The Communion of Prayer

MonkPrayerNow it came to pass in those days that He went out to the mountain to pray, and continued all night in prayer to God (Luke 6:12).

Have you ever wondered what Jesus did when He prayed all night? Have you ever tried to pray all night? If your conception of prayer is a monologue of needs, information and requests, then your experience of prayer is either that it is very short or very repetitive.

Years ago, in my years between high school and college, I lived in a religious commune (yes, it was the early ’70’s). From time to time in our efforts to live a life based in Scripture, we “kept watch,” though we had no guidance from tradition to explain the meaning of the phrase. Our practice was first to stay awake all night. Second, we tried to pray. The monologue model made no dent in the hours of the night. We quickly learned that in order to pray all night something else had to serve as prayer. We learned to pray the Psalms. Accidentally, we had begun to practice one of the ancient forms of “keeping watch.”

Fittingly, it was one of the simplest forms of keeping watch – but the experience was instructive. We began to learn the value of simply being present to God (who is Himself everywhere present) and attentive to the words of prayer itself.

It seems to me that Christ would have had no need to hold conversation through the night with the Father. There was no information to be conveyed – no requests not already known. The need to pray in such an intense manner is simply the expression of true communion – such as exists eternally in the Godhead. For human beings, that communion is most frequently expressed as prayer. It is a need greater than food:

In the meantime His disciples urged Him, saying, “Rabbi, eat.”
But He said to them, “I have food to eat of which you do not know.”
Therefore the disciples said to one another, “Has anyone brought Him anything to eat?”
Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me, and to finish His work.

And:

When He had fasted forty days and forty nights, afterward He was hungry. Now when the tempter came to Him, he said, “If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread.”
But He answered and said, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.’”

More valuable than food – such communion is greater than sleep as well. Thus Christ prayed through the night on occasion. The practice has continued in the ascetic life of the Church through the centuries.

It is prayer as communion with God that concerns me in this post. Such an understanding is not simply a description of so-called “contemplative” prayer, but is properly the understanding for all prayer. Prayer is communion, expressed in words, in songs, in a presence that sometimes transcends words. Prayer is stepping consciously into the life that has been given us in Christ – and remaining there for a period of time (unceasingly is the Scriptural goal).

Participation in the life of God (communion) is the heart of intercessory prayer.

But [Christ], because He continues forever, has an unchangeable priesthood. Therefore He is also able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them (Hebrews 7:24-25).

Christ’s “intercession for us” should not be understood as an eternal torrent of words; intercession is Christ’s union with us who have now been united to Him and thus united to His eternal communion with the Father.

This same understanding of prayer is at the heart of the intercession of the saints. Much confusion about the intercession of the saints has been wrought by poor images of prayer. We have reduced prayer to talk and intercession to talk to God about someone else. It is in this imagery that the Protestant question comes forward: “Why do we need someone else to speak to God for us? Isn’t Christ’s prayer enough?”

Of course, if prayer is just talk, then surely Christ’s words would be sufficient. But this oversimplification of prayer fails to do justice to Christ’s own prayer (as well as that of the saints). The intercession of the saints is their communion and participation in the life of Christ. By His life they live and the very character of that life is a communion with God. Rightly understood – that communion is prayer itself. When we express our own communion with the saints through asking their prayers we are giving verbal expression to what is already an ontological reality. As we are in communion with Christ so we are in communion with the saints. The Church cannot be other than the Church.

There may be those who reject the “intercession of the saints” (particularly as caricatured by inadequate understandings of prayer), but if they are truly in the communion of the Church then the intercession of the saints is inherently part of that communion. There is no Church that is not also the communion of the saints.

Our salvation is participation in the life of Christ. It is our healing, our forgiveness, our resurrection and our peace. Prayer is the sound of salvation – even in a wordless state.

Our reluctance to pray (let us be honest) is a manifestation of the primordial sin. It is not the time or effort we avoid – but communion with God that causes us to recoil. It is the hardness of our heart that avoids participation in the heart of God. But it is also His mercy that continues to call us to the life of prayer despite our selfish rebuff.

Coming out, He went to the Mount of Olives, as He was accustomed, and His disciples also followed Him. When He came to the place, He said to them, “Pray that you may not enter into temptation.”

And He was withdrawn from them about a stone’s throw, and He knelt down and prayed, saying, “Father, if it is Your will, take this cup away from Me; nevertheless not My will, but Yours, be done.” Then an angel appeared to Him from heaven, strengthening Him. And being in agony, He prayed more earnestly. Then His sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground.

When He rose up from prayer, and had come to His disciples, He found them sleeping from sorrow. Then He said to them, “Why do you sleep? Rise and pray, lest you enter into temptation” (Luke 22:39-46).

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57 Responses to “The Communion of Prayer”

  1. Marsha Says:

    Prayer is the sound of salvation – even in a wordless state.

    Great line, and easily remembered. Thanks for this, and the last paragraph in the previous post.

  2. Marsha Says:

    Sorry, third from the last paragraph in the previous post.

  3. Mike Says:

    In many ways I hear you describing prayer at some level as the practice of “showing up” and being present to the One who is already always present to us. Presence as a spiritual practice is one of the more difficult practices. I think about how difficult it is to be truly present to another human being and yet every authentic relationship is based on real presence – in our marriage, with our children, in the Eucharist, and with Christ. Presence is prayer and prayer is presence.

  4. fatherstephen Says:

    It is difficult when praying to be present to the words – for our mind, heart and attention to not be elsewhere. Actually, it’s difficult for us to be present almost anywhere – such is the corruption of the “mind.”

  5. Stephen Says:

    Now it came to pass in those days that He went out to the mountain to pray, and continued all night in prayer to God (Luke 6:12).

    Why do you suppose Christ went somewhere to pray if He is already perfect and in communion with God ceaselessly? For anyone else I would think that a retreat from the world would be pushing away from any distractions. But it has to be more than, that He is just being an example to us. In some ways it seems as if His humanity lived and breathed prayer and was sustained by prayer as much as we are called to. also praying all night, seems to sound like He is not praying at other times. Could this be that Jesus engages in different forms of prayer at different times? and is always praying otherwise?

  6. fatherstephen Says:

    I would think something like that. Certainly His prayer, manifest in a manner that we understand, is a manifestation of human nature. That there is always communion of the Son with the Father and the Spirit is certainly the case. But just as a man must breathe, so the incarnate Christ must pray as we pray. That He always prayed seems certain to me.

  7. mike(the other one) Says:

    …this is a great thought provoking post…i appreciate it

  8. Communion with God « Robby Lobby… Says:

    […] of posts at Glory to God for All Things that discuss prayer and our communion with God – The Communion of Prayer, and Salvation, Prayer and Communion with God. Both are well worth […]

  9. Stephen Says:

    Just as God is a mystery, it seems prayer will always remain somewhat of a mystery to us. Your post is very helpful in beginning to gaze into this mystery even if not fully and for a brief moment.

  10. zdenny Says:

    Your right on target with this!! We participate in the life of God through prayer for sure!!

    Please send me a friend request on FACEBOOK so that I can get your new post on my page. Just post a link to your facebook so I will see the updates after we are friends. You will get a lot more visits to your post too…Thanks

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  11. Two Posts Worth Reading, and a Problem « In Your Light, We Shall See Light Says:

    […] is the first, and here is the […]

  12. T. Ambrose Nazianzus Says:

    Thanks for the response! I had one follow up question.

  13. elizabeth Says:

    What a wonderful post! I am going to share it with my prayer group.

    We go through cycles. Some meetings are prayers of thanks and praise; expressions of gratitude actually often infuse other kinds of prayers as well because the ways in which our group has been blessed require overwhelming gratitude. Three premature babies with extensive birth defects and a seriously ill priest this year alone returned to health. Obviously, we are also great petitioners–two hours (guess that’s far less than all night or 40 days & 40 nights!) of non-stop begging for our priest when he was diagnosed with cancer. But many times we spend half our evening together in silent communion with God, followed by selective sharing.

    Thank you also for the comment about the reluctance of people to pray and your suggested explanation for it. Since God brought me to the church, rather than the church bringing me to God, that reluctance, which I have noticed, was difficult for me to understand. Your post has helped shed light on this for me. That is important because we find that this happens occasionally with us as a group. Sometimes new attendees want to talk about God but not talk to God. We now know that in time these people will make the journey from reluctance to participation in the conversation to respectful listening to, finally, the joy of simply sitting silently in the presence of God and enjoying the communion, grateful for God’s attention and love.

    I hope you will post more on this topic.

  14. me Says:

    ..i think stephen has a good point…there are different forms and ways of prayerfull communion with our Creator….quiet contemplation is my favorite

  15. Epiphanist Says:

    Thank you Father Stephen. It seems to me that to rely on praying in words is to limit God to being words, or a book, which does appear to be the understanding of many. I really struggled with the declaration of faith post reformation which you published recently. The emphasis of the various Christian creeds and statements of dogma is on words. God, or at least a conception of God defined in almost legal terms, a trend evident in the thought of the Old Testament. Prayer in words is still relevant, because it works OK, but I am thinking it is the intention that is more important. Communion with God of Love rather than God of Laws, rules, morals or beneficial results.

  16. Mark Downham Says:

    I really like this – so you are Anointed after all!

    Keep Shining!

    An Evangelical.

  17. fatherstephen Says:

    Many thanks.

  18. Karen Says:

    Dear Father, bless! Wonderful post. I emailed the link to a number of family members and friends because I found it so helpful.

    (Mark D, belatedly–I was away from my computer for a few days–my apologies if I was provoking to you in my comments under Father’s post on Calvinism. I only intended to provoke reflection. I was also hasty in my last comment to you and failed to clarify that in my agreement with Sea of Sin, I was referring only to his most recent comment before my last one, which was a gentle invitation to the life of repentance that is Orthodoxy. I experience this life as a great blessing–one too good not to be shared, even with those who are convinced they do not need it. Please forgive if in so doing I offended.)

  19. Mark Downham Says:

    Karen

    I am going to be very direct – I am undergoing all sorts of pneumatological-perceptual shifts right now and so everything is very fluid and open – I am Evangelical, but i am being “stretched” in some deep and fascinating ways.

    Mark

  20. Mark Downham Says:

    May be this paper sums up my position right now at 16.44 Hours UK Time 13 July 2009 – The [HOLY] SPIRIT will simply not let this drop – I keep coming back to this – I am seeing all the parallels from my own experiences and deciding what to do next:

    The Many and the One: The Interface Between Orthodox and Evangelical Protestant Hermeneutics – Grant R.Osborne

    http://www.orthodoxytoday.org/articles/OsborneScripture.htm

  21. fatherstephen Says:

    Mark,

    It’s a good paper. Fr. John Breck was my spiritual father for a number of years – a very good man.

    My own sense of hermeneutics has been shaped to a large extent by reflecting on the hermeneutics of the fathers, particularly in the typological and mysteriological sense (very well put in the article describing the living experience in liturgy). That reflection – seen in An Orthodox Hermeneutic – began during some years studying among a number of Post-modernists. It’s not a post-modern hermeneutic – but they made me think about some things I’d never considered. Particularly the sense that reader and text are not to be separated. The largest amount of my personal study has been in the ascetic writers of the faith – and it is in that light that I tend to write about what occurs to me. That the Church is the interpretation of Scripture, is of course, from St. Paul but it unites many streams for me.

    I would strongly recommend Fr. John Behr’s The Mystery of Christ. He is dean of St. Vladimir’s seminary in N.Y., and a former student of Met. Kallistos Ware at Oxford. He is a patristics scholar and did his work in St. Irenaeus (2nd century). Irenaeus is one of the most suggestive of the early fathers in his treatment of Scripture as he makes distinctions between the orthodox use of Scripture versus that of the gnostics.

    Behr was probably the first Orthodox scholar that I read who seemed to me to be expressing similar things to what had been occurring to me. I don’t mean that I was or am thinking anything new – only giving expression to something I’ve seen. Behr is far more weighty and of substance.

    His work is particularly insightful about the event of Pascha (Christ’s death and resurrection). It is, of course, also the primary liturgical event in the life of the Church. Behr would say everything begins there. Indeed, since the “lamb was slain from the foundations of the earth” it is proper to say that Pascha in some sense is older than creation. St. Maximus the Confessor taught that “Christ’s incarnation (which includes the cross and resurrection) is the ’cause of all things.’)

    That ability to preach and teach in a way that transcends time is important to me. The limit in many hermeneutical approaches to Scripture, it seems to me, is the “earthbound” and “timebound” character of the hermeneutic. The event happened or the prophet spoke. We sit centuries removed and interpret. Intervening is history, etc., turning the whole thing into an all-too-often intellectual exercise.

    However, “Christ our Passover is crucified for us.” “I am crucified with Christ, etc.”. These are not ways of speaking about a past that is isolated by history. Christ’s resurrection is even now shaping our lives in the present (and forever). I should not stand isolated from Pascha and speak about it as something back then. I have been “baptized into His death” and “raised in the likeness of His resurrection” thus these cannot be events that are removed from me.

    Time itself is a “created thing” according to St. Basil the Great. Time has a fallenness about it. History as time, is marked by death and corruption, isolation and despair. Our redemption in Christ includes, somehow, the redemption of time. This is especially true in the Eucharist (memorialism in the Eucharist is the denial of all this). The One Sacrifice is made present to us in the Eucharist. It is truly Christ’s body and blood. Our participation in Him is a true participation and sharing in His Pascha. What else could redeem us? “If anyone is in Christ there is a new creation.” “Whoseover eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me and I in Him.”

    Get Behr’s book. Read it at a leisurely and devotional pace. It’s very worth it. I think you’ll like it and find it very helpful (far more helpful than me).

    Also these are interesting articles here and here.

  22. Mark Downham Says:

    I have the book by John Behr.

    Essentially, I am interested in ‘Theoria’ and how this corresponds with Evangelical Pneuamtological Hermeneutics.

    I written at length on Hermeneutics in the past – I see some convergences. At the moment, I agree with a lot of this stuff – but the way I understand the ‘Evangelical’ is not Historical…..

    “Indeed, since the “lamb was slain from the foundations of the earth” it is proper to say that Pascha in some sense is older than creation. St. Maximus the Confessor taught that “Christ’s incarnation (which includes the cross and resurrection) is the ’cause of all things.’)” – Father Stephen Freeman.

    YES.

  23. Mark Downham Says:

    Father Stephen

    Everything in your post above (July 13:4.10PM) falls within an Evangelical Paradigm – and that is the fascinating thing – at this moment I am in Communion with you in spirit and the Spirit – there are Depths to this – I think hte Spirit is turning me into a “stretched” Evangelical, to the point where I am not really interested in titles, desciptions, confessions and formations outside of Being Christian.

    Mark

  24. fatherstephen Says:

    I would agree that such a hermeneutic could easily be accepted by an Evangelical. What would be lacking is its ecclesiological expression in a fullness that was not, more or less, “manufactured,” and thus less than full. The treasure of Orthodoxy is, ultimately, in its very life rather than understood as ideas. I think your pneumatological work might make you somewhat unusual as an “Evangelical” but I mean that in the most complementary sense.🙂

  25. Mark Downham Says:

    There is a ‘Deep Church’ movement developing in Evangelical Ecclesiology – the way I live the Life is heavily governed by Prophetics – I understand your “reading” of fullness in Eastern Orthodox Ecclesiology – at root I am a Radical Individualist – but again that could be the impact of Prophetics ad the radical perceptaul alterations this type of Charism triggers.

  26. fatherstephen Says:

    I understand.

  27. Sea of Sin Says:

    For years I was involved with a group of people whose aim it was to be the “ancient church”. It started out innocently enough (or so it seemed), but it turned out quite foolhardy, akin to re-inventing the wheel. It seems silly now looking back, but sadly a root of stubborn rebellion (pride) played a subtle part in all this. We “knew better” and had something to offer that the ancient church didn’t have – yes this was our raison d’etre. I see now that all this was an elaborate delusion, and it kept us from seeing the truth. The truth about ourselves and the truth about the Church.

    We are not called to “re-discover” the church. We are called to repentance. And much, both things inside and outside of ourselves, will fight us to live this life of repentance.

  28. Darlene Says:

    Father,

    You said, “This is especially true in the Eucharist (memorialism in the Eucharist is the denial of all this).”

    Could you be more specific here? I have departed from the common Prot. Evangelical perspective on The Lord’s Supper as being merely a memorial. I think the reason for this is their departure from the sacramental life. Even Luther believed that the Word of God added to the sacrament of The Lord’s Supper changed the Eucharist so that believers are indeed partaking of the true body and blood of the Lord. How that happens, he considered to be a mystery.

    On another note, I have not attended Divine Liturgy for the past three weeks. There is an aloneness I feel while there, perhaps because I attend alone. But it is more than that. I have come to realize how much I have been shaped by the culture of Protestant Evangelicalism. The EO seems foreign to my experiences as a Christian and thus, I feel like a foreigner when I attend the Divine Liturgy.

    My husband recently said he wanted to attend DL with me, but I am afraid. Afraid he will be critical and list all his complaints afterward. He did this when we attended a conservative Lutheran Missouri Synod liturgy and couldn’t wait to leave. He has not read about the Orthodox faith and thus, I believe it will seem offensive to him. And it will bring back all the negative reminders of his High Episcopal upbringing of which he has completely departed, for as he says, “I never knew Christ there.” So my concern is, he will view the EO as one and the same as his “religious” upbringing.

    How difficult it is to travel from the evangelical faith tradition to the EO. I’m not sure I can do it. And yet, I worry that if I don’t completely leave my roots and follow where my heart, mind, and body can find healing and peace, I will always be unsettled and wandering.

    I feel, as “they” say, caught between a rock and a hard place.

    Darlene

  29. fatherstephen Says:

    Sea,

    There are a variety of “ancient church” experiments or attempts out there – with varying results. The “Evangelical Orthodox Church” which famously came into Orthodoxy some 25 or so years ago (and more of the same group since) turned out well. My daughter’s father-in-law is an Orthodox priest who came in with Fr. Peter Gilquist and that original group. A truly excellent man (who gave me a very fine son-in-law who is himself now a priest). All that to let you know my own connections with such journeys.

    I have a patience about such things because I think people have to journey as they journey (and my own conversion did not rid me of rebellion, pride and delusion – it just takes another subtle form – sin is always at the door). I am less patient with those experiments that seek holy orders from questionable places (Apostolic succession is not just about laying on of hands but is better defined by what one is actually in living communion with. If someone is not in communion with the bishops and people of the Orthodox faith, then it’s not clear to me that they can be called “Orthodox”). There are minor exceptions to this in some of the Old Calendar situations and in the previous situation that obtained with ROCOR – though they were in communion with Serbia, I believe. There is a world of difference between difficulties that arise in the dynamic within Orthodoxy and something that has started more or less on its own, etc. I suppose the way to say this is that I’m very wary of groups who call themselves “Orthodox” but are not in communion with the Orthodox.

    Having said that – I still am patient about these things and think that is a proper attitude. If someone truly loves the early Church and is truly seeking – this is not a bad thing. It’s difficult, on the other hand, that having found and accepted Orthodoxy, one should become complacent about seeking God. That journey must never end. God bless all pilgrims.

  30. fatherstephen Says:

    Darlene,

    I think I was almost three to five years in growing “comfortable” with Orthodox Divine Liturgy – even though I was a priest. I had been an Anglican priest for 18 years before that. Change is not easy. Now, some 10+ years as an Orthodox priest, I cannot imagine my life without the Divine Liturgy. But, many things are like this. It will come in time. The best approach, I think, is to seek to pray and hunger for God – particularly in Divine Liturgy – though always and everywhere. Be patient with your husband and always pray for God’s work in him. I am staggered by my wife’s patience towards me.

    As for reading – I would suggest books such as the two volumes on “Father Arseny” and such writings. They go to the heart very quickly and reveal the inner life of the Church. If all someone sees at first is the Liturgy, they may be distracted and not see the inner life. Such writings help reveal it.

    I read Zander’s St. Seraphim of Sarov when I was in college and found that it anchored my awareness of the existential truth of Orthodoxy regardless of the distractions I encounter along the 20 some odd year journey it took to get here.

    My prayers.

  31. Karen Says:

    “I have a patience about such things because I think people have to journey as they journey (and my own conversion did not rid me of rebellion, pride and delusion – it just takes another subtle form – sin is always at the door).”

    Many are watching that patience in action, and I for one appreciate it immensely. (I can say the same about my own conversion as well!) Thanks!

  32. Sea of Sin Says:

    Yes, Father I agree. Unfortunately, this group did (and does to this day) have its own holy orders from questionable quarters, complete with claims of apostolic succession and its own patriarch. I now do not have much patience for it, as it amounts to a radical re-interpretation of the Apostolic Faith, and in so doing it is downright deceptive.

    If it is innocent, a true quest for finding the truth, and not deemed a destination in itself, then indeed patience and understanding is in order. However, things are not always what they appear as even the enemy of our souls appears a sheep, so one must go about with utmost caution. A word of caution is the reason why I brought up my experience.

    Unfortunately, the so-called “Evangelical Orthodox Church” is an exception to the rule.

  33. Darla Says:

    Darlene, if I may — let me preface by saying I know, of course, that our experience won’t necessarily be your experience. But I wanted to comment that it’s my husband who has jumped into the River, as it were, wholeheartedly and almost without reservation. Orthodoxy has an appeal for men, naturally so. Here are a couple of articles by Frederica Mathewes-Green about men and Orthodoxy: http://www.frederica.com/writings/men-and-church.html and http://www.frederica.com/writings/men-and-church.html.

    In our station I had been the one doing the original reading (books, Internet) and e-mailing (gal I met online), but I also had been the one over the years who talked my husband into all our church changes which came about because of my dissatisfaction. So I purposed to not say anything this time. Within a week of this decision, my husband asked me what one book about Orthodoxy I would recommend. Within a few more weeks he made the decision to attend Vespers on a Saturday night, and within a couple of weeks after that he met with our (former) pastor and told him we were leaving to attend the local Orthodox mission. We’ve been attending since March.

    And my husband isn’t a huge go-getter!!!! You could even say the opposite is true about him. But he believes in and loves God. He felt like he was falling short of knowing him somehow and didn’t understand why/how. He’d just about given up. In his words, Orthodoxy requires something of you. It’s hard and it’s challenging. And it’s rich and deep.

    Anyway, I just wanted to share that with you. I can think of at least two other couples that have been a big part of our journey to Orthodoxy who would say the same thing (that once their husbands “discovered” the truths found in the Church, it was them — the men — who were gung-ho.

  34. fatherstephen Says:

    This is where my patience tends to end, “own holy orders from questionable quarters, complete with claims of apostolic succession and its own patriarch.” This last nonsense (Patriarch) is over the top from an Orthodox perspective (where even autocephaly is hard to come by). At some point such things cease to be the “journey” and become delusion and deception and people, interested in Orthodoxy, should be warned away. There are, as you say, dangers. Thank God for the exceptions.

  35. Darlene Says:

    Father,

    I have heard there is some controversy regarding Father Arseny, whether or not the account written about him is true or that he even existed. Can you elaborate on this?

    Darlene

  36. fatherstephen Says:

    To the best of my knowledge he was real. But I do not know much in the matter. Even were the books a “composite” as some have suggested, they still work as an accurate portrayal of the inner life of the faith.

    There is a spiritual novel, Pilgrimage to Dzhvari, written by the mother of Bishop Hilarion Alfeyev, that works quite well for this inner sense.

    The book, Mountain of Silence, though written by someone who has the occasional “odd” thought, is still liked by many Orthodox for it has within it a very good account of the Orthodox inner life.

    These sorts of books do not convey information – but they convey something that information cannot. I do not believe that conversion occurs as the result of information alone. This “something other” seems to me to be a very important catalyst.

  37. Sea of SIn Says:

    The controversy, if you can call it that, stems from the lack of information available from independent sources regarding Fr. Arseny. If you read the books however, they are chock full of addresses, places, people and accounts by people who personally knew him. They relate their experiences, conversations and meetings with him. It would be an elaborate conspiracy to put something like this together.

    Besides the books mentioned by Fr Stephen and Darla above, I can highly recommend “The Gurus, the Young Man, and Elder Paisios” by Dionysios Farasiotis.

  38. fatherstephen Says:

    Sea,

    My Son-in-law just recommended the Gurus book to me tonight. It was the first I’ve heard of it – but his recommendation is enough for me.

    Fr. John Breck, who was my spiritual father, is also spiritual father to Vera Bouteneff, who translated the Fr. Arseny books. He told me that they were authentic. That’s the closest assurance I’ve had. But I almost consider it a side issue – one to be eventually satisfactorily solved by the Moscow Patriarchate.

  39. Darla Says:

    I linked the same article twice above. The correct 2nd link should have been: http://www.frederica.com/writings/men-and-church-1.html … apologies.

  40. Dana Ames Says:

    Darlene,
    My turn to Orthodoxy has been very difficult for my husband. I will offer what Fr. Stephen told me: Be respectful and comply with your husband’s wishes. Talk to the priest and inform him of your situation. Pray a lot. God will help you. I hope and pray that someday my husband will be open to hearing more, but for now he is not, and it would not be a loving thing for me to try to “convert” him at this point. One woman in my parish waited several years for her husband to be ok with her becoming Orthodox. I am very grateful to God and my husband that he didn’t do anything like that. Though it really threw him for a loop, he did not stand in my way.

    A curious thing is that I have not felt like I needed to argue about anything in our discussions about Orthodoxy, except for one thing: the status of women, and particularly no women priests. This was the “big gun” he hauled out to try to get me to reconsider. I quickly stopped trying to explain to him, because he didn’t want to hear, and it was impossible for me to explain in a few minutes what it took me months to work through. It was actually the biggest impediment to Orthodoxy for me when I first began seeking. I read and listened to Frederica’s comments; I love her stuff otherwise, but this just irritated me. (Sorry Darla…) She sounded too much like where I had been for 20 of my 30 years as a Protestant, where I was deeply wounded by teaching which, when followed to its logical end, leads to women being viewed as not quite human, a feature of which is gender essentialism (all men are like *this* and all women are like *that* and never the twain shall meet…). Getting to a place of forgiveness for those teachers has been a major struggle. I seriously wondered if I could go on with my exploration of Orthodoxy, because there was no way in hades I was going back to that, and at first that’s what Orthodoxy looked like it was about in this regard.

    I’m glad I kept on searching, because I did find other Orthodox voices that spoke to me about this issue. I take great comfort in Orthodoxy affirming that men and women are both fully human, made in the image of God, and in the Orthodox explanation that gendered humanity is actually a kind of icon that points to something larger. A historical study of the priesthood in Judaism, along with further understanding of what being a priest in Orthodoxy means, resolved the other part of the issue. But it took me some time to arrive where this was settled in my heart.

    In our American culture, so influenced as it is by the slice of Protestantism I was part of, women are not supposed to “bother their little minds” about theology, and so we’re surprised when they do… There may be fewer women than men who have come to Orthodoxy because of theological reasons, but we certainly do exist. After The Hospitality of Abraham (the Trinity), the next icon I acquired years before I entertained the possibility of becoming Orthodox was that of St. Macrina; the Church recognizes her contribution to the theological thought of her brothers, St. Basil and St. Gregory of Nyssa. She is the first saint for whose prayers I asked, even when I could voice them only in my heart- and I am quite sure I have been helped by them. And “stoked” is the only word that describes how I felt when I found out I was born on Holy Hierarchs Day. At the beginning, Orthodoxy was all about the theology for me; I found light life and great depth and richness therein, and it led me to more, including being able to see the value in “getting outside my head”…

    Forgive me- trying not to be defensive, or offensive…

    Dana

  41. Karen Says:

    Dear Father, bless! I heard a review of “The Guru, the Young Man, and Elder Paisios” on AFR, so it’s been next on my list to purchase and read (and leave lying around during a visit to with my extended family who are into New Age spirituality!)🙂

    Dana, I, too, have preceded my husband and family into the Orthodox Church. Like your husband, after the initial shock and period of investigation and when it became clear my desire to become Orthodox was not going to go away, he decided not to stand in my way. He has tried to be as supportive as he can, though naturally this is not what he prefers. He is not at all interested in Orthodoxy for its own sake or for himself, but only as it allows him to understand my needs (and this has been slow in coming). Having both had family members in cults or cult-like churches, he also needed to assure himself that the Church was sound doctrinally (which is funny once you understand the facts of Church and dogmatic history, but very understandable, given the contemporary American religious culture and times). It was also critical to both of us that the parish I attended had leadership he felt confident was very sound (not perfect, just healthy!), open, sensitive, and considerate. I have always found that the pastor(s), particularly the lead pastor if there is more than one, in a big way sets the tone for the whole parish. We now alternate between our former evangelical (Willow Creek style) church and a large OCA parish together. After trying to go separately, we decided we really needed to go as a family (with occasional exceptions) wherever we go Sunday AM. (We are still raising our children.) It makes for some interesting contrasts, but common to both churches are dedicated and caring pastoral staff who have great respect for and consistently teach from the Scriptures, conscious and intentional welcome to all visitors, and good participation and a sense of responsibility for the parish on the part of a large core of the members. I don’t know if my husband (or children) will ever make the leap to Orthodoxy (although, obviously, I pray so), but I feel very grateful that as far as Orthodox parishes go, we have such a welcoming parish close to home where we both feel very confident of sound and compassionate pastoral care in our situation. (This is God’s very merciful provision for me–I honestly think I would not be able to withstand the stress of my situation without this kind of support so readily available.) This last element, IMO, has been critical to our situation being redemptive for both of us and not destructive of our marriage and family. This is because of some past traumatic experience we have both had around the abuse of spiritual authority. I never had strong feelings about women being allowed to be pastors/priests, and even when a “spiritual gift inventory” survey at my evangelical church showed me to have strongest gifts in the area of “shepherding” and “teaching”, I never had a desire to be a pastor. I felt very content to exercise those gifts in my role as facilitator in a small group women’s Bible study and informally in my relationships (mainly with other women and with children, though I think there are men who have considered me a support and encouragement to their faith as well). Women have always been allowed to serve in a variety of leadership capacities in the churches I have attended, including as lay preachers, though not as pastors in adult mixed congregational situations, and have been treated respectfully. I have never been comfortable in churches where differences in the sexes were overemphasized (except perhaps as fodder for humor in classes on getting along in marriage), and sex roles (except iconic roles) held to be rigid. In my current Orthodox parish, women and girls are even specifically assigned (invited) to help hold the cloth under the Chalice for Communion, complementary (it seems to me) to the men and boys who serve in the Altar. Consequently, I have seldom felt dehumanized as a woman in a religious setting. But I know this is not the experience of many women, and this is a major issue for one of my sister-in-laws. I love your story about being born on Holy Hierarchs Day! St. Macrina is one who has particularly interested me as well for similar reasons. I will remember you and your family in my prayers.

  42. Mark Downham Says:

    Father Stephen

    I have now had time to reflect on your notes posted on July 13 209:4.10PM

    “My own sense of hermeneutics has been shaped to a large extent by reflecting on the hermeneutics of the fathers, particularly in the typological and mysteriological sense (very well put in the article describing the living experience in liturgy). That reflection – seen in An Orthodox Hermeneutic – began during some years studying among a number of Post-modernists. It’s not a post-modern hermeneutic – but they made me think about some things I’d never considered. Particularly the sense that reader and text are not to be separated.”

    This is a form of Hermeneutics known as ‘Reception Theory’ – John Breck would contain that the Fathers used a hermeneutic Device of ‘Theoria’ or a form of pneumatological ‘intuitive’ perception with hte Nous as a predicate. You seem to be doing the same – which means you are using a Prophetic Charism.

    “The largest amount of my personal study has been in the ascetic writers of the faith – and it is in that light that I tend to write about what occurs to me.”

    We treat these texts as a system of [prophetic] hermeneutics written to engage and illuminate Scripture as the ‘Apostolic Doctrine’ and therefore to need some interrogation and to fall within the category of having to be ‘weighed’ – which is normative within Eastern Orthodoxy and incidentally Evangelical Theology, Apologetics and Spirituality.

    “That the Church is the interpretation of Scripture, is of course, from St. Paul but it unites many streams for me.”

    Please quote the exact verses and Texts from his Pastoral REpisles in the New Testament where he explicitly states ‘the Church is the interpretation of Scripture’ beyond eisegesis or hermeneutical ambiguity -if you can prove this from the text without ‘eisegetical interpolation’, then it overturns the Reformers’ contention that Scripture is its own interpreter.

    ‘I would strongly recommend Fr. John Behr’s The Mystery of Christ. He is dean of St. Vladimir’s seminary in N.Y., and a former student of Met. Kallistos Ware at Oxford. He is a patristics scholar and did his work in St. Irenaeus (2nd century). Irenaeus is one of the most suggestive of the early fathers in his treatment of Scripture as he makes distinctions between the orthodox use of Scripture versus that of the gnostics.’

    I have read John Behr extensively and studied Irenaeus on ‘Against Heresies’ Vols 1-4.

    “Behr was probably the first Orthodox scholar that I read who seemed to me to be expressing similar things to what had been occurring to me. I don’t mean that I was or am thinking anything new – only giving expression to something I’ve seen. Behr is far more weighty and of substance.”

    I think he is relatively informed – but he does not have the ‘Communicative Anointing’ I pick up when I engage you.

    “His work is particularly insightful about the event of Pascha (Christ’s death and resurrection). It is, of course, also the primary liturgical event in the life of the Church. Behr would say everything begins there. Indeed, since the “lamb was slain from the foundations of the earth” it is proper to say that Pascha in some sense is older than creation. St. Maximus the Confessor taught that “Christ’s incarnation (which includes the cross and resurrection) is the ’cause of all things.’)”

    All Crucicentric Spirituality is an Evangelical Category – this category transcends ‘traditions’.

    “That ability to preach and teach in a way that transcends time is important to me. The limit in many hermeneutical approaches to Scripture, it seems to me, is the “earthbound” and “timebound” character of the hermeneutic. The event happened or the prophet spoke. We sit centuries removed and interpret. Intervening is history, etc., turning the whole thing into an all-too-often intellectual exercise.”

    I have experienced ‘transcending’ time – in Prophetics you become ‘time-lose’ – past/present/future do not mean a great deal.

    “However, “Christ our Passover is crucified for us.” “I am crucified with Christ, etc.”. These are not ways of speaking about a past that is isolated by history. Christ’s resurrection is even now shaping our lives in the present (and forever). I should not stand isolated from Pascha and speak about it as something back then. I have been “baptized into His death” and “raised in the likeness of His resurrection” thus these cannot be events that are removed from me.”

    This type of Spirituality will take you right through the Eye of the Needle – it is a Cross-Shaped Evangelical Spirituality and it is present in everything. The Evangelical is present in Eastern Orthodoxy, it is not just a Reformation Category, although I am a Reformation Evangelical.

    “Time itself is a “created thing” according to St. Basil the Great. Time has a fallenness about it. History as time, is marked by death and corruption, isolation and despair. Our redemption in Christ includes, somehow, the redemption of time.”

    I have experienced trans-temporal pneumatolgical shifts to the point where I have seen the very landscape temporally and temporarily altered around me as I am walking through it.

    “This is especially true in the Eucharist (memorialism in the Eucharist is the denial of all this). The One Sacrifice is made present to us in the Eucharist. It is truly Christ’s body and blood. Our participation in Him is a true participation and sharing in His Pascha. What else could redeem us? “If anyone is in Christ there is a new creation.” “Whoseover eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me and I in Him.””

    Yes. We would agree with this – but we would caveat Maximus the Confessor on his treatment of ‘subdue-ing the earth’ and say that in calling on Adam and Eve to ‘extend paradise’, this was reconstructive mandate and that it suggests that Adam was in a mature state not an immature state as predicated by some patristics. We see the tohu va bohu [Hebrew – Genesis 1:2] [the Desolate and Void] nature of Genesis 1 as an implicate consequence of the ‘satanic fall’ and therefore the Garden of Eden as the beginning of a reconstrcutive action.

    We do not see ‘the Evangelical’ or Evangelcial Spirituality as just a “system of ideas” – to us it is the very fullness of the LORD Jesus Christ.

    Mark

  43. alex Says:

    Evangelical spirituality agrees that the Eucharist is Christ’s body and blood?

  44. mic Says:

    Mark Downham,

    Please forgive me for intruding in on your dialogue, and please do not take this as an attack of any sorts, but an honest question.

    i have often wanted to ask a Protestant this question, but never really noticed an opportunity to do so, until your last post.

    Anyway, you quoted Fr. Stephen in saying,

    “That the Church is the interpretation of Scripture, is of course, from St. Paul but it unites many streams for me.”

    Then you came back with,

    “Please quote the exact verses and Texts from his Pastoral REpisles in the New Testament where he explicitly states ‘the Church is the interpretation of Scripture’ beyond eisegesis or hermeneutical ambiguity -if you can prove this from the text without ‘eisegetical interpolation’, then it overturns the Reformers’ contention that Scripture is its own interpreter.”

    i have heard the Protestant statement that, “Scripture is its own interpreter, or Scripture interprets Scripture” before, but never understood where that line of thinking came from.

    So here then is my question, as you put the question to Fr. Stephen to use proof-texts to prove that the Church is the interpretation of Scripture, are you able to do the same to prove that Scripture interprets itself?

    Again, please forgive the intrusion. i do not wish to take the conversation off on a random tangent, but also, i didnt want the opportunity to slip away.

    Thank you in advance!

    peace
    mic-

  45. Mark Downham Says:

    Evangelical Spirituality does not confuse Aristolelian Thomism with the Book of Hebrews which is the primary hermeneutical decoder in Scripture for understanding the Eucharist.

  46. Karen Says:

    Dana, as an aside, I should add that though my husband chose not to stand in my way, I was also unwilling to trample his will should he have chosen otherwise (that scenario would have placed me in an incredibly isolated and difficult position spiritually, however). I appreciate your recognition that trying to convert your husband under the circumstances would be unloving. It is similar with us. We are both doing our best to cooperate with the demands of an unselfish love which is as good a description of the life of repentance as any, I believe, and a major part of God’s purposes for marriage.

    Mark, believing in the work of the Holy Spirit, which is the Spirit of prophecy, and recognizing also that Scripture demonstrates that for every charism of the Holy Spirit, Satan attempts counterfeits which deceive many, how can you be confident that the promptings, intuitions and words you receive are not counterfeit–examples of Satan disguising himself as an Angel of Light–or even just last night’s pizza digesting (or a chemical imbalance in your brain)? I see that you study and read. There is a lot of good in that–taking advantage of the work, thought, and experience of others can help mitigate our tendency to self-deception, but also our human rational faculties (for sifting that information) are not flawless. You are also obviously passionate about your calling as an Evangelical (assuming all the good meanings that has in common with Orthodoxy), yet even our strong convictions and those seemingly good motivations we have can be tainted by less pure motivations (or bodily weakness) of which we are unaware unless God in His grace reveals it to us. This, in turn, can be impeded by our unwillingness to consider or see such. I am speaking as someone who spent many years in charismatic Christian circles (noting both positive and negative features of that movement), one who has family members with mental illness and other family members who have fallen prey to various destructive cults (all claiming Scripture as their sole authority). Several years ago in a time of personal crisis, I even had a (mercifully short-lived) episode of insomnia-induced psychosis where all my delusions were religious in nature and came from Scripture (but were very unScriptural in their ultimate content!). How do you personally try to discern the spirits (I’m not asking you necessarily to discuss this here with me–just a question that I believe is important in this context)? Obviously Fr. Stephen is the one to address these questions to. You mentioned elsewhere the temptation of prelest. I observe (though discovery of some of my own heart’s hidden darkness through the years) that this is a particular temptation of those who long (at least on a conscious level and as they understand that) to obey and serve the Lord. I have found full Orthodoxy to be the only reliable safeguard to falling prey to Satan’s wiles in this regard–no rugged individualist Christian or lone ranger Christian group–is a match for him. I still stumble in many ways, but I find Orthodoxy always supplies the corrective that brings me healing. May the Lord help me to put into practice what I learn. I hope you can see more clearly how my comments and questions addressed to you stem from a heart of concern and not a desire to antagonize.

  47. Mark Downham Says:

    Mic

    Hi. You are very welcome.

    The Reformation Doctrine of ‘Scripture is its own interpreter’ is based on John 10:35b Scripture cannot be broken.

    This Doctrine is at best incomplete and at worst, wrong.

    Only the HOLY Spirit is the true interpreter of Scripture – as confirmed in 1 Corinthians 2:6-16. .

    1 Corinthians 2:6-16

    Wisdom From the Spirit

    6 We do, however, speak a message of wisdom among the mature, but not the wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing.

    7 No, we speak of God’s secret wisdom, a wisdom that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began.

    8 None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.

    9 However, as it is written:
    “No eye has seen,
    no ear has heard,
    no mind has conceived
    what God has prepared for those who love him”—

    10 but God has revealed it to us by his Spirit. The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God.

    11 For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the man’s spirit within him? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God.

    12 We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us.

    13 This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words.

    14 The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned.

    15 The spiritual man makes judgments about all things, but he himself is not subject to any man’s judgment:

    16″For who has known the mind of the Lord
    that he may instruct him?”But we have the mind of Christ.

    The question is then, HOW?

    Eastern Orthodoxy would say through the Church [and Tradition].

    We would say through the LORD Jesus Christ – but then it becomes a question of the relationship of the LORD Jesus Christ and the Church.

    Mark

  48. Dana Ames Says:

    Thank you Karen.
    I have noted concerns and lines of thought similar to mine in what you write. You’re much more tactful🙂

    I’m not sure that I would have had enough love not to trample; by the time I showed up at the church doors I was pretty much pounding on them to be let in… Thankfully, my children are grown, so that piece of it is not an issue.

    I will pray for you & your family too.

    Dana

  49. fatherstephen Says:

    Mark,

    The Scripture I have in mind for the Church as the interpretation of Scripture is specifically 2 Cor. 3:2-3

    Ye are our epistle written in our hearts, known and read of all men: Forasmuch as ye are manifestly declared to be the epistle of Christ ministered by us, written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God; not in tables of stone, but in fleshy tables of the heart.

    Either the word is embodied and lived or it is just words, ideas. As St. Gregory of Nyssa said: “The glory of God is a man fully alive.” (Which is only true if the man is in Christ).

    But the incarnation/death/resurrection of Christ are not to establish some cosmic redemption plan elsewhere to which we may apply (the way I see some treat “salvation by grace through faith”), but is His life now made open to us. Into this Life/death/resurrection we are Baptized and in this Life/death/resurrection we live, we are daily transformed by communion in this life/death/resurrection and this same life/death/resurrection is made manifest in the Church, which is His body. What are the Scriptures but the word of God to the Church and through the Church to the world? The gospels are not historical narratives for all the world to use by which they can expand their own historical narratives. The Gospels are Christ in the Church and are only rightly read and understood within that life. The Epistles are written to the Church, which receiving them becomes “the epistle written in the fleshy tables of the heart…”

    That is how I mean the Church is the interpretation of Scripture.

    This is the same sense in which Christ is the “exegesis” of the Father (John 1:18). Thus the Church must also be the exegesis of Christ. If the Church is not the exegesis of Christ – how will men know Him? There should no preaching of a “churchless” Christ – for this is not Christ as He has been made known to us.

    An aside on Evangelical Spirituality as the fullness of Christ… Scripturally, it is the Church which is “the fullness of Him that filleth all in all.” The spiritual life is to be lived within the Body of Christ – His Church – where He has made the fullness to dwell.

    You probably agree with that – but then we’d have to eventually move on to ecclesiology which is where we apparently have some conflict or differences.

  50. mic Says:

    Thanks again Mark!

    i appreciate the time you took to answer my question.

    However the Scripture that you gave seems to support the Orthodox view of the Church interpreting Scripture…unless St. Paul is speaking of a different “We.” Please forgive my wording, i fear it sounds sarchastic, but i do not mean it to be!

    Also, i know that i have drifted terribly from the subject of the blog, so Fr, please forgive me.

    peace
    mic-

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