Alone – You Are Not

“Alone – You Are Not”

This is not a quote from Yoda. It is a simple statement concerning the nature of our existence. The fullness of existence is only found in communion, a mutual indwelling in which our lives are known and experienced not just in their self-contained form, but in their Interrelation to others and everything around us. True existence is a connected-ness. It is also the very place where the instability and fragility of our lives is most revealed. If we can withdraw into ourselves, it is possible to imagine that we are fine, and that the things and people around us are just noise, sometimes enjoyable and other times annoying. But we do not think of the things and people around us as if our lives depended on them.

Against this withdrawal are the words of St. Silouan: “My brother is my life.”

At the very core of Christian belief is the Trinitarian God. Trinity is not just a revelation of how we speak about God. It is also the revelation of the very character of existence. The monotheism of Islam substituted God as individual for God as Trinity. As such, it might be the first modern religion. That many modern Christians struggle with Trinitarian belief and expression is evidence of how far removed modernity is from classical Christian roots. For us, “relationship” is a word that describes how we are getting along with another individual. For the Fathers, “relation” is an expression of mutual indwelling and coinherence. This exists because that exists, and they exist in one another. That is the true meaning of relationship (or, better, interrelationship).

When Christ says, “No one comes to the Father except by me,” modern Christians take it to mean that non-Christians go to hell. It is, in fact, a statement about the nature of Trinitarian existence. No one can come to the Father apart from Christ because there is no Father apart from Christ. The Son is “Son,” because of the “Father.” But the “Father” is not “Father,” except for the “Son” (and so on).

This is true of God but is equally true of us. The limit within human existence is that we experience our personal existence as individual existence – or the temptation to do so is always present. It assumes that who we are only refers to what is within the boundaries of our skin.

A meditation: The breath we breathe. Is it part of us or is it something else? We cannot live without it. When we take it in or breathe it out, it is “our” breath. The only human existence without breath is a lifeless corpse. God “breathed” into the dust and it became a living soul. But the “breath” is also inherently the air around us. When does the air around us become “us,” and when does it cease to be “us”?

Of course, this is just a meditation on breath and air. But the same meditation could be extended to everything else around us. It could and should be extended to every person around us. If there were no relationships whatsoever, we simply would not exist. There is nothing within us that isn’t something existing in interrelationship. Nothing.

We do not create relationships, nor do we have them. We are relationships and we either perceive this and pay attention or we do not. Inasmuch as we do not, we begin moving towards non-existence – death. This is not a description of massive and universal extraversion. It is possible to be very quiet, even a hermit, and yet be profoundly aware and responsive to our existence as interrelationship.

The Scriptures say that “God is love.” They do not say that God simply “has” love. God “is” love, which makes love a matter of ontology. That God is love is perfectly consistent with His existence as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. What we do not see clearly is that we are love, just as truly as God is love. Love is a mode of existence, indeed, the mode of existence.

“My brother is my life.” Consider the fullness of such a statement in Christ’s words, “I have come that they might have life and that more abundantly.”

I will add a note of apology and explanation. I have previously written articles that criticize the use of the word “relationship,” and, yet, here I am using it myself. The earlier articles stand, but I am here seeking to recapture the word “relationship” and use it in its older, theological meaning. Despite that vast vocabulary of English (the largest language in existence), words still create limits. I hope the reader will understand and be patient with me.

109 comments:

  1. I was teaching an Orthodox youth class and pointed out that being created “in the image of God” means being created within communion. That the statement, “Let Us create man in Our Image” was essentially one of communion. It silenced the class to consider that; it had never occurred to them that our very creation is an act of communion.

  2. Beautiful Father 🙏💗 Thank you.

    I offer a few of my favorite quotes from Mother Gavrilia on this subject of Love, Breath, and Relationship…

    When there is love, all problems can be solved… You see, Love is given, as the Spirit also is given. When God breathed His Spirit into us, He also gave us Love – because they go together; they are bound together. You cannot have the Spirit of God and make differentiations out of non-love. It is impossible! …Christ has told us, “If there is this love among you, then all will know that you are My Disciples.” From nothing else – neither from wisdom, nor from any other ability. Do you have Love? …Then you have everything! You cannot love and still wish to be superior to the Other… because you see this Other as an image of God.

    Everything is in God… Once you feel that way with God, and you have nothing else on your mind except God – day and night – then… you can make no distinctions at all… Therefore, the Spirit of God must dwell in you… I believe that instead of speaking, you should start by loving that person. Once you give your love, God – Who is Love – will show you the way to act… Not according to your own wish or according to your reason. You will, first of all, love that person no matter where he is or where he stands – high up or low down, heathen or anything else. From the moment you start loving, the Will of God will guide you and teach you how to speak.

    ~Mother Gavrilia, The Ascetic of Love, p. 330-332.

    What is man’s destination? “I give you a new commandment: Love one another.” The destination is, again, Love. Nothing else. Do nothing else… When you see a person, make yourself non-existent, really, as an entity, and enter into that person’s soul, even if he is a wrong-doer or someone you do not understand… You must do this! For he, too, has in him the Breath of God, the Spark of Christ, and a heart that beats like yours… Unless you do that, you cannot help the other person. And what is the purpose of loving only God, of raising our hands vertically to the Lord, and not extending our arms also horizontally to take in the whole of humanity… and so turn our body into the Sign of the Cross… Saint Augustine said, “Love, and do anything you want,” because, if you love, you cannot do harm! …When man ceases to love, it is as if he ceases to breathe. Love is like our breath. We are made, we are kneaded so-to-speak, with love… love, love, love.

    ~Mother Gavrilia, The Ascetic of Love, p. 260-261.

    Love can do everything. Everything! It has so much power! Love and prayer can shake the world… When God created us, He blew His Breath into us. This Breath of God is Love. Do we stop loving? Then we stop living! …For God has given us Love… our heart, our eyes, all His Gifts, for that purpose… First, to love Him with all our soul, with all our being, as we are told in the First Commandment, and second, never to disassociate our self from the others. We are told, “Love thy neighbor as thy self.” Who am I to say, “This one is bad, I must not love him,” …Ah, No! Love is not like that. Love loves everyone, as God loves us…”

    ~Mother Gavrilia, The Ascetic of Love, p. 257.

  3. Wonderful quotes from Mother Gavrilla, Esmée, reminds me of words of Saint Porphyrios on the love that sees ‘our brother is ourself’. She actually had the greatest spiritual admiration for Saint Porphyrios and was astounded when -as they were both nearing death (which they always saw as birth into eternal life)- he called her on the phone (completely out of the blue).

  4. I was just talking with my wife last night that she is my life, as is my son and my close friends. The circle keeps getting larger.

  5. That’s fascinating, Dino, because when I tell others about Mother Gavrilia, I always describe her as the “female version” of Saint Porphyrios! I really hope they republish her biography in English again on of these days. Used copies are hugely expensive.

    I came across another quote on this subject that I really love too…

    Once, I asked my Angels, “Where does God want me to be? What does He want me to do?” The categorical answer was, “Where you go, what you do, how you live… is of less significance. Only one thing is important: the quality and quantity of the Love you give to all – to all – without discrimination…” The quality is determined by the giving of Love without expecting reward. As to quantity, Love must be endless, to the point of personal sacrifice. For Love without sacrifice is not Love according to God. But, what kind of sacrifice? That which is not felt as being sacrifice! …Not the calculating kind which says, “I have sacrificed this and that, and what have I got in return?” That is Pharisaism!

    ~Mother Gavrilia, The Ascetic of Love, p. 213.

  6. I would be much happier living alone, but God has forced me to be dependent on other people and, thereby, forced me to grow spiritually. I know if I lived by myself, as I would prefer, I would not be nearly as aware of my faults and my passions and would think I am much healthier spiritually than I really am. It is only through relationships that our ability to love one other unconditionally is put to the test. Fortunately, God knows what’s best for each of us.

  7. Hi Fr. Stephen,

    I’m not trying to be troublesome but something about this article isn’t sitting quite right with me. I don’t mean that I disagree with it but it doesn’t feel quite complete. I realize that it is presumptuous of me to say this – please forgive me. I’m just trying to figure out why I’m reacting this way.

    Perhaps part of me is recalling your past article about the “fiction of relationships” in which the word “relationship” was removed from the list of acceptable words – and now you are using it rather freely. So freely, in fact, that now you tell me that I am relationship. I’m not accusing you of contradicting yourself – just confusing me a bit. I suspect that you are communicating a very similar message here as you were in the other article but words are getting in my way.

    One of the problems in discussing “relationship” with God is that it sounds too much like how I would describe my interactional patterns with other people or creatures. While there is a certain resemblance, very much helped along by the Incarnation, there is an essential difference.

    God is in a completely different ontological category from us created beings. We cannot really comprehend this but we know it is true. He and He alone is Uncreated Being. He is not a being – but Being itself. To our human minds, this sounds like God must be something impersonal – and yet He is completely personal, even within Himself (as Trinity).

    Because of this essential difference, to say “I have a relationship with God” isn’t quite right because it uses the same word (relationship) for the connections between created beings as for the connection between created and Uncreated. The only phrase that I can think of to replace it (and no phrase is adequate), is: “In Him we live and move and have our being.” (St. Paul quoting unspecified poets in Acts 17:28).

    There is no one, no matter how close I am to them, about which I can say this except God. I live in Him. I move in Him. I have my being in Him. I can deny Him in my thoughts or I can turn away from Him by sin. But I cannot truly separate myself from Him (“Where can I go from your spirit? From your presence, where can I flee?” Psalm 139: 7) and still live.

    However, in saying this, I’m not making the argument that these “relationships” I have with other created beings are of no significance. On the contrary. Since we were made to share in the very life of God this involves a “coinherence” with all of life – the Uncreated and created. What we now call “relationships” with other people is the as yet unfulfilled promise of a life of communion.

    In many ways, as you have pointed out, we fall hugely short of this destiny for which we were made. Our human “relationships” are a often misdirected effort to fill our emptiness – the emptiness we experience from sin and separation from God. Often we create more sin and separation in the ways we try to fill this void. However, as we learn to break this pattern and move closer to God, we necessarily grow closer to others.

    In this moving closer, we come to recognize and experience love – for the present “indistinctly, as in a mirror” (1 Cor 13: 12), but with joyful hope in the promise of “face-to-face”.

    Am I understanding you now? Please tell me if I’m not or just delete the comment if it is too far off the mark.

  8. Mary
    I thought what you thought too, but I can’t help but see that the other article on relationships wanted to clear something up regarding modernist understandings of ‘relationship’, while this one has to (for lack of alternatives) use the same word for other reasons.
    I wouldn’t shy away from using “relationship” (instead of the more traditional “communion”), as that’s what many today recognize to provide ‘personal’ (instead of ‘impersonal’ – a la traditional Hinduism’s notion of the divine as ‘thing’) interaction.

  9. Mary,
    What I mean is that a traditional Far Eastern believer [meaning impersonal-deity-believer (prana/chi) for our purposes here] could even say things like: ‘The Divine is around me and in me, my life has meaning to the extent that it revolves around it and I become one with it’. However, he cannot say ‘I have a relationship with it’, it would be like having a relationship with your biceps or your kidney [with ‘things’]…
    A Christian, on the other hand, certainly says ‘I have a relationship with Him’ when also saying ‘My God, You around me and in me, my life has meaning to the extent that it revolves around You and I become one with You’. There are two distinct freedoms of self-determination towards each other involved here.
    Perhaps someone else has better alternative word suggestions…

  10. Mary,
    I was thinking very similar things as I wrote this piece – and thought about including a short explanation of this use of “relationship” in contrast to that earlier article. It is, I fear, just the limits of language. What we mean in modern speech by the word “relationship” is certainly rather trite and insufficient. However, other than “communion,” “indwelling,” “coinherence,” I could not find another word to use other than “relationship.” So, I suppose in this article, I’m trying to commandeer the term and recapture it for proper theological use (which is where it first began). Sorry for the confusion. I think I will edit and put a paragraph of explanation in.

    If I can expand just a little…I think what I want to emphasize here is the point that we do not “have” a relationship, communion, coinherence, etc., so much as that we are a relationship, communion, coinherence, etc. At least, I cannot imagine any way in which our existence is ever something without relation.

    That being the case, the point isn’t so much trying to have a good relationship (that would be modern speech), but to become aware and responsive to the reality of what we really are. “My brother is my life,” is true, but so is “My enemy is my life.”

    St. Paul, speaking about a husband and wife says, “No one ever yet hated his own flesh, but loves it and cherishes it,” and then applies that to the relationship of the two (because they are one flesh). Hatred of the other is thus suicidal. Indeed, I think I would venture to say that the whole world is caught up in a great suicidal madness. Only love has true existence – everything else is death.

    Hope that’s of use. Thanks for remembering the earlier article. Also, thanks for pointing this out!

  11. Fr. Freeman,
    You wrote that only love has true existence. Every thing else is death.
    This is especially true this time of year with Halloween, the Day of the Dead, etc. Hebrews says that we were, before coming to Christ, held in slavery by our fear of death.Yet now,
    as Dino writes, we see death as the passage into life, the very life of the Blessed Trinity. This is the life Christ emphasizes in the great Eucharistic passage in John 6. “Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me.” Talk about communion, coinherence, life as we are relationship in the everlasting bond of love.

  12. Father,
    I can understand how words can trip us up. Language is a very interesting tool given only to mankind. With the vast amount of words in every tribe, nation and tongue it is easy to focus on “a” word and never reach the essence of what is being said.
    I will tell you what struck me last night after reading your piece. It was where you said “What we do not see clearly is that we are love, just as truly as God is love.”
    Your emphasis on “we” I understand, as you explained previously that there can be no life without relationship with another. That is very clear. What got my attention is your use of the present tense…that we are love. Then a string of questions…we are love now ? how can that be considering our many imperfections? even given that we strive to connect with the other, it can not be as pure as the love of the Trinity. Yet you say we are love as truly as God is love. Is it the intention to want to reach that kind of love with another that God looks at?
    Now here’s where I think I’m missing the point…I don’t “feel” like I have ever had or have given love as does God. But love is not a “feeling”. And it’s not a “thing”, as if to give some”thing”. You say it is a mode of existence. It is a doing unto others. It is inhering together with the other. It is void of selfishness. It is a “doing”…an act of love. If I’m on the right track, is this how you can say we are love even in the midst of our imperfections?
    Again Father, your use of the present tense brought me to a full stop. It is a turn of thought that brings me much hope. It eases the sense of failure and such negativity that is quite the burden. After a while it just wears you out.
    Love…God Who is Love…His love is life…I get that. But for Him to offer us to partake of His divine nature…His love…oh, now that is Good News.

    If I am reading too much into your words I quoted, if I am off track here, I very much would like to know.
    Regardless…thanks so much for this post.

  13. Beautiful reflection, Dean.

    And I would add that if – through the grace of God – we can succeed in dying to ourselves in this earthly temporal life, we can experience that real eternal Life to some extent here and now without having to wait for the death of our physical bodies, as so many Saints have shown us.

  14. Esmée La Fleur,
    The trouble is that although, indeed we can have the experience of eternal Life – it’s actually what very naturally lurks in the background of our darkness and silence, when we offer these to God undemandingly– [as you rightly say: “here and now without having to wait for the death of our physical bodies, as so many Saints have shown us”], we do not seem to want them as much as we might claim we do:
    it is other concerns that we unfailingly direct our attentions towards, even when we claim the opposite.
    When I say that I’ve struggled and yet cannot have any such experience, what I am really saying is that I do not want to have it, or, when I think I genuinely try to, I am often trying absorbed in and for myself and not for God: I have expectations from Him towards me and not from me towards Him, I want God’s but not to be God’s, I am after His gifts but not after Him, I don’t make myself a gift to Him, I want Him to belong to me 24/7 (which He does and yet conceals it for my own good) and to show me this frequently, but I won’t show Him that I belong to Him even for an hour each night.
    It’s like the perennial ailment of those who say “I love you” ( meaning an overbearingly gigantic ‘I’ and a hardly-detectable, miniscule ‘you’.)
    The tiniest well-meaning effort, on the other hand, to break away from that, towards an: “i love YOU”, moves us to the camp of those who love God and become filled with His power and grace, which are offered to all, for “God does not favor some more than others” (Rom 2:11; Gal 2:6; Eph 6:9).
    Even through little, but good-willed and unswerving, fasting, stillness, vigil, etc our souls can receive the foretaste of the delight and joy of the eternal light of the Heavenly kingdom. Then love of my neighbour (and an effortless allegiance to the universal community of my beloved God’s loved ones) gives us Mother Gavrilla’s “love of everyone, as God loves”.
    …but glory to God for He “will have all men to be saved” (1 Timothy 2:4) and has an inexhaustible creativity to bring us round to our senses.

  15. Dino – I agree completely. Everyday I fail to make God the primary focus and the most important relationship in my life. For those who have succeeded in doing this, and showing me what it looks like, I am forever grateful. May their lives continue to inspire us to keep refocusing our attention on the “one thing needful.”

  16. I think Father may be saying that we do not exist. We are the relationship – the common union – the communion – between all the people and things in our lives. To the extent that we decide we are something separate and apart from everything else, we die. To the extent we live as the communion of everything in our lives, we live.
    Or he may be saying something else entirely.

  17. David,
    I see what you are saying. I would describe our existence being in a trajectory, a movement, as opposed to ‘either/or’, as if in stasis. The movement can be towards death or towards life….as opposed to ‘static’. That is what I think Father is saying here:
    “We do not create relationships, nor do we have them. We are relationships and we either perceive this and pay attention or we do not. Inasmuch as we do not, we begin moving towards non-existence – death.”

  18. Paula AZ – But aren’t you describing our lives as a thing? Only a thing can have motion. That which has no existence can have no motion. And I am suggesting that we have no existence. If we are in motion we are being a thing separate from all other things. If we are not in motion we can simply be in communion with everything else. Not moving towards or away from. Just being with.
    God bless. ☦️

  19. mmm…that’s good, David…” If we are not in motion we can simply be in communion with everything else. Not moving towards or away from. Just being with.”
    I’ll take a stab at this! I understand your last statement as being a description of living in the “now”…or the eternal, as does God. That, I believe, will be the fullness of our existence in the world to come. But I would have trouble saying that because we have not reached that state of being that means that we are dead. And I say that because being baptized in Christ we are raised from the dead…and, here’s where I see the trajectory…for to remain alive in Christ we must follow Christ. Somewhere in our “growing” we come to recognize we are all one with each other and creation, ‘in Christ’. But there is a beginning. We are “trained up”, we are taught…like a child…but even a child who has been baptized ‘lives’, the child is ‘in Christ’, but does yet not perceive it. So first we learn, and over time, as we grow our perceptions change. And the times we miss the mark, are unjust to others, we move toward death…and the times we ‘love’ we move toward Life.
    I think it is hard to describe this exactly because it is a movement of the spirit/soul, bound as well to the body. I suppose that is why I see it as ‘fluid’.
    Having said all this…I do get your point…I just wouldn’t go as far as to say we have no existence. Sure, we do not “fully” exist…but we exist!
    And God’s blessing to you too, brother!

  20. Thank you, Fr. Stephen, for your clarification, Dino and others for your reflections.

    Another way of looking at the “We are relationship.” or “We are love.” statements is by examining ourselves in the context of all of creation. What are we made of?

    It has been a long time since I studied the physical sciences and I’m sure there are many here who know far more than I do. But my understanding is that our very flesh is made up of tiny particles in relationship with one another. One scientist, a believer, (whose name I cannot remember) even described this interrelationship of tiny particles as “love”. In other words, love is the building block of all matter and most especially of life.

    Now it might seem rather far-fetched to label the relationship between particles as “love” – given that we tend to think of love as something we choose and feel rather than something we are. But given that we are made by God who is love – why would He not use love as the building block for all that He creates? “Love” at the atomic or subatomic level is, of course, primitive, at least by our way of thinking. But, continuing to observe, we see increasing complexity in how all of the atomic particles interact to create molecules, etc. interacting (“loveing”) to make cells – that also interact to make organs – that interact to make bodies. (There are, I’m sure, many levels in this hierarchy of complexity that I have left out; it is beyond me…)

    It does not stop there. The more complex the creatures, the more they “love”, i.e. exist in relationship with other creatures in order to sustain one another and CREATE more life out of the same building blocks from which they were made (enabled to do so by God, of course). We humans are not the only creatures participating in this process of love, so described, but we have been created to do it at yet an even higher level.

    By the Spirit breathed into us, not only are our particles “loving” automatically, not only are our bodies “loving” instinctively, but we are “spirit-enabled” to love as God does (in the sense of loving by will). This capacity enables us to commune with God and one another. Thought of this way, the fabric of our being, body, soul and spirit, is relationship or, more perfectly, love.

    Our inability to recognize this most of the time is because our wills are diseased. Thankfully, there is a cure…

  21. Mary,
    What a beautiful explanation!
    Thank you for sharing it, I have never heard this before. If anyone finds any related articles, please share.
    I am now vaguely remembering something similar about a relationship of the body of a mother and her child, how the love is “encoded” between them… but no details…

  22. Mary,
    I enjoyed your comment too! Our sister Dee (of St. Herman’s) who is a physicist would understand completely your analogy between particles and love. She has spoken many times about how Christ revealed Himself to her as she was peering through a microscope!

  23. Clarifying:
    Yes, I’m not quite saying that we “are” a relationship – but that relationship (communion) is our true mode of existence. When we try to live in a different manner, our existence becomes less full, and can even unravel to an extent.

    I like Mary’s meditation. I would go so far as to say that love is the true mode of existence of all created things. The love we know as humans is something more profound than what is known by a tree or a rock, just as what God knows is beyond us. A tree loves the air and the soil and the rain. In that much, they are wiser than we are because we often fail to love the very things that sustain us.

  24. As a side note, trees communicate with each other and take care of one another. There are some fascinating books that explain this. The created world around us is far more glorious than we, who see it everyday, can ever imagine.

  25. Good note Mary,

    Awhile back someone here recommended “The Hidden Life of Trees” by Peter Wollheben. I purchased it and found it very illuminating about how trees have a life – much more than we as moderns would suspect. I’m sure the same is true of all created things. However to Fr. Stephen’s point, human beings undoubtedly experience love much more profoundly than we do since we are made in His image in a special way. As he mentioned, they currently appear much wiser than us because of their love for the things that sustain them. However, we grow wise as well whenever we submit to His will and simply do what we were created to do.

  26. Mary, The Secret Life of Trees, that Drewster mentioned is a favorite of mine. I think I particularly enjoyed learning that though they communicate with each other, they do so quite slowly. I could only think of Tolkien’s Ents. The world is far more wonderful than modernity dares imagine.

  27. “Clarifying:
    Yes, I’m not quite saying that we “are” a relationship – but that relationship (communion) is our true mode of existence.”

    Thanks Father. An emphasis on ‘being as relationship’, so strongly expressed that it becomes a metaphysic, is in a Christian context a category mistake. In a more sophisticated manner (maybe – certainly more complicated) a long esoteric road has been tread on this from Plotinus to Rushdoony and beyond…

  28. Mary,
    Paula is correct, I can’t help thinking of the world on the atomic and molecular levels, it’s been a long-time practice. There, in that place, similar to the landscapes that our eyes can see, there is incredible unseen beauty that defies description .

    Your comment was very edifying thank you so much for it. I’m very grateful for this community. It is the only place I can speak of such things and be understood.

  29. Thanks for the clarification Father, and to all for the helpful comments.

    There is so much to think about here. My mind goes back and forth. I “think”, but yet I think I think too much! Yet I pursue, in the hope that I may stumble upon moments of revelation.
    So I wonder… How does one stand among the trees and know interconnectedness? I can not make this happen. I think it would be safe to say many of us are in the shadows of such knowing…not completely in the dark, but not yet in the Light. I think it is a slow process and I think there has to be some deliberation as we seek God and His infinite Wonder in how He desires for us to share, by grace, in His divine energies…which has everything to do with this interconnectedness.
    Father’s emphasis on a mode of existence reminded of St. Maximus’ use of the word ‘tropos’. (going back to our discussion earlier on language, I am learning many new words that are absent from our common vocabulary…and that I find very helpful in understanding the teachings of our Fathers). I googled the phrase ‘connection between tropos and hypostasis’ and found in google books an interesting excerpt (from what looks like a very interesting book). For those like myself who get a glimpse of the forest for the trees (!) and desires more, and who finds these concepts St. Maximus talks about helpful in their journey, I share the (long) link…
    https://books.google.com/books?id=RPpTDwAAQBAJ&pg=PA134&lpg=PA134&dq=connection+between+tropos+and+hypostasis&source=bl&ots=Bww2bjv_bJ&sig=yNMOTFOe0AjZIhln9eHmLReUQVc&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwiehIKu97XeAhWQHDQIHf6hDtYQ6AEwAXoECAEQAQ#v=onepage&q=connection%20between%20tropos%20and%20hypostasis&f=false

    In the meantime, I will continue to “be” along with our beautiful creation…people, things, all of it…and pray the Light gets brighter!

  30. Dee…the title of the book from the excerpt in the link I provided is:
    Energy in Orthodox Theology and Physics: From Controversy to Encounter
    By Stoyan Tanev 🙂

  31. Bonjour P. Stephen,
    J’habite en France, et je ne parle pas anglais ! Pardonnez-moi! j’ai découvert votre site depuis peu de temps et je peux lire dans la traduction française qui est proposée. Je suis vraiment heureuse de trouver de belles nourritures spirituelles sur votre blog et toutes les personnes très bonnes qui participent ! Il n’existe pas en France de blog (Orthodoxe) pour échanger nos pensées, nos expériences, enrichir nos vies …. Merci pour votre présence et vos dons !
    Juste une expérience à partager, concernant la “présence” divine dans la création. Un dimanche, après la Divine Liturgie, je suis allée marcher dans la nature et à un moment, je me suis retrouvée devant un bouquet d’arbres (des pins parasols) et en quelques secondes j’ai ressenti que j’entourais, j’enlaçais littéralement ces arbres tous ensembles, en une joie et une tendresse incroyables, cela n’était pas physique mais contenait toute forme d’expression et bien plus réel encore. Cela a duré très peu de temps, mais j’en suis très reconnaissante au Seigneur de m’avoir fait sentir cela.
    Quand Paula dit : “et prions pour que la Lumière devienne plus brillante!” je réponds que la Lumière est déjà là, mais que notre ”nature” lourde et remplie de beaucoup de choses inutiles n’est pas en état de recevoir cela. Mais tout est déjà là ! Comme lors de la Transfiguration du Seigneur, les yeux des apôtres ont été très grands ouverts pour voir le Christ transfiguré ! Un grand don !
    Merci pour votre présence, j’espère que je pourrais écrire quelques fois et que certaines personnes comprennent le français ou que cela sera traduit !
    Bien fraternellement en Christ !
    hélène D.

  32. While reading the Epistle appointed for today (1 Thessalonians 2:19), I was struck by the final verse:

    “For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Is it not even you in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at His coming?”

    What I hear in this is that Saint Paul’s joy is dependent on, and a consequence of, being able to witnessing his brothers and sisters receive Eternal Life in our Lord’s Kingdom. In other words, his relationship to his fellow Christians is essential to his very happiness. Without them, and their co-salvation, Saint Paul would not experience the same kind of joy at the Second Coming. If memory serves me correct, I believe Saint Silouan has expressed this same sentiment.

  33. That “love is the building block of all matter” is the topic of an interesting article by Peter Kreeft called Is There Sex in Heaven? The article goes far beyond modern notions of “sex.” Here is an interesting excerpt:

    “….sexuality goes all the way up and all the way down the cosmic ladder.

    “At the “down” end there is “love among the particles”: gravitational and electromagnetic attraction. That little electron just “knows” the difference between the proton, which she “loves”, and another electron, which is her rival. If she did not know the difference, she would not behave so knowingly, orbiting around her proton and repelling other electrons, never vice versa.

    “But, you say, I thought that was because of the balanced resultant of the two merely physical forces of angular momentum, which tends to zoom her straight out of orbit, and bipolar electromagnetic attraction, which tends to zap her down into her proton: too much zoom for a zap and too much zap for a zoom. Quite right. But what right do you have to call physical forces “mere”? And how do you account for the second of those two forces? *Why* is there attraction between positive and negative charges? It is exactly as mysterious as love. In fact, it *is* love. The scientist can tell you *how* it works, but only the lover knows *why*.”

  34. Connie,

    That explanation from Peter about love and sex makes perfect sense. It also makes sense that we as moderns would attempt to demythologize everything, in this case referring to forces rather than recognizing the deeper and more universal mechanics of love in every aspect of creation. We can see so little on this side of the veil…

  35. Yes. In this modern age of demythologization anything to help in the way of re-enchanting the world is crucial in turning around the deadly, reductionisitic view of creation. This is why I love the fantasies of CS Lewis and George MacDonald, which were immensely helpful in freeing me from the reductionism that was deeply entrenched in my own childhood. It is also why I so appreciate this blog and its commenters!

  36. Connie, indeed the male-female synergy is at the heart of creation. The bedrock of all fecundity. That is why it is both essential and a deep mystery.
    I am attracted in a certain general sense to all women-I like them. But I am only completely attracted to one specific woman, by wife. Fortunately the reverse is also true. We fit in a unique and life-giving way.

    So much so that we have more life to give to others than if we were separate.

  37. Thanks Paula!! I really appreciate the link. I haven’t explored this topic before in available readings that pertain to Orthodoxy. (Although I should have) When I first asked about the topic (science and Orthodoxy), I was a very new catechumen and I was (rightfully I believe) encouraged to focus on readings to introduce me to the traditions of Orthodoxy (Liturgy, Scripture, Saints lives and their respective homilies and icons). I’m going to purchase the book and hope to read it during Christmas when I have more reading time. I’m really looking forward to it!

    I’ve got the book written by Pavel Florensky but haven’t read that one yet either.

  38. This conversation is just a quick glimpse of the wisdom we could glean from the created world around us to help us explain ourselves if we saw everything through enlightened eyes with a heart full of love and life. Right now we see as in a mirror dimly, but any little bit of light is hungrily welcomed – but it seems that light is only gained through sacrifice. Often one sacrifices and those around him are illumined, as St. Seraphim’s quote speaks about.

  39. Hélène D,
    Welcome to Father Stephen’s blog!
    What joy it is to read your comment in French (I wish I could write you back in French, but it is very poor by now). Thankfully, Google does a good job translating, and I hope you can participate in our conversations from time to time.
    I wanted to point you to a great resource you have, where you can find many beautiful books, especially those of Elder Aimilianos whom we mention on this blog often.

    monastere-transfiguration.fr

    Here is a link to comments related to Elder Aimilianos:
    https://blogs.ancientfaith.com/glory2godforallthings/2018/09/20/facing-up-to-reality/#comment-141517

    Bienvenue!

  40. Bonjour Helene!
    I lived in Montreal, Quebec when I was young. Je parle un petit peu français, maintenant (J’ai 63 ans). Merci pour votre reponse!

  41. Having despised the word “relationship” for a long time, particularly if they were meaningful, I greatly prefer the word: inter-relationship.

    I was taught by father that inter-relationship is the proper word to use when describing the interaction of any living thing with other living things.

    When I became Orthodox it took on more and deeper meaning.

  42. Helene! Welcome! Thank God I found out a way to translate on my computer. Thank you for sharing your experience among the Umbrella Pines and your very encouraging words to me! You are so very correct about the presence Christ’s Light as He shows us in the Transfiguration. And yes, I do have a lot weighing me down, but I do get glimpses from time to time!

    I am so glad you found Father Stephen’s blog. How very nice to hear from you! Very much looking forward to hearing from you in the future. Remember us in your prayers and we will do likewise!

  43. I guess ultimately, we are all and everything else, interconnected. This includes matter and Spirit.
    We exist and are (being) in this universe, the universe exists and is, in us.

  44. Merci pour votre accueil si chaleureux ! oui, Gloire à Dieu !
    J’habite en France près d’un monastère (saint Antoine-le-Grand) qui est une dépendance (métochion) de Simonos Pétra (Mont Athos), fondé par Père Placide (†2018), il y a 40 ans. Oui, je lis les livres de Géronda Aimilianos, mais je suis une enfant devant cette écriture et sa grande présence spirituelle…. En France, je connais le monastère de la Transfiguration et le monastère de Solan (Protection de la Mère de Dieu) qui sont aussi des dépendances de Simonos Pétra. Géronda Aimilianos est connu en France grâce à ces trois monastères.
    Pour moi, c’est la lutte chaque jour, avec la prière, pour voir et abandonner les mauvaises constructions, les mensonges, la vaine gloire, tout ce qui empêche la libre circulation de la présence divine, qui se fait sentir en nous suivant notre état intérieur, à des degrés divers, parfois les plus minuscules, jusqu’au plein épanouissement vécu par les saints et saintes…. Quelques fois le Seigneur nous fait don d’une grande grâce pour nous stimuler, nous réveiller, mais ensuite il nous laisse libre de “choisir” la Vie pour que nous fassions notre part, notre travail….
    Quelle merveille de recevoir cet Amour qui donne à voir que tout est relié ensemble, dans une grande respiration, une libre circulation, cette inter-pénétration, et que pas un seul ne doit être perdu… C’est difficile de nommer cela…
    Vous êtes dans mes prières…
    hélène D.

  45. Hélène Dragone,
    You are blessed to be in proximity to those monasteries. You have my very beloved Father Theotokis – another worthy, French ardent disciple of Elder Aimilianos.
    The daily struggle to hold onto the presence of God [which you mentioned] from our own personal position (the creature’s business), rather than God’s position (the Creator’s business), living Him in the ‘here’ and the ‘now’, is a beautiful ascesis and a constant theme in Elder’s wise and practical pedagogy.
    From it, as from a bounteous source, flows love of all others that sees no distinction and yet guards against the corrosion of too much familiarity.

  46. Dino, Je vois régulièrement PèreThéotokis, et sans doute la semaine prochaine je vais le rencontrer. Je pourrai volontiers lui transmettre une chaleureuse salutation de votre part, si vous le souhaitez. PèreThéotokis est maintenant prêtre au monastère, (hiéromoine). Il est très apprécié !
    …”qui ne voit aucune distinction et qui pourtant protège contre la corrosion de trop de familiarité.” J’apprécie beaucoup cette phrase qui devrait être notre “attention” constante dans nos relations de chaque jour….
    Bien à vous
    hélène

  47. Please do send him my warmest regards – from Constantine in french.
    Another remarkable french hieromonk (very good friend of Fr Theotokis) is Fr Seraphim, who started in Essex, was Elder Sophrony’s last ‘helper’, and is now in Valaam. (He speaks so many languages that he is better than google translate)
    France has a secret minority of Orthodox fire, despite it’s fame for being so secularised for the most part.

  48. Chère Hélène,
    From your conversation with Dino, it sounds like you already have access to spiritual resources and monastic communities that we (at least most of us) can only dream about here in America.
    I was going to suggest, depending on how easy it is for you to travel, to visit the Monastery of St. John the Baptist in Essex. Many Fathers and Sisters speak French there. And of course there are the Jesus Prayer services which are prayed in many languages, including French (possibly my favorite by now 🙂 )

    Father Seraphim (Baradell) in Valaam can be found online speaking beautifully in French about monasticism (just do a google search on his name). Here is a beautiful sermon of his on Annunciation.
    http://orthochristian.com/60653.html

    A friend of mine visited his church last year (her parish in Switzerland organizes pilgrimages from time to time) and received his blessing. I hope and pray for a similar opportunity.

  49. Merci chère Paula pour votre généreuse attention et ce que vous me proposez ! Une seule fois je suis allée au monastère de l’Ancien Sophrony, et quelle bénédiction !
    Nous sommes nourris silencieusement et profondément par les prières de tous (moines, moniales et laïcs)…

  50. Merci Chère Paula pour votre généreuse attention et tout ce que vous me proposez. Je suis allée une seule fois au monastère de l’Ancien Sophrony et quelle bénédiction !
    Nous sommes nourris silencieusement et profondément par les prières de tous (monastiques et laïcs)…

  51. Your words are heartwarming, Helene. You are a dear sister!

    Indeed, we are nourished by the prayers of all…monastics, the laity, and those who serve at the altar…our dear Priests! Not to forget our Deacons and others who serve Christ’s Church.
    I am fairly new in the faith (a little over two years). At this point I am more familiar with “Church life” (as a lay person) than monasticism. I do not mean to sharply divide the two because that is indeed a misrepresentation. Still, I have yet to understand its depth, its language and way of life. People say there should not be a difference…that we can accomplish in our life that which the monastics accomplish. In other words, that their goals are our goals. That much I know. But I have a lot to learn!
    Surely, monastics are a special force within the Church and much of our prayers, hymns, teachings come from them. I have books on my shelf that I have yet to read…on St. Silouan (written by Elder Sophrony) and Arch. Zacharias…and others I’m sure! Nearly every time Fr. Stephen recommends a book, I purchase it! Oh mercy…..that is not a few!!!
    There is a Serbian monastery a little over an hour from here that I have yet to visit. I will not make excuses why I have not gone yet, only to say one of these days I will go!

    It is a delight to “talk” with you! You are the first person with whom I have had the pleasure to use Google Translate! Didn’t even know that tool existed. It is wonderful to correspond with our brothers and sisters of a different tongue. Makes the saying “it’s a small world” quite true!
    Many blessings to you, Helene!

  52. I am loving these conversations. (Another use of that concept; less complex of course, but still involving significant interactions for me) Thank you Father for initiating, participating and facilitating. Thank you all. Thanks be to God,

  53. Paula AZ
    Indeed, it’s one and the same Gospel for laity, priesthood and monastics. We often hear this in our tradition.
    The same Source of Light, (as well as threat of darkness…), can be encountered in every path, whether it be befittingly scarcer or more frequent.
    The rare souls who accomplish not to love the ‘earth’ and the ‘world’ and ‘all that is within’ [1 John 2:16], for whom there is only one epicenter – God–, feel the joy and freedom of becoming humbly separated from the domineering grip of all that is around us and inside of us. They even become bathed in Christ’s light, so that they bear Christ, shining His love luminously in all directions.
    The other thing we regularly hear in our tradition is this: No matter which path we walk, if it can demonstrate our longing for Christ, (as well as for ascesis, for fasting and vigil, for we categorically cannot maintain such a spiritual life – perhaps no spiritual life at all actually– if we do not rise at night to pray, or if we refuse to fast), the fire of the Holy Comforter will come and fill us with His gladness and bring about His transformation.

  54. Regarding Fr Stephen’s example from St Siluoan, “my brother is my life”: these words suggest a level of love that doesn’t shy from being in the world and loving the world and having communion with the world. But that such love isn’t for mammon, as it is often called. There is a distinction.

    Fr Stephen, please correct as needed.

  55. When I experienced some difficulties presenting Christ to the world through my actions and with composure in my heart, my parish priest suggested that I listen to the talk given by Fr Sergius Bower at Christ the Savior Orthodox Church. It’s on ‘Being Christian’ in the modern world. Perhaps there is food for others here as there is for me:

    https://www.ctshbg.org/lectures.html?fbclid=IwAR3jIKkNzWzzz1CoxAFSVzOkswa9WZ9pZ41EaAQrcPbDlwtL5RYI6uTiz8w

  56. Dee of St Hermans
    I have often commented how I conform to the opinion of St Isaac the Syrian that such love is to be found only once a person has been perfected in the love of God in stillness (away from the world). The saying of St Silouan – it is actually ab ancient saying from Abba Apollo of Thebaid [‘When you see your brother you see Christ’] – speaks of the ‘second commandment’ of love of neighbour, in the firm knowledge that is but a visible manifestation of the ‘first commandment’ of love of God. All this is without a separation of the two as if they are at odds – which is a frequent experience at the initial stages of renunciation of the world, its ‘love’ [attachment rather] in order to love God as He commands.

    If we lost that ‘God-centric’ stance we become open to egocentricity even in our “love” of neighbour and even if we could -somehow- manage to retain ‘neighbourly love’ without it being fuelled by our love towards the Creator, we wouldn’t be far from the temptation of building the tower of Babel.

    But Christ’s (and Saint Silouan’s) emphasis on brotherly love in His word seems too be saying to us (like St John does in his epistles) that the ‘second commandment’ is more ,
    palpable – it solidly proves that the necessary humility for God’s Grace to come and abide in us is there in the first place. 
    If I was to think that I love God while at the same time loosing the ontological awareness that I am “one” my neighbour, with His other beloved ones, I am clearly in deep delusion.

    Both delusions are therefore possible, i.e.: to think I have the 1st commandment (while clearly not keeping it when I cannot forgive my ‘enemy’), or to think I have the 2nd because I somehow forgive my ‘enemies’ [although this is hardly possible without God’s grace] but revolting towards God for their suffering etc because I haven’t really got the 1st…
    In both instances I am in delusion.
    The 1st commandment is like the vertical staff of the cross – it is the longest and the one upon which the other one rests, the 2nd is the horizontal staff.

    The profound, “universal love” about which St Isaac the Syrian speaks (and St Silouan the Athonite) – that perfect love of all (the perfection of the 2nd commandment)– cannot be obtained by the ‘introductory’ deeds of the 2nd commandment, (like philanthropy or, in general, by human effort): it is a gift which we receive directly from God for our communion with Him (1st commandment). Isaac’s teaching on how the love of neighbour is acquired can be outlined as follows:
    –       a person withdraws himself from his neighbour for the sake of life in solitude and stillness;
    –       through this he acquires an ardent love of God;
    –       this love gives birth in him to the ‘luminous love’ of humanity.
    This is borrowed by Isaac from the Macarian Homilies, John the Solitary and other Syrian writers. The theme of ‘luminous love’ is developed by Isaac in Chapter X of Part II:

    “A person who has stillness and converse of knowledge will easily and quickly arrive to the love of God, and with the love of God he will draw close to perfect love of fellow human beings. No one has ever been able to draw close to luminous love of humanity without having first been held worthy of the wonderful and inebriating love of God.”

     
    The scheme offered by Isaac is therefore [Met Alfeyev writes a great deal on this] different from the one we find in the First Epistle of John: ‘He that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?’ According to Isaac, one should first, love God whom he does not see and by means of this love draw near to the love of his neighbour whom he sees – or in this case whom he also does not see because he has deliberately withdrawn from seeing him. To acquire the love of one’s neighbour by means of good deeds is as impossible as acquiring the love of God by means of the love of neighbour(!):

    “To come from the toil and struggle with the thoughts to the luminous love of humanity, and from this to be raised up to the love of God – is a course impossible for someone to complete in this life, right up to the the time he departs from the world, however hard he struggles. On the basis of the commandments and by discernment, it is possible for someone to control his thoughts and to purify his sensibility with respect to others, and he can even perform good towards them. But for him to attain to a luminous love of humanity by means of struggle, I am not persuaded to admit as possible: there is no one who has attained this, and none who will attain it, by this path in life. Without wine no one can get drunk, nor will his heart leap in joy; and without inebriation in God, no one by the natural course of events will obtain the virtue that does not belong to him, nor will it remain in him serenely and without compulsion.”

  57. Dino…thank you.
    And I also extend my thanks for your patience with me.

    Prayer and fasting…yes, and it amazes me how challenging it is to do them consistently ! We find out real quickly just how strong the passions of the flesh are. I think we need a lot of encouragement not to give up when we fail time after time (some more than others)…monastics, laity, and clergy!

    I am glad you added the scripture verse (1 John 2:16) to your thoughts. My immediate thought was ‘well, aren’t we supposed to love the earth and world that God created?’ But you are using ‘love’ in a different sense, in that the source of true, everlasting love is from God. To me, it is the same point Jesus makes when He says ‘if anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father, mother…’ .
    It must be a joy to be in the presence of ones so illuminated, as to shine forth the love of God as you describe. I look forward to one day meeting such a person!

  58. Dino,
    I sincerely appreciate your words to elaborate on your thinking. And I ask that you forgive me if I press on this one thought once again, offered again for correction:

    If we cannot truly love without God’s grace acting in us, then loving the world and living in communion (which I hold to be within God’s grace) with the world as I describe is appropriate as a Christian life isn’t it? If one does love in this manner, I don’t know how it can be accomplished without God, and indeed, without repentance. I wish to reiterate that I appreciate your thoughts.

  59. “luminous love of humanity”

    In today’s (at least North American context) that phrase has so many secular, sentimental, and “new age” under/over tones it takes a concerted effort to squint past them. These passages from St. Isaac are so Platonic, so top down, they have me reaching for an Aristotelian counter weight. The quote from St. John’s epistle is one of course. Was it Chesterton (or Lewis?) who critiques a generalized and abstract “love of humanity” when in fact hating your real neighbor? Then of course there is our Lord’s instruction to approach Him and the Kingdom as little children. What is a child’s love like? It strikes me as “simple”, trusting, and specific to actual people and not abstract in the least…this seems to support St. John.

    In any case, I can think of all sorts of people who are full of ideals and piety – love of God, love of neighbor, etc. Yet in practice their ideals are really expressions of their sentiments, both positive and negative. This is where St. Isaac’s ascetical “scheme” would come into play, but who in NA lives an ascetical life that itself is not in service to their sentiments and thus their Self (i.e. it is some form or other of therapy)? I am not sure I have ever met such a person…

  60. If love and otherness is a mode of existence, an ontological matter, and we recognize our selfishness, would you offer any practical steps of repentance, other than the obvious “don’t be selfish, look to the needs of others”?

  61. Christopher,
    I think that the luminous love of humanity, in the case of St. Isaac, and others like him, is experienced as a luminous love for each and the smallest – not for the general. It’s a limit of language.

    “but who in NA lives an ascetical life that itself is not in service to their sentiments and thus their Self”

    This observation is true in general and only not true in the case of some rare individuals. I’ve met them. I know one in a nursing home right now.

  62. Christopher,
    that is indeed a typical delusion. The good thing is that the generalised and abstract “love” will become inevitably exposed as a counterfeit, by one’s specific ‘lack of love’. This is why ascetical direction requires a living guide and real one-to-one relationships: to practically test the ‘genuineness’ of one’s renunciation, one’s direction, whether one’s struggles towards the attainment of God’s love and love of neighbour are not a waste of time.
    However, it is practically nigh impossible to escape situations that would bring such a delusion quickly to light though. God has no shortage of opportunities He can exploit for this purpose, the trap that St John warns about is easily discovered by sincere spiritual fighters in their own lives (besides, it goes without saying, they themselves would be naturally, continuously distrustful of their complacency in such matters).
    One’s guarding of their self from dealings with people for the sake of hesychia and converse with God does not at all mean that when they do have to deal with specific people they do not demonstrate genuine love and complete sacrifice as nobody else does. If they caught themselves manifesting such a coldness to specific persons they would be distraught as we cannot even imagine.

    Dee of St Hermans,
    ’Communion with the world’ wouldn’t be an expression that conforms to the traditional patristic mindset as – just as Paula reiterated – the notion of ‘world’ patristically needs to be understood as that of the first epistle of John (15 – 17) :

    Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them.  For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever.

    If I understood you well, what you really mean by ‘communion with the world’ though, is being at one with all of humanity, desiring God’s desire for all: ‘that all would be saved”.
    We know -from the saints- that God’s grace, which makes a person utterly forget the world when it visits in great force, leaves behind it this very consequence: an indescribable love of all creation.
    Even in a very small measure, God’s grace stirs in us a sublime feeling of unassailable harmony with all people. This magnificent kinship & harmony does not “attach us towards people and things” unhealthily but, instead, frees us, it liberates us from all, to be “in Christ” without the shackles of attachment that hinder us. Love is not attachment.
    Attachment in the guise of ‘love’ (whether to specific individuals or even as a generally felt feeling) is one of the biggest problem’s we face in our struggle to attain both of the commandments of love – which are truly but one.
    I can easily claim that if I love one person and do not love another, it becomes evident I love no-one. It’s likely I am either ‘attached to’ or ‘have a preference’ or something else is going on, and I will certainly feel this as a ‘love’ that actually comes to conflict with my nascent love of God.
    One way to view it is that the second commandment interprets our ‘oneness’ as humans (my neighbour is myself) and the first, the ‘direction’ our whole being turns towards (God).
    It is why, for example, we don’t see Christ stretch out one arm to earth and another to the Father while having His eyes fixed upon His neighbours (which would position a “sideways” cross) but both arms are outstretched in oneness with neighbour with eyes fixed upon the Father (as on the Cross).
    I am sorry for all the mistakes and typos.

  63. Dino,
    I admit I’m no expert of the patristic theology by any stretch of the imagination. But admittedly relate what I learned from the book “For the Life of the World”, (and possibly others but lack time to go digging) concerning communion with the world as God’s energies are in the world and fills it with His grace. It is not only for us but for all creation that He Resurrected us from the grave, am I mistaken? I’m no New Ager and have never aspired to such thinking. But I note there is a meaning of the sacraments—that they consecrate what is in the world do they not? And the inbreaking of the Kingdom is in this world isn’t it? For these various reasons I don’t think it is inappropriate to love the world in a Christ-like manner and commune with the world in a Christ-like manner. Again I appreciate your thoughts and appreciate to be corrected.

  64. Father … would you elaborate a bit more on “a limit of language”? Is this a “language” that is common with the Saints of old?

    Dino…interesting words about “attachment”. I assume this is similar to the warning about “familiarity”. I admit I need some clarity on these things…

  65. Paula,
    I’m not sure that I know how to express it. The limit I had in mind is that I think the author of the statement regarding “humanity” was not meaning it in a generalized sense.

    Dino, et al
    Since I’m not a monastic – I think it is possible to follow a different path. I think it is possible, as we live amongst things and people, while we cultivate our love for God, to simultaneously cultivate the love of others, and of all things. Christ’s words, “Inasmuch as you did this for the least, you did it to me,” suggests that such a discipline is possible.

    The monastic path has ever so much that is good about it, but it has always been about a very few. I mean in no way to diminish it – but it is also far too easy to diminish the holiness of our life in the world. It is normative. It is the primary path established by God – to set us in families – and to live our lives in the midst of the human condition. There is grace to love all of it.

    For our purposes here, I suggest that we not stare too closely at the question of familiarity, etc. “World” is used in various ways in various places in the Scripture (Jn. 3:16) comes to mind – and that, too, is John.

  66. Ever so helpful comment Father…thanks so much.
    Sometimes I feel like I’m pulled in different directions and I need this grounding you give. Very much appreciate this…

  67. Father, Paula, Dee,
    The pitting of monasticism against the life of those ‘ in the world’ (whether pedagogically talked about to novices in that life, or interpreted as by laity) is often unhelpful (and challenging to receive without any provocation -by taking only positives and no negatives) when we are, in fact, living in the world, in outward distraction and in a family etc.
    I am of the very traditional opinion however that laity has access to its fruit too, –St Gregory Palamas is very clear on this – but not through a different path but through one that is reflects hesychasm in another context: “Angels are a light to monks, so too the monastic life is a light to men.” (St John Climacus).
    Palamas specifically explains that even the fruits of hesychasm (a even more rare life -that again provokes the vast majority of [coenobiatic] monastics and is also sometimes presented as pitted against their path, of living with others in a coenobium and in obedience etc) can be available to those living in the world.
    Christ gives us the golden equilibrium by being both alone and with many and continuously alternating His day and night between the two.
    This means that those in the world an cultivate both the love of God and the love of others in the Isaacian model of “becoming drunk by love first”. The impossibility of acquiring the fullness of love of one’s neighbour by means of good deeds alone remains, but the inebriation in God which spawns it is still there for the taking by laity.
    St Gregory Palamas even sites examples of laity who have achieved the unceasing communion with God, but, the methods remain similar: the lay person has taken their light from the hesychasts who have taken it from the angels: they live in the world and its cares but have made a true effort to have a spiritual ‘nightlife’, a life of ascesis and of mystical and sacramental consistent scheduling, an avoidance of the dissipation of inane activism, etc.
    Just as a serious athlete or musician or scientist can live in the world but has a strict and consistent scheduling, avoids certain things and applies himself in others, so too, ought the committed Christian to do, and the unavoidable holdups along the way – along a path that otherwise demonstrates loud and clearly his good disposition – become either inconsequential or spiritually beneficial through God’s providence and Grace.

  68. Dino,
    J’apprécie beaucoup votre commentaire…. Oui, il n’y a pas d’opposition à faire entre la vie monastique et celle “dans le monde”… Autre est la vie dans le monastère et autre est la vie dans le monde mais les “fibres” intérieures se rejoignent, s’irriguent et collaborent et tissent un manteau pour le nouvel homme…
    “Ils vivent dans le monde et dans ses soins mais ont fait un réel effort pour avoir une «vie nocturne» spirituelle, une vie d’ascèse et une planification cohérente mystique et sacramentelle, un évitement de la dissipation de l’activisme insensé, etc.” Cela est très stimulant et d’une grande vérité, car en dehors de cette “impossible/possible attention” il est bien difficile de rester dans l’unité de son être, sur le chemin de la grande intégrité en Christ, recherchée par nous tous…
    Pour l’Amour envers son prochain, le grand “test” est la rencontre du véritable ennem, celui qui fait sentir sa haine, son désir de destruction envers notre personne…. Quelques fois le Seigneur nous donne de vivre cette réalité avec quelqu’un afin de nous montrer où nous en sommes réellement avec l’amour…. Nettoyage des illusions, de la vaine gloire, désir de posséder très subtilement, même l’amour…etc…. On passe dans le creuset du dépouillement, pas encore complet, car Dieu est bon et va doucement avec notre nature malade et faible, mais sans épreuves rien ne progresse, sans tentation rien de neuf ne peut surgir. Découvrir l’amour pur en son coeur, le noyau, l’atome de joie indicible déposé en chacun, mais qui ne peut exister qu’en inter-communion fraternelle, sinon il n’est pas. C’est la grâce de Dieu qui agit, don pour tous en tout, avec, indispensable, notre si petite ascèse….
    Merci à vous tous, pour cette belle stimulation à vous lire, à penser, à chercher…

  69. Une pensée pour continuer….. La grande nécessité de tenir fermement les franges du manteau de notre Seigneur Jésus Christ, qui a tout accompli, qui est notre vie, Lui seul notre Sauveur… Car ceux qui préfèrent le Seigneur à tout et à tous , acquièrent de Lui, paradoxalement, l’amour préférentiel pour chacun, pour chaque personne – car le Seigneur préfère aussi chaque et unique personne ; oui, de l’unique personne à tous …
    Bien à vous tous…

  70. Dino,
    I did not intend to suggest any disparagement of the monastic life or its place within Orthodoxy. However, within the conversation it is possible for the frequent lessons from monastic wisdom to become a distraction – a discussion about a life we’re not living – a “wouldn’t it be great if only we…” sort of thing. It is easy for such things to dominate in a way that is not intended.

    Here in the South we speak of “using a sledge hammer to kill a gnat.” In the same way, it’s possible to overwhelm the conversation – even with good things. I’m not sure what I’m suggesting – other than to lighten up a bit. The monastic life is filled with superlatives in its descriptions – and can be easily misleading, unless read in the right context.

    For example, it is possible to take concerns with familiarity with the things in the world to a place of neurotic loneliness. Americans are crazy – infected with many spiritual diseases. We take the medicine of the Tradition and turn it into an oppressive cult-like atmosphere. My preference is for us to digest small nuggets of the Tradition – or even have them “pre-digested” with a constant attention to balance and sanity – both are deeply lacking in our culture. So, I’m asking that we slow it down a bit.

  71. Fr. Stephen,

    Thank you for the voice of balance on the topic of monasticism. I resonate with the tendencies of Americans to hyperbolize everything into an all-or-nothing scenario. Geared as we are toward reductionism, the ultimate answer to everything must be either this or that. It was an obvious conclusion that we would fall in love with individualism, cheerleading our chosen group of the moment and seeing all others as wrong in some way. Anything with superlatives attached causes us to either drop everything else and cling to it, or reject the new thing outright because it is not our tribe.

  72. Drewster,
    We Orthodox in America are a very long way from stability. Even our monasteries are young. I occasionally get questions about the seeming slowness of Orthodox work in America – young eager-beavers who want to change the world, etc. Part of the work of Orthodoxy in America needs to be slowing this place down. The family that goes to Church on Sundays, faithfully receiving the sacraments, serving in various ways through the years, are quiet anchors. They are also patient saints in their own ways. Movies about wars focus on the frontlines. They are only a fraction of the army. Generals know that the battle can be lost before it starts if the logistics of the army – the long line of supply and support – is interrupted. Monastics have to come from somewhere – healthy homes and parishes. In our present world, those are the most endangered things of all.

  73. Merci beaucoup Père Stephen, pour ces précisions et ce regard ouvert sur la réalité présente. C’est très bon pour moi t’entendre cela !

  74. Father
    Your cautionary voice of reason and balance is a breath of fresh air and is once again filled with the aroma of the presence of the Holy Spirit… There I go with superlatives again 🙂

  75. Father Stephen and all….
    Oh I thank you for a much needed conversation! Oh I thank God for you all! This needed to be talked about because the tension was getting too strong…and distracting. Again, I can not thank you enough……
    (We have a “thing” going on within Orthodoxy now (in other lands) that effects all of us and is so very distressing. We need to stay together. I pray we can keep our heads and hearts in peace during all this…and even ever after.)

  76. Paula AZ,
    A common advise on receiving advise (if, how, what, whether it’s appropriate and timely for the person hearing/reading it or not etc) is that we should gauge/monitor our inner peace and joy upon receiving it.
    If these are adversely affected, better “have a cup of tea” instead. (take it with a large pinch of salt.)
    I’ve probably used a real sledgehammer to kill an actual gnat at some point in my youth to be honest…

  77. Father,

    We are addicts, all of us with our craziness, black & white thinking, and extremes. Yes, thanks for continually bringing us back to see the Tradition in its right context as well as our real place in that. We each badly need to work our program for recovery, step by step, and not expect to scale the heights in a few weeks, months, or even years. I’ve been trying to fathom and live more fully the Tradition and traditions of the Church for over fifteen years now, eleven as a member of the Church, and I am ever more conscious of how much I have yet to learn and understand well.

  78. Side note:

    It is not only for us but for all creation that He Resurrected us from the grave, am I mistaken?

    Dee, this is another point that raised the eyebrows of the youth of my parish: that all of Creation would be renewed, not just us (in resurrection). For whatever reason, they had never thought of renewal outside of humanity. It makes for interesting conversation. Just a thought.

  79. Father, just for the record, I want to say that I really enjoy Dino’s comments – a lot – while at the same time I also enjoy your counterpoint to him. The whole conversation is very rich and illuminating for me personally when both perspectives are shared. I also recognize that it creates much more work for you in needing to respond, and I honestly have no idea how you do it! Additionally, I also recognize that I am likely a minority among your readership in that I have read quite a bit of monastic literature and probably do not reflect the more important needs of the majority of your readership.

    Thanks to everyone who has participated in this conversation.

  80. Esmée
    As I alluded to earlier –not withstanding Father’s wise caveats, especially regarding the majority audience here– the literature of the superlatives of monasticism etc is not to be applied ‘as is’, or to make one self-asphyxiate in tension, it is but the guiding star that points to the end direction – the clear objective of what our path is all about. We cannot lose that retain a life that continues to speak to the inner hearts of (ourselves or) others.
    Its (end direction’s) application in everyday, patient living out in the world might be ever so simple, but, without that direction, we can “loose the forest for the trees” and –especially for existentially probing young seekers – might even feel that the attraction-the divine fascination- is actually gone.
    Even within monastic life it is very often that the most common problem (the day to day complaints they have) is just that thought: ‘have I just renounced everything to simply sit here and wash plates, dig gardens or loose sleep repeating five words like an imbecile?’
    In other words, we humans, (when we are not spiritually asleep this is), cannot avoid a pressing need to know that the deepest meaning of life is not lost in our unavoidable daily routines.
    So, knowing that our sanctification needs to go through the banal, [that this is part and parcel of it, whether in a family washing plates and doing spreadsheets etc or in a monastery doing the same], but simultaneously bringing the fire of God’s presence there too, is most important.
    We might have a gnat in front of us that needs but a small tissue to be disposed of, but we need to know that here is a sledgehammer in our possession and that we can lift it, just in case there does appear a wild boar and we are not left to fight it with tissues.
    The scheduled intervals of exclusive time with God alone (whether frequent/extended or not, depends on our respective settings) that reignite this fire, are wisdom that comes from the desert.
    Again, Christ has given us the golden equilibrium.

  81. Just a thought on Byron’s remark,
    In the homilies after the baptisms, I very often found that the words are centered on the new birth of the baptized person and his path of fulfillment to realize, in all conscience, with the grace of God …. but he does not is perhaps not emphasized enough, at this moment, that it is also for the baptized person, a participation in all the reality of the cosmos which, by the baptism of Christ in the Jordan, having completely immersed himself in the matter of the world, has completely renewed ?… Maybe I’m wrong about the reality lived ….

  82. Father,

    I hope you write further and expand on your post to Drewster yesterday morning. So much could be said. On the one hand, you have a deep deep faith in this pattern of life – it is both a ‘breaking in’ and a formation/pattern that itself is more than the person and their present state. In other words this pattern forms the person/family/community, and transcends their limits and sins. On the other hand, you acknowledge that this pattern of life is endangered. I believe that secularism is unlike other challenges to this pattern (e.g. Ottman, Communism, etc.) in that it works from *within* as opposed to pressuring from without. So secularism is the context *into* which we insert this pattern, but the pattern does not and can not “work” that way. The pattern does not assume a “Christendom” (although when we are honest the pattern itself was mostly formed post-Constantine), but it does assume a person/family/community that is receptive and capable of being formed by the pattern and taking it on wholly and not “provisionally”. The Secular heart however IS the pattern of receiving *everything* (including its very life and its God) provisionally. This leads me to be more cynical about the pattern itself than you are, or at least the pattern as THE cure in the secular context…

  83. Christopher,
    I will offer an observation. I think you are discussing this matter from an extremely secular/modern/American point of view. What I mean by that is that you think in managerial terms. You’re looking at the big picture, the trends, the flow of history, etc., and, “doing the math” so to speak, and coming up with cynical answers (your word, not mine). It’s just the habit of analyzing and managing history. Next thing will be the temptation to fix things which yields just one more modern project.

    I believe it is better to think in Providential terms. The true management of this world is God’s alone – and He manages and a “manage-less manner” that defies our ability to describe. His management of history is under the guise of the Cross. I think very few Christians actually believe in the Cross as anything more than a single event that is somehow connected to their salvation. We fail to see that it is everywhere the only way God works in us and the world.

    St. Maximus: But he, who knows the mystery of the Cross and the Tomb, knows also the essential principle of all things.

    I believe this work is largely carried out in faithful lives within the context of each day, nurtured in the sacraments and borne by love. And there are many, many failures and losses and martyrs to secular modernity. We are daily swamped in a growing tragedy. However, weakness, failure and tragedy are not things which contradict the Cross, but are the fertile ground of the Cross’s work.
    Thus, I have no idea how to trace or describe the trends or direction of our times – except to look for and discern the Cross, which I mostly see in very particular places and lives.
    Anybody can manage history – every atheist and secularist spends his hours and days imagining himself to be doing nothing else. Only a Christian lives within the Cross, and there are very few of them. But the Cross doesn’t work in history because we know it and make it happen. It simply works in all things. It is for us to be conformed to the image of the crucified savior and to give thanks always and for all things.

    Christ is risen!

  84. Fr. Stephen,

    I appreciate and very much resonate with your thoughts to Christopher. It is so true that our part is much more about the daily routine, the faithfulness, the trust in God for all things. But in our North American culture this truth is so extremely IRONIC!!! We really struggle with doing just that and that alone. In fact when we finally resign ourselves to it, then we want to turn around and write a book about how to do it in 3 easy steps, since we have once again found something to manage! God love us!

    I suspect this is why the cross smells so strongly of defeat and uselessness. It is the narrow gate which is narrow not because few have standards high enough or are good enough – but rather because so few are truly willing to let go of the God role and simply be themselves in the day-to-day, no agenda, no big 5-year plans, no strategy to save the world around them. It isn’t the way of the true Christian — it just CAN’T be the way!!

    This is surely the eye of the needle that leads so many to despair once they find it. Thank God He loves us enough to lovingly mold us into a shape that will allow us through. And thank you for your work in the same venture – unplanned though it may be. (wink!)

  85. Some thoughts…
    First…Dino, you do have a way with words! “self-asphyxiate in tension”…how’d you know?! 😉

    Father says the cosmic sense of Reality is greatly neglected. It almost seems to be ignored, I think, unintentionally. Secularism has undermined any thought of a Divine cause and Sustainer of the cosmos, and has redefined it as a self generating unit…sustained only by natural cause and effect.
    I also think because we are made in God’s image that within all of us there is an awareness of a greater power, but like Helene alludes to, it lies dormant. As Charles Taylor says, we have become ‘disenchanted’. The very means of Life has to quicken our souls…dead in the influence of secularism, which itself is under the influence of the rulers of darkness.
    I recall in catachumen class first hearing the words that Christ ‘healed the waters…all waters…’ (we were probably on the subject of baptism). I sat there stuck on that thought…and ever since really never became ‘unstuck’. Over time, little by little, these truths, although real, become more real to me. I guess what I am saying is while I agree that the cosmic reality of Christ should be emphasized, still I think because of the conflicting forces, within ourselves, and without, it takes the grace of God, plus… resolve, effort, patience (!) and sound teaching to even begin to understand the depth of Who exactly Christ is and what He has done and is doing.

    As a convert I surely did not know what was ‘really’ happening when I was baptized. Just as I didn’t understand before I was baptized Fr. Philip’s words that Christ healed the waters! But like the children that need to be taught, such as in Byron’s class, God has a way of imparting His grace and revealing Himself to us, according to measure, without harm, little by little, no matter what the situation or circumstances are. He wants to do so!

  86. Father,

    I don’t think we are as far apart as that. It is unfair (or perhaps reductionist) to say those observations are merely “managerial” just as it would be to characterize much of your work as an Eastern flavor of the guy on the street corner in the sandwich board “The End Is Nigh!” as some are want to do (that accusation of a stillborn mysticism). On the other hand, I don’t go (work) to church for the coffee and pastries.

    Allow me to put it boldly: It is exactly as you say, the Cross, and everywhere in all things is this tragical ‘principle’ at work. If this Providential work is to be in a secular frame, then I repent in dust and ashes. Why would I go to church? The ground and the Cross and the working are everywhere, and the secularized church is just secularism “at prayer” (there are so few Christians left)…who needs it?

    Here is how I would answer using what you taught me: We are not alone, we need each other, we must be patient with one another. That said, *sigh*, where are the Christians, those who are not themselves yet another living examples of the cross of secularism. I don’t need to go to church for that, I merely need to cross the street and knock on my neighbors door.

  87. Just a testimony, forgive me but it’s easier for me to say things through an experience.
    Many years ago when I was ” without faith or law ”, I found myself, for a job, in a situation of speleology, in a deep cave, walking for several hours in the cold, damp, dark, and returning to the exit, a strange light and sweetness appeared to me in the distance and arrived at the edge of the cave, in height, with the cliffs and all the nature around, I was amazed, everything was in vibration, strong and soft, the trees, the rocks, all in great joy, in beauty, everything was powerful and good. And coming from within me and at the same time resonating with all the earth, I heard these words : It is a gift, everything is a gift, in fullness I everything was power ful and good. Unspeakable reality… Came down from the mountain I do not know More how …. But it remained completely alive in me. Many years later, having received the Faith in Christ. I saw that at the moment of this ‘experience’ I left the place without giving thanks, without gratitude, without thanksgiving, the sleeping conscience! What work now And I rely, abandonment of the “old man”, the selfish man, who loves himself, very subtly, even having great faith ! yes, this crucifixion of the false self … It is terrible to follow the Lord, sometimes. I am frightened, because it is really necessary to die … But the small unspeakable gleams of Joy, prevent me from despairing! And I rely, as much as I can, on the holy teachings of Saint Macarius the Great : “When someone approaches the Lord, he must first do violence to do good, even if his heart does not want it, always waiting for his mercy with an unshakeable faith; that violence be done to love without love, that violence be done to be gentle without being gentle, that violence be done to be compassionate and to have a merciful heart, that violence be done for to bear contempt, to remain patient when he is despised, not to be indignant when he is held for nothing or dishonored, according to this saying: “Do not do justice to yourselves, beloved” (Rom 12, 79). Let him do violence to pray without having spiritual prayer.
    When God will see how He wrestles and does violence, when His heart does not want it, He will give Him the true spiritual prayer, He will give it true charity, Real sweetness, From entrails of compassion, True kindness, into one He will fill it with the gifts of the Holy Spirit. ” Everything is possible for God !
    Father Stephen, remove this comment if it is not right in its place !

  88. Byron,
    Thank you for your comment. I’m very glad you’re teaching it.
    As I reflect on it, I’m not sure where I first learned of it. It might have been here in this blog or perhaps in the first books I read of Orthodoxy (Met Ware’s books). It seems to be easily trivialized, but I cannot fathom letting that reflection on Resurrection of the cosmos, of all creation, go as trivia. It is that very reality of the Resurrection etched into the very fiber of ‘the world’ that brought me to Christ in the first place. There is simply no way I can let it go as trivia.

    I wonder Is there no hymn about it in any of our liturgical services that –“… God so loved the world”?

  89. Dee,
    We sing this in the Paschal Canon:
    “Now all things are filled with light: heaven and earth, and the nethermost regions. So let all creation celebrate the Resurrection of Christ, whereby it is established.”
    and also:
    “Today all creation is glad and rejoices, for Christ has risen and hell has been conquered.”

  90. Christopher,
    I wonder…how are you using the word “Church”? You say the Church is secularized. To me you are saying Christ Himself is secularized.
    Why go to Church? Because the Church is the mystical Body of Christ. He is the Head of the Body. To me these are not just some Eastern, Platonic (whatever you meant by that) mere description. It is a truth that is virtually impossible to fully describe but nevertheless, it is Church!
    What are we doing here? Christ told His disciples to go to the ends of the earth and baptized in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit….and that He would be with us always, until the end of the age. That is the Church. That is what we are doing here. We gather together and are the visible Body of Christ…so people may know…that they may come and see….
    Certainly I am missing something in your comments, otherwise I wouldn’t be so dumbfounded. Pardon me Christopher…please don’t take offense.

  91. Not to mention…we gather together, at Church, to Worship ….together….! Yes…not to necessarily have donuts and coffee…although it’s nice to get to know each other that way.

  92. Christopher,
    I’m a bit puzzled by your response. I certainly don’t go to Church because I think it will “do some good” for the world, or for the Church. How would we know a thing like that? I go because there I enter into the fullest communion with Christ, our Savior, and in communion with my brothers and sisters. No doubt, we all need to be more faithful, and we should live, teach, work, pray for that. But why be anxious about the results? It’s a waste of our time to worry about what we cannot control. Is the Church laboring under the same temptations as the society in which it lives? Of course it is. How could it be otherwise? Only a cult escapes such temptations.

    And so we struggle and we live. And Christ is crucified in us. All of this was done before the foundation of the earth. It is for us to live it out in union with Him. Perhaps I haven’t understood your response.

    What do you mean by “secularized” Church? Is our Baptism secularized? Is the Body and Blood of Christ secularized? Is confession secularized? Is ordination secularized?

    Are you imagining some sort of sin-proof Church? God is at work in the Church regardless of our sin, in spite of our sin, because of our sin. Perhaps you could elaborate.

  93. Father, is your point in this article one that would have been obvious to pre-modern (even pagan) societies? That is, is it one of the peculiar pathologies of modernity that we readily think of ourselves in any other way? Your title “Alone–You Are Not” makes me think of Aristotle’s famous observation, “Man is a political animal.” I was taught that Aristotle meant thereby that a man is only truly human in the context of the polis, the city–that a man in isolation, apart from the polis, is no longer even human (I’ve heard that the Greek word for a man in isolation was “idiot”). It also reminds me of the familiar African proverb “It takes a village to raise a child,” though in this case it is more like, “It takes a village to produce a man.”

  94. Father,

    Thanks for your last response. I will have to contemplate this perplexity. I may be (probably am) getting the balance wrong. I am not questioning the Mystical Body or what part of her is not secularized (sacrements, etc.) as you and Paula rightly say, but rather the horizontal = the inter-relation between the secularized flock. This might be (probably is) due to a *desire* and thus a passion and suffering on my part. We can be so disappointing to each other sometimes. We have to be patient with each other! So I will retreat into prayer and contemplation for now…

  95. Christopher,
    These things (stuff that involves our horizontal relationships) are always complicated, I think. People come from a wide range of backgrounds and starting places. For myself, the pastoral goal is nurturing souls in their journey towards Christ. That consists in repentance, confession, communion, etc.

    In the present atmosphere of our culture – there is a heightened sense of conflict – the so-called “culture wars.” I’m not immune to those struggles. I daresay, no one has written as thoroughly or vigorously in opposition to a secular mindset than myself. But saying that is simply a starting point. We cannot “make” anyone see anything, much less force them into some kind of position, unless we’re simply turning the Church into just another political battleground. The Church is the place of healing and new life. Therefore, to my mind, it is a place of conversion and godly persuasion. Having authored some 2,500 articles over the past 12 years is not nothing, but it’s just one voice and a drop in a bucket. The results of anything are always in the hand of God.

    There are those who sound a much more strident rallying cry in what is perceived as the Church’s necessary role in the culture wars (and such). I am who I am and what I am – mostly I’m a gentle pastor who seeks to persuade and to bind up the wounded. I am necessarily gentle – at least I intend to be. If that seems weak to some, then that is as it is.

    One of the problems, frankly, of becoming as “visible” as I am in my writing and speaking is that people think that what I’m doing is important and should be more this or more that. I guess it’s just the territory. But I am not that guy. I’m just an old priest who prays, thinks, writes, speaks and seeks to be kind and helpful. Sometimes it’s of use and sometimes it is not.

    I was recently told by a now (former) reader/commenter, that the blog had been taken over by some voices that they disagreed with. I really didn’t understand the criticism at the time – other than to hear that I am perhaps being less strident in how I treat comments than they would like. Thank God there are so many blogs out there that people can read. It was painful in that conversation to be given the feeling that I had somehow betrayed the team.

    These are very, very strange times. I primarily see the faithful being consumed by issues – and as important as the issues are – they are being consumed by them in a way that is destructive to the soul. We must cling to the truth, but the devil doesn’t mind us clinging to the truth so long as we use it to devour each other. That worries me – if for no other reason than I see a heart within myself that would gladly devour and spit out so many weak souls. There many, many people who are trying out for the role of Athanasius (as they imagine him). It’s like the various pictures of St. Nicholas striking Arius that are so popular on social media – as if that is why we love him.

    We must consider what spirit we are of.

    I write repeatedly about Christ saving us in our weakness – this is very, very hard. It is even harder for me to let Christ save someone else in their weakness. Love looks like the Cross. If I may, I am struggling to write from within the Cross of Christ – and to know nothing else.

    Thanks for your patience with me!

  96. You are a kind soul Father…and very endearing.
    It shows through in your writings and especially in your conversations with us. There may be many blogs, and your words may be comparably a drop in the bucket, but they are God sent and very valuable for us who come to eat at your table.
    I would imagine it can be trying at times. I would imagine Priests carry some heavy burdens. I think that is more so with those like yourself who are particularly tender-hearted. That is what it seems like to me.

    Anyway Father, thanks so much.

  97. Father, I don’t know what to say. I hope it is as good as I think it is. It has served me well in helping to make me a little less selfish.

    My father used it because it reflected his experience of the Divine and creation on the high plains of Eastern New Mexico in the early 20th century.
    He lived a pre-modern life for his first 18 years and never completely left it.

  98. Fr Stephen,
    I’m with Paula who speaks for us in our gratitude for your work. You always strive to speak with the voice of the Holy Spirit. And I’m grateful to have a parish family and this community in which I have a home to grow in Christ. Thank you and thank all of you.

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