Interceding for Sodom – The Sins of a Nation

abrahamxThis year, some will discuss/argue politics, and many will be lost in their anger. Whatever the outcome, the nation has reached a frightful point in its history. Many will shout and many will curse. But some few will stand before God and intercede for mercy. Will you join me and repent for America? You don’t have to be American. Abraham was not a citizen of Sodom or Gomorrah. 

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Can 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.”

53 comments:

  1. What a marvelous article! Thank you Father for sharing this.
    God bless you and your eyes……;-))…….hope you recover soon!

    Sophia

  2. Father,
    You have hit the nail on the head! We have indeed reached a frightful point in our history. As a people we seem to be shaking our fists at God, almost daring Him in defiance to strike us. We seem to do everything we possibly can to keep Him far from us both personally and collectively. We deny His existence, we deny His authority, and perhaps most sadly, we deny His love for us As His children.
    I can honestly say this election cycle has really made me look at myself, to see the extent that I have added to the collective sin that has become our nation. I realize that I too am guilty.
    As you have mentioned, Satan is the great divider. He sets everyone against everyone. We are a nation at one another’s throat. It is worse than it was back in the late 1960s. We need to pray, all of us, all of us who believe in the God of Abraham, and beg for God’s mercy. If not, I see the next step for us as a people to be that of violence and self destruction.

  3. I will Fr. Stephen! But many people across the world, seeing both candidates and their philosophies, say that American people will have the president they deserve whether good or bad, agressive or peace maker. Every nation deserves its own rulers. I pray for repentance in America, to elect better next time.

  4. I wonder when we, as a nation, will repent for the countless number of infants we have murdered under the guise of “choice,” and what that repentance will look like. Mary, mother of God, intercede for our nation!

  5. Father, I have mulling this very thing over for quite some time now. You are speaking truth in this article. Every day in my own prayer I echo the words of the Chronicler “”if My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.” I also use Saint Paisios’ words of intercession or our national leaders: Lord have mercy on our leaders and inspire them to govern with Christian love and obedience unto your word.”
    However, I am just one person. Our parish is going one step further this Wednesday (Oct 5) in interceding for our nation. We are gathering outside the Planned Parenthood facility in our city and praying a Panakhida for all those who have lost their lives (mothers and babies) and singing an Akathist of Repentance to the Theotokos for a mother who has aborted her child on behalf of all the women who have been led into this path of self destruction and who cannot or will not repent on their own.
    We will begin at 9 AM Eastern time. I pray that all that read your blog will join us in spirit at this time seeking mercy for the women who have been touched by this and for us all who bear this burden of sin.

  6. George,
    Yes. But.
    It is very easy to use 2 Chronicles 7:11-16 as a prescription for what other people ought to do (I’ve heard it preached that way for years). Abraham had no idea that the people of Sodom and Gomorrah were going to change. Nevertheless, he pleaded the righteousness of Lot and his family as something to hold God’s hand. His own prayers (the conversation with the angels) delayed their arrival in Sodom and Gomorrah for a period of time. For that period of time, Abraham can be said to have held back the hand of God.

    Our nation is not going to repent. I have no such expectation. The world lies under the sway of the evil one. But our intercessory role is that of prayer in union with Christ. To pray in union with Christ is to take the sins of our nation upon ourselves and pray for forgiveness and mercy. The nation is not going to pray or repent. We will have to do that for them and ask God to continue to give them time to repent (as many as will).

    The blood of the unborn, noting Chris’ comment, is upon us all. No Christian can point to himself/herself and claim to stand above and separate from the sexualized culture that supports this holocaust. We have all been dragged into it. I loathe it, but I cannot say that it is “their” sin and not “mine.” Christ did not turn His face from the spitting and the shame – and neither should we. The sins of the nation are my sins. That is how we must pray. If we are willing to pray in that manner, then our repentance can also become the repentance of our nation.

    The sins of the Soviet Union, the founder of legal abortion, were legion. It fell and collapsed. The Russian state is currently considering the outlawing of abortion (and I’m pointing to that single issue at the moment). How did it fall? Through the prayers of the righteous, who did not pray for its fall. They prayed with repentance. Read Solzhenitsyn for a wonderful example of such care. He loved Russia as few ever have. And he lived true repentance and called others to do the same. The fall was sudden and unexpected (except to those with eyes of faith). It was the hand of God. But the fall did not occur in order to punish the wicked. It occurred in order to heal a nation and bring people back to God.

    We have no idea what repentance would look like in America. The arrogance of our rulers almost knows no bounds (and it is shared by us as a people). We (you and I) cannot control the outcome of history, or even be much of an influence. Such talk is mostly American Evangelical nonsense and is blasphemous. But we can repent, uniting ourselves with the sins of the nation as we unite ourselves with the righteousness of Christ. This is the way of the Cross. This is our simple task.

  7. Father, I will increase my prayers and my repentance and refuse to argue. I have decided that I will vote, but I will write in for each race local, state and national : None of the above. That is the only vote I can cast in good conscience.

    Staying home is like being silent and silence means consent and there is not one politician to whom I give my consent. I will not do it in anger but in deep sadness.

    If we are ruled by the consent of the governed (doubtful). The only way to be free in this world is to withhold consent.

    May God have mercy.

  8. At the risk of throwing too many rocks into the waters of this discussion I will make a few comments that I hope drive to the root of my(our) reluctance, no I think inability might better fit, to understand this deep aspect of spiritual life. These comments are being made primarily as I look at my own struggle with this now and over the years.

    At the root of the struggle is Father’s comment at the beginning of the article, “Our modern sensibilities, rooted in a fundamental commitment to individualism, recoil form this collective treatment.” Recoil is a strong, but I think accurate verb to use in this discussion. One recoils from things that either disgust or strike fear. Vomit and snakes come to mind.

    This country was founded by those deeply committed to be free from the oppression they felt from the residual obligations, customs and taboos of European government and culture. They brought with them the newly developing seeds of individualistic attitudes toward the Church and also a deep commitment to the development of a market economy. Both were planted in fresh soil tilled at the expense of the Native cultures and their much different sense of property that existed in this land for centuries. (Another topic, but one qualifying for an ‘original’ sin)

    Needless to say, the seeds of individualism have not only taken root here, but have been and continue to be exported with varying degrees of success to the rest of the world.

    Just two things that strike me as foreign to this world view?

    Repentance- for most Protestant groups a little of this will get you in the front door after that not much is said, especially these days. In fact, there is a knee jerk reaction most of the time to see the need of repentance in others more than ourselves.

    A deep sense of community- A fully market-based economy does not rely on any personal senses of duty, commitment, need for reciprocity, interest or concern for our neighbor’s well being, etc. All of this can be solved with a transaction. You can buy or you can give. Once made you have the receipt and you’re done. The economy prefers, even demands this attitude. This leads to a deep detachment of our actions from their consequences.

    As I read this posting of Fr Stephen’s and looked into that very small window where I can see a part of my soul’s garden, I mostly viewed a very long row of weeds to start hoeing.

    Can I pray for and sense any empathy for the Sioux at Standing Rock as one of our country’s “recurrent latent cycles” goes one more time around?

    Might I dream of having more than a sound bite length discussion with my immediate neighbors on any substantial concerns for my own community?

    Maybe I can just start by asking the homeless guy I run into often to pray for me.

  9. Fr. Stephen have you ever read anthropologist Rene Girard? He has put forth a theory very similiar to the one you have articulated regarding how mankind has collectively dealt with ‘trauma’ and how in Christ we find the only way out or through.

  10. Dcn James – As a history teacher, struggling to teach American history from my newly acquired Orthodox perspective, I appreciate your comments. You’ve put into words something I’ve been trying to articulate but was concerned I was just being reactive to my conservative evangelical upbringing. Well stated.

  11. ” For that period of time, Abraham can be said to have held back the hand of God.”
    Father, I have become wary of such statements. This style of description seems to occur more frequently in Pentateuch as opposed to The Prophets and Psalms. But I think it is more accurate to say that Abraham’s intercession is the action of a repentant and Grace filled man, who is filled with praise, patience and thanksgiving to God (recurring themes of the Psalms), and is therefore a witness to the Mercy of God for not destroying Sodom and Gomorrah, in a quicker, more man-centric time.
    Do the Theotokos’ intercessions change God’s Mind? Or rather is she simply asking that which is in her heart, which is filled with the Holy Ghost?
    I think when one is filled with Grace, they cannot but help to align their intercessions with what is already in God’s Heart. He does not need Cherubims and Seraphims to remind Him that He is Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of Hosts.
    Please comment and instruct me,
    God Bless,
    Trav

  12. Enormously edifying, father! God bless you and your eyes……;-))…….hope you recover soon!
    All this which you ‘warn’ in your blog post, father, makes perfect sense to us here in Greece, because we feel that these things have already started happening to Greece long ago.

    Here in Greece, so many people are trying to follow this line of thinking and repentance for our own country, because we are told by our elders that Greece is now being ‘punished’ for her past/present sins, like Russia was being ‘punished’ for three generations for her hubris with the Russian Revolution etc.

    I am not sure if I am communicating this correctly to you, since English is not my mother tongue, so maybe I am using the wrong words.

    The whole idea is that like in the Confession of an individual the eternal punishment (Hell) is taken away, but all of the temporal punishment due to your sins is not always taken away, and by “Temporal punishment” we mean that, even though all your sins are forgiven through the Sacrament of Penance, God still requires that you be ‘punished’ for your sins either in this life, because your repentance is never that deep, sincere or adequate.

    Not in the Roman Catholic ‘legal’ style of Purgatorio etc. Rather as a figure of speech, always inadequate to express God’s inscrutable divine providence and Love for all of us.

    I hope any of this makes some sense to you, but yes, here people in Greece firmly believe that we are being ‘punished’ and ought to repent for our nation’s sins, or worse things will befall upon us.

    I would be really interesting to tell us how you feel about all this. Not only you, father, but other readers of your blog.

    Your blessing, father.

  13. As to Bill’s comment regarding Rene Girard…

    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. 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.

    That “public liturgy” is also known as “scapegoating” and essentially serves to defuse violence within a group–violence that would cause the destruction of the group if not vented and turned upon someone who is seen as “other” or “responsible” for “recurrent latent cycling”.

    In my understanding, Jesus willingly submitting to Caiphas’ articulated scapegoating exposed the futility and ineffectiveness of “redemptive” violence–and that by his resurrection.

    Let us repent of the lie of redemptive violence by following Jesus “outside the gates.”

  14. Trav,
    I certainly believe that God wanted Abraham to “stay his hand.” Abraham is the “friend of God,” and indeed shows that he is God’s friend by interceding for Sodom. God “agrees” to everything Abraham asks. The mystery of prayer is never in convincing God or in changing God’s mind, though such imagery is used in Scripture (metaphorical). Prayer is always about union with God, in will and in energy. “God so loved the world that He gave…” When we pray in union with that, then we ourselves are also conformed to the image of Christ.

    It is, of course, a mystery. And like all mysteries, words fail in describing it.

  15. Tom,
    “Scapegoating” is a modern sociological term that inappropriately uses the Biblical image of the scapegoat. That public liturgy was healing and truly therapeutic. What you are describing is a rather demonic mockery of the true thing.

    We cannot heal anything through violence (there is no “redemptive violence”). Christ’s willing self-offering robs the violence of its violence (“no one takes my life from me…I lay it down of my own self”).

    One man can die for the whole, but we cannot kill one man for the whole. Only self-emptying, true kenotic offering in union with Christ, is redemptive and therapeutic.

    But, on a broader level, I had in mind the notion of “public liturgies” that have marked societies through the centuries. Soldiers doing penance after returning from war (a common Christian practice once upon a time). Timothy Patitsas at Holy Cross in Boston has written about the Homeric epic poems serving a therapeutic role in ancient Greece to heal men of the trauma of war.

    We do not have public liturgies that are in the least effective for this. Instead, we fly the flag and do patriotic rituals, that are mostly designed to deny that anything terrible and traumatic has taken place. Soldiers suffer and have little way to give voice to their trauma. Killing, even in the most noble and “just” circumstance, always leaves a traumatic wound in the soul. Our nation is now deeply wounded with very little attention to its wounds.

    After the Civil War (this is largely ignored in history books), there came to be large reunions at certain battlefields. The first was at Chickamauga near Chattanooga. It was a reunion of soldiers of both sides. They came, they spoke, they wept, they sang. It was a “public liturgy” that acknowledged, quite powerfully, the tragedy of the war. Soldiers today who travel to former battlefields are “making pilgrimage,” a sort of penance or self-offering that acknowledges the trauma.

    It is interesting, for example, that there has never been any public liturgy in America that acknowledges our past slave history. The trauma of that reality has never left us. Instead, we have the recurrent latent cycling of an unattended wound.

    Russia, in the years after the Soviet Union, has built many memorials to the victims of the Gulag, including memorial churches. The canonization of the Royal “Passion-Bearers” (martyrs) was also an acknowledgement of something that had to be healed…In America, we put up statues to Civil War generals, but did nothing to memorialize the suffering of slaves…and the suffering continued. There was no public repentance – no healing – just continued trauma.

    The introduction of the MLK holiday was met with resistance in many states in the South, quite shamefully (I write as a Southerner).

    So, those are some of the ideas of what I meant by “public liturgy.”

  16. Father Stephen,
    I’m a few years older than you. I have a few poignant memories of the South myself. I first went to Montgomery, Alabama, in 1964 as an 18 year old Air Force airman. I, two other white airman and a black airman called a taxi to take us downtown. The white taxi driver refused to take our black friend. We said some not too complimentary things to him and called a black taxi service. Once in town we went to lunch at the Rexall drugstore, all dressed in our Air Force blues. The waitress, upon approaching our table, “accidentally ” spilled a whole glass of milk on the black airman, a not too subtle hint of he not being welcome. I recall separate white’s and black’s restrooms. Whites, in the Montgomery paper who died, were listed under obituaries and blacks under deaths. I was back in Montgomery in 1967-8 for my last year of duty. In December of 1967 Dr. Martin Luther King was preaching in Montgomery at the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church. I could kick myself for not hearing him preach, however I was not a Christian at the time. But my wife and I waited outside the Church to see him. I have 2 photos I took of him just 4 months before his assassination. The Ku Klux Klan was also marching, just one block away, ostensibly for a pro Vietnam rally. They were dressed in their white robes, even little toddlers. So, yes, I can see why we suffer from recurrent latent cycling when it comes to race, especially now with the unrest between many blacks and the police. The wounds have never been healed and still erupt full of pus and corruption. Lord, have mercy on our nation and bring healing to all of us. Let me not be one to wag the finger but to bow the knee.

  17. Dear City Hermit,

    Thank you for your comment. Thank God Greek people are turning to repentance, following the advice of the Elders. Other countries are not so lucky to have these voices of reason and sanity (in Poland for example, the leaders of the Catholic Church are unfortunately inspiring people to remember old hurts, and use them for political gains – that is my personal impression from what I see and hear, there is very little talk of forgiveness and reconciliation…).

    Yours and Michael’s comments reminded me of this wonderful sermon Father Tom Hopko offered after the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School a few years ago. In it, he beautifully encourages us to look at our lives and see how we (by the way we live, the way we act, and even by the thoughts we think) contribute to the “madness of this world”. If these tragic/crazy/insane events in the world do not change us, do not turn us to God, we have no right to complain. It’s really worth listening to for all of us, and answer those questions for ourselves and for our lives….

    http://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/hopko/fr._thomas_hopko_sandy_hook_and_our_response

    P.S. (please check your email, for my brilliant idea! 🙂 )

  18. Thank you Father Stephen for this reflection. “Post Traumatic Spiritual Disorder,” is our post lapsarian condition, along with the associated problem of “the False History Syndrome” which allow us to cling to national myths that serve to prevent conditions needed for repentance for the systemic sins which continue to plague us. Spiritual warfare is in the heart but you have pointed also to the heart of the systemic struggle. that is involved. Christ enters history as well as our hearts. This too is a Great Mystery and an invitation to ultimately risk loving one another as He loves us. Lord help us!

  19. I always was fond of the image of ‘communicating vessels’ regarding this subject. Without ever denying that one needs their own personal toil towards “their own” salvation, we say that this effort or toil, although it really is “their own”, belongs to them as to a fundamentally and inescapably ‘cosmic being’, a person/hypostasis that is an ‘aspect’ of the whole with inevitable influence on the totality of creation in time and space; filling one vessel always affects the others (just as draining all other vessels would mean that I would need to overcompensate for this myself, by making extra effort for the sake of all others). As we commonly exclaim, one person’s salvation is ‘through’ the Church and ‘within’ the Church and ‘as’ Church… In other words there is no individualism to salvation in Christ. Another great mystery here is that one’s positive or negative interpretation (according to the measure of their holiness) of all that exists (their Heaven or Hell if you like) stretches truly to all, it does affect others in themselves, but it also affects one’s interpretation of others, seeing all of them as saints, as “my heaven” or as “my hell” (Sartre’s famous “L’enfer, c’est les autres”)…

  20. A very interesting article.

    It calls to mind for me our need for repentance as Church. (Those who read my comments of old know that this is theme dear to my heart.) I raise this now for a reason and it is certainly NOT to ignite any discussion of differences or blame in the schism between the Eastern and Western Church.

    I ponder how we might repent for the sins of America but somehow not notice the sin that keeps us divided from each other. We are not meant to be divided. We are the Body of Christ.

    As much as in a political race, it is easy to say – but we are doing it the right way and you are doing… Or to call up a terrible act that the other did in some distant past. There may be a kernel or truth – or a great deal of truth – in such protests.

    But they do not bring us healing. They are not the work of repentance.

    The work of repentance, as noted in this post, is not just what the other person (or political party or nation or ecclesiastical body) must do. It is what we all must do.

    Coming together in repentance enables Christ’s light to shine all the more brightly in this world of darkness. And the world is very dark now. It desperately needs His light.

    Please join me as I repent…

    Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.

  21. Father Stephen,
    Much said, and much to think about in this post and in the comments. Your statement that we as individuals share collectively in our nations sins reminds me of Daniel’s prayer….
    “I set my face unto the Lord God, to seek by prayer and supplications, with fasting, and sackcloth, and ashes: And I prayed unto the Lord my God, and made my confession, and said, O Lord, the great and dreadful God, keeping the covenant and mercy to them that love Him, and to them that keep His commandments;
    “We have sinned, and have committed iniquity, and have done wickedly, and have rebelled, even by departing from Thy precepts and from Thy judgments: Neither have we hearkened unto Thy servants the prophets…To the Lord our God belong mercies and forgivenesses…
    “O Lord, according to all Thy righteousness, I beseech Thee, let Thine anger and Thy fury be turned away…O our God, hear the prayer of Thy servant, and his supplications, and cause Thy face to shine upon Thy sanctuary that is desolate, for the Lord’s sake.
    “O my God, incline Thine ear, and hear; open Thine eyes, and behold our desolations…for we do not present our supplications before Thee for our righteousnesses, but for Thy great mercies.
    “O Lord, hear; O Lord, forgive; O Lord, hearken and do; defer not, for Thine own sake, O my God: for Thy city and Thy people are called by Thy name” (Dan. 9:3-19).

  22. Yes Father, the modern use of the term “scapegoat” bears only a slight resemblance to what was happening on the Day of Atonement. However, Jesus’ self-offering bears little resemblance in its details to the scapegoat of the DofA. Rather, as Peter said in Acts 2, “…YOU executed by nailing him to a cross at the hands of Gentiles.” It was a nasty piece of murder. And that is the demonic aspect aspect of what moderns call “scapegoating”.

    I totally agree with all that wrote in response, especially this which to me sums the reality, in my understanding, of our Great Shepherd’s sacrifice;

    One man can die for the whole, but we cannot kill one man for the whole. Only self-emptying, true kenotic offering in union with Christ, is redemptive and therapeutic.

    Thank you for expanding on public liturgies. You have an excellent point. I’m sure that I was reacting to Christ’ self-giving at the hands of a mob contra to the near-universal Evangelical Circus’s PSA perspective.

  23. Perhaps repentance can begin by eschewing all political/economic ideology of any stripe. They are all lies and do nothing but stir passions promoting disunion and disorder. Great evil is done in my name because of them.

    There are ideologies in the Church as well that create a false sense of virtue.

    We can only repent In Christ.
    Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on me, a sinner.

  24. “Collective sin”??? Hemingway was wrong — we are all islands. If we are just part of an amorphous sinful blob, why have individual confession? Just absolve the whole blob!

  25. This discussion of public litugies for our inherited errors and their traumas seems to assume the existence of a remnant focus of agreement in the public commons. From where I sit it looks like the fresnel lens of post modernism and it’s offspring, multiculturalism, will prevent any agreement from occuring. What agreed narrative is available for such a liturgy to have any impact on our country? (Note: My country is the USA)

  26. To further amplify my concern I should have said, ‘My country is these United States of America.’ This was the common reference used over a century ago for this large country. A common narrative for its history was installed by the force of war. Even the commonality of that narrative has now waned. Now there are even more competing narratives.

  27. J Clivas,
    You’re being reductionistic and not thinking this through. Christ takes on the sins of all. And we share in the sins of all. Our individual confession is both for our healing and towards the healing of all. We cannot act collectively in one sense, but we never act as pure individual in another.

    If you’re thinking about sin and absolution in legal terms, then you’re not even in the conversation.

  28. Deacon James,
    I do not think our nation could have such a public liturgy today – not a very effective one – and certainly by reason of our fragmented culture. Our fragmentation, of course, does not reflect the truth of our existence. It reflects the sin of our existence and our estrangement from the truth of our common being.

  29. I’m very glad that this topic is being discussed here. It has been a lurking irk (to change parts in usage)to me for a long time, especially since becoming Orthodox.

    It highlights a personal struggle for me; to develop a broken and contrite heart. To put it mildly, it goes against my upbringing and my culture.

    It is one thing for a country to try and deal with trauma to seek healing. The D Day Museum comes to mind. It is another much deeper issue to accept culpability in one’s country’a actions, whether current or past and then to seek forgiveness as a citizen of that place.

    The American culture, even in its secular rendition, is at heart Prostestant. To sense connectedness to another’s action is foreign to us. To pursue correction through ongoing repentance is also a strange concept. Both connectedness and repentance are part of the Orthodox ethos. Thank you Father for focusing on a missing part of being Orthodox in America.

  30. Deacon James,
    I think part of the problem is that we think in legal/forensic categories, in which culpability is a primary issue. Christ is culpable of no sin whatsoever, and yet He takes our sins upon Himself. “He made Him to be sin who knew no sin, that we might become the righteousness of Christ.”

    Indeed, the more innocent we are, the better we can bear and pray for the sins of others. But we should never attempt to pray as innocents. To become the “chief of sinners” is the mark of holiness.

  31. J Clivas,
    A natural, initial consequence of approaching closer to God is the abysmal revelation of one’s sinfulness. Whether one’s iniquity is as grave as selling their soul to the devil or as trivial as having given $5 alms when they could have given $10, makes little difference… In the, –still hidden– Light of Christ that starts shining upon the Christian, both sins take on equally cosmic dimensions – it thus becomes clear as crystal to oneself that it is not Adam, or Cain or the Prodigal who introduced the Fall to creation but “myself” and nobody else. Consequently repentance for the ‘whole of Adam’, the entirety of mankind, becomes a natural aspect of one’s personal repentance. It is Grace that perfects and completes this however, taking it much much further through the revelation of the ontological union that only Grace can impart upon a man, making him unable to separate himself from all others, bearing and praying for the sins of all.

  32. J Clivas,
    I was going to say earlier that your comment was a prefect example of adding negativity to the “whole of creation”, of “looking for only garbage in a beautiful garden”… If I was a better woman, I’d stop myself from posting even this comment, but I can’t resist pointing it out, maybe it is the parent in me…

    Thank God for all the “bees” that covered up the stink with the beautiful fragrances of caring enough for you to explain things to you. And blessing the rest of us with their words. (As a treasurer of my parish, I LOVE Dino’s example of giving $5 when one could have given $10… Thank you Dino! I will have to pray about using this idea for inspirational purposes in the pledge request letter that I need to write.. )

  33. I might add that there might also be a certain philosophical/theological misunderstanding in the failure to grasp the true (i.e.: the revealed in Christ) relationship between “the one and the many” that affects our understanding of how personal repentance has a connection to “repentance for all”. This ‘one and the many’ (the general and particular), or the ‘common essence’ (e.g.: of mankind), and the particular person/hypostasis (i.e.: the specific instantiations/incarnations of mankind’s ‘common essence’) are two different qualities (of unity and multiplicity) that can and do subsist in a person without tension and with no pre-eminence of the first over the second.
    We also see this in profound depth in the Maximian notions of “the Logos and logoi”, as well as his “methexis” (participation without loss of identity) which we can experience with all to the measure that we are “in Christ”.

  34. With all the comments on this issue, is it not time that we Orthodox recover in our Divine Liturgy a reading from the Old Testament. Not only Abraham and Sodom, but Samuel and kingship, David and numbering his people, Solomon and forced labor, and prophetic voices from Amos, Hosea, Isaiah, and especially Jeremiah. Are the small sections we do have in our liturgies enough? I do not think so.

  35. Robert,
    Such matters (liturgical changes) do not belong to my purview. However, nothing at all prevents telling, even reading any Biblical story within the homily (I often use them). Liturgical tampering as a means to “fix” or “improve” is really not effective. Preachers have enough license to address any of this. Teach. Teach. Teach.

  36. Father,
    Aren’t these readings part of the Vespers or Vigil service that we are supposed to attend in preparation for the Liturgy the evening before?

  37. Robert,
    As Agata pointed out, if we were to have a good look at all the readings (not just in the Liturgy but also in Vespers, Matins, Hours etc as are done, for instance, in the Holy Mountain where they don’t usually abbreviate services) we do see the Old Testament featuring just as much, in fact it features more than the N.T. The only ‘change’ needed is to go back to the Goldmine of our Holy Tradition…

  38. Dino,

    I cannot resist….. 🙂

    (Father, please delete if you think this is too much… but really, if people would only do what the Church minimally prescribes, they would discover the treasures of this Goldmine… not think about “doing” but actually doing… Last night I heard this wise advice from a completely non-religious source: “Clarity comes from engagement, not thinking”….. )

    Dino says
    March 7, 2015 at 9:59 am
    Finally and once again, we mustn’t forget that, as the insightful convert Fr. Peter Heers explains, from experience, those who seek and come to the Truth do so through God alone; and (deludedly) trying to make any changes to that Tradition that they are led to -through His Grace – in order to make it more “accommodating” for them, contrary to what we imagine, does not help them at all.

  39. One of the pressures in America, is to sort of “suburbanize” the Church, that is, to assume that the normative, unchanging thing, is the suburban lifestyle, with its busy-ness and schedules, etc. That lifestyle is a manifestation of a consumerist culture. When the Church accommodates to this (which is not at all rare), it unintentionally says that the consumerist lifestyle is right and proper and the Church should adapt and change. It’s one thing to change to normative circumstances – genuine cultural matters – language, musical understanding, etc. But it is quite another to embrace and underwrite a lifestyle that is, in fact, in service to the god of Mammon, and a destroyer of souls.

    That’s a larger overview, and could become far too rigid. But the American Church (and elsewhere I’m sure), does not do enough to challenge consumerism. We should preach against it as though it were the devil himself.

  40. THANK you Father for the post and all the Comments. Since I am not yet Orthodox, in a Catechumen Class, and infected with a Similar upbringing as Father Stephen, and further infected with my vocation, lawyer. I struggle mightily with NOT viewing Sin as a “legal concept”. But I do think I can recognize the truth of the Gospel message and the truth of the Post and the Comments already made.
    I was struck by the Post, and my immediate “Western Modern response”, of lets start a Pray “Circle”/”Blog”; on second thought I realized that Abraham did not go down to Sodom and ask to have a revival for all the citizens. He was moved to Pray, which he did.
    Which I was and have been. Maybe GOD moves his hand in our Country and we are flooded with “Light”, maybe we are like the Prophets of the OT praying for our people and Jerusalem before the Babylonians showed up. But all I can hear is PRAY and ASK for MERCY and REPENTANCE and GOD’s GRACE to fall over us.

    shc

  41. Father Stephen:

    Your point is oddly timely. Just today I read an article on divorce by a young Protestant/Evangelical political commentator who was telling about his own immunity from that fate. The writer asked an older man for his opinion, who gave it, much to the displeasure of the writer. The older man proceeded to tell the younger one that he would learn more over time and change his mind, which of course enraged the other even more.

    The whole dialogue made me sad.

    Divorce and the more general sexual brokenness of our society and culture and world is far beyond my understanding, much less my “setting right.” The notion of anyone being immune is absurd.

    Then somehow I remembered your words on repenting for all. It made far more sense than arguing with an essay.

    And tonight I read here about intercession for the sins of a nation, a culture, a world.

    How cool.

  42. Father,
    thank you for this article: I will join .

    Repentance for my country, Finland, needed very much, too….

  43. Thank You Father. There is indeed only the way of repentance (for individualized or in particular for “generalized” sin) or the way of Caiaphas as he contemplated the Jesus problem. I bear in mind the intercessor prayer role of Christ’s “friends” monks who, unfortunately in my land, are often judged as being social dropouts caring for their own salvation.

  44. I am reminded of the story of an American couple touring a rural village somewhere in China. As they were walking along, a thief ran by and stole the woman’s purse, disappearing in the nearby jungle. Almost immediately 4 local men ran after him.

    Within a few minutes they had dragged him back and made him return the purse. The woman was very grateful and expressed her surprise that they would go to all that trouble for her.

    They replied, “We didn’t do it for you. This man has a wife and 3 small children. If we didn’t catch him, the police would. Then he would be sent to prison for years and his young family would probably starve to death. We did it for him, and for them.”

    I realize this story goes beyond repenting for one’s neighbor or nation, but it speaks to me of a community – a common unity – that is almost a foreign concept here in the West. Whenever I see an act like this, I can only stare in awe and wonder – and perhaps the smallest niggling that it has the ring of truth that I should know about but don’t.

  45. The phrase “We don’t apologize for America” is commonly used to shut down any call for national repentance here. Ironically, evangelicals are among the most likely to express that sentiment.

  46. I understand what you are saying, but apologizing and repentance are not the same thing.

    Apologizing tends to be political. Repentance encompasses all that is not in God’s in our hearts.

    There is clearly a lot of that.

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