Naked and Ashamed: Dealing with It

The Scriptures record that Adam was ashamed and hid. It’s a primal response. Shame is experienced as a burning sense of exposure and vulnerability. It begs to be clothed upon and hidden. It is possible to say that human beings have been playing “dress-up” ever since. This can be understood in a literal manner as we wrap ourselves in fashion statements or tattoo identities on our skin. It can also be seen in an extended manner as we borrow identities from the various “tribes” with which we identify ourselves. In a very personal way, it is a thought that enters our head as we prepare to meet strangers, and even those whom we know, as we think about how we want to be seen and evaluated. It can be a minor distraction, or threaten to shut us down completely.

Many of our modern behaviors cluster around this reality. The more common, natural elements with which human beings have traditionally clothed themselves have either been radically modified or completely swept away amid the sea of constant change that marks our culture. I am encountering a growing number of young people (Middle School and above) who have lost confidence in their own gender, unsure whether it should be accepted at face value or traded in for one of the newer ways of being. That something so fundamental should be so easily questioned makes it little wonder that almost nothing else holds a grounded value. Today’s cultural clothing could become tomorrow’s naked shame.

A common response to all of this is to find islands of safety. Despite all the contrary rhetoric, contemporary Americans are not highly individualized: we are tribal, in the extreme. It is the group, however constructed, that gives identity, for the identity that is sought is one that covers us, that hides our vulnerability and gives us the safety of those who agree. A tell-tale sign of this dynamic is found in our culture’s anger. Anger is largely driven by shame and we can affirm our tribal protection only by shouting at the outsider. Everything outside the group threatens to unmask us. To an increasing extent, the group to which we belong is that set of people who share our anger.

I think about this dynamic particularly in the context of religious conversion and belonging. The process of conversion strips us of many things. It can feel alien and alienating. That itself can bring on a variety of efforts to “clothe” ourselves in ways that are less than helpful. T-shirts, coffee mugs, buttons and lots of icons, announce our new affiliation in much the same manner as our loyalty to a football team. On the emotional side, it is possible to become argumentative and aggressive or overly concerned about the boundaries of the Church. These responses are driven largely by our own neuroses and reveal things that need healing rather than nurture. It is not just conversion that produces such coverings – the personality needs of any individual, when expressed in religious terms, tend to flow along similar lines.

The Scriptures do not treat our desire to be “clothed upon” as a neurotic problem. That which is merely neurotic reflects something far more profound that is true and necessary. The nakedness of the soul, as we experience it, is a true nakedness. We have lost something that was/is proper to our very being. St. Paul describes this as being “clothed with the righteousness of Christ.” Or, more succinctly, “clothed with Christ.”

As many as been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. (Gal. 3:27)

It is our right and proper craving for this true covering that becomes distorted in our neurotic substitutes. That same covering is generally slow in its manifestation and presents itself in a mature form only with patience and endurance. Learning to bear with ourselves in the meantime is a very difficult thing.

The Elder Sophrony taught that we should “learn to bear a little shame.” Each of us, in our growth, must learn to be a “fool for Christ” in some small measure. There is a saying attributed to St. Thérèse of Lisieux (Roman Catholic) that puts this as well as I’ve heard it:

If you can bear serenely the trial of being displeasing to yourself, then you will be for Jesus a place of refuge.

God, give me the grace to put up with my weakness. Hide me under the shelter of Your wings.

 

59 comments:

  1. Adam was given ‘garments of skin’ for his protection. Dead skin. These garments were law, customs, mores, and countless other dead things, many of which are threadbare and showing their age. It seems that they’re only meant to last long enough for us to realize they are dead things.

  2. This is certainly one of the most difficult things with which to deal, Father. I love the quote from St. Thérèse of Lisieux, but I have a difficult time bearing with my own displeasing self, as she put it.

  3. Hmmm. I am contemplating the phrase: “To an increasing extent, the group to which we belong is that set of people who share our anger.”

    While I can see that in my past, it seems less and less controlling for me, I pray. Principally because I have less and less anger, except against my own sins, stupidity and laziness.

    My brother has been a real shinning example for me of not being angry (although he is surprised by that). I only remember one time in all the years that he has ever been angry at or with me. I have never seen him angry at any one else.

    Even in today’s unraveling civilization, I have difficulty being angry. Sad and confused for sure.

    My wife and I prayed St. Ephraim’s prayer together this morning:

    O Lord and Master of my life, take from me the spirit of sloth, despair, lust of power, and idle talk.
    But give rather the spirit of chastity, humility, patience, and love to Thy servant.
    sins, and not to judge my brother, for blessed art Thou, unto ages of ages. Amen
    .

    It had to suffice for our usual morning prayers because of the bodily pain we were both experiencing. I find it telling that the more physical and spiritual pain I experience in my soul and in my body, the less room I have for anger. It is easier to cry out for mercy for myself and others.

    Part of my loss of anger comes, also from a realization that I simply have no control over anyone else or what they do. Shoot, I seem to have precious little control over even my own actions.

    Mostly though it is a blessed decrease in fear given me by the mercy of Christ. It began at Pascha 2005, just 20 days after my wife of 24 years had reposed in pain. My priest and several members of my parish had gathered at her bedside and prayed as she died. As she breathed her last, the “miracles” began to occur. Both my son and I (we found out later) saw her Guardian Angel standing at her head as we prayed and as she reposed. I went to Pascha, deep in grief, feeling as if half my soul had been ripped out. I went out of duty more than anything.

    Then in the middle of the Pascha service, I was given the grace to experience the Resurrection of Jesus Christ in a whole new way. As He rose, He brought my late wife with Him. I have never shouted Christ is Risen the say tepid way since.

    Gradually over the years since, the fear of death has left me. I can say with Hamlet: “If it be now, ’tis not to come, if it is not to come, it will be now. If it be not now, yet it will come. The readiness is all.”

    In the last year an absolute faith in His providence has begun to actually take root in my heart as all remaining vestige of the fear of death is leaving my heart. As a result, I can pray (often at 3 in the morning unable to sleep due to bodily pain) “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me, a sinner” in simplicity and hope. A growing appreciated and experience of His Mercy has been the result.

    Our assistant priest yesterday gave the homily on what is necessary to come to Pascha in the right mind: Forgive and keep the Fast. Forgive and keep the Fast.

    May it be so for each of us.

  4. “clothed in lots of… icons”
    Hahaha, yep, that would be me!

    Many insights here to explore.
    Thank you, Father.

  5. As I have grown older, I have come to find that being angry is exhausting. Almost as exhausting as hating. When anger flashes up, as it will, I simply cannot maintain it. Hate is not something that flashes up for me very often, but when it does, it just flickers out pretty quickly. It’s not that I care any less about this or that. It just seems so unproductive to harbor anger and hatred. And so exhausting.

  6. I found your post very enlightening. I was an Episcopalian for 30 years, then recently converted to Orthodoxy. I realize I have been feeling “naked” as I have lost my old “tribe” and don’t yet really feel a part of the new one. I love the theology, the experience of worship etc. but have not grown comfortable with the “culture” of an Orthodox community. I see I should just relax – that I am beloved by God in my bare self. Perhaps feeling a sense of belonging will come eventually.

  7. Diane,
    My conversion to Orthodoxy from Episcopalian took years, but the actual events were sudden. I said my last Mass and preached my last sermon as an Episcopal priest one Sunday, and was Chrismated into the Orthodox Church the next Sunday and immediately placed in charge (as a layman) of the new OCA mission we were founding. That said, my nakedness and embarassment were terrible for quite some time. I was terribly aware of what I didn’t know, and could be very sensitive to criticisms on that account. I did not understand how I felt or why I felt it. A saving feature in my life, I think, was that I did not write for the first 8 years of Orthodoxy. It probably saved me from making a bigger fool of myself than I eventually have.

  8. Fr, could you give an example of what it means to “bear”? I understand that it requires feeling displeasure/the bad feelings associated with shame, but then what? What’s the action that follows feeling these feelings? Or is simply feeling them? I imagine it’s not just “feeling bad,” for if that were the case, all men already bear their shame.

  9. Thank you writing this Father. Do you feel like modern people have an entirely different idea about shame than older generations did? I like the comment you quoted above “learn to bear a little bit of shame”, but, and forgive me for generalizing, my concern is that we are taught by our modern culture to be very proud of who we are, what we stand for, and the various identifies we bear (weather that be via our careers, nationalities, sexual orientations, etc.). The modern zeitgeist is one of positive self expression and affirmation, as opposed to careful examination of what we should be shameful about and why accepting some shame can lead to spiritual growth. If you agree with this, how do you think we Orthodox can position shame in such a way that the modern man or women would not immediately reject?

  10. Fr. Stephen,
    Forgiveness Vespers is a perfect time to
    “bear a little shame.” Yet in the setting of true koinonia it was very easy to do. Asking others for forgiveness on this occasion is such a wonderful way to begin Lent…with a clean slate. I can very easily become overly sentimental, but I simply was overwhelmed this time during these vespers. Tears and embraces amidst smiles and love. I never experienced anything like this as a Protestant. I can see why you say that 95% of Orthodoxy is just showing up. When we show up with open hearts, God does the rest.

  11. Nes,
    To “bear” shame is to acknowledge it in the presence of God, not run from it, and, allow Him to comfort us. That “comfort” can take the form of forgiveness and absolution in confession. In some settings, such as a therapeutic, it can be acknowledging it and talking through it. It can also happen with someone close and trusted – in which case some sort of affirmation of who we are, in spite of the shameful thing, is helpful.

    It is not true that all mean already bear their shame – we run from those feelings, quite often, turning them into something else – feelings that are not as painful.

  12. There is nothing much that I can suggest to “modern” person, other than to turn away from the false promises and models of modernity and make the journey towards becoming, by grace, what God calls us to be. Modernity is utterly confused, just making stuff up as it goes, and selling it to a gullible public that believes whatever is offered to them

  13. Father,
    Is it not the case that ‘bearing a little shame’ is always the precursor to repentance? Those most unrepentant are perpetually denying and running from their shame while those most repentant are able by God’s grace to experience their wretchedness and with eyes to the cross know of God’s love.

  14. …..”I am encountering a growing number of young people (Middle School and above) who have lost confidence in their own gender, unsure whether it should be accepted at face value or traded in for one of the newer ways of being. That something so fundamental should be so easily questioned makes it little wonder that almost nothing else holds a grounded value. Today’s cultural clothing could become tomorrow’s naked shame.”,,,

    Thank you Fr Stephen for highlighting the truth of today’s culture.

    The tale of ‘The Emperor’s New Cloths’ springs to mind. It took the words of an innocent child to point out the truth of the nakedness of the emperor, and what followed was the shame of the emperor when he saw that he was naked, and the shame of the flatterers around him when they were caught out.
    How often children speak the truth as they see it when they are young, and how sad that they often are told to shut up and then learn not to trust what they see but believe in what they are told.

  15. JG,

    In dealing with a “modern mindset” concerning this, it is helpful to consider that modernity teaches that whatever we think is true and whatever we think of ourselves, our desires, is valid (as long as it conforms to the current paradigm).

    When speaking with people who, often unknowingly, possess that mindset, it is very important to be kind and not be perceived as “attacking” them. I’ve found it helpful to differentiate between Humanism and Christianity at the outset of any discussion. Humanism states that we define ourselves–what is true and natural is based on our desires and our will. For the Christian, Christ defines what is true and natural and we seek to conform our desires and will to His Will. This is a gentle separation which I have found helpful and which can lead to a useful discussion about the nature of repentance and, most importantly, defines us in salvation (there is no reason to be saved in Humanism). Above all though, be kind.

  16. In the midst of the fervent adherence to American ‘tribes’ it is rarely the case that gentle conversation ensues. Even if the language is tamed to appear polite, hearts remain bitter. Humility is not an American trait, at least not now if it ever was. In this culture, humility is weakness and weakness is intolerable. Few are able to keep their minds and hearts out of this quagmire. Judgement of others reins supreme and undergirds the edifice of a defensive and broken heart.

    May God hear our prayers and help and heal us. May God open our ears and our hearts. May God help us to empty our hearts of toxic shame, and the false cover of judgment, anger, pride and vanities.

  17. Dee, “humility is not an American trait..” The understatement of the year! .A quick read through the US Declaration of Independence makes that clear. I do not know about Canada but hubris is the defining attribute of the “modern” mind.

    The very idea that the human mind can accurately perceive the mysteries of creation and life without those things being revealed is astounding in its arrogance.

    The complimentary idea in the Orthodox world is that “I follow the Fathers”.
    I am sorry, but I have to be willing to humble myself and listen to my parish priest first without judgement. Whenever I have done that, I have learned. .
    I say this as a man who’s first priest was spiritually abusive and incompetent. He ended up leaving the Church. Yet during my first ever Great Entrance, it was clear that Christ was with him and in that place.

    Now, by that same Grace I have forgiven him and pray for him too. Even though my natural mind revolted at the idea. Lord have mercy on me, the sinner.

  18. Dee, Michael, et al
    America does not have a narrative for humility. We often bragged that we never lost a war, etc. And, even in these post-modern times, when a critical eye has been turned on certain aspects of the American narrative, it is not an eye of repentance, but of blame, anger, hatred, etc. We do not have a story for repentance.

    I contrast that with a number of other nations whose national consciousness includes profound stories of loss and such. Serbia’s most prominent narrative about the Battle of Kosovo, for example, includes “losing” as a profoundly Christian decision on the part of St. Tsar Lazar. Many Orthodox countries have been occupied by enemies for centuries, or suffered other such things. We have many icons whose intercessions are credited with deliverance from overwhelming odds – which is a very humble way to “win.” So, among the things that make Orthodoxy difficult for American converts (and others who have drunk deep from our national wells) is the difficulty in acquiring humility. To live in the “greatest” nation is, of course, a terrible self-delusion, to which many American converts now add being members of the “greatest” Church. What we know from Scripture is that the salvation of the “greatest” is deeply questionable.

  19. Fr, thank you for this post, especially your last comment. As you have often written, “the way up, is the way down.” Great insights here from you, Dee, Michael and others. Thank you all.

    Byron, thank you for your comment on the distinction between humanism and Christianity.

  20. Father, good way of putting it. Fortunately, life in the Church is beginning to teach me that I am nothing, yet Jesus has mercy on me even as I continue to sin. It is disorienting at times. Only taken 35 years to seriously begin. In some ways it is similar to being a new convert.

    May the humbling of Lent bring each of us closer to our Lord.

  21. Fr. Freeman,

    Isn’t part of the point of Adam’s shame in nakedness, the new shame of death? It’s amazing to me how perceptive/aware the Scripture is into our neuroses. The shame of nakedness is at least partially related to our mortality. There is no shame for the one who has life – instead it is a reserved intimacy/knowing mystically. The description in the Garden is between two people, not a large population (evolutionary projections aside because they make no real difference). There is a mystical knowing in nudity but in this case it is reserved. The shame takes place before God and (possibly each other), but even still, it is not the same as shame before many people as there are no other people in the narrative. I wonder if its a similar shame to being caught in adultery that is being described.

    I just say this because Paul speaks about ‘clothed’ in the sense of the Resurrection often. To be unclothed is to be without the body – the separation from body at death – and for Paul, if we remained in that state forever, never having reunification with the body, it would have been a type of hell for him.

    Yet, he says, that when we have taken off “this house”, “this body” – we do not wish to be found naked. We groan to be clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life.

    So, I guess my point is, the shame in the Garden is the shame of death, at least in part (maybe the whole because it expresses the fallout of death’s neurotic effects). And in this way, it fits within our overall soteriology. It fits within Pascha. The shame we experience is part of our death experience, but it is to be overcome at Pascha – and by the Holy Spirit as the Holy Spirit prepares us for the later experience (while we wait) of Resurrection. My concern is tracing our neuroses back to death, because if we know what our problem is, we at least know what we need to overcome it to some degree, and nothing short of Pascha will do.

  22. Matthew,
    Indeed, mortality is a form of nakedness. Our being clothed upon with immortality, light, righteousness – those terms are ultimately synonymous. Our experience of shame, identified with the nakedness of our bodies, can also be identified with the vulnerability of our personhood. It is far too often overlooked in our intimate relationships (which properly belong only in the union of marriage). There is, properly, a total giving of self, a total nakedness of self, in the act of marital union, something that can only take place with the greatest possible “safety” of love. This is, doubtless, frequently violated which leaves us feeling damaged, and, then, protective, so that couples approach one another with hidden elements of fear and reluctance. In such situations, our interactions become yet another in the multitude of actions that feed our mortality.

    When we think about all these things in terms of salvation (soteriology), I find that the image of union with Christ, manifest in resurrection of the body, clothed in immortality, in which it becomes a vehicle of light and life rather than a vehicle of death and disease, is the most all-encompassing way of thinking.

  23. So, Father, if we allow Jesus to overcome the fear of death in us by His Ressurection, shame diminishes?

  24. Michael,
    Yes, if we understand all of those terms in their fullness. “Overcome the fear of death” is thus a much larger thing than just being concerned about physically dying. The exposure of shame is itself a sort of death. Indeed, we have the colloquial expression of shame, “I could have died!” Or, “I would rather die than…”

    As we encounter Christ more and more deeply, all that we fear in our shame is exposed. This is why it is only done little by little (“bear a little shame”). All at once would be overwhelmingly impossible. I think of such exposure of shame in the presence of Christ as a kind of “burning the hay, wood, and stubble” in judgment. It is a purification. This is something that, most ideally, takes place in every encounter with Christ: in communion, in prayer, etc. So we pray, “Burn me not as I partake” in communion. We do not mean “don’t burn me at all” – but rather – “only burn up my shame, my hay, wood, and stubble,” but leave me (naked me) intact. Do not destroy me.

    I think part of the delusion of shame is that imagine ourselves to actually be the shameful stuff. We fear that if the shameful stuff were destroyed, we ourselves would be destroyed as well. But this is false. What is lost in our shame is the false self, a personality constructed out of neurotic fig leaves, that hides us from the truth of ourselves beneath it all.

    These are reasons why salvation is not sudden – but over a lifetime.

  25. Father I just wanted to express my gratitude for your and others’ response to my comment above.

    Through your and Michael’s response to my comment, I was reminded that what triggers my shame, especially when it comes to being Orthodox, is what the Orthodox (primarily priests but deacons and laity as well) say and do publicly as Christians. I’m more aware now of how this has been my trigger. My original explanation to those who knew me before I converted to Christianity was to say that Orthodox Christianity is different, not like other confessions. However, more often than not, Orthodox Christians publicly, especially in the political arena in the US, do not express views that are so easily distinguishable. There are indeed blessed exceptions, and to them I express such great gratitude.

    My shame is that I want Orthodoxy to show itself as being different, such that it would provide me some means to say that I have not personally given myself over to an American Christian milieu that I had encountered and resisted for most of my life (and still do my best to resist). However, when it shows itself to be not so different, I am indeed naked and ashamed.

    Apparently being Orthodox and Christian is still sufficiently new for me, relative to the decades I have lived outside the life, that it seems even after 6 years, that I’m still developing ‘my sea legs’ on these rocky seas in this Ark. No one promised me it would be perfect nor ‘better than’ other churches. But it is still the one, catholic and apostolic Church of old. She still holds her lamp trimmed, waiting and watchful for the Lord.

    Confession helps, prayers and alms help, but the Body and Blood of Christ in Divine Liturgy is my life line, lifting me up, especially when my heart is cast down and inconsolable. And last but not least, I ask St Herman for his humble prayers.

  26. Dee,
    The intertwining of Americanism (what else could I name it) with Christianity is quite deep. I sometimes think that such things should be named and renounced at our Baptism. That’s an extreme thought on my part. But the Emperor’s image often gets brought into the Temple and set where it should not be. It creates desolation of the soul.

    Indeed, St. Herman, pray for us. It should be noted that almost none of our American saints were born here – Matushka Olga is a good exception. God has sent to us un-American saints in order to create true American saints. That is a miracle, indeed. I do not think that many have even the slightest notion of what the “true America” looks like. CS Lewis played with the terms of Britain vs. Logres. Logres was the true of which Britain was but the merest shadow. The true American would be deeply endued with humility. Hard to imagine.

  27. Dee,
    This has to be a struggle for Orthodox believers in other lands also. I’m thinking of Orthodox in Russia, Greece, Serbia, etc. Our effort to lift the Church above country and politics is certainly not unique to us. Ioana, any thoughts from Romania if you read this?

  28. Thank you Father, and Dean for your loving responses.

    Personally, Father, I do like the idea of renouncing Americanism at our Baptism. Meanwhile, it seems I am indeed grieving. But in my tears, I have hope in our Lord.

  29. Dee, for myself I find much the same reaction that you do but I have come to believe that the Orthodox faith is hidden here in America. Just as Jesus is hidden in a way even in His public ministry. Those who have eyes to see, see.

    I have begun to understand that my own public actions are little different if I am honest. When I stand before our Lord, it is only His mercy that allows me not to turn away. It is only His mercy that overcomes what would be the death of my soul left to my own devices. Life flows from His well of mercy.

    The real embarrassment is that the things that kill my soul are so damned trivial and common.

    I can say though that your comments here over the years have always brought me joy. That is a fruitful witness.

  30. Father, if we renounced Americanism do the various ethnic folks have to renounce their ….isms?

    In fact, I think you have a hard time coming up with a succinct statement of what to renounce. Every …. ism? The faith of ideology?

    I do not disagree with you though. Americanism is, IMO, a faith in “the world” and our ability to save ourselves. Added to the hubris of politicians and the powerful and it turns messianic. It is madness of course but quite seductive nonetheless. It even draws in priests and bishops.

    Repentance and forgiveness are the key.

  31. Michael,
    Do take care to note that I described that as “an extreme thought” rather than something I would ask of anyone or advocate. However, I have, indeed, encountered wannabe inquirers whose political feelings were such that I thought that their conception of the Orthodox faith was being clouded. Orthodoxy is not a political tool or a “place-holder” of a political position. It’s not an absolute for me – but I would treat it like I would other emotional problems that might be flagged in the process of catechesis. That said, I’ve seen more than one Orthodox convert crash and burn through political passions. They can and do eat up souls. And that’s as true on the Left as on the Right.

    But, yes, the same problem is also problematic elsewhere in the world. The “nationalisms” of the 18th century were the reason that “phyletism” was condemned as a heresy. Nationalism is a very new thing (just as “nation states” are a new thing). It is part of modernity – and I think modernity is shot through with a wide variety of heresies and passion-driven narratives.

    “Except a man hate his mother and father, he cannot enter the Kingdom of God,” Jesus told us. That, of course, is an extreme statement, and, more or less, a teaching by hyperbole. But, it remains the case that lesser loves, if exalted to a place they do not belong, become idolatrous. The melding of religion and politics – a sort of “Christian America” is simply delusional. It is right to want everyone in America to be saved – just as everyone in the world. It is right to want a just government, and for the government to govern according to the laws of God. But American exceptionalism is specifically, a 19th invention of American Protestantism. I think that Orthodoxy should have very little in common with the hucksters of that century.

    Not being a Greek or a Russian, or a Serb, etc., I cannot speak as forthrightly about their problems – but I know they have them and I’ve read statements of hierarchs condemning certain ideas and behaviors.

    Orthodoxy in the East, however, has had a long history of subjugation and oppression. It is very much a world removed from most of our American experience. I try to remember that history when I encounter certain things and take it into account. But, as a son of American veterans and with ancestors who have been here since colonial times, I feel it encumbant to speak about the sins that “my people” are prone to. St Paul tells us that if we would judge ourselves we would not be condemned by God. It’s a simple matter of discernment.

    Love your country. Love it with a clean love, with a godly love, and not with the passions or delusion. Speak the truth, especially about yourself. Most people that I know in the Church from other countries, love where they come from, but also seem very aware of the irony and checkered-past of their homelands. “Americanism” (a term I’ve only coined in these comments) is treating one’s country dishonestly, or idealizing something that is not ideal. Love it, give it proper honor. But nothing more.

    I go back to my earlier statement. Just as CS Lewis made a distinction in a couple of his novels between “Britain” and “Logres” (which I would describe as the “mystical and true Britain,” so, I would posit that there is also America, and a “mystical and true America” which is hidden. It has to be discerned. I think that it is much harder to discern that America than it was for Lewis to discern Logres – for a variety of reasons – some of which have to do with the nature of mythology and such.

    Also, it is also the case that I’ve probably said to much on this topic already. Please forgive me (everyone) if I have given offense. What I am thinking about is this: how does God see America? What does that mystery look like? When is it most evident and revealed? When is it most hidden and distorted?

  32. Father, I think it is a topic that is germane but difficult to address without sliding into the abyss. The Evil One loves to inflame our political passions so that we turn on one another. For myself I find I can discuss such things only with a hard eye on my inward reactions.

    Caesar is perhaps asking for a good deal more than his coinage.

    I find many people who are concerned about that and retreating into a sort of Orthodoxy to assuage their fears.

  33. The real embarrassment is that the things that kill my soul are so damned trivial and common.

    Michael, if you are ever in a car with me when I am driving behind a slow driver, you will undoubtedly hear one who slays his own soul!

    Father, I recall a young woman on Facebook who asked me if I was a “patriot” after I made a statement concerning America that she didn’t like. After I answered “no”, she said she would have “spit in my face” if I had said yes. Nationalism is a very polarizing subject, it seems. “Cultish”, even. I don’t know if there is much benefit in asking “how does God see America?”; perhaps “how does God see Americans would be better? I don’t know. I try to think in terms of humans, as I find groupings of any kind too impersonal and divisive….

  34. As a fan of James Clavell’s books on Medieval Japan, I cannot help but see the parallel between the ritual suicide of seppuku and the public resignation by people in today’s so-called cancel culture. They cannot bear the shame of “inappropriate” comments often made years before.

  35. Byron, that’s one we have in common. Lord have mercy.
    Humans make groups. It is intrinsic to who we are. I am thinking of 2 Chronicles 7:14
    “If the people who are called by my Name shall humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways; then I will hear from heaven and forgive their sin and heal their land. ”
    I think in that perhaps only Russia has tried this at least a little bit.
    Forgive me.

  36. Father

    “Orthodoxy in the East, however, has had a long history of subjugation and oppression”.

    In a few days, on 25th March we celebrate 200 years since the Greek uprising against the Ottomans in 1821. Those we started that fight did so for faith and country (patrida in Greek), in that order. The words “patrida” and “patriot” have a sacred meaning for Greek Orthodox, whilst “patriot” has been transformed to an almost offensive word in the West.

  37. Nikolaos,
    I am cognizant of that anniversary drawing near. Like all human undertakings, there are layers. Some are good, some are dark. God give us strength for repentance and a love of the good.

  38. Father, it seems Romans 7:15 fits in here somewhere: “For what I am doing, I do not, I doo not understand. For what I will do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do. “

  39. Thank you all for your heartfelt, genuine and insightful comments. It was a melding of thought that served Fr. Stephen’s essay quite well.

  40. Michael

    The anniversary of the Greek fight for freedom, is the remembrance of a handful of truly Orthodox souls that undertook this effort with the firm belief that it was blessed by Christ and Panagia. It is not a remembrance of wrongs.

    The word “patrida” means more than “country”. It carries connotations of “motherhood”. It is the sweetest word for country in the same way that Panagia is the sweetest word for the Virgin Mary. The word patriot carries connotations of sonship relative to patrida.

    We sing the Akathist on Fridays this time of the year, in remembrance of Panagia, who intervened to save the Orthodox, not in anger towards the Avars whose memory has long gone.

  41. Nikolaos,
    I think that the American experience has no analog for Greek independence. We are mistaken, in the extreme, if we (Americans) imagine to be in any way similar to our American independence. It’s quite difference.

  42. Nikolaos, I was not commenting on the Greek Independence, simply on patriotism. Forgive me if I offended you. The Greek experience is unique. Historically it cannot be generalized. The American Revolution, for instance, had no such foundation.
    Patriotism, as an ideology, has a mythology about it that is often destructive of reality and humility. Often creating a built-in rememberance of wrongs.

  43. Fr. Freeman,

    I agree with you, that these things should be renounced at Baptism. I don’t think it’s extreme, except in the sense of pulling a rotten tooth, removing gangrene. Now I’m the extreme one. I find it quite sad that the Sunday of Orthodoxy in many churches, that they remove the portion of the anathemas. To me, it’s the same logic for not dismissing catechumens – at least in America. And the same reason for not requiring heresy to be denounced at Baptism. In fact, the catechumen being baptized, when they say the lines about renouncing ancient and modern heresies – how many of them would have been instructed as to what those are? The fact that the ancient church did call out heresies, while also affirming the validity of the faith of the catechumen before Baptism (to my knowledge it was generically presupposed that they were our brethren yet not fully, or not fully realized) – means there was a way to both be clear and loving at the same time. I think there are people who don’t think this is possible.

  44. Matthew,
    Strictly speaking, the anathemas are only to be pronounced at Cathedrals and monasteries. I will also observe that I find people enjoy the anathemas – which is perverse and sinful. They can easily be turned into tribal markers. They are more like the practice of public or general confession – which is practiced in some rare places. But there, the priest is naming sins, and we are agreeing with him in repentance because these are our sins.

    Good catechesis is necessary – but, I find that, too often, catechesis has only reached some corner of the mind and not touched the heart. Touching the heart is the “art” of pastoral care and a very difficult thing indeed.

    The sins and heresy that it is easy to renounce should not be of much interest to us. It is the sins and heresies of our hearts – that wrench a cry of “mercy!” from our lips that should interest us.

  45. Fr. Freeman,

    The anathemas – it’s not like enjoying bad entertainment. It’s not enjoyment at all. When I read St. Cyril’s catechetical lectures they are completely, utterly, pastoral. He has a sense of love for the catechumen that is – I don’t know what to call it – manly, motherly, on the lookout for danger, holding up the limp child despondent – that kind of love. And it is in this love that the heretics are discussed. This is exactly what I mean – the jump is – and maybe it is warranted because there are people who love damning others – that’s not my intention – it’s the pastoral one as pastoral is what I believe our general disposition as Christians is to be without assuming the role – the jump is to either/or. Either you’re loving or you’re hating. By then love gets redefined in a way St. Cyril and I’m guessing just about every other heresy defender would not recognize. It’s out of love for the person/catechumen, for Christ, for the parish, that they to the extent possible, they receive a thorough examination to find what will keep them with the parish from giving God right glory. I make no distinction between personal sin and heresy any longer. They are so interrelated it’s like a distinction without a difference. Personally, when I repent from my everyday sins, I realize now that I’m repenting of unbelief or of heresy. Believing wrong things about God or twisting my beliefs so to contextualize my sins in a lie and heresy – I just don’t see that a distinction needs emphasized. To repent of heresy is to repent of sin. Sin is often ignorance, so is heresy. But I agree, that without some understanding that heresy is often self-generated, self preferred, that it may be possible to renounce heresy and not renounce your own sins. But this is delusional.

  46. Matthew,
    I did not mean to suggest that you had any enjoyment in mind viz. the anathemas. I was simply commenting on what I’ve observed. But, there are reasons that the typicon only calls for them to be read aloud in a certain context. I trust the typicon in that matter. Good catechesis is essential in the faith. For myself, in preparing candidates to be received in the Church, it was important to help them understand their “personal heresies” and renounce them. Preparation for an initial confession should include this. Pastoral stuff is always the truly difficult matter in our lives.

  47. Fr. Freeman,

    I wasn’t sure but wanted to explain myself. I didn’t know they were only to be read in Cathedrals and monasteries. But maybe you can understand why I would assume that they were omitted because they might be embarrassing. My mistake either way. I have such little knowledge as to what is universally practiced in catechesis. But, what you describe, I only see it as helpful. It is a diagnostic. Really getting at the root of who you are, why you do what you do, why you think… etc. – if you know it – it’s helpful – even if you cannot conquer whatever it is. It’s like being adopted and never knowing who your real parents were. If you find out, even if there is no reconnection, there is some closure and a way forward. I think it’s like an identity crisis. Even though you may not seemingly make the progress you desire, at least you know why you are who you are – at least in some respect.

  48. I personally felt a little uncomfortable reciting the anathemas as a catechumen. I felt I was not well versed enough to truly understand what I was saying and I worried I was falling into behavior that I generally don’t do- which is shouting slogans in a crowd of people. When I brought my husband this year, I was glad we skipped it, since he is not Orthodox and might easily get the wrong impression. He had no problem holding an icon and walking around the church.

    Obviously this is your blog Father Freeman, but I was hoping maybe one day you could dig a little bit deeper on the distinction between mammon/money and how we are to use riches. I have been investing for years and have started to accumulate more personal wealth. This Lent I have tried to give more money away than usual, but am wondering about stockpiling large amounts of money, even if they are due to some good personal habits. Thank you in advance,

    Laurie

  49. Demonstrating affection and veneration in the form of kissing an icon, when I first came into the Church, was a bit of a hurdle for me. But I noticed that overtime a shift in my heart and what ‘I see’ in the icon and in turn receiving what the icon gives, not only made veneration ever easier, but it became part of my ‘daily bread.’

  50. Hello, thank you for writing a beautiful treatise on shame.

    I find this message extremely reassuring. As I have heard you remark before that it is in our weakness that God comes to us. Your message about the objective qualities of ones personality are also full of infinite love and acceptance. It comes through, and it is healing.

    Here is some of my shame for what ever it is worth. I am 27 years old from Nova Scotia Canada. I was brought up Baptist, more or less, though I was only in church on days I spend the Saturday night at my friends house. When I was 14, I did a school project on ancient Egyptian mythology. Noticing the striking parallels to Christianity, despite its more archaic guise, I began to ask questions (to folks in my small town of less than 2000) that no-one could answer in a satisfying way. Combine this with my modern scientific upbringing, I am certainly a son of modernity.

    I was told I could be what ever I want, that my opinions matter, that I was full of potential and I was to go out into the world and help make it better. By the time I actually graduated high school, I was completely at odds with the story I was being told, I was performing in heavy metal bands (yes the big loud growly yelly kind) and I went on to music school to hone my abilities. I was going to be a rock star you see!

    I sacrificed everything to that end. I was dating a young christian girl at the time and we frequently got into fights (I was much more active in them) because I fell out of my faith and no longer believed. By the end of it, I had lost all my bands, a number of friends, that girl, and many other things. I was starting to feel cheated of this “you can be what ever you want” fantasy I was raised on.

    I eventually went traveling across Canada with no money and no real plan. It was an excersise in faith in the broadest sense, I was all hyped up on mystical experiences induced by mushrooms and I was one of the modern-hippy-yoga crowd. Trying to make a go of it by posting new-age hippy things on Instagram.

    This adventure, by the end of it, was certainly exciting, fulfilling, dangerous, and certainly a purging of some wild energy in me, but it too left me empty inside, sad, lonely, guilty, all the sort.

    By the time I returned, I was drinking everyday, smoking weed constantly, and getting up to no good pretty much all the time. The one saving salvation I picked up along the journey was a strong work ethic (I worked from town to town) and faith in my wellbeing based on many strange experiences on the road, which lead me to believe that some strange force was at work, protecting me as I went, which I took for granted and took advantage of.

    I got a job with a small roofing company and proceeded to roof full time all summer and winter, I froze and burned myself over and over until I nearly broke my body. I think some part of me was trying to work myself to death. Finally, inspired by Jordan Peterson, I managed to quite drinking at least, applied to University at 25 and got accepted. I was going to be a Clinical Psychologist.

    I am nearing the end of my all online 2nd year of university, where I am studying very neuroscience heavy psychology and taking a minor in Esoteric and Occult traditions… ya know, to stay balanced?

    Here is the crux, last year, while writing my final essay of the year on Kierkegaard, It struck me like lightening inside that I believed in God. I was actually frustrated at this, as a budding scientist, I was very comfortable saying “There can be no proof one way or the other” but suddenly I had belief forced upon me. How else could one describe this but by the work of the Holy Spirit?

    But then here we are, a year later. I listened to Jonathan Pageau’s latest conversation with Jordan Peterson. Long story short, that sent me through a worm hole where it occurred to me that I must be a Christian, of some sort, whether I liked it or not. That I actually believed in the message and mode of being which is Orthodox Christianity. This frustrated me still more, since my logical mind has been slowly massaged into a point of meeting my soul in this realization.

    I am still not baptized, I still struggle with a lot of what that might mean, but where else have I found the sort of infinite love which Christianity focuses on. The humility, the weeping at the glory of Being, and to fathom a God whom willingly was crucified out of his love for all of creation. I could no longer deny the power of this story.

    Forgive me for this self indulgent rambling. I am still as much a sinner as I ever was, but I am no longer trying to force myself not to be, I am trying to settle into the humiliation which is self awareness, truth, and acceptance. I still smoke pot, I still procrastinate, I still get mad. Most of my friends are atheists or new-age and I feel like an outcast. I have only told one friend of mine that I fear I might actually be a Christian after all. Somehow, I find myself living in that luminous kingdom more and more, by the grace of God. Like Dostoevsky’s Idiot.

    Thank you for your attention. And for welcoming a heretic like myself.

  51. Taran,
    I find stories, such as your own, interesting – God comes looking for us. It shatters so much of our false narratives. May He give you grace as you continue your journey!

  52. Taran,
    Forgive me I had to chuckle. My path wasn’t quite like yours, but in some respects, close enough. I knew I always believed in God, but just not the one society (or western society in particular) talks about.

    I was very resistant to becoming a Christian, when in fact I was beginning to realize that the Gospel of Christ was real and true. It didn’t take a leap of faith but a decision to drop the fear, shame, and associated cover of pride. Then as I entered the Orthodox Church, and began to be taught to pray, I prayed everyday in the Orthodox way, and yet still, I didn’t want to call myself religious. Slowly this changed. I didn’t force anything.

    My advice for what it’s worth: go slow and listen to the Lord’s voice. He waits, knocks, loves and is ever patient.

  53. Dear Taran,
    I’ll also add that the “chuckle” was all about my recognizing myself in you and seeing how I was then in hindsight. But living through that experience wasn’t at all easy. In fact, if felt like and was a form of death. Death to the life I lived, and birth into a new life in Christ. Even a day before my baptism I experienced a crisis asking myself whether this was the right thing for me to do. It highly impacted the peace and joy I had had in my marriage, which thanks be to God still remains intact and loving. But that dramatic change in my life was certainly more than just a ripple.

    My prayers are with you.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *