The Difficulties of Paradise

Help_Im_Bored_in_ChurchCover__03356.1378331768.1280.1280The voices of the choir rise in wonderful harmonies, the light reflects on the icons, incense wafts into the ceiling – it is a wonderful liturgy on a feast day. We stand in the Church and begin to notice, with some guilt, that our mind has wandered. Worse, still, we are bored.

This is perhaps the most common experience in the Orthodox liturgy. Not often discussed outside of confession, it is a reflection of the modern soul. It is not the fault of the liturgy itself – but a symptom of the disease that infects our lives. It reveals the terrible truth that were we to be this moment in paradise, we would be distinctly uncomfortable, even miserable.

Above all, paradise begins in the heart. “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” Christ did not say to His disciples, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for God will reveal Himself to them.” God may be seen at any time. It is not His hiddenness that obscures Him from our vision, but the opaque quality of an impure heart.

All of this can make for a quiet despair, particularly in the life of a convert. We read the words of St. Vladimir’s envoys to Constantinople:

When we journeyed among the Bulgars, we beheld how they worship in their temple, called a mosque, while they stand ungirt. The Bulgarian bows, sits down, looks hither and thither like one possessed, and there is no happiness among them, but instead only sorrow and a dreadful stench. Their religion is not good. Then we went among the Germans, and saw them performing many ceremonies in their temples; but we beheld no glory there. Then we went on to Greece, and the Greeks led us to the edifices where they worship their God, and we knew not whether we were in heaven or on earth. For on earth there is no such splendour or such beauty, and we are at a loss how to describe it. We know only that God dwells there among men, and their service is fairer than the ceremonies of other nations. For we cannot forget that beauty. Every man, after tasting something sweet, is afterward unwilling to accept that which is bitter, and therefore we cannot dwell longer here.

“We cannot forget that beauty…” but we  quickly become immune to its charm.

We are not at all the same people who embraced Orthodoxy along with Prince Vladimir. They willingly (and famously) stood for hour upon hour. The Tsar himself was known to spend as many as seven hours a day in services. An English visitor to Russia in the 16th century described the people as having “legs like stone.”

Our consumer culture caters to a different set of inner needs. We are the same human beings as those of 9th century Rus, but we have been nurtured in a different manner. Everyone born into the world shares desires and hungers, the capacity for the same passions and addictions. But rarely in human history have a people been pointedly and purposively groomed for consumption. We crave what we call entertainment – experiences that we find pleasant. But such experiences are not purely objective. What is pleasant today is boring tomorrow. We are like children with Christmas toys that are no longer new.

Virtues are formed by the practices in which engage. If we want to be patient, we will have to practice patience. By the same token, vices and addictions are the result of practice as well. Practices are any activity in which we regularly engage – thus they may be intentional or unintentional. What you do will determine what you are. If the primary activity in our life is consumption, then we will develop the instincts, the “virtues” of a consumer. In popular culture, this is largely an unintentional practice. We learn to respond to perceived needs. That these perceived needs may themselves be produced in us by those who want us to consume their products is itself often obscured. At the heart of a consumer culture is pleasure. We do those things, buy those things, consume those things, engage in those activities that bring us pleasure.

The fathers wrote at great length about the role of pleasure in the Christian life. We seek to avoid pain (odyne) and acquire pleasure (hedone). The cycle set in motion by these two polarities is the root of all the passions. It is the means of our enslavement. Paradise is not for slaves but for the free.

Which brings us back to the Divine Liturgy. The liturgy is paradise. It reveals God and manifests His presence. We join our voices with the angels and mystically represent the cherubim. But we are not entertained. For a couple of centuries, many Christians have used a mission imperative as the tool for shaping worship. Worship and evangelism are made coterminous. “Whatever works,” becomes the operating mantra for the Christian assembly. Market research directs musical content as well as much of the program of ministry. Worship is now consumed.

It makes complete sense for a consumer culture to have a consumer Church. But you cannot have a consumer’s paradise. For the passions that form the basis of consumerism cannot inherit the Kingdom of God. The same passions have a very difficult time even bearing with the Divine Liturgy.

Was it a good service? Did you enjoy the Liturgy? How was Church today? These are not uncommon questions – but they are profoundly inappropriate.

Worship is communion, not consumption. The virtues required by Paradise do not include the ability to be entertained. But the consumer Christian has been shaped for entertainment. It is not entirely his fault – consumerism is the hallmark of our culture. The economy needs for us to consume. Christianity that serves the culture, in our present context, does not serve the gospel. To market the faith to be consumed is like giving drugs to an addict. Of course the addict likes the drugs. Of course the drugs appeal to him – he’s an addict!

It is a great irony that consumer Christianity offers death that is perceived to be life. While classical Christianity offers life that is clearly labeled as death. If you want to be saved, you’ll have to die. You will have to die to your desires and the passions through which you consume.

I recently ran across a small book – a very easy, even entertaining read. It’s title: Help! I’m Bored in Church! Heed it’s lessons. It will help make you fit for paradise.


  1. makes me mad, Fr Steven, sure the ones who are filled and feel it, that is fine, but to call us who find it “boring” when for me it is just a hiding place, and a hope for eternity of that well im not really up for a billion years of church. Glory to God,I agree, but the this is the only way and the others are all wrong or the zelot stance on anything is dangerous. I dont ever see where the Lord said to stand in church for hours and hope for salvation, I thought His message was feed the hungry and aid the dope sick and the lost. All the self congraulation of any bunch of regular attendees is probably not a bad thing, but for me the work is outside. I needed the church more than anybody when I was in prison and addicted to drugs, now I need to show by my work and my daily life what God did for me. I maybe think yu ignore my comments but I am not saying Church and services are bad, but we too serve and worship out in the battle field of dispair

  2. Seems to me that standing in church for hours on end is for *our* benefit, not for God’s. It takes that long – years and years of weeks and weeks of hours and hours – before we finally settle down and clear the noise from our minds so we can hear God’s voice spoken into our hearts. Our Lord’s disciples spent three years of living with Him, every day, before they went out and did anything. And even that they didn’t do, until they had received His Holy Spirit. Same with Noah – once the Flood had receded, he didn’t just hop out of the Ark and roll up his sleeves and get to work. He waited until he had the word from God to leave. How much more do we, in this restless age, need to learn the value of standing still and waiting for God to speak to us.

  3. It should not be and either/or situation. Worship has always been central to life in Christ, so has feeding the poor and tending to the needs of others. That tending is no all physical and a life without worship in community is not really what we are called to.

    The best do both like St. Basil the Great. I am not the best, but I know that I, for one, will try to hold more fully in my heart those of my brothers and sisters who are out doing the work first when I am in the Liturgy.

    Being there, helps me to be more charitable and giving and gives me an energy to get through the week that I don’t have otherwise. It teaches me to pray. When I don’t go, I notice the difference.

    I go because I am maimed, halt and lame and, despite myself, I’ve been invited. Strange as it may seem, when I’m there I somehow know that our Lord is glad that I responded to His invitation. So, I go. The fact is that I have no life in me and whatever life I have is in His Body and Blood.

    The Divine Liturgy is 1 1/2 hours in my parish; another hour and 15 if one includes Orthros. That is unacceptably short for some and a mere accommodation to modern laxity. Perhaps it is but it is what I have.

    If I am being especially faithful and attend the full cycle of services at my parish on a normal week, I’d be in Church praying a total of about 10 hours or about 520 hours a year which is a little less than 6% of my time.

    Plenty of hours left to work, eat, sleep, take care of personal things and have some fun now and then.

    I need to do more with that time. Thank you Dominic for making me aware of how much time I have to attend to the Lord AND do all of the other things I have to do (but frequently don’t).

    Sorry for the ramble.

  4. Dominic,
    You seem to have jumped to wrong conclusions. There’s no division between those who are bored and those who are zealous and not bored. Truth told, I get bored, too. We all do, it’s how our culture has formed us. And there is no contradiction between prayer in Church and service to the drug-sick, etc.

    There’s no argument here – but you keep thinking there’s one. I’m not ignoring your comments, but saying, “Good. Serve the addict.” But, last time I checked out the 12 steps, “conscious contact with God” was a part of them. I need conscious contact with God in the services as much as I need anything else. And I need conscious contact outside the services, too. God Himself is the root of recovery. Learning to pray is a part of recovery. And if I’m addicted to being entertained all the time and bored when I’m not, then prayer is going to be very difficult. I think that’s what the article says.

    I’m not sure who you’re actually mad at. You seem to be having an argument with someone “an imaginary zealot,” or something. I’m not that person and would like you to stop trying to turn me into him.

    The anger and resentment is dangerous stuff, as you know. Let it go. There’s no argument.

  5. I see a lot of similar arguments from the ones that claims that the monastic is one who ‘flees’ the Christian responsibility of extending charity (proper) to the world. That the retreat into the dessert is an escape from reality. It’s a false notion and a dangerous one. The monastic or the hermit does no flee reality but seeks to confront it.

    In many ways, the cathedral in the city with it’s congregation is like the monestary of the dessert with its community. I find St Athanasius biography about St Anthony a very good remedy for such notions. A bit later St Evagrius of Pontus writes more to the point about the life of the monk and concludes (in my opinion:) that the monk and the Christian have the same vocation, its just that the monk helps articulate/reveal the Christian vocation.

    As you say father there is no argument. It’s like breathing in and out. What better place to receive fresh air and life then from the table of the Lord. It is only from receiving His life we can hope to help and give life to others for when we rest in Him it is actually Him doing the battle for us. Thanks for this post fr Stephen

  6. This is an excellent post, Fr. Stephen. Indeed, our culture is addicted to entertainment. I had a humorous experience a few months ago when a young person coming to my door to sell me some “bundle” cable contract. When I told her that I didn’t have a television, she was shocked and asked what I did if I didn’t watch TV! (It also made me sad that she appeared genuinely perplexed…)

    It seems that our culture breeds boredom which is then attributed to what is going on outside of us (e.g. “church is boring”) rather than what is going on inside (e.g. “I find it hard to be still or look within.”)

    Many years ago, a RC priest told me that he never got bored saying Mass because each time was a new encounter with Christ. If, as you suggest, we consider our liturgy as “communion”, how could it be boring? (I may feel bored or restless but that is but a symptom of my illness.)

    Also, a question, if I may: what is the reason for standing for hours through the Divine Liturgy and other services? (Forgive me, but I keep picturing unhealthily swelling ankles.)

  7. Mary,
    your comment – in connection to what Father Stephen so pertinently explained in the post – reminded me of something fascinating and very very true I once read.
    It was in the intro of a small book that tried to summarise – in a distinctly peculiar way- Saint Isaac (the Syrian) and it goes something like this:
    Man only ever finds out his wretched addiction to futility through discovering how unbelievably boring it initially is to be doing absolutely nothing in the presence of God, with zero contact with anyone, in the total solitude of the hesychastic desert.
    This seemingly total inactivity in all its unbeareableness (the encounter with his unbearably boring self in the absence of all external distraction) is actually invaluable and has the power to teach such a deep lesson that travelling the world and the seven seas never can…

  8. I was just reminded reading Dino’s comment that in many languages to be bored is a reflexive verb which literally translates: I bore myself.

    I’ve always thought that instructive.

  9. Thank you for this post, Fr. Stephen, it is very encouraging and instructive — as are the comments so far! 🙂

    I am still in the “honeymoon” period perhaps. My mind does wander during service, but I have yet to be bored with the Divine Liturgy where the words “Lover of Mankind” are used so often!

  10. Father,
    I would like for you to offer some definition clarity because I cannot imagine why anyone would want to spend eternity in Paradise if there is not some sort of positive emotional or sensory experience. When I think of entertainment I include anything that brings me joy or enjoyment. Perhaps my understanding of entertainment is broader than your definition?

  11. to answer one of Mary Benton’s questions; our prayer and liturgy are based on the Jewish temple and synagogue worship – how often do we see in the Gospels, Jesus (and the disciples) went into the synagogue/temple to pray at the third/sixth/ninth hour.
    It is this pattern that we follow, and the way of honouring God when we pray is standing, following Our Lord’s example.
    Sitting is of course regarded as common sense for the elderly, the disabled, children and any others who require it.

  12. About standing, my dad taught me that I should stand when an adult comes into the room and that on the bus I should stand and offer my seat to a lady, or an elderly person. The nuns taught me to kneel in prayer. At mass I followed the crowd–kneel, stand, sit, stand, kneel, keep kneeling, sit. Later, travelling in Europe, I visited beautiful churches without pews and thought, sadly, these buildings must have become museums.

    I was used to standing in museums, at political rallies, in lines for important events, at NFL football games (even though I had a seat), and at baseball playoffs or world series when I couldn’t get regular tickets–but not in prayer.

    When I met a prayerful Orthodox priest who showed me his small parish church without pews, I thought how odd. People stand all throughout the Divine Liturgy? I could never manage that. He told me it’s OK to sit if I want to, and pointed to benches around the sides and in back. I came the next Sunday, stood transfixed (exaggeration, but not by too much), and left nearly two hours later wondering what had just happened. I was happy, moved, peaceful, and not at all sore or stiff. I came back, and back. Later the good priest told me how the Jewish people in biblical times, in Jesus’s time too–biblical of course, but not Old biblical–stood in prayer, stood in the temple. Also he reminded me that standing is a sign of respect (my long-reposed dad’s words came to mind).

    Of course, I do not have back or foot problems. Strangely, I have more trouble sitting for a long time. Also, a knee problem eventually led me to the 3-point stance (kneel/sit) I once observed with disdain. The point is, I was never able to connect standing with the idea of prayer. Now I wonder if I could pray any other way.

  13. I can actually very well relate to this post and I’m so glad this issue has been addressed in writing by Father Stephen, because a “lack of feeling” is sometimes my biggest struggle in church.
    I started attending the Liturgy several years ago after having done a very bad thing and realizing I needed to come to terms with God. The first few months were downright unbearable among the elderly, listening to what seemed to go on for hours on end in a language I simply could not understand although linguistically, it was my native language. I just couldnt comprehend a single thing that was going on, my brain felt completely crushed and foggy. The only thing pushing me through this mental torture was the thought that I was *wrong*, my subjective experience was *wrong* and what was happening there was actually the *right* (or true) thing.

    Meanwhile some things have changed, one day I just realized that hello, I actually *do* understand the words, I actually *am* paying attention to this, I *am* somewhat more present in the Liturgy. Some time later I even grew to know the sequence of events and the answers by heart.

    Sometimes there has been joy and a feeling of communion and presence. But often I still catch myself wandering with my thoughts outside the Liturgy, to things unrelated to church. I seem to be caught between a rock and a hard place (I think this is the expression in English) because many of the “worldly” things that used to bring me joy or entertainment in the past now leave me unmoved; while the church experience (or rather I in relation to it) don’t really deliver an intense enough substitute either. The thought that if I were to die now, I might find paradise boring and unpleasant is sometimes killing me.

    Again, what helps me get through this one day at a time is again the thought that somehow I am still *wrong* about it. I have read and believe there is joy in the Kingdom, so much that the angels and saints there constantly rejoice, sing and dance about something I do not yet perceive. I have read about the mystical ecstasies of some (I dont wish one for myself because Im completely clueless as to what Id be doing with it afterwards), that there is something up there in communion with Christ God that is completely overwhelming in the best and most glorious way. I really hope it is so for some and maybe it will be so for me one day too.

    I think Im only writing this to mention the one thing that has been helping me so far in overcoming (or better yet, enduring) this and some other struggles and conflicts with myself and others — the liberating thought that I am wrong but God and the ones who understand Him better than I – are right.

  14. James,
    To see God, to experience Paradise, is indeed joy – beyond imagining. But, as Christ taught, our hearts must be pure. In that sense, what we are engaged in at present in this life, particularly in the stage of the spiritual life where most of us dwell – is purification. The pleasures that entertain us at present, are generally very minor things (measured in the greater scheme of reality). They are distractions. Paradise is not a competing pleasure – one more object begging us to please pay attention. “Buy me! Buy me!”

    Paradise (like God) is a singular matter. God will not compete among gods.

    As we learn to be properly present in the Liturgy, as we learn true prayer, we sometimes have glimpses of what is truly there and of the age to come. God gives us the grace that makes this possible. And it encourages us to strain forward and not give up.

  15. Michael Baumann,

    You write:

    “I was just reminded reading Dino’s comment that in many languages to be bored is a reflexive verb which literally translates: I bore myself.”

    That is actually a very good point, although I’ve never thought about it until now. For a native speaker, the language is usually not something he thinks about.

    Speaking for myself, I don’t know if I’m ever bored in church with that kind of boredom that would make me turn the tv on. However, I often catch myself thinking about the most diverse things and losing contact with the words and music of the Liturgy (or Vespers, or some other service). Perhaps it’s not boredom, but it’s most likely part of the same problem: that in the secular culture we are used to living in a bubble of entertainment and consumerism, surrounded by things and sensations that cater to our ego. Even social contacts that, instead of being direct, are mediated by specialized websites (I need not name them, everybody knows them), become part of this canvas or screen that surrounds our ego and feeds the passions. But during prayer and during church services, we have to be present in front of God, and God is present in front of us. And this is difficult, especially for the modern man who then wants to withdraw into the bubble of entertainment and be entertained, all by himself (in my language, to be entertained is also reflexive, just like to be bored).

    Father, bless!

    Great piece of writing, quite thought-provoving — thank you!

  16. A couple of thoughts Dominic from one who has been there.
    You have been saved, as the Israelites were saved out of Egypt. However they still didn’t know how to live depending upon God, so they spent 40 years in the wilderness. Once God saves us he begins the process of forming us into the person he wants us to be.

    We also can be compared to wild untamed horses. A caught but a wild horse is useless until he is taught and tamed. We too are useless unless we are taught and tamed. This process takes time.

    Paul had a vision of who Jesus was, was blinded for a time and then spent I think it was 7 years in the boondocks before he began the ministry that we read about.

    You sound to me as if you are in a state of rebellion concerning where God has put you. The only thing to do is confess and confess the rebellion until God can do something about it. He has His ideas of what you can be but He can only work with you when you humbly decide to listen to Him, and not yourself. He sees the big picture, you and all the rest of us, a very tiny picture.

  17. The liturgy used to be quite the laborious endeavor for me as others have mentioned here. I was usually bored out of my mind after the first half an hour. It’s a wonder I stuck with Orthodoxy at all. I just had something within me almost forcefully driving me toward it no matter how bored or frustrated I got.

    After several months of exploring Orthodoxy, I learned from my priest to pray like the Orthodox at home. Developing a prayer life throughout the week made all of the difference.

    I still get bored and my mind still wonders much more than I’d like to admit, but I find the liturgy to be edifying now and I don’t find it to be an epic struggle like I used to.

  18. While I think this article was right on target, some of the comments on this thread are scarily out of touch with reality and I think really represent the challenge the Church faces in America.

    For example, this is clearly written by someone who either does not have children in the Church or soon will not: “The Divine Liturgy is 1 1/2 hours in my parish; another hour and 15 if one includes Orthros. That is unacceptably short for some and a mere accommodation to modern laxity. Perhaps it is but it is what I have.

    If I am being especially faithful and attend the full cycle of services at my parish on a normal week, I’d be in Church praying a total of about 10 hours or about 520 hours a year which is a little less than 6% of my time.”

    Keeping an 8-10 year old standing in services that are elongated for extended periods week after week is a sure fire way to make sure they get out as soon as they have a chance. Forcing kids to try to live by a life emulating the monastic Typikon is, forgive me, insane.

    This is probably one of the main reasons inter-generational “retention” in the Orthodox Church is less than 50% for the first generation in America.

    By the third generation, OCA retention rates probably hover around 10%. In one particularly unhealthy parish I was blessed to attend for many years, only one of the kids kept coming through their high school years: the parents couldn’t even force their kids as teenagers to keep up with the services.

    Is there a tension for a parish that puts all its efforts into serving as full a cycle of services as possible and actually living the Gospel? Almost always – as an observation I can only think of one exception. What doesn’t happen in most of these parishes is robust service to the poor and sick or outreach. We are masters of hiding our light in a bushel in Orthodoxy in America: one of the reasons is all the effort often goes into preparing for and participating in as many services as possible. Certainly not the only reason, but a significant factor for the ongoing collapse of Orthodoxy in America. And yet “Frjakob” pops up to tell us just how much our parish lives really need to mirror the monastic experience. Gospodi… Fr. Alexander Men pray for us!

    Beware something the Russians call “prelest”: “by their fruits ye shall know them.”

  19. Anna, He is not just present in front of us. He is in us certainly once we have been Christamated.

    As Fr.Stephen points out however, purificatiion is required to see Him. That is certainly part of what goes on in the Divine Liturgy.

    Our boredom, distraction and pains are what is in our way–manifestations of our impurity.

    In my parish we have large icons at the west end of the have of Sts Symeon and Daniel the Stylites. We also have pews and my legs and feet are not the best. When I need strength in standing I ask for their intercession, especially St. Symeon.

    Doesn’t always help but it always helps a little, that and the 90 year old sittis who don’t sit.

  20. Dominic,

    The Lord told us to love and serve our neighbor. But he also told us to love and serve our God. In both instances, he is our example. Jesus healed the sick and tended the outcast — but he also spent considerable time in communion with the Father.

    One of my favorite gospel passages is Luke 5:12-16:

    “While Jesus was in one of the cities, there came a man full of leprosy. And when he saw Jesus, he fell on his face and begged him, ‘Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.” And Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, ‘I will; be clean.’ And immediately the leprosy left him. And he charged him to tell no one, but, ‘Go and show yourself to the priest, and make an offering for your cleansing, as Moses commanded, for a proof to them.’ But now even more the report about him went abroad, and great crowds gathered to hear him and to be healed of their infirmities. But he would withdraw often to desolate places and pray.”

    So, yes, minister to the dope sick. But also “withdraw often … and pray.”

    There’s one more passage that might help put your mind at ease. It is from the Epistle to the Hebrews:

    “Let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (10:24-25).

    Again, there is the dual command to do good works and to assemble in prayer. As I said in another post, the liturgy is the place where we receive the love of God, which we then take into the world, so that we might address our brothers’ physical *and* spiritual needs.

    As a side note, you might appreciate the words of Pope Francis.

  21. I love the voluptuous and poetic worship of the Christian east, but there’s something about the terse and laconic Latin liturgy — its noble simplicity, its filial directness — that is truly endearing. The collect of the Roman rite is a tiny but brilliant theological gem, which “by its very brevity appears to disclaim all ability to make comprehensible the nature of the unfathomable” (Joseph Jungmann).

  22. I wondered when the concerns raised by “anon” would appear here. I have similar ones, but from a different perspective. No child is “forced” to stand in the church I attend. In fact I was at first surprised to see them sitting when there were many grandparent-types standing. Gradually I realized that prayerfulness was being modeled for (not demanded from) the children by the adults.

    Also I witness regularly fathers standing behind their sons, or maybe sitting next to them, hands occasionally on their shoulders or gently patting their backs as if to say “we’re in this together,” or “it’s good to be here” (expressing, it seems to me, the kind of closeness experienced on campouts or at sports games). I see mothers showing affection to small and large children in various unobtrusive ways.

    As a former high school teacher, I wonder at the regular presence in church of older boys–until I realize that their fathers are right there with them–and then I think (being easily distracted, and catching myself in “unprayerful” behavior, like so many on the persons who left comments) how much more successful our work in schools would be if fathers or mothers were to come to class with their children, even only occasionally. In other words. ..

    This is not to discount the discouragement many parents and grandparents feel when they hear, as I do regularly from a 15 year old granddaughter, “Church is so not with it. Sure I believe in God, but–” I worry that young persons will not experience the little “c” communion, not to mention the mystery of the cup, that I do at least occasionally (when I am not distracted or preoccupied or just daydreaming). But then I remember how long it took me to get to this place and how quietly persistent God was in His invitations. And I feel faith & hope returning.

  23. ” Dictionary definition of “terse and laconic”:using very few words:

    “his laconic reply suggested a lack of interest in the topic”…

    We are creatures who are subject to time and restraints of it. God is not.

    Lots of problems and challenges here with all the comments and premises.

    As a new and faltering convert I find this more troubling and confusing as just how to be at peace with my quest and commitments and quite guilty of not being properly connected???

    I had a Protestant friend recently comment that he wished we (Orthodox) would lighten up on the Traditional, robes, dress,etc. It is at the same time so foreign to us Western converts, yet also deeply attractive and encouraging. However, there is a deep disconnect many times between the”spiritual” and the practical??? Many times I would like to leave this crazy worldly existence and become a monk to pursue the ultimate jewel of communion with God. Sometimes that is downright frightening though. I find myself “warring” with my thought process both in and out of liturgy as to just where and how to proceed. Sometimes it is most inspiring, and sometimes it is met with abject failure and disappointment. How do I reconcile these 2 opposing ways of perception and therefore reality?

  24. When we understand, and the problem is we don’t, what ails us (a fallen Nous) we can recognize what is good for us and what is harmful to us. Take heroine way from a heroine addict and watch them go crazy & suffer in the silence of a room. But once they are off the heroine and it is out of their system the silence in the room is so peaceful, it is a new experience, it is heaven on earth and they cannot ever imagine going back to the chaos of their addiction. Problem is they usually forget the peace and run right back to the drug that has enslaved them. Lord have mercy on me! I forever hear Jesus saying to me: “Do you want to be made well?” (John 5:6)

  25. Anon,
    I think you’ve missed the boat in your analysis and not gotten the point of the article. Your description of “retention” would suggest that we should somehow modify things for the kids in order to retain them. Strangely, the Evangelicals have modified in precisely this direction and yet are seeing the same “retention” problem. The point, is that a human being, formed and shaped for the purposes of being entertained, isn’t going to make it for long in the Liturgy. But they won’t make it for long at anything other than being fodder for our consumerist world. We become batteries in the Matrix.

    The solution, I strongly suggest, is to recognize that the problem is within us. If my child is not nurtured in the life of the Church (its own miracle), then they won’t stay in the Church. Why should they? Just attending won’t be enough. I’m the father of 4. They’re all adults now, and, are active in the Church. I see this as the result of my wife’s prayers and home life.

    I never expected them to attend all the services, or to stand still, or stay put. One of them has ADD but almost never misses a service these days.

    We paid a great deal of attention to the place (and non-place) of television in the home. We prayed together. We actively engaged each other and the faith. But we let them be children and have their issues. Above all else, we loved them and loved the Church.

    It’s not the life of the Church that needs to somehow be adjusted in order to succeed. The life of the Church is given to us that we may have birthed in us the life of paradise. The conversion, every day, of myself and my family is the goal. And there will be no peace between a secularized consumer and paradise (or the liturgy).

    I’m not a hide-bound traditionalist, or whatever you might imagine Fr. Alexander Men criticizing. I’m a missionary priest in the American South. The liturgy is just fine – long services and all. It has never been the problem. We are the problem. And getting healed from the problem is the business of Paradise.

    I marvel that people aren’t more concerned about what their life-choices viz. television and consumer culture are doing to their children than what the Church “fails” to do. The Liturgy doesn’t drive us from God.

  26. Anon. My son is now 27 and in Liturgy nearly every Sunday and living a life “not of this world” is important to him. When he was younger he was an acolyte and served as often as he could. During his first Holy Week (age 7) he served every service and was one of only 2 acolytes during Holy Thursday(3 hours of standing holding a candle while the Gospels are being read). I did not ask that of him nor demand it. I would not have been able to keep him from it.

    His mother and I taught him at home and we encouraged his active participation in the responses at an early age. The “Lord have mercies”; the Creed, the Lord’s Prayer and the prayer before communion.

    As my wife was the chanter at the time my son was really young, he was with me in the pews (yes pews). When he got fussy, I took him out until he was ready to go back. Since he never wanted to miss communion, the fussiness didn’t last. If parents think they can bring their children to.service and ignore them while they are there (as much as possible), don’t train them up in the way they should go, the children will see no reason to stay.

    If the parents teach the children how to participate with sober joy and worship with them it works. The work of transitioning the faith to children is the parents most important work.

    Too often, IMO, we don’t expect or ask enough of our children and do too little to instruct them in the faith and model the faith for them (often in asking their forgiveness).

    The way his late mother and I did things is not the only way but it is not the services that drive children away. To think that is just silly.

    Now at 27 my son is in a position to disciple others. For that I am deeply thankful to God but it did not happen by magic. Many of his contemporaries are also quite strong in the faith as well, including acting as chanters. sub-deacons, a priest, youth ministers and a lot of mothers and fathers who bring their children every Sunday.

  27. Dennis, just let it be. Attend, in the full meaning of the word, and listen with an open heart. You would not be there if you were not an invitee of our Lord.

  28. Dennis,
    Don’t be “guilty” about any of this. It’s more like a diagnosis of our condition than a commentary on bad choices. “Boredom” is the most natural response people like us could have to God. We shouldn’t feel guilty about it – just aware that it’s a symptom of a life conformed by consumerism. And then, with patience, we allow God to change us. Don’t expect anything overnight. We have to be in this for the long haul. Christ said,”Save your soul through patience.” Luke 21:19 That’s my translation – more accurate than many.

  29. Anon: First I want to thank you for your great concern over the retention of youth in the Church. Maybe Im reading to much into your post but it seems like you have a big heart for this particular area and for this I thank you. Throughout Scriptures and the tradition and history of the Church it seems like revival (life again)have always sprung up where we expect it the least, in the desert. Israel walks through the desert, the prophets pray, prepare and preach in the desert. St John dwells in the desert and Jesus Himself is walking in the desert for 40 days. Not to mention many saints in Church history. Im not saying that all cathedrals should become monasteries/convents. What I’m trying to present is that every Christian has a desert to walk through and in that desert you will find life giving water. It is in that sense that we are ‘all monks.’ It’s in the desert we forget entertainment (becuase we have to focus on survival finding the spring of water). I apoligize if this was not clearly communicated, English is my second language. Blessings on your day.

  30. Anon,

    Although I am RC and not Orthodox, I’d like to add a comment to your concerns about children as well.

    I remember when Catholic services for Good Friday lasted 2-3 hours and I attended with my family. It did seem horribly long to me as a child but I never questioned whether to go. At later times, I questioned what I believed, as many teens and young adults do – and I came out believing.

    Now I often wish our liturgies and services were longer! Although I don’t disagree with all of the changes my church has made since my childhood, I can see that some of them have made us lazy. Or perhaps I should say, they have made it easy for us to be lazy.

    I would also like to add that, while parents have a huge influence on their children’s spirituality, they do not have control of it. I know of parents who have done a marvelous job living and modeling faith and their adult children do not continue on. Parents have a great deal to compete with in this consumerist culture – and many hard decisions to make. I hope you have support from other parents and your priest to help you with this – it cannot be easy.

  31. Great comments! And as usual Father…thanks to you for your insights into the spiritual life. For those parents who might feel guilty about a wrong turn their children have taken…or who might be saying, “What’s the use?,” remember that Adam and Eve had the perfect parent, God, and fell. Free will always leaves that possibility. But God wasn’t through with them yet! And He’s not finished with your children yet either. Keep praying! Our prayers make it seem as if they are kicking against the goads. I know how painful that can be as I had a believing wife and mother praying for my conversion.

  32. frjakob – you express yourself extremely well. I re-read your comment several times and will want to save it. Thank you for your helpful insight.

  33. Father Stephen, I think I was very explicit about stating that I thought your article was on target, but my concern was with the responses. I am sorry I was not more clear about that. I am deeply sympathetic to your main points and observations *esp.* vis a vis consumerism and its corrosive effects on the human person.

    That said, it is objectively true that Orthodoxy in America has been in a long, inter-generational decline. When I read the internet Orthodox warriors in the combox opining that what we really need is more and longer services to be healed, I think, frankly, they are suffering from serious delusion. And it is especially clear that they have no experience of Orthodoxy in America, at least not over many generations.

  34. Anon,
    Pardon my errors. You are doubtless correct about the multi-generational experience of Orthodoxy in America. It is, however, probably a different topic (more in a minute). I don’t hear the same declaration of more and longer – Michael spoke for himself – a proper sentiment, I thought.

    But the topic of the historic experience of Orthodoxy in the modern world is a different matter. In some parts of America, where Orthodoxy is primarily multi-generational, there is a phenomenon that is distinctly unlike that of “convert” Orthodoxy (such as the OCA in the South). In some places it’s almost moribund – not unlike European Christianity.

    I would suggest that, like European Christianity, there are many of the same forces at work. The secularization of life is a major factor. The slowness of the Church (and the faithful) to face up to the challenges of ethnic Orthodoxy while their children and grand children were becoming utterly Americanized, etc.

    What we have, I think, has been the nurturing of an inadequate Orthodoxy. People were Orthodox like their neighbors were Catholic or whatever brand Protestant. And the numbers are utterly similar – suggesting not a fault with Orthodoxy and its services – but a fault that lies somewhere else. Rome embraced is Vatican II but has seen its own demographic declines in similar areas.

    The “vitality” (and sometimes accompanying neophyte errors) of convert Orthodoxy lies, I think, in the fact that its people are often fleeing a clearly perceived secularized culture and are eager for the traditions that are timeless, etc. They’ve often seen first-hand the bankruptcy of making peace with this culture. It brings an “edge” to their Orthodoxy and a vibrancy.

    But in other places, where this edge is missing, people are still wondering how to have a healthy institution – but don’t see that changing themselves is the key to that health.

    My congregation is a mix. I have Orthodox Americans (of many generations). I have converts and I have Orthodox immigrants from other lands. They all have differing pastoral needs – but they all – to my perception – have the common need of “conversion” (or we could call it something else). It is the deep internalization of the faith – the perception and belief that union with God in Christ is the very meaning and purpose of life – nothing less.

    I see this happen slowly and in different ways for different people. Those who come to the Church searching for Orthodoxy probably already have this sense of things (they’ve left something else and are willing to put up with all of this in order to be Orthodox!). Others, particularly those for whom their Orthodoxy was given them at birth and for many generations, come at things more slowly – and frankly – with a lot more baggage. But it comes. If it doesn’t come – then their Orthodoxy will be sporadic – and the children’s Orthodoxy might be non-existent.

    Your concern for the children is important and correct. But I don’t think an easier or more accessible Orthodoxy (or some sort of similar adjective) will do the trick. Because I genuinely don’t think it’s the problem.

    Things that matter:

    Winsome people who love you in Church. We’ll endure lots of things, even look longingly at them, if those who are there with us helped make it worth being with them.

    A priest who loves his faith and genuinely likes his people. I said “likes” because “loves” his people is strangely ambiguous.

    Engaging God at the level of my existence. Why does having any concern with/for God matter even in the least?

    People around you who are genuinely grateful – and don’t mind saying so.

    I can think of more such things.

    On the other hand, I’m not an extremist about this stuff. Pastorally, monastic-style Orthodoxy can be a very difficult and daunting place to start – and parishes are not monasteries.

    There are proper ways to shorten a vigil. I would never dream of doing a full monastic-type vigil in my parish. And there are many other ways to approach these things. “Too much” is a relatively concept, but it’s a true concept. And it’s certainly possible for a parish to do “too much,” relative to what its people can bear.

    Peace! And blessings on the Feast!

  35. Speaking of parishes and vigils etc, mainly in those ‘ethnic’ parishes (that need to address quite a few other issues), I noticed this one a few times:
    Mainly -but not only- due to the chanters’ preferences for s l o w e r chanting, a severely shortened vigil (in content) can actually take as long as a non-shortened one in some monasteries! Something is not quite right there…

  36. Anon: to be clear, I was not wanting longer services. I don’t take advantage of what we have. Its just that there are folks I know who think the length of the services in my parish coupled with the pews are way too worldly.

    I can’t do a thing about it. The main thing wrong with the Orthodox Church is me. The parish I am graced to attend is a cathedral parish with a great bishop, two good priests and a deacon, a plethora of sub-deacons and chanters a beautiful choir and a loving and generous congregation that has at least a smattering of many ethnic variations. Why I wouldn’t want to spend more time there is beyond me–yet I make excuses.

    My son is bored all the time now because he wants to be doing something physical. Herding his young God son and keeping him from jumping out of the balcony plus running the sound system keeps him busy.

    The services need to be prayerful. The only way I can have an impact on that is to learn to pray and practice it.

    I am blessed yet often act as if I am not.

  37. I have another question, if I may, from a slightly different perspective.

    As I have viewed pictures of Orthodox Divine Liturgy and services (not having attended any yet), I am struck by how ornate are the vestments, holy vessels, etc. While I have, at times, seen similar tendencies in my own RC tradition, simplicity seems to me more congruent with the way of Jesus and His apostles.

    While I realize that the material beauty of these items has a different meaning from our consumer culture’s attachment to material “beauty” (often not beautiful at all), I wonder at the emphasis on the outer appearances.

    Worn reverently, very plain vestments speak to me of the purity of heart that we seek. When treated as sacred, simple vessels represent to me the poverty of our nature before what is most Holy.

    Please note that I am not trying to be critical or argumentative at all. Just wanting to understand this aspect of Orthodox practice.

  38. One reason — one reason —- I switched from the local Anglican ‘social club’ at 10 am Sundays was I wanted Worship, not ‘entertainment.’ Alright, so I’ve discovered leg muscles I didn’t know I had (ouch!)
    “my” 35 adult mission parish + about 35 youngsters Is all God, we are one huge family.
    And most of us are converts.
    I looked, briefly at the Russians and the Greeks, but ‘I might dilute the Faith’ (whatever that means?)
    Are we bored? Well, no. our age span is from 40 days to 40-something years and we all came from other practising faiths. We did most assuredly not come off the street.
    I think one of the modern idols of society is ‘more is better’ (except, of course for church services – we/they want a ‘warm fuzzy feeling’ then off to the golf course – or skiing)
    if in fact we/they go to church at all.
    Another idol is/are the ‘Me-attitudes’
    Orthodoxy, on the other hand, has more-is-better Liturgy, Fasting, and Beatitudes – and yet we are the fastest growing ‘denomination’ in Canada and the US. Tell me why?
    Could it be that God is present, and felt to be present and seen-to-be-present in each other. We are not a ‘love-in group’ not be any means, but any of us will fill in for another’s dish-chores no questions asked at no notice at all.
    Bored? not at all. A toddler toddles off, the nearest adult moves so he/she can keep an eye on the child. “Suffer the little children …” hardly boring, and just as worshipful to my recently converted mind as listening to the prayers.
    Someone’s absence at Liturgy is noted … a phone call — are you OK?

  39. Mary,
    Viz. Jesus and His apostles preferring simplicity. Have you been watching old movies or something? The myth of “simplicity,” is just that. Forgive me. But I’ve noticed among some (esp. in my former Anglican background), who think that pottery is more appropriate than silver or gold, etc. with Holy Vessels. I use that as an example.

    Pottery, at the time of Christ, was the equivalent of today’s disposable cups. It was indeed disposable and was used just like that. A family might not have much, but for the Cup of Blessing used in the home, if possible, they would easily have wanted something more precious than clay. Of course, I’ve seen some spend more for a hand-thrown clay set than I spent on my last gold-plated chalice and paten. It was made in India and cost me around $150. Try to find Pottery for that!

    But, more to the point, Orthodoxy has an instinct for beauty – rather similar to the people in Scripture. Imagine the specific directions God gave to a bunch of wandering nomads regarding the fine weaving, gold and silver work, etc. for the construction and furnishing of the Tabernacle. Of course, I guess they were into “simplicity,” as well, but were not strangely sentimental about it.

    Our notions about simplicity are often just “Romanticism.” The amount of wasted energy some parishes with “liturgical planning groups” spend on what should be directed by tradition and rubrics is an example of what I think as the silliness of our modern period. Such stuff requires hours and hours of time (and sometimes arguments) to achieve an “effect.”

    Of course, there are versions of true simplicity. No vestments at all is certainly simple – and more to the point. Having been a purchaser of vestments (West and East), so-called “simple” stuff costs just as much as brocade.

    More to the point – why vestments? For the same reason they are worn in the OT. They are iconic. The vestments of the priests and servers are images of spiritual and heavenly realities. The vesting of a priest, illustrated in the prayers he prays, is a visual transformation of the priest into an icon of the priestly role of Christ. The Church is an icon of the heavenly Temple, etc. The congregation is iconic as well: we sing: “Let us who mystically represent the cherubim and who sing the thrice-holy hymn now lay aside all earthly cares…” This takes place in the Liturgy at the point the West would generally think of as the offertory. It is solemn, slow, even ethereal as a hymn, the deacon and the priest moving in a stately manner as the cense the altar and its entrances and bring the bread and the wine to the altar.

    Orthodox worship is profoundly iconic in its approach to holy things. We have thought a very long time about all of this. Unlike the West (who had no iconoclasm until the Protestants came along), the East had to think carefully about image and music, etc. The result was not only the 7th Council, but a sensibility that was born of that struggle. Art in the West was never subjected to canonical regulation, and as a result the Western Church (Catholicism) never developed a true theology of art or canonical tradition. It is far more impressionistic and subject to fads and various sentimentalisms. The current Tridentine Masses (or whatever the right name is) with Fiddle-back vestments and lots of lace strike me as “precious” and so very 19th century in the manner of a pastiche. They don’t ring true or look remotely natural.

    That’s very subjective on my part – but I don’t think I’m off the mark.

    I’ve seen Orthodox vestments with contemporary materials (the Greek style does this not uncommonly). They are generally restrained. The latest things I’ve seen on Anglican bishops (in England) make them look silly somehow, compared to the rather stately and regal appearance of two generations ago. Again, no canons leave it all open to fashion and taste.

    I’ve been through all of this over the past 35 years – I’ve seen fashions come and go – and heard all kinds of sentiments expressed. Beauty, I believe, is utterly essential or at least normative for right human living. We actually have an instinct for it. But it is often ideology that gets in the way – that doesn’t like beauty – or says “we should have given the money to the poor.” This last sentiment belongs to Judas (who was a thief). Mother Teresa (I understand) had no opposition to beauty in liturgy or Churches. Most who complain about this think nothing of wasting money on their own houses and cars. The size of the average American home has more than doubled since 1960 – to say nothing of the waste money we spend on transportation.

    God is worthy of our best – the offering of the best of beauty calls to us for a beauty within us. It is not a contradiction of caring for the poor. Most Christians spend more on eating out each year than they do on the Church (or the poor).

    My suggestions for good Catholic thought on beauty is to read Hans Urs Von Balthasar. He’s good – and profound.

    Worn reverently, very plain vestments speak to me of the purity of heart that we seek. When treated as sacred, simple vessels represent to me the poverty of our nature before what is most Holy.

    I understand. It’s a way to interpret these things. I find the beauty and richness of vestments and vessels provokes a natural reaction, one of awe, and even of a “carefulness” in handling things, that contrasts greatly to the democratic ideals of the “natural” stuff. We come to regard such things as “common,” and not at all special.

    My sense of the poverty of my nature comes precisely when I dare to put such vestments on or handle such vessels. Indeed, the Orthodox liturgy is filled with prayers that express this very thing.

    Good questions.

  40. I can relate, Charlie. Sounds like where I go each Sunday and, if no conflict here at home (“mixed” family), Saturday evening.

    Our little church is part of a larger Russian group, “jurisdiction” I think they call it, based in Chicago, and I felt comfortable and at home from the outset three years ago. Of course, our services are in English, and the mix of ethnic
    and convert is close to even, although the priest, deacon, readers (2 of 3),choir for the most part, and many regular participants are converts.

    So I was puzzled to hear that you felt unwelcome in a Russian church, or am I misinterpreting your quoted statement about how someone “might dilute the faith”?

    Note: it is my understanding that ideally there would be only one jurisdiction for each national group. That is, an American (U.S.-ian?) Orthodox church, a Canadian one, etc., and that the liturgies should be in the language of the people–i.e., for us, English. No dilution, regardless of ethnic background.

  41. Thanks for your encouraging comment Mary, if you feel inclined I offered a longer reflection on my blog. Have a blessed day!

  42. Thank you, Fr. Stephen, for your in depth response.

    My initial reading of it was led me to think that you were being critical of simplicity (“myth”, “romanticism”)! I expect you were referring to some of those you have known who advocated simplicity, not simplicity itself.

    I tied Jesus and the apostles to simplicity because the Son of Man had nowhere to lay His head and chose fisherman as His apostles. I also tend to associate simplicity to asceticism, something clearly an important part of Orthodoxy. Hence, my wondering about the ornate quality of worship – again, not to criticize it.

    Beauty is incredibly important. And yet experience of beauty depends on our hearts being pure – otherwise we might think that we can buy it or create it. Then it ceases to be Beauty (God revealing Himself) and becomes one more object to possess.

    God, of course, can and does reveal Himself in both the simple and the ornate. Our ability to see Him there (rather than corrupt what we see) is part of the process of our salvation.

    May we know His grace in abundance – for we are surrounded by many pitfalls in this process.

  43. Fr. Stephen, As a non-Orthodox, I must say that reading your blog makes me want to become Orthodox! This post, like so many others, is absolutely pure gold. Perhaps I like it so much because it’s dead on. What you describe here, is what I see in my Protestant Evangelical church and it’s what’s driving me to Orthodoxy. In particular, I LOVE your response to Anon from Jan 4 at 4:07 PM. I’m the father of 3 girls who are approaching their teen years and one of my deepest desires (and things I worry the most about) is to see them following the faith when they become adults. What you wrote in your comments (Jan 4, 4:07) was medicine for my soul. Thank you!!

  44. Father, Even monastic priests wear ornate vestments when they serve the Divine Liturgy.

    The vestments serve a purpose and are an avenue of transmitting grace. Iconic as you say.

    But when does the ornate quality of the vestments, etc. become excessive, i.e. guilding the lily as a matter of display rather than honoring God? (I’m thinking of some things adopted during the Turkish Yoke that were more about being the head of the Christian millet rather than about the episcopal office in the Church).

  45. The Second Vatican Council said that vestments should be models of “noble beauty” but not “sumptuous display.” I think this is just right. If only anyone had listened!

  46. I like “noble beauty.” It’s certainly possible to overdo things. I remind myself, however, that I’m an Anglo/Scot and that I spent years among the Anglicans. Some things that I think are in “good taste,” are just English understatement. I was appalled the first time I saw pictures of neon lighting on an iconostasis proclaiming that “Christ is Risen.” But, that’s more of an ethnic reaction. I would have a hard time using neon if I owned a business. My present Church sign is so understated that people still can’t find the Church. 🙂

  47. I never understood this issue with the vestments of priests, it’s not like they wear comfortable or sensual or secularly appreciated clothes, they almost contain something of the Cross about them – even in all their ornamentation.
    Every single item of priestly vestments worn (as well as this “humble” magnificence they have compared to secular equivalents) -and except for its significant symbolism – is meant to make the priest:
    1) more ‘consecrated’ (as in “set aside” for that one special purpose, as holy offering, unusable for absolutely everything else)
    2) more humble – the more magnificent, the more humble – like a tree that stoops further down, the bigger and more fruit it carries.

  48. Dino,
    I like the image of “more humble.” I was once worked with a Proto-deacon to train a group of servers for a hierarchical service. He asked me to be the bishop and let them “vest” me (this is done by the sub-Deacons at the beginning of the Divine Liturgy). I reluctantly agreed.

    I felt like David trying to put on Saul’s armor. I was also amazed at how much heavier the bishop’s vestments were than my priestly vestments. It was as though the weight of the whole diocese was in them. I was never so glad to be free of something.

  49. That’s exactly how I see it too Father “David trying to put on Saul’s armour”.
    Once there was a Bishop who was being vested in Jerusalem (in THAT famous Church where they have all the oil lamps in the ceiling) and as the others flipped over the final vestment (with the special whole in the middle for his head), they accidentally caught the lamps above and spilt all that oil on his head! At that time the chanting says ‘clothe yourself with splendor and majesty” PSalm 44 (in Greek τῇ ὡραιότητί σου καὶ τῷ κάλλει”) and the Bishop meekly joked to the priests to make them feel better: “το χάλι, το χάλι!”, which rhymes perfectly with “τω κάλει” but is a funny expression that means “his dreadfulness”…
    It combined this sense of humble acceptance that the world might laugh at, yet is great in the eyes of the Spirit, despite the tragicomic aspect involved.

  50. May I join in this conversation, and offer folks a different perspective on boredom?

    Why does boredom need to be percieved as something negative? Perhaps it is given by God for our purification and enlightenment, or even to serve to increase our hunger and thirst for a deeper experience of God? Boredom may be the singlemost valuable gift that we can offer to God during those Liturgies where we experience it. Our liturgy within the Liturgy, so to speak, may simply be to endure boredom in faith, to offer it back to God in a spirit of humility, and ultimately to wait for God (in His good time) to transform it from a experience of emptiness and frustration into one of communion and fulfillment.

    To paraphrase (badly) a famous poem: ” [Perhaps} They also serve who stand and…sigh.”

  51. Alban,
    That sounds a lot like “παρεστηκως” (“which standeth before thee”), in deuteronomy 1:38 LXX, a key notion in Orthodox Spirituality…

  52. Dino, certainly the objection to vestments stems, in part, from the iconoclasm of the Protestant denominations and the secular materialism that has succeeded it.

    Like anything created, it can be misused and thought of as a ‘thing in itself’, or used to denote power rather than being redolent with the Cross.

  53. Alban,

    I appreciate your comment about boredom (of the proper sort). It is more humbling to find myself restless and inattentive when I might long to be having a deep spiritual experience. I run up against my human limitations.

    At my better moments, I can remember to thank God for such experiences, as they remind me that I am not in charge and that I need His grace just to be able to pray. Being humbled is indeed a gift from God, though not one of the more enjoyable ones.

  54. Mary, Alban,
    A long time ago, when I first became interested in writing poems & stories, I was surprised to hear (in an essay about art, I think) that boredom could be a springboard to creativity: the mind that’s empty and restless is both open to inspiration and more easily led to pursue it. I wonder if that applies to prayer. It’s comforting to think so, but

  55. Mary, your last comment reminded me of a line from The Song of Hannah (1 Kingdoms 2:9).

    “The One who gives a prayer to the one praying.”

    There must be some emptiness in the one praying, an emptiness that God fills.

  56. Dominic:

    I enjoyed reading your reply, and I am truly delighted the Lord has called you to work with those who are struggling with drug addiction. May I just offer two observations?

    Firstly, there is no conflict or competition between the Divine Liturgy (prayer or services) and pastoral work. It would be impossible for an Orthodox Christian to choose one over another. This would be a false dichotomy, anyway. Liturgy is the supreme work of healing and redemtion of Christ our Pastor, our Shepheard, amongst His people, which culminates in our healing through loving communion with God our Father, through His Son, in the power of the Holy Spirit. Through Holy Communion, and the in-dwelling of the Holy Trinity in us, we come to share in the life of God. It is this sharing in the life of God, God within us and we within God, that enables us to be insturments of His healing presence to the wider world. We do not heal others, He does. As Christ our Lord said: Apart from me you can do nothing (Jn 15.5).

    Secondly, you mentioned about those who “serve and worship out in the battlefield of despair”. The battlefield, as you so rightly call it, is not “out there” in the world, with addicts and dealers and the criminal justice system. The real battlefield is the human heart, and the struggle for purification, illumination and life with and in God, is waged, and won or lost there, within the human heart. If you carry out your fight for healing and salvation (yours and others) solely in the world, you will despair, because you will be attempting to measure success in worldly terms.

    St. Seraphim of Sarov is reported to have said: “Acquire the Spirit of Peace and thousands around you will be saved.” In the Orthodox Church, salvation is often understood in terms of healing, so it could read “Aquire the Spirit of peace and thousands around you will be healed.” The Spirit of peace, is indeed the Holy Spirit, and it is principally in the Divine Liturgy that Christians experience not only Christ’s Pascha, His victory over sin, death and Satan, but it is also where they experience again the reality of Pentecost, where Christ sends His Holy Spirit anew on His church gathered in worship. Having acquired the Spirit of healing within our hearts at the Divine Liturgy, and sustained by our daily prayer, then, and then only, are we truly untied to Christ, and can become agents of His healing.

    Thank you again, Dominic, for your posts on here. May God continue to bless you in all that you do in Him.

  57. Fr. Stephen,

    I always enjoy your posts but I found this one frustrating. I’m acutely aware of the consumerism that’s eating up everything around us – and that struggles in long church services (Orthodox or otherwise) are largely our own problem. There is absolutely no disagreement on any of this for my part. I would not look for or expect many concessions in service length and so forth.

    What I heard in Anon’s statement that I identified with was something like this: I understand all this and therefore can counsel myself to quiet down, endure the length, concentrate on the words being said, etc – but I have a real struggle knowing how to transmit all this to my children, and it makes me feel helpless. I stand with them in the service, try to do it together and so on, but now my 13 year-old is simply counting the days until I will allow him to stop attending. My wife and I strive to model the Christian life and have good relationships with all our children, but it doesn’t keep them from being bored in church.

    I’m happy that all four of yours remained faithful – and that Michael’s son couldn’t be kept away – but what about the rest of us? Do you have any wisdom on keeping our children’s hearts? If you tell me the book suggested in your post will apply to them as well, I’ll buy it.

    Right now I’m frustrated and “just keep coming to services” doesn’t cut it. It reminds me of one Orthodox parish where the people asked for more body life, so the priest added more services. There’s a disconnect here somewhere. I have a very hard time believing that Heaven is going to just be one long church service. I know there’s a huge paradigm shift that needs to happen in everyone’s heart, but surely there have to be ways to connect with those who’ve lost their way – our own hearts included.

  58. Drewster, if you allow me (I dont have kids yet). I understand you attend church together with your family.. I suppose it could be pretty difficult in the US because of long distances and so on, but do your kids have a relationship of sorts with the priest? I mean regular confession and Communion.
    I have learned that it isnt only the “services” that keep us coming week after week, but also a certain.. bond that we develop with our priests (most importantly) and with the other members of the parish. It is of course very different at 30 form what it is at 13 (I didnt have this experience when I was 13, at all) but I think the openness and authenticity of your priest could draw the hearts of your children, who would then begin to feel not like they attend something passively, but actually feel they are an active part of something bigger.
    Just my 5 cents, I dont know if it is of any help and as stated, I dont have any experience like this of my own.

  59. ‘lia,

    I appreciated your initial comments, by the way.

    Our priest is our youth group leader as well. So yes they have a relationship with him. Of course at this age except for their parents it’s all about peers. To be honest I’ve been around long enough that I don’t expect to find any magic answer to this. I know what a terrifically strong pull the world is at their age; only a few seem to make it through this stage unscathed here in North America.

    But in light of this momentary “failure” on the part of my son, it’s torturous to think that nothing can be done except to keep praying for him, going to services, etc. The thought exacerbates all the irritations I’ve ever felt about long services and the whole bit.

    (dEEp breath!) I know God is good and in control of the universe. And through faith I know that all will be well. Thanks for responding with compassion.

  60. Drewster,
    I think the book will apply to them as well. My take on the book is that it was probably first given as a series of talks to youth. It’s not the length of services, per se, that is the trouble – though they can seriously be too long when, for reason of mission, etc., (including to our own children), they are maximized. I do a greatly shortened Vigil when a Vigil is called for, though at present it can last 2 hours. I would prefer a parish vigil of 1.5 hours maximum. But there should be generous “coming and going” from it.

    One problem, I think, is from the “audience” mentality nurtured in our entertainment culture. We feel that we should be at the service when it begins and stay through the end. I think this is somewhat mistaken. The Sunday liturgy would be the one service where this ideal should be the most closely adhered to – but I certainly have never thought that everyone would attend from the 3rd and 6th hours through the whole liturgy (or through all of Orthros and the Liturgy). I’ve sometimes thought that we should think more in terms of the Temple – there are services taking place that I should attend. When I plan to commune (which should be often) I attend carefully. And while I do not mean to be careless at other times, yet I am there for “the prayers,” but not as an audience, or duty bound to be there for everything.

    This is very counter to the cultural consumerism of mainstream Christianity. Parenting thus calls for adaptability.

    In my parish (to the delight of some and dismay of others) there is no nursery. Children attend the services. But we do not expect them to stand up straight and pay attention throughout the whole thing. And this is where it gets a bit “dicey.” Children quietly are allowed to “play” in the floor (we don’t do pews in general). The work is to have them pay attention at critical points and when not, to avoid being disruptive. Occasionally a couple of boys get into a tussle – in which case parents should see that they fight fairly (:)).

    Some parents do all of these things better than others. Some can’t do it at all. Some others are even offended. I’ve sometimes suspected that folks have chosen (there’s that word) to go to one of the other parishes in town so as to avoid the scandal of our little ones (I may be entirely wrong on this).

    I think of worship life in the Church as a microcosm of the “village.” I do not expect children to be other than children. We have tons of little ones right now, which means the liturgy is rarely a truly quiet affair. I’m asked how I keep from being distracted. The children are far less distracting than the noise inside my own ADHD riddled brain. They are no trouble to me.

    But that’s anecdotal and is how I do it. I raised my own children in much the same manner (mutatis mutandis).

    I think it’s the kind of thing that truly warrants conversation. Both privately with the priest, or with the whole community, since raising our children is a common work of the whole community.

    We have much to learn.

    Interestingly, the Orthodox author/speaker, Jim Forest, relates that his own conversion occurred largely through seeing Pascha services on television in Greece one year when he was on vacation there. He saw a child playing in the floor with a toy and the adults around them not being trouble. That – became what touched his heart and brought him to the faith.

  61. Ilia,
    Last week a family in the parish related their 21/2 year old asking, “Where is God?” when they got the Church. All explanations failed to satisfy until the child saw me (the priest). “There he is!” she said. I have a relationship with the child (one that frightens me at present). But it is a vital stage in her growth in Christ. She will forget that she ever thought I was God. But she may never forget how “God” treated her.

  62. Fr. Stephen,

    I appreciate your candid anecdotes and that you didn’t try to brush away my frustrations. Growing up Protestant I didn’t see much of the casual “the kids will be fine” attitude. So it was slightly scandalous for me in my current church when the kids (mine grew up in a large group of church kids their age) were allowed to have clipboards with coloring books and crayons – or even story books.

    Those kids are now mostly in the range of 8-13 and the tricky part is when to take away the proverbial clipboards way and expect more adult attention from them, more than just the Gospel reading, the Kiss of Peace and the Eucharist.

    It was awkward to work through the conversation of “you were too young to participate much before, but now you need to change the way you attend” but I’m comfortable with that now. As the kids learn to read, we stand by them and go through the liturgy books together in church. For those that are amenable, we do the same with the songbooks. When they were old enough, the kids would rotate through serving as acolytes as well – the younger ones still do this.

    But the struggle is how to communicate the riches of what lie before and around us while we worship. I fully understand that one of the biggest battles is in my own heart, but must I simply watch my children drop like flies around me while I’m working through that?

    Again I don’t really expect any miracle answers. I am grateful for the listening ear though.

  63. Drewster,
    I think about these questions a lot, too. They are good pastoral questions – essential pastoral questions. I had wanted this past year to do a series parish workshops on worship. As it turned out the most I accomplished was a series of sermons on worship (a poor substitute indeed). Having a heart-attack was not in my plans for the year. But I still want to do this. There are no quick or simple solutions, but the whole parish/family daily struggle to do the hard work of becoming Christians in a world of choice. These are and should be nagging questions, because they must not go unanswered! We at least have to be willing to fail! Chesterton said, “Anything worth doing is worth doing badly.”

  64. This conversation on children reminded me that it’s a pity that many Orthodox churches -the Temples themselves/ the buildings – have had so many influences from outside, or are simply not entirely as adorned as they could. I say this because those rare Churches that are covered in byzantine iconography on every inch of every nook and cranny and have the whole sensorial experience (Incense, candles, traditional chanting) really are ahead of all others in having the ability to help a small child’s soul have an awareness of the specialness of the place; even if the child is just sweeping a corner playing with another for 95% of their time there.
    Children being involved in helping the priest also set a great example.
    All this is the sort of thing that stays implanted in their memory too, even when they ‘don’t make it unscathed’ later on.
    Obviously, a priest’s holiness, (as that of others) will make the greatest and most powerful impression in this regard – ie: functioning as an ‘Araiadne’s thread’ for those that don’t make it unscathed. That goes without saying.
    I just thought that these other little things can help a bit too.

  65. Dino, yes, these things help a lot. I wasnt really “churched” as a child and I think I never really attended a Liturgy until I was 23 or something (I described the experience in my 1st comment, to sum it up again, it was bad bad bad).
    However my grandma sometimes used to take me to the graveyard where my grandfather is buried and there is naturally this church with byzantine adornments, golden icons, saints and scenes painted on the walls, carpets, those flags for which I hadnt yet found a word in English but they are used for processions. I was just a few years old but all that made a strong impression on me and made me keep quiet and still. There was God there, there was the Theotokos, there were angels, I didnt understand much of it but somehow I understood this was a different and big thing.

    Also, Father Stephen, I too remember looking up at a priest in his vestments, I dont recall the context of the service, just that he used the word “God” a lot, and then living with the impression that he _was_ God or at least, someone very much like Him, invested with the authority.

    I am pregnant as I write these and how Im gonna raise my children is quite a big concern for me as well because from what I see around, it is still very unclear to me where do these “feelings” as a child come from. They didnt really come from education and frequent exposure. Even after the years and not knowing much about my own religion I used to walk in a church in midday and be still and quiet, so maybe it was temperament.
    I really dont know what makes some children/teens so and what makes them otherwise. in Romania children dont really play during the Liturgy, this is something I have only seen when I went to Germany, that there is more freedom of behavior for the kids during the services and indeed they play quietly, color their books etc. I dont know what happens later and how things evolve for them.
    Perhaps the fact that we are a little more “formalist” in Romania, and the fact we actually DO have beautifully adorned churches (only understood what a rich luxury this is when I ended up in ersatz places in Germany) that smell of frankincense and myrth – maybe all this help instill a feeling of reverence in kids. And even if is temporarily lost or diminished during the later years, it is never completely deleted and often proves to be a good re-start point for a reconnection.

  66. ‘lia,

    “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.”

    We North Americans tend to have a very literal view of everything. Looking back at that scripture verse now, I believe there is often a middle piece that is silent. The parent trains up the child – then the child may actually stray anywhere from 1 to 80 years – but all the while carrying his training around until he finally steps in line with it and starts walking down the path he was shown in the beginning.

    Or perhaps part of his heart was always following that way and he lived a life divided within himself, one foot on the path all along so to speak.

    Switching back to the parent though, there is a sense in which their job is never over. It is their part to train, model and pray. When the children become adults, it is still the parents’ job to model and pray.

    Right now my son lives in the ignorance of his 13 years. I don’t use the word “ignorance” in a derogatory sense; he is simply unaware of so many things that only life experience and God can teach him. Mostly right now his decision to not believe rests on the factor of convenience. If he takes the agnostic stance, he’s hoping it will get him out of things like catechism classes, standing up front for the confirmation service, having to wrestle beliefs about how the real world works instead of just living inside his head, and so on.

    He doesn’t take Christianity seriously yet. My take on this is that he and most of his generation are allowed to wait until they are about 30 before they start confronting the realities of life: living expenses, how they carry themselves, who/what they turn to when life feels lonely or confining, loss, disappointment, confronting their own inner demons, etc.

    This deficiency is hard for one set of parents to remedy. As worn out as the phrase is, it really does take a proverbial village to raise a child. And no matter what I did right or wrong in raising my son, it’s time for me to face some things: my own limitations & brokenness – and the reality of a God who loves me but whom I’ve never really had to trust this much before.

    It can be dark and lonely down there in that hole of revelation, but the sun does not cease to exist just because the clouds come out or day turns to night. This too shall pass.

    Glory be to God for all things!

    Elder Porphyrios, Spiritual Counsels

    What saves and makes for good children is the life of the parents in the home. The parents need to devote themselves to the love of God. They need to become saints in their relation to their children through their mildness, patience and love. They need to make a new start every day, with a fresh outlook, renewed enthusiasm and love for their children. And the joy that will come to them, the holiness that will visit them, will shower grace on their children. Generally the parents are to blame for the bad behaviour of the children. And their behaviour is not improved by reprimands, disciplining, or strictness. If the parents do not pursue a life of holiness and if they don’t engage in spiritual struggle, they make great mistakes and transmit the faults they have within them. If the par­ents do not live a holy life and do not display love towards each other, the devil torments the parents with the reactions of the children. Love, har­mony and understanding between the parents are what are required for the children. This provides a great sense of security and certainty.

    The behaviour of the children is directly related to the state of the parents. When the children are hurt by the bad behaviour of the parents towards each other, they lose the strength and desire to progress in their lives. Their lives are constructed shoddily and the edifice of their soul is in constant danger of collapsing. Let me give you two examples.

  68. fotina,

    I have a lot of respect for Elder Porphyrios but I’m not strong enough to hold onto the guilt trip he hands out. It does not motivate me to go back to the task of parenting with renewed vigor. It makes me want to say, “Go sell guilt and shame somewhere else; we’re all full up here.”

    And the passage is totally silent concerning the free will exercised by the children despite the best example by the parents.

    BTW, you ended the quote at a very frustrating point. What are the two examples?

  69. Drewster and Fotina,
    It is always difficult when quoting someone, especially a saint. The collected stories are often conversations about a particular instance or with regard to a particular instance. I am sometimes lenient, sometimes strict, depending on the situation, but would not want to make either a “general” statement.

  70. @drew
    The elder’s advice is really not any different from Orthodox teaching for anyone, parent or not. I take it that I must focus on my own life in Christ, and trust in God for my children. God is in control, not me. Lord, have mercy!

    Elder Porphyrios says somewhere else that parents must be saints, and to speak more to God about one’s children rather than to the child.

    Great counsel, imo.

    ps read link for the examples.

  71. “What saves and makes for good children is the life of the parents in the home.”

    A lot of non-saints and not-yet-elders have said this. I believe and have experienced it, although with a time delay (in my own case, nearly 40 years after I left home;in my son’s case, about 20 – he’s a faster learner). My advice, be patient. Don’t expect results according to a plan. You are not building something, you are nurturing a growing person. The results are up to him and God. (said with great respect and sympathy)

  72. Fabulous advise, it explains “let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven”, very well…

  73. Dear to Christ, Drewster,

    You remark (by way of example) regarding your 13-year old son, that “he and most of his generation are allowed to wait until they are about 30 before they start confronting the realities of life: living expenses, how they carry themselves, . . .” Indeed, another aspect of the Modern Project. Give them “the pill” at 14, the vote at 18, but keep them single at college and then back at home until their 26 when they can do amazing things already at 14 and assume wonderful responsbilities while adolescents and so grow into responsbile, mature and wise adults much earlier–if we would let and encourage them.

    You continue: “This deficiency is hard for one set of parents to remedy. As worn out as the phrase is, it really does take a proverbial village to raise a child.” Not any village will do, however: it takes a Christ-centered family in a Christ-centered village embedded in the Church.

    Christ is in our midst,

  74. Dear to Christ Fotina, thank you for the words from Elder Prophyrios. I agree with Fr. Stephen that one cannot alway take an elders words and apply them as a universal generality. However, these do speak to me as a father of four (now grown) children. Despite mistakes made, which I am sure the approach Elder Porphyrios recommends would have eliminated or mitigated, I do not feel they are spreading guilt, but good advice that we can put into practice as grandparents and may also be able to model now for our children to practice as parents. This does not guarantee an outcome, obviously, but that hardly detracts from the wisdom imparted. It would still seem to be Christlike guidance. Thank you for it–and thanks for the link which will all us to see the examples he gives of the application of his advice in practice.

    Christ is in our midst,

  75. Three things that don’t work when raising children: anger, permissiveness and apathy even if one is a relatively faithful Christian.

    Three things that do work: The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

    Be careful how you judge the outcome, it is unlikely that you will see it.

  76. et al,

    I appreciate your attempts to give me counsel on this matter. I know your heart is in the right place.

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