On the World as Sacrament

I learned my first psalms in public school. As I recall, they were Psalm 23 and Psalm 100. No one looked funny at the teacher when she introduced the topic and no one objected. First, we didn’t know we were allowed to object, and, second, none of us would have known any reason for not doing such a thing. We were a diverse class of children: with both Baptists and Methodists. We were too poor to have Presbyterians and Episcopalians. A number of children in the class could have been “military Protestant,” since there was an Air Force Base nearby. This was a commonplace thing in my 1950’s and 60’s childhood. I was probably 9 or 10 before I met someone who identified as Catholic.

This obviously contrasts with our present culture. American mobility, in every possible direction, has created a far more diverse culture. The religious assumptions that once bound the nation together (Eisenhower proclaimed, “Attend the Church or Synagogue of your choice!”) have disappeared. But this diversity is only seen if the present is compared to the past. Religion is as strong as ever.

The Green Religion

The word “religion” is related to the word “ligament.” It comes from a Latin root meaning “to bind together.” It is unclear whether religion originally referred to binding a sacrifice to an altar, or binding oneself with an oath (the ancients debated these meanings). But it is clear that there is a “religion” that binds the people of a culture together. If there were nothing in common, no shared obligation, a culture would disintegrate. The question would be: what is the religion of America (or anywhere else)?

I could anticipate a long list of comments with suggestions for America’s religion candidates. “Progress” is obviously part of its theological package. The same could be said about the notions of “freedom” (meaning “autonomy”) and “rights.” I would likely throw “entertainment” into the mix. There are other more compelling candidates.

If you queried anyone under 21, you would likely hear some sort of notions about the environment and the planet, whether under the notion of “climate change” or some other perceived crisis. God is an abstraction that is considered optional. However, the “planet” has come to have a consensus, even an international consensus, that can only be described as “religious” in nature. A patriarch can proudly wear the badge of “Green Patriarch,” perhaps primarily because it reassures the world that Orthodoxy is friendly to the larger “religion.” We like the planet, too.

It is not incorrect to describe the whole creation as sacrament, as has become increasingly popular in Orthodox circles. It is, however, problematic to mistake this for mere environmentalism. That would be nothing more than saying creation is important and that we have a moral duty to care for it. The most polluted stream and poisoned atmosphere remains as sacramental as it was in its pristine state. To speak of the material world as sacrament is to say something profoundly unlike anything the various iterations of the Green movement have ever imagined.

What Do We Mean By Sacrament?

So, what does it mean to say that something is a sacrament? In Orthodox terms, “sacrament” is used for the Greek word, “mysterion” (mystery). That word, far more appropriate than “sacrament,” speaks to the true nature of things. A “mystery” suggests that something is hidden and not clearly known, at least by the casual observer. St. Paul uses the term to refer to the whole work of Christ. In the mysteries (sacraments) of the Church, created things become the means by which we have communion with God. In these mysteries, “that which is hidden” is made known to believers and becomes the very source of their life.

What seems to be overlooked in the growing popularity of “creation as sacrament” is any proclamation that the nature of created reality is “mystical” (in the sense of ecclesial mystery) or “sacramental” at its very core. What is it about creation that makes it a sacrament? Fr. Alexander Schmemann has probably the best contemporary presentation of this question:

In the Orthodox ecclesial experience and tradition a sacrament is understood primarily as a revelation of the genuine nature of creation, of the world, which, however much it has fallen as “this world,” will remain God’s world, awaiting salvation, redemption, healing and a sacrament is primarily a revelation of the sacramentality of creation itself, for the world was created and given to man for conversion of creaturely life into participation in divine life. (The Eucharist: Sacrament of the Kingdom)

Creation is a sacrament, not in and of itself, but because it only properly exists as communion with God. Creation as non-sacrament is a distortion of reality and a movement towards non-existence. Again, Fr. Alexander:

The world is a fallen world because it has fallen away from the awareness that God is all in all. The accumulation of this disregard for God is the original sin that blights the world. (For the Life of the World)

I would amend this to say that it is not simply our loss of awareness, but our loss of communion. We live oblivious to the truth of our existence and that of the world.

What If We Cleaned It Up?

Our world thinks largely in political terms (not in terms of political parties, but in terms of the use of power to make things be what we want them to be). Conversations about the environment, climate change, and the like, are not conversations about communion. They are secular discussions of how power should be wielded.

If the so-called secular powers agreed tomorrow to massive clean-ups and climate accommodation, and every dire prediction were met with resolve and corrected, were the planet to return to some pre-industrial paradise where everything ran on solar power and the oceans and rivers became clean, plastic-free happy fish zones – none of this would mean anything in terms of the sacramental character of creation. That is not to say that any of those things would be bad, but they would not be what is intended when the Church speaks of the creation as sacrament.

The environmental troubles associated with modern industrial society are, like all troubles, indicative of sin – our broken communion with God – and particularly our broken communion with God through the creation itself. Our present global economy increases and exacerbates this brokenness. The sin that marks creation is our own abstracted, distanced relation in which the world is objectified (as are people).

Globalization

In my small town, there are four or five grocery chains. If you want to eat fish, you’ll often find that it comes either from China, or some other distant supplier. It means that I have no relationship with the fish apart from a cooler in the store. I do not know the circumstances of their origin (other than the vague generalities printed on packaging). If their origin creates an environmental disaster, it is somewhere else in the world. There are no local consequences.

Globalization is life in the abstract where the only consideration is price and availability. If a city’s water supply and vacation spots were located downstream from meat-producing farms, the problems associated with farming and industrial run-off would be more obvious. You cannot be a good steward with an abstraction, much less enter into communion.

I recall the small vegetable garden of my childhood. My father nourished and cared for the soil of that 20×20 plot with true devotion. We ate fresh vegetables all summer with an attention to their quality that seemed quite personal. In late summer the plot was replanted with turnip greens, the likes of which I have never found in my adulthood.

Imagine your marriage as an online relationship. You met online, dated online, and were married in an electronic ceremony. You’ve never touched each other or seen each other in person. Perhaps, five years into the relationship, you discovered you’ve been married to an artificial intelligence program. How could you have known? Communion (as in a marriage) cannot exist as an abstraction.

By the same token, creation as a sacrament must be tasted, touched, seen, felt, heard, even digested, absorbed and breathed. St. Paul made this observation concerning the relationship between man and wife:

…husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church… (Eph. 5:28-29)

This is the proper beginning for understanding and living with creation as sacrament. It is not a “thing,” an “object” outside of myself. It is not the stage on which I act or the backdrop of history. It is not just where I live; it is my life. And it is into my life that God is incarnate and through which He continues to unite Himself to us. We do not unite ourselves to God apart from water, wine, oil – all the elements of His creation. This water is my own self, the holy meeting place in which I am united with God (and so forth). Fr. Alexander says it well:

It is only when we give up freely, totally, unconditionally, the self-sufficiency of our life, when we put all its meaning in Christ, that the ‘newness of life’ – which means a new possession of the world – is given to us. The world then truly becomes the sacrament of Christ’s presence, the growth of the Kingdom and of life eternal. (For the Life of the World)

Glory to God.

 

39 comments:

  1. Thank you. I am often struck by how much life is really in our lives because of faith. I know that is worded inadequately, but the beauty in your post goes toward saying so. I especially am intrigued by “mystery” because in reading the Gospels, Jesus places so much emphasis on our wanting to know these mysteries hidden in His parables. It is all a thing of wonder, which (to me) makes life beautiful.

  2. Thank you Fr., for once again, opening up your amazing Orthodox Christian mind and letting this lesson spill out.
    Glory to God.

  3. An interesting insight into sacrament. But, on the level of creation, what are we to do?

    Just this evening, I walked a couple of blocks to an urban farmers’market. Several people had booths with produce they had grown – typically organically – and has picked earlier today. I like to go to this market occasionally in the summer. I am probably drawn to its sacramentality.

    But the reality is that I could not obtain a balanced diet there and the prices are at least 2-3 times higher. I buy a little something to support these good folks but then I’m back to the global reality.

    And not all aspects of globalization are negative. In a purely local economy, I would not be communicating with all of you, feeling the love and care for you that I do. It is ironic that that which can bring us together also has the potential to objectify. I cannot talk with all of those who make this meeting of our hearts possible. Who constructed my electronic device? Who maintains the internet and the power sources that are now linking me to people around the world? I will never know them…

    What if I discovered that I could not connect with Fr. Stephen and all of you without some anonymous group of people somewhere in the world being harmed or oppressed? Would our meeting be less sacramental? (For truly I believe it is sacramental.) Would I be willing to give it up and listen only to the teachings of someone I could meet and touch?

    It seems that in our broken world we cannot help but get caught in the trap of objectifying others. I cannot know all of those who help sustain me in life and goodness. I can attempt to honor and pray for all of the unknowns as I sit on my prayer mat, not knowing if my purchase of it aided or exploited the one who crafted it.

    I am left wondering: how do we live a truly sacramental life? The answer comes immediately, “only in Christ and through the Church”. Yet how to live this fully without becoming unduly scrupulous in my daily choices?

    (Forgive me if I’ve totally missed the point. My brain is challenged today.)

  4. Mary,
    Well, we won’t live a sacramental life as fully as we might like. We live in a globalized economy, etc. However, we work with what we can. Here’s a wonderful quote from Fr. Schmemann:

    “Centuries of secularism have failed to transform eating into something strictly utilitarian. Food is still treated with reverence…To eat is still something more than to maintain bodily functions. People may not understand what that ‘something more’ is, but they nonetheless desire to celebrate it. They are still hungry and thirsty for sacramental life.”

    So, we should learn to eat as an act of communion. Breathe as an act of communion. Smell as an act of communion, etc. Even when it’s not ideal, we work at it. To live in such a manner is “to live.” It is right that we struggle to live – that we not treat our lives or the things in our lives as mere utilities.

    The recent quote I used from Dostoevsky’s recollection of his short time before a firing squad has something of this quality about it. “Life is all around us!”

    I think we should live slower, smaller, more intentionally, always remembering God.

    I’m thinking these days about my coming retirement. I’m not leaving the priesthood, nor will I quit writing and speaking. But I intend to use what will become a surfeit of free time – living. Living here where I am. I do this a fair amount already. I want to increase it.

    Do your best.

  5. Thank you, Fr. Stephen, for such a lovely response.
    Perhaps when you have a “surfeit of free time” you could come and speak in Cleveland? ☺.

  6. @mary benton – or Pittsburgh, Father!

    Father- is it accurate to think of evil even as a sacrament of the freedom given to us from God?

  7. Brandon,
    I see the nature of the question. But evil is not anything. It is only ever a perversion of good. In that sense, it’s sort of an anti sacrament. Freedom is good. The use of freedom to do evil is not true freedom but it’s perversion.

  8. There are parts of the article that i’ll have to reread carefully to comprehend, especially Fr. Schmemann’s quotes, but these two sentences i’ve understood well and they are spot on:
    “Conversations about the environment, climate change, and the like, are not conversations about communion. They are secular discussions of how power should be wielded,”
    and
    “The environmental troubles associated with modern industrial society are, like all troubles, indicative of sin – our broken communion with God – and particularly our broken communion with God through the creation itself.
    Thanks again Father.

  9. Fr Stephen,
    This article is so very edifying, thank you for this writing.

    As I reflect on these thoughts I have a few questions. Is there such a thing as ‘improving’ the quality of communion with God through creation? For example, if we cleaned things up, would or could the process of that resemble prayer or repentance?

    Also, I’m reflecting on how in our brokenness and humility in our daily lives we might have encounters with the Holy Spirit. Sometimes in illness we draw closer to God. But lately, I’ve been attempting to increase my fitness. As in other ‘religions’ fitness also is valued in this culture ironically incongruous to the actual pervasive lack of it. There is indeed a facet of objectification of one’s own body in the ‘fitness world’, and without attentiveness, one might easily accept a secular view of one’s body.

    And for those of us who have put on Christ in Holy Baptism and Chrismation, this is of course, the essential sacrament, revealing bodily and tangibly who we really are and whom we are becoming. Revealing our love and life in communion with God. Through such sacrament we behold in God’s light our selves and our relation to all creation, the joy of the unfolding of the Kingdom —such glorious mystery!

  10. Perhaps I should add that the sacrament of sacraments is the Holy Eucharist, which we take humbly into our bodies. Is not this what ultimately makes a sacrament of creation?

  11. This communicates Fr Alexander Schmemann even clearer! Thank you very much Father.
    Indeed even our breathing ought to be sacramental.
    Elder Aimilianos also mentioned this regarding the unceasing availability of the Jesus invocation to Man’s ‘attentionality’.

  12. This bit of wisdom, from St Theodore the Studite, seems apt:

    “Humble matter becomes a vehicle of God’d grace. The icons, the oil of unction, the water of baptism, the myrrh of Holy Chrism, the bread and wine of the Eucharist, the bodies of the Saints, they raise us to heaven much more than any ideas that man can conceive.”

  13. This reminds me of a conversation I had with Fr. Tom Hopko at the Monastery of the Transfiguration in PA. He was talking about how careless we have become in the way we treat the everyday things of our life. He remarked how his mother would not even allow them to place a loaf of bread upside down on the kitchen counter. It had to be treated with respect as God gave the rain and the soil for the grains to grow, God gave the baker of the bread (I don’t know if it was homemade bread or not) the gifts of baking, etc. Treating our everyday objects that we consume with respect and sometimes prayers for the people who generated the things we use, seems like a step in the right direction.
    My husband and I live in a small rural village. Several years ago he began picking up litter along the roadsides in and around our village. This seems to be a universal problem. I bet he has picked up several tons of things. I see this as a kind of sacramental act to clean up the trash so people can walk and drive through an see only nature. One neighborhood girl about the age 7 has gotten her own “grabber” so she can be just like him as she told us the other day. I think the little things mean something. Place your bread gently on the table, pray for people around the world who make and provide our things/food, clean up your neighborhood (you will meet so many wonderful people doing this) and live with a grateful heart. Yes, it is time to read Schmemann again. Just my thoughts on this.

  14. Xenia,
    Thanks for the stories and the wonderful example of your husband! The reverence for bread is very common in Slavic cultures – some will not even put any bread in the garbage.

    The nature of our present world economy is governed almost exclusively by price. I replaced a printer this week that had ceased to work. It wasn’t worth the price to fix it – just buy a new one – but that is how we’ve structured things.

  15. Dee,
    I’m presently going to Physical Therapy – trying to overcome the problems of a sedentary life. At my age, it is increasingly clear that you “use it or lose it.” It’s going well, and I’m enjoying it.

  16. Thank you Father for a continuation on the topic of ‘the world as sacrament’.
    In the previous post where you began to speak on this, I had to stop again and think about what this means. Maybe my means of “testing” myself is too narrow…but if I can not explain in my own words what this means, then I feel I am missing something.
    So I will attempt this anyway! My thoughts, in spurts…

    When God created man, with an element of intellect, this was to be employed as a means to union and communion with Him. And it would naturally follow, then, with all creation. Mankind is unique in this way.

    We are created in His image. As He provides, cares for, and sustains us…and all of creation, we are meant to provide and care for it as well.

    As He is everywhere present and fills all things, we as created beings share a createdness with all things…and we in Him and Him in us, and He is “all in all”. There is a definite unbroken thread. Whether we realize it or not.

    Creation (the world) is a gift to us. A great gift. Not to covet for ourselves, but to “cultivate”, care for, and offer back to God in thanksgiving. Or as it is said. “a sacrifice of praise”…for what else can we offer Him but ourselves and all we have been given!

    Another challenge in this post, Father, is the use of the word “world”. In the last post the conversation focused more on “the world” as the crazy modern secular world…the antithesis of a sacramental worldview. Here you use “world” as sacred, as created, and a gift of God. Yet it is “mysterion”, unseen in its restoration in Christ, as the world is at once restored and being restored.
    This I think is the great challenge, Father Stephen. We have both the perverse world and the “hidden” sacramental (Fr Schememann calls it the sacred and the profane, and says now, in Christ, there is no longer any profane). The futility of consumerism, to “use” (objectify and even justify) everything that comes across our line of vision…and at the same time before our very eyes (hidden in plain sight), the “unseen” which is “greater reality”…redeemed, in Christ.
    This is my attempt to explain the difficulty of understanding these “mystical” truths.

    Then you say something that I did not even consider…to breathe…to smell, as an act of communion! The eating I get…yes, Fr Schememann describes it beautifully. But with the breathing and the smelling. you just stretched my brain beyond the thoughts I expressed above!
    Sometimes I think we do not have to define everything (why do I do that?!), but if we live simply, as you say ” live slower, smaller, more intentionally, always remembering God”, we would find ourselves “naturally” living a sacramental life.

    Dee @ 12:14…about the Body and Blood, I agree. Give thanks…the meaning of Eucharist…give thanks for all things. An acknowledgement of Communion…that unbroken thread…
    So I thank you, as always, Father. It is a joy to “be stretched”!
    Indeed, Glory to God!

  17. And not all aspects of globalization are negative. In a purely local economy, I would not be communicating with all of you, feeling the love and care for you that I do. It is ironic that that which can bring us together also has the potential to objectify.

    It’s worth noting that “in a purely local economy” you would be communicating with someone, and face-to-face. Perhaps even with greater heart and communion than you find here. God is everywhere present; we should not hold too tightly to what we have now. Then again, if a thirsty man has walked in the desert for years, it will be difficult to convince him to leave an oasis, once it is reached.

    It seems that in our broken world we cannot help but get caught in the trap of objectifying others.

    I think our world’s tools, even the best of them, are meant to fulfill only utilitarian desires. We are in the world and have to use them; as Father regularly points out, we cannot help but be a product of our culture. It is difficult indeed to avoid objectifying both people and things and the difficulty is reinforced constantly by the tools we use (or think we have to use)….

  18. Is there such a thing as ‘improving’ the quality of communion with God through creation? For example, if we cleaned things up, would or could the process of that resemble prayer or repentance?

    Dee, I don’t think one “improves” the quality of communion through such actions but I don’t see why it would not be a way to take part in communion. If bathing a child (or even a dog!) can be an act of humility and love, then “cleaning the planet up” can also be the same. But such things are just taking part in life; they are not “improvement” as much as joyful thanksgiving. Just my thoughts.

  19. Byron,

    Then again, if a thirsty man has walked in the desert for years, it will be difficult to convince him to leave an oasis, once it is reached.

    I find that I am continually struggling to maintain this double vision: how things should be and how they are right in front of me. In reference to your comment, I believe we were created for “purely local economies” but that’s not the reality in front of us.

    Let’s continue to use this blog as an example: In a perfect world it wouldn’t exist. We might go so far as to say it would be a serious perversion of true relationships. But…most of us simply don’t HAVE true relationships anymore – not ones that feed us like this. Therefore this blog has become a real oasis for many. One day we will all commune face-to-face in a way that makes this interaction look cold and forced and downright ridiculous, but in our current situation it is a soothing balm. It is sweet nectar. And it is true life.

    By the way, I always appreciate your balanced and reflective comments.

  20. One great thing about Orthodoxy is its adherence to what is in front of us, all around us…not in just some ethereal ideas about God or creation.
    The sacraments are given to us through material means, enlivened as they are by the Holy Spirit. We worship God with our whole being, body, mind and spirit. If open we can see God in everyone, in everything. As the Psalms say, the earth, all creation is filled with His glory. Two days ago we drove over White Pass south of Mt. Rainier. My heart was leaping for joy and wonder as I saw one fantastic sight after another. I understand why native peoples will often worship nature. They were connected organically to nature in a way most of us moderns are not. Yet we can go, in a sense, behind nature, beyond its shimmering beauty and behold God. God in us in the Eucharist, God around us in His creation. Oh wonder!

  21. One day we will all commune face-to-face in a way that makes this interaction look cold and forced and downright ridiculous, but in our current situation it is a soothing balm. It is sweet nectar. And it is true life.

    This brought tears to my eyes, Drewster2000! What a wonderful thing!

  22. One of my earliest memories feeling this sacramental Communion with nature and with Christ and His Church was on a road trip with my father. He was pointing to the beautiful white capped mountain peaks, glistening in the sun, and he explained to me they are called the Sangre de Christo Mountains (of Colorado). He explained at sunrise and sunset, the red horizon often gives them a scarlet color. As I was taking all of this in as a three year old, I asked what Sangre de Christo means, and he told me it is Spanish for “Blood of Christ”. Years later, I perceive even deeper Communion in this memory as the white snow can symbolize purity, and the red, the Blood of Christ in Communion, the Eucharist.

  23. Something very “small” we can do: write our name carefully at a checkout. It’s my name and it matters…more than the hurried scrawl.

  24. Byron, Drewster & everyone else,

    Appreciate your comments. Many of us are blessed with “true” local relationships – or at least I am – and I give thanks for this great gift. But I still learn a great deal here. And sometimes the virtual can become “real” in this world – I have been blessed to meet Dean in person a couple of times while in California. I would never have known to meet him if not for this blog.

    I don’t think that globalization is inherent “bad” – it is all in how we respond to our reality. When everyone had their own little local economy, many could not meet their needs and this led to conflict. I think the challenge is to see everyone on earth as part of our “local economy”.

    We have been told to bring the Good News to the entire world – and each of us has our own way to do this. I see some people with different Catholic charitable organizations (citing them because I know them) and they are living with people in remote parts of the world, helping them have “enough” (food, healthcare, clean water, etc.) as well as the Faith. They have “true” relationships with people far from their own homes. My knowledge of their relationships comes indirectly (mailings, media) but I am strengthened to love and give and pray for people around the world whom I have never met. This is “Christian Global Economy”. I cannot know each of them personally but I am enriched by the knowing that I have.

    Similarly, I am enriched by the “knowing” of all of you through Fr. Stephen. What a grace this is! And, as Drewster wrote, we can look forward to even greater communion to come. I supposed it sounds a bit odd to imply that there are degrees of communion. I think it is more that there are degrees to which I am ready for full communion. Some of our greatest saints (east and west) have “communed” with people from an entirely different location. Participating fully in the Divine life is not limited by geography but by my spiritual immaturity.

    And that is okay – for now. God knows I am but a child and is helping me grow up. This is what He wants for all of us. All glory to Him.

  25. For the beauty of the earth,
    For the beauty of the skies,
    For the love which from our birth
    Over and around us lies,
    Lord of all, to thee we raise
    This our grateful hymn of praise.

    For the beauty of each hour
    Of the day and of the night,
    Hill and vale, and tree and flower,
    Sun and moon and stars of light,
    Lord of all, to thee we raise
    This our grateful hymn of praise.

    For the joy of human love,
    Brother, sister, parent, child,
    Friends on earth, and friends above,
    Pleasures pure and undefiled,
    Lord of all, to thee we raise
    This our grateful hymn of praise.

    For each perfect gift of thine,
    To our race so freely given,
    Graces human and divine,
    Flowers of earth and buds of heaven,
    Lord of all, to thee we raise
    This our grateful hymn of praise.

    For thy Church which evermore
    Lifteth holy hands above,
    Offering up on every shore
    Her pure sacrifice of love,
    Lord of all, to thee we raise
    This our grateful hymn of praise.

    I have only recently (last 5-10 years) begun to be convinced that all the matter in which I’m participating is the very substance of my salvation. Every molecule, every tree is a song God is singing; to which he ever beckons all humanity to partake of and in which to participate. “If these don’t sing, then the rocks will cry out.” I’m beginning to get it. Oh the joy to which we are invited! Blessed be thee, our Lord and our God. Holy is thy name.

  26. We all enjoy our global marketplace, if for no other reason than to satisfy our stomachs with avocados, macadamias, dates from the Mid East. I have been richly blessed by being able to travel to many Third World countries and the meet on the local level the poorest of the poor and listen to their stories. When I see an avocado from Peru, I think about the people I met living on a mountainside where useless batteries were being burned on the top of the mountain and all of the lead from those batteries was drifting down into the dirt floors of the houses where children and single moms lived. In Honduras, at the top of a mountain on the outskirts of Tegucigalpa we traveled to the top of the mountain to a Protestant church. There was only a few water spigots at the bottom of the mountain so the higher you went, the poorer the people were as they had to walk down to get water. We were going to church that evening to worship with the children and single moms. A woman in early twenties got up to sing in a gorgeous soprano voice the great Protestant hymn, “It is Well With My Soul”. If there are former Protestants, you know that song. If not, pull up the words. In the abject poverty where women were left to raise their children on their own by men who dropped in whenever they felt like it, there was this beautiful song of joy and acceptance of their lot in life. I often think of the faith of the poor all over the world and it puts me to shame. To me living sacramentally is being able to transcend your life situation and see the beauty of God all around you and to honestly say, it is well with my soul. I traveled through many Central and South American countries and Angola because I am married to a now retired United Methodist Bishop. I became Orthodox, with his blessing while he was an active bishop. We often think other churches are missing out on so much that we treasure as Orthodox, and they are, but I would not trade anything for those experiences with the poor who always welcomed us with joy and thanksgiving. Maybe I have had the best of both possible worlds and I am grateful. I wish I could give them what we call “a better life”. I wish the poor could give me the joyful acceptance of seeing the world in all its messes as a gift from God.

  27. Father,
    Your comment about evil being essentially nothingness, reminded me of an illustration I used when I was an associate pastor at a Mennonite Church. It occurred to me that while light has substance, darkness is not a substance but rather the absence of light. I’m not sure I was able to communicate the profundity of this revelation, but I am still learning from it in terms of how important matter is to God’s communion with us.

    Thank you, Father Stephen for your part in reflecting and refracting God’s light among the people. May His blessing be upon you, your family, and your church.

  28. In studying the history of iconography, I came across a wonderful quote about the sacredness of matter (probably many of you already know it, but I’ll share it for those who don’t):

    “I do not worship matter, I worship the God of matter, who became matter for my sake and deigned to inhabit matter, who worked out my salvation through matter. I will not cease from honoring that matter which works for my salvation. I venerate it, though not as God.”
    – St. John of Damascus

  29. Your question, “what is the religion of America,” what binds us together, recalled this graphic (tap the link, below) which was the visual for another excellent essay I read yesterday.
    It’s a picture painted with nothing more than 3 letters; m, e and w. What the essay lacks is the larger perspective of creation and communion and sacredness.
    But I think you might be missing an opportunity by dismissing the looking climate catastrophe as a passing culturaI phenomenon. I am actually hoping and praying for the imminent return of Jesus to save us from the mess we’ve made. I think it’s going to hit us much sooner than most people expect . There simply isn’t that much time left for the planet as we have come to know it, once the methane eruptions start exploding from under the thawed Arctic ice cap.
    If we take His promise to return to judge “both the living and the dead,” there is a much smaller window in time than most realize. But to do our part to help make that happen, humanity — or some small but vital enough segment will have to come together to ask for it in prayer and faith. You shouldn’t dismiss that concern as mere “environmentalism.”
    You can ignore some of the lefty preamble here, the climate issues are addressed at the end.

    https://www.truthdig.com/articles/the-demobilization-of-americans-is-a-surreal-tragedy/

  30. Wow Xenia….choked me up. You paint a stunning picture.
    Such time spent could not be bought with a price. Indeed you are richly blessed, as are those precious people.
    Thank you for the post.
    (I remember the hymn. It hits deep.)

  31. I ask the community here, of your kindness, to remember my daughter Lauren in prayer. She had a motorcycle accident – only herself, having run into a tree for as yet unknown reason – and is in the hospital in Savannah. She has facial bone injuries and will have surgery later today (jaw wired shut, etc) – could have been much worse. Husband and friends are with her there. Thank you.

    Dana

  32. Dana you and your daughter have my prayers. May God grant her healing and health.

  33. mary benton, part of living a Sacramental life is realizing the providential reality in which we live. Everything is given. If we participate in what we are given in thanksgiving, we are beginning to live sacramentally.
    By looking at what we can touch, feel, taste and smell and realize that we know so little. There is much more we do not know, but what we need will be revealed.

    Pick up a rock, any rock and hold it in your hand — there is more there than you will ever know and each rock is different.

    If you hold a rose hip in your hand, as the poet says, you hold in your hand “a race of summer gardens”.

    Every economic system I have studied from barter to globalism will find ways to maximize our inhumanity because we lack communion.

    Yet all the grace, mercy and connection we need are also inherent in our activities. No need to be paralyzingly scrupulous.

  34. Jeff Pauls,

    My picture of evil being nothingness comes from the movie The NeverEnding Story. The evil wasn’t the black wolf or anything else visible. It was the nothing which was destroying all existence. Very profound.

  35. Xenia,

    I too am grateful for your comments. We get carried away with our notions of progress when we speak of a global marketplace, but without a true understanding of our globe. We live at the bottom of the mountain where the water flows. Thank you for that precious reminder.

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