Living In the Silence

 

The word is usually translated “silence.” It also carries the meaning of “stillness.” It is a quiet, not just of the mind but of the body as well, the silencing of the noise within us. It is Hesychia. The practice and understanding of hesychia is termed Hesychasm. Alexandre Kalormiros wrote:

Hesychasm is the deepest characteristic of Orthodox life, the sign of Orthodox genuineness, the premise of right thinking and right belief and glory, the paradigm of faith and Orthodoxy. In all of the Church’s internal and external battles, we had the hesychasts on one side and the anti-hesychasts on the other.

The very fabric of heresy is anti-hesychastic.

Hesychia is by no means a passive approach to the world. However, it prefers the sound of God and the work of God to that of the self or humanity in general. It listens. This listening lies at the heart of the Church’s perception of Tradition. That which we have, we have received; it is handed down to us. In order to receive what is handed down it is necessary to listen and pay attention, to be willing to accept what is given. It says ‘yes’ to God and ‘yes’ to life.

Modernity is, by its very character, in opposition to tradition. Among many modern errors is the assumption that what has gone before is wrong and in need of correction. It values youth and new opinions over those of the past, regardless of the inexperience involved. Of course, this aspect of modernity is deeply deceptive. Something much darker is at work.

Selling Modernity

In the 1950’s the phenomenon of youth burst into American culture with the so-called “Baby Boom,” the massive number of children born in the post-World-War-II era. The first discovery of the power of this new demographic appeared in the hottest selling item of the 50’s: coonskin caps. Disney made a tv show with Davy Crockett wearing a raccoon hat. A demand across the country among children made coonskin caps the first great Baby Boomer fad. Marketing directors took note.

America did not fall in love with youth: it was made to fall in love with youth. Being young, thinking young, looking young was marketed. Jack Kennedy was elected President in 1960, projecting an image of youth, though he was, in fact, but 4 years younger than Richard Nixon, his opponent. He looked young. He looked “cool.”

The youth movement of the 60’s, born in a reaction to various elements of mainstream culture, was quickly gathered up by marketing forces who made it the “mainstream.” The sexual revolution, often identified with the 60’s, was much more a “revolution” within marketing than a cultural thing. Sex sells.

And, of course, all of this is very “noisy.”

The Noise of Dissatisfaction

Among the characteristics required to constantly move towards that which is new and young, is a dissatisfaction with that which is old. The 1950’s was a decade in which American cars sought to maximize this experience by cosmetic design changes in cars every year. An astute eye at that time could discern year model and make with perfect accuracy. A car that was 3-years old always seemed “out of style.” I need a new one.

Dissatisfaction is a noisy way to live. You cannot be still and dissatisfied at the same time.

To live a life designed by a marketing firm is deeply sad. It also makes very good sense in a culture that is defined by consumerism. However, the Kingdom of God is not for sale, nor is Christianity a lifestyle.

The dissatisfied life is a breeding ground for heresy. It asks the wrong questions, and only hears wrong answers. Dissatisfaction is not the path to progress or satisfaction. It is a habit of the heart contrary to the Kingdom of God.

A word that properly accompanies silence is “contentment.” Contentment is not the same thing as approval, satisfaction or happiness. It is the willingness to be present to whatever circumstances are at hand without anxiety, anger or shame. It does not mean a declaration that the circumstances are good or that nothing needs to be done. But there are many forms of “doing.”

Many people experience a sort of paralysis when facing a large or complicated task. Indeed, even small tasks can take on a sense of largeness and complication if they are added to all the tasks of a day. Invariably, such an inner sense of what is to be done leaves us exhausted, trying to do the “whole” thing with every small thing. There is no contentment in the effort.

The modern world lives in a mode of information overload. The briefest encounter with a day’s news, or social media’s reaction to the news, can only overwhelm. The news is not designed to create contentment. Anxiety, anger and shame are required emotions for the continued march of a consumer culture branded as progress.

Stillness

Hesychia is “stillness.” Anxiety, anger and shame are the enemies of stillness. St. Paul writes: “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.” This might not seem a matter of stillness at first glance. However, it goes to its very heart. What do we want to curse? Everything that we dislike; everything that opposes us; everything that we insist on controlling and changing. We are discontent. The noise of discontentment drowns out the silence and we search, not for silence, but for the constant change that is simply more noise.

Hesychia comes by the quiet of the heart. The noise of the passions, the little thoughts that distract with their condemning and judging voices, will likely continue, regardless of stillness. They are like the sound of the wind or the rustling of leaves – noises in the background that can and should be ignored. Such voices are artifacts, akin to muscle aches and pains: they should not be described as thoughts, per se. The quiet of the heart is found in staying put, blessing whatever situation confronts us. It is possible only because Christ is risen from the dead.

Hesychia is a characteristic of love. When we read that “love is patient and kind” (1Cor. 13:4), we are seeing a description of God Himself (who is Love). Our anxiety and shame cause us to be angry with God (and one another) and despair that He allows the world to be as it is. Hesychia is patient and kind, even to the “evil and the ungrateful” (Luke 6:35).

It generally seems to us that the nature and pace of modern life make stillness impossible. But this is not the case. It is possible to live in a consumerist culture and not be a consumerist. It is possible to live in a culture that is anxious and angry, in need of control and “progress,” and yet be content. To a great extent, the practice of stillness comes by paying attention to what is actually at hand (rather than what we imagine to be at hand) and blessing it.

I have calmed and quieted myself, like a weaned child with its mother. Like a weaned child, I am content.

Shhh. Peace. Be still. It will be alright. God is good.

79 comments:

  1. To a great extent, the practice of stillness comes by paying attention to what is actually at hand (rather than what we imagine to be at hand) and blessing it.

    Father, would you speak more to the act of “blessing” what is at hand (and being still within that blessing)?

    This is a wonderful writing.

  2. Byron,
    Noting the quote from St. Paul, we do not have to agree with or approve of what we bless (if we can bless our enemies, then this must be so). How do we bless? We call down God’s goodness upon whatever it is. We call down God’s kindness. We acknowledge its place in the providence of God. More or less, those things that we find in opposition to us draw an instinctive reaction to curse. We hate it. We can’t stand it. We want it to go away, etc. And all of those things will eat you alive. Most people only bless what they like – which is nothing more than blessing our own passions. God causes His rain to fall on the just and the unjust. He is kind to the evil and the ungrateful (Luke). Essentially, we value our own passions and want them to triumph over everything. Of this St. Paul says, “Whose God is their belly…” A Christian who does not bless what opposes him, what he does not like, differs in no way from an unbeliever. Everybody likes what they like.

    In our modern politicized world, we want to be considered virtuous based on what we like and don’t like. And so, everybody signals their virtue by announcing their preferences and shaming those with whom they disagree. But there is no virtue whatsoever in “what we like.” Virtue answers the question, “What kind of person are you?” That you like what you like simply says that you are a person who is bound by their passions – and thus – can be manipulated into doing almost anything. Christian virtue, like Christ, has the character that can bless what it does not like, that can forgive enemies, that can be kind to the evil and the ungrateful.

  3. Thank you so much for this and the previous article. The noise of this world is overwhelming, but also is the noise of the mind. I would like to recommend a book, The Mystical Marriage, Spiritual Life according to St. Maximos the Confessor by Elder Aimilianos of Simonopetra. It is about learning to participate in undistracted prayer. Published in 2018, I am rereading it, this time taking notes. Learning to quieten our thoughts is paramount in deepening our faith. I welcome all of the thoughts on silence and really appreciate Fr. Freeman’s excellent blogs – always a delight to see one in my inbox!

  4. America did not fall in love with youth: it was made to fall in love with youth.

    Last month I enjoyed a holiday reading of The Battle for Christmas by Stephen Nissenbaum, which speaks to this.

  5. Father,
    You hit it right on when you say “The news is not designed to create contentment. Anxiety, anger and shame are required emotions for the continued march of a consumer culture branded as progress.” Just hearing the tone of voice of today’s reporters is like nails on a chalkboard to me. They are breathless with anxiety and it makes me anxious. They blame and shame even when they are wrong in their assessments of events. They are very good at character assassinations as well.
    Recently, I watched a video of Walter Cronkite reporting on the assassination of JFK. His voice was calm and soothing at he reported facts as he had them. There was no editorializing or emotionalism in his speech. The media must have gone to school over the years and learned how to advance the Modern Project through anxiety, anger and shame. To preserve what I can of inner stillness I have elected to refuse to listen to news I have much more peace as a result.

  6. Deep thanks, Father.
    Hesychia…stillness. Yes of coarse. I forgot…
    I am going to read this over again several times.
    Thank you Byron for your question that prompted even more elaboration from Father. Very helpful.
    For starters Father, would you say a bit more on why the quite of the heart “is possible only because Christ is risen from the dead.”? This is one of those lines that ‘silence’ me. Sometimes I miss the obvious. Does this have to do with the new life He has given us? That He has conquered the powers of darkness that are on the prowl to disturb the stillness?

  7. I was shoveling snow yesterday so we could get out of our driveway. The plow truck came by and piled up all the street snow at the base of my driveway, blocking us in again. My back was tight from work and I still had to teach martial arts in the evening. I began shoveling again, to clear what I had just finished clearing when the city plow guy drove up and motioned to me he would clear it. I thanked him. Took a big breath. Thanked God for the Providence and felt very content and happy for the rest of the day. I was able to quiet my mind because I was thankful. It’s hard to do. Very hard. I rarely succeed as much as I try.
    Easier without tv, Social media, but hard none the less. Manual labor, assuming one is healthy enough for it, yields that quiet, if one is seeking it. God bless.

  8. If Christ is not risen from the dead, we are without hope. I suspect that without hope the silence that Fr. Stephen speaks of is not possible.

  9. Kevin, I agree that manual labor is one of those things that is very good for us–and that our society tends to remove from our lives.

  10. I really love this one Father. It speaks to the heart of so much that we deal with every day. I experienced the 50’s and all the decades since. You are so right. I grew up in a totally different world than we have now. I was rural, and one phone per house. Six families shared the same phone line – we each had a different ring. Now I carry two iphones; a tablet; and sometimes a laptop. I am always within instant reach for communication.
    The pressure to buy the latest phones is like the cars of the 50’s. lol Learning to find the silence and be totally content in the moment – whatever is happening – is an incredible goal to work for. Moments become more important when you realize how important each one is in the short time we spend in this life.
    Kevin, until this last year, I owned a martial arts school. My late husband was a sixth degree black belt, and he died when we were building the school. I gifted it to my stepson last year. He had trained thru it and is a second degree now. The martial arts teach a lot of being able to go into the silence and controlling our thoughts and actions. This should resonate well with you and your training.
    I needed this today Father. Thank you so much. And Byron for asking for more info. I love all the comments I read in here, and I learn from each of you.

  11. These are very helpful words thank you Fr Stephen.

    Getting caught up in the drum beat of politics in this society has become a continuous pastime for many if not most people I know. The deluge in the media is intended to obscure facts and the truth.

    Even while I don’t directly engage in news commentary watching, those around me are so deep into it that ‘engagement’ in it is inevitable, otherwise I would need to ‘shut down’ conversations regarding politics constantly. It is evident to those who immerse themselves that I don’t know what is going on— which is why I suppose they want to inform me. But they also want to enfluence me and draw me into the rivers of passions. And I fall in.

    For this reason I’m so grateful what you reminded us: paying attention to what is actually at hand and blessing it. And again thank you for the quote in the Psalms. Let’s us be grateful to God for all things and to bless, especially those, who in particular moments, might provoke an irksome reaction within us. God help us to forgive, bless and maintain our contentment.

  12. Thank you Father,
    These words are illuminating, and especially helpful for someone who has ADD/OCD and prone to being overwhelmed, negative about the world, and depressed. The thorn in my brain and soul. I understand that faith and instruction are the only way to find the peace you speak of.,so I fall, and get up again, and try to judge myself and not my brother. With God’s help.

  13. Paula AZ and others,

    In your comments to Father’s last post, you discussed problems you have had with achieving silence in prayer, so I would like to share a metaphor that has been very helpful for me.

    Imagine you are in an apartment on the third floor of an old brownstone in New York City. It is summer, but the air conditioning is off. The windows are open and there is constant noise from the traffic in the street. Nevertheless, you are having a conversation with someone and, despite the noise, you can understand each other perfectly,.

    That, I was told, is silent prayer. The traffic noises are logismoi, which we can learn to ignore just as any New Yorker learns how to disregard the sounds of the city. The conversation is with God, which may start out with me talking but, as my prayer continues, turns into me just sitting and listening.

    This has been helpful to me over the years. Perhaps it will be helpful to you.

  14. Thank you for this posting. I wonder if we revert to the old testament mentality of wanting the Lord to treat our enemies as God will treat his enemies in Psalm 21:9 “Thou shalt make them as a fiery oven in the time of thine anger: the Lord shall swallow them up in his wrath, and the fire shall devour them.” And yet when I went to find a psalm to show this mentality of cursing our enemies–what I was lead to first is Psalm 46 which is the essence of Hesychia as it ends:
    “Be still, and know that I am God: I will be exalted among the heathen, I will be exalted in the earth. The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge. Selah.”
    Perhaps the mistake is thinking our enemies are God’s enemies—they are not. He loves them as much as he loves us. His love will save them. Let us be a blessing to them as a vessel pouring out God’s love for them. There is a stillness in that thought.

  15. Xenia,
    I too am making my way through that wonderful book of Elder Aimilianos, So I will second your recommendation.
    If anyone who reads this blog knows Fr. Maximos Constas, please thank him for this new gem. He is the translator and we owe him a huge debt of gratitude for his very difficult work of translating the Elder from Greek for us.

  16. David, thank you for your comment. Very helpful indeed! Please forgive me, these words suggest you are very familiar with Hesychia. And I’m always very grateful to hear such helps from those who ply themselves to this ‘work’. Again thank you!

  17. Dee…remember David used to use the name “Learning to be Still” ?!!!
    David…that’s good, brother!

  18. Yes indeed Paula I haven’t forgotten! We are all learning to be still and I always appreciate the supports we offer each other. And I want to emphasize I always appreciate your comments and questions too, for your thoughts about the Way, your loving helpfulness and playfulness.

  19. Many thanks to Father Stephen for awakening our lucidity, easily asleep and captivated by – the noise of -men consuming the world and devouring each other –
    These sentences challenged me :
    ”A Christian who does not bless what opposes him, what he does not like, differs in no way from an unbeliever. Everybody likes what they like…… (… ) But there is no virtue whatsoever in “what we like.” Virtue answers the question, “What kind of person are you?” That you like what you like simply says that you are a person who is bound by their passions.”
    Perhaps, surely, that everything will become more and more noisy, to the point of excess,
    but I give infinite thanks for the knowledge of this way to peace in God. But I can be afraid, seeing my idleness, for the Lord will doubtless ask me what I have done with these gifts that lead to his Kingdom, and that I neglected with so much imprudence ….
    Oh ! Thank you father for your sweetness too ! ….. “Shhh. Peace. Be still. It will be alright. God is good.”

  20. Paula AZ,
    Because, if Christ is risen from the dead, then His Pascha is the last word on everything. Death is defeated, God triumphs. Pascha is not just something that happened in the past – it is also the end of history. But if Christ has triumphed over everything, then I don’t need to curse anything. To bless my enemies is another way to say, “Christ is risen!”

  21. “But if Christ has triumphed over everything, then I don’t need to curse anything. To bless my enemies is another way to say, “Christ is risen!”
    Oh that is good, Father! Thanks so much! Glory to Jesus Christ…Our God Reigns!

    Dee…what sweet words! You are a dear sister whose presence here is much needed and appreciated! Thank you!

  22. “It is possible to live in a consumerist culture and not be a consumerist. It is possible to live in a culture that is anxious and angry, in need of control and “progress,” and yet be content.”

    Father, yes, it is possible. I suspect however that it becomes EXTREMELY DIFFICULT if one turns on the television and /or engages in social media.

  23. Alan,

    Yes, I’ve turned off the TV (as have several others here, I believe). But I do find myself angered by social media stories, even as much as I limit my exposure to it.

  24. I’ve been reading and meditating a little each day of the Philokalia. This book is a good teacher on how to cleanse ourselves for pure prayer, while being on guard to keep out the distractions and communication that break our spirit. Philokalia is a good book for helping one to find inner peace and stillness.

  25. It has been almost 14 years since I have watched television voluntarily. And I am grateful that God led me to this choice. I have largely stopped watching movies as well – perhaps one a year. They now seem way too noisy. Even many audiovisual productions that teach the faith now sound simply too loud. I suspect they are designed this way with the assumption that people will only attend to that which imitates the larger culture.

    Of course the greatest hindrance to stillness remains my own mind. I no longer look to politics to resolve anything but I feel a responsibility to try to stop what is evil. I do that with a lot less arguing than I used to and I try to post comments on newspaper sites in a kinder, gentler way. Naturally, I do not always succeed, but I am trying. And I make an effort to especially ask God to bless the people that appear to be caught in evil.

    But all of this is not nearly enough for inner stillness. My mind… My mind is so utterly absorbed in thinking about ME. How I feel, what I think, what I do or do not want to do. I realize that, in a way, we were designed this way for a reason – to protect ourselves from danger, to be aware of illness or injury, to plan …. Marvelous functions of the human brain yet there comes a point where I need to ask God to empty me of me, so that He can fill me with Him. This is what love is… Oh may He grant us all this gift. Yes, like a weaned child with its mother…

  26. As in the passage of the soothed storm, when we are overwhelmed and frightened by the successive waves of our passions and thoughts in disorder, perhaps we would like to hear the strong word of the Lord telling our old man ; Silence, shut up ! and that it really soothes our chaos, we can hear it like this a few times … but also, surely, as an excellent Pedagogue, before the extremes, the Lord proposes to call it gently, with heart and mouth, as often as much as possible, until we breathe it in ourselves …. “And there was a great calm …”
    He is truly the Great Remedy, but our part is also important ; to detach ourselves, to turn away from tumult, with discernment … May the Lord help!

  27. Dear Fr.Stephen,
    Someone can not do anything else but have a deep need to weep. I don’t know why,I won’t analyze it , but talking about Silence in such a profoundly treasurous sense, gives you the notion that you can give birth to silence with tears, each time welcoming your birthday and baptism.
    Oh, when someone talks about Silence in this sense, it always makes me feel that I had it in those childhood days and then lost it,but the deep memory remained. Those were the days when we could think so clearly and feel protected, as if everything around us was somewhere far and could not touch us. Probably, this is the state that we are called upon,the state of being “like a child”. I am really lucky to be among my students and being able at times to revive what being a child really means.
    I am not a theologian, but this is what the coming of St.John the Baptist is about, I guess,and the meaning of the call in the dessert for those residing in Silence,baptized for a new life. That is why St.John calls us to repent and cry upon our sins.
    Only liturgical life,a life in prayer can give you this- to repent, cry, and hopefully, maybe, taste silence and the voice in the dessert,taste sadness for the loss when
    consolation comes as the Divine Person within the Holy Trinity.
    I don’t know, but it just so sincerely happens that whenever the state of silence is mentioned, my heart weeps.
    Years ago,I read this book- Awareness,written by Anthony de Mello, he is a Jesuit priest but sometimes I find his words so alike to what the Elders are saying. He said that awareness is the way to silence,but not pushing it by force but being lovingly comprehensive towards yourself and towards the world. It’s like driving a car, you have to watch the road ahead of you and at the same time be aware of the worldly affairs, commitments,the storm you have to undergo.
    Maybe when you start accepting those storms in your life as blessings and learn to be thankful for them, you might experience what Pasha means and enter Silence. When I speak this way,my friends often tell me- that is the state which only few can achieve,but I think that we are all invited to be saved every moment of our lives,that is the purpose of our life and what orthodox life is all about. It is humble and healthy to admit that you are not worth to enter the state of being like a child and experience the Holy Silence,but if you say it’s impossible for me you pass the cross to someone else and refuse to follow Christ, even if it means a leap into the unknown.

    Once, these words just came out on a paper:

    It’s been
    A lovely journey back home,
    Thank you for the ride
    -the ride on the storm.
    Now,
    the waters are calm,
    And the breeze
    – gentle and sweet,
    When we finally meet.

    Fr.Stephen,
    Thank you for the revealing 😃 words,
    becoming a wonderful music in my deep inner silence.

    I am so thankful for Christ’s precious ways to our hearts.

  28. Santosh John Samuel,
    Thank you, lovely story – interesting icon too.
    It is good for me to remember that what God does for me is far more important than anything I do for Him. He is loving Father and I am His child. Sometimes He gives me the gift of silence, other times He allows me to be lost in distraction. He knows when I need comforting and when I need to be nudged into repentance. All glory to Him.

  29. So many wonderful comments. I am humbled just to be a part of this. So much to learn from listening to all of you. Thank you. Blagica, I know the feeling of being like a child that you refer to. My husband often says he is married to “the oldest five year old he has ever met”. I met Jesus and gave him my heart at five. I treasure that feeling like a child coming to Him for comfort. At 71, I feel theologically very, very inadequate with so many well read and knowledgable people on this blog. My husband Michael is very knowlegable and has been Orthodox much longer than I have. The deep theology at times is hard for me to process. My approach to God is very simplistic. I say things like “Yea God!” when something happens that I know He did for us. I think of Him as my true father, and simply talk to Him that way. I always have. The Orthodox elders and fathers are interesting to read about, and so are the Saints. I cannot seem to grasp the complicated way of praying that is a part of so much I have read about. To hear you say that coming to Him in a childlike way is good – makes me feel much better. Thank you. Also why I like The Jesus Prayer so much. Mary Benton, I like the way you put it too.

  30. Dear Merry,
    ‌I admire the innocence and hopefulness of your faith. Being like a child is really the place where we meet Christ. This notion was vaguely recognizable to me until,as I mentioned, I discovered liturgical life,the spiritual life within the church- the confession,the Jesus Prayer and The Eucharist. I don’t think that these require scholar background and if some of it is needed it is being revealed to us accordingly. I think that, with the Liturgy, the state of us being His children is becoming closer and we are more aware of it. The difference,maybe, is that the grown up makes the choice to answer His Love, because Christ first gave His Love to us.
    ‌Somehow, I just think that he treasures our choice,because as grown ups we are offered the world and we choose Him.
    ‌Once I said:

    ‌I feel
    ‌as if I’ve travelled
    ‌the world around,
    ‌Just to come back
    And never to leave
    His Arms again.

    (and was never in a situation to travel so much,but I’ve always experienced my life paths as a traveller on a journey)

    Dear Marry, my mother is your age and I appreciate and love your calm ways and wisdom. I am so happy that with Christ among us we are so alike and so willingly share the uniqueness of our ways and views.
    But the most joyful notion is ,as our Metropolitan Naum says, that in a way, we are all at the age of 33.
    With His Prayer, willingly accepting Christ in our hearts, the child who gave his love to Him long ago, no matter how old now,stops as His age. Christ is our beginning and end,our birth and rebirth, our true and only real love who knows as better than ourselves and who first gave His love to us.
    These children now, can create the Playground 😃together with Him and make the world a beautiful place.

  31. Dear Merry! Sweet Merry! I am a lot like you with a child-like approach to God. I trust in Him completely. I do not ever remember getting angry with Him, but I express my anger to Him, because I know He knows what I do not! It may sound irreverent, but I don’t mean it that way at all. I love Him with a child-like love and devotion, many times most zealously 🙂 , I understand that when I am in the dark, for whatever reason, He is there too. And with people, I have always been a bit on the gullible side! I trust till I am given reason not to. And I try, hard sometimes, to easily forgive.
    As for the intellectuals…the writings of the Fathers, theologians, scholars, and such usually do take center stage. I have noticed too that in Orthodoxy, especially on the blog sites, how do I say this…the “smart ones” are, well, very much present! They have the opportunity to share, talk, converse here where they may not otherwise have that opportunity. But I do not think they are the majority. Most of us on the whole I believe fall somewhere in between, I think the ‘in-betweens’ are the majority…and are simply either not heard from or not front and center. Do I make sense? So, I encourage you, if you do feel a bit “theologically inadequate”…please don’t! You know as well as I do that your scholastic report card is not in any way an issue, and we are certainly blessed by your kindheartedness and encouragement that is evident in your comments!
    I also enjoy all the wonderful comments as well…and am so glad when we see new names pop up!
    And I thank you for your comments, Merry!

  32. Well now … there you go! Blagica said it too!

    Yeah, Blagica, there’s nothing like the experience of being present in the Liturgy. There is a tangible awareness of His and all the Saints and Angels presence. Not once ounce of schooling is need for that! And neither for receiving the precious Body and Blood, nor to engage in prayer!

  33. Dear Paula AZ: VERY WELL SAID! This experience is so divine, it cannot be explained to others who continuously search for the answers in books! We just need to be attentive! Thankyou….

  34. Paula AZ
    So wonderfully direct,thank you.
    Taking His Precious Body and Blood, you don’t need books for that.
    What you surely need is a good taste developed for the proper Food that really Feeds you in every sense😉.
    Let us only not forget those devoted, in love with Christ, who also have that innocent approach but their Call is one of a scholar. Their intellectuality is different, with inner value and words confirmed with experience in faith which go straight to the heart of a believer. The approach of those theologians who really Fell in Love once so innocently is originally appropriate to each and every believer who encounters them.
    So it’s not a mere coincidence our gathering here on this blog.
    Thank you again Fr.Stephen☺️
    No matter if we are scholars in faith or not, we give fruits according to the faith we have and practise
    and by those we are recognized as Christ’s and recognize each other.
    God Bless you
    sweet Merry,Lisa,Paula AZ and
    all of you dear people close to my heart although miles away❤️

  35. Thank you very much for your encouragement, Margaret, You are right about the “Divine” Liturgy, but I think I need to clarify…
    Please, if I may, I do not want to be misunderstood where someone may take offense.
    Absolutely nothing wrong with reading, studying, searching, contemplating, even if it is done with intensity. God bless our rational souls! Only it must not ever take the place of the Liturgy, the Eucharist, prayer, even charity. And it is no reflection of who we are as a person.
    Just thought I better mention that….!
    Thanks for the prompt, Margaret, even if unintentional!

  36. Blagica! Again…I notice you’re response after I post! You say it so well:
    “Their intellectuality is different, with inner value and words confirmed with experience in faith which go straight to the heart of a believer. ”
    Yes indeed, thank God for them! Father Stephen is most definitely one!
    And thank you for completing what I wanted to express.
    So glad you are here! You may be far away in Macedonia, as you say, but you are very close to us too!

  37. “Invariably, such an inner sense of what is to be done leaves us exhausted, trying to do the “whole” thing with every small thing. There is no contentment in the effort.”
    Thank you Father, I really needed to hear this.

  38. In case any one doubts it my dear wife, Merry, vastly overstates my learning. God used me to get her to the Church. I have learned far more from her than she from me.

    I would add one for word to the anxiety, anger and shame and that is fear. Primarily fear of death in various subtle ways which makes Pascha even more significant.

  39. I’m re-reading Fr Stephen’s article and appreciate the emphasis on the fact that modernity had to be marketed. It was contrived as a “must have” and sold as a necessity.

    Back in the dark ages when I first started science courses, I learned chemistry from textbooks that actually presented models of systems with biblical innuendo. By the time I got to grad school however such allusions switched to a sort of ‘archaeology’ and ‘evolution’ of molecules. To be clear, I’m not making a comment on evolutionary theory itself, only that the descriptors of research topics are selected and changed noticeably over a couple of decades. Now there seems to be a lot of things described as ‘nano’. However, in the molecular sphere, everything was always ‘nano’ to begin with–it just wasn’t made into a highlighted descriptor. Perhaps this movement of descriptors within the sciences also demonstrates the work of salesmanship, where even within research itself relevance and meaning is shaped by a consumer-driven base.

  40. Dear Blagica
    What you wrote “These children now, can create the Playground 😃together with Him and make the world a beautiful place.” really touched my heart…. because yesterday I was talking to my dad – who is 84 years old. He told me that he had a wonderful dream that night. In the dream he was playing in a sandbox and God said to him, “now go get the other children and bring them…. tell them where to find me … “ 🙏

  41. Dee,
    It is interesting to hear from you that even in scientific research the language has changed in conformity to the spirit of the age. I like the way your describe its change as ‘salesmanship’. If I understand correctly, we, as a people, *bought* into these changes, like sheep led unknowingly to slaughter. I think the salesman has horns.

    People like yourself who began their studies back “in the dark ages” (me too!) are able to notice these subtle but significant changes. It doesn’t surprise me because all civic institutions (gov’t, schools, churches) have become secularized. Language began to change centuries ago. Same words now with different meanings. Since language is our means of communication, there is no place, no institution in the public sphere that is not affected by the change in the meaning of our words. This in turn affects us personally. It is insidious and it is meant to be that way. When Father says things like there is a darkness behind all this, yes indeed there is.

    But Christ is Risen…He Reigns. May He grant us the grace to love and support each other so His light may shine brightly in this world. May our spiritual eyes be open. May we not quench the flow of His grace by turning from Him, even if in ignorance. Oh God…forbid! Keep us by Your grace!

  42. Dee and Paula
    How true your observations are. May we be the ‘salt’ of watchful Ness in the face of all this corrosive influence.

  43. Dee and Paula

    *’salt’ of watchfulness

    Today there is a maximum need of watchfulness and unceasing prayer since – as well as all the conventional allures away from God we’ve always had – we need to also combat being captivated by modernity’s profoundly illusory way of thought and of life, which further inflicts upon us the overwhelming forgetfulness of our divine origin and destination.

    To keep our inner unity and peace within the contagious degeneration and distraction of the modernist world we need to cultivate the constant sense of the calm presence and indubitable providence of God in our life –
    especially by continually invoking the Name of Christ, which can bring down upon us the feeling of Christ in our heart, help us shun sin and nurture feelings of love for God and others.

  44. It seems for sure if we are to be detaching ourselves from the influence of negativity, corruption and ungodly suggestions for us to follow, then we need to really keep our focus on being “in the world, but not of it.” It might be difficult to maintain our inner peace (and strength) as things grow more intense, but believing in ourselves to be sojourners on this earth as scriptures tell us, we can share in the beauty which surrounds us such as nature, good people/family, while avoiding the behaviour of society and the world. Now, in doing this, we are left with the responsibility of praying for those who are being led astray or lost from the path and perhaps have never known who God is! Living the Sacramental life with constant prayer will help us to endure and bring our brothers and sisters to conversion. The true way will get narrower as we drop off those things which stand in the way on our journey toward Heaven. We discern; we choose!

  45. Dino…thanks so much! Good words!
    ” we need to also combat being captivated by modernity’s profoundly illusory way…keep our inner unity and peace… invoking the Name of Christ, which can bring down upon us the feeling of Christ in our heart [very important!], help us shun sin and nurture feelings of love for God and others [the most important!].”
    Profoundly illusory…no doubt!
    This hesychia requires no slackness! It takes not a fair amount of effort! Like Father said at the start of the post:
    “Hesychia is by no means a passive approach to the world.”
    St Paul too…”pray without ceasing”. Here, the Jesus Prayer is of great benefit.

  46. For me, personally, hesychia has largely been an exercise of relinquishing control. Trying to assert control over everything in life disrupts peace. Learning how to be still in (what I perceive to be) chaos has been good for me.

  47. Thank you both Paula and Dino for your insights. It is a kind of insidious lure, it seems.

    Indeed watchfulness, prayer, blessing all with our gratitude and calling on the Name of our Lord is our ‘shield’ to keep us from falling into the rivers of our passions.

    I wish I could claim ignorance causes my failures. There is a kind of innocence in such failure. But unfortunately for me, more often than not, it is pride. And ironically I was taught by my mom not to succumb to it. Little did I know that such passion is the hallmark of modernity. It is encouraged in this society. (Talk about wanting a pair of horns in the place of a coon hat!!)

  48. This Silence is so vital to my being – it is where I meet Christ. (Why then do I not treasure it more?) And it is not something I do just once, as in Baptism or a “born again” experience. I need to meet Him over and over until knowing Him is as certain to me (or more certain) than knowing myself. Meeting Him is as much a part of my life as breathing.

    This is so necessary because modernity is always, directly or indirectly, sending me messages that I do not know Him. Society permits me to believe in Him, indulging me in a relativism that allows me to believe anything as long as it doesn’t bother anyone else. But, it is simultaneously communicating that I cannot possible KNOW Him. To KNOW would be disrespectful/intolerant of all who believe something else. How subtle this twist in thinking – that I can start feeling un-Christian for saying I know Christ!

    Of course I can meet Christ in many ways, especially in Sacrament, but without cultivating Silence, I can too easily meet Him superficially, as one might meet a stranger but forget his name within minutes. I can do this because modernity has taught me that I must move on to the next thing. To simply be still and silent with Him doesn’t fit into the picture of modern living.

    Yes, in the world, not of the world. I must be still and silent…

  49. Hi Paula AZ! Thankyou for your comments in regards to mine. Of course books are a great source of information and I suppose I was trying to point out that it does not begin and end there. We do need the Liturgy and Sacraments with a fervent prayer life. Unfortunately, there are those who do search books for the logical answers and in the Divine, the answers are fathomless and even unexplainable once we have experienced them. We cannot fathom the depths of God but only receive some graces here and there when and if He permits. Scriptures are a good source of reading too – I have heard priests say that all the answers to our problems in life, are in the Bible. St Francis of Assisi did not support having too many books around and this was not because he himself was not studious, but that he relied solely on the Gospels and Psalms – he felt we were called to “live the Gospels and not just read them.” I am studying Catechism now to enter the Orthodox Church soon by being Chrismated. I have enjoyed your comments and look forward to reading (haha!!) more…..

  50. Awww Margaret…you made my day!! You’re are to be Chrismated soon! Oh how wonderful! By your thoughtful words I can see God’s hand has always been upon you…and that you love and desire Him!
    Very good news!
    (yeah…lol…keep reading, Margaret!)

  51. Dear Paula AZ: Thankyou for your lovely comments; I feel I made an Orthodox friend today!! On Sunday when I attend Divine Liturgy, I look forward to receiving “Antidoran” – the Blessed Bread! I will say a prayer for you too. “Be still and know that I am God.” – as Scriptures say…..God bless…..

  52. For David Waite: I enjoyed your explanation of achieving a level of silence for deep prayer even while the traffic and noise are going on outside. I think this comes too from knowing how to quieten and calm ourselves down. Might not happen the first few or several times, but persevering or having a mantra – like the Jesus Prayer, does help to focus and keep out the noises. I have actually been laughed at because when I go deep in thought about anything- not just prayer, I wouldn’t hear a bomb go off nearby! Deep prayer such as this for me, helps to find the solutions, consolations, and peace from God. Of course this is not an experience that happens each and every time – as I said, we must persevere. Thanks again!

  53. modernity had to be marketed. It was contrived as a “must have” and sold as a necessity.

    Dee, Father is spot-on in that observation.

    We must shift America from a needs to a desires-culture. People must be trained to desire, to want new things, even before the old have been entirely consumed. […] Man’s desires must overshadow his needs.”
    –Paul Mazur, a leading Wall Street banker working for Lehman Brothers in 1927

    It is always worthwhile to watch this documentary, “The Century of the Self”, again.

  54. A profoundly thought-provoking post and conversation. Thank you ALL for asking your questions and sharing your experiences and insights.

  55. Byron–
    And since all desire has its only end and fulfillment in the Triune God, there it is: The purpose of Wall Street (and the modern consumer era) was explicit, self-aware idolatry. 🙂

  56. I have calmed and quieted myself, like a weaned child with its mother. Like a weaned child, I am content.
    “Shhh. Peace. Be still. It will be alright. God is good”
    How poetic and substantial… Thank You.

  57. While watching the documentary Byron posted I couldn’t help recall that I first heard about the control of the masses in my “conspiracy theory” days. It was not a totally unfruitful endeavor. I remember asking the person who introduced me to it…now what do you think is the answer to all this? I wanted him so much to say “God!”. But he didn’t. I was quite uncomfortable with the sense of doom that pervaded the movement. The Christians who were involved were millennialists (I was as well, as this is what I was taught), so their take was that the control of “the powers that be” will continue until Christ ushers in the 1000 yr reign. So you are just left to wallow in the doom. But that was ok, because you were ‘eternally secure’. By the grace of God I finally turned away from all of that, and later left the church (the pastor was into the theory, the Illuminati, the Pope as anti-christ/false prophet…despised Catholics. This was my re-introduction into Christianity. Very sick.). I left angry and with many unanswered questions. I began to find the answers in Orthodoxy. Thanks be to God.

    Regarding the documentary and how we arrived at this point, Father Stephen’s writings on modernity are invaluable. His recommendations for further reading are invaluable as well. (I am currently reading the Unintended Reformation) If you are reading some other material and come upon an area which calls for more clarity, the search box on this blog will take you to many helpful articles.

    Father, may God continue to richly bless you. Thank you. Your ministry has been a great blessing for me…and for so many people over the years. I thank God…mere words can not describe….

  58. Thank you Byron for that video. I re-watched it having seen it a year or so ago. And I had forgotten some of its points regarding encouraging what amounts to an insatiable desire. Indeed your quote of Mazur’s words says it all doesn’t it? The ‘must have’ isn’t a necessity but a contrived and manipulated desire from a bottomless pit. The only necessity is Christ and He seeks to abide in us and we in Him. This is the Gospel message that the ‘cacophony of desire’ (ie passions with a sugar coating ) is meant to obscure.

  59. Paula AZ,
    So good you were brought out of the gloom of conspiracy theories. They are as depressing as the evening news…which I cannot watch any more, re: Father’s anxiety, anger and shame. However, being Orthodox does not inoculate anyone from being a conspiracist. I know a few number personally. They remind me of “Pig Pen” a Peanuts character…they do not give off the sweet fragrance of Christ. So I either avoid them or just bluntly tell them I do not agree with their jaundiced view. They are discontented folks. Christ gives us peace…something sorely missing from these caught up in nebulous theories. I often tell my wife that I have enough legitimate concerns on my plate…repentance, prayer, watchfulness, caring for others, etc., that I do not have the time nor energy for imported troubles.

  60. Thank you also for your comment Paula. Indeed Fr’s ministry is invaluable for helping us see the larger context. We are in the world. But it is Christ who offers us the Way of eternal life. For good reason we are to remember our death in body, not morbidly but to accept our transient life as a blessing and only the beginning of an eternal life in Christ. A life in this world to be lived in repentance (our ‘weaning’ from passions) and grateful contentment.

  61. Forgive me as I add one more thought. There is no ‘keeping’ God by force. Just as He, Christ, does not enter or abide in us by force or manipulation. It is a voluntary act to accept and abide in Christ and His Love (please forgive my redundancy).

  62. And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God. Romans 12:2 (KJV)

  63. Dee and Dean…thanks so much. You say it well…Christ is our Peace. Do not worry He says. Indeed, “sufficient in the day is the evil thereof”! And yes, as God’s redeemed we are to live in repentance and contentment. As someone reiterated above, ““Shhh. Peace. Be still. It will be alright. God is good” 🙂
    Dee…we mentioned ‘ignorance’ before…here’s what I see as an example, and the unending mercy of God:
    I was not given the time to procrastinate in making a decision to turn away from the conspiracies. I regularly attended an online show, broadcast live, with chat. Because of something I said against the hosts, I was immediately cut off from the show. I’m sitting there looking at a blank screen with a note that said something like ‘you’re outta here’. All I could do was laugh…and I tell you, I immediately knew that I was done. That was it..I never went back. I laughed…and said to myself, this is God speaking to you Paula! Take heed! In my ignorance I was entangled in a mess where I may have remained if God had not intervened. For reasons only know to Him, He did it so blatantly at that time. There are times when He lets us wallow in consequence for a while. Maybe in times of pridefulness the wallowing gets our attention. Something like that. Anyway, I was not given time to procrastinate. In a moment, I was done!

  64. …How to be present in this world, with our actions, without belonging to this world …
    I was there in my reflections, and here I am learning lately the news of the birth in Heaven of a fervent Orthodox, layman, who took care of the pilgrimages, from France and Switzerland, to the monastery of P. Sophrony in Essex …. The Lord reminded him of Him … I saw him last month, in good health, and here in four days, he joined the other Shore, the other World ….. To the Lord !
    Really, the death that happens, is always for me an excellent sting ! Now, here, that all my desires become only the absolute desire turned towards Christ, towards His Kingdom … He calls us, draws us, loves us …. Tell him this prayer …. “I have enough, Lord, to always speak to you about me, as if I were the only one to be looked at, as if it were me and not you the alpha and the omega : tell me about You, Lord, because This is what gives me rest, show me what You feel, what You feel, what You expect from us, O merciful Lord, full of tenderness …. ”
    Thank you to all, because your thoughts, your thoughts, your testimonies, your great fervor, and your Faith that makes my heart smile often, are really a stimulant, a balm and a consolation …

  65. I allow myself a little sequel ….. Certainly, we can understand each other only through the intercession of God, He is the witness of the purity of our spirit and the true relationship between us … otherwise we understand each other “as usual” with his dispositions, his plans, his intentions … just as we can “hear” ourselves with the world only through the intercession of God ; it is He who adjusts, readjusts everything ; in fact, we must “lose the world” to receive it differently, in its Beauty and Truth … Glory to God for everything !

  66. ” it is He who adjusts, readjusts everything ; in fact, we must “lose the world” to receive it differently, in its Beauty and Truth,,,”.
    Yes, that’s it Helene! Thank you!
    Glory to You O Lord, Glory to You!

  67. I’m trying to find a copy of The Mystical Marriage. Where can I buy it?

    Great post, Father. I smiled at: “Many people experience a sort of paralysis when facing a large or complicated task. Indeed, even small tasks can take on a sense of largeness and complication if they are added to all the tasks of a day. Invariably, such an inner sense of what is to be done leaves us exhausted, trying to do the “whole” thing with every small thing. There is no contentment in the effort.”

    There are entire bookshelves devoted to how to “manage” our days. Trying to manage the unmanageable is just one way us boomers stay distracted from the silence.

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