What Matters Now

228862_2098453634706_4877711_n_2In October of 2006 I wrote the first article for this blog. The second article written is the short set of paragraphs offered in italics below. It was a sober beginning – written mostly for myself – stating what matters.

Time has passed. The blog now has about a million views a year. It has produced a book and even occasionally been quoted. And it’s easy to forget what matters.

My life has had many ups and downs and a variety of changes over the seven years I’ve been writing. Last week that included surviving a heart attack. For a man of 59 it was a surprise. It means changes in my life, generally for the better. It does not, for now, effect the blog. It does effect me. Everything does. My interior life has more bearing on my writing than I would like (most of the time). I recently found kind words in a blog review:

Fr. Stephen is a priest in the Orthodox Church in America, and his writings are examples of the best of contemporary Orthodoxy. There are no punches pulled — he will leave you with no doubt about where he stands on the state of modern Christianity — but none of those switchblade-stab asides either, where the critique gets you when you aren’t looking. Fr. Stephen can be equally dismissive about the blind side of his fellow Orthodox (e.g. here“Contrary to modern Orthodox conspiracy theories, ecumenism was not invented in the Vatican. It was invented on the frontiers of 19th century America”). There is no nostalgia for Byzantium or the “Third Rome,” and no rallies for social or political “agendas.” The theme here, repeated through a thousand nuanced variations but constant and gentle, the only one that matters, is addressed to each human being:metanoia. Repentance. Conversion of heart.

I had to ponder the “no punches pulled.” There are many times I wish that I refrained from punches – times when the pain inflicted easily outweighs any intended benefit. “Truth,” we are told, “is a two-edged sword.” It is far better that someone come to their own difficult conclusions than to have them intelligently hammered into their heads (I am here being arrogant and assuming my hammering is always intelligent). Thus, I ask forgiveness of those who have to struggle past the hammer to get to whatever knowledge they may seek. I’m not a saint – just an educated priest.

Though many things have changed over the past seven years, I am pleased that this second piece of my writing has not. Had I not written it, I would wish that I had. It still expresses my hearts desire and judges my work. I reprint occasionally as a reminder for myself. It seemed to today to offer it yet again. Blessings!

God matters and what matters to God matters. I know that sounds very redundant, but I’m not sure how else I want to say it. There are many things that do not matter – because they do not matter to God. Knowing the difference between the two – what matters to God and what does not requires that we know God.

And this is theology – to know God. If I have a commitment in theology, it is to insist that we never forget that it is to know God. Many of the arguments (unending) and debates (interminable) are not about what we know, but about what we think.

Thinking is not bad, nor is it wrong, but thinking is not the same thing as theology. It is, of course, possible to think about theology, but this is not to be confused with theology itself.

Knowing God is not in itself an intellectual activity for God is not an idea, nor a thought. God may be known because He is person. Indeed, He is only made known to us as person (we do not know His essence). We cannot know God objectively – that is He is not the object of our knowledge. He is known as we know a person. This is always a free gift, given to us in love. Thus knowledge of God is always a revelation, always a matter of grace, never a matter of achievement or attainment.

It matters that we know God because knowledge of God is life itself. “This is eternal life,” Jesus said, “to know Thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom Thou hast sent.”

The Orthodox way of life is only about knowing God. Everything we do, whether it is prayer, communion, confession, forgiveness, fasting – all of it is about knowing God. If it is about something else, then it is delusion and a distraction from our life’s only purpose.

Knowing God is not a distraction from knowing other persons, nor is knowing other persons a distraction from knowing God. But, like God, knowing other persons is not the same thing as thinking about them, much less is it objectifying them.

Knowing others is so far from being a distraction from knowing God, that it is actually essential to knowing God. We cannot say we love God, whom we have not seen, and hate our brother whom we do see, St. John tells us. We only know God to the extent that we love our enemies (1 John 4:7-8).

And this matters.

This blog does not matter – except that I may share something that makes it possible for someone to know God or someone may share something that allows themselves to be known. This matters.

Comments

  1. says

    Fr. Stephen,

    I have gone through some of your archives, but not this far back. I only wish I had. Thanks for the reblog reminder :-)

  2. B.E. Ward says

    Bless, Father..

    I’m curious if Conciliar or anyone else has ever approached you about publishing (in text or ebook format) a compilation of your posts over time. Many things you’ve written have borne much spiritual fruit in my life and I, for one, would love to have an offline, compiled resource.

  3. James Beltz says

    Father Stephen,
    As a brother in Christ and fellow Tennessean orthodox christian, I hope and pray that you be strong in mind, body and spirit. I pray the peace and joy of the Holy Spirit cover and fill you always….
    With prayers…

    James Beltz

  4. David Gilchrist says

    Wow – God bless you Fr Stephen and grant you many years.
    Like thousands of other people I really appreciate the teaching you give through “Glory to God for all things.”
    Be bold, be strong, for the Lord thy God is with thee!

  5. G Weigle says

    Thanks be to God that you are doing well. We are new (1 year) Orthodox Christians. We have a Protestant friend that is asking many questions and your explanation of what theology is and isn’t was very timely. We never could have explained it so clearly. Thank you!

  6. Margaret says

    May God continue to bless you and yours as He blesses me through your writings! Glory to God for All Things!!!

  7. Anna says

    Father, bless!

    May the Lord grant you good health and a speedy recovery!

    I think there are several years since I’ve been reading your blog, on and off, but I never came across this early piece. It’s a wonderful text, almost like laying a strong foundation stone before building this fine edifice which is your blog. With all the hustle and bustle of everyday life and the turmoil of the news, it’s all too easy to forget what’s the one thing needed.

  8. Debbie says

    Father Stephen, I’m so glad you survived that heart attack and my prayer is that your heart be renewed in every sense.

    It’s funny, I picked up a little white rock heart from a beach on Saturday and brought it home. It is scarred and pocked and had a message for me about the wholeness found only in God and how our part in achieving/receiving that is active, not passive, and how it is all intertwined in relationships.

    I have appreciated your blog and your book these last few months. God bless.

  9. Athanasius says

    Father, there was a time in my life when I was in extreme flux and turmoil. I’d all but lost faith. I had read the church fathers, and I could no longer recognize their church, nor the church of the New Testament, where I was. Worse, I couldn’t find it anywhere else, either.

    Your blog was the first introduction to Orthodoxy I ever had. I do not know if you will consider this a compliment or not, but all I can say is: it was so refreshing to read something that wasn’t *new* but was old – ancient – traditional. I saw at once that the fathers and saints were in your mind and your heart.

    Were it not for stumbling upon your blog, I don’t know where I would be today. God only knows.

    But at this last Pascha, after a journey of several years, I received Holy Chrism.

    Thank you for sharing over the years. I know it cannot always be easy. The Lord has definitely used you in my life, though. And for that, you have my gratitude, love, and prayers.

    Glory to God!

  10. Mrs. Mutton says

    Father, dear, you can take it from me – the punches you don’t pull are far, far gentler than the punches that other servants of God – even some Orthodox priests – *have* pulled. God spared you last week for a reason: Your blog is a gift to all your readers, and all the readers yet to come. Just keep doing what you’re doing.

  11. Michael Bauman says

    Father you “punches” are the kind that soften up rather than make hard. You just keep hitting the same spot until it is soft enough to accept the truth. At least that is what you’ve done for me and still doing.

    Keep on punchin’

  12. Columba says

    Father —

    This is another exceptional blog entry, BUT mainly I wish to say, belatedly, that you are now an active recipient of my prayers for YOU, your continuing health, your family, your church in Oak Ridge, your daughter churches, and, yes, for Glory to God for All Things. It does matter because it points us to God.

    In Christ, Columba

  13. kay says

    Your guidance and clarity matter to us greatly. They have been a great blessing amidst so much confusion. May the Lord grant you many years. You are in our prayers.
    kay

  14. mary benton says

    Fr. Stephen,

    This is a wonderful piece I had not read before. One of the beauties of writing is that we not only teach others but are taught ourselves by what we write. Thank you for re-posting.

    I agree with others about your “punches”. Usually gentle – but, when a bit too harsh, you are humble enough to apologize. This is so valuable because it helps us to see you as being as human as the rest of us. It also models for us how you work to live the Truth that you teach. (Sadly, many clergy do not do this, fearing they will appear weak. Their “false strength” appears arrogant and their message is dismissed.)

    Thank you for being open to being a vessel in God’s hand. May you continue to be for many more years. To Him be glory.

  15. Isaac says

    I think the work of this blog and your book does matter Father, but there are elements around having an internet presence that don’t. These would be things like popularity and approval, winning intellectual victories, and garnering a reputation. Those will all fade away, but I do think much of the work you do in your writing will remain with people. You have certainly been a good influence on my Orthodox journey to God anyway Father.

  16. fatherstephen says

    B.E. Ward,
    Thanks for the vote of confidence. I am currently in conversation with Conciliar about another book. I think it will be “Filling All Things,” since the first one was, “Everywhere Present.” The plan is for it to gather up a good number of things from the blog, organize, edit, arrange, etc. It won’t be a “best of”…but I hope will be useful. Do please pray for me in this. I like to write things about blog length. My gifts frankly are stretched at book length. I am organizationally challenged and find large projects to be overwhelming (that’s to say I suffer from ADD – life goes on – all Americans have at least one three-letter handicap – it’s in the constitution somewhere).

    I think the first book could have been ever so much better were these handicaps not so painful for me. But I think I see all of this better than even a few years ago and hope it will help. My beloved wife is both a faithful reader, a good editor on this end (I’ve a good editor at Conciliar as well), and the best spiritual friend I’ve ever had. By the prayers of our holy fathers…God willing…another book is in the works…

    BTW…if there are things, or themes that standout for readers…even things you’d like to see developed more…send comments or emails. It would be of help to me…

    For email email hidden; JavaScript is required

    Blessings!

  17. B.E. Ward says

    Bless, Father..

    A new book! Excellent news!

    For my “If I ran Conciliar Press….” moment:

    I think there’s a way to satisfy both a book-length writing requirement and your writing style. I believe you mentioned a while back that you tend to read just a little at a time, and while I obviously can’t speak for your other readers, I tend to read spiritual writing in the exact same way. To me, your posts are pastoral or, dare I say, devotional. I read them slowly and, hopefully, meaningfully.

    Conciliar would be well-served to publish a volume (or two or ten) of your writings as a collection of small portions meant for (insert adjective here: devotional/meditative/etc.) use. The collection doesn’t need to even revolve around a theme (though all of your writing indeed does this anyway). It’d just be a series of your posts that offer spiritual nourishment for people who don’t or can’t read through whole books.

    It seems like publishing as an e-book would make things even easier. You pick some that you like for a particular collection, they go to Conciliar for formatting, and off they’re published as an inexpensive e-book.

    But, I’m sure I’m simplifying things too greatly. That’s why I don’t run Conciliar Press..;)

  18. Lucy says

    Thanks be to God that He saw fit to grant you more time in this life. I had a heart attack myself in 2006, at age 32. It does change everything, and it keeps changing everything. I didn’t find your blog for a few more years, but reading it has been an enormous influence on my faith and has helped me understand how to *be* Orthodox more than almost anything else I’ve read. I’m still not very good at being Orthodox, nor do I know God very well, but I’m better off than I would otherwise have been. Thank you for your faithfulness and please, take care of yourself!

  19. Michael Bauman says

    At the risk of being thought a total anachronism: E-books and the like are not the same as real books. They just aren’t. There is abundant evidence that the digital format changes perception. The physical acts of holding the real book in one’s hands and turning actual pages–all of the tactile sensations that surrounds reading a book; the smell, the subtle three dimensions of the print on the paper, hearing the rustling of the pages.

    It is an entirely different experience. My son has difficulty with two dimensional data. It is difficult for him to interpret, understand and learn from but he devours real books.

    Anything that is meant to be lasting should be printed. Paper lasts a long, long time. The maximum life span of digital data is less that 20 years.

    Obviously digital communication is important and valuable, but the printed version is essential.

  20. Dino says

    I completely agree with that Michael, I would go so far as to add that only a book can be used in that sacred and most personal time Orthodox ascetics traditionally called ‘night-time Liturgy’ (the night-time prayer ‘rule’). I cannot see any digital medium ever being created that allows for such a high scope of “undistraction”. That always means something…

  21. Dino says

    Father,
    is there perhaps a problem with posting comments on some old posts? I have been trying to comment on the “Scattered thoughts and the One God” previous topic, but to no avail…
    The strange thing is that I can post everywhere else!

  22. drewster2000 says

    Fr. Stephen,

    New Book Format:

    I agree with Dino and Michael that paper is a better medium for the eternal character of your content, but I’m with E.B. Ward when it comes to format: simply a best of “Glory to God” compilation – maybe multiple volumes. I suspect you have many readers like myself who are much more able to read in these small bites rather than try to get through a whole book.

    However, I don’t think this idea is in competition with “Filling All Things”; I think you should do both! What with the event of your heart attack, it entered my mind what a tragedy it would be if suddenly your blog disappeared from the web. The very thought makes me want to invest in some software that would quickly copy down all the web pages to my computer.

    Go forward with “Filling All Things”, but whether paper or PDF, please consider a compilation of your blogs. In my mind you don’t even need to sort through them. Just bundle them up and sell them as is, if that’s all time allows.

    Whatever you do, please don’t let your blog posts just disappear!

    In Christ, drewster

  23. Michael Bauman says

    A long time ago when I was in college one of my history professors gave a distinction between a tool and a machine which has stayed with me all these years.

    A tool allows and requires that the worker set the rhythm of the work.

    A machine sets the rhythm for the operator.

    Books allow the reader to interact with the author and the thoughts at their own pace and more completely.

    Digital media actually change our process of thought and the way our brain works. Scary. The list goes on as to the effects.

    Digital media is binary at its foundation (the ultimate two stories). I am constantly amazed that Fr. Stephen is able to express the nuance and depth that he does in this medium. That is an unusual skill that few seem to have. I am also amazed at the connections that seem to be formed here that are not elsewhere (at least for me).

    God grant Fr. Stephen many years and continue to empower his writing!

  24. fatherstephen says

    Dino, problem with the spam filter, which baffles me. But I cleared it and got your post up. sorry.

  25. fatherstephen says

    Michael,
    I agree about the nature of books. I would not want to publish with real paper being available. My book is available in Kindle, and I think most of Conciliar’s new titles are, but also in print.

  26. B.E. Ward says

    Sorry, all.. I didn’t mean to steer the conversation into paper vs. e-book. I was merely trying to suggest ideas to have a wider availability of Father’s writings. Paper? Even better!

  27. Isaac says

    A kindle paper-white can bridge the distance between e-books and print books fairly well and you can also read in the dark while your spouse sleeps next to you. That is how I finished “Everywhere Present” a few days ago.

    Father Stephen,

    I like the approach of your first book, which I would categorize as something like “existential rhetoric” in the sense that you are not making traditional syllogistic arguments for Christianity but you are also keeping the focus of your points around the big issues of life like death and what we are by nature.

    I would still like to see the book that a person could give to, say, a critical Baptist that would challenge them but not read like a polemical tome bent on proving them wrong. This is a tall order and I still don’t think there is an Orthodox book that quite pulls it off. I do think your first book was very much on the right track though in terms of approach. Most post-modern readers don’t respond well to books like, say, the “Faith” series of Clark Carlton. He makes cogent arguments, but they don’t have the power to draw the non-Orthodox into at least a degree of sympathy with Orthodoxy.

  28. Dana Ames says

    Thank you Father. I’m among the many praying for you & family and good health. By virtue of physical isolation and cultural/theological distance from the understanding of the Church in the East, my journey was one marked mostly by reading, as you might remember… I’m not sure I would have known what Orthodoxy really is, had I not had one Orthodox friend IRL who was able to explain things to me very well, and also been led to this blog. I continue to find so much of God blazing through your writing; it truly generates love for Him in my heart.

    Re next book, I think it would be helpful to include the pertinent Q&A that are generated in the comments to a particular post, either weaving them into the body of the post, or appending them, as in the chapters in Arch. Zacharias’ books on the heart. Much good in the comments, too, even those which seem to go off topic.

    Thank you again.
    Dana

  29. says

    Please forgive me if you feel I have mis-characterized your writing in any way. As I re-read words I used in my account, like “dismissive”, I feel myself cringe — it now comes across as far stronger than I wanted to put things. I remain very grateful for your web presence. My poor prayers are certainly offered for your recovery.

  30. fatherstephen says

    skholiast – oh, no. I was flattered by your review. My reaction to the “no punches pulled,” was only the re-examine myself – sometimes I throw punches where none were needed. It is among the kindest reviews I’ve had!

  31. says

    I have really enjoyed your writing for a good couple of years now. It has given me a real sense of love and appreciation of the orthodox faith. I hope that you are able to take the rest, time for prayer and time with your family that you need as you recover your physical health. I also pray that this time draws you ever nearer to God’s love.
    http://onthewaytothegarden.blogspot.co.uk/