Patiently Waiting

Southwest Trip 392Christ said, “In patience possess your souls” (Luke 21:19). Orthodoxy presumes patience on our parts. The services take patience – they last a good length of time and without patience your mind will never stop wandering.

Catechumenates can take a while.

Learning many of the things of an Orthodox way of life cannot be rushed. Only time can make a difference.

These are hard words in a culture where time is money and we never seem to have enough of either. But though our culture has changed, human beings have not. We still take 9 months to come to the fullness of time in the womb. We still have to go to sleep for about a third of our life. We still age at about the same rate (the Bible speaks of 3 score years and 10, perhaps 4 score, and our span of life on average still has not reached 4 score).

But grace, this marvelous life of God that is given to us, also accommodates to our life as human beings. We do not receive grace and suddenly become angels. We receive grace, and the whole process of our salvation is a matter of years. My family and I marked 15 years as Orthodox Christians last February. I ran across these quotes from the Elder Sophrony in his book, St. Silouan the Athonite. He mentions a period of 15 years for the assimilation of grace in the lives of great ascetics. It tells me that I am not a great ascetic. It also tells me yet again, “Be patient.”

The history of the Church together with personal contact with many ascetics has led me to the conclusion that the experience of grace in those who have been granted visitations and visions is only assimilated deeply after years of ascetic endeavor; grace then taking the form of spiritual knowledge that I should prefer to define as ‘dogmatic consciousness’ (but not in the academic sense of the term).

The historical experience of the Church, in which I include the Apostles and the holy Fathers both ancient and modern, makes it possible to calculate this period of assimilation as lasting at least fifteen years. Thus St. Paul’s first Epistle (to the Thessalonians) was written some fifteen years after the Lord had appeared to him on the road to Damascus. Often the period lasts twenty, twenty-five, even thirty or more years. The Evangelists and other Apostles wrote their testimonies and epistles long after the Lord’s Ascension. Most of the holy Fathers acquainted the world with their visions and experiences only when their ascetic course was nearing its close. More than thirty years elapsed before the Staretz set down in writing, with final and mature dogmatic consciousness, his own experience. The assimilation of grace is a lengthy process.


  1. Well, what really hurts,as a catechumen ( an ex-Anglican – before the ‘slippery slope began) is missing Holy Communion. But I’m not only allowed to, but encouraged to join the line -up so I can kiss the foot of the chalice. My priest asked me ‘what did I think about that?’ and I said ‘well, I know Who is in the Chalice’ — so I can be patient. There is an ‘aura’ to the Liturgy so reminiscent of the Mass – well, I guess so! where did the Mass derive from! – anyway, this whole ‘waiting period’ reminds me of people waiting at a bus-stop. There are those whose attitude(like mine) is it’ll come when it comes… but there are others who every 30 seconds stand up, step over the curb into the street and peer ‘way down; as if that will hasten the arrival of the bus.
    Well, maybe, maybe not. My Chrismation will come when my priest thinks I’m ready for it. But in the meantime I come to a Liturgy where I can worship God (instead of being ‘entertained’) – and that in itself is a Mystery.
    The disciplines of prayer and fasting are an added bonus.
    as you say: Glory be2Godforallthings!

  2. Correct me if I’m wrong, Father, but from the Orthodox perspective, we do not have the goal of getting to heaven. We have no goal. We have an eternal journey of getting closer and closer to God, becoming more and more like Him.

  3. It seems to me that the primary patience we need to have is with ourselves.

    God is already here. It takes us a long time to clear away the clutter in ourselves so that we can recognize Him present. And, as soon as we think we’ve cleared the clutter, we find that we have developed or created some more.

    So, s George suggested, we might as well enjoy the journey. Grace abounds, even (or especially) in our least favorite parts of it.

  4. My first 15 years of being embraced were spent, largely, in wondering if I would ever become Orthodox. The next 10 have been spent in realizing that there might be some hope for me after all and beginning to evidence a small, itty-bitty fruit here and there.

    By God’s grace I may become more fully human by the time I repose with, I pray, a good defense before the dread judgement seat of Christ.

  5. I can’t help but wonder that if living is a matter of death or life for non believers when they are spiritually open if that’s why the success of the Wesley’s and so forth to our instantaneous conversion present is so simple among non catholic or non orthodox …., for instance , a sinner whose spiritually desperate really can’t wait a few years before confession , he needs help now ( out with the old presuppositions and in with the new), …, this always puzzles me , as Christ welcomes instantaneously , and pursues , but when one matures, that’s when the ecclesial needs form and the full lights come on. I always feel there’s a limit to non sacramental faith but its never going to stop cause its easily accessible for the dying ,

  6. I’ve been a Christian for 40 years now. It took me 39 years to discover the Orthodox Church . . . this past year I’ve read a lot (a lot!) of books, and began attending an Orthodox Church, and finally two weeks ago I made a decision and indicated to the priest my desire to become Orthodox, and now the real waiting begins I think . . . looking back 40 years I can discern a slow, slow process that has finally lead me to this place. I am so grateful to be here . . .

  7. Speaking of patience…
    Dear Fr Stephen I asked you a question on your post on marrital unions (I think it’s called No Wedding Vows). It is the last comment there.
    I have been patiently waiting for your reply. 🙂

    I think I will be leaving Orthodox-internet for some time. I would certainly be grateful to read your response before I go. You can also email me (I sent you the question by email too- but perhaps the wrong address).
    I can be reached at: man or they at gmail dot com (all one word).

    And thank you so much for this word on patience. I am starkly aware of the poverty of real formation that happens for converts in modern N.A. Taking myself as an example, I think it would be best if converts to Orthodoxy were told that they are not allowed to speak about the Faith for 3 years after conversion. This might save us from some of our graver sins against family and friends.
    Thereafter we would only be allowed to share on Orthodoxy if we first believed the other had something to offer us spiritually or something we could learn from.

    I will ask your prayers in my (internet) absence/silence.
    -Mark Basil

  8. Mark Basil,
    I tried to comment on ‘No Wedding vows’ but do not seem to be able to get it to work! I’ll attempt here:

    You brought fresh attention to the matter of homosexuality with the above question to Father Stephen. You mentioned Spiritual unions in particular.
    I believe the short answer concerning ‘spiritual union’ (of the same sex variety) is that, when it happens, IT IS NOT a bodily union! Far from it… It is not an emotional, especially not a sexualised or sensualised one…
    Think of Saints Basil and Gregory, or the lesser known Saints Nilus of Calabria and Fandinus the wonderworker. They were ‘unified’ with an exceptional Spiritual union. It does remain very dangerous in most (other) circumstances though – remember that theirs were exceptional conditions. But they needn’t physically even see each other! As this union is IN CHRIST, it is actually stronger the more I am alone with Him, rather than bodily in the presence of others. ‘Neptic’ union that involves giving 100% of my heart to Christ (exclusively) means that all other spiritual relationships, if they are genuine, are in Christ. Bodily union, even bodily proximity (!) corrodes the sublime spirituality of true union. Do we at least understand the truth of this subtlety…?
    It often escapes secular thoughts concerning ‘unions’.
    Christ’s words: “Where two [in Marriage] or three [in Monasticism] are together in my name…” only has these two options in fact: Marriage & Monasticism… Bodily union (which is a ‘closed’ union), is blessed with this singularly exceptional blessing only in marriage. Spiritual union on the other hand, is ‘wide open’ (three or more), there is no exclusion allowed here – and it is in the overwhelming majority of cases of the “same-sex” variety (think of Basil & Gregory) for a great many reasons we cannot go into right here…
    God only allows the ‘exclusion’ of all others in the union of Christ (Adam) and the Church (Eve)… (Not a same-sex union)
    In fact he commands it, and he blesses it, and he even provides procreation through it (alone). All other expressions and manifestations of the “thorn of the flesh” would lack such a blessing even if they could provide reproduction.
    Even the genital expression in marriage can and often does entail ascetical overtones (unlike the genital expression in a same-sex context). Not just because of the likelihood (or the potential if you will) of procreation and the accompanying sacrifices. No. (Although, this IS a most crucial point of course). But also because of some other reasons: Within this Church union (of marriage), even the very pleasure itself, can sometimes result from a mixture that contains self-denial (!) Indeed, in order to “not deprive one another” for example, the sensual pleasure can and does have ascetical overtones.
    Let me explain: One can do this (‘not deprive the other’), for the sake of his beloved God (who has ordered it through St Paul), even though he might have preferred to devote himself to prayer… and still ‘see’ grace continue to have Her abode in his soul after the act of lovemaking. In the same-sex context this is not possible for a myriad reasons. Where do we start? The far greater admixture of self, the far lesser possibility of denial of my rights, etc etc etc… these and many more reasons in a same-sex relationship could never allow Grace to stay, even if someone deluded themselves into thinking they are gladly having sex with the other ‘only because the other wants it’ (to “not deprive” them) while he may have preferred to devote himself to prayer…
    Ok… I have strayed and it sounds a bit like you get into paradise by having sex when you don’t really feel like it but your husband does, which is obviously nothing like having your limbs chopped off as a martyr, but, there is validity here nevertheless!

  9. My dear wife was Christmated on Holy Saturday, 2010. She had been Episcopal, Roman Catholic, Evangelical, American Indian Methodist before meeting me and coming to the Church.

    She says frequently that she joined the other churches, she became Orthodox.

    Becoming Orthodox is a bit like being married. There is a period of time that most folks need to spend to clear their minds a bit of all that they think Christianity is and allow the spirit of the Church to sink in to the point that they are willing to make the commitment to be one with Christ. “The Seal of the Gift of the Holy Spirit” given at Chrismation is not to be accepted lightly.

    Nine months is the standard in my parish, although some come to catechumen classes and do not proceed into the Church.

  10. Mark Basil,
    Dino’s answer is close to what I would have to say. We can speak of emotional union – psychological union – and spiritual union – all of which have an openness to everyone. Sexual union, physical union, implies more than just genital sex. The acts generally engaged in by homosexuals are not permitted in the Church to any couple, actually. Sexual union serves procreation, first and foremost, and secondly serves the union of marriage itself – the bond of the relationship. To bless the sexual activity of non-heterosexual couples would ultimately relativize the nature of sex itself. That the meaning of sexual activity in our culture has changed is obvious, or we wouldn’t be having this conversation. It is not a new, scientific insight. Like many other things in our world, it is the forgetting of our true humanity.

    Is sexual activity essential in all human relationships? I don’t think so. Does it serve the purpose of union in all human relationships? I don’t think so. Could we redefine everything in order to make it fit? Sure. But it won’t make it true.

    I think this (our sexuality) is another place where we stand over the abyss of our fallenness. I think there are ways beyond the abyss – but the only path that I know is the Tradition walked by the saints in obedience to Christ. Everything else looks like jumping off the cliff. I’ve spent so much time in my life crawling out of the abyss that I don’t want to go back.

    I pray you’ll have a fruitful time away from the Orthoblog. I waited for over 8 years after my conversion before I wrote again. And then, interestingly, it began with an invitation (thank you, Fr. Aidan). Your advice is wise.

  11. Father,
    I have been feeling something along these lines lately. I was Chrismated on the Sunday after 9/11. So 12 years ago.

    I recognize, perhaps for the very first time in 12 years, that I am starting to get a glimpse of what it means to be an Orthodox Christian.

    Interestingly enough I have been having the same thoughts regarding married life. I have been married for nearly 21 years. And I am just starting to get it.

    I am reminded of something I’ve heard in regards to martial arts. All the colored belts leading up to Black belt are just preliminaries. One really starts learning *after* reaching black belt.

    I don’t know enough about martial arts to confirm this notion, but it certainly seems to apply in other parts of my life.

  12. Thank you Father and Dino for your response. I feel like there is still some distance to traverse before I can offer the most edifying word to friends who bear this cross, but you have brought me/us very close.

    Father you wrote, “The acts generally engaged in by homosexuals are not permitted in the Church to any couple, actually.”
    This is interesting. I was recently married and this was not taught to me. (Likely because my fiance and I were already far beyond the bounds of sexually appropriate behaviour.)
    However it does highlight some of the “disparity” that homosexually-inclined Christians must feel: economia is the rule for me and my wife (we are not counseled according to the church’s strictness because we have demonstrated out weakness; and room is made for us in the Eucharistic life). Yet absolute strictness seems to be the rule for homosexual practice. There is a disparity here. Where is my “bearing of my brother’s burdens” in this?
    But that is for pastors to discern I guess.

    You also wrote, “Sexual union serves procreation, first and foremost, and secondly serves the union of marriage itself – the bond of the relationship. ”
    This is so overwhelmingly unpopular among modern Christians that I do not know a single “convert” who has been taught this (and tries to apply it seriously). It does seem reasonable to me- but again when I look at how many Orthodox use birth control (i.e. everyone), again the disparity between economia allowed heterosexuals and economia allowed homosexuals is brought to sharp relief. Within the boundaries of the explanation you have offered, I am hard pressed to see why “practicing homosexuals” should be withheld the Eucharist anymore than a married couple practicing non-procreative sexual intimacy.
    It is not for me to decide of course. But here in my part of the world, and before long in your part of the world, there are priest who so practice this way. I believe they could do this within the boundaries of the explanation of you have offered. (Please correct me if I am wrong).
    So I am now in the difficult place: what to say to my gay Orthodox friends? Go to the priests who allow economia?

    Asking your prayers.
    -Mark Basil

  13. Mark,
    it is not so. The economia for “a married couple practicing non-procreative sexual intimacy” always contains the capacity, the potential at the very least of ‘sometime’ being procreative. The pleasure still has the possibility of a procreative purpose (even when that purpose is fulfilled rarely), and within that context that bodily unity has been blessed once and for all between every “Adam” and “Eve”. This is key.
    This procreation potential is obviously always missing in same-sex bodily unions. Of course, deciding that all we ever want to do is have the pleasure alone is just as much a sin for heterosexuals as for homosexuals, Saint Mary the Egyptian in her former life (before becoming the greatest of all ascetics), wouldn’t have been any more perverted by practicing same-sex as well as opposite-sex nymphomania. No.
    I think that for those Christians who do not “ideologize” (ie: turn into “a Right”) their homosexuality, those who retain their faith in the face of such passions – which is a cross which is very similar to a few other ‘passion crosses’– even if they fall on the way to eventual freedom from the enslavement of passion (which is every one’s long-term desire irrespective of what they feel as their short-term desires), they will still be great eventually. God will give them to understand what it means that “I am carrying the limbs, the members of Christ” as well as the freedom through His Grace and His Eucharist in due time.

  14. I think it prudent to point out that the unitive function of sex between a man and a woman is of a different order than homosexual sex (if that exists at all for homosexuals–I have my doubts). There is a synergy created that leads to procreation in ways other than having children. That cannot happen between two people of the same sex.

    The two commandments God gave us in the Garden: Dress and keep the earth; be fruitful and multiply can only be fulfilled, IMO, within the context of the male/female synergy that sexual attraction and union provides.

    That is one reason why sexual activity outside of marriage is not allowed (it is not really a moral issue). Sex is always for something more than the two people involved, it is always meant for God’s purposes, not ours. When we reduce it to mere personal bodily pleasure, we sin deeply and are bound to death in a way that is difficult to over emphasize.

    That goes for heterosexuals as well as homosexuals.

    The way of the Church is simple to state and understand–difficult to do: Chastity and celibacy before marriage; chastity and faithfulness after marriage.

    The key is chastity which is an asceticism to which we are all called as Christians and extends far beyond sexual temptations to every area of passion we encounter.

    I will agree with Dino though that the cross of those afflicted with same-sex attraction, especially in this age, seems quite difficult. I also agree that the fruit of bearing such a cross with humility is also to be something special.

    Father, have you written on chastity? If not, I’d appreciate your perspective.

  15. Mark,
    I am sure you know all of this but, for clarity I will describe it as “we cannot work ‘backwards’.”
    We must “cleanse first that which is within the cup and platter, that the outside of them may be clean also.”
    I am referring to your comment where you exclaimed concerning Father’s word: “Sexual union serves procreation, first and foremost, and secondly serves the union of marriage itself – the bond of the relationship. ”

    This is so overwhelmingly unpopular among modern Christians that I do not know a single “convert” who has been taught this (and tries to apply it seriously).

    It is not ‘taught ‘first’ and foremost – that is all. It is said clearly though, but, it is often not given the number one moralistic priority. We know that true change will only come naturally from inside.
    Cleansing first the cup, is the crux of Orthodox “psychotherapy”. We do not seek to cure the external works without the inner transformation – that could lead to psychopathological conditions. We seek to cleanse the inside. Most of the warfare is to be freed from ‘logismoi’ and then the outside praxis will be naturally brought in line with what we start to feel. All this is pastorally applied within reason of course and according to person and context. But it is based on Christ’s own word. External sin proceeds from inside the heart, as do all good works.

  16. Mark, if you will excuse my presumption I would like to offer a direct answer to one of your questions – why two men or two women cannot be united in the Christian sacrament of marriage. I posted the answer, as I understand it, on my own blog because I feared its length would be a discourteous imposition here.

    Alana Roberts

  17. Michael , can a person in waiting take part in all the sacraments ?, right away?, when chosen to become orthodox ?

  18. Jeff,
    Someone must wait until they have been received fully into the Church either by Baptism or Chrismation (depending on circumstances), before receiving any of the sacraments. That period of waiting is equally a period of preparation for the sacraments.

  19. If u have a baptism and confirmation in the west, not Byzantine rite , (Catholics are allowed to go to Byzantine Divine Liturgy ) , one doesn’t have to get rebaptized and chrismated all over again ( past invalid?) …, I’m not bring rash about this question ,

  20. Fr. Stephen, do you think that the assimilation of grace takes longer than the sprouting of sin? Or is it a parallel process determined by the humanity of the subject? Do you think that the flowering and fruit-bearing of sin can be interrupted by confession and repentance or are we doomed to live out the wrong turns we take deep in our hearts? Do you think God sometimes allows this process so that we can see and confront what is in our hearts, previously unsuspected by us? Or does he save us from sins we don’t even know about?

  21. Jeff,
    The reception of converts in Orthodoxy is not related to questions of “validity.” It’s pretty much not a category in Orthodox thought. The manner of receiving converts from various backgrounds and sacramental acts differs. In all cases, the reception of a convert is under the purview of the bishops who decide how it will be done. And this varies, at present, from one Synod of Bishops to another. The early canons on the reception of converts from schismatic groups or from heretical groups, reflects this varied practice. At present, there are no canons regarding reception from the present schisms of denominationalism (or Rome). And Rome has not always been consistent on this. At one time (some hundreds of years ago) Rome actually re-baptized converts from Orthodoxy, provoking a similar response from the Orthodox. Though many in the denominations reason about this under the heading of “validity,” it’s actually a sort of modern concern.
    Orthodoxy treats the reception of converts as an act of penance and forgiveness (for the sin of schism). Penance is treated either with Baptism (in certain cases), Chrismation (in some), or absolution (in others). Interestingly, the Fathers called Penance (confession) a “Second Baptism.”

  22. AR,
    Wow, serious questions. If you think of the healing of the body – it would seem that healing is almost always slower than injury. Sin and its consequences, I think, can always be interrupted. Also, I think we almost never have to bear the full consequences of sin (wrong turns, etc.) in our lives. God obviously allows the process – the whole universe is “made subject to futility” for our sake – but for our correction and healing and not for our destruction. Were it not for God’s mercy – holding back the full brunt of our sins – I think that humanity would long since have ceased to exist. I daily marvel at the things people have survived.

  23. Jeff, despite the fact that the catechumen cannot partake in the sacraments they still are bathed in the grace and presence of the angels and saints, the prayers and the homilies. They are no longer required to wait in the narthex and depart before the homily.

    I have seen my Godson to be flourish and become hungry for more.

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