The Kingdom Within

In December of 1849, the Russian author, Fyodor Dostoevsky, stood waiting his turn for execution, having been found guilty of plotting against the Russian Tsar. At the last minute, under instructions from the Tsar, the sentence was commuted from death, to four years in a Siberian prison. Later that day, Dostoevsky wrote a famous letter to his brother, describing the experience. He was shaken and changed to the very core of his being:

When I look back on my past and think how much time I wasted on nothing, how much time has been lost in futilities, errors, laziness, incapacity to live; how little I appreciated it, how many times I sinned against my heart and soul – then my heart bleeds. Life is a gift, life is happiness, every minute can be an eternity of happiness!

I am neither downhearted nor discouraged. Life is everywhere, life is in ourselves, not in the exterior. I shall have human beings around me, and to be a man among men and to remain one always, not to lose heart and not to give in no matter what occurs – that is what life is, that is its task, I have become aware of this. This idea has entered into my life and blood.

Over the next four years in prison, Dostoevsky’s experience would be refined and sharpened. He recovered his faith and became the writer who has moved so many positively towards God and the Orthodox faith. His experience is an example, quite rare, of finding the core of life in a single moment.

Finding the “core of life” (for want of a better term) is synonymous with the naked experience of the soul, the deep life of our existence. Up until the time of his feigned execution, Dostoevsky had been a young “man of the world,” an aspiring writer, who fancied a bit of revolution (quite the fad in his day). He was not living life seriously nor understanding its true nature. It was only in the clarifying moment of his impending death that he saw himself and his life clearly.

Such experiences are rare (mere danger is insufficient). Whenever there is an encounter with the soul on such a level, there is also, inherently, an encounter with God (whether recognized or not). The soul properly reflects God (St. Gregory of Nyssa calls it a “mirror”). If we are created in the image and likeness of God, then to see God is to see the truth of our own life as well, and to see the truth of our own life is a revelation of God.

St. John says to us (1Jn. 3:2), “Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we shall be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.” The movement proper to the soul is always towards its maker. By nature, we love God and are loved by Him.

Christ says, “I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.” Jn. 17:26

This is a very striking statement. Christ prays that the very love the Father has towards the Son would dwell in those who follow Him. The love of God is the primary and proper energy of the soul.

A question was asked in recent comments about how we might increase our love of God. A simple answer is that we begin the journey towards this true depth of the soul. The roadmap, so to speak, is the commandments of Christ. The actions described in His commandments are depictions of what it looks like to be like God. As such, they are also actions that give us the outline and shape of the soul itself.

Christ tells us to love our enemies – because God loves His enemies and is “kind to the evil and ungrateful” (Lk. 6:35) Christ tells us to share what we have and to give without expecting in return – because God gives without measure and never begrudges His giving. Christ tells us to speak the truth – because God only speaks the truth and there is no darkness in Him at all. Christ tells us to lay down our lives for one another – because God laid down His life for us and for all.

“Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.” (Jn. 14:21)

Because we live in a romanticized culture (one in which we are spell-bound by our thoughts and feelings), it is often the case that growth in the love of God is expected to begin with how we think or feel. (We make the same mistake in marriage, assuming that we marry someone because we “love” them, instead of loving someone because we married them.) Christ’s words direct us towards the whole of our life, particularly starting with what we do. This same principle can be seen in His saying, “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” The soul follows the body (in many things).

Despite the word’s association with trendy ideas, I like to describe the Christian manner of life as an “authentic” existence. We are called to live in the truth of our being rather than in the many false images and delusions of our passions and their distortions. The life of the Church is medicine that guards against an inauthentic existence – when we attend to it as we should. Repentance of the deepest sort, is far more than a turning away from things we have done wrong. It is a turning towards God (and the deepest self) and moving towards the truth regardless of the cost.

Often, when I think about the calling of the Apostles, their near-instant responses come to mind. What must you hear in an invitation to simply drop what you are doing, leave home, and begin a new life? One is the Voice of the heart’s true desire. The other is the revelation of the heart itself that can only come when that true desire is revealed. The greatest gift anyone can be given in this life is the moment of such a revelation (and the grace to answer it). When Christ speaks about the Kingdom of God, He consistently likens it to such a priceless event. If you find it, you sell everything and buy it.

This is ever-so-much more than a theological construct. It is not a belief or even a set of beliefs. It is not a better Church than the one you’ve been in. This is the honest-to-God truth – of everything and of yourself. God give us the grace to find it.

 

 

85 comments:

  1. Many thanks for this, Father. It is good to simplify and I think the exhortation to do the commandments of Christ is wonderfully simple.

  2. Perhaps my favorite post you’ve ever written, Fr. Stephen. Thank you.

    The calling of Christ is indeed foolishness to the world, but to those who have ears to hear, it is of infinite value. Yet once we have heard the call, the work really begins. We must continually say “yes” to God in a world that so desperately tries to get us to say “no”.

    The way up is the way down. I must decrease so that He can increase. This is our true existence. This is the life of selfless love. This is how we can say with St. Paul, “it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.”

  3. Father… I appreciate this post and have been mulling it over.
    “If we are created in the image and likeness of God, then to see God is to see the truth of our own life as well, and to see the truth of our own life is a revelation of God .”
    I wish I could say I “know” this exactly. Surely because I have not fully experienced this. Like a Dostoevsky moment (which you say is rare). Or because we are still looking in a mirror dimly. Yes?
    You say that we begin by following Christ’s commandments…love our enemies (and friends!), to give without expecting return…in short to act toward others as Christ would act.
    Again, “Christ’s words direct us towards the whole of our life, particularly starting with what we do .
    Father, I think that for many of us we start out with a mix of emotion and a certain knowing that “this is it…I have found the Pearl !”. That was my experience, and it was (and still is) emotional.
    Honestly, not quite sure what to think about emotional aspect you speak of. I know mine needs to be tempered and redirected (please, God).
    You speak of “once we find it, we will sell all”. What have you seen, as a parish priest, when people have “found it”? What is the course of life? I’m thinking it is like a rough country road with some smooth spots.
    Just some thoughts and questions, Father. For now…

  4. Thanks for the link, Anonymous. This speaks to some of my thoughts:
    “From then on, they’re constantly being challenged internally by the Holy Spirit and also project from themselves the sparks, the light of the divinity. In this way, the dust of the earth becomes a radiant life, through vigilance.”
    Challenged…for sure. Vigilance…that too…

    I must say, to pick a favorite post of Father Stephen’s is like trying to pick my favorite verse in the Bible!

  5. Father…I am sorry…what is over the top?
    I didn’t mean to compare your work to scripture, if that is what you mean. I have in the past thought what would be my favorite bible verse, and thought that would be an impossible thing to choose.
    Oh boy…sorry….

  6. Paula,
    I know what you meant. And thank you. 🙂

    I have a few detractors out there who would suggest that you meant what you did not and that I didn’t mind. It makes it hard for people to just be nice to each other.

    I’m not sure what my favorite (of either) would be – though Scripture-wise, I think it would be, “Lo, if I descend into hell, Thou art there.”

    Usually my favorite blog post is the last one I wrote… 🙂

  7. “Lo, if I descend into hell, Thou art there.”
    Ah! Good one.
    A little while ago I felt like I was making such a descent 🙂
    Well, if I had to pick favorite verse would be not a verse but a chapter…from the one you quoted in this post…John 17.

    Thank you Father. You are so kind….

  8. “What must you hear in an invitation to simply drop what you are doing, leave home, and begin a new life? One is the Voice of the heart’s true desire. The other is the revelation of the heart itself that can only come when that true desire is revealed.”

    Yes! The “true desire” is not about a transient thought or feeling but about who I am. Not who I think I am but the truth of who God created when He created me. Sometimes I won’t feel it at all in my feelings. Sometimes I will doubt it in my thoughts. But it will always be the truth of who I am and, having recognized and responded to the invitation, turning back can never be an option.

    By His Spirit, may God protect this desire in one who is very weak.

  9. Paula,
    To a certain extent, I have been that person. My 20 years of looking at Orthodoxy from a distance (it started in college and continued in seminary) were a sort of flirtation with my heart. The path towards ordination and ministry in the Episcopal Church were, for me, an easier route, much more secure on territory I knew. There’s a loud of ground covered in 20 years. After 8 years of ministry, I went back to school (to Duke) to work on a doctorate – with lots of questions in my heart…most of them were turning out to be Orthodox questions. Even that experience (school) had twists and turns and tortured thoughts. The day I did my defense of my thesis, I knelt and prayed, “Oh God, make me Orthodox.” I meant by that two things: first, I wanted to be Orthodox, and secondly, God was going to have to make me. I was giving Him permission to drag me kicking and screaming into my salvation – and I wasn’t sure there was any other way.

    It was another 7 years before we were actually received into the Church – the last 4 of them we were biding our time, and quietly trying to figure out how it could be done. A secular job? There was no where to politely move from being an Episcopal priest to being an Orthodox priest.

    In the end, a job found me (a hospice chaplaincy) which I worked for 2 years during which I was re-ordained, started a mission, and then went full-time with the mission.

    There was a deep clarity of soul in my conversion – though I don’t think anything has ever shaken me like that. I found after my conversion the realization that I’d spent 20 years as a “double-minded” man (or “two-souled” in the Russian expression). My path of salvation since that time has been the slow work of having the damage healed that I worked in my soul over all those years – as well as some other stuff.

    But, I was never a happy Anglican, never at peace. As an Orthodox priest, I am only one thing and the one thing is who I truly am – though I’m still trying to reach the depths of it.

    That’s a brief version of my story. I’ve seen others do this – in less dramatic and more dramatic ways. It’s interesting, but I’ve any number of times had someone tell me that they wanted to come to the Church but sat outside in their car in the parking lot for two or three Sundays running, unable to come in. The fear was that they knew nothing would ever be the same.

    When such moments come to someone’s life, they are a great gift of grace. It brings tears to my eyes each time I see it. I’ve got people, inquirers, members, who drive over two hours to get to Church and feel privileged to be here. The Church is properly that place where the soul meets God – but we are often terribly distracted. We live in the logismoi and our anxieties – and not the naked truth of our being.

    I found some seven years ago (or a little more) that there were much deeper layers beneath a sea of shame that I had not known. My writing on shame has come out of the experience of going beneath it to greater depths and finding a clarity (from time to time) that I had never known in my life. I assume that there’s a lot more stuff than I’ve become aware of. You never touch bottom.

    I do know (because I can vividly imagine it) that I could have “lost” my soul any number of times by not finding and following this path. There were huge temptations, each one of which could easily have been justified as noble and good.

    I have met many people through my writing and traveling who have lost more, given up more, taken crazier leaps, even suffered to stand where I now know to be the heart’s true home. I will also say that I’ve had any number of conversations with people for whom that moment is not yet clear – but who are living with great integrity and authenticity as they struggle towards it. It’s a very confusing world out there – and a soul is easily able to wander into mostly nothing at all.

    So. I pray. I write. I read. I give thanks. I’m working on living this by the single moment.

    Forgive me if this is too much information (as the kid’s say).

  10. No, Father…not too much information! You have answered my questions thoroughly. Thank you!

    When you write articles that cause me to linger, long, on certain things you say (like “to see God is to see the truth of our own life as well, and to see the truth of our own life is a revelation of God”), that long lingering means ‘nope, I’m not getting this’. I know what the words say, I’ve read similar things before, but if I can not explain what this means in my own words then I’m not there yet.
    But you have been there, are there now, and will continue reaching further. And you share this with us. It is good to give and receive…gladly!
    You have said in times past that you only speak what you know, and encourage us to do the same. Don’t fake it (deceive). Be yourself. Begin by ‘doing’ and the heart will follow.
    Now, the way you explain your experience, it seems that you realized many things in retrospect. Such as, you would have lost your soul if you had not followed what you knew you had to do…that you had been living double-minded-ly…that you were really not content as an Anglican priest. In other words, all these realizations came together over time, as you dedicated yourself day by day to being an Orthodox priest. Sure there would be some reflection on the past, but the whole picture is clear and yet still developing, so to speak.
    Father, I think for many of us that have found our home, each of our stories(yours and ours) have a lot in common, only ‘different words’, different scenes or ‘plays’, if you will. I think you allude to this where you began saying ‘I was one of those persons’. Some of us (speaking of converts here) found quickly that things are going to be very different. Relationships dissolve (this is hard) and new ones made. Thoughts, decisions…whole way of life…new…and demanding!
    It is nice to hear you say you see many travel long distances to go to St Ann’s. Such a blessing for you. And though there may be some lack of clarity, yet they live with integrity and authenticity. They are “being Orthodox”!
    I think that’s most of us, Father. I hope you see it that way!

  11. Indeed, Fr Stephen, going deeper and’getting behind’ one’s shame, with an open mind and heart, submitting ourselves to God, brings us closer to who we are as the Holy Spirit reveals.

    It is ironic that I searched for God (as revealed in nature) for most of my life without realizing my search for Christ. While I did know that I found some sort of communion with God there, I wonder how our lives might be different if we had known as you did, where we want to be, that is, in the Orthodox Church.

    Your story about “two hearts”, which I first read a while back, was a very important help for me. Indeed all our shared stories here are helpful. But as you rightly say the soul follows the body. It was when I was ready to wear a cross, functioning as a scientist in an institution, that the usual divisions created by the society began to break down in my heart. One heart, indeed!

    Thank you for your ministry Fr Stephen!
    How many times have I already said this? God bless you for your ministry!

  12. Dee, Paula,
    I should add that the place of the Orthodox Church held in my story (and my soul), was unique to me and for very particular reasons. I believe it to be the truth, but it is not a generalizable matter of experience. I would not want anyone to think that becoming Orthodox is the same thing as arriving at the truth of yourself. Would to God it were that easy! And, neither is it as simple as having once had such an experience it’s over and done. It’s everyday for the rest of your life.

    St. Paisios said that God could convert a man by him seeing a fox cross a road. That, of course, would be a very interesting story!

  13. Hi Fr Stephen, I recognise that question & thank you so much for this answer.

    I always fear that God will give me the impossible task to show love for him, & then punish me for not being able to do it (thanks Calvinism) but when it comes down to simply being a loving human being, I feel like I can do that, & want to do that, as long as I start to feel loved by God myself. I’ve prayed for years & years to love what God loves, & the things I have loved more over that period are: people, vulnerable young people (my work), the planet, animals, art, literature, humour, ordinary life…nothing very religious or earth shattering. The love for the young people I work with has been particularly noticeable, especially just with years & years of living this out with teenagers others find trying, or incomprehensible. So this one makes sense to me, although I’d very much like to feel more love & trust towards God as well.

    I also listened to a podcast you did on panic attacks & anxiety & I see why you you really get it now. I feel such a fool for having had a serious anxiety disorder, & particularly for the way it has affected my spiritual beliefs & life, & how it does to this day. It’s always such a relief to hear that others don’t write me off for it, though it’s never pleasing to hear that others have suffered in this way too. Thanks for being that open.

  14. Beakerj,
    Christ placed great value on care for the least of these. And those who gave it were surprised to find out that it had been care for Christ as well. As frustrating and embarrassing as a panic attack/anxiety may be – it does not touch the core of our being. It’s just another form of suffering (there are so many forms).

    When I was converting, one of the things I was utterly certain of was that one result would be a loss of control with my panic. I had white-knuckled my life and managed it by a routine that “worked” well enough so that I could get by. All of that would disappear. I was right – the panic that ensued was very difficult. But I did it anyway. That part of things might have been the most courageous thing in my life – though the “courage” would not have been obvious to anyone but me (and God).

    It was another 13 years before, by God’s grace, the panic stopped. That was something I never expected – and for which I’m daily grateful.

  15. “growth in the love of God is expected to begin with how we think or feel.”

    Thank you for this, Father. I have a dear friend who suffers from severe depression and is on meds which basically cause her to think and feel almost nothing. She practices the commandments to the best of her ability in a rote way and feels that her good works don’t count because she does not feel love while doing them. I’m glad I can share this article with her. Perhaps it will help her feel less discouraged.

  16. Father…I understand what you are saying here: “I should add that the place of the Orthodox Church held in my story (and my soul), was unique to me and for very particular reasons.”
    My comment above, where I speak to our commonalities, is a reflection of a part of me that wants to see (therefore does see) our commonality. I tend to lean toward the ‘unity’ in the phrase ‘unity in diversity’. But your comment makes me realize it is just as important to acknowledge the ‘diversity’…and here enters the importance of boundaries. We are all one in Christ. At the same time we are Persons. We respect those differences in acknowledging each others’ uniqueness, marvel at it, knowing God’s love for each of us. Thus, in the context of this discussion, to acknowledge our varying experiences in coming “home” and what takes place thereafter, to learn from them…in instruction as well as edification.
    I suppose, then, we need to be careful in comparing our experiences with others (which can easily lead to judgement), accept the similarities and differences, and know that when we encounter another, just as in ourselves, God is at work for our salvation.

    Also, your response to Beakerj, that “Christ placed great value on care for the least of these. And those who gave it were surprised to find out that it had been care for Christ as well” is along the line of thought I had when reading Beakerj’s heartfelt comment.

    Beakerj…if I may add, there is something about our sufferings where the more intense they are (and I think each of our personal sufferings are intense…again, not meaning to compare, and certainly not to morbidly long for), with the heart’s desire (love) for Christ (which you clearly have), in however long it takes, we will come out, by the grace of God, “shining” as a reflection of His Light. This is who we are…a reflection of Him. But in that process the dross has to be “burnt away”. This is the “Holy Fire”, the Spirit of God, at work in us. We can not comprehend “how” He does this, except that it is through suffering (perhaps part of the process of ‘binding and loosing’?). I encourage you, do not despise the sufferings, but rather accept them (this is hard). God will carry you through. He is doing so now.

    Glad you are here, Beakerj. You have a heart for God.

  17. Beakerj,
    Please don’t be hard on yourself for having had a serious anxiety disorder – and this is coming from a psychologist who has had two serious anxiety disorders and more treatment than most of my patients! It is not cause for shame though often we feel it is, expecting that we should be able to control what we feel. I prayed for a long time and suffered for years, sometimes to point where I felt I could barely go on. I believe that God delivered me from these conditions – directly in some ways, but also through other people. I know the potential is always there for symptoms to come back, given how my brain is wired but, over many years, I have learned to trust (at least a bit) that all will be well in the end.

    As I have more distance from the experience, I can understand why God allowed me to undergo this suffering. I am a better therapist for it. My own fears and turmoil help me to be compassionate, to connect with others when they are suffering. So many have been consoled when they find out that I “get” their OCD or panic. That consolation opens the door to a trust that they will feel better – because they see that I did. These sufferings do not last forever. No thoughts or feelings do – even when it feels like they will.

    I suspect that your gift in working with the young folks has been enhanced by your own suffering. So give thanks for this – odd as that may sound. One of the things that helped me the most in my suffering was realizing that, no matter how stupid it was (and some of my thoughts and triggers were really stupid), I could offer it to God as a loving prayer/sacrifice for someone else. In this way, anything could become an act of love for God. It may not feel like love, it may not sound like love in its content, but offered genuinely, it IS love.

    I’ve only read a couple of your comments so forgive me if my comment here is off target. Just wanted to offer some encouragement as so many have done for me.

  18. Dear Fr. Stephen,
    I must add my vote for this article being one of my favorites. 🙂
    But my very favorite is your very first one. Most of the time, I only remember its question and the first sentence given as an answer:

    “God matters and what matters to God matters.”

    And the last paragraph, where you said: “This blog does not matter – except that I may share something that makes it possible for someone to know God or someone may share something that allows themselves to be known. This matters.”

    I would say that God granted you this wish and very abundantly. Please don’t worry about the “detractors out there” (who you mentioned in the comment to Paula). They don’t matter. 🙂

    And finally, I want to point out this comment as my favorite:
    “Fr. Stephen Freeman says:
    May 8, 2015 at 2:51 pm
    Drewster,
    I take comfort when I think of the next life. For paradise is a small town – not because of the population, but because, everybody will know everybody.”

    I so hope and look forward to the next life just for this reason (especially to meet all who read this blog, who I don’t already know in this life already)… 🙂

  19. Dear Agata,
    Truly beautiful.

    Dear Beakerj,
    I had one more thought I was somehow reminded of, in this post and your comment. When I was going through a time of my life, searching for a grasp of God’s unconditional love, and before He gave me by His grace a concrete experience of this for which I am forever grateful, I remember the books of Fr. Matthew the Poor being of deeper help to me. I read three of his books, and have yet to read a couple more on my bucket reading list for someday down the road. Some of the titles include:
    “Words for our Lives”
    “Words for our Time”
    “If You Love Me, Serving Christ and the Church in Spirit and Truth”
    “Communion of Love”
    And “Orthodox Prayer Life”
    He was a Coptic Orthodox Monk, and it may be worth looking at the difference in Communion, disrupted in the fourth century (someone more knowledgeable could explain), but from my readings of this modern day elder, he is a very beautiful voice to our hearts. He resonates with me very much like Elder Aimilianos does, one of my favorite Modern Orthodox Elders, and from whom several wonderful books have also been given to us, if you ever may seek continued reading down the road. Anyway, this might not be helpful, but I just wanted to share writings that have helped me along my journey.

  20. Thank you everyone for being so supportive.

    Paula – when you say ‘accept suffering’ I’m assuming you don’t mean that I stop trying to alleviate this suffering – but that I seek to learn from it if I must have it? I’ve also had 30 years of chronic debilitating illness, so there’s been plenty of suffering to contend with, though I have made a lot of progress there, & hope to make much more. I’m hoping that that is what God intends, & that He doesn’t see suffering as something good in & of itself, & so it isn’t wrong to fight it, or to hope for a future without it. God allowing suffering, & God inflicting it are two very different things for me, & although I can thank God for some of the learning I’ve had through it, there’s also a lot of damage (including playing a part in my brother’s profound atheism) from which nothing good has come yet.

    Mary – the fact that I understand anxiety certainly makes a link between me & young people who suffer the same, there’s nothing like talking to someone who actually ‘knows’. I’ve not long passed my MA in Youth Work, Community Learning & Development, & would love to do some additional training in the future to become a Therapist for teenagers & young adults. Again, I can be thankful for learning & connection gained via pain, aka the wounded healer paradigm, I’d really love to feel some healing, which I’m not sure I really believe in for myself at this point, I’m just a person who wants to not feel rubbish forever.

    Anonymous – thank you for your book suggestions, I really appreciate you thinking of me.

    And I’ll stick around if you can put up with my stupid questions which are probably completely obvious to most reading here.

  21. Beakerj,
    I’m certain no authority of the theology of suffering, but I’ll share a thought or two. Suffering in and of itself is meaningless. However, when we are able to unite our suffering to Christ’s, it transforms into a gift. I’m not suggesting that you should be at that point now – I’m certainly not.

    But I look at someone like St. Thérèse of Lisieux and comprehend the concept. Although she died of tuberculosis at age 24, she was able to say at the end that she was not capable of suffering anymore – because every difficulty and discomfort was a gift she gave to her Beloved and so she no longer “suffered”. There are many other examples – see below.

    I do not think that God “likes” suffering at all but, enfleshed in Christ, He lived out the truth that the most profound love is manifest in sacrifice. (“Love in action is a harsh and dreadful thing”, as wrote Dostoevsky.) And we don’t always get to choose our sacrifice – Jesus wouldn’t have agonized in the garden prior to His crucifixion if He didn’t mind making that particular sacrifice.

    I certainly don’t think that this means that we shouldn’t try to relieve our suffering or that we shouldn’t ask God to take it away. But, in the end, we trust Him. We trust Him to know what is best; we trust Him to be with us when we suffer evil. I think of Fr. Arseny in the time of Stalin (excellent reading) and St. Maximilian Kolbe during WWII. God was with them during times of incomprehensible evil and, with their consent, He made of them the vehicle for saving countless other people because of the love they carried in their hearts. (They had no choice but to undergo physical and mental torment but they made the choice to trust and be open to God working in them.)

    I will pray for you – and your brother as well.

  22. Beakerj,
    Nothing presents as great a challenge to our lives or our understanding of God as does suffering – in all forms. In some ways, it is a core question. Suffering is never a good thing in itself – but God’s goodness is able to make good in our lives despite the suffering. Christ crucifixion is known (in English) as Good Friday – more or less illustrating this work of God.

    It also illustrates that God has entered into all suffering and taken it into Himself – We never seek suffering in order to be united to Christ – because we already have plenty of it. I would say that the more we love, the more likely we are to enter into certain kinds of suffering. The Cross is the promise that God is with us.

  23. Thank you Fr Stephen, this is one of several theological foundations I need to re-lay or clarify very carefully, otherwise God can end up very little different from the Devil.

    Mary – it will be a long time before I can read the Russians on suffering, I’ll lose the will to live.

  24. Beakerj,
    I have only just now read today’s responses, including your comment @ July 14, 2019 at 11:45 am. With such helpful responses you have already received, I can only agree with them!
    As for not being ready for some writings on suffering, there were (and still are) some forms, or manner of writings that I find are just not compatible for me. So this is not so unusual. I would say, stick with what blesses you, accept the challenges you are ready for, and continue to do so prayerfully. You will find wonders in God’s grace!

  25. There is an element of Joy (“exulting in our tribulations” [Romans 5:3]) that surreptitiously accompanies a Christian’s suffering. Certain sufferings more than others some might say, but if such a thing exists, isn’t it good to cultivate it as much as possible?
    For those who enjoy finding solace in the contemplative study of scripture, there’s ample scriptural evidence that this curious effect (most dramatically evident in the example of certain great martyrs like Ignatius of Antioch), has to do with many things such as: the “meaning” imparted through the “acceptance” [Luke 22:42] attitude towards enduring/suffering hardship [2 Timothy 4:5/ 2 Timothy 2:3/ 1 Thessalonians 3:3] and ‘carrying one’s cross’ [Matthew 10:38 / 16:24], as well as the “elation” of deeply knowing that eternal resurrection comes from the “momentary affliction” of our crosses (‘temporal suffering’). [1 Peter 1:6/ 1 Peter 5:10/ 2 Corinthians 4:17/ 1 Thessalonians 3:3]

  26. Fr. Freeman,

    Recently I was passing by my icons in my home and said something like, “I love you Lord Jesus” to Christ as I was going by and immediately the thought entered my mind, I believe from the Holy Spirit: “I want you to do more than “love” me, I want you to obey me.”

    It struck me that affection for God cannot be real if there is no commitment to obedience. To love God, to have affection for Him, without a resolve to obey and to continue in repentance is idolatry.

    Thanks,
    Matthew

  27. I believe the mustard seed is being cultivated, Dino!
    I think care has to be taken not to push too far, especially when the one in tribulation (hear: extreme suffering), has made it very clear that they need to go slow.

  28. Matthew Lyon,

    Obedience is inherent in true love, just not our modern-day definitions of love. I’ve felt this call to obedience as well, and the practice of it is extremely illuminating and humbling. I’m coming to realize just how much I’ve been basing my actions out of emotion. A wise person would naturally do ABC, but I find myself being pulled to go with XYZ. God’s answer is to have me be obedient to Him in order to develop ABC habits without first understanding why.

    The end result is that He’s teaching me to love. It feels very strange…but good!

  29. Paula,
    I like your analogy of the cultivation of a mustard seed analogy. This is a useful thought I and thank you for it.

    Matthew L. and Drewster2000, here is a quote from St Silouan you might appreciate:

    Obedience preserves a man from pride. For obedience he receives the gift of prayer and the grace of the Holy Spirit. This is why obedience ranks above fasting and praying.
    pg 422 St Silouan the Athonite (by Archimandrite Sophrony)

  30. Paula,
    I hope it comes across clearly that I am not specifically addressing anyone in particular above…
    I usually think that it’s not quite the ideal medium for such a ‘word’ here.
    I also think that the conflation between the broadly disseminated perfection of the scriptural “word” with the individually allotted dispensation of the discerning, supporting, comforting “word” is often what leads us down that misapprehension here.
    I side with the [valiantly afflicted] Elder Aimilianos, who considered the greatest heresy of our time to be the one that believes perfection to be unattainable (i.e.: that all those saints who were inconceivably longsuffering, brave, ascetic, valiant etc. belonged to times past or that we mere mortals need to always take all those stories with a pinch of salt…).
    If the “word” of the utter sensitivity which is critically required on the personal plane is also broadcast to the masses as the “word” of the perfection of the Christian calling, we end up with a ‘pink’ Christianity that has succumbed to the call of those saying ‘come down from the Cross!'[Mark 15:30] and which cannot inspire those looking for the unconquerable Conqueror and Transcendor of all suffering.

  31. Dino,
    I’m not sure I have a complete handle in my understanding of your distinctions. But I agree with your expression of “aspiration” with hopes to embody saintly ways including that of accepting suffering with joy. Indeed we should not describe such feats as unattainable. However even the saints would say that they had not achieved “perfection” wouldn’t they?

    I’m not saying not to strive, but to suggest a little humility in oneself not to succomb to the temptation of seeing oneself in the “condition of perfection”. I believe this is a self-perception we should consider avoiding. This does not mean one cannot be grateful for the condition of God’s grace enlightening our darkened souls.

  32. Dino,
    The Scripture says, “A word in due season, how good it is.” And so – it always depends on the season of the soul one is addressing. In the wrong season, it can do harm, even crush a soul. That said, words like “perfection” must be surrounded with a forest of caveats.

  33. Father,
    Is not the “due season” to be found in the personal, individualised ‘word’ – directed and addressed to a particular soul at a particular time?
    And is not the inspiring ‘word’ of the Christian victory universally proclaimed (which if carelessly professed individually – at the wrong time and the wrong person– mightn’t inspire)?
    What applies to the one cannot be shoehorned upon the other unless we conflate these two necessarily distinct ‘planes’ of communication.

  34. Dino,
    I’m afraid I misunderstand. You say you were not addressing a specific person. But your comment came right after a thread regarding suffering, which was responding to someone specific.
    Also, that this medium (this blog?) is not the ideal medium for such a word? I really do not understand. We respond to each other here. To whom then were you talking to regarding cultivating a motivation to embrace suffering for the sake of Christ, if not to us (including the previous thread) here on the blog?
    I have yet to hear anyone say here that perfection is unattainable. But I do think that we have an understanding that we are moving toward that goal…and that we think realistically about it. We do not measure our “progress” in our journey, but realize in hindsight many things have changed…and many things have not.
    A pink Christianity? Who here is broadcasting to the world a pink Christianity? We are talking among ourselves here. Yes, this blog is read by many…but it is not in the form of a news-media broadcast. Are you afraid people may get the wrong idea…that we misrepresent what a Christian is supposed to be?

  35. Dino,
    Of course. Among the caveats, then, is care for the individual soul who sees the generalized word at the wrong time and season. The American soul, for example, is sometimes marked by the damage of cultural Calvinism (and worse). It majors in crushing souls. It has pounded into the heads of its hearers such a dark word that it makes it hard to hear the good. Many of the other aspects of American culture are born out of reaction to that shame-driven darkness. I think that for myself – given that my experience of audience is almost always American – (or dominantly so) – I very sensitive to what can be misheard.

    For example, the prayers in preparation for communion, commonly printed in prayerbooks, are almost always misunderstood in American ears. They cannot hear the nature of the heart that first wrote them (often ancient and Byzantine) but instead read them with a Calvinist accent. When I’m directing inquirers and catechumens, I often give them very different prayers (or just Psalms) to be used instead. In time, with experience, they will come to understand and be attuned to that ancient grammar of the heart.

    On perfection, there is a strain in American religion, rooted in 19th century and early 20th century Pentecostalism, that professed a doctrine of “sinless perfection.” It was heretical and delusional – but has left a certain mark in the religious culture to this day.

    It’s hard to speak with ease when you live in an insane asylum.

  36. Dee
    I would think that a wrongly understood humility (‘these things of the saints are unattainable’) is actually a form of egoism, whereas the opposite notion (‘we are all called to such a high perfection!’) spawns true humility and a sense of awe (at how far we fall short of what is an attainable “call”, or else God would be an impostor).
    Of course, as Father alerts us, on the personal level of communication, we cannot advise, teach, try to change etc out of season. In fact there’s hardly ever a ‘season’ for that (unless explicitly called by God and a specific soul towards this), and when it is right, we always start very small and very supportively.
    But there has to be a platform and an understanding of such a plane of communication for the “universal word” of Christ’s utter victory which all can know of its existence, even if it’s a far away, yet clearly guiding star…

  37. Father, Paula,

    I do not know much about Calvisnism and Pentecostalism as a Greek. Especially when things become legalistic, we Greeks (often having a philosophising tendency to seek ‘deeper meanings’ or ‘logoi’ behind things) seem to miss the letter, and all the “trees for the forest”.

    It’s very interesting that the ‘americanised’ soul has a tendency towards individualising the general word, gravitating towards personalised communication in any setting, trustingly confessing what other cultures might see as private issues (I think we stubbornly tend to resist this in public), and deducing that that is the case for others. Greeks would often tend towards (individually anodyne universals).

    The Greek culture is often accused of equivocating when, (in a setting that can be read or heard by more than one soul), it gravitates towards the ‘general/universal’ kind of elevated philosophical themes.

  38. Paula,
    I need to read the whole thread I think… It seems to be far heavier than I assumed?

  39. Now that is a most helpful explanation, Dino!
    I remember Father saying once before during one of these “discussions” that the differences we could not seem to get past were “cultural”.
    Dino…bear with us! Sounds like we all have our pro’s and con’s.
    BTW, my godmother is Greek. Born here, parents from Greece. She’s “very Greek”! She loves to remind you of that! Oh, I love her very much…can’t help to love that woman. But man, she is one of the most strong-willed people I’ve ever met. I met my match with her!
    Anodyne? (had to look that up). No, my nona is not “bland, inoffensive, innocuous, neutral, unobjectionable, unexceptionable, unremarkable, commonplace, dull, tedious, run-of-the-mill”…..not one of those things is she!!! American culture must have had its bearing on her!

  40. Paula
    Anodyne universals meant that philosophical generalities do not cause pain (‘odyne’) to an individual if understood ‘at a remove’ . Once Greeks do relate to you personally however and especially when they forget the decency of keeping a healthy distance, our headstrongness is legendary – not one of our best traits many might say…

  41. The above comments made me smile. I was pentecostal my first 20 years or so. And the last 16 we’ve worshipped at a Greek monastery. I certainly saw strains of perfectionism in the former and lots of strong-willed people in the latter…might say, “In your face!”😏
    Both Greeks and Hispanics have a closer personal space than we Americans. Because I was used to the more intimate space of Latinos I have not found strong-willed Greeks so offensive. One learns to “roll with the punches.” Things are easier to take when love is present.

  42. “Both Greeks and Hispanics have a closer personal space than we Americans. Because I was used to the more intimate space of Latinos I have not found strong-willed Greeks so offensive.”
    Dean…yes, exactly! You can add Italians to that list. When I first met my godmother, I could have easily taken her as one of my relatives! People with those cultural traits are said to “never have met a stranger”.
    But you hit the nail here: ” Things are easier to take when love is present.”

  43. The first time I dragged my wife to an Orthodox service, and she heard all the, “Lord Have Mercy”s, she asked me why I was interested in a form of Christianity that taught that God hated them so much….

  44. Thank you for explaining the culture differences, Dino. Quite fascinating to me (anthropology major here, Lol). Interestingly, I seem to be more “Greek” than “American” in my own listening to “good words” as general advice and virtually never take the message personally on a individual level (though I certainly see them as an ideal to emulate as my own strength allows).

  45. This conversation reminded me of a podcast I once heard, where Elder Sophrony explained that place matters when establishing Monasteries. He made a profound observation that one cannot put the same exact monastery “lock, stock, and barrel” in a different location and have the same impact or spiritual fruit or ethos of Orthodox tradition. He explained something to the effect that a Monastery must adapt to it’s place to carry on traditional orthodoxy that reaches the people. This is not a direct quote, but is the gist of how I remembered his observation and wise words.

  46. Dino,
    I have accrued lots of observations about various ethnic groups in Orthodoxy. Americans come in a number of varieties – but are unlike Europeans of almost every stripe. The English may be more like us than any other – but are clearly more reserved.

    I’ve thought a lot about the “spirituality” that I’ve seen as well. There is a huge gap between the English and the Greeks. The English understate things and are inherently reserved. Greeks (from my Anglo-American point of view) exaggerate things and can be very effusive. Russians hold a strange fascination for Anglo’s – they’re almost like Englishmen with feelings. 🙂

    I have said on occasion that I probably would have found Greek Orthodoxy an insurmountable obstacle in converting (just being honest) whereas Russian Orthodoxy felt like deep calling unto deep. I don’t understand all of what I see. I have found, however, that helping inquirers see past the ethnic barriers – or – to see ethnic traits for just that – is quite helpful.

    If one reads the Ven. Bede’s (8th century Anglo-Saxon Orthodox saint) history of the English peoples – it’s filled with lots of saints’ stories and such. But even at that time, they are quite reserved in comparison to almost anything else – and rather careful to offer proofs and eye-witnesses when speaking of the miraculous and such (even at that early century). I think it’s just a national character of long-standing.

    Strangely, it has also been a nation out of which all kinds of crazy religious movements have been born (including from their descendents in America). I can’t account for that.

    On the other hand, God has made us all out of one blood.

  47. I should add, I didn’t listen to Elder Sophrony himself (although I wish I had) ☺️ but it was another person explaining a conversation they had had with him, and he further explained the importance of understanding cultural differences.

  48. We have mentioned ethnic cultural differences. Of course our religious cultural differences here in the U.S. are huge. We have our own home-grown varieties. These include Adventism, Mormonism, and Russellism (Jeh. Witnesses) as the most prominent amongst others. These really muddy the waters (not to mention all the varieties of Protestantism). I believe each “church” has its own milieu, character. I saw this having been Pentecostal, non-denominational, and Mennonite before becoming Orthodox. When we were in each of these we knew we were in a different “family,” even with our own language in the sense of how we used words, such as “faith,” or “salvation.” So, no wonder that as converts our stories of how we entered Orthodoxy are so unique. Or why so many of us felt like we were in some kind of religious maze before God graciously revealed to us our precious Orthodox faith and Church.

  49. Some fascinating as well as entertaining cultural insights Father….
    I vaguely remember Elder Sophrony joking that (if I recall properly) a Greek would describe a light rain/drizzle as ‘Noah’ s flood out there’ while an Englishman would characterize Noah’s flood reminiscent storm as ‘not one of the best days today’….

  50. Dino,
    Your comments to me and to Paula and Fr Stephen at 3:32pm and 3:45pm were helpful. Thank you for your responses.

    I suppose I often speak categorically in a universal way, and sometimes obliquely, which might be an added twist to what you’re describing. On some occasions I also speak personally. But as I believe you have said, personal interactions can be far more complicated in this medium, especially if the writers don’t have also a face-to-face relationship with each other.

    Fr Stephen thank you for your description of how Calvinism has shaped our interactions and interpretations in this culture including how it engages shame. Even while having a different ‘in family’ culture, my exposure to this American culture through the years, whether in school or at work or watching TV (specifically in my youth), has inculcated some of its crud into my thinking. I wish it weren’t so.

    Your description of ethnic qualities in Orthodox expressions is very helpful. Thank you for this.

    Last, I find it fascinating and surprising that the English theological ‘voice’ had such overtones of ‘proof’. Perhaps I was influenced by this too in some way, in that I looked for God in ‘valid data’ (sorry this is a little hard to explain without getting technical). Although I had never searched for proof of God, because I believed there was a God. However I looked for authenticity, as you described in your article, through science rather than theology. I had no trust of theology as being authentic, largely due to the kinds of theology I had been exposed to.

    Thank you all for your reflections.

  51. But the most fascinating ones are those from ‘anatolia’ due to the peculiar Kappadocian ingrained religiosity. Its as if even the atheists (very rare) from there are deeply religious and God-referencing in everything. They also often had a natural internal nobility that’s very unlike the secular version we normally think of.

  52. Forgive me one more comment:
    When I first introduced myself to Orthodox theology in various books, I was struck by a structure (the use of ‘types’ and icons) that seemed understandable from the point of view of a physical scientist, someone who had to grapple with creating and using a language of meaning for the unseen. Add to that the literal physical embodiment of such spirituality, the references to God’s energies, the Body and Blood of Christ in the Eucharist, praying with prostrations, for example. I knew I was on ‘hallowed ground’. It seemed easy to become convinced and committed to the Orthodox Way. But at the same time I knew I was completely naive and even fearful of what and where such turning in my heart would lead me.

  53. Another interesting modern Greek twist I’ve noticed is a tendency towards protestant style apologetics and proofs. I sometimes find this very useful myself, and have known great and holy minds employing that. On the other hand, the more traditional Greek (prob from Asia Minor) would need to be personally encountered in order to understand their hidden “weight”. It’s not based on solid rational apologetics. The authenticity of their heart and life before you, their spirit, is what informs you and takes the place of a reasoned proof. With St Paisios or Elder Aimilianos for example, their silence was louder than their spirit filled word (which can be misunderstood from a distance even more) in removing all unbelief from an atheist that encountered them. Many were unforgettably warmed by the love emanating from them (without their extreme asceticism – or their clairvoyance- even registering! : eg they hardly ever slept or ate and you won’t find people who have even seen them do these things, or they uttered words to you that require knowledge of your past and future etc)

  54. Sorry Dino, I didn’t see your comment before my last submission.

    I apologize I’m a little confused. Are you comparing people of the same culture but at different periods of time? Or are you speaking of an ethnic group (whether atheist or not) and comparing them to the rest of the world that is secular? I believe you’re speaking of the latter case, but just making sure. I’m not familiar with that culture obviously. It must be wonderful to live in such a culture.

  55. Oh dear my last comment was directed to your comment at 1:44 am — I better stop now 🙂

  56. Such a fascinating discussion on culture – particularly as I’m English, & live in a part of England that looks like it was carved from the Shire, indeed it is a Shire, Hampshire (Old Hampshire). But I’m only half English , & half Irish, & can easily be described as ‘English voice, Irish personality’, which is probably more Greek than Russian, although potentially a lot more easy going than some Greeks. It’s very much ‘join us, talk with us, laugh with us, ah now don’t get annoyed we’re only kidding, here’s the last tenner in my wallet’. If you watch our football fans go abroad you’ll see this in spades, everyone is their friend & they’re always welcome back – unlike the English at times. The English are emotional though, but not always noisy about it. I wonder what a true English or Irish Orthodoxy would look like?

    And Dino, sorry, it was me currently being very delicate when it comes to a lot of things, that gave the particular flavour to the discussion on suffering.

  57. I found a link to the interview I was referencing above. I wanted to share so as to make sure I did not misrepresent Elder Sophrony in any way.

    https://silouanthompson.net/2009/04/interview-sister-aemiliane/

    I had an interesting thought of how our cultural backgrounds (religious, ethnic , and societal) can even influence our recollections of things.

    Dino, I have no doubt of your words that Elder Aimilianos could transform hearts by his silence and simple presence…by his prayer. In the interview, Sister Aemiliane, now Abbess Aemiliane, tells of her miraculous rescue 38 years ago, almost to the day, by this man of prayer.

    I also appreciate Abbess Aemiliane’s words about a “continual Feast of Pentecost”, about communication, and the beautiful mosaic of possibility our differences give us in our strengths.

    I appreciate her insights as well in differences between an Orthodox country and Western non-Orthodox country, and her evaluation of the virtue “diakrisis”.

    I can only thank God every day for this Pearl of Great Price.

  58. The first time I dragged my wife to an Orthodox service, and she heard all the, “Lord Have Mercy”s, she asked me why I was interested in a form of Christianity that taught that God hated them so much….

    Matthew, I remember being a bit shocked when I read Frederica Mathewes-Greene’s explanation of “Lord have mercy”. That it is a cry for help, as from the man who was beaten by robbers and left helpless by the side of the road, had never occurred to me! The legalism of a Protestant upbringing can be very blinding, damaging even.

    If one reads the Ven. Bede’s (8th century Anglo-Saxon Orthodox saint) history of the English peoples – it’s filled with lots of saints’ stories and such. But even at that time, they are quite reserved in comparison to almost anything else – and rather careful to offer proofs and eye-witnesses when speaking of the miraculous and such (even at that early century).

    More of the same? I think much of the legalism of the West may be due to fear. We even see that today. With so many rejecting the Truth, they have nothing upon which to fall back but laws. So everything must have a legal resolution; nothing else will do. It’s an interesting dynamic (to me, at least) and seems to cross cultures in the West.

  59. I am compelled to post as I was just beginning to read from the beginning The Brothers Karamazov, my interest in it piqued from hearing your sincere esteem for the author. I actually have found the story of the Grand Inquisitor, although every time I have read it has been without the benefit of context, to be both an accelerant and a testimony to turning towards God and the truth. Say what you will about the American education system, but as an angry young man I thought I could count Dostoevsky as a fellow in my disgust at my religion and my Lord who was at the head of it all. Its clear why so many atheists love the writing, it manages to be vicious and rings of the truth so loudly that I walked away with disdain for the Inquisitor’s prisoner and the sheep that followed him.

    Years later, I learned that the Russians I had thought atheists were not just Christian, but a certain kind of Christian that I was inquiring into. Now the story struck me so opposed to my original reading that I understood why it does appeal to so many no matter their beliefs: it is a true story. Not in that the events ever happened, but that it strikes with a sensation of knowing it, that Dostoevsky did indeed have what I feel must have been anger at what had happened to Christ’s teachings, how he must have felt sorrow at what should have been a constant truth reduced to what I had thought was a modern invention, deceit draped in a mockery of Christianity. Yet the moment that I had interpreted as an admission of defeat I saw now as the ultimate victory. When Jesus Christ kisses the inquisitor without a word it is not an absence of a response, but what now seems like the only response that can be forgiven. I know it is not scripture, but it was the first time I felt the lack of contradiction of Christ, instead I felt like I was somehow transported into the role of the Inquisitor himself. It was loving forgiveness, bearing the shame of insults, and beyond rationality when even until that moment I would have preferred a debate with defined points. The only way I can describe it is a compelling seeming-absurdity, not that I wish to say that Christ or his actions are absurd, but rather that it sloughs off a need for reasoning.

    I hope that when I continue to read Dostoevsky that he continues to support the image I have of him, but I am thankful for someone who wrote over a century ago for showing me that there is a terminus to the rambling train of thoughts and feelings. Why do I feel this way, why do I think this way? Christ’s actions follow from his truth, and my actions should follow the Commandments set forth by God, and in doing so better myself. Passivity was a weight on my soul, and I can affirm that the soul follows the body. Discipline in prayer and attendance of the liturgy has moved how I think and feel to be in harmony with doing so, I once balked at submitting to the regime, but now I feel as I not only dragged my body to the church, but also my mind and heart.

    Forgive me if I have wandered, but I had to catch my thoughts in writing because I do consider this a difficult topic in our culture, especially after sharing another article with a friend when we were discussing shame they took questioning thoughts in and of themselves the only thing of importance they worriedly asked me “why I was reading about someone who hated thinking.” Something remedied by a reread, but a sign that our culture cannot handle a reasoning that does not first divorce itself of faith. Once again thank you Father for your writings, and the reading list they generate, add to the lens of Orthodoxy that clarifies and magnifies our relationship with God.

  60. Thank you Anonymous for the link to that article. Indeed it is edifying and indicative also of Fr Stephen’s meaning in what he wrote in his article above. It is indeed a blessing as father says.

  61. Anonymous,
    With Dee, I extend my thanks for the link to the interview with Sister Aemiliane. I wish you could know how much that piece was God-sent for me. In so many ways….
    It was a blessing to hear her tell the miracles that occurred surrounding her accident, her life before, and her life after. In the picture of her, you can see in her eyes “Life”. Beauty simply shines.
    Also, thank you for your comment at 9:34 a. m. . Deep….

    Thank you all for this mornings comments. They have shed a much needed light brought such peace.
    A blessed place, Father. So very grateful.

  62. I didn’t get a chance to read Anonymous’ last comment until now. Indeed I’ve experienced something similar. I’ve been reading St Silouan’s words for a couple of years. I think that as I continue to shed the detritus of this culture, I begin to have a deeper understanding of his meanings. Originally it was difficult for me to have an understanding of how one might ‘deliberately’ enter hell and not despair. The meaning is just beginning to become opened to me. As Fr Stephen says, deep calls to deep.

    Thank you for sharing your story.

  63. Byron / Matthew

    It is an American Protestant deficit that so misunderstand the word mercy. I’ve have encountered this reaction so often – that the word mercy (and other words like repentance) are so deeply misunderstood- truly we need Pentecost just to be able to have the vocabulary of faith understood in the depths of our heats.

    My parish priest wrote this in a newsletter years ago. It something I share often.

    I hope it’s helpful to to everyone …

    word “mercy” in English is the translation of the Greek word “eleos.” This word has the same root as the old Greek word for olive oil—a substance which was used extensively as a soothing agent for bruises and minor wounds. The oil was poured onto the wound and gently massaged in, thus soothing, comforting and making whole the injured part. The Hebrew word is also translated as “eleos” and mercy is translated as “hesed” which means steadfast love. The Greek words for “Lord have mercy” are “Kyrie eleison” that is to say, “Lord, sooth me, comfort me, take away my pain, show me your steadfast love.” Thus, mercy does not refer so much to justice or acquittal (a very Western interpretation), but to the infinite loving-kindness of God, and his compassion for his suffering children! It is in this sense that we pray “Lord, have mercy” with great frequency throughout the Divine Liturgy.

  64. regarding the interview with Abbess Aemiliane – she is a wonderful woman and the Abbess of Saint Nina monastery in Union Bridge Maryland. If any readers are up for a pilgrimage – it is a worthy one – to make. It’s a beautiful monastery and the sisters are lovely.

  65. “We are called to live in the truth of our being…” spoke to me as I was rereading your article.
    And Anonymous, my thanks also for the link.
    Fr. Stephen. What is the difference in these renderings…”The kingdom of God is within you,” “the kingdom of God is among you,” and “the kingdom of God is in your midst” since I have seen all three of these given as translations.

    What should be said, however, is that Greek is quite capable of saying, “near” or “with” in other ways – but uses “en” instead. That is a very strong way to say what it says – and should carry some sense of being “within” us as well as “among” etc.

  66. Dean,
    Nothing is harder to translate in Indo-European languages than their unique uses of prepositions. The Greek preposition “en” is what is used in this gospel passage. All three of those translations is accurate (in English). The problem in English is that you have to choose one of those meanings, thereby excluding two other meanings that are inherently part of that single Greek word. So, the passage means “en.” To understand “en” in English simply requires lots of words – all of which are equally true.

  67. victoria,

    Thank-You so much for opening my eyes to the etymology of Kyrie eleison. I never pursued looking into that angle.

    It was never a problem for me, the cultural differences from my own religious experiences were much more jarring. And having had an extensive researched introduction prior to my first visit, I was more interested in the physical practice of stated theological positions.

    Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy upon me a sinner.

  68. The divine actions of mercy, grace, Providence and salvation are quite tied together, I think.

  69. And how wonderful that tomorrow is the feast day of Martyr Emilian (which is the anglicized form of the name Aimilianos), who is a patron Saint of Elder Aimilianos. Visitors to Ormylia monastery (where Elder Aimilianos reposes as of May this year) receive an icon of this Saint as a blessing from the Elder’s tomb.

    May we have the prayers of our beloved Elder before the Throne of Christ!

    (I am happy to share a photo of the icon with all of you who have my email. Please drop me a note if you want it, it’s my excuse to make you say hi 🙂 )

  70. Father Stephen – thank you for this wonderful post. Bringing Dostoevsky’s quote into the discussion has affected more than I realized over the past few days. God has a way of perfect timing when something needs to be said or seen. Thanks to your post, I am beginning to revisit my own writing many (many) years since the last time I put pen to paper. I thank you for that and for the Lord leading me to your blog.
    Question – what is the source of the Dostoevsky quote? I am interested as I would like to read the source material (letters etc.).

  71. Dean,
    I’m in error. The passage does not use “en” but “entos.” δοὺ γὰρ ἡ βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ ἐντὸς ὑμῶν ἐστιν. It would seem to favor the reading of “within.”

  72. Thank you Father Stephen. That reading is my preferred…glad it is “entos.” I realize His presence is everywhere. Yet so wonderful to discover the kingdom “within”.

  73. This fits in perfectly with what I have been thinking and observing this week as I work on severely restricting my use of the internet and try to live a fully human life, i.e., one lived according my true identity in God. I have always liked the Buddhist saying, “Human birth, hard to obtain (the human state the only one from which one can escape the wheel of samsara),” as it points out how precious is life and how important it is that we live it fully. As I was talking with my husband today and describing how I have been feeling somehow untethered without the internet and how tenuous are my efforts to sustain focus, I came up with this silly couplet that pretty much summed it up:
    Human birth, hard to obtain.
    Human life, hard to sustain.

    By the way, thank you for your blog, which is clear-eyed and helpful.

    A reader

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