Drawing on the Book of Proverbs, St. Paul offers a simple admonition to his readers:
“…if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” (Romans 12:20)
He then adds:
Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
It is a very simple statement. However, when anyone begins to suggest what that might look like, critics quickly begin to offer egregious examples that would ask us to bear the unbearable, with the inevitable conclusion: “Kill your enemies.” What is suggested, in effect, is that Christians should respond in the same way as any tyrant would, only a little less so. “Kill your enemies, but not so much.” (I use the term “kill” in this example only as the most extreme form of violence). A question: What is it about the Kingdom of God that gave Christ and the Apostles such a confidence in its non-violence?
Consider these verses:
Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight, so that I should not be delivered to the Jews; but now My kingdom is not from here.” (Jn. 18:36)
“But now let the one who has a moneybag take it, and likewise a knapsack. And let the one who has no sword sell his cloak and buy one. For I tell you that this Scripture must be fulfilled in me: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors.’ For what is written about me has its fulfillment.” And they said, “Look, Lord, here are two swords.” And he said to them, “It is enough.” (Lk. 22:38)
“And behold, one of those who were with Jesus stretched out his hand and drew his sword and struck the servant of the high priest and cut off his ear. Then Jesus said to him, “Put your sword back into its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword.” (Matt. 26:52)
There is something of a mystery in Christ’s instruction to buy a sword. Many consider it simply a metaphorical way of saying that troubles are coming. Indeed, one of those two swords is drawn and does terrible damage to a man when Christ is arrested, earning a rebuke. I have always wondered if Peter (the one who wielded the sword) thought to himself, “But I thought He said bring a sword!” As it is, Christ restored and healed the ear of the injured man.
The key, I think, is found in Christ’s statement to Pilate that His Kingdom is not “of” this world. That does not mean that the Kingdom is located somewhere else. Rather, it means that His Kingdom’s source is not found within the things of this world. It is a sovereign act of God. As such, its reality is independent of our actions and will. There is nothing in the Kingdom of God that requires our swords (or even our words). It is heaven-breaking-into-our-world. It is unassailable.
This is the faith of the martyrs. The long history of the Church’s faithful who have gone to their deaths include many stories of terrible persecutions and tortures. They also include an abiding witness to an abiding sense that everything being done to them somehow misses the point. When Christ stood before Pilate, He was threatened with the might and power of Rome. “Don’t you know I have the power to release you or to kill you?” Human beings have no power over God. The Kingdom of God willingly enters into the suffering of this world, willingly bears shame, willingly embraces the weakness of the Cross. The martyrs acted as they did because their lives were not of this world. Christians should not live in this world thinking about a world somewhere else (heaven). Rather, Christians themselves are heaven in this world. It is that reality to which we bear witness (martyr means “witness”).
Modern nation states came into existence slowly, as one of the consequences of the Reformation. Some, like England, had a head start, inasmuch as it was partially defined by its shoreline. But most, like France and Germany, evolved more slowly. We imagine today’s modern states as though they were defined by blood and language. However, that is a fantasy, little older then the 19th century. Nationalism, sadly, was one of a number of romantic movements that served to replace the common life of the Church with romantic notions of lesser, tribal belongings.
The patriotic mythologies that came into existence together with modernity’s nationalisms are siren songs that seek to create loyalties that are essentially religious in nature. World War I, in the early 20th century, was deeply revealing of the 19th century’s false ideologies. There, in the fields of France, European Christians killed one another by the millions in the name of entities that, in some cases, had existed for less than 50 years (Germany was born, more or less, in 1871). The end of that war did nothing, apparently, to awaken Christians to the madness that had been born in their midst.
I have noted, through the years, that the patriotism that inhabits the thoughts of many is a deeply protected notion, treated as a virtue in many circles. This often gives it an unexamined character, a set of feelings that do not come under scrutiny. Of course, there are other nation-based feelings and narratives, some of which are highly reactive to patriotism though they are driven as much by the passions and their own mythology. These are the sorts of passions that seem to have risen to a fever-pitch in the last decade or so, though they have been operative for a very long time.
These passions are worth careful examination, particularly as they have long been married to America’s many denominational Christianities. I think it is noteworthy that one of the most prominent 19th century American inventions was Mormonism. There we have the case of a religious inventor (Joseph Smith) literally writing America into the Scriptures and creating an alternative, specifically American, account of Christ and salvation. It was not an accident. He was, in fact, drawing on the spirit of the Age, only more blatantly and heretically. But there are many Christians whose Christianity is no less suffused with the same sentiments.
Asking questions of these things quickly sends some heads spinning. They wonder, “Are we not supposed to love our country?” As an abstraction, no. We love people; we love the land. We owe honor to honorable things and persons. The Church prays for persons: the President, civil authorities, the armed forces. We are commanded to pray and to obey the laws as we are able in good conscience. Nothing more. St. Paul goes so far as to say that our “citizenship [politeia] is in heaven.” The assumption of many is that so long as the citizenship of earth does not conflict with the citizenship of heaven, all is fine. I would suggest that the two are always in conflict for the simple reason that one is “from above” while the other is “from below,” in the sense captured in Christ’s “my kingdom is not of this world.” There is a conflict. We should not expect that the kingdom of this world will serve as the instrument of the Kingdom of God. Such confusions have yielded sinful actions throughout the course of the Church’s history.
St. Paul notes in Romans 13 that the state “does not bear the sword in vain.” It has an appointed role in the restraint of evil. Such a role, however, is not the instrument of righteousness. It can, at best, create a measure of tranquility (cf. the Anaphora of St. Basil). The work of the Kingdom of God cannot be coerced, nor can it be the work of coercion. It is freely embraced, even as it alone is the source of true freedom.
My purpose in offering these observations is, if possible, to “dial down” passions surrounding our thoughts of the nation and politics in order to love properly and deeply what should be loved. That this is difficult, and at times confusing, is to be expected. We live in a culture in which the passions are marketed to us in an endless stream, carefully designed for the greatest effect. If these thoughts of mine help still the passions to some degree, then I will have done well. If, on the other hand, they have stirred reaction, then, forgive me and let it go.
If the Kingdom of God were a ship (an image sometimes used of the Church), then we should not be surprised when the seas become boisterous and the winds become contrary. Nor should we panic if we find that Christ is asleep in the back of the boat. His sleeping, indeed, should be a clue as to what the true nature of our situation might be. There are some who imagine that the work of the Kingdom can only be fulfilled once we’ve learned to control the winds and the seas. We fail to understand that they already obey the One who sleeps.
And so we come to overcoming evil by doing good. It is a common teaching in the Fathers that evil has no substance – it only exists as a parasite. All created things are good by nature. It is the misuse of the good that we label “evil.” To do good thus has the character of eternity. It is not lost or diminished with time. Christ said, “And whoever gives one of these little ones even a cup of cold water because he is a disciple, truly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward.” (Matthew 10:42)
When the final account is given, the nations will not be named. Their wars and empires will pass into what is forgotten. However, the many cups of cold water and other such acts of goodness will abide. I could imagine such actions on the part of a nation, and there are probably plenty. They likely go unnoticed, or even derided as wasteful.
I think that our politics and patriotism want to measure the seas, where God is measuring cups.
I’m not sure I understand your final statement: “I think that our politics and patriotism want to measure the seas, where God is measuring cups.” By that do you mean God measures individuals and comparatively small groupings of peoples, such as families, tribes, armed forces, etc. but not large, supposedly all-encompassing entities such as nations?
“The most important moment in life is the present. The most important person in life is the one next to you at that moment. The most important act in life is to do what is right for that person next to you.”
+Saint Luke, the Blessed Surgeon
Quoted in this film about his life:
Justice is not Healing. Healing cometh only by suffering and patience, and maketh no demand, not even for Justice. Justice worketh only within the bonds of things as they are… and therefore though Justice is itself good and desireth no further evil, it can but perpetuate the evil that was, and doth not prevent it from the bearing of fruit in sorrow.
Morgoth’s Ring, Vol X of The History of Middle Earth.
I mean that we often think in very broad terms when we’re doing politics and patriotism – with our eyes on “policy” and “goals”, etc. God, on the other hand, looks directly at every small thing (including sparrows and the hairs on our heads). For example, we’ll talk about the “war in Iraq” or the “war on terrorism” and get very specific only when we want to stir people up (thus magnifying each death of 911). But when our war in Iraq (just to use an example) left 500,000 dead, half of whom were civilians, they are not looked at as unique, individuals (most often). A half-million dead is a lot! But it really doesn’t register in our conversations. Bob Dylan sang, “You don’t count the dead when God’s on your side.”
When one side or another wants to score points, they will single out an individual story – especially if it’s extremely poignant. But, on the whole, we have tended to blur our lives into abstractions. Most people in the US do not know their neighbors on their streets. I could multiply such examples. We substitute opinions about large things, imagining that the right opinions make us good people. But we do nothing (voting is as close to doing nothing as I can think of).
There are so many opportunities for “cups of cold water.” So, much of what I am saying is that we are not having the right conversations.
A young couple in my congregation struck me over the past year. I noticed that their public opinions were directed towards “justice.” It would have been easy for this old man to roll his eyes at one more set of opinions. But, this year, as the pandemic was easing, they got involved with the homeless in our city. They have gotten to know them by name – as well as their needs. They have been working, raising money, doing lots of leg work, to get a “tiny village” built for housing. It’s not a government thing – it’s people volunteering. I was (and am) impressed. I will give it money and help as I can. It will not solve the homeless problem – but it will give shelter to a number of folks who had none.
Early Christians gathered abandoned babies and saved their lives. It was that simple. Babies were abandoned, unwanted. They saved them. They didn’t save them all. They didn’t change government policy. They just saved babies. I am in no way opposed to government action. But – creating shelter – picking up babies – giving a cup of cold water. None of it will be forgotten.
Once again you’ve touched my heart strings with gentle patristic observations.
To calm the passions, our fervor, our pride, and focus on doing good…and remembering that my citizenship, my passport, is Christ.
Thank you, Father Stephen, for your thoughtful and detailed response to David.
Esmee, et al
I have been reading two very detailed and documented books recently on American history through the last half of the 19th century, up to the present. It has been part of a continuing research to understand our nation, and particularly its religious culture – including how that culture has formed and shaped us, as well as having been shaped in return.
Frankly, my observations and comments on all of this are quite mild compared to much that is insanely outrageous in our history. I may, at some time in the future, look at how the industrial revolution and the economy that grew out of it were actually described as “gods,” and the work of business as the prime sacrament of our time, etc. The problem with writing too much about these things is that of coming off as too shrill or over-the-top when it is the reality being described (or pseudo-reality) that is itself over-the-top.
I seriously direct our attention to the things at hand, and to the good we can actually do, because, again, the larger problems are beyond our reach (in my opinion). We will do well to nurture our faith, give careful attention to how we can raise and protect our children, and buckle down for some very hard years for quite some time to come. God is faithful and He will save.
Father, I have various interpretations of this icon. Christ in the womb sleeping and Christ ‘sleeping’ incarnated within the whole of the universe. One of the lessons I learned as a catechumen was about the young Christ. While He was indeed young, whether a babe in the womb or asleep in the boat, He was still God of all and governs all. Now He has ascended, Glory be to God, and He still governs all. —Even if it seems to us that He is ‘sleeping’.
It is of note (and not accidental, I think) that we are told that the Prophet Jonah was asleep in the boat when the storm was raging, frightening everyone else. That Christ is asleep in the boat during the storm is, I think, meant to echo that. Jonah “stills” the storm by being thrown to the whale, who is a type of Hades. Christ, speaks and stills the storm foreshadowing that He will also descend into Hades and still the existential storm of death.
By the same token, as we are threatened with death around us, we complain that Christ is sleeping (nor not noticing, or not caring, or not really even “there”). He is our Pascha. When He “sleeps” in the tomb – He is also harrowing Hell. Even now, when we think He is not noticing, He is harrowing hell.
As the priest or deacon censes the altar he says, “In the tomb with the body, in Hades with the soul, yet as God, in paradise with the thief, on the Throne with the Father and the Holy Spirit, wast Thou, O bountiful Christ, filling all things.”
Father Stephen, I continue to be inspired by your writings, including the responses to questions. Just to let you know.
I’m curious, Fr., which books you’re reading about American history. I have some inclinations about where this mess we have now comes from, but they’re really just hunches from a young, inexperienced man who has spent his life as an American caught up in the insanity of our culture. It’s hard to see where all this comes from and where it’s going when you’re in the thick of it.
Oh my goodness, thank you.
Brent, I started my journey to Jesus Christ and the Church in the study of U.S. History. I is important to be aware of facts, etc. It is more important to know how to interpret what you know and find out. Most of American History is interpreted through the lens of “progress”. That in itself the result of an, at best, denatured Christianity or, worse, a complete denial of Jesus: who He is and how He acts. When interpreted in such a manner historical figures become like gods. A whole mythology is built around them that often obliterates the actual reality of their humanity and sinfulness as well as actual virtues.
The older I get, the more I am convinced that the best thing we can learn from history is that all of our efforts are ultimately futile. That does not mean do not act, but, like the couple in Father’s parish, act small and local.
We have a ministry in my town to women and babies that assists single mothers who are struggling with the worldly exigencies of living and raising children in the secular world with few resources. It is called The Treehouse. It’s motto: “Saving the world, one diaper at a time.”
Such activity allows Christ’s mercy to soften our hearts and intersect with the darkness around and within us that actually brings healing. Is that “progress”? Not as the world thinks. Or as Shakespeare said: “We do pray for mercy and that same prayer teaches us to render the deeds of mercy”
A primary text has been Eugene McCarraher’s The Enchantment of Mammon, a massive 800 page work that is simply one of the best treatments of a certain theme in American history that I’ve seen. He argues that modernity has not been a “disenchantment” as Max Weber contended, but, rather, it has been change, in which the older enchantments of Christian belief, sacrament,etc., have been replaced by money. Money is the “magic” of the modern world. Indeed, he describes money as the “ontology” of modernity. Fascinating book. The other book has been Jackson Lear’s Rebirth of a Nation, much shorter, that looks at history from post Civil War to WW1. I read that, mostly in realizing that I had never done much concentrated reading in that period.
When I was in grad school at Duke, George Marsden (an evangelical) was Professor of Church history. He is simply the most important voice in American Church history studies over the past generation or so. He is now at Notre Dame. He did massive work on the history of secularism that was very instructive. McCarrerher cites Marsden’s work as something that has made his own possible. For one, it looks at religious themes and dynamics not as some isolated sideshow, but something that is deeply at the heart of American history. It’s a long read, but in depth, well-researched, and worth the time.
I am still not sure I’m grasping your distinction between church and state. You say that “The Church prays for persons”, and go on to point out the litanies for civil authorities, armed forces, etc. Does this mean we similarly should pray for bishops, priests, etc but not national churches, jurisdictions, parishes, etc?
Thank you, Father, for your response. Most helpful, and actually very inspiring, because the lowly “next right thing” that is at hand is something I can do, right here and now, not just speculate about, and it’s something that contends earnestly for the faith in real terms. (Pro 28:4 They that forsake the law praise the wicked: but such as keep the law contend with them. ) One cup of cold water is worth a thousand speculations about the sea. It’s interesting also how abstract virtue signaling tends to be about an impersonal present or a fantastic future whereas that cup of cold water is about the present and requires focusing on situations that are immediate.
The Church is not an abstraction. It is composed of her members. We indeed pray for Bishops, priests, etc., but we do not abstract the Church from its members. It is a communion of persons.
As for the state – there have been efforts to create an ontology of the state in many and various ways – but I do not give them credit for having succeeded.
When the “Soviet Union” fell, what happened? What fell? Not the peoples of Russia and the other Republics. A system of power collapsed (and was immediately replaced successfully or not). There simply is not a “state” which we all belong to in an ontological sense. It has no ontology. That is not true of the Church.
Prior to the rise of the nation state (of which America was one of the very first), the “state” was simply that area and those people who were under the jurisdiction of a monarch. The abstractions of a “state” come much later and they are rather modern inventions. I’m just unable to give credence to ontologies as late inventions.
When I was a little girl and was taught the “pledge of allegiance” at school, I had no grasp what was asked of me, but did my best to repeat what I was being taught to say. I went home from school and told my mother about it, and if I remember correctly, she gave me the impression that she thought it was a form of heresy. While she had not been in school long (up to 9th grade) she was a Christian Seminole. But that was about 60 years ago and the memory is dim.
Out of curiosity I decided to look up its history and have discovered how recent it is as a political development indeed.
Father Stephen, Dee, et al.,
When I was a kid in elementary school, we not only said the Pledge of Allegiance every morning, we also said the Lord’s Prayer. This was in a secular public school in the early 60’s. I wonder if there was a deliberate effort to conflate the two ‘realms’, as it were. I also wonder how much longer it was allowed to have students recite a Christian prayer in a public school. There were already grumblings about it by the mid-60’s. The 60’s – sheesh! I am still trying to figure out what happened…
Father, would you agree that the attempts to personify the state: Uncle Sam, John Bull, Mother Russia, etc are an effort to manufacture emotion for the state an attempt to create an ontology? One of the influences that started dismantling that for me was the Al Capp character, General Bullmoose.
There are times when the destructive darts of sarcasm are very effective if they are well honed and well aimed.
Having lived in several countries, I have sometimes been amazed at the attitude of some Christians, that God blessed [only] their country. They don’t really say it that way, the “only” is not spoken aloud. When we remember that our citizenship is in heaven, then we must question allegiances to another master. It’s possible to have dual citizenship (I have), but there are inherent conflicts between citizenships. Where do you spend your time? Your money? Your allegiance?
Many years ago, I was exposed to the writing of David Lipscomb, an American preacher and teacher. Having witnessed the American Civil War and the church splits that accompanied it, Lipscomb concluded that we are commanded to Pray for the government, to Pay taxes to the government, and to Obey the government. He went so far as to argue that we are not authorized to have any other involvement: No military service, no voting or holding office, no political activism.
I am not a citizen of the United States. I worry
most about the anti industrial revolution opinions we are being swamped with from Environmentalists We are communicating on a product of that revolution,after all.
.However I am encouraged by the teachings of Thomas Sowell the great American Economist.
I recommend them . Even I can understand what he writes.
Tolkien was a professor in Oxford He was English He specialised in Norse Legends and he was a strong Roman Catholic He would be scandalised by his works of fiction being used as they are in America to justify positions political and religious.
There are so many opportunities for “cups of cold water.” So, much of what I am saying is that we are not having the right conversations.
…Early Christians gathered abandoned babies and saved their lives. It was that simple. Babies were abandoned, unwanted. They saved them. They didn’t save them all. They didn’t change government policy. They just saved babies. I am in no way opposed to government action. But – creating shelter – picking up babies – giving a cup of cold water. None of it will be forgotten.
I’ve always taken the approach that St. Paul’s view of government in Romans should be balanced with St. John’s views in Revelation. The more I mull this over, the more I agree with Father’s statement. The State will do what it will–and it will not end well. The work of God is normally quiet and in the “little things”. So much of it can only be done in humility.
I wish I could just offer a heart.. without comment.
“We substitute opinions about large things, imagining that the right opinions make us good people. But we do nothing (voting is as close to doing nothing as I can think of).”
Are you saying we substitute opinions, rather than getting to know our neighbors… and think we are good because of having the right opinion, ( whereas goodness comes not through ideas but through humble action) ? In that aspect, voting is doing nothing because we are only giving voice to our opinions? Yet, I vote in the hope of furthering good action for our world and for our neighbor. I would hesitate to say it is better to use our hands and feet for good action than our money. God knows what and how we can give. How to welcome grace into our lives ?..how to let go of self deceit?… Person to person, one to one. I can not give unless I am open to receiving.
Thankyou Father, so much can be drawn from this article. I think your last statement sums it up very well.
It reminds me of how much detail we just ignore or skim over when we go on these “crusades to save the world”.
Most of all we spiritually neglect ourselves at the expense of the thrill of the crusade we pursue.
Naturally there are always exceptions to this, but quite often it is the case that we starve ourselves of Christ.
I’m reminded of Christ’s words ‘ What good is it to gain the whole world, and yet lose your soul’. Forgive me if I have mis-quoted.
Your article also reminds me of how legalistic we can be in our behaviour and works. Even the act of fasting from food which is a commandment from the Church (in the right context) is seen by many of us as just a feat to be accomplished makes it void of any spiritual progress.
Even St. John Chrysostom said ‘You fast yet you devour your brother’.
Could all this be due to our modern day obsession to abbreviate everything? We have no time to read the small print, and more often than not this gets us into trouble.
Please forgive me.
I accept the core of your thesis about nation states and patriotism, but in my heart I believe that their existence is in God’s providence and blessed.
I am not sure how the Greek word “patrida” best translates to English, perhaps homeland, but if nation states are our earthly homelands then they are at the core of our existence.
The reference to St Paul’s “…there is no Jew or Greek…” is an affirmation of the equality between nations and homelands, not an abolition of these boundaries for Christians. This is obvious, as he also says “..there is no male or female..” which also means equality not removal of gender differences.
I would be interested in your comment on the Church’s understanding of Acts 17:26, “From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands”.
During the Greek revolution people chanted:
For the freedom of the homeland,
for Christ’s holy faith,
for these two I fight,
I desire to live for them.
And if I do not get them,
what is the use of living for me?
Photios Kontoglou, the best known iconographer in the last century in Greece, wrote: “The Greek Revolution is the most spiritual revolution that took place in the world. She is sanctified.” The homeland as well as the faith constitute the reason to sacrifice, this is why the revolution is also spiritual.
Having said this, the Church condemns ethnophyletism and the existence and love of one’s nation state/homeland should never lead to such heresy.
The feelings of Greeks towards their homeland is well known. God’s providence is at work – most notably in that He works things for our good that were otherwise meant for evil (as in the story of the Patriarch Joseph and his brothers). Providence does not put a stamp of approval on anything other than the goodness of God.
I am not suggesting a world without boundaries nor the disappearance of differences. Your observations there are my own as well.
As to Acts 17:26 – it’s worth pausing to think about it. The “boundaries of their land” that he references is not at all the same thing as the boundary of a modern nation state. For example, there was no “Greece” when he wrote that. There was Achaia, Thessalonika, etc. Indeed, most of Asia Minor was as populated with Greek speakers as the homeland of Greece. The modern creation of a nation state of Greece (greatly aided and often guided by the Western nation states of Europe) created an “ethnic” identity that was not nearly as clear then as it has become. There were Greek-speaking Christians – held together by language and religion. That commonality (as in the popular song) served as the basis for creating a national consciousness that had largely ceased to exist.
The Western powers were not at all interested in nurturing a “Byzantine” consciousness – a revival of Hellenism across the realms of the empire. The Greeks of Asia Minor were too easily sacrificed – all of which is, no doubt, one of the most painful periods in modern Greek history. Much sadness there.
It has also been a modern history tormented with civil wars.
It is as natural to love one’s people as it is to love mother and father, and for much of the same reasons. However, even the natural love of mother and father is something that must be purified in the course of the spiritual life (Lk 14:26). A question, for example, to be pondered: In what way(s) has the modern notion of the Greek nation-state betrayed the Greek people and their faith? I offer no answers in that it’s beyond my experience. But it is a good question. I think my article is not suggesting anything more than that.
Lastly, America is somewhat unique (or used to be), in that it is not “one blood” but “many bloods” – not really even one language. Here, the nation state as a political identity is made to triumph over most natural loyalties in order to create a loyalty to an abstraction. My family has lived in America for around 300 years, fought in all its wars (including against the British in the Revolution), but I still (in a very American way) look to England as the “home” of my people. That, too, can be a strange abstraction. America is more like Ancient Rome – a conglomeration of peoples in which race, creed, etc., are not the primary identifiers in the term “American.” Increasingly, the whole world is becoming “Americanized” (I rarely find anywhere in Europe where there are not lots of excellent speakers of English).
There is much to ponder in all of this – particularly as it becomes embedded in passions and deeply felt loyalties. My article serves, I hope, as a catalyst to examining some things that have gone unexamined.
I agree with what you say and indeed no-one ever betrayed the Greeks more than the Greeks, from the time of nation states, till modern times. Apart from Ioannis Kapodistrias, the first head of state of newly liberated Greece, a pure Orthodox politician, we have no shining examples of orthodox governments, despite the Greek constitution that starts with : “In the name of the Holy and Consubstantial and Indivisible Trinity”.
What has been a concern for many with the modern European project, the EU, is the progressive suppression of the European nation states with their history, cultures and traditions, to be superseded by the European superstate.
“Byzantium” or more correctly the Roman Empire (Byzantium is a western term imposed on the East), was perhaps the best example of a multi-cultural empire with inhabitants originating from different nations united by their faith.
The EU is likely an example of the triumph (or domination) of the American model – an effort to create a “United States of Europe.” I suspect that efforts to “homogenize” Europeans is an uneven thing. For example, in America, what was dubbed “Standard American” as a dialect of English, was never more than the dialect of the Midwest, imposed for no explainable reason, often through shaming and ridicule. The deep-seated antipathy of the Northern Europeans to the Southern Mediterraneans has, as far as I can see, never abated. Britain finally did its most instinctive thing and withdrew. In many ways, the English Channel is much wider than the Atlantic Ocean.
Providence in these matters is always an interesting question. For example, the EU has permitted a widespread migration of East European people, taking their Orthodox churches with them…seeding Western Europe with far more Orthodox Churches than would have been possible otherwise. Time will tell in all things…
On the subject of the sacramental connection to land, for some years I have walked every day if I can at a particular place in an urban area but a green space. For health reasons I can’t go too far away from assistance, so my walking locales are limited. At some point, I realized that what I was forced to do was to cultivate the love and knowledge of one small area, rather than to explore a variety of areas. I took this on as my intentional daily meditative practice, and have been richly rewarded. I learned the names of all manner of things, became a nature photographer because the beauty all around was great and I wanted to remember the often ephemeral beauties I came across, learned a lot about birds and insects, watched the seasons, came to love mushrooms, and other things. I can go ever deeper into the experience, knowledge, beauty, which appears to be endless – there is always another layer and I am always shocked that there is something new. And then there’s the sky . . . As a child, I had unintentionally done this when I spent many hours alone outside in the forest and in a place called the Great Swamp (a useful metaphor for later life), which extended for twenty miles and was filled with amazing things to see. But the intentional practice is another thing entirely. At this point, my “home” is the building I live in, but it is also this place where I have paid attention to every little thing. I think this practice led to a sacramental connection to this particular patch of land (which ironically 500 million years ago was a mega volcano crater). If I had traveled more, perhaps I would feel that way about the nation I live in, but the connection to national geography is more generalized. My deepest connection is to this small area of space, where I have found Glory in every little thing, a right little Eden. I can find the same connection in a new outdoors space, but my neighborhood Eden is the place that is most like church for me, my own little corner of heaven on earth. Ever since coming back from a few years living in Europe and having changed, I have been a “citizen of the world” in that my civilization connection is to humanity as a whole, and not to the nation-state in which I live (but which is included in the whole). This was profoundly jarring at first and not wanted in the beginning. I care deeply about my nation and its vicissitudes, but my deepest patriotism is to the actual land I spend my days on, I guess, and to the actual people I know and live with as well as to the mass of humanity as a whole in general concept. After becoming cynical about human institutions of all kinds over many decades, I so agree with the idea of doing what you can with the ones you are with. I distrust ideologies and teachings, including Christian ones, that are not exemplified in giving the “cup” to the person you next meet. That is what Jesus did – interacting one on one with people, meeting them in the moment where they were at. That is the basic test of Truth in action to me. This is analogous to the practice of knowing a small patch of land intimately – but knowing the little ones you are with instead. In an urban area, I now treasure every moment (at least when I am not dodging cars and crazy drivers) when another person and I can interact, when someone will speak to me or I can speak to them in passing, or I can be helpful to someone else in a moment of passing, when I can save someone from a dire event, or comfort a sorrow. These moments are exceedingly rare but full of beauty when they happen, and so meaningful after the pandemic experience. This is our legacy, leaving behind a person who remembers a moment of kindness or love of ours and then does kindness or love to another. Writing this, I realize this is a method of healing transgenerational trauma and suffering passed down from generation to generation.
Thank you for your reflections! I have, in my retirement, taken to walking a certain stretch in the local arboretum each day. I’m limited at present to about a half-mile. But, it is very much like becoming acquainted with new friends.
There are many ways we are taught to be distracted. For example, history books are written with a view to the nation state, rather than otherwise. Though there were many flaws in them, I appreciate the approach that Michener did in his novels – telling the story of place and family while other things around changed. It was an interesting switch from the usual take.
In the arboretum where I walk, there is a plaque with a picture of an original log cabin that stood there (built before 1830, it was demolished in 1943). But it tells the story of the family that lived there – and notes the picture of a young oak tree by the cabin. That same tree remains while everything else has passed. I think of all the tree has witnessed in its 200 year history whenever I walk past it.
I am personally dumbfounded as I’ve gotten a bit of email traffic that chides me for my “localism” and such, as if I were abandoning the true struggle and misguiding the Orthodox in general. Apparently, the example of Christ with 12 disciples is untrustworthy – it’s so small – how could they possibly change the world? They did it by obeying Christ and doing the next good thing. Everything else is the fantasy of history writers – those who think in “global” images – as if they were God and actually see anything other than what is right next to them. We need to repent from trying to be gods. That is one of the major errors of modernity – even if it is espoused as some grand Orthodox scheme for fighting the anti-Christ. You cannot fight the anti-Christ when you are overcome by your own demons at every turn.
Yes! Please don’t be perturbed by those e-mails. They know not what they do . . . Where else can we do good other than where we are? Good acts might ripple out in all directions from our act, writing, prayers, etc., seen and unseen, but they have to start somewhere with one person, and that is local. One person can affect the national or universal, but it still starts with one person. Jesus was one person in the local (as well as the universal). The mustard seed, and all. . . Looking to the universal before one has looked to the local evades the real struggle of doing good in the moment in the local, which is challenging, with demons and all. I do think, if one seeks to live a holy life in the local, then there is a chance that one’s writings, political actions, and other tasks could carry some love and goodness with them out into the larger world. But if one has not done the spade work, so to speak, at the local level, what does one really have to offer to the non-local? This seems to be a reason behind the emptiness of so much rhetoric of our time. I love thinking about universal themes, not really doing anything in actuality, but then I find I’m not really doing anything good when I’m doing that, just living in my mind. (I am so prone to living in my mind! So much “safer”!) And, too, when we give up trying to be gods, then Eden/heaven is all around in the local, the reward for actually living and trying to do good. I love your blog because of the “local-ness” of it, in the comments of real people, in your bringing us constantly back to our own lives and actions and spiritual life and how to tend ourselves and our lives at that level, while being aware of larger themes and having a spiritual understanding of those, too. Yours is a necessary voice and teaching.
The trouble with globalism is one has no neighbor and everyone is an enemy.
If you know he philosophy of an historian it is actually easy to predict, in a general way, what will be said in any particular history they write because you know their bias.
When I studied history I was taught to look for the historians who did not agree with the “prevailing opinion” because that way you begin to learn more about the reality.
Fr. Stephen, subdeaacon Philip from Mountain Home , AR here. ADHD. It could be a magnesium deficiency in the brain. I have noticed a number of ADHD folks getting better, taking magnesium threonate, which has studies that show it is very good at getting magnesium in the brain. Magnesium is also known to be a balancer of dopamine which is an ADHD related catecholamine.
Thank you for the head’s up.
“Be steadfast, brothers, and do the little things.” St. David of Wales, 6th Century
I’m delighted to see your comment and I explored your link too. I don’t think I’ve seen you comment here before and I wished to extend a welcome to this blog!
I’m still learning the biographies of our saints, and more typically we hear about our eastern saints. How delightful that you sent to us readers a quote from a western Orthodox saint! It is my life’s goal to learn more about our western saints’ lives.
My saint name is Gobnait, an Irish beekeeper and abbess. When I come to receive the Eucharist and I say my saint name, more often than not a priest who might not know me will raise an eyebrow and fumble through the name in the blessing. And then they ask me later, to clarify what they heard, “what was your saint name again?” –A great opportunity to talk about an Irish Orthodox saint : )
Thank you, Father!
If there is one thing our present troubles have driven home to me, it is the futility of political activism on the large scale and the essential quality of activism (getting involved in loving one’s neighbors, doing real practical service, and speaking truth to power on the smallest, “cup of cold water in Christ’s name” scale).
With regard to the American project, so much seems to have been a deliberately created illusion. It is dominated by the refrain and belief, “Money makes the world go ‘round, the world go ‘round, the world go ‘round…”, while our Lord could not have been more clear, “You cannot serve both God and Mammon.” Masonic, not Christian, emblems don our currency and our nation’s Capitol, and still we do not see.
It seems to me we are entering upon a time in the Western world where those who would follow Christ and not mammon will be called upon (now within months or years, not even decades) to join many of our brethren in other parts of the world in releasing everything—goods, health, loved ones, all worldly comfort, and even lives—to follow our Lord. Several contemporary Orthodox Saints/Prophets have foreseen the present moment, its deep deception and destructive power, and at least one, the utter destruction of the Western world in these events. Some events just now occurring according to some of these prophetic foresights put us within decades of the Lord’s Return. This should surprise no one who is aware of the kind of technocracy humans have become capable of in the last few decades.
I’m not equal to all this! May the Lord have mercy on me and upon all! Through the prayers of the Theotokos, O Lord, save us!
I do not think it is given to us to know the time of Lord’s return – even within the margin of decades. It does not matter particularly. What matters is that which is at hand. Most days are exceedingly easy and full of joy if we pay attention to what is at hand and not to the things the Lord said would take care of themselves.
Since I am now 67 – the Lord’s return (or, rather, my return to Him) is probably less than 20 years away. I have purposefully avoided and ignored all purported prophetic words during my Orthodox years. I am probably even more committed to that path than ever before. I simply do not think that we are asked to think in such a manner and it is easily and frequently abused.
We have everything we need within the straightforward commandments of Christ. Again, I heartily recommend Fr. Hopko’s 55 maxims as a complete commentary on the topic.
I find the discussions and comments about “homeland” interesting here. I agree with the idea that nation states are a manufactured concept “unreal” in themselves. However, I see the concept of a homeland and a brotherhood of those growing up in the same nation as very real in that God has gifted different peoples and families with a “home,” a “locality” a “boundary,” so to speak, a place meant to be a blessing, a stewardship, a personal Eden in the midst of our earthly journey. My current home is Missouri, my family has resided here for generations, and I have ancestry going back to a Native American princess from the Missouri tribe, and I feel a strong tie to this place. I also have 1/4 Finnish heritage, and God has led me to briefly live in Finland twice in my life. Both times were like “wilderness experiences” for me where God seemed to bring me aside to the quiet of my “other homeland” to find Him anew and purge me from uniquely American vices. And yet, times away from my American homeland also taught me about my identity as one who grew up in the uniquely American culture with its good and its bad. It led me to feel a sense of brotherhood and love towards other Americans who shared my experiences growing up as a part of the “American project,” something deep in my DNA as I had an ancestor that can be traced back to the Mayflower. I feel a sense of responsibilty to these particular places and peoples in my prayers and earthly journey as I seek to do the good where I am placed.
Father, thank you. I will have to look up the Maxims again and try to digest and practice them a little at a time (long lists intimidate me). I’m not one who has spent most of my Christian life giving overmuch thought to End Times prophecies (Orthodox or otherwise). I found the Orthodox approach to the Book of Revelation expounded on AFR by Presbytera Jeannie Constantinou a very refreshing contrast to the the heretical fantasies of certain modern sectarian Christianities we both more or less came of age trying to discern. That did pass out of vogue, and I was not impressed when the whole Left Behind series resurrected all that nonsense in the 90s. But however much I wish it, I cannot seem to unsee some of the antichrist machinations going on around me, nor avoid being disturbed by these. During Lent, I read St. Paisios’ of Athos volume, Spiritual Awakening. The bulk of it (really all of it) falls very much in line with offering very practical advice about the basics (and depths) of the Orthodox spiritual life (like the Maxims), but because he was being asked questions about End Times that were on everyone’s mind during that era, and certain of which answers in that chapter correspond to details actually playing out now–powers that be seeming now to be implementing at breakneck speed plans various ones in that “club” have written about and attempted various iterations of for decades, I cannot ignore the prophetic aspects of his words–they seem to have been very prescient. Of course, you are right we can’t know about the decades part (which relates to the prophecies of a different Saint anyway), and you are also right, this doesn’t change how I should live today. Presently, though I am younger than you, I don’t expect to live for 20 more years under the current circumstances. I’m not sure I would want to, given what seems to me likely to occur in this part of the world over the next few unless the Lord intervenes to deliver in a big way. I am in deep pain about truly gruesome revelations that have been coming out over the last several years about human trafficking, especially of children, and the other ways our children are under attack by malevolent special interests, which seem to have escalated exponentially just in the last several months. I know you share some of these concerns since you have written about that. What I am experiencing feels like being on the Titanic, having watched in horror the collision with the ice and knowing the ship is rapidly sinking, but with everyone around me distracted by the entertainment and, for the moment, oblivious. (In this case, the “entertainment” is mostly the nonstop political theater and mainstream gaslighting propaganda campaigns.) I’m finding it very difficult to lead a normal Christian life when times are anything but normal. I feel this as a defect. Pray for me.
It is reported that St. Porphyrios sent word to St. Paisios to stop speaking about these things because they were causing fear and anxiety in people. I once saw a video interview someone did with St. Paisios. There were two young men. They ignored everything he tried to say, and kept plying him with questions about the end times. I think it is a sickness – even though it seems to find fertile ground in many places.
I wrote last year describing interest in these things as the unwillingness to bear the shame of not-knowing. It is also fed by our fears and anxieties. The last 4 years before my family entered the Orthodox Church, my wife and I knew that we would and quietly worked to make that possible. We had 4 children, from about 2 to age 13 or so. We kept an Orthodox home (prayers, fasting). But we said nothing to the children regarding our pending conversion. On vacations we visited Orthodox Churches. The 2 older children we sent to Orthodox retreats. But, we said nothing. Our reasoning was this: they had no control over it, and we had very little. We were waiting for God to open the door for us so we could enter. I was in steady contact with Vladyka Dmitri. But children are not able to hold such things without anxiety. When the time came, we had a family “meeting” and my wife and I explained everything in full. We were all received at the same time.
I think we are like children. A good parent would not torment children with knowledge that is not good for them. The sins in the world and the various evils that are done are terrible. Sometimes we are in a position to do something about it – other times we are always able to pray. But reading and thinking and wondering, etc., are neither doing something about it nor praying. Instead, they tend to work like an echo of the evil and only serve to magnify it.
Years ago, in my zeal as a “Jesus freak,” living in a commune, etc., we got rid of all worldly things, including a lot of music records and such. Recently, someone was asking me about music and I told them that my knowledge of contemporary music pretty much stopped at 1971. I did tell them that it was because I had repented of the music and cut it off. But – the truth is – whatever “passion” there was about such music died back then. I think sometimes it would be good if a person were troubled about end times and various current events – to repent of it. Get rid of all such reading material and simply stop feeding the anxiety (which is a passion). That would include “Orthodox” materials that contain such concerns.
We overcome evil by doing good – not by worrying about the evil – much less by the actions of politicians and others whose lives are bound up in the passions. We are warned about a kind of madness in the last days. There’s the madness of the world – but the madness of the Church, its temptation, I think, includes losing our steadfast patient endurance.
Karen, I do pray for you! God give us grace in these times.
Thank you, Father. I should clarify perhaps, the words of St. Paisios in Spiritual Awakening do not feed my anxiety. They actually help calm it. SA has one chapter addressing the topic in very measured terms in the midst of many chapters which speak of our life in Christ with all the same fullness as the words of St. Porphyrios, who I also love. It is reading the news and people’s comments in social media (and knowing from personal experience much of what is being censored) as well as witnessing what is happening around me in the present moment that I cannot escape that fills me with grief and anxiety, and I do need to let it go. I become obsessed and neglect prayer. Things go better when I take up my prayers again. (I am obviously very challenged in knowing how to consistently do so.) I rely on those prayers—keep them coming! God give us grace, indeed!