Modern Loneliness and Staying Put

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This article is among the first written for the blog. There is something to be said for the blog itself  having “stayed put.” The internet is an ephemeral creation. I hope to be providing a stable platform for learning, for questioning, for conversation. With a few emendations, I offer this reprint. That the article is still useful after an entire 6 years is astonishing!

In monastic tradition, a monk makes four vows: poverty, chastity, obedience and stability. Most people are familiar with the first three but not with the fourth. In classical monastic practice it meant that a monk stayed put: he did not move from monastery to monastery. It was not a new idea. Before this vow was formalized in various Rules, there was already the saying from the Desert: “Stay in your cell and your cell will teach you everything.”

Staying put or stability doesn’t sound all that difficult – certainly easier than poverty, chastity and obedience. But it may indeed be the hardest thing of all. The “noonday devil” which tended to afflict monks from the beginning, was especially known as the temptation at some point to leave your cell and just go visiting, where gossip and many far worse temptations could make themselves manifest. Staying put was the hardest battle of all. In its most extreme form in the the East we see the Stylites, the monks who lived on the tops of pillars (St. Simeon’s was over 300 feet tall!)

In our modern world stability is an extremely rare commodity. The average American moves once every five years. When I first came to Oak Ridge (Tennessee), I was constantly told by the old-timers, “People in Oak Ridge are from everywhere!” In 1943 when this city was founded as part of the Manhattan Project, that statement was truly unusual. Americans rarely relocated. But I had to break the sad news to my new co-citizens, “Everywhere you go, people are from everywhere!”

There was a time in my hometown in South Carolina that a trip to the store or Mall would bring a dozen casual meetings with friends and acquaintances. Now they are all strangers when I visit – or rather I am the stranger. I do not live there anymore.

All of this would just be sociologically interesting if it had no effect on our lives. But it has a profound effect.

In 1950 (to pick a date), the most common pattern in our country was for a local boy to meet and marry a local girl and to settle down and raise their children in the community in which they themselves were born, with relatives and friends forming a network of relationships that surrounded and nurtured (or harrassed) them. Divorce rates and crime rates were relatively low in most places. Stable communities tend to have stable families. The network of relationships promotes this. We have lived in these relatively stable forms for most of human history. Even the great nomadic tribes traveled as tribes.

In 2013 (to pick another date), the more common pattern is for a boy to meet a girl in college or later – he is from Virginia (say) and she is from Ohio (say). They marry, move to Oregon and begin their careers, or they met there and married. Family is the stuff you negotiate as in “whose parents do we visit at Thanksgiving this year, etc.?” The network of friends is often his friends from work and her friends from work, and frequently not much more.

In 1980, living in Columbia, S.C., I attended a conference in which the lecturer asked an auditorium of about 400 to raise their hands if they new 5 people on their city block. A few hands went up. I wound up in the last group. I knew no one in the Apartment Complex where we lived. Most of us did not know a single neighbor. And that is not an unusal modern pattern.

This brings us to the loneliness of modern man. The internet has probably made us more connected, in a virtual sense, than we have been in a generation. But, of course, their is an extreme level of volunteerism in this virtual community. If I don’t want to post today there is nothing you can do about it. We are not a natural community.

I cannot touch you or hear you laugh. I share a photo so you know something of what I look like. But how do I sound? How much of my native Appalachian dialect still clings to my tongue (not much, but some).

And we only know what we choose to share. It makes for a very thin village indeed.

As modern man has lost his stability (I blame our economic structures largely for this phenomenon – moving expenses are tax-deductible, for example) so we have lost the fruit of stability. Crime, divorce, the simple consensus that makes a culture a culture disappears. The 1950’s three channel television and white-bread families were probably the last cultural manifestation of an earlier consensus that will not return. It cannot return without stability.

I have lived in this small city since 1989, the longest I have ever lived anywhere. I have come to know many people in this town of 25,000 and I know my parish of 100+ souls quite well. Stability for me means I have a child buried here, and I will be buried here as well. It is a goal I have – a very long term one.

For all of us, some form of stability is necessary, even if it is one we must largely create ourselves.

I would point to the Orthodox Church as an example of stability. I can read from centuries of writings and recognize and understand what is said. St. Athanasius is as interesting to me on a daily basis as, say, Fr. John Behr. The “latest thing” in Orthodoxy just isn’t very late. There is a stability that comes within that part of life – a stability I cannot create but to which I can submit. I am Orthodox and I can daily seek to imbibe more fully what that means. It can create me (which is probably much to be preferred).

I cannot leave the modern world (or post-modern if you prefer). I was born in 1953 and there’s is nothing to be done about it. But there are commitments that I can make – that any of us can make. I am married. I do not take a vow of poverty, but everything I own is owned by my wife as well (no private property). If you have children, you will learn a certain form of poverty no matter what. For the married, faithfulness is the form of chastity. I do not take a vow of obedience (nor did my wife for that matter), but we have a life of mutual submission – my will is not my own. We are not here because I alone wanted to be here. We are here because we wanted to be here (ultimately, I suppose there is obedience – to my Bishop, and to my God – but on a daily basis His Eminence does not interfere. God can also be strangely silent).

But stability is more fleeting. I think that only by becoming part of a larger community, even larger than the present and reaching into the past, do we begin to find stability. Many Christians today live, at best, as part of a movement. It is an interesting word – incompatible with stability. Nothing in my life compares with the stability of 2,000 years of living Tradition. Stability means to live my life in the neighborhood of the Kingdom of God where the saints know my name and encourage or harrass me if necessary.

God give us the grace to come to the place of stability in you. Put me some place where I can stay put.

Comments

  1. Grant says

    This speaks to me (as do many entries in this blog). I think I have moved home about 26 times in my life, including to Australia for 26 years and back. Quite the nomad. But I long for the settled life and the cultivation of long term, meaningful relationships. As you say, may God put me somewhere where I can stay put…

  2. Jon says

    I appreciate this post. I wonder how you would relate stability to denominationalism. I’m not so much thinking of those who change traditions when they relocate, but of those who may, over the course of a life, grow in several different theological directions. There is a tension between “staying with those who brought you” and making adult choices which are grounded in conviction and the call of God.

  3. says

    What a pretty flagstone walk, and interesting that it begins/ends at a child’s play house. There are a variety of connections between that image and your essay here.

    The juxtaposition of a sun-dappled and wooded walk that evokes solitude, with a well kept house/home and a child’s haven. The impression of solitude is dominant though for there are no people to occupy the visual space.

    We as persons, defined for our purposes here principally as being in the image and likeness and individually unique, are an interesting mix of the solitary, and the gregarious and the pro-creative.

    I’ve been puzzling the classical understanding of person with respect to the Incarnation, and how a divine Person can be and act, as person, in relation to a divine nature and human nature, without division or confusion.

    Suddenly! you bring this wonderful essay out of moth balls and my head explodes……

    Contemplative and ascetic solitude weighed against the ennui of modern secularism came to mind immediately.

    For me that is central since I am celibate and solitary in the main. But it could just as well relate to an empty nested couple, or a couple just beginning to raise a family, or one trying to shepherd the herd through their teen-age years of wondrous invincibility.

    I just found the following on-line and I cannot help wondering how much of our struggle comes from what I see as the confusion and true loneliness expressed in the following essay/definition:

    http://en.wikibooks.org/wiki/Introduction_to_Philosophy/What_is_a_Person

    If we do not know what and who we are as persons how in God’s name can we begin to know how to find our place…much less stay put?

    You do know how to distract…on a rare day in June.

    M.

  4. fatherstephen says

    Well, as someone who was born into a Baptist home, became an Anglican and then Orthodox, I understand the importance of journey, and of change. Interestingly, by being Orthodox, I have embraced a kind of stability that would have been impossible among Baptists or Anglicans. Denominational Churches are, in my observation, inherent, even intentionally, unstable. Hard to stay put in a trailer while it’s being pulled.

  5. Michael Bauman says

    Even the idea of “stability” can be a fleeting thing if one is looking for static perfection or accepts all manner of change without thought.

    Who is more stable:
    1. a person who stays put in the Anglican communion, for instance, despite the head long rush to apostasy because that is where they have always been and their parents and grandparents have always been,

    2. Or…a person like my wife, who has been Episcopal, evangelical (Baptist and Nazarene), Roman Catholic in between and then Methodist (in the American Indian Methodist conference) and now Orthodox? .

    When I met her and began to get to know her, I know almost at once that she was Orthodox, she just didn’t know it. It was not the first time she had been told such a thing. A chef who worked with her several years ago and was Orthodox, told her so too, she just didn’t make the step to come and see at that time. Her love for me gave her the courage to do so.

    When she came to our parish, she looked at the icon of the Lord Enthroned above our Altar and knew she was home. She had found the place that Jesus had been calling her to since she was 5.

    There were some very human things that had to be worked out, but the result was inevitable.

    Personally, I went through a similar journey. I began with New Age Christianity, looked at Protestantism and Rome.

    The first day I walked into an Orthodox Church, I was overwhelmed by the presence of Jesus Christ I’d experienced to the same degree no where else. Again human questions that had to be addressed, but no real doubt.

    Some folks look at the externals of our travels and see inconstancy. But that is not the truth. The constant was following Jesus Christ and having enough sense to stop where we found Him in fullness to allow ourselves to be grafted onto the true vine.

    My wife likes to say she did not join the Orthodox Church as she had joined the other bodies. She became and is becoming Orthodox. It is not a matter of will anymore, it is who we are, who we always were.

    My son, raised in the Church says much the same. “I am a Christian, it is not something that I put on Sunday morning and take off the rest of the week.”

    Oh the struggles with the world and our fallen humanity still occur but Jesus is always there to remind us of who we are and turn us back to that.

  6. Henry says

    Sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name
    And they’re always glad you came
    You wanna be where you can see our troubles are all the same
    You wanna be where everybody knows your name

    Yes

  7. Lena says

    Dear Father Stephen,
    In a very profound sense your blog is an island of stability for me (and I guess, many silent readers), a sane ground of Orthodox Tradition for a mind which is pulled and puzzled often and a peaceful place for a heart where love of Christ is present. I have a file with quotes from you and your readers posts which helps a lot.
    My then little son and I used to be your parishioners at St Anne for 2 years (2000-2002) when my family lived in Oak Ridge and for my “unbelieving” husband you are still his favorite Orthodox priest. We’ve moved (alas!) in Sothern Caliornia and found a home in a local Orthodox Church (Greek one) but it’s still means much to ‘”keep in touch” by reading Glory to God regularly. It was really sad and unsettling to learn about your heart attack. Thank God you’re getting well! Your presence is very much needed to many, dear Father. Very often it’s the true presence (in the sense of desert fathers) not action we need most. Please, take care. As always will keep praying for you and your family.

  8. Chris says

    Wow. A very timely post for me. I am part of that modern culture of moving often. I have been married for 24 years and the longest we have ever stayed put in one place is 5 years. And we are thinking of relocating again after only two years in our current location. I was raised as an Air Force brat so the nomadic life is nothing new to me. But with all honesty I can say I do not have that stable connectivity with a “home” town. I converted to the Catholic faith 7 years ago. One of the key attractions was its stability…2000 years of consistent tradition.

  9. fatherstephen says

    Lena,
    So good to hear from you. I think you all from time to time and hold you in my prayers. I pray you’ll be able to come back for a visit!

  10. says

    Yes, certainly. And, at the same time, after living in the same house for the first 19 years of my life, and traveling about some the past 6 (and my parents still living in that same house), I can’t say I’m sorry for having lived any of those places, or done any of those things, though it’d be well not to keep it up very long.

  11. mary benton says

    Stability AND movement. Properly understood, I do not think they are inconsistent with one another.

    Walk in the woods. Unless there has been a severe storm, we see the trees solidly rooted in the earth. They have stability. Yet each is also constantly in motion. Each tiny cell in the leaves and bark and roots is performing its task, its “dance”, so that the tree, while stable, is also continually being made new (old cells die and new ones are created).

    We too are called to be rooted while also continually in a process of being made new. Our conversion is an ongoing process that reflects our unfinished nature. Our movement, like the trees’, is once of allowing the old to die and the new to be born. We cannot do this alone but are invited to the “dance”, as God transforms us from our old life into His new life.

    Thank you, Fr. Stephen, for re-posting this and getting me thinking. Also, thank you to whoever linked me to Fr. Alex Trader’s blog. He wrote some very helpful words on the vow of stability a few months ago: http://ancientchristianwisdom.wordpress.com/2013/01/23/the-monastic-vow-of-stability-in-the-life-of-all-christians/

  12. Matt Dorning says

    I loved this! One thing I could not escape as I read this, is the “security” of stability in my life as a child and young adult. By the time both of my grandmothers sold their homes, they had lived in them for over 50 years. The decor never really changed, the color of the walls never changed, but only got a fresh coat of paint. The china and glassware we used were family heirlooms. We used the same Christmas decorations from the 1940’s and 50’s every year. They planted gardens every Spring. They went to church every Sunday and Wednesday. While life had its “seasons” for them, nothing really changed. They stayed put in both location and life.

    The stability of their traditions and habits NEVER came off as boring or routine, it was simply they way they lived their lives and I loved it. Their stability provided an environment for all of our family to thrive.

    This is the exact same stability that you describe in the Orthodox Church. What is familiar and routine, is not boring. The sameness is a rhythm and not a rut. The stability provides an environment for us to thrive in our hearts and souls. The merging of “Kairos” and “Chronos” in the Liturgy, places us in the ultimate stable place. In peace, let us pray to the Lord.

  13. Kenneth Bowles says

    Father,
    There is a difference between the words “their” and “there” although in much writing I have witnessed in recent years, I have to wonder if anyone knows the difference. Just like “your” and “you’re”; they do mean different things. Sadly, some of the writing I have read was written by CEO’s and College Professors with the misuse of these words.

    Also, Philippine Culture is more like what was common in the 50’s in the US. I lived in a town of about 6,000 and we knew everyone on our block.

  14. Dino says

    Michael,
    your comment is very reminiscent of the Psalmic ” thy mercy will follow me all the days of my life ” (Psalm 22/23)

  15. drewster2000 says

    Michael,

    I like your questions and the reflections about your wife “coming home” to Orthodoxy. What I would like from you is the admission that others can have that same genuine experience elsewhere – be it RC or Anglican or whatever – for reasons we understand not, because God’s ways are not necessarily our ways.

  16. fatherstephen says

    Drewster,
    I understand that you would like Michael to “make an admission,” but why? How could he know such a thing? You’re asking him to go from speaking about his (and his wife’s) experience, to postulating something that is not his experience. It seems to me that we can state our experience. The operative word in your question is “genuine.” That is something that we’ll only know at the judgment.

  17. drewster2000 says

    Fr. Stephen,

    You are correct of course. He can only speak from where he stands. I suppose what I’m really asking for is that others be taken seriously and at face value when they stand up and say that they “came home” upon founding their church – even if that’s not Orthodoxy.

    Some will be mistaken and end up packing their bags for another move and some will not, but I believe it is more important that our default position is to “stay put” instead of always being ready to rush off chasing the next thing that tickles our fancy.

  18. Dino says

    drewster,
    (I have said this here before) a very very interesting fact (which I cannot personally verify though) claimed by Metropolitan Nikolaos of Mesogaia (Nicholaos Hatzinikolaou the ex-professor at Harvard and MIT) is that:

    as far as ‘end destinations’ go (for those who are true spiritual explorers and who seem to have been through long adventures of seeking), the one destination -at which all ‘seeking’ ceases- is Orthodoxy…

  19. fatherstephen says

    Drewster,
    Think about it. You’re asking Michael (and others) to relativize their experience of Orthodoxy – to make it a choice among choices – a Church among Churches – a path among the many paths. Essentially, you’re asking someone Orthodox to say something Protestant. Protestantism is more polite.

    But it cannot be as you ask. To be Orthodox is not to treat Orthodoxy as “just my thing.” That’s not Orthodoxy. Anyone can readily say that God’s mercy is great and trust that He is working in all for their salvation. But, essentially, you’re asking someone to deny the very Orthodoxy they’ve professed.

    I suggest, instead, that you understand this as an inherent part of Orthodoxy and the language that you’re always going to encounter in those conversations. It’s what Orthodoxy sounds like.

    Orthodoxy is not a choice or a denomination. It is a way of life. It professes to be the way of life given by Christ – as such – it is simply “human” life, not religious life. To echo Metropolitan Nikolaos, Orthodoxy is ultimately another word for creation itself. These are not words of triumphalism, but words, based in Scripture, that properly describe the Church. What happens in these turns of conversation is that “Church” becomes problematic, and we’re unable to say what Scripture says because of denominationalism, etc. I think it is better to ponder what these things might mean rather than to request concessions that make it impossible to say what rightly should be said.

    BTW – more than a Freudian slip. No one “finds their church.” We don’t have Churches. Think about what you are saying means – think about it in light of everything the NT says about Church. It’s like saying, “when someone finds their Jesus.” It’s exactly the same thing, and it’s something no one should say.

  20. drewster2000 says

    Dino,

    I have heard this from you before. And thus my comment. If I mention somewhere else as my final destination, I’d like to be taken seriously and not as one mistaken. If it is the truth that Orthodoxy is the end destination for all those seeking, then we know that truth makes itself known. In other words it does not require you to champion it.

    If I find myself at peace in RC (say), then you would not be doing a good thing by continually hinting that I haven’t really arrived until I become Orthodoxy. It would probably seem to you that you’re merely picking the low hanging fruit: “He’s so close to being right; now if I can just get him on over into the right camp…” But you’re not.

    Talk to me about love, about Christ, about the cure for whatever it is that still ails me, but don’t throw Orthodoxy out there as the one-size-fits-all band-aid that will finally do it for me. If Orthodoxy is the truth, let it speak for itself. You speak to me (when words are necessary) about what has brought goodness into your life.

    Our modern culture is all about brands. Everybody’s selling something, themselves included. Don’t demean Orthodoxy by making it stand in line and hawk its wares with all the other vendors. Simply allow it to live its life out in you – and let me see you living it, not trying to impress anyone with your Ortho-ness, but simply being.
    And then let ME have the revelation that Orthodoxy is the home I’ve been looking for.

    That is what I’m asking.

  21. fatherstephen says

    Drewster – briefly. Orthodoxy, if it is rightly professed, is the abolition of brands. But it’s hard to speak in our world and not be heard as “branding.” To a very important degree, I was renouncing brands when I entered the Orthodox Church, renouncing my right to choose, to make it up, to prefer one thing over another. When I entered the Church, with the immediate responsibility for a newly formed mission, it was within months of a terrible scandal at a nearby monastery. A group of monks, refusing the discipline of the Holy Synod, bolted from the OCA to ROCOR and created a great deal of confusion at the time. It’s all since been ironed out and healed. But the immediate mess through my mission into a terrible position. In short, I entered the Church in one of its uglier moments – a honeymoon with a bride that was not “comely.” It contributed to about 3 of the worst years in my life (I do not exaggerate).
    But, interestingly, I saw all of this for several months before we entered the Church. I entered with “eyes wide open.” But I entered – not in the hope of better things – but because I was renouncing everything else – everything else was choice and opinion. This alone was coming home – even if coming home meant stepping into a severely dysfunctional family. I’d do it again.
    I think it is possible to be a RC with the same mind. I do not think it is possible to be anything other than RC or Orthodox with that mind. I think it is possible to give ourselves to God always and everywhere with that mind (is there another way?).
    Before Orthodoxy, when I knew I was wrong (and yet was a functioning priest) where I was, and yet was not able to leave for various reasons, the best I could muster was to try to give myself to God with that mind, and beg for mercy. He is good and kind and gave me mercy.
    That was just some last thoughts.

  22. Karen says

    “Nothing in my life compares with the stability of 2,000 years of living Tradition. Stability means to live my life in the neighborhood of the Kingdom of God where the saints know my name and encourage or harrass me if necessary.”

    Thank you for this, Father. I am only beginning to occasionally remark and appreciate this truth in the sense of consciously reflecting on it, but somewhere deep within the intuitions that convicted me of the truth of Orthodoxy, this was a given. There is something very comforting about the fact that not only Christ, but also His Saints, know my name and can harrass me when necessary! :-)

  23. Michael Bauman says

    drewster2000: I cannot speak for anyone else nor will I attempt to. I have read many conversion stories over the years and from my biased view, the conversion stories to the Orthodox Church are qualitatively different than Protestant or Roman Catholic conversion stories, but that is colored by my bias. My bias is created by my own experience in body, mind and soul of the reality of Truth in the Orthodox Church.

    Everyone has a bias. Mine should be clear. That is the best that I can do. Each person’s path to salvation is unique even if the end is the same.

    As I have stated before, I can say nothing about those outside the Church unless they are practicing a heresy that the Church has defined, such as Calvinism. Even there, I can say nothing about the state of the soul of a particular person or how Christ’s mercy is working on that person. The real lesson to be learned from the definitions of heresy is how to guard one’s own heart rather than to look for it in others.

    As to your assertion that the truth need not be propagated: that seems un-Biblical to me.

    And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. Mark 16:15

    or

    And He was saying to them, “A lamp is not brought to be put under a basket, is it, or under a bed? Is it not brought to be put on the lampstand? For nothing is hidden, except to be revealed; nor has anything been secret, but that it would come to light. If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear.” And He was saying to them, “Take care what you listen to. By your standard of measure it will be measured to you; and more will be given you besides. For whoever has, to him more shall be given; and whoever does not have, even what he has shall be taken away from him.” MT 4:21-25

    My expostulation comes from my joy rather than a condemnation of anyone else. Both my wife and I were savaged after long years in the desert and in need of sustenance and healing. We received a particular grace and mercy to be together in the Church for which I rejoice daily. If you have that where you are, that is a gift from God and not to be gainsaid.

    The aim is the same: union with Christ in His Church which, like the Holy Trinity is one and undivided. He is calling us all out of the darkness and depravity of the world to sup with Him at His Holy Table in the Kingdom. He became Incarnate, suffered on the Cross, rose from the dead and ascended to accomplish that, and He shall come again in Glory to judge the quick and the dead to fulfill His work in time. Some will be shut out the Kingdom. That is why I pray for a good defense before the dread judgment seat of Christ and the salvation of others as well.

    I know without doubt that the Kingdom is revealed and accessible in the Orthodox Church. Whether I partake of Him as fully as possible or not, the opportunity is there and not only for me, but for anyone.

    Personally, I do not see it anywhere else, but I do not need to. All things are possible with God. Read Ephesians 4.

    Please forgive me. I did not intend to offend you or diminish you in any way.

  24. drewster2000 says

    Fr. Stephen,

    The thoughts are still whirling. Unfortunately your blog community often waits for no man and if I don’t make a reply now, the window of opportunity will quickly close on my fingers. So here is what I have at the moment:

    First Point:

    I do think one of the key problems we’re having here is how the term “Orthdoxy” is being used. Perhaps this is partly what you’re referring to when you say, “What happens in these turns of conversation is that “Church” becomes problematic, and we’re unable to say what Scripture says because of denominationalism, etc.”

    Obviously Jesus and the writers of the Bible don’t refer to “Orthodoxy” and what is often discussed here under that term is synonymous with “true Christianity, as laid down at the foundations of the church” or something to that effect. But this is often a different thing than that institution which exists and which cannot help being a denomination within the context of the modern Western religious world.

    Therefore we have this confusing situation where one person says that if you want to follow Christ, then you will become Orthodox (true Christian); and another person using the same words but meaning that you must become a member of my church – which is unimpressive and sounds like the hawking of wares in the religious marketplace, because countless other churchgoers have used that same phrase.

    Follow-up affirmations like “Yes, but we actually ARE the true church” don’t make the issue any clearer. Just as with the term “church”, “Orthodox” is commonly used without clarification – even in the mind of the speaker many times.

    Second Point:

    Though it may appear so in my use of language, it is not my intention to take the relativist position that my home is Orthodoxy, his home is Baptist, her home is whatever – and we’re all on equal footing.

    In fact my intentions are more focused on the individual than the organization. The term that comes to mind is “the Samaritan approach”. The starving or lame need food, water, medical attention, and not statements like “if only you were over here in our neighborhood or were a member of our club, then there would be resources galore and we could minister to you. But since you’re not….”

    Those outside of the canonical Orthodox fold are still human beings and still God’s children. My contention is that they should be looked upon as God’s children first and not continually reminded that they are non-Orthodox. There is just way too much of the world’s population that’s not labeled as Orthodox to make statements about them like, “I myself don’t see how they’ll make it into heaven, but we do know that God is merciful and so we just have to trust in that.” Words like this presume a whole lot. I am of course largely not speaking about participants of this blog but the sentiment is way too common in the Orthosphere.

    Like I said, all have fallen short of the glory of God. While none should wish to revise or update true Christianity, all people and organizations continually have to “change to remain the same”. While it can be tricky to know the dynamic from the static, it is nonetheless part of life – at least in this fallen world.

    Looking back on my words, it seems that we’ve probably covered some of this ground before. I can only thank you for your patience in helping work through from perhaps another angle.

    yours in Christ, drewster

  25. Merry Bauman says

    As the wife that Michael Bauman referred to, let me express what he was trying to relate to you. I was born into an Episcopal family and babtized as such. I went to both Episcopal and Methodist churches as I grew up. As a college student engaged to a Catholic, I decided I would become Catholic and at that time it was indeed the right place in my journey. Thru the years of marriage, babies, and eventually divorce, remarriage and widowhood, I pretty much went thru either studying, attending, or belonging to many different congregations and denominations. I went thru several years of not attending any church, because I was so fed up with the dogma and doctrines that were made up by men and not by God. I felt they only served to come between God and us. At some point I realized my soul hungered for something more, and I went to the local Catholic church to see about going there again. I was informed that I had to pay a large amount of money to have marriages not acknowledged by the Church to be annulled, and go thru a year of classes.
    My then grown children were furious at the idea of being the fruit of a marriage that was annulled – even on paper.
    I respected that, and after seeing the changes that had taken place in the Episcopal church knew I could not be a part of that either. I ended up at a very small and very special Native American Methodist church, where love, healing, and family are most important. When my husband died, I was very angry at God and in fact told him I hated Him – the pain was more than I could bear. I had only had two years with Shawn before he died – after having had a bad experience in the past for many years – with abuse and many traumas, including adultery, involved. My wonderful, loving, and faithful husband was taken from me only months after we married, and I could not understand why. (It took a while to see it was never about me at all, but about me bringing him to God and babtizing him before his death.)
    I went to the little Indian Church to see if God was still there for me, and I found incredible love, healing, and a place where God really touched my whole life again. Michael was brought into my life a year or so later. The Orthodox cathedral we attend had always been a place that I loved to look at and wondered about. I had been invited by the Chef that used to cook for the dinner theaters we had at our family winery, and he would tease me that I was Orthodox I just didn’t know it yet. I went with Michael because I was curious. The feelings I had were very complex, but he summed it up well with knowing I was home. I was truly in my Father’s house at last. That feeling has never left me, even when I was overwhelmed at the number of people there, and the rejection that was initally given to me when we wanted to marry. God had a plan for us, and it was so strong that it overcame all the problems in the way. It was not easy, but it has been a very blessed journey. The feeling I have is that for most of my life I was swimming in the “shallow end” of Christianity. Now I am in the “deep end” and it is so much MORE!! All those amazing Saints that really do love and want to help us, and of course our Holy Mother and Christ most of all. I have never experienced confession that was so powerful and meaningful.
    I don’t confess to a priest, but rather to God himself, and the priest goes with me rather like an older brother who goes with me to tell Dad something I have done wrong. Rather than being the one I confess to, he is there to share and to protect me. He does not give me absolution as in the Catholic church, or any penance, but rather he tells me to go forth with no further cares for these things which I have confessed. At my Chrismation, I was astounded to feel all of those burdens lifted and moved to an “archive file”. No longer bothering me but rather there for information only if needed. They were gone. I did not join a church or a denomination, I was truly transformed the day I was received into the Orthodox faith. I AM Orthodox, and I could never be happy with anything less ever again. I am home.
    P.S.
    You say you are happy with being RC and don’t want to be told you are missing anything. Yet you are on an Orthodox blog and obviously searching for something? Perhaps you should look deeper into what it is that brought you here?

  26. drewster2000 says

    Michael,

    You haven’t offended me in any way. For my part I hope I have taken nothing away from the beautiful story of you and your wife. That is a marvelous witness.

    You misunderstand my insistence that the truth need not be propagated. The joy in you flows out naturally. You’re not spreading the joy of your marriage and your conversion because you’re supposed to or because the scriptures tell you to, but because you are living that joy with your very life. It flows forth in your words here and I would bet in your actions as well.

    And if someone denies this joy, there is no obligation for you to prove it to them. Living it out with your life is more proof than any words can provide. If they deny your life, it is their loss and their blindness; it’s not your problem to fix somehow.

    As for Orthodoxy vs. other Christianity, I suspect I’m simply throwing up a caution. When someone says, “I am a part of the one true church” or “I follow the one true God,” the emphasis (because of our weakness) oh so quickly becomes what I do. We jump to the “I” and leave “the one true God” often a distant second.

    The antidote for this (as we know) is humility. By all means we should follow the one true God, but the focus should be on the act of following – and not on the fact that we’re doing a good thing that we can pat ourselves on the back for. It is the age-old enemy of pride that we all wrestle with.

    Essentially my comment probably wasn’t directed to you at all, so therefore it is my turn to ask your forgiveness if I’ve offended you.

  27. drewster2000 says

    Merry,

    I’m honored that you took the time to give me such a full account of your journey. Truly a testimony to share. Thanks for sharing it with me.

    And thanks for trying to proselytize me. (grin) Who knows?

  28. Dino says

    Drewster,
    my earlier comment was simply a quote from Met Nikolaos, I personally have little (to none at all) experience of ‘cross-denominational seeking’, so I couldn’t possibly know such a thing, I just thought it interesting.
    As far as the given that we all fall short and that love and humility are paramount, I certainly agree – absolutely.
    However, as what you would term a “born Orthodox”, I inevitably see things somewhat like this:
    Think of a game of archery. The arrows that are sharp and properly functioning are those of love and humility. The ones that lack these qualities are blunted to the point of simply bouncing straight off the target -even if they hit bull’s eye. The target is perhaps believing in Christ as God, but bull’s eye is only Orthodoxy.
    The fact that experience teaches us more and more about the paramount importance of what bow and arrows one uses does not change the importance of hitting bull’s eye… Come to think of it this image I cooked up would work much better if it was reversed so that the right bow and arrows are Right (Ortho) faith (doxy) and bull’s eye is humility and love! Sorry for the rushed comment :-)

  29. Michael Bauman says

    Ah…archery. The English word sin comes from the Latin archery term for missing the mark.

    As any good archer knows it is humility and obedience that allow the arrow to fly straight and true to the center of the target. The bow does the work. The more ‘effort’ the archer puts into the shot, the more off target the shot will be. However, the arrows must be matched to the bow too so that they will respond properly to the force the string transmits when loosed and the bow must be properly tuned for maximum efficiency.

    The top recurve archer in the world, winner of the Olympic Gold Medal at the last Olympics is a Korean who is legally blind. He can’t even see the targets he shoots at with any clarity (a 48 cm target, 70 meters away in the Olympics). He simply shoots with great joy and in perfect obedience to the form his coach has taught him with exquisite awareness of that form at any given time.

    At 90 meters (a football field away) he can hit the center of the target (about the size of a grapefruit) almost 100% of the time. It is impossible to shoot consistently if one is worried, angry or otherwise disturbed or even doubting.

    The Zen archers of Japan actually don’t even see a difference between the bow, the arrow and the target. They loose the bow and the arrow just is where it is supposed to be, already one. The more one discerns a distinction between the arrow and the target, the less accurate one is.

    Korean archers, consistently the best in the world holding almost all of the team and individual world records, start training at a young age. They train for up to six months just on how to hold the bow and draw the string without any arrow in the bow. Then they train for an equally long time drawing the bow with the arrow in it, but not loosing it. Then just on proper release without a numbered target, often with their eyes close a few feet from the target.

    When they are finally allowed to shoot for score, they often achieve world-class results from the get to.

    I think Dino, we are the arrows, God is the archer. We have to allow Him to make us and form us so that we are fit for His bow and be as obedient as a well-formed arrow as it flies from that bow to wherever God aims.

  30. drewster2000 says

    Michael,

    Very good analogy. In fact so good that it will take me some time to drink it all in. Once again, thank you.

  31. Michael Bauman says

    Archery is fascinating. I loved my time and my son’s time in the sport. A lot to learn from it.

  32. Jon says

    Fr. Stephen,
    After reading through these comments I am wondering more about my previous question regarding “staying put” or “going home.” I appreciate your comment that it is possible to find the gift-beyond-choosing that is Christ’s one church in both RC and Orthodoxy (personally, I am done trying to choose between the two, that road seems to me a dead end). I wrestle with whether it is not possible to find it anywhere else. It seems to me that to make such an assertion one has to turn RC and Orthodoxy back into brands, the very thing you are rightly rejecting.

    If we take seriously that the church flows from the life of the Triune God, and that in baptism the Spirit engrafts us into Christ, and consequently Christ’s body, then we must acknowledge that protestant Christians are part of the Church. Their union is not pretend. This is necessarily true, not because there are churches, but precisely because there is only one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church. It seems to me that to deny this is not to deny protestant communions, but to deny the work of the Spirit, both in Protestantism and in catholicism (whether RC or O). This is not to say all communions are created equal, only that each communion is equally a place where the same Spirit is at work. Protestant communions are, of course, horribly disfigured, perhaps especially because they think of themselves as one of many churches. The intentional rejection of some portion of the fullness of faith, and the reality of heresy embedded in the confessional nature of some traditions, is a reality and isn’t to be minimized. There are good reasons for the absence of Eucharistic fellowship–not as an expression of rejection, but as an expression of love longing. (To speak truthfully, I am not including the lack of Eucharistic fellowship between RC and O. In my opinion this division only excuses protestant division in a real way and is a serious scandal.)

    This, though, is where my original question comes in. Protestant churches are full of people who are truly seeking to follow Christ. It is problematic if all of those who catch a glimpse of the catholicity of the church leave for RC or Orthodoxy. It seems that it might deprive the respective communion of a vision of the church that is a gift of the Spirit. Staying, of course, is not romantic. It is often gut wrenching and full of heart ache.

    This is not an abstract question. I am a Presbyterian minister. As much as I long for the catholicity, fullness, and unity of Christ’s church, I struggle with how best to manifest that longing. Heading to RC or Orthodoxy would, on a personal level, be a relief, even though such a move would bring troubles of its own in other ways. Staying put and seeking, in baby steps, to interpret the reformed tradition toward its catholic roots is a much more lonely existence, but perhaps necessary. (This last is as much a question as it is a statement.)

    Or course, the call of God is most significant in all this. Yet God is often more silent than we would prefer.

    Come Lord Jesus.

  33. fatherstephen says

    Jon,
    These really are hard questions. Because “Church” is both an inherited reality as well as something of a “decision,” it is difficult. We have inherited a sinful situation – certainly one created by sin – and often established by sin – but not mine or yours. There are some who have found the “ethnicity” of Orthodoxy (meaning “not English or white American” in most cases) to be troublesome. “Why should I have to become a Russian to be saved?” someone once asked me. I haven’t become a Russian, but I find I am deeply indebted to a culture that was never my own.

    But we have inherited a problem. This is part of what Fr. Georges Florovsky described as the Tragedy of Western Christianity:

    “A historiosophical exegesis of the western religious tragedy must become the new ‘polemical theology.’ But this tragedy must be reendured and relived, precisely as one’s own, and its potential catharsis must be demonstrated in the fullness of the experience of the Church and patristic tradition. In this newly sought Orthodox synthesis, the centuries-old experience of the Catholic West must be studied and diagnosed by Orthodox theology with greater care and sympathy than has been the case up to now… The Orthodox theologian must also offer his own testimony to this world — a testimony arising from the inner memory of the Church — and resolve the question with his historical findings.”

    Mind you, Florovsky was one of the founders of the World Council of Churches. He thought that dialog was deeply important. What you have described, to an extent, is part of the “western religious tragedy.” It is not just a mistaken turn in the faith, but has become pretty much an intractable problem – certainly one that does not admit of easy correction (if any).

    A greater Eucharistic understanding, for example, as witnessed in the writings of Fr. Alexander Schmemann, is part of Orthodox “witness,” in our world. I would like to think that my little “One-Storey Universe,” might make a small contribution. Some, like me, will feel the tragedy so deeply, and in such an existential manner, than only a return to Orthodoxy would suffice. I say a “return” to Orthodoxy, in that I believe it is the common root of all Christianity. My Anglicanism certainly allowed me a tremendous latitude to study and appropriate the teaching of the fathers. I am convinced, 15 years into Orthodoxy, that my reading would have barely broken the surface. I need “total immersion!” which Orthodoxy affords.

    Florovsky writes at length on the “Limits of the Church.” There is describes the Church continuing to exist, in a limited fashion, within the sects and among the heretics. It’s nuanced, but well reasoned by him, as always. It’s worth the 15-20 minutes it takes to read. I should add that Leonard would find Florovsky’s use of the term “valid,” quite comforting, just as I find it confounding, and wish that he had not used it. That said…

    I cannot tell someone else what they should do – and I never have, at least in the context of the Church. Seek God, turn to the Fathers. Learn about the Mother of God and become her friend, regardless of where you are. God is indeed at work “beyond the limits” as Florovsky suggests. He is not trying to create a new “ecumencial” definition of the One Church, but tries to articulate a troublesome aspect of the Church’s life.

    My sense of “coming home,” reminds me of CS Lewis’ description of hell and heaven. It’s sort of a “retroactive” thing. For the man who finds himself in heaven, everything will have always led him there, and everything will be taken up into heaven. For the man who finds himself in hell, even the good he has done will be like ashes – everything becoming hell in the end. That’s my paraphrase.

    I once told an audience of Anglican priests-inquirers that “I was born Orthodox…but I lived in schism with myself for 45 years.” Wherever you are – be yourself – be your true self as much as possible. The mystery covers us – even if it seems to be a shroud of thick darkness at times.

  34. Margaret says

    Thank you, Fr. Stephen, both for this post and for your encouraging words in the previous comment. God bless all you do!

  35. mary benton says

    This is a wonderful discussion – really too much to read at one sitting. However, as drewster indicated, sometimes if we don’t comment or ask our questions now the opportunity is lost.

    Fr. Stephen – I have a question and I realize it will sound absurd, given the fact that I’ve been reading your blog for nearly a year now… What is Orthodoxy?

    I am asking this because I pick up two different ways in which the term is used. (I am elaborating on drewster’s theme a bit, I think.)

    One usage is that Orthodoxy is the living of human life in the full truth of Christianity. It is “the Church”, not as a human organization or a house of worship but as the Body of Christ in the world. It is in that sense an ideal (for lack of a better word), believed in but necessarily lived out imperfectly by the sinful but repenting people who call themselves “Orthodox”.

    The other usage refers more to “Orthodoxy” as a church that operates in a certain way and with certain doctrines and practices, e.g. the scandal was resolved by a certain method; it clearly operates apart from “Rome” and the papacy; it requires certain study/preparation for full entrance, etc. This is perhaps more the “brand” usage of the word, referred to above.

    If we step away from brands, is it possible that a person could be “Orthodox” in the first sense, with ample grace from God, without ever actually attending an Orthodox (brand) church? Or are the two usages inseparable?

    I realize that for you, as an Orthodox priest, they are likely inseparable. For those of us genuinely striving (but also imperfectly) to live out the first meaning while not engaged in usage #2, there is a quandary. You have already done much to try to address this – can you offer a bit more?

    (As a personal aside, I read your blog because you are an excellent writer who, with others who comment, deepen my understanding of Christianity and keep me thinking and growing in faith. Although I cannot know if this will ever change, it does not leave me feeling at this point that I need to attend a different church, in the #2 sense.)

  36. fatherstephen says

    Mary,
    It certain carries both meanings. Of course there is no inner life that can be utterly abstracted from its material/social existence. That would be a form of gnosticism, I think (very common these days). I have heard it said jokingly, “I could be a great Christian if it weren’t for all the other Christians!”

    Thus, Orthodoxy is the inner life (not just an ideal, but the true inner life) of the Orthodox Church. The history, liturgical/ascetical/hierarchical/monastic/ethos of the Orthodox Church is, we believe, an inherent part of Holy Tradition, which we believe is the Life of God lived out in the Church. Just as the Incarnate Christ could have been photographed (the Shroud?), so we can describe, in time, the reality of the Orthodox Church. However, Christ’s “Divinity,” could not be photographed, except in the hypostatic union.

    The Church exists in the same manner.

    The members of the Church constitute the precious Body of Christ, within which the ultimate goal of the Christian life is participation in the deified humanity of Jesus Christ. Moreover, this salvation through participation is accomplished through the Holy Spirit in the sacramental life of the Church. The Orthodox Church experiences and expresses its theology in worship. This accounts for the survival of the Church in times of turmoil. It was this liturgical dimension of the Church that encouraged and educated Orthodox faithful during the four hundred years of Ottoman occupation of Byzantium (1453–1821), as well as more recently during persecutions in postrevolutionary Russia during the early to mid-twentieth century.

    Bartholomew, Patriarch (2008-03-18). Encountering the Mystery:

    Had there been no Great Schism nor a Protestant Reformation, Christians would still call themselves “Orthodox” as they did before those two sad events. Its original meaning was those who believed, worshipped and remained in the communion of the Apostolic faith, as opposed to those who rejected the canons, doctrines, worship and communion of the Church. Today, it still has the same meaning. We live under the same unchanged canons, under Bishops in the same succession, in the same liturgical practice (other than for translations into new languages), with the same Monastic rule and practice, the same ascetic rules in effect, etc. It also has the same problem with sin and corruption. But nobody has found a way to reform the Church in such a manner as to eliminate either.

    It’s in this sense of its existence that I think of it as “going home.” It’s where we came from. It still smells of the Holy Land, some say. Its inner consciousness remains unreformed, uncounterreformed, unenlightened, unmodernized, etc. The words of the fathers, particularly in the extensive, even massive hymnography that fills the hours of worship, form a spiritual baptism into which believers are constantly immersed. Some benefit far more than others, either by understanding, or by effort, or by both. There is no “essence” of Orthodoxy, or even such a thing as a “low Mass.” The liturgy I serve on a Tuesday is at least as long as the one liturgy allowed on a Sunday (there cannot be more than one liturgy on an altar on a Sunday – except for certain exceptions – quite rare). You can never be in a hurry with Orthodox worship. It will simply crush you if you are.

    Those aren’t “sales points.” They’re just descriptions of what happens and what things are.

    My favorite definition of the word Ortho-doxa is “Right worship” or “Right Glory,” for the life of the Church is primarily expressed in its endless worship of the One God in Trinity. Theology is meant to be sung.

    It is, I think, a profound expression of what it means to stay put.

    Don’t just stand there, Sing!

  37. Jon says

    Fr. Stephen,

    Again, thank you for your thoughts, and the links. More for me to consider. I do appreciate the spirit of Orthodoxy from the very little I have read, and your reflections further that sentiment. Some years ago I considered conversion, though a scandal among the bishops proved to be greater than my confidence in the fullness of orthodoxy. (And, to be fair, not a small amount of fear regarding leaving ministry and finding a way to support my family.) While wrestling I met an Antiochian priest who was the holiest man I have ever encountered. There is no flattery in that statement, though I am sure he would not have accepted it. He truly seemed to radiate from an inner light. His lived testimony to the power of the Spirit to heal and renew the heart within an Orthodox rhythm of life made a profound impression. I do not know why I am sharing this exactly. I suppose I intend it in the same way you might meet a stranger and in conversation discover that you once met his or her sibling, and share a conversation you once had with them, and the gift that was the encounter. His name is Fr. Michael, memory eternal.

    Thank you for your blog, it is a blessing that casts a wide net.

    The peace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with you.

  38. Dino says

    I have heard this two or three times on Mount Athos concerning the work of Grace ‘outside of Orthodoxy’ (this was particularly concerning schismatics to be clear and more precise). I cannot vouch for or against it, I simply find it has a definite ring of wisdom that is not in any discord with my very little experience in the matter and some of it could be applicable to this conversation:

    Anyone can encounter God’s grace in immense strength, even ‘outside’ – however, only one who is also part of the living tradition (Orthodoxy) can be trusted as a discerning guide/teacher, free from delusion

  39. Dino says

    In my mind, the tragic predicament we find ourselves in the West and in the westernized East can be summed up to very little, even if quite a few words are needed to transmit this to another.
    I largely agree with all Florovsky says, but in the experience of those astonishingly ascetic “beholders of God” (such as Elder Aimilianos, Elder Joseph the Hesychast) who were also great discerning pedagogues, -able to teach others their ways- it seems that the one thing needful, the main problem (whether we call this a ‘western calamity’ or a ‘falling away from true Orthodoxy’) is the lack of what one could describe with various terms – that all signify no more than the same simple notion:
    Nepsis, (as opposed to discursive reasonings)
    first-hand experience, (as opposed to second-hand studies and ‘knowledge)
    Hesychasm, (the humble stillness opposed to self-propelled ‘activism)

  40. fatherstephen says

    Dino, I believe this to be the case as well. The failings within Orthodoxy, within my parish, my life, stem from the same problem. The only cure for separation from God is union with God.

  41. mary benton says

    “The only cure for separation from God is union with God.”

    Simple, but profoundly true.

  42. Michael Bauman says

    Fr. Stephen & Dino, et. al. RE: First-hand experience

    Before I came to the Church, I was hungry for a real, intimate communion with God as were many of my age and time. I went astray at first though not as far as some others who were lost in the fog of drugs, the occult or emotional hysteria of various types or became so hardened they turned aside.

    When I first tried the Jesus Prayer before coming into the Church it started bringing up so much sin I didn’t know what to do with it. I had no where to go with the knowledge of my own darkness. I stopped.

    It would not take too much imagination to see someone really being overcome by such experience. I wonder sometimes about the wide availability of the descriptions of certain practices without the direction of being in the Church, His Body. They can easily be twisted to a personalized occult approach to ‘spirituality’. Met. Valachos’ books come to mind particularly.

    Another aspect of oneness is the seamless integration of belief and practice in the life of the Church.

    When I found the Church and read Fr. Myendorff’s book on St. Gregory of Palamas I knew I had the safety and the guidance to open myself to God without fear of getting lost. Here was real experience of the living God, Jesus Christ WITH the structures and connections to be safe.

    That is one of the things that the saints of the Church teach me–the experience of God is never only about oneself, even for the hermit.

    The community (communion) is the heart of the experience in which we are connected at all times to the Holy Trinity, the person of Jesus Christ and one another: past, present and future while our own unique personhood is revealed and burnished.

    The doctrine and praxis of the Church is both the safe Ark of salvation, the catalyst for and the crucible of transformation. If any of the ingredients are a little off, either no transformation will occur or give unpredictable results.

    Since the transformation offered and allowed us in the Church is on the nature of a long-running scientific experiment as it can be clearly shown that if someone follows the spiritual practice of the Church in humility and obedience, transformation will occur. God will be revealed in one’s heart despite the darkness there and around us. I wonder why everybody can’t see it.

    I’ve experienced the corrosive effects of participating in heretical practices and beliefs and being led by false teachers out of ignorance and arrogance.

    I don’t see the same fruit anywhere else, even in the RCC. Maybe there is more similarity than I am able to see.

    I’m thinking out loud here BTW as a way to ask about the best way to communicate such experience without it leading people astray into woo-woo land or making it seem so subjective as to be worthless or only available to the greatest saints. I guess it is really about proper spiritual formation in the various practices of the Church?

    Worship in community
    Repentance/forgiveness
    Prayer/Scripture reading
    Almsgiving (as Fr. Stephen pointed out is not just giving money, but mercy and kindness)
    Fasting (from passions as well as food).
    Developing virtues

    Proper understanding of doctrine also needs to be part of spiritual formation which almost always seems to being with discursive reasoning–especially for converts–does it not?

    Sorry for the meander.

  43. Dino says

    Mary,
    Truth be told, you are one of those markedly Orthodox sounding Roman Catholics though…

  44. Dino says

    Michael,
    that: “I had nowhere to go with the knowledge of my own darkness”
    is -in general- a huge blessing though, is it not?
    Dark though it may be (that feeling), man desires that dispassion, that freedom from slavery that it grants.
    Keeping one’s mind in that darkness and despairing not is what Fr. Sophrony calls “Blessed despair”. With the aid of a spiritual Father one can practice the Jesus prayer in that place – undistracted…
    Absorbed in that healthy self-hate, that blessed despair due to our darkness, that compunctionate contrition mixed with the sweet and joyful hope in nothing but God’s grace, one finds themselves having become the soil in which true Love can finally be planted.
    That terrible ‘double knowledge’ of our nothingness, our irresistible sinfulness and ego-mania on the one hand, and God’s omnipotent transformative grace on the other, is the entry into the land of the “self-forgetfulness” of those who actually do carry out Christ’s two commandments to the full: pure Love of the Lord and through the Lord.

  45. Michael Bauman says

    Granted, Dino, in the Church what you say is possible, but I had only just heard of the Church and knew nothing of the truth. I was effective alone with no guide. It was the blind leading the blind at best.

  46. mary benton says

    Dino –

    I realize that you are speaking in a spiritual manner that is meaningful to you but I am uncomfortable with your words, “Absorbed in that healthy self-hate, that blessed despair due to our darkness”.

    While I have a sense of your meaning, I do not think that “self-hate” can ever be healthy. God does not want us to hate ourselves, even when in our unrepentant state. Hatred of self often keeps people from accepting the love of God because they feel unlovable in their broken state. And I don’t think that despair can ever be “blessed” as despair is, by definition, hopelessness. (Not that I am wise enough to “disagree” with Fr. Sophrony…)

    To me, the true message is that we must know that we truly NEED God in order to: (1) accept that we ourselves are not god, and (2) submit our wills completely to the true God. Some people may discover this message while traveling the painful terrain of self-hate and despair, but I don’t think that the latter are necessary or desirable in themselves.

    “The land of self-forgetfulness”, on the other hand, is quite different and truly a grace. To realize that I am nothing in this land is not terrible, but the fullness of joy.

  47. mary benton says

    Michael –

    I am truly grateful for the beautiful sharing you (and your wife) have been doing about your experience of transformation. I thank God for what He has done in your lives – but also for what He has done in mine, though by a very different path.

    There is only one Way, but each path to the Way is very individual. I say this only as testimony that Christ can find me and take me to Himself in the RCC – and I believe He can do so in other spiritual traditions as well. While I acknowledge that the RCC, as human organization, has significant flaws, those flaws do not stop Christ. And the same may be true of many other paths that people find themselves on, by birth or cultural experience.

    This is not to say all paths are equal. But it does mean that Christ’s universal gift of salvation cannot be limited. So let us rejoice when any soul, genuinely seeking, finds the Way through God’s endless grace and mercy.

    (I realize my view puts me a bit at odds with you, Fr. Stephen, but I do not think we are so terribly far apart as it may seem.)

  48. Dino says

    Mary,
    I certainly cannot say I disagree with you!
    The terms “self-hatred” and “blessed despair” are obviously open to misunderstanding -especially in our day and age. That is part of the reason I used a little bit of a safety-net with the adjective “healthy” before ‘self-hatred’.
    Christ does not even use that safety-net though, when he calls us to “hate father, mother, wife, children, brethren, sisters, and even self ” (Luke 14:26).
    It is reminiscent of Saint Isaac the Syrian’s powerful proclamation that man is always at a disadvantage in the quest for perfection, for the Cross, for Love (partly due to his natural self preservation instinct) until “he decides death for himself”, as nothing can befall him that is greater than what he himself has decided he deserves when that is death. This makes manifest the connection between St Silouan’s “keep thy mind in hell and despair not” and all the martyr’s amazingly joyful headlong rush to their torture…!!
    Without this understanding we cannot achieve unshakeable joy – “Rejoicing in sufferings” (Colossians 1:24)
    You are very correct and discerning in pointing out that “self-forgetfulness” is higher still. It is. However, it is understandable that many fervent ascetics will start their first steps in a ‘mixture’ of grace, zeal, enthusiasm, exultation, and daring audacity (containing a measure of delusion perhaps), which will all be eventually “purified” through experience and a discerning spiritual Father.
    Besides, we can rest assured that there exists a completely healthy form of feeling “unworthy of His love” (albeit so easily misunderstood by one who is brought up in our modern ‘western’ times), that is actually 100% (not just 99%) trusting of God’s infinitely unconditional and magnanimous Love. You cannot get to 100% another way!
    And you cannot get to the ‘certainty’ of being 100% healthy until you can easily embrace and maintain that humility as humility and not as something perverse or unhealthy…
    This is a key reason people misunderstand Fr. Sophrony’s “blessed despair” (which is nothing other than different term for “total hope in God alone“) as well as all the Saints that unreservedly proclaim the Cross.

  49. Dino says

    And on top of that, bear in mind that destitute of the “umbilical chord” of the ‘Jesus prayer’ as practised in the Orthodox tradition, “blessed despair” is invariably open to gross misunderstanding.

  50. Dino says

    Moreover, RCC has had a certain history of the ‘perverse form’ of self-hatred (“αὐτομίσος”), whereas Orthodox hesychasm in particular has conserved its perfectly healthy variety and clearly guarded its children from any perverse variety (that would remind a modern westerner of self-mutilation or some other similar -diametrically opposed to the healthy variety- notion).

  51. Victor says

    Thank you for this Fr.,

    I grew up in rural Nova Scotia and if I was picked up hitch-hiking (something it was perfectly safe to do there and then) the first question the driver would ask was usually “Whose boy are you?” or “What’s your father’s name?” They wanted my father’s first name, not the last name and they wanted his father’s name too, and so on. A typical reply would be something like “John George Michael the Barber”. Living in the city as I now do occasionally brings pains me in its transiency as I remember that world of stability and the right comfort it brings to life.
    Victor

  52. Anna says

    Michael Bauman, you say:

    “I cannot speak for anyone else nor will I attempt to. I have read many conversion stories over the years and from my biased view, the conversion stories to the Orthodox Church are qualitatively different than Protestant or Roman Catholic conversion stories, but that is colored by my bias. My bias is created by my own experience in body, mind and soul of the reality of Truth in the Orthodox Church.”

    I fully agree. That goes not only for what I’ve read, but also for talking face to face to several Orthodox converts, and maybe a couple RC converts. And I’m probably biased as well, but a bias based on personal experience.

    Merry Bauman,

    Thank you for sharing your touching story. This feeling of finally being home is something that many converts share, from what I’ve read and heard, but also from personal experience. As a cradle Orthodox not raised as such by my family, who discovered Orthodoxy on my own, I’m also a sort of a convert. Also, when from various reasons (being very busy, or in a foreign country) I spend a longer time not entering a church, going to liturgy or to vespers for the first time always feels like coming home.

  53. Anna says

    Concerning the converts to RC or other denominations having the same experience and feelings as the converts to Orthodoxy:

    Only God has the kind of knowledge of the hearts of men required to objectively make this comparison. We humans can speak out of our own experience and our limited perception and understanding of other people’s experiences. My personal experience in discovering Orthodoxy is matched, if not overcome, by the experience of many people who were raised RC or Protestant and converted to Orthodoxy. Some of them I’ve met and talked to them about it in detail; many others I haven’t met, but read their conversion stories on the internet. Their quest was a quest for the truth (Truth?), for the true and ultimate meaning of the human life and the universe. In the Orthodox Church, they (we) felt like we have come home, to the end of the journey, having found the Truth. On the other hand, I’ve met two or maybe three people who converted to RC, as well as some who say they “are Orthodox but also love the Catholic Church(!)”, and who give as their reasons the earthly accomplishments of the RCC (beautiful art, Pope John Paul II, bigger numbers of church members, having the Pope as a visible head of the church and symbol of church unity). To each their own.

    As I think Fr. Stephen stated (Father, bless!), Orthodoxy is not relativist. The Orthodox Church has kept faithfully the teachings received from the Apostles, who received them from Jesus Christ Himself, while other Christian communities innovated upon them more or less. (I know this is going to sound insufferably presumptuous to those outside the Orthodox Church, but it’s the historical truth.) There are even points of divergence (small as they may seem, but actually quite significant) between the Orthodox Church and the RCC. Two opposite views cannot be both true (which would be relatitivism.) The Orthodox will hold fast to the fullness of Truth found in the Orthodox Church, including by being skeptical about spiritual experiences outside the Church, or at best agnostic (leaving these judgments to God, the only One who can see inside the hearts of men).

    The Orthodox will not proselytise. The Orthodox know that all those who seek the Truth shall find Him. God knows how to speak to the hearts, from the inside (planting seeds of good thoughts, of good curiosity towards the Truth) and from the outside (“setting up” in our path a beautiful church, perhaps some books and blogs, perhaps some meetings with the right people…) but He never works through coercion. He stands at the door and knocks, waiting for us to open the door of our heart so that He can enter.

  54. Grant Hudson says

    “The Orthodox will not proselytise. The Orthodox know that all those who seek the Truth shall find Him. God knows how to speak to the hearts, from the inside (planting seeds of good thoughts, of good curiosity towards the Truth) and from the outside (“setting up” in our path a beautiful church, perhaps some books and blogs, perhaps some meetings with the right people…) but He never works through coercion. He stands at the door and knocks, waiting for us to open the door of our heart so that He can enter.”

    Well put, Anna.

  55. says

    Dino,

    For many years in the Roman rite, I catechized and directed parish RCIA in an orthodox Catholic diocese and area where there are many Orthodox, eastern Catholic and Roman rite parishes. I am eastern Catholic and I’ve spent years very close to Orthodoxy. Your idea that we are spiritually opposite and your view on converts to the Catholic Church is far too cramped and narrow to express many of the realities.

    In Christ’s peace,

    M.

  56. drewster2000 says

    Dino says: “Moreover, RCC has had a certain history of the ‘perverse form’ of self-hatred (“αὐτομίσος”), whereas Orthodox hesychasm in particular has conserved its perfectly healthy variety and clearly guarded its children from any perverse variety (that would remind a modern westerner of self-mutilation or some other similar -diametrically opposed to the healthy variety- notion).”

    This brings up a point of disagreement for me. I don’t believe that any human organization has kept it all perfectly. I see some churches having a fuller expression of the truth and the faith than others, but I don’t see any of them as having preserved everything perfectly from the beginning.

    And here again I believe we have a confusion of terms. Most people here readily admit that Orthodox churches today (and always) share the problems of sin and scandal with the rest of the world, but it seems like they will silently change their usage of the word in the next sentence and then say that Orthodoxy has preserved the true faith and has remain uncorrupted.

    Sometimes I think I know what is meant but even then it seems like an unintentional deception is being put forth – and also that being Orthodox means it’s compulsory to end every discussion with, “yes, but we’re right!”

    I believe the crux of the matter is to start with “we’re all God’s children” and then build on from there. Believe me, I know that this last statement sounds WAY too simplistic and that it is merely a reaction to the current discussion, but hopefully it will be taken in the right spirit.

    I’m certainly not advocating that the Orthodox just throw open their doors and say that we’re all one, but I’d much rather they talk about the movement of God in their lives and the wisdom of the saints that they’ve been reading than about how right they are.

    And now I will pause to admit that I may in fact be hyper-sensitive to this issue and therefore overreacting.

  57. Victor says

    Drewster,

    You may have heard this before but I’ll chime in just in case. I have a responsibility to believe that the truth remains uncorrpted in the Body of Christ, the Church, whole, intact and without spot or stain.

    I also have a duty to know that I am the weakest holder of that truth, the worst example of how it should be practiced and that I have stained my baptismal garment countless times, causing scandal and sin wherever I loathsomely shamble.

    May God be our help

  58. fatherstephen says

    Mary, you catechized in an “orthodox Catholic diocese and area” That you needed to say that the diocese was “orthodox” is part of the crisis today.

  59. Michael Bauman says

    Mary, speaking for my own understanding of what happened and in the perspective of the Church, Dino’s words are absolutely correct and no others would actually describe what happened. I know exactly what he means. In a sense, I knew what it was at the time in 1985. It is still fresh in my memory. I simply had no way to process the experience then. I find it interesting that it is resurfacing now.

    Trying to respond to your objection, I simply cannot find any other words than the ones Dino used to describe it. I can only say that comes from a deep connection with Jesus Christ and that is what allows Dino’s description to be a proper and healthy one. It is in no way a self-flagellation nor does it partake of despair in the normal sense of the word. If I were a poet, I might be able to do a better job. So many layers and nuance and richness to it.

    That is one of the difficulties in communicating the living reality of the Church.

    The rational thought processes of the brain hardly even get a person to the door of the Church. It is an act of faith to enter with the intent of seeing, hearing and experiencing.

    The are some understandings that come at each step of the journey that cannot be known until you take the step and are far deeper than the merely rational.

    That gives real meaning to the Pauline dictum: “Faith is the substance of things hoped for.”

    Rest in the riddle of the words of our elders. Allow them to softly and gently penetrate the defenses of your conscious mind and receive them in the quite place within. At the proper time the Holy Spirit will enliven them for you.

  60. Michael Bauman says

    drewster2000: The Church is a hypostatic union between the divine/human person of Jesus Christ (and the Holy Trinity) with creation. Unlike Jesus, our divine/human union is filled with the sin of our rebellion.

    As with Jesus Christ, we poor human folk in our rational mind cannot comprehend the reality of “fully human, fully divine”… we just can’t do it. So we make up all kinds of formulas to resolve the tension. Each of those formulas takes us a step away from the truth. Enough steps and one has a full blown heresy that damages souls.

    Not saying you are there that is not for me to know or judge. I’m describing the process.

    In today’s relativist, egalitarian age the Orthodox Church, even as the fullness of the truth, let alone as THE Church is an impossibility.

    As I said in my previous post, such realities are not understood, believed or even properly encountered outside the Church.

    Not to be redundant, but my wife is right. If you want to know the truth, come and see with an open mind and heart. Put the past pains, hurts and disappointments behind you for one day, suspend your disbelief for two hours and allow the grace, mercy and love of Christ and His Church pour over your wounded and striving soul. Even if you don’t continue into the Church, you will never be the same.

  61. says

    Michael & Merry,

    Your stories & insights are beautiful! Thank you for sharing them with us :-) Both of you, please keep posting your very insightful thoughts.

    Well said about the difference in conversion stories between the East & West. Protestantism has actually lost its insight into true conversion by favoring only the titillating & ear-tingling conversions. In my experience even as a Protestant, such conversions are not the norm. For most theirs is a faith story of spiritual struggle over a life that just isn’t valued.

    I recently applied to work with a transition center for ex-inmates run by Protestants. Fully 1/2 of the back of the application was space for one to write, including the date, about how & when one was saved. My “conversion story” included 3 dates (Baptism & 1st Communion as a Presbyterian, Chrismation into the Orthodox Church) & how God had guided my salvation throughout my life & still was. Despite working 18 years as a supervisor in the penal system, a masters in criminal justice, & reference from 1 of several ex-inmates I have assisted in their transition outside of my work, I didn’t get the job…only questions…Was I really a Christian? (Yes, definitely) Was I Catholic? (Yes, but Orthodox, not Roman) Was I Greek? (No, redneck American mutt). In the end it was my answer to “Do you read the Bible? How often?” & “Do you pray? How often?” that did me in with “Yes, Daily” & “Yes, Twice Daily” respectively. Daily spiritual reading was good, but twice daily morning & evening prayers were just too much ;-) A comment was made that if one had the energy for prayer in the evening, then one obviously hadn’t worked hard enough for God during the day! Gee, who knew? The Lord was merciful ;-)

  62. Dino says

    drewster,
    please don’t ponder on that ‘point of disagreement’! the crux is as you rightfully say, that we are all God’s children, and we make strides towards the Truth by remembering that… It is simply that -in the context of this conversation- the further away we are from “bull’s eye” (to avoid using the term “OC” which is understood differently according to one’s experience), the easier it is to misunderstand terms such as “self-hatred” the way they are used in that ‘domain’…

  63. Michael Bauman says

    Rhonda, Wow. OK. Amazing. Too much prayer? Did you think to comment with St. Paul’s words on praying unceasingly? Probably not, I’m sure I would not have in the moment.

    I wonder sometimes what Bible many Protestants read.

  64. Michael Bauman says

    Dino, I want to explicitly say how much I appreciate your participation here. Thank you and may the blessings of God continue to be with you and your family.

  65. says

    Michael,

    No, I did not mention St. Paul’s call for unceasing prayer nor King David’s 7x daily prayer routine. By now I had taken the hint that I was definitely “unwelcome” due to my Faith despite what was being said.

    Another thing they noted was my tendency to say “Scripture or Holy Scripture” rather than “Bible” ;-) Don’t you know? They read the Schofield KJV that miraculously appeared in 1611 all neatly bound & typeset in perfect king’s English! Although, that Apocrypha at the back is a definite nuisance, it does add much needed weight to knock your opponent out :-P

  66. says

    Drewster,
    I feel for you in your predicament. I have been there more than once in my life. I offer just some comments…if you feel they are helpful, great…if not, then please ignore them….no offense will be taken. Also, no offense is intended. This is long so I will break it down into smaller comments, otherwise it will get caught in Fr. Stephen’s spam filter.

    “I don’t believe that any human organization has kept it all perfectly.”
    Fr. Alexander Schmemann said, “The Church is not an institution with sacraments (mysteries). It is a sacrament (mystery) with institutions.”

    IOW the Church is not a human organization with a bunch of neat religious stuff tacked on. There are many religious groups out there in which this is the case, far too many IMO. I have noted the rise over the past decade in mega-churches that are little more than glorified self-help groups, religious organizations that are little more business franchises & religious groups that are little more than entertainment venues. Such “human organizations” cannot maintain the true Faith perfectly, as you rightly note. They do not have the Faith as their first, main or only priority & the “neat religious stuff” is rapidly changed when the faithful grow bored.

    Rather the Church is “the mystery” (sacrament) with a bunch of humans tacked on; humans that are fallen & sinful, but most of which are truly trying to work out their salvation. There are daily “business” tasks to be done (paying the bills, cleaning the facilities, planning & organizing for services & etc.), but they are done with the primary purpose of the Faith & the salvation of the faithful, not with the purpose of furthering the “business” in which the often comes at the expense of the faithful.

    “I see some churches having a fuller expression of the truth and the faith than others,…”
    Most Orthodox Christians would agree with you that bits & pieces of the Orthodox Faith can be found in the theology &/or practices of most groups. All groups (RC, EO, Protestant) came from the same root as for the 1st 1,000 years of Church history all Christians were united under one Church. So, yes one will see expressions of the truth & faith even if in only rudimentary form.

    “…but I don’t see any of them as having preserved everything perfectly from the beginning.”
    What we “see” or “don’t see” frequently has nothing to do with reality. Christ Himself said that the gates of Hades would not prevail over the Church, i.e. that the Church will always exist & will always teach the Truth & express the Faith. It is the Body of Christ, the Pillar & Ground of the Truth. It just cannot be otherwise. So unless you think Christ erred by His statement or has failed in His promise, please take another look…A good variety of books to check out can be found at: http://eternallypresentfillingallthings.wordpress.com/learn-more/ The only book I would add to this list is “Freedom of Morality” by Christos Yannaris. My sincere apologies, Fr. Stephen, for linking to my own blog :-(

  67. says

    “Most people here readily admit that Orthodox churches today (and always) share the problems of sin and scandal with the rest of the world, but it seems like they will silently change their usage of the word in the next sentence and then say that Orthodoxy has preserved the true faith and has remain uncorrupted.”
    Be careful that you do not confuse the Orthodox Faith baby with the dirty Orthodox human bath water. You also are confusing your apples (Orthodox Faith) with your oranges (Orthodox followers). Orthodoxy has preserved the True Faith for 2,000 years; its claims, history & thought are some of the best documented & most researched. Even secular critics admit the truthfulness in the Orthodox presentation & forthrightness of Orthodox documents regarding scandals & such. Overall, we do not believe in hiding our skeletons, although some have tried with truly disastrous results. However, remember my earlier statement about those fallen & sinful humans tacked on? Orthodoxy is not just another religious system among many; it is a way of life. Furthermore it is a way of life with standards to which we all fail to live out perfectly. When the faithful (be they clergy or laity) depart from that way of life through sin (as we all do in some way, shape or form) then scandals are the result. Every Orthodox knows that this is to our shame. There is a reason we are called to Repentance & attend Confession…frequently in my own case.

    “I believe the crux of the matter is to start with “we’re all God’s children” and then build on from there. Believe me, I know that this last statement sounds WAY too simplistic and that it is merely a reaction to the current discussion, but hopefully it will be taken in the right spirit.”
    Simplistic, yes…too simplistic, no! Again you are espousing what Orthodoxy teaches. Orthodoxy teaches us to consider ourselves as the “worst of sinners” by looking for the “image of God” inherent everyone else. The problem is that we all tend to hide that image through sin & failing to live rightly; some of us hide it very well indeed!

    “I’m certainly not advocating that the Orthodox just throw open their doors and say that we’re all one,…”
    No, I do not think that anyone here thinks that you are, but you do ask that we Orthodox relativize our Faith by us acknowledging that Orthodoxy is just another religious option out there among 38,000+ worldwide. It is not; it is a way of life. No Orthodox worth their Orthodox salt will deny that you have the right to be whatever group or denomination you see fit for that is your God-given freedom. Furthermore, no Orthodox worth their Orthodox salt will judge you as bound for Hell for being non-Orthodox; we Orthodox have no right to judge lest we also be judged. Such things are just un-Orthodox. On the other hand, that does not obligate us to say that your choice is correct or that your group is of the true Faith; it is not. This too is un-Orthodox.

  68. says

    Father: I know that catechesis in the Catholic Church is uneven and woefully inadequate in many places, but not all. That’s why I said what I said, and I knew you would see it too.

    Yet even in those places where the bishop is willing to “ease” a teaching or liturgical norm to accommodate the collection plate, there are people who are orthodox and so all, even then and there, is not lost.

    I also mentioned my connection to both eastern Catholic Churches and Orthodoxy to gently remind that all is not even wherever we go, and people’s grasp of the faith in itself is not always fully and well formed regardless of the orthodoxy of the teachers and shepherds. It is the nature of faith seeking understanding.

    I know that Catholics on the Internet will point out every weakness in Orthodoxy that they can find and make some up if need be in order to denigrate so that they may be elevated…falsely. I don’t find that particularly praiseworthy or useful, and certainly there’s not any real image or understanding of Orthodoxy in evidence when that happens. I tend to reach out and blunt the point on those sticks when I have an opening as well.

    My worst experiences in talking about Catholic-Orthodox Catholic issues are with my own, which is predictable. I’ve been thrown out of far more Catholic venues than Orthodox ones over the years. Though where I am welcome, Catholic or Orthodox Catholic, I find a good home and clear thinking and wholesome food for the spirit. That more than makes up for the rest.

    I prefer your blunt approach that is coupled with a unique ability to hear others and look for truth.

    In Christ,

    M.

  69. drewster2000 says

    Rhonda,

    Thanks for your reply (and from others here). While I don’t truly expect resolution here and now, it is good to be able to discuss these things.

    You are correct that I have to be wary of throwing the baby out with the bath water. If I frame things inside this analogy, I guess I’m cautioning everyone not to keep the bath water along with the baby.

    I fully realize this is an Orthodox website, something so obvious that it must be restated. But if I stand up and say I have a problem in my life, I don’t think anyone should have to check my label before offering assistance. The Samaritan didn’t confirm the ethnicity of the man laying beside the road before tending him.

    One of the reasons I frequent this site is that there isn’t a lot of that on here and I’m very grateful for that. Contrary to popular belief I have no intention of reducing or relativising Orthodoxy so that it is just one religion among many.

    People are dying out there, and let’s just consider the spiritual ailments for now. A membership shouldn’t be required before those wounded can receive some of the riches we possess.

    Let’s take Dino’s example of monasticism. He may be absolutely right about it being preserved perfectly as compared the the RC version, but waving that fact around like a flag isn’t a unifying thing to do. Instead let him simply share some of those practices and insights with those around him who are so desperately in need of inner peace – and let the perfection speak for itself.

    If Orthodoxy has truly preserved the faith for 2000 years, does proclaiming this actually bring good things into people’s lives? Or does it simply annoy them and sound too much like “we’re right and you’re wrong” to everyone not within the fold?

    I’m saying: Hey Orthodox! You have a real treasure there. Share the gospel with me – and if necessary use words. Share your lives with me – and let God speak to me through them; don’t let your own agenda get in the way.

  70. says

    Final notes:
    I do think perhaps that rather than being overly-sensitive, you are reading a lot that was neither said nor intended into what was really said. We Orthodox do not declare that God only loves & only bestows His Grace upon the Orthodox; this would deny the very grace that led us that are converts into the Church. If you are happy where you are at & are convinced that God has led you there, then by all means stay. You have our well wishes. God led me on a very circuitous route to Orthodoxy; perhaps he is doing the same with you.

    My route even included a time outside of all forms of Christianity through Judaism. Looking back I am thankful that He did. I needed the time “away” in order to begin to clear my head of all of the mental & religious garbage that I had experienced. I had to learn to trust the religious fold (both clergy & laity) again. Judaism provided me with a loving & accepting community that has only been surpassed by the EOC.

    As with Merry, each of the groups that I encountered was for my benefit at the time. I found myself “content” until their “purpose” was fulfilled in my life; I always “knew” when it was time for my journey to continue. The skeptics will proclaim that I was a leaf being blown around by the wind & surely quote Eph 4:14. I do not care & take no offense. I know first-hand that the Lord works in mysterious ways…Glory to God!

  71. drewster2000 says

    Rhonda,

    My reply is also caught in the spam filter or waiting in the hyperspace queue. I’ll wait awhile to see if it ever lands.

  72. drewster2000 says

    Rhonda,

    By the way I appreciate your last response above. It’s almost like I need to hear this said again once in awhile:

    “If you are happy where you are at & are convinced that God has led you there, then by all means stay. You have our well wishes. God led me on a very circuitous route to Orthodoxy; perhaps he is doing the same with you. “

  73. says

    A prayer I learned as a child to say before communion:

    Almighty and ever-living God,
    I approach the sacrament
    of your only-begotten Son
    Our Lord Jesus Christ,
    I come sick to the doctor of life,
    unclean to the fountain of mercy,
    blind to the radiance of eternal light,
    and poor and needy to the Lord
    of heaven and earth.
    Lord, in your great generosity,
    heal my sickness,
    wash away my defilement,
    enlighten my blindness, enrich my poverty,
    and clothe my nakedness.
    May I receive the bread of angels,
    the King of kings and Lord of lords,
    with humble reverence,
    with the purity and faith,
    the repentance and love,
    and the determined purpose
    that will help to bring me to salvation.
    May I receive the sacrament
    of the Lord’s body and blood,
    and its reality and power.

    Note: “enrich my poverty” is in the spirit of blessed are the poor in spirit, and is not plea for earthly good…

    In Christ’s peace,

    M.

  74. Dino says

    drewster,
    I am afraid Ronda has a point re: “you are reading a lot that was neither said nor intended into what was really said”, since I believe there was no waving of monasticism “around like a flag”. There was an effort to simply resolve a (very common) misunderstanding of a (very important) term (self-hate) that has been used a great deal in our Faith. It has been used before and after the schism (the term is found in many guises: ‘self-hate’, ‘self-forgetfulness’, “desperation-from-self”, “martyric-phronema”, “putting off the old adam” etc.); it is used by Christ (Luke 14:26), St Ignatius, St Isaac the Syrian, etc up to contemporaries (needless to say, described as Orthodox here now) such as Elders Sophrony, Aimilianos, Joseph the Hesychast…

    Michael,
    I am grateful and beseech all God’s mercies on you… I repeat that my thoughts are that the insight given you (the term we have been clarifying) is a great blessing…
    Few can even bear having a sober glimpse at what darkness is hidden in the old Adam…!
    Elder Sophrony later in life knew -with the benefit of hindsight- that those first terrifying glimpses of one’s darkness (the darkness without God) which he first had in his youth, were nothing other than the Uncreated Light, still unseen, yet granting him a taste of His first illumination (still of our ‘darkness’ though). Like a light that first comes to one in jail through a small hole and shows you that your dark dungeon is actually filthy.
    This eventually led him to behold It/Him (Light Himself) in all Glory though. But God can only safely adorn a person with such a ‘terrible’ Gift, if that person knows and accepts this ‘healthy self hatred’ we have been discussing here…

  75. mary benton says

    Michael – I do appreciate your comments but perhaps something got lost in my efforts to communicate. Words are so fascinating in the meanings that they take on in different contexts, e.g. “blessed despair”. I do not deny that my conscious mind needs softening at times – perhaps most of the time. However, I was hoping to clarify what I believed to be the meaning behind Dino’s words, as some might read words like “self-hate” and “despair” in their literal usages and think that Christianity was something quite dark.

    Quite possibly this was an unnecessary clarification. I was thinking about your comments about the Jesus prayer and how someone without proper guidance might find themselves in trouble with it. Someone inquiring or new to faith could easily find themselves in trouble with these words as well.

    I don’t really have argument with the meaning (as I understand it) – though I do believe that fixing our gaze upon God is of greater value than fixing our gaze on our own sinfulness. Our sinfulness must certainly be acknowledged and repented of – but, gazing upon God, we may be blessed to forget ourselves.

    I am fond of CS Lewis’ comment: “Humility is not thinking less of yourself but thinking of yourself less.” (Something I most definitely need to work on :-)).

  76. Dino says

    Mary Benton,
    if hoping to clarify the terms you believed could, if literally taken, lead to mischaracterisation of Christianity, then there isno misinterpretation… However, that wouldn’t exactly mean we must ‘rewrite’ Christ’s words or shy away from those expressions. They are felt that way by those who dare take the plunge. It would rather mean a greater care in explanation -to those who require it and desire it- as an ‘addendum’.
    You are right: The dictum (Elder Aimilianos’s favourite in fact) is, “I love God to the extent that I forget myself“. At the same time though, one arrives there through a certain path, this, far more often than not entails “hating” (fervently and unrelentingly renouncing) the old Adam (‘self’) and his ‘loves’. The Fathers come back to using those words of Christ as they know from experience that pure love’s greatest enemy, practically, is other ‘loves’ (most especially self-love) far more often than ‘hates’.
    Another v. crucial point is that a person is increasingly assaulted by the enemy’s injections of prideful, Luciferean thoughts of special-self-worth. Especially as he advances further… This is not the humble self-worth of the new Adam who is humbled further (like a tree that stoops further down the more fruit it grows) the more his Creator graces him… No. It is demonic “self-worth” (‘I am not as other men are’ -Luke 18:11- “I am a saint!”) that strips him from all Grace, transforming a Saint into a demon in an instant.
    Westerners have placed the idea of self-worth up to an altar for a variety of reasons. These reasons ignore most of this ascetic knowledge while obviously taking into account some valid psychological experience… (Elder Sophrony knew this and often ‘promoted’ the “despair not” part of Christ’s word to St Silouan).
    The Fathers however, usually say it very simply, by discerningly declaring ‘tread neither towards (bad) despair nor (bad) confidence.’ St Silouan says, for instance, “beware of two thoughts: one says you will not be saved, the other you are a saint – both are demonic!”…
    One can “keep their mind in hell despairing not” (the ONLY thing that burns Satan away when he approaches the soul in such cases – as St Silouan repeats time and again!) to avoid this demonic temptation, in two ways:
    by full concentration on God (sometimes compunctionately grateful, others desperately hopeful) and by full awareness of his utter hellish perversion, darkness and “un-reform-ability” when without Grace. Both ways of avoiding this ultimate temptation of pride, have their own time of application, they are interchangeable and equally meritorious.
    They eventually become one and we cannot even say “I like Elder Porphyrios’s approach”, or “I like St Silouan’s etc”… The Cross contains the resurrection and the compunctionate tears contain the Joy.
    This is, of course, especially difficult to comprehend by someone without considerable experience of fighting with pride while particularly ‘graced’ (eg having openly defeated Satan, resisted ‘irresistible’ temptations etc) lets alone non-Christians. Little wonder Elder Sophrony opens his book “St Silouan the Athonite”, specifying it is destined for a ery small circle of people….

  77. Dino says

    Oh! and that CS Lewis’ quote is fabulous, I hadn’t never heard of that one before:

    “Humility is not thinking less of yourself but thinking of yourself less.”

    :-)
    It reminded me of Mother Gabriela’s differentiation between selfish and selfless love, as: “I love you” or “i love You

  78. Michael Bauman says

    “The Fathers come back to using those words of Christ as they know from experience that pure love’s greatest enemy, practically, is other ‘loves’ (most especially self-love) far more often than ‘hates’.”

    A man I know when we were talking about the hold of sin on us and acquiring virtue told me that once in confession he was asked by his confessor if he hated his sins? He thought for a moment and replied: No, I like them (love them).

    We are faced with a culture that both rewards and commends sin in a way that has never before seen. There is almost no social stigmas left against any kind of sin and growing social stigmas against virtue. The Nietzschean “Transvaluation of all values”.

    In this environment it becomes increasingly difficult not to love our sins as they become increasingly identified with who we are and therefore both immutable and totally understandable.

    The notion of happiness as acquiring virtue and living a virtuous life has vanished from the modern mind even though it was the notion behind Jefferson’s words that we had an inalienable right to “…the pursuit of happiness.”

    The Orthodox is often criticized for being too foreign because we are Greek, Russian and Syrian. Actually we are foreign because we are a truly counter-cultural community.

  79. Dino says

    Michael,

    a culture that both rewards and commends sin in a way that has never before seen

    is true unfortunately and is usually presented as Rights
    F. Aimilianos would always tell his children that there is no need to worry about those who sin, but about those who turn their sin into “an ideology”, which is what has been happening lately in our world, which seeks to justify all sorts of perversion, while Christianity (wisely) asks us to feel ‘unworthy servants’ even when we are -to the eyes of the world (the traditional rather than the modern world)- as saints….

  80. mary benton says

    Thanks, Dino and Michael, for your thoughts.

    As I considered this exchange more, I realize that some of my reaction comes from being a clinical psychologist. I have people tell me that they hate themselves – and they mean it. They cut and burn themselves, they cry and sob with pain. I regularly deal with severely depressed people who feel despair to the point of suicide. While I know that this is not the “self-hate” or the “blessed despair” to which you refer, my wish to use different words is rooted in this experience. Forgive me if my personal reaction created an unnecessary diversion from the discussion.

    In terms of the spiritual meaning, I am reminded of seeing many years ago the garden gate at the Trappist monastery in Gethsemani, KY. It starkly bears the words “God Alone”. If we could learn to live these two words, there would be no need for any others.

  81. Dino says

    Mary,
    I know and respect this well about your experience. It is why I made certain clarifications (regarding self-harm earlier on). It is a sector that needs to clarify its layman’s terms, although I guess it never will…
    May the Lord bless you always!

  82. Karen says

    Regarding the “self-hate” as the “self-forgetfulness/mindfulness of Christ” of the ascetic Christian tradition vs. the “self-hate” as demonic despair of modern angst, I can certainly appreciate the need for clarification for the modern reader as well. I myself struggle not to understand the latter where the former is intended. For those of us so inclined, I appreciate the advice Fr. Stephen has given on other occasions on this blog that the practice of gratitude toward Christ for all things produces the same disposition of the heart (humility) as “keeping the mind in hell, despairing not.” These are two sides of the same coin and both effective approaches to practicing the same thing.

  83. Dino says

    There are indeed some situations that call for special clarification and discernment. An area in particular that ‘moderns’, the vast majority at least (even in modern Orthodoxy that is), have a tendency to misunderstand is that of physical-mortification, always difficult and especially prone to mistakes, but especially nowadays 99.99% of the time safer to be completely excluded.
    There are times when rare ascetics are confounded with -unimaginable to us (slightly worse than even the physical assaults of demons!)- temptations that seem to call for no less than this, but it is still completely out of the norm. This topic scandalises, whether reading stories of actual bodily self-mortification in the lives of ascetics of old, from Symeon Stylites mentioned above, or contemporaries such as Elder Joseph the Hesychast, and are far more often than not, forbidden to even think of “trying it out” by our Spiritual Fathers. We moderns cannot even start to conceive that this can be carried out as it has been by some of these persons with healthy, simple, genuine, straightforward “φιλότιμο” [Filotimo] (we even lack an English equivalent term for this fabulous well-meaning, grateful, noble response to feeling loved far more than anyone can ever deserve) in an ascetic content, free from all delusion, humble but not inferiority-laden, contrite but joyful, zealously self-renouncing but enthusiastically desirous of Christ and His Cross.
    ONe who is not in obedience and is simply experimenting with what he reads will surely delude themselves. However, this doesn’t mean that there is no healthy way either and we must haughtily think we know better than the Saints…
    Nowadays, we have become so scared of this whole idea, even of loosely related notions, that even “staying put” in a fine marriage seems to us harder than standing on a pillar to the point of rotting like the Stylites, imagining ourselves to be some sort of martyrs and even being given advise to divorce due to our weakness because our logismoi have got the better of us…!
    It helps to think that there are souls that have had a natural ‘level of spiritual health’ that we cannot even imagine nowadays in our total perversion, when we read these stories, and despair not!

  84. Dino says

    It is interesting how many other notions from previous conversations show themselves to be connected in ways one hadn’t thought of before…
    Our time has the tendency to consider human problems as ‘psychological’, I wrote in a previous comment section,- detached and individual, necessitating solutions from a psychoanalytic point of view, requiring individual therapy, – a fragmented kind of ‘psychologism’ approach ignoring Divine Grace, the cosmic depths of Man’s fall and the height of Deification as well as the existence of Satan and the methods through which he is defeated.

    The ‘psychological’ perception of “self-hate” happens to also be the secular understanding of the term. It is based on the egotistically motivated dissatisfaction of what I perceive as ‘me’. Using it is asking for trouble nowadays, but it has always been used in a completely different understanding in Christianity as we have been trying to explain above. The Orthodox use of the characterisation ‘self-hate’, is actually based on the ontological insight into what sin is, an insight that is only ever given in its fullness through the Uncreated Light and through a simultaneous knowledge of God’s immeasurable mercy. The Light and Mercy is what shows my sin (and only mine in such deep repentance) to be such a cosmic evil…

    Orthodoxy testifies that the real troubles of man find their solution through a far deeper understanding of the universality of what we call Person/hypostasis, in Love, in an eschatological pan-unity in Christ and through the Holy Spirit, Who releases man from the stalemate of psychologism and individualism. Man ends up ‘hating/renouncing’ the old individualistic selfish ‘Adam’ in order to put on Christ, the Lamb who takes the sin of the world.

  85. Dino says

    Here is Archimandrite Zacharias of Essex using the term freely and in the right context (translated from Greek):

    “my dear sisters, forgive my boldness. If we had this thought, if we had this sole purpose in our lives: to ‘hate’ ourselves (which is the reason we came to the monastery), nothing would have the power to shake our foundations. Nothing would take away our Pease. Nought could separate our breath from the Lord. But because we have not made this our sole intent, namely, to hate self on behalf of God’s commandment, we are annoyed with the humble task we are given, vexed because we desire more attention, we assume ourselves entitled to special recognition, we want whatever is best for none other than us! (…) love for our brother and the Holy Spirit do not enter a heart of such self-centredness..

  86. Dino says

    To be more ‘academic’, the quote is from page 222 in
    “Γυναικεῖος Ὀρθόδοξος μοναχισμός”
    Κατά τά Πατερικά Κείμενα
    ISBN 978-960-88-540-6-2
    :-)

  87. Dino says

    Another illuminating quote from the same book – Elder Sophrony this time (interestingly they feel the need to explain the usage of his word ‘se;f-hate’ with a detailed clarification in the footnotes…

    The Angels, led by the Archangel Michael, resisted Satan with such self-hatred, that Satan was cast out of the Heavens. So, if we love one another the way Christ explains this, and agree on the ultimate final purpose, we will be fearless and invincible

  88. mary benton says

    “Man ends up ‘hating/renouncing’ the old individualistic selfish ‘Adam’ in order to put on Christ…”

    Dino – do you consider to “hate” and to “renounce” as equivalent in your usage? As indicated above, I find some difficulty with the word “hate” whereas “renounce” seems more true to the meaning. Also, I think that to hate/renounce the old/selfish/sinful/false self is more clear in meaning than to say speak simply of “self-hatred”.

  89. mary benton says

    “The ‘psychological’ perception of “self-hate” happens to also be the secular understanding of the term. It is based on the egotistically motivated dissatisfaction of what I perceive as ‘me’.”

    I feel a need to comment here, Dino. Part of this has (again) to do with the use of words like “self”, “ego” and “egotistical”. The latter, a lay person’s term, is generally defined as an over-inflated view of one’s self, something most would agree is not desirable.

    “Ego”, on the other hand, from a psychological perspective, is a necessary ingredient for healthy living. The ego is what enables the person to manage their innate instinctive impulses (“passions”, in a sense, though some instinctive impulses are necessary), in light of the values of the super-ego (essentially, the conscience). Someone lacking “ego-strength” is likely going to tyrannized by their passions or to be bound to rigid and unhealthy rules, because they do not know how to integrate these aspects of experience.

    It is often the lack of healthy ego or self that leads people to pathological self-hate.

    It has been said that one must first have a self in order to renounce one’s self. For some people whose upbringing has left them with no sense of self or a very damaged one, the first spiritual task may be one of learning to embrace self as beloved of God, despite sin. For a damaged self, self and sin are often seen as the same thing, leaving the person feeling essentially unlovable and unable to approach God.

    I realize that you may already understand this but I think it is an important point to make. Often people, in the hunger to make spiritual progress, want to skip steps. I would not want someone suffering in the manner I describe to think that it is wrong to seek a healthy self under the guidance of a spiritual and well-trained therapist.

    Once there is a healthy self, paradoxically, the spiritual process of renouncing self can proceed. (This is, of course, my opinion and quite subject to imperfection.)

  90. Dino says

    Mary,
    one does indeed need to first become what -psychologically- might be termed a ‘balanced’ human being, before they become a saint.
    Jumping stages rarely, if ever, works
    (unless you are Saint Mary the Egyptian perhaps)…
    However, we tend to avoid this modern “psychological language” quite strictly, (especially having knowledge of man’s falleness in all his endeavours) in favour of the traditional patristic expressions in “general speech” (as opposed to personal counsel that is).
    And as you can see from the striking example of Elder Sophrony:

    The Angels, led by the Archangel Michael, resisted Satan with such self-hatred, that Satan was cast out of the Heavens.

    he doesn’t shy away from using the word, even though it is obviously used in an almost otherwordly context….
    He later goes on to say that we must pray personally, as a pan-human union when we use: “I’, or “me”, or “ego”. If I/me does not mean far more than “I/me” means in secular understanding we are still in the psychological state, if not the carnal, the spiritual states start after that. It is fascinating that an unlettered granny in Greece or Russia, might sometimes have greater ease in accomplishing this than many a well-trained philosophical mind does in the modern west!
    It is evident from the above quote of the Elder that self-hate is that kenosis from all selfish attachments which allow true love to flourish.
    In another speech he says that for love (towards God) to reach the highest grade, as well as love for others to reach the point where I, in fact, ‘see others as me‘, “self-hate” needs to also reach its ultimate level.
    Ok. It is a different kind of hate to a different kind of self than what you keep going back to perhaps (it’s unavoidable in your field – there is nothing wrong with such usage…!), but we need to move ahead and get to the land of traditional use of language in Spiritual life. There are, in fact, far more challenging expressions that Persons steeped in Church language would normally be using (think of some Psalms…). They mustn’t ‘adapt’ to modernity. If anything, we should educate towards that understanding…! Where we to be immersed in Tradition as the saints, at every encounter of the need to ‘adapt’ down our language to modernity, we would consider it a necessary compromise, an “economia”
    Of course there is a time and a place for everything :-)

  91. says

    Dear Mary B,

    There are times in spiritual writing where the language is, shall we say, roughly used. For example, St. Louis de Montfort speaks of being a “slave” to the mother of God, indication a level of devotion that is fixed and adamant in its fidelity…so strong that it appears that we are chained to her…though it is all devotion that is freely chosen.

    I had hoped not to get too involved in this and I know that you are active on monk Alexis Trader’s blog, so I think you are getting some pretty solid treatment of some of these things there: all to say that I want to be brief here and simply say that “slavery” and “self-hatred” or “self-loathing” is not something that dominates the counsels and teachings of the holy fathers of the desert. And in general they, in their wisdom, have many ways of speaking of the same thing, thereby helping to insure that there are ears to hear and words to suit the moment, the soul, the need. Once in a while there is a need to use the language roughly or a purpose served in so doing.

    Also it is pretty axiomatic among the holy fathers that we don’t spend a great load of time staring at our own understandings and preferences.

    In Christ,

    Mary L

  92. fatherstephen says

    A short note on the language of self hate. It is Christ Himself who first uses the word “hate” in the spiritual vocabulary. The “self” that we hate is the false self, the narrative and identity that we manufacture ourselves and treasure above all else.

  93. says

    As soon as I saw your note, I remembered why I wasn’t racing to go down this road.

    At some level, I only feel safe with that language in His mouth…The Lord who reads my heart, who knows my false self better than I do. We know that the testing of spirits and reading of hearts are gifts given to his disciples, yet that takes a fair gift of discernment to know whether or not we are being deceived and manipulated by our brothers or sisters in Christ.

    If we are to be brought to compunction then it really ought to be true compunction, and not something that we’ve been directed to by someone else who may truly not know my false self if he or she fell over it.

    So your comment raises all the questions concerning hard sayings and spiritual discipleship.

    I am not say we ought not grapple with them. Indeed we must! It is not an easy path to walk in any event.

    In Christ,

    M.

  94. Dino says

    Indeed Mary L, discernment is needed, (but mainly by the teacher) as well as obedience (mainly by the disciple) that is why, as said earlier, “one who is not in obedience and is simply experimenting with what he reads will surely delude themselves”. But a disciple’s “discernment” in eloquent (as well as more ‘blunt’) patristic anthropology is more often than not, simply called ‘obedience’, and the fuel of that obedience is (particularly at the start) the knowledge that: my worst enemy is ‘me’…
    When Saint Augustine says “prima humilitas; secunda, humilitas; tertia, humilitas” he implies that pride lurks at every step and we must, at the very very least, always hate it. I think that St Silouan’s preoccupation with ‘Christ like humility’ goes even further into an ontological understanding of God’s love as humility (and fascination thereof), a Self-effacement on His behalf that will always continue to pass all understanding, even of angels.

    However, the truly spiritual person, even with the aid of a still small measure of humility, will be driven to compunction, even without the need of a discerning teacher who verges on the clairvoyant, even by the carnal language of a pop song!, or the hard sayings contained in a general homily;
    all is interpreted ‘allegorically’ if you like and produces yet more compunction.

  95. Dino says

    Elder Sophrony’s (contemporary) words (to a mainly Western audience):

    “Such love puts to death any feeling of self-love[…] so that God may live in him and be increasingly glorified in him. Prayer, accompanied by kenotic self-abhorrence, and inflamed with the fire of humble love for Christ, takes place face to Face with the unoriginate God. During such prayer the state of Christ Himself is conveyed to man. Man becomes a true and fulfilled hypostasis through the grace of God. Bearing within himself the Holy Spirit he too can cry out with holy boldness: ‘Now, my Christ, in Thee and through Thee I too, am.’

    go even further towards understanding the profundity of this vocabulary…

  96. says

    I have no intention of arguing with you Dino.

    I will say this much: What you are speaking of in terms of obedience to another person is not so easy for a lay man or woman to discern as you may try to make it seem here.

    If I enter a monastic house, then yes, the line of legitimate authority is set and there is nothing to discern, at least not for some time to come.

    If you are speaking of the legitimate authority of God’s law, then yes, we must do our best to obey.

    Obedience is always to some legitimate authorial voice.

    When it comes to a confessor, unless there is some agreed upon relationship of obedience, the line of authority blurs and in fact discernment is necessary for all involved.

    M.

  97. Dino says

    I see what you are saying here Mary L. I fully agree with the difficulty of applying ‘obedience’ -as the safest of all methods forwards- by one who is not a monastic. The trenchant clarity of patristic advise concerning its superiority (obedience’s) is often perplexing and it’s application feels far more counterintuitive to a lay person. But if asking one’s spiritual Father “exactly how can I apply obedience (or any other such notion etc) in my context, in my 24 hours -as I have become blessed, I think, to become enamoured by it?” is not the one satisfying answer, I don’t know what else could answer it….

  98. says

    Obedience is the most sure and quickest route, but not the only route to humility, Dino. As one who has had the same spiritual father for 17 years, I am painfully aware of how many Catholic and Orthodox lay men and women have not been so blessed, and of the struggles of many who are visible within my own personal orbit. Some of those people appear to be and are some of the most still, peaceful, humble people that I have ever met.

    Mary L

  99. says

    By “still” I mean that they have been blessed with an unusual interior depth of dispassion and recollection and custody of the senses, mind and heart.

    In Christ,

    M.

  100. Dino says

    I do agree in every respect that it is not the only route (obedience). Of course! Besides, there are many virtues, such as “trusting, grateful acceptance of what comes”, (seeing God’s good providence in all that befalls me) which are truly, nothing other than ‘a form’ of the highest possible obedience -without ever been termed that.
    The need for one to be ‘in obedience’ was used above solely as another way to ensure one is ‘exposing their thoughts’ to a spiritual guide, because capricious experimentation with spiritual practices is in danger of delusion without it. I hope that clarifies it.

  101. says

    Agreed in full: as long as we can always remember that it is God who chooses and God who works, not us. That is why the cardinal rule of the monastic life is “do not compare”…do not compare yourself to your brothers and sisters, ever!

    And it would be exceptionally useful if those among the laity were to learn the same lesson as forcefully! because then we would not be in a position of wondering how it is that we are doing all the right things and are in a spiritual desert while our far less experienced and docile brothers and sisters appear to be far more blessed with good things…do you think so too?

    In Christ,

    M.

  102. Dino says

    I don’t know about doing all the right things just yet…! Far, very far from it. :-)
    Comparison does ferment all sorts of trouble indeed!

    The only true blessing I guess is reaching true humility and love, so, although we might all have constant moving examples of humility and love, I wouldn’t say I have seen this (‘truest’ from of it) in any other than: either the
    1) most “Neptic” (watchfull and vigilant) of people I have been blessed to meet or
    2) the most contrite, or
    3) the most accepting of their heavy illnesses.
    And what otherwordly joy those all had!
    Some like elder Ephraim had all three (hidden)

  103. Dino says

    I meant the Elder Ephraim of Katounakia above – a radiant giant of the Spirit.
    His mother apparently (a laywoman up until her deathbed where she received the schema) was also of equal stature.
    Her “self-hate” (with the meaning assignment of self neglect -out of an all consuming yet courteous love for her neighbour, a discerningly and respectfully applied love in it’s complete purity from self – something somewhat rare in a traditional Mediterranean lady) was such, that she had magnetically enchanted the entire hospital staff…

  104. says

    Dino: I don’t know if you can see it but you’ve done nothing in the two posts above, but compare Elder Ephraim with all others and his mother with all other Mediterranean ladies…by which I hope you mean just plain women…or you’d be excluding whole classes of women from the race entirely.

    My point was that it is good to love all souls and see or pray to see Christ in all souls…and let God take care of the exceptional: since the way to the exceptional is His only!

    In Christ,

    Mary

  105. fatherstephen says

    Mary L.
    This is just using rhetorical devices to make a point. Let Dino make a point, perhaps, and then let it rest. The last word becomes annoying after a point. And the don’t compare…is, frankly, over the top.

  106. Dino says

    Oops sorry for mediterenean generalisation- there certainly surfaced a bit of the Greek {force-fed (continually in my recollection!) by mother, grandmother, auntie, etc.}, child in me there, you know the type I guess…! :-)

  107. Photini says

    In my family of 15 first cousins, the ones who went to college, left our hometown. Those who only went to high school stayed. It seemed natural to me that I would move away someday being one of the youngest.

    We moved 19 times in my husband’s 30 year Army career. I am an expert at moving. In each place we made close friends, figuratively planted olive trees we knew we’d never see produce. We have friends all over the world.

    He has retired from the Army, taken on a second career, and we have been in the same house for 11 years. It is about 20 miles from where he grew up but parents and siblings have died or left so we began once again.

    I have belonged to the same church for 11 years – a feat I barely attained in childhood. I have watched children grow up. I see an altar boy who I prayed for when his mother was pregnant and was having severe problems. I see children born to parents whose weddings I remember.

    Recently I have reconnected with high school classmates (class of over 300) for our 45th reunion. I am astonished at how many are living within 50 miles of our hometown.

    I love Henry’s comment (way above) of the “Cheers” theme song. It is something we longed for with each move as we struggled to develop a feeling of belonging in the places we were sent.

    We are at an age where we’d like to move to a more quiet place – far from the madding crowd. But we have grandchildren in the area, and I can’t bear the thought of leaving them and my church. I think I’m too old to give up the “stability” we finally found.

  108. TLO says

    It seems to me that one has a greater opportunity to remain impoverished, chaste and obedient one is also immobile. :)

    The whole notion of monastic life seems at odds with the life of Christ who put many leagues under his feet, kicked it with the non-boring people, knew how to improve an already great party, had a tendency to tell the professional religious people to bugger off and get a grip, and who ordered his disciples to get off their keisters and go anywhere and everywhere spreading the gospel.

    I’ve never understood the idea of Christians in cloisters. I mean, wasn’t Jesus always bagging on the hyper-religious people of his day? Then why would you want to create a community of people based on a religious concept when you know that the end-result will be that they will bicker points of theology and potentially become just like the blighters that Jesus spoke loudest against? To my mind, creating cloisters is a disservice to the people who populate them.

    It seems to me that if someone wants a real test of faith they should live and work around people without faith. Hanging out with agnostics will force you to evaluate your faith on a level that can never be reached by hanging out with people who think like you do. You know? And I don’t think that faith is worth a whole lot if it cannot be truly demonstrated to the non-believer. Wasn’t Jesus’ miracle-working primarily to help sinners to believe what he was saying? Perhaps if his followers forced themselves to be around sinners, they would grow enough in their faith to “do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these.”

  109. Dino says

    You cast yourself ‘the loyal opposition’ but those arguments are lacking.
    Take St Anthony (one of the first) or Elder Joseph the Cave-dweller (a contemporary), – for the idea you never understood of “Christians in cloisters”.
    They changed more people than those who went out to do just that, and with furthest reaching effects (in time).
    No question about it!
    They also did not shy away from agnostics, (they did not even shy away from demons !!), ‘hanging out’ is a different kettle of fish though…
    I suspect your knowledge of Christianity (I wouldn’t be sure if I would even call it that in such a limited ‘worldly’ cloak as the one you suggest) comes out as extremely lopsided in those words – it would be without a good knowledge of the above examples.
    You are talking of night and we of day here
    :-)

  110. Dino says

    Let me write the last sentence more clearly:

    I suspect your knowledge of Christianity (I wouldn’t be sure if I would even call it Christianity when in such a limited ‘worldly cloak’ as the one you suggest) comes across as extremely lopsided – it would, in fact, be lopsided without a good knowledge of the above examples of St Anthony and Elder Joseph and their influential aftermath.

    We verify a great deal more than you think from the “fruits” (which you seem to ignore) about the “tree”. I am very sorry but, what I see in those tired arguments you put across is a short-circuiting between the wrong fruits and the wrong trees.

  111. mary benton says

    Dino – You seem a little harsh here.

    TLO – I understand what you mean to some extent. For most people in today’s world, monastic life doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense.

    True monastic life doesn’t make a lot of sense to me for MY life, though I have been working more to incorporate monastic values into my life of active service.

    However, simply because I do not feel called to a certain way of life – or do not understand it – doesn’t mean that it has no value. Perhaps asking questions would lead to greater wisdom than throwing out provocative statements. (Though I sense you like to be provocative now and then :-).)

  112. PJ says

    John,

    Seems to me that Jesus was concerned not so much with religious people, but with religious hypocrites. “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others.”

  113. says

    TLO: You don’t see to know much of the history of monastic life or even contemporary life in a cloister. You should do a bit of work before you express yourself in such a way that makes it clear that you really do not understand. I say this in all good will.

    In Christ,

    Mary

  114. says

    Dino: TLO’s tone makes what he says…in part…to sound worse than it is. I know that I reacted to that initially.

    I don’t want us to miss the opportunity to say to him directly, and not just with reference, that east and west, in the monastic life, there have always been individual monks, and sometimes houses who responded quite openly and actively to the world and missed very little except for the sin.

  115. says

    PS: Don’t mean to suggest that monks are not sinners…Simply saying that monks tend not to rush out to take part in the sinfulness of the world, flesh and devil…

    M.

  116. Dino says

    I think that it is evident that the position accused (in TLO’s statement) is a completely different one to the position defended. Night and day.
    That should be clarified I guess first.
    Sorry to come across harsh! I just had that same argument (about the value of monasticism) recently – it is always due to a misunderstanding of what true ‘seeking God to the exclusion of all else’ (first steps) and ‘changing the world covertly through that mystery’ (Further steps) actually is, by those who’s complete lack of interest in the matter might be expressed as actual disdain -of something they know not.

  117. Dino says

    Oh no Mary!, I found it curious when drewster asked me this once before…
    I do have extremely close links I guess. I was blessed to find myself in the rare situation to experience that life (many years ago) for a long time on a famous Athos Monastery.
    Nothing compares to life staying put in such a context, in all honesty, not even meeting with those rare Saintly Sages on Athos which is in itself invaluable…

  118. Dino says

    Here is a didactic image of “Christians in cloisters”, which is easy to commit to memory– it was a favourite of Elder Joseph the Hesychast when advising his disciples:

    If you crave honey (the sweet honey of Grace), remember that bees invariably create honey in darkness. And if you take a bee and place it in a glass bowl it will promptly darken its interior too…

    And one from Elder Paisios:

    A traffic light in the busy city can never ‘say’ to a lighthouse out in the sea: “what is the point of living out there? Come and be another traffic light here in the metropolis”…

  119. says

    Father Stephen,

    Thank you for posting this again. I read it six years ago on its first go-round at a time when I was severely tempted to pull up tent pegs and move on. Again today, at a time when staying put has lost some of its brightness, I read it and am again moved to greater stability. I especially appreciate your “long-term goal” to be buried where you are. I share the same goal – to be buried in this community and from this parish – but find it too easy to lose sight of it. Thanks again for sharing your heart.

    You are on my Discos during this time of recovery from your heart attack. May the Lord have mercy on you and grant you every petition which is unto salvation and eternal life.

    Glory to God for all things!

  120. TLO says

    Dino and Mary L – My word! Awfully defensive responses. Let me iterate this again:

    I’ve never understood the idea of Christians in cloisters…

    Much of my questioning is due to the fact that I have seen so much badness in Christian institutions that I tend to think that the more exclusionary a group is the greater opportunity there is for really bad things to result.

    Dino cited two examples. I’m curious if they were so simple to cite because they are the exception to the rule though. Said another way, no one has to cite an individual scientist to support how valuable science is to humanity. The benefits are ubiquitous. I don’t know that the same can be said of monasticism as an institution.

    I have always admired J. Hudson Taylor for his faith and actions but he is a rare exception among protestants. Does his life justify Protestantism? It seems to me that Protestant Christianity would be better served if he was the norm and not the exception.

    Is monasticism in and of itself a good thing? Why mention St Anthony or Elder Joseph the Cave-dweller and not the Dalai Lama (who seems to have been a powerful force for good)?

    More to the point, can one say in all honesty that the monastic order has never devolved into becoming like the blighters that Jesus spoke harshly to? If it has, has that been the norm or the exception? It seems to me that Protestantism is a direct result of cloisters gone awry. But is that the exception? I don’t know the answers. I am simply asking questions.

  121. says

    TLO: I would not presume to defend an ascetic practice that is 2000 years old and flourishing. Perhaps we also have differing understandings of what it is to defend. And more than that I would never try to turn someone as convinced as you are of your own position, which I must also say remains unclear. Perhaps if you did not clutter your statements so thoroughly with attitude, they would be more clear.

    M.

  122. says

    TLO: Forgive me. I was too short. What is it really that you are after here? And how does it relate to the topic at hand? It seems as though you are posturing a bit in your notes: maybe I am wrong, but if you are could you just cut to the chase and let us see what concerns you?

    M.

  123. TLO says

    I would never try to turn someone as convinced as you are of your own position, which I must also say remains unclear.

    I’m afraid I have no position to defend. I find that starting off with a position tends to erode thoughtful discourse. I began with a comment that I do not understand a concept. How that got turned into an aggressive denouncement in your mind is baffling.

    I am most wary of people whose whole life and purpose is defined by a belief system. It doesn’t matter if we are talking about professional religious people, communists, fascists, or modern “conservatives” or “liberals.”

    For example, the Rush Limbaugh crowd has an agenda and they take everything that the Bill Maher crowd says and does as wrong, by default.

    Those who are outside of both worldviews listen with much patience to both sides and try to find slivers of truth. But those firmly ensconced within those camps cannot hear any truth that may be coming from the other side because they are defending a position. Often it never even occurs to them to question their own position.

    In the context of this article, I am curious how much value faith has if it is insulated from anything but itself. Can a faith that grows anywhere outside the field of common humanity have any real value? I struggle with understanding how someone who takes a vow of poverty can relate to those of us who don’t have that luxury. If being poor, chaste, immobile and obedient are virtuous, why isn’t there a deluge of people beating down the doors to the convent?

    IMHO, men who live and thrive in the world by the work of their hands (Jesus, the Apostles, Fr. Stephen, (other names may be added…)) must demonstrate a greater faith than those who don’t mind missing meals and aren’t brave enough to navigate through the hazardous jungles of a marriage. But that’s simply an observation.

    Perhaps if you did not clutter your statements so thoroughly with attitude, they would be more clear.

    This format is perhaps the worst form of communication possible. It’s interesting to me that you are reading “attitude” into it. Coupled with your previous responses, I would venture to guess that you are accustomed more to people criticizing in the negative way than you are to someone simply asking questions. I have no agenda. Just chatting.

  124. Dino says

    TLO,
    we have had this conversation about monasticism here a little while ago. I cannot recall if you took part though… It is always a scandalous path to the outsider, but, as I stated above: “A traffic light in the busy city (married layperson who is perhaps more outwardly ‘active’ in his religion) can never ‘say’ to a lighthouse out in the sea (a somewhat “hesychastic” monk spending far more time talking to God directly rather than to other people): “what is the point of living out there? Come and be another traffic light here in the metropolis”…
    However, only someone who believes in prayer, who knows its power, who believes in Christ’s words on total renouncement of Father. Mother, sons etc, stands any chance of understanding this truth. You sai in the past that you were de-converted so I fail to see how you could be convinced that those whose mode of life you doubt (80% to 90% of all Saints in the history of the Church BTW) actually have such merit as Orthodoxy bestows on them.
    You say “I do not understand a concept”, but how can you ever understand it, if you cannot be convinced of the truth of what it is based on unless -as you have stated in the past- God does not appear to you in person…. So that is an unconscious position you are unconsciously defending. There is no human who claims to be impartial that (or not) that actually is. The issue is what are we partial towards.

  125. Dino says

    Sorry, for all the rushed typos (it’s the multitasking of married life :-) )
    I meant: “There isn’t human (whether they claim to be impartial or not) that actually is impartial. The issue is what are we partial towards…

  126. says

    Dear TLO: Thank you so much for your kind and measured response. It helps me a great deal in adjusting my “hearing” with your posts!

    I think if you go back and examine yourself a bit more clearly you’ll see that you do indeed have a position and it is a strong one…

    “I am most wary of people whose whole life and purpose is defined by a belief system. It doesn’t matter if we are talking about professional religious people, communists, fascists, or modern “conservatives” or “liberals.””

    Most wary is your position: So what I was seeing was not aggressive rejection but incredulity and hesitation to embrace and a bit of rejection salted in to your comments.

    Let me ask you: In your estimation of yourself, how open are you to hearing good things about the religious life?

    M.

  127. says

    PS: To your comment on what I am accustomed to: In actual fact I am much more accustomed to interacting with people who have an excellent regard for the ascetic life and the religious life, so to be confronted with a challenger is not the norm for me.

    I have a high regard for the religious life but I don’t want to extol the things that I see that are virtuous about it till I hear back from you.

    By the way: I do agree that we all cannot leave the world for a cloister, but we all can practice the presence of God wherever we are in the world, whatever we are doing. That by its very definition is what you are wary of: It is people living as Christians in the world, defining themselves by a relationship to a living God.

    M.

  128. says

    TLO: Gracious! After all that I’d think you’d be eager to go behind a monastic wall or door, or maybe even a hermitage somewhere.[smile]

    There’s no place where one can go to avoid the world though, and all of the dangers and temptations that lie in wait therein…not even a hermitage on a very high hill: for there is always someone on the way up that hill, even though you cannot see them, coming to draw you out to fulfill a need or a desire for someone else.

    Perhaps we should add “wistful” to your list of positions. I think that may be more accurate that jealousy…eh?

    I am very glad to be having a chance to know you a little better. I too have stood in the dark shadows of the institution called Church. It is, and I do not exaggerate, terrifying. You stand and watch people whom you love and admire, and perhaps depend upon at some level, being destroyed, and to realize that they have no recourse but to exercise the greatest of all virtues: charity, prudence and patience: and they do so willingly and without complaint: when all of my own responses were to go to war with the established dis-order: which I did to my own detriment. I hit the wall of “mother” Church and bounced…hard.

    So I do understand your recoil…but I am not sure if I have anything that would help you get beyond it. By the time all of that hit for me, I’d been some years in spiritual formation, formally, first with a religious order and then with a spiritual father in the erimetic life.

    That did not mean that I didn’t struggle with serious anger and fear and distrust of men [human beings], but it did mean that I trusted God to bring great good out of all of it, and had a few tools in my kit to get me started on the road to forgiveness: I was still pretty self-willed back then, and kept sticking my nose in God’s business for a while. But I kept trying and keep working to get out of the way and let God work, in me, and in those around me.

    A life dedicated to spiritual work, a consecrated or religious life, to me is a way of being that fully depends on the teaching of the very institutional mess that I have run up against more than once. So there has to be some sense that the teaching is not spoiled by the sins, faults and errors of the teachers. Till you have that settled sense of it, then it may be difficult or impossible to proceed.

    That’s not much help is it?

    In Christ,

    M.

  129. drewster2000 says

    TLO,

    What happened with Dino is that you stepped into his patch of prize-winning flowers: monastics. He has a very high regard for them, to put it mildly.

    But you on the other hand have a method of asking questions that I would call “stirring the pot”, exaggerating to get reaction and start a conversation. So I’m never quite sure where your actual question stops and the hyperbole takes over.

    Your method can be very useful (AND entertaining) but I submit to you that in a good-hearted crowd like this, it’s important to remember when to “come clean” and relent a bit. In this context that would mean admitting that you do in fact see some value in the monastic ideal and just wanted to hear someone expound more fully on the merits of such a life.

    If on the other hand you don’t see any such merit, then I suggest you would have more success among candid folk like these if you would change your tact from “Monastics are in-bred and out-of-touch jokes” to something like “I don’t understand; it would seem to me that cloisters of people must inevitably end up like (fill in your opinion) but I could be wrong. Could someone please talk about that?”

    If you’re ignorant of a certain situation (monasticism in this case), speak in questions and tentative ideas, not declarative statements.

    By the way, good to “see” you again. And I agree with you that the written word is not the best medium for some of these discussions. I have to take the mindset that “now we see as in a mirror dimly, but one day we shall be face to face…”

  130. dino says

    drewster2000,
    I guess it would be better for someone else to make this clarification so that it is not mistaken as some personal reaction…:
    You need to be aware that monasticism in the Church (Orthodoxy) is NOT anybody’s in particular “patch of prize-winning flowers”…
    I know TLO is not Orthodox and assume the same concerning yourself, but our Church Hymnography, our Patristic tradition from the most ancient to the most recent is as clear as can be: monasticism is the Church’s “patch of prize-winning flowers”.
    I could go on to present a thousand incontestable quotes from Chrysostom to Maximus to Palamas (they all had this same arguments with their contemporaries, especially St Gregory Palalmas in a time when Western monasticism had abandoned hesuchasm for ‘activism’ and ‘scholasticism’) etc, but they are frankly not even necessary if you consider that the heart of Orthodoxy is Hesychasm.
    So remember this is Orthodoxy we are talking about -not mine or someone else’s personal taste of course- and, as is often said, monasticism is its lifeblood…

  131. Michael Bauman says

    Dino you allude to an important point: monasticism is not likely to be understood or appreciated outside the Church where the blasphemy “I think, therefore I am” tends to rule.

    In much of the modern world it has descended to even more venal and disgusting expressions, but the principle is the same: the human defines the divine by ideas and feelings alone.

    The Christian must allow himself to be transformed by obedience and his encounter with the living God in prayer, in worship, in others.

    The monastic witness is consistently one of greater expression of our humanity through spiritual discipline that allows God’s personal presence with us in His creation to be manifest.

    We lay people get glimpses from time to time, but without the monastic “extremes” those glimpses are all too easy to rationalize or pietize into ideas and feelings so that the transformative power is squandered.

    We are all prize winning flowers in God’s garden. The monastics are the skilled gardeners who allow the Master Gardener to prune, chastize and make glorious by His grace as examples of who we really are as human beings.

  132. Dino says

    Michael,
    good point. The “I think, therefore I am” spirit could never understand such depth with its “organ” of understanding. It is part and parcel of the reasons why the Protestant-influenced world often ridicules monastic life.

    However, I simply go by the basics here. The tradition, the history (from Saint John the Forerunner -who prepared the way for a King whose Kingdom is not of this world- to the present). We follow the Fathers (it is virtually impossible to name a single one of the Fathers or Mothers who was not a monastic! try it!), the overwhelming majority of the Saints (who were monastics), the Church hymnography (written by monastics almost exclusively), the “thought” of the Orhtodox Church which has always considered Monastic life as the closest possible emulation of the life of Jesus and the apostles, lived in obedience to his commandments and the highest of his teaching (renouncing all), seeking to hear and do the will of God…
    It isn’t difficult to see this in St Paul’s words: “I wish that all were as I myself am [unmarried]. But each has his own special gift from God, one of one kind and one of another … To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is well for them to remain single as I do” (1 Cor. 7:1-40).”
    Periods of vibrant monastic presence are invariably periods of spiritual maturity of the faithful. Without monastic communities, spiritual and ascetical direction depends solely upon the bishops, but bishops come from monasticism! (“catch22″) :-)

  133. TLO says

    Hi Mary L

    After all that I’d think you’d be eager to go behind a monastic wall or door, or maybe even a hermitage somewhere.

    Oddly, just leaving the church was enough for me. But that brings up the idea of escapism which is another aspect of monastic life that fits with my original suggestion that true faith is better cultivated where there is manure. But perhaps I am completely off-base.

    That did not mean that I didn’t struggle with serious anger and fear and distrust of [human beings]…

    This is one of the key facets of my leaving the faith. People within the church are as human as people outside of it. I rather fail to see the point of a faith that claims to make people into a “new creation” but actually doesn’t change them so much as place constraints around them so they are forced to behave more appropriately. No Christian can become in a vacuum what they become by pledging to a clan. Hence I wonder what impact god really has on a person (as opposed to the impact that the community has on a person).

    there has to be some sense that the teaching is not spoiled by the sins, faults and errors of the teachers.

    I agree but the same could be said of communism or indeed of democracy. The theory rarely matches the reality.

    “We take our loftiest intentions and engrave them all neatly in stone, and once they’re safely up there we prefer that they just leave us alone…” (Randy Stonehill – Stop the world I wanna get off)

    Drewster:

    you have a method of asking questions that I would call “stirring the pot”, exaggerating to get reaction and start a conversation. So I’m never quite sure where your actual question stops and the hyperbole takes over.

    Comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable. :)

    admitting that you do in fact see some value in the monastic ideal and just wanted to hear someone expound more fully on the merits of such a life.

    I wouldn’t say that. Not by a long shot. It seems to me that simple human nature precludes the possibility that cloistered individuals won’t end up bickering or falling to the petty vices that are common to us all, whether the group is religious or scientific in nature. (Perhaps that this is one reason behind vows of silence?)

    It’s just my opinion but I think that any pettiness or bickering or outright fighting that is centered on or a result of religious belief is far worse than, say, a San Diego Chargers fan (the poor fool) quarrelling with a Raiders fan (die evil scumhead!). Does that make sense?

    I grew up attending Christian schools until I reached 9th grade. My first year at a public school was a joy to me because no one was trying to fake out everyone around them (which is also common on Sunday mornings in many many churches). I far preferred to be around people who were honest about who they were. I am, perhaps, clouding my view of cloisters with my experiences of having been somewhat cloistered with religious people night and day for the first thirteen years of my life.

    I have higher expectations for Christians than I do for gentiles and having seen how institutionalism in general tends to cause problems for those who involved with the institution, I am naturally concerned for those who join religious institutions. Hence my original statement that the idea of cloisters is baffling to me and my follow-up that, from a purely humanistic point of view, such institutions seem to be a bit of a disservice to the participants.

    Michael or Dino: when you talk of monasticism, do you speak of it as an entity that is good and which the church employs? Said another way, is monasticism in the Buddhist tradition of similar or equal value to the Christian tradition? Or would you say that, like sacramental prayers that make the wine (which is already good in and of itself) something better than it would be without divine intervention, monasticism as an institution is sanctified by Christ?

  134. Michael Bauman says

    Buddhist monasticism is of a different quality than Christian monasticism. Just as Buddhism is of a different quality than Christianity. I refer you to an interview with a former Buddhist who is now an Athonite monk on the Journey to Orthodoxy site for support of my statement.

    Traditional Christianity is all about union with Jesus Christ and the community that creates. There are degrees of union. The monastics practice a discipline that takes that union to a degree that most lay people are unable to experience because of the myriad of distractions with which we live. The unity that the monastics experience strengthens the entire community of Christ and enables everyone to go more deeply into our communion because their union with Christ is also a union with us.

    You are familiar with the saying that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link. In our case it is not a chain but a vine. The monastic life allows the entire Church to be more fully and strongly rooted in the life of God so that better fruit can be produced.

    As the life of the Church is from the life giving Holy Spirit, it is not just for us but it spills over for all. Thus we pray and affirm in the Divine Liturgy that Jesus “gave himself up for the life of the world”.

    I would say that it is Christian monasticism that allows the Buddhists to participate in any life at all.

    The Incarnation (Nativity, mission, Crucifixion, Resurrection, Ascension and return) alters everything. Most of us are unable to enter into or partake of the radical existence the Incarnation calls forth for us. Monks are.

    None of this is in any way a slight of the life we laity live as it is both necessary and proper too. It is just that the monastic life is both a reminder of the centrality and living presence of the Kingdom as “Christ is in our midst” and a palpable demonstration of the reality of that Kingdom that transcends ideas and feelings. The power of the I AM.

    Monks are sinners too as they will be quick to acknowledge, so sinfulness is also on display in the monastic life as it is in the lay life, but that is only to be expected.

    Sin does not invalidate the Truth.

  135. Michael Bauman says

    Monasticism is not an institution. It is a way of life that is uniquely Christian and that all who are in the Church partake of to some degree.

  136. Dino says

    Michael,
    good point. The “I think, therefore I am” spirit could never understand such depth with its “organ” of understanding. It is part and parcel of the reasons why the Protestant-influenced world often ridicules monastic life.

    However, I simply go by the basics here. The tradition, the history (from Saint John the Forerunner -who prepared the way for a King whose Kingdom is not of this world- to the present). We follow the Fathers (it is virtually impossible to name a single one of the Fathers or Mothers who was not a monastic! try it!), the overwhelming majority of the Saints (who were monastics), the Church hymnography (written by monastics almost exclusively), the “thought” of the Orhtodox Church which has always considered Monastic life as the closest possible emulation of the life of Jesus and the apostles, lived in obedience to his commandments and the highest of his teaching (renouncing all), seeking to hear and do the will of God…
    It isn’t difficult to see this in St Paul’s words: “I wish that all were as I myself am [unmarried]. But each has his own special gift from God, one of one kind and one of another … To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is well for them to remain single as I do” (1 Cor. 7:1-40).”
    Periods of vibrant monastic presence are invariably periods of spiritual maturity of the faithful. Without monastic communities, spiritual and ascetical direction depends solely upon the bishops, but bishops come from monasticism! (“catch22″)

  137. says

    TLO,

    I will let Michael or Dino further comment on monasticism. My only comment to your question of Buddhist vs. Christian monasticism. Many religions have monasticism. The monasticism of Buddhism & Christianity are two different animals so to speak because Buddhism & Christianity are vastly different religions with different goals & ends. Buddhism’s nirvana is not the same as Christianity’s salvation.

    Those sects of Buddhism that posit a god (most do not) do not posit the same God as Christianity, but rather at most an impersonal universal force instead of the personal God. In Buddhism, individual consciousness ceases when nirvana is attained whereas in Christianity (EO) our personal identity is not lost in our union with God…i.e., we do not cease to be nor do we cease to be us. One last important point is that in Buddhism, this attainment of nirvana is purely accomplished by the individual’s own efforts. In Christianity no person can attain salvation solely through their own efforts…it is by the grace of God (God’s love) in synergy with man’s faith & love given in return.

  138. Dino says

    TLO (&drewster2000),
    (I am encountering some difficulty commenting)
    speaking of monasticism in the Orthodox Church in particular, I repeat, consider how central to Her it must be when all Her hymnography is written almost exclusively by monastics, it is virtually impossible to name a single one of the Fathers or Mothers who was not a monastic! (try it!), the overwhelming majority of Her Saints were monastics and ithout monastic communities, spiritual and ascetical direction depends solely upon the bishops, but …bishops come from monasticism!

  139. Dino says

    I am encountering some difficulty commenting, so this little comment might suddenly appear (along with a few longer versions of the same, or not at all…

    To re-attempt a few words on monasticism in the Orthodox Church in particular,( I repeat):
    please consider how central to the Church it must be, when all Her hymnography/Services are written virtually exclusively by monastics, it is almost impossible to name a single one of the Fathers or Mothers who was not a monastic. (give it a try…!)

  140. Dino says

    drewster2000 & TLO,
    Simply going with the basics here: The Church tradition, (from Saint John the Forerunner -who prepared the way for a King whose Kingdom is not of this world- to the present), the “mind” of the Orhtodox Church, has always considered Monastic life (in all its Orthodox varieties – coenobite to anchorite) as the closest possible imitation of the consecrated life of Christ and the apostles, lived in obedience to his commandments and His highest of ‘callings’ (renouncing all), seeking to hear and do nothing but the will of God…
    It isn’t difficult to see this in St Paul’s words: “I wish that all were as I myself am [unmarried].… To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is well for them to remain single as I do” (1 Cor. 7:1-40).”
    Periods of vibrant monastic presence are invariably periods of spiritual maturity of the faithful. Without monastic communities, general spiritual and ascetical direction depends solely upon the bishops, but (catch22), bishops come from monasticism!

  141. mary benton says

    I do not fully understand the life of monasticism because I have not been called to that life. We are one body, but not all hands or eyes or feet. The monastics are an immensely important part of the body – but those raising families or living lives of service in the world are immensely important to the body as well. God has made it so.

    While I agree that there are some very fundamental differences between Christian monasticism and Buddhist monasticism, I would also make the point that the latter offer a great deal to the body as well. They are a strong witness to peace in our troubled world – more so (sadly) than some Christians. Their practices and way of life teach much to those alienated from “religion” about meditation, kindness and unselfishness. May our lives in Christ do the same – and more.

    The experience of a life dedicated to Truth and the practice of holy virtues is something to which we are all invited. Some find this in the setting of community, simplicity and silence – while others may find it as teachers, parents or ministers to the ill or disadvantaged. One body, many members.

  142. Dino says

    Mary,
    the immense value Orthodoxy bestows on Monasticism stands on its own. There is never a need to shift the argument (towards a comparison and defence of us married laity).
    That is often a telltale sign of RC’s (and the entire post-Renaissance Western-influenced mind’s) unconscious distrust of “mystical” Hesychasm (‘being still to know God’ at the expense of absolutely all else) and belief in some sort of more “pragmatic” worldly ‘activism’…
    Mary’s ‘activism’ has her place, but Martha’s ‘hesychasm’ is higher (according to our Lord’s word)

  143. Dino says

    Other way around of course….! :-)

    Martha‘s ‘activism’ has her place, but Mary’s ‘hesychasm’ is higher (according to our Lord’s word)

  144. mary benton says

    Dino,

    I think you have perhaps misread me (or perhaps I misread you).

    I wasn’t “shifting the argument” nor was I trying to “defend” the laity (married or otherwise). Nor do I think I have an “unconscious distrust of ‘mystical’ Hesychasm” (though if it were unconscious, I wouldn’t know it, of course. :-)).

    I was referencing scripture, that the body has many parts. Not all are called to be living in monasteries. I believe all are called to be both Martha and Mary in some sense, though the amount of time dedicated to “work” and “prayer” as observable activities will vary.

    I say observable, because for the monk, prayer is their primary work, and for the lay person, their work is often their primary prayer, is it not? The monk may do some “work” of the physical sense (sweep his cell?) and the lay person will do some “prayer” (in formal sense), but in different proportions. All are called to both work and pray.

    Union with with God is not a calling for monks alone, though I say this with great reverence for those who give their lives to God in this manner. We are all called to give our lives completely to God and to value the “Mary” part of our lives over the “Martha” part. (For me, I consider myself blessed to be psychologist but that is but a temporary vocation; I consider myself even more blessed to be invited to sit at the feet of Jesus – which is eternal way of being.)

  145. TLO says

    Hi Mary B

    I believe all are called to be both Martha and Mary in some sense…

    This is well stated.

    I say this with great reverence for those who give their lives to God in this manner.

    Can you expound on the reason for this reverence? Patriots have a certain reverence for soldiers (at least nowadays) but I don’t know any soldiers who feel that reverence is due them. They volunteered to do a job and they do it. Is this also true of monastics? Do you think that the laity have a perception of monastics that those within the convent do not have of themselves?

    Dino: Jesus said that the greatest among you will be the least. How does this fit in with the monastic life. Do these folks join the monastery in an effort to become “the least”?

  146. Dino says

    Mary,
    your comment made me laugh! especially: “(though if it were unconscious, I wouldn’t know it, of course.)”
    I do agree with what you are saying there of course.

    TLO,
    (it would be good to remember that just as there is an immense difference in the outward life setting of one in the world and one in a monastery, there is a similarly vast difference between one in a monastery and a true hesychast living as an anchorite)
    Humility is the sine qua non of success in all walks of life, even more so in monasticism… So, whether the initial call to renounce “all” for that exclusive “specialisation” is done for good, not so good or bad reasons makes less of a difference than achieving humility somewhere along the way…
    A discerning Christian would know the paramount importance of “being the least” when entering monasticism, however, many might enter with a different enthusiasm and little such discernment. That does not mean they will not learn that paramount importance… They are in an ideal setting to learn such things -that are far harder to clearly comprehend ‘outside’.

  147. Dino says

    sorry, forgot an important comma:
    So, whether the initial call to renounce “all” for that exclusive “specialisation” is done for good, not so good or for bad reasons , makes less of a difference than achieving humility somewhere along the way…

  148. drewster2000 says

    Dino,

    I have no basis for arguing with you about the importance of monasticism; I was just making a point: on this site you are the champion of monastics and of course all the church fathers coming out of it. While many of us agree with its importance, you are the local keeper of this particular flower bed. And of course you won’t hold this to be a slight or criticism. In fact it should make you even a bit proud! (wink)

    TLO,

    You conveniently did not respond to the second half of my comment to you, which you can go up and reread. Paraphrasing it briefly, if you are ignorant of something, find out. From all I’ve read about your past experience of church, you were horribly slandered and misled, putting it mildly. This is a tragedy…but all the more reason not to turn around and treat anyone else in the same way.

  149. fatherstephen says

    I have remained relatively silent on the discussion viz. monasticism. I’ll say definitively (!) Orthodox is not comprehensible apart from monasticism. It’s not just an interesting devotional option – it is – in the mind of the Church – an essential expression of the gospel (Mt. 19:12). And Christ in this verse acknowledges that is a saying hard to be received – it is something of a “higher calling.” It does not diminish the married state in any respect – but it has a unique eschatological dimension in the life of the Church. It is, indeed, a sacrament (as is marriage).
    Wherever Orthodoxy has existed without monasticism, or with weakened monasticism (much of American Orthodox history was like this), the Church has been endangered and weakened. The flourishing of monasticism is an essential sign of health in the Church. We will not have strong and healthy marriages and families without strong monasticism.

  150. Michael Bauman says

    I have personally met only a handful of Orthodox monastics in my life before recently. Now, my bishop is in the process of establishing a monastery here in Wichita. St. Silouan the Athonite Monastery. It has been in the works for some time

    Right now they have three monks: Bp Basil, Heirodeacon Benedict and newly tonsured Fr. Philip Vreeland, widowed a year ago. Near the end of her life, Fr. Philip’s wife blessed his desire to enter the monastic life with a hug and a smile. He continues to serve the tiny mission parish in Garden City, Ks.

    In a sense this shows to me the essential link between marriage and monasticism although I am not able to articulate it well.

    Bp. Basil is building an complete Orthodox community here centered on the Cathedral parish and the other two Antiochian parishes in Wichita (one of which is western rite). The Cathedral is the center for outreach in our support of missionaries in the U.S and abroad (mission parishes as well), in the work of the Treehouse to mothers in crisis so that they can keep their babies; our school and the monastery that is forming as well as plans to establish a regional retreat center and youth camp. I am blessed to be even a small part of all of that. Our parish has long been a supporter of the monastic life and many have take pilgrimages to Athos and monasteries in Lebanon.

    There have been 8 missions established and thriving in Kansas alone. Considering the population of the state that is a lot. Many more in other parts of the diocese, especially Texas.

    The monastery will be the anchor and the heavenly root from which we will draw life and strength. It is essential for the continued growth and strength of all that we do.

    Pray for us.

  151. drewster2000 says

    Concerning monasticism being a higher calling…

    I speculate that “this is a hard saying” in our culture because we are so numbers-based, so ready to put our lives on the scale and decide our worth based on how much we make or have – and probably also from an abuse of the sentiment that I’ll refer to as clericalism, the idea in the minds of some that clergy are closer to God and He therefore loves them best.

    While I realize that the whole premise is flawed, it nonetheless has had its effect in the West and, along with other forces, has caused more of a competition in the Church rather than cooperation.

    So to Western ears, “monastics have a higher calling” sounds a lot like “they’re better than you and will get more good stuff – and you may not make it in at all if there’s any kind of cutoff”. While I realize some people don’t mean it this way because they have a mindset which is inclusive, others do in fact mean it this way. In either case, that’s often how it comes off sounding.

    I don’t suggest that the solution to this is to stop calling monasticism a higher calling, just that clarifying dialogue following such statements is often healthy and inevitable, given the audience.

  152. drewster2000 says

    Michael,

    What’s happening in Witchita sounds like a wonderful thing. I’ll keep you/them in my prayers.

  153. fatherstephen says

    Drewster,
    Perhaps “higher” is the wrong word. “Harder” is correct. In Orthodoxy, very few monastics are clergy. All nuns are non-clergy, of course, and monasteries only have as many priests as they actually need for the services (generally). Most are not ordained.

    The modern “democratic” spirit has a hard time with the idea that anybody is “better” “more well off” or superior to me in any way. Orthodoxy (and the Scripture) is inherently hierarchical. But “the greatest among you must be your servant.” So, monastics take on their way of life in order to be the least and to be the servant of all. Those monastics who have any other attitude are likely to fail.

    My experience of monastics has been very much that of ‘being served.’ Last year I visited at a monastery that does not have a priest. I was so pleased with having a “job” while I was there. I did services, served a feast day liturgy, blessed holy water, etc. I felt quite at home. Indeed, I have been treated as an honored guest whenever I go to a monastery – as are the laymen I’ve seen who are visiting as well. I’ve been waited on hand and foot in hospitality, etc.

  154. drewster2000 says

    Fr. Stephen,

    I have absolutely no doubt that it is just as you have said and that monastics as a whole do not think of themselves as better than laity. I also agree with the idea that just because the modern democratic spirit has a problem with an inferiority complex doesn’t not mean the rest of the world should lay down in the dust to prove our equality with God.

    Generally speaking we are on the same page. It is usually not monastics that should be addressed and moderated on this topic, but the naysayers(even if that sometimes includes me). However, because of this weakness/roadblock in the other, it is sometimes helpful to reiterate certain truths, like all being loved of God and that being infinitely sufficient for us to allow some to be higher than us without feeling threatened.

    Thanks for the honor of your reply.

  155. TLO says

    Drewster:

    You conveniently did not respond to the second half of my comment to you

    Did you mean this?

    If on the other hand you don’t see any such merit, then I suggest you would have more success among candid folk like these if you would change your tact from “Monastics are in-bred and out-of-touch jokes” to something like “I don’t understand…”

    I did not respond to this because it is tiresome and incorrect and to respond fully would be without any possible positive outcome. I can foresee that this could quickly devolve into a conflict and I have no desire to be at odds with you.

    Nowhere did I state or remotely imply that “Monastics are in-bred and out-of-touch jokes.” Nor would I. Ever.

    I’ll leave it at that. Let’s move on.

  156. TLO says

    Fr. Stephen

    …it has a unique eschatological dimension in the life of the Church.

    I believe you. Thank you for the succinct statement.

    When I was first introduced to Orthodoxy, one of the first things I read was Martin Luther’s view about the need for the sacraments, particularly the sacrament of confession. And I was completely thrown. Any Protestant today would write it off as a weakness in Luther due to overexposure to RC teachings. But as soon as I read it I began to see how barren and destitute the Protestant faith actually is.

    Perhaps it is so weak and feeble because there is no concept of monasticism within Protestant thinking. The best they can manage is occasional prayer groups. Through this discussion, I am beginning to have the idea that the monastics are somewhat like the liver or perhaps the digestive system. One cannot survive (let alone be healthy) without these.

    Would that be a somewhat correct assessment?

  157. TLO says

    And thanks to all who have responded. Education is rough on a seeker of wisdom but you have taught gently and well.

  158. Dino says

    TLO,
    that is a most astute observation that few would reach from just an online discussion – there must be something more behind..
    In fact, it is also a ‘classic’ saying in Orthodoxy that monasticism is (not just the liver but) the heart of the Church. Even its enemies quickly realise this -if they are discerning-, and fight monasticism first, knowing that without a heart the whole body will quickly be affected.

  159. Michael Bauman says

    Also TLO, you asked up stream if monks became monks seeking to be the least. Yes, they do. That is exactly what they do.

  160. says

    Dear TLO,

    Because I am a papal Catholic, I’ve been somewhat reserved in my responses to you and also because I was waiting for Father Stephen to weigh on any one of your comments so that I could follow his lead, since I do not know you or about you really.

    The small part that I can bring to this, with regard to your concerns is a lifetime lived in the discernment of a religious vocation, a good bit of exposure in both the Catholic Church and in Orthodoxy, through family and through friends, to those in the monastic life, and as I noted earlier, I have struggled with the institution called Church.

    So one of the first things that comes to mind in listening to you is that one of the most important aspects of discernment in faith is to be settled in a regular prayer discipline and a regular habit of reading Scripture. What that looks like of course changes from person to person. The amount of time you have to devote daily to prayer and to being consciously aware of the presence of God helps to proportionally increase our ability to see things clearly and act prudentially. The more time we have to listen to God the more we will hear. The more quiet the mind and spirit, the stronger His movement in us, if we are patient and do not meddle or push for something that we want. In other words, there comes a time in every seeker’s life to stop seeking and simply begin to be in His presence.

    How does that comport with your experiences?

    In Christ,

    M.

  161. TLO says

    Hi Mary,

    Thanks. As far as reading the Bible, I’m probably better off not. My upbringing included daily family Bible study (my earliest recollection of this was at the age of 4). My dad was a pastor-wanna-be in my early years, and associate pastor at a couple large churches from when I was 12 onward. He later became a full pastor and much later became an Orthodox priest, but that was when I was already beyond recall.

    We were at the church whenever the doors were open and when they weren’t there were always church people at our house. I do not mean this figuratively. We had an “open door” policy. People were expected to just walk in whenever whether they were invited over or not. And they did.

    My Bible exposure would qualify as super-saturated.

    Also, I was raised with literal interpretations of everything in the Bible. I have learned in recent years that some parts are supposed to be allegorical but I honestly cannot tell if that is true or not. I see no point, for example, in mentioning the ages of Adam, Seth, Enosh etc if they were not actual literal people. And since it is not readily obvious what is literal and what is not, I find it impossible to take seriously. Add to this the thousands of sermons that contain the phrase “What he really meant…” and you can see my disinclination to try to tackle it.

    As for prayer, I kinda fail to see the point. I spent 43 years praying, begging god to speak to me, to change me etc. Niente.

    So, after the shipwreck I found myself on this island. It’s quite nice and peaceful, for the most part, but I wouldn’t complain if god actually showed up, even in a canoe.

  162. Dino says

    TLO,
    I am sure I have said this before, but once more wont hurt:
    God always shows up. Dependant on a myriad factors, it could be tonight, next Easter, every single night, or just on my death-bed…
    It shouldn’t make a difference! What I do when I do not see Him, not even with a “canoe”, is what really matters… I won’t go into the consequences of our response to that singularly important encounter of one’s life here, I just simply say that along the road of this life, we can only prepare for it while not seeing Him. This preparation of course is what enables us to see Him in all things, especially our brothers and sisters, prior to seeing Him face to face. But let’s remind ourselves of the mystagogy:
    Those who have not seen and yet believe are the blessed ones…

    He certainly does make Himself known through His Spirit in the Orthodox Church in a measure according to one’s humility and purity (far exceeding it in actual fact)…

  163. dino says

    I would also come clean by adding that THAT encounter, even though it is what the soul desires the most, must not ever be demanded. This is clear patristsic teaching – there is a time and a place which we do not know and He certainly does… In fact nothing must be demanded. We pray not to ask or demand but to be in the presence of Him who is already the fulfillment of all our requests.

  164. says

    Dear TLO,

    Our conversation has hurt in it but it’s also a bit like a rose budding and starting to unfold. If you don’t mind, I’ll keep asking a bit more. Can we know a first name for you? No matter if you don’t want to do that.

    What about the gospels? Can you see them just as stories. I would never say that the gospel of Luke is my favorite. When asked I always say Matthew but when I open the book, I always reach for Luke. It’s odd. I have spent most of my life poor and I don’t know if I could have made it without Luke’s lilies and ravens. I love the letter to Hebrews too…the part where he talks about faith. I love poetry.

    What about the psalms? What about the story of Elijah…not the history, just the parts where he talks to God…what about Job talking to God?…Moses talking to God?…

    What about the story of the Cross or Acts?…Don’t you miss any of it? I’m not doubting the harm that’s been done in your life, but it seems to me that once those stories find a home inside of you, it would be hard to dig it all out. Isn’t it possible to build new memories in a new man? 43 years is a long time but I was only a few years younger when I began to make my way back.

    What are your experiences with Orthodoxy?

    In Christ,

    M.

  165. mary benton says

    Hi TLO (John)

    In response to your way earlier question to me “having great reverence” for monastics is because I believe they are indeed the heart of the Church, as Dino noted.

    A beautiful expression of this in the RC tradition came from St. Therese of the Child Jesus (she entered the Carmelites at age 15 and died at the age of 24). She wrote:

    “When I had looked upon the mystical body of the Church, I recognised myself in none of the members which Saint Paul described, and what is more, I desired to distinguish myself more favorably within the whole body. Love appeared to me to be the hinge for my vocation. Indeed I knew that the Church had a body composed of various members, but in this body the necessary and more noble member was not lacking; I knew that the Church had a heart and that such a heart appeared to be aflame with love. I knew that one love drove the members of the Church to action, that if this love were extinguished, the Apostles would have proclaimed the Gospel no longer, the martyrs would have shed their blood no more. I saw and realized that love sets off the bounds of all vocations, that love is everything, that this same love embraces every time and every place. In one word, that love is everlasting.

    Then, nearly ecstatic with the supreme joy in my soul, I proclaimed: O Jesus, my love, at last I have found my calling: my call is love. Certainly I have found my place in the Church, and You gave me that very place, my God. In the heart of the Church, my mother, I will be love, and thus I will be all things, as my desire finds its direction.”

    And so “the great reverence”. (I am called to view all of God’s creatures and creation with great reverence, of course, but my ability to see is quite limited. A heart “aflame with love” I can glimpse more readily perhaps.)

  166. mary benton says

    An additional note about God “showing up”:

    Many of those considered closest to God, including Therese above, experienced significant and painful periods where God seemed absent.

    Monasticism is indeed a “harder” calling (thank you, Fr. Stephen, for that well-phrased clarification). When God seems absent to me, painful though that is, I have many other ways to distract myself. I can manage to throw myself a bit more into my job, hobbies, etc. without abandoning my overall commitment to God.

    However, one who has given up everything this world offers to be with God must suffer horribly when they cannot sense God’s presence. Yet, they continue to love and pray. A harder calling indeed. And their response to the absence experience is, IMHO, a major part of what makes them the “heart”. Their love for God is not based on a high from experiencing His presence. It is a trek through the desert on which they continue, presence felt or not.

    Their prayers and embrace of this suffering strengthens the rest of us, modeling the Way of the Savior.

  167. dino says

    Mary Benton,
    that is an excellent point I am glad you made! It is something that those lacking all experience of staying put in a setting of no distraction for God, know nothing off. The experience of absence in SUCH a setting and with such a vocation is unimaginably more difficult.
    The advise though (as I have mentioned here before – by Elder Aimilianos)is: you must live his absence, like his presence. You cannot see Him, but know that He see You…

  168. TLO says

    Mary L – I don’t want to bore the rest of the community with stuff that I have explained to them in the past but I would welcome a dialogue via email if you wish. The address is slave2six [at] gmail.com. (the “slave2six” is because I have a wife and five daughters…)

    Mary B – Thanks. I am beginning to get a better understanding of monasticism and I can see your point. Albeit, there are many times I wish I could take a vow of poverty and bail on all these responsibilities. Heck, solitary confinement is sometimes attractive. (Although, if I had my druthers, I’d love to go live in a cabin in the woods and get supplies in town maybe once a month.)

  169. Dino says

    TLO,
    another important aspect of Orthodoxy (and certainly of its monasticism) is that of noble respect for one’s freedom – well beyond what most people imagine. It is rare even in these circles due to our apostasy, but it is a telltale sign of a true application of Orthodox tradition.
    I have been amazed at the ‘scandalous’ respect of my freedom -even to sin- by those I consider to be the most formidable examples of living Orthodoxy (e.g. Elder Porphyrios, Elder Aimilianos and his disciples who have become Spiritual Fathers…)
    This is rooted in a knowledge that our motives (our inner motives) need to become pure and free. If they are not, it will obviously, be pointed out to us when -needed.
    In fact what you just mentioned -solitary confinement as an ‘attractive’ bail out from responsibility- is a classic one which would be given attention since the motives there are so suspect.
    However, if our motives to resist sin are not “free”, (e.g. we ‘self-oppress’ without having yet understood that our own deepest desire is to not sin) then we might be shocked to hear the advise ‘go and sin – do what you desire freely’ (when the discerning Elder knows there is NO OTHER WAY for us to comprehend that we actually WANT NOT TO SIN, than to taste of its emptiness…
    it’s a tricky point to explain without misunderstanding it, (especially since its total application by a Spiritual Father would require a ‘clairvoyant trust’ in God’s providence for one’s spiritual children) and it is a valuable one we rarely see in the Western application of the Gospel…
    There is no other way to ascend to that stature, dignity, nobility that this most profound sense of freedom bestows!
    I have witnessed these men who are “entirely liberated, with all the nuances that this word can carry” (as they said about Elder Aimilianos for instance – “a man who has found freedom by drinking from the refreshing fount of faith, living the love of God)!

  170. Michael Bauman says

    Dino it has been my observation that most people don’t want freedom. We want someone else to do it for us. That is one of the tricky things about obedience. It is not the act of a slave but one that comes from real freedom or at least a desire to be free and taking responsibility for or own sins not out of guilt or pride but because we want to be free.

  171. TLO says

    Michael – It can be clearly demonstrated that people are much happier when they have fewer choices. From a neuro-psychological standpoint, when one is offered more than a few choices (of anything) the brain immediately goes into “regret” mode as it mulls over the choices that it could have made but did not. Likewise, complete freedom to do whatever one wants is completely overrated.

    Sometimes I miss Mayberry, you know?

  172. Michael Bauman says

    The freedom is not one of choices. It is in knowing that the choice on makes is in accord with God. What St. Paul and St Gregory of Nyssa called moving from glory to glory.

    The anxiety of modern times is one of too many choices all virtually assured to be wrong. Thus the “flee to the woods” desire.

    It is also why the Orthodox Church with its time tested spiritual method makes saints.

    Man is in rebellion so obedience is difficult. Even doing the right thing the right way has consequences. But the more one can learn to give glory to God, the less bumpy the ride.

  173. TLO says

    The anxiety of modern times is one of too many choices all virtually assured to be wrong. Thus the “flee to the woods” desire.

    Unless you believe that being constantly accessible (e.g. via cell phone), communicating through social networks and being bombarded with varying religious and political worldviews is morally incorrect or that simply tiring of being financially responsible for 5-8 other human beings is “wrong” in some way, I tend to disagree. The “flee to the woods” is a desire to simplify life. It is not a desire to escape a life of crime or some such.

    …the more one can learn to give glory to God, the less bumpy the ride.

    I don’t know that is a correct statement. Nor is it really a desired mode of living for the Christian, is it? Which of the Saints had “less of a bumpy ride” as a result of their choices? Seems to me that the opposite would be true.

    Perhaps I am misunderstanding what you are saying.

  174. Dino says

    I think “being constantly accessible (e.g. via cell phone), communicating through social networks and being bombarded with varying religious and political worldviews….. being financially responsible for 5-8 other human beings is not ” isn’t ‘morally incorrect’ – far from it. It is just that if I have chosen to be a plain soldier, I need to be prepared to do all these (more “mundane” if you like) jobs at the back. Whereas, if I had chosen to be in the elite special forces, I would be fighting at the frontline.
    The first is ‘harder’ because it’s more of an effort to become zealous and all-consumingly driven amongst so many distractions and so much lukewarm babble, and easier because of the lack of imminent danger. The second is harder fro the obvious intensity of the front-line, and easier due to the fervent patriotic zeal that such a position might bestow?
    If the whole point is not just MY pleasure, but my entire nation’s liberation from a tyrannical oppressor, St Paul’s words start making more sense here: “I wish that all were as I myself am [unmarried].… To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is well for them to remain single as I do” (1 Cor. 7:1-40).”
    Of course there is no denying that modern city life -especially the very intense sort- of itself makes one, one day say, I need to simplify my life, to flee to the woods…!
    But the fact that upon encountering God’s Grace, even to a quite small degree, a person invariably wants to ‘hide away’ and enjoy Him (even if he then -in his hideout- encounters his own darkness fro a period) is just as natural as two lovers wanting to leave the distracting crowds and enjoy looking into each other eyes in privacy…

  175. drewster2000 says

    Dino,

    “It is just that if I have chosen to be a plain soldier, I need to be prepared to do all these (more “mundane” if you like) jobs at the back. Whereas, if I had chosen to be in the elite special forces, I would be fighting at the frontline.

    The first [in the world] is ‘harder’ because it’s more of an effort to become zealous and all-consumingly driven amongst so many distractions and so much lukewarm babble, and easier because of the lack of imminent danger. The second [monastic] is harder fro the obvious intensity of the front-line, and easier due to the fervent patriotic zeal that such a position might bestow…”

    Thanks for this. A very good picture for looking at their differences.

  176. TLO says

    Dino – Are you a monk?

    The second is harder from the obvious intensity of the front-line, and easier due to the fervent patriotic zeal that such a position might bestow

    I think you are saying the same thing regarding a “bumpy ride” that I was trying to say.

    upon encountering God’s Grace a person invariably wants to ‘hide away’ …

    I’ll have to take your word for that. Your words make me think of “Till We Have Faces” and I am Orual or perhaps the Fox.

  177. Dino says

    Hanen’t read “Till We Have Faces”, my wife loved it, i should ask her about the characters you mention ;-)

  178. TLO says

    You’d like it. It’s based on the Greek fable of Psyche and Cupid but with a Christian perspective.

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