Begging my readers’ patience, I will take a small anthropologist tour through our culture. What I want to draw our attention to is the place of the image. We are not only fascinated with looking at images, we place them on our bodies as well: t-shirts, tattoos, hats, shoes, pants – in short, everywhere. There is nothing unusual in this. Were we to examine primitive tribes, we would notice a vast assemblage of image-markings. People cover themselves with colorful muds, distort certain parts of their bodies, do amazing things with hair, dress themselves in utterly impractical costumes. Something is at work in the human soul that is demonstrated in all of these behaviors. My suggestion is that it is an effort to live “according to the image.”
Clothing is mentioned with an essential role in the Genesis account of human beginnings. Our sin plunges us into shame. We are “naked” and seek to “hide.” The theological unpacking of this reality is deeply important in Scripture, particularly in the New Testament. But it also reflects a simple human experience. The naked truth of ourselves is generally experienced in a shameful manner. That is to say that we feel exposed, vulnerable and in danger when various aspects of that truth are seen by others. And so, we cover up.
God provided Adam and Eve “garments of skin” in Genesis 3. Those garments have been deeply elaborated on ever since. Perhaps the deepest commentary on this is found in St. Paul:
For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. (Gal. 3:27)
This would probably be more accurately rendered, “As many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ as a garment.” The word “put on” (ἐνεδύσασθε) specifically refers to “putting on” a garment. This “putting on” is the true and spiritual fulfillment of which all efforts to clothe ourselves are a mere reflection, and often one of deep distortion.
I take us back to my first observation: we universally seek to cover or mark ourselves with something. Our appearance is a canvas which we cannot help but disguise. And, following Genesis, we can observe that we desperately want to cover or mark ourselves in order to disguise our shame – in one form or another.
It can be argued that we wear clothes because it is too sunny or cold. But our clothing long ago transcended the practical need of hairless animals. Our clothing, like most of our lives, reflects psychological and spiritual issues more than anything. The state of our soul is often on display for anyone who understands the nature of the great human cover-up.
A frequent element of our covering is the projection of power. We use various symbols and clues as signals. Identifying ourselves with a team proclaims the power of a tribe: we are not alone. Much of our political signals are aggressive in nature, not surprising in a culture in which almost all citizens feel largely powerless. Our coverings can signal beauty, strength, anger, sexual desire, any number of things in the cultural dance surrounding inner shame.
The modern fashion of tattooing (more prominent in America than Europe) is a deeper form of covering, at least in its permanence. It strikes me as interesting that such a permanent form of covering should become popular in a culture permeated by impermanence. In my part of the world, it seems less and less common to encounter people who have no tattoos.
Please understand that I am not saying that our clothing and markings are themselves shameful. They are quite the opposite. They represent protective coverings that protect us from the shame we feel and the shaming we encounter in social settings. Our inner shame surrounds our sense of identity. Shame is about “who I am.” Our coverings represent an effort to publicly proclaim, “This is who I am,” regardless of what might be the case inwardly. As such, our coverings are an attempt to say, “This is who I want you to think I am.” Many times these same created coverings are used to hide our inner shame from ourselves. The modern selfie is a fascination with the image, an effort to proclaim an existence and identity in a world where social media has become a substitute ontology: “I’m online, therefore I exist…. And they like me!”
All of this feels intensely personal as I think about it. As an Orthodox priest, I am costumed in almost every setting. In public, I wear a cassock. In Church, I am covered in vestments. But there, the covering is extremely intentional. As he vests, the priest prays:
My soul shall rejoice in the Lord, for He has clothed me with the garment of salvation; He has covered me with the robe of gladness; as a bridegroom He has set a crown on me; and as a bride adorns herself with jewels, so has He adorned me…. Your Priests, O Lord, shall clothe themselves with righteousness, and Your saints shall shout with joy always, now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen.
According to Eusebius, St. James, the Brother of the Lord, wore a linen garment like the High Priest when he served in the Church’s assembly. That ancient reality, still enacted in the Liturgy, is a visible “putting on of Christ.” It is Christ who is present and leads us in our offering to the Father. The robing of the priest covers the person of the priest himself (and his shame), in order to present the Lord of glory.
To wear a uniform or costume (I don’t know what else to call it) in public is always to disappear to a certain extent. My own parishioners, when they occasionally see me without the cassock (when I’m out for a walk, etc.), do not always recognize me – at least not at first glance. It reminds me that I am not “me” to them, but “their priest.” My late Archbishop used to forbid priests to wear things like bathing suits in front of their parishioners. If we wanted to swim, we needed to go somewhere else.
It is possible to lose yourself in such a covering. A priest can begin to mistake himself for the robe he wears. Indeed, I think some are drawn to the priesthood precisely because they want to lose themselves – and for the wrong reasons. We can clothe ourselves outwardly, but if the clothing only hides our shame and does not transform it, then it becomes part of the sickness in our lives that binds us to our shame.
Just as our first experience of shame was our “nakedness” (the emptiness of our existence in the presence of God), so our salvation is expressed in terms of being clothed:
Put off your old nature which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and put on the new nature, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. Therefore, putting away falsehood, let every one speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. (Eph. 4:22-25)
The “new nature,” created “after the likeness of God,” is nothing other than the very righteousness of Christ, described as a garment. But this is more than a garment – it is a “nature,” meaning that it no longer represents a garment that hides us, but something that changes us, so that the inside (“nature”) matches the outside (“righteousness of Christ”). We can be seen exactly as we are – without shame.
It is noteworthy that St. Paul completes the admonition with the commandment to “speak the truth.” This is the opposite of what takes place in almost all of our various cultural versions of clothing. What you see of others is never “who they are,” but what they want you to see, an effort that is rarely successful.
However, our holy transformation (conformity to the image of Christ) begins in Baptism, and continues as we “speak the truth,” meaning as we “bear a little shame” in the truth of our confession and repentance and in our dealings with others. It is, admittedly, a most difficult thing. The greater our inward fear and the depth of our wounds, the harder it is to trust this work of salvation. By grace, it is possible.
Nearly six years ago I had a very graphic dream that involved my late Archbishop Dmitri. It was some few months after his death. The last words he spoke in the dream have stayed with me: “I believe that soon, we shall all have to stand naked before the judgment seat of Christ.” I did not know then how important those words would become for me. May God clothe us with the righteousness of Christ and conform us inwardly to His image.
“However, our holy transformation (conformity to the image of Christ) begins in Baptism, and continues as we “speak the truth,” meaning as we “bear a little shame” in the truth of our confession and repentance and in our dealings with others. It is, admittedly, a most difficult thing. The greater our inward fear and the depth of our wounds, the harder it is to trust this work of salvation. By grace, it is possible.”
I have found that as I bear my own shame, I am more able to see the image of God in others – in other words, I am becoming more able to see others as more than the sum of their malformations, transformed into His image – and not a projection of either my judgment or wishful thinking.
I believe that we are to address the image of God in one another. I’ve witnessed Elders who are able to do this – skillfully applying truth and mercy – and in so doing, over time, seem to call Lazarus forth out of his grave. It is nothing short of miraculous. I’m grateful to know them – and have their example.
Indeed. I think Jesus spoke past every pretense and to the truth of each person. In His presence, we are revealed to be what we truly are.
I love this. Almost ten years ago, in 2008, you wrote an article, “Fashion and the Inner Life,” which I responded to with a blog post, “Fashion and the Inner Life.” http://susancushman.com/fashion-and-the-inner-life/ I feel that you have revisited this and added more. Thank you.
Very interesting post Father. I will have to ruminate on this. All of my adult life I have worn a uniform. First, the uniform prescribed by USAF regulations and custom. Then I wore a uniform when I worked in various jobs in transportation and now I wear the prescribed “uniform” as clergy. I don’t think I ever wore a uniform to hide something, nor did I do it to proclaim something, I did it because it was required. In the service I were the minimum number of do dads and fruit salad that I could get away with (it is a pain to put all the fruit salad on straight) Fruit salad is the awards and decorations. But, I could be wrong and it is worth considering. It does seem to me of all the “costumes” I have had to wear (I love you calling them that, it tickles my funny bone) the only garment that is worth wearing is Christ and I pray I am doing that well, but only on that day of standing naked before the judgment seat will I know for sure.
Did I miss it or did you not mention the illustration to this blog post as a reference to Flannery O’Connor’s story — or maybe it’s not! 🙂
Did you notice, however, when you wore the uniform that you, yourself, were somewhat “hidden” within it? Or, not seen for yourself. I don’t think it’s particularly the motive – and certainly, surrounded by other soldiers, the uniform becomes little more than casual dress.
I’m preparing to go to Mt. Athos in late September. I’ve received some directions for appropriate attire (clergy). Interestingly, priests do not wear their cross on the Holy Mountain, unless they are serving. As you know, among Russian clergy, the Cross is given at ordination, and the later crosses represent “awards.” I will be a “buck private” when I appear on the Mountain, with only my gray hair and beard to point to the years. It seemed to me that the monks rightly want to ignore all of that and trade it for the only robe that matters (Christ Himself).
I felt terribly naked when I was received into Orthodoxy. I had renounced my orders as an Anglican, and was thrust into daily life for the first time in 20 years without a collar. Oddly, I’ve seen many military men at a complete loss when on furlough and with no instructions as to what to wear. To be a soldier can become an “identity” – and, as such, hides what lies beneath. Uniforms exist in order to make everyone the same – and at least equal to their fellow rank. It “depersonalizes” to a degree, I think. It gives an instant respectability (in most quarters).
The terrible experience of adolescence includes the absence of identity – we’re not sure yet who we are – which is why adolescents are so terribly vulnerable to shame. Military service, for some, is the first chance to have any security in an identity, even if the identity is not as “John Smith” but as “Private Smith.” It’s far safer.
Just some thoughts for rumination…
Oh, it’s definitely a reference to “Parker’s Back.” If I may, I would suggest that this article is something of a key to understanding that short story.
Thank you for continuing to write about this difficult subject….shame. It has, for me, it’s times of torment.
I need a lot of grace. I trust God as much as I am able, in His infinite amount.
After reading about the icon tattoo (at Wiki), I find it relates much to your point about shame, image, and it’s transformation. It compliments the depth of your article.
Again, thank you.
earrings and shaved head-
what will all this mean
when you are dead,
when sinews melt away
and bones return to dust?
splattered with tattoo ink-
graffiti on a might-have-been icon
of the Living God.
And when age has sapped you
of your strength,
struck you down
and humbled your illusion,
will you be wiser then?
Or will you simply, sadly
lie down in the trench
your life has dug
in willful, recalcitrant
of the glory
that could have been?
There is joy in being a buck private. I agree with you assessment of fitting in on the general level, but I never had a problem taking off my uniform when the day was done and wearing jeans and a T Shirt. My sense of dressing in a uniform has always been obedience to those who are above me. Different days and tasks called for different uniforms and I just wore them. I did, however, once retired from the service, have to spend some time figuring out that who I was is different from what I do for a living. I haven’t had that problem since I broke the code.
I don’t disagree with your article, I am just reflecting on my attitude towards the clothing. I know that you have identified a very prevalent tendency and you are spot on about the fitting in aspect. I will say that you idea of identification rings very true. Most people I know who served twenty plus years and retired do face an identity crises in the military and many die within a few years of retirement. My father served 32 years and was lost in many ways after he retired. He lasted four years after retiring before his early death at 55.
When I meet people I like to ask them who they are. Most responses I get are related to their occupation. I like to shock them by saying I am not asking what they do, but who they are and most cannot answer that question. It is a good way for me to introduce into the conversation that we are the creation of our Lord and that is very much a part of WHO we are. The rest of our who is the rest of the web of our communion with others.
I will continue to reflect. Thank you for making me think more on the subject.
I think the shaved-head tattoo guy is simply an image of most of us writ large and indelibly. More sad to me, in a way, is to see Orthodoxy as a t-shirt or tattoo – particularly when it is bold and unmatched by an inner reality. Of course, my inner reality and my cassock are a living contradiction, so I do not judge but see mirrors all around me of my fellow slaves, yearning to be free.
Be blessed in it! All of this is heightened, I think, in those whose shame is more intense than others. The healthier the person (relatively), the less this holds true.
I had a college friend who was the most unconsciously “preppy” guy I knew. It’s simply what he was born to. He was also “on the spectrum” so that he really had no idea. I’ve never seen wealth sit as easily on a man. He also was one of the best writers I’ve ever known. A simple postcard from him was a treasure.
Wonderful post, Father. Thank you. I have a few scars and tattoos marking my arms–leftovers of a misspent youth. I parted with a chunk of money trying to erase the larger tattoo, and it’s only halfway faded now. I gave up and got used to wearing long sleeves year-round some time ago. Anyhow, these marks are physical reminders of my struggles with shame. I’ve had much trouble “bearing a little” in life, and have travelled between shamelessness and it’s opposite. The arms tell the story, I suppose.
On a related note, I think the popularity of tattoos has much to do with a longing for identity. The impermanence and uncertainty that increasingly defines life for younger generations (such as my own–you know, college debt, crumbling traditions, dying hometowns, general precarity) breeds this longing for something true and lasting. I think most of us need the “cover” of a solid role and place in life, with the attendant uniform, to feel ok. (Perhaps some more than others) The explosion of tattooing as a trend might speak to how much younger generations feel cut off from the traditional ways of getting that sense of security, inventing their own …..but I only speak from my experience here. I also know many who would simply say that they like the art. Again, thanks for the thought provoking post.
I find it odd that at a time when the culture at large is increasingly iconoclastic, tatoos are more common, or maybe it’s not odd.
I am a homeschool mom in my mid thirties with three kids in grade school. Some days I find it jarring to be ‘in public’ without my kids, bereft of my identity as a ‘mom.’ Clothes can be our costume, and I certainly use them as such, but I can also console the confusion of being ‘me’ behind my identity as mom.
Putting in words who we (think we) are, however, is not something to be done ‘lightly’. I side with the fairly un-american (and almost monastic) secrecy concerning such things spoken in the open or even in private. The time and place for such words I think is only confession to one’s Spiritual Father. Besides, when we confess who we are, we mainly confess our “Old Man” so that the real person (the New Man, in Christ) can be revealed.
A certain reticence is crucial on these matters, as wearing our identity on our sleeve (whether the false one or the true one) cannot really stand.
Like byzantine icons, which cannot really be a direct expression of the artist’s personal (in the style of romantic expressionism) ego but have to adhere to certain Church rules first, so too, our projected persona needs a certain adhering to some rules of conduct – to safeguard some watchful humility in the very least…
Hiding behind fairly average clothing and conduct, obviously, dependent upon their specific context, one can find the greatest saints. An intentionally average looking layman or an intentionally average looking and behaving monk/nun can be a sign of true spiritual maturity. Dramatic expressions of self are quite often the exact opposite, even in minuscule doses…
On the other hand, uniforms (such as the cassock, or just a wedding ring) certainly contain a deeply sacramental spiritual-betrothal-symbolism which cannot be put on and then put off again as if they do not have an ontological foundation. I cannot forget how deeply rooted was the conviction of this for one of Elder Joseph the Hesychast’s disciples (the abbot Fr. Charalambos) who from the day of his tonsure, never again saw him self in any dream (he remembered his dreams almost daily) wearing lay clothes again…!
I had to look up the meaning of “on the spectrum”. It basically describes people with odd social behaviors…people that are “just different”. Most of the descriptions mention those with a range of autistic tendencies, hence, “on the spectrum”. An interesting idiom. It is also interesting, and not surprising, that I find myself drawn to the “odd” folks. Like you said about your friend, the “odd” are actually more real..less apt to hide under false images. It’s hard to describe, but I feel safe with them.
Dear Fr. Stephen,
One of the most intense ‘battles’ I had with my 18 year old son in the recent months was to stop him from getting a tattoo. When he became an Eagle Scout, he was going to tattoo a three-color eagle on his chest. Thankfully he mentioned it before he did it (some parents I know were not so lucky). I pulled out “all the guns” to stop it, claiming mostly that I would be paying for it indirectly as he is dependent on me financially. He “kicked and screamed”, threatened to get more in the future. But he also said things like “getting it 3 years from now would not be ‘meaningful'”….
I wonder how many of these kids do these impulse tattoos and later regret it. One of the arguments I used was exactly what you mentioned, that 10-20 years from now he may be the only one without a tattoo – and it may be WORTH a lot!!
One of my coworkers knows an FBI agent (higher up in the ranks). He told me they were discussing tattoos at a figure skating competition their daughters participated in. The girls (!!!) were considering about getting a figure skater little tattoo. To which the FBI agent said that one cannot get a job with FBI with a tattoo (or even after having it removed)… I wonder how true that is and if it will have to change soon, as it is less and less likely to find anybody without one. Even women my age (at my company) are getting them… I just cannot fathom… In the culture and time I grew up in, only felons and recidivists had them…
I also heard that it’s a type of addiction. You cannot just stop at one, you have to get more and more. Some of these people I see must have thousands of dollars of work on them… But that is not much different than wasting money on alcohol or cigarettes (by regular people, I don’t even mean drug addicts).
I have a friend in London who’s son-in-law is a tattoo artist. She is a very “direct lady” so she told me that she asked and compared the money her son-in-law makes doing tattoos to the salary of her nephew who is a doctor (I think a surgeon). The tattoo artist makes 3 times more an hour than the doctor, works much less and has no education…
The doctor heals, the other one creates monsters… The talk by Jonathan Pageau at your Diocese of the South assembly shook me to the core… The only consoling thing was to hear that the Church expected this world to become as it is now from the beginning…. May God help us keep true faith to the end…
P.S. And if you have any ideas on how to keep dissuading my son from starting on the tattoo path, I would greatly appreciate the advice…
I’ve only been out of teaching 9 years, but when I heard my daughter, who teaches, use ” on the spectrum,” I also had to ask her what it meant. I’ve always liked the KJV of I Pet. 1:9 which calls Christians “peculiar” people. Newer versions read, ” God’s own people,” or “His special people.” But, as sojourners here on earth (Hebrews) I don’t mind the “odd” label that much either. 🙂
I’m a bald tattooed man with a blue dragon tattoo (panel and half-sleeve). I have Sanskrit text from the Dhammapada and Morihei Ueshiba tattooed on my left arm. When I was lifting and doing martial arts. The you get a dragon tattoo the last thing they tattoo is the eyes. That gives the dragon it’s soul. I never had my dragon’s eyes tattooed.
Thank you for your response to Nicholas. Your keen insight here (in all your posts, really) points to a place in each of us that, for lack of a better word, remains sacred…and so must be respected when communicating with people, whether we’ve known them for a while or just met them. (this goes both ways. I am trying to learn this, as I have a tendency to “tell all”. Sometimes this does more harm than good. As you say, “…our projected persona needs a certain adhering to some rules of conduct – *to safeguard some watchful humility*” I mistake the “telling all” as a sign of humility, when it is really a cry for acceptance.) Your point that these private matters, these sacred things, are best reserved for “the holy” to hear allows for “the holy” to be instrumental in our healing…of that Old Man. Yes, it is a spiritual matter, dealt with on a spiritual basis.
You are correct that this is an un-American approach. For some reason we tend to cross boundaries, even when not intended. We call it “an invasion of our space”. Applying your words here to that “invasion” helps me to recognize how important the gift of discretion is.
“I believe that soon, we shall all have to stand naked before the judgment seat of Christ.”
I have felt for a long time that that day cannot come soon enough. Don’t get me wrong: I don’t imagine that I will do particularly well at the judgement, nor am I presumptuously confident in my own salvation: quite the opposite. But on that day, I will stand before the Lord and all my exhausting years of hiding and self-deception, of lying and misrepresenting myself to myself, will come to an end and be stripped away. And though I am sure it will be painful and fearful, at the same time, what a relief it will be! In all likelihood I will be condemned. But for just that one moment, I will be able to say, “This is what I am”, with no obfuscation or self-righteousness or self-justification, because at that point they will be impossible. And then I will know that the judgement of God, whatever it will be, will be just. It can’t come soon enough.
Holy Archbishop Dmitri, pray to God for me.
YES! A peculiar people! I prefer that translation myself! 🙂
I agree, it is not to be done lightly. My point to people is that they are not their mask/occupation. My reason for doing that is that so many people become attached to their mask as their authentic self and when they lose that mask through retirement or job loss, they lose themselves. Many turn to drugs/alcohol or addictive behaviors to numb out from this shock because they are totally lost without their mask.
My hope is to get them to realize that they are more than an occupation as a person. For all the years since Nicaea we have never, as a culture, advanced our understanding of personhood. A person is unique and unrepeatable because they are defined by their web of relationship and communion. I am who I am because I have a name, I descend from ancestors who are unique to me and my siblings, I have my siblings and my children. If I were foolish enough to clone myself, my clone would not be me because he would not be my father’s and mother’s son, the brother of my sisters or the father of my children. My job title does not define me.
As to the depths of my character as being part of who I am, I must agree with you in that nobody really knows that part of themselves with perfect clarity other than our Lord. We should seek that with a spiritual father. But my immediate point is dealing with people who are often totally lost as to who they are and often addicted to substances as a result. My hope is to get them to see they are not isolated individuals and that they need to seek communion with others, especially the Lord to be healed of the loneliness that drives them to self medicate to kill the emptiness and pain. The rest of the journey needs to be with their spiritual father, but if they never know they are more, they will never seek.
Thanks for this reflection. I totally agree concerning clothes and such being used as a cover. I would add that sometimes (mostly unconscious) these “costumes” also give little signs of what’s going on inside, perhaps asking for help.
Examples: Tattoos can be a way to find an identity (as mentioned). Baggy clothes can signal not being ready to step into the big responsibilities of life. Piercings can represent being enslaved in certain ways. Various head shavings can be about suppression and such things.
These are all generalizations but there are trends “for anyone who understands the nature of the great human cover-up.”
I work in an independent insurance agency. At the sales meeting yesterday an article was presented that said it is counter productive to look at one’s job as a means to happiness and/or self-fulfillment. Rather it needs to be about how one approaches the job at hand. It is who you are not what you do that is important.
Is this “putting on the garment” different than “theosis” or transfiguration?
Ultimately, it is the same as theosis. It is interesting that it is first described as taking place at Baptism. It is correct to say that Baptism is “theosis,” even though the fullness of that is not made immediately manifest.
I appreciated Dino’s observation about the sacramental character of many uniforms and such. Garments do not always hide – they also “bestow” to a certain degree. The robing of a monarch, the vesting of a priest, etc.
At an ordination, when a priest is vested, the congregation cries, “Axios!” meaning, “He is worthy!” Of course, only the “Lamb” is “worthy.” It is, however, a sacramental vesting in the righteousness of Christ.
Ordination and the life that follows, is always a demand to work towards being conformed inwardly to what is seen outwardly. I think there is grace for that – that many priests easily overlook or don’t realize is going on.
There is an old Bogart film (I think it’s Bogie) where two criminals hide out in a monastery. They are disguised as monks. One of them chooses to remain. There’s another similar film. But it is the interesting portrayal of the sacramental character of the clothing. “The clothes make the man,” in the best possible sense.
Do you think that ones clothing translates any toward their behavior / how they carry themselves around others?
Undoubtedly – and for a variety of reasons.
Theosis takes place at baptism…??
I appreciate the point you make re: man’s identity being established upon his ‘relationality’.
It is most pertinent here that God the Father’s identity is entirely relational [as Father]… The same clearly goes for God the Son, (even though He has been given a specific name – Jesus), He identifies continuously as the Son of the Father; the same goes for the Holy Spirit of God in a different way, proceeding always from the Father as His Spirit and sent by the Son as His Father’s breath of Life which is a Person just like the Father’s Logos is a Person. ‘Being as communion’.
Yes. We are united with Christ. All of the language of that service speaks in that accomplished manner. It also prays that the newly Baptized “preserve their garment undefiled”. Baptism gives us the totality of what we receive in this life…though only a lifetime reveals it.
Here’s a quote from St. Hippolytus of Rome (ca 170-235):
“But give me now your best attention, I pray you, for I wish to go back to the fountain of life, and to view the fountain that gushes with healing. The Father of immortality sent the immortal Son and Word into the world, who came to man in order to wash him with water and the Spirit; and He, begetting us again to incorruption of soul and body, breathed into us the breath (spirit) of life, and endued us with an incorruptible panoply. If, therefore, man has become immortal, he will also be god. And if he is made god by water and the Holy Spirit after the regeneration of the laver he is found to be also joint-heir with Christ after the resurrection from the dead. Wherefore I preach to this effect: Come, all you kindreds of the nations, to the immortality of the baptism. I bring good tidings of life to you who tarry in the darkness of ignorance. Come into liberty from slavery, into a kingdom from tyranny, into incorruption from corruption. And how, says one, shall we come? How? By water and the Holy Ghost. This is the water in conjunction with the Spirit, by which paradise is watered, by which the earth is enriched, by which plants grow, by which animals multiply, and (to sum up the whole in a single word) by which man is begotten again and endued with life, in which also Christ was baptized, and in which the Spirit descended in the form of a dove.” (Discourse on the Holy Theophany 8)
It is absolutely the point I am trying to make with people that their identity as persons is bound up in their web of relationships that defines them, just as it does within the Trinity. The Father is The Father because He has the Son. The Son has His identity as Son because He has the Father. What is interesting to me is that this is the point of the verbiage within the Greek in the Nicaean Creed. The verb for begetting is not a description of process of birth as we think of it but it ontologically establishes the Son and also establishes His Name. The verb for the generation of the Holy Spirit has to be different because the Holy Spirit is not the brother of the Son so the verb meaning “comes out of” is used to ontologically establish the Holy Spirit and describe the relationships within the Trinity between Him and the Father and Him and the Son. Leaning on Zizioulas (hopefully, not too much) I see our personhood and the image and likeness of theirs. Our marred personhood is the result of the damage done by sin.
Which I then make the point that this is the reason we need a Savior because only God can fix what He created. It is also what is so heinous about abortion. We are denying the personhood of these babies by disposing of them as nameless biological waste. The subject of who we are can lead to many things, some of which, as you pointed out, have to be done under the guidance of a Spiritual Father. In our Western, secular culture, I believe it is the way to help open a persons eyes to the shallowness of our culture and the deeper need they have for communion.
I have many, many, tattoos. Years ago when I was in a Southern Baptist Church, I was told by a Deacon, “I don’t know why you bother boy, with all them tattoos you’re just gonna burn in Hell anyway”. That statement “tortured me”, so much in fact that I left the “church” and only pursued my interests in “the world”. One person, a person who was “high up: in the church said that and I ran from Christianity like it was Bolshevik Communism. I did “everything ” I could to “prove” that Christianity is a big waste of time. I slept with every willing woman I could find, I partied, I did drugs, and basically turned my life over to the “passions ” of the “world”.
Father Stephen mentions “tattooing” as being part of a tribe. I wanted to be a part of “anything” that wasn’t “Christian”. A tribe. I played guitar in Rock Bands and made “Debauchery” my king. I cared of nothing beyond my “feelings” and “vices”. I was “searching” for something but knew not what I was indeed “searching” for. My “hate” for Protestantism, (whom had destroyed the sacredness of Christ for me in all of it’s hypocritical “glory”) found a new and glorious emissary in me, the “hater” of Christianity. I mocked Christ for being weak. I mocked Christians for being diluted from the “original” Christianity that prevailed throughout the first few centuries. I was raised a Protestant and Catholics were evil because of idolatry and confession and drinking alcohol.
Long story short, because of my “hatred” of Protestantism, I chose to0 cleave to “ANYTHING”, that was not Protestant. I discover ” Orthodoxy” and because it is not “Protestant”, I can “embrace” anything that does not go along with Protestant Doctrine, if such a thing exists. However, through “Orthodoxy” I, sinner that I am, discovered the “TRUTH”.
Because of my “hate” and “disgust” for the controversial “norms” of Protestantism, I discovered Orthodoxy.
Which brings me to my second point. All this time, I was “searching” for God, or my “tribe”. I was tattooed heavily. I was looking for the “security” and reminiscences of my “childhood”. I found my “childhood town” in Fairbanks, Alaska, (or as close as I could come some 2 decades later), and “lived a second childhood” there. When you say, “tattoos are a “longing” to belong (paraphrased of course), you are “truly” not far “off course”. For my tattoos I chose a “horror” theme and got tattoos of Zombies, Vampires and Demons. I look down at my arms now and “envision” the evil in the world and my tattoos serve as a constant reminder to follow Christ, to take up my “cross” and follow Him. My “artwork” of defiance and passion have become a “symbol” of the evil in this world and to not accept it as a “reminder” of my sins of the past, but as a “reminder” that Christ is our “only hope” in this world dismal and black can “save us” from our ” passions ” and our “need” of the world.
In closing, I will say this, “Our longingly need for Christ was set in motion long ago, and only through Him will we ever set ourselves “free” from the “wiles” of both the world and our passions. Great post Father, Thank you for your Christ-given knowledge and guidance!
It is worth noting that in at least one place, God says that He has “graven us on the palms of His hands,” such that He cannot forget us. Is. 49:16 So, we can say that God has tattoos – mystical, of course. 🙂
But anyone who thinks they (tattoos) are inherently evil is off-base. It’s good to understand them, as it is good to understand ourselves. And it’s good that today, what was once rebellion now becomes an opportunity for prayer and remembrance.
Your quote from Isa. 49 reminded me of another “mystical” tatoo, this one on Christ. Rev.19:13 identifies Him as “The Word of God.” Verse 16 says, “On his robe and on his thigh he has a name inscribed, King of kings and Lord of lords.” I had seen this before, but your verse brought this one to my mind. Thought it interesting.
It is worth noting that the word that modern translators made read tattoo does not read that way conclusively in either Hebrew or Greek. I have to wonder if translators had a purpose in making that word read that way. As I look at the Greek in the Septuagint I have to consider if the Lord was talking about embalming dead bodies which was, of course, a pagan practice. Embalming requires cuts and marks on the body and the Greek word the modern translators make read tattoo simply means marks. I would not worry some much abut the marks on the body as the state of your heart towards the Lord. A sacrifice unto God is a broken spirit, a broken and contrite heart. If you are working to make that sacrifice, then you are moving in the right direction. If you have a tat that is or can be construed as Satanic, it is probably a good thing to eliminate it in some way. Remember that the bulk of the translations of the Bible we read in English we translated by people who have a particular world view that we have left behind.
Trying to see the world as a one story universe is like wearing a Hawaiian shirt in East Tennessee. Sometimes it is worn as an undershirt in the process of rising and healing.
“Now, therefore, when we die we no longer do so as men condemned to death, but as those who are even now in process of rising we await the general resurrection of all, “which in its own times He shall show,”even God Who wrought it and bestowed it on us.”
Excerpt From: Athanasius. “On the Incarnation.”
Thank you Fr. Stephen and comment posters. I appreciate you.
I can understand why David Foutch questioned theosis taking place at baptism. When theosis is explained to us, it is always put as the last stage of our being, and rarely attained in this life. You did preface “a lifetime reveals it”.
When you say theosis is accomplished at baptism I see this as the same reason we can say the Kingdom is here now and yet to come in its fullness [Thy Kingdom come]…or that Christ is the Lamb slain before the foundation of the world, yet only to be revealed later…or why Paul can say we “sit [here now]together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come [later,revealed in fullness] He might show the exceeding riches of His grace.”…or why in the Liturgy we can put the Second Coming in present tense. Am I correct here?
The mode of thought, or better, perception, needed to understand symbolism, allegory I see as one of the things you are trying to teach us about the effects of modernity…that modern thought creates a barrier to be able to see beyond the mere image of say, a person, or water, or anything we observe in the material world…that there are “layers” of reality present, yet hidden, and in Christ, revealed.
Your articles on allegory, eschatology, modernity, to name a few, as well as other writings you’ve recommended, are helping me begin to understand how to “think” differently, as you say, like the Fathers. They were not modern, but we are. This is a great challenge for us newly Orthodox…frustrating at first, as I could not get past the seeming contradictions. So with the frustration I am learning to be patient…albeit in fits and starts, and to put my ego aside (I’d actually like to trash it) and accept that I am an infant in the faith…to continue to “be present” (using your words) in each moment and open myself to any inkling of revelation I may receive. I read a lot, but that is not enough…much more is needed to “see the light”. Somewhere in all this Gods grace is at work…after all, He is the very source of Light. So no, we can do nothing without Him.
Thank you Father…and remember us when you go to Mt. Athos!
Very little in Orthodoxy is “linear” in nature – though our culture tends to think almost exclusively in those terms. Thanks for your observations!
Fr. Stephen and others,
I’m wondering if the burgeoning modern inclination towards “gender modification” – even so far as taking hormones to change body chemistry – is related to hiding shame.
Shame is the “master emotion” according to clinical studies. That is to say, if you’re talking about something in the psycho-social sphere and are not including the dynamic of shame, then you’re only skimming the surface. Yes, I think shame has everything to do with it. Tragically, the nature of gender dysphoria is being obscurred by politically-driven ideologies. Politics makes bad medicine.
A little off topic here, but since this is a theme you have investigated more than most, I’d like to request a possible elucidation regarding the inner workings of difficult-to-grasp-shame:
It seems to me that shame is more an offspring and less a progenitor of the two principal expressions of self-love, namely, desire and anger. The Maximian allegory of little David guarding his sheep (logismoi/thoughts) and therefore being able to overcome the terrible lion ( anger) and bear ( desire) makes quite a big deal of these two alone, as if that’s more than enough for us to contend with. We could also add fear as ta third beast that comes to regularly disturb one’s unguarded heart.
Even though it is clear that our shameful nakedness from God’s grace is the prior soil needed for desires and attachments, for anger and frustrations, and for fear and worries to take root and sprout, isn’t it true that, in practice, shame is only really felt as the end result of these three? Isn’t it felt far more as a consequence of entrapment & enslavement to these (desire, anger and fears), even if this enslavement is nothing more than manifestation of our former nakedness from Grace? Isn’t it true that without this subsequent passionate offspring of ‘former shame’ there is no more tormenting ‘ensuing shame’ left, but a holy boldness, a boldness that remains humble and, perhaps even “embarrasses” its proprietor (without tormenting him/her) due to it’s own immeasurable exaltation from God (the Mother of God comes to mind here)?
A difficulty, to an extent, in what I’ve been writing with regard to shame is involved in its terminology. There is the clinical language about the neuro-biological “affects” (there are 9 of them) that are hard-wired. One of them is labeled “shame” – though it might be labeled differently. There is “shame” that is the emotion, which is triggered by the affect. That both have the same name is, I think, problematic. I’m going to have to do a better job differentiating them. I’m trying to integrate the tradition and the clinical – and find it very worthwhile.
The “affect” called shame is primary and largely lies beneath anger, etc. It is prior.
Dino, it is quite easy for me to see the connection between anger/fear and shame. Less clear is the shame-desire dynamic. It would be good to get some clarification.
It is indeed very complicated terminologically… If I could think our loud here for a bit please: I can’t help thinking that “primary shame” cannot be known very well without the passions/behaviour it produces. And it’s these passions that traditionally seem to be the practical focus of patristic teaching. Furthermore, the passions’ primary root is more often understood simply as ‘self-love’ –or at least to a greater degree than ‘primary shame’. It’s as if it is only ever due to this passionate behaviour, [which exposes our slavery to desire, anger, fear, even if these are understood as largely “primary shame”-driven reactions: i.e: desiring for the hurt ego, raging because of the hurt ego, fearing for the ego, (in our lack of God-centerdness)], that shame acquires any ‘substance’. Primary shame as ‘affect’ (as unconscious response to external stimuli that controls one’s behaviour), especially when this produces dysphoria and awkwardness with the giveness of one’s ontology and the exposure of how contingent our being is to our deeply self-worshipping and self-obsessed ego (which is understandably not exactly glad of this exposure, as it ought to be if it continued in trustful acceptance, steadfastly turned Godwards in love and humility) is only really known through the inescapable resultant internal or external ‘behaviour’ and this passionate behaviour’s ensuing “subsequent shame”.
Subsequent shame of course, is what we expose and bear in true repentance, it is the confession not of our being’s contingency (acceptance of which brings true freedom) but of our enslavement to things that are not our true God; bearing this subsequent shame eventually moves us to a deeper & wilful bearing of a more primary shame, as deeper and deeper levels of darkness are revealed through the continued purification of our vision and through our continued efforts towards (and monitoring of) our permanent and firm reorientation away from the self and towards God.
Thanks your Fr Stephen!
“I believe that soon, we shall all have to stand naked before the judgment seat of Christ.” I did not know then how important those words would become for me. May God clothe us with the righteousness of Christ and conform us inwardly to His image.
Christ is risen! Glory to God for His Son!