Face to Face – Without Shame or Fear

We are apparently living in the age of the face, and I don’t think it’s necessarily bad.  I know all the complaints about our culture of “selfies,” and there are certainly many things in that to make us wonder, but our fascination with our faces long predates the technology of our phones. In the usage of the early Church, the word for face (prosopon) is also the word for person. It is the face that most truly reveals our identity, emotions, interests and a host of other things. Our ability to read the faces of others is sometimes highly developed. In the Scriptures, the most intimate possible union of man and God is contained in the phrase “face-to-face.” St. Paul equates beholding Christ face-to-face as the fulfillment of salvation itself.

I find our present fascination with the face (selfie’s) to be a symptom of our search for meaning, place, and identity. That search, of course, can be healthy and salvific just as it can be morbid and selfish. In a mass culture of consumption, those things that most properly pertain to the true self are constantly homogenized and blended into a sea of commonality.

This is a very strange thing to be happening in a civilization that celebrates, even exalts, individuality. The cult of the individual is contradicted by the culture of consumption. The very things we purchase in order to display our uniqueness often come off a rack of similar items. We have traded the group (or tribe) for individuality.

Individuality is extremely fragile. In that it is singular and unique, everything around it tends to want to absorb it. That absorption is its destruction and disappearance. Within the tribe, faces become interchangeable and lose their meaning. There is very little distance between the tribe and the mob.

Part of the emptiness of social media is its constant loss of the individual. Faces are replaced by names (or just “likes”). Who we are is quickly absorbed by the opinions we hold that take their place in a sea of other opinions. It is a formula that presses for the extreme, for only the extreme can be heard or seen.

Within the modern American tragedy of mass shootings, I wonder if there is not a perverse drive for individuality. Victims are often just that – victims – not individuals, persons, unique and unrepeatable. They become one of five, or twelve, or eight-six. The shooter can imagine that his name will be remembered and his face never forgotten. “Better to rule in hell than to serve in heaven.” Of course, this perverted tragedy is a failure. Within weeks, the name of the shooter is forgotten, as well as their face. They simply join the ranks of a new tribe: “shooters.”

Our face, our unique and true identity, can never exist in isolation: it must be seen by someone. Ironically, in our constant posting of our own image, our face becomes something mostly seen by ourselves. It is a solipsistic representation of self, truly ironic in that the image portrayed by the camera, like that in a mirror, is actually reversed when compared to what others see.

It is in this need to be rightly seen that the nature of our relationship with God becomes clear. Unlike the many things and people around us, God has no interest in absorbing us. Indeed, His relationship with us is utterly opposed to absorption. He means to establish us as His equals (yes, I know that sounds shocking).

“Face to face” is an impossible encounter between two non-equals. That one is greater than the other precludes the ability of the lesser to see them properly. The direction of the Incarnation is God’s own movement making possible our meeting with Him face-to-face. It is echoed in this remarkable verse:

For he who sanctifies and those who are sanctified have all one origin. That is why he is not ashamed to call them brethren, (Heb. 2:11)

Christ elevates the disciples to this position when He says:

No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. (Jn. 15:15)

We also hear it spoken eschatologically in the extreme saying from Revelation:

He who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I myself conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne. (Rev. 3:21)

This is the condescension of God in His love for man!

This meeting as equals also means the respect of boundaries: there is communion but no absorption. The primary aspect of our personal boundary is freedom. There can be no coercion in the communion of persons, only love. What is given to us in beholding the face of God is purely the gift of God. What we return to Him can only be the same. A gift can only proceed from freedom.

Sadly, our fascination with our own face is not truly an act of love. We don’t actually like our face. Our many selfies represent just so many efforts “to pose.” Like the sound of our voice, we often wince at the first glimpse of ourselves. We never look quite like we imagine. Make-up and lighting help, but they represent our constant drive to change how we appear. Indeed, the discomfort we feel with details of our own face are symptoms of shame. The primary physical elements of shame are experienced in the face. Blood rushes to the face, our eyes look down, and, most often, we turn our faces away. Shame hides.

To behold God face-to-face necessarily means that we behold Him without shame. Thus, this experience holds within it the promise of complete forgiveness and healing from the damage of sin. The icons of saints are normatively painted full face (except when turned slightly towards the figure of Christ in prayer). Their faces, like that of Christ, bear witness to their glorification. They look towards us in the gift of pure freedom with friendship and love. It is an invitation to unite with them in their face-to-face encounter with Christ. It establishes and completes them as persons. It is for this same reason that they are not only depicted in full face but are always identified with their names written on the icon. It betokens that they have fully become who they were created to be.

54 comments:

  1. I have recently begun to notice that the tradition visage of an Orthodox priest, especially with gray beard tends to make you all look quite a bit alike. The first thing I see is priest.

    I like that especially since each of you that I know are so remarkably different.

  2. Father Stephen,
    I remember being put off by some icons when I first became Orthodox. I was used to seeing paintings in the Western tradition, more realistic, less spiritualized. However, a long favorite of mine, in fact the first I purchased, was the image of Christ Pantocrator you have in your article. I’ve noticed that once an icon is bought and one invokes the prayers of that particular saint, not only does the face become familiar but the saint becomes a friend.
    I find that very encouraging. Often in a parish it is difficult to find another, especially in a coffee hour setting, with whom one can talk about Christ and the Church. Yet we can surround ourselves with eternal friends in the icons, those who never tire of meeting with us, or of hearing our complaints, joys or sorrows. This indeed is the “great cloud of witnesses” and friends.
    And one day they will not appear to us in paint and wood but even more fully, face-to-face in Christ’s presence.

  3. Fr Stephen,
    I’m grateful that you wrote this essay as an elaboration on an important point you raised in the previous discussion. What we tend to not see, is often so ubiquitous that it is like ‘air’, which is to say that it is invisible. In one of your comments to me in the previous article, you point out that the ‘problem’ of the narcissist does not reside solely in the actions of the narcissist but in the responses of those around the person that serve to reinforce, that is to entrench and support, the behavior.

    You have mentioned, and it is part of the Orthodox ethos, to recognize that we are all ‘participants’ in each other’s sin. The narcissist’s pattern requires ‘participants’ in that pattern. And shame, that which is endemic in this society and yet not recognized or talked about much, becomes a useful means for the narcissist to manipulate others.

    While I had presumed that some sort of toxic shame was the ‘seed’ of the development of clinical narcissism. How the shame of others who populate the social world around a narcissist can be attracted to it, was still somewhat invisible to me. Now thanks to your writing, the workings of these interactions are more visible that I see how my own shame allows me to be vulnerable in some respects to such behavior. It also suggests why I now might respond in anger or anxious stress, to narcissistic behavior in others. Due to this vulnerability to shame in myself, I’m grateful I’m not exposed to the clinical level of narcism in my nearest social circle or parish. I pray that God strengthens me to grow a soul that can withstand it, if I am exposed, God willing.

    But I’m admittedly very concerned about the impacts of this situation appearing in the level of clergy. How would this be handled in the Orthodox Church? Is this an appropriate question to ask?

  4. I am reading The Way of the Spirit by Archm. Aimilianos and just came to this passage…

    “Have we received the Holy Spirit? If we look at ourselves, I fear that we haven’t… But it would be foolish to do nothing more than go on weeping about it… We’ve got to reach the point where, when the Spirit does come, you no longer say, “Come!” but you sit and look at Him and He looks at you. You rejoice in Him, and He in you.”

    May we all be granted such a gift!

  5. Dee,
    There is (in the OCA) a “chain of command,” and it sometimes works! Every priest is answerable to his Dean, then to the Bishop. When there is a problem, like with a NPD priest, details could be shared with the Dean. I know of interventions, up to and including the removal of a priest. Generally, with NPD, there are problems of spiritual abuse on the part of the priest. Frankly, this was not policed very well over the many years, but is improving greatly in the past few years. Various jurisdictions do a better job at this than others. I think of the OCA as among the most responsive on such things. There is not as much entrenched ethnic habits standing in the way, for one. I think that for many years there was a tendency to always defend the priest. The failures of that approach have been famously revealed in the handful of cases of sexual misconduct. The insurance companies have laid down the law (good for them in this case) and insisted about mechanisms of training and intervention that work. Spiritual abuse is not sexual abuse, but the disciplinary mechanics can be the same.

    It is sad when these things happen. But when one priest abuses his office, all priests are harmed. I welcoming the discipline of the Church…it can save you.

  6. Esmée,

    This “rejoicing of God in you and at you” is the ultimate destructor of debilitating shame.
    Its advent is to the degree that we are not afraid to bear the shame of our completely honest standing-before-His-presence; however, the ‘key’ aspect par excellence, for this to take hold in earnest, is exclusivity.
    In other words, we cannot really fathom the depths of being with God face-to-face [our part of that deal] without the qualities of solitude, stillness, quiet, renunciation (for an extended time)… No matter how ‘boring’ this time spent therein can be at times, it’s ‘our part of the deal.’
    Only then, will the God of our fathers, [our faith], become “my God” (John 20:28), [faith as an experiential knowledge of sorts and to various degrees].

    Exceptionally in our current times (that are almost entirely predicated on a culture of –and even an education towards– constant distraction), we will never reach such a liberating and transformative faith (a first-hand knowledge of the unknowable One) without these qualities.

    “Faith is especially strong in a soul that has been tempered in solitude, silence, and deep inner stillness.”

    Elder Aimilianos of Simonopetra, The Way of the Spirit (p.204)

  7. “It is in this need to be rightly seen that the nature of our relationship with God becomes clear. Unlike the many things and people around us, God has no interest in absorbing us. Indeed, His relationship with us is utterly opposed to absorption. He means to establish us as His equals (yes, I know that sounds shocking).”

    Thank you for bringing me a step closer to an understanding of divinization, Father.

  8. It’s not just Greek. The Hebrew panim (or however you want to transliterate it) is one of those delightful singular-plurals in Hebrew. We do not have a face, we have a faces. (Just like there is not one Jerusalem, there are two, in the dual.) And our face is our person, our presence, the window into our being.

    In Gen 3:8, the man and his wife hide from the face of the LORD. In Gen. 18 there is a long exchange of to-the-faces, Abraham puts food to the faces of the visitors, the visitors look to the face of Sodom, the two turn their faces to Sodom, and Abraham stands to the face of the LORD and intercedes. True knowledge comes from looking in the face. Hypocrisy is putting on false faces.

    I look forward to the parousia, seeing Christ face-to-face. As Robert reminds us, we cannot see the gods face to face until we have faces. God grant us mercy on that day!
    In Christ,
    Mark

  9. Yes, Dino, Archm. Aimilianos absolutely emphasizes the need for time spent in silence. And until we have met God face-to-face in the silence of our own heart, it’s unlikely that we will be able to see the face of God in anyone else.

  10. ‘Our face, our unique and true identity, can never exist in isolation: it must be seen by someone.’

    My experience with growing up with a narcissistic parent is that I was not seen as person – only a projection of my parent – that type of neglect/abuse led to differing forms of self abuse that require being seen, by someone or Someone I did not learn to see myself, nor others and so have perpetuated the abuse on myself and in my relationships. My goal unbeknownst to me for at least 35 years became pleasing people at any cost, including the development of myself. God has been healing the many layers of my dysfunction over many years in many ways – His seeing me as I stand face-to-face praying the Jesus Prayer has been the most profound. I pray that I will be able to see myself and others as I continue to stand in His presence.

  11. Debbie,
    Yes. May God give you grace! It is interesting that boundaries are required in order to see someone. I must see that you are not me nor an extension of me. I can only know you as “other,” or I do not know you at all. This is one of the most fundamental aspects of our existence as persons in the image of God. When this is messed with on a fundamental level, it takes a long time for it to heal. But every step you take is part of a journey to the heart of joy.

  12. Fr Stephen, thank you for your response. It is reassuring that there is a chain of command in the Orthodox Church that can intervene. My hope is that all the jurisdictions will unify to respond in the manner that the OCA has adopted . Indeed, thank God for insurance companies if they have helped to raise attention on this issue.

  13. Father, thank you for another message of hope and love. I have not had a chance to engage the last couple posts with comment, but your words and those brought by others are humbling. I bathe in them, and I sense transformation at work. As I’ve heard you say, we can trust that God is good. These conversations give evidence to that reality.

    “It betokens that they have fully become who they were created to be.” Oh to be counted among their company…a beautiful thought.

  14. My niece was married yesterday. Even though I have not been physically present with here any more than a few hours in her life, she asked me to give a toast at the reception. I accepted and immediately began praying for what to say. The essence of what to say came rather quickly and I spoke it from my heart. My sister-in-law, her mother, came up to me in tears thanking me because I saw her daughter. Really saw her.

    I think it is God’s grace that allows us to see anyone else because only He knows. I really did not know the fullness of what I said until I talked more with my brother today and found out more details and how right I was, yet not me.

    Day to day familiarity can make it more difficult to actually see someone else. I was not in a place where she could irritate me or hurt me nor the other way around. So I was freer to see. We are revealed to each other in love and communion.

    The whole wedding was full of revealing grace in so many ways.

    God is good.

  15. Michael…a wonderful story about God’s grace. Really beautiful.
    Your comment on familiarity is so very true, as is Father’s thoughts on boundaries. Love and communion *is* life and *gives* life. Amazing that your niece asked you to give the toast. God is good…..

    Debbie A. who is precious to God…glad you are here. May you be filled with His grace.

  16. Fr. Stephen,

    The icons of saints are normatively painted full face (except when turned slightly towards the figure of Christ in prayer). Their faces, like that of Christ, bear witness to their glorification. They look towards us in the gift of pure freedom with friendship and love. It is an invitation to unite with them in their face-to-face encounter with Christ. It establishes and completes them as persons.

    This puts in words what I experienced when reading The Great Divorce and observing the response of the angels in every situation. They all had different relationships to their particular ghost, but none of that mattered anymore. They acknowledged their past but it didn’t define them. Looking their ghost full in the face and having nothing but light and joy toward them, they kept coming back to their one main purpose: “Are you ready? Shall we go?”

    This is the closest I have come to imagining how we shall be: unabashed, full of life and enthusiasm – not giddy, no skeletons in our closet, fully ready to acknowledge – and show gratitude for! – any wrong done in the past on either side.

    Thanks be to God that there is such a thing as true peace and joy, not just the poor substitutes sold to us in commercials! Thanks be to God that there is Someone who not only rescues us but actually tranforms us AND our past so that we can glow with Him and be face-to-face without shame!

  17. This I took from Fr. Stephan De Young,
    It is not the outsider or the ignorant who is in danger of the fires of hell, it is the one who knows the truths of Christ, knows the truth of who God is, and what he has done, knows his commandments, and refuses to submit his life to this reality. From him who has been given much, much will be required.
    This is Fr. Stephen Freeman,
    What is given to us in beholding the face of God is purely the gift of God. What we return to Him can only be the same.
    If this does not say it all I don’t know what will. The standards are/is so high, As a youngster we think we can do anything, for God or otherwise, as an adult I know that I fall short, my love does not conquer all, I hope God’s love does.

  18. Maria W,
    I’ve heard that idea before regarding outsiders and insiders. It sounds nice and humble, but the logic of it strikes me as being somewhat tortured. If the statement is true, then people are justified in avoiding evangelism. After all, outsiders who don’t know the truth are safer than those who do know the truth. Why not actively work to forget as much truth as possible when just knowing about it puts you in danger of the fires of hell?

    Also, what it says about God disturbs me, and I think, finally, is not worthy of who God actually is. The Gospel proclaims that God is at work saving us and putting all things right. It’s a good thing to know the Good News. And I would hesitate before speaking anything that might make someone fearful of an awareness of such wonderful news.

  19. William,
    I get your point…that is, I think I do. I agree that to say outsiders will not be subject to the fires of hell, taken as a blanket statement, is far too simplistic and more needs to be said. I am reminded of St. Peter’s words “For the time has come for judgment to begin at the house of God” (in the context of suffering as a Christian vs as a result of sin)…only to finish by saying ” and if it begins with us first, what will be the end of those who do not obey the gospel of God?” So, I think it is more accurate to say that a Christian who has been enlightened to Truth and then falls away is more culpable than one who has never known. Both are going to be judged according to God’s righteous judgment (which we already, as sinners, know as merciful!).
    Fr. DeYoung’s statement was introduced in a paragraph that began with this:
    “Though it has become common in our day to think that Christians ‘go to heaven’ and non-Christians ‘go to hell’, you will find none of this in scripture or the Fathers. Certainly, one finds the teaching of the last judgment…. But the criteria of this judgment is never laid out as the acceptance of a series of doctrinal propositions or identifying in some way as a Christian. Rather, the criteria is always the life lived by each person, their words and deeds, which are inextricably related to what faith really is”. Seen in this context, perhaps Maria’s comment makes more sense?
    That said, I believe as you say, God works toward our salvation, not willing that any should perish.
    Also, somewhat related…there is an awful lot spoken out there in the Orthodox world that really should be carefully considered, prayerfully and with diligence. It helps to pay attention to your conscience (that silent voice we tend to ignore). I think in time the choices get way narrowed down as you get a feel for those who are in line with the Church and those who are at the extremes…and those who reflect kindness and those who are contentious.

  20. This article by Fr. Kimel better articulates what I’m trying to get at: https://afkimel.wordpress.com/2013/09/18/preaching-gospel-as-gospel-or-why-the-orthodox-catholic-and-protestant-churches-need-the-reformation/

    I think the key question is this: is the Good News actually good news? Or is it yet another variation on one of the countless standards I inevitably fail to measure up to? When “good news” is preached in the grammar of conditional promises (“if you do _____ then God will do _____”), it tends either to produce self-righteousness or despair. The Good News though (like the absolution proclaimed after confession) is always unconditional promise, pure gift.

    The context you gave is helpful. I think I can accept the original statement as long as it is further explained that the reality to which one must submit is the free forgiveness and grace of God, given without strings attached.

  21. Maria, William, Paula,
    I am definitely not a biblical scholar. But I have read the NT enough to know that I can garner verses that speak of terrible judgment for sinners. And I could also put together a string of verses that come close to saying that all will be saved. But salvation is not a scoreboard and it’s certainly not a matter of “gotcha!” I take comfort in the person of Christ, in His love and mercy. I look back on a fairly long life and know that many times God could have at any moment ended my life and been completely justified because of my sin (s). Yet He didn’t. I must look at the Father in the prodigal son. I think that gets really close to seeing God’s heartbeat. A son deserving of punishment and death yet shown wonderful mercy and forgiveness. I recall parts of St. John Chrysostom’s Paschal sermon and how hell was embittered. shattered by Christ and how it seems all are set free. So, my feeble mind can’t get a wrap around all this. But I do know the mercy of Christ and how it abounds, how it triumphs over judgment in my own life, how from this little heart it goes on to resound and reverberate into the farthest reaches of creation. We can search the scriptures for answers, as Christ said the Pharisees did. But the riddle is finally solved only in the person of Christ Himself, in the Lamb slain before all creation, in that trampling down death by death experienced now in my own heart.

  22. Dean…I’m still grappling with scripture…it says a lot and much I do not comprehend the depth of. I hope you didn’t get the impression that I infer a “gotcha” and throw out verses in that way. I made a point that I thought William missed in Maria’s comment. To be sure, I understand exactly what you mean by judgment through the Cross. We are all prodigals. And yes, I too, if judged according to human standards, would not be here typing this response to you! Like I commented to Father recently, I have hope for the salvation of all mankind…because if He is saving me, the sinner, why not the rest of us?!

  23. Paula,
    I did not reference “gotcha” in what you wrote. I benefit from your comments, as I did this one. What you wrote was irenic. Your edges are soft…
    Thank you.

  24. Oh Dean! Forgive me…a little slow on the uptake again 😉

    William…thanks for the link. I just read it. I’d have to spend the next hour rereading it to be able to respond meaningfully. I do appreciate the summary in your comment…thanks for that.
    The article mentions the importance of Christ’s unconditional promises. And of coarse, justification by faith…and St. Paul’s intended meaning of the phrase. These are phrases that books can be (and have been!) written about. My head spins. William, I should tell you that I was 12 years deep in Protestantism….and now two years in the wading pool of Orthodoxy longing for the deeper waters. I forsook the Reformed teachings…didn’t throw the baby out though…there are similarities and sure room for discussion. But I am not a good candidate to comment on that particular article! My main, one and only interest is learning and living the Faith. I am not a the point now to skillfully comment on whether the Orthodox can learn from the Reformers…you know what I mean? I’ve heard the debate before. I agree with you that the Gospel should be preaches as *Good News*. By God, I think we do that, as per the Orthodox way. I am not sure of your point about Confession…of coarse we are absolved…and we are given some kind of penitential direction. I do not see the penance as an “if you do …then God will do…” and I agree those who fall into that trap risk bitterness, righteousness, or despair. But I say it is the nature of our carnality that tends to that, not a problem with the Faith. Good counsel, a good confession, a good intentions to heal through many avenues in the Church, and trust Christ’s efficacy will heal all wounds. We (Orthodoxy) do it all!
    (just remembered this…) The article mentions (what I took as) critically, the goal of theosis. I don’t know what to say except that has been the Church teaching for ages, William! Anyway, I’m sorry…like I said, I should not respond to the article…and I admit, I get defensive. No, I’m done with the Reformed teachings, with all due respect…sorry, didn’t work for me!

  25. Paula,
    I certainly believe that Orthodoxy proclaims the Gospel as Good News–better than anyone else, in fact. By the way, that article–although it may sound Protestant–is written by an Orthodox priest. I don’t think he is being at all critical of theosis. And my point about confession/absolution is that the absolution is precisely an instance of Gospel proclamation.

    I think part of the issue with Protestantism is that it works within a legal framework, as Fr. Freeman has pointed out. I think that if the “good news” is only a legal fiction–some kind of forensic or nominal pronouncement–then that also is not truly Good News. I’m in need of healing, and I need to know that God is at work for my actual healing. Not mental gymnastics that say I’m somehow already completely healed when I know that I am not. And not that God will finally withhold healing because, knowing the truth, I failed to measure up. Which happens to me all the time.

    The unconditional Gospel promise is that I am saved; I am being saved; and one day I will be saved.

  26. Thanks William.
    Yes, Fr. Aidan…I hear he is a good man…I trust he is!
    For real…I just did not get his point on the first read…just picked up on words and phrases. So thank you for explaining, and as well your point about confession.
    Yes indeed, I was told in the past I was “saved” – never heard the word “healed” – and I thought ‘oh really?’ , that’s it? just say ‘I accept’?…yes, but I’m still a mess! Now at least I know why I’m a mess! and how that is approached in the Church, and oh the wealth of Her teachings…everything…so yeah “The unconditional Gospel promise is that I am saved; I am being saved; and one day I will be saved.” and to that I add, I hope to God. lest I be too presumptuous in myself, yet not of His Grace!

  27. William,
    The unconditional Gospel promise is that I am saved; I am being saved; and one day I will be saved.
    Thank you William, this is priceless what you wrote.
    The tensions of living and coming from different Continents & Cultures geographically, as well as recognizing the impact this has on my day to day living (in an up side down world) on my spiritual side and having to adapt, demanding attention and not finding the supports and understandings needed, can make one feel bereft or dying to all that we held dear. And this includes a deeply rooted Christian/Trinitarian knowledge and understanding of my faith which can not be shaken, but is not sustainable in a vacuum or isolation. I can not lose what I know and has kept me alive for the most part of my life.
    Your word came across hopeful. Kind of once a child of God, always a Child of God….I will never leave you or forsake you. It was real the first time around and it will be real here too I hope…..continuity is the real face of God. The unconditional Gospel promise is that I am saved; I am being saved; and one day I will be saved.

  28. Fr. Freeman,

    This is off topic but I’m wanting to suggest some worldview reading for use in teaching the teens or adults at our parish. You seem well aware of people like Schaeffer and others. I wonder what you would think of Nancy Pearcy’s Total Truth – with some Orthodox criticism of Protestantism along the way. I have been extremely blessed by the writing of Cornelius Van Til and John Frame in my Reformed days if you can subtract their heavy reliance on Sola Scriptura. What would you suggest?

    Matt

  29. Maria…(I’m want very much to connect with you and still respect your boundaries. . I am not very good at that (my own boundaries are porous), so forgive me if I cross the line. I do not know how to see you as “another” without inserting an “I/me”. My seed of corruption…I pray God’s mercy and your forgiveness.)

    Although you and I have different life experiences, I look for common ground. I can see it at least rests in love for God and our partaking of suffering. I purposely omit love of neighbor, because I know my love for others is a human love, broken and conditional (I cannot speak for you); and in suffering I omit I partake of *His* suffering, that is, in self-emptying, because my suffering is the result of the consequences of my sins (again, not speaking for you). Admittedly, even my love for God is a broken human love. That is the very reason why my hope is in God for my salvation. In and of myself, I am a hopeless sinner. But in Him, I have hope, and reason to live and to love. This hope is not just wishful thinking though…it is another way of saying my trust is in total, complete submission to God, through Christ, since I certainly cannot save myself.
    The reason I will not go further and say I will most assuredly will be saved is simply because I am not the Judge. No need to explain any further, I think. But I stand guilty before Him every day, and like a lawbreaker in a civil courtroom, pray the judge be merciful and grant me pardon. This is my western way of thinking, Maria. Now, though, I have learned that Christ, when He judges does not judge us guilty or innocent in a judicial manner (as William brought out, and as Father, according to the Church, always teaches) but sees us inflicted and oppressed with dis-ease. And as a earthly physician does not punish and condemn their patient, as the patient is at the physician’s mercy for healing, so Christ our Great Physician does not either, but seeks to heal, through His suffering, through The Cross . No created being can do this. It is the supreme mystery of God in Christ revealed to us. This is why I say I hope to God for my salvation…not that I think He won’t, but that I know I can’t. So I honestly think that we are saying the same thing but in different words!
    A little story:
    During our catechumen class one evening (can’t remember the topic of discussion) I blurted out (!) to Fr. Philip, “I cannot fathom the thought of being without Christ after my death!” (something like that). Fr. Philip stopped for a moment, didn’t say a word, but solemnly looked me in the eye, and crossed himself. I thought ‘oops’…and never stopped thinking about that subject. The fellow sitting across from me said he wished he could believe such a thing since he has a great fear of hell. Interesting how we see things…how our lives and experiences and culture and genetics and etc etc cloud our thoughts.
    Marie, may God bless your journey!

  30. Paula AZ – God put this wuote in my path do any i feel inspired to sgare it with you based on uour most recent comment. I have no idea if it will offer you any comfort or clarity…

    I have heard some people say “Ah! Human love is useless,” which is a great error. Human love is useless and barren only when it excludes divine love and does not strive for it. Is anyone directly given divine love; or who can determine it’s bounds? Love can and must be learned. It begins in us from earliest childhood, and if we progress well in it, then by God’s mercy and grace we will be vouch safe divine love slso. Man is endowed with the talent of love as a gift, and if we sincerely preserve within ourselves the paths that lead to it, this talent will grow into fruit. The true transformation of human love is divine love. Human love begins, divine love completes.

    Doing deeds with love is a great talent. Without works, faith, as well as prayer, is dead. Deeds done with love cover a multitude of sins. The foolish virgins lacked deeds performed with love, and therefore they were deprived of the grace of the Holy Spirit, and through grace— enlightenment, purification, and illumination with even more love.

    The love of the Lord is hidden from those who are inexperienced in serving God, for if He were to show us fully how much He loves us it would be to our detriment. We would forget about fear and reverence before Him; and being willful, we would turn the freedom given to us for spiritual progress into failure. Therefore the Lord allows temptations to come upon us, so that would would be tested and learn, and attain greater progress. For if temptation increases, God’s grace also increases.

    How can we learn to love? The Lord shows us other people’s tragedies in order to teach us: Do not be indifferent to your neighbor’s pain. If you can help him, do so; if you can’t do anything to help, you can in any case have compassion. Pray for him. Prayer raised with love has great power. By this we exercise ourselves in love and learn to love.

    Some people say that love abides in them, but they don’t even know what love is. Or how can they fathom it? Love suffered long, and is kind; love envieth not; love vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things (I Corinthians 13:4-7).

    If you have contempt for even one person, you are far from the Kingdom of Heaven. Love is the mother of all virtues. The heart belongs first and foremost to the One Who gave it to you—This is the first and greatest commandment (Matt. 22:38)

    +St. Gabriel Urgebadze

  31. Esmee, my friend…I read right past the typos! Thank you so very much for this beautiful quote…it is indeed inspiring and comforting! I tend to see the glass half empty in myself (Father alludes to this where he said our shame is reflected in our reaction to hearing our own voice and seeing our ‘blemishes’ when we look in the mirror). Indeed, love, even if broken, is still a work of God within us and I can still show my love in my actions toward others. How I love (!!) St. Paul’s love chapter…1 Cor. 13 !
    I never heard of St. Gabriel Urgebadze. I just did a quick search…I see he was (is) an Georgian Orthodox monk. I am looking forward to reading more about him.
    Thanks again Esmee…you are sweet!

  32. Paula,
    You give a beautiful description of your hope in Christ for salvation. And I think that’s the point. Our hope for salvation/healing is sure and certain only because He who promises is trustworthy and would not tell us a lie. And He is more than capable of bringing it about.

    For whatever reasons, in this life, there may be moments when it feels like all we have is the word of God’s promise, and when all the “evidence” of our sense perceptions points away from the fulfillment of the promise. But I hope always in the Promiser who does not lie. As one songwriter put it, “He will never break His promise though the stars should break faith with the sky .”

  33. Amen William…Christ in us, the hope of glory!
    ““He will never break His promise though the stars should break faith with the sky .”
    (different words, same thoughts!)
    Back in the day, at church, we would have stood up and shouted…with raised hands! (actually a fond memory…I fit right in with the shouting! 😀 )

  34. Paula,
    Your zest for life makes me smile, as does your comment on shouting. Makes me recall a small pentecostal church in which I grew up in the 50’s. Lots of fire, not much light!
    So different than the true Light of Orthodoxy. “Oh, Gladstone Light.” I speak with my wife sometimes of the differences between our former church and the Orthodox . It’s hard to believe at times that they are both Christian, they are so different in how they approach God. Oh well, that’s a whole different story. Btw, I don’t think I ever heard God’s voice in the whirlwind, always in stillness/quiet.

  35. Dean – I share your experience with the still, small voice. I would rather be in a desert than a loud and crowded church.

  36. I would say the we Orthodox and therefore the human Church are much in need of transformation rather than Reformation. Reformation is the modern project.

    We need to return to the fundamentals of prayer, fasting and almsgiving with a merciful heart. Worshipping God in Spirit and in Truth rather than worshipping the idols of our minds which are throughly corrupted by the fear and false promises of the modern project

  37. Dean, David…I hear you about the Pentecostal churches and their zeal…it is very alluring if you are used to that demonstration of emotion! I was not raised among still small voices 🙂 ! But it was so amazing that when I experienced Orthodox worship for the first time, its reverence and beauty…and the choir…oh! it couldn’t compare with the shouting…truly alive with an altogether different spirit. Of coarse I was ready, as I believe I was unknowingly being prepared.
    God is good!

  38. Paula AZ says:
    July 19, 2018 at 10:39 am
    Maria…(I’m want very much to connect with you and still respect your boundaries. .
    Thank you Paula, that is very sweet of you and I appreciate your willingness and desire to do so. I am sure somewhere we would find some common ground as human beings, similar and yet different. That’s the beauty I appreciate about life. Why we can not do the same in our religious beliefs, as long as we do no harm to another, is beyond my understandings sometimes. I do not share the understanding that we are to do nothing, yes of course, work out our own salvation thru Christ, but in so doing I think we need to get involved with some aspects in the world. It is in the world that we sin, cause hurts, injustices, or wronged against. Even God involved Adam to name the animals of this world. We as people make the world what it is for better or worse and it is in our hands to undo or discover understanding of our world thru science, medicine, psychology to better our lot from Generation to Generation. If not for God then at least for our kids and grand kids. We often look at our parents and the hurts or wrongs they’ve done to us as children, though they did their best, and say we don’t want to be like them, be a better parent, spend more time, cause less pain to our youngsters or some other mode or fashion of something new to the world, or remade as it has never been done before etc.i know the saying: there is nothing new under the sun, but every Generation is a new Generation. Perhaps that drive, or desperate need comes only when the pain becomes unbearable to many, not just a few. After a war, famine, tragedy, disaster, or some outrages abuses that never should have happen in the first place. I can’t think of a Church living in a cocoon waiting for the butterfly to emerge, or absorbing all the vile’s that is out there, creating perhaps a beast. I don’t think we have this kind of DNA or where made that way. Just like a monkey can not be or become an elephant though they are both Animal. Even in the bible it states some do the right thing naturally and will come into the fold. Why Jews needed salvation is evident from everything I’ve read about them. If we live against our own nature and what we know we will need it too. I think we can create somewhat of a culture that ensures our values are equally protected and relevant as the next persons values and lifestyle. {Jew’s been doing this for ever}. And that is not the case today anymore for Christians, they are reduced to ….you name it….and that is not OK. The goal has been and still is to wipe out Christianity and Christians. We are still Infidels to Orthodox Jews and Muslims. If we don’t stand up for ourselves than no one else will either. So I am learning, and hopefully some day I find a place where I can plug in. I do appreciate all the posts and comments here, it is the way Orthodoxy is being taught and you all represent it here. I respectfully acknowledge this. Unfortunately we all live scattered in the US, myself in CA and probably will never get to meet and continue to share our thoughts and understandings. And that is something to be thankful for.

  39. Dean! I thought of you this morning…today the Church honors the Prophet Elijah (OCA) and it mentions the ‘still small voice’ we just talked about yesterday!
    I thought about the Pentecostal’s and how they made much of Elijah…the prophetic ministries flourished…many saw themselves as prophets (end times ministries, especially)…many sought to prophesy. There was frequent talk of the “passing on of mantles”. I was drawn into this toward the end of my days as a Protestant…mingled with many groups that identified with a ‘conspiracy’ line of thought. It got really crazy and way off base. But I learned a lot and kind of sorted out in time the truths in the ‘conspiracies’.
    Maria W…..I write this to you too, as I can identify with your concerns. Looking back I see that as the time of my departure from the Protestant church drew near, my attitude became overwhelmingly negative. The groups I mentioned above had that attitude as well. There was a lot of backbiting and quest for power and control.
    One day (this is another little story…forgive me…I talk a lot…) when I was at my usual online blog talk show (with interactive chat), suddenly I was cut off, dismissed from the group because I expressed distrust in the groups leaders…they cut me off! Again, this was during a time when I had a bad attitude toward the church and life in general…my thoughts were thus: the church is dead…why can’t everyone see what I see…what is the problem…people don’t care….nobody listens to me…they are no different than the world out there…I know better….on and on. OK, so there I am in front of the computer, staring at the at the little box that said something like “you are not allowed here anymore”…and I just laughed. It was a moment of epiphany. I can just hear God saying “that’s it Paula…that is enough…you are done here.” I never went back. It was a couple of years later in my search that I ran across this new thing…Orthodoxy! Anyway, the rest is history. I tell you this Marie, because I had the same sentiments as you…but I found the problem runs through the heart of every man…the problem is with us…not the church. I offer you a link to the story of Mother Maria Skobtsova. This is a perfect example of an incredible journey to Orthodoxy. Please pay attention to her solution to the problems of mankind. She was an activist of a different kind. In her early days she aligned herself with militant activists (what America knows as progressives, a picture of American Christianity) and found true activism in service to the downtrodden. I hope this helps you better understand us and perhaps dissolve the wall you put in front of yourself. We are all one, made in His image…God give us grace to see this and live the life of service in Christ. We, Maria, are not going to change the world. It is not our calling to do that. We serve as sojourners in this world…and look to the New City where all creation will be one in Christ!
    https://oca.org/saints/lives/2018/07/20/108892-righteous-martyr-maria-skobtsova

  40. Paula,
    thank you for the link. Yes, I am familiar with some Saints of this era. My father, a WWI Orphan was raised by one of the Protestant Saints. My family comes from Lithuania/Prussia and Silesia now in Polish hands and familiar with the politics of that time.
    Here is a link of my grandmother (so to speak) who raised my father, the faith and stories of their flight from East to West, the war, the oppression and the many Orphans she rescued from the streets etc.
    I could not get in in English, but I have many photos of the house and their community and the work from Eva von Tiele-Winckler’s Orden…that my father left after he past away. I personaly knew some of the sisters of the Orden, one who used to look after us (their grandkids so to speak) still wrote to me many years after I had Immigrated to the US. They never left me. Her Orden is quiet famous and well known in Germany and the many Orphans she rescued and cared for thru horrendous difficulties . It still exists today.
    https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eva_von_Tiele-Winckler
    I am not a stranger knowing of all the good works Sisters of all Denominations did during these war times. I also still have the feel in me from these communities, their values etc. Those were different times, mindsets, characters, these were still human beings. What I’ve lived and have experienced here is not human anymore. The churches now are not like these Nuns were. I was raised by them partially. Poverty here was wealth then in their time. I know where I come from and I am trying to find some people that have the quality and character that they had…..in real time here. Maybe it is lost for ever and we can only find them in wikipedia and in books.
    But I get your point. Reading about Maria made me long for the sisters my father brought to our home, but also the political upheavals of that time and following. Makes me want to cry. So much is lost coming from the East. Herrenhut was a men’s Christian brotherhood in Moravia my father belonged to. All I have left are the Moravian Stars we used to make, and I still make them. It connects me to them.
    Thank you Paula, I think I am missing and getting just home sick, and it happens to be these bedrock communities who lived out their faith in deeds. I was connected to them spiritually. I probably would not have existed or been born had they not taken care of my father. They don’t exist here in the US and I am at loss at what will take their place. The ungratefulness of our time knows no boundaries.

  41. Your blessing, Father Stephen.
    Thank you for allowing this conversation to continue. Despite my discomfort in what seems as a private conversation between Maria and I, I realize too that many others are here. I am blessed by the sharing of our Christian lives and I pray others are blessed too. Forgive me for a thread that I feel is monopolizing. I want it to end on a good note. Thank you Father…I know you are present and listening.

    Dearest Maria,
    I seriously thank you from the bottom of my heart for your response. I have to say this before anything else…I am amazed at the clarity of your words here! In your other comments I found your thoughts difficult to piece together…but what I did hear was your pain. That is what I responded to. But something changed drastically in your response here. I am struck by it and I thank God!!
    About the link not being in English…when a foreign language appears on my computer screen, a tab appears and asks if I want to translate the page. Smart computer! So that was a blessing. Funny though, even the translation mechanism isn’t perfect because there was a group of sentences that were duplicated about four times in a row 😀 !! At least the sentences that were repeated were worthy to repeat!

    Thank you…there was so much in that link that caused me to think. I took note of your ancestors’ roots (I also read the link to “Upper Silesia”). I remind myself that the place of our birth is by no choice of our own. It also just so happens that Orthodoxy has a tumultuous history with Lithuania, Poland and Germany. You know exactly what I’m talking about because you say your family lived through the politics of that time. I’m thinking that the sense of triumph you hear in our voices on this Orthodox blog stems from a complicated history of the rise and fall these kingdoms…kingdoms/nations, hand in hand with their ‘religion’, whose roots Father’s readers identify with (you, me, everyone who reads here). That identification mixed with our disposition to sin leads to pride, nationalism, division, political and religious strife. But who is caught in the middle but us “peasants”…the common folk who struggle to exist in the hands of the powers that be. Your story about your father and how you were raised by those precious nuns…Saints of God…just like Mother Maria….where, I ask, is the division?! There is none. None! And may there be none in our hearts!
    Maria, I understand you so much better now…you and your family, the memories you share of your father…you have real life experience in the things I have only read about. That is why you cry out in grief…you grieve over the condition of modern day Christianity…because you actually lived during that particular time in history…and these Saints took care of you! If it is any consolation, though I have not your experience, I grieve too…I find myself many times in the quiet of the mornings, weeping. It’s hard.
    I have a word of encouragement for you Marie…the fact that you still create those Moravian Stars is a beautiful thing…you keep those precious memories alive. But it is not just a mere memory. These people are still with you…you just can’t see them! It’s like what we say about the great cloud of witnesses. And you may feel alone, just like Elijah told God…I’m the only one here who believes in you!!!…but I pray God show you, like He did Elijah, that you are not the only one and will place together those who you need and who need you! (Has He already begun here on this blog 😉 ?! )
    One last thing about the divisions in the churches. The Orthodox have a little saying that goes like this:
    ‘We know where the Church *is*, but we do not know where the Church *is not* ! So in the meantime, we may not go to the same church, but we are still children of the Most High God! In that, you are a sister!
    Thank you again Maria. So glad you are here!

  42. Thank you Paula,
    I too am sorry and don’t want to monopolies this blog either. It is Orthodox and Theologically belongs to it’s people.
    I just read on the Sisters website. After 126 years it is closing it’s acceptance for new sisters. A whole site explaining why, and it is exactly what is happening here, perhaps at a little slower rate. God bless you Paula, I know in my frustrations and limitations I am not easy to understand at times.
    Please forgive me, and sorry Fr. Freeman. You’ve been good to me, thank you.

  43. Maria W.
    Thank you for your from the heart comments. You know, there are signs of hope here and there. The Greek monastery we attend just completed a 30,000 square foot expansion with quite a large number of new nuns’ cells. At least half of the 25 sisters are in their 20’s. More keep applying. Numbers of young families have moved to the area to raise their children in the community of the monastery…and most are home-schooled. This is not the only monastery in the US where this is occuring. We don’t have our 1,000+ monasteries Russia now has, but by the end of the century, who knows? So we keep praying, giving alms, showing mercy and kindness to all from repentant hearts.

  44. “Our face, our unique and true identity”…
    Each of the faces in the top illustration to Father Freeman’s text are so similar on first glance, and yet uniquely different when a closer look is taken. Are they all Orthodox? I am not so sure they are. And that takes me to the second great commandment, after the one being discussed above, which is to love one’s neighbor as one’s own self.

    So, I thought about that second commandment, especially in light of a new law in Israel that makes civic personhood there exclusive to those of the Jewish faith. I wonder if it will stand. It ought not stand.

    For there you have the nub of that friendship quote that Father Freeman has given us, “…for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.”

    All. It means, doesn’t it, non-exclusivity? And that’s why the second commandment is there, because it reaches out to all, to the fringes of humanity, whether they are Orthodox or not, fallen away from the faith or not – all those faces, those persons, are our neighbor. Because the example of being a neighbor is the good Samaritan – not a Jew. not a member of the tribe. The example of that is the Canaanite woman who likened herself to a dog. The example of that is the Samaritan woman to whom Christ spoke of the coming time when neither in Jerusalem nor on your mountain will God be worshipped, but in the heart in spirit and in truth. The example is the military leader whose daughter had died, the soldier at the foot of the cross, the man who cried out “I believe! Help Thou my unbelief!”

    Our tribe is the Orthodox tribe. But that tribe is not all that He heard about from His Father and taught his disciples. That isn’t all that makes each of his followers his friend. (I used capitalization there for the First of the Great Commandments, and lower case for the second.)

    The saint, Mother Mary, gave her life for the protection of Jewish refugees. Like the good Samaritan. What a face she has!

  45. A thing of note. The Good Samaritan had nothing to say about the Scribe or the Priest who passed the injured man by. He simply did what was there in front of him to be done. There are so many struggles and tragedies in our world. Be careful of the news – it almost never has our interests at heart – only the passions. God give us grace to do as St. Maria of Paris did – to save all that we can.

  46. Fr. Freeman,
    Wonderful word is “save.” I think in Greek it can mean “save” or “heal.” Your last phrase probably includes to save spiritually or physically. We know from the NT that baptism saves us…that a woman may save her husband by her godly comportment (or vice versa),
    that we can save some, snatching them from the fire, the prayer of faith prayed over a sick man will save (heal) him and if he has committed sin, he will be forgiven, that someone who brings back a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death. There are perhaps more…I’m going by memory.
    And thank you Father for reminding us that sin is ontological, a movement towards death, that it is not forensic. We sin and little by little we die…moving towards death. Or like St. Paul, daily we can die to self and move towards life.

  47. Father…am I hearing you correctly, that the ‘moral’ of the Samaritan story is that we are to ‘save’ the lives of others who cross our path by taking action in doing what is necessary to preserve life…and that reflection on the condition of the Scribe and Priest can only be conjecture?
    I am trying to connect your ‘note’ with Juliana’s point about the non-exclusivity of salvation in Christ. In light of our proclaiming the truth that we are the One Holy Catholic Apostolic Church, is it safe to say that ‘we know where the Church *is*, but we do not know where it *is not*’? If anything, it seems to help guard against the thought of exclusivity.
    Maybe we’re not using the right words here…like “exclusive”? Maybe it needs clarification?
    I ask because I think some of us struggle with the ability to express this in a way that is kind, yet firm, in fear of alienating the other person. For myself, I know I sometimes tip-toe around it for that very reason. Yet I want to be perfectly clear that if I did not believe that Orthodoxy was the One Holy…Church, I would not have pursued Her path. It seems, though, that the dilemma is not whether the statement (One Holy…) is accurate but rather that it is created within ourselves, ie ‘should I or shouldn’t I speak’, so as to avoid offense.

    I also think that when this particular topic comes up in conversation with the non-Orthodox, the offense is great because they see those words as a threat to their faith, and their very life. It creates thoughts such as: ‘I believe that there can only be one Truth, so when you say your faith is the ‘ *One* Holy…Church’, you are saying my faith is false…and I can not bear the thought, for if that were true my world would fall apart’.
    I know this well because I have reacted the very same way for the same reasons when people I know insist my faith is ‘just my opinion’…even when I know they can not possibly understand because they have not the experience. These conversations are very disturbing because they are with people I know well. For days it affects me. I pray asking why does this bother me so….and come to realize the threat is in the implications of their words. Then I begin to question my faith and whether I believe for the right reasons. (I think I need to re-read that article “do not react/resent”!).

    Your thoughts, Father?

  48. Paula AZ,
    Yes. Speaking about the Church with others is difficult. That the Church is “One” is a matter of the creed, not an option. And it doesn’t mean “one” in any sort of vague, generalized manner (at least it sure never did when the creed was written). What we have, and not of our own making, is the simple messiness of modern Christianity. Protestantism did not seek to reform the Church – it founded many “churches” that disagreed with each other from very beginning. They invented a mess and had to begin to change how they spoke of Church because they were violating something that is quite key in Scripture. That is now so set in stone, that we sound crazy and mean because we still speak the way we always have and were taught from the beginning.

    Having said that – it’s not our problem. We cannot solve the mess, and we can’t explain it (except for its historical accidents). We should be kind and generous when speaking to others – God can and will save everyone who possibly can be saved. The Church is the witness of His intention to save – but it has not been given to us to spell the whole thing out, explain it, and manage His program of salvation.

    I suppose this is along the lines of “we cannot say who is not saved.” For me, telling people they are not saved is rarely a good conversation, and if that’s the direction of a conversation, it’s probably just as well to break it off.

    In the story of the Good Samaritan – we know his part and something of the injured man (and the innkeeper). But what became of the other two is not known. Maybe they show up later in a different story. 🙂

    Generally, when I speak to the non-Orthodox, I prefer to stay away from the offensive words (though I have written on the topic). I tend to speak about who we are historically, and that we are still the same thing we have always been. But, I like to emphasize that we are very messy and that we do not think of ourselves as superior. But we have been given a precious gift and we try to preserve it.

    I tell inquirers at my parish that if they’re looking for the “best” Church (or such things) then they’ve come to the wrong place. People have crazy ideas about an ideal “New Testament Church.” There never was such a thing…there were problems from the beginning. But we’re that same Church that had the problems (and we still do). Orthodoxy is about living in union with the Church we have received through love and faith. It is not about fixing the Church, reforming the Church, making it better, etc. If you become Orthodox, then, like a good marriage, you’ve signed on for a lifetime of trouble. But, it is the trouble that God meant for us to have. This is “saving ” trouble, if we’re willing to live it.

    It’s not healthy to reform the Church, or fix it, etc. It makes for a bad soul. I know, I’ve been there and done that.

    I’ve read for all of my adult years of the historical Church and its troubles and its saints and its glory. I wanted to be part of that story and not something else. I’ve thrown my lot in with all those saints (and the sinners with whom they kept company). As an Orthodox Christian, we have something in common with St. Paul – lots of Greeks!

  49. ” We’ve signed up for “saving” trouble”! We sure do not shy away from such suffering! Thank you Father. I’ll keep your words in mind when I have these difficult conversations, and give thanks for them, even when I don’t feel very thankful!

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