Strange That Our Money Says: In God We Trust

 

There are two great money problems in the Scriptures: too little and too much. The theme of the poor is a constant throughout both the Old and the New Testament. They tend to be cast as victims – easy prey for the rich, often exploited, and particularly beloved of God. He is the protector of the “widow and the fatherless” and clearly favors the poor. The rich come in for scathing treatment and dire warnings. Christ’s own words regarding the rich and the difficulty of their salvation almost drove the disciples to despair. And yet, most people in modern culture imagine wealth to be the solution to problems. Half of all lottery tickets in America are bought by the poorest third of the population.1

Perhaps more shameful is the fact that, today, the rich judge the poor to be foolish for such behaviors.

The most powerful creation of modernity is the Middle Class. Largely unintentional, many components of the Industrial Revolution served to nurture and increase the size and importance of those whose income exceeded their necessities with an increase in the market for luxury goods and practices. In time, that same class managed to increase the voting franchise, eventually extending it to include the whole population. With this prosperity came a shift in how the culture of Christianity perceived wealth itself. From a suspect burden to be shared, it became a mark of success to be enjoyed.

At present, our culture has been so transformed by the ideal of the Middle-Class phenomenon, that it has become synonymous with what is “normal,” “moderate,” “standard,” and “expected.” While there are debates within the Middle Class about the right way to think about the Upper Class and the super-wealthy, no one seems to question the desirability or normalcy of the Middle Class itself.

Among the most striking changes in the Christian attitude towards money has been the evolution of understanding regarding charging interest: classically known as “usury.” Today “usury” is used only to describe outrageous percentages on borrowed funds. Originally, however, “usury” referred to all use of interest on borrowed funds. It was a forbidden practice in Christianity in its early centuries, a violation of the teachings of Christ. This remained the case until the early Reformation when its modest practice began to be allowed.

With the standardization of the Middle Class within Christian consciousness came a standardization of Middle-Class attitudes towards wealth and property. The notion of “private property” became enshrined in Christian thought, replacing the concept of stewardship (in which everything belongs to God, and we are each accountable for our use). Individualism, as we know it today, requires the Middle-Class world as a standard: the poor simply cannot afford such independence. Individualism also requires a strong sense of private property so that each of us may pretend that we are self-sufficient. It may well indeed be the case that the greatest delusion of the modern age is that associated with our economic consciousness.

Consider these words from the opening paragraph of St. Clement of Alexandria’s Who Is the Rich Man Who Shall be Saved?

Those who bestow laudatory addresses on the rich appear to me to be rightly judged not only flatterers and base, in vehemently pretending that things which are disagreeable give them pleasure, but also godless and treacherous; godless, because neglecting to praise and glorify God, who is alone perfect and good, “of whom are all things, and by whom are all things, and for whom are all things,” they invest with divine honours men wallowing in an execrable and abominable life, and, what is the principal thing, liable on this account to the judgment of God; and treacherous, because, although wealth is of itself sufficient to puff up and corrupt the souls of its possessors, and to turn them from the path by which salvation is to be attained, they stupefy them still more, by inflating the minds of the rich with the pleasures of extravagant praises, and by making them utterly despise all things except wealth, on account of which they are admired; bringing, as the saying is, fire to fire, pouring pride on pride, and adding conceit to wealth, a heavier burden to that which by nature is a weight, from which somewhat ought rather to be removed and taken away as being a dangerous and deadly disease.

For Clement, wealth is a “dangerous and deadly disease!” I recall hearing someone remark about this, “I wish I could catch it!”

St. Clement is not unusual in his attitude towards money. He is an exemplar of pretty much everything written on the topic in the first ten centuries or more of the faith. Like Christ, he gages his thought by what money (property, etc.) does to the soul.

“What does it profit a man to gain the world and lose his soul?” Christ asks.

This is said regarding money and property, specifically, rather than just “sin” in general. There is something about money/property that has the power to utterly corrupt the soul. A key, I think, is found in Christ’s aphorism regarding “Mammon” (money): “You cannot serve God and Mammon.” Wealth has a power within it that draws us into idolatry. We begin to place our faith and trust in what wealth can do while remaining distant from God. God may have “top-billing” in our intellectual universe, but runs a distant second when it comes to what we most desire.

This takes us back to St. Clement’s diagnosis of money as a “dangerous and deadly disease.” It should not be surprising that the dominant force within a secular culture is economics. The pretense of the world’s self-sufficiency can only be maintained by the delusions created by wealth. Agnosticism and Atheism are the religions of the rich (or the Middle Class). It is a philosophy that safeguards the inherent power of their position. I should add that secularized Christianity can be described as “Christian Atheism.” [footnote] Those who would challenge this analysis by pointing to the Communist revolutions of the last century, fail to note that the ruling class within those regimes quickly adopted both the power and wealth of the class which they overthrew. A new ruling class claimed to govern in the name of the poor, but its identification with the poor was in name only.

Historically, the most significant group to maintain some semblance of sanity (outside of the poor) were the monastics of the Church, although any number of monastic establishments actually became quite rich. Institutional battles over monastic property have almost always been won by those with money (in Russia, the Possessors triumphed over the Non-Possessors, and, in the West, the Franciscans became sufficiently reconciled with wealth to pass under a dangerous Papal radar).

Virtually all the modern arguments regarding wealth (certainly among Christians), presume that we have some say in the matter, that is, that wealth belongs to us and that it is our responsibility to arrange its disposition. We place ourselves into the realm of management and move one step closer to the practical atheism of secularity. The poor are generally lacking in economic theories.

The great tragedy, however, is the perversion of the gospel in which, as managers, we decide how best to run the world. This represents a radical shift away from both Old and New Testament. It will undoubtedly be argued that we are commanded to be good stewards and that proper management of wealth is a God-given commandment. Jesus did not offer the parables of the Kingdom in order to create a responsible Middle Class. When the stewards of the parables are transformed into the managers of this world, Christ’s teaching has been tamed and made to serve the Prince of this World.

No matter our thoughts on the subject, the general landscape of a certain portion of the world is utterly married to wealth and property. Christians who live in such societies will most likely continue to find ways to accommodate the gospel. And this, I think, is our great loss. The managers of this world will find that the Kingdom of God is not compatible with their goals.

“He has exalted the humble and meek and the rich He has sent away empty.”

My own take regarding this is that we should pursue a persistent generosity and resist our urges towards ever greater ownership. A simple means of renouncing wealth is to confess that we own nothing, but only have the use of our goods for a short time. The Christian attitude towards wealth in the early centuries threatened the very halls of empire. The gospel has not changed.

 

 

 

 

 

Footnotes for this article

  1. Lotteries: America’s 70 Billion Dollar Shame

231 comments:

  1. Good afternoon! All that comes to my mind after reading the article and thinking on today’s situation – world and Church, is –
    “The Poor Will Inherit The Kingdom.” God bless you and thankyou!

  2. Father this reminds me of the verses in proverbs
    Proverbs 30:8-9 New International Version (NIV)

    8 Keep falsehood and lies far from me;
    give me neither poverty nor riches,
    but give me only my daily bread.
    9 Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you
    and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’
    Or I may become poor and steal,
    and so dishonor the name of my God.

  3. Your opening graphic speaks to the depths of Christ’s of teaching on the subject: “Who then can be saved?”, His disciples cried, when He threw down the gauntlet of the camel and the needle. They lived in a culture not nearly as materialistic as ours. He seemed to offer comfort and hope to us with so much money who still hope to enter the kingdom when He said what is impossible with man is possible for God. He is gracious to give such hope, but the severity of His warning stands. How do we, with our pernicious attention to wealth, avoid delusion about where we are on the way to the Kingdom?

  4. The gap between my belief and my practice has never seemed wider. I have been spending my money as if it were my own. May God have mercy on me.

  5. I think as long as we remember to use our wealth properly and not forget about the poor in need, then we are on the right spiritual path. There were many kings and queens in history who were very charitable to the poor, started schools, missions etc. and became Saints! St Elizabeth of Hungary comes to mind how everyday she would come to the door and hand out loaves of bread to the poor lined up. “When you gave to one of these, you gave to me” said Christ. God bless!

  6. I understand what you are saying, Margaret, but I understand Father to be saying that I do not have anything to give to the poor. Everything I think I have actually belongs to God. So I cannot give bread to the hungry. The bread I have is God’s, not mine. And Jesus said that when I feed the hungry, I feed Him. So when i give bread to the poor, I am only giving to God that which was His to begin with.

  7. Very interesting David…..I see that you are saying when we give to the poor, we are reciprocating – returning to God his gift to us! Very nice. I remember a story about a monk who always gave out food at the door of the monastery and the Abbot was getting upset with him because they would run out of food for themselves. However, the monk taught the Abbot that in giving we receive and sure enough every time they gave out to the poor, something was given to them in another way! So, there is something to be said for not hoarding – haha!! God bless…..

  8. Thank you Father for another great reminder about what is important for our salvation.

    Maybe this will be in poor taste and ‘opportunistic’ on my part (I count on you to judge and delete it accordingly), but on this occasion of discussing money, I would like to renew my request to your readers (especially those visiting only occasionally) to consider donating to a fundraiser that is trying to help both “the widow and the fatherless”… 🙂

    And to thank all from this blog who already donated most generously! May God multiply your blessings and reward you richly!!

    https://www.gofundme.com/rebuild-athens-orphanage

  9. There is in every economic theory I have studied a principle of scarcity. Whether it is the zero sum game if the mercantilist, the means of production of the communist, or supply and demmand of the capitalist, the assumption is that there is never “enough”. Therefore it is necessary to control what there is and parse it out. Power decides.

    This also goes hand in hand with theories of history that suppose our life, personally and corporately, is lived in a linear and sequential manner that can and should be controlled.

    Whether it is the Deist, the Machavellian, the Marxist, the Nihilist, the Liberal or Conservative or those who insist on making everything “better” and “changing the world” each and all deny the reality of our Providential dependence on God, His presence, His love and His mercy for everything we are and have. Indeed for everything we do not have. We do not have a right to anything especially life. We only have what God gives.

    It is a Providence that can only be received in thanksgiving and offering such thanksgiving is the core of the Euchristic Christian life—“thine own of thine own we offer unto thee…”

    Give to whomever asks of you, whatever they ask of you.

    But, but, but…….

    The radical reality of the Incarnate one lifted up on the Cross, crowned with thorns is tough to take. Certainly for me.

    Even to intentionally improvrish oneself for the sake of poverty ignores the nature of Providence to some degree.

    Be careful Father, you are sure to be labeled.

  10. Juliana,
    Thank you for this question! It is not shameful to be considered part of the middle class. For a large segment of our society – it’s almost unavoidable. I’m squarely in that position myself.

    It comes with temptations and pitfalls – so do wealth and poverty. My point, I think, is to describe the nature of those pitfalls and temptations. The greatest temptation is to believe we are in charge of history and the management of the world (and other people). Secondly, I think, it is to make of Middle-Class reality a new theology in which we think it is the “normal” state and the essence of moral uprightness.

  11. I am watching a Turkish made television series on the internet Netflix called Resurrection: Ertugrul. It is in Turkish with English subtitles, takes place in the 13th Century at the beginnings of the Ottoman Empire by the efforts of the Turkmen tribes associated with the Seljuks. It is a Turkish and Muslim view of their origins and behaviors. When the Turks took over a trading bazaar and instituted their Muslim ways of doing business, they kicked out those who loaned money at interest. Then, they gave as alms, gave as alms to the capital poor business men so that their business could prosper. This was amazing- the poor were those who were not capitalized to make a living. Almsgiving and not interest-bearing loans were the mechanism for enabling those who were capital-poor. And best I can tell is that the Muslims of that era got this view from the Christianity from which it emerged. Usury these days is hyperusurious by the fact of fiat banking as done by the FED and fractional reserve banking done by everybody else. Our Christian paradigm has undergone progressive depletion. The tv series itself is an amazing exposition of Muslim self-understanding ; much of their view of traditional tribal life and family life is quite winsome, but the place of spreading their gospel, their justice, by the sword in domination of the world, for our good, is quite present, and also the amazing extolling of the nursing of hatred until one’s revenge is obtained against our enemies.

  12. Amen Michael. The Gospel of Thomas Jefferson is far easier to follow than the Gospel of Jesus Christ. And I’m not even referring to the actual false Jefferson Gospels where the miracles of Christ have been removed.

  13. Fr Bless.

    I am confused by your statement in response to Juliana when you said:

    “The greatest temptation is to believe we are in charge of…. the management of the world (and other people).

    Aren’t we supposed to do our best with (manage) what God gives us? I don’t think his intent for bestowing more on one than another is to simply “let the chips fall where they may” Don’t we have to manage something on some level? Don’t we have “dominion over the the works of Gods hands” (paraphrased part of Psalm 8?

  14. Keith,
    We certainly should do right by what we are responsible for. The problem comes in understanding what is, in fact, our responsibility and what is not. We are not in charge of “outcomes” to a great extent. We are responsible to live and act faithfully, obeying Christ’s commandments (particularly those within the gospel, and not simply “deriving” commandments from a phrase here or there in the Scriptures). It is God who is in charge of outcomes. The modern world (for the past 300 or so years) has instead conceived of the world as something to be managed apart from God – (say a prayer before the meeting, and then make decisions as though God did not exist). We have come to believe that we can “make the world a better place” (we cannot). The greatest evils of the 20th century were done in the name of making the world a better place – and we continue to do lots and lots of mischief under the same banner.

    Money is not given to us for the sake of power. To use my money and wealth to manipulate others and “manage” outcomes is a life of economic violence. If someone has a business – they should be honest and fair and pay their employees a proper wage (not blaming the market and pleading that their hands are tied).

    Psalm 8 – specifically references cattle. And we obviously have things that we need to “manage.” Our stewardship of such things is an important part of our life. What I see in our culture, however, is not management as stewardship (taking care of something that is not really mine) but the management of ownership (“this is mine and I can do whatever I deem to be successful and desirable”). There is a theme of justice (the right-ordering and balance of things) through both Old and New Testament. Modern economic theories have invoked abstract things like the “market” – as if it were the law of gravity – and treated it as the unseen force that must be obeyed or risk disaster. We have lots of explanations for the poor – none of which will pass muster as we stand before Christ.

    I’ve written a fair amount about the problems associated with “modernity” and its false consciousness regarding the management of the world. It is a better path to simply follow the commandments of Christ and give the outcome of history over to the hands of God. I do not mean by this that we act irresponsibly. But our actions are far too frequently managed by some version of Utilitarianism rather than by the Commandments of Christ.

    I hope that is helpful.

  15. I find this so very beautiful and it gives me hope. Thank you for writing this. I am trapped in the middle class mostly by my own desires, but find solace and reprieve in prayer and stillness. The voice of Godly reason always excites my heart as it has through this post even though I continue in my struggles. I am aided by daily reminding myself that what I earn is to be given and shared with others and this is the purpose for my wealth. When I give to anyone who asks and even to those in need who haven’t asked this helps me resist the allure of money. Generosity is the gift God gives us as an antidote to affluenza.

  16. Keith,
    A few more thoughts. Your question is, I think, one of fundamental importance.

    The gospel, to a great extent, is written as good news to the poor. That accurately described much of the Church in its earliest centuries and serious problems arose when those circumstances changed (hence the work by St. Clement of Alexandria). Throughout most of Christian history, though we were not “poor” in the truest sense, the general membership of the Church was only modestly above subsistence living.

    The setting changes radically after the Reformation and Industrial Revolution – effectively making a significant portion of the population “rich.” What we call “Middle Class” is certainly rich by historical standards. With that rise comes a somewhat different take on the gospel. Modern Christianity in the first world has morphed into a system of belief to support us in our management lifestyle. Our new ethics consider things like responsibility and such. The kind of actions envisioned in the gospel feel very radical to us as a result.

    I’ve spent a fair amount of time among the poor (in one way or another). They are far more generous – even radically generous – than every other group with our economy. Are they “naturally” better? Obviously not. But they often think differently about money and share it with others in a manner that the Middle Class would most often judge as irresponsible.

    My intent is not to make anyone feel guilty – but to shine the light inside our hearts in order to see how our modern context has made us think differently about the gospel. I believe the gospel is utterly true and that the commandments of Christ alone are the way of peace.

    I have no political agenda – indeed, I do not think the gospel can be put into practice through political efforts. “Voting correctly” (whatever that would mean) cannot be substituted for personal adherence to the commandments of Christ. If I vote to take your money and give it to the poor – that is not any credit to me.

  17. In addition to the other deficits of modern theories of political-economy is that they all have determinism as an assumption. As a result there is at least a tacit rejection of the freedom that Christianity provides.

    For all our modern obsession about “freedom” human beings do not seem to want it very badly. We are far more comfortable with the various tryannies and rule of law offered by the world and the flesh. We can then be safe in our sins and in our self-righteousness.

  18. From a practical standpoint, how should my husband and I – living on one modest income(by American standards), raising a handful of kids, finding ourselves for the first time in our married life with enough money to pay for more than mortgage, groceries and second hand shoes – think about saving money for retirement? Is that money for us to save or to give away?

  19. I just read this tonight and thought it might be appropriate to this discussion…

    “Virginity and fasting and lying on the ground are more difficult than almsgiving, but nothing is so strong and powerful to extinguish the fire of our sins as is almsgiving. It is greater than all the other virtues. Almsgiving is the mother of love, of that love which is the characteristic of Christianity, which is greater than all miracles, by which the disciples of Christ are made plain. It is the medicine of our sins, the cleansing of the filth of our souls, the ladder fixed to heaven, and it binds together the body of Christ.”

    + Saint John Chrysostom

  20. Wow, that Atlantic article about the rise of lotteries across the US and increasing state revenue from lotteries was totally new for me; I had no idea that lotteries had grown so fast or made so much money. It is a very sneaky and shameful way to fill state coffers.

    Fr. Stephen, thank you for your responses to Keith. you mentioned several times about the Middle Class notion of “responsibility” and that our notion of responsibility is very mistaken in our day and age. I have been struggling with this modern notion of responsibility for several years now as a young person(20’s) who has felt shame because my personal/financial situation does not meet society’s expectations for someone in my stage of life. Sometimes it feels like someone is whispering “you are not responsible, you are a failure- if you were responsible, you would be financially secure and independent now.” Personal choices and miscalculations have played into my situation, of course, but I know that there is so much that is simply out of my control. Similarly, working in the field of education, there is a constant pressure for results, especially surrounding test scores, statistics like drop-out rates, etc. I have seen how policies and programs in a school can help improve those numbers, but school-led initiatives do not *control* those numbers. I’m sure the same could be said for many other fields, like business.

    How can we begin to see through the lies and situations of our culture surrounding the boundaries of our responsibility? It just occurred to me now that you are implying that we are both less and more responsible in the realm of finances and poverty than our culture assumes. We are more responsible (at fault) for our neighbor’s poverty than we want to admit, and our “responsible” (profit-driven) use of our money is less necessary than we imagine.

  21. Thank you for this article, Fr. Stephen. Through tithing, I and my family have found great blessings — as the quote from St. John Chrysostom refers to here in the comments.

  22. ELM,
    My own experience, in struggling against such voices (and they can grow very loud), is to press pass them and listen to God instead. God is not judging our success or financial prudence – He judges the heart. Money is not the heart – but the heart can become enthralled to money.

    My father was not “successful” by worldly standards. He owned a small auto repair business and was, from time to time, the only mechanic. He worked hard. He certainly could have been more “successful” if he was the sort of person with a canny business sense. But his heart was a very good heart. His customers knew him and trusted him, and he could always be counted on to do a favor. He was generous with both time and money. He had good and bad years – almost losing everything when the local economy went bust in the 60’s. I can, in hindsight, that there were years in which the burden of all of this weighed heavily on him and almost crushed him.

    But his heart remained good. By God’s mercies, his heart was revealed more and more, even as the business faded. When he sold the business and retired – he had little left. They sold their house and moved to a small trailer on land belonging to my mother’s sister. At age 79, he and my mother were received into the Orthodox faith – and became very beloved members of their parish – from which they were buried in less than a decade.

    Everyone who knew him speaks well of him.

    I have been involved in the death and burial of hundreds of people in my years of ministry. I have buried a billionaire and any number of peope who were well-off. One man had secretly been a shrewd investor, something that was not discovered until his death. He died very obscurely. No one really knew him. But his wife, who had lived in extremely modest circumstances (almost poverty), spent the rest of her days giving his millions away. She is missed to this very day – but was beloved by everyone even when she had nothing.

    I could multiply these stories over and over. Money and success will mean very little as you come to the end of your days. The heart will mean more and more. Happiness and contentment belong to those who have learned to value the heart. Those who value money and success will likely have wasted their life.

    “Some trust in chariots and some trust in horses – but we will remember the Name of the Lord our God.”

  23. Thank you, Father Stephen, for this article. We greatly need more serious, thoughtful Orthodox social commentary on issues like this. So often Orthodox moral teaching these days focuses only on sexual matters. Yes, we are responsible primarily for obedience to Christ. Then God takes care of the outcomes.

  24. I was re-reading your post this morning and all of a sudden understood the title! How ironic that our money says “In God we trust” when our Lord Jesus said “One cannot serve God and mammon. ” I started laughing (but I do have a weird sense of humor.) Thank you!

  25. E.C.,

    I am sorry that that no one has answered your question directly. I will take an imperfect stab at it, and hopefully someone will followup with a better one.

    Delusion seems to be best addressed by the act of confession, to a priest if you are Orthodox. If you are not Orthodox, the challenge is to find someone who both sees you as you are, but who also sees you as what you could be in Christ. Sadly, the way Christianity has evolved over the last few centuries, a family life counselor might be a better choice than an actual pastor. For myself, I’ve thought of asking for confession with an orthodox priest, not because I’m Orthodox and would benefit from any kind of absolution, but because I think I think I would benefit in my Christian walk much more than I would in following any other course of action.

    In cases such as this, a personal confession to God, as I was taught to do as a Protestant, probably wouldn’t be as effective because of the back and forth necessary to probe the depths of our materialist delusions.

    I hope someone responds to our comments.

  26. E.C.

    One other thought.

    A brother asked Abba Sisoes, “What shall I do, abba, for I have fallen?” The old man said to him, “Get up again.” The brother said, “Ί have got up again, but I have fallen again.” The old man said, “Get up again and again.” So then the brother said, “How many times?” The old man said, “Until you are taken up either in virtue or in sin. For a man presents himself to judgment in the state in which he is found.”

    From this, I understand that as long as I’m trying to wrestle with the materialism I perceive in my own life, because our god is merciful, and loves mankind, and that it is not his will that any should perish, I need not worry for my Salvation.

  27. Peace…..For me I would find myself being over-confident to believe I do not have to worry about my salvation and that God will take care of all of it, since He loves me and wants salvation. I believe I have to work for it – some days being more difficult than others. I believe it is in reciprocating and co-operating that I will be transformed. Just sitting back or sitting on the fence would seem as though I believe to have it all in the bag (under control) while God may have a very different picture. Better to examine conscience nightly and stay close to the Cross of Christ and the Sacraments believing I still have a lot more polishing to be done on my soul. God bless you!

  28. “Why [the churches in the West] are dying seems very simple. It is hard to be a disciple and be rich. Surely, we may think, it cannot be that simple, but Jesus certainly seems to think that it is that simple. The lure of wealth and the cares of the world produced by wealth quite simply darken and choke our imaginations. As a result, the church falls prey to the deepest enemy of the gospel — sentimentality. The gospel becomes a formula for “giving our lives meaning” without judgment.”
    —Stanley Hauerwas

  29. Perceptions are fascinating things.

    I never share that Abba Sisoes quote with the non-Orthodox anymore, because every time I do, I get accused of preaching a doctrine of righteousness by works theology.

  30. I sometimes use a global perspective to help put my financial situation into a more “real world” context than the middle class context I live in. For example, since I have shoes and clothes, food in a refrigerator, and a secure place to sleep with a roof over my head, I am richer then 75% of the people in the world. And the next time you hear that only 10% of the world’s population controls 90% of the world’s wealth, think of me. Since I have money in a bank, I am a member of that top 10%.

    Constantly remembering this would give me a better perspective on what wealth really is, but I can assure you that I will forget all about a few hours from now.

    Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on me, a sinner.

    (In case you are wondering, my information comes from Credit Suisse Bank, a major international bank which annually publishes a highly respected Global Wealth report. Credit Suisse is as capitalist as you can get and anything but a religious or charitable organization. )

  31. Thank you Fr for taking the time to respond so thoroughly, your explaination helps tremendously.

    I pray that God transforms all of our hearts to always approach all material gifts that have been given us from a perspective of stewardship and not ownership. Lord have mercy!

  32. David Waite,

    Sobering facts. I don’t know how accurate this website is but if you go to
    Globalrichlist.com, it can also be sobering. This website gives you a ranking of wealth versus the rest of the world.

    I’m glad Fr wrote on this topic.

  33. Thank you Father, and everyone in the comments. I’ve been really struggling this week about whether or not I should give up homeschooling four kids and being the homemaker of a multigenerational household, in order to go back to work as a waitress or secretary (my college degree in the sciences is worthless as I haven’t worked in the field since starting a family 13 years ago). We have some unplanned-for debt coming our way and “common sense” says that everything I’m doing is a matter of privilege (and everyone else who doesn’t get to do what I do is fine), why shouldn’t I go back to work and improve my family’s finances. My kids would love the extra cash to get into the keep-up game with the electronic-device Joneses, and I’m sure both sets of my in-laws also would wholeheartedly approve, seeing as they all consider our lack of a fleshed out 401k and vacation fund to be a rather shameful black mark on the family’s history of financial good sense.

    Anyway, I need a couple of knocks in the head like this one. Maybe they’ll help me put my head back on straight. It is so hard to fight the financial zeitgeist– he comes creeping in any chink in the armor he can find.

  34. E.C., Matthew,
    Sorry to have been delayed in answering or commenting. It’s been a busy, distracting week. I’m in Atlanta this weekend speaking at a conference.

    But, I’ve got a couple of hours just now. I have always found that trying not to do something is an exercise in frustration. It’s always better to take positive action. Two things are the best offensive weapons in this culture: the giving of thanks, and generosity. Neither can be overdone. When they are practiced faithfully and steadily, they yield true results in our lives. Give thanks always and for all things. Be as generous as possible, without fear and without regret. Those two things.

  35. Thank-You so much father for your time. May you be a blessing, and may you be blessed at the conference.

  36. Thank you Father, and all.

    Tess….amazing how timely Father’s messages can be! I pray all the best for you and your family. Thinking of what to say to you, this verse came to mind…
    “… my God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus.”
    Yes…He will!

  37. This is not exactly on track, but shows a cultural difference in how we view things. I taught h.s. ESL. I had quite a few Punjabi students. One day a very kind, gentle 14 year old boy was explaining his life to me, as it was, in a rural village in the Punjab. He said, “Mr. Brown, the hardest thing about coming to the States was leaving my 2 oxen. I loved them so much!”
    Life was much slower for him there, focused on family and in his case his beloved animals. Unfortunately, it doesn’t take long for these students to get caught up in the crass materialism of our culture.

  38. On the question of how the rich man might be saved, it perhaps is answered at the last by the action of the noble Joseph of Arimathea in giving a new tomb to be the resting place of our Lord. It’s all we know in the gospel, but the very most beautiful hymn dedicated to the burial of Christ is “The Noble Joseph”. He might have wondered himself, knowing his failings, how possibly could he be saved, and then there it was.

    And also Zacchaeus, the little tax man who climbed the tree to see Jesus passing, and then bubbled over to hear he would be graced with the presence at his house for dinner! Then, how his generous feelings exploded!

    With God nothing is impossible, though it might be a rare instance indeed.

  39. Tess – We sacrificed a great deal, financially, so my wife could stay home with the kids. As a result, I am now unable to retire. But, if I had to do it all over again, I would not change a thing. I would rather continue working than give up the wonderful experience our family had when the kids were little. It may be why we all continue to be so close. My children now have children of their own. I have 10 grandchildren and another on the way. Eight of them (and the one in the way) live less than 30 minutes from us. Two of them have always lived a few blocks away from our house. We are all about family and I would not have it any other way.
    Just my experience. Everyone is different, I know.
    You are in my prayers.

  40. It is true human beings feel great when they have money. and those who have no money see them-selves as less human beings. we need to re-look into the issue of this money -money- money.

  41. Tess,
    I agree with Father and David about putting your family first. If that is possible, may God help you and your husband figure how to do it.
    I just wanted to comment on your words “my college degree in the sciences is worthless as I haven’t worked in the field since starting a family 13 years”.

    Don’t assume that and dismiss it as worthless!

    I had to go back to my engineering work after a long break when I stayed home while the children were small. With some “creativity” in rewriting your resume (and it truly is creativity, instead of making it chronologically structured, you change it to a more functional/job-targeted type, which hides the break in employment) you can accomplish a lot! You may have to first take some “lower level” positions (at that point in time, someone told me “beggars can’t be choosers”, and I accepted it) but step by step you will build up your resume, and build your career back up, if you really want it. There are wonderful Saints to pray for help with work/job-searching, I found out 🙂

    And while I am sharing with you, I wanted to thank you so much for a comment you once made in a different discussion (this comment seems rather relevant for to the subject of this conversation): I tried your suggestion of carrying $100 in my dedicated wallet [in $5 bills], to give out to the ‘poor’ (most of the time they are people on the freeway off-ramps). I want to tell you that it’s a Grace filled experience, to have and give out money without any deeper reason, other than that there is a person if front of me who is asking… Thank you for that suggestion! It’s so great, I am on my second hundred… 😉

    https://blogs.ancientfaith.com/glory2godforallthings/2018/05/11/the-wisdom-to-know-the-difference/#comment-133012

  42. Dear Agata and Simon, I’m glad you both have contributed your comments.

    The responses in this thread (all of them regarding the discussion on marriage) reiterate my own concerns involving these teachings themselves and the ‘fall out’ effects from them. I will not attempt to characterize the stance, because I’m not an authority on Orthodoxy, but when I am disturbed (and in these circumstances I’m seeing a lack of charity and love in such writings among some priests ) and after expressing my concern there is in the conversation an implicit suggestion that my own response is not Orthodox, I indeed have a lot more concerns with the teachings and impacts, themselves. And from what I have learned from those who have lived their entire lives in the faith, I am not alone in my concerns.

    With regard to a monastic’s view of marriage: I have great appreciation of his humbleness, when Fr Seraphim Aldea was asked about some issue (at the moment I don’t remember the specifics) in marriage, he said, “Why would you (a married person) ask a monastic this question?”

    And Fr Stephen did make a suggested reading on marriage (which he said doesn’t need to be for those in marriage who have children) Here is the resource he recommended to Debbie at 3:58 on June 18 2018 in the article called, Marriage as a Lifetime of Suffering:

    https://blogs.ancientfaith.com/glory2godforallthings/2018/06/18/marriage-as-a-lifetime-of-suffering-2/

    I’ll end by saying that I’ve come upon Fr Stephen’s articles because they were recommended by my parish priest. And Fr Stephen has the endorsement of his writings by his Bishop and I emphasize many other priests as well. Fr Stephen also has detractors. And among those, I suspect one might also hear a tone of contentiousness as to foment divisiveness. Does this country need more such voices that would create lines of “us” and “them”?

    Last, there have been a few other priests whose writings also make my hair stand on end, as Paula colorfully describes. When this happens I do bring these writings to my parish priest and/or to other women in the parish church who have a guiding influence on my spiritual growth. When I have done so, rather than to say that I was somehow lacking for not accepting such writings, I was gently told that priests make errors too and to have forgiveness. It is only when they make errors and maintain their stance in hubris, that things really do go wrong. It might take time, prayers and Bishopric diplomacy to correct such errors.

    We certainly do need the prayers of the monastics in these times.

  43. All,
    I have been at a speaking engagement and other work this weekend in Atlanta (the Connect Orthodox Conference). I had a delightful time, but also was unable to tend to the blog conversation.

    I have a standing rule not to criticize other priests or bishops on the blog. That said, it is worth noting that Fr. Josiah’s work tends to draw some hard lines, creating strong reactions among some. In a culture that so distorts relationships between men and women, women and men, it’s very, very difficult to sound a correct note. Some people have even suffered what can only be described as spiritual abuse in some Christian settings in which the tradition has been badly understood and badly applied.

    Those who read my writings know that I very rarely make recommendations of contemporary work – because it’s so easy to get things wrong, even unintentionally. If I had a suggestion, it would be to listen to your heart. If something doesn’t feel quite right – pay attention to that. You could be mistaken, but God is quite able to get us the information we need without scandalizing our hearts. It is, in my experience, an extremely dangerous thing to ignore such inner warnings.

    I’ve never seen things quite as “brittle” and “reactive” than our culture over the past two weeks – and it’s likely to be exploited for ill ends for some time to come. It will make male/female conversations more difficult than they already are.

    For myself, I’m spending some quiet time pondering all that I’ve seen and heard – and prayerfully pondering it. The game is afoot.

    God willing, I’ll be back in the saddle tomorrow on the blog and elsewhere. I had a wonderful time at the conference, serving as the keynote speaker for a crowd of about 200 Orthodox “young adults” (21-39). Lots of energy there! This old man is tired…

  44. Paula AZ,

    I am not sure what a “Proverbs 31 woman” is—I was not exposed to that before my conversion—but that section, which is a prophecy about Christ and His Church (among other things), looks to be ripe for misinterpretation. I know it is important to be able to listen to others, and movements or ideas which offer “simple” and very impersonal solutions often break down that communication and can create real terror. Sometimes that silencing and judgment can even come in the guide of “non-judgment”: “You shouldn’t ask/tell/whatever!”. Of course we have boundaries, but those are there to protect us *in* Christ, not *from* Christ and His teachings. Having said that, it’s been a while since I’ve listened to the aforementioned audio series but I don’t recommend it, though there are some gems if you’re a good miner. The book, which I led an extensive study on, is more limited in scope but corrects many of the issues with his series and is, I think, the fruit of a lot more prayer and understanding. But even it is not necessarily an easy read spiritually and emotionally, and not for everyone. As Fr. Stephen said, it is difficult to find a truly great treatment of the subject today, and I think that is partly because we have a distorted, maybe idolatrous, view of marriage: we see it as something between two people, or something foundational for society, or something else along some political/cultural line, but fail to realize it is primarily about Christ and His Church. When we have more saints—those who don’t just read or talk about the words of The Church but actually live them out in fullness—then we will have more real marriages.

    David and Michael,

    Good observations. Another one that we don’t consider much, and the meaning of which may not be immediately obvious, is that Jesus asks us specifically (in all versions of the story) to sell what we have before we distribute to the poor.

  45. JBT,
    Thanks for your comment.
    You are correct. Those verses about a virtuous woman in Proverbs 31 are entirely misinterpreted by some. The Protestant church I was in took these lines of scripture apart from the whole, and presented it as a picture of the perfect Christian woman, period. I was so turned off by their rendition and the impossibility of being that perfect woman, given their theology offers no means of healing in the first place, that I never returned to it…that is until now. I see more clearly that it is, as you say, a prophesy about Christ and His Church (vs 1-9).
    As I read the remainder (vs 10-21), I recall a recent post at Fr. Stephen De Young’s blog, about the Queen of Heaven. He describes how God, in the OT, in light of the transgression of polygamy, “preserved” this special place of the Queen by having Solomon appoint his mother to sit at his right hand as queen, instead of a favored wife. It was here that “the light bulb” lit: “For this reason, rather than the office of queen belonging to a first or favored wife, it belonged to the mother of the king. Kings might have many wives, but could have only one mother.” Ahhh….enter the Theotokos!
    [ a side note…the “favored” wife. Does this have something to do with the jealousy and squabbling we see among women? If so, it seems to me this “bad” fruit of polygamy is one of the results of the division between male and female that St. Maximus says is the first division in our created nature, which led to further disintegration, division and jealousies, that needs to be healed. Really, it is sin we war with, when we fight among ourselves.]
    Which brings me back to the verses in Proverbs…so the beginning is a prophesy about Christ…and the remaining, it seems to me, a prophesy about the Theotokos, both as a person and as a picture of the Bride, the Church.

    Father Stephen, now that you’re back (I am glad!), I very much look forward to your thoughts.
    JBT, once again, thank you.

  46. Paula,
    Beautiful explanation, thank you!
    I too look forward to Father’s explanation. The subject keeps returning, doesn’t it? And often in the context of money, probably for a reason…
    “For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world.”
    I cannot find this verse from the Orthodox Bible, but like this translation too:
    “For everything that is in the world—the desire for fleshly gratification, the desire for possessions, and worldly arrogance—is not from the Father but is from the world. “

  47. Paula AZ, et al
    I think the greatest danger in speaking about male/female/marriage/etc. comes when speaking in “prescriptive” terms. “This is the right way to do this.” If there is a weakness in some of the teaching that I’ve seen, it is in that sort of direction. It is better, theologically and pastorally, to ponder together the mystery that stands before all of us, and to speak together in wonder.

    Those who, quoting this father or that, profess to know how things are supposed to be tend to shut down the conversation, and, frankly, do the fathers a disservice.

    There are fundamental boundaries within the faith that govern certain things (such as sexual intercourse), but even the boundaries are best approached by assuming that there is a mystery to be pondered and seeking to understand it.

    St. Maximus is right when he describes the very fundamental struggle that exists between men and women – there’s a struggle between men and men, and between women and women – but the struggle between men and women is a very different thing. We are on primordial holy ground when we enter that place.

    I have rarely had a conversation with anyone who could intelligently (much less noetically) explain the mystery of what it truly means to be male or female. St. Maximus, as I recall, describes them as “energies” of the human being. God help us be wise and meek.

  48. Fr Stephen,
    I’m grateful for your comment, particularly in affirming the response of the heart in these matters.

    And this: “God help us be wise and meek”.

    The meek part seems to be missing in the conversations I’ve witnessed when other priests (which I will not name, are involved)

    There is a sense of heavy-handedness, and an intrusion into the bedroom and a crossing of boundaries that burdens my heart when I’m in accidental contact with certain priest’s forays into the marriage relationship. These ‘theological’ attempts to prescribe the marital relationship between a man and a woman, and appear to lean into the greater ideological camps forming in the political arena and borrow heavily from the sensationalism that has already fomented around them, and are apparently building their own ‘populist following’. And I fear this activity may in the end force a response in the Bishopric level. Such activities mirror the political movements and counter-movements I see in the Church in other places in the world. All of this is deeply worrying.

    I shall emphasize for your readers again your own recommendation regarding something to read about the marital relationship and of rearing children:

    There’s not a lot out there in the Fathers. A book I strongly recommend (and not just for people with kids) is Philip Mamalakis’ Parenting Towards the Kingdom. Healthy and balanced.

    Indeed God help us to be wise and meek.

  49. Sometimes I wish I could edit after I’ve submitted. Strange that I don’t see the grammatical bloopers before I submit. Parentheses and commas in the wrong places. Oh well.

    I’ll just say thank you so much Fr Stephen for your ministry. Rather than attempting to foment political lines in parishes, you have offered us healing balm.

  50. Father Stephen,
    I too thank you for your wise counsel. You continually point us to the mysteries of life and the importance of pondering these wonders together. In light of this, I see the error of “prescriptive terminology”. It is too narrow of an approach, a quick solution to correct a fundamental part of our nature.

    Dee… as always, well said. I am glad you mentioned your concerns once again with the clergy. I better understand now, than when you expressed these concerns in the past. The desire for answers to these difficult issues can easily turn into demands that ultimately are directed toward our Bishops. I really have no idea what goes on in the meetings where the Bishops gather together. I can only hope for continued divine guidance, accepting whatever comes to pass as God’s will.
    A quick question…do you think Philip Mamalakis’ book Parenting Towards the Kingdom would be helpful for me, as one who has never married? Is there something in it that would speak to those who are single. Perhaps a help to better understand the male/female dichotomy?

    Thanks again Father, for your words. We need them!

  51. Paula, forty-five years ago when I began seriously to want to be Christian it became important to me to know what Jesus wanted of me as a Christian man. I have been studying it ever since with varying degrees of concentration.

    I can say that all of the answers are in Scripture, but Scripture is a bit like an artichoke and it takes work to get to the heart.

    There is also a lot of bad information out there. I Cor. 11 is seriously misinterpreted especially by Protestants as is Ephesians. There is no subjugation by law or force in Christ.

    One thing I would say is that make and female is not truly a dichotomy. It is more akun to a dipole.

    One of the great lies out there is that male-female is somehow a dialectic and therefore subject to reformation by the “laws” of progress.

    In Christ, the Cross is the epitome of what it means to be a man.

    I fail constantly, but our Lord is merciful.

  52. Paula AZ,
    A women’s book study group in my parish, in which my wife is a participant, recently read and discussed Mamalakis’ book (Parenting Towards the Kingdom). I would strongly suggest it, even for those who are unmarried and without children. It is healthy, not driven by ideology, and well within the boundaries of the faith.

    I now use it for pre-marital preparation – having discovered, through the years, that couples have very little meat to really discuss in preparation for marriage until the topic of children and family gets introduced. Oddly, that’s when so much begins to be revealed. In many ways, children are the fruit of true synergy, both husband and wife, while so much else could just be done in a divided manner.

    The real truth of male/female existence is that we are created for one another and that the truth of each is revealed in the other. And this is true in the unmarried (etc.) as well. A weakness of same-sex relationships comes in the absence of its complementarity. Very often, there are gender-like roles assumed (a fact that, ironically, points to the natural character of such roles). But, these are not the same thing.

    There is much tragedy within all of this – calling for compassion and mercy.

  53. Thanks Michael. You know, I had a feeling dichotomy was not the right word, because there never really was a true dichotomy. So thank you for introducing me to a new word…dipole. It expresses the male/female distinction in accordance to our teachings : “a pair of equal and oppositely charged or magnetized poles separated by a distance”… sounds like St. Maximus’ “energies”.
    OK…Scripture…of coarse there we find the truth.
    I’ll continue to seek.

    If I may, Michael…you yourself stand before God and are known as you are. Whoever that is is not for me to say. But here on this blog, in my eyes, you never fail to bless. In that, I thank you, and to God be the glory!

  54. Just saw your response Father. Thank you. I will certainly get hold of a copy. Having your high recommendation, and your wife’s as well, I am confident it will give clarity to some of my thoughts. There are many.
    May God give me the grace to understand “that the truth of [male and female] is revealed in the other”, even though never married…and not a monastic!
    Your blessing, Father.

  55. Paula AZ,
    I am convinced that men will not be healthy unless women are healthy, and women will not be healthy unless men are healthy. That “health” cannot be defined merely in terms of “what suits my own private (or group) interests” but only in terms of our mutual interest.

    At the very time that women’s enrollment in colleges has soared, men’s have diminished to a very artificial low (just to give an example). Women doing well at the expense of men (and vice versa) is not a healthy strategy in the long-run for a culture. All of our relationships are necessarily complicated by the fact that we are biologically driven to need each other – and that need is as easily distorted as anything else in our lives. But the need cannot be abolished or managed merely at a convenient whim. It is probably the most complex aspect of our humanity, and therefore the most easily abused.

  56. Fr. Stephen,
    Seems we’ve moseyed down the trail a ways from the original topic. However, a question on marriage. I think I know the meaning of the martyr’s crowns in an Orthodox marriage…the laying down of one’s life for the other, the cutting off of one’s will often first the other’s sake, to mention just a couple. Yet, for me these 50+ years of marriage have not felt like martyrdom. I think had I been without a wife all this time, it truly would have seemed a life of martyrdom. In whatever state in which we find ourselves, do we not have to be in submission to someone or something as believers? If someone is “called” to the single life may they also feel this not martyric (or maybe one would)?

  57. Dean,
    In the healthiest of marriages, I think the martyrdom is so sweet that it feels like a privilege. It is a joy. I know that in my marriage, there have been some patches where my wife’s martyrdom on my behalf was not in the least pleasant or sweet – a gift that made my life possible in a way that would not have been otherwise possible. Overall, it has felt very uneven – I have been given ever so much more than I have given back – or so it seems to me.

    But, the married state is also an exemplar. It points to the nature of all human relationships. The single life also carries its own martyric character. Wherever there is love – there is the laying down of one’s life.

    In thinking about human situations – it is imperative that we remember that there is nothing within our human existence that is properly free from suffering. We cannot design such a world. So, the question is always about the nature of the suffering – when is it life-giving, etc.? That is the fatal flaw in all utopian thinking.

  58. Fr. Stephen,
    Thank you for your blessed response. It has been a sweet joy, and yes my wife has had to lay her life down for me much more than I for her. So much to be grateful for.

  59. Well said, Dean. I think Father’s post on marriage as martyrdom (I think that was the title) is one of the best short pieces I have read on marriage, but marriage does not “feel” like martyrdom at all.

    As Father and many hundreds of thousands – if not millions – of other writers throughout history have said, the relationship between men and women is probably the most complex – and confusing – thing in human existence. I would like to suggest, therefore, that there is no book – even Proverbs 31 – or writer who can explain it all.

    Talk about a mystery!

  60. David you are correct but He will reveal to each of us what we need if we ask in humility together.

  61. “Wherever there is love — there is the laying down of one’s life.”

    Indeed, this is true whether it be between husband and wife or of parents for their children. And I have seen that we can do this for each other, related or not.

    I have a memory of a man unknown to us, who extracted my family with his bare hands and a crowbar out of the wreckage of a terrible car accident. This was a horrible job that he took on for the sake of those dead (our parents) and still living (my brother and I). He seemed to be a man of very humble means. Before he came on the scene, others in their fancy cars drove past us. One could describe this man as the “Good Samaritan”. But he took on particularly gruesome and strenuous work. This is a memory of a man who had love in his heart, that I will never forget.

  62. Dee…Oh what a perfect example of selfless love. I can not even imagine how that day must have changed your life in so many ways, even throughout your life.
    The Good Samaritan…I think of an angel….and with his bare hands no less, removed your parents, already dead, How do you, and how did you, ever manage to get through that? I ask aloud Dee…I know your a private person…but I am amazed. I know you have shared this before, but today it is as if it was the first time I heard it.
    Really, it is as Father says. There is no love apart from suffering. Look at that man who came to your rescue…
    Thank you for this. It is helpful for me to know these concrete examples…my thinking gets narrow sometimes. Tired…

  63. Paula,
    Every moment in that scene after he arrived was touched with love. He brought me to a run-down shack across the road where a share-cropping family lived. They wrapped me in one of the few sheets they owned and it became saturated with my blood. Their teenager held fast to me and would not let me go until the ambulance finally arrived. Then there was the doctor who refused to leave my side after working well past his shift to take the metal and glass out of my body. And then there was the most kindly priest who gently asked if I wanted his prayers. In every moment love was expressed to me in one form or another. My brother also received similar caring treatment. We were given rooms across the hall from each other. The nun-nurses carried our verbal messages of love to each other.

  64. Wow Dee…that is just an amazing, amazing story. Through such a painful experience, being embraced by love, care and compassion from the very start…oh that family and the teenager! and all the others. It is as if our Great God sent out the special forces of the heavenly hosts to embrace and protect you and your brother. That’s ’cause He’s a good God and cares so much for you. But most of all, the most amazing thing is that you can express a remembrance of love in the midst of such a tragedy. That speaks volumes of a life deep with the love of God!! Thanks so much Dee…I won’t forget this story ever again.

  65. Everyone,
    Unless you sit in my chair and think about the blog as a whole (including what a stranger who stumbles into a conversation and reads it a year from now will think) it might be easy to misunderstand decisions I make when I’m trying to moderate things out of a problem. The conversation viz. male and female went down a direction that just got problematic, with a couple of comments that failed the kindness test – or were taken in the wrong way. It’s sometimes not so easy as to remove a single problematic comment – particularly if the remaining comments make no sense after it is removed. Hence, wholesale editing where an entire train of thought (even with lots of good things) has to be removed, just so that the comments are not left with lots of dangling pieces. I’m sorry when that happens. More than you know.

    I started moderating our conversation this morning, trying to keep my deletions to as few as possible (having been rebuked recently for removing too many). But, I see that it has not worked. So, forgive the large editing. Let’s all take a breath – and then use it to give thanks to God!

    My experience over 12 years of the blog is that without moderation from time to time, the passions would run amok and our only moderator would be the devil. He doesn’t care what we say (right or wrong) as long as saying it serves his end – which is our estrangement from God and each other.

    I deeply appreciate your patience with me and with each other – as we struggle to be faithful to God and one another. Every time we land back on our feet – the devil takes a hike. And that gives me great joy.

  66. Well the comments I’m going to reference are gone now. : )

    What I was about to say is this: Priests who foment polarization in their and others’ parishes along the lines of sensationalism, sex and politics as if it is a form of ‘mission’ will have particular “fruits” in their endeavors. Such activity uses the traditions to manipulate a populace already fractured by such modality in the media. There is no better way to achieve what amounts to opportunist goals than to couch them in the content of tradition. What our society sees as “success”, as we all know, (or should know) isn’t a mark of Christ or of the Holy Spirit.

    This society seems deeply entrenched in creating lines. To maintain such endeavor it is necessary to gloss over nuances and make strident separations. By saying that a priest upholds the ‘content’ of the tradition does not exonerate his activities. Here is an example for comparison on a different and well known area from the past: we have learned about ‘western captivity’ regarding the icons and theology. The content of the icons were still about Christ and gospel events, but the perspective changed. As the perspective changes, so does the understanding of the content.

    Dear and beloved Simon, the reason I was ok with leaving the comment and others who are supportive of priests who are so inclined to engage others in this way, was that it would show in ‘black and white’ relief the type of interactions the priest incites. Better that these are in the open than to keep such interactions hidden. But then I do appreciate your words, and Father removed the offender’s words.

    I am grateful to God for all things. This fracturing behavior among the priest(s), God will make for good. And as you say Fr Stephen, God gave us Bishops for a reason.

  67. BTW Because I’m not naming ‘the’ priest or priests, I will add one more sentence. I wouldn’t be here at all if I thought Fr Stephen was so engaged. I’ve got better things to do.

  68. Dee,
    An image that comes to my mind is that of medicine. The teaching of the Church, her sacraments, her canons, etc., are all intended as medicine for the soul – salvation is the soul’s healing. And so, the Church is called a hospital.

    Here is a canon every priest would do well to memorize. It is from the 5th-6th Council (called the Council in Trullo):

    Canon 102
    It behooves those who have received from God the power to loose and bind, to consider the quality of the sin and the readiness of the sinner for conversion, and to apply medicine suitable for the disease, lest if he is injudicious in each of these respects he should fail in regard to the healing of the sick man. For the disease of sin is not simple, but various and multiform, and it germinates many mischievous offshoots, from which much evil is diffused, and it proceeds further until it is checked by the power of the physician. Wherefore he who professes the science of spiritual medicine ought first of all to consider the disposition of him who has sinned, and to see whether he tends to health or (on the contrary) provokes to himself disease by his own behaviour, and to look how he can care for his manner of life during the interval. And if he does not resist the physician, and if the ulcer of the soul is increased by the application of the imposed medicaments, then let him mete out mercy to him according as he is worthy of it. For the whole account is between God and him to whom the pastoral rule has been delivered, to lead back the wandering sheep and to cure that which is wounded by the serpent; and that he may neither cast them down into the precipices of despair, nor loosen the bridle towards dissolution or contempt of life; but in some way or other, either by means of sternness and astringency, or by greater softness and mild medicines, to resist this sickness and exert himself for the healing of the ulcer, now examining the fruits of his repentance and wisely managing the man who is called to higher illumination. For we ought to know two things, to wit, the things which belong to strictness and those which belong to custom, and to follow the traditional form in the case of those who are not fitted for the highest things, as holy Basil teaches us.

    If the “medicine” of a teaching is provoking “allergic” reactions in the patient (for whatever reason), the answer isn’t to double the dose. The answer is to be wise. Our culture is deeply diseased and our souls are sick. The Church needs its priests to be wise physicians. It’s very hard and there are many temptations to get it wrong. May God have mercy on us and give us grace.

  69. I place full trust in your discernment, Fr. Stephen. I actually considered asking you to remove my comments because the entire conversation took a turn I was not expecting. Thank you. All is well.

  70. Thank you Fr Stephen. Indeed I believe it is quite difficult and I’m grateful for the word and works of healing priests as well. I wouldn’t be here without their ongoing and courageous help. Please God give us all grace for discernment and care toward one another.

  71. Esme,
    I enjoy your participation and I sincerely want to encourage your participation. But it is a little interesting and confusing to me that you didn’t expect the reaction to the author of your recommended readings here when you encountered it in your own parish. Did you think the commentators here were holier than your parish? : ) (I hope not! : ) ) We are just as broken and in need of healing as everyone else.

  72. Dee,
    Not answer for Esmee – but I heard her say, on reflection, that she should not have been surprised since she saw that same reaction in her parish. But, we often surprise ourselves –

    And we absolutely are no different than anyone, anywhere. I sort of thought that, had no one butted in, the conversation would have worked its way out to a mutual and helpful understanding – with amicability. However…

  73. Fr. Stephen, thank you for writing on this topic; your posts always cut straight to the heart of things and shine with wisdom. After I read the post again this morning (it is a habit of mine to re-read good writing on spiritual matters several times over a period of days or even weeks to allow my thoughts a chance to dwell there), I came across the following passage from Pseudo-Macarius that furthered my understanding:

    “Unless a person who is swayed by passions approach God by denying the world, and believe with hope and patience that he will receive something good, yet different from his own nature (namely, what is the power of the Holy Spirit), and unless the Lord drop down from above upon him divine life, such a one will never experience true life. He will never recover from the intoxication of materialism. The illumination of the the Spirit will never shine brightly upon his soul nor will it illumine him with a “holy day”. He will never be aroused from the deepest sleep of ignorance in order in this way truly to know God through God’s power and the efficacy of grace.
    “For unless a person is deemed worthy through faith to obtain grace, he is ineffective and unsuited for the Kingdom of God. But on the other hand, whoever has received the grace of the Spirit and does not in any way change his mind, or through negligence or wrongdoing resist grace, if he for some time strives not to grieve the Spirit, he will be able to become a participator of eternal life. Just as one is aware of the operations of evil from the very passions, I mean, by anger and concupiscence, envy and heaviness, by evil thoughts and absurdities, so also ought one to perceive grace and the power of God by the virtues, I mean, by love, kindness, goodness, joy, simplicity, and divine gladness so as to become like to and mingled with the good and divine nature, with the kind and holy efficacy of grace.

    “Indeed, a person’s free choice is tested by progress and growth in time and according to opportunity to see whether a person is always united with grace and found pleasing. He gradually comes to be totally one with the Spirit and thus is rendered holy and pure by the Spirit, made fit for the kingdom. ”

    There is so much wisdom in this small passage! By it, we are encouraged to:
    ⦁ seek God always in every matter and turn our hearts in every moment to the Spirit like sails to the wind
    ⦁ pursue virtue and not give sway to passions
    ⦁ become so like Christ that our souls mingle with the holy efficacy of grace (i.e. live with our hearts opened to God and our hands opened to others)
    ⦁ use everything God gives us for love, for kindness, for goodness, joy, simplicity, and divine gladness

    This morning I was thinking about what a gift it is to fill our homes with light, joy, kindness, and peace, and to dispel heaviness, negativity, complaining, and gloom. We can ease the burdens of our neighbors with the light of our smiles, our peace, courtesy, friendship, and our material “goods”–but not by ourselves, only through and with the Spirit.

    In 2015, in the space of a few months, my husband lost his job after thrity-two years with the same company (we have five children); my oldest daugther became desperately ill with an unknown disease that required frequent hospitalizations; my mother was diagnosed with a rare and aggressive form of breast cancer right after Thanksgiving, a man at my church began stalking me (so that I could no longer attend there), and my husband’s brother died unexectedly the week before Christmas. We live in a different state from our extended families, and all of this felt like…well, I was very afraid of what was happening, but feelings are just feelings, aren’t they? The truth is that God is with us always. I had to open my hands and my heart and let go of everything else in order to cling to God.

    My children and I prayed to St. Andrew for my mother’s healing from November thirtieth through December twenty-fourth, and when the surgeon operated early in January, she was stunned to discover that there was nothing there: the tumor was gone. Prior to the surgery there had been many scans and imaging that clearly showed the tumor, right up to the morning of the operation when an ultrasound was done to mark the tumor. The surgeon had never expereienced anything like it in her career. “It is a miracle,” is what she said.

    In a season of difficulties and losses, we were given amazing grace–Alleluia! In that miracle, all of my earthly concerns and doubts were utterly transformed. What followed has been three years of hardship and more joy and peace than I have ever known. And also more sorrow than I have ever known.

    What I have learned about worldly goods–and money –is that they are meaningless. Their worth comes only from their distribution and use. In other words, money comes and goes. At least it should.
    But, I read on OXFAM that just eight men hold the same wealth as half of all the people in the world: https://www.oxfam.org/en/pressroom/pressreleases/2017-01-16/just-8-men-own-same-wealth-half-world.

  74. Father, thank you so much for sharing one the canons from one of the councils. I have read much about the councils, but I have never before read anything that was written by a council. Can you recommend a good resource for further investigation of councilar documents? I hesitate to approach the documents themselves without the assistance of some learned commentary.

  75. Fr. Freeman,

    Your post leaves me perplexed for at least three reasons that I would like to share for discussion and feed back

    1. The classic book “Democracy in America” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Democracy_in_America,
    is widely regarded as the finest description of the American experiment (and its middle class). According to its author Alexis De Tocqueville (I am paraphrasing), “The American citizens are in a secret war with each other” Why? Tocqueville continues “In monarchist France birth determines ones position in life. If you are born an aristocrat, your family and associates are aristocratic and you stay were you are. Likewise if are born a baker, you stay a baker. When the baker and the aristocrat meet, everybody knows where they stand and the aristocrat has some responsibility for the welfare of the baker. Not so in America where money not birth is the determinant of position in society. So the baker could become richer than the aristocrat and their positions can flip. An neither has any responsibility for the financial welfare of the other.”

    Money in monarchist France (or monarchist England during the industrial revolution) had a different meaning to money in America and a different meaning to money in communist countries. To take an example from geometry, in Euclidian geometry a triangle has a sum of angles of 180 degrees whereas in Lobachevskian geometry there are also triangles but their angles do not sum up to 180. So triangles have different meaning depending on the geometry they reside in. What was the meaning of money during the Roman empire in the time of Christ and how do our Lord’s words apply to us in America today?
    St. Clement of Alexandria lived in a different socio political time (Euclidian geometry) and his words that wealth is a “dangerous and deadly disease” perhaps have a different meaning to our time ( Lobachevskian geometry). Perhaps money is still a disease but the way we catch this disease is different in our time in America.

    2. ” Historically, the most significant group to maintain some semblance of sanity (outside of the poor)”
    The exoltation of the poor perplexes me. For one thing, we are in America, the time of Lazarus is different. There are no Lazaruses in America. In America there is electricity, automobiles, telephones and food banks. If somebody is down and out an ambulance is minutes away to drive them to a hightech hospital and after they are sent to a food bank to eat and sleep and subsequently recieve welfare checks and government housing. A different reason is Hagia Sofia in Istambul (Constantinople). This awe-inspiring structure was not built by the poor. It was built by two mathematicians who came from prominent wealthy families. The poor could never build such a structure (well they can be directed where to lay the bricks). But maybe the poor are more spiritual, more sane. Maybe such structures show the excess and decadence of wealth and it is better if everybody lives in huts and (as the Taliban believes) tear down and destroy Hagia Sofia?

    3. Electricity (for use by the common man), automobiles, computers, the internet, the largest middle class in the world all came to life in America. The very existance of this blog is to some part due to the America’s middle class.

  76. Ted, good questions. I’ll take a stab at answering, or at least clarifying my thoughts and intentions.

    1. The Middle Class probably got its first large boost in England and Scotland – it was exported to the colonies. The Middle Class largely financed the enterprise through markets such as tobacco. I would suggest reading, How the Scots Invented the Modern World, for a good look at the Enlightenment in Scotland and England and their progeny, America.

    Spiritual realities do not change with time and culture – the soul of human beings is a universal phenomenon. That said, our context is certainly different. The question then would be, “What is it about wealth that St. Clement considered a dangerous disease.” I think that I have answered that to a certain extent in the article – though it could be developed ever so much further. It is, essentially, the false understanding that we, in fact, are in charge of the world and manage it. That the outcome of history is ours to command. It is difficult in the modern American Middle Class not to think this – just as it might have been for the wealthy in the time of St. Clement.

    2. Reductio ad absurdum. To invoke the Taliban is cheap rhetoric. I live (and have always lived) somewhere within the Middle Class. I look after Middle Class souls for the large part. I see the disease described by St. Clement at work within us. I observe and make suggestions. I’m not trying to reform the economy or remake America. I’m telling my brother and sister Christians about a mortal danger.

    Hagia Sophia was not built by two men. They need not have been wealthy – only trained. It’s a fine structure – though often serves as an idol in the minds of many distracted Orthodox. Many care more about the building than the spiritual content that may once have filled it.

    I have not suggested the abolition of the Middle Class or the destruction of science, technology, etc. But all of those things also come with their warnings. Our wealthy, Middle Class culture is sick to its very core. It will collapse in an ugly manner if the sickness is not attended to. But that part of history is in the hands of God. I pray for His mercy.

    The greatness of a culture and its people cannot be measured in their wealth or skill, much less their empire. It is a greatness of soul. I would measure that by the commandments of Christ. There are many, many Lazaruses in America. Mother Theresa thought we were in far, far worse danger than the poor of Calcutta.

  77. Father Stephen, I dont know if you might even have been writing in the light of David Hart’s “New Testament Translation”, but regardless I recommend it. I have been a little disappointed with what I would call “nit-picky” and “ideologically driven” criticisms it has received, even from Orthodox. His translation has done a great service to English speakers: we can read something very near in certain respects to the feel of the Greek New Testament.
    As my priest observed (we’re studying it together as a small group), this translation renders the ‘spiritual truths’ in brighter and starker colours.
    Germane to this conversation, Hart himself was moved by the stark opposition to wealth as an “intrinsic” danger. I too am so moved. I certianly think Sue’s point about the concentration of wealth in very few needs to be known (and what this means for public systems influenced/controled by these wealthy interests). However I also think as contemporary North Americans, we really miss the impact of the gospel vis. wealth if we think of “other people” as rich (eg. the super rich, or millionairs, etc.). The truth is that I am the rich , even though my family lives technically below the poverty line. It is my own’ average’ soul that has forgotten God, not “those” rich (by N.A. standards) over there.

    One more suggestion, especially for Americans who dont realize how strongly culture can dictate as what “clearly” seems important or essential to the faith: have a listen to this podcast (from a perspective outside American assumptions) on “Secular worries”:
    https://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/monkseyes/secular_worries
    I am a Canadian Orthodox who attends to no news (i.e. I’m always out of the loop). The absolute tragedy of sexual and gender confusion seems to me just a recent symptom of long established societal unrepentence. We do better as Christians, I think, to bear this as our sin and repent in hope for God’s secret plan rather than noisy complaint in the ‘culture wars’. We are members of the eternal Kingdom, not citizens of this world.

    Peace;
    -Mark Basil

  78. Fr Stephen,
    I will confirm that there are indeed Lazarus’s in America if you know where to look.

    Dear sister in Christ, Esme,
    Please pray for me also.

  79. Ted – I am a “Lazarus.” I have an illness which prevents me from working. I have been on government disability since 2005. I receive less that $1000/mo in assistance in Northern California where that is the cost of a 1 bedroom apartment. There is a 5-10 year waiting list for a Section 8 voucher for government housing assistance. I am only 3 years into that wait. I have lived in a vehicle twice for 2 years each time because I cannot afford housing. I was graciously given refuge at an Orthodox Monastery for a year. I have received help from my local parish as needed. The small city where I live has thousands of homeless people, many of whom are mentally ill and unable to function normally in this world. Two-thirds of all 911 calls in my city come from the homeless. The homeless fill our city parks during the daylight hours. There is no shortages of Lazarus’s here who need help and, thus, no shortage of opportunities for faithful and caring Christians to provide that help if they so desire.

  80. Mark Basil and Esmee,
    Thank you both for your recent contributions via your comments. Both have given me pause to reflect deeper into what truly is poverty and what truly are riches. God bless both of you as you attempt to live out the truth of the gospel in your own particular context.

  81. Fr. Stephen,

    Thank you for your reply. If I may ask/comment further,

    “It is, essentially, the false understanding that we, in fact, are in charge of the world and manage it. That the outcome of history is ours to command.”
    How does the above relate to the concept of synergy, free will, determination and tilling the soil? I do not know Christopher Columbus but I imagine he must have had determination that there will be land if the boat keeps on going through the endless ocean. I have not heard any accounts of an Angel coming to Columbus and directing his path. My understanding is that by all acounts Columbus believed that there is land and he took it upon himself to reach it. He must have know he is doing something unprecedented that could alter history and he did it. (But I suppose each of us alters history every day by our actions and interactions with others and the environment around us yet our impact is on the micro level.)
    When (God willing) I wake up in the morning and plan my day, there is no Angel that comes to me (maye for other, although I have never heard of this from people I know) and tells me what to do, where to go, to whom and how to speak. I do this with the determination that I will earn enough money to buy a car. After a year my goal is achieved. If I just sat in my appartment and waited for and Angel to come and tell me what to do, I doubt I would have bought a car. (As a matter of fact I have tried just that but after a week, there is no sign, the food is gone and I am very hungry, so I go out on my own to manage my world without any signs or instructions).
    Another aspect of Columbus is that he was sponsored by the Spanish crown and the land that he discovered did not belong to him. Whereas Joel Myers has sole possesion of a modern oracle, namely the algorithms that run accuweather https://www.accuweather.com/ Being able to forecast the weather on the earth more accurately than his fellow men would have surely made Pythia jelous. Money in America (not in China or Russia or India) allows a person to be like Joel Myers, the possesor of the fruit of ones own labour and not like Columbus (even if he had money (unlikely without Royal connection) he would most likely not be allowed to sail and posses land in America and then still have support from the Spanish government.)

    “There are many, many Lazaruses in America.”
    If I may, in my view that is not a physically accurate statement. The feces covered drugged up people in places like downtown San Francisco are no Lazarus and I (although I had a good job and wore an expensive suite) am not the rich man as I was passing by them (I was afraid of being attacked by them).
    In my view there are many, many sick, poor people in America that need help but their sickness in not the same as the poor in India or as in Lazarus and to characterize them as such is missdiagnosis and being out of touch.

    p.s.
    As a mathematician, I am used to using reductio ad absurdum and directness in writing. Please excuse me, my sole intention is to get a point across in a clear manner.

  82. Ted,
    Your comment was directed to Fr Stephen and there is no reason, I suppose, to respond to my comment here. Out of curiosity, did you miss what Esme wrote?

    Are you attempting to critique Fr Stephen’s article from the standpoint of your personal philosophy rather than from a Christian view? I’m not ascribing anything but trying to make sense of your response.

    Also your derogatory description of the poor in the US (you mentioned your context in San Francisco) was more than facetious, it seems contemptuous. Am I misreading your comment?

    I don’t think Fr Stephen’s article is expressing some form of sentiment, but is it your intention in your description about angelic intervention suggesting this?

    I apologize if I’m misunderstood you.

  83. Esmée La Fleur,

    I will say a prayer for you and your illness.
    If I may, in my understanding Lazarus had no telephone to call 911 and no Church to assist him. Lazarus was completely on his own, the State and the Church were not there to help him. Lazarus was not mentally ill. In my view (base on human physiology) to be on ones own in Lazaruses situation is to be in mortal danger every minute of the day.
    The fact that there are mentally ill people lying on the streets is (in my view) failure of Government. A government that has trilions of dollars in its pockets. A government that approves medications/foods which harm people.
    In my view, your situation is different.

  84. Ted,
    When I say that the outcome of history is in the hands of God, I do not mean that our actions are order by angels or some such thing. Rather, it is to say that right-living (for a Christian) consists in keeping the commandments of Christ and, for the larger part, leaving the outcome of history to the hands of God’s providence. Modernity, and its Enlightenment secularism – holds that there is no providence, and that the world is only what we make of it. It embraces various versions of Utilitarianism, and believes that it is the task of human beings to make the world a better place. Its various measurements seem to do a good job of self-justification, and do a wonderful job of ignoring much else.

    I believe that modernity is inherently violent – in that the only way to make history behave the way we want it to is to force it. The US has only had 17 years in its entire history in which it was not at war, all of which we do in the name of some self-defined good.

    For a Christian, Christ is the very definition and incarnation of the Good. His commandments direct us towards that same good.

    I am not here discussing how to make a better America, how to rearrange the economy, etc. That’s a modern trap that I don’t care to enter. It is the wrong set of questions. The right questions are found in the commandments of Christ: love of enemy, generosity, kindness, forgiveness, etc., those alone address the human heart. Economies and such are not a proper tool of measurement – they are not the proper goals of life.

  85. Ted,
    It seems to me, in your response to Esmee, that you are laboring under some kind of literalism, unable to grasp the “Lazarus-like” quality of what Esmee is describing. That the government should do something different is, no doubt, true. But, even if it is so, it does not absolve me of anything. It really doesn’t matter what the government does or doesn’t do – to be a Christian is the same regardless – everywhere. The Orthodox faith has, for most of its life, suffered under persecutions and governments that were fairly wicked in their own way. None of that changes who we are or what we should do.

  86. Also forgive me for misspelling your name, Esmee! I want to write the accent too. Is there a way in this textbox? What are the key strokes?

  87. Ted – By the merciful grace of God, I have come to understand that the “the feces covered drugged up people” in my town are Lazarus and I am the rich man. As a result, the parable scares the hell out of me. Another result is that I now talk to Lazarus, in his many incarnations, and share a shamefully small portion of my wealth with him. I cannot begin to describe what a joy this has been for me. I have gotten to know many wonderful people. The experience has also brought me closer to Jesus, just as He said it would. I pray the He will give you the same joy that He has given me.

  88. Dee of St Hermans,

    “Out of curiosity, did you miss what Esme wrote?”
    Yes sir, I did.

    “Are you attempting to critique Fr Stephen’s article from the standpoint of your personal philosophy rather than from a Christian view?”
    I would like to further my understanding how I should view life and live life in America from an Orthodox Christian view point.

    Regarding the homeless, walking by them I have felt a range of emotions. Where am I? Who am I? Who are they? Initially I have tried to help only to be met with bizzare reactions (they were mentally ill and or under the influence) and the possibility of violence, police presence and false accusations. They were people, my fellow human beings but they were agresive beligerent and decieving liars. Also they were not hungry the government fed them. This is not derogatory, these are facts I observed

  89. Ted,
    Lazarus and the Rich Man are a parable, not an historical case history. Lazarus can be found in many forms and situations. If the homeless is not where you find him, then pray that Christ will help you see him somewhere – or even to find where he lives in you. And then do for the Lazarus He gives you what you can. And may God bless it.

  90. Ted, A word of wisdom from my mother who was a dancer trained by Martha Graham. “In performance sometime you will fall. The question is whether you fall and just fall, or fall and pick dasies.”. All the talent, training and practice will fail.

    We each have different gifts and talents and we use them well or use them ill, but in and of themselves they end up in the dust as we do. Only by recognizing the source of the life we share due to Christ’s Incarnation and giving thanksgiving to God for what we are given and the fruit produced is anything fulfilled and completed. That only comes by embracing the Cross.

    We do not need to change anything, the victory has been won. We just need to learn to participate in it. What ever small fruits we produce will rot and become poisonous if we do not learn to offer all in thanksgiving.

    History is not linear nor dialectical nor controllable. History is Providential, a gift and a miracle story of death and Ressurection.

  91. Thank you Ted, I believe I have a better understanding now.

    Fr Stephen writes a poignant response to you that I will take to heart (and because of your participation I have benefited, and for that I’m grateful) –to find Lazarus in my own heart. Indeed I know I do have an impoverished heart. And I know what I need to do to ‘give to it’. But I don’t always do what I know to do. May God help us.

  92. I just wanted to say that I understand Fr Stephen’s concern for the content of blog’s comments. He has an international readership and it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that although he has a large of stable, maturing followers that what he is doing is much more broadly visible than that. His concern for what is healthy dialogue is legitimate. In addition, if I was Fr Stephen, I wouldn’t want my blog to become the dialogical equivalent of a WWE main event.

    I have learned much from the people here in terms of who I am, what I am willing to believe, and what I am willing to share with my son. Fr Stephen once told me that baptizing my son while my wife and I were still very divided religiously over how to raise him would be unwise. He described a strongly religiously divided home as schizophenic. I began to see that. I began to see how that vast difference could actually make my son schizophrenic with respect to religion. He was right. The divide is just too great for a child’s mind to bridge. So I quit taking Micah to worship. I didn’t want him being tortured by the same kinds of questions that have tormented me. Im glad he isnt baptized. It was smart. Then I quit coming to worship. Now I feel like I am waking up from a dream.

    I have been watching from afar and I want to confess to everyone that I tried. I really gave my heart to this. But in the end there is nothing here that has filled the void, there has been no healing. No voice has been heard. As always…I am alone.

    Paula I think you are the coolest of the cool beans. And I wish you the best.

  93. Simon,
    The wounds which you carry, I think, stand between you and a lot of what you desire, and those wounds do not respond very easily to what might seem a desired solution: “If I find the right Church/God, I will be healed.” I think the healing will require therapeutic attention, or therapy of a sort that is generally beyond the reach of a parish priest (certainly this one). I think it’s ever so much worth the effort and the work it requires – whether it leads to a resolution with God or not.

    My prayers are with you daily, weak as they are. My door and the door of the Church remain open – always.

    I know that you feel alone – you are not.

  94. Ted,
    Thinking about “further my understanding of how I should view life and live in America, etc.”

    I encourage you to read Fr. Thomas Hopko’s “55 Maxims.” They are a collection of very practical things that are the embodiment of the commandments of Christ.

    Christ says in John’s gospel: “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free. (Jn. 8:31-32 NKJ)

    Most people quote the second part of that without the preface. We will come to know the truth as an outcome of “abiding in His word,” that is, by walking in His commandments – do what He asked us to do. The way reveals the way.

  95. Im not wounded. I dont need therapy. I have intense personality that many find offputting and that’s fine. Not everyone needs to fit within the first standard deviation of the mean. I like achievement. I like the feel of being consumed by purpose. But to be that person means you’re going to have a less than laid back personality. The healing I seek is not from childhood trauma. What difference does anything at all make without life? The disease for which I once sought a cure is the same disease for which I first began seeking a cure back 1980–disconnection.

    I don’t know when I first became aware of alienation. But my first articulation of something like that was when I was eight or nine years old. For most of my life I have been aware of how alone we are inside our minds. Even as a child I never EVER sought to heal that alienation with anything other than prayer. I remember the first time existence itself felt miraculous–we are alive and we aware.

    For over thirty years I have sought connection. I have sought for wisdom and understanding. I have sought for truth. I have sought for God.

    As a child I thought that my heart had been gouged by God and that the gouge was getting deeper. But there is no God for that gouge. The desire for God even the desire for salvation and enlightenment is the desire for the deepest imaginable connection.

    Orthodoxy is beautiful in so many ways. But, so is a sunset and sunsets dont exist, not really. They are an experience of EM perceived from a certain point of view. Orthodoxy is like our sunsets: Beautiful, but there is no one who is dwelling in the setting of the sun. It’s just us.

    I have spent hours and hours in prayer seeking God’s face, seeking for the connection that we all long for, ‘but there was no voice; no one answered, no one paid attention.’

  96. Simon,
    Reading what you wrote made my heart ache. You remind me of a couple of verses in Psalm 102. “I have become like a pelican of the wilderness, like an owl in the desert…I am like a lonely bird of the housetop.” 6,7
    After describing this person and his desolation it goes on to a praise of God. Looking at myself…despair. Looking to God…glimmers of hope/peace. My prayers are for you, Simon, your little son and for your wife. I still see you as a brother.

  97. Simon,
    I think I might have some experience of what you mention.
    They say ‘once bitten, twice shy’, but in prayer terms, this mustn’t ever be applied as: once seeking and not finding, blaming God’s apparent silence/deafness…
    Rather, it is applied like this: I stop having an internal demand from God to answer, as and when my soul might want it (“always and fully” our souls would normally respond…).
    This very demand, is the best footing for the serpent to be heeded by a poor soul, and the Fall to follow.
    Man wants communion with God above all, the serpent uses precisely that, but makes of this God-given desire, an apparatus towards perdition, he turns a God-given desire into a selfish demand and then (by suggesting a different method to the one God suggests – a seemingly faster one) helps man interpret paradisial Eden (pregnant with God’s presence) as some sort of cursed Hell (bereft of Him and heaving with man’s lonely ego.)
    So, in prayer terms, once seeking and not finding, accept that God might not give in to you, maybe not even until after your death, for reasons that only He knows are to your benefit. [Acceptance in this sense, at times, is the quintessence of St Silouans’ “Keep thy mind in hell and despair not” as well as Chrysostom’s “Glory to God for all things”]. Keep this utter trust of acceptance, and put all effort into this strand of humility. In fact, have this demand instead: a demand of yourself and nobody else, a demand to make yourself seen by God at all times, a demand to “do your part”, to present yourself to Him, and not demand Him to present Himself to you.
    These are the sort of words I had received from holy men on this. I hope you find some use for them brother.

  98. Dino, you have revealed more of myself to me than perhaps anyone else on the blog. I do not love God. And the corollary to that is I do not know God. And the corollary to that is God is not present to me. And there is probably a very good reason why all of that is true. Dare I say that it’s almost as if God isn’t there??

    I thought in the beginning that perhaps what was missing was baptism and the sacraments. Its not. It’s just me doing things for whatever reason it is that I’m doing it. That’s the truth of it. We do things for reasons we barely understand. It’s easy to equivocate between the idea of mystery and our own.

    Please I hope you know that I had hoped for better.

  99. Father, Simon,…
    Although Father has the wisdom to detect where a problem is and what would help (after many years as a parish Priest, and a compassionate one), forgive me, but I don’t think there is a therapist on the face of this earth right now that would be able to connect to you, Simon. You’d run circles around them. I’m trying to picture…where would you begin to find therapy? Looking in the phone book…or go to the nearest clinic? Not in my world.
    Simon. I understand the “alone”. This is the crux of the matter. While others (not talking clergy here) lovingly give advice, what it really is, is them affirming their own convictions, hoping with all sincerity that it will help you. But when alone, all you want affirmation of yourself…not to hear what someone thinks you need. Sometimes best is silence.

    You know all too well the wounds.

    I also understand where Father says we are not alone. But something has to happen in the soul where you know you are not alone. I honestly do not think I am going to “know” this before the Lord takes me. Perhaps the same with you.
    I can only declare that it is Christ Himself that is the reason I keep on going…not Orthodoxy, nor even other people (I have yet to truly “commune” with another human being), but Christ Himself. And it was to be that I realized this through the Church. Really there is no final chapter in life, like an ending of a book. Simon. You will carry that Cross to the end of your days. If not before, it will be then when you will see The Lord.

  100. Simon— You said, “Im not wounded. I dont need therapy. I have intense personality that many find offputting and that’s fine.” My heart goes out to you in empathy, brother. I am a Christian, but the part of me that is not yet converted is positively an existential nihilist. 🙂 It’s an interesting set of ears to live between.

    Have you ever read about the work of Kazimierz Dabrowski? He was a brilliant Polish psychologist who developed a theory of personality development called the Theory of Positive Disintegration. In it, he posits that what we experience as psychoneuroses (depression, anxiety, unhappiness, distress, etc.) need not be viewed as pathological. Our psychoneuroses are the results of different levels of development of our personality coming into conflict with one another (cognitive dissonance– both can’t be true!). He also wrote a lot about intensity in personality and what he called “over-excitabilities” and “factors” of personality. Unlike many psychological theories which end up viewing intrapersonal religious conflict as just another psychoneurosis to be cured from, TPD validates everything you are experiencing as an essential part of your growth that need not frighten or dismay you.

    I, too, know how alienating it can be when people in society react to my intensity as if it’s something that should be fixed. Learning about the work of Dabrowski gave me an extremely useful model that has reaped enormous benefits for my mental life and my spiritual life. The model of TPD allows me to exist within the tension of nihilism and Christ with patience, and even sometimes joy and thanksgiving. 🙂

    Also, I’ve grown up rather intimately right alongside a community of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Some of them were among the few in the community who made the loving gesture of attending my mom’s funeral. I don’t claim to understand it, but I have observed over the years that being raised JW creates a particular set of spiritual burdens that are nearly unrivaled in their intensity.

    I can’t tell from your comments, but I really hope you aren’t leaving the gtg4at comment box community! I have been challenged by and learned much from your contributions.

  101. Simon…I do understand. There are actually others that do too! Like Tess.
    Tess….thanks so much. You do get it. Dabrowski…never heard of him. I’ll check it out.

  102. Tess
    The little I remember reading of Kazimierz Dąbrowski felt right. I have no idea whether his insights were always compatible with our tradition but at least they weren’t obviously opposed in any way.

    Simon
    I would dare say that none of us loves God. And the more aware we are of that, the closer we are to becoming the kind of vessels that will be filled with the Grace that (alone) can bestow the power of loving God as our God, instead of (the default position of fallen man) loving our ego as our god.

  103. Yes, Simon, I remembered from your previous comments. Your struggle has always resonated with me and recalled to me different friendships I’ve had over the years. I wish I knew what to do or say that would truly offer you relief and resolution.

    Dino– While Dabrowski is, of course, human and prone to failings, I’ve found his insights to be very compatible with the Orthodox view of theosis, just couched in more modern psychological language, rather than ancient theological language. 🙂 For that reason, he can be very helpful when hagiographic language becomes a barrier.

    Paula, I do hope you can get your hands on some good material, and that you benefit from it! There are more free resources on the web today than there were ten years ago, but there are also a few books published by his students that pop up when you search for him. I’ve enjoyed and learned from those I’ve read, but they are meaty and use some technical language, so that can be a hurdle.

  104. Dino,
    Is it not right to say that none of us loves God completely or perfectly? I certainly do not. Our Lord Christ Jesus said, “If you love me you will keep my commandments.” I fail to keep them in many ways but I strive to. St. John in his 1st. epistle notes, “…if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.” And just one more of many that could be named. Jn.17:26, Jesus is praying to the Father…”I made known to them Thy name, and I will make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.” Jesus is asking His Father that the very love by which He has loved His Son Jesus may be in us. That’s truly amazing! The question I have for you Dino is…knowing the tradition as you do, bounce off for me these verses that I’ve quoted with teachings of the elders you’ve known. Thanks.

  105. Dear All,
    I see that the previous conversation was replaced by a much more beautiful one. Thank God (and Father Stephen for moderating – although many things you said Father, trying to calm things down, were very beautiful and worthy of remaining, especially the part about asking our own heart to direct us – I wish I saved that one! ) 🙂

    I don’t have time to read everything in detail, but look froward to doing it later.

    I just wanted to share something that got deleted, I think, in relationship to “Lazarus” in our midst…
    And repeat my thanks to you, Tess (hopefully you will see it), for the suggestion to carry cash to give to the poor (it looks like that comment remained, but you may not have seen it).

    This is how Mother Melania commented recently, I found that reflection helpful and beautiful. May we all be granted generosity towards those we can help.

    https://www.holyassumptionmonastery.com/files/Newsletters-2018/Calistoga-Newsletter—September-2018.pdf

  106. The homily of Elder Aimilianos I just referenced above does that much better than I ever could Dean! Check it out.!

  107. Agata,
    It’s kind of you to remember my comments! ☺ I’m quite sure, though, that that one wasn’t an original thought. I think I was just repeating some of Father Stephen’s advice– a piece that I continue to struggle to keep. When I have implemented it, it has changed my life for the better every time. Glory to God!

  108. Tess,
    I’ve been reading at the Positive Disintegration website and further, a long excerpt from a book at googlebooks written by one of his students. I am finding it very encouraging.
    You mentioned some books written by his students. Would you give me a recommendation or two? My background in Psychology and Nursing may be of help with the meatiness you made note of!
    Thanks so much.

  109. Simon,
    My heart aches regarding your circumstances. In many respects my life is similar. But I hadn’t had the infusion in another church as you have had, if infusion is the right word. I can only surmise it must be additionally more difficult. But I’m also aware how difficult it is not to have a spouse who joins you in the Church or in your religious life. This too has been my life since I have joined the Church. There is indeed a kind of schizophrenia of the heart. I love my husband very much, and my child is now grown and there too with both is also a heart ache of not being able to share my life experience in the Church. I share and talk about it but there is a gulf present in the conversation. It was most difficult in the beginning when I first joined the Church. Slowly my husband has become accustomed to the icons and morning prayers. Now he wakes me if I’ve over slept and will be late for Church. The tides apparently do change, but ever slowly.

    My hope is that you stay with us here. I’m ever grateful for your participation, dear brother Simon.

  110. Last evening I listened to the podcast , “Secular Worries” by Fr. Serafina Aldea, linked by Mark Basil. It was so good–excellent in every way. I plan to share it with my family. Thank you so much for linking it, Mark.

    Also, I have really appreciated the conversation between Simon, Fr. Stephen, Paula, and everyone else. I am grateful to Fr. Stephen for providing a safe, welcoming, space for us to discuss matters of faith, share our individual experiences, and ask hard questions. Fr. Stephen, you are a very gracious host and moderator. Thank you, too, for linking Fr. Hopko’s 55 Maxims. I’ve printed them off and prayerfully circled the ones I struggle with most.

    Simon, I have been thinking of you and what you wrote all day. I hope so much that you will continue to comment here. Your perspective has shone a light into some of the dark areas of my heart. I think many of us have similar struggles but just haven’t voiced them as openly and humbly as you have.

    As far back as I can remember, I have felt an inner (and sometimes outer) alienation/separation/ disconnection from others. I think maybe we begin to lose our sense of connectedness the moment we leave the security of our mother’s womb and our cord is literally cut. I remember feeling as a young child that no one really knew me and understood me–or could know me. Those feelings grew to a crescendo when I was in my mid-thirties. By then I had spent a lot of time searching for God and trying to connect through Bible study, various churches, etc. I longed for a sense of God’s presence and connection.

    I wanted.

    And I still do.

    A person much wiser than me said, “We want completeness of self, and so we go in search of that completeness. Although believing in God leads to completeness of self in the end, we don’t (necessarily) get to feel that on earth, otherwise what is “faith” then?”

    The same person said, “feelings are involuntary responses to your experience through life. If someone says a nice thing to you, you tend to feel happy or glad, not because you want to feel that way, but because it’s just the way your body/emotions respond. Same thing if someone starts to yell at you, you start to feel angry, maybe sad, and even defensive not because you tell yourself ‘this person is mad at me, I’m also gonna be angry’ it’s because it’s a natural response to being yelled at. So this emptiness or hole that a person *feels*–everyone feels that way. It is natural to being human.”

    (That person, by the way, is my seventeen year old daughter.)

    My desire to feel closeness (connection) with God is really the same as any of my other self-desires. I may think it is different because it has to do with God, but it is still something I want in order to feel better–more comfortable in myself and in the world. In letting go of my attachment to this desire (a long, ongoing process!) I, ironically, begin to feel my alienation less.

    While I know that Christian tradition focuses on the metephor of disease and healing, sometimes it gets in the way for me. Especially since, all of us still get physically sick and die. So what changes when one becomes a Christian? Nothing. Everything. Christ is the difference between standing in a room in the middle of the night and standing in it in the morning. The room doesn’t change at all, but your view of it has changed completely. And, so everything has changed, because now you see. But that doesn’t mean we still won’t shout when we stub our toe or that we will suddenly feel a deep and meaningful connection to All Things. It just means that we see–begin to see–how things really are.

    What I love about Christ’s twelve apostles is how different they are–twelve different personalities. We need everyone in order to see more and more clearly.

  111. That’s a very apt image Sue. It reminds me of CS Lewis’ expression that our faith is like the sun, not so much because you see it but because, by it, you start to see everything.

  112. “My desire to feel closeness (connection) with God is really the same as any of my other self-desires. I may think it is different because it has to do with God, but it is still something I want in order to feel better –more comfortable in myself and in the world. In letting go of my attachment to this desire (a long, ongoing process!) I, ironically, begin to feel my alienation less.”

    Well now Sue…that got my attention. Would you please explain “letting go of my attachment”? I assume you speak of an unhealthy attachment. What did you begin to do?

  113. Hi Paula,

    I was attached to a false idea of how God should be. I needed to let go of my desire for God’s presence to feel a certain way to me–the way I imagined it should feel. MY way. Full rather than empty. Connected rather than alienated.

    Anything we place above God is an idol or heart attachment. Jesus tells us over and over that God will provide everything we need in this life and the next–that we are not to worry about anything, but rather trust in our Father.

    Perhaps our biggest attachments in life are our own plans for how things should be for us and for our loved ones. It is a hard thing to accept, but this can even be the case in spiritual matters. Some of my favorite Catholic saints have spoken eloquently about this (I’m sure there are many Orthodox saints that have, too, but I am just beginning to learn about them).

    You asked me how I began to let go of my attachment. Letting go was (and continues to be) a process. For me it began with consciously simplifying my faith: closing many books–spiritual books–because they were hurting/discouraging me rather than helping me; shutting out many voices that talked about a God who granted wishes rather than one to be approached in humility, gratitude, and love; and making a disciplined effort to “get out of my own head” by engaging my mind (training my thoughts) in other ways. Praying the Psalms and other scriptures has slowly become more important to me than praying from my own faulty voice and selfish concerns. As St. Therese of Lisieux wrote:
    “When I read some spiritual treatises which show perfection as difficult to attain and liable to many illusions, my poor little spirit tires very quickly; I shut the learned book which is giving me a headache and drying up my heart, and I open the Holy Scriptures. Then everything seems clear: one word opens up infinite horizons, perfection seems easy. I see that it is sufficient to acknowledge one’s nothingness and to abandon oneself like a child to God’s arms.”

    But we must understand that abandoning oneself to God’s arms is not a “feeling”, it is a fiat. It is not the feeling that you are close to God that makes you close to God; it is your prayers and your actions which truly show your love for God, and where the deepest connection to Him can be found. This is what the Church has always taught, and what we must believe.

  114. Sue – In the beautiful biography of Mother Gavrilia, “The Ascetic of Love,” she states that when we decide to stop reading everything EXCEPT the Gospels, that is the day we will begin to make real spiritual progress. For someone who is a voracious reader of “learned” books, I must say that this got my attention and made a real impression on me.

  115. Sue,
    Thanks so much for thorough answers my questions!

    Avoid attachments, yes…to ideas, or I would say, expecting “results” from God such as “feeling better” or improvement of circumstances, when He is already working for my good. Giving thanks for all things can not be overstated!
    Attachments to books…oh, that’s a tough one. But I understand your point about engaging the mind in other ways. I like the quote from St. Therese encouraging us to read often and be blessed by His Word.

    Thanks again Sue. Much appreciated.

  116. Sue, (and Simon)
    It is just as you say! ‘Abandoning oneself to God’s arms is not a “feeling”, it is a fiat’.

    It is not the feeling that you are close to God that makes you close to God; it is your prayers and your actions which truly show your love for God, and where the deepest connection to Him can be found.

    Especially, might I add, your consistent, steadfast, daily actions towards the ‘inaction of stillness with Him’ – exceptionally so when you perceive God as deaf, invisible, distant, etc. [i.e.: you don’t perceive a thing and yet remain steadfast].
    (Besides, His providence towards us is infinitely more one sided the other way round.)
    And when He cherry-picks times to visit, envelope, possess and transfigure you, you must be ready for a far greater increase of tribulations too! This is a spiritual law while we are still upon this Earth, without exceptions. And the constant ups and downs of this law eventually make seasoned veterans of spiritual warfare go from heaven to hell and back again, just as easy as we go from kitchen to toilet and back again. Moreover, knowledge of such laws can be of real help in a certain sense. Knowing that every inch or mile of height that is added to our being’s ‘tree’ –[a height extending into the paradisial heavens]– requires another inch or mile of depth of roots –[reaching into the desolate depths of hades]– can make us far more accepting of whichever manner God chooses to stir the wheel of our spiritual progress.
    Let us leave everything in the hands of our good God and trust His ways without worrying about anything at all, it is the route to holiness.

  117. Hi Paula,
    I should also mention that I stopped watching the news, most TV programs, and gave up my cell phone (I mean, I no longer have one). Most people might not need to do this, but I am an HSP (highly sensitive person) and an introvert, and I realized that they were a source of anxiety for me and contributing to my feelings of alienation. I had to pluck out that eye, so to speak. I don’t miss these them at all. My brother visited us for a week recently, and it is his habit to watch the news every morning. I deeply felt the interruption of silence and peace. The noise, violence, commercials and cacophony of other peoples stories are just not good for me.

    Esmee,
    Thank you for telling me about “Ascetic Love”. I will look for it!

    Dino,
    Your comments are always very helpful to me. In your last comment you said,
    “Knowing that every inch or mile of height that is added to our being’s ‘tree’ –[a height extending into the paradisial heavens]– requires another inch or mile of depth of roots –[reaching into the desolate depths of hades]– can make us far more accepting of whichever manner God chooses to stir the wheel of our spiritual progress.”
    Thank you so much for this! I remember learning as a child that a maple tree’s roots need to grow as deeply and spread as far below the ground as its branches do above the ground–almost symmetrically so. Your metaphor of a tree just “clicked” for me.

  118. There are two ways I make my love for my son felt: I care for his needs and I make myself present to him. In caring for his needs he has no clue what we as his parents are doing in order to make his life safe. He has no clue. But, what good is all of that if we never make ourselves present? My presence with my son is to him the greatest expression of my love. His sense of well-being is more connected to the immediacy of my presence (hugs, play, etc) than paying the bills. Yet God remains elusive. You have to be prepared to show God how much you love him with no expectation of having any sense of God’s presence even until death. What’s the difference between being devoted to a god that isn’t present and being devoted to a god that doesn’t exist? Human beings are capable of rationalizing anything.

    I could say more, but I understand that psychological certainty is powerful. It exerts an influence over all of our perceptions. Toss in the very human ability to rationalize anything and what you have is a mind set that is fully innoculated…genuine dissonance is a nearly impossible.

    If I had something else to go on beside hearsay and legends of time traveling monks, then sure. But I don’t. All I have is my experience. And my experience says that regardless of the beauty in the liturgy, chanting, prayer, and iconography…there’s nothing else happening that isn’t explained by the human mind being deluded by it’s own desire, by the ‘will to believe.’ I can’t look at my son in the eyes and honestly tell him that there’s more here than meets the eye. But I know in my heart of hearts that my mind is as vulnerable as any one else’s. If I truly want to believe that this is true, not only will I succeed in convincing the mind that this is true, but the mind will reciprocate the favor by experiencing the believe as an independent reality in its own right. I have no desire for that kind of delusion whatsoever. But I know it’s possible.

    And I am certainly not going to subject my son to this either.

    I am so sorry. I had truly hoped for better.

    Peace.

  119. Simon – I am an extremely left-brain rational thinking person with lots of education is deconstructing everything (Anthropology major). The thing that finally helped me to fully embrace Christ through the Orthodox faith was the contemporary saints I read about initially in the book The Mountain of Silence. However, it was not their miracles of bilocation and time travel and healing that captivated me, though of course that is all very interesting. Rather, It was their unconditional love for every human being that came to them for guidance. That kind of love is simply not encountered in “normal” human beings in this world. Everyone is selfish to one degree or another. And I wanted this unconditional love for others in myself. So, I concluded that these saintly men and women must know something I don’t know and that if I want what they have, then I need to trust that the path they followed is true and real. I hope this makes sense. Ultimately, it is all about faith until we do have our own experiences that confirm this within us. It’s not easy, but I don’t see any other way.

  120. Simon,
    The PDF I referenced earlier of Elder Aimilianos (on the progression of the soul) covers that subject insightfully and authoritatively.
    If you are genuinely interested it’s a gem worth studying. I obviously assume that you are one looking for answers (and not just posing questions), which makes me assume you would devour it…
    More help can come through such readings sometimes, even than through prayer – at first. This is also a classic counsel: that the beginnings of spiritual life require more (of the right type of) reading even than prayer.
    It fights distraction better.
    We are far more imbued in distraction (internally and externally) than we suspect.
    When a child has its father before it or stooping over it, and still does not recognise him –because it only just took its headphones off and closed its tablet and all it has zooming relentlessly through its little mind (in this rare stillness) is images and sounds from what it had just been doing like a maniac–, then, the father would simply allow it to stay more time undistracted, before gracing it with a more intense version of his presence – like a hug. Otherwise even the hug might be shunned, the child is too self-engrossed.
    These anthropomorphic images are extremely limiting however, and their analogy misleading. However, this traditional image is often used: of the baby enjoying a greater degree of the father’s gratifying presence at first while the older child involuntarily experiencing his painful absence later, in order to mature into independence…

    Also, as Christ explains in his words to the disciples before the Passion, to the extent that we make ourselves sons of the Father (by “keeping the commandments”), to that extent God will come and abide in us as Father, and we will be given eyes to see Him and ears to hear Him.
    As a rule, we are still too drenched in passions though, blatant ones and refined ones, to be able to become aflame with God’s fire.
    Wet wood doesn’t ignite , Isaac the Syrian often repeats.
    Christ explicitly tells us that only the pure in heart shall see God.
    Our overburdening ‘demand’ to see, that very thing in itself, can become a ‘brass wall’ between ourselves and God, whereas our acceptance of our current darkness is the first step to purity that starts to make the mucus of our eyes clear away. Turn away from the first method and its reasonings, and give the second some time!
    Besides, we are still in the womb, the parent’s presence is felt a different way before we are born. [into life eternal with our death might I add].

  121. Simon,
    I recently heard this answer to objections similar to yours:
    People who say the things you say have absolutely no personal experience of prayer. Of true prayer, of sitting (for a long time, with the mind and the heart emptied out a little bit of your own thoughts and presumptions) in front of God and actually speaking to Him, asking Him to speak to you and really listening to your conscience/silence/your own heart.

    And not once (in the spirit of doubt and indignation), or twice, but making that effort with some and sincerity, until you get something back… And you will, I promise you!

    Have you tried that? Have you tried what Dino suggested (in many of his past comments, and others confirmed with their experiences) to get up in the middle of the night and give half an hour of your sleep to this effort? Try this for a month (yes, it’s hard, it’s an ascetic struggle) but isn’t it worth it? Your eternal destiny is at stake… and now also the eternal destiny of your child, it seems to me… May God be with you and help you… forgive me.

  122. Simon – Your posts frustrate me. We share so much, from nightmarish childhood experiences to suspecting that the experience of God in the liturgy is nothing more than delusional wish fulfillment. I hear myself in you, over and over again. So I am frustrated. I think I should be able to “show you the way.” But I cannot.

    William Faulkner wrote a wonderful short story called “The Bear.” In the story, a young Southern boy finally becomes old enough to go hunting with the men. At first, he is only allowed to stay at the campsite, Then he is allowed to go along with the men on the hunt. As the years go by, he learns how to find his way through the forest, how to track, and how to shoot, and he becomes a hunter himself.

    Even before he went hunting with the men, he heard stories about a great bear. An ancient, wise old bear who was rarely seen and impossible to hunt down. There were stories of men who were killed by the bear as they tried to hunt him down.

    Eventually, the boy began to hunt on his own. One day, he catches a glimpse of the bear, who seems to look straight at him, and then disappear. The boy becomes obsessed with the bear. Whenever the men go hunting, he strikes out on his own, searching for the bear. Sometimes he finds tracks, or even a carcass of some animal the bear has killed. Usually, he finds nothing.

    As time goes by, he becomes so accustomed to the forest that he begins to leave his maps behind. Then his binoculars. Then his compass. At the end, he even leaves the dogs behind and goes out on his own with nothing but his knife, his rifle and the clothes on his back.

    It is only after he leaves everything behind and strikes out on his own, that he comes face to face with the bear.

    I love that story. I think it is a great metaphor for the spiritual journey. Not that I have met the bear. And not that I am venturing out on my own with no maps or guides. But I have glimpsed the bear. And, after fifty years of hunting, I am able to venture out a little ways without guidance. But not too far. Not yet.

    I have frequently abandoned the hunt, sometimes for years, often after convincing myself that the bear does not exist. But I keep coming back.

    I don’t know if I really love the bear or not. Sometimes I think I do. Sometimes I don’t. Sometimes I don’t care one way or another.

    But here I am.

    Years ago, a great spiritual teacher told me a story about a dog who sees a rabbit.. He takes off after the rabbit, barking and yelping and making all kinds of noise. Other dogs hear him and join in the hunt. Soon there is a whole pack of dogs chasing the rabbit, but, one by one, they grow tired and leave the race, until there is only one dog left. That dog is the dog who actually saw the rabbit.

    I suspect that you have seen the rabbit, Simon. I hope you get to see the bear.

    You are always in my prayers.

  123. David,
    Wonderful analogies about the bear and rabbit! Made my ears perk up and to be more serious about the hunt/chase. I have been in the hunt some 50 years also this January. It’s said at times that the journey is better than the destination. Well, as I get closer to the finish line I am wanting the bear to dig his claws into me and, by force if necessary, drag me across to the other side.

  124. And a word for us from Fr. Zacharias:

    By Rev. Archimandrite Zacharias (Zacharou)

    God cannot be forced by anyone; neither does He impose His will on His creatures endowed with reasoning. Likewise the man with the gift of God does not want to impose power over any mortal… He imitates Christ Who overcame the world through His humble love and drew unto Him all who freely desire to follow Him.

    The word of God quietens our nature. The love of it keeps us on the path of His will, so that we may put ourselves second and honour others more than ourselves. It is always the word of the Cross that guides us into the abundance of divine life and gives us the freedom of sinlessness.

  125. Simon,
    I am currently reading Andrew Louth’s Discerning the Mystery. From what I can see so far (I’m at the beginning) he is slowly but precisely leading the reader to an understanding of the mysteries of God…mystery, as hidden, veiled, not obvious, as the material world is in front of our eyes. There is a section where he describes the difference between objectivity involved in scientific study (the study of nature; static, unchanging in its reality) and subjectivity in the study of humanities (the study involving people over time; dynamic, changing).
    I think Louth makes a good point here which in a way addresses your thoughts about “experience”…and I quote (sorry for the length):
    “Science is concerned with objective truth, that is, with truth inhering in the object of knowledge. Such truth is
    independent of whoever observes it, and it is precisely this that the use of the experimental method seeks to achieve.
    As we have seen, the experimental method seeks to elide the experimenter by the principle that experiments must be
    repeatable by other experimenters. Objective truth, in this sense, seeks to be detached from the subjectivity of the
    observer. In contrast to such objective truth, subjective truth is a truth which cannot be detached from the observer
    and his situation: it is a truth which is true for me, and which cannot be expressed in such a way that it is true for
    everyone. Put like that, it seems at first sight obvious that objective truth is real truth, and subjective truth falls short
    of such ultimacy
    But further reflection suggests that so to suppose is to over-simplify. When Kierkegaard claimed
    that all truth lay in subjectivity, he meant that truth which could be expressed objectively (so that it was the same for
    everyone) was mere information that concerned everyone and no one. Real truth, truth that a man would lay down
    his life for, was essentially subjective: a truth passionately apprehended by the subject. To say, then, that truth is
    subjective is to say that its significance lies in the subject ’s engagement with it; it does not mean that it is not
    objective in any sense: indeed if it were objective in no sense, if it were simply a collection of subjective impressions,
    there would be no engagement, and consequently no question of truth at all. If, then, we concede that the humanities
    are concerned with subjective truth, as opposed to the objective truth sought by the sciences, this need not
    imply that they are concerned with what need not be true, what is not absolute, but it does imply (and this is the
    most important sense of subjective truth) that the humanities are not primarily concerned with establishing
    objective information (though this is important), but with bringing men into engagement with what is true. What is
    important is engagement with reality, not simply the discerning of reality: and if it is reality, then it has a certain
    objectivity, it cannot be simply a reflection of my subjective apprehensions.

    Again, he stresses here “engagement with reality, not simply the discerning of reality”. According to Louth (and the teachings of the Church) this is what occurs with those who believe in the one and only true God. Now how, when, where that engagement occurs is ultimately in the hand of God. I know by what you’ve said that you deeply desire this engagement. Oh I pray for your desire to endure in these difficult times!

    For those who are interested, here’s a link to the book:
    http://pstgu.ru/DATACENTER/DIR_FILES/DIR_ZIP/Andrew_Louth_Discerning_the_Mystery_An_Essay_on(BookSee.org).pdf

  126. I love my son.
    I always make myself as present to my son as possible.
    My great fear is that I will die and my son will not know how much I loved him.
    I want my son to know everyday how much I love him.
    But this is not the god of the Orthodox whom the Orthodox call father.
    The god of the Orthodox is a god who hides.
    A god who hides is no different than a god that does not exist.

    The danger in all your suggestions is that they follow the formula: time*(repetition + rationalization) = psychological certainty = “true believer.”
    I don’t want to be a true believer.
    I would be obedient, but I need a voice to be obedient to.
    And I will not obey yours, which sorrowfully means I have no other choice than to obey mine.
    I wish you the best. I want to walk this road with you. But, as far as I can see the only road there is to walk is the one in our own minds.

    I could not care less about the anecdotal reports of time traveling monks, healing, or oil exuding icons. I don’t need or want flashing lights. I discount it as irrelevant.

    I cannot tell you how much it pains me to say these things. I had hoped to have more to say to my son. Now to spare him any schizophrenia I have refused my son any exposure to religion at all, which brings me into conflict with my wife and her family. I don’t want him to have these struggles. That’s it.

  127. Fr. Freeman thank you for the 55 maxim link https://holycrossoca.org/newslet/0907.html,

    If I may ask further,

    1) Does the church/priests teach not only spiritual/abstract things or practical/physical things as well?

    For example, when driving an automobile, it is not enough (and may be dangerously irresponsible) to “just make the sign of the cross and pray”. It is extremely helpful to learn the rules of the road, signal lights, gas/break pedals.

    Reading “Democracy in America” opened my eyes about the world I live in and brought me into closer understanding and communion with my fellow citizens. “Love your neighbour as yourself” but who is my neighbour in modern day America. According to Tocqueville, had I been born in monarchist france, I would know exactly whom my neighbour is and where I stand in society, but in America? Our Lord gives an illustration of whom my neighbour is but I personally have not encountered people that have been beaten half to death. So how does the Gospel apply to the unbeaten people I see around me?

    2) “Hagia Sophia was not built by two men”
    Why? Who wrote the “1812 Symphony” ? I would submit it was one man and one man only. If it was not for him, “1812” (at least as we know it) would not exist. There is individualism in creation. There are no mathematical theorems, symphonies, poems, novels etc. that were concieved by a team that I know of.

  128. All (regarding Simon),
    I’m traveling again today and so I’m mostly away from the conversation. I have some thoughts, but it will likely be in the form of an article and posted on Sunday or Monday.

    I respect Simon and take seriously how he perceives his situation. I do not think it is correct to say, “Do this and God will speak,” as did Agata a little earlier. You can’t make such promises.

    But, I know Simon’s heart and I trust the goodness of God. So, I pray that God will do good things, and that His goodness will, in time, become manifest for Simon. Of that, I’m patient. Do remember one another in your prayers…and remember me as I travel.

  129. Ted – I literally just read this story, and it may partially answer your question about driving skills veraus making rhe aign of the Cross and driving without any training.

    “Once they had to draw some blood from me. There were four nurses. The first came and tormented me, but couldn’t find a vein. The second nurse had the same trouble. The third nurse was more experienced and she tried, but again with no results. At that moment, a fourth nurse came by. She noticed how the others tormented me and also tried. First, she made the sign of the Cross, and immediately she found a vein to draw my blood because she had asked for God’s help. The others, in a sense, relied only upon themselves. It’s a great thing to put oneself into God’s hands… We must entrust ourselves to God and allow Him to direct our life, while we do our duty with philotimo (selfless love).”

    +Saint Paisios of Mount Athos, Spiritual Counsels, Volume II: Spiritual Awakening, p. 305.

    What I take away from this story is: all four nurses had the necessary training and skills to draw Saint Paisios’ blood, but only one succeeded because she asked God to help her. Both aspects are necessary. Now if it was an emergency and you had to do something to try and save a person’s life, God alone would be enough if He wants that person to live and you ask Him for help. Otherwise, I think it behooves us to acquire the skills we need to do a job properly.

    Regarding “who is my neighbor?” – as understand it – everyone is my neighbor. The rich and poor, the healthy and sick, the happy and sad, my relatives, my physical neighbors, the checker at the grocery store, the driver in the car next to me, the other commentors on this blog, the members of my parish, the homeless on nearly every street corner, etc. Everyone, without exception, is my neighbor.

    I look forward to Fr. Stephen’s input when he has time.

  130. I mean this sincerely, think that Fr Stephen thinks more of me than he should. I am little more than a shadow of what I had hoped to become as a child. Im sure that if my childhood version of myself could meet me…he would mourn his future and wonder how things could go so wrong.

    My sincerest apologies to all and thank you for allowing me to explain myself and do some thinking outloud…which sadly demanded more than a little hijacking.

    Peace

  131. Simon,

    Continue to love your son but be careful to allow others to love him as well. Hard dictates rarely reflect love as much as fear. May God bless you and your family in your journey.

    One other thought: the mind is certainly deceptive but the Nous, that by which God is revealed to us, lies in the heart. Continue to love in all things. Your mind may not see God’s revealing before you do; it may have to follow the reality that lies in the heart.

    I apologize that these are not very pragmatic thoughts but I pray they may be helpful for you. We will pray with love for you and your family. May God bless!

  132. You and me both Simon. And I thank God for that every day; for if I had become what I had hoped, I never would have found Christ. Glory to God for All Things!

  133. This might seem to be a weird thing say at this point in this stream. But here goes: I’ve never demanded molecules to do what I expect them to do but hoped that if I pay attention I might learn what they are or at least notice what they do. The ‘pay attention’ part is what is hard to learn. David’s stories are helpful cues. I’ve been at this work for a long time and yet molecules take me by surprise, particularly when I’ve convinced myself I’ve figured them out. Perhaps this is why I became a chemist. I’m a conventional person but with molecules, I’m ready and waiting ‘for bear’.

  134. This may be relevant, maybe not, but I offer it as a testimony and an observation.

    I was driving down the freeway, pondering life, and I asked myself – “What if this is all there is? What if this is it?”

    My mind went to Ecclesiastes. Everything would be meaningless. The great works of man that have been preserved? Useless. Unremembered past either the self-orchestrated or cataclysmic destruction of humanity. Morality would have no purpose other than control. Why would I worry about fitting into a society, why would I worry about anything other than my own narcissistic pleasures, followed by a suicide, once I hit a point where I realized I wouldn’t get my way anymore. Why shouldn’t humanity just kill itself off with mass anarchy. Everything meaningless, nothing mattering…

    I believe in God because I need him. I don’t like the alternatives I envision. I expressed my idea with others who felt differently than I do. That’s fine. They aren’t me. For me, I needed something transcendent, and for me that was a God I could believe in. My quest took me to many interesting places, and ultimately, here. Maybe I’m delusional. Who knows? But I’m happier in what some would call my delusion, than I am without it. (Wonder-working monks might have helped).

    I may fail myself and I may fail him to my own destruction; but I am sure of this… God, he loves me and will never fail me.

  135. Wow. I have just been so blessed by everything that everyone has written in these comments! ♥

    The illustration Fr. Stephen used at the top of this post alludes to the Rich Young Ruler’s encounter with Jesus, so this morning I read the passage (Mark 10:17-27) and pondered it throughout the day. I made the following observations (although obviously there is much, much more to be gained from this passage and I am not a Greek scholar):

    1. The young ruler greeted Jesus by calling him “Good Teacher”. Jesus responded by directing the man’s attention to God, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone.”

    2. The young ruler wanted to know what he must do to inherit eternal life. Jesus replied, “You know the commandments”.

    3. The way to life was and continues to be: to do God’s will (expressed in the commandments). It appears that the young ruler kept the commandments without comprehending their purpose. Otherwise, he would not have asked his question.

    4. The young ruler’s question was really all about himself: What MUST I DO to inherit eternal life? Jesus said, “One thing you lack: go and sell what you have and give to the poor and you will have *treasure in heaven*; then come follow me.”

    5. The rich young ruler went away sorrowful when Christ revealed that he still lacked one thing. What was it he lacked? A desire for God above all things.

    6. The Lord turned to his disciples and said, “How hard it will be for those who are wealthy to enter the kingdom of God!” And then, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” The disciples were astonished (the Jews of that time believed that wealth was evidence of God’s favor, and poverty was evidence of His curse), and they said, “Then who can be saved?”

    7. Surprisingly, the Lord’s answer was not “the poor”. His answer was, “With people it is impossible.”

    8. Then Jesus said the most wonderful thing: “But all things are possible with God.”

    This brought to mind G.K. Chesterton’s famous quote, “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult; and left untried.”

  136. BTW-
    You Scientists probably understand confirmation bias.

    If you anticipate an encounter, it happens. Dreams. Voices. “Hugs” for lack of a better word. God is real, and he comforts those who live in the “one-story” universe.

    To the rest? Proof is demanded, and all the “still small voices” (1 Kings 19:12) in the universe won’t convince.

    Sorry.

    Matthew

  137. Matthew,
    Being a scientist isn’t in itself an obstruction to experience God or Christ. And one needn’t be a scientist to live in a 2 story universe or to want “proof” of God. The experience and quality of that experience is a matter of the heart. And that isn’t always something that one can “control”. And if one attempts to control such experience, therein is the beginning of delusion. Perhaps my use of metaphorical language was too shallow or trite. And I can accept that. But it is an interesting and thought provoking thing that as I look back on my life, the times I believe I was closest to God, was in those moments that I railed against Him, and did not call myself a Christian. There is a certain paradox in this life. A mystery. Love in it’s purest form is Christ in action. Those of us who claim not to know God but truly love, I suspect, are not that far from the Kingdom of God afterall.

  138. Dee, Is it really too much to ask that God do something ANYTHING so that a person can distinguish reality from psychological certainty?? If we take seriously the the vulnerability of the human mind to its own desire, if we understand the degree to which the human mind is susceptible to delusion, then is it really too much to ask that God do something to let a person know they’re aren’t praying to the air???

    Imagine this short conversation between a person and their priest:

    Zeus worshipper: I pray to our father every morning and evening. I pray with sincere fervor. Yet I am only ever aware of my solitude. It’s like Zeus isn’t listening. It’s almost as if he isn’t there.

    Zeus priest: You are mistaken to expect the mighty Zeus to appear to you or to give you a sign. Just pray humbly to Zeus and do this faithfully. Even if you die without any manifestation of the presence of God know that God loves you and after you die you will enter God’s presence. But as for this expectation for Zeus to be present to you so that you can ‘know the truth’ this is true delusion.

    Dee, with all due respect, do you see why someone might take issue with what you said?

  139. Yes, Simon, something has to “click.” Otherwise, it is as you say. Jesus once said, “If anyone wills to do my will…” He knows what that willingness looks like. In another place Christ says, “He who has my commandments and obeys them…I will love and show myself to him.” There is reciprocity. Yet Christ has gone and continues to go that extra mile with us if we but start down that path. We do not have to wait until death for Him to show His sweet presence to us. Keep on asking, knocking, seeking. You’ll be found by Him in some sudden unexpected way.

  140. Dee, dear sister,
    While I am probably being over-sensitive, I hope you do not think that behind the excerpt from Louth’s book I posted that I am being critical of scientists.
    Perhaps I should have explained that Louth was beginning to explain the error in postulating results based on the use scientific methodology when the body of knowledge known as humanities is being investigated. He explains that this is the error that is behind the historical-critical method of investigation/study. It is there where he begins to make the point on how certain truths can be properly determined both objectively and subjectively.
    I do not get the impression that he undervalues or trivializes the hard sciences. From what I gather, he is leading the reader in the end to understand the mysteries of God, which he is trying to show can not be determined scientifically.

    BTW, I am looking forward to your answer to Simon!

    Simon, if you’d have asked me only your initial question…I’d say what you ask from God is between you and God. It is not anyone else’s business but yours…and what you share with your spiritual father. (you are so blessed with Fr. Stephen!).

  141. Simon – please forgive me if this is not helpful, but here is another story from Saint Paisios that might shed light on your question. The context is that Paisios was a young boy and he had been reading the Lives of the Saints and trying to follow their Ascetic practices since the age of 11. His older brother didn’t approve and tried to stop him many times. Finally, the brother asked a friend of his to try and disuade young Paisios from his “crazy” devotional practices.

    “One day… Kostas said to my brother, ‘I will make him change his way of thinking, throw away those booklets he is reading, and give up his fasting and prayer.’ Kostas found me – I was about 15 years old then – and he started to talk to me about Darwin’s theory. He started talking and went on and on and was making my head spin. In my haze, I headed for the forest, to the Chapel of Saint Barbara. I went in and began to pray to Christ. ‘My Christ, if You exist, reveal Yourself to me in some way,’ I kept saying, while constantly doing prostrations for a long time. It was summer. The sweat was running down my body, and I was drenched and completely exhausted. But I didn’t hear or see anything. Nor did God help me in any way with even a small sign, some sound, some shadow… Nothing, nothing, nothing!

    “Exhausted from the many prostrations, I sat down for a while. Then I thought, ‘All right, when I asked Kostas what he thought about Christ, what did he tell me? He told me that Christ was the best, the most righteous man Who proclaimed righteousness and had so offended the Pharisees that they crucified Him out of envy.’ Then I said, ‘If Christ was such a good man, so righteous, and no other man had ever appeared like Him, and others killed Him out of envy, then it is right of me to do for this man far more than I have done, even to die for Him.’ As soon as I looked at it this way, Christ appeared to me in great light – the Chapel was full of light – and told me, ‘I am the Resurrection and the Life. He that believeth in me, though he die, yet shall he live.’ These same words I could also read in the Gospel which He held in one hand. There was such an inner transformation in me that I found my self saying, ‘Come here now, Kosta, to discuss if there is or there isn’t a God.’ You see, for Christ to appear, He waited for my philotimo (selfless love) filled response.”

    +Saint Paisios, Spiritual Counsels, Volume II: Spiritual Awakening, p. 296.

  142. Paula, I didn’t respond to what you wrote. And I honestly skipped over comments and responded to Matthew. Also I’m not sure I have anything helpful for Simon and wasn’t attempting to respond to him mainly because his situatuan is complex and I don’t have the chops, and don’t know him, to engage in philosophy or Orthodox theology.

    Simon the very last thing I would have wanted was to insult or to prescribe to you. Please be careful. And I will be more careful too. I was not responding to you.

    Simon, I’m not at home and write on my phone and fear this will be overly succinct. In some respects it looks like you want me to respond. Perhaps it is only to acknowledge that someone could take issue with what I have said.

    Life doesn’t give to us what we demand does it? In that case do we want something to blame if we don’t get what we want? I don’t blame nature for not giving me what I want. My saying that in this culture it will be understood that I’m talking about the inanimate world. For me that is not the case. And I don’t say there is something wrong with struggling with God. I attempt to use the words demand and expectation carefully. They are quite different. My guess is you took offense of what and when I described there is delusion. I’m not talking about you. Neither am I a psychologist.

  143. In the second paragraph—the prescription of the priest that you wrote in a conversation is not what I’m saying to Matthew. In fact it is almost the opposite. But if you’re talking about the ‘molecules’ comment, it is taken wrongly. I’ll stop writing I’m not able to engage this conversation.

  144. Dee…thank you. I appreciate your response. I also understand the difficulty in communicating our thoughts. It is a challenge face to face. Even more so on a blog. Assumptions easily arise and beg clarification. So, thanks again.

  145. Simon,
    Something within me says, yes, it’s too much to ask – primarily because we don’t know what we’re asking. I can imagine a large number of ways in which the request is answered but that we do not or will not hear it, or see it. In my life, I cannot think of any performance demands that I have made of God that turned out like I asked. My experience and knowledge of Him have come in very different ways.

    I’m uncertain what kind of a sign/response would do the trick. I maintain my life with Christ, day by day, on the event of Christ’s death and resurrection. The experience end of things comes and goes. I pray because He is raised from the dead and promises to hear me. I could imagine that a requested response might easily become a distraction – and not at all a thing that “saves” us. I do not know the mind of God in this matter – but believe that Christ has died and is risen. I think it is better ground for supporting the weight of our life and prayer.

  146. Hi Simon,

    In your last response to Dee of St. Hermans you asked, “Is it really too much to ask that God do something ANYTHING so that a person can distinguish reality from psychological certainty??” And we are all here answering: He has done something! Look around you! You got up this morning, didn’t you?

    I wish I were a better writer so I could express my thoughts more clearly.

    The first thing is: LIFE is the evidence you are seeking. The “something” God has done is called creation. God is everywhere. The difference between those who have faith in Christ and those who do not is simply a matter of acknowledgment and rejection. The life of the Christian physically carries on the same as anyone else’s with problems, feelings, sufferings, celebrations, yada yada. My twenty year old daughter who suffers from a debilitating chronic disease drew a picture the other day: it showed a city street on a sunny day with people walking back and forth. From “above” (where the Father and Son are now) hang lines down to earth. There were enough lines for everybody. Some people were holding onto them, others weren’t. There was no apparent difference between the lives of the people who held onto a line and those who didn’t.

    I have to wonder why you responded to Dee’s comment and not to Matthew’s (his more directly answered your “question”). In your comments you have expressed that as a practicing Christian you don’t “feel the love”–you still feel alone/alienated and without consolation from God. You also stated that even if you were to receive a miracle of some kind, you wouldn’t accept it as evidence of God’s presence with you, because it could just be a delusion. You have concluded that there is no way for you to reliably apprehend God’s presence, so therefore God does not exist.

    My heart aches for you, Simon, it really does. And why should it? You are a complete stranger to me, someone I don’t expect to ever meet in person, someone who has nothing that I want and no interest in my life. I stand to gain nothing by engaging with you. In fact, I stand to lose something very precious: my time on this earth. Yet, I (and Fr. Stephen, and the other commenters on this blog) are doing just that. Why? if God doesn’t exist, as you say, *why do we care*?

    How do I know God exists? Because goodness exists. Because beauty exists. Because morality exists. Because there are trees…but also a forest. Because I don’t know everything…but everything exists.
    (For a much better explanation than I can give, I recommend the following short article by Yujin Nagasawa, who is the Co-Director of the John Hick Centre for Philosophy of Religion at the University of Birmingham, England, called, “Is there definitive proof of the existence of God?” https://blog.oup.com/2017/11/definitive-proof-existence-god/

    How do I know that faith in God is not a delusion? Because I cannot even dream or hallucinate apart from what exists in actuality. What I “see” or “hear” might not be in front of me, but I cannot hallucinate something that isn’t real “somewhere” or even imagine something that does not have its basis in reality. My hallucinations might not be real, but they point to something that IS real.

    As Matthew clearly explained, life without God would be nothing but chaos–irrational. There would be no beauty, no truth, no goodness, no morality, no meaning, no reality without God (read the above linked article to understand why). “Life” (if we could call it that) would be reduced to an endless, ugly disunity/disagreement.

    “This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, belssings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the LORD your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the LORD is your life…” Deuteronomy 3O: 19+20

  147. Dee,
    This may be a little late, but for what its worth, my point was simply that confirmation bias will support your belief.

    I made no jabs at science, scientists, or anyone else.

    If you believe that “God is Everywhere Present, Filling All Things”, your confirmation bias will support that, if not , it won’t. Period. Nothing more was implied.

    I suppose my point in making the comment was to point out that it is difficult for the unbeliever who wants proof to make the leap. But it is also difficult for the believer, who feels that they’ve experienced something special to articulate that to the world. Because to the world it appears to be nonsense. Perspectives, as I said before, are fascinating.

  148. It occurs to that I could reply. But, I know I know I have come to a place where the sidewalk ends. Reports of miracles are not unique to Orthodoxy. Mysticism is not unique to Orthodoxy. Beauty is not unique to Orthodoxy. And as far as beauty goes there is also ugliness and cruelty. There are charlatans, cheats, and crooks in every religion. I don’t buy that monks fly or that angels bring them food or that they travel through time and space. That there are people that find that easier to believe than the possibility that those things were made up…that is the danger in being a true believer. That is the proof that the mind is deluded!!

    It isn’t what I want Micah exposed to and I don’t want to risk becoming a person who can’t distinguish fantasy from reality. Now Fr Stephen tells a story about a priest who made a mistake in the liturgy and he asked the angel who served with him behind the curtain, ‘why didn’t you say something to me?’ and the angel said ‘who am I to correct a priest?’ I just don’t believe these stories have any basis in reality.

    I would rather embrace the cold realities of a harsh world with no hope than suffer as a person chose fantasy to pacify their existential discomfort and fear.

    Peace.

  149. Simon,
    I well understand you and your reasoning. I would interject, however, that it is a mistake to assume that someone might do other than you in order to pacify their existential discomfort and fear. It is a reductionist and false assumption. Be who you are – but do not universalize your experience.

  150. Simon – I was raised Catholic but was never familiar with the bible though I was pretty devout. As a teenager I started asking questions about the faith – I asked my parents, the priest, read books – but never got the answers I was searching for. I went to high school with a very nice girl who was a JW. Her father was an engineer at NASA. She had answers for me. There was a lot of very tough things going on in my life and I think I was also very vulnerable. When I was around 20, I agreed to study the bible with her. I ended up believing that she had the truth as a JW and became one myself. My family wanted nothing to do with me as a result. I was an embarrassment. They thought I was crazy and should have been locked up in a mental institution. I married a JW (formerly he had been at Bethel). I trusted God re becoming a JW and in marrying this person. Since I continued to search for truth and kept asking questions, I learned that the JWs did not have the truth and that my husband was leading a double life. Ironically, it was in my discovering that the JWs did not have the truth that “freed” him. So then I lost all my JW friends (many who were very decent people) and my marriage.

    I cannot even speak to the pain that I have experienced. I had gone through many painful things in life but had always believed in God. Now I felt betrayed on a level I cannot articulate. How could God allow me to be so deceived – first by the JWs and then by the man I trusted and married? It has taken years to find my way back from the edge and down so many other roads (believing in God but not that He cared about me). Despite all this and even where I sit today, I recall what a pastor said to me when painful things happen in our lives or others – that we need to anchor to God’s character – and God is always good. Seems so simple but is really profound.

    I’ve been reading this blog since 2008. I struggle. I deal with depression and despair at times. I close myself off and then I come back. I don’t comment. But you are not alone. I don’t understand why or why not. I just do my best to anchor to God’s character. “His invisible qualities are clearly seen in His creation.” I see it in the personalities of my dogs. I’m sure you must see this in your beloved son. If you feel love or compassion towards your son…anchor to God’s character for He is love and compassion. He is all good things.

    When the time comes for me to die, I doubt there will be much that is visible to anyone about my having lived a good or godly life. My family thinks I’m a failure – that I do know as their ostracism continues to this day. Only God knows how deep the pit and yet I still continue to show up. I don’t know. I’ve done “all the right things” so many times before and I was deceived. Maybe this Orthodox faith is the truth, maybe not. I know being sincere about believing something doesn’t make it the truth. But I’m going to trust again. I’m going to keep anchoring to God’s character. It’s been 30 years since I left the JWs. Our time on earth is so very short and it seems to me why didn’t I have an Orthodox friend in high school when I was searching. What a waste of years and all the “good” I could have done. I have no answers at all. But I will keep anchoring to God’s character and God is always good. I must admit that I only see through a glass darkly. You will be in my prayers Simon. I do understand and think that God is so far above what we can conceive and sometimes we just need to surrender and believe. I don’t pretend that I can say anything that can help. But I am showing up for you and I am a very private person.

    Erin

  151. Simon – about 10 years (22-32). I stopped associating. I read “40 Years a Watchtower Slave” and had even contacted the author to discuss.

  152. Erin, I was raised in the Truth. My first wife and I were preparing to go to Gilead and were pioneers. I was appointed as an elder. I had trouble submitting to theocratic headship.

    When you know deep down in your guts that something is the Truth…and then you learn it isn’t and that all that confidence was unjustified, that makes confidence in any other claims to Truth difficult to accept. Don’t you think?

  153. Simon – yes – that is what I was trying to say. It’s one thing to suffer the loss of all things for the “truth,” but when you realize it was all a big lie and you were deceived….but I am making my way back. I used to tell my ex when he was going down a certain path – “what does this have to do with Jesus?”

    And now I find that question before me. Yes, I was deceived. Yes, I was sincere. Yes, I lost my family, etc. But what does this have to do with Jesus?

    And so I anchor to God’s character – relating to the good I see in the world believing it all comes from a Creator and I go from there. One day at a time and often chunks of hours at a time.

    I do understand.

  154. Erin, I am regarded as an apostate in three congregations and by people in many others. Like you I also lost my family…what little there was to lose. Im wondering do you attend liturgy? Have you been baptized in the OC? Are you considering it?

  155. Simon, I am sorry for what you have suffered. I have not been to liturgy yet. I am still dealing with some fears. I do watch online and have been listening to Father Barnabas Powell and reading this blog. I am taking it one day at a time. God knows me and my fears.

    How about you? It takes courage to do what you did.

  156. Erin, Simon
    It’s very important, I think, not to put Orthodoxy in the category of modern denominational Christianity. The JW’s were invented in America, and smack of late 19th century ideas and nonsense, and are able to maintain themselves only by cult-like teaching and control.

    Orthodoxy has teachings – and they give a sort of “grammar” for our understanding of God. But, it is also a 2,000 year-old argument, with lots of give-and-take, and, in many ways, a level of freedom that most assume to be absent. Orthodoxy is what it says it is – the Church founded by Christ. It is a historical fact. It also comes with lots of historical baggage. And the baggage, I think, is important, because human beings don’t ever exist as fully human without any.

    It’s interesting, Simon, that you quoted my telling of the story of the priest and the angel. For you, the story was a miraculous story about an angelic appearance. For me, the story was about the nature of the priesthood. That particular story, for example, need be nothing more than a parable.

    At the same time, I know a fair number of people, otherwise quite normal, who have had encounters that seem undeniably to be an angel. Together with my wife, I had such an encounter (auditory), with a group of angels back in the 90’s. Heard them, but didn’t see them. And, interestingly, it was a shared experience. I know a priest, quite sane and sober, without an hysterical bone in his body, who saw the late Metropolitan Leonty elevated a foot in the air in prayer. I have watched an icon with myhrr streaming from it in amounts that are simply impossible in terms of physics. And it does this almost all the time.

    This stuff is not common, and it is not Orthodox practice to use such things as “proofs.” Proofs never work, in my opinion. Belief is ultimately a matter of the heart and a sufficient proof is whatever is sufficient to that heart.

    Whether God makes Himself known to you in a manner sufficient to your heart is utterly beyond my control. So I pray, and just assume that God knows what He’s doing and that it is good.

    I have not heard any credible first-hand accounts of flying monks.

  157. Erin, I was baptized into the OC in March of this year. I have been thinking of God exclusively in Orthodox terms since about March or April of last year. The mysticism in the OC is a mysticism that I had already been discovering in the NT for over a decade. Well, I guess part of the reason why I left JW is that I had begun to see that there was such a thing as mysticism and it was entirely absent from the JW theology. In fact, I started marking the verses in the OT and NT (that I understood to be mystical) like it was a treasure map and and in my mind if somebody else found the Bible and read these verses and put it together then they were meant to put to find the treasure. I started doing that in 2004?? Thirteen years later I discover a church that interpreted those verses in the exact same fashion as I had been doing. It was staggering to me. What I was reading in Orthodox literature and the confirmation from my priest was that the mystical interpretation was really the only proper way to read the scriptures. For the Orthodox this is fundamental. For me to find that the OC had been teaching for 1600 years what I had learned on my own prior to coming to the church left me with the overwhelming feeling that God had prepared me to recognize the church when I found it. And the energy of that carried me for a long time. Then my son couldn’t get baptized and that threw me for a loop…that was really hard for me to accept. I attacked Fr Stephen’s character for that and said things to him for which any decent person would be ashamed. After Fr forgave me for attacking him he agreed to baptize me. And for two weeks I’m telling you that it was the cleanest I felt my entire life. I have been baptized now four times and this was the only time I can say that the next day there was a perceptible difference in my internal environment…and the day after that…and the day after that. But, it lasted two weeks. The crudest way to say it is that I missed a mile stone in my graduate program that dimmed my future in the program–and consequently my graduation prospects. The following six weeks were such that I was bracing myself for the rupture of my marriage.

    So here is what I mean by religious delusion. One night I went to the church to pray. As I was praying in the church I experienced the most peaceful loving embrace I have ever felt. I felt at peace. But almost immediately after that I saw a large demonic appearance in the carpet I was praying on such that if I finished the prostration I would have touched my face to this demonic face. At first it scared me. I was startled and alarmed. That’s one thing. After that my son and I were at a vespers service and all on his own he approached the icon of Mary and he hugged it with a big ol’ hug. He was giving the icon shoulder pats and everything. He would step back lean over and kiss the icon over and over again, and then he would lean forward and hug. It struck me as the oddest thing…why is he doing this? And the thouht occurred to me…is Mary reaching out to my kid through the icon?? And in that moment another thought struck me…is this how the magical thinking begins…this is how religious delusions set in? I didn’t quit attending liturgy right away. First I quit bringing my son. And then the silence and absence of God became so deafening that along with other factors, it made me wonder…why is this so hard? Where is God at in all of this? Am I becoming delusional? And it wasn’t long after that that all the beauty of the liturgy and the excitement with which I used to feel for the faith turned to disappointment.

    Looking back to those early times I wonder how much of this was just my mind finding what it wanted to find, seeing what it wanted to see.

  158. Simon and Erin,
    Please forgive me if I overstep; I have no intent to offend or hurt. When I said earlier that the JW’s I’ve known over the years share a particular spiritual burden, I didn’t get into detail. But what both of you have said here– about wrestling with the nature of authority, how to trust it, whether or not it is even possible to trust any authority– these are questions common to all JW’s I’ve known who have either left a congregation or are struggling to find a place in it when they have found an unassailable reason to doubt.

    Much like Calvinism seems to breed a particular kind of spiritual anxiety (How can I know if I’m saved? Does my doubt prove that I have no faith and God is far from me? If I were truly the elect, wouldn’t I feel differently?), The Watchtower seems to misuse authority in such a distinct way as to destroy a person’s ability to parse it. You may feel alone, but I absolutely assure you that you are not. The struggle to find a safe authority is very poignant for people who have suffered the spiritual abuse that you have.

    I have issues with authority with origins different from yours. Had my experience with Orthodoxy begun with the kind of “authority” one is liable to find on the Internet, I probably would have run screaming. Luckily, the grace of God worked through my very first parish priest, who told me in no uncertain terms that I should stop reading Internet fanatics and learn to be patient with the Holy Spirit. Over the years I have learned that Christ’s Church is a safe place to be. But it has taken years and sometimes mistakes on behalf of well-meaning clergy have sent me reeling. I think I’m confident in saying that it does get better.

    Simon, your demands of God remind me of George MacDonald’s “Unspoken Sermons,” one of my top ten books of all time. I think it’s in the sermon on Job where he says that God made us, His children, with a legitimate claim upon His fatherhood. 🙂 MacDonald would even dare to say that the cries of your soul deserve an answer.

    Again, forgive my ramblings if they aren’t helpful.

  159. Father, thank you for your reply. I do not put Orthodoxy in the same category as the JWs. I was raised Catholic and went to Catholic school. My grandfather was an Episcopalian minister in Scarsdale, NY and a regular on a radio show called “Meet the Author.” He was a published author and through his own journey ended up converting to the Catholic Church. He had six children so lost his livelihood. I was very close to him. He wrote and published a book called “My Road to Certainty” regarding his conversion to the true church. As a Catholic, bible reading was discouraged as anything could be taken out of context so I was told. But I wanted to know. The only person I knew who ever shared the bible was a JW in high school. She showed me proof in the bible and I believed and became an avid student of the bible. I sincerely believed it was the truth. To learn I was deceived and lost my family over it to this day…well it is hard to put into words the trust issue.

    I believe the Orthodox Church is the true church due to history. However, I am still healing from all the consequences of being deceived. I haven’t been involved with the JWs in 25 years. Have since gone to the Baptist Church, back to the Catholic Church and here I am now. Not jumping in like before but now testing all things. I used to think that only when I die will I know the truth. Depression and despair so painful that I thought of hastening it. I am at a better place now. I keep showing up and immerse myself as much as I am able in the Orthodox faith. He is the God of tender compassion when so many have been so hard on me – perhaps myself most of all. Even as a little girl, I was always drawn by Jesus. I never dreamed that it could lead me down such a path of deception. But here I am by the grace of God. I am still afraid but He leadeth me. It has been a long, long road. But I have not given up.

  160. Erin, I have a reply to you a few posts back. I was hoping you would read it. Perhaps we should correspond offline.

    I think I have done enough hijacking. And the conversation is just becoming redundant I think strong claims require strong evidence for acceptance. I think that if God wants me to believe that he is a loving father then he should act like a loving father. The response I’m basically getting is that I’m arrogant and prideful for insisting on those things, and frankly I’m not interested in subjecting myself to that. Because there is no pride or arrogance in it. I’m just keeping my mind and the things that go into my mind grounded in reality. There have been many sympathetic well reasoned responses that I am thankful for, but I also don’t want this to devolve into something stupid where I’m insulting the kindness of others by finding fault with their words of compassion. Does this make sense? So, I haven’t responded to many people because I don’t want to disrespect them. It has been implied that I’m arrogant and prideful and now I’m triggered so I have to back away. Fr knows that what I’m saying is true.

    Erin, may we speak offline?

  161. Tess, I heard what you have to say and I agree. When you are a JW the degree of psychological certainty they induce is tremendous. I remember when I finally made the step to question the existence of Jehovah God. A part of me died. After that I lived on a scorched earth, man. I was the king of a pile of cinders. Very little of what I held to be true since a child survived. I don’t ever want to live that way again. In fact, i take that degree of certainty about anything in religion to be a bad sign, like something is going horribly wrong. It makes me feel vigilant and sometimes even threatened.

  162. Simon, I did read your post and appreciate your response. It is a lot to think about. I think if I am honest that is part of why I am hesitant. I do understand too your desire for a loving father. I clung to the scripture “when my father and mother forsake me, the Lord will take me up.” And then the Lord seems so distant, the one I have sought my whole life. I have cried to him that if I had a loving human father I would know he loved me but here my creator seems so distant. I don’t have answers but I believe that He is good and that there is something in me, perhaps damaged and my sinful nature, that is causing me to feel so disconnected. And yes, Father Stephen can feel free to provide my email address to you.

  163. Erin, those are my feelings exactly. I have never felt like ‘the lord has taken me up.’ Even though stories abound about how God magically appeared to this person or that one AFTER they did prayed just right. It just seems like anecdotal stories that people tell just like all religions have anecdotal stories and legends that they tell.

  164. Simon – Given your description of your spiritual experiences, only a spiritual director can help you. Fr. Stephen is as good as they come. Trust him. And do not pay any attention to anything I might say. I am terribly lost and in desperate need of direction myself. The blind leading the blind is always a bad idea. And with all due respect to all of the wonderful commentators we have on this blog, ask yourself if they are really helping you. Perhaps we are only adding to your confusion.

    You are always in my prayers.

  165. David, I think you are right about that.

    People here have made an effort to help a fellow human understand his experience of the world and his place in it. I don’t think that is wasted effort. I often find myself surprised by the unexpected insight that emerges from chance encounters. However, it occurs with such a regularity that I seek it out. I just never know when it is going to come.

  166. Simon – Give me a call if you ever want to talk. Fr. Stephen has my number. (In more ways than one, 😉 )

  167. I’m just amazed how things transpired today. Erin, out of the blue, and then Tess adding to the JW experience. Simon, I had been wondering what drew you to Orthodoxy in the first place. I received an answer and much much more. Erin, Simon…thank you. My prayers, always….

  168. Simon,
    Please do not assume a personal culpability or that there is individual accusation of pride regarding human “demands” of God. It is a problem of every human. I, You, he, her, we, then, have it type of thing.
    The fact that we need someone to tell us to chill out and cool down (when we are experiencing a hot hell) is, of course, fraught with danger. But we do need it because it only this that is something in our power ¬– and not another’s.
    Of course we want “Another” to respond! But this cannot be forced.
    Remember however this image again (as it is perfectly descriptive of your experience and of most spiritual progression that we find difficult as we do):
    A Father (God) holds our hand when we are still babes at the very start (we feel his loving embrace, or our inner transformation at a degree that is beyond what can be explained away psychologically). However, he later has to remove this hand for us to start walking on our own…! The stumbling, the falling, the bruising (and even the fact that we can now explain away psychologically that his now tiny touches, his now increased hiding and decreased appearing are maybe even figments of our imagination [that is inhabited by far more ‘amounts’ of a world without him]) is painful and treacherous. But it is the only way we will ever walk.
    Read Saint Silouans’ life. His experience in prayer is just like yours (and many others) and perhaps to the ‘Nth ‘ degree so…
    The demonic is allowed to tempt us in this phase in so many ways and it carries on and on. But the experience that comes from it is even more precious than the indescribable comforts of the grace filled encounters that we long for.
    Silouan’s cries to the Lord to appear in his hell were also (despite being one of the greatest saints of our time) described as a pride of sorts (there’s nothing ‘wrong’ with that –as we say- but we ought to recognize it to overcome it). But eventually he was given to learn the humility of Christ as only the greatest of the greatest ever have.
    You never answered me whether you have read St Silouan’s book or even Elder Aimilianos’ (much harder) PDF…
    They were foundational to many people who have had your experience and came out the other way.
    God bless you and keep you!
    You have Father Stephen as a representative of Christ for you!

  169. Dino, I don’t believe for a moment that anything I’ve “experienced” is anything other than the vulnerability of my mind to religious delusion. That is it. That is all. Truthfully some of the most profound things I have ever felt were in prayer. But they are suspect. For example, one Friday I had the night off and all to myself. My wife and son were out of town. My plan was to relax and watch a movie. But a strong desire to pray took hold. So I went to my corner to pray. Towards the end of my prayer I felt that I was starting to cross a boundary where I felt that everything around me was joy. Deep joy. That the physical world was more like a curtain than something rock bottom. And as soon as I became aware that I was having this experience it faded. It took some for me to process what had happened. And when I looked at my clock four hours had passed–FOUR HOURS. The mind is susceptible to delusions. I am evidently very susceptible to religious delusion and without God to show me the difference between reality and the fragmented perception of my own mind…then I am just throwing it all out. I dont want anything to do with any of it. It isn’t safe.

  170. Absorption, hallucinatory experience, and the continuum hypothesis!! That’s what I have been looking for! That is the self-understanding I needed. It explains so much…to finally have a satisfying understanding to such nagging concerns!!

  171. Simon,
    I mentioned this earlier and in response I might once more: As validation is necessitated, it is safer to study/read the right material (and then consult with your spiritual Father) in the beginnings, it is more valuable than even prayer (which will never normally depart from one’s day anyway).
    You still dindn’t answer me re Elder Aimilianos and St Silouan though?

  172. Dino,
    Thank you for these suggestions to Simon. We don’t know whether they will be helpful for him but I will corroborate that my parish priest suggested that I read St Silouan’s biography.

    In those circumstances that I have had undesirable experiences I’ve come to learn to share them. And I have done so with my priest. In my case his answer was simple. Ignore them. Being ordinary is part and parcel of humility. I’ve dodged some bullets but not others. I pray for us. I ask Dino that you pray for us too.

  173. The biography of Saint Silouan was the first biography of a Saint that I read. I recently found out that it was also the first biography of a Saint that my cradle Orthodox priest read. It had a profound impact on both of us.

    And I, too, thank you very much, Dino, for all of your wonderful comments.

  174. “This is why sorrowful and isolated souls cannot delight in God. Will they be
    saved? As through fire (1 Cor 3.15). We don’t know. It depends on different things. But
    that is another question. In any case, we’re not talking about that kind of pain. To
    repeat: it’s absolutely essential that these two elements are not found within us. When
    we experience spiritual isolation and a heavy heart, it means that we’ve turned our
    backs on God.”

    So, now I guess I have turned my back on God?? Is that it, Dino? On top of everything else I’ve supposedly have done wrong–on top of all that–now I’ve turned my back on God?? Dude, yer god is just sitting around waiting to be offended by human weakness. It is like he is just sitting around waiting for some excuse to withdraw as the means to motivate you to work harder: ‘If you REALLY love me you will forget about everything else and love ONLY me.’

    We can maybe discuss The Progression of the Soul offline if you want…but I’m not impressed. It says exactly what I would expect it to say.

  175. Simon
    I also struggled for.a very long time with Elder Aimilianos (and kept coming back for direct clarifications of scandalous words of his in good faith).
    But it’s best to remember that this is a pedagogically strict teaching that is then alternated with very comforting interjections. Carrot and stick. Being pedagogical means it does not here describe “yer god” but what is within our own powers to struggle and do rather than struggle to not do. It is a key difference.
    Jesus’ words are often like that too and I don’t think specific examples are needed…
    Have you read St Silouan’s experience that is like yours in some parallels?
    God bless you my brother.

  176. Dino. I you want to discuss this offline…I will be more than happy to discuss it with you. I just am not comfortable discussing my impressions on the blog.

  177. Ok. I understand.
    I could only do that if Father Stephen blesses it.
    Although I firmly believe he is infinitely more qualified to discuss it…

    Here’s a small excerpt of St Silouan’s experiences:

    St Silouan was granted the rare gift of unceasing prayer of the heart while still a novice. This was followed by a fierce struggle against thoughts of pride and of despair over his salvation, to which he was subjected by the demons. One night, while he was praying in his cell, he was suddenly filled with an unusual light which passed right through his body. His soul was in turmoil. Even though the prayer continued to work within him it had lost its contrition and the novice realized that this was a case of Satanic delusion.
    He fought against these demonic attacks for six months praying as hard as he could, wherever he found himself, and he plumbed the depths of despair. Sitting in his cell, he thought: ‘God is implacable’. He felt utterly abandoned and for about an hour his soul was enveloped in the hellish darkness of indescribable despair. At the hour of Vespers, while he was saying the Jesus prayer and gazing at the icon of Christ on the iconostas in the chapel at the mill, in a manner passing all understanding, he was suddenly illumined by a supernatural light- joyful and sweet this time – and beheld the living Christ, gazing back at him with ineffable gentleness. Divine love entered and spread through the whole of his existence and caught up his spirit in the contemplation of God. For the next forty-five years of his monastic life, he constantly confessed that, through the Holy Spirit, he had known Christ Himself, Who had appeared to him and had revealed His Grace in all its fullness. That Christ is all mercy, humility, love and joy. The vision altered his soul, to the extent that his insatiable spirit, focused night and day on his beloved Lord, cried: ‘My soul thirsts for the Lord and I seek Him with tears. How can I not seek You? You sought me first and gave me a taste of the sweetness of the Holy Spirit. And my soul loved You completely’.

    However, fifteen years after the Lord had appeared to him, when Silouan was engaged in one of the many nocturnal struggles with devils which had come to torment him again after the lessening of the perceptible grace of the ‘honey-moon period’ (after encountering the Lord in the Uncreated Light). No matter how he tried, he could not pray with a pure mind. At last he rose from his stool, intending to bow down and worship, when he saw a gigantic devil standing in front of the ikon, waiting to be worshipped. Meanwhile, the cell filled with other evil spirits, Silouan sat down again, and with bowed head and aching heart he prayed,
    ‘Lord, Thou seest that I desire to pray to Thee with a pure mind but the devils will not let me. Instruct me, what must I do to stop them hindering me?’
    And in his soul he heard,
    ‘The proud always suffer from devils.’
    ‘Lord,’ said Silouan, ‘teach me what I must do that my soul may become humble.’
    Once more, his heart heard God’s answer,
    ‘Keep thy mind in hell, and despair not.’
    This he took as the foundation of how to learn true humility at last, the quality that makes one like Christ.

  178. I could only do that if Father Stephen blesses it.
    Although I firmly believe he is infinitely more qualified to discuss it…
    Here’s a small excerpt of St Silouan’s experiences:
    St Silouan was granted the rare gift of unceasing prayer of the heart while still a novice. This was followed by a fierce struggle against thoughts of pride and of despair over his salvation, to which he was subjected by the demons. One night, while he was praying in his cell, he was suddenly filled with an unusual light which passed right through his body. His soul was in turmoil. Even though the prayer continued to work within him it had lost its contrition and the novice realized that this was a case of Satanic delusion.
    He fought against these demonic attacks for six months praying as hard as he could, wherever he found himself, and he plumbed the depths of despair. Sitting in his cell, he thought: ‘God is implacable’. He felt utterly abandoned and for about an hour his soul was enveloped in the hellish darkness of indescribable despair. At the hour of Vespers, while he was saying the Jesus prayer and gazing at the icon of Christ on the iconostas in the chapel at the mill, in a manner passing all understanding, he was suddenly illumined by a supernatural light- joyful and sweet this time – and beheld the living Christ, gazing back at him with ineffable gentleness. Divine love entered and spread through the whole of his existence and caught up his spirit in the contemplation of God. For the next forty-five years of his monastic life, he constantly confessed that, through the Holy Spirit, he had known Christ Himself, Who had appeared to him and had revealed His Grace in all its fullness. That Christ is all mercy, humility, love and joy. The vision altered his soul, to the extent that his insatiable spirit, focused night and day on his beloved Lord, cried: ‘My soul thirsts for the Lord and I seek Him with tears. How can I not seek You? You sought me first and gave me a taste of the sweetness of the Holy Spirit. And my soul loved You completely’.
    However, fifteen years after the Lord had appeared to him, when Silouan was engaged in one of the many nocturnal struggles with devils which had come to torment him again after the lessening of the perceptible grace of the ‘honey-moon period’ (after encountering the Lord in the Uncreated Light). No matter how he tried, he could not pray with a pure mind. At last he rose from his stool, intending to bow down and worship, when he saw a gigantic devil standing in front of the ikon, waiting to be worshipped. Meanwhile, the cell filled with other evil spirits, Silouan sat down again, and with bowed head and aching heart he prayed,
    ‘Lord, Thou seest that I desire to pray to Thee with a pure mind but the devils will not let me. Instruct me, what must I do to stop them hindering me?’ And in his soul he heard, ‘The proud always suffer from devils.’
    ‘Lord,’ said Silouan, ‘teach me what I must do that my soul may become humble.’ Once more, his heart heard God’s answer, ‘Keep thy mind in hell, and despair not.’ This he took as the foundation of how to learn true humility at last, the quality that makes one like Christ.

  179. Simon
    I distinctly remember hearing the eminent spiritual figure of the 20th century, elder Sophrony, after so many experiences of Grace that one could claim were rarely matched, exclaiming assuredly that the only way for the healing of people like you describe yourself (as well as for certain addicts -not all), is not so much Grace filled experience but total obedience to a good spiritual Father. The outsourcing of one’s self management to him in trust as-if-to-God.
    It seems you have been given this in Father Stephen. Why ask for other things here? These are my thoughts.

  180. Dino I wasnt asking you to be my confessor. You recommended the article and I wanted to discuss the article with you. That’s it.

    As for the kind of obedience you are referring to Fr Stephen feels very uncomfortable with it. Ive already asked.

    But as it stands Im very confident trait absorption explains what I have been seeking to understand.

  181. Dino, Simon
    Simon is correct – I could never take on such a spiritual responsibility – it is not within the range of gifts God has given me. I also am highly cautious about such a practice at any time. It would seem appropriate in certain settings for a monastic – but I do not think it has a proper place within life outside a monastery – for married people.

    I trust God’s grace and His providence – it’s the only way I’m being saved.

  182. Simon,
    I just googled trait absorption. You have an intensity when it comes to religious experience that is not common. My own thoughts are that it has to do with your background and experience. But, I can only think about it and ponder. The whole of it is more than I understand – it’s not simple (very few things about us are). I think your own instincts in this are worth paying attention to – particularly if they slow you down a bit and allow something less intense. I remember sharing with you about a friend who was bi-polar, who had to give up religion, because it “made him crazy.” He’s done much better in that mode. He believes in God, but he stays away from much more than that – because it’s just not healthy for him.

    In our contemporary world, we are confronted with a vast array of choices – which God, which religion, which philosophy, etc. It’s kind of crazy itself. If we lived, for example, in a traditional Orthodox society, one could be Orthodox without a lot of thought and only use or take what seemed healthy. I know any number of rather skeptical Orthodox believers. Not everybody cares much about flying monks (to use our conversation’s example).

    My own early experience in the Charismatic Movement “burned me out,” and left me quite skeptical. Oddly, it was that skepticism that first drew me towards Orthodoxy and the Tradition of the faith. It actually has a very strong critique of delusion and a healthy questioning. Often, it gets very overlooked in “Internet Orthodoxy.”

    I don’t mind miracles – so long as no one treats them like they’re important – that is to say – I can take them or leave them. When I’m with Orthodox folks who are mostly caught up in that sort of thing, I find a way to excuse myself and go somewhere else. It’s like a distraction from sanity.

    I believe in the death and resurrection of Christ – for many, many reasons – beginning with the historical argument (which I think is quite solid). For me, if that is true, then all is well. I take the rest of the Church and the Tradition as that which has been handed down, and the life of the Church through the ages – warts and all.

    I have, over time, become very immersed in the sacramentality of all things – but, I would not describe that perception as anything “miraculous” or “spooky.” Everything simply points to the goodness of God as made known in Christ’s Pascha. I’m not very intense…I’m very ADHD which is a Cross I bear…with growing patience.

    At one point in my life, I took a few months off from God (that’s how I thought about it) and told Him that’s what I was doing and asked for His protection. But I needed not to think about everything for a while. This was when I was coming out of the Charismatic movement. I simply wanted to breathe and be left alone for a while. After that, I found my way back to the Episcopal Church and quietly attended the early Eucharist service, took communion and went home. People gave you space and it wasn’t the weirdness that it has become today.

    I still like the quiet of a service when possible. But I neither need nor want strong experiences. Life is already a strong experience. I want to actually live it.

  183. Fr Stephen I want God so bad its crushing me on the inside. It is all I have ever really wanted. Remember the story of the camouflage clothes my dad made me wear? Remember what I did? All I have ever really wanted is God’s presence. That’s it.

    I understood what you said about your friend and I accept how you applied that to me.

    Sometimes to say goodbye the person you are leaving has to become devil. Its the only way to create the distance.

  184. Simon,
    I very much understand what you’re saying. I think (and don’t know) that some of the intensity, if not most, is something that is driven by your experience – a need for healing, for an end to estrangement and abandonment (?) the being alone – i.e. communion. Oddly, I think the intensity gets in the way of the goal. It’s possible to experience the “intensity” so “intensely” that it overwhelms everything else.

    In that sense, I think is it good to relax the intensity, to allow things to develop slowly – naturally.

    In general terms, intensity, like speed, etc., is discouraged in Orthodoxy – because it breeds delusion and confusion. It is a thing in itself. It’s why I (frustratingly) suggest people go slow when they first come to the Church. If it’s possible to put the intensity in some sort of “parenthesis” – where it’s set aside and ignored to an extent – and get on with life – with or without acknowledging God – it would be helpful – I think. God is with us no matter what we do. Communion with Him is also communion with the self and the revelation of the true self. Our intensity, I think, is not the self, but an artifact of something else.

    It’s in that context that I think life and faith best go forward.

    The need to make something “become the devil” in order to lead it – is just as destructive and delusional as anything else. I would work quietly to say goodbye to the intensity – either way. A good reason for this is that the intensity will not leave you alone. It’s not really controllable when it’s roaming free. It must do “something.”

    Just some thoughts.

  185. I understand. It seems that the presence of God is for the people who with quiet reserve leave their families and friends and shuffle off to a monastery where they finally see God after having purged the heart of all impurities which–if that’s true–means that chumps like me are out of luck. God will for all intents and purposes always be somewhere else. Just the idea of it makes me resentful.

    But I feel like this “conversation” has allowed me to unearth something I can take back to a counselor.

  186. Simon,
    I think you’re taking this in a wrong direction. What do you expect in the “presence of God”? How do you know that He is not present? What if there is something within you that makes it somewhat problematic for you? What if that something needs attention, even healing?

    If you spoke with monastics – would they all have some sense of the presence of God? – in the manner you imagine it to be? Or is it something different?

    My thoughts are that He is indeed present – always and everywhere – and not in some sort of “tailor-made” thing. Though, I’m not certain what you mean by His presence. I’m not sure that it would be something that is part of my life – depending on how it’s described. It’s not intense particularly.

    It seems that you grasp at words or thoughts from others and turn them into something to resent. It also sounds like you imagine any of this to be easy for others and only hard for you. It devalues everyone’s experience other than your own. It’s imaginary.

  187. Simon, I happened upon a two part talk by Father Christophe Lepoutre that he gave at a Russian Orthodox Church, St. John the Baptist, in Washington DC. It was on healing addictions and you can find it on You Tube. He talks about things, traits we have inherited from our families and how these influence our lives. He also has a podcast of the same name on Ancient Faith radio. I think you might find it encouraging. I cannot underestimate the damage I experienced in being a JW. Before that, I didn’t feel like I fit in but I could still connect with people. Since then connection has been an issue due to not trusting my own judgment and how gullible I was which now makes me very skeptical. There’s really nothing anyone can say, no matter how well meaning. That is just where I am at. I no longer expect anything from people in that way.

    I too was drawn to Jesus as a young child. I remember saying after my JW experience to God how few people wanted Him. I was searching with all my heart for the truth and He didn’t seem to want me. What was I left with? Making a success in the world? Empty. Even the emptiness I feel is more endurable than the alternative. I believe enough. I remember Jesus said to his disciples when many others stopped following him, “will you leave me too?” They responded, “where would we go? You have the words of eternal life.” That is where I am at. There is nowhere else. No one else. If the rest of my days continue to be the dark night of my soul so be it. Time here is so short. One day we will close our eyes and wake up in another place. I believe God is good. I wish I had the sense that I was saved or could be sure I would end up with God in heaven. I do not. But I trust that God is good. He desires all to be saved. I want to be saved. I want to be with Him in heaven. He is my creator. I will go to sleep tonight and I may wake to see another day. I will keep taking in some spiritual food. Avail myself to the resources of help that there are.

    Which is why I think the podcast I mentioned might be helpful as well as watching his talk on You Tube. It helps to understand how and why we feel and act the way we do and what we can do. You are in my prayers and you are not alone.

    Erin

  188. Father, Simon,
    A clarification on obedience when outside monasticism…The way I understand ‘outsourcing’ one’s self-management through trustful obedience to a good spiritual Father (as advised by Elder Sophrony for some ‘special cases’) clearly cannot be in the absolute manner that the monastic way of discipleship affords, especially when one is married…! But we have to remember that these ‘special cases’ (that can be healed by obedience) are, principally, people in need of turning into a psychologically balanced, healthy human first, i.e.: prior to turning into a spiritually discerning saint (in other words, we cannot jump from psychologically disturbed states to sainthood ‘directly’, we will be deluded by our neurosis rather than by the demons). So such persons (it might be the majority nowadays…) need this trusted guidance, whether married or monastics, because even though they think they need God, God has to come to them slowly, through a combination of things, mainly including, through this human guidance first…
    So, there are some simple things that can be ‘extracted’ from the monastic absolutes, always with discernment :
    For example, a person with the authority and seal of God’s blessing (the spiritual father) telling you to not pray as you do, but only if you can muster all your childlike innocence in an imageless, memory-less, worry-less, expectation-less, simplistic repetition of the Jesus prayer, one that shuns all intense experience, for so and so amount of time, and after this much reading, and no more, means that you can have this prayerful part of your day that is given over to a new father, not our biological one, who in turn reveals Christ’s desire for you, voiced as a simple request that you can understand and keep.
    Such small things in obedience are transformative deeply. Besides, it shifts our focus and activates our good-will to do God’s will/desire (as voiced by the spiritual father’s suggestion to us, a suggestion we can take or leave and always discuss with our guide, but taking it is available for us now, when we were inventing arbitrary ways beforehand), instead of doing our own will which has a proven track record of being unable to detect certain types of delusion, no matter how good it is at detecting others.
    If, for example, he says he thinks it’s a good idea I have a daily half hour at the gym, then I do it in a different spirit to how I would have done it of my own accord, I am obeying another will to my perverted one and this becomes a joyous window to spiritual health (via the psychological health of something like a “re-embodiment of my biological existence” through this new ecclesial fatherhood given me by Christ’s Church).
    I mustn’t then react that: ‘Hey! I want God so singularly, and he (the spiritual father) sends me to the gym!’ No. I will think thus: God wants me to go to the gym for whatever reason, let me obey Him. Wow! I can obey him by just doing that?! Fantastic…!
    If he tells me to go to therapy, my natural distrust of it evaporates and my trust of his counsel liberates me to go. “I am within God’s will by just going to psychotherapy! How easy?!”
    It also has other benefits: if he tells me to try to say so and so to my mum or manager or my child, and I actually was going to say this same thing to them already, anyway (or I have confessed that I want to say so and so and asked what he thinks), the assurance I have when saying it is greater.
    Or when I counterattack out of weakness at a perceived threat to my new secret obedience from a person in my family, I go ask if that was a bad idea and when my father tells me he would rather I meekly accept the harsh words in silence and momentarily give up the obedience for the sake of that family member, then I instantly alter my reactions.
    Nervous dispositions can learn to calm down through this and many otherwise torturous experiences for them, will stop holding such a torturous effect on them – they will be able to accept them as just part of life in meekness and trustfulness and they will start to discern God’s secret hand of providence more and more.

    I remember someone being told by their spiritual Father, after a torturous few days of black spiritual and psychosomatic dread that thrust them violently into unbending demands for God’s felt presence and Light (which they knew of from childhood)–as the only way out of their unendurable hell–, : “God’s presence, his uncreated light is enveloping you right now, I see it though you are clearly not seeing a thing other than your agony, trust my words and forget about demanding God to do something about your experience. See it as a cloud over your view of the sun that will soon pass.”
    I admit that, it is as if someone tells you that there is actually a way of learning to relax your breath and thoughts so that you can be buried alive for 5 minutes without losing your mind, when you want to just see the daylight immediately as your palpitations and panic are unbearable and 5 seconds seem to feel like 5 hours… However, if you have built that blessed trust into that someone’s authority, your trust in them can enable your soul to shift focus from panic and abruptly think: ‘it’s only a 5 mins! Easy! I will just relax…’ and when you are taken out after five minutes you thought it was only 5 seconds.

    Gradually acquiring this internal flexibility is a new thing that comes from such obedience, and such obedience has a foundation of a healthy kind of genuine distrust of self though.

    Erin,
    Looking forward to hearing that talk!

  189. Simon – I frequently hear you say that other’s comments show you again and again that you do not love God. But how, according to Christ, do we know if we love God? By keeping His commandments. If you are doing your best to keep His commandments, then you are loving God. In the modern world, I think we want to make love all about emotion, but that is not how Christ defines love. Love is an action. The way we love God is to Worship Him through Liturgy and participation in the Sacraments and practicing our own prayer rule at home, and through serving Him by serving the Church and our neighbors. It’s all very tangible stuff, not some emotional state that we must achieve. When we first start trying to fulfill His commandments, we may not feel a darn thing. But by practicing His commandments consistently and diligently, over time, our love for and faith in God grows. Ultimately, it’s a Mystery which cannot be explained by the mind, but only experienced in the heart. God is with you always.

  190. Esmee,
    Indeed.
    We start with the commandments rather blindly, and end with the commandments most lucidly.

    The daring leap of faith (prior to proof) quickly reveals to us that there is nothing that we can do that will make God stop loving us.
    It eventually results in the verification (beyond any doubt) of God’s ‘secret hand, waging war against our opponents’(Exodus 17:16) in our life, and this activates our loving response to God’s love in a more earnest way.

  191. Erin,

    Thank you for recommending the talk of Father Christophe. It’s really really good, and pointing to a lot of things I think many people have little understanding of (regarding addictions and family influence). I certainly don’t (I had no idea ‘codependency’ is considered an addiction).

    I just want to say that it was good to hear him say how important prayer is – Father Stephen said earlier that promising results is not appropriate, and I apologize to Simon for that. But I am still a great believer in prayer, especially to the Saints and to the Mother of God, who intercede before the King for us. I loved how Fr. Christophe says our prayers influence the past (generations of our ancestors), the present and the future – and how we can help to break down the patterns in our lives by praying (even if it is only a simple, disciplined, scheduled reciting of words)… It is a mystery reaches depths we cannot being to understand.

    So please know you are all in my prayers, those who have read this blog in the past, who read it now and who may read it in the future. Please forgive me where I wronged you (you especially Erin ❤) and those who I offended with my comments in the past. May God repair the damage and bless you.

    And may He grant us all healing and to know Him in His mysteries in His Holy Orthodox Church. Let’s all of us offer our prayer for the Church in this difficult time.

  192. Agata, thank you for your comment. I too was encouraged by the talk and can’t improve upon what you’ve said. We really are all connected. Jesus said what we do to the least we do unto Him. It really is all a mystery and very sobering. And how like God to allow our feeble attempts at prayer to make a difference. And nothing to forgive…..I know I don’t always react to things as well as I could. Please forgive me too.

  193. Esmée La Fleur,
    “Regarding “who is my neighbor?” – as understand it – everyone is my neighbor. The rich and poor, the healthy and sick, the happy and sad, my relatives, my physical neighbors, the checker at the grocery store, the driver in the car next to me, the other commentors on this blog, the members of my parish, the homeless on nearly every street corner, etc. Everyone, without exception, is my neighbor.”

    I am seeking to find the right actions towards my neighbour. In the physical world, what is the right way to act and react towards my neigbour. For example, I used to live in one of the nice areas of Chicago. While driving I was forcefully rear ended. I got out of the car to talk to the other driver. His car had no licence plates. My sence was that something was odd/not-nice about him. He told me “let us pull over, not to block traffic” then as I was pulling over, he sped off. I still have a scar from that accident. We both lived in the same city, but we had completely different backgrounds and upbringing. He was probably a poor person on government support but he was physically strong healthy and active. Also some of my neighbours (i.e. the citizens of Chicago) would carry guns and kill each other rather frequently and I had suspicion that if I tried to physically stop this (“poor”) person from fleeting the scene of the accident, he might have pulled out a gun and shot me. I am looking for action, what is the right action. “Everyone, without exception, is my neighbor.” is too nebulous. (Also in the communist countries everyone, without exception , was each others neighbor/comrade and that was a horrible decline to the lowest common denominator accompanied by a vicious dictatorship.)
    Does the Church have teachings on the right actions in the physical world? Perhaps, one has to talk one-to-one to a priest (much like talking to a lawyer) to aquire guidance for his individual actions?

  194. Ted – my understanding, again based on the teachings of Christ in the Gospels, is that right action toward our neighbors is loving action. Christ tells us that when someone wrongs us, we are to turn the other cheek, and that if someone takes our cloak, we should give them our tunic also. He also tells us to pray for our enemies. I am currently reading a wonderful book called “The Sunflower” by Saint John of Tobolsk. It was originally written in the mid-1600s by a German man (a former Lutheran who converted to Catholicism) and was discovered by Saint John of Tobolsk who then translated into Russian. Amazingly enough, it was only just translated into English this year! The subtitle is, “Conforming the will of man to the will of God,” and it explains in a hundred different ways using Holy Scripture from both the Old and New Testament how EVERYTHING in our life happens according to either the permission of God or the will of God. And this has been the same message of virtually every contemporary Elder or Eldress that I have read, from Saint Paisios to Mother Gavrilia. I highly recommend the book.

  195. And of course, I would always love to hear any thoughts you might have to offer on this subject Fr. Stephen if time allows.

  196. Erin,
    Thank you for your reply to me.
    My invitation to Vespers is always open, when you are ready… 🙂

  197. Ted – Sounds like you took the right action with the guy in the car wreck. Hope you have let it go.

  198. David,

    Well I suppose and hope that psychologically I have let it go but physically I have a scar. I am a “middle class” highly educated young professional involved in a cutting edge high tech business. I feel like I am getting hit from all sides. I relate to Alexis de Tocqueville writtings where he describes the conditions of Americans in the middle, namely that they are fighting a war on two fronts from the people above and the people below. That was the 18th century, I feel right now its worse and the middle class is disapearing. As for the Church, looking from the outside my (perhaps ignorant) sence is that the Church is outside the mainstream and confined to its little corner with its esotheric and abstract concepts that have little to do with the reality which I am facing and with wich I have to deal with. I seem to live in an upside world where education (which takes a lot of hard work and dedication) is not valued by the Church or the public at large and the poor Lazaruses are actually well fed (by the Government which takes my money) and with a big entitelmen attitudes and they may be armed with the potential to rob and kill me.
    Perhaps I should just quit what I am doing, go on Government assistance, find a busy street corner (the police wont touch me because they will be fired/punished if they do), urinate and deficate freely and harrass passers by for money etc. and when I show up at Church in such a condition then I will be loved and be in good standing.

  199. Ted,
    Have you talked with your Priest about what you say here? Hopefully he can guide you as to what it means to love God and neighbor and how to apply that in your life. The basics of the “how’s and why’s” are pretty straightforward. But it is important to confide in someone you can trust, who is able to understand your difficulties and guide you with love, patience and acceptance.
    If I may add, when you pray, pray from the heart, just as you speak from the heart to us here. Tell God your needs, your frustrations, your desires. Yes, He knows these things already, but tell Him anyway! If possible, to the best of your ability, trust that He is with you, knows you better than you know yourself, loves you like none other and is working for your good.

    God bless!

  200. I hear your anger, Ted. My own anger probably caused me more pian than anything else. I pray that you will be freed from yours.
    God bless.

  201. Ted, I’m not sure you are angry but there is a good amount of frustration in what you say (I know this because at times I get frustrated by the things you describe as well). But there are some things worth considering.

    First is that the Church is not in it’s own corner. Rather it defines the situation we find in the world. That the world wants to define itself and disregard the Church and its teachings is irrelevant. Ground yourself in the Church, Her teachings, Her calendar, Her sacraments, everything. This is the foundation of Truth.

    As for the pressure you feel, it is real. The world is unkind to many and the middle class is, in fact, under assault(s) on many sides. Will it disappear? I don’t know. I expect it will survive in some form. But the trials of the middle class have nothing to do with salvation and salvation should be the focus of our lives. This entails a great many things, but chief among them is humility and self-sacrifice. Trust in God. The paths of our lives are rarely straight but He guides us down them.

    As for our neighbors, live humbly and with as much love as you can. My priest once told me to give to the beggars on street corners, whether they are “professional beggars” or actually in need. The good that is done is done for my salvation. I give away money, which I count as very valuable when I should not. I learn humility by being willing to be cheated. My money will not save them from poverty or greed. But giving it away will save me from dependence on manna. Live humbly, give thanks, and (this one I’m learning is very hard) learn to correct no one. If your voice is requested, present the view of the Church but do not present it in opposition. Let it speak its own Truth. When all else fails, be silent and trust the lives around you to God with thanksgiving. Pray always.

    Just my thoughts.

  202. Ted – Based on the Holy Gospels and Epistles, the teachings of the holy Father, as well as the writings of ancient and modern Saints. I have come to understand that everything – without exception – is either willed by God or allowed by God for our salvation. Sometimes this is hard to swallow, but it doesn’t make it any less true. I recommend reading the newly translated The Sunflower by Saint John of Tobolsk if you wish to explore living in God’s will in more depth.

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