Shopping for God

It is unfair that I write this post on the evening of “Black Friday.” This is the day in the American vernacular (always the day after our American Thanksgiving holiday) when the Christmas shopping season officially begins. It is marked by many enticing sales and stores opening at Midnight of Black Friday (and now increasingly earlier – so that Black Friday is beginning to start on late Thanksgiving Day). It is the single busiest day of the retail year and a harbinger of the all-important outcome of the Christmas retail shopping season. The U.S. economy will not do well in the year following a bad shopping season. Much of the economy here is built on consumer spending. If people don’t buy, someone will eventually be unemployed. It’s almost a patriotic duty to shop.

Consumer economies are built on the proposition that people will buy what they want – even more than what they need. This is especially so if wants are experienced as needs. Fortunately for consumer economies, the human soul in its non-spiritual condition, is governed by passions. These are energies of the soul (and the body) that are disordered, such that they generally desire things that are other than the soul and body’s good. We do not want things simply because we need them or because they are good for us. We want them because we want them.

For this reason, the constant, ubiquitous barrage of advertising in which we live and move and have our being, is effective.

The passions are insatiable, by definition. If they were merely natural desires they could be satisfied. We hunger for food. We eat. We are no longer hungry. However, gluttony is a disordered hunger, a passion. By its very character, gluttony is an unnatural hunger. It cannot be satisfied.

The passions of shoppers are more subtle. Shoppers desire beauty, acceptance, self-confidence, power, intelligence, pleasure, excitement, a host of intangible needs. They are not natural needs, but the passions of the spiritually disordered. Our unnatural* existence is centered in the false self -the sense of identity generated within our memory, thoughts and emotions. It is burdened with uncertainty. Comparing, judging, measuring, revising are constant activities of the mind in its role of the false self.

All of these experienced needs are the objects of our consumer culture. Of course, I am describing this experience as though I live outside. But it is our common environment. We do not think of our desires as disordered – even as we occasionally find ourselves frustrated with having yet again been sold.

Even spirituality is marketed. We have a natural hunger for God, but those things that are natural are inevitably swathed in the unnatural voice of the passions. Thus we need God – but we need Him for our passions. Thus we find the God who will underwrite our narrative. The story of conversion becomes our organizing moment (“watch how I follow God”). Religious music is packaged to appeal. The aesthetics of religious experience can thus be more important than the content itself. Nothing is safe from the passions. The highest, most noble pursuits can be as driven by passion as the lowest bestial desires. The consumer shops for his God.

But this is only the account of consumer/man. It is not the human story. The passions, though dominant in the lives of every human being, are only disordered desires – and those desires may be healed. It is possible to live without the passions in ascendance. The goal of the Orthodox fathers was never to be passionless, though they used the word apatheia to describe the proper spiritual condition. They meant only that our passions no longer rule.

The human life was created to be centered in the heart, the spiritual seat of our existence. The heart is not subject to the passions, not driven by desire and necessity. It is not the same thing as the mind. It does not compare or judge, measure or spin tales of its own existence. It simply is. It is in the heart that we know God (truly know). Its aesthetic is true beauty, found within the most ordinary of objects as well as in the greatest efforts of man. The heart is content.

We cannot serve God and mammon. We cannot live as consumers and lovers of God at the same time. Without the disordered passions, subject to the commercial siren song, we fail as consumers. To buy something because it is actually required rather than desired is to reject the very basis of our modern economy. But it is only when we are free of disordered passions that we are free. The cloud of desire that surrounds us prior to that point leaves the truth of things largely opaque. Only the sober man knows anything.

And so, not strangely, Christ has much to say about money. We are told to give it away (or at least lots of it). Riches choke out the good seed. Be anxious for nothing. Whoever seeks to save his life will lose it. It is easier for a camel to pass through a needle’s eye than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.

Today, the rich man is the consumer man. The productivity of modern man has left necessity behind. Today we no longer have needs: needs have us.

Can consumers be saved? It is perhaps one of the more appropriate questions of our time. I think consumers can be saved – but not as consumers. Consumption, in the manner in which we know it, is the symptom of a disease, the deep disease of corruption of which the Scripture warns:

And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat.

Of course, none of this was her own idea – there were commercials in the garden.

 ___

*I use the word unnatural to describe our existence because we were not created to be subject to the passions. Our bondage is the result of sin.

 

Comments

  1. says

    I’m always been sort of perplexed by post-industrial economies. We produce enormous amounts of products and services, some of which do we not only not need: we may even be very conflicted about wanting it. Intuition suggests that producing useless junk we hardly want (and that there are jobs like “social media coordinator”) should be a sign of having more than we need. But then there are also a lot of people with a great deal of debt and a feeling of impending doom if they don’t take their job (and many of these jobs, like making gourmet sandwiches, are so unnecessary that they should seemingly be an expression of abundance — “isn’t it fantastic! Even our middle class can order a gourmet sandwich every week!”) terribly seriously, as though we were likely to starve for lack of gourmet sandwiches. Or Facebook apps. Or attractive posters. Meet your quota of manipulated image products, or there won’t be enough doctors to care for your family?

    Obviously, I know nothing at all about economics (and socialist economies have had some extremely negative side-effects), but it does seem a little bizarre

  2. says

    Fr. Stephen,

    Well said (as usual)!

    The aesthetics of religious experience can thus be more important than the content itself. Nothing is safe from the passions. The highest, most noble pursuits can be as driven by passion as the lowest bestial desires. The consumer shops for his God.

    Yes, this consumerist ideal also runs rampant throughout American religious organizations. A now retired woman that I used to work with lamented her position on her Methodist church’s “Entertainment Committee”.

  3. Mrs. Mutton says

    I would point out that in addition to the “riches” which choke out the good seed, the actual passage read, “the *cares* and riches and pleasures of this life” – in other words, you can be quite poor and still land in among thorns. Also that after He said that it was easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter Heaven, our Lord added, “What is impossible with men, is possible with God.” Just – beware of the modern mainline-religion habit of equating riches with evil. I’ve known three very wealthy men in my lifetime who were the mainstays of their churches, and gave as the Bible tells us to, joyfully, with open hearts and hands.

    Modern economics is based on the principle of scarcity: “There are only a finite number of goods and services, so grab everything you can before there’s no more of it.” At its root, it’s fear-driven. But I’m told that in traditionally Orthodox countries, the economic principle is the principle of abundance: “There’s enough for everybody.” And, as the story of the fives loaves and two fishes shows us, *more* than enough, since the Apostles had to gather up the leftovers and filled twelve baskets full of them.

  4. says

    In the 70s I managed a clothing store before heading for seminary. Back then, Black Friday to christmas eve day were the days and weeks I hated. It was nothing but shop..shop…shop…pushing, shoving, arguing and then the returns after christmas. The Christmas “spirit” left and did not return until I became Orthodox and learning what christmas was all about…not the coca-cola..the lights and glitter…adverts…and back then…the bottom-line was always, “How much did the store earn during the week?” I can just think that bottom has not changed one bit!!

  5. fatherstephen says

    Mrs. Mutton,
    Excellent points. The “scarcity” principle is also a root of envy – since it presumes there is not enough. Anyone else’s riches are at my expense. But “abundance” is rooted in the provision of the good God – “enough for everyone” is the well-put definition of abundance. My thoughts in this article (I could have made it twice as long) are especially about the inner experience of “shopping” or acquiring. The problem is not wealth, but the passions that can drive its acquisition. I’ve also known wealthy persons whose joy it was to share. For both rich and poor, the cure of our passions lies in obedience to Christ’s commandment to give. Imagine a culture in which the energy that drives the passions of a Black Friday were turned towards sharing our abundance. I cannot imagine such a culture, but I have met such individuals.

  6. says

    Regarding consumption, I recommend An All Consuming Century. This book, as well as several great BBC documentaries, cover the introduction of marketing and the growth of consumerism in the 20th century. Regarding debt’s role in all this (and especially the recent real estate bubble), I just saw The Flaw last night and recommend it.

    Marketing has been grown over the past 100 years in order to inflame the passions. Its introduction was deliberate and I doon’t know of anywhere in the world (Orthodox or not) that does not have Marketing.

    Irene, besides what I’ve said here about consumerism and marketing, I will say that in the past I worked at the non-profit behind Wikipedia. While we didn’t sell anything, I did find social media useful for communicating with people. And mobile (including mobile apps) are a growing percentage of the use. I don’t think we had a single social media coordinator, but they do have quite a few people in place to deal with the community.

  7. easton says

    i saw an interesting segment on tv recently about this subject. it talked about what children really enjoy and love to play with–boxes! that’s why many times they enjoy the box and put what’s in it to the side. the adults are the ones who are passionate about over-indulging for expensive items. i, in my 50’s have seen a huge change in this over-consumption over the years, and the “greatest generation” often got a small gift and fruit for christmas…even those from well to do families were not entitled.

  8. says

    Marketing has been grown over the past 100 years in order to inflame the passions. Its introduction was deliberate and I doon’t know of anywhere in the world (Orthodox or not) that does not have Marketing.

    Irene, besides what I’ve said here about consumerism and marketing, I will say that in the past I worked at the non-profit behind Wikipedia. While we didn’t sell anything, I did find social media useful for communicating with people. And mobile (including mobile apps) are a growing percentage of the use of Wikipedia. I don’t think we had a single social media coordinator, but they do have quite a few people in place to deal with the community.

  9. mary benton says

    An excellent post, Father Stephen.

    By many people’s standards, I live a pretty simple life. But it is soooo easy to slip into the excitement of the “good deal” combined with the high that comes from having something new. Sometimes I have acquired things that were useless simply because I had a coupon to get them free! So absurd.

    “Nothing is safe from the passions.” A point very well made. My commitment to living simply gets corrupted by chasing the bargain. My desire to know God can get corrupted by buying books – or spending too much time reading blogs :-).

    May I allow the time and space for a stillness within that God may teach me.

  10. Chrys says

    Yes! A thousand times, yes!
    Consumerism is the “water” in which we swim, and it distorts our experience in ways that are very difficult to detect.
    Thank you, Father. This is spot on!! THIS is what “speaking truth to power” – what a prophetic voice – really “looks” like to me; it is challenging the dominant and defining motif of a society. While I am very grateful for the unimaginable blessings that our “free market” (well, competitive market) economy has produced, I find that it is our very strengths that pose the greatest challenges (as usual).
    Your post brings to mind a lecture on Asceticism and the Consumer Society by Metropolitan Jonah that is also so invaluable because it so very dearly needed. (And in this, I am speaking solely for and to myself.)
    Thank you for this.

  11. drewster2000 says

    Fr. Stephen,

    We do indeed live in a culture of scarcity. When you mentioned jobs, it made me reflect on what a cop-out this is. I remember reading about how a certain large forest which was in the middle of being harvested when suddenly it was reclassified as off-limits due to conservation efforts. The union was soon up in arms crying about the loss of jobs. One editorial said: while were at it, what about prostitutes, drug dealers and mob bosses? Shouldn’t we be preserving their jobs too?

    In fact in our very own lives, when God takes something away we shouldn’t be demanding our livelihood back, but rather looking up to Him with open palms and trusting hearts ready for whatever He has next. The US is in for such a loss of livelihood; it has already begun. They and those around them must get themselves “ready to answer for the hope that lies within them”.

  12. says

    Thank you, Father, for this inspiring post and for this: “…when God takes something away we shouldn’t be demanding our livelihood back, but rather looking up to Him with open palms and trusting hearts ready for whatever He has next. The US is in for such a loss of livelihood; it has already begun. They and those around them must get themselves “ready to answer for the hope that lies within them”.

    Yes!

  13. says

    Marketing is what has happened in market places since towns and cities were formed. ‘Bargains’ were sold. Athens and Rome got it’s News of the Day in the Market Place, too Philosophers and teachers hawked their new ideas there too.
    The European cities until recently all had or still have open air markets.In the 1950s Petticoat Lane( London) with it’s barrow boys was an ideal place for bargains in fruit, if you watched the fruit sellers carefully, and also other goods which you had to be suspicious of. “Fell off the back of a truck” was one euphemism used.In all market places it was and is necessary to to be suspicious. Caveat Emptor is a Roman warning which still applies for goods and ideas, and also news reports

  14. dinoship says

    Thank you Father for this great article.
    It also reminded me of another side to “shopping” related to urban living:
    This vain consumerism, especially to such a degree we now witness, seems somehow exacerbated by city life.
    And I always think that city-living can potentially be conducive to godlessness. Even if only because one sees a great deal more man-made stuff in the city and far more God-made and spirit-lifting nature in the more traditional country-side setting.

  15. Michael Bauman says

    Attempting to take either a historical or economic outlook on Father’s post begs the question, IMO. At every time in history and in every economic system there has been and will be the spiritual temptations to greed, gluttony, lust of power and envy, the core problems of which Father speaks. That and the simple unwillingess to take responsibility for our own sins like Adam saying to God “…this woman you gave me…”

    The existential reality of not having everything and the fact that some things are difficult to obtain (needed or not)and wanting, lusting for things we don’t have, drives every economic system in every time or the vain satisfaction in things we do have: “I’ll say to my soul, eat drink and be merry….”

    A thankful heart allows us to realize that God provides and to accept His providence without tempting Him. The rest is a distraction. Yes, work is a part of the equation, but there can be incorrect attitudes about that as well.

  16. says

    At every time in history and in every economic system there has been and will be the spiritual temptations to greed, gluttony, lust of power and envy, the core problems of which Father speaks.

    Totally agreed.

    I pointed out the 20th century innovations in marketing by Edward Bernays (Freud’s nephew) to point to the way people explicitly exploit the “lust of power and envy”. They certainly didn’t invent the concepts, though, and we need to be ever vigilant.

  17. Lewis says

    One of my “hobbies” in traveling is watching people at work and wondering what their job is like. In turn, I also think about how a Christian would engage in that job.

    One conclusion is that the most difficult work for a Christian would be in Advertising because one is always on the verge of lying even when selling “needed” products. But how can a Christian promote stuff that he knows people buy from vanity or gluttony or greed? I suppose a good Orthodox or Catholic Christian would be going to Confession quite regularly.

    What would tell them, Father Stephen?

  18. Phil says

    Every year, “Black Friday” becomes more obnoxious. The obsession with consuming is bad enough, but sacrificing time to be with family, or to rest, or simply to be still, to stand in a line before dawn and fight with strangers in order to save a few dollars is truly grotesque.

    I’m not that old, and I don’t have a problem with a free marketplace, but, more and more, I find myself hoping that the Christmas shopping season is terrible and these retailers crash.

  19. Mrs. Mutton says

    I can’t bring myself to hope that, Phil. People’s livelihoods depend on a healthy level of sales – not just the people who own retail stores (and that includes “mom-and-pop” stores), but also the people they employ, the shippers, not to mention the services those employees and shipping personnel consume. In this country, we tend to think too narrowly, in terms of Haves and Have-Nots, instead of realizing the degree of inter-connectedness that exists among us. We all literally depend on each other; even those “evil do-nothing federal civil-service workers” spend money in their own communities, thus providing local jobs. Your tax money comes back to you one way or another.

    What I *would* like to see is a greater awareness of the true meaning of this season, and that, I fear, depends on us Christians – not so much in beating other people over the head with our Christian beliefs (which does no good anyway), as in quiet acts of kindness and charity that speak most loudly of our own beliefs. With the right perspective, it doesn’t matter how much is spent, so long as there’s an element of God’s love for our fellowman in our spending.

  20. Phil says

    Yes. Mrs. Mutton, that’s a good point. I can’t quite full-out root for failure for the reasons you gave.

  21. drewster2000 says

    Mrs. Mutton,

    My heart goes out to those people working retail every time I go into a store – especially the chain stores and especially around the busy times of the year. Shortterm I fully understand that I’m helping support them when I go in and buy, but longterm this is not a good solution

    Longterm things need to change drastically. I feel for those poor women in brothels but no one would understand my paying them for sex in order to put food on their table. No altruism believable there.

    Retail jobs are close to slave labor. I’d like to see our society change so that those people can eat and put clothes on their backs – while at the same time being treated like human beings. That the society at large is encouraging this practice is not right. No I don’t have one simply answer to make it all better but I know retail on the large and assembly-line we see it today is NOT the way we were created to live.

  22. Michael Bauman says

    OK, a little economic history: we still have not dealt with the familial and societal changes brought about during the industrial revolution in the late 19th century when families lost livlihoods and land as the agraian/craft foundation of western economies gave way to mass production/industrial model.

    Assembly lines are best handled by robots/computers rather than people. Fast food and mass retail can also be done every bit as well, if not better by computers (that is mostly what online ordering at the large on-line retailers is)

    Economics tends toward the utilitarian in how resources, including human resources are allocated even in the best circumstance. It takes human beings to step in and ameliorate the utilitarian and make things human. That is why government based economies and programs do not work long-term whether in feudal times, mercantilist Europe or socialism of whatever type (which includes the global economy, IMO)

    If we humans do not make icons, we make idols. The results are obvious.

    The question is in how to change it. Mass methods of changing have all of the problems of a mass economy: depersonalised and ideological driven. Neither God, nor the government, nor the U.N will solve the problems, human beings will.

    Local, personal, small solutions work best (like the micro loans being used in third world countries for instance) or working with your neighbors to find ways to become more self-sufficient even in urban environments or on something within whatever business/profession each of us works in.

    Don’t do Black Friday or any of that crap. Demand quality not just a lower price. Living more simply which is a form of asceticism.

    Let God give the increase relying on His abundance, mercy and grace.

  23. fatherstephen says

    An important matter for Orthodox Christian living in our present culture is to realize that we are not responsible for solving the problems of the whole economy. Thus, living simply and becoming free of the marketing geared towards the passions is not the same thing as mounting a critique of the whole economy. Of course, if everybody lived free of the passions, the economy would collapse. I’m not worried that anything like that will happen. Thus, it’s simply for me to learn and practice a new kind of fasting. There will be greater value and spiritual benefit in living free from consumerism than in any food fast we undertake. Indeed, without the fast from consumerism, almost any other discipline we undertake will be close to useless.

    Don’t worry about the economy, or the need for the “system” to change. It really doesn’t matter. It’s my passions and your passions that matter. Everything else in this question is, more or less, a distraction.

  24. Mrs. Mutton says

    I’ve been spending *way* too much time on Facebook – looking for the “Like” button here! ;-)

  25. Canadian says

    Of course, none of this was her own idea – there were commercials in the garden.`

    Insightful and true Father. Unfallen Eve does not turn off the Serpent channel (Adam must have had the remote)and becomes the first impulse buyer. Lord have mercy on us who are fallen but can walk in the Spirit by grace.

  26. drewster2000 says

    Put excellently by Michael and Fr. Stephen. That is my credo as well actually, but I can’t help looking at the big picture once in awhile and having hopes and dreams. It’s in my DNA (grin).

    Along those lines, I do believe that if everyone lived simply and locally and relied on God to do the rest, the economy would collapse but a new one (phoenix) would rise from the ashes. And is it not through death that we find true life – whether as a person or a nation?

  27. Michael Bauman says

    drewster2000: there is always an economy because we have the need to exchange for goods and services. That will never go away. We are interrelated spiritually and physically. Everything we do or don’t do has an impact on everyone else. That impact may not be measurable by human tools, but the impact is there.

    If everyone followed the path talked about here, the economy would change drastically, but it would not, IMO, collapse. It likely would be stronger and more resilient because it would be based on the real needs of the people involved, not on theory.

    The question is are we participating in whatever economy there is in a Christian manner or not. Are we in it to build wealth for ourselves alone, or are we in it to maximize our talents so that we can share with others.

  28. mary benton says

    It is not always so easy to distinguish between needs and wants. There was a time in my life when I believe that I tried to live too austerely. (What might be healthy for someone living in a monastery may not be healthy for a young person living in the world doing a stressful job.)

    My point, of course, is not to promote consumerism but to agree with Father Stephen’s point about the passions. An unhealthy asceticism can derail the soul as much as unhealthy consumerism. Such discernments may helped with the guidance of another because we often cannot see our own underlying motivations.

  29. dinoship says

    There is a far greater need for Spiritual Vigilance, moderation, restraint and voluntary adoption of simplicity nowadays, in order to preserve an, (as far as possible), undistracted life, akin to that of yesteryear.
    As Saint Peter the Damascean says:

    “everything which does not serve a pressing need, becomes an obstacle to those who would be saved; everything, that is. which does not contribute to the salvation of the soul or to the life of the body” (Philokalia, vol. III).

    As Elder Aimilianos of Simonopetra says:

    The most dreadful enemy created by post-industrial culture, the culture of information technology and the image, is distraction (deceptive/cunning or not). Swamped by millions of images and a host of different situations on television and in the media in general, people lose their peace of mind, their self-control, their powers of contemplation and reflection and turn outwards, becoming strangers to themselves, in a word mindless, impervious to the dictates of their intelligence…

    The majority of the faithful of the Church confess that they do not manage to pray, to concentrate and cast off the cares of the world and the storms of spirit and soul which are to the detriment of sobriety, inner balance, enjoyable work, family tranquility and a constructive social life. The world of the industrial image degenerates into real idolatry.

    The teachings of the Fathers concerning spiritual vigilance arms people so that they can stave off the disastrous effects of the technological society.

  30. drewster2000 says

    Michael,

    I agree. In fact for the most part our responsibilities lie on our person. As St. Theophan said, the best course is to look down at our own two feet and figure out which one to put where.

    But people like you and I cannot help going up to a lookout and surveying the 20,000 ft view, wondering from a sociological perspective how things should work – and trying to encourage it in that direction. I see no harm in this as long as we are simply observers and make sure to keep our hands off the levers and buttons in the control booth. (grin)

  31. dinoship says

    The level of distraction of consumerist society has reached such unforeseen heights that it is making us lose more than just self-restraint but our peace of mind too; it is transforming us into mindless slaves of futility, thinking we find meaning in the vanity and deception of knowing a great deal about “current affairs”, (when we know nothing of our own God). This contagious shallowness is what leads to our sorry predicament, and what infiltrates even the most noble qualities left in us. The children of today’s cities must truly unknowingly have (as Father Stephen has said before), “such grace that would at other times raised the dead” just in order to maintain the same fair “playing field” as other generations had! I sometimes think the suffering and poor children of the 3rd world have a head-start (spiritually) compared to the affluent consumers of modernity they might be tempted to envy.
    I also often think that we cannot easily appreciate the truth of those who had first-hand experience of what we are missing so sorely… Like Isaiah the Solitary, for example, claiming, “If your intellect is freed from the things of this world, the breach between it and God is eliminated.”…
    Or even the Apostle John stating, “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.”
    I fear that, for some, only great sufferings (coupled with God’s Grace) have the necessary transforming power in order for them to be changed into authentic persons again, persons that can appreciate and live out such sayings, especially if we are to maintain such depth amongst such shallowness, in true humility.

  32. Michael Bauman says

    I know a woman who is eaten alive with greed despite the fact that it has destroyed her marriage (still married but not life in it); her children who cannot support themselves; and is close to destoying the family business which employees just about everyone in the family.

    There is nothing that I can say or do that would awaken her to her plight–she is too drunk on the lust of acquiring. No one has ever told her no.

    To be honest, I’m not sure most of us are not in danger of the same drunkeness.

  33. John Shores says

    Hi Fr. Stephen – I didn’t see another way to contact you so I’ll post this and let you contact me instead.

    I need some help. My kid is a freshman at Colorado State University. She graduated last year with a 3.97 GPA and is currently acing all her classes.

    Because we were not Colorado residents, the tuition was $25K. Between loans, grants and scholarships, we have managed to come up with $17K but we are $8K short. This means she will have to quit school at the end of the first semester.

    We set up a fund-raising website here:

    https://fundly.com/aj-s-tuition-fund/edit

    I wanted your permission to ask this community to consider contributing to this fundraiser and pass this link along to those that they know who are altruistic and want to help out a great kid who is trying to reach her lifelong goal of becoming a veterinarian.

    If’ that’s cool with you, please let me know. I can be reached at email hidden; JavaScript is required. If it’s not, please simply delete this post.

    Thanks!

    -John Shores
    TLO (The Loyal Opposition)

  34. fatherstephen says

    John Shores,
    May God bless it and grant generous hearts in this time of year. It’s tough getting through college – my youngest graduates from college this Spring.

  35. mary benton says

    John –

    Your daughter is beautiful! I’ll be considering a donation. May your effort be blessed.

  36. says

    Father Stephen,

    i have an off-topic question.

    According to Fr. John Whiteford, certain Canons forbid praying with “heretics or schismatics.” He takes this to mean it’s wrong for an Orthodox Christian to attend a heretical church (even in the case where there is not an Orthodox parish near them). What about in the case of prayers said by non-Orthodox family members at holidays? None of my relatives are Orthodox, but all are religious. Should i refuse to lead a prayer when asked or refuse to bow my head when they engage in prayer before a meal?

    (i would ask Fr. John, since he made the claim, but the post he wrote on this doesn’t allow for comments–not that i can see anyway.)

    –guy

  37. PJ says

    Guy,

    I often find it strange to pray with those outside my tradition, especially low church evangelical Protestants. I am uncomfortable with the casual and conversational quality of their prayer, as well as the “charismatic” accompaniments (moaning, whispering, sighing, etc.). My kneejerk reaction is to find it “unworthy” of God — though I know that they only intend to express loving intimacy.

    That said, I’ve also been challenged by this piety, as it has allowed me to see the hardness of my heart. This isn’t to say that all non-charismatic, non-extemporaneous prayer is spiritually dead. No, of course not — It’s just that I’ve realized the superficiality and cool formality of much of my own devotional life.

    So, it’s a mixed bag in my humble opinion…Much more that could be said, too. As for canons, etc., I don’t know. I’ll leave that to Father!

  38. says

    PJ,

    i’m really only particularly thinking of the holiday meal time scenario. i don’t really encounter the situation Fr. John Whiteford is discussing–visiting non-Orthodox churches.

    Suppose your Baptist or Catholic or LDS father-in-law, in whose house you are celebrating Thanksgiving, says, “Okay, everyone, let’s offer a prayer for the meal,” and then begins to pray. Do you say, “No!”? Do you just not listen but offer your own ‘Orthodox’ prayer in your head? Do you refuse to bow your head, making it apparent to all present that you mean not to participate? Do you offer your own ‘Orthodox’ prayer aloud just as soon as his prayer is over? Do you just refuse to say ‘amen’? Is it permissible to bow your head and listen? Is it permissible to say ‘amen’ when he finishes?

    What if your father-in-law asks you to lead the prayer? Do you refuse because non-Orthodox persons will take themselves to be praying along with you?

    i don’t mean to introduce a sensitive topic frivolously; this situation presents itself at every family holiday event i attend.

    –guy

  39. says

    Guy,

    My family is not Orthodox either & only some are religious. As Christians we are not to cause offense first & foremost, nor are we to become legalistic in our Orthodoxy. What you quote is for religious gatherings such as prayer meetings or worship services. Let it stand at that & do not apply it unwisely or legalistically to family.

    When it comes to gatherings with them such as Thanksgiving & Christmas, my recommendation is to bow your head & take part in the prayer whoever leads it (assuming the prayer is not to a non-Christian god). If you lead the prayer, as I often do in my home, then say the table grace (Our Father with the ending blessing “O Christ our God, bless the food & drink of these your servants for Thou art Holy, now & ever & unto the ages of ages. Amen.”). Sometimes I will just say the ending depending on who is there. Crossing myself with the sign of the cross is also a given. Otherwise there is nothing specifically or uniquely Orthodox about table grace (IMO). I would highly advise against refusing to bow your head or offering your own prayer afterwards or anything that might be construed as disrespectful.

    Relax & enjoy the family God has richly blessed you with :-)

    Just my 2 cents…

  40. PJ says

    Guy,

    Yes, pray with your family and friends at meal time. Be gracious and kind and unassuming. Do not draw attention to yourself, nor puff yourself up with pride and self-righteousness.

  41. says

    PJ,

    Thanks so much for the response.

    So, is it fair to say that Orthodoxy sees a difference between what takes place in a church (even if non-Orthodox) and at home privately or in private gatherings? (i ask this quite sincerely since my former denomination was full of internal debates on this very point.)

    –guy

  42. says

    > So, is it fair to say that Orthodoxy sees a difference
    > between what takes place in a church (even if
    > non-Orthodox) and at home privately or in private
    > gatherings?

    I am not an authority but this seems counter to everything I know about Orthodoxy. It sounds like a separation between the sacred space and the secular space which, if I understand him correctly, Fr Stephen has spoken against especially in his concept of a two storey universe.

    All of life is sacred, so what happens in private life is just as “spiritual” as what happens in the church.

    (My appologies if I misunderstood your question.)

  43. fatherstephen says

    Guy,
    There is no difference – it is indeed a One-Storey universe. But when we gather in Church (wherever the Church meets) we assemble with the brethren and there is something different (at least in its mode) when “two or three” gather in Christ’s name. There, by the Spirit, we are able to constitute a fullness which we cannot constitute alone. It’s not a matter of sacred/secular but of gathering in the fullness. The purpose of God is to gather together in One, all things in Christ. The Church is the foretaste of that final banquet.

    Because the Church is also historical, that fullness is not possible outside of Orthodoxy, where the assembly includes the continuity of the Apostles and the ages. Even then, there is a fullness that will include all things (and everyone). It is important that we move towards Christ, towards the center, towards the fullness. Let the other things (or groups) worry about themselves…God will gather them in His good season.

  44. Michael Bauman says

    Well, I have been grafted into a decidedly heterdox (at best) family. My wife is the lone exception in a large and otherwise diverse family. Yet, un-sought I have been asked at every family gathering of which I have been a part to offer a prayer before eating. I was and am shocked but I decided to do it because I was bidden and it is a form of witness.

    I also believe that there is a modifier of ‘frequent’ in the prohibition against attending the religious services of others. Could be wrong though.

    By attending my wife’s Church (before we were married) she was able to trust the Church more fully and more easily enter into the Church of her own free will. In the process I met some really fine people who love God sincerely even if incompletely. They are not really heretics since they have never been instructed in the true faith nor had the oppourtunity to reject her.

    Still, wouldn’t want to go there often and we have not attended at all since my wife was Christmated except for a funeral I wish I had not attended.

  45. SingleLady says

    Ok, I see I’m going to have to be the contrarian here. In the zeal to put down holiday shopping (which many of us still do in a civilized mannner btw), why is it that every Christmas season people trot out all the moldy “close knit family and togetherness” junk when the cold hard reality is that many families are very dysfunctional (even some Orthodox families as I’m discovering)? The holiday dinners wind up in tears with people arguing and not getting along, but yet there’s that pressure to be the “perfect” people. If you ask me that’s even worse than the shopping aspect. For people who aren’t married, whose families live too far away for us to travel, or whose children are grown and moved out, Thanksgiving and Christmas can be a very lonely time of year and all this over-emphasis on ‘perfect homespunness’ gets a bit hard to take. I’ve been at my church for two years, and no one has ever invited me to share the holidays with them. I got to litugy and wind up alone all day otherwise. Maybe it’s better we go out to the shops or to the movies on the holidays than just sit home and feel bad because our lives aren’t the same as the Waltons (and I don’t mean the dept store ones either). Don’t judge us I say.

  46. says

    SingleLady,

    I don’t think anyone here is saying shopping is worse than falseness or leaving people in our own church communities feeling unloved or lonely.

    Christians are supposed to show love and care for those without families, but I agree that too often we are insular.

    That said, when I read the following:

    > I’ve been at my church for two years, and no one has ever
    > invited me to share the holidays with them.

    I confess that I haven’t really reached out to anyone in my church during the holidays. My parent’s were really good about that sort of thing (despite *not* being Orthodox!)

  47. fatherstephen says

    Singlelady,
    The post isn’t about our holidays – it’s about the passions. Loneliness is a passion as well and it’s quite painful. Many, blessed with families will be lonely even in the midst of them, or suffer in the pain of broken relationships. We all need mercy. We also have to be “pro-active” in our lives, not passive. You may have to be active in your parish family, finding a family to share the feast with, or other singles. If you wait for this to happen, the result can easily be more loneliness and resentment that no one has done anything (don’t judge them either). Pray, speak to your priest about this, and see if there is something you can do to make it different.

    We live in a culture where the family is extremely fragmented. We are all in need of changing certain things in our behavior in order to make our lives and those of others around us tolerable.

  48. Marjaana says

    Single Lady, does anyone in your parish actually know that you have no-one to spend the Holidays with? I think the assumption is that even people who are not married have other family they want to visit during holiday times. Can you reach out to someone who is perhaps in a similar situation?

  49. says

    SingleLady,

    I do not know if Imelda Marcos (God bless her little cotton socks) is single but she certainly seems to enjoy her shopping. Perhaps we should learn to think of shopping more as hobby than religion? Never forgetting that Pascha can make a church out of a shopping mall and a window out of a church!

  50. mary benton says

    Hi SingleLady,

    I too am a “single lady”. I agree with you about how often there can be a lot of holiday pressure – but only if we subscribe to it.

    I have chosen to experience Christmas as a holy day with minimal attention to the “cultural Christmas” which has little to do with the Incarnation. Thus, whether the external trappings meet the cultural ideal or not, I have the invitation to always draw closer to God, a far greater ideal.

    Of course, human love and togetherness is always important and I hope you have some in your life. Blessings.