The Sins of a Nation

abrahamxCan a nation ever sin? If so, how can it be forgiven?

The stories and prophetic writings of the Old Testament are replete with examples of national sin. There are certainly stories of God dealing with individuals, but, on the whole, His attention seems to be directed to Israel and other nations as a whole. The promises and pledges are made to a collective people and the chastisement falls on the whole nation as well. Our modern sensibilities, rooted in a fundamental commitment to individualism, recoil from this collective treatment. And we are not the first to complain.

In Genesis 18, Abraham argues with God about the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. The Lord has threatened to destroy the cities on account of their sins. Abraham raises the troubling question:

“Would You also destroy the righteous with the wicked? Suppose there were fifty righteous within the city; would You also destroy the place and not spare it for the fifty righteous that were in it? Far be it from You to do such a thing as this, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous should be as the wicked; far be it from You! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?” (Gen 18:23-25)

Thus, this question has had a prominent place in the thoughts of the faithful since the very beginning. In Abraham’s conversation with God, he asks if God would spare those cities even if only fifty righteous were found. God agrees. With continued pleading, Abraham takes the the number down to 10 righteous (and stops). And the Lord says that He would spare the cities for the sake of just 10. Alas, less than ten were found. But we do not upbraid God that He was willing to spare the unrighteous for the sake of a mere handful.

There is a mystery contained within the entire exercise of that conversation. For the truth is, none of us stands alone. No one stands free of the actions of others. Our lives are deeply connected. We are ourselves the offspring of many generations, and we carry within us ever so much that was not of our own choosing. Our inheritance is tainted – both for good and for ill.

Fr. Thomas Hopko describes some of this as “generational” sin. To understand this requires that we remember that sin is not a legal problem. It is not about what is fair or unfair. It is about a mystical burden that we experience as debt, hindrance, oppositional weight, weakness, brokenness and corruption, or just the starting place of our lives. Virtually everything in our lives is gifted to us, and there are many “gifts” that we would prefer never to have received. It is part of our incarnational existence. We are the offspring of others. To have an embodied existence in space and time is to have a body burdened with the DNA of eons and a family and culture that is both the product and carrier of history. Our own existence is a consequence of everything that has come before us. We cannot rightly suggest that such a contingent existence comes free.

Of course, many historical burdens become the targets of political attention. No human being, no ethnic or national group is without sin. Some sins are more recent and obvious than others. But our accusers can never plead innocence. Acknowledging this does nothing to remove our burdens.

In the 20th century, there have been some notable national crimes that have, in some way, been acknowledged. Japan renounced its military in response to the atrocities and errors of the Second World War. Germany paid reparations to Israel and enacted numerous laws renouncing and restricting the scourge of Nazism. Many war criminals were punished. The Russian government, with no outside political pressure, not only acknowledged many of the crimes of its Communist past, but also built memorials and rebuilt churches (often returning properties that had been taken away) in an effort of public repentance.

It has rightly been noted that “history is written by the victors.” It is therefore the case that we more easily repent for the sins of history’s vanquished and leave the writing to the victorious. But the burden of sin as historical reality remains. Unaddressed, the sins of the past become the problems of the present. Many of the most enduring conflicts in the modern world represent centuries of unresolved issues and the inherited burden of our ancestral legacy.

Often the legacy of history is carried on in competing narratives. We do not always know or rightly remember the details of what happened, but we know all too well the emotional burden of its trauma. Hatred can be a very ancient thing.

And it is to trauma that I want to direct our attention. Trauma is a word for the damage we suffer in extreme circumstances. It can occur as a result of natural disaster, or war – any time and place in which we are endangered, injured, or exposed to terrible actions. People do not experience war and then walk away as though nothing had happened. The war stops outwardly, but it continues inwardly. This experience is as old as mankind itself. Trauma sometimes leaves people emotionally and even physically crippled.

Among ancient peoples, the trauma of life was met with liturgy – rituals, both public and private that sought to restore them to their right minds, to appease the wrath of the gods or the spirits of their enemies. The collective psyche of a whole people was set right through various actions and beliefs that worked to make peace and re-establish righteousness.

Modernity has very few such rituals. The secular state, presiding over competing and disparate groups has almost nothing to which it can appeal that serves as catharsis or repentance, or even thanksgiving. Sport (such as the Super Bowl) comes closest to public liturgy in modern America, but it serves nothing transcendent, nothing permanent. It cannot heal or speak to the needs of a nation.

The outcome of this lack is an inability for nations and often individuals to be healed of their trauma. The wounds of lost wars or historical sins remain unaddressed, erupting from time to time as renewed trauma in the national psyche.

Studying parish ministry in seminary, I was introduced to the phrase, “recurrent latent cycling.” It was meant to describe a struggle within the life of a parish that erupts periodically, that is, in fact, the same struggle. It might be around a new presenting issue – but it was still the same struggle. Healing the parish required a discernment of what was actually going on – to bring something that was latent into the light of day.

Nations (and individuals) who ignore their wounds and griefs do not leave them behind – they bring them forward and repeat their battles endlessly. Subsequent generations who never knew the first cause, become the unwitting bearers of the latent violence and destruction that they have inherited.

Though Orthodoxy does not generally use the term “original sin,” it doesn’t thereby deny the reality of the inherited burden of sin. The growing study of epigenetics would suggest that we may even inherit such burdens genetically.

The medicine we have received from Holy Tradition for this on-going sickness is repentance. Of course, it is very difficult for nations to repent, though there would easily be services for such in the Orthodox tradition. However, the shame associated with national or collective sin is often denied or retold in other ways. Without repentance, nations are doomed to relive, repeat or act out the bitterness of their trauma.

There is, of course, another way. It was first expressed in the prophetic words of the High Priest Caiaphas as he contemplated the Jesus problem:

“You know nothing at all, nor do you consider that it is expedient for us that one man should die for the people, and not that the whole nation should perish.” (Joh 11:49-50)

The death of Christ on the Cross becomes the public liturgy for the sin burden of Israel. Of course, He was the public liturgy for the sin burden of the whole world. But there was a principle articulated in His sacrifice – that one man could die for the whole. This is not a substitutionary legal event. Rather, it is the mystery of coinherence and koinonia. “He became what we are that we might become what He is,” the Fathers said. It has also been the knowledge of the Church that we are invited into that selfsame sacrifice. Buried into His death in Baptism, we are united to His very crucifixion. United with Him in the grave, we journey with Him into Hades, and there, brave souls make intercession for the sins of the whole world, and with Him set souls free. The Elder Sophrony describes such brave souls as Christ’s “friends.”

For at least as long as the days of Abraham, we have had intercessors who saved the cities and nations of the wicked. Their prayers were effective because they prayed in union with the one mediator and true advocate, Christ our God.

Abraham was God’s friend. As God visited with him, He said:

“Shall I hide from Abraham what I am doing, since Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him?” (Gen 18:17-18)

This is God’s inauguration of Abraham as an intercessor for the nations. The greatest friends of God have always taken up this same intercessory role. Through Christ and the prayers of our holy fathers, God preserves the world and saves the nations from the full brunt and weight of their history.

There are thus two kinds of people: those who are the weight of history, and those who join themselves to Christ in their repentance and bear the weight of history. This latter role is the true life of the Church and the heart of her who prays, “On behalf of all, and for all.”

55 comments:

  1. I wonder if the reason we, as a nation, have no mechanism to repent is not bound up in our excessive individualism. This individualism affects our faith as a nation in that each person sees him or herself in a direct and personal relationship with Jesus excluding, it seems, all others. I often hear that as an excuse for failure to attend Liturgy and for failure of the individual to engage those around the self. After we are admonished by our evangelical brothers and sisters that we must invite Jesus into our hearts as our personal savior. It seems to be the prevailing thought in this culture. The hardest thing for a convert to grasp is the fact that communion is so much more than the taking of the Lord’s most precious Body and Blood but is the communion of all believers of all time, a joining in as one in the Lord.

  2. The rabid individualism of our nation is easily noted. In any discussion of God, the end claim of the individual is an appeal to themself, over and above Christ and His Church. Our society as a whole has almost completely lost the idea of authority (except to maintain our individual rights) and submission.

    Whenever I look at our society, even what some would call the “better” parts of it, I become very depressed. There is too much to pray for and I am far too weak, yet not broken enough to do so.

  3. Father Stephen…this sense of all mankind being connected is many times lost in Protestantism. I’m reminded of a song I often heard on the radio growing up. A repeated refrain is…”On the Jericho road there’s room for just two. No more and no less, just Jesus and you.” Nicholas, this exactly coincides with your comment above about our excessive individualism.

  4. Our individualism is patently untrue, even on the basis of science. For theology to underwrite that philosophy is a great error. But it is very, very difficult to think in a different manner.

  5. Deepest thanks for voicing this word, Father Stephen. Now let us take action, do the next right thing and pray. Let us commend ourselves and each other and all our lives unto Thee, Oh Christ our God.

  6. Good article – it is important to draw attention to the difference in meaning between the biblical concept of nation as people group and the modern concept as that of the nation-state. These are not the same by far, and conflating the two leads to the so-called “culture wars” and alignment and equation of theology to political ideologies.

  7. Robert,
    There is, of course, a distinction to be made. However, as nation states we go to war, and do many other collective things. This particular nation state happens to be the place of our historical embodiment. Mutatis Mutandis, the article clearly stands. The culture wars and political ideologies are high on the list of things to be met with repentance.

  8. Father,

    In light of today’s SCOTUS decision (or any time for that matter), you have written a very difficult article. IMO, anyone who does not cringe a bit is either a saint or does not get it. You say:

    “Unaddressed, the sins of the past become the problems of the present”

    Is this really possible? How does one “go back” and “address” (not sure what meaning you are really giving to “address” here – seems too vague) a life time of sins (or even yesterdays), let alone previous generations? Let’s say I through acesis and grace achieve true theosis – or 100 people do, or half of the human population, or all of us – how does that “address” past sins?

    Another angle is, in what way am I responsible for the sins of my father (and his, and his, etc.) in Orthodoxy? Responsibility implies a certain ‘power of action’ over a given object or subject. “original sin” implies a certain lack of power, and thus a lack of responsibility. Are you saying that I am, in my person, in some way “responsible” for homosexualism, it’s demonic empowerment culturally, and the coming persecution? If I am not responsible, how do I then “bear the weight” of this history (or any other)?

    I am leaning to an answer that by uniting with Christ, and thus by uniting with Love in my heart, I am not “personally responsible” yet I take the burden on myself – freely choosing to be responsible. Anyone who thinks they can do this and not weep is in delusion I think…

  9. Christopher,
    Yes, this is difficult. This is at the very heart of what it means to take up the Cross and follow Christ. We have such a long history of bad theology in our culture – it has individualized the believer, and isolated Christ’s saving action as a discreet, private, Divine action, in no way subject to communion or participation.

    St. Paul writes, boldly, “I now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up in my flesh what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ, for the sake of His body, which is the church…” (Col 1:24)

    “The fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much” (James 5:16). The “sin burden” as I have called it, is a cascade of consequences, emotionally, spiritually, physically, socially, etc. This burden is borne first by Christ, but also by all who would be His friends, in self-emptying prayer.

    I would urge the reading of the Elder Sophrony’s writings as well as his disciple, Fr. Zacharias of Essex. It is a place where the richness of this form of prayer can be found.

    But first, quit praying for others as though they were somehow not you. They are you. “My brother is my life,” St. Silouan said. When we distance ourselves from them, we create a schism in humanity that is itself a sin.

    Imagine, God speaks to Abraham, who has gotten God to agree to spare Sodom and Gomorrah if ten righteous souls can be found there. God only finds eight. How to save them? Abraham and Sarah decide to move to Sodom.

    We have to learn to pray like Abraham and follow Christ – who for our sakes “became sin, that we might become the righteousness of God.” Whatever the sins of our nation – they are my sins – no one else’s. And I carry them into Christ. Some will know this in a great manner and some only a little. But it is essential knowledge for the Christian life.

  10. “We have such a long history of bad theology in our culture” – so true!

    Even this “taking up of burdens” is easily a manifestation of delusion, of inflated self-importance, taken out the context of Holy Tradition.

  11. “But first, quit praying for others as though they were somehow not you. They are you. “My brother is my life,” St. Silouan said. When we distance ourselves from them, we create a schism in humanity that is itself a sin.”

    Amen.

  12. But first, quit praying for others as though they were somehow not you.

    Father, I believe it was St. Porphyrios writing in Wounded by Love who said that when we pray the Jesus Prayer for someone else, we should still continue to pray, “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me,” rather than, “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on them.” I cannot remember everything he said about it, but I believe it was part of a letter that addressed the importance of not distancing ourselves from the other person, seeing us as being united together, and being willing to take their struggle onto ourselves (seeing it as my own).

    It seems to be a strong theme among Orthodox Saints and writers.

    I’m curious, Father – do you think there is a difference between the way different people in different stations in life should speak of these things? I have read many of the Church Fathers, as well as a number of monastics (past and present), and they sometimes speak quite forcefully (some might even say harshly) about different sins. However, those same Fathers monastics will be the first to admonish us not to judge others.

    It seems as though there are many different ways to speak on these things and think about them. Are some ways better for us than others?

  13. Robert,
    If done incorrectly. In proper humility, you must become less than those for whom you pray. You must not judge their sins. You must consider them of greater importance than yourself.

  14. Athanasios,
    It always depends on who you are speaking to and for what purpose. Most of the things you read as quotes, are just that – not general writings – but statements with particular meaning. We always have to consider the particular situation.

    There are many sins I would probably never write about because they are not held dearly by my readers. And I cannot speak with authority about any sin that has no place in me. That said, I could probably speak with authority on almost any of them. 🙂

    As advice, don’t harbor fear. Many of us are afraid our culture is in deep trouble, along with its institutions. Of course they are right and these things have long been true. But, as I’ve written a number of times, we do not have a mission to save the culture. The outcome of history is in God’s hands. We are to be the light of the world. When we are truly salt and light, it will have the effect in the world that God intends for our time.

    So, if our hearts aren’t troubled, we’ll be less likely to speak in anger or hatred. Be kind to everyone and give thanks for all things. For ALL things.

  15. Athanasios,
    It’s expected that a heart that encompasses others inside of her (from her kinspersons to –eventually- the entirety of the human race and beyond), innately includes others in that ‘me’ of the petition: ‘Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on me’.
    The Jesus prayer, its real depths, flourish in an environment of willfully restricted horizons, especially an environment where the feeling is that of being ‘One-to-one’, (an “only God-and-me-on Earth” feeling). The enlargement of the heart is imparted through this initial stenosis (constriction). It is granted particularly in the ‘night-rule’ and that special private exclusivity of encounter it affords, which has always been the ideal setup for the Jesus prayer – a most ‘condensed’ backdrop, reminiscent, one could say, of the ‘singularity’ of the Big Bang theories, and preparing the encounter of the Father of Lights, an encounter that inebriates the person and makes the human will finally, utterly coincide with the Father’s.
    If I can therefore repeat with the Psalmist: “I have remembered thy name, O Lord, in the night” I’ll be able to eventually also cry, “and have kept thy law”. (Psalm118/119-55)
    Paradoxically, in that renunciation of everything –of everything that is not God that is-, we do, ultimately discover all others, the entire universe even, but inside of God, and not as a conceptual exercise of our intellect, inside the One towards Whom I address my invocation…
    Saint Porphyrios and Elder Aimilianos actually advised clearly against using ‘have mercy on us’, or ‘on them’ too much, (even though others do this e.g.: Fr Sophrony did and so do the monks and nuns at his monastery).
    My thoughts tell me that one reason for this is that their firmly fixed starting point was always God (rather than man), or better still, Christ the God-Man – the all encompassing One- Who relates to each and to all as towards one – personally.
    And since we ‘cultivate’ this format of the Jesus prayer (‘have mercy on me’), it’s common to comprise everyone in the ‘me’ without seeing any need to supplant it with ‘us’.

    Of course one might find themselves – almost “involuntarily”- saying all sorts, they could catch themselves saying, for instance, ‘Jesus have mercy’ or ‘Lord Jesus’ etc. but that is something entirely different to the humble adherence to one initial format that one sticks to and voluntarily starts off with.
    We must at all times remember that this prayer whispers to us: “make me yours (while you have the time, the strength and you feel like you don’t desperately need me) and I’ll be yours (when you don’t have the time or the strength and when you will desperately need me)”.
    These Elders practiced this prayer from early in their lives and it became “self-moving”, and they then saw clearly that nothing was ‘lacking’ from it when repeating ‘have mercy on me’ even when their prayer had -through the Spirit- become universal and hypostatic…

  16. Dino,
    I agree wholeheartedly with what you have described. I teach others to pray “on me.” By grace, the “me” becomes the whole Adam. As beginners, “have mercy on us,” can easily become a distraction. I think about “us.”

    All of this is such an entrance into the mystery of prayer. But, I’ve come to think that without it, forgiveness of enemies and prayer for others is nigh on impossible.

  17. I have begun to find a great sympathy between the Jesus Prayer and Glory to the oh God, glory to the.

  18. Fr. Stephen/Dino,

    Is this at all related to why “a sinner” is omitted by Athonite monks, like if “me” includes my brother then “me, a sinner” means I’m already judging my brother?

  19. This isn’t a particularly useful comment, per se, only a note that this post and some of the threads woven through the comments have brought me to tears tonight.

    Thank you so much for the gift of your words.

  20. Matt,
    I have heard that, but, it can function as a universal/hypostatic prayer with the addition of “sinner” (its not a problem – you will see) as well as without it.
    It is best to start of with it.
    As a rule, one needs to simply ‘get in the water and swim a bit’ before any merits in the finer differences of strokes are appreciated. Things fall into place

  21. Fr Stephen and all,

    It is difficult to enter into mourning and collective repentance with a nation whose way of thinking, even among Christians, is the very source of the major recent sin which we all know we are talking about here. What we need to be doing is breaking free from the Protestant notion that America is a Christian nation and its religion is tied directly to the American state. We need to move away from this and see marriage as a sacrament within the church, not something given to us by a godless, secular, wayward behemoth. I am not ready to enter into collective mourning with my Protestant (and Catholic) brothers and sisters because they are not taking the necessary step of seeing the worldwide Christian body as existing most truly outside the secular state and connected to its ancient roots. They are part of the problem. Yes, I need to stand in solidarity with them, and realize we are in this together in a sense. But I have been speaking against this for years, and I don’t feel I am the source of the problem ultimately.

    Does anybody else have this sense too?

    Todd, a.k.a. Isaac (the Syrian)

  22. Todd,
    Actually I did not have the particular sin in mind when I wrote this. But all sin works. What you are describing is mostly anger and frustration, blame, etc. It time it needs to go away. You won’t be able to pray very well with all of that. You’re also thinking about political issues (stand in solidarity with them).

    Instead, pray and repent, for yourself, for them, for all. Abraham interceded for Sodom and Gomorrah. I understand that you don’t feel that you are the source of the problem. But Christ united Himself with the source of the problem. He became sin. If you don’t want to be the source of the problem, that is fine. But you’ll have a hard time finding Christ in it. This is a difficult time. We have to learn the truth of prayer and repentance or we’ll be swept away.

  23. Todd we are all subject to the same delusion and it was the Orthodox who began the Church-state connection with the utopian idea of “synergy”.

    What you are talking about though is the product of the Reformation and the religious wars that followed. The faith of the people was determined by the faith of the ruler.

    A state intent on persecution does not care what brand of Christian you are. I am rather sure that the use of the Cross as a fashion accessory will not last much longer.

    The false notion that we are individuals with God-given rights is the root of our problem.

    We are people only in community.

  24. Todd,
    wouldn’t this necessary moving away from a “godless, secular, wayward behemoth” mean approaching humility – since the “behemoth” is pride (in the guise of ‘humanism’), and our repentance [moving away] is the road to humility?
    But then again, humility is = “seeing all others as saints”…
    In other words, we would surely end up repenting for all others while repenting for ourself when seeing ourself as the only inexcusable one according to humility.

    Besides, the only part of any problem that we have any power over is ourselves.

  25. Dear Father, bless!

    I trust you must know how very great a blessing and encouragement this post is to me. There really are no words . . .

    And, once again, God has gifted you to put into words what we all experience and see, but often only in bits and pieces, and this helps us all to process so much better.

  26. “…fill up in my flesh what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ…”

    Somehow I have entirely missed the import of this before. As Todd indicates, it is truly “who then can be saved”, camel-through-the-eye perplexity to try to understand this, and to truly “take on” the sins of another – and to see that they are your sins and have been all along. How in all possible worlds am I responsible for “redefining” marriage? Have I not been a faithful servant on this? Yet I am, I am! Every time I lust, or pridefully asserted my “self” (which is daily, hourly, etc.). Every time I “choose” comfort over the suffering Way I make myself part of this and every other sin.

    Part of me stands with Todd and in righteous anger rejects that he and I are “the source” of this and many many other problems. Yet, part of me is cognizant of this body of death, and my willing participation in the very root of “the problem”. double minded/souled indeed. I will be praying for “the unity of the Faith” with a new urgency, for it is in my own heart that unity is most needed.

    Still, there needs to be time for a threnody. What is externally new is that “our culture” is now no longer “good” in an Aristotelian sense – it no longer points a person in the right direction. Our constitution was something unique in human history, it was truly a candle in the darkness of the political world and something to be praised even when recognizing the context (i.e. non-salvific character of “the political world”). However, it was mortally wounded by the civil war, and in the last 50 years has been doing nothing but making its final death rattles (tangent: given yesterday’s decision, if the modern hagiography of Lincoln does not make you puke nothing will). With Todd, I am going to allow myself time to grieve and to steal my heart for the coming persecution…

  27. Christopher,

    I am American and your observation provoked me to reflect a little on our key founding principle. Natural law provided fertile ground for natural rights that were codified in the U.S. Declaration of Independence as human rights given to individuals by God.

    Compared to despots and revolutionary anarchs this idea looks brilliant and true. As much as it is a stroke of political genius, it also self destructs simply because God has not given a right of independence to anyone or anything. All nature is contingent on Him, utterly and completely dependent. Indeed, for a human to be “natural” means DIVINE by God’s grace.

    The great founding principle of America has been revealed. It is a lie — an an empty pride that we can somehow be independent as a nation or as individuals.

  28. MichaelPatrick,

    “natural” is not anti-divine. God has made us what we are, and being Realists we see the truth of the divine not apart from nature, but through nature. Thus, the founding principles of America (i.e. nature and “natures God”) do not (or more accurately, need not – one has to impregnate Jefferson with more than his personal deism would allow and I submit this was in fact what was done in the beginning) stand on a “lie”. Sure, it all stood on the protestant revolutionary project, and the “post-modern” self has destroyed any generous reading of “nature” and “natures God”, but there was a time when these stood for something worth defending.

    It is all an anachronism now. Of course, we Orthodox don’t have much room to criticize, as we still speak of the “Patriarch of Constantinople” even though “Constantinople” has not existed for, well before the founding of this country… 😉

  29. Christopher,
    Wrong on Constantinople. The name was changed to Istanbul only in the 1920’s. And Istanbul is simply the Turkish corruption of the word Constantinople. The name is still correct (in Greek).

    But, for both you and Michael Patrick,
    The American Constitution was the work of some very honorable men who did their best with the thought of the Enlightenment to produce a country. They were clearly far more self-controlled and less radical than the revolutionaries of France a couple of decades later. But they had weaknesses in their system of thought that are the weaknesses of the Enlightenment.

    As we thank God for their wisdom, we have to repent of their failings as well. Much prayer and much repentance will be required of us in the days to come.

  30. Christopher,

    Agreed: “natural” is not anti-divine! The lie is to mix autonomy or independence with nature.

    Human nature is God’s dead human body. Nothing less and nothing more.

    To be a human is to be simultaneously dead and alive as a member of Christ’s body. The human state of salvation is not of this world. It is indeed divine.

  31. The idea of nations being able to sin is ironically a major tenet of leftism. Only in that case, the diagnoses are racism, sexism, mass incarceration, economic inequality, and war, among other things. Many people become overzealous and start policing everyone around them for perceived infractions–and that is a reason I’m not as far left as I used to be–but that doesn’t mean the problems aren’t there. In some ways I’m still boggled that gay marriage means the ruin of this country, when only yesterday Archbishop Demetrios mourned with Barack Obama the black Christians were murdered by an insidious ideology that’s ensnared the South and brutalized black people since this country was founded.

    I have read and reflected since my last post on this subject. I definitely see why the Orthodox have the position they do, and I’m a lot more comfortable with it (although I share Frederica Mathewes-Green’s belief that this isn’t the threat people say it is). The Church has a beautiful theology of marriage, and a lot to teach the modern world about chastity. I just wish the Church could be better at articulating that in its opposition to same sex marriage. It needs to show the world what marriage is, not just repeat what marriage isn’t. It can’t just repeat the same “no’s” people have already innoculated themselves to. It also needs to show how chastity can be a blessing and a gift.

    As Wesley Hill (Anglican) has pointed out, many churches only pay lip service to chastity. They still turn around and hold marriage up as the ideal, leaving gay Christians like him who have chosen celibacy with little guidance and little comfort in their loneliness and isolation. Hill instead points to something I’ve seen Frederica Mathewes-Green and Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov mention, the idea of sublimating same-sex romantic attraction into community and spiritual friendship (which is also the name of Hill’s blog and book). I’ve found it fascinating reading the last few weeks.

    Back to the subject of national sin, just yesterday I found this post by Catherine Addington, about the problem of homeless LGBT youth, and the work still to be done in our culture. At the very least, it’s introduced me to the life and work of St. Maria of Paris, and already made me a big fan.

    I’ll leave with a section from Addington’s conclusion:

    For some of us, though, [yesterday’s Supreme Court decision] also represents a moment of transition in how our traditional Christianity is politically lived. We can celebrate (or not) as citizens, but my overwhelming feeling as a Christian is actually one of relief. Finally, I’m thinking, now we can get to the work we’ve been shamefully neglecting.

  32. “… Frederica Mathewes-Green’s belief that this isn’t the threat people say it is…”

    It might be of interested to some, a few months ago, Frederica repented of her formal attitude:

    http://frederica.com/writings/why-i-havent-spoken-out-more-thoughts.html

    Of course, she could have backtracked since then….

    “….I just wish the Church could be better at articulating that in its opposition to same sex marriage. It needs to show the world what marriage is, not just repeat what marriage isn’t….”

    For folks who actually go (or more accurately, participate in the Sacramental life of the Church) to Church (i.e. a classical Christian church) and who absorb a bit of what is being taught, it does exactly this. I find most who have this complaint actually don’t go to Church but rather stand outside of it and talk to a straw man…

  33. I read this today: “The hard push for marriage equality was never about marriage. Neither was it about equality. It’s a convenient vehicle to abolish civil marriage, whether to rid the world of paternalism, evade responsibility for children, “privatize” relationships, or whatever. Abolishing marriage strips the family of its autonomy by placing it much more directly under the regulating control of the state.

    Once the state no longer has to recognize the marriage relationship and its presumption of privilege and privacy, we all become atomized individuals in the eyes of the state, officially strangers to one another. We lose the space – the buffer zone – that the institution of the natural, organic family previously gave us and that forced the state to keep its distance.”

    Thoughts, Fr.? If so, if this is where our future is headed, the amount of mercy we will need is unfathomable. And yet, this seems like the natural course of this fallen world.

  34. @Christopher:

    That was one of the posts I was thinking of when I posted earlier. I took it to be aimed at fellow opponents, but I suppose I misinterpreted. I just reread it, and it’s still the sort of thing I’d like to see more of.

    Regarding how the Church talks about marriage, I was referring mainly to public statements specifically addressing gay marriage. I know the Church has a very clear teaching on what marriage is and how it should be done. When I read about co-martyrdom, or the Christian anthropology and ontology of gender, and the general suspicion of romantic feelings, the Church’s views on gay marriage make a lot more sense. I’ts helped me decouple it from the right-wing politics and fundamentalism I’d originally associated with the anti-SSM position. But most of the public statements and articles I’ve seen (with exceptions, like Sveshnikov) focus more on refusing to endorse homosexual acts than the spiritual aspects I listed. Maybe the Church has a chance to take the lead and change the terms of the debate.

    You’re right in that I’m not a member of the Church and therefore not a part of its sacramental life (I do attend the Liturgy every week, though). I’m trying to approach the Church with humility and understanding, and I’ve pretty much said all I need to at this point. I hope nothing I’ve said is unfair or out-of-line.

  35. Fr. Stephen, in light of the recent Supreme Court ruling regarding Same-Sex Marriage, your article has proven to be very sobering for me. I can see that I have allowed myself to become ‘victimized’ and respond in a way that has caused me to become the weight of history rather than the bearer of its weight. Thank you for this reminder!

    – Tony

  36. Just a bit of an aside, when connecting an article about the sins of a nation to current American political news, it might be useful to remember that at the same time there’s also been a kerfuffle about a flag that for most people represents the nation’s refusal to repent of another sin that destroys families and propagates unnatural human relationships in the name of constitutionally protected freedoms.

  37. Fr. Stephen, if you’re looking for a new book idea, I think the idea of the individual vs the communion and unity of the church would be a great follow up to Everywhere Present.

  38. Alex, there is no such thing as debate any more on any aspect of public policy. There is just the right way and the wrong way. Those who are wrong are typically labeled as bad and listed for destruction in some way. Choose your issue, choose your side it doesn’t matter.

    We live in a binary world. Those who comprehend more are thought insane. We have no influence. We can only do our best to hold fast to the Cross; speak when we are required to as we learn to love our enemies. We have been given a great grace.

    The only proper response IMO is “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.”

    Each of us will have to discern the line between appropriate honor to the state and what is idolatrous. Perhaps God in His mercy will allow this cup to pass from us. I pray that is so. Nevertheless His will be done.

    The great sins of this nation: slavery, greed and licentiousness all rest in our unwillingness to see human beings as all creatures called to worship God in community. The Declaration on Independence and the Constitution are monuments to our arrogance. We stand and bray that we are each best of beasts with no greater allegeience than our own happiness.

    It is a nihilist delusion. God will not be mocked. As Gregory said we each have our own cherished sin(s) with which we curl up like good sow bugs.

    Yet Jesus keeps campaigning for our hearts asking only one thing: repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. The sins of this nation are mine. I have my bread and my fortune from them. I am thankful that both are meager. God forgive me. May He grant me the grace to really mean it.

  39. Thanks Becca,
    The book presently in the works is a collection from the Blog. But I’m then going to give my attention to some developments of various themes. This is a great idea.

  40. I agree with Becca about the follow-up book, Fr. Stephen, and I am SO looking forward to your next book. You will probably address the importance of the changes taking place in eugenics and I realize that you have addressed euthanasia. As we see the results of relationship definition from the Supreme Court I become very aware of other definitions that we take for granted and that we KNOW are God given. The sins of a nation, Lord have mercy!

  41. Wow, I found this article and blog by sheer accident and after reading the article by the “Reverent”, (it is hard for me to say father as I reserve this for God, please take no offense), After reading the article I was overwhelmed with feelings of gratitude, and a still small knowing, I am not alone. I am of German, or East European decent, though born after the war2 and never could understand why so much hatred from all walks of life came toward me, though I felt totally innocent of the past political regime. In this process, and also being a Christian and raised by a Baptist Church in Germany, I found I could not find a Home-coming here in the US into a Church. I felt so alone, in my thinking, my theology, my culture, and often enough I was treated like I was not even human. But after reading this article, and I have also always known, and taught my son, that we, or I, are the product of our/my ancestors, teachings, traits, culture, sins, blessings etc. lived out in the here in now, touching and being touched by others lives positively or negatively, and becoming aware of who we are and what we can become, if we are willing and allow ourselves to change. My problem is, if basic and fundamental laws change, and at the core are not changeable in our being, by what shall man, or I live. That is where my tears start flowing, because I can not stop the world from destroying themselves, me or anyone for that matter. Influence with words and action is so vital…silence has no room when fundamental laws are being altered that insures our survival as human beings. I just know, that this article spoke truth, and told me “I am not alone”. For this I say THANK YOU with a grateful heart.

  42. Maria,

    Re: “Once the state no longer has to recognize the marriage relationship and its presumption of privilege and privacy, we all become atomized individuals in the eyes of the state, officially strangers to one another. “

    The late great Jewish philosopher Hannah Arendt in her book, The Origins of Totalitarianism, said a major goal of the Totalitarian state was to weaken or abolish the mediating institutions of church and family in order to create “atomized individuals” wholly dependent upon the state. The recent SCOTUS decision at one neat stroke attacks and weakens those two mediating institutions.

  43. Brian, is this not so already. Every where I worked I was a $ sign, when no longer producing, or someone profited, you or I was/ are disposable. I always said to my son that the US is a paper-plate society. He never understood what I meant by this and now that he studies Sociology he says he’s got it. It is almost dangerous to exercise critic.
    America is getting to big for its pants/obese from junk-food, Hollywood, money, greed and wealth, has little or no social responsibilities or taught within the social fabric. To some degree I understand the individualism, some work hard for what they have, others live on entitlements or historical grudges to whom a financial debt is supposed to be paid. But this brings no change in the people that have been wronged in the past I discover. They just bleed you out of all you’ve got and the debt is still never paid. No one is totally innocent. A refusal to integrate into an adopted country brings about problems with the Natives. I come to understand the Mediator or what it means to meet Christ more and more……when enough is enough….pain will bring you to your knees I discovered. (as a Christian).

    Thank you Brian for your comment. Definitely food for thought, but becoming aware of the process should make us speak out or revolt against this annihilation of our soul, values, laws, human as well as God spirit.

  44. Thank you, Father.

    I’ve long wanted to write a book about the American tradition of the Thanksgiving holiday. You mentioned, in your Facebook post, you were contemplating national acts of repentance. Interestingly, in the earliest presidential Thanksgiving proclamations, repentance is a key theme, and often this is repentance for national sins. John Adams even proclaims a day of Repentance, rather than Thanksgiving. Abraham Lincoln, our great agnostic, commands “Get on your knees in the dust and repent!” As time goes on, the proclamations tend to focus more on serving the poor, calling people to invite the poor into their homes. These days, it tends to emphasize gratitude and/or public service, though George HW Bush quotes from George Washington, and so brings repentance back into the conversation.

    Even for the pilgrims at Plymouth, the Thanksgiving feast follows a season of famine that William Bradford attributed to God’s judgment upon them for their sin. Their response to this is fervent repentance, and when the famine lifts, they celebrate with a feast.

    Indeed, I think the Thanksgiving holiday is the most spiritually right thing America does. This theme of cyclic repentance, giving of alms, thanksgiving and feast fits nicely with Orthodox Christian practice. I’d like to see us, in North America, explore this more.

  45. This post may seem shallow:
    Ive been really blown away by the positions of the Green Party during these primaries. (Im sorry, this is not really meant to be a political comment.) And to be honest, there *seems* to be so much that they stand for which Christians should be yelling about as well. It is very much about collective and community, with a heart and position to acknowledge Old Sins (which have casted very long shadows as we can all see), and to help heal them, and be good stewards of the Earth which was a gift from God, and to stop killing people in other countries….. and the thing is, I wonder how many of those people are humanists or non-christians. What are christians doing? I keep thinking: the rain falls on the just and unjust, and many of those desires the Greens have, those deep understandings of *do no harm* come from God, I am convinced. It is very much like that of a repentance where they want to make things right. That doesn’t mean they are correct about things like abortion, and that worries me a bit considering Im very much pulled toward their positions. What saddens me is that so many christians probably laugh at the Greens, and they could be a vehicle for real change, possibly revival in our country… as long as the Christian (hopefully, Orthodox) influence is there. We should be swarming that party, or another like it, sharing our faith, sharing our concerns, sharing our money so *everyone* can have access to certain things we take for granted, and etc. I see nothing Christian in the other parties, only selfishness.
    I know Im probably talking nonsense to many, but the guy who mentioned that he was too worn out to pray because the uphill battle is so steep – well, I get it. I totally get it. And I don’t place my hopes in any one person or any one party, and Im certainly not a party loyalist (at this time, anyway.) Sometimes the only way God can act and change a nation is through other people. And I really don’t know what we Christians are doing right now, I really don’t.

  46. Eva, in evaluating such things no matter where they fall in the politcal spectrum it is important to discern method as well as the motive. Difficult since politicians do all that they can to disguise both. The warning in your words to me is your statement “they could be the vehicle for real change…”. Sounds like the myth of progress to me.

    Real change, like real evil resides in my heart and my willingness to repent and take up a life of prayer, fasting and almsgiving is the change required. So far I am falling drastically short.

    Much that is so-called “green” politics out there is a rehash and repackaging of ideas centered on government as the solution, massive programs that are not founded in local communities nor cognisant of any local eco-system.

    There are “green” organisations that are controlled by former communist ideologists. Many also denigrate human beings and value the rest of creation over us. At the very least they paradoxically separate human beings from the life of creation. It is still us acting on the other to save it. That is still the same thinking that creates the problem.

    While we have the divine command to dress and keep the earth, that means much more than any modern understanding.

    “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof…” Is a sacramental statement. Every time we celebrate the Divine Liturgy we are really “going green”.

    Abortion is the least green act one can take. So, IMO, if they support abortion or do not include opposition to in their principles, they don’t get it.

    Misuse of creation is not a political problem. It is a spiritual problem.

    Listen to your own misgivings and forgive my pedantry.

  47. Michael,
    Your point, viz. “real change,” is spot on. There is no real change on the horizon in terms of the general culture and the culture of politics. I’m not saying this to be a cynic – simply to be honest about the times we are living in. We are caught in a “widening gyre” whose “center cannot hold.”

    Christians are not going to save the world. Christ will, but it won’t be a social movement. We will not progress towards the Kingdom of God. When Christ saves the world it will be cataclysmic, the end of all things. That is the Apostolic witness.

    This doesn’t mean do nothing. We live rightly, pray, share, give, and offer thanks for all things. We raise our children responsibly. But the political realm should be seen for what it is – “principalities and powers,” demonic forces in the lives of human beings.

  48. Year’s poem prophetic of the 20th and 21st century no?

    “The best lack all conviction while the worst are full of passionate intensity.”

    Explains a lot.

  49. Oh thank you @Michael and @Fr Stephen for your responses.
    I dont really know what i meant by “real change” as I’m quite cynical (I’ll admit to this heavy struggle of mine, Fr Stephen !) and have virtually no faith in humanity, let alone governments, doing much good for the world, or even themselves. In my hippie-dippie, hopeful imagination the *change* to which i referred to was, in fact, of people’s hearts. That is why I mentioned Revival. HOWEVER, in the most realistic sense (and apart from our God) I’m very well aware that if this did happen it would most likely be manifested by all manner of new-age spiritualism and universalist ideas. So I will be sitting this election out as I’ve done for the last several decades of my life anyway; right or wrong. Im embarrassed to have betrayed my own self, my sensibilities, and my sensitivities by getting overly emotionally involved.

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