The Royal Priesthood in a Secular World

St. Peter describes us as a “royal priesthood.”

“But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light…” (1 Peter 2:9)

We live in a world metaphor and simile. That is to say, we might call someone a “king” or “priest,” but really only mean that they remind us of a king or priest – that they are “like” a king or priest. We think that reality falls into one of two categories: what they really are, and what we think about them. There is stuff, and our thoughts about stuff.

Think of these two situations:

In the first, a person says “This bread and this wine truly become the Body and Blood of Christ.” In the second, a person says, “This bread and this wine make me think about the Body and Blood of Christ.”

Which of the two would be generally accepted by all modern people everywhere? Undoubtedly, the second situation wins hands-down. A recent Pew Research article of Catholics in America revealed that only one-third of Catholics believe that the bread and wine truly become the Body and Blood of Christ. We have no statistics on Orthodox belief. Nevertheless, when we embrace the full teaching of the Church, we are swimming against the strong current of our culture’s world-view.

The historic shift away from sacramental Christianity in the wake of the Reformation was more than a religious debate. The shift was a decided effort to de-sacralize the world and to collapse all things into a manageable form. One symptom of this shift was the increasing use of the word “superstition.” Much of this was a Protestant effort to refute Catholic claims. The larger result, however, was the disenchantment of creation itself.

For the modern world, God remains in heaven (at a safe distance where only religious people need concern themselves). Creation is now just stuff. Trees are lumber. Dirt is for mining or paving. All things have value in that they can be bought and sold. The world is not only “disenchanted,” it has been commodified.

Fr. Alexander Schmemann famously taught that, in the sacraments, Christ does not make something to be what it is not. Rather, He reveals things to be what they are.

This is fundamental to Orthodox thought. To describe the world as sacrament is not a statement about how we see things – but a statement about how things truly are.

“…we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal.” (2 Cor. 4:18)

Admittedly, this puts us at a disadvantage in the modern world. Modernity will argue and insist on the temporal, material aspects of reality (which allows for their management and commodification), while running rough-shod over the eternal for the same reasons. Ultimately, humanity itself is emptied of its eternal reality. There seem to be no limits in the growing world of medical experiment – everything that can yield a profit is permitted.

In the Fathers (particularly St. Dionysius the Areopagite and St. Maximus the Confessor), seeing the world as it truly is – is discussed under the heading of “natural contemplation” (theoria physike). This is described as a perceiving and understanding of the logoi of created things. All things are created through the Logos (John 1:3). As such, each created thing carries within it its own “logos” (logoi is the plural), its eternal purpose and proper character of its existence. Thus, created “things” are not just stuff to be managed, packaged, and sold. Creation is thoroughly grounded in God and cannot be rightly understood or related to apart from that eternal grounding.

O LORD, how manifold are Your works! In wisdom You have made them all. (Ps. 104:24)

The heavens declare the glory of God; And the firmament shows His handiwork. Day unto day utters speech, And night unto night reveals knowledge. There is no speech nor language Where their voice is not heard. Their line has gone out through all the earth, And their words to the end of the world. (Ps. 19:1-4) 

And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying, “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!” (Rev. 5:13)

All the earth worships you and sings praises to you; they sing praises to your name. (Ps. 66:4)

But ask the beasts, and they will teach you; the birds of the heavens, and they will tell you; or the bushes of the earth, and they will teach you; and the fish of the sea will declare to you. Who among all these does not know that the hand of the Lord has done this? In his hand is the life of every living thing and the breath of all mankind. (Job 12:7-10)

The proper movement in our Christian life is one in which we come to understand the mystery (the hidden, eternal life) of the creation in which we live.  We reveal water in the actions of Baptism (and the Great Blessing of the Waters). We reveal bread and wine in the Eucharist. We reveal human beings in the many sacramental actions of the Church.

In the same manner, each of us serves a “priestly” role within creation, revealing and contemplating the logoi of all things. Creation does not “fight” with us. It does not overpower or impose its voice on our consciousness. All things eternal respond to love, in love, and with love. This is an echo of Matt. 5:8, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” As we nurture the love of Christ within us, and His love for all creation, we slowly come to see and know things for what they are – sacramental wonders that reveal the glory of God.

I return to my original thoughts on kings and priests. I have been an ordained priest (first Anglican, then Orthodox) for over 40 years. In that time, I have become keenly aware of what it means to see a human being as a sacrament. However, like creation, I cannot argue or force anyone to see that aspect of reality. My mind has recently thought of King Charles, whose coronation was clearly intended as a sacramental action (complete with anointing). He had to endure public protesters with signs saying, “Not my King.” Worse still, in a highly secularized nation, his coronation could only be seen as dress-up and farce by many. John Cleese, the comedian, said it looked like something out of Monty Python. Sadly, it also means that the average citizen of that secularized world cannot be seen as a royal priesthood. Instead, they look like something to be managed and commodified.

There is an age-old British myth of the hidden king. The boy Arthur accidentally discovers his true identity as he withdraws a sword from a stone. C.S. Lewis draws on this myth as he posited an obscure, retired linguist as the “Pendragon,” the right-born king of Logres (the eternal, invisible Britain), in his novel, That Hideous Strength.

In Holy Baptism we are made to be kings and priests, or, more accurately, revealed to be what we are. Clothed in the righteousness of Christ, crowned with glory and honor, we await the revealing of all things and the manifestation of the Sons of God.

 

 

 

 

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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Comments

57 responses to “The Royal Priesthood in a Secular World”

  1. Byron Avatar
    Byron

    And does all Creation await our revealing, Father? I recall that Creation (subjugated for our benefit) awaits our redemption, in order to be free. It seems there is a larger Communion awaiting us in this freedom, if I am correct. Our redemption serves a greater purpose than just “me being saved”?

  2. Ilya Sterie Avatar
    Ilya Sterie

    Father, bless!

    Thank you for your text, which made me think of a few separate things:

    Modern architecture. I am an architect and architectural historian who specializes in modern housing. I equally like old ones. There have been modern architects whose buildings/houses have a spiritual dimension in their simplicity – that is the good modern architecture. Carlo Scarpa, Alvar Aalto, Louis Kahn, Juhani Pallasmaa are among them.

    You say: “There seem to be no limits in the growing world of medical experiment – everything that can yield a profit is permitted.” Glad to know of another priest who calls a spade a spade. There are not many these days. Thank you.

    King Charles… poor him. He’s always looked like a joke. For me, Queen Elizabeth is quite a controversial character: the longest reigning monarch, not much of a good mother (judging by how poorly her children faired), provided national”stability” to the detriment of “prosperity”… No wonder that Britain is in shackles. I live in Canada – Charles is supposed to be our ruler. So was Queen Elizabeth. Unfortunately, neither has done ANYTHING to deal with our current treacherous prime-minister and the dire situation this country is facing (literal conquering by a foreign nation who has been infiltrating all levels of government for decades). So no, neither are my queen nor king.

    Today it’s probably more than ever an act of courage to live as a king or queen – which, as your text implies, we all are in Christ.

  3. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Ilya,
    Thank you. The history of Kings and Queens is a very mixed bag, with very few whose lives fulfilled that role in a substantial manner. It is, however, unfair for you to suggest that neither Elizabeth nor Charles have done anything about you Prime Minister in Canada. They have no power whatsoever to do anything about the government in Britain nor in the Commonwealth. The blame for elected governments rests solely with those who elected them. Apparently, democracy is no more effective than monarchy, with the exception that in a democracy, we cannot blame the royals. Sadly, our elected officials are mirrors of the population. It is a cause for repentance.

  4. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Byron,
    Yes (per Romans 8), creation awaits our revealing – so that it may be revealed as well. In this time-before-the-revealing, it is for us to discern and perceive (noetically) the truth of what we see. Salvation is cosmic.

  5. David E. Rockett Avatar
    David E. Rockett

    [Wonderful reflection(s) Father…& Surprised you did not close with this…a passage increasingly dear to me these past 6-mths]

    “For the earnest expectation of the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it in hope; because the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of [f]corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now. Not only that, but we also who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body. For we were saved in this hope, but hope that is seen is not hope; for why does one still hope for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with perseverance.”

  6. Michael Avatar
    Michael

    Father Stephen, Many thanks as always. I know you have mentioned “natural contemplation” (theoria physike) a few times over past several months. I am slowly working my way through Douglas Christie’s “Blue Sapphire of the Mind” on this topic at the moment. Apologies in advance if I’m creating thread drift here but what are your thoughts on how natural contemplation fits with things like regular morning and evening prayer or something like the Jesus prayer in terms of practice. Are there methods of practice similar to the instruction we have for the Jesus Prayer (Philokalia, etc)?

    Many thanks,

    Michael

  7. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Michael,
    I have a fairly undefined element of natural contemplation as part of my daily routine (during my morning walk in the woods). It has a kinship with veneration – though not quite the same. That’s where it gets hard to define and describe. It is a holding of created things with a degree of honor (appropriate to them). There is a greater degree of honor that is due to the icons. But, in both cases, that honor (veneration) is an exercise in love. Only love sees anything.

  8. Mark Spurlock Avatar
    Mark Spurlock

    When Queen Elizabeth died, her parenting was something I thought about in terms of trying to get a complete picture of her life. For the individual who has other unique responsibilities, that is always a dilemma. Most of the time we can say, “Only you can be a father (or mother) to your child, whereas plenty of people can do X.” In the case of a ruler, however, that is not true; no one else–unless she abdicated–could be the Queen of England.

    In the Bible, good people like Samuel have bad children, so this dilemma between office and parenting seems to affect even the most godly.

    Personally, therefore, I try not to be too judgmental of Queen Elizabeth based on how her children turned out. Child rearing is not easy even for those who can more easily put family above career.

  9. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    “…the bondage of corruption…” Corruption has quite a few synonyms. Among them: fraudulent, adulteration, debasement, degradation, subversion, degradation, putrefaction.
    We live in an increasingly corrupt world which tends to make me want to make everybody else “better”. Reminds me of John 11:39 which is most powerful to me in the King James version. Martha is trying to dissuade Jesus from opening Lazarus tomb says…”by this time, Lord, he stinketh…”
    It is not possible for me to discern the worst stink as my own is so strong. So, I must repent in thought, word and deed for only then am I able to smell better for them “The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.”
    That is why I only began to be slightly Orthodox (after 29 years) when I started praying the Jesus Prayer at 3 in the morning because my pain (physical and more) would not let me sleep, despite the doctor’s meds.
    Lord Jesus, forgive me, a sinner. Or as some saints have prayed, “the” sinner.
    So, I ask each and all for your mercy and forgiveness.
    That is beginning to be the only way to prevent my own madness.

  10. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Mark,
    Absolutely. Most people have settled quite nicely into their secularized roles and have no experience with the burden of being a symbol. To my mind, there’s so many ways to get it wrong, and a very narrow way to get it even close to “right.” There are no guaranteed ways to raise a child with a predictable result. My own focus (with 4 adult children) was to raise them to be “good.” I can say that they are all good people. But, they are also their own persons – not copies of me or their mother.

    Royals (as in Britain) have the additional burden of being crazy rich and the objects of scrutiny beyond description. I will say of Elizabeth that she had a very strong commitment to the notion of “service,” and sought to nurture it in her children. That’s more than a lot of people do.

    I wrote a little while back (elsewhere) that we want our leaders to be better than we are. Royalty plays on that desire, though it seldom fulfills it. In our democracies, we are clearly frustrated with the sense that our leaders are not even close to being better. Again, much of our problems grow out of the venality of greed in a money-driven culture. We have the best government money can buy.

  11. Dean Avatar
    Dean

    God the Father,
    perfect parent of 2 children, Adam and Eve. Both children in an idyllic environment. They rebel against their parent. Both are shown tough love by their Father and forced from their home. It’s a very old story and often tragic for both parent and child.
    Yet throughout the ages God redeems families in marvelous ways. How many children in our own time have come out of slums, great poverty, to shine as gems of great virtue, having been raised by a struggling, loving single mom. “Love never ends.” 1Cor.13:8

  12. Simon Avatar
    Simon

    When you look at the specific types of biological life that exist–like the Komodo dragon that swallows its prey whole without the courtesy of killing it first–the idea of sacrament isn’t obvious. I think noetic perception reveals not just what the world is, but what the world will be,: the kingdom’s teleological immanence. In other words, it seems to me that noetic perception sees the kingdom’s teleological reality beneath the world of appearances. Creation is still subject to futility and corruption. For that reason our world is one part tragedy and one part beauty. Sometimes I think what I see is the kingdom’s future telos fermenting creation at present.

  13. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Simon,
    I would agree. The logos of a created thing is always also its telos.

  14. Justin Avatar
    Justin

    Fr Stephen,

    Not to be too tangential but I thought Cleese’s comment was genius, belying his deep understanding of what was actually going on. Regardless….

    I watched the Coronation start to finish, and was able to put aside all of the noise and take it in for what it was. I was moved to tears many times. The most remarkable thing about it was how familiar it was, how similar it was to my own baptism… all our baptisms really.

    So, yes, we are a royal priesthood. I wish His Majesty God’s strength in fulfilling his vocation, as I beg God’s strength in my own, minor in comparison as it may be.

  15. Michael Avatar
    Michael

    “…It is a holding of created things with a degree of honor (appropriate to them). There is a greater degree of honor that is due to the icons. But, in both cases, that honor (veneration) is an exercise in love. Only love sees anything.”

    Thank you Father, A lot to ponder and practice here. Michael

  16. Owen Kelly Avatar
    Owen Kelly

    “In Holy Baptism we are made to be kings and priests, or, more accurately, revealed to be what we are.”

    Beautifully written, Fr. Stephen. And what a tremendous insight Fr. Alexander Schmemann gave us — to become what we (already, truly) are. In a sacramental world, baptism acts like a cataract remover, uncovering cloudy vision. The scales come off; we see we are verily sons of God. This breathes new life into the term “receive” the Holy Spirit.

    Many thanks!
    Owen

  17. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Justin,
    I disagree with your take on Cleese. It would be similar to standing up in a congregation and mocking the bride on her wedding day – or so much else. It was, like much of their comedy, a cheap shot. There is a place for court jesters – but, they’re only funny because they mock something that is real. Because Kingship is real – we can mock the various ways we seek to display it – inasmuch as it falls short. But it is not the failure of kingship itself.

    This is my take on Cleese:

    Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things – and mock them until you run out of breath and the gags become predictably tiresome.

    He should have stuck with dead parrots.

  18. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Owen,
    I think it is the single most important insight in Schmemann’s work. That alone is worth a lifetime of work.

  19. Janine Avatar
    Janine

    Thank you Father. I love what you have written here on the sacramental nature of creation that reveals God. And I think I agree with what I believe to be your premise; it’s our job(s) be the priestly person of faith who “sees.” I use that word with Genesis 16:13 in mind. If we’re to be “like God” then we have to “see” too. And I see my role as a person of faith like this, to do the “works of God,” have faith in the sense that you describe sacramentality (I hope that’s the right word) here.

    So my question goes to much of what you write here. Kind of like a koan: if we are seemingly alone in this, or at least very few, what is the power of our faith? That is, what is the power of our faith in such a secularized and blind world, and what is the power of the practice of our faith? I guess we don’t know that. But I keep telling myself that this is my job, our job as those who love Christ. I believe there is power to this beauty, to telling this truth, and to the goodness of the work. But that has to be revealed to us somehow. Well, I guess that’s faith. At least, I would like to know what you believe about that

  20. Ook Avatar
    Ook

    I was reading discussions of how “Defender of the Faith” is now to be interpreted as tolerance and openness to all faiths, which is quite different from the original meaning and an admission of the irrelevance of the Anglican faith in that society. So when I read Cleese’s comment about the coronation, I assumed he was saying that with this underlying modern ideology, the coronation itself is a parody of what it should be. Maybe I’m giving him too much credit.
    On a tangential note, while the role of the Governor General (representative of the monarch and Canada’s head of state) has no shortage of ceremonial duties, it also has the royal prerogative, which gives the Governor General (as a member of the Cabinet) power in any decision to declare war, the right to dissolve parliament, issue passports (the right to deny has been exercised recently), and in fact a large range of federal duties. Tradition dictates these powers should be exercised in specific ways, but it would be incorrect to say this role has no power.

  21. Maggie G. Avatar
    Maggie G.

    Re Defender of the Faith — how it actually happened at the Coronation (https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2023/may/04/defender-of-all-faiths-coronation-puts-focus-king-charles-religious-beliefs):

    ‘In common with his predecessors for almost 500 years, Charles will take the titles of defender of the faith and supreme governor of the Church of England. He will swear to uphold “the laws of God and the true profession of the gospel, maintain the Protestant Reformed religion established by law and preserve inviolably the settlement of the Church of England, and the doctrine, worship, discipline and government thereof, as by law established.”

    Almost 30 years ago, Charles triggered a furore when he suggested he would be defender of faith in general, rather than defender of the faith, stemming from a desire to reflect Britain’s religious diversity.

    Ever since, there has been speculation that the coronation oath might be altered. In fact it will be unchanged, as became clear when the archbishop of Canterbury’s office published the coronation liturgy last weekend. Instead, the coronation oath, for the first time, will be prefaced with words spoken by Welby, making clear that “the church established by law, whose settlement you will swear to maintain … will seek to foster an environment in which people of all faiths and beliefs may live freely”.

    James Walters, who leads the London School of Economics’ faith centre, said: “People got very fixated on whether the title would change. But I don’t think that was ever [Charles’s] intention; rather, it was how the title was to be understood. And in many ways that reimagining of what it means happened under his mother, who spoke of the Church of England creating a space for freedom across religions.”

  22. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Janine, I take your question, probably incorrectly, as much like “What is the utility of Orthodox Christianity?” My answer is because it is true. Not in some logical reasoning way but simply the Truth. It both describes and allows us to recognize and participate in The Truth (a person) while withdrawing from and rejecting the Lie. A desecration of our very being.
    Because Orthodox faith is ontological (not just of reason and the law) it encompasses a much more fundamental reality of Being and Intra Relationship embracing our full humanity in a manner nothing else does. Therefore one can know more fully and experience rather than simply “know about”.
    It has meant far more work, usually in the form of repentance, to know rather than to know about. It is the difference between actual being and acting as a shadow puppet.

    Forgive me for my presumptions.

  23. Dino Avatar
    Dino

    Father, Owen,
    the idea of sacramental action revealing the truth of what already is there, is thoroughly Patristic. Saint Maximus, especially, speaks on this from a variety of angles, bringing in the connection with things such as the one-time laying of a fullness-containing-yet-synergistically-potentiated [in time] divine ‘seed’, or divine ‘logoi’, or divine ‘theoria’. But the genius of Fr Schmemann is in ‘impactfully’ and succinctly, codifying it in understandable English.
    I think this language skill is becoming one of greater and greater importance.

  24. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Ook,
    Perhaps your reading of Cleese is more correct. Needless to say, the Monarchy has been reduced to a largely ceremonial role, and many suggest that even that should be either greatly curtailed or simply abolished. I would suggest that there is a noetic purpose in the monarchy that remains, regardless. And here I will sound a bit confusing. I would suggest that much of our world is “out of order” – ignoring the sacramental nature of reality – we do not seek the manifestation of the divine order. We have substituted an economic/military order that is wreaking havoc in our world (and has been for a very long time). I think all of this has been going on for so long that there is no going back – what is left are echoes, here and there, of God’s order, things that sometimes “haunt” the world in which we live. We long for something that we cannot name and cannot imagine how to vote it into existence.

    What we have instead is the open possibility of placing ourselves within that order beneath the mercy of God as we live out our life in Christ. I trust God’s providence in all of this. I can ponder it – but what matters is the “hierarchy” of heaven.

  25. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Maggie,
    Quite helpful, thank you.

  26. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Janine,
    It was said long ago that God sustains the universe through the prayers of three persons, known only to Him. (That was, I think, a statement from the 6th century). I take it as a given principle, though who knows how many sustain it now? Our lives and prayers are gifted with the participation in God’s work. God’s work upholds, sustains, and is redeeming (saving) all things. This is our job. One small thing at a time – and, to a great extent, we do not yet see the results of our labors. We see Christ.

  27. Simon Avatar
    Simon

    “the one-time laying of a fullness-containing-yet-synergistically-potentiated [in time] divine ‘seed’, or divine ‘logoi’, or divine ‘theoria’.”

    I like this a lot. It reminds me of the leaven that ferments the three large loaves as well as the seed sown in the field, both in Matt 13.

  28. Owen Kelly Avatar
    Owen Kelly

    Dino,

    Thanks for the reply. It’s funny, I find St. Maximus’s statement nearly unintelligible, whereas Simon likes it! And this is coming from someone who’s read his work extensively. The seed metaphor resonates, but that’s about it. Oh well. It goes to show what you said about language is true: a manner of speech can make reality either opaque or transparent, and this largely depends on context. Maximus has always proved a dense jungle for his interpreters. We need more poets and storytellers to give us parables of the Real. And I think Schmemann had a subtle way with words that, in places, approached the poetic.

  29. Janine Avatar
    Janine

    Father, thank you so much for that beautiful answer to my question. It is very important to me (I have copied and pasted it onto a daily prayer rule I use). And I think what you’re saying is sustained through all the practices of faith. I believe I have even seen results (which others have commented on) even from such a small thing as from sprinkling holy water on a garden.

    Michael,
    My question was intended differently, but nevertheless I thank you for your answer which was illuminating for me. I am very glad of your experiential understanding through the practice of faith, and for your exposition of it to me. That is important.

  30. Janine Avatar
    Janine

    Re the Coronation, I was uplifted to see that virtually the entire ceremony was religious, and I do believe Charles takes that seriously. His grandmother was an Orthodox nun (in her own unique way I think). In Greece they say he visits Mt Athos. I was very happy to see my friend and former teacher His Eminence Archbishop Nikitas there. (He was a very beloved Dean of the Patriarch Athenagoras Orthodox Institute at the Grad Theological Union in Berkeley CA and also served in many parishes in the region who were sorry to lose him but happy for his elevation)

  31. Dino Avatar
    Dino

    Regarding the coronation, perhaps it is unfeasible to discuss without trouble, since there’s some amnesia of Orthodox Sacred Tradition, regarding such things in general, coupled -inevitably- with the ubiquitous influence of various strands of modernist thought on such topics.
    Despite any direct personal criticisms (e.g.: of Charles being part of the dodgy WEF agendas etc. or any more nefarious denunciations one might pronounce) or homages (e.g.: that he is a crypto-Orthodox ‘regular’ at Athos or similar acclaims one might think of), what primarily matters on the general topic, is that any coronation (whether right or wrong, orthodox or not) has always been rightly honoured by the Orthodox Church – a Church that has even communally prayed for its greatest historical [sovereign] persecutors.

  32. Patricia Avatar
    Patricia

    Father forgive me for being off topic. But, can forgiveness and hurt be held in the same heart?

  33. Drewster2000 Avatar
    Drewster2000

    Fr. Stephen,

    Seeing John Cleese & Monty Python in the comments caused me to go off on a little rabbit trail. Since you often have very insightful posts – and I believe a sense of humor is a gift from God – I was wondering if you had any thoughts about the place of humor & comedy in this life. In other words, how can making people laugh be used for his glory and not just manifest as a method of tearing others down?

  34. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Patricia,
    The heart can do many things. We pray God’s mercies and strive to love.

  35. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Drewster,
    I think it’s simply a human activity – capable of good and evil. Interestingly, laughter is a physical release for the tensions our body feels with shame-related emotions, which is why it is so common, I think. But comedy tends to use that aspect of laughter in a sort of dance with “shame.” Court jesters, for example, always pushed the shame aspect (sometimes to their own destruction).

    I find humor to be useful when used appropriately – I like to laugh. It can also be highly cultural. Jokes don’t play the same in different settings.

    Humor can also be a part of mockery and derision which are meant to be destructive.

  36. Janine Avatar
    Janine

    Dino, I understand your point. But, just to clarify, I did not mean to imply anything about Archbishop Nikitas’ feelings about the monarchy (I wouldn’t have the slightest idea about that). I meant that I was happy that he was included at the ceremony by those who had to have invited him. I was so thrilled to see him there partly because I am happy to see him anywhere. For me the dignity he added to the ceremony was something more to appreciate. I would, in fact, hope that there is some sort of relationship with Charles (again I have no idea about this), as I think Archbishop Nikitas would make a good advisor, adding clarity about matters of faith and spirituality

  37. Dino Avatar
    Dino

    Janine,
    indeed that is the case, the solemn Byzantine choir was also a kind of, [very good in my opinion], ‘promo’ of Orthodoxy. I also know the Archbishop, and was very glad to read of your appreciation of him, and occasionally -rarely- get the chance to ask him about stuff like this, one day I will.

  38. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    When I was in the theater world decades ago I learned the laughter can be induced simply by timing and inflection. Yet laughter, for the most part, is a way to release both shame, fear and judgement. It can be used negatively but that is a miss use of the gift.
    One of my favorite plays is “The Lady’s Not for Burning” by Christopher Frye written in 1948 as a counter to the despair after WW II.

    One exchange between the two main characters Thomas and Jennet:
    T: For God’s sake, shall we laugh?
    J: For what reason?
    T: For the reason of laughter. Since laughter is surely
    The surest touch of genius in creation.
    Would you have thought of it, I ask you,
    If you had been making man, stuffing him full
    Of such hopping greeds and passions that he has To blow himself to pieces as often as he can Conveniently manage it…would it also
    Have occured to you to make him burst himself With such a phenomenon as cachinnation?
    That same laughter, madam, is an irrelevancy
    Which almost amounts to a revelation.

    Yet as one grows in Christ the frequency and quality of laughter tends to change.

  39. Edward Hara Avatar
    Edward Hara

    QUOTE: Because Orthodox faith is ontological (not just of reason and the law) it encompasses a much more fundamental reality of Being and Intra Relationship embracing our full humanity in a manner nothing else does.

    In reading through all of the interesting and wonderful comments here, this one caught my attention and held it. I came into the Orthodox Church last year after 21 years of being a Byzantine Catholic. Byzantine Catholicism tries to be Orthodox but it is still captivated by Western thinking and in submission to Western ideas and authority. After 21 years of trying to be Orthodox, this statement clearly and succinctly tells me that I have a long way to go in my understanding of what it means to be Orthodox, to understand and to live the Orthodox life. In short, I could say that I spent 21 years circling around the light of Orthodoxy and now Orthodoxy invites me to enter into the very light and experience it. One who is used to Scholastic thinking simply cannot begin to understand the depth of Ontological experience. The good news is that I have the rest of my life to enter into this experience of the light

  40. Dee of St Herman Avatar
    Dee of St Herman

    Edward,
    May God bless your new life in the Orthodox Church!

  41. hélène d. Avatar
    hélène d.

    Edward, thank you for your testimony, what a wonderful invitation !
    May your heart rejoice in the light of the Lord’s Love !

  42. Owen Kelly Avatar
    Owen Kelly

    On Christian laughter: it seems the church fathers nearly universally taught that Jesus never laughed. From my understanding, they saw it as a passionate lack of self control, a result of original sin. They conceded Christ wept, but even the blessed Augustine struggled with whether he should cry at Monica’s deathbed.

    How should the Orthodox think about these things?

  43. Christophilopoulos Avatar
    Christophilopoulos

    Owen Kelly,
    I think Church Fathers speak against any type of captivity, and therefore include ‘worldly’ and ungovernable laughter (or weeping) in their caveats.
    However, we have numerous examples of great saints who had a remarkable ‘talent’ for humour. Even contemporary elders who are regarded as usually “stern-sounding” by some, such as Saint Sophrony or Elder Aimilianos, have numerous examples of being almost ‘frivolous’ in discussion, albeit, always, even in such manifestations, serving the purpose of the glory of God.
    Recently, Saint Paisios’ sharp humour and word-play has become legendary, and is generally seen as a fabulous technique to implant a pithy statement in the listener’s soul that will benignly impact them while also instantly charming those who tend to ‘resist’.
    One of the most recently canonised saints (St Evmenios Saridakis), is actually known as the ‘laughing Saint’, and is remembered as a magnificently jovial Saint!
    Another recent one, St Ephraim of Katounakia, although known for the his gift of extreme spiritual weeping, would invariably make a joke upon meeting newcomers who thought they were encountering someone like Moses (he had a particularly imposing physical presence), charming them with his “approachableness” which would contrast his general, otherworldly ‘Hesychastic’ gleam.

  44. Mark Spurlock Avatar
    Mark Spurlock

    Owen, I found this from John Chrysotom (https://www.newadvent.org/fathers/240215.htm):

    “But (one says) what harm is there in laughter? There is no harm in laughter; the harm is when it is beyond measure, and out of season. Laughter has been implanted in us, that when we see our friends after a long time, we may laugh; that when we see any persons downcast and fearful, we may relieve them by our smile; not that we should burst out violently and be always laughing. Laughter has been implanted in our soul, that the soul may sometimes be refreshed, not that it may be quite relaxed. For carnal desire also is implanted in us, and yet it is not by any means necessary that because it is implanted in us, therefore we should use it, or use it immoderately: but we should hold it in subjection, and not say, Because it is implanted in us, let us use it.”

    Also, in my personal experience, laughing need not evidence a lack of self control. More often than not, I choose whether to give into the impulse to laugh.

    I agree with Father Stephen that laughter is very much capable of both good and evil use.

    Incidentally, my son had to develop a tolerance for “shame-based” humor. When he was a kid, he could not bear to stay in the room when a sitcom used it. (I’m thinking of the mild example of Fraser and how the title character’s pomposity often got him into embarrassing trouble.) He doesn’t have to hide his face or leave the room as an adult, but I still don’t think it’s his cup of tea.

  45. Dee of St Herman Avatar
    Dee of St Herman

    Following up on this trajectory. Christ was fully human and fully God.

    He also likely belched hiccuped, used the loo, etc. At various points He probably laughed. But such laughter was likely similar to that of an innocent child. Not in mockery but in joy.

    The Gospels were not written as history— at least not in our modernist way of writing history.

    Catechumens into the Orthodox Church, especially those entering from Catholic or Protestant backgrounds are taught how to unlearn the way they were taught to read the Bible.

  46. Dee if St Herman Avatar
    Dee if St Herman

    Dear Father,
    If I should be so bold to say here (and if I err please forgive me), one feature of your personal history that is so remarkable to me is that while across the years you contemplated Orthodox theology and slowly became drawn to the Orthodox Church you remained within the confession you were in, at the time.

    In the right season you entered the Orthodox Church. However if I rightly see your heart, you never said to yourself, because I think I’m Orthodox, therefore I am. Rather you entered and became a catechumen, was Chrismated to become Orthodox. Your conversion may have happened over years while the Lord called you. Nevertheless it seems by your life’s witness, there is only one Way to become Orthodox. And such a Way doesn’t happen outside of the Orthodox Church.

    However I do not forget Christ’s words concerning the sheep who did not know they served Him. They fed the hungry, visited the sick and those in prison. They gave their lives to God without knowledge, in their humility and in their love to help their neighbor.

  47. Owen Kelly Avatar
    Owen Kelly

    Mark,
    Thanks for the response. I’m glad to hear Chrysostom stress moderation. The man was so sane and balanced on the moral life. I agree too that laughter has good and evil expressions. Yet rarely do I find a comedic television program that isn’t raunchy or unkind. One exception, I think, is the comedian Brian Regan. His humor is normally rated PG; it’s rarely offensive. And I admit I have laughed until I cried.

    My son may be similar to yours. He’s very sensitive to peril and personal hostility, and he’s had similar responses to some kinds of humor. He’s six. His utter innocence to worldly coarseness simply slays me sometimes.

  48. Simon Avatar
    Simon

    It’s odd to me that questions regarding laughter and the dangers associated with taking a bath find their way in the Wisdom of the Church. Maybe it’s better just not to take things so serious.

  49. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Simon,
    Given that the Church is 2,000 years old with a cultural life that is as full as possible – I am not surprised that a question of laughter and such should have come up. After all, someone asked the question here in the comments. What would be surprising would be that the Tradition had nothing to say in the matter. There are no laughing canons (that would be taking it too seriously). As noted (Chrysostom), the answer is quite balanced and healthy.

    But – it is of note that people can be quite hurtful and cruel – only to back away and say, “I was only joking!” as if that excused them. It’s a human behavior (laughter). Aristotle himself wrote on the topic. I should add that Aristophanes, the great Greek writer of comedy plays, was actually a pretty bitter political critic who covered himself with his comedy. Some things never change.

    Scripture says this: Blessed are you who weep now, For you shall laugh. (Lk 6:21)

  50. Owen Kelly Avatar
    Owen Kelly

    Christophilopoulos — I love those examples! And I completely agree.

  51. Simon Avatar
    Simon

    People can’t stop themselves from straining out the gnat

  52. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Perhaps. It’s also the case that someone simply had an honest question about laughter. I see that it’s not your question. One man’s gnat is another man’s camel – and vice versa.

  53. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Simon,
    On the other hand, questions about laughter do have a gnat-like quality.

  54. Simon Avatar
    Simon

    Just to be clear that my comments were not directed at any other commenter. In this case, it is my own shame radar getting pinged. I have my own gnats.

  55. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Simon,
    The dangerous shame radar out there (present in more than a few) is the notion that laughter is somehow not holy – or even sinful. I’ve run across this from time to time. It’s why I thought that questions about laughter and the Chrysostom quote were good. It’s a gnat that needs to be swatted. I should have said that earlier. Of course, here I am on vacation tending my blog…it’s a quiet time of the afternoon following a delightful morning down by the docks, enjoying restaurants (and laughing).

  56. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Dee,
    You’re correct in your perception of my road to conversion. The notion that I was somehow “Orthodox” prior to being received into the Orthodox Church would have seemed the height of foolishness and arrogance to me. It was hard enough to say I was Orthodox even after being received. For me, especially, the Holy Cup was a proper boundary. The day I was chrismated, and made my first Orthodox communion, was a day in which I was profoundly aware that at last I was drinking of the same Cup as the saints. I could say very little else – but I was welcome at the Cup. Many times, it still feels that this is the only measure of my Orthodoxy – and the one thing for which I am the least worthy.

  57. kurye Avatar

    Thank you for being a beacon of positivity and hope for your readers.

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