Walking In A Lost World

I have been engaged in an interesting reading project. The first part started with the travel accounts of Patrick Leigh Fermor, who made a walking journey from Holland to Constantinople (as he always called it) in 1933. His work (3 volumes) is considered one of the best of its genre in our times. He was only 19 when he started and was far from being settled and mature. However, he had a deep interest in culture, history, language, and people. His curiosity flows across every page of the journey. As such, his work is more than the story of a very long walk: it is a fascinating description of a Europe that would shortly explode. Many of the people whom he met would not only not survive the war, but their communities and way of life would disappear. I recently finished my second reading of his volumes.

The second part of this project (as I’m calling it) has been to read about another hiker (Nick Hunt), writing in 2011-2012, who followed Fermor’s path across a very changed Europe. To say things had changed is an absurd understatement. Very little was the same or even comparable. The Danube had flowed freely during Fermor’s time, while today a series of hydroelectric dams has changed its very character. As Fermor crossed Germany, he had ominous encounters with the growing Nazi presence. The war that followed in the next decade left many of the things he described in ruins. For the lands East of Austria, the war was followed by the brutal changes of Soviet communism, destroying a way of life and leaving a strange detritus in its wake.

Fermor’s Europe was almost devoid of cars. Outside the cities, they received little notice and were encountered as rare and exotic things. Nick Hunt, on the other hand, struggled to find a path for walking. Highways and paved roads were everywhere, automobiles, like a new species of animal, dominated everything. The clash of these two accounts is the heart of my reading project. They represent hikes across the twentieth century and into our own time. Equally incongruent are the hikers themselves. Fermor is only 19, yet to attend college. You would be hard put to find a 19-year old of our time with anything like his general knowledge and grasp of history. His facility with languages was remarkable, even for its time (after three weeks, his Greek was becoming passable – he made conversation with Russian monks on Mt. Athos by using the bits of Bulgarian he had acquired hiking). His later counterpart is little like him. There is little need for language skill, as English is now nearly ubiquitous. Fermor reads like a hike through culture itself, with constant observations about ethnic history, architecture, art, food, clothing. He not only describes a world that has disappeared – he is a world that has disappeared. His successor’s story reads more prosaic: I came, I saw, We drank. Parenthetically, there was something new in the landscape that was missing in the 30’s: plastic trash. It somehow seems a proper metaphor for our time.

As I have read, another image comes to me. The richness and depth of the earlier account has been replaced by a very thin one. It is not simply a difference in writers: it is a difference in everything. As the century has gone by, the world and the people in it have been attenuated – stretched and blended into a world culture that is marked less by diversity than by sameness. Global markets require global people. With it, humanity itself seems to have diminished.

Fermor is not particularly religious, though he doesn’t seem a stranger to the monasteries and Churches he visits. His successor barely notices religion (even when he’s at a monastery). A night in the woods of Austria, however, offered an image that stood out for me. Hiking through a bit of a blizzard, Hunt comes close to being lost in the woods:

…this night would plunge to minus fifteen, and I needed shelter. My anxiety grew when the path tilted uphill, drawing me deeper into the woods. The familiar thrill of wildness tipped towards real fear.

And then came a moment of magic so pure I was back in the realm of legends. In the middle of the darkening forest appeared a little wooden hut; no hunting hide this, but a miniature house with curtains behind glass windows. The snow on its stoop was undisturbed and the door unlocked. I lifted the latch and peered inside, half expecting to see three bowls of porridge with three wooden spoons.

What lay within was just as good. There was a bed covered in duvets, piled high with pillows. The walls and ceiling were carpeted, and on the windowsill lay a first-aid kit, a few nibbled biscuits and a bottle of frozen lemonade. There was even a pair of slippers waiting by the door. I hesitated only a moment before pulling off my boots and burrowing beneath the mousey blankets, unable to believe my luck. The next day, I was to learn that the forest path was part ofthe Jakobsweg, the pilgrimage route that winds through Europe to Spain’s Santiago de Compostela, and this perfect little house had been built to give shelter to wanderers like me, lost in the woods on snowy nights. The world felt impossibly kind.

It is perhaps the most civilized moment in the whole of his journey. What he cannot see, however, is that the “perfect little house” was there because there is a heart that recognizes that everyone who wanders is a pilgrim whether he knows it or not. The prayers of St. James (Santiago) had left him a timely shelter from the storm. It could also be a cabin from Narnia or Middle Earth. Certainly, it was a cabin built by Christian Europe, a reality not lost, but hidden beneath the thin crust of modernity.

The change in architecture and landscape, as well as the change in people demonstrates that the “modern” world, though only a set of ideas, has become the creator of our infrastructure. Those who choose to live in any other manner will be “swimming upstream.” In Fermor’s books, there is an encounter with an elderly gentleman in Austria, complete with a prophecy:

‘Everything is going to vanish! They talk of building power-dams across the Danube and I tremble whenever I think of it! They’ll make the wildest river in Europe as tame as a municipal waterworks. All those fish from the East – they would never come back. Never, never, never!’

The fate of the Danube was the fate of Europe. The Christians swimming upstream will encounter seemingly insurmountable walls.

That said, we have to be aware of where and when we live. The suburbanized life of the modern automobile (and everything that comes with it) is not going to disappear. The new urbanism among many millennials (in which they prefer city life to any other) is, strangely, its own rebellion against the modern suburban world.

I remind myself in the services of the Church that what I am privileged to experience once had a place outside the walls, that the life of the Church was once the life of a larger civilization. Today, it is not a relic of the past but a visitation in the present of the Kingdom of God, of which everything in this world can only be a shadow, some more precise than others. It is in the clearer light of day that shines within the sacramental life that we see the true patterning of the world. That the landscape of Europe once thought such a pattern to be a worthy model is a reminder that such a thing is possible, even if it increases our grief for its loss.

God, give us more cabins.

 

 

101 comments:

  1. Your thoughts remind me that I live “in” the world but am not “of” it. The “of” part of this idea is always the challenging part. Trying to make sense of it all means to step back, look upward, and travel on with God and Christ going before, behind, beside, under, above and inside our souls and bodies. Only then does our journey through this foreign world makes sense. Thank you Father Stephen for your thoughts.

  2. Ah, Father you are one of those cabins. As my parents were of an even earlier generation than Fremor, they bequethed to me some of the essence of that time. As I have journeyed I had begun to think there was no one else except my brother who might understand. You not only understand but challenge me to go safely deeper into the woods.

    Thank you.

  3. The books look fascinating, Father. I may have to read Patrick Leigh Fermor’s trilogy.

    Interesting that he all wrote one called A Time for Silence about the monasteries he visited. Have you read that one as well?

  4. I have, Byron. His account of his visit to Mt. Athos, appended in his last book, is also interesting. He wound up during WWII as a British intelligence officer in Crete, where he led daring raids with the Cretan underground, including one in which they kidnapped a Nazi general and smuggled him to Cairo for interrogation. That adventure was turned into a movie, Ill Met By Moonlight, in which he is played by Dirk Bogard! For two years he lived disguised as a Cretan shepherd – a role he must have loved! One of the most interesting 20th century characters!

  5. How well stated Father. I see the drive of Modernity in all aspects of life. Once buildings were constructed as works of art, from soaring cathedrals to stately grand buildings that imitated ancient Rome. I remember the US before Interstates, when steam still moved most trains. That time was gentler, more peaceful , neighborly and kind. Even politics were civil. It is indeed sad to see our humanity slowly made drab like a a plain concrete wall. No wonder people paint such interesting things on walls and box cars as they protest against the fading of our humanity.

  6. I’m glad I read the recent author – the contrast could not have been more striking in every way. Only in parts of Romania and Bulgaria were there remnants of that earlier world, but the new author missed a lot of opportunities to understand what he was seeing. But the push in both Capitalist and Communist societies for modernization, etc., wrought terrible things (along with the various advances). The move towards homogenization and marketing, though, has clearly become dominant. Today, hiking can be similar to a walk through Walmart.

  7. Thank you for your article Father. As I read your blog, I experienced joy and a wave of melancholy. Living in the Alaskan bush, one of the bonds that many of us shared was our faith. Village elders would tell me that things were rapidly changing, not for the better, as “progress” changed their lives and challenged a belief system of which religion was an integral part. Curious enough, Orthodoxy meshed well with the village life creating a blend of the two, such as the Russian Orthodox crosses and spirit houses on the graves of departed Orthodox souls in Eklutna. Desperately, villages try to hang on to their identity, but, with internet and cable, the “old ways” are disappearing, much the way your second traveler describes. One thing that remains constant, our faith. My last visit to Alaska, before heading to the village, I spent a couple of days in Anchorage. I could have been in any big city, L.A., Philadelphia, Knoxville as I sat in the mall nursing a starbucks and watching people hurry about their way, with very little contact. I knew things would be different once I got to the village and forty-five miles out heading East, the whole demeanor of people changed with the ruggedness of the landscape, an understood bond between strangers based upon survival. Once in the village, a sense of peace and a wholeness, I was home. Passing by one of the village churches, crosses and spirit houses, so familiar and so reassuring. On the Kenai peninsula, villages like Nikolaevsk try to hold on to their identity but “progress” can’t be stopped and the village is starting to lose the young people, looking for the “better life.” Kind of ironic, after all of my years in “civilization”. I have found the better life to be a fish wheel, a thin layer of ice on the dog’s water, the smoke of an alder fire, the distinct English dialect of Elders, and the bond between the people who understand the beauty of a simple life.

  8. Fr Stephen,
    This is a beautiful and thought provoking reflection. It reminds me also of several places and peoples of times past, and the passing of this life is indeed linked to the forces you describe. But the sacramental and ‘enchanted’ life continues in our Churches and, God willing, in our homes as well. Indeed I think we all need such cabins. May we construct them with God’s grace and live in them.

    In one spectacular experience I was taken to St Paul Island, near Alaska in the North Pacific. I was brought there to provide a workshop for the school teachers on the topic of pedagogy in the sciences. The Aleut people were kind and welcoming and they have had a rather long history in Orthodox Christianity. On their school library walls hung artifacts of their history regarding their fishing and foraging lifestyle and some of these items were still used. There was so much beauty, so I took pictures while I was there, and that interest in their life ways and culture included taking pictures inside their school library.

    These pictures remained in an electronic file, pretty much ‘untouched’ for several years. Then a year after my conversion to Orthodoxy Christianity, there was an occasion that required me to reopen those files. I enjoyed looking at the pictures once again, tweaking my memory of that palpable experience. Then I came upon the pictures of the library. I was fascinated to see something there I was not able to see before. There were Orthodox icons hung on the walls! And I asked myself, how did I miss this? The experience of ‘re-expereincing’ that place and time, now as an Orthodox person, has been a great help for me to understand what you describe regarding the veneer of modernity over our eyes and hearts. May God lift that veil so that we might see the world and our sacramental life for the reality that it is, and let us give thanks.

  9. Excellent reflection Father. I picked up A Time of Gifts a few years back, read the first 50 pages or so and put it down meaning to come back, of course I never did. Perhaps now I don’t have to 😉

    Concerning your last paragraph, I would be interested in your opinion. When you look around your church during any sacramental service, do you see more Hunt’s, or more Fremers? Either way all are images of Christ I know, but what is surface telling you?

  10. Wow Patrick!!
    I take awhile to write and didn’t see your comment until after I posted. You describe the life so well!!! Thank you.

  11. Father,
    Oh yes, the homogenization of our culture! I am sickened by it. We visited relatives in Missouri in 1994. I recall going through almost ghost towns (the downtown areas). Storefronts were battened down with plywood or looking forlorn with the showcases vacant. What had happened? Walmart and or malls in outlying areas. Every where you travel on an interstate there is the same bland, depressing stores. If possible, I always travel the blue highways. The “Disneylandishness” of America is just awful to me. I recall our hometown of 5,000. Each shop was unique and owned/operated by local folks. You once mentioned, Father, that Leave it to Beaver really was a snapshot of growing up in the 50’s. I believe that what I am describing is not just nostalgia for the past but sadness ov er what has been lost to consumerism/globalization. Perhaps some of this is what drew me to Orthodoxy in the first place…a settled belief, ancient tradition, beauty…not some ugly, gargantuan mega church! I find sanity for mind, spirit and body in the Church. Outside of it,I do feel like a stranger to this world in so many ways.

  12. I recently visited a series of hydroelectric dams in the American West. In front of one of them stood an informational placard with an image of Meriwether Lewis gazing upon the falls once upon a time, before the building of the dams. At first I thought these dams to be impressive, and they were, in a way: an icon of man’s attempt at conquest over–rather than stewardship of–creation. Upon reflection I realized that it was not the great walls of concrete that impressed me, but the splendor of the great falls of water cascading over the concrete.

    It’s a shame that the modern world powerfully maintains the illusion of having created every impressive thing–even as it destroys their beauty. A person with me mentioned the desire of some people to get rid of the dams, but that such a project is untenable. ‘How would we then replace the electricity lost? How would we then control for the spring floods?’

    How would we then get electricity to the supermarkets so that kids grow up, as I did, thinking that tomatoes are made at the grocery store?

  13. Fr. Stephen, What a beautiful article. Growing up on a ranch in Kansas – at least 10 miles from civilization in any direction, I am reminded of a wonderful worship service that we had in a pasture – under the trees.
    Hay bales were our pews, and the trees were our cathedral. It gave us a deep sense of God being truly “everywhere present”, and we rejoiced in the beauty of the outdoor setting, as we praised God for all we had.
    Farmers and ranchers tend to have a close relationship to God – who provides all that they need to survive, and to thrive. They depend on the rain, the snows, the success of breeding and crops – in a direct way that gives them a great sense of God, and His creation being truly with us.
    I have lived in a rural setting for most of my life, and do now as well. We are maybe 30 min from our church in Wichita, Ks, and for shopping and etc. only maybe 20 min away. But as our small acreage is covered in a heavy canopy of trees, we are rather isolated from the rest of the world – especially at night or during storms. It lends itself to quiet and reflection, away from the highways and surrounded in the privacy of the trees. In the big internet world, and all of the urbanization going on, it is nice to be able to step back into a quiet, peaceful place to reflect on God and life. Sitting on our porch, just listening to the night birds or the sound of the rain in the trees – there is a peace that reminds us of the wonder of God and His creation.
    God is everywhere present, and even in our most busy and interactive moments, we need to remember that. Take a deep breath, step back a moment, and just pray. Pray for someone else; pray with gratitude for the blessings we often take for granted; pray just to connect. Let God share His peace with you – no matter how urban or busy your life. Come sit a bit on our front porch and just inhale the clean air; drink deep of the cold well water; and thank God for your life. Oh, and leave your cell phone in the car.

  14. Merry,
    One of my impressions from visiting in Kansas was the space…just space. The small towns out in the plains seemed to have no reason to exist other than to huddle together against the vastness of the space.

  15. Yes Father, Kansas is lots of space but if you really want to see empty space, go to Wyoming. I have driven on I-25 North of Cheyenne for two hours and not seen another vehicle nor any towns.

  16. Kansas has space and if you live here you learn to embrace the space rather than huddle against it. It is freeing.

  17. “Today, hiking can be similar to a walk through Walmart.”
    If you’ve ever been to a Super Wal-Mart, it *IS* a hike to make it through.

  18. I liked this post very much and it is truly sad.
    About Romania, I can tell you one thing: the destruction of the traditional way of life (especially of rural life) was, of course, of prime importance, especially in the first 10-15 years of communism. What survive those accursed years of radical sovietisation (and not an insignificant amount, by the way) continued to live on until the fall of communism.
    At the beginning of the 90s it was typical, for example, to see people gathering at the crossroads in their village on an Easter morning, exchanging foods which they have made, greeting each-other with the Paschal greeting and so on. Today all the villages (and small towns) are nearly depopulated or else (if near cities) completely modernized, with all the plagues of smartphones, big screen TV’s and so on. Nearly no one attends Church anymore, the Paschal image described above disappeared completely, without a trace.
    I was in my childhood during the ’90s and during the summer holidays I stayed in a small town, near Bucharest. I did experience what working in a garden was like, that is agriculture done for self-subsistence (or how is it called in English). After my great-grandmother and my grandfather had died, this became impossible. The town itself is full of big house with nothing else in the garden except for grass (and concrete).
    Even a big city like Bucharest is today unrecognizable from how it was during the 90s.
    And it is not natural change, that inevitably occurs in all of history- it is more like a brutal surgery with no regard for anything except artificial material abundance and, of course, “progress”.

    You described perfectly the situation: swimming upstream. People rarely understand when you describe to them this sort of thing. They think that we are talking about some idilic, romantic images of the past, which are nothing but a matter of taste and that all the changes in the environment cannot hinder one’s spiritual life, provided he has a “strong will”. In reality, there is no romance involved, but something real, something connected to our inner nature and being.
    Just like it is extremely difficult to engage in any intellectual or physical activity after a heavy meal full of meat and alcohol, so it is very difficult to live proper spirituality in an environment over-saturated by empty, unnatural architecture, plastic, noise, sensory-exciting images and so on.

    What would be the easiest way around these barriers for us?

  19. Father, Father, Father! I read your post and half of me wanted to yell a former Pentecostal “Amen” and clap my hands, and the other half wanted to close my laptop, leave my job translating silly texts about how important digital advertising is, and start walking. God bless you!

  20. Mihai,
    Your description increases the depth of my sorrow. We need, as we can, to understand that the present onslaught of materialism is far more deadly than the earlier one. The brutality of sovietization could at least be seen for what it was. In Christ’s temptations, “all the kingdoms of this world” was easily the most difficult – and rightly describes what is happening today.

    I am not given to “end-time” thoughts. But I do think about times that “rhyme” with them. The image of the beast’s mark on hand and forehead (our activity and the mind) and the control of buying and selling – has an eery resemblance to the processes of modern materialism. Only there, the description is of something brutal. Today, the strange lure of empty prosperity captivates both mind and body, drawing the soul away from God.

    It is not for us to despair. The imagery of modernity infects our souls, even when we’re despairing about it. For example, the notion of progress and evolution – history as a process – makes us see things and draw conclusions of what is going to be. But when we do this we are abandoning God and His providence – probably the deepest danger of all.

    These are the times in which we live. It is good to understand them. But just as the fall of communism was unpredictable (and unforeseen even by the mavens of the CIA) so the end of this present temptation is not clear.

    But, here we are, two believers in different parts of the world, having a conversation about all of this. Forgive me, but we are living proof that the present onslaught has its limits. And we (and so many others!) are being preserved for God’s own providential purposes. If God has allowed us to see this, it is because He, first and foremost, is calling for us to pray. Sodom and Gomorrah would still be standing but for a handful of the righteous.

    Providence and history are often very slow in revealing the nature of things. As an old man, it is not likely that I will see anything of significant change in what is left of my years. But, by God’s grace, I speak, I write, I pray – all of which is God’s providence as well.

    These conversations and mutual understandings should give us all courage and assurance of God’s goodwill. May God preserve His people!

  21. When did it first enter my psyche? To have come into my consciousness, it must have been in my heart first. One day, I saw the world, or at least an inkling. As though a curtain were drawn back a smidge, there I saw trees. There I saw the undulation of the landscape, fields, forests, and sky, pebble, rock, and stream. It was all there. It was always there. I thought the world was my school, my house, and sidewalks. I thought the world was wires above, concrete below, and yards squeezed between. And then one day, in my mind’s eye, it all disappeared and there before me was what had always been there but had been obscured and tamed.

    Not knowing it, I had spent my life responding to my environment as if it were a foregone conclusion; as if it had always been thus. Why hadn’t I seen that much of it was laid out upon, over, and in a world that was bearing up under its impolite intrusion with such remarkable grace?

    Whatever day this revelation occurred, I thank God for it. Although it’s hard, I can now look at a space and at least think about there being no wires and no roads. I can imagine acres and acres of forest extending for miles, exactly as the first human saw it. Oh the wonder of the flora and fauna that once flourished. May this vision increase and may I live it unto God and others.

    This is my father’s world
    Oh, let me never forget
    That though the wrong seems oft so strong
    God is the ruler yet

  22. Father, I live in the community designated as the largest super fund site in the country. A constant struggle to acknowledge and clean up this mess. Yet, an hour from here, I can be in the wilderness, worrying about bears, mountain lions and angry moose as I’m hiking. It seems that some people are beginning to realize the damage we have done to this world, and are trying to heal it in some way. Often, I think about how we people think we can be god, and control the earth, and we forget about the Creator. Your writing today, and the many wonderful comments, helped me remember that despite everything, God is the giver of all good things. I guess I’m rambling on…but God has a perfect world awaiting us when we come into the Kingdom, and that is the greatest hope.

  23. To my readers,
    Those who follow the blog have heard for some years now, my mention of a forthcoming book. Time drags on, and the promise remains unfulfilled. There are so many reasons this has been a struggle for me – some of them rooted in how my brain works (a complicated story). I would simply say that articles are much easier than books!

    But, I have lately (in the latest iteration) been working on the project with an eye towards living a faithful life in the context of modernity. In some ways, that was the topic of Everywhere Present. I recently was up to about 13,000 words and hit a wall.

    The wall is that I do not want to write a book that comes off as a shrill critique of modernity. On bad days, or bad moments in any day, that darkness has a way of creeping into my thoughts. The truth is that the Kingdom of God has broken into our world in an inexorable manner. Modernity and every human construct is simply no match for what God is doing. I want to write positively and hopefully offering discernment and encouragement.

    I’m presently rewriting the 13,000 word start (yet again), with an eye to that outcome. It’s not unusual to write a book five or six times (or more) before it’s actually finished. I offer this update simply to ask for your prayers. I am daily encouraged by your response to my work. I am a broken vessel – and that, too, is perhaps the gift of God. But, in your kindness, remember this project. As God wills, it might actually get finished!

  24. Thank you, Father. And God be with you. His words are precious to us as you bring them in your broken, but beautiful vessel.

  25. Father,
    May God inspire and strengthen you in your writing work!
    I once heard Fr. Anthony Coniaris, our wonderful priest and author, share this prayer he prays before sitting down to write:
    “Lord, Your fullness for my emptiness, to Your Greater Glory!”
    May this prayer bless your writing in new ways!

  26. Jeff Pauls,
    What a lovely and poetic description of the glimpses of God’s glory. The Prayer of the Hours has a line, at the end, asking that, “compassed round about with thy holy Angels we may come to the unity of the faith and the apprehension of God’s Glory.” As I have prayed that prayer, it is opening my eyes to “apprehend” it. An interesting word…to see? take? capture? Or perhaps just look for and, in seeking…to find. Do I see the roads and wires or do I see the clouds, birds, trees and spider webs? It’s a choice. I read once that a Russian priest was asked by a woman…why isn’t my baptized husband interested in church? His response was to the effect that “unless someone catches a glimpse of another world, they can’t be drawn into it.” Posts like this one remind us to seek and see another Reality. BTW, thanks for the prayers. Our son-in-law’s first procedure went well. His liver needs to recover before anything else can be done…its condition is literally 1:1,000,000. But, God is good and he’s young and strong. Waiting rooms are good for prayer and “comments.”

  27. May God bless, Father!

    Do you know when will the audio book of Everywhere Present be available?

  28. Geri,
    Happy to hear about son in law. Will keep praying. Btw, how is your daughter in all this?

  29. Dean,
    She’s frightened, of course. Many friends and family are here to give her support.

  30. Funny (…not), my internet service was down for a day and a half. It felt more like ‘a time and half time’. All I could think of was how convenient, upon the heels of the previous post about living in the moment, and then this post, as we talk about the seeming loss of God’s simple beauty in our modern world. It took a while, but I saw the opportunity to take advantage of ‘the moment’ God in His Providence placed before me. I was thankful. It was a beautiful morning, quiet, peaceful. I had been telling myself how important it is to get alone with God first thing in the morning, before anything else (coffee, animals, internet…) but I didn’t put it into action (in the previous post I had just told Dino I needed to ‘just do it’, that is, be conscious of ‘the moment’, with God, in God). This morning I had no choice. God is good. Very patient. Now I must make a conscious decision to continue ‘the rule’. Just do it.
    Of coarse, the thing I missed the most was meeting at this blog. I liken it to when my grandma used to gather on the stoop with friends and neighbors and talk. The conversations here are so rich. Such a blessing.
    Father…I pray every day for you, including your book. I think I understand you wanting to speak in a positive manner. I am very mindful of my negativity…I hear it when I speak it, and I wish it were not so. I know it is coming from my heart, broken, needing to be healed. But I see it more in myself than in you. I actually see you as being not negative, but realistic. And, contrary to what your critics say, I receive much hope from your words. You always remind us of the goodness of God, that The Kingdom is hear now, with and within us. You never fail to say that all events, circumstances, ‘history’, is subsumed in the Cross. There will never be a time when enough is said about these things. I think perhaps during the years of writing this book God is at the same time continuing to mold and shape you. So you are not in the same ‘place’ as you were two years ago, and therefore especially to you, your words ‘read’ differently. However, and whenever your work is completed it will be well. Some people didn’t quite finish their writings before God called them home, but yet their work was published. No matter what Father, it’ll work out well. (Just some encouragement…I don’t mean to ‘tell’ you, as if you need to be told!)
    Geri… glad to hear Lance’s procedure went well. Our prayers continue for all of you.

  31. You never fail to say that all events, circumstances, ‘history’, is subsumed in the Cross. There will never be a time when enough is said about these things.

    Indeed! More should be said of these things!

    Glory to God, Geri. That the procedure went well is good news indeed.

  32. To everyone who makes comments following Fr. Stephen’s posts: Thank you. Your comments have deepened and broadened my spiritual life. I have always looked forward to hearing what Fr. Stephen had to say in a new post. I now look forward to what you will have to say, as well. Thank you.

  33. Wow – Well said!
    Thank you for sharing that. I would also like to read these books. It seems a worthy endeavor.

  34. Patrick, your story of the contrast in ambiance between Anchorage and your village in rural Alaska reminded me of a funny story my cousins like to tell about their dad. My uncle grew up a small town farmer’s son in MI. He has lived in the small town in which he grew up all his life and, of course, knows everybody there. He has also been a lifelong, diehard Cubs fan all his life, and so when one of my cousins moved to the Chicago suburbs after graduating college, it was the perfect excuse to visit the big city and take in a game at Wrigley field. My uncle is a big friendly guy with a firm handshake, twinkle in his blue eyes, and a wide ready smile. As he walked down the streets in downtown
    Chicago for the first time, he began to greet folks as they were passing, trying to make eye contact and with his big smile saying, “Hi! How ya doin’?” much to the puzzlement and consternation of the passing would-be anonymous urbanites and the embarrassment of his kids! My cousins were collapsing in fits of giggles recounting their hasty and surreptitious attempts to educate their dad in urban street etiquette seemingly to no avail. Needless to say, my uncle reminds me of the time not so long ago where life moved at a much more human pace.

  35. Father,

    I think often of the modern world battering alongside the rural community in which I live and teach. Here in west Texas, I find absolute peace in the fields of cotton and wheat, and I lament the creeping modernism filling the hearts of my students. When I drive by the fields and the cattle and farmhouses, I am at once in dire straits and in sublime euphoria.

    You and your readers/commenters are a balm to my soul.

  36. Geri,
    “Compassed round about with thy holy Angels we may come to the unity of the faith and the apprehension of God’s Glory.” Amen. Thank you for your words of kindness.

    Lance and all of you surrounding him are in the company of our Father and his saints. Glory to God. I ask peace and wholeness for Lance, dear Lord of all. Thanks be to God.

  37. Father and commenters/friends,
    Several here have said what Father’s articles and the people’s comments mean to them. I heartily agree. We live in a town of 25,000. As far as I know, we may be the sole Orthodox living here. The monastery we attend is over 30 miles away. So, this blog is a spiritual life-line. As Anastacia just mentioned, she drives through country areas and lives rurally. We too.
    We could live closer to family, but they live 30+ miles away in a metro area of 700,000. So driving through the country is a balm to my soul…cattle, mules, horses, grapes, fruit trees, nut trees, foothills, majestic Sierra. We are blessed in so many ways. Trying to live in the moment, appreciative of God’s richest blessings, love and bounty to us.

  38. Thank you, Fr Stephen. I am visiting Athens, where there is a museum exhibit on Fermor you have now reminded me I must get to. Byzantine Museum was first. So much on the Modern Project, as you call it, is stirring in my head on this trip.

  39. I live on the west coast of Canada in a small city, and I see some cultural changes that have encouraged me. The ‘local’ movement is thriving here, with young people having much success opening up small coffee shops, vintage stores, bakeries, breweries, and pizza places, and they are thriving, precisely because they aren’t big corporations. Farmers markets and small family farms are also seeing an influx of people. It’s still business and a popular (modern) movement to ‘shop local,’ but it seems to still creates some health in a community to support each other and spend time with each other in these places.

  40. The deepest problem, beyond modernity itself, is that our culture has lost touch (long ago) with a proper definition of the “good.” We can say what we like, even reject what we do not like, but unless and until we understand the true meaning of the good – we will not know why we do anything other than that we want to. CS Lewis, writing in the Abolition of Man said: “When all that says ‘it is good’ has been debunked, what says ‘I want’ remains.”

    It is only in Christ (or some religious understanding) that we can know the good, and only in Christ (and no other) can we know the true good. It is the loss of the good that has unleashed the machine of modernity on its insanity – working wonders and it doesn’t know why.

  41. Fr Stephen,
    These words you have shared in your last comment are very powerful and helpful. Thank you, again you are helping to lift the veil!

  42. Move forward toward the Cross. In the Cross is our peace, our Love and Resurrection. Give thanks and glory to God for all things.

  43. Father,
    Thank you for this further understanding of what modernism is. I know that you have said that it’s not just the age we’re in but it’s actually a way of thinking, a framing of the world, a philosophy. I wanted to ask earlier, but I thought I really should do my homework and look at your previous posts and other sources (e.g. I’m currently reading The Unintentional Reformation, on your recommendation).

    I will still do my homework, but does this quote, “The deepest problem, beyond modernity itself, is that our culture has lost touch (long ago) with a proper definition of the ‘good,'” capture the essence of modernity (modernism)?

  44. Jeff,
    Yes, in many ways. CS Lewis’ the Abolition of Man touches on many of the things of modernity – though he doesn’t focus as much on the engine of technology run rampant. That, of course, has largely happened after his lifetime. With the advent of so much – computer age, DNA biology, etc. we have crossed a threshold into new territories of mischief. On the whole, we can say that modernity is the “good gone mad” (a phrase used by GK Chesterton to describe modernity).

    Certain central ideas, “better world,” “progress,” restructuring of family and sexuality along a radical freedom model, individual autonomy, consumerism, etc., are probably the deepest and most commonly held ideas. But, we have no agreed understanding or feel for the good. To a large extent, what we think is good is something that has been marketed to us in one way or another. Gather 100 Middle Schoolers. Ask them serious questions about things. You’ll be surprised at how much they agree with one another. Then consider the fact that they cannot possibly know enough to have much of an informed opinion on anything. So where did their agreement come from? It has been sold to them. By whom and for what?

    Sometimes the answer is as banal as “we sold it because it sells.” Just take pop music. Most people do not know that the bulk of what they hear is written by just 2 guys. (https://nypost.com/2015/10/04/your-favorite-song-on-the-radio-was-probably-written-by-these-two/). Why? Because they sell songs. Marketing has its own inner logic, nothing of which is beneficial to what it means to be human. Homogenization, a huge part of globalization, exists primarily to maximize the market. And now, these same forces are being increasingly directed with the use of AI (artificial intelligence).

    We are not living in a conspiracy theory. We are living in the madness of consumerism run amok – whose fortunes benefit very few and whose plastic is drowning the planet (figuratively and literally).

  45. Lord have mercy on our souls.

    I have heard that G.K. Chesterton was an influence on C.S. Lewis. It’s time to start reading him.

    Hope as been cited in yours and other comments. Another ray of hope is that I see my very own two sons kicking back against some of the tenants of consumerism and its ways. I only wish we could have known more sooner, so that our family could be further along on this path. Although, I do suspect there’s something of a compass, most likely our emphasis as parents on Jesus during their childhood, that is aiding in their discernment. And, as we did then, we need to continue trusting God with our souls and theirs. As we are willing and humble, he will reveal his very own self to us. Glory to God.

  46. Fr Stephen, you note that Lewis did not focus so much on technology and the modern consumeristic “self” so much as the foundation of these things – the “ideas” of modern self rooted in much older experiences (i.e. the Enlightenment and the Cartesian Self, etc.).

    I have noted the Wendell Berry-esque direction of most the comments and it makes me wonder. Christianity was “born”, and rapidly spread, in the Roman Empire which was among other things the “globalism” of its age. Christianity did not thrive in the rural settings – even after the legalization of Christianity some centuries later the rural areas were know to be barbarian and pagan and resistant to Christianity. Early Christianity seems to have been especially potent among rich, aristocratic women in the heart of the greatest commercial empire the world had yet known. The New Testament itself is written in the “English” of its day – Greek (and not the native language of its founder(s)).

    The Monastic “movement” or life in the Church is not *simply* or rightly described as a “return” to simplicity.
    Recently I was watching some video of a journalist who had gained access to the Holy Mountain (might have been the 60 Minutes one from the 1980’s) and one of the monks looked around at the idyllic natural environment surrounding them and said the to the reporter “beautiful is it not?”. The Reporter said yes. Then the monk said, almost as a kind of corrective “it is an arena” – by which he meant the gladiatorial arena of spiritual warfare. No sitting by the still pond, counting the butterflies as they land on the lilly’s for him, he is in a war and is very conscious of it. The natural beauty and simplicity of his life might be just as much of a temptation away from God as any busied and entertainment soaked existence in the heart of a modern person in the heart of a modern city/culture.

    I note this not to bring despair or to skold, but I am asking a hard question. Could we be interpreting the *meaning* of our current situation vis-a-vis modernity wrongly? This is not to say we bend to the wind of the age in some sort of mega-Church with coffee shop and valet parking way, but what about our way of “being” Church in the 21st century – is it an ascent towards heaven, or a return or retreat into an early age and time and place that is just as “encultured” as any other? Is it a mix of both?

    What will the parish church and Christianity look like on a spaceship, or an off world colony? Perhaps these future colonies are as progressively idyllic as they are portrayed in a typical Star Trek episode. More likely, they will be brutal in many ways – authoritarian and hierarchical as that is the “normal” condition of mankind in this fallen world in most places, in most times.

    In any case, modernity can not *simply* be countered with a look back at a culture that once was. That culture whether it be the Christendom of, let’s say the 4th century up until the Protestant revolution, or the Christendom, such as it was, from this revolution up until the 19 or 20th century (depending on where you lived – say London vs. rural Romania) is not likely to return. Its “ideas” that Lewis pointed to are too compelling – an acid that destroys our very humanity itself, which is to say our humanity as self understood from the point of view of these various older Christendom’s (thus Lewis could title his book “The Abolition of Man”, or in modern english “The Destruction of Humanity”). The technology, the consumerism, the unencumbered radical Self – all these things are *symptoms*…

  47. Someone above said, “be in the world, but not of the world.” I was born at the very tail end of of generation x, and by virtue of this it is hard to escape the feeling that I was almost literally born “of the world,” and raised up “of the world,” and quite destined to take after this “guardian parent” of mine, ever becoming their spitting image in my maturity. So, how do I break free? What is some practical advice for those of us born and bred to first identify (almost completely on a ingrained, subconscious level) as a “global consumer?”

  48. Christopher,
    I’m not sure I could answer your question adequately. One, because I am not the one to whom you addressed your comment. Two, I’m not exactly clear on what you are asking. Father, please pardon my attempt at a response.
    The reminiscing you see here I believe is not a call to return to the good ole days but rather a conversation on the stark recognition of just how much our world has changed. So, to admire the beauty of rural settings helps to settle the heart and give thanks. And we do this while quite aware of the ongoing spiritual warfare all around. The very fact that we can behold with our eyes God’s magnificence in His creation, observe His creatures, smell the scents, feel the softness of the grass, hear the sounds… all this, in midst of the warfare and still not be struck down, is even more reason to give thanks, for everything, including His ‘keeping’ us. So yes, let us be foolish and worship Him! Hooray for our likeness of a Wendell Berry! It’s good for the soul. And gives God the glory.

    We also know that the world is fast changing. We are aware of the movement toward the end of days. We know that things are going to progressively get worse, as Scripture tells us. You ask what the Church will look like in the days to come. How can we know for sure? Will the trend continue where the numbers in church attendance decline? Will something happen, a catastrophe of a sort, that will cause a return? If so, will it endure? Jesus gave us a ‘head’s up’ to always be persistent in our faith…”when the Son of Man comes, will He really find faith on Earth?”. because He warns us “And because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold”.
    You mention the flourishing of Christianity in the great commercial empires of the past, and its impoverishment in the rural areas. That be so, I still think our cities are on the path to self destruction and the rural areas are going to be a refuge. But I’d be foolish to say anymore than this. I’m not sure exactly what your concern is Christopher, but I know you have one and I respect that. I am just “dumb” enough to believe Jesus’s words that the gates of hell will not prevail. I also think we, all of us here, are going to be long dead and gone before His return…but I still can’t even be sure about that. I know we do have a work to do…and it’s not going to be a cake walk. But thank God we have Him, our Mother, all the Saints and Angels…and each other. We will survive.

  49. Michelle,
    Good question. I can’t think of a better list of “things to do” than Fr. Hopko’s 55 Maxims. (linked) Most of it is quite practical. My thoughts tend to be concentrate on loving your enemy (it will take a long time to discover how and why this works), being kind and generous. Work at trusting God. Breaking free of anxiety is hard – though the present order of things nurtures it in us.

    The global economy is not somebody’s great idea for how to deliver cheaper goods to everyone. It’s somebody’s idea about how to exploit wage differences between parts of the world in order to maximize their own profit. We have gotten lots of gadgets. (Yay!) While watching wages stagnate and fall behind inflation with massive debts (the hidden part of consumerism). The one thing that has grown the most and benefitted the most is the ridiculous wealth of a very small group of people. Something like 8 individuals have more wealth than half the planet! In that sense, consumerism is a shell game that is being played for the benefit of a very few. But our gadgets make us think it’s really great.

    I am not opposed to gadgets, etc., but we should be aware that we are being bribed –

    Look at Fr. Tom’s Maxims and pick a few that make sense and experiment with them.

  50. Father, you might be interested in this (see link). The Benaki Museum in Athens has a grant from the Niarchos Foundation which is restoring his house (in Kardamyli, in a mountainous region of Greece called Mani), and there is a lot of travel and literary interest in him — including an exhibit in Athens called The Journey Continues. Here is a publication associated with the exhibit which includes essays by writers and others who knew him:

    https://www.benaki.gr/index.php?option=com_publications&view=publication&id=4228&Itemid=171&lang=el&Itemid=584&lang=en

  51. As I consider these past few comments, I think of a number of things as they relate to my first comment–

    Romans 12: 1-2 “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.”

    It was in this vein I wrote my first response to your post, Father. As you have pointed out in your own comments, the essence of our challenge is to have hearts, minds, and souls conformed to God and no other. By beginning my post with, “When did it first enter my psyche? To have come into my consciousness…,” I was attempting to show how I was awakening to certain notions hither to unrecognized, i.e., the fact that what I saw around me was not the result of a preordained, predestined reality. Rather, it was made by someone, by people– thinking, choosing people.

    The implied joy of this discovery, was more than seeing the “natural” aspect of things, their apparent simplicity, their serenity. While that was indeed part of the joy, a nostalgic yearning was not its foundation. The joy was also in the discovery itself. The joy came from being made aware of the fact that wherever I find myself, I am not bound to it or by it. It does not have to define me. God seemed to be saying, “You find yourself here, but you are not intrinsic to your current environment. You are my child, and wherever you find yourself, you are my child.”

    The joy was also in the discovery of God’s world in *all* it’s glory. My narrow experience, which in my case had been up to that point (and even now) “…my school, my house, and sidewalks…the world was wires above, concrete below, and yards squeezed between,” was not all there was. Yes, I actually had/have grown to love these things because they were used as part of my continued transformation into his image. And it was also a “woke” moment in that I suddenly realized the environment in which I grew up was, as I said earlier, not preordained, but an actual, conscious choice by a group of people. As I first heard from a college professor of mine, I was beginning to see the water I was swimming in.

    If I’m not mistaken, it was an ontological moment on the path to my own ontological self–my being, made in God’s image responding to the fount of my essence: “Very God of Very God.”

  52. Christopher and Fr,

    Thank you for your comments. It is easy to get caught up in the ideas of localism and the present moment; they have some appeal to them—which is also, I think, a part of the spirit of our times and marketing: just look at all the self-help titles, the environmentally-disastrous “organic” movement, and so on. But they too easily become one more replacement for Christ. Christ is *everywhere present*, but we keep wanting to go somewhere else to find Him, even if that be somewhere “local”! It reminds me of the classic temptation that monks have to move from their cell. Our “cells” may be more complicated, with jobs and families and big-box stores and internet connections, but we can be sanctified in that. And maybe only in that—God has placed us all here for a reason, and not in some other time or place or culture.

    And on localism, I think that that is, like some other philosophies of modernity, something which we read into The Gospels sometimes but really isn’t there. That doesn’t mean we should swing the other direction and embrace the [very specific definition of] globalism that has been rightly condemned. But I don’t think that idea is supported by Jesus’s teaching. If it was, we would expect Jesus, when asked the question “Who is my neighbor?”, to give some timeless explanation of how we need to care for those that live close to us, or get closer to the land and avoid corporatism, or something like that. But, if you look closely, He actually gives us the very opposite teaching in a parable. The man in the story—himself a traveler, and one who was not journeying *to* Jerusalem but *from* it—is robbed and left for dead by some faceless men. Part of his shame is not just that they hurt his body, but stripped him of his clothes, his possessions—they are consistently referred to as “thieves”. He was passed by by the very embodiment of those who were religious and “present”, whose very job it was to be “present” before God and who would not even take a journey—but would remain “local”—in accordance with their [very flawed] understanding of The Law. But the Samaritan, riding the Ford F-150 of his day on some very non-local travel (and carrying alcohol—did you catch that?), stopped and was the true neighbor. And he didn’t even take the man to his house, like we might suppose and think would be the “folksy”, “honest” thing to do. Actually, he took him to a business, and paid with the currency of the day. It was there that the man was healed—and maybe there given new clothing that was bought in some market and hawked by some middle man. There is definitely more depth to the parable than I am getting into (and certainly from more “spiritual” angles than this), but I think the point is clear. The localism is not there. You just use what you can. You don’t try to reenact the Iron Age and drag the modern-day poor man around [in your car, ironically] to your home so you can make some soup out of local ingredients, make him sleep in your space, and otherwise impose upon him some idea of “how love ought to be done”—which can easily just be one more shaming project. It is possible that is what is needed in a very few cases, but generally it is not healthy or even helpful for him. Rather, you take the man to McDonald’s for a burger (and eat with him—share in his life a little and listen to him) and then to Walmart and buy him clothes with a credit card—and *genuinely* say hello to the greeter (who is not being oppressed by “a corporation” so much as all the people who pass *them* by on the other side of the aisle), because they will pray for you and may just end up saving your soul. The key is not another project, but love.

    I also wonder about languages. We have very young people like me who do some work on a Windows machine, administrate for a few moments on an OpenBSD server, catch up with the latest articles on Orthodoxy or astrophysics on their Android phone, watch something on their iPad, and then go on to interact with people and the world around them via a ton of other OSes and interfaces. Even if they don’t know Latin (which I am blessed to have studied) or some other older “language”, I think those are languages and dialects in and of themselves. How many older adults can shuffle between all those device languages simultaneously and fluidly, “without blinking”—and all while texting a hurting friend via yet another dialect/language over SMS? Our view is too narrow, and way more encumbered with a certain cultural perspective than we are willing to believe, even as we talk about that very thing. We have what we need to be saved, we just need to see—and live—Christ in it. Thanks for drawing the comments back to that.

  53. Christopher,
    I think you’re reading some things into what is being said that are not, in fact, being said. There is not a suggestion of a return to some earlier time as the way forward, and certainly not a romanticism about monasticism, etc. I am quite careful always to note that technology itself is not the problem. Modernity is a set of ideas – pure and simple.

    Of course, those ideas are displayed in ways that demonstrate their emptiness. Illustrating that emptiness is not a Luddite suggestion.

    The things you note are indeed symptoms – nothing more. Many aspects of our current situation (globalization) are not correctly compared to the economy of ancient Rome. It is a tiny blip in our history, in which corporate interests, banking and political structures have conspired (yes, conspired) to maximize profits. They do this by the manipulation of cheap labor and labor disparities across the world. Buying a phone made in China has nothing to do with global trade – as in buy spices from India in the Roman Empire. It has everything to do with exploiting Chinese labor costs. We buy cheap gadgets from cheap labor, thereby keeping the pressure on American wages to remain low, all of which creates massive, obscene profits for a very, very few. The wealth of our time is highly concentrated.

    This isn’t “modernity,” per se, it’s just age-old exploitation of the poor by the rich. When the poor catch on to it (and they will), the rich will have hell to pay. This has happened so many times in history it would be silly for us to think it won’t happen again.

    As for things like cars and highways – the cost of infrastructure is reaching a limit. We constructed a massively inefficient way of wasting resources, money and effort. The simple economics of paying for infrastructure maintenance, when it has been needlessly overbuilt, are not sustainable. Railroads lie unused and are disappearing. We should not imagine that highways are permanent or will not fade away.

    The ideas of modernity are the real enemy – and their stupidity simply make us willing victims in our own destruction. But we should not imagine that the future is only an extension of what we have now (bigger, faster, better). We are at the limits of certain things – and their collapse has probably already begun. Such things are sometimes fast, but mostly slow.

    I wouldn’t waste time thinking about space colonies. The reality of radiation off the planet is likely insurmountable. Talking about it makes for a great diversion. It is mostly a government-financed set of games for entertaining the masses. We’re not going anywhere.

  54. Wonderful comments! In itself it is great to see Christ reflected in different persons in different ways. All…farmer, scientist, plumber, teacher, carpenter, theologian, housewife…all can refract the light of Christ in a different way, its rays bathing others round about with His love and mercy.
    Yes, we can love our Lord/neighbor anywhere, anytime.
    In speaking of Christ and the present, I think it was archimandrite Webber who said, “If not now, when? If not here, where?” Thanks again for the thoughts of all.

  55. We cannot have much effect on the flow of history…how the ideas of modernity play out in the world. It is a very worthwhile exercise, however, to have conversation around Michelle’s question. How do we live in this present time but not “of” the present time. Are there things that have been helpful for you in your life?

    I think that one argument in favor of “local” things is simply the sacramental aspect of our existence. The more abstracted we become from the flesh and blood of human beings – yes, our neighbors – then the more attenuated our existence becomes. Everyone in the world is my neighbor, obviously, but human existence is concrete, palpable, flesh and blood. The less this is part of my reality, the more problematic it is likely to become. The internet cannot give us communion – it comes on a spoon.

  56. In terms of globalization, it’s pertnent that ancient economies had slavery, both from conquered races and tribes, of exported. Colonization has long been part of that global economy stretching ling into the past. One of the earliest ancient trade routes was for incense.

  57. Sorry for the typos! Slave labor, I meant to say, was exported and transported in ancient “global” economies, frequently of conquered peoples.

  58. Thank you Father, once again, for bringing us back to the Center. Your words help us see modernity for what it is and encourage us to look beyond, to the One ever present Truth. Your words may be repetitious, but we so very much need that. I recall you saying your posts over the years are pretty much centered around the same topic, just worded differently in giving practical examples. It really does help dissolve the barrier between ourselves and our neighbors when we realize we are all in the same boat.
    Thanks to all for such rich comments and pertinent questions.

  59. “Modernity is alienating, and it has been alienating for a great while; look at an Edward Hopper painting if you think this post-industrial misery has come about only since the Internet was invented. Isolation is another significant suicide risk. People who believe that no one will miss them have little to stand between them and the final act.”

    I weep…

    From “Preventable Tragedies” by Andrew Solomon https://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/preventable-tragedies

  60. Janine,
    Yes. There has never been an ideal economy – no time in the past that provides a model. Though, it was the enslavement of people purely on the basis of race is a modern invention. What took place in antiquity was a product of war and conquest. Economies have had many shapes. There are some guidelines as to what a more just arrangement looks like, based in Scripture. It largely consists in protection of the weak and the poor. It even includes protection for “strangers” in the land (immigrants). This is not to instruct America or anyone else on anything – but it instructs the faithful on the nature and character of virtue and how we should live.

  61. Mihai,
    Your description of how things have changed in Romania is certainly very interesting. I have been living in Bucharest now for less than a year and even I can sense that the modern world is encroaching at an increasingly alarming speed. However, unlike most of the rest of Europe, Romanians have not forgotten God. There is something here, even in the centre of Bucharest, something quite beautiful. I am a Catholic, and I have been staggered to find the Orthodox faith here quite so vibrant. A good yard stick is to see how many young men there are who openly express their faith; they are certainly very visible here. The faith I am seeing is one I had only read about, it is like the faith of the pre-reformation Catholics: God infuses everything (ordinary and extraordinary), people sense the Holy Angels, the great cloud of witnesses are ever present, the sacraments are reality, things are blessed, there are icons and relics everywhere, prayer in the streets, an understanding of the needs of the beggars at the gate, the prayers for the dead, people reading devotional tracts in public, people in Communion. You catch smiles in people and they go to your heart! It is not a faith that comes from catechisis, it is the faith of sacramental life, it is real, and it will stand up to Modernism. It will continue to be sorely battered but it is holding up pretty well.

    Refreshingly, the myth of progress is largely seen as a myth here. I think that the flip side to this is to live in a world of permanent decline from some golden age (anti-progress if you like), this too is a myth. As Tolkein said we are ever fighting “the long defeat”, there are dark clouds everywhere, but there always have been. We are just living in times where the battle lines are very clearly marked, probably more so than ever before. The stones have been lifted and the dark things living underneath them are exposed for all to see, nothing can hide now. It is the Eternal Present that we must hold on to. God is AND God is here! Wherever you are.

  62. Along the same vein, I would recommend Stephen Graham’s “Undiscovered Russia” written in 1903 and “With the Russian Pilgrims to Jerusalem” written in 1907. Graham was an English writer who took journeys deep in to Russia in that critical time before the revolution. These are must reads – particularly to understand what Russia was like during this time. Graham also had a deep understanding and respect of the Orthodox Faith, which is made clear in these books. I don’t think they are in print, I downloaded them for free from Google Books in PDF format.

  63. Gene B
    I’ve read Graham’s With the Russian Pilgrims to Jerusalem – a very interesting book. I’ve made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem – and the difference between the two was amazing.

  64. Rita,
    So good to hear of true Life there in Bucharest. Young men can be a barometer of faith. Here at the monastery, even today, I see many young men and women. Half of the nuns are 25 and younger. If God can raise up stones to praise Him, then young folks can perfect that praise. Satan’s assaults on the faithful can be powerful, yet God always seems to raise up a bronze wall to temper the attacks. I thank God in Christ for what He is doing around the world…especially in the ex-Soviet block and Russia.

  65. Father, I almost forgot to thank you for your response to me. I encountered Fr Hopko’s maxim’s a few ago, I will have to revisit them. Thank you!

  66. Fr & Paula and everyone, thanks for the comments.

    I suppose I saying that as salt, we don’t want to lose our succulence. In an earlier time and place, I might have been born a slave and would have had to try to be flavorful as a slave. Today I am a man in a world where there is floating mass of plastic the size of Texas in the middle of the Atlantic (so they say). I get it – my house is bordered by BLM land and after a number of miles of “wild” landscape rise the Organ Mountains. How often have I sat in the quiet of my back porch I have found rest from modernity. “I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help” is quite literally true with me 😉

    Joseph Barabbas Theophorus, thanks for getting it!

  67. OK Christopher…I get what you were trying to say. Finally! Had to re-read JBT’s comment (again). It takes a while to sink in. In essence you and JBT are reminding us to use what God has given us in the very time and place we find ourselves. We do not have to look elsewhere, “leave our cell”, to do the works of Christ. The examples you gave, JBT, (such as take the poor man to McDonalds and ‘be with’ him rather than take him to our home, which may only serve to shame him in the long run) well prove your point, Yes, God does sanctify us in our own locality. I think all of us pretty much understand this, but we do get sidetracked in our pursuit to do the ‘right’ thing.
    Your comment on languages and how God even blesses us to be able to communicate with others around the world with the good use of technology, is also a good reminder. You ask “How many older adults can shuffle between all those device languages simultaneously and fluidly, “without blinking”—and all while texting a hurting friend via yet another dialect/language over SMS? ” Heck, I don’t even know what SMS is…and the other alphabets you used! I would love to see you in action doing these things!
    Well, thanks again, Christopher, JBT and all.

  68. I know this is totally off topic, but it is a line from the movie Murder on the Orient Express. I thought it might be worth sharing:

    I have seen the fracture of the human soul. So many broken lives, so much pain and anger, giving way to the poison of deep grief, until one crime became many. I have always wanted to believe that man is rational and similised. My very existence depends upon this hope, upon order and methods and the little grey cells, but now perhaps I am asked to listen instead to my heart. I have understood in this case that the scales of justice cannot always be evenly weighed and I must learn for once to live with the imbalance.

    I’m wondering if there is anything analogous to ‘living with the imbalance’ in the crucifixion and/or the Christian life? Many see the crucifixion as the restoration of a balance disrupted in by the first human pair. I’m wondering if rather than balancing the scales there is a way to see the crucifixion as creating imbalance and perturbing the natural order? But, not just in the sense of tipping the scales towards something. Any thoughts??

  69. Simon,
    Following your thought, I believe Fr Stephen has written about the meaning of ‘righteousness’ and how the Crucifixion and Resurrection is the ‘breaking’ in of the Kingdom and establishes righteousness. In this case the term righteousness refers to upsetting the current order of things— at least this is my understanding.

  70. Simon, Dee,
    I think (musing on your suggestion) that the imbalance could be that of mercy overcoming all things. As St. Isaac of Syria says, “We know nothing of God’s justice, only His mercy.”

    There is, as Dee notes, the Biblical notion of justice that is best described as “right-putting.” The humble and meek are exalted and the rich are sent away empty. That is both literal and metaphorical – it is a description of the working of the Kingdom of God in all of creation. But, I think the purpose is not just to re-establish a balance. That would be a mere return to the Garden of Eden – which was only the beginning of God’s work, not its end.

    The Cross, it would seem, abolishes the imbalance of sin, but establishes the imbalance of mercy as the end (goal) of all things.

  71. I was listening to your recent podcasts on shame while flying into Omaha this morning, an experience which would have been wholly unimaginable to Fermor’s grandparents at my age, although by the time he did his trek the outlines of the modern world had already been sketched.

    As the plane banked to avoid a sever thunderstorm passing through the area, I looked out through the layers of cloud and rain at the Missouri as it lazily wound its way through the lush green June fields. It was an awe-inspiring site, but I was struck by a sense of shame. It’s not the first time I’ve felt this while gazing out the window of an airliner, but it’s the first time I’ve thought to put that word to it. I felt like an interloper or a trespasser, even a voyeur, gazing on a scene which wasn’t meant for me.

    I wonder if you have ever had similar thoughts while enjoying the bountiful opportunities our modernity affords us, and whether you think the feeling of shame is an authentic one that and how one should react to it.

  72. “I’m wondering if there is anything analogous to ‘living with the imbalance’ in the crucifixion and/or the Christian life?”

    To offer a thought from a different angle, I think of the tension of living ‘in the world but not of it’. As made in His image the most natural place for us is not only to be ‘in Him’ but ‘with’ Him where the tension (imbalance?) is overcome. I think of St. Paul’s words:
    ” For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain. But if I live on in the flesh, this will mean fruit from my labor; yet what I shall choose I cannot tell. For I am hard-pressed between the two, having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better.”
    In light of our desire for perfection/completeness in Christ, I think the natural order (as it was meant to be) will be “perturbed” until the time this actually fully happens.

  73. I think of two things Jesus said…”you can do nothing without Me” and “follow me”.
    Oh and another from the OT…
    “Behold, I set before you today a blessing and a curse: the blessing, if you obey the commandments of the Lord your God which I command you today; and the curse, if you do not obey the commandments of the Lord your God, but turn aside from the way which I command you today, to go after other gods which you have not known.”
    (I suppose the latter verse should be first….)

  74. Rather than a precipice, I think of George MacDonald’s “The Golden Key”. The bulk of the time spent by Mossy and Tangle is walking on an arid plane, seeing the glorious shadows fall thick around them, following Grandmother’s instructions, and walking until they reach the land from which the shadows fall. The Kingdom of Heaven is within. It is also not here yet. But we know where the Lord went, and we know the way, as he told the disciples. So we keep walking.

    I also note that there is much discussion about tools and techne and other means to the end of seeking the kingdom (or means that are used against the sons of the kingdom). Some of the discussion surrounding this topic urges (or assumes) that tools are essentially neutral. A hammer can drive a nail, or be a weapon, it’s not the hammer’s fault – and this construction is all true, of course. But whatever the use, using a hammer trains one to use a hammer, and may ruin the hand for, say, playing the violin (at least for a time – my brother in law is a good violinist and also helped me on many house projects, and I have his testimony). Our tools shape us, and even limit us. Using modern tools shapes us as modern people and limits us to that. James K A Smith had a nauseating revelation when he caught himself reading Wendell Berry in a Costco food court. I use Costco, but that use shapes me. I must be careful what I allow to shape me.

    But, gloriously, I can also use the church (a crude verb, I suppose). As I partake wholeheartedly of the services and sacraments, I am shaped – as I ought to be shaped.

    Thanks to all for their thoughtful explorations and wanderings!
    In Christ,
    Mark M.

  75. One way to think about this (tools and such) is the acquisition of virtue. The traditional treatment says that the virtues are acquired through specific practices…we learn (by grace) not just how to do something, but how to be the kind of person who does that something.

    My father was the kind of person who fixed mechanical things. It was a talent, even a graced gift, but he practiced it (he was an auto-mechanic) and continued to study and do classes even in his later years.

    The virtues are similar. We become courageous, or kind, etc., by becoming the kind of person who is courageous or kind, etc. The question would be (I thinking out loud here), what kind of person is this particular practice creating and nurturing in me. I would think that certain kinds of tools would certainly carry certain kinds of effects.

    Our techne (gadgets, etc., today) are certainly having an effect on us. Positive or negative is for others to decide.

  76. “The bulk of the time spent by Mossy and Tangle is walking on an arid plane, seeing the glorious shadows fall thick around them, following Grandmother’s instructions, and walking until they reach the land from which the shadows fall. The Kingdom of Heaven is within. It is also not here yet.”

    Yep, all of these “poetic” ways of conceiving the inconceivable, which is what we are doing I think, have their limits – sort of like if you examine them to closely they fall apart. Shadows for me pull me to Plato’s shadows, which for me is a distraction. The precipice for me has an immediacy of the hard and impenetrable limits of our contingent vision/knowledge/being. Shadows – for me – implies that if you squint through it a bit harder, or get to a place on your own capacity, you can get behind them.

    Obviously, a few posts have gone missing…

  77. Simon wrote:
    ” I’m wondering if rather than balancing the scales there is a way to see the crucifixion as creating imbalance and perturbing the natural order? But, not just in the sense of tipping the scales towards something. Any thoughts??”

    I know this was not directed to me, but a kind of an answer is that the Cross radically tipped the balance of understanding of the world (or the “worldly”) in that His innocence was absolute — and yet worldly justice saw fit to execute Him in a way reserved for the worst criminals. In a worldly sense, the Cross strips away all hypocrisy and exposes it. It establishes the basis for ultimate judgment, and it transforms the world because it offers us an exchange: the world’s justice for God’s justice. More deeply it offers to all of us a choice for truth that surpasses appearances and opens up our hearts to a choice for God’s love and participation in the Kingdom.

    Sorry to intrude; Father surely has it right when he says it tipped the balance to mercy in the most profound ways we still don’t completely know (IMO)

    On modernity:
    There’s another aspect to this discussion that I think about when the topic comes up. The structure of this internet upon which we depend for our discussion is an industry of much greater disproportion than traditional industry. Platforms such as Facebook, etc offer services to many but the profits are astronomical to labor cost/employment by comparison with traditional industry. As a really extreme example, Instagram was sold for $1Billion, and at the time the entire company consisted of 13 employees.
    By its nature, new tech is highly elitist as a structure or form. A networked world such as the one in which we now live is a “new age” in a number of ways. Privacy is another giant issue here (in the form of data collected by companies such as Google) — esp because many people do not fear or are concerned with any problems from its loss.

  78. I chose to remove some posts in that I found them impenetrable, on the one hand, and not particularly helpful, useful, etc., on the other. I asked a simple clarifying question and got an even more impenetrable answer. This present statement is much more clear and of use. That might be my subjective response – but mine is the finger on the delete button. The conversations are never an open-forum (those exist elsewhere).

  79. Janine,
    I had not considered the labor cost/employment/profit side within the internet. Google, Apple and Amazon are currently on track to become Trillion Dollar companies (likely this year). It is worth pondering.

  80. Father…impenetrable…good description.
    Lord have mercy…sometimes I just don’t understand some comments. I think I completely miss the point, yet I still comment. I know I’m not the sharpest knife in the drawer. Some people “think” to no end. Literally. There comes a point (sometimes right from the start) where I’m just not connecting. Maybe I’m too concerned about my lack of comprehension. Maybe I should just keep quiet if I’m unsure of what is being said. Most likely I won’t, though. (just thinking aloud here…)
    I appreciate and respect your mediation, Father. You make wise choices.
    A simple question you posed earlier…”what kind of person is this particular practice [courage, kindness] creating and nurturing in me” is ever so helpful and practical.
    Thank you…and sorry about the rambling….

  81. ” What kind of person is this particular practice creating and nurturing in me?”
    Father, I’ve read this by you in other contexts. But with this one the coin dropped.
    Not just practices but thoughts as well, all mold us into a certain image. I recall the mosaic that can either be made into an icon of a saint or with the same tiles into that of a fox. Each practice/habit of ours is forming us into one of these two images. (I really like foxes. Maybe it was some other animal!)

  82. Paula, yours hadn’t posted when I wrote my response to same quote of Father. ” Great minds….” well, mine a little feeble. Happy you’re an animal lover.

  83. Dean…now isn’t that amazing! Oh, God is good! It’s such a comfort to know we’re on the same page…just when I was lamenting otherwise!!!

  84. “I chose to remove some posts in that I found them impenetrable, on the one hand, and not particularly helpful, useful, etc…”

    No worries. I did not know how to answer your question other than in the way I did – how do you interrogate a poetic metaphor/parable with an “example”? It was prompted by trying to understand how we live and exist in a world full of trash, evil…

  85. The older I get the more I appreciate the basics—in everything. There is a depth to simple things. Recently, I saw in myself a real need in my Orthodox walk to restrain my propensity for fanatical enthusiasm. So, I am making a deliberate effort to concentrate on the simple things: Absorb them, take my time with them. In the domain of my spiritual life, I have come to see “complicated” as a red flag. And by that I mean it will just become an opportunity for frustration and tail chasing. That doesn’t mean that there isn’t a time and place for things that are complicated and for tail-chasing. I simply mean that I am gaining a new appreciation for the depth of simple things, for the deliberate and slow of pace. Christopher, when I read your comments there is much that you say that I resonate with. I appreciate your contribution. However, you remind me of someone that might benefit from slowing the pace and keeping things simple.

  86. Fr. Stephen,

    You have to rewrite 13,000 words? I don’t understand why you even mentioned it. I’m sure you pound out at least 20,000 on the keyboard every week! (wink)

    I do support your desire to not come off like Eeyore. Doing so would sell copy better initially, but after people had paid their money and read a few pages, they’d go jump of a cliff – and that’s not your goal. God’s children need hope. God Himself sometimes has strange ways of providing it, i.e. pain, the Cross, Hell, but you seem to have the ability to take the Good News and translate it into hope and other good things. Today the Gospel seems to be disguised as processed food and discarded instruction manuals, but you seem to have a way of peeling back layers in order to reveal His body & blood and the words of life.

    So, 13,000 words and it might take awhile? Do what you need to do. Where else are we going to go for such miracles? God is with you. He is everywhere present to be sure, but He’s definitely with you.

  87. Drewster,
    You’re very kind. The rewriting is proceeding. I read some out loud to my wife last night and liked it. That’s my ultimate test for anything! She’s like a mirror. If it’s off, or the voice isn’t right, I can see it in her face long before I’ve finished. If I write it and she thinks it’s right, I feel confident that I’m on target. Such is this woman I live with!

  88. “As the century has gone by, the world and the people in it have been attenuated – stretched and blended into a world culture that is marked less by diversity than by sameness. ” I could not help but think of Bilbo, stretched thin, like butter scraped over too much bread. This is the ring of power that is our modern technological era’s mode of living……

  89. Simon –
    “If you wish to draw the Lord to you, approach Him as disciples to a master, in all simplicity, openly, honestly, without duplicity, without idle curiosity. He is simple and uncompounded. And he wants the souls that come to Him to be simple and pure. Indeed you will never see simplicity separated from humility . . . Fight to escape from your own cleverness. If you do, then you will find salvation and an uprightness through Jesus Christ our Lord.” – St. John Climacus, Ladder of Divine Ascent, Step 24

  90. Father,
    There is no way I could intelligibly enter this conversation…way beyond my pay grade. I did see that Facebook gives users 58 possible gender identities to pick from. Lord have mercy! I know we cannot turn the clock back, and there never was a rose-colored past we can look to. But when my wife and I married in 1965 life did seem a little slower and more sane. This was shortly after the Free Speech Movement began in Berkeley. Since then CA has been on a downward slide, as has our whole culture. I thank God everyday for having brought us into the Orthodox Church, the Ark of Salvation. I’m afraid the little rowboat we were in would have sunk long ago! Thank you Fr. Stephen for the sanity your comments and articles bring to my life.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *