Providence and the Music of All Creation

God’s being and actions are one.

This is essentially the teaching of the Church on the topic of the Divine Energies. When I read discussions about this – it seems to get lost in the twists and turns of medieval metaphysics or passes into the territory of seeing the “Uncreated Light.” Both approaches are unhelpful for me, and both obscure something that should be far more transparent.

Some of the obscurity comes from the use of the word “energies.” It is the literal Greek term, but it conjures up some pretty problematic images in a post-Einstein world. When I first read about the Divine Energies, my mind wandered over to some vision of God sending out rays and beams of radiating light, etc. The focus on the Uncreated Light in the Transfiguration probably helped nurture that reading. It is also misleading.

Another simple term for “energies” is “actions” or “doings.” The root of the Greek word simply means “doing.” Indeed, it is most often translated as “deed” or “work.” “Workings” would be another accurate way of rendering “energies.” Understanding this points us towards the heart of the Church’s proclamation. Who God is, and what God does, are not two separate things. “God acting” is God. His actions are not a means of hiding Himself – they are the means of His self-revelation. Indeed, this is the heart of the Church’s teaching on the Energies. The Church says that God can be fully known in His energies but cannot be known in His essence.

We cannot pierce beneath the veil and see or comprehend the very essence (ousia) of God. He is God, “ineffable, inconceivable, invisible, incomprehensible…” However, He can be known (and participated in) in His energies, His actions. It is this that St. Paul references:

For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead… (Rom 1:20)

But how do we encounter God’s actions? Are we looking for Him to part the waters or move the Sun backwards?

Abp. Alexander Golitzin paraphrases Dionysius the Areopagite: “Providence is God so far as the creature is concerned.” And, “All things share somehow in Providence as their universal source and cause: ‘the divine Providence is in all things and no one of the things which are is without it.’”

Much of what Dionysius says about Providence is under the heading of the Divine Names. God’s creating, sustaining, working towards goodness, nurture, love, etc., and all the names by which He makes Himself known (Ancient of Days, King of Kings, etc.) are His Providence. And it is in these actions (names) that He makes Himself known to us.

I will now come down from the clouds and get quite practical. We live in the midst of the Providence of God. That we exist, and how we exist are His Providence. Everything around us reflects the working of His goodwill towards our well-being and salvation. St. Paul describes this:

the mystery of His will, according to His good pleasure which He purposed in Himself, that in the dispensation of the fullness of the times He might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven and which are on earth– in Him. (Eph. 1:9-10)

Of course, we encounter any number of difficulties and hardships, things that seem to work the opposite of our well-being and salvation. Those actions of human freedom are not considered God’s Providence. But even with these things, God’s Providential working makes our well-being and salvation possible, such that St. Paul can say, “For those who love God and are called according to His purpose, all things work together for good.”

So, in every direction and every way, we encounter God’s Divine Energies, His working things together on behalf of all and for all. There is a path towards “seeing” these actions (energies): the practice of continual thanksgiving for all things. It is the giving of thanks that reveals to the heart the hidden work of God. It is a practice that silences the passions and, as an expression of our human energies, unites us with the very Providence for which we give thanks.

In Holy Baptism, when the candidate responds, “I do unite myself to Christ,” there is an agreement: my life is His and His life is mine. It says that God’s goodwill, manifest supremely and definitively in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ, is my will as well. We confess that our lives, together with their purpose and meaning, are revealed in the goodwill of God as it unfolds.

This is hard. When what unfolds is pleasing, the giving of thanks is easy, almost meaningless: anyone would agree to their own pleasure. When circumstances run counter to our own wishes or pleasure, the giving of thanks becomes increasingly difficult (and provokes the passions within us). The difficulty and contradiction obscure and hide the goodwill that is at work.

Here it is useful to understand human energies. Though, unlike God, we cannot now make the identification between our being and our energies, our life and our actions, they are, nonetheless, potentially so. This comes when our actions, our energies, reflect and act in union with our being, that is, when we act in accordance with our true nature. In many ways, this is the heart of Orthodox moral teaching. Those things that we are commanded to do, are, in fact, the truth of our nature and being. St. Gregory of Nyssa stated this most profoundly when he observed that human beings are “mud, that has been commanded to become a god.”

All of the commandments of Christ are just so. “Be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect” (Matt. 5:48).

And:

But love your enemies, do good, and lend, hoping for nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High. For He is kind to the unthankful and evil. Therefore be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful. (Lk. 6:35-36)

When our actions are in true agreement with that which we are created to be, there is a wholeness and a harmony in our existence. We are transformed, for our being and our actions are themselves in agreement with the very actions (Energies) of God. It is in this transformation that we come to see ourselves as we truly are and to know God as He truly is.

The most fundamental action that we can offer towards Divine Providence (and thus towards the Divine Energies) is to give thanks, always, everywhere and for all things – or give thanks as much as our heart allows. As we offer thanks, from the heart, we unite ourselves with the gracious Providence of God. In doing this, our “doing” is indeed the energies of our existence, and they rightly express the true heart of each of us. For we were created to give thanks: it is the substance of our priesthood. We are all created to be priests of creation before God, through giving voice to the thanks that is rendered by all creation.

It must be understood that our energies are not just a mental concept (a thought). They are the true efforts, the union of mind, body and soul, acting in concert. Extended towards the truth they share and participate in that truth. Our “yes” to God and His actions sounds in harmony with the “yes” of all creation as it groans in travail. Indeed, the travail of creation (Romans 8:22) is precisely its own eager longing for the final “yes” of humanity to God.

St. Gregory of Nyssa said, “Man is a musical composition, a wonderfully written hymn to powerful creative activity” (PG 44, 441 B). Indeed, he discusses the activity of singing, offering praise as a path to union with God.

Gregory likens the whole of the original creation to a dance and chorus, which looked to the one choirmaster, interpreting his song in harmony. Yet sin introduced disharmony, and removed human beings from this chorus. Only through Jesus Christ, and after trials of purifying hardship, are human persons restored to the chorus and the dance.1

This “purifying hardship” is, for me, an apt description of the initial contradictions we encounter in perceiving Divine Providence. St. Joseph the Patriarch endured terrible hardships: betrayal by his brothers, exile, slavery, false accusation. But in the final confrontation with his brothers, after his life has been used for the salvation of Egypt as well as his own family he says:

But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive. (Gen. 50:20)

This very confession of faith has about it the mystery and paradox of Pascha itself. For the whole of our existence is the Lord’s Pascha, written into our lives, the world, and everything around us. Christ Himself, and His disciples, we are told, sang a psalm as they went from the Upper Room to the Garden of Gethsemane. It represents Christ’s own song to the Father, the hymn of His Pascha. It would have been Psalm 118, the last of the Passover Psalms. No doubt, creation sang with Him:

O give thanks to the LORD, for He is good! For His mercy endures forever.
Let Israel now say, “His mercy endures forever.”
Let the house of Aaron now say, “His mercy endures forever.”
Let those who fear the LORD now say, “His mercy endures forever.”
I called on the LORD in distress; The LORD answered me and set me in a broad place.
The LORD is on my side; I will not fear. What can man do to me?
The LORD is for me among those who help me; Therefore I shall see my desire on those who hate me.
It is better to trust in the LORD Than to put confidence in man.
It is better to trust in the LORD Than to put confidence in princes.
All nations surrounded me, But in the name of the LORD I will destroy them.
They surrounded me, Yes, they surrounded me; But in the name of the LORD I will destroy them.
They surrounded me like bees; They were quenched like a fire of thorns; For in the name of the LORD I will destroy them.
You pushed me violently, that I might fall, But the LORD helped me.
The LORD is my strength and song, And He has become my salvation.
The voice of rejoicing and salvation Is in the tents of the righteous; The right hand of the LORD does valiantly.
The right hand of the LORD is exalted; The right hand of the LORD does valiantly.
I shall not die, but live, And declare the works of the LORD.
The LORD has chastened me severely, But He has not given me over to death.
Open to me the gates of righteousness; I will go through them, And I will praise the LORD.
This is the gate of the LORD, Through which the righteous shall enter.
I will praise You, For You have answered me, And have become my salvation.
The stone which the builders rejected Has become the chief cornerstone.
This was the LORD’S doing; It is marvelous in our eyes.
This is the day the LORD has made; We will rejoice and be glad in it.
Save now, I pray, O LORD; O LORD, I pray, send now prosperity.
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD! We have blessed you from the house of the LORD.
God is the LORD, And He has given us light; Bind the sacrifice with cords to the horns of the altar.
You are my God, and I will praise You; You are my God, I will exalt You.
Oh, give thanks to the LORD, for He is good! For His mercy endures forever.

Footnotes for this article

  1. http://myocn.net/music-mediation-st-gregory-nyssas-commentary-inscriptions-psalms/

103 comments:

  1. Thank you so much for this Fr Stephen. I give thanks to God again for your ministry

  2. Father Stephen,
    What a magnificent elucidation of the way to allow God’s hands to fashion our ‘mud’ into His intended work of Godly art: “the practice of continual thanksgiving for all things”!
    The “Let it be” (Luke 1:38) and “Thy will be done” (Luke 22:42) which –in time and through “trials of purifying hardship”– perfects us, is emphatically contained therewith.

  3. Thank you Father,
    I love the imagery of singing and dancing in harmony with creation. In the same way creation sometimes groans, at times sings, we too do both…and in both we raise our thanks to God; the former in sacrifice (the sacrifice of praise), the latter in joyous song.

  4. “Another simple term for “energies” is “actions” or “doings.” The root of the Greek word simply means “doing.” Indeed, it is most often translated as “deed” or “work.” “Workings” would be another accurate way of rendering “energies.” Understanding this points us towards the heart of the Church’s proclamation. Who God is, and what God does, are not two separate things. “God acting” is God. His actions are not a means of hiding Himself – they are the means of His self-revelation. Indeed, this is the heart of the Church’s teaching on the Energies. The Church says that God can be fully known in His energies but cannot be known in His essence.”

    Thank you Father Stephen for this very helpful clarification.

  5. Another reason the word energies is problematic in our world is because it allows for all sorts of nonesense from dualism of the neo-Gnostic/occult “new age” delusions and the great twisting of the understanding of Theosis in their hands.

    It can be a real stumbling block for both the people caught in such delusions and some Protestants who are opposed to the new age nonesense and figure we are more of the same.
    Your explanation Father is quite helpful. Thank you.

  6. Thank you, once again, for your words of wisdom, Father,
    As I read, I kept thinking of two things/questions, that are probably related (it seems they are, I could be wrong).
    1. The fact that we are created in God’s image, and how what you have said relates to that fact. Your words included this concept, but I’ll need to read it again to grasp it more fully.
    2. Is a more personal question, that seems to relate to my first question and what you’ve written. How does this play out daily? Let me set it up…

    When I quit teaching, I was looking for what I would do next. As I put out applications, got work that was “place holder” work, and did some interviews, I learned of a very interesting product, the science of which made a lot of sense and took advantage of the the body’s response to the anti-inflammatory nature of anti-oxidants. I leave it at that. The thing is, it was an MLM (Multi-Level Marketing). My parents had been involved in one when I was a kid. I did not like it.

    Because the science and health aspects seem to line up and the studies were convincing, I thought it was worth trying. Even though I had rejected other opportunities like this in the past because of their “sales-y” ways, I thought I’d give it a trial run. The person who sponsored me was very low-key and not high pressure. The company’s way of selling was relational and not high pressure. It all made a lot of sense. It wasn’t like what I had seen my parents involved in…and yet, I could never quite be convinced. It was as if there was an inner voice.

    I eventually, stopped pursuing this “project” but still use the product. I still believe its beneficial, but as to the “energies,” the “working”— either it didn’t line up with me personally, or it was a general feeling that it’s not the way that we’re meant to be. It was during that time that I also heard a number of your podcasts, which seemed to reinforce my hesitance to fully engage this as a line of work.

    So the question(s), how does being created play out in our lives, both generally and specifically? Was my hesitance God saying, “This should not be, it does not support my way of being.”? Or was it more personal, i.e., “Jeff, this is not what I have in mind for you, I have other things that you are better suited for and that I have called you to do.”? I suspect it’s some of both. What I’m doing now seems to match everything that I know about myself (up to now anyway), and also I can in good conscious know is pleasing to God.

    So when you say, God is what he does and does what he is (right paraphrase?), then if we are created in his image, it should follow that we need also to be what we do, do what we are. Is this correct? As I become more and more whole, I find that it is more and more difficult to do something that does not match who God seems to be saying I am, and am to be.

    I welcome any comments, advice, and instruction you might have Father (and anyone else’s for that matter). Thank you again for your words which are full of grace and for your patience. They both emanate from your writing.

    As I read over this again to edit and revise, I realize how much this question is about me. Your post was about God and His being. However, I still have the questions. God is teaching me to think less of myself. He’s very patient. I still do it quite a lot…

  7. …but what is one to do when it appears one’s body, one’s own mind, other people and even the Church are conspiring against one’s perceived good? I know folks who feel that way and I don’t know what to say.

  8. Jeff,
    Your paraphrase is correct: “God is what he does and does what he is.” And, it is true that we should, by grace, increasing do what we are. But the “are” is also a becoming. “Your life is hid with Christ in God,” St. Paul says, and “It does not appear what we shall be,” St. John says. So as we come to know God, as He is made known in what He does, so we also come to know ourselves (and really only then do we come to know ourselves). It’s not quite possible to answer a specific situation like the one you mention – but your account sounds plausible.

    Most especially, our path forward is through the giving of thanks.

    And, lest that sound glib or simplistic – it is actually quite comprehensive. It requires faith, hope and love to give thanks always, everywhere are for all things – and probably only in the perfection of faith, hope and love is thanksgiving made truly complete.

    There are times, I’ve found, in the giving of thanks that the soul almost becomes transcendent, that it is “caught up” and catches, even for a moment, a glimpse of what it means that “all things work together for good.” Not as an idea or a concept – but to actually behold it as reality. That moment brings a sublime peace.

    And, so, we give thanks, as much as our heart allows.

  9. Father,
    Thank you for your response. The words of Saints Paul and John are quite helpful. I have found that as I have attached myself less to my feelings and more to Christ and his way, I have become more open hearted. I am beginning to know thankfulness as a way of being. However, it’s sounds as though intentional, speaking of thanks might be something to work on for me. This would flesh out or incarnate God’s work in me (if that’s an accurate way of describing it).

  10. As I read it again, the concept of not being able to know God’s essence, but being able to know God’s Providence or works brought to mind St. James’ letter re faith and works.

    If we can really only know God through his works, and, if we are made in God’s image, does that mean that the same kind of knowing of each other must be true? Meaning, I cannot know others and they cannot know me except through our actions (which includes everything I say and every other motion I choose to make that comprises any other act or behavior).

    When St. James talks about faith, it is a call to conform myself to all that I’ve just described—to everything God reveals of himself through his actions, through his creation. And as St. Paul goes on to say, after making his point that we know God through his creation, we “…although [we] knew God, [we] neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but [our] thinking became futile and [our] foolish hearts were darkened.” To then follow St. James’ admonition to demonstrate our faith through our works, we must, Father Stephen, start with thankfulness, as you have instructed.

    Are these thoughts on the right track?

    This is me “working” out my salvation in front of everyone reading your blog. If I have spoken in error or out of turn, please correct me, or delete my comments as you see fit. But I must say, as I began my second reading, these observations came on like a bright revealing light. Sharing them is a way to “test the spirits” so to speak. Thank you

    Thanks , everyone, for your patience.

  11. Jeff, we can know each other more deeply because we share human.nature and we are designed to know each other. But the Incarnation allows us even deeper knowing because. God knows each of us. He knows each us exactly as we are. Our shared nature makes a big difference but Christ still reveals each of us to one another through the Cross.

  12. Jeff,
    The teaching regarding the unknowability of God in His essence is related to His utter transcendence. Human beings can (or could) be known in their essence – What a human being is – is not foreign or transcendent to us. But, we do primarily know each other through our actions/energies. However, since there is a disconnect between the truth of our being and our actions, often what we come to know of each other is a distortion.

    And, with regard to God’s actions – it must be remembered that He is fully what He does. His actions/energies make Him known – they are a means of communion and not something that hides Him.

  13. Jeff,
    A slight (yet not insignificant) detail on that thought-provoking comment of yours:
    Man’s greatest action is often something called “holy inaction”. Of course, this ‘inaction’ is not what we would conventionally imagine. It is an intense Eucharistic (thankful) state of unceasingly ‘being in the presence of God’ (that can moderate one’s palpable activism and increase their hidden hesychasm, yet), who would doubt that this would emanate towards others?

  14. Michael, Father, and Dino,
    Thank you for your responses. I did fear that I was treading on holy ground with my common comparisons between God and ourselves. Your comments help to mold these observations in the right direction. I appreciate your patience in teaching me, and the rest of us here.

  15. Hi Fr. Stephen, I am appreciating more and more your reflections on Divine Providence. I need to go back and make a careful study of each of your posts on this. Do I sense a book in the future on this topic–given the sustained focus you’ve been giving it? That would be my appreciated.

    A very quick thought from me. I have been reading on and in Maximus the Confessor’s work for the last couple of years on the topic of cosmic liturgy. I highly recommend Hans Urs Von Balthasar’s book Cosmic Liturgy: The Universe according to Maximus the Confessor (despite the rome-centric take the authory has on Maximus). It is Maximus that one finds so many currents in classical Orthodox thought coming together and being claried–it’s where the good and bad elements in Origen’s theology get sorted out, where one finally begins to understand what all the fuss was about Ps. Denys. , and where one finally begins to get a sense of what the division between Eastern and Oriental Orthodox is really all about.

    I don’t expect you to be an expert on Maximus. But I just wanted to point out that where you went in the end of your piece above, which is towards a quote from St Gregory of Nyssa, centers on a levely musical metaphor. I am currently trying to get my head around how Maximus’ notion of the whole of human life and the workings of the cosmos are somehow part of “the” liturgy, or a liturgy, can be explained to non-liturgical Christians in a way that makes sense. Right now I hardly understand it myself. I have read Schmemann’s For the Life of the World many times, as best I can, and am thinking about Maximus’ statements on the liturgy in this fashion, but Schmemann is much easier to digest than Maximus (who’s so full of techinal issues I am not sure I will ever get to the bottom of it). This might really be more of a comment than a question, or a comment that invites comment, but you would agree, would you not, that we come to terms with our energies and actions by giving things in the context of a life lived around the liturgy. The word eucharist, as you know, is based in eu “well” charisto “giving thanks, so the liturgical table is a place around which we give “big thanks.” So would it be possible to explain (or attempt to explain) to non-liturgical Christians the ancient Church’s understanding of Providence without reference to the Divine Liturgy and the notion that entire world moves and develops around an invisible cosmic liturgy which is going on all the time, and that the church helps us step back into line with as often as possible? There is a bit of a chicken and egg problem here, in that if you’ve not lived, as much as possible, a life around the Eucharistic table, and within the Church’s guidance and formation, then this might be incomprehensible; and saying things like “hey, this concept is all over the key, classical, patristic writes (St Gregory, Ps. Denys, and Maximus) might hold little weight for them. Thoughts welcome. Thank you, Todd Isaac

  16. Todd Isaac,
    I think this Eucharistic concept is indeed ubiquitous in writings as well as the first-hand experience of the saints; the quintessence of properly living the life that has been given us is this: “Thine own of Thine own, we offer to Thee, in behalf of all, and for all”.
    It’s not just for ‘institutional priests’ but for all, as everyone has been given the ‘charismatic priest-liness’.

  17. I think that there is something deeply self-referential in the Orthodox understanding of God and I think that derives from the immanence of God in His creation. For example the apostle says that

    But God has revealed them to us through His Spirit. For the Spirit searches all things, yes, the deep things of God. For what man knows the things of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so no one knows the things of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God.

    Who knows the things of a person except the spirit within that person? In other words we have a direct and unmediated awareness of the content and quality of our own spirit. In a similar manner the apostle says that ‘no one knows the things of God except the Spirit of God and so now we have received the Spirit who is from God that we might know the things of God.’ This is self-referential. There is an inwardness to our knowing God. The apostle later writes that

    For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known.

    Again, this is self-referential. We see our ourselves reflected in the mirror. But the reality of that image is still unclear. But, whose image is it that we bear? It is the image of the Son of God. So, as I understand it the deepest knowledge we have of God is the inward “knowledge” that emerges from the transformation of the person into the likeness of God: We know what God is like because we are being made into the likeness of His Son. When the scripture says that we shall see Him as he is, the corollary to that is in seeing Him as he is we come to know ourselves as we truly are, or as God intended us to be.

  18. Thank you Margaret for that link. A very beautiful and edifying prayer.
    I find this sentence in the prayer to be key:

    Enemies have taught me to know what hardly anyone knows, that a person has no enemies in the world except himself.

    Another way to describe what “enemies” “do” (referencing the words Fr Stephen uses for God’s energies) according to my priest confessor, is “polish the soul”.

    And here’s what I read last night in St John’s gospel (15:1-2) “I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away, and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit.

    May God in His merciful ‘Workings’ bless us with His pruning</i of our souls and hearts.

  19. Thank you Simon, for your reflection. I’m not sure yet how well we can ‘know’ (in a discursive-cognitive way) the Spirit as much as we might have a noetic experience within us that we encounter.

    Father mentions Providence. And in seeing Providence, I notice that I am able to see in ‘hindsight’ more easily. Less often, that is occasionally in ‘real time’ (so to speak) do I have a sense of God’s Providence. This might be a reflection of where I’m at spiritually, as a ‘teenager’ soul. (my confessor says I’m a teenager, complete with the ‘buckaroo’ attitude)

    Also good job on your block quotes Simon!!

  20. Dee,
    I think any discussion of providence defined as God’s doings or actions is like walking on thin ice: we have to be careful. On the one hand, the question “How do you ever really know?” haunts me. I’m kind of at the point where I think the mind never really knows. The mind has a goodness-of-fit for objects in the world and God is never an object to be circumscribed by the mind. On the other hand, the “thing” we know most directly even if only superficially is the immediate experience of our own self-awareness. It is unmediated and direct. So, I guess what I think the verses are pointing to is that the most direct knowledge we have of providence is inward. The providence of God that we have the most direct “knowledge” of is the providence at work in our own hearts and minds.

  21. Dino, yes, that line in the DL you referred to, has always stuck me as being 100 miles deep. And you just pointed to and grabbed about 95 of those miles. thanks 🙂

  22. Only one way to respond to this article: Thanks be to God!

    I just now put together why Psalm 118 (117) is used as the Communion processional in the Antiochian tradition! I miss that hymn now I am in an OCA parish.

    https://youtu.be/6vBg9nS9m_8

  23. “Human beings can (or could) be known in their essence.”

    Really? Am I alone in feeling I don’t fully know myself, let alone the multitudes of others with their often incomprehensibly different worldviews, opinions, etc.? I am not even conscious of my own autonomous bodily processes, which I had no hand in creating or causing to function the way they do, nor can I account for all of the emotions and thoughts that make their way through my limited awareness.

    As someone already noted, our lives are “hid with Christ in God.”

  24. Simon,
    Thank you for your helpful elaboration.
    I share your question, “How do we ever really know?” I have experienced occasions where things seem to happen ‘out of the blue’ that I have wondered whether the situation was ‘God-driven’. I think this is kind of what Father mentions also:

    But how do we encounter God’s actions? Are we looking for Him to part the waters or move the Sun backwards?

    Abp. Alexander Golitzin paraphrases Dionysius the Areopagite: “Providence is God so far as the creature is concerned.” And, “All things share somehow in Providence as their universal source and cause: ‘the divine Providence is in all things and no one of the things which are is without it.’”

    Our ‘everyday’ life is participatory within God’s workings. We do not just ‘witness’ it but participate in it–it isn’t just a cognitive thought. Yet for me, discerning Providence is still operates, more often than not, within the realm of ‘cognitive work’. As you say the ‘real’ work is in the heart. And I believe it actually requires ‘prayer work’ to develop that capacity for discernment or ‘sight’ in the heart as you describe. Thank you for your comment!

  25. Dee,
    I think that you understood what I said better than what I do. I am working very hard to silence the desire for the objective. And in many ways the only reason why I posted the scriptures and the elaboration was to kind of ‘get it out there’ to see if it made any sense. Oddly enough we can objectify our own internal states of awareness.

    It seems like the longer I pray (over time) I am drawn to the notion that whatever providence is doing it happens outside of our awareness, but if it ever breaches the awareness then it has percolated from the depths and risen to the top. Even if it seems “out in front” I would imagine that there is still something inward about that appearance that would be of greater significance.

  26. Perhaps the Providential actions of God are “outside of our awareness” only in the sense that we are not properly seeing them in the world around us? I say this only because our healing in the Church very much includes the healing of our nous, and by this faculty we perceive God (in action). The “inward” actions of Providence may simply be the healing of our nous, resulting in us seeing the works of God in a correct manner more often than before….

  27. The fact that we suffer from myopia would remain unknown to us –until those who can see tell us about things they can see (from the same distance as us).
    It is the same with the spiritual myopia of not discerning God’s providence behind everything which we all suffer.
    Prayer of thanksgiving is a good remedial pair of glasses. Very good! Talking about these things, in trust, to those who have spiritual insight of these things (in distrust of our short-sightedness), especially when we struggle, is also invaluable.

  28. My understanding, from the Saints and Elders I have read, is that everything is either willed by God or permitted by God for our salvation. So acceptance, contentment, and thanksgiving is the only proper response to everything that comes to us in life. Please correct me Father if I am wrong.

  29. What is interesting about the metaphor of seeing, whether noetic or physical, is the senselessness of it. Here is what I mean. If I have been born blind from birth and I have never seen a sunset, then how much sense does it make for me to describe the sunset as “beautiful” or describe the richness of the colors? Even if I could do it with such enthusiasm and detail that you would never question whether or not I could see, that isn’t seeing. That is regurgitating someone else’s experience. The irony is that the blind person doesn’t have any way of knowing whether or not the sighted person is telling them the truth. The only way for the blind or short-sighted person to “know” is to be able to see. I want to see the sunset.

  30. Simon,
    True, a physically blind person can never see a sunset with her eyes. Yet, we are all born with the opportunity of noetically seeing/knowing God in our heart. A verse that has long stood out to me is John 1:9. John is speaking of Christ the Logos. He says, “The true light that enlightens every man was coming into the world.” And the next two verses note how this Light was not received by many in the world, even by his own people. So the blind are unable to see a sunset. However, each man receives sufficient “enlightenment”, a nous, to enable him to receive/perceive the Light. True, many never go inward to see the Light, or do not want their sin exposed to light, or their nous is so sullied that they quickly give up the effort . Is not our 24/7 entertainment mode one more way we are blinded by another “light” so that the true Light remains just an opaque blur?

  31. God has revealed Himself but due to our wounds (sin) it takes much for us to see the fullness of His revealing. Indeed, our healing takes much and we will likely not see fully in our lifetimes. But we have the examples of the Saints to which we look as they have moved closer to God and can attest to the beauty of His revealing. As much as we want to see, and are frustrated with our inability to do so, we must trust in both their witness and God’s goodness. I tend to think the wait will be worth it. Just my thoughts though.

  32. Dean, I like it: The true light that enlightens every man was coming into the world.
    I like it because it means that the Light of Life has the potential to become immediate to all people. And I would agree with your observation that we are driven to distraction by our desire for entertainment, which doesn’t leave room for much else. Even everyday life directs our attention away from the heart.

  33. Simon,
    That’s a most apt metaphor to describe man’s frustration at not seeing. I think we must recall, nonetheless, that Christ can make “the blind receive their sight, and the lame walk, the lepers cleansed, the deaf to hear, and the dead to be raised up” (Matthew 11:5)
    And more so that He asks, “Where is your faith?” of his disciples. (Luke 8:25).

    Today he could also ask: “when do you actually make give the ‘seeing’ of Me precedence over the seeing of everything else in your hearts?”

    So I guess this means we are in a situation akin to someone who would want to take a person with them on a trip to show them around Australia, and would naturally expect that person to believe others telling him that ‘there is an Australia’, to prepare to go there first without having seen it, to take time off their work to plan the holiday etc etc. so too should we think about this.

    Bear in mind that we all have “seen” at times and “lose the sight” at other times…
    The irony that the blind person doesn’t have any way of knowing whether or not the sighted person is telling them the truth does not make the blind man’s experience a universal truth but a subjective misinterpretation of it. The short-sighted ones must tell themselves exactly that, rather than establish their subjective interpretation as truth, saying that ‘nothing can be done’. The only way for the blind or short-sighted person to “know” isn’t to justify his frustration (at wanting to see the sunset others obviously see) by exclaiming darkness’s apparent universality as far as their perception is concerned; it is to listen to what the doctors say and simply put that in practice.
    Besides, it is not just that we haven’t got eyes to see, its that we choose to look elsewhere and demand a quick response from God when we take some time to look towards Him.
    The heart that prays earnestly and continues in thankfulness is always approaching greater and greater clarity of vision though. Our Christ says “blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.” (John 20:29)
    Something I see with my eyes ‘here and now’ will not be viewable by me ‘later and somewhere else’.
    This means I must cultivate a heart that can remember at all times and everywhere what the intellect has seen on special occasions. “Regurgitating the experience” as you say.
    And that’s very similar to (although not the same) as believing others’ witness that have seen (“Regurgitating their experience”).
    Besides this type of seeing isn’t compulsory yet, it is not forced upon us, or else it could burn us. It is accessible to the measure of our good faith though, our shunning of distraction, our goodwill, humility, and even distrust of our experience in prudent faith in our saints.
    It is something that also takes time (as do all virtues or else instantly perfect Adams, prophet Samuels or apostle Pauls or saint Silouans could have been demanded by us for ourselves)

    I think that the (lately lamented) inability of many youngsters to actively concentrate (eg on a book) as an act of voluntary decision, (as opposed to the passive ‘concentration’ of a screen that compulsorily grabs their attention and plunders this ‘active concentration’ ability they could have had), is similar to our contemporary impatience with slowly cultivating the eyes of faith in stillness and patience and thankfulness, due to our cultivation of a continuous welcoming of distraction spiritually.

  34. I never knew what psalm they sang in the upper room! Now I do and I feel so pleased.
    Karen, we are in an OCA and we sing 118 during communion… I guess it just depends on the parish.

  35. Jeff,

    Fr. Stephen and others have given very good advice. I’ll only add one piece concerning others. Because of the way God has made us to be in communion AND because of the way our ego and other things get in the way of seeing ourselves truly, we are able to see others sometimes more clearly than we can see ourselves.

    For instance, if I am probably a poor judge of whether or not I have a good singing voice. Putting aside the physical challenges of hearing myself, my ego and all sort of mental garbage will distort my ability to evaluate my own voice. Whereas someone with even a little musical ability can probably make a fairly accurate assessment – even if they’re shy about telling me the truth.

    Yes we can fool them and no they aren’t always right, but the point is that their ego isn’t on the line. I suspect that’s why sometimes it’s easier to tell strangers our problems and faults: they have no vested interest and are more likely to listen and respond noncommittally.

    This works in everyone’s favor. God gives some of the insight and assistance we need to other people, so we can go looking for it in them instead of being more independent. Often God is blessing both parties when this happens.

  36. Drewster2000,
    Thank you for these words. I’m finding so much good here. I appreciate so much the spirit of helpfulness and communion. What you say is so true. Had I not been the recipient of wisdom and good counsel, I would have never found Fr. Stephen’s Book, “Everywhere Present,” his podcast, or his blog (basically in this order). And, this truth has held throughout my life. All that I am is because of the kindness and love of others—their words, their actions, their example, both directly and indirectly. I thank God for his care for me. May I be faithful to him and my brothers and sisters through the living of my life and by responding in kind. It is the least I can do.

    Buoyed up, carried, and encouraged, I know I am unworthy, and yet He persists. He is not deterred by my resistance. The great cloud of witnesses does not dispair. They worship our God and daily we are invited to join them; their prayers unceasing. Oh that I might join in; that I might obey more, love more, ask more, desire more—ever increasing in faithfulness. Blessed be Jesus, our beloved savior and the author of all goodness, light and life. All glory to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen

  37. What a beautiful, radiant post, Father – thank you! I too have been left puzzled by the search for the uncreated light of the Holy Transfiguration, when I see on the icon how the disciples are individually stricken when beholding it. To me that indicates more the unknowability of God, His being in its essence. And only the very few of Christ’s disciples were given this glimpse, as it was for Moses himself in life – even though the promise is there that his afterlife has him in conversation with Our Lord – it’s a wonderful icon!

    While the sun overwhelms us this summer solstice and we seek the comfort of shade, we are nonetheless present to the entire creation in its blinding light; so to have the comfort and promise of your gathering of texts culminating in the wonderful psalm – (I recently found at Walmart of all places the very translation you are using; I am so thrilled!) – is a joy indeed! The psalm so fully expresses the thankfullness of one who is uplifted by exposure to the energies of God, and it is wonderful to realize when all the disciples would have sung it. Thank you again.

  38. Thank you Fr Stephen, also, for sharing the link to Fr Matthew Baker’s blog. I hadn’t seen it before your link. Coincidentally, I have prayed for his soul ever since his fatal car accident.

  39. Apparently I misunderstood, it isn’t his blog but another that posted his writing. Sorry for my confusion.

  40. Dee, I’m thankful someone is posting Fr. Mathew’s writings and that he left writings to post. Though I’d never heard of him, when I read Fr. Andrew (Damick’s) tribute to him after his death, I felt like I’d lost one of my best friends and a little like I wanted to throw up at the shock of such a loss (I’m sure my deep sense of sympathy with his wife and many children was also a part of that latter reaction)!

  41. I think in rereading the comments I would like to offer a distinction. There are things that I can say that I know with a high degree of psychological certainty. For example, I know as a matter of fact that I didnt eat breakfast this morning. I know as a matter of fact that the color of grass would be recognized by most people as “green” and the color of the sky as “blue”. Clearly, these are very trivial things to know. In mathematics there are things that I know for certain because mathematics is tautaulogical: Everything follows from definitions. There is a real goodness-of-fit between our minds and these kinds of things that can be known. Which is the same thing as saying that the mind is well-suited for knowing that which is created as opposed to that which is uncreated. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think everyone here would agree to that. Therefore, it seems to me that God can never be known like that. Which entails at the level of the conscious mind the possibility of denial: God does not exist. If we restrict the domain of existence to the domain of creation, then it is proper to say that God does not exist. Given the restriction of the mind to the domain of the created, then any manifestation or appearance of God can only be perceived as something created even if the appearance was something very fantastic. So, in this very narrowly defined sense, I regard myself as something of an atheist. The only way to truly know God is by means of theosis: We have to become God to know God–we have to become uncreated.

    I write this as a declaration, a statement of my anchor, why I am Orthodox. Orthodoxy is the only “-ism” that bears this complexity. Every other notion of heaven or the afterlife is little more than activation of the limbic reward system to the n-th degree. I imagine that the other side of this coin is that it isn’t that God cannot be known at all. That’s where providence comes in, although I’m still very unsure of what we mean by providence. It seems to me that whatever happens providentially will always fit within a distribution of prior probabilities unless we are discussing the miraculous. There’s a saying I picked up from someone along the way ‘I don’t pray because I believe, I believe because I pray.’ In a sense I know what this means because it resonates with who I am. And this is why I am leaning towards the idea what we can “know” about God will always be consistent with the actualization of our illumination: Who we are represents what we can possibly “know” of God.

  42. So when I wrote “who we are represents what we can possibly “know” of God” what I mean by that is what can be known of God is always incarnational and not propositional, i.e. “I am the way, the the truth, and the life.”

  43. Simon,

    Your comment is extremely interesting. I take it you are familiar with this notion out there, stemming partly from moden physics, that all of reality is consciousness. It stems partly from these experiements in physics where data sets change based on who the experimenter was, and the same data set changing based on different observers performing the experiment. The so-called “double slit” experiment is one of the most well known of these.

    What these experiments suggest to me is that lived human existence is mostly hermeneutical, i.e. couched in interpretation—if you create a theological universe for yourself and surround yourself with Christian friends and religious objects and teaching, the you live, by virtue of that fact, in a God-directed universe. You have placed yourself within a hiearachy of being. God is real in this kind of life. If someone chooses to call themselves an athiest, but surrounds themselves with smart people, people who care, who live ethically, and who cultivate compassion, they are still living within a hiearchy of being, which is in some sense theological, eventhough they may bristle at the assertion.

    It’s been shown statisically that people who believe in prayer and who have people praying for them when they are sick or in a hospital, get faster than people who do not have this support network or this hermeneutical couching for their life and movement through the world. The work of Dean Radin is very interesting on this topic. People praying for certain things to come into their life, and learing to visualize it, can bring good things their way much more readily than people who do not do this. The silly new age film from 14 years ago called The Secret, talked about “The Law of Attraction,” which is the basic idea.

    The next obvious question is: is the Orthodox doctrine of essence and energies and God’s essence and existence being the same, merely the same thing as this is contemporary idea from physics that all reality is consciousness? Or is it something more? Is it a way to live this out most fully, i.e. a way to embody and put the truth into practice and make the most of it?

  44. Simon
    I agree with what you say very much but the mind’s denial of God reminded me of Elder Aimilianos exclaiming :

    ‘who am I? I am the absence of God.’

    We can say that nothing exists when compared to how The Only One That Exists – “I Am that I Am” – exists.
    Indeed, focusing and following Christ the way (purification), the truth (illumination) and the life (theosis) is the path of experientially getting to encounter God, not somewhere outside of us, but as being utterly possessed by Him inside, and then seeing Him everywhere as a consequence of that.
    But we cannot start with this lofty final contemplation but with humble trust in His providence. This humility certainly entails curtailing our roving mind’s rationalising, analytical curiosity, among other things.
    In our current state we resemble the unborn child that can know it’s mother without seeing her yet, but could also convince itelf that such a thing as ‘a mother’, in its palpable darkness must be delusional.

  45. Who am I? I am the absence of God.
    Dino, I like that a lot. It resonates as real. Like…as soon as I read it, I felt it.

    So, Dino, in baby terms, would you mind relating your understanding of providence. Im curious what you have to say.

  46. In our current state we resemble the unborn child that can know it’s mother without seeing her yet, but could also convince itelf that such a thing as ‘a mother’, in its palpable darkness must be delusional.

    YEP.

  47. Simon
    It’s no different to what Father stated earlier I think.
    Of course the gushing forth of thanks is easier when things go well.
    But unmovable trusting conviction that God never makes a mistake even when I get robbed, tortured or diseased is the polar star to travel towards and to be eventually attained.
    Not exactly easy when things go the bad way, but others will see your coming transformation in this before you.
    An athonite saying goes “if you die before you die you won’t die when you die ”
    It means that if you die in your baptism, your wedding , your tonsure, your confessions (especially there!) your death will be life and your life up to then will be the death that tramples death. You will have no hopes or hopelessnesses, no happinesses or sadnesses, but only the joy that you -at last- don’t live but Christ lives in you.
    The right “direction” (as explained here) helps immensely with the fortification of the eye of faith that perceives providence clearly where others don’t and then becomes justified once it’s conviction proves true.

  48. “If you die before you die, then you won’t die when you die.”

    Oh, I like that! It goes right along with, “You can’t know God, but you have to know Him to know that.” (Fr. Thomas Hopko)

    (Who says Christians don’t have koans?)

  49. I’ve always liked this:
    “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”
    Jim Elliott, martyred by the Auca Indians

  50. “The Orthodox faith would not hold that reality is consciousness.”
    Father, thank you for this comment. This truth is being borne out as I read “The Unintended Reformation.” If reality is consciousness, then we are lost.

  51. Todd,
    On the one hand I think eveything you is true and on the other hand I think everything you said was false. And in a very qualified sense I mean that in all seriousness. Psychological bias and psychological certainty do make living in a world of your own design possible. When I was a Jehovah’s Witness, the god Jehovah was as real to me as the earth beneath my feet. Probably the most painful and confusing thing Ive ever was dawning awareness that my god was the great and powerful Oz and the Watchtower was the man behind the curtain. So, in a very real sense, I would argue that the atheists, JWs, Protestants, Buddhists, Orthodox and others all experience reality differently because of the way their psychological biases and certainties condition or texture their experience. I have more to say but Im going to have to come back to it.

  52. So, to just finish my previous thought. I dont like true-for-me universes or worse the new age versions of that notion. We can speak truthfully about our experiences but we have to be careful about how much truth value our experience. Does the fact that we have no experience of God mean that there is no God? If “truth” has any reference at all that we can agree I think it be ‘that which is real is true.’ That which is “true” or “real” in the absolute sense of the word is God. God is; therefore, God is the truth.

  53. I know in the quote above I was not directly referencing knowing God. Yet few will willingly give their life for a God they do not know. Jesus says this:”…and no one knows the Father except the Son, and any one to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.” And just to show that this is synergistic, allowing for our cooperation, Christ then gives an invitation to all in the following verse: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” verses in Matt.11
    So yes, God (Christ) is truth…”I am the way, the truth and the life.” And Christ chooses to reveal to us the Father IF we accept His invitation and come to Him. He gives rest to this weary sojourner daily, in spite of my sometimes sinning heart.

  54. thanks guys,

    I appreciate your pointing out that weakness in what I put forth, i.e. the idea that reality is consciusness. I have work to do in trying, if it’s possible at all, to bridge this metaphysics coming out of the new physics with Orthodox metaphysics. I dont know. This stuff is extremely complex. But I think a first step is to acknowledge that they are not advocating subjectivism, but rather a kind of objectivism, a “hitch-your-wagon-to-a-starism,” by creating a consciousness that is couched in the layers of the really real. To call that “consciousness” is a misnomer. It’s reall a kind of apophatic approach to a hiearchical universe.

    pshew! This is fun! I really do appreciate Fr S’s blog and all those who interact through it.

  55. Todd,
    It is very difficult to say what the implications are from all the quantum weirdness: Non-locality, entanglement (faster-than-light information transfer), wave-particle duality, etc. These are exciting topics, but even the most seasoned physicists are very hesitant to elaborate on the implications. However, more than a few theoretical physicists (Penroseand and Bohm, and lesser known Walker and Fisher) describe consciousness as a quantum phenomenon. This to me is a very interesting question, but I’m not sure how far down the road we can get with it. Do we need a metaphysical essence (soul or spirit) for consciousness to emerge in the brain OR is consciousness as a quantum phenomenon implicit to the universe? Bohm’s work in this regard is interesting.

    Have a look-see at pilot-wave theory
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RlXdsyctD50

  56. Thoughts on metaphysics:

    There are many “playful” aspects of modern theoretical physics – highly speculative and fun. Bear in mind that there is not a “unified field theory” in existence. At best, we only know some pieces here and there – but we do not know how they really fit.

    As such, it is more than premature to want to somehow find a metaphysic that meshes with quantum physics. More problematic is the fact that “meta” physics is just that – it transcends physics. Questions of being and existence are ultimately not predicated on physical theory. Physical theory cannot, in any way shape or form, suggest why there is something rather than nothing. The fact of existence is not in the purview of physics and can never be.

    But more to the point, we cannot really approach God through metaphysics. The Fathers use of metaphysics is not to arrive at positive knowledge, but to demonstrate that we cannot arrive at such knowledge by reason. The knowledge of God is “apophatic” – “that which cannot be spoken.”

    We say that God cannot be known. The unknowable God, however, has made Himself known in the God/Man, Jesus Christ. It is with Christ, particularly in His suffering, death and resurrection, that we begin to see God.

    The simple path is described by Christ:

    “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him. (Jn. 14:23)

    The primary act of faith is not made in our minds…it is made in the small actions of keeping Christ’s commandments. Love your enemies, be kind, be generous, do not return evil for evil, etc. Slowly, as a practice and keep His commandments, we come to know Him, because He dwells in us. If we keep His commandments, we are slowly conformed to His image – (this is theosis).

    I frequently use the image of riding a bicycle. You learn to ride by riding, not thinking about riding.

  57. point taken Fr. Stephen,

    But just as a final thought on this, and I will leave it alone after I say this (promise!); it seems to me that one thing pointed in what is coming out of the new physics and speculations on its connections to consciousness is this: God is personal. God is a Person, and we are gods (with a small g), or at least called to be. If the universe at its deepest level reflects, resides in, covorts with, etc. etc.,, consciousness, then ultimate reality is somehow personal. And with this notion, we are back not only to Orthodoxy, but to classical theism. We are back to the theism as it exists not only across the Abrahamic religions, but also in parts of the Hindu world—which in Vedanta Hinduism is quite theistic in some of its manifestations.

  58. Todd,
    I like how you think. The hard problem in the philosophy of mind is uber-interesting. Its one of the reasons I focused on computational neuroscience. I still wonder from time-to-time about the connection between the biophysics and the emergence of the mind. BUT now I focus most of my energy on prayer. The reading I do is just to keep me inspired and focused throughout the day. For me this is strictly a pragmatic measure. My gamble is this: If my efforts in prayer meet with favor, then Ill have the time in the world to ponder the hard problems. I dont say that to discourage you in any way. Its just something to think about. Sometimes the absurdity of my live just kills me: The path of Orthodoxy is theosis and I’m googling the internet to see what new 6″ Star Black Series Wars action figures have been released.

  59. I would think that the best we can hope for from physics is the revelation of an icon of who God is but all of creation is already that. Most of us spend a good deal of our time masking creation in one way or another so that we do not see.

    If we want to see, have humility and ask to see, we will be given the eyes to see no matter whether on is a biophysicist or a homeless person. Wherever someone is Christ is there waiting for you to give Him an opportunity to reveal Himself.

    I have always found biophysics absolutely fascinating in part because I sense the workings of God in His creation but I do not have the mind and temperament for it. God led me a different direction. It is tempting for me to think my experience is normative and everybody ought to agree and do the same thing but that is arrogant magical thinking.

    He is merciful.

  60. Ive been reading Orthodox Mystical Theology (Lossky). Such a mix of thought and emotion for me. I think of Moses and how he wanted to see God, but would not be able to bear it. How mystical energies are expressed through Gods creation….through our existence…revelation and the mystery.
    I am in the midst of a difficult and confusing time. I suppose they are times of travail. So thankful for this article.

  61. In our current state, the preeminent way to ‘see’ God, is to place ourselves firmly and exclusively under His gaze.
    The scales fall from our own eyes, only to the extent that we do such a thing (without anticipating anything other than our own appearance before Him).

    When shall I come and appear before God? (Psalm 42/41 : 2)

    I believe it’s worth stating the obvious, even if it sounds like a clichéd adage circulating in non-Orthodox circles. It’s decisively Orthodox:
    ‘get out of your head and into your heart’.

    An apt elaboration of the saying would be that ‘Christ’s ear is to be found in one’s heart’…

    Our Lord’s voice is to be heard there too. Especially if we can appear before Him in our hearts in the “desert-night” (whatever such a thing might feasibly mean for each one of us in our respective contexts).

    Even His sweet gaze is encountered within a ‘Nous’ (the true focus of one’s attention) that doesn’t depart from the deep heart in its awe-inspiring introversion and fearsome wonder at what can potentially occur in that holy place.

    All other problems and questions are solved once we solve that.

  62. For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf.

    Where ‘heaven’ is the Most Holy, the innermost part of our heart.

  63. Dino,
    “Placing myself under His gaze….” that is a comforting thought.
    I wrestle with myself when I know that even then, before Him, I can be “in my head.”

    I also struggle with the fear that I am creating some kind of idol for myself,…thinking I am just using God as my comfort.

    He knows my untrusting feeble heart…my shame.

  64. I don’t think that we must heed such fears much dear Panayiota. It’s better to move forward (even if limping), than not to. Our Spiritual Fathers will iron out whatever needs it later on.
    God wouldn’t mind His servant using Him as comfort on the path to purifying their motives…

    Our shame before God (inside the innermost heart) is safe, no matter how great, even if infinite!
    The faith in His goodness will transform our knowledge of everything in ways we now cannot conceive.

    There’s a natural knowledge that precedes faith (and recognises good and evil). When this knowledge (that every person possesses) isn’t smothered by pleasure-seeking, it leads us to faith (as well as to the fear of God and the keeping of His commandments).
    However, there’s an indescribably different spiritual knowledge that follows faith afterwards. (This other knowledge is what also gives birth to spiritual -charismatic- discernment.)

    Our entrance into the heart, to remain as much as we can before the Lord there, while still living according to natural knowledge, could probably be likened to a plunging of unfathomable dark depths. It will be also mixed with imaginations and thoughts that we will (we must) struggle to ignore.
    However, once we are bestowed spiritual knowledge, this entrance becomes more like a plunging into boundless light.

  65. Panayiota,
    Fortunately one of the names of the Holy Spirit is Comforter/counselor. Jn. 14:26. So don’t be afraid or ashamed to call upon this blessed member of the Trinity. Fortunately, as Orthodox, we have prayers specially addressed to Him. The Paraclete is also called the Advocate…by some Christians almost a forgotten member of the Godhead, yet a most powerful defense and support for believers.
    Thanks Dino for your continued, thoughtful/prayerful comments.

  66. I wrestle with myself when I know that even then, before Him, I can be “in my head.” I also struggle with the fear that I am creating some kind of idol for myself,…thinking I am just using God as my comfort.

    Panayiota, I know what you mean. I have felt that exact way.

    Dino is right about this: As long as we are entering the heart with the analytical mind fully engaged, then the inwardness of the Orthodox path feels like ‘a plunging of unfathomable dark depths.’ To be frank, for a while I felt like I was undergoing a mental disorder. The mind is like an enzyme, and all enzymes need a substrate to react with. The only idols that can be had are those things that can be circumscribed by the mind. So, guess what? The mind, its concomitant ego and its craving for the concrete must be silenced. And that means you are leaving the realm of idols behind. And this is the true leap of faith. You stand at the edge of darkness and you take the leap of faith without the the parachute of reason and analysis. However, you are not alone.

    You are in the right place. God is with you.

  67. For what its worth here is why I wouldnt recommend reading Lossky or any number of other Orthodox writers in the early stages of our Orthodox journey: Their writing engages the analytical mind–which us neophytes need to learn to silence. This is why I only read to be inspired: It rouses the heart, but “bypasses” the mind’s analytic craving. I pray almost exclusively the Jesus Prayer and Psalms I have memorized. I keep it super simple. In other words, if it draws my attention away the heart–I dont do it. At least not for right now.

  68. Indeed, few people can read that stuff at the beginning and then be able to solely be inspired by it to pray – without pondering on the analytical side of what they’ve read.
    Then again, there’s countless others who do this type of dissecting and scrutinizing of the mind, no matter what they read. Sometimes, some such types actually need to plunge themselves in the depths of theological dogmas (even if it’s a potentially dangerous sea), as they can then emerge with a special, otherworldly “soaking” from it, one that protects them from the inane corrosion of this world which “passeth away, along with the lust thereof”.
    On the other hand, this can be seen as a good that’s less than ideal, a little like the story from St Silouan about the brother that read newspapers ‘in order to pray for the world’ and yet found Silouan majestically disagreeing, in the knowledge that such surface mind-food can never sustain deep prayer the way nourishment of the heart does.

  69. Yes. Whatever moves the attention inward. To be honest, half of what I post is self-lecturing myself. 😉

  70. Dino,

    I think I may be one of those types who needs to do the plunging, too. Many times I get in over my depth and just have to climb out of the water, but it does change you—even if very little of it seems to penetrate.

    Simon,

    All of what I post is self-lecturing myself! It is affirming truths I hear the Holy Spirit impressing on me and honing and testing the expression of these in dialogue with others. (Ok, well, I have to qualify that a little — occasionally, I’m just indulging an ADD rabbit trail thought and sharing a joke or quirky association with some other comment!)

    Panayiota,

    God give you grace! The first thing that popped into my mind when you worried you might be only coming to God for comfort was, “The real problems arise when we are turning to things *other than Christ* for comfort! By all means come to God when you are needing comfort most of all.” You might enjoy this story from Met. Anthony (Bloom) that I shared with another commenter here a few years ago:
    https://blogs.ancientfaith.com/glory2godforallthings/2012/09/28/how-the-scriptures-became-the-scriptures/#comment-64896

  71. God has blessed us with this Orthodox community. I know I sound like a neophyte. I’m sure I am, but Orthodoxy is not new to me. In my mid fifties and have never been away from the Orthodox Church for more than a week,unless it was after the birth of one of our four children. The most amazing gifts of all. I’ve have read and reread and reread the same books over and over. Each time God shows me something else. I get excited and amazed, truly humbled. I share with my husband. He looks at me, and I can see in his eyes, that he’s known these truths. He’s is a very humble man, a Deacon.
    I share some chant with our 15 year old daughter. She says, chant is an extension of you mom. Your voice is an extension of yourself. Get out of your head! She says pray as you chant. I think these are the mystical experiences that I must notice.
    Simon, I totally get the “going mad” thing. It is difficult though. We’re supposed to be in this world, but as we all have shared, it’s a different world that we cannot be part of sometimes.

  72. I have memorized the Psalms as well . They help me so much. I was told that even dry prayer is heard by Satan and he trembles.

  73. Panayiota, I am very green in Orthodoxy. So forgive for assuming too much. Again half of what I post is just me trying to bring something into focus. The other is me being an idiot.

  74. Simon and Panaiyota,
    How do you go about memorizing the Psalms? I can remember a few that are prayed in Church (mostly from Vespers, that I have heard for years, and in ‘singing rhythm’), but recently I tried to memorize a few new ones and I find it impossible! Do you say it aloud; a little at a time? Or the whole Psalm for several days? I’m very frustrated by this lack of progress.
    Any suggestions will greatly appreciated!

  75. If anyone happens upon a good way of memorizing Psalms, let me know. I learned Psalm 50 (51) as a prayer by repeating by rote, but others that I know, I know only by repetition from singing them in the Liturgy or Vespers. Do we have such a thing as a whole Psalter set to music in book form anywhere?

  76. Simon,
    Your comments were exactly what I was thinking, but couldn’t express. They helped me so much. It doesn’t matter if you’ve been Orthodox all your life, or just finding it. That’s really the point of it all. Never can we take things for granted . From where I stand, it can be so easy to think we can just rest in tradition without any thought. A sort of check list thing. That’s not real to me, and those moments when I am completely alone, my faith would mean nothing to me. It may even scare me away. That’s why I search. I think of Father Stephens hide and seek comments. I think lately I’ve come to understand no amount of knowledge would ever be enough. It would be knowledge for knowledge sake, that’s all. The realness of it is in the poetic mystery written by some, and Gods revelation to us. Sometimes I feel so grateful that I can’t get enough, and other times feel like the those that Christ spoke about when he appeared to the Apostle Thomas after His resurrection.
    …for what it’s worth, I write to clear my head so I can make some sense of what I’m thinking.

  77. Karen, Agata,
    Hank Hanagraaff, the Bible Answer Man, became Greek Orthodox last year, to the consternation of many evangelicals. Google his name and blogspot, his site should appear. Anyway, he has memorized whole swaths of Scripture over a lifetime. On utube you might look at his interview with O.S. Hawkins, Memorizing the Bible. Think it will help.

  78. Regarding memorizing the Psalms…my husband told me about the “vanishing prompts” technique. It works! Here’s how: print a copy of the Psalm. Then, blacken every tenth word. Read it, filling in the missing words as best you can. After some time, blacken every fifth word. Etc. Pretty soon, you’ve got it! Really. I also use some other prompts…associations, in particular. For example, with Psalm 50/51…the movement in the middle third goes from b(bones) to f(face) to h (heart). It’s a very quick process.

  79. A quick search online also led to several Psalters (some with music settings) in book form from various Orthodox publishers. Is anybody familiar with one of these. I have a Kathisma psalter I ordered a few years back from a monastery for my prayer corner, but there are no musical settings, so it’s just for reading or chanting.

  80. Agata,
    The Psalms read during Orthos or Matins was where I started. Reading those six Psalms really helped…over and over again. You can record yourself and follow as you listen. I would focus on one psalm a week.

  81. Agata – i memorize a half line at a time and gradually build on it. I repeat it over and over in my mind as I add lines. Then i review the part I’ve memorized it in my mind periodically throughout the day. Once i have the whole thing, I review it in my mind every day until it feels really solid. It was easier to do when I was younger, but it’s still possible.

  82. Geri,
    I am going to try the vanishing prompts. I have wrestled without success to memorize Psalm 50/51. I think I get stuck on which verse comes next. They are all so familiar, but it’s the order that escapes me. Years ago, when I lived in a commune, we would put large amounts of Scripture to memory – very often aided by catchy tunes. Any other suggestions would be helpful…I’m going to try the bfh progression immediately!

  83. I think that for psalms or any other prayers that you repeat at least once every day it’s almost inevitable that they will end up more or less memorised after a while. With something like a Parklesis or Salutations you might need a reminder paper of the first words for each troparion (which is one reason for using alphabetic “acrostihidas” -what’sthat called in English again?)
    With Psalms *especially if going for the full psalter or large chunks* you would need a method that consistently stops you from jumping from one line to a random yet identical [almost] line). It’s highly dependant on individual too as I know the odd person who simply ends up knowing it all through (highly aware) repetition as a monastic (once a week the entire psalter and twice during lent for them) after about five to ten years.
    It’s a bit like musicians though where some are great site readers and cannot memorise anything whereas others are very poor site readers and yet memorise entire symphonies with relative ease.

  84. It’s one thing to memorize something, another to keep it. In my 30’s I memorized the Sermon on the Mount. Took me months. But to review in my mind, it would take almost 20 minutes. Because it was such an effort to do the review, I eventually stopped. Now I would have to memorize it again. One thing I have noticed though. Once something has been memorized, you “see” or “know” it much better than when it is simply familiar to you, even if
    it is later no longer “memorized.” “Thy word have I hid in my heart, oh Lord, that I might not sin against Thee.”

  85. Desire has a lot to do with it too. There’s certain things you love so viscerally (like the words of a saint that you have am uncanny affinity with) that you can almost learn from day one.

  86. Thank you all so much for all the helpful ideas!!
    I think what Dino said, that some things we love so it’s easier to memorize (for me it was the prayer “At daybreak” by Elder Sophrony that came easy, and that long prayer for my children I shared a few times), but other things that are less ‘mine’ seem more difficult…
    Like Psalm 50 (as Father mentioned).

    Another difficulty is the many translations, which we already mentioned before. For Psalm 50, we use a different version in my parish than for example the version ‘set-to-music’ on the wonderful CD from the Monastery of St. John of Shanghai and San Francisco in Manton – Karen, I highly recommend this CD, it has a couple of Psalms.

    Thank you again, and I pray for your success in memorizing as much as you can… Sometimes I feel there is not enough life left for it all, and how will I appear before the Lord ‘speaking His language’ so poorly (Father Zacharias says that the Scriptures are the ‘language of God’)…

  87. Flash cards are still the gold standard when it comes to memorizing things. Also, here is another good trick. Read them while walking (but not in traffic!). Something about the movement of walking that stimulates our brain to remember thing better.

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