When Miracles Ceased

One of the stranger ideas that accompanied the Reformation, was the notion that miracles had ended at the time of the New Testament’s completion. Never stated as a doctrinal fact in the mainstream of Protestantism, it remained a quiet assumption, particularly when joined with an anti-Roman Catholicism in which the various visions, weeping statues, and saints lives were considered to be fabrications of a corrupt priesthood. Stories abounded during the Reformation about how this or that well-known miracle had been debunked. What replaced that Medieval world was the sober thought of the Bible as answer book.

Many held that miracles were quite unnecessary after the Bible was “completed,” since everything necessary for salvation was contained within its covers. Miracles, visions or revelations from God were considered not only unnecessary but positively dangerous in that the faithful might imagine such things to carry an authority equal to or greater than the Scriptures.

Various groups within the Protestant world have actually codified this idea into a matter of their denominational doctrine. It is known as “Cessationism,” referring to the “cessation” of the gifts of the Spirit. The Modern Project itself, particularly in its secularized perception of the world, is a version of Cessationism. Indeed, the Cessationist ideas of early Protestantism were a primary force in the creation of the secular concept.

A secular worldview holds that things are just that – things. The world consists of a collection of self-existing objects (some of which breathe and think), that live within the bounds and limits of the “laws” of nature. If God is to be known or perceived, then either He must disturb the laws of nature or become an object among objects. The modern world, in the words of Max Weber, is “disenchanted.” It is as if you found your way into Narnia, only none of the animals speak, the trees have fallen asleep, and magic seems to have ceased.

This is the context in which we live. It is also a perception that, to a great extent, shapes how we ourselves perceive the world, whether we intend it or not. Secularism is the default setting for those born into modern culture. The world is mute.

This is in stark contrast to the traditional (Orthodox) Christian understanding. Only God is self-existing. Everything else not only depends on Him for its existence and continuation but is moment-by-moment sustained only by the will and goodness of God. As such, the world itself is a manifestation of the “divine energies” (the actions and working of God). Those actions and working of God are not something done “at a distance,” for His actions and works are themselves God. He is both essence and energies. And though the effects of His actions and works are not themselves God (the tree that He sustains is not Him), nevertheless, the effects cannot exist apart from Him (“in Him, we live and move and have our being” – Acts 17:28). Cessationism would be non-existence. Miracles not only continue, everything we see is a constant abiding miracle (including ourselves). There is only miracle.

The perception of God and our relationship with Him are inherently difficult for a modern or secular mind. For us, the world is mute, and we perceive God to be equally mute. As such, we think that He either does not exist or doesn’t wish to make Himself known. From the position of classical Christianity, just as there is only miracle, so there is only the action and working of God everywhere.

And so, we read such things in Scripture:

Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of Hosts; heaven and earth are full of Your glory!

Confessing this to be the case slowly brings a shift in our perception and represents the renunciation of the Modern Project. Another way of describing this would be to say that the whole of creation is a sacrament. The bread and wine of the Eucharist, as the Body and Blood of Christ, are not exceptions: they reveal the truth of creation. The whole of everything is given to us for communion.

The Eucharist also reveals something of the nature or character of God’s divine energies (His actions and will). The God made known in the Eucharist is Christ crucified and risen. It is the Paschal mystery, the God who empties Himself and enters the depth and emptiness of our suffering that He might fill all things with His love. The modern person, upon being told that everything is sustained by the will and action of God often leaps to the many tragic sufferings within the world – as though they contradict that reality or suggest God’s incompetence. But they imagine a God other than Christ crucified, a God apart from His Pascha.

The Resurrection of Christ is the revelation of the goodwill of God, the promise of the final outcome of all things. The world that is being “gathered together in one in Christ Jesus,” is, through His suffering and death (within them), being united to His resurrection.

This is the context in which we pray and worship and in which we come to perceive God (with what the fathers describe as the “noetic” faculty). We pray and we listen and we think there is only silence. This itself is the secular perception. Everything around us and we ourselves exist, sustained by the voice of God. Their existence is the eloquence of His good will.

But what of miracles? If the whole world is a miracle, then what of those things that are commonly described as miracles? First, they do not belong to a separate category. That someone is instantaneously healed of a disease does not belong to a category of exception: it is a miracle among miracles that happen in a way such that we see the truth that might otherwise seem hidden. The danger in miracles for the modern mind is to think of them as exceptional. In doing so, we imagine the world as divided into the miraculous and the ordinary.

When we pray, if we expect the “miraculous” (in the modern sense), we will grow weary with the ordinariness of our experience. We imagine that we hear nothing, for we have already decided that the sound of the ordinary is nothing miraculous. I always caution inquirers and catechumens in the Church to be prepared to be bored. Though Orthodox services can be beautiful and profound, they are no more beautiful and profound than the world around us. The modern mind becomes bored by the so-called “ordinary,” because it has become accustomed to distractions that play to our passions. “Boredom” is what you get when you are not being entertained – it is a modern phenomenon.

Christianity does not begin as a discussion of the inner life. The Christian faith begins with the death and resurrection of Christ. That reality, which spans and unifies all things, is both present as a point in history with abundant testimony of eye witnesses, and as an eternal and ever-present moment that exists before all things and for which all things exist. Regardless of our subjective questions, the concrete reality of Christ’s death and resurrection remains.

Subjectivity itself, the world as we experience it inside our heads, is notoriously changeable and fails every test of reliability. It is the chimera of our existence, and can never be its foundation.

Years ago, when I was in college, I suffered a severe bout of depression. I was hospitalized for a week. After the hospital, I “white-knuckled” my way through the world and found a path back to sanity. One of those paths was to distrust my subjective experience. Nothing “sounded like fun” (that’s the nature of depression). But I reasoned that I needed to have fun and decided to treat fun as an objective activity. My now-wife and I began doing things that were the “kind of things people do for fun,” in an effort to teach my brain and body how to do something they had lost. It was very therapeutic.

It is a great joy when our inner and outer world agree. The tradition describes a pattern of life that strengthens “noetic” perception, and thus our awareness of communion with God. Largely, that pattern consists of the quieting of the passions and the acquisition of inner stillness. But this pattern, or its result, is simply a description of something within the spiritual life that is of value – it is not its basis or foundation.

To a great extent, modern skepticism presumes a world whose “ordinary” existence has nothing to do with the miraculous. Our existence and the providential character of the world are thus reduced to the random workings of chance. The world is inert and opaque and says nothing about God. As such, only the extraordinary, the “miraculous” (in the modern sense), can reveal God. It is a demand that God should agree to be a secular God, to reject His world as sacrament.

The Orthodox life is a consent to the world as sacrament, inasmuch as it is revealed to us in the death and resurrection of Christ. We do not believe in the death and resurrection of Christ because we see the world as sacrament, but the other way around. It teaches us that the fullness of our existence reaches beneath the surface into the providence of God’s goodwill at work everywhere and in all things. That we “see” this is always a gift and a joy. It is also a difficult thing in a world whose self-explanation has been 500 years of unrelenting disenchantment and anti-sacramentalism.

Will wonders ever cease?

 

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.


Comments

70 responses to “When Miracles Ceased”

  1. Nicholas Avatar
    Nicholas

    Never will they cease. This is one of those odd distinctives of Faith that caused me to leave the pulpit as an evangelical pastor and become Orthodox. It’s a huge burden to profess miracles have ceased.

  2. Margaret Avatar
    Margaret

    Thank you, Fr. Stephen, from the bottom of my heart, thank you for these words. Glory to God for All Things!

  3. Byron Avatar
    Byron

    Many thanks for this, Father. It is indeed “wonderful”.

  4. Cyril Gary Jenkins Avatar
    Cyril Gary Jenkins

    The “superstar” at my small college preached this peculiar Prot distinctive (which has a very uneven history), though still admitted that where the Gospel first appears, miracles could happen. He thought this always exceptional at the least. He linked the miraculous with the Apostolic preaching, but still anchored this to his sola scriptura so that if scripture were present, miracles were unnecessary.
    The scripture alluded to for this is St. Paul’s statement in 2 Cor. 12:12 that “Truly the signs of an apostle were wrought among you in all patience, in signs, and wonders, and mighty deeds,” and reasoned from this that since the Apostlic ministry no longer existed (petitio principii) , miracles don’t either.
    That the Apostolic ministry has ceased, of course, springs from the notion that “we have the bible, why need we bishops?” as if the whole of the Apostolic ministry were pedagogical.

  5. David E. Rockett Avatar
    David E. Rockett

    Thank you Father for this…worth far beyond your efforts and labors for us. Thanks be to God…Who doeth all things well.

  6. christa Avatar
    christa

    My heart leaps! tears fall! and I hear Louis Armstrong sing “What a wonderful world!” , but it is even beyond that!

  7. Janine Avatar
    Janine

    Thank you so much Father. Your explanation about miracles enlightens as to why they are called “signs” in the Gospels.

    Unfortunately the place I find it is so often much harder to make the noetic connection is in hospitals and clinical settings! Such a strange paradox when one needs therapeutic care and healing. The impersonality of it always gives me a kind of underlying terror I have to ignore. Vigilance in prayer in such a setting, whether one is a patient or a loved one, feels like fighting a battle

  8. Paul Avatar
    Paul

    You continue to challenge my unexamined beliefs. I appreciate that. Have a good day Father.

  9. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Janine,
    Through the years, having been around clinical settings, I found them to be full of miracles, with nursing and medical staff often scratching their head or simply acknowledging the work of God in their midst. It can be a difficult emotional setting – and the medical bureaucracy can be quite oppressive (to the frustration of medical staff). But it is a place of miracles and wonder.

  10. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    AI becomes the final straw to eliminate both God and Man. AI introduces actual Transhumanism and concrete “everlasting life”

    Faith in anything beyond, especially within, will die because it has become without even imagined substance. Humanity will meld with our own creation and become effectively immortal and omnipotent.
    The new version of “Cessationism”.

    Thank you, Father

    Father, thank you

  11. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Cyril,
    I could have added another long section commenting on Protestant thought. The cessationist position was once much more wide-spread than today, and was, by and large, the majority position. That has weakened a fair amount. Two things come to mind that contributed to that weakening. The revivalist movements (First and Second Great Awakenings) were marked by reported miracles. A famous case in New England involved the miraculous healing of a woman that was so remarkable that it forced a reconsideration of the doctrine. Another major force has been the steady rise of Pentecostalism. Whatever its various downsides, Pentecostalism is Protestantism supercharged with the miraculous (often unexamined and occasionally outrageous). Pentecostalism has changed the face of worship in the Protestant world. Interestingly, my personal take is that Pentecostals (of various stripes) have an easier time becoming Orthodox than many others…but that’s just my anecdotal experience.

  12. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Michael,
    I am a firm believer in the “weight” of error and sin. God, in His mercy, allows the weight of error and sin to crush us (not destroy us). AI is simply one more stone on the pile of modern error. It will collapse. It should also be noted that AI is nothing more than another money-making scheme. No more, no less. Money will crush us.

    We must pray for God’s mercy. The collapse is already occurring (in slow-motion). Pray that many will be spared.

  13. Janine Avatar
    Janine

    Thank you Father. I will keep that in mind. I wonder if sharing my faith more openly would help. When my mother was in the final stages of dementia, I had to sneak into any space I could to pray. There were so many hard decisions to make. I read through more services at that time than any other, so at least it became a time of discovery too.

  14. Simon Avatar
    Simon

    I want to believe this is true.

    What makes it difficult to believe in my weaker moments is the indifference of the universe. As awe inspiring as the universe appears , it is a brutal and unforgiving place to be. That reality seems obvious and it is difficult to reconcile against the idea of the world being sustained moment-by-moment by the working of love. If this is met with much resistance then a litany of examples isn’t going to help. It will only serve as an inoculation.

    The human mind is weak to the point of frailty. It is easily impressed and easily influenced. I have been reading lately on cults and the mindset of cult leaders and followers. What is woefully true is that psychopathic narcissism is incredibly charming and influential, and MANY people are easily charmed and influenced. The contribution I hope to make here is that unless God grants one the vision to truly see, we will only be able to see what the lens of our mind makes possible for us to see and that should be accepted be with reservation. It should cast a long shadow of doubt on everything we might claim to see or delude ourselves into thinking we see–including our most noble intentions.

    Just ask the young man who willingly allowed himself to be castrated in the name of God.

    Look at the tidal wave of woke ideology and how easily it has galvanized a new “orthodoxy” in the West. Elon Musk in an interview recently described the phenomenon as a “woke mind virus”–it takes over from the inside out.

    My hope is that this will not be received as “dark”. My hope is that it will serve as a reminder and a moment for self-reflection.

  15. Ann Avatar
    Ann

    “The bread and wine of the Eucharist, as the Body and Blood of Christ, are not exceptions: they reveal the truth of creation. The whole of everything is given to us for communion.”

    This this this! I have been trying to articulate this for so long! Not an exception but a ritual recreation of a general truth. Amen. Alleluia. This is the big worldview shift.

    And boredom in prayer comes when you deprive yourself of normal foci of attention, and you haven’t quite got to the ‘in You we (we meaning Creation) live and move and have our being.’ Boredom is a necessary stage in training one’s awareness. O happy day. O, O, O.

  16. Janine Avatar
    Janine

    Father, you wrote:
    “We must pray for God’s mercy. The collapse is already occurring (in slow-motion). Pray that many will be spared.”

    This is very fascinating. I hope you will continue to elaborate. It is something I accept and even expect but only God knows how that happens. We can also see the great blindness to it proceeding full speed ahead

  17. Owen Kelly Avatar
    Owen Kelly

    Thanks for this word, Father. The vision of “world as sacrament” is why I’m Orthodox. This vision becomes most tangible for me in the liturgy and in the natural world. Personally, I find the liturgy boring when I fail to attend. When I come to church distracted, I find the liturgy intolerable. But focused attention seems to promote my vital participation; I’m drawn into its activity and inner meaning. The same with the forest — the sound of the breeze across the canopy of trees, coupled with the dappled sunlight and smells of spring foliage, is boring to some. For me, quiet attention reveals a natural liturgy at work. The church’s liturgy seems to parallel nature’s flow in that both signify/symbolize/sacramentalize the divine activity. Both contain an immersive experience of dying and rebirth. The gospel is true. I think some folks have an problem (rightly) with “miracles” because they seem arbitrary in relation to the natural flow of the universe; they don’t fit in the context of reality and thus have no contextual meaning, no inherent import, other than what is externally imposed upon them. I have my own humble opinion about “tongues” and “miraculous” physical healings, but it doesn’t really matter. Even if one denies their literal, historical existence and reads them in the NT as metaphorical, for me, there is no denying the deep mystery that breathes wonder in all things. As you wrote, “There is only miracle.”

  18. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Simon,
    It is a useful reminder. “Sight” is a gift from God (in its noetic sense). I fled the charismatic movement back in my early 20s precisely because of the delusional qualities that accompanied it. A sacramental world is something different – and in my experience – able to embrace even the dark appearances and suffering around us. The Cross is the hallmark of every sacrament.

  19. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Father,
    The weight, the crushing. The Cross?

  20. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Simon, for me and by the Grace of God the way through/past the construction of our mind and the darkness is through death.
    The death of repentance. Mt 4:17 has become a critical verse to me particularly as I get older. The bag seems to “melt, thaw and resolve itself into a dew…” because “the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand”. “Closer than hands and feet.”

  21. John Stamps Avatar
    John Stamps

    The hyper-Augustinian Reformers borrowed some of their cessationist arguments from the early St Augustine.
    “When the Catholic Church had been founded and diffused throughout the whole world, on the one hand miracles were not allowed to continue till our time, lest the mind should always seek visible things, and the human race should grow cold by becoming accustomed to things which when they were novelties kindled its faith. On the other hand we must not doubt that those are to be believed who proclaimed miracles, which only a few had actually seen, and yet were able to persuade whole peoples to follow them. At that time the problem was to get people to believe before anyone was fit to reason about divine and invisible things. No human authority is set over the reason of a purified soul, for it is able to arrive at clear truth. But pride does not lead to the perception of truth. If there were no pride there would be no heretics, no schismatics, no circumcised, no worshippers of creatures or of images. If there had not been such classes of opponents before the people was made perfect as promised, truth would be sought much less eagerly.” (On True Religion, 47)
    But surprise, surprise, Augustine changed his mind when he wrote “The City of God.” It’s quite a remarkable change of mind and worth reading in full.
    https://sourcebooks.fordham.edu/source/augustine-cityofgod-22-9-10.asp
    I do wonder if St Augustine changed his mind because he was being outflanked by the Donatists in North Africa. One of their more powerful arguments was the presence of miracles in their midst. If the Donatists had miracles to press their case, then the Catholic Church needed miracles as well.

  22. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    John,
    Well, there were many miracles wrought in Hippo after the arrival of the relics of St. Stephen the Protomartyr. St. Augustine – got some stuff wrong – but had the virtue of changing his mind. Nonetheless, that earlier attestation might have had a pernicious influence on some. I don’t recall any such opinions in the East.

  23. Janine Avatar
    Janine

    A sacramental world is something different – and in my experience – able to embrace even the dark appearances and suffering around us. The Cross is the hallmark of every sacrament

    Again, Father, so powerful. I hope I can always remember that it is God who gives sight. Funny I am reading the passage in Luke, “Take heed how you hear.”

  24. Janine Avatar
    Janine

    Michael, re weight and crushing, I think of the passage on the stone that became the head of the corner. “Whoever falls on that stone will be broken; but on whomever it falls, it will grind him to powder.” According to St Chrysostom (per Orthodox Study Bible), to stumble and be broken can be a blessing in the sense that one has time to repent and benefit from the experience; but upon whom that stone falls (and grinds to powder) is another story.

  25. John Stamps Avatar
    John Stamps

    I don’t recall any specific cessationist arguments in the East either.
    I have always loved the following statement about miracles/signs of power by Origen in his “Contra Celsum (1.3).” The various words that Origen uses to describe them are fascinating. What kind of “proof” does a miracle have?
    “Moreover, we have to say this, that the gospel has a proof (ἀπόδειξις) which is peculiar to itself, and which is more divine than a Greek proof based on dialectical argument (διαλεκτικῆς ἑλληνικήν). This more Divine demonstration the Apostle calls a ‘demonstration of the Spirit and of power’ – of spirit because of the prophecies especially those which refer to Christ, which are capable of convincing anyone who reads them; of power because of the prodigious miracles (δυνάμεις) which may be proved to have happened by this argument among many others, that traces of them (ἴχνη δὲ αὐτῶν) still remain among those who live according to the will of the Logos.”
    “Traces” or “tracks” or “footsteps” is not that bad of a description of God’s continuing signs among God’s people.

  26. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    John,
    I like that wording as well! I will add that I think cessationism in early Protestant thought was largely driven by anti-Catholic sentiment. We seriously underestimate how bitter all of that was. Protestantism would gladly cut off its nose to spite its face if it could be proven that noses were strongly Catholic.

  27. Bonnie Avatar
    Bonnie

    A woman who suffers from an ongoing inflammatory disease asked for prayer when with a group of Christian friends. She was surprised and happy to find that her pain stopped. She was grateful to the Lord, and so shared her experience with neighbors who were members of a Brethren church. They not only told her that miracles had ceased, but also that what appeared to her to be a merciful gift from God was in reality the devil at work in her life. She became too fearful to approach God for help.
    “Pernicious” doctrine.

  28. Cliff Avatar
    Cliff

    Even though I was raised Baptist, God revealed Himself to me in a couple of miracles I witnessed as a boy. One happened when was in the middle of the Jefferson National forest, turkey hunting and trout fishing with my dad. We had gotten the car solidly stuck in the mud. It was during a school day, in the middle of the week. (My middle school principal would give me excused absences to go hunting and fishing with my dad. No doubt another miracle.) There wasn’t a single soul around. We gave up trying to get the car out, and had lunch. But at the blessing I prayed that God would get us unstuck. After we ate, we could hear some kind of machinery in the distance. My dad walked down the dirt road, and came back with a guy driving an enormous road grater. My eyes were as big as saucers, and I thought God surely answers in big ways; as the guy hooked a chain to the car, and pulled us out like he was pulling a feather.

  29. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Father, no doubt AI is about money and if that were all, I would not be as concerned. It is also about changing what it means to be human AND who will control the incarnation of human/AI hybrids. At least that is the dream of some.

  30. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Michael,
    There is no end to the weird ideas out there. The money-makers have the greatest chance of actually being put into practice. Through the years, instead of asking proper ethical questions of new developments in science – the profit motive has won out. We are becoming “miserably rich.” At least, some are. Some are miserable, while some are rich. 🙂

  31. Esvan Avatar
    Esvan

    Father,
    I have issues with the ideas that visions in the church as being used as a source of authority.

    I’ve just been tormented enough by “such and such a saint/holy monk had such and such a vision” and that proves some kind of dogmatic statement, even though much of those are inconsistent through the history of the church.

    What do you think?

  32. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Esvan,
    I agree totally. It is not the manner in which the Church teaches authoritatively. There is, I believe, a false notion that runs around out there that living saints can be infallible sources of knowledge. First, it’s tricky to declare someone a living saint (there are reasons why the Church often waits decades about such things). Second, being a saint does not render someone infallible. I’ve seen lots of mischief with the misuse of “charismatic” witnesses. It doesn’t mean that such things are of *no value*. It’s just that they are, as often as not, seen as valid on the basis of our own passions.

    I have written (repeatedly now) that we are not saved on the basis of information. I do not believe that the charismatic witness within the Church exists in order to give us more information. A well-informed demon is still a demon. A well-informed sinner is still a sinner. The true value of the charismatic witness in the life of the Church is to reveal Christ to our hearts that we might know Him. Christ Himself refused to give information about certain things to His disciples.

    We live in an information age. We easily get drawn aside from the path of the Kingdom looking for more information. So, that’s pretty much what I think on that topic.

    On the other hand, I knew a man, a priest, who had a single sentence from St. Sophrony that changed his life, drew him into Orthodoxy, etc. It wasn’t information – but it revealed his heart to him in the light of Christ. That, to me, is significant.

  33. Dino Avatar
    Dino

    Father,
    I have seen holy men confuse others, and holy men solve the most confusing dilemas of others.
    I still think it is in holy men that we can find the sought-after truth of rare and complex dilemas we occasionally face and the answers to torturous questions that sometimes overwhelm us.
    My assessment is that in the age-old antagonism between two concomitant [differing] opinions on such critical matters – an antagonism between a “charismatic consensus of a few living saints” and a “majority of a number of hierarchs”– has, more often than not, historically favoured (and surely will again) the first of these two groups, when they have found themselves at odds.

  34. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Understanding and agreeing totally concerning the authoritative teaching of the Church being based on visions alone They ARE too amenable to passions. Yet are they not also a part of the living communion, the intraconnecting between the seen and the unseen. Not even truly “supernatural” because in the proper context of the Church Herself they are a genuine witness and neither a lie nor a distraction.
    If I think I am blessed that way I always take it to my priest. One time he heard me out and simply said: “Those things happen.”

    That put everything in perspective. It acknowledged the wholeness and the reality of a one storey universe I think

  35. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Dino,
    I don’t know what to say. First, I would suggest that you’re keeping score with a poorly deliniated score sheet – one that only counts valid charismatic figures and not all of those who claim to be, or all of those who falsely quote them or who use them in a corrupted manner. Thus far, in my mere 25 years of Orthodox experience, it’s been a very mixed bag.

    On the other hand – unlike charismatic figures – the hierarchy of the Church has a method and means for deposing individuals from their ranks. There is an accountability. There have been, and are today, many problems within the ranks of the ordained, at all levels. And yet, it is this reality of which the canons speak. It is this reality that dispenses the sacraments. And, as I read history, I see the hand of God having acted to protect the Church and preserve it primarily in the work of its sacramental life (which includes the ordained).

    Protestantism was the product of charismatic figures.

    I have, I believe a proper regard for charismatic figures. But their revelations do not constitute the teaching or dogma of the Church. Their teaching must be weighed, over time, judged by its fruit. They themselves and their popularity are not the judge.

    With the advent of the internet – and the raging publication of unmonitored material by unauthorized persons, etc. – the position of charismatic leaders (who do not themselves seem to write on the internet – so that we know them by hearsay and gossip) is increasingly problematic. Perhaps you have not had the experience of seeing members of your parish, whose souls were entrusted to you, fall away from the faith through the supposed charismatic teaching of supposed charismatic elders. I have. And I’m not alone.

    So, I’m cautious on the blog – writing responsibily – pointing people to what I know to be true, solid, tested, and subject to the blessing of our hierarchs. Esvan asked what I took to be a responsible question and I gave him a responsible answer.

    I do not believe that the hierarchy of the Church functions by democracy (your slighting them as “a majority of a number of hierarchs” was slanderous, I think). St. Athanasius was far from a majority – but God upheld him – and, in time, decades(!) – he was exhonerated and upheld. The hierarchy of the Church is ultimately as “charismatic” (through time) as it gets. And there are no other voices who have been tasked by God for the authoritative teaching of the faithful.

    I have an oath of obedience to my hierarchy. Why would I disparage them and promote some other doorway? I hold elders in honor and value them. But they are in no way a substitute, nor should they ever be seen as a higher authority than that which has been ordained by God. That’s protestantism. And madness.

  36. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Dino,
    Additional thoughts – this is an important topic.

    I think you and I have very different experiences. First, there are, as far as I know, no “charismatic elders” in America, at present. There are some priests who imagine themselves to be such – but as far as I know we don’t really have any. Second, in Greece (your experience), you have plenty of monasteries and a tradition of holy elders. You also have a Church that is a “state church” – and, like the Church in a number of countries, still marked by the problems engendered during the Turkokratia that used and abused the hierarchy for other purposes. Those habits are long in passing. It nurtures, I think, a tendency to look elsewhere than the hierarchy for guidance.

    If, I had before me a holy elder, or just a good and wise priest, and a bishop on the other hand, and I was wrestling with a spiritual problem – I would probably go to the elder or the priest rather than the hierarch. I would most likely receive the best instruction and help from them. But, if I had a canonical matter, or a dogmatic problem, I would definitely go to the bishop. It the dogmatic matter – a bishop might have to tell me that he doesn’t know the answer and that I should just pray about it and wait – and that would be fine.

    Of course, if a bishop were to espouse moral error or heresy, I would avoid him, and ultimately turn to other bishops for help and assistance. But we have to be cautious not to be seditious (as has been the case of some).

    In America, in that we have not charismatic elders, what we have is hearsay and a culture of hearsay that is unregulated and irresponsible. In a number of cases it has plainly been advocating disobedience to bishops. That is the situation into which I write. I might write it quite differently were I elsewhere and the situation were different.

    I hope you understand this.

    I would, parenthetically, put a third group in the charismatic elders, bishops contest: Orthodox grandmothers (yiayia’s, babushka’s). I think they have been more right and solid through history than any of us. May God preserve us all!

  37. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Michael,
    These things are part of the life of the Church – that’s just true. But there has been no case in which a doctrine or teaching of the Church has been based in such private revelations. Indeed, some private experiences are “around the edges,” so to speak and allow for a sort of speculation.

    An example that I can think of is the famous case of St. Gregory the Dialogist praying for the soul of the pagan emperor Trajan (2nd century). His guardian angel told him that his prayers had been effective – but told him to basically not do it again. It’s a case that suggests the power of our prayers for those suffering in Hades, etc. But it is not a basis for dogmatic teaching.

    Most of the teacing of the holy elders (I think famously of St. Seraphim of Sarov) are of the type that they aid the faithful, even guide bishops and others – but not as dogmatic teachers. It is usually not the sort of thing they speak about.

    We live in very uncertain times. Sometimes the uncertainty can surround the hierarchs of a Church. We’ve had actions that had no concilliar basis (such as the change in the calendar by the Patriarch of Constantinople). That kind of thing provoked lots of anxiety and more than a little seeking for guidance outside the hierarchy. Today, when a hierarch by word or action questions the settled teaching and practice of the Church, or fails to uphold the teaching through inaction and such, it creates similar anxiety. It’s understandable that we seek whatever guidance and solace that we can. But correction will still come, ultimately, in the actions and teachings of the hierarchs.

    Orthodoxy holds that Councils can err. We do not hold that our bishops – even were they to vote unanimously – are inherently infallible. We have no such authority. Generally, it is the case that the Holy Spirit brings unity – not a triumph of elders of bishops – but an agreement in the life of the whole church. Sometimes, when this fails to happen, there can be lasting schism. That’s our history.

    But it is the sacramental life of the Church that we hold to above all. This, if I’m not mistaken, has been ratified again and again by holy elders of our time. Orthodoxy requires patience and even long-suffering. Humility above all else. God give us grace.

  38. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Indeed Father.

  39. Dino Avatar
    Dino

    Father,
    I see that you correctly understood where I was coming from in your second comment to me.
    I indeed did not give any consideration to contemporary American reality but was rather thinking of Greece. In fact I was mainly talking of historical events based around early Constantinople and similar such centres where time proved that certain monastic held on to truth far better than the overwhelming majority (but never all) of the hierarchy. This is known history and it is correct to say that don’t know what to say. First, I would suggest that a poorly deliniated score sheet of monastic etc– one that only counts valid charismatic figures and not all of those who claim to be, where proved correct in time. But understanding the right context in which this holds, I wouldn’t maybe express this (necessary for contemporary Western – and not only – reality) caveat without extra clarification.
    Thanks for providing it in your second comment!

  40. Mark Spurlock Avatar
    Mark Spurlock

    “The true value of the charismatic witness in the life of the Church is to reveal Christ to our hearts that we might know Him.”

    This. Although the particular of the individual–or perhaps even the single sentence by an individual, as in your example of St. Sophrony, Father Stephen–may bear fruit, it’s too easy to lose faith similarly when the individual inevitably seems to have a failing in some way. Or a miracle does not happen as expected.

    Cf. the corruption of the body of the Elder Zosima and its effect on Alyosha.

  41. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Dino,
    The growing reality of the American Church is that we are becoming dominantly convert (with the possible exception of the GOA). Young, enthusiastic members who do not have a broad enough experience for making good, well-discerned judgments is often the norm. As such, they are easy prey to those who profess special insight, etc. Many of them are not used to having functioning authority (like hierarchs) in their lives. I thought we did somewhat badly during the pandemic. Not that everyone wasn’t entitled to their opinions. It was simply that we were not quite as prepared to simply accept direction from hierarchical authority as we should have been (particularly in that it was temporary). At the outset of the pandemic, I told people (in a video) to expect “incompetence,” both on the part of the Church and on the part of the government. That called for patience. As time has passed, it is of note just how much incompetence is being revealed. But there’s too little self-reflection to rightly judge our own incompetence (and therefore to repent). But, God is merciful to us all.

    The dangers of false teachers has increased, however. I tremble at the thought that I would have to point to myself as an adequate authority. That I write and speak with the blessing of my hierarch matters to me. Even Ancient Faith has firmed up its policies for its writers.

    We’re apparently living in the Wild West. Not all the cowboys are what they say they are. And everybody seems to be carrying a pistol or two (metaphorically).

  42. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Father, the three pronged problem we face here, in my probably arrogant take: lack of monastic experience; an unstable at times venal hierarchy; a sense in many parishes of a dichotomy between the ethnic Orthodox, those who’s families can trace their Orthodox lineage back centuries and those of us who cannot. I still feel a certain shame that I do not, nor will I ever speak Arabic. While within my parish community there is still a sense of shame as to how they Arab families were treated when they first arrived here as immigrants. An evil treatment in which they were isolated, denigrated and spat on in the streets especially if they showed their faces on the east side of town.
    The side of town where virtue has always lived. In frontier days, the west side was home to prostitutes, gamblers, and others of ill repute.
    The fact that our Cathedral parish community is now the most obvious and beautiful building on Church row on the east side is an element of pride. (All of the churches on Church row are on land donated by Olive Garvey-patriarch of the highly wealthy and politically influential Garvey clan- at below market prices.)

    There is still some vestige of that attitude the shame of being called the “west side Indians” or worse. Despite the obvious economic success of the current group of Arabs. Many for whom English is a second language, including our head Chanter.

    As a son of a cowboy/homesteader who can only speak American, I do not quite fit in some ways.

    Who to go to as true “authority” is a little confusing, it would be worse if we were not blessed by the presence of our Bishop Basil. Even though he is Emeritus, his charismatic presence and honest embodiment of Tradition is a great blessing. The fact that our head priest has been here since 1993 helps a lot as well. (Our sister parish has gone through 5 or 6 with a couple leaving because they dishonored their priesthood in public ways.)

    It is an active and on going miracle that a vibrant, largely loving Orthodox community exists here at all. Yet, here we are. The youngest daughter of the woman who converted because of what she experienced as my late wife died amidst the Traditional Orthodox prayers for the dying is getting married soon in our parish as her sister before her.
    I do not need to look elsewhere for the Truth. Christ is in our midst!

  43. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Michael,
    If any of us has difficulty or complaints about our present circumstances, we need only go back and read carefully in Church history. There are no ideal periods of Church history. There has been no time in which the bishops were all saints (or even the monastics). I especially encourage people to read the New Testament. There, the Church, founded by saints (Apostles), with the ink on the papyrus of the gospels barely dried, is misbehaving, misbelieving, complaining, perverting, etc. We have not fallen away from a pristine moment in history. Even with the disciples, Christ had to restore the denying Peter, convince the doubting Thomas, and heal the wound created by the betrayal of Judas – and that’s just in the first 40 days!

    We must learn to grasp the fact that we are as we are through God’s intention and providence. The imaginary church-of-no-problems is a 19th century Protestant imagination. We are the Orthodox – we alone have problems that are 2,000 years old – this is our boast!

    And so we pray. We learn patience. We must forgive seventy-times-seven and more than that. We must learn to bear our shame and find Christ in its depths.

    The OCA is probably the most transparent of the jurisdictions in America. Nothing happens behind closed doors in a foreign country. We went through some real troubles in the early 2000s – and a bit more. And, everybody could read about it on the internet. For a while, we had 4 living Metropolitans (only one of whom was the Metropolitan at the time). But it pointed to problems at the very top.

    At present, we have an excellent group of ruling bishops. There’s about a dozen of them. At least four of them were true monastics, including Athonite monks. They are as far removed from shananigans as possible. It’s easily the healthiest we’ve been in a long time. There are trials out there, but, as a Synod, they’ve growing courage to deal with them.

    I am personally deeply grateful to be under the omophor of Archbishop Alexander Golitzin.

    I pray for the unity of Orthodox hiearchs in the US – but I have no false hopes about the creation of a single jurisdiction in my lifetime. I do not think the individual jurisdictions are healthy enough for this.

    It is interesting to me (and I only found this out recently) – that Russian tradition insists that a priest must be a monk (tonsured) in order to be made a bishop. That is not the case, I am told, in the Greek tradition (which includes Antiochian practice as well). Thus, when I mentioned that four of our hierarchs are monastics, I meant that they were monastics who had lived in a monastery. All of the OCA bishops are tonsured monks in accordance with our Slavic tradition and history.

    Given that converts only began to show up in any number in the late 80’s or the 90’s – it’s fair to say that Orthodox Christianity has only “met” America in this present generation – and it’s really only in the past 20 years or so that we’ve had to come to grips with it in significant numbers. That makes us somewhat similar to the New Testament Church (and that’s the Church with the problems that gave us most of the New Testament!).

    Glory to God!

  44. Luke Nieuwsma Avatar
    Luke Nieuwsma

    Father, Christ is Risen!
    I really love your outlook in this article – being filled with wonder while coming to see the whole world as brimming with the inexplicable energies of God, especially seen in the Liturgy.
    At the same time, a couple thoughts/questions occurred to me while reading your article.
    1) Having come out of the cessationist Calvinist camp in in the US, I think there is an odd inconsistency within this viewpoint. I was taught over and over that God is the Creator and Sustainer – that He is indeed actively holding all things together and working through every atom in the universe. While the Reformation doubtlessly caused the secular worldview that we have today, I think it’s important that we realize that the modern ‘heirs of the Reformation’ don’t have a Deistic worldview. They very much see God working in and through the created order. I think that is reflected in the Westminster Confession and likely the other major articles of religion.

    2) At the same time as former Calvinists like myself *do* need to learn to see how miraculous the ordinary is, I also hear in almost every Great Vespers service a great expression of wonder at the supernatural nature of the two greatest miracles of our Faith: the Incarnation and the Resurrection.
    The hymn that comes to mind is the Theotokion of the Resurrection (translation from Antiochian.org):

    O pure Theotokos, thou wast known as a Mother in a supernatural way, and thou didst remain
    virgin in an indescribable and incomprehensible manner. Thus came about the wonder of thy birthgiving, ineffable for tongue, in that thy Conception appeared dazzling to the mind, and thy birthgiving incomprehensible; for where God willeth He overcometh the order of nature. Therefore,
    since we know thee as Theotokos, we beseech thee ceaselessly. Intercede then for the salvation of
    our souls.”

    “Where God willeth He overcometh the order of nature.” It seems, then, there is still a concept in Orthodoxy of miracles that gloriously surpass “how things normally work” (if we take that as a definition of the order of nature). What are your thoughts on how that integrates with the world-as-miracle/sacrament view in your article?

    Thank you!
    Luke

  45. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    My parish, St. George, Wichita has been here for over 100 years. St Raphael of Brooklyn sent us our first priest and we have in our sanctuary the first icon of him. It was written prior to his official canonization but without the halo. He was of the Russian Church and given to us “on loan” .
    The difficulties are all of the struggle to be Christian both personally and corporately.
    If I pay attention, that is obvious.

  46. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Luke,
    Indeed, He is risen!

    Interesting question. I’m surprised to hear about a “God sustaining” all things in Calvinism (except that I suspect it’s seen as part of providence which becomes strangely perverted in Calvin (some being predestined to hell, etc.).

    But, I think one think that is worth thinking about in Orthodoxy are that the rather striking miracles of the Virgin conception, birth, etc., as well as the resurrection, are also iconic patterns. Though the “order of nature is overthrown” – I’m not sure whether that is to be read poetically or dogmatically. For example, Mary is thoroughly and completely human – not “unnatural” or “supernatural” in any way. If she were, then what happens within and through her would not be “nature overthrown.”

    Studying the history and authorship of the hymns of the Church is pretty much impossible with merely English tools. Just sayin’

    But, we see that miracle foreshadowed in the Fleece of Gideon, in the 3 Youths in the Furnace, in the Vision of the Eastern Gate of Ezekiel, and so forth. Indeed, it is a pattern of how God works with all of us. We are changed, but not violated in that changing. There’s a year’s worth of sermons on that alone!

    The same could be said viz. the Resurrection.

    There is also the whole question of what constitutes the “order of nature.” I suspect that if we knew all there was to be known, we would discover that there is something angelic or quasi-angelic in the “order” of things and how they behave. I appreciate that the gospels tell us that the winds and the seas “obey” Christ. There is an “order” about which our physics knows nothing.

    So much of this is beyond me.

  47. Lynda O Avatar
    Lynda O

    Another great post — thank you Father Stephen.
    I have recently come to Orthodoxy (though must still attend a Protestant Baptist church with my husband), coming from that Calvinist/Reformed tradition. The cessationist, anti-Catholic mindset is still, sadly, very alive and well, within the Calvinist Baptist “Sovereign Grace” camp. Some of them will allow for the possibility of miracles, as the exception, as in unexplained medical healings, but in practice they are only aware of few, if any, such miracles. They will insist, though, that today we do not have any “healers” as in specific persons (like the apostles) – as you mentioned, due to their ideas about sola scripture and an end to the apostolic age. Of course, Orthodoxy and the reading of the daily saints lives, also attests to the continuation of specific healers, with quite a few of the ascetic/desert monk type saints that indeed were given the gift of miraculous healings in their ministries among the common people.

    One Reformed/Calvinist Baptist teacher recently mentioned that while he used to hold to hardline cessationism, of miracles ending in the 1st century, he has reconsidered that — in view of the fact of many miracles happening in our day, ones that he had heard about happening in other parts of the world such as Central Asia. But he still keeps that idea within the context of Reformation teaching, the “modern project.”

  48. Luke Nieuwsma Avatar
    Luke Nieuwsma

    “We are changed, but not violated in that changing.” THAT is one of the biggest differences between Orthodoxy and Calvinism right there. Calvinism wants to claim this same statement (see Westminster Confession of Faith Ch. 3 if you’re curious), but still insists at the end of the day that only those whom God first chooses can choose him back. Ultimately His will and His alone is the one that determines the saved, and if He chooses someone, they cannot reject him… but I”m preachin’ to the choir here.

    Wonderful point about the iconic pattern of the Incarnation and Resurrection! I was thinking “nature is overthrown” references the fact that there was no male human father of Christ. Some of the other Theotokia say, “Who ever heard of a birth-giving without seed?” and “Thou who was begotten of the Father without a mother art the son of a Mother without father.” (or something like that). In that sense, human nature/limits were truly overcome. Nobody else can do that in this life.

    It seems similar to the many healings of St. Paisios and St. Porphyrios. If the order of nature (= our current body/soul limitations) were allowed to continue, many visitors to those two saints would have continued suffering or died since there was no natural remedy for their maladies. But through the working of theosis in those two holy ones, many people received a healing beyond the power of medicine.

    In Him,
    luke

  49. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    When I came to the Orthodox Church 36 years ago I was looking for an imminent Christ who expressed Himself Sacramentally for the transformation and healing of His People transcendently.
    Through Baptism, Chrismation, I was grafted on. Participating in the other Sacraments especially Confession and the Eucharist has brought me closer each time. Yet my sins still abide.
    As a student of early modern and US history I have never been a fan of the Reformation at all politically or religiously. They clashed too much with what my parents taught. Simply put:God and His Son are real and salvific, immanent and approachable. When I asked Him if He were real back in 1968 I got a hearty “Yes”.
    That was essentially it until 1986 when I walked into my first Orthodox Parish in the neighborhood I grew up in. I got my socks knocked off and despite the suspicion of many of the mostly Arab congregation, I knew I was home.
    The Church is a bit unruly at times but I still know beyond a shadow the Jesus is with us, trampling down death by death and upon those in the tombs bestowing life!

  50. Very Rev. Dr. Stephen A. Lawrence Avatar

    Fr. Stephen,
    The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.
    Thanks for the reminder of the importance of the miracles we see in our every day life.
    I was raised in the LCMS (Lutheran) tradition and thoroughly indoctrinated into the sola scriptura theory.
    I have seen the work of our Heavenly Father in everyday miracles, visions, directions from God and answers to prayer that have changed my mind.
    The Eastern Orthodox dogma of putting back into our lives the miraculous, the spiritual and the supernatural aspects of material life changed my view of this wonderful world. God will reveal himself to us, his children in many ways. His ways are higher than our ways, His thoughts are higher than our thoughts.
    I will try to conform my will to His Will in every thing I do, I say and I think.
    Be realistic, expect miracles.

  51. Lynda O Avatar
    Lynda O

    Michael,

    Agree, and it is so wonderful that God works in us and leads each of us, sooner or later, to the true, Orthodox faith.

    From studying the biographies of some in the Protestant/Reformed tradition, it is clear (at least to me) that some of them have indeed personally experienced the presence and comfort of a very real, transcendent God – in spite of their theological error; John Bunyan and Charles Spurgeon come to mind. They did experience something of that in their own personal lives, at least per what is described about them. Though, due to the doctrinal tradition they inherited, they were limited and did not see the full extent, the sacramental experience in this world. And Bunyan held a very anti-liturgical view, so very against anything of “written” prayers such as the Anglican Book of Common Prayer. I’ve also come across, in online correspondence a few years ago, a Reformed Baptist man who is especially focused on the experiential part of the Christian life – but alas, he is focused on (and limited by) John Bunyan’s experience of that; but then he keeps trying to find others who are similar in the Reformed Baptistic tradition, and is continually disappointed that the vast majority of teachers and preachers among the Reformed Baptists do not have the true knowledge and experience of God. Of course he is looking in the wrong place; but he is also so warped/brainwashed by the Protestant Reformed propaganda, that he will not look outside of that particular belief, and thus is anti-Roman Catholic and is convinced that anyone who believes in Eastern Orthodoxy is, by definition, not even a Christian. So sad…

    As I have read from another Father (I think it was Andrew Stephen Damick), many of those who were Protestant in this life will be Orthodox after they die. But for various reasons, since they have inherited the Protestant Reformed version of Christianity, they will not question it or go beyond it in this life.

  52. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Lynda O.
    It is crucial to recognize that my experience has been in the context of Orthodox prayer and Liturgy. Each moment an unexpected, unsought blessing. They have been gifts ol perception. Most in the context of Divine Liturgy..
    It is not spiritually healthy to seek such things as the Evil One can get involved. Another reason I submit them to my priest.

    Father has been most generous in allowing them to stand.

  53. Ioana Avatar
    Ioana

    Father, we also live in the Wild West – your Wild West . And I’m from Romania! 🙂 Made me laugh. Felt compelled to send love. We’ve learned shortcuts from you, we’ve learned from you about simple plots, clear heroes and villains, happy endings. And while I do believe in a happy ending, I think it will come only at the very…. end. Meanwhile, we accept the complexity of things, learn not to rush. We live as if every minute of our life we need to reach a definite conclusion, completely understand how things are and where everybody stands, what the state of the church is and who is wrong and who is right. No need for that… Too much pressure. Not enough peace for grace…

  54. Stephen H Taylor Avatar

    Thank you for this very interesting article! It raises some interesting points of view I had never considered before. Living on an island in Scotland surrounded by a Presbyterian sea – this subject has been a live topic for me over many years. In fact, I have recently written a book showing overwhelming evidence in Hebridean (Presbyterian) culture which flies in the face of the commonly held view that, as you say,’ miracles were quite unnecessary after the Bible was “completed,”’ Historic Hebridean Presbyterian communities are full of dreams, vision and the prophetic.

    Even today the topic brings out the big guns of the Presbyterian hierarchy when the issue is raised – but even among the many leaders I know there is no consensus. Some certainly see the stark dangers of this view which appears to have been popularised here through the teaching of B. B. Warfield and others.

  55. Chris Avatar
    Chris

    Father Stephen,
    All of this discussion of Protestant this, Catholic that, Calvinist this, Reformation that, is foreign to us cradle orthodox who have been taught that the miracle of life on this planet is a continuous proof of the existence of God. Now this may seem simplistic to those who have studied the theology of different denominations, but I try and keep things as simple and easy as possible when it comes to the true meaning of Christian life. There is Christianity and then there is what I refer to as, Churchianity. God has no religion. It is man that has the need to institutionalize everything because he is an insecure creature. Many of the first followers of Christ were illiterates who viewed this new way of thinking as miraculous in itself. The debate of whether or not miracles ended at a certain time is quite meaningless and confusing to my humble logic. Peace

  56. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Chris,
    I do not know where you live – but, in America, the culture has been dominantly Protestant from its very beginning, and its “secularism” is a decidedly Protestant-shaped secularism. Thus, if you’re Orthodox, living in America, then it is useful to understand the culture in which you live. The same was true in the first century, as the Church spread out of a culture shaped by Judaism into a culture shaped by Rome and Hellenistic Greek thought.

    There is no debate on the blog (here) about whether miracles ceased. But, understanding that there are a lot of Protestants who think they did is helpful to many and informative about the source of secular thought. Rejoice for what you have, but understand the struggles and learnings of others.

  57. Alan Avatar
    Alan

    Dino,
    Thank you for sharing your insights. I always benefit from them.

  58. Sophie Keye Avatar
    Sophie Keye

    Hi Fr Stephen,

    I am so encouraged by your work. You mentioned that you went through a period of depression in this article. Do you have any other advice for healing from depression from an Orthodox Christian view point?

    May God bless you your ministry!

  59. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Sophie,
    Generally speaking, I strongly suggest that a person have a good medical check-up and not ignore medical treatments if possible. Depression can have a lot of causes, some of which can be quite serious. Most fundamentally, I encourage people not to lose hope. Most often, depression is temporary and will improve with time (it’s getting through that “time” that’s tough). Good exercise, good diet. Prayer is important, but can sometimes feel impossible. It helps if you’re not trying to do all of this on your own. We need others to support us while we’re going through this.

  60. John Avatar
    John

    Fr. Stephen, thank you for your article. Are there other articles or books that you would recommend to help me flesh out the content of your article? I am happily an Anglican, but have recently benefited from reading various Orthodox writers. Grace and peace, John

  61. Janine Avatar
    Janine

    Father, the wild west comment made me chuckle, because although my background is old world from my family and faith, I am born and raised in central California, land of the wild west. So, there is something very amusing about about bringing this America into Orthodoxy that just tickles me. I know both, and neither is perfect, and those with experience in both/each would agree with that. Somehow it sparks an old American comedy movie in my head. You know, from before we all thought we were perfect (!)

    There is an archdeacon friend in my Armenian church at the diocesan level, in charge of Christian education (St Vlad’s graduate). He is fond of telling me that all one has to do is read the 4th century warnings about not going to Jerusalem if you don’t want to lose your faith. (4th century!)

  62. Andrew Avatar
    Andrew

    Father,

    While I’m most definitely grateful for your reflections, I’m every bit as much grateful for your engagement in the comments. A lot of people write a piece and move on (which is fine). But you comments, clarifications and responses to questions are every bit as helpful as the main blogposts. Thank you.

  63. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Andrew,
    I much appreciate it. I have a sense of family (perhaps like a parish family) for people who take time to engage with comments. Some are regulars, others are visitors, some have been around for a long time but on comment now and again. I only write in order to be read – so the comments are as much about why I’m here as the articles. Thanks again.

  64. John H Avatar
    John H

    Fr. Stephen, I commented earlier, but need see a reply. Here is my comment again: “Thank you for your article. Are there other articles or books that you would recommend to help me flesh out the content of your article? I am happily an Anglican, but have recently benefited from reading various Orthodox writers. Grace and peace, John”

  65. John H Avatar
    John H

    Should have said, “…did not see a reply…”

  66. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    John,
    Sorry, I was thinking about your question and got distracted and forgot to get back to you. I’m not sure where to begin on fleshing out the content of the article. I recall that when I was in an Anglican seminary, a lot of history was glossed over with a bit of an embarassed chuckle. There was a sense that the Reformation, or the Puritan purging of England (as well as the crushing of Ireland at the time) were unfortunate but now just part of the past.

    Some years back, I read a couple of books by Eamon Duffy (The Stripping of the Altars, and The Voices of Morebath). Both provide a very detailed look at the English Reformation on the ground, with abundant documentation and primary sources. I think that had I read those articles back in the day, I would have abandoned Anglicanism altogether. I assume it wasn’t my time.

    Those are both good reads.

    A close read of religious history, particularly American religious history, can yield some very interesting thoughts. I read Darkness Falls on the Land of Light, which gave a very different, but well-documented account of the First Great Awakening (which many champion). These are closely written histories without so much broad strokes as careful examination of real lives and events.

    Orthodox history is a terrible mess. Most historical treatments will gladly fill in the details. Indeed, the New Testament itself bears witness that the earliest Church was filled with troubles. Orthodoxy, however, is simply the historical continuation of the earliest Church – without Reformation (was was largely a government-run operation rather than a popular uprising) or various “starting over’s.” For me, becoming Orthodox was not an attempt to join a better Church, or a Church I liked more than the one I was in. It was a yielding to the reality that it was the Church as founded by Christ. I surrendered to it. In doing that, I also surrendered to its history and allowed myself to be reckoned among its sinners.

    I don’t say any of that by way of proselyting. Each of us has to follow Christ as grace allows. I only say it to warn that if you dig deep into Church history, many of the things you like might be tarnished. But the truth is always worth knowing. Actually, the grace I find in Orthodoxy is something that keeps triumphing over sin (especially my own).

    But, if I think of more things to read, I try to mention them. My own reading has spanned some years, and been very broad, so I don’t always remember what I should recommend. It’s the disadvantage of being an old man.

  67. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    The Mysteries of the Orthodox Church are deep even beyond human knowledge. Ultimately they are not reasoned but revealed. Books can be a good resource of preparation and completion but, in my case the the living Sacramental Presence was/is what made it undoubtedly clear to me the Orthodox Church is His.
    Now, before coming to the Church I had visited (some multiple times ) RCC, Anglican/Episcopal Church; Friends, Methodist, Baptist, Native American and New Age. Never was He absent, but the way He showed/shows Himself to me in the worship/theology and fellowship of the Orthodox is beyond compare and something no reading alone could have accomplished. Nor could just the experience alone.
    My mother emphasized to me how critical visiting a congregation was in the task she set for me, i.e., to find God. Worked great for me.
    The three books that had the most impact on my search: 1. The Orthodox Church by Arcb Ware; The Incarnation by St Athanasius; The Saving Work of Christ by Gregory Palamas. All of them early in my experience.

  68. Dee of St Herman Avatar
    Dee of St Herman

    John H,
    If you haven’t already done so, Father Stephen’s book follows a similar vein of gold:
    “Everywhere Present”

  69. John H Avatar
    John H

    Thank you, Fr. Stephen, for the reply. I am an old man myself and have done more reading than is probably good for me. But I may need to re-read your book as well as dip into some of the ones you recommended.

    I am trying to work out the sacramental nature of reality that was reflected in your article, When Miracles Ceased. It has been a challenge for me to shed the rationalism of my Presbyterian and reformed training and the disenchanted atmosphere of this modern world we live in.

    I may never become Orthodox, but appreciate your way of being Christian and particularly appreciate your clearly written articles.

    Also, thanks to you others who chimed in.

  70. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    John,
    May God prosper you wherever you are. Fr. Alexander Schmemann’s For the Life of the World is still the great classic on a sacramental world-view.

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  1. “Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand!’. The sins of others that I see often remain unacknowledged and…

  2. Anonymous, “These things are a victory in my opinion, but I have cautioned him specifically with regards to the church…

  3. Carlos … your latest comments do my soul good! Thanks again. Thanks everyone else too! Fr. Stephen, I agree with…

  4. That’s so true Michael. I think of Jesus taking the disciples across a fearsome stormy Sea of Galilee (seasoned fishermen,…


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