Nothing about the human body is as intimate as the face. We generally think of other aspects of our bodies when we say “intimate,” but it is our face that reveals the most about us. It is the face we seek to watch in order to see what others are thinking, or even who they are. The importance of the face is emphasized repeatedly in the Scriptures. In the Old Testament, it is the common expression for how we rightly meet one another – and even – God Himself – “face to face.”
In the New Testament, St. Paul uses the language of the face to describe our transformation into the image of Christ.
The holy icons are doubtless the most abundant expression of the “theology of the face,” and perhaps among the most profound contributions of Orthodoxy to the world and the proclamation of what it truly means to be human. Every saint, from the least to the greatest, shares the same attribute as Christ in their icons. We see all of them, face to face. In the icons, no person is ever depicted in profile – with two exceptions – Judas Iscariot and the demons. For it is in the vision of the face that we encounter someone as person. It is our sin that turns us away from the face of another – our effort to make ourselves somehow other than or less than personal. It is a manifestation of our turning away from God.
And although the covering of a woman’s head is quite common in Orthodox Churches, there is absolutely no practice whatsoever that covers the face. Even nuns, for whom a head-covering often hides their hair completely, always display their face, that one element that reveals the glory of a person.
In human behavior, the emotion most associated with hiding the face is shame. The feeling of shame brings an immediate and deep instinct to hide or cover the face. Even infants, confronted by embarrassment or mild shame, will cover their faces with their hands or quickly tuck their face into the chest of the one holding them. It is part of the unbearable quality of shame.
Hiding is the instinctive response of Adam and Eve. “We were naked and we hid…” is their explanation. Artists have always assumed that it is the nakedness of their “intimate” parts that drive the first couple to hide. I think it more likely that it was their faces they most wanted to cover.
In an extended use of the story of Moses’ encounter with God after which he veiled his face, St. Paul presents the gospel of Christ as a transforming, face-to-face relationship with Christ.
Therefore, since we have such hope, we use great boldness of speech–unlike Moses, who put a veil over his face so that the children of Israel could not look steadily at the end of what was passing away. But their minds were blinded. For until this day the same veil remains unlifted in the reading of the Old Testament, because the veil is taken away in Christ. But even to this day, when Moses is read, a veil lies on their heart. Nevertheless when one turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. Now the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord. Therefore, since we have this ministry, as we have received mercy, we do not lose heart. But we have renounced the hidden things of shame, not walking in craftiness nor handling the word of God deceitfully, but by manifestation of the truth commending ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God. But even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, whose minds the god of this age has blinded, who do not believe, lest the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine on them. For we do not preach ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord, and ourselves your bondservants for Jesus’ sake. For it is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. (2Co 3:12-6 NKJ)
The veil of Moses is an image of the blindness of the heart and spiritual bondage. Turning to Christ removes this blindness and hardness of heart. With unveiled faces we behold the knowledge of the glory of God revealed in the face of Jesus Christ and are transformed into the very same image which is Christ.
In Russian, the word lik (лик) can mean face and person. Sergius Bulgakov plays with various forms of the word in his book Icons and the Name of God. It is an essential Orthodox insight. The Greek word for person (πρόσωπον) also carries this double meaning. The unveiled or unhidden face is a face without shame – or a face that no longer hides from its shame. This is perhaps the most fundamental aspect of our transformation in Christ. The self in whom shame has been healed is the self that is able to live as person and can behold God face-to-face and live.
We are restored to our essential and authentic humanity – our personhood. We behold Christ face to face, as a person would who looks into a mirror. And, as St. John says, “We shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is” (1Jo 3:2 NKJ).
The sacrament of penance boldly walks directly into the world of shame. Archimandrite Zacharias says:
… if we know to whom we present ourselves, we shall have the courage to take some shame upon ourselves. I remember that when I became a spiritual father at the monastery, Fr. Sophrony said to me, “Encourage the young people that come to you to confess just those things about which they are ashamed, because that shame will be converted into spiritual energy that can overcome the passions and sin.” In confession, the energy of shame becomes energy against the passions. As for a definition of shame, I would say it is the lack of courage to see ourselves as God sees us. (from The Enlargement of the Heart).
This is not an invitation to toxic shame – nor an invitation to take on yet more shame – it is a description of the healing from shame that is given in Christ. That healing is “the courage to see ourselves as God sees us.” It is the courage to answer like the prophet Samuel, “Here I am!” when God calls. God called to Adam who spoke from his shameful and faceless hiding.
Some of the mystical sermons of the fathers speak of Christ seeking Adam out a second time – but this time, in Hades, when Christ descended to the dead. There, Adam, hid no longer, turned to face the risen Lord. And so the traditional icon of the resurrection shows Christ taking Adam and Eve out of the smashed gates of Hades.
The gates of Hades are written in our faces – as are the gates of paradise. It is the mystery of our true self – the one that is being re-created in the image of Christ – precisely as we behold Him face to face and discover that no shame need remain. Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. Sweet liberty!
Father, thank you again for taking of shame being turned to joy by Christ. Pray for me!
Sometime could you explain more about the meaning and use of icons? I am unfamiliar with icons having come from a Protestant background. I do enjoy reading your thoughts. Thank you for sharing them!
Thank you Father Stephen for this beautiful article.
And for reminding us of the importance of connecting face to face… It’s so easy these days to hide behind our text messages and emails in communicating with others. We miss then the ability to read and respond to what we see in the face of the other person – and to express our true intentions by adding a smile, a certain look in our eyes – so easy to mis-communicate, to misinterpret intentions and responses…..
Thank you for this commentary. New to me is the commentary about Jesus meeting Adam and Eve during His visit to Hades. Could you share further of this assertion please?
Dear Fr. Stephen:
Christ is Risen!
Everything you write here dovetails perfectly with what CS Lewis is doing in his last (and greatest, in my opinion) novel, “Till We Have Faces.” A retelling of the myth of Cupid and Psyche, “Till We Have Faces” is ultimately about sin and shame, though not seemingly so, and being accepted and loved by God.
Thank you Fr. Stephen, this insight goes to my soul.
Thank you Father! The quotation of Archimandrite Zacharias was, for me, timely. I wondered why the tearful confession of shameful sins always seemed so liberating!
I long ago heard that in iconography profiles are not used because to do so indicates that the individual is not fully human. I have been trying to hunt that down for several months. Several iconography enthusiasts I know had never heard of it but I knew I had heard it. And bless you, here you are, yet again, with the answers I’ve been looking for!
Dear Fr. Stephen,
Since not too many people are jumping into this discussion I would like to share with you an experience that I had a few years ago. I think it’s related to this idea of meeting others face to face, and experiencing who they are. You said so beautifully that “turning to Christ removes the blindness and hardness of heart”….
I am a Pilates instructor and from time to time have to attend some of those required “continuing education” classes. One of the most famous teachers in the US is into the Eastern religions (Far Eastern, not Orthodox) and she had a workshop called “Doing Pilates from the Heart”. Since at that time I was learning about (and trying to sincerely practice) our Jesus Prayer, I thought I would try this seminar.
There were a lot of interesting concepts in that workshop, I don’t remember all of them, but one exercise had a very profound effect on me (the rumor was that at some locations people would ostentatiously walk out of that workshop, when they realized that she was not teaching the very advanced and technical stuff she usually teaches, but the “fluffy” spiritual stuff).
She had us do an exercise of looking at a partner in two ways: from the head and from the heart. Both as a looker and as an object of looking. It was an amazing experience. As I looked at the girl I was doing the exercise with “from my head”, I noticed her imperfections, skin condition, maybe that she was not that pretty, getting old…. When we switched to looking “from the heart” (and of course there would be so much to say about how to do it, to move from the head to the heart – but somehow we just did it, at that teacher’s command…), suddenly she looked almost like an angel, soft, beautiful, it brought tears to my eyes (the other person kept their eyes closed, I think otherwise this exercise would be unbearable for both people). Then we switched, and I closed my eyes and she looked at me. “From the head”, it felt physically uncomfortable, almost hurtful, I felt judged, analyzed, not good enough… When she was told to switch to “from the heart”, my body suddenly felt warm and bathed with light… it was really amazing and very real. People then shared similar experiences from the pairs that they worked in….. Since then, whenever I remember, I try to practice looking at people from the heart. It’s not that hard, but we have to be willing and make an effort…
Indeed, one element of seeing “face to face,” includes not seeing in a judging/critical/comparative, etc. mode (not from the “head”). One reason that “from the head” is not “face to face,” is that we are not actually “seeing” them, but have interposed “judging” or “objectifying” in the middle. This is related to my previous article on seeing as an artist.
A useful web site you might consult is https://iconreader.wordpress.com. Just enter the name of an icon or a person or feast into the search box, or click on one of the categories on the right. You’ll get all kinds of good information.
It was a favorite image that comes up in the early centuries of the Church. Quite famously, the Paschal Homily of Melito of Sardis, develops this imagery with great force. It is not a “historical” assertion in the realm of “fact.” It is a theological assertion. “Adam” represents all of humanity – much as St. Paul uses him in Romans. Christ is the Second Adam. It’s a very typical use of imagery in the homilies of the early Fathers (and later).
If you tend towards literalism, then you should treat the image literally – for Christ in Hades certainly confronts all who are there. If you are not particularly driven by literalism, then allow the image to speak figuratively.
Of course, there are many problems with literalism. We “literally” know almost nothing. Without cameras present, we have “seen” nothing in history and have only the assertions found in ancient writings, etc. And yet we “know” many things. The life of the Church and the truth of the faith are expressed, quite economically, in such figures as Adam, etc. We learn to speak in such a manner and to think in such a manner so that we can speak and think in the manner of the Church.
When various forms of modern literalism, driven by the fashions of science, etc., overwhelm the language and thought of the Church, what is produced is either a disbelieving modernism, or a distorted historical literalism found in some Protestant circles. Both will misunderstand and fail to appropriate the truth of the Christian faith.
I really appreciate you sharing your Pilates experience…
“Then we switched, and I closed my eyes and she looked at me. “From the head”, it felt physically uncomfortable, almost hurtful, I felt judged, analyzed, not good enough… When she was told to switch to “from the heart”, my body suddenly felt warm and bathed with light… it was really amazing and very real.”
Though I have no proof I have often believed that the eyes of a person do more than let light and images in – but that they also let something out. When you speak of feeling analysis and judgment in the first stage and warmth and light in the second one, a person could say that you were projecting these things – but I don’t believe that explanation accounts for all of what you experienced.
There is something real that is released/sent out/given through the eyes. I remember trying a silly experiment as a young man. In the backyard of the house next door a pretty girl was sunbathing. When I peeked through a slit in the curtain to look at her, she sat up within 30 seconds to look around, obviously feeling someone’s eyes on her. I repeated this experiment on her a few more times just to make sure the phenomenon was for real – even taking 10 minutes break in between viewings to make my tests more certain. (all in the name of science, you understand) (grin)
I believe she was responding to the energy my eyes were unintentionally sending, though not everyone is sensitive to this when eye contact is not obvious. The eye is powerful, perhaps just below the power of the tongue. It seems to be the focal point of that type of communication called body language.
And I can confirm what Fr. Stephen said, that the face is the true source of intimacy on our bodies. So much can be gleaned from it – especially when it is unmasked of course.
Anyway, thanks again for sharing your experiences.
Thank you for this comment. I love so much what you said and agree wholeheartedly. Eye contact is so critical in our connection with other people. Your story is very telling 🙂
I am a woman engineer, working with many man, young, old, important, less important, most of them looking unhappy most of the time… I love to play this game of making eye contact, smiling at them with my (especially) eyes, and seeing their whole face soften, light up, become more beautiful… It’s the kind of transformation of facial features that I never see in any other situation, especially at work. And it works the same way with women although men respond a little better to me personally 🙂
I wanted to tell you how much I appreciated some of your recent posts about child rearing and building relationship with our own children. I don’t know if you are a parent, but I am a mother of three teenage boys, all of them in the most challenging phase. Looking into their eyes is sometimes the only way I have to assess if they are telling the truth (which unfortunately lately they don’t). Even if I cannot prove anything, I KNOW. And they know I KNOW…..
We don’t have the Gospels saying a lot about that, but I often wonder what it was like to be looked at by the Lord? We hear that He looked at the “young rich ruler” and loved him. What was that like? Somebody else posted an article about the reconstructing Christ’s face from the Shroud of Turin. I am not into these kinds of things, but I do long to know the Face of Christ….. we are supposed to, aren’t we? Do the Saints ever specifically talk about seeing the Lord face to face, do we have such stories?
Thanks for your reply. Yes I’m a parent of 3, the oldest being 15 now. I know what you mean about working with your children.
However, I find that I am only starting to understand the language of the eyes, the face, the body. One very touching story (turned into movie) was The Horse Whisperer. But I honestly don’t think it’s restricted to horses or even animals. People also use these kinds of signals for those who have eyes to see and ears to hear: where the body is facing, what the hands/arms are doing, how agitated the body/head is, where the eyes are, etc.
In reference to my children I am learning to be careful. I as a man can cause harm if I combine direct eye contact with too many other signals. It can be too much. I suspect God is careful as well when dealing with us.
In reference to Christians I believe it is one of the main and most effective ways we have to speak volumes to those around us. When our face is open and our eyes are willing to look upon someone, we show so many things: that we are not afraid, that we are loved and cared for, that we don’t need something from them, that we care about them and what they have to say.
I’m presenting it way too simplistically of course but these things shine light on the souls of those around us and they get a glimpse of things embodied, things like life and love, things people would spend everything to get if only money could buy it. It is the most visible and palpable way I know of being Christ to those around us – even when it comes to something like being authentic in front of our children: crying that shows weakness, admitting areas of ignorance, having hope when no one else does – or even admitting despair in the moment.
And then at the end of all these things, being ready to confess Christ as our source. It is a voting with our feet despite the consequences that is light and life to our brothers and sisters around us.
So beautifully said Drewster,
We are the presence of Christ to others by who we are and what we offer them (even if sometimes it is only a smile). Recently I have listened to one of Fr. Stephen’s podcasts where he listed public virtues of a Christian. If I remember right, they were: kindness, hospitality, mercy and sharing. The Lord has summed that up with a commandment for us to love one another.
Fr. Tom Hopko always said to practice our kindness and mercy first of all at home, with our family. You sound like a man of deep faith and love towards your family, but there are so many man these days that behave so horribly towards their wives, even in front of the children…. It’s heart breaking to hear about it (I have too many young women friends who are faced with that, they come to me for advice because of my past experiences, but sometimes there are no answers, and one can only endure so long…). These men only think of themselves and take out their anger on their wives…. It’s heartbreaking….
I read somewhere once that the best thing a father can do for their children is to love their mother. Many fathers fail at that. They may even profess to love God, but that is not reflected in their behavior towards those closest to them. So if I may presume to offer one bit of advice, love, adore and be faithful to your wife.
Horses are supposed to be especially sensitive to human emotions. But I think that you are right, other animals have that capacity (the stories of saints such as St. Seraphim of Sarov for example). I like to tell my dog how wonderful he is and how much I love him, and I know he is often trying to communicate something similar to me 🙂
I can personally relate to the failures of men you’ve accurately –and painfully– described. May the Lord have mercy!
Marriage can be such a beautiful and significant oasis of mutual divine monarchy and martyrdom that the demons, I believe, go to great lengths to ruin it for couples and prevent their love from flowering into stunning icons of divine love.
I also believe that most men are quickly tempted to defend their pride or place. We want to be special and needed. Competition, even from a dear wife, is hard to deflect. I know this sin too well.
Feminism hasn’t helped either. It teaches young women to push masculine buttons and blinds them to their unique role, power and duty to nurture their husbands’ emotions. Underneath hard exteriors most men are more emotionally vulnerable than women. To blossom fully in powerful and gentle love a husband needs in his wife a sanctuary where he can discover himself in the exclusive expressions of her countenance, healing words and accepting embrace. Any man, of course, can discover himself and blossom in Christ through prayer. Some married men are doubly blessed to have both.
Please forgive me if this is off-topic or offensive. That is not my intention. Again, please, Lord have mercy!
Thank you for your comment and I don’t think anything about it was offensive. I worry a little about being off-topic, but I imagne if we get too far of the intended path, Fr. Stephen would step in and correct us….
Somehow these recent articles and related commentaries are unusually relevant for my life, I am grateful to have truly Orthodox friends to discuss them with.
You brought up so many points that are true. Both men and women need the marriage to be an oasis of peace and happiness. But true love is a product of humility, of surrendering our ego (and let’s not give the demons too much credit, we humans mess things up all by ourselves well enough). I once heard Fr. Zacharias from Essex say in one of his talks that in marriage each one should try to humble oneself before the other, that’s when marriage will be beautiful. But that requires so much maturity on both sides…..
When I listen to these young women, mothers, of emotional (and sometimes even physical) abuse they experience from their husbands who otherwise seem to be such upstanding, successful, “good” men, I often wonder how these “moral pygmies” ever look themselves in the mirror…..(this is to bring the subject back to the initial article, Fr. Stephen 🙂 And, if they have a trace of faith and fear of God, what do they expect to tell God before His Dread Judgement Seat in defense of their behavior? That they had so much “stress at work”, or “weight of responsibility on their shoulders”…..?
And that’s true for all of us whenever we mistreat another. What we do the the least of our brethren, we do to Christ….
Well, as Fr. Stephen has said recently, “there will be no legal defense before God. There can be none. What takes place between us and God is entirely a matter of our being, our existence. No words of explanations, no reasoning. Just who and what you are”….. There will be no place to hide and no excuses….
Lord, grant us all true repentance before You call us to give an account for the state of our heart….
Thank you for these insights. In mourning family losses recently, I have been seeking to understand life and death generally in the light of Christ’s resurrection. I have always wondered what the scales are that fell from St. Paul’s face. Your reference to veil brings to mind the veil that was torn apart during Christ’s passion. I pray for understanding.
Your article brought to mind a young lady recently who was on t.v. who had been severely disfigured due to burns. Pity – is what I have heard such people, like the handicapped in wheelchairs, do not want. However, I felt a deep sorrow for her to experience this in life…knowing the emphasis on youth and physical perfection in this world.
There are physical reflections from life experience and general health of the body in the face. Christ heals the whole person from within, and the inner life in Christ seems to become larger is the only way I can explain the orthodox faith. I die daily comes to mind and He must increase, and I must decrease.
Not long ago, my Mom who is in her 80s, sustained a full cardiac arrest. Paramedics restarted her heart and she was placed in therapeutic hypothermia for 24 hours in the hospital to forestall cell damage to her heart and brain. I saw her the day after she came out of the induced coma. She was still coming out of sedation, which short-circuited her short-term memory (and most of the function of her discursive brain). What shone through during this short window of time, I realize, was her heart. I was struck by the fact that when she saw me, the full warmth of her love for me as her daughter and deep and sincere gratitude for my visit was on full display in her body language, face expression and in her words. It touched me deeply. She did not know what had happened to her, and explanations from her family members and medical professionals were not yet being comprehended or remembered. By the next day, the effects of the sedation had mostly worn off, and her discursive faculties (along with the anxiety and irritation that often accompanies such) had kicked back in. It was a dramatic illustration for me. Fr. Stephen’s post and the comments here reminded me of what was revealed at that time.
Thank you for sharing this beautiful story. It reminded me of this article shared by my priest with those of us who are in different parish ministries.
Fr. Stephen talked about personhood and aging very beautifully at the retreat in San Francisco. I think the link to it will be available soon. Maybe he will give his blessing to share it here with this group?
Article on aging:
Here is an article I’d strongly recommend all of us to read, especially those of us who do any sort of visitation ministry, work with seniors, or have ageing relatives. Or perhaps even in light of our own ageing. It is important enough to read carefully 🙂
Thanks for relating the incident concerning your mother. It is an awesome (in the true sense of the word) thing to witness a person unveiled and unshielded by their armor, by that thing Fr. Stephen refers to as “the story we tell ourselves about who we are”.
For some reason these incidents remind me of a musical bridge, if you know what I mean. The song is going on in a predictable fashion – and then everything stops, momentarily caught in a no man’s land – and then back to the regular music. I find the bridge moment being way too short and wanting to back up the song to experience it again.
These times can of course be quite painful as well because we are beings to a greater or lesser degree who are fallen and dealing with pain, but the simple raw honesty is often like balm to a wound, like a gentle rain to a parched land. The truth is that – right or wrong – I would rather surround myself with people who are honest and genuine in this way than people who are right or outwardly stunning.
When I’m honest with myself, I need the truth about above all else.
Is it supposed to feel like, just before the interaction, you’re looking for a “gear” somewhere in your chest that isn’t normally engaged, then you engage it? With a feeling similar to that when you’re suddenly hit with some kind of nostalgia or yearning?
I ask because I just tried something like that at work today just before meeting a client that I hadn’t met before… and somehow all the usual tension and aggravation just melted away. I don’t know if it’s just a personality thing for this particular client, or a placebo effect, or if I’m actually doing it right.
Thank you for sharing this wonderful experiment you did….
Hopefully there is no “placebo effect” in our spiritual life, if we do things sincerely, God will respond to us and give us a genuine experience…..
Fr. Stephen answered my post by saying: “One reason that “from the head” is not “face to face,” is that we are not actually “seeing” them, but have interposed “judging” or “objectifying” in the middle.”…..
I wish I remembered better how we were told to “switch” to the heart. I might not have even listened (not wanting to be doing something Hindu or Bhuddist, or whatever that was). I tried to follow some “instructions” I remembered from learning how to pray the Jesus Prayer. Part of the Orthodox understanding of salvation (if I am saying it right) is the quest to unite the mind with the heart – the two were separated during the “fragmentation” of Creation that happened during “The Fall”…. I think many Saints talked about the mind descending into the heart and reuniting with it.
In a really beautiful book “Bread and Water, Wine and Oil” Archimandrite Meletios Webber describes this *technique* a little bit. What I got out of it is that you transfer the awareness of yourself (who you are) from your head down to somewhere in the middle of your chest, somehow , and try to stay there, even if for just a millisecond….
That’s what I think I tried… I have forgotten about this and have not practiced in recent years (even in the practice of the Jesus Prayer)… It’s time to start it up again…. 🙂
Thank you Agata.
It does seem from your description that I should generally be on the right track… one of my big fears and doubts about this whole heart/spiritual revelation thing (even though rationally it should be no different than physical stuff) is that we might all be talking about totally different experiences in a sort of Wittgenstein’s-beetle/”hey what if my red is really your blue?” sort of way.
I totally understand your doubts/concerns. How do we know if anything we do/experience (in any area of life, and spiritually in particular) is even remotely similar to what other people do/experience? Is it what it is “supposed to be”? When I go to confession to different priests, even to myself I feel like a different person…. (Maybe it’s time to try this “descend into the heart” in confession…? 🙂 )
Orthodoxy teaches us that each one of us has our particular and unique path to Christ, and that the only thing that matters on that path is sincerity, integrity and authenticity. If God is truly my Creator, and sustains me with every breath, He knows my real intentions and the content of my heart (maybe better than I do myself). There is no hiding from Him. So if I am truly honest with myself first of all, He will at least take it into account and be merciful and forgiving where I fell short because I was blind to my own darkness and brokenness (I HOPE! Without this hope there would be nothing but despair for me).
Sometimes I like to think about the Saints, the fact that they were human beings just like me, but somehow made choices that transformed them into vessels of God’s grace. What did they do all day long? What did they think? How did they pray and forgive when others were mean to them? I think we hear that they always thought they were worst than all others – which sounds bizarre and a bit excessive to us …. But I think for them this was the surest and safest way before God. It’s the way He was, totally humble and totally self-emptying, that is how we need to be to “acquire the mind of Christ”.
As Fr. Meletios Webber liked to say about all this stuff, “don’t think too much, JUST DO IT, Nike style!”
I have nothing more to add, so I almost wish I could quietly click “Like” on your comment. 🙂
Thank you. And I really appreciate this opportunity to have a short conversation with you. I like reading all the stuff on this blog, the great spiritual stuff, but for me, the crux of it is how to do it practically in my life…
I just want to say one more thing about this “hey what if my red is really your blue?” ….
For me sometimes this fear goes way deeper into doubting … doubting ALL OF IT…. is it really possible: such Great God that we learn about in the Church, these Saints that had amazing experiences of feeling God’s presence….. I have never felt that kind of Presence…
But when we pray just a little, and make even the worst effort at the ascetic measures that the Church prescribes (you know, like actually fast on Wed and Fri, and maybe give a little more money to charity, and go to Vespers on Sat night instead of going to a bar or a movie…..), when we stay faithful in small things with honesty and integrity, God answers… He gives these “treats from His pastry shop” (I think it was St. Paisios who said that). And those treats are only recognizable by you: so “delicious” and so specific to you and your life, you can’t even share them with anybody….. You see such “deep blue” that you have to wonder if anybody has a clue of how blue can blue be…… It’s only between you and your wonderful God.
Your blessings, Fr. Stephen.
It’s from an Brazilian Orthodox Christian struggling to live our ancient faith in a country where the our parishes are stlii too closed to converts. Situation has changed, though, a lot. But that’s not why I’m here, you know, to talk about South-american Orthodoxy.
In fact, your blog is a source of inspiration for me, inspiration for prayer, meditation or maybe only a bundle of precious insights unlikely to be found anywhere else. I love the unusual, brilliant, insightful and strongly deifying (yes, I would dare say it) spirit of debate, conciliation, discussion, sinaxis you bring us here. The manner which real and contemporary issues and complex situations faced in life are brought here, brought to the field, explored and with such daring, innovative and at the same time so traditional, so Orthodox, I became I big fan of your posts, of your blog. I came to admire you as a priest and a man of God. I love your posts, I love the comments, the exchange of personal and familiar spiritual experiences, the wheel of fire of the authentic life live in Christ, of real people. Real people, so different from these fuzzy clowns that’re some Orthodox you find online, specially on facebook. I thank you all for this experience, that has become such an important part of my life. You wouldn’t imagine how much my own life has been exposed, explored here. How precious this is!
But particularly I would like to point out the same, Agata and Matt, you’ve been talking about this
“you have to wonder if anybody has a clue of how blue can blue be…… It’s only between you and your wonderful God.”
That hit hard! Ys, it is completely true. I have been so deceived by so many personal mistakes in my parishioner life here, by demonic ilusions and terrible temptations. There always was that annoying and self-destroying thoughts about how horrible and hypocrite christian I was, how I never really tried to live an authentic life, as if I was representing in some RPG gameboard, or faking something. As if all these attempts, so criticized by many, were not only insincere, but even some kind of bad joke. It is terrible to judged like this, but it is even worse to condemn yourself to hell. It is awful, a pain that sometimes was unbearable.
I don’t know whether I recovered. I really don’t. I don’t know even if I started again following the right tracks, not even if I have restarted at all. I have fallen, gaven up and restarted so many times I feel constantly playing a video game. But this is real life, it has everything to do with responsibility, decisions for life, commitment not to haphazardly changing plans, re-thinking concepts as if you’re dealing with philosophy lessons without an authentic philosophical spirit or only appreciating a religion because of aesthetics. In this relationship between my growth as an adult, as a person, and the first steps of a religious consciousness, the spiritual awareness of the complete inadequacy and ‘not-enoughness’ of this material and worldly reality and the thirsty search for a meaning in life, a sense of direction and that Ultimate Hug of the Never-ending Love that operates in the infinity of two consciousnesses meeting in this infinity, in that irreplaceable, irrepeatable, unique event.
“You see such “deep blue” that you have to wonder if anybody has a clue of how blue can blue be…… It’s only between you and your wonderful God.”
When I was most depressed I used to think like that. ‘This can’t be a lie. It can’t be an illusion, because no matter what happens, how weak I am, how I am charmed and seduced by the world and its false promises and delights almost without resistance, no matter how fiercely Satan attacks my soul, tries to ravish it, destroy it, there’s nothing more unreal than all this. And there’s nothing more real than His Face.’
That gives me strength.
From São Paulo, Brazil. A blessed weekend and a holy Sunday for everyone!
P.S: Sorry about my awful English. =p
May the Lord bless you and let you see His Face, feel His presence.
Your post is for me today a great blessing, “deeper blue than I ever saw before”. Continue to offer your heart to God simply, with thanksgiving for everything. Stand before Him and pray “Oh You who are good, to whom all hearts are open, You know my poverty and my foolishness, my blindness and my uselessness, but the sufferings of my soul are also before you…..”
(Learn this most beautiful prayer by heart and say it every day, many times a day….)
May God bless you, strengthen you and make you an example and the presence of Christ to all around you.
Thank you so much, Agata, for your sweet and gentle words! As much as I thank you for your history and inspiring words all along.
I’ll pray for you too!
“But I think for them this was the surest and safest way before God. It’s the way He was, totally humble and totally self-emptying, that is how we need to be to “acquire the mind of Christ”.”
This makes me think of the definition of humility given by AB Anthony Bloom in his book, “Beginning to Pray”.
“Humility is the situation of the earth. The earth is always there, always taken for granted, never remembered, always trodden on by everyone, somewhere we cast and pour out all our refuse, all we don’t need. It’s there, silent and accepting everything and in a miraculous way making out of all the refuse new richness in spite of corruption, transforming corruption itself into a power of life and a new possibility of creativeness, open to the sunshine, open to the rain, ready to receive any seed we sow and capable of bringing thirtyfold, sixtyfold, a hundredfold out of every seed.”
As for the very interesting discussion of how we see/communicate through our eyes, I long ago figured out that people can “feel” us when we look at them (much as the young woman in Drewster’s story did) and learned to “turn off” the energy my eyes gave out when looking at others. I have been able to successfully hide myself from others while staring directly at them at times. Sadly, I now realize how easy it is to do this and how damaging it can be–we have at least as much ability to separate ourselves from others, even when we make eye contact, as we have ability to deepen our relationships with others by looking at them “with our hearts”. It is not only the head vs. the heart; we must guard against willfully numbing ourselves and avoiding others even though we are still present. Just an observation.
(If I knew how to format text on this blog, this post would undoubtedly be easier to read! My apologies to all for this).
Testing, testing, an answer for Byron…
If I knew how to format text on this blog, this post would undoubtedly be easier to read! My apologies to all for this.
No need to apologize, really. You can format text by using HTML tags and attributes, in the form of <_>…Text…</_> .
Here are two basic tag examples and results.
1. <b>bold</b>, <i>italic</i>
2. <blockquote>“block” quotation</blockquote>
1. bold, italic
Many thanks all! I shall have to experiment a bit to get the hang of it, I’m sure!
What do you mean by, “I have been so deceived by so many personal mistakes in my parishioner life here, by demonic illusions and terrible temptations”?
“There always were those annoying and self-destroying thoughts about how horrible and hypocrite a Christian I was, how I never really tried to live an authentic life, as if I was representing in some RPG game board, or faking something. As if all these attempts, so criticized by many, were not only insincere, but even some kind of bad joke. It is terrible to be judged like this, but it is even worse to condemn yourself to hell. It is awful, a pain that sometimes was unbearable.”
This sounds like scrupulosity.
St. John of the Ladder:
This sounds like scrupulosity. But I could be wrong.
If you had
go see a doctor immediately!
It was a metaphor…
I thought that was obvious.
Or not quite. When we say ‘demonic illusions’ we do not always mean we have seen physically any spiritual entity, only that presence was there. If there’s evil suggestions the evil ones are there. Both passions deeply attached to our flesh and intellects and devilish suggestions works for the sprout and genesis of evil thoughts and feelings in our hearts.
As for your remarks in what I consider a poor worldly psychology (in contrast to patristic psychology):
• Believing external forces are controlling your thoughts, feelings and behavior.
-No one is ‘controlling’ you. Do you deny the existence of the devils? But that is basic orthodox christian teaching. The devils are not fables or symbols of our passions. The passions do exist for themselves AND are put into action by demoniac suggestions. It is basic christian teaching. Which does NOT contradicts the christian idea of uncreated freedom.
• Believing that trivial remarks, events or objects have personal meaning or significance.
– About this one, you may call me insane then. What is trivial? Can you tell between what is trivial and what is not? Among what is spiritually good or harmful and the simple worldly things and events only greatly experienced ascetics could discern. Not me, not Freudians.
• Thinking you have special powers, are on a special mission or even that you are God. (NAMI),
– What? Haha, ok, that was funny…
I hope my sarcasm didn’t offend you (or my terrible english). You were right about blasphemy coming forth from proud mouths (or rather, St. John is right), but I do not have much patience over people who loves to objectify people around themselves with pseudo-psychoanalysis and this distasteful arrogance of virtual psychologists who believe can understand everyone, label them under one ‘objective’ category, study them, violate the sanctum of their hearts and souls, and still come with the usual moralist ‘healing’ methods of identification of mental shortcomings, cure and reestablishment (as if the person in question were some desert Father or Mother). This is not help to anybody. This is violence, arrogance, selflove disguised as charity. You already have done that to someone in this blog and I found it extremely disrespectful.
There might be too much truth in many of the things you said. But that is all there is in it.
It is all too true.
There is no love.
You know nothing about me to make such accusatory remarks. You have not such right.
Then again I have no right to feel myself offended, maybe it was not a bad intention, though it hurts…
When I go to a place and open my heart like this to my brothers and sisters in Christ, I do not hope to be reified that way, to be labelled, studied, violated, explored… maybe it is too much to expect to hope for not be judged, but to be attacked? I hope understanding, a prayerful reaching or at least some degree of acknowledgement. But violence? In the end it is not about my hopes or misunderstandings but mainly about love and caring receptiveness among brothers. Not objective analysis nor schizophrenic subjectivity of sinners not wanting to repent, but intersubjectiveness of sinners meeting in the infinity, opening their hearts to each other, finding God in each other’s face.
Your ‘analysis’ is not only offensive to me, and not because others have been ‘targeted’ to it too, but I ask myself if you gave not wondered: ‘Hasn’t he read the discussion and, maybe, identified himself with our remarks on scrupulosity? What if it lit a candle in his head and he’s making some autocriticism? Maybe the change has already started!’. You could at least have hoped for the best. No. It was better to expect the worse.
But yes, maybe there’s a lot of scrupulosity in me. Just like there is plenty more. But that’s not why I came here and opened myself like this. I do not need a psychoanalysis. I have a psychologist and I have a confessor priest, both sides of that kind of help that is very helpful against my ‘scrupulosity’. But you did not want to wait to ask me about this, right? It was easier to condemn.
I came here for conversation, for understanding. Not that I’m afraid of criticisms, but they have their place among people who have chosen among themselves one person to be their accusers. That’s what friends do. Do you have any friends? Do you judge all of them like this? I bet they do not like it very much. You probably do not have many…
Did it hurt? Well, you could well say that my reaction was common and expected, that this is JUST HOW a average ‘print your mental sickness label here’ is SUPPOSED to react. And the reification goes on, with all its de-facings and de-humanizings.
Yes, we can all play that game, that hurtful game. But it is only a helpful wound when it is not a game, but true infinity. When one of the persons cease to be a person and turns into the Great Inquisitor, an impersonal and merciless just judge of actions and behaviors, it de-personalizes himself, de-humanizes itself, finishes the dialogue in infinity by putting himself out of it, cutting it into pieces. The other side becames a silent and faceless un-person, without the right to even feel shame. Its de-humanization by its merciless un-facing follows along the same lines, only that is passive most of it but it is actively pursuing, through resentment, its own inner hell.
This can remind me only of the greatest anti-psychologizing russian writers, Mikhail Bakhtin: in the unrepeatable, unique, nonrecurring event of existence, with its infinite possibilities of dialogue and understanding, all rumbles and falls apart when the two faces that meet each other in this moment do not see each other as persons, as human beings full of meaning, life, unfinalizability, but as ‘things’ to be snatched, explored, dissected, violated, attacked or just ignored. As persons, with faces, they have already killed each other. Reification rules.
I do not think I’m so important or have any morals for such harsh response to you. I hope you (and Fr. Stephen, too) will forgive me for such heavy criticism but in that case… I thought someone should tell A-onyma. You’re not helping anybody. Much less yourself. You’re only slandering people.
(Yes, I read the whole comment. No, I have no intention of replying to it with any more words than “Okay.” Sorry.)
Painting a new image of the Face:
May be of interest. JB