A Crisis of Beauty

IMG_1353There is a crisis of beauty within my culture. That is a very kind way to say that much of the world around me, at least the civilizational part, is ugly. It is not an ugliness born of poverty (though poverty is very ugly around here) – unless we understand that there is a poverty within the human spirit that begets ugliness. My thoughts on my environment are not just my opinion. In the late 1940’s, John Gunther, author of Inside USA, dubbed Knoxville (the hub of our metro area) the “ugliest city” in America. The city has worked hard to overcome the moniker.

Such a designation only makes our city the “ugliest of the ugly,” for the truth is, it looks like most of America. American towns have been driven by utility. There is no central, cultural notion of what a building should look like. The cozy villages of Europe were the products of a cultural consensus. American architectural landscape is best described with words like “sprawling,” and “franchise.”

The small town I live in, built in the 1940’s to house the “Manhattan Project,” America’s effort to build the first nuclear weapon, bears some of the marks of its wartime heritage, but is mostly just a collection of successful and unsuccessful franchised America. The unsuccessful ones tend to leave their “bones” behind (empty buildings). There’s a former Pizza Hut with its uniquely shaped windows that is now, I think, a medical clinic. It was a jewelry store for a while. At least the roof is no longer red.

Of course, I also live very near one of the most wonderful National Parks in America: the Great Smokey Mountains, part of a mountain chain that is perhaps the oldest in the world. Much of it is unspoiled – a treasure-trove of natural beauty.

It is tragic to associate human activity with ugliness. In our part of the world, those who champion beauty are also committed foes of development and the expansion of the human habitat. They have a point.

Beauty is a reflection of the Divine Nature. From the greatest expanse of stars to the most microscopic parts of creation, beauty is woven into all that exists. Human beings are beautiful as well – inherently so. It is for this reason that our modern penchant for the mundane, banal and empty is so striking.

I was recently interviewed by someone collecting opinions from area leaders about their take on our local needs. I was asked about “crisis” areas. I surprised myself when the first words out of my mouth were, “We have a crisis of beauty.” Surely I think something else is more important. But I’m not sure that I do. Our lack of beauty is both symptom and the lack of a cure. For the lack of beauty can only be healed by the presence of beauty. My region of the nation was also recently dubbed as the most “Bible-centered” city in America. This combination of civic distinctions is tragically ironic.

One of the instincts of Orthodoxy is that of beauty. Orthodox Churches are not accidentally beautiful. They vary across the world, but their beauty, even when simple, is as intentional as any aspect of the Liturgy. The doctrine of icons – their making and veneration – is a liturgical incarnation of the doctrine of beauty. Icons are not art – they are representations of beauty in the Truth of its Existence.

We are now in the season of Great Lent. It is a serious season – a time of fasting and of intense prayer. But it is not a season in which the Church is stripped bare and nakedness allowed to reign (I reflect on such tendencies in a number of Western Churches). Oddly, my Lenten vestments may be the most beautiful set that I own. They are dark (black) and intense. But on the night of Pascha, a rich hymn of beauty will be sung. We sang it (as a sort of farewell and remembrance of our goal) last Sunday during Forgiveness Vespers as we began the journey of Lent. It is a song of Pascha:

Pascha of beauty, the Pascha of the Lord, a Pascha worthy of all honor has dawned for us.
Pascha! Let us embrace each other joyously. O Pascha, ransom from affliction!
For today as from a bridal chamber Christ has shown forth from the tomb and filled the women with joy saying:
Proclaim the glad tidings to the apostles.

This is the day of resurrection. Let us be illumined by the feast.
Let us embrace each other.
Let us call “Brothers” even those that hate us, and forgive all by the resurrection, and so let us cry:

Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and upon those in the tombs bestowing life!Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and upon those in the tombs bestowing life!

A Pascha of beauty begins in the soul. It is there above all that I find the crisis of beauty. Lord, have mercy.

 

Comments

  1. says

    Where else can a crisis of beauty come from, if not the human soul?
    Lord have mercy on us all
    Thank you so much for this post Father
    It highlights the plight of our condition
    I was especially caught by your remark about the tragedy of our penchant for ‘the banal, the mundane and the empty’ – we in whom Beauty resides

  2. Stephen Martin Reynolds says

    Oh, does this ever hit the mark! I watched with great sorrow the progressive uglification of the Pennsylvania town I lived in off and on in the first two decades of my life. The same pattern has been replayed in various ways all over the country. In the 1960s I lived for a couple of years in Los Angeles and watched in horror as several attractive residential neighborhoods were devastated by widening the streets that passed through them to accommodate commuter traffic–the neighborhood’s fate was determined by people who drove through it twice a day, and to hell with the concerns of those who lived there. Farm land that future generations are going to need to supply them with food is eaten up by deadly monotonous housing tracts. Probably ninety-five percent of new buildings fall in the range between dull and butt-ugly. James Howard Kunstler’s _The Geography of Nowhere_ is now twenty years old but still applies to our sorry model of “development.”

    There was a time when farmers and shopkeepers knew about the golden section and wanted it to be applied to their houses. Now we have no generally accepted standards against which we could measure what we produce. And it must be admitted that not every Orthodox church built in this country is fittingly beautiful (it is generally true that local companies that specialize in building for Protestant congregations tend to the the worst designers in the area). Historically the religions of people have inspired their best artists. And there are still some wonderful examples of this today, but now a newcomer to our civilization would have to look diligently to find them.

    The Orthodox person is blessed by a tradition that maximizes beauty because it knows that God is not only just, not only compassionate, not only all-wise, but also all-beautiful. Any beauty we see or hear is the gift of God, and Orthodoxy does everything possible to present us with beauty that directs us to its source. Of course it is possible to get lost in aesthetic pleasure, but in the Church the beauty is inseparable from wholeness and responsibility. The Psalmist calls us to worship in the beauty of holiness; how good it is to find it!

  3. Dino says

    Your words reminded me of a difference I often see between the traditional Orthodox and the more westernised notions of how to go about making things ‘beautiful':
    In the ‘westernised’ manner we see great big impressive structures -eg Churches- with an outward majesty but an inward nakedness, many even have acquired a utilitarian angle to their previous architecture that can nowadays accommodate various functions. That would be unheard of in the traditional Orthodox east… And the main characteristic would there (in the East) be a quite low, humble exterior (usually wider than it is tall – while in the West it can be taller rather than wider) and a huge emphasis on the inside beauty – the norm is to not have a single surface inside the Church that has not got iconography on it…

  4. Mark says

    I didn’t know at the time, but God was prompting me in my visits to the woods. I would sit on a rock and take in the sound of wind in the leaves, smell the sweetness of the earth, see the dappled shades of sun and light dance on the floor and then become aware of something special visiting within in me.
    I pray for the day when our culture can embrace all that we do with the sensitivity of our Creator.

  5. says

    Greetings from Asheville, Fr Stephen.

    Thank you for this post. It is sad that the most “Bible-centered” city in America was also known as the ugliest city in America. We have lost something, and it seems it is visible to all but us.

  6. George Engelhard says

    Father,
    As you said, humans are created beautiful. But I think we are created to be attracted to beauty, also. As we work out our salvation and, in the process, aquire the Holy Spitit more in more in our lives, we become more beautiful. And as we become more beautiful, we become more atractive to others. This is true evangelism.

  7. says

    Such a good point. I think this is related to our “throw away” culture where people generally purchase items at the lowest cost and lowest quality (often made overseas in a factory with deplorable conditions), fully expecting to just throw it away in a year or two. The alternative would be to seek out hand-crafted, durable items that an expert made – who put his whole soul and life experience into. The result is that we don’t have many professional craftsmen left in the country. If we could only reverse our belief that cheap, quick, easy, and ugly is the way to go.

  8. George Engelhard says

    I live in one of the older neighbor in Orlando. The houses here were built in the 1930’s and 1940’s. The have nice back yards and frontyard and space between the house. More and more my wife and I are seeing these perfectly good houses torn down and replaced with large, boxy minimansions that fill the lots almost completly. Ugliness replacing beauty!?!

  9. Mark the Zealot says

    Father, Bless.

    I pray that, God willing, you will soon visit our new temple at St. Ignatius in Franklin. Although I believe the Beauty of Holiness is present at every Divine Liturgy, or any Holy Service, wherever held, our new temple building is so beautiful. Glory to God! And we do not even have icons written on the walls or dome yet.

    As a former Anglican, you are probably familiar with the Cambridge movement of the 19th Century that emphasized the importance of church architecture in worship. I could rant for hours about “modern” ugly church buildings. There is a church (non-Orthodox I hasten to add) in the Washington, DC area that was designed by an architect of the “Brutalist School.” The name speaks for the building. The congregation can’t tear it down, however; it’s historic!

    The contrast between natural beauty and man-made ugliness you posit is interesting. I recently read a Catholic work from the 1950s that emphasized man’s role in working with and improving nature – sort of as co-creators with God. Maybe we have lost that.

    And maybe I am a romantic, but I subscribe to the “truth is beauty” adage.

  10. Nicholas Dujmovic says

    We Orthodox love beauty, no doubt. And beauty is divine. We also love liberty. It is a divine attribute as well.

    Before we self-righteously bash America too much, it might be appropriate to thank God we live in a country the thesis of which is liberty, where we are free to make bad choices, even those that produce ugliness. And then we live with the consequences of our freedom.

    Sure, we could live in a country that mandates beauty–or its concept of it–on our behalf. I’d rather live in freedom with the occasional (or more than occasional) ugliness than in a beautiful prison.

  11. fatherstephen says

    Rick,
    I have seen it and it was good. I’m not sure that the connection between art and God is clearly seen and understood by most. The West has long tended to see art as a separate category (Plato certainly did not – but later philosophy does). Orthodoxy does not have a philosophy of aesthetics. Rather, the understanding of iconography, and its relation to beauty is deeply embedded in Orthodox theology. Indeed, the Orthodox faith cannot be separated from the veneration of icons (certainly it cannot after the 7th Council).

    There have been recent efforts, such as that of Von Balthasar in the West, that restore beauty as a theological category. It makes Balthasar relatively Eastern in most of his work. I’m not sure that it’s possible to have a Western-based theology in which Beauty is truly integral. But that’s just a wondering on my part.

    I think that it is certainly possible to analyze religious belief through its “art” or the expressions of beauty found within them. It is among the reasons that I rail so loudly about secularized Christianity. It is not only not beautiful, it seems to have a love affair with that which is not beautiful. It seems dangerous somehow.

    As globalization sweeps the world, it is carrying a secularized culture sanitized of all beauty other than that associated with the urge to consume (sex, food, stuff). In its wake it will destroy cultures (and peoples with it).

    As an American I don’t hear much protest about globalization (since we’re one of the great driving engines of it). But in the Orthodox Third-World and in the non-global economies, there is a very loud critique of globalization in which it is viewed as the virtual anti-Christ. I have noted as well that the newly-elected Pope is a critic of globalization (of course he’s Third World, too).

  12. aTp says

    Nicholas,

    How did we go from the tragedy of the crisis of beauty in the soul to self-righteously bashing America?

  13. easton says

    thank you, father stephen. it seems that we’ve come to a place where we would rather walk through a department store of shoes, etc. than on a beautiful path of nature and paradise…but we do have the freedom to choose which path. beauty is so important to my daily life(i will find it no matter where i am).

  14. PJ says

    Nicholas,

    “Before we self-righteously bash America too much, it might be appropriate to thank God we live in a country the thesis of which is liberty, where we are free to make bad choices, even those that produce ugliness. ”

    Mind you, there is a thin line between liberty and license, between freedom and chaos, and I believe our country crossed over long ago.

  15. Margaret says

    This post reminded me of the book by Nickolai Velimirovich, The Universe as Symbols and Signs, which I’ve recently read through and as it is an easy-to-read Essay, I will read and refer to it again.

    Your writings about beauty and the Orthodox Church are daily becoming more “real” to me, Fr. Stephen, Glory to God for All Things!

  16. drewster2000 says

    I will admit that it still difficult for me see all the beauty of a long liturgical service. I can appreciate one. On a good day I can really like it, but the thought of gong to such a service for another 2-3 hours of standing participation will probably never make me jump out of bed.

    I know and have known people who do love it and gush over it. Most of these people I have great love and respect for. As I gaze at them in wonder, it’s easy to wonder what must be wrong with me.

    You can judge me.

    You could say that my Protestant upbringing probably greatly slanted my view of religious beauty – and you could be right.

    You could say that lots of negative reinforcement in my past and present understanding of blinded/wounded me so that I’m unable to appreciate the beauty of the liturgy. You could be right again.

    But no matter how I came to be here, here is where I am. And I can’t help thinking that there is a place in the world for people who cannot harmonize themselves with the traditional Orthodox church service. There must be a place for those who keep chastising themselves inside, “This must be beautiful; everyone says it is. I’m just not looking hard enough. I don’t have enough faith. My sins are getting in the way. I just don’t want it badly enough!”

    I do see beauty in the Divine Liturgy, but when I hear others go on about it, I envy (in a good way) and admire them, but it also makes me realize I have nothing to compare to them. The two of us aren’t even in the same room.

    These experiences lead me to believe that people must experience beauty in different ways, like some adore the coast while others love the mountains. I can’t imagine Taco Bell and Walmart ever being made beautiful, but among those things of true beauty, it must be that some appeal to one person more than another.

    I don’t despair against those who see beauty in the Liturgy – honestly I’m happy about anyone experiencing of expressing beauty – but I also do hope that I can be numbered among them.

  17. CoffeeZombie says

    drewster2000, I won’t presume to address most of your post, but I just wanted to pick up on this bit: “I can’t imagine Taco Bell and Walmart ever being made beautiful…”

    Walmart is actually the paragon of conusmerist utilitarianism! As an Orthodox Church is intentionally beautiful, a Walmart is intentionally not beautiful. The store throws aesthetics out entirely, because aesthetics supposedly mean more cost. Walmart is the icon, so to speak, of our consumerist “drive toward the bottom,” stripping away basically everything (including, I’ve heard it alleged, basic employee morale) in the name of lower prices (and, well, getting the consumer to spend more time in the store and, therefore, buy more). Walmart, as a store, *feels* cheap. In fact, it feels inhuman. I once walked into a Walmart, and felt like I had stepped into the zombie apocalypse (the florescent lighting, frankly, makes people look dead), only, instead of brains, we zombies were craving low prices!

    I don’t mean to just pick on Walmart, since it gets enough criticism as-is. Then again, perhaps it receives that criticism because it stands so starkly as the end result of what a consumerist utilitariansm looks like. Perhaps, we criticize Walmart because there is something inherent in our nature that sees this and is appalled, though we combine that with a failure to see how Walmart is not the problem, it is just a symptom, that we are a part of the kind of a culture that would produce something like Walmart in the first place.

  18. says

    This brings to mind some remarks of Dostoyevsky on beauty. There is a real hunger in all of us for beauty and this is a longing for God Himself.

    I was not aware you live near Knoxville. I’ve spent a lot of time in the Smoky Mountains, often on multi-night backpacking trips. I wish I lived closer–it’s about a 5 hour drive which can be tough after two or three nights sleeping in the woods and hiking 30-40 miles around the mountains.

  19. fatherstephen says

    Nicholas,
    I would gladly bash other places, but I live in America. My ancestors have been making the place ugly for generations. From a little of my European experience I’ve noticed that the ugliness of globalism is creeping in there as well (not surprisingly). I am grateful for American liberty, but we do well to remember St. Paul’s admonition, “Only use not liberty as an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another.”

    It is also the case that beauty, like truth, cannot be forced. The crisis is within us. How is it that in a land of freedom and wealth, we would prefer something less than beautiful when we could have beauty? There’s something wrong within us – not within the premise of liberty. I think I identified the crisis of beauty as a crisis within the soul and not as a political crisis.

    Perhaps your life experience has made you sensitive to America-bashing. In some circumstances I am as well. But I was appointed by God to preach in America.

  20. fatherstephen says

    Drewster,
    Perhaps what is “too Protestant” in your experience of long services is a perceived need to stay put (like an audience). Monastics can do this (sometimes). As for me, I’m glad I’m a priest. If I didn’t get to move around a lot in a service, my ADD would drive me crazy and I’d be miserable! (True confessions of a priest). Orthodox across the world are often seen to come and go and come again during the service. They are an offering and sacrifice of praise to God – but they can be interminable and very hard work for those of us who are not yet like the angels (who unceasingly cry, “Holy…”). Be easier on yourself. You sound fairly normal to me.

  21. George Engelhard says

    Part of the lie of secularism is the belief that we can fix the crisis ourselves through politics and social programming.

  22. George Engelhard says

    The dream of my generation ( I’m an old retired hippie)was that we could save the world. I became a part of the peace movement in the late 60’s. We have no peace. I became part of the environmental movement in the early 70’s. The environment is still deteriorating.
    I was part of the counterculture back then. Now that that counterculture has become the culture, as a Orthiodox Christian, I am counterculture again.

  23. George Engelhard says

    Drewster,
    I sing in the choir. So that keeps me busy, but I will often step forward or step back or from side to side. I have some edema in my feet and ankles. So I have to pump it out by contracting my muscles. No one has ever scolded me or looked askance at me for that behavior. As Father said, be gentle with yourself. Most people would assume by looking at me that I am totally present and with the service, but my mind wanders much of the time and I have to bring it back.

  24. drewster2000 says

    Fr. Stephen,

    Thank you for your response, and your vote on my sanity. (grin) I think there is truth to what you say. I serve as a deacon in our church, but I am also a teacher in their midst and continually seeking to make the connection between the gospel and their lives. Therefore I try to keep a foot on both sides of the chasm so that I can bridge the gap. So I speak for myself, but also for others that don’t have the advantage of moving around.

    But it is not only this. To some the phrase “Pascha!” evokes strong and joyful images. To others it evokes nothing. I don’t think the goal is to make that word be a happy place for everyone, but that the reality behind it (if you will forgive me for misusing the word symbol) would come alive for all.

    As with CoffeeZombie’s Walmart shoppers, many of us being like walking dead men, having had the meaning of everything being stripped away and now relying solely on the fumes of the passions to make us rise each day.

    I want to live, not stumble around in a numbing daze, looking for my next fix. But how to access beauty, truth, wonder, joy? Again I envy those who can soak up goodness and life from a long liturgical service, but for those of us who can’t, how to translate? How to access the source of that unspeakable joy?

    That is the challenge I face for myself and those I serve. I’ve found many, many wonderful treasures in Orthodoxy, and yet the services are as much a hindrance as they are a help. In the past few years I’ve come to understand the answer is not “Americaning” them – that in fact they already have been compared to their European counterparts – and yet the dilemma still remains.

    I see beauty in many things, but Orthodox services still withhold their riches from me and others, and I’ve come to think that for some perhaps they always will.

  25. Eleftheria says

    -About that perceived need to stay put…
    Back at our parish in NY, folks came in, sat, stood, occasionally walked an unruly child out to the narthex, etc, but by and large, movement in the church during liturgy was frowned upon. In fact, there were even parish council members assigned to “police” us.
    Here, in Cyprus…the movement is constant! It’s not unusual to see folks venerate the icons during services; people come and go and come in again (as Fr.Stephen points out). I once asked a priest here about the movement. His answer: The people should feel free – they’re in their Father’s house.

    Is this a cultural thing Father?

  26. George Engelhard says

    Drewster,
    Just keep coming. I have been Orthodox for 20 Years and this last Sunday the Eucharist became real to me as it never has before.

  27. drewster2000 says

    P.S. I just finished watching the documentary “Why Beauty Matters” suggested above: Excellent.

  28. TLO says

    The cold hard truth is that there are just too many human beings. Period. What could possibly follow but environmental ugliness?

    Can’t wait for the robots to take over.

  29. Anna says

    “unless we understand that there is a poverty within the human spirit that begets ugliness”

    Father, bless!

    You are so right about this! Also about the globalized ugliness creeping up in the “Old World” as well.

    For the traditional man, the world is beautiful because it is a divine creation; taking materials from the world in order to build and make things can only produce more beauty.

    For the secular western man, the world is but a collection of material resources to be used and abused for profit. Creating beauty is bad business, unless we’re talking about luxury items that cost singificantly more than the Walmart variety.

    It’s frightening.

  30. George Engelhard says

    I remember reading many years ago that anthropologists estimated that for mos of human history the human population for the entire world stayed arounr 350 million. We now have 20 times that many people. I see no way we humans can save ourselves. It will take outside intervention.

  31. says

    Too many human beings? Sorry, that argument doesn’t wash.

    And that, my friends, is why we call them the unwashed masses.

    Ho ho ho. Malthusian comedy.

  32. fatherstephen says

    There is a deep darkness in the heart of the Malthusians – and the darkness is the source of ugliness. A human being is an infinite value. They’re doctrine of scarcity becomes an excuse (ultimately) for justified murders. And strangely, it’s almost always too many dark people, poor people, stupid people, etc. I don’t trust any of them.

  33. Michael Bauman says

    The ultimate ugliness of utilitarianism is the degradation of the human person. It replaces craft with the machine and the human being becomes part of the machine.

  34. says

    I was just making a little joke, Father. A little play on your choice of words. I didn’t expect a serious response, since I was being jocular myself.

    Or trying to anyway. ;-)

    *tap* Is this thing on?

  35. fatherstephen says

    Lassiter, sorry. I was responding to TLO’s comment. I through the reference to Malthus as a general thing.

  36. mary benton says

    I agree with the many comments – that this post touches on something very important that is happening to the American “soul”.

    I had a nice office and I worked to keep it beautiful and calming for my patients by hanging nature photos I had taken. Many people liked the photos and this led to discussions of taking time to be in the moment and see the beauty around us.

    They “remodeled” my office with a huge desk and weird colors and declared that we were not allowed to hang anything on the walls. I almost quit immediately but I tried to adjust. However, I decided to leave my job of 20 years about 6 months after the remodeling – not because of the physical ugliness but because of the spiritual ugliness I had been increasingly experiencing in the organization.

    I am glad I left, even though I am earning much less money. (Or maybe because I earn less money.) Money – or rather our over-attachment to it – is a major source of the ugliness.

  37. says

    drewster:

    Relax & breathe, boy, relax & breathe! I agree with Fr. Stephen…you seem normal. There is a place for you in Orthodoxy :-) Don’t worry about what others are saying/feeling. That is merely judging yourself by an false ideal & that is not what we are supposed to do. Receive God’s loving grace as you are able & don’t worry about the rest. Fr. Stephen himself has said that the major part of being Orthodox is just showing up (or something like that). Relax & I’ll be you’ll start enjoying things a lot more.

  38. Michael Bauman says

    TLO:

    “This mission is far too important to be entrusted to humans.”.

    We are less efficient than machines. Beauty is not efficient and somehow I doubt that machines can fulfill our priestly function since they are not in the image and likeness of God.

    Machines can make things, but they cannot craft things. Craft gives life.

  39. Karen says

    I think that I shall never see a billboard lovely as a tree.
    Perhaps, unless the billboards fall, I’ll never see a tree at all.

    Ogden Nash

    Smokey Mountains–one of my favorite places!

  40. says

    My husband & I used to take 2-week vacations horseback riding in the Smokies! Until me & my horse fell off one of the mountains. Other than that, the vacations were amazing & wonderful ;-)

    We always took time to visit the museums & sites as well. I remember us seeing pictures of the Smokies from the 1940s & 50s in which they had been strip-mined & deforested totally by the New Deal work camps for the war & industry. Talk about ugly! Now they have been restored & are once again beautiful.

    Our country is growing in ugliness. Greed for profits does this because more money is considered beautiful. Before the housing market bottomed out, houses were springing up everywhere by speculative housing contractors. They too were ugly as well as shoddy because they were built to turn a quick buck. Despite greatly reduced prices, they remain unsold. Many are now >5 years old & have never been lived in.

    A different view of Wal-Mart: This company was a god-send to my single mother as I was growing up. We were dirt-poor as there was $0 child support from my father. Despite her education, experience & hard work we were “left behind” by the economy & society around us. The liberals channelled loads of welfare into the inner cities while the conservatives told us that we deserved to be poor & to get a job. In the meantime there were no jobs get outside of the government unless you were 16…I was & became the money earner for the family holding down 2 part-time jobs while attending high school.

    I remember her spending $100 (which was a lot of hours for a 16-yr. old cashier earning minimum wage $2.85/hr before taxes) & getting me enough clothes to last the week as well as all of my school supplies. Before Wal-Mart $100 would get me 2 shirts & maybe 2 sets of pants; forget about supplies. Back then the quality was good at Wal-Mart, but not now. I have noticed that there is no quality anywhere now that is affordable. I am no longer dirt poor, but I am still a Wal-Mart shopper. I just don’t believe in paying more money for the cheap junk sold other places. Also, I cannot see driving 2-3 hours one-way to avoid Wal-Mart & still end up buying the same cheap junk.

    Remember Wal-Mart came into existence & continues to exist because our American society has yet to address some very ugly issues caused by the ugliness of greed which preys on the poor–politically, socially & economically. We just don’t call it greed anymore as that is just too harsh, & well, ugly; we much prefer the more politically correct term “capitalism”.

    Well said that ugliness is that of the heart.

  41. dino says

    Malthusisnism might make some “sense” to some but it makes me think thus:
    The fact that a miniscule percentage of the world’s population lives on the vast majority of the world’s resources, while on the other hand, the vast majority of the world’s population has to make do with a truly tiny portion of the world’s resources -this is an uncontestable fact BTW- would make anyone (no matter what their beliefs), highly suspicious of Malthusianism. No?
    I mean that if we lived like the 1% wealthiest in the world we could only have a few million around -if that- while if we lived like the poor 20% (not the dying 5%-10%) of the world (which is not as poor as some ascetics but is very close) the world could easily sustain 4 times what it is now.

  42. EPG says

    I don’t accept Rhonda’s proposition that market capitalism is the problem. There was greed before the development of market capitalism. There was greed under the Roman Empire, there was greed under feudal systems, there was greed under mercantilist systems. There’s an old joke, “The problem with capitalism is the capitalists. The problem with socialism is socialism.”

    As Fr. Stephen noted earlier, a blindness to beauty, a willingness to accept ugliness, is a deeper problem than that. It arises from a hollowness in the human soul, not as a side effect from any one political or economic system. If you doubt that, think of Soviet era city planning in Russia, Romania, or many other countries.

    What I find interesting is the apparent acceleration of the spread of ugliness in the last century and a half or so. It’s not just the strip mall (or the strip mining). It’s our literature (a few decades ago, Ellis’s “Less than Zero,” and the way in which it was lionized, woke me to the ugliness of our literary culture). It’s our music — both in the academy’s a-tonal drivel, and in what infects the popular culture. It’s our architecture — not just the thoughtless product of the sprawl, but the more serious work, the stuff that wins architects awards (the mere fact that there is a “Brutalist” school of architecture should tell us much).

    Now, a lot of this ugliness came from (and continues to come from) the Left. The academy is almost exclusively made up of members of the left. The members of the Bauhaus school and their students were mostly on the Left (architects probably are very tempted by central planning — it leads to commissions). The film industry, the music business, and publishing lean left.

    Can market capitalism contribute to the ugliness of our world? You bet. Capitalism will be vile if practiced by vile capitalists. As Fr. Stephen pointed out, the problem comes from the abuse of freedom. It does not come from the freedom itself.

  43. PJ says

    If you all want to see the ugliness of our culture, I suggest you look up the trailer for the film “Spring Breakers,” which is a vicious, mindless cacophony of drugs, sex, violence, all with a veneer of youthful beauty. It is getting rave reviews. When I saw it, I thought: “So this is how it ends…” Caution, especially for the men: It contains a significant amount of scantily clad female flesh. The sad thing is, I found it while searching, “Pope Francis kisses crippled man.” I also suggest that everyone watches that wonderful moment: The care is truly evident. The two are night and day — heaven and hell.

    I went to the Akathyst of the Virgin Mary last night. How wonderful, especially the last part, wherein the priest relates the narrative. Of course, as I said earlier, I find beauty in the “elegant terseness” of the Roman Rite, as well as in the “ebullience” of the oriental rites (Fortescue again).

  44. Susi says

    drewster, for myself, finding the beauty of the liturgy came with the understanding of the reasons behind each movement. For example, the preparation of the Prosphera particularly captivated me. (What a contrast it is to the passing of the little silver platter containing disks opened from a bag!) I considered each of these things while acclimating to Orthodox worship. Now I can set my mind aside and allow the beauty to “speak” for itself, lifting me up into another world. The worship I once knew as normal has now become absolutely foreign and empty. I pray that you, too, will discover the beauty of Orthodox worship as you continue to experience it. FWIW, I agree that you are completely within the realm of normalcy.

  45. George Engelhard says

    I found the following in a youtube video called ‘ the six kinds of temptation’. I found it very useful. Numbers 1 and 6 were new to me but quit helpful in my spiritual journey.
    THE KINDS OF TEMPTATIONS
    By
    Elder Arsenie Papacioc

    1. FROM ABOVE
    Wanting to know more than God has revealed to you
    Pretending to know more than what God has revealed to you
    Thinking you can or do understand the infinity of God with your finite mind

    2. FROM BELOW
    Not doing as much as you are commanded to do
    Not using your talents for the glorification of God and the well-being of your neighbor
    Having wings and not flapping them

    3. FROM BEHIND
    Past memories you revive in your mind
    Reliving old sins and temptations
    Using your imagination to rectifying old situations either by sinning when you did not sin or by not sinning when you did sin

    4. FROM THE FRONT
    What is in front of you
    What your senses perceive
    Conforming to the world

    5. FROM THE LEFT
    Heresies
    Departing from the church order and doctrine
    Compromising the Orthodox position

    6. FROM THE RIGHT
    THE MOST DANGEROUS!!
    Leading what you think is a good spiritual life but it is not
    Being so spiritually minded as to be no earthly good
    Shunning or neglecting earthly duties for “spiritual” reasons
    Pride in your “spiritual” accomplishments or level
    Spiritual one-upmanship
    Spiritual severity beyond what is necessary

  46. George Engelhard says

    It’s not a hollowness of soul but no soul at all. The religion of the academy/the left is scientism which denies the existence of anything but the material. That makes us humans nothing but highly complex reactions of chemicals and any concept of soul, or any concept in our brains, for that matter, nothing more than chemical change in the brain.

  47. George Engelhard says

    IN the arts, everything is dummied down. I especially notice this in music. Whether it is country, white pop, black pop, or contemporry Christian all have become more and more very simple similar melodies and lyrics with the same beat. They are even becoming more and more similar to the point it is often difficult to tell which genre I am listening to.

  48. Joseph says

    I hope this is not too off topic,, but I was reading a couple of your responses on America and our society. My question is related but in a different way. What has it meant for you father and everyone else to lower your expectations in life?
    I ask because I’m trying to recover from perfectionism. I noticed that a lot of what we do is based on society, even the kind of women we should date; that is the biggest struggle I’m dealing with, finding the perfect girl, nice looking, smart, no kids, etc.
    I just wonder if I’m shooting to high. Again I may not post constantly on this blog, I’m a graduate student; but it is great to read time and again.

  49. says

    EPG:
    My undergrad degree is in Business. Of my 32 years in the labor force 14 have been in the business world if one does not count the business I once owned as well as the business my husband & I still own. The remaining years have been in the military & criminal justice system. Capitalism produced in America one of the richest countries with one of the smallest populations in the world in all of history. Capitalism has greatly improved our standard of living, but in doing so it has also greatly crippled our quality of life.

    It did so because greed became idealized & exalted as an ideal throughout society. This idealization & exaltation ironically came through multiple influences, just one of which was the religious work ethic. When I was young the American dream was to be able to provide a comfortable living for yourself & family by getting educated, working hard & being honorable in your dealings; the means justified the end. Now the American dream is to be wealthy, & very wealthy at that, at any cost & by any means; by contrast the end now justifies the means. It does not matter who you trample on or harm as long as you amass more & more as did the rich man of Luke 12. His sin was not that he was wealthy, but rather that he was greedy.
    Ugliness does not come from the left, nor the right, nor even the middle. It comes from the human heart that continues to refuse the love of God. It does not come from governmental political form or financial economic system or governmental form or even from cultural literature/art. These are merely symptoms of the real problem which is the heart. A problem which began in the Garden of Genesis 3 when Adam—mankind—greedily took & ate that to which he had no right.

    The insidious part of capitalism, which is nothing more than the newest political-economic-social-cultural form of greed, is that its “ethic” is not merely greed on the part of the “vile capitalist”, but also greed on the part of all classes by thinking that they must too become wealthy. Everybody now thinks that they have the right to be or become wealthy. Now even the poor judge & ignore the poor symbolized by Lazarus of Luke 16.

    The reality is that there are enough resources to go around for all to live comfortably & meet basic necessities. Unreality is that there are enough resources for all to become wealthy. Socialism is too just another form in which greed & ugliness prevails. Capitalism & Socialism in the end are not all that different from each other. It also fails because while it says that all are to be treated equally, some are treated more equally than others. Resources are still funneled to those in power at the expense of the powerless who are taught to work for the greater good which is controlled & determined by the government rather than God. To get capitalism one only needs to substitute “man” for “government”.

    With both systems God is still omitted out from the big picture; which results in ugliness & hence, Fr. Stephen’s crisis of beauty.

  50. Michael Bauman says

    The problem is the worship of the created thing rather than the creator. Rhonda what you describe as capitalism is the twisted ideology that deifies wealth and personal power as it denies the sacred and the human. It need not be that way. What you describe as capitalism is more properly fascism, economically speaking.

    Socialism and communism deify the material and the state and are fundamentally Godless

    You are correct in your assertion that the problem lies in our heart which we all too easily give over to the material, the utilitarian and the inhuman.

  51. Joseph says

    Michael,,
    Socialism is not deifying the state. If anything big business is worse then socialism. Google Nordic countries,, their way of life is quite nice!Yes I dare say it even a majority of the people are equal :) Communism in reality was a reaction to capitalism,, even the New Deal was not about helping the average man, but saving business. FDR could have nationalized the banks but he did not. Michael question for you…
    Capitalism in principal is about making profits,, it’s very closely related to the Calvinist mindset. If your poor you deserve to be poor because you did not live your life the right way, granted these people were the very ones who enslaved Africans and the Native Americans; even I might add my own eastern European background folk ,,, ask them if capitalism has helped??

  52. Greg says

    What Rhonda describes as capitalism is just that – the basic system in which we live here in the US. It has nothing to do with fascism, but the prevailing market veneration and individualism. Suggesting she is talking about fascism is not only wrong but obscures the reality in which we live by trying to associate the dominant chararaterics of our time with a scary and foreign ideology.

  53. TLO says

    Too many human beings? Sorry, that argument doesn’t wash.

    “If all the insects were to disappear from the earth, within 50 years all life on earth would end. If all human beings disappeared from the earth, within 50 years all forms of life would flourish.”

    ― Jonas Salk

    Or, as Agent Smith put it:

    I’d like to share a revelation that I’ve had during my time here. It came to me when I tried to classify your species and I realized that you’re not actually mammals. Every mammal on this planet instinctively develops a natural equilibrium with the surrounding environment but you humans do not. You move to an area and you multiply and multiply until every natural resource is consumed and the only way you can survive is to spread to another area. There is another organism on this planet that follows the same pattern. Do you know what it is? A virus. Human beings are a disease, a cancer of this planet. You’re a plague and we are the cure.

    But here’s the crux of the matter for me, if every human being were to die and there is an eternal reality, then how would the humans be any worse off?

    To me, it seems like a win-win situation. The Earth wouldn’t be raped and mutilated and humans wouldn’t have to contend with a “sin nature” or whatever.

    My mom passed away a few days ago so you can bet I’ve given a lot of thought to the subject recently. No matter how I look at it, I cannot comprehend a religious view that does not eagerly seek death since what lays beyond it is a hell of a lot better than here.

    To my mind, the only people who should be trying to prolong their days are people who think there is nothing but this life.

    Yet the reality is that no religious person wants to rush headlong toward death. They fear it as much as anyone without an eternal worldview. I find it very perplexing.

    Add to this that people have made this world an ugly place in their arrogant pursuit to conquer nature and what do we find? Entire regions covered in concrete and tar, rampant deforestation, the extinction of many species caused by mankind, and crimes against one another because we are packed like too many rats in a cage.

    How can you not say that there are too many of us? If there were fewer of us and we had the sense to keep the population at a level that maintains “a natural equilibrium with the surrounding environment” then there would be no “crisis of beauty” to lament.

  54. says

    If human beings disappeared from the Earth, there would be no Dvorak’s “From the New World” Symphony. Viruses could not compose the Aeneid. Animals often exhibit some basic level of pity for each other, at times a marvelous thing to behold, but they lack the higher forms of empathy exclusive to man in this world. We stand apart from the rest of the living world in some affirmative ways that your remarks do not touch upon.

    And man is also often cruel and foolish. Seems to my memory, though, TLO, that you were the one who gave that marvelous comment on another post about how Protestantism inevitably leads to some form of mental illness. Yet you sound as though you are preaching a doctrine of total depravity.

    I say that of course somewhat in jest, and mostly just to note that I remember that prior remark.

    Above all, I’m very sorry about your mom. My condolences for your loss.

  55. mary benton says

    TLO-

    I don’t think it would make sense for a religious person to want “to rush headlong toward death”. (Makes me think of Jonestown and Kool Aid, though that wasn’t in the name of religious faith.)

    However, I believe that a person of faith, trusting in the unconditional love of God, may accept both death and life, as St. Paul expressed. I would love to transcend this life and live in the fullness of God’s love. However, I also love living in this life, discovering God in and around me, attempting to serve His people.

    I don’t know if I will be afraid when my time to die approaches – I might, though I don’t think of it fearfully now. Like many people, I fear suffering more – as that is the most challenging time to remain faithful…

    Many blessings to you and your family in your time of loss. My prayers are with you.

  56. Joseph says

    If some of my questions are very blunt,, I apologize. I tend to like questioning viewpoints since I learn from them.

  57. Michael Bauman says

    Greg, economic fascism is not foreign to the US, but if it makes you feel better call it state or crony capitalism. What we have in the US is a twisted form.

    The point is that any economic system that looses a sense of the sacred will produce ugliness and become inhuman because wealth and power become more important than community and craft

  58. EPG says

    Exactly. My objection to the portions of the thread blaming capitalism for the problem Fr. Stephen outlines is that they seem to be under-inclusive — they do not account for the profound ugliness generated by, or under the influence of, other economic or political systems. The advantage of market capitalism is that it can leave space for the practice of virtue. That does not mean that it will, or that individuals living in a market capital economy will practice virtue. The U.S. economy is a distorted form of capitalism, just as our political system has been distorted from its original form of a federal republic. But, in the end, those distortions reflect our lack of virtue, and our collective and individual loss of the sense of the sacred.

  59. Michael Bauman says

    EPG: that’s right. Blaming capitalism is still economic determinism

    TLO’s solution of getting rid of the human virus is the materialistic answer and from that point of view, it makes sense.

    Both are products of the two-storey mindset.

    The solution is for us to take up our priestly vocation, live sacramentally, and allow the grace of God to transform and balance. We won’ t know the fullness of that until He returns, but we can know some of it.

    Its just easier not to.

  60. PJ says

    John,

    This world is our home. We are ensouled bodies and we are meant to dwell on earth among the plants and animals, cultivating the ground and husbanding the beasts. It would be sick and ungrateful to spurn this wonderful gift. True Christianity loves and cares for the creation. Witness: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=gPBkkDViWNI

    “It is a pleasure to be Your guest.”

    And God is with us here. He will manifest Himself fully at the resurrection, when all creation shall be transformed and renewed and glorified and brought into total communion with the Godhead.

  61. Michael Bauman says

    TLO:

    I empathize with you. I’ve lost my mother, my father and my wife. It is excruciating, numbing. It is also the times when I’ve felt nearest God.
    My wife died during Lent. Pascha that year was the most extraordinary experience of joy transcending grief. It did not remove the grief, but it left me knowing life more intensely.

    I pray that God will bless you as you mourn and bind up your wounds.

  62. fatherstephen says

    Despite statistics, facts and figures, the arguments over economics are at least as interminable as arguments about religious faith. Regardless of how an economy is structured (and I suspect that our freedom should allow for a variety), the crisis of beauty will remain so long as the crisis of the beauty within the soul is addressed. While it is true that outward beauty is a necessary component for nurturing the inward beauty of the soul, it remains true that the hunger for such beauty is mercifully born in each of us, thus ugliness is never completely triumphant. But I am certain that no economic system is utterly to blame or able to cure the problem. But the battle remains in the heart.

  63. fatherstephen says

    TLO,
    I’m sorry for your loss. I’ve lost both of my parents over the past 4 years. It is a sorrow – I miss them both. May your mothers memory be eternal!

    I have witnessed the individual deaths of over 400 people and been part of their lives as they approached that moment, having served 3 years at one point as a hospice chaplain. My observations on religious people and death is different than yours – perhaps because my experience is likely broader. Actually, most people of faith that I’ve been privilege to serve near their death did indeed welcome it, and with few exceptions, met it without fear. Even those that feared it, with good pastoral ministry, were able to meet it better than they would have otherwise. Thus your observation that “no religious person wants to rush headlong…” is simply inaccurate. Many also recognize that their passing will be a grief to those who remain and don’t rush headlong in a manner that would be selfish. Strangely, they seem to care about those whom they leave behind. Again, your observation is inaccurate.

    Are there too many of us? For what? Too many to sustain. Not yet. There are problems of distribution, but we do not have the repeated predictions of the Malthusians and the Club of Rome coming to pass of a “massive die-back.” In the 20th century, the death-dealing famines were fatal invariably because of political unwillingness either to help, or, in most cases, to quit causing the famines themselves. Famine is an ugly, very ugly form of war. But, as illustrated by the story of Cain and Abel, war isn’t brought on by over-population. Wars are generally the work of evil leaders (maybe not always). Most people would like to be left alone to go about their daily lives.

    Over-population is not a cause of ugliness – it is not caused by lack of supply. Beauty is not the product of abundance – but is the product of a willing soul. We are not devoid of beauty – it is pretty much ineradicable. But it can be suppressed, particularly if it is being suppressed in the soul. It is, I think, a crisis within cultures.

    Of all the cultures of beauty the world has seen, among the most beautiful can be found in Japan – which by no means is an island on which the population yields an easy abundance. America, on the other hand, has had a crisis of beauty at many times in its short life, despite amazing resources and a modest population by comparison.


    Someone said of the Smokey Mountains that they were denuded during the FDR administration for industrial purposes. That is actually historically backwards. Appalachia, particularly here in East Tennessee, was denuded before the FDR administration, by ignorance and misuse. I’m not a fan of socialism in general, but FDR’s programs did massive replanting of trees and taught conservation skills to farmers, built hydroelectric dams that controlled flooding which were annually devastating to the area. It would be almost impossible in East Tennessee, despite the fact that this is an historically Republican area (even during and after the Civil War), to find anyone who would criticize what Roosevelt did for East Tennessee. The before and after pictures do not depict a Depression-Era problem. It was a Depression-Era solution. I had to correct the record in gratitude.

  64. George Engelhard says

    This may be a bit of a sidestep but it may still be relevent:
    In the Philokalia, one of the fathers says that in the process of purification, at the beginning when one is faced with the emensity of ones sins and unworthiness, the desire is often for God to end the stuggle and take them out of this hell. In other words, die. As one progresses and God’s grace overcomes the darkness and sin, then the desire is to stay alive as long as possible to do God’s will and to be His witness to others.

  65. TLO says

    Lasseter:

    If human beings disappeared from the Earth, there would be no Dvorak’s “From the New World” Symphony.

    I’m certain the tigers (who are all but extinct) would weep over this loss.

    you sound as though you are preaching a doctrine of total depravity.

    Not really. But I do advocate that humans should find a way to reach that natural equilibrium either through birth control or some other means. Instead, we try to prolong life as much as possible and increase the population for our own selfish reasons. It’s a pipe, dream, I know, but at some point we’ll reach a critical mass and billions will die as a result. It’s a mathematical certainty.

    PJ:

    True Christianity loves and cares for the creation.

    I think someone forgot to mention this to the invading Europeans.

    Michael: Thank you. It is a very strange thing, this loss. At times, it’s unbearable. At other times though it causes me to think back on all our days together and reflect how truly blessed I was to have such a person caring for me. If I had simply known her as a person, I would have felt honored. But being her only son is something special. I vacillate between sorrow and gratitude.

    Life is painful. But there are people who come into our lives whose presence alleviates some of that pain. Mom was that person to a lot of people. I think that there are many in this little online community who are like that as well. That’s why I keep coming back and making outrageous statements just to test you to see if you’re really all as cool as I think you are… :)

    Fr. Stephen

    Of all the cultures of beauty the world has seen, among the most beautiful can be found in Japan – which by no means is an island on which the population yields an easy abundance. America, on the other hand, has had a crisis of beauty at many times in its short life, despite amazing resources and a modest population by comparison.

    True. I often wonder if the blight is actually white people in general. The natives of the Americas lived in harmony with nature as have many other cultures. Not that they were devoid of the “sin nature” but it seems that Europeans and those of European descent have rushed to proclaim dominance over other people and even nature itself.

    To my mind, the true ugliness is found in the American psyche as exhibited in many modern television programs, particularly “reality” shows.

    Thanks to all for the condolences. My mother’s sister just called me and said, “I wanted to tell you that I’m sorry that your mom died. What a bummer.” She delivered this message with the passion of a total stranger. My mom was as close to being a saint as any person I have known. This message from her sister would be like watching Peter being crucified upside down and saying “Dude, that sucks. What’s for dinner?” How anyone could be so soul-less baffles me. But it seems to me to be yet another symptom of the ugliness around us. (When the robots take over, I hope people like her are the first to go…)

  66. says

    Fr. Stephen,

    Thank you for correcting my “facts” on the denuding & conservation measures taken in the Smokies. They are beautiful once again & that is what counts :-)

  67. Dino says

    TLO,
    your saying concerning ‘population adjustment': ” I know, but at some point we’ll reach a critical mass and billions will die as a result. It’s a mathematical certainty.” reminded me of a Patristic equivalent (well- kind of).
    It states that, although this is not desirable, a quarter of the Earth’s human population is every so often lost to a calamity.
    The first time this happened was in the story of Abel’s murder ( a “quarter” of the population) , and the last time this will happen is described in Revelations (a quarter of the population again). I had forgotten this before and it just re-emerged – don’t ask me where it is from (although Saint Andrew of Crete of the Great Canon comes to mind).

  68. Dino says

    If man lived according to his original calling, even if half of the population lived up to half of their original calling perhaps (therefore, in my spcualtions with about half of those – ie a quarter of the entire population- monastics) no such “adjustments” would ever need considered by any of the 100% of the population…

  69. PJ says

    “I think someone forgot to mention this to the invading Europeans”

    To be fair, I think they were largely ignorant as to the possible negative impacts of unbridled human progress. And the true devastation didn’t set in until much later. Really, the worst destruction — with a few notable exceptions: carrier pigeons, buffalo, etc. — was unleashed not by “invading Europeans,” but by American urbanism and industrialism in the late 19th and early-to-mid 20th centuries. Indeed, humanity has only recently become aware that it has the potential to destroy creation. Until quite recently, man was much more likely to be destroyed by nature than nature by man. Those “invading Europeans” weren’t too many generations removed from a plague that erased 1/3 to 1/2 of population of Christendom, nor from the Little Ice Age, which regularly blanketed the whole continent in ice and snow for the greater part of the year.

  70. fatherstephen says

    Whenever anyone reading feels that we’ve sufficiently and accurately affixed historical blame for the crisis of beauty, then take a few breaths and do something beautiful. Please.

  71. TLO says

    humanity has only recently become aware that it has the potential to destroy creation

    I don’t know that I would go that far. We can’t destroy the sun or Jupiter. Technically, we can’t destroy the Earth either. We are limited to destroying the life forms on our own little cosmic petrie dish and no more. But the Earth will still be around, even if it becomes as barren as Mars.

    Perhaps at that point god will pull us aside, metaphorically place an arm across our shoulders, look down at Earth and say, “OK. So, what did we learn here?”

    take a few breaths and do something beautiful

    I abstained from telling my Aunt what I was thinking when she called. Is abstinence a form of beauty?

  72. mary benton says

    To do something beautiful:
    (1)turn off (or throw out) TV’s.
    (2)take a walk with your camera, write a poem, paint a picture, meditate and/or play a musical instrument (the process will be beautiful, regardless of one’s talent).
    (3)and, yes, kiss someone you love.
    (4)for all of the above and more, praise God.

  73. fatherstephen says

    For the last six weeks I have been building a small seat for use in the altar. It’s slow because I’m learning woodworking and because I’m taking time for it to be beautiful. Today it will be very close to finished, God willing. Then I’ll start making something else beautiful. One thing at a time.

  74. Karen says

    Father, would you post a picture of your handiwork when it is done?

    TLO, so sorry for your loss. May your mother’s memory be eternal! Since my folks and my in-laws are in their 80s and slowing down, I’ve been thinking about this inevitability a lot lately. Your mom sounds like a wonderful person. Nice to think I may meet her some day (or I guess I should say some Day). :-)

  75. says

    Fr. Stephen;

    My husband also is a wood worker & even has a bachelors degree in woodworking. Several times over the past 20 years I have asked him to make me something that I needed for the house. I am always amazed in that he tries to do the same as you–incorporate beauty. As I see him “get into” the project, I often tell him that is unnecessary as I am just needing an item that is useful, but he won’t settle for that. Ironically, when he builds something for himself he does not do this & builds with only utility in mind. As a result our home is filled with beautiful & well as useful woodworking while his shop & barns are filled with sheer utility. Ah, the love of a spouse! :-) I agree with Karen, please show us your handiwork which I am sure that you will incorporate with some words of wisdom ;-)

  76. Stephanie says

    Father, bless. Thank you for your blog, it is helping me to learn about Orthodoxy. This post has been inherintly interesting to me as we just recently adopted two little special needs girls in Ukraine.

    My concern is for the empty echoes of beauty when love is devoid. My particular concern is for the lives of special needs children in Orthodox, Eastern bloc countries. Speaking on behalf of these children, the mental institutions are horrid places for countless children to listlessly waste away until death, locked and hidden away from view. There is a documentary done by the BBC called “Ukraine’s Forgotten Children” that can be seen on this link. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cs42-5HnQRQ We adopted a little girl who is blind from an institution and our anonymous story about our encounter with the institution can be read about here, along with the experience from another adoptive family: http://askingwithfaith.blogspot.ca/2013/02/the-reality-part-two.html

    What was so hard for me on our adoption trip is learning about the massive amount of money to restore the beautiful, glistening domed historic churches, and knowing that our daughters were living on an allotment of $100 a year, give or take a little, for their food and bare needs. I stood for a long time in one of the most beautiful churches I have been in, in Kharkiv. It was glorious, and I worshiped God, feeling His majesty and beauty as I worshiped in such a beautiful place, but the walls also echoed back at me in emptiness. The empty echoes I felt were resounding at me because of the children hidden away, “disposed of” by society, and completely forgotten in a rundown concrete building out in the country beyond the sunflowers. Our daughter was the first to ever be adopted from her institution. I will never forget the harrowing images of suffering children that remain as snapshots in my memory forever. In the midst of this “crisis of beauty”, I am forever grateful for the freedom I have in this country to care. Freedom to love in action and in truth. I never knew how beautiful this was before. I believe the beauty of this world is but a shadow of the things to come. Our heavenly homes will be built with the precious beauty that is left from the purification of the refiner’s fire. When love is absent, when orphans are forgotten, when ingratitude permeates the heart, the materials that create a beautiful shadow of the heavenly can resound with empty echoes. But when love is present, it fulfills the beauty.

  77. CoffeeZombie says

    TLO: If you think that “white people” are alone in proclaiming dominance over other peoples and so on, then you are ignorant of anything other than Western History (the neglect of teaching true World History, itself, being a “European” act of proclaiming dominance over other peoples). Let us take the Japanese as simply one example! Certainly, on the one hand, they have created much beauty. I, personally, find many things about traditional Japanese culture quite beautiful, and admire that they have managed to hold on to many of these things despite the modern influences they have been subjected to over the past century.

    However, the Japanese have been, historically, a very warlike, brutal, and supremacist people. The Chinese still, today, remember the atrocities committed by the Japanese imperialist invaders at the dawn of World War II. In addition, their culture holds much ugliness, as well. The practice of seppuku (or harakiri), for instance, where, to preserve his honor in the face of defeat rather than be captured by his enemy (or, to restore it, when he has committed a transgression), a Samurai ritually disembowels himself (and this is not merely a “falling on one’s on sword”, but an entire ritual was developed around the act). To the Japanese, this may have even been seen as quite beautiful, but those “brutal” Europeans/Americans who have witnessed it, often military men, not unacquainted with great ugliness, have been horrified at seeing this ritual.

    Not that the Chinese, themselves, have never been the imperialist conquerors, either. Generally speaking, there is no culture on Earth that is more pure in this regard than any other; every culture, every people, when they have been in power have, as Christ said, lorded that power over those below them. In fact, they have seen their ascendancy as evidence of God’s (or the gods’, or whatever divinity’s) favor upon and approval of them.

    Rather, what you say in your comment comparing Europeans to other peoples strikes me as simply the “noble savage” idea, itself a hallmark of Enlightenment-era European supremacism.

    However, it is worth noting the various cultural attitudes toward the environment. It seems to me that more paganistic views of the world, while outwardly admirable, are rooted in a subservient attitude toward nature. The same sort of attitude that results in personifying various elements of nature as various gods, whose favor we may attempt to gain (through sacrifices and other means), and whose disfavor we avoid. Other, more “mystical” forms of this are still, ultimately, subservient. We are merely one more part of nature, our lives ruled by the seasons, the tides, etc., and we must learn to flow with this natural patter, or whatnot.

    The Scriptures, however, present us with a different way of relating to the natural world. Man was not created to be subservient to nature, but to rule over nature, as a good and benevolent king. Man was created to be the priest, offering the natural world to God. Man tends the garden, cares for nature, nurtures it, tames it, perhaps even sanctifies it (by offering it to God in thanksgiving, and so on). We are called to care for nature, because we are put in a position over it.

    Christianity freed us from subservience to nature. But, now, we have been freeing ourselves from Christianity, and what does that leave us with in regards to nature? On the one hand, many have attempted to return to a sort of neo-paganistic relation to nature. Sadly, for many modern Christians, at least, the modern environmentalist movement has largely come to be identified with this sort of philosophy. On the other hand, many remember that we are to rule over nature, but have forgotten, or distanced themselves from, God (or distanced God from this world), and have become the kind of rulers Christ told us not to be: ones who lord their authority and power over those under them. They say nature exists for us, and we should exploit it in every way possible.

    It is fitting, however, that the current Ecumenical Patriarch has been referred to as “The Green Patriarch” because of his emphasis on environmental issues. Environmentalism is, indeed, an important Christian concern, and it is my hope that we, as a Church, can stand as a witness to this world that they need not choose between neo-pagan Gaia worship on the one hand, and the raping of the environment on the other hand, but that there is, indeed, a truly Christian environmentalism that is not subservient to nature, but respects nature as God’s good creation and transforms it.

  78. George Engelhard says

    Even the primitives are not necessarily benevolent to the environment. The Plains Indians would stampeede a herd of bison off a cliff, collect what they wanted from the mass of bodies at the bottom, and leave the rest. Primatives usually do these kinds of acts on such a small scale that nature can recover.

  79. says

    Lasseter:

    If human beings disappeared from the Earth, there would be no Dvorak’s “From the New World” Symphony.

    I’m certain the tigers (who are all but extinct) would weep over this loss.

    About as much as they weep over the possibility of their extinction. Animals suffer, and species go extinct, even without any cause by man. Nature is replete with pain and brutality. Man’s absence would not transform the world into Paradise. It would, however, remove all of man’s unique goodness. And suffering and death would remain for brute beasts with no rational comprehension of it.

  80. drewster2000 says

    Susi,

    Thanks for your response. Indeed I do believe you’ve hit upon one of the biggest problems concerning the beauty of the liturgy being withheld from me and others: translation.

    For example, you mention the Prosphera. I draw a blank. Could I go read a lot of Orthodox books and know what you’re talking about? Sure but I’m not going to. I’ve been going to liturgical services for 30 years. I’ve read many books along the way but those terms never stick because they have no reality in my space. If I am to ever speak that language, I need someone to make it real for me.

    I’m very familiar with the Orthodox encouragement to “come and see!” But I have come and seen many times. It might as well be in Latin. While I applaud Orthodox liturgies for their sights, smells and bells that allow some participation through the senses, they are still closed by definition and sorely in need of translators.

    I understand that a lot of this probably comes from their historical role of guardian and protector of the faith, but perhaps they’ve gotten too proficient in that role, unable to actively draw people in. This isn’t put-down, just a possible observation of what is. Some will always be drawn in by the experience, but others will always need a relationship to make it happen.

    Or maybe Orthodox worship is for some but not all – and others will simply end up at the Pentecostal church down the street and there’s nothing wrong with that. Maybe it takes many different parts to make up the whole Body and that’s why their liturgy simply doesn’t work for me.

    Or maybe both. Who know? Just some thoughts….

  81. Alan says

    @ Coffee Zombie,

    Why can’t a town have a beautiful church and a Walmart? somehow, I think all of the early WM employees who retired as millionaires, thanks to Sam Walton’s generous profit sharing plan might disagree with you about employee morale.

    But I digress. I would like you to answer something for me though. Does paying $75 for a shirt at a boutique shop make a person “more beautiful” than buying a shirt at WM for $12? I get the point of this blog post but I fail to see how it relates to WM. Sam Walton’s vision was to give people in rural areas the same access to low cost goods as people in the big cities had. I’m amazed at how many rich people resent that. I have to say, I also find it highly hypocritical how many people hate WM with a passion, but love Apple. Who do you think is making all of those ipads and ipods? Factory workers in American making $100K per year?? When Steve Jobs came back to Apple as CEO, one of the first things he did was to virtually eliminate all corporate charitable giving.

  82. CoffeeZombie says

    Alan,

    You have a very good point. Sam Walton, himself, was (from what I’ve heard) a good man. Certainly, in his vision, Wal-mart would be a force for good in the world. And, in some ways, it has been. I know a family, a mother whose husband left her with two young children not long after they’d arrived in America. Speaking very little English, this mother did the best she could, and the job she got at Wal-mart was what put what little food they could afford on the table. It wasn’t really enough to make ends meet, and she had to ultimately rely on the kindness of other families at church, but it was something.

    However, and maybe this is due to a change in the nature of the business after Sam Walton left the helm, there have been a number of complaints, easy to find, about the way they do things. Ranging from the way employees are compensated and paid to pushing for special privileges from local governments and so on.

    As simply one example, in my local area, there was a Wal-mart (actually, I have at least 3 Wal-marts within a 30-minute drive) that was surrounded by plenty of space to expand the building. It did eventually expand into a Super Wal-Mart, but it did so by building and moving to a totally new building nearby, and leaving the shell of its old building behind. Actually, that has happened with two of the Wal-marts nearby.

    By contrast, a nearby Target (itself not exactly a paragon of goodness), which had very little space for expansion, also expanded into Target’s equivalent to a Super Wal-mart. But, despite their constrained area, they managed to find space to expand, partly into their own parking lot. Their expansion kept them in the same place, and also didn’t simply leave behind an eyesore of an empty building.

    Anyway, don’t confuse me with any of those rich people who supposedly resent poor people buying cheap goods. I’m far from that. I used to shop at Wal-mart, myself, though I generally prefer to shop at Target. It’s just a more pleasant store to be in. Also, if you were to ask any of my friends, I am *far* from an Apple fanboy.

    As far as your question, no. And I never said, nor implied, that it does. Personally, I am willing to pay more for quality clothes that will last me longer, even if that means I have fewer clothes (and, really, who needs 20 different shirts, whether they be $75 or $12?). Sadly, it appears there is less and less of a difference in quality between the $75 shirt and the $12 shirt. Heck, I buy most of my clothes for cheap at Target right now. Then again, I am, myself, part of this culture; perhaps I, too, am part of the problem.

  83. fatherstephen says

    I do not mean to be a Walmart basher, particularly from a political point of view. The danger at present, and this I know from good information, is that Walmart is truly huge, their size creates a distortion in the market (much like are created by monopolies). Only the distortion is almost the other way – it squeezes every bit of profit out of suppliers, cutting their margins to such an extent that it is difficult to make a reasonable profit (sometimes going out of business as a result). Walmart doesn’t make anything. It is just a middle-man, but it is a middle man of such vast measure that it can often control certain aspects of the market. The response to this, of course, is that the purchaser benefits, but only if price is seen as the only benefit, while, in fact, there are many other things to consider.

    This is the nature and complaint of “globalization.” It has to do with economies of scale. For example, how does McDonald’s restaurant chain distorted the beef market in America? Or, how does Monsanto’s control of the corn genome translate into the market? The economies of extremely large scales distorted the benefits of a truly free market – which should normally include variety, true competition (not dominance), etc.

    Sam Walton, in the initial growth during the 70’s, championed “Made in America,” when it was difficult to find such products in many places. I challenge anyone to find more than a handful of American products in a Walmart today. I recently tried to buy American farm-grown fish there, and was only able to buy Chinese. How on earth can fish raised in China possibly be cheaper than fish raised in America? In fact, I noted in that shopping adventure, as I went to every chain grocery in town, that only Chinese fish were available in that particular farm-raised variety. I was staggered.

    The Orthodox critique of globalization (which as I noted earlier is rather common, especially in European Orthodoxy) is focuses primarily on these globally-scaled businesses and their effect on the economies in which they set up shop. How can a small chain in Greece possibly compete with a Walmart, and what happens when its cultural shopping experience is driven out of business in favor of American prices for Chinese goods?

    The internet also changes things. This year, my family (meaning my wife and I) did pretty much all our shopping online, and primarily through Amazon and Zappos. They’re just hard to beat (of course, I did make a table-top catapult for my Grandson’s Christmas!). But it truly distorts the market. I’ve researched the growing phenomenon of Amazon (again, they make nothing) and what it is doing to the market – particularly its effects on many of its smaller suppliers.)

    We have recently, in the last 30 years, crossed new market lines because of the evolution of technology. I believe in the market, but the market today and the market of my childhood are not at all the same thing, much less the market of Adam Smith. We have to continue to think about reality and not just theory (else theory is useless). Most people focus on things that actually obscure the nature of the problem.

    My state currently has a “voluntary” sales tax on Amazon purchases. Amazon sends you a once-a-year email telling you how much sales tax you owe my state, and you can decide whether to pay it according to your conscience. How’s that working out for you, Tennessee? But we have a really huge distribution center in East Tennessee and there’s concern not to create any discomfort for Amazon – as well as other issues. But size can always distort a market.

    There were, arguably, good reasons to bust up the trusts in the early 20th century. Most people agree that those distortions would have been problematic. It’s not just trusts, but globally scaled dominance that is a new phenomenon.

    I recently purchased a number of Church items from India (where brass work is good and a fraction of the price). Because of the internet, it was quick, reliable and satisfactory. It will begin to change the heretofore European dominated market for these things. I’m not sure it’s good in the long run. These questions are important, I think, and require information and a consideration of the whole of an effect and careful attention to the shifting ground of the modern market world.

  84. Rick says

    This seems related to our concerns both far and near…

    “… universal benevolence is a feeble and occasional emotion in the ordinary course of events. Not many of us would send relief money to victims of a flood in Indonesia if it meant that our own children would go hungry. We would look on someone who did so as eccentric, if not immoral. Yet such people exist. Charles Dickens gave us the literary archetype of inverted benevolence with the character of Mrs. Jellyby in Bleak House, whose attentions to the natives of Borrioboola-Gha (“on the left bank of the Niger”) left her no time to spare for her own kin. Says the narrator of that novel: “It struck me that if Mrs. Jellyby had discharged her own natural duties and obligations before she swept the horizon with a telescope in search of others, she would have taken the best precautions against becoming absurd … benevolence, when elevated from its proper place as a private practice to a social policy, tends to mutate from being a commendable virtue into a being a deplorable vice.”

    ~ Roger Kimball

  85. simmmo says

    Father S, I’m currently wading my way through a book by a Roman Catholic historian, Brad Gregory entitled The Unintended Reformation. One of the points he makes is that the Reformation ushered in a radical repudiation of the sacramental worldview. This paved the way for the natural world to be viewed as something to be exploited. I think it’s a persuassive argument. The ugliness of urban centres around the world is testament to the Reformation’s disenchantment of creation, specifically the view that physical things can be sacramental. This is quasi-Gnostic. Perhaps the ugliness we see is one manifestation of the old Gnostic heresy. Afterall, who cares about the natural or built environment if this world is not our true home? It’s telling that in secular Western Europe, a lot of the beautiful structures are religious. Where would their culture be without the Church and the beauty she provides?

  86. simmmo says

    It’s almost as if beautiful architecture is for yesteryear – centuries gone by. But today it’s either all about the lowest common denominator on the one hand, or esoteric minimalism on the other. Minimalism and brutalist architecture is almost an icon of the complete and utter otherness of God (Calvinism’s four white walls). It is almost completely unable to deal with a God who works in and through creation. Again, perhaps another reincarnation (pardon the irony of that term!) of the Gnostic heresy. And, I think, beauty falls by the wayside in such a worldview.

  87. EPG says

    Simmmo, I think you are right about some of the unintended consequences of the Protestant Reformation. I once heard, over the radio, a sermon by an Evangelical Preacher, who, on contemplating Heaven, said something to the effect that he could not wait to get off of this dump (the Earth). Not exactly someone who remembers God’ pronouncement over Creation (It is Good!).

    The ugliness in architecture (and much of the other arts) probably arises from this, and also from an insatiable desire on the part of the artist to elevate ego over all else.

    When I was in my teens, I admired Le Courbusier. Now I prefer Palladio. I like to think that I have learned something.

  88. fatherstephen says

    Stephanie,
    I understand your concerns and your heart for God’s children. However, it’s a false choice, I think. I don’t know about the “massive” amounts of money being spent – though considering the devastation of the Church’s by the state in the previous 70 years, there were needs for the restoration of the Churches. However, the false choice is to assume that money for the children was spent on Churches. There were doubtless many other allocations that could have been properly given to the children.

    It has certainly not been the case of the Church having massive amounts of money that it could have done something with. In many cases the money has come from elsewhere (state, private businesses). The church had very, very few resources. But the Church is also a leading advocate for social needs.

    In the former-Soviet areas, you are looking at a situation in which the infrastructure was in ruins. Some parts of the infrastructure had been demolished for several generations. Restoring a post-Soviet normalcy has been slow and difficult, not up to our American impatience – and the price has been borne, as always, by some of the weakest.

    Of course, American resources abounded for the financing of Protestant missions to grow at the expense of the native Christianity. There were very few American resources that were willing to help with essential infrastructure such as rebuilding a devastated Church. I was aware of fantastic efforts on the part of the Society for the Propagation of the Christian Gospel (SPCK), a historic Anglican group, that provided money for printing presses, education of priests, reconstruction of seminaries. When I was an Episcopal priest my parish supported 12 Russian seminarians for the education. It was relatively cheap – certainly a bargain! But there was very little of this.

    Money for adoptions by Americans was available, but not money to build orphanages and reconstitute a social structure. It’s still not solved. A wonderful example of a work being done by the Church in Ukraine is seen in the film Forpost. I recommend it.

  89. simmmo says

    Father, I must admit that the phrase came from Gregory’s book. It’s very good, by the way and I thoroughly recommend it.

    EPG, The Evangelical theology of rapture is halfway to Gnosticism I think – probably more than halfway.

  90. Stephanie says

    Father, I understand it was my assumption to think the money spent on church restoration was denied the orphan, and it can be unwise to assume, however, I am not being “impatient”. The church is allowing its special needs orphans to die every day in eastern bloc countries, denying them the most basic of needs. There are many scriptures God gives us, telling how much He cares about this situation, and yet the Orthodox Church there and here is so easily brushing off this crisis. Why is there absolutely no church intervention at the institution my daughter was going to silently die in, but a few months from now if we had not adopted her? I am honestly asking the question. Why is the American Orthodox Church taking a stance of its only a matter of time before things will get better? In Deuteronomy 27:19, scripture tells us, “cursed is anyone who denies justice to foreigners, orphans, or widows”. I have learned the Orthodox Church is the second largest church, and yet its most vulnerable orphans are dying in deplorable conditions in Orthodox countries, and now it feels the crisis is being brushed off again by American Orthodox as well.

  91. John says

    Based on the topic under discussion, this “leftist” Orthodox architect (as someone earlier up the thread referred to my profession), I thought I would share this:

    http://www.archdaily.com/207501/st-nicholas-church-marlon-blackwell-architect/

    An ugly, industrial shop building that has been reclaimed as an Orthodox church. A nice that ugliness can be transformed into beauty (I think even haters of modern architecture will find the interiors beautiful in their simplicity).

  92. fatherstephen says

    Stephanie,
    I do not want to defend the neglect of orphans – it’s tragic and wrong. I was simply saying that I think it’s easy to overestimate the ability of the Church (either there or here) to act in the manner of wealthy organizations. The Church in Eastern Europe is not rich – quite the opposite – and it is struggling to meet a spiritual need that is itself a crisis. I have spent time with a Russian nun from Moscow who works in the Church’s Social services area and I know of their concerns – and there is much, much to do. And more must be done. But, there are many things to be done that cannot be neglected.

    The American Church is not wealthy either. In the OCA (of which I am a priest), a large number of our clergy are part-time and often self-supporting. We are a missionary Church.

    There once was wealth associated with Orthodoxy in Eastern Europe. It was confiscated by the State. Thousands of its buildings were shut down, destroyed or turned to other uses. In Russia, about 30,000 buildings have been restored since 1989. But it is a tiny number to serve a nation of many millions. In 1989 there were only a couple of printing presses to serve that Church and only 2 seminaries. There were only 2 or 3 monasteries (and now many hundreds).

    The leadership of the Church (that part of the infrastructure least thought of) had been decimated. There were only a handful of bishops, and then only with experience of life under the State. Until 1989 the Church had been forbidden (!) to engage in any social work. So you’re looking at a Church that has almost no experience with these things. It’s learning and it cares – but it’s poor, still getting organized, ill-trained.

    Do you think the Ukrainian people care nothing about orphans? What an evil culture that would be. If this were true, it would not be the failure of the Church, but the fact that the Church has only begun to be able to do any work. There are generations of official persecution, neglect and anti-Christian agitation to overcome. If I speak of patience, it’s not about the orphans, but about understanding where these societies have been.

    There is a frightful amount of work to be done – and it must not be neglected. The American Church, despite its poverty, has been training and sending “missionaries” to help in Eastern Europe. We do not need to take the gospel to them. They have needed expertise. My parish sponsors a number such people. They have helped establish work with unwed mothers, alcohol treatment, daycare – a range of things that we have a lot of experience with. Many people are giving their lives to bring about the needed training and change. They are there because the Orthodox Church, in both Europe and America want them there. But the need is so great and the laborers are few.

    There’s no brush off.

  93. Stephanie says

    Thank you Father. Your explanation is very enlightening to me, and helps me view the aid of the Orthodox Church in this crisis more accurately. When I was recently in Ukraine, the sacred was very beautiful, and I enjoyed my time there in many ways. The city we were in was amazingly clean, the culture was slower and more family oriented–it was very refreshing. Many of the buildings, and churches especially in Kiev were very beautiful and they were the heart of the city, it was really neat. In many ways, I would love to go back. I spent time at the Caves in Kiev, and the artwork inside was very beautiful, the food was wonderful, and the worship was very profound. The singing was angelic. The iconic artwork was a part of the culture and very beautiful. It is a relief for me to begin to understand where the true crisis of this situation lies. We heard story after story of the fallout of Communism and the wars, the famine imposed by the government, the evil the people faced. Twenty years after freedom, the scars were still very deep. Yes, the need is very great, and the laborers are few. Perhaps that is were the truth of the crisis lies today.

  94. fatherstephen says

    Yes, Stephanie. I think that our Western experience tends to think that when we see beautiful buildings and exquisite things, there is a rich and large bureaucracy behind it all. Sometimes I think people believe the conspiracy stuff of the DaVinci Code and let their imaginations run away with them. :)

    The great structures of Orthodoxy should be seen for what they are: leftovers from a once-great institution. They do not represent the reality behind them. The Church is great, but not wealthy. And it is coming out of a very long nightmare. Orthodoxy across the world has endured many things – the history of which is completely unknown (and generally ignored) by the West. The current attitude of the US and Europe to Russia is insane (in my opinion).
    But Eastern Europe and Greece only began to come out from under centuries of rule by the Ottoman Turks – a repressive and murderous regime – in the 19th century. The rebuilding of an Orthodox world has been slow – and greatly hindered by Wars (both WWI and WWII) and the Communists. That Orthodoxy has survived is simply a miracle. The peoples of those lands are heroes. Nothing less.

  95. Michael Bauman says

    Amen Father, and the oppression continues in the Middle East: the Jewish state really doesn’t like us being in Israel; the Moslem radicals hate us; the U.S. will sell us out in a minute if they need to (the last President who took a principaled stand against Islam and for Christianity was Thomas Jefferson, go figure). Only Russia and (sometimes) France what sided with the Chrisitan population in Islamic lands.

    I have families in my home parish that come from southern Syria driven here by the Moslem persection of the early 20th century. These families can trace their Orthodox Christian lineage back to the time of the Apostles for that is when the diocese from which they came was founded.

    They endure, they and their faith are of the land in a way that we can not even imagine in the US.

    “The babuskas and the sittis (Russian and Arabic for grandmother) never die.”

  96. Alan says

    @ Coffee Zombie,

    Thanks for your kind and gracious response. That’s one of the things I love about this blog, the fact that not only Fr. Stephen, but just about everyone else always has kind and gracious responses. I’m hoping that if I hang around this blog long enough, then maybe someday I will post kind and gracious responses.

    I would like to add a couple of comments. I must say, I am always amused by people who refuse to shop at WM “on principle” but instead shop at Target. Target pays the same wages as WM and they buy the same products from China that WM does. The two companies have the same business philosophy. Further, as I pointed out previously, the same people who won’t shop at WM “on principle” love Costco, Amazon, Apple, etc. I was glad to see Fr. Stephen admit that Amazon inherently has many of the same issues.

    I would like to submit that much of the anti-WM views come from the many hatchet jobs done by the likes of Dateline, 20/20, etc. Yes, the same shows that famously rigged the gas tank explosion and then used that stunt to claim that GM made faulty cars. Side note, for all of the media circus about the Toyota Prius a few years back, nothing was ever proven to be wrong with the Prius. All of the documented cases were shown to be user error. Yet our wonderful mainstream media left the impression that the Prius was a faulty made vehicle. The point is, just because it’s on TV, don’t necessarily believe it. For the sake of consistency, I would prefer those who avoid WM “on principle” to also avoid Target, Costco, Amazon, Apple, etc.

    Finally (no surrpise here) I previously worked for WM for almost 9 years. The company treated me very well and I left with no complaints (I only left due to moving across country for family reasons). I had a job with WM where I traveled around the country to different stores. I noticed that as I talked to store employees (particularly the ones in the stores in small towns) and asked them how long they had been working at that store, I would first get back a puzzled look followed by an answer of “18 years” or “22 years”, etc. Finally, one time, I responded with “wow…that’s a long time.” To which the employee responded “well, this is the best place to work in this town.” So again, the perception and hatchet jobs often don’t match up with the reality.

    I apologize Fr. Stephen for the rabbit trail.

  97. Paula Hughes says

    Henry David Thoreau said that the perception of beauty is a moral test.

    and praise God , Orthodoxy has prevailed all this time against the gates of hell.

  98. Michael Bauman says

    Architect John: The building is certainly more beautiful than it was, but I find it off-putting as an Orthodox Church and the sanctuary gives me claustrophobia.

    Here is an example of a small Orthodox Church that went a different route: They built their own. It is tiny but warm and open, qualities that, the pictures you linked to, don’t have. http://unexpectedjoychurch.org/photos.html

  99. Neil says

    In regards to the discussion with Stephanie, who is my wife.

    We certainly saw a lot of the effects of communism in Ukraine while we were there. Dilapidated, bombed out, burned out, abandoned buildings. The scars everyone carries around with them. Certainly the communists and bolsheviks left tremendous damage there, in the Orthodox body as well as in the culture.
    One of the legacies is a shocking lack of care for orphans, especially those with special needs. This is not American provincialism or believing some sort of conspiracy theory. Here’s some facts about the reality of the situation, which we witnessed first hand.

    Most children with special needs are given up to become wards of the state. Many of these go to mental institutions if not adopted by the age of 4. One of our children was from an institution like this, the other was about to go there. 80% of the children transferred to these institutions die in the first year due to malnutrition or medical neglect. When we adopted our older girl, she weighed 22 pounds as a 6 year old. The 4 year old weighed 1 pound more. Our 1 year old, biological, weighed more than both of them. In institutions like these, children are strapped down to small beds and – like fish in small aquariums – their bodies often stop or drastically slow growth. So you have children who remain about the size of infants or small children even into older ages. All 3 of our daughters – 6, 4, and 1 – are about the same size and weight and all wear the same diaper. You may presuppose this has to do with their medical conditions. They told us our 6 year old would never walk – although she was already walking with help when we got there. They told us she had cerebral palsy – she does not. She has a clouded cornea in one eye and had a cataract in the other. We had the cataract removed and now she sees – and is starting to walk around on her own, 5 months after they told us she would never walk.
    Maybe you do not realize the holocaust that is occuring in these post-soviet and communist/socialist countries (China, Russia, Bulgaria, Ukraine, etc etc). These children are treated worse than animals and warehoused and starved and neglected so they will die. I personally think it has to do with the proletariat ideal, that they will never be “productive citizens”. Old people are treated in similar ways if wards of the state. And those orphans who are able to survive these “concentration camps for children” (as a Ukranian worker described it) remains wards of the state, being used as a virtual slave labor, unable to gain citizenship, to marry, or to have children. If they do happen to have children illegally, those children are also wards of the state – even if they have no special needs – and under the same persona non-grata status.

    I am not demonizing the people of these countries, who as you rightly say have suffered under evil governments for decades. I do believe there are many martyrs and heroes who were persecuted under the communists, the bolsheviks, the fascists, etc. As a child of European immigrants to America, I can appreciate this. And I understand what you say about other pressing spiritual needs – many of the Orthodox there explained it to us as missionizing their own countries again. But this is not just another social need or social program. This is one of the main moral compasses instilled by God. How a nation or people treats it’s weakest members displays it’s relationship to God. Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed because they neglected the plight of the orphan and the widow. Care is a verb. It is not a lack of funds that is the problem. It is people giving up the children to the state, it’s the whole system of voluntary orphanizing, and the toleration of it, just as it is with legal abortions, even late term, in America. Look at the adoption ban in Russia, used as a political tool. God will judge nations, peoples, and all of us, in part, to how we respond to His clear calls to protect orphans and widows in their distress.
    If you care about what God cares about, then you should prioritize care for these orphans. If the native Orthodox churces want to grow leadership in their ranks, they ought to prioritize saving these children from willful and pitiful deaths – they should be leading the culture in this. Indeed we have come across a few that are – for example, the linked, which we had already seen – but the workers are very few.
    On this blog people have been lamenting the lack of beauty in America, driven by economic forces etc. (Which by the way is a global phenomenon.) What is ugly to God? Ignoring the plight of the oppressed and the orphan. These countries – as America should with it’s abortion laws – need to repent of this grevious sin and instill basic human rights for these children, who are precious to God. If you prioritize other matters before them, even clergy infrastructure, then you are not caring for these children. The disgrace caused by the communists – illustrated in the plight of these children and the lack of human value assessed to them under that evil Godlessness – ought to be removed by grace from the native Christians. Anything less is just a brush off, nothing else, no matter how you paint it. If you had ever been to one of these institutions, interacted with any of these children, I would hope that you would make a different choice. It only takes a few in leadership that care enough to make a point of it. It is not a resource issue.

  100. Rebecca says

    Michael-

    I attend the church you’re referring to, and I’m sorry you find it off-putting. We did the best we could with the (very limited) resources we had to make it a place of beauty. Hopefully, as the Lord blesses and the church grows, we will be able to build a proper, more traditional-looking building someday. If our current sanctuary makes you claustrophobic (as I would expect someone used to the grand space of the Wichita cathedral might), you should have seen the converted doctor’s office we used to be in! ;)

  101. Rebecca says

    Also, FWIW, quite a few quality icons have been added since these photos were taken. And the angle at which the photo of the sanctuary was taken makes it look much narrower than it actually is. Come visit us sometime, I’m sure you’ll like us better in person. :)

  102. Michael Bauman says

    I was received in a small parish and was quite intimidated by the size of St. George at first. I love worshiping at Unexpected Joy which is quite small. I still prefer smaller, more intimate parishes. I’m sure the pictures make it look tighter than it is. The perspective of the picture seems not quite true to me somehow.

    I’m also sure that the worship is full of joy which is the important point.

    I really like the Panocrator you’ve got. Reminds me of my first parish.

    You obviously did a lot of transformation of the space. Forgive me if my comments offend. I get claustrophobic easily.

  103. EPG says

    To John the architect (and Rebecca) — I followed the links, and would greatly love to see St. Nicholas in person. It is a beautiful church, and demonstrates that a beauty does not consist of aping traditional forms. The planners used the resources at their disposal in a compelling way (as far as I can tell). I have been attending a parish that recently build a new facility. It follows traditional forms, but somehow misses the mark for beauty. I think one could say that it is pleasant — it is certainly not ugly. But it is lacking something. It lacks authenticity. For example, the floor plan follows that of a basilica, but the interior columns are not functional. They are actually made of some sort of foam, and, if you are not careful, you can insert your thumb into them. In some ways, the building is almost a stage set representing a church. The building in Arkansas appears to be a more authentic response to the problems presented by the project, and (at least in that sense) closer to beauty.

  104. John says

    All-

    (Michael) – I like the self-build as well and it appears to fit well with it’s surroundings. Did the congregation actually build it themselves also? My larger point was that even a derelict McDonald’s franchise building has the potential for beauty with some care.

    (Rebecca) – I really like the re-use of the existing shop building – it’s an architect sustainability thing. Renovating an already built structure is pretty much always more sustainable than building brand new “green” buildings. I have your church bookmarked as a very nice example of how to renovate and re-use – I hope you enjoy the space!

    (EPG) – I like your point that “beauty does not consist of aping traditional forms” – might add that to my e-mail signature.

    If you like updated versions of traditional Byzantine forms, then these are your guys: http://www.newworldbyzantine.com/

    Father – sorry for digressing your comments section into a discussion of architecture.

  105. fatherstephen says

    Neil,
    Thank you for your comment. It requires an answer. I will answer the question of a “brush off” first.

    The article itself is by an American priest observing an aspect of American culture and commenting from the point of view of Christian theology. It offers no comparisons and does not say that “somebody does it better.” It stands on its own.

    The point concerning the tragic (and worse!) warehousing of handicapped children that is common in the East was brought up by Stephanie with the point being that the work being done on Church buildings in the East was taking resources away from these children. I have pointed out that this is not the case and have simply tried to say more about the historic situation of the Church in those lands as well as other elements of their history. I did not do so to justify the treatment of the orphans, or to brush it off. Simply to say, it’s a false choice. Both can be done and should be done.

    I have also noted that the American Churches, though small and relatively poor themselves, are indeed involved in the rebuilding of infrastructure and human rights. We are not doing “nothing.” But the article was not about the American Churches or the problem of orphans. Instead, in my comments I’ve tried to widen our understanding – which is better than just condemning. How is the problem to be healed without understanding?

    The problem of the warehousing of the handicapped is not a resource problem – it’s a cultural and spiritual problem. I do not know the origins of some aspects of the cultures in those countries. I do know that individuals often think of serious illness and handicaps as being the result of “doing something wrong.” Of course this is not true, but they experience it with a deep shame. The giving of children over to the state is a response to their shame – people cannot bear shame and they do terrible things to flee from it. The result is the tragedy of these institutions.

    The video I linked shows a completely opposite response. There, a monastery has raised these children (of whom others would feel shame) to a focus of love and devotion. Just seeing them in the Church, seeing a priest touching them, hugging them, everything that is pictured in that video, is directed towards changing this irrational wound of shame that seems to have been covered by a conspiracy of silence (a typical response to shame – if we don’t talk about it maybe it will go away). The making and broadcast of the video was a very noted event – it’s an example of preaching the gospel in which the Church is engaged.

    Such a change is the only long-term solution to the terrible practice of warehousing. The culture must be changed. And the Church is engaging it – though, no doubt, many within the Church need to be changed themselves.

    I haven’t written in response to Stephanie to brush off the problem (or to brush her off), but to increase understanding of the nature of the problem. Each child is a temple of Christ, Christ’s image, and must be loved, cherished and adored. Nothing less than that is ever acceptable.

    I could have easily written about the crisis of beauty in the treatment of the weakest citizens – it’s a sermon I’ve preached very often in my priesthood. The 50 million+ American abortions, the 300 million+ Chinese, is beyond staggering. It is another “warehousing” of our shame (unwanted pregnancy, inconvenience, whatever) – only warehousing by killing them. Like every Orthodox priest I know, I work and labor for a change, both in the laws, and in the conscience.

    But you are writing with false choices. That these problems exist and must be addressed, doesn’t mean that all other discussions of a crisis of beauty, or anything else, are forbidden, or that the mention of these problems should somehow bring all conversation to a stop and that anything else is a brush off. It’s not true and it’s an unfair choice.

    That I care about beauty of every sort – and see in it the hand of God – doesn’t mean I don’t care and am doing nothing about these human tragedies. Nor does the building of Churches in the Ukraine and Russia mean that the Church doesn’t care and is doing nothing. But I won’t hold the Church in those lands up as ideal, perfect and without need for repentance. I saw the linked video as an example of repentance and would want to trumpet that example. It needs to be multiplied thousands of times! But it’s not an either/or buildings versus children. It’s the children, plain and simple. They have an infinite worth and the need for repentance in our time is vast.

    It is worthwhile, however, to actually understand people. Were you aware of the cultural aspect of shame in this regard? Do you understand the dynamic? To move someone from such a demonic and psychological bondage requires understanding so that our actions are wise and effective – bringing about true repentance. The legacy of human destruction left in the wake of the Communist Yoke is deep. In many ways America rejoiced at the fall of the Berlin Wall and began to act as though now everything would be fine. We also (at least our political leaders) began to expect Russia to behave as a political puppet and have begun demonizing them again because (I don’t even know why!). Our international political games and wars have obscured the vast humanitarian and spiritual need. Many American Christians saw the spiritual need of the former Communist lands as an opportunity for them to preach the gospel and build Churches. Those lands rightly saw this as a cultural assault and an effort to destroy its native Church and simply Americanize them.

    We’ve got to get beyond that. We need to understand them and actually be of use as they struggle towards repentance. At the same time we ourselves need to continue to struggle towards repentance. And in the meantime, we need to do all that we can to relieve the plight of the innocents who are cast aside, victims of our many insanities.

    Thanks. God bless your work for His children.

  106. George Engelhard says

    Father Stephen,
    I thank God for the clarity of insight He has given you! You have on several occasions corrected me, and so have others, and I am grateful for it. We who read and participate in this blog are truly blessed to do so.

  107. CoffeeZombie says

    @Alan,

    Indeed, and it may be some of the things I think I know about Walmart are wrong. And, certainly, I never meant to imply that Walmart is alone in badness. Then again, I suspect Target, Walmart, etc. are not the only ones that are getting cheap clothes from China. As I mentioned, I’ve noticed even the quality of higher-end clothing seems to have degraded over the years.

    The only reason I prefer to shop at Target over Walmart is that the store is actually just more pleasant to be in. Nicer lighting, better aesthetics, and they don’t stick displays and such right in the middle of an aisle so everyone has to walk around it (as I understand it, this is an intentional practice, with the idea that, if you slow people down they’re more likely to see other things they want and grab them). Not that Target is perfect; my wife worked there in college, and hated it. She would complain about being given more hours than she could handle with her school load, while other people who needed the hours were passed over (mostly likely because her pay was lower).

    Anyway, my point was not to single out Walmart as a unique example. Only to say that, in Walmart, in the physical ugliness of its stores, is an obvious example of the ugliness of our whole consumerist culture, and that I suspect this, as much as anything else, is why Walmart often does get singled out. It’s not that they’re inherently worse, it’s that they’re the most obvious.

  108. Stephanie says

    Thank you, Father. It’s true, we can’t be of greater help, until we lovingly meet people where they are, there or here. Love builds.

  109. fatherstephen says

    John,
    The guys at new world byzantine are among the contributors of the Orthodox Arts Journal that I linked to. Andrew Gould is doing some wonderful work.

  110. says

    By the way, I should think that beauty is the feeling of proper order; now, I don’t just mean order in the workaday sense of schedules and standards, but rather, in the sense of which a plant is orderly, for instance.

    There is an excellent set of books on this very topic “The Nature of Order” by Christopher Alexander (of A Pattern Language fame) which suggests that the problem is not human, but rather, one of will, imagination and vision. He presents fifteen properties of ‘order’ in the built world which once you see them, you cannot unsee them.

    The corollary is that he starts by getting us to use our ability to ‘see the wholeness’ in something as simple as a dot on a sheet. It reminds me of my artistic training, but more rigorous. I’d say that if he is correct, the so-called moderns with their computers and vast industries are ignorant savages when compared with a simple medieval craftsman.

    The book is somewhat expensive; I bought the first volume used and my wife and I are going through it.

  111. Karen says

    Father Stephen, Stephanie and Neil,

    An observation I’d like to add to Fr. Stephen’s comments, which were so on the mark in terms of what I have observed/experienced as well especially in regard to the role that shame plays in this heartbreaking and horrifying tragedy of human misery, is that it is not so very long ago that our own western and American cultures handled our mentally ill, disabled, and handicapped (or otherwise unwanted, i.e., “illegitmate”children) in much the same way as Stephanie and Neil found in the Ukraine (or Romania). There have always been some wonderful Christian visionary exceptions, but the reality of the “rule” isn’t pretty. Go visit a state institution for the profoundly handicapped here in our nation (as I had to do in college while doing my Psychology internship), or a nursing home for the poor (even one of the better ones). Visit one of our prisons (if you dare). Sure, there’s likely enough food, there will be a bed and a (very cramped, maybe even stark) room and washroom facilities, but none of these in the variety you’d necessarily enjoy eating or using on a daily basis. There are caring and competent CNAs and professionals, but there are also abusive or apathetic ones who slip under the radar, and the good ones are always overworked and underpaid and these institutions in general under-resourced. I could go on, but you get the picture.

    This problem of the lack of quality care for the most needy among us, with varying degrees of severity and expression, is a universal problem. We can’t blame any particular ethnic or Christian group without also condemning ourselves. I say this as the sister of a sibling who is mentally ill (and half a century ago or even less would have had to have been institutionalized their whole life). My parents have spent the last 25 plus years trying to educate folks (especially church folks) about the needs of the mentally ill and serve as advocates for this (rather hidden) population, but even to this day a congregation that makes room for these folks and handles them well is the exception not the rule. I am also the mother of a special needs child, which has brought me into contact with parents of children with much more severe special needs than my own, and I can’t imagine having to go through what they face on a daily basis. I am also the friend of someone with very few material resources who is confined to a nursing home.

    In some ways at least in terms of the most basic physical needs, it is hard to compare our situation with that in the Ukraine. But as Mother Teresa observed, we are often starving in this nation (and in those institutions) for love and real spiritual nurture even if where we are not starving (literally) for food and other basic necessities of physical life.

  112. Alan says

    Neil,

    Yours is a very compelling account. You’ve obviously seen horrible things that I have never even imagined.

    But I would like to offer up one point. Sometimes, I think in our current day in age, we’re guilty of being short-sighted. If something doesn’t get rectified in 12-15 months, we get frustrated and angry. Things sometimes just take time. The people in the former communist lands were taught for SEVENTY years that human life is worthless. A people don’t just recover from that type of intense indoctrination overnight. Sadly, it’s going to take time.

    The hard part though, is that we don’t take what I just wrote (as true as I believe it to be) and throw up our hands and say, “well, there’s nothing that can be done. Too bad.” It’s extremely important that people like you are making the rest of us aware of what’s going on. That’s a part of the process that will cause things to change, IMO.

    As hard as it was to read, thanks again to you and your wife for sharing your account.

  113. Alan says

    @ CoffeeZombie,

    Thanks for the gracious dialogue, you’ve served to expand my thinking and for that I am grateful.

    Your last paragraph (in particular) was dead on and that will be my big takeaway from this discussion.

    Thanks again!

  114. Theodossia says

    Father Stephen,

    Thank you for sharing this link about the Monastery where orphans and handicapped children are taken care of … It is very touching to see so much love… the kind of love that heals. It brought tears to my eyes… This is real beauty in the midst of so much ugliness… Glory to God!!!

  115. Stephanie says

    Happy Easter to my brothers and sisters who celebrated our Lord’s resurrection yesterday, and happy Lenten Paschal to my brothers and sisters of the Eastern Tradition. On behalf of God’s children, I feel I must boldly speak for the orphans locked away from our view in the Eastern countries on the other side of the world. I must help the Church to take steps to care for the least of these who are suffering in horrible conditions, this very day. I found a news video in mainstream media, ABC News, that explains this plight: http://abcnews.go.com/International/hidden-angels-american-families-saving-children-syndrome/story?id=15234109 Being a part of the adoption world for the last year, I have witnessed countless families’ stories in bringing children from these conditions. Last week I met a woman who adopted a little 6 year old girl 9 months ago from a Bulgarian orphanage who was only 12 lbs. I could post more horrifying footage, but I hope the Church will simply understand the aweful plight. To engage the Church, I wholeheartedly recommend the two ministries linked inside this news story: http://www.reecesrainbow.org and http://www.bibleorphanministry.com We found our girls on Reeces Rainbow’s website. They are an advocacy group that photolists special needs children from many countries, mostly in Eastern Europe, to help save them from the institutions through international adoption of Americans and Canadians. They raise funds for the children’s adoptions, and have helped save over 900 orphans now, I believe in just over 5 years time. Please take some time to explore their ministry and website. It is absolutely saving lives, and 90% of the funds go towards the children’s adoption funds, and once a family commits to a child, 100% of the funds go towards that family’s adoption of the child. Bible Orphan Ministry is doing wonderful things for the orphans of Ukraine, including a new ministry they recently began of funding two servants of Christ to help directly in a boy’s mental institution. The video they posted months ago of a room jam packed with little boys with sad sad hollow little faces and absolutely no love and very very little care still haunts me. But this ministry is truly devoted to the children, as the leader is a former orphan herself. Please please please, on behalf of these children, we must help and be Christ to them.

  116. Stephanie says

    To Christ’s beloved Church to whom He showed great mercy, desperately pleading for God’s children who suffer for our mercy (Jeremiah 22:6)
    This link is to Bible Orphan Ministry’s ministry to a boys’ institution.http://www.bibleorphanministry.blogspot.com/2012/12/caretakers-to-mental-institution-new.html This institution desperately needs our help. They only have 2 workers per 20 children, and in January were able to hire 2 more for the year for only $6000. As a mom of 5 young children, two with special needs, it is IMPOSSIBLE to take care of that many children and meet even basic needs every day. Even if they absolutely loved the children and worked extremely hard, it is impossible to meet these boys’ needs. Please look at the boys in the pictures as if that was your son or daughter suffering. Please watch the videos. Please see the truth so we can fully love in action and in truth. One particular video still haunts me. If one thousand people from Christ’s merciful Church gave $20 a month to the boys’ institution on this website today, today Christ could put 6 more servants in a place comparable to a concentration camp. God weeps every day for these children.
    I have one more plea for Christ’s most merciful Church, strong in prayer and availingeth much in petition: Please pray the children from my daughter’s institution–that the children would be photolisted on Reeces Rainbow’s website so they could be pulled as children from burning flames of injustice to safety and freedom by American families.

  117. Stephanie says

    Please also pray Ukrainian orphans would not be denied adoption by American families as happened so recently to Russian orphans who desperately wail behind closed bars of injustice. The book, “The Boy from Baby House 10″ tells this haunting story of the plight many Russian orphans are sentenced to, being denied the justice they rightly deserve by adoption in every willing home. Please pray Russia will reverse this modern day Herodian decision, especially for it’s special needs orphans, and that Ukraine will not follow in Russia’s footsteps. http://www.kyivpost.com/content/ukraine/pavlenko-to-visit-families-in-us-who-adopted-children-from-ukraine-322578.html

  118. Stephanie says

    Unfailing beauty: a scripture verse I actually painted on a picture for my husband years ago:

    The Lord loves righteousness and justice. The earth is full of His unfailing love. Psalm 33:5

    Love, mercy, and justice are beautiful reflections of God. God’s mercy and love endures forever. His justice reigns forever. May we execute mercy to the fatherless. May we be the beautiful reflection of Christ in the world. May the Church’s architectural and iconic beauty be the same reflection of it’s beautiful, just, and merciful heart. The heart Christ showed us when He carried the cross of mercy. Mercy is beautiful. Mercy for the Fatherless is the pupil of God’s eye. May we not wound it.

  119. Stephanie says

    My former comment was deleted, but I will try one last time, and one final plea. If anyone wants to know the full truth of the mental institutions, please key in the search words: “shocking from orphanage to mental institution”. Here you will find a video that spells out the cold hard reality for many children on the other side of the world. My final plea is there ARE two ways we can currently help, one is through Bible Orphan Ministry’s project of hiring christian care takers in a boys’ mental institution (the link is in a comment above), and the other is donating to children’s adoption funds through Reece’s Rainbow. We can all even give to their “Child of the Month” fund and fully fund at least one child or sibling group’s adoption. There are hundreds of families in America and Canada willing to save these handicapped children, but most don’t have the $25,000 it requires to rescue each child. This is my final plea for Jesus’ precious lambs. May we remember Jesus’ instructions to Peter to feed and care for them. God Bless.

  120. CoffeeZombie says

    Stephanie,

    At risk of driving this thread even further off-topic, I decided to post this, because I had wanted to tell this story much earlier in this thread, but never did. So I will tell it now.

    I understand your concern, and I am glad you are so desiring to see good done to these orphans. However, I do want to point out one thing. You refer to orphanages in Russia refusing to allow Americans to adopt the children. I understand why you see this as a bad thing, but let me suggest a slightly different way of seeing it.

    There is a family in my parish who, after the death of their young daughter, decided to look into adopting a child in Ukraine. After a few false starts, they came across the file of a boy who caught both their eyes. Only problem was, the director of that particular orphanage had not allowed any foreign couple to adopt the children under his care.

    As I recall, one of the main reasons for this was that this director was devoutly Orthodox, all the children in the orphanage had apparently been Baptized into the Church when they came to the orphanage (if they weren’t already Baptized), and it was very important for him that these children be raised in the Orthodox Faith. He certainly did not, I believe, want these children to be taken by an Evangelical American family and raised outside of the Church (even, though I don’t know if he was aware of this, but I expect he would have been, raised in a faith that insists that the Orthodox Church is a false church).

    In this case, the director could see that the couple were, themselves, devout Orthodox Christians. In the end, they not only adopted this boy, but ended up coming back and adopting a friend of his, and his friend’s older sister. Also, as a result of their visit, our parish has begun a collection to send money to help this orphanage.

    Many of the former Soviet countries have gotten a short shrift from American missionaries and such. Just at the time that the Orthodox Church, their ancestral religion, was able to start rebuilding, to start working publicly again, they were inundated with Evangelicals, Baptists, and so on from the West (particularly the USA), who went about attempting to convert everyone without discrimination, even Orthodox Christians.

    I have heard many stories along these lines, not only from Orthodox who have a very dim view of such practices, but from Evangelicals who think they’re doing God’s work, and I believe them, because I have seen (and, sadly, partaken in) similar actions in primarily Roman Catholic countries in South and Central America. If the missionaries in Russia were anything like what I saw in the Americas, they were likely telling Orthodox Christians they met that their faith was not based on the Bible, was just “words of men,” was merely “works salvation” and that they were still going to go to Hell unless they abandoned such things and “got saved” (by the Evangelical definition).

    This is something, I think, that doesn’t make much sense to our secular ears. Why keep children in a place that struggles to meet their basic needs, when American families want to adopt them and give them the whole world? But, then again, “What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his soul?”

    I don’t mean to say that every case where an orphanage director is reluctant to adopt children to foreign couples is due to such noble attitudes. I don’t mean to insist everything is rosy and happy, and don’t worry about those kids’ physical well-being because they’ll go to heaven. At the same time, we should be very slow to judge, because we may not know, or understand, the most important part of the story.

  121. fatherstephen says

    Stephanie,
    I deleted the last comment because I generally do not allow commenters to raise money on the blog. This is only a blog and it exists for a fairly narrowly-defined purpose. I appreciate your sharing of information.

  122. Stephanie says

    If these children are not adopted by families, most will end up on the streets, be slaves to child traffiking, be sent to mental institutions for life where most young children die their first year. If you are trying to tell me God desires this over a child being brought into a loving, caring, Evangelical family, then I actually have no words. Families on Reece’s Rainbow are by no means missionizing these countries, they are RESCUING these kids. Please type in the key words on my comment above of “shocking from orphanage to mental institution” and watch the movie. If you do not believe the families rescuing these kids are doing Christ’s work, again I have no words.

  123. Stephanie says

    The decision to ban American adoption of Russian children was not made by Church leaders or orphanage directors, but by the Russian government. There was one little Russian boy I advocated for and prayed for for months, who needed immediate medical attention, whose family was almost done with the adoption process, but the adoption fell through at the last minute because of this ban, and now he is unjustly kept from the medical attention and family he deserves and needs. If you honestly think it’s better for these children to be raised in orphanages (or much worse, concentration camp institutions) than loving christian families, may I say God puts the lonely in families. He desires justice and mercy for these kids in His Holy Habitation. We Evangelicals are often doing all we can to RESCUE these kids from the flames. Please take a hard look and be fully educated first. We are not missionizing the church. We are rescuing the kids.

  124. fatherstephen says

    Stephanie,
    No one should argue against the adoption of these children. May God have mercy on them. There are policies of the American government that need to be addressed as well – Russia has plenty of faults – but did not remove this privilege of adoption in a vacuum. As the politicians of both sides bumble around – children die. May God have mercy.

  125. CoffeeZombie says

    To be clear, I was not trying to justify the terrible conditions or treatment of these children. The conditions at the orphanage friends’ children came from were nowhere near what you’re describing. What is happening to these children is nothing short of a tragedy.

    However, it is far too easy to look at the things a foreign government is doing and make judgements without considering that there may be reasons behind those actions that we don’t know about.

    Part of why I wrote about the actions of American missionaries was to indicate on of the many reasons Russians and other former Soviet countries are often suspicious of Americans in general. As Fr. Stephen said, these decisions are not made in a vacuum.

    Perhaps one of the things that can be done for these children is to work to change American attitudes and actions toward Russia so that they will feel able to be more open toward us.

  126. Neil says

    CoffeeZombie – first of all there is a distinction to be made between the orphanages and the institutions. There is definitely a wide range of care in the orphanages. The one we adopted our younger child from seemed to have a lot of care for the children. They in fact were one of those orphanages that baptized the children, we have the baptism card. Not all orphanages are like that one or your friends.

    Others have truly horrible conditions. For example, one of the orphanages another (Protestant American) couple adopted from. Their child has lesions and scars on his body from blunt trauma, cigar burns. So, it varies.
    The institution is where the unadoptable unproductive children are sent. It’s a sad and often repeated story of children from there being, for example, 10 lbs at the age of 10. This is not exagerration. This are the medical facts of flesh and blood real living children. This seems unbelievable, but it’s true. And with weights like these, there is no other explanation than that this is slow, hidden, and intentional murder.

    Go onto those websites and links. Look at the faces of the children who have had their growth intentionally stunted for life. Look at the faces of the children who were listed for adoption that have been removed due to their death. One boy I saw looked like he just came out of a WWII Nazi death camp. It is not because of medical conditions, a common excuse. Our older daughter, so far, has none of the laundry list of conditions labelled on her except for blindness – and that due to a cataract. It’s amazing to think she would have been starved to death over a cataract. Ignoring these children and doing nothing is willful disobediance to God.

    We were the first to adopt from our our older daughter’s institution, as I metioned she was 22 lbs at 6 – relatively good to some cases. And yet outside there were fruit trees everywhere and inside the smell of bread baking for sale at market – ‘we give the older ones jobs’, explained the director. The country we adopted from is one of the largest producers of grains in the world.

    Even our adoption facilitator, who has been doing this for more than a decade, was shocked at the institution, comparing it to a prison to the director (without our prompting). She said, repeatedly, in shock, “this is not adoption, this is rescue”. That’s the point. Our younger daughter – the one in the good orphanage – was to be transferred to her institution for her 4th birthday, since she was not yet adopted. And yet you imply that she would have been better left unadopted by Protestant Americans.
    What happens to the kids in those good orphanages you keep referencing when they get older? Either put to work as a virtual slave force, on the streets, or, for the unadoptable and unproductive, murder in the institutions.

    As covered previously, this is not a resource issue. To use these as a basis of leverage to pit Orthodox against Protestantism or Catholicism (for example, your ‘secular ears’) is an abuse of the Gospel and a perversion of reason, a diversion designed to detract from the real issue at hand.

    This is not an international relations or political issue. The problem actually has nothing to do with American attitudes towards Russia, Ukraine, Bulgaria, etc etc. You say that Americans changing their attitudes towards Russia will help the children. How, exactly? By reopening the country for adoption, so we can save their children, again? You also say that decisions like this are not made in a vacuum and that there may be more to the story that is not public knowledge. Let me ask you this: when is it ever acceptable, especially for a church of Jesus, for a government to decide that disabled children should die for the sake of utilitarianism or convenience?

    The real problem is the attitudes and actions of those post-soviet countries towards these children – their own children. The lack of action from those cultures, including the Orthodox church within, maintains a culture of death for these children – their children – giving tacit approval of this vestigial heritage of communism. The Protestants and Catholics are coming from America to those countries because of the lack of action from those countries to correct grievous human rights violations. This is not adoption, it is rescue. This is no cultural invasion or a disrespect to the Orthodox church, or an attempt at creating western or Protestant proslytes. This is rescue of the children who are otherwise being left to die by their own countries.

    Now that you know about these conditions, it’s your responsibility to do something about it, and to get your church leadership in those countries to do something about it. You know a tree by it’s fruit. The church ought to lead in this critical and urgent restoration of grace. This ought to spurn the leadership of the native Orthodox churches to take away this shameful vestige of communism and remove this disgrace, this stench from God’s nostrils. If leaders in the post-communist countries want to heal their lands and regain their constituency, perhaps this is the correct starting place – fruit that can be seen, children of God saved. So we are exhorting you as the native church – lead, follow, or get out of the way. Those standing around while these children die, watching, making divisive commentary and obscuring the issue, or ignoring it and pretending it doesn’t exist – this is the real crisis of beauty. And Jesus – the creator, author, and perfector of beauty – is watching.

  127. fatherstephen says

    Neil and Stephanie,
    Everyone here on the blog has patiently and politely heard these points, and we take them seriously. We agree about the conditions and the importance. There is no argument. However, both of you continue to hammer away as though sending notes to the blog will change the situation. There’s no argument here about the tragedy and the need. I have explained things that Orthodox in America are doing to change things – and I’ve patiently looked at some of the reasons things are as they are – not to excuse them – but to understand why they are as they are and why it is difficult to change them. But they must change. I appreciate and applaud your concern. But this is pretty much the end of the discussion. I’m not sure what more there is to be said. You’ve made your point.

    As for others, just let the conversation end.

  128. Burckhardtfan says

    Dear Father Stephen,

    You might like this article. It’s written by a secular humanist who has noted the link between beauty and the divine – and its mirror image of desecration and sacrilege.

    http://www.city-journal.org/2009/19_2_beauty.html

    Joseph de Maistre was on to something when he said that wherever an altar exists, there exists civilisation.