From Desire to Necessity

I recently re-watched one of the most eye-opening programs on the 20th century, The Century of the Self (BBC 2002). It looks at the development of advertising, particularly the theories and work of Edward Bernays. You’ve seen his work, but you didn’t know it. He was one of the pioneers of modern advertising as well as modern government propaganda. Particularly in the 1920’s, he played a key role in moving America from a need-based economy to desire-based consumerism. One result was a flourishing and growing wealth across the land (except for the collapse in the Great Depression). America moved past the Depression through the efforts of the war economy of the 40’s. However, our desires were unleashed again in the post-war world and have never looked back. It was a simple formula: create desire and then fulfill it. The result is “happy people.”

Of course, happy people have a difficult time when their desires are thwarted. It’s a hard habit to break. I recall my childhood visits to my mother’s family home. Her parents were farmers. They had 12 children, my mother being the 5th in line. All of them grew up doing work on the farm, my mother was among those who picked cotton in the field. Her stories remind me of scenes from Places in the Heart. In the Great Depression, flour sacks were intentionally printed with pleasant floral designs, making them excellent material for home-made dresses. Listening to my mother describing flour-sack dresses sounded exotic (as did a Christmas that consisted of a single orange). My grandparents’ home was a haven of necessities. I really cannot recall anything superfluous.

The house had five rooms and no indoor plumbing until the mid-60’s. It was heated with a single coal-burning stove in the front room. It was peopled, during my visits, with a crowd of happy people (my generation, being the offspring of 12 children, became a large, rowdy crowd of boys and girls). Sunday afternoons seemed to be a time when the larger part of the family would descend on the homestead, food in hand and conversations at the ready. My grandfather sat largely silent, chewing his tobacco, and occasionally entertaining the children with wild stories from his imagination (most involving my grandmother).

The farm was just over 100 acres, with a creek along the back that provided hours of entertainment. At some point after dinner, the men all seemed to gather on the porch to smoke and talk, the women remained inside where laughter constantly interrupted their conversations. Strangely, these people-of-necessity were happy.

Desires, in our modern parlance, were known by the ancients as the “passions.” Interestingly, the word for “passion” comes from a root that means to “suffer.” These universal experiences of longing, imagination, craving, and the like, were seen as alien to our well-being and afflictions to be moderated and even silenced. In Orthodox tradition, there is a goal, expressed in Greek as “apatheia” (“passionlessness”). Yes, that’s our word “apathy.” It does not mean “not caring,” but being free from the bondage of the ever-nagging sound of desires hounding our lives.

Our consumerist culture is, as is well described in the video referenced above, intentionally designed to nurture the passions. Indeed, it is structured in such a way that the failure of the passions would result in financial ruin. We live in a world that cannot exist unless we are all governed by our passions. To be an Orthodox Christian inevitably sets you on a collision course with the culture. Everything within our daily lives, indeed, a major portion of our opinions and thoughts are all the result of the reign of our passions. This has become such a dominant force in our lives that it is accurate to say that we imagine our passions to actually constitute our identity. That is a lie.

The popular meme runs, “Follow your passion!” as if we were ever doing anything else. In many cases, this is a mantra that will do little more than offer justification for immoral choices. The successful actress who confessed (with pride) that she had an abortion in order to obtain a particular part in a production has “followed her passion.” Our passions justify nothing. We become like those whose sad excuse for their actions was, “I was just following orders.”

True necessity is not passion, nor is it driven by the passions. We need to eat. We need to be clothed. We need shelter. We need family and friendship. We need work. We need meaning. We need love. We need beauty and transcendence. None of these things are passions, though the passions can easily distort them. The monastic life is, in many ways, a life reduced to necessity. It seems that living within the range of necessity makes it possible to discover the “one thing needful.” It deeply assists, as well, in discovering the truth of our identity. The soul is not the product of passions, but the image of God. To see the soul clearly, without distortion, is to see the face of God, or, at least, its reflection.

This understanding undergirds all of the Church’s disciplines. We fast, we pray, we give alms, we subdue the “flesh” (meaning the passions) that we might know God. We do not know God simply by being hungry, or tired from prayers, or poor, but we will not know God if we constantly obey our passions and shape our lives by their unnecessary demands. This does not bode well for the faith in our modern context.

Jesus said, “How hard it is for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God! For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”

And those who heard it said, “Who then can be saved?”

But He said, “The things which are impossible with men are possible with God.” (Lk 18:24-27)

This, strangely, is good news. What feels like necessity in our lives might very well be little more than a passion. And, if it is a passion, we can be free of it. If God sets us free from such things – then we will be free, indeed.

Start slow. Be generous. Share your stuff. Take joy in the satisfaction of a true need and make it possible for others to do the same. Christ said, “God knows that you have need of these things.” (Matt. 6:32) There is a happiness born from the simplicity of our needs. The happiness demanded by the passions is always fleeting, never satisfied. Those who have created the culture of passionate desire need and intend for the objects of desire to always be just beyond our reach. They have erected a level of hell and call it paradise.

54 comments:

  1. Actually, the popular meme Joseph Campbell’s “Follow your bliss,” which I would think an Orthodox Christian could affirm. An even better meme, by Frederick Buechner, is “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”

  2. Damon,
    I thought of both of those quotes. However, the “passion” thing has been the quote currently in fashion. Buechner’s thought is sort of nice – but is born out of the modern imagination that everybody is called to be fulfilled. It does not suggest that “my own deepest gladness” might have to change. That, I think, is a deep fallacy.

    Damon, google “follow your passion” and you’ll see that this meme is alive and well.

  3. I have heard both. I expect “follow your passion” is the modern twist on “follow your bliss”.

    Many thanks, Father. This strikes home. Last night, I ordered a coat because I want it. I bounced the finances around until it worked and placed the order. I’ve actually been working, over the past year, on not buying items. I’ve yet a long way to go. May God have mercy on me.

  4. Father,
    Thank you for another thought-provoking posting.
    I recall my late father decades ago describing Madison Avenue as “a wolf in sheep’s clothing.” Your writing recalled him saying that. Thank you.

  5. In my ethics class, I wrote a debunking of Socrates the other week and contrasted the Patristic vision of passionlessness (cf St Gregory Palamas) with the Stoics, who were probably the furthest away from classical Christianity of any groups that we studied so far this semester. It is a very conservative class so there are tons of [implicit] attacks on Orthodoxy, but hopefully the quotes from the Fathers are provoking some discussion. I bring this up because a large part of what these early philosophers wrote about were passions, in one form or another; Bernays may have industrialized the process but the seeds of the darkness of the Enlightenment go very far back. Indeed, much of the chaos at the end of the Middle Ages was driven by the rediscovery of the ancient pagan philosophers.

    Because there is so much debate about what even is a necessity—and, materialistically speaking, it varies by place and climate and many other factors, to say nothing of culture—that cannot be the basis of our theology. Rather, as you pointed out, it must be “the image of God”. Only in Christ are we really human. All other necessities—real or imagined, and even biological life itself—are subject to Him and we freely deprive ourselves according to His merciful Word.

  6. “This, strangely, is good news. What feels like necessity in our lives might very well be little more than a passion. And, if it is a passion, we can be free of it. If God sets us free from such things – then we will be free, indeed.”
    Indeed Father Stephen, indeed!

    It occurred to me that it would be possible to miss the filling of our necessities while chasing after our passions, Lord have mercy. May Your truth set us free.

  7. Excellent homily. We are indeed nearly driven mad by our passions. We seek with all our heart that which prevents us from focusing upon that which we truly need, which is Christ himself.

  8. Debbie, indeed we miss our needs by filling our passions: STDs, drug addiction, abortion, horders, 24-7 shopping channel, ideology destroying lives and property, etc.

  9. I have been saying for years that if all we who call ourselves Christians really lived like Christians, among other things, the economy would tank.

    And now, at age 82, with my husband in the dementia care unit of a nursing home, I am faced with the approaching need to move from a house and property that are difficult to properly take care of. I see this as an inviting opportunity to simplify my life (though I will probably move to a location where that is hardly the advertised goal!). But the prospect of having to get rid of so much stuff, that at the time seemed so necessary and/or desirable (and a lot of which has people and memories attached) is daunting! And we are so conditioned by the atmosphere we breathe, and the technology we live with, that the line between necessity and desire is often difficult to find.

    Lord, have mercy on us.

    Father, I love the description of your family.

  10. I don’t know if the problem is simply with English (or even Ancient Greek!) but in my reading of St Gregory Palamas it becomes very clear that passions in the sinful, destructive sense are essentially God-given, innate and natural desires (“holy passions”) which are misdirected or immoderate when not directed towards and/or surrendered to the Spirit and will of God. So the word ‘passion’ may have two entirely different connotations….and yes, in my experience much suffering is required to gain some mastery over sinful passions and realize the true ones.

    I am finding that indeed our deepest and strongest desires/passions (which we may mistakenly think are one thing when in truth they are another) and the place of true need in others is ultimately where God wishes to lead each of us.

  11. James Isaac,

    Yes, there are definitely multiple senses of the passions. St Gregory Palamas says “Impassibility does not consist in mortifying the passionate part of the soul, but in removing it from evil to good, and directing its energies towards divine things…” (The Triads; 2.2.19). Nothing that is created by God is evil. But anything can get misused. I don’t like ideas of moderation and balance (it leads to *really* bad places based on who gets to set the extremes!), but suffering is most definitely needed to heal the passions.

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  13. I agree. I’m going off of Anestis Keselopoulos’ interpretation in “Passions and Virtues according to St Gregory Palamas “ admittedly, wherein he does talk of immoderacy…though rereading the one section now I see he characterizes evil passion as “immoderate yearning for communion with sensible things in an unnatural way”. Previously he (Keselopoulos) writes, “desire,…when it functions within its bounds and according to nature…in no way constitutes a sinful passion….When our love for sensible things (food, wine, money, pleasures, etc.) is according to nature and true, it is also reasonable [i.e. pleasing to God and beneficial for body and soul]”. (My gloss/interpretation in square brackets of course.)

    Indeed it is good to be zealous in a good thing, in some cases extremely passionate for what is truly good and natural. The myth of ‘balance’ itself is indeed problematic; thanks for pointing that out good sir!

  14. But the prospect of having to get rid of so much stuff, that at the time seemed so necessary and/or desirable (and a lot of which has people and memories attached) is daunting!

    Marjorie, I have been “whittling away” at my possessions for some time now and it is indeed a very daunting task. There are some things it takes time to let go of. It is much easier to do over the long-term; doing it quickly, to me at least, just causes a lot of frustration and sadness as all of those memories you mention come forward in a rush.

    May God give you peace in your heart as you go through it.

  15. I’ll say just a quick word about moderation. Most of what I encounter under the heading of “zeal” and the like, is nothing more than an excuse for indulging our neurotic tendencies. First, deal with the passions, then start thinking about zeal and the rest of it. Zealous sinners are just a pain in the rear, no matter how right their cause. Frankly, the world is full of them and they do the work of the gospel great harm. Unrighteous zeal in the name of a great cause has a name: “politics.” If we actually believed in God, we would have no need to believe in “causes.” Love God, love your neighbor, love your enemies, keep the commandments. Do not try to save the world.

  16. “Zealous sinners are just a pain in the rear, no matter how right their cause.” This made me laugh. I agree. Passion is never useful. Unless directed against your own sin and passions, maybe? Without involving the others? Quietly, passionately and peacefully, still? And hopefully attempted only by those who know themselves to be healthy enough to know when to stop and make themselves a cup of tea.

  17. I am puzzled by the commentator who wrote that the Stoics are the ‘farthest from classical Christianity’ of the ancient philosophical schools. Perhaps he is just being contrarian, since the conventional wisdom is the opposite, or perhaps he sees a problem that most Christian readers over the centuries (myself included) do not. I have been re-reading Marcus Aurelius lately, and was mainly struck by the fact that some parts sound amazingly like the Desert Fathers — but with one (merely all-important) difference, the absence of Christ. The Meditations are to the Desert Fathers somewhat as Thomas Jefferson’s Bible is to the real thing.

  18. Norman,
    I had the same thoughts. I do know that Joseph Barabbas has a different take on some things – based on earlier comments that he’s made. So, I don’t know quite what he had in mind. The early Church sure borrowed lots of language from the Stoics – or the culture they shared in common with them.

  19. Our passions justify nothing. We become like those whose sad excuse for their actions was, “I was just following orders.”

    This is such a powerful idea. Thank you, Father.

  20. Norman,

    I try to look at things more ontologically than morally, something that really “clicked” for me here on the blog years ago. It is true that some of the Stoic works, divorced from their theology and even then further sanitized and Christianized, were used at points in pre-Schism Orthodoxy, though the usage it very late; the Enchiridion [Of Epicetus] is an example of this. Most of the “Christian” use of them, however, is not just post-Schism but post-Reformation.

    Yet looking at their beliefs ontologically and not just the practical, moral results of a few select teachings, I feel they have the least place for any kind of personal divinity. More than that, other pagan religions had some method for divinity contacting and meeting with humans, whether that be incarnational, apparitional, a manifestation of “forms”, etc. As far as the Stoic writers I am familiar with, this was absent: their belief was much more [Far] Eastern, if anything. This precluded a healthy theology of the body (even if the practice worked out “ok” in some cases), not to mention the idea that the body could be saved in some way.

    It wasn’t my point to get too diverted into the pagan philosophers: it was just an example of how long we’ve been playing games with passions—taken as an example from a public college class I’m in—and that a lot of modernism is really not that new—it was something held at bay by the Church for millennia with our “radical” belief in suffering instead of maximizing [mental/emotional/whatever] pleasure. Though there is some common language (language common to other contemporary movements, I might add), I think it would be a mistake to look to them as primary sources and be drawn away from what really matters, as Pr Stephen said: “Love God, love your neighbor, love your enemies, keep the commandments.”.

  21. Fr. Stephen,

    Duly noted and agreed. Perhaps it’s because I’ve been staying off of the Facebook and blogosphere mill until very recently…my point (and I believe Mr. Barabbas’) is that Holy moderation does not equate to a bland vanilla “feeling less” more of being. Forgive me if I was unclear.

  22. Joseph and James,
    I appreciate the clarification on the Stoics. Helpful.

    I often think that people use zeal to distract themselves from the real issues (like the passions) that are difficult and require patience and maturity. The same folks will brag about Orthodoxy being the “Marines” of Christianity, but they all want to skip bootcamp and go straight to the front lines, from which they often spend lots of their time criticizing the generals!

    When I say that “if we believed in God” things would be different – it is because ideology is the quick and easy substitute for God. When told (by me, for example) that “you will not make the world a better place,” there is a chafing and a rebellion. But, if the gospel of the Kingdom of God is true (and it is), then it is not for us to assist its coming, or to build it up, or any such thing. The Kingdom of God is, by definition, full and complete. Christ already announced its arrival and inauguration. It’s for us to accept it and live into it in such a manner that lives prove the truth of Christ’s preaching.

    The Kingdom of God is a human being fully alive. There are depths to that reality that so utterly transcend zeal and such as to be beyond words. What I think to be the case is that few people have ever seen or encountered a person truly living into the Kingdom – and so they substitute lots of imaginary stuff for it.

    The Kingdom of God is in no way bland and vanilla (as you well state). But it is unlike anything else – and few therefore have much of anything other than imagination to go on.

  23. Joseph

    I hope I have not misunderstood, but wondered on what the “debunking of Socrates” entailed. There are many fragments of truth in the ancient Greek philosophers. Socrates did not believe in the gods of Olympus and spoke about the one true God. Tragedian Aeschylus in Prometheus bound, more or less prophesies his redeemer in the exchange of Prometheus with Io, telling her he will be saved by one of hers thirteen generations later, which is the time of Christ.

    These philosophers were not enlightened to the level of the prophets of the Old Testament, but they had the “spermatic word” according to the Fathers. In some monasteries in Mount Athos ancient Greek philosopher icons are in the narthex or other areas, confirming the belief that they have been saved by following the Lord on Holy Saturday. Perhaps Father Stephen can confirm the way the Fathers perceived the ancient philosophers.

  24. Fr. Stephen,

    So very true. I am deeply indebted to you and your blog for saving me from such a path as I was tempted towards early on (and still must admit I could be tempted towards again). The oh-so-subtle yet murderous violence of ideological idolatry is very much the water in which our culture swims. I just like to remember the other side of things, that if and when we do seek God in humility for our own healing, to know and worship Him in spirit and truth…that our lives do end up “making the world a better place”….at least for the people we then become willing and able to serve in sincere love. Though I am fully aware of the triumphalism which masquerades as Christianity, most horribly even in erstwhile Orthodox circles.

  25. Nikolaos,

    I agree that Christ gives everyone gifts and that His truth breaks in everywhere. And I distinguish between paganism—which is defeated in Christ—and the various people who struggled with those beliefs and who Christ came to save—and who also saw Him and preached Him, even if unknowingly. The problem isn’t that Christ isn’t working in such situations, but that we have even more trouble seeing Him clearly there and we are easily mislead down wrong paths as it is. Many of the Fathers were brought up with these philosophers—it was their common language. But just like we can speak English without taking any particular stance on the rightness or glories of England (don’t tell the BBC!), so the Fathers were able to “work with what they had” quite apart from any judgment (though some Fathers did speak of the philosophers directly, often—but far from always—negatively).

    So we don’t get too far afield, send me an e-mail and I can send you my [very short] essay comparing Socrates’s teaching in Athens to Barlaam’s in Constantinople; I got an A, but it isn’t a grad-level course so make of that what you will!

  26. I’ve been seeking something my whole life—I am a seeker after wisdom and truth–as an old popular song said.
    I was raised a protestant–nominally, anyway. Currently, I am in the Roman Church. And yet, I am uneasy there. The top leadership of RC Church , seems to have forsaken its Gospel roots and thrown in with the worst of the leftist globalist agenda.
    I see myself as a Conservative first and Christian second—if that is not a contradiction.
    This summer during the lockdowns, I would spend my days on YouTube , and one day, I accidently stumbled onto one of Fr Stephen Freeman’s talks. I was immediately drawn to not only what he was saying , but the sense that here was a man who had walked much the same path as myself, and had found those elusive truths I was seeking.
    So, this was Orthodoxy! Where has it been all my life–or where have I been! I wanted to know more,,, I searched for and found many more Orthodox sites and priests’ talks. If I recall my New Testament right, there was a man who said to St.Paul….almost you convince me…And so I say today.
    But reading today’s blog replies, I am reminded that I am more into philosophy than theology. The Stoics, all those wise old Greeks, the builders of our Western Civilization–those are the ones I identify with. Today, I see around me the crumbling of our WesternCiv and the awful head of anarchy–and sad to say, the RC Church hierarchy is rooting for the wrong side.
    I believe that in the beginning was sth called the Logos and by that Logos and through the Logos, all things were made and continue to exist. But how does one form a personal relationship with a philosophical concept? To me, the Logos is the principle of order that is at the root of our Western Civilization. Where I am myopic, perhaps, is not seeing the connection of this philosophical reality and the Christian teachings.
    In any event, I shall continue to read and view Fr. Stephen’s presentations, and I thank him because…he makes me..almost persuaded.

  27. James Isaac,
    The Kingdom of God is “the better place.” It’s relationship to the world as we know it is God’s problem, not ours. I like to tell people to remember that the Kingdom of God is miraculous – trees sing, winds and seas obey Him, etc. If you can work miracles, then you could say something about “bringing the Kingdom” or something like that. But, since I can’t raise the dead or walk on water (that, by the way would be how I would measure “theosis” for those who talk a lot about the topic), then I admit that my proper concern is to enter the Kingdom. The Kingdom of God, alone, is the better world.

  28. Father bless, I believe we are very much in concord. All I’m caring to do is ensure we hold the paradox in proper tension (to borrow a way of thinking from my past in Lutheranism…forgive me if I err in this respect), The Kingdom of God – Christ Himself – is in us who believe and seek Him with our hearts. As we surrender to His will in faith, He manifests this Kingdom through us in acts of charity and mercy motivated by love. The process of having this manifest [fully] in us is indeed a long and arduous road to which very few attain in this life. And yet He does manifest His Kingdom – His life – in us increasingly as we grow along the way (excepting the many stumbles most of us tend to have)…and most often unaware to ourselves.

    Forgive me if I misspeak, I seek no conflict here.

  29. I have long thought that the most difficult profession for a believing Christian is Advertising. Your blog is confirmation. Every advertisement is on the verge of lying and appealing to vanity. Imagine an advertisement that does neither.

    As you watched this program, what were your thoughts when the advertisements appeared?

  30. Joan,
    Eve’s thoughts about the fruit: “So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate,”(Genesis 3:6) gives you some idea of what the serpent must have been saying to her.

  31. Thank you, Michael, for your “shameless plug” for the St. Moses the Black Fellowship conference. It’s been in the back of my mind for a couple of weeks to register. Thanks for bringing it to the forefront, and making it easy. I attended many years ago in person. I love Fr. Moses. I know it will be a great gathering and discussion.

  32. “If we actually believed in God, we would have no need to believe in “causes.” Love God, love your neighbor, love your enemies, keep the commandments. Do not try to save the world.”

    Truth.

  33. Richard, I think you are halfway there, and you need not give up on your admiration of the ancient Greeks. I’m at a loss as to why Socrates was not admired (I’d understand better with respect to Aristotle but that’s another story.) The Greeks taught me to think, and I have to be grateful to them for that. And I’ve always thought of Orthodoxy as having flowered there in Athens when Saint Paul observed that the unknown god could be known (and loved) in Christ.
    In Plato’s central dialogue ‘The Republic’ (or better, the Politeia) Socrates strips godliness from its roots in Greek literature very effectively. It’s not a Biblical exercise but it is mindful. We take the mind into the heart, we say; he seems to have done so as well, at least as far as his young companions were concerned.

  34. When I was considering joining an Orthodox parish for conversion to Christianity, my priest who asked me the question of why the Orthodox Church and some other persuasion. My answer did not suggest to him I was ready for baptism, because my answer indicated that the reason I was coming to Orthodoxy was because I was rejecting and running away other churches, or other ‘philosophies’/’theologies’ for what I perceived they lacked.

    Ironically I didn’t say this: “I want to be with Jesus Christ and worship Him!”

    Meaning this: the Orthodox Church is not the default Church, it is the Church. It is not the church we run to because we hate other churches, ie the church that is most amenable to our preferred politics.

    Because the truth of the matter is this: She will not be amenable to anyone’s politics because She, the Body of Christ is not of this world of men.

    Jesus Christ says who He is (ironically, the Son of man and yet He prays to His Father) and we attend to what the Church speaks., of Him and life in Him.

    I have always appreciated Fr Stephen’s words and ministry because he knows how to dance on the razor’s edge. I watch carefully to learn how to dance too. But one only truly learns by doing, falling and getting up again. It is an adherence in and to love, within all our failures.

  35. Conservatism/Stoicism/Paganism = anti-Orthodoxy is as reductionist (and unhelpful) as saying these things *are* Orthodoxy.

    That said, I do understand what it’s like to be young and living in an area that is unconsciously conservative in a peculiarly American way, and that it feels edgy and exciting to ruffle those feathers. But spending my fair share of time in what I believed was the cutting edge of academia put this envelope-pushing of normal people in perspective: it more often than not comes from a place of contempt for regular folks–the poor country-bumpkins who only want to live their lives in peace.

    I would only caution you, Joseph, to not get so drunk on the heady brew of academia that you forget to honor those who have gone before you, Socrates included. The temptation to historical iconoclasm is stronger than ever these days.

  36. Fr. Stephen,

    Here’s an interesting bit of trivia related to your article:

    Marc Bernays Randolph, the co-founder of Netflix, is the great-nephew of Edward Bernays.

  37. Thank you for this blog post Fr. Stephen. The topic of what is desired and what is needed is a subject I need to consider daily and many times a day! Also thank you for the link to the BBC series — I hope to watch it soon. Also thank you for the link to the 2020 Vision and Virtue Conference, Michael.

  38. I apologize for the confusing construction in my last comment.

    My priest had asked me why the Orthodox Church and *not* some other persuasion.

    It may seem to be a leading question. But there are a lot of churches where I live. And I do mean a lot of every conceivable and creative bent.

    So why be Orthodox if I want to be a Christian?

    The current political environment wants to define every act as a political act toward what we desire, as Father notes. So what is it that we need? An interesting coincidence is the gospel reading I had today. The disciples were in a boat and discovered that they didn’t have enough bread. And then the Lord said (paraphrasing) Beware the leaven of the Pharisees.

    Too often we want to point the finger at someone else and say there’s the Pharisee! The point that Father Stephen is making, however, is that the leaven of the Pharisee is in our own hearts, dare we look to see.

  39. I have known Fr. Moses since 1973. He has always challenged me to be a better man with grace and charm. One of my favorite moments comes from 1974. We were living in Detroit right across the street from the home Aretha Franklin grew up in. We were part of a Christian community there. Bill Cosby’s film “Uptown Saturday Night” came out. We went to see it together. It was in a beautiful Art Deco theater that had been made into a movie palace. Probably 1000 people. I think I was the only white guy. At one point I mentioned that to Fr. Moses. He gave me this wry smile that said to me: “Welcome to my world brother.”
    The other thing is that he refuses to indulge in shame. He rejects it. It was not always easy for him but it was his family heritage and his encounter with St. Moses the Black who brought him out of it completely. Thus in the museum he used to have, he was able to place the slave collar that his great-great uncle was wearing when freed around his own neck with incredible dignity. That allowed other visitors to put it on after him and not to be shamed either but to experience a humility leading to repentance.
    I love the man with all my heart.

  40. Quoting Lewis: “I have long thought that the most difficult profession for a believing Christian is Advertising. ” Amen to that. As a person with strengths in design and copywriting, I could have ended up in that world. But I can thank copious reading of Mad Magazine in the 1970s, and Christianity thereafter, coupled with laziness and fear, for keeping me from a life of advertising . At least *a lot* of advertising — you take what you get when you’re a freelance graphic artist.

    Reading this blog and then watching the BBC series, I couldn’t help seeing individualism vs. collectivism as two poles, with the true “correct” position being somewhere in the tension between them as if a rubber band were stretched from one pole to the other. I cannot pinpoint the exact location of the truth in that continuum, but I trust that the Church — guided by the Holy Spirit — is the best place to find it. We’re told to love others as we love ourselves. We’re told to die daily. We’re told to lose our life to save it. By some miracle, Orthodoxy embraces both poles.

    I wonder if being a sentient individual is another one of those gifts that God has given us, which — like all of His gifts, such as food, sex, alcohol, etc. — He expects us to use in moderation, with maturity.

  41. I read this a few years back. I hope I get the sequence right.

    First there was Life Magazine, then People Magazine, (and now there is Exceptional People Magazine), There is Us Magazine and Self Magazine. A spiral to ?

  42. Sort of linking from the last article, I always find myself coming back to the first thing Jesus’ says to would be disciples. It’s that question : “What are you looking for?”

    That super simple question, which we can take at whatever level (and yes, Father, I appreciate that it too has a deep noetic dimension), does, if we let it, act as a sort of razor.

    At a surface level, it is maybe a question about what we are looking for if we want to follow Jesus (the disciples in that story come up to him, not the other way around as in the synoptic gospels). Or maybe about what we are looking for when from any spiritual path.

    But it is telling that in the story (John 1:35-38), Jesus, already spoken of as the divine logos, the incarnate truth about reality, has turned towards the disciples after they have started to follow him (after they have already listened to John the Baptist, so presumably have appreciated the need for repentance, and are now ready to hear more).

    As the question sinks deeper, more levels of armor get pierced.

    What am I really looking for? How does what I seek relate to my desires? Oh, and what is this “I” that thinks it is doing the seeking? How does it actually differ from my desires, or am I in fact just a horrible mess of desires, attachments, fears etc?

    The disciples response – to name Jesus as their teacher – then to avoid giving an answer (clever!) – and ask the right counter-question nails it “Where are you staying?” That is what I rather think the response to all the mad desire stuff has to be. To keep on trying to find the dwelling place of Christ, the divine logos. With that inquiry underway, the logos then says to the disciples “come and see”, and they stayed with him for the rest of the day. Thus begins -as perfectly as one might wish – the gospel of leaning to abide. Pity they could not keep it up (Gethsemane comes to mind), but hey, that is the right starting place.

    The mad desires of the world are turned not so much by confronting them, let alone getting angry at them, but by our turning towards him, listening to him, following him inwards and by grace learning to abide. OK, maybe we do need to learn with his guidance how to spot the traps. Pity I am still not much good at any of it. I sort of proceed from the assumption that he is dwelling in me, and try to find ways to pray more continually.

  43. Father, I was so glad to see you mention Century of the Self. It’s too little known, and very enlightening. Thank you for the article.

    Tonight I watched The Social Dilemma on Netflix. With the background of Century of the Self, it is a good “Part 2.” I’d highly recommend it.

  44. This may seem off topic but I think not. I have heard many complaints from faithful Orthodox about not being able to “fully venerate” icons because of the prohibition against kissing them that exists in many locations.
    The desire is to be able to physically kiss them as we have before but I do not believe that is a necessity. If I do not have an icon of the person in my heart, made without hands, can I actually venerate the external icon? I seem to be able to carry out the veneration of any icon I choose fully and completely without touching it. Of course there are many icons in my Cathedral parish which I will never be able to touch or kiss without the gift of levitation. The icon of the Panocrator is about 100 feet above me head many more 20 to 30 feet some only 10. I venerate them as fully as I am capable nonetheless (it has grown over the years). Their physical distance is immaterial it seems to me. We will always have what is needful for our salvation–especially those things we do not like. Check out our Lord’s last words to St. Peter in John 21:18.

  45. The desire is to be able to physically kiss them as we have before but I do not believe that is a necessity. If I do not have an icon of the person in my heart, made without hands, can I actually venerate the external icon?

    Michael, it is certainly a desire to be able to kiss icons as we venerate them. It is good to see a friend and waive a greeting, it is better to embrace them as you say “hi”. That does not mean that veneration cannot be done in fullness without kissing the icon, but that does require a more mature spirit than many possess. I greatly disliked not kissing the icons while we could not do so. God is gracious and gave me the patience to slow down and maintain distance in my veneration. But I am happy that we may do so again. At times only a hug will bring comfort.

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