The Confusion of Loves

Among the “difficult” sayings of Jesus is this:

“If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Lk 14:26

Of course, the statement is so extreme that it is quickly recognized as an exaggeration. Jesus is not asking us to hate our family (or even in our own lives). And yet, the saying stands. It suggests one thing quite clearly: the love we have for God is not something we have along a continuum. It is not simply the strongest version of something else. The love of God renders every other love to be like hate, by comparison. They simply do not belong in the same category.

Another way to say this is that every love in our life is under the judgment of the love of God.

This reality comes into focus for me each year around the July 4th holiday. I have many Christian friends on social media. Something within me cringes each year as I see the mix of patriotism (love of country) and Christian piety (love of God). It is not a political judgment. All such loyalties (country, family, sports team) do not belong in the same breath with the love of God. It’s like saying, “I love God and my cellphone.” Nothing belongs in a category with God.

Most of the “loves” in our lives have a certain commonality. One way to think about it is to think of things to which you have a sense of loyalty: family, sports team, college, locality, nation, etc. When I was growing up, we were a “Chevrolet” family. The sense of brand loyalty was consciously nurtured by American automobile manufacturers. My father would opine that Ford stood for “Fixed Or Repaired Daily.” Our next door neighbor owned a Mercury (a Ford product). We were certain there was something questionable about them. The love of family obviously transcends the love of sport (for most). Nevertheless, even the love of family does not belong in a category with the love of God.

Modern loyalties have been the subject of mass manipulation since the early 20th century when psychological insights began to be applied to modern marketing. It explains why there can be little reasonable discussion among people over things that matter in their lives. Many of the things that matter do so for irrational reasons – this can extend to family as well.

A report on a recent survey offered these observations:

Many Americans think people in the other party are ignorant, spiteful, evil and generally destroying the country, according to a new Axios poll by SurveyMonkey, aired on HBO on Sunday night. 61% of Democrats see Republicans as “racist/bigoted/sexist.” 31% of Republicans say they view Democrats in the same light.

The suspicion runs so deep that a third of all Americans say they’d be disappointed if a close family member married someone whose partisanship didn’t match their own, according to the poll for “Axios on HBO.”

  • The percentage saying they’d be at least somewhat bothered by this jumps to 50% among liberal Democrats; it’s 32% among conservative Republicans.

This does not suggest that the differences in political positions are not important, or do not have a moral basis (many do). It suggests, however, that our loyalties are visceral and rooted in deep emotions that cover far more than the issues at hand.

My thoughts, however, are not about our political divide. Rather, they are about what can be discerned in our relationship with God. The visceral (emotional) qualities that are the object of mass manipulation are a very distorted basis for belief in God. These qualities are far more likely to believe in the wrong God than in no God at all. There are two sins that are of equal weight: to forget God and to remember the wrong one.

The Orthodox Fathers consistently root our approach to God in apophaticism – that which we do not know. This is not a judgment on the God whom we do not know, but on ourselves and our delusions. To know God requires that we must first acknowledge that we do not know Him.

Imagine the impact in our public life if everyone were first to acknowledge that likely we are all fools. This is the place where our approach to God rightly begins.

This is not a blithe ignorance that uses itself as an excuse. Instead, it is the profound acknowledgement of our own blindness. That we do not know God is not a statement about God; it is a confession about ourselves. As certain as it is that we do not know God so it is equally certain that we do not know one another. We encounter the energies of foolishness (both from ourselves and others), but fail to see that this foolishness is not the truth of our existence or theirs.

A term that is common in the Fathers is “nepsis,” often translated as “sobriety.” When we are drunk on the disordered energies of the passions, nothing that we see or think is trustworthy. This is why the whole of the spiritual life in Orthodoxy is gathered within the term “hesychia,” or “stillness.”

The classic novel, Lord of the Flies, depicts the innocence of children (boys marooned on an island) that falls into a feral madness, resulting in savage murder. There is a stillness that settles over the novel when adults arrive to save the boys. Sobriety returns along with tears for what has taken place. It is this same stillness and sobriety that rightly accompany the appeal to God, the only adult in the universe. It is our happy state that He is merciful and kind even to the ungrateful and the evil (Lk. 6:35).

We are fools, O Lord, hear our prayer.

 

 

 

 

86 comments:

  1. Thank you for all of this blog post, Fr. Stephen, and these words I will be saying to myself often: “The Orthodox Fathers consistently root our approach to God in apophaticism – that which we do not know. This is not a judgment on the God whom we do not know, but on ourselves and our delusions. To know God requires that we must first acknowledge that we do not know Him.” — they remind me of one of our modern priests (maybe Fr. Thomas Hopko?) quoted as saying “the only thing I know about God is that I’m not Him” or something like that. Today your words speak to me as a parent of young adult children. I so want to think that I KNOW them “better than they know themselves” BUT that is so NOT TRUE and remembering that I do not know God helps my mind and heart to realize that not only do I not know God, I do not know my children (or my husband or other family members that I want to tell myself I “know”) Instead of thinking thoughts about what I “know,” I pray to God because He knows! And so thank you for this great encouragement to pray! Glory to God for All Things!

  2. Oh my goodness! Fr. Stephen, this may be one of your best posts to date! Jaw on floor, no words.

    Thank you!

  3. “We are fools, O Lord, hear our prayer.”
    That strikes me as a good and useful prayer … haha will have to use it in the singular too. Thanks for putting it into words for me.
    Truly it is a relief to simply say, “I don’t know.” (And even to pray “I’m a fool.” I mean at some level that is always going to be true isn’t it?) As a matter of fact, I have long thought that “I don’t know” is a very essential position in Orthodox theology, quite to the advantage of Orthodoxy.

  4. The “fool’s-for-Christ” seem to exemplify this understanding in a very profound way.

  5. It can be relatively easy to proclaim ourselves to be fools before the face of God – and quite difficult to say it before the face of other people.

    I honestly don’t mind calling myself a fool before the face of other people. I just hate it when they agree with me! 😀

  6. I couldn’t help reading this passage and instantly thinking that: and yet “another way to say this is that every love in our life” cannot but be a latent egoism and a rival of God, unless it is fuelled by the love of God itself.

  7. Father
    I’d like to thank you once again for spiritually nourishing many souls through this medium (that could normally be perceived as counter-“hesychastic” or counter -“stillness”, and yet, I think this blog can help one put the computer to one side [for the sake of stillness, prayer, spiritual study etc.] on a most appropriate note).
    🙂

  8. Father,
    You mention 2 sins…to forget God and to remember the wrong one.
    I can easily get caught up in something and not think of God…at least while engaged in some activities. When I taught this might be a couple of hours.
    Thank God that I am in the Orthodox Church where at least I have the sacraments, prayer, etc., to help keep me centered. You have written of how many are atheists or serve the wrong God because of a wrathful deity who seeks “justice” for our offenses against him. It is a “shape up or ship out (down)” kind of a god. No wonder this “faith” has caused the shipwreck of millions. I like your rejoinder to those whose god is misshapen…”I don’t believe in that god either!”

  9. I think that mental illness stigma is very related to intellectual pride – when people base their self-worth in Being Smart then they fear and reject fools. It’s childish and involves competition anxiety, as well as vanity (our intellect without God is nothing, and we cannot understand, have, or earn anything without God’s love and mercy – so all pride is vain, a temporal illusion blinding people to eternal Reality). So to respect fools one must be humble about intellect and sanity.

    Many people feel that those who disagree with them politically must be idiots – and I conclude this means we have a lack of empathy crisis, or rather an anger and disgust towards outsiders crisis (of course, this hides deeper shame). The book Addicted to Outrage is helpful to understand this passion. Some politically unhappy people admit to such an addiction, but there’s no “Politico Anonymous” fellowship established yet. I dream of having one to participate in.

    Much of the loyalty division involves sex politics, and so I think it hides loneliness and a fear of rejection – meaning that both sides want their society to be organized in a sexually comfortable way. There’s a kind of lack of faith that makes people rely on sexual love as a replacement for a relationship with God, that seems to fuel the political anger going on – both sides claim that the other one is taking away their right to a loving sexual relationship. Maybe loneliness is one of these “deep emotions in which our loyalties are rooted” (paraphrase). The “issues at hand” are symbolic of mysterious desires.

  10. Fr. Stephen, I was particularly struck by your words:

    “It suggests one thing quite clearly: the love we have for God is not something we have along a continuum. It is not simply the strongest version of something else. The love of God renders every other love to be like hate, by comparison. They simply do not belong in the same category.”

    They triggered in me vaguely remembered quotes that the internet helped me track down:

    “A condition of complete simplicity
    (Costing not less than everything)”
    -T.S. Eliot

    “Christianity, if false, is of no importance, and if true, of infinite importance, the only thing it cannot be is moderately important.”
    -C.S. Lewis

    And I discovered another quote I had never read before but speaks to my heart in the same way:

    “I said to my soul, be still and wait without hope, for hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love, for love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith, but the faith and the love are all in the waiting. Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought: So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing.”
    -T.S. Eliot

    Thank you.

  11. When I’ve taught my children about that verse, I’ve said that Jesus is teaching us that nothing we think is love is actually love without first and only loving God. That if we want to love our friends or family, we have to “plug into” the great battery of loving God in order to be capable of it. Do you think that’s on the right track?

  12. And, if my suspicions are correct, Fr. Stephen, such gifts of grace cannot be experienced apart from the Cross. I must learn to love the Cross, a prospect which seems frightening on the one hand, but sweet on the other, for Christ is already there waiting for me.

  13. Thanks again Father; your article also reminded me of a Fr. Hopko (i strongly think) quote: You cannot know God, but you can only realize it if you know Him.

  14. Fr Stephen – how do you grow in love for God? I am aware that after all these years of being burned by trying to believe in the God of wrath that I have a lot of anger & pain, reluctance & unwillingness in me as I come to God, any God. That scares me as I try now to get closer to & really catch a glimpse of the God of love. When I get overwhelmed with my own emotional baggage what do I do?

  15. I wanted to share these beautiful words from St. Isaac the Syrian (taken from the sermon transcription of an Orthodox Priest)~
    St. Isaac of Syria writing in the 8th century says this “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son for it. Not that he was unable to save us in another way, but in this way it was possible to show us his abundant love abundantly, namely, by bringing us near to him by the death of his Son. If he had anything more dear to him, he would have given it to us, in order that by it our race might be his. And out of his great love he did not even choose to urge our freedom by compulsion, though he was able to do so. But his aim was that we should come near to him by the love of our mind.”

  16. …yet, the gist of this post is that we do not “know” God.
    Father…do you use the word “know” as it is used in scripture, as to know intimately?
    Given that we are “…shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me” Ps 51:5, our souls fractured, in many ways, blinded by sin, thus unable (?) to know God ‘with all our heart, soul, mind, strength’…is this what you are saying?
    If so, then what em we know? I ask sincerely.
    In all that has be written about God since our beginnings (how could one number this?), what do we know? In all our worship, prayer, drawing near to Him, what do we know?
    I struggle with the thought that we do not know God, and it being left at that. That is what I come away with in this post. Not so much the ‘hate father, mother, etc’. I understand why Christ said that. The apophatic, I understand that too. And being fools…surely.
    Would it be correct to say we are moving toward the fullness of being and will not “know” Him till we see Him? For most of us in the age to come? In the meantime we consume ourselves in the quest to know Him!
    Help me here….Father.

  17. oops… “If so, then what em we know? I ask sincerely.”
    should be “if so, then what do we know?”

  18. I think there is some warning here to not extrapolate from what has been revealed. I tend to do this all the time, “if this, then…”; but we can only know what has been revealed by God. So many saints tend to speak so very simply; perhaps humility, and the acceptance of Providence, requires it. Just my thoughts.

  19. Byron…thanks. I very much agree. I do a lot of the “if this, then…” too. Even in the things God has revealed. I think that in our searching, He gives us what is beneficial at the time, that we may closer to knowing Him. And there we go, back to knowing….

  20. As we await Fr. Stephen’s response to your question, I will humbly offer the suggestion that you might find it helpful to read the Lives of the Saints if you aren’t already doing this. There are so many biographies available on contemporary Orthodox saints today. One of my favorites is Wounded by Love about Saint Porphyrios.

  21. …some verses that came to me, for the hope of knowledge…
    ““…that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him…” (Ephesians 1:17)”
    “But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever! Amen.” 2 Pet 3,18

    According to the message of this post, is this knowledge of God, for now, limited?
    Surely, we are limited….

  22. Paula,
    Fr. Thomas Hopko said, “You cannot know God – but you have to know Him to know that.”

    I do mean “know” in the Biblical sense – in which knowledge is a true participation in the very life of God. Apophaticism is not a means of not knowing, but a means of knowing. But it presses us beyond false knowledge towards a true participatory knowledge. St. Silouan said that we only know God to the extent that we love our enemies. That, of course, suggests that knowing God means that we have become like Him. Much that passes for conversation about God lacks this element within it. People speak about God as an idea, even as an Orthodox idea. I saw a conversation recently where two people were arguing about the Divine Simplicity. That’s just ludicrous nonsense – a sort of theological entertainment.

    I will be writing in much more length in the next few days.

  23. Paula, et al,

    I am reminded by your question that, regarding the seeking, striving, struggling, endeavouring etc towards direct knowledge of ‘my God’ (rather than knowledge about the ‘God of the Fathers’), it is worth remembering the advise that this is better done in the spirit of what the Acts [20:35] say: “remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he said, It is more blessed to give than to receive.
    In other words, when we manage to avoid the peculiar form of selfishness that inevitably will attempt to rear its head inside of us – to overtake and preoccupy us– whenever we’re seeking to know God more intimately: a selfishness that takes the form of ‘expectation’ of God [to see Him] and righteous ‘complaint’ [for not seeing Him – especially when not seeing anything at all becomes so unbearably painful for me]…
    The humility, trust and acceptance of what, to me (now) seems like a deaf, dumb, blind and unknowable God, (despite the fact that I need-to see-Him more than anything), as if He is all ears, all eyes, all embrace,is the key.
    This particular struggle was won, utterly, by those saints who would rather be seen by a God they do not yet see, than make themselves to see God. In other words, they put in practice their inner, princely good-will, that: “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” [Acts 20:35]
    And this ‘spirit’ is proven by the benign alteration that becomes manifest in the manner that we find ourselves dealing with all others: this is because as we start to become inflamed by God’s love, sought in this way, it becomes manifest in a desire to ‘give’ to all (for His sake).
    Another, crucial element, is that when this good-willed placing of ourselves under His loving gaze is done in the stillness of the wee-small hours of the night, even just 5 mins (of offering such ‘first-fruits’ of our day) can be at least as transformative as 55 mins in the daytime… This strange truth has been verified countless times in the lives of all who have tried it.
    Of course, God is not unfair, and if this intent remains an unfulfilled desire for good reasons, He will arrange things another way, but, the God that we perceive during the hustle and bustle of the daytime, [when we do perceive Him], is more as a secret embrace ‘from behind’, or an aid ‘from above’, however, when perceived in the stillness of the night, He is ‘directly’ perceived as One who comes to reveal His very Self ‘in front’ of us! We could only melt away in gratitude then…
    Of course, these are exceptional times, utterly up to Him; what matters, is what we ourselves do all the rest of the times when we do not have such experiences but display our good-will to remember His gaze upon us rather than enquiringly focusing ours on Him. And this cultivates our deep assurance regarding the providence that God has for all His rational creatures. It also spawns joy, watchfulness and meek dignity.

  24. Paula,
    From St. John’s First Epistle: “It does not yet appear what we shall be. But we know that when He appears, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.” For now, we are moving towards that. We know Him to the extent that we are like Him…if we need a measuring stick.

  25. Father…
    “I do mean “know” in the Biblical sense – in which knowledge is a true participation in the very life of God.”
    “…knowing God means that we have become like Him. ”
    “We know Him to the extent that we are like Him…if we need a measuring stick.”
    And all in between you have said…thank you for a much needed clarification.
    Yes Father, I was looking for a sort of measuring stick 🙂 . You are very perceptive.

    Dino…”The humility, trust and acceptance of what, to me (now) seems like a deaf, dumb, blind and unknowable God, (despite the fact that I need-to see-Him more than anything), as if He is all ears, all eyes, all embrace,is the key.”
    And all that you have said…thanks so much.

    I am comforted…

  26. “Much of the loyalty division involves sex politics, and so I think it hides loneliness and a fear of rejection – meaning that both sides want their society to be organized in a sexually comfortable way…..maybe loneliness is one of these “deep emotions in which our loyalties are rooted” (paraphrase). The “issues at hand” are symbolic of mysterious desires.”

    Well stated Ivan. Somewhat cynically, I have at times thought to myself that modern people do not recognize the unborn child as human because he is not yet a *sexualized* being.. Of course you have it right in that it is at once more crude and fundamental – it is simply our deep sexual desires upon which a Self is being built, such that the very structure of everything (politics, morality, even Christianity itself) has to conform to that particular sexualized Self.

    On empathy, I wonder if the crises around it is not “a lack” but rather the opposite: an abundance misdirected:

    https://www.firstthings.com/article/2017/10/empathy-is-not-charity

  27. Dino,

    It is also worthwhile to do a search concerning that article. There is a “letters page” where the author responds to some criticisms raised about it. It is worth reading as well.

  28. When I was a child, I remember thinking that I loved my parents.

    Then I met my wife, and over time I realized that even though I might use the word “love” to describe the feelings that I felt, those feeling were different. Similar maybe, but different. Maybe I could say it was more intense, but chalking everything up to intensity alone failed to capture the other dimensionality of the experience.

    Then I had children. Once again, I felt a different kind of love. Again, similar maybe, but also decidedly different from the other two. I remember telling my daughter that when I was her age I thought I loved my parents, but that now as a parent, I had no idea the type and kind of love they had for me. I told her that some day, if she had children, maybe then she would understand.

    I have always suspected that God’s heavenly love towards us is similarly incomprehensible without his Grace and the Holy Spirit. Not something I may have ever realized without the experience of growing older. Praise God in his providence.

  29. Matthew,
    I thought your comment was very helpful – the example of how we love our children being incomprehensible to them at a certain stage – is quite apt. I recall out frightening it was as we began having children (some 40 years ago). I had never loved anyone or anything like that – and it could not be helped!

  30. Yes. Thank you, Matthew.
    A cute/funny aside….
    Years ago our sister-in-law was getting grief from her teenage daughter. She finally could stand it no longer and blurted out, “If there’s a God in heaven I hope that you get a daughter just like you!” She did.
    The great thing is is that if the teenage years are survived, then they eventually become “human” again.😊 Yet, though they cause grief, we would still swim through shark infested waters to save them. Thank God for parental love. And thank God for loving this parent/grandparent through all my teenage years…they lasted at least til I was fifty!
    And yes, Dino, thank you again for those reminders of how invaluable those wee morning hours are. They are such sweet/sacred/hallow-ed moments. Marvelous grace of a marvelous Lord.

  31. Christopher, I too have thought that the unborn child is dismissed due to celibacy and purity – but that’s more spiritual than sexual, expressed through sex because our moral debates are so hypersexual so that’s the default topic about a person’s personal worth and validity. The rejection of children in general (not just unborn) is about innocence and how many people think they become human through adulthood and therefore through adult sin, while those without sin are not seen as human because in this worldview Jesus and God are not human because He never sinned. Some people think that celibate monastics have no gender (I heard this stated recently). It’s a tragic and dishonest confusion, and obviously hides deep shame – shame is the main reason people reject children. People feel unworthy of having children, as described briefly in the article you linked to.

    I have in mind one very smart female friend who says it is narcissistic to have children because this is a way people clone themselves to reproduce someone similar to them. I don’t really have a reply because I don’t want to offend her. I have decided to happily pray for people when I disagree with them and never confront anyone about opinions, because as Fr. Stephen wrote in his blog post, the issues at hand express deep, often painful emotions. Another example is how in prior years I held many bigoted beliefs – but it was nonsense and went away over the years as I entered the Church and discovered that unconditional love is possible. It was not useful to discuss morality or polarizing topics with me in those years unless someone had a hopeful message – I needed to hear that I can forgive, while I felt undeserving of such power. I suspect many modern people, especially youth, feel incapable of forgiveness because “only God forgives.”

    I am very grateful for your reply comment – it inspired me to listen to Orthodox choir music that I love but neglect. And I read the article of course.

    On the digital CD I’m listening to today from the Choir of the St. Elizabeth Convent in Minsk, Belarus, titled You Simply Have to Love, there’s a relevant song – God Save You. It has a wise tone, and I understand some of the lyrics but not enough to translate. The song title itself expresses a sentiment I find useful – I want God to save everyone, regardless of whether they seem like guilty sinners or innocent victims. Either way – God Save You, and I don’t judge. That resolves much empathy issues, as often today’s empathy means taking a side in a conflict – our empathy is twisted by a culture of soap operas and salacious fiction, both on screen and in print. It’s hard to separate compassion from partisan politics these days – most possible moral causes to participate in are official issues with lobbyists on both sides. The problem with partisanship is not commitment to sincere common values, but the extremist attitude of intolerance- “God enforce our agenda, ad defeat, punish, and humiliate our opponents” – this intolerance is mostly sin. Part of the empathy puzzle is intolerance towards those deemed unworthy of empathy, such as “criminals” or other perceived enemies. I like to read memoirs to empathize better – and this technique has been very effective in “rehumanizing” my relationships with strangers. Memoirs also turn attention back to authentic life, not artificial, worldly conflicts.

  32. Esmee – thank you so much. That looks good, especially for someone like me for whom the word ‘Saint’ normally conjures up ‘highly religious people doing weird things’ (I can only assume some of these ideas come from growing up Catholic but not believing any of it) , so the gentler & kinder the better.

  33. “so the gentler & kinder the better”
    Beakerj, thank you.
    Admittedly, I am taking these words out of context, but they caught my eye. I think they can be applied at all times and in all places and with all people.
    I know when I am not kind and gentle there is something dark going on deep inside that is troubling to deal with.
    Basically, the way you see yourself is the way you will treat other people.
    Shame will cause the things we hate in ourselves to go unrecognized. And one way it manifests (covered) is in bitterness and anger, which propel our actions and in our mind, are justified. After doing this repeatedly, it becomes second nature. We justify our choices and fight for the right to do so. And if one should disagree, they are shamed. It is a vicious cycle.
    I think we should consider these things when we begin to judge what is just and want is not. Generally speaking, I have my doubts that we are in any condition most of the time to judge rightly. We need the counsel of the wise.
    So indeed “the gentler & kinder the better”.
    As is Christ, Lord and Savior.
    BTW, His righteous anger comes from a Man who has purity of heart. Pure, sinless, thoroughly in Light.

    I

  34. Dear Beakerj,
    Something that has become helpful and important for me in my daily life is the daily Saints and Bible readings of the Church. I have an app on my phone that makes this very accessible, and something I can do everyday to find times of Communion with God, through reading their lives and the Bible reading that is significant for each particular day in the Church. The Orthodox Church is literally a Communion of the Saints, those whose lives showed sanctity and love of God in such a way so as to be honored by Him, and to be especially close to Him. The Holy Spirit unifies the Church, and so in the Communion of the Saints, those present and past together, in union with God, the Church brings us closer to God…in the wonderful workings of the Holy Spirit. If you do an internet search for “Holy Trinity Orthodox calendar” you can find the website with the calendar as well as links to download the very useful app, or another website you can search is “OCA daily Saints”. There are other daily Orthodox Saints/Bible reading websites as well, I believe. This daily exercise has many benefits, I believe. It has helped me understand the Church, past and present, more deeply, it has connected me to God’s Holy Ones who can pray for me if I ask, and it has helped me come closer to Our Lord.

  35. Fr. Freeman,

    I recently had a little bit of an exchange on the topic of Divine Simplicity (I doubt it was me you’re referring to, but could have been). It’s a struggle for me to either embrace that we do have some analogical knowledge of God through revelation or that we don’t and that all of revelation is a means to knowing ascetically. This is very much what Fr. Romanides was determined to get across. He found that the analogia was heretical and that we could only know through acsectical endeavor – to attain selfless love. This seems exactly like what you’re talking about.

    But for me, it’s more than a matter of intellectual exercise or theological game playing, this issue. If there is no analogy, then what can I say or think about God, what can I affirm about Scripture – and here it seems the answer would be nothing. It seems like turtles all the way down. Yet I can say things about God while knowing that I have yet to know God in Himself. But knowing lots of true things about God is worlds away from empirical knowledge and yet the “about” leads and motivates towards empirical. Many people like myself do not intend to engage in speculation and armchair theologizing but instead want put on a path towards knowing experientally. If I did not know God was love – would I want to know HIm experientially? So, it does seem that what I can “know” about God leads to wanting to leave the “about” behind. The subtle temptation in all of it, and it is foundational in Protestantism, is to believe that the “about” is the near/satisfactory equivalent of empirical knowledge – and here is where we need our Priests to be like Rabbis. We need people to come alongside and give on the job training versus more manuals about manuals.

    On second thought, it probably was me you were referring to, but I hope it makes sense and that you can see the struggle and it will be the struggle of many converts. And it will help you, I think, see why Fr. Romanides lays out such a monumental shift in approaching revelation. I want to get to the core of my presuppostions and correct them. But we all have them and most of us don’t examine them and trying to be authentically Orthodox is no easy task – especially when the modern Orthodox communicators are as conditioned by their presuppositions coming as they are from Protestant backgrounds conservative and not, when the Babylonian captivity has conditioned presuppostions – this is why we need rabbis/monks – people who have acquired prayer in the heart. Because as it relates to knowing anything empirically in God myself, I am speechless. I know nothing, but I want to know and am fine with being speechless. In every heresy what is at stake is destroying the means to empirical knowledge it seems. So, the “about” is important or we wouldn’t have the Creed. If certain versions of Divine Impassibility are a presuppostion that communicators entertain it will very possibly strip the “about” down to nothing leaving us with no “about” leading to empirical, or it would be the equivalent of saying that heresy is no barrier to knowing God empirically – and would make defending the Faith against heresy a waste of time.

    God bless you,
    Matthew Lyon

  36. Interesting thoughts, Ivan. This one is a bit insane:

    Some people think that celibate monastics have no gender (I heard this stated recently).

    But it may be true as well. Celibate monastics are male or female (i.e. they are sexed) and gender is little more than a matter of the mind (i.e. actually irrelevant in most cases). So perhaps we may say they have “no gender”–and consider that a good thing!

    The note about reading memoirs is helpful. Thanks for that.

  37. Matthew, I do not think it was you, though, if it was, I’m sorry to have stepped on toes. Romanides seems to go too far on analogy. I think I remember a treatment of it in some stuff on Nyssa and Dionysius. It’s not the same thing as participatory knowledge – but it’s not nothing. That we know something of God on account and through His Providence is a theme in the Fathers. Frankly, I’d beware of drinking too much from the well of Romanides. He tends towards extremes that are not healthy. Better to get there through another path. But, that’s just a word from me and you can take it for what its worth. He reaches extreme conclusions that are simply wrong – excluding all exceptions and tending towards creating a method. I don’t mind getting an occasional insight from him – but, even that, has to be tempered. Without tempering – I think he’s spiritually and theologically dangerous.

    But, as to our own experience, I think it’s best that we move along with what God gives us, following the commandments of Christ and dwelling faithfully in the life of the Church. It’ll come. It’s sometimes fruitless to look too carefully at what we think is going on – thinking about thinking, etc. – it clouds things for us. Grace is at work – an rarely shows its methods.

  38. Matthew,
    Take, for example, this passage from St. Maximus’ Ambigua:

    That the Logos becomes concrete and takes on a body . . . can be understood as meaning, first of all, that he who is simple in his own essence and without body, who nourishes the divine powers in heaven in a spiritual way corresponding to each of their ranks, has deigned to take on concrete bodily form by coming in the flesh . . . and to open up for us, appropriately, in ringing words and parables, a knowledge of hidden, holy things that surpasses all power of words to express. . . . Secondly, we can understand it as meaning that he has wrapped and hidden himself mysteriously, for our sakes, in the essence of things and can be spelled out analogously from every visible thing as if from letters—as a whole, in his fullness, from the whole of nature, and undiminished in each part; . . . in the varieties [of nature], as one who has no variation and is always the same; in composites, as one who is simple, without parts; in things that at some time must begin, as the one without beginning; the invisible in the visible, the ungraspable in tangible things. Finally, we can understand it as meaning that he also willed to incorporate himself in letters and deigned to be expressed in syllables and sounds for our sake, since we are slow of intelligence. The purpose of all of this is to draw us after him and to gather us together in his presence within a short space of time, having become one in spirit.

  39. Christopher and Byron,
    I too thank you for the link to the article and the pointer to the comments section. Very interesting reading, with helpful concepts to use in conversations which often happen at work or even with my own children…

    I especially like this paragraph and the thoughts contained in it:
    “Solidarity in suffering is a keynote of the Body of Christ, but it is a solidarity constituted by singular individuals, whose unity derives from each one’s primary allegiance to Christ. Empathy solidarity, on the other hand, is Christian solidarity’s demonic counterfeit, one that carries within itself the seeds of its own destruction. If the Holy Spirit strengthens both individuals and the ties that bind them, empathy weakens them.”

    In the past, I have read comments on how the communist ideology tried to build a better society based on “love of the neighbor” without the “love of God”. In the end, they got gulags and genocide of its own population. This article expands on the other two failures of the Western world – very interesting.

    http://www.events.orthodoxengland.org.uk/three-western-failures-communism-fascism-and-secularism/

  40. Beakerj – this is an excellent article explaining the importance of reading the Lives of the Saints: http://orthochristian.com/54157.html

    And this is an excellent talk by Fr. Kosmas, a priestmonk from Australia on the same subject: https://www.orthodoxtalks.com/talk-78-why-do-the-demons-tremble-when-we-read-the-lives-of-the-saints/

    Fr. Kosmas is with ROCOR and has been giving lectures for over ten years. Originally, he charged a small fee for them, but in January of this year he received a blessing from his bishop to offer all of his talks for free. I have been very impressed with those I have listen to so far. This link will give you access to all of them: https://www.orthodoxtalks.com/

  41. “I have in mind one very smart female friend who says it is narcissistic to have children because this is a way people clone themselves to reproduce someone similar to them…”

    I have to admit I don’t find this philosophy “smart”, though it is the typical Cartesian Self doing what such a self does, and she has narcissism backwards. As Fr. Stephen has been at pains to explain, it is such a Self that is in fact narcissistic and without boundaries – boundaries between the vacuousness of her Self (which is without faith and God – a nihilism and a suffering) and the world, other people, even children. Another way to say this is that she has no horizon, and thus nothing over the horizon of the Self exists – all that exists is a reflection of the Self and its lack of hope and real pain. As Snow says:

    “Our age’s obsession with individuality is expressive of a crisis of individuality; it is symptomatic of a deficit rather than a surfeit….put another way, in a world without God, man attributes too much agency to himself….This is not a world in which Christianity can flourish. Christianity, to be passed on, depends upon strong individuals, people who know where they end and others begin. It depends upon people who understand both their natural limits and their supernatural potential—secure individuals, who are unafraid either of proposing strong truths or of entertaining challenging proposals from others…”

    Your friend does not know where she ends and the world (to say nothing of God) begins, so even children are the mere “clones” of her and others nihilistic (and thus shamed) Selves.

    As Snow notes in her own way, in the more *rational* ages of the past there was a basis and ground for communication, and perhaps you could have had an actual dialogue with your friend about her philosophy. However, ours is the Cartesian age, the age of the Narcissist. How do you communicate with a narcissist? As you say Ivan, any and all reply/word would be a *mere* offense – how can a narcissist grasp that which is not only outside, but utterly alien to her own Self?

    Of course all that I said is somewhat reductive – your friend is more “complicated” than that. Still, it is a mystery is it not, what God is doing amongst all of this?!

  42. Christopher,
    Regarding a “narcissistic” response to “any and all reply/word” to their conjectures, it has been my experience that the typical narcissistic reaction is to take such reply or word as an attack, that is, to perceive your reply and your word as an unsolicited, aggressive/excessive intrusion into their perceived ‘territory’, (ie one that has no bounds) no matter how impossibly extensive such ‘territory’ actually is. Last, apparently there is not a way to modulate such a reaction. I agree with Fr Stephen, from an article going back about a year ago, such a condition appears to impenetrable from outside of such an individual, except perhaps through the amazing grace of the Holy Spirit.

  43. Fr Stephen,
    I have sincerely the timeliness of this article.

    I have been hesitating to say anything of my own reflections on this topic, mainly because it might be too provocative. For those of us who have had children, there is, as you said in an earlier comment, an amazing re-orientation of our hearts, and a willingness to put down our lives for our children, which enables us to have at least some experiential understanding of a God “who so loved the world…”.

    I had to smile when you mentioned God as the only adult in the universe. Indeed! May God have mercy on us fools!

    I’m also grateful for Tess’s comment and outlook on those first verses you mentioned in your article.

    Now I present the potentially provocative part:
    For reasons involving a particular trajectory in the sciences, I have learned that this society instills a hierarchy of prestige that impedes growth of the spirit (this states nothing new). However, I refer to the sciences into this reflection, because there is a perception at large that one can conduct “scientific” or “scholarly” research on some idea (usually by combing the internet) to corroborate their preferred conceptualizations, which I describe as their “loves”. Usually, such ‘research’ does not engage the ‘tool set’ humble discernment. And this predilection can be imposed upon one’s own children.

    For awhile now I hear of parents ascribing to their child (or children) “giftedness”. This is a relatively recent invention, it seems, and it has garnered enough attention to provide monetary opportunities (to educational systems of various kinds) to cater to (and create their tests for) such “giftedness”. In the circumstances when I hear such an ascription to a child, it is usually a parent who ‘beholds’ their child above others, according to the priorities and values of this culture, or worse, to explain away bad behavior. With the research I have seen so far, I don’t find enough data supported evidence for such ascription except for specific, well defined and tested conditions of an autistic savant. In other words, this behavior appears just another form of avidity for ‘class distinction’, done in the name of ‘love’.

    St Paul spoke of giftedness as well (I Corinthians 12 &13 NKJ)., but he goes further to say, (13:8) Love never fails. But whether there are prophecies, they will fail; whether there are tongues, they will cease; whether there is knowledge, it will vanish away.

    But how might we discern in our own behavior according to what (and Who!) love is, especially how we might express love toward (and regarding) our children? Again I refer to St Paul: (I Corinthians 13:4 NKJ) Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up. This is not an invitation to just keep one’s mouth shut regarding one’s children’s successes, but to suggest perhaps a little ‘rethink’.

    As Fr Thomas Hopko wrote in is 55 maxims: “Be an ordinary person, one of the human race.”

  44. Dee, are you wondering whether or not giftedness as a thing actually exists? Or whether or not the idea of intellectual giftedness has been misunderstood and abused?

  45. Tess at this point I’m answering on my phone. I apologize for the profuse typos that might make it difficult to understand my point in the previous comment. I don’t wish to be too terse, but I will be succinct. I don’t think I’m wondering as much as I’m making an observation. Giftedness is a recent and contrived designation arising from circumstances more closely related to vanity. We all have God given strengths and weaknesses and strengths are acquired in various ways.

    I appreciate and quote someone else’s wise words (who I will keep anonymous and I hope and pray he doesn’t mind my quoting him):

    The fact is that every child, every person, is “gifted.” We have received the gift of the breath of the Holy Spirit, life itself. God gives us gifts, talents, abilities, mental and physical capabilities that are in a unique combination for each person. Parents of a “gifted” child (really every child), rather than stake out bragging rights, perhaps should consider the responsibility they have to help that child understand the gifts God has given her/him and how she/he can give them back to God in obedient service.

    Beyond that, focus on the FRUIT of the Spirit (=virtues) outweighs undo concern about the GIFTS of the Spirit.

  46. Dee,
    I think I understand and agree what you are getting at. I know you’re waiting for Father Stephen’s reply, but I hope you don’t mind if I through my two cents in here.

    The concept of “intellectual quotient” is indeed a modern concept, and has many flaws. But even though I believe that it is outdated and has only limited use, I do believe it describes a real phenomenon. I speak only from my own experience as one of those children who were identified as gifted, with an “IQ” of 145.

    I think it is most helpful to understand “giftedness” in children in terms of a type of cognitive development– specifically, the psychological term I think is most helpful is called “asynchronous development”. What this describes is the brain of a particular individual that grows in leaps and bounds in certain areas and does not show the same leaps and bounds of development in other areas. The stereotypical example is the kid who is good at math, but not so great at social skills (though not all asynchronous development means terrible social skills). Another example might be a five year old who reads and talks at a 5th grade level, but still has the normal tantrums that five year olds have. Every individual is different, but hey, that’s true for everyone of all abilities.

    I was not brought up to believe myself better than anyone, though I know some people certainly do behave that way about their children (though they don’t need the label “gifted” to behave that way, it seems to me). Also, although my skin is white, I’ve never even acquired the class distinction of suburbanite. 🙂 Lower middle class, hanging on by the skin of my teeth, all the way.

    I think the gifted industry that you describe sprang out of the observation that intellectually gifted children have a difficult time thriving in American institutionalized schooling. Of course, that *might* mean that American institutionalized schooling isn’t actually good for anyone… but holy cow, does that open up a can of worms, or what? Much easier to identify and cater to the kids who point out the flaw in the system.

  47. Tess, I have no desire to put down anyone. However most parents I know who have “gifted” children, believe that they have ample reason in their eyes to hold onto that ascription.

  48. Well, sure, but are they substantially different in essence than the parents of the baseball star? Or the violinist, ballerina, or artist? Or the parents whose son wins go kart races or makes Eagle Scout? I think all of us parents are susceptible to false pride in our children, at least to some extent. But maybe I’m still misunderstanding what you’re saying.

    Perhaps you are describing the phenomenon whereby parents with a little scratch seem to be able to influence testing authorities to declare their own children gifted, giving them access to resources and opportunities that the parents without extra dough can’t? That money leads to greater access to opportunity is also true, whatever resource we’re talking about.

    Or by slapping kids with the label “gifted”, and letting them coast effortlessly through school (oh, maybe we put them in a program that gives them tons of busywork!), we under-serve them by failing to teach them the skill sets of grit, perseverance, and hard work?

    I don’t see you as putting anyone down, and I absolutely 100% agree with the quote you posted about the giftedness of every child. But I think I have to disagree with your conclusion that intellectual “giftedness” isn’t a real thing. Of course, your sample set might appear to show you otherwise.

    I apologize if I appear argumentative; I’m really not trying to be. Contrary to your observation about vanity, my experience with giftedness has been one of deep shame.

  49. Tess, I don’t want to talk about your personal experiences as if I’m making a comment about you.

    On shame, healthy and unhealthy, Fr Stephen speaks often on this subject and about what we do in this culture to deal with it.

    I’m glad you liked the quote, perhaps it is wise to focus on that. I have an obedience not to argue here, or anywhere for that matter, although I fail. And though I have no obedience not to say something provocative (as yet! 🙂 ), it is important to not cause an unhelpful distraction. Christ is the core of our attention and love.

  50. “Contrary to your observation about vanity, my experience with giftedness has been one of deep shame.”
    Tess…thank you for coming out and admitting that. I would have never guessed that of you by your past comments on the blog. Goes to show the depth of shame.
    We just never know the depth of people’s struggles. Compassion towards others goes farther than we think.
    The fact you share this Tess I hope helps others as it has helped me, even if it is an odd or unwanted camaraderie, we can at least empathize.
    Your intelligence is a gift, Tess.
    May God help us to bear a little shame.

  51. I find it quite interesting that in one of Father Stephen’s many articles about shame he said that considering the popular topics he writes about, shame does not get many hits.
    I find that amazing. But that’s me. I have a special folder with those articles.
    We strive. In all ways. Some come across as an annoyance. Like the blind man in the Gospel persistently yelling “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” He wouldn’t stop even after being warned to be quiet.
    There is a prayer that says to God “cast me down and raise me up”. Perhaps this is what He is doing….through our foolishness. I am a fool. And not a holy one. Forgive me.

  52. If I might add a word or two to the “giftedness” discussion – not disagreeing with either of you, Tess or Dee, my sisters in Christ.

    It seems to me that we live in an era (post-modern) where people crave an identity. Back a few decades when I was young, my perspective was to avoid labeling people when providing mental health services as such classifications seemed to depersonalize the unique challenges and strengths of the individual. Now it seems that a fair number of people want to know what they “are” (sometimes disguised as what they “have”). Sometimes people are craving a “special” identity, such as “I am an empath”, sometimes it is a “victim” identity, a “sick” identity or whatever.

    In making this observation, I am not denying that some people have usually high levels of empathy (or trauma or illness) but more that so many in our culture are looking for ways to define themselves because they don’t know who they are. I suspect that this may carry over to one’s children as well, because I can be the “mother of the gifted child”, another identity to cling to, if I don’t have one of my own.

    As I’m following my stream of thought, I’m wondering how our craving to know ourselves is related to our desire to know God. It seems that, in part, we want something to be certain, some construct to anchor ourselves in this constantly changing world-view that seems to have no Truth, only opinions.

    I suspect I can only know who I am by knowing God and can only know God by knowing who I am. While that sounds absurd, I read recently that Theosis is about relation, not in the cheap sense that Fr. Stephen once challenged, but in the mutuality of self-Other than constitutes love. The sense of God gazing at me and me gazing back is akin to how a mother gazes at her newborn in an ineffable bonding ritual that is an ongoing process of discovery of who the other is.

    As the “newborn”, I am barely capable of gazing back at God but I’ve been given SOME ability to see – or I wouldn’t be here writing these words. (Interestingly, an online search revealed that actual newborn babies can see their mother’s faces at about 30 cm, the distance between mother and baby while nursing – but no further.) To stretch my metaphor, God knows the exact distance at which to hold me for me to be able to see Him – at every stage of my growth. He sees and loves me completely even when my return gaze is so very limited. It is in the gazing that I begin to know as I am known (as in 1Cor 13:12) but, with God, the process is unending.

    (I realize that everything I just wrote may make no sense at all. One of the dangers of writing late in the evening when I am tired.)

  53. Forgive me, this is not a direct response to the Comment thread, but it has been on my heart today in light of recent posts and those by Rod Dreher, Orthodox journalist who comments on the state of things: What if we quietly and humbly started having “Humility Processions” led by the icon of Extreme Humility? No screaming, no political arguing. Just walking the “Way.”

  54. Mary…you may not make sense?! Perish the thought. Very well said. Thank you…once again.
    “…the mutuality of self-Other than constitutes love. The sense of God gazing at me and me gazing back is akin to how a mother gazes at her newborn in an ineffable bonding ritual that is an ongoing process of discovery of who the other is.”
    I remember Father saying when we cast our face down, Christ takes our face in His hands and lifts it to His…face to face.

    Priscilla…a ” “Humility Processions” led by the icon of Extreme Humility”, … Oh that icon! Lord have mercy…yes!

  55. Paula, thanks for your kind words. Isn’t it amazing how different we can appear on the Internet than in real life? If you met me at coffee hour, you’d likely call me “cute” and think I was a bit of a ditz.
    So I’ll take camaraderie where I can get it. 🙂

    Mary, I really appreciate your thoughts on mistaken identity. It’s such an ordeal to know the self beyond the labels– and most people don’t even seem to realize there is such a self. Perhaps this is what happens when a culture collectively stops believing in the human soul.

  56. Priscilla, et al
    I think what Rod describes would be an oxymoron. Extreme Humility does not go on parade. On the other hand, we are always, all of us on parade. A procession of humility can be walked at any time, anywhere. But, of course, Rod is speaking about politics – and American politics is about power opposing power.

  57. “Giftedness”

    Of course, the term is a euphemism, an effort to politely describe a certain phenomenon. Parents want their children to be smart and pretty – as far as I can see, this is a fairly universal thing spanning many cultures. In America, it can become an industry of sorts simply because we will monetize anything that is a potential market. In Soviet times, children “gifted” in certain ways could be isolated and sent to special schools that trained for excellence. There are ethnic groups who are famous for pushing children in certain ways. East Indians in America pretty much own the Spelling Bee.

    No doubt, shame plays a large role in the whole thing. I’ve encountered East European cultures in which there is a palpable shame surrounding a handicapped child – a sense that it is somehow a failure or even a curse. Such children are far more likely to be institutionalized in those cultures.

    Oddly, shame can work both ways. Shame accompanies exposure (we feel naked and on display). The talented child who is suddenly urged to perform in front of adults is probably embarassed (moderate shame). All of it, of course, is driven by the shame of parents – who are unconsciously using their children as surrogates for themselves.

    Given our sins, it’s little wonder that all of this is handled in ways that are less than optimal. Everyone who raises a child or children is doing one of the greatest and most difficult of human activities – it wrenches the heart in so many ways. I pray that the inner struggles will be accompanied by grace for their salvation.

  58. Father, bless! I should clarify that Rod did not suggest such a procession. He does, however, comment on the secular modern state of things, including the “new religion’s” public celebrations. This morning I looked at the Cross Procession in Belarus via the Pravoslavie website. What a joyful, beautiful event. Yes, it would be a Paradox to process publicly with the Icon of Extreme Humility. I don’t even know what day. In Belarus they were celebrating the saints of their land. Perhaps that would be more appropriate…a Pan Orthodox Procession for the saints of North America.

  59. Priscilla,
    I didn’t mean to criticize Rod. We’ve met before and I like him. We have many close, mutual friends. He is, however, a political writer in a way that I’m not, though his cultural/religious observations are often spot on.

  60. Christopher,

    She really is very smart, but I can’t prove it in this anonymous context. It takes observation and empathy to notice that parents typically want their children to imitate them or their various idealized role models (often not Jesus Christ) – I learned a lot from her unusual, critical point and think it does describe some of my motivation. It’s along the same lines as what Fr. Stephen just said – “All of it, of course, is driven by the shame of parents – who are unconsciously using their children as surrogates for themselves.”

    She basically noticed the same trend that has been commented on here about parental shame affecting children, but with more concern. My Godfather told me not long ago that people generally have mixed intentions in our relationships, both loving and selfish. Parenthood is not perfect, and I wish I knew how to politely tell my friend that parenthood is good when done lovingly despite the parents being sinners.

    Shame about childbearing and family life is one of many normal developmental challenges. People can experience similar feelings as parents or grandparents. The deeper, painful feelings causing narcissism that Fr. Stephen has written about are not a person’s fault.

    Reproduction involves individuality and unity, physically with DNA and psychosocially through nurturance. Women considered exceptionally intelligent have unique individuality struggles, as Tess told us briefly. In my boyhood I felt isolated and objectified by my status as a “genius”. It’s hard to be humble with healthy self-esteem when praised so much.

    Relatedly, Orthodox monastics can be spiritual parents to far more children than a person can parent in a nuclear, married family. Orthodoxy makes great use of sexual celibacy for spiritual fertility. Some saints are recognized for founding orphanages and caring for orphans.

  61. Fr Stephen,
    Thank you for your comment at 7:54am. And especially the last paragraph.

  62. As a mother of children of all differing abilities, I find this quote that I once saved for myself as a parent, to be important for educational environments/institutions:
    “The achievement of a handicapped child who learns to speak or to move against tremendous odds is not less than the achievement of a gifted child who attains to the highest levels of performance. The discipline required and the personality developed in the process can be equal. Equality does not consist in the level achieved but in the effort of will and perseverance. This is the equality we should make available to the nation’s young by a philosophy of education which is the science of relations and demands a discipline, an atmosphere and living ideas for its practice” (Charlotte Mason Reviewed, p. 53)

    The value of every child is infinite…once someone told me that it is such a blessing, because my special needs children will always be with God. This is truly a blessing….the greatest love, a gift from the Father….Communion with God.

  63. Fr. Freeman,

    No offense taken if it was me. I just think that at least sometimes discussions over things like Divine Impassibility actually have some practical benefit for some people. But thank you for your quote from St. Maximus. That there is in every human being, a functioning / or the possibility of a functioning capacity to know God analogically, seems foundational – but it is distinguished from knowing as communion. When I speak about Fr. Romanides I am no expert concerning him and may misrepresent his position. Often I find myself emailing more educated folks concerning him.

    Thanks,
    Matt

  64. Thank you Anonymous,
    I had a brother who was severely retarded due to Downs Syndrome. He was blind plus suffered grand mal seizures. He lived to age 24. At his graveside my father said he was thankful he had been born into our family. Though he and mom suffered much through Ricky’s life with them, what he had learned/experienced as a result, had blessed them both.
    My wife and I were walking this morning. A lady lives in our complex who has a mentally handicapped daughter, about 40. She sits in front of her house with her lunch waiting for her bus. I look at her and wave and smile. She gives me the slightest of smiles back and raises her hand ever so lightly. Yet it was a wave. That tiny smile and movement of hand made my day! Oh yes, Lord, bless the little children, regardless of age.

  65. Ivan,

    I hope I did not offend by my implication that your friend is not “smart”. Here in America most of us live on shores of Lake Wobegon, where all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking, and all the children are above average ;).

    I also have shared your experience – I tend to learn more from those whose thought is on the outside as it were, even when they are ultimately wrong. This is not to say that there is not a kind of idolization of “creative destruction” and rebellion as well (so that the outside becomes the inside), that seems a particular temptation of certain “smart” people within (often academic) Orthodoxy.

    One of the objective consequences of the “collapse of Christendom”, the loss of God and hope, and an embrace of a nihilistic individualism is the banal demographic one – most western countries birth rate is no longer even self sustaining. The “suicide of the west” and all that. Behind these grand cultural truths are each individuals truth, perception, and spiritual state. It takes nothing less than Faith to look beyond the despair of what our despair cultures tell us about the truth of our existence and the toxic shame that particular version of the truth can only lead to.

    Speaking of being on the outside, the “border crisis” (I live in a small city not far from the Mexican border) was the occasion of an empathy outbreak in my parish recently. A couple of months back one of its leaders plopped the sign up sheet for a migrant sack lunch effort in front of me at coffee hour, and just looked at me. Her eyes were saying “if you don’t sign up, shame on you”. I told her that if I wanted to be a part of this particular con-spiracy, I would go out consume – maxing out my credit card with new TV’s and big cars, thus supporting this house of cards debt economy so that the migrants themselves would be afforded what they are here seeking, namely a big car and a big house and with a TV in every room…someone call the CDC 😉

  66. As certain as it is that we do not know God so it is equally certain that we do not know one another. We encounter the energies of foolishness (both from ourselves and others), but fail to see that this foolishness is not the truth of our existence or theirs.

    A term that is common in the Fathers is “nepsis,” often translated as “sobriety.” When we are drunk on the disordered energies of the passions, nothing that we see or think is trustworthy. This is why the whole of the spiritual life in Orthodoxy is gathered within the term “hesychia,” or “stillness.”

    Father this is certainly the needful condition of our hearts and minds, rather than attempting to make foolish assertions about ourselves. We were a Ford family (ha!! : ) )and my parish priest from the very beginning alerted me of the danger of identity politics that I had engaged in my previous life, and for which I avoid as much as possible since my conversion, albeit with failures.

    If I might add a few more words, paraphrasing from Fr Schmemann (Of Water & Spirit), where he describes the preparation for baptism. Such preparation is not just of the action of the catechumen but of the entire Church. In fact the Church is both preparation and fulfillment. The function of liturgy is our transformation and preparation for such stillness to receive Christ, the fulfillment of all that is, and is to come.

  67. Father…I am grateful for your comments this morning. They serve to further unravel and redirect my thoughts and bring clarity to what is behind words we use.
    Considering the “gifted” and the “handicapped”, ironically both have their gifts and handicaps. Thus, I am grateful too, for Ivan’s disclosure, as well as the rest of the helpful comments.
    I got to thinking…when did we begin to use the word “handicap”, what is its etymology.
    Apparently from the 1650’s, it is a condensed from “hand-in-cap”, which was, in short, a method of working out “an unequal contest”. Two ‘bettors’ and a neutral ‘umpire’ were involved in this sort of ritual. (see etymonline dot com)
    Later: Reference to horse racing… where the umpire decrees the superior horse should carry extra weight as a “handicap;” [sheds light on the shame of the gifted] this led to sense of “encumbrance, disability” [and the shame of the disabled] first recorded 1890.
    And in modern times: The main modern sense, “a mental or physical disability,” is the last to develop, early 20c.
    It is said that this evolved from a mediveal poem “Piers Plowman”. Here’s what it says about that poem:
    “… questions of penance and obligation that are at the heart of Piers Plowman, and shows how the work’s fierce satire and commitment to justice have influenced English literature…”
    and this:
    ” Today, that truth and justice may not necessarily be of a spiritual nature [!}, but it still grows from the very questions that Piers Plowman keeps on asking: what is the relationship between justice and mercy? What do we owe our neighbours, whether in kindness, compassion or money? What is the proper relationship between those with temporal power (kings, bishops) and those who work for their pay?”
    The link: https://www.bl.uk/medieval-literature/articles/piers-plowman-an-introduction

    I will leave it to our blessed gifted ones to expound on this 🙂 . I basically get the gist.
    It is interesting that our modern use of the word did not come into use until the early 20th C. Father, I would like to hear your thoughts on this.

    One thing that came to mind in the question “what is the relationship between justice and mercy?” is this:
    “Mercy and truth are met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other.
    Truth shall spring out of the earth; and righteousness shall look down from heaven.”
    Ps 85{10-11
    and their revelation in Jesus Christ, through St John:
    “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth…And of his fulness have all we received, and grace for grace. For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.” Jn 1: 14, 16-17

    All goodness, all ‘equality’, all justice, points to our Lord Jesus. All of it. Full of Grace and Truth. Glory to Jesus Christ!

  68. Matthew,
    I understand and think you’re point is very well taken. Sometimes we have to unravel the Gordion knot of false theology in order to be at home in the true. You’ve shared before about your background. I respect the fact that you’re working seriously as you move forward. I should not be so flippant in judging what is important to someone else.

  69. Christopher,
    You’re not as sloppy a writer as I am. So I’m inclined to interpret acronyms and spelling structure to have meaning. Some I get and some make me laugh—I used to listen to the ’Wobegon’ narrator when the show was on the radio. He frequently made ‘soft’ pokes at our assertions and labeling constructs. But some things you wrote went over my head. I haven’t watched TV for a long time so forgive me, specially, what are you referring to with “con-spiracy”?
    The internet came up with a few programs. If this isn’t appropriate to ask details then I apologize— I believe I get the gist.

  70. Sorry Dee, I meant only an etymological emphasis on the word itself, “with” + “spirit”… there are many spirits in this world…

  71. Christopher,

    Lake Wobegon is one of my favorite allegories, and you made me laugh out loud. Thank you for your good humor!

    I felt concerned that you were criticizing her character based merely on her opinion, not knowing her directly. I am surprised you don’t think smart, educated women believe what she said – that kind of criticism of parenthood is not that rare of a sentiment these days. I should have been more clear earlier in presenting her opinion. I mentioned my friend’s intelligence to make a specific point about people like her. The point is that educated women statistically are observed to have fewer children (with even fewer children among those with advanced degrees). I don’t know why this is the case, but it does seem like education is associated with beliefs against parenthood. I don’t mean to criticize education; natalism isn’t helpful.

    Maybe this data I’ve seen is misleading or I’m missing the context, but it’s something I’ve tried to understand. Maybe nihilism and individualism are more popular on college campuses? Or having more career opportunity is a greater opportunity cost, taking attention away from family formation? Or college graduates have higher standards for themselves before they feel ready for parenthood? It’s a controversial issue because it involves class and demographic fears. There is data on this both between developed and developing countries and within the U.S.

    About immigrants, my family immigrated to America with legal permission, as refugees fleeing persecution, and I don’t think the dream was to get rich – we have less wealth than before. Immigrants often tell jokes about how former doctors and other highly educated people in their new country do much lower-skill work, like driving a cab, and are poorer socioeconomically than they were in their former home country. It’s more about seeking physical safety and rule of law with a stable, relatively honest government. Americans generally take for granted how ethically good and not corrupt the government is here, because of political dissatisfaction and general unhappiness blamed on the government. Actually we have relatively good government and rule of law, not just TVs and cars. Nobody would leave home to a new country just to have big stuff.

    Here is what our country’s Border Patrol says in private, to graphically illustrate why many Americans want border freedom (the expose shows some vile memes, NSFW, but I think this journalism is worth sharing because it’s so revealing as to why we have a border crisis and the broader context of the immigration debate):
    https://www.propublica.org/article/secret-border-patrol-facebook-group-agents-joke-about-migrant-deaths-post-sexist-memes#

    I don’t think the economy is a house of cards; rather, humanity’s fallen nature causes asset bubbles to inflate and then burst, cyclically. To me the debt crisis primarily reflects inequality, and how people spend more than they can afford to for reasons of shame and competition, besides many workers not receiving a living wage so they borrow for necessities.

    I disagree with any zero-sum-game mentality, whether in economics or immigration. As the socialist leader Bhaskar Sunkara said in April, “We just want to point to different villains, which, of course, is a dangerous thing.” To me there are no villains, as all people are sinners, so there is no reason for exclusion. Exclusion tends to be intertwined with dehumanization – the kind of attitude reported on in the Pro Publica article. Communion with the Other reveals equality – we are equal to immigrants. I remember when I felt as you do and perhaps was even more opposed to immigration, but I changed intentionally.

    I don’t feel like America has lost anything through admitting immigrants. If people from other countries want big TVs and cars, that means they would fit right in and face the same struggle against consumerism. Globalization continues every day and that means big cars and TVs will continue to spread worldwide. Consumerism is a complex of many addictions, ultimately something all peoples struggle with. Times are changing.

  72. “It can be relatively easy to proclaim ourselves to be fools before the face of God – and quite difficult to say it before the face of other people.”

    Great statement Father. Someone can correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe that St. Silouan the Athonite was believe to be a fool by his fellow monks.

  73. Alan, I’m not sure St Silouan was considered so much as a fool, but a lowly peasant without formal education and perceived not capable of the heights to which he flew.

    Christopher thank you for your patience! Makes sense now, and I too enjoy your humor.

  74. Christopher, Ivan,
    I live in a small town in CA with a population that is 75% Hispanic. Neighbors on both sides of us and in front of us are Mexican-American. One only speaks Spanish so I converse with her in that language. She is working on her citizenship. Her husband drives truck and pastors a small Spanish-speaking church.
    I taught Spanish and ESL. We lived two years in Mexico. So I feel fairly well-versed in the Mexican culture. Some of my closest friends through the years have been Mexican-American. Sweet folks. Close knit families. I have also known many illegal immigrants. I taught many. Not all were Hispanic. Quite a few were Sikhs. All of my Sikh students came here through legal immigration brought in by family ties. Some waited for years to legally enter the country. Almost all of the parents of my Mexican students came here for economic reasons…with safety for their children a growing concern. They are not here for big screen TV’s, SUVs, etc. Those come with the 2nd generation! These migrants are for the most part hard-working, doing field/service work most Americans shun. And most remain fiercely in love with Mexico. They would return if they could have a safe and stable life there. I saw that in 2016 the US admitted 1.18 million legal immigrants. We need immigrants. I worship with immigrants from all over the world. They often come with skills and determination that serve us well. Yet I would like to see all immigrants enter the US legally. I wish we could have some type of guest-worker program that would help, especially Mexican workers, and one that aids our economy at the same time. They would not be looking over their shoulders every moment either since they would be here working legally. Well, I wish I had answers. These are just some observations I’ve made over a lifetime and some ramblings.

  75. Thank you Dean.
    Sometimes it doesn’t help that I’m not current with the political scene. Most information I receive comes from family or co-workers. I appreciate your reflections.

  76. Ivan,

    I don’t need to tell you that correlation is not causation. Yet what could be behind the correlation between education, secularism, and birth rates? From all the usual angles – social, economic, sexual revolution, fill_in_the_blank one quickly gets bogged down in a “it’s all very complex” quicksand. However from a religious standpoint I think the cause comes into view. Christiandom has not simply collapsed into a formless void, rather it has collapsed into secularism. Secularism is unique, at least when compared to almost every other religious form in human history, with its prioritation of the Self even above the good (or just continuation) of society and the inate good of children.

    Education is always in context – pedagogy leading from some place to somewhere, circumscribed by a culture. In our current western civilization, almost all education leads us to the beliefs, rituals, art, and techne of the secular worldview. One of the central insights for our current generation is the realization of the evangelical power/success of secular education and what that means for us as traditional Christians and parents with the duty to form our children in the faith. This is not to say that St Basil can’t go to Athens, it’s just that most of us are not St Basil 😉

    Any case just a quick reply as I am on the road right now…

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