Saving My Neighbor — Just How Connected Are We?
By Father Stephen Freeman
If you are in the “helping professions,” confronting problems in people’s lives, it doesn’t take long to realize that no one is purely and simply an individual. The problems we suffer may occasionally appear to be “of our own making,” but that is the exception rather than the rule. Whether we are thinking of economic or genetic inheritance, or the psychological and social environment, almost all the issues in our lives are a matter of “connection.” The same is true when it comes to virtue and wholeness. Saints are not a phenomenon of individuality.
There is a model of what it means to be human that is simply wrong, regardless of its elements of truth. That model envisions us primarily as free-agents, gathering information and making decisions. It emphasizes the importance of choice and the care with which decisions must be made. It lectures long on responsibility and the need to admit that we are the primary cause of our own failings. It praises hard work and admires those with creative insights. Success comes to those who master these virtues and we encourage everyone to take them as their models.
This model of human agency is written deep in the mythology of American culture, and, with its global influence, has become increasingly popular elsewhere. Many elements of contemporary Christian thought assume this model of agency to be true and have interwoven it into the notion of salvation itself. The scandalous popularity of the novel teachers of prosperity and personal-success-schemes have raised this model of humanity into something like cult status. But even those who are scandalized by such distortions of the gospel often subscribe to many of its ideas. Those ideas are part of the “common sense” of our culture.
They are also part of the nonsense produced by our culture’s mythology. There is virtually nothing about human beings that, strictly speaking, is individual. Beginning from our biology itself, we are utterly and completely connected to others. The same is true of our language and our culture. None of us is an economy to ourselves. Even those things we most cherish as uniquely individual are questionable.
We celebrate choice as the true signature of our individuality. However, if you scrutinize decisions carefully, they are something less than autonomous exercises of the will. Americans have a strange way of choosing like Americans (often to the dismay of the rest of the world). We are “free agents” who play the game of life on a field that is deeply slanted.
As I noted at the beginning, it is easy to describe the many-sourced nature of failure. With a bit more effort, we could see that “success” is equally derived from many sources outside of the self. It should not be surprising then, to see that salvation (and condemnation) are also corporate matters rather than strictly individual. Indeed, the corporate nature of our existence lies at the very heart of the classical doctrine of Christian salvation.
One of the earliest complete accounts of Christian salvation was written in the 4th century by St. Athanasius the Great. It has long been recognized as a touchstone of Christian theology. In that work, On the Incarnation, St. Athanasius explains in detail that the salvation of humanity is brought about through the action of God becoming human. The work of Christ’s death and resurrection are not external to our humanity. Rather, their power to work salvation lies precisely in the fact of our communion with Him through the single common human nature that He assumed. Our cooperation with that action completes and makes effective what has been given to the whole of humanity through the God/Man, Jesus Christ.
Our cooperation (a choice) is only effective, however, because of the communion established in the Incarnation. Salvation is not a reward given to someone who chose correctly. Salvation is a new life that is lived as a communion, a mutual indwelling (koinonia).
That primary saving reality, our common nature and its communion with the God/Man, is something that has largely been lost in our modern understanding, dominated as it is by the myth of individualism. Christ’s incarnation is only effective if our humanity has a corporate reality (it would make little sense otherwise). It was classically summed up in the fathers by saying, “He became what we are that we might become what He is.” This is only possible if there is, in fact, a “what” that we all share. This “what” makes possible not only our communion with Him, but also our communion with each other.
St. Silouan famously said, “My brother is my life.” He was not speaking figuratively. Rather, he was giving assent to the very mechanism of our life and salvation. We were created to live as beings-in-communion. Adam declares of Eve, “This is bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh.” The story of sin is the story of the disruption of communion:
And I will put enmity Between you and the woman, And between your seed and her Seed; He shall bruise your head, And you shall bruise His heel.” To the woman He said: “I will greatly multiply your sorrow and your conception; In pain you shall bring forth children; Your desire shall be for your husband, And he shall rule over you.” Then to Adam He said, “Because you have heeded the voice of your wife, and have eaten from the tree of which I commanded you, saying,`You shall not eat of it’: “Cursed is the ground for your sake; In toil you shall eat of it All the days of your life. Both thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you, And you shall eat the herb of the field. In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread till you return to the ground, For out of it you were taken; For dust you are, And to dust you shall return.” (Gen. 3:15-19)
The communion between persons is disrupted, as well as the communion with animals and creation, all ending in the dust of death. But even that death is a communal death: none of them die alone.
For none of us lives to himself, and no one dies to himself. For if we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. Therefore, whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and rose and lived again, that He might be Lord of both the dead and the living. (Rom. 14:7-9)
This is the very heart of our existence, and of our salvation as well. In some manner, we carry within us the whole of humanity. St. Silouan called this the “whole Adam.” We could extend that and say that each of us carries within us the whole of the created order. St. Maximus the Confessor called us a “microcosm” (“the whole cosmos in miniature”). The life we live is a life for the whole Adam, the whole cosmos. In some manner, our salvation is the salvation of the whole cosmos. We hear this in Romans 8:
For the earnest expectation of the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God…. because the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. (Rom. 8:19, 21)
Our salvation can be described as the restoration and fullness of communion with God. But that same salvation includes the restoration and fullness of communion with one another and with all of creation. Just as Christ’s communion with us is the means of our salvation, so our communion with everything and everyone works towards that same salvation.
[God has] made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His good pleasure which He purposed in Himself, that in the dispensation of the fullness of the times He might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven and which are on earth– in Him. (Eph. 1:9)
The modern myth of human beings as individual, self-contained moral agents is not just incorrect. It is also a tool of deception. The myth is often used to absolve us from the mutual responsibility that constitutes a just society, as well as to falsely blame individuals for things over which they have little or no control. That contemporary Christianity is often complicit in this deception is perhaps among its greatest errors.
It has long been observed that the greatest weakness of the Reformation was ecclesiology (the doctrine of the “Church”). Reformers found it difficult to articulate the reality of “the Church” without undermining their own reforming project. From its inception, the Reformation was not a single work, but an immediate work of divisions and competing reformations. There has never been a “Protestant Church,” only “Churches” that were mutually exclusive in their origins. That modern ecumenical theories have invented the notion of the “invisible Church” to mask this essential failure does nothing to address the real problem. Indeed, it has provided the fertile ground for the individualism of the Modern Project with all of its concomitant destruction.
It is deeply scandalous today to quote St. Cyprian’s contention that “there is no salvation outside the Church.” It might be better understood if it were acknowledged that “Church,” in its true form of ecclesial existence as communion, is what salvation actually looks like. We cannot, as individuals, possess that which is only given to us in communion.
• • •
Father Freeman blogs at Glory to God for All Things
70 thoughts on “Fr. Stephen Freeman: Saving My Neighbor — Just How Connected Are We?”
Good stuff Klasie.
CB, I think you’re addressing what Dana (above) has expressed;
I was raised in a sectarian tradition that took ecclesiology just as seriously as do the EO. IMO the EO have done a better job in both ecclesiology and soteriology. However, despite all my study and attempts to find/produce the best forms of church–I consider it all a failure. The only answer, as Dana expressed, is Love. Our greatest task as a local body is learning how to do that and then doing it.
Mule, If asked I’d say the same of you. And that’s why I appreciate what you share.
Adam, yes, it’s a mixed bag in my limited experience. I tend to use binaries to demonstrate extreme possibilities.
>>I sense some of that as well. On the other hand the “democratization” of the Reformation hasn’t been uniformally democratic; being so splintered their attempts at power grabs have just been mostly Ineffectual. The EO suffers from a degree of success.
Agree. The “democratization” of Christianity has essentially produced bits and pieces of “my personal Jesus.”
An outsiders perspective:
As you all know, I have ceased to have dogs in the ecclesiastical versions of this fight. I once had a quite n interest in the EO side of things, although my roots were firmly in the Reformation.
But – individual or group? It is not either/or – it is both/and. The one is defined by the other. The autonomy of the individual has no meaning outside the individual’s membership of the group – and in fact, several groups, several levels of groups. One never stands alone. But one is never a slave. The treatment of some, nay many, none withstanding. This we can learn from primatology and from sociology.
As to Freeman – yes, he is frustrating. The EO are more skilled at linguistic obfuscation and arm-waving than the love-child of Derrida and Foucault. They are skilled at pointing out the ugliness of the opposition. But there it ends – and like postmodernism – it ends in the will to power – in nationalism and boots on the ground and waving flags and the aesthetic of death and ignorance. Because they reject materialism over-vigorously, they lose touch with the material reality and truth, and eventually, beauty and order. Hitler could only thrive once Nietzsche and Heidegger etc had prepared proto-postmodernism. But you needed the EO to till the ground for late-Czarism, Leninism, Stalinism etc….
You seem to be speaking in tongues, with no interpreter in sight…
I think it is interesting to try and rebalance the individualism that is prevalent in society. There are clearly communal aspects to our faith that we are missing, and we are all the poorer for it. But the contours of those aspects are still not 100% clear to me. Maybe they are not the same for all people in all places?
Of course, that balancing done, I feel the desire to rebalance back the other way a bit: it seems that the NT (and Jesus) are quite radical in their treatment of individuals as individuals. Of course I may be reading too much through my individualistic glasses, but many of the interactions are about the faith and identity of individuals. Women as individuals, not as wives or daughters of. Disciples called out of their families. Obviously there are some “you and all your family”s in Acts, but offset against this is the “come to bring a sword”.
I think the closest I can get to agreement is that “salvation is not something you have, it’s someone you know”.
I do believe that “in” Jesus I am safe, though I’m not always 100% what that “in” means.
Jesus, lover of my soul,
Let me to Thy bosom fly,
While the nearer waters roll,
While the tempest still is high.
Hide me, O my Savior, hide,
Till the storm of life is past;
Safe into the haven guide;
Oh, receive my soul at last.
(Edwin Hawkins Singers version, if you wish)
Why turn something so earthy and flesh-and-blood into such a weird, metaphysical concept?
How ‘fundamentalist’ of you to assume you can accurately deduce anger from digital scribbles on a computer screen! Oh, the variety of emotions you fail to see in your fundamentalist zeal. How quaint it must be to live in your black and white world.
So angry! Honestly, I have no desire to defend myself against angry fundamentalism of any kind; it’s an exercise in futility.
Who gave you that promise?
The kind of freedom you speak of and seem to hold so dear is merely another form of slavery…whether you ‘choose’ to buy it or not.
Ah, the inevitable scandal of particularity. We don’t want a concrete, particular God; we always end up killing him.
It seems to me we are too far along in seeing ourselves as autonomous individuals to be able to change this. While I can appreciate some of the writings of the ancient church, especially views on the atonement. I don’t see how they have much to say to the human condition of people living in the 21st century. They lived in the time of empire, when church was part of empire, people lived in small villages and towns, priests and/or ruling families made the rules and people followed them if they wanted a quiet life. People today would say that they are more “connected” than ever, and while we may dispute that, I don’t see it changing anytime soon. People have a chance to speak in ways they never have before, and I can’t see it being surrendered willingly. No point in trying to recapture an elusive past or looking there for a solution. The message of salvation will have to be adapted to the times and the church will need to rethink how it functions and speaks to a technological society that sees “connectedness” differently.
I remain unconvinced about certain claims of the Orthodox Church, Dana, but I value some of the spiritual treasures it has preserved, and I value your thoughtful responses even more. iMonk would not be the very ecumenical place it is without your and Mule’s contributions.
“Dana, Your comment expresses a very universal and compassionate view of how salvation in Christ works.”
Robert, it’s not my thoughts; it’s what I found at the summit of Orthodox theology, along with so much else. Yes, there are plenty of Orthodox, even monastics, who don’t get this; like many other Christians, they are believing something in opposition to the theology they claim to hold.
St Ignatius in C2 and St Athanasius and the Cappadocians in C4 already elucidated this interpretation of the meaning of Christ, along with St Paul’s writings (yes, even the dreaded Paul!). Ben Myers, Australian and Methodist professor, shows real understanding of this. Go here and read the scribed document embedded:
Yes. That is the Incarnation and the Pascha of Christ, rippling through all existence.
Susan, I agree we need more women contributors — well, that is, the place is fine and interesting as it is, but women bring a different sort of “energy” with them (as do men, of course).
I don’t post here as much as I used to. But I like IM and Chaplain Mike very much, and I’d like to get back here more frequently.
Because in spite of its failings, it hasn’t managed to stop the martyrs from giving their lives for Christ, the saints from being formed and recognized, and the continuity of the theology to be altered since the first century, as I have come to believe from studying the thread of the Church and its expression from C1 Judaism through history. (According to EO, the theology and teaching of the first Christians – Trinity, etc. – hasn’t changed, or “developed”; it has been further explicated and clarified in and through the Orthodox Church in order to meet the questions of the people who encounter it and resist the heretical ideas set against it. Looking at the history of Christianity, I find this reasonable.)
Most importantly, I knocked on a lot of doors in the hallway; when I opened the EO one, I found all of Jesus, not just some good parts (and behind every door there are good parts) – including the expression of his Spirit and his Cross – through time (that’s the Church, and it includes all whose hearts were turned to God, Jew and Gentile, who lived before Christ’s sojourn on earth – Rom 2.12-15). If one should dismiss that as overly subjective or exclusive, that’s okay. God still loves us all, and I am still Orthodox for the rest of my life on this side of the curtain as well as the other side.
It seems to me that I am in communion with Christ by birth itself, and then by death again.
Once again, the common quip is “We know where the Church is. We do not know where she is not.” That is different from an “invisible” church. Think more, of invisible links to the visible church. You have a Bible, right? That is a great blessing, and it proceeded from the visible Church. You have baptism, do you not? Neither the Roman or the Eastern Church rebaptizes Christians who enter her communion.
RIP, Otto Warmbier. May Light perpetual shine upon you.
just a memory
of candles guttering
light from light
Yes. Only an individual can be free but only an individual can be lonely.
Dana, Your comment expresses a very universal and compassionate view of how salvation in Christ works. My question is: How can you be so certain that the institution as you see it, or as Orthodoxy does, is actually contained within the boundaries that you think it is?
The healing and liberation come from Christ. He has already given liberation from the ultimate victory of death and the bondage of fear of death because of his Crucifixion and Resurrection, and this extends to all because of his Incarnation. Every human being participates in this, whether they are a Christian or not. Christ has healed the sundering of communion between God and Man by his Incarnation and being the kind of human Adam was supposed to be but failed to be – living in constant communion with the Father (recapitulation). This has already been done, and every human being participates in it because of the Incarnation. That healing is ongoing in each unique person, as well as the healing of communion between persons as we act in love, in the work of the Holy Spirit. Again, because of the intrinsic communion of humanity, the Holy Spirit is given for the healing work in/for all; the prophecy is that the Holy Spirit will be poured out on all flesh. We can never “move ourselves away from salvation” because there is nowhere we can go to escape the presence of the Spirit of God (Ps 139)
It took me a while to understand that the Church has an institution but is not the same as the institution; the institution is meant to serve the Church. The institution fails in this service when the people in the institution fail to love. That failure doesn’t change what the Church is; it means that the institution is not doing what it was meant to do, and that can certainly be hurtful and damaging to people. May God forgive us and help us.
We must make choices because of the state of the world in which we live, and our yet-to-be-fully-healed condition. St Maximos the Confessor thought that was a bug, not a feature; if we were truly all acting the way our human nature was created to function, we wouldn’t have to “make a choice” among many choices – we simply would always choose to do what is good, in love for and communion with God and others. The point of being a Christian isn’t to uphold some institution; it is that in the sacramental (not limited to seven rites!) one-storey-reality Communion the Church facilitates in the world as the Body of Jesus, we have the greatest help and deepest communion available for becoming the human beings we were created to be. I’m convinced that EO is the fullness of the Church. AND:
God is at work at all times and in all places. The Holy Spirit is everywhere present and filling all things. God is good and the Lover of Mankind – he is for us.
“I think the idea of the autonomous individual as a locus of needs and desires functioning independently of imposed social roles is one of the two great inventions of western civilization (the other being the concept of secularization and it’s practical application in the separation of religion and government). It is the foundation of our liberty.”
Very true – and yet is it not also true that someone/something’s greatest strength is also their greatest weakness?
rhymeswithplague, I don’t know what I may have done to you that would make you want to personally attack me, but if there is in fact something of the sort, I apologize. Believe me when I say that I had no intention of pontificating, and that the subject of today’s post has existential, personal importance to me, and that’s how I meant to engage it.
Correction: (what is a better definition of the Invisible Church?)
That is a gracious vision, Mule, but it seems to me that it in fact affirms the existence of the Invisible Church, something which Fr. Freeman dismisses almost disdainfully as a valueless Protestant innovation, necessitated by the weakness of Protestant ideas of the institutional church. Which is it? Are we as human beings all in Communion with the One Church, and through her, with Christ (what is a better definition of the Invisible Church), or are we not?
+1. Thank you for saying some of what was I trying to say, but without the distorting anguish that I feel over this subject.
To speak in terms of Biblical imagery and mythology, the Garden in the wilderness is no longer there, so we cannot go back to it. The Garden that awaits us is in the City, it is a walled Garden in the New Jerusalem, and that is ahead of us, finished and waiting to reveal itself at the right time, in the right moment.
Thank you, Susan.
Amen and +1
Would also add: please avoid gaslighting us when we say it was *your* tradition that we left that did the most damage to us, and we didn’t just “misunderstand”.
the United States is a much more Asocial Place than other places of similar, or even greater, prosperity.
Riffing off of this, but isn’t that a feature, not a bug of America? We are the land of opportunity, the melting pot where all religions and all tribes can gather and be hopefully united as one, with everyone free to worship and be who they want to be. Our history is littered with the attempts of various tribes and sects to impose their will on the whole, and we’ve (so far) successfully stopped them. Granted, the hidden truth is that it’s still largely anglo-saxon protestant at it’s core, but (up til recently) there has been some room for others.
tl;dr – Asocial makes sense due to our makeup, and arguably is more of a good than a bad.
> f the Orthodox church is compared to a car then it would be a Cadillac
> or Lincoln and for the life of me I can’t figure out why you’d want to be
> in a Yugo
Doesn’t every not inherently exclusive group feel that way?
In moderation this may even be healthy.
> either the EO are a voice crying in the wilderness or they are a f
> oreignly acculturated, extremely small group bent on living in the distant past.
Or it’s a mixed bag.
> their ecclesiology they have never bought into the idea of democratization
I sense some of that as well. On the other hand the “democratization” of the Reformation hasn’t been uniformally democratic; being so splintered their attempts at power grabs have just been mostly Ineffectual. The EO suffers from a degree of success.
> The “Asocial Gospel” is a logical out-growth
I’d prefer “inevitable” over “logical” in describing it’s growth. And I believe it is older than “the media”. Asocial Whatever is an inevitable – to some degree – result of prosperity. Many of those who can BUY their way out of the messiness of communion will do so, WHEN/IF they can. There is a LOT of history here, especially in the United States; the United States is a much more Asocial Place than other places of similar, or even greater, prosperity. There are no simple Spiritual/Sociology 101 tropes [“well, mankind is inherently… blah blah”] that can hand-wave the truth away: it’s complicated.
I believe if you don’t have communion [lower-case c boring ordinary every day communion] then one is going to struggle to have, or even understand Communion [upper-case C] of the ‘fancy’ religious type. And there’s the rub. We’ve, as Americans at least, have lost an enormous amount of cultural knowledge about lower-c communion, so we keep trying to build an assembly line to make us some upper-C Communion. Witness all the competing “Options”.
>I doubt it is the adaptation of the “Benedict Option.”
Agree, 110%. BO is .. well .. aptly named. 🙂
All the Options, especially BO, are premised on fear, or anxiety, or … none of which are conducive to communion. If you want communion:
(a) look at your life, what behaviors are isolating? Progressively change them – and don’t “spiritualize” things.
(b) Take a deep breath, relax, and listen – to people, voices, not your own dark ponderings.
(c) Go for a walk, if you meet someone . . . I don’t know, talk to them? [we did say we are interested in communion!]
(d) Find something you are interested in that you can do with other people.
(e) rinse – repeat.
Some days I’m tempted to write a book – “The No Option Option!” [shortened: “NOO!”]. And it would be Ironic! Not that any “Christian” publisher would touch it with a 10,000ft pole. But so very much of what lies under the covers here is known, discussed, and debated – at vastly greater depth – than most of our Theologians can approach.
(a) is funny. Little changes often result in “Radical” changes starting to seem not all that Radical. Taking in a homeless person to live with you, for example, is a lot easier if you setup your life in certain ways. It’s not some kind of heroic sacrifice – but more, “oh, hey, I can do that”.
RobertF frustrates me no end, but no one here is more transparent about his [or her] struggles.
The Flatlander could possibly be excused for thinking in terms of forward or backward, left or right. A three dimensional being could remove the yoke from an egg in his world without breaking the shell, or remove the contents from a safe without breaking the lock.
Perhaps Father Stephen can be forgiven for thinking that the way “forward” resembles the way “back”, but I don’t think he thinks this way. Repentance is always in a different direction altogether. The reality is that 1400 years ago, when the Unsundered Church stretched from Meroë to Finisterre, the Way of the Cross was just as perpendicular to them as it is to us, and just as hard/simple to find.
The Seraphim no longer guard the gate. The Spirit and the Bride say “come”
I want to add an appreciating of Robert F as well! I am a lurker, not contributing often, but I read almost every thread. And the responses I most look forward to are those by Robert F! As someone coming from a sectarian church background, a scientist by education and still not willing to give up on faith as I’m in need of hope to go in, I feel encouraged by his perspective: not taking anything at face value, asking about motivations and consequences of beliefs, and searching for the spaces in which a root of trust may still grow. Not only intellectually argued but brought with empathy. I for one see his reflections as a lifeline, and they help me think about these issues more clearly. More honestly. I think if he irks someone it may be because they do not want their own beliefs questioned very much. As for me I think the I examined belief not worth having faith in.
rhymeswithplague, I take exception to your harshness directed toward RobertF. I do not see his comments as “pontificating”, rather as well-reasoned responses.
I read everyone’s comments–if I read any at all. I appreciate all the individuals you listed and more besides. I do learn from all, including Mule and Dana. However, I learned nothing at all from your comment except that you have a certain resentment toward RobertF.
The “Asocial Gospel” is a logical out-growth of our hyper-individualized, media over-stimulated, sensationally over-fed society.
At this point I’m not sure where the sweet spot is, except to say that I doubt it is the adaptation of the “Benedict Option.”
Robert, I also feel a sense of anxiety when reading Fr. Freeman. The majority of his blogging stands as analysis of the underlying assumptions of our milieu, how we got there, and what are the long-term results. However, in my interactions with EO over the years I have learned that the well-informed EO is extremely serious about theosis, is more often than not well informed theologically, and if pushed about church affiliation will respond saying something like “if the Orthodox church is compared to a car then it would be a Cadillac or Lincoln and for the life of me I can’t figure out why you’d want to be in a Yugo, BUT, God’s grace is as infinite as Himself, therefore your and my fate are in the same hands of the infinitely gracious Father.”
I accept that 60,000 Frenchmen can be wrong (what was it, Terrington cigarettes?) and that simply counting membership may not be a good indicator of correctness, but, either the EO are a voice crying in the wilderness or they are a foreignly acculturated, extremely small group bent on living in the distant past.– and I’m still trying to figure that out. But, one thing for sure, in their ecclesiology they have never bought into the idea of democratization. Oikonomia rules–and that is expressed tautologically.
There are few people in this world that infuriate me like Stephen Freeman. I am so grateful that I got well acquainted with the Eastern Church before meeting him. I am grateful for Mule and Dana hanging out at this communion. If you asked me who I find most distance with in world view and politic here at the Monastery, I would have answered “Robert F” without hesitation, and yet this morning I find myself banging on his front door, “Robert, Robert, let me in!”
Interesting choice of illustrations, not from the original, I would assume by CM. Those two people walking by could be on their way to church. That guy smoking the cigarette could be me, as could the lone cigar smoker and the lone woman listening to a different drummer. I understand all three. I am not a Romanian peasant. I am not one of a crowd of ten thousands holding up placards to give the logo of my alma mater. I am not in a pissing contest with you, whoever you are, to win holier than thou. I’m trying my best to serve God and my neighbor thru Jesus, and admittedly some days are better than others, but this is my choice in life and I do not appreciate someone claiming by inference to understand more than Jesus telling me I am wrong, wrong, wrong, and need to repent of my wicked ways of being different. Thank God for Martin Luther, warts and all. You can only have one head boss in this deal. I choose Jesus, and I choose 24/7, and if you have a better way, please stay on the line, our representatives are busy and your call will be answered in the order it is received.
“That primary saving reality, our common nature and its communion with the God/Man, is something that has largely been lost in our modern understanding, dominated as it is by the myth of individualism.”
Ironically Fr Stephen here is using the word “myth” in its modern post-enlightenment sense of a false, made up story rather than in its traditional sense of a foundational narrative that delineates the values of a community. Or I suppose more accurately, he elides these differing meanings.
More fool me I think the idea of the autonomous individual as a locus of needs and desires functioning independently of imposed social roles is one of the two great inventions of western civilization (the other being the concept of secularization and it’s practical application in the separation of religion and government). It is the foundation of our liberty. Surrendered at our peril although their are certainly many voices today calling for just such a surrender.
Mostly I’m always suspicious of calls to return to some imagined period of grace. Enlightenment will come to us right where we’re sitting now or not at all. One of the great stories unfolding before our eyes is how Christianity as a organized body of belief and practice will accommodate itself to the New World in which we find ourselves. (The post-Christian world?) The strategy that gets most of the bandwidth is a call for the Faith to adapt itself to its new surroundings. Fr Stephen’s strategy is the oldest and most venerable of all. Let us go back before the moment when everything went off track (with its correllary presumption that “my” group preserves the pure prelapsarian way of being). I doubt Fr Stephen would think of himself as a fundamentalist but he does exhibit the fundamentalist impulse. The truth is, I think, that we can’t go back even if we want to. The cherubim forever guard the path back to the garden and will not be moved.
To Fr. Stephen Freeman: Almost thou persuadest me to become Orthodox.
To Robert F: NOTE: COMMENT MODERATED. NO PERSONAL ATTACKS.
To Burro [Mule]: Thank you..
Thought provoking reading. It overloads my brain circuits at the moment; will have to spend some time ruminating on it.
for most, the branch of Christianity they belonged to was a fait accompli
Still is, largely. Especially the cultural “imperial religion” version.
Complaining that Fr. Stephen is somehow conspiring to take choices away from people, or rejoicing in having a multiplicity of alternatives to choose from, or seeing the advance of the modern project as a welcome increase of personal autonomy and scope misses his point.
We are not saved or damned by our choices, whether we have few or many, is what Fr. Stephen is saying, and yes,this is as hard for me as it is for you to understand. All of us either share life and union or we share death and separation. We tend to think of sin as a choice whereas in actuality it is a rupture in communion. I perceive this only dimly, but the way I think of it is “As long as I persist in this behavior, I cannot have communion with my wife in this, nor she with me.” Of course, we can have communion in a shared sin, and this is always a problem. Exchanging death for death, and increasing in death. I have seen it and participated in it.
As far as ecclesiology goes, the Romans have it mostly right. There is, they say, only One Church, and it is a body you can worship with on Sunday. But all humanity receives the benefit from the existence of this One Church, and all humanity, inasmuch as there is communion with any good, is in communion with this One Church, and through her, with Christ, the fountainhead of all good.
Robert, I will put you on my prayer list. Blessings be yours.
We all need to know someone is listening even if from afar.
That erroneous belief in the myth of the autonomy of the individual human being did not come into existence at the Reformation. It has long existed in human societies, only it was limited to a very few, the powerful, educated, aristocratic, those with iron wills and determination, the leaders of warriors. What happened in the modern world was that the franchise of the myth of autonomous individuality expanded; the Reformation had something to do with this, but so did the Renaissance and other factors (advances in technology, for instance). There is no putting the Genie back in the bottle, once she realizes that it was a prison she need never return to.
I would say that the last paragraphs reflect the mindset that was crystallized in the generation of the Reformation beasts; they did not create themselves ex nihilo, but sprang out of the head of the church, which itself had already split into two “options”, East and West (of course, in pre-modern Christianity, only a few could choose between those options; for most, the branch of Christianity they belonged to was a fait accompli).
Thank any and all of you who keep alive the witness of Christ. I truly believe God has made known to us the will of the divine- to gather together all things in one in Christ. It was through Christian people that this was revealed to us.
It’s been said that you can’t go to church if you are the church. There really is much to be said about that. Thinking the church is a place you go to……it does make some people schizoid. We here really believe that what is called for today is the very opposite of what was called for during the reformation era- that is, that today we need to be seen as one It is the very prayer of Jesus- and so needed in this fragmented age. And we here cannot believe what has been kept alive by some – that only they are the true church. Somewhere between God’s promises to us all…….and the fact that us humans are admirable and deplorable……..between those two poles many of us have found a reconciliation(a bringing together, mediator, accord, settlement, harmony….you pick the synonym). Christ is the only thing I know. that can make us all have communion. I don’t bemoan the reformation as some do. We humans really do have many differences from one another. Perhaps those people back in the day did have improper ideas of ecclesiology. It doesn’t seem that Home church, or Catholic church, or restoration church, or ancient/future church, or the middle ground church, or mega church ……is the answer. Some anti-Christ preaching oneness will probably be an answer for many .” In Christ Alone” is a modern hymn, and most right on from here.
In my reading the summarazing paragraph of the post is: “””The modern myth of human beings as individual, self-contained moral agents is not just incorrect. It is also a tool of deception. The myth is often used to absolve us from the mutual responsibility that constitutes a just society, as well as to falsely blame individuals for things over which they have little or no control. That contemporary Christianity is often complicit in this deception is perhaps among its greatest errors.”””
This is 110% spot on.
I do not read “modern” or “contemporary” as implying a need to go-throw-back; but to eject the shrapnel from the wound. This – the Asocial Gospel – is IMNSHO the principle defect in contemporary [as in Currently/Now] Christianity. A defect inherited from the prosperous – and startlingly homogeneous – fraction of society, and which is now woven through everything like so much poisoned blood.
The author might have been better to end at that paragraph; as what follows rattles the cages wherein are the elderly and emaciated, but still angry, sectarian beasts. The Reformation is over; and the best way forward is for it to be forgotten.
I’m sorry, Susan, I’m not much in the mood for writing or appreciating haiku at the moment. This post touches me in a place that is very painful.
Perhaps that was not the intention, but only what I felt. But I think at the least that there is a strong implication in the text that we need to somehow go back to an earlier, pre-modern Christian state (elsewhere Fr. Freeman has called it the “Orthodox Mind”, I believe) in some way, to appreciate the full meaning and reality of “salvation”, and to participate in it fully. I think that is a mistake. I think the answers, such as they are, are not behind us but ahead. There are treasures in the church traditions and the past, and we should unearth and avail ourselves of them, but we can not and should not go back to the world that produced them, because it was as imperfect and deficient in its own ways as ours.
I am unsure what is salvation for me or am I being too self interested and self centred.
I think I will stop praying for this and that and them or those.
If my salvation is not directed through Jesus Christ to care me and for the person I am praying for, why do I bother?
If I pray as I do before getting up in the morning, before leaving the house, before sleeping? If my salvation is not tied in to these prayers and my perception of faith in Jesus Christ, why do I bother? I may as well join the unwashed.
Christian life is too full of question marks.
> seems intended to create anxiety that God’s grace and redemption,
Possibly I am dense, either from my lack of experience with EO or just from a greatly declining interest in these sectarian kerfuffles, . . . but I didn’t read that the text.
“””There has never been a “Protestant Church,” only “Churches” that were mutually exclusive in their origins”””
This seems, to me, obviously true and a critique few “on the outside looking bored” [to quote that smug song] would argue with.
Many, many people have not found salvation, that is, healing and liberation, in the older church traditions. That’s why we left them, not because something called the Reformation happened several centuries ago. Partly as a result of the Reformation, we had a choice to relocate from one church to another. We took that choice, because we could not find the healing and liberation we needed in our church of origin. Please do not tell us that we should not have such a choice, or that exercising it is a mistake of mythological individuality. If you want us to find healing and liberation in your church tradition, and to relocate there, then just become a place of healing and salvation rather than criticizing us for not finding them in your church and exercising our option to move. Do not try to take our options away from us, or to make us feel as if by exercising our choice for them we have moved ourselves away from salvation. Many of us, most of us, just won’t buy it, although you may convince a few strenuously devout that you’re right.
Ok Robert a bad one, but give me space, please improve
Meat loaf fills stomachs
Prayer fills our hearts with love,
Graces are given.
The best I can to without coffee,
I shall retire now almost defeated.
Next time I will do better.
I need a tutor.
If I’m wrong about this, I’m willing to be corrected, but I dislike that what Fr. Freeman says here seems intended to create anxiety that God’s grace and redemption, his healing and liberation, cannot find us and be realized in our current church locations, especially if we are members of Protestant churches. If the idea furthermore is that the resolution to that anxiety is to find salvation by relocating to the church body that it has been given to (I assume in this case that Fr. Freeman would point to the Eastern Orthodox Church as the recipient of that gift), let me point out that the idea of relocationg to the right church is a notoriously and characteristically modern, and Protestant, idea and habit.
Golly Gosh, what time do you get up?
love you lots, as you know. but I will write a haiku after I have eaten meatloaf,
and a further BUT, I am hearten by three female contributors yesterday. We need more women contributors.
I promise I will read your entry but I need protein.
Cold here today, I will work on this.
I agree with Fr. Freeman’s when he says, the “modern myth of human beings as individual, self-contained moral agents is not just incorrect. It is also a tool of deception.” And I agree that salvation is a gift that is not given to individual human beings, or realized by individual human beings. We are not discrete individuals, with separate bodies and souls to which salvation may or may not be apportioned.
But I disagree with him when he implies that the church itself is such a discrete, separate, identifiable body and identity, just waiting to be found, where salvation is apportioned to all who will make themselves one with it. That is the incorrect and deceptive traditional myth that was antecedent to the modern one. God’s love in Jesus Christ, and the salvation procured by him, is a gift to the entire human race as one body. Not only does God’s love overflow all institutional and individual channels, it fills them from the outside. The grace of God, and the redemption it works, is not a reality to be found by looking inward, either to church or individual; it is in the world all around us. If we cut ourselves off from that world to form our identity, as has been the wont of both traditional Christian church and modern Christians individual, we lose sight of that grace and redemption.