When America Got Sick

It was in the years following the Civil War, America was hard on the path to “becoming great.” The industrial revolution had moved into full swing, railroads criss-crossed the country, immigration was gaining speed, and wealth was accumulating at a rate never seen before. We were slowly moving from our original agrarian economy towards life as an industrial nation. The middle-class was growing, education was increasing, and the life of management was the aspiration of many. We were also getting sick in new ways.

In 1868, the first article on the term neurasthenia was published. Though the word had been around some thirty years, it was making its debut as a more wide-spread diagnosis. The symptoms associated with it were: fatigue, anxiety, headache, heart palpitations, high blood pressure, neuralgia, and depressed mood. If all of that sounds familiar, it’s because it never went away. We simply call it by different names now. And, speaking of names, William James (Varieties of Religious Experience), called it “Americanitis.”

This “disease” was blamed on a variety of causes. Many of them had to do with the modern lifestyle and more generalized circumstances of our existence. America, in the late 1800’s was already “losing its religion.” There was some vague sense that the religious ideas of earlier times (America’s earlier times) were inadequate. There were many new denominations (results of the various revivals of the 19th century). There were also a large wave of cult-like movements (Jehovah’s Witnesses, Seventh Day Adventists, Christian Science, etc.). Pentecostalism had much of its birth during this same period. Of little note to some was the rise of Anglo-Catholicism in this period, a movement within mainline Anglican thought that looked back to times prior to the Reformation for its inspiration. A number of leading figures in things like the Arts and Crafts Movement came from this religious background. They were looking for an older spiritual model (and an economic model) to treat the disease that modernity had unleashed.

It has to be acknowledged, I think, that many of us today are inheritors of the same interior sense that “something is wrong.” Early in the 20th century, writers such as GK Chesterton and Hilaire Belloc offered crititicisms of “modernity” drawn from a traditional, Catholic worldview. Serious thinkers have continued that same narrative (not all of them Christian) ever since. And so we have Modern Man in Search of a Soul (Jung, 1933), Man’s Search for Meaning (Frankl, 1946), and other such major works, decade by decade, fumbling towards a way of speaking about the emptiness of modern life. The modern liberation movements, as well as the youth movements of the 60’s should be read in this same light even though their critiques, in time, were themselves to become symptomatic of modernity.

A tragic attempt to address the malaise of modern neurasthenia was a sense that American men were growing too soft and unmanly towards the end of the 19th century. There were conversations that spoke of the need for a “good war” and of a “great cause” to regenerate what had become lacking. Such sentiments certainly played a large role in the Spanish-American War, the unabashed launch of America’s soft colonialism. The themes of that time have been replayed in every subsequent conflict. Whether we have been “making the world safe for democracy” or simply uninstalling various hostile regimes, variations of the same explanations and marketing have accompanied our efforts. Such explanations were plausible in World War II, but have rung increasingly hollow ever since.

Having largely lost our religion(s), modernity has seen fit to create new ones. If we wonder what constitutes a modern religion (or efforts to create one) we need look no further than our public liturgies. Various months of the year are now designated as holy seasons set-aside to honor various oppressed groups or causes. It is an effort to liturgize the nation as the bringer and guardian of justice in the world, an effort that seeks to renew our sense of mission and to portray our nation as something that we believe in. It must be noted that as a nation, we have not been content to be one among many. We have found it necessary to “believe” in our country. It is a symptom of religious bankruptcy. As often as not, major sports events (Super Bowls) are pressed into duty as bearers of significance and meaning. The pious liturgies that surround them have become pathetic as they try ever-harder to say things that simply are not true or do not matter. This game is not important – it’s just a game.

The difficulty with engineered religions, or causes that serve as substitutes, is that they fail to transcend. Regardless of how great many moments or ideas might be, they easily die a thousand deaths as their many non-transcendent failures come to mind. In the late 1960’s, the singer Peggy Lee registered a hit single, “Is that all there is?” It is a song with the lilt of a French chanson, à la Edith Piaf. It moves through the great moments of life, including love and even death itself, but offers its sad refrain:

Is that all there is, is that all there is?
If that’s all there is my friends, then let’s keep dancing
Let’s break out the booze and have a ball
If that’s all there is

This is our context, the world of modernity. It is also our sickness, an empty lassitude whose hunger invites never-ending experiments of conferring meaning on our world. The “better world” that modernity pursues shifts relentlessly and changes as though it were directed by Paris fashionistas. At the same time, it is met with increasing anger and frustration, a predictable response to what are essentially imposed religious views.

William James offered the interesting observation that war is a “sacrament” of the nation state. He had in mind the larger conflicts of his time. War grants a unity and a sense of purpose and participation to the country that is almost unrivaled. In our time, the response to the attack of 911 comes the closest to that sacramental purpose. However, with conflicts that dragged on for two decades, it began to wane in its effectiveness. It remains a touchstone at present, an event to which others are compared in efforts to foster another occasion of sacramental war. All of these sacramental efforts and the public liturgies that surround them, however, fail to serve any transcendent purpose. The nation state and modernity itself (which is primarily a form of economic activity) simply do not and cannot rise to the level of eternal significance. Indeed, their ultimate banality mocks us.

I am often asked, when writing on this topic, what response Christians should make. What do we do about the state? How do we respond to modernity? For the state – quit “believing” in it. We are commanded in Scripture to pray for those in authority. We are not commanded to make the state better or participate in its projects. We are commanded to serve our neighbors as we fulfill the law of God. However, I think it is important to work at “clearing the fog” of modern propaganda regarding the place of the nation state in the scheme of things. I would frame a response to modernity in this manner: we are not responsible for foreign religions. Though Christian language and carefully selected ideas are often employed in the selling of modernity’s many projects, it is a mistake to honor its false claims. Make no mistake, modernity will offer no credit, in the end, to Christ, the Church, or to people of faith. Its interests lie elsewhere.

The proper response to these things will seem modest. Live the life of the Church. The cure of modernity’s neurasthenia is found not in yet one more successful project, but in the long work of salvation set in our midst in Christ’s death and resurrection. Our faith is not a chaplaincy to the culture, or a mere artifact of an older world. The Church is the Body of Christ into which all things will be gathered, both in heaven and on earth. It is the Way of Life as well as a way of life. It is not given to us to control how we are seen by the world, or whether the world thinks us useful. It is for us to be swallowed up by Christ and to manifest His salvation to the world. We were told from the very beginning that would should be patient, just as we were promised from the beginning that we would suffer with Christ.

I think the sickness that haunts our culture is that we fail to know and see what is good and to give thanks for the grace that permeates all things. When that is forgotten, nothing will satisfy, nothing will transcend. There is no better world to be built, nor great wars to be won. There is today, and that is enough.

___

Picture: Liberty is sick. by godffiti

87 comments:

  1. This one really resonates with me. Your reference to the song, “Is That All There Is?” says it all. Over the decades it’s depressing message becomes more relevant than ever. So sad. We worship the material in the USA much more than most countries I’ve been to. Can this sick nation be healed, or is it terminal? Is this all we are? Is that all there is?

  2. Katy,
    I do not think that the nation, as a nation, can be healed, though I’m willing for God to surprise me. In many ways, I think the nation state is a false construct and that we see it and think about out of a kind of sickness that utterly permeates our culture. There is a reason Christ gave us the Church. That is the instrument and location of salvation. When I grieve about our nation, it is like a grief for a lost dream that should not have been dreamt in the first place. On the other hand, the glory that exists within the Church, renewed day by day, despite our sins and misdeeds, shines ever brighter.

  3. The line “content to be one among many” really struck me as illustrative of the sickness… a sort of constant reaffirmation of one’s self against the world which can only lead to an insane solipsism. I think I recognize it in myself which is why it so palpable. “Be an ordinary person, one of the human race.” My insides strike back against that idea, because it feels like becoming nothing, like dying.

  4. I have been moving away from much of what you describe in one way or another most of my life but the movement has been funereal. It took the political excitement around COVID to move me further away. I do not watch sports any more. The “news” I see even more as a catalog of human failing.

    I love murder mysteries because evil is defeated, at least a small piece.

    I pray more and have seem to have found a personal prayer rule that accompanies me throughout the day.

    The fruit of the prayer rule seems to be joy and peace as well as sorrow and repentance. Indeed, in that time of prayer is the only place there is peace.

  5. Jordan,
    You’re so on point. It is obvious, though, that we are just ordinary persons, one of the human race, no different of no greater value than any other. It is God who give each of us infinite value.

    I have been making my way through the book, The Enchantment of Mammon, an 800 page masterwork, treating the rise of modernity in America (from particular angles). It is an in-depth exploration of some of this stuff, filled with references and the sort of historical analysis that is too rare these days (when’s the last time any of us worked our way through an 800 page tome?). I was blown away by the exploration of James’ observation of war as a sacrament of the nation state. Yesterday was the anniversary of D-Day. I noted how, in my social media, the remembrance of it was used, like a Eucharistic anaphora, to affirm the state (I do not mean to diminish the bravery of those good soldiers). But our sacramental memes – in which such sacrifice is used to underwrite the emptiness of our lifestyle – is a profound example of our sickness.

  6. “ Our faith is not a chaplaincy to the culture, or a mere artifact of an older world. The Church is the Body of Christ into which all things will be gathered, both in heaven and on earth.” One of the most important things the Church needs to realize, lest we end up feeling “irrelevant.”

  7. Fr. Hatton, a good reminder. The Sacraments bring healing, if I go and participate. Yesterday, not only did rhe Divine Liturgy bring me energy
    and joy, but I actually got to sit and share coffee with our Bishop in coffee hour since we are a cathedral parish. I also got to share a fun moment with my priest over theme of his sermon: Being a Dinosaur (according to the world).

  8. Many of our Christian cultural commentators see a great danger in us moderns becoming people ‘from nowhere’, with no ties of loyalty or love to our own nation-state, as we participate in the new life of globalization and digitalization. What are your thoughts on the proper love for one’s home versus the idolatry of the nation-state?

  9. Thank you Father .
    In the world but not of the world .
    Hard sometimes trying to explain why I’m going to Mass on a monday , Im told “but you only went yesterday” .
    Alot of people here in uk think it’s quaint going to Church on sunday ,but during the week is obsessive.
    But it’s the hospital for my soul and i struggle without it. I need the physical stand up kneel stand up kneel with other people ,as my brain jumps all over the place during prayer at home .
    Thanks for this blog Father .
    God bless all. Dave

  10. SP,
    That’s a very interesting question. Natural affections are, like all things in our lives, subject of great blessing and endangered by abuse. Love of our own land and people is like the love of family (and related to it, no doubt). But it is something of an artificial construct when compared to the natural life of the family. If you live, for example, near the border of a nation state, how is that people on the other side of that border, just a mile or two away, are somehow more distant than those of your nation who live 2,000 miles away. You share the same weather, and much else (including genetics, likely).

    To a certain extent, Christ overcomes the false boundaries of our lives (“neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, Scythian nor Barbarian,” etc.). That, however, is not the same thing as globalization – in which our commonality is nothing more than the world-wide exploitation of an economic system. Buying fish in my local Walmart, grown in ponds in China, is about as artificial as it gets – not representing a proper integration and caring for one another – but simply the wasteful exploitation of global resources. Those fish (to continue with the example), are frozen and shipped in a container vessel across an entire ocean and continent, and are somehow cheaper than something local?

    It should not require the disease of nationalism to reject such artifical economic constructs.

    I contrast that to my Church ties to China. I have Christian friends in China and pray for their well-being. Those are bonds of love (not money). The same should characterize our families and others around us. Ties that are born of love are not the same as ties born of fear or money. Scripture tells us that we are all of “one blood.” (Acts 17:26)

    Patriotism can have elements of love within it – but I would think that it is largely a passion, in need of self-examination and sifting.

  11. Many of the principals of the Old Testament were strangers in a strange land. Their identity came from God. That was so strong that Jesus told His Disciples to “dust off thier feet” against anyone who did not receive them(Mt 10). That is symbolic severing of all ties, I believe. A hard saying.

  12. Father Stephen
    Thank you Father it is a blessing for sure .
    I wonder how many of the people who comment and read this blog feel like they where born a few hundred years to late .These really are terrible times with everything our christian ancestors believed and built under attack .But as said already Christ will gather all things together.
    Has you have said before “we have one job too pray”
    Dave

  13. I read recently of a letter to Little League coaches that stated “gender transcends biology”. 0ur culture is desperate, it seems, for some form of transcendence and it looks to the human mind to find it. It is odd that it finds comfort in the subjective and insubstantial, but it makes a certain amount of sense when one realizes that any discourse–especially any deep, challenging discourse–about life is often seen as confrontational or even abusive. The insubstantial cannot be argued. Mostly, it seems, people want easy, lazy transcendence that they can control. I think this speaks to the “..fatigue, anxiety, headache, heart palpitations, high blood pressure, neuralgia, and depressed mood…” of which the article speaks. We are worn down as a race.

  14. Byron,
    These various sorts of assertions (“gender transcends biology”) are “religious” statements, with little to no grounding in science whatsoever. Worse still, they are state-imposed religious assertions whose only reality is the force behind them. As such, they are deeply violent. “War is the sacrament of the nation state.”

    Whenever, in history, Christianity has used the state’s violence to assert itself, it was inherently emptying itself of any transcendence. I think of the recent tragedy uncovered in Canada of the forced-removal of native Americans with the assistance of some Christian groups. Alaska has seen this same tawdry history (not on the part of Orthodoxy – which has an almost opposite history). America did not want Orthodox Christians in Alaska for fear of a latent loyalty to Russia. Of course, elsewhere, Orthodoxy has not been without sin in its history.

    My late Archbishop Dmitri, when asked about the Church existing as a “state church” said, “We have never found it to work out.” I think of this whenever Orthodox Christians begin to pine for the days of Byzantium or Holy Russia, etc. The Russian state, under the Tsars, was toxic to the Church. Was it ever different? Perhaps. But one has to look far and wide and, even then, overlook many things to say otherwise.

  15. Father, sometimes the attraction of the state in we Orthodox is a form of sympathetic magic. Of course all such things are forbidden by the Church but there is a pervasive animism in the human psyche that sees power as safety. Such faith seems to be at the heart of so-called modernism.

    Of course one of the lures of such “magic” is that we still retain command and control and still “transcend”. The illogic is obvious but seldom seen and those that call attention to it are not often liked.

    Lord have mercy on us.

  16. ” The cure of modernity’s neurasthenia is found not in yet one more successful project, but in the long work of salvation set in our midst in Christ’s death and resurrection.”

    This made me think of the title of Eugene Peterson’s book, “A Long Obedience in the Same Direction”. It has always seemed to me that this fact is what makes the gate to life so narrow – not that no one can fit through it, but that no one can fit through it while carrying all the baggage of their hopes and dreams of how things oughta be. “Why would I want to settle for that little gate when there is a whole world of possibility out there?”

    The truth is simply too long, too boring and too real. I submit that God set it up this way on purpose. It is only after a person accepts these things and walks through the gate that they find and perceive Paradise.

  17. Let us try this again in an easier to read format:
    For many years now, these lyrics have resonated in my soul, both for myself and for our nation. They have chastened my youthful enthusiasm (I am of your age) and tempered my later years with the injunction that “tomorrow’s gonna be another working day” in the vineyard of life, where, indeed, one gives glory to God for all things.

    “American Tune”.
    Many’s the time I’ve been mistaken
    And many times confused
    Yes, and I’ve often felt forsaken
    And certainly misused
    But I’m all right, I’m all right
    I’m just weary to my bones
    Still, you don’t expect to be
    Bright and bon vivant
    So far away from home, so far away from home

    And I don’t know a soul who’s not been battered
    I don’t have a friend who feels at ease
    I don’t know a dream that’s not been shattered or driven to its knees
    But it’s all right, it’s all right
    For we’ve lived so well so long
    Still, when I think of the road we’re traveling on
    I wonder what’s gone wrong
    I can’t help it, I wonder what’s gone wrong

    And I dreamed I was dying
    I dreamed that my soul rose unexpectedly
    And looking back down at me
    Smiled reassuringly
    And I dreamed I was flying
    And high up above my eyes could clearly see
    The Statue of Liberty
    Sailing away to sea
    And I dreamed I was flying

    We come on the ship they call the Mayflower
    We come on the ship that sailed the moon
    We come in the age’s most uncertain hour and sing an American tune
    But it’s all right, it’s all right
    You can’t be forever blessed
    Still, tomorrow’s going to be another working day
    And I’m trying to get some rest
    That’s all, I’m trying to get some rest

    ~ Paul Simon

  18. Thank you Father for this article. For an immigrant from a former Soviet country who slowly became disillusioned by the American culture and values, you described the reasons and processes very well.

    David Mansfield,

    “Hard sometimes trying to explain why I’m going to Mass on a monday , Im told “but you only went yesterday” .

    Fr. Zacharias of Essex (of all of us, your are closest to him geographically 🙂 ) says that we go to Church “not to fulfill some ritualistic obligation, but to be with Christ”. That’s why you go Sunday, and then again Monday, if you can…

    As I drive to church past crowded neighborhoods of boutique breweries, outdoor games in the parks or antique car show gatherings, for a seemingly excessively long Saturday evening Vigil at church, I can only thank God for opening my eyes to know what is really important in this life. But maybe one needs to be old and broken by life to reach this state.

    Or maybe, as Drew says, “The truth is simply too long, too boring and too real.” And God indeed set it up this way to try us, to sort us. We first need to engage in “deep, challenging discourse …. – often seen as confrontational or even abusive” with ourselves. “Easy, lazy transcendence that they can control” is so much easier and does not require death to old self.

  19. Agata,
    Thank you so much for your comment. It touches on something that has bothered me and you described it well in your last paragraph.

  20. Is modernity fundamentally unique as a heresy, or is it just a culturally effective distraction that we find easy to internalize, in order to mask the original perception, via some disappointment or some confusion, that something is not quite right? That other cultures would have different masks, perhaps just as effective, in their context, as the modernist heresy?
    Surely people throughout human history have been searching for ways to distract themselves from following the path to salvation?

  21. Father
    Thanks as always, for your shining a light on why so many; Christians and nonbelievers have deep sense that something very wrong yet , almost imperceptible, is occurring.I am wondering if you have any Retreats or talks scheduled .

    Sincerely

    Adrian Reid

  22. Coming from England and now living in NEw Zealand, I’m not really in a position to comment, except to say that that particuar malaise spread much further afield. I may well eb wrong, but the other day something came to me, something in a sense I saw; that Protestant Christianity by putting ‘The Meaning’ into a book, simultaneously emptied the world of meaning. This is another way of saying that it invented the secularism against which so many now inveigh.

  23. Ook, modernity is fundamentally the belief that we human beings are self-creating and do not need God or repentance, Grace or mercy. Although linked to technological change, modernity is not about that. It began with The Fall. Over the last, roughly, two hundred years we have become increasingly unmoored. Our passions running wild. Now the most basic reality “Male and female created He them” are doubted and subject to being ” fixed. We are living in a nihilistic age and what Nietzsche called “The Transvaluation of all Values”. He was the prophet of the Evil One.

    The “fix” lies in repentance and saying “Thy will, not mine be done”. Lest this seems dire snd dark we are also told to “Fear not, I am with you even unto the end of the world”.
    It is not easy as even Jesus in His humanity cried out: “My God, My God, Why hast Thou forsaken me?”

  24. Ook,
    Modernity is unique in many ways, in that it has a particular historical context. GK Chesterton described it as “the virtues gone mad.” In many ways, its primary disease is that it is “post-Christian” – that is – it is a historical condition that has come about as Christianity has fragmented and ceased to serve as a common life in the culture. But, there are lots of flotsam and jetsam – bits and pieces of Christianity that float around and get used for one thing and another.

    No doubt, all of human history has been marked by many distractions, although, I think, not like modernity. Most of human history has required more real effort to live. Our affluence at this particular time brings unique problems with it as well. Modernity inherits from Christianity (as a bit of its detritus) things like an undefined eschatology (we think there must be a purpose – which “needs” something like progress to fulfill that aching). We have notions about freedom and the value of the individual – but they have lost their mooring and get defined in unhelpful ways. We inherited a deep compassion, but, again, it is so ill-defined that we kill babies and the elderly in its name.

    To be a Christian requires the Church, and nothing less. Only the Church, in its fullness, can help us find wholeness in the Whole Christ.

  25. Eric,
    Modernity began as an American/European phenomenon. Europe, I think, succombed more slowly because of its inheritance. America left most of that behind. But, America today is a cultural empire, exporting itself everywhere. It’s interesting to note (I was thinking about this today) that although China is fast becoming a rival super-power, it is only as an economic entity. It is not exporting Chinese culture. Indeed, it is slowly importing American culture.

    I like your observation about Meaning confined to a book. I immediately thought of the saying of Abba Anthony (I believe), who, when asked about his books by a visiting philosopher said, “My book, O Philosopher, is the world.”

  26. Thank you, Father Stephen – Christ is Risen! (In my little church we greeted one another so up until the Eve of the Ascension, so forgive me for continuing that practice.)
    I felt during my reading of your timely piece that as with all our historical perturbations in the great Church , the outpourings of consequence that have followed are manifestations of illness which otherwise manage to be contained, and as such are hopeful signs.
    As New Zealand was mentioned above, that is my native land, and there during the period you describe Anglicanism split into ‘low’ and ‘high’ church, and all protestant denominations basically merged into one another. So that when I was a child I moved from one to another Sunday School indiscriminately, though not into ‘high’ church circles as my family wasn’t ‘high’ as far as social status.
    However, one time a ‘high’ cleric came to our primary school and asked each of us in class to recite the Lord’s Prayer. I was the only person who could say it end to end. I say this not to boast but to show that even with indiscriminate and vastly diverse protestant background, the instinct was to look for and hold fast what is good.
    I don’t think there were Orthodox in New Zealand at that time – if there were, my grandmother (part maori) would have searched them out, I feel sure. Somewhere she got ‘blessed handkerchiefs’ when we had a cold, a red cross sewn into each corner. I have no idea where those came from. And she told me that to read the difficult work, Saint John’s Apocalypse, would provide a blessing – so I did.
    I have grown up in this sick time, and eventually I did find Orthodoxy.
    If we pray that prayer, I believe it will lead us home. It did me.

  27. Father,
    I commonly imagine Modernity as a ‘spirit’, almost tantamount to ‘the spirit of the Antichrist’ (the antichrist defined as the [worldly] “caricature of Christ”).
    But then again, Modernity is also rather indistinguishable from Secularism too. And ever so related to ‘Progressivism’ as well. Its distinctive quality, that of being “post-Christian”, or better still, of being a sort of ‘non-Christian christianity’, means that almost any and all ideologies of the last few centuries, springing up from the once formally Christianised western world, (such as Communism, Capitalism, Progressivism, Social Darwinism, Intersectionality, Technocracy, Theosophy, Globalism, Transhumanism, etc ) all fall into being mere parts of this “caricatured Christianity” – a Christianity without the Crucified One.
    Once again it all fits well with the classic interpretation of χξς΄ or ΧΞΣ (the original Greek writing of 666 as the antichrist’s name) as symbolising Χ (Christ) Ξ (without) Σ (Stavros – Cross).
    What is worth noting is that many believers and ecclesiastical figures do not escape the multifarious influences of this ‘spirit’.

  28. ‘the spirit of the Antichrist’ (the antichrist defined as the [worldly] “caricature of Christ”)…. Its distinctive quality, that of being “post-Christian”, or better still, of being a sort of ‘non-Christian christianity’

    Dino, this is perhaps the best characterization of what I see happening in the United States right now. It is a life without repentance; without the cross.

  29. Dino,
    Thank you so much for your reflections— food for the grieving heart. Your description of the anti-Christ and the spirit of the times is helpful. Indeed, Christ without the cross is very similar to the reflections that Agata wrote above.

    It seems to me that a great difficulty for westerners (formed by western-culture based theology) entering Orthodoxy, are looking for the promised land of their own (and western theology-based) making—failing to appreciate the deep and Christ-and-cross-based paradise in the Orthodox Church. As a result, they feel that they are not “home’ and they are restless looking for God. Rather than do the work of tilling the soil of their own soul, they focus their attention on externals and point to those externals as the reason for their discomfort.

    These are hard lessons that I had to learn myself and with God’s grace learn slowly to overcome. For example clerical dress was one of my initial focus that stirred my uncertainty (how terribly superficial!). Yet such ‘disturbance’ led me to realize the value of the traditional in the Church and from that small voice reminded me of my soul (not mental-emotional) needs. Psalm 131 (130 in Septuagint) describes this.

  30. Dee, Dino and Byron,

    Your comments made me remember this quote (below). I have no idea who this person who said it is, but the book (from 1937!) title point to what concerned him:

    “A God without wrath brought men without sin into a Kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a Cross.”

    ― H. Richard Niebuhr, The Kingdom of God in America

    (a little googling gives a result like this one – https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/justin-taylor/theological-liberalism/ – where an non-believer applauds theological liberalism thanks to which nobody is interested in being a Christian any more – the final and compete victory of antichrist [my conclusion :-)] )

  31. The debunking of the old and the installation of the new (read: the debunking of authentic, crucificial Christianity and installation of a new order of this ‘caricatured’, Cross-less de-Christianised-Christianity) is not something that will just occur suddenly for the prophesied three and a half years of the antichrist’s global reign. It is something that needs a long time to become entrenched enough, in order for one ruler to come and ‘sit upon it’. So what we see in the spirit of the times is clearly related to the scriptural warnings of increasing global apostasy. But, the love of the crucificial aspect of genuine Christianity, is where all our winning power lies. So we best fight by fighting our own souls’ ‘Cross-less’ godlessness.

  32. Drew!

    “ The truth is simply too long, too boring and too real. I submit that God set it up this way on purpose. It is only after a person accepts these things and walks through the gate that they find and perceive Paradise.”

    I simply cannot get over the beauty of this amazing paragraph you wrote… I’d hug you if I could (sorry Father if this is not appropriate, but that’s the truth of my consoled heart, these words have helped me deal with something very heartbreaking at the moment).
    I pray God blesses you and rewards you, for sharing these words here.

    That together with Dino’s:
    “ But, the love of the crucificial aspect of genuine Christianity, is where all our winning power lies. So we best fight by fighting our own souls’ ‘Cross-less’ godlessness.”
    is enough for my personal journey forward, towards the end this life and Eternity with Christ.

  33. Just a note to everyone:
    I did some “tidying up” this morning with the comments (eliminating a conversation). I was with my wife at the ER for about 9 hours yesterday (she’s doing fine and is back home). It left me with bad wifi and only my phone for handling the blog. It also made it too difficult to really engage the conversation.

    Regarding the times in which we live – I do not favor speculation on the end of things. I think it is a distracting topic. It is good for us to disengage from such speculations and concentrate on how we live in the present and keep Christ’s commandments.

    St. John, who wrote the Apocalypse, also said in his first epistle that “many antichrists” had already gone out into the world. If that was true in the First century, then it’s certainly true now. This is to say that there has never been a time in which Christians were not being confronted with such spirits.

    “Overcome evil by doing good.” It is important, I think, for us to learn to discern what is good. Much of the evil around us makes a claim to be good (that’s what makes it “anti-Christ”).

    It’s also important to note that Christ said, “Let not your hearts be troubled.” What is the place of “untroubled” faith? I’ll be writing on this later this week.

  34. Father, may our Lord’s blessings continue with both you and your wife. As someone who has already lived the vast majority of my life here I am quite aware of the entropy that is part of the physical life. That is why I love the Orthodox prayer that at the ending of my physical life that I have a Christian ending : painless, blameless and peaceful with a good defense before the dread judgement seat of Christ.
    It is possible only through the mercy of Jesus.
    In that sense each day and each minute is my “last days”. I certainly have no shortage of tribulation and struggle within my own heart with many manifestations of the anti-Christ. So I can only supplicate my Lord, Jesus Christ to have mercy on me, a sinner.
    May His mercy and Grace abound in your life and in your wife’s.

  35. Fr. Stephen,
    Glad your wife is better. I’m sure, like all of us, she could use our prayers.
    Thank you for your stable and sane remarks, here thinking of the Lord’s second coming and anti-Christs. Yes, it is so easy to be caught up in such speculations and fail to meet life in the present. But the present is all we have. For me, my own “second coming” of Christ will not be far off, just because of my age. That is a certainty, and for that coming I need to be ready. What you noted earlier on shame and conspiracy theories has stayed with me. People do not want to face the shame of their own ignorance of what is happening in the world nor that of the shame of not being able to control what is going on. To me such theories and speculation about the Lord’s coming are interrelated. They do the heart no good.

  36. I too am thankful for your wife’s (and your) health, Father! May God hold you both close.

  37. Dear Father,
    My God continue to grant you and your wife healing, joy, health and peace. I’m always thanking God for your ministry and for your patience (especially with me!!). I’m very grateful for this community of commentators as well. I learn from you all and I’m grateful for all of you and ask all of you for your patience as I grow in the faith.

    Dear Father, your work here is very important, and may God grant you many more years in this work.

    Love in Christ,
    Dee

  38. Father,
    Thank God you are both back home after that latest little ordeal!
    I hear what you are saying regarding prophetic speculations, but I lately can’t help also reflecting that balance [in both directions] might need a bit of a mention here, not just warnings against the overdone eschatological speculative fixations.
    It is a tricky balance of course.
    Just as I have repeatedly perceived, what you mentioned in your comment, i.e.: how too much attention to ‘end-time-prophecies’ can become an evidently unhealthy preoccupation (a troubling ‘distraction’ from the one thing needful), so too, have I similarly noticed something more subtle occurring lately (which receives fewer caveats): a too intense or overtly entitled rejection of the aforementioned unhealthy end-times-fixation (i.e.: when the ‘pendulum’ swings too much the other way if you like). This can likewise become practically quite unhealthy – and noticeably quite untraditional too. However, as mentioned it is a very fine balance.
    Fundamentally, any fanaticism/preoccupation, coming from either end of the ‘spectrum’, –even a fanaticism with spiritual health itself – is in danger of becoming unhealthy at all times. The rightful caveats regarding overdone “eschatologicalism”, when verging on rigidity (there has been this tendency to push towards the extremes in either of the opposing camps recently) is not quite traditional; especially considering how profoundly deep-rooted the prophetic charisma has always been in our Christian faith.
    There patently are more “screechy voices” on the eschatologically-preoccupied camp, however, the recent push-back to this, has also, on occasion, gone too far in the other direction, receiving little discerning/balanced push-back.
    We end up with greater polarisation as a result, and it is a rare voice that calmly calls to balanced unity while acknowledging both sides and demeaning none.

  39. Father,
    Thank God Matushaka is ok. May He grant you both good health and many blessed years, and May He grant me to see you both again soon. 🙂

    I must say I’m disappointed you removed my comment about you doing the work of Fr. Tom Hopko. I pray to Fr. Tom directly to help you in your important ministry. 🙂
    You should visit us in Minneapolis and meet Fr. Tom’s grandson Zach, who is now our wonderful choir director!

  40. I better mention additionally that your voice Father is clearly not in the ‘unbalanced camp’ but rooted very much in fine balance, formidably so, in case anyone misinterprets my comment..

  41. Agata,
    My thoughts viz. your comparison to Fr. Tom, were that I fall so far short of such a thing as to be, more or less, embarassed by such thoughts. I think his work has been more “dispersed” since his death. I have to say that I depend on a fair number of other priests whose thoughts and judgments are sound and mature, many of them former students of his, to help keep myself on a proper track. Orthodoxy is always “synodal” in its life. Fr. Tom (son-in-law of Fr. Alexander Schmemann) had his own circle of touch-stones, one of whom was my late Archbishop Dmitri. Your own Dean, Fr. Andrew Morbey, is one of the sanest minds that I know of in the Church, and someone whose judgment I easily seek.

    When I first became Orthodox, I remember hearing jokes about the “Schmemann clan” because he had sons-in-law and grandsons as priests. The extended family was quite impressive within the Church. In truth, it’s part of Orthodox tradition. I have a ROCOR priest acquaintance who is a 12-generation priest! Within my first decade of the priesthood, two of my daughters were married to priests (one of whom has since left the priesthood). The other son-in-law’s father and brother are priests. I used to joke with Fr. Tom that we were trying to catch up with him!

    One thing I have seen in Orthodoxy is that it’s a “small world.” Despite being the 2nd largest group of Christians in the world, you still tend to know a lot of people and have connections to ever so many!

    I should add, in conclusion, that the synodality of the Church extends beyond the ranks of the clergy. Mat. Juliana Schmemann was a voice of sanity and spiritual health in her own right. There are a number of laity, here and there, whose thoughts and judgments are of deep importance to me (my own wife’s being, perhaps, chief among them).

  42. Dino,
    You’re very kind! Balance is always difficult – there’s a “sweet spot” when walking a tight rope – everything else leads to a fall. Christ crucified is the true “sweet spot” of our life!

  43. Father Stephen,

    In Canada, where I live, post-modern ideas of gender, and LGBT are threatening to be enforced as part of some kind of state ideology. Often I wonder why, but after reading this article it seems fairly obvious. These are new truths that will help build a new enlightened, open and tolerant society. Naturally, those who oppose this “brave new world” are ignorant and hateful and backward. It becomes even more clear then, that a Christian cannot put any hope in the state, and that the economics that allow such a situation to continue must be done away with. It may be that the the end is already in sight. Soon, only millionaires will have the means to own a proper home, and the rest of us will either be living in the streets or struggling to pay crippling rent. This kind of situation cannot exist in a so-called liberal democracy, so either we begin backing away from it or we become an oligarchy. In any case, the facade of the enlightened and caring nation state is taking on serious cracks!

  44. Fr. Nicholas,
    We are in an interesting cultural moment when the religious/moral sense of neo-liberalism is at a particular peak. It’s had other peaks in the past, but this new one is quite fierce sometimes and perhaps even capable of brutal implementation. I think it is useful for us (even necessary) to understand the “religious” nature of what is going on – including the fact that those who are engaging in this will borrow Christian terms as often as not. But their new “orthodoxy” will often come with a sledge hammer.

    I think of my past among the Anglicans. At first, things like women’s ordination or gay marriage, were only asking for a seat at the table. But, so soon as they gained an ascendancy, they were extremely brutal in enforcing their new orthodoxy. Interestingly, the “old orthodoxy” (which was largely the Christian tradition) was always asked to be tolerant and to allow dissent. But the new orthodoxy can allow no dissent, apparently.

    I get notes and complaints from some because I do not raise my voice and call for fighting, etc. The reason is simple: I believe that the fight is always nothing more than taking up the Cross of Christ. No one can make me be unfaithful to Him unless I allow that. They will, indeed, seek to take our children or to control them. But this has been true from the beginning. It is, I think, the greatest temptation.

    It is a fiery trial – but, in the end, a fire that purifies, if we are faithful to Christ and His Cross. How long and how deep will our suffering be? Who knows? But, we should encourage one another and assume the meekness that belongs to our profession. God give you grace!

  45. Father Nicholas, human governments always end in tyranny of some sort. That is the nature of even the smallest exercise in government.
    When they come for us and demand we ordain women, “marry” whomever and whatever desires together, the only real choice is martyrdom. I was reading a story about some of the early martyrs in Russia. They were taken to the woods in the middle of winter, 23 of them. They were asked in succession, Do you believe in God. As each answered ‘yes’ they were shot in the head. Obviously, some survived who witnessed their sacrifice. Probably one of the guards.

    It seems to be more subtle these days but it really is not.

  46. SO much is excellent here! And then we get to this: “We are not commanded to make the state better or participate in its projects.” Oh, but we are indeed so commanded! For in this unique Democratic Republic WE literally ARE the state, all of us who are U.S. citizens, and first and foremost as citizens of His heavenly kingdom we are commanded to be “salt and light” in this world, to be “in the world but not of the world.” Yes, assuredly, looking only heavenward for our meaning, hope, and salvation! But striving while in this world to obey our Lord by spreading the gospel and making use of every legal and moral (by God’s law) opportunity we have to protect Christ-followers from the oppression of our own state of which we are each an equal part in responsibility for better or for worse, and also of course to aid and protect the poor and downtrodden in every real physical and spiritual way. We reject “modernity” and the “religion of state” chiefly by realizing that in the USA we are a part of it and thus responsible to use our voice, our vote, to time, and our energy to direct souls to the Gospel which is the only true hope. Each of us is very much a part of “the king” of this land, and to turn our backs on this opportunity which we have been granted and challenged to make the most of by our Savior is to spit out His very body and blood. We should not be surprised when He also spits us out as “lukewarm.” If you haven’t been “canceled”, or if those who happily dwell in darkness doesn’t despise you personally, you’ve lost your saltiness. Stay faithful, my friends!

  47. Dino,

    Balance is always important, and the fail-safe is humility. Think of it with this mental picture: If you’re afraid of falling because of losing your balance, then the nearer you are to the ground, the less distance you’ll have to fall.

    Just so with end-times speculations. There are many interesting ideas that show promise and bring hope, but at the end of the ideas where we run out of any sure footing, it is best to stop and use Fr. Stephen’s phrase: “I don’t know anything about that.” and then look up to Him.

    Ultimately we are children and will forever find our place there. Even as we become masters, all will remained balanced only if we continually return to sit at His feet looking up, rather than taking a position on a throne looking down. We will never lose the need to allow Him to lead us.

    I know you know this, but I also know the temptation to go further afield than we ought never gets old.

  48. Semper Fi,
    I appreciate your point of view and acknowledge that it is a way that many look at our situation. Where I take exception is the confusion of the US Constitution with the commandments of Christ. I use the term “commanded” to refer to Christ’s commandments, which are not embodied in the documents of the US state. We are told that “We are the state.” But that is not something that Christ has told us. Thus, it’s something that has to be examined critically. The Soviet Union was described as the “people’s republic,” though it was a complete fiction. I suggest that much of the rhetoric that surrounds the US is mythology – our own unique form of enchantment – that is not quite true.

    Nonetheless, I would not argue against your assertion that we may “make use of every legal and moral (by God’s law) opportunity we have to protect Christ-followers from the oppression of our own state…” I think the example of St. Paul’s use of Roman law at certain points echoes that (though he was still finally executed – but with a sword which was his “right” as a Roman citizen).

    Having said that, however, I would note that many Christians use this approach and are soon swallowed up in the mythologies of our political system, in which they finally become as cynical as those whom they oppose, enthusiastically (and often uncritically) supporting their own “lesser evil” as though it represented a Christian solution.

    You say that “we reject modernity and the religion of the state chiefly by realizing that” – and you go on to cite American political theory. Again, though I understand what you’re saying, it seems to me to be an acceptance of American political theory into the gospel of Christ. We cannot vote people into being righteous. I well agree that we can vote, etc., to protect to weak and innocent, etc., as we are able. But, make no mistake, America does not represent a unique opportunity. Democracy (or Republican democracy) has as many pitfalls as many other political forms. Our nation is not exceptional, nor has it been singled out for special divine favor. Those exceptionalist notions are, I think, Christian heresies, created by American protestantism.

    The “salt and light” that we are granted by Christ is not fulfilled by the right to vote. America is what it is at present, complete with all its flaws, because a dominantly Christian culture made it this way. I think the deeper problem is that we long ago failed to understand what salt and light truly are.

    But I much appreciate your thoughts. I would add, as an afterthought, that I am not a political liberal, nor something that can be put on the American spectrum. Political thought is too reductionist to give an account of what it means to be a Christian. Until Christians begin to live a truly deep, sacramental existence, following the commandments of Christ in our daily lives, our votes will be nothing more than one more thing to be manipulated by the masters of this democracy.

    I will note, for example, that roughly the same percentage of Catholics, Evangelicals, and Orthodox, get abortions as non-believers. There’s not a lot of salt or light in that. As much as I can, I am writing to address the hearts of the faithful from the depths of Orthodox Christianity. I will acknowledge that I don’t think there’s much to be done at the ballot box to heal what ails our republic – the choices we are given never address the real problems – much less anything approaching the gospel. Nonetheless, you are right, in that there are things we can do to help protect many (and much of that is outside the ballot box).

    Forgive me if my thoughts give offense.

  49. I think the pathos of this song by The Bravery reflects this in today’s youth:
    “Believe”
    The faces all around me they don’t smile they just crack
    Waiting for our ship to come but our ships not coming back
    We do our time like pennies in a jar
    What are we saving for [x2]

    There’s a smell of stale fear that’s reeking from our skins.
    The drinking never stops because the drinks absolve our sins
    We sit and grow our roots into the floor
    But what are we waiting for? [x2]

    [chorus:]
    So give me something to believe
    Cause I am living just to breathe
    And I need something more
    To keep on breathing for
    So give me something to believe

    Something’s always coming you can hear it in the ground
    It swells into the air
    With the rising
    Rising sound
    And never comes but shakes the boards and rattles all the doors
    What are we waiting for [x2]
    [chorus]
    I am hiding from some beast
    But the beast was always here
    Watching without eyes
    Because the beast is just my fear
    That I am just nothing
    Now its just what I’ve become
    What am I waiting for
    Its already done

  50. Fr. Stephen,
    In response to your comments to Semper Fi.
    I served in the Air Force for four years right out of High School (by fluke I enlisted on the day of the Tonkin Gulf incident). In the liturgy we pray for the armed forces. My wife and I have 3 nephews and one niece currently on active duty. What exactly are we praying for there?

  51. Dean,
    I haven’t been in the forces, nevertheless I teach many who are in the forces. Of course we care for their lives and ask God for their protection. Nevertheless, I agree with Father’s perspective. Our armed forces do more to support the power of the state. And I sincerely do not believe the top priority of the powers of the state is a Christian agenda, regardless of their self descriptions. Rather, I look to the fruit, the behavior, the means to the so called ‘good ends’ they claim to achieve, and as far as I know these are lacking in the ways of Christ.

    As a counterpoint to generations of enlisted, both sides of my family were objectors to war –for generations, albeit my mother’s Seminole side likely fought against the US military at one point or another. My father’s side was/is Quaker since the first ancestors landed in William Penn’s boat and did not participate in wars (including the Civil War). My grandfather served in WWI as a conscientious objector, and yet he served as an ambulance driver at the front lines, and my father was a conscientious objector in WWII but served as a radar specialist for the Army-Airforce. Neither of these men expressed pride in the state nor in their contributions to the war effort. They did their best regardless. My uncle, my father’s brother, enlisted in WWII and was excited to leave the farm to do the patriotic act of a soldier. He was stationed in the active war in Africa. He came back psychologically damaged and angry and insisted on the futility of war, discouraging my curiosity to enlist. My mother’s brother, fought in WWII and was shot, received a medal (don’t remember which one), and he too had nothing positive to say about his patriotic role in the war effort. Instead, he said something to the effect that he entered as a young man and left as an old man, the destruction he faced and participated in, led him to alcoholism.

    Christ commandments are quite clear. Also I believe what Father has said is true to the Orthodox Way and it seems to me he has said these things as delicately as one might, given the likely push-back in our polemically laden cultural divides among those of us who are politically oriented.

  52. Dee,
    You are a faithful sister in Christ. Thank you for the response. What you say is true. My uncle served in Italy in WWII and received two silver stars for bravery in recovering wounded under heavy fire. Yet this young farm boy never spoke of the army afterwards. A brother-in-law served in Vietnam. He is also reticent to talk about it. I was fortunate. During Vietnam I was stationed stateside with one year in remote Alaska. We do pray for our loved one’s safety who serve, especially that their hearts remain pliable to Christ’s wooing.

  53. Dean,
    St. Basil, in his liturgy, has this:

    Remember, O Lord, this country and all civil authorities. Grant them a secure and lasting peace. Speak good things into their hearts concerning Your Church and all Your people, that we, in their tranquillity, may lead a calm and peaceful life in all godliness and sanctity.

    That pretty much sums up what we are praying for regarding governing authorities and the armed forces (which are like a police arm of the state). We pray for peace – secure and lasting. We pray that they will have good things in their hearts concerning the Church and its people (that they do not persecute us). All of this, so that we may live a calm and peaceful life in all godliness and sanctity.

    Obviously, we are always concerned that a government make just laws – though if the hearts of people are unjust, then the laws will always be perverted.

    There is, nowhere in the Scriptures, a grand vision for political projects, much less promises concerning them. Instead, there is a teaching of respect and prayer, and, where possible, obedience and honor. But, on the whole, the Scripture does not hold out high expectations for governments. The Kingdom of Israel was far more often in breach of God’s commandments than anything else.

    American was born out of Protestant religious movements that wanted to achieve here what they had not achieved in Europe. It’s been a complicated history, in which only 17 years have been without war for us. We are not what we say we are, but have been, for a very long time, a product of advertising in which our story (as we would like it to be told) is sold to us again and again.

    It is certainly possible to serve in the military and do good work. The Church provides priests for the chaplaincy of the armed forces. But, I think St. Basil’s prayers sort of spell things out.

  54. Thank you Fr. Stephen. St. Basil’s prayer is one I need to read and reread (and make my own). It is very helpful to my heart.

  55. Dean,
    There’s some interesting thoughts in Timothy Patitsas, The Ethics of Beauty, on the healing of soldiers (he was reflecting on the book, Achilles in Vietnam). My father-in-law, of blessed memory, made his way across Europe with a carbine in his hand. His entire unit was wiped out in the Battle of the Bulge. He missed the battle because of an appendicitis attack – something he clearly saw later as God’s providence. Other than that, he never spoke of the war. I have ministered to many soldiers through the years and heard their war confessions. Indeed, it is good to pray for a lasting and secure peace.

  56. Semper Fi, I reiterate that all human government ends on tyranny. It is the entropy of life outside Christ. The US Founders knew that truth to a degree but through a glass darkly. Even though they proclaimed that it is “self-evident” that “all men are created equal” they did nothing to address the self-evident hypocrisy they shared concerning that statement. They kicked down the road. If they had not there would have been no Revolution. The War Between the States or the War of Northern Aggression or the oximoronic sounding Civil War.
    It ended the truly unique political foundation of a Union of States and began an experiment in multiple forms of rule by citizens. All of which have failed. We have come to a form of government not that different from “The Committee of Public Safety” in France after its Revolution.

    The United States of America as you remember it was always a bit of a myth but it does not even exist any more. It had no identifiable end point, it just petered out.

    Now, if I vote there is no assurance that my vote will even be counted. Plus I can think of no one or political party that I can support in conscience. The mind of the World has eaten them all.
    The only political group I support is The Tenth Amendment Center. But it is a rear guard at best. They too will be consumed at some point.

    So, I am left with prayer and repentance for all the evil done in my name and to which I have, in many ways, given my assent. Truly, I am little different from Madam Defarge.
    Forgive me a sinner.

  57. It’s the passions, isn’t it? Not the government, the state or American football. It’s the passions. I’ve been working on losing “the passion”. And by passion I mean lies. All the stories we tell to ourselves about how we can change the world, about our role in everything. I don’t know, all these things we are simply imagining. That is not to say we do not have a role. We all do, but only God has the full picture, so why worry about it? Alternatively, we could just do what we are asked to do or what needs to be done, in the place and time God put us. I think the only one who can carry or receive our passion is Christ. Nobody else and nothing else. Perhaps I got this wrong, father? People would say that you need passion to create or to be an artist. You should be “passionate” about your music, they say. But I’m not so sure about this. I read somewhere that Dinu Lipatti, the brilliant Romanian pianist, when he was practicing for a piece, if he noticed that he was getting emotional about it, he would stop for a few days until his emotions cleared up and then started all over. He said he was interested in finding a way to play the music the way it was written, not the way he saw it. It was hard work.

  58. Of course, you could also passionately love somebody, but I think it is better if you just love them. Same goes for… everything. 🙂

  59. Learnt and was reminded of a lot from the comments here. Poems were apt too.

    Michael Bauman, murder mysteries are one of the genre of film I have most watched and enjoyed. I have never done much reflection on why this is so, but I have been spurred to do so from your comment, so I felt I would like to thank you as so far it seems a very interesting question. You do seem very active in the comments of Fr. Stephen blog. I hope you have many friends at your parish, I do and it is such a tremendous blessing for me at the moment. If not may you bear that well.

    Father, I just finished reading Man’s Search for Meaning by Victor Frankl, and found it to be a profound and worthwhile read for me. Examining the book from my fresh Orthodox phronema as well as my past experiences and perspective was enlightening. Not sure if this is relevant, but if I had not found Orthodoxy so soon, I think I likely would have turned to the work of Carl Jung, as at that time I was comfortable with ‘mixing’ my Christianity with other things. Now I have the Saints of the Holy Orthodox Church who to me are more than philosophers, psychologists, theologians but the spiritual heroes who guide me on the straight and narrow path.

  60. A very interesting conversation going on here. There is much polarisation in the world, especially in Western so called democracies. Many Christians are drawn into this, due to their political leanings.
    It is very hard to follow the Royal Way and go neither to the left hand or the right hand.
    I do believe that once we get political and take sides, we have in effect cast aside our cross and taken up the sword, so to speak.

  61. I would like to add, that I have been following Fr. Stephen’s blog for some time and have found the comment section to be well balanced, fair and respectful. I have not commented on any website for a number of years, due to the fact that on some Christian websites, there seems to be a cabal in the comment section, that descend into invective and personal insult if they disagree with what you have posted.
    Thank you all.

  62. Anonymo,
    I am, by nature, a preacher. Fr. Stephen is exceedingly generous but also a firm teacher. I have been blessed to have several in person encounters with him when he has visited my parish. He has been a source of good spiritual guidence. I also love to write.

    Writing helps me codify and make sense of my own thoughts and occasionally is a source of inspiration.

    Participating here has also taught me the beginnings of prayer.
    I find that friends come when I am busy doing something else.

    In four years, if I make it, I will have been Orthodox more than half of my life.
    I find that age and simply being in the Church, attending on the Sacraments has done wonders for me. God has given me so much even though I do not deserve it. That is what I like to write about. I decided from the beginning to post with my real name to help hold my self accountable. When I am wrong I want people to be able to call me on it personally.

    I have spent a good portion of my life studying American history but chose to follow God instead of pursing a career in it. It is still an avocation.
    Live the life of the Church as completely and fully as you can. Let God, in His mercy, take care of the rest.

    The Morning Prayer of St Philaret of Moscow I have found helpful.

    My affinity for murder mysteries has also helped me investigate the mystery within more dispassionately.

    May you continue to follow the blessings of God and the Church always. Especially when it becomes uncomfortable.

  63. Dear Fr Stephen,
    A blessed feast of the Ascension!
    One of my friends was a missionary to Russia in the 2000s as a Protestant (now an Orthodox Christian!), and he recently helped me and my wife understand the difference between true Orthodox patriotism and our American, distorted patriotism.
    Recent Saints like St.Paisios, Elder Thaddeus of Serbia, and St. Nikolai Velomirovich were very proud of their countries and spoke of them with great love – as do many Russians, Greeks, Serbs etc today. But this isn’t because they love their country’s governments – it is because they love the *land* – the actual physical, naturally beautiful area they call home, with all its local regions and its peoples. The government to them is more a necessary evil than a messianic force like it is here for many in the States.

  64. Luke thank you for that insight. There really is no American people. Never has been. The country was kept together by force of arms even though, Constitutionally, the South had every right to secede.

  65. It is possible to play or perform or compose music from the level of one’s passions. I think we see that a lot in the popular music of our time. It is also possible to play, perform, or compose music from a non-passion inner stance, from whatever the stance is that one has in God at the time. These are two different types of approaches to music entirely. I think one has to have enough of a holy passion, if there is such a thing, to carry on the often solitary task of composing, practicing, and other musical tasks. Perhaps passion is the wrong word – inspiration maybe is a better word, or the driving motivation of living in the Spirit. Without that it is difficult to stay the course and do the often time-consuming, sometimes difficult, sometimes frustrating tasks that are involved in becoming a good musician or composer, unless one is a genius, and then it is still frustrating if one cannot compose or play all that one is capable of within one lifetime. These are not easy paths. When playing or singing the music someone else has composed, the best performances to me are the ones where the musician’s ego is out of the way entirely, and the musician becomes a vehicle for what the composer was trying to express. I don’t necessarily want to be aware of the performer, just wanting to live in the sound space and connect with Life. This is why I think it matters how one is involved with music, and from which aspect of oneself, unless the music glorifies God in some way (not necessarily having to be church music), because there is a sense in which one becomes one with the music as performer or listener and that is a problem if the music is inspired by or inspires the passions or is rooted in other than the Spirit. It matters what the composer was doing, and whether the composer composed out of inspiration from God or not. If the inspiration is from God or glorifies God, then the musician, depending on competence and ability to express what is in the music, is not the focus at all, and the listener can be transported to the Source and be in the Spirit. Such music is more than what the composer or the performer together create at its best. Music that is not composed out of the passions has its own wavelength, so to speak, and it is a high one, seraphic at its heights. I do think that music can carry the fire of the Spirit, which is not the same thing as the passions — and such music is especially effective. I think music can be composed out of the fire of the Spirit, I think of the Holy Fire that does not burn, otherwise the musician, the vehicle, would be “burned up”. Sadly, one can think of musicians who have come too close to the fire or the wrong kind of fire and have not survived. These things are hard to put into words. In music, God’s being where two or more are gathered together is a real thing, and at its best, the two are more than the sum of the parts because of God’s image and presence in them and their interaction, God is magnified I guess. I agree with the pianist cited that it is a hard task to set one’s ego out of the way enough to let the Spirit breathe in the music, whatever the role one has with respect to a composition, and one always has to work on it. This path, though, is a way of repentance and spiritual growth as it requires a brutal honesty with oneself and where one is at any particular moment with one’s passions and sins. I think it is impossible to be in God in doing music if one is too immersed in sin. But I also think that coming back to the practice of whatever music one is doing every day, and constantly trying again, and continually trying to be open to the Spirit and honing one’s skills and competence, is a lot like solitary monastic practice, done in solitude and under direction from God. I am guilty of giving up for periods of time, but my soul is always in a better place when I get back to the practice. I always come back to Bach as an exemplar of this way of composing and performing music, as it is always elevating and fresh each time one performs one of his compositions and that says a lot about the state of his soul and spirit in the creative act. There are other composers, too – Vivaldi comes to mind, Handel, Gregorian chant, Hildegard, Rodrigo, the list goes on. Something to which to aspire. I very much appreciate the opportunity to reflect on these topics here, as it is a chance to try to capture elusive thoughts and experiences; I don’t know what I think clearly sometimes until I try to express it and find I have a point of view. So, thanks, all.

  66. My late wife was a musician. Due to life circumstances she was never able to develop and train her native gift but she was a musician nonetheless. For awhile after we were received into the Church she was the chanter and choir director but it was too soon and some of the ethnic members made life difficult. Nonetheless when she sang, there was always an angelic feel to it. She did not sing for herself. She grew up playing the clarinet. When she played it, music came out that was better than the instrument we were able to get for her.

  67. Luke,
    I had learned the same thing from a Russian friend. In a conversation, I told him that it was a common saying that American soldiers in war died for buddy next to them. He said that for Russians, it was the “Rodina.” (I understood that to mean the “Motherland.”) He clarified by saying, “Rodina is the dirt.” It’s the soil. That is an extremely ancient sentiment – more sacramental. Certainly far older than political loyalties. In my experience, politics will lead you to betray the soil – almost every time. In America, dirt is something you buy and sell, and nothing more.

  68. Seraphima,
    Thank you so much for your thoughts on this! BTW, are you familiar with the compositions of Benedict Sheehan? He teaches at St. Tikhon’s Seminary, and is writing some wonderful music for the Church. Here is a link to his Cherubic Hymn.

  69. I know of Sheehan’s music but have not delved into it much. I will listen to that. . . . I love the clarinettist’s music being more than the instrument — really, that is the way it is for all of us musicians. Michael, you wife must have been close to God to sing angelically. We are imperfect vehicles a lot of the time (there is nothing worse than realizing one’s imperfections in the middle of a performance and the whole thing crashes from lack of self-confidence :)), but God shines (or “sounds”?) in our weakness, imperfections and vulnerabilities. And credentials are only one path to becoming a musician, despite what our world thinks.

  70. Seraphima,
    Thank you for the beautiful comment on music. I loved the Cherubic Hymn by Benedict Sheehan Father Stephen linked to, but I my favorite American chant comes from the Monastery of St. John of Shanghai and San Francisco in Manton. 🙂

  71. Thank you so much, Father Stephen, for reminding us of the beautiful setting for attention to civil matters in the liturgical prayer of Saint Basil – a phrase that follows captured my attention when I found it in my book – “…Preserve the good in goodness, and make the evil be good by Thy goodness…”
    Further to my previous thoughts, it is in the Orthodox liturgy that the setting for the Lord’s Prayer is truly and fully realized, in the call that precedes its recitation in song:
    “And make us worthy, O Master, that with boldness and without condemnation we may dare to call on Thee, the heavenly God, as Father, and to say…”
    My father was a military man – he didn’t like the glamorization of war. At two weeks old I was baptized by his army chaplain as they left the country, not to return until I was five. War is evil; only God can make the evil be good by His goodness.
    It is to my great shame that I never could close the gap between my path and my father’s. But I know that God will have done that for us both.

  72. Hello!
    Could someone help me, i am looking for an article that Fr.Stephen wrote. Its about how iconography and how there was an icon that left someone feeling drawn in. Or something to that effect. I think the article is how creation having a purpose.

    Would appreciate the help as i really like his articles on icons.

  73. I certainly appreciate you dispelling the jingoistic idea of “belief” in our nations, but father, are we not still to love them and be faithful to them? Refuse to participate in their idolatries yes, but refuse to participate all together seems incorrect in light of the witness out ancestors of the faith gave us. We are to redeem the world including that which is redeemable in modernity in our self sacrificial love towards it. I will not refuse to participate in “America” because I love her and that includes the armed forces. I simply wish she would repent and find her proper place in God’s cosmic order, just as every converted people and nation have done so that he may have mercy on this nation. If I have misunderstood or misconstrued your post please feel free to correct me.

  74. Hi Marcus and welcome to Fr Stephen’s blog!

    When I first began my exploration of Orthodox Christianity I was very interested in iconography too. If you’re on your phone, the menu link is under the blog title. Under the category of Aesthetics you’ll find a subheading on icons.

    The veneration of the icons and saints in our Church is an important facet of our lives and theology.

    May God grant you a fruitful exploration. As you read and learn please post your questions here!

  75. Connor,
    Thanks for the question – it’ll help me clear up any misunderstandings. It’s difficult to dismantle many of our myths while leaving intact what is good and important. So, I apologize for any difficulties.

    First, by no means do we refuse to participate in our country’s life. We are to love self-sacrificially as you note. However, whether we will be able redeem one thing or another is in the hand of God. I think it’s very important for us to settle in our hearts that we are to do good according to the commandments of Christ, but that we cannot control outcomes – most of the time – and for a variety of reasons. It is simply beyond the scope of our power – people have free-will and will do good or evil according to their own inner disposition. It is for us to do good and commend ourselves and each other and all our life to Christ our God.

    We can vote, we can serve in the Armed Forces, etc. These are not forbidden to us – though they are not commanded.

    What do we love in a nation? Historically, and in most places, what the saints have loved of their homes are two things: the land and the people. Governments come and go. Some are good, some are evil. Governments, in a manner of speaking, are abstractions and have no true existence. What there is – is people – some of whom have positions of responsibility for one reason or another. When the Church prays, we do not pray for the state. We pray for the President, all civil authorities, and the armed forces. These are people.

    In contrast to this, our mythologies have tended to blur these things out and speak of vague abstractions – mere ideas. Ideas and abstractions are dangerous things – modernity is deeply enmeshed in such things. Goodness is found in things that have true existence – not in abstractions.

  76. Agata – Thank you for sharing that. The music is beautifully sung. I can see the possibilities!

  77. Father, Luke and Connor,

    Thank you for touching upon this issue of values, loyalties and what patriotism is about.

    I wanted to comment on this matter a couple of days ago, after first reading your main article Father. But I got distracted by David’s comment on “going to Church too much” and Drew’s proposal on how God set up for us the “narrow gate to life”…. And my comments went in a little different direction (which is always wonderful 🙂 ). 

    I still regret Father that you also took down your answer to me regarding the nationalistic issues in the Orthodox Church, especially in America. It was a very wonderful answer, if there is a way to “undelete it”, I think it pertains to this whole subject very much.

    So now I want to add a thought that will go along with the main theme of “when America got sick”.  From the perspective of someone who came to America in my early 20-ties from a former (quickly and drastically changing) Soviet bloc country (Poland), and also watched the rest of the changes in Eastern Europe for the past 30 years from here, I would say that America got sick(er) presuming herself the winner of the Cold War.  And She was not a very graceful winner.  She used the world for her own gains for the past 30 years, while convincing most of the rest of the world that only her values are worth pursuing. And since those values are closely linked with capitalism, she mostly exported greed and arrogance. Together with what she defined as “personal freedoms” to choose whatever pleases one the most (sexual revolution and immorality, abortions, ultra-nationalism and other post-truths – everything under the slogan of “democracy”).  Some countries are possibly irreparably damaged (like Ukraine). Others are slowly waking up and shaking off this insanity. My poor Poland is completely schizophrenic, torn between her hate of Russia and Germany and  love for America and the West – both of which look at all Slavs as second-class citizens, no matter what the official rhetoric.  But there is not enough sincerity and self-criticism in most to admit it.  (as a side note, the word “slave” in English came from the middle ages when most European slaves were Slavs indeed).

    I am so hopeful seeing how Russia, after exactly 30 years of trying to please – and import “the West” – is finally starting to resist the western “values”. The bad changes in their society may not have taken full root yet, so maybe there is hope for renewal and preservation of traditional values before the suicidal tendencies of the western culture (especially toxic for Slavic souls) wipe out most of the next generations.

    So we also pray for ourselves here (I consider myself American now) and for our civil authorities to have good things in their hearts, and for God to stop them when they lose their marbles and start a war, because any world scale confrontation now will wipe out all of us. Those in power seem to think they can keep the wars beneficially localized, but it’s a delusion.
    We do good to overcome evil, as your next articles says…. 🙂

  78. Drew,

    If you happen to still read this comment, I wanted to thank you (I am pretty sure it was you) for sharing a story about your ‘hobby farm’, and how you talked to one of your animals who was heading for the slaughter house. This story has sunk deep into my heart and it was the only thing that offered me *any* consolation last summer when my dog was dying in my arms in the middle of the night. All I could say to him was “I am so sorry it has to be this way, and I cannot do anything to help you”. Somehow remembering your words and story, even if imperfect, helped me deal with that inconsolable heartbreak.

    Someone commented above how this blog seems to be a very special place. It is indeed. Thank you Father for gathering us here. May God grant us some day to be in Paradise together, which indeed will be a “small place” (as you once said in one of my favorite comments).
    Agata

  79. Marcus,
    I sympathize with your difficulties finding old posts.
    Here is a trick one of the readers (thank you Reid!) shared. I use it a lot.

    https://blogs.ancientfaith.com/glory2godforallthings/2016/12/07/a-terrible-knowledge/#comment-108016

    So put this in google search:

    site:https://blogs.ancientfaith.com/glory2godforallthings creation having a purpose
    site:https://blogs.ancientfaith.com/glory2godforallthings icons
    site:https://blogs.ancientfaith.com/glory2godforallthings (whatever else you remember, the more exactly, the better, play with using parenthesis too)

    I put the first line based on your comment, and one possible article is this:

    https://blogs.ancientfaith.com/glory2godforallthings/2020/07/03/words-as-icons-2/

    Hope this helps!

  80. Father, thank you very much for taking the time to address the questions I had. Your clarification in regards to the people and the land being the target of our love was enlightening for me.

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