Hope: The Unashamed Virtue

This past year, my wife and I developed a delightful habit of “Monday’s with Eli.” He is my soon-to-be 5 year-old grandson. He has a nearly 4 month-old baby brother, whose time in the womb was the occasion for our weekly baby-sitting duties. With my retirement, his presence was a new challenge to “find things to do.” He is an energetic boy, bright, with quick interest in almost anything around him. Our duties took us on long walks in the local arboretum, visits to the local dam, a train-yard, and countless forays into the woods across the street. There have been lots of hours with my train sets.

To give an accurate picture of this weekly discipline, you have to bear in mind my health. I’m slowing down (a lot). I can get lost in my thoughts, my reading, my writing. Left to myself and the noise of an ADHD brain, I could easily become a grumpy old man. But how can you be grumpy when someone is enthusiastically intoning, “Grandpa!” and following it with words of wonder? He is saving me.

There were several very serious moments that followed one day’s conversation when Eli began asking questions about what it meant to be old, including the notion that old age meant that death would come. “Will you die, Grandpa?” “Yes, I will, Eli.” He became tearful and pensive. In time, the information was assimilated and we moved on to the next joyful project.

I have contemplated his future just as he has contemplated mine. My readers know just how critical I am of contemporary culture. I do not imagine my grandson will be magically protected from its insanity. Neither, however, do I waste time imagining tragic scenarios for his life. With regard to the future we have two things: knowledge of the present-tense goodness of God that providentially works through and in all things for our good; hope in God who has promised to preserve us in His goodness. Within and through all of that runs the Cross.

It is a fearful thing to witness the Cross in the life of your child, no matter their age. Well did St. Simeon prophesy to the Mother of God, “And a sword will pierce your own soul, also” (Luke 2:35). We are “co-sufferers” with our children (and grandchildren). More profoundly, Christ (and His mother) co-suffers with them as well. This is the definition of our life in this world.

By the same token, the Cross is also our hope. It is only in the Cross that the resurrection of Christ is revealed to us in this world. Despite persecutions and every kind of trouble, the Church remains and the resurrection is made manifest in the triumph of beauty, truth, and goodness.

Part of the American Dream traditionally was to want a better life for your children than you had yourself. It created the false expectation that a “better” life consisted in money and health. In truth, such things are not the circumstances that improve our existence. That false expectation belongs to the religion of modernity (not Christianity). There, the promise is that wealth is the solution to the problems of the world. It is said that Americans “vote their pocketbook.” It is unheard of that someone could sell us suffering and want.

For the most part, our culture demonizes suffering and sees poverty as an enemy (that we have yet to vanquish). Christ’s repeated and dire warnings regarding wealth are most often used only as opportunities to suggest an increase in alms-giving. It is rarely the case that we hear clear explanations of how the love of money is the “root of all evil.” Orthodox Christianity is unusual in our present time for its emphasis on robust fasting and prayer. The services and prayers of the Church (with the constant honoring of great-suffering martyrs) serve as constant reminders of precisely what it means to take up the Cross and follow Christ.

And so, the question that rests in my heart, and should for us all, is, “How do we help the young that God has given us to endure the world that lies before them?”

The first thing that occurs to me is that we do not raise them with the expectation that the world is free of suffering and sorrow. The question is how to nurture someone in a manner such that they acquire the virtues required for suffering and for the suffering of those around them. Sadly, our culture markets comfort, convenience, and, anything that removes suffering. In a healthy, integrated culture, there are many things that help a parent in the formation of virtue. Our culture, unfortunately, is integrated around a pleasure principle. With no other guidance, our children will likely only acquire the virtues that are best suited to being a consumer.

Epitaph for Modernity: I came, I shopped, I died.

The second thing that occurs to me is that none of us can raise our children without help. The communities in which we dwell – family, school, church – are essential parts of a child’s nurture. Indeed, studies show that children gain most of their social sense and information from other children – a fact that many parents discover with shock and dismay. A question of these supporting, primary communities is whether they are places that support people in their suffering and sorrow. Do they nurture the virtues required of the Christian life or are they incubating self-centered shoppers?

G.K. Chesterton wrote:

The modern world is not evil; in some ways the modern world is far too good. It is full of wild and wasted virtues. When a religious scheme is shattered (as Christianity was shattered at the Reformation), it is not merely the vices that are let loose. The vices are, indeed, let loose, and they wander and do damage. But the virtues are let loose also; and the virtues wander more wildly, and the virtues do more terrible damage. The modern world is full of the old Christian virtues gone mad. The virtues have gone mad because they have been isolated from each other and are wandering alone. Thus some scientists care for truth; and their truth is pitiless. Thus some humanitarians only care for pity; and their pity (I am sorry to say) is often untruthful.

A difficulty in our present world is that we are confronted with distorted versions of our Christian selves. Various critical theory paradigms, for example, draw on selected and isolated virtues, only to turn them on the older world and destroy it. Compassion can be a deadly thing if it is not grounded in a worldview that comprehends suffering.

We do not, and cannot, control the world. We can nurture children and surround them with healthy communities, but the adversary is always present. Much of the suffering of a parent is found in our helplessness. That helplessness is a lesson in grace. Either God preserves us or there is no preservation. Either His providence is trustworthy or we have no hope.

But we do have hope. The hope is not a promise that in our lifetime all will be well. Rather, our hope is in the Cross of Christ, the crucified Savior. Our hope is the faith that the crucified Savior has united Himself to humanity, and to our children, in particular. He will not leave them nor forsake them. Even if they journey into hell, He goes there with them (Ps 139:8). This is the hope that Hebrews says is an “anchor of the soul.”

This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast, and which enters the Presence behind the veil (Heb. 6:19).

This hope is grounded in the work that Christ Himself has accomplished and which abides in the world even now. It is the hope that “makes us not ashamed.”

A final word: stand with Mary at the Cross. Ask her to teach you how to bear the mystery of the sword that pierced her soul. She is every mother just as He is every child.

 

 

 

61 comments:

  1. Thank you, Father Stephen. Today, for me, a very timely – and timeless – reminder. The mystery and hope of the Precious Cross is enough to see me through this present moment, and the next, and the next…

  2. Thank you Fr. Stephen. I pray that I am learning how to stand with Mary at the Cross. Yours are wise and true words here. During the past 15 years of my total almost 30 years of motherhood, we have been an Orthodox Christian family. I have found great comfort in praying the Akathist Prayer to the Mother of God, Nurturer of Children. Our Lord is truly the Lover of Mankind and as I watch my adult children wander around in this world of modernity, I grow more sure of His Love. For me, this is Hope. God bless you and all you love.

  3. >poverty as an enemy (that we have yet to vanquish)

    Father, forgive the somewhat off-topic reply, but this jumped out at me. I think, should we ever “vanquish” poverty, we shall simply create it again. I am thinking of the “Savage Reservation” in Brave, New World or the more current Social Credit System. I think our society is not as interested in vanquishing poverty as it is in weaponising it.

    But this gives me hope: helplessness is a lesson in grace. Either God preserves us or there is no preservation. Either His providence is trustworthy or we have no hope. Many thanks for that! Glory to God for I know Him to be trustworthy!

  4. I often think of the early Christian parents who were martyred with their children. Most if not all, it seems, could not imagine a “better” future for their children than one in which they would be martyred for their faith and they actually hoped for just such a future. Their “hope” was not a death wish, but a life wish… a wish for eternal life in Christ’s Kingdom. Everything in this world simply paled in comparison. But our perspective in these modern times is so far from this that it’s basically impossible to conceive of ourselves ever feeling this way. We all seem to feel entitled to a comfortable and successful life, as defined by the secular culture around us. And when we don’t get it, we feel like we have either failed or been wronged. There is essentially no positive place for poverty, or sickness, or death in our society today, even for most people who consider themselves to be Christians.

  5. Fr. Stephen,
    “A final word: stand with Mary at the Cross. Ask her to teach you how to bear the mystery of the sword that pierced her soul. She is every mother just as He is every child.”

    This is a helpful perspective for me. I have often wondered about our 4 grandchildren as I pray for them.

  6. A difficulty in our present world is that we are confronted with distorted versions of our Christian selves. Various critical theory paradigms, for example, draw on selected and isolated virtues, only to turn them on the older world and destroy it. Compassion can be a deadly thing if it is not grounded in a worldview that comprehends suffering.

    Father, I believe I understand the gist of these words. But would it be too much of a diversion to explain, what ‘critical theory paradigms’ are doing? My interpretation is that they are somehow redefining the virtues into modernist meanings. And then the words ‘turn them on the older world and destroy it’, I’m interpreting to mean that the older meanings which provide the context to understand the virtues are squelched.

    I’m not fluent in critical theory, so I’m working to understand, and ask for help. Is this about current psychological theories about the person and virtues? I apologize if this is asking us to go off track.

  7. “The question is how to nurture someone in a manner such that they acquire the virtues required for suffering and for the suffering of those around them.” Surely this is not the first time I’ve read something like this, but why is it only now, 30 years after it could have done some good, that I understand it? It must be God’s will for the overall good somehow. I accept it as I must. I give thanks as I should. But how does this help the ones who suffered for my ignorance?

  8. it is still strange whenever I see a clergy member in street clothes!
    I still remember your comment in a long ago entry about bathing suits haha
    thanks for all you do; we were just talking about everything worthwhile leading back to the cross in our catechism class last night
    XC

  9. Dee,
    “Critical Theory” – which has a number of guises and variations is essentially using the structures of Marxist analysis and dialectic applied in areas such as race, gender, sexuality, etc. It’s extremely popular at the moment in academia and is spreading elsewhere – particularly in areas governed by regulations and policy. It’s analysis views history in terms of conflict – oppression, etc. It’s great weakness, to say the least, is that it analyzes history in terms of groups. White vs. black, rich vs. poor, straight vs. gay, etc. Individuals are thus guilty because they belong to a group. Crimes and guilt are “systemic,” meaning, they are simply built into things the way they are and you are guilty simply because you belong.

    The first applications of critical theory were in the Marxist dictatorships of the early 20th century. Nobility became “non-persons” – beyond the reach of rehabilitation. They were exiled or killed. No questions asked. The “Kulaks” in Russia – which generally meant nothing more than prosperous peasants, were also destroyed as a class – destroying an entire level of practical training and expertise.

    A problem with analyzing things in group and systemic terms is there is little that can be done other than through “systemic” change. The disruptions and even deaths that might occur in such change, let along the vast amount of individual injustice, is quickly justified as a requirement for the change.

    It is one of the most murderous philosophies the world has ever seen. A critique from my perspective is that it is too simplistic as a tool of analysis. The world does not operate as it describes. It is like using a steam-roller to do brain surgery. It does not take a lot of intelligence and study – just a lot of willingness to be brutal and ideologically committed.

    It taps virtues such as compassion and a concern for the oppressed – genuine Christian virtues – but applies them badly. It is highly moralistic (using emotional commitments to override rational and factual problems).

    An additional problem: it has a simpistic moral system in which suffering (of its particular definition) is always bad and must be removed. History is more complex than that. Many people suffer even though they belong to a group deemed “privileged.” There will never be a system that eliminates all suffering. “Justice” is never an “all or nothing” game. There have to be balances and trade-offs. Anyone with more than one child learns this very quickly. Multiply it by 300 million and we see the problem.

    Critical theory may offer a true insight through its analysis. America might indeed by “systematicly” racist (for example). But, it is also systemicly many other things at the same time. It’s not enough for something to be true – it has to be true enough to present most of the whole picture. It is very difficult to have a “worldview” that is derived by using a microscope. We need to see more, not less.

    At present, this is a popular philosophy. In time, it will fade. When I was in grad school at Duke, one of my friends was a professor of philosophy from the University of Beijing. He told me that he had never met a Marxist until he came to Duke! Everyone in Chinca paid lip-service to it, but no one believed in it. This, of course, came after much suffering. We will likely have to suffer a fair amount to get rid of this intellectual nonsense – how much and for how long is in the hands of God.

  10. Thank you Father. I have a 5 year old grandson, Maximus who lives with me. He was born blind and has a rare brain disorder called Septo Optic Displacia. I’m his caregiver. His parents, my son is in the Navy and his mom is a nursing student also reside with me. God bless them both since they have been through hell and back shortly after he was born and almost died. Sometimes there are days where I just can’t stop crying thinking about this beautiful child and what his world will be like. I will tell you that he is an absolute joy and probably the happiest child I have ever seen. He constantly sings hymns from the church and prayers. Often he will request to listen to the Divine Liturgy at least 6 times a day (and I’m
    Not exaggerating). I sit in awe over his spirit and humility. Like you stated, “he saves me” are exactly my words and thoughts too. I am often so ashamed of my own ego after spending a day with Mighty Max as we call him. Yet he loves so much. I pray to God that he will guide him in this corrupt world. Guide him through and protect him from
    The evil that I so often worry about. Please keep him in your prayers.

  11. Thanks. I’m not married and don’t have children. When I think about having them I am struck with a very particular kind of hopelessness, a sense that there’s no point given the world being as it is. Henri Nouwen wrote about this in the 70’s in The Wounded Healer, observing that many young people have stopped believing in the future. I suspect that this attitude of mine, which was brought to the surface in reading this post, is revelatory of things in my soul not yet turned over to God. Much to reflect on.

  12. It seems critical theory is the mind of the world systematized. If so, some version will always be with us. It is that mind that creates suffering. My wife and I spent last evening with our 12 year old honorary God Daughter.

    We only get to see her a couple of times a year. She is adopted and lives out of state now. She and her parents are much involved with Kenya through the Church.
    She is quite intelligent. We talked books and movies at dinner. Knows about suffering through her trips to Kenya.
    She knows things about the modern world that no 12 year old should know ever. Which is a different kind of suffering, I think. My hope is because she and her parents have a strong connection to the Church. In Kenya St Moses the Black is deeply and widely venerated. There is a quite endurance in their family which is subtle but strong.

    It is an encouraging endurance that speaks of something, even someone beyond the depravity and destruction we experience here.

    God is with us.

  13. Father, thank you for these personal, nourishing thoughts. I read it while nursing my son. As a person living in a modern world it is hard to accept my own helplessness, especially when it comes to my child, but I will reach for hope (in the right things).

    -Bri

  14. Thank you Father,
    I needed that explanation. As you have often said, we’re swimming in this stuff and don’t even notice. I appreciate the lesson as I’m likely immersed in the sort of environment that frames our issues and proposes ‘solutions’ in the manner you describe. And often I see what is going on, but don’t always have a name for it. Your explanation provides the vocabulary and the philosophical/historical ideological context. Thank you!

  15. Dee,
    Christians are very vulnerable to things like critical theory. For one, they’re not racist, or homophobic, or misogynist, etc. (for the most part). Or, at least, they certainly do not want to be. Thus, confronted with those moral positions – we do not want to argue against our own morality. But, these are morals that have loose from their mooring. They are “virtue gone mad.” Often in conversations, we’re not given enough time to actually think or explain. Of course, such conversations aren’t real conversations.

    “I think this oversimplifies things” – is a statement that can put on the brakes for a few minutes. I’d have to think carefully to know what to say next.

  16. I just recently thought about the sword piercing Mary’s heart and her own motherly pain as I thought about my oldest struggling child, my other eight children, and now my three foster children recently entering our home. This world is a sad place full of trials and temptations. Lord, help us bear our crosses and keep us hopeful!

  17. On Critical Theory :
    Modernity has a decided proclivity for masking its hypocrisy behind variant terms. This is a perfect example. Viewing a person as guilty because they are part of a group is good if it’s labeled “critical theory” or “systemic”; yet the same exact thing is evil if we use some alternate term like “stereotyping” or “profiling”.
    Thus, “racism” is bad because it views people as guilty for no other reason than that they are part of a group. Modernity’s solution is viewing people as guilty of racism merely because they are part of some other group.
    If the cause of evil is being part of a group, then that group must of necessity be exterminated to rid the world of evil. Of course, after having done so the evil remains, which must be explained by shoving ever more people into the accursed group (and eliminating them). Modernity knows nothing but to label everyone Kulaks then forcibly convert them into Zeks.

  18. Hope is not necessarily warm and fuzzy. Our hope is in the Cross. My son would follow the statement of “Let me think about that” with “Nope, that’s a lie!” My son is not a diplomat. If the person continued the conversation my son would give many reasons why the statement is a lie. Unfortunately he is not as open to seeing the lies in his own life.
    Repentance leads to the well of mercy from which we can drink living water. Thay leads to hope and joy that is not sentimental. Of course living a life of repentance….
    Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner and grant mercy to us all.

  19. Brothers and Sisters,
    Let us not create a boogeyman here. “Critical theory” proper, coming out of the so-called Frankfurt School of largely German academics and as done by theorists in the 40s-60s, did not lead to set political conclusions or specific calls for actions. In fact, most of them were at odds with one another. It was, if anything, an attempt to make the position of the theorist visible in his theorizing. It was an attempt to critique society in a way that seemed more honest to them—not pretending that they, the theorists, were located somewhere outside of society and looking in. But rather, that the vantage point of the critic was already implicated in the thing he was critiquing. It was a very reflexive type of move. Now, the type of clean divisions between oppressor/oppressed have shown up in this strand of thought since Marx (although it would be a very deficient reading of Marx, indeed, to think that he just believed that there were the good “oppressed” and bad “oppressors”), and since the 80s they have been made into slogans that are much easier to latch onto. WAY easier than going back and reading the actual critical theorists—who actually make no such clean divisions.

    What we are dealing with is, like in everything else, the way people use ideas and slogans to attempt to cope with their pain, deficiencies, anger, shame, etc. Orthodoxy and the Fathers of the church can be used just as perversely. Just as much in the interest of securing an “in-group” as opposed to an “out-group.” Just as much in the interest of securing a bastion for ourselves from which we can look down upon the blind moderns scurrying around and bumping into each other.

    In point of fact, I would say that those of us here (of course, including Fr. Stephen) who have sought to critique modernity—with the assumption that modernity has already largely framed the way that we think—are doing nothing different than what critical theory, at its best, sought to do. We are not outside of the thing that we point fingers at.

    Let us be gracious and careful with labels, brothers and sisters.

  20. https://frmosesberry.com/ … and here are stories of great hope written from the Cross that address both the life of family and the Church but also the lies that we bear in our hearts that give rise to such things as Critical Theory.

  21. Thanks Father
    I am being saved from the hell of despair and depression again by my beautiful just 5 year old grandson .His love of life is infectious and the family joke he’s my shadow.
    Having lost 2 daughters i stuggle to see joy but i know Chtist knows how i feel and have felt when falling in the pit .I find the church to be THE hospital for the soul .Me and grandson just delight in each ofers company and time go’s so so fast .
    I pray All will rise in glory .
    Yours. Dave

  22. Anthony,
    You are correct in many of your observations. Indeed, I learned much from critical theorists when thinking about the nature of modernity. There is a difference, however, between academics in a classroom discussing points of view, and when a particular ideology (which long since left the Frankfurt School and has combined with Marx, Foucault, etc.) becomes the means for dominating ideas in a university (including sciences) as well as government policy, corporate policy, etc. People are currently losing jobs as a result of resistance to critical theory. It is good to point out that its attractions are strong for those attempting to cope with pain, deficiences, anger, shame, etc. And, of course, it has an unpleasant history in its Marxist expression. If someone hears echoes of the Gulags then they might well raise an alarm.

    When I was in graduate school (before all of this had seized power and allowed no dissent) I refused to take classes from Marxists (self-avowed). There were courses in which I was interested that I also refused to take because the professor would not accept any language regarding God that was not “inclusive” (He/She) – heavenly only knows what it is now. That was the late 80’s. What was slightly fringe then – now reigns supreme with brutality that the traditional canon never had. You could question anything(!) under the old regime. You can only question approved targets now.

    I think I practice a measure of graciousness on the blog – but I will name brutality for what it is when I see it.

    BTW, I used the generic term “critical theory” rather than “critical race theory” or “critical gender theory” (or whatever is being touted these days). I think each of these things can have a usefulness. But, each of them fails because they are only “critical” theories. They can deconstruct but they cannot truly build. As such, they are merely parasitic. Modernity needs to be deconstructed – but what is put in its place?

    When I studied among critical theorists, I thought I had one advantage – an authentic tradition – not just something cooked up in a classroom by someone who had yet to experience much of life. Instead, we have people who dare to dismantle families, genders, etc., in the name of some imaginary ideas – but they haven’t raised children and seen generations of results to validate their theses. In fact, generally speaking, wherever critical theory (of any sort) has been placed into power – the result has been horrific. Confusion, suffering, destruction, only to eventually have to back off and begin to re-allow what was once dis-allowed.

    It is a useful tool – kind of like a screwdriver. But don’t begin to work on an automobile armed only with a screwdriver. It is simply insufficient, subject to fads and fashion, and academic in the very worst sense of the term.

  23. Anthony,
    I’m not literate in the theory itself. Rather I’m more aware of the applications of the theory (to the extent that I’m aware of it). Perhaps it would be best to read the original writings as you say. I ask this, however, since you appear to have read this material, have any of the authors’ writings escaped from the influences of modernity in their thought?

  24. Dee,
    Forgive me for jumping in on the question. Generally speaking – none of them have. The reason is that this has largely not been a Christian project (certainly not an Orthodox project). It has been a tool for dismantling, but not a tool for building.

    It is certainly gaining traction in various places – including Protestant seminaries and even among some Evangelicals. It dominates in universities and graduate schools of religion. I have no doubt that it is being employed in a couple of Orthodox corners. Generally, where I have seen it being employed, it has been in the service of very modern ideas: gender, feminism, race, etc. In Orthodoxy, in most hands it is used to attack the Church’s tradition itself.

    I am probably one of the few Orthodox writers who uses certain aspects of it to critique modernity – but – that is in order for the fullness of the Orthodox Tradition to become visible and to be lived.

    I would suggest that lots of what gets put forward today as part of critical studies is completely antithetical to Orthodox anthropology. It still largely argues for an application of human beings as consumers and producers – as feminism largely sacrificed traditional roles in the home in order to make women into market-place drones (like the men). What is deeply lacking in all of this – is a true full account of what is healthy and whole in terms of being human in the image of God. Which is also to say, no saint has yet taken up critical theory.

  25. Fr. Stephen, I truly thank you for your response. It brings me the peace of being in good company on a lonely Saturday.

    I simply haven’t seen the brutality of it like you have. Of course, I write and observe things primarily with my own experience in mind. I am in the late stages of a doctoral program in Modern German Literature & Theory at a large research university in the Midwest. I’ve taken seminars for 6 years now with professors that are self-avowed Marxists (and even one card-carrying Communist!). Whenever I have brought up theological matters and the writings of some fathers in the church in class, I have only been met with curiosity and respect. I have yet to see a single student (undergraduate or graduate) be silenced or dismissed from participating in a discussion. But these things vary so widely. I have taken seminars in other departments where discussions are softly enforced by a sort of group-think. Where everyone nods along at the thought that everything from the beginning of the world to now has been ruined by Western colonialism (of course, a claim beyond the absurd).

    You say that it now “reigns supreme.” But I’m not sure if you are talking culturally or academically. Like I said, I can only speak with some confidence about the latter. You, as someone with decades of life on me and as a priest, have seen infinitely more and have much more to say about the former—which is definitely the more important of the two anyway. However, a lot of the debates that started fires in academia in the 80s are brushed aside and ignored completely today. People generally have short attention spans.

    Dee, thank you for your insightful question. It looks like Fr. Stephen has already gone a long way in answering it, so I will just second him and say: no, I don’t believe any of the writers I have in mind escape the influences of modernity. Though, I don’t necessarily see that as having been their aim (at least, at the initial stages). At their best, I believe that they attempted to do no more than explicitly acknowledge their bondage to modernity they despise and hope that—through that recognition and insight—somehow open up a way to move forward. Now, these theorists were not often at their best. And I can say for myself that such a hope easily spoils into despair and a resigned sort of arrogance. As Fr. Stephen explained, theirs is a primarily deconstructive act. And taking things apart intellectually simply doesn’t provide enough calories to live on.

    As much as I am frustrated with these theorists for all of these reasons, I feel love for them and I have tried to understand them. They feel that many things are not right and that they are in bondage. Many of them were writing as Jewish exiles in the wake of WWII and trying to address the question of how capitalism led to the brutality of Fascism. They had faith that issues could be addressed on an academic level. Maybe that’s all they had really ever known. Maybe they were in bondage to their own oversized brains in a time when they needed to pay attention to their hearts. As Fr. Stephen said—as of yet, no saint has taken up Critical Theory.

  26. Anthony,
    I think you are well-placed in the academy – with a heart that is able to love those around you. I have wounds in this area. I have far too many friends who simply could not find work because of their non-acceptance or resistance to critical theory. I’ve seen faculty members of my acquaintance lose their positions. I have parishioners, here in Tennessee, who have lost their jobs because they ran afoul of the demands of a critical-theory based department. I have a number of contacts with people in HR departments in corporations. They tell me that critical theory is increasingly driving HR policies.

    As an academic discussion – critical theory is interesting – even fascinating. It can be a powerful tool and ask questions that have long been neglected. It is, however, being mainstreamed into corporations and policies, in an increasingly widespread manner. And this, without so much as a debate, discussion, much less a vote. For example, the policies being set in place viz. gender issues frequently go much further than anything that has been decided in a court case.

    Some of my personal pain came from my experience among the Episcopalians. What, in the 70’s, was simply a camel politely asking permission to stick its nose in the tent, in a setting that was always very polite and accommodating, eventually came to own the tent and brutally refuse any accommodation to those who agreed with them.

    When I entered seminary in 1977, women were not yet officially approved for ordination as priests. My faculty advisor and confessor did not support their ordination. The Church officially, when it did approve them, also passed a ‘conscience clause’ that supposedly protected those who did not accept it.

    My professor was a dear old man. A celebate. He did his doctorate under Florovsky at Harvard and was very helpful in nurturing my growing interest in Orthodoxy. Within two years of my graduation he had been forced to retire because of his views. He was deeply hurt by it. No one sharing his views would ever be hired again. Of course, the seminary no longer exists as that denomination continues to wither on the vine.

    I know many stories – they are shared with me all the time by people who are in great dismay and wonder what is going on. They often know nothing of critical theory and have no idea how to respond to what has become a powerful political force.

    Critical theory just won a national election (I don’t do politics), but it will be continuing to put policies in place that come from that source. There is massive funding (cf. the Gates Foundation) for some of this stuff.

    Perhaps the most damaging part of critical theory is its account of power (cf. Foucault). Everything is about power is one of the dominant ideas. It’s quite Nietzschean – he was a dominant and favorite philosopher among them. It is not about bringing people together, healing, or any such thing. It is about the use of power in order to gain power.

    You are fortunate in your experience. If you continue in the academy, I pray you will be protected and allowed to flourish.

    I should add, that “power” has long been a tool of mainstream Western thought, and people have been shut out on account of it. But, the notion of traditional liberalism (not the political thing) was based in freedom – free speech, free thought, free exchange of ideas, tolerance, etc. Because of that, slaves got freed, women got the vote, people moved up the social ladder, etc. Critical theory did not achieve any of those things, but is rapidly dismantling that liberal legacy. Among critical theorists, almost nothing is more hated than “liberalism” (not the political thing).

    When did liberal thinkers ever forbid someone to speak at a university? Many of the wide range of speakers I heard when I was in college, would not be allowed to speak there these days. Their words might “cause pain”, etc. Why would the University of Chicago have to create a specific policy protecting free-speech and forbidding the kind of cancellations that have become all too common? They had to do so because the pressure not to protect such speech is just that great. They are a rare thing in the ranks of top institutions.

    Of course, it’s quite ironic that places like the Ivy-League schools harbor and nurture critical studies – when they are schools that pretty much are the definition of privilege in our culture. In point of fact, critical studies are, I think, blind, and are serving masters who they would profess to despise. Imagine Bill and Melinda Gates funding groups that want to dismantle “capitalism and imperialism,” etc. Why would they do that?

    It’s not a conspiracy. But, I would suggest the major project of reading Solzhenitsyn’s The Red Wheel (massive multi-volumes), his historical analysis and account of the rise of the Soviet Revolution. It’s worth the time (it was for me).

    But, we are not in control of the outcome of history. We may live as faithful Christians with trust in a good God who uses even our evil intentions and actions for our good (through His Cross). I am not at all optimistic about the near future – but I believe that the Church is nothing other than the “Cross through History.”

    I will close by saying that over the past six or seven years, I have, for the first time in over 40 years of ministry, been encountered adolescents with gender confusion and issues – not because this is part of their DNA – or any such natural cause – but sheerly as a result of cultural fashion that critical theory has nurtured and has spread to the level of the operating mythology of their age group. It is causing suffering, confusion, depression, and many other unnecessary things to the most vulnerable people in our culture. It’s not their teachers or the school system – it’s their own youth culture. Parents are confused. This is not just me – I’m hearing the same thing from priests all over the country who are really engaged with their youth. They are being “deconstructed” before they even got a chance to get constructed!

    There will be a cultural detritus for some decades to come. It will fail because its not built on solid, natural foundations. You always lose the argument when you argue with gravity.

    A solid, Orthodox foundation, takes tradition (both Church and cultural) seriously. Being human is something that is handed down to us. It isn’t always correct, and has to be studied and understood. But, it’s more generally correct than not. More importantly, to me, is that we develop the kind of character that can be “traditioned” – which comes from the foundation of giving thanks always and for all things.

    Even these present trials are things for which we should be grateful.

  27. Anthony, as Father implies there are things which do not require critique, discussion or debate. The one with which I start is “Male and female created He them”
    The first question I asked when I decided I wanted to be a Christian was ” What does it mean to be a Christian man?” Much to my dismay the answer that has been given to me over the years is “To willingly and thankfully embrace the Cross,” That is why I write that hope is The Cross.
    Fr. Moses Berry is one man I know who has done that. Look at the link I posted and see. One piece of the Cross that I have seen personally is the demand that he be “blacker” That demand is a fruit of critical race theory in practice. It is unimaginably cruel but there also is out true hope if we embrace all of that in thanksgiving.
    It is a clear and certain hope that starts for me by embracing Jesus’s mercy in my inmost heart and returning there as often as I can in contrition.

    Joy is always the result.

  28. Fr. Stephen,

    Thank you for writing about your experiences and pains so openly. It was good to hear them.

    If I were being fully honest, I would say that I’m not sure I want to end up in academia. I only know that I want to teach—if God will let me. There are many good things and many frustrations in the mix. And only time will tell if my good fortune in those circles will last—I have yet to apply for a professorship! Maybe I, too, will get caught in the spokes of the wheel. I have not yet had to write some of the particular “statements” that are required of applicants. I hope I will be able to communicate truthfully and lovingly.

  29. Dear Michael,
    Thank you for sharing your appreciation for Fr. Moses and his relevance here. My wife and I also have the privilege of counting their daughter as a dear friend (our paths crossed during grad school). She herself has been a major source of light to me in learning how to navigate the academic life and life elsewhere.

  30. Father,
    reading your last few fabulous comments, I can’t help seeing that it is not just critical theory, but many other mainstream popular ‘narratives’, which people are now not allowed to question; and they similarly dismantle families, livelihoods etc . in the name of contestable, yet prohibited from being questioned, ideas: most especially the mainstream narrative regarding the pandemic, lockdowns, vax-passports, and all that… I don’t want to derail the conversation, but it is impossible not to notice that other elephant in this room!

  31. Dear Anthony:
    I pray that you stay in the profession! The academy is not a monolith and even if we remain marginalized, nobody ever said being a Christian would be easy.
    One Orthodox academic’s rules of thumb:
    1) We have Revelation, Scripture, Tradition, the Liturgy and each other as touchstones of truth
    2) All truth is God’s truth, and He chooses where to place it. Our job is to find it wherever it may be, from Frankfurt to Fanon, from Edmund Burke to J. Peterson

  32. Dino,
    I understand your point – but I think these elephants are very different animals. But, that said, the powers-that-be have become accustomed to a certain use of power. I have noted, as well, that my setting and experience in the American Southeast, and in the OCA, in the present distress, are quite different than what I hear about elsewhere. As such, I cannot speak accurately about them elsewhere.

  33. Reading all the comments, I keep thinking of the thing I have always appreciated most about the way Jesus went about in the world. He had a “one-to-one” approach many times, meeting individual people where they were in their daily lives and problems, and healing in a face-to-face meeting of persons. I always come back to this when I find myself wondering what is going on in this crazy world . It is increasingly difficult, for all kinds of reasons, to have these kinds of “meetings” with other individuals, as so much of modern life is in the grip of ideologies, corporate advertising and control, and other trends and movements that are anathema to the right relationship of humans to each other. The problem with critical theory and other theories of many types in my view is that they omit the level of true human relationship between individuals, which is where trust, integrity, honesty, compassion, love, and creativity and originality are most often lived out and which is the basis for having a healthy society. I appreciate the critiques a lot, as they are lenses through which to see the world in a certain way, but it is always helpful to me to maintain a broader perspective, and the more one lives in God the broader the perspective one can have, so that one can see the problem critiqued but see the multitude of ways the problem could be addressed, rather than being limited to a narrow solution that leaves out a lot of humanity in the process. The relationship to Mighty Max that one person described is very meaningful to me for this reason – one can just feel the love of God shining through the description in a situation that probably does not fit any one’s theory very well. And what a loss if it did. I think this is the area in which I struggle the most with Orthodoxy — the “in-group” and “out-group” dynamic is very much alive in Orthodox parishes. Too often we are exclusive in the sense we are comfortable with the people we have known, with our families, clans, and tribes, with people who think the way we do in the church, with people we see all the time, or who are our race, and most often, I find, are part of our ancestral ethnic group. None of this is particularly Christian, never mind Orthodox, and I feel very wounded by experiencing this type of thing close up. I cannot help thinking that there would be no need for critical theories of any kind, if each of us could meet the next person we meet every time with an open heart, with some level of unconditional love, whatever we can muster, and a sense that the person is already family because the person is part of humanity. I think that is what Jesus did, and that this is the fundamental teaching as far as social relations go. If enough of us did this all day long wherever we went, these mustard seeds would grow into mighty trees and change the social structure. Certainly in a church setting, no one, whatever the race or ethnic group, should feel anything other than warmly invited in and embraced by the parish group. I feel at a certain level these critical theories are trying to address the general lack in the overall society of this type of “one-to-one” mutual regard that Jesus taught, and unfortunately going over the top with the rigidity of the intellectual structures they create. There would be no need for these critiques at all if we all lived as if we are all in this together and could help and reach out and include each other. Perhaps we would have a critical human wholeness theory instead. I know I am stating the obvious, but it is with the obvious that is lacking with which I struggle the most in life on a daily basis, and being isolated in pandemic, I do not even know what I can do about it. The church, could, if it wanted, provide the lived example of the alternative to any theory that does not take in the whole human experience, but so often does not. Working from the Ground up is a way to move forward, rather than imposing theories on us all. Who among us on this earth does not just need a True Friend?

  34. Seraphima,
    You are certainly right in your observations about what would be proper and ideal. Our ethnic parishes have unique histories and stories – and represent the wounding of communities, often-times, that create a kind of “clannish” approach, even though it is not truly intended (at least in the best of cases). My own parish, St. Anne, was the first non-Greek Orthodox parish in East TN, begun 23 years ago. There are now 6 or 7. I recall being criticized when we first began (by a Greek priest). He wondered why his parish was not sufficient. In truth, it simply had too many hurdles and obstacles. They make good neighbors when they would have been problematic fellow-parishioners.

    This dynamic is normally, not very much a part of the American experience (except when it comes to racial issues, I suspect). But some, I suspect, fear losing their ethnic identity in a sea of the American majority. I can appreciate that. Even the original Church in Jerusalem experienced difficulties between Hellenized members and Hebrew members. And they had likely seen and known Jesus personally, and had the 12 Apostles in their midst!

    Orthodoxy in the US is extremely young. We only began to see converts in any significant number in the 1980’s. Before that, we were rare things indeed. At present, in the OCA, over half of the clergy are converts, and probably over half the membership. Even in the GOA, the clergy are now more than 25 percent convert. Things are changing and evolving.

    If everyone offered the good heart that you are describing, the life of the Church would be greatly improved, no doubt. But, these are things that we suffer and endure, some more than others.

    There are Crosses which we carry that were not of our own making – but, nevertheless, we must bear them:

    The Turkokratia left long-enduring effects in the lives and consciousness of those who suffered under their rule for several hundred years. We must help them to bear that Cross.

    The Communist-yoke brought difficult times to the Orthodox diaspora which continues to haunt us. We must help one another to bear that yoke.

    There are many other such things that mark us – we do not always see them or recognize them. I’ve only slowly come to acknowledge that I carried a burdensome Cross from my own “white trash” background (I don’t know how else to describe the long inheritance of shame born by the Southern white poor). There are many such things. God give us grace. Sometimes we eat each other up – when we could save one another.

  35. Thank you for reminding me of the history — it is hard as an outsider to learn about this history and understand the dynamics if people do not befriend one enough to share what they have been through. I try to read everything I can find about the history of the church, Orthodox and non-Orthodox, in this country, including all the schisms/heresies/and other things that go on, but reading about such things is not enough to understand. If you have reading suggestions, I would welcome them. I might be able to bring a lot to a situation if I knew what people were dealing with. So often we are suffering these burdens in our own silos and others don’t know what is really going on, but without meeting in some meaningful way it is difficult to help bear each other’s burdens, and I mean not just in the church. If one has the gift of encouragement and hospitality, but no one wants it, what is the use of having the gift? And I am left feeling again, where can a convert fit in, if the history of a parish is such that it is hard to widen the welcome because of woundedness — one does not want to stay where one does not minimally fit in, but if Orthodoxy is home, there is no place else to go. I am showing my personal conflicts, I guess. I relate to your “white trash” comment, as I come from an impoverished white family and am also part of a racial group that was subject to genocide — shame and the marks of genocide from generations back leave such effects on younger generations, we are lucky to unpack such things in one life time. Being excluded and shamed is something I know all to well from the non-church society. I did not mean to harp on the church especially, because I think my broader point is that the inability to meet people with some sense of love underlies most of the problems I see around me, whether theories, politics, the church, or other matters. I guess, again, that is obvious, but I don’t want to give up on the ideal, no matter what. That’s my own way of holding on to hope. I will try harder to learn about the history of the Orthodox church in this country so I can understand better what I see. Thank you for responding.

  36. Father, it may seem off point but I do not think so. You mentioned your ADHD brain. I wonder how you manage praying. In a certain sense we are all faced with a similar challenge. All of the noise of modernity raging in us, at us and around.

    For myself my actual prayer life began only recently when I woke up in muscle and joint pain at 3 AM. I decided that instead of concentrating on my pain, I’d pray the Jesus Prayer. I picked up a prayer rope my late wife made (a beautiful thing) and began fitfully as usual. I was given mercy, a place of mercy. It only took 50 years of fitful attempts.

    I hope there is a quicker way you can recommend. BTW, the pain did not magically go away and I have had several more such “come to Jesus” meetings at 3 AM since. I can also bring others into that place with me. It is good work for an old man.

  37. Praying with ADHD is a struggle. The regular, disciplined things (like prayers from a book) are pretty much impossible. Physical prayer and the Jesus Prayer (with a rope) tend to be the best. I also move in and out of prayer all day long – like conversation. Whenever I wake in the night (which is 3-4 times each night because of aging issues), I take up the Jesus Prayer until I fall back asleep.

    Through the years – the easiest prayer has always been what is done in the Liturgy. Moving, praying, etc., work well. I’m a terrible(!) member of a congregation. I tend to stay in the Narthex these days, go in and out a half-dozen times. Sometime sit outside on a bench with my prayer rope.

    I also pray as I write. Writing is like contemplation and I find it brings great peace.

  38. Thank you Father. I can relate to much of what you say. Using my late wife’s prayer ropes also connects me to all the prayers she said as she crocheted them.

  39. Seraphima:

    I wish you were in my parish as I would talk to you. I have experienced the same thing where I attend church. There is a large ethnic group, which I don’t “fit into”, there is the choir, which I’m not in, and so there are other groups too.

    I have tried to be friendly but some people won’t even make eye-contact and so I have just hung in there as best I could.

  40. Anna and Seraphima,
    How I wish I could invite you both to come visit me in my parish in Minneapolis!
    Please reach out to me through Fr. Stephen when this is possible. Come stay with me and I will be so happy to show you a real loving inclusive OCA parish!!! 🙂

  41. Agata:

    How kind of you! I would really love to attend your parish with you. I’m trying hard not to leave my parish since there is no place to go. I don’t want to go back to a protestant church.

  42. Anna,
    I posted on the wrong article. Please read what I posted there and please do not return to a Protestant church. I know people here will be praying for you.

  43. Anna,
    Please stay. Don’t let your parish deficiencies take you off track.
    If you’d like to talk offline, my gmail is “agatamcc”… I’ve given it out to friends on this blog many times before. And I’m alway eager and happy to support you (and anyone else!) in staying in the Orthodox Church.

  44. Anna,
    You haven’t mentioned whether you’re an inquirer or have been Orthodox and how long you’ve attended services in your parish. If just since COVID there may be many factors affecting the usual social climate in coffee hour after services. During services there isn’t usually a social engagement. Services and the reason for services have a different context in Orthodox parishes.

    If you have been baptized or chrismated into the faith and have been at your parish for some time and experiencing these difficulties, you might speak to your priest.

    And yes as Agata has indicated, just connecting with Orthodox outside your parish can help as well. In addition to connecting with Agata, you might consider joining an Orthodox women’s reading group or similar gatherings.

  45. “Every holy temple is a piece of heaven on earth. And when you are in the temple, then, look, you are already in heaven. When the earth tortures you with its hell, you hurry to the temple, enter it, and now – you entered heaven. And if it happens that whole legions of demons attack you, you run to the temple – stand among the holy Angels, for the temple is always full of Angels, and the Angels of God will protect you from all the demons of this world. And nothing can hurt you.

    Venerable Justin (Popovich).”

    Anna and Seraphima,
    This quote came today, so perfectly timed for us. Thank you Dee and Dean for your encouragement.
    I see some “cooling off” in the parish life even in our wonderful parish, it’s inevitable in these difficult conditions. But we don’t have to participate in this “cooling off”, just the opposite.

    I also came across this post from Dino, from a year ago. May it warm all our hearts…❤️😊

    https://blogs.ancientfaith.com/glory2godforallthings/2020/03/20/orthodoxy-and-science/#comment-181170

    Agata

    PS Father Stephen, thank you for this post/article. Fr. Andrew M reprinted it last week for us here, and for my life and family situation, your words were pure balm to my tormented soul (when it thinks about the future of my children). Thank you so much!

  46. Venerable Justin’s quote is indeed timely. Thank you for that Agata!

    And similar to what you have written, we also hear that the Orthodox Church and her services are a hospital too. In some respects and in some occasions we might expect too much of each other in the social contexts of our ecclesiastical life. We are all sinners and are in need of withholding of judgement of others and what we perceive as their ‘ailments’. We are all sick in the ailments of this world and we are there in the Church services to put ourselves in the care of the Physician and His hosts.

  47. Agata, Dean, and Dee:

    Thank you all for your encouraging comments. I appreciate you all for taking the time to comment.

    -Agata: I especially liked the comment you shared from Venerable Justin Popovich. I have printed a copy to keep with me.

    -Dee: I am a Chrismated Orthodox Christian and have been at my parish since 2016 but the atmosphere has always been the same even before COVID.
    There are no women’s groups that meet for study/reading but the priest sometimes meets with the youth after Liturgy(I’m not a youth).

    I want to thank all of you again. For now I’ll hang in there and see if anything changes.

  48. Anna,
    Just an old man thinking aloud….
    I believe that Agata gave you her email. I have known her for several years. She is a wonderful cradle Orthodox lady. She is well-traveled, having visited many monasteries and the Holy Lands through the years. She is well read in Orthodoxy and, most importantly, a pious believer. She would be very pleased to have you as a sister, albeit for now by email.
    There are so many Orthodox ladies who would reach out to you. You know, if another parish wasn’t too awfully distant, perhaps the priest there could recommend a lady for you to meet with, half-way, maybe once a month. Anyway, you are in our prayers, dear lady.

  49. Dean:

    Thank you for your thoughtful response. You are correct that Agata gave me her email and I intend to email her. How interesting that she has visited monasteries and the Holy Land.
    I will see about another parish that might have a ladies study group.

    I appreciate that you will pray for me:)Anna

  50. But we do have hope. The hope is not a promise that in our lifetime all will be well. Rather, our hope is in the Cross of Christ, the crucified Savior. Our hope is the faith that the crucified Savior has united Himself to humanity, and to our children, in particular. He will not leave them nor forsake them. Even if they journey into hell, He goes there with them (Ps 139:8). This is the hope that Hebrews says is an “anchor of the soul.”

    This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast, and which enters the Presence behind the veil (Heb. 6:19).

    This hope is grounded in the work that Christ Himself has accomplished and which abides in the world even now. It is the hope that “makes us not ashamed.”

    One of the conceptualizations that bothered me most when I was approached by ‘self-professing Christian’ proselytizers before I became a Christian, was their certainty (i.e., not hope) of their going to heaven to see Jesus, and compared with their perception and certainty that I was not. Nevertheless, I held hope as a believer in God, even while I yet did not believe nor commune with Christ in His Church. If instead they had expressed hope in their salvation and hope in mine, I might have become a Christian a lot earlier in my life.

    Nevertheless I have no regrets, and I hold on to hope.

    It does seem that hope is given a bad rap.

  51. Thank you Father for this post. While many of your entries have been edifying to me I was especially moved by this one.
    The Lord blessed my wife and I with a very special little boy, our only child; who is severely autistic. Contemplating his future can often drive me to despair. There is so much that I hope for him. Thank you for showing me where my hope aught to be directed.
    If you have a moment please remember my family in a prayer. I am not Orthodox, though I feel increasingly drawn to the Church. Your ministry has played a large role in that. Thank you.

  52. Cristian,
    I will indeed remember you. What I can say with regard to our children, is that it is the case that we too easily imagine painful and sad scenarios, but often cannot begin to imagine the good and the beautiful. Grace does things that do not enter into our minds. God be with you!

  53. Cristian,

    We have two “special” children (now young men) at my parish and, honestly, they put the rest of us to shame with their devotion to Christ. They are an important and valued part of our community. We also have a little girl with Downs Syndrome who is quite the handful! And she is dearly loved by everyone. Trust that God has created your child perfectly according to His infinite wisdom.

  54. Dee, there is a woman in my life who is the most impressive example of the proselytizers I have ever met. She talks all the time about “the saving work of Jesus” even in family gatherings. I think she has learned to talk on her in breath too. I was thinking rather poorly of her not to long ago when I got tapped on the shoulder and gently but firmly reminded that Jesus loved her too.

  55. Aging Brains: Fr. Stephen I am about your age with about the same description of brain health. I am also a retired podiatrist working in a health food store with considerable interest in alternative or complementary medicine. I had to quit memorizing the Psalms 11 years ago because of declining memory I was able to resume them a few years ago after rebooting my memory with a few products. PQQ- puts mitochondria back in aging cells- optimizes mitochondrial health; CoQ 10 puts the spark plug back in teh mitochondria- optimizes energy production. Lion’s Mane mushroom gives us brain derived nerve growth factor; rebuild brain. Magnesium threonate gets more magnesium in your brain, they say. Those might perk you up some. Also tyrosine, DLPA, and gotu kola are good for optimizing dopamine health which some research suggests has to do with OCHD, and so forth. Oh, MCT oil- studies suggest it is a quick helper to aging cognitive funciton. That having been said, I haven’t notice any cognitive decline in your current postings.

  56. Clifford,
    Thanks! I recently added CoQ10 to my regimen. As to my ADHD issues, I’ve lived with them all my life – though only diagnosed about 9 years ago (my children laughed at the diagnosis saying, “You didn’t know that already?”). It’s been helpful in allowing me to understand what’s going on in my head – why some things are difficult and how to work at dealing with them, etc. And, of course, the slowing down that comes with aging is a new factor. I’ve not seen any cognitive impairment yet, either. Just moving slower.

  57. And exercise and good diet. That’s key to aging well too. But I’ve been remiss in both I’m afraid.

    Thanks for the information Clifford! There are other aging readers such as myself who might benefit from your suggestions.

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