Baptism and the Final Destruction of Demons

“Final” is not a word you often hear in Christian teaching. Most Christians leave the final things until, well, the End. But this is not the language of the fathers nor of the Church. A good illustration can be found in the Orthodox service of Holy Baptism. During the blessing of the waters the priest prays:

And grant to [this water] the grace of redemption, the blessing of Jordan. Make it the fountain of incorruption, the gift of sanctification, the remission of sins, the remedy of infirmities; the final destruction of demons, unassailable by hostile powers, filled with angelic might. Let those who would ensnare Your creature flee far from it. For we have called upon Your Name, O Lord, and it is wonderful, and glorious, and awesome even to adversaries.

What can it possibly mean to ask that the waters be made “the final destruction of demons”?

The nature of the waters of Baptism reveals the Orthodox understanding of the world. These waters, now in a font, are none other than the waters of the Jordan. They are an incorruptible fountain and all the things we ask for. They are the final destruction of demons because they are nothing other than Christ’s Pascha. The waters of the font are Christ’s death on the Cross and His destruction of Hades. They are the resurrection of the dead.

For this reason St. Paul can say:

Do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we should walk in newness of life (Rom. 6:3-4).

The realism of St. Paul’s teaching on Baptism is mystical realism (to coin a phrase). These waters become those waters. This event becomes that event. This time is now that time. Christ’s death now becomes my death. Christ’s resurrection now becomes my resurrection.

How utterly and uselessly weak is the thought that Baptism is merely an obedience to a command given by Christ! The idea that nothing happens in Baptism is both contrary to Scripture and a denial of the very nature of our salvation.

The anti-sacramentalism (and non-sacramentalism) of some Christian groups is among the most unwittingly pernicious of all modern errors. Thought to be an argument about a minor point of doctrine, it is, instead, the collapse of the world into the empty literalism of secularity. In the literalism of the modern world (where a thing is a thing is a thing), nothing is ever more than what is seen. Thus every spiritual reality, every mystery, must be referred elsewhere – generally to the mind of God and the believer. Christianity becomes an ideology and a fantasy. It turns religious believing into a two-storey universe.

The reality of in the Incarnate God was not obvious to those around Him: no surgery would have revealed His Godhood. The proclamation of the Gospel, from its most primitive beginnings (“the Kingdom of God is at hand”), announces the in-breaking of a mystical reality. Many modern theologians misunderstand Christ’s (and St. John the Baptist’s) preaching on the Kingdom to refer to an imminent end of the age. They hear, “The Kingdom of heaven is at hand,” to mean, “the End of the world is near.” Thus we have protestant theologians creating an “interim ethic” to cover Christian activity in the “in-between” period – between Christ’s first coming and His second. If the coming of the incarnate God into the world did not fundamentally alter something, then the preaching of Jesus was in vain and radically misunderstood by His disciples.

The Gospels presume and proclaim at every turn that in Christ, the Kingdom of God is present. Christ says, “But if I cast out demons with the finger of God, surely the kingdom of God has come upon you” (Lk 11:20). There is a mystery at work in the presence of the Kingdom. Christ makes statements such as that just quoted, but also frequently says that the Kingdom of God has come near. The Kingdom is a reality and a presence that has both come near us, and come upon us. But in neither case does it simply refer to a later “someday.” The urgency of the proclamation of the Kingdom is not caused by the soon approach of an expected apocalypse. Its preaching is urgent because its coming has already begun!

The sacraments of the Church (indeed the Church itself) should never be reduced to “holy moments” or “instances of miracles” in the life of an otherwise spiritually inert world. If bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Christ, then the Kingdom of God has come upon us! And nothing less.

The sacramental life of the Church is not an aspect of the Church’s life – it is a manifestation of the whole life of the Church. It is, indeed, the very character and nature of the Church’s life. The Church does not have sacraments – the Church is a sacrament. We do not eat sacraments or just participate in the sacraments – we are sacraments. The sacraments reveal the true character of our life in Christ. This is why St. Paul can say:

I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live, yet not I but Christ liveth in me, etc. (Galatians 2:20)

I am…nevertheless I…yet not I…but Christ….  This is the language of the mystical reality birthed into the world in the Incarnation of Christ. Thus we can say: This is the Body of Christ…nevertheless you see bread…but it is not bread…but Christ’s Body sacrificed for you. This is the Hades of Christ’s death and the Paradise of His resurrection…nevertheless it is the water of Baptism…but it is not water…but Christ’s death and resurrection into which you are baptized.

And so we see the whole world – for the “whole world is sacrament” – in the words of Patriarch Bartholomew. We struggle with language to find a way to say “is…nevertheless…yet not…but is.” This is always the difficulty in expressing the mystery. It is difficult, not because it is less than real, but because of the character and nature of its reality. Modern Christian thought and language that simply dismiss the mystery and postpone its coming, or  deny the character of its reality, change the most essential elements of the Christian faith and inadvertently create a new religion.

But we have been taught something different. We have been given the Final Destruction of Demons, the Mystical Supper, the Kingdom of God. Why should we look for something less?

 

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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Comments

62 responses to “Baptism and the Final Destruction of Demons”

  1. Janine Avatar
    Janine

    Amen, Father. The kingdom comes not with observation! It’s within you/among you! You give us hope. Wishing you, your readers, and loved ones a blessed new year, and thank you!

  2. Kenneth Avatar
    Kenneth

    Fr. Stephen,

    Happy new year! Please forgive this obtuse question, but when Protestants claim that baptism and the Lord’s supper are only symbolic remembrances and not sacramental, would it be correct to say that in the context of their practices, that is actually true (i.e., because their baptism and Lord’s supper are not the same as Orthodox baptism and Eucharist)?

    Also, is it important for Orthodox Christians to abstain from partaking of communion when visiting a Protestant worship service (e.g., with family)? Is this a minor point or very important? I’ve abstained but sometimes it leads to uncomfortable conversations afterward, and I suspect I’ve never quite been able to explain it satisfactorily.

  3. Anne Avatar
    Anne

    Wow! First off I love the photo. See that’s my artistic area right now. I know I’ve been told about being a living sacrament. But to live in that reality consciously!, thought provoking!
    And beautiful it Carrie’s itself in so many forms and expressions.
    Thank you
    I love this feast coming our way. Pray that I make it to Goldendale where I plan on living.l before the feast. I’ve had a flu.
    Anne p
    Anne

  4. Matthew Avatar
    Matthew

    It seems that with the denial of the sacramental the mysterious and the spiritual are only as real as the mind can make them. I have lived in the literal and rational religious world for years now. I can say that the mind is simply not enough. Now there is charismatic experience to consider, but of course that seems to be a far cry from sacramental reality. Also, I am not sure how one can know if charismatic experience is not merely an emotional and psychological state of affairs. That said, I don´t want to tell the Holy Spirit what he can and cannot do. The bottom line point for me is … the mind is not enough to engage the truly transcendent.

  5. Dee of St Herman Avatar
    Dee of St Herman

    Kenneth,
    I was taught by my Orthodox priest-confessor and teacher not to partake of what other confessions label communion.

    On one occasion my family attended Orthodox Divine Liturgy and were insulted when I mentioned that they could not receive the Cup. One was Protestant the other Roman Catholic. To be candid, I never had such an attitude when I entered the Church. I would not have taken the Cup even if it had been offered to me in my initial visits to Liturgy. So their attitude was a complete mystery to me. I took it to be a form of vanity or pride and thus the attitude was repugnant to me. I had to muster (in prayer) as much patience and love the Lord might provide, when they walked out while communion was given. I chased after them outside and begged them to return and have patience. I brought them blessed bread. But they wouldn’t take it from me holding their grudges. Finally an alter boy brought them the antidoron and they accepted it from him. Later my priest smoothed things over. I wasn’t able to manage the discomfort or discussion so well.

    I still don’t get such attitudes which I find occurs more often among Protestants than Roman Catholics who visit the Church. But no doubt that’s a reflection of where I came from when I entered the Church.

    I hope this is helpful. And if not please forgive me.

  6. Dee of St Herman Avatar
    Dee of St Herman

    Matthew,
    I believe the Holy Spirit speaks to the heart of everyone (whether or not they will listen). Among the Orthodox, the experience is most often manifested by tears. Beyond that, I don’t have much to say about the Charismatic movement. Other readers will likely have thoughts (more helpful) they might offer.

    I came across a book that I haven’t read but might be of interest to you (located on amazon (perhaps other places as well). Here is a link and I hope it isn’t broken when I submit this comment:

    https://www.amazon.com/Peace-Let-Pray-Lord-Interpretation/dp/1500313505/ref=pd_bxgy_d_sccl_1/141-1490699-7912944?pd_rd_w=lPrDg&content-id=amzn1.sym.2b132e63-5dcd-4ba1-be9f-9e044543d59f&pf_rd_p=2b132e63-5dcd-4ba1-be9f-9e044543d59f&pf_rd_r=MATZR8QHP9HECJGJDJYX&pd_rd_wg=y1p7k&pd_rd_r=19c571f3-a4e8-4033-bf6e-28e1b686599b&pd_rd_i=1500313505&psc=1

  7. Dee of St Herman Avatar
    Dee of St Herman

    Matthew,
    Please forgive this additional thought. I dislike being blabby. Sometimes, a person is ‘deaf’ to the voice of the Holy Spirit unintentionally. We learn from the scriptures that the Lord will open their ears if they are willing.

    I have been in such pain that it’s safe to say I was deaf. But I hoped in the mercy of Our Lord that my ears might be opened.

  8. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    1 Cor. especially chapter 15 also makes the point.

  9. Fr. Stephen Avatar

    Kenneth,
    First – viz. receiving communion with the non-Orthodox. It is forbidden (the Church treats it as a serious sin). Not taking communion when visiting is thought of by many Protestants as rude, judgmental, and a refusal of hospitality. It is because they are in serious delusion regarding communion itself.

    It is worth noting, that with almost no exceptions, all Protestant Churches practice “closed” communion until around 1950 with the birth of the ecumenical movement. They changed their position – and now want to give us a hard time because we did not and do not follow their lead. Sadly, very few Protestants know even their own history.

    I have used the very scandalous example in which taking communion outside of Orthodox (as a visitor) is similar to visiting with a friend and sleeping with his wife while you’re there. Communion is an act of spiritual union. It is never to be casual. It’s not surprising that many Christian denominations have become as casual about sex as they are about communion (and, I think it’s for the same reason).

    We took an oath in becoming Orthodox to follow the teachings of the Church. We exclusively belong to Christ as He has made Himself known to us in union with the Orthodox Church. We are no longer “private” individuals, free to do what might feel ok at any given moment.

    That refusing heterodox communion is offensive to them is because they do not think of themselves as heterodox. But, we are witnesses to that fact. So, bear the shame, and politely tell them that we are not allowed to do this as Orthodox Christians.

    As to the nature of sacraments in non-Orthodox Churches – it’s a very complicated matter – about which the less said, the better.

  10. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Before I was received into the Church I visited in many denominations. The only congregation in which I experienced was a Society of Friends congregation. As we say I’m quiet prayer, I knew the Holy Spirit was among us.

    I was looking for Sacrament. Since I had already ruled out the RCs, my wife and I were stumped.

    We were back living in the neighborhood in which I grew up. As we were driving past a corner that I had walked through hundreds of times, my wife suddenly turn pointed to the Orthodox parish we were passing and said: “What about that one.”

    I had never in my life really known what kind of Church it was, although my first girl friend in 4th grade attended there. St Mary Syrian Orthodox Church it says on the plaque outside.

    So, the next Sunday, I went and BOY there was Sacrament! Holy Sacrament. Which cannot be faked or even approximated anywhere else. The beautiful grandmother seated next to me brought me a piece of Holy Bread to share when she came back from receiving. Margaret was her name. I still have the picture in my mind of her sharing. May her memory be eternal..

    We were received a few months later. Our infant son and me by Holy Baptism. My late wife by Chrismation.

    That was in 1986.

  11. Ook Avatar
    Ook

    Dee, Catholic communion is limited to
    Catholics but they make an exception for the Orthodox; the Catholics of my acquaintance understand this is not reciprocated. If they are in a generous mood they see it as an attempt, by the powers that be in their church, towards political ecumenism.

  12. Kenneth Avatar
    Kenneth

    Fr. Stephen, thanks so much, I greatly appreciate those comments.

    Dee (and others), I appreciate your comments as well.

    Glory to God for all things!

  13. Matthew Avatar
    Matthew

    Well … here is my first question(s) of the new year 🙂

    Fr. Stephen said that it is a serious sin for an Orthodox Christian to take communion in a Protestant (and even Roman Catholic?) church. Are there levels of sin in the Orthodox Church? Also … if Orthodoxy teaches that sin is spiritual sickness and death which need healing, rather than moral infraction(s) that deserve temporal and eternal punishment, why are we now saying that there are individual sins which can be termed “serious”? I think I may have missed something. Sorry.

  14. Matthew Avatar
    Matthew

    Hello Dee! The link worked just fine and I can get the book through Amazon in Germany. Thanks so much for thinking of me. The book looks really wonderful. Both my wife and I spent a significant amount of time in Protestant charismatic circles and my wife had a significant experience that brought her to Christ as well as subsequent experiences after she became a Christian. Those experiences have basically ceased which troubles her greatly, though my lack of charismatic experiences currently (as opposed to my past) have caused me no great trouble. That said, it would be nice for both of us to experience God in a real way that is consistent with Holy Scripture and the Tradition of the Church as well as the movement of the Holy Spirit.

  15. Fr. Stephen Avatar

    Matthew,
    There are not levels of sin in Orthodoxy – no discussion of “mortal” versus “venial.” What I would say, from pastoral experience, is that some things that we do wound us deeper and more seriously than others. On the subject of communion, the “harm” is not from any fault in the communion of the Catholics or Protestants. That’s a completely different discussion that I’m getting into. The fault is within ourselves in that we are disregarding a very profound boundary that rightly belongs with Holy Communion – both ours – (and it should belong to theirs).

    When we indiscriminately, without regard to proper boundaries, partake of communion in what is, at best, a casual manner, it does harm to our soul. It hardens something that should be soft and softens something that should be hard.

    It’s equally difficult to explain to a young dating couple that they should refrain from marital relations until they are married. There is a right and proper boundary. But, it’s frequently violated, and they do not realize that they are treating lightly what should be treated profoundly. Their casual attitude will make it difficult for the heart to mend and to later discover what it is they are losing (it can be healed, but is a difficult matter).

    So, when I say, “serious sin,” I mean that it harms in a serious way and requires time, effort, and mercy to heal.

    When someone becomes a catechumen, it is good that the process might take a year or so, and that they cannot take communion during that time, etc. It’s a process that heals the heart (or begins to heal it). Moderns do not like to be told “no,” and do not like any boundaries except the ones they invent themselves. If there are no boundaries – then we never have to confront healthy shame. Without healthy shame, we will not know God.

    When others come to an Orthodox Church and are upset that they cannot receive communion – the upset is simply the sound of their shame. It’s unpleasant, but it’s healthy. The first human sin in Scripture was the refusal to accept a boundary regarding communion (eating of the tree). Apparently, it was quite serious.

  16. Shawn Avatar
    Shawn

    Matthew,

    Regarding your wife’s lack of current charismatic experiences, I’m reading the book, Piglrim’s Regress, by C.S. Lewis. At a certain point in the protagonist’s journey, he expresses his concern to one of the characters that his initial desire and vision of the Island, which represents God’s goodness and beauty, is becoming less pronounced and frequent than it once was. The character advises him that perhaps this desire functions in a similar manner to our human love for our spouse. In the beginning, it is profound and frequent, often overtaking us. However, over time, it changes. What it doesn’t mean is that our love is weaker or not as real, but is maturing and growing and deepening. I know this has been true in my 16-year marriage. Anyways, I thought this to be a helpful analogy so I thought I’d offer it up.

  17. Shawn Avatar
    Shawn

    The anti-sacramentalism (and non-sacramentalism) of some Christian groups is among the most unwittingly pernicious of all modern errors. Thought to be an argument about a minor point of doctrine, it is, instead, the collapse of the world into the empty literalism of secularity. In the literalism of the modern world (where a thing is a thing is a thing), nothing is ever more than what is seen. Thus every spiritual reality, every mystery, must be referred elsewhere – generally to the mind of God and the believer. Christianity becomes an ideology and a fantasy. It turns religious believing into a two-storey universe.

    Father Stephen,

    “The collapse of the world into the empty literalism of secularity.” This resonates with me and speaks to much of my unarticulated malaise and struggle with finding a home in the Protestant church. You’ve mentioned previously how sacraments can serve as antidotes to literalism and secularity for us modern two-story universians. I believe this to be true. However, I’m curious to how the sacraments developed in the first place. Did the early church ever think of them, in part, as guarding against the slow creep of societal falsehoods? Or were they just thought to be manifestations of what is true, end of story?

  18. Matthew Avatar
    Matthew

    Thanks so much Shawn. Your example is very helpful, though whether or not it will help my wife is another story. I will pass on your example though when the time is right. 🙂

    Fr. Stephen: Should I then stop taking communion once monthly in our Baptist church? It is bread and grape juice and though it is only an obedient memorial of sorts to them, for me it is the body and blood of our Lord. I know that probably sounds absolutely crazy to the ears of an Eastern Orthodox priest, but it´s the best I can do right now. Lord have mercy.

  19. Matthew Avatar
    Matthew

    Fr. Stephen said:

    “Moderns do not like to be told “no,” and do not like any boundaries except the ones they invent themselves.”

    Wow. This is very true. Protestants (and I still am one) are often pushing the envelope, breaking down boundaries, trying to reinvent church, etc. without even thinking what it might mean to obediently submit to the Church that has always been there for them calling them home.

  20. Fr. Stephen Avatar

    Shawn,
    In the beginning, I think the Church simply saw them as being what is true – end of story. But, with a pagan context around them, there wasn’t a lot of argument on that point. It is the rise of modernity that presents the challenge of an empty, secularized existence. It is, in the end, a greater challenge. In many ways, modernity has made money into the stuff of its ontology. We see things and think of their monetary value. We would thus be more excited about a super expensive bottle of wine than we would about the Blood of Christ. No one would argue about the value of the wine –

    And, of course, though modernity’s attack on sacramentalism began, largely, as an anti-Roman Catholic thing, it quickly became an attack on the world itself. It became the “disenchantment” that Max Weber first wrote about (using that terminology). In its ultimate insult, human being themselves are emptied of inherent worth and meaning. What meaning we have in the world (apart from money) is the result of left-overs from the earlier sacramental understanding. We know that things have worth – but we can no longer say how.

  21. Fr. Stephen Avatar

    Matthew,
    You are not yet a catechumen. Use your own conscience. It doesn’t sound crazy to me at all.

  22. Matthew Avatar
    Matthew

    Thanks Fr. Stephen!

  23. Dee of St Herman Avatar
    Dee of St Herman

    Ok,
    Some RC are told by their RC priests to receive communion in an Orthodox Church. In a conversation with one such person (not family) who told me this, I told the person that didn’t know of any Orthodox priest or Bishop that would agree with such a perspective. Because they were told otherwise by their priest, they thought I was in error. Then things got a little rough when I said that Catholic priests who said such things were attempting to appropriate the Church that was not theirs. I don’t believe that such endorsement of such behavior by RC priests is accidental or appropriate, especially in the area where I live—to cause confusion and blur lines.

  24. Dee of St Herman Avatar
    Dee of St Herman

    Sorry I was autocorrected. My last comment was to Ook.

  25. Fr. Stephen Avatar

    Dee,
    The RC priest involved may have made an entirely innocent mistake. He’s probably been told that (from a RC perspective) the Orthodox are welcome to receive communion in the Roman Catholic Church. Of course, it’s not ok from an Orthodox perspective. But, it’s also not unlikely that a RC priest will not understand that and simply assume that it’s a mutual thing – which it’s not. But it’s still an innocent mistake.

    We’ve have a number of parishioners whose children attend a local Catholic school. We’ve been very clear within the school what are Orthodox boundaries (and the kids may not understand them), and they’ve been very good and helpful and respectful. My grandson is among those who attend there. I’m glad they are able to provide a religious school. On major feast days, they dismiss our kids to come over to the parish to attend the Liturgy and take communion. It works well.

  26. Shawn Avatar
    Shawn

    Thank you Father Stephen. Do you think it would be beneficial to someone like me to read Max Weber? If so, do you have a recommended starting point?

  27. Fr. Stephen Avatar

    Shawn,
    I don’t think it would be beneficial. He said lots of things – but he was not a great Christian thinker. Check him out on Wikipedia and you’ll have done due diligence.

  28. Fr. Stephen Avatar

    Simon,
    You are on target. The advantage to humility is that it’s harder to hit a smaller target. 🙂 I frequently think I’m too big.

  29. Simon Avatar
    Simon

    This west is characterized by anti-authoritarianism. Religious, political, academic, and scientific authority has lost the trust of people. These institutions can no longer assume that they will speak and people will listen. Naturally, that has led to skepticism, and it should. You can’t sell snake oil to cure headaches and in the end say the full effect of the medicine isn’t felt until after you die and then wonder why people quit buying your product. You can’t keep crying the sky is falling and when the sky never falls expect people to keep running for cover. “Because I said so” isn’t good enough. It was never good enough. The odd thing is the way people will make a well-justified demand on one issue while thoughtlessly nodding along on another. I guess that is to be expected given the many non-conscious biases that influence how we think. We have to be humble and recognize that we are not the rational creatures we think we are. And I guess that’s that.

  30. Dee of St Herman Avatar
    Dee of St Herman

    Simon,
    I agree. It makes sense why people will not respond or respect boundaries.

    Father I’m grateful they are respectful at the Catholic school your grandchild attends.

  31. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Simon, “we are not the rational creatures we think we are..”

    I really enjoy you saying that. Thank you. .What has been forgotten is that rationality is a divine attribute. We are only rational when when we acknowledge our intra dependence on God Incarnate…

    Thought divorced from it’s true source become more and more dark. Approaching evil.

    The key to real rationality is repentance and prayer and rejoicing in God our Savior

  32. Ook Avatar
    Ook

    Dee, my Catholic acquaintances have had the same experience: The priests told them it was okay, from the viewpoint of the Catholic church, to receive communion in an Orthodox church. Fortunately, they looked into the Orthodox policy before they made any errors. It always made me uncomfortable because I heard the same thing more than once, and now I have your experience.

  33. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Rationality not rooted in love of God can easily turn obsessive and delusional
    I think that some of what we see in the world today is the natural and logical consequences of that kind of “rationality”.

    The Enlightenment systemized and popularized stand alone rationality. That led to the appearance and metastasizing of authoritarian and dictatorial governments..

    Now there is not a government in the world that does not act in that manner.
    Power, wealth, sex. All of it perfectly rational. The food of demons.

  34. Simon Avatar
    Simon

    You know what’s funny? I seem to give people the impression that I value rationality. I don’t. I would much rather just be happy. There are two ideas that I will continue to assume until I have good reason to do otherwise. First, we are not free, or at least we are not nearly as free as we would like to think. Second, we are not rational, or at least we are not as rational as we would like to think. We are not rational creatures. We are rationalizing creatures. And we do our best work rationalizing after the fact. And we are fond of telling beloved self-glorifying stories.

    I don’t see rationalizing or reasoning as divine attributes–not even a little bit. The Greeks saw order and natural regularities as divine reason. I don’t see that at all. Furthermore, I don’t really see it in the Jewish roots of Orthodoxy either.

    I think the west has seen it as something that separates people from animals. In that regard it is just another example of self-glorifying mythology: It’s true of me; therefore, it must be divine.

  35. Simon Avatar
    Simon

    Authority figures are the worst when it comes to boundaries. Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

  36. Eliza Avatar
    Eliza

    Michael, I think I can relate to what you say here.

    Years ago, I followed my own so-called rationality through to where it logically led me. In my search for truth, I became convinced that all humans really needed for contentment was a rational thinking mind.

    Literally. I was actually making statements to whoever would listen that humans don’t need love or relationships, only a logical mind to seek truth. I envisioned what it would be like just to be a mind without a body. I found this appealing!

    I was a young agnostic alone with my own “rational self.” Relationships had been torment, religion a let down.

    How can we know when we, or our rationality, are finally rooted in God’s love, as you say? I think that I “acknowledge intra dependence on God Incarnate,” but maybe I kid myself. Does one need to become Orthodox in order to achieve this? Or, at least be trying to be some kind of Christian?

    Hopefully, my questions come across as sincere, as they are. I am still a seeker, but not really trusting myself to have many answers at all other than we need God and a Saviour.

  37. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Eliza, it is a process. For me it began with my mother telling me that God is real. She was a brilliant dancer as well as having a seeking heart. She was the person who introduced me to the power of the heart, i.e. the spiritual/physical center from which the beauty of her dance came. I was blessed to know people who were truly artists and brilliant too.

    One of the greatest was Alfonse Cimber. A Haitian conga drummer who was a master of his art. Watching him drum with such skill and beauty was a lesson to me. The movements of his hands was dance like, coming from the same “center” that dancers and singers use. Full of thought and design yet beyond at the same time deeply rooted in the unseen and the glorious.

    Then there was the performance of Geoffrey Holder. Not a concert. He was famous for doing the “Cola Nut” ads for Coke. 6’8″ with a deep beautiful voice who could move with incredible grace and beauty. He came out on the stage and said (in that deep voice with the Creole accent) said: “I have seen God baby! And he is right here(touching his center) And each time He wants to talk to me, He starts my body moving.” He then demonstrated what he meant and it was mesmerizing.

    I recognized that true rationality required our whole person/being, not just the brain.

    Later, Jesus and the Church gave me a path I could follow that is fully rational and rooted in God’s love for me. Revealed not just thought. I still get arrogant enough from time to time to think my brain can do it all but that is
    becoming an aberration by God’s mercy.

  38. Fr. Stephen Avatar

    Simon,
    I’ve met a few persons in authority over the years whom I thought handled it well and with grace. In general, though, I would agree that power corrupts. It is love that matters. And when I meditate on those who handled authority well, it was because love – the real thing – was pre-eminent in their lives and actions. Love is hard, apparently.

  39. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Eliza, two others I must mention: the first s black American dancer, Percy Borde, he and his wife traveled in the Caribbean and Western Africa to learn native dance. They performed a show, with Cimber drumming called “The Talking Drums of Africa.”

    Then a man who is not an artist but has shown me what it is to love with surpassing intellect: Fr Moses Berry whom I have known for 50 years. The last 25 in the Church.

    May the Grace and Mercy of our Lord be with you.

  40. Fr. Stephen Avatar

    Eliza,
    Your comment provokes a couple of thoughts for me. It’s very important to me, as the author of the blog and its moderator, not to give the impression that someone has to be Orthodox in order to be saved. God alone saves (in its fullest sense). I have tried to maintain a site, and put forward my writings, to inform and assist anyone interested in Orthodoxy (for whatever reason). I’ve wanted the site to be safe (in the sense that no one should get beat up in the process of our conversations), and reliable. It’s also why I wrote a set of rules at the very beginning (back in 2006) that have served me well as a moderator.

    I am Orthodox because I believe it to be the truth – though I have to add some nuance to that statement. Orthodoxy is the historically continuous community of believers, in full communion with the origins of Christianity in Christ and the Apostles both in content of doctrine and teaching, as well as in practice. But, having said that, it’s also a 2,000 year old family fight. You can read about the first fight in the Book of Acts – settled by St. James with the creation of the ministry of Deacon and the appointment of the Seven. We can read in St. Paul’s Letters and see other elements of that first century’s fights. If we continue on, we can see the same thing in the Apostolic Fathers and on down through the centuries.

    Even in our modern period, there have been ruptures in the unity of the Church (broken communion at present between Moscow and Constantinople, for example, or the recently healed break between Antioch and Jerusalem). There’s nothing new in this.

    Strangely, I found all of that to be attractive. As an Episcopalian, I frequently saw the Church maintained in a false unity, ignoring false doctrine and false practices, in a manner that was simply maddening. There was so much blatant lying and deceit. It’s really unhealthy for the soul. Orthodoxy has all the faults that you would expect in its people and leaders, etc., but, at least when problems surface – we fight – we sever communion – we weep – we argue – we repent and we forgive. It should have shattered into a thousand pieces over 2,000 years – but it has not.

    The many Protestantisms (it’s plural) re-invent themselves quite often, and frequently practice such an individualized Christianity that it’s hard for anyone to know anything other than their own comfort zone. For myself, I did not want to invent my own God or my own version of Jesus. My only hope of knowing God was to step into the stream that is the life of the Church and learn to swim.

    God is a good God and He’s not trying to make this hard for us. Scripture says that He’s not willing that any should perish. So, I trust His kindness and generosity towards us all. I don’t actually spend much time thinking about people being damned. I think about myself being estranged from God (and thus from myself) by my own selfish cravings or dishonesty or shame, etc.

    I was probably drawn to Orthodoxy in my early 20’s – but I did not enter the Church until I was 45. First, it was so foreign (and there were not, as yet, many parishes that were English-friendly…in fact…there weren’t many parishes, period). My life had plenty of distractions – but – every present was my life in the Church, since I was an ordained Episcopal priest. And every time I wrestled with “Church” I kept coming back to historical orthodoxy. And, finally, to the realization that the only place to find the fullness of historical orthodoxy, was the Orthodox Church (with all its flaws).

    But that was a 25 year space in my life – full of many things – a lot of them quite good – some not so much.

    God is good to us all. That is one thing I have come to trust – I trust it because it is what I see in Jesus. He is good and loves mankind.

  41. Simon Avatar
    Simon

    I don’t know why, but I am wincing at Michael’s use of rationality. I think what I am seeing in his comments is a need to affirm that being Orthodox is rational and that “only using the brain” is somehow the only true irrationality. Forgive me, but “Bah humbug.” What if by every definition being Orthodox was irrational? What if it was the must foolish you could do or be? What of it? Wouldn’t it be taking a lot upon ourselves to insist for Orthodoxy something it doesn’t insist for itself? You know, the holy fools have it right. Enough with the justifications, the rationalizing, the pious posturing, and the self-gratifying story-telling. Who are we trying to convince? Be an idiot. Be a fool. Be ridiculous.

  42. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Father, regarding ,”sharing communion,”. I do not get it. The Sacrament of the Eucharist informs and is linked to the other six. So, by extension our Bishops have the same authority. As Spock would say: “That is not logical,”

  43. Fr. Stephen Avatar

    Michael, I don’t understand your question…

  44. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Orthodoxy is both/and. Love is the same. It is why I have always valued the experiential approach to the faith. I could say ala Mr. Holder that I have seen God, baby and when He talks to me He talks to my brain and my heart. That is the essence of worship no matter where it is carried out. The fullness and wholeness. But I suspect we have different understandings of what rational is because we have a different premise??? I am Orthodox because Jesus wants me to be. For me that is not some emotional feeling but a direct communication coming in many different ways that began consciously when I was 18, 58 years ago.

    Forgive me for not understanding what you meant

  45. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    That’s OK Father. I have to refine it to grasp it myself. Sorry

  46. Simon Avatar
    Simon

    So, I realize I am quite literally talking to myself here. In lieu of being a dullard and a leper–which I am most definitely–I have exhausted myself trying to figure out how I fit in. I think at the end of the day what I am saying–just talking out loud here–is that it’s okay to be irrational. It’s okay to be a fool–to even see oneself as a fool!

  47. Matthew Avatar
    Matthew

    This conversation is fascinating.

    I have had reservations over the last few years about the absolute “freedom” of the will. I no longer think that we are as free and rational as we think we are or as free and rational as our thinkers and philosophers tell us we are. As a result of this thinking, I have much more understanding and compassion for those people who cannot and do not accept God´s invitation of love and mercy. I am not playing the victim card here, but I do firmly believe that people who have had a difficult and challenging life might not be able to make the same kind of choices that others are able to make. Also, what about people who are mentally unable to make “free” choices?

  48. Matthew Avatar
    Matthew

    Fr. Stephen said:

    “I’ve wanted the site to be safe (in the sense that no one should get beat up in the process of our conversations), and reliable.”

    The site has lived up to its stated purpose! I wonder though … how do you keep all the trolls and enemies of Orthodoxy away? I could not imagine staying on this blog very long if they were present.

  49. Eliza Avatar
    Eliza

    Father Stephen and Michael,

    Thanks to you both. You have given me a lot to think on.

    I have been reading for awhile on this site and do see that people are safe to speak here. I still feel uncomfortable but that is just me, not anyone here causing that.

    What Simon says about maybe Orthodoxy maybe being the ultimate “foolish.” I can see that, too. Really, we are the created trying to analyze a Creator and a Creator’s mind when we are just fools in one way or other.

    Maybe it is just better to be an Orthodox fool than any other kind of fool.

    I am trying to process everything here and other things that I read. Father, I appreciate that you are hesitant to say one must be Orthodox to be saved. I have read that many times and yet I need reminding sometimes.

    I could probably spend the rest of my life on this blog re-reading and then reading all the writings from the years prior to my beginning to visit. And the resources, all the books mentioned…it just goes on.

    Right now, I am trying to make a list of recommended books. Sometimes I will copy mentions into a note file, but often not. Yesterday, I was trying to search here and see if The Way of a Pilgrim is a recommended one. I think it is but cannot remember. I see it looks like Fr. Stephen has a video on the subject which I will watch soon, hopefully.

    Also, I am finishing up the Fr. Stephen’s book on Shame – a book that I kept meaning to read and then did not for whatever reason. I know there has been a bit of discussion here about the book, so I need to go back and find all that and see if some questions that I have were already answered.

    Anyway, so much reading and learning and I feel like I am running against a sand clock.

  50. Fr. Stephen Avatar

    Matthew,
    As for trolls…I forgive their sins by deleting their comments. But…for whatever reason, they are now far and few between. I don’t know why. I do have some filters in place that look for certain words (such as certain curse words, etc.). But, we’re pretty troll-free.

  51. Eliza Avatar
    Eliza

    “So, I realize I am quite literally talking to myself here. In lieu of being a dullard and a leper–which I am most definitely–I have exhausted myself trying to figure out how I fit in. I think at the end of the day what I am saying–just talking out loud here–is that it’s okay to be irrational. It’s okay to be a fool–to even see oneself as a fool!”

    Simon, you make me laugh whether you mean to or not. I hope that’s not offensive.

    In my comment on the last post, “The Apocalypse of Christmas,” I was trying to make the point that maybe definitions of mental health/ unhealth are not objective. Maybe more of us have issues with mental health- as defined by the definers of such- and we just don’t know it.

    I don’t want to get mired down in this and it feels that I already am. The logic runs in circles. Again with the rational or logical that quickly morphs into feeling irrational.

    Of course all this within what feels like some needed defining of acceptable boundaries or we devolve to chaos.

    It hurts my head.

    Cheers.

  52. Eliza Avatar
    Eliza

    Simon,

    I hope that last comment doesn’t come off as insensitive.

    I certainly don’t laugh at you feeling like a leper – not at all. I doubt that you are really that for people anyway – though maybe with some. Probably most of us are someone’s leper. I certainly feel that way. But not for everyone.

    The circuitousness of the discussion just hit me in a profoundly funny way. Maybe it should not.

  53. Simon Avatar
    Simon

    Eliza,

    You and I would probably be really good friends. I am glad you laugh at my comments. Honestly. No one needs to take what I say too seriously. In fact, if you can’t laugh at me at least a little, I doubt anyone could tolerate me for very long. AND I need that so I am reminded not too take myself too seriously.

    I really do agree with you. On some level, we are all fools. We are just in the process of deciding what kind of fool we are going to be. I would rather be a fool’s fool than a wise man among fools. And in saying that I am not putting Orthodoxy down. I am just refusing to say for it what it refuses to say for itself.

    Eliza, thank you for laughing.

  54. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Simon, irrationality is part of Christian conversion. No doubt. The Sacraments all contain certain elements of irrationality. The benediction an Orthodox priest gives at the end of confession: “Arise having no further care for the sins you have confessed…”

    When dealing with besetting sins much more work has to be done often confessing the sin frequently so the benediction is wholly irrational from a human, worldly perspective yet true at the same time deep in one’s heart.

    I love the irrationality but at the level of union with God there is no irrationality or rationality one just is. At least that is how I read the testimony of the saints.

    I could not be Orthodox if I did not embrace the irrationality. The in ability of my beautiful daughter-in-law to even accept the irrationality of the faith keeps her in denial.

    You are not just speaking to yourself. Forgive me for giving the impression that I was rejecting you and your experience.

    I like the words of Shakespeare when Hamlet is talking to Horatio concerning the state of the Kingdom of Denmark: “There are more things in Heaven and Earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”

    And so it is for each of us.

    “Give me your hands if we be friends and gentle Puck will make amends.”

  55. Andrew Avatar
    Andrew

    We have 15 people at our parish about to experience that “final destruction of demons” on Saturday!

  56. Eliza Avatar
    Eliza

    Simon,
    You are welcome.

  57. Charles Avatar
    Charles

    Your blessing, Father!

    Many thanks for these articles. God willing, I’m set to be received by Chrismation soon, on the Feast Day of Theophany. What you’ve described here, the tangible, lived reality of Christianity, is exactly what drew me to Orthodoxy.

    I was baptised in a Protestant tradition that felt sterile and empty and eventually led to the fire all but dying out. I thought RC held the key, but the emphasis on scholasticism and the other obvious errors led me to confusion and sadness that “maybe none of this is for me.” It was Orthodoxy that stoked the flame again, allowed a peak through that “dark glass”, and introduced the Living God to me again.

    Again, I appreciate these posts and hope to see more.

    With Love In Christ,
    Charles

  58. James Avatar
    James

    Dear Fr Stephen,

    This is one of my favorite articles of yours.

    I’m a recent convert to Orthodoxy, and my wife and I will soon have the joy of watching our first child be baptized also. I’m bracing for some possible conversations about why a baby needs prayers of exorcism with my Protestant family members, and the best I can come up for now is to say that we’re all born into the same broken world, and the prayers and baptism make the child off-limits to the powers of darkness. Our parish recently had another baby baptism, and I was very interested that the priest carried the baby through the Royal doors and around the alter at the end of the service. They didn’t do that for us grownups when we were baptized!

    What’s the significance of that portion, and can you help with any other comments about why babies are exorcised? I feel like I’m developing a “feel” for the significance and meaning of liturgical actions as I spend more time in church, but usually sound pretty incoherent when I try to explain it to someone else.

  59. Fr. Stephen Avatar

    James,
    The Baptismal service is a “one size fits all” service – with the same prayers used for all persons. But, it primarily has adult candidates in mind. Thus, an innocent child has the same prayers of exorcism read over them as an adult. In the early Church, exorcism prayers were a regular part of the catechumenal process – with such prayers being used as part of the “cleaning up” process over the course of that period. The prayers are something of “preventative medicine” rather than a response to a perceived possession by demons.

  60. Drewster2000 Avatar
    Drewster2000

    Simon,

    I was reminded of Dan Ariely’s book Predictably Irrational. To summarize it briefly, we make decisions based on many more things that rationality. We ARE fairly predictable but the key involves other things like emotions, habits, peer group, etc.

    hope this helps

  61. Parascheva Avatar
    Parascheva

    Here in Bucharest Romania, last year at Theophany, a well funded Protestant group was handing out fliers everywhere telling people to go to such and such a place at a particular time in order to pick up bottles of ‘REAL’ water from the real River Jordan. It kind of sums up Protestantism in a nutshell. And also points to its aggressive and crafty recruitment campaigns (which are sadly quite successful).

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