The Communion of Friends

lonely

You meet someone and like them. You slowly get to know them. Conversation and sharing, listening and learning, a picture or a reality begin to emerge. You think about them when they’re away. You’re aware that you matter to them as well. The thought of anything hurting them is painful. This is friendship.

We easily reduce friendship to a set of shared emotions. Why we like someone else, we can imagine, rests on a complex set of experiences, hopes, fears, and emotions. But then someone asks this question: “Is there anything between you?”

On the surface the question is innocent. It could mean nothing more than a curiosity about shared emotions? Are you going to declare a relationship on Facebook? But, taken another way, the question is much more puzzling. Is a relationship anything more than a psychological phenomenon? Are we, in fact, utterly separate in our existence, with nothing more than the experience of our own minds? What if someone said of your friendship, “It’s all in your head?”

You feel very close to this person. The friendship has now lasted several years and has been very consistent. One day, speaking to someone else, you describe the thoughts of your friend. However, your description is scrutinized: “How can you possibly know what’s going on in someone else’s mind?” You cannot think of how to answer the question, but you believe your description and your experience are true and correct.

In theory, our modern culture believes that relationships with other people are merely psychological phenomena – they are all in our head. There is occasional research to try and establish some notion of extra-psychological relationship (such as ESP), but even that is largely an extension of psychology. But there is an entire realm of human experience that such a belief ignores. And it is an experience that lies at the very heart of classical Christianity.

This experience is found in the concept of communion. It refers to a true participation and sharing in the life and actual existence of another. It is not a label for a set of feelings nor a synonym for being close with someone. It is a term that truly means what it says. The Greek is koinonia, a state of “commonality.”

The Orthodox faith teaches that we are saved by communion – in particular with Christ. When a person is being baptized they are asked three times by the priest: “Do you unite yourself to Christ?” According to St. Paul, we are then baptized “into the death” of Christ and raised in the likeness of His resurrection. That is salvation. Christ’s death becomes my death and my death becomes His death. Christ’s resurrection becomes my resurrection, etc. Every sacrament of the Church is about union with Christ, or union with another human being (marriage). It is predicated on the possibility of true communion and participation.

The claim that this is true and possible distinguishes Orthodox Christianity from virtually every form of contemporary Christian believing. It is the foundation of the sacramental world of the Church. When we eat Christ’s Body and drink His Blood in the Holy Eucharist, we believe that there is a true sharing, a real communion:

Whosoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in Me and I in him. (Jn 6:56)

Living in such a manner that this communion is made manifest in our lives is the entire purpose of the Orthodox Christian life.

Communion, if you will, is one of the most fundamental elements of Christian grammar. It makes sense of many things, and many things discussed in Christian teaching only make sense in its context. Wherever communion is ignored as a reality, Christianity is deformed and distorted into a caricature of its true nature.

In the Apostles’ Creed, a confession of faith found in a number of Western Churches, the phrase “the communion of saints” is offered as an element of belief, on a par with the forgiveness of sins and the resurrection of the dead. However, in the minds of most contemporary Christians who confess this Creed, the communion of saints is often left as a vague, ill-defined notion, mostly confined to some idea of fellowship with those in heaven.

In terms of the New Testament, true knowledge is ultimately only had by communion (koinonia). The sort of rational, observational collection of facts that passes for knowledge in our world, would be nothing of the sort in theirs. When John’s gospel says, “This is life eternal, that they might know Thee, and Jesus Christ whom Thou hast sent” (Jn 17:3), it is a reference to knowledge by participation, or communion. It is precisely because true knowledge is communion that knowledge of God is eternal life. That knowledge can only be had by true participation in His life.

In a similar manner, St. Paul cried out, “…that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and may have communion in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that if possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead!” (Phi 3:10-11)

Interestingly, communion lies at the center of the traditional practice of venerating the saints. Communion works by love. Indeed, true communion is perhaps the main point of love. We not only want to be with the other, we want to share in their life and existence. In the example of friendship described at the outset, there is an experience of communion for which we often have no word in our modern vocabulary (having changed the meaning of communion). We experience communion but are at a loss to describe it or defend it. When we are told that it is simply a thing of the mind, we have no response. Modernity is a lonely construct.

The veneration of the saints is simply what love for them looks like. The cultural expressions of kissing icons or burning candles before them are no different than other cultural expressions of love. But a world without cultural expressions of love quickly becomes a world without love. Human beings require touch, for example, in order to live. We are not creatures of the mind.

Years ago, I wrote my thesis at Duke on the Icon as Theology. During that time of study, I came to realize and understand that an icon can only truly be seen in the act of veneration. For seeing the icon, according to the Church’s teaching, is a relational matter, an act of communion. Many people look at an icon and see an object, perhaps a beautiful religious object. But without veneration, the love offered to the one who is present in the depiction, there is no communion. In the act (or many acts) of veneration we enter into the reality of communion.

This veneration has developed a liturgical expression in the life of the Church, but it is the same in our relationship with all persons. Through love, expressed in a variety of appropriate manners, we truly know the other by participation (communion). In some measure, we enter into and share in their life. In some measure, their life becomes ours and ours becomes theirs. This is especially true in marriage, in which a man and a woman become one flesh. St. Silouan of Mt. Athos said, “My brother is my life.”

That communion and participation in the life of the other is possible is one of the single most contradictory challenges to the modern world-view. We are not utterly individual in our existence nor in our experience. We are beings whose lives are best expressed and fulfilled through communion. When this is rightly understood, it is nothing more than the proclamation of the primacy of love.

Walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. (Eph 5:2)

If we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have communion with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. (1Jo 1:7)

 

 

 

76 comments:

  1. Beautiful piece Father. I have felt Christ or seen Christ in my friends. Christ exists in everybody and in order for us to “experience” him, we have to engage or be in communion with others.
    I also appreciate how you illustrate that modernity has divided our minds from us which is such a distraction, challenge and problem for believers. Thanks again.

  2. Father,
    My brother, as a Lutheran Pastor, would say that venerating the Saints is definitely something the Church does, but not through prayer to them. His explanation would be that prayer is always an act of worship, and thus only appropriately directed to God. What would you say to that? What is prayer exactly, if not solely an act of worship?

  3. Michelle, it is my understanding that veneration is respecting and showing love to the saintly believers who have preceeded us, not worshipping them.

    Also, rather than praying *to* them, we ask them to pray to God on our behalf. This is no different than asking your living Christian friends to pray for you, as we all do. As Christians, we believe that believers who have died in this world are alive with Christ in heaven. How great an impact their prayers must have!

  4. Thank you for that. How coincidental that your thesis was on the icon in theology. I have just begun an online course in Spanish on the theology of image, which is centred on the icon. Can you give me a link to your thesis? I would imagine reading it would be a big help, as I am struggling with some often turgid text in Spanish.

  5. I look forward to Fr Stephen’s response to your question, Michelle. There’s something I don’t understand about your brother’s view of prayer being always an act of worship, though. When I talk to friends or ask them to pray for me, I’m not worshipping them, so how does it follow that I would be worshipping the saints when I do the same?

  6. Can people be truly in communion with each other if they are not in communion with Christ and His Church? I ask this question because my life experience has shown me that my most lasting relationships are with those who share that communion with me. We may disagree on many levels but our love for each other never wavers. There is a special bond – hard to explain. They are my “family” and are closer to me than my biological family members who are not in communion with Christ.

  7. Each morning, we pray the Morning Prayer of St. Philaret of Moscow. It reminds us that everyone we encounter each day is sent for a purpose, and sometimes it is to build one another up. A kind, caring comment or act is sometimes huge to others, and we may never know. We are all a part of a larger whole, as a part of Christ thru our Communion with Him. In our world, acts of kindness are becoming more rare, and they are vital.
    I realized the importance of friendship recently too – the kind between women who can feel secure in sharing trust. I became aware that I have many friendships and relationships, but very few truly close and trusting ones. My best friends have usually been men. My husband is my very best friend now. That unconditional love and trust between true friends is a real gift.
    One thing I love about being Orthodox is the incredible gift of the Saints. It is like you suddenly gained a huge group of family and friends that really want to pray for you and help you. You need only ask it of them. I saw a real miracle happen in the life of a dear friend – thru asking St. Herman for his intercession. The power of that was a part of what made me realize I wanted to be Orthodox. Because of the need to ask the Saints for their prayers – they don’t interfere in our lives – I had this vision of some of the lesser known Saints sitting around in Heaven just waiting for us to call on them. We venerate and ask for prayers from the Saints we know, and see the icons all around us, but what about the others? Like a child, which seems to be the way I approach much of Orthodoxy, I make it a point to ask for the prayers and help of ALL the Saints that are willing help. I may not know their names, but I am grateful for their prayers. Thanking the Saints is important too. I don’t do enough of it, but I am ever grateful for their help, and the blessing of them being there for us.
    A beautiful reminder Father. Thank you.

    I

  8. SW,
    I think the thinking goes like this; you may ask your friend to pray to God so that He may save you, but you would not ask your friend to save you. So I gather that they believe all prayers done while on your knees, speaking to those who are not earthly is equivalent to asking directly for salvation from the one they are speaking to.

    That’s what I would like Father to clarify: is regular conversation and common speach among earthly friends different than the kind of prayer we do on our knees, so to speak, to those in the heavenly realm?

    If prayer is participation, then participating with God saves you. What’s the nature of the participation in prayer with the Saints? My brother would be uneasy with participating with the Saints in the exact same way as we do with God, with the exact same end being to gain salvation.

  9. Fr. Stephen, thank you for another great post. It reminded me of a question I’ve actually had for a while. You wrote:

    “The cultural expressions of kissing icons or burning candles before them are no different than other cultural expressions of love.”

    Burning candles and bowing are gestures fairly foreign to American culture, yet we are told that this is how to venerate icons. To my knowledge this comes from the cultural context of early Christianity. I think I understand why acts of veneration are important, but why does it have to be these ones specifically? Hasn’t Christianity historically been spread by taking up and sanctifying local cultural customs and practices that are not contrary to the faith?

    As a silly example, say Orthodox missionaries went to a culture where instead of kissing being an expression of love, the local people gave high fives. Why couldn’t the missionaries teach them to give high fives to the icons as part of veneration rather than kissing them? Wouldn’t that be a more meaningful expression of love?

    Thanks again.

  10. Michelle, don’t know about anyone else, but when I pray asking for the intercessions of a particular saint, I am giving glory to God and God alone.

    The Orthodox phrase “God is wondrous in His saints” sums it up nicely.

    Not praying with and to the saints is due to a misapprehension of the Incarnation and the Grace of God.

    The communion is created by the Incarnation and it His Grace that is the communication.

    So, I think I agree with the statement that all prayer is worship but not in the way or for the reasons your brother may think.

    Glory to God for His saints. None of us are autonomous, least of all His saints.

    It is always a problem when a theology is formed as a reaction to someone else’s flawed theology.

    Many heresies began that way.

    I trust Father will correct my mistakes.

  11. For Lutherans, following article 21 of the Augsburg Confession, prayer to and invocation of the saints is strictly forbidden. The saints are mere role models for Christian faith and practice.

  12. Michael, you wrote:

    “It is always a problem when a theology is formed as a reaction to someone else’s flawed theology.”

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t that how Orthodox theology is done? For example the Ecumenical Councils codified christology in reaction to heresies such as Arianism and Nestorianism.

  13. This post reminds me of a beautiful word from Saint John Chrysostom on friendship in Christ.

    “Truly a faithful friend is the medicine of life. (Sirach 6:16) Truly a faithful friend is a strong defense. (Sirach 6:14)

    For what will not a genuine friend perform? What pleasure will he not afford? What benefit? What security? Though you should name infinite treasures, none of them is comparable to a genuine friend.

    And first let us speak of the great delight of friendship itself. A friend rejoices at seeing his friend, and expands with joy. He is knit to him with an union of soul that affords unspeakable pleasure. And if he only calls him to remembrance, he is roused in mind, and transported.

    I speak of genuine friends, men of one soul, who would even die for each other, who love fervently. Do not, thinking of those who barely love, who are table-companions, mere nominal friends, suppose that my discourse is refuted. If any one has a friend such as I speak of, he will acknowledge the truth of my words. He, though he sees his friend every day, is not satiated. For him he prays for the same things as for himself. I know one, who calling upon holy men in behalf of his friend, besought them to pray first for him, and then for himself.

    So dear a thing is a good friend, that times and places are loved on his account. For as bodies that are luminous spread their radiance to the neighboring places, so also friends leave a grace of their own in the places to which they have come. And oftentimes in the absence of friends, as we have stood on those places, we have wept, and remembering the days which we passed together, have sighed.

    It is not possible to represent by speech, how great a pleasure the intercourse with friends affords. But those only know, who have experience. From a friend we may both ask a favor, and receive one without suspicion. When they enjoin anything upon us, then we feel indebted to them; but when they are slow to do this, then we are sorrowful. We have nothing which is not theirs. Often despising all things here, on their account we are not willing to depart hence; and they are more longed for by us than the light.

    For, in good truth, a friend is more to be longed for than the light; I speak of a genuine one. And wonder not: for it were better for us that the sun should be extinguished, than that we should be deprived of friends; better to live in darkness, than to be without friends. And I will tell you why. Because many who see the sun are in darkness, but they can never be even in tribulation, who abound in friends.

    I speak of spiritual friends, who prefer nothing to friendship. Such was Paul, who would willingly have given his own soul, even though not asked, nay would have plunged into hell for them. With so ardent a disposition ought we to love.”

  14. Adam,
    Excellent question regarding how one of a particular culture may venerate the Saints. I look forward to Father’s response.

  15. Michelle,
    I’ll do my best. First, it is not true that we only “ask them to pray for us.” The texts of many Orthodox prayers of great antiquity clearly and explicitly pray to the saints. Easily the most famous is offered in virtually every Orthodox service, and sets the teeth of Protestants on edge, “Most Holy Theotokos, save us!”

    So.

    In the Shepherd of Hermas, there is an example of prayer to the “Angel of Repentance” (3.5.4). This text, though not included among the NT writings, was widely accepted and treated as Scripture by many early Christians. It was not rejected for any defect of doctrine, but simply through doubt of its Apostolic authorship. It dates to either the late 1st or early 2nd century. It is an example that early Christians thought nothing strange about such prayer. They had no knowledge whatsoever that prayer equals worship.

    It would certainly be the case that there are prayers that would be offered to God alone. We can’t say just anything to a saint. We do not make offerings to saints (sacrifice may be made only to God – and that indeed is a rule).

    What is worship? Worship, in the teaching of the Fathers, is that honor that belongs to God alone as our Maker, Creator, Benefactor, Sustainer, etc. Prayers to saints are asking for assistance and help – but they cannot give what they do not have (those things that belong to God alone).

    The rather scandalous prayer, Most Holy Theotokos, save us! is simply so old that it uses the word “save” in its much more generic meaning. The NT uses the word many ways other than salvation itself. It means, “Help us! Rescue us!”

    Interestingly, Martin Luther became a monk and a priest because of a vow he made to St. Anne for saving him in a thunderstorm. I wonder if he ever repudiated her help?

    But, and this is important, the word “prayer” has a long history in English of being used in many ways. It simply means “to ask” as in “I pray thee,” (Shakespeare). It is ridiculous to make up a rule regarding prayer and worship based on modern meanings of English words, a language that did not even exist in the time of the NT.

    The word “bid” has the same meaning. It is, interestingly, the origin of our word “bead.” “Beads” are those things on a rope that are used for counting your prayers (“your bids”). A string of “beads” was a prayer rope. Only later does it come to mean little shiny things.

    The invocation of saints is found in the NT (Christ teaching on Father Abraham) and is attested in the writings of the Apostolic Fathers (Shepherd of Hermas) and in many, many other examples. It is part of the oldest tradition in the life of the Church. It cannot be accurately or faithfully argued that it was invented later than the NT. The question is, why do you not pray to the saints when so many saints and martyrs and the Church clearly did (until Protestantism began to make up new rules with no warrant).

    And a last note to any Lutheran: Just because a Roman Catholic does something doesn’t make it automatically wrong. The knee-jerk assaults on Catholic belief and practice have led Protestants down many paths of error. Indeed, it has made many Lutherans more “Lutheran” than Luther himself. I suggest studying Martin Luther’s own devotion to the Mother of God. It might be surprising.

    My first response to your brother would perhaps sound a bit harsh. And that is that it’s hard to discuss this if people are going to make up rules that are not in the Scriptures. That prayer=worship is such a rule. Nowhere in Scripture is such a thing found. There is, however, a clear example of prayer to a saint in Scripture, given by Jesus Himself. Though the answer turned out to be other than the supplicant desired, he was not rebuked for making the prayer. That example is the prayer to Father Abraham in the Parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man. The Rich Man in Hades specifically prays to Father Abraham for a favor. He is denied that favor.

    Christ was not using some sort of a weird example in that parable. Had such a prayer been seen as idolatry, or worship of Father Abraham, Christ would not only have not used that in His example, His listeners would have stoned Him on the spot for blasphemy. As it is, no one paid it any attention because it was normal and not in the least surprising.

    And that is what the Scriptures actually show us.

    Worship and prayer are quite different. Prayer simply means to ask somebody for something. The word “prayer” has acquired a specifically religious meaning in English, but the word

  16. Thank you, Michael
    I have a sneaking suspicion that prayer to the Saints also involves worship of God, but not the blasphemous notion of worshipping the Saints themselves. I appreciate your articulation of this. It helps me to clarify my own thoughts.

    Something else you said got my wheels turning, but I still lack articulation, which was the idea of giving glory to God alone, and not the Saints themselves. While not the same as glorifying, do we not in some way also celebrate the Saint themself, by virtue of their relationship to God. Since in the Incarnation Christ brings man up to immeasurable heights, doesnt He somehow make it possible to also celebrate the person of the Saint himself (or herself)?

  17. Adam,
    It’s a good question regarding the cultural things. “If Orthodoxy had begun in England, rather than in the Middle East and Greece, we would still honor icons, but would do so by feeling awkward and apologizing.” I quote myself. 🙂

    Why do we honor them with candles, kisses, bows and crossings? Because the faith was given to us in that manner. There is no Christianity that can do an end run around its Greek beginnings – It is not an abstraction. My ancestors used to paint themselves blue and worship trees. Instead, we gave that up when the faith came to the shores of England. According to the Ven. Bede, when St. Augustine of Canterbury first came ashore as missionary to England, he was carrying a “silver cross and a portrait of Christ on a board” (an icon). The veneration of icons is not foreign to our culture. It is modernity and the Protestant destruction of traditional Christian forms that have alienated English culture from its own roots. Today’s Greek Orthodoxy (or Russian, etc.) is closer to the faith and practice of my British ancestors than anything those islands have seen in a very long time.

    Today we have largely lost touch with human cultures and have simply become consumers, whose customs are those of customers. We have lost our folk songs, our folk dances, the foods of our ancestors, the faith of our fathers and most of our humanity. We are quickly inventing forms of human existence that actually depend on technology for their being – that is – they are artificial make-believe. Nothing could be more natural than kissing and candles and the like. It’s the strange psychologized culture of sentimentality that’s weird.

  18. “And a last note to any Lutheran: Just because a Roman Catholic does something doesn’t make it automatically wrong.”

    Fr. Stephen, I find it interesting that you would direct that at Lutherans. As one who was raised Lutheran myself, I’ve used that line many times against Protestants who would deny the efficacy of the Sacraments or the use of the historic liturgy. But it has become clear to me that Lutherans have their own “romaphobia” too, just less.

  19. Michelle,
    When I reflect on the Theotokos, I would say that we generally do not pay attention to her “person,” per se. It is her union with Christ and her role in our salvation that gets attention. We sing, at the vigils of the feast of a saint, the “Magnification.” In this it says, “We magnify, we magnify, we magnify you – O, ___, and then state why.” It’s really the “high point” of the vigil service. It is, in its form, something that has its roots in the cultures of the early Church, Rome, Byzantium. We honor movie stars and rock stars today. I thank God that they are not the model for honoring saints.

    When a man is ordained in the Church, the Bishop presents him to the Church with the shout (usually sung), “Axios!” and the congregation responds “Axios!” three times. It means “He is worthy!” It’s embarrassing. And my mind immediately turned to the Lamb on the Throne (who alone is worthy). But the cry, “Axios!” was actually the form of public expression that accompanied agreement with a choice made and presented. The “election” of a public leader was greeted with that cry.

    Many things about our faith have suffered in the context of a democratized world-view. The faith has no democratic notions within it to speak of. It is royalist all the way up to the throne of God. The language of worship is royal as well. Look at England. The Queen frequently (every year) publishes lists of honors (the original “honor roll”). Knights of the Garter, etc. These are all honored people (honored by the Queen with directions that others should honor them as well). But this does not mean that they are rivals to the Queen. She honors them. But they can’t create their own honors. Sir Mix-A-Lot is not a knight.

    I really think that our democratization has caused serious distortions in belief and doctrine (and practice). We have to remember. It’s a Kingdom. We have a King. Our King does not rule over a republic. The role of the King’s Mother was quite interesting in the Ancient Middle East. The King’s wife (or wives) were not given any great honor. That was reserved for the Mother of the King. “The Queen stood on thy right hand, arrayed in glorious robes, all glorious.” from the Psalms. The King’s mother had his ear in a way that no other had. And that seemed right, appropriate and normal to them. It’s our own strange imaginations that have lost touch with the most normal of things.

  20. Adam,
    I only meant it because of Michelle’s questions regarding her Lutheran brother. Actually, I like Lutherans a lot. I did a retreat for a group of Lutheran pastors earlier this year and really enjoyed them. They were solid men, with good minds and knowledge of the fathers. We had very few disagreements, and not many of any substance. They were, I admit, on the “high” side of Lutheranism. But I’m glad to number them among my friends. I suspect that all of them would have had no problem with prayers to the saints… though the question didn’t come up.

    I have substantive disagreements with Rome about a few things. But the ‘romaphobia’ of modern Christianity (also among many Orthodox) is often driven by ignorance and an inherited prejudice. Rome is right about a lot of things, though they’re losing a lot of points on style. 🙂

  21. Great Post Father. It is a good affirmation of the idea that relationship/communion defines us as persons. I am unique and unrepeatable because no one else at any time can have the same relationships/communion that I do

  22. Seeing that we have no boldness on account of our many sins, do thou beseech Him that was born of thee, O Virgin Theotokos; for the supplication of a Mother availeth much to win the Master’s favor. Disdain not the prayers of sinners, O most august one; for merciful is He, and mighty to save, He that deigned to suffer for our sake.

    Troparion from the Sixth Hour

  23. Father,
    Thank you for both of your responses, especially how we are not democratic republics, but pure royalists. Very helpful.

    As far as Lutherans go, though, I think I understand better why they do not pray to the Saints. I would have to disagree with the possibility that they would have no problem with it. The Augsburg Confessions is very clear about it. As you said, we cannot just pray for anything from the Saints; some things are only for God, because the Saints cannot give what they do not have. They can only help us. And this is where the rejection of all synergism, in favor of the Divine fiat of monergism hinders them. Lutherans would agree that the Saints cannot give what they do not have, and according to them, due to the monergistic nature of salvation, they have absolutely nothing to give. The idea of being “helped” towards salvation makes no sense when salvation is something that God alone does to you by Divine fiat. It is something that happens to you, not something you make gains toward. Salvation is only a journey so far as God pushes you down the path, but instead of a path He simply pushes you off a cliff, and within a few seconds you smack into salvation. Hence, there is no room for help from anyone else, and so looking towards a Saint for help becomes a blasphemous gaze that treads on God’s holy territory.

    Of course, they do accept help from the Church Fathers and other sources that help explain and build up faith, but would maintain that none of this help works in a synergistic way. Not only do these not save, they do not even “help” to save. Only Jesus saves. These other sources simply present Jesus to us through the hearing of the Word. Hearing the Word is the same as Jesus’ sacramental presence -He is actually really there. Once Jesus is in your presence through this hearing, then He saves you by fiat. This kind of “help” can be explained in a monergistic way, in which there is no synergistic cooperation on our part. So, when the idea of praying for help from a Saint comes up, what is it they are rejecting? Well, prayer to a Saint is not the same thing as hearing or reading the Word, of which in turn presents Jesus to us so He can do His “salvation-by-fiat” thing. The only thing they need from the Saints is to read about their lives, which is how by example they can present Jesus to us, and then Jesus conquers us. This is the only help they accept from the Saints. To actually ask them to help you towards salvation in private conversation with them would obviously imply that salvation is something that you wish to move towards, but for Lutherans movement is not required. They do not desire to “move” towards salvation, for in the hearing of the Word it is assumed it will fall straight on their heads.

  24. Michelle,
    Your analysis is spot on. The forensic character of monergism doubles the error. They think they are being saved from something that they do not need to be saved from. Indeed, that question, “What is the need for salvation?” is probably right at the heart of the matter.

  25. As a silly example, say Orthodox missionaries went to a culture where instead of kissing being an expression of love, the local people gave high fives. Why couldn’t the missionaries teach them to give high fives to the icons as part of veneration rather than kissing them? Wouldn’t that be a more meaningful expression of love?

    Actually, I immediately thought of all the children in our parish who go up to the icons which are set on high stands and, after crossing and bowing, reach up and “high five” the icon since they cannot reach high enough to kiss them! I’ve never actually considered it silly, as it is what they can do at this time as they move along their own path of theosis.

    A question: would not the veneration of the Saints (and of others) be in line with proper veneration for all who are created in the Image of God? While we would not consider our brothers and sisters as those who can save us, as salvation is from God alone, is not His image within us a means of intercession for our salvation–someone to whom we may cry out and confess to in our weakness? It seems to me that this communion, as the article states, is very important for us in our salvation. It plays a part; to reduce or deny that part is to reduce ourselves and those around us.

    I’m probably overthinking this; please forgive me if I am badly off-base.

  26. Adam, Father may have said this already but the theology of the Council’s was not a reaction in the way that I mean. It was an articulation of the existing mind of the Church brought forth by the Holy Spirit to counter teaching that was untrue and dangerous. It still operates that way today.

    Arius on the other hand formed his theory in reaction to a teaching he felt was making Jesus Christ too human. The theology of the Council’s articulated the fullness of the truth that Jesus Christ is fully human AND fully divine without mixture or confusion.

    If you read St. Athanasius “On The Incarnation” for instance he makes it quite clear that he is only saying what had been handed down to him. He did not create anything new.

    To be frank, it works both ways. IMO there are anomalies in modern Orthodox thought that are there because of reactions to surrounding cultural and religious norms that are not Orthodox. In time those reactions could become heretical and seemingly divide the Church.

    That is why I come here because Father Stephen has the training, experience, humility, honesty and Chrism to sort them out what is real while articulating the traditional teaching of the Church.

    I came to the Church by the religious gutters and back streets where I learned modern iterations of ancient heresies(Arianism, Nestorianism and Modalism most pronounced).

    Jesus, Mary and the blessed Archangel Michael protected my soul and body despite my unworthiness and brought me home.

    There is nothing in the way the Orthodox Church approaches theology that is in any way like those who do heresy.

    That I can testify to with out doubt.

  27. Adam,
    Along the lines of Michael’s note…

    The councils are not reactions – other than to respond to the heresies. Nothing new is said (there is nothing new to be said). What has always been known, from the beginning, is articulated. That is not a development or evolution of doctrine. Indeed, prior to articulating the condemnation of a particular heresy, the Church already recognized that the heresy was false. It could only do this because it knows the fullness of the faith, including that which has remained in silence.

    The Church has preferred from the beginning to keep much of the mystery of the faith in silence. It is known, even when not articulated. Articulation always has the difficulty of diminishing what it means to speak. It’s very difficult. Nicaea really needed most of a century to complete its articulation of what was being said, for example.

    It has been observed as well in our own times that the Church knows that women are not to be ordained to the priesthood. It’s not a question of possibility. However, the articulation of that reality is far from complete. There is much more that can be said, and probably will be said. The modern battle over so-called gender issues is forcing much more to be articulated. But nothing will “change” or “react.”

  28. “Human beings require touch…” Amen! Exactly one if the things I find so healing in confession. The priest lays his stole on me with his own hands. Not to mention the “seal of the gift of the Holy Spirit”

    The laying on of hands that brings us together ad humans also brings us into communion with our Lord.

  29. Byron, we are not saved alone. Each of us is involved in the salvation of each of us. Not as causative agents but as part of the communion.

    I think why St. Paul was willing to give up his salvation on behalf of his Jewish brothers.

    Perhaps why Orthodox frequently pray to be the last in the door so to speak.

    Lord have mercy is always a prayer for all and cannot be experienced as an autonomous being. It would make no sense.

    Forgive me, a sinner is much the same way.

  30. Father,
    I have read many of your posts, but I have never commented. As someone who has no real significant friendships and struggles to be close to other people, I often wonder if I can be a Christian. I have read many posts about being in communion with Christ, but I have no idea what that means. It all seems so much like a mind game, and I have to convince myself (often in vain) every time I go to communion that this is real. If I can’t be close to people in real life, how can I participate and share in the life of a Spirit? I used to be strong in the faith, but with every passing day it all seems less real. How is venerating saints and kissing icons any less of a mind game. Belief happens in the mind; I don’t know any other way to understand it.

    Sorry for the ignorant questions. I am a “high” Lutheran. I have tried Orthodox ways, but it seems no different in the end. It just requires more motions.

  31. Michelle. Each saint is a particular expression of God’s grace and mercy. For example St. Herman of Alaska has a particular ministry to native Alaskans which is why we chose him for intercessions for my wife Merry’s friend.

    St. Raphael of Brooklyn Shepard to the lost sheep of America seems to have a particular care for us in the lower 48. Matushka Olga seems to have an affinity for abused women and children and families in general.

    I am grateful to God for His ministers no matter how they minister and I certainly acknowledge the unique gifts each saint seems to have. Those particularities are why they can be powerful intercessors. Of course the particular gifts does not mean their only gifts.

  32. Dear Victoria,
    Thank you for the beautiful quote from St. John Chrysostom on friendship in Christ.

    Father Stephen,
    Again, thank you for your words for us on this blog, they always come most perfectly timed (for my life for sure).
    I also meant to thank you for choosing the icon of the Theotokos from the Bethlehem church of Nativity (just before the enterance into the very cave of Nativity), it’s one of the most beautiful icons of Her in the world. The expression on Her face is unlike any other icon, so loving and gentle and forgiving, she seems to forgive and accept all, even if most (tourists/pilgrims) entering don’t even pause to spend a moment with Her….

    Happy Thanksgiving to all of you here. You are all a great blessing for my life.

    Agata

  33. Diana,
    My heart broke as I read your comment, hearing the difficulty you’re having, and the loneliness that must be involved. The struggle of our lives takes many forms. I have battled depression, off and on, over a lifetime, and am in a blessed place of “remission” at the present. The Elder Thaddeus battled terrible anxiety. These are wounds. My experience led me at a certain point to discount my own experience, knowing that I was “damaged” and that my perceptions of the world were simply not true. I quit acting on the basis of how I was feeling (or else I would have just sat at home in the dark). It was helpful, among many other things.

    You’re describing your experience from the inside – and there it is very difficult indeed. It’s made worse by the mindset of our culture which has bathed us in its false conceptions – it tells us that our inner experience is, in fact, what is real.

    When I eat the Body of Christ and drink His blood, I do my best not to concern myself with how I feel about it. How I feel about it is about the inside of my head, not about communion in His Body and Blood. I have communion in His Body and Blood because He said so, and those words are as sure and certain as His resurrection. His words reveal the inside of my head to be beside the point.

    In the article I’m describing the reality of communion, itself revealed to us in the Scripture. I haven’t anywhere described what it feels like, or suggested that I have decided it’s true based on my inner experience. It’s just true.

    What I have heard, however, is the description given by many saints of this true communion. I have also, in point of fact, had a few experiences of true communion. They have been great gifts and a kindness from God. But they are not the basis of my thinking. The Church’s teaching is the basis.

    Veneration (kissing, etc.) are not mind games. Indeed, the mind can jolly well do what it wants most of the time. The actions are not “empty” actions. They are real and meaningful. The mind will, in time, do what the body does – this is a principle taught repeatedly in the fathers on prayer.

    I am grateful for the fact that Orthodoxy bathes me in physical actions and in words and images that support the reality of communion. In a non-Orthodox context, a person, as an individual, is having to try and do all of this for themselves, increasing the sense of loneliness, isolation and make-believe. When I became Orthodox, it helped a great deal. Not at first, to be completely honest. It was more like a 10 year thing.

    “I can’t be close to people in real life.” This describes your psychological experience. You are, in fact, very close to people, but don’t know it. Your parents and family, for example, are part of you in ways of which you’re not even aware. Your life is being supported through others and you’re not aware of it.

    As you can, pray. Ask God to help you. Don’t ask for experience, just ask for help. I deeply appreciate your sharing this with us. I will add you to my prayers. Grant grace, O Christ, to your handmaiden, Diana, and sustain her in the day of battle. Give her victory over the adversary and preserve her in your communion!

  34. we are not saved alone. Each of us is involved in the salvation of each of us. Not as causative agents but as part of the communion.

    Michael, thank you for stating what I attempted in so clear a form!

    Diana, blessings to you and prayers. Whenever we wander in a desert, no matter how long, may we always trust God to bring us home. May God hold and bless you.

  35. Diana may the Lord bless you. I thank God you shared your struggle here. I too feel separated and alone much of the time even in the presence of others and astoundingly even with my wife. It can be paralyzing, it has been at times.

    My late wife suffered it to as does my son and my father before me. It is literally in my flesh, not in my head alone. That is why physical actions help me. The greatest help for me is giving thanks. Every act of thanksgiving on my part makes my struggle lighter somehow.

    I, too, will pray for you as I pray for myself and my son.

    I will also recommend a book that might help: Jeffrey Smith’s “Where the Roots Reach For Water.”

    God is merciful and God provides.

  36. Father Stephen and others,

    Thank you so much for your comments and prayers.
    I do know that faith is not a feeling or experience, but a reality that we cannot see or feel. My church also teaches that. For whatever reason, that fact has become increasingly more difficult for me. I know it is a lack of faith.

    I do pray for help and mercy – at times. But it is always with doubt that anyone is listening. A few weeks ago the epistle lesson at church was James 1: 5-8. It was not helpful, but I know I should focus my attention on more uplifting passages.

    “The mind will, in time, do what the body does – this is a principle taught repeatedly in the fathers on prayer.”
    Deep down inside I know that I must believe this. I teach 6th grade. One of the parents was unhappy with me because I asked her son to “sit up”. The posture of the body is important to learning. Now I need to apply this to myself. I know I need to work harder at all of this. It is a battle, and at times I tend to give up the fight. I believe the giving up is directly related to the feelings of isolation. God have mercy!

  37. Michael,

    Thank you for your reply. Can you explain what you mean by this statement,
    “It is literally in my flesh, not in my head alone.”

    When I am struggling the most, I tend to feel very weak and tired. I feel weaker on one side of the body and start to limp a little. I know this sounds weird, but after several years, I am convinced it is not a physical problem. I also have a sensation that I am in a bubble and can’t really be a part of what is around me. I am watching it like a movie. Sunday mornings are the worst time for these physical manifestations. After church, I feel fine. Maybe this is not what you mean at all, but I would like to know. Going to church is quite the struggle, but I do persist.

    Thank you for the book recommendation. I will look into it.

  38. Diana, there is a genetic component in my case as well as familial. However your one side weakness should be checked out by a doctor if it has not been.

    I have various physical pains that give me an excuse not to engage. The Sunday morning struggle is quite common for me. The pains and the isolation are negatively synergistic.

    I lead the adult Sunday School which meets prior to Divine Liturgy. That gives me an extra reason to be there-I have a commitment to other people. During the summer the Sunday morning struggle resurfaces.

    Being in a bubble I can relate to. There was an old Star Trek Next Gen episode in which Dr. Crusher experienced a gradual shrinking of her world in terms of both space and people. I know I do that to myself.

    My wife tells me she trained herself to be more gregarious. Still friendship is a different order. Even if a seed is there it must be cultivated and tended. We need not have many.

    I always feel better after receiving the Body and Blood! Glory to God.

    Prior to my Chrismation I had various temptations to suicide. That vanished after I was received in the Church. That taught me, when I remember, that the temptation to isolate myself is likely from the same source, yet it seems so much “me”. Perhaps that is what Father is getting at when he says to ignore the inner voices.

    I will entreat the Theotokos to show you a friend in your life.

  39. Hi Diana,
    I will pray for you as well.

    You said you feel like you’re in a bubble, and can’t be apart of what’s around you. It’s probably not quite the same experience I had, but I suffered from a dissociative disorder called depersonalization for a long, despairing 6 months.

    It happened to me like the flip of a switch, and in one moment the entire world, including the people closest to me no longer felt real. My own body didn’t even feel real. I lost all feeling of love and connection to all things and people around me. It is an indescribable thing to lose the love once felt for your own parents in a single moment, and spend the next 6 months trying to remember what it used to feel like. Along with that, the entire physic world looked fake, like a playdough world. It all just seemed like a trick of my mind, which was the only thing I could not deny existence to. I was certain if my mind had extinguished, the whole playdough world would have been snuffed out too. I spent many years after that contemplating the extent of reality beyong the mind.

    This 6 months of hell was the accumulation of several preceding years of depression, anxiety, and panic attacks finally reaching a breaking point. But I never really knew the significance of this experience that God allowed me to endure. Now I know it was in preparation of my becoming Orthodox (I used to be Lutheran too), so that I could truly understand the importance and truth of the physical world, as well as that absolute and concrete reality of communal relationships. These things do not only exist in the mind. I consider what I was experiencing those 6 months to be an “image” or “taste” of hell. If you read a lot of Father’s blog posts you’ll know that the ontological reality of God is existence, and the ontological reality of hell is nothingness. I was given a taste of “nothingness”, so that when being led to the Orthodox faith I would recognize it’s deep truths concerning the “Somethingness” or “Realness” that is our God.

    I pray you too will soon know the realness of your communion with Christ and His Body, the Church, as well as with all others and all things.

  40. How does one experience communion with departed saints outside of iconic veneration? My father has just died. He was pious but will likely never be canonized nor will there ever be an icon of him. Do we still have some living connection? I pray the prayers of the departed for him, but is that the end of our communion in Christ? Is he now nothing to me but a plea for rest and an eternal memory?

    Thank God for him. He taught me of Christ.

  41. Diana,
    Forgive me an additional word. I don’t think it’s that you need to “try harder.” You might be trying too hard already. A friend asked me once what he could do to be “more present.” I responded that, in truth, he had no choice. He already was present whether he felt he was or not. In that sense, relax and be what you are. Michael suggested giving thanks. That, above all else, is most useful. Whether you feel it or not, just give thanks. Ask for help. Let God do it.

  42. Nabishafl
    Well, you both partake of one and the same cup at communion. You are both united in your prayers and praise of God. Indeed, say prayers for him and remember him always. I talk to my parents occasionally. Nothing profound. Those times that I feel a need to call them and tell them about something (but they have both fallen asleep), I simply talk to them. I have no expectations and do not want any particular experience, though sometimes there are things. My late Archbishop is often with me in the altar when I serve. I cannot explain that or how I know it, but it is so.

  43. Diana, the classic, “Unseen Warfare” reminds us that we struggle against the world, the flesh and the devil.

    “The flesh” can have a multitude of meanings. I have come to understand it in the simplest terms: the tendency to sin is built into my body. The passions I indulge lodge themselves in me physically. The more I feed them, the stronger they grow. The temptations that arise within me need not come directly from the devil. I think most often they do not. They are whisperings of those enfleshed passions. Pride, sloth, lust, gluttony, irrational fear and many others.

    Just as the body complains when you engage in physical training for fitness or sports, so it complains when we attempt to train for higher things. St. Paul makes this analogy.

    Thus we fast, prostrate, cross ourselves, pray. All of these done persistently and regularly with conscious effort begin to change us in spirit and in flesh.

    Both my body and my darkened soul do not like to be disciplined.

    There are somethings that can only be accessed fully in the Orthodox Church: the sacraments of Chrismation, the Divine Eucharist, Unction and Confession/absolution.

    It is in and through these sacraments that we experience communion most deeply.

    It is like running a marathon or do I am told. At some point the marathon runner hits a “wall” of pain/stamina that can only be overcome with will.

    The race we run is much longer. Sometimes I have to tell my body what it says it wants does not matter. The same goes with relationships.

    My wife is now a very gregarious person. She trained herself to be that. She tells me it was not easy.

    Now we are trying to train ourselves to be friends.

  44. I second the “not trying harder route.”

    When I had my experience the harder I tried to snap out of it, which really only amounted to nothing more than dwelling on it more intensely, the more depressed and despairing I felt. And soon I started trying harder to not try anymore, which was just more of the same dreadful dwelling on it. Eventually the exhaustion of trying brought me to another breaking point where I finally just embraced it and went on living. Not even a week later after accepting my lot another flip of the switch brought me completely back to normal. It was literally in a single moment, sitting in the middle of a lecture in a college course. I thanked God, and have never experienced it since.

  45. Nabishfal, my priest when I confronted a similar pain on the loss of my wife simply said: “Love finds a way.”

    It seems to.

    May his memory be eternal and may our Lord comfort you.

  46. Michelle, just carrying on with one’s life giving thanks to God as often as possible. Yes that is good. The physical actions of normal worship that we do whether we feel it or not.

    God is good and never abandon us.

  47. Diana and Michelle, I can sympathize, so much, with both of you and your struggles. I lived with chronic depression and anxiety attacks for most of my adult life. I grew up with a verbally, and sometimes physically abusive father; was molested and terrorized by my school bus driver at age 9; vilified by the kids at school after the bus driver bribed a judge and got off – for the next four years. (Sadly the judge went to jail eventually, and the bus driver went on to rape and murder little girls.) I was totally in my shell when we moved and I went to a rural high school at age 13. I did not want even a single friend, and did not believe I would have one. It took a lot of work, and a lot of being willing to change and to learn to trust – before I could make a friend, or be one. The depression and anxiety came after I had married an abusive alcoholic; had four children (one died at birth ); and eventually went thru a bad divorce when he left for a younger woman. I remarried a man who needed someone to help raise his kids, and I needed help to raise mine. The depression became much worse then, and I went on about every medication they had for it. The doctors said it was a chemical imbalance due to stress. Simple answer for a much more complex problem, and I lived with the bad marriage and the bad depression for 17 yrs – while my husband was cheating with another woman and planning to “get rid” of me. He left with an older woman, and fortunately I did not die as had been planned to happen in the process. Long story. I made up my mind that I was getting off the drugs and finding a way to deal with the depression (Days of standing in front of a mirror forcing myself to find a reason to stay alive one more day at a time.) I discovered that 5HTP is the precursor to serotonin – which keeps our moods up. I don’t make enough it seems, so I take 300 mg of it to supplement. I take B vitamins, and for the anxiety I discovered GABA works great. I take 500 mg at night. My anxiety attacks were so bad that I was taken to the ER more than once with what they thought was a heart attack. Now, if I feel it coming on, I use Natural Factors Pharma-GABA 100 mg chewables.
    I have been off the drugs for over 16 yrs now. And my moods are better than they were on the drugs. No side effects like I had with the drugs either.
    Eventually I met a wonderful man and finally had a great marriage. He died a few months after we married. God sent Michael into my life and absolutely “set us up”.
    Another long story. lol But amazing outcome.
    Survival is possible thru forgiveness, and truly being able to pray for those who harmed you. It is the only way to be free of it!

    As to my husband Michael and his problem going to church, we are both arthritic and on Sunday morning, we are tired and hurting. We both still work full time, and it is tiring. The worse we don’t want to go, the harder I push that we get there. It is a healing experience for me – even if I am in a lot of pain when I go. We have a half hour drive to our church, and when the weather is bad, it is very hard sometimes to get there – we live in a rural area and church is in the city. We both struggle, but we both know it is SO important to be there. My threatening to teach his class for him usually gets Michael up and going. LOL We have both been thru some rough things in life, and God has been so generous in giving us to each other. Michael brought me to the home I have always sought but did not know about – Orthodoxy.
    Michael is all about the theology, and I am the wide-eyed five year old that says “Yea!! God!!”. I have survived some of the worst things life can throw at us, not on my own, but only with God at my side. Even when, in my worst pain, I hated God for what I was going thru. God never hated me, and loved me even harder. Something that has become so clear to me these last several years.
    I am a friend, and I can accept friendships, because of God.
    Always here to be a friend to others as I am led.

  48. Wow, Merry!
    Thank you so much for sharing your story! What a beautiful witness to God’s glory and love. Believe me when I say your witness has encouraged my faith. I truly thank God for this blog of Father Stephen’s, and all of the many wonderful people and their unique and beautiful witnesses. My faith in God has been strengthened through so many of you!

  49. Merry,
    Thank you also for the list of natural remedies you’ve mentioned. Though I haven’t had a panic attack in many years I still deal with anxiety, though it is not nearly as intense these days. I will look into GABA. I’m all about natural, healthy ways of healing the mind and body.

  50. Wonderful post, Father.

    Diana, if I may, along with Merry and Michelle, I will add a third recommendation that you consider there might also be some nutritional deficiencies behind your depression. I would further recommend, if you can, you seek an evaluation for nutritional deficiencies by an alternative healthcare practitioner trained in nutritional medicine (e.g., chiropractor, D.O., naturopathic physician, Chinese herbalist, some alternative M.D.s). Our standard American diet is a prescription for ill health. With stress and aging, the deficiencies increase and more and more symptoms will manifest. I have found the instructional online videos at chiropractor Dr. Eric Berg’s site (www.drberg.com) quite helpful. That might be a place to start if you want to learn more. For a couple of decades now, my family and I have used a chiropractor (who is trained in Chinese and nutritional medicine like Dr. Berg) and have received substantial healing and a great nutritional education from him. May God grant you grace and wisdom as you seek healing.

  51. Wow, I am quite overwhelmed. I never said I was depressed. Does spiritual struggle and questioning equal depression? Does not being gregarious equal depression and sin? What part of me is just my personality and what part is sin? It seems that if I have to change my basic personality, then my very essence is sin.

    Sorry, I know this goes far beyond the original topic of the post. I do thank you for caring enough to respond to me and sharing your stories. My struggles are not nearly as bad as yours, so I am sure I will be fine. God has blessed me, and my biggest problem is not being thankful. For now, I will work on “praying as I can” and “being thankful.”
    You all have a wonderful Thanksgiving.

  52. A light hearted side note: I had just finished reading this blog and got up to from the couch to get a cup of coffee. I asked my husband if he would like one, too. Our dog suddenly became very jumpy. I stated, “Do you want to go outside?” “No,” my husband said, “she wants a pat on the head.” I had to laugh and told him that I had just read an article on communion. He was communing with our dog.

  53. Happy Thanksgiving to all! And thanks to everyone for sharing your lives and stories with us here in this blog.

    Let us all give thanks to God for His gifts. Glory Be to God!

  54. Diana, there is a lot of darkness and pain in our world. So much that it seems to me that it is rational to be depressed, anxious and doubtful.

    But learning to give thanks especially in the midst of doubt is the ptecurser to joy.

  55. Diana, good questions! I especially appreciated Fr. Stephen’s suggestion to you that “trying harder” may in fact not be the solution to what you seek, but itself part of the obstacle to feeling connected with others and God. That is a message I need to hear myself, since I often mistake trying harder as the solution to what I find lacking in my own spiritual experience, whereas what is really needed has more the character of a giving up and becoming more vulnerable, accepting my inability and weakness. It means turning to look in patient and prayerful expectation (however faint and faltering) that God is always acting on my behalf instead of looking to my own efforts.

    I do not know if you are actually depressed. I only know that to the extent I have experienced what you described in your first comment in this thread of your own experience, I have felt a deep loneliness and sense of sadness and loss. I have felt like an abandoned child (even though I “know” intellectually God never abandons us). As a naturally shy introvert who cannot thrive apart from regular healthy doses of solitude, I was uprooted and moved about geographically a few times with my family in my formative years, which did some damage to my ability to deeply bond with friends, too, so I have been in that place of lonely disconnection more often than I care to admit. I would characterize that deep loneliness and sense of loss as a form of depression.

    What has helped is also exactly as Fr. Stephen has described–learning to give less weight and credence to my psychological states and the mental tapes playing in my head and instead cultivate practices that actually connect me to God and others (whether I feel it or not). Another important part of overcoming negative psychological states for me has been greater attention to caring for the needs of my body (proper sleep and nutrition having played key roles in how well I cope with the spiritual stresses I encounter). On that note, I will wish you a happy Thanksgiving and say goodnight–my bed is calling me!

  56. Hi Diana,
    This thread has probably worn thin to you by now. If it has, I understand.
    Please allow me to say, though….I had to remind myself that communicating through a blog can not replace face to face interaction. I found that when I try to express myself in a paragraph of mere words on a blog site, my effort inevitably falls short. I mean, think about it. You’re trying to communicate through a computer screen…it can’t get any more impersonal. Words get misinterpreted, misunderstood and you are left with the inability to clarify yourself. It can’t be done in a comment section of a blog. Well, maybe it can for some, but not all. You can rest assured that the commentators have good intentions. But this can never replace true communication with a live human being. Take it for what it is.
    Anyway, God bless, Diana

  57. Diana, Praying for others helps me be more thankful. As I pray for my friend who just lost her son to cancer, I am grateful for my healthy family; I pray for the widows and am reminded of the pain they are going thru now – especially at the holidays; I pray for those who have lost their faith, and feel humbly grateful for mine; and on and on.
    We are incredibly blessed, and everyone has struggles. Helping others, and praying for others, is the best way to feel deep gratitude for our own blessings, and be mindful of them. As we pray for others, we connect with people all over the world doing the same. The monastics pray for all of us, all of the time. What a blessing for us! Counting my blessings, and savoring the moments of life we are given, is something I really strive to do. I am ever grateful to God for His mercy and love.
    When things are hard, I rely on His promise that all things work together for good to those who love the Lord. That has also proven to be very true. He has taken the worst and most painful moments of my life, and used them to help me help others.
    If nothing else, I have learned to be more compassionate and understanding of others.

  58. Hi Paula, thank you for your comment. I know you are right. I also know, from following this blog, that the people here are caring, thoughtful, and wise. This has actually been the most personal and supportive communication on this topic I have had. At this time, I have no one in real life to talk to. But I do understand that, ultimately, this place is not the place for this discussion. Many thanks to those who contributed. I only wish I could meet you all IRL.

  59. Michelle, Glory to God if something I have said has helped you! Each time my story helps another, it is such a blessing to me. I am humbled by the ability to use what God has helped me survive to help another. Again, God using our worst moments to bless another and lessen their pain. Always a “wow!” moment to me.
    Karen, I know the “negative tapes” that run thru our heads when we are in a depressed mood. I hated them, but I could not stop them for SO long. I would hit a three day low, just at the full moon, and could not bring myself out of it. Then I was blessed with a best friend that God sent – who could break the cycle, and taught me how to do it too. He helped save my life, and I helped give him 10 more years of his life. He died living with Michael and I, and was always treated as family. I am totally on the same page as you with natural products. We make one at our family company too. Doctors gave me “maybe” 2 yrs in 1994. God had a different plan. I definitely look for, and research, the natural folk remedies. Food is an important medicine for us – so true. Thank you for sharing that information.
    Diana, I’m sorry if I misunderstood about the depression. I may have confused your comments with another’s. If you want a friend to talk to – please feel free to contact me. I am working on that too. I am friendly with many, but close to only a very few.
    Trust issues I still struggle with.
    We all help each other thru Fr. Stephen’s blog, and it is a real blessing. We are all connected thru our connection to Christ, and each other as humans.

  60. Merry, your (and Michael’s) witness to the power and grace of God at work in your lives through the darkest of circumstances is a great encouragement. Thank you for sharing! Your remark about relying on God’s promise that He works all things together for the good of those who love Him reminds me of my favorite OT illustration of that truth in the story of Joseph and his brothers and the wonderful verse, Genesis 50:20 “But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive.”

  61. And He does all these things while my wife and I are yet sinners. It seems to be in God’s nature to empty Himself.

    Even to death on the Cross.

  62. Michelle, thank you for explaining your brother’s view more. Also, thank you for the initial question to Fr Stephen. Another great conversation in a caring environment.

  63. Diana, when I became Orthodox years ago, I knew I did not believe as I saw others believe. This made me feel fraudulent, but I looked at the other Orthodox people who went to church and said to myself, “I’m going to do everything they do. Maybe someday I’ll have what they have.” And God has shown me He is good.

  64. Such a wonderful place is this… beautiful and heart-breaking stories in a comments sections instead of a boring and dry theological commentaries on the doctrine of the communion of the saints. I should be used to this in Fr. Stephen’s blog but it never ceases to amaze me. How well we connect, we share our histories, our crosses, our burdens and sufferings. We laugh, we cry, we are moved and we move, often unconsciously.

    Oh, well…

    I have ADHD. That means I could be counting myself different from some of you, so I do not have depression and were I to trust in wikipedian diagnoses I’d be calling myself bipolar. But that was not the case. Both from doctors and a long, reflexive and on-going process of self-knowing and listening to my priest, there’s nothing wrong with me. I’m just anxious crazy. And this is just to prove another point, that instead of feeling bad about myself, because I’m living a terrible spiritual crisis lasting for years for a ‘minor’ issue, even never doubting for a second of the reason of our hope, I can only, specially because of your story, Merry, believe that there’s not greater or minor issues. We’re all broken, like Dostoevsky preached and taught. We’re all broken, in need of healing, we all suffer and it doesn’t really matter if we have illnesses or not, we are all broken, sinful, distorted things that were made perfect and always moving toward our Maker but we were burdened with this damn freedom that makes us humans and enslaves us, it limits us, it ensnares us.

    My anxiety is killing me spiritually. It’s been killing me slowly, and it’s been like this for years. Orthodoxy is not healing me. Sometimes this blog helps, but not always. My head is still a mess, such that it hurts terribly more living in this blessed ignorance of what’s going on in m head than actually of whats really going on in my head.

    These stories here makes me wonder that… we all have our own crosses, burdens, our unspoken histories. You could write hundreds of books, Merry, I know you can’t possibly cover the exact meaning, the reality of your brokenness in written or spoken words. We’re all broken. I’m trying hard to figure something out, even trying not to figure anything out at all, but it seems… difficult. Kinda impossible. But you’re stories gave me hope, more hope. Maybe I can try to cease to think, to figure something out, sit down, relax, watch the sunset, stop worrying about the future and save a little time to talk to Christ, to see Him, to talk to Him and to His Most-Pure Mother. Then I can say ‘Forgive me, God, for I have sinned against Thee!’. Then He’ll smile, hug me, and everything will be ok, then.

    Thank you, brothers and sisters in Christ.

  65. Ciao, God seems to work in brokenness, at least in my life. Much of it seems to be mustering enough hope each day to get up and keep moving in the direction God seems to be.

    I weep with you and cry out to God that He find you in the wilderness and bring you to Himself.

    Somehow, I know not how, the recognition of our brokenness seems to be a starting point for God’s work.

    He is good and is mercy is beyond comprehension.

    I have been carrying a brokenness for 65 years, since I was four that resulted in pain for myself and others all that time. Now He is bringing healing. Somehow I know it will be made tight fit

  66. Ciao, I’m grateful too for this blog and for those who give their time to speak and help others here, simply by being present and sharing their faith and hope. Merry and Michael have given very much support, it is so amazing how the grace of God works. While each of us carry a cross that is unique to each of us, as members of Church and Christ’s body, we share a path in the growth process.

    You may seem weak to yourself, but to me you shine in strength and courage-just by what you have been willing to share of yourself. I too, know the darkness that we all can fall into when we experience crises, pain and heartbreak. Please be assured Christ is with you. And you are loved more than you know.

  67. “Maybe I can try to cease to think, to figure something out, sit down, relax, watch the sunset, stop worrying about the future and save a little time to talk to Christ, to see Him, to talk to Him and to His Most-Pure Mother. Then I can say ‘Forgive me, God, for I have sinned against Thee!’. Then He’ll smile, hug me, and everything will be ok, then.”

    I would venture to say my friend, there you have it all in a nutshell. God ad with you.

  68. Hello, I wanted to share a few small thoughts related some themes here.

    In Harry Potter, the later episodes, Luna points out that the enemy would want Harry to feel isolated. That helps him to realize that seeds of suspicion have been thrown into his relationships that are essentially the work of the enemy. I hope to share some thoughts on how food when manipulated becomes a method to sow seeds of discord.

    In the Garden of Eden the enemy of mankind worked by deceiving Adam and Eve about the nature of food. He made them think it could fix a problem that didn’t really exist, encouraging them to be suspicious of God and to accuse God of witholding from them.

    We hear slogans on TV like ‘obey your thirst’ and I am surprised at how often the ads include images of people who are unwilling to share their food. This is intended to speak of the high quality of the food.

    We now live in a place where we are also assaulted with misrepresetations of what food and drink are for and what meaning they have in our lives.

    I just want to share a gentle thought with any of you who also stuggle with mood related issues. Please check your food labels and try to avoid additives such as sodium benzoate (an extreme preservative) as well as non-organic soy, and additives such labeled natural flavors, extractives or just ‘spice.’ These are MSG relatives that add huge amounts of flavor but leave my brain exhausted afterwards and with that lingering sense of not being able to feel.

    These additives are a way to use cheaper ingredients but hidden behind flavor.

    My husband is a wonderful bio teacher and some of his students gave him boxes of chocolates. I debated on saving them to take to share with others in the new year but I have to just throw them out. They have the ingredients like vanillin and natural flavor (see book Excitotoxins) that cultivate endless craving and make an exhausted brain after the rush of flavor. I find myself less able to manage emotions with patience after eating these highly prevelent foods.

    What I find to follow eating such products is a state like Theoden in Lord of the Rings, early in the movie. It is like a brush fire has gone through my brain and all that is left is smoking cinders.

    There is research on the link between increased aggression and sodium benzoate consumption in soldiers.

    There is limited research on the long term impact of the new flavor additives that come under a variety of umbrella names.

    Unparalleled things are being done to our food supply to cultivate craving and in the name of convenience.

  69. Does the Orthodox church have any specific prayers to the Theokos, like the Cathokics have? What about other saints?

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