A Virtuous Man


Virtue is not a common word in our culture. It sounds somewhat “antique.” For some, it has very little meaning, or a meaning far removed from its original. Within the Christian tradition, however, there is a very long history of the study of virtue. Until the Protestant Reformation, thoughts about what was good and what it meant for a person to pursue the good, were almost exclusively thought of in terms of virtue. In recent years, there has been something of a rebirth in the study of virtue, led particularly by theologians such as Stanley Hauerwas and others. I studied under Hauerwas at Duke back in the 80’s. It made a deep impression on me and has ever since marked my understanding of what is meant by a “good person.”

Last Sunday, the reading from St. Luke’s gospel, in the King James translation, had an interesting use of “virtue.” It is from the story of the woman with the issue of blood, who was healed when she secretly touched the robe of Christ as He walked by:

And Jesus said, “Somebody hath touched me: for I perceive that virtue is gone out of me.” (8:46)

Here “virtue” is used to translate the word dynamis, “power.” It captures something of an older, more proper meaning of virtue. Virtue is the “power” of a person to do the right thing in a given circumstance. That power is rooted in “character,” the formation of the personality such that its habits tend towards doing the right thing. In the classical period, this was especially an interest of Aristotle (cf. his Nicomachean Ethics). It passed into popular culture particularly in the thought of the Stoics, a philosophical school that likely had an impact on the shape of early Christian thought. Their burning question was not simply “what is the right thing?” but “what kind of person does the right thing?” and “how does one become that kind of person?”

For Christian thought, the movement towards virtue was easily taken up in the understanding of the Christian life as a constant transformation into the image of Christ, the true incarnation of the virtuous person. Some of the vocabulary of the Stoics became the vocabulary of Christian theology, particularly as it sought to articulate the Christian pursuit of the image of Christ.

This concept has largely been lost in the modern world. We do not think about acquiring virtue, nor do we hold up as models, persons who exemplify virtue. From the point of view of the ethics of virtue, we are a particularly “vicious” society, that is, we are ruled by the “vices.” You cannot base a culture on the manipulation of consumer desires and produce virtuous people. Instead, you produce people who, even when they do the right thing, often do it for the wrong reason and in the wrong way. Almost every consumerist instinct is antithetical to the virtues.

After his election in 1929, President Hoover, speaking to a group of advertisers and public relations men, said: “You have taken over the job of creating desire and have transformed people into constantly moving ‘happiness machines’ – machines which have become the key to economic progress.”

He was articulating something that had come about in that decade, the application of the science of psychology to the formation and management of human desires. Advertising changed from being information-based to desire-based. We have never looked back. After what is now nearly a century of desire-based culture, we have become deeply enslaved by our passions and increasingly alienated from the older cultures of virtue. We not only shop based on our desires, but pray and worship in the same manner. Contemporary Christianity has become alienated from the virtues and champions the management of desires under the guise of “evangelism.” You cannot save people through their passions. They become the prey of demons.

But there are virtuous people among us. I know such a man.

He earns his living with his hands in the manufacturing sector of the economy. He has some education, supplemented by a life of reading. He is married and the father of children now grown. He lives in a modest home. His technology is always a bit out-of-date. He is not without sin, but the larger things in his life have been settled and those failings of note are long ago repented. He’s never held particular positions of leadership, but every leader he’s ever been with has wanted him on his side. If he tells you what he thinks, you can be sure that is his honest opinion.

He believes in God and practices his faith, though people would probably not describe him as pious. On some level, he probably thinks of himself as much less successful than he had meant to be as a young man. He doesn’t actually realize that the economic strictures in his life, having been patiently endured, have made him a virtuous man.

He’s not terribly self-absorbed. He does not often think about what might be wrong with himself or the world around him. If he were your friend, you’d be glad of it.

He is nobody’s hero. If his character were placed in a television show, he would doubtless be a foil for many jokes. His steady predictability makes for very little drama, and perhaps an easy target.

He’s not terribly unusual. I suspect that his numbers are greater than I imagine. His virtue, strangely, almost guarantees that he will go unnoticed. I wish he were a member of my parish.

Aristotle described a virtuous man as “great-souled” (megalopsyche). He made a very careful study of what was required for virtue, and, interestingly, included “luck” as an important component. Christianity eliminated that aspect, but we could put God in its place. We are not born virtuous – it is acquired. Environment, family, school, culture, friends and general circumstances all play their part. Wealth is not required (and, to a large extent, is problematic for acquiring virtue).

Hauerwas describes virtue and character as the result of “practices,” any number of regularly engaged in actions and activities that form and shape us. That my example works with his hands is likely quite important. Were he employed in the money-world, his road would have been far more dangerous. In point of fact, he has worked since he was about 12 years old. The steady practices of the workplace, and the straightforward honesty required by concrete materials, have doubtless been important in the virtue that is now his.

My father began his life of work at age 4. For the son of a sharecropper in South Carolina during the Great Depression, working in the fields was a requirement dictated by necessity. When I think of my father’s virtues, most of them are those that were forged in his work (he was an auto mechanic). Hauerwas’ father, whom he also references, was a brick mason.

Manual labor is not utterly required for virtue, but it is probably more important than many think. There is a reason that the Amish and Mennonites prefer manual labor in their lives. Their religious discipline has taught them that virtue is best formed in that arena. Orthodox monastics have found the same thing to be true.

What we know for certain is that the desire for pleasure is corrupting and destructive of virtue. It is a root of addiction and almost every vice. St. Paul famously said that the “love of money is the root of all evil.” That is true primarily because money is the currency of pleasure. The fathers described our fallen state as a pendulum that moved between pleasure and pain (hedone and odyne). Pleasure, they observed, often begets pain which drives us to seek more pleasure. The wisdom of both the Stoics and the Christian fathers is that only a willingness to endure pain, at some level, is able to nurture virtue. We are not called to love suffering, but to flee suffering can be among the worst choices in life.

The acquisition of virtue in the spiritual life is the fruit of spiritual labor, nurtured by the Spirit. Fasting, prayer, generosity, simplicity, honesty, patience and thanksgiving in all things are not the stuff of happiness machines. They are the stuff of the Kingdom of God, where virtue is revealed in its true glory.










  1. Love this! I have known a few men like your father. Most are humble, hard-working and have old-fashioned values. I really enjoyed this.

  2. Fr. Stephen,
    I was only last night listening to a podcast on suffering by Frederica Mathewes Green. She mentioned that as a society we have been able to lessen suffering in many areas, but are also much less able to cope with it. Those in traditional societies handle suffering much better than we do, because of close familial relationships, because it is expected as a normal part of life and because they simply don’t have modern medicine to ameliorate it. It is accepted. I’m certain that this also plays a part in how virtue is practiced in these societies as suffering is part of the warp and woof of their very existence. Their lives are tempered by it. As the rough hewn hands in your photo reflect hardship they also reflect a simple life, probably much like those of the virtuous man you described.

  3. A very telling quote from President Hoover – thank you so much for sharing that.this whole article really does reflect the ills within our society. It almost seems ironic, but it’s true, that it is not only our pursuit of pleasure that is our downfall, but also, our near desperation to avoid suffering. (Here, I am thinking particularly of euthanasia, suicide and physician-assisted suicide.)

    “We are not called to love suffering, but to flee suffering can be among the worst choices in life.” Very true! I certainly have learned this in my own life of disease and disability. Although I certainly don’t wish such suffering upon others, I do wish everyone could understand that suffering is a great teacher of love – and virtue. May we all be good students.

  4. Fr. Stephen,
    What you have said is so very true. And yet our culture tends to place very little value on physical work. We send out children to universities to ensure they can have jobs that use their minds, but not their bodies. I also work in the corporate world and struggle to find a way to develop virtue, when the whole purpose of my work is to simply generate profits – nothing else. Is there a way out? Lord Have Mercy!

  5. Father, how true this rings. I am reminded of the Lord’s response to the rich young man: Matthew 19:17 “So He said to him, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God. But if you want to enter into life, keep the commandments.” As you say to be good is to be like Him, but then again, that is really what a Disciple is, a person who seeks to be like the Master. We have lost Virtue because most seek the microwave solution to happiness and success. We want our eternal reward NOW.

  6. It seems like there might be an analogy between suffering/virtue and disease/immunity. If a child has been kept in a fairly sterile environment during his early years, he’ll catch everything bug coming and going when kindergarten begins.

    On the other hand, if he has “suffered” through colds and other small ailments beforehand, he will be immune to a number of them (all things being equal). So if we suffer and come out on the other side, the allure of inane pleasures is not so great. We can let them pass without much thought.

    Am I off base?

  7. As always – Thank you Fr. Stephen. You remind us of how much of our lives are centered around earning money; buying things; and trying to find things to make us happy. When all we really need are the basics and each other. God speaks thru you so often – to touch the hearts; pains; needs; and unsaid prayers of your readers.
    You are a real blessing to us, and to all who surround us. I had forgotten how important the moments of reading your blog are to my day. Forgive me, and thank you for your blessing – today and every day. Today I will stop and see the beauty of the moments, and do what I can to make them beautiful for others too. We don’t get to live them again, and your post reminded me of how we spend so much of this gift of life – in the stress filled scramble of the world. We spend time putting off the enjoyment of the moment – to get to a time we think we can stop and look around us.
    I am going to go outside, enjoy the sunshine, fresh air, and peace. The gifts of life, sight, hearing, walking, talking, and sharing with others. So much we take for granted every day, and then the day is gone and will never be back. Putting off things we really want to do, but never seem to take the time for. We need to re-prioritize our lives and take the time for prayers, for family, friends, and enjoying the blessings we already have.

  8. There is a reason the God, when we were expelled from the Garden, gave us the task of earning our bread by sweat and labor. There is a symphonia with our Lord’s suffering in the Garden.

    Manual work, to the extent we can bear it, is perhaps more essential to our salvation than we realize.

    “Labor saving” devices were a big part of the beginning of the consumer culture.

    When one is swinging a hammer, one has to be much more present both to complete the task and avoid injury. There is a rhythm to the work that allows and encourages being. Of course it can become oppressive too especially when it is industrialized.

    Much that is called work these days is not. I think of the opening scenes of Joe vs. the Volcano.

    It would be good Father if you could write more on work and our salvation..

  9. Such an interesting post Fr Stephen. It makes me want to know more about Early Modern English notions of virtues as a set of psychological powers that were properly aligned. The Stoics had a notion of the hegemonikon, or the “leader” in the soul and the soul’s powers being aligned behind the leader when the soul was in proper working order. You rightly point out that our culture is not only overly cerebral and image based, but that manual labor can lead us back to the integration of the soul’s powers. If you want to convince an atheist that Christianity is at is base a way towards better human flourishing, plan and simple, it seems that you could support that assert as you’ve done here. True Christianity is true humanity. Theosis is anthropification, plain and simple.

  10. This goes even further back than Hoover. The start of the Industrial Revolution and the migration of people into cities to work in the factories and the department stores.

  11. Father Stephen,
    This article is so edifying and helpful. You are right the meaning of word ‘virtue’ is elusive to me. After reading your article I went back to my prayer book which has a list of virtues: Humility, Liberality, Chasity, Mildness, Temperance, Happiness and Diligence. To describe these as synonyms of power is greatly illuminating. I’ve learned so much from reading this article and will re-read to help these words sink into my heart.

    I have also experienced a person close in being and temperament to the one you describe here. It would be my grandfather on my dad’s side, a farmer of mostly humble means. Born in the late 1890’s his childhood was the stuff of stories that my dad told us. My grandfather was exceedingly strong (picking apples for the market until his age was in the 90’s) And I am very grateful he lived long enough that we could have a relationship–albeit a fairly quiet one, less in words more of the heart. He had a tendency to avoid the family hubbub when we got all together. He would quietly stay on the periphery of the family activities and quietly chuckle at the grandkids’ shenanigans.

    One time he sat alone in a room when the activity of the family was elsewhere. I sat down beside him and asked him to tell me a story of his childhood, one that stood out for him. The experience he remembered at that moment was spectacle of large herds of turkeys, moving on foot, and shepherded by turkey herders. (I’m not kidding here). They moved slowly in this way to the nearest large market (which was in Philadelphia). I asked him for details, which he gave, but the part that most impressed him as a child was the amount of poop they left behind after they had roosted in a tree overnight. If my own memory serves me, they collected the poop for manure on their farm. He seemed to have a sparkle in his eye when he told me this story and we both had a quiet chuckle.

  12. Isaac,
    Classical Christianity, which existed in England up until the Reformation began its assault, held a very strong virtue-based understanding of morality. Anglicanism, unlike most Protestants, did not entirely jettison the notion. Some of the Caroline Divines maintained it (17th century), but it was opposed by the Puritans who held to a Calvinist sort of voluntarism.

    I recommend Hauerwas as a contemporary writer. There are Catholics who are good on it as well. Orthodoxy is permeated by it.

  13. Father, is there a single book you would recommend on the tradition of the virtues within Christianity? I am familiar with the Aristotelian/philosophical tradition, but to date I have been unable to find a single, concise book on the virtues from a Christian perspective. Thank you in advance.

  14. It seems to me the developmentof a virtuous character through habit can be explain simply by circumstance alone, sans-faith in God.

    A virtuous atheist is wrought in the furnace of his own circumstances. He is naturally of the right temperment; strong willed, and naturally disposed to not become as enslaved by passions as others. Add to that a home and family environmemt that is preferable for engendering virtuous characteristics, and wah-la! A virtuous man!

    All the while, the Christian man down the street is of some of the vilest characteristics due to all the wrong circumstances. He has faith in God, but is discouraged because he cant even seem to make a beginning towards the virtues you’ve mentioned in this blog post. And he prays and prays to God in frustration. Why can’t he achieve what was so easy for the good man down the road who has no affinity for God?

  15. Seems like every single time I comment it goes into moderation. Usually my comments take a full day or two before they show up. Does anyone else have this problem?

  16. Michelle,
    Fr. Stephen told me once not to worry when that happens, that I am not “blacklisted”…. 🙂
    It’s something about the blog software, it also happens when there is a url link included.

    I look forward to your comment when is shows up! 🙂

  17. Dear Father,

    Are the virtues you are describing more outwardly evident? Are these virtues generally visible to others who are interacting and observing the virtuous person?

    I am recently spellbound by some writings of Fr. Zacharias about the main virtues of the Mother of God… He says that the Mother of God had three main virtues (She had ALL THE VIRTUES but primarily): purity, humility and obedience. In our everyday life, these seem either absurd, almost laughable or for sure old fashioned and outdated. Where to even begin living them: to whom be obedient , for example, how to be truly humble?
    And yet these were the virtues for which God has “regarded Her as most worthy and desirable”…. How to be more like that? How to be desirable to Him?

    As I was reading your post, it felt like a beautiful invitation to somebody you know who is not in the Church yet… I hope he accepts your invitation and joins your parish. He will discover amazing riches and blessings. He is in my prayers.

  18. Father Stephen,

    I have read many hundreds of your blog posts over the years I have been exploring Orthodoxy and as I have told you both in person in San Francisco a few years ago and on this blog, has went a long way in bringing me into the Orthodox Church some 21 months ago. But this post simply brought me to the edge of tears. So clear, so concise, a magnum opus of your blog entries, with the weight of a hammer hitting the head of nail wielded by the hand of a master carpenter. Thank you more than I can even muster to express completely. Please forgive my gushing. Lord have mercy!

    Agata, if you don’t mind, please tell us in which book of Father Zacharias is the information is that you reference.

  19. I have known good men, such as you describe, in many generations. Men who genuinely do their best to love God; work hard; help others; and care for their families. They would be the first to say that they felt they fell far short of what God wanted of them, yet they kept trying. Maybe that is what makes them such good men. I am blessed to be married to such a man, and he would be the last to agree that he had such qualities, but he is a good man, and a gifted teacher for our Adult Class at church. His example makes me want to be a better Christian woman too. I, and many others, continually learn from what he shares. He prays a lot, studies a lot, and asks for guidance in what he teaches. Recently he advised me, when I was very upset and hurt over someone being angry at me unfairly, that I needed to go to confession. I was stunned at that, but he explained that if you are having a problem with someone else, then YOU need to go to confession. YOU need to humble yourself and take it to God in confession. He was right. I won’t say I agreed with him at first, but I have learned to pay attention to his guidance in such things. I needed to let go of my own wounded ego, that was reacting to the behavior of someone else, and ask God to forgive me. He also said I should ask that person to forgive me. (Something my ego definitely thought was a bad idea.) He was right though. I trusted him, and did as he advised. I humbled myself and asked forgiveness of someone who had unfairly wronged me. I learned being humble is not being weak, as I once thought, but rather it is having the strength to set aside your own ego/wants/passions to do as God asks of us. I could be at peace again, and pray for the person, no matter what the outcome. Glory to God for all things!

  20. John,
    I don’t remember which book had that specifically, all Fr. Zacharias’ books are wonderful. I heard this most recently in a recording of one of his talks, one I bought at the monastery bookstore. You are welcome to contact me offline and I can send the recordings to you. I shared my gmail here before, hope Father Stephen does not mind if I do it again (agatamcc).

  21. Gregg, one I recently picked up at Eighth Day Books is “The Struggle for Virtue” by Archbishop Avery(Taushev).

    I have not read it yet, but it is on my short list.

  22. Agata, you are spot on that all the virtues are quite difficult but the three: obedience, humility and purity seem most out of reach.

    It is not seemly for a modern man to be obedient to any one else. We are the sole measure of what is right after all. Fr. Stephen has described obedience here in the past as following the commandments to begin with. I know of one time in my life where I was consciously obedient. It brought great blessing and life to me and great struggle as well.

    Humility is always involved in obedience and an absolute prerequisite. The word humility is derived from the same word we use to describe a particular type of dirt: humus. Humus is a fertile type of dirt rich in nutrients. The good soil in which the seeds Jesus sows finds root and grows and produces fruit.

    Purity is virtually impossible in our world. Even the attempt is met with derision not to mention the constant propaganda against it.

    But, how did the Theotokos acquire those virtues? Through ascetic discipline. Which seems to be the point of Archbishop Avery’s book.

    Fasting, praying for one’s enemies, forgiving without being asked. Serving others. Listening to the teaching of the Church and pondering those teachings in our hearts without analysis or critical comparison.

    I do all of these fitfully at best and often not at all. Therefore I am full of corruption. Still, the Lord loves me. I know though cannot understand that reality.

    God is merciful.

  23. Father Stephen,
    On the virtues that the prayer book listed, the virtue list in opposition to particular vices. One of these was envy and the opposite, ‘happiness’, was given. I think another word that would be equally if not more applicable is simply gratitude. In this regard it might be to embracing our cross.

    I just finished reading a transcript of Hauerwas’ lecture on abortion, provided on the ‘lifewatch’ site. This theology he presents in the context of the subject of abortion seems very compelling from the perspective of an infant in the orthodox faith as I am. What struck me in particular (because I hadn’t heard this perspective before) is his take on the importance of the “male issue” in the discussion. The heart of which I believe is close to this article on the Virtuous Man

  24. I apologize for the typos. The virtue list was written as an opposite to the vices one might confess and are those to which we might strive. In this case happiness is listed against envy–to which gratitude might be another word we might use.

  25. I’m writing too many comments, but I just wanted to thank Michael for presenting the relationship between the words of humility and humus. Adding great dimension to the understanding of this virtue.

  26. Dee,
    I am surprised to see “happiness” listed as a virtue, your suggestion that it should be “gratitude” is really nice.

    I think the most true quote I ever read about happiness was:
    “The pursuit of happiness is the source of all unhappiness”.

    [from a Lululemon manifesto :-)]

  27. Michael,
    Thank you, a most beautiful comment.

    “…. Fasting, praying for one’s enemies, forgiving without being asked. Serving others…. ”

    May God help us make a beginning at a couple of those.

  28. Agata,

    I’m sure I’ll run across it. I have all four of his books in my shelves and am down to about 3 chapters have his latest and only have one more to go, Remember Thy First Love the thick green one. Stopped to read the fourth first, guess ’cause it was new and has been an incredible and very profitable read too. The last is most likely be where I’ll find it.

    John Timothy

  29. Agata,
    The prayer book is Antiochian, and possibly a translation of earlier versions. The virtues are mentioned after grievous sins and are stated as opposite of the sins. I think it is always important to look at the context, as Fr Stephen often mentions in the interpretation of the Fathers. Also perhaps we equate pleasure for happiness and they might not be the same. But like you say and as Fr Stephen mentions above, the pursuit of happiness is not going to deliver happiness.

    Also one more point that I think is important, less anyone should read the Hauerwas article I mention above. I think it is better to read the whole article to get the context of the “male issue” he mentions rather than to simply go to that point in the lecture. He has a large overview of the Christian ethos which I think seems closely aligned with the Classical Christian Orthodox view. But again I’m an infant in the faith and have so much to learn and to discern ‘what is Orthodox’.

  30. John Timothy,

    I am sure you will run across it… All his books were originally based on the lectures he did in the US.

    The only reason I offer to share these talks with friends is because I think hearing Father Zacharias’ voice adds a whole new dimension to the depth of what he is teaching. But of course the best thing is being in his presence and hearing him in person…. It’s an indescribable blessing and pure joy.

  31. Michelle,
    Sorry for the delay. I do not understand how the website program puts some general comments into moderation.

    Your observation is spot on. It is, indeed, quite possible for a non-believer to be virtuous (by a certain definition), while a Christian can seem quite vile. As noted, Aristotle was one of the originators of the study of virtue, and this was taken up by the Stoics. Neither, of course, were particularly pious in a Christian manner (pagans, actually).

    There are “natural” virtues and there are “supernatural virtues.” Faith, hope and love are classically seen as the great Christian virtues, possible only by the grace and work of God. But more than this, I think, is what I would describe as “hidden” virtues. The “vile” Christian down the street might very well be possessed of great virtue that is not apparent to anyone else – or even to himself. I think this is often the case.

    I have seen people whose circumstances prevent almost anything noticeable, and yet, hidden within them is a greatness of soul known virtually to God alone. Such virtue will be revealed “in the day of their visitation” (Wisdom 3).

    Likewise, there can be a hidden viciousness (vice) within the heart of a virtuous man that does not appear to others. And for all of us, the “nothingness” of our existence noted by St. Athanasius stands naked before God – which no earthly virtue can cover. But, that being so, the great soul even of a non-believer is not something to despise.

  32. You all amaze me with your comments and insights. Each one enriches the ones before.
    Thank you. I have so much more to learn

  33. We clearly observe this twofold aspect to perhaps all virtues in the tradition of the Church {what you aptly termed ‘natural’ and ‘supernatural’ forms Father}. It’s fascinating. All who have read St Silouan (and his spiritual offspring) surely have come across the notion of, ‘ascetic and divine humility’ for instance, the earthly and the heavenly version of the same virtue. However, I ponder that all other virtue too has a natural level and can be transformed, through God’s uncreated energies (Grace), to supernatural dimensions. For instance, the basic purity discussed above, that nowadays makes you akin to a martyr, is most admirable, yet there’s also an angelic version that imparts complete purity, seeing all as the saints they could be even amidst irresistible sensual provocation, accompanied by Grace that supernaturally envelops the entire body and soul of the bearer. The obedience, likewise, that has learnt to always say ‘yes’ in enthusiastic ministering to all is one thing, but that total ‘yes’, [even unto the Cross] that births Christ in a person and opens their eyes to see God’s hand in all is something quite different. Similarly the humility, of continuous self-effacement and noble, non-judgmental, reverence of all others is one thing, but the ‘humility of Christ’ that makes a person into a cosmic bearer of the sins of all Adam is very different. We only usually start by “dipping the tip of our finger” [Luke 16:24] in the refreshing waters of some authentic virtue to cool our tongue which might be burning (e.g.: from little more than being fiercely self-censored), but God wants to lead us to reap greater and indescribable versions of the virtues we had once sown and ploughed, (like the great saints that confirmed our noble calling to become like Christ and were fully immersed in the Uncreated Light and hardly spoke in their heavenly peace even in the face of slander, mockery, brutality, suffering, or abuse).

  34. In Greek thought happiness meant the quest to live virtuously which is how Jefferson meant it in our Declaration of Independence. The founders all felt that freedom was not real unless one lived a virtuous life based on classical virtues.

    Government should not infringe on man’s God given right to live in virtue or strive for it. Very theoretical and nominal nonetheless. Unlike the Greeks.

    Modernity has turned even that that on its head.

    The prayer book likely means happiness/virtue. That is what I have always taken it to mean.

  35. Father, I think perhaps my late wife was more than a bit like the “vile” Christian you describe. Though by no means truly vile, she was quite brittle and unable to respond with charity in moments of stress. Due in large part to the abusive family she grew up in, but other things as well.

    I, by the grace of God was privileged to see the absolute beauty of her in-most being which came out now and then– especially in the crochet she did and was a genuine master of–including the incredible prayer ropes she made.

    Nevertheless she lived and died in great pain physically, spiritually and emotionally. Every day was a cross for her. When she died, I know by God’s grace, God raised her up and she is in the place of brightness and verdure where all sickness, sorrow and sighing have fled away.

    His mercy is beyond comprehension.

  36. Dino, you always enrich my faith, and my knowledge. Thank you. Dee, Agata, Michelle, you see why I listen to my Husband? I am blessed to be Michael Bauman’s second wife. As a rebellious very Alpha female, God definitely had a plan for both of us. I am as you said, still a baby Orthodox too-6 years. So much more to learn!

  37. Dear All,
    Just a suggestion on a great book on virtues…Passions and Virtues by St Paisios. It’s a true every-other-sentence-gotta-stop-and-digest read.

  38. oops, forgot to add: It is important to remember, too, that St. Paisios, in imitation of that Master Carpenter, was also a carpenter.

  39. Merry your self description as a rebellious very Alpha female, made me smile. Yes we thank God for patient men!!

  40. Eleftheria, Merry, and all,
    Thanks for the book suggestion.

    A continued thought on this. Though the model of acquiring the virtues going all the way back to Aristotle and the Stoics is a merely “natural” model, there’s nothing wrong with natural. It cannot raise us to true theosis, of course, but it is not unimportant.

    If I say that you should be sure to get plenty of exercise, it is naturally true, and you will not stay healthy by ignoring such practices. The same is true of the virtues. When working with the conversion of people to Christ, the natural virtues should not be overlooked.

    The early Church, in its efforts with catechumens, paid attention to what kind of work they did. Certain professions were to be abandoned. The natural virtues were the larger focus of the pre-baptismal efforts – which is why the catechetical sermons tend to emphasize morals. We do not gain morals by “trying” (intellect plus will). We gain morals by acquiring the virtues.

    In my volunteer work with alcoholics and addicts, a great deal of attention is given to simply helping them find proper work when they leave treatment. Sometimes they have to change friendships and many other things. Recovery is deeply tied up with the acquisition of virtue, which is why their 6th Step involves examining character flaws.

    But the natural takes us only so far.

  41. Father,
    Thank you for reassuring us that life of virtue is possible, even if we never move past the “natural” model through our efforts. Without that, without our human element, we cannot expect God to come to our help. Am I understanding this correctly?

    Thank you, you always show us how with God’s Grace, impossible becomes possible, and if we even just try to emulate the Saints, we too could have hope for knowing and loving Christ, of belonging to Him….

    Merry and Michael,
    Thank you for your posts on this blog and sharing your story with us. You are truly an inspiration and a example of a beautiful marriage. It’s so encouraging and heartwarming to know love like yours is possible.

    Thank you for recommending St. Paisios’ book. I went looking on my bookshelves, hoping I had that book already, but I did not. But in another book I found this beautiful quote I’d like to share:

    (since we recently had some discussions on trees…. Father, when you finish that book on “Secret Lives of Trees”, please give us a little review :-))

    “True faith, which inspires good deeds, is like the roots of a tree; the tree clings to these roots and through them receives nourishment from the earth. Hope can be likened to leaves, which adorn the tree and give evidence that the tree is alive and that the roots are not damaged. Love is the fruit of the tree, the whole significance of the root and the leaves. And so, brother, if one has true faith, good works follow, works of love.”

    (from “Reflections of a Humble Heart”, a fifteenth-century text on the spiritual life)

  42. Agata,
    I would not say “without that we cannot expect God to come to our help.” He is helping us always at every moment in everything towards salvation. The “natural” virtues themselves are also sustained by grace, even though we describe them as “natural.” There is no such thing as secular, i.e. no such thing as “natural” that is apart from God.

  43. Father,

    I was talking to my dad about this post the other day. I’m someone who is consumed by vice. I have habitually practiced sinful behavior through negative reinforcement for the last half of my life, and I find myself returning to activities that distract me from the pain and anxiety of responsibility over and over again. My dad mentioned that it was possible for someone like me to simply wake up one day and have my passions and habits re-oriented through the grace of Christ. He said that Christ can miraculously cure one of their vices, just as he might cure one of their physical diseases.

    I got angry in my heart hearing this. I thought, “if he’s right, then why would’t Christ have healed me? Why aren’t my passions re-oriented towards virtue this very instant?” And so in frustration I disagreed with him. I said, “Christ couldn’t just “snap his fingers” and cure you of your bad habits any more than he could snap his fingers and make you love him. Our habits have to change over time, it is a life-long process where we learn to bend our knee to Jesus.” But despite my retort, I left the conversation angry and frustrated, not really buying what I was saying.

    Can Christ work such a miracle? Could he really cure us our vices as he healed a blind man? And if so, then why would he not do so to all who put faith in him—even if it was a small faith?

  44. Agata, thanks be to God! What Merry and I have is a pure gift from God that is an undeserved grace. We are given to each other for the salvation of our souls. What you are seeing is God’s grace.

    Believe me it ain’t us.

    God is merciful.

  45. Personalities are interesting things. I’ve seen (quite rarely) an addiction be removed almost miraculously. But, even then, there’s always lots of work remaining. But we are not easily repaired, at least not over a long haul – in my experience of 36 years in the ministry.

  46. Father, I have long been intrigued by St. Cyprian of Antioch who was a powerful and successful necromancer. He was hired to cast spells on a particular Christian woman to force her to marry a pagan man who desired her.

    St. Cyprian failed because she continued to make the sign of the Cross.

    St. Cyprian realized the errors of his ways, burned all of his dark books, went to the nearest Church (pre-schism), chained himself to the altar and demanded to be baptized. He died a bishop-martyr, but that was years later. I am sure there were many steps along the way in completing the transformation.

    Even St. Paul spent several years in the desert after his encounter on the road to Damascus. The intent and a critical moment can be instantaneous, but the process of salvation usually takes longer.

    Nes, sin of the type you describe (and I share) has become part of your body. It is a physical ascraving. What “success” I have had has been through confession (getting up again and again and again after falling again, again and again), the intercessions of St. Mary of Egypt, the Righteous Joseph and the Holy Mother. A priest in confession once recommended asking for the intercession of Fr. Seraphim Rose of blessed memory. In my laziness I often neglect the daily medicine.

    Fasting seems to help.

    I am not as diligent in asking for aid as I am in feeding the beast.

    Do not expect healing instantaneously. I have found that expectation is a part of the disease, at least for me. Lust, sloth and gluttony are inter-connected.

    Doing your best to maintain a Godly order in your surroundings can, according to a priest who has counselled a number of people afflicted with this disease, help to. Such simple acts as making your bed every morning.

    I will pray for you. Please pray for me as well.

    God is merciful.

  47. Michael,
    the particular Christian woman was Saint Justyna. In icons they are represented together.

    I particularly relate to Saint Cyprian because I know that when he went to chain himself to the altar this was joined by a state of grace. God rewards leaving out a pagan way of living and chosing a totally different option – that of embracing Him.
    I was born an Orthodox but I was truly living like a pagan. I was what Father Stephen calls a secularized Christian, but I didn’t know that. I thought I was the real thing because, unfortunately, the church is full of secularized Christians and I was like them.
    So at a point in life I reached a certain crisis, I wanted something (somebody) very passionately. It was my obsession, I became sick, couldn’t eat, literally at one step from dying.
    I received the advice of reading the Paraklis of Theotokos. I read it with the desperation of a drowning person. I read it once, and again, and again… because I knew the moment I would get up my mind would go crazy again. So I chosed this type of craziness over the other one that I already knew and I was tired of.
    And God, and Theotokos responded. Immediately. Powerfully. Unforgettably.
    This was many years ago and that state of grace is long gone.
    But I know God rewards us everytime we chose Him over the world.

  48. Father Sophrony had an interesting view of this:

    I said, “Christ couldn’t just “snap his fingers” and cure you of your bad habits any more than he could snap his fingers and make you love him. Our habits have to change over time, it is a life-long process where we learn to bend our knee to Jesus.” But despite my retort, I left the conversation angry and frustrated, not really buying what I was saying.

    Can Christ work such a miracle?

    He claimed that God foreknows our response to such a miracle and if it proved more beneficial (i.e.: it produced a greater, permanent humility and gratefulness in the receiver), than the slower version, then He would surely grant it (it must also guarantee at least as much wisdom and lack of criticism of others as the ‘slow healing’ to warrant it)…

  49. Dino,
    I also remember reading in Father Sophrony that if a “spiritual person” (one who was granted such Grace and miraculous healing) falls, returns to their “passions”, it is practically impossible to restore them… That’s scary, it cured me of wishing for such miracles…

  50. A couple of things have been revealed to me this week. I realized, while in prayer, that when I ask God for compassion and mercy, I am asking Him to return to the unjustness of the Cross; to take part in my sin and wickedness and bear it for my salvation. I finally realized how to mourn and cry for my sins. This was reinforced yesterday by my priest’s homily, which focused on compassion.

    I suppose I can wonder why such a thing was not revealed to me before but I tend to think that things, even some things which may be considered “obvious”, are sometimes held from me so I may grow and not just learn.

  51. Thank you all for the kind words. I sometimes wonder what I will say when I start a comment, but the words always seem to come – even if they are not what I thought I would say. lol Michael and I are truly given to each other for our salvation, no doubt about that! lol It is a long, and miraculous story of how it came about – I would gladly share away from the blog. I don’t want to detract from the subject. I trusted God, and I can only say that when HE sets you up with someone – it is beyond amazing. I was a widow with no intention of ever dating again. God had a plan, and He had SO much more for us to do. If we had not entered into the plan and trusted Him totally for the outcome, it is a good possibility neither of us would be alive now. We are in our eighth year of marriage, and still learning every day. Women, don’t give up. Believe that there ARE good Christian men out there. God knows all of them too, so ask Him. Michael often wonders how both his wives came from abusive and molested backgrounds but can be so different. Forgiveness and the determination not to allow one more moment of my life to be controlled by those people who hurt me. It is a choice, and not an easy one. I used to believe if I did not stay angry with someone who had deliberately done something cruel to me, that they “got away with it”. I have since learned that is not the case at all. I was giving them power they did not deserve over me with my anger. Once I was able to forgive, release the anger, and genuinely pray for those who had harmed me – I was free. They no longer had any power over me. Anger is something that we all struggle with, and try to resolve. I try hard to stay positive, and find a positive way to respond to people who try to anger me, or to harm me in some way. Once I give in to the anger, I lose control of the situation and I have let the other person push me too far. I don’t anger easily, but when I do, it is awful. I don’t even like myself when I am that upset.
    When Michael told me to tell someone who had deliberately upset and angered me to forgive me – to ask THEM to forgive ME?? – that did not go over well with me.
    When I humbled myself and did that however, I learned a great lesson. The anger is not worth what it does to US. That is why God calls it a Vice. In asking forgiveness, I was also forgiving myself, and that is often my hardest struggle. Forgiving myself for getting into a situation where I have to forgive someone else. I was 61 when I met and married Michael, so it is never too late. He had a son late in life, and I had three grown children, 8 grandchildren, and now 4 great-grandchildren. Totally NOT each other’s “type”. lol God has a great sense of humor, and so do I.

  52. This discussion of virtue reminded me of a book our men’s book group read a few years ago by Matthew Crawford, “Shop Class as Soulcraft”. Written from a secular philosophical perspective it beautifully describes the pathology of our modern lives most refined in the virtual reality experience. In contrast the author argues that to be human requires a physical ‘hands on’ involvement with our work and livelihood. Our minds our shaped by this experience and function at their fullest when dealing with the physical world. Fasting is very physical. Loving others is a dealing with long before a feeling follows. Worship is singing and kneeling and partaking. By these things our souls are shaped.

    As Father’s post so beautifully put it “he earns his living with his hands”. I should expect to see more blue collars than white in Heaven. Blue is also the color of the Birthgiver of God, our Champion Leader in the life of virtue.

  53. Dearest Merry,
    Since nobody else is commenting on your beautiful words, let me at least say “Thank you” for sharing. You show us how when we turn to God, He makes all things possible, especially love, forgiveness and humility.

  54. I would like to understand in more detail how the Protestant Reformation affected virtue-based morality. The article and comments tie these two together, but I think more is implied than just historical coincidence.

  55. Harold,
    There was a general reaction among Reformers against what were called the “Schoolmen,” meaning Scholasticism. It was thought too removed from Scripture and too dependent on philosophical ideas. Of course, there is no non-philosophical theology no matter how hard we try. There was a tendency to adopt a simple intellect/will understanding of human beings without all of the structure surrounding classical virtue-based accounts. It simplified things and was far more easily adapted to a simplified application of Scripture. The problem is that this structure is too simplistic and reduces many layers to just about one.

    Thus you have notions of will versus grace as if the will were just a straightforward sort of thing. The entire theology of the 5th Council and the teaching on the natural and gnomic will employed in that Council were ignored. Protestant thought, particularly today, is probably the most simplistic form Christianity has ever had – and with that – the most mistaken and the most prone to mistakes. It is inadequate.

  56. Agata,
    Thank you too, for your kindness and comments. The theology gets a bit deep for me in here at times, because I have such a simplistic relationship with God. I came to Jesus as a small child, and in many ways that has never changed. I just found where I feel closest to Him – in the Orthodox Church. Long journey, but I know I am where I belong. He is really Everywhere Present – as in Fr. Stephen’s wonderful book. Michael engages the more in depth theology, and though I have a very high I.Q., I don’t even attempt most of it. As we daily try to cultivate the virtues, and avoid the sins, we must remember the blessing of confession in helping us learn from our journey, and forgive ourselves our mistakes too. Orthodox confession is a wonderful gift to us. I hesitated when I first came to Orthodoxy, because I had been Catholic at a time in the past. I did not like confession, because it seemed so superficial to many I knew at the time. I was uncomfortable with the process, of confessing to a priest and being forgiven by a priest. The Orthodox confession I often describe as being “like going with your big brother, who also gets in trouble, to tell Dad what you have done”. He is there to comfort, protect, and guide you, but you have to tell God himself what you have done. The power of “Go forth with no further cares for this which you have confessed to our Heavenly Father” – was amazing to me. I felt a physical, mental, and emotional lifting of a heavy burden – like it was no longer a part of me – when Fr. Paul said that at my Chrismation. I still feel that when I go to confession. No matter how virtuous we are, or try to be, the fact is we are fallen humans and we are so incredibly blessed with the sacrament of Confession – to lighten the burdens of our sins, and keep us trying to do better. We just need to go more often than we do. Perhaps a good thing for the Nativity Fast.
    Blessings to all.

  57. Agata,
    regarding the strange influence our manifest intent can have – which could be seen as a kind of influence on God’s “foreknowledge of our response” to His gifts of virtue (!) – St Macarius has these things to say:
    A person must push himself if he desires to be pleasing to Christ, so that the Lord, seeing his determination and purpose in forcing himself to all goodness and kindness and humility and charity and prayer with full determination, may give Himself completely to him. The Lord himself eventually comes and dwells in such a person and does all of these things in truth in him without labour and force, (these things which previously he could not perform, even by his own determination, because of the sin that indwelled in him). And in due course all the practice of virtues comes to him as though the virtues are a part of his nature. But if anyone forces himself only to possess [e.g.:] the virtue of prayer, until he receives that gift from God, but does not similarly push himself to all other virtues as far as is within his power, he cannot come to perform them purely and faultlessly. He must orientate himself toward what good he is capable of doing. Sometimes the divine grace comes to him as he is asking and imploring. For God is good and kind and he gives to those who ask him whatever they are seeking. If one does not strive to be good, does not possess the virtues already mentioned and has not even prepared himself for them, he loses the grace which he has acquired and falls because of pride, or he does not make progress nor increase in the grace that came to him because he does not give himself purposefully to the Lord’s commandments. For the dwelling place and the repose of the Spirit is humility, love, and meekness and the other commandments of the Lord. Those who impatiently claim that they cannot stay firm in the Lord if they do not first receive the grace to do this, and that only with grace they can remain unwavering in Christ reveal their lack of a firm ‘faith foundation’. Such do not stay steadfast even if they receive grace, since they do not bare tribulation courageously, not having prepared their selves accordingly. Instead we ought to think that “I must struggle unwaveringly to be in Christ, whether I receive from Him or not, and even if I am given over to the sufferings of Gehenna, I ought to remember my sinfulness and must still, like Job, never let go of my spiritual struggle to be good”. It is such people that inherit the Kingdom righteously.

  58. Interesting factoid:. At the beginning of the Nativity Fast(new calendar) the US marketing conglomerate has declared today: Fast Food Day.

    Lord have mercy.

  59. Dino thank you. Your reference to Job finally clears up a question that has been bugging me for 40 years: Why, when I began my quest to understand what it meant to be a Christian man, did the Lord lead me to start with the Book of Job.

    I had pieces before but this really made an audible “click” and an exclamatory “Oooooh!”

  60. Michael,
    Bean burrito, fresco style, no cheese or red sauce, from Taco Bell, is one of the best fasting meals “on the go”… With God, all things are possible, even perfect fasting Fast Food! LOL 🙂

    Thank you. That’s all I can manage to say… May God give us all patience, humility, love, and meekness to remain unwavering in Christ, under any circumstances, and without any expectations…

  61. Agata, as is the veggie delight chopped salad at Subway, but the juxtaposition if the beginning of the fast with a marketing “day” for the fast food industry struck me as indicative of the consumer culture vs a traditional Christian

  62. Michael,

    Thank you for that recommendation. 🙂

    Of course your point is most valid, the culture of this world knows nothing of fasts, feasts; that our way of eating should be a reflection of our life in Christ.. And does not care about it at all, to start with.

    Such reflection always reminds me of Fr. Tom Hopko’s words, that for those who don’t know God, and that what He asks of us and does for us is for our good and for our salvation, when this understanding is not there, all of it may indeed seem like madness. And it’s crazy for us to expect them to understand… We need to attend to our own souls, and leave the salvation of the world to His Son (that I think was Elder Ephiphanios?)

  63. Dino,
    All I can say is ” Bravo!!” The quote you shared captured the concepts and articulated them perfectly!! This is possible for all of us, and not just Saints. I rejoice at every communion, that Christ truly becomes more a part of me, and I of Him.
    Your post filled me with such overwhelming joy!! Even in the hardest of moments, holding onto Christ and our faith is what makes the difference. It allows us to more than merely survive the bad, but to rise above it and be free – thru faith and forgiveness.
    Giving of ourselves, our resources, and our kindness – those build treasures in Heaven. Trusting God enough to truly forgive and pray for our enemies or those that have, or seek to, harm us. Romans 12 has always held to be true for me. Once I truly forgave and asked God not to hold what that person had done to me against them any longer, then prayed for them and that they would come to God too, I was freed. (This took time and a lot of prayer to be able to do, but it gets easier.)
    The coals were heaped upon that person or persons, and I was free. I went on praying that they would find God though, and prayed for their souls after they died.
    Thank you for posting the quote from St Macarius. I want to know more about him now. SO well said!

  64. Michael Bauman,
    Saint Macarius the Egyptian is truly sublime, especially when he mentions Job in his homilies, he wants us to relate immediately with what is salvific in every “type” within scripture:

    “What is written of Job is not without significance, how Satan desired him. He was not able to do anything of himself, without leave. What does the devil say to the
    Lord ? ” Give him into my hands : surely he will curse Thee to Thy face.” But it is the same Job in every believer to-day, and God is the same, and the devil is the same.
    As long as a man finds the help of God, and is zealous and fervent in grace, Satan desires to tempt him, and says to the Lord, “Because Thou succourest him, and helpest him, he serves Thee : let him go, and deliver him to me, surely he will curse Thee to Thy
    face.” So, as the soul is comforted, grace withdraws, and the soul is gradually delivered to temptations. The devil comes, bringing ten thousand evils, to bear despair, despondency, wicked thoughts afflicting the soul, to loosen it and estrange it from hope of God.

    But the prudent soul, when in miseries and affliction, never despairs, but holds what it holds, and whatever he may bring to bear, it endures amidst ten thousand temptations, saying, ” If I die for it, I will not let Him go.” Then, if the man endures to the end, the Lord begins to argue with Satan, ” Thou seest how many miseries and afflictions
    thou hast brought to bear upon him ; and he has not listened to thee, but serves Me, and fears Me.” Then the evil is ashamed, and has nothing more to say. In Job’s case, if he had known that in spite of falling into temptations Job would persevere and not be worsted, he would never have desired to tempt him, for fear of being ashamed. So it is still with those who endure afflictions and temptations ; Satan is ashamed and sorry, because he has got nowhere by it. The Lord begins to reason with him, “Behold, I gave thee permission ; behold, I suffered thee to tempt him. Wast thou able to do anything ? Did he listen to thee at all ? “…
    …”So when you hear that the Lord in the old days delivered souls from hell and prison and that He descended into hell and performed a glorious deed, do not think that all these events are far from your soul… So the Lord comes into the souls that seek Him, into the depth of the heart’s hell, and there commands death, saying: ‘Release the imprisoned souls which have sought Me and which you hold by force’. And He shatters the heavy stones weighing on the soul, opens graves, raises the true dead from death, brings the imprisoned soul from the dark prison…
    Is it difficult for God to enter death and, even more, into the depth of the heart and to call out dead Adam from there?… If the sun, being created, passes everywhere through windows and doors, even to the caves of lions and the holes of creeping creatures, and comes out without any harm, the more so does God and the Lord of everything enter caves and abodes in which death has settled, and also souls, and, having released Adam from there, [remains] unfettered by death. Similarly, rain coming down from the sky reaches the nethermost parts of the earth, moistens and renews the roots there and gives birth to new shoots”.

  65. RC,
    Depends on what you’re looking for. A very good study of the virtues and the nature of virtue in Orthodox thought is Joseph Woodill’s Fellowship of Life. Also Archbishop Averky’s The Struggle for Virtue: Asceticism in a Modern Secular Society

  66. Dino, I am seeing three levels of virtue each divided in a subset: natural human virtue (virtue common to all human beings and is often attainable in the natural course of life); natural male virtue or female virtue; common Christian virtue; male/female Christian virtue; then there is sanctification or theosis in which the binary differences in humanity become less and less important.

    One is unlikely to jump from the natural human virtues to theosis immediately. But neither is it purely linear.

    The effort and consistency of living a life of natural virtue (like the rich young man) only get us so far. Continued efforts combined with grace are necessary for the second level, while it is only the grace filled souls who have died to themselves and live only in/by Christ who live in the Kingdom.

    Does that sound right?


  67. Harold,

    In line with Father Stephen’s reply, an additional thought – The reformers emphasized the distinction between the natural and supernatural, between humanity and God’s grace. This break between creature/Creator was particularly accentuated with the reformers doctrine of total depravity. The reformers saw the fissure to be on a very deep level of ‘being’ – an ontological break in other words. A result is that attainment of grace (i.e. virtue, salvation) is deemed not a fulfillment of the human being but rather understood to be a fundamental break from human nature. Virtue then becomes foreign to human nature, and its attainment is possible only by denial of one’s nature. This is a radical departure from classical Christianity which understood grace to be a fulfillment of human nature, a completion not contrary to but natural to the human being (and all of creation). Virtue, grace and salvation are then integral to what it means to be a creature, their attainment natural to its creatureliness. The attainment of grace is the very reason for its coming into existence and without grace it would return to nothingness.

    We see then a deep difference over how ‘being’ and nature are understood and function. For pre-modern Christians creaturely ‘being’ was derivative of God, and as such naturally bears the reflection of its Creator. This understanding shifts with the reformers for whom not ‘being’ but the supernatural-in-contrast-to-natural becomes the possibility of grace.

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