Slow Learning

66

Stay in your cell…and your cell will teach you everything. – Sayings of the Desert Fathers

We are an extremely active society with something that approaches a cult of activism. Stated positively, it can be said that America is a “can do” nation. It is a drive that “settled the West,” dug the Panama Canal, spanned the continent with railroads (and highways), and landed men on the moon. We do not sit quietly in our cell.

Of course, not everything in life is a land lightly-populated with natives sitting on wealth, nor is it an isthmus begging to be dug. The vast majority of human problems do not admit easily of solutions. When confronted with the Great Depression, the American approach launched large projects and put people back to work. The massive project of defeating Nazi Germany ended the Great Depression with finality and launched the great consumer economy. When the abiding specter of poverty refused to disappear, we launched the “War on Poverty,” just as, a generation later, we launched the “War on Drugs,” to eliminate the scourge of addiction and crime. Neither has succeeded.

I do not cite these historical markers in order to discuss history, or to judge the past, though my reference to “settling the West” should be read with full irony. My point is to demonstrate a pattern of how our culture thinks about the problems of the world. We “solve” them, or we destroy the world in our effort to solve them.

I think it is possible to speak of the “soul” of a culture, its inner sense of itself and reason for being. How does it judge success? What does it mark as a hero? I would contend that unless we consider that soul, we do not understand a culture nor do individuals within it understand themselves.

Western Europe in the Middle Ages cannot be understood without considering the great cathedrals that dominated its attention. They were long-term projects that often involved the larger part of the community. They represent an abiding focus, an expression of the collective soul. It is little wonder that many in the ages that have followed pondered their absence within the modern soul.

What a gothic cathedral was to the Middle Ages, activity and busy-ness are to us. If you stand back from an American city (perhaps from the height of a plane), the most notable thing you will see is movement. The constant motion of automobiles and trucks are our most significant feature. The average male driver in America logs over 16,000 miles per year. Interestingly, that activity consumes over 380 million gallons of gas per day.

Certain aspects of our culture seem like echoes of the ancient Mayans. They seem to have built cities, complete with a pyramid-dominated religious structure and then abandoned them. Speculation has pondered whether weather or soil exhaustion or some other factor caused this behavior. I have wondered whether they simply liked to build cities. We do the same with shopping districts.

The saying from the desert fathers regarding stability (“stay in your cell”), suggests that our culture lacks a spiritual center. Ceaseless activity can have no center, only a direction. The cult of progress that fascinates the modern mind seems to intimate that the center is somewhere we haven’t reached. Perhaps a few more road trips will get us there.

The greatest weakness within our collective soul is our absence of being. We are a culture of action, but not of being. We easily divorce what someone does from who they are. It is thus easy to see how we consistently have leaders who not only lack virtue, but have clearly demonstrable vices. We forgive them in that we think they can “do” useful things. It is very interesting to live in a culture (a “free” society) in which its “leaders” are among the least trusted.

One classical school of theological ethics focuses on the question of virtue. It asks the question, “How does someone become the kind of person who does good things?” It presumes that character (“the kind of person we are”) is pre-eminent in human life. The saying of the Desert Fathers (“stay in your cell”) belongs to this school. The focus of activity is the cultivation of virtue. This approach understands that the busy-ness of those who lack virtue will not produce virtuous results. It is of a piece with St. James’ statement:

Does a spring send forth fresh water and bitter from the same opening? Can a fig tree, my brethren, bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? No spring yields both salt water and fresh. (3:11-12)

“Staying” does not require that we never move. However, it implies stability, with a concentration on depth of character (virtue) rather than on abundance of action. Without such attention, a busy society becomes a corrupt society and its busy-ness only means that more damage is being done more quickly.

I fear that Christians have had little effect on America, whereas America has had deep and lasting effect on Christians. We are prosperous and busy but with very little depth of soul.

In the early 90’s, when the Cold War ended, I pondered what freedom would mean to the nations of the East. It brought about a deep emptiness within me as I realized that we had almost nothing to offer, apart from unlimited consumerism. Freedom for its own sake is meaningless. As it is, the soul of the East remained more intact than I had imagined.

We cannot become the East (not even those of us who are Orthodox). It might be sufficient, however, if we simply gain our souls. That is a long, slow work, a forging that must be done in the hottest fires and with great patience. We cannot teach what we do not as yet possess.

 

 

48 comments:

  1. Poignant post Father. We have become Human Doings and when we seek to do what is right in our own eyes we create a myriad more problems to solve. We shove all the Wisdom of God into a Sunday sound byte and promptly forget it by the time we reach our cars in the parking lot. I shall have to ponder this more

  2. One of the Fathers said (St Theophan the Recluse, I think), in effect, that we should not seek to do great things, but rather look around from where we are and do what is needful, even if it is a small thing.
    Much of my life I hoped to accomplish a work of significance. That saying made me realize my error.
    Of course, as you said, Fr. Stephen, it’s really about the cultivation of character, virtue, transforming our being, rather than accomplishing things, whether large or small. A lot here to chew on.

  3. Our Antiochian Met. Joseph celebrated the Divine Liturgy in my home parish this past Sunday. He gave an interesting homily that among other things admonished us to not worry about the length of the service. Those worries were for the world and part of the world but here we are on divine time.

    His celebration of the Liturgy was in much the same tone, neither hurried nor slow, neither did he seem concerned about mistakes that occurred. It was a some what new experience for me. Refreshing.

    Father you post reminds me of the writings of Wendall Berry and of many things my parents taught me that are so easy to forget. Plus the last section of Faulkner’s “The Sound and the Fury. In God’s time everything fits and is in order.

    Thank you for the reminder.

  4. Another amazingly timely post, Fr., as I return from “the East” and prepare to readjust to American culture. Not that I have ever completely adjusted to this country (Jordan). And I’m sure I haven’t digged deep enough to uncover its “soul.” But the constant reminder that adapting to the culture and all the things that I have done and left undone have no value unless I use it all to seek Christ and learn to love others.
    When I was Chrismated, the bishop (Greek Orthodox) said that becoming Orthodox doesn’t mean that I have to become Greek. And every time I leave the country I am reminded of just *how* American I am. Thank God we don’t have to become “Eastern”, but can transform our own culture and our own selves from within!

  5. Thank you, Father.

    This post reminded me of Guenon’s writings. But more refreshing and warm than pure and cold criticism of the modern world.

    Traditionalists seems comfortable with the thought that if there’s something sick about the modern world, they’re part of the solution and not of the problem. Poor deluded folks…

  6. Excellent post, Father. I have lived near Bethlehem in the Holy Land for seven and a half years in the Christian village of Beit Jala with my wife and her Palestinian family. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from all of it, it has been exactly the quote from the Desert Fathers: “Stay in your cell.” It’s not supposed to be easy, constantly stimulating or immediately rewarding.

  7. Caio, interesting to hear you mention Traditionalists here. I was also reading their writings– Guenon’s severe but entirely abstract emphasis on contemplation and transcendence, Schuon’s scattershot syncretism. At one point I tried to pick apart Schuon’s essay on theodicy, and I realized the only solution he had come up with was, “it is better to have a theodicy than not to have one.”

    I realized I had a problem then and there, but it took me many years to find Orthodoxy. And now it’s time for me to contemplate the joys of having a cell to retreat to…

  8. It is interesting to ponder the “monuments” of a culture: the temples of Greece, the Pyramids of Egypt, etc. The great cathedrals of W. Europe are defining projects of that time. When I look around at my culture, the only significant buildings I see (with a bit of an attempt at beauty) are banks. The great public projects are sports stadiums. The Catholics in the nearby city are building a 25 million dollar cathedral, with decent traditional lines…and are being criticized by some. Nobody looks at an extravagant bank or a sports stadium and says, “It could have been spent on the poor…”

    Our culture is mostly an example of deep fragmentation, with little other than money and entertainment as a shared experience.

    Of course, that means there’s not a lot of competition out there for living a serious life. Nothing prevents Christians from depth of soul other than distraction. It’s important that we learn how to live.

  9. I’m traveling and don’t have access to my copy of Andrew Louth’s Discerning the Mystery.

    I recall him differentiating between problems and mysteries. Problems are things in our way and are to be solved; they lend themselves to the scientific method. Mysteries, on the other hand, do not lend themselves to the scientific method; rather, they are something in which we participate.

    One’s cell, I think, is for participating in mystery.

  10. “In the early 90’s, when the Cold War ended, I pondered what freedom would mean to the nations of the East. It brought about a deep emptiness within me as I realized that we had almost nothing to offer, apart from unlimited consumerism.”

    This quote brought me back to a poignant memory. I was living in Germany for a little over a year, this was few years after the Berlin Wall fell and the Germans began their reunification.

    One of the saddest things to witness – after the fall of the wall is that the East Germans would prefer to buy West German milk and other every day staples – rather their own home grown milk – feeling theirs was somehow inferior.

    It was the strangest saddest thing to witness. Many businesses came in to the east to set up shop and peddle their wares, when what was needed was the healing of a people.

    I think your assessment was spot on, Fr Stephen.

  11. Fr. Stephen

    Excellent post. It sparked many thoughts for me.

    “I fear that Christians have had little effect on America, whereas America has had deep and lasting effect on Christians. We are prosperous and busy but with very little depth of soul.”

    I wanted to note here that we are prosperous. “Where your heart is, your treasure will be also.” And prospering at depth of soul, as you and MikeB point out, cannot be approached in the same way. We come at everything as a problem to be solved, when many things are a mystery to be participated in by “staying in your cell”.

    William Gall

    I think the St. Theophan quote you may be looking for is one of my favorites:

    “All troubles come from a mental outlook that is too broad. It is better to humbly cast your eyes down toward your feet, and to figure out which step to take where. This is the truest path.”

  12. Another outstanding post Father! Thank you.

    This line in particular is pure gold:
    “I fear that Christians have had little effect on America, whereas America has had deep and lasting effect on Christians. We are prosperous and busy but with very little depth of soul.” I can’t remember who said it, but I’ve heard it put this way by one commentator: “Christianity encountered American culture……and American culture won.”

  13. Alan, that is a sad commentary on American Culture. Ever since the end of WW II we have become a culture focused on self an consumerism. Western Christianity has fared the worst against this as it is oriented toward self. Orthodoxy has fared a bit better but as many of our adherents are converts from Western Christianity, we have the seed of that corruption in us and it is hard work and takes determined effort to break away from that influence. How tough it is to stay focused, for instance, on Nativity when we are bombarded with Santa Claus and the pressure to buy from retailers and the media. I am afraid that commentary rings very true

  14. Father,

    How incredibly accurate is this reality you depict in the post…! We cannot even suspect – let alone hear – God’s voice whispering in our hearts, except if we stay in our “cell” (rather than remaining scattered outside of it).

  15. Nicholas Stephen Griswold, Great point about Nativity. FYI….I always look forward to your comments on this blog! Thank you!

  16. As always, thank you Father!

    The implications and inner recognition of the truth in this phrase;

    “Ceaseless activity can have no center, only a direction. ”

    This may become one of my new mantras to break through the “little thoughts” that snowball into sin.

    God bless and thank you again for sharing your gifts with us.

  17. Ditto – on the comments on “the Soul of the East” website. I really enjoy Jay’s comments too. I think, too that we can indeed speak of the soul of a culture. The Church is a culture unto itself and had a distinct culture, ethos and I dare say language. Much as St Silouan’s writings effectively gave us a language to even communicate the spiritual life, as are the many words we use to express precise (not general) theology in the Church.

    As an example, I was watching one of Jay’s videos online last night and he went into much. One point was on the Catholic understanding on the beatific vision. No distinction was ever drawn in the west on the difference between the essence and energies of God. God became something quite different and separated from his creation. This extended to a desacramentalization of all of creation. The beatific vision consequently was a peering into the ‘essence of God’ but not as an ‘active participation’ the way the east has always understood it (because of the distinction that is so clear in the east). The consequence of this is far reaching. Spirituality becomes something we do, only ‘validated’ by the feelings it produces. What is missing?

    Creation is not desacramentalized; what a tragic loss!! Orthodox spirituality is the experience of this multiple dimension (the breadth, length, depth, height (Eph 3:18), in all its ecclesiological and eschatological fullness. If we understood our place in creation, in the kingdom, in the Church, our real connection to the saints, our incarnational mode of existence would become more clear and this (not beatific) vision would open up to us these dimensions more assuredly. We wouldn’t be seeking a feeling (and being validated by that feeling, subtly speaking, this is a great error) We would simply be instead; connected to the source of all living and to the living and the ‘dead.’

    Father, I would encourage you to continue to introduce theological words (with care of course) in your essays. These words e.g., theosis, hypostatic union, nepsis, noetic, ontological, eschatological, apocalypse (the way we understand it) etc.,

    The Church is a great treasure. It is the source (pillar and ground) of the truth. Let us treasure the treasure.

  18. The culture and cultivation of the soul, through tears of purification – and not through inappropriate rushing towards illumination before its time – ought to be the real and fitting soul of any culture.
    It must be stated that it is our spiritual negligence however, in all its diversity,
    (a mortal abuse of our freedom – regardless of its seeming, and frequently branded ‘involuntariness’) which leads us away into scattered distraction and eternal perdition, while we continue to justify our pathways, our contexts, our circumstances, excusing the inescapability of our choices – tacitly blaming God’s providence in our delusions. We might often ‘mean well’, yet we stereotypically incapacitate our vital self-knowledge and repentance from our continuing fall away from God (the one thing needful) –all in the name of ‘general interest’ or loving concern for all. The bitter truth is that we crave to eat more and more from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, (both in obvious sin and in seeming virtue) forgetting that what we need is to escape this deathly futility and partake of the tree of Life. I often think that this ceaseless activity and distaste for stillness that results from this predicament of ours, is [curiously] only cured to the degree that we bring our own death before our eyes, bracing that oddly beneficial remembrance.

  19. Stillness, quiet, humility all lead to repentance and I dare not go there or my tears would flow like Nile.

    Rather I substitute entertainment, arrogant opinion and entitled anger full of scorn for my fellow creatures.

    Woe is me.

    I can only hope in God’s mercy, patience and unfathomable love.

  20. Michael, the question you must ask yourself is which is more painful, the process of repentance or the consequences of failing to repent? When you know in your heart the answer, you will be empowered to begin.

  21. Dino,

    To your points an emphatic yes. To draw further from St Silouan’s life, (which I hadn’t made clear but only alluded to) he made great use of his own experience as Adam’s lament (he, seeing himself and all mankind as Adam {in a primordial sense – this is shared by all} at the expulsion from the garden. Interestingly this is after eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (which you eloquently alluded to) – and this is simultaneously the start of our Lenten journey.

    At Christ’s coming (as the second or last Adam that is) he is not vanished in the garden (of Gethsemane). Both settings are in ‘the garden.’ (Along with the interconnectivity of primordial Adam, second or last Adam) Man’s response in either case is abject failure. Herein lays the key. At the end of the Lenten journey we come to Christ as Lazarus and we stink. In Holy Week we are the bride with a filthy wedding garment. Moralisms don’t fit the model in any way. This is who and what we are!! What do the saints tell us? Are they aware of their illumination? Of their purity? Their experience is being stripped before God bare. They are vulnerable.

    As in confession, where we ‘bare a little shame’ as Father has stated many times. In the Kingdom we can be vulnerable because we have a God that loves us. We aren’t authentic until we’re vulnerable. We aren’t vulnerable until we have faith; a faith that begins to see, not ourselves, but our proper place; a place we were born for.

    This is the place of the saints. This is the experience of the saints. Stand before God vulnerable.

    P.S The Church is the gift of Christ – The Divine Condensation, where symbiotic reciprocity is the only ‘law.’ We are safe here. Be courageous.

    .

  22. I dare say that Michael speaks to all of us sinners, holding up a mirror to the truth of our state of being. Certainly we want to repent and yet in the darkness of my heart I can also see my own broken will. God grant our hearts peace that we might be still long enough to look to Christ.

  23. Father Stephen –
    Thank you for your profiund post!!
    Regarding Brianchaninov’s reference to Jay’s website – I checked this out and it seemed to reflect a hardened “orthodox brand of fundamentalism” similar to the evangelical mindset. Respectfully, I did not find it helpful.

  24. David,
    I haven’t, myself, come across Jay being ‘fundamentalist’ in any way from what I have read/heard, his philosophical grounding seems robust (and careful enough to avoid non-traditional non-Orthodox speculations – something admirable).
    He does seem to continuously, vehemently challenge the contemporary “mono-culture” and its prepackaged, global worldview from various angles (philosophical, historical, geopolitical, economic etc), especially its ‘scientistic’ tendencies, and that’s all…
    We all have to walk a tight-rope.

  25. To all those commenting on Jay’s website,
    Curious to find out what that website was all about, I began reading there, and I haven’t stopped since. Years ago a friend introduced me to the Illuminate. For a long time I read about it all…called by many “the conspiracy theory”…I linked up with those online who lived by this. The thing is, it was a conspiracy theory based on the western worldview. (And I was in the Protestant church back then, too) There came a time I became completely bogged down with it all and had to walk away from it. The negativity was too much. Yet I knew there was much truth to what I was reading. Anyway, when I began reading at Jay’s website, I thought, wow, here it is again! But I tell you, now having embraced Orthodoxy and reading “the conspiracy” stuff from an Orthodox worldview is, to say the least, a refreshing change. It’s hard stuff to swallow…but I’m learning real fast (the little that I know) that reality, stark reality, is also hard to swallow. The more you try to ignore that fact, the worse you suffer.
    How to balance these truths is a struggle in itself. If I didn’t have faith in our Lord and Savior, I’d have lost it a long time ago. As it is, many, many days I feel as if I’m hanging on a thread….and may that thread be the scarlet one…in His mercy. And love. And longsuffering….
    I appreciate all these posts. Thanks….

  26. David, Dino, et al
    I do not read Jay’s stuff except occasionally. Oddly, I don’t spend much time in the blogosphere apart from this blog. 🙂 However, if I could offer any observation, it would be that Jay doesn’t seem fundamentalist, but, perhaps a bit reductionist. History is extremely complex, with very, very few straight lines. When Fr. Georges Florovsky wrote about the fathers, for example, he spoke of a “neo-patristic synthesis.” “Synthesis” recognized that you cannot really say “the Fathers say…” without tons of internal contradictions. There needs to be a way to read them and appropriate them that gathers them up in a useful way. Romanides, one of Florovsky’s students, for example, tended to move past a “synthesis” and to almost develop a sort of ideology through which to read everything, and leads, I think to excess, bordering on error (which is why he continues to be controversial at times). His champions are often even more given to this sort of thing.

    We cannot draw straight lines from Augustine or Aquinas to the present, nor even, from Ockham to the present (my own favorite hobby horse). Analyses that reduce things to straight lines create a false presentation of history and even the simplistic notion that “if only we could correct this…”

    The average modern person is a mass of contradictions. They are nominalists, but not entirely so. That have a little Aquinas, a little Augustine, probably a bit of Far Eastern stuff, and a dose of Star Wars. The average Catholic is probably shot through with tons of Protestant ideas and, occasionally, vice versa. The Orthodox I encounter are often themselves marked by contradictions, especially today when anybody who can create a website is a patristics scholar.

    For example, there’s probably little more than a handful of scholars who can actually interpret and discourse on St. Maximus the Confessor, particularly to be aware of his various sources and influences, much less his own contradictions. But that doesn’t keep him from being thrown around with authority for this and that.

    History certainly has the shape of a conspiracy theory, depending on how you read it. Most, I think, is quite unintentional on the part of most human beings, while being quite intentional on the part of our adversary. But our adversary’s method is simply grounded in anything that distorts or derails the truth. If it starts to work, then he goes with it. If it stops working, he does something else. I do not think there is a long-line in his arsenal apart from his opposition to God and the goodness of all creation.

    The human beings who are doubtless conspiring today, are doing so for money and power. Like the enemy, I don’t think they’re committed to any real philosophy – only what works for their greedy, avaricious ends. For example, I think they are pro-abortion, pro-gender-bending, protranshumanism, not because they have any philosophical irons in the fire. It is simply handy and useful for exploiting towards their ends.

    The difficulty in wrestling with evil is that it seems to have chaos and disorder on its side, while we only have God. Only the true and living God and the fullness of the faith are effective at anything.

    I’ve read some good articles on Jay’s site. And some things that I thought were too reductionist. But, I could say the same of my own work.

  27. Thank you for this comment, Father, all of it.
    Truthfully, I have come to the conclusion that I read too much…but I keep on anyway. So I get what you’re saying “The average modern person is a mass of contradictions.” I see that in myself in my struggles. I suppose it is best to take what we read with a grain of salt. And to take a break and smell the roses.
    Lord have mercy!

  28. I appreciate, [and think I speak for most people here in this], your thoughtful comment on the matter Father, it plugs quite a few holes!

  29. I too appreciate the discussion re: conspiracy theory and the like. I’ve been greatly disturbed myself by reading up on much of it.

    The discussion does, however, make me wonder if there is a connection between this and the ‘powerful delusion’ written of in 2 Thessalonians 2. If so, then I suppose the comfort is that it is God who sends it, as it were – to judge those of us who delight in lies in order that we might seek and find Him in His mercy. Though of course Lucifer is the active agent who, as at the Cross, does God’s will in spite of it all. Evil will always ultimately serve the purpose of the Creative Good.

    But perhaps this too is a bit reductionist?? The mysteries of iniquity and salvation…

  30. C.S. Lewis once wrote that Satan doesn’t care which side of the horse we fall from, just so we fall… re: anything that distorts or derails the truth.

  31. Great. I use that canon as well as part of preparation for receiving the Holy Mysteries. It puts me in the right place spiritually.

  32. Every culture has within it and is sustained by a tradition. Both culture and tradition have a common language that supports both its culture and tradition(s). What makes all of these things cohesive and effective are its institutions. I will completely agree that Jay doesn’t seem at all fundamentalist. He does, however, present some challenges. Reducing things to simple lines (Ockham’s razor) is an error in how to process the things we are talking about. (He may do some of these things in error or he may do these things for the sake of time and to not ‘talk over the heads’ of his audience, who knows?)

    What the website does effectively is to have the guts and the courage (yes, this is courageous) to engage his audience through paradigms that may not be at all predictable through typical Orthodox lenses. Any draw toward conspiracy theory found on the website would be altogether misguided. What he does point to is that our culture, traditions and institutions and its inherent strengths (?) have become greatly diluted. (Modernity, anyone?)….and what undergirded these things is a common language – and this is now diffused on every front. We are a people at the foot of Babel. It’s a simple message.

    We scarcely know how all this has occurred. Yet, it has occurred and continues to do so. He is a challenge to read to be sure, but what he is not is a conspiracy theorist. Though some of the prisms by which things are considered may look different on the surface, his attacks on modernity are keen. In the end, if every argument is keen and ‘insightful’ but does not draw us to the chalice, divine contemplation (theoria) and rest we operate in delusion.

    So, if the website does not bring you peace that’s one thing (ignore it then). If you can ‘walk that tightrope’ well, that is something different altogether… 🙂

    In the kingdom things are simple and peaceful, never eliciting fear… that should be our measure.
    .

  33. Pete, Thank you for your last paragraph. It reminded me of Hick’s painting, The Peaceable Kingdom. Wish I knew how to insert it here…don’t have a computer, just this phone! 🙂

  34. Pete,
    How true that we have become people at the foot of Babel. However, the way the godless world desires to ‘ascend that tower of knowledge’, it is providentially better that there’s confusion rather than a single language –to follow that Babelic image. A ‘unified theory of everything’ will constantly escape the godless and –reductionist though it may seem – will undergird the outlook of a believer.

    I do enjoy that, in the science-related discussions Jay hosts, [which, despite the habitual mockery of their non-adherents, can span from an end of the scientific spectrum including holographic universes and multiverses, to a diametrically opposed end such as (brave) Robert Sungenis’ Geocentric Cosmology – and everything in between – demonstrating true Babelic qualities in their diversity], what Jay seems to remind us commendably is that there is a far greater amount of unexamined ‘beliefs’ and paradigm-setting presuppositions adopted by those who do not admit or suspect this, than by those that admit to ‘belief’.

  35. Dino, of course there are immense areas of unexamined assumptions in those without traditional belief. We are incapable of living without some sort of belief. We do not live by bread alone whether we acknowledge it or not.

  36. I have never forgotten a line in one of Corrie Tenboom’s books.
    “If the devil can’t make you bad he makes you busy.” I kept hearing her as I read through this essay.

    And then I remembered that she spent a lot of time in a cell: a prison cell.

  37. Had a history teacher who, commenting on conspiracy theories, said they are easy to assume almost impossible to prove.

    Chuck Colson remarked that real conspiracies never stay secret long as he found out in the White House.

    None of that means there are not groups of powerful people who work together to make life bad for us.

    I am convinced that Satan works to convince us that all is lost and there is no hope. God is dead.

    God is not a fairy that depends on our belief to exist. We are dependent on Him. Thus we can have hope

  38. Michael,

    I sometimes do think that the ‘opening of our eyes’ [in the sinister manner portrayed in the 3rd chapter of Genesis] is advancing to such levels that with every new generation that comes into a world that is unaware that it is incessantly progressing into more and more delusion, things might be even worse than many conspiracy theories suggest. The famous prophecy of Abba Ischyrion from the saying of the desert Fathers regarding the increasing temptations that will befall Christians with every new generation – making the last ones (who will merely “keep the faith”) greater than the first ones (who had inconceivably great and obvious “works” to show) – portrays this pithily. However, we must always remember that God is at the wheel and our lives are quite short to take on the cosmic worry for all future as a thought that is not potentially harmless. On the other hand, we see how the “accepted worldview”, that ‘Matrix’ in which we are all profoundly indoctrinated, is possibly far more sinister and deep reaching than we might at first imagine. It leaves nothing untouched. But then again, if we could be inwardly focused enough to behold our own personal sinfulness, all else would pale into insignificance and a peculiar passionlessness would arise out of this.

  39. Michael,

    I think what Dino is speaking to is the arrogance and naiveté that runs through everyone of those without faith. What they simply do not see and simultaneously what they all possess is to never question their presuppositions. This point has nothing to do with how we see them or even how they see themselves, because they simply do not see themselves.

    If one can’t even do that, how can one call into question the state of things as one sees them? The consistent thing in all of this is arrogance. It’s a sickness for which the remedy offered cannot be perceived. It’s a closed loop without exit, because it’s a self-contained model.

  40. Lina,

    Thank you for your recent comments. The one on this thread was particularly timely for me:
    ““If the devil can’t make you bad he makes you busy.”

    Wow, that put the busyness of life in a new light for me! I also really liked your “history = His Story” comment. I wanted to say that it reminded me of reading in the Fathers that the whole world was created for the Mother of God (who herself was the “Fullness of Time” that came), so that God could be incarnate in Her…. It’s His Story, for Him, and by Him… We are just His guests, most of the time unaware, unappreciative, ungrateful, self-centered and full of ourselves, as Father, Pete, Dino and Michael are pointing out.

    I too appreciated the introduction to the Soul of the East web site. I liked reading Dino’s summary of the range of articles and subjects. I happened to read just one article on “Martyrium”. Since the first sentence had my birthday in it, I was drawn to reading the whole story. 🙂
    Reading something like that really puts our life and our problems into proper perspective….

    Pete, I too loved your words:

    “In the kingdom things are simple and peaceful, never eliciting fear… that should be our measure.”

    They reminded me of this beautiful sermon by Fr. Meletios Webber, which he delivered a few days after the election day in 2008. This should help all of us in the US, depressed and feeling hopeless because of the upcoming Tuesday, to regain our proper perspective….

    https://www.ancientfaith.com/specials/oca15aac/vespers_sermon

    P.S. Happy Birthday (very soon) Father Stephen! God Grant you many Years!!

  41. Michael,

    I often reflect that the ominous ‘opening of man’s eyes’ (in the fashion depicted in Genesis 3) is incessantly advancing to depths of delusion that every new generation coming into this world is oblivious of, so things might be even worse than many conspiracy theories suggest. The eminent foretelling of Father Ischyrion (from the saying of the desert Fathers) about the cumulative temptations that will confront Christians with every new generation – making the last ones (who will only just “keep their faith”) superior than the first ones (who had prodigious and palpable ascetic “works”) – portrays this acutely. However, we must always retain that God is at the wheel. We ought to also remind ourselves that our lives are too short to entertain a universal worry for the future as a thought without potential harm. On the other hand, we see how the “served worldview”, like the Matrix film, has us profoundly brainwashed, in far more deep reaching ways than we might suspect. It leaves nothing of ours unscathed, nothing at all. But then again, if we could be inwardly attentive enough to behold our own sinfulness while struggling to remain in Christ, all else would pale into inconsequentiality and peace of mind and heart would result from this.
    But our self-preoccupied departure from God [i.e.: spiritual death] effortlessly enters us (without us even supposing any voluntariness towards this while we are yielding to it). We, therefore, must fervently never prioritise anything over our unceasing quest for closer union with Christ; no matter how much our head’s short-term desire and knowledge begs to take over in independence, our deepest heart’s long-term desire and wisdom is God-ward-ness. Any problem I might face has been already solved in Him. May I simply surrender more fully to Him and then the solution emerges like the sun that reveals all things I previously disregarded in the dark place I have been and makes my walk become poised again.
    I might have a headache, or fatigue; I might have unanswerable questions of any sort, political, historical, cosmological or existential; I might be worried about myself or others or the future; I might be traumatised or enslaved internally or externally; I or someone I care for might simply have a professional interview to prepare for, or I might be on my very death-bed preparing for the greatest transition of my being… No matter what the problem I have before me, the answer remains the same: I can do nothing unless I abide in Christ and Christ abides in me. The one thing needful is for the branch to remain on the true Vine in order to bear fruit. My closer union to Him will somehow reveal that the solution is already there for me to partake of it.

  42. Very helpful comments here. I appreciate all of them. There are impressions inside myself that I can not aptly express, some are vague, or incomplete (i.e. I know that something is just not right, but don’t know what it is) but they’re there and I search for some kind of reasonable answer. An eye towards God, yes, but it does not keep me from asking ‘why’. He knows exactly what it is that I can not express and what I need. In the meantime, many of these comments have helped to clarify things.
    We all have our own impressions, for various reasons….I find that the more I learn the bigger the challenge. In that respect, I can understand when St. Paul says “I die daily”. That is, to God, His Cross (our cross), His death (our death), His resurrection (our resurrection). How to continually do this in real life, after 62 years of living in this world, is most challenging. It is indeed a work in progress. We’re all at different places in our journey, so to speak. We learn much, if we allow, from those who have trod that path. Yet even with that, we must use discernment. Many questions go unanswered. In the final analysis, rather, throughout the analysis, our trust is to the One who knows all. It must be that way, or else we remain dead in our own selves.
    Anyway, again, in appreciation I say thank you.

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