Mary: The Blessing of All Generations

In my childhood, it was not unusual to hear someone ask, “Who are your people?” It was a semi-polite, Southernism designed to elicit essential information about a person’s social background. The assumption was that you, at best, could only be an example of your “people.” It ignored the common individualism of the wider culture, preferring the more family or clan-centered existence of an older time. It was possible to be “good people” who had fallen on hard times, just as it was possible to be “bad people” who were flourishing. Good people were always to be preferred.

I am aware of the darker elements of this Southern instinct so foreign to today’s mainstream culture. I am also aware that within it, there is an inescapable part of reality: human beings never enter this world without baggage. The baggage is an inheritance, both cultural and biological that shapes the ground we walk on and the challenges we will inevitably confront. Fr. Alexander Schmemann is reported to have said that the spiritual life consists in “how we deal with what we’ve been dealt.” In some families, it seems that no matter how many times the deck is shuffled, the same hand (or close to it) appears.

The Scriptures are rife with this element of our reality. It is a story of fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, tribal destiny and inherited blessings. Two of the gospels give a chapter to rehearse the genealogy of Christ. Modern thought wants to imagine each human being entering the world as a blank slate whose life will be formed and shaped by their desires and choices. This is our imaginative version of freedom and we work to maximize its reality.

Nevertheless, human experience continues to be doggedly familial. Those who do family therapy carefully ask questions about the generations that have gone before. The battles of our lives are not about theory, but the cold hard truth of what has been given to us.

The Scriptures relate the stories of families, including their tragedies and horrific crimes. No Southern novelist ever did more than echo the iconic behaviors of Biblical failure.

This familial treatment is intentional and tracks the truth of our existence. There is never a pain as deep as that inflicted by someone who is supposed to love you.  Such injuries echo through the years and the generations. The face that stares back at us in the mirror is easily a fractal of someone whose actions power our own insanity. We can hate a parent, only to be haunted by their constant presence in us.

This, of course, is only the negative, darker side of things. Blessings echo in us as well. In the delusion of modern individuality we blithely assume that we act alone in all we do. Life is so much more complicated!

What I am certain of, in the midst of all this, is that our struggle against sin and the besetting issues of our lives is never just about ourselves. If we inherit a burden within our life, so our salvation, our struggles with that burden, involve not only ourselves but those who have gone before as well as those who come after. We struggle as the “Whole Adam” (in the phrase of St. Silouan).

There is an Athonite saying: “A monk heals his family for seven generations.” When I first heard this, my thought was, “In which direction?” The answer, I think, is every direction. We are always healing the family tree as we embrace the path of salvation, monk or layman. Our lives are just that connected.

When the Virgin Mary sings her hymn of praise to God, she says, “All generations will call me blessed.” This expresses far more than the sentiment that she will be famous (how shallow). It has echoes of God’s word to Abraham, “In you, all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Gen. 12:3). It is in the Offspring of Mary that the word to Abraham is fulfilled. In the Scriptures, God is pleased to be named the “God of Abraham.” That His name is tied to that of a human being brings no offense. Indeed, paradise itself is called the “bosom of Abraham.” It is right and proper that Christians should see the same treatment in the Virgin, the one in whom all these things are fulfilled.

“All generations” is a term that includes everyone – not just those who would come after her. For the salvation of the human race, in all places and at all times, is found only in Jesus, the Offspring of Mary. She is “Theotokos,” the “Birthgiver of God.” Mary is exalted in the bosom of Abraham.

When I look in the mirror these days, I see the unmistakable reflection of my father. No doubt, his reflection is seen elsewhere in my life, both for good and ill. I’m aware that some of my struggles are with “my daddy’s demons.” Of course, my vision is limited to just a few generations. I see my own struggles reflected in the lives of my children (for which I often want to apologize). I do not see the link that runs throughout all generations – throughout all the offspring of Adam – it is too large to grasp. What I do see, however, is the singular moment, the linchpin of all generations that is the Mother of God. In her person we see all generations gathered together. Her “be it unto me according to your word” resounds in the heart of every believer, uniting them to her heart whose flesh unites us to God.

Across the world, the myriad generations of Christians have sung ever since:

My soul doth magnify the Lord.
And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Savior.
For he hath regarded the lowliness of his handmaiden.
For behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed.

To which we add:

More honorable than cherubim,
And more glorious beyond compare than the seraphim,
Without corruption you gave birth to God the Word,
True Theotokos, we magnify you!

We are her people. Glory to God!

141 comments:

  1. Father Bless, I agree, our family relationships are part of what determines us as people. I am unique and unrepeatable, not because of my physical body (which soon it will be possible to clone physical bodies of human..God forbid) but because of my web of relationships. Familial relationships are a large part of who I am but so is my relationships to others, not the least of which is that which I have through communion with our Lord and the fellowship of believers. As a part of that web I am also in relationship with our Lord’s Mother and I am part of the fellowship that in blessing her is blessed in return.

  2. When modernity thinks of individuals, it thinks in mechanical terms. There is this physical thing, and that physical thing. Biological life is deeply different from mere physics. Every cell of a biological entity has the same information coded within it. The “whole” dwells in each of the parts. And that information is not just “my information.” That information is, in a real sense, the information of the whole human race through the ages. And that’s just a biological meditation…

  3. This is so uplifting! I find when contemplating the Theotokos that the cares and troubles of the world tend to fall away. Clarity, which her entire life provides, is freeing. Many thanks, Father.

  4. Father, I’ve heard it said while reflecting on the genealogy of Christ in the gospels, that while there is an inescapable reality of being born with baggage (Christ had murderers in his lineage), he shows us the way out of that environment of which we had no control over, yet does affect us. That would be the ideal spiritual life Fr. Schmemann was referring to. Thank you.

  5. I know that many who read this posting are looking into the Orthodox faith. A very difficult part for me, when examining the faith, was Mary. I was telling a priest some of these troubling things (to me at least, coming from Protestantism). He replied, “Sort of sticks in your craw, huh?” Yes, and it did for quite a while. Simply calling her, Mother of God was a hurdle. I kept hearing this as Mother of God the Father. I did not know that Theotokos was a name given to her to avert heresy. Mary did not give birth to a nature, but to a Person, fully man and fully God. Theotokos expressed this perfectly. Of course, in the many intervening years I have grown to love this (may I use this without sounding gushy?) most precious of women. In one of our prayers we say, “In love do I praise thee.” She is most worthy of our veneration and praise as the very birthgiver of our God.
    Thank you Father for this as we look forward to the Feast Day of the Dormition.

  6. The Theotokos is our supreme example of how we – through humility and complete surrender to God’s will – can invite Christ to dwell in us and Transfigure us, thus freeing us from all the baggage (physical, mental, and emotional) of all who came before us. And her bodily Resurrection which – we celebrate during this Feast of her Dormition – demonstrates the glorious life that awaits us and the truly wholistic nature of our salvation. As the New Eve, she is the mother of us all; we are all her children and we are all related to one another. The saints who – through their personal efforts coupled with the grace of God – have acquired the Holy Spirit are our true ancestors who have paved the way to an entirely new life without pain, or sorrow, or sighing, where all the baggage of the Old Adam dissolves into nothingness. Glory to God!

  7. Thank you Fr. Stephen Freeman! God knows I need to read these words about families, about Our Lord and His Mother, Our Theotokos, and I am very grateful.

  8. Beautiful Father, the last line being the icing: “We are her people. Glory to God!”
    From Orthodox saints such as Sts. Paisios, Seraphim, Porphyrios, among others, to Catholic saints such as Sts. Josemaria and Mother Teresa, all of them have been ardent devotees of the Theotokos. I don’t know of a saint who has not advocated seeking the Mother’s help.
    And at the risk of sounding phoney may I say I’ve been a recepient of her interceding grace many many a time.

  9. “In my childhood, it was not unusual to hear someone ask, “Who are your people?” ”
    My mother used to ask me about my friends, “What is she?” 🙂 Oh, I laugh!

    Father, I remember you said in another post that after some time, through your prayers for your family, you finally began to see in yourself your parents and that it helped you further your repentance. I have kept that in my heart.

    Thank you for this honorable post to our Blessed Mother, Theotokos. I began to pray to Her upon entering into Orthodoxy. She knew me, but I didn’t know Her. I simply asked Her to show me. As a woman, I needed to know Her very very much. In return She has pointed me right back to Her Son together with all the Saints. But I needed very much to hear from The Woman. I really did…
    Thank you Mother. Our precious Lady….

  10. Paula,
    As the years have gone by, I see far more of “family” within myself than I would have ever thought as a young man. On the whole I find it a helpful part of my self-understanding. As a young man, I would have rebelled against the thought in many ways – feeling constricted. But now, I see that so much that I much of my life is simply a “fractal” of what has gone before.

    The negative aspects of that are so much more clear – but when I look more carefully and patiently, I see that the bulk of the positive things are inherited as well.

    It keeps me from taking myself too seriously, on the one hand, and gives me far more reason to be merciful to those who’ve gone before.

  11. I think blessed is contrasted with lowliness. Though a lowly person God blessed her with being the mother of the Messiah. All succeeding generations will acknowledge that. There is no reason to assume the text means anything more than this straightforward reading. Should I ever consider becoming Orthodox, I could never get past your treatment of Mary. Give the glory to Christ, not to a human. We should have coffee sometime. John

  12. John,
    Glad you stopped by. One thing to consider. The Bible is a book of the Church. The canon as we have it came rather late, toward the end of the 300’s. Early Christians venerated Mary long before we had the complete Scriptures. Only Christ, as one of the Trinity, was worshipped. One needs to see the whole of salvation history, primarily through the Church, to understand Mary and the saints. To look only at the Bible, and that 2,000 years later from our western, modernist worldview, forgetting all the martyrs and histories and testimonies of heroic Christians who came before us, is rather myopic. One scholar of the 19th century wrote, “He who delves deeply into history ceases to be Protestant.” I do not know of any man who lifts on high our Lord Christ Jesus more than Fr. Freeman. Btw, to honor the King’s mother in no way diminishes the King.

  13. “We can hate a parent, only to be haunted by their constant presence in us.”

    Could I write volumes on this! It was only after my mother’s death that I was able to see how much like her I am. And so very Scottish!!!!

    May her memory be eternal!

  14. Fr Stephen-

    Your post crystallizes many thoughts I’ve had before regarding the generations. I had the good fortune a couple years ago to discuss generational sins with my daughter who was then a sophomore in college. As a parent I inadvertently pass on sin and the effects of sin to my children, mostly completely unaware of the damage I am inflicting. The same as my parents before me. Our conversation offered insight into my daughter’s struggles, where some of them come from, and repentance on my part. That day was truly glorious for us. (I wonder if she sees it quite the same way?)

    Then I began to think of how we also, imperceptibly perhaps, pass on generational blessings. These are harder to recognize but they are there, permeating my days; I just have to look.

    Veneration of Mary isn’t coming naturally a year into Orthodoxy for me, but as we sing the texts of the music I find my heart and mind soaring! Right now we are practicing the Dormition music in choir. The words express such beauty and magnificence, and they make sense. The vigils are becoming favorite services of mine because of the texts of the kanons and the music used to express them. I’m hopeful one day to not feel so awkward, and I’m sure that’ll come in it’s own time.

    Thank you for your post!
    Kristin

  15. Kristin, thank you for sharing “That day was truly glorious for us. (I wonder if she sees it quite the same way?)”

    Those shifts are so full of grace!! Glory be to God!

  16. Father Stephen,
    Thank you for sharing such instances of how God is working in and through your life. Had I not read your words, I can not be sure if I would have realized the blessedness of my family inheritance.
    Bitterness and resentment, constraint to conform, led me to wildly rebel. Growing up in the 60’s made that ever so easy. I simply never did relate to “family life”. And that dogged me way into my adult years. But God, in His infinite mercy, late in life but right on time He came knocking (we used to sing a song about God being four days late but right on time with the raising of Lazarus…!).
    I really need to say also that my dear mother prayed a lot for me. I gave her good reason to! She undoubtedly had a firm Catholic faith and I know God heard her prayers. But especially Mary. Mary and the Saints were inseparable from her faith. If I rejoice for anything, the first thing would be my family’s firm conviction in the Catholic faith. That is what they were born into, not by fate, but by Providence. I thank God.

    Father, it is no coincidence you bring up the word “fractal” again. Upon my first read, I had to look up the word. As a mathematical description it says “Fractals are…similar patterns recur at progressively smaller scales…”. Very wise to apply this to our developmental growth within the family. It is also interesting that in the mathematical definition it is said to describe”random or chaotic phenomena”. Well, as this post speaks of our inheritance in the family of God, all the while born into an disordered earthly family – just as God in the Beginning spoke the words of Life to chaos, Let there be Light!, so He speaks Life into our familial “fractal chaos” where He shows us “the bulk of the positive things are inherited as well”. Very good!
    Well Father…fractal, a lot learned from a simple word!
    Lastly…I would that someday soon I not take myself so seriously!

    Again, many thanks.

  17. Hi John,
    Though I’m Catholic, for a long time I too had much reluctance to engage in all of the attention my own faith gives to Mary. But that has changed – quite a bit. One thing that solidified it for me was reading “Jesus and the Jewish Roots of Mary”, by Brant Pitre. Since it is a RC-authored book, there may be a few areas of difference from Orthodoxy. However, that aside, it contains a very helpful and easy to read explanation of how Mary was prefigured in the Old Testament and how her prominence made complete sense to the early Jewish Christians. For example, in ancient Israel, it was not the king’s wife who was queen but his mother – and she was considered second only to the king. In reading this book, I came to understand that devotion to the Theotokos is not a mere sentimentalism but is deeply rooted in the whole of Scripture. To not honor her now seems incorrect to me and I regret my previous negligence. Just sharing this in case you are interested.

  18. ” Mary was prefigured in the Old Testament and how her prominence made complete sense to the early Jewish Christians. For example, in ancient Israel, it was not the king’s wife who was queen but his mother – and she was considered second only to the king.”
    Mary Benton…Yes, exactly! I was searching for a post from Fr Stephen De Young’s blog that spoke about this. I had never quite heard it put that way before. Too, Fr De Young is known to teach Early Christianity and Second Temple Judaism, similar to the focus of the book you mention.
    Anyway, John….I was looking up the article for you. I see others have reached out as well. I hope you don’t mind yet another offer.
    https://blogs.ancientfaith.com/wholecounsel/2018/09/21/queen-and-mother/

  19. John,
    Coffee would be quite nice!

    All, John has been a long-time reader and is not new to seeing me write about Mary. So, patience.

    John (again),
    I think the Scriptures love Mary and give her great honor. I also think that you cannot see this if you look at them in the manner that you do. Forgive me, but it’s a sort of family inheritance. It is possible, for example, to presume that one is reading the Scriptures in a rational manner, when, in fact, what is imagined to be rationality is only a cultural phenomenon born in early modernity.

    But, our ancestors (Protestant Americans) used a very broken rationality to discard Mary and to cripple the Jesus of Scripture and have produced the sad spectacle of modernity. We want to blame others (some version of the bad people among us) – but it is our own dark blindness that has created the present darkness in the world.

    Mary is a hidden treasure in the Scriptures (just as Christ is as well). There are many things about Jesus that cannot be known apart from her. Without her, strangely, Christianty begins to lose its beauty. Without her we begin to develop confusion about what it is to be male and female. She was given to us for a reason – with depths that extend beneath the letter of the Scriptures.

    I used the example (in the article) of the blatant honor given to Abraham from the lips of Christ Himself. He is “Father Abraham.” Paradise carries his name. Mary is far greater than Abraham. He would have made a prostration at her feet. Jacob mystically saw her in his dream of the ladder and made an altar so he could give thanks to God. She is “Beth-el” (the “House of God”).

    There is, however, this rational nonsense that insists on reading Scripture in a secularized manner. It’s fruit is all around us, creating a world that is barely fit to live in. And so our children turn elsewhere – even to dark sins – in order to search for something to fill the void created by a willful blindness.

    When I was a Baptist child – I left the Church at age 13. I would have continued onto a path towards atheism or worse rather than return to its bland account of the world and its dark portrayal of God. As it was, I was rescued by beauty. First, in a traditional Anglican liturgy. It showed my heart that there were places to look I had never dreamed of. Eventually it brought me here.

    I wish I had the gift of writing that could actually share what I see. Jesus without Mary is often little more than a caricature – sort of flat. It “resembles” Christ – but is flat and empty. It is not a lack in Jesus that makes this so. God could have made Himself known without the Scriptures, without Israel, with nothing of all the things He has used. But He doesn’t. He delights Himself with a crowd of witnesses. He honors His own mother.

    I believe that we can only know God to the extent that we know ourselves. We certainly cannot know the truth of our own selves apart from Mary – the most singular mere human being – the mother of us all. He could have kept her a secret. She is almost a secret in Mark’s gospel. But He did not. You cannot understand the sacrifice of Christ without her. If you can preach the gospel without Mary – then it is “another gospel.”

    But, I’ve said all that before.

    As it is, I’d love a cup coffee. If you’re ever up this way…

  20. Mary Benton writes: “…I came to understand that devotion to the Theotokos is not a mere sentimentalism but is deeply rooted in the whole of Scripture. To not honor her now seems incorrect to me and I regret my previous negligence. “

    Me, too, Mary! 🙂

    The Scriptures and Fathers of the Church were so wise in giving honor to the Theotokos. She always helps us see so much more deeply and clearly the wonder of the Incarnation of her Son.
    Being a Christian without seeing her aright is like limping along in only one shoe.

  21. Amen! We are her people! What a inspiration! What an honor that can not be taken away from us no matter how wretched our lives may be! Thank you Father for those words of hope and consolation! They came as drops of due after a long arduous day of struggle! Glory be to God!

  22. “Give the glory to Christ, not to a human.”

    I’d like to gently submit the following for consideration:
    (If anyone finds this unhelpful, please just ignore it.)

    First, There is no way to accept this statement without embracing deep Christological heresy (specifically some form of denial of the Incarnation).
    1) The single Personhood of Christ must be denied. There must be two persons, the “Divine” Person receiving glory, while the second “human” person does not. (Remember that the single Personhood of Christ is what makes salvation possible).
    2) The two “natures” must be schismed. This involves denying the oneness of the 2 natures such that a “Divine” nature can receive glory while a cut-off “human” nature does not. (Of course, any such wedge in “natures” also denies the very possibility of salvation).
    3) The full humanity of Christ must be denied. This involves crediting Christ with a human nature that is somehow unlike ours, thus making it OK for His “different” human nature to receive glory, but not OK for our dissimilar human nature to do so. (Which would also make salvation impossible).

    Lastly, “give glory” is a nebulous, unspecified, undefined (and undefinable) phrase that has no actual meaning, thus rendering it impossible to actually DO to anyone (God or man).

  23. Thank you Fr Stephen!

    Dean thank you for incites, i have been “looking into Orthodoxy” for 8 months now and my whole life has changed! I understand now why it is said you cannot “join” the Orthodox, you “become” Orthodox.

    Praying to Mary (or any of the Saints for that matter) was utter non-sense to me coming from an evangelical, protestant, hyper grace ect.. back ground – all that baggage! But i thank God for His mercy.

    This statement is so powerful to me Fr Stephen:
    “Mary is a hidden treasure in the Scriptures (just as Christ is as well). There are many things about Jesus that cannot be known apart from her. Without her, strangely, Christianty begins to lose its beauty. Without her we begin to develop confusion about what it is to be male and female. She was given to us for a reason – with depths that extend beneath the letter of the Scriptures.”

    I knew it in my “knower” that all the things Fr Stephen is writing about are those “hidden treasures” of Truth, even though my mind couldn’t grasp or accept it. I am often discouraged because of my lack of knowledge on all these matters, i always feel like im missing that hidden beauty of the gospel – that im living a less than Faith! But i am dedicated to learning more about the Orthodox and hope i can one day find a church to attend – where i live there are no Orthodox churches within a 500km radius.

    Anyway, thank you again Fr Stephen – i received your book “Every Where Present” last week and cant wait to read it.

    Please pray for me.
    Jp

  24. For 1500 years there was no Christianity that did not honor Mary. The Third Ecumenical Council declared the traditional devotional title given to her, “Theotokos,” to be a matter of dogma. In the mind of the Christians of the time, to not honor Mary (part of the heresy of Nestorianism), was to refuse to acknowledge the full humanity of Christ and the unity of His Person.

    But, this is only the dogmatic side of the equation. I think that the idea of “giving glory to God alone” is a visceral thing – a matter that seems right to someone’s heart and is hard to argue with – it’s not a rational position.

    It’s similar to the refusal to honor icons and such. It is, at its heart, iconoclasm. It is, I think, the foundation of the two-storey universe – the basis of a secularized world view. But none of that seems obvious at first. What seems obvious is that glory should only be given to God.

    God alone should be worshipped. That is a matter of dogma as well. The confusion in iconoclasm is to mistake any kind of honor whatsoever with worship. However, this is also a strange confusion. Our culture honors rock stars, movie stars, athletes, political figures, the flag, the nation – all kinds of things – and does so with an honor that would make the Mother of God blush. But – this is the notion of the two-storey universe at work – all of those honorings seem ok because they are not religious in nature. It’s the bifurcation of the world into “religious” and “non-religious.” If Mary played football, or was a movie star, we could give her honor – so long as the honor had nothing to do with religion.

    But, in truth, it’s a one-storey universe. God Himself has directed us towards what is honorable in this world. St. Paul says in Phil 4:8 –

    Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.

    Mary is certainly all of these things. So, apparently, St. Paul clearly teaches us that there are things other than God that can be described as true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, and worthy of praise. When we give honor to the Virgin, we are obeying Scripture. I’m very doubtful about movie stars and footballers.

  25. Fr. Stephen,
    Your added comments are so very good.
    Jp….
    Thank you. Yes, your heart can receive the truth, as inner perception, often before your mind can catch up. That happened to me as I came to Orthodoxy. I am so sorry you’ve no Orthodox church near you. Please avail yourself of Ancient Faith Radio, online. If you go to the bottom of this page, it will link you to it and Fr. Freeman’s latest podcasts.
    As Father has mentioned, the early Church honored Mary. Whenever we see Sts. Peter and Paul together, we see represented the whole Church, Jew and Gentile. In some frescoes in the catacombs of Rome, we see Mary in between the two saints, showing her very prominent role as the Mother of our God, and hence of all believers. St. Ireneas of the second century, a great Christian apologist, calls her the new Eve, bringing salvation to the world through her obedience, in contrast with the first Eve bringing sin and death. Earlier St Justin Martyr contrasted her with the disobedient Eve. St. Ambrose, St. Jerome also call the Theotokos the new Eve. Yes, for the first 1500 years of the Church she was highly honored, as she continues to be in the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church to this very day.

  26. In my desire to build a closer relationship with the Theotokos, I have found the fairly newly translated (2016) book The Feasts of the Mother of God by Metropolitan Hierotheos to be the most valuable resource so far. He goes through all the Feasts dedicated to Mary. I am currently reading the chapter on the Dormition which is 150 pages in length! It’s quite fascinating.

    https://notofthisworldiconsandbooks.com/products/feasts-of-the-mother-of-god?variant=20737087471705

  27. This is a personal testimony about my encounter with the Mother of God. First, you have to realize that I’m a lutheran, and before converting to lutheranism I was an evangelical. I’m estonian and the reformation arrived here in 1521. The church I go to, Holy Spirit Church of Tallinn, has been lutheran since that date. This should give you the idea that I’ve never had any cultural formation to venerate Mary.

    Also, for the past years I’ve been struggling with belief and unbelief. Since I don’t want for this story to be about my personal struggles, I’ll be brief: God sometimes seems like a monster (especially in theological books), and I’ve been grasping for any signs of Him not being one. I like to call that what I base my hope on “God’s counterlogic“. I can only describe it as a intuition that God cannot just embody the same values as the world (but on steroids, since He’s God), there has to be something contrarian about Him. Christianity can not just be civil religion of morals and customs, there has to be something more!

    And whenever I discover a sign of that contrarian logic, for a moment I feel hopeful again. Fr. Stephen’s blog has sometimes given me those signs (I don’t remember when I discovered this blog, but somehow and somewhen I did).

    Back to my story about my encounter with Mary. It was the advent season of 2018, it was maybe the second or third advent sunday. Daylight is only 6 hours in december, and even to call it „daylight“ is a kind description. I remember it being dark outside, but the service happens at noon. Possible that I misremember, possible that both facts were true. To give you a geographical idea, Tallinn and Juneau are on the same latitude, so we’re in the deep far north here.

    But that sunday was a special one, because we read the Magnificat – Mary’s Canticle! When I had tried to be a good evangelical, I read the Bible from the beginning to the end several times. So, it was not like it was new to me, the content of her song. I might even have made some jokes about the catholicness of Luke’s Gospel in the past. But on that day, in that service, those words felt extra impactful. They carried a weight to them, and there was a stillness when I heard and read those words with the congregation…

    When Mary said: „He has scattered those of vain imaginations in their hearts, He has struck down the powers from their thrones, He has exalted the low, sent away the rich with empty hands and fed the hungry…“

    All I could think was, My God, these words are so BOLD!

    This is a fourteen year old girl, weighing the state of the world with her big young brown eyes and then saying what she thinks of it…

    She’s not impressed.

    In that moment I became interested in Mary the person. There was even a feeling of infatuation. Or whatever the emotion is called, when you discover that you really like someone…

    And the sermon on that sunday was about the same canticle. This was a powerful sermon, one that I will remember. The pastor described a world of god-emperors and tyrants, of men who proclaim their own worth by the massacres they commit, who build monuments to their own image and gather all the riches for themselves, a world where Herod’s castle was visible from the stable of Bethlehem, flaunting it’s riches and majesty – I am Ozymandias, look on my mighty deeds!

    This is a world whose logic God opposed, by being born to Mary, in a stable, amongst non-important people. And She was there in that world, to the powers just another invisible one, and She had Her own opinions about Herod and his kind.

    And God has heard those opinions…

    Ever since that sunday my thinking of Mary has changed completely. She’s more than just a womb, She’s the very part of the gospel scandal itself. People are bothered by God being given birth by a human woman, that God would have relations like that with any human. People are bothered that we have a God like Jesus, and that Jesus is God. In the gospel scandal Mary and Jesus are closely connected, each of them provoking the world to anger just because they exist. When the world becomes accustomed to one, then the existence of the other enrages it again…

    For example, modern culture loves Jesus the Hobo, but if Mary is the mother of God, then who is Jesus? And if Mary is human, then who is Jesus? And there you go upsetting all the nice people again…

    Peace be with you, Jesus, son of Mary! Peace be with you, Mary, mother of God!

    The altar of my church is from 1483. It depicts the event of pentecost, and in the centre of the apostles sits a woman on a throne. Now who would be the woman enthroned amongst the disciples?

    Reformation destroyed a lot of church art, but somehow this altar survived. Even though Mary has bothered a lot of people throughout history, the altar is still there.

    https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/3/33/HolyGhostTallinnNotke.jpg

  28. Joosua,
    Undoubtedly, your comment is one of my favorite things about this blog. It reveals the world to be so much smaller than we imagine and our hearts so much more united!

    A favorite topic for me is the Jubilee – the 50 year debt cancellation that becomes the paradigm for the Day of the Lord – the Cosmic Jubilee. It runs throughout all of Christ’s preaching and actions. The coming of the Kingdom of God is the inauguration of that Jubilee.

    Mary’s hymn is, I think, the greatest hymn of the Jubilee that we have. The rich are sent away empty while God exalts the humble and meek. He has exalted her – you captured this so well.

    I do not know much about Estonia – but I saw a film called the “Singing Revolution.” I thought that any place that holds music in such regard has a heart for the Kingdom of God. May He fill it!

  29. “….Christianity can not just be civil religion of morals and customs, there has to be something more!….modern culture loves Jesus the Hobo, but if Mary is the mother of God, then who is Jesus? ”

    Wonderful testimony Joosua! Being down here near El Paso where a recent terroristic shooting took place (one of our parish members was at the mall – she was safely evacuated), Jesus “the protector of middle class consumers and safe environments” is popular right now. I send my two daughters to the local RC school, and they have decided to hold a “peacemaking vigil” (for which I could find no ecclesiastical history for online) during the last hour of school on Friday. I am picking them up early that day.

    Fr. Stephen, I appreciate your noting the ‘visceral’ aspect to “glory to god alone” (which at first glance appears scriptural). A God exalted and in a sense “protected” from a fallen world to such a point (and the other side of the coin – a humanity that is fallen to such a degree that its *nature* is depraved and evil) is a God so distant that an incarnation – a union of two natures and wills in one person – is unthinkable. Yet, there is something “human” about reflexively protecting God in this way…

  30. Joosua,
    Thank you for your beautiful comment. Indeed the date of your alter and the fact that it escaped the ravages of the Reformation show the place that the Virgin Mary the Mother of God has had in Christendom.

    The brand of Protestantism in the US (eg as part of and vehicle of the modern project) has certainly done a number on the role and perception of women. All of the men and women whom I knew in my mother’s family detested it. They were not feminists but Seminole. Such denigration of women was unthinkable and intolerable. Women had a particular and venerated role in families. Their words were attended and heeded. As a young child I learned to be fearful of this society regarding how my mother was treated, particularly by ‘white’ men, outside of our family.

    It has never been a surprise to me that men (not men of color) and women in this culture, speaking specifically in the US, should have great difficulty venerating her.

    I too have been infected by this sin. My way of dealing with it was to become an entity (not a feminist born modernity) that would have some capacity to withstand such denigration. Ironically and by grace that pursuit led me to Christ and holding my hand in this pursuit was His most holy Mother.

  31. I suppose what I’m saying is that I have a different take on this matter of ‘the troubles of venerating Mary’. I’m not convinced this situation arose ‘of a version of Christian theology ‘, rather I see such ‘theology’ crafted to support such prejudice.

  32. “…rather I see such ‘theology’ crafted to support such prejudice.”

    I had a seminary professor who is also a leader in the women’s ordination movement within (it can be argued almost entirely academic) Orthodoxy. Her thesis is that the anthropology and societal norms of the Greco Roman world were falsely taken up by the very early church (though she incongruently leaves St. Paul innocent of this) in a “pseudomorphosis” (she borrows Florvorsky’s use of this term), leading to an all male ordained hierarchy of the Church. We often call this a ‘prejudice’ today, one that is inculturated.

    I bring this up to point out how we need to be careful with our method – where we start and the direction of our thinking. This is particularly true in theology and (in these cases) theological anthropology. We have to be sure we start with actual revelation and tradition, and not somewhere else. In my professor’s case, I contend that where she starts is not with the revelation and tradition, rather with Kant and an abstract (i.e. disembodied) application of “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” to our created male/female binary and “roles” within and without the Church.

    In its modern connotation/use “prejudice” is a rather blunt instrument, and it can be used (so to speak) in several ways…

  33. I take your point Christopher, but she is speaking within the modern construct and I am not.

    I don’t make any arguments for women’s ordination. I spoke of roles within families and the core of that spiritual life was indeed carried by women as the ‘heart of such life’.

    Again it doesn’t surprise me that the choice of the word ‘prejudice’ carries with it the activism of current politics, that which you referenced in your prior post. But indeed the undercurrent of such vigils you describe is the implicit acknowledgment that it is a reaction of oppression built into western theology and it’s history manifested specially in this society as an oppression of people and women which was undergirded by this western theology. They believe that the way to ‘undo’ this is to simply have such a vigil.

    It sounds like your professor might have drunk the koolaid of modernity. Gratefully my mother’s traditional culture has given me some of a ‘built-in’ wariness of such. Men had particular roles of leadership— this can be a long discussion and I’m keeping it brief.

    Forgive me I don’t intend to make an argument but to attempt to differentiate. If that hasn’t worked toward your preference I ask for your patience.

  34. Joosua,

    What a wonderful altar! I am always pleased to learn of things like this which survived the violent iconoclasm of the Reformation.

  35. I have spent a lot of time inside protestant thinking and its historical roots and I feel really uncomfortable attributing some deliberate woman-hating malice or prejudice to any of the founders of any of the mainstream protestant sects. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not good stuff and not wholesome for humans of either gender, but how could we know such a thing about these people? What is very clear in my thinking is that our adversary, the woman-hating dragon has weaponized this theology to denigrate and destroy countless women just as he has used it to turn many men into monsters. He eagerly fights on multiple fronts — whether they be feminism, fundamentalism, chauvinism, -ism, -ism, -ism — and pitting lie against lie sets humanity against itself. Let us not forget who our real enemy is.

    May the Theotokos and all her daughters be forever blessed. And may we, her failing sons, be reconciled to our sisters in the blessed fruit of her womb.

  36. Dee,

    I believe I am following your thinking better – I agree yours was not a “modern” construct.

    Say more if you would about what you see is the “undercurrent” of this vigil and its end of “undoing”? As I said when I went looking for some substance/history I could find none, so I believe it is “ad hoc” (could be wrong). In the present atmosphere, the ad hoc application of the Holy Tradition in service of today’s (tomorrow’s will be different) idealism, strongly felt moral concern, etc. is problematic to say the least so I am choosing to steer (my family) clear. On the other hand perhaps the service is nothing more than the RC equivalent to an akethist , perhaps even to the Mother of God in which case it would be salutary…

  37. Oh Providence!
    Christopher (at 12:59 pm)…your comment is incredibly timing…
    Just last night my neighbor and I were sitting at my dining room table and she brought up the conversation of “spirits”. Her and I are just beginning to become acquainted. We have some things in common, but part ways in our belief in God. In short, she believes, but it is so distorted with this new age thinking. I had long before sensed a great deal of anger toward “males”, and I believe it has been taken to the extreme. She says see sees spirits. I believe her. She said it was revealed to her that she was a priestess in her former life. She is an artist, and I noticed a great deal of her paintings are of women. No men. Anywhere. She is also “well learned”…educated…all that. When she began to relate to me her experiences with “spirits”, listening intently I thought ‘she has been deceived’. As gently but forthrightly as possible (I needed to probe somewhat to determine where she was coming from), I asked her pointed questions about who she thinks these spirits are and why people attend to them. Her answers revealed “spiritist” beliefs. Later, I asked if she believed in God as Trinity. Her response was “oh yes…and the Holy Spirit is female”….Sophia and all that. A “female energy”. That’s when the conversation became spirited (!). She asked me why I call the Holy Spirit a “He”. She also began to rail against patriarchy and at the early church for siding with the Romans in an all male hierarchy…Exactly what you said above, Christopher…exactly! I read with great anticipation your warning: “We have to be sure we start with actual revelation and tradition, and not somewhere else.” Well, I tried, but she wasn’t able to hear. She just wasn’t able. Back to her anger, her brokenness was expressed explicitly as she told me how she has been “burned” by the men in her life. I know her pain. And I recognize the inability to process it all.
    Needless to say, I have held this conversation in my heart ever since. I realized later that God has been protecting her from severe harm from these “spirits”. She said she doesn’t believe they can harm you bodily. Well, I related to her the stories of our holy monastics. Anyway, she has been in contact with me after she left (she is literally my next door neighbor). I was afraid she would avoid me, but so far, no.
    You know, sitting here, later, I looked at our Mother and said to Her, now why didn’t I think to tell her about you?! Maybe she would have misconstrued even that, though. Taking our Mother as a goddess….

    Listen. please you guys, pray for us. Her name is Camille. Please, that God would reveal to her the truth. And that He would please give me the right words to say to her, with patience. I can get very animated…zealous, when I get to talking about Christ, and the depths of all that God has revealed…what little I know.
    Thank you. Thanks so much Christopher, and Dee, you too…for your comments.
    Father…your prayers!

  38. I had the thought that ignoring iconography is like letting priceless treasures of ancient family heirlooms (portraits) to be sold away at an auction. Why would a descendant come to want to do this? I have grown to love how the Church safeguards her treasures. If the treasury becomes lost, I think people have a hard time re-grasping for what was lost. Correct understanding gets lost, people try to recreate things, or people come to false truths…which are either half truths or lies. This is why this safeguarding is so important, which I now understand.

    St. Luke, the gospel writer, was also the first iconographer. He wrote icons of the Theotokos with the infant Christ, and of Sts. Peter and Paul. The Mother of God has always been honored for who she truly is, since the time of Christ. I definitely understand the words of St. Seraphim of Sarov, “that some things you can only know about Christ through his Mother.”

    Yes, Paula, you and Camilla have our prayers.

  39. Paula,
    I wrote a long comment on all of this, and accidentally deleted it. I’ll pray about doing it again. But I’ll remember your neighbor in my prayers. There is so much to say.

  40. Father…thanks so much for your prayers.
    “Accidentally deleted”…..I shouldn’t be so suspicious, but I am.
    Anon…thanks as well.

  41. In case anybody is interested I reached out to the school and this service I referenced above is ad hoc, put together by a couple of religion teachers (lay) and a group of high school students…what could go wrong.

    Still the church is a human reality, and our human reality is in this world. I remember Father Alexander Atty of blessed memory breaking out the book of needs at vespers on September 11th 2001, and praying some little heard prayers about victory over enemies, and just how carthartic that was. May it be blessed…

  42. “I do not know much about Estonia – but I saw a film called the “Singing Revolution.” I thought that any place that holds music in such regard has a heart for the Kingdom of God. May He fill it!”

    I don’t know, I hope so.

    In the service I described there were only five people. Maybe six. And public opinion holds religion in low esteem. There are some amusing aspects about the state of christianity here: all the churches belong in one church council. They have most certainly different motivations: the catholics want to reconvert everyone into catholicism, the lutherans feel like they’re being taken seriously, and the orthodox take advantage of lutheran hospitality, etc.

    For example, the orthodox use the same seminary rooms with the lutherans, in fact officially it’s the same school, just with lutheran and orthodox branches. And in official ecumenical situations, the orthodox priests accept communion from the lutheran clergy without any shame whatsoever. Maybe not everyone, but it has happened. The reverse never happens of course.

    And the leaders of church council churches all participate in each other’s big events. On reformation day in 2017, I attended the divine service in the bishop’s cathedral and so did the catholic bishop and the orthodox bishop, they sat in a special section where everyone could see them. I kept checking their facial expressions: will they cringe, roll their eyes, anything like that. They didn’t betray any distaste for what was happening and the orthodox bishop most definitely was singing along the Mighty Fortress is Our God!

    And when pope Francis visited Estonia, all the church council leaders attended the mass he held: including the adventist, the methodist, the baptist and the pentecostal – they had to sit and watch politely. But the lay members of those churches were outside, giving out pamphletes explaining why catholics burn in hell.

    I think it’s quite amusing.

    But otherwise, churches have very little presence, I think. The visitiation of the pope was christianity most visible here since… not in my lifetime. There is a christian heritage, but to be able to read it, you already need to be a christian, and most people now are unable to read the christian signals, because they are disconnected from that heritage. For example, under 15th august in my calendar it says Ryemaryday.

    What’s a rye day and what has Mary to do with it? Only those who know, know.

    We have these things in every 5 years called Song Festivals, it’s a custom that began in late 19th century and every Baltic State has one. To keep it short: lots of people, more than 100 000 in one small area, singing patriotic songs and waving flags.

    Someone snuck in a christian song this year, but it was very low-key and undetectable. It was a rendition of an old folk song that talks about… I’m not even sure. But the song is called Mary’s Gold.

    It has words like: Let’s go brothers and sisters, let’s go through the treaded path, the path where God walked before us and Mary spent the night, what did she (ambiguous, could also be He, as in God) leave behind in her footsteps, it was gold that was in her footsteps, who was the mad one who took the gold, I was the mad one who took the gold, I took it home and put it on the table, it broke the table…

    I do want to share a video of someone singing this song. He’s an orthodox priest and he sings it like it’s a very spiritually meaningful song. I don’t know what the song means but when I sing along, I also want to cry…

  43. Joosua-

    Thank you for sharing! Yes, the priest in the video sings the song beautifully, making me want to know the words.

    After your initial post I googled your church to see pictures and it’s location on the map. It has quite a history is such a lovely space! And all the roofs in that area make it look like the old, medieval part of town.

    Your reflection on Estonian culture and visibility of religious matters contrasts sharply with our culture here in the USA. Sometimes religion is a bit ‘in your face’ with ‘mine is right and yours is wrong’ hanging over everyone. I’m not sure how to think about it except to listen with interest in the perspectives of others without feeling guilty where is disagree nor like I must conform in order to love them.

    Kristin

  44. Again another amazing post. Thank you Joosua.

    Paula, indeed I will pray that God grants Camilla peace and a true introduction to the Trinity, and support for your friendship with her.

    Christopher, you picked up on words I used, specifically what I meant was that the vigil ‘will not undo’. There are many reasons why I say this. But that doesn’t mean I don’t believe in the efficacy of prayer or in the sincerity of desire to end hatred. The irony in the words I used came to me in a sudden flashback to a situation in which I was talking to my mother about the occupation of Alcatraz by Native Americans. It was breaking news and I thought it was a good thing, but my mother did not. I asked her why, and she said there is no such thing as a “Native American” anymore. What she was saying had profound meaning in context of her life and the life of her people and how she perceived the workings of this society. At the time I had hoped she was wrong (but never said so).

    David, regarding the founders of Protestantism: I will refer back to what Joosua’s description of his parish alter suggests. Such features suggest that what it was initially and what it became in the US, may well be very different approaches — perhaps even different theology–but I’m ignorant of the initial stages of the Reformation. Rather I’m more knowledgable and experienced in its effects in US history and in the lives of my family. But again, to be clear, I’m not so inclined to “blame” the theology rather the mindset of those who would use the theology (and even re-craft it) to justify their oppression of others.

    Dear Fr Stephen, please forgive me for “stirring the pot”.

    Let us focus on the most Holy Theotokos.

  45. Paula, et al
    I will try again on the topic of Mary and male and female.

    The current tragedy of our culture surrounding everything sexual (including male and female roles) flows out of consumer capitalism/Marxism of the modern period. Essentially, our world has defined itself in economic terms (one way or another). Human beings have, as their primary function, productivity and consumption. On that basis, notions of equality have increasingly erased the distinction between male and female. Almost the least matter of concern is the procreation of children and their nurture. That is a mere lifestyle choice – not essential.

    It is this deeply damaged anthropology that has infected the minds of most Christians (including a few Orthodox) and turned priesthood into a job, a profession. As a job, it can be done by anyone – obviously. But it’s not a job. It is a sacrament – and thus plays a role in the revelation of God.

    We only know things by their boundaries. If you draw a picture, what you are drawing are boundaries. They allow us to see. If there are no boundaries, there is no picture. The Church is an icon of heaven, according to the Fathers. It is marked by boundaries. The fathers also teach that the human heart follows the same model. If the boundaries of the Church disappear, so does the ability to understand and enter into the depths of the soul.

    I like to stress that we do not have a “male” priesthood. We have a priesthood of “very few men.” In my parish, only those appointed to serve in the altar may enter the altar. No one else: male or female. People ask silly questions like “what can women do in the Church?” as if one man serving in the altar as a priest represents “what men can do.” No “they” can’t.

    Together “we” – all of us – offer the Bloodless Sacrifice before God and receive, in turn, the grace of the Holy Spirit. This is worship. We all do it.

    The altar is just a table until it is “boundaried.” The priest is “boundaried” as well in his ordination. In his role as priest, the one who presides at the sacrifice, he is an icon of Christ. We do not and should not depict Christ as a woman – for He was not.

    But, without Mary, I think we begin to lose touch with the mystical fulfillment of what it means to be a woman. Mary is not a priest, though she stands at the foot of the Cross. She and St. John are the congregation as Christ is the priest. There are depths and depths of mysteries to be known as we enter the Holy Place of the heart. Mary is herself in the altar, by the way. She is the throne of God, and is thus in the High Place.

    Those who would turn the Church into an American industrial complex are not aware of what they’re doing. I think they lack knowledge of the most important things. But, this is a hard culture for a person to be healed of these delusions. “The way down is the way up.”

    Blessings.

  46. Thank you Father.
    Had to reread your response several times, while applying it to my neighbor, before it began to sink in.
    Sorry to bring it up again, but the cavorting with the spirits is disconcerting…
    but thank you, and all, for your prayers.

  47. Thank you Fr Stephen,
    Indeed it is a hard culture for a person to be healed of such delusions. Therefore engaging those who espouse such delusions requires a delicate approach. While I might painfully acknowledge openly some of its history and effects here, how I might engage with someone face to face, especially if they are inquiring, would be in very small increments. Fr Thomas Hopko suggests in fact that the way to begin such conversation about modernity is not to go directly to such issues but to begin with how to read the Bible and to discuss and discern its actual content. All in a loving and respectful manner.

  48. Thank you, Father, your comment is very edifying to me.

    I looked up the exact quote from St. Seraphim of Sarov, and it is, “there are things about Jesus you cannot know until His Mother tells them to you.”

  49. Paula,
    I think I lost my place in the comments thread. I was addressing the male/female thing that I think Christopher had mentioned. But, you’re right on the spirits issue. It’s troubling.

  50. Paula – If you haven’t read The Gurus, the Young Man, and Elder Paisios, I highly recommend it. There a lot in it regarding the dangers of “spirits.” Your concerns are justified.

  51. Dear Esmee….thank you! Among my thoughts on this matter I was trying to remember who wrote about his former new-age life. Elder Paisios…yes…thank you.

    Father Stephen…please know your comment to us regarding Christopher’s mention of the male-female thing was indeed helpful for me as well. I don’t want to give the impression that it wasn’t. I am taking in all we have talked about here…there is a lot to consider.
    I am very grateful for everyone’s patience and kindness.
    May God ever bless you, Father Stephen.

  52. Fr. Stephen,
    I was just listening to your utube on “Orthodoxy and Shame.” I’m only part way in.
    You mention something quite poignant and powerful. Mary nursed her infant son for some two years or more. Thousands of times in that time frame she was looking directly into the eyes of God and He into hers. That is so awe inspiring to think about. Talk about bonding, and that with the Child-God. Incredible!

  53. Dean,
    Thank you for mentioning the pod cast!! Very timely for me!

    Perhaps it is the case for every loving Christian mother and father that they see the eyes of Christ in the eyes of the babe they hold in their arms.

  54. Here is a very brief essay about Women and the Priesthood, by Fr. Alexander Schmemann, in which he presents many of the same facts as Fr. Stephen did in his long comment above at 7:24 pm :
    https://www.schmemann.org/byhim/womenandpriesthood.html

    It is a very simple and succinctly written essay.

    It is important to consider that the justice culture sees everything on its own terms, with a universal scope. It has been noted that with some specific groups generally considered “patriarchal,” feminists often hold back from criticism because of competing concerns, but this is an inconsistency. They are so committed to their vision of gender-equality that they do not see any alternatives as decent. I suspect that they think institutional equality would somehow prevent abuse or misogyny. It’s frankly a tragic dream, that (for example) in a church with female bishops and priests, the marriages would be healthier and everyone would be more respectful of women. They seem to think respect requires equal power and status. They have also dreamed that there would be no or little abuse in same-sex relationships. All of this dreaming is motivated by intense pain and anger – like Paula’s neighbor Camille who says she has been “burned by men,” they seek to reform the world and the Church in order to prevent men from “burning” women. On the other hand, men’s rights activists consistently say they have been “burned by women,” and they exhibit the same pattern of wanting to reform society to prevent abuse and establish safety and comfort for their in-group.

    Archbishop Iakovos of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese who famously marched with Dr. Martin Luther King in Alabama said he that he did so because he wanted revenge against those who had abused him as a “third-class citizen” in his homeland. Social justice efforts seem to almost always be motivated by experiences of abuse. This provides an avenue for responding to reformers – they need help coping with their traumatic experiences, and sometimes want to be seen as more righteous than those people who abused them (because they associate such deep shame with injustice and sin). But the only true “balm for the heart” available for healing a person’s interpersonal injuries is forgiveness, and Christianity excels at forgiveness. I think that education and training in forgiveness could reduce the various political extremisms and unhealthy desires to change the world that are sparked by painful incidents of abuse.

    I have participated in social justice efforts before as a college student, and was aghast at how angry my fellow activists were. They put themselves at risk with their non-forgiveness and anger, as anger can cause heart disease and all sorts of health problems. Of course indignation can be righteous, but not with a holier-than-thou attitude or extremist ideologies. I think anger is the greatest general emotional problem people have these days, at least in the West. Anger can be transformed into peaceful love through forgiveness – and that allows a person to “be the change he or she wants to see in the world,” as Mahatma Gandhi explained is essential to real reform efforts. The generally popular effort to change the world through control over society and others is futile and causes strife and sorrow.

    Perhaps women seeking ordination feel they are called to be priests because they think it would allow them to serve God better. It is difficult to be satisfied with one’s “impact” as a layperson when fooled by clericalism and the idea that clergy are able to accomplish more as Christians. So another aspect of the motivation for women’s ordination, touched on by Fr. Stephen in his comment and in the essay by Fr. Alexander Schmemann that I linked to, is how the laity need to be humble and know they are appreciated by God and others in order to accept the limits of their role and the limits any individual Christian has. And surely men can covet the priesthood as much as women can, when it appears to be a powerful or guarantee-of-holiness job. My general response to the issue of priesthood is what the Russian-French theologian Paul Evdokimov wrote about in a book – that all baptized people participate in the “Universal Priesthood,” and this is complementary to the ordained priesthood.

  55. “St. Luke, the gospel writer, was also the first iconographer. He wrote icons of the Theotokos with the infant Christ, and of Sts. Peter and Paul. The Mother of God has always been honored for who she truly is, since the time of Christ.””

    I read it before, but didn’t quite comprehend it, until now when Fr.Bill has also written about Mary (imagine the timing), and repeated the same story. This is all new to me. But fascinating.

    One can understand why fundamentalist protestants (because that’s just what they do) stay away from Mary, but I’ve noticed a dislike for Her also amongst the liberal or cultural protestants (who don’t practice the piety nor the virtues of religion, but like the cultural value of it) – that is interesting. When you don’t even believe the things that the original reformers did, then why would you find the non-veneration of Mary to be that important? Some sort of cultural sense of superiority over “those catholic cultures”? I’ve heard that Luther himself venerated Mary until the end of his days.

    I don’t like the bible much anymore – it’s a long story, but once I started seeing predestination (fortunately, calvinism never made it too Estonia, so it’s an alien theological concept here; but a person who reads english christian websites will eventually stumble on that idea) in every page, I started to hate it. But the human drama of Mary and Jesus, is the emotional theodicy that I currently need.

    Is there a man, who would not be moved to tears, seeing Mother of Christ in such distress…

  56. Perhaps women seeking ordination feel they are called to be priests because they think it would allow them to serve God better. It is difficult to be satisfied with one’s “impact” as a layperson when fooled by clericalism and the idea that clergy are able to accomplish more as Christians.

    Ivan, there are many reasons women desire to be a part of the clergy but I agree that most, if not all, are rooted in the modern “rights” movement that insists on “institutional equality” (and I refer to Father’s post above concerning the sacramental nature of the Priest on how misguided this idea is) .

    At one time, I was part of a, ostensibly Orthodox, Facebook group where many of these people were constantly arguing for various modern changes to be applied to the Church. One posted an article by a woman on why she wanted to be a priest in the Church. Her reasoning was that she felt she could “do more”. I was surprised that she seemed completely unaware of the economia of the Church (her examples seemed, at least to me, to fall under that possibility).

    In the end, they resorted to a fairly common tactic, arguing that the Church should allow women into the altar to “assist” the Priest and perform his duties as needed if he could not. In other words, they wanted to be a priest in everything but name. After that, it’s a short step to acquiring the name. Once I pointed this out, they fell silent, and left the conversation. It was an interesting exchange.

  57. Joosua,

    “Predestination” is one of the many poorly considered ideas/theological dogmas of Protestants. The Truth is much more in the “human drama of Mary and Jesus…the emotional theodicy ” that you have noted. There is a great deal more in Scripture that is worthwhile for our salvation; do not give up on reading it.

  58. Some mothers have to work and many are single. A lot of attention is given to a group of women who are more well off than others and choose to work and have a career. And there are many motivations for that depending on their specific circumstances. I’ve never considered myself a feminist, but have been called one when I encouraged ‘equal’ opportunities for both women and minorities. The name chafed me. But given the political climate, I suppose it was inevitable.

  59. BTW just in case my last comment will be misunderstood, I am not advocating for the ordination of women to the priesthood. And I sincerely appreciate and take joy in Fr Stephen’s description of it.

  60. Forgive me I’ll ask this one thing. Does anyone here know the stats of violence against women in the US, and the typical circumstances? And is it appropriate to ask this question and it’s potential relevance to our veneration of the Theotokos?

  61. Byron….glad you responded to Joosua about reading the Bible. I didn’t know what to say. So many people, from all walks of life, Christian and non-Christian have read the Bible. But I think it can not be rightfully comprehended outside the Church (after all it is within the Church the sacred text was compiled). Yet, reading the Bible outside the confines of the Church has certainly been a path to salvation..
    Joosua…
    There is the story of the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8:26-40) who needed a teacher (Philip the Evangelist) to explain the text he was reading (Isaiah 53: 7-8). He was led to believe and was baptized. This is not a Calvinistic predestination, but the work of God’s Providence, which together with our willingness to turn to God in Christ makes salvation possible for all mankind. There is no constraint on God’s part or ours. But it is He who draws all people to Himself. He would that we would say “yes”.

    But how can I say that the Bible can only be understood within the confines of the Church, Joosua, without seeming to discourage you? I have no idea how, if Calvinism is an alien concept in Eastonia and you merely stumbled upon the concept on Christian websites, you “see” a Calvinistic predestination throughout the words of the Bible. Perhaps your back-story would shed light…though no need to explain. But I will say this….the Theotokos captured your attention…She has touched your heart…and never without Her Son. Could this be a means, an encouragement somehow, to return to the Bible? After all, it is said of Christ “in the volume of the Book it is written of Me” (Psalm 40:6-8; Hebrews 10:5-7)
    If you are willing, approach this is faith and trust, prayerfully. Ask our Mother directly to show you as you read. She always points back to Her Son.

  62. Dee…I suppose one could google the question about stat’s, but it is also said that much of the violence goes unreported. Then there is the verbal abuse to consider as well.
    My guess would be the circumstances lie mostly within a residential situation, and next maybe the workplace (taking into account the definition of violence) but also in trafficking, prostitution, and even abortion as it is violence against the mother as well.

    As for the Theotokos….She can not in anyway be apart from the conversation here whether we mention Her or not. She grieves, and intercedes in these very circumstances. And we grieve and pray with Her.

    And Dee…I wouldn’t worry too much (not saying you are) about being called a feminist. Those who do so are most likely reacting and covering up some kind of self-accusation (guilt), or resentment.
    God help us….

  63. Dear Joosua,
    I too was moved in my heart by these sacred facts of the treasury of the Church as I began to learn of them, as God revealed them to me, one step at a time. Every day, I find I am learning, and will always be learning and growing in these ways. Just today I learned about the Miracle of the Icon of the Theotokos and the prayers of St. Herman of Alaska…a tsunami was headed for Spruce Island, but dear St. Herman of Alaska prayed to God for protection of the island and all the beloved people, and he set an icon of the Mother of God upon the shore line. The waves never went past the spot where the icon was placed. It was a true miracle, by the Holy Protection of the Theotokos; Spruce Island was saved. I knew of this miracle already, but today I learned that the location of this miracle is called Icon Bay to this day. Another miracle I had known of is the snakes that miraculously venerate the icon of the Theotokos on the Island of Kefalonia in Greece. Again, I knew of the miracle, but today I learned that these snakes (that appear only once a year to venerate the Mother of God in her icon between the time of the Feast of the Transfiguration until the Feast of the Dormition of the Mother of God) are warm blooded, become non-venomous during this time, and have a Cross on their heads and on their tongues. They are “bound” in a “boundary” I thought to myself today… miraculously bounded by the Theotokos. It is fascinating to look up and read the full story.

    For a little more on the Apostle and Evangelist Luke, the gospel writer and first iconographer, this article explains how the Most Holy Theotokos gave Him her blessing upon the icons:
    https://pemptousia.com/2013/10/luke-the-evangelist-a-scientist-and-artist-saint-18-oct/?fbclid=IwAR0Rivz5utzN5wZT1tJ1YVKG4HR9podLvac7Ol9yjln-Rfs-uj2aXHnnIvk

    When I read your words that you dislike to read the Bible, what I read was that you disliked reading the Bible in the way you have been taught. Fr. Stephen has a lot of information on this topic that you can search for on this blog. I appreciate Fr. Matthew the Poor’s guidance in this. In his book, “The Communion of Love”, the first chapter is on “How to read the Bible”. He literally dedicated his whole life to this when he became a monk, so his words carry much weight for me. He explains the Bible is not to be read academically like any other book, or to be owned. In this way, man actually diminishes. The Bible is to be read as a text above man, to which man submits to God. I may not be doing justice to his words in this summary, but that chapter is very well worth reading.
    Sorry if my comment is a little long.

  64. Dee,
    I don’t know about the stats. Doubtless their terrible in most places. I think that the place of the Theotokos in a culture might only be relevant to the extent that the people in the culture are truly pious and devout. Nothing about the Orthodox faith, simply existing as a majority Church, necessarily prevents wickedness in any form. I think of it this way. There are “doorways” in those cultures that someone might choose to enter – where they might be harder to find elsewhere. But, still, they must be entered.

    Many lands that were once historically Orthodox (like Russia) have become quite secularized. Those who practice the faith are a minority.

    My own thoughts about the “psyche” of a culture are that the Theotokos can play a potentially large role. But many other things do as well. In America, for example, women as leaders have been sort of slow in coming – slower than Britain where there is the cultural role of a queen as head of state. It’s interesting that the first two women prime ministers came from the Conservative party. It wasn’t a “radical” thing.

    But America’s psyche has been shaped by its own mythology – the frontier thing – etc. America still thinks that it’s never lost a war nor fought as an evil power or practiced colonialism. We have done all the above. I’ve often said that we have no myth that would direct us in an action of public repentance. We do not repent as a nation…and, ultimately, never admit to doing wrong. That’s as dangerous as a narcissist. American exceptionalism is, I believe, highly narcissistic. It’s just a story we keep telling ourselves.

    How we think of violence is very problematic. It is glorified in our culture in many ways. Women and children are easy targets. The disease that infects us has many causes and tragic effects.

    I think the absence of the Theotokos in Protestant thought is largely due to anti-Catholic prejudice on the one hand, and the absence of an ontological approach to Christology and salvation on the other (in the manner of the early Councils). They are able to pretend that she doesn’t matter.

    I have so many thoughts on this…

  65. When Dee mentioned crime stats against women, I googled it and the site I looked at was that of Amnesty International. Lots of crimes, especially those in families, go unreported. The stats, if anywhere near correct, are disconcerting. It also had a category of crimes committed against Native American women. I bear shame over the way our country shamelessly treated the native peoples who populated this vast country.

    My stance toward the Virgen as an evangelical was definitely shaped by my negative view of Catholicism.

    Only today our 14 year old grandson stated that America does almost all things better than other countries. I gently chided him. He gets his views directly from his dad who is staunchly into the political scene.

  66. Paula, Fr Stephen and Dean,

    Thank you all for your very thoughtful comments. They ease the pain of some memories and are balm for the wounds on my heart.

  67. Paula AZ

    I don’t want to talk about myself too much, but I also want to explain a little bit. Calvinism is historically alien. Our culture and most people are blissfully unaware of such ideas. But I grew up an evangelical, and nowadays evangelicals are everywhere in the world the same: they all watch american preachers and repeat what they do. And calvinism was for a while a popular fad in evangelicalism, and to me it seemed provide better answers…

    I escaped from american christianity into a lutheran church, the local mainstream historical christianity here. But inside, it took me several years to stop thinking of lutherans as spiritually unregenerate hellbound heathens. Now I’m considering the same grace about the catholics and the orthodox… it’s a humorous exaggeration, please don’t take offense.

    I have read quite a lot of Fr. Stephen’s blog and I’m aware of these ideas and many more (even the soft universalism, the Hauerwas connection, etc). I am pondering on these things. And the Bible… Mary’s Canticle is Bible too, isn’t it? And so are pictures of biblical stories. Old churches are full of such visual bibles. And the liturgy also has bible in it…. that’s about the amount of Bible I can handle now.

    Dee of St.Herman

    ” I asked her why, and she said there is no such thing as a “Native American” anymore. What she was saying had profound meaning in context of her life and the life of her people and how she perceived the workings of this society. At the time I had hoped she was wrong (but never said so).”

    What you wrote here, sparked my interest and curiosity. I wanted to ask about it before, but didn’t want to go off-topic. But since you’ve made already so many comments now about native americans… What did your grandmother mean? And what do you mean when you say that you hoped she was wrong?

  68. Dee-

    Please answer Joosua’s question about what your grandmother meant. I always look forward to reading your posts and have never found you to write anything offending despite your concerns that you have. You have interesting and different things to say!

    Kristin

  69. Joosua,
    I had to smile: “soft universalism and Hauerwas connection.” Just to clarify. I am not a soft universalist, I don’t think. I remain agnostic about something that I think remains an open question (“will all be saved?”). That is, I allow that conversation to take place without a knee-jerk condemnation. So, I know I’m not a hard “bad people go to hell forever.” I have been taught to pray for all and to hope. I don’t like to label such things.

    As to Hauerwas. I plead guilty to that connection. He is not Orthodox and I do not try to suggest that he is. However, I would be dishonest if I didn’t openly acknowledge his influence in my thought and writings. If there had been an Orthodox writer with the same insight regarding modernity and the failings of contemporary Christianity – I would have been glad to read them and acknowledge them. As it is – he is simply spot-on in those matters. I also read other thinkers that I consider helpful. They have to be sifted – but, I think this is part of the process of being Orthodox in our present time. The best of Orthodox thought has always done this. Thus, I only quote Hauerwas when I think he’s right – never because he’s simply Hauerwas. I also quote Lewis, Tolkien, and anyone else whose words are of use to us.

    I had a rather painful comment (that will not appear on the blog) yesterday in which I was told that I do not have an Orthodox “phronema” (mindset) because I read and sometimes quote non-Orthodox thinkers. There is a false piety among some Orthodox that has substituted a cultural affectation for actual Orthodoxy. It celebrates itself by magnifying boundaries. It is, I think, a dark manifestation of shame and in delusion.

    The Fathers were not afraid of thinking. They quoted Aristotle, Plato, Plotinus, the Stoics, etc. Almost the entire vocabulary of ascetic teaching was borrowed from pagan sources. Of course, it was digested and changed where necessary. That, I think, is true Orthodoxy. The other approach is false – “we can only quote the fathers, etc.” In fact, true Orthodoxy is not a mimicry and the work of a parrot – it does what the fathers did, lives what they lived, thinks in the manner that they thought. That is a difficult path and has its risks – especially when it’s exposed to the world on the internet!

    Christ said to those who had Him on trial: “If what I said is wrong, bear witness about the wrong; but if what I said is right, why do you strike me?” I often notice that criticisms do not focus on what is actually being said – but simply on who is being quoted, etc. That was wrong then and it’s wrong now.

    Orthodoxy doesn’t live in a vacuum. It lives surrounded by all kinds of ideas, practices, etc. We have to engage those things intelligently and with discernment. I don’t flag in my work – only the critics – I write with the blessing of my hierarch and have had support across jurisdictions and national boundaries.

    I write all of this not so much as a defense, but out of a concern for inquirers who might be troubled that they are not reading “pure Orthodoxy” etc. My work has its flaws – I’m corrected from time to time. But it’s trustworthy. If anyone doubts it, they should contact my Bishop. Orthodoxy is hierarchical – not governed by internet trolls.

    I smiled at your description of the Lutherans.

  70. Fr Stephen-

    I just love your last response! St Augustine said we could plunder the pagans just the like the Hebrews plundered the Egyptians. In fact, this is one of the aspects of Orthodoxy-the freedom to read-that drew me in! There so very many writers who were suspicious and on an unspoken blacklist in my last church…half my books would’ve been discarded had I respected their list.

    May I bring up Calvinism again? My last Protestant Church (mentioned above) was a sort of neo-Calvinist Bible Church following in the footsteps of John MacArthur in Pasadena. Although I couldn’t truly absorb all the so-called doctrines of Grace and the TULIP theology, I see them popping up when I read scripture or listen to people. It’s a frightening theology for me. When I see it, I usually go to two people in my church with lots of varied Protestant life experience, including Calvinism, who have been Orthodox for a long time. I state what I think the theology is that I heard, then counter it with what I think the Orthodox theology is. Then I go to my priest and do the same. He is usually surprised because he was raised Catholic before becoming Orthodox and doesn’t know much about Protestantism. I never discuss these with my Protestant friends.

    I wish there was more I could do. I often feel like I’m shackled to the theology, because there’s fear that Orthodoxy is ‘wrong’ and Calvinism is right…I suppose all I can do is continue to go to church, participate in the sacraments, pray, wait, and look for grace. Funny, I see more grace away from the Doctrines of Grace than I ever did when I was supposedly believing them. I get frustrated by my slowness to convert in these areas.

    Kristin

  71. Joosua,
    I love that you are here! Really, I am equally glad for you. A soul searching (as Anonymous said, we are all on the path) captures my heart.
    Thank you for elaborating on your background. That helps.
    Just some thoughts…
    There are many reasons why some people remain in one form of Christianity. Others are compelled (by a great desire) to find the truth (Pilot’s grand question!). But within all the social, psychological, cultural, familial, reasons that are all so intertwined, God is present, drawing all mankind unto Himself. With such diversity among His creatures, and the culmination of events over time and space, there is still the need for people to find their place of belonging. I am not so much talking about our eternal home, although that is our absolute purpose. But I am talking about the need for communion with others….fellowship, koinonia , participation with and sharing intimately our lives with others. It is an image of the Image of the Trinity, which for now we see “through a glass dimly”. Though we live in a disunited world (due to the fragmentation of our souls), we still strive for unity by “belonging” to one of the many diverse churches. Though in Orthodoxy is found the fullness of the Faith, everyone is not going to be Orthodox. Although Fr Stephen has said everyone is Orthodox, they just don’t know it! There is truth to that! So I took absolutely no offense but rather understood completely your “humorous exaggeration”. God’s grace is always at hand, and it is so obvious to me He is doing a good work in you! Your heart is turned toward God, thus readily able to receive His grace, given in “portion” and fit for you.
    To answer your question about Mary’s Canticle, I believe it is what is referred to as “The Magnificat”. Yes, in the Bible…Luke 1: 46-56.
    As for reading the Bible, surely do what you can handle, as to be forced to read would actually be a form of violence. But allow me to say this, there is a verse in the Bible that says “And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by force” Mt 11;12. This does not mean a violence such as the hatred and condemnation of one Christian faith against another, or believers against unbelivers, but I think it has something to do with a determination and resolve to capture The Kingdom by our union with Christ. He died a violent death, voluntarily for our sake. Part of our determination is to (voluntarily) seek what God is saying through the words of scripture. You may not be able to handle it in great swaths (in fact, it is probably best for all of us to digest a little at a time), but there is a need on our part to push against something inside us that says, no…not now, I can’t handle it. For it is not us who enlighten ourselves, but God who imparts, rather, reveals His knowledge to us…through His Word. Joosua, do what you can, not what you can’t. To start even with one verse is to “enter the Kingdom with violence”…violence against resistance, and a willful submission to the Word where He condescends Himself to speak in human language for our benefit. I encourage you to someday open yourself just a little bit more this gift.
    And now I pray, you do not take offense in my words as well!

  72. “As for reading the Bible, surely do what you can handle, as to be forced to read would actually be a form of violence”

    Yes, Paula!! Aptly put! Thank you for those words as this has been my experience.

    Kristin

  73. Indeed, Kristin, forcing people to do things just doesn’t work. It is a form of control and domination. Even Satan knows this, and thus acts deceptively…not outrightly, but very sly and cunning, by undermining our thoughts. But regarding force…rather than being at rest with the truths we have have come to know, instead I think we tend to interpret disagreement to the truth as a threat that it may just be false! I think that is what you were alluding to in your last paragraph. But you are very wise not to discuss your thoughts with your Protestant friends. I made that mistake in my overwhelming zeal when I first entered the Church. It didn’t work out well at all! They are all still very much Protestant…and our friendship is no longer.

    I say with you as well, I loved Father’s last comment. Father, you are so generous in your words in how your describe your firm stand throughout diversity. Oh how we need such a reflection!

    Dee…one more question for you! This is regarding the accusation of feminism. (Sorry everyone, for jumping from one topic to another!) Do you remember reading, back around 2015, or even prior, a certain commentor by the name of AR? Her name is Alana. She is one wise woman…very insightful. She spoke in a way that entreated both male and female readers in a very forthright manner…firm sometimes, but she spoke the truth. I think you would be greatly edified by reading her, and all the conjoining, comments. If you would like, type this in your search bar to find some posts:
    “site”blogs.ancientfaith.com/glory2godforallthings/ARsays

    I think I’ve said enough….for now 🙂

  74. Father,

    I too smiled at what Joosua said. He has you sized up 😉 We don’t like being transparent at first, but there is a freedom in it. I believe it helps us see our own limitations/boundaries, and if we allow it the uncomfortableness of it can help us not falsely expand them where they don’t belong.

    “…There is a false piety among some Orthodox that has substituted a cultural affectation for actual Orthodoxy. It celebrates itself by magnifying boundaries. It is, I think, a dark manifestation of shame and in delusion…”

    This is one of Fr. Schmemann’s false paths (in an essay is reprinted in Ancient Faith’s “Topical Series” that your parish probably has in it’s literature stand as “The Mission of Orthodoxy”). The other being a compromised and false culture/Orthodox synthesis. Think Fordham, much of “The Wheel”, and for that matter many of the very secularized Orthodox standing next to you in church on any given sunday.

    Orthodoxy up until very recently was itself bounded and protected from secularized western christianity and culture. This is not to say it did not have contact with the west, it just was not immersed in it and an earlier and lasting “Orthodox” culture and Christendom was the norm. Now, even in places like Russia, eastern europe, Greece, etc. Orthodoxy is “in” a dominant secular culture – it is a minority “religion”. Orthodox Christendom everywhere has collapsed, and truth be told has done so much more rapidly than the multi-century collapse of western Christendom.

    A reactionary “ultra-doxy” that recoils from these realities and retreats into a delusional ghetto of idealized and abstract Orthodox Christendom (i.e. a false and forced Orthodox culture) is no surprise. Neither is the other failure path of a compromised and secularized Orthodoxy.

    “….The Fathers were not afraid of thinking. They quoted Aristotle, Plato, Plotinus, the Stoics, etc. Almost the entire vocabulary of ascetic teaching was borrowed from pagan sources. Of course, it was digested and changed where necessary. That, I think, is true Orthodoxy…..Orthodoxy doesn’t live in a vacuum. It lives surrounded by all kinds of ideas, practices, etc. We have to engage those things intelligently and with discernment….”

    As they say on the internet: This! This is so very critical, because Orthodoxy is now “in” a much larger and very dominant secular “cult”ture. I have probably told this story before but when I was a secretary of our little Anglican parish in the early 1990’s, I would get my work done early and read Anglican theological journals. One day I came across an article that reprinted 1920 encyclical of the EP that is considered “the” founding document of the WCC. I sometimes tell people that this encyclical delayed my chrismation into Orthodoxy by about a year. It’s naivete (e.g. Wilsonian democracy as a model for “the churches”) can hardly be overstated. It was apparent to me then just as it is now that Orthodoxy is like a boxer who has been knocked to the mat and does quite remember where he is and what he is doing. Orthodoxy has yet to properly “size up” the very culture it has found itself in for about 100 years now. So the twin delusions are quite popular.

    The “hyper-dox” delusion realized the significance of the internet long before the “compromised” one, and so it has an outsized presence in the internet bubble. That said, I don’t worry about it too much (but then, I am not getting regular messages questioning my “phronema” 😉 ) because my experience leads me to believe that the other “compromised” delusion is the far wider spread and normative one at the “ground level” of actual parish, family, and individual life.

    All this to say that your work is critical Fr. Stephen. You are one but of a handful in this area who are truly creative-yet-faithful when it comes to how to *be* Orthodox *in* are actual time and place. Indeed, those who even see the problem – let alone actually take it on and not retreat (consciously or unconsciously) into one of the two delusions – are so few and far between I despair of Orthodoxy even persisting beyond the next one or two generations. We fool ourselves if we think our normative praxis – our ontology, or way of life and *being* Orthodox in our time/place/culture is in any way lasting and salutary.

  75. Joosua,
    I think the heart’s desire to unite the Bible to the Church and to the Divine Liturgy is one of Communion with God. When I was seeking these things, I remember when an Orthodox Priest urged me and my family to “come and see the goodness of God”. Actually being in the Orthodox services (initially we simply went to Vespers), I felt a uniting of truth, beauty, the Bible, the hymns, the iconographic Gospel and cloud of witnesses…a place where heaven meets Earth. I sat through many of these services (before going to Vespers I actually used to simply light a candle in the Church and pray–I remember this now). I had some stumbling blocks in my path at the time, and simply being “in” the services softened my heart towards the Orthodox Church, and my stumbling blocks all disappeared one by one. Yes, it is very important for the Bible to be united to the Church and her Liturgical, sacramental life. Your heart knows 🙂. I thought this article had some very good points on this~
    https://www.oca.org/reflections/fr.-john-breck/bible-and-liturgy

  76. Joosua, Kristin and Paula,
    Forgive me I’m not at home and responding on my phone. I will give you an explanation based on a few of my experiences. But it will be a bit lengthy and I will do that on my computer at home late tomorrow evening. I apologize for this delay and ask for your patience and prayers that my words will be of help in some way

  77. Joosua,

    I will add one comment concerning reading Scripture. If you have trouble doing it without “seeing” endless statements of Protestant dogma (predestination, etc….), then seek out a spiritual father who can act as a guide for you. Avoid “bible studies” and such things; just find someone you trust to discuss what you read, as needed. May God hold you close.

    The Fathers were not afraid of thinking. They quoted Aristotle, Plato, Plotinus, the Stoics, etc. Almost the entire vocabulary of ascetic teaching was borrowed from pagan sources. Of course, it was digested and changed where necessary. That, I think, is true Orthodoxy. The other approach is false – “we can only quote the fathers, etc.” In fact, true Orthodoxy is not a mimicry and the work of a parrot – it does what the fathers did, lives what they lived, thinks in the manner that they thought. That is a difficult path and has its risks – especially when it’s exposed to the world on the internet!

    Christ said to those who had Him on trial: “If what I said is wrong, bear witness about the wrong; but if what I said is right, why do you strike me?” I often notice that criticisms do not focus on what is actually being said – but simply on who is being quoted, etc. That was wrong then and it’s wrong now.

    Orthodoxy doesn’t live in a vacuum. It lives surrounded by all kinds of ideas, practices, etc. We have to engage those things intelligently and with discernment.

    So true! And wonderfully said, Father. Many thanks!

  78. Joosua and Kristin,
    I’m starting this late Sunday night at my time zone which will be early morning the next day in Fr Stephen’s time zone.

    There are so many ways to answer this question. So I’m just starting off in a direction and hope and pray that what I write might be edifying and helpful.

    My mother’s family had lived somewhere at the north end of the everglades of Florida when my mother was born. I was never told where her exact birth place was because she would say simply “Florida” and I suppose she did this in order to obfuscate what/where my origins are, at least in my records. She wanted her children to be “white” and she married dad specifically for this purpose. I believe she eventually loved him, but it was likely for the security he offered her (he was white) from harm, not necessarily for financial reasons (but they too played a part). When my dad left home for business that required him to be away for a few weeks, she literally barricaded our home with wedged two by fours and furniture, doors and windows. And she kept a gun always under her side of the mattress.

    Please forgive me I’m attempting to say this delicately, my sense of what happened is that some time in her early childhood a mob entered their home and badly hurt them physically in the various ways that can be done without killing. My grandfather nearly lost his life, however, and tragically he never recovered physically. The details are shrouded in the recesses in my own memory and I surmised the details by eavesdropping when I was young. My parents died when I was 17. To be honest I don’t want to think about this stuff but sometimes it comes to the fore when I come across descriptions of similar circumstances. As far as I know my mother’s family was not the only family affected, in fact it was the entire Seminole community that was impacted in that area at that time due to pressures involving housing development in the early 1930’s, I believe. I haven’t done anything to corroborate this. My mother’s immediate family left to live further north in Florida, some of the family stayed put. Eventually a reservation was formed in the area when I was about 5 years old. I wasn’t born in Florida and my immediate family never lived there full time. We spent summers there with my grandmother and my grandmother continued to live in northern Florida until she died.

    Seminole culture, what there was of it for our family, was lived inside the home. I’ll single out one example. We had “indian fry bread” but my mom called them pancakes. Then one day we had a special occasion to eat breakfast out. My brother and I wanted pancakes but what we got wasn’t something we had seen before. They didn’t look good to eat, to our eyes. But we got used to them and called them “restaurant pancakes”. By the time I was about 11, I learned how to make “restaurant pancakes” and showed my mother how to make them. From that point forward there was no more fry bread in the house.

    I did however attempt to live Seminole culture outside our home, in the swampy places of the south. What that means is hard to describe and it wasn’t really articulated as such. My mom showed my brother and I how to “walk in the woods”. This was especially important because my brother and I were always barefoot in the summer and there were a lot of poisonous snakes around. We were never hurt by snakes, and we never hurt them in the woods.

    There are memories of a noetic life among such indigenous peoples. But they wouldn’t call it such. It was simply a way of knowing that was pretty much common to all, having to do with living close to nature and in the same place with pretty much the same people for generations. There was a spirit of a place and such a spirit was always (at least in my experience) of a kindly nature. When I returned to my grandmother’s place it seemed that the trees welcomed me home as “their child”.

    Here is a story that shows the fulcrum upon which my life swung when I was in grad school (in Chemistry). I returned for a time back to Florida with my husband. This was his first time there and he was very excited and wanted to see an alligator. There was a swampy park with a boardwalk over the waterways. We walked there and he kept asking me to show him an alligator. I looked around and didn’t see any. So I prayed to the spirit of the place and asked if it would be ok to be shown an alligator.

    This is now the part that’s really hard to explain in a secular language, which imposes it’s own limitations. I’ll use a fairly concrete description. Where we stood the alligator could have been anywhere in a 360 radius. But my body turned in a particular direction and stopped at about 10 o’clock and my mind followed the direction of my body, that is, I simply looked ahead. I believed I was facing the alligator but couldn’t see it in the waters nearby and then looked into the distance and saw something of a tiny speck barely discernible with my eyes. My husband had binoculars, and I told him where to look. He could see it and he yelled out loud in his enthusiasm that he sees it. Nearby were tourists who heard our conversation. They too picked up their binoculars and looked. Then one tourist turned around and asked “how on earth did you see that without binoculars?” My husband piped up and said “she’s Seminole!”. That got the crowd excited and I turned heel and walked as quickly away as I could without actually running.

    I got to a place where I was alone and cried. And couldn’t stop crying. When my husband found me, he too softly asked, “how did you see it?” I knew what he was asking me but here is what I said: “I saw a speck on the water in the distance, it was going against the current, and I triangulated the size of the speck to objects in it’s vicinity and measured it’s approximate size to be the size of a large adult alligator. If it was a log it would be going with the current, so I believed it was an alligator.” And then he said, “No, really, how did you see it?” And at that time I had no answer to give him. I said ‘I don’t know’.

    When I was a little girl I had wanted my mother to tell me her stories of her culture. And indeed she tried. I remember a story about a rabbit that I kept mixing up with “Bugsbunny” and I think she gave up early on. When I was older I became angry about the stories she didn’t tell, and I surmised it was because I wasn’t ‘indian enough’. I had the belief that if we had lived on a reservation, at least there might have been a wider culture to inform me. But then one day I learned otherwise. A young woman about the same age as me was asked by an interviewer why she was leaving the reservation, and she answered, because the elders don’t talk to us.

    At this time in my life, since I’m still affiliated with the ‘academic world’ (ie university), I hear of the situation about how uneducable Native American children tend to be (particularly in science), no matter how much money and effort has been utilized to ‘successfully bring them through the school system and into the college level’. Ironically, for me anyway, it is stories like this that give me hope that what my mother said wasn’t true.

  79. Christopher et al,
    My guess is that on a certain, maybe different, level to what we have nowadays, Christianity has historically had many experiences of being minority within a culture – plus every think-able variation thereoff. Faith will always (even though for very few) overthrow the formations of reason, the surface of a culture that likes all comforts, and facilitates the disintegration of our spiritual treasure – preserved only by sacrifice. The folly of the cross and of sacrifice (which does not cultivate selfishness in man, which does not offer him any trendy refinement, so that the secular world considers him with-the-times) , is the true ‘foolishness’ of the baptism of the fire of Christianity, the life of Christ, deeply rooted in faithful people’s hearts. It is the life of resurrection, full of heavenly experiences. Since the Christian faith is not then a system of doctrines, and the dogmatic teaching of the Church is inspired and experienced by a daily life of fervent faith, it transforms the mind of man and makes God dynamically present inside the human heart. All this makes a Christian at all times and places a defiant “fish” that swims “against the flow” for its entire life, and celebrates this defiance.
    Elder Aimilianos says that when people in the world say to Christians: ‘have a little bit of discrimination’… what they mean is to be indifferent to their faith’s defiance of the world, to have a secular and carnal mind that does not go against the secular consensus. They want us not to have “the wisdom of the sepents and the integrity of doves”, as Christ says, but to be as people want us: according to the whims of this world. In the Church we find an enthusiasm, a heroism that stops at nothing. Man fearlessly sacrifices everything as long as he acquures God.

  80. Father Stephen, this is a wonderful post (and comments) – thank you all!

    “…There is an Athonite saying: “A monk heals his family for seven generations.” When I first heard this, my thought was, “In which direction?” The answer, I think, is every direction. We are always healing the family tree as we embrace the path of salvation, monk or layman. Our lives are just that connected…”

    Before I came here to read more this morning I was thinking of the two words in Russian (as I heard from my teacher) that mean ‘monk’. One was related to our ‘mono’ as in ‘alone’ or ‘single’. (“Monotheism” is a word I particularly don’t like.) And the other means “a different one.”
    A different one in this present age, it strikes me, is one who absolutely thinks in terms of family. Family is under more attack than, I think, women themselves, in themselves alone, have ever been. It may not be a conscious attack by individuals in power, but it is happening. Different ones, immersed in our current culture and burdened by that culture, are fighting against the stream – like your alligator, Dee!

    Our goal – isn’t it? – is to be, each one of us, monks in that sense of being different ones, tiny specks swimming against the stream. Seen from afar.

  81. Dee-

    Thank you for sharing part of your story. I receive your words as gifts.

    The noetic life of your mother, a way of knowing by being in a place for generations…I wonder if there is an aspect of being human in that that we are losing, that children have but our western culture chases away. When my oldest daughter was young, she said she could hear the trees talking to her. My second daughter thought of the birds as her friends. They had a different way about them when they were young. We come primarily from Scandinavia, without a cultural heritage that I know of that matches yours. In any case, none of the traditions were passed on.

    I am deeply grieved by the sorrows your family has endured and that you carry with you. I don’t know what to do but cry and pray. I often wonder if there could’ve been a different way for Europeans to settle here that didn’t destroy so much. I think it was inevitable they come, but to cause so much destruction and suffering? And that it continues today. I don’t know what to do with that. Lord have mercy. Forgive me if I’ve been offending in any way.

    Kristin

  82. Dee,
    Thank you for sharing some of your life story. We are all so very different except for our desire to know Christ and to be with Him. May our journeys continue toward the Heavenly City til we see Him and rejoice together forever around His glorious throne…our blessed hope.

  83. Thanks so much Dee for speaking so clearly and truthfully.
    Your words are enlightening and quite edifying.

  84. Yes, thank you, Dee, for your words and sharing. May our dear Mother wrap all her dear children together in her out stretched, loving arms.

  85. In any case, none of the traditions were passed on.

    Part of passing on traditions is the necessity of living them throughout life. Telling the stories provides context and focus but it is very difficult to actually live any tradition in these times. I think this is one reason life of the parish/Church is so very important. It is here that we are grounded in living Christ. Only with this grounding (or largely because of it) can we live Traditionally in the world. Just my thoughts.

  86. Byron,
    Your comment about the difficulty of passing on traditions painfully reminded me of my failure to teach my own children my native language (which is Polish). I feel great guilt about it, even if I tried for a very long time. But the effort was just too huge, at least for my capabilities…. So if something like that is difficult, how much more difficult is it to hand down something as vast as a tradition (of which language is such a big part)?

    The same was true for raising them in the parish community, unfortunately. They were raised in a very vibrant, healthy parish, we were friends with other Church families, celebrated birthdays and holidays together. I still hope these friendships (and most importantly their participation in the church life) will become refreshed and revisited by them in their lives soon (and with intensity that Dino describes in his comment! – I know it’s a crazy dream, but why not pray for such miracles 🙂 )…

    But at the moment, things are looking rather gloomy. Please pray for me and my boys….

    Here is a very beautiful article, somewhat related to this discussion. Thank you all for your beautiful comments.
    http://orthochristian.com/122934.html

  87. Kristin, thank you for your interest to ask and respond. My husband also comes from a Scandinavian background (Norwegian). He’s a ‘very down to earth’ fellow, whom I have loved now for over 30 years. I have loved their traditions, especially regarding Christmas.

    And I thank you for your prayers. God bless you!

    Dean, Anonymous and Paula thank you all for your thoughtful responses.

    Paula, I tried to access the link to read AR and have been attempting to do this on the mac. So far it hasn’t worked. I have access to a pc too but haven’t tired it yet. I do want to read her comments and will keep trying.

  88. One of the traits of the Theotokos that I have come to love recently is her presence that doesn’t impose and is unobtrusive.

    So much of this culture is predicated on different traits such as pride and self-aggrandizement. And because of this, I scrutinize my intentions when I write about personal circumstances in this blog. There is such a cultural draw to ‘divulge’ in our online interactions and at the same time, there is so much grace in these interactions in this blog and comment stream. Nevertheless, I’m compelled to ask for your forgiveness and patience regarding this self-centered aspect in my comment above.

    I thought I might share a link about delusions and pride, which I found edifying:
    https://orthodoxwiki.org/Prelest

  89. Dee,

    Thank you for your story above! And I am always thankful for your input on this blog. May God bless you and hold you close!

    And many thanks for the article on “Prelest”. I had never heard of this term before!

  90. Dear Dee…I understand why you would scrutinize your intentions before disclosing personal experiences on the blog. Often there is an element of vanity and pride when we talk about ourselves. Well, I’d say it is more than ‘often’, actually.
    But what do we do with our vanity and pride, though? It resides within us. How do you hide it? I have a great deal of trouble hiding anything! Perhaps we can take this “condition” and accept it , not so much approving it, but to assume that for many of us we are well aware of this misuse of self-consciousness-turned-self-centeredness, and are equally put off by it as well. That is, we don’t like this self-centeredness we see in ourselves. We do not “approve” it and would like not to cultivate it. And we confess our personal instances of this privately to our priest, and in supplication to God, our Mother and the Saints.
    I know this because when I recognize the element of self-pity within myself, it nauseates me all the more. And some people have very little patience with this. But you are correct…on this blog there is much grace. Through our interactions here there is the presence of the Spirit…He accepts, He knows our condition. There is an acceptance here, in love and with patience, that He is doing a good work in transforming that self-centeredness. Because we all have it. And the attempt to hide it doesn’t really work, because the pride is still within our heart. It continues to unseemly manifest itself, worse, with a false piety. That is not to say we should just blurt out anything that comes to mind. I think in time, little by little, we learn discretion, by being around those that have such love and patience and are our “examples”, our guides. That is what I have found here on this blog.
    When I first came here I was quite rude (“raw” is a better description), and underhandedly so. Slowly, the “raw” is being healed, though outwardly it may not be very evident. I try to assume that this is so with others. Father Stephen was incredibly patient with me. A few times there was admonishment. I knew it was well deserved and I respected that. I didn’t identify it as such at the time, but I experienced that very grace in Father that you mention is here on the blog. It has made a great impact. He did not disregard my self-centeredness. There was no condemnation, no judgement. And the Holy Spirit, still to this day. continues His molding and shaping, even through us here on this blog. I assume this is re-shaping is present in all of us.
    So Dee, while I understand your scrutinizing…it is a wise thing to do…I am very grateful when you do relate some deeply personal stories about yourself, because it is in doing so that there is a sharing of our lives. It breaks the barriers of isolation and individualism that is so much part of our modern culture. And here is the irony, that talking about ourselves in seeming self-centeredness and pride, is but one path to breaking that vicious cycle! God actually transforms us into His likeness not by a denial of our sins, but by His “hidden” work through our sins, within and among us.

    On another note…regarding the archives and AR’s comments, I too actually had trouble with the link I provided you with when I tried to copy and paste it. I had to actually type in those words to get to that google page. Anyway, I found in my bookmarks the particular article where AR thoughts were most elaborated. Here is the link:
    https://blogs.ancientfaith.com/glory2godforallthings/2013/11/22/the-borders-of-our-lives/

    God bless you my dear sister…

  91. Dee,

    Having grown up in Oklahoma (“Indian Territory – a product of the Trail of Tears) your perspective and particular experience of culture (both Indian and “American”) resonated with me. In my opinion it is the experience of a culture being swallowed up and in effect dying. Agata linked to a different yet similar story:

    “……It is the case with Romanian education as well, which is becoming ever flimsier from this perspective. No one bothers to cultivate characters and set broad, noble cultural frameworks…..Our forebears, our grandfathers lived in deep simplicity. They were bound to their grain fields, their livestock and all that surrounded them; their subsistence depended on a wheat kernel that was to sprout. People felt that all came from God, they lived simple, natural lives day after day…..Formerly, people on earth lived with God. A church would stand in the middle of the village, and it was at the hub of activity; everybody participated in such events as baptisms, marriages, and funerals—it was a living community……We are very, very far from what we are supposed to be. And this applies to us—people in the Church—too. We live as if we were very lethargic—a state that we have accepted, if not chosen voluntarily, ourselves. We are doing it of our own free will. We are fully responsible for this state of ours…..The Romanian nation is blessed with a unique spiritual heritage, but our youth are turning away from Orthodoxy. They fail to understand what a great gift of God they are rejecting…..”

    I have been reading Tolkien to my older daughter lately and each of the peoples (Hobbit’s, Dwarves, Elves, Men) are very (very very) strongly “encultured”. A Dwarf or a Hobbit never feels disconnected from where he comes from – he is never in the position of being unmoored or lost in a dying culture. This is not to say that there are not these grand cultural conflicts, or that a Hobbit on an adventure does not wonder who he is. Rather, it’s that the root and vivifying source of his upbringing and culture always helps him and supports him in the end. A Ranger in the wilderness returns to rule the white city in spite of the sins of his fathers. A Hobbit comes to realize that it was the principles of the Shire that girded him all along, and are indeed eternal.

    I could be wrong, but I don’t think any of us who read this blog is in this position. We are all Benedict Option Christians now…

  92. Dee,
    Thank you again, for sharing your story. I think stories of person’s lives are important because it helps foster genuine understanding. Memoirs are important in that these shared stories connect us with true experience, true life, and reach the heart. From the heart our true lives flow. I recall reading Anne Frank’s diary when I was roughly her age at the time she wrote her entries. I entered her life, and my heart was moved…in a forever way. It goes deeper than rational thought and we can “enter”. It may also help us to better love, to better see, and maybe, to even better know ourselves. Ancient cultures shared stories orally. Tradition shares stories. The Church shares stories everyday, of her Saints, Feasts, Treasury, and history, in her hymns and daily commemorations. Stories are important, again, thank you.

  93. In the discussion about the distinction between the priesthood and Mary’s role, (which was new also to me coming from a Protestant upbringing,)

    one passage which greatly helped me without getting too involved in the ‘male-female’ conundrum was the very beginning of the Gospel of Saint Luke. There, very nearly in parallel, there is an encounter first of all between a priest and the angel Gabriel.
    It is only after this encounter that the angel visits Mary, so once I had absorbed this parallel, with its similarities as well as its divergences, (and even now I don’t want to say flatly “the one is this, and the other is that”) it became for me the matrix on which the subtleties of interaction between the priest and the mother of the Lord moved in fluid harmony. How could one ever say that the Christian faith is patriarchical after this?
    It strikes me now that Mary’s most exquisite reticence throughout the Gospel accounts are in fact the human counterpart to God the Father’s own apartness in the same accounts. We see His Son performing miracles, and there are certain moments that we actually hear His voice saying a few words: “This is My beloved Son…” But He is not visible; just as she, in her humility, is self-effacingly so. His Son reveals Him, but also reveals his mother. In seeing His divinity, we ought not to forget his humanity which she furnished to be his human habitation. That is our hope and our promise, and that is why she is called blessed.
    Indeed, what priest could say as Elizabeth does that the babe in her womb leaped with joy as they met?
    Family ties, humanity at its best.

  94. ” How could one ever say that the Christian faith is patriarchical after this?”
    Juliaina…I am not sure if I understand your train of thought in your comment, so forgive me. Probably because I miss your point about “In the discussion about the distinction between the priesthood and Mary’s role…”
    But to answer your question, despite my ‘missing your point’, my understanding of patriarchy has to do with hierarchial order, that is, evident in the relations between the Person’s of the Trinity: The Second and the Third Persons, One begotten, the Other proceeds. from the Father .
    Hierarchy is evident in all of creation. St Dionysius the Areopagite laid this all out for us. We see this in the creation of the first man and woman…the woman is the help-mate. There is no “inequality” in this whatsoever, but I believe inequality has been falsely read into this.
    St Paul, in 1 Corithians 11, begins to speak about this:
    “But I want you to know that the head of every man is Christ, the head of woman is man, and the head of Christ is God.” He then proceeds to speak of “head coverings ” . These words have been so contested in modern times by a misunderstanding of, and an insistence upon, equality. Some say that St Paul’s words do not mean that man is the “source” or the progenitor, but that he means that man is the one who holds “authority”. I am under the impression, by what we have been taught, that both are true…he is “authority” and “source”. This is why we say the Christian faith is patriarchal. And in our fallen state, this hierarchy, which is infused into creation, has been abused. Hence, the vulnerability of women and children, as easy targets. It is an abuse of authority and the demand for submission in very cruel and demeaning ways.
    This however is an aberrancy. Your words ” fluid harmony” well describe the manner in which Christ approaches both man and woman. We are “equally” loved and He holds back nothing that is His from us. But it is impossible to ignore the fact that there is abject division in the world between men and women.
    Lastly, even though I am having trouble following your thoughts and would like to better understand, please know that I respect what you have to say.

  95. As I was listening to Abbot Tryphon the other day, he said the following (paraphrasing): As monastics cut off their will and obey the abbot/abbess in all, so with husband and wife. In the Orthodox marriage sacrament there is no exchange of vows. What there is is the placing on each a martyric crown. Both husband and wife lay down their life to one another in mutual love, respect and submission.
    God has blessed our marriage of 54 years in just this way. Many is the time my wife’s “no” to me has brought me back to the right path, right decision, etc. What a great blessing and joy she is!

  96. Dear Paula,
    Forgive me I’ve done a fast read and might as a result not fully understand the use of one of your words.

    With the meaning we (in the secular world) tend to give to the meaning of ‘division’ would it be appropriate to substitute the word ‘boundary’ for the distinction between women and men? In this regard I’m reflecting and synthesizing your words with Fr Stephen’s. Does this work?

    I’m reflecting on your words:
    But it is impossible to ignore the fact that there is abject division in the world between men and women. (Or is the meaning in reference to the secular world divisions created to pit one against the other?)

  97. Also forgive me in this latter conversation. In reference to men and women, in our Orthodox faith, where and when the priesthood (not the Royal Priesthood) comes into the conversation it seems to be linked to the distinction between men and women. In my own understanding of what Fr Stephen wrote before, no one male or female, ‘gets the opportunity’ to come to the Altar Table. Ordination in my own understanding is a martyrdom. Each of us has a martyrdom/cross given to each of us specifically. In this regard, no one messes, so to speak, with each persons martyrdom.—again I will likely expose my ignorance/naivety . But perhaps this is yet another reason Christ rebuked Peter when he attempted to dissuade Christ from taking up His cross.

    Paula please forgive me for my question above I just want to make I understood that part in your comment.

  98. Thanks for asking Dee. My words quote would do well with some clarification. I will try, but I tend to jump around a lot…
    Yes, I was reflecting on Father’s words that women and children are easy targets. And yes, the crossing of another’s boundaries is a very good way to describe the mechanism that leads to abuse. What I describe as division though, is the disintegration of gender roles. Pardon that I speak in absolute terms, but that is the only way I can make my point. This has all been said before. Women in our culture are objectified. Look at the horror of this Epstein case, for example. One may say that this is an extreme case. It is not. This kind of thing is not new. It is not even behind closed doors anymore. The tragedy is that it leads to the death of a soul…death literally and death spiritually for all involved. The tragedy is that many women accept this kind of treatment. It is no different than the subjugation of the poor. Pretty soon you see yourself as unworthy. And you try to cover up that shame and begin to imitate that same behavior. Out of desperation, lack of love, out of some kind of necessity, you accept the abuse.
    This is the division I refer to….we live in a world divided…fractured and isolated…and we would like to think that all is well. And the disintegration of gender roles is over the top.
    You ask if I refer primarily to the secular world. Yes, I do. But I would not be too quick to say the the Church is impervious to these things. But I will say that the Church is the only place to find true healing of the human condition. Oh yes…in Christ our God.

  99. Oops…Dee, I just saw your additional comment.
    OK, good point on the priesthood and that no man or woman gets to come to the alter, etc. My earlier comment was in reference to patriarchy as part of the structure of the Church…and not only the Church but written into creation in its hierarchial order. It is this order that has been impaired and I see that impairment reflected in between the genders. There is abuse in the authority given to men. And it has turned itself upside down where that very authority is rejected, and gender roles confused.
    As for our crosses we have to bear, I think we are doing that.
    Does that help?
    And please know, I value your questions!

  100. One more thing Dee. As for my own personal cross, I know I am supposed to humbly accept it, but I fail in many ways in doing so. I make no excuses. If it sounds that way, forgive me please.

  101. Thanks Paula, I appreciate your comments and for clearing my understanding of your words. And I agree with your thoughts at 6:01pm regarding the disintegration in our society.

  102. Very edifying, Anonymous…
    “… the holy icons called the Platytera, “She who is broader than the Heavens” in which she bears Christ enthroned in her womb, which is represented by a circle or oval containing the Infant Christ. Standing with her arms open, ever receiving all who are present, she is a precise figure and symbol of the Church with Christ is her midst.”

    Thanks so much.

  103. I haven’t followed the thread very well, but want to thank you, Dee, for your comments about your childhood. It is my experience and belief that especially the Theotokos encourages me to face everything about my life. That applies in delicate and hard ways to the things we cover up as children so we survive. I am one of those who senses things without knowing why or being able to prove anything. It is my firm faith that theosis, and in particular our participation in Christ who reconciles all things, drives us toward this reconciliation (in Him) of *everything* in us. Thank you for sharing your pognant and beautiful history and culture. Perhaps my comment comes, after sundown, on just the right day. Love from me and to the rest of the commenters

  104. I am a little confused by what is meant by ‘gender roles.’ The biggest difference I see between men and women is that women get to carry babies and give birth and men don’t have trust privilege. I’ve heard many things about how ‘women are this’ and ‘men are that,’ and these distinctions seem to frequent conversations where one or the other is either denigrated or limited in what they are/can or are supposed to do. This leads quite quickly to judging one’s neighbor when they make choices that don’t fit the gender role assigned to them by one group or another.

    Please forgive me if I am misunderstanding anyone here. I find conversations about gender roles threatening and none of you here are truly like that to me, so I am a bit baffled.

  105. Kirstin
    There are many ways to approach that issue, scientific, (physical, hormonal, psychological etc) need to be as clearly separated from political (sociological, philosophical included) as possible for an impartial conversation on the more secular plane. From the point of view of the Church things are quite different and within a context of profundity that the non-sacramental worldview cannot even begin to grasp.
    The more recent politicisation of everything (a secular neo-marxist kind of worldview) of the new ‘religion’ of rights, compared to the traditional classical Christian notion of the Kingdom, in their utmost extreme versions is a noteworthy comparison… : The most extreme and perfect manifestation of a Kingdom is that the ‘last’ – say, the servant who cleans the king’s shoes – is as indispensable (indispensable because the King cannot go out barefoot or with dirty shoes) as the King himself (who is actually the servant of all in the perfect manifestation of this). In such an extreme perfection everyone would have a unique value. Any distinction or role (including male female) is overshadowed by unique meaning.
    In the most extreme manifestation of democratic equality, on the other hand, you have a ‘system’ where everyone is but an impersonal and utterly replaceable cog in a machine. In the most extreme manifestation of such a system of equal-ness any distinction or role (including male female) is overshadowed by personal meaninglessness.
    I could have some mistakes here but I’m just thinking out loud…

  106. Kristin,
    I appreciate your thoughts about gender roles and the typical denigration that is implied if not openly expressed. And I will not speak about denigration now. But please believe me there is enough in my history to elaborate on this topic.

    I believe I understand Dino’s thoughts but I will place emphasis on the word modernity and the impact of modernity on how we think about ourselves and how we relate to one another. The disintegration that Paula references has been an ongoing process of modernity for some time. I believe one part of this process is the transient nature of our communities in the US, which is partly fueled by an economy structured for the purposes of utilizing people to satisfy the needs of various industries’ workforces.

    Honestly, I relate to people who are not my neighbors. Christopher referenced the “the Benedict Option”, which is an attempt to ‘create a faith-based community of like minded people’ purposefully. And yet this too is fueled by the effects of current affairs. Some people have to travel a significant distance to attend church services.

    Also conversations about ‘gender roles’ often allude to perspectives about the current ‘sexual revolution’, which includes one’s perception of one’s own sex identity and the relatively new concept of a ‘continuum’ in sexual identity. This has become a ‘hot button’, so to speak, in the conversation among Orthodox people.

    All of this gets funneled into conversations about the priesthood, especially since the pastoral vocation in Protestant Churches can be taken by men or women. This too is a ‘hot button’ in conversations among Orthodox people.

    I probably haven’t contributed much in this conversation. Perhaps the words ‘gender roles’ have been applied to so many different and competing perspectives that they have begun to lose their meaning.

  107. Kristin,
    I threw a wrench in this conversation by bringing up gender roles. I apologize that it has caused some difficulty. It is a difficult subject. Please know it is not my intent to threaten, denigrate or judge anyone.

    Dino…would you re-word part of your comment? You are saying something about uniqueness that overshadows distinctions (roles), as understood in the Kingdom…

    Dee, that the words ‘gender roles’ have begun to loose their (true) meaning is threatening in itself. Pretty soon there will be no distinction whatsoever. To me, that’s scary. But then again, Dino is saying something different about this….

  108. I had a sociology professor in college (this would have been around 1990 or so) who would emphasize the many differences between men and women from a scientific point of view. She obviously thought even then that these natural physical, psychological, and sociological traits were being obscured by a modern moral trend (which is now a full blown passion). This passion is now so strong I recoil from the language, such as “gender” even when I use it, preferring “sex(ed)” – but this itself can have a reactionary character.

    Dino’s point (which is anthropological as much as it is Eschatological) has this technical aspect but is important IMO. Modern Cartesian Selves have to *create* their own meaning since in this worldview the Self is its own source and ground of everything. Yet in practice this does not work because it is not *real* – we are in fact created by an Another, and so everything we are (including our sexual createdness) has its source, ground, and meaning from outside the self. The Modern Cartesian Self intuits it’s own meaninglessness, yet it keeps on doing what it does – falsely creating – in the form of “systems” of relatedness to other Cartesian Selves. These are the modern moral/political projects (for example, marxist socialism or liberal democracy and its “rights”), which have this double character of utopic idealism on the one hand, and a strongly felt (if rarely openly acknowledged) nihilistic desperation on the other. This external double character is an image/reflection of the internal worldview of the peoples/nation who carry them out.

    Here in America, this unreal anthropology is the highest law of the land:

    “At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life” {Justice Kennedy for the majority}

  109. I’ll add a little more:

    The Patriarchal structure within Orthodoxy is seen through the lens of this culture of this secular society. I’m grateful for a very early introduction into a traditional matriarchal (and matrilocal) culture/family. But “Matriarchal” also has the immediate association with the ‘New Age’, again through the lens of this secular society. There is no doubt in my mind that some of the angst that this society has created between men and women is additional influence in the conversations about the structure of men as clergy within Orthodoxy.

    In small increments I attempt to deal with how to express the faith without trying to ‘create argument’ and perpetuate this angst. For example, when my husband accused me of joining a ‘patriarchal organization’ as it seemed to him the very antithesis of all I had done and been, I asked him why he said this. He pointed to how very small the icon I had of the Theotokos was relative to the icon of Christ. So I obtained a very substantially bigger icon of the Theotokos and at least for a time that somewhat quelled his concerns. Over simplistic perhaps but for a time it helped.

  110. Yes Dino is speaking more about the classical Christian understanding of who we are ‘in the Kingdom’ whereas I was attempting to describe it’s opposite, modernity and the ways it defines and operates. These definitions are those with which we are familiar, and from which, the angst comes.

    It is good to describe the distinctions of how we are to be within the Kingdom, even better to live it.

  111. As a kind of p.s. to my last comment:

    Classical Christians (rather Protestant, RC, or Orthodox) for the most part have had a largely unconscious relationship to the fundamentals of modernity and its worldview, anthropology, “systems” of morality, meaning, and politics. This has led to various forms of “living side by side”, sometimes in almost open conflict but most of the time in a rather easy peace. What we call the “sexual revolution” is but a logical outcome of modernity, yet because it is a partnership of its radical anthropology of the meaningless of sex combined with the power of modern “rights” morality, it is challenging traditional Christians and moving the needle (so to speak) from “easy peace” towards open conflict. In my opinion, the core of the Benedict Option is not simply the conscious grasping of these realities and a kind of crude gathering of “like minded” individuals (such that all it really is is a collection of folks griping at coffee hour about last week’s cultural or political development), but rather a deeper and essentially *ascetical* disposition on the part of individuals, family’s (especially families), and yes local traditional Christian communities.

  112. Paula
    I think that any ‘system’ where the unique individual worth of each, is ignored for the supposed betterment of the whole (democratic, socialist or whatever) will start giving off the odour of hell while trying to establish its own utopia. A Kingdom, rightly understood, is something far less impersonal and faceless by its very nature.

  113. Helpful description Thank you Dino!

    Christopher please forgive me I had no intention to sound dismissive concerning the Benedict Option. I appreciate your PS comment and the one before that.

    I’ll keep my mouth shut now.

  114. Yes, thanks Dino. That helps.

    Dee….please don’t shut your mouth for too long! We need your clarity!

    So, I am wondering….is all the discussion about gender roles besides the point…is it an unhelpful diversion away from things we should be attending to?
    Also…what about hierarchial order, including patriarchy? Is there not a male/female role in this? Who holds authority? Who is held responsible? I know each of us are held accountable for the choices we make. Even though I ask these questions under the influence of modernity, please answer them directly. If I am asking the wrong questions, or they are too simplistic, please explain, simply 🙂

  115. Dee,

    No worries. I was taking the opportunity to speak to a common perception, not you directly. I should have clarified this.

    Paula,

    As the saying goes there are no right answers to the wrong questions. Where you begin is as important as where you are going and how you get there (which itself is a very anti-modern statement). So, there are no “direct” and “simple” answers to your questions because your questions start with modern categories of gender, roles (itself a term borrowed from the theatre which is congenial with a Cartesian notion of self-creation), authority-as-power (as opposed to Christian understanding as authority as truth, charism, servitude, love). Hope that makes sense…

  116. Yes, that helps Christopher.
    “authority-as-power (as opposed to Christian understanding as authority as truth, charism, servitude, love)” …. yes, this sets my face in the right direction. (I had a feeling I was “under the influence”…!)
    Thanks so much.

  117. Paula-

    I in no way felt threatened or offended by you! If I had, I most likely would have left the conversation. It’s the terms we started using that make me wary, and in conversation with others, not here, leave me feeling threatened. I apologize wholeheartedly for communicating poorly.

    I think Dino, Dee, and Christopher brought up modernity and the Cartesian Self. And a different view of authority that is not rooted in power and domination, but rather rooted in truth, charism, servitude, and love. These change the discussion for me significantly. I forget how modern I am, and thus feel far away from the Truth of who we are and how we are made as taught by the Church, in which I am still an infant.

    Dee-I love how your husband questioned you about your icon. He’s looking out for you! I don’t think coming into the Church need be a betrayal of all that came before, and I wonder if that’s what he was afraid was happening.

    The hierarchy of the Church has taken getting used to, as well as the male priesthood. Our priest is so kind and generous, and has explained it to me multiple times so I can at least have some comfort while I struggle to understand.

  118. I have, at times, come close to creating a t-shirt, with the statement “Gender is Irrelevant” on it, simply to annoy what I’m sure would be a large number of people around me (yeah, I’m that guy). I have not done so because Orthodoxy is not about annoying or attacking people (something I must remind myself of far too often; Lord have mercy). However, it does not escape me that, if we eliminated the word “gender” from our vocabulary/culture/etc., much of our troubles would actually go away. Control the language….

    Christopher, your post concerning the Cartesian Self is frighteningly accurate and an excellent explanation. Many thanks.

  119. I think when we speak about “gender roles” we cannot forget that Mary the Mother of God defies every stereotype of a male-dominated hierarchy as she is the greatest of the saints and greatest human, if you will, in the eyes of the Church. Following that, saints of every kind have been extraordinary specifically in terms of defying boundaries and stereotypes. Women saints have frequently led the way in personal authority and innovation, but *every* saint is extraordinary and stretches the boundaries of what is “acceptable” and holy. Besides, each one of us is meant to be shaped in grace. Look at the development of the disciples in the Gospels and afterward. We can’t put limits on what God does in us. “With God, all things are possible” after all. I would also like to add that this breaking of boundaries and stereotypes goes even to the physical, with our “dog-faced” saints (who has a namesake on this thread 🙂 ) holy and beautiful as such.

  120. I think I prefer to steer clear of the language of “gender roles.” For one, it presumes that men are all one thing and women are all another. In fact, that is simply not the case. I would prefer to say that every human being’s existence is expressed in a “gendered form.” This is closer to the language of St. Maximus who described male and female as “energies” of the soul. (in the same manner that we speak of “Divine energies”).

    I have deep difficulty with the historical analysis that has been done by those involved in women’s studies, etc. It is a highly biased reading of events that purposefully skews things and ignores others. Culture has very rarely been “patriarchal” in the manner described by feminists (women have had far more power than is often accounted for in history books).

    The Orthodox Church is “hierarchical” in its very essence – so is the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom is not a democracy nor predicated on democratic assumptions. Nevertheless, described the visible hierarchy of Bishops, Priests, Deacons is like describing a house solely on the decorative style of its window treatments. Women have often had lots of power within the Church (of every sort). Indeed, the fact that the Orthodox priesthood is, most normative, made up of married men, immediate extends an enfranchisement to women within the power structures of the Church. I recall a situation in the past decade in which a jurisdiction was in crisis. The defining word and action was taken through a letter from a well-regarded Matushka (priest wife). I do not think that any priest could have had such authority.

    How a role is expressed is probably more important than the role itself. Christ spent time telling His apostles how to exercise authority – but He did not think that they should have no authority.

    No male had anything like the authority of the Mother of God. Her “yes” was equal to God’s “yes” in the Incarnation of the Word. She also initiated Christ’s ministry “before it was time” as recorded in John 2. Historians tend to do their analysis in a very shallow manner, just like they do military events. They compare generals when they never fire a shot.

    Human existence is quite complex. It is, however, always expressed in a gendered manner and the genders are not interchangeable. The witness of Scripture is that one is not complete without the other. There is a mystery so much deeper than the shallow musings of our late-industrial culture.

  121. Thanks, Father. That makes a lot of sense to me. In terms of what we overlook, you remind me of the “explosive” (if you will) nature of the holy, of grace. We just can’t contain it in one dimension or another, nor can we anticipate that kind of surprising nature and growth. The wind blows where it wishes. And you me, today of all days, that we call her our Champion General.

  122. In an earlier post I described how my wife’s “no” had kept me from many missteps. However, I’ve had my own “no’s” as well. I distinctly recall telling her, “No, I cannot remain evangelical. I do not know where God will lead, but I do know that.” Now, 24 years later we are standing today in the Dormition chapel for the liturgy on this great Feast Day. We are crowded together like canned sardines. But instead of a fishy odor the fragrance is of myrrh as we are in the presence of the myrrh-streaming icon of Hawaii. The nuns are quietly singing as people approach to venerate our Holy Mother’s icon and receive a piece of myrrh saturated cotton. I have just passed the bier of the Theotokos. Icons are on every wall of the chapel. Sun beams streak through the upper chapel windows. I see reverent, radiant faces all around me. Small boys crowd past to get to the front. Oh, it’s glorious! Thank God in Christ for His all-holy Mother He has gifted to the Church.
    Surely more honorable than the cherubim and more glorious beyond compare than the seraphim.

  123. Father Stephen thank you so much for distinguishing between hierarchal and patriarchal. Frankly I was skirting around my own perception of the OT construct of the Israelite culture and it’s likely presence in Jesus’ life time. Despite the likelihood that it would be contested, I have always sensed a matriarchal system in place. Feminists would refute this. Many others likely as well. I don’t bring this up as a general rule because of what would be read into it.

    I’m grateful for your emphasis on the married condition of most priests and the almost invisible (to the constructs in this culture) hand of women’s influence.

    There is so much beauty in what you have written.

    Thank you.

  124. Very helpful points you make Father, thank you.

    Earlier on I mentioned that upon entering the Church I really needed to get to know our Mother. I realize that much more so now.

    Thanks to all for this conversation. It was a great help.

  125. I very much thank you, Paula for not understanding, as you say, my post. For, in the following conversations this wonderful passage from Father Stephen illuminated what I was trying to say:

    “…I would prefer to say that every human being’s existence is expressed in a “gendered form.” This is closer to the language of St. Maximus who described male and female as “energies” of the soul. (in the same manner that we speak of “Divine energies”)…”

    Energies of the soul – that’s truly beautiful! It so reminds me of the Russian diminutive that is an expression of love: “dushka”, from a husband to his wife or lover to his beloved – it means “little soul”. And it is so evocative of the lovely Dormition icon – where Christ is holding the little soul of His Mother. How beautiful, and neither matriarchal nor patriarchal but totally warm and tender, as in the story of Adam and Eve, where Eve is fashioned from Adam, and the Greek word there is related to our word ‘economy’ meaning ‘homebuilding’.
    I love the Greeks, even if we are a folly to them – ‘energies’ is exquisitely put!

  126. Juliania…what a beautiful description of the Dormition Icon…”neither matriarchal nor patriarchal but totally warm and tender”…yes, I see it!

    Thank you for your always-sweet words and lovely analogies.

  127. Thank you also Father for bringing into the conversation St Maximus’ writing that pertains to the subject, specifically a gendered form in the energy of the soul and the complementary aspect between male and female ‘energies’.

    This is a helpful expression. And during this conversation I too was thinking of St Maximus’ writing that might pertain. But my thoughts were drawn to his idea that each of us are living to become, in obedience, the person/logos we are to become. Perhaps that wasn’t necessarily mentioned together in his writing on the energy of the soul but I believe it paints so to speak a larger picture of how this all comes together.

  128. Additional thought: an elaboration on the perception of the embedded hierarchy in creation. (Adding a twist to the idea of King and the servant Dino mentions). We think of bacteria as ‘low’ life. And yet without them our bodies would indeed be in a sorry state. For with them our bodies have a biome that can fight the ‘bad’ invasive bugs that harm our health. High and low are given certain value in this culture. We might need to consider another way of viewing hierarchal structures.

  129. Dee…interesting that you should say that you were considering St Maximus’ writings during this conversation. When you asked me earlier in the conversation about using the word “division”, it was St Maximus’ words about the 5 divisions that mankind must overcome and in the end reach theosis which I had in mind. But I could not possibly put it into words! So I went down the path of hierarchy, patriarchy and how this has been impaired. However, my thoughts being “infected” by modernity. I saw this clearly in Christoper’s words that “[my] questions start with modern categories of gender, roles (itself a term borrowed from the theatre which is congenial with a Cartesian notion of self-creation), authority-as-power (as opposed to Christian understanding as authority as truth, charism, servitude, love)…”.
    I am thankful that Father directed us away from using the term “gender roles” to “gendered form” and “energies”. There is so much to reconsider here. So much to learn, and re-learn in such a way as to enlighten our very soul, as “each of us are living to become, in obedience, the person/logos we are to become”.
    These discussions we have are of such importance!

  130. Indeed Paula all of us who are Orthodox and live in this secular culture are trying to ‘unlearn’ the values and perspectives that diminish our humanity.

    Just a few minutes ago I read the words, “‘DNA testing’, to learn the ‘truth’ of our selves”. Whose truth? DNA shows DNA. But the meaning we put into it tends to be an evaluation that uses criteria of this secular culture. Does it really reveal our history? Whose history? Again such history is often reported through the lens of this secular culture. What we Orthodox mean by ‘becoming a person’, is out of the ballpark of what this culture offers to understand the ‘truth’ of ourselves.

    This society treats our bodies as so many parts, and these increasingly are ‘interchangeable’ with medical development. Hence sex is yet another interchangeable part. The reality of our living organism, which is our bodies and minds and the souls that enliven them, is inexplicably embedded and connected to others and to the rest of creation in a particular way that is unique to each of us. Rarely is this considered in this secular society.

  131. I used the word inexplicably but intended inextricably. Both work but provide different slant.

  132. Yes Dee. You provide a very good example of disintegration in the “interchangeable” body parts and even our identity as a person.
    “DNA is DNA”. I had to smile at that one. How true! You ask about our history. Well, our place in history as Christians are as “adopted sons and daughters of God”. An analogy, yes. But even if DNA testing could prove who is of the Father and who is not, it couldn’t be proven for “adoptees”! But we who hold to the Faith do not ask for proofs (though we have been give much revelation!).
    A funny story…many years ago as a Protestant, I wrote down my thoughts about being “born again” and being “in Christ”, and the Man Christ’s DNA. Now I can only give you the gist of what I wrote, because I did not save it. My thoughts were something like this:
    Christ was born of a woman, by the power of the Holy Spirit.
    Christ has DNA.
    When we are “born again” by the power of the Holy Spirit, we are born again “in Christ” and thus share in his DNA. (You can smile, Dee!).
    I wish I’d have kept that piece, because I had a long explanation of why I thought this was true! And now looking back I think I was trying to describe a true ontological change within us, way way before I ever heard the word “ontological”.
    Now as Orthodox Christians we know that Christ shares the Theotokos’ DNA…and She is the Mother of the Christian race!
    I don’t know Dee…we can’t prove “the truth” just by looking at DNA itself. But maybe…just maybe… their is “a mark” of our “adoption” in our body…somewhere 😉

  133. Well, a little bit more about DNA, mentioned in the post that Yvette commented on this morning. There, Maria commented:
    “latest discoveries (he had been to a scientific conference) about pregnant mothers is that not only does the child receive DNA etc from his mother, but that the mother receives something (i forget all that he mentioned) from the child and her biology/her body is permanently changed! What implications for Mary!”
    Father’s response:
    “And, yes, according to science, some of His DNA would have also been in her body from having borne Him in her womb. As He was crucified, a “sword pierced her soul, also” (Lk. 2:35). She uniquely shared in His suffering in a manner never ascribed to any other.”
    There is a “silver lining” in all this, regarding us who are “in Christ”, isn’t there!
    Thanks Father, and Dee, for helping me to make some sense of something I find difficult to put into words! Christ indeed makes all things new. To take this further, His “DNA” permeates, really, in all of creation. I think that is what you saw through the microscope, Dee. The resurrection inherent in the fabric of the universe. Making all things “alive”…even the rocks and the trees, and the luminaries in the heavens, exalt Him!
    Father, I see why you say that we can not know Christ apart from His Mother. I didn’t consider Her as such when I wrote that piece about DNA as a Protestant. It is really a good example of missing such fullness of the Faith. A very very big difference….
    Oh if they only knew! I pray someday we will all be under the same “roof” so to speak. But I believe that will only be in the age to come.

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