Saved in Weakness – Redux

repentanceWe are not saved by our talents and gifts nor by our excellence – we are saved by our weakness and our failure. I have made this point many times over the years – and the question comes up – but what does that look like? How do I live like that? The question can be urgent for some because the message is so utterly contrary to cultural assumptions that have been drilled into our minds. We are consumers and producers in the modern world. If I am not producing then I am being consumed – and so we rush to find a way to produce whatever is demanded. Just tell me the demand so that I can produce it!

It is frustrating to be told that weakness and failure are the fulcrum point of salvation. For though we are all experienced in failure and weakness (who is not?), we have learned both to downplay those deficits (even to hide them) and to get on with our success no matter what. Frequently, people find their failures and weaknesses to have overwhelmed their lives. We often watch those overwhelmed with their failures from a distance as they pass into a dependent stage of life, and quietly thank God that our own lives are not like theirs. We may have deep compassion for them – but we absolutely do not care to share their lot.

It is absolutely essential, however, that we understand that Christ voluntarily chose to share their lot and announced it as the very pathway to salvation. The Cross is not a transaction that takes place apart from our lives. It is not a moment between Christ and the Father, the settling of an account that was owed by us: it is something that also takes place within our lives and in the most intimate and profound manner. Uncomfortably, we must say that Christ Crucified is only effective when He is crucified within us and when we are ourselves are crucified with Him. If Christ is not crucified in you and you in Him, then there is no salvation.

So what does this look like in our daily lives?

It begins within the Church with Holy Baptism. In Baptism we are united with Christ in His death. This is the heart of repentance. Acknowledging and confessing our sins is the recognition of death in our lives. A man/woman confesses their brokenness, their failures to live by the commandments, even their lack of desire to live by the commandments. This is sealed in Baptism and becomes the pattern by which we live. Repentance (confession and absolution) is called a “second Baptism” by the Fathers.

How do we confess? I include here a remarkable passage from The Way of A Pilgrim that describes a good sense of saving confession and repentance:

The Confession of an Interior Man Leading to Humility

Turning my gaze at myself and attentively observing the course of my interior life I am convinced, through experience, that I love neither God nor my neighbor, that I have no faith, and that I am full of pride and sensuality. This realization is the result of careful examination of my feelings and actions.

1. I do not love God. For if I loved Him, then I would be constantly thinking of Him with heartfelt satisfaction; every thought of God would fill me with joy and delight. On the contrary, I think more and with greater eagerness about worldly things, while thoughts of God present difficulty and aridity. If I loved Him, then my prayerful communion with Him would nourish, delight, and lead me to uninterrupted union with Him. But on the contrary, not only do I not find my delight in prayer but I find it difficult to pray; I struggle unwillingly, I am weakened by slothfulness and am most willing to do anything insignificant only to shorten or end my prayer. In useless occupations I pay no attention to time; but when I am thinking about God, when I place myself in His presence, every hour seems like a year. When a person loves another, he spends the entire day unceasingly thinking about his beloved, imagining being with him, and worrying about him; no matter what he is occupied with, the beloved does not leave his thoughts. And I in the course of the day barely take one hour to immerse myself deeply in meditation about God and enkindle within myself love for Him, but for twenty-three hours with eagerness I bring fervent sacrifices to the idols of my passions! I greatly enjoy conversations about vain subjects which degrade the spirit, but in conversations about God I am dry, bored, and lazy. And if unwillingly I am drawn into a conversation about spiritual matters, I quickly change the subject to something which flatters my passions. I have avid curiosity about secular news and political events; I seek satisfaction for my love of knowledge in worldly studies, in science, art, and methods of acquiring possessions. But the study of the law of the Lord, knowledge of God, and religion does not impress me, does not nourish my soul. I judge this to be an unessential activity of a Christian, a rather supplementary subject with which I should occupy myself in my leisure time. In short, if love of God can be recognized by the keeping of His commandments—“If anyone loves me he will keep my word,” says the Lord Jesus Christ (John 14:23), and I not only do not keep His commandments but I make no attempt to do so—then in very truth I should conclude that I do not love God. St. Basil the Great confirms this when he says, “The evidence that man does not love God and His Christ is that he does not keep His commandments.”

2. I do not love my neighbor. Not only because I am not ready to lay down my life for the good of my neighbor, according to the Gospel, but I will not even sacrifice my peace and my happiness for his good. If I loved my neighbor as myself, as the Gospel commands, then his misfortune would grieve me also and his prosperity would bring me great joy. But, on the contrary, I listen with curiosity to accounts of my neighbor’s misfortune and I am not grieved but indifferent to them and, what is more, I seem to find satisfaction in them. I do not sympathize with the failings of my brother but I judge them and publicize them. My neighbor’s welfare, honor, and happiness do not delight me as my own; I am either completely indifferent to them or I am jealous or envious.

3. I do not have faith in spiritual realities. I believe neither in immortality nor in the Gospel. If I were firmly convinced and believed without a doubt in eternal life and in the consequences for our earthly actions, then I would be constantly thinking about this; the very thought of immortality would inspire me with wonder and awe and I would live my life as an alien who is getting ready to enter his native land. On the contrary, I don’t even think of eternity and I consider the end of this life as the limit of my existence. I nurture a secret thought within and wonder, “Who knows what will happen after death?” Even when I say that I believe in immortality, it is only from natural reasoning, for down deep in my heart I am not convinced of it and my actions and preoccupations with earthly cares prove this. If I accepted the Holy Gospel with faith into my heart as the word of God, then I would be constantly occupied with it; I would study it, would delight in it, and with deep reverence would immerse myself in it. Wisdom, mercy, and love hidden within it would lead me to ecstasy, and day and night I would delight in the lessons contained in the law of God. They would be my daily spiritual bread and I would earnestly strive to fulfill them; nothing on earth would be strong enough to keep me from this. But on the contrary, even if I sometimes read or listen to the word of God, it is either out of necessity or curiosity; I do not delve deeply into it but feel dryness and indifference to it and I receive no greater benefit from it than I do from secular reading. Further, I am eager to give it up promptly and go to worldly reading, in which I have greater interest and from which I get more satisfaction. I am full of pride and self-love. All my actions confirm this. When I see something good in myself, then I wish to display it or brag about it to others, or interiorly I am full of self-love even when outwardly I feign humility. I ascribe everything to my own ability and I consider myself more perfect than others, or at least not worse. If I notice a vice in myself, then I try to excuse it or justify it; I pretend to be innocent or I claim that I couldn’t help it. I am impatient with those who do not show me respect and I consider them incapable of judging character. I am vain about my talents and cannot accept any failure in my actions. I grumble and I am glad to see the misfortune of my enemies, and my intention in doing anything good is either praise, self-interest, or earthly comfort. In a word, I continuously make an idol out of myself, to whom I give unceasing service as I seek sensual delights and try to nourish my carnal desires.

This is a 19th century Russian expression of such a confession, but represents the character of our self-examination and repentance. It is an acknowledgement on a deep level of our weakness and failure.

When we come to such a realization – in a deep manner – our instinct is shame. It is an appropriate instinct. We feel vulnerable and we want to run from such an admission as soon as possible. We want to know what we can do to change – and change quickly. Worse yet, we may want to excuse ourselves and make explanations for why we are as we are. But our weakness has to begin with our own patient acceptance of what is true of ourselves.

And it is at that point of truth, the point of our failure, that we “bear a little shame,” in the words of the Elder Sophrony. If we will accept that little shame, we will meet the Crucified Christ at that very point, for it is He who bears our shame. It is not in our strengths and wonderful qualities that we meet Christ. Our egos are so impregnable at those points that such a union is impossible.

But the vulnerable point of shame is the place where the ego can give way and break and where it can admit the presence of another. This, too, is difficult because the instinct of shame is to cover itself and hide. Thus, we are asked to “bear a little.” 

Shame is the ego’s deepest instinct (and the first recorded reaction of man after the Fall). It is the fear of being seen for who we truly are rather than who we want to be or pretend to be. But there is a self that is deeper than shame – and it can be found if we are patient and dare to stay put for a time. This is hesychia and nepsis, stillness and sobriety.

This self is also described as the “place of the heart,” and in some places as the “deep heart.” In that place we cease to judge, to critique, to measure, to compare. We become aware and observe but in a manner that doesn’t separate the self from other people or other things. It is a place where we will find union with God and the ability to pray. It is also the place where the tears of repentance can be shed.

All of this is the patient inner journey of repentance and the gateway into the Kingdom of God. The bearing of a little shame is our own crucifixion. It unites us with Christ’s bearing of the whole Adam’s shame (the shame of the whole of humanity), which is His crucifixion.

I encourage anyone who undertakes such repentance to be moderate in their approach (a “little shame” is enough at any time). It is good to do this before an icon of Christ and His Cross. This helps us to hold ourselves together with Him rather than be consumed in our ego. If you “fail,” then don’t despair. Use that failure and its “little shame” instead.

All of this is better undertaken with the encouragement and help of a good spiritual father. A requirement in this way of things is safety. If you do not feel safe sharing such shame with your spiritual father, then it shouldn’t be pushed. I will add a note of caution to priests who hear confessions. It is incumbent upon priests to be a reliable place of safety. There is no call for berating or controlling or causing shame in a penitent. Generally, such behaviors in a priest constitute spiritual abuse.

I will both lie down in peace, and sleep; For You alone, O LORD, make me dwell in safety. (Psa 4:8)

Hesychia requires a measure of safety.

The practice of such regular repentance strengthens us for spiritual warfare, for it teaches us a way of life that is deeper than the ego and promotes true humility. In time, we become “unassailable” by the hostile powers. The “find no place in us.” I pray these thoughts will be found useful.

Additional note (September 2018)

Recent debates and actions surrounding the Church in Ukraine will likely be coming into public view in the coming weeks. There is even the possibility for the rupture of communion for a time (this happened regarding the Church in Estonia in an earlier decade). The situation has weighed on my heart of late and been a matter of prayer. I believe it is important to remember that the whole Church is saved by its weakness and not by its strength (or excellence). The Church is the Cross through history. It will be incumbent upon Orthodox Christians during a trying time, to bear a little shame, to refrain from bitterness and accusation, and to embrace the weakness that dwells within our ecclesiastical life. Orthodoxy is intentionally a way of life that works only by love. When love is strained (which is often), then, by the grace of God it is made manifest so that we, and all the world, can see it. This is for our salvation. 

64 comments:

  1. In my thought, not to minimize the suffering or horror of the Cross, but Christ really “transacted” our salvation in the Garden, with the words, “nevertheless, not my will but Thy will be done.” We have to enter that ourselves. Once that determination of our will is settled, whatever happens is for our salvation (whether we understand it or not).

  2. I really don’t understand the situation in Ukraine. I hesitate to ask because I don’t want to start a debate here but I still would like to hear the basics of the story. If possible and appropriate, please help me understand. I’m probably not the only one ignorant of this situation.

  3. Gotta admit, Father, this has been a very frustrating read, when I’ve been led from the first few paragraphs to expect guidance on how to interact with our neighbours directly in a way that truly shares in their lot rather than judging them or trying to fix them, or turning our own charity to our condemnation by hardening our hearts against the thought of our work being futile as we do it.

    But perhaps that’s the point.

  4. Right down the street here in Tulsa is a protestant church with the (largely displayed) motto: “God wants you to WIN!”. It appears to be a popular message, rife with American Can-Do. It amazes and saddens me whenever I see it.

  5. Matt and Robert,
    I too look forward to Father’s answers, to both of your questions. Somehow I feel they are related. I recently heard the comment about both how the situation in Ukraine and the guidance for our own lives are actually connected.

    Here is a comment I shared recently:
    https://blogs.ancientfaith.com/glory2godforallthings/2018/05/22/the-inherent-violence-of-modernity/#comment-133937

    The work of the evil one these days is to break down the Church from the inside, and through hardening of people’s hearts – through the “love of money” (serebrolubje in its general meaning). It worked for Judas, now it works in us in various forms…

    Matthew 23:25–26
    25 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. 26 You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside also may be clean.

    How do we “clean the inside of the cup and plate”? But giving alms… (combating our greed and self-indulgence). Helping our neighbors from the limited means we actually possess… I find this most interesting…

  6. Byron,
    It is why ‘acceptance of what comes’ is described as the highest of virtues by St Mark the ascetic. Why complete surrender to God’s will – as witnessed in the Mother of God – can make one into a God-bearer, even when overwhelmed by what the secular world perceives as failure. Martyrs actively chose such ‘failure’ and viewed it as a triumph, not of themselves, but of Christ. It is ‘winning’ spiritually by accepting to ‘lose’ in all other logics. The point at which we renounce all desire to cover and conceal our shameful weakness & nothingness with “fig-leaves”, and truly choose to appear naked before our loving Father, to remain in His presence so genuinely, crying out ‘against you alone I sin’, accepting ourselves as culpable, and Him (as well as all others) as blameless, is the point beyond which we start to become crucified (and exalted) with Christ. His embrace starts forthwith to kindle our inside. We become firmly centred upon God alone (un-despairing), while discovering our own (and the whole world’s) desperate vulnerability.

  7. Byron,
    I did not see your comment before I submitted mine.
    Isn’t that ‘slogan’ a prefect summary of what the Lord is warning us against in Matthew 23:25–26?

  8. Matt,
    My suggestion would be to attend properly to our own shame in order to interact with our neighbors in a manner that does not try to judge or fix. Unless and until we attend properly to that part of our existence (and it never really ceases), we do not love as we ought.

  9. As member of the UOCofUSA (not that I am Ukrainian, it simply is the jurisdiction of the only local parish in my town), a seminary student (deacons formation program) who has taken two semesters (two!) of Ukrainian ecclesiological history (presented in excruciating detail), and as a person who has given no little thought to the overall post-Constantian ecclesiological basis of canonical Orthodoxy, overlaid as it is on the modern post-Empire reality of nation states, east-west split, secular and religious plurality…to say the situation in Ukraine is “complex” is an understatement.

    No matter what news comes in the next few weeks (or the next few years, or decades) I would follow Fr. Stephens advice and remember that it has almost nothing to do with your salvation.

  10. “We are consumers and producers in the modern world. If I am not producing then I am being consumed – and so we rush to find a way to produce whatever is demanded.”

    Many people in the modern world are seeking ways to live “off-grid” and be free this slavery. It strikes me that embracing Christ and truly living His commandments allows us to live “off-grid” in an even more profound and fundamental way. I hope that makes sense.

  11. Saved in weakness? I must be especially saved today.
    Great article and timing, I’ll give it a re-read and a re-re-read. Thank you.
    All is well and I’ve started The Orthodox Church – Ware. (Seems excellent so far)
    I want to find a small icon.

  12. Thank you, Father. The confession was tremendous, how terrible it is to see our sinfulness and lack of love, but also so wonderful to know that even as we are, God simply loves us. “Bearing a little shame” feels like bailing out a half-sunk boat with a tin cup, but if it helps, it helps.

  13. Thank you Father!
    We are saved in weakness, and also in Union, not in conflict.
    I have no knowledge of the situation in the Ukraine, We has a major conflict between the Patriarchate of Constantinople and The Church of Greece some 15 years ago over administrative control of some islands. What it actually was and how it was perceived were probably very different stories.

    It caused harm and gave those sitting on the faith fence an excuse to get “fed up”. We give those reasons to believers and
    unbelievers in large supply.
    My question is this: wouldn’t it be better if I accept I am wrong than to fight with my brother? At what point relating to matters of Orthodox (right) faith, do we draw the line and retreat from the love of one another?

    Both my knowledge and my minuscule faith are not enough to justify any of this. There are examples, though, were our Patristic tradition chose conflict and fervent defence of the letter and spirit of the Law.

    Can you elaborate if you see this article’s comment space as appropriate space for it?

  14. Thomas – I’m obviously not Fr. Stephen, but I will offer this comment in case it might be helpful to you. In a number of cases in Orthdoox history, there has been only a single individual willing to stand up for the Truth of the faith. I am currently listening to an excellent lecture series on Saint Maximos the Confessor by Fr. Maximos Constans of the Simonopetra Monastery on Mount Athos (available through Patristic Nectar Publications if you are interested: https://patristicnectar.org/store_lectures_homilies.html ). He was a simple monk and was never even ordained as a priest. During his life (approx. 580-665), he stood against 4 Partiarchs who had accepted heretical teachings. The one Patriarch who held fast to the Truth was exiled by the Emperor to an island where he died. Saint Maximos was imprisioned and eventually had his right hand cut off and his tongue cut out because he refused to capitulate to the heretical teachings. This was not just considered to be a religious crime, but a political crime. He was seen as a traitor to the Empire. He did not live to see his teachings vindicated, but eventually through the working of the Holy Spirit his teachings were wholeheartedly embraced by the Church. I doubt he ever stopped loving the heretics he was standing up against.

  15. Esmee,
    As one who lives in a community where living off grid is actually common, I can easily make the connection you speak of!
    Would it be too much to say that a person living off the grid is still bound, but in a different way? It is more labor-intensive requiring a great deal of skill in methods of procuring potable water, food, shelter, electricity, though worth the effort for those who decide to literally turn away from enslavement to the corrupt world system.
    Similarly, there is a trade-off in following Christ. I think of where St. Paul speaks about being slaves to sin and slaves to righteousness. And it seems to me that following Christ is much more “labor intensive” than the ease of being able to buy and produce at our every whim. And the labor that comes with being a slave to Christ, in every sense of the word, is worthy…as One gives Light and Life…and the other, darkness and death.

  16. This day led me to a void. It all was nothing. I knew without doubt that all the answers I’ve ever given myself are nothing. I was undone. I decided to sit out the rest of the evening; to give up; to just not try.

    And then, it’s been awhile, I decided to see what you’ve written lately. I thought, “What difference will it make? I might as well read something Fr. Stephen wrote as sit here staring. What could change what I am right now? I’m gone anyway, so who cares?”

    Little did I know that I would be staring at myself in the mirror when I read this post. Certainly not the magic pills I rejected earlier. And I’m not better now, at least by my own estimation, but somehow I’m not quite nothing anymore either.

    This.

  17. Jeff,
    It hurt me to read what you wrote. I’ll put you on my prayer list. Did you write a while back that you had a Mennonite background? I was M.B. for 25 years. If you were, wish I could communicate someway with you.

  18. Dean,
    Thank you. That means a lot to me.

    Yes, actually I’m still Mennonite. I’m patiently (mostly) waiting to become Orthodox. I am married and that ship doesn’t turn on a dime.
    🙂 As it happens, I was raised M.B until I was 10 (in OR). Now I’m in Lancaster, PA. I basically came back to the Mennonite Church through marriage.

    I’d be open to communicating personally. How might we go about that? I’m FB friends with Father Stephen. Maybe that’d be a way to do it.

  19. Oh Father, thank you! Your post spoke to the heart of a matter I was up praying and thinking about until 2 AM. God speaks to so many thru you!! A young man in our family has been struggling with exactly what you describe. I am going to share your post with him in texts today and pray God speaks to his heart and his present lack of the faith that led him for most of his life. My words to him yesterday helped but yours are what he needs to hear to understand. We all are weak and fall short of what Christ wants for us. His love is beyond anything we could do, and yet there for us every moment!
    Michael and I pray daily for you and your ministry. Love the comments too! William D- they are easily found. Eighth Day Books in Wichita, Ks has an online site too. I carry laminated icon and prayer cards from there that I share with others often.

  20. “we are saved by our weakness and our failure. I have made this point many times over the years – and the question comes up – but what does that look like? How do I live like that ? ”

    Yesterday my beloved Paige, the matriarch of my horse family, died. We were together for 30 or so years.
    I did not have to wonder what weakness looks like. It presents itself without me asking. How do I live like that? Didn’t have to ask that either. Just being alive, living, is how. I was there, present, in her dying. How do you describe part of you dying yet you still live? What can be weaker than death? She was alive, living large…and now is not. How can you describe the pain of loss? How can you separate yourself from this weakness that encompasses life? If someone has to ask what being saved in weakness looks like I would question if they ever loved.
    And it’s not like I have this mastered. We speak about the fragmentation of our souls that need to be healed and brought into singleness in Christ. Now that I do not know. All I know is fragmentation. Love…loss…life…death…life…chaos….inside myself and in the world. The warfare is real. I would be lying like a snake if I said all is well because I believe in Christ. All is not well, yet I still believe.

    The remainder of Father’s article speaks about recognizing our “deep level of our weakness and failure”. I think if I can make any sense of this weakness, it is that there is really no separation between weakness in the world and weakness in myself, soul and body. Somehow in saying this I get a glimpse of just what our God and Savior the Lord Jesus Christ has done and is doing to gather all things, all things unto Himself.

    I try to make sense here…forgive my rambling…my heart hurts bad….

  21. Dear Jeff,
    I ‘m praying for you as well. I have had similar life experiences. My Dad’s side was Quaker (old school, so to speak) the extended family has lived near Lancaster for many generations. My beloved husband, who is now far more accepting, was completely against my joining the Church. But this slowly changed, thanks be to God. My prayers are with you.

  22. Father, thank you for this practical advice. You could not know how timely it might be. For some, including me, as evidenced by our comments, it surely is!

  23. Paula,
    I’m very grateful you wrote here. I feel the sadness you’re describing. When we have a loss in our animal family it hurts very much. I know you’re very close to your family and are grieving. My prayers are with you and although I don’t know theology, I sincerely believe you’ll see Paige again.

  24. Thanks so much Dee. I’m with you…not in any reasoning except the goodness of God, I believe we’ll be with our beloved animals again.
    Tomorrow I am taking my Roscoe, 14 y/o beagle, to the vet, for comfort measures. He went blind recently, and since then is not-so-slowly failing…but he still loves his food. When that changes I’ll know it’s time.
    Thank you for your prayers for us, Dee.

  25. Father…just saw your comment…Thank you so much.
    Father…you thinking of St. John and the Apocalypse white horse? If so, yes! Thank you for the confirmation!

  26. Thank you, Father. Way of the Pilgrim has been sitting in the “to read” stack for a long time. It has now become my next book. I will pray that confession tonight.

  27. St. John describes horses in heaven…and he is not alone.

    Not to derail anything but could you provide a reference or two, Father?

  28. Byron,
    Father no doubt has Revelation 6 and 19 in mind. Six has the 4 horses of the Apocalypse. In 19 Christ is mounted on a white stead as He goes forth to conquer.
    I can imagine animals in heaven since they bring such happiness to people. I have wept over a dog’s death. They can really get a hold of your heart.
    This love for animals must come from God who created us and them. Christ speaks of tending to animals on the Sabbath, of saving a donkey having fallen into a pit, and Paul of not muzzling an ox treading grain. If God loves beasts of the field, and who may even be in heaven, then it would be easy for me to go on and believe that all those who are created in His image will also one day be in heaven. It is a hope if not a certainty.

  29. Dear Paula AZ,
    I too am sorry for your loss.

    As a Protestant, I clung to the verse “No good thing will He withhold from those who walk uprightly.” Ps 84.11 Our animal friends are definitely Good Things, and I trust the Good God who created them to restore them to us in the Age to Come.

    Fr Abbot Tryphon of Vashon Island has written on this subject. I’m sure if you do a search on his blog you will find his very comforting words.

    Dana

  30. Just read your comment Dana. Thanks so much. Beautiful Psalm.
    I’ll check the Abbot’s blog. I remember him talking about his lovely cat…and the ducks there too!

  31. Paula,
    I’m sorry for your loss and pray for strength and peace for you in the days and weeks ahead.

    Dee of St Hermans,
    Thank you for your prayers. I am grateful for the support. This journey, though in the making in my own background for quite some time, has only recently been made known to my consciousness and then of course a few months later to my wife, and already she has shown signs of support. I attend an Orthodox Bible Study 2x a month and she’s always quick to ask me about it afterwards. More evidence of God’s goodness and how he woos our own goodness into being. Glory to God.

  32. Father, I suspect that this particular duty of a priest in heaven is not dissimilar to some of a priest’s duties on earth. Debunking penal substitutionary atonement comes to mind.

  33. Dean,

    Yes, I was looking for references outside of Revelation. Having recently (and suddenly) lost a very dear pet, I am interested in reading a bit on it. I have always taken hope in the understanding that all of creation will be renewed (something that usually surprises anyone to whom I talk) and trust God with the nature/depth of that renewal.

  34. Byron,
    Hard to find something not metaphorical or symbolic. A wonderful passage on the kingdom is found in Isaiah 11:6-9. It inspired Hicks’ famous painting, Peaceable Kingdom. Animals there are: wolf, lamb, leopard, kid, calf, lion, cow, bear, ox, asp as well as a little child. Here we see the entire creation set free from bondage (Rom.8) and transformed, the suckling child playing near the asp, the lion eating straw…enmity between animal and man gone. Foretastes of this are glimpsed as some saints have befriended bears, etc.
    Not only we groan inwardly as we await our redemption but the whole of creation (animals included?) is groaning in travail, waiting to be set free from its bondage to decay to obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God…again, Roms.8.
    Somehow the entirety of creation is bonded hand and glove with our own transformation. Thanks Byron for having me look at this a little more.

  35. Paula, so sorry to hear about Paige! Horses were an important part of my growing up. We never owned one, but I went pony trekking and took riding lessons for several years when we lived in Great Britain. Drawing horses and playing with my Breyers model horses were favorite pastimes when I was a kid.

  36. Karen…and Jeff….thank you.
    Glad to hear you’ve had your time of enjoyment with horses as well, Karen. I’ve had the pleasure of having friends children/grandchildren come and meet Paige and ride a bit in the round pen. They loved it…and had no fear!

    Dean…I am enjoying all your scripture references. And the way you describe them.
    I just looked up Hicks Peaceable Kingdom painting…sweet! How’d I ever miss that?! There is even a Peaceable Kingdom jigsaw puzzle!

  37. Paula AZ,

    I’m sorry for the loss of your horse. It is a deep grief.
    You were asking about horses in the Bible— This is one of my favorite passages in all of Scripture (Zechariah 1:8-11):

    8 I saw by night, and behold, a man riding on a red horse, and it stood among the myrtle trees in the hollow; and behind him were horses: red, sorrel, and white. 9 Then I said, “My lord, what are these?” So the angel who talked with me said to me, “I will show you what they are.”
    10 And the man who stood among the myrtle trees answered and said, “These are the ones whom the Lord has sent to walk to and fro throughout the earth.”
    11 So they answered the Angel of the Lord, who stood among the myrtle trees, and said, “We have walked to and fro throughout the earth, and behold, all the earth is [a]resting quietly.”

    —Mary in Tennessee

  38. Mary in Tennessee,
    Deep…yes. Thank you so much for quoting that passage.

    That these inspired writings, especially apocalyptic, contain images of horses, majestic and with great strength, and yet He created them where they can be domesticated is another one of God’s bountiful gifts. He created them as not predatory, but the predator’s prey, so they are naturally gregarious, social creatures. In the wild you will not see a lone horse. So they can easily be trained to live among us humans. Just like a dog looks at us as part of the pack, the horse does the same. It would be wise to teach them to mind you, as you can get badly injured with a kick that would not much hurt a horse (they do know how to protect themselves!). So while I trained Paige, she very much trained me just the same. I can say, without a shadow of a doubt, that we had a very strong bond.
    Oh yeah Mary…it is deep grief. Surely a weakness that we go to God with for strength. One can not be saved apart from humility….and that, repeated. This post of Father’s is very apropos.
    I could not have done without all the prayers from you all…and Father, your blessing. My deepest thanks…

    Please forgive me…one more thing…this is a witness to your prayers and God’s great Love…
    So…at church today during the Great Entrance, I’m at my usual seat, (far left aisle seat) head down, waiting for Fr. Gabriel to pass by so I can touch his robe…and just as I’m about to do this he suddenly pauses, turns and faces me and touches my head. Now folks…hear me…I never heard of this…well, I just froze, lowered my head even more. I may have stopped breathing for a second…all I could think was Oh God thank You. There was no need to reason this out…none. I was no where near analytical. Only this: that was a blessing much needed. Because, another thing…Friday I found out that my Roscoe (14 y/o beagle, mentioned before) has cancer. Now how can you explain how God works…the grief of Paige obscured somewhat by my attention now toward Roscoe…who is sooner than later to be with Paige?!

    I needed that tap on the head….
    Yes, Glory to God….

  39. Paula I found this quote the other day …. and am just now catching up on the comments here. Anyhow…. I think it speaks so loudly to the loss you feel from your horses passing and what you speak of fragmentation of our soul and being healed in our weakness. It’s by Henri Nouwen and he is speaking about the joy of the cross and true Christian joy. It speaks of a reconciliation of the fragmentation of our broken souls through all of the experiences of life. Anyhow… here it is

    Celebration is only possible through the deep realization that life and death are never found completely separate. Celebration can only really come about where fear and love, joy and sorrow, tears and smiles can exist together. Celebration is the acceptance of life in a constantly increasing awareness of its preciousness. And life is precious not only because it can be seen, touched, and tasted, but also because it will be gone one day. When we celebrate a wedding, we celebrate a union as well as a departure; when we celebrate death we celebrate lost friendship as well as gained liberty. There can be tears after weddings and smiles after funerals. We can indeed make our sorrows, just as much as our joys, a part of our celebration of life in the deep reality that life and death are not opponents but do, in fact, kiss each other at every moment of our existence.

    Also just a side note – my youngest daughter (age awkward 13) was having a tough time of life lately – like a really tough time – we enrolled her in horseback riding lessons. What noticed right away is that horses are incredibly special creatures – and my gut feeling is that like dogs they also sense much about people and offer something if a horse thereapy when needed.

    Im sorry for your loss. 30 years is a long time. Longer than many friendships.

  40. Father Stephen

    RE: Your comment
    “Simon, priests.”

    That is precious….and also rather hilarious 🤣

  41. Victoria…thank you. Very thoughtful quote from Henri Nouwen. I had to think for a bit…I can see where there is a gradual healing we may not recognize which occurs when we “celebrate” life and death, joy, tears and sorrow, among friends and loved ones. I think that verses such as “Who for the joy set before Him endured the Cross” and elsewhere where it says to count it joy for the suffering we will endure, begin to be real to us as we, throughout our lives, continue to turn to God for mercy and pray He carry us through….as we have “tears after weddings and smiles after funerals”. Because he is right, life and death are not opponents…since Christ gives victory over death.

    Oh I pray your daughter be blessed through these horseback riding lessons! 13 is a really tough age. And yes, the animals can get through to them where humans can not. My hopes are high for her.
    Thank you again, Victoria.

  42. I have been thinking about this post a lot. Especially in light of my last confession. There was something that this post triggered. And I realized what it was based after listening to a response Jordan Peterson gave during a Q/A. He made a somewhat elementary point about the way we identify with characters in a novel or a movie. We identify with the good guys. We identify perhaps with the hero. Or, if not the good guys then the victims. So, he used as an example the movie Schindler’s List. When watching this movies, perhaps we identify with the hero Oskar Schindler. Or, perhaps we see ourselves in the predicament and lives of Germany’s victims. But, which one of us ever identifies with Amon Goth? Who ever sees themselves as one of the SS guards? In some ways I think that what the confession of the Pilgrim is asking us to do is to identify with the perpetrators of evil. In other words, rather than think of evil as something or someone that is out there and we can point our finger at it, this confession draws our attention inward to see that the line that divides heaven and hell cuts down the middle of the human heart. Confession makes us look at ourselves and see that the antecedent conditions for the evil that we want to point our finger at exists within each and every one of us.

    Or not…

  43. I am on vacation this week with family. I pulled the Athos comments because I don’t have time for a conversation of that sort. Also, please note that comments with bad language will be deleted.

  44. As I read the blog and the comments, I don’t think I saw the name of the author of “The Way of the Pilgrim.” Maybe it’s there and I missed it? I looked it up on Amazon, but there seems to be a couple of books with the same title. I want to make sure I get hold of the right one. I’d appreciate any help anyone can offer. Thanks in advance.

  45. Father Stephen,
    I hope your vacation is going/went well and that you have gained some refreshment.

    When the time is right, would you say more about the situation in the Ukraine? Including your words that “strained” love by God’s grace is made manifest “so that we, and all the world, can see it”. Would you expound on this, please? I do see the shame and humiliation of such a thing and how bitterness and accusation will only add fuel to the fire.

  46. Agata, Was it you who posted a while ago about the physiological benefits of making a prostration? I tried to search in Comments, but was not able to access them.
    If you were the one, would you be able to repost that information? Many thanks!

  47. Lynne,
    I am afraid I cannot think of a specific comment or link, I would be curious to find it myself. I imagine I have commented on prostrations from time to time, since I really like all the Church’s teaching about prostrations (I am a classically trained Pilates instructor and always marvel what a “perfect exercise” the prostration is for a human body – but that is just the physical benefit, Saints and Fathers of the Church have written on the spiritual aspects).

    Here is one comment I posted recently, but it’s not exactly about psychological benefit of making a prostration. It’s more about an eternal benefit (for a mother and her children)… 🙂

    https://blogs.ancientfaith.com/glory2godforallthings/2018/04/16/the-power-in-thought-its-not-what-you-think/#comment-132120

    BTW, maybe you already know this “trick” for searching comments, I have shared that in the past and it’s very useful for finding treasures. I will post it below, in its original form, to give its author full credit 🙂
    I found the comment above by inserting similar text into the Google search box:

    site:https://blogs.ancientfaith.com/glory2godforallthings “Agata*benefits*prostrations*”
    (maybe it was Geri’s comment you remembered?)
    https://blogs.ancientfaith.com/glory2godforallthings/2018/03/19/ladder-daily-life/#comment-130156

    Reid says:
    December 9, 2016 at 7:00 am
    Dino, try going to your favorite search engine and prefixing the instruction

    site:https://blogs.ancientfaith.com/glory2godforallthings

    to your search. For example on Google or Bing you can type

    site:https://blogs.ancientfaith.com/glory2godforallthings metanoia

    to find all pages on which metanoia appears. Then on the page press CTRL-F to search on the page for the word.

  48. Father I read your blogs regularly and it has inspired me.In this blog you made reference to a passage from the book The way of a Pilgrim.I have a slim volume by the same title translated by Nina A.Toumanova.Is this the same book you are referring to in the blog?

  49. Agata,
    Thanks for your reply. Yes, I did remember the link to search the blog, and in the great sea of papers and computer files, I actually found it! However, I only found Father’s articles. I will try again with the new information about “s and *s.
    I am an Occupational Therapist, so I have the training to analyze the prostrations. I was just hoping for an easy way out!
    I recently read in Fr. Alexander Men’s book, An Inner Step Toward God, that we must precede our meditation and prayer with minutes of inner silence.
    And I thought, “That sounds like mindfulness.” And then I remembered the blog comment about the benefits of prostrations, and I realized:
    We have the prayer traditions, if we will use them, that give the same benefits that are claimed in “Mindfulness Meditation” and in Yoga!
    Well, I will just have to dig into my anatomy books to do the analysis of prostrations!

  50. Agata,
    I’d love to continue this conversation, but perhaps it’s best outside this blog format. Would you be interested?
    You are welcome to ask Fr. Stephen for my email address if you would like to talk more.
    What if our full prayer life, with metanoias, centering, and prostrations ministers to our bodies, and frees us from the modern prescription to spend an hour a day in vigorous exercise. And the trouble is that it’s really two hours, when you count travel time, clothes-changing time, and clean-up time. Perhaps that time could be used more profitably…..

  51. Lynne,
    I’d love be to correspond with you on this subject! I’m sure you have great experience and it would be great to tie all we know with the Orthodox tradition.
    My gmail is “agatamcc” (I have shared it on the blog with Father’s approval before, so hopefully he will allow my comment long enough to see it). Please drop me a note, i look forward to hearing from you!

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