A few days ago, after hearing a very distressing bit of social news, I found myself saying, “I don’t want to be here anymore.” It was a voice of despair and sadness. The occasion had been a public altercation in which a stranger spat at a woman. It was the sort of thing that belongs among the lowest of human actions. But it happened.
My topic is my own reaction. I found my mind tossed about, looking for comfort or escape. At the end of the day, I shared my thoughts with my wife and said aloud, “I don’t want to be here anymore.” I was taken aback by my own words. The goodness of creation had disappeared in a dark act of senseless anger.
My distress was also a cry for something better, to be free of the darkness. The truth is that the darkness was slowly drawing me down. Our social strain is manifesting itself in many ways, many of them revealing the profound disease that underlies our culture. And this is nothing new.
In 532 A.D., in Constantinople, over the course of a week, large parts of the city were destroyed by rioting and fires (including an earlier Church of Hagia Sophia). This was in the early years of Justinian the Great’s reign. To read the story of this event is to enter a part of Byzantine culture often overlooked or ignored (particularly by the Orthodox). The city had deep divisions between two semi-political sports-factions, the Blues and the Greens. Sports riots were quite common. The factions also had connections to various nobles and senators with designs on the empire. Justinian was at a low point in popularity.
The riots began in the Hippodrome, following the 22nd chariot race of the day. The palace was placed under siege, and the rioters set fires. Justinian thought to flee, but his wife, Theodora, talked him out of it and encouraged him to fight it out. I think Justinian was at a point of, “I don’t want to be here anymore.”
With a bit of intrigue and a massive show of brute force, Justinian brought the city under control. The massacre that ended the riots is said to have resulted in over 30,000 deaths. Later that same year, construction began on the present Church of Hagia Sophia. Five years later, with its completion, as well as numerous other projects, Justinian had transformed the city towards the glory that would make it renowned throughout the world.
This story could be matched repeatedly by various chapters in the history of the faith. Both Justinian and Theodora are saints of the Church. Justinian began as a peasant from the Balkans, Theodora as an actress and a prostitute. The riots of Constantinople (and elsewhere) were, as often as not, engendered by theological disputes as well as by politics and chariot races. The full account of Christian history is messy and marked as much by darkness as by light.
Nevertheless, “the Light shines in the darkness and the darkness does not overcome it.” During the period of time of the Nika riots, Mary of Egypt was newly reposed; Benedict of Nursia was writing his Rule; Isaac of Syria was composing his hymns; Brendan the Navigator was crossing the Atlantic; Romanus the Melodist was composing his Akathist hymn; Sabbas the Sanctified was founding the monastery of the Lavra outside of Jerusalem; Columba of Iona was evangelizing Scotland, and, doubtless, thousands of other unknown souls sustained the universe with their prayers.
Our time is no different. The glories of Byzantium contained disgusting seasons of hatred, lust, and destruction. The darkness of our time contains the brightness of good souls whose deeds are known only to God and whose prayers keep modernity at bay and secretly fight the hidden Mystery of Iniquity. Despair comes when we look at the dark and forget the light.
This is the great battle that rages in our day. It is precisely the same battle that raged in the time of Justinian (one and the same battle). Whatever might seem of importance is but a shadow cast by the darkness. Then, it was Blues versus Greens; now, it is Reds versus Blues. Their champions are forgotten as are their causes. Our champions will be swept away into the dustbin of history along with their urgencies. Justinian is not remembered for the riots but for a Church. And even so, many do not recall his name. Some do not know the Church. But Holy Wisdom, in whose honor the Church is named, continues to frame and sustain the universe, sweeping away the meaningless dust of the darkness while building on the foundation of light.
It is good to be here.
Four years after the completion of Hagia Sophia, a plague struck Constantinople and the Eastern Empire (believed to be Bubonic Plague), killing nearly half the population. The Byzantine Empire never truly recovered.
You wrote this just for me. I know you did. How could you have known exactly how I felt? Thank you.
Hmmm. It must be going round…
Thank you, Father Stephen!
Thank you for this, Father. It is, indeed, easy to become despondent in times like these. Thanksgiving is the answer.
Based on comments made by Michael earlier, I have been reading the books of Richard and Sabina Wurmbrand. It is amazing how they did not fall into despair during the trials and times they faced. They did not forget to see the Light. Glory to God.
There was a similar case in the UK, the woman who was spat at by a passenger on a train ended up dying of Covid-19. It is hard to remain apathetic as such mindless violence, but we seem to be numb to the scores of deaths, yet still sensitive to the individual stories.
Perhaps the light finds its way and even triumphs over darkness inside us when we choose to redirect our information dietary sources from the daily, bleeding news to Christ’s eternal good news, as you have previously written. We are but a blip in history. Blink and you have missed us and all of this madness.
It’s good to be here and everywhere God intended for us. It’s hard to remember that ‘this is not all there is’.
Thank you for reminding us, Father!
Thank you Father!
Amen. Amen. Amen!
And we must also always remember that we are “here and now“ because God chose this time as the best for *our* salvation. May we always ask Him alone to show us how to belong to Him and to be follow Him.
Same. Thank you.
Thank you for your words this morning. I am struggling a great deal with these same things. I didn’t know the history of Constantinople.
Yesterday our priest spoke about how our thoughts determine our minds and how we are to acquire the mind of Christ. My despondent thoughts push all that away and I miss the multitudes of blessings all around me all of the time.
Thank you again. Your words are helping me remember why I am here, to know God. The circumstances form the school in which I learn to know Him.
I was careful in the article to remind us of the saints and their holy work that was happening at the same time as these other things. It was only a small sample. But, be eager to call on them for prayer! We are not alone in this. Those who finished the race in their own centuries stand by not only to cheer us on, but to help us as well. The Scriptures indicate that the latter days will have the greater trials. It’s also true that the later the days become, the more saints will have gathered around the throne of God for intercession. In the very last days, all who have ever gone before will sustain that very last generation until we have all completed what God has set before us.
You are the apple of their eye!
Thank you for your words! It was also just what I needed. I’ve been feeling this same despondency.
Continued health and safety to you and yours. I appreciate your continued ministry. Your writings are a blessing and reminder that things will be better when this race is done. Many Years.
Christ is Risen!!
Thank you, Father.
I’ve appreciated your blog many times, but this one makes me uneasy. How can Justinian be proclaimed a saint of the church for exercising military power- that Killed. That may be inline with the office of a ruler- but that is why we must really ask if it can really be proper for a true Christian to be in such a position. How can we say, “Let us do evil that good may come”?
Thank you Father Stephen ,made me cry reading this….because I had just told Deacon Edward of my disposition this morning!
“ I feel so heavy in my heart the way we’re living”
Then….. I read your post.
Christ is Risen!
In the thick of this battle….I feel sick in the pit of my stomach seeing the massive manipulation and deception going on all around me. Death from a plague would be a sweet relief. “I do not want to be here,” has more or less been my steady state since the last election opened my eyes to the depth of the darkness that surrounds us and which has by craft and deception seized worldly power and by now seemingly completely captured the institutions of our nation’s gov’t. That steady state is also accompanied by an equally steady cry for help, not just for me but for all who now suffer at the hands of this darkness. Asking for the Lord and His Saints to empower me to turn my eyes away from the dark maw of the pit that is slavering to devour Christ’s “little ones” and onto the Lord, who comes in glory soon for the world, and daily visits in His glory all those who prepare Him room. Truly I have no strength of my own.
25 “There will be signs in sun and moon and stars, and on the earth dismay among nations, in perplexity at the roaring of the sea and the waves, 26 men fainting from fear and the expectation of the things which are coming upon the world; for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 27 Then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. 28 But when these things begin to take place, straighten up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”
I understand your uneasiness. Justinian is not proclaimed a saint because he exercised military power and killed. He is proclaimed a saint despite the fact that he did such things. This is the same irony found in King David. God did not allow him to build the Temple, precisely because he had been a man of war. He sinned in other ways as well. Yet, he was a man “after God’s own heart.”
Sainthood is not a blanket approval of the actions or thoughts of a person. Rather, it is, sometimes, a “winnowing” in which we honor what is honorable, even while recognizing what was not. For most of us, whatever sanctity may be found in our lives, it will be in this form. But, as St. John the Baptist said of Christ, “His winnowing fork is in His hand.”
Thank you Fr. Stephen! It is good to be hear and I really really needed to read this post today. Glory to God for All Things!
Sorry for your uneasiness, and I understand it. Justinian is not proclaimed a saint for exercising military power, but, in spite of exercising it. King David was not allowed to build the Temple because of his military campaigns, according to Scripture. But we honor him as a saint and the Scriptures seem unapologetic about this. The proclamation of a saint does not represent an approval of their whole life, but a recognition of a peculiar grace made manifest in them. Sometimes this grace can only be seen after a “winnowing” of sorts.
I am troubled when I read a treatment of saints’ lives in which their sainthood is seen as a blanket approval. It is very misleading.
But, St. John the Baptist said of Christ, “His winnowing fork is in His hand.” There is much in Justinian’s life that is worthy of honor.
Christ is risen! I, too, have been struggling with despondency. It’s comforting to know those we look to for guidance have the same struggles. Thank you for sharing, Father.
The darkness within and around government is only a little more obvious in our day – but was there long before. My writings in which I urge people to recognize modernity for what it is (and the entire concern of democratic government is simply one of the larger items of modernity) are meant to help us turn our eyes where they need to be. What we have at present in the sphere of government/politics is simply the raging of the passions and our manipulation through the passions. The author of this is not one side or the other – but simply the demons. The personalities involved in all of this are little more than puppets – themselves captive to their own passions and the make-believe idea that they are actually in control.
None of this is new. I recommend that we should find ways to avoid the political news-cycle and turn our hearts and minds to the things of God. Nothing good will come of our being “politically aware.” There is, instead, a coordinated effort from hell to draw our hearts away from God.
People should realize that the devil doesn’t have any particular political party. He likes all of them and finds them equally useful.
Thank you Father Stephen! You have nailed it yet again.
My deepest sorrow of all comes from the perhaps unintended messages from hierarchs to us in their attendance policies which undermine the traditional Orthodox belief in the healing power and grace in the Holy Sacraments, Divine Liturgy, and Holy Icons. Hopefully they are simply rattled by fear as was Peter and will be able to heed the Saints and Holy Fathers again very soon. Your message, the Prologue, and the lives and writings of the Saints and Holy Fathers are most helpful In restoring perspective that all of us are in the spiritual hospital together.
One welcome support is Trisagion Films on youtube ~ its videos on Sts Porphyrios and St. Paisios the Athonite have lifted my spirits and reminded me that we are all imperfect and that God is with us and the Saints praying for us.
I sometimes, more so these days, think that the reversal of the natural life which modernity has introduced –especially through the digitization of everything–, seems to be key to the type of trials (“the greater trials”) which Scripture indicates for the latter days.
The previous, ‘traditional’ trials, the ones that have always existed, are one thing, (even if some of them might be almost unbearable to even listen to) but, nevertheless, we do have fairly clear counsels as to the manner in which we ought to deal with those ones.
However, the hitherto inconceivable trials (but possible in the near future) do not fair as well regarding equally clear historical advise on how to deal with them. For a good example, take the conditions of large-scale technocracy which can now approach an ability to generate a global “prelest” (deception) of unprecedented scale, and a far more established ‘falleness’ (deception) into which each generation finds itself as ‘truth’.
Granted, being ‘wise as serpents’ in the face of such trials, certainly shouldn’t obstruct our having the ‘integrity of doves’. This goes without saying. In fact, only a truly great reserve of “dove-like” spiritual integrity could calmly counterbalance the “serpentine wisdom” of “discerning of our enemies” (Psalm 92/91:11), and the element of a type of ‘shock’ this involves, while also allowing us to retain the calmness in the midst of the tempest.
I could not disagree with you more strongly. The actions of the hierarchs, in their attendance policies, are fully in accord with any number of occasions in the past when the Church responded to health crises. What is contrary to the Tradition, I think, is the uninformed criticism they have received, sometimes from sources that claimed some divine sanction. When it comes from a priest, I am even more disturbed.
We can, no doubt, debate whether this virus is as bad as was once feared, or what were the best or better practices in dealing with it. Frankly, it is the mindset of modernity that makes us imagine that everything should be done the best way and without mistakes, etc.
Our hierarchs have acted responsibly, using the information that was formally presented to them (not trying to imagine themselves to be epidemiologists or making their decisions based on Youtube videos). They acted responsibly and well within the bounds of Holy Tradition. However, many of the faithful have revealed their own weaknesses. Crowds virtually forced their way into Holy Trinity St. Sergius Lavra outside Moscow – monks have died from the virus. Disobedience is a great sin in such a setting as this.
There is no doubt that all of this can or could be handled better, more wisely, with greater precision, etc. But, that is a fool’s dream. We are not better, wise, or precise. We have human beings as hierarchs with a dread responsibility. Our spirit of democracy has infected our minds and hearts and are leading us into sin.
I find the yoke of obedience hard to bear at present, as the viral threat is waning. But, I struggle to remember that I find obedience hard even in the best of times. Anybody can obey the orders they like and agree with. Even the Gentiles do as much. There is much grace in obedience, however, and when it comes without complaint, all the better.
Forgive my for offering this mild rebuke. I think your comment could easily lead some to stumble and tempt them into serious sin in such a time as this. I thought that perhaps I should have deleted it – but chose instead to respond as forthrightly as possible. Judging our hierarchs in this matter is simply a temptation. Resist.
I think that humility might be our greatest weapon in defeating the deceptions that surround us. I recall my Father-in-law’s frequent statement, “Well, I don’t know anything about that.” I saw the same statement encouraged by one of the holy elders somewhere. This is the meekness of a dove. Modernity makes everyone think he’s an expert. If we would become fools, we would be wise.
We should not even think we understand the actual nature of the threat around us. Our political analyses are deceptions. The more we think we know, the more likely we are to become slaves to our passions. I am no prophet. I think it is quite possible that we have only begun an entrance into a time of continuing great trials. If so, our meekness must exceed that of Moses.
Dear Fr. Stephen,
Thank you to your gentle reply to Nicole.
I would like to share with you and all of us here this article Fr. Peter from San Francisco sent me. Point three touches on what you explained so well. Thank you.
Thank you so much for your reply, Father. Your reply was very helpful in looking at the lives of saints!
Perhaps sometime you can help me understand why the Church seems to support war!
Two little recommendations:
In one collection of Orthodox prayers there is one that seems particularly relevant: Lord, quench the ragings of the heathen.
The film about St. Luke the Physician is now available on YouTube with subtitles. The times were similar but not the same. His steadfast courage is truly an encouragement. It is called, “Healing Fear: St. Luke the Surgeon.”
Now this is apocalyptic! In a good way, glory to God. Recently, a priest we may know tweeted that he didn’t think this crisis we’re facing now was of apocalyptic proportions. I’m pretty sure Father was referring to the more ordinary definition of ‘apocalyptic’, though as I’ve contemplated the present situation, I’ve experienced some radical revelations. I think we all have.
Like a razor or Rorschach test, this pestilence has engendered preexisting divisions and disconnects. The lines between political, cultural, temperamental poles appear so stark and yet confused at the same time. The darkest abyss I’ve encountered thus far has been the the one that cuts through my own heart. In this way, the ‘rona has been more a cruel friend than an invisible enemy.
May God forgive my inattention to the light of the great cloud of witnesses and grant us all an apocalypse within.
The technical refinement of deception will surely become greater as time passes.
It will shortly perhaps be viable to persuade the world of something previously preposterous (like an alien invasion or something of the sort) thanks to such technological sophistication.
Yesterday my ear caught a comparison, my brother alerted me to this, by a renowned historian, of the ‘black death’ plague, which had a toll of 25% of the London population but -at least- eventually brought about a healthy redistribution of wealth, to the present epidemic. He cited that the current one (allegedly) has taken a toll (even with the highest estimates) of only around 0.1% of population, yet the response to the current toll is unprecedented, (a response of societal and economic “suicide” as he described it), yet many vehemently defend it, (‘educated’ by mainstream public-opinion shaping). He argued that the response, as well as being epidemiologically wrong, (which I won’t go into here of course), as well as managing to suspiciously censor all alternative narratives, is also bringing about a most unhealthy redistribution of wealth and, lastly (and somewhat chin-strokingly) an effort to change the way of living of future generations towards a greater technocracy. The technocratic impetus in combination with the scriprural warnings relating to it (in its details) require great mental gymnastics for us to gloss over.
Now, an the lingering point from all this, from a slightly more spiritual perspective, I think, is that the default blanket position to “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world” (1 John 2:15) often requires some parsing, most especially by those who are in such positions that believers ask them pressing questions about the details of this ‘default position’ in the current predicaments.
The pithy advise to seek virtue are indeed the liberating inspiration for every believer when it is first heard -it allows the proper reorientation of one’s being and the renewal of spiritual enthusiasm-, however, with time, a more rationalised encyclopedic argumentation, a solid ability to answer to various ‘details’, often becomes necessary too, especially in the absence of a gifted advisor or when people turn to you for this type of advise rather than the big, foundational basics.
And to get back to Moses especially, as Israel asked Moses to parse the details of the law, (some might have asked dishonestly and others well-meaningly), he did, in fact, need both (dove-like) meekness, as well as (serpentine) discernment. Meekness first, granted, but, in that position, discernment too.
Thank you, Father.
Well, I do not see any political solutions, barring a revolution and killing a lot of people, the result inevitably being worse than the present. The present distress does not begin to rise to the level of the Black Death, of course. And the public response might seem extreme. It was less extreme in the 1300’s – for, at least, the reason that they had no idea of what to do. But many things were tried – including quarantine. Extreme quarantine.
But, we are ruled by money-men, and they will use every opportunity to make money, including this. They will answer to God. We could, of course, kill them all and take their money, but, as noted above, I don’t think that’s a true option.
Instead, I believe that we understand that we’re being taken advantage of – and that there is nothing that the powers that be can do to us that inhibits the work of the Kingdom of God in our lives. There are no political saviors (certainly not at present) in that they all belong to the same money-maker class and ilk. We can throw one group of thieves out and replace them with another group of thieves.
We simply have a crisis of virtue. And, as a matter of fact, there is so little virtue among the populace, we are not likely to see a virtuous leader in our lifetime. So.
I have reckoned in my heart that this is the case – and that whatever deliverance comes must come from God. After a fashion, I simply do not care about it – or I’m working very hard to extract my heart from the nexus of caring. It does not matter.
When I listen to various voices of political analysis – be they Orthodox or otherwise – I hear almost nothing but culturally-formed nonsense. The various conspiracy theories of every sort are little more than fantasy – even when they have an element of truth. There is nothing to be gained from it – other than to say, “Do not listen to evil men who lack virtue.” That said, we obey the lawful orders and reasonable requests of authorities. Of course they’re destroying the economy. But, last time I checked, Caesar’s image (in one form or another) is still on the money.
I will not be drawn into caring. I see only hell in the gaping maw of that alurement.
I should have given more weight to your own use of the word “unintended messages” – I do not hear such a message in their directives. But I respect the thought that, if they are seen to be there by some, they are surely unintended.
Thank you. I, too, sometimes feel I no longer want to be here. Thank you for reminding me , again, why it is STILL good to be here.
Thank you, Father.
Thank you, Dino. I really appreciate your comment.
Father, I agree we should not be drawn into partisan politics. I get partisan memes and posts on my FB timeline from FB friends on both ends of the spectrum who are believers, and it distresses me no end. On rare occasions with a family member or closer friends, I may reply in private message, but most of the time I hide these or, in extreme cases, “unfollow” someone. I have made appeals on social media and privately for those in my circle of influence to consider we have no hope in either political party (in this moment, I believe both are corrupted beyond redemption, but only God knows–He may have an ace up His sleeve we don’t know about), but need to put our hope in God and come together with each other to support truth wherever it is expressed and have the courage to put our lives on the line and speak it to power. We may suffer violence. We must never perpetrate it. My angst does not come from Youtube videos, but from long acquaintance from in-depth research and reputable consumer advocacy organizations (to which our ob/gyn practice doctors alerted us) on ethics in modern medicine and in the effect of the same on gov’t policy.
Leaving aside the abstract, in concrete terms, if there are avenues such as those that exist in our political system, for citizens to weigh in with our legislators regarding proposed legislation, do you believe it is appropriate to do so? Is it appropriate to go cast one’s vote, particularly in regard to local gov’t and proposals? (I believe voting for our current Federal-level administration is an exercise in futility–the choices have already been made for us not by voters, but by moneyed interests by dint of which candidates are groomed and picked for each side.) I do not suggest we put all our hope (or despair) in these efforts, their success of failures, but ought we not like Esther before the King, intercede before state authorities for the deliverance of a people condemned by edict to die (or suffer from unjust policies)? I believe we may well stand in an analogous situation today (one more of many, but one it seems to me with ramifications and consequences on a rather more profoundly global scale). May the Lord have mercy on us all and grant us discernment. This week there is pending legislation both on the national level and in my state that I have every reason to believe (from 20 years of research and personal experience) may be used to do great harm on the pretext of protecting the public from a plague. I have already contacted my representatives on the national level and will do the same in my state, then I will leave the results in the hands of God until He shows me what is next. In the meantime, I will continue to struggle to reach my hand up to the Lord from the depths in which I am drowning in order to once again anchor my heart in Him, the Church helping me by her prayers. What else can we do?
I believe such efforts are appropriate – and, even when they might be ineffective. The more local the better. My heart (when it’s behaving) tells me that God is up to something at present – even though the world imagines itself to be the ones who are up to something! Plagues have changed the world many times (more effectively than wars or revolutions). And, even an over-reaction of fear might constitute nothing more than the Midianites following on their own swords!
God is firmly in charge of the outcome of history. We act. We act responsibly where we can. But we must ourselves renounce the idea that we ourselves will be in charge of the outcome of history. Bonhoeffer’s mistake (it seems to me) was to want to be more responsible than God. God could have killed Hitler at any moment, and yet did not. Neither does God remove the devil. If the Ring of Power were offered to us – would we refuse it?
The battle ground is squarely in the heart.
I must be honest – I battle these things. I have raged at various political figures and wanted to curse them. These things chase me down and try to ensnare me. And I’m an old man, an archpriest, etc. I should know better. So, I battle within myself, and preach to others and beg them to join the battle as well. I love this little bit of dialog in the Life of St Mary of Egypt:
That covered about 40 years of news. And, glossed over one of the most tumultuous periods in history with “God has granted lasting peace to all…”
Imagine meeting someone in the desert this afternoon, who has been completely oblivious to the last 40 years and summing them up in that way. That is who I want to become.
Following up on your comments regarding Justinian, not all Christian traditions regard him as a saint. For example, Roman Catholics do not honor him with that title mainly because of his ecclesiastical and theological policies. The Emperor’s wife, Theodora, was a Monophysite, and so Justinian attempted to promote that heretical view of Christ’s nature. In addition, at the Second Council of Constantinople, Justinian instigated the condemnation of Origen of Alexandria, a man who in his time had defended Christianity against both the Gnostics and Marcionites and who died a martyr. Not to mention that at the time of the Council’s condemnation, Origen had been dead for almost three centuries!
There are also some Orthodox theologians who do not hold Justinian in high esteem. As an example, I would commend to you an article by David Bentley Hart entitled “St. Origen” in the Journal First Things.
But you are quite right to point out that Christianity has never had a problem with the violent means used by Justinian to maintain order and to attempt to restore the integrity and greatness of the Roman Empire in his day. An unfortunate example of Augustine’s just war theory, I suppose.
Indeed there is very little reason to even speak of political solutions when we are not even involved in politics ourselves. I know there’s a customary wishful thinking that, somehow, our swaying of our circle-of-influence might affect public opinion and spread out, (perhaps there’s even a tiny bit of truth there for certain individuals), but, this idea is based on an ideal of democracy from ancient Greece that does not exist in practice now. There was a small time-period then, when almost everything [decided upon politically] would have to be put to a vote by the “Demos”, (as if the portion of the populace that votes is one massive parliament) but, we have nothing of the sort anywhere in the world these days.
However all this disregards the clear Orthodox preference for hesychastic “inaction” over such activistic “action”, albeit, there have been rare instances, Saint Paisios comes to mind, where hesychasts (like him) marched in rallies against political decisions that affected the life of the faithful through the introduction of some greater ‘technocratic’ decree.
Simply seeking a lesser of two evils however, in the face of an unprecedented drive towards globalism, seems to me to be the concern of most genuine believers when they are forced to tackle political questions these days. I share that myself.
My own real concern however, is how do we parse (with spiritual clarity) those details (that affect our spiritual being) which come upon us from the political world (from ‘Caesar’), especially if these turn to take on aspirations of subtly affecting us spiritually.
Knowing when to submit and when not to, without erring, both as individuals and as Church is something that, we know scripturally, will become a greater and greater issue.
Just thinking all this out loud here.
Thank you Father for your article and your steadfastness of love and wisdom in the Lord as you answer these comments. You walk the narrow Way and provide us a worthy example of behavior. Again I thank God for your ministry and pray God blesses you with continued strength and wisdom.
“ Macarius was once returning to his cell from the marsh carrying palm leaves. The devil met him by the way, with a sickle, and wanted to run him through with it but he could not. The devil said, ‘Macarius, I suffer a lot of violence from you, for I can’t overcome you. For whatever you do, I do also. If you fast, I eat nothing; if you keep watch, I get no sleep. There is only one quality in which you surpass me.’ Macarius said to him, ‘What is that?’ The devil answered, ‘Your humility; that is why I cannot prevail against you.’”
Thank you, Father. Wise words and advice. I appreciate so much your vulnerability to speak with candor about your own struggles. Sharing the activities of Saints going on all around in spite of the Byzantine intrigue of Justinian’s time is a much-needed reminder and a profound comfort. If I sound a bit like an activist or alarmist at times lately, please know my very strong natural inner inclination is to stay well under the radar. I am the last person to want to stand out in a crowd (to a fault–I am a natural coward. I can’t tell you how strongly I identify with Moses asking the Lord to please send someone else!). Speaking about these things where I dare with friends/family and even strangers when I am profoundly aware I fall on the politically incorrect end of a spectrum about some hot-button issue, but cannot live with my conscience if I don’t at least try, is the most intense crucible I can imagine for myself. I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t feel the alternative to be a betrayal of my Lord.
This is a time of great confusion in which foundations are shaken and surcease often sought in things and emotions that do not actually sustain life or provide safety.
Thus it is easy to say “I do not want to be here anymore.”
My wife’s grandaughter, an adoptive foster mother certified to care for Native American children. She just received an infant girl who she will likely be adopting. The child is the 8th child taken from the mother and the fifth from the father and they are both in their mid-twenties.
My wife was overjoyed for the baby and her granddaughter and her mother.
Me, it just made me say, “I do not want to be here anymore.”
Lord have mercy!
…as to the decision to shut down worship I am sure our bishops decided to do it because they wanted to protect us. I know mine did. But…..
This is an incorrect characterization of Orthodox teaching. There is no Just War theory in Orthodoxy. The canons are clear – to take a human life, even in a “legal” war, remains a sin and requires confession and repentance (and a likely abstinence from communion for a time). The Church steadfastly refused to approve a notion of Holy War. There is no such thing in Orthodoxy.
I was, I thought, quite clear in my earlier response, that Justinian was declared a saint despite his use of violence.
David Bentley Hart is an interesting thinker, often worth reading. He is not, however, a reliable touchstone of Orthodox thought. He tends towards the polemical in many of his works. That someone doesn’t hold Justinian in “high esteem” is also not germane. Indeed, all that I said in my article was that he is a canonized saint of the Church – as is his wife, Theodora. Esteem them or not – there they are. I’m an Orthodox priest, I don’t pick whom I honor and whom I don’t. It’s not my call. I say the prayers, and work to understand the mystery that might be hidden in them. If I were a secularist, I’d think like one – maybe have people vote for their favorites.
That the Roman Catholic Church does not honor someone as a saint is neither here nor there as far as Orthodoxy is concerned. Justinian was not a monophysite. He sought, as did others, ways to reconcile them to the Church, but the 5th Council took place on his watch – a decidedly diophysite event. That Council is recognized as authoritative by Rome as well, by the way.
There has been no “shutting down of worship.” Attendance has been limited and is now being slowly restored. I have not missed a Sunday at the altar (except for one, being sick). The sacrifice of the altar has not ceased. I frankly think that anyone running a fever with symptoms of the flu shouldn’t attend the service anytime during the year. I’ve been asked that before and, without hesitation, said, “I bless you to stay home.” I think it’s called, “absent for reason worthy of a blessing.”
We had a blessing from our bishops to stay at home for a season. Women stay home for 40 days after the birth of a child, clearly with a blessing. I do not know why people seem to insist on describing this as something that it is not.
I once got the bishop’s blessing to attend a conference. When the time came to go, I changed my mind and didn’t go. A Russian priestmonk friend asked me why I was not at the meeting. I told him that I had the bishop’s blessing to come but decided not to. He looked at me with great consternation and said, “What do you think a bishop’s blessing is for?”
I frankly wonder why some Orthodox even bother to pray for their bishops when we so seem to prefer democracy.
My patience in this matter is thin.
“I frankly wonder why some Orthodox even bother to pray for their bishops when we so seem to prefer democracy.”
I repent. Holy moly that’s good!
Patients, humility, silence obedience, we have been given the the opportunity to develop them at this time. Let us not waste this gift.
Father…thank you. You should know how helpful it is to be here. It is so isolating out there. Your words never fail to make sense of this nonsense. Many thanks.
Michael – I don’t know what you mean by “But….”, but….my first reaction was, there are no ‘buts’. Our bishops did not ask us to vote on this issue of closing the Church, which are now slowly beginning to reopen. They are our church fathers, as they are fathers to our priests as well. My biological father did not ask me what I thought when he, out of his best interests, made decisions. Neither do our bishops.
If by “But….” you meant the scrutiny of some people upon our bishops , I have another analogy: I may have looked around at my friends parents and wished that my father would be as lenient as they were, but knew better than to tell him so, no less to talk about him behind his back, that God forbid it should get back to him. Yet our bishop, Met. Joseph, took the time, as recorded on AFR, to answer questions of doubt from our people. My father would not have done that.
Our bishop is much more gentler, but no less loving, than my father was. Both give of themselves for those whom they are responsible for.
First time in my life since I left home that I have experienced the kind of ‘covering’ that I have within the Church.
Yes, I am sticking up for our bishops, just in case your “But….” meant doubt or criticism.
Paula, Michael, et al
I also have been given an obedience not to criticize the bishops in this matter. Were it a matter of heresy, I do not think I would be alone (other bishops would lead the charge). But, this is not that in the least.
I have, of course, written long, long before this (December of 2013 to be exact), about the “sin of democracy.” By that, I do not mean have the right to vote, etc., but the passion that has been nurtured in our hearts through modernity’s theories of governance. In the Soviet Union, they had the right to vote, but there was only one party and one candidate. We laughed at such a farce. Our own farce is that we think the two candidates are actually different and that all of this matters, deeply.
The US has been at war, pretty much continually, since 1945. The last time the was a constitutionally declared war was 1941. And that’s just war – a pretty big deal. If there is no constitutionality about something as serious as life and death, why should we pretend that anything else has to do with law? But I’ve never seen any time in my life (including the days of Vietnam and the 60’s) when the nation was as consumed by “politics” as it is today. We are nurtured in delusion from the moment of our birth.
I want ever so much to be free of it. Nothing is a greater weariness of the soul.
“I want ever so much to be free of it. Nothing is a greater weariness of the soul.”
Is there a way?
One way of enabling such a liberation, which is quite a renowned ascetic counsel -best formulated by Isaac the Syrian- is through the cultivation of lively “remembrance of death” (which is but a synonym for “remembrance of God” for the believer).
It is a gift of course, when considering it at the intensity St Isaac describes, (he even says that the devil would be prepared to offer you the whole world rather than you find out about the power of setting death before you with such force that it destroys all his snares), but, many -even with just the hearing of another’s near death experience- have managed to irrigate their spiritual struggle with the utter re-orientation of all that exists within them, which is brought about to the degree of reigniting this ‘remembrance’.
Father, just to clarify one point. I was being ironic when I said that Justinian’s brutal tactics in consolidating his power and eliminating his opponents could be rationalized by Augustine’s just war theory. And I never meant to imply that Orthodoxy accepts the notion of a “just war.” In fact I too reject the idea of just war as defined by Augustine and Aquinas despite the fact that my own Church has a different view on the matter. Sorry for the misunderstanding.
I agree, Father, the Bishops did not sin in using what information they had in trying to do what was best in respect for legitimate authority and genuine well-being of all in limiting attendance at our churches. We need to pray for all. There was a fantastic quote from Fr. Andrew Damick posted by St. Tikhon’s monastery FB site earlier today. I found it immensely relevant and true. The Lord allows suffering and even this circumstance for our repentance, but He never leaves us alone in our suffering. Lord knows I need grace for repentance, and I accept all this as just such an opportunity, painful though it be. God knows what He is doing. Man makes his plans, but God overrules all.
A short while ago I posted this story https://pemptousia.com/2016/05/the-unique-divine-liturgy-at-easter-in-dachau-in-1945 to the thread on “A Different Pascha”. But reading the comments on despondency etc in the current thread, and the themes in Father’s article, I thought it was probably worth re-posting here.
The story of that Paschal service in 1945 at Dachau reminded me forcefully that whatever despondency and loneliness and despair we might feel from our isolation, at the political scene writ large, and even the ability to participate directly in the liturgies we love, it is worth remembering that Christians have faced much, much worse, and not only have done so with good grace but that it has been precisely those times when they have discovered truths about the Paschal Christ crucified and magnificently risen in ways that are impossible when things are going well.
The icon at the beginning of the article which is in the little Orthodox chapel at Dachau is one of the most compelling things I have seen in many a while. Left me quite moist of eye and moved – I think it was the magnificence of the light set against the darkness of a place like Dachau which is itself an icon of what a (modernist) world looks like taken to its extreme when God seems to be most absent – but then that totally luminous Christ icon opening the gates shows quietly and simply that of course he is there and in face has been through it all. “Do not be afraid, it is I”.
Darkness and shades in my soul be gone! Your Lord is present in and through all times. Yes, it is good to be here.
I think Dino’s thoughts are similar to mine. I work at “dying to it” while being alive to Christ. To the greatest extent, I work on this under the heading of “providence.” God is at work in all things for our salvation and the good of all. I keep giving it back to Him and renouncing the desire or temptation to make things work. I step outside of it.
No problem. For me, the messiness, even of the saints, is important. God is at work for our salvation in the midst of it all. There’s a sort of attempt out there, especially among some of the Orthodox (and lots of Protestants) to want a sanitized history, sanitized saints, etc. It makes for easy belief and shallow Christianity. I’m an old man. I’ve seen too much to believe in sanitized stories. God suffers with us and in us (according to St. Maximus, this continues until the end of all things).
If CNN were covering the news in the 6th century – they would think that everything going on in Constantinople – the riots, the killing, the palace intrigue, the building of Hagia Sophia, the Blues and the Greens, was the center of the world. That history was being written right there. And, no doubt, they would have sided with the Blues or the Greens. We would wait breathless for their coverage and argued about it the next day. But, interestingly, we don’t know the names of the leaders in the Blues and the Greens.
Quietly, in the desert of Palestine, there was this story of a prostitute from Egypt fasting and praying. Only one man ever spoke to her about that struggle. Only one man saw her suspended in mid-air as she prayed. Only one man saw her walk on water. We know her name: Mary of Egypt.
Her story is read aloud every year in every Orthodox Church in the world, and has been for many, many centuries. People name their daughters for her. Churches are named for her. And that wonderful little snippet of conversation she had with the Elder Zossima:
She never knew a thing about what happened back in Constantinople. And it didn’t matter. There are people in the world, a very few, who know nothing of what is going on today in America. And it won’t make a difference.
What we lack in our lives is the knowledge of how to live. You cannot actually live until you learn how to die. Each day is the last day. Every moment is the last moment. It is sweet and full of the presence of God. We can pray and ask for such knowledge, and keep praying until it comes.
I’ve commented here today more times than ever combined. I’m a regular reader of this blog but not a participant. This grabbed me today and shook me. Hard. Thank you for the comments directly to my struggles. I appreciate them.
God bless you for your conversation here in comments, Fr. Stephen, these words are a complete blessing and encouragement to me: “What we lack in our lives is the knowledge of how to live. You cannot actually live until you learn how to die. Each day is the last day. Every moment is the last moment. It is sweet and full of the presence of God. We can pray and ask for such knowledge, and keep praying until it comes.”
Thank you Father for your response and the link to The Sin of Democracy. It is an outstanding description of the spirit of our age.
Another article to place in my bookmarks.
I am concerned for our succeeding generations who have been taught that they themselves are their own authority. My generation seems to have begun the revolution against all authority, so our youth by now has been firmly steeped in its mindset.
As many, I am concerned about the future. Some days I wonder how long can this craziness go on. I can relate to your reaction – “I don’t want to be here anymore”. It just gets to be too much, exceeding past the point that you can handle.
I look at my patron Saint, Michael the Archangel. He and his ‘army’ defend us against the dark powers who’d like to destroy us, the very image of God. It is they who deceive. We fall blindly into the same sin as their ‘leader’ – the proud desire to usurp power, even God. So I pray to St Michael – “Supreme Commander of all the Host of Heaven”. I look upon his strength, from the hand of God. I am comforted in his ability to defend us, including our youth, prone to fall into the same sin we did. We need to be careful to set a good example.
Father, I commend you for the work you do with our youth. I remember your mention of a conference you had with them. I’m thinking, you probably touched upon this subject.
Robert, regarding your question to Father ‘is there a way to be free of the weariness of the soul’…I noticed this in the “Sin of Democracy”:
December 28, 2013 at 9:01 am
(last sentence) Most encouraging, however, is the fact that the grace of God relentlessly abides among the faithful. I pray that God has mercy on us and delivers us from the spirit of the age .
Father has been praying for this at least since 2013! Indeed, we pray may God have mercy and deliver us!
I’ve been in this dark place many times. It’s usually news stories like the one you read that send me there. People send me there. I’m glad that your wife is there to help you through those dark times.
On my but…
If tyranny especially religious tryanny becomes more pronounced and Christian gatherings are prohibited unreasonably then the obedience to the state becomes a question in my mind. I hope our bishops would be sensitive to when and IF a line is crossed.
Historically IMO we lost our Constitutional Republic with the Civil War. Which Andrew Jackson with his “liberty and union” ideology made practically inevitable.
While I applaud folks who take a more hopeful view, especially as they act on their hope, the movement of government is always centripetal. Most people cannot stand freedom and the responsibility that goes with it.
Practically, the only act that is always a display and authentication of freedom is Christian martyrdom. That requires a deep purity of heart as T.S.Eliot pointed out in Murder in the Cathedral. Thomas a’ Beckett was tempted by a false martydom–to aggrandize himself, not God. He turned the tempter away by saying: “To do the right deep for the wrong reason is surely the greatest treason.”
May our Lord God and Savior enliven us to His Truth in all things and strengthen us to do whatever the right deed is in obedience to Him and for His glory, not our own.
We are the children of revolutionaries, deists and dialectic nihilists. It is their spirit that tells us “not to be here” or “revolt”. The way of the Cross is something else entirely.
The Jesus Prayer, in part, recognizes our inability to bare the Cross even though Jesus tells us it is Light.
The worldly response is “fight or flight” thus the false dicotomy so characteristic of the dialectic mind; “I do not want to be here” vs Revolution. Both are equally wrong. Both lead to suffering and death. Both are moral responses, not Christian ones.
That is the viscious world of politics in which power is King. It is quite tiring. It is also quite difficult to understand much less implement a non-binary, non-dialectic response founded on the reality of Our God made man without confusion or mixture.
Somehow the Cross is the answer which transcends both fight and flight; despair and misplaced hope; the dragon of ‘thou shalt’ and the lion of destruction.
All that and more is in the ellipsis following but.
Father, by God’s mercy the Services did go on. But it was a sorrowful offering and not as full. My niece tells me the doors of the monastery church at Jordonville where chained shut. I may have misinterpreted what she said. Yes, we are able to return to some degree. So perhaps I exaggerated but for one who felt shut out of the Kingdom, it does not seem exaggerated. When my Bishop refuses to attend until we all can. Especially when the saints so enthusiastically welcomed my wife and I upon our return.
But I am weak.
I am grateful for the discussion here. I also feel a great deal of confusion that set in when our church closed in March. Maybe some of you can help me.
As a fairly recent convert, I am wondering about the sacraments. I struggled to come to the belief that they are categorically different from the Protestant view; that baptism is salvific; the chalice is holy; the Church is visible; confession is necessary. When we lost all that and the services, I began to question all of that. How has the Orthodox response to Covid been any different from the Protestant? I also began to wonder if my sorrow and distress over losing the services was actually some kind of weird idolatry. I need those services so much!
My Protestant friends say it doesn’t matter that much that they don’t take communion, gather, etc. Nothing has changed in worship. And some Orthodox friends say God is everywhere present, all of life is sacramental, so we are fine. St Mary of Egypt only took communion twice after all. And the thief in the cross wasn’t baptized, so don’t worry about your friends.
Well, then why do we take communion weekly? Why not once a year? Why not in my home with a mail order cup and water? Maybe it doesn’t matter that people aren’t baptized or chrismated. I don’t understand!
Please forgive me for all of the above; I hope I don’t sound like I’m complaining and simply wanting my way (which of course I do, but that’s a side issue in addition to my questions) they are honest questions and those baptized with me are bewildered and struggling with these alongside me. It looks like the nature of the sacraments has changed, or I didn’t understand the Orthodox view at all. I want to honor the hierarchy, but I also think it is reasonable to try to understand these things and not simply be told to blindly obey, which is what I am told by some. And no, I confess I am NOT making the most of these times to pray and meditate. I understand increasingly my need to just be quiet and stand before God. Maybe that’s my answer right there?
Michael…I trust that our bishops, together, will do for us what is best.
This is not “misplaced hope”. Please, don’t go there.
I trust that God is in control.
We don’t need to know all the ins and outs and goings on of history. A person in tune to living life ‘in the Kingdom’, as we say, will have the sense enough to know when something is amiss. We are not “on our own’ but we are a Church. We will be alright, we will persevere. We will help those that need help. We will come to the aid of the weak. We will comfort those that fear. All of this by the mighty grace of God. We have our leaders. To them we will look.
If that is misplaced hope…then call me a fool. But that is what I believe. And I stand on it.
How we see and interpret these circumstances especially regarding our access to the Eucharist can be colored by media interpretations and angst across the political spectrum.
Our priests have reported to the parishes their respective Bishop’s or Metropolitan’s stance and statements concerning their decisions. Despite the criticisms sometimes expressed concerning these decisions, the theology of the Eucharist hasn’t changed. Neither has the Eucharist become null or void or faux because of these decisions.
We receive the Eucharist, not by “right”, but as gift. We also receive our baptism and chrismation, as a gift. And we have received our prayer and we have received our life in Christ, all as gifts.
Due to my personal circumstances it was 2.5 months that I waited to receive the Eucharist. A long wait. All the while I abide in Christ, nevertheless as I waited I watched for Him like the brides awaiting the Bridegroom.
Christ is risen! And He abides in you. And the Holy Spirit is ever present and fills all things.
May God grant you peace and joy.
Thanks so much for your questions. I often arrive at Orthodox truth through very different means than I see used in much of contemporary thought and writing, yet it lines up completely with the Fathers, canons, etc. It’s just plain difficult for me to read theology anymore unless it was written by a saint—the results sometimes match, yet it’s “wrong” somehow, convoluted. But some of the the comments (or rather, some parts of some of them) here not only diverged from how I think, but from the results I got. I know I already have different feelings about the pandemic’s effects and I stay away from “news” (scholarly articles, studies, and real journalism excepted—other than that, I spend maybe 60 seconds a day glancing at some headlines—and never signed up for FB, Twitter, or any of the “social” media—and even that is quite enough!). But there is more to it than that. Two brief thoughts.
First, we are stuck in a very binary mode of thinking—and I say this as a computer science major! Boolean logic (basically, reducing statements to true/false) was only formalized in the mid-1800s, for example. That is not so say there aren’t lots of applications for that sort of tool, but it is often the wrong tool for the job. I heavily favor fuzzy logic and fuzzy set theory for many of the questions you have proposed. The answers won’t be very satisfying for someone who only sees in black and white, but “fuzziness”—understood as a degree of partaking, of communion with something(!)—as a framework was transformational for me and underlies pretty much all I do theologically.
Second, and somewhat related, we are stuck in very linear, utilitarian, obligatory thought. Cause and effect. A to B. There is a part of created reality that works that way. But we are united with The Uncreated—in Christ, things are quite different! There are lots of articles about modernity on the blog, as you may well know, but even then it is difficult to describe just how pervasive that thinking is. We need to look at life and virtue and the sacraments not as obligation but as participation—as a gift, like Dee said. We partake because we truly want to participate. We are baptized because we truly want to participate. It is almost a very maximalistic way of thinking, though even that term is insufficient. There are no minimums to “make it”. There aren’t even really maximums. There is just Christ and His love. If it seems to get more specific it is because He specifically asked us to do certain things out of our love and gratitude for Him. And even then, we recognize that “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath” (Mark 2.27 (OSB/NKJV)). There are probably even more pitfalls in overcoming this than the first issue; I am communicating it poorly, I’m sure, but it isn’t just a single paradigm shift: it is like a waterfall of them that goes on and on and on.
Anyways, keep asking good questions—the so-called Western captivity goes much deeper than we imagine. I am sure Pr Stephen will give you a prayerful response in the morning but I wanted to say I know where you’re coming from and how it differs from much else I’ve seen so far; thank you again.
Dear Paula, trusting the Chrism of Bishops is never a misplaced hope. Indeed, that Chrism is part of the Cross that, when entered into, is of the Cross. That does not make them infallible. However, if we obey in the spirit of the Cross, God will bless us beyond our imaginings.
Misplaced hope is when I trust in anything else especially my own will. On a larger scale it is hoping in anything other than God’s good mercy (The Cross, the grave, the glorious third day Resurrection) including some quasi-magical view of the Sacraments. Worldly prudence is not a bad thing, but there may come a time when the efficacy of that prudence has been exhausted. .
I do not know what that would look like. However, the real hope is not found through streaming, but in partaking of the Body and Blood. That can be done from afar, sort of, in times of sorrow and repentance and maybe this is one such time. Such participation, however, requires the gift of the Holy Spirit in my heart.
As my dear wife keeps reminding me, I must find a way to honor the Sabbath and keep it holy. My lack of such obedience and the genuine faith that allows for it, is not strong in my heart. She is looking to me to lead nonetheless, because that is what I am supposed to do as her husband. If I do not, we both suffer. It is the same in the Church.
Obedience is both simple and extraordinarily difficult but it is at the heart of the Mystery of the Life-giving Cross. “Nevertheless, thy will, not mine be done.”
We are in the Garden. There are evil and faithless men who seek us and would destroy us because we are essential. There are those elements of my own heart which would give me over to them.
Now, more than ever, our Bishops need our prayers and we need to pray for each other knowing that there still may come a time when Acts 12 becomes a description of what Bishops and the faithful do, not just an inspiring story. God knows.
I think that what produces the most confusion in the poor souls of the believers, is some novel, theologically contradictory advice (on details of the believers’ behaviour), which has been perpetuated these days. It is advise that is not ‘ecclesiastical’ in spirit but worldly. It might sound common sense, but its flavour is not of the Spirit of God but of the spirit of the world. This is due to the conformity of the Church to the States’ reaction to the epidemic.
Such contradiction is also what might worry believers regarding the future clarity of direction in the face of an increasingly subtle persecution or deception of the faithful through the authority of ‘Caesar’.
Rather than using the Eucharist, I will take one different example (out of many possible ones):
Some say, [unfortunately even some priests might fall for this secularised worldview], “you do not need to kiss the icons or the priest’s hand or the relics now” [due to the epidemic]. Some give self-protection as a reason, others give a shrewder, moralizing reason – the ‘protection of others’ and the ‘preventing of the spread’. Others mention the ‘obedience’ to the state or the state-conforming hierarchy.
However, we have a most clear faith, conciliarly ratified, on the matter of this kind of ‘veneration’: that we ought to consider it unacceptable that the Grace of the depicted Saint in the icon, of Christ through the hand of His minister, of the Holy relics which we touch with our lips, can ever remain allow these materials to remain in the terrain of the non-sacramental (as in “matter bereft of divine meaning” that can be scientifically defined). The description: ‘specially sacramental’ (as in “corporeal host of divine meaning”), encompasses the above three examples in a “distinct” (as in ‘separated from the rest’ – the original definition of ‘holy’) way.
Christ is risen!
I meant to ask about your little italicized afterword down there, wondering how far in to despair I myself had fallen, given the state of things such as you mention. It seemed to me your post had gone from “I want off the planet” to “God is in control” to “we’re all gonna die anyway.”
But then I greeted you with “Christ is risen!” and it didn’t seem to matter so much anymore.
bringing death to mind (for a Christian) is bringing triumph to mind.
The world might go crazy, they might deceive our children etc etc etc. But we are fearless because there is death! Sounds jarring but it is true. Our hope is in death fo two reasons:
To the godless it is a guarantee of the futility of their plans,
and to the believers it is the knowledge of the certain final outcome of all history:
that the One who has conquered death (through death itself) has offered us this unimaginable ‘modification’ of the one thing most certain in life (of death) into a ‘passage’ –to eternal, triumphant Life…
Also, I think its is worth reminding ourselves that the matter of ‘politics and Christianity’ is one that is wrongly considered too ‘secular’, or outside of the spiritual jurisdictions of anyone who has a pastoral role.
The truth is that this is not the case in our Holy Tradition -as we consider that authority to be from God.
We have saints within that part of the life (politician saints) and we certainly need to have them still.
This is a neglected aspect of Church life.
The most common written prayer of those great anchorites (whose prayer upholds the cosmos) for the rest of the world that we have left to us is “that God might reveal saints to lead (politically) his people [ἡγουμένους], instead of godless leaders. Whatever the outcome, we ought to continuously cultivate personalities through our domestic and parish mission and through our inspiring example, that are both:
have a proclivity to be part of the public affairs.
(No matter what the final outcome of this ministry.)
I would suggest that the “not ecclesiastical” is in the ears or minds of the hearer. A more generous heart might hear it quite differently. For myself, I am in a small jurisdiction. I have the pleasure of knowing the dozen or so hierarchs of the OCA on a personal basis. Some of them I knew before they became bishops. As such, I do not tend to ponder what they “might” be thinking. Frankly, when I’m in doubt, I’m able to pick up a phone and talk to whomever. But, I trust their faith as much or more than I trust my own.
In particular, having been a priest in charge of a parish, I know what it is to wrestle with making what would be a very public decision on something – weighing everything involved, thinking about how it will be understood or misunderstood, etc. How easily the enemy will sneak into our ranks and try to trouble the souls of the faithful.
In the OCA, we don’t have any “career bishops,” i.e. men whose lives have been groomed towards the hierarchy for the whole of their adulthood. Our entire national headquarters probably has less than a half-dozen employees. Our bishops are not from abroad. They are homegrown and home nurtured. Most have either been priests in parishes or monastics at one of very few monastaries. We’ve had a long history of consecrating men who were widowers. So, we have a pretty high level of trust and understanding of our hierarchs.
That said, I can say that I concur with their admonitions and directions – from the depth of my heart. I sorrow and grieve over what is presently required of us. As to kissing of icons – for example – I find that I bow more deeply and stand more stately and honor from the heart more carefully what I cannot at the moment simply kiss and dash away.
If we insist on finding things to trouble us – they will be readily found – even when everything returns to “normal.”
Your comment touched my heart deeply. Coming to understand the sacraments in such a way that we live in a “one-storey universe” (as I’ve described it) is quite a journey from a non-sacramental background. To start with, it’s easiest to see the sacramental character of those things in the Church (Eucharist, Baptism, etc.) as though they were little islands in a secular sea. In time, it’s possible to begin to see the sacramental character of all things (“God is everywhere present and life is sacramental”). But it is exceedingly the case that we do not have one without the other. Though all things are sacramental and God is everywhere, the Eucharist is essential.
To say to a married couple, for example, that their love is strong and wonderful but, then, tell them they cannot or need not touch one another, nor be intimate, is to inflict torture of a sort. The intimacy of marriage, I believe, is a sacramental action. As the Scriptures tell us, “The marriage bed is holy and undefiled.”
If the present distress were more than a passing thing, the bishops, I am certain, would find ways that we would return to the fullness of the sacramental life. Already, we are returning.
Weekly communion is normative – like the natural cycle of the week itself. It is worth noting that in some Orthodox lands, the faithful take communion much less frequently – four times a year or less. It is not a practice that I care for, but it is deeply ingrained in some places. Strangely, it does not lessen the devotion to the Eucharist. On the whole, it is often stronger in those places.
St. Mary of Egypt, as you mentioned, is very worth considering. She took communion, entered the desert and doesn’t receive again for about 40 years. But, what she was doing for the 40 years is an example not of foregoing communion, but of how intensely it is possible to live in the fullness of a single communion. I would suggest that we commune weekly because less frequently would be too difficult for us.
What you have described of yourself and those baptized with you is common right now. I’ve got some private emails on the same topic to tend to this morning. This is a trial, a difficult time, what the Russians would call a “podvig.” It will pass fairly soon, I think. Autumn will likely see the availability of better treatments and a possible vaccine.
I would encourage you to continue to ponder and to pray (good formula: pray three times, ponder once). God will comfort our hearts if we allow Him. You are in my prayers.
I wasn’t aware that there was a similar directive in your land, regarding the veneration/kissing.
I have to stand by what I said earlier on that, even if I myself, initially bowed more deeply and stood more stately at first – thinking this is the right thing to do. Now that I have examined all these matters and cleared them again and again (through phone discussions with the most authoritative, discerning spiritual guide I know), I have changed.
I also came across the respected Professor (of Dogmatic Theology at the Theological School of the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki), Demetrios Tselengidis –a holy man, and a spiritual child of Saints Paisios and Ephraim Katounakiotis– who has recently explained this stance exhaustively, I assume his interview will soon be available in English (on ‘The Orthodox Ethos’ youtube channel (?) where they have already hosted the first part of his brand-new interview – in which he touches upon this matter.
Unfortunately, holy and well-meaning leaders make discernment mistakes in this current situation. That is understandable and pardonable. However, lucid explanations ought to be welcome by them and they have great need of seeking the sort of reaffirmation that any believer would normally seek before taking such actions.
Of course, one can only carry out what is within their comfort zone, and that is also understandable. But the discernment that comes from “asking your Father” remains as a requirement.
For example, a hierarch might, with great grief, stop Communion (when this is forbidden by the state – this happened recently in a European country) but allow the designated number of Churchgoers in the Liturgy (fifty). This peculiar decision regarding ‘attendance without partaking’ would be motivated by true love, in order to not deprive the faithful of their presence in the Temple (as the state would surely close down Churches if he was caught administering Communion). This is the explanation he gave with great sadness in his voice. However, discernment stipulates that, if the Church is “quasi-persecuted” (as it is there) through such prohibition of the Eucharist, it is actually better to make this known to all through the all-or-nothing response of closing down the Churches, rather than having this ‘creative solution’ of attendance without sacramental participation. I wouldn’t know this myself if I hadn’t asked though…
I’m sorry, but I have very little regard for the “Orthodox Ethos” videos and think that they are unhelpful. Equally unhelpful is the rogue, “my spiritual father says.” I have a spiritual father – my bishop. He was a disciple of the Elder Aemilianos. But that is neither here nor there. What I have found from these various rogue elements, speaking without the blessing of any synod, is simply the sowing of confusion among the faithful in the name of a higher Orthodoxy – whose fruits seem quite dubious.
As I have said, I am under obedience regarding the criticizing of the directives of the Holy Synod. I’m willing to discuss things as some might have difficulties they are working on. However, I do not want to encourage a conversation that only sows doubt.
I do not know much at all about the ‘Orthodox Ethos’ –other than searching and finding out that they hosted the professor who I have appreciated for many years.
I fully agree, of course, regarding the direct obedience, better “in the Ark” through obedience –even if it errs– than “out of it rightly dividing the word of God”. That goes without saying. However, without sowing any doubt, I still think that the sincere “seeking of true discernment” through consulting (as the Theotokos did when She consulted with Elizabeth), especially by the most eminent ones who come together in order to decide how to govern the whole body of the Church is not to be disparaged.
I would presume that “searching and finding out” on the part of the hierachs would not consist in watching independently produced videos on youtube or the hearsay of the Orthodox grapevine. In our American (OCA) context, I know for a fact that careful attention was given to canonical precedent and many other proper concerns. Of course, we are of Russian provenance, and tend to look largely to those resources. Our response mirrors that of Moscow, though we acted first.
Certainly not youtube Father!
That gave me a good laugh…
Father was not disparaging seeking discernment, rather, he was pointing out that the Orthodox way involves a process, which is indeed taking place. I note his words here:
On my “end” of the society involving a university, I too had to make decisions involving student participation and how to keep them engaged with the material, taking and executing an approach to keep the classroom environment intact as much as I could. I made decisions and made exceptions, for example, far more personal time (even to the point of giving out my phone number for students to text me at all hours) for the benefit of students and to their continued progress in their programs. I would not have done these things outside of these circumstances.
Much of this work in the decision process involves checking with our best resources, outside and inside the church. Any of these resources at any given time, including these times, can be failures for a host of reasons, including the lack of sufficient information. However I sincerely believe the media is using this uncertainty to ramp up doubts paving the way for political intrigue, which makes a good distraction, addictive entertainment, and good commerce for particular players .
It makes things far far worse within the church to have a bunch of self appointed “experts” declare their criticisms in such a way that throws doubt on the synod. Furthermore, I suspect such pressures might in fact do the opposite of its supposed intention, which is the encouragement to make the best decisions possible.
I’m with Father Stephen, I want to keep the ship steady and not sow doubts. A free-for-all grabbing for the wheel is not a good idea for anyone.
Here is another angle to consider which hasn’t been explicitly addressed; it is more a spiritual connect-the-dots, but the pieces are in the last few months of posts and comments. Here is the line of questioning: where are the protests demanding the restoration of the Liturgy Of St Germanus? Where are the videos of outrage about the Liturgy Of Saint Ambrose being almost lost to Orthodoxy? Where are the news stories, the blog posts, and the Twitter feeds running night and day about restoring these ancient Orthodox rites? Being someone who studies these sorts of things (both from a liturgics and music perspective), I know there are a few people out there who have something to say—some scholarly and/or humble, some fringe. But the lack of mass outcry is instructive.
Despite all the justifications for criticism of the hierarchal directives, the “what if”s, the “fervor”, the Patristic prooftexting, and the apocalyptic imagery, I believe the current uproar has almost nothing to do with Christ or His Church. If it did, there would be some awakening across the board, for example regarding some of the very beautiful and traditional practices I mentioned above. But there is no such resurgence. Therefore, the source of this discord has a different root, regardless of how “legitimate” any individual argument may appear or how many Fathers they can seemingly mangle into “evidence”. I would rather suggest the motivations are quite secular and even animalistic: routine, familiarity, “normalcy”. It has nothing to do with Tradition, but the worldly comfort of “little t” traditions. And to continue along the line of a few of Pr Stephen’s comments, we should look to the spiritual source behind it. What [spiritual] powers have a vested interest in reducing the Church into a museum where the forms are worshiped and God becomes merely the justification for continuing those forms? Who wants to maintain the status quo, to pretend everything is normal in the world, to do everything they can to ensure the current economic, political, and social structures remain in place? Who wants to completely undermine The Church while appearing to be the very savior of The Church, saving us from “corruption” and restoring so-called “orthodoxy”?
Even without broaching the question of obedience to bishops and what that looks like generally (I’m still looking forward to some good posts on that!), it is clear something very demonic is going just from how this is playing out. There is nothing conspiratorial or “woo” about this, either: it is just particularly blatant spiritual warfare because we are so blind that the demons could set off the spiritual equivalent of a nuke in front of us and only one or two people, at most, would report thinking they might have seen a firefly. This is why social media is *so* dangerous: people there don’t just offer a constant, toxic, and debilitating stream of wrong answers, but wrong questions; they keep us “pacified” by completely altering our frame of mind and being.
The current “non-easential-isation” of the Church, Her sacraments, the priests, should not go as unchallenged as it does though. Especially in orthodox countries. (In fact,there is a certain degree to which it isn’t) . However, I think, in the traditionally Orthodox lands, such as Greece, the hierarchy cannot act decisively – as in raising their voice against state meddling within its affairs – until the people themselves all ask for it. Only when the state realizes the people themselves are supporting the hierarchy in this, can the hierarchy (in those lands) take such a stance? This has happened on ccasion of overstepping by the government. When the double standards of dealing with Church weddings (persecuted) vs state weddings (allowed) for example and other such things became known. Of course things in America must be very different. We sometimes admire the occasional American fighting spirit though, despite the polarisations, the evangelical freedom talk, the juridical argumentation, or the alleged shallow unmanageability of rogue ‘churches’ , it reminds us of times when we had tumultuous involvement rather than the younger generations’ conformity.
Christus surrexit, vere!
your brilliant reflexion on a problem that I do live myself quite often, is now in French :
thank you, father Stephen.
Assigning bad motives to laypeople who wish they could be in church is probably as spiritually detrimental as assigning bad motives to the bishops for their decisions. A resurgence of interest in the Liturgy of Germanus is not a prerequisites for spiritual renewal, and obsession with its reinstatement is as likely evidence of vice as it is virtue.
“we should look to the spiritual source behind it”
There is great danger, I think, in spiritualizing interpretations of current events. Not that there is nothing spiritual going on, just that it’s not given for most of us to know with any sort of accuracy. And the people who do know likely aren’t posting it on the internet.
What can be known is what Fr. Freeman keeps reminding us: God is in the midst of this all working for the good of all. And that is the only needful thing.
I think the bishops are well aware of the double standards and the persecutions—which are real, albeit subtle—and present throughout the world in many different forms. Sometimes I feel that there are too many easy answers to difficult questions here in the comments, too (eg, Solomon killed plenty of people before starting the temple—there is more going on than is apparent), and a tendency, even while acknowledging that suffering is part of what it means to be human (most places don’t even make it that far!), to adopt a focus on external peace, health, and order. So I understand there are a lot of layers here, and beyond the physical. And I think the bishops really do, too.
Yet the commandment to turn the other cheek doesn’t just apply to Christians individually, but to The Body as a whole. For another paradigm shift, consider the hierarchical statements not merely as ways to avoid risk, but to give us a roadmap to offer a united response to suffering and persecution. I think there is much that could be gained by talking about some of those issues generally, opening up more dialog about what to do *in a future event*, and continuing the very serious, sober study the bishops have already given to this issue. But as far as the current directives go, the proper place for having a dialog about them is with a bishop, not with the internet—and certainly not with me! The bishops can offer support, guidance, clarification. Elsewhere, such questions too often create disunity and/or can become complaints, not joy. Have you spoken to your bishop about how you might contribute to a future “crisis plan”?
I don’t mean to judge those who love Christ through the Liturgy. I do mean do distinguish between that and the spirit which makes use of outward forms to undermine that very Liturgy. I have had a different experience of this time, sure, and have been given great strength. But whether we have been uplifted or brought low, are we using that as a place to glorify God or using God as a tool to ensure or “upgrade” our place? That introspection is very consonant with the Fathers and you will note that I am not using it as a weapon to judge a particular group, political or otherwise, or offer a cold response to people who are suffering; I’ve worked with plenty who are scared and needed support. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have a healthy evaluation of the world and our own souls. And I agree that there can be a tendency to “spiritualize” things in opposition the the body and vice versa, but I’m not proposing that: I want us not to *forget* the spiritual aspect, which is a part of us and of creation, and which we must enter in more deeply—*in concert* with the physical. The pandemic is pretty physical. But the response surrounding it is very much spiritual.
You ask (rhetorically) in your above post, “What [spiritual] powers have a vested interest in reducing the Church into a museum where the forms are worshiped and God becomes merely the justification for continuing those forms?” And then you go on to heavily imply that the answer is “the devil” or “the anti-Christ”.
That people want to worship together with their brothers and sisters in Christ is a good thing and should be celebrated, not demonized–even if there may be a lamentable blame-game mixed in with it. To jump to “It’s the anti-Christ” is the spiritual equivalent to Godwin’s law (ie, “as an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches”).
This is unhelpful virtue-signalling and I’ve seen people on both sides of the debate (on whether or not the bishops made the right decision w/r/t Covid-19) bring up the devil as a way of confirming their own position. I’m not talking about people pitting the spirit against the body when I criticize “spiritualizing interpretations”; I’m talking about people asserting with certainty things they cannot possibly know and demonizing others in the process. Certainly the responses to the pandemic are spiritual, but to know *in what ways* these responses are spiritual, you’d need to accurately know the heart of every person who has had a response. This is something only God knows, and speculation on this is unhelpful.
Dear Fr. Stephen,
I so enjoy your postings, and want very much to continue receiving them. However, I regret x87 (at the present count)that I ticked the boxes that begin “Notify me…”
Please notify me how I can untick the boxes and be unnotified from this thread.
The conversation keeps gravitating towards Bishops, however a more apt question, and perhaps practical for us, is would concern actions more within our own reach. This is why I mentioned domestic mission earlier, and the need for discernment when, inevitably, we get asked for clarifications by others who, nowadays have less access, even to their own spiritual guides, than some of us are lucky to still have.
Of course there is a rich variety evident in each individual’s experience.
At the bottom of any notification you have gotten from the blog are links to discontinue the subscription, or manage subscriptions. You can, e.g., continue to get notifications of new posting by Father Stephen, but unsubscribe to notifications for every comment.
Dear Father Stephen,
Thank you! Yours is a kind, generous, thoughtful, prayerful voice. And you are so patient!
Dino, et al
The horse is dead, I think.
There is little commonality between the situation of the Orthodox Church in Greece and its situation in America. What little I know of the former is primarily hearsay and I’ll leave it to its own writers and voices. Ours is a very, very different setting and story in America. We have everything from moribund parishes to thriving parishes – and for all of the reasons one can imagine. It is a situation that, even in retirement, I work to serve so long as God gives me strength and opportunity.
But for now – I think enough has been said. This present trial is passing and will soon be over. There will be some new ones to come. With every trial there is sufficient grace. I do know that without trials there is no Cross, and without the Cross we cannot be saved. I would to God that as much energy were being put into encouraging one another as has been put into critiquing. One dark thought is enough to crush many of the weak. Take care as much as is possible to lift the load of others. Pray until there are no more words.
That’s an interesting point. This may not be where you were going, but it made me think of my non-Orthodox family members who are wondering why they can go to church, but I can’t. I’m in an area of the US that has moved to the second phase of reopening while our diocese has directed that our parish remain in phase 1 for whatever reason. When questioned about this situation by my non-Orthodox family members, I honestly don’t know what to say. In fact, one of them is interested in attending Divine Liturgy, and I can’t for the time being say, along with St. Photini, “Come and see!” This really saddens me and confuses (at least a few of) the non-Orthodox I know.
I don’t mean any of this as a criticism of the hierarchy–it’s just the reality on the ground, so to speak.
“Domestic mission” can be interpreted many ways. Here in America, that might be interpreted as: “the Church laity decides”. There’s quite a lot of history in Protestantism and Western Christianity that follows that tack, from which many have come and converted into the Orthodox Churches in the US. I don’t recommend emphasizing that approach myself, it sounds like a recipe for disaster.
I apologize for my last comment, Father. I didn’t see your comment before I sent mine in. I’ll say no more.
As to venerating icons: we have several large icons on my parish including two with the Styles Symeon and Daniel. Their actual icon(head and shoulders) is about 20 feet off the floor. They each stand with their right hand, palm out in blessing. When I venerated these saints in the past I kissed the icon pillar. Since I have never seen them venerated by anyone else but me and I am taller than 98% of the congregation, I could probably still venerate them as I have before. Still, I bowed, crossing myself as normal (wishing I could prostrate myself but can no longer do that) stood back a little ways, raised my hand to receive their blessing. They seemed to be quite fine with that, greeting me with joy in return (that is what it seemed like anyway.) I had not been there in 55 days. With the current lottery system and limited to 50 people, it will still be about once every 6 weeks.
Oh, and before I held up my hand, I kissed it.
William, et al
We do well to remember that Orthodoxy has a habit of dragging its feet. We make decisions slowly, carefully, for the most part. This has served us well for about 2000 years. It does mean that we’re rarely on the cutting edge of anything. The closing was perceived as an emergency. The re-opening is and will be harder. But, it’s happening. I just saw the letter for my diocese permitting “phase 2” steps where appropriate. I hope that is put in place soon – as God wills.
I will add that I have been deeply grateful these past few months that I am retired from being in charge of the parish. Obedience is ever-so-much simpler than leading. I’m a very willing “pastor emeritus.” But, this is all passing…
Thank you! I’m honored.
Fr Stephen I had a similar reaction after I read (on FB of course!) some comments of high school friends mocking the death of a pastor in VA – he died of COVID 19….. but the headlines said he defied the state orders and kept his Church opened – which he did not. And it did not take a lot of digging on my part to find out that he complied with the orders. But he was mocked for Christian and of course for stupid for saying he was not afraid of the virus.
Anyhow it was so awful what people were writing – the kind of sentiments not good to read ( and certainly not good express). And that was my “i do not want to be here moment” because I felt deeply not just a mocking and hatred of the faith and of that pastor, but almost a mocking of me and every Christian and Christ. And I think that’s what we feel when is someone is shamed, spit upon (like what you saw) – it’s like they are doing to us. Certainly the Lord was mocked and spit upon – so this is nothing new – but it is hard to bear the hatred.
In the end , my effort to show my friends the truth that this pastor did comply only angered them more…
My sense is so many people are very deeply angry and have been for a long long time and this is giving an awful excuse to vent it.
But I do want be here and it is good to be here despite it all!! Glory to God for all things.
Christ is Risen. Like you Father I also felt the same two weeks ago. Then I realised after the crucifixion comes the resurrection. I said to myself. “Glory to God” and resumed to ascesis
As an introvert struggling with anxiety issues, I was expecting to find this period difficult, but strangely, all I feel is a sense of business as usual. (i.e., “life sucks; so what’s new?”) Ha ha. So, in a manner of speaking, my weakness was indeed a support during this time.
I find your replies above to Laura very beautiful.
If only there were more such kindness and compassion towards our broken-ness around us!
By the way, I have heard it explained sometimes in the Catholic tradition that even if a particular person had done or said questionable things in his/her past, he would need to have explicitly repented of all of them and if needed to retract or reword relevant statements before his/her death in order to “qualify” for canonisation.
From what you say, am I right in supposing that the Orthodox tradition is less exacting and more tolerant of messiness?
Fr. Stephen, it is questionable that the viral threat is waning. In any case the political will to use the virus as a tool of oppression is getting more active, IMO.
So we all have to balance the actual threat of a real disease by the existential threat to the manner in which our political life is arranged. Our actual political choices have been dwindling for years almost to a choice of which wildly disfunctional belief is momentarily ascendent.
We vote, if we vote based on the passions. Simple as that. But as the party riots of yore tell us that is nothing new. Those who wish power will always find ways to exacerbate and manipulate . Reds vs Greens is not essentially different from Blue vs Red.
Yet we must live and find a way in the midst of the passions (personal and corporate) to serve God, not just “believe” in Him. We must submit our passions to His live–some way. Prayer, Fasting, Almsgiving combined with participation in our corporate life of worship is the course. The disease and panic over it which always leads to political manipulation and, eventually, unjust coercion must be countered with steadfast understanding the the political solutions are merely temporary and the actual existential threat will be manipulated and exacerbated for the expedience of those who hold and seek political power as a way to legitimitize their use of it simply to increase their own hold on it.
The canonization process in Orthodoxy is less formal. On one level, it can begin on a popular level. Devotion to a saint often begins locally, and unofficially. There is a commission appoint by the Holy Synod in a given country that ultimately researches and recommends, with the Synod making the final call. But, in antiquity, this was certainly far less formal. I’ve seen people ask, “When was St. Mary of Egypt canonized?” And there is no answer, because that’s not really how things worked. Somewhere added her to the calendar, for example, and it simply spread from there.
I have an icon of my late Archbishop in my icon corner at home. No doubt, he will not be canonized in my lifetime, if ever. Nonetheless, I venerate him and ask his intercessions. (His body is incorrupt and he has been seen in various places by some of the faithful). Like most things in Orthodoxy, the faith is more organic, less juridical.
I recently came across this article (https://www.oca.org/reflections/misc-authors/what-covid-19-means-for-singing-in-church) which calls for a suspension of congregational singing. I find the direction of this article deeply saddening. My child cannot be baptized, I can’t invite my family to church, and now (on the OCA website no less) I see the beginnings of all the things I thought I left in Protestant evangelicalism, with its totally passive audiences, its reduction of the Body of Christ to a mouth (preacher) and a bunch of ears (congregants). But at least we were allowed to sing along with the band.
I know you have often written of the spiritual benefits of singing, and I wondered what your perspective is on this. It’s possible I’m overreacting, that this is all temporary, etc. I know Orthodoxy is slow to change–thank God. I only hoped it would have been slower to lockdown, slower to suggest we stop singing together–and not so slow to reinstate the administering of the Church’s mysteries.
I know this perspective tries your patience, and I’m genuinely sorry for that. I only wonder if we can be cowed into submission and shamed away from singing to God together (even temporarily), what else can be taken from us so easily, so quickly? If it’s not good to be here in Church singing together, where is it good to be?
Please forgive me.
NSP, the Catholic Church does not require a person to be sinless or perfect in order to be canonized. Just as Fr. Stephen said about the Orthodox Church, devotion to saints in the Catholic Church often begin locally. The person’s case is then In the hands of the bishop who begins the examination process by interviewing people who knew the saint, as well as by collecting and examining any of the saint’s writings. The saint’s writings and teachings must be free from heresy, but he/she need not have lived a sinless life. It is the teaching of the Church that all Christians are called to be saints. “Saints are persons in heaven (officially canonized or not), who lived heroically virtuous lives, offered their life for others, or were martyred for the faith, and who are worthy of imitation.” You can learn more here: http://www.usccb.org/about/public-affairs/backgrounders/saints-backgrounder.cfm
I believe singing to be as essential as actually being present, and, therefore, find this piece you’ve referenced to be disheartening. But, I think it is already outdated. There are, in fact, many ways to battle through a viral epidemic that do not include such extreme practices. Were we facing a much longer-term struggle, I would think such strategies would be employed, for the simple fact that life must go on. Again, I’m actually quite encouraged and hopeful that things are winding down. Here in Tennessee, we are shortly to enter into “phase-2” of re-opening – where baptisms, weddings, etc., will resume.
I suspect that part of the international learning of this round will be that we would prefer not to do this again. Economies are not just money – it’s what the world looks like as it goes about the business of just living.
No doubt, governments will handle this badly in one way or another, and some will seek to take terrible advantage of it. But, I suspect that populations will, in the end, rebel in their own way – though not with great efficiency.
But, we will sing. I note that the author lives and works in the New York area. (He is the choir master at St. Vladimir’s seminary). That easily skews the experience of this virus. What has been catastrophic for some has been but a tiny blip for others. The county in which I live has had exactly one death from the virus and currently only has six active cases. This varies across the country – but is becoming more the norm rather than the exception.
I have wondered as well whether the centralization of the media centers in New York hasn’t created a bit of unreality in that echo-chamber of self-anointed authority.
Thank you for your comments. Your words ease my mind a bit.
The bishops did not put a suspension on congregational singing–some woman with an opinion called for it. I was only troubled that such an opinion was posted on the OCA’s website; otherwise I would have ignored it, as it should be. And I’m not demanding anything, only expressing sadness that I can’t worship with my brothers and sisters in Christ–an appropriate response to a difficult situation. I haven’t met an Orthodox Christian who isn’t troubled by these things, bishops included.
One thing I will take with me from this pandemic (and the response to it) is a healthy distrust of the edicts from self-proclaimed experts. Epidemiologists, virologists, and doctors have a variety of (sometimes contradictory, though informed) opinions on the appropriate response to Covid-19 should/should have been. Choose your expert, but don’t forget that you *are* making a choice.
I am sympathetic to your sorrow and concerns. There is much about the response to the virus I find perplexing, especially with regard to the sacraments. And now singing.
Someone alerted me to the article you mentioned because I am a choir director at our parish. (I have been thinking about the issues involved here for quite some time.) I am most concerned by what I see as the dehumanization of people in the name of love your neighbor, and the terror spread that this might last for the next year and a half per the article. Are we not going to baptize people that long? Are we not supposed to sing for that long?
Fr Stephen was very gracious to me in his response to my note above when I expressed my distress as a fairly new convert from Protestantism. I was comforted because he saw my heart and distress about these things.
I read Dr Bromage’s article as well. I don’t buy all of it, but this isn’t the place to debate such things.
What is it that unites all of us here? Christ. Not our views on the way to handle Covid; not how we think politically; not how we educate or even communicate. The King, Christ Jesus, unites us. And now we are having trouble agreeing on how His Church can move forward with worship and the sacraments. I am confused and heartbroken. My own community is being torn apart right now. And I just don’t understand so much of our response.
It is good, I think, to calmly follow the directives we’ve been given by our hierarchs – their own efforts to reasonably respond to government directives. I think it is good to make no more of them than they are nor any less.
As to the division people are experiencing – this is, I think, demonic in origin. I shy away (rather studiously these days) from political comments and tend even to delete them. That is because I believe there is a demonically inspired exaggeration of the passions attached to political/social matters. Where human beings share a common concern – our common health – we are instead viewing each other as enemies – even to such a pitch that some would spit on others. What I see daily (in some segments of the culture) is not just extreme behavior, but extreme reporting and focusing on extreme behavior which only increases things.
The devil literally cares nothing about any issue. One side is as good as another and he’s on both sides – believe me. What matters are the passions and our enslavement. I hope I don’t offend any when I remove a comment here and there. It’s not my judging whether something is right or wrong – but rather whether they serve to enflame.
God is in charge of the outcome of history (I continue to beat the drum) God is in charge of the outcome of history . God is in charge of the outcome of history.
Be of good cheer. He has overcome the world. Whatever you’re worried about…stop it.
I hope you will forgive me. I did not realize that the article was merely an opinion piece or that Robin Freeman was a woman. I truly should not have commented! I am sorry.
Of course, you are right, too, that we all make choices about who we listen to and believe. It may turn out that Dr. Bromage’s scientific interpretations are incorrect. Even the studies themselves may prove to be flawed. I think that living in the county with the highest number of Coronavirus cases and deaths in Massachusetts has made me hyper vigilant. It was inappropriate for me to share the article here. I am sorry!
You are right, of course. Christ has overcome the world. My two years in the Orthodox Church have dredged up all sorts of ways I do not follow Christ well, the tatters in my weak faith, and the division in my own heart. Yes, God is Lord over this time, and no, I mustn’t worry about anything. I lack courage and fear my own self. What will this time do to me? Maybe I will learn to follow Christ more closely, my faith will become stronger, and He will bring healing to my wounded heart. Lord have mercy on me!
What I am certain of is that God’s love is steadfast regardless of circumstances. He hasn’t allowed any of this in order to destroy us. But, beyond anything, even if we fall, He is there. He will lift us up.
Hello! Long time reader, first time poster.
The anguish about the virus and the state of the world and the Church is very real, and I have seen it here and everywhere else.
“Thy Will be Done” is said by us all the time, but I think the vast majority of us (myself included) don’t really mean it. I see the Orthodox internet wring their hands about how morally debased American culture is and the West, etc etc….. What if this virus is the event that leads to the repentance that we have all prayed for? What if the United States (and the West) as we know it must be destroyed in order for that repentance to come about? I think we have to be willing to watch it all burn if that is the will of God, and get on with the business of our salvation. I think many people in America (including us Orthodox) are still clinging to the American dream and ideal of America as the City on the Hill, even if we deny it with our lips. We don’t want the powdered wigs and Minuteman fantasy to die, or on the flip side, the “revolution” to die. It is all idolatry. That is one reason why I am so edified by this blog, because Father Stephen has taken a hammer to the idols in our lives. Have our Traditions and Services themselves become an idol? Have I allowed my relationship with Christ to atrophy, and use the Services as a crutch, distorting their true purpose? I had to take a long hard look at that during our Long Lent. Many of those “angry Orthodox” on the internet and elsewhere bristled and railed against the St. Mary of Egypt comparisons, but why? What if our Churches were destroyed as in Soviet Russia? Would our faith endure? I think many people are afraid of that question. Me included. The restrictions have exposed our (and I sit in the dock most surely) lack of faith and weaknesses. Could I be like the Russian grandma who couldn’t commune for perhaps years, but yet stood before her secret Icon everyday and thanked the Living God for all things, going about her day with the Prayer under her breath. The answer is No. My arrogance is ripped from me and I am cast to the ground. What a Gift!
It really is good to be here.
Yes, thank you Father for the encouragement. I believe what you say!
Maybe we’d be more helpful toward each other if we could imagine us all face to face. Minus the masks!
We need each other’s good company.
We’d lift each other up. Even a seemingly small effort is sometimes all that is needed. Once it starts it begins to flow. Like goodness always does.
May God grant us stillness in peace!
I know someone who talked to her priest about a number conflicts she’d been getting into with people over the past couple of months. She was wondering why she had been finding it so difficult to get along with people–what was so wrong with her?
“Pandemics are stressful,” her priest responded.
I laughed out loud when she related the story to me. There’s so much wisdom in simplicity! I tend to over-complicate things and assign motives to people, etc., etc. But the simple fact is that this is a tough time for everyone.
Thank you for your kind words, and I hope you’ll forgive me if me voicing my struggles caused you offense. God bless! Christ is risen!
Fr. Freeman said on May 20, 2020 at 8:42 pm
What I am certain of is that God’s love is steadfast regardless of circumstances. He hasn’t allowed any of this in order to destroy us. But, beyond anything, even if we fall, He is there. He will lift us up.
Dear Fr. Freeman,
Could you please write more on this topic (not specifically w.r.t. the current pandemic but regarding trust in Divine Providence in general in the face of our failures and the vale of tears that this earthly life is; and I’ve already read all your older articles on this topic)?
Because, though I understand such a trust in God as a concept within my head, when the rubber hits the road in daily life, anxiety and fear seem to win almost every time.
Dino, given that I seem to have a particularly convoluted and opinionated mind I would be the last person to argue against conversations about issues – even when I should just shut up. The key is, as you say, “civil and fruitful”, and that is what seems to have been going out the window at an accelerating pace. The whole spitting thing is a symbol of the opposite of civility, an underrated virtue. I can’t help but think that obedience – which is a matter of both in letter and spirit – is one of those gifts we have been given to help provide shape, and it is a key feature present in healthy community. For it to work both the authority must be recognized and respected, but also the authority itself it be well exercised and responsive, which does imply a dialogue. But in the end the one in authority decides, after listening – it’s not a democracy. One of my formative texts on all this, maybe surprisingly, is the chapter in the Rule of St Benedict on the Abbot which sets out with admirable clarity, simplicity and context how proper authority well exercised should work and why. Although it’s done in a monastic context, it has had a deeper relevance. I like that the word obedience has in its origins the latin ob-oedire – of “listening towards” which sort of works both ways rather than just the idea of compliance. “Listen carefully, my child, to your master’s precepts, and incline the ear of your heart” and all that. I think we are on the same page.
Father, as you say “God is in charge of the outcome of history.” As a life long student of history and God I would say that God is history in a sense. The Incarnation allowed us to be truly ‘in God’ and He in us. “We live and move and have our being” in Him, through Him. By Him.
My arrogance, pride, and sloth is all that separates me from actually knowing that and living in that reality.
I hope that as this physical body of mine ages and decays I will get the **** kicked out of me enough to begin to humble me. Not much sign of it yet, but I can always hope.
My brother told me a story of a Romanian women he knew. A faithful Orthodox who lived in Romania during the worst of the Communist oppression. She had one icon which she could not display openly even in her own apartment which the secret police visited regularly when she was away at work. Still she prayed before it twice daily.
Frequently, two large intimidating men would approach her on the street, place themselves one on each side of her quite close and walk with her in silence for a time. Then one of them would lean still closer and whisper in her ear: “We can kill you anytime we want.”. Her reply, “I know.”.
This went on for years. Finally she was able to come to this country where she could worship freely but did not live for much longer. Stress related health conditions.
I think of her often, especially when I start to think too highly of myself and my rights.
God forgive me.
Forgive me for taking a phrase you used and bringing it to a different level! I so so in order to make a point. I mean no offense.
If a person is on the ‘same page’ with another, can the rest of the Body of Christ be on the same page as well?
Prior to this pandemic were we not already in a sense distanced from each other, I mean, in the healing of the fragmentation of our own souls? We cry out for a healing when we seek the Lord and His mercy. How can we heal if we see even one other person ‘on a different page’?
But we are one in Christ. We are all in the same boat.
As witnesses of Christ in the world, that does not mean we need to hide our imperfections (weaknesses) in pretense of perfection – perhaps in fear of being ridiculed. Nor is there safety from such shame by making certain alliances. What to do, then, in the day they disappoint?
Our witness is in and through our imperfections, and in spite of them. We *show* our unity, our love, one for another in the very presence of failure. It is the working out of our salvation.
Now, this current pandemic is like someone attempting to take a final blow toward destruction…yes, like kicking a horse who just in case may not be dead yet. If there was ever a time to choose sides in a matter, it would be now, to choose a united front against such forces. We can help each other do this. I think many actually are doing this.
In this time of uproar, and it is an uproar – for people who feel alone in their fears, given the opportunity to gather together at this blog, are able to reasonably let off some steam in what we know as a safe place – is it possible to put aside our defensiveness, our opinions, our taking sides, our judgments, and offer instead hope and consolation? I think we have seen that here!
I am preaching to myself, because I have a thick wall of defense on all sides. Year after year I keep that wall repaired. I come across strongly. I need direction. I need to tone down considerably so I do not offend and shame. I need to learn from the good example of others…especially those who are quick to admit to their own personal setbacks. (Father…). First and foremost, I need God’s grace.
But this isn’t about us as much as it is about the truth of the Body of Christ. Hell will not prevail, but we will have to go through it, and rise up again and again with Christ our God.
I pray we remain united, forgiving all, in love.
Such are our weaknesses, in which we are saved…
Paula, personally I think you are a gem. I like your challenges and your perspective on things.
Michael…thank you. Really…
You must be looking through the eyes of Christ…as that’s how He sees all of us.
But honestly, I do not see myself that way. Actually, it is more like a gem not yet mined. That which requires constant cleaning. A real good polish!
Good morning, Father.
I heard a monk talking about you yesterday in a remote monastery in Romania.
I have no interesting thoughts about the pandemic and the way the Orthodox Church is handling it. But after I read the article and (some of) the comments, I remembered about this:
“The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.”
What a sweet note! I will say that if a monk in a remote monastery in Romania even knows my name, I deeply hope he remembers me in his holy prayers!
And, I pray that the miles I go before I sleep carry my feet to such a holy place!
Paula, reminds me of the old Gospel song I’m Just An Ol’ Lump of Coal…but I’m gonna be a diamond some day.
Father, bless! I am so grateful to read your words, Father. I, too, experienced much the same response to this story, indeed, to much of what is currently happening in this country. Thank you for reminding me of the Truth,
Thank you for this post. Despondency in this isolating virus situation seems to dog my steps daily. Thank you, as the proverb says, a burden shared is a burden halved.