A Relationship With God?

IMG_0625What is the nature of a relationship with God? It is commonplace in our modern parlance to speak of a “personal relationship” which is either redundant, or a way of weakening the true meaning of “personal.” I suspect that the modern meaning of “relationship” is in fact not capable of bearing the true weight of theological meaning and is simply a shallow way of speaking about the Christian faith. What Scripture invites us into is communion with God. I have written on this topic previously, addressing the substitution of the word “fellowship” for communion. I have offered a new reflection here as well as appended two articles on the topic from my previous writings. They seem quite on topic. One could substitute “relationship” for “fellowship” and the articles would work in that way as well. God has offered so much to us – it is a pity if we allow language to lessen the magnificence of that gift.

To Be “Born Again”

This morning I received a small comment (deleted) that is not uncommon. Someone will have read an article on the blog and posted the question: “Yes, but have you been born again?” I know that the thought is well-meant, someone wondering if I am “saved” (according the understanding of some evangelical Christians). However well-meant such postings may be, they are ill-informed.

There is an assumption among a number of Protestant Christians that to be “born-again” is the equivalent of a particular decision (which the Orthodox would term “repentance”) at a particular time in which we repent of our sins and ask Jesus to be the Savior of our life. Repentance is indeed Biblical, as is the phrase “born-again.” However the conflation of the two, in which a particular response at a particular time (always and necessarily at the “age of accountability” or later) is equated with the “born again” in Christ’s conversation with Nicodemus recorded in the third chapter of St. John’s gospel. That conflation is of very recent vintage, a Biblical interpretation dating back to the origins of the Evangelical Movement a few hundred years back. That is to say – it is a novel idea – not an item of Christian revelation.

There is nothing within the actual text of Scripture that requires such an interpretation. Indeed, Christ’s use of the phrase in St. John’s gospel, makes specific connection with “water and the Spirit.” The traditional interpretation of the phrase “born-again” has in fact always been to equate it with Holy Baptism.  St. Peter’s reference to being “born again” (1 Peter 1:3-5) where it is written that God . . . “has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, . . .” is another reference to Baptism – for it is specifically in Baptism, St. Paul tells us (Romans 6:4-6), that we are united to Christ’s resurrection. This is the faith of the Orthodox.

However, such a belief carries within it an understanding that Holy Baptism is more than a “mere symbol” or an “empty ritual.” It is the means given to us by Christ through which we are united with Him. It is also the understanding of the Church that the gift given to us in Holy Baptism should be continually received by us in the life of faith. But being “born again” is not to be reduced to a “spiritual transaction.”

At the heart of the matter is the question of what it means to be in relation to God. How is it that we are saved? What is the goal and purpose of the Christian life? Some versions of modern Christian thought have offered radical departures from classical Christian teaching – making salvation external to our life (in various forensic models) – or grounded in various transactional accounts (with emphases on our ‘decision’ for Christ).

Salvation is union with God through Christ by the Holy Spirit. It is Trinitarian. It transcends the will though it includes the will. It transcends the will just as the will is not the ultimate seat of our personhood. It includes the will just as the will is an important aspect of our existence. Those who have exalted the role of ‘decision’ in our salvation have also unwittingly diminished the personhood of those in whom the will is diminished (the unborn, the mentally impaired, etc.). The exaltation of the will, it would seem, is a by-product of a culture in which the most important role of human beings is as consumers. Salvation in Christ is not a product for our consumption. It cannot be marketed or reduced to something grasped by the will.

Who can give a true account of the mystery of grace that brought him to Christ? I appreciate St. Paul’s brief summary of his conversion:

But when it pleased God who separated me from my mother’s womb and called me through His grace to reveal His son in me… (Galatians 1:15)

It is a wonderfully elegant version of all that transpired in his life – including his encounter on the road to Damascus. What was filled in Baptism in Damascus began “when God…separated me from my mother’s womb” (and surely while he was within the womb). We do well to give thanks to God for the mystery of our salvation. We also do well to avoid modern reductionist accounts of salvation – they are insufficient for the fullness of the faith.

Is “Fellowship” with God Possible?

Too little has been written about the politics (and theology) of Bible translations. From the very first instance, the goal of English translations has not been a primary concern with a faithful rendering of the meaning of the text. Much of the history of the English Bible has been precisely over the agenda carried by the translation itself. Most readers remain unaware of such issues. Most will not notice that the King James version rendered the Greek word episcopos as Bishop, while the Geneva translation rendered it as overseer. The King James version, authorized by the Anglican King as the official Bible of the Church of England, was insistent on the correctness of Bishops as the proper form of Church government. The Geneva Bible, as the name suggests, was a Calvinist product, equally insistent on the absence of bishops – hence the neutral term overseer. Both could argue that their translation was accurate. Yes, but.

This is only one of the most famous instances of theologically driven translation issues. There are many more. It is important to read Scripture, but it is equally important to know who translated the Scripture that you read and why. In many cases, modern translations exist in order to give a publishing company a product to which they alone hold copyright.

But all of the above is preliminary. I have a concern with a particular word in Scripture that has its own history of translation issues. The Greek is koinonia. The root of the word is the adjective: koinos, meaning common. The noun is one of the great abilities of ancient Greek – the ability to create abstract concepts from adjectives (this is not common in ancient languages). It is this linguistic ability that caused philosophy in Western Civilization to first be practiced by the Greeks. Without abstract nouns there is nothing to discuss.

The word koinonia had a fairly clear religious, even sacramental meaning by the time of the New Testament. It had a history of usage even in pagan religious settings. Its meaning was fairly clear: communion, participation or sharing. In each of these meanings the strongest sense of the word is meant. To have koinonia is to have communion, to actually participate in the life of another in the sense that your life and the life of the other share a common existence.

In the history of English translation the word receives a mixed treatment. In the King James Bible the word is generally translated either as communion, or, occasionally, by the weaker word fellowship. Interestingly, as time and Protestantism move along, translations have tended to move more often to the weaker rendering fellowship. Thus in the Revised Standard Version we read:

If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not live according to the truth; but if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin (1 John 1:6-7).

What on earth does this mean? In our modern two-storey world, fellowship is a very weak word. It refers to a relationship between two very discreet individualities. Rotary clubs meet for fellowship. It’s not unlike comradery with the exception that the term comrade sounds as if you actually shared a common experience.

The Greek is clear. If we say we have communion with Christ while we walk in darkness, we lie. We lie because to have communion with Christ is literally to have a share in His life, to dwell in Him and He in you. It is of the very heart of our salvation. By the same token, if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have communion with one another, because we are sharing in one and the same life. And it is this sharing in the life of Jesus that is itself the sharing in His blood that cleanses us from all sin.

My complaint, as I am raising it here, is that translations frequently mislead. The entire concept of Church as a fellowship of believers, meaning a free association of like-minded Christians, is simply not a Scriptural notion, unless your Bible happens to be one of the many that has bowdlerized the clear Orthodox meaning of Scripture. We are saved by union with Christ, by participation in His life. We are Baptized into his death and raised in His resurrection. We eat His Body and drink His Blood. We have participation in the life of one another such that we cannot say to one another, “I have no need of you.” Such examples can be multiplied from every page of the New Testament and not one of them will support the weak image of an associational fellowship. This sad translation of a powerful word has helped support a notion of the individual believer with a relationship with Christ (what sort of a relationship is fellowship?) and his Bible. This is not the language or imagery of Scripture nor the doctrine of the Church.

Is fellowship with God possible? I’m not certain how to answer the question. I’d rather have communion.

What Does It Mean to have Communion with God?

I am sure that the title of this section seems obvious and as though I had pulled a question out of a catechism. And yet, my experience tells me that things that seem as though they ought to be obvious often are not, particularly the more basic and fundamental they are in our life as Orthodox believers. I noted in the section above that the world fellowship is often found in English Bibles as a mistranslation of the Greek word koinonia, the result being that frequently when Scripture is giving us information about communion with God, our translations are giving us something completely different.

One of the best places to begin thinking about communion with God is to ask the question: “What’s wrong with the human race anyway?” What is it about us such that we need saving?

The answer to that question is perhaps the linchpin of Christian theology (at least what has been revealed to us). Among the most central of Orthodox Christians doctrines is that human beings have fallen out of communion with God – we have severed the bond of communion with which we were created and thus we are no longer in communion with the Lord and Giver of Life, we no longer have a share in His Divine Life, but instead have become partakers of death.

This lack of communion with God, this process of death at work in us, manifests itself in a myriad of ways, extending from moral failure, to death and disease itself. It corrupts everything around us – our relationships with other people and our families, our institutions and our best intentions.

Without intervention, the process of death results in the most final form of death – complete alienation and enmity with God (from our point of view). We come to hate all things righteous and good. We despise the Light and prefer darkness. Since this is the state of human beings who have cut themselves off from communion with God, we substitute many things and create a “false” life, mistaking wealth, fame, youth, sex, emotions, etc., for true life.

Seeing all of this as true of humanity – Orthodoxy, it can be said, does not generally view humanity as having a “legal” problem. It is not that we did something wrong and now owe a debt we cannot pay, or are being punished with death  – though such a metaphor can be used and has its usefulness. Be we need more than a change in our legal status – we need a change in ourontological status – that is we must be filled with nothing less than the Life of God in order to be healed, forgiven and made new. Jesus did not come to make bad men good; He came to make dead men live.

Thus God came into our world, becoming one of us, so that by His sharing in our life, we might have a share in His life. In Holy Baptism we are united to Him, and everything else He gives us in the Life of His Church, is for the purpose of strengthening, nurturing, and renewing this Life within us. All of the sacraments have this as their focus. It is the primary purpose of prayer.

Thus, stated simply, to have communion with God means to have a share in His Divine Life. He lives in me and I in Him. I come to know God even as I know myself. I come to love even as God loves because it is His love that dwells in me. I come to forgive as God forgives because it His mercy that dwells within me.

Without such an understanding of communion, these vitally important parts of the Christian life usually become reduced to mere moralisms. We are told to love our enemies as though it were a simple moral obligation. Instead, we love our enemies because God loves our enemies, and we want to live in the Life of God. We’re not trying to be good, or to prove anything to God by loving our enemies. It is simply the case that if the Love of God dwells in us, then we will love as God loves.

Of course all of this is the free gift of God, though living daily in communion with God is difficult. The disease of broken communion that was so long at work in us is difficult to cure. It takes time and we must be patient with ourselves and our broken humanity – though never using this as an excuse not to seek the healing that God gives.

If you have lived your Christian life and never heard the story of our relationship with God put in the sort of terms used above, then you have missed out on hearing most of the New Testament. You have missed the story as told by the Fathers of the Eastern Church (which means, most of the Church Fathers). It is possible that you have heard such a distortion of the Christian faith that you have wanted nothing to do with it.

But if what I have described above sounds like good news – then the news is very good – because this is the teaching of the New Testament and the Church founded by Jesus Christ and which continues to be proclaimed by the Orthodox Church.

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44 Responses to “A Relationship With God?”

  1. Karen Says:

    Dear Father, bless! I pray most Tuesday mornings with a small group of Christian moms whose children all attend our local public schools (through the “Moms in Touch” organization). We use selected Scriptures as our point of departure for prayer. One of this morning’s Scriptures focussing on God’s mercy was 1 Peter 3:3-5, where it is written that God . . . “has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, . . .” It got me to thinking about this very issue as a former evangelical, now Orthodox, so yours is a helpful and timely post and one to which I will refer evangelical friends or family members who may ask about the Orthodox understanding of this NT teaching. I love the breadth and depth of the Orthodox faith! Precisely because of that depth, it is difficult to decide how to begin to address certain questions, such as your commenter’s, when they come up. I’ve also thought that in answer to the question about “personal relationship,” on the positive side I can affirm that Orthodoxy teaches a full faith engagement on the part of each individual according to their capabilities, and that it doesn’t teach that formal membership in the Orthodox Church is a guarantee of salvation. It seems like it would be important in many cases to acknowledge this common ground and clear this simple misunderstanding out of the way as an introduction to the deeper issues you address here. Thanks so much for a very helpful post.

  2. On Living in God – Father Stephen Freeman « From Dust to Doxology Says:

    […] – Father Stephen Freeman […]

  3. mic Says:

    i thoroughly enjoyed this post Fr. i reposted it in my fb notes with a link to your blogsite. This is easily a top 5 of my all time favorite posts from you. Thanks again!

    peace
    mic-

  4. Tweets that mention A Relationship With God? « Glory to God for All Things -- Topsy.com Says:

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Fabio Leite and Ζωντανό Ιστολόγιο, Veronica du Bruyn. Veronica du Bruyn said: A Relationship With God? – What is the nature of a relationship with God? It is commonplace in our modern parlance … http://ow.ly/160NXh […]

  5. fatherstephen Says:

    Karen,
    Your reference to the 1 Peter quote puts me in mind of editing a small addition into the first section. It is another particular example of “born again” associated with Baptism, for it is in Baptism (according to St. Paul, Romans 6) that we are united to Christ’s resurrection. Thanks you. It is, I agree, important to reassure others of our understanding of a real and true union with Christ and not some lesser thing. I understand the anxiety some Evangelicals have about any teaching of salvation that is not their own – though many are quite open to understanding Orthodox teaching in the matter. No need to argue where it is not necessary.

  6. fatherstephen Says:

    Photo: The Sea of Galilee as seen from Capernaum (September 2008).

  7. Cheryl Says:

    Thank you, Father,

    This post may be my all-time favorite of yours. So helpful in breaking down important issues, especially for those of us who still have many friends and family in the Evangelical world.

    Cheryl

  8. reader Steven Clark Says:

    Yes sir, Yes sir three blogs full. ….. And all of them very full.

    Thank you Fr. Stephen for this blog. It is one of those myriad of things I could never reconcile between what scripture says and what I had been taught as a baptist.

    I mused about it much. But I did not have the understanding of the Church as a Communion in the Body of Christ to assist me. Thank you

  9. Irenaeus of New York Says:

    [—
    The traditional interpretation of the phrase “born-again” has in fact always been to equate it with Holy Baptism. St. Peter’s reference to being “born again” (1 Peter 3:3-5)
    —]

    The iconography of Christ’s baptism also teaches this idea of Baptism being linked to being born again.

    I thought this was an interesting excerpt from “Jesus of Nazerath” by P.B.XVI

    …These correspondences are picked up by the iconographic tradition. The icon of Jesus’ Baptism depicts the water as a liquid tomb having the form of a dark cavern, which is in turn the iconographic sign of Hades, the underworld, or hell. Jesus’ descent into this watery tomb, into this inferno that envelops him from every side, is thus an anticipation of his act of descending into the underworld. “When he went down into the waters, he bound the strong man” (Lk 11:22), says Cyril of Jerusalem. John Chrysostom writes: “Going down into the waters, and emerging again are the image of the decent into hell and the Resurection.” The troparia of the Byzantine Liturgy add yet another symbolic connection: “The Jordan was turned back by Elisha’s coat, and the waters were divided leaving a dry path. This is the true image of Baptism by which we pass through life”. (Evdokimov, The Art of the Icon)Jesus’ Baptism, then, is understood as a repitition of the whole of history, which racipitulates the past and anticipates the future….

  10. Stephen Says:

    Thanks fr., this is a great post and one that I know I will be returning to from time to time.

  11. Henry Says:

    When reading this article, I am reminded of a quote from Alice in Wonderland, “When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, “it means what I choose it to mean, neither more nor less.” For a number of years I was part of a process that negotiated and drafted legal documents for the Government. The first and perhaps most important arguments concerned the definitions section.

    As an American Protestant I have never been satisfied with a definition of salvation based in radical grace. It just didn’t seem that I could reconcile it with the entire body of scripture. In context, I viewed salvation as something that began in the mind of the Trinity in timelessness before time. The mechanism was established at a point in time in the death, burial, and resurrection of our Lord. As your post observes, even our individual salvation began in eternity. Individually I understand, born again, as an experience like crossing a river into a new kingdom with new laws and new customs, but it just a moment in time that stretches into timelessness beyond time, eternity.

    Born again as it is generally taught seems to do a disservice to an extraordinarily rich and complex concept. I think the little video on salvation found on this web site and your article are more satisfying and closer to the complete truth.

  12. Stones Cry Out - If they keep silent… » Things Heard: e93v3 Says:

    […] On a relationship with God. […]

  13. Brantley Thomas Says:

    Father, this is outstanding. It’s not possible to put Orthodoxy into a tract, but this comes awfully close.

    Asking your blessing….

  14. Wednesday Highlights | Pseudo-Polymath Says:

    […] On a relationship with God. […]

  15. James the Brother Says:

    Father Stephen,

    In the context of “being saved/born again” is there a definitive time period or movement in which the idea of “eternal security/once saved always saved” surfaced? If so is it associated with any particular person or group? My understanding is that it is a relative new thought and foreign to the Early Fathers but I don’t know any specifics.

    Thank you Father Stephen. May God continue to allow you to be a vessel of blessing to your readers and to your flock.

  16. Michael Moore Says:

    Father Stephen,
    A friend of mine forwarded this to me and I found myself resonating with what you wrote. Our pastor recently preached from 1 John 1:5-9 and I was really struck with the “if’s”.. If we walk in the light as He is in the light and If we confess our sins that we are cleansed by the blood of Jesus. Both, not one or the other, must be true for us to be cleansed ( and for us to have “communion” one with another ).

    I am adopted and the adoption imagery in the scripture is very relevant to me.. How do you interpret this in light of “one saved always saved” as I have been taught, but am questioning. It seems that if we have become God’s children (legally and relationally) that this metaphor give strong support for that position. what are your thoughts? Please know that I also see that the adoption metaphor implies that God knew us and loved us and made plans to “adopt” us as His own before we knew Him. That He took the initiative, that he has quickened us, made us alive in Christ. Anyway, I enjoyed the article and look forward to your reply.

  17. Mrs. Mutton Says:

    LOVED this post. My priest is foreign-born, and we go around and around on the subject of translation. By now, he’s become used to my rants, sufficiently that if I bring up something I consider a bad translation, he’ll look it up in the Greek so we can talk about it. Usually — it IS a bad translation. I might not have the concept completely correct in my own mind, but the translation actually is bad to begin with. It’s nice to read here that there is such a thing as a bad translation.

    So when are you going to write a book? ;->

  18. Ryan Says:

    Father,

    Communion with God when seen in those terms is infinitely fuller then the understanding of “personal relationship” I have known.

    What is a good english translation of the Bible to read?

  19. Father Stephen on being “born again” « Clumsy Orations of an Orthodox Catechumen Says:

    […] Father Stephen on being “born again” Another good post by Father Stephen which can be found here. […]

  20. James the Brother Says:

    I recently purchased a copy of The Eastern/Greek Orthodox Bible (NT) and am finding it interesting. The appendix information is worth the cost of the book at least for me. Interestingly in the above mentioned verses the word in question “fellowship” is translated “communion”. It’s such an obscure book that when you order one, you have to wait several weeks for it to be printed. I haven’t had time to comprehensively evaluate it, even with my limitations, but again I would buy it again just for the supplemental information.

    http://www.orthodoxanswers.org/eob/index.asp

  21. Rick Says:

    “Thus, stated simply, to have communion with God means to have a share in His Divine Life. He lives in me and I in Him. I come to know God even as I know myself. I come to love even as God loves because it is His love that dwells in me. I come to forgive as God forgives because it His mercy that dwells within me….But if what I have described above sounds like good news – then the news is very good – because this is the teaching of the New Testament and the Church founded by Jesus Christ and which continues to be proclaimed by the Orthodox Church.”

    And apparently some Evangelical churches. Just heard a similar message Sunday at an Evangelical megachurch.

    The point of that message was that we overlook an important word in Scripture, “in”. The mystery and good news is that we are “in” Christ, and He is “in” us.

  22. greg Says:

    Father bless. This may be the best blog post I have ever read – anywhere. Thank you.

  23. flod logic Says:

    This was such a great post, Father! Just one little correction…St. Peter’s reference to being “born again” is in 1 Peter 1:3, not 3:3.

  24. fatherstephen Says:

    Flod,
    Typo. Thanks!

  25. Luke Says:

    Father bless.
    Very good. It’s so easy to understand and makes sense.

    luke

  26. Darlene Says:

    Father,

    You said, “However, such a belief carries with it an understanding that Holy Baptism is more than a “mere symbol” or an “empty ritual.” It is the means given to us by Christ through which we are united with Him.”

    This brings me to the question if baptism within faith communities that believe it only to be “mere symbol” are honored among the Orthodox. IOW, should those converting to the Orthodox faith be re-baptized? I have been inwardly troubled by this matter since becoming an Orthodox cathecumen. I was baptized by a pastor who only believed it to be symbolic. And, I don’t recall whether it was in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, although I think most likely it was since it was in a Baptist church.

    Personally, I would prefer to be baptized again so that I might have certainty that I was baptized rightly.

    And I concur with many others that this was one of your best posts ever!

  27. Sean Says:

    The problem with translations is not only that words can have varying shades of meaning in different languages but – in my humble opinion – the most important matter is the fact that words do not work alone: they work in context as a group. Thus in a translation not only the meaning may be distorted but also the style and the atmosphere (notion) that the author is trying to create may be lost or altered – and these matter when small alterations in the style of saying something can make a large difference in the way they are understood and implemented.

  28. fatherstephen Says:

    Darlene,
    The manner in which you are received into the Orthodox faith is ultimately a decision made by your Bishop (and the priest who receives you). It varies.

    There is currently a drift towards Baptism of most Protestants (at least I am aware of it becoming more common) particularly those coming from traditions that essentially do not believe anything happens in Baptism.

    I think there will be continued reflection on this within Orthodoxy as the erosion of common understandings continues to disappear in many Protestant Churches.

    There has been a traditional difference of practice on this in the modern Orthodox world – not through any ecumenical theology – but through a variation of interpretation of the ancient canons in the matter. Generally Russia has approached things in one way while another approached has been more frequent in Greece and the MidEast.

    My own approach in my conversion was to accept whatever was asked of me and my family – not to demand more nor to ask for less.

  29. TheraP Says:

    Dear Father:

    I always like to start with the Trinity. With the fact that the Divine Life is life in Relationship! Thus Relationship is at the Heart of God and also at the Heart of the Cosmos, of which we are a part.

    I love your post.

    To allow oneself to be drawn into the Divine Life. To allow the Divine Life to take up residence in one’s heart, this is to fulfill our “part” in the Cosmos. It is our calling, I think. And by doing so we assist Christ in bringing all things in One.

    Just my tiny addition to the conversation.

  30. Theo1973 Says:

    Hi Father,

    The Bible is full of human trial in the face of God’s providence. The trials one would hope would reveal to us if we search ourselves that we are really quite powerless to do anything on our own and that our role has never been to figure life out but to learn to trust Him. I read a Catholic psychiatrist’s work recently, and he wrote, in Christ our will becomes love, our memory becomes hope, our intellect becomes faith. As you can see from those three transformations, a dumbing down (by the world’s standards) is taking place. It is laughable that intellect should be taken over by faith, but that is what fascinates me, just how scandalous God’s humble plan is for all us proudlings. St Isaac says Faith leads to knowledge.

    The lousy bit about this, is when you realise it, trials galore come after you and try to convince you otherwise. My spiritual father says, if the devil’s temptations and attacks were arrows, they would block the sun. but He allows it, because He wants us to do just as He did, in His darkest hour, to say If it is possible take this cup from me, but let it be not as I but as You will it. What a God is ours!

    Theo

  31. boehadden Says:

    Father, bless!

    You wrote: “Thus God came into our world, becoming one of us, so that by His sharing in our life, we might have a share in His life.”

    This is, I believe, a very succinct, beautiful one sentence summary of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

    Thank you.

    Glory to God.

  32. Darlene Says:

    Darlene,
    To piggyback on what Father Stephen said, I am in a very similar situation as you. My priest essentially gave me a choice, but said that norm would be charismation, and that he would have to approach the bishop for a rebaptism. His explanation helped to assuage some doubt I had prior, as I had been wrestling with the question or rebaptism. My priest pointed out that many of the fathers say that chrismation will complete whatever was lacking in the baptism. Also, on further reflection, I realized that the creed tells us to believe in one baptism.

    Also, not that we ought to base our faith on feelings, but I do succinctly remember that when I was baptised (in the trinitarian formula, immersed, in a Bible Church which was essentially baptist) that there was a definite feeling of change. It was a feeling of, “I don’t care what they say, this is more than just a symbol”.

    Perhaps this helps. I hope it does, the explanation of chrismation completing what was lacking really helped me overcome my fears

    Fr. Stephen,
    Great post! Thank you for those words!

    -Ben

  33. katia Says:

    Hi Darlene,

    Orthodox christians have to follow Jesus Christ way, He was baptised in the water, so by my humble opinion we have to do what Jesus did

    with love

  34. Aaroneous Says:

    I think “immersed” has the same meaning as “in the water”…

  35. katia Says:

    Aaroneous, please excuse my command of English, i always make mistakes, hope this will make it clear what i thought:

    “… triple immersion in water in the name of the Holy Trinity, in accordance with Scriptural prescriptions, is the standard. This Baptism, sanctified by Christ Himself…”

  36. Karen Says:

    Hi Darlene,
    I was baptized as an infant in my parent’s Methodist Church, and underwent adult immersion baptism (about which I was quite ambivalent actually, since I had been a consciously committed follower of Christ for many years by that point) because it was required for membership in the Protestant denomination I attended at that time. I was accepted into Orthodoxy by Chrismation in obedience to the Bishop of the archdiocese to which my parish belonged. A few weeks later, I witnessed an adult Orthodox Baptism (with all accompanying rites) and wondered if I had missed out on something not being able to undergo Orthodox Baptism as well. Recently, I read another convert blogging about this issue and again was tempted with doubts. I raised the question with my current Priest (having in mind especially the current degree of apostasy in mainline Methodism in this country). I am now in an OCA parish.

    I’m sure there is overlap between what my current Priest (who grew up in ROCOR) explained to me when I brought up the issue with him and what Fr. Stephen says, but he emphasized that this is not ultimately even up to a particular Priest or Bishop (at least in terms of general parameters of what is to be practiced), but rather the “mind of the Church.” For several hundred years, the mind of the Church in Russian practice has been to use “economia” and not re-baptize Christians who have already received Trinitarian water baptism. The important issue, since all non-Orthodox Baptism, by Orthdoox definition, does not carry the full meaning or grace of Orthodox Baptism, is the objective form of the baptism (i.e., use of water and invocation of the Holy Trinity)–not what the particular Christian heterodox communion taught about it (nor the holiness of the one doing the baptism!), still less how the individual believer feels subjectively occurred at his/her being baptised. I am coming to appreciate the “objective” quality of the Orthodox Faith in matters like this, though I am slow to lose my Protestant mindset that places an undue emphasis on my own subjective feelings and judgments about such things. In any case, I accept the teaching of the Church (originating as I understand with the teachings of St. Cyril, quite early in the 3rd or 4th century?–Fr. Stephen, I’m fuzzy here–I’m sure you can help us out!), that repentance and renunciation of heresies and Orthodox Chrismation corrects what is defective and completes what is lacking in the non-Orthodox Trinitarian water baptism. In any case, the Fathers teach that our Baptism is again renewed every time we make a proper Confession! I think you are asking good questions, but also showing (as I did) the influence of the modern western mindset of your Protestant background (influenced by the Scholasticism, Rationalism, and Legalism that have characterized attempts to define the Mysteries of the Church in terms that human logic can comprehend in the Western Churches for the last 1,000 or so years). I pray God will lead you to a place of being able to rest confidently in the Holy Spirit’s oversight promised by Christ and expressed ultimately in the mind/consensus of the whole Church.

  37. fatherstephen Says:

    Karen,
    I’m familiar with the expression that “Chrismation corrects or completes..” etc. My own Archbishop used to say it often. It’s not entirely a precise view of the economy extended in the ancient canons (in which the baptisms of some heretics and schismatics was allowed and only chrismation required of their converts – some few other groups were admitted to the Church by confession only). Those who say that such an extension of “economia” would seem to me to need to deal with those ancient canons before arguing otherwise. It is obvious that such economy can be extended. But this is not to say that the Church thus speaks about sacraments outside the Orthodox Church as “valid” or “invalid.” That is mostly Western language. But, following the thought of some, such as Fr. Georges Florovsky, the ancient fathers were recognizing that there is only one Baptism, and that is Orthodox Baptism, but that in some deeply attenuated manner (or not so attenuated in others) Baptism administered “outside” the Orthodox Church participates in Orthodox Baptism. This is a very subtle point which I cannot begin to do justice but is important, and more accurate in its treatment of ancient canonical practice.

    But the long and short of it is that I do not care to take up the point for discussion on the blog in that it takes us into an area, both pastoral and ecclesiological, that I would prefer not to discuss in this venue.

    I hope those reading this comment will respect that request. I think it is an extremely important question – but beyond the scope of what I can manage here and now (I’m out of town for several days).

    Some discussions, require good information and little opinion (there’s far too much opinion on the internet). In addition they require careful moderation because people fail to be polite and kind in their disagreements. It is, in short, the sort of thing that I am not equipped to handle here. Others are more brave, wise, foolish or something.

    I do not, in general, think the internet is the place for Orthodox to properly and peacefully understand each other in matters that can be quite contentious (which this one in many places often is).

    Forgive me. I truly appreciate the thoughts that have been shared. It is a matter to discuss with one’s parish priest.

  38. Justin Says:

    It’s posts like this that make me glad I am deciding to become Orthodox. Be well in Christ.

  39. Karen Says:

    Dear Father, bless! Thank you for the clarification and guidance. What you have further explained in your comment above also agrees with what my Priest was attempting to explain to me. I also would like to clarify that my Priest’s instruction expanded on the advice you gave Darlene in your first comment to her, but did not contradict it (which is what I meant by overlap). Forgive the poor wording and my overreach!

  40. Tony Says:

    Before someone gets the wrong idea, I want to say with the LOVE of Christ that my comments are not meant to say anything bad about any church or church member, it is just my own experience in the Evangelical Protestant world when I was an Evangelical. I found Evangelicals not to be Sola Scriptura but selective Sola Scriptura. What I mean by that is when there is a verse that they do not like or understand they bypass it. An example of this is John 6:53 “Then Jesus said to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you. That’s a very physical description. The Lord couldn’t possibly describe it in a more physical manner. The early Church believed in the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist. St. Paul in I Corinthians 11 says that someone was unworthy to take of the bread and the cup? This shows that the early Christians universally believed it to be the Body and Blood of Christ, otherwise how could you receive it “unworthily” and some people even died. The reason Evangelicals are unwilling to see the plain truth in the bible is because the Protestants came out of Catholicism. Their whole stance is built on anti-Catholicism and anything that reminds them of that they attribute to Catholic innovation.

    Again I say this with Love in Christ.

  41. Fellowship or Communion? « Says:

    […] https://fatherstephen.wordpress.com/2009/11/10/a-relationship-with-god/ […]

  42. Benjamin Says:

    Fr. Stephen,

    This understanding of salvation/Scripture is what I have been gradually feeling my way towards my whole life. Thank you for this post. What patristic/Orthodox works should I now pursue to explore this further?

  43. gailbhyatt Says:

    Your blessing, Father. Christ is in our midst.

    I hope this find you and your family well.

    Tonight I stumbled upon your podcast, “Is Relationship with God What We Want?” (05/31/08) and I listened to it as I was walking my dog. When I got home I went to your website to see if you had published it on your blog. I’m so glad you did.

    My 21 year old daughter, soon after her 21st birthday, came home from a vacation with her first tatoo. It was a small tatoo on the underside of her wrist. She thought that now that she was 21, a legal adult and independent, she could finally get a tatoo.

    She unveiled the proof of her independence. On her wrist, written in greek, was the word “koinonia.” She thought she had discoved a new word, a new concept. She thought she was pretty clever. I was feeling a bit cocky because I knew what it meant, and she didn’t know that I knew. I knew it meant fellowship. When I asked her what it meant, she said, “Someone told me it means communion.” I tried to correct her and tell her that it meant fellowship. She inisisted that I was wrong. I persisted in setting her straight. (All in good fun.)

    Now I find out that she was right all along. I can’t wait for her to hear your podcast and/or read this post. She’ll have fun in letting me know, “I told you so.”

    I also love the irony that in her act of declaring her independence she actually permantly declared her dependency and union with God and with his children.

    Thank you SOOooo much for taking the time to write these posts. God is using you in a very powerful way in my life and in so many others.

    Thanks be to God. To Him be the glory.

  44. lissi Says:

    Praise GOD

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