The One Mediator – And the Sacraments

For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus, (1 Tim. 2:5)

There is no way to adequately explain priesthood without reference to mediation. A priest is a mediator between God and Man. From time to time over the years, I have had the verse from 1 Timothy pointed out to me with the argument that there cannot be any mediator other than Christ, and, thus, there cannot be any such thing as a “priest” within the Church. Sometimes the argument becomes even more pointed:

I do not need to go to a priest to have my sins forgiven! I can go directly to God. I don’t want anything or anyone standing between me and Jesus.

If the priesthood (ordained or otherwise) stood between a person and Christ, I would oppose it myself. However, its purpose, like all of the sacraments, is quite the opposite: it is to mediate the presence of Christ, that is to make Him present, not serve in His absence. The greater question, therefore, is whether there need be any sacraments.

That Christ gave us Holy Baptism and the Eucharist is beyond doubt. In particular, with the Eucharist, we are told, “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me and I in them.” Further, we are commanded to eat His flesh and drink His blood. The notion that the Eucharist is merely a ritual action designed to make us think of Jesus is, historically speaking, absurd. There is only evidence in the early Church that the bread and the wine truly become the Body and Blood of Christ. Everything said about it in the Scriptures, including the warning of possible sickness accompanying eating it in the wrong manner, argue against mere memorialism.

It is ironic in the extreme that the very Christians who champion a “literal” reading of Scripture, and excoriate the Orthodox (and others) for engaging in theological analysis, refuse to read the verses concerning the Eucharist in a literal manner and themselves engage in philosophical gymnastics in order to deny the reality of Christ’s Body and Blood. It is a case of an anti-Catholic petard hoisting them into nonsense.

But just as Christ gives us His own Body and Blood, that we might “dwell in Him and He in us,” so, too, does He give us a sacramental world by which and in which He may be known. Marriage is another example. In the God-blessed faithful union of a man and a woman, Christ makes known the mystery of the union between Himself and the Church. A sacramental world is not a case of the world standing between us and God, but the world being made something in which and by which we encounter God.

The great flaw in anti-sacramental thinking is its abstracted notion of “spiritual.” It is presumed that for something to be “spiritual,” it must have nothing to do with the material world. That “talking to Jesus” only consists in words spoken in our heads. In truth, it is a preference for the imaginary over the real. The Word did not become flesh only to get our attention so that we would no longer have anything to do with the material world. It is the Word who became flesh Who gives us His Body and His Blood, the waters of Baptism, the marriage bed, the Apostolic ministry, the oil of healing, the laying on of hands, the lifting of the voice and all such things.

Non-sacramental Christianity has a long history of delusional teaching and practices. If the encounter with God is primarily the stuff going on in my head, then the strange results are fairly predictable. Nothing is more subject to manipulation and delusion than our subjectivity. This is not to say that there is nothing crazy in the history of sacramental Christianity.

However, the sacramental life, as the primary means of grace, grounds the believer in a far more concrete and stable environment. The Eucharist remains the Eucharist, and, in its liturgical presentation, offers something within our encounter with God that remains unchanging. It will be there next Sunday as well. Strangely, this offers far more freedom than the tyranny of our own subjectivity. There is no pressure to maintain a subjective state in order for God to be present. Depression need not shut down the spiritual life.

Perhaps the most salient aspect of the sacramental life is something that has almost been forgotten within contemporary Christianity: noetic experience. The fact that I will now be required to explain the very meaning of noetic experience for my readers makes my point. In the writings of the Church fathers, it is assumed that this is the true character of the saving knowledge of God.

“Noetic” refers to that knowledge that is acquired by the “nous,” an aspect of the soul that is uniquely the place where we encounter God. It is not the place of the passions and emotions, nor is it the place of discursive reasoning. Rather, it is that place in which we “know” by a participatory knowledge that is sometimes described as “perception.” We lack a good vocabulary for speaking about noetic experience precisely because our culture has abandoned this once-essential mode of perception.

The Scriptures tell us, “Be still and know that I am God.” But these words are read by a culture that knows almost nothing about true stillness (hesychia) and ceaselessly engages in activities to prevent its possibility. Stillness of this sort includes the silencing of the passions and emotions as well as discursive reasoning. It then becomes possible to be aware and to know wordlessly with a depth and stability that are the very bedrock of the spiritual life.

When I was first ordained, perhaps the most difficult part of my spiritual life was the need to “think” as I celebrated the liturgy. Remembering what came next, or fiddling with the pages of a book were distractions of the first order. Every priest would agree that the best liturgical experience comes only when the actions and words are no longer the product of reasoning, but are simply known “by heart.” It is then that noetic experience is able to flower.

The same is true among the laity. What is often experienced at first as “boredom” (the sameness of the liturgy or the interminable character of the Psalms or Canon in some services) is nothing more than a description of something that exists for the nurture of the nous rather than the emotions and reasoning. Imagine walking with someone through a Redwood forest, or along a quiet beach and being told, “I’m bored.” In truth, the forest and the beach are quite common examples of noetic experiences that have yet to be eradicated or destroyed by our culture. It is not surprising that many people report an awareness of God in such settings.

It is not incorrect to describe our relationship with the passions as an addiction. The fathers described the passion-driven life as a constant swing between pain and pleasure. We experience boredom as a pain and seek to replace it with pleasure, which will only yield more pain later on. This movement, as it dominates our experience, draws us away from the opportunity to grow in noetic experience. As such, it tears us away from God other than as an entertaining idea or a concept to be considered.

This brings me back to the question of mediation. The sacraments present God to us in a manner in which He can be noetically perceived. We enter into Him as communion. The so-called non-mediated paths are themselves hopelessly trapped in their own subjectivity, mired in the passions and ideology.  We may protest that we need no mediation, but this turns out to be a desire to dwell in the imagination. The sacraments (including the priesthood) do not present a barrier to Christ, but make our access to the One Mediator immediate and independent of our own subjectivity.

God knew what He was doing when He gave us the sacraments!



About Fr. Stephen Freeman

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





73 responses to “The One Mediator – And the Sacraments”

  1. Dean Avatar

    Father Stephen,
    I chuckled when you wrote about what many believe, that no other mediator is needed between Christ and man. This recalling what my Pentecostal sister-in-law had once said. She related to me almost word for word what you wrote…she only needs Jesus, she can go straight to Him. This was said after I had mentioned to her about the value of asking Mary and the saints to pray for us. Oh, and I once had a Lutheran fellow teacher tell me that she didn’t need the “dead” praying for her! I replied that He’s the God of the living, not the dead.

    Yes, there is a stability, blessed sameness in the sacraments. They and the liturgy wash over my parched soul every week, like large drops of mercy falling upon my sullied soul, bringing healing and rest.
    There truly is rest for the people of God. We need not live in the subjectivity of our minds, but in the glorious liberty of the sacraments, manifesting God’s Presence to us through bread, wine, oil and water.

  2. John Callihan Avatar
    John Callihan

    Fr Stephen, thank you – this was very helpful. But help me here. I still wonder what it means, then, that “there is one mediator between God and man, the man Jesus’s Christ.”

  3. Dino Avatar

    For cradle-Orthodox, arguments against mediators and intercessors invariably seem almost laughable, to the point where we’d have to control ourselves not to laugh in case it is rude, since all we know of the Church is that it is full of mediation and intercession – and we can even historically see this in first-century mosaic prayers to the then recently deceased Apostles, found in Israel.

  4. Dino Avatar

    I particularly like Jonathan Pageau’s one-word-abridged translation of ‘noetic perception’ by using the simple word ‘attention’. He is clearly careful to emphasize the great depth he imparts upon this everyday word, explaining that wherever we turn our attention is essentially our mind’s “worship” and he emphasises how profound this understanding of “attention” must become to us. (He almost reminds my of Elder Aimilianos in this)

  5. jacksson Avatar

    Thank you Father Stephen, Dean (Stefan) and Dino for the lesson and the comments. It made me think about my own ‘attention’ at the Divine Liturgy. I have become so locked into my prayer rope and the Jesus Prayer, I have become inattentive to the Divine Liturgy going on in front of me. One of my former priests here at the monastery told me that I need to ‘finger’ my rope, but to pay attention to the Divine Liturgy and let the Holy Spirit deal with the words accompying the prayer rope. In other words, I don’t have to say words while using the rope because the Holy Spirit will do the praying in me and most important is the Divine Liturgy; I can attest to the action of the Holy Spirit because one night I awakened and I could hear the words ‘Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner’ being said inside me and I wasn’t saying it; mulling it over in my mind I decided that it was an independent action; when I became fully cognizant of what was going on, the words stopped and has not ‘obviously (verballhy)’ repeated the lesson. The word used above, attention, is very important to me and I need to revise my actions in church. Concentration (attention) to the Divine Liturgy is so important and I need to ‘put away’ the various distractions that get my attention. The service is mostly in Greek and I have to pay close attention to the words (my Greek is weak).

  6. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman
    jacksson, your experience of the Jesus Prayer parallels mine in the sense I sometimes find it active deep within without me saying it…and I am a sinful man in the levels above.
    At the same time I am aware of how much more there is and not in an impersonal way.
    The photo is of my older brother and me over 70 years ago that is expressive of the landscape of my heart paying attention to the Jesus Prayer.


  7. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Our communal prayers such as Vespers partake of the noetic reality too. Sometimes it is a bit like standing on the sea shore as a young child holding hands with someone there with me holding my hand looking out over the endless sea.
    Knowing there is an offering to step out on the water.

  8. Dino Avatar

    Jacksson, Michael,
    perhaps that photo is a rather perfect example describing the correct attentive mode of the soul that is both “in Liturgy (with all its intellectual variation) and in a continuous internal invocation of Christ”, essentially, it is as if you are both “watching the sea while your brother holds you”. Both can be -eventually- retained simultaneously (without attentional fracture).
    But we mustn’t monitor ourselves on this and overthink things, we must simply be aware of being monitored by God.

  9. Dean Avatar

    Very poignant picture of you and your older brother. Makes this other old man begin to reminisce. Thank you.
    Jacksson (John), thank you also for your comment. Since I’ve known you about 25 years I know your words are true and heartfelt.

  10. Mark Spurlock Avatar
    Mark Spurlock

    Catechism class yesterday covered the nous, as will next week’s class.

    A couple of times on the blog I’ve commented about the tendency of Christians to emphasize distinctions more so than what we have in common. This post by Father Stephen, however, captures much of what I do prefer about Orthodoxy and where I think it exceeds the faith I had received as a Protestant.

    I’ve shared a link to it with my (Protestant) son.

  11. jacksson Avatar

    Dean, it has been a good 25 years. I have learned a lot from you in and out of church. I especially remember our trip together to visit the, somewhat of a mission church, in Eureka; that was a good trip and I learned a lot from you. That is one of the great things ab out being an active Orthodox Christian, the family and fellowship connections that we have down through the years and the expectation of a future together as we arrive in the fullness of the Kingdom of God worshiping at the foot of throne.

  12. jacksson Avatar

    Michael, thank you for the photo; it reminded me of one of the experiences in my life. During World War II, my father, a USCG Lieutenant was tasked with going to Washington DC for training in radar gun control (the Coast Guard became part of the US Navy during the war). Anyway, we drove across the country and when we got there we went to Eastern Shore Maryland to visit family living at the 1700s house, St Anthonys’, along side of LeCompte’s Bay (my paternal grandmother was a LeCompte). We spent some time there and I was fascinated with the small, colorful, boats that were drawn up on the shore behind the house. The next morning, I (about 5) was trying to convince my younger sister (about 3) that it be fun to paddle one of boats across the bay. As this was going on, my cousin (James Richardson aged about 15) walked by and said, I wouldn;t do that if I was you. He changed my mind at that point; I didn’t know that the current from LeCompte’s Creek would have taken me out of LeCompte’s Bay into the Choptank River, which would have taken me out into the Chesaepeak River and on into the Atlantic Ocean which would have been quite a trip for two little kids. I am thankful to James and his comment, he probably saved my life.

    Anyway a few years later we at my grandmothers house in Gresham, Oregon and my mother came out of the house and said, your cousin James just got killed on his boat near Cambridge; he was hit by a lightning bolt. I read later that he was working on one of the family Skipjack boats that his father manufactured, getting it ready for a race; he was at the foot of the mast and the bolt hit the mast.

    Anyway, my point is, an event that happened about 80 years ago more or less saved my life and that of my sister, and now here I am about 80 years later, asking on a constant basis, that my sweet Lord will give rest to the soul of my departed cousin. Your picture could have been similar to one that I wish that I had, one with James Richardson holding my hand on the shore of LeCompte’s Bay. My sister Selma passed away December 24, last month. Please pray for her soul. Glory to God.

  13. John Callihan Avatar

    Dino, you say, “For cradle-Orthodox, arguments against mediators and intercessors invariably seem almost laughable, to the point where we’d have to control ourselves not to laugh in case it is rude, since all we know of the Church is that it is full of mediation and intercession – and we can even historically see this in first-century mosaic prayers to the then recently deceased Apostles, found in Israel.”

    I can appreciate that, but for us protestant converts with baggage still in our heads, we need help. How is what you say (“the church is full of mediation”, etc.) consistent with “there is one mediator between God and man, the man Jesus Christ”? I have to believe it IS consistent but how?

  14. Subdeacon John (Walter) Kennick Avatar
    Subdeacon John (Walter) Kennick

    Memory Eternal for Selma.

  15. jacksson Avatar

    Thank you Subdeacon John.

  16. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    jacksson, Memory eternal indeed. By God’s Grace my brother is still with us and is sill holding my hand (as an Orthodox priest, Emeritus,) as we look out across the ocean Jesus gives us.

  17. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Dino, the picture has become a kind of icon for me of both the outer and inward noetic realty.

  18. jacksson Avatar

    Michael, you are very fortunate to have a brother who is a priest; the prayers of a priest are very powerful; thus he is indeed, still holding your hand. I met Reader Dean about, as he said about 25 years ago and we, almost immediately became good friends as brothers in Christ. He and I both graduated with B. A. degrees at Fresno Pacific; he went on to the seminary for a M. A. degree and I went on to Univ. of southern Mississippi for a M. Sc. in Industrial Technology. We didn’t know each other then and it wasn’t until we both became Orthodox that we met. Life take strange twists and it is interesting what our lord has for each of us. Dean is a sort of older brother for me, he was ahead of me in his Christian walk.

  19. jacksson Avatar

    One of the sisters at the monastery recommended a fairly new book writen by a Presbytera:
    It is:
    The Crucifixion of the King of Glory: The Amazing History and Sublime Mystery of the Passion
    Constantinou, Eugenia Scarvelis

    She says that it is one the top books she has ever read. I immediately ordered it. It does come on Kindle at Amazon, but is hard to find in a printed version. The title and from what the sister said, kind of fits into the subject of this strand: The One Mediator – And the Sacraments

  20. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    jacksson, et. al. Shameless Plug: Eight Day Books is an Orthodox Bookstore and ministry run by Warren Farha here in Wichita.

  21. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Sorry to have been delayed in doing a response to your very good question (and pardon Dino’s laughing – perhaps not quite appropriate). But “what do we do with the Scriptural teaching that there “is but one mediator etween God and man, the man Jesus Christ?” Of course, we accept what the verse says.

    Christ is the God/Man, the only bridge that unites us to God. In Him, and in Him alone is our salvation.

    The difficulty with the history of this verse’s interpretation, however, lies in the classical Protestant/Catholic arguments of the 16th century and later. Oftentimes, what happens in those arguments is that a verse gets latched on to for the purposes of whipping the other side and condemning it. All effort to go deeper or ponder the verse becomes lost. All that matters is its “anti-Catholic” possibilities. There’s more than a few of such verse that have been abused through the centuries.

    First, what kind of mediation belongs to Christ alone? He alone unites us to God. He alone forgives our sins, etc. Nevertheless, as in the sacraments, Christ clearly employs many “things” (bread, wine, water, oil, the Cross, laying on of hands, preaching of the word, Scripture, etc.) in a mmaner that conveys grace and makes effectual the one mediation we have in Him. He delights in such things. He commands such things. He ordains such things, etc.

    So, there is a “kind” of mediation (sacramental, etc.) that takes place all the time. The One Mediator became such among us that He is accessible and not just as an idea or a voice in our head. He became flesh and dwelt among us. He gives Himself under the forms of bread and wine. He gives us holy priesthood (which is His own priesthood). He gives us the water of Baptism. Ultimately He clothes Himself in the whole of creation such that our communion with the One Mediator is everywhere present and filling all things.

    So, the problem becomes in using the “one mediator” verse as an attack dog. It was never meant that way, was not interpreted that way, until the Reformers took it up as a cudgel.

    It is so clear: “Unless you eat my flesh and drink my blood, you have no life in you.” It is a false mediation that I wanted to identify. Hope that helps.

  22. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    John, I have had to retrain my mind over 37 years of being Orthodox all the time and I was neither RC or Protestant. It started the first time I walked in the door for a Sunday Liturgy. At first, bI really did not believe what my soul experienced. That is still unfolding for each of the Sacraments. Slowly that had become to be expected.

    Just Saturday, it happened again as I entered confession with my priest. “Know not that you confess not to me, a sinner, but to Christ Himself.” Yet the Priest is absolutely essential to the Sacrament. The comfort of his stole is amazing I know I will not be harmed because Jesus is there. Yet he is a man. Years ago, by the Grace of God, I had a defective priest. He had revealed things outside of confession. My late wife and I decided to go to Confession anyway because we were confessing to Christ Himself. We did not provide much detail, but we knew we were confessing to Christ Himself.
    The priest was still a mediator though. That we knew.

  23. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Or should I say that despite the sins of the man, Jesus was still there lifting my sins so that I could: “Arise, having no further care for the sins you have confessed.” What did it matter to me that the priest was not as faithful as he should have been?
    Took me a long time to really understand that but the essence of that reality was there at the time.

  24. Jeff Moss Avatar
    Jeff Moss


    Father Stephen’s answer clarifies a lot in regard to your question! I think, though, that more can be said (and we’ve had so many conversations about the long labor of undoing falsehoods from our Protestant past).

    I looked to see what St. John Chrysostom said in regard to that statement of St. Paul’s (1 Timothy 2:5) and found this:
    “Now he says, that there is one God, that is, not as some say, many, and that He has sent His Son as Mediator, thus giving proof that He will have all men to be saved. But is not the Son God? Most truly He is; why then does he say, One God? In contradistinction to the idols; not to the Son. For he is discoursing about truth and error. Now a mediator ought to have communion with both parties, between whom he is to mediate. For this is the property of a mediator, to be in close communion with each of those whose mediator he is. For he would be no longer a mediator, if he were connected with one but separated from the other. If therefore He partakes not of the nature of the Father, He is not a Mediator, but is separated. For as He is partaker of the nature of men, because He came to men, so is He partaker of the nature of God, because He came from God. Because He was to mediate between two natures, He must approximate to the two natures; for as the place situated between two others is joined to each place, so must that between natures be joined to either nature. As therefore He became Man, so was He also God. A man could not have become a mediator, because he must also plead with God. God could not have been mediator, since those could not receive Him, toward whom He should have mediated.”

    It would seem that here, like so often, there is a problem when we import other uses of language and other areas of argument into our reading of St. Paul. As Chrysostom explains, when “God our Savior” provides mediation between Himself and all mankind, there is only One who is The Mediator (“with a capital M”), because only this One partakes of the natures of both man and God. (There is no other God besides the Trinity!) Everyone else who intercedes, helps, prays…does so only toward Christ, because only He is the Mediator. So the presence of *Christian* intercessors, helpers, pray-ers, saints, is all the more evidence proving St. Paul’s point.

    St. Paul is not making an argument either for or against 16th-century Rome…he is demonstrating that God wills that all men should be saved.

  25. Dee of St Herman Avatar
    Dee of St Herman

    I hope to say this simply without being too terse. All of what we do in creation involves mediation. But that mediation lies in Christ who fillest all things in creation as you say. We are often engaged in distractions to such an extent that we do not see the workings of mediation. And we fall daily.

    For this reason, we need the help of others (whether Christian or not) since we always need the help of others in perceiving things and living out our days within the world, eating and breathing. I suppose it is a fallacy (of western philosophy?) that we could be so objective about being our “own” individual. Such “objectivity” is a fallacy.

    Dear Father, please correct this as needed. As far as I know, the sacraments are our manna. Understanding our humble nature, the Lord has given us a taste of heaven (revealing the true nature of His creation). And in His incarnation, His creation that He has filled with Himself, becomes a place of heaven, seen with noetic eyes through Him. I fear this might sound like imagination at work. Please forgive me if I misspoke.

    May our Lord Jesus Christ in His mercy, bless us with His grace of noetic eyes to see. And that begins with a heart emptied of self and open to love. May God grant us the strength and hope for such love.

  26. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Indeed, Jeff.

    Just on a personal level: We might ask someone how they first came to know Christ. Very few can tell of an appearance on the Damascus Road. Very likely, it was through someone else’s witness, through a book, through an event, through conversations, etc. All of these are “mediations” of a sort. Alone, isolated, none of them would have any salvific effect. But, we are told that we have been made ambassadors for Christ – having been given the ministry of reconciliation. We minister the mediation of the One Mediator.

    How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? Romans 10:14)

    Many of the radical reformers pushed the anti-mediator (sacraments, priests, etc.) to such an extent that the result becomes a kind of iconoclasm that destroys the Church (of almost any sort) and unleashes a sort of madness. The classical vision of Christianity, certainly as embodied in the fullness of the Tradition, is “iconodule” (honoring the icons), honoring and welcoming the many ways that God extends His reconciliation to us and the means He uses. It builds up, makes beautiful, establishes bonds, strengthens ties, and so on. The other impulse has historically been destructive and has cooperated in a diminishment of culture leaving us all languishing in a lonely individualism or reduced to a consumerist religion.

    I understand the fears that some have about mediation – that somehow Christ will be diminished. Orthodoxy has 2,000 years of history that argue that this is simply not the case. Indeed, no one has more steadfastly defended to doctrines concerning Christ and salvation than the Orthodox. Glory to His mediation!

  27. Dee of St Herman Avatar
    Dee of St Herman

    I may have tripped myself up by using a hot-button word, “objective”. This word belongs to the culture of the Reformation and I use it to describe what I believe is a western philosophical stance. But that’s a rather long discourse that I’m not keen to engage in.

    I do agree with your use of the word ‘subjective’. Also a hot-button word in today’s trends. The contrasting alternative is well expressed with the words you said in a previous post, “mystical realism”. Something that will sound quite fantastic (ie unbelievable) to a person who positions themselves as “objective”.

    Please forgive me if I’m creating an unintended diversion.

  28. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    In reading Dionysius, it is of note that he speaks of divine “hierarchies,” by which he means the divine ordering of all things through His goodness, etc. That very order, the “logicity,” of the universe, is itself a quiet mediation of His life (in the divine energies). In Christ, we see that mediation in its capital form – the Logos. Because we know the Logos, we can discern the logoi (the little logos’es of that show forth his image). Creation proclaims the glory of God.

  29. Dee of St Herman Avatar
    Dee of St Herman

    Indeed, Father! Beautiful! I’m so tempted to start reading the book!

  30. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    What of the symbol of the Cross?
    Is nit the Cross itself the ultimate icon, sanctified by the suffering and the blood of Jesus?

    My first hint at such things was not the Cross my mother gave me but s really old hand painted depiction of Our Lady of Guadalupe. My mother hung in the farthest corner of our dinning room. It was there all my life. I remember as a young man standing before her my prayers deep in my heart, wondering.

    Not quite an icon but on the verge.
    No devotion from me, just standing and wondering….

    Still have the picture of her in my library. Mary was the first person to greet me when I entered the Orthodox parish where I would be Baptised. Her arms encircling from the icon above and behind the altar with the Baby Jesus on her lap. First indication I was home, or could be.

  31. John Callihan Avatar

    Fr Stephen (and Jeff and Michael), thank you for your kind and thoughtful responses. Those are very helpful indeed!

  32. Jacques Smuts Avatar
    Jacques Smuts


    I’m a ‘fresh priest’, having been ordained on 4 January. I’m still trying to figure out what has happened to me, or, more accurately, what I have become (I’m beginning to suspect it will take years). Your introductory words on the priest as mediator has provided yet another lens for me to look at my new self. Thank you.

  33. James Avatar

    Dear Fr Stephen,

    When I was baptized last year, much of my family attended in support, (most Protestant, but several have a large fondness and interest in Orthodoxy). My 3 year old nephew was there, and was looking around in wonder and pointing to all the different icons of Christ and kept chirping “Jesus?!” As the beginning of the service drew near, the Priest came out to give a greeting and welcome all the visitors. As he came out from the altar in his vestments, my little nephew saw him, pointed and loudly said “Jesus!” I wanted to laugh and weep at the same time. When I told my priest that story he said “Yes, the Priest is the icon of Christ.“ Thank you for your work. Glory to God!

  34. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Fr. Jacques,
    May God bless your ministry – and give you to know to mystery of Christ’ priesthood! I’m still only scratching the surface!

  35. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Fr Jacques: Fr.. Bless

  36. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    As I said, I came from a place that was neither RC nor Protestant. I came from a “new age” Christian community. Some of our beliefs were heretical.

    BUT, we had the Sacraments and the teaching that we received the full body and blood. Both my late wife had had prior encounters with God and His mercy, dropping the heretical beliefs was relatively easy.

    When our teachers would say that the Sacraments worked another way than what we were taught would just say, “Oh, OK”

    The difficulty was learning the unspoken rules for community. That is a struggle still. But God is both patient and persistent and “His Mercy endures forever,”

  37. Karen Watson Avatar
    Karen Watson

    I think Father hit the target when he said Christ is the only Mediator, but the priest ministers the Mediator to us.
    And it seems to me that surely we all minister Christ to one another, when we and those who have gone before pray for one another and bring one another consolation. Otherwise why would even the most rigorous Protestant pray with and for their fellow believers, instead of just exhorting them to do it on their own, alone with Jesus? Are we not the body of Christ, priests and all?
    Priests are chosen by the Lord, as other servants are, for a particular job of ministry – but every Christian has one. And none of them dilute the one Mediation that the text describes – we relay it. please God faithfully!

  38. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Yes. The statement that Christ is the “One Mediator,” is a description or recognition that He alone can save us. He alone reconciles us to God. The great mistake was to take what was a theological statement concerning salvation and turn it into a definition of how God works in the universe. In radical Protestant thought, it became a way of say that the universe is utterly un-involved in our salvation, that it’s just a backdrop – that secularism is the accurate description of the world. The fact is that the world is sacrament – showing forth the glory of God. The Scriptures affirm this time and again.

  39. Simon Avatar

    Here is a question regarding the priesthood, confession and repentance: if Christ is the Physician of Souls and the sacraments are the medicine of immortality, then does this shift the focus away from sin and guilt–which seems more associated with PSA–to bearing shame. It seems like there is always the possibility that we may mentally accept Christ as Physician and the sacraments as medicine, but then treat it merely as metaphor and continue to behave as if we are seeking relief from judgment associated with guilt. If we see ourselves and others as dis-integrating under the disease of death, then doesn’t that shift the focus from the disease to the cure? And is it appropriate to think of repentance in that sense?

    Also, if I could, I would dispense with guilt altogether. It seems virtually useless. Guilt does not help anyone we’ve hurt. Shame on the other hand yields vulnerability to God, the priest, and to anyone we’ve injured.

  40. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    I generally agree. Guilt, in many ways, is just a subtle disguise for a form of shame. Sometimes it has to be explored and exposed in order to be healed.

  41. Simon Avatar

    Guilt might imply worthy of condemnation while shame might imply worthy of help.

  42. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Simon, yes. Adam starts discussing guilt when confronted in the Garden. God changes the subject to shame. That’s significant, I think.

  43. Simon Avatar

    That is a really interesting way of putting it.

  44. Janine Avatar

    Wonderful post Fr. Stephen! The fact that what you wrote about the nous has made sense to me for a very long time is enough to tell you what a weirdo I thought I was all that long time. Well, God brought me home where I started. Thank you.

    On a sort of different topic, today I was in a Bible Study. We were reading Acts 5, and I read this passage: “So they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name.” Never having though about it before, I was stunned to recognize your work on shame!

  45. Janine Avatar

    Just catching up …
    Michael Baumann, what a touching and sweet photo of you and your brother
    jacksson, prayers for your family
    jacksson and Dean, don’t tell me you guys are from Fresno. Presently I live in too many different places but am right now owner of my mother’s house there and spending a lot of time “back home.” I dearly love the monastery, thanks for the recommendation.
    Jeff, St Chrysostom’s words seem to me to make the most sense of the verse, thank you
    This conversation on mediation reminds me of the great work of “living stones, are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” A whole lotta mediatin’ goin’ on! if you will excuse the phrase.

  46. Nikolaos Avatar

    Fr Stephen

    …”The classical vision of Christianity, certainly as embodied in the fullness of the Tradition, is “iconodule” (honoring the icons)…”

    Forgive me but “iconodule” is a horrible word, as “dule” means “doulos- δούλος” that is slave, not free.

    I hope we completely replace this misleading word by “iconophile” which truly expresses the Orthodox tradition.

  47. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Etymology is not always the best way to explain a word. In English, particularly as it has been influenced by Latin borrowings, words sometimes gain other shades of meaning, particularly if they are technical terms.

    In English-speaking theology. This is the normative way of describing the veneration of icons:

    Dulia = the veneration given to saints, relics, icons – yes, it comes from the Gk. for slave, but simply means “honor.”
    Hyperdulia = the veneration given to the Mother of God who is greater in honor than any other created being/thing
    latria (or latreia) = the worship that belongs to God alone.

    “iconophile” – your suggestion, would simply mean somebody who “likes” icons, but does not imply any sort of veneration.

    I understand that the word iconodule bothers your sensibility in this – but the usage in English has been around for many hundreds of years, and is the technical term for the veneration of icons in standard theological writing.

    You will find it in many English theological works on the topic.

    Also, “doulos,” can have the meaning simply of a “servant” – and not slave. In English, a “Doula” can also mean a form of a mid-wife, someone who assists a woman giving childbirth. Language is always less and more than we want. It’s hard to control. But, changing something that is commonly accepted as a technical term and done so for many hundreds of years would be very frustrating work.

    I do not think the battle is worth it in this case.

  48. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    I am a blessed person. Yet, I still find things about which I must complain. I have received much by the mediation of Jesus Christ.

    I can call upon Him, His angels and His blessed Mother in all things. Sometimes I don’t even have to call and my angel is there. Like today, after my wife and I made out burial arrangements. We were headed to eat lunch and my Guardian was comforting me with joy and he laughed at me a bit too as my body is in the midst of a chronic pain flare. Yet my Guardian was/is with me. Raising my spirits and allowing me to be thankful. Thankful for blessing of the Prayers for the Dying/Dead and the Funeral. The mediation of my priest as my late wife lay dying and then began the process of transition was an extrodinary — I believe it was instrumental in her salvation.
    Glory be to God.

    …. and to remember to laugh.

  49. jacksson Avatar

    Yes, Michael,
    Glory to God for all things, the good and the bad, realizing that even the bad works towards our salvation. Regarding your guardian angel, he is a minster for your salvation. I could tell you all day about the work of my guardian angel in my life. This reminds me of the story that one of our bishops use to tell us at the monastery (I heard it several times). He told of an older priest monk on Mt Athos who was not as well trained as others; one day he was serving and preparing the elements and he was placing the particles for those he was praying for to his right. A bishop was in the altar and watching the priest monk. Finally he couldn’t stand the error that was taking place, so he went to the monk and said “Father, you are putting the elements on the wrong side of the chalice” and then explained to him how to correctly prepare the elements. The monk said, “my angel never told me I was doing it wrong”; the bishop recognizing the holiness of the monk backed off and the monk turned to his right and said to his invisible (angel – invisible to the bishop) and said, “how come you never corrected me” and the angel replied (audibly to the monk) “it is my job to minister, it is the bishops job to correct.”

  50. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    jacksson, wonderful story.

    Thank you for sharing

  51. jacksson Avatar

    Michael, I had a similar event happen to me.
    One Sunday morning I arrived at the monastery for the Divine Liturgy and the church was full of college level antendees at a weekend youth conference; all of the stadisia were taken and it didn’t look like any of the young people were going to vacate their seats for an 84 year old man (me). I went up to the stadisia where the nuns sit to get a blessing from the Abbess. She was seated on the second seat from the bishops throne and he was there, not serving. After receiving the blessing, I turned to leave, but she said wait, I stopped and she moved one seat to her right and put me in her seat. Thus, I was one seat away from the bishop and I was able to watch him during the service. Historically I have been critical about this bishop since he replaced the former bishop who had passed on a few years before. I felt that being critical was okay, after all I was not judging (or was I?). Anyway I watched the bishop and having deaf since I was about seven, I was able to read his lips and I was astounded that he mouthed every word of the service, the scripture readings by the priests, the chants of the nuns, every word. Towards the end of the liturgy, I said to myself, that man is holier than I thought. And then, the Holy Spirit spoke to me, “It is my job to deal with the bishops, it is your job to pray for them.” That really hit me between the eyes; I do not criticize any member os the clergy since them; if I don’t like what they do, I pray for them and I lktreat the corrective words as a commandment of God and I pray for all of the bishops around the world. This has also extended to my thoughts and feelings about every one, no matter what evil they have done; what others have done is none of my business; my job is to pray for them. Glory to God.

  52. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    We pray prayers of repentance for ourselves; prayers of mercy for others. Isn’t that a bit of the Cross?

  53. Mark Spurlock Avatar
    Mark Spurlock

    Thank you for sharing your wonderful experience, jacksson.

  54. jacksson Avatar

    Thank you Mark and Michael for your comments:
    Michael very appropiatel comment: We pray prayers of repentance for ourselves; prayers of mercy for others. Isn’t that a bit of the Cross?
    I like the before going to bed prayer: Let God arise, let His enemies be scattered, let those who hate Him flee from before His face; as smoke vanishes, so let them vanish as wax melts before the fire. And let the demons perish from those who love God and sign themselves with the sign of Cross and say in gladness, hail most precious and life-giving cross of the Lord, you drive away the demons by the power of the Lord Jesus Christ crucified on thee and went down to Hell and trampled upon the power of the evil one and gave us thee His life-giving cross for driving away all enemies. Oh most precious and life-giving cross of the Lord, help me with the Holy Virgin mother of God and all the saints throughout the ages. Amen

  55. Michelle Avatar

    Fr. Stephen, what advice can you give those of us unable to attend or become Orthodox due to life circumstances, marriage to a non-Orthodox, etc? How are we to experience or see the sacraments? As something we are unworthy of? I feel as if God has worked through what has been available to me but wonder what I might be missing or if I am not seeing things properly.

  56. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    There’s certainly no hard and fast rules about such a thing. So, my first thought is to be certain of the goodness of God, His kindness and His mercy. Having said that, we do the best we can and in our efforts do not perjure ourselves (saying things we do not believe to be true, etc.). But to be honest, loving, trusting in God’s mercy.

    The sacraments of the Church are “normative” but God still works outside of the “normative” for our salvation. I would have to talk to someone one-on-one to learn something of how that might look in their life.

    In my years when I was still an Anglican priest, but intending to become Orthodox, when we visited Orthodox Churches (vacation Sundays), I was always careful to keep an Orthodox fast. I could not have the fullness of communion in the Cup, but I could have communion in the fast. It was of benefit.

  57. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Michelle, my wife and I will hold you up in prayer everytime we are at a Liturgy and other times as well, that He and Mary visit and keep you close to their hearts.

    By Our Father’s mercy

  58. Andrew Roberts Avatar
    Andrew Roberts

    I’m in a similar situation. I wish you well and may the good Lord bless and keep you.

  59. Michelle Avatar

    Thank you all for your gracious comments. And Michael especially for your offer to hold me up in your prayers. May God bless you all!

  60. Simon Avatar


    When I encountered the Orthodox church the most important thing I discovered was that I was already Orthodox. Since then I have come to see that the nature of my existence is Orthodox. Since then I have to see that Orthodoxy is everything and everything is Orthodoxy: It’s the nature of existence. That is not mere sentiment. It is the truth of all things. The differences we see between good and evil and what not exist at the level of communion. Some things participate fully in the communion that is the telos or purpose of our existence and others do not. But that doesn’t change the nature of our being. Hopefully that is a source of comfort.

  61. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    We are all and each of us intraconnected. Besides, now when my wife and I are waffling about making the trip for Divine Liturgy, we can say: “Michelle wants to go, we better get her there”.

    My wife, Merry, is on Facebook.

  62. Michelle Avatar

    Fr. Stephen, thank you specifically for your encouragement and advice, and I ask your prayers before the Lord for me that God would grant me wisdom in my situation, and that I may not perjure myself. The last time (over 10 years ago) I decided I was Orthodox in my heart and my husband found out, he was not ready to accept such a thing and honestly I believe I was not either as the Lord knows my tendency toward outward religiousity of a Pharisaical nature and spiritual pride. My husband asked that we travel the same religious path, so I do not feel I can outwardly move forward in Orthodoxy until if and when he feels ready. Sometimes I am not even sure what I fully believe as I have been held back from attending and experiencing Orthodoxy for myself through a desire to be obedient to my husband. He is not opposed to me being uplifted by godly believers of other denominations (which he considers Orthodox to be one) online, but I struggle with how to express my faith because of what you have taught, and am now convinced, that the world is a one story universe when my church and husband still shy from outward rituals (sacraments) as it reminds them of the medieval corruption of the Catholic church and what they see as a works-based salvation. I feel Orthodoxy took me from the 2 dimensional belief I once held to a three dimensional one, and I am currently so convinced of God’s love, grace, help and mercy that certain Orthodox doctrines of the faith do not breed a fear in me of “losing my salvation,” as I know it once would have and currently might be a stumbling block for my husband and family members. My husband is the son of our pastor and youth pastor himself, and I serve with him. I must be careful not to espouse certain doctrines while I try to bring some of the 3-dimensional thinking and soundness of the faith to verses we discuss in class. Our church very much believes in the Scriptures. I do feel called to love and serve in my church and pray that in the words of St. Seraphim that if I can acquire inner peace, the thousands around me will be saved. I pray for guidance on when to share the truth as I see through my growing Orthodox mindset when those around me are ready and when and how to act on it in my own life as I am spiritually ready while staying obedient to my husband and also remain spiritually humble as I know I am not better than any of them. May God have mercy!

  63. Michelle Avatar

    Simon, your comment is a source of comfort, and I connect with what you say on so many levels. Thank you!

  64. Michelle Avatar

    Michael, your comment touched my heart deeply. That you would be willing to bring me, a complete stranger, before the Lord during Divine Liturgy, and even make me an important reason for attending, truly illustrates a real life example to me of what Fr. Stephen is teaching concerning communion. The love I feel from you and your wife makes God’s compassion feel close and I praise and thank Him for you both!

  65. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Michelle, you are not a complete stranger. Your heart is for God, that makes us already in communion.
    My old bones makes any additional reason to make the 50 mile round trip something that is good. I have some books I want to take to my God Son. He is an insatiable reader. Pretty much read himself into the Faith.
    Plus as I was reading your story, it dawned on me that being in communion entails a lot more than just going to the Divine Services.
    I already carry a number of people in my heart. They will give me impetus as well. Thank you.

  66. Michelle Avatar

    Michael, I tried to find your wife on Facebook and could not. Any clues? I am Michelle Garrison, wear glasses, large family photo. Maybe she can find me.

  67. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    I will have her try.

  68. Chris Avatar

    Father Stephen,
    Your point about the true experience and understanding of the divine is through the heart and not the reason, is most excellent. During the liturgy we are asked to lift up our hearts for this very purpose. It is often over looked as we fumble with the pages of our books during liturgy. Thank You.

  69. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Chris, I know exactly what you mean, that is why I gave up using the Service Book for the most part. When I was acting in plays “going off book” meant I was confident enough in the words and spirit of the play that I didn’t have to worry about getting it right.

  70. Paul West Avatar
    Paul West

    Fr. Freeman,

    I am a Christian but not Orthodox, so my question is more fundamental than the typical reader. I was unaware the priesthood was sacramental and founded by Christ. I am a daily bible reader. I see the priesthood from the tribe of Levi in the OT, but do not see anything like that in the NT. What is the scriptural basis for an ordained priesthood? Please reply with the source or reference. Thank you.

  71. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    You’re asking a question with Protestant presuppositions – for example – that everything has to have a particular Scriptural reference to be valid or true. The NT reference to Presbyters (Acts 15:6, 23), James 5:13-15. They were ordained by the laying on of hands – 1 Tm 4:14, 5:22. The English word “priest” comes from the word “presbyteros” in Greek. And, in Orthodoxy, the priest is canonically referred to as a “presbyter.”

    The understanding of the what a priest is and does (as he carries out the priesthood of Christ – the one “true” priest) is something that is discussed and clarified in various writings of the Church Fathers. There’s a fair amount already in the writings of St. Ignatius (early 2nd century). St. Ignatius knew some of the Apostles and represents one of the earliest written witnesses outside the NT.

    I hope that is helpful. The life and ordering of the Orthodox Church is, of course, older than the writings of the New Testament.

  72. Dee of St Herman Avatar
    Dee of St Herman

    I also have a (Protestant) relative who told me that if I introduced him to my priest, he would not call him ‘Father’. I did not try to correct him. He insisted that in the Bible, Christ explicitly said not to do that. How do we answer such words, or do we? Again I believe this has to do with the concerns of mediation.

    If my memory serves me, when I introduced him to my priest, out of politeness, he actually called him Father.

  73. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    The same passage of Scripture would say that we cannot call anyone “mister” or “teacher,” neither of which seems to bother Protestants. It’s actually just a long-inherited anti-Catholic prejudice (not usually recognized as such). It is not really the forbidding of the use of those honorific terms (else it would never have been the very common honorific in the early Church – for the “Fathers” were extremely strict about keeping the Scriptures). It is a verse similar to “unless you hate your mother and your father…” It is an extreme statement meant to make a point – but not meant to make a rule. And those who think that saying “Daddy,” “Papa,” etc., doesn’t count – are wrong. Of course they count. And, of course we say them.

    Many are only literal about the interpretation of Scripture if it involves someone other than themselves. The same folks – are quick to tell you that Jesus is not being literal when He says, “Unless you eat my flesh and drink my blood…”

    Everything reveals the heart – and it is the heart that is the person.

Leave a Reply

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

Subscribe to blog via email

Support the work

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

Latest Comments

  1. This is lovely, Father. While I’m eager for action to produce good results, I need to reflect on your words.…

  2. Kevin, Perhaps. People do, indeed, draw their own conclusions. However, I have understood the march to have been to publicly…

  3. I take your point, but when you participate in a March whose explicit goal is to change federal law regarding…

  4. “If we could only live in the Shire like the Hobbits in the Shire … if only …”

  5. November 9th Father Stephen? Do I have that correct? The book sounds interesting Fr. Stephen. Thanks so much for the…

Read my books

Everywhere Present by Stephen Freeman

Listen to my podcast