a semi-circle form indicative of a kind of halo. The rest of the tree is above the ground and within a halo-like circle. But I only noticed this, actually paying attention to it after finding this passage below Saturday night.

    Inside is a chapter on the “experience of eternity through prayer”. I randomly started reading the last paragraph that started on the last page. He describes the experience as that of a great tree:

    “When we see a centuries-old tree with its branches reaching to the clouds, we know that its roots, deep in the earth, must be powerful enough to support the whole. If the roots did not go down into the bowels of the earth–perhaps as far down as the tree is high–and if they were not as strong and widespread as the part we see, they could not feed the tree. They could not support it–a slight wind and the tree would fall. We can observe something similar in the spiritual life of man. If, like the apostles, we recognize the greatness of our calling in Christ–that is, of our election in him before the creation of the world to “receive the adoptions of sons” (Gal 4.5)–it makes us humble, not proud. This lowering, this humbling of ourselves is essential if we would preserve a genuinely Christian disposition. It is expressed in a constant awareness of our nothingness, as radical and all-round self-condemnation. And the deeper one goes in self-condemnation, the higher God raises one.
    “Until now the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force…He that hath ears to hear, let him hear”. (Matt11.12,15)

    These words brought tears. And then, I can’t explain why (or how), but love flooded my heart. I’m not so good at self-comdemnation. But when I am helped toward that capacity, I am very grateful.

  5. Alan Avatar
    Alan

    Dee,
    First off, I’m so very sorry for all that you’ve had to go through. Lord have mercy and may He continue to bring you healing.

    Secondly, you wrote:
    “I just wanted to say a few words of my appreciation for your participation here. By way of contrast, I am rich with having several Orthodox Churches within driving distance. But such richness in proximity is no guarantee of righteousness or the possibility of it, even if one such as myself should participate in Orthodoxy Liturgical services. I sincerely believe that it is the condition of the heart that matters. As Christ said, blessed is the poor in spirit. I have no doubt that your prayers are heard by our Lord and in such authentic prayer is communion.”

    It’s so odd that you wrote these words, and that I just read them. I’ve been chewing on something for a while, and what you wrote here was THE answer I needed: “….it is the condition of the heart that matters.” So simple but so true.
    Thank you!

  6. Dee of St Herman Avatar
    Dee of St Herman

    Alan,
    Thank you for your kind words. They mean a lot to me. I’m uncomfortable with exposing so much of my heart as I have done on this blog. It isn’t the best thing to do generally. But I’m sincerely grateful for your response and it helps me to bear my shame.

  7. hélène d. Avatar
    hélène d.

    Dear Dee, “exposing your heart” here, nourished by the holy faith and true teachings, is truly a balm on my own hardened heart and it is a life-giving communion, a invigorating stimulation…. Thank you !
    (forgive me the bad English)

  8. Dean Avatar
    Dean

    Hélèn,
    Your English is great…don’t worry!
    Yes, Dee, thank you for sharing from your heart. We hear enough “head” stuff, don’t we? Keep the balm coming.

  9. Matthew Lyon Avatar
    Matthew Lyon

    Andrew Roberts,

    I understand, at least partially, your experience. I had converted to Calvinist soteriology then to conservative Presbyterianism. I was devoted to and still am, to the defense of the Faith. I hold as a basic presupposition that piety follows soteriology. I tried very hard – very hard – when realizing that my beliefs were foreign to the early Church (this they admitted, and it caused no alarm – a great video of this is Ligon Duncan’s, Did the Church Fathers Know the Gospel – something like that – you can find it on YouTube) – to continue to defend my position after coming into contact with some very smart Catholics that had converted from our denomination. You can find them on Called to Communion. I debated there for months, then started buying Catholic theology books by people like Hahn, various Popes, Kreeft, Baron, Jimmy Akin, etc. In the middle of debating, and realizing, there was never going to be a resolution because there were too many ways Catholic theology could pivot by appealing to an immense range of theological thinkers, that and they try and appeal to Protestants and Orthodox by essentially giving them a pass on various issues (Justification especially) – and I don’t dislike these people – but in the process some Orthodox arm-chair apologists popped in. That was off the radar. And I realized why, eventually, Reformed Protestants (from which Evangelicals were birthed) and Catholics have more in common than say Orthodox and Protestants, and it’s all due to Original Sin. So, they agree basically on Original Sin and Guilt, predestination (or it creates debates about it), Providence as meticulous determinism, Penal Substitution where Christ is tortured by God for us in love (which I do not caricature, I know it’s real love to them, and it was to me at one time), and several other doctrines.

    To me, and I’m sure some will disagree, the fast track to understanding the logic (which is different from doing Orthodox life), is to imagine the Bible all over again without Original Sin, and without an Originally Perfect Adam. If you just take seriously death, Satan (that figure that makes no sense in a deterministic system, and leads to a Yin Yang in my opinion), and that people were never originally perfect, but made to become perfect through union with God and His purposes, with Christ, towards the goal of becoming/attaining to, mature manhood, the logic of Orthodoxy to me, would be clear. Then you ask yourself, was this preserved anywhere in Christian history, especially after you’re convinced, which everyone should be, that death, Satan, idolatry (recourse to demons for survival purposes), and theosis/pursuit of union with Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit following your adoption, etc… And the answer is yes, in Orthodoxy.

    But, before I got this far, I realized, I couldn’t be honest and just tag along in my Presbyterian church. It’s a big deal moving your whole family out of a church setting they’ve known for 10 years. But I was darn positive that I could never return to that, not out of offense, I was never offended by it (the determinism, election, etc.), but by realizing, Jesus and St. Paul never taught this stuff, neither did the NT. The respect my youth and the Reformed gave me for the Bible, led to me respecting the Bible more than their tradition, then I found, the Bible in Orthodox Tradition, did not contradict the Bible, it protected its interpretation against bad interpreters.

    Hoping for you to get from what I would describe for myself as dissonance, to, a relaxed prayer.

  10. Matthew Lyon Avatar
    Matthew Lyon

    Andrew Roberts,

    To add, the Branch Theory, I personally entertained it for a while. The draw, especially if you read smart people like Peter Leithart, emotionally, feels like it is a result of asking the question, “What do I make of my Christian experience before Orthodoxy?”. Or, “What would I make of my Christian friends who are not Orthodox, Catholic, Anglican, etc.?”, if one of these Traditions were correct. Or, even more a fix, what if the Progressive Revelation/Doctrinal Development (both follow a sort of evolutionary view, which is part true if you’re talking OT, and not true if you believe in a Faith once delivered) is moving us all toward an eschatological end of union among Christians, and we’re in a waiting period?

    All of these have an emotional and ecumenical appeal. I don’t disagree with the emotional or ecumenical desire, it should be there, but not at the expense of Jesus’s own teachings and those of the Apostles. We should feel saddened, while realizing, the way to union is to embrace the theology of Jesus and the Apostles. But everyone claims to do this. But which one actually does? I had gotten to the point of looking for Reformed Episcopal churches (new denomination), thinking about Anglicanism (they are off the rails as to keeping the Faith), a High-Church Presbyterianism (this doesn’t exist, nor is it really historical), being a Mere-Christian, and just forgetting about distinctions that divide Christians (but that’s a huge forfeiture and not easy to live out as you’re little better than a New-Age guru unfortunately), etc. Quite the time of life those 3-5 years. Because, you can’t help but feel like, especially if you came from a background with a high emphasis on Providence (the kind not talked about here on this page), why did God not make it more obvious? Why, if Orthodoxy is true, am I just finding out about it? Why are most of them continents away? And the answer to the question for me, was/is, free will, which I never appreciated due to my view of Providence which was just determinism. But that doesn’t mean He left us with nothing in the meantime.

    I think, and I know Catholics and others do this as well, that we are moving towards a time where Orthodoxy is vindicated on a large scale. This because, the best Biblical scholarship shows, the Gospel in Orthodoxy is what was preached in the 1st Century. And this is becoming more and more well known. This cannot happen for Protestants or Catholics, they must move toward us theologically. It will be completely disingenuous if they claim what has been discovered 2000 years after the fact as their own, when it existed all along. It’s like taking credit for a discovery while the thing has existed for 2000 years. Our brothers and sisters outside Orthodoxy are moving our way theologically, without making the ecclesiological connection. I think, in a large way, this what should be pointed out.

    My sense of confidence is not pride or wishful thinking. Nor I am naive about imagining a church who kept the Gospel as meaning, that this automates Orthodox living. It’s just the blessing of knowing, what Jesus preached, is dogmatically preserved in the worship of Him, His Father, and the Holy Spirit.

    Forgive me since that was unsolicited, can’t help but sympathize with being in-between knowing and unknowing, and how that impacts day to day life. The only reason I can think of why God lets us stay there for a while, is to prove our persistence in looking for Him.

  11. Andrew Roberts Avatar
    Andrew Roberts

    Matthew,
    thank you for your comments and sharing some of your experience. I had a generally good experience of Roman Catholicism and had no axe to grind or any reason for leaving, had no intention of leaving. It was a desire to learn more about the Jesus Prayer, that led me to read more about the Orthodox Church and was I surprised, challenged and encouraged to find out more,
    On the surface Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism can look very similar, but their inner cores; besides theological difference; the ascetic life is very different; more so the prayer, heavy use of imagination and considerations in some aspects of RC spirituality, which I couldn’t get used to, too busy and distractive. I much preferred the Divine Office and later also the Jesus Prayer, which a priest advised me to pray. Orthodox prayer while no means easy, is sober and reverent and physical and given to imagination,
    It took me two years of reading praying and struggling internally, before I faced the fact that I was no longer RC, due to my rejection of the Filioque, Papal supremacy and infalliblity (which I was never fully convinced of), the Immaculate Conception and Assumption of Mary, amongst other things, and to the degree that it was possible in my situation to accept Orthodoxy. Even though I had nowhere to go. To remain RC became untenable and it would have dishonest and hypocritical.

  12. Matthew Lyon Avatar
    Matthew Lyon

    Andrew,

    Yeah, I think I get it. Indulge me (no pun) for a second. The reason I believe that you get the Jesus Prayer as a method of tuning the heart/aligning the heart/bringing the heart and mind into constant awareness – is the Gospel in Orthodoxy. It’s therapeutic because our real problem is that our hearts and minds and bodies are in conflict. This is all St. Paul’s Gospel. What I don’t want to do, I do, the good I want to do, I find extremely difficult and almost impossible. What to do? Relax and trust God or purge/purgate myself. Protestants chose the former and Catholics the latter in one simplistic sense. You end up with infused righteousness with some self-inflicted punishments or imputed righteousness with more mental stress than anything else. I’m being simplistic I know, but to make this short. Orthodoxy is over there saying, “Your systems are busted. You can’t merit anything. You can only put to death the deeds of the flesh by the Spirit.” How do you get the Spirit? Don’t I already have the Spirit? I do, but I can increase in remembrance, I can work with God’s energies, I can subject my body to my mind, etc. And you see a mixture of these in all Traditions, but they usually take on a relaxed approach, because Christ is punished according to them, or, a yes, He was punished, but I need a little additional punishment, or I need to withdraw some virtue from the Treasury of Merits. And Paul’s talking asceticism, faith versus fear, faith as love, never giving up, fighting to the end. And, you end up later, with the Jesus Prayer. This is my assumption. The Jesus Prayer follows the Gospel of Jesus, Paul, Orthodoxy. That’s why you don’t find it elsewhere. I could go quite long, but I believe it’s very defensible.

  13. Andrew Roberts Avatar
    Andrew Roberts

    In my previous post I missed out- ‘not.’
    Orthodox prayer is not given to imagination.

    Matthew,
    the Jesus Prayer is simple, not easy and as you say, I do think it follows the Gospel of Jesus, Paul and Orthodoxy. It is full of theology, in its truest sense. By praying it with faith, you are doing theology, even though the mind is focused on the words. The dogmas and other teachings are also important, in that we understand to whom we are praying to and why. It’s not a mantra, nor magical formula; could it be said it is the faith of the Church in miniature? it has a Trinitarian aspect, and repent and believe the Gospel.

  14. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Andrew, Matthew, et al
    Just a word of mercy here. The current fragmented state of modern Christianity is not of our own making. It is the work of many centuries of sinful thoughts, actions, reactions, etc. It is not unlike human history – and the “fractal” of human history – our own lives. It calls for lots of mercy and kindness.

    I appreciated Dee’s comments on the heart – for it is only in the heart that we can begin to know and heal the fragmentation of our lives and of the world around us.

    The answers to any of this are ontological – they are not arguments, but truly living into the healing that Christ gives us in the fullness of the faith. Fr. Georges Florovsky famously wrote:

    A historiosophical exegesis of the western religious tragedy must become the new “polemical theology.” But this tragedy must be re-endured and relived, precisely as one’s own, and its potential catharsis must be demonstrated in the fulness of the experience of the Church and patristic tradition.

    It’s a very wordy way of saying that we must take the “tragedy” of Christian history into ourselves – “re-endure” it, relive it, and “cleanse it” (catharsis) in the fullness of the experience of the Church and the lived Christian tradition. We cannot think of this in historical terms (none of us will live anywhere near long enough to see how any of this plays out). We think of this only in terms of Christ and His Cross.

    If God has brought you into Orthodoxy – it’s because He’s inviting you to share in His Cross. That same Cross is at work everywhere – in all suffering – gathering all things into Himself. God give us grace.

  15. Andrew Roberts Avatar
    Andrew Roberts

    Fr. Stephen,
    I appreciate what your saying and if I am taking you out context, please forgive me and point where I have been argumentative in what I have posted today.

  16. Matthew Lyon Avatar
    Matthew Lyon

    Fr. Freeman,

    I think that’s what I’m doing in a sense, though it doesn’t always sound like it. I’m sure I could do it better. Because, I have nothing but love for my Protestant and Catholic brothers and sisters. I don’t really blame them for anything, at least those of good will with a good heart. I want them beside me on the road home. I’ve compared it to being adopted and not knowing who your real parents are until later in life. You appreciate and love those who raised you while realizing, you have truer parents that fulfill what parent means in a fuller way. Thank you for the quote, that’s something to chew on. In the same way though, we show the contradictions in culture, show the dead-ends, show the dependence upon borrowed capital from Christianity, while mourning within ourselves the decline without losing love for the people of the world.

    It’s good for you to throw these humility reminders in and hope you continue to do so. They are humbling and corrective and show other visitors that we are after humility while trying to figure out how we got here.

  17. Matthew Lyon Avatar
    Matthew Lyon

    Andrew,

    Yeah, I think so. I heard N.T. Wright criticize the Jesus Prayer once as not being Trinitarian enough, this from the person who practically rediscovered Orthodoxy with the New Perspectives on Paul and never gave much credit to Orthodoxy. I love him, don’t get me wrong, but how an Orthodox Christian could pray the Jesus Prayer without being cognizant of the Father and the Spirit is beyond confusing. Christ is the Son, for Whom the Creation exists, and the Spirit draws us into intimacy with Him, to the Glory of God the Father and God the Holy Spirit, and back again, repeatedly, with zero boredom.

  18. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Andrew,
    I do not see you as argumentative. I was just throwing a thought into the mix.

  19. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Matthew,
    With all due respect to N.T. (I knew him well back in the day when he was just “Tom Wright,” and Dean of Durham Cathedral – long story), his real claim to fame was being one of the few prominent Anglicans who publicly proclaimed that Jesus was actually risen from the dead. That made of him a conservative’s darling. But – on the other hand – he’s not a theologian, per se, and I think he handles some things poorly. A difficulty with such good thinkers is that they really have no idea of how much they don’t know. They’ve lived and worked in such a shallow pool (Western thought) for so long that they simply do not have a clue about what is actually in Orthodox Christianity. It can’t be seen from the outside that easily.

  20. Andrew Roberts Avatar
    Andrew Roberts

    Ok. Thank you Fr. Stephen. I was a little confused.

  21. Andrew Roberts Avatar
    Andrew Roberts

    Matthew,
    another aspect of the Jesus Prayer, that had quite an impact on me, is that it’s for everyone. No special knowledge is needed, no matter your situation or position in the world, you can turn to Jesus in a spirit of repentance.

  22. Dee of St Herman Avatar
    Dee of St Herman

    Andrew,
    I’m going to put in my two cents worth here (and that’s likely an over-evaluation). I believe in the strength of the Orthodox Church to overcome what has and will assail it because I believe it is indeed the Church founded by Christ. In Christ’s words, it will endure its hardships. I’m with you. Labels count. Other churches (I rather say confessions) are not what the Lord has founded. I have heard one Orthodox Archimandrite (for the sake of Fr Stephen’s rules, will remain unnamed) say that other confessions do not have “the same Jesus”. The tendency in my own heart is to agree with the Archimandrite (recognizing all the while the hardness of my heart might easily be at fault, regardless). Furthermore, I know that even the adversary, in the context of meeting up with Jesus named Him the Son of God. Therefore on account of that, I’m also disinclined to think just because someone calls Jesus God, that they actually know what they’re talking about. Such hubris concerning what we know or can know is a key quality in US culture (just look at its scientists-of which I am one!).

    Some of my angst that I have expressed from time to time on this blog involves what I have witnessed among Protestant converts and their preconceived expectations of what they should and should not encounter when they attempt to enter the Orthodox Church. And when the Orthodox Church doesn’t meet their expectations, they think it should change and not them. And I really don’t know why I haven’t seen so much of this characteristic among the Catholic converts. I have met few in my own category coming in without sustained affiliations with Christianity. But all in the US have had inculcated to Protestant culture. Even spiritualists have a Protestant flavor. I attempt from time to time not to disparage Protestants specifically, and ascribe such expectations to the culture. Although admittedly I fail because of my passions.

    The Protestant (also described in this blog as western and modern) culture is pervasive and not easily detected until either one lives with someone outside the culture or alternatively live outside the culture for some time. And sometimes because of globalization that too isn’t sufficient.

    There is a growing movement among Catholics to adopt ‘eastern-rite’ Catholicism. Perhaps as more Catholics realize that doing ‘eastern rite’ doesn’t actually cut the mustard, they might think it should be a rather easy transition to enter the Eastern Orthodox Church from eastern rite Catholicism. And they too, will become baffled if not resentful if the ‘ease’ that they anticipate isn’t forthcoming.

    What I have witnessed in catechism classes in behavior and expectations remain rather consistent. Few former Protestants, specifically as a group, come in with such humility that they have an open heart (and mind) to truly hear what the priest (or catechist) teaches. And sometimes they are unable to hear (this was my case also) because modernity has co-opted the language of faith to mean something that it does not mean in the Orthodox Church. It takes sufficient and long-term emersion in the Orthodox culture to even begin to understand implicit meanings, to be able to listen and experience what is under the surface. Nevertheless, I’ve personally encountered two Protestants who amazed me with their holiness upon entering the Orthodox Church. It was indeed as if they had always been Orthodox all along, but they were indeed exceptions to the rule that I have witnessed.

    It takes time and truly an open heart to emerse in the life of Christ as it is lived in the Orthodox Church. If what I read in the saints is correct (and I believe that they are correct) even most priests and monks in the Orthodox Church have a deep struggle to attain such a goal.

    Please forgive me, Andrew. I’ve rattled on. And I’m still doubtful about my words and their helpfulness when I struggle so much with my passions.

    You have no opportunities to be in person within the Orthodox liturgy. But all that you have said here in this blog suggests to me (the sinner that I am–please take with a grain of salt) that the Lord abides in you.

  23. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    What you say, Dee, is good for all of us to hear. Everyone comes in with preconceptions (even cradles have them). Even though I was neither when I came to the Church I had elements of both. Let us not forget The Blessed Lady Mary.
    A lot of baggage for both RCs and Protestants. Big gap between them. Many RCs almost divinize Mary while Protestants can totally ignore her or be quite uncomfortable with her.
    It takes time and patience.
    There are actually large differences to enter into with the veneration of the saints too. There are a number of saints we venerate that the average Catholic has never heard of (like St. Raphael of Brooklyn). The Eastern and Arabic saints we have recognized after the Schism too.

  24. Andrew Roberts Avatar
    Andrew Roberts

    Dee,
    thank you for your comments. I always detect authenticity in what you say here. There are so many voices in this world proclaiming to have the truth, it can be difficult to hear the authentic voice of the Good Shepherd. I do believe it is spoken through the Orthodox Church. The label is important. If I go to the shop and buy a jar of jam, I expect it contain jam and not peanut butter, or engine oil. Does it do what it says on the tin, to mix metaphors. It’s about truth, salvation and eternal life. It’s not just like changing your brand of coffee; well it’s all coffee, but this new brand tastes better than my old brand.
    As you know and have so well expressed, it a difficult struggle to be conformed to Christ and overcome that of us that is conformed to the pattern of this world. The good Lord bless you and yours.

  25. Dee of St Herman Avatar
    Dee of St Herman

    I’ve noted quite a few typos in my comments and apologize for them. Some of them are true spelling mistakes, but I tend not to check autofill as much as I should, either.

    Father, I sincerely like your use of the word fragmentation to describe Christianity. Historically this is true. But I ask for your forgiveness in advance for what I’m about to say and ask for your correction.

    Fragmentation suggests to me that each piece is an incomplete part of a larger whole. If this is also true, then this description applies to all humanity as potential adopted sons of God. There are commentators here who focus their use of their words of ‘brothers and sisters’ on those outside Orthodoxy who call themselves Christian. Because I’ve witnessed more “Christian behavior” among non-Christians than self-professed Christians, I’m less inclined to selectively count only Protestants and Catholics as potential sons of God and selectively hope for their salvation. As strident as this might sound, it seems to me that secularism has gone much further to fragment our connection to God than what we might be willing to admit to ourselves. Because of secularism and the prevalence of the Protestant culture (lived in Protestants and non-Protestants alike), I don’t see much difference between the belief systems among the US people outside of Orthodoxy. Strangely atheists seem to have a similar perspective of the world, while they claim not to believe in God. However, I do see differences in their willingness to be attentive to the voice of Christ in their catechism.

    I ask your readers for their patience if I’m too strident. Sometimes it’s hard to hear my tone because of my passions and ask for forgiveness.

  26. Dee of St Herman Avatar
    Dee of St Herman

    Dear Alan,
    Because I’m worried about being offensive, I’m going to ask Father Stephen for an offline conversation for his correction as well.

    I have so much high regard and love for your contribution here and to my growth in Christ.

  27. Dee of St Herman Avatar
    Dee of St Herman

    Michael, Please forgive me. I belive what you’re saying is true and definitely part of the larger puzzling situation.

  28. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Thoughts for me on fragmentation.

    “Wholeness” is, for me, a component of theosis – it is a reflection of God. Everybody is fragmented to some degree – many are very seriously fragmented. As brokenness goes, it’s very difficult.

    There are “private” forms of brokenness – like just being neurotic. Fragmentation comes, I think, when we discover that we’re divided within ourselves – that we are of, not just two minds, but many minds on many things.

    We are in a fragmented culture that has nothing even approaching a unified view of virtue and vice. One man’s hero is another man’s villain. That’s just general culture stuff – but it comes out within our faith as well. There’s even fragmentation within the wider culture of Orthodoxy (plenty of it).

    God is at work in us to heal us – theosis is real. But we all live in some pretty fragmented glass houses. That doesn’t mean that there is no true integrity – but that it is God, and the faith, that have the integrity, while we’re pretty much fragmented sinners.

    Be patient with one another. I am reminded that at least twice in my life, at very difficult, needy, low points – the two person whom God seem to have appointed to show me mercy and kindness and saved me from very problematic situations – were very liberal Christians whom I’m sure I would still argue with if we got into some serious conversations. I feel that both of them will likely enter the Kingdom long ahead of me.

    Jesus had similar stories to tell about Samaritans. It didn’t make Samaritans right (for, as Christ said to the Samaritan Woman, “Salvation is of the Jews”). But it made the Samaritans so much other than we might expect. I do not want my heart to become such that I miss, overlook, or judge all the Samaritans that He so consistently sends my way.

    If we knew the love of God – truly knew it – all of this would be so clear to us.

  29. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Dee, even though we have never met you are my friend. Each of us is exploring and trying to learn. It would take much more than I think you are capable of for me to be offended. I thought your original observation was really good and it triggered some thoughts so I added them hoping they would help. People’s religious backgrounds are incredibly diverse. I got almost no catechesis when I was coming in and felt it.
    Before I came to the Church I noticed a high degree of variability with how people felt about saints even within the same transmission..
    It took awhile for me to begin to grasp.

    God guide us all.

  30. Dee of St Herman Avatar
    Dee of St Herman

    Dear Father, thank you for your edifying words. Truely corrective.

  31. Matthew Lyon Avatar
    Matthew Lyon

    Dee,

    I think the issue (you may have had this issue with me I don’t know) with the Protestant coming into Orthodoxy is that they grew up, many, in a milieu where the priest/pastor/theological was an equal to them. There is a Protestant principle of perspicuity to Scripture that underlies this, this and the Right of Private Judgement (look up both), the endless options in Protestantism, the fact that ordination means little in many confessions, etc. Everyone Orthodox to me, ought to at least familiarize themselves with the Westminster Confession of Faith. All the Reformed adhere to the bulk of it. The 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith is almost word for word verbatim of the WCF, minus any sacramental language. The first Baptists here were Calvinists who would have been very comfortable with the wording. The bulk of non-denominational churches are Baptist, and/or SBC, and Evangelicalism grew out of both. Today, the largest US denomination, the SBC is split between Calvinists and Arminian due to Original Sin and how to interpret it. My point is debate and argumentation are inherent. The Protestant wants argued into the position, so they push back – this assumes honesty on their part. It’s welcomed, the argumentation. Part of this is democratized religion, part of it is a real desire to be convinced. But often they do not realize their presuppositions, and Orthodox often never challenge them at this level. I was the kid in Sunday School who stumped the teacher regularly, and if the pastor gave bad answers to theology questions, I was not satisfied.

    In my experience, while I love the people who brought me in to Orthodoxy, I had to find my answers elsewhere to the harder questions. Not many Orthodox that I’ve encountered really understand the way a Protestant thinks or why because they’ve never thought out the implications of Original Sin and Guilt. I came from a confession that was very intent on instilling this in the people. I’d bet money that the average Reformed Protestant, even the weakest among them, are abler at defending their position that most any Evangelical. Plus, coming from a Reformed church, you get exposed to a deeper apologetic against Rome than say a Fundamentalist Baptist would offer.

    Orthodox evangelism to Protestants needs to take an offensive position, and this is part why I have the approach I do. This is what is normal, respectable, and if done in love, persuasive. The kind priest who just keeps answering questions and objections without challenging deep presuppositions is likely going to have a long haul that may or may not produce any outcome. You have to know your audience.

    FWIW, many of the posts I write here I end up forwarding to several Reformed friends. Not once have they thought I was unkind or unloving. If you read my posts, you’d have to wonder how that could be. It’s because, they know, my desire is that we be whole and well-suited for spiritual war, and that we do it together. Now I get more questions than I do pushback. But I went on the offensive. That’s really the only way to be respectable among this group. But you have to do it well, have to know what you’re talking about, be prepared to be patient, and actually love the other person.

    I emphasize all of the time, that putting back death, Satan, a non-perfect first Adam/Eve, and theosis while dismantling Original Sin and Guilt (unlearning is as important as learning something new) is key, but rarely do I get affirmed, except among other converts. Again, unlearning is as important, and many are unprepared to lead the unlearning process while instead asking people to attend services and so forth. It won’t work for many of these people, and since I care about them, I’ve dedicated a serious effort to this.

    Now, while I am still opinionated, if someone seeks to persuade and it isn’t obvious off the bat (this and I am not naive enough to believe Orthodox agree on everything) I may push back, but not without love for the other person, and usually not without an openness to changing my mind.

    I asked my former priest when I came into Orthodoxy, “How am I supposed to interact with you? If I disagree about something, or think an explanation you have is not satisfactory, am I free to challenge you or get clarification?” I really didn’t know. He and I had a really good relationship after that, not that we didn’t before, but he understood I wasn’t just trying to debate, and I was careful not to challenge publicly, during a class or so forth. Some former Protestants, and I know some, don’t have this demeanor, and if I were present, I would try and reconcile. I know some nasty Protestants, but they are much rarer in the confession I was in before. When I would teach adult Sunday School, it was common that an 80-year-old woman speak up with an objection, everyone was free in this way. In some ways, this was good, like it is in a political debate, in other ways you realized, there’s way too much stuff up for debate.

    Don’t know if that’s helpful or not…

  32. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Father, you mention the fragmentation in the Church. Within each parish certainly.
    Am I correct in thinking that the fragmentation is because of different ideas and feelings about Jesus? Even within one’s own heart.

    Plus each of us grows and changes. I am different now even than I was 6 months ago, let alone 36 years ago when I was received with my late wife and infant son. My understanding and beliefs have grown. My interrelationship with Jesus is better, etc Even my sins are different but unfortunately still around.
    It is difficult for me to latch on to the person of even my wife or myself. Fortunately, our Lord does not change but it seems there is always more and deeper. That can be confusing even without being constantly perturbed by sin.

    On one level it is amazing we communicate at all.
    … and yet we do even when the world, the flesh and the disturb and interfere. It seems that God alone could straighten it all out. And so we are led, gently and persistently to Him that knows. At times it is a jolly journey at times rather confusing even frightening. But it goes on and will arrive at fruition — a great mystery.
    Yet I am rather joyful in attempting to describe it.
    God forgive me, a sinner and His Joy abide in each heart.

  33. Andrew Roberts Avatar
    Andrew Roberts

    Having reflected on the comments here and Fr. Stephen’s and Dee’s input about the heart and mercy and our inner fragmentation, I got to thinking about how difficult loving others and showing mercy is; loving our neighbours, as commanded by the Lord. It’s not an optional extra. I fail miserably.

    My reflections led me to spiritual warfare; each time the battle goes beyond the bounds of the heart, when the passions have got the upper hand and one may get angry with their neighbour, usually due to pride and vanity, The battle is lost even though I may have won the argument, or subdued the supposed enemy with violence. Thankfully the war is not lost; repentance and the healing and restorative mysteries of confession and the Eucharist have been given to the Church, enabling the wounded Christian to re-enter the fray.

    Fr. Stephen has quoted Alexander Solzhenitsyn, numerous times about the battle between good and evil being in the human heart. The adversary takes advantage of our fragmentation and stirs the passions against our neighbour, which is also against ourselves too. This is evident in the world at present and has been going on for some time; Christians divided by outside influences and killing each other.

    The enemy too has his disciples and agents within and without the Church and has his own ministry of propaganda. The enemy of truth, love and communion. The age old originator of divide and conquer.

    A priest once told me that, ‘if we take our focus off Christ we are capable of anything.’ The machinations of the enemy do to all they can to get us to turn our attention away from Christ, even by things which may seem good and laudable. We can then become more focused on looking good to the world, instead of focusing on the way, the truth and the life.

    Only the truth can set us free. It is difficult to discern the spirits and to tell the truth from a lie. Pilate saying what is truth, is still being said by others, who deny that there is a truth; all things being relative.

    I apologise for my rambling on here. I will tie up now. We have a most powerful weapon in the Cross. The demons tremble and flee before it. But it is also a terrible thing for us too, we do not want to pick it up and be crucified with Christ; dying to self is hard and painful; it’s easier to crucify your neighbour.

    We have much help in this warfare, Our Lord and Saviour, who is victorious and ultimately defeated our enemy. We have the angels and saints too, and each other, if we remain together in the truth. It is indeed a bloody battle, which brings to mind Dee, in one of her comments, talking about her battle scarred guardian angel. Also someone told me that once when they were praying to some of the saints, with there eyes closed, that they had a brief flash of what they described as, a host of black clad monks reaching down and pulling people upwards?

  34. Matthew Lyon Avatar
    Matthew Lyon

    Andrew,

    I Tim 6:12.

  35. Simon Avatar
    Simon

    Fr. Stephen, I hope no one glossed over your comment about “,many minds on many things.” I think there are some conditions where the degree of our fragmentation is more obviously manifest. For example, in a cute cases of PTSD and more frequently in complex PTSD persons can experience radical shifts in consciousness that strains every relationship the afflicted person has. The toggling of conscious states leaves one long trail of broken China shops. In my understanding this is simply a severe case of what is true of the many mindedness that everyone experiences. Many mindedness creates a real reduction in the ability to act consistently.

    It is a delusion to think that we truly understand ourselves. This is one reason why should drop the effort to explain ourselves or demand explanations from others. The stories we’ll start telling will make the problem worse. We will mistake the story for reality and then we will try to diagnose the story.

    Acceptance is far better. Leave the work of wholeness to the physician.

  36. Andrew Roberts Avatar
    Andrew Roberts

    Thank you Matthew. May the Good Lord bless and protect in your particular area of the arena.

  37. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Matthew,

    You wrote: “Orthodox evangelism to Protestants needs to take an offensive position…” you added this:

    FWIW, many of the posts I write here I end up forwarding to several Reformed friends. Not once have they thought I was unkind or unloving. If you read my posts, you’d have to wonder how that could be. It’s because, they know, my desire is that we be whole and well-suited for spiritual war, and that we do it together. Now I get more questions than I do pushback. But I went on the offensive. That’s really the only way to be respectable among this group. But you have to do it well, have to know what you’re talking about, be prepared to be patient, and actually love the other person.

    This explains to me much of what you post here in the comments and why. It is also something that creates problems for me.

    First, this blog exists for the purposes described in the “Rules for the Blog.” It is about coming to know God and doing that in the context of the Orthodox tradition. It is not apologetics, per se. It is not a platform for practicing a conversation that is actually designed to be read by someone else. I often get the sense when you’re writing that you’re not talking to anyone among the readers – your comment helps explain that.

    It also explains why, from time to time, you comments zoom to over 2,000 words (when my own blog posts never exceed 1500). You’re using the comments section to practice blogging. It’s inappropriate.

    Orthodoxy is not an argument. The arguments are themselves bound up in the secular mindset – it assumes that information saves. It does not. I do not want to belabor all this. I am asking, however, that you refrain from apologetics in the comments. It’s not your job in this place. Think more about questions rather than giving us the answers.

    I appreciated your candor in sharing all of this.

  38. Simon Avatar
    Simon

    I apologize if this seems too knee-jerky, but my understanding is that Orthodoxy is the revealing that Orthodoxy is the ontology of all things. If Orthodoxy isn’t the ontology of all things then what do we mean in praying to the Spirit “who dwells in all places and fills all things”? The same is true of the sacraments as mentioned elsewhere in the blog and the comments.

  39. Dean Avatar
    Dean

    Fr. Freeman,
    Thinking about what you wrote to Matthew….
    One of Fr. Hopko’s maxims is that we should not try to convince anyone of anything. Yet in 2 Tim. 4:2 St. Paul exhorts Timothy to “Convince, rebuke, exhort….” Since this is directed to Timothy, is it only for priests/preachers to attempt to convince others of the truth of Christianity/Orthodoxy?
    Thank you for your teaching here on your blog site, Fr. Stephen. It means and has meant so very much for me through the years. Many here seem like dear friends, though I have ever met only one in person.

  40. Andrew Roberts Avatar
    Andrew Roberts

    Dean,
    your comment brought this to mind; my wife used to work in a girls boarding school and one day at Mass, the priest was berating the students, some as young as eight, the eldest being sixteen, because they weren’t good missionaries.😊

  41. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Recently I got accused of quietism by a fellow Orthodox because of my focus on repentance and use of the Jesus Prayer and non-intrest in politics as a solution. He was saying that because of his passions but also because of the focus of the Jesus Prayer on forgiving me.
    I thought about his criticism and it suddenly it surfaced that “me” is a collective pronoun. I am who I because of all of the other people with whom I am intraconnected.
    I am a person, not an individual. It answers my question in another post about how we can even communicate with each other too. It seems to answer other questions too.
    Father, does that sound right? Or am I off in a different set of weeds,?

  42. Mark Spurlock Avatar
    Mark Spurlock

    Dean,

    In the longer version of the maxims, Father Hopko wrote:

    “Don’t try to convince anyone of anything. Once and for all, we have to stop trying to teach other people. I’m not trying to teach you now, I hope. I’m just trying to tell you what I think is true. Then you can do with it, what you want. But it can’t be my desire to convince you and to win in an argument. I can only, to use a Scriptural word, “bear witness” or “make testimony.” But I can’t have as my goal to convert the other. And that’s even true with evangelization. We’re not out there to convert people. We’re out there to bring them the joy of the victory of God in Christ. What they do with it is between them and God.”

    Also, the last part of 2 Timothy 4:2 is “correct, rebuke and encourage–with great patience and careful instruction.” So it’s possible to read that (at least to me) in much agreement with Father Hopko by emphasizing the part after the dash, It can never be about winning an argument or berating someone into yielding. Rather, exemplifying the truth in our own conduct is how we best bear witness to it.

  43. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Mark, Dean, et al
    Of course, St. Paul’s admonition to St. Timothy is not meant as an admonition to all Christians. St. Timothy is an Apostle and a Bishop. Of course, in modern democratic Christianity, everyone thinks he’s a bishop and in charge of fixing everybody. Fr. Hopko’s words are so on point.

  44. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Michael,
    I’ve been accused of Quietism now and again. It’s really humorous, when the Orthodox take up that word. If it were translated into Greek, it would be “Hesychasm.” I’ve seen it said that every heresy in the Church is ultimately a rejection of Hesychasm. Orthodoxy is not a tool of the social gospel. It is the Kingdom of God, and the Kingdom of God is not a political tool. We will not make the world a better place. We are given the task to proclaim that in Jesus Christ, the better world has come.

  45. Dean Avatar
    Dean

    Thanks Mark for that longer explanation from Fr. Hopko. It helps a lot…especially the part about bringing them the joy of the victory of God in Christ.
    Yes, Fr. Stephen. Many want to fix others. I’ve been guilty of that often. I’m too broken myself to offer a fix, let alone a quick one.
    Lord have mercy.

  46. Dee of St Herman Avatar
    Dee of St Herman

    Dean,
    I have only been instructed on the scripture within Orthodoxy so possibly I may be of help. I refer to the notes in the Orthodox Study Bible:

    It seems the books of Timothy are about running the Church— a sort of manual and practical words to maintain the Holy Spirit in its members. The word evangelist used in 2Tim4:5 strikes an image of Billy Graham into the modern American mind.

    But the context was strife within the Church how to maintain order and settle disagreements within the Church. That’s one reason why the directives were given to the ministers or clergy specifically., in these specific verses. The heading in this Bible on this section is: “The Pastor’s defense against apostasy: Loyalty to tradition.

    I Tim 6:12 in the Orthodox study bible has a footnote that says the words “confessed the good confession before many witnesses” is about Timothy’s words at his baptism or ordination. Again within the Church. In other words this verse was not a directive to proselytize those outside the faith.

    I mention these not to participate in or contribute to any potential development of conflict. But rather to mention that there is an Orthodox reading of the scripture and a non-Orthodox reading of the scripture.

  47. Dee of St Herman Avatar
    Dee of St Herman

    I need to amend my last comment. I have been taught the New Testament scripture only in the Orthodox tradition.

  48. Dee of St Herman Avatar
    Dee of St Herman

    I apologize one more to complete my thought. These verses (and Orthodox interpretations in this bible) are meant to be read within an Orthodox context how to resolve conflicts and disagreements within the Orthodox Church. They would not be applied to contexts of talking to people outside of the Orthodox Church.

  49. Dean Avatar
    Dean

    Thanks Dee,
    Your comments and insight help!
    I used to read voraciously. Now nearing 77, my eyesight is not what it was. I can read daily for about 15 minutes. The rest of my reading is on audio books. I do paint some. But painting uses my eyes differently than reading does. Even painting is done by spurts.
    It’s good we’re not saved by information
    but by Christ’s mercy in His Church. Anyway, I’ve forgotten much of the info I ever read (especially my early evangelical schooling). Without doubt a blessing!

  50. Alan Avatar
    Alan

    Dee, your comment, to me, from Jan 10 @ 7:24 PM:

    Nothing you wrote was the least bit offensive to me. You contribute many great thoughts to this blog. And look, you write about your experiences and from your perspective. You obviously are a kind and caring person and write with absolutely no malice. Given that, if there was something offensive (which there wasn’t), then that’s on me.
    If anything, your comments have challenged me to take a long, hard look in the mirror. I actually thank you for that.

  51. Alan Avatar
    Alan

    Father,
    Thank you for your comments last evening about “being patient with one another” and your comments this morning on Hesychasm.
    Great stuff that I need to hear and apply.

  52. Matthew Lyon Avatar
    Matthew Lyon

    Fr. Freeman,

    For someone who take eisegesis seriously, I’m not unaware that 1 Timothy is not a series of “life verses”. That said, if you drive the position to its logical end, no verse is applicable unless you are in the immediate context, and this would actually be a good argument for why bishops/priests/etc. are authoritative, they can be said to be in the line of the immediate context, but also for Christian laity in the context of that authority. By this logic though Jeremiah cannot be used in reference to abortion. Anyway…

    “It is not a platform for practicing a conversation that is actually designed to be read by someone else.”

    It’s the other way around. The blog stimulates what I hope is Christian thinking and I share that thought with others elsewhere to the degree that they have an interest. I have never meant to hijack your blog, nor do I troll sites for attention or diversion, and while I’m not good at getting my thoughts condensed, you have convicted me to do better. What do you take away from my comment to Dee? It should at least have contained a reason for sympathy for Protestants, and why they’re annoying, like me.

    Often, I’m only responding to you, and often you do not reply or share my interest, and that is why it seems my comments are a practice in apologetics/comments to no one, at least in part. Maybe I am doing apologetics, but I can’t help but think that all Christian thinking is apologetic. When we talk about deterministic views of Providence versus Orthodox views, I’m sorry, but there is an apologetic involved. There is an unlearning and a learning, a defensive and offense apologetic. Orthodox play defense most of the time. I describe my own internal wrestling/undoing and try and apply the new learning. If it is not my place to add observations to the “why” of it, that’s fine. Maybe you know of another place that would suit me better. I don’t want some rabid Orthodox apologetic site BTW. Seriously, I haven’t perused discussion sites for Orthodox discussions.

    But I have come to see that apologetics get a bad rap among some Orthodox, ironically, this while they do apologetics. It’s the confusion between thinking that arguments have the power to convert someone and thinking that arguments don’t have that power. Both are apologetics but the person with the first position is likely more harm than good due to not appreciating that the Gospel is the power of God, and nothing else, yet in it, is content, and that content when lived, is salvific. If we counted the series of arguments in the NT, from Jesus to Paul, etc. – I would have to say, there is a place for argumentation while realizing the outcome is in God’s and the person’s hands/hearts.

    So, again, I realize, this is not a good place to hang out due to my tendencies, but I appreciate your writing and it draws me in. But before I bid adieu, even when Jesus tells us why we should pray and not give up, and then proceeds to give examples that are arguments for why we should not be faint of heart, that God is better than even an evil father who provides, that even an unjust judge will hear the case of someone who annoys them repeatedly, and then gives these, “If then, so” statements, this is apologetics. It is an offense and defensive position that is supposed to persuade the person to pray. I don’t think I have a different logic going on than this. It is meant to be persuasive but is not expected to overcome all or any doubt. Paul is full of them. I guess you could say, it’s not the place of any lay person to engage in this way. And sometimes I get the feeling this is what some would like to say. I don’ t see the secular in any of this. The secular has no time or interest in their contradictions.

    You know and I know that the influx of converts into Orthodoxy has almost nothing to do with Orthodox Christians in parishes, and more so Orthodox authors, Church History lessons, Jordan Peterson or DBH, etc. And they come into the churches where often someone mis-judges them, caricatures poorly their whole life as a Christian beforehand, and has no idea why/what they ever believed what they have except that it was inevitable after the Great Schism. They often have a glossary version of the whole of Protestant history and have never made connections to the why question. And these are the people doing the apologetics that they won’t call apologetics. Here’s my suggestion I guess, mount a campaign to teach Orthodox priests some apologetics and then the laity won’t have to worry that Orthodox misrepresent, misdiagnose/misunderstand (often at their own time expenditure) the question/objections/wrestling, then the catechumen (who isn’t really a catechumen) will not leave or fall into doubt after they were just Chrismated, and won’t just be Orthodox because its old and niche and smells good – and maybe, the fallout rate among the youth will drop below 50%. Information doesn’t save, but if you have no information, you have no reason to think you’ll be saved. The Gospel is the power of God because in it, revelation takes place, it breaks in on you. I won’t go down the rabbit trail of “Is knowing/hearing/believing the Gospel needed to be saved?”. Apologetics to me is a whole way of thinking. If I don’t want to pray because I think I’ve worn God out, I can remember Jesus words, those words, if I apply them, become salvific, but without them, God is worn out and I’m worn out. But He already argued and was persuasive, Glory to God.

    I say this with no assurance that I am “okay” spiritually, sinner as I am, but I do hold on to Christ, and hope to ever so tighter.

  53. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Matthew,
    Obviously, there is a place for apologetics – though I suspect there’s a difference between “hard” and “soft” apologetics. You took some painful swipes in your last comment – such as suggesting that its the failure of apologetics that is account for a 50% fallout rate among youth. When, that is actually a very misleading statistic and represents some interesting demographic issues that are across the board in the US. Also, a you took a fair amount of swipes at the work of various clergy (generalized), which, I take it, would run the Church ever so much better if they’d just learn more apologetics.

    I’ve done ministry now for 42 ordained years – both prior to and within Orthodoxy. I still have some things to learn. You are welcome on the blog and welcome in the comments. But I return to my earlier observation that it would be far more useful to the ministry in this location if you engaged more on the level of questions than on the level of instructing the rest of us on apologetics. There are valid points within all of that – but it just gets tiresome.

    The readership on the blog is extremely wide-ranging. It is international, with a wide background of experience. There are, for example, a lot of readers in Africa and in Australia from the Oriental Orthodox world and I engage with them (and have done lectures) and have come to love them. There are RC readers, including (and especially) Eastern Rite Catholics who are interesting as conversation partners. I’m aware, for example, that, historically, the OCA was about 1/2 Uniate prior to entering Orthodoxy (with the work of St. Alexis Toth). We also, obviously, have a lot of Anglican and Protestant readers from many backgrouonds.

    The blog isn’t ecumenical – but I’m aware – always – of its larger audience. I want it to be safe and readable. So, I’m cautious about our temptations to bash outsiders (myself included). So, I tend to want to manage the “apologetical” aspects of the blog myself. Others learn from our questions as much as they learn from our answers.

    So, I think I’m just saying to turn it down a few notches, ease up a little. I apologize for anything that was stinging in my comment to you.

  54. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Father, thank you for your word. It settled a lot of things in my heart.. When I first heard the objection, I said, “Huh? It is not possible to be a quietist and be Orthodox.”
    With your info, I was able to give a better reply..

    Providence at work?

  55. Matthew Lyon Avatar
    Matthew Lyon

    Fr. Freeman,

    I don’t think apologetics will save the world, but I equate apologetics with Christian worldview and with the mind of Christ, so I see them as indispensable. But, getting jumped on for saying “fight the good fight”, as if that was strictly for the ordained, unexpected.

    I’ve gone through just about every introduction to Orthodoxy that there is in English, and in each one, which are apologetical works, there is a passing mention of Original Sin and Guilt and nothing else. Yet, the Christian landscape here, is built on it, all of the theological controversies are either over it, or had an impact on other controversies. Now, from Lady Gaga’s Born This Way to how our prisons are run, had a prior determinism built on a prior cultural metanarrative. People in poverty are always lazy bums in this view. Addicts are addicts. A false anthropology and a worse reaction to it pervades society. Providence as understood by Christian Americans, the kind where someone guns down 30 people in a mall, and the first comment out of some pastor is, “We know all things work together for good…,” or “God is in control”, is built on a view of God where He’s the lone actor due to the fact that once upon a recent time, God was the only Actor in salvation, and this because of OS&G: it had to be that way. This is about the only time the devil gets talked about, mass shootings. I mean, Secular Humanism was born inside of a church likely responding against Augustinian notions, it was a further Reformation. I can’t help but see this stuff now. And now that I see death and Satan, I can’t unsee it. So, you’re right, I’ve used the blog to persuade you and others to think about these things so that the Gospel in Orthodoxy may shine. I have had no plan to do so, it’s what’s on my mind, and I see the connections in your writing. In my personal life, I constantly catch myself in a train of thought and preemptively apologize if I think I’ve gone on too long.

    I saw Puss in Boots with my family last night (still a fan) and it was a better apologetic than most I’ve come across and moving oddly enough. Death is personified in a wolf that the hero knows he cannot beat whether he gets his 9 lives back or not. He cannot try and beat death by being a hero and must live the best he can (had been avoiding life in the fantasy of the hero) with one life. It was really good, the movie. It would be scary for young kids I think, under 7 if you ever watched it with grandkids. But it was a better analysis of the human condition than I often come across.

    My swipes weren’t against you, or well-meaning priests, but the dismissal of a synergistic effect between clergy and laity as I read it. I don’t think of myself as your sidekick BTW, but in a parish, there are often many converts who could be helpful and the clergy/laity boundary may or may not appreciate that. I’m not speaking of my parish. I have no desire to be a priest, but I would someday, if God permits, like to help people become critical of unbelief for the sake of belief, and that not in itself, but lived belief. Dissonance leaves people in limbo. You have to get to place of enough certainty that you can trust a thing before you “do it”. You have to trust a bridge to drive over it. You glorify the builders and engineers by using it regularly. The 50% is a number shared by all Christian groups. I think there are two basic reasons. One, in born-again churches, you’re good. Two, in Orthodox churches, Baptism is not seen as a liability for the lapsed Christian. That’s simplistic I know. But what would relieve the anxiety most that would allow for a relaxed approach to training youth? A fallback on a prior event that provides assurance, and then, you reassure yourself (have heard it a thousand times) that things will be okay. We should be more alarmed that what we are.

    As to your request, I will comply, and I understand. Thanks for your patience.

    Matthew

  56. Dee of St Herman Avatar
    Dee of St Herman

    Matthew,
    I hope my comment here will be seen and read in light of the encouragement and love I have in my heart. I suspect you know your audience well, that is, the Reform Protestants. I will admit my ignorance of Protestant theology. When I talk about Protestantism, generally I reference culture and behavior, which has been enough for me to be doubtful about their theology. I have made the mistake of over generalizing, and I know I need to watch that. I have read a few of the writers that Protestants like to read. But by and large, there hasn’t been sufficient illumination in them for me to pay close attention to these areas. Nevertheless, I agree with your thoughts regarding the teaching praxis itself. In particular, the implicit suggestion in your comment to me is that to truly reach someone, one must be able to ‘speak their language’. I sincerely believe you are able to speak the language of the Reform Protestant and to make cogent arguments (at least as far as an ignorant person on such topics as myself can tell). It seems that you’re saying that their faith is predicated on only argument, and I will take your word for that.

    Father Thomas Hopko mentions not to offer advice when it isn’t asked for. In this case, regarding what I do in this comment, if I should say more in the way of advice, it might be unintentionally flavored by my passions. And that is not what I want. Nevertheless, it seems that you really want to test your thoughts in an Orthodox arena, and I get that. And because of that, I sincerely believe your strength will likely be honed well in an Orthodox seminary. While you speak (as far as I can tell) well to a Reform Protestant audience, it often seems to me, who have only been exposed to Orthodox Christian theology regarding my theological readings and how I was taught Christianity by Orthodox teachers, that sometimes your thoughts haven’t sufficiently gelled within the Orthodox mileu. And I need to emphasize this is true for most of us converts, and including myself. And this is why I am so appreciative when I’m corrected. I want to walk in the Orthodox Way.

    We, all of us Orthodox (cradle and otherwise), should all be warned not to have hubris in how much we think we know of Orthodoxy. In that regard, I strongly encourage you to consider enrolling and discussing your understanding of Orthodox theologyin the academic milieu of an Orthodox seminary. Please be assured that I say this not to chase you off this blog. That is certainly not my intention at all. But I imagine the strength of your capacity to be a true translator of the faith to the Reform Protestant, if you have that much more immersion into Orthodox theology within a context of academic capacity dedicated to this purpose. It is true, I believe that it is worth while to test one’s understanding. It’s just that sometimes you come across that you are already assured of your understanding, without actually being open to correction. You often interpret corrections that Father Stephen offers as if they are off target. Perhaps this is because you might be on a tangent that isn’t attuned to what Father Stephen is saying.

    Please accept my prayers with all the hope in my heart. I pray that our Lord Jesus Christ bless your communications with Reform Protestants with His grace and love. But I humbly ask that you might consider Father’s suggestions, too.

    Matthew please forgive me if I made offense. I am sincere in my prayers for your intentions to convey the faith to Protestants.

  57. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Matthew,
    I’ve written about the importance of an ontological approach (which equates sin and death) on the blog since 2006. I haven’t needed to be convinced about such things. And I wrote about the problems associated with original sin long before you were a reader – and did not need convincing of these things. We each, though, have our voices. I do not write with the Reformed audience in mind – they’re not really part of my experience on the whole. I certainly have the wider culture in mind. Many people have assumptions in their world-view that could historically be traced to Western teachings viz. original sin, but they’re so far removed from that actual language and thought that it is almost beside-the-point to point it out to them.

    For me, one way of pushing back against this cultural inheritance is to insist again and again on the essential goodness of human nature and the goodness of all creation. That is the foundation block that was already in place and being taught before the original sin stuff raised its head in the West. It is part of the good news.

    You’ve got some thoughts about how people operate – “you have to trust a bridge before you drive over it.” They make sense – as arguments – but aren’t actually true as people go – certainly not universally. I’ve noted that I’ve been doing ministry for 42 years (and unordained for some years before that). People are all over the map and only sometimes predictable and logical. People act according to their heart – in that is a deep, unseen territory. It is more discerned – and varies from person to person.

    I do know that, over the years, I’ve received thousand of notes from those who have been helped on their journey to the Orthodox faith partly in response to this ministry. It encourages me. But I didn’t start out with a plan nor can I describe ultimately what I do. What I believe in is Providence. If I do what God has given me to do – with the light He has given me – and seek to be faithful in it – as blessed by my bishop – then it is what I should do. The results are up to God.

    I expect and hope the same out of my brother priests, and of each of us as we seek to be faithful. We simply have no idea what God is up to, other than to say that He is “gathering together in one all things in Christ Jesus.” I can look around and see that we are in terrible times, and that the times and fortunes of the Church will likely become much worse, even dismal. It won’t have been the first time. All that is out of our control. It is for us to be faithful.

    You seem to express anxieties about the Church and neglect of certain ministries. That’s no doubt a true assessment. Youth ministry is like herding cats – and we only get them for a tiny bit of time a week – and we’re competing against a digital culture that parents seem loathe to interfere with. You have no idea of the many hours of tortured conversations I’ve had with clergy through the years who wrestle with understanding what would improve this part of the Church’s life. I’ve seen some things in other parts of the world that are far more successful than our efforts – but they’re usually in Orthodox cultures – I think of a wonderful ongoing work in the monstery of Oasa in Romania, for one. Very powerful. There were powerful student movements there before the Communists came to power as well. Interesting.

    You’ve heard that “things will be okay” and you think we should be more alarmed. I think you underestimate just how alarmed we are. We are terrified and I know that to be a fact. But – things will be okay because the outcome of history has been revealed in the death and resurrection of Christ. God alone is in charge of the outcome of history – or have you not noticed that being said over and over and over on this blog. Not believing that is itself modernity at its worst.

    Do good. Do your best. Be anxious for nothing. Trust God. We’re all gonna die. And, still, we will win.

  58. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Ahhh. Father. It is always a balm to my soul when you say, “Things will be OK as revealed in the death abd Resurrection of Jesus Christ.” I need to put up a sign.
    I am slowly coming, I think to the realization of that in my own heart but is a tough journey. God forgive me.

  59. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    A further thought (in general) for the catechumenal process:

    Christ’s encounter with Nicodemus (John 3) is instructive. Nicodemus has questions of “how” and such. Christ begins to speak of the birth process (“born again,” or “born from above”). This is so much more than the sort of thing that has been popularized as the “born-again experience.” It is the process of obtaining, and, in some measure, knowing our existence as it issues forth from the Goodness of God. The process of this “birthing” is catechumenal (which, classically was always resultant in Baptism – today, it is often concluded in Chrismation in order to complete the Baptismal reality). It is not a “learning” in the acquisition of information – though some information is essential.

    The ancient catechumenate extended for around 3 years and consisted not of doctrinal formation, but of moral (character) formation. There was a formation of candidates into the sort of people who could receive the birthing of Baptism. Then there was instruction in the “mystigogical catechesis” – the life of the sacraments.

    In many ways all of this is a discipling – but making disciples of Christ. The “testing” of this discipleship is not intellectual. It is a testing of the heart. Will we remain faithful to Christ regardless of the consequences?

    One of the reasons that I’ve written my book on shame (due out in February) is because it goes to the heart of our character – or the acquisition of a healthy character – and it presents the most likely temptations that might defeat us. In a nutshell – the bearing of healthy shame is the content of the virtue of humility – and humility is the Queen of all the virtues according to the Fathers. Humility will allow us to have Christ birthed within us – because He, above all, is humble.

    But, just thoughts as the evening winds down.

  60. Matthew Lyon Avatar
    Matthew Lyon

    Fr. Freeman/Dee,

    Thank you both for your charity. I want to emphasize that the reason I emphasize Reformed theology, is because almost all modern Christian theology around us in the US, is based on it, or is a reaction to it. In one sense, I see an opportunity in that we all have a common enemy: heresy. I don’t think this way about people, not even the Reformers, maybe I do about Joel Osteen, but about bad theology in general. I don’t blame people for believing it, and I don’t discount the good things they believe. There is a lot of explanatory power culturally in that the Christianity that is being rejected, isn’t wholly Christian at all, and how this has played out. It’s interesting, explanatory, fairly unbiased, and I think opens the door to discussion about Orthodoxy. I mean, the next time you hear someone talking about how the founders and American Christians owned slaves, the common enemy was heresy. Calvinists supported it with election and poor readings of the Bible. I’ve got neighbors I’ve spent 40+ hours talking this stuff over with who are agnostic/New Age/lapsed, who tell me they enjoy talking about these things. Who knows, maybe they’re just lonely, but I don’t think that’s all of it. In the process you get to tell what the Gospel is, who Christ is, His love, but it starts out with the recognition that our view of God culturally (Providence comes in here) conditioned us in a way that led a lot of people to dismiss belief, others to accept contradictions, others to become hateful, etc. I mean, when you can explain to someone why the Fundamentalist Baptist exists, after they grew up in an almost cult like situation in one of those churches (not labeling them all cultic) , and you give them some explanatory power for what they went through, and then talk Gospel/Pascha, it’s refreshing. One of the things I enjoy sharing with people so much, is that the ending of the Lord’s Prayer really is, “Deliver us from the Evil One” and how the problems in Calvinism led to a psychologically projected evil guy: Satan, and they open up about scary moments with evil. We’ll talk textual criticism, aliens, multiverse, all this crazy stuff that is offered as an alternative to belief, and I usually give them somewhat of an education with a rebuttal. My neighbor was telling me the other night how she believed in reincarnation. I told her, I get the emotional appeal, because eventually there is a you that finally gets it right, but that when you find “you”, you were actually the cause of all the evil all along: why would you put yourself through that? Seems too hopeful, and it assumes nurture played out right one turn is the difference maker. But, say it’s aliens or multiverse or conspiracies about lost texts and a tampered-with Bible and so on, this stuff used to be all academia (minus the aliens, but now that is too academia) now it’s on every channel, TV show, Discovery, History Channel, etc. And to me, it’s our job to confront this nonsense because the alternate catechumen process has already been underway. Churches have to tackle all of this, because, I hear adults in our parish say things like, “Well, you know the Church was in a power play and that’s why the Gospel of Thomas was cut out of the Bible.” If adults say that, and the kids are like, yeah we evolved from aliens and we’re in a multiverse and Christianity is right for me but not for everyone, you get where I’m going. This aside from the fact that people are wondering what to do to be inclusive for a pantheon of possible identities. Tell me those people are going to pray. But Dee, I’ve thought about seminary as well, and I’ve had three priests close to me say the same.

    But the reason I booted my computer up again was to apologize to you Fr. Freeman. My conscience bothered me during evening prayers. This is your blog. It’s not right that I’ve out worded you on multiple occasions. My priest before once told me I’d texted him the longest text he’d ever seen. So, this is my personality one on one with people as well. I know their limits because I see their body language and I back off into everyday talk. This is the only blog that invites interaction on AFR and I have more time to think than the average person, and I unload. I have a deep fascination with Orthodoxy and when I see things I never saw, I want to share it. Fr. Freeman, I don’t believe that intellectual formation is as good as moral or spiritual formation. It’s that the intellectual challenges people face today are often enormous, and keep them from moral or spiritual formation, as there is an argument going on in their mind that is unresolved. I believe God is working with people, but I believe we are all part of that process. We pray for “all the means” of salvation. Means cannot be dispensed with of course, and we are to be those means. When I first read St. Cyril of Jerusalem’s Catechetical Lectures, I felt like I’d come home. I’m either still on the bottle, or a novice I would think. But I now have a voice in my mind that speaks against my sinful tendencies and convicts me according to truth and alerts me to the nutso-ness around us. I don’t know how much of this basic/novice level is there, but I think it’s the first step. It was reassuring to have you say that priests are terrified, and yet okay.

    Thanks again.

  61. Mark Spurlock Avatar
    Mark Spurlock

    “I think you underestimate just how alarmed we are. We are terrified and I know that to be a fact. But – things will be okay because the outcome of history has been revealed in the death and resurrection of Christ.”

    Amen, Father Stephen. I think that statement encapsulates something critical in Orthodoxy that I found refreshing–in the truest sense of the word. It is akin to the faith one would hope to have as a believer witnessing Christ on the cross and enduring the time He spent in the tomb. It is the faith received by shepherds from angels.

    I wish I could offer some insight about young people and the church. Both of my children have reached adulthood as faithful believers and with characters I could hardly wish to improve. (In terms of worldly “success” habits, they might benefit from a tweak here or there, I don’t know, but they generally have all the desirable traits in a good human being.) Yet if either had veered or now started to veer, I’d be as clueless as any other parent as to knowing what to do.

    I do think adults (particularly religious leaders) who set bad examples create the most disillusionment among those youth who are inclined toward church and then drift away. Matthew 18:6 tells us the heavenly reaction to that. If the church does not want kids to be seduced by false idols, it has to provide them healthful authenticity.

    “a digital culture that parents seem loathe to interfere with”

    You have hit one big nail squarely on its head. Parents cannot leave their children to be raised by someone (or something) else and just hope for the best. It may not be a magic bullet that works in all cases, but children who have active parenting seem far more likely to turn out okay. Yet our culture’s subtext is often that parents are somehow bad for their children and that society knows better how to raise them.

    From my short experience, Orthodoxy is a lot about “person” (for example, Michael’s comment from January 11, 2023 at 10:55 am). Committing to raising a child can be the quintessential experience of how a relationship develops personality, both of the child and parent.

  62. juliania Avatar
    juliania

    Many thanks, Father Stephen – I see you have what you desired – many comments! I’ve only just begun, and the comment you make early on that rather than Orthodoxy being mystical we should realize it to be explaining the nature of how things are – that’s so true.

    I would add to the discussion the revelation of Providence that takes place in Dostoievski’s “The Brothers Karamazov”, which is a lovely elaboration on the character of his hero, Alyosha midway through the novel, centering around the corruption of his dead elder’s body; it’s a wonderful passage, too long to quote, just beautifully explaining the nature of how things are with respect to Providence in our lives, just as with Joseph in Genesis.
    Happy summer in my native land, Eric!

  63. Mariam Avatar
    Mariam

    “The Elder’s teaching expressed the depth of his spiritual experiences and a vivid sense of the presence of God. He always emphasized that faith consists not only in a simple confession of the existence of God, but in believing, knowing, feeling, and seeing that God is continuously working in the world, in history, in the Church, and in people’s lives.” This is a quote from Elder Aimilianos from this writing that I came across tonight, that spoke to me in light of this conversation on God’s Providence. https://orthochristian.com/134727.html

  64. Mariam Avatar
    Mariam

    To correct my last comment:
    The quote is from Archimandrite Iliya, referencing Elder Aimilianos.

  65. Andrew Roberts Avatar
    Andrew Roberts

    Dee,
    I was having think about what you said about Roman Catholic and Protestant converts to Orthodoxy. I think it’s easier for RC’s because of the similarities; the Sacraments and liturgy, the Eucharist being central; liturgical hours of prayer and their connection to the Eucharist; confession; prayer and honour to the Theotokos (you have rightly pointed out the going too far of RC’s regarding her); communion of the Saints and praying to them.
    The shift is more of mindset (although there is an inner shift too) from the RC teachings to Orthodox teachings. I have found nothing objectionable so far in Orthodox teaching on the above things I have mentioned. I can’t explain why I have accepted Orthodox teaching on these things; it just makes sense on some level.

  66. Matthew Lyon Avatar
    Matthew Lyon

    Fr. Freeman,

    I won’t make this long, but I think I uncovered part of my motivation, your brother. You’ve talked about your brother on occasion being Reform Protestant. This was a clue to me, maybe wrongly, that maybe you weren’t thoroughly familiar since no one I’ve ever come across refers to Reformed theology, the Reformed, Reformed Baptists (a misnomer), Reformed Protestantism as Reform theology. I think at least at one time it had saddened me a little the way that your relationship was affected by the divergence. And without saying so, I think I wanted to tell you how to go after it, or why your brother’s theology was the way it was. That accounts for some of it anyway. I know several people in our parish who were formerly Reformed or dedicated Evangelicals that have had a breach in family relations over them coming to Orthodoxy (I can think of 6 families, that’s not insignificant, especially not at Christmas). I think I internalize some of this.

  67. Matthew Lyon Avatar
    Matthew Lyon

    Fr. Freeman,

    If so, if I do internalize some of that, feel the pain of it, according to you and some of your quotes, that’s a good thing. Maybe I try to offer a solution someone doesn’t want, but I can’t see a way around it.

  68. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Matthew,
    You presume too much – and project your concerns onto others (like me). Some corrections:

    First, I do not have a brother who is Reform. I have a brother-in-law (married to my wife’s sister) who is a prominent Reform theologian, professor, and pastor, with a doctorate from Edinburgh. We have discussed theology in years – we have little common ground in that. But I would not presume to correct him. It’s best to answer questions someone’s asking instead of trying to tell them what their questions should be. If he wants to know something – he’ll ask (he did once call me from Scotland years ago with a question about St. Maximus the Confessor – it was refreshing).

    Second, I have no interest in Calvinist jargon (Reform versus Reformed). But do not presume that it indicates ignorance on my part other than that I do not move and talk in those circles. It is not an interest of mine.

    I appreciate that you were moved to want to be of help – but – you were not asked to be of help. In truth, you’ve not written anything about Reform thought and its problems, where it went wrong, etc., that added anything to what I already knew. What you added was an example of your own enthusiasm.

    Again – it is an important spiritual discipline to listen – and to work with questions when they are asked. I know that you’ve had no intention of hi-jacking the blog. But you have an agenda that burns within you – I think it colors the world around you. For one, you see much more “Reform” out there than really exists. Despite a small uptick in recent years – it’s still an outlier in American religion. I frequently see it as a desperate attempt on the part of evangelicals to “think” instead of just feel. But, it’s a lousy bit of thinking.

    But the key remains the heart. No one can hear anything unless the heart is asking the right questions. I think it would be good at this point to drop the conversation. Let it go, (as my granddaughter likes to sing).

  69. Simon Avatar
    Simon

    I would like to interject a thought. Claims of heresy should be left to bishops. Why? Because that claim is a stick that anyone can use to “help” somebody else out. If everyone in the Church assumed the responsibility of pointing out heretics, it would be the Salem witch trials all over again. I have noticed a trend among some Orthodox to see the West as a common enemy. That is not the spirit of Orthodoxy. We don’t have enemies. We have brothers and then we have those who do not know that they are our brothers. Here is an observation that concerns me: Sometimes it seems that punching down on the West is the Orthodox equivalent of “virtue signaling” our zeal for the faith. It’s not a good look.

  70. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Simon,
    You’re spot on.

  71. juliania Avatar
    juliania

    In answer to Michael Bauman, who asked ‘Do the Maori give presentations of their tribal dance?’ briefly, yes they do. The haka is not perhaps currently the best expression of this – its origin comes from adversarial and often brutal conflict.
    But on the subject of ‘quietism’ I had to smile. My maternal grandmother, an orphan, had been raised maori. She seldom spoke of her experience except that every time she did speak, her voice was musical (I can still hear it.) She started me out in life, in wartime, wonderfully well, never having known Orthodox theological apologetics, simply and beautifully, humbly – a good Christian soul. I will always be grateful to her.

  72. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Juliana, thank you. The spirituality of Native American tribes of the southwest and plains in the US particularly as Christians is humbling in its beauty, simplicity and connection to the created world. I shall always treasure my contacts with it.

  73. Dee of St Herman Avatar
    Dee of St Herman

    Simon, I sincerely appreciate your thoughts and agree. I’m guilty of what you’re describing and ask for your prayers in this aspect of my thinking and heart.

  74. Byron Avatar
    Byron

    Well, I finally read through all the comments (I arrived a bit late to the conversation) and there is a lot of beauty in them! Wonderful conversation. Not to derail the existing conversation, but I have a question on the below (from JAN 5).

    NET 3:11 God has made everything fit beautifully in its appropriate time,
    but he has also placed ignorance in the human heart

    If you will, to see something sacramentally is to recognize its providential character.

    Reading this, I began to wonder: if we understand Scripture providentially, should we see passages that may seem troubling (“but he has also placed ignorance in the human heart”) and regard them as the writer’s understanding that all things are in God but not necessarily from God (in a “causal” sense)? I wonder how to read scripture providentially (as a sacrament)–or if that is even a right way to approach it?

    I do not think any mortal Christian has the “fullness of truth” (cf. Matthew 24:36).

    Mark, it may be somewhat interesting that this is what brought me to Orthodoxy. Prior to becoming Orthodox, I was Southern Baptist (I graduated from the Louisville Seminary during the Split in the SBC back in the early 90s). I finally realized that, even if I figured out all of Scripture and Salvation on my own (a SB way of saying I had “the fullness of truth”), no one else would agree with me! The picture in my mind was of millions of small islands in a gigantic ocean. No communion; just “Me and God” individuals. It occurred to me that this was not a picture of the Church and I began searching from there.

  75. Byron Avatar
    Byron

    You have hit one big nail squarely on its head. Parents cannot leave their children to be raised by someone (or something) else and just hope for the best. It may not be a magic bullet that works in all cases, but children who have active parenting seem far more likely to turn out okay. Yet our culture’s subtext is often that parents are somehow bad for their children and that society knows better how to raise them.

    Mark, the hatred for parents in our culture is not a subtext, it is one leg of the ideological stool. The control of children by the State is a major goal of those who hate God. I read of one mother who homeschooled and took her children to a park to play. She was attacked by a group of women who demanded to know why the children were not in Day Care (and, by implication, why she didn’t have a job). It is a major issue but I won’t say more as it is very politicized.

    I was having think about what you said about Roman Catholic and Protestant converts to Orthodoxy. I think it’s easier for RC’s because of the similarities

    I think similarities can make things easier but the real key is humility. Is the heart ready to subject itself to Orthodoxy? To repent of wrongs and live in the Church? It’s a question that sometimes takes many years to answer.

  76. Kenneth Avatar
    Kenneth

    Byron, thanks so much for your comments. May I ask if you happen to live in the Houston area? (My apologies if I’ve confused you with a different commenter.) I’m an Orthodox convert who will be moving to Houston, and would appreciate any suggestions (from you or anyone else) for a church there.

  77. Byron Avatar
    Byron

    Kenneth, I live in Tulsa, OK. I am, unfortunately, not familiar with Orthodox Churches in Houston….

  78. Andrew Roberts Avatar
    Andrew Roberts

    Byron,
    seeing as you brought up one of my comments. The answer is yes. My experience of entering the RC Church, some thirty years ago, the same was expected of me; to accept the the Church’s teaching and to repent of wrongs; as for humility I cannot make a claim to such virtue.

  79. Andrew Roberts Avatar
    Andrew Roberts

    Byron,
    will my lack of humility bar me from becoming Orthodox?

  80. Mark Spurlock Avatar
    Mark Spurlock

    Hi Byron,

    That was a lot of commentary to catch up on 😀

    Yes…a muscle I’m trying to develop through Orthodoxy is balancing between the truth apportioned to my jar and that greater Truth that is infinite beyond my understanding. I do believe that God would not have made so many children if He did not intend we each be just a tiny bit different from all the others (I hope this doesn’t sound too much like “special snowflake”), but Orthodoxy is helping me see the necessity of (again with the Tolkien metaphor) each, individual note having to fit into the communal symphony of heaven to achieve its purpose. My predilection is to try to solve my own problems. That secular politics so often misappropriates the soul’s communal impulse has only reinforced my habit and mistrust of “groups.”

    Slowly becoming free of that imbalance is something I look forward to.

    As for your second comment about society and parenting, yep. To avoid politics is why I used as guarded language as I did. My children were home-schooled until high school. Because my wife died when they were eight and ten, the choice to continue with that by myself was not obvious, but I am certain in retrospect it was correct. Thankfully my son helped me see it was what he needed from me when almost no one else thought it was a good idea.

  81. Byron Avatar
    Byron

    Andrew,

    Lack of humility will not stop you from becoming Orthodox. Much of the journey takes place within the Church, the life of which is what forms our hearts in humility and holiness. We do not enter in perfection (or close to it!) but in realization of our sinfulness and God’s grace.

  82. Andrew Roberts Avatar
    Andrew Roberts

    Thank you Byron.

  83. Byron Avatar
    Byron

    Mark, I think it was in the comments above that someone said something like, “be a person, not an individual”. I think becoming a true human, a true person, is about communion. At the same time, I’m a lot like you’ve described–I like to say “I can get through anything” (and I really can, in general). I like to solve my own problems. But the individual note is lost without the symphony in which it takes part, just as the symphony is incomplete without the individual note. They give to, and complete, each other. At least, I think that’s the right way to look at it. Just my thoughts.

  84. Dee of St Herman Avatar
    Dee of St Herman

    Dear Byron,
    I was about to say welcome aboard the runaway train! But your metaphor of a symphony is so true and I appreciate it.

    I just want to add without any playfulness, but with complete sincerity, I’m edified by your comments and appreciate them and your contributions!

  85. Mark Spurlock Avatar
    Mark Spurlock

    Byron,

    Yes, that–the idea of person being in relation to others–is something that had not occurred to me until this last year and Orthodoxy. Kallistos Ware’s explanation of the Trinity made me first begin to see it; subsequent reading of Father Stephen’s blog has reinforced it.

    Going back to your own history with the Southern Baptists, I wonder how much you felt as though you understood the Trinity, or not understanding was even something to worry about or try to rectify? It might have been my own fault (intellectual laziness/religious inertia), but I very often received the message that “no one understands the Trinity.”

  86. Byron Avatar
    Byron

    Dee,

    I am edified by everything you write here! I loved reading through all the comments–and I think everyone’s contributions were quite wonderful. It was a very good discussion.

    Mark,

    I remember everyone in my church being very excited when our pastor said he would be preaching on the Trinity…and then they were upset when he began with, “Well no one can really understand the Trinity…”. LoL! I never put much thought into it, to be honest. I was much more moralistic–better for arguing. One can’t really win an argument about the Trinity! Too mystical, I suppose…. I had to “unlearn” so much when I came to Orthodoxy. My dog actually tore up my old NIV Bible with all my notes on Revelation in it! I should probably thank her for that….

  87. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Byron, Mark,
    I noted, long ago, when I was in my early Anglican years, that classical Anglicanism was quite Trinitarian in its devotion (hymns, prayers), for the simple reason that it was using traditional formularies from the Church’s past. Of course, I heard any number of bad sermons on the Trinity, including the “no one understands trope.” Frankly, if you cannot preach the Trinity, then you cannot preach classical Christianity. It’s as simple as that.

    Orthodox traditional sermons (Chrysostom, but especially the Cappadocians) soar in their eloquence and mystical insight. It holds within it – inasmuch as it has been revealed to us – the whole of the faith.

    We have been given a treasure. It is for us to consider what we have – to listen – to pray – to meditate – to walk in it until it gradually fills us with understanding.

    I’ve mentioned recently my deep dive into Dionysius the Areopagite. His work, The Mystical Theology, begins “Trinity!” and goes on from there.

  88. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    https://holytrinitycathedral.net/news_200108_1

    The Troparian of the Feast of Theophany reveals the most about The Holy Trinity and the active intrarelationship of Persons in the Godhead that is reflected in Creation and in each of our souls as we come together for worship and communion. If the dynamics of the Holy Trinity did not exist, I am not sure salvation would be possible — certainly not the Incarnation, Death and Resurrection which is a refection of the Trinity and the Christian path itself. The Divine Energies would not exist as they do.

    The Holy Trinity is revealed as we live, sin , repent, commune through His mercy and Grace

    Forgive me, a sinner. I do not mean to preach. Just comes out that way sometimes.

  89. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Michael,
    There is only the Trinity. Salvation is the life of the Trinity – United to the Father, through the Son, by the Holy Spirit. There is no “God behind the Trinity.”

  90. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Father, forgive me. I did not mean to communicate anything else.

  91. Dee of St Herman Avatar
    Dee of St Herman

    Well Father,
    After all that has been said and done here, I am excited to hear about your deep dive into Dionysius the Areopagite. I hope you take us along in your deep dive. May God grant us your insight and the heart of understanding!!

    I can’t wait to hear more!

  92. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Father,
    It struck me just now that there has been very little direct talk of Mary, The Theotokos in a Providential sense and yet it also seems to meShe is the essence of Providence both personally and throughout Creation.
    https://www.oca.org/saints/lives/2018/12/26/103648-synaxis-of-the-most-holy-mother-of-god

    Yet it seems She resists my attempts to more deeply understand Her, if I can.

  93. Eduardo Avatar
    Eduardo

    There is a Japanese parable that came to mind upon reading this about a man named Hakuin it’s as follows,

    A beautiful Japanese girl whose parents owned a food store lived near him. Suddenly, without any warning, her parents discovered she was with child. This made her parents angry. She would not confess who the man was, but after much harassment at last named Hakuin.

    In great anger the parent went to the master. “Is that so?” was all he would say.

    After the child was born it was brought to Hakuin. By this time he had lost his reputation, which did not trouble him, but he took very good care of the child. He obtained milk from his neighbours and everything else he needed.A year later the girl-mother could stand it no longer. She told her parents the truth – the real father of the child was a young man who worked in the fishmarket.The mother and father of the girl at once went to Hakuin to ask forgiveness, to apologize at length, and to get the child back.

    Hakuin was willing. In yielding the child, all he said was: “Is that so?”

    It reminds me that equanimity in the face of the vagaries and convolutions of history is most needed. To retain our peace in Christ regardless of the blowing of the historical winds “in our favor” or “not in our favor” is of inestimable value to leading a Godly life. God’s work is mysterious, mysterious enough to turn a man sold into slavery into the potentate of the Egyptian lands and save those who forsook him, as well as to turn an empire “dedicated to God” into rubble at the hands of her heathen enemies. In all things knowing that God is fully present in all people, places, and things is to respond to all of life’s twists and turns with “Is that so?”

  94. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Eduardo,
    There’s a story that’s somewhat similar to that in the lives of the Desert Fathers.

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