The Secular Mind versus the Whole Heart

 

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Thinking is among the most misleading things in the modern world, or, to be more precise, thinking about thinking is misleading. For a culture that puts such a great emphasis on materiality, our thinking about thought is decidedly spooky. The philosophy underlying our strangely-constructed modernity is called nominalism (of which there are many formal varieties). It’s imaginary construct of the world consists of decidedly separate objects, united only by our thinking about them. There are things, and then are thoughts about things. But the thoughts have nothing to do with the things, except in our heads.

The result is the strange contradiction of living in a world we conceive of as sheer material, while only truly valuing thoughts, ideas and feelings that we conceive of as existing in our heads. I have described this in numerous articles and a book as the “two-storey universe.” We are certain of the material world, and though we only value the world of ideas and feelings, we’re not so sure that they really exist. We are indeed a troubled mind.

A much older way of experiencing the world understands our existence as one of actual communion. And, strangely, this way of thinking gives far more respect and attention to materiality. Nowhere is this more evident than in the contrast between ancient Christian thought and modern Christian thought.

Some examples:

Modern Christianity (which has been around for some few hundreds of years) views the death of Christ primarily in terms of the ideas associated with it. Human beings, through their breaking of God’s commandments (ideas), incurred an infinite debt (ideas), requiring their punishment (oops! This is eternal torment in hell). Note that this is purely an idea. Christ becomes man, and on the Cross suffers and pays the debt (again an idea). Those who now trust in Him (again an idea), are forgiven (another idea).

The only value placed on the Crucifixion of Christ is an abstraction. The action itself gains value only through how it is considered by God. But this abstraction ignores the deeply literal treatments referring to the blood of Christ and His flesh. The event of Christ’s suffering, death and resurrection gain their value precisely in their materiality and of God’s interaction and communion with materiality. Something happens on the Cross that is not simply in the mind of God.

Modern memorialism is the teaching that the Eucharist is simply a memorial meal, an event in which we have certain ideas about the death of Christ. But Christ says, “Take, eat!” and “Drink ye, all of this!” The “remembrance of Him” is not in our minds – it’s in our bodies and our blood. We become one flesh with Him.

It is very troubling to some when they begin to read the Church Fathers’ teachings on the heart (nous). They were well aware of the connection between brain and thinking (any number of ancient head injuries had taught them as much). But the Fathers disturbingly (for a modern) insist on locating the heart (nous) in the physical heart itself. Most moderns quickly dismiss this as some form of ancient nonsense. But it holds a very serious insight. True knowledge and communion are not abstractions. Using the example of eating, when I consume a sandwich, I could be said to “know” it. Where does this knowing occur? My stomach knows it. My blood stream knows it. In truth, the whole of me “knows” the sandwich. It is a much broader understanding of knowing than the reductionist notions of modernity.

The Whole Heart

This far more “wholistic” understanding of human existence and knowing is actually far more sophisticated than modern two-storey notions. Interestingly, modern abstractions about thought and knowing have resulted in a fragmentation of our consciousness in which we ignore the larger part of what we actually know. We have been taught to attend to our thoughts, as though we had a disembodied existence. And to make matters worse, we have a very false, abstract notion about what thoughts themselves are.

We are material beings. We are not souls that have bodies, or bodies that have souls. The soul is the “life” of the body, but is not, strictly speaking, a thing in itself. Most moderns mistake the soul for consciousness, and they imagine that at death their consciousness migrates somewhere else (to heaven, etc). And, we do not care very much about what then happens to the body, so long as our precious consciousness abides. This, I might add, is the mythology of Star Trek, where on at least several episodes, Spock’s consciousness is deposited in various other places. It is not, however, true Christianity.

The Christian faith holds to the resurrection of the body and the soul’s proper life within that glorified body. After death, God sustains our souls (life) in existence, but this is a great mystery for which words are inadequate. It is not our proper existence nor the fullness of our being. If you ask, “But what exactly is the soul?” You will get no answer. It is the life of the body.

The thing which we call consciousness is itself problematic. Much of it is simply the noisy artifacts of various neuroses, and even the sound that the body itself makes. It is not unusual for modern Christians suffering from depression, for example, to reject medication declaring that they want a “spiritual solution.” This two-storey approach is itself a strange superstition in which we imagine that our “spiritual life” is somehow not physical.

Modern consciousness is nurtured by modern media. So long as we have the “sight” of something, it is enough. Even pornography is a strangely disembodied experience of an intensely embodied reality, something that adds to its perversity.

Orthodox liturgy, on the other hand, is pointedly sensual. It smells and tastes. It is physically exhausting. It engages the whole of our being. Of course, moderns are particularly troubled and report (as sin) that their “minds wander.” They will even declare that this makes them “not present” in the service. I was asked a while back about how “to be present.” I responded that you actually have no choice. Present is what you are. I have yet to have anyone confess as sin that one of their feet “fell asleep” during Liturgy. It’s much the same thing, only we have a strange perception that it’s different.

I tell newcomers to the Church that they should be prepared to be bored in services. It is not designed for the entertainment of the false consciousness, unlike so much else. It is an encounter with God, not an encounter with thinking or emoting about God.

The true spiritual life includes a recovery of the fullness of our being. St. Paul speaks of the “renewing of the mind” (nous) in Romans 12. Today, it not only needs renewing, but discovery. That discovery is not found in the maze of our thoughts. Rather, it is found moment by moment in paying attention to the whole self. As we withdraw from the noise of our false mind generated by the cacophony of our consumer world, we work slowly at encountering the world in true communion. Live slower. “Whatsoever you do, in thought, word and deed, do it as unto the Lord.” This does not mean ignoring your activity and “thinking about God.” It means, when you walk, walk with God. When you eat, eat with God in thanksgiving. Give your body as much credit as you’ve been giving to your mind. I strongly expect that the nature of our activities would change if this were so.

Some complain about their minds wandering when they pray. I have ADD, my “mind” always “wanders.” But I don’t worry so much about it. When I pray, I stand before the icons. If my mind wanders, I remain standing. The icons have been given to us for “communion,” and that communion is real regardless of the noise of my mind. The noise is not me; it’s noise.

Our glorification of ideas perverts our Christian understanding. Christ said, “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” But we distort this and think it means, “Your treasure will be where your heart is.” We think that the thought is what matters. But Christ was quite materialist (wholistic) about the matter. Your treasure (your stuff) controls your thoughts. If you say you care about the poor, give them some of your stuff. If you don’t care about them, give them some of your stuff. If you give enough, over time you will come to care. The heart follows.

Prayer is very much like this as well. We imagine prayer to be some sort of mental force. Thus, when a matter seems desperate, we call on others to pray with us and for us, imagining that the more minds we can join in prayer, the more powerful the prayer becomes. This is simply secular nonsense. If you want powerful prayer, then do as the Fathers did, fast and give alms. Deny yourself, and give stuff away to the poor. Ask the poor who benefit from your generosity to pray for you. They will with glad hearts.

I will praise you with my whole heart. (Psalm 138:1)

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart… (Matt. 22:37)

The heart itself is but a small vessel, yet dragons are there, and there are also lions; there are poisonous beasts and all the treasures of evil. But there too is God, the angels, the life and the kingdom, the light and the apostles, the heavenly cities and the treasuries of grace—all things are there. St. Macarius

Quit thinking so much. It’s beside the point.

 

 

65 comments:

  1. Fr., thank you. This is great – especially “If you say you care about the poor, give them some of your stuff. If you don’t care about them, give them some of your stuff. If you give enough, over time you will come to care. The heart follows.”

    However, this raises two or three questions (a. if the consciousness between death and resurrection is not the fulness of our being, how can the saints hear and pray for us? b. if it doesn’t matter that our minds wander in liturgy, why does the priest say, “let us attend” and why does St. John Climacus say “enclose your mind in the words” of your prayer? c. and if it’s not true that the more others join us in prayer the more powerful the prayer is, then why do we ask others, the poor, and the saints to pray for us?) but now I suspect you’ll tell me to quit thinking so much! It’s 57 years of protestantism I’m trying to get over. Still, there surely is a place for trying to understand – after all, you wrote this essay to be understood by our minds. 🙂

  2. Wes,
    Point by point.
    The life between death and the resurrection is not something we can speak about with great detail. We know a few things. We know that we pray (as you cite). What that consciousness is like, how it differs from our present consciousness, we simply don’t know. God knows.

    It doesn’t matter so much that your mind wanders. Because the thing wandering isn’t really your mind (nous). It’s mostly your ego and anxieties. St. John teaches us to enclose our nous in the words. That’s a very different thing. It takes time, especially because we are currently enthralled to the false-consciousness that our culture teaches us is “ourselves.” It is not.

    Why do we ask others to pray for us? Because we are weak and we need help. But we take it to silly lengths in our modern delusion.

    I wrote the essay to suggest that we learn some discernment and begin to discover our true mind and repent from the nonsense of our false consciousness. It might be the case that the “coin will drop” for a very few readers. That’s generally my experience, if grace has been at work. But for most readers, it will not be one of those moments. At a later time, if the coin drops, it might suddenly make true sense.

    I’ve only been commanded to write, not to persuade or convince. If I swing the hammer enough times, I might eventually hit the nail.

    I also write so that I can understand. It is helpful to me, however, that people read it, ask questions, talk back, etc. Then I write some more.

  3. Father,

    How does one “walk with God,” or “eat with God,” etc.? I try to do this – or something like it – but I’m not sure I really know how except in terms of thinking about God, which, furthermore, doesn’t seem very sustainable in attending to and being present to the needs and activities of our lives.

  4. Benjamin,
    It’s a very good question. And it’s hard to describe, though I’ll try. I think there’s a very great difference between thinking about and attending to. Imagine being with a woman whom you love very much, after being away from her for a long time. You are fascinated by even the slightest thing. Her tone of voice, the shape of her mouth as she speaks, her eyes. You attend to her. Thinking about her would create a distance, so you don’t think, you attend.

    Imagine being with someone whom you love, but you are instead “thinking about them.” You’re wondering what you might buy them for their birthday, and wondering whether the gift you gave last year was actually satisfactory. You wonder if they had a hard day and whether they’re tire. But your thoughts are interrupted when she says, “Where are you? You seem to be somewhere else tonight?”

    The liturgy says, “Let us attend!” It never says, “Let’s think!”

    When I eat, I eat with a grateful heart, but I work at paying attention to my food. Imagine your wife has cooked your favorite food. For me, it would be her incomparable banana pudding. I savor every bite (literally). I eat with a gratitude that is clearly evident. Indeed, my love for her pudding is famous in some quarters! 🙂

    When walking, be present to the walking and where you are. What do you smell? What do you hear? God is not somewhere else to be thought about. He’s here and now. Learning to pay attention to the other things that are here and now will help us learn how to pay attention to God here and now. Mostly, when we think about God, we’re not thinking about God. We’re just having ideas in our heads. God is not an idea to be thought about. It is easier to breathe God than to think about Him – or at least it’s more possible.

    That’s some suggestions…

  5. Father Freeman, there are, I believe, two types of spirituality that are found in different religions, including Christianity: aesthetic and ethical. The type that you express so well is the aesthetic, and I think that’s why your comments echo Zen.

  6. Chris,
    The ethical is inherently 2-storey, a hallmark of modernity (Islam is itself a modern religion for very strange reasons). But at around 700 A.D., I’m not sure there was an ethical religion in existence. All of the aesthetic religions are more like each other, I think, than any of them are like the ethical stuff.

  7. When I think of the heart, I think of the true center of a person — the place where everything we are intersects. In Scriptural language, it seems to me that is what is indicated by “soul, spirit, mind, strength.” It makes sense that this, then, would be the place of perception and also interaction and dialogue.

    “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” — I have never heard this interpreted this way before, but it does make sense. However Christ was suggesting that we discern where our real treasure is, and I think that’s important too.

    I do write a (rather simple) bible study blog, and often when I read your thoughts on Scripture that I am doing all the “wrong” things, but that is the noise in my head anyway.

    God bless, and thank you once again for your thoughts and replies

  8. “I tell newcomers to the Church that they should be prepared to be bored in services. It is not designed for the entertainment of the false consciousness, unlike so much else. It is an encounter with God, not an encounter with thinking or emoting about God.”

    Thank you, Fr Stephen! It’s always boring for those of us, cradle Orthodox and converts, who hardly pray during services. Engrossed in thoughts, we often forget that we stand in God’s presence. However, the Jesus Prayer or “Lord, have mercy” can be a key to our encounter with God. On condition that we are praying with attention, humility, reverence, and repentance.

  9. Benjamin,

    Fr Stephen has already answered your question. Just let me add my 2 cents.

    Try to do everything with a prayer – the Jesus Prayer “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner” or its short version “Lord, have mercy”. Keep awareness of what you are doing and Who you are praying to. Realize that you are standing in the presence of the Lord. Never imagine anything. Just feel His presence. Do it with attention, reverence, humility, and repentance.

    Here are some other quotes that can be of some help:

    Saint Theophan the Recluse:

    Hold no intermediate image between the mind and the Lord when practicing the Jesus Prayer. The words pronounced are merely a help, and are not essential. The principal thing is to stand before the Lord with the mind in the heart. This, and not the words, is inner spiritual prayer. The words here are as much or as little the essential part of the prayer as the words of any other prayer. The essential part is to dwell in God, and this walking before God means that you live with the conviction ever before your consciousness that God is in you, as He is in everything: you live in the firm assurance that He sees all that is within you, knowing you better than you know yourself. This awareness of the eye of God looking at your inner being must not be accompanied by any visual concept, but must be confined to a simple conviction or feeling. A man in a warm room feels how the warmth envelops and penetrates him. The same must be the effect on our spiritual nature of the all-encompassing presence of God, who is the fire in the room of our being.

    http://www.orthodoxprayer.org/Articles_files/Theophan-Jesus%20Prayer.html

    Bp. Hilarion (Alfeyev):

    “Walking before God,” or “walking with God,” is a biblical expression: in the Old Testament it is applied to the righteous people who were faithful to God and observed His commandments. In the Christian context, this expression points to the agreement between the life of the human person and the commandments of Christ. To walk before God means to measure every action and thought by the Gospel’s standards, to remember God always, to feel His presence, not to sin against His truth. Prayer is helpful only when it is combined with a true Christian life according to the Gospel. The Christian ideal is that the whole life of a person should be transformed into an unceasing prayer, so that his every word and deed should be penetrated by prayer.

    http://www.orthodoxytoday.org/articles-2009/Hilarion-Prayer-And-Silence.php

  10. Chris,
    I’m not really sure. I’ve not used those categories for thinking about the matter. It is, I think, possible to do one or the other, but still be stuck in a 2-storey universe, driven by thoughts.

  11. This article and all the articles explaining nominalism or the nous, prayer, etc., are very helpful to me. Thank you so much.

  12. Amen to all of this!!! Thank you for contrasting modern thought to ancient understanding so that we can better see the error of our modern ways!

    When I could no longer be an atheist without ridiculously ignoring truth, I “shopped around” for a religion to practice. I was looking for ideas, philosophies and/or meditations to put my mind in the “right place”. At least, that’s what I thought I was looking for. In reality, my heart was seeking fullness. I ended up rejecting other religions that I thought had interesting ideas – because they ignored the body. The gritty, painful, beautiful reality of the body.

    Being severely crippled by a motor neuron disease, one might think that I would want to escape or “transcend” my body. But, I do not. I love the truth too much for that. I want to be fully human, fully alive! In Christianity, I found the fullness of truth. Body and soul as one. God as more than an idea – God Incarnate.

    As you beautifully pointed out, our communion with the Divine is bodily. We don’t experience heaven as merely an idea, we can glimpse and taste heaven here and now. God created everything, loved everything into being – and matter matters to God. Thank you for this reflection, I will be reading it again – and perhaps again!
    Pax Christi
    Christina Chase

  13. One of your best. Been a long build to this, but it’s like baseball in a long series of pitches, catches, swings, calls… until finally there’s a crack of the bat, a lot of movement, a ball going over the outfield wall… and there’s a runner dancing into home. Thank you!

  14. It is interesting that Rod Dreher-for whom compulsive thinking (and serious anger) had become crippling problems-credits his priest for giving him the Jesus Prayer as an obedience to “get him out of his head”.

  15. “Quit thinking so much. It’s beside the point.” Outstanding post Father. I love your closing line that I included here. It reminds me of a great line from the classic children’s movie “101 Dalmatians.” The two goons that Cruella de vil has hired to kill the dogs are conversing. One says…”I’ve been thinking…” to which the other one replies “Thinking?!?! Now I warned you about thinking!!!”

  16. Some of this reminds me of Ignatian spirituality, which I have been practicing for a few months. “Finding God in all things.” Is the Ignatian path compatible with Orthodoxy?

  17. Fr. Stephen, thank you for your answers to my questions. Your distinction between the mind and the ego/anxieties is especially helpful.

  18. Boyd,

    Ignatian spirituality (Jesuit spirituality), based on the experiences of Ignatius of Loyola, is different from Orthodox spirituality.

    Prof. Osipov says, “The authoritative collection of ascetical writings of the ancient Church, the Philokalia, categorically forbids any sort of “spiritual exercises” that are bound up with imagination or conversations with crucified Jesus. Here are a few quotes from this collection.

    Saint Isaac the Syrian writes clearly, “Let no one deceive himself and be given over to the deception of visions, for the defiled soul does not enter into the pure kingdom and does not unite with the souls of the saints.”

    Saint Neilos of Sinai (fifth century) warns, “Do not desire to see with sensory eyes the Angels or Powers, or Christ, so as not to lose your mind, having accepted a wolf as the pastor, and bowed down to your enemies, the demons.

    Saint Symeon the New Theologian (sixth century), in discussing those who “imagine heavenly blessedness, the ranks of Angels, and habitations of the saints” during prayer, says plainly that “this is a sign of delusion (prelest).” “Those who are on this path are also deluded, who see light with their physical eyes, smell fragrances with their sense of smell, hear voices with their ears, and such like.”

    Saint Gregory of Sinai (fourteenth century) reminds us, “Never accept anything you see tangibly or spiritually, outwardly or inwardly, even if it be the image of Christ, or an Angel, or a saint, or if light were to be dreamed of or impressed in the mind.… But anyone who has seen something mentally or tangibly and accepts it … is easily deluded.… God does not become displeased with those who scrupulously attend to themselves, if they do not accept the one who actually comes from Him, out of caution to avoid delusion … but rather praises him all the more as being wise.”

    The examples presented here show that breaking the laws of spiritual life inevitably brings a deep distortion of a person’s consciousness and feelings (the heart). That person comes into contact with the world of fallen spirits, the spirits of lies and delusion. This leads to false visions, false revelations, and prelest. Since no one is immune to spiritual blindness and concealed pride, the unchanging and firm law of the Church is do not accept any revelations, but continually abide in repentance and humility.”

  19. Dear Father,
    Thank you so much for this article…. The coin dropped and I could SEE. Thank you…. I especially appreciated what you said about thoughts that come during prayer… I have ADD also, so concentration is not my strong point.

    Boyd,
    My husband got an offer to attend once the Ignatian retreat. When he asked his late spiritual Father if it is compatible with Orthodoxy, he answered him that it is better for him not to attend it. The point is that this spirituality uses the imagination whereas we should not try to use it in our prayers. Please Father, I leave this in your hands. If you think it is off track, just drop it.

  20. Father,
    I don’t know anything about the Ignatian Method, nor do I wish to. It sounds dangerous. But that aside, I wonder is there anytime when one could trust a vision or something of the like?

    I apologize, this is not on topic with your blog post, but I had an experience that seemed almost vision-like years ago, when I was still Lutheran, that presented God’s Kingdom in puzzling ways to a Protestant such as myself. But this experience became an “ah-hah!” moment for me when I learned of Orthodoxy, specifically when I learned of the Light of Tabor, and also the idea that the Kingdom is mysteriously already present, as opposed to something that will strictly take place as an event in the future.

    Just to be clear, I do not in anyway believe I experienced the Light of Tabor. I am obviously not a Saint. My experience was more like a dream I experienced while fully awake that merely taught me about the existence of such a Light. It taught me that this Light was present everywhere in such a way that I realized the Kingdom had actually come. It also revealed to me our synergistic relationship to God, as opposed to monergistic (though back then I didn’t even know these terms). This was very contrary to my Protestant knowledge, as well as my personal experience, of the fallen world, and its eventual, strictly future salvation through the Second Coming.

    Also, I want to emphasize that this experience came at a moment of great emotional distress that I think verged on despair. This experience gave me great joy and relief in an instant, gracing me with renewed faith.

    I also had an experience that is a bit more personal. Ive spoken of my blood disease on this blog a couple times in the past. Basically I have about an 80% chance of developing a kind of cancer that has only one potential cure, which is a bone marrow transplant. The things I have learned say that I probably only have around 10 or so more good years before things go south. My children will be in their younger teen years if this were to happen. Anyway, my first and second year after my diagnoses were very taxing. I was a bit of a wreck. One day walking out of Sunday service by myself (still a Lutheran at this point) I broke down in sobs. During this breakdown I passed by a simple green leaf on the sidewalk and I decidedly turned back to pick it up. As I picked it up I realized its great beauty, and just at that moment I “heard” a voiceless voice telling me that He thought I was beautiful. I cannot adequately explain how I heard something while not hearing anything at all, but this is what I experienced in a very one on one, personal way. Like when a friend speaks. And I cannot express the humility and surprise I felt to know that God Himself thought I was beautiful. It simply had never occurred to me that God would consider humans to be beautiful creatures. I also “heard” Him basically tell me to stop worrying (at that time I was paranoid that maybe I already had this horrible cancer, and was imagining all kinds of “symptoms”), and that He would be my help. I understood this help to be something constantly present throughout my whole life, to the very end (whenever that may happen to be). And at I also understood that I will never know when I will die. That is not for me to ever know. I may live to see 90 yrs, and He will be there helping me.

    Anyhow, I can and will discard these experiences if that is what I should do. Say the word, and I will forget them. I do not want delusion. I want Christ. But I bring all of this up because coincidentally last night, before I even read these comments, I was expressing my heartfelt thanks to God for granting this last experience, because if my children do suffer through my sickness I have a true witness of God’s actual presence and help that I can tell them about. You see, my greatest fear is (like so many parents) that my children will grow up to not love God. Or may grow angry and hateful towards God, resenting Him for their suffering. Or they may simply conclude in their hearts that He simply does not exist, like so many atheist., and so on. So, this was my testament to them of His existence, and more importantly of His Love for them. It seemed I had a gift I could give my children; a real, concrete experience of God’s existence and love that I could share with them, in hopes that they would believe their mother’s testimony.

    Sorry for getting so personal. This may not be the place to do so. But, like I said, I do not want delusion. I must also confess that I have more experiences than just these, but one’s that I do not believe were from God, but from devils. These were at a time of great sin and depression in my life, one was drug induced, the other not. Both involved voices, not my own, but infiltrating my thoughts. The non-drug induced one was similar to the “voiceless voice,” but undoubtedly different in that I recognized it as evil, and it struck great terror in me. They drove me out of my sinful lifestyle, running towards Christ full speed, so I still count them as a grace from God. I only mention these last ones as maybe possible evidence that I should just count all four of my experiences as dangerous delusions that I should simply just forget, never looking back.

    This is all a bit embarrassing to admit, and I hope I don’t come across as crazy, but I have a feeling that these kinds of experiences are more common among ordinary people than what we think. Its kind of hard advice to hear that we should not trust these experiences. But at the same time I fully understand why we should be weary to trust them. I understand the danger of prelest. But I have a hard time abandoning the hope Ive gained from my experiences.

    Again, I apologize for going way off track from the blog post.

  21. Alex Volkov,
    Thank you for your posts and especially the links to the articles on the Jesus Prayer.

    In one of your comments you said:
    “Engrossed in thoughts, we often forget that we stand in God’s presence.”

    This reminded me how Fr. Meletios Webber, in his book and his talks, said that whenever we bring our mind back to prayer from its wonderings to other places, we fulfill the Lord’s commandments of “Metanoiste….” (repent).

    Just this simple act of bringing our thoughts back to Him is a fulfillment of His commandment….

  22. Thanks Alex and Fr. Stephen. I have not gone too deep with Ignatius. Just doing the daily examen and reading a book about an Ignatian approach to the 12 steps. Also have been listening to the pray-as-you-go podcast which is produced by the Irish Jesuits. Being drawn back to the Jesus prayer, however. Bought a copy of the little red prayer book put out by the Antiochians. I think I’ll just go back to that. Point of clarification. I assume that the improper visions that you speak of are different than icons? I have some icons at home that I have used with orthodox prayer rules. Any instruction on the proper use of icons, including icons of Christ? Still at an ACNA church for the past couple of years. Daughter baptized there recently. Still have not officially joined. Don’t know if I should. Tried to drag my wife into orthodoxy with me a few years ago and caused a lot of pain, so I put the brakes on. Local orthodox have advised me not to be making plans on the side to become Orthodox. We have a wonderful and supportive community in our ACNA church, and the rector is familiar with Orthodoxy, having explored it himself. Perspectives and advice appreciated. Also, recently finished working through and rejecting modern liberal protestant theology. Anglican Austin Farrer helped me with that. Please pray for my salvation and the salvation of my family.

  23. Father,

    As I try to understand all this, I often get stuck trying differentiate between “thinking about” and “attending” as has been discussed above. I’ve read some of your previous thoughts and been enamored by the Orthodox ideas of true existence and the lack of existence of the ego. I also remember an article awhile back discussing the material nature of thoughts (that thoughts, ideas, and memories are as perishable as our bodies although modern culture elevates them falsely with the idea that they remain eternal). With these two ideas in mind (no pun intended) I’m trying to articulate my thoughts:

    My first thought is that if our thoughts, ideas, and memories are as material as our bodies, then they are similarly just another tool that God gifts us for our salvation. Hence the sensuality of liturgy. Because the use of our bodies is paramount in our salvation. But in reality, our minds and our bodies are not separate. We cannot exist without thinking. There is no activity we can do without engaging our minds even if it seems “mindless”. Yet we can engage at varying degrees, and just as in anything in our lives, the more attentive we are, the more ways we engage our bodies and minds together, the faster we learn things, the quicker we are changed.

    So is it the same with our salvation? Isn’t it the same in shaping our “nous” as anything we do in our human existence? The more we engage the more masterful we become? One last example perhaps, one could stand in the same place for hours, days, even years and learn the muscle memory of shooting a basketball, but that would not adequately prepare someone to play the game of basketball. Similarly, one could learn the muscle memory of a great piece of music and play without emotion or charisma, and even more so, being able to play one song does not make one a musician per se. I guess what I’m ultimately trying to articulate is that all of our existence is a gift from God for our salvation. We are to engage our thoughts, bodies, emotions, spirits and really anything we can to encounter God.

    I think where I get confused in reading these articles, is in making “thinking” and “attending” mutually exclusive. That if I am “thinking about” God then I’m doing something wrong. When I think the reality is that, the separation of our bodies, minds, emotions, and nous are a lie of modern thought. Though we can analyse those aspects differently, our existence as a whole is a mysterious communion of all of those things. We can never isolate one aspect of existence. We can never only experience something physically, or only experience it spiritually. To exist is to simultaneously experience spiritually, physically, emotionally etc.

    Which leads to my second thought that if Christ’s incarnation and crucifixion changed the real matter of the earth, and that when we partake in Eucharist we are eating and drinking bread and wine that has been really changed, albeit mysteriously, our thoughts and ideas can also be changed by encountering God. So it’s this contact, this engagement with the eternal God that changes our bodies, minds, and nous. Taking communion actually changes our bodies, and if our thoughts and bodies are equally material then, wouldn’t reading holy things and using our minds to contemplate holy things change us in the same sacramental way? Otherwise what would be the point of writing or reading books at all?

    This just gets me back to my idea that thinking about God is somehow bad. It’s not wrong to think about God, but it’s incomplete to only think about God and not engage in other ways. And to be distracted or bored in liturgy is just an example of how our material minds have not yet been fully transformed. So to discipline our minds to “attend” is to engage them with true existence. After all, to focus on anxieties at any time, liturgy or no, is to give our minds to something that does not truly exist. But to engage our minds and commune with God and each other in liturgy, or while washing dishes, or while dropping our children off to school, is to be fully present and to allow ourselves to be transformed into the image of God.

    Sorry for the treatise. As you can tell these thoughts have been rolling around in my head for quite some time. I appreciate your posts!

  24. Dearest Michelle,

    May God keep, bless and strengthen you. You are in my prayers, along with your nephew Seth. I identify so much with everything you wrote (except the experiences of God’s presence, as I have not been found worthy of them, and thank God for that) – the health issues, the fears about how my children relate to God.

    Your story reminded me again of something I heard Fr. Meletios Webber say (may God keep and protect him!), that a lot of experiences in our spiritual are so personal and “for our eyes only” that they are often impossible to share with anybody.

    So thank you for sharing with us…. May the remembrance of these experiences strengthen you in the moments of the withdrawal of Grace, which always come sooner or later…

  25. Elliot,
    I agree very much with what you’ve written. Thoughts are not bad, and thinking about is not bad, but it’s not nearly as important as we make it. The many ways in which we know – particularly the materiality of our knowing – makes for a more complete and true communion. It’s the mistaken Cartesian theory: “I think, therefore I am,” that describes too much of our thinking about thinking. We overvalue it. But that does not mean to undervalue it.

    Sometimes (many times) to “attend” means to be present without having to back off with a lot of critical, judging, comparing, analyzing thoughts. If you are facing a menacing tiger – you attend. You don’t think so much, but you carefully watch the slightest motion. That’s attending (in an extreme manner).

  26. Michelle,
    There’s no denying the fortification of both demonic as well as Graceful experiences, as long as we continue in humility, humble watchfulness and with a Spiritual Father.

  27. Sunny –

    Thank you for posting that link. That was an astounding article. So, as I suspected, we are communities in crisis.

    As our Lord pointed out, ‘An enemy has done this’ .

  28. Sunny, may be some truth here but it is mostly an emotionally packaged sales talk.

  29. Thank you, Agata!

    Boyd,

    The instruction on the proper use of icons are quite simple. Prayer is an encounter with the Living God. If you want to pray before an icon of Christ, keep in mind that you pray to the Lord and not to the icon/image. Never visualize anything. Feel that you stand in the Lord’s presence. And pray to God – with attention, reverence, humility and repentance.

    Here are some other tips:

    – Prepare for Prayer, stop wandering thoughts and concentrate your mind on God;
    – Realize that God is next to you and He listens to your prayer;
    – Make the sign of the cross crossing yourself and say, “In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit”;
    – Lock your mind into the words of the prayer, focusing on the words of the prayer;
    – Say the words of the prayer slowly and aloud;
    – Try to keep the Gospel commandments in your daily life. This is a great help in our encounter with God.

    Theophan the Recluse:
    “Prepare yourself to stand properly before God—don’t just jump into prayer after gossiping and gadding about or doing house chores.”

    “After this, think of who He is, Him to whom you turn in prayer. Next, recollect who you are; who it is who is about to start this invocation to Him in prayer.”

    “When we pray we must stand in our mind before God, and think of Him alone. Yet various thoughts keep jostling in the mind, and draw it away from God. In order to teach the mind to rest on one thing, the Holy Fathers used short prayers and acquired the habit of reciting them unceasingly. This unceasing repetition of a short prayer kept the mind on the thought of God and dispersed all irrelevant thoughts. They adopted various short prayers, but it is the Jesus Prayer which has become particularly established amongst us and is most generally employed: ‘Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy upon me, a sinner!’ So this is what the Jesus Prayer is. It is one among various short prayers, oral like all others. Its purpose is to keep the mind on the single thought of God.”

    http://www.orthodoxprayer.org/Jesus%20Prayer/Jesus%20Prayer-Attention.html
    http://www.orthodoxprayer.org/Attention%20in%20Prayer.html
    http://orthodoxinfo.com/praxis/theoph_prayer.aspx

    Metropilitan Hilarion (Alfeyev):

    “Orthodox Christians, as a rule, pray before icons of the Savior, the Mother of God, saints, and before depictions of the Holy Cross. But Protestants pray without icons. One can see here the difference between Protestant and Orthodox prayer. In the Orthodox tradition, prayer is more concrete. Contemplating the icon of Christ, we look as if through a window opening up another world to us; behind this icon stands Him to Whom we are praying.

    But it is very important that the icon not replace the object of prayer, so that we would not address ourselves in prayer to the icon or try to imagine the person depicted on the icon. The icon is only a reminder, only a kind of symbol of the reality that is behind it. As the Church Fathers say, “the honor rendered to the image returns to the prototype.” When we approach an icon of the Savior or the Mother of God and venerate it – that is, kiss it – we are thereby expressing our love for the Savior or the Mother of God.

    Icons should not be turned into idols. Nor should there be the illusion that God is as He is depicted on icons. There exists, for example, an icon of the Holy Trinity called the “New Testament Trinity”: it is uncanonical – that is, it does not correspond to the rules of the Church – but one can see it in certain churches. On this icon God the Father is depicted as a grey-haired old man, Jesus Christ as a young man, and the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove. By no means should we be tempted to imagine that the Holy Trinity looks like this. The Holy Trinity is God, Who cannot be represented by the human imagination. And, turning to God the Holy Trinity in prayer, we should renounce every kind of fantasy. Our imagination should be free from images; the mind should be crystal clear; and the heart should be ready to accommodate the Living God.”

    http://www.pravmir.com/prayer/

    The Icon FAQ

    http://orthodoxinfo.com/general/icon_faq.aspx

  30. Michael,

    Dr. Kelly has nothing to gain by you reading her articles. Unless you wanted to fly out to Manhattan to be a patient at her small private practice, but that would truly be pointless since you can visit any of her functional medicine colleagues elsewhere in the country. I’m impressed at how much you misunderstand the article that I wonder if you actually read it.

  31. Boyd,

    They says that false theology begets false spiritual life. So, I agree with Fr Stephen and Theodosia who recommend to stay away from Roman Catholic spirituality.

    Prof. Osipov writes: “According to Saints Ignatius (Brianchaninov), Theophan the Recluse, and the Optina Elders, the famous book by Thomas à Kempis (fifteenth century) and much other Catholic, Protestant, and, of course, sectarian literature was written in states of prelest [spiritual delusion]. The reason for such an assessment becomes clear by the following examples.

    Please note that these examples are not presented with the intention of offending the sensibilities of devout Catholics, but rather to show the sharp contrast between these saints’ spiritual moods and practices and those of the Orthodox ascetics and saints. It is tragic that such practices are promoted as models for emulation, thereby leading a devout flock into dangerous spiritual delusion, and shutting the door against true Christian humility, sobriety, and repentance. Although other aspects of these people’s lives may be worthy of admiration, the dangerous lack of mistrust for spiritual phenomena is something any serious Christian must avoid…”

    http://www.pravoslavie.ru/english/42352.htm

    There are lots of great books on prayer and Orthodox spiritual life. Here are some of my favorites:

    “On the Prayer of Jesus”, “The Arena: An Offering to Contemporary Monasticism” by Saint Ignatius (Brianchaninov)
    “The Art of Prayer: An Orthodox Anthology” by Igumen Chariton
    “Unseen Warfare” by Lorenzo Scupoli, Theophan the Recluse and Nicodemus of the Holy Mountain
    “The Philokalia”
    “Christ is in Our Midst: Letters from a Russian Monk” by Father John (Alexeev)
    “Letters to Spiritual Children” by Abbot Nikon (Vorobiev)
    “The Path to Salvation: A Manual of Spiritual Transformation”, “The Spiritual Life and How to be Attuned to it” by St. Theophan the Recluse

    For a novice, I would recommend to start with the last three authors: Father John (Alexeev), Abbot Nikon (Vorobiev) and St. Theophan the Recluse.

    PS There is another famous Russian book on the Jesus Prayer – “The Way of a Pilgrim”. It’s gripping but it suggests a dangerous and delusive way of prayer which is not approved by the Holy Fathers. According to the Fathers, prayer without attention is a vain repetition.

  32. On journeying as a family to Orthodoxy: Frederica Mathewes-Green who wrote the book called The Jesus Prayer commented that her husband discovered Orthodoxy and would take her to the Saturday evening Vesper services. He was at that time a Protestant minister, so their Sundays were not open to the Divine Liturgy. Saturday Vespers are shorter than the Liturgy, involve the Psalms and Thanksgiving and may be a nice way for those still attending Protestant Sunday services to participate in Orthodox worship.

    Michelle, I had a high school teacher who talked about receiving “love notes from God.” For him it was discovering a picture of his dad smiling that he had never seen before shortly after his dad passed away.

    Your experience with the leaf seems like a true love note from God. Please don’t doubt it. He is our gentle and loving Father who picks us up off the sidewalk when we fall down and are crying. Christ embraced the children and embraces us as well. Christ was moved with compassion because the people seemed like sheep without a shepherd. Perhaps with the leaf our loving God spoke to your heart because he did not want fear to lead you. He is the Good Shepherd and lead you to recognize a truth the Saints and the Fathers affirm: we are not worthless to God. We are loved so deeply He desires eternity with us and gives us His own Flesh as the Bread of Eternal Life.

    God spoke a message to you in the moment with the leaf that we know to be true from the Scripture and teaching of the Saints, and it applies to all people.

    Any message that appeals to our pride as individuals and encourages us believe we are more special than others should be cast aside.

  33. Sunny, I’m sorry to say but I’ve read the article, followed her links to a few additional articles. Followed up on her credentials.

    I agree with Michael.

    There are too many points that are manipulated for a polemic that gives an appearance of ‘revolutionary art’ to the services (and book) she offers. Her understanding of science appears to be slim and her use of citations to actual science is even more slim. Her audience probably isn’t scientists. The point she makes that perhaps inspired you to bring this to our attention was the mind- body dualism part. However she frames this as if it were revolutionary science. It isn’t a game changer in science (it simply isn’t news) that it might be for her and her colleagues in the medical professions or specifically in psychiatry. Furthermore her use of consciousness doesn’t mesh with Fr Stephen’s article. That’s my understanding anyway.

  34. Boyd, A wonderful book by ROCOR priest Sergei S: Imagine that: Mental Imagery in Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Private Devotion helps one understand the profound difference in approach of the two. Having done the Ignatian exercises for layperson with a priest as a Catholic, I now struggle more as an Orthodox person to “undo” what I learned there. Reading this book motivated me to immerse myself in the healing spiritual hospital of Orthodoxy as Fr Stephen describes. The means and ends of the two processes are quite different as the book describes. Available in paperback and Kindle.

    https://www.amazon.com/Imagine-That-Catholic-Orthodox-Devotion/dp/1439229937

  35. Sunny, et al,
    I generally shy away from posting suggested links. What one person sees (the coin that drops) might not quite work for someone else. It also draws to conversation aside to the periphery. God bless all of you.

  36. Agata,

    Thank you so, so much for your prayers, especially for Seth. Pray also for his four younger siblings. I only talked of Seth because he was the eldest, and remembers his mother in the most intimate way. Three of them were too young to really remember their mother. The second eldest, Iris, remembers though. She was four at the time. Please pray for all of them. I thank God that my brother has found himself a second wife, who has a truly loving and motherly heart. I do believe she was sent to them from God. She, in fact, has been quite the witness of God’s grace herself recently. Just three months ago she underwent what is called a PET scan, which indicated that she had stage 4 cancer called Multiple Myeloma. She is only 33 yrs old, and her and my brother together actually have eight children total. This devastated our whole family to the core. But, by the grace of God, just last month, after three consecutive biopsies, the doctors have confidently concluded that the multiple tumors throughout her body are in fact all benign. Each biopsy she had, including a bone marrow biopsy, came back negative for any malignant cancers whatsoever! A true miracle!

    Anyway, as far as my own experiences go worthiness has nothing to do with it. That was the point of my inquiry; is it that those of us who, in truth, lack humility must always reject such experiences as coming from the devil? If humility is the measure then I really must reject my experiences. But I’ve proven myself to be weak with despair in times of stress and anxiety, so if I abandon these experiences, counting them as delusion, I am not sure how I will handle enduring the dark night of withdrawn grace. I may die alone, truly lost to hell. My children may suffer the same, I really don’t know. I hope that if such should happen God will grace me with remembrance of these words, “I am your help.”

    Again, thank you so much for your prayers for me and my family. I am forever grateful!

  37. Michelle,

    Thanks for your post. Your experience of the leaf sounds like it was the same “language” that I once experienced, and which brought me, in my heart, to Jesus. More real than real, beyond thinking or even hearing words. That story resonates with me, as do your experiences of a kind of real encounter with evil.

  38. Dino,
    Thank you for your advice, I do believe it is the right path. I pray for humility and watchfulness. By far neither are my strong suit. I need a Spiritual Father for direction, because I don’t have the fortitude, and I stray continually. I haven’t talked to my priest about this yet. I feel a little uncomfortable because we haven’t been at this parish for to terribly long, and I don’t really feel like I know the guy very well yet. I want to go unload on him, so to speak, but feel hesitant because I don’t know him well and don’t know how he’ll react. Its one thing to unload behind the veil of the internet, its another to unload face to face. Also, what if it just happens there’s no one around to be my Spiritual Father? From what I understand not all priest consider themselves suitable for the role.

  39. Dan,
    Thank you so much! I knew I wasn’t the only one! Lol. In fact, I have an inkling that many, many, many ordinary people have these experiences. Who knows? It may happen hundreds, maybe thousands of times a day all around the world! God is gracious and kind! 🙂

  40. Nicole,
    I cannot thank you enough. You said, “Perhaps with the leaf our loving God spoke to your heart because he did not want fear to lead you.” If you knew me personally you would understand why what you say here actually brought me to tears. Thank you.

  41. Michelle, experiences if God are quite common at least according to my priest. I follow one rule: if I have what seems to be a “spiritual experience” I tell my priest. His response has usually been a general affirmation of the experience followed by the reminder to not think myself special. Remarking that such and such is quite common. So far no trips to the chapel for protective blessings by God’s grace.

    God is everywhere present and fills all things. We live in the midst of Him who IS.

    Yet, I don’t trust my own discernment so I always submit such things to my priest. But he has been my priest for over twenty years.

    May God guide you and St. Michael guard you.

  42. Father Stephen,
    Thank you for the description of attentiveness (the tiger example). That makes quite a bit of sense to me.

    I have practiced the Jesus prayer for many years. (Practice, not “expertise.”) There are other forms of contemplative prayer out there as part of a “revival” of practice in the West (such as Centering Prayer). I have often heard from people this desperate need for “stopping thoughts.” I tell people, forget about that, it’s not going to happen. Orthodoxy seems to me to be in its greatest wisdom when it lovingly teaches about moderation / humility and somehow what it really is to be human. It seems to me St Symeon in describing the experiences of “George” reminds us that the ultimate pray-er is grace in us and so we rely on the Holy Spirit for our prayer too, not our own efforts alone. I suppose that means our attentiveness is to Him (well, where One is there is also Three)?

    Agata, thank you for Fr Meletios Webber’s words about prayer & metanoia!

  43. Michael Bauman, thank you for your thoughts/experiences on well, “experience” and the man who sounds like a wonderful priest and spiritual father. You wrote: “His response has usually been a general affirmation of the experience followed by the reminder to not think myself special.” Pretty awesome. It seems to me a good way to characterize what a gift is.

  44. Father Stephen,
    On Ancient Faith Radio are podcasts by Father Thomas Hopko entitled “Speaking the Truth in Love”. May the Lord grant me such Grace as this title encourages. Lord have mercy on me a sinner.

  45. @ Alex Volkov,

    Thank you very much for your comments and the links you’ve provided. I had the great fortune of visiting Eighth Day Books this summer and I picked up the book you listed, “Letters to Spiritual Children” by Abbot Nikon. That book is outstanding! The book you mentioned “The Path to Salvation” by St. Theophan the Recluse is a book I’ve always wanted to get. It must be out of print or something, because Amazon lists it for $50. EDB does not carry it.

    Finally, forgive me, I loved “the way of a pilgrim” like maybe no other book I’ve ever read. The one paragraph where the Priest rebukes the pilgrim for his faulty confession is, IMO, pure gold (I believe Father Stephen has in the past even linked to this). Again, forgive me, you’re more Orthodox than I will ever be. I guess I’m just surprised because you’re the first person I’ve ever heard who has expressed caution about that book.

    Thanks again for your comments and links, they are greatly beneficial to me (and to others I suspect).

  46. @ Alex (again), 🙂

    Thank you. Your posts are really wonderful. I especially appreciate that they come more from the Russian tradition, while Dino shares with us the best of the Greek tradition. That way we get the best of both worlds!

    In your recent posts, I especially loved the reminder about presenting ourselves to God in prayer with “attention, reverence, humility and repentance”. We need to strive for that even when we attempt to remember to pray “casually” during our day, as we go about our life and work. Never forgetting our nothingness as we stand before God, yet trusting in His loving-kindness and care for us. And with thanksgiving, which itself is an act of humility, as someone reminded us recently….

  47. Alan, thank you for your kind words!

    I can’t be more Orthodox than you are. It’s like to say that I can be more Christian than someone else. No way! Believe me, there is nothing special about me and my “cradle Orthodoxy”. I lived like a pagan most of my life and even now I can’t say that I’m worthy to be called Christian.

    I am glad you share my love for “Letters to Spiritual Children” by Abbot Nikon. It is such a simple but profound book that teaches practical spirituality and helps to set the right mindset of humility.

    There is a PDF version of “The Path to Salvation: A Manual of Spiritual Transformation” somewhere in the Internet. You can also read some excerpts here:

    http://www.holytrinitymission.org/books/english/salvation_theofan.htm

    Alan, please don’t apologize for “The Way of a Pilgrim”. It used to be my favorite book on prayer. I still like the book but I don’t practice the pilgrim’s method. The caution about the book is not my own idea. St Theophan the Recluse firstly supported and even edited the “The Way” but later he changed his opinion. The problem is that the Pilgrim’s method can be profitable for a very limited number of people – those who have pure hearts, true humility and love to God and to their neighbours. For most of us mere mortals, who lack of humility, the method can cause delusion. In other words, it is too advanced and not for our spiritual level. (At least not for mine).

    The Pilgrim’s method can turn prayer into a mantra that evokes joy, love, warmth, and sweetness in the heart only because we mindlessly repeat and repeat the words. This kind of reletitive prayer (without attention) can easily delude us. The Holy Fathers spent many years to reach the state which is described in the book. And the Pilgrim got on the top floor way too fast.

    From Wikipedia:

    “Saint Ignatius Bryanchaninov wrote that the book might give a student the impression that “unceasing prayer of the heart,” one goal of the practice, can be achieved after only a few weeks of practice, but that the pilgrim’s experience and preparation were remarkable. His life leading up to the practice, and his study under a starets (his spiritual father), prepared him for the beneficial results he received.”

    https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Way_of_a_Pilgrim

    Please check also this article: “The Way of a Pilgrim” and Bishop Ignatius (Brianchaninov’s) Teaching on Prayer

    http://www.pravoslavie.ru/english/53475.htm

    Or

    http://www.pravmir.com/the-way-of-a-pilgrim-and-bishop-ignatius-brianchaninov-teaching-on-prayer-2/

    Thanks again for your kind comment!

  48. Father, I am listening to the audiobook version of St. Teresa of Avila’s “The Interior Castle” (also known as “The Mansions”), and she made a point very similar to yours: many people get hung up on their minds wandering during prayer, and think that this must mean they are not truly present before God, because they conceive of their highest self as their consciousness. So they try to engage in an inevitably futile struggle to “master” and “organize” their wandering thoughts, instead of looking beyond them to what really matters: that, in reality, their “heart” (i.e. nous) may well still be united with Him in continuous prayer.

  49. Agata,

    Thank you again! 🙂 I myself am learning the Orthodox tradition from Fr Stephen, Dino, and all of you who share the Orthodox faith.

    BTW, thanks for reminding me of thanksgiving in prayer. I always forget about it.

    Speaking about prayer… Besides attention, humility, reverence and repentance, St Isaac the Syrian also mentions that we must pray:

    – with deep affection and tears,
    – with a patience and an ardor that are connected with the love of God,
    – every word of prayer should come from the depths of the heart (even if we use the Prayer Book)
    – prayer should be based on faith and absolute trust in God.

    Thus, there are several conditions of the right/proper prayer. But at my current spiritual level, I am still struggling to keep in mind at least four of them.

  50. Father,

    Agreed. I would have sent it to just you, but there’s nowhere to do that. Sorry about that.

  51. Alan,

    You can have my copy of The Path to Salvation by St Theophan. I don’t know if there is a way to talk offline, but if you send me your contact info, I will mail it to you.

    Boyd

  52. Boyd, wow….I’m blown away by your offer. I’d love to have the book, but feel a bit badly taking it from you.

    Let me set up a temporary email address and then I’ll come back and post it here.

  53. Boyd,

    please contact me at:
    email hidden; JavaScript is required

  54. Yes Alex, we are all learning wonderful things here.

    I hope Fr. Stephen forgives me for forgetting to thank him foremost, he translates Orthodoxy for us into contemporary American/”worldly” (because despite being cradle Orthodox, I don’t feel any better equipped for living in this contemporary world) ….

    I really like something Father wrote long time ago on this blog, that the “public” virtues of a Christian are “kindness, hospitality, mercy and sharing”. We are sharing the best we have here, kindly and generously. And we are being guided towards Christ. If we would only implement in our lives everything we learn here…. Grant this oh Lord!

  55. Janine, Fr. Paul is a fine priest. He teaches me all the time. It is interesting that early on in our relationship I talked to him about being my spiritual father. He said he was not qualified but he would do his best as my confessor and pastor.

    My experience prior to becoming Orthodox was such that I was and still am very cautious concerning the term. I have seen it abused with tragic results.

    That being said I have no problem sharing anything with Fr. Paul in discussion and confession. Having him and being a member of Bishop Basil’s (Essey) cathedral parish is a remarkable blessing-one for which I am thankful all the time. I am the least there in so many ways. Helps me keep my ego in check.

    Another reason I come here.

  56. Michael Bauman, thanks for your reply. That kind of confession and pastoring is just the best! I’m fortunate to have a priest who understands it similarly (Greek Orthodox). And there are other Orthodox pastors too I can call on when I’m wrestling with something. Something very special in all that positive energy that somehow offers guidance/a word but still lets me make my own mistakes!

  57. Michelle,

    I will be honored to pray for Seth, Iris and their siblings, and more siblings. May God keep and strengthen their whole family. They are all experiencing more than their share of suffering…. St. John of Shanghai and San Francisco is especially wonderful to pray to for help with family difficulties, children and orphans. I turn to him all the time, asking him to protect my kids (who are now old enough to make their own decisions and their own mistakes)…

    I think you should treasure your “love letters” from God, as Nicole described them. Your heart obviously can tell the difference which are to be trusted, and which are not. I think it was in a book about St. Paisios that I read about him calling these “little sweets from God’s bakery” (that metaphor is especially sweet and tasty for me :-)).

    And coming back to praying for our children, I think St. Paisios is also the one who recommended parents do daily prostrations for their children (5 each, so your brother would get quite a workout! 8×5 !!!. I think Dino mentioned that recommendation of St. Paisios a while back). I have started that some time ago, and even if my kids seem no different, I think I am in better shape 🙂 (that’s a joke, but not really, I actually think all these spiritual efforts we make bear fruit in our life, even if ever so imperceptibly. I seem to have better connection with my boys now than before, they seem calmer around me – or maybe I am calmer….).

    I would love to share with you a card I have created with a prayer “Of parents for children”. I posted it here before as text, but I really like the more graphical version. Since I have shared my gmail here many times before, you are welcome to email me if you would like it. (agatamcc)

    Many blessings and love. Agata

  58. Agata,

    Thank you so much for the kind gesture. I will shoot you an email, thank you so much 😊. And thank you again for the prayers. I never heard about the 5 prostrations for your children before. I’ll have to start, but I must say I’m a little relieved I only have 2 kids of my own, lol. Eight would be full blown exercise routine, lol.

    God bless!

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