Robed in the Glorious Garment of Salvation

“My soul shall rejoice in the Lord, for He has clothed me with the garment of salvation; He has covered me with the robe of gladness; as a bridegroom He has set a crown on me; and as a bride adorns herself with jewels, so my God has adorned me.”

With these words from Isaiah, the priest begins the ritual of dressing prior to the Liturgy. With each item of his priestly garments, another verse from the Scriptures (Old Testament) will be recited. The verse not only relates to that item of clothing, but offers both a mystical explanation as well as a meditation for the priest himself. The priest begins the Divine Liturgy by becoming an allegory.

To understand such a statement, reflect with me on this passage from Galatians:

“It is written that Abraham had two sons: the one by a bondwoman, the other by a freewoman. But he who was of the bondwoman was born according to the flesh, and he of the freewoman through promise, which things are an allegory. For these are the two covenants: the one from Mount Sinai which gives birth to bondage, which is Hagar—for this Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia, and corresponds to Jerusalem which now is, and is in bondage with her children—but the Jerusalem above is free, which is the mother of us all.” (4:22-27)

St. Paul is doing nothing strange in his treatment of the Old Testament. Jews and Gentiles would have been familiar with this manner of reading. It is interesting that some English translations will render this as “which things are figurative…” or “which things are symbolic…” Clearly showing that we have a hard time expressing what is going on here. In modern usage, “allegory” has come to be confined to a particular form of literary symbolism, one where one thing is meant to stand for something else. CS Lewis’ childrens’ book, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, is an example of such allegory. Aslan stands for Christ. This, however, is not what St. Paul means.

St. Paul is using the term in its very broad, ancient sense, in which allegory means the use of one word in order to convey another. It is an understanding that there is a meaning hidden beneath and within a text. Indeed, it would not have been uncommon for such an approach to suggest that the hidden meaning is the “true” meaning, visible to those with “eyes to see.” It is similar to Christ’s declaration that God has purposely hidden certain things for the sake of our salvation. He does not “cast his pearls before swine.”

This same hiddenness is common throughout the Scriptures and across the history of the people of God. When God speaks with Moses on the mountain, He shows Him the heavenly (here we can say “real” and “true”) tabernacle. He then gives instructions that the earthly tabernacle is to be constructed “according to this pattern.” That structure is described in great detail in the Scriptures. However, it is clear that what is being built is important and true, because it is a reflection of the heavenly tabernacle which Moses himself saw. When Israel gathers at this earthly tabernacle, they are not there merely to be reminded of something Moses saw. Rather, the earthly representation makes present and participates in the heavenly. It is a sacramental understanding. We may also say that it is an allegory (in St. Paul’s sense). If it is seen as “merely” a human construct, it is not rightly seen. The Ark of the Covenant could be read as nothing more than a human construct, but such a reading would be deadly, as in the case of Uzzah, who wrongly touched the Ark and died.

It is impossible to read the Book of Hebrews and not see this. There, the whole of the Old Testament pattern and practice of worship is described as a shadow of something heavenly and true that is now fulfilled in the death and resurrection of Christ. Christ is seen as the true High Priest who has entered into the “tabernacle not made by hands.” There He offers the perfect sacrifice of which every previous sacrifice was only a figure. What had been hidden, as St. Paul tells us, has now been made known in Christ.

This way of doing and seeing, quite importantly, is not confined to the pages of Scripture and the practices of the past. It is ingrained in our faith and our Orthodox way of life. Seated with His disciples, Christ takes bread, blesses, breaks, and gives it to them saying, “This is my Body…” The pattern is being maintained and will become and remain the heart of the Church’s worship.

The simplest way to express this sacramental revelation is: “This is that.” This is not a mere reminder of that, or a figure, or a symbol (if by that we mean something that stands in for something else). Rather, “this” truly and really is “that.”

The Incarnation of Christ teaches us not just that God became a man, but that the earth has a capacity for the heavenly. It not only has a capacity for the heavenly, but is so constructed that it cannot be rightly understood and lived in unless and until we see and regard the heavenly which is hidden within it. God has purposely hidden these “treasures” from us so that we might become the kind of persons who know how to see and find them. So, we lost paradise and came “into this world” (St. Basil’s language for the Fall). But having come into this world, we only return to paradise when we find it hidden here (where we are). That finding is the fruit of an inward repentance and the acquisition of the Spirit. I would say, carefully, that by “repentance,” I am describing turning away from the “not seeing, not seeking” way of life.

Christ said, “Ask and you’ll receive, knock and it will be opened, seek and you shall find.” What we fail to understand is that the asking, knocking, and seeking are states of the heart that must be nurtured into a way of life. Christ came to us speaking in parables. In truth, He has been speaking to us in parables since the very beginning. What was once parable continues in sacrament, and in a kind of existence that is “on earth as it is in heaven.” To see the parable is to perceive heaven and to begin to find the door by which we enter.

And now, I return to the priest as he vests for the service. Those vestments, the “garment of salvation,” and the “robe of gladness,” are those vestments that we lost in paradise when we fell, and our eyes were opened and we saw ourselves as “naked” (and were ashamed). This re-clothing is similar to our Baptismal garment: “As many as have been baptized into Christ, have put on Christ [like a garment]. From the robe of the priesthood in the Old Testament to that of the newly-robed Christians in the New, the priest of the New Covenant is robed as Christ, who alone is our “Great High Priest.” And so this priest becomes the “allegory,” the “sacrament” and “parable” of Christ. This is that. This priest will stand where Christ alone can stand, and offer the “bloodless sacrifice.”

In St. Basil’s Liturgy, during the Litany of Supplication, the priest silently offers a prayer. In part he prays:

…accept us as we draw near to Your Holy Altar, so that we may be worthy to offer to You this reasonable and bloodless sacrifice for our sins and for the errors of Your people. Having received it on Your holy, heavenly and ideal altar as an offering of sweet spiritual fragrance, send down on us in turn the grace of Your Holy Spirit. Look down on us, O God, and observe this our worship. Accept it as You accepted the gifts of Abel, the sacrifices of Noah, the whole burnt offerings of Abraham, the priestly offices of Moses and Aaron, and the peace-offerings of Samuel. As You accepted this true worship from Your holy Apostles, so now, in Your goodness, accept these gifts from the hands of us sinners, O Lord, that having been permitted to serve without offense at Your Holy Altar, we may receive the reward of wise and faithful stewards on the awesome day of Your just retribution…

This offering is gathering together all of the offerings through the ages: the gifts of Abel, the sacrifices of Noah, the whole burnt offerings of Abraham, the priestly offices of Moses and Aaron, and the peace-offerings of Samuel. These are now offered to be received, not on this earthly altar, but “on Your holy, heavenly and ideal altar.” This is that.

This is the pattern of our life (for all of us), for we were first established in paradise as priests to offer thanks to God. What we lost, Christ has restored.

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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99 responses to “Robed in the Glorious Garment of Salvation”

  1. David E. Rockett Avatar
    David E. Rockett

    Thank you father…wonderful stuff here. Thanks be to God.

  2. Catherine Avatar

    So very moved – thank you ever so much.
    If I could just stay in remembrance ,,,
    Glory to God ~+~

  3. Dino Avatar
    Dino

    Father,
    I recall of how elder Aimilianos once said something strange, when speaking about the Jesus prayer: that the paradise man lost when he chose to fall “into this world” was only hidden from him, and that there have been many who found this paradise on this Earth again. I am saying it sounded ‘strange’ because it actually sounded as if he spoke of the ‘geographical paradise’ [!] that Adam lost, which was somehow revealed to these rare souls.
    This was all during a talk on the Jesus prayer when he spoke about people of inward repentance who had relentlessly ‘drilled’ the depths of their heart seeking Christ there.
    Of course, the paradisial fractal pattern of reality, imbued by the (relentlessly invoked) “Logos of all logoi” is something that he himself lived and enjoyed in a rather perfect manner.

  4. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    There has to be similar prays in the RC Liturgy. How did the Protestant’s turn away so easily?

    Before I became Orthodox I went to a lot of Protestant services and an RC Liturgy or two. There were moments in each of them but only moments.

    When I experienced my first Orthodox Divine Liturgy I knew I was home. The richness, the beauty, the presence was so overwhelming both seen and unseen I knew I had finally fulfilled my mother’s directive to me 20 years before to find God.

    The next 37 years have been fits and starts to deepen the reality in my own heart. Our Lord has been very Gracious to me. I pray for His Mercy everyday.

  5. Fr. Stephen Avatar

    Dino,
    I suspect that, in the realm of paradise, our rules for this present world no longer hold. It is both reality “out there” as well as “within here.” If someone knows paradise within the heart, then they would see it everywhere else as well. The pure in heart shall see God.

    What a blessing to have known and seen Elder Aimilianos! He formed an shaped my Archbishop.

  6. Drewster2000 Avatar
    Drewster2000

    Fr. Stephen,

    Sorry to go off topic, but recently you were talking about the thief on the cross who converted at the last minute. You even mentioned him by name and gave a back story for him and his partner. I’m trying to recall that. Is there a source or story you can point me to?

  7. Fr. Stephen Avatar

    Michael,
    The Reformation brought on a huge number of fundamental changes to the inherited worship life of the Church. If you will, the worship was changed according by fairly radical ideologues…and it had its effects over time. In the 20th century (mid-late) there was a huge “liturgical renewal” movement that swept the Protestant Churches (mainline ones) that brought about the most sweeping changes in liturgy since the Reformation itself. Again, the effects of the changes took time. The RC Church also underwent radical changes in worship – the most profound in its history, to my mind. We’re seeing the effects and there are more to come.

    The single most important part of our life as Orthodox is, I think, how exceedingly conservative we are about any sort of change in the Liturgical life of the Church. We do not keep the Liturgy – the Liturgy keeps us.

  8. anna Avatar
    anna

    Thank you Father for all your explanations, insights!!
    Very grateful to you .
    Thanks be to God

  9. Matthew Avatar
    Matthew

    “on the awesome day of Your just retribution…” – from St. Basil´s Liturgy (silent priest´s prayer of supplication)

    What is the difference between retributive justice and restorative justice in an Orthodox sense? Is there even a difference?

  10. Fr. Stephen Avatar

    Matthew,
    St. Isaac of Syria said: “We know nothing of God’s justice, only His mercy.”

    St. Paul says: “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad.” (2Cor. 5:10)

    It’s the kind of passage that makes me tremble. But, I am comforted by St. Isaac’s words. In fear, I could say with the disciples, “Who then can be saved?” But I trust in His goodness and His mercy – for there is no other hope.

    Generally, Orthodoxy has not spent a lot of time parsing various questions like retributive vs. restorative. It’s a kind of scholasticism that is fed mostly by a juridical mindset that is largely absent in the Eastern Fathers.

  11. Matthew Avatar
    Matthew

    Thanks so much Fr. Stephen. I would agree that the issue at hand is fed by a juridicial mindset, but I think it is also a very fair question. In my circles, there are many people who are struggling with the idea of God being retributive and wrathful – especially at the end of one´s earthly life.

  12. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    In His Mercy we become increasingly human. By seeking and embodying His Mercy we witness to the demonic transhumanism and it’s technology. It is possible our next group of martyrs will come from the conflict.

  13. Byron Avatar
    Byron

    Matthew,
    I would fall back to the understanding that everything–including such thoughts on judgement–needs to be viewed/considered through the Cross. When we look at our sin, it is understandable that we despair. But when we look at his mercy and love, it is understandable to have hope in Him. It is somewhat dependent on where one looks or focuses. Our sin? Or God’s love?

    I tend to think of a child that approaches his/her parent, knowing the trouble they will receive for their actions, but also hopeful (against hope, perhaps) that their parent’s love will be greater than their anger.

    From an Orthodox perspective, perhaps we might also think of it in terms of a paradox. His judgement is his mercy. Just my thoughts.

  14. Matthew Avatar
    Matthew

    Byron … the bottom line for me is …

    How do we deal effectively and lovingly with the fear of death that so many people – Christian and non-Christian – have? This is a major pastoral issue as I see it. I was years in the evangelical movement and in those circles the answer to this question was very short, very packaged, very easy. Now it´s not so simple anymore although Orthodoxy seems to have a very loving and merciful understanding and experience of God … more so than my evangelical brethren. ???

  15. Matthew Avatar
    Matthew

    Thanks also, Byron, for your thoughts. 🙂

  16. Fr. Stephen Avatar

    Matthew,
    I strongly disagree with the “fear of death” as the major pastoral issue. I’m leaning on the writings of Fr. Alexander Schmemann on this (For the Life of the World). Any “religion” worth its salt can do the trick…and Christianity isn’t just one more version of all the rest. It’s something quite different. Indeed, people have changed “the Kingdom of God/Heaven” into something about “life after death” and, in doing so, likely perverted Christianity itself. So – there’s life after death to help us deal with the problem of death – and there’s social action/politics to deal with life in this world. Truth told, if that’s the case, then Jesus needn’t have bothered coming. People already had all that.

    If you haven’t read For the Life of the World, I strongly recommend it. I won’t try to pull Schmemann’s thoughts out of context. But the question is about the Kingdom of God and the nature of human life. At the end of a beautiful chapter section, Schmemann says this (he had been talking about the Sacrament of Holy Unction):

    In this world there shall be tribulation. Whether reduced to a minimum by man himself, or given some relief by the religious promise of a reward in the “other world,” suffering remains here, it remains awfully “normal.” And yet Christ says, “be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” (.Jn. 16:33). Through His own suffering, not only has all suffering acquired a meaning but it has been given the power to become itself the sign, the sacrament, the proclamation, the “coming” of that victory; the defeat of man, his very dying has become a way of Life.

  17. Matthew Avatar
    Matthew

    Sorry Fr. Stephen … I don”t understand. So many people fear death. They fear God”s wrath and retibutive judgment. I simply want to help them. I am convinced that when I was in the clinic dealing with anxiety with a lot of others in group therapy, the issue with a lot of people was fear of death.

  18. Fr. Stephen Avatar

    Matthew,
    I understand the question – but, if you will, someone’s fear of death is only the tip of an iceberg. For many people, fear of death might be all that “religion” means to them – so that – (as is the case with certain forms of Protestantism) the “gospel” they are given is reduced to fulfilling requirements so they can be assured that they will go to heaven when they die. So, in a sense, Church, etc., is reduced to “there”

    I’ve “pastored” hundreds of dying people (including my time as a hospice chaplain). So, I don’t or would not ignore their fears. But the problem isn’t really a “death” problem – it’s a life problem. The “life problem” is there in all suffering – and in every triumph – as well. The gospel is about union with Christ – Christ in me and I in Him. So, “whether we live or die, we are Christ’s.” This is about being “plunged into the reality of the Kingdom.”

    I really do recommend reading For the Life of the World.

  19. Matthew Avatar
    Matthew

    I read it Fr. Stephen. I guess I need to read it again. I thought the main point was the sacraments and the sacramental, not the fear of death question.

  20. Matthew Avatar
    Matthew

    I just pulled it off the shelf ….

  21. Dana Ames Avatar
    Dana Ames

    Matthew, some years ago when I was still an Evangelical, I did a “word study” on “punishment” in the NT. Even with my entire lack of Greek (Father, please correct if needed), it became clear very quickly that entirely different words are used for the kind of “punishment” meted out to those in Christ, and to those not in Christ. Those in Christ receive what is for their education and guiding during this life. That was enough to put a big brake on whatever fear I had at the time.

    But again, I found a deeper answer for this problem in the services of the Orthodox Church, specifically in the literature for the Lenten Triodion and especially beginning with the Great Canon of St Andrew, wherein God is very pointedly engaged in “calling back Adam”. It’s so far from any idea of punishment, as we would construe it for this life as well as after death. If the Canon makes that point so many times, even as it’s discussing how often I the sinner have failed in what God wants for me, then my ideas about God’s punishment need to be set aside. The Canon sets the tone for the next 40 days, which, with Holy Week, amounts to more than a tithe of the days of the year with focus on turning back to God in response to that call to Adam (all humanity). And what happens at the end of that concentrated focus on turning to God? Pascha! – and St John Chrysostom’s sermon, where there is not one hint of retribution. So much joy in hope and hope in joy. That’s how it’s been for me, anyway.

    One can read the text of the Triodion and the Canon and derive great benefit. It’s even better hearing them in the actual services, and better still as one experiences the services cumulatively year after year. But you could take a look at the Great Canon.

    Dana

  22. Fr. Stephen Avatar

    Matthew,
    It is inevitably the case that we only hear the answer to the question that we’re asking. That’s why we read really great books so many times – each new question makes it a new book.

  23. Matthew Avatar
    Matthew

    Now that is something to get excited about Dana! Thank you.

  24. Matthew Avatar
    Matthew

    Thanks Fr. Stephen. It’s not a fear of death problem … it”s a life problem.

    Something to think about. I think I get it… but not completely sure yet.

  25. Fr. Stephen Avatar

    Matthew,
    Another way to say it is that it is important to taste the Kingdom of God in this life to have hope of it in the next. Otherwise, it too easily sounds like a fairy tale (or worse). The “easiest” deaths I’ve ever witnessed were of those who already knew the Kingdom in this life. I remember watching an old Pentecostal woman die in a virtual ecstasy of joy. I hope to see her again…

  26. Matthew Avatar
    Matthew

    Wow Fr. Stephen! Great story about the Pentecostal woman.

    I simply love this blog!

  27. Dino Avatar
    Dino

    Matthew,
    Since “Christ is our Pascha”, since closer union to Him is the ‘answer’ to any question we might have torturing us, since He is the One who (here and now and forever) utterly transforms all death and suffering, I think that a pertinent eye-opener of immense help would be to immerse ourselves in the truly divine words of the Paschal Cannon.
    This, the most joyous, the cannon of all cannons, tackles ‘the death question’ in so many ways.
    Starting off with the foundation that, indeed, “Christ our God has brought us from death to life, and from earth unto heaven” (Ode 1), it keeps drilling into the depths of our dead and death-fearing hearts that he has changed death itself so that: “We celebrate the death of death, the destruction of hell, the beginning of eternal life. And leaping for joy, we celebrate the Cause, the only blessed and most glorious God of our fathers.” (Ode 7)
    In Ode 9, the jubilation of the in-breaking (in this life and forevermore) of the Eternal Kingdom that He Himself is, is made explicit: “O great and holiest Pascha, Christ! […] Grant that we may more perfectly partake of Thee” and again: “O divine, O dear, O sweetest Voice! For Thou, O Christ, hast faithfully promised to be with us to the end of the world. And holding fast this promise as an anchor of hope, we the faithful rejoice.”
    No matter the question, whether it is our death or that of a loved one, or a mere stressful interview, or a painful over-attachment, or an anxiety for something transient or of possible eternal retributive punishment, whatever and however dark the question, the answer is closer union to Christ who is already the [respectively the above questions] eternal Life, Wisdom, Freedom, Peace, Love and Light.

  28. Dino Avatar
    Dino

    Similarly, if you were to ask whether today’s Saint, St Symeon, coming in the Spirit at a supernaturally old age to meet the incarnate Logos in the temple, desired Christ or Death most, the answer would be that the two are the same, (but the second is the more secure and permanent version of being with Christ).

  29. Dino Avatar
    Dino

    I think even many a secularised, modern, western Christian who prays to the Comforter as “the Spirit of truth and giver of life” suspects that this prayer does not invoke the one Who gives this temporal biological life, but that He is life, life eternal, this life not being such a thing of its own at all, even though the true Life ought to be tasted here and now. Moreover, the death
    at the end of this life is but the ticket to the permanent, true one.

  30. Matthew Avatar
    Matthew

    Wow Dino. Speechless. Thanks so much.

  31. Matthew Avatar
    Matthew

    Does someone have a link to the Paschal Canon or should I simply do an internet search?

  32. Dino Avatar
    Dino

    Matthew the top Google result seems a good translation to me! https://orthochristian.com/7406.html

  33. Dee of St Herman Avatar
    Dee of St Herman

    Hi Matthew,
    I found this:
    https://orthochristian.com/7406.html

    One of my favorite hymns and melodies of Pascha is the hymn Christ is Risen from the Dead on YouTube. They sing it twice, the second time in English.

  34. Dee of St Herman Avatar
    Dee of St Herman

    HA! Dino beat me to it. I was delayed for a bit before I submitted it.

  35. Dee of St Herman Avatar
    Dee of St Herman

    Matthew,
    I’ll add that every moment of returning to Christ is a moment that our Lord releases us from our tombs, self-made and otherwise.

    Something I got in the mail recently from The Book of the Elders: Sayings of the Desert Fathers:

    Abba Moses asked Abba Silvanus, “Can a person make a fresh start each day?” Abba Silvanus said, “If he is diligent, a person can make a fresh start every day and every hour.”

  36. Matthew Avatar
    Matthew

    Thanks so much Dino! Is this read every Pascha?

  37. Matthew Avatar
    Matthew

    Thanks Dee. So much.

  38. Dino Avatar
    Dino

    Matthew,
    yes this is sung/chanted during Matins in the Paschal Service and is repeated (should be) in its entirety for seven days. It is considered the most inspired hymn ever written (by St John Damascene).

  39. Dino Avatar
    Dino

    One of my daughters was enamoured with this English rendition by a small family of young chanters when she was six years old – many years ago. There are various you might discover in all languages.

  40. Fr. Stephen Avatar

    Dino,
    Yes! Repeated for seven days so that it becomes embedded in the heart.

  41. Matthew Avatar
    Matthew

    Thanks again Dino and Dee. I viewed the videos this morning. So incredibly uplifting. So much promise. So much hope. I will be listening to them again
    for certain!

    I remember going one year to the German state Lutheran church on Easter. My wife was raised in that church. It was so absolutely disappointing. The female pastor stood up and in front of the congregation asked “Is there resurrection? I don´t know!”

    I will never attend an Easter service there again. Your videos made me wonder if she would change her viewpoint if she only heard:

    “Trampling down death! Trampling down death! To those in the grave bestowing life!”

  42. Fr. Stephen Avatar

    Matthew,
    Your story of the Easter Sermon reminded me of sitting through a liturgy on St. Michael and All Angels Day (Michaelmas) when I was in an Anglican seminary. The sermon was on the non-existence of angels. It’s heart-breaking.

  43. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    The non-existence of angels….They are everywhere all around us. One example: My late wife and a friend we’re traveling to the East Coast from the middle of the country and we’re unsure of the directions so they asked for help: an angel came and sat on the hood to guide them…and

  44. Matthew Avatar
    Matthew

    It is heart breaking Fr. Stephen … and to think so many people in Germany still pay a church tax to support such rubbish! I will admit they do a significant amount of practical social work, though I am rather certain what you will say about that Fr. Stephen! 😁😁

  45. Matthew Avatar
    Matthew

    My sister-in-law continues and continues to give me books that salute the human experience. Her latest gift for my birthday last week, “Human Kind – A Hopeful History” by Rutger Bregman, asks the question:

    “How would your life and view of the world change if you knew people were good?”

    My sister-in-law is open to everything except classical Christianity. She is all about harnessing the positive power within in order for the individual to live and love more fully and richly. She has faith in nearly everything … but like John Lennon wishes for a world with no religion (at least in the Orthodox sense). I normally say thank you for the books I receive, but I never read them.

    This one looks interesting. I mean I no longer believe in total depravity. I think people in their core of core are good. That said, I stop short of saying that people are ONLY good and that through enough effort people can be so good to not have any need for God. I never know how to respond to my sister-in-law. I never give her Orthodox books for gifts. I never try an evangelize her with my faith. I just keep my mouth shut.

    I don´t want to keep my mouth shut anymore, but I don´t know what to say to her. I am no longer in the business of trying to convert or convince people, but these humanist books seem to cut against the grain of my faith and I feel like they deserve a classical Christian response. I suppose I could tell her to stop giving me these books, but I do not want to hurt her feelings.

    In closing, I remember some months ago talking about the Lord of the Flies. Then someone (maybe Dee?) shared a story about a group of school boys who were ship wrecked (I think?) on an island and who did not end up going savage like the boys in Lord of the Flies, but rather learned how to tap into their goodness, work together, and survive. How can this be? I believe Orthodoxy can and does answer these questions.

  46. Mark Spurlock Avatar
    Mark Spurlock

    Matthew,

    Out of your questions, the one I feel something of an answer for is how to respond to your sister-in-law. Do not tell her to stop giving you those books.

    How you ought to respond to her is as Alyosha responds to Ivan in The Brothers Karamazov–that is, out of love and one person who loves another. If you disagree with her about some ideas, note that you now disagree with many of your own beliefs you held not very long ago. You may be wrong still 🙂 Most of us are very kind to and indulgent with our former selves, no matter how wrong-headed we were, but we do not always extend that same understanding to others who likely have reasons and experiences every bit as good as our own for believing the way they do.

    As for the book, you could ask her what she found to be true about it and what caused her to choose it as a birthday present for you.

    If I learn a new recipe and take it to someone’s house to share with them, they will be much more appreciative if my motive is I care about them and want them to enjoy something good I have discovered, rather than if it seems I want to persuade them my cooking is superior to theirs.

  47. Matthew Avatar
    Matthew

    Thanks so much Mark. Wise counsel indeed. I just wish I could articulate myself better regarding my views. This has been going on for years with my sister-in-law and I feel I need to somehow respond to her.

  48. Mark Spurlock Avatar
    Mark Spurlock

    I think we try to articulate our views through living them…and the rest is in God’s hands.

    I’ve spent an excessive amount of life arguing, and it seldom has accomplished anything–even on the minority of occasions when I’ve “won.” But when I express what I believe to be good through action, it almost never feels wasted, regardless of the outcome.

  49. Matthew Avatar
    Matthew

    Thanks again Mark. I am also tired of arguing, but just living through good action is not enough. Secular people here are so good at looking and feeling and acting “Christian” (while they wallow in unbelief) that if I say nothing they think their worldview is just like mine … or even better! 🙂

  50. Mark Spurlock Avatar
    Mark Spurlock

    Matthew,

    If you knew the right words, do you think you could change what they believe? Did Jesus convince Pilate to release Him? Did Jesus persuade the rich young man to follow Him? Did Paul persuade Felix or Agrippa to become Christians? How much more persuasive are you or I likely to be than Christ or Paul?

    I think it is especially rare to persuade anyone who “thinks their worldview is better” to change their mind by argument. (Note that I am writing to you only because you asked a question and have expressed dissatisfaction with not knowing how to respond to your sister-in-law. If you were already content with your interactions with her, I’d think it foolhardy for me, as a stranger, to suggest you alter them.)

    Likewise, if you do want to persuade secular folks to views different from those they hold, I think the seed would more likely fall on fertile ground when they are seeking and receptive, rather than resistant.

    You cannot affect someone’s inner beliefs, even if you had the power to torture them, much less by arguing with them 🙂

  51. Matthew Avatar
    Matthew

    Thanks Mark. Good and wise advice. I have argued so much over the years with little effect.

    That said, I hope someone would still (for my personal benefit) address the questions about “goodness” that I offered up in the initial post about my sister-in-law.

    🙂

  52. Matthew Avatar
    Matthew

    And for the benefit of other blog readers! 😁

  53. Mark Spurlock Avatar
    Mark Spurlock

    Matthew:

    “How would your life and view of the world change if you knew people were good?” seems to me a different question than “How can this be?” (people tapping into their inner goodness and working together). Consequently, I’m not sure which question you want someone to try to answer.

    The second, to be honest, seems a variant of the “social activism” discussion previously covered, and so I leave it to those who are inclined to retread that ground.

    As for the first, it does not seem properly formed to me. My “knowing” whether people are good or not seems secondary to whether they are. That is, why would all the people of the world be good, and yet I do not perceive this?

    It seems to me that, if everyone is good, as a condition of our goodness, we would also all recognize that. Something about our nature cannot be completely good, if we see things as evil, that are in fact good.

    Nevertheless, so as not to seem to dodge your questions completely and as you put them in the frame of Orthodoxy (“Orthodoxy can and does answer these questions”), I think we are commanded to love our neighbor as ourselves. It does not matter whether we think our neighbor is good or not. Just as we do not earn God’s grace, we unconditionally share the grace we have received. We learn to love, and in doing so also make ourselves more lovable.

    Could that bring about a better world? Maybe, but that’s not love’s motivation. We love in the particular. You love your sister-in-law because each of you is sharing a portion of your existence with the other, not because you want to make the world a better place.

  54. Fr. Stephen Avatar

    Matthew,
    In my frequent critiques of “modernity” – I include the notion of “making the world a better place.” It is a “heresy” of sorts – in that it was born out of a Christian context – and serves as a sort of substitute religion for many. People want to be good, but they do not want to be religious. Frequently, they don’t want to be religious because they don’t trust religion and have stored up a strong critique of catalogue of its failures.

    A difficulty in questioning this – is that is questions pretty much the whole foundation of modern self-consciousness. Lots of people are not interested in questioning the whole purpose (imagined or not) of their existence.

    So, a question might be: “What if we are not able to make the world a better place?” And that might be a conversation in which everyone is “equal.” Don’t know how it would go down.

  55. Matthew Avatar
    Matthew

    Thanks so much Mark and Fr. Stephen.

    I don´t think in this context I am concerned so much about the questions of “making the world a better place” (you both have already helped me understand that “heresy”), but rather the essence of human beings.

    To what extent are people “good”? Can people be “good” without Orthodoxy? If yes, then why do people need God, or is being “good” not the point, but rather communion with God being the higher order?

    The Lord of the Flies presents human beings as largely “bad”. On the other hand, those young boys found on the island in the South Pacific were in very good shape when they were discovered. They were mostly “good” which throws stones at Sir William Golding´s thesis.

    I think you are saying, Mark, that if we can see evil then it seems logical that we are not really “good”. That said, I have met people (Christian Scientists for example) who believe all the evil and suffering we see is merely an illusion.

    ???

  56. Fr. Stephen Avatar

    Matthew,
    Christ said, “There is none good but God.” “Goodness” is a function of communion with God. That we find it in human beings speaks of the inherent relationship/communion that we have with Him, even when it is not acknowledged. We do see “evil” – both active and passive in people as well. We are not born that way – but many things conspire to disrupt our communion with God and each other and the distortion resorts in what we call “evil.” Evil is not a “something.” It’s an absence or lack of the good – it’s a parasite, deriving its existence from the good. I earlier (“everything is in motion”) spoke about our movement towards God (movement towards the Good). There is also a movement away from God (which gives increasing aspects of the “not good”).

    A great danger in modernity’s secularism is its mistaken notion that we can be good apart from God – that we are self-existing and the creators of our own well-being. Many times it borrows its ideas of the good from its Christian heritage (without admitting it). But it also has frequently created false goals and false notions of the good.

    But, each generation dies (and with them some portion of their evil efforts perish as well). Each generation that is born is not born evil. This process of death’s interruption is a “gift” from God, saving us from becoming evil beyond measure.

    And the LORD said, “My Spirit shall not strive with man forever, for he is indeed flesh; yet his days shall be one hundred and twenty years.” (Gen. 6:3)

  57. Matthew Avatar
    Matthew

    Understood Fr. Stephen. Very, very helpful. Your thoughts will help me formulate a response for my sister-in-law. I promise not to argue with her Mark! 😁 I am currently reading St. Philaret of Moscow … his longer Cathechism. So simple. Why do I make everything so complicated???

  58. Mark Spurlock Avatar
    Mark Spurlock

    Matthew,

    I hope you and your sister-in-law can converse such that–to borrow Father Stephen’s metaphor–you come closer together, rather than farther apart 🙂

    Posting under my own name here means I often have to be circumspect, but I have very many personal relationships in which I try to figure out how to facilitate a loved one’s movement closer to God. I believe that making this effort is part of how we show gratitude toward God for the gift of our own life. Certainly, I haven’t figured out a formula, and, moreover, I think what is needed is different for each person.

    Not making it complicated, though, does seem a good, basic principle 🙂 Being open to God’s use is another. For example, don’t always listen to the voice telling you something will never work. Pray to God that you won’t be the cause of failure, and then do whatever small part to bring about the good you can play to the utmost.

    This has sometimes been successful for me.

    For a hypothetical example like a relative with whom you don’t see eye to eye, it might be a prayer that, no matter what, you won’t lose your temper. You won’t take anything the relative says as personal but will try only to understand why the relative is the way she is. How has her experience of life been different than yours? What is her current situation in life that motivates her?

    You can find out these things only by listening…a lot…rather than assuming you know. That your sister-in-law gives you books indicates to me a desire for communication.

    Christ’s two great commandments, in my judgment, are more accurately one commandment with a part a and part b. So I don’t think this practice is superfluous to the “big picture” and its bigger movement.

  59. Matthew Avatar
    Matthew

    Thank you Mark.

    I think my sister-in-law does want communication, but I think she also, in her own way, is a heavy-handed evangelist for secular humanism. That said, I do need to do a lot more listening … not only to her, but to everyone I encounter.

  60. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Matthew and Mark, of late I have come to see that God and His Goodness have a substance which evil does not. I think the tendency is to think of “God” as immaterial and therefore without substance.

    In Truth, however, the opposite is true. Hebrews 11 certainly touches in that
    The soul who rejects God rejects the actual substance of Creation. The Fall described in Genesis Chapter 3 shows many things, but one thing it reveals is that “evil” is without real power unless we accept it. When we do, I think we trade the actual substance of things and our own soul for the chimera that is evil.
    As we sin, we give evil substance that it does not have otherwise. So as we repent the reality of what is and it’s goodness becomes more apparent. The Kingdom is “at hand” (Mt 4:17). He is “substance of things hoped for…”

    His Incarnation and the Holy Eucharist are the real “stuff”.

    The Substance of God is notoriously difficult to describe to unbelievers. Somewhere one has to have one’s own “Road to Damascus” moment although it may not be quite as dramatic as Saul’s.

    May the Mercy of God be with each of us..

  61. Matthew Avatar
    Matthew

    Fr Stephen … did Ancient Faith discontinue their various blogs?

  62. Fr. Stephen Avatar

    Matthew,
    Yes. We are now independently hosted. Long story.

  63. Matthew Avatar
    Matthew

    Dear Mark and Fr. Stephen (and everyone else). Below represents something I wrote to my sister-in-law who is not a Christian of any stripe. Its contents are not all original, but rather elements of things I have learned from everyone here as well as things I have learned on my own. I in no way intended to plagiarize. I view what I wrote as a synthesis of all I have learned over time. If I have misrepresented anyone I ask for sincere forgiveness in advance. I have no idea if I am accurately representing Orthodoxy (in whole or in part), but the piece does represent where I am currently in my thinking and feeling as a Protestant who has left the building. I would be open to ANY criticism but truth be told the letter has already been mailed! 🙂

    The Letter:

    I had a chance to look into the book you gave me for my birthday. Although I am not very far into it, I feel the need to share some things about where I am coming from and about some of the basic beliefs of many Christians. I don´t completely agree with the thesis of the book. Here is why:

    I think, as a Christian, it is important for me to begin with the words of Jesus Christ. He said:

    “There is none good but God.“

    For Christians, goodness is a function of communion and relationship with God. I completely agree that there is inherent goodness in all human beings, but Christians believe that this inherent goodness comes directly from God. Even if many human beings do not acknowledge that God exists, or that God is the source of all goodness, Christians teach nevertheless any amount of goodness a human being is capable of is because of God. All human beings are created in God´s image and all humans have God´s power to do good in the world.

    That said, in our very secular modern world (especially in the west) there exists the idea that human beings can be good, can do good things, and can change the world for the good all apart from God. Also among secularists there is this idea that human beings are self-existing and are creators of their own destiny and well-being. The highest value and goal seems to be absolute autonomy and that within this autonomy one finds freedom and completion without any God. Secularists normally define good and goodness on there own terms, but as I stated above Christians would say this is impossible since all goodness begins and ends with God.

    What about evil and suffering? Many Christians believe that humans are not born evil (I believe this), however many things conspire to disrupt our goodness which leads us to commit evil that inevitably leads to suffering. Christians believe that without recognizing that all goodness has God as its source, and without admitting that human autonomy is truly an illusion, humans have the real potential to commit evil beyond measure (man, man, man … even those who claim to be closest to God have committed serious evil! I think this only proves how intense the power of evil really is). I think most stories of goodness (like those in the book) that are shared in our modern world are trying to prove something. What exactly? That collectively as a human race if we all simply tap into our individual inner strength and goodness (a goodness that secularists say is void of God) we can positively change the world without God and religion. John Lennon wrote about this in his classic song “Imagine“, but it is a claim that Christians would strongly deny.

    Finally, I think I need to end on the Christian understanding of God. God for Christians is not a cosmic force or energy although God does contain those things. God is very, very personal and most perfectly manifested in Jesus Christ. When Christians say “God is love“ they don´t mean love as most people understand it, but love that has its ultimate revelation in Jesus Christ. It is this Jesus Christ who came to the world in order to make real goodness possible; a divine, true goodness that transcends all the evil humans commit despite their desire to be good, autonomous people working toward making the world a better place.

    I hope this clarifies things a bit from my side. Even if we never completely agree with each other, I think it is important to understand where each one of us is coming from. That´s the only way to know where we might end up going … together! Thanks so much again for the book.

    Matthew

  64. Dee of St Herman Avatar
    Dee of St Herman

    Matthew,
    I don’t know you or your sister-in-law. But my experience is this will fall on deaf ears and may antagonize. My answer is to live Christ not so much talk Christ. The life lived will speak louder than words and is actually much harder to do. So often I associate the people who talk the talk without the ‘walk’ to be Protestants — prostelgzing for their Church’s monetary benefit. However I speak only from my experience and exposure to some very unhumble people. I wish it were otherwise.

  65. Dee of St Herman Avatar
    Dee of St Herman

    Typo correction: proselytizing

  66. Matthew Avatar
    Matthew

    Thanks so much Dee. You might very well be right.

  67. Matthew Avatar
    Matthew

    But after years of her evangelizing me, I felt like I needed to come out of my shell and say something.

  68. Dee of St Herman Avatar
    Dee of St Herman

    Matthew,
    Her behavior sounds very Protestant-like to me regardless of the content. Rather than confront why not ask how she feels about your Christianity and just listen. She may not say much but if she does just listen. Remember me in your prayers I was very antagonistic against Christianity that I knew. She’s the same. I don’t blame her.

  69. Matthew Avatar
    Matthew

    You might be right again Dee. Just listen.

  70. Ken Avatar
    Ken

    Matthew,
    For what it’s worth, I think your letter was very thoughtfully written. I too struggle with whether and how to speak up to family members. Despite my trying to model the Orthodox life, my closest family members are interested in Gnosticism and prosperity gospel, and I think other devout Protestant relatives see Orthodoxy as something quite strange. I try my best to take the long, patient approach, trying to love them above all, and learning to trust in the providence of God. But I admit I’ve practiced many conversations in my head that have never been spoken.

  71. Matthew Avatar
    Matthew

    Thanks so much for your words Ken.

  72. Matthew Avatar
    Matthew

    Hello Dee. I just wanted to quickly report that I was able to speak to my sister-in-law about my letter. We had a short chat at a birthday party we both attended. I tried my best to listen to her. In short, we agreed on some things, on other things we differed, but I think that is how it normally is between some people.

  73. Matthew Avatar
    Matthew

    Hello Fr. Stephen. I thought purgatory was not taught in Orthodoxy, though my reading of the fathers seems to say otherwise – specifically “On the Soul and the Resurrection” by St. Gregory of Nyssa.

    I am not trying to take this conversation into another direction or off topic. I am just looking for a short response. It came up this morning while reading what appears to be a fascinating piece of writing.

  74. Fr. Stephen Avatar

    Matthew,
    There’s not an Orthodox teaching of purgatory. Indeed, the East never developed the rather elaborate scheme that became a hallmark of the West. St. Mark of Ephesus famously condemned the notion of purgatory at the Council of Florence and his position has been pretty much the Orthodox view since. There is, however, as you seem to have found in St. Gregory of Nyssa, a sort of cleansing/healing aspect encountered after death. Some, indeed, describe these as the fires of hell. Others, as well, describe the fires of hell as nothing other than the love of God – which can burn (as needed) or enlighten/cleanse as needed. There’s an article that probably says too much and in a too polemical manner, but is useful: The River of Fire.

    The West tended to codify everything about life after death questions (both the Catholics and the Protestants) where the conversation was much more dynamic in the East. I suspect that the more such things are debated, the more they tend to be codified. I prefer to read the Fathers (such as St. Gregory) and quietly ponder them.

  75. Matthew Avatar
    Matthew

    Thanks for the explanation Fr. Stephen. I also like a more dynamic, pondering approach. Would it be correct to say, then, that there is debate (much debate??) within Orthodoxy about some of the things the fathers spoke about and taught? The Toll Houses immediately comes to mind.

  76. Fr. Stephen Avatar

    Matthew,
    There aren’t debates – in that nobody’s trying to change anything. There’s never been a conciliar definition on things like the toll houses, though they are referenced in some prayers. A number of contemporary commenters describe them as essentially “metaphorical” treatments of the “particular judgement” (which is where I pretty much come down on the matter). Where you see “debates,” frankly, is among newbie’s on the internet exercising their passions without discretion. I avoid such discussions.

    But, I remember being on Mt. Athos, in the refectory (dining hall) of St. Panteleimon (the Russian monastery). The frescoes on the walls, that the monks looked at the whole time they eat, were depictions of the toll houses – a very grim reminder for men whose primary task is repentance. The paintings were very “19th century.”

    I think it is surprising for many to discover that Orthodoxy does not have this massive tendency to codify everything. It doesn’t mean that something isn’t important – but, if a person is concerned about such things – they’re probably looking in the wrong direction.

    In the centuries of debate between Catholics and Protestants, both sides tended to codify everything until there were overly defined positions on everything – lapsing into a sort of scholaticism that was quite unhelpful for the faith. Then you get the modern counter-reaction when all of that is mostly jettisoned with almost no guardrails to protect against the ideologies of modernity – leaving pretty much a bankrupted Christianity.

    I like the fact that Orthodoxy has 2000 years of its life intact. I do not “pick and choose” but work slowly to assimilate that which assists me to know God. And to remember that it’s ok to say, “I don’t know anything about that.”

  77. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    I am, in one sense, a linear person. I do not like a lot of bells and whistles on theology or philosophy. The more there are, the less I believe truth is in them. I tend to be a reductionist, which has its own problems.
    Jesus said. “I am the way, the truth and the life.” Especially when I remember He is a genuine Person, not some made up manikin, the more real His statements become. The Gospel of Matthew, especially the first four chapters really pound away at the connection between repentance and life in the Kingdom. Mt 4:17 is crystal clear: “Repent! For the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” That is clear, simple and straight forward.

    The question then becomes how and what do I repent. I tend to want to seek exceptions to my need to repent. But I also know (not just believe or hope) that when I kneel before Him and ask that He take my sins and forgive me, He does. Simple.

    I like the statement Orthodox confessors say: “Know that you confess, not to me, a sinner, but to Christ Himself.” Again simple. Not always easy as people often try to hide sin wrapped up in an old dish rag stuffed behind the couch.
    Perseverance with the guidance from one’s confessor/spiritual Father and listening to others.

    All of the conjecture about “toll houses”; purgatory, etc. tends not to matter so much. I know that what I need will be revealed to me if I am humbled and sincere. BTW, I love Fr. Seraphim Rose but The Toll Houses do not help me.

  78. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    I just want to say, if one prepares and has one’s heart open, the activity of the Holy Spirit and our Lord, Jesus Christ, is revealed in every portion of the Divine Liturgy.

  79. Fr. Stephen Avatar

    Matthew,
    I should probably correct myself. There are lively debates – because there are people with different personalities and opinions. Generally, debate means that there’s room for debate. When I think about debate – I hear (or see) most of it within the laity. I hear some among the clergy. I hear the least (almost none) among bishops. That is fascinating in and of itself.

    I have a personal dislike for debate – I’m not very good at it. I’ve noticed across the years that it almost immediately flares the passions and I do very badly with them. I produces shame (in my experience).

  80. Matthew Avatar
    Matthew

    Thanks so much Fr. Stephen for the clarification about debating and debates. I also thank you for your thoughts about purgatory and the toll houses.

    Fr. Stephen said:

    “I think it is surprising for many to discover that Orthodoxy does not have this massive tendency to codify everything. It doesn’t mean that something isn’t important – but, if a person is concerned about such things – they’re probably looking in the wrong direction.”

    What exactly do you mean by this Fr. Stephen? I am concerned about these things because for years now I have been searching for a way to move beyond theologies and spiritualities that make God into less (sometimes much less) loving and merciful as I have come to understand him. Is that looking in the wrong direction do you think?

    Thanks so much Michael. Your constant focus on repentance is helping me to remember how important it really is.

  81. Matthew Avatar
    Matthew

    correction … “than” I have come to understand him … 🙂

  82. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Matthew, the Orthodox spiritual life is balanced. Certainly repentance is crucial but so is celebration–not the hedonistic celebration of the world but celebration of His Mercy and bounty. My sins prevent me from participating in the Joy of the Lord. My tendency to sin also prevents me from standing for the Truth as strongly as I would like, or even to take care of those who depend on me as well as I ought.
    “We do pray for mercy and that same prayer teaches us to render the deeds of mercy.”
    Lord, forgive me, a sinner.
    This is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it.

  83. Matthew Avatar
    Matthew

    Thanks so much Michael.

  84. Fr. Stephen Avatar

    Matthew,
    I offered such a generalization! Not sure it was really helpful – which your question reveals.

    I completely understand the desire to understand and to see God as loving and merciful. Depending on our background – it doesn’t always come easy.

    “move beyond theologies and spiritualities that make God into less (sometimes much less) loving and merciful as I have come to understand him.”

    For myself, at some point, I simply reckoned in my heart that God is loving and merciful. It is made definitively clear in the life/death/resurrection of Christ. So, that is a beginning and ending point for me all the time. I run across things (and people) who contradict this from time to time – and I tend to set it aside or place in a parenthesis, etc.

    I think of the blind man whom Christ healed. Confronted with all kinds of arguments and authorities he says, “This I know. That whereas I was blind, now I see.” In John 1:18 – we’re told that “no one has seen God. The only-begotten, who is in the bosom of the Father, he has made Him known.” And so I say within myself, “I only know God as He has made Himself known in His Son, Jesus Christ.”

    It has been a sort of “steady place” in my heart. And, of course, it gets assaulted all the time.

  85. Matthew Avatar
    Matthew

    Man does it ever get assaulted! The last 10 to 12 years has been a long series of theological and spiritual battles for me which I hope will be coming to an end soon. I guess I shouldn´t let the toll houses and St. Gregory of Nyssa´s (or Macrina´s??) ideas about purgatory get me down. Overall I have found a fuller, more complete, more merciful, more loving, more substantial understanding of God in the Orthodox Church. I am now beginning to also find a deeper experience of God in Orthodoxy too. The Divine Liturgy has remained with me in an experiential sense since Saturday morning. The experience is not intensely present. It isn´t even always there, but something remains with me — a “something” that doesn´t remain with me after I leave my Baptist church.

  86. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Matthew, praise God.

  87. Matthew Avatar
    Matthew

    Yes Michael. Praise God. This blog has been immensely helpful. I only hope more seekers will be drawn to it. Thank you Fr. Stephen and everyone else.

  88. Matthew Avatar
    Matthew

    Just an aside …

    I have a friend who is an evangelical pastor and chaplain. He lives in the U.S. I asked him if there was an Orthodox church near his home. He said yes and he also knows the priest there. My friend said:

    “The priest there is an ex-evangelical. Nice guy. A little haughty, but to be fair, most “ex” anything´s are.”

    I have changed a lot over the years. From one tradition to the next, from one opinion to the next, from one movement to the next. Each time there was a real sense of haughtiness rather than humility present in my spirit. I think my friend Dan is onto something.

    May humility always trump haughtiness.

  89. Fr. Stephen Avatar

    Matthew,
    Humility is difficult and rare. I have a chapter on my book entitled, “The Shame of Conversion.” There’s a lot of things at work in that process.

  90. Matthew Avatar
    Matthew

    Thanks Fr. Stephen. In “Face to Face” ?

  91. Fr. Stephen Avatar

    Matthew,
    Yes – the “shame” book. 🙂

    I had a number of speaking engagements just after the book came out. One of the other Ancient Faith authors described it as my “shame tour.”

    There’s a kind of awkwardness, I imagine, when an evangelical becomes an Orthodox priest and is then speaking with an evangelical pastor. There’s a general sense (especially in America) among evangelicals that is very, very ecumenical and very “leveling” when it comes to all Churches – essentially carrying a sense that Churches don’t matter, they’re, at most, just a matter of style and personal choice. Those are things that are inimical to an Orthodox understanding – and, I suspect, any effort to communicate that, or to express the “boundaries” of Orthodoxy would come off as being haughty, whether it is or not. That’s also something hard to express without offending.

    On the other hand, I cannot count how many times I’ve been approached in public (while wearing a cassock and cross, clearly identifying me as a priest) and asked, “Are you saved?” I’ve been spat at, assaulted, cursed, laughed at…in various places in the both the US and England. So, it’s something to bear in mind when discussing the topic. And, to be fair, I suspect that most of the insults where offered in the mistaken notion that I was a Catholic. And, I should be quick to add, that such insults are vastly outnumbered by opposite reactions in which I’ve been warmly greeted and treated.

  92. Matthew Avatar
    Matthew

    I would love to know how you answer the “Are you saved?” question when you don’t have much time and when you cannot formulate a written response.

  93. Fr. Stephen Avatar

    Matthew,
    Often, I say, “I have accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior, and united myself to Him by faith.” It is a sufficient answer, and sometimes allows us to have a longer conversation.

    The hardest conversation I’ve ever had was about 45 minutes on a plane flight, sitting next to a Saudi doctor (a woman), who opened by saying, “I’ve never met a Christian. Do Christians believe that Jesus actually died on the Cross?”

  94. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Father, what a wonderful way of stating the nature of intra-relationship between Jesus and we who try to live the faith of the Church.

  95. Janine Avatar
    Janine

    Thanks, Father, for The River of Fire article.

  96. Matthew Avatar
    Matthew

    Thanks also Fr. Stephen for the River of Fire article. I love God. I do not hate God. Praise be to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

  97. Matthew Avatar
    Matthew

    Hello Simon. I just re-read something excellent you wrote about the significant differences between Orthodox Christianity and Buddhism. It is proving to be immensely helpful as I am drowning in Buddhism where I am (both within my immediate family and the wider culture).

    I have a theory: I don´t think many people in the west who are attracted to Buddhism actually have clue one about what is going on behind the scenes. I know I didn´t until you shared your information.

    Thanks Simon. Have a great weekend.

  98. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Matthew, before The Church, I spent several years in an organization that tried to mix Buddhism and aspects of Catholicism. When the organization ended several years after I left it, most folks moved into Orthodoxy. The rest stayed “New Age”.
    Orthodox Christianity and various forms of Asian spirituality do not fit together. The practices do not have the same end. To try and force them together involves at least dabbling in a number of heresies.

    I really did not understand that until I joined the Church where “worship of the Trinity is made manifest”.

    Totally different.

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