Fr. Stephen in San Francisco – Running on Empty in the Abundant Life

I spoke in March at the Cathedral of the Mother of God, Joy of All Who Sorrow in San Francisco. A number of people have seen these video’s (the lecture and the question and answer section). I’ve posted them here at a general request. “Running on Empty in the Abundant Life” is the lecture. “Life in Christ: A Fount of Joy” is the question and answer section.

27 comments:

  1. Why wouldn’t folks like the video? It’s Divine Comedy. πŸ™‚

    You’re preaching immorality!
    No, I’m not!

    Maybe we could start our own question and answer section here, Fr. Stephen?

  2. Thanks this is great and real stuff, but please do check the cc, like at 33:25, when father is speaking about self-emptying way of the Cross, not the Indian way πŸ™‚ as it is written there… strange… I was going to recommend this to a student of mine to practise her English but now I’m getting a bit reluctant πŸ™‚

  3. Makedonka,
    The cc is generated by a google program that obviously has some snags. Of course, using my English for learning the language would be an interesting exercise in itself. Perhaps useful for someone traveling to the Southeastern US. Despite my best efforts, I retain a regional accent. If I were not trying to speak standard English, the result would quite disconcerting. My native dialect is an Appalachian dialect (Mountains – what is locally known as “hill-billy”). It contains words you’ll not find in a dictionary… It’s actually a Scots-Irish dialect brought to the US in the mid 1700’s.

  4. A friend sent me the ling to audio today and I have enjoyed listening to about a third of the recording! Thank you! God bless you!!!

  5. Thank you again, father Stephen, I did not expect so elaborate answer. And I must admit, your talks are genuine person-to-person addressing, which makes me respond in a child-like manner – in my heart I know you are speaking the Truth. It also counts for your writings, but this is my first time to watch and hear you speaking. This is great job and I was really touched about those 8 years of your not writing. Most probably God had taken His grace to attract you to even greater gifts. And the venerating of icons… Yes, indeed a fullness it is. Glory to God for all things. Christ is risen! Greetings from Macedonia.

  6. Paul,
    Well, remember that in the context of the story, the answer was given by an Anglican priest, off-the-cuff. But, I still think it’s true.

    What I would mean by it:

    Remember first the Orthodox understanding of salvation. Salvation is the whole, complete end of our life in union with Christ – the fullness of existence – not simply the avoidance of hell, or some such thing. Even if there were no hell, salvation would have the same meaning – the restoration of union with God and our transformation in the image and likeness of Christ.

    So, in St. Paul’s words:

    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. (2Co 3:18)

    The act of veneration of the image is key. If veneration is properly understood – it is about a proper personal (hypostatic) relationship with the One who is portrayed and made present in the icon. Icons, like the sacraments, facilitate that relationship. I think that without the icons, the relationship can be found, but with greater difficulty, less effectiveness, and greater danger. I think there is a fullness made possible through the icons that is likely to simply be missing otherwise.

    My subsequent experience as an Orthodox Christian has borne this out. There are things that I’ve come to see and understand, that would have simply not been possible without the icons. Much of it comes of the heading of “you don’t know what you’re missing.” It is thus very hard to explain to someone who does not venerate icons because they have no experience of what I’m describing.

    The same thing is particularly true, I think, when it comes to the general veneration of the Mother of God. I would be bold enough to say that there are many things regarding God you cannot know if you do not venerate His Mother. Not because He won’t show them to you, but because you would lack the lens through which they alone can be seen. For example, I do not think anyone can possibly understand the male nature of the priesthood in Orthodoxy if they do not have a deep devotion to the Theotokos. They would likely misconstrue it into something it is not (as misogyny of some sort). Thus, I find that it’s pretty much impossible to have a discussion about things like gender and ordination with the non-Orthodox. And there are even some Orthodox whose devotion to the Theotokos is either lacking or distorted and who thus do not understand the matter. But I find it to be perfectly clear when I contemplate her.

    Much of this (icons, Theotokos) operates on a level that is trans-rational, or hyper-rational (beyond rationality). If it were perfectly rational, anyone could understand it.

  7. Thank you and very interesting stuff. I’m not sure I agree though. If what you say is true, why didn’t God put that in his word.
    Now you have got me thinking about the difference between veneration and worship. I will have to do some research on that one.
    I really enjoyed your talk especially the part about giving thanks for all things. Not an easy thing to do.

  8. Hi Paul,

    I hope I can help shed a little light on your question about veneration and worship and Fr. Stephen can correct me if I misrepresent or muddy something.

    Scripture is very clear, (when the kens of the Spirit of Love is used) -though many a false prophets have confused and obscured this truth;

    Worship is communion in love. There is no acceptable worship without love of the other. (1 Jn 4, Mt5:22-24 among many many others.) Indeed the “law of love” is the law of worship and life itself. As Zizoulas might say, it what predicates being.

    We worship God only when we are in communion with one another, and withoutLove in unity, any assembly that seeks to worship God is in actuality “eating and drinking condemnation unto” themselves.

    The veneration (communion) of and with Mary and the saints is simply a recognition of the Truth that none of the Saints either in heaven or on earth can be separated from the uniting love of God in the Body of Christ, His Church.

    Time and space have no meaning in the face of the communion of the Saints through Christ’s indwelling Sprit-The dead ARE alive in Christ, and therefore alive and in communion with us.

    Furthermore, God is not some kind of needy deity in the sky who requires obecience for His own sake, though it is meet that He be approached in such a spirit. Put in another way, worship does not either benefit nor diminish Him in any way. He seeks communion with us in Love. We cannot add nor subtract from His glory…we can only make that glory shine in and through us.

    No. Instead, correct worship or correct glory (orthodoxy) is a gift God has given us for our benefit – for our transformation, for us to be transformed from glory to glory into the “image and likeness” of God by grace In Christ, through the Holy Spirit. Worship is to commune together in true selfless love, and in so doing –and ONLY in so doing do we commune with and worship God – for this is the manner in which He exists as Trinitarian love. Divergence from the path of love and unity as the sole source of pleasing worship leads many Christians (I was one) down the road of a strange idol worship, in which a mental image of an angry pseudo-god is seen as requiring satisfaction through sacrifice of blood and the strict observance of ensuring no glory is given any but Him. But this fails utterly to understand and live love and unity and mutual submission as The only path to worshiping God, and elevates bague and empty notion of faith “alone” to ridiculous heights of worship that scripture denies outright. James 2 is but one example. Paul elevates love over faith in 1 for 13 and as the actualizer (energio) of faith in Gal 5:6. The whole corpus of scripture speaks this way but is veiled under strange doctrines and teachings outside the Orthodox faith.

    Icons allow us to practice this reality in faith by expressing them as actualities in sanctified matter. They are a declaration of The power of God to reinstate love as the essence of life in man – for God is love. only by being like Him (disciples) can we worship and commune with Him. But we cannot do that unless we love him who we have seen…those in the church…alive or dead…who sit at the foot of the cross, seeking the same path for the love of those around us. (Col 1:24)

  9. Father Stephen thank you for posting this to your wider audience.
    I wonder if you could say a bit more about how in practical ways we can live our day ‘actively’ and not ‘reactively’ and in so doing ‘love’ our life more and not be so angry etc. Also, could you explain how living in obedience to your wife or any other person is not to live in the reactive way you were describing because on the face of it ‘doing what you’re told’ would seem to be that. Thank you.

  10. Thanks for your excellent reply Aaron. I am not sure I agree or completely understand but it something I will ponder.
    FJh,
    Good question, I was wondering the exact same thing.

  11. fjh,
    First, there’s a huge difference between “actively” obeying and “passively” obeying. The first you do because you truly want to – it’s an act of the will – you give yourself over to it. The second is begrudging and yields no spiritual fruit at all.

    In practice, though, an active life is just that, for one. It needs activity and you should engage the will in doing the activity. If you’re driving the car…”drive the car” don’t just sit there, but engage in it. Do it with attention. Do it like you want to. Do you remember the utter joy of driving when you were 16? Drive like you were 16, but with better skills.

    As much as possible, do things with attention, with great attention if possible. Learn to get rid of phrases like “I have to…” etc. They are spiritually deadly. Do not say, “I am going to try to…” Do it or don’t do it. Never try. (Yoda taught this).

    I’ll think of more examples…

  12. Should we only eat when we’re hungry? Or after a program?

    And/or should we eat… with attention?

  13. Haven’t had time to listen much but I have a question. Could you expand the idea that we are made in the image and likeness of the slain Christ? Have not heard that before.

  14. Michael,
    I am deeply indebted to Fr. John Behr’s book, Becoming Human. He doesn’t do what I’ve done here, but what I’ve offered is certainly a reflection that began through reading and talking with him. He was working from St. Ignatius of Antioch who described his own coming martyrdom as “becoming human.” It’s a good book, very worth the read.

    The extended meditation that is the content of my talk is simply more development of the same thing. I don’t think Fr. John (or Ignatius) make the identification of our creation and the Cross, but it is certainly there. The Creation of Eve requires a wound, for example.

  15. “For example, I do not think anyone can possibly understand the male nature of the priesthood in Orthodoxy if they do not have a deep devotion to the Theotokos.”

    I would love to see more written on this. As someone coming to Orthodoxy (not there yet), I really want to learn more on the interrelatedness of its practices–the “tensions” that exist in it and this would seem to be a pretty major one, IMHO. Especially given the common misunderstandings that are prevalent in our society today.

    Also, Aaron, quite a beautiful post and very well written. Many thanks!

  16. Byron, a good place to start is to contemplate what being a man is in light of the Gospel. One is inevitably led to Mary. The priesthood is yet another step up.

  17. I was visiting relatives when I saw the videos of the talks you gave and I was intrigued by your remarks that our memories are simply snapshots. The next evening someone had gone out and rented the movie “Still Alice”. Shortly after being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, a scene shows Alice at home looking through a family photo album, presumably in anticipation of losing her memory of herself and her family as the disease progressed. Through out the rest of the movie we see Alice “seeing” brief clips from home movies of herself and family members. I’m not entirely sure how to understand your observations about memories but I’m intrigued nonetheless.
    In a similar vein, I once heard someone say that we don’t have good thoughts or bad thoughts but, rather, good images or bad images; that it is pretty much impossible to have any kind of thought without the accompanying imagery. Thus, if you struggle with what are commonly called “bad thoughts”, the shortest route is to stop the images.

  18. Gregory,
    you reminded, however, that what we call the Nous, is not just our attnetional apparatus, but, it is also -often at the same time- our interpretative apparatus. And God’s Grace has the power to heal it in this last capacity too, so that what was once a captivating or unsettling image ceases to be so. This ‘healing’ is clearly discernible and not some kind of vague phenomenon. And -while expecting nothing at all- we mustn’t ever lose faith in that either…

  19. This was one of the best talks I have heard in years. It’s too bad they didn’t record your homily as well, which was also helpful.

  20. Fr. Stephen,

    I also really appreciated these videos. I would compliment you further but I won’t since I know from my own experience that the ego can only take so much. (grin) Suffice it to say that I’ve marked these talks for a re-listen, and that’s rare in the age we live in where information is bombarding us at every turn.

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