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What is Christian obedience?


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#1 Anna Stickles

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Posted 07 February 2010 - 11:16 PM

I think I am considering the question is obedience always an exercise of faith[?] or when is obedience *not* an exercise of faith[?], and I am referring to the expression the "obedience of faith" in terms of a system that one subscribes to and prescribes for others . . . and in this there can be as much of a faith in a system as there is anything else. In this there can be a kind of surrender that is nothing more than an escapism or a very sophisticated system of non-surrender so that what one wants to do he can do. Or, this can be seen in a kind of relinquishing of control in a way that places some seemingly in a place of no blame if things don't go well (with something akin to a golden parachute in their minds), because 'I was just doing what I was told.' I see this a lot with my Catholic friends, it is so clear that they have their defense for God already to go for Judgment Day, in that I believed what the Church taught and I did what the Church taught, so don't blame me if something wasn't right! For some reason this is more overt with them. But, when we consider this along side "faith" in terms of faith in Christ, then there is not so much room for system(s) and faith in a system as there is faith in a Person. So there is a tension here in this way I think, and this tension is behind my IQ question above. What is systematic for one is non-systematic for another.

As far as my wife's canning jars full of good things goes, if you force me to think about it further then I think I will conclude that it is a very simple thing in that while she has sacrificed of herself to put these up, they are freely offered in Love in the hope that they will be accepted in Love. So in the End, Love would hold the seat of primacy there.


I think Rick brings up some really good points here and thought the topic worth its own thread dealing with the question of what is meant by a proper Christian obedience. Often obedience is brought up only in the context of obedience to the authorities of the Church, particularly to one's spiritual father, but I think, as Rick notes here, the real issue is the heart of the person trying to obey and I would like to focus this thread on obedience as a disposition of the heart, and how this disposition helps our relationships with all people rather then a specific discussion of the relationship with our spiritual father or other church authorties.

Here are a few quotes I found that might start this out.

"When we are together, we should be like one single man, in the image of the Triune God who is one single God. We cannot achieve this unless we have in us the Holy Spirit, and not the inner disorder of our bad thoughts. How can we aquire this grace?What must we do so that God and His Holy Spirit live in us? We must be obedient. It is only by permanent attentiveness to our brother and our sister that we will succeed in developing in ourselves a sort of radar, by which we will feel what others are feeling, their will their spiritual state. And contrariwise, if we do not practice obedience, if we seek first our own comfort, we will be separated form the others and then there will be a state of war."

"Spiritual obedience is necessary in daily life. prefer the will of another to your own. Accept with a postive attitude everything your spiritual father, or your brother or sister, asks of you. In this way, little by little an atmosphere will be created within you and around you in which your heart will become very gentle, very sensitive to every inner movement, to every spiritual variation." (Elder Sophrony, "Words of Life")

There is a story of St Silouan that one time another monk asked him if he would like to journey with him to see a hermit well known for his spiritual wisdom. St Silouan agreed to go and later the monk asked the saint what he was going to ask the hermit. St Silouan replied that he had nothing to ask the hermit. So the monk asked, "Then why are you coming along?"

"In obedience to you," the Saint replied.


The emphases here when understanding what obedience is, is not on a proper action in response to a given order, but rather a growing sensitivity and responsiveness to the real needs of the other.

maybe we could find other quotes and stories along these lines.

#2 Father David Moser

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Posted 08 February 2010 - 05:52 PM

The emphases here when understanding what obedience is, is not on a proper action in response to a given order, but rather a growing sensitivity and responsiveness to the real needs of the other.


This prompts the thought that obedience, in order to be spiritually effective, must be voluntary; it cannot be forced upon someone. Thus if I practice willing obedience, setting aside my own will in favor of someone else, then this will produce spiritual fruit. However, if my obedience is compelled, even if by trickery or guilt without actual physical force, then it is less beneficial, if at all. I would even question the idea of obedience out of a sense of duty (as opposed to willing obedience out of love). Our Lord's obedience to the death on the cross is a good example for us: out of love, not being coerced in any way, He voluntarily laid down His life for us. This thought will probably provide a theme for my lenten labor this year (and likely in years to come).

Fr David Moser

#3 Anna Stickles

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Posted 08 February 2010 - 10:37 PM

One of the eye opening things for me, and maybe one of the things I have come to love most about the Orthodox spiritual practice is the emphasis on freedom. It's been life changing in my relationships with my kids and my husband too. Reading the Fathers has helped me realize what a mess we make when we try to force our will on others.

You know I have wondered about obedience out of a sense of duty too. Obviously doing things out of a sense of duty is not ideal but in this case it seems to me, it is not someone else trying to force their will on us, but we ourselves trying to force our own unwillingness. Maybe this is just a passion captivated love trying to set itself free? There is lots of emphasis on having to force ourselves. Do you think doing things out of a sense of duty is one aspect of forcing ourselves? Love seems to be the last of the virtues we reach, so maybe before this a sense of duty, faith and hope is all we have?

#4 Herman Blaydoe

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Posted 08 February 2010 - 11:03 PM

The Fathers often write about "dry periods" when God seems far off and our prayers seem like a mere duty. They (at least St. Theophan the Recluse for one) teach that it is better to "go through the motions" out of duty than to abandon prayer and worship totally. The "motions" can sometimes fan the faint spark into a flame of devotion.

When the flame dies down we can simply hope to get it started later, or we can work to fan the embers and coals and keep them going until fresh fuel can be found.

Herman the fire-startin' Pooh

#5 Rick H.

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Posted 08 June 2012 - 01:10 PM

The emphases here when understanding what obedience is, is not on a proper action in response to a given order, but rather a growing sensitivity and responsiveness to the real needs of the other.


I wonder if there really is an emphasis at all but instead of an emphasis on a certain aspect or any type of consideration of a linear process these things are more like legs of a chair which work together.

I am tempted to think that from right understanding and even right aspiration would spring forth right action, speech, effort, and even right mindfulness. But, possibly, when we are yeilded to this they all just kind of arise as one and work together in harmony at once to provide understanding, sensitivity, and responsiveness.

One of the eye opening things for me, and maybe one of the things I have come to love most about the Orthodox spiritual practice is the emphasis on freedom . . . Reading the Fathers has helped me realize what a mess we make when we try to force our will on others.


I appreciate this freedom too, I think when we forget this very aspect we become at best like robots in a manufacturing plant doing mechanical work. This in tandem with forgetting what a mess we make we when practice control freakery gives us no chance for the above ideal of understanding, sensitivity, and responsiveness. We are dominated by control freakery, at best this is what we reproduce and breed in others and the result is we and our children become a nuisance to society, lacking understanding, being insensitive to others, and completely non-responsive the 'real-needs' of others.

#6 Athena R

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Posted 08 June 2012 - 11:18 PM

Talking about obedience, does anyone struggle with the concept of it? Particularly women? I just can't see how a well educated, independent woman in today's times would have the ability to understand the concept of obedience. I know it's a concept I struggle with.

#7 Rdr Andreas

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Posted 09 June 2012 - 11:52 AM

I struggle with this as I suppose many do; we live in a culture (western) which encourages self will.

#8 Owen Jones

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Posted 09 June 2012 - 01:22 PM

In accordance with the very fine quotes posted much earlier on this thread, the thing to avoid is a concept. Obedience is something we do, not that we think about. Obedience is really listening to what God is telling us, particularly in and through our daily affairs with men. So it's not just an action in response to someone telling us what to do. That's not really what obedience is, except superficially. It's about opening the heart to God. As our Lord says, he who has the ears to hear.

#9 Moses Anthony

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Posted 15 June 2012 - 04:29 PM

In accordance with the very fine quotes posted much earlier on this thread, the thing to avoid is a concept. Obedience is something we do, not that we think about. Obedience is really listening to what God is telling us, particularly in and through our daily affairs with men. So it's not just an action in response to someone telling us what to do. That's not really what obedience is, except superficially. It's about opening the heart to God. As our Lord says, he who has the ears to hear.


The title of the thread, seemingly to me, seems to beg the question. Christian obedience can only come about when one is a follower of the Living God. To follow God can only be affected, and effective when done as said to the prophet Micah: "...He has shown thee O man what is good, and what doth the Lord require of thee but to do justly, love kindness, and to walk humbly with thy God."

Obedience is an attitude of our hearts, manifesting itself in our actions. As that old line in nearly all dramas with a policeman in it attests; "It's who I am, it's what I do."




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