A Deeper Morality

“Not guilty by reason of insanity.”

Such a ruling in a modern court-of-law makes complete sense, even if some would argue that the bar for measuring insanity is rather unclear. It carries with it an understanding that we are not always responsible for our actions. In modern thought, we consider that the exercise of free-will is an essential part of wrong-doing. In that sense, a crime is a misuse of the will. There are “accidental” crimes, such as manslaughter, though we puzzle over this as a “crime.”

Such thinking reveals some of the aspects of our modern notions of morality. We have imported these notions into Christian thinking, creating something of a distortion. Imagine the case of a morally perfect human being – one who has never committed an infraction of the “moral law.” To the surprise of many, such an individual would not constitute a model Christian, nor would they be an example of the goal of the Christian faith.  It is not that the faith strives towards something less – rather, it is simply that such a model is the wrong example. Christ did not die in order to make us morally perfect. “God became man so that man could become God,” is the language of the Fathers. “Becoming God” is something that transcends the notion of moral perfection.

Over the years, particularly as I have served as a confessor, I have come to see the moral struggle as deeply problematic. It’s easy to concentrate on outward actions (“doing the right thing”) while, at the same time, doing such actions for all the wrong reasons and in a manner that is profoundly removed from “god-like” behavior. Christ points to just such a disconnect in his condemnation of the Pharisees.

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence.You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside also may be clean.

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness.So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.” (Matthew 23:25–28)

St. Paul understands such false morality as a problem. He describes himself in the years before his conversion as “blameless concerning the Law” (Phil. 3:6). That “blamelessness” would have included his pursuit and persecution of Christians.

The outward measure of morality is as convenient as it is shallow. It often tells us little about ourselves, and may even mask much darker problems within the heart. Anyone who has lived with a narcissist can witness to the emptiness of a morality that is merely outward. In some hands, such morality becomes a weapon.

However, when we turn inward and begin to ask why we do what we do, moral measurements become rather murky. What we describe as the “will” is often unclear. There is an “insanity” about all of our actions (including the good ones as well). In the popular imagination, we speak of ourselves as “persons” (an ill-defined term) who have a “will” (also ill-defined) who “choose” things. When we begin to examine each of these ill-defined things we discover that they slip through our fingers. What constitutes the thing we call “person”? Is it simply the subject of our thoughts and actions? What is its relationship to the soul (and what is the soul?). What constitutes my will? Is it the source of every action, some cognition that occurs before any action is taken?

We have habits of speech that are shaped in the matrix of our culture. Sadly, that matrix serves the needs of consumerism. When we speak of “person” we often mean “shopper,” and by “choose” we mean “buy” (or variations thereof). Those who work in marketing know that these categories are largely their own creation. They manufacture “needs” as well as “desires.” It serves an ephemeral modern category called “happiness.” Everything that pushes the dopamine in our brain is seen as good, our “happiness” or “personal fulfillment” being little more than a thinly disguised hedonism.

The words, “person,” “will,” and the like, have a deep root in Orthodox Tradition. Recovering their proper meaning is important. The Orthodox Tradition would tend to view what we term “person” as something that is being revealed, and something of an “end” towards which we are moving. St. Sophrony of Essex gave especial attention to personhood, and described it as a fullness towards which move. It is certainly the case that there is a “point” within us that can be described as the subject of the “self” (the “soul”) from the very beginning of our existence. It is this “point” that we name as “I.” The faith teaches us, however, that this “I” is also something that God names for us. Our “person,” and our “name,” are gifts from God. More than that, they are “eschatological,” belonging to the “last things.”

“Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.” (1 John 3:2)

And,

“For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory.” (Col. 3:3–4)

The self and the soul are not objects of our own creation. However they may be understood, they exist as a gift to be received, something to be welcomed.

In Romans 7, St. Paul wrestles with the “moral” problem. He wants to do good, but fails. He wonders, then, who is doing the “wanting” within him. He posits something of a problematic existence:

“For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice. Now if I do what I will not to do, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me.” (Romans 7:19–20)

St. Paul’s thoughts belong to a conversation within Judaism that had already been taking place for some hundreds of years. There was a discussion of what was known as the yetzer ha ra and the yetzer ha tov (the bad impulse and the good impulse). Thoughts on their origins were all over the map. In time, within the Christian tradition, something of a settled understanding was formed, though it is less settled than many imagine.1

In that all of this describes an experience that is dynamic and changing (in which sense we ourselves can be described as a “movement”), it is difficult to formulate fixed terms. By the same token, it is problematic to reduce our spiritual life to the sort of moral nostrums common in our culture. A story related in the life of St. Paisios is very helpful for thinking about this:

There was once a monk who lived on Mount Athos, in Karyes. He was drinking and getting drunk every day, scandalizing the pilgrims. After a while he died and this relieved some of the believers who went and told elder Paisios they were pleased that finally this huge problem was resolved.

Father Paisios replied that he knew about the monk’s death, because he saw a whole battalion of angels who came to pick up his soul.

Pilgrims were amazed, and some protested and tried to better explain to the elder who this person was, thinking that he did not understand.

But elder Paisios explained:

“This monk was born in Asia Minor, during the time when the Turks were still gathering all the boys as slaves in the lands under their occupation. To avoid being taken by the Turks, his parents took him with them during the harvesting season, and in order to stop the crying and let them work, they put some plum brandy in his milk for him to fall sleep. Consequently, he grew up and became an alcoholic without his permission. At one point he found an elder who told him to do prostrations and prayers every night and implore the Virgin Mary to help him to reduce a glass from his daily alcohol intake.

After a year he succeeded, with repentance and struggle, to go from 20 to 19 drink glasses. Fighting continued throughout the years and finally reached 2-3 glasses, which still caused drunkenness.

The world has seen, over time, a monk alcoholic who scandalized the pilgrims, but God saw a warrior who fought a long battle to reduce a passion. ”

This “dynamic” account of the monk’s life stands as a contradiction to modernity’s common approach to morality. Indeed, the “morality” of those who saw the monk condemned him. The holy elder saw the dynamic of a soul being revealed as a champion.

How should we then live?

Give attention to the goal of your life as measured by your desire for God. No matter how many times you fall, get back up. Faith, in large part, can be understood as loyalty. Choose sides (choose God). Every time you fail, call out for God who alone can save us. For the most part, heroes of the faith will not be seen until all things are revealed. As much as possible, refrain from judging others. Assume that they are struggling secretly as well.

Remember that our battle is with the passions. They are defeated and healed through the acquisition of the Holy Spirit. It is this that saves the souls around us.

 

Footnotes for this article

  1. For an interesting, in depth treatment of this development, see Andrei Orlov’s Yetzer Anthropologies in the Apocalypse of Abraham 

50 comments:

  1. Our culture seems to define a person by our expressed identity, our identity by what we buy or sell be it ideas or things or passions.

    The story of the drunken monk would seem to indicate that our “identity” lies in our willingness to repent and be with God. But that too is wrong. Surely the brokenness itself is also our self, our offering to God in humility?

    Some ask, “Why, if God is real and the Sacrament is real why we have to repent of the same sin more than once”?

    I am coming to ask only that I be allowed and inspired to repent often. The Jesus Prayer and Psalm 50 come often to mind and to my lips these days. God is merciful.

  2. Michael,
    As a confessor, I listen for the “desire,” in a sense, for the state of the heart. Sometimes a detail might reveal something. Generally, I don’t say a lot in confession – unless there is something that would seem obviously “helpful.” Many times it is a word of encouragement. The act of confession itself softens the heart many times, and that is what is most beneficial.

  3. Thank you for all of this post, Fr. Stephen! I am especially thankful to read these words of encouragement and I pray that God truly blesses me to “take them to heart” and make them part of my being in the world but not of the world:
    “How should we then live?
    Give attention to the goal of your life as measured by your desire for God. No matter how many times you fall, get back up. Faith, in large part, can be understood as loyalty. Choose sides (choose God). Every time you fail, call out for God who alone can save us. For the most part, heroes of the faith will not be seen until all things are revealed. As much as possible, refrain from judging others. Assume that they are struggling secretly as well.”

  4. No wonder Jesus was constantly asking “What do you want?” This diagnostic insight has begun to help me a great deal in working with the Faithful who come to confession. It has also helped me embrace a deeper sense of repentance in my own spiritual life.

  5. “Faith, in large part, can be understood as loyalty. Choose sides (choose God). Every time you fail, call out for God who alone can save us. ”

    I LOVE this definition of faith!

  6. Esmee,
    I’ve often thought of this definition in soldier-terms. I might be a lousy warrior, and may be easily defeated in the battles, but it matters which side I’m on. “Loyalty” seems to carry so much of what “pistis” (faith) means – rather than what I “think.”

  7. Father, I once described faith as “a life lived” to a person. They were quite annoyed by that description. Is it inaccurate to say such a thing? So much of what people now consider faith is just thoughts and sentiment. I’m wondering if I may be overcompensating for such a viewpoint.

  8. “Faith” as “loyalty” makes perfect sense, in that the word “faithfulness” is practically a synonym for “loyalty.” To refer to someone as “faithful” would be interpreted by anyone as how they lived their life, not what thoughts or sentiments they experienced along the way.

  9. Wonderful post to read at the beginning of the year Father; thank you.
    Endorse completely what Margaret’s said (December 30, 2020 at 2:08 pm).
    And your line “Choose sides (choose God)”, reminded me of a Sister Gavrilia quote, “Do this for me Christ, whether i want it or not, guide me to Paradise”.
    p.s.
    And while searching the Net for the above quote was pleasantly surprised to get this, “Drag my sorry soul into Paradise” from an old article of yours (https://blogs.ancientfaith.com/glory2godforallthings/2018/05/02/drag-my-soul-to-paradise/).

  10. One of the attractive things about that art is that (for me) the angels inspire fear in their otherworldliness, juxtaposed with the depiction of Theotokos in very human terms.

  11. This post is one of the most beautiful and helpful articles I’ve ever read. Thank-you!

  12. Perfectly put, Father. Such a clear explanation. I think we’re in a new “Puritan” period in the US and esp with the use of social media. There is a huge amount of morality , very low on compassion and kindness. The social media works as a kind of collective ducking stool or stocks and it just seems to get worse. Wishing you a blessed new year.

  13. Janine, perfect ansology. Here, though, is a safe place, a place of peace, brotherhood and wisdom. Thanks be to God.

  14. Thanks, Michael. Yes, thanks be to God. Wishing you and all a blessed new year.

    Father, a few comments up you said our self is there in the brokenness. Maybe in Michael’s comment that this is a safe place there is that clue that our choices make things what they are, here on the internet and elsewhere. That’s a good thing.

  15. Janine, you are right but there is, I think, a deeper reality. Our “choosing” is part of our brokenness. That is why obedience to those above us, especially in monasteries, is a cardinal virtue. Adam and Eve ate of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. They were tempted to choose.

    Do I choose to repent? Almost never. I am either driven to it by my own passions or I am gifted it. The more I repent, the less choice, at least as choice is usually perceived.

    May God’s blessings be with you and yours this year and may you rest in the Joy of the Lord.

  16. Well personally I think there is still a choice in our “yes.” Sometimes I would say there is a place of choice so deep in me that I don’t understand it, only God has ways of knowing it (and me).

    But maybe Father can answer this quandary. But that is just my experience or the sense I make of it.

  17. Janine,
    There are indeed choices. I was intending to sort of “globalize” the choices in our lives in the notion of loyalty. Our smaller choices are often corrupted by many things (including our ignorance) but, by making, over and over, the larger choice of loyalty to God, it brings us to repentance when we see our mistakes. It serves as a larger, broader guide, I think. Constantly saying “yes” to God.

  18. Hello. I feel bad for that monk struggling with his alcoholism. The pilgrims needed empathy and love, not judgemental attitudes. Paul was blameless before the Law but as he said, if you don’t have love, you don’t have anything. But could you please explain what 1 Corinthians 7 means with relation to the alcoholic monk? Since he struggled does that mean he wasn’t making a habit of it?

  19. Joseph,
    Every case is different – what might appear as drunken failure (as in this case) hid a deeper struggle that had virtue within it. It is not that we cannot say that something is not sinful (such as drunkenness), but that there are things that are even deeper than that. If you will, the “inside of the cup,” the inside or heart of a human being, is far more complex than we often see on the outward surface.

    God ultimately judges according to the heart – and His judgments are often surprising. I have seen people who might seem like quite a mess to others – but were, in fact, deeply engaged in a struggle to know God – and struggling far more faithfully than those of us whose wounds are rather shallow.

    I could not tell what verse you were referring to in 1 Cor. 7 – that’s a chapter.

  20. What wise words to Joseph about those who appear to be a mess but are actually engaged in deeper and real struggles (and heroic ones) to know God and draw closer!

    Also I think that word “loyalty” is a really good and fitting one, in echo of others here. You remind me, Father, of Christ’s 1st and 2nd great commandments. What is the first if not a kind of loyalty? And we are engaged in a battle.

  21. Father Stephen

    “Loyalty” seems to carry so much of what “pistis” (faith) means – rather than what I “think.”

    In modern Greek “pistis” is better understood as “trust” rather than “loyalty”, unless you think there is not much nuance between the two.

  22. Michael

    I guess my difficulty with loyalty is that I cannot think of a good translation in Greek. There is “afosiosis” which is devotion as well as “nomimofrosini” which is adherence to the rule of law. There is also “pistis” which is faith.

    The death of Socrates is considered by some a pre-figuration of the death of Christ. Socrates did not hold the same beliefs as the ruling class, but accepted a voluntary death to give an example to his friends and disciples of his respect to the law and his country, whilst maintaining the freedom of his own beliefs.

    Neither “trust” nor “loyalty” are adequate to capture the meaning of “pistis” – faith. In Hebrews 11 we have St Paul’s definition of faith: “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”

    In Greek, the word used in Heb 11:1 is “hypostasis” and we know that hypostasis is ontological and allows us to know, whilst substance, the word used in English translations (ie nature, or God’s “ousia” in Greek) is unknowable. By referring to “things unseen” means that we do not possess knowledge, as we do with things seen and appreciated with our senses.

    Hypostasis of things hoped for, is an eschatological knowledge, ie for things which we do not have in front of us today.

    I have no theological training so I am well be wrong on the above, however, every time I search my heart as to why I believe in Christ, I cannot find a purely rational answer, other than that I “trust” His word. I cannot say I am totally “loyal” to His commandments, as I often fail to follow them and I pray that I receive help to repent.

    My late spiritual father, elder Grigorios, helped us understand the importance of the Mother of God, for our salvation. In his monastery (Docheiariou) we have the second best known icon in Athos, Panagia Gorgoypikoos ( quick to hear ) and many people experienced miracles. I remember the elder commenting on a miracle like: “what do you think ? It could be a coincidence…”.

    I wondered why he said it could be a coincidence. It was as if he did not want people to believe because of a miracle. I never asked him, if that was the case, but the more I get to “know” Christ, I feel that He does not like to “impose” Himself with miracles, he just wants us to love Him.

  23. Nikolaos, Michael,
    I think that, to a certain extent, we cannot arrive at a good understanding of “faith” (pistis) by parsing the meaning of the word. The problem is that faith is a reality, and the word is reaching to express it (inadequately). Thus, when St. Paul writes in Hebrews, “Faith is the substance of things hoped for,” he himself is reaching to give a larger definition of faith than the simple word “pistis.”

    Vladimir Lossky describes faith as “our participatory adherence to the presence of Him Who reveals Himself.” And he specifically says that it’s more than loyalty. Part of the dynamic that is key is that faith is a communion, a participation. It is adherence to the presence of “Him Who reveals Himself,” which means that the “object” of faith is also acting in our act of faith. We do not believe in God as though He were an inert object. We actively extend ourselves (adherence) in an act of participation (communion) towards (in) One who is actively extending Himself towards us in order to make that participation real.

    The reason I chose “loyalty” – was simply an effort to express the active nature – the reaching out – that the word seems to carry. “Trust” also has that sense about it. But I wanted to get beyond any sort of passive meaning – which – it seems to me – is often the case in the word “believe.”

    I “believe” the sun will rise, but there is no participation on my part in that fact. In Hebrews we read: “But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.” We do not believe in God as a brute fact. There is a “character of God” that is included in faith – that “He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.”

    For me, a way of saying this is that believing in God is, at the same time, a belief that He is good. Asking if God is good is like asking if light shines. In my own mind, I get around this sometimes by “believing in the Good.” That is, I do not try to contemplate God apart from His goodness, but to contemplate God in His goodness. This, I think, is the heart of contemplating the Providence of God, which is a contemplation of the Divine Energies.

    I hope this is of help…

  24. You are right Father, but when I consider “loyalty” it has a depth to it that includes many things of the heart including communion. Like Nikolaos, I am trying to grapple with the possibilities. It is a bit like music. Play one note on a piano and many others vibrate in sympathy. It is the same with words, I think. It is impossible to make a song out of one note, but the note has to be there.

  25. I have been reading your posts regularly for about two years now. I don’t comment often , I think because I come from a Baptist background and the thinking of Orthodoxy (the words, the definitions, the places where the emphasis falls, the outlooks) is so different that I feel like I would not be making any sense. To use a sports metaphor, it seems like I have come to play baseball on a basketball court.

    I said all that to say this, that I am so blessed by these posts. I was particularly touched today by the drunken monk who was carried off to Paradise by a battalion of angels. There is nothing in my Christian tradition that makes room for such a thing. I can see myself many times in the role of the judgemental monks. I tremble in the fact that I am much more like the drunken monk himself, struggling with sins that don’t seem to ever go away no matter what kind of Christian practices are adopted. Sometimes I want to give up, what’s the use? And then comes along a story that a thousand angels may rescue me for my weak attempts. My tradition has taught me to write off the drunken monk under the terms of a “false profession”. May the Lord have mercy on me!

    There are only two words that I can think of to capture this story and they are “good news”. Thank you for proclaiming this good news Father Stephen, I needed to hear it today.

  26. Chuck,
    Thank you, ever so much. It is interesting, isn’t it, that the true good news actually feels like good news! Sadly, what is often offered as the good news sometimes turns out to be something else.

  27. Driving home from liturgy yesterday, I commented to my wife about St. Basil’s prayer at the anaphora. It is the most glorious and succinct prayer of salvation history that, I suppose, has ever been written. I chuckled and added, “Just a bit different than the four spiritual laws, don’t you think?” Nothing watered down and insipid. The strong, bracing good news in all its glory! Thank you also Father, for the story of the monk. And thank you Chuck for your comment.

  28. Loyalty is faith, this is the best definition. Or better, loving-loyalty, and it should calm those down who confuse the relationship of works and faith. I have come to embrace this fully. It’s very similar to giving. For some, it means nothing to give large sums of money, for others, small gifts are truly sacrificial. It’s the movement of the heart that God sees, not an effect that we have already presupposed to be evidence. I can’t help but think of Calvinism again. The effects of salvation are already presupposed (as the overcoming of TD not as deliverance from death, Satan, sins), and because the nature of a person changed, their will changed, and from there effects, especially moral effects are the evidence that Election and Regeneration have taken place. But, if salvation is movement from one kingdom into Another, then the spectrum remains. Ontologically you are changed in Baptism, but for the purpose of using your will , in ways not easily measurable. I think this may often be the reason that people who were otherwise very moral, very Elect, that God allows them to fall in major ways: they never realized their dependence upon Him or only initially. The morality that came naturally leaves many people in a state of feeling like they are fine when God desires their loyalty, not an ongoing assurance that they are not as bad or are superior to other people. Letting people keep their struggle with sin, God keeps us humble because otherwise we might not know that we need Him at all. It is grace for many that God does not remove their sin because they would never seek Him without the humiliation of sin. On top of this, the conscience has a way of consoling itself as long a violations are not committed, but is usually silent whenever prescriptions are ignored. Sinning by violation of commandments/conscience may awaken the conscience but failing to be/to do what God desires may never bother us. It may never bother us if we do not attain love. It’s almost always the case that there is one or two besetting sins that afflict us – that’s what we think – and that if they were gone we’d be okay. But if they went away we might ignorantly think that there are not a thousand other things we violated and neglect to do – all related and intended to change us into the people God desires. People who love, people who are unafraid, people who desire more than anything closeness and intimacy with God for themselves and for others.

    God bless you Father,
    Matthew

  29. Thank you for this post. I am subscribed to your post because so much of what you have written here and in your book “Living in a 2 story world” rings so right to me that it pains me that there are no American Orthodox churches anywhere near me to join. Of course the truth is I am not so good a Catholic so I probably would be no better as an Orthodox. Every year it is hard to decide what to give up for Lent and fast. My husband converted to Catholicism after we married. He says he is too old at 70 to begin again although to me it seems just a continuance of the path we have been on. In one of your posts that I read you said that fasting should always be accompanied with prayer–prayer & fasting. I wish you would expand on this thought in a practical manner. Should one just continuously pray the “Jesus Prayer” while fasting or turn your heart to prayer when you would eat or desire to eat. I have learned much for you and look forward to more. God bless you & your loved ones and keep you always.

  30. Thank you Father. Today is my dad’s birthday and though he has passed away my sister very kindly noted the day with me. She and I each shared a quote of his and she told me he used to say to his architecture clients ‘perfection is not possible, we strive for excellence.’

    I was glad to learn this about him. I think I have had an impossible perfectionism that is not a good characteristic. I really hope to instill in myself, my family and Sunday School students awareness of St. Peter’s repentance

    The loyalty quote is wonderful, despite a stumble there is more of the race to be run and it is known in advance by the merciful God that we will stumble. Exterior perfection is not an indicator of a well run race because it is not where the race is actually being run.

    The perfectionism invites self hatred. I wish I had known my dad’s comment earlier but I am glad to know it now

    I have also been glad to learn about St. Ekvitime (Euthymius) the professor from Georgia and to discover today about St. Ephraim the New, both Jan 3 feast days. I think saints celebrated on our birthdays are patrons in way.

  31. Lisa, I live with the mother of one of my priests. She became Orthodox at the age of 80. She is now 89. And another friend of mine became Orthodox last year at the age of 85. Never in a million years did I expect him to decide to unite himself to Christ at this late date, but the Mother of God worked a miracle. It’s never too late!

  32. Lisa,
    Thank you for your kind words. It is good to pray at all times. The heart of prayer is the giving of thanks – a recognition that all that we have and that all that we are is a gift from God. Living a “gifted” life is the source of joy and is a great protection for the heart.

    I agree that trying to figure out what to “give up for Lent” is difficult and tiresome. Orthodox practice tends to suggest that we abstain from certain kinds of foods during Lent (meat, wine, etc.). It is a discipline that can be altered according to circumstances and health (including spiritual health). If there is a general practice in your Church regarding the Lenten fast, then follow that directive, if possible. I’ll try to get an article or two together before Lent on the topic of prayer and fasting. Rightly understood, they are deeply connected.

  33. Fr. Freeman,

    I only ask this off topic because of your comments to Lisa. I was recently emailing another priest and decided to look up some etiquette first. But it led me to a larger treatment of etiquette in general and preparation for the Eucharist, confession, etc. Some of the information just seemed entirely strange. I’m okay with strange, but things like if you have a cut after receiving the Eucharist, you should bury the blood. Not brushing your teeth until late in the day in case some of the Eucharist remains in your mouth. Other ritual purity type behaviors regarding menstrual cycles. What do I make of these things which some Orthodox seem to take very seriously? I did find out that I shouldn’t be closing my comments with God bless you.

  34. Matthew,
    Etiquette is largely governed by Church culture and is not entirely uniform – so there’s not just one answer to your questions. It’s always good to ask your parish priest so that you can observe the local customs.

    How blood is dealt with, including menstrual matters, varies from place to place (there’s even 2 competing practices documented within the Fathers). Ritual purity has an interesting history – and has sometimes been treated with more care than it deserves. In modern times it probably gets less care than it deserves. But, there are few absolutes.

    I would, frankly, stay away from internet sites that offer lots of opinions and directions on these things. They’re usually not very healthy places.

  35. Dear Father Stephen,

    Thank you for your response to Matthew.

    Regarding the variability of etiquette, I’ve noticed differences in my move from one jurisdiction to another. And I know that there are differences in parishes within jurisdictions as well. And I appreciate these differences! And indeed, it’s best to consult one’s priest rather than roam the internet on these questions. In my own personal approach, because I live in a Orthodox community of different “etiquettes” (by this I’m actually referring to New and Old Calendar) I celebrate (but very quietly until making this comment) Christmas from Dec 25 to Jan 7th, which is definitely longer than the “12 days of Christmas”! I haven’t consulted a priest about this. But I have been the catechumen of Orthodox teachers from both calendars and I love my Orthodox brothers and sisters who adhere to the Old Calendar.

    Dear Orthodox brothers and sisters of the Old Calendar,
    May God grant you peace and joy on the feast of the Nativity!

  36. Dee,
    It’s even more complicated than that! Within the OCA, Alaska is on the Old Calendar, as is the Russian Deanery in the Diocese of the West. The rest of the OCA, I think, is New Calendar. Things vary enough on matters of etiquette (custom), that it is always best to speak with the local priest and follow his advice and direction.

  37. In my local OCA Orthodox community, we have one monastery (Kazan Skete) on the Old Calendar and another monastery (Holy Assumption) on the New Calendar. Our priests serve at both monasteries. It’s fun being able to celebrate the same feast days twice! I assume that Kazan must be part of the Russian deanery based on what you have said above Fr. Stephen. I wasn’t aware that that existed and have long wondered (but never took the time to ask) why or how this difference existed, so thank you for shedding some light on the subject for me.

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