The Greatest Battle Is at Hand

In his letter to the Ephesians, St. Paul warns of the dangers of being “tossed about with every wind of doctrine.” Early Christianity had very little institutional existence or stability. Churches met in homes (usually those of the wealthy). They gathered around their Bishop (or Bishops) with their Presbyters and Deacons. They were grounded in the Eucharist. When we think about these things in hindsight, we too easily project the institutionality of our own experience onto a very unstable format.

The reality is that, at least in the major cities, there were often competing groups. Generally, they were centered around a teacher and followed whatever esoteric version of the gospel was being purveyed. Many of these groups are today described as “gnostic,” a catch-all term for what was never a general reality. It was always localized, the only connection with the “Gnostics” in a different city being vague similarities.

For those groups who understood themselves as the Church (“Catholic,” or later called “Orthodox”), there had been from the beginning a communion. St. Paul’s letters, the letters of St. Ignatius in the next generation, and other such correspondence, were the work of leaders of a common life, a common faith, and a common practice. Indeed, the tenor and content of those letters were focused as much on the continuance and strengthening of that commonality as they were on various points of instruction. The communion of the Church was something far beyond the Cup itself: it was a common life, lived and practiced by all, everywhere, and always.

This is the reason that those early Orthodox Christian writings are filled with references to love and to very practical concerns for the common life (forgiveness, patience, compassion, etc.). The few so-called Gnostic writings that we have offer no such advice. Rather, they are bizarre screeds about levels of heaven, Ogdoads, and other such nonsense. Their “life” is simply in the mind of their “teacher.”

These groups disappeared (probably dispersing in various ways after the death of key figures). The primitive Orthodox Catholic Church persevered and continued to spread. It endured centuries of persecution and continued harassment by false teachers, but remained intact and bequeathed later centuries with the faith that remains and abides. Whole civilizations flourished on its teaching.

It has become a new fad in early Church studies (in various revisionist university settings) to suggest that the early Church was pluriform, almost “denominational” in its beginnings. Some, like Bart Ehrman at UNC, have made it a major thesis for new modes of critical unbelief. It is a bogus historical account, but supports a modern agenda that would justify a similar form for the modern setting. The truth is, that modern form already exists.

Denominational Christianity is less and less institutional, with far more “independent” groups that should be more accurately described as “entrepreneurial.” In many cities across the land, the largest churches at present likely did not exist even 40 years ago. America is the land of opportunity.

The history of the Church, even within Orthodoxy itself, is filled with schisms. The few that we think of historically (the Great Schism, the Monophysite Controversy, etc.) are usually large, global events. But, the often untold reality is marked by many smaller schisms, from within a city (ancient Antioch endured one that lasted a number of years) to just the normal parish stuff. The sad history of the Church, even in our modern setting, is rife with such discord, often with no resolution other than a permanent split. These are often neither testaments to doctrinal purity, much less heroic suffering. Rather, they are stories that mark the failure of love.

All of this is like the story of a family. Marriages fail, and even the many that survive either endure difficult things that are never healed, or, miraculously, find the path to reconciliation and new life. Human relationships are hard. The Scriptures are as honest about this as possible. The human story, within the second generation, includes jealousy and murder. The stories of the people of God move from one tragedy to the next. What some call “salvation history” is also the account of God working in and through the lives of people whose sordid ordinariness is so clearly described that the very worst sinner among us can easily find examples with which to identify. This is the truth of the human condition.

One of the reasons that I love the writings of Dostoevsky is his unvarnished treatment of the human condition: an axe-murderer with nothing more than silly Nietzschean musings as an excuse; a family so confused and conflicted that the wrong brother is convicted of his father’s murder. In the midst of this there shines some of the most brilliant displays of Christian understanding. There is no utopian dream of progress – only the possibility of the Kingdom of God breaking in where it should least be expected.

This brings me back to the parish. When I was leaving the doctoral program at Duke to return to parish ministry, a professor asked me what I was doing. I told him, “I’m leaving the academy to return to the parish in order to do theology. The parish is what theology looks like.” Though it was made in agony, it was one of the best decisions of my life.

It is only in the parish that we receive the Holy Mysteries. It is only from the hands of a flawed human being, clothed with the grace of the priesthood, that we receive the life-giving Body and Blood. It is this entity, the parish, that Christ entrusts with the whole mission of the Kingdom of God. It is not an accident, or an inconvenient necessity: it is the will of God made manifest.

I believe it is also the place of our greatest temptation – which only makes sense. The true battleground of the spiritual life is only found where temptation abounds. It is only through an outpouring of extreme grace that a monastery rises to this level of temptation. That such thoughts should sound in the least strange to us only indicates that we are failing to understand the nature of the battle and our place within it.

The current world order, beset by various threats and political chaos, is only one of many sources that stir our passions and distract us from attending to the truth of our condition. How a priest or bishop is presently handling the Church’s response to the pandemic, for example, is not a crisis nor a threat, no matter how clumsy or ineffective it might be. Indeed, if we truly attend to crises, then we will look to our own heart.

A proper goal of the heart is described in the virtue of “nepsis” (sobriety). It is that state where the passions have been stilled and we quietly keep watch for those things that would disturb and interrupt our communion with God. Quite often, what passes for “communion” in the lives of many, is an idea about God, held in an idea about a spiritual life, argued for in the context of an idea about Christianity. These “ideas” are, in fact, passions. They do not even rise to the level of true thoughts. Far likely, they represent little more than a constellation of feelings, echoing our unattended neuroses.

Orthodoxy, when practiced properly, is difficult. It is not the fasting, or even the prayers. Instead, it is the hard work of confronting emotional and psychological damages that disguise themselves in our many opinions. It is the patience of stability over many long seasons. I can think of very little in the Orthodox life that is accomplished quickly.

In our present difficulties, there is an avalanche of alarming information. Most of it surrounds the political lives of nations, some of it surrounds the present life of the Church. There are certainly real challenges within the Church, though they are not far different than the challenges that have gone on before. Those who suggest otherwise are not, I think, speaking from a place of neptic perception. As for the lives of nations, anyone who has expected great things from them is a fool. The nations daily fulfill the expectations of every cynic.

My only confidence is that the Church will abide and that the nations will get worse. These are things that need to be settled in our hearts. There, within the heart, it is possible to find the Kingdom of God where all the kingdoms of this world must kneel. There we can also find the peace that allows us to resist the siren songs of those who would draw us away from the life of the parish into delusional anxieties. Writing in the first century, where things were ever-so-less clear than they are now, St. Paul said:

I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment. For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there is quarreling among you, my brothers. (1Cor. 1:10-11).

St. Paul was busy traveling about, getting whipped, stoned, beaten, imprisoned, tortured, and such. However, he seems to have taken time to offer a word to call the Church in a local community back to its senses. He understood where the truly great battles were.

In the same vein, I offer my own encouragement to those who read these poor writings. Be steadfast in your love of the brethren. In difficult times, patience and endurance are the greatest virtues. The world is awash in the madness of its faux democracy. It is good not to let such things take root in us. Whenever possible, practice stability. Honor your priests. Obey your bishops. Pray for each other. Ignore those who disturb your peace.

O God, save Your people!

95 comments:

  1. Dear Father,

    It is always with gratitude that I read your posts. Once again you take us exactly where we need to go – into the heart and there into communion with God.

    Thank you and God bless you and your work.

  2. “ Orthodoxy, when practiced properly, is difficult. It is not the fasting, or even the prayers. Instead, it is the hard work of confronting emotional and psychological damages that disguise themselves in our many opinions. It is the patience of stability over many long seasons. I can think of very little in the Orthodox life that is accomplished quickly.”

    Wow, how this speaks to what I’ve been enduring the past 16 months or so with a failing-then-failed relationship that meant the world to me (that was part of the problem indeed). And due to the miraculous work God is accomplishing in me (only after much agony and perseverance do we see the reward), there may be a chance at reconciliation and mutual healing…your prayers for her and I are appreciated.

    As is this blog! So good to be back. 😇

  3. A thought occurred in considering the response to the virus that it is not at all important what the response is or whether it is too “loose” or too “strict” is not important. What is important is my response to whatever the restrictions are in my parish. I personally think the mask thing is silly, but I wear mask because we are told to do so and it makes others more comfortable. I also try to do so without any irritation in my heart. Rather love and obedience.

  4. But, the often untold reality is marked by many smaller schisms, from within a city (ancient Antioch endured one very many years) to just the normal parish stuff.

    “ancient Antioch endured one very many years” – Is this my failure to comprehend or could there be a word or words left out? “Ancient Antioch endured one (for ) very many years”? or “Ancient Antioch endured one (a year for) very many years”?

    Many thanks,
    RNW+

  5. “To obey is better than sacrifice.” This keeps me at peace in times of turmoil .
    God bless and keep you Fr. Stephen.
    Subdeacon John Kennick

  6. I can think of very little in the Orthodox life that is accomplished quickly.

    One of the things that stuck me in Orthodoxy, and still strikes me when I come upon it, is how many of the stories of the Saints include a phrase such as “and he prayed about this to God for eight years”. I try to remember these things when I desire a quick end to whatever is happening about me. Long-suffering is a virtue. Many thanks, Father.

    James Isaac, I will pray for you and her as best I can. Pray for me as well, please.

    Michael, I finally came to peace concerning mask wearing by simply saying that I will do it as a kindness. After I came to that point, it no longer mattered to me whether it is good or right or not.

  7. FR. Reid: Should have read: “ancient Antioch endured one that lasted for a number of years.” It’s also true, however that such schisms were problematic and not uncommon the the Middle East and Byzantium.

  8. Byron, me too and so did my son who really does not like the masks. Also using that approach makes it easier to gear not.

  9. Byron, Michael,
    Echoing something that I’ve emphasized from time to time – our democratic spirit/mindset really makes us take our opinions very seriously. We want to get our way. I’ve tried to remind myself that I should learn to think more like a peasant or a serf (they seemed to be the most steadfast people through time). I think their steadfastness is partly due to the fact that they were not used to getting their own way – they really didn’t expect it.

    One abbot on Mt. Athos, when I was visiting, said that it was hard to get good candidates for monasticism these days – too many unstable families – and too many young men who are used to having their own way. That is actually a fairly modern development.

  10. Father, is it not the hallmark of modernism the elevation of the individual will to all important? The reversal of our Lord in the Garden

  11. Michael,
    Culturally, that’s very true. But, of course, those who are raised in such a culture are its victims rather than culprits. Orthodoxy, of course, is not lived in some sort of slavish obedience (unless a parish priest has gone off the reservation). But, nevertheless, it presumes a sort of life-long patience. That, of course, presumes what has been the normal course of things throughout human history. It is modernity that is the outlier.

    Of course, modernity is a deceiver. We are “free” – but the freedom we are given is the freedom to be enslaved to our desires. And that is the deepest and darkest of all enslavements. For, at least with the old-fashioned bondage, you could complain about a wicked overlord. Now, the wicked overlord is our own distorted and bondaged will. In Hell, you can have anything you want. Sadly, it’s all you can have. All the good things are not the things we desire, but the things that are given to us as gifts.

    Think of a Christmas morning in which every gift you get is something you asked for. It’s ok, as far as it goes. But, no Christmas is as wonderful as the one that surprises you.

  12. Father,

    Thank you for these words. I have been so gravely disheartened by the amount of vitriol I hear and read from people (even clergy!) surrounding this pandemic. I’ve left Facebook entirely – I can’t read half of what I see without being heartbroken.

    To think that some would rather *forego the Eucharist* than wear a mask is absolutely mind-boggling to me, and yet, my own priest has told me that not a few of these people have threatened not to come back to the temple at all. I’m left dumbfounded.

    Anyway, it’s writing like yours that keeps me sane through this. Thank you for this ministry.

  13. Father, by all rights, I should be dead. That is what the evil one had in mind for me. But, I had stepped out of the boat to follow Jesus. Every time I have begun to sink and called out to Him, He has come. Not only that He has given me amazing gifts — especially my wife. Who am I to complain about a mask.
    While I would hope my Bishop would resist any overt oppression, I also realize that the Euchrist is the greatest gift of all and I can neither expect or demand it.
    I have also spent time away from the Cup as a penance. Because I was obedient to the penance even though I did not agree-grace came to me. Forgiveness came to me. So, being away from the Cup in obediance is not such a hardship. If that is what happens. Here in Kansas is was a short time.

    The web site Death to the World has a number of articles related to such things.

  14. Garrett,
    Some of us are being troubled deeply by the noises of the world, or even within the Church. I understand their angst – though I counsel everyone to be patience and endure for an extended time. God give us grace. It truly is the great battle.

  15. Thank you Byron, I will.

    Thank you Father Stephen also for your latter comment about good things being gifts…that’s a very helpful reminder in my circumstance with my temptation (and a big factor in what wrecked a beautiful relationship before) being to chase and TAKE rather than humbly and patiently receive. 🙂

  16. Thanks once more Fr Stephen
    Patience – yes. One thing we are working through here is ‘long suffering’ – the essence of patience. It is this element that perhaps makes the path so hard in these days where we are surreptitiously taught that suffering, true patience is to be avoided at all costs. But then we end up avoiding one another, and avoid Life. (CS Lewis’ picture of Hell) Our Life is Liminal – on the edge of Life and Death. It is Good Friday, Holy Saturday and Easter rolled into one, to use my traditions language, Pascha ( 🙂 ) to use yours.

    Blessings in Christ

  17. @ “…hard to get good candidates for monasticism…too many young men who are used to having their own way. That is actually a fairly modern development.”

    Fairly modern indeed. I grew up in a devout Byzantine Catholic family with a favorite uncle and an aunt who had dedicated their lives to a monastic order.
    My brother declared his intention to become a priest, but even though he had grown up influenced by their example, gave up after several months, the shock of obedience being the major factor.

  18. “Quite often, what passes for “communion” in the lives of many, is an idea about God, held in an idea about a spiritual life, argued for in the context of an idea about Christianity. These “ideas” are, in fact, passions. They do not even rise to the level of true thoughts. Far likely, they represent little more than a constellation of feelings, echoing our unattended neuroses.

    These are far from being poor writings, Father. There’s deep old wisdom in them. This paragraph alone speaks sharply to me about my own over-intellectual tendencies. ‘Ideas make idols’, as Gregory of Nyssa said. Stillness of heart and endurance and patience, and not expecting anything of the nations: these must be among the virtues that allowed the faith to survive for so long. Thank you for this essay.

  19. Father,

    Thank you for this article. As others have said, useful and timely.

    Interestingly, the image that most immediately came to mind from its themes and commentary has been that of one of my favorite of the desert fathers, Abba John the Dwarf. At the risk of stating the obvious, I’d like to share the reminders that triggered. (When thought of saint is triggered in this way, I feel I should share. I hope that’s right.)

    I love that most famous story about him about how Abba Pambo gave him a dry stick and told him to put it in the desert ground and water it every day. And though it was just a dry stick (so this would have seemed a ridiculous thing to do), and the nearest water was miles away (so real effort), he did it anyway without comment, out of obedience. Three years later it started sprouting and St Pambo gave away some of its fruit saying this was the fruit of obedience (and, he might have added, patience endurance/ perseverance/ not giving up!).

    Perhaps that puts some of the current complaints about orders of superiors in the current environment (that look far less ridiculous than ordering of watering a dry stick of wood!) into context.

    More, including many wonderful “words” from this saint that resonate strongly with Father’s article here (including many on nepsis) here :

    https://orthodoxwiki.org/Sayings_of_the_Desert_Fathers#Abba_John_the_Dwarf

  20. Ziton, great story. I have not heard it in awhile. That kind of obedience can only bare fruit in an environment of prayer, devotion, love and trust. Yes, obedience just for the sake if obedience is possible and sometimes necessary but much more difficult. Part of the lack of obedience today is because there is a lack of genuine community in which there are interelationships with others up and down the hierarchy.

  21. Sitting at home suffering through “Diversity and Inclusion” training and thankful for the fact that I am at home and not tied down to the office (where I’d be stuck in the actual meeting room).

    One of the things that has hit me about this is that the presuppositions are all Humanism/Modernity 101. They aren’t discussed; they are presumed to be the way things are.

    I think, perhaps, that the groundwork of the battle is as Father has said: “to be the Church”. The surrounding culture literally does not know what the Church is, nor what it reveals. I can see the “Benedict Option” in the local parish, when I think of this. The parish is, quite literally, where we are healed of the presuppositions of the world.

  22. Father and Ziton,
    Indeed obedience is not valued in this culture, it seems. The ‘anti-hero’, who bucks the rules and restrictions, is a commonly exalted character in the movies and stories. Again, referring to my mother’s Native American culture, the stories she told me as a child were frequently about obedience and what happens when there is disobedience–not punishment but fiascos of various sorts.

    It’s interesting also, that I don’t recall being asked my opinion when I was a child, either. My opinion didn’t seem to matter. This sort of upbringing conveyed that the child’s behavior and disposition mattered most– old-fashioned parenting I suppose.

    Last, about the stick/twig story: I offer another. My father grew up on a farm. One day he decided he wanted to have a row of bushes and planted bare sticks in a row and did what Abba John did (and I’m grateful for learning about his story–thanks Ziton!). I was an older kid when he did this and thought he was nuts!! But he patiently watered and tended until he had his hedge. If Ziton hadn’t mentioned Abba John’s story, I might not have remembered my own first hand experience of seeing this happen. Such edifying experiences are an oasis, a refuge.

    I’m so grateful for this community. Thank you Father and to all for being present here!

  23. Dee,
    As a young lad, playing in my back yard, I innocently pulled up some “sticks” and used them in some sort of playing event (probably with toy soldiers). Those “sticks” turned out to be the grape vines my father had just planted. I think I got a rather serious whipping as a consequence and came to respect sticks very greatly… I also came to love the grapes that eventually graced out backyard after my father had repeated his efforts. I owe an apology to some grape vines.

  24. The continuing and perhaps escalating trials ahead require our spiritual fortification (and internal denial of the secular mindset – o mindset of managing life as if there is no secret Father above managing every detail) . I often come back to Fr Aimilianos for such fortification… The victorious joy Elder Aimilianos routinely describes (which seems to me like a peculiar, pedagogic ‘take’ on St Silouan’s “keep thy ming in hell and despair not”) is often presented by him as an expectation (from his disciples) to cultivate a type of electrifying peace – created by the wholehearted affirmation of all situations (because “there is a God!” – even when one might be having the feeling of the exact opposite), but such a trusting affirmation of everything, (without any desire to change things, to influence situations or even to investigate, because even all the wrongs, are still ‘good’ , since, God the Lord allows them), such an affirmation, is a joy, moulded by the voluntary and total renunciation of one’s selfishness. This renunciation would include the news-cycle which claims entitlement to our emotions and thoughts as if there is no Father in control of everything, no matter what this entails.

  25. Father Stephen, I see how the idea that the early church was ‘factional’ might lead into the idea that the church for all time would be this way & that the current multiplication of denominations is the will of God. I’ve heard people say that the view of the Orthodox that there is a clear stable nucleus to the church from fairly early days, which then ultimately gave birth to the New Testament from within a community that had an already fixed set of doctrines & practices is just wishful thinking, & that no such thing really existed. Do you know of anything fairly short & not requiring a degree in church history that looks at this? Sometimes everything just seems like confusion & muddle with no solid ground.

  26. Beaker,
    This notion of the confused, pluriform early Church is rather new within early Church studies – and I’m not aware of any Orthodox books that address it in full. Fr. John Behr, in a number of lectures, some on Youtube, I think, has touched on it. Addressing the various errors of modernist academic critics would be a full-time job!

    What we have as historical evidence is a very consistent picture of doctrine, teaching, and practice, as well as ecclesiastical discipline from the earliest times. What evidence the critics have against it is their own narrative, stitched together with bits and pieces and lots of imagination. Many, if not most, such critics are either strangers to Christianity from the inside, or a Protestants of a very tenuous sort. This is to say, they have no feel for what they pretend to know so well. As such, they misinterpret things repeatedly.

    I suspect that these critics think of the Church in very institutional terms and think of anything less than that as a muddle and confusion – as something that has yet to “evolve” to a later state. But Orthodox Christianity is and always has been resistant to such institutionalization. There is, instead, the true life of a dynamic communion, in which unity is sustained by love rather than by institutionalization. At present, we look “muddled” to those on the outside. I certainly grieve, for example, over the current tensions regarding Ukraine, etc., but also recognize that what we are seeing is the requirement of more love rather than more institutionalization. The world (and its academics) will not understand this. They think in static, legal terms.

    That present Orthodoxy sometimes has the same “muddle” as we see in the earliest centuries is a continuing witness to the fact that we are the very same Church. Our muddled life has survived intact despite centuries and centuries of persecution. True life, even biological life, looks muddled when compared to a machine. Modernity thinks in terms of machines – whereas the Church is living a real.

  27. It is easy to say that what creates the muddle is sin. However that is not entirely true. Creation is a bit of a muddle, imagination requires it. Especially an imagination on fire with the Holy Spirit. Yet it is the creative energy of the Holy Spirit that is the continuity. It is the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth that never violates that truth. That is also the foundation for saying and believing “Glory to God For All Things”. God is not linear. People of God are not linear either.
    Human beings also find a degree of comfort in sameness. There is a story I heard early in my life in the Church about a parish somewhere in the old country. The people would gather at the appointed time for services, especially the Divine Liturgy. Sometimes they would find the priest well underway. Other times, they would sit and wait for an extended time. Finally they complained to their bishop. The bishop brought the priest to him and asked what was going on. His reply, “Your Grace, I begin the Divine Liturgy when I see the Holy Spirit descend onto the altar.”

  28. My use of “muddle,” of course, simply reflects how modernity sees things that are, in fact, quite natural. The nature of organic life (which is surely an icon of all life) is not without order – but the order is so wonderful and beyond description that it can seem like a “muddle” to the eyes that prefer mechanical things. A great example of this foolishness are various modern attempts to describe the brain as a computer. It is nothing of the sort and does not function in a computer-like manner in any way, shape, or fashion.

  29. > What we have as historical evidence is a very consistent picture of doctrine, teaching, and practice, as well as ecclesiastical discipline from the earliest times. What evidence the critics have against it is their own narrative, stitched together with bits and pieces and lots of imagination.

    This reminds me of Fr. Andrew Louth’s book “Discerning the Mystery,” where he shows pretty convincingly that modern historians can only erase the past in favor of a canonized present. One can see from what Fr. Andrew says how the past, using such modern methods and ideas, can only serve to reinforce the modern narrative. And because modern historical studies tout themselves as “objective” and we’re so used to placing such high value on these modern ideas, it’s easy to get trapped into thinking we ought to listen to what they have to say. But in reality, it’s nothing more than a narrative they’re telling, no more “objective” than the living tradition of the Church, in fact it’s quite a bit more delusional.

  30. Dino, it reminds me a little of my early reactions to Fr. Stephen’s “Glory to God For All Things”. Early on I wanted him to make exceptions and indeed to stop. But his patient reiteration began to wear down my objections. Now, while I have trouble practicing it. I long for it. Thank you Father.

  31. Dino, the story also reminds me in many small ways of the death of my late wife. As she lay dying my priest and several members of our congregation attended, singing prayers of repentance and thanksgiving. Many wonderful outcomes from that. It led one entire family into the Church and my son and I had our faith confirmed. “Death, where is thy sting” Indeed!

  32. Athanasios, what a joy it is to hear those words from Fr. Andrew. Ever since he was at my parish many years ago and heard him say with great conviction that “The Fathers of the Church needed to be reinterpreted in the light of modern science.! ” I have feared for him.

  33. Michael,

    I have to confess that I wouldn’t have expected a statement like that from Fr. Andrew, though I’d have to know the context to really know what a statement like that means. I could envision a few ways in which it might be true. One of the points he makes in Discerning tv e Mystery is that how we know things and understand things is not bifurcated between “scientific methodology” and how we learn in the humanities. Science solves problems. Humanity isn’t a problem to be solved. Therefore, engagement with the sciences (problem solving) must be subsumed into the humanities and we ought not think about “how we know things” as being different – but rather should acknowledge that the way a scientist *knows* something is precisely in the same way a historian *knows* or *understands* things. The scientist ought not confuse his problem solving efforts with genuine knowledge and understanding.

    I’m probably not doing a very good job of explaining this. It was a difficult concept for me to grasp, and my inability to adequately describe what he says probably still shows I don’t entirely grasp it. My main point, though, is that he definitely didn’t have disdain for the sciences – part of his work is establishing them in their proper place, though, which definitely isn’t a place of superiority. Within that context, I could see a way of engaging with the entire tradition of the church and the writings of the Fathers that doesn’t ignore the sciences, but also doesn’t hold the Fathers in a subordinate place to the sciences, and may find value in using certain “problem solving” methods in their proper place.

    But that’s all just conjecture.

    Regardless, Discerning the Mystery was probably the critical work that set me on a path of converting to Orthodoxy. It changed the way I read the early church, the Scriptures, and instilled in me the desire to come into contact with the living tradition of the Church.

    I will be forever grateful for him for that.

  34. Forgive me, but with my training in science, I sincerely do not believe it is only problem solving. This is a common description but it is emphatically not correct. However, this is often the way it is described in pedagogical settings. This rather common description truncates the work of a scientist into a modernist straight jacket perspective, which falls short of describing the work of ‘real’ science. Scientists do what they do often without reference to what philosophers or theologians say what they do. As a result, their lived experiences rarely pass into public view.

    Father has mentioned distinctions between ‘science’ disciplines in terms of how they might engage with Nature and love of Nature, which I would corroborate.

    I haven’t read Discerning the Mystery entirely yet, although I have the text. I was edified by his reference to Michael Palanyi’s work, who was trained as a physical chemist.

  35. I echo Dee’s thoughts. It is unfortunate that science becomes the target of a sort of apologetic for many. Science itself is not a problem. Indeed, “natural contemplation” is a firm part of the spiritual tradition of the Church, and good science is easily a part of that. I live in a “science city,” the location of one of the national laboratories as well as numerous other installations (computing, etc.). It’s not the enemy. Of course, there are some, driven by bad theology or a false secular narrative, that wrap themselves in a pseudo-formulation of science as a means of claiming an authority which their positions and thoughts do not deserve. My little city is not particularly secular, except in a general sense, and has pretty much the whole gamut of opinion, including a number of Orthodox scientists. It’s interesting to me that the house I live in was built in 1958 by a scientist who was a winner of the Fermi Award.

  36. I apologize if I gave reason for offense. I didn’t mean to denigrate the sciences. I love science (admittedly, as an outsider, not as a scientist). I was trying to summarize a point, and did so poorly.

    I will never forget, when I was a teenager, reading Brian Greene’s “The Elegant Universe” for the first time. I don’t know how accurate the theories he presents there are still considered to be, but what struck me in reading it was the sense of awe and wonder at our universe that I’d never felt from reading my more stodgy science textbooks (some of which were intended to be specifically “Christian” science books, having grown up in the Bible belt).

    Some of the most beautiful things I’ve read about our world were written by scientists, even scientists who describe themselves as atheists – it’s clear to me that they often stand in awe of the natural world around them, and they have an almost poetic appreciation for the beauty and harmony found in the universe.

    This, of course, stands in stark contrast to trying to use certain scientific methodologies to discern “what really happened” in the past that we find in some studies of history, which is being discussed in Discerning the Mystery. I don’t find anything awe-inspiring in most uses of the historical critical method.

  37. Michael, Athanasios,
    I wonder if the sort of “reinterpretation” of the Church Fathers in light of science that Fr Andrew was speaking of, related to how we understand commentary about human origins in the Fathers in light of advances in our understandings of that topic. I have no interest in discussing evolution, but I do not believe it is correct to deny out of hand any scientifically informed understanding of natural history on literal, biblical textural grounds. This latter seems to be a fundamentalism some pious Orthodox along with other Christians are tempted toward. It is too simple and required not the sort of spiritual life we are called to in Orthodoxy, requiring not an “Orthodox phronema” to be formed in us but simply outwardly obedient ascent to past Orthodox articulations and understandings. No inner transformation and illumination required for that.

    We actually do this sort of “(re-)interpretation” of scriptures and Fathers comfortably with non-politicized scientific matters, such as the “firmament” of ancient cosmology and the ‘real’ water cycle of modern scientific understanding.
    (see Fr L. Farley’s recent blog on this topic: https://blogs.ancientfaith.com/nootherfoundation/where-does-the-rain-come-from/)

  38. Dear Athanasius,
    I didn’t take offense. As long as I am engaged with science, I have to deal with the modernist perspective about it on a daily basis. My personal approach as a scientist follows (as much as I can) what Father Stephen has written in his book, “Everywhere Present, Christianity in a One Story Universe”.

    I’ve thought about writing more on the subject. But here it would be too much of a detour from Father’s theme.

  39. Dear Athanasios,
    Please forgive my misspelling your name. Correct spelling and punctuation are not my strengths, unfortunately!

  40. Fr. Louth’s comment came as a shock and in the larger context of the weekend including personal conversations it was clear he was talking about reinterpreting Orthodox anthropology in a modern evolutionary sense. I find that to be, at best, a weak understanding of the Incarnation and a two storey approach. It is also at odds with the comment on history quoted here. The comment on the historical narrative I find absolutely true based upon my study of history and historiography over the years.

  41. This article highlights the ideas that piqued my interests, that eventually led to my investigating Orthodoxy.

    I was increasingly uncomfortable with the teachings I heard in Protestantism in general, and within my denomination in particular. Pastors preached with confidence about God as if they knew who he was, why he did what he does, and so forth – based not on prayer, a common tradition, or in seeking a union, but on Sola Scriptura, and maybe some of the other Solas. They would propose theories – such as penal substitution with its assumptions based on very real human needs and laws – and when challenged would say that “salvation was multifaceted”, without admitting that they could be blatantly wrong about the nature of God himself. They would admit that some things were a mystery, but remained very much tied to their own personal notions about the divine. God seemed very human – angry in some cases, schizophrenic maybe, senile in some accounts – but the artifice was maintained and guarded. Question the pastor, and you we questioning the Gospel story. Even if it didn’t make sense. It all seemed very… Gnostic.

    Yes Orthodoxy is muddled, perhaps, just like a family, but it has a heartbeat and a way about it that preserves. Not just the individual, but the whole body. There is a living essence at the core of Orthodoxy that does make sense, if you look at it in a certain way.

    I’m not saying that the cold, sterile, academician way of looking at things doesn’t have a life of its own – it truly does, just look around at the Modernity around us. I’m just saying that I found no life there, and had to search for something that made organic sense in the way that Orthodoxy does.

    I am so thankful to Orthodox theology for reviving my Christianity. Glory to God.

  42. Thanks Father Stephen, I continue in my quest for a body of reliable information about who God is & how to relate to Him, that I might just get on & believe & live right – though I know that is a lifelong quest in some senses.
    As you know, & as Matthew W. eloquently says above, the whole Sola framework leads to a bunch of differing translations of the same Scriptures &, for me, a painful level of diversity in pictures of who God is & what he wants for people.
    I was in a Twitter conversation yesterday when someone popped up to say that the Word of God (the Bible, esp. the NT) was Christ in a real way, that what Christ has inspired is Him, as that was the only way he could see that Scripture have any authority…so this question of authoritative readings of Scripture to gain doctrinal clarity ripples out everywhere that has no fixed body of teaching. I’ll keep on praying for God to lead me to enough solid ground to stand strong.

  43. Beaker,
    When I was in college (70’s), I first began to read Orthodox materials. At that time, St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press was one of the best sources (still is). I bought nearly all their books – and it didn’t even fill a shelf. But it was a touchstone. Of course, I went from college to seminary (Anglican), but those books continued to be touchstones for me, as well as other Orthodox things I found. I suppose I was slowly building up a foundation – solid ground to stand strong. That it would be another 20 years before I actually converted to Orthodoxy is a further story – but Orthodoxy preserved me long before that.

    Part of the Orthodox insight is that the Christian life is lived in the Church. That is the context of our understanding. It’s also why after 20 years I made the huge disruption in my life to convert.

    A good foundational book – Fr. John Behr’s The Mystery of Christ. Also his two volumes on the Way to Nicaea are good. What I have done over the years has been to work a “learning” what I was reading if it was good. To understand its reasoning and its arguments – as much as possible, I stuck to the “mainstream” of Orthodox writing and thought and steered clear of the controversial and the outliers.

    Someone once told me of an online article that placed Orthodox writers on a scale of sorts – from Left to Right (more or less liberal to conservative but those are not the proper labels). He told me that my work was placed just to the right of middle. That seemed about right to me. The sweet spot.

  44. Personally it was the experience of Orthodox prayer that sucked me in. Praying Vespers with a group of friends who were investigating the Church and finally my first Divine Liturgy. The book: St Athanasius “On The Incarnation”.

    I also cherish what my God Father told me not long before being received: ” Michael, there is always more in the Church”.

    It has been 33 years and counting and my God Father was right. There is always more. It is a joy.

  45. To the “Low Church” protestant, Orthodox prayer, the incense, the icons, the liturgy may be a gateway to Orthodoxy. My Pastor certainly thought so as he tried to direct me away from the “extremes” and “questionable elements” of Orthodoxy.

    It sounds as though Frs path, and definitely my own, seem to have followed a different path. As my Pastor was cautioning me about the allures of the “smells and bells” in Orthodoxy, I was thinking, “you don’t have answers to the questions I’m asking”.

    I know many people will say that I entered Orthodoxy “backwards” so-to-speak, that Orthodoxy IS all about the externals – “the smells and bells”. And yet, it was theology that I found compelling. Rethinking judgement, my neighbor, what it means to love, letting go of certainty in things that can’t be proven, all of it… It was liberating, while at the same time, suddenly becoming much more serious. There was a trust that I’d never experienced in Protestantism, that was ironic given the frequent protestant mantra that’s always a variant of, “Speak It..believe It..receive It…”

    And, in the lives of the saints, isn’t the desert just as salvific as the cathedral?

  46. Matthew,
    I often think of the externals of Orthodoxy as “color.” Protestantism was, by and large, beige. The various externals in Orthodoxy, such as incense, bells, chanting, etc., are all just part of being fully human. Modernity wants a sort of lowest common denominator version of being human – something easier to market to, etc. Too often, Protestantism will fit on a postcard (or bumper sticker). You can’t build a civilization on such then gruel – which is why our present civilization is less and less Christian – there’s not enough of it.

  47. I deeply appreciate the varied music of the Orthodox Church and how it is blended and used to deepen understanding especially the minor keys. The Orthodox Church embraces the entirety of the human condition as did Jesus Christ. Transforming, by the grace of the Holy Spirit, even our deepest pain, wounds and longings. It takes time. It takes patience and humility but the reality is always there inside and outside–if we listen, observe and acknowledge.

    I once remarked to our choir director that the Orthodox Church is not a C Major religion. She got it immediately.

  48. Father your personal descriptions about Orthodoxy seem spot-on to me.

    Beaker, I hope to offer words of encouragement and support:

    Especially in times when one is feeling vulnerable, I would be very cautious about having discussions about your thoughts of Christ and Christian living on FB. For reasons involving my husband’s business, I have constructed a FB page for his business, and people love to share on that platform, but this is not a place to engage others with the inner life of Christ, IMO. There are certainly FB pages of Orthodox Churches and monasteries which are edifying to read, but I urge you not to put your thoughts from your inner soul on FB.

    This blog is moderated by Father Stephen, and will be a good place to discuss your questions and to even see arguments within an platform that is over-seen by a priest who has the blessings from his bishop for this ministry.

    Books I have recommended to catechumens: Father Stephen’s book (I have mentioned earlier in this comment stream). Archimandrite Sergius, abbot of St Tikhon’s book: “The Mind of Christ” is also very helpful. Also Metropolitan Kalistos Ware’s books, Fr Alexander Schmeman’s books, and as Fr Stephen has mentioned, Fr John Behr’s books.

    ***I sincerely believe this is important: Please stay clear of Orthodox blogs (I have no intent to disparage others’ blogs), generally, with the exception of this one for now (because this site is overseen by the hierarchy of the OCA, Orthodox Church), until you begin to feel ‘that solid ground’ under your feet.***

    These are indeed difficult times with all the political innuendo and angst.

    God bless you with His peace and joy. And may the veil of the most Holy Theotokos protect you.

  49. Father,

    I understand completely what you mean – and in fact I myself have thought in those terms – color vs. beige, and feast vs gruel.

    The Protestant Reformation was about many things. One was about a priest with a guilty conscience. We are now in a place where the Modernist Christian asks, “What’s the least I can do and still be saved?”, theories of limited atonements have been developed around that threshold. Completely missing is the question, “Now that we are saved, what must we do to grow in our salvation”?

    Orthodoxy answers that question through it’s color and bounty in a way that Protestantism can’t even comprehend or understand, focused so narrowly on its fixation. I know there are some dissenting voices in Orthodoxy that sound very Protestant to me, but by and large, partaking as I can of the color and bounty of Orthodoxy has really allowed me to ignore those voices.

    At least that’s my opinion.

  50. I’ve thought about doing a post on this topic – but did not want it to be too political. However:

    The Reformation could not have happened without the printing press. The various revolutions, both civil and ecclesiastical, that happened over that 200 or so year span, were also unthinkable without the printing press. It was new and it changed everything.

    2012-16 was pretty much the first election cycle that came around with social media. The internet without social media was simply not yet dominating enough. But, I think the advent of the various social media are as powerful and revolutionary as the printing press. It’s one reason that we will never(!) return to a “normalcy” that mirrors what preceded social media. It is the most radical thing in communications since the press. Television was also a game-changer, but nothing like social media.

    For the first time in history, the media has become a democracy of sorts – and hence utterly chaotic. Something will likely change at some point, but I don’t know what it would look like.

  51. Matthew W, from experience as a fundamentalist Protestant, their fixation is logical based on their premises. The Cosmos is a sinking ship, and you’d better get in the lifeboat of belief or end up sinking to a dark, abyssal plain with no escape.

    Too much emphasis on sanctification, especially as connected to salvation, brings up the original Hell-anxiety that forced them into the lifeboat.

    Synergism is awful to many Protestants since it puts salvation over the horizon. The depraved can only approach, but never reach it.

    Or maybe sanctification is like an unknown sales goal. Do I get a set of steak knives or will God tell me to hit the bricks? Trying to meet or exceed an unknown target is maddening. Nobody wants to work for a Boss like that.

    When the stakes are so high, you want a sure thing.

  52. My undergraduate degree was in Economics, which deals almost entirely around the Law of Scarcity. Most of the Modern world is focused on doing as much as is possible with limited resources – from letting “natural law” run its course with or without some oversight, all the way to dictating through some enlightened individual or council the organization of such things. The history of such thought may have come from the same things that drove the Reformation, but even if not, it has certainly informed the thinking of every Christian living.

    I can only say that I think life in the kingdom needs to be divorced from that kind of focus, but again, re-framing the gospel in terms of abundance is not without it’s own perils. Just as theories of material scarcity have pushed us towards poverty, gruel and beige in our spiritual life; spiritual wealth, abundance, and color will also be immediately misunderstood. Protestants do not accept “fools for Christ” in any meaningful way.

    As to the media’s role in all this, it is both a blessing and a curse. There are more voices, yes. Many are strident and loud. But, in truth, there’s more of everything. I probably would never have resolved many of my issues with Christianity without the media we’re using right now. It’s easy, I think, to blame the media, much harder, I think, to take responsibility for not producing or articulating a compelling message. I guess that could be seen as “advertising”, but God’s energies flow everywhere, and I can only say that without media, my experiences might have been much harder.

    The Church has survived, being what it is – as you noted in this essay. It survived Pagan Rome, Islam, Latin conquest and persecution, and the Communists. It has survived schisms and heresies. It will survive this – possibly with wounds to be memorialized in future liturgies. Growing up, I heard a lot about “the Remnant Church”. Our group taught that it was us. I think that’s doubtful now. But I think there’s a kernel of truth there – the true Church may be small, but it will endure.

    Thank-You father for your work.

    Glory to God.

  53. ScottTX,

    I understand completely. It really takes a perspective shift.

    For me it was articulated best by Kalomiros, and “The River of Fire”, and by Romanides, “The Ancestral Sin”. Father will be the first to point out that both works have their legitimate Orthodox detractors. I’m not going to evangelize either of their works. What I will say was that they were extremely helpful in articulating nascent thoughts I’d encountered in even earlier works, and they assisted me further to conceive of the world, of heaven, and of hell outside of their modern central casting caricatures.

    One final book I found useful for my development in this reorientation was “The Orthodox Way”, by Bp. Callistos Ware. It permitted mysticism as a Christian endeavor, and further broke down that two-story universe model.

  54. Matthew,
    My work on the internet began in 2006, precisely because I was concerned that there were too many “unsafe” and “unreliable” sites related to Orthodoxy. It seemed like the more you were on the fringe, the more likely you were to be on the internet. One reason for that, I suspect, is that those who were the healthiest were too busy doing real parish work and the like to give much time to blogging and such.

    I sort of stumbled into it, and discovered that I was able to be responsible in the parish and still manage to write. That’s a long story, but it panned out. I have to say that I caught some flack in the early days – as if this were not a proper thing to do. But, I was blessed by the bishop to do it (which silences all arguments) and it just seemed that I was called to do this. Time has proven it right.

    I once joked with John Maddex, the Founder of Ancient Faith Radio that I used to feel a bit special that I had a podcast. Then, like today, there are so many podcasting priests that I would feel embarrassed if I didn’t have one.

    Bottom line: the media, whether hand-copies by monks and candle-light, or printing press, or television, or radio, or internet, etc., all all just like the human voice. They are a means of communicating the gospel. If people are going to get their information from the internet, then we simply have to be there, regardless.

    Some years, there are over a million views of this blog. It’s worth doing, I suppose. Though, the first article I published on the blog, and still re-print from time to time is called, “What Matters.” In it, I wrote, “This blog does not matter.” That remains true. Only God matters.

  55. Dear Father Stephen,
    Thank you for all that you do. You have been a huge help to me in my times of confusion. There is something so clear and consistent in your voice, and it refreshes me always.
    Glory to God!

  56. ScottTX,

    If it isn’t obvious already, it was Hell-anxiety that’s driven my father his whole life, and it was Hell-anxiety that drove me. He found his answer that, in my opinion, was no answer at all. He just accepts the inconsistencies of his belief.

    Me? I nourish myself with Orthodox writing. Working on the “Ethics of Beauty” by Timothy G. Patitsas at the moment. Much healthier than most of the other stuff I’ve read in my life.

  57. “it was Hell-anxiety that drove me.“

    I haven’t resolved it yet. The depressing and the true aren’t mutually exclusive. It’s a sticky belief you can’t scrape off your mental shoe once you step in it, since if you’re wrong, there’s an infinite downside.

    How do people think about anything else? Monergism equals “Did God pick me?” and synergism equals “Have I done enough?” Any other theological topic buries the lede.

  58. ScottTX, To think of synergism as you state is to ignore the parable of the Prodigal Son; Kesus saving Peter and many other Biblical stories. God’s grace completes any action we take and forgives any sin if we ask.

  59. Father Stephen – thanks for this, my sweet spot is normally just left of centre in most issues, but have many friends & family who would tend soft right. Your thoughts on social media are so interesting , my professional field of youth work has been massively impacted by the changes in young people’s lives due to social media & we have really witnessed a revolution in the last 20 years, & not much of it for the better in my opinion.

    Dee: thank you so much for your concern, & thoughts. It’s been a lifetime quest for me to ask where one gets reliable information about God, fuelled by life experience, my particular type of mind as well as just sheer love of humanity (& dislike of much religiousness I’ve seen, whether that takes its form as a dry rejection of anything with any colour, flavour or warmth; or obsessive corrections of others’ ‘wrong ideas about God’. ) as well as a fear of getting it wrong which notions of hell have super-heated, as they do to many Protestants. I rarely put anything out onto social media about anything that matters to me about this – I might talk here or at the Wartburg Watch or Internet Monk where I’ve commented for many years & know the community to be mature & supportive.
    As Dana said about herself I’m on a quest for a better God, & certainly the Christ of Orthodoxy who loves all humanity & wants to redeem all reality is very much better than the Christ of the High Reformation who randomly picks some & leaves everyone else to a doomed world. It’s now about understanding why one interpretation is more deserving of belief than another. So pray for me on that quest – sometimes it doesn’t seem clear at all why one is more obviously true than another, & that’s where I get stuck. The only book I ever read which got this difficulty entirely was Christian Smith’s The Bible Made Impossible, & he himself converted to Catholicism because of ‘pervasive interpretive pluralism’ as he termed it.
    I used to teach the Bible to teenagers, & always had this nagging feeling that I was teaching means of interpretation that just weren’t actually working for me on a fundamental level, but pushed this away, for as long as I could. I tend to keep out of most Bible-based convos online, but couldn’t let this one slide the other day, it was just another example of over confident young evangelical men who put the Bible on the same level as Jesus & can’t resist slamming that into any space in any conversation they can find.

    Scott TX – I hear you. You don’t have to scrape far beneath the surface of many thoughtful Christians to find that dilemma.

  60. Scott,
    It seems to me that what you are describing is not salvation but the avoidance of hell – which is, sadly, a narrative that takes us in a wrong direction. It’s common enough – probably too common.

    For me, I do not think of the question of hell or not hell. I simply want to know God and to have union with Him. If I have union with Him, even in hell (whatever that would mean) then I would be fine. My prayer is simply that He never leave me to myself. He is a good God and everything that people use to argue otherwise is, for me, just nonsense. There are things that I do not understand – but I do not want to cling to anything that separates me from Him (such as an argument, idea, or syllogism).

    The great Orthodox collection from the Fathers, the “Philokalia,” means “the love of beautiful things.” This is closer to describing the path of salvation than anything else I can think of. God is the Good, He is the Beautiful. It is a love affair – our life with Him. Why would I want to waste my time wondering whether and how my action or His action is the root of anything of value? I understand that “He first loved me” – but somehow I didn’t know that until I loved Him. It would be a sad romance if either person in a couple spent time thinking and analyzing their love rather than simply loving the beloved.

    It is why Orthodoxy centers our life in the Liturgy and not in any sort of theology that is removed from it.

  61. Thank you Father Stephen for all that you make to think, to feel, in fact, to actually live.
    As Steve Gage put it so simply, above, “There is something so clear and consistent in your voice, and this always refreshes me ” and I would also say, straightens the narrow awareness that I have things …
    Your response to Scott, among others, literally overwhelmed me with gratitude, with joy, because echoing what is close to me. heart …. Particularly this : “I just want to know God and be in union with Him. If I am in union with Him, even in hell (whatever that may mean), everything will be fine. My prayer is just that” He never leaves me to myself … There are things I don’t understand – but I don’t want to hold on to anything that separates me from Him (like an argument, an idea or a syllogism)”.
    Father Zacharias (of Maldon) says true theology is the story of an event experienced in the heart and, when man participates in this event, which far exceeds the measure of his imagination, all rest is superfluous since his whole being is nailed to this event
    which surpasses and transcends it. God gave us the imaginative faculty to console us for what we do not have. Can we say that our thought, considerations and intellectual research in the field of faith are also, in the best case, “consolations”? ….
    Glory to God who has mercy on all !

  62. Amen —Father your comment at 7:40am is another ‘keeper’. Our life in Christ is all about love. To be loving and beloved. And especially loving to those whom we might consider our enemies.

  63. Eh, not much to be done about it. For me, a present and merciful heavenly Father doesn’t compute. My earthly father was a philanderer who left when I was a baby. My older brother was abusive. My pastor preached that the heavenly Father’s justice demanded you be burnt unless you believe in Jesus as the Son hurt in your place. That God could make vessels fitted to destruction is very believable, so all my religion is about managing bad outcomes. If there was a magic pistol that killed both body and soul to escape God’s hands, I would eat it.

  64. Scott,
    I understand. Those sort of wounds run very deep. I’ve had my own small portion, many have had worse. What I know is that the wounds can be healed – at least to the extent that God can be known as a good God. At a certain point in my spiritual life, I took some time to work through the various ways that I emotionally confused God with my earthly father. It helped. God give you grace.

  65. Scott, just goes to show that bad theology leads to bad belief. I was in a similar place 33 6ea4s ago. My father did not run off but he was abusive and the temptation of the evil 9ne to kill myself was pretty constant. I had “new age” theology to support the lack 9f a loving God. Yet there was an ember of hope. I had begun to recognize who those urgings to end it were coming from. I had experienced the Life and person of Jesus In an Orthodox Liturgy. When I was Baptised and Chrismated, the voice went away. Gradually the perniscious theology I had adopted went away. Now I know Him and H8s mercy not from just theology or belief but in the beginning of the transformation of my own soul despite my sinfulness.
    I move in little ways in His direction–He responds with even more.

    I still struggle and fall but as soon as I reach for Him, He is there. Even though I have gone against virtue in defiance of Him.

  66. I’ve forgiven my father’s and brother’s sins against me without them asking for it. But since I see their sins in myself also, that I never forgive.

  67. Scott, this may seem counter intuitive but in my case I have found that sometimes forgiveness is quite difficult. I have found a much easier and more effective path is to repent for my own sins and allow God to forgive me. Eventually, I found myself looking with more merciful eyes on my father’s life and actions and loving him again. It is up and down and a patient work but for me it has born good fruit. Sometimes bitter fruit but tasty nonetheless. Occasionally, I get the gift of tears and know the healing has occurred deep in my soul where I cannot yet quite see it. Nevertheless, I am lighter.

    Honest repentance to our Lord, even if you do not go to a priest, is a tremendously healing discipline. Asking forgiveness for someone I have hurt by the sins in me is also a freeing discipline.

  68. Wonderful comments!
    Father, what you noted in your comment above is full of truth. With our beloved, or with anyone we love dearly, we do not have to analyze the love. We simply love her/him for who they are. We love because He first loved us.
    We had a long drive this morning to find a church open for honoring the beheading of St. John the Baptist. Returning I commented to my wife that liturgy never grows old , after all these years. How can one grow tired of being loved by the Beloved? I’m my Beloved’s and my Beloved is mine….
    As is often sung as we come to the chalice…taste and see that the Lord is good. God beckons. We respond. To realize that we can begin this dance of love now, with God here on earth, and that it will extend throughout the Age is glorious.
    Scott, a 76 year old neighbor lady came to our home yesterday to cut my hair. After the haircut somehow the topic of church came up. I have no idea why she related the following to us, but she did. She had grown up Catholic. While at confession when she was 21, she had been sexually assaulted by the priest. She said it was so traumatic, so rending spiritually/emotionally, that she never returned to church. Yet God did not abandon this dear Hispanic lady. She related that she struggled for years to find healing. Many years later she was finally able to forgive the priest (he’s since deceased). She told me that she knows God loves her and that Christ died for her sake. I told her that God does indeed love her, and that unconditionally. So, Scott, hang in there. Healing will come. One day you will see that all beauty, truth and goodness flow from Him.

  69. Dean, so good and edifying to hear from you, it seems to have been awhile, dear friend in Christ.

  70. Thank you, Dee. You are a dear also. Yep,
    haven’t commented in months. Taking a “sabbatical.” Thought I’d better say something so y’all didn’t think the virus had done me in! God is so good. Thinking of what elder Zacharias wrote in one of his books. Hospitalized for over a week, he started repeating…glory to you, o Lord, glory to you. He said it became so glorious, he didn’t want to leave! So, in the midst of social upheaval, hurricanes, tidal surges, covid, economic hardship…we can still experience His glory now, here in the present, in our heart’s depth!

  71. I have been working through 12 steps of ACA (adult children of alcoholics) for two years. It is for anyone who was raised in trauma and dysfunction. I mention it because steps two and three deal with the image of God we have as well as religious abuse. I have also been working with an Orthodox therapist and am starting to see a real shift in my ability to trust God. So Scott, don’t give up, there is healing available. It is something that takes time, and lots of patience.

  72. Dean,

    It is an amazing comfort in all things to glorify God. When I was sick and feverish with Covid my temp spiked up to 104 degrees one night. I was shivering, sweating, and shaking in my bed and began saying out loud, “glory to God for all things” over and over. God gave me great comfort and, within roughly 30 minutes, the fever completely left me. But it’s not the fever that I really remember from that time, it is the immense comfort I received in the midst of it.

  73. Byron,
    Thank you brother for the uplifting story of God’s presence coming to you in the midst of covid suffering. Yours truly was “a sacrifice of praise to God.”

  74. Dear Byron, thank you for your story!

    I’m so grateful you shared your experience. Hearing your experience affirms God’s love. Such unexpected peace. Glory to God for His abiding presence in the time of suffering.

    Father, I’ve read from you that you too have suffered such tremendous pain that you needed to be hospitalized. And that you too were helped by reading edifying words about a saint, which brought you peace.

    May I ask this question, hoping that it isn’t too personal. If so, I ask for forgiveness.

    I’m asking this partly from my own reflections on the sufferings I have had in my life. At one point I sought and received counseling from a university counselor, when I was still an undergraduate. It was at a point in my life when things were going so well, and then I had great difficulty studying. I had a good marriage, my grades were good, then it seemed out of the blue, I would sink into a reverie of memories of several traumatic events that had happened in my childhood. The effects were disrupting my studies because I would sit down to study, but these memories would play back, as if they were happening in real time. Then when they stopped, 2 or 3 hours had lapsed without my knowing it.

    The counselor was a Vietnam War Vet. He immediately recognized the symptoms of PTSD. Over time with his help, these dramatic PTSD effects finally left me. But I don’t think I was healed until I learned to have compassion for the one who caused my suffering. To be honest, if I could be candid here about what had happened, the story might even be doubtful that someone could forgive. It mirrored a story that Dostoevsky would write. It had taken a few decades, mainly because my coping mechanism was to submerge the experiences. It was facing these experiences with the help of a counselor and even embracing them, that I learned to forgive. It would be almost another decade when I finally began to love this person. It seemed it was only when I began to love the one who had caused my suffering that the real healing of my heart began.

    It seems to me that such trauma early in life can make someone believe that they are not “worthy” of love and they might find that they have great difficulty loving themselves in a healthy way that Christ would have them do.

    Perhaps, you might reflect on this. I wonder whether it is likely that when one is able to love the image of God within oneself, and to truly believe that image of God exists within, that they might eventually have the capacity to love someone who had harmed them? Whatever the process of soul healing, I know it cannot be forced to be authentic.

    On reflecting on my own healing experience, of course there are the residual scars. And I’m still a sinner. Some of that sin is undoubtedly due to the trauma I had experienced in my youth. Nevertheless, with God all things are possible. I don’t think I’m kidding myself that with God’s abiding presence, not only do I sincerely love the one who had caused my suffering, but I can even love the image of God within, sinner that I am.

  75. Dean, Byron and Dee … How good to receive your testimonies, your uplifting experiences that are at the heart of your life, of your faith …. I am very grateful that you share this and I thank you very much.

  76. Father, thank you for this post! I am an Evangelical Pastor who is daily pushed and pulled by my people to “resist this” or “follow that.” I can’t win. Your post was an encouragement to me!

  77. Dee,
    This stuff often takes a lifetime. I have noticed that a particular difficulty arises when “new wounds” are similar to “old wounds.” These things can also be very unique to every person. Something that might seem similar might actually be experienced in a much more intense manner, for example.

    Just as we have learned that some people have problems with “textures” (particularly I understand this is a problem in some forms of autism), so, the brain is also particularly sensitive for some people more than others – such as Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria – and such things. Of course, we label many things today that were not labeled years ago. They’re not new, we’re just thinking more about them. It is possible, however, to be healed. Forgiveness is possible – and, to a certain extent, necessary. Slow stuff.

  78. Dear Fr. Stephen, what you say to Dee here are true words to my ears and I thank God you have spoken:
    “This stuff often takes a lifetime. I have noticed that a particular difficulty arises when “new wounds” are similar to “old wounds.” These things can also be very unique to every person. Something that might seem similar might actually be experienced in a much more intense manner, for example.

    Just as we have learned that some people have problems with “textures” (particularly I understand this is a problem in some forms of autism), so, the brain is also particularly sensitive for some people more than others – such as Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria – and such things. Of course, we label many things today that were not labeled years ago. They’re not new, we’re just thinking more about them. It is possible, however, to be healed. Forgiveness is possible – and, to a certain extent, necessary. Slow stuff.”

    YES! Slow stuff and Our Lord is Good and the Lover of Mankind. Thank you! Glory to God for All Things!

  79. “Orthodoxy, when practiced properly, is difficult. It is not the fasting, or even the prayers. Instead, it is the hard work of confronting emotional and psychological damages that disguise themselves in our many opinions.”

    This is what I needed to read today, Lord knows I struggle with the damages from my childhood, but it is in this suffering I feel my faith is reaffirmed, it is my cross to bear, but I don’t bear alone, I have my parish, and my prayers that help me. Thank you for the beautiful words as always Fr.!

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