The Scandal of the Transfiguration

Icon-of-the-Transfiguration-of-Christ

My Archbishop (Alexander Golitzin) shares the story of a young man whom he taught some years ago. He was Orthodox from Estonia. He grew up in the Soviet era and had come to hate all things Russian, including the Orthodox Church. Nevertheless, he saw an Orthodox procession in the streets of his city one year, a procession that included the Russian bishop (whom he also hated and believed to be a KGB agent). However, he saw the bishop surrounded by light. It was an experience that led him into the Orthodox faith. You might hate the man, and the Church as well. But the undeniable glory of God revealed what his hatred could not see.

My bishop’s point in sharing the story was not to exonerate the Russian Church from any wrong-doing, or cooperation with wrong-doing. Nor was it to exonerate the bishop involved and declare him holy. It was a story about the glory of God and its place and work despite our faults and failures. The 12 apostles cast out demons, healed the sick and cleansed lepers. We are nowhere told that Judas did none of those things. Doubtless, he did (which makes his betrayal all the greater).

There was a heresy in the early Church that denied the efficacy of the sacraments if they were performed by sinners. The debate was largely about those who, under the pressure of persecution, had in any way denied their faith or yielded to the requirements of the pagan state. It is an easy line of thought to maintain. If we are commanded to be holy, surely there are consequences for failure to observe the commandment. There are indeed consequences within the canons of the Church, but those consequences do not include an inefficacy of the sacraments.

The scandal of the Incarnation, God-becoming-man, is the seeming contradiction of the utterly transcendent God and the particularity and limits of human existence. It is a scandal whose errors  run in two directions.

First, there is an assumption that God is so displeased with sin that He can have nothing to do with it, or that sin somehow nullifies the work of God. Second, there is an equally odious belief that human beings, in their observance of the commandments, are never righteous enough to actually be compatible with true holiness. The first is an error about God, the second an error about human beings.

I’m always troubled to hear “there is no grace outside the Church.” I can’t fathom what such a statement means. Since the entire universe is sustained by the grace of God, I can only assume a sort of heresy of secularism by such a statement – the notion that anything can exist apart from God’s grace. For His own mysterious reasons, God even sustains the fallen angels by His grace. If it were not so, they would cease to exist. Only God has existence in and of Himself.

I can say “there is no grace outside the Church” only if I also say that everything in all of creation is inside the Church. In fact, I believe this to be true. The Church came into existence when God said, “Let there be light.” The sacraments do not make us to be what we are not, but reveal us to be what we truly are. Baptism and Chrismation are indeed required of those coming to Holy Communion, for they are fundamental realities in the medicine of immortality and the path of life God has given us. But the person who is Baptized does not somehow become other than what they are. They become more fully human, more truly what they were created to be. “The Holy Spirit completes that which is lacking,” it is said in our prayers.

There are boundaries which we describe as “the Church,” but this meaning is being used to specify that which is identified with the fullness of life in Christ. “Church”, in this usage, is “that which is reconciled.” St. Paul says that the end of all things is that they be “gathered together in one in Christ Jesus.” This is the Church, in the end.

Too frequently we speak of the Church in denominational terms, in which we speak of people who are reconciled in the fullness of Orthodoxy as though their “membership” constituted the whole of the Church. But St. Paul extends the Church to “all things.” Thus, the grass and the trees (and certainly the flour and the wine) are being gathered together into Christ. The Eucharist is not a gathering meant to exclude everything else. It is a gathering that represents everything else. “Thine own of Thine own we offer unto Thee.” What is there within all of creation that is not God’s own? Indeed, the members of the Church who gather, are themselves but the “first fruits” of the whole Adam.

And so we have the reality of glowing bishops who might be hated in Estonia (just as many other bishops might be hated elsewhere). The transfiguration (for such was the scene in that procession) of God’s creation is simply shocking to us. It is a manifestation of the love of God that ignores all scandal, except that which does not love. It is a transfiguration that gives light and that burns.

Many take a cold comfort in the fact that the transfiguring light of God burns some. However, it most often burns the eyes of those who judge the fitness of those transfigured. They become blind in this very manner.

The Transfiguration of Christ would generally be deemed to be free of scandal. He appeared on the Holy Mount with Moses and Elijah – how could the disciples not rejoice. But the text describes a scandal.

As He prayed, the appearance of His face was altered, and His robe became white and glistening. And behold, two men talked with Him, who were Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory and spoke of His decease which He was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. (Luke 9:29-31)

Christ, in turn, spoke to the disciples about His decease which He was about to accomplish at Jerusalem, and Peter rebuked Him! The great scandal is always the scandal of the Cross. There is no path to true union with God that does not go through the Cross. This is true finally of all those who are transfigured as well as for all who hope to ever see a transfiguration.

It is of note that the Greek beneath this translation does not say that Christ was speaking with Moses and Elijah about His “decease.” The text calls it His “exodus.” It is not a casual word choice. His journey into death is the Great Exodus, the path through the Red Sea that drowns the mystical Pharaoh. It is the Lord’s Passover.

That Passover is the path to transfiguration. Moses himself, after the Passover, leads the people to a different holy mountain. There he received the Law written by the very finger of God. When he came down from the mountain his face was transfigured and the people were afraid to look at him – and asked him to please wear a veil.

In Christ the veil is removed, except for those who wear a veil covering their heart (2Cor. 3). But God is so merciful, He sometimes removes the veil so that angry young men on the streets of Estonia (which is everywhere) may see His glory and live.

About Fr. Stephen Freeman

Fr. Stephen is a retired Archpriest of the Orthodox Church in America, Pastor Emeritus of St. Anne Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He is also author of Everywhere Present: Christianity in a One-Storey Universe, and Face to Face: Knowing God Beyond Our Shame, as well as the Glory to God podcast series on Ancient Faith Radio.



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27 responses to “The Scandal of the Transfiguration”

  1. Byron Avatar
    Byron

    Beautiful words, Father. Many thanks for them. They remind me that we live in hope for the joy of things yet to be, but by God’s Grace, within reach in our lives.

  2. M E Emberson Avatar
    M E Emberson

    I wonder if Judas was persuaded by the religious authorities that the Lord was healing through evil powers. and not the Holy Spirit, and therefore so were alll the apostles including himself .The Lord used very strong words about no forgiveness for these who blasphemed against the Holy Spirit. On this view Judas went to his own place because he thought the Lord was just another of the “Healers” who went around the cities in those days , and performed “miracles” of healing for appropriate donations, and also that this Jesus had dragged him into this false position . He would have been enraged, if this view is correct, and his reactions therefore understandable. He rebuked the Lord and went and sold him to the authorities who were looking to stop Him from acting during Passover.

  3. Perdomo Elizabeth Avatar
    Perdomo Elizabeth

    Amen!

  4. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    M E,
    Actually, the Church has a pretty clear picture of Judas’ betrayal (both in the Scriptures and in the hymnody of the Church). He was the treasurer of the disciples and a thief. As mundane as such a thing might sound – it is just such mundane sins (common to us all) that leads to destruction. He also saw clearly, before his death, the full scope of what he had done, and regretted it – but gave himself to despair (perhaps because he had no notion that there was a resurrection to come). May God have mercy on us all.

  5. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Elizabeth! Wonderful to see your face again! I pray all is well with you.

  6. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    I lived outside the Church for half of my life, I experienced the Grace and Mercy of our Lord every single day–sometimes knowingly, many times not. I would not be alive were it not for that Grace. I would not have made it to the Church. So many instances of Grace before the Church it is difficult to count them all, probably impossible. But high on the list was the summer of 1960. My family was on vacation in New Mexico when we were rear ended by a drunk driver going over 100 mph. I was thrown out of the car. I just missed the door frame and the barbed wire fence and landed in a recently plowed field about 100 ft from the road. Our car rolled in my direction as I was thrown and ended up about 20 ft from me. I remember looking at the car and saying to myself that one more roll and it would have been on top of me. None of us were seriously injured. Car was totaled. I still miss that car.
    The list goes on and on. Even when I was in sin(maybe especially then)
    Thank you Father for bringing that phase up. It always seemed as an oxymoron to me but I never gave it much thought.

  7. Dee of St Herman Avatar
    Dee of St Herman

    Father,
    I appreciate your emphasis that the work of grace through the sacraments is not hampered by sin. Otherwise, we’d all be in a bit of a pickle.

    For His own mysterious reasons, God even sustains the fallen angels by His grace

    And therefore, this gives us all hope!

    Generally, I read the Orthodox Study Bible. And I don’t always read the notes. But when I do, I have treated them as a kind of embellishment on the scripture. Then I started reading multiple Bibles, specifically the Revised Standard (not the New Revised). The RSV Bible used “exodus” instead of decease in the Transfiguration passage. And my eyes were opened in reading that version; even while such an interpretation was in the notes of the Orthodox Study Bible, just the placement in the notes suggested an alternative reading rather than a more direct or true translation. The OSB says that the literal translation is “departure”. However, I appreciate the association with fulfilling the OT exodus, (the Lord’s Passover as you say), prefiguring Christ’s exodus leading us all out of the Egypt of death. Also, I see transfiguration associations with adopted sonship (illumination). In the OT exodus, the Hebrew people (the faithful) who were led out of Egypt are described as “gods” Psalm 81:6 (as sons of God, says Christ in John 10:34).

    And St Paul (Gal:3:26-29) says: For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ (via the Way of the Cross–my insert) have put on Christ…And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed and heirs according to the promise.

    It’s certainly easier to see these things after traveling down the road to Emmaus for a bit. Glory to God for all things. May we all see His Glory, even through our veiled hearts and dimmed eyes.

  8. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Dee,
    The OSB is technically correct that “departure” translates the Greek “Exodus” – but, it’s actually a bit of an odd choice – not the most commonly used word for “departure.” I think “exodus” (in Greek) was specifically chosen to echo the Book of Exodus (It’s name in Greek) and invoke Paschal imagery. There’s many things we don’t hear in translation…but, apparently, we hear enough to save us!

  9. Dee of St Herman Avatar
    Dee of St Herman

    Yes Father, the Lord will find wayward sheep among us (ie me) and keep us, God willing! He is indeed the Good Shepherd!

    Nevertheless, your insight into the word used does reveal a lot. And it encourages me to learn more Greek. I don’t have a Greek Bible. Would you know of a version that you would recommend for a learner?

  10. Luke Nieuwsma Avatar
    Luke Nieuwsma

    Father,
    Part of your article hits close to home for me since I have had difficult debates with Reformed folks who felt converting to Orthodoxy was a huge mistake. They were quick to trot out St Cyprian of Carthage’s related quote (“Outside of the Church there is no salvation”) to show me that if I were to convert to the ‘one true Church’, I would be automatically claiming that they were not Christians by my departure.
    Your point that the Ekklesia is larger than the institution of the Orthodox Church and encompasses creation itself are helpful in seeing God’s utter generosity towards the whole world. But some of the old questions remain unanswered in my own mind. If grace is flowing outside of the boundaries of the Orthodox Church, do we agree with Reformed and other historically-minded Protestants that their sacraments (limited to Communion and Baptism) have grace in them? And if they already do have grace in their sacraments because all of creation receives grace through the Church, then – they would ask me – why would anyone need to convert after all?
    I have some partial responses myself, but I’m curious what your thoughts would be.
    Thank you!
    Luke

  11. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Luke,
    Oh my, it makes my hair hurt to think of such questions! But I’ll give a few thoughts.

    First – St. Cyprian. There’s a way of understanding him that I think of as helpful. People read him and think in terms of static boundaries. It’s not unlike the question of “can you be saved apart from Christ?” No one can be saved apart from Christ because union with Christ is the very definition of salvation itself. He is salvation – so – no salvation apart from Christ. By the same token, the Church is salvation in Christ. So there can be no salvation apart from the Church, for that which is saved will have been seen to be within the Church when all is said and done.

    It has been said that the world is filled with water (even the air we breathe). But, you need a “cup” of water in order to drink. To say that there are no boundaries to the grace of God is a statement about God and His goodness. It is not, however, a statement about the goodness of all things. As I noted, even the devils can only exist because the grace of God enables them to exist. There is no existence apart from God. But that doesn’t make the devils good.

    I heard a very careful discussion, led by Fr. Alexander Rentel, the Chancellor of the OCA and professor of Canon Law at St. Vladimir’s recently. The topic was on Holy Baptism and the reception of converts. It was interesting. For example, the Church has always, had various forms for the reception of converts: normatively it is by Holy Baptism and Chrismation. However, in certain stipulated cases (in the canons), it is by confession and Chrismation, in yet other stipulated cases, it is by confession alone, etc. In none of those cases (say, for example, receiving an Anglican by confession and chrismation) is the Church making a comment about the sacraments within Anglicanism. In each case, it is an exercise in economia in which, through the action of the Church, in the Holy Spirit, we make “that particular act of Baptism” (the one received by that particular individual converting) to be an action of the Church. The Church “completes that which is lacking” without extending that to a commentary on what is outside. It becomes a moot point.

    In my life and yours – in all lives – God acts through anything and everything for the work of saving us – because He is good. It is His generosity. Thus, I see many things in the Baptist childhood that, in hindsight, contributed towards my coming to Christ in the Orthodox Church. For example, the pictures in my Sunday School classroom were consistently pictures of a kind, generous, loving Jesus. They said something quite different than the fire and brimstone hurled from the pulpit every Sunday. The Bible I carried to Church, even before I could read it, which was gifted to me by my mother’s Sunday School class when I was born, had a picture of the Theotokos in the front (Raphael’s Madonna that was so beloved by Dostoevsky, no less). That, too, soften my heart and nurtured a child-like love for the Mother of God. I could go on and on – all of these things being used of God for my Orthodoxy. Now that I am Orthodox, those things, if you will, become Orthodox-in-me, though they might be something different in someone else’s life. Grace is a statement about God, not about things themselves.

    Orthodoxy prefers, generally, not to use the language of the legalistic West. Thus “valid” can be a very problematic term when understood in those Western systems. What are those sacramental acts performed outside the Orthodox Church. It remains to be seen. The story is not yet written for us to read. But we have no confidence, no assurance what they are.

    For that matter, even within the Church itself, there is the warning of St. Paul that to receive the Body and Blood of Christ in the wrong manner works death in us rather than life – though I take it that the goodness of God would use even that death towards our salvation in the great scheme of things. He is just that good (even as he uses earthly death to provoke our repentance).

    But, they want to speak of heavenly things in earthly terms, turning grace into “stuff” and the Church into “boundaries.” The Church is One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic. It does not come in two’s or three’s or 30,000’s. But, when everything is said and done, God will have drawn all things together into One, all things together in Christ Jesus, both in heaven and in earth (Ephesians 1). Orthodoxy is historically and factually the point of intersection where that is happening. But the movement of God in this “drawing” is a great mystery and largely unseen. This reality is not a weapon to be used to beat on the non-Orthodox. It is, however, a warning to the Orthodox that we not resist the movement of God by refusing the grace that He is pouring out on us. Worse still, it would be a terrrible thing to boast of any of this, as if any of us were the cause of Orthodoxy. We are, at best, its beneficiaries and participants.

    Everything will be clear in hindsight. Lots of stuff is unclear out the windshield. Too many people want to speak as though we knew everything and could see everything.

    Fr. Alexander’s example was very helpful to me – particularly in understanding what was happening (did happen) in my own life. I love everything that God has done to bring me to this point – without making generic claims for any of it. That’s the wonder of grace.

    I remember CS Lewis in his The Great Divorce commenting that if we reach heaven, everything will be seen to have always been heaven. If we are in hell everything will be seen to have been hell. I think it’s a bit of a static bifurcation, but the notion of movement within is closer to the truth.

    Here’s an early article of mine that might be of use.

    Finally, this is me struggling to speak in a manner that is helpful in understanding. It is not taken from a dogmatic treatise – so – it could be corrected, no doubt. But the thrust of it is correct.

  12. Nikolaos Avatar
    Nikolaos

    Fr Stephen

    While we refer to the event in Mt Thabor as the “Transfiguration” of Christ, it is really not accurate in the sense that there was no change of Christ, but an apocalypse of who He truly is and a relatively small revelation of His divine energy.

    In fact the disciples were transfigured, strengthened physically and noetically, to be able to withstand the vision of His uncreated light. Only three of the twelve were suitable, spiritually able to participate in this vision, which for the unprepared could be perceived as hellish fire, like the Eucharist can work death in those who are unprepared.

    The grace of God sustains and sanctifies the universe, but only man can be divinised and attain the “likeness”. We Orthodox understand that the deepest and most essential purpose of the Church to lead man to theosis. All the work of pastors aims at this high goal, which is not a luxury for the Christian life, but its deepest purpose. Both the sacraments and the ascetic struggle (the cross) aim at this state. Can theosis (sainthood) be accomplished outside the One Holy and Apostolic Church ? Or there is no dogmatic treatise on this ?

  13. Jeff Moss Avatar
    Jeff Moss

    Father,

    Your response to my dear friend Luke makes good sense to me.

    The mystery in it all also reminds me of John 3:21:
    “But he who does the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be clearly seen, that they have been done in God.”

  14. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Nikolaos,
    There’s ever-so-much to be said regarding the Transfiguration (Metamorphosis) of Christ (Metamorphosis). I think particularly of the work of St. Gregory Palamas.

  15. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Jeff,
    A difficulty arises in speaking about denominationalism. The Protestant Reformation intentionally avoided the entire doctrinal area of ecclesiology, the doctrine of the Church. A primary reason was that, from the very beginning, the Reformation was not “a” reformation, but “many” reformations. There was not one protestantism, but many protestantisms. It was like smashing a vase into hundreds of pieces – the one thing that could no longer be discussed was the notion of “vase.” Since then, the various shards have described themselves as a “vase,” but, in fact, they were never more than shards.

    Most of them were immediately married to various political states. Indeed, the Treaty of Augsburg made this explicit. It unleashed a sort of madness that eventually became the basis for basically saying there had never been a “real” vase – just the idea of a vase, etc. Thus we have the full range of madness: some say that we’re all just one big invisible church. Others say (like the hard-core Church of Christ) that they alone are the Church, though invented in the 19th century. To the Mormons who claim to have started the Church all over again, etc. It is madness.

    Orthodoxy speaks as it has always spoken – and struggles to maintain the confession of One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church – which, after all, is as much a part of the Creed as the belief in God. And the Orthodox confess their belief in the Church with the same precise meaning that the phrase had when it was written. We did not invent the contradiction. And, the healing of the madness cannot take place if we abandon the meaning of the Creed itself. It is one of the most glaring errors (heresies, even) of the Reformation. The ecumenical movement is a disaster in this regard.

    It is for us to confess what we have received and to ponder it in mercy. I had dreams about all of this last night. How odd.

  16. Justin Avatar
    Justin

    Fr Stephen,

    Being a recent convert and having been raised in the “hard-core Church of Christ,” I can tell you it has been a great relief to see that obsession with who’s in and who’s out of the Church fade into the past. The great majority of my family (sans my brother) are still in the CoC’s and so the residue remains–and my immediate family (wife, children) remain unchurched. That God’s Grace is extended even to them all is of great comfort to me, and specifically, one of the reasons I sought Christ in the Church (Orthodox) in the first place. God is indeed good, not a fickle tyrant.

    The admonition to “Listen to him!” meaning Jesus and not the other voices, is IMHO the point of the Transfiguration. Jesus will show who God is.

  17. Luke Nieuwsma Avatar
    Luke Nieuwsma

    Fr, Jeff is one of two men who helped lead me out of Reformed theology and denominationalism into the Orthodox Church. I owe him a great debt.
    All your comments here are really helpful. Your summary above re: fracturing also fits with your article on viewing the Cross as Church. Where has the suffering for Christ remained constant throughout history? It’s particularly visible in the community of Orthodox believers.
    Our priest converted from atheism to Orthodoxy after seeing the faithfulness of the Orthodox in the Mediterranean – particularly with the wooden churches they had on some of the islands where they could quickly disassemble them and hide the pieces while Muslim raiders were in the town, or bring them up into the mountains and set them up there. They had suffered for centuries and yet remained faithful to the same Faith. The Cross has endured.
    In contrast to this, all the major original denominations that stemmed from the Reformation have now in some form or other denied that the Scriptures are the word of God – and so conservative denominations have broken away from most of them. The Cross has not endured there.

  18. Matthew Avatar
    Matthew

    I feel like the young man from Estonia. I cannot even consider, at this point in time entering a Russian Orthodox Church. The deep nationalism it professes as well as its lack of speaking out directly against Putin´s horrible war against Ukraine makes me so angry. What is Kirill doing anyway? Where is his spiritual leadership? As somone who wants to convert to Orthodoxy, these issues greatly trouble me.

  19. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Matthew, what you see and do not like is indicative of the fact that sin still reigns in my heart. As Tony Campolo preached: “Its Friday and my Lord is hanging on the Cross! But Sunday is coming!!!”
    I can only repent for myself, praying for and forgiving others as I do so. The Lord knows the depth of my sinfulness and still grants me His Mercy. It is the same for each of us. May His Grace and Mercy be abundant in your heart.

  20. Mark Spurlock Avatar
    Mark Spurlock

    Hi Matthew,

    I do think it’s akin to what Michael is saying. We are not able to affect Patriarch Kirill, but we are stewards of our own hearts. Moreover, he, soldiers, and we are all members of the human race–including Putin–and, if view that relationship as linking us all rather than our own egocentric eyes, we see our proper response more clearly as well. It is to let God, rather than our passions, use us.

    To be somewhat irreverent, I think of how Groucho Marx said he would not want to belong to a club that would have him as a member. In other words, a church comprising perfect people only would never allow me in.

    Having alluded to how I think we are to be (above all, forgiving of our enemies), I’ll also add that the reason I feel compelled to respond to you is I was very much in your place a year and a half ago. I attended my first Divine Liturgy only one week before the “Special Military Operation” began. During the next few weeks, I struggled with how I should respond and began attending St. Anne. God provided (I feel) the perfect place and people for me to continue what I had begun.

    Also, I have long loved Russian literature, and, as a result, studied Russian history as a neophyte. I think that has also helped me process recent world events. It helps me feel the sadness of this unfolding tragedy, rather than being dominated by anger.

  21. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Mark, thank you. You are right the utter sadness of Russian people and their state is profound. Goodness knows confronting the unrighteousness in my own heart and polity takes more courage than I often have. God forgive me..

  22. Dee of St Herman Avatar
    Dee of St Herman

    Mathew,
    No one here will say the Orthodox Church is perfect or without serious flaws.

    Nevertheless it is the very Church Christ founded. There is no hedging on that statement. This includes all of the parishioners in communion in the Church. And all of us are sinners. All of us are involved with murder and greed because we are all deeply connected. That does not absolve us of doing the best we can , and not to despair when we fail.

    I have had issues with “church politics” too. Unfortunately it is part of our times to get enraged and hateful towards others. And this contributes to the fires of passion.

    May our Lord and God, Jesus Christ have mercy on us to open our hearts and minds.

  23. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Dee, amen!

  24. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Matthew,
    I suspect that the Estonian bishop whom the young man had in mind was none other than the future patriarch, Kyril (for what it’s worth). It is a lesson worth laying to heart.

    Orthodoxy is deeply patient. It is also highly de-centralized, and has been from its beginnings. The blessings to be found in such de-centralization is that mistakes and errors encountered or engendered in one place are not re-duplicated elsewhere, and that the health and strength that is found elsewhere eventually provides the help necessary to correct those things that are lacking. But you have to be patient in order to know it.

    There is a tendency in our American context to look for the “perfect” Church. There are no such things. However, I can say of Orthodoxy, and of no others, that we continue to teach and proclaim what we have always taught and proclaimed. The errors of a patriarch (and there have been many occasions where various patriarchs have erred) do not change the Church nor alter its teaching. The liturgy in Russia (for example) continues as the same liturgy that has been celebrated from before.

    I have also been taught many things by our de-centralized life. First, I’ve learned to listen in a way to voices who had no sound prior to my Orthodoxy. For example, during America’s war in Syria, I heard the voices of Syrians in my congregation saying things that our national media ignored. By the same token, though I would never think it correct to treat war deaths as martyr-deaths, I nonetheless have heard criticisms of American foreign policy that have largely been muted in our media. In short, Orthodoxy has forced me to hear the world in a way that I never did before. And that is a plus.

    But, to live an Orthodox life is not to have entered the perfect Church – it is to live within the Church Christ founded and gave to us, whose history has often been tragic – since the very beginning (just read St. Paul’s letters to the Corinthians).

    I must confess on a personal level that Orthodoxy came to me in a very “Russian” form. It spoke to my heart. Nothing has changed about that. Mostly, my heart simply grieves for their present trials and sufferings – all of which are exacerbated by the machinations of other nations who have their own nefarious interests (including financial and such) and care nothing for Orthodoxy, Christianity, or the well-being of the innocents anywhere in the world. I have described the present circumstances as reading in the newspaper that your uncle is beating up your aunt. It’s tragic – you wish it weren’t happening – and you love both your uncle and your aunt.

    My congregation includes Russian, Ukrainians, Syrians, Romanians, Moldovans, Greeks, Americans, Appalachians, and a few others as well… We pray, we weep. We worry less about judging and just pray. I encourage you to look at this with a clear mind. In a few years, it will be something else. This, I can promise. We do not have a clean history. I have written that the “Church is the Cross through history.” In the Orthodox Church, we are invited to take up our Cross – and it’s quite real. It is also the only path to resurrection.

    You should note that no other Patriarch has echoed the words of Moscow, and many remain silent. They do not remain silent because they do not think…they remian silent because their silence speaks loudly enough within the life of the Church. In time, all of these matters will be sorted out, and, please God, we will return to the fulness of the Holy table in the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

    I want to close this comment thread (please), by noting that my blog rules include a rule not to criticize priests or bishops. By the same token, I have not written about the distress in Eastern Europe, nor will I. However, I thought Matthew’s heart cry worth responding to. May God give us all grace.

  25. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    It may seem unimportant, but the fundamental shape of many Orthodox temple buildings, including the one I worship in, is the shape of the Cross. Therefore when we worship, we are worshipping from within the Cross.

  26. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    BTW Matthew, not long ago I was in a place similar to what you expressed. When the Lord had the mercy to show me a few of my own sins and cowardice, I began thinking differently. Not comfortable. Lord, forgive me, a sinner.

  27. Matthew Avatar
    Matthew

    Thank you Fr. Stephen and the rest for your comments. I appreciate the responses.

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  1. Fr. Stephen, thank you for the clarification. I hope you go on to “fill in the blanks” with more posts.…

  2. Ah, Father! Your words bring back memories as I came to The Church from a Christian organization from one for…

  3. Thank you for the swift response, Father! Now that you’ve pointed it out, I realize I’ve not properly acknowledged the…


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