Who’s Minding the Kids?

I was sitting in a Sunday School class, and was probably around eight or nine years old. I cannot remember what the Scripture was that day. However, the room was brought into a very serious state of mind as we were presented with something and were asked to sign it. I had never entered into a contract before, but had a sense that it was a very serious thing. The contract was known as the “pledge.” The point was a promise: not to smoke or drink before age 21. I was not entirely sure of the point of the exercise. My father, who was over 21, both smoke and drank, as did his father and his brother. That’s to say that the men in my life smoked and drank. What I gathered that day was that smoking and drinking were bad for children and that I needed to be older before I started. Of course, for the ladies who taught the class, the point was something other. The assumption was that a person would not drink or smoke if they delayed the matter until later. It was an assumption for which I’m not sure there was any proof.

As it was, I did not smoke until I was 13, the same year I had my first serious experience with alcohol (a bottle of Richard’s Wild Irish Rose stolen from the local A&P grocery by a friend, consumed in his daddy’s cornfield). The pledge was dead.

As I look back on the experiment, its failure seems to have been inevitable. The two dear ladies in the classroom were not examples of anything I found interesting or attractive. Indeed, they were pretty much examples of people whom I found stifling and unattractive. They clucked and criticized men like my father and grandfather. The pledge seemed to me to be an instrument of betrayal.

Virtue is something that we acquire over time. On one level, it represents a habitual way of behaving and reacting, an instinct that has matured such that it can withstand the various winds that blow against it. On another level, it is the human stuff that is also transformed into the divine life in the journey of salvation (theosis). Christ Himself is what the truly virtuous person looks like. Our life in the virtues are always properly a reflection of His life.

In my childhood (in the world of the pledge), there was often talk of living a “Christ-like life.” This was largely portrayed as a highly moralistic life. It also seemed completely boring and unlike anyone I had ever met or admired. The virtues cannot be acquired through models that hold no attraction. Mere morality can never be virtue.

In the teaching of the fathers, the first most necessary thing in the acquisition of virtue is desire (eros). Of course, in our present culture, the notion of following our desires would seem like a road to ruin, the path to pleasure and nothing more. However, this is a distortion of desire. The passions have stolen the word (just as we have poisoned eros with the word “erotic”). In truth, we do almost nothing without a root of desiring. If we ignore a passion (gluttony) and choose to fast, it is because we desire something greater and more pure. This is true in the case of all the virtues. But we cannot desire what we do not see.

St. Paul went so far as to say, “Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us.” There are no words that could substitute for this embodied lesson in the Christ-like life. In the acquisition of virtue, an essential question is, “Whom do you admire?” or, rather pointedly, “Whom do your children admire?” Children are “copy cats,” and they’re supposed to be. When they “play,” they play at being something or someone: it’s how they learn. I’ve often noted that the many children in our parish engage in Orthodox worship without hesitation (though many are the children of newly Orthodox families). They readily greet the icons, light candles, and cross themselves. I’m frequently presented with pictures (of me!) drawn by children in the liturgy. (A stick figure with a beard pretty much captures my essence!) Our altar is bursting at the seams with young boys (and teens). It is a place where they want to be. In their eyes, men take God seriously and pray.

There are children who find their way into the choir (invited or not) and a significant number that seem to drown the rest of us out when we sing the Our Father. There is a frequent mixing of families as an older god-sister or brother takes on the burden of a toddler, getting them to communion. There are so many and varied examples! As a priest, I’ve never expected children to be “little adults.” However, I want them to see the love of God in the adults around them in such a way that they are not repelled. We don’t frown a lot in my parish.

If you want a child to pray, they should see you pray. If you want them to love God, they should see you love God. If you want them to be able to ask forgiveness, they need to see you do it first. Parenting (and adulting) is often one of the most moralistic events in our culture. We often shame children to make them behave. But shaming never accomplishes its intention. It frequently takes a child into dark places from which they will find it hard to return. You can lose them there.

None of us does any of these things perfectly. But we should not expect our children to become greater Christians than the ones they have seen in their lives. In general, our children will turn out to be mostly like us – for good or ill. As a word of encouragement, I would state it this way: “Be the person you want your child to become.”

Oddly, the virtues I can see some measure of in these later years of my life, I can clearly see in my Father (I can say the same for my vices). I am not the same man, but I am like him. My childhood instinct that preferred him to the moralisms of the religious women around me was not wrong. If I fought with him (and I did), it was myself I fought as well. When virtue prevailed, it was a victory that we shared. We are always later versions of an earlier model. In Biblical terms, we are Adam. Cain and Abel were not made from different stuff – they were two ways the same stuff was lived out. The line between good and evil, between virtue and vice, runs within each human heart as though it were one and the same heart. That same heart beats in the chest of Christ and is now seated in glory.

We are not in this alone. Character is never a private matter (nor is anything else in our lives). We cannot become what we want to become without help – from God and from others. The acquisition of virtue is the work of a whole community (the Church). It is good to be with people who also want to become the same kind of person you want to be – and to know that this is God’s work in us.

84 comments:

  1. Thank you, Father. Pray for those of us who are overwhelmed with the pressure of being a good example.

  2. Thank you Fr. Stephen,
    I like the “heart” I see behind your words. Parenting in our culture, instilling virtues in our children, has to be one of the very hardest jobs. And it is only accomplished by our good God’s grace.
    Yep, when I look in the mirror I see my father. I even sound like him when I cough!
    That’s a precious photo of the little girl. I love it when little children give an icon a giant smack…must make the saints smile too! Yes, church needs to be a no frown zone, especially for our little ones.

  3. As a young man and a young father and a young christian who sometimes feels very ‘fresh’, vulnerable, buffeted this is a guidepost, or a few of them.
    “Be the person you want your child to become.”

    I just love you and this blog, and our dear commenters.

  4. A lot said here Father. The moralistic sense of right and wrong you describe can seriously deprive a child from a healthy development, spiritually, psychologically, physically. I can give accounts with my family (and myself). It is more than sad. I do not know how this mindset can possibly avoid shaming.

    There are many adults who have found “home” (the Church), that even as grown-ups, they enter with the needs of a child.

    It is hard for those out there in the world. We really do need to “be with people who also want to become the same kind of person you want to be”. And we also have a high calling to set an example as Christians. But we do it, and it ‘works’, when we love…because Christ first loved us. Something changes inside and the love received is given back in return. This is how others (especially children and youth) know we are sincere. They are looking for authenticity, not perfection.
    God is indeed at work in us, Father!
    Thank you, again!

  5. Thanks, Fr. Stephen. To those of us who don’t have children, your article still speaks loudly. I was recently reading about the “new evangelization” concept in the RC Church. I must admit that I really don’t like this term – something about the words make me cringe. I suppose I am imagining being expected to stop people on the street and ask them if they are saved. However, when I learned what this meant, I realized that it is actually a notion dear to my heart. It is about sharing the faith with those who have had previous exposure but no longer walk with us. And it is more about living than it is about preaching.

    Although I have heard it more than once now, I get this sinking feeling in my gut when I hear people say that the US and Europe are now considered “post-Christian” cultures. I want to counter this with the many examples I see that it isn’t true. But the reality is that I am basing my defense on the people I know and they are but a drop in the bucket of the larger culture. Many of the people living around me no longer consider Christianity viable.

    While living the virtues is more than refraining from vice, I find that a lot of people these days tend to expect “vice” out of Christians. They think of Christians as being judgmental, hypocritical and blindly supportive of a political extremism that is viewed as racist, sexist and indifferent to the poor. Simply NOT demonstrating these vices often takes people by surprise.

    Of course, it needs to go further than this but I find that it can happen quite naturally. People I interact with in my secular workplace figure out that I’m Christian when we exchange pleasantries about what our plans are for the holiday weekend. For example. when they ask me, I tell them I’m going to the hermitage for a couple of days – if they don’t already know, they ask me what that is and then sigh about how they would like to go to such a place. This is a very small example, but it is a way in which Christianity starts sound a bit more desirable.

    And if I am joyful and compassionate at the same time, a bit more curiosity is aroused and the door cracks open just a little further – the door that had slammed shut when the person was hurt, disillusioned or disappointed by Christians or churches. Though adults to not imitate as readily as children, many are hungry (if not starving) for beauty and genuineness and love – something to give life meaning in a post-modern culture that argues there is no meaning beyond the one you create for yourself.

  6. It is somewhat difficult to see the similarities between me and my parents (and family in general), but I do enjoy paying attention to kinship. So over time, I notice more and more. But I am not sure that families and parishes can or should have so much influence – ultimately children have free will and do what they want to. While the Creed and Tradition are very stable, Faith is uniquely expressed by each believing person.

    I think that stories of saints’ lives and living elders can inspire a Christian to greatness beyond that of his/her surroundings. And the Gospel transcends circumstances in that it tells us of Jesus Christ and His apostles working miracles. Good literature is similar to saints’ lives in that it shows a higher vision. I am pretty sure that the people we have seen in our lives are not enough as role models without supplementation with good books and proper study of the Holy Scriptures with accurate commentaries (which is of course different for children, but along similar lines) – the technique of maturity and ascetic work involves Gospel-based Christology and love of human beauty, as well as parenting and community virtue.

    I do not doubt that children turn out to be mostly like their parents, but rather I think there are “cultural parents” and spiritual parents with great influence, as well as underestimated effects of peers and younger children. The gift of two small copies of a miracle-working icon of the Theotokos holding the Child Jesus in Her arms seemed to have more force in my conversion than years of attending church services (I was only baptized later as an adult) – I did not understand Orthodoxy until I saw that icon, and rejoiced in recognizing that I could actually pray to Jesus Christ and His Mother Mary and so repent and heal.

    It sounds mostly right to be the person I want younger people to become (and I believe I will be a father later in life), but also self-centered. I don’t want them to rely on me so much – I am not God, and if they imitate me too much they will struggle to imitate God. Independence from role models is important, as only God is good.

  7. I find it interesting that with the latest batch of mass shootings complaints are being launched that we have lost our moral center. While that is true in some sense one’s morality is always a by product of what or who one worships. We cannot serve two masters.

  8. Thank you also Fr Stephen for the post, and for this sustained reflection on the virtues and what we do with them.

    A few initial thoughts/reactions/meanderings. Apologies again for length.

    First, I was thinking that those Sunday school teachers probably thought they were doing the Right Thing, and in fact were trying to model prudence, and get their little charges to think about them. The pledge thing is surely in part an attempt to get the kids to think about bad stuff ahead of time and avoid it. They probably thought that the were trying to model the virtues in action and make them concrete! The fact that it was so spectacularly counterproductive in your case – and perhaps for many of the other kids – just goes to show, as you seem to be saying how hard it is to get this sort of thing right.

    A related thought is that I have been thinking since your last post about why is it that those ideas of prudence and temperance are now so largely absent even from our language (whereas justice and courage are still there)? Your anecdote helps. These days the main place I hear the word “prudence” being used is with matters financial. Being prudent with one’s money, and financial planning. Prudential regulators and that sort of thing. And maybe in the names of great grand aunts … But there is a related word “prudish”, which does get used quite a lot (and has a very negative connotation in these times). I have a theory that people tend to think that’s whats meant on the odd occasion when the word prudent is used to talk about the trad virtue. And probably these two words ARE cousins. I wonder whether your Sunday school teachers maybe represented prudishness to you? Where does prudence end and prudishness begin? And temperance similarly morphed back in the 1920s with all of those temperance movements which became about abstaining from the Demon Drink and resulted in the Prohibition. Which is perhaps now where the associations with the word temperance come from. Again, maybe as something rather prudish. The failure of the Prohibition to make a lasting change sort of again makes your point for you. But then alcohol did cause a lot of suffering, and it was understandable that those who were trying to do something about that would try and use a virtue word as a slogan. In the process they largely killed the cultural meaning of the word. Oh it is all very hard this stuff!

    Third thought is that your post reinforces for me how in real life the virtues do work together, and need to. I commented on your last post how humility needed to leaven prudence and temperance or else these risked morphing into ego stuff. I think I have to broaden that to include the other two I mentioned which are kindness and patience. Temperance in particular does need a big does of kindness, including to oneself as one tries it out. It’s St Paul’s athlete thing again. E.g. if you want to get better at self control, you need both to be humble (particularly in the sense of “oh, that didn’t turn out too well, where did I go wrong, how can I do better next time”), and to be kind to oneself, and to have patience, or it just won’t work. Do you think this is in part what it takes to acquire the virtues “over time”? And perhaps kindness and patience are perhaps the most critical virtues to develop and then act on if one is trying to impart the virtues to younger folk, because they SENSE it when they are not there and have morphed into control and, well, prudishness.

    Fourth, thinking about all of the above, I wonder whether what you are talking about is partly why Christianity is in such bad odour these days in the West. Yes, we do have fairly ruthless enemies, but they were much worse during the first three centuries in the Roman Empire. It seems to me that a lot of the media coverage of Christians is of people just being prudish, rather than modelling prudence; and saying things about punishment rather than talking about the value of self control? And in all of it there is often not a lot of kindness or patience, and definitely not humility (not that the media is interested in humility, or even understands it – modesty yes up to a point, humility not at all). By contrast from what I have read the early Christians spent a lot of time being obviously kind, even to people who were persecuting them, often being the only ones to minister to the sick during plagues and so on. That was pretty influential, and changed hearts.

    Fifthly and finally, I attended a couple of days ago the funeral of one of the deacons at my (Anglican) church. This also happened to be on the feast of St Monica (in the Western Churches), who was Augustine’s mother. I understand that Augustine is not an Orthodox saint, but interestingly Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saint_Monica tells me that Monica is. Our rector pointed out in his sermon that in his Confessions (which alas I have not as yet read) Augustine says that of all the people in his life it was his mother Monica who always modeled what it was like to be a Christian and who had a massive formative effect, even when he was off straying as a young man (which the Confessions detail). She was always praying for him, and looking out form him, and showing patience and kindness even when he was not living a particularly “Christian” lifestyle. I was thinking that this is a great example of what you were saying both about how our modelling of the virtues often pays longer term dividends, and how we can end up with reflecting our parents in interesting ways. All this has me wanting to go and read the Confessions to see how the story turned out!

  9. Chris,
    Augustine is an Orthodox saint. It just goes to show that being a saint doesn’t necessarily make you perfect theologically. 🙂

    As to the good ladies of my Sunday School. No doubt, they “meant well.” I would contrast them with a woman who taught my Sunday School class in its pre-school form. There, I encountered wonderful love – and it was there that I first came to love Jesus.

    Moralism, when it fails, does so for lack of love. Where Christianity in modern culture has failed (when it fails) has precisely been for a lack of love – true love. None of the virtues are formed rightly except by love.

  10. Michael,
    The comments about our moral center are the better ones, because they acknowledge that this is our problem, not a problem only of the people doing the shooting. The general comments by some leaders, especially our president, are leading to a stigma around mental illness which is unscientific and dehumanizing. The problem of gun violence oddly does not seem to concern most Americans in a real way – they are still numb to it, not committed to responding until it touches them personally. One of the victims in Parkland, Florida was a gun salesman, and since then he changed careers to counseling (his choice appeals to me, but my point here is that he only took action when his teenaged daughter was murdered). That is a big change, while usually the response to bad news is no change at all, rather an idle complaint demanding that governmental authorities solve the problem (which is not possible, as it is a symptom of a spiritual problem). I wonder what it takes to empower people to stop complaining and start taking nonviolent, constructive action.

    I have an older friend who wrote an affordable, self-published memoir and guide to forgiveness in response to the epidemic of mass shootings. It’s a good book, and she meant that people tempted to commit violence tend to be extremely angry and humiliated by abuse, so forgiveness can soothe their hearts and prevent shootings. But there’s a deception in our culture’s complaining about mass shootings – it’s treated as something the Other does, something foreign to who we are. But the shooters are ordinary people, fallen into this sin because they are deeply abused and frightened to the point that they hate humanity and seek to defend themselves against innocents. The mass psychology where Americans worship “us the good people” as an idol is a big problem, as this scapegoating leads to wars and persecutions. It takes a lot of courage to admit I am not so different in nature than a “criminal” who does violent things, but if I want to repent, then I must accept my place as the first among sinners.

    It has been pointed out that mass shootings have a very strong correlation with hateful ideologies, yet the media does not really cover this aspect well so it is not well known (even though it is somewhat obvious that angry words and thoughts precede violence). Hateful actions do not occur in a vacuum. Hate can be healed, but “deradicalization” as it is called is very underfunded and ignored. Oddly everyone neglects how simple and humane recovery is – it’s mostly a matter of showing someone that we all have common humanity and are loved by God. In a sense the abuse (often bullying) that leads to shootings teaches vulnerable youth that they are not lovable, and abuse always expresses some lies. Correcting these lies is an educational process, but even if it’s hard work, it’s much easier than neglecting these serious needs. Life After Hate is the leading non-profit organization of “formers” who have left hate groups doing deradicalization. It is crucial to recognize how attainable and simple (not easy, but not complicated either) it is to solve the mass shooting problem.

    It would not be so hard to organize a targeted program to prevent mass shootings by reaching struggling people before they give up all hope, but America right now lacks the compassionate will for healing programs. We are too distracted and aware that if we speak up we put ourselves at risk to repent. I remember one time last spring I was waiting in line to get on the bus to go home, and I was shocked to hear racial taunts from one young man to another one in line with me. I felt an instinctive desire to protect the boy being teased, but felt too anxious, threatened, and hurt to say anything. That is the relevant problem in my own life – sinful silence, a lack of necessary boundaries or assertiveness.

    A criminal defense attorney once told me (he is a talented professor) and my classmates that people only commit crimes in despair, when they have lost all hope. I think that means we must spread hope to prevent crime, especially expressing compassion to the downtrodden and isolated. Regaining our moral center is necessary for our salvation, and likely we cannot organize a solution to the mass shooting crisis without restoring a culture of virtue and peace-making. Peace needs to be cool for young men to enjoy peace – it cannot be weak or a hippy movement anti-Vietnam War relic. I love peace, but it is frankly not so interesting to most young men due to the stigma around loving, seemingly feminine virtues. Our society opposes gentleness in men, which is related to the absurd idea that Christianity is for women. I think the ultimate tools we have in resisting violence are as Fr. Stephen tells us generally, the liturgical mysteries/sacraments and prayer. I feel much more committed to prayer over time as I remember and quickly confess old sins that hold me back from wholehearted communion. I think right now better (undistracted) prayer is the main thing I can do, together with better listening whenever anyone speaks to me. Simple respect is powerful.

  11. Ivan,
    The media has little interest in understanding problems – they are largely political outlets interested in making political points and little more.

    The problems associated with our shootings are quite complex – it’s like a symptom of a much more systemic disease. The “gun” aspect of the problem (as a solution) would require actions so unknown in American culture (the confiscation of all guns) as to be unthinkable – it will only ever be something to talk about and argue over – pretty much a useless conversation.

    We are a deeply, deeply sick culture, an empire that is slowly spiraling in decline. America is the “fix-it” culture, always searching for solutions. It’s solutions have also been a source for some of the disease. Many of the solutions we imagine today would only be more of the same. Modernity (the various collection of modern philosophies) is failing as has been inevitable. Every solution, I think, would violate modernity itself. I suspect that it will simply have to burn itself out – and in its course will do untold damage. That was the case of the Soviet Union. If Russia recovers, it will take generations (of course, Russia was in terrible shape even before the Revolution).

    I sound like a prophet of doom – I know. I am very hopeful and encouraged by the faith and think that nothing will alter God’s providential work for the salvation of all. But in the long view of things – we’re heading into increasingly terrible times. It is good to pray, to love, to hope, and to live as virtuous a life as possible – the end of all this will not come until after we have passed. History is slow.

  12. Fr. Stephen Freeman says:

    I love St. Augustine, but he is difficult to understand in his theology because he was recovering from a life of ignorance. On the other hand, his Confessions are surprisingly compatible with postmodern life. I hope to finish reading that book someday.

    I agree that to love Jesus one must “encounter wonderful love.” For me this happened on YouTube, even though the mixture of Protestant theology and Zen Buddhist philosophy in those unusual apologetics videos was overall heretical (as usual, no ecclessiology, and disregard for the Mysteries and repentance). The value of those videos was in the longsuffering, empathy, and intentional compassion of the young speaker. He worked hard to be faithful and present the Gospel vividly. It worked because he explained how the martyrdom of Christianity makes sense and is possible – through unification with Jesus Christ and total trust in Him. Rarely does anyone explain this lesson, especially outside of a Orthodox context.

    I am very grateful for this simple thesis: “None of the virtues are formed rightly except by love.” This reminder to deepen my love for others is crucial. Well, I’ll go pray now!

  13. “Moralism, when it fails, does so for lack of love.”
    There, you said it Father! Yes, true love, Christ-like love. Anything other than this is coercion, even when cloaked in concern ‘for your own good’, giving the appearance of a purely altruistic motive.
    A moralistic approach, when it comes down to it, is mere window-dressing, I suspect, put on to ‘look good’. Thus, rather than magnifying Christ within, it magnifies the self in self-satisfaction by assuming oneself to be a “good” example by refraining from certain things. Yes, we most assuredly are to refrain from things harmful, but the moralistic approach totally misses the real cultivation of virtue which develops into a genuine change of heart, that is, our entire being.
    This is why to insist on refraining from alcohol or tobacco, or any manner of outward appearance without a true change within truly results in ‘whitewashed tombs full of dead mans bones’. It is so obvious to the young who are searching for the Truth, as well as adults who can not longer bear such hypocrisy.
    What I’m saying here is that in the cultivation of virtue, imparted through the love of God, where kindness and compassion are inseparable, our ‘habits’ can not but develop into wholesomeness. These things, by grace, will work themselves out in the long run. Abstinence, if it is to occur, should be voluntary, and pursued for the right reasons, as.for example, ascetic purposes.
    God always works for our good. He is not diverted by what He sees outwardly!

  14. Well Father…to the young and idealistic (with honorable intentions, I might add), you may sound like a prophet of gloom, but there are those who hear you as speaking straight on, realistically. The ancients sought to kill the Prophets of old because they didn’t want to hear the “gloom”.
    We have seen, in the history of the world that worldly kingdoms, all of them, fall. This was meant to be, believe it or not, for the salvation of the world!
    We’ve been taught to live knowing that the Lord’s Kingdom has come. And it is there where we live out our lives. It is from that perspective where we serve others. If this point is missed, I’m afraid there will be great disappointment, 30-40 years down the line, to finally realize that no program, no committee, no amount of sympathy, blame, correction, provision…is able to “improve” this culture’s downward spiral. It is way too far gone and will indeed come to its own end.
    I have learned (finally, after many years) to listen and to consider the words of those who have come before me. Their perspective is much wider than mine…through the acquisition of wisdom and the experience of tradition. I have found ones I can trust, and therefore trust their response to my thoughts and questions. God provides among His people!

    So yes, Michael is right, regarding these worldly matters, we can not serve two masters.

  15. Dear Father Stephen,
    I have always struggled with your phrase to “bear a little shame”. But with this post it all makes sense. Thank you!
    When we are shamed as children by a parent in order to get us to behave differently, it is indeed often a hole that is very hard to get out of. However there is a good sort of shame that we feel for our own short-comings before the perfect love of Our Father. This is your “bearing a little shame”. This is a shame we feel for ourselves, not something forced onto us. We feel the shame and love more, there is a feedback mechanism at work.
    I have been mixing up the shame felt by an overly admonished child, with the self-imposed shame of our adult fragility before the All Loving God. All is now much clearer,
    Thank you once again!

  16. Rita,
    Somewhere, perhaps, in my writings on shame, I made the point that “bearing a little shame” can only be voluntary – it can never be imposed. I’ll have to dig around for it. I make the point pretty carefully when I lecture on the topic. When it is not voluntary, it easily becomes topic and soul-killing.

  17. I’ve been pondering the message to be the person you hope your children will be. It’s a bit of a paradox. In my own life, I want to be on the journey toward Theosis. But, I am far from it, so my “example,” if you will is quite flawed. Meanwhile, the “world” offers models (literally) for its adherents which appear quite perfect on various media. So, the world’s ways appear to be far better to the unsuspecting young. I don’t know that there’s anything for it except to be true to our faith that God is working all things together. It’s painful, however, to watch our children and their peers seduced by the consumer/materialist/secular paradise proffered. Our less “cool” way of life may not seem worth looking at for many years…and with many bumped knees to be healed. Lord have mercy and grant us patience, kindness and stronger Faith.

  18. Priscilla,
    A word of encouragement: the better part of the work of theosis is hidden – we do not see it and it isn’t revealed until the end. It wouldn’t be very healthy for us if we could see it and judge it. Instead, we turn our attention to Christ Himself – to know Him and be faithful to Him. If you will, He is our theosis.

    As much as is possible, we should study to be steadfast. “He who endures until the end will be saved.”

  19. Hi Priscilla
    I know exactly what you mean and have exactly those concerns. But perhaps to echo Fr Stephen, perhaps my favourite of the Lord’s parables about the Kingdom is this one from Mark 4:26-28 : ‘The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how.’ The critical words there I think are those last ones “how he does not know”. I find the whole thing very helpful. I just trust that the seed is there underground growing away and that some day it will pop up. I think of the activities I do as being the occasional bit of watering (which is my favourite personal metaphor for prayer, actually) and maybe attempts at fertilising or weeding, albeit knowing that that may or may not be helpful. I think that is the best any of us can really do. The seed is not my seed, it is the sower’s. Having watched for a long time my fits and starts and backsliding and all of it, I increasingly FEEL that the growing process is not something we designed. I just hope along the way that I can be of some use, and not hinder others, But hey, the garden is the garden, and the gardener knows what He is doing.

  20. If I might humbly add to yours and others comments, know that I appreciate the wisdom conveyed here. It is well and helpful to reinterpret and newly define our understandings of our faith and of our humanity, in order to make these relevant to our times. Yet I couldn’t help thinking how such work applies to living generally for most.
    Young parents and teachers of the young have a great task in raising children in the hopes they will be “good” people. Often they are simply about the task at hand: getting dinner ready, packing up before the bell rings, getting to the bathroom. We have all heard others and ourselves become impatient with these precious charges.
    Perhaps in those times they might pull out the morality card, or unfortunately they might shame or embarrass them.
    I am continually surprised by comments against “illegal” immigrants faulting them for breaking the law. Perhaps such legalism comes from, hypocrisy aside, a childhood focus on obedience, parental and biblical.
    However, I find personally that living a moral life and living a virtuous life much intertwined. One can be feigning either way. Or one can be living both sincerely in Christ. Nonbelievers who live thus choose a life commited to love as well.
    I might teach my little one to be gentle with the puppy for the puppy and his safety. Gentleness, kindness is a virtue. The child sees me being gentle with both of them. I am calling him to this needed behavior and will note that the puppy may need to be taken away for he time being. He can learn it before he grows into it. We invite kids to the soup kitchen to help. They may not be filled with compassion, though some are there. What they witness will fill their hearts to be acted upon then or years in the future. The dance student learns the steps but doesn’t truly dance until he or she feels the dance. Both are needed, I believe.
    Children mimic their parents when very young. Not all will continue to do so. Many rebel against the best of parents. Others choose differently from those observed faults or habits they find incompatible with their own desires. I am a little the same as my family of origin but also quite different overall from them. Children are resilient. Love does wonders.
    Someone above commented about our spiritual role models throughout our childhoods. I remember one pastor driving our school bus and a teacher letting a cat into our classroom window. Those actions impacted me much more than anything they may have said.
    Doing what is the good thing is a virtue as well. One might at first do so as an obligation but at the same time be “furrowing” love. With experiences of grace one gradually or instantaneously embraces love on which all virtues develop.
    PS. Though I am seemingly not too interested in the semantics here, I do suggest people refrain from the word “clucked.” Unless referring to hens. The pledge is a bit dated certainly, but it was offered with good intentions. My children witnessed their grandfather die from smoking related cancer. None of them smoke. Perhaps bacause of their own decisions at the time they each chose not to do so. Or maybe upon hearing me suggest they not ever smoke, they understood my real concern.
    Thank you, Father. I strongly affirm your points on welcoming children and ensuring our churches our inviting and attractive. Mega churches offering free coffee and Wi-Fi have something there. I once heard a catechetical speaker suggest that we do the opposite of what Jesus did. He taught the adults and played with the children.

  21. I feel overwhelmed by the task of raising a child in a world where the fabric of our culture is totally unravelled and given my own deep flaws that I bring to the task of mothering. It seems I am discovering things all the time that make me groan over having not understood sooner and for having been so ill-equipped for the task of parenthood. May God grant special grace to my oldest child. There is such a sense of wrongness in having to start utterly from scratch and not having the wisdom of tradition infused in my very bones for something so essential as how to raise my children, both that lack of temporal tradition going back to previous generations, and the lack of a community immediately around me upholding me as a parent. A sense of intoletable wrongness. I was not raised in a way even remotely reflecting the life of the Church and yet I want to struggle to raise my kids in the Church and an atmosphere of love. It is tempting to despair over how far apart where I am is from where I want so deeply to be, but I can’t give up in despair for the sake of my kids and husband. Lord, have mercy. I would appreciate more blogs on this subject.

  22. Mary Muntel,
    Thank you for the thoughts. The word “clucked” was in my article (I don’t think anyone else used it). It is a figure of speech – yes, that invokes the image of hens. I think it is an apt metaphor and conveyed very well what I had in mind. Of course the pledge is dated – so am I. The story harkens back to about 1962-3. Descriptive prose works best when read for what it is. If I worry too much about each word and every possible offense, I won’t be able to write. Readers just have to bear with it.

    Nearly everybody smoked back then – and many of them, my own grandfather, died of lung-related diseases. Oddly, cancer and emphysema were not a concern in the early 60’s. The issue about smoking was not at all about health – but about morality. It was a different world.

    As to the thoughts on welcoming children – kindness and love are sufficient, I think. I’m doubtful about drawing lessons from mega-Churches.

  23. Mary,
    Francis Bacon famously wrote: “He that hath wife and children hath given hostages to fortune, for they are impediments to great enterprises, either of virtue or mischief.”

    The phrase “hostages to fortune” is worth pondering. When a child is born (or we marry, etc.), suddenly our life and our heart are so deeply tied to the welfare of another that it is “taken hostage.” When the child goes out the door – anything is possible. It is always a terrible risk.

    I once forgot my son in the car. The weather was not hot, thank God. My feeling of panic when I suddenly remembered him could not have been greater. I rushed to the car and found him patient, though a little worried.

    I once ran over my youngest daughter. I did not see her – she was not supposed to be anywhere near the car. She was directly behind it – and I knocked her down as I backed out of the driveway. The look it the faces of the other children in the yard told me everything. The seconds between stopping, getting out, and running around to see what I had done were the longest in my life. She was unhurt.

    Both of those situations could have ended in madness and life-long anguish. The newspapers relate such stories regularly – with their unhappy endings.

    Now, my oldest will be 40 and the youngest is in her late 20’s. The dangers of their lives never disappear. They make decisions (without consulting me!).

    It would be more than possible to curl up in a corner, wrapped in the fear of all the possibilities. But we don’t and we can’t. It is ultimately not fortune that holds our loves hostage. It is God. The good God. That alone, I think, makes it possible to live our lives. The unthinkable does happen from time to time. My extended family has had two murder victims over the decades. To that can be added accidents, diseases and every sort of calamity.

    We are not in control of outcomes. We seek to do good and keep the commandments of Christ – and then pray, pray and pray. Everything and everyone is in the hands of a good God who is working towards the reconciliation of all things in Christ. As the years have gone by, it is that reconciliation that has become the focus of my heart. All that I have lost will be found. Everything that has wandered will be brought back. I do not know the details of any story, only that its author is the good God.

    Pray like the good mother that you are – and ask for the prayers of the Theotokos – mother of us all!

  24. Thank you For. Stephen and Chris. My internet connection is iffy today, so I can’t count on communicating. Your reflections remind me if a prayer within Mother Alexandra’s little prayer book on the Lord’s prayer (it’s packed away… we’re moving), but as I recall, it says, “May I be as a rainworm, moving one small particle if soil into the Kingdom.” Probably a fairly ambitious task! We also take heart from the story of “The Young Man, the Gurus and Elder Paisios”…the slow transformation of the young man who kept being attracted to the Elder’s wisdom while playing around with non-Christian ways.

  25. Thank you, Fr. Stephen, for your kind words to Mary here above in your comment beginning “Francis Bacon famously wrote…” I so needed to read these words, today and on many days. Mary expressed may thoughts that I have had and heartache also. Since coming to the Orthodox Christian Church, I have found great comfort and refuge in praying the Akathist to the Mother of God Nurturer of Children. I so appreciate your reminder that we are not in control of our outcomes (nor are we in control of our children, mine are adults now, too) and to remember that God is a good God who loves mankind and also the reminder to Pray, Pray, Pray!!! God bless you and your family in all ways, Fr. Stephen! Glory to God for All Things!

  26. Father,
    This line is so powerful it nearly made me weep: “It frequently takes a child into dark places from which they will find it hard to return. You can lose them there.”
    Thank you for your post.

  27. Paula and I really are fond of this verse from Isaiah 42, which Jesus quoted. ” A bruised reed He will not break; a smoking wick He will not snuff out.” I once was asked to speak at a funeral of my best friend’s son who, at age 28, committed suicide. He had suffered mental illness all of his life. I am so pleased that as an Orthodox christian I can pray that God will not break this bruised reed, Mark, who is now in His presence. He is a good God who loves mankind and His love continues forever for us. I know in my heart that this is true. So I pray….We are not in control of outcomes, as Father notes. Yet daily, even if our children are now raised and gone from home, we pray, don’t we? Lord Jesus, have mercy on my son/daughter, more precious to you even than they are to me. Show them your steadfast love, your lovingkindness. Even when I have failed, you never fail. Thank-you Christ our God.

  28. Thank you, Fr Stephen.
    If I don’t find some shame on myself in my interactions with my children, I am usually lying to myself, since I am a long way from theosis. Thank you for sharing your stories in your “Francis Bacon” comment. I’m grateful to have had a father who was, as a rule, a gentle man. Back when I was a young angry Calvinist, that seemed like a character flaw. Now I see it as his chief virtue, and one I struggle to acquire. I miss him, and often find myself measuring my life against his. He made a living, he loved his family, he served his church. Can’t ask for much better.

    Something that is also often on my mind, echoing Mary’s comment above, is that I genuinely want my children to be better than I am, including having a childhood within the Orthodox Church. This often requires conscious stifling of pride, which is a good exercise. But I can’t guarantee outcomes, only seek to provide healthy input, which mostly needs to not be words. Go to church. Try to show that we do work cheerfully, to help one another, and that we give. Try to keep off the soapbox. Wash the dishes. Read a good book with them. Do it again in the morning.

    Tangentially, the band Drive-By Truckers (I liked alt-country in college, and they have extensive meditations on “the Southern thing”) has a song where the refrain asks plaintively “Is that the man I want to be?” It has stuck in my mind, and is a question I often ask. I think it’s a good one. And I can look at a crucifixion icon, and ask myself “Is that the man I want to be?”

    Lord, have mercy.
    In Christ,
    Mark

  29. Fr. Stephen,
    Please excuse my typo with your name above; I need to be more careful when writing reply comments in Notepad and then copying them to the web form to post them, especially in the early morning like yesterday.

    ***

    I do see complexity associated with our shootings, but I think the solution to the systemic disease is far greater than the proper treatment of this particular, glaring symptom. The main mechanism of shootings is the cycle of violence – “hurt people (who have been hurt) hurt people.” I hope there are wise, targeted ways to prevent the cycle from repeating by responding on time before someone is radicalized with rage.

    I know my desire for quick solutions is shortsighted. I was only baptized three years ago so I am still relatively unfamiliar with spiritual life and patience is difficult. It is also difficult to imagine that quick solutions would not really help. Modernity is something I would rather reform than violate too much.

    If we are in postmodernity, how much longer can this era last? I remember that Elder Sophrony wrote at the end of His Life is Mine that a renaissance will come after this time of atheism and darkness. Maybe this renaissance can happen gradually. Things will get worse before they get better, but Orthodoxy continues to spread in the West and we have all have some missionary duty, as Fr. Daniel Sysoev taught. So in the sense of evangelism we have a great opportunity.

    The USSR did not simply burn out – dissidents struggled against the regime for decades, and some were killed so their souls are like bright flames. Hundreds of millions of people prayed for the salvation of Russia. I think when a culture burns out part of that is strong pressure from a replacement culture. My family immigrated to America in the 1990s (before my birth) in great part because our parish priest was assassinated. Relatedly, Fr. Daniel Sysoev is one of my favorite postmodern saints (not yet canonized) because he knew missionary work would mean sacrificing his life but did it with joy. Overall, Russia is recovering better than expected. We hear the worst about Russia in American media, but in prior years when my family and I visited remaining family there I really liked it (maybe some things have deteriorated there since then, however). Recovery can happen faster, considering that with a single saint acquiring the spirit of peace, thousands around them are saved as St. Seraphim of Sarov said. But as Fr. Stephen has said, we need more monasteries.

    Because I read newspapers regularly and rarely watch television, I think some of our media is more ethical than other parts. Newspapers seem more interested in understanding problems. They do more investigations and are more reflective and intellectual. I attended a congressional town hall last year where a major newspaper’s editor in chief said she thinks very poorly of political television news programs. Perhaps she sees the news media’s problems but lacks the power to reform her industry, but seeing a problem is a big step towards solving it. Further, do Americans at large want to understand problems? Is the media making points more than people in general do? I am not sure of that.

  30. Ivan,

    I would dig deeper. For example, the underlying “mechanism” of these unique mass shootings (most gun violence is rather mundane criminal-on-criminal) is beyond ‘violence’ per se – it is the despair and humanistic (the good kind of humanism) incompetence of our modern culture. The ‘new atheist’ Neil deGrasse Tyson made news when he noted shortly after the shooting that on the same day so many people died in motor vehicles, how so many died of “medical errors”, so many died of suicide – all significantly (most by at least an order of magnitude) greater than the 32 who were victims. It was “shocking” to some because he was not displaying the expected level of (intemperate) moral outrage. I looked up the number of unborn children who died in the holocaust of the unborn in the US on that day – in excess of 1,900, and that’s just the “officially reported” number (the real number is greater). Yet, even in our churches (certainly in mine, and at my childrens RC school) people were focused on this mass shooting as if it was a significant moral/spiritual sign and (here picture person clucking 😉 ) “is it not obvious that *something* must be done?!?! ” Well yes, but when your mind is formed in primarily secular ways of thinking then you will never get to the root of the problem (which is secularism itself) to even ask the right questions, to say nothing of reaching the right solutions.

  31. Ivan,
    I like your comment because of its provocative elements.

    I’m writing on my phone and will be brief and unfortunately terse.

    Morality, in my experience, ushers pride and self-righteousness. It will and has been the source of passions that would categorize people as worthless and expendable.

    It seems to me that this culture fosters love of guns (and all that they represent as icons) over children. If this thought is true, how does one ‘fight’ or legislate or ‘shame’ such love? I have seen the protests, because someone wanted me to see the ‘rising of a good cause’.

    I don’t want children hurt. I don’t want a gun culture. But such protests seem to be such an empty gesture without a real transformation.

    How do we seek virtue?

  32. Christopher,
    Your points are spot on. Our “moral outrage” is largely manufactured by the mechanisms of the media. These events are terrible, indeed. The NY Times bleeds outrage when they happen. It also ran a pro-abortion series recently that essentially named pro-life people as evil. Same moral outrage – this time at those who would save life.

    All of this is part of the symptom-laden reality of a civilization in collapse. Evil cultures actually have a hard time surviving. People are not fundamentally evil. You have to really screw basic things up in order to produce our kind of madness. Much of that destruction can be placed at the feet of the system of family and extended family – a fundamental structure of nature that has been displaced by modern globalized economics.

    The breakdown of fundamental structures creates fertile ground for various mad phlosophies and ideologies. We’ve got them by the bucket full. And, sadly, those ideologies are no longer on the fringe – they are making laws and corporate policy.

    Whenever the fundamental structures of nature are ignored – things begin to go very badly (over time). God has constructed the natural order in just this manner to keep us from becoming too crazy. It can get bad – then things collapse – so that they will eventually return to something approximating nature. Of course, this moves in civilizational time. It’s faster than geological time – but still slow. A lifetime is often not quite enough to see all of this. It’s probably something that is measured in many lifetimes.

    The extended family was a thing in my childhood (and typical across the South and much of America). It began to dissipate a bit in the 50’s and 60’s. I grew up in a county where my extended family (both sides) had lived since before 1800. That has now disappeared. The county is populated by strangers – and I no longer live there.

    We endured many things (the murders I mentioned in an earlier comment) and other tragedies – precisely as family. Today, we would suffer in isolation for the most part. It does take a village to raise a child – but villages are real places with real people. It’s not a metaphor for the welfare state, nor can the state replace the village.

    There is a reason why the OT viewed cities as very suspect places. Jerusalem was little more than a large village. However, globalization is hell-bent on urbanizing the planet. It will required an economic and/or major health crisis to bring the globalism to its end. The collapse will be of biblical proportions (think of “Babylon the Great is fallen”).

  33. Fr Stephen, I think the same pattern is followed by civilizations as by the hearts of men, though as you say, it is (or can be) a century-scale process. St Peter Damascene says it well below. The glaring assertion that “death has not come about inexplicably” jives with the above discussion. The explanations are apparent to anyone sane. But our culture is drunk, we are born affected to some degree (like some kind of cultural-FAS) and it is a lifetime of effort to get sober.

    “We do not sin against our will, but we first assent to an evil thought and so fall into captivity. Then the thought itself carries the captive forcibly and against his wishes into sin. The same is true of sins that occur through ignorance: they arise from sins consciously committed. For unless a man is drunk with either wine or desire, he is not unaware of what he is doing; but such drunkenness obscures the intellect and so it falls, and dies as a result. Yet that death has not come about inexplicably: it has been unwittingly induced by the drunkenness to which we consciously assented. We will find many instances, especially in our thoughts, where we fall from what is within our control to what is outside it, and from what we are consciously aware of to what is unwitting. But because the first appears unimportant and attractive, we slip unintentionally and unawares into the second. Yet if from the start we had wanted to keep the commandments and to remain as we were when baptized, we would not have fallen into so many sins or have needed the trials and tribulations of repentance. ”
    St Peter of Damascus (retrieved from http://www.orthodoxchurchquotes.com/2015/11/11/st-peter-of-damascus-if-someone-wants-to-be-saved-no-person-and-no-time-place-or-occupation-can-prevent-him-he-must-not-however/)

    And finally, a favorite from St Anthony the Great:
    “A time is coming when men will go mad, and when they see someone who is not mad, they will attack him, saying, ‘You are mad; you are not like us.'”

    Lord, have mercy.
    Mark

    (Please forgive the multiple comments in one day, I am in the lab minding a slow thermal test, and have a rare combination of time and a computer – it’s a combination I try to avoid in regular life.)

  34. I didn’t see/read Christopher’s comment before I submitted. I too appreciate his thoughts on this topic.

    Fr Stephen you have eloquently described the broader picture of these circumstances. And I heartedly agree with your perspective concerning a culture in decline and the machinations that come into play as the decline unfolds.

    I’m not sure how to express this next thought without appropriate dispassion . And I’m concerned that it will be perceived as a negative comment on parenting. I too have been and am still a parent. And in retrospect see my failures. My eldest is almost 40 years.
    My concern is what I see in the ‘glorification’ of parenting and specifically of motherhood, is a form of nostalgia and worse perhaps a form of narcissism that glorifies the morality (essentially the inherited ‘self-righteousness and values) of the mother and father. I see this particularly among some women who take pride that they are a ‘stay at home mom’.

    Thank God they can stay at home with their children. But the self- righteousness in the matter compounded with the thought they are contributing to the creation of a better world, leaves me wondering. I’m not so convinced of the truth of this nor of the likelihood of self honesty.

    I see the mistakes I made in my son’s parenting . I pray for him and I pray for my own repentance for my sins. And I don’t intervene. Instead I beg the Lord to continue to show me my sins in hopes of sincere and continual repentance.

    Mark M your comment made me smile at the point where you describe yourself in a lab waiting for a reaction. God bless your work and I appreciate your participation here!

  35. Dee,
    Thank you for the courage to make such a “daring” comment about motherhood . I suspect some may misunderstand.
    I think there is a certain societal image of women where she is not complete unless she becomes a mother. It is largely unspoken, but implied. My parents’ generation certainly upheld this notion. Perhaps it is less so these days. I can see where the applause, coupled with a strong sense of morality (right image/wrong image), can lead to sense of ‘success’.
    Being without child I have had some interesting insights throughout my life. On the outside, looking in, so to speak. And not a few moments of joy as well, in loved ones giving birth, and later becoming grandparents.

  36. Dee,

    I would say that any self-glorification or pride in our actions is dangerous and can lead to sin. But our nation insists that we “take pride” in whatever we do. But even something as blessed and natural as motherhood should be approached with humility. I think your reaction and thoughts are spot-on.

  37. While I understand where you are all coming from, I am less gloomy about both the past and the future. It is easy to focus just on the obviously bad side of current developments, and ignore the good side – which is where to my mind the work of the Holy Spirit may well be found. It is SO easy for us to get into a groove of depression and judgmentalism and (barely) implicit condemnation which then just becomes self reinforcing as Christians think they need to go into ghettos to avoid “Babylon” and “Babylon” just decides they were right to think we were irrelevant. That’s not what being salt is, to my mind.

    Anyway, to give but one (intentionally controversial) example, while I am new to these blogs I have noticed that the topic of sexuality keeps on coming up, often with a flavour of how Our Youth of Today (or indeed we baby boomers) are misguided and have lost the plot. While I agree that there are lots of aspects of the current sexualised landscape that are indeed pretty out of hand and unhealthy, it’s worth pondering a few things. Firstly, I just don’t believe the past was some golden age from which we have now sunk to extraordinary lows. Different unhealthy things happened then or took different forms. In the 19th century many, men took mistresses or used prostitutes (and then died of syphilis). They also got very drunk and very violent with no recourse. There were huge families, with high infanticide rights. Single mothers often really were stigmatised and did undergo really unsafe and horrific abortions. Domestic violence really was a thing, people just did not talk about it, and women could not escape. Our current sexuality issues are different, and of course were mainly caused by two technologies. The contraceptive pill, which turbocharged a whole lot of trends that were happening (and helped a accelerate a reaction amongst boomers to their upbrining an odd 1950s outlier decade). The second has been the internet and smartphones which have mainstreamed in a really weird way pornography and casual hookups. And as part of all of that traditional norms of marriage, and same sex relationships and now gender identity have all become things too. BUT a lot of the old problems of the 19th century stuff don’t tend to occur, or at least not in the same way, in part because of the same trends, including technologies. People just don’t tend to stay in loveless marriages and then take mistresses or use prostitutes because they have to (some may do because they want to, but that’s different). Domestic violence against women at least now gets talked about, and women now have options when in the past they didn’t. With the same sex thing, while many Christians may not approve (and many are particularly quick to point the finger at sin “over there, in those (often caricatured) people” – adultery and fornication are in fact the main sins talked about in the Bible, but we seem to have conveniently pretty much given up on them as a lost cause, even though they are the ones that arguably cause the bigger relational harms), in fact there is a benefit in people being able to be more open about this. The old flip side was that many same sex attracted people had no way of talking about this stuff, and indeed many clergy were not pastorally equipped to talk about it (many still aren’t), and suppressed, lied, got caught up in self loathing (with not vent) or gave expression to their sexual desires in particularly unhealthy and shame filled ways. This is one of those cases where we now know (where we did not before) that same sex attraction does indeed naturally occur in roughly 3 per cent of the population, and indeed in many other species. Whether the church likes it or not, the fact is now out and about and we have to engage with it. Which I think is a good thing. It’s just a pity that so much of the engagement is so appallingly handled from our side (in both “conxervative” and ”liberal” modes). The playing out of the sexual revolution has also uncovered many of the dark dirty secrets of the past too, most spectacularly child sexual abuse, including in families, institutions, and most shockingly of all, at the hands of many in the clergy of most of the churches. I really can’t help but think that this uncovering is indeed the work of the Spirit, and a cleansing that needed to happen, and it would not have without the greater social licence to talk about this stuff. It may take a couple of generations for this to work through, but work through it needs to. All this is not to say that things now are wonderful – clearly there are many, many problems and troubling signs (I personally think that porn is the biggest current problem and is causing many problems indeed. The gender dysphoria piece worries me less. It is very niche and a bit faddy to my mind). But I do think that the fact that people can and do now talk about sexual matters is not all bad, and in fact has quite a few potential (and real) blessings in it too. It will be interesting to see how this plays out. Lots of young people I come across are not obsessed about sex and in fact seem pretty sane about it, albeit in a much more worldy wise way, and many are a lot less likely to put up with bad treatment. Even if we as Christians want to encourage a purity culture, at least now it is a real choice that our people are making (and the onus is on us to explain why this is a good thing for them – something we are NOT particularly good at), rather than something that is something the surrounding society seems (hypocritically) to be (prudishly) imposing from the outside.

    I could go on about loads of other areas where we get concerned about how moral decline has happened. (The car immediately springs to mind as a technology that has been a massively double edged sword in terms of civilisational benefits vs problems). But you get my drift. Maybe I’m wrong and we’re all just ruined. (Actually, I think the biggest actual inter-generational problem is going to be environmental degredation because much of that really is a one way street, and maybe just plain over-population which is already turning into mass migrations). But I hope and pray not, and I do think we as Christians need to be fair minded and sensible and not turn ourselves into a tribe. Secularism has many faults and problems (including the whole two storey universe piece that Fr Stephen so expertly explains). But it also has had its good points, including for us. The trick I think it is to try and navigate with our eyes – and hearts – open. One of the most confronting teachings of Our Lord from the sermon on the plain in Luke (6:37-38) is this “‘Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back.” I sort of take this as an explanation of how things work, rather than as commandments. We need to be really careful about judgements, not to mention culture war stuff …

    By the way on the broader civilisational piece, Christians have been trying to address this in different ways for a very long time. And indeed things have ebbed and flowed. I remember reading somewhere that the French Enlightenment thinker Montesquieu on visiting what was then a rather Hogarthian London in the mid eighteenth century, declared that the English had no religion whatsoever and was clearly a bit horrified at the excesses he encountered. Fast forward a hundred years or so and we get Queen Victoria and quite a different climate. Agonising has gone on ever since Matthew Arnold. Last year I came across this review https://www.theamericanconservative.com/articles/is-christian-humanism-gone-forever/ which I rather liked about attempts to introduce “Christian humanism” back into the scheme of things. The outcome of such an “ism” approach could have been predicted …

  38. Chris,
    There is much here with which I disagree. I am not a culture warrior – something I view as a political position. I would suggest that my thoughts are not just generational, but come from the front lines of pastoral care, stretching out over 40 years. We are in far worse shape than you suggest – and it is grounded in fundamental, structural problems.

    As to the suggestion that secularism has its good points – including for us – I can only suppose that you’ve not fully understood what I’ve been writing lo these years. Secularism is false and a lie. A lie is never “good for us.” All of this, of course, is easily dismissed as “agonizing” if you’re lucky enough to live in the comfort zone. The sexual revolution has murdered over 60 million in America alone. We are an economy built on the blood of innocents. If that is “judging” – then it is judging that is required.

    Matthew Arnold never imagined such a holocaust.

    However, I am heading out on a vacation in a few short minutes. I would suggest to other readers that the conversation will be better served to look at the topic rather than a civilizational analysis.

    My vacation is in the path of a hurricane, and will likely be shortened. Even a couple or three days will be a welcome respite. Blessings.

  39. Chris
    Indeed Christians have a long history of heroically swimming upstream against a stream of a world lying in sin (1 John 5:19). But we also know that there will be an increase (and evolution) of that sin in the last days (whenever those are)…
    As far as the ‘population growth’ charts which can serve alarmism – they ought to be coupled with ‘population growth RATE’ charts in order to be understood correctly. The secular depopulation agenda is extremely suspect…

  40. Byron…your comment @ 12:04 am contains the thoughts I had but couldn’t find the words…especially this: “… our nation insists that we “take pride” in whatever we do. But even something as blessed and natural as motherhood should be approached with humility.” Yes, exactly. It is miraculous, and so very blessed. Thank you.

    Father Stephen…our prayers for your respite. May God grant it, and your safety in the storm.
    Love and blessings…..

  41. Speaking of the topic and vacations, my wife more often than not plans what I call “The Big American Vacation”. It requires moonshot levels of planning, logistics, and money, and is a heroic effort in which no obstacle is not overcome. It is a test of virtue for me, one I always fail at some point pretty badly followed by copious amounts of apology. The kids seem to enjoy it however. I am always more than a little “glad to be home” at the end of the journey.

    Of course, I am a master of my own comfort at home and in my daily routine… 😉

  42. You got me reminiscing Christopher!
    And I smiled at “The Great American Vacation”! Didn’t Chevy Chase do a movie on that? “no obstacle is not overcome”… 😀
    I’m not a “vacation” person…the concept doesn’t jive with me. I’m on vacation right after I am done with all that I have to do right here at home!
    Back in the day, the farthest we’d travel for the family vacation was upstate. One week in the Catskill Mtns. Highlight of the year! The car trip couldn’t have been more than 2 hours, but it seemed like forever. We’d amuse ourselves with the ‘licence plate games’ or the excitement of seeing the dairy cows and farms (we were from the ‘burbs’!). I do not ever remember dad even turning on the radio. It would take away from his joke telling!
    I’m thinking….”vacation”….this has got to be another modern invention, no?
    Ironically, to ‘get away from it all’…only to be relieved to get back home!

  43. Father Georges Florovsky: “Orthodox theology’s path … does not lie in rejecting or even overthrowing Western results. The path, rather, lies in overcoming and surmounting them in a *new creative activity*. Only a creative return to the unique and ancient depths will serve Orthodox. ” [“Western Influences on Russian Theology” in *Aspects of Church History* vol. IV.

  44. Still Thyme,
    That is a quote that requires its context. First, he wrote that in about the 40’s or 50’s. The culture, including particularly what was evident in “Western theology” was quite different. However, Florovsky taught what was called a “Neo-patristic Synthesis,” that is, a new synthesis on the part of the Orthodox of the heart and consensus of Orthodox thought and teaching. That, in fact, is probably what exists today in Orthodoxy. Other than the ignorance regularly displayed on the internt – Orthodox theology (such as Stanilouae, or any number of others) – does, indeed, seriously engage the West and creatively presents the Orthodox faith. In fact, Orthodox thought has made huge inroads in many places.

    Hans Boersma, for example, says that he always includes Schmemann’s For the Life of the World in every semester he teaches. I could name a fair number of Catholic scholars equally influenced.

    But, the “Western” thought that today is producing these various revisionist and ideological “theologies” (sic) – they are hardly worth engaging. They are articulated only in Universities who had rejected God sometime back, or in denominations that are hemoraging members at a speed unknown in historic Christianity. They offer only death.

    There are very good and healthy conversations to be had – and I think they are taking place.

  45. Fr Stephen

    You are probably on your way to Florida by now, so these comments assume you will see them on your return.

    I hope you had a wonderful and restful time, and you avoided the Hurricane. (I can’t help think there’s a metaphor there for us!).

    My apologies if I said anything that caused you irritation or stress before you left.

    I only ventured into those areas because broader social stuff (including the fate of the wider culture) seemed to be territory where quite a few posts had gone. Again, my apologies if it was inappropriate or if I have said things that are unhelpful or wrong. As I said and you will have realised, I am new to these blogs and the commentator community. I shall try and avoid doing so in future.

    My comments were (at the conscious level of intention anyway) really about a desire to try and look for positives among the gloom (hopefully not in too Polyyanna-ish way though) and where the Spirit may be working. I really feel that many of us don’t give the Spirit enough credit for finding ways to do something positive with our sins both at a personal and cultural level and we do both come across as being a bit dour.

    On that note, perhaps there is a connection back with this stuff to the original theme of your post. I really do wonder about those ladies running your Sunday School with their well intentioned but counterproductive intervention and what that says about how Christians interact and present to others. Yes, love is as you say the key. Love that is patient, love that is kind, love that does not insist on its own way, love that is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. Love that bears all things, hopes all things endures all things. Love that never ends. Oh to see past the mirror!

  46. Have a restful vacation, Father Stephen. When you suggested we look carefully at the topic, I saw above that it was “whos-minding-the-kids”. Well, I had already been thinking of tweaking the subject a bit, as that had made me think of an episode in Dostoievski’s biography when he was plunged into the gulag and having to live cheek by jowl with really hard core prisoners of a very different class from his own. Fearing for his life in this situation, he spent terror-filled days and nights, until in his darkest moment he remembered an encounter from his youth when he’d lost his way in a forest. I guess it was the same terror that triggered the memory – he’d encountered a huge and frightening peasant, who in an amazingly gentle voice soothed him and took him to his home.
    That memory so strengthened him it was like a miracle. He no longer feared the other poor souls in bondage but became one with them.
    We are all in a kind of gulag at present even if we don’t experience those hardships. Hold fast to the good – the childhood memories we all have of unexpected kindnesses. They are precious!

  47. Chris,

    Please continue to comment; your topic(s) are not an issue. As you said, they come up often around here. A thought: Father’s comment We are in far worse shape than you suggest – and it is grounded in fundamental, structural problems. is very important.

    You mentioned in your post that ” we now know (where we did not before) that same sex attraction does indeed naturally occur in roughly 3 per cent of the population, and indeed in many other species.”. But it is very important to understand that none of these things are natural (I only use SSA as an example since you used it; there are many others). They occur, without doubt, but they are not natural.

    We are, none of us, as we should be; the corruption of sin is not an individual issue but a human issue. We cannot use ourselves (or our neighbors) to define what is natural; Christ is the measure of what is natural, true, and good. He came preaching repentance for a very good reason; we require it. The difference in how the secular world defines what it means to be human and how the Church defines it makes Father’s quote that “secularism is false and a lie” much easier to understand.

  48. Dini, in speaking of the ‘last days’, whenever that is, I think it is helpful to think (for me at least it is) that the last days are and have been occurring since the Crucifixion and Resurrection of our Lord. This a little bit touches on what Chris was saying in his lengthy post, and what Father Stephen touched on in reference to the miraculous events in his family, for which he must give daily thanks that they occurred. It’s really difficult to compare different eras – many folk judge the Founding Fathers for instance, for faults in their character according to today’s standards, when how it must have been in their day we really can’t imagine. We are all sinners, and even not good at judging our own sins. Best to err on the side of considering that our faults are great even if the consequences seem to be propitious.
    I say we are in the last days because indeed the apostles thought that they were, and I don’t think they were wrong. That’s how I understand the Apocalypse. It isn’t saying anything timewise except what was underlying the very times which began when Christians were persecuted in Rome, and will continue to the end of the earth. That’s what Saint John was present to and envisioning – the drawing back of the tide of human affairs and revelation of the underlying and ongoing universal actuality – as if he were an astronomer peering into the very workings of galaxies and all the mysteries of creation.

    Well, that’s just my thought about it. I hope it’s okay to bring – I guess the huge cyclone is on my mind. I pray for the safety of all in its path.

  49. Yes Juliania, the Last Days were ushered in with Christ’s advent. As for the word ‘Apocalypse’ and what it means for us as Orthodox Christians, I found this post very helpful:
    https://blogs.ancientfaith.com/wholecounsel/2019/08/28/apocalypse-now/

    I had another thought this morning about Father’s statement ” It is good to be with people who also want to become the same kind of person you want to be – and to know that this is God’s work in us.” I get the impression that some may think this means we should be with others who want to be like us…as we see ourselves now. But I think the underlying assumption is that nobody is yet the person ‘who they want to be’. As Father reminds us in other posts, ‘we will be like Him when we see Him’. It is He who we want to be like, to ‘become’, all the while retaining who we are in particular, yet to become fully human in becoming more ‘Christ-like’. So if we would, it is of great benefit that our friendships develop with those who desire to become that which yet they are not quite so.
    The words of The Preacher come to mind …”two are better than one”. The one lifts the other up when they fall. Both rejoice and have peace in knowing God is working ‘the good’ in us. We edify and inspire one another to continue ‘becoming’. It is indeed the work of God among us.

  50. Thanks very much, Paula. It’s good to get confirmation on that thought.
    Going back to Father Stephen’s question that is the title of this post, I thought I would see what his linked articles at the bottom of it had to say. Apart from some common threads, I found myself getting somewhat confused, until I finally returned to the other posts before this one that deal with virtue. To me, a link seemed to be missing between being a virtuous person and passing on that virtue to ‘the kids’. After all, one sign of ‘maturity’ that we see in our kids is rebellion, or rather the innate natural desire to think for one’s self, to make decisions on one’s own. And, as Father points out, what is virtuous to an adult may to a younger person look very much like stultifying morality. (Or even, as these days under modern influences, an adult may get convinced of the same thing.)
    I think I found the key at last, the link between these posts and earlier ones about the primary human goal of living through communion with God. I found it in the “We forgot how to say “No”” post, where Father Stephen says that any virtue such as justice can corrode into a vice. How to prevent this?
    “…Tradition treats the past as still present…”
    “…Orthodox Christian faith teaches the hope that Tradition is not merely human, but a gift from God…”
    A gift from God! That’s beautiful.
    “In every generation ” he then says, there are examples of living teachers of living, God gifted, tradition. And …
    “…to know them is to be touched by heaven..”
    That’s who’s minding the kids. And the kids are us!

    Thank you, Father Stephen. Be safe!

  51. I forgot to say that earlier in the “No” post is this reference: “…receiving a tradition is a matter of a living relationship with what has gone before and recognizing its place in the present…” For me, this occurred during a discussion of authorship in the context of “The Brothers Karamazov.” I realized that being an author is one way to pass on a living tradition to others, especially where two or three are gathered together with a good teacher who points this fact out.
    “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe!”

  52. Thanks for your wonderful reflections Juliania. Alongside your discovery of the missing link (a helpful search!) and the role of Tradition, I think about the frequent use of the word ‘custom’ throughout both the Old and New Testament. This is indeed God’s gift to His people. From generation to generation ‘traditioned’ through oral and written word (yes, through authors too!) to ‘taste’, digest, practice, habituate. All the while developing a deepening community (Church) which is at once, communion with God.
    Because of the trials we encounter (strife, division ) we may deny the true community of the Church. But even Tradition teaches us that through trials we are “perfected”. So indeed, blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe!
    And yes Juliania, as we are blessed by “examples of living teachers of living, God gifted, tradition”, we are very much the kids!

  53. Thanks Byron for your encouragement. But I think (with the exception below, in response to the specific issue you raised), it is probably best that I leave this stuff alone. I rather fear that Fr Stephen may have taken a couple of my observations personally when they were not so intended. The fact that this could have happened left me feeling a little mortified. I think he has enough on his hands than to worry about the rantings of people like me. Also, I think that my take on these issues is different from most others here, and raising them is unlikely to be helpful : in that last long post it seemed nothing resonated, which tells me something, perhaps about me.

    Anyway, I was not going even to respond to the SSA issue you raised for fear of causing more strife. But I just came across such a remarkable post from Rod Dreher of all people that it felt I needed to pass it on. I encourage you to have a read of this : https://www.theamericanconservative.com/dreher/gays-orthodox-christianity-again/ . Part of the context is that a week or so ago Dreher (who definitely is a culture war warrior) wrote a piece criticising the Orthodox hierarchy for not coming our more strongly about SSA stuff. In today’s article he almost seems oddly chastened (although he is still trying to have his cake and eating it too). For me, the letter that was written to him about the treatment of gays in Orthodox countries ties together a lot of the themes from the discussion in the last few blogs from Fr Stephen. If ever you wanted a textbook example of the Girardian scapegoating dynamic at work, there it is. And apropos my post, my question to you would be why do you think it is that American Orthodox behave so much better on this issue (and clearly you guys generally do) than the Orthodox in traditional countries? Perhaps the most shocking element (of a very shocking letter) was the revelations in it about the behaviour of Orthodox clergy in those countries, which to my mind mirrored closely the revelations of Frederic Martel earlier this year about the Catholic hierarchy. The dynamics of why this happens were (again to my mind) nicely explained here: https://www.abc.net.au/religion/fr%C3%A9d%C3%A9ric-martel-and-the-structure-of-the-clerical-closet/10843678 . It’s helps in understanding what happens when you ignore nature (and to me 3% commonly occurring in nature has to be at least one take on a definition of natural) and at the same time do a Girardian thing on a group. You end up with a horror. At the heart of Girard’s work was the insight that one of the things that Our Lord did on the Cross is to call out very explicitly the scapegoating mechanism. And here it is, festering away. If nothing else, hopefully all this helps explain where I am coming from in thinking there is some grace at work in at least some of the modern developments, and as Christians we need to find a mature way through this. And why I really hate the idea of us turning into a tribe, because that can so easily happen. Again, as a I said though, I may be wrong.

    You are right though in hoping that we are indeed being transformed by stages into the likeness of Christ, and that he is the basis of everything. As part of that I still happen to think that the Holy Spirit is at work in ways we do not understand, and which may sometimes seem counter-intuitive to our limited sensibilities, but we should be looking for signs. And we should be prepared to identify the truly demonic when we see it even in our own midst.

    Now I really will shut up! 🙂

  54. One noteworthy point regarding the last days (as the time after the incarnation) vs the last days (as the [smaller] period of time when “it was given unto him to make war with the saints, and to overcome them: and power was given him over all kindreds, and tongues, and nations.”) of Revelation is this: our Church had saints and martyrs up until the sacking of Constantinople, but, after that we have ‘new saints’ and ‘new martyrs’…
    So the next step is either ‘new-new martyrs’ (which obviously doesn’t work) or ‘last’…

  55. Dino, are you saying ‘a martyr is a martyr’, old or new? What is the significance of the term ‘new’ ? To designate their specific time in history?
    These things never occurred to me till you brought it up!

  56. I don’t know. It’s the Church who has designated the prefix ‘new’ for recent saints, martyrs etc. It makes one wonder though…

  57. Apparently there is a delineation in the word “new”:
    “The title of New Martyr was originally given to martyrs under heretical rulers (the original martyrs being under pagans), then later to the Church’s martyrs under Islam and various modern atheistic regimes, especially Communist.”
    https://orthodoxwiki.org/New_Martyrs

    On the other hand, that which defines a martyr is representative of an act, a witness for Christ, regardless of their kingdom/nation/country. of origin. Again, from orthowiki:
    “Martyrs as a whole are those saints who suffered death in Christ’s name, for remaining loyal to the true faith, or for refusing to serve idols.
    Great Martyrs are those saints who suffered particularly harsh treatment and punishments before suffering death.
    Hieromartyrs are those saints who suffered death as priests.
    Venerable Martyrs are those saints who suffered death as a member of monastic orders.”

    I’m afraid I haven’t a clue what it is that makes you wonder!

  58. It’s nothing to do with what is a martyr or a Saint. What makes me (I’ve heard this from abbot’s too) wonder is that we have a a Saint George or Anthony etc including lesser known George’s and Anthony’s but since around the beginnings of the second millennium AD we have the idea of George the New or Anthony the New etc. And what comes after that characterisation…

  59. Thanks Dino.
    I am a little familiar with some of our people’s perception of a change that occurred after the 2nd millennium (long time, lots of history), but not specifically the characterization of “new” which proceeded from that. But I take your word that there was a change. Or at least some people of significance thought so.

  60. Chris,
    Forgive the slow response (your comment was in moderation because it had a hyperlink). I’ve been on vacation – at present I’m a refugee, with a mandatory evacuation from the SC beach. We’re now in the upstate for a couple of days.

    Sorry to give the impression of personal offense. The same-sex/culture issues are tender points, in many ways. I could draw a circle around the very personal problems an individual might have with same-sex attraction. There has never been a time in my 40 years of ordained ministry where that was not a live, pastoral problem and was dealt with in a pastoral and sensitive manner.

    I separate that very distinctly from the more political/social LGBTQ movement. The movement makes many, many false assertions – frequently perverting science into a politicized activity – making it almost impossible to even publish findings that gainsay what is demanded. It has, strangely, overthrown any number of mainline Christian denominations. It isn’t that it has simply changed some attitudes and treatment of the same-sex issues – along with it (for whatever reason) – has been a wholesale revision of the most basic foundations of the Christian faith and doctrine. It is, in that sense, a new religion. I particularly see it as a new religious form of modernity – or, modernity as religion. It is not Christianity, despite its use of a number of Christian concepts.

    It’s also very American.

    The response in many Eastern countries (Russia, Georgia, etc.) is not really about the sex (not primarily). There is, indeed, a cultural revulsion towards homosexual activities. It is the fact that it is a very strong cultural/political movement that is very much directed at cultural hegemony and revision of very primary traditions. It is seen as a challenge. It has also come along as a package that contains the American State Department.

    Girard’s scapegoat analysis is interesting – though I have not found it a helpful way of thinking about Christianity and culture issues. It has the danger of rendering every opposition to a real problem into a version of scapegoating – when, in fact, something evil needs to be addressed. Some things are genuinely dangerous. It’s always hard to oppose something without a concomitant danger to your own heart.

    I’m quite concerned that almost everything we get viz. Russia (and its neighbors) is highly selective. It’s easy to get a very wrong idea of what is actually the case. I do not trust much of anything in the American media when it comes to that topic.

    I agree viz. Dreher – he’s a warrior. I don’t always agree with him – but I don’t feel like I’m on a different side.

    Dreher, like many, has watched various loves of his life be lost and destroyed as a result of the culture wars.

    I think it is very useful to think about how the Holy Spirit is positively at work in the world. Largely, this is under the heading of Divine Providence. The caveat is to recognize, as Joseph said to his brothers, “You meant it to me for evil, but the Lord meant it to me for good.” It’s always wrong to sell your brother as a slave to the Egyptians. But the goodness of God is able to turn even that terrible thing into a means of salvation – none of which was a credit to Joseph’s brothers, nor did it exonnerate them from their terrible action.

    God is at work – always doing good – even in the worst of circumstances. I’m just very cautious when it comes to being specific in those things. I can see the clear evil in certain things – while in other settings it’s not quite so clear. You’re right – we have to be able to identify the truly demonic when we see it – even in our own midst. It’s hard.

  61. Chris,

    I still encourage you to continue in your posting and questions! The people here are supportive of such things (having put up with, and greatly assisted, me for several years!).

    I will only add this: we are defining “nature/natural” very differently. You appear to be considering it only in the modern sense of “I feel this way or somehow have a predisposition towards this so it is natural for me”. It is a very utilitarian view and has a very Calvinistic, “predetermination” emphasis. The things you are describing occur (“3% commonly occurring in nature has to be at least one take on a definition of natural”) but are not truly natural. I should point out that this is in no way limited to SSA; there is greater depth in our beings than just sexual expression (in spite of how powerful that particular drive is).

    I am describing “nature/natural” as “what we should be, and will be, in Christ”. What is natural is what we were created to be and what we will be when we are in the fullness of communion with our Creator. This is a cross to bear: that we are not fully realized or complete at this time. But the joy that we carry is that God is good and will complete the work He began in us. As Father wonderfully states, God is at work – always doing good – even in the worst of circumstances.. Our hope is Him!

  62. Thank you Fr Stephen for that long and generous reply, particularly as you are both on vacation – and a refugee (!). I am amazed and grateful that you would take the time to pen this out so thoughtfully. But I really do hope that you get the opportunity to have an enjoyable break including from any feeling you need to respond to posts.

    I’ll leave most of your post as it speaks for itself and rings pretty true to me. I was thinking how lucky those SSA flock (who almost always have shame issues in the sense you use the idea up to the eyeballs) were to have someone of your calibre and insight as being their spiritual guide. If only there were many more Fr Stephens in the world!

    One of your paragraphs struck me: “Girard’s scapegoat analysis is interesting – though I have not found it a helpful way of thinking about Christianity and culture issues. It has the danger of rendering every opposition to a real problem into a version of scapegoating – when, in fact, something evil needs to be addressed. Some things are genuinely dangerous. It’s always hard to oppose something without a concomitant danger to your own heart.”

    I can see that danger, and I certainly don’t see every issue through a Girardian lens. But when one reads the details in that letter in the Dreher article it does sound pretty textbook to me in this particular case. I tend to view the Girard stuff with those chilling words of Caiaphas in mind: “it is better for one man to die than to have the whole nation destroyed (Jn 11:49)” which names the mechanism, and the problem, perfectly. I sent a link to the Dreher article on to one of our (Anglican) priests, who also happens to be a Girardian scholar to see what he made of it. His response was: ”I think he [Dreher] is straining gnats (gay sins) and swallowing camels (murderous ecclesial hatred and folk Christianity). I wonder if ‘gay’ is the Trojan horse that they fear will bring every threat of Western modernity down on their heads … Here is a group that a diverse constituency can all agree is the problem and then galvanise themselves against.” I pass that on as is for what it is worth noting that much of it sounds pretty close to the mark to my (admittedly probably jaundiced) ears. There must be a tendency in dealing with any social campaign that “the cause” (whatever it is, and however worthy it may seem) means that individuals either don’t matter or can be sacrificed for the sake of creating unity for a common purpose. Of course the LGBTQ movement will suffer from the same anthropological dynamics – and indeed from many other evils or wrongs. But we are the church, and followers of the lamb who was slain who now sits on the the throne. The idea that we might have helped justify and authorise systematic violence just seems horrible to me – as indeed it clearly does Dreher, to give him his due. And it is sad that so many of them do see the church as their enemy – surely something that can not just be blamed on gay activists. Just how to oppose dangerous things without risking not only one’s own heart but also the lives of other people when demons are in the mix is really hard.

    But enough of all that though. Thank you for those insights re Divine Providence. The Jospeh example is indeed very apt – if in part because no-one could see how that story was going to play out with all its twists and turns until right to the end. In fact its enigmatic end only really comes with the burying of Jospeh’s bones 400 long years later in the Promised Land at the end of the Book of Joshua (24:31-32) as I learned in a fascinating book I once read. “Israel served the Lord all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders who outlived Joshua and had known all the work that the Lord did for Israel. The bones of Joseph, which the Israelites had brought up from Egypt, were buried at Shechem, in the portion of ground that Jacob had bought from the children of Hamor, the father of Shechem, for one hundred pieces of money … ).

    The Joseph example also got me thinking again of the story of David and Bathsheba which I initially mentioned as another big virtues trainwreck story, but it runs much deeper than that. The first part of the story of David really is in part a virtue tale. David is about as good an icon of virtue as one could get, including passing up on three attempts to kill the enemy (King Saul) who is trying to kill him. But he succeeds and is beloved of the Lord in pretty much every way possible. Then it all comes crashing down. Middle-aged King David is no longer going out to war, and at home at the palace one golden evening even that paragon of virtue sees the woman of his dreams bathing on the roof, and asks after her (“she is the wife of Uriah the Hittite” comes back the answer) (yes, he is told she is already married and btw David already had four other wives …) but he asks for her anyway and the rest of the trainwreck inevitably occurs including his extremely devious murder of Uriah and all those lies. BUT David seemingly does not see any of this until Nathan comes along and tells him that story of injustice. David still thinks of himself as virtuous as he is outraged. Until Nathan tells him “YOU are the man”, when it all comes crashing down. Then the inevitable consequences follow (including Absolom, civil war and the rest). Already this is a fabulous tale that shows (carriage-by-carriage) how sin develops, and how having virtues are not an ultimate defence against behaving badly when circumstances are right (or wrong) (indeed, ‘they have all sinned, every one of them’ to quote the Psalmist) and how moral blind spots work as one can be quite moral in some arenas while still being blissfully unaware of how appalling one has been in others, for starters … 🙂 Which sort of goes to your point about how hard it is to see the demonic at work in our own midst.

    But in terms of longer term salvific purposes, one of my big takeaways from this story is in that geneaology at the beginning of Matthew, we discover that Bathsheba is in fact one of Jesus’ ancestors, at least in the sense that Matthew intended. She is noteworthy partly because she is as one of very few women on the list, but perhaps more interestingly because she is only named by reference as “the wife of Uriah” which sort of underlines the whole scandalous side of the story – in Jesus’ geneaology – ‘his people’ (to reference another recent Fr Stephen post). Which leaves one thinking, what if David had not given in to temptation that night? Would we have had King Solomon (who, the height of Israel’s glory is in fact David and Bathsheba’s son)? And what does this suggest about Jesus even? Oh yes, Our Lord does some truly remarkable things with our sins, and Providence runs very deep indeed and while it is reasonable to look at what is happening and try and discern the right path we would be foolish to put too much store on what its true meaning is from current events.

    History is indeed a weird thing, and none of us really has any idea how things will turn out. People in the middle of the 16th century could have had no concept of how the world just 400 years later (which is how long it took Joseph’s bones to make it home) would turn out (any of it really – but maybe especially the technology).

    I also wonder whether the fate of David and Bathsheba sheds a bit more light on those Luke verses (6:37-38) I was mentioning. I did not intend those to be any implicit criticism that anyone here was in fact being judgemental (which would itself be judgemental!). I more had in mind that those verses seem to contain a warning about the way things work: to the extent and maybe the way we judge, we will also be judged. To the extent and in the way we condemn we will be condemned and so on. Verse 38 nails that “A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back”. It’s not so much a prohibition on judging as a caution about the way we go about it and what the consequences will be. (Pro and anti gay protesters take note!) Of course the next passages are the ones about seeing the motes in the eyes of others and not noticing the logs in our own.

    It is from all of this that my comments about trying to keep a perspective were coming from (although no doubt I fail dismally all the time). Of course it is also entirely likely that I am just being naive, but one does the best one can.

    Sorry for yet another long ramble. As you can probably tell I find all of this stuff really interesting and the discussion useful, even if it is ill informed. That said, I really will now to my best to dip out of the cvilisational/social stuff I think unless clear cross-links come up via the thematic (‘staying on topic’) or Scriptural side. Whatever happens I will be continuing to read!

    Thank you again, and every blessing to you Father.

  63. Thanks again Byron for your encouragement. The kindness/indulgence of the newbies is appreciated! 🙂

    Re ‘nature’ yes the word does have several senses. I was mainly using it in an everyday kind of mode I think, and maybe as a scientist would use the word – as the way in which things occur in the natural world, natural phenomena and so on. I don’t think it had occurred to anyone (perhaps for reasons of modesty or because it seemed inappropriate or just plain weird?) before the Kinseys to study the prevalence of types of sexual behaviour in humans in that kind of statistical way before. But once that cat was out of the bag, it has continued. For better or worse, we do now understand a lot more about what is out there, and prevalences in terms of sexual behaviours and so on. While no doubt confessors and spiritual guides in the long history of the church have seen it all and have had insights into all sorts of things, that occur in the human mind and heart, I doubt this was actually systematically studied. So, again for better or worse, we in the church now have that extra knowledge. (And so does everyone else.) That was where I was coming from.

    But you are right about there being a quite different sense of the word of nature, as in something’s true nature and so on (in a ‘being’ sense if you will). I totally get where you are coming from re that and can only agree with your conclusions!

  64. Byron

    One more thought on this nature business and what we are becoming.

    I commented earlier about how my favourite parable about the Kingdom was the one about the man who planted the seed in the ground and went away and it kept on growing “how he did not know”. Perhaps there is yet another sense of nature tied up in that image – we and what we are becoming are indeed part of a natural process much of which is hidden and the nature of what we are to become may end up being as surprisingly different as the final plant (or flower, or fruit) is from its seeds, or its intermediate stages like roots or tendrils or whatever. I rather like that one, actually. Poor old Thomas in John 14 of course says “but we do not know the way to where you are going”. The complaint of many of us maybe. But the destination and the journey are in each other and always were from the beginning …

  65. Chris,
    “Nature” is an extremely precise and well-defined term in classical, Orthodox thought. Generally, that is the way that I use it and discuss it. It prevents confusion. Much of contemporary theology (particularly I remember a lot of this when I was an Anglican) uses the term in a very imprecise way, only to pick up its classical application and then draw false conclusions. This has been particularly the case when discussing sexual matters. Philosophical/theological discipline in our contemporary world is almost non-existence. People think in slogans.

    Orthodoxy, alone, I think, offers a way forward in thinking carefully about our life in Christ and its path. So, you’ll occasionally encounter push back on how words are used here. It matters.

  66. *sigh*….what is “textbook” about the post by Dreher is how it overweighs the anecdotal experience of a sample of one. Dreher has forgotten his journalistic training as he is apt to do on occasion. Speaking of straining at gnats, the narrative/moral of Chris’s Anglican priest is contemporary up-to-date bourgeois morality/cultural vs. current not-quite-up-to-date eastern european (and not just eastern – Italy for example) working class morality/cultural. He fits their culture into the Girard’s explicatory matrix, but would not think of analyzing how abortion (to name an example) fits into an analysis of his own.,.

  67. Father, Byron, and Chris….thank you for this conversation! Now these are good conversations! Not only about the topics discussed, but how to show kindness when at the same time expressing and standing firm in the truths we have come to know and the challenge in living them out. This is the essence of this blog. We are all learning. And we have a deep love for Christ. He is our foundation, our reason, our motivation in all our ponderings! That is what I see in your comments, Chris. Your allegiance is with Him, all the while trying to find your place (which is ours as well) as one in Christ, in the craziness of this world. I don’t think we’ll ever see an end to the tension in this age. So thank God we can gather together as ‘kin’.
    You’ve mentioned that Christians should avoid a “tribal” mentality. I get what you’re saying, I think. We should not shut ourselves off from the world and people, pointing fingers and criticizing. But the tension is this: Christ does set us apart as His people. As it is said, “we are a chosen generation, a peculiar people, to show forth the praises of Him, who has called us out of darkness (the world!) into His marvelous light”. This is far from a Calvinistic vision, btw. And in that setting apart (sanctification) we do not separate ourselves, but His Light flows out from us to others. But we still face the challenges, and great they are!
    For instance, what are those who utterly reject the gay agenda in the Orthodox countries (spoken of in that article) to do when the agenda is so forceful? How can we judge their reaction when we really have no idea what it is like to be in their shoes? The fact that we all are Orthodox does not automatically erase other factors that impact our lives. It is far more complicated than what meets the eye. They exist in a different culture. Their Orthodox traditions, bound tight within their culture, as solid as they are, are being bulldozed. On the surface, yes, according to the writer of that letter to Dreher (the writer who is culturally western), the behavior of the Orthodox there is cruel and hypocritical. Very strong words. Lots of blaming. And quite one-sided. But they are up against forces that they have no control over in and of themselves (here, stepping away from the false impressions of politics). So yeah, Providence is at work and He shall work it all out. I do not see how our criticisms help the situation. Plus, I do not see them asking for our help! But we certainly do not hesitate to give it to them, in the form of criticism. And ultimately we blame the Bishops. They always get the blame (so-called scapegoating goes both ways!). It is so much deeper that that! They need our prayers, and we need theirs.

    On the topic of nature, Chris, I wonder if you’ve read St Maximus the Confessor’s writings on this subject. No doubt he is “thick” and for me a very slow read. But it is he whom the Orthodox draw from in our formulations about Christology, nature, hierarchy…among many other things. Regarding sexuality, Father has reminded us that a better way to think of male and female-ness is in the context of “energies”. This line of thought stems from St Maximus.

    Anyway, thank you all again. And Chris, thanks for continuing to comment here. I hope you do not see yourself as an “outsider” just because of some different points of view. We are all in this boat together and we really do learn from each other. Without the differences, that would not be possible.

  68. Father Stephen
    I’m glad you’re helping us to differentiate the meanings used in Orthodox language. But like any language it takes immersion into the life of such language for such distinctions become clear and are embraced.

    How often I encounter ‘an opinion’ taken for ‘fact’. And how often do I hear facts taken as opinion.

    I recently heard a physicist say that the question of “why the cosmos is the way it is”, is “a stupid question” because it implies purpose. So we have an opinion but he takes his thought as fact.

    There is so much hubris in this society. It seems to be a symptom of a deep fear of embracing humility.

  69. You are right, Dee. There is fear in our society of embracing humility because it is seen as weakness, shaming. And in the 2 storey universe it is. Yet St. Paul dwells in the 1 storey universe and thus can say, “for when I am weak, then I am strong.” But not strong in the sense of the world, but strong in the Spirit of Christ. They are antithetical one to another. Strength in the Spirit manifests itself in weakness, humility. The only strength one sees in the world is boasting of one’s successes and abilities. Yet these are ephemeral in the end as all pride and boastings are quieted by the grave, seen to be the dust they are.

  70. Chris, God’s grace be with you abundantly.

    As Paula mentions the Orthodox understanding of male and female is altogether different than anything found in the world. The revelation of the nature of that synergy begins in Genesis. Indeed all of the Church’s wisdom can be found there if one has eyes to see it. I have been contemplating that mystic, sacramental reality for about 45 years along with lots of practice and lots of failure. Still oddles to learn. What is revealed in the Scripture and the Fathers is amazing. What we see in the world, even in the best examples, is damaged by sin. We are all in need of repentance on matters sexual. While there are some sexual sins that are worse than others, none of us is clean and pure. That is one reason pastoral care on such matters is difficult.

    Worldly science has little to tell us here even when it is not wildly distorted by sinful agendas as Kinsey is. Primarily because science for the most part has lost the sacramental sense of the sacred that is required to even begin to understand sex and the male-female synergy embedded in the very heart of the created world.

    It is a dreadful shame that the perversion of a fundamental mystical reality has become the distorted and inharmonious ison of contemporary life.

    Our condition is much the same in every aspect of living to the point that many good people see only isolation as a recourse to living in the world but not of it. I understand the impulse. Unfortunately such communities almost always end up recreating another version of the world rather than providing salvific sanctuary. That would s not, in most cases, the way of the Cross.

  71. Thank you Fr Stephen for that. I was wondering a bit what you meant, and then I saw a link at the bottom to related articles and this one https://blogs.ancientfaith.com/glory2godforallthings/2010/03/18/5867/ was helpful. I really like that article for what that is worth. Interesting to see another perspective on the ‘pledge’ incident. I think that this being stuff was what I was getting at with my example at the end of the reply to Byron, but maybe I have that wrong.

    I agree with both you and Dee that words matter. (Alas, I may use far too many of them!). I can’t help but think that many if not most of our problems and disputes within Christianity come from the fact that so many of the words used have a wide range of meanings which results in people talking at each other and at cross purposes. All the big ones qualify – sin, repentance, salvation (a truly huge problem word), and ‘God’ for starters. BTW, Dee, on ‘God’ and the problem that word as a term causes most sides of the so called ‘debate’ (and many other things) you can’t do much better than David Bentley Hart’s wonderful book “The Experience of God – Being, Consciousness, Bliss”, which is a great metaphysics primer if nothing else.

    Thank you also Paula AZ and Michael Bauman for those insights into the sex and gender stuff, and for your words of encouragement. No, I am not familiar with St Maximus so thanks for the pointer. I have in fact been looking for some good writing by the fathers about the issue of SSA where the actual problem was explicitly set out in terms I could use to explain to others (I once asked an Orthodox teacher by email this and got no reply), so hopefully I’ll find something there.

    Re the ‘tribal’ thing, one of my concerns about structural changes happening in society is just how so many people are now rushing to occupy the ‘victim’ space, and then to justify grievances. Around the world we all seem to be going into grievance and self righteousness mode. It’s a slippery slope from there to us vs them group nastiness, and then violence. (It is the Cain story writ large.) All this gets turbo charged by group dynamics, and more recently the internet creating echo chambers. We love belonging and feeling right. It seems to be an unfortunate anthropological fact of life that fallen humans just do this sort of supercharged ego stuff. (In saying that, I really do suspect that the root cause of it all is in our own false sense of self as set out with characteristic brilliance and precision by Fr Stephen in this old but particularly superb article https://blogs.ancientfaith.com/glory2godforallthings/2012/06/05/the-true-self-and-the-story-of-me/ . Just amp up all of that into a group and you end up with all the tribe stuff). But culturally it seems to me it is getting worse, and the forces that used to restrain this kind of thing are weakening fast. If it’s liberal students on college campuses wanting to lynch professors for not being politically correct enough for them (as a pack usually), or gay activists behaving badly it is easy to shake our heads in (probably justified) dismay. But when it is our own people, I feel nervous when our first instinct is (by contrast) just to explain how their behaviour as understandable. It all seems at the least sidesy to me, and at worst trying to occupy the victim spot ourselves. In saying that I didn’t see any evidence in play about concern for the gay people being mentioned in the letter (although Dreher clearly did) and their plight. Prayers would have been nice too!. I don’t doubt that much of it will be being driven by a range of social forces at work in Eastern Europe. Those are real, and I have no doubt that there is a great deal of anxiety about social cohesion – not to mention just being foreign. But these are precisely the kinds of circumstances that Girard was talking about lead to scapegoating – a rising sense of insecurity within a group, leading to grievance, leading to finding an emblematic something or someone or (small) group it can be pinned onto, and then more often than not violence. I think that is what my Anglican priest was talking about when he said ”Here is a group that a diverse constituency can all agree is the problem and then galvanise themselves against.” He was not just talking about Christians, he was talking about lots of people in the relevant countries who did not like the directlon their culture was going, including Western influences etc. But how does it manifest? Protests against ‘gays’, and yes, nasty thuggish violence that is quietly condoned with an exp;icit or implicit thought ‘that kind of filth does not really matter’ or ‘it’s a pity, but if that’s what it takes then that’s sad, they chose their path though’. All of that, Christopher, is what I meant when I described that the Dreher letter stuff as being “textbook” Girardian. Whether or not it is a complete or even accurate picture of course I do not know, the letter was probably tendentious, although it clearly rang true enough for Dreher. But irrespective of whether all the facts are true, the scenario that is described is the classic Girardian pattern.

    What worries me is when the church gets sucked into such dynamics and agendas. I personally found perhaps the most disappointing (and maybe even the creepiest) thing about that Dreher article (after I had read both the original and the second one with the letter) was that photo on the front with the bishops leading the charge. I am not sure what the best way of dealing with these situations is. But marching in front of a mob in full regalia does not feel like one of them. By contrast I quite liked Met Kallistos Ware’s approach of firmly but kindly reaffirming doctrine, but not turning it into a fight. It may well be that that approach will not win the day on the issue, but then maybe nothing will. But at least the church will be at less risk of succumbing to a different – and yes worse – evil.

    On that topic, and of diverse constituencies coming together, one of the interesting things about the Caiaphas incident in John (“it is better for one many to die than the nation …” 11) is that I understand (and no doubt people will correct me if I’m wrong) part of the irony of the situation was that this was precisely the opposite of the normal pharasaic position of the time on this issue where the life of an individual was seen as so important that one would never say such a thing. (In contrast with the saducees with whom he was talking and who would have had no problem with the sentiment.) The whole Passion of our Lord comes about precisely because a bunch of interests (with the religious authorities of his day at the front of the pack) come together to eliminate the ‘troublemaker’, and to restore order. I read the all the gospel accounts as pretty much saying Jesus knows all of this and calmly and lovingly looks it in the face, and pretty much calls it out with an “I know you Satan” kind of vibe. Indeed there is a final and deeper irony in that it is Jesus who ends up agreeing with Caiaphas’ line but for wholly different reasons, on a completely different level and on his own terms as he does indeed offer himself up for everyone. And in so doing shows us all exactly how we work.

    Christopher, one of the reasons I still dip into Dreher is that despite everything he really is genuine about all the mob stuff, having been personally affected and often wears things on his sleeve in an endearing way. I really liked this (older) post of his https://www.theamericanconservative.com/dreher/no-sympathy-for-the-devil-demonic-trump-politics/ where he describes his past and why he hates mobs so much and the varied ways they have manifested in his life. Otherwise he holds the party line on sexual matters very firmly, but in practice in ways that do not make much consistent sense to me. Sometime I’d be interested in the way you think my Anglican priest’s comments were just “contemporary up-to-date bourgeois morality/cultural vs. current not-quite-up-to-date eastern european (and not just eastern – Italy for example) working class morality/cultural”. His points resonated with me at least and maybe that is indeed what I am too. I do find it odd though that often when this SSA issue comes up, it quickly seems to morph into a discussion about abortion. I think those two issues are different in kind and in the order of their impact. The abortion issues are about human life and protection of the innocent – essentially killing people who can’t defend themselves, alas now on an almost industrial scale. I see (maybe wrongly) SSA issues as mainly affecting those involved and (maybe) their salvation. Maybe the changes in attitude towards both issues have some common antecedents in the sexual revolution, I just don’t see them as the same and it does not help anything (especially public debate) to conflate them. And I just don’t understand what you mean, or the basis, for your saying that “he would not think of analyzing how abortion fits into an anlysis of his own”.

    Anyway thank you all for your thoughts and interactions to date. I have found many of them interesting and clarifying. But this will be my last post for a while as I give all this an overdue rest. (Paula AZ I hear where you are coming from and thank you for it, but …) Anyway, I wish you all the best, and will be praying for you (for what this little heretic’s prayers may be worth!). May God bless you all. Father Stephen a very special thank you again for all of your work. Yours is a particularly blessed ministry.

  72. Dean
    you are right, humility is true strength. Humility is utterly alien to an inferiority complex (a latent manifestation of egoism). It is utter fearlessness, because the one who knows he is an infinitely honoured-by-God nought, and truly fears and loves God alone, fears and ‘loves’ (in the sense of an absorbing, distracting attachment) nothing else. And ardently awaits the moment of the final seal on the eager God-wards trajectory of his being. That’s why only ‘joyously moribund’ souls can retain the fiery spirit of a St Paul, and truly dwell in a One story dimension amidst and despite their surroundings -doing quite the opposite.

  73. Chris…again, I appreciate your elaborations here. Please allow me to clarify my thoughts. Forgive me, I can get wordy too! My thoughts, though, stem from the premise that we can’t help but to want to “fix” things, so we take each instance of failure and parse it out in great length, only to find that, even with all our good intentions, son…things just don’t change! And I think our compulsion to “fix” leads to faulty conclusions. Bear with me once again….
    Categorizing sins according to their differences…SSA, abortion, or even more precise, a murder or mass murders, a lie (bearing false witness), a theft, a protest in anger, forms of coercion, adulterous situations, a bribe, etc. can easily obscure the true nature of sin…that these things create an existence in separation from God: death, an ontological reality, apart from true “being”, that is, life in union with God. That is why it is wise to avoid separating each infraction into a category and leaving it there. Christ transcended, He “took away”, not sins but the sin of the world. By His death He conquered death/sin. The Cross is the one and only answer, and will always be the everlasting sign of healing and forgiveness. That is why I say it is dangerous to point fingers at those people in the EO countries and conclude that they are flat out wrong in their reaction to the gays, without admitting to our own culpability in their very sins. If we do that, perhaps we would have a clearer understanding, and even better, recognize a solidarity between us all. That is, in and through our baptism into Christ, we stand with Him in His solidarity with mankind. And in the age to come, we will know this in its fullness. This goes way past that which we form opinions about, where we tend to categorize others. I think it leads to an acceptance without excusing, and compassion for our humiliation.

    As for the Bishops, they take the brunt because they are the leaders, and we expect more from them as models, teachers, and leaders. But again, they are sinners just as we all are. This is not to excuse sinful behavior. But we would treat them as Christ treated those who turned to Him …not in condemnation, but to go and sin no more…that is, live your life as you are meant to live, in union with God…and to work it out with fear and trembling.
    Now, we are in the process of doing that as we live out our lives. And as we go about this, amid the trials and severity of life (with God actively working all things for good), we continue to sin. Sometimes terribly. Same with those Bishops. If we take a section of their life that was brought into the limelight by the media and then form all sorts of conclusions about them, and life in general, based on these occurrences, we totally miss the real reason for their behavior. And there is a danger of setting ourselves apart from them in self righteousness.
    This is where humility comes to the fore…I am no different than them when it comes down to it. The only difference is that the camera is not on me. But God’s eyes are. He asks us to bear each others burdens. He tells us that we are our bother’s keeper. He shows us that when we sin the whole cosmos is changed, in that we fail to live up to our purpose as kings and priests and offer back to God all He has given “for all and behalf of all”.
    Well, that’s my point Chris! Again, I appreciate your thoughts and they make for good conversation. But my mind always goes back to the root of the problem, and there I can make better sense of it all.
    Thank you for your prayers! Ours are with you as well. Hope you don’t stay away for too long!

  74. Chris,

    Fr. Stephen’s rules preclude a discussion of SSA and certain bishops, but you can have one here if you like:

    https://blogs.ancientfaith.com/orthodoxyandheterodoxy/2018/06/16/anatomy-of-a-foreword-metr-kallistos-on-sexual-morality/

    https://blogs.ancientfaith.com/orthodoxyandheterodoxy/2018/06/13/the-church-and-homosexuality-a-meditation/

    On words and their meaning/use, your use of “mob” is instructive I think. As a follow of Dreher you are aware that he often points to the post-christian secular “woke” morality and its “mob” character. Priest-scholars of this secular morality assume that they are the sharp pointed edge of a *spirit* (another important word) of historical moral progress, and lack the perspective and humility to see the “mob” character of their own philosophy.

    Homosexualism, procreation, abortion, divorce & family – and how these interrelate with contemporary morality and economics – rest on the sexual revolution. The sexual revolution rests an anthropological revolution that has been occurring both in and outside the (mostly western) Church for at least 500 years. This anthropological revolution rests on a religious and metaphysical revolution (Cartesian anthropology and epistemology on the one hand, nominalistic materialism on the other) that is at least as old. So yes, these things are all related and can not be separated except in a shallow way.

    One or another, a person has to “stand under” the above chain (of presuppositions) to be able to see contemporary secular culture for what it is. If you simply wade through its (anthropological and metaphysical) shallows you are “naturally” led to the conclusions of its presuppositions. This is what Father Stephen continually writes about, though not in a systematic way on this blog – it’s a blog. Dreher does a good job of explicating this chain in the second chapter titled “The Roots of the Crises” in his book “The Benedict Option”.

    This all ties back to Christian virtue, the Great Commision and how to be Church in the world (e.g. should a bishop support this or that ‘march’) because you have to begin with the question “what is man” (anthropology) before you can move on to “how shall man live” (virtue).

  75. In reference to Fr Stephen’s final paragraph:

    We are not in this alone. Character is never a private matter (nor is anything else in our lives). We cannot become what we want to become without help – from God and from others. The acquisition of virtue is the work of a whole community (the Church). It is good to be with people who also want to become the same kind of person you want to be – and to know that this is God’s work in us.

    I know that I need the community of the Church for learning such character and also to help with my understanding of the scripture. I believe Psalm 77 (Orthodox Bible, Psalm 78 non-Orthodox) speaks to the importance of the influences (both positive and negative) of the community a a whole to it’s members.

    Verse 31 has been troubling me regarding my interpretation, which unfortunately has been so heavily influenced by Western theology: “The wrath of God rose up against them, and killed their wealthy ones and shackled Israel’s chosen ones.”

    St Augustine’s interpretation refers to another translation that reads “killed their fat ones” and he refers still to another verse where “their iniquity shall come forth as if out of fat”.

    The perversity of pride and it’s effects is not natural to this world, for which God has said “it is good”. So I am able to grasp how a community loving God would desire to expunge pride from their hearts. And that God would activate and make this winnowing come about through a process of theosis through the Holy Spirit. But the part of this interpretation that is still haunting me as not appropriate to God is the reference to God’s anger. I’m not a fan of St Anselm’s view of God nor for that matter of St Augustine’s view of God. So I’m placing this question before this community for an interpretation that is “Orthodox”, that is “right worship” of God. Do we worship Him because He’s a jealous God and will ‘exterminate’ us in His anger when we sin? Has Christ come as a sacrifice to appease this anger? In other words, is the Resurrection an “integral but not essential element of Atonement” as apparently some Western theologians maintain?

    It is my hope that this thought is pertinent to Fr Stephen’s article. It’s my attempt to sort out theological meanings that differentiate morality from virtue.

  76. Dee, good questions. I suggest two good books, one old and one new that cover similar ground: The Incarnation by St. Athanasius the translation with the forward by C.S. Lewis and Fr. Patrick Henry Reardon: Reclaiming the Atonement, an Orthodox Theology of Redemption. Vol 1: The Incarnation.

    Of course there is the fundamental witness of St. Paul in 1 Cor 15:
    12Now if Christ is preached that He has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ is not risen. 14And if Christ is not risen, then our preaching is empty and your faith is also empty. 15Yes, and we are found false witnesses of God, because we have testified of God that He raised up Christ, whom He did not raise up—if in fact the dead do not rise. 16For if the dead do not rise, then Christ is not risen. 17And if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins! 18Then also those who have [c]fallen asleep in Christ have perished. 19If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable.

    I think that is quite difficult for us to read the Old Testament correctly because we live after the Incarnation and in the Resurrection. Both fundamentally altered time and the human soul in ways that we cannot perceive. At least that is my belief.

    Nevertheless it is impossible to not give some credence to God’s wrath being assuaged by Christ on the Cross, but it lies more in our Lord’s proclamation of mercy than in anything forensic. Frankly, from this end of the tunnel we cannot really rightly understand what God’s wrath is.

    There is a line from an old play, “Inherit the Wind” that has always made sense to me: “God created man in His own image, and man being a gentleman, returned the favor.”

    Of one thing I am certain, we are not sinners in the hands of angry God being roasted over the fires of hell.

    We are sinners in the hands of a merciful God who came down from heaven and became who we are except for sin. If He were holding us over the flames of hell, He would be there being roasted as well. The Incarnation makes anything else impossible.

    In that sense, even if God is wrathful, He would be carrying out punishment, in a certain sense on Himself.

    Here St. Paul’s words in Ephesians 5 on marriage give insight to the question you ask: 27that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish. 28So husbands ought to love their own wives as their own bodies; he who loves his wife loves himself. 29For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as the Lord does the church. 30For we are members of His body, [h]of His flesh and of His bones.

    Yet St. Paul speaks of the Church and our life in her.

    He is the Bridegroom, is He not? As the hymn from Bridegroom Matins tells us: “I behold the Bridal Chamber, richly adorned for my Savior. But I have no Bridal garment, to worthily enter. Make radiant the garment of my soul. O, giver of Light and save me.”

    The cave is the bridal chamber and the wedding cannot be consummated except in the Resurrection.

    …and Chris, what is written above is an essential part of the mystery of the male-female synergy that God uses in His creation toward our salvation.

  77. Dee,
    Fr. Thomas Hopko has a couple of podcasts on AFR that deal specifically with the wrath of God. They are very much worth listening too, as the Greek speaking church of the East sees God’s wrath very differently than the Latin speaking church in the West, as you mentioned St. Augustine and Anselm. Thanks Michael for your right on response to our sister in Christ, Dee.

  78. Thank you both, Michael and Dean for your thoughtful answers. Michael, I’ve read the Incarnation by St Athanasius, and thanks to your reference, I’ll re-read it —it’s been awhile. I’m also grateful for the poetic (and iconic) description of the Bridegroom and Bride regarding our relationship with God. This emphasis is so remarkably different from the ‘punishing parent’ analogy.

    Dean, thank you also for the reference to Fr Hopko’s podcasts! I’ve listened to quite a few of his podcasts but missed these. I’m going to make a point of listening to them over the next couple of days.

  79. Dee,
    I keep the image of the Jubilee before my eyes when I’m reading the Scriptures – particularly the OT. Debts are cancelled, land is restored, slaves set free, etc. It is the image of the apokatastasis (that’s the NT word for it – the “restoration of all things”). I like to name it the “setting rightness of God”.

    The image is very graphic and violent. I give that to the poets. But the action is the very thing that Christ went about doing, day after day. Where the Kingdom of God is manifest, this work of putting things right is also present. Mary’s Magnificat resounds with this theme – exalted the humble and meek, the rich sent away empty.

    I apply it to my own soul sometimes. The “rich man” in me tortures and oppresses the “humble man” in me. He needs to be sent away empty.

    When I ask for mercy on the world, I certainly mean for God to be gentle as He sends the rich away empty. They will “weep and howl” the Scriptures say – but it will only be the merest echo of the howling and weeping that the poor have endured at their hands.

    Mostly, I think about the demons, Pharaoh’s minions, who oppress us daily and grow fat on our misery. The resurrection is the ultimate fulfillment of this great cosmic Jubilee. We will no longer be in bondage to sin and death – including our bodies. In Romans 8, St. Paul describe the resurrection in terms of freedom. That is the marriage of these images.

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