Mystical Theology and the Orthodox Faith

A turning point in my life took place in an unremarkable manner. In my college years, my best friend approached me in the university library and thrust a book into my hand. “Steve, read this!” He said. The book was Vladimir Lossky’s Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church. The year was 1976. I did as he asked. I understood very little of what I read, though it changed my life.

Interestingly, I did not learn from reading that book what made Orthodox theology “mystical.” It is a term and a description that is widely misunderstood. It is also the most salient aspect of Orthodox distinctives. Sadly, it can be an aspect of Orthodoxy that is unknown to the Orthodox themselves.

The term “mystical” has a mix of meanings in English. For some, it conjures up images of Far Eastern religions, or even of various occult practices. To say, “He is a mystic,” is not generally perceived as a compliment. People often accuse the Orthodox of overusing the word, “mystery.” We hit a wall in the explanatory process and suddenly declare, “It’s a mystery.”

Essentially, the word “mystery” (from the Greek) refers to something “hidden” that cannot be spoken aloud. In Roman culture, it was often used to describe the “mystery religions” in which members were initated into various secrets. There was a deep sense that, whatever was true within the spiritual realm, it was something unknown to most and available to those who were willing to undergo special demands.

St. Paul, in particular, uses the term to describe certain aspects of Christian teaching – indeed – the gospel itself.

I now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up in my flesh what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ, for the sake of His body, which is the church, of which I became a minister according to the stewardship from God which was given to me for you, to fulfill the word of God, the mystery which has been hidden from ages and from generations, but now has been revealed to His saints. To them God willed to make known what are the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles: which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” (Colossians 1:24–27)

In St. Paul’s use of the term, there is an aspect that will later come to be the hallmark of “mystical” theology. He speaks of something that has been hidden from ages and generations – and specifically identifies it with the phrase, “Christ in you, the hope of glory.” If there is a striking and distinguishing characteristic of Orthodox thought, it is the reality of communion, of active participation in the life of God and God’s active participation within our own lives. In Christ, we have a common life with God – He dwells in us and we in Him. This understanding undergirds everything we know as the Church: the sacraments (which are properly named “mysteries”), the doctrines of the Great Councils, every liturgy and service and all prayers. As such, it is accurate to say that Orthodox Christianity is “mystical” (as defined in an Orthodox manner).

Modern Christianity has any number of competing, non-mystical, narratives. Perhaps the most dominant would be the various versions of “relationship” Christianity. I am not entirely certain what precisely is meant by a “personal relationship with Jesus,” though I’ve “been there” and used that language myself back in the day. On the whole, what seems to be meant, is a “relationship” that is similar to the relationships we have with others in our lives: friends, family, etc. I know Him, He knows me. I talk to Him, He talks to me. From an Orthodox perspective, such a description is not so much wrong as it is inadequate.

It is certainly of note that the language of “personal relationship” is entirely modern, with roots in the notions of pop-psychology. It often has elements of individualism in which the Church and the sacraments are relegated to positions of personal choice. “I only need Jesus,” (or words to that effect) set aside the very things which Christ Himself established and gave for the work of salvation. Christ said, “…unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you.” (Jn. 6:53) I have read evangelical commentaries that explain this statement as a demand for accepting a particular aspect of doctrine rather than actually eating and drinking the Eucharist. Our individualized thoughts are made the beginning and the ending of all things.

I do not intend to demean the faith of those who have been nurtured in an individualistic psychology of belief. It is, more than anything else, a symptom of the culture in which we live. Sacraments and mystical participation are alien concepts. They are, however, deeply grounded in the reality of what it means to be human. That they seem alien in the modern world says much about the nature of modernity itself.

Communion, or mutual participation,  is not an obscure or rare phenomenon. Rather, it has the misfortune of existing outside the normative conversations of our culture. Marriage is one of the best examples. St. Paul writes:

Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a harlot? Certainly not! Or do you not know that he who is joined to a harlot is one body with her? For “the two,” He says, “shall become one flesh.” But he who is joined to the Lord is one spirit with Him.” (1 Corinthians 6:15–17)

The apostle does not describe the “one flesh” (a profound reality of communion and mutual participation) as the product of a psychological relationship – it is the product of sexual intercourse. Someone might protest, “But she meant nothing to me!” Nevertheless, the result of any sexual relationship is one flesh. Indeed, St. Paul raises the ante on this sin by noting that a Christian engaging in fornication is “joining Christ to a harlot” (because the Christian is already “one flesh” with Christ!) It is of note that this passage uses the term “members” for Christians – a word we have perverted into meaning something like a mild association. Rather, a “member” is a “body part.” We are to Christ as “members” – hands, feet, toes, arms, legs, etc. “Membership,” in the Biblical sense, is a term of communion and mutual participation.

There are many things with which we have communion. Indeed, it is much more accurate to describe our relationship with our culture as communion. It inhabits us, thinks in us, desires in us, etc., with rarely anything that passes for reasoning or choosing. We are its “members,” in the Biblical sense. Orthodox Christian asceticism has as its goal, among many things, the severing of this commercial communion and the deepening of our communion in Christ.

We are not created for “relationships” in the modern sense of the word. We are created and sustained by communion and mutual participation. Coming to understand what this means is a journey into a deeper world (the one that truly exists). It is also a journey out of the shallow delusions of this present age.

God give us grace!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.



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33 responses to “Mystical Theology and the Orthodox Faith”

  1. Mark Shillaker Avatar
    Mark Shillaker

    Thank you very much for this article Father. There is, now I come to think about it, definitely something ‘contractual’ implied by the modern term ‘relationship’; how two entities which are understood to stand autonamously and therefore essentially apart, work out some kind of mutually beneficial co-existence. As, opposed to the radical joining of communion. Your prayers!

  2. Mark Spurlock Avatar
    Mark Spurlock

    Father Stephen,

    I hope this will not be off topic in that (I’m positive you agree) a major obstacle to communion is shame.

    When you gave your book talk, I completely identified with your description of your first interaction with Father Hopko and how you often, in talking to yourself during the day, call yourself “stupid. ” Been there, do that, all the time!

    Moreover, I find myself in that place very often in remembering when someone has complimented me or otherwise been nice. If I recall the moment, instead of its being a pleasant memory for me, I experience what I would call a form of shame that includes verbal self-deprecation as you describe (whether spoken aloud or not). What is worse, I think, is that I will avoid interactions with the person in the future out of what I would describe as a fear of disappointment. That is, I want to maintain the previous pleasant exchange we had and worry that a subsequent meeting will not go as well. This form of social anxiety causes me to most avoid people I like and ought to enjoy the company of!

    It goes so far as to sometimes not shopping at places where I’ve had positive interactions with the person operating the register or at least being relieved when I can check out with some other person.

    As you seem to have similar experiences, what do you think causes it and do you have any recommendations as far as overcoming it?

    Regarding communion with God (versus other people), I would not be surprised if it is related to a reluctance and procrastination about beginning prayer.

  3. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Mark,
    Good question. There’s a term I’ve heard – “shame storm” – that describes the cascade of self-recriminations and various shame-related feelings, particularly following an encounter that has an element of “exposure.” Many speakers (myself included) have such storms after almost every public appearance. In the lightest, happiest description of the storm, it can be taken as nothing more than normal, “healthy” shame, appropriate to an event of exposure – that needs to be accepted and endured. All shame (including the normal, healthy stuff) is unpleasant. Toxic shame (the result of abuse and trauma) can form a sort of substrate that makes even mild shame and embarrassment feel unbearable.

    I do some things (most of the time) to help mitigate exposure. Using a text when I’m lecturing helps. When I go “off script” I have much less control and a whole lot more accidental exposure (especially problematic with my ADHD). So, I work at moderating myself.

    But, beyond that, there’s a need to gently increase our ability to “bear a little shame,” by reasonably enduring healthy, safe encounters. Practice helps. When the inevitable shame storm hits – I work at sitting down with it – and offering the prayer: “O God, comfort me,” which I learned from Archimandrite Zacharias of Essex. Often, I’ll add prayers to the Mother of God – who seems particularly helpful with such discomfort.

    “Bearing a little shame” is the very heart of humility – so it’s worth the work we do in acquiring it. Ultimately, it is a gift of grace. We are simply offering ourselves to receive it.

    As to prayer. I begin prayer with just putting myself into a place of being conscious of God’s presence. A sort of “Here I am.”

  4. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    My wife and I were visiting my brother and his family this weekend. A lot of wonderful communication that went on.

    Last night me, my wife, one niece, my sister-in-law and my brother (who is an Orthodox priest) talked for hours, in some cases revealing deep spiritual challenges we each had with as close to zero shame as seems likely. Certainly no evidence of toxic shame. We learned many new things about each other. Our needs, our hopes, our dreams and failures. It was a remarkable blessing. New paths of prayer and action were revealed.

  5. Monica Dellas Avatar
    Monica Dellas

    Dear Father,
    Vladimir Lossky’s, “Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church” was the first Orthodox Book I read.
    It was assigned for a Systematic Theology Class, while I was a Catholic graduate student at Marquette University, in Milwaukee, WI in 2002.

    Now I’m Orthodox! Thank heavens.
    Monica Dellas

  6. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Monica,
    When I read Lossky, it was around 1974 or so. There was actually very little Orthodox stuff published. I think I bought most of what St. Vlad’s published at the time (I had to order Lossky’s book from England!).

  7. Lee Murphy Avatar
    Lee Murphy

    i so appreciate this blog.
    the article was eye opening and thought provoking, and the comments have been such a help! o my! like a surprise gift.
    most humbly, thank you.

  8. Mark Spurlock Avatar
    Mark Spurlock

    Thank you for the reply, Father Stephen. I think it might be helpful to see it as you say: rather than something to be cured of, something “appropriate to an event of exposure.” I can see where that would help break the cycle of “feeling awkward about feeling awkward.”

  9. Dee of St Herman Avatar
    Dee of St Herman

    It’s a rather interesting coincidence that I was in a bookstore selling used books yesterday. I was looking for something else but decided to peruse the section on Christianity. I saw a book with “Mystical Theology” in the title and picked it up. I was expecting to see something about Orthodoxy. While the book jacket blurb did say something about how Western Christianity had somehow lost this emphasis in its theology, and the author did seem to indicate that this book was intended to provide a way to ‘put it back in,’ it did not mention Orthodoxy. I put the book down. Perhaps I should have been more curious about how the author intended to put mystical theology back into Western Christian theology, but it seemed fruitless without mention of Orthodoxy.

  10. Janine Avatar
    Janine

    Thank you for this article, which contains so much food for thought.

    You write: “There are many things with which we have communion. Indeed, it is much more accurate to describe our relationship with our culture as communion. It inhabits us, thinks in us, desires in us, etc., with rarely anything that passes for reasoning or choosing. We are its “members,” in the Biblical sense. Orthodox Christian asceticism has as its goal, among many things, the severing of this commercial communion and the deepening of our communion in Christ.” My immediate thought was the immersion in phones, computers, and media of all types, especially with regard to the youngest. All of this “communion” works rather insidiously in the sense that its effects are not acknowledged, and the consumer outlook professes a detached choice–for all kinds of things.

    Thank you also for your reply to Mark, and thanks to Mark for his comment. “Cancellation” is one aspect weaponizing shame within new means of collective communication. In my life, it has quite stunningly providential that I have been given recent experiences of some sort of rite of passage (a friend who humiliated me, performing some difficult singing without preparation, interacting with some youthful group) that have enabled the bear a little shame mode, but with tremendous gratification from the process. My family experience was more one of toxic shame. I consider this part of the healing of the Church for me. And you are so right about the Theotokos!!

  11. Janine Avatar
    Janine

    Sorry, I am lame at texting on my phone … I meant to indicate above that the recent experiences were all in the context of the Church.

  12. Ook Avatar
    Ook

    This post came at an interesting time, when I have started listening to the music of Hildegard von Bingen, who is often described as a mystic, apparently due to a vision in her soul, whatever that means. Anyway, her music is beautiful.
    The term “mystery” has suffered greatly in our culture because the late theologian George Carlin had a funny bit about his school days when they would ask the father some impossible questions about God and father would have his standard response: it’s a mystery. To this day my immediate response is to smile when I hear that term in this context.

  13. Chris Avatar
    Chris

    Father Stephen,
    Great article! I am sure that we have all come across a perspective transforming book at some point in our lives. For me it was, Inner Christianity by Richard Smoley. Really helped me get over a rough patch in my views about Orthodoxy a few years back. The principle of communion can be complex for many orthodox denominations which are not in communion with other churches. Also the sacraments are administered by different requirements in different orthodox churches. For example. I am not permitted to receive communion in one church without giving confession one week prior to communion but can elect to give confession at my discretion in another church. This may have something to do with individuals using their personal choices at certain times. What do you think?

  14. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Chris,
    I think you’ve confused the “principle” of communion with pastoral practices surrounding the reception of communion in the Body and Blood of Christ.

    Ultimately, all of the sacraments of the Church are about union/communion with God – it is the manner in which Orthodox thought understands pretty much everything that takes place in the life of the Church. Human beings always have “choices” to be made – but, in Orthodoxy, they are not the single thing that defines what it is to be who we are (which is much more the common modern cultural approach).

    As to pastoral practices (how often to make confession), that is a pastoral (not driven by specific canons) question which evolved differently in various countries and regions. With the multiple jurisdictions we see in places like America, etc., those differences are seen in a more stark relief by being brought together as near-neighbors. American culture is used to seeing a “smoothing-out” of differences in its homogenizing and commercialization of all things – (ever notice how most stores selling similar products are all the same?) The historical connections to other cultures (Greek, Russian, Arab, Romanian, etc.) are still quite sharp in Orthodoxy – somewhat surprising to us in America. But it does not represent an actual difference of doctrine/belief.

    I might add that it is generally helpful not to move around from parish to parish (as a rule). Stability – staying put – is an important part of the spiritual life. It grounds us in the community (complete with all of its trials and temptations). Moving around from parish to parish promotes and increases a more individualized, compartmentalized spiritual life.

  15. John Mark Lamb Avatar
    John Mark Lamb

    Fr. Stephen, the terms “communion and mutual participation” are helpful in understanding “Christ in you the hope of glory”. Is Christ already “in” everyone but remains hidden until one begins to participate in their common union ?

  16. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    John,
    That’s a very good question. There is some sense in which Christ dwells in everyone: “In Him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28) would seem to make that clear. There is no existence that is not a participation in the “Only Truly Existing One” (St. Basil). Nevertheless, there are “ways” of being – “ways” of communion that are more than the mere fact of existence. The Fathers speak about a movement from Being to Well-Being to Eternal Being. St. Gregory of Nyssa’s writings are pretty replete with this.

    In many ways it comes down to love. That we exist is a gift of God – the work of His love. When we love Him in turn, there is a reciprocity that moves us deeper into that communion. Every movement towards Him, in love, takes us deeper into that communion.

    St. John says, “He came unto His own, and His own received Him not. But, to as many as received Him, to them He gave the power to become children of God, to those who believe in His name:who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.”

    I might add that it’s worth re-reading the whole of St. John (both the gospel and the first epistle) while holding these thoughts about communion in mind. St. John writes profoundly in this idiom.

  17. Janine Avatar
    Janine

    Father, thank you for your comment about reading St. John’s works.
    I consider it to be St. John who “saved” me, under a number of circumstances and experiences. But in particular your comment reminds me that at a period that was very difficult and devastating, I had been given one of those little tiny green New Testament Bibles that the Gideons will hand out periodically in public places. I was sitting in a pizzeria style restaurant in Greenwich Village, NYC, waiting for my husband to come to the table. The words were practically gleaming golden and so much love was radiating from the page as I read the words that filled with meaning and touched my heart. A long-haired rather wizened waiter walked by, and he said to me, “That’s a Good Book!” 🙂
    (Hope this is an appropriate place to share that story)

  18. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Communion even as just a word is difficult to define and subject to any number of possibilities, most of them not necessarily beneficial for my soul. Especially in the context of the worlds confusion concerning the nature of what a human being is, who God is indeed what life is. So, I am going to take Father’s advice and read St. John again with attention to the reality.

    Thank you Father.

  19. Dee of St Herman Avatar
    Dee of St Herman

    I heard concerned priests talk about the Orthodox showing up in Divine Liturgy just before communion. And another who attended services that began with Divine Liturgy without Orthros or Matins. In this latter case, the priest expressed that his heart wasn’t ready yet to just dive in. All of this suggests we (westernized) Orthodox need to go a little deeper into the Orthodox meaning of communion. I was taught to ask both priests (the priest of my parish and the priest of the parish I wish to visit) for permission to receive the Eucharist at the parish I wished to visit. This is simply another example of how we approach the Holy things of the Holy.

    We sometimes complain about the loss of enchantment. The secularized world thinks it knows too much to be bedazzled by the chants, lights, bells, and smells of an Orthodox service. Others want to be Orthodox but want it their way, the western way, to resemble a Roman Catholic Church more closely, perhaps. As a result, western rite has been developed in American Orthodoxy.

    Despite the difficulties that do arise between jurisdictions (and even within them), I’m grateful for the infusions of culture and language and the slight variations in practice. I’m thankful for this rich brocade of experience and culture. Admittedly I was a little put off when I deliberated stepping foot into an Orthodox Church, having priests with long beards and strange hats. All of the proverbial Gandalfs of this world seemed to have congregated in the Orthodox Church! While I enjoyed Tolkien, that was fantasy life–supposedly bearing no resemblance to reality.

    Now I sing a different tune. I wonder what it would have been like to be surrounded by Orthodox culture, such that where I would go to work culturally would have less distinction from where I go to Church. But we live in modernity. And yet, nevertheless, the Kingdom is tabernacled among us. In our Churches and in our hearts.

  20. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    The first place I ever experienced communion with God is in the Flint Hills of Kansas. Rolling grasslands with a few trees, wildflowers, the top soil too thin to allow farming.
    Visited my brother for the first time in 5 years. Driving through the Flint Hills again begins to restore my heart. There is an echo of The Garden still in these hills.

  21. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Michael, et al
    When I look back in my life and identify points where communion with God broke through, I become aware that He has always been seeking us (me). He is near at hand (but often “at hand” is a noisy, distracting place). There was very little that spoke of “mystery” in my childhood. There was danger (emotional and physical). I can think of few things as dry as the Church of my childhood. When I see children in our parish lighting a candle, or kissing an icon, it thrills my heart. They are doing something that would have matter so deeply at that age.

  22. Michael Moniz Avatar
    Michael Moniz

    Fr. Freeman could you recommend an Orthodox book a former Catholic, now confused Protestant could read? Love your blog posts. Thank you.

  23. juliania Avatar
    juliania

    Thank you, Father Stephen, for this post and for this blog. I took a small trip through the ‘windows’ you provide at the end of each post — I need to take many more, and I will!
    I ended with lengthy conversations far back in time (relatively speaking) concerning the defense of Christianity. Not being a time traveller, I couldn’t comment, but returning by some miracle here, I approached the comparison you make between relationship and communion with fresh eyes, (if not enormous insight).
    What I would have proposed – back in 2009 I think – was to look at some verses in the Gospels, such as ‘Verily I say unto you, unless a seed…’ to distinguish Scriptural truths from what science informs us. Which took me to the parables – same difference. (Especially these days, when seeds themselves are so scientifically pulled apart — science isn’t quite what it should be, I do feel. There is still a lot to learn. A dash of humility would not go amiss!)
    Lossky’s term, ‘mystical theology’ describes each and every parable. Thank you again. This is beautiful.

  24. Janine Avatar
    Janine

    Amen, Dee. But then your own richness of culture and how you receive the liturgy and teachings also adds to that, importantly. I find richness in the things you have to say from your indigenous perspective. And indeed, I should add that there is important information in everybody’s experience that I read here. We really can’t separate out cultures from this, even as the earliest Christians did not just toss out their past but found it opened, deepened, etc. through Christ. I say this as cradle Orthodox (Oriental) married to cradle Greek Orthodox, a lifetime of participation in both.

  25. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Michael (Moniz)
    Hmm. Wondering where to start. A really wonderful book is Andrew Louth’s Introducing Eastern Orthodox Theology. It’s not a critique of other things – just a good solid introduction to Orthodox thought.

  26. Drewster2000 Avatar
    Drewster2000

    Mark,

    I am very familiar with the shamestorm phenomenon. One practice I have found helpful which is painful at first but eases things thereafter is to sort of “let go and let God”. After I have the positive interaction, I sort of tell myself that anything could happen from here and that the other person might eventually find out I’m not all that wonderful and so on.

    I then respond to this by admitting it could all be true but I rely on God for everything and I’m going to simply walk forward and takes what He gives me as the future unfolds. Therefore I will continue to go to the same stores, keep the same associations, etc. and not vary my steps based on the possibility of future shame & pain.

    I’ve done this so often that the whole inner conversation now takes less than a second. And wouldn’t you know it? Rarely do any of the dreaded scenarios actually happen. If they do, I try to focus on the interaction as one of the players, ready to admit I was less than they thought and simply see where it goes from there. I remind myself that I look to God for my comfort/support/encouragement/etc. Even if it sometimes comes from others, it was ultimately from Him anyway.

    This exercise helps me move just a little closer to Him and to rely just a little less on the world and things within it that would fail me sooner or later. I hope this is helpful.

  27. Allen F Long Avatar
    Allen F Long

    Thank you, Fr. Stephen, for this post. In 1981, I graduated from Dallas Theological Seminary with a Masters in Theology. At that time, I noted that the most frequent Greek preposition in front of Christos, is “en”, but I had learned very little about its significance. Fast-forward: after 30 years of being a worship minister in 2 different independent “evangelical-Bible” churches, I was on my way out to discover the meaning that had eluded me. In 2008, my wife and I were chrismated. We are meant for communion and union in Christ!

  28. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Allen,
    “In Christ” (ἐν Χριστῷ) occurs many times in St. Paul. Once an understanding of communion/participation has settled into our heart and mind, it simply dominates everything in the New Testament. Interestingly, within Protestant thought, I found that Pentecostalism paid more attention to such things than many forms of Protestant thought. The language of communion in Anglicanism was delightfully present in their service of Holy Communion (in a number of places). I think its presence in the New Testament is so strong that it “sneaks” out even when not expected. In Orthodoxy, thankfully, it resounds again and again as its constant theme.

  29. Mark Spurlock Avatar
    Mark Spurlock

    Thanks for the comments, Drew.

    I am sort of going with “shame squall”–rather than shame storm–because of the double-meaning of squall and because, ultimately, I’m puffing it way out of proportion 🙂

    Aging and thus being less able to insulate myself and go it alone has forced me to confront it more than I used to. That is, once doctors start telling you about all the internal (and irrevocable) weaknesses you are developing, there is no escaping the truth that “I am not so wonderful.” You become more dependent on others and can’t maintain any facade that you are above all human frailty.

    Yes, you are right that learning a better approach to God from Orthodoxy helps as well. Understanding the nature of our communion with Him and one another allows knowing how we are and how we should be to manage our momentary impulse–whether that impulse arises from adrenaline or one of the passions.

  30. Drewster2000 Avatar
    Drewster2000

    Mark,

    I’m about your age and am familiar with the “internal weaknesses”. On top of that I recently suffered with an auto-immune disease for about a year before it was properly diagnosed. Being continually up at midnight with a splitting headache creates a regular (if forced) solitude where you learn to talk to the only other Person who’s up at that hour. And over time the relationship evolves to the point where you look forward to the routine and are willing to pay the price in order to spend time with your most favorite friend…or perhaps your ONLY friend, as all other associations begin to seriously pale in comparison.

    In light of the article I should add that this doesn’t constitute a “me, Jesus and the Bible” situation. Both the personal and the corporate relationships are extremely essential to our well being. Drop or discount either and you’re only viewing life with half of your brain, so to speak. However, my experience was a growth moment in the personal aspect. We humans seem to be limited to learning one thing at at time.

  31. Laurie Marvin Avatar
    Laurie Marvin

    Hi, Fr. Stephen. I went to a Coptic church on vacation because I was trying to attend an Orthodox church. I went last year and they were and are lovely people. I discovered today at church we aren’t exactly in communion with them due to a theological dispute over the two natures of Christ that occurred a long time ago. I didn’t take communion there anyway, but I thought I was doing the right thing.

    To be honest, a lot of these arguments, whether they are about the filoque, the nature of Jesus, predestination, transubstitution, etc I have a very hard time figuring out whose right or sometimes whether or not I need to care. Do we need Ph.ds to figure out this stuff out? These arguments don’t seem to make people any holier, either. Thank you,

    Laurie

  32. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Laurie,
    The establishment of Coptic communities in the US is a very recent phenomenon – something which opens up questions for folks that would not have been seriously explored just a generation ago.

    From the Orthodox and Coptic point-of-view, the difference over the Council of Chalcedon and its language (two natures of Christ), though not minor, seems to primarily be a difference in language. The Coptic Church follows the language of St. Cyril of Alexandria which predated the Council of Chalcedon, and was quite acceptable when he used (he wrote of “One Nature” but, when you read his writing, its clear that he meant by that the same thing that the Council of Chalcedon meant a generation later). The Orthodox honor St. Cyril as a saint as well.

    But, though the rupture occurred, there have been serious high-level discussions between the Churches, and mutual visitations of monks, etc. Relations are generally good. From the Orthodox side, an example of this is that Coptic Orthodox Christians are received into the membership in Orthodoxy simply by confession and communion (they are not Chrismated, etc.). We treat no other Christian group in this manner.

    But, Orthodox conversations are long and slow. It simply requires patience.

  33. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Shameless plug: Eighth Day Books in Wichita, Ks purveyor and fount of knowledge about all beautiful books. The proprietor, Warren Farha is, by Grace a friend and fellow parishioner. His shop is a place of wonder almost Dickensian in feel. A place of joyful discovery and exploration even going through his offerings through the internet. There are times just walking into the shop is an explosion of joy and wonder and that indefinable something I can only call mystery.
    http://www.eighthdaybooks.com
    There is this chair that anyone who enters must sit in. Somehow, just sitting in it transports one.
    Best place to order any Orthodox book through. Questions and referrals to other sources answered with knowledge and love.

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  4. Janine, You write: “How do you know God is not looking at you the same way you see your son?”…


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