God Within Us

Popular New Age thought postulates that everyone has a “god within.” It’s a pleasant way of saying that we’re all special while making “god” to be rather banal. But there is a clear teaching of classical Christianity regarding Christ-within-us, and it is essential to the Orthodox way of life.

We should not understand our relationship with God to be an “external” matter, as if we were one individual and God another. Our union with God, birthed in us at Holy Baptism, is far more profound.

“He who is joined to the Lord is one spirit with Him.” (1Co 6:17)

God does not “help” us in the manner of encouraging us or simply arranging for things to work out. Rather, He is in us, working in union with our work. The mystery of ascesis (the practice of prayer, fasting, self-denial, etc.) only makes true sense in this context. Those who look at Orthodoxy from the outside often accuse us of practicing “works-righteousness,” meaning that we believe we can earn favor with God by doing good works. This is utterly false. God’s good favor is His gift and cannot be earned.

However, the Orthodox life is similar to the life of Christ Himself.

“Truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, but what He sees the Father do; for whatever He does, the Son also does in like manner.  (Joh 5:19)

and

“Truly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do he will do also; and greater works than these he will do, because I go to My Father. (Joh 14:12)

The “works” that a Christian does, are properly done in union with Christ, such that the works are not those of an individual, but of our common life with and in Christ. When we fast, it is Christ who fasts in us. When we pray, it is Christ who prays in us. When we give alms it is Christ who gives alms in us.

And we should understand that Christ-in-us longs to fast. Christ-in-us longs to pray. Christ-in-us longs to show mercy. The disciplines of the Church are not a prescription for behaving ourselves or a map of moral perfection. Rather, the commandments of Christ (as manifest in the life of the Church) are themselves a description, an icon of Christ Himself.

 Jesus answered and said to him, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him.” (Joh 14:2)

Dumitru Staniloae notes:

At the beginning Christ is, so to speak, buried in the commandments and in us, in the measure in which we are committed to them, by His power which is in us. By this collaboration we gain the virtues as living traits; they reflect the image of the Lord, and Christ is raised even brighter from under these veils. (Orthodox Spirituality)

This way of “union” is the very heart of Orthodox faith and practice. Sadly, much of Christianity has created an “extrinsic” view of our relationship with God and the path of salvation. In this, God is seen as exterior to our life, our relationship with Him being analogous to the individualized contractual relationships of modern culture. As such the Christian relationship with God is reduced to psychology and morality.

It is reduced to psychology in that the concern is shifted to God’s “attitude” towards us. The psychologized atonement concerns itself with God’s wrath. It is reduced to morality in that our behavior is no more than our private efforts to conform to an external set of rules and norms. We are considered “good” or “bad” based on our performance, but without regard to the nature of that performance. St. Paul says that “whatsoever is not of faith is sin.” Only our lives-lived-in-union-with-Christ have the nature of true salvation, true humanity. This is the proper meaning of being “saved by grace.”

…for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure. (Phi 2:13)

and

You are of God, little children, and have overcome them, because He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world. (1Jo 4:4)

and

To them, God willed to make known what are the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles: which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. (Col 1:27)

There is a second part of this mystery (Christ in us) that presses its importance upon us. This is the suffering of Christ within us. Fr. Staniloae writes:

Jesus takes part in all our sufferings, making them easier. He helps us with our struggle against temptations and sin; He strives with us in our quest for virtues: He uncovers our true nature from under the leaves of sin. St. Maximus comments: Until the end of the world He always suffers with us, secretly, because of His goodness according to [and in proportion to] the suffering found in each one.

The Cross recapitulates the suffering and sin of humanity, but it extends throughout the life and experience of all people. It is the foundation of Christ’s statement: “Inasmuch as you did it [did it not] unto the least of these my brethren, you did it [did it not] unto me.

The hypostatic union of the person of Christ extends into the life of every person. There is something of a perichoresis or coinherence in our daily relationship with Christ.

And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; or if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it. (1Co 12:26)

This must be given  the strongest possible reading. If any one of us suffers, Christ suffers. There is no specific human suffering to which Christ is alien.

It is the moment-by-moment pressing into this commonality (koinonia) that is the foundation of Christian existence. It is the point of Baptism (buried with Him). It is the point of the Eucharist (“whosoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him”). It is the point of every action and thought.

It is the life of grace.

 

72 comments:

  1. You assert: “Popular New Age thought postulates that everyone has a “god within.” It’s a pleasant way of saying that we’re all special while making “god” to be rather banal. ”

    I believe this is a misrepresentation of what New Age, and other beliefs hold. “God within” stems in part from Hinduism. In Hinduism, [ the word Namaste ] is a spiritual import reflecting the belief that “the divine and self (atman, soul) is same in you and me”, and connotes “I bow to the divine in you”. According to sociologist Holly Oxhandler, it is a Hindu term which means “the sacred in me recognizes the sacred in you” [ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Namaste ]

  2. Thank you for taking such difficult concepts and making them much easier for me to ‘get’

  3. Wow! Truly inspirational. The mystery hidden for all the ages is Christ in us. Your words make this truth mean something in a practical sense. Thank you.

  4. Benjamin,
    I have a good respect for Hindusim – particular Vedantic philosophy. However, “New Age” in America is a sad caricature of that. You’re being very generous to American New Age thought – far more generous than I am with American Christian thought. I used the word “banal” carefully and thoughtfully.

  5. Father, I think you are generous regarding “New Age” thought. At best it is high priced cotton candy at worst it partakes if the occult and the demonic darkness.

  6. Father, While I am always appreciative of your writing, your reflections here put me in my seat. It’s going to take me a good while to “work” through the implications of what you’ve written here. Thank you.

  7. Father, wow. This is really very illuminating. Having Christ within us has always been a concept I was aware of. Becoming Orthodox, the transformation I experienced at being received in the church brought me in even closer union with Christ. Each communion unites us more, and while I always knew that and marveled at how the words we say before communion state that we believe this is truly the body and blood of Jesus, and I feel it really is – this article made me see another facet of that. Jesus is truly within us, and He lives within us, so everything we go thru we are sharing it with Him. I just realized what that meant while reading this today.
    People ask me if God is real then why does he allow suffering and death and bad things we go thru.
    Now I realize it is not that He allows or does not allow – we have free will, and things happen to everyone. The incredible love that sent Jesus to die for our sins – in agony – is the same love that He is sharing our lives with. Christ is truly everywhere present and filling all things. Us for one. So every pain, illness, or joy we experience, Christ is there going thru it with us. We may be sick or hurt, but we are never alone. What a great feeling! We are whole because He is a part of us. How blessed we are to know that now.

  8. I’m with Michael. There’s a lot here!

    One of the earliest facts I learned about Orthodoxy was the importance of grace being uncreated (i.e. God’s energies at work through communion/participation) vs. the Western view of it as a created (external) substance generously bestowed by God. However, it wasn’t until today that I saw how this applies to the “proper meaning” of “saved by grace.” It is not simply that salvation is freely given without regard to merit, etc.(though it is), but that salvation is the natural effect of God’s presence (grace) at work in our lives through union with Him. “Saved by grace” isn’t about the price I (don’t) pay. It’s about the continuous unfolding of the work of God for our good as we commune with Him in faith, hope, and love.

    This is one of those “aha!” moments that I will probably never be able to unsee. (Kind of like when Fr. Reardon pointed out that OT sacrifices never had anything to do with satisfying God’s wrath/justice and so completely subverted my view of atonement.) Thank you, Fr. Stephen, for this!

  9. Father, I was particularly relieved with this post, and the affirmation that Christ is within each of us as Christians. I had a good friend of nearly 40 yrs, who had been married since just out of high school to his wonderful wife. He had a stroke a few months ago and was in the hospital for nearly two weeks – without any family or friends nearby. He and his wife had not been apart like that in their whole marriage. He eventually died from complications, and it was upsetting the family terribly that he died alone. What you said today made me realize I can assure her that he was never alone! Christ was with him the whole time. What a blessing. I know it was not the deep theological meaning of your post, but it was a beautiful piece that I can pass on for his widow and family to hold onto. Thank you. (Michael gets the deep theological stuff – I am much more basic.)

  10. Tim,
    In your comment you mention God’s uncreated grace. Gregory of Palamas expands on this theology in his description of God’s energy and God’s essence. It is through/in God’s energy that we have the experience, the perception of and life in God.

    I wonder Father whether it is possible to even understand your article or even the picture of the icon you have selected, without Palamas’ contribution to Orthodox theology? It isn’t just the famous icon by Rublev, but a picture of someone standing before it. They are not standing there as if they were admiring a painting in a museum, but the woman’s head is inclined, bowed, toward the icon as in prayer and veneration. In her posture she reflects the inclined heads of the Holy Spirit and of Christ, toward God the Father. This picture in itself, is an icon of Orthodoxy.

    Can the icon, Rublev’s icon, or this picture be lived in without living in an Orthodox manner? Is it possible to love and venerate the Holy Trinity presented in the icon, each with the same face, each with wings of an angel, the tree in the background, the cup in the foreground without Orthodox prayer and Orthodox theology? Is it possible to truly know, in the way that only life experience in God’s grace gives us to know, Abraham’s story, our story, our life lived in unity with Christ and Christ in us?

    Ironically, I can’t explain how, but I can differentiate when a non-Orthodox theologian is speaking about the Jesus prayer. Once, even one wearing what appeared to be “orthodox vestments” (he was Eastern Catholic) was speaking, and not yet knowing that he wasn’t Orthodox, I heard something missing. What St Gregory of Palamas spoke of is very real, very tangible. Even if I can’t explain it in words, I hear it in my heart.

  11. Dee,
    God is so generous – that I can imagine someone “outside of Orthodoxy” still having a sense of it. More tragic, I suppose, is to actually be Orthodox and not have a sense of it. But, we live in a context that so permeates our thought that it often requires some sort of “jolt” to get us out of it. But, for myself, I can say that my experience within the charismatic movement and its pentecostalism largely freed me from the relational psychology that is rampant in cultural Christianity. It was, however, weakened by my doubts within that movement and a fairly widespread delusional approach to things. I still encounter that within various corners of Orthodoxy as well. But – that said – how any of us gets from one place to another in our understanding is a miracle – particularly if that understanding is the heart of Orthodoxy.

  12. Thank you Father for your response. Indeed God is generous. I hope I’m not being too provocative.

    In line with what you have said, not only do I imagine but know someone intimately who has a sense of it. But he still insists that he is not Christian. He claims he is agnostic (not New Ager either). Yet nevertheless I know he communes with God. I pray one day he might experience the fullness, in His Church.

  13. As someone “outside of Orthodoxy” who feeds on the scraps that fall from the table, I pray that my sense of knowing an iota of the Generosity of God – something which only seems to grow in each moment – is no delusion . . . ‘but where can I go from your presence’

    Thank you for your words Fr Stephen

  14. This conversation must be hard for you to hear, Eric. I get very uncomfortable just picturing that. When rebuked for a comment I made regarding the Reformation in the previous post, I wondered to myself who I might have offended. You were the first person that came to mind.
    Now here you are again, responding in kindness.
    As far as I’m concerned, you are not outside anything that has to do with Christ.

  15. Eric,
    Had I not known the generosity of God during my Anglican years, I never would have become Orthodox. It’s never as tidy as we think – God is not a tidy God. His grace is wonderfully messy – spilling over to Eldad’s and Medad’s and Samaritans and Gentiles. It does not reduce the fullness of Orthodoxy – but it is inarguably His way.

  16. If I might offer another thought…

    I can only comprehend the Church within the extension of God’s providence. The universe is incredibly complex and messy. Explosions, dust clouds, distances and time beyond our comprehension…and yet, out of all that seeming chaos there comes the earth with its chaos and comes humanity, etc. We say of the Church, that God is gathering together in one all things in Christ Jesus. That is the most universal claim possible – “all things.” The Church, indeed, the Orthodox Church, is that gathering point – but when I look at the Orthodox Church I see an almost incomprehensible mess – indeed, if I only look within my own heart I see that very same mess.

    Modernity would like to make the mess into the actual point – that our “unity” is somehow the mess itself. That is, no unity at all, well, maybe some sort of “moral unity.” But Orthodoxy insists (rightly) on being quite literal about all this. But as much as we celebrate the truth and the fact of that truth – we must tell the truth about the mess and confess that God is at work there – everywhere present and filling all things.

    I have to remind myself that the single most holy and righteous man I’ve ever known was my Baptist father-in-law. That doesn’t say anything about Baptists – it just says something about God. And that is where our hearts confession needs to remain. God is good.

    I don’t have an ecumenical bone in my body – but there is a kind of anti-ecumenism in Orthodoxy that I often see that is not Orthodox. So, I’ll let all of that stand. Thanks, Eric, for your humility.

  17. Dear Paula, and Father Stephen
    Words of Grace – Thank you

    Paula – Bless you for your kindness! I am deeply touched that I came to your mind – God is Good – this is the second time in two days I have received such a grace from someone I did not know.

    Re ‘The Reformation’ – I just started laughing – I have been known to perhaps not be its strongest advocate, lets leave it at that 🙂 (Being a cradle Anglican from the borders of England and Scotland, matters of the history of the church were way outside my view until I was well on my way to ordination. Teaching as I was at the time in a Catholic school my vision got very skewed!)

    Re Offence – One of the gifts I seem to have acquired down through the years is the hide of a rhino. So none taken! I taught myself to accept it as a good lesson in getting over ‘my self’ (whatever that is 🙂 and this seems to have helped

    You can pray for me as I also repent of too critical an eye 🙂

    Fr Stephen – re the mess – it reminds me of Dr Patitsas’ comments around repentance being the chaste eros of Creation as it leaps (this is my word for it seems the only one that fits at present) towards God’s infinite Beauty, Grace, Mercy, Love and all the rest. It is in this movement that perhaps by grace the surrounding mess begins to wonder if ‘the mess’ is only the raw material for something beyond words

    Grace, Peace, and the mercy of God

  18. Like Eric, I am on the outside looking in, constrained for the time being from fully embracing Orthodoxy. Yet I also have experienced, Dee, something of the intuitive perception of someone truly “in the know” and someone who is talking about it from the outside. The former draws me in through the heart, while the latter is ultimately unsatisfying, if perhaps interesting or informative.

    I do more lurking than commenting, but I have long appreciated Fr. Stephen’s gentle respect for those who lean into Orthodoxy (perhaps unknowingly) without fully entering the church. It gives me hope that I, too, may gather some scraps of provisions from the table and use them to keep me plodding on the journey until the Lord reveals a clear way for me into the Orthodox Church.

  19. “When we fast, it is Christ who fasts in us. When we pray, it is Christ who prays in us. When we give alms it is Christ who gives alms in us.”

    I tried to skim rest of the article after these words brought me to tears. The idea that it is Christ who prays in us, not just me offering little to nothing, makes me speechless. Not that I understand…

    Merry, your words about your friend who passed comfort me. My dad recently entered an assisted living facility 3 miles from his house. His wife cannot visit him due to Covid restrictions. I ache for them both—hey are in Virginia and I am here in Arizona, many miles away.

    I attended a funeral Saturday for a 90 year old man whose son and daughter-in-law were able to keep him home as his health failed and read the psalms to him as he departed. Will anyone be with my dad when his time comes? Will he see his beloved Margaret again? Will I ever see him again? Lord have mercy!

    Yet my feeble prayers for them, are these really Christ praying in me? That changes everything. I’m not sure how but it does. And brings me to tears yet again.

    Thank you, Fr Stephen.

  20. Eric and Tim,
    I sincerely appreciate your humility and graciousness in your comments . As Father Stephen has done, I too mention one person I know who claims he is not even Christian and yet in his own way lives the life of Christ and apparently without realizing speaks (often) in Christ’s words. He is a farmer and lives a simple life. He once said that ‘digging in the dirt is his prayer’. Most of his work is hard manual labor. He talks to the wild birds that graze on the upturned earth and they appear to have very little fear of him. It seems to me souls like this will easily enter the Kingdom, while I struggle.

    God bless you both!

  21. Kristin,
    A beginning in this is first, accepting that it is so, though we don’t understand. And ending is this is understanding and knowing that it is so. That being the case, be patient about it. When we pray, we can ask that Christ teach us more about it. One of the morning prayers in many Orthodox prayer books says, “Pray Thou in me.” St. Paul speaks of the Spirit Himself making prayers within us, crying, “Abba, Father.” If it is saying “Abba, Father,” then it is the Spirit crying in the voice of the Son, who says, “Father.”

    Also, these thoughts are very helpful in driving away the enemy’s torments. He wants us to feel alone and cut-off from God and to imagine that God has abandoned us, etc. It’s all lies. St. Augustine says that God is closer to us than we are to ourselves! Another father says that God is closer than our own breath.

    In Genesis, we are told that God breathed into Adam and Adam became a living soul. The “breath” of God is His Spirit (it’s the same word). Many fathers note that God is our life – the Life of all things that live. These expressions all point to an abiding-ness of God that we have learned to overlook.

    May He grant you to know this in a greater measure every day!

  22. My wife and I say a prayer each morning that ends addressing Jesus requesting that he pray in us. We have been saying it for years but this article revealed a greater depth to that request than I had previously realized.

  23. “He who is joined to the Lord is one spirit with Him.” (1Co 6:17)…
    ” God does not “help” us in the manner of encouraging us or simply arranging for things to work out. Rather, He is IN us, working in union with our work…
    This way of “union” is the very heart of Orthodox faith and practice. Sadly, much of Christianity has created an “extrinsic” view of our relationship with God and the path of salvation. In this, God is seen as exterior to our life, our relationship with Him being analogous to the individualized contractual relationships of modern culture. As such the Christian relationship with God is reduced to psychology and morality.”

    Oh my., oh my, oh my…..much of my relationship with God has been lived in the depressing externalized view you describe so well Father Stephen. Does this mean that He, Christ, in this union, never leaves us or forsakes us ? Christ IN us, the Hope of Glory…oh my. My heart is crying out hoping that this is true, that my performance based relationship with God can finally die the death it deserves. and I can receive His life more fully. In union with Christ…THIS is God’s way…oh my.

    Thank you Father Stephen. Thank you all for your sharing,

  24. Thank you, Fr. Stephen. This was beautiful. I haven’t ever heard someone explain this concept this way and it makes me more conscious of the fact that I can either resist or accommodate the will and love of Christ. Of course I want to deny my own will and let His be done in me. That I am not alone in ascesis, but that Christ is in me desiring and working these good things makes it seem so much more precious and easy. You have such a blessing of grace to make these concepts easy to understand for my carnal mind. Thank you for helping me to renew my mind by your writings.

  25. The turn inwards, away from the external world of error, towards God, whose Holy Spirit has created ‘a centre in our centre’ is almost synonymous to the notion of the ‘remembrance of death’ – despite the two notions appearing unconnected. I often find there is great depth in making this connection come alive.
    The famous Athonite saying:
    “If you die [to sin/ to the world] before you die [physically] you won’t die [spiritually] when you die [physically]”,
    can also be understood another way:
    “If you enter [within the Kingdom of Christ in you] before you enter [the grave], you won’t enter [Hades] when you enter [the grave]”.
    The emotion that redirects the soul towards life (and inwards), is that of the transitory character of this life and this nature, in tandem with the existence of Christ abiding INSIDE us, underneath all the sinful, distracting, chaotic debris around our hearts. This emotion first liberates the enslaved by inspiring contempt of the world and its entrapments. It educates the soul by continuously showing it the Kingdom of eternal life, to be encountered not through external seeking but internally. It inaugurates God’s proximity which was overlooked beforehand due to the preoccupation with the world. If we manage not to extinguishing it (which we do every time we in any way renew our attachment to the things of this world, our rushing “outwards” [mentally] and through our idle distractions), and if we cultivate and increase it in our soul by ceaseless inwards concentration, we will form a firm foundation inside of us that pulls us towards true life. St Isaac the Syrian has some remarkable words on this, he says that Satan knows that if this peculiar recollection (of the liberating ‘remembrance of death’ and of the transitory nature of this world) “remains with man, his mind will no longer stay in this world of error, and Satan’s means will not reach man”. He goes on: “Verily, my beloved, if God should grant this veracious sight unto the children of man for a short time, the course of the world would stand still. It is a bond before which nature cannot stand upright […] Let us ask this gift in prayer; and for the sake of this gift let us make long vigils.”

  26. Father, when you say Our union with God, birthed in us at Holy Baptism, is far more profound., how is this union different than the Image of God in which we are born (which implies a union as well)? I’m struggling to see the interconnectedness of these things.

  27. Byron,
    Imagine (for these purposes) that someone makes a statue of you. Then imagine that the statue comes to life. The image is one thing – union – that God’s life and our life are united – is something else (though they have a relatedness).

  28. Dino,
    You write many good words. The remembrance of death can be an edifying spiritual practice. Early in my life I lost parents and a child to death. I’ve nearly died twice. Undoubtedly these experiences, as hard and difficult as they were, providentially set a pattern of reflection and love of God from an early point in my life.

    I don’t fear death but I do love life, bodily and spiritually. For me these aspects of my being are one, although one day they will not be one. Askesis serves a purpose. And I sincerely pray that I grow closer to God in the practice of fasting and prayer.

    But I don’t hold contempt for the world. Americans, in particular, are very good at that, to such an extent that one my think that it’s their religion.

  29. Both of my parents intuitively knew the interconnectedness of all things. He was a community health doctor, she a dancer and dance teacher. I grew up having the reality preached and demonstrated. It is the natural state of things. Even so, it can be difficult to see it when the opposite (each thing in itself) is the water in which we swim.
    Even easier to forget is that there is a hierarchy of being that gives form to the connections (they are not random). A good part of Orthodox worship and theology is the revelation of and participation in those connections…..and there is always more. That is the wisdom my Godfather gave me right before I was Chrismated: there is always more.

    I must admit I am fascinated with the Orthodox context for the Russian word podvig. My wife finds my fascination irritating. She has a point, easy to take too literally. For me it seems to take on a certain cosmic dimension that the simple translation, struggle, only hints at. A good part of my own struggle is simply me working at cross purpose with myself.

  30. Dee
    the terminology “contempt for the world” is obviously not what a modern reading makes of it. It is remarkably common throughout the Orthodox ascetical writings of the Philokalia, (often with no helpful clarifications e.g.: as to the ‘transitory nature’ vs the ‘permanent Kingdom’), but also, this is understandable as it has its foundation in Christ’s own words. (see: Luke 14:26 or John 15:19)
    The widespread secular-befriending interpretation of the original Gospel message often stumbles upon such verses. But, there are numerous admonitions towards this notion, (St John’s first letter come to mind, [verse 2:15] “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.”)
    I am aware one can misinterpret both ‘contempt’ as well as ‘world’, but the truth of the matter is that I will have no genuine liberation of my enslavement to this world’s fears/desires/frustrations/attachments/distractions without this divine emotion of the solemn contempt that results from the remembrance of death/God.
    If the self is the deepest inward enemy, the world is the most corrosive outward one. If “I am the absence of God”, then “the world is the absence of the Kingdom”. Of course we need to understand the term ‘world’ ecclesiastically.
    And we ought to remember: ‘attachment to creation’ (a state of forgetfulness of God) is not ‘love of His creation’ (a state conferred by the Holy Spirit)

  31. Dino and Dee,
    Just a thought here…I am reminded of the many paradoxes in Orthodox “language” where seeming contradictions or difficulties begin to make sense. For instance, in order to love and honor the world God created you must renounce it.
    I have found that the more the ear gets used to this language the better the comprehension of the mind of the Church. But these paradoxes need to be pointed out and explained. It takes time to get the mind readjusted!

  32. Dino, et al
    “World,” “kosmos,” has a use, particularly in St. John, that makes it somewhat unique. It is the “world system of sin and death,” or some such thing. I think it should not be confused with the world-as-creation. The world-as-creation is also the place where we are already encountering the Kingdom of God. It is the world-as-creation that is also God’s sacramental means and iconic means of self-revelation. Thus we are “in the world” (world as creation) but not “of the world” (world-as-system-of-sin-and-death).

    I’ll add a side-note. The very strong emotive language of the Greek tradition in the Church (which is still displayed in many of its cultural artifacts) does not always translate so well into other cultures. A friend was commenting on a recent letter between bishops and how he was turned off by what seemed an almost sycophantic sweetness. He is Anglo-Scot. His wife, a Greek, thought it was quite fine. I smiled when I heard his description. I often feel quite dismayed by Mediterranean and Levantine writings within the Church (particularly when expressing various emotions). I often think to myself that I’ve never felt that way (pro or con) about anything in my life.

  33. Father, thank you!
    You make two very good points: about “the world” and about the cultural uniqueness of expression; of emotional expression in particular.
    I felt a distinct difference in Dino’s words and attributed it instead to paradox that we encounter in Orthodoxy.
    It helps to understand these things and take them into account. Thank you.

  34. Father, I was thinking today the Greek mode of expression which I find expressively romantic unpalatable to my Germano- English DNA. I wonder if it may not be part of the lack of outward unity we demonstrate. Or as many I have encountered in the Church over the last 33 years: “the Greeks are crazy”. It makes it difficult for me to take them seriously even when they are.

  35. Father your differentiation of the term world of sin vs creation (I’ll add the natural world as further adjectives) are very important for a helpful interpretation of scripture and ascetical writings. Sorrowful things happen in nature as well. Not referring to sinners but to catastrophic events. Nevertheless we embrace these without turning our eyes away and to the best of our abilities that our hearts allow, give thanks for all things.

  36. Michael,
    Most of the world seems crazy to an Englishman – which is, doubtless, a profound, even worrisome, thing to consider. Also, I hope you haven’t offended Dino (and others).

  37. Indeed the day to day Greek communication can be like that.
    However, I have often read English translations of these classic notions and (whether they came from Greek, Russian, Hebrew, Latin or Syrian) they invariably use the same, or to be precise, stronger language.
    Have we not all read some Isaac on contempt of the world? (no clarifications and differentiation are usually given in the English book translatios) or Climacus, Maximus, Macarius, Palamas, Basil etc. Scripture is similar (unless wrongly translated) and contemporaries like Sophrony too.
    I cannot quite blame this language on the peculiar Mediterranean mode of expression.

  38. Father, Dino knows, I hope, how much I respect him. But, as he says there is a lot that could be said about the English and the Germans. After all only mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the noon day sun. I am not saying English and Germans are better, in fact that legacy is probably worse. All I said was, I had difficulty with it and ity made it difficult for me. I have a medically certified think skull. So there you go. I tend to be an equal opportunity offender. But as Jordon Peterson says, “If you are not willing to be offended, you are not thinking. I do pray that if I offend, I offend in the correct way. Also, if I do it does not redound to you.

  39. A lot, if not most (supposedly many Protestants) American Christians take all the scriptures literally. (And I’m grateful for those who don’t follow this trend) That doesn’t mean that’s how it’s supposed to be read in every passage. Thankfully we have ordained priests, pastors/ shepherds to to help us in the Orthodox interpretation. Albeit sometimes even the saints disagree.

  40. Returning again to the Philokalia and its notions of the liberating remembrance of death/God (as in “contempt of the transitory”), I read again how it is often made clear that the ceaseless remembrance of God is a gentle, (accepting), poised state of the mind in the heart. Its deep aching/suffering is with a spirit of devotion. The heart as ‘God’s throne’, where the downward ec-stasy of God is met by the upward ec-stasy of the creature, leading to the union of God-become-man with man-become-God is lived at every prayerful moment, as if standing “at the boundary between time and eternity”. The contrary of course, is, forgetfulness of God which gives birth to slothful self-indulgence, dissipation and to a stony insensitivity. Remembrance of God as a synonym for remembrance of death –both being ‘cause’ as well as ‘product’ of each other and remembrance of death is like a release from a spell that has put the soul to sleep, a sleep that is a kind of waking death
    Remembrance of death for Philokalic Hesychasts corresponds to the teaching of St Paul, who exclaims that when we are present in the body we are absent from the Lord. Being “present in the body” is not merely a way of saying being alive, but of living as though the source of life is the body, the world, and the self, which from the perspective of eternity is actually a living death. When the Lord approaches—when, that is, the Lord becomes present to us—then the opposite takes place, and we become absent from the body and present to the Lord. To know the Lord’s presence, to be present to the Lord, requires dying to the world and all self-preoccupied concerns for survival. This is the dying that leads to true life. This alternation between absence and presence in the body and to the Lord is precisely the spiritual boundary that we approach by the remembrance of death, and why the Philokalic Hesychasts deem mindfulness of death indispensable to the remembrance of God.
    Indeed, the remembrance of death is the beginning of the supreme “awakening” that awaits all human beings as their final destiny.

  41. Dino,
    I like your use of the words “contempt of the transitory” in your first sentence. I know that being a youth in the Orthodox faith puts me at a disadvantage in the breadth of the works I’ve read. But I also live in the life of Christ and have been carefully taught by a priest who sincerely cared about my catechism. And through Christ, I sincerely hope I speak His words as I speak to you.

    Let us begin with a question of ‘what is transitory?’

    Surely we know ‘man’s life’ is transitory, in fact, all that we know, that is what ideas we have of this world and this life is transitory because what we see and what we know appears to be incomplete and seen darkly through a veil.

    And the scripture in Psalms speaks to this ‘transitoriness’ of man:

    Psalm 8:3-10(NKJ Orthodox Study Bible):
    From the mouths of babies and nursing infants You prepared praise because of Your enemies that You may destroy the enemy and the avenger. For I shall look at the heavens, the works of Your fingers, the moon and the stars You established. What is man that You remember Him? You made him a little lower than the angels; You crowned him with glory and honor. You set him over the works of Your hands; You subjected all things under his feet, all sheep and oxen. And besides these, also the animals of the field, the birds of heaven and the fish of the sea, and the things passing in the seas. O Lord, our Lord how wondrous is Your name in all the earth.

    Psalm 102:15-16 (NKJ Orthodox Study Bible) As for man, his days are like grass, as a flower of the field, so he flourishes; For the wind passes through it, and it shall not remain;

    Matthew 10:29-31 Are not two sparrows sold for a copper coin? And not one of them falls to the ground apart from your Father’s will. But the very hairs of your head are numbered. Do not fear therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.

    In my understanding of the meaning in these verses, is that despite (and some say ‘because’) of our transitoriness, our lives (including the disintegrating flesh) have meaning, our very corruptible flesh is imbued with the life giving, live breathing, living waters of the Holy Spirit. You, Dino, might want to treat your body, that which is transitory, with contempt, but that is not how the Lord treats your body, while your flesh, your vesselof the Holy Spirit is indeed temporarily transitory.

    God is not death. Sin is death. But God trampled down death by death, that is by Christ’s death on the Holy Cross and His Holy Resurrection. On the Cross our flesh our vessel ‘transitoriness’ itself dies.

    I like your use of “contempt of what is transitory” because what is transitory is death itself. I like the creed as it is said in the Greek Orthodox Church. In other jurisdictions I’ve heard the words, “We look for the world to come”, but in the Greek Liturgy it is “we look for the age to come”. In that latter translation is the hidden view of not a new (implying altogether different) world, but a transformed world, no longer subject to the corruption of sin/death.

    Let me end by saying, Dino, that your comments are always inspiring. Even if I should disagree sometimes.

    With love in Christ,
    Dee

    Last, Father, please forgive me of this long comment. I’ll go back into silent mode again now and relieve your readers. (also please correct as needed–as I know you will! : )

  42. Dee
    The classic answer to what is transitory from a philokalic point of view is: everything that is not God.
    The idea is that we focus on Him alone. And as a corollary, if our love of His things is not Holy Spirit inspired, it means somethings (whether it is His creations or even His gifts – as in virtues) compete against our love for Him. He is the Kingdom nd all else is added. By Him.

  43. The word contempt has a range of meaning. I may be wrong, but I hear Dino and Dee using it with different meanings. On the one hand, it can mean an indifference to things perceived to be important in the current milieu. My toddler has this kind of contempt for hygiene.
    Another meaning, and I feel more common in current American usage, is a sort of active hatred, disgust, or loathing of something. My other child has this kind of contempt for squash. This meaning is very strong and think often indicates a passionate state.

    I hear Dino speaking in the first meaning, and so too the gospel “For after all these things the Gentiles seek…” I hear Dee rightly objecting to the second meaning. But correct me if I’m wrong.

    Enjoying watching this conversation…

  44. David good point and there is a third common meaning as in “contempt of court” in which the person denies all authority of the court.

  45. Thank you Father. I have been going through a particularly bad bout of self contempt (still onging, prayers welcome) and it is helpful to have ypur timely reminder that all of that is surface stuff. Christ is there at the basis and depths of whatever and whomever I think I am, and am I oh so ever thankful for Him.

    Also thank you all, and especially Dino – for the Philokolaic discussion about ‘contempt’ for the world. A quick side point that may or may not be interesting. It reminds me of three things:

    1. The strong caution at the beginning of The Cloud of Unknowing about speaking of deeper matters to those who are not already a fair way down the path as it will just cause trouble. 🙂

    2. That it is not the World itself that is the problem (“for God so loved ..” and “He looked upon it and saw that it was good” etc.), but pretty much entirely our hearts’ relation to it that is the problem.

    3. It reminded me strongly of a Buddhist idea that also gets mistranslated and misunderstood in an almost shockingly similar way, albeit from a different world view. The pali word “nibbida” is the feeling/response that supposedly often kicks in once a stream-enterer (who has seen into the nature of things, but has not yet achieved full enlightenment). It is a kind of disenchantment with the whole show, which increasingly just looks like a show fuelled by attachment. Here is a nice little googled article that explains the idea (and the translation difficulties) quite well: https://www.lionsroar.com/dharma-dictionary-nibbida/ . As a teaser, I am thinking that this paragraph nicely illustrates what I think Dino is getting at (?):

    “There is a story in the texts that usefully illustrates the meaning of this important term. A dog stumbles across a bone that has been exposed to the elements for many months and has been therefore bleached of any residual flesh or marrow. The dog gnaws on it for some time before he finally determines that he is “not finding” any satisfaction in the bone, and he thus turns away from it in disgust. It is not that the bone is intrinsically disgusting; it is rather the case that the dog’s raging desire for meat just will not be satisfied by the bone. He is enchanted by the prospect of gratification as he scrapes away furiously at the bone, but when he finally wakes up to the truth that the bone is empty of anything that will offer him satisfaction, he becomes disenchanted and spits it out in disgust.”

  46. Sorry, there is an unfinished sentence there. Normally I’d just leave it, but given that there are some ideas that people here won’t be familiar with I thought it best to clarify. Sorry. (Of course if it is all too alien and/or suspect, then I am sure Father you’ll delete.)

    “once a stream-enterer (who has seen into the nature of things, but has not yet achieved full enlightenment)” should read “once a person has become a stream enterer ( (who has seen into the nature of things, but has not yet achieved full enlightenment) but has not yet achieved full enlightenment (i.e. still has sources of attachment).

  47. Anonymous
    St Joseph’s original words were up there with the strongest I have ever come across regarding the matter from a contemporary.

  48. I promised silence and will not say more on the subject. We have heard from Fr Stephen on this subject, and at the end of my last comment, I asked for correction from Fr Stephen as needed. We are taught to abide by our spiritual fathers and our own conscience as St Simeon the Theologian teaches in Vol 4 of the Philokalia. And so I abide with what I’ve said until further correction by my spiritual fathers.

    Ziton a word of caution on your #1 entry. St Silouan was considered a sort of ignorant country bumpkin by his educated “superiors”. It’s interesting to me how monks who might deem themselves to have withdrawn from the world to focus their lives on God yet hold to their on to their self perceptions of superiority.

    This morning I re-read the Psalm verses I quoted above and noticed I accidentally left out part of a verse. I’m writing the insertion here (which is actually the true reason why I’ve come back into this thread):

    What is man that You remember him, or the son of man that You visit him?

  49. All, for what it’s worth:

    Christ spoke of “hating father and mother,” of “cutting off the right hand,” of “plucking out your eye.” These are not things we say in a literal fashion (nor did He mean them in that manner). Generally speaking, I prefer and try to use moderate speech precisely because we live in a crazy world where someone out there is teaching hate, dismemberment and blinding. Particularly here on the blog, where so many are either new to the faith, inquiring, or just curious. I do know that there are some monks who read the blog – but perhaps they enjoy the refreshment of a bit of moderation!

    I raised the use of language earlier, and noted the cultural tendency in some of our Orthodox lands to speak in immoderate terms – indeed, there’s a long tradition of such immoderate speach in Orthodoxy. It is, in many respects, the language of poetry – driven by love.

    But such language can be dismaying for many if the questions they are asking need more practical and moderate treatment. Since Orthodox literature is filled with the extremes of poetic diction, I have felt secure that there is no lack there that I need to supply.

    I thought Dee’s hesitancy and cautions to be important. For me, it belongs to the world of “small things,” which I have yet to master. I am not ready for the extremes…and, I suspect, neither are the rest of you.

  50. I find both to be important—the hesitancy and cautions, as well as the inspiration of the saints who continue to inspire me when their lives exemplify such profound examples. It helps me in my life. I was very inspired by St. Joseph the Hesychast’s life when I watched this film. Applying the inspiration I feel to my own life is the key for me I believe.

  51. Father
    I agree there’s a danger of a zealous misconstruing of the poetic language of absolutes, especially regarding the first rungs of the “ladder of divine ascent”, such as: “renunciation” , “exile” etc. As you explain, in the wrong ears it might be used as an excuse for a selfish hate rather than be understood as a description of an absolute love.
    I also however see the huge issue that plagues us – far more often-, that of attachment. This is the reason I appreciate such language and I believe it is the real reason (rather than the cultural one) why it has been so consistently employed. Of course only a discerning spiritual father can advise each differently whether they are in danger of aiming too high and need returning to small things, or the reverse, suffering from a perpetual smallness, daily putting out the fire of the Spirit which yearns to liberate us from the attachments holding us bound.

  52. Of course I could be wrong, and if my experience says: for every one person out there teaching literal ‘hate, dismemberment and blinding’, there are at least another hundred, suffering from subtle but spiritually debilitating attachments (which they see as justified)… and, in actual fact, the ratio is shifting, and the world is actually become so crazy that the hate has spread much more than I think …. Then again, in such a case one could argue that it is “postponed attachments” that often generate hate in the person secretly suffering them.
    So there is a ‘circularity’ there.
    It’s one of the reasons why I have often repeated that the true enemy of love, in practice and in frequency, is not hate. It is attachment. And it is generally harder to discern too.

  53. Saying all the above in no way means that Father’s preference for moderate speech on these matters on the blog is not the most balanced and wisest way. I trust it to be just that even when I bring in the other

  54. Beautiful photograph and subject!

    Dee, I noticed as you did the inclination of the shadow of the prayerful woman, and I thought after reading Father Stephen’s essay that it might be seen to be Christ entering the woman as she prays before the Holy Trinity – really quite lovely as you do not see how that shadow is formed by her equally humble posture – in effect it is an invisible ‘transfusion.’ Or perhaps, better seen as the shadow of the Christ that is already within.

    As I said, Beautiful!

  55. In my experience in today’s world even to speak moderately what is true and beautiful angers and sometimes offends even when done with love. My life in Christ has been marked with nothing but incredibly gentle mercy. From the moment I cried out for him in existential anguish on a hill in northern Illinois one evening in 1968 and He came to the raising my late wife’s soul with Him on Pascha in 2004 to bringing my wife Merry and I together in the Church eleven years ago to healing that is ongoing in my son who has been estranged from the Church. Nothing but mercy, unwarranted and so freely given as to be scandalous. It is in total opposition to the way of the world, so immoderate that I can find no moderate words for it. There are so many other examples in my life it boggles my mind and heart. This despite the fact that I lack ascesis and outward constancy and often revel in my sins. I do not read much ascetic theology because I find no place for it in my mind or heart. It is more often a burden. Yet seeing the picture of Elder Sophrony sitting with a beatific glowing smile tells me it is true–another moment of surpassing mercy..

    I also think that in today’s world simply to acknowledge Him who is and recognize His mercy can be an act of faith. It is for me. Even though I have a lot of evidence for it. It is another thing to look for it in other people who irritate, offend and hate.
    Let us not forget it is His mercy that endures forever. It abounds everywhere if we have eyes to see. It is from that mercy that our Lord said, forgive them for they know not what they do.

    That is surely true for me. I have no idea except I do know His mercy because my life in Christ has been nothing but crying out for it and I have never been disappointed. Indeed I often find mercy embedded in the midst of pain and sorrow.
    The world leaves us in the pain and sorrow, in fact leads us there in the hope we will wallow in it and reject Him in the process. Why should I not hate that?
    In fact, mercy seems to be revealed, as I said, only when I have lost things and success and people I love. In that futile sense of loss I also see my own total inadequacy. I am nothing except for His mercy. There is a sense of contempt in my heart for myself in that, but His mercy overwhelms my lowliness and raises even the worm of the man that I am into His glory.
    So when I cry out Lord Have Mercy, the answer is I will and I am. There is nothing moderate in that.

  56. Thank you Michael Bauman for all of that. Many themes resonate.

    Reflecting on the discussion, I am thinking that moderation or ‘vigor’ (for want of a better word) is probably a horses for courses kind of thing. Both with individuals and temperaments (and cultural backgrounds) and for different issues (different weeds, different treatment) in general, but also at different times within each of us depending on where we are in our journey. Sometimes gentleness and moderation, sometimes a call for striving, sometimes just sitting with things, and so on. Through it all it is our great physician and friend who is the one consistent and reliable rock on whom we can depend and who knows us far better than we know ourselves and is always adjusting himself to us – ironically even we like to think we have done something. Such persistence and never ending and unfailing patience in the face of such a hot mess. Nothing moderate in that indeed.

  57. Michael
    On a different note, and against the backdrop of tomorrow’s feast of the prophet Elijah, I thought your observation that in “today’s world even to speak moderately what is true and beautiful angers and sometimes offends even when done with love”, to be prophetic. We’re told that when Elijah – the forerunner of Christ’s glorious second coming- comes again to preach repentance against the Antichrist, that his killing (the two prophets in Revelation) will spark “joy” in the whole world because such preaching in that world will anger and offend those ears.
    It is another kind of topic of course.

  58. Dino I will also say that if the Greeks are crazy they sometimes reach the state of Divine Madness and that is good

  59. Well, I decided to order Dr. Patitsas’ book, The Ethics of Beauty this past weekend.

    This is what “adulting” looks like: your books all cost $50 now! LoL! Part of me misses being a child, standing in 7-eleven, my greatest concern in the world: wondering how I could afford another piece of Super Bubble bubble gum (that price hike to 3 cents was a killer)? Oh well; onward!

  60. True that, Father! My friends and I laugh a lot about how expensive all of our adult hobbies are now. But it’s really just a matter of price increases. Ah, the joys of life….

  61. Byron, if you order your books from Eighth Day Books you will be supporting both an Orthodox ministry and a true bibliophile. http://www.eighthdaybooks.com (shameless plug) People actually come to Wichita to visit the store. It is a place of knowledge, peace and faith.

  62. Byron, I am just 20 minutes away. I have to be careful. Father Stephen’s book can also be purchased there for anyone who does not have it yet. Great value and a real keeper. I assume you have sat in “the chair” by the counter. I could sit there all day in peace and feel smarter when I left. Great coffee too. Not to mention the Hobbit Hole in the basement filled with great children’s books. Beautiful icons everywhere exquisite prayer ropes made by a young lady in our parish. Great literature and quirky treasures. Catholic and Protestant thinkers also well represented.
    The best bookstore in the world and a true gateway to the mysteries of the Church. It is much bigger on the inside than it appears on the outside.
    Ahhhh.

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