A Noetic Life

the-beauty-of-russian-winter

The Native Peoples of Alaska and the far north really do have over 50 words for snow. In total, there are around 180 words for snow and ice. There is “aqilokoq” for “softly falling snow” and “piegnartoq” for “the snow [that is] good for driving a sled.” There is also “utuqaq,” which means, “ice that lasts year after year” and “siguliaksraq,” the patchwork layer of crystals that forms as the sea begins to freeze; and “auniq,” ice that is filled with holes, like Swiss cheese. The reason, of course, is simple. If the information about snow and ice are a matter of survival, human beings develop a vocabulary sufficient to cover their need. They also develop a keen eye for snow and ice. They do not see better or different than anyone else, but they pay attention to certain things that others would ignore.

This simple reality can also be applied to the words of our spiritual life. Modern language can make a distinction between high-definition television and ultra-high definition, or even super ultra-high definition (this latter being so extreme in its resolution that a native Yu’pik could use it to classify snow). We even have words for sub-atomic particles. But modern language is extremely impoverished in its spiritual vocabulary. The culture has been overwhelmed by the ideas and concepts of psychology, pushing aside an entire vocabulary of human experience. Some of the words of classical Christian experience disappeared long before the modern period (and that is a different story).

Where words are absent, the ability to perceive is reduced. Language and perception work together. There are many things you cannot see until you are taught to see them. Having words for such things is part of the process of learning to see.

A key word from classical Christianity is the Greek term “nous,” and its adjectival form, “noetic.” Western translators early on translated the term as intellectus, which in its English forms is simply incorrect. Modern translators vary in translating it as either “mind” or “heart.” Neither of these is accurate, and both can be misleading in the extreme. Increasingly, some writers are simply choosing to use the word in its original form (my preference).

All of this is by way of introduction. The fact that our modern vocabulary doesn’t have an actual word for what the Fathers meant when they wrote about noetic perception, or when they said that the “nous should descend into the heart” (very important and common phrases), does not mean that what they are describing is closed to us, but does indicate that it is a reality which we largely ignore, like the incredible variety within snow and ice. It’s there, but we fail to see it.

Our culture champions the mind. We think of ourselves as far more brilliant than those who lived in the past and certainly more aware and understanding of the processes and realities of the world around us. In short, we think we’re the smartest people who have ever lived. In point of fact, we have narrowed the focus of our attention and are probably among the least aware human beings to have ever lived.

Our narrowed focus is largely confined to two aspects: the critical faculty and emotions. The critical faculty mostly studies for facts, compares, judges, measures, and so forth. Emotions run through the varieties of pleasure and pain, largely pairing with the critical faculty to maximize pleasure and minimize pain. This way of experiencing the world is largely the result of living in a consumerist culture. We not only consume things – we are constantly under a barrage of information geared solely towards consumption. We consume everything. Information is more than information – it is information for the purpose of consumption. Even religious notions are governed by consumption. We “like” or “don’t like” Church. We find it useful, or of no interest. People are even known to “shop” for Churches.

The nous is not a faculty of consumption. It is a faculty of perception, particularly of spiritual perception. The modern struggle to experience God often fails because it is carried out by consumers. God, the true and living God, cannot be consumed, nor can He be known by the tools of consumption. Consumerist Christianity peddles experience and ideas about God. It has little or nothing to do with God Himself.

I occasionally use kinesthetic experiences to describe the nous. The knowledge we have of riding a bicycle is not critical knowledge. You cannot think your way into the knowledge of riding. Playing the piano is a similar experience. My reason for citing these forms of knowledge is to point to the fact that we already have some experience of non-consuming knowledge. Interestingly, kinesthetic knowledge is not solely in the head. My fingers “know” how to play the piano. My whole body rides a bicycle.

The Fathers often locate the nous in the heart – the physical heart. By this we should understand that the knowledge of noetic experience extends beyond the brain and rests more generally in the very center of our body, in every fiber of our being. Most importantly, it is not a part of the critical faculty. It is a means of perception and knowledge, but not the means of judging, weighing, measuring, comparing, etc. It is much closer to observation (though most modern people only engage in consumer observation).

Vladimir Lossky, the great 20th century Russian theologian, says:

Knowledge is given to us by faith, that is to say, by our participatory adherence to the presence of Him Who reveals Himself. Faith is therefore not a psychological attitude, a mere fidelity. It is an ontological relationship between man and God, an internally objective relationship…

“Participatory adherence” is the key phrase in this description. It is a noetic awareness that does not stand outside what it observes. It is a sympathetic observation in which we ourselves are open and vulnerable to what we perceive.

An example.

You meet a stranger. The most common approach is to immediately engage the critical faculty. We make observations and judgments almost instantly. Emotional triggers may encourage us to make immediate decisions. We may react in such a way as to be guarded or skeptical, or attracted, or even disinterested. In many ways, we are “consuming” the stranger.

Imagine, instead, that you meet a stranger and completely suspend judgment. You do not compare them, categorize them, or measure them in any way. You refrain as much as possible from engaging emotional reactions. Rather, you are simply attentive, observing them with an awareness that does not judge. Imagine at the same time that you not only observe them in such a manner, but that you fully engage your own willingness to see them sympathetically while being willing to allow them into your own life. This is something of what Lossky means by a “participatory adherence.”

But how is this practiced with regard to God?

God is not a static object. He is personal and therefore acts in freedom. We can know or perceive Him because He makes Himself known. By and large, people in our culture are looking for a God who can be experienced by the critical faculty. In short, we want a God whom we can consume. Do I like Him? Do I want Him? Will I give Him my life? Do I choose Him? This is largely accomplished by substituting the idea of God for God Himself.

I knew a woman who was a self-professed non-believer, though she was willing to believe. Her husband began bringing her to my parish. She attended faithfully for a period of time. One day she asked to meet with me and told me her story. With tears she said she had been in the Church during a service. She was looking at the icon of Christ on the iconostasis. “Why do I not know you?” she asked quietly. “And then I did,” she said. There was no argument, no promise of experience. There was, however, a “participatory adherence.” She was there and she was there repeatedly. Her question was not a critical examination. If anything, it was a cry of love though she had little hope of an answer.

The tradition uses two other words that are important in this perception. One is hesychia, translated “silence” or “stillness.” The second is nepsis (adjective, neptic), often translated “sobriety,” or “attentiveness.” These are noetic expressions, describing the stillness and attention that are generally required for the nous to perceive what is around it. That stillness is not quite the same thing as peace and quiet. It also indicates refraining from our various agendas. Nepsis is an attentiveness that avoids the distractions of the various passions (anger, lust, greed, envy, etc.).

We can know God because He wills to make Himself known. But noetic living is not a technique, per se. It simply describes the proper grounding for the spiritual life. Thus, whether reading Scripture, praying, attending a service, or simply being still, we actively and quietly offer ourselves to God. We should not expect this to automatically produce some wonderful result (it’s not a technique). But as we engage in these activities with the right mind (noetically, neptically, hesychastically) we do indeed learn to perceive God. We learn to be aware of what our nous perceives.

This is, of course, much more successfully learned with good guidance (such as from a priest or monk, or someone who has knowledge of these things – and not all priests or monks do). Many people simply stumble into this and never have words to describe it. It is a perfectly natural thing.

If there were anything that a Christian could practice that would help nurture this aspect of their life, it would be refraining as much as possible from the consumerism of our culture. It teaches us habits that are very destructive to our souls. Instead, we should practice generosity and kindness, and give ourselves over to the care of God rather than the spirit of shopping. You cannot serve God and mammon.

In the Orthodox service, those attending frequently hear the priest or deacon intone: “Wisdom! Let us attend!”

Let us attend. Indeed.

I offer an afterthought. One means of practicing “participatory adherence” is to say “yes.” And, another word for “participatory adherence” might be “love.”

47 comments:

  1. Thank you, Fr. Stephen, for bringing clarity to the nous, and it’s operating. This has been so fuzzy in my understanding. Thankful for God’s work in and through you.

  2. Thank you, Fr. Stephen, for this wonderful post. I have been reading and writing lately about what folks in my academic discipline (media ecology) refer to as anagogic perception, which seems to be closely related to noetic perception. You may have heard of Marshall McLuhan, a Canadian professor and writer in the mid-twentieth century, himself Catholic, who suggested that spiritual perception is wrought by the interplay of the five senses plus the “sixth sense” (faith). His son Eric wrote a book a few years ago, titled “The Sensus Communis, Synesthesia, and the Soul,” that presents faith as a ways of knowing in similar ways as you’ve described nous, here. He writes of an “inner sensorium” and draws on many of the writings of the Church Fathers in his analysis.

  3. Many years ago when the Christian Community of which my late wife snd I were a part dissolved, we went looking for a new community. I attended services in several. The most memorable early was a Society of Friends meeting. They actually sit in silence and attend to the presence of God together.
    Ultimately, we decided not to continue there because there was no sacrament . Then one day as we were heading home from somewhere, we passed a church. My wife suddenly turned in her seat and pointed at it and said, “What about that church?”.
    I had lived in the neighborhood most of my life. I went to elementary school just a few blocks up the street. I had no idea it was an Orthodox Church.
    I went the next Sunday. When I entered the sanctuary, I was stunned by the icon of The Theotokos above the altar, welcoming me with open arms.
    With the Great Entrance, I perceived that the priest was carrying Christ Himself as he processed.
    I knew of the Orthodox Church in a small way. Despite the fact that there was no quiet, the presence of the Lord was manifest. The same person who 14 years before responded to my prayer: “Jesus, if you are real, I need to know you.”
    The 35 years since have contained a lot of joy, sorrow, pain and failure. I have lost sight of Jesus more than once but He has not list sight of me.
    If I attend but a little, He is there. I occasionally see Him in others but my living wife is much more attentive to that than am I. She is teaching me.

    I am blessed to “Taste and See”. Still I sometimes yearn for the unified attentive silence of the Friends.

    BTW another word that has been translated badly is metonoia. Rendered simply as repent or repentance. In the west it has become transactional, that is, consumerist. In fact, it is anything but. It is, originally, a noetic word.

  4. Father nails the issue as that of attention. And it’s not commonly understood attention. We’ve lost not only the vocabulary for these things, we’ve lost the grammar, though it exists in the Church.

    Lord, teach me wisdom in my secret heart.

  5. The ‘nous, the noetic,’ relatively new words for me, but something I have experienced at times in life. So in terms of new words, there is something to connect with the reality of the word and it’s meaning. Growing up in the UK, I had only ever heard the word ‘nous’ used to mean common sense.
    Words can be difficult when in dialogue. Do I and the person I am in dialogue with understand the true meaning of the word or words being used. Also in what context is the word being used.
    In conversation with my parish priest some years ago, I said something (I can’t remember exactly what now) and the priest began to reply, when I interrupted him to say, that was not what I meant. He then replied with, but that’s what you said, I must say he was very patient with me at all times. He then taught me that I should be more attentive and to listen to what someone is saying and not what I think they are saying.
    An RC nun taught me that when in dialogue, there should be some ground rules, such as, if we are using a certain word or concept, we then need to establish at the outset how the word or concept is understood by both parties.
    I forget these lessons at times and can take it for granted that a certain word is understood in a certain way, without going through the process of giving a long explanation as to what I am talking about. Also I misunderstand at times, what someone has said, or written; then hearing or reading my own meaning into something, rather than getting the meaning intended. Like going about reading Holy Scripture in the wrong manner; doing eisegesis, instead of exegesis.
    Words can be used in a narrow sense at times and in a broader sense at other times, depending on context and the point being made. It only becomes a problem when either the narrow sense is over emphasised at the expense of the broader sense and vice versa.

  6. Father, bless. Thank you for this post. I appreciate especially the analogies to help me understand that which is beyond my comprehension. When I think about what you write, I can only talk about what very little I understand and have experienced: my perceptions, thoughts, and feelings. The analogies help because I have experience with those things–I can ride a bike and I can play the piano and so these help translate meanings for me. But it seems to me that the experience of God, or knowing God, or discussing the possibility of God is like the emperor’s new clothes–many beautiful words and promises without any actual substance–at least as far as I have experienced. And if one tries to refute this, it comes out as circular logic–if I don’t see the clothes, I don’t have enough faith. Or, perhaps I have enough faith, but if I don’t see the clothes, God chooses not to show me. In your post, the logic follows: we have an organ for knowing God (nous), but if we don’t know God, it is because we haven’t developed this organ. Developing this organ takes time, but ultimately, we still may not perceive God. If we don’t, it is for our salvation so that we struggle towards knowing Him.

    How can people in our times (i.e. me) who have no experience or language accept this idea that one can know God? If I am honest with myself, I cannot discern what is my own deception and what is (perhaps) God. I can weigh and test things that are perceptible, and try and make the best judgement I can with what evidence there is. Eventually, I trust certain things as being generally consistent and true. But I cannot do this with God. Granted, as you point out, God is not an object, but a person. However, this analogy falls short as well. My wife is a person–I can touch and feel her. I can talk with her and she talks back to me. I cannot do this with God–a God whom Christians say loves us so much, who desires that we know and become like Him.

    I can understand a special word for a particular kind of snow or ice because I have experience with snow and ice. I can understand how people who are immersed in this life have specialized vocabulary for it. But to someone who has lived his whole life in the jungle, who has never experienced anything frozen, it is an analogy that does not work. Not only are the words unfamiliar, but the concept itself is utterly foreign and outside of any actual experience.

    Please forgive my rambling and scattered thoughts. If anything is clear, it is that I struggle with this!

    Asking your prayers.

  7. But as we engage in these activities with the right mind (noetically, neptically, hesychastically) we do indeed learn to perceive God

    Restate the three words in the parentheses as commonly used words rather than technical words.

    Might comment on watch and pray that you enter not into temptation.

    Thanks

  8. Tikhon,
    I have pondered these things too and often wondered whether it’s all a deception. Then one day the penny dropped and ‘Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God,’ made sense I my context.

  9. Yes, this! One of the things that drew me back toward Christianity was the sense I was missing vocabulary and therefore conscious understanding of experiences I know are real, but cannot fully speak of in psychological/analytical terms. It left me with a feeling of never being able to speak the full truth which I’m getting tired of…finally lol. Of course you don’t need to talk about everything, some things can be lived. Still I feel like I am always seeking the right words and expression, wanting to acknowledge the reality. It has been exciting to read your blog and listen to Jonathan Pageau’s material and other things and finally be able to have a way to understand experiences and perceptions I’ve had.

  10. I have never been a diver, but watched Jacques Cousteau’s shows on TV as a child. Watching scenes of the camera going down deeply into the sea as a child, is similar to how I perceive the noetic life. There are moments that have quickly passed when I have been in the depths. But I’m not able to sustain it. I’m very much like a child trying to hold their breath as they go down. Then suddenly pop out. I spend most of my time, I believe, on the surface watching the undulating reflections of the sea of life.

    For these reasons, I am gratefully edified when I hear other’s stories of their experiences in the depths. It seems that when you are around such a person who lives there, in the depths, that the light reflections of their life can softly pierce into and illuminate one’s own heart.

    Dear Michael, that is how it was when I was around my father’s father. My grandfather, a farmer and beekeeper, was a “Friend” his entire life. A son of generations of Quakers in Pennsylvania. I used to love following him out to his ‘bee yard’ or apiary to watch him as a young child. When he opened the hives, he instructed me to stand several feet away. I don’t remember him ‘smoking’ his bees (to create a kind of chemical camouflages). He didn’t wear a veil, just a hat and long sleeves. I asked him whether or not he got stung, and with a slight smile he softly and calmly said “yes”. He wasn’t the least perturbed, and ironically, the bees seemed not so much perturbed either. The harmoniousness of this way of being imprinted on my child mind.

    He had such a calming influence on me as a child. In his way, he taught me the words, “Be still and know that I am God”. And he taught this without uttering a word of scripture, rather it was in the life he lived.

    I struggle to live this way of life. My temperament often seems ill suited to it. But now I’m a beekeeper. And gratefully it seems when I’m near them, my grandfather’s ways arise in my heart. Lessons from handling the bees often involve a healthy dose of humility. And I wear a veil!

    I want to end by thanking all who have commented here, today. I very much needed to read Father’s article and your comments. Thank you, each and every one of you!!

  11. Tikhon,
    I want to offer a couple of observations that might be helpful. I understand full well the sort of frustration many suffer from when the “experience of God” seems to be only silence or opacity. I’ve thought about this over the years, and I think that many time people are expecting something that they will never see or hear. We expect some kind of “divine” experience: a voice, a vision, or something with enough substance about it to give it anything more than a vague subjectivity. The way many people speak of knowing God often makes it sound like they have something that we don’t have, and we don’t know how to get it. I think most people, however, do not “know” God. They believe in Him, and often like an idea. The idea seems quite real over time – but that is still pretty much what their experience is.

    Interestingly, the Fathers (particularly in the East) have much to say about knowing God – and they place it primarily in the realm of the “Divine Energies.” That language can also be misleading, because, we often think of it in terms of the “uncreated light” that St. Gregory Palamas discusses. This, however, is a rare experience.

    The “energies” can be translated as the “doings” or “actions” of God. And the doctrine of the Church is that the energies of God and His essence are one. God’s actions are not separate from God, they are also God Himself.

    This is the manner that St. Dionysius the Areopagite, especially, discusses the energies. And his primary example of the energies are found in God’s providence – His creation and sustaining of all things in existence, directed by His good will. Thinking on these things, “perceiving” them, he describes as “theoria physike” (“natural contemplation”).

    When someone says to me that they have no experience of God, I am tempted to say that you actually have experience of God all the time, always and everywhere, but that we philosophically dismiss that experience because we have come to accept the false notion of a secular universe – that the universe is self-existing and requires no reference other than itself to be understood.

    This has been quite helpful to me. My “noetic” experience consists, largely, in just such “natural contemplation,” as I’ve learned to pay attention to everything as a manifestation of God’s good will. It is in that experience and recognition that I find the practice of giving thanks always and for all things to be key. This approach to creation allows us to see beauty and goodness – both of which are manifestation of the Divine Energies.

    My Christian belief is that all of that goodness and beauty, the goodwill of God manifest in creation, became flesh and dwelt among us. That what I contemplate in creation is a reflection of the Logos, through Whom it was created. And the Logos became man, in the God/Man Jesus Christ. He gives voice, action, and teaching to what might otherwise seem a “mute” universe. What Jesus says is moment by moment echoed in everything around us.

    It can be frustrating when we want to see “behind” everything – essentially when we want God to give Himself to us as “object” rather than Creator.

    Those are some thoughts that came to me as I read your comment.

  12. Thank you for this excellent article, Fr Stephen. It can’t be emphasized enough how critical this topic is.

    Noetic perception is spiritual consciousness, which finds its locus in the deep heart – the place where God is waiting for us. Yet He respects our freewill and will never force Himself on us. We must willingly search Him out. This is a path of discovery which is inward not outward. It requires focus and inner stillness. The Jesus Prayer is a means of getting there.

    Noetic consciousness is akin to attending a symphony. The symphony can engage all the senses, enliven the mind, engender emotions – the energy can even be felt in your body. Yet there are no words that can adequately describe the fullness of that experience. It is an experience beyond words and feelings that can’t be encapsulated. It is something which must be experienced to be known. So it is with God.

    We often confuse knowledge about God (rational ideas in the mind) with knowledge of God (noetic experience). We objectify God instead of experiencing Him – it becomes informational instead of relational. Stuck in our distracted minds, we put God “out there somewhere,” when in fact He wants to reveal Himself noetically in the depths of our being. The doorway of deification is not in the mind, but in the heart. The purpose of the spiritual life is to bring us to that place, where we silently attend and wait “until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.”

  13. I confess to being a consumer of words (including your blog!). I go from one book or article to another in hopes of finding the path to that Noetic experience. When what I really need to do is simply pray. I know that one cannot attain to union with God through the mind, and yet I continue to persist in my pursuit. I do realize the folly of it, but it seem to be an addiction of sorts. It’s easier to consume words than it is to simply sit in silence and stillness.

  14. Despite all of my experience of the Church the one thing that made it real was after several weeks attending I migrated to a pew closer to the front. I was in the pew next to a great Christian lady Margaret Laham (memory eternal). When she came back after receiving communion she made sure I had a piece of the Holy Bread. I had not met her until then. She was a great friend thereafter.
    It all was an experience of energies to be sure but not vague or general in nature but unique and personal. Margaret was definitely of that same spirit. A spirit that despite all the noise and bustle around us was not unlike the prayer of the Friends as integral to the Sacrament if Life.

    I cannot claim to “know God” whatever that means but I know without doubt He is a real person perhaps The Person and He is present in the Orthodox Church in a fullness I found nowhere else–and I looked.

    That does not mean sin is not also present because it certainly is, especially in my own heart. But here I am also confronted with my sin in ways that are hard to deny.

    Romans 5 esp. verses 20-21 addresses that reality.

  15. Father,
    Thank you for your comment to Tikhon. They are especially key and help with my own vocabulary. I repeat your words that touched my heart:

    My Christian belief is that all of that goodness and beauty, the goodwill of God manifest in creation, became flesh and dwelt among us. That what I contemplate in creation is a reflection of the Logos, through Whom it was created. And the Logos became man, in the God/Man Jesus Christ. He gives voice, action, and teaching to what might otherwise seem a “mute” universe. What Jesus says is moment by moment echoed in everything around us.

  16. Fr. Stephen,
    Thank you for this! I have been reading the Philokalia recently and this clears up some questions I had.

    With respect,
    Elijah

  17. Esmee,
    I’m glad that you spend time on this blog. I appreciate your input; it’s very helpful.

  18. Andrew, two things have helped me to a better understanding: worshipping as an Orthodox person including my personal prayers and time. I must say that Fr. Stephen’s efforts have helped as well. I am beginning to suspect that everything written about the nous and the noetic capacity is wholly inadequate because human language lacks the capacity to express it. Still we struggle on doing the best we can.

  19. There is indeed a word of familiar English usage to describe the soul’s engagement of the nous in life’s encounters. That word is, quite simply, [to] ‘behold’.

  20. Andrew – if sharing my own struggles in the Orthodox Faith can help you, then Glory to God!

  21. Michael,
    you’re quite right, one would have to experience noetic prayer to really know what it is. Words can only take us so far.
    Not being able to have a spiritual father/mother at present, reading is a necessity. My wife is also a great help.
    I am aware of how easy it is to fall into greater delusion than I am already in and take prayer carefully; especially the Jesus Prayer and trust in the Lord.
    As I’ve said before, this blog is life line for me; a point of contact with Orthodox Christians like yourself and others like myself who are learning about Orthodoxy. To begin with I just read Fr. Stephen’s articles quite regularly; much wisdom and lived experience being passed on, Then I got curios about what people were saying in the comment section and found it very helpful and friendly. It took me a while to actually get round to commenting myself. I’m glad I did.

  22. Fr Stephen,

    Thank you for helping me get a little closer to understanding the nous. I’ve seen it mostly used as mind or intellect, and I felt that couldn’t be quite right. You explained it well.

    I appreciate Tikhon’s words. I often feel like a fraud and question all I say I believe because it’s hard to pin down. Propositional truths give one such a false sense of security, as though that is knowing God, and moving to Orthodoxy doesn’t exactly get rid of propositional truths, but puts them in different places.

    I hunger to know God, too, and such a thing feels impossible much of the time. So I just keep doing the things i know I’m supposed to do: attend the services, pray, fast, love my neighbor, none of which I do particularly well, but it must all be for some good. I’ve just started getting to know the Jesus Prayer in practice. It’s not what I expected, but I just keep doing what my priest told me to do.

    I haven’t been to your blog in a while. This was such a great post for me. I’ve missed being here.

  23. Aaron,

    Very well written. It is easy to veer into an almost anti-Incarnational, Neoplatonic understanding of nous that ignores the rest of the human essence/energies and at the same time makes God into some exceptionally non-physical thing that is perceivable by man, knocking down the very important distinction between creation and Creator. A right noetic experience only happens in concert with the rest of one’s life—building on the pillars of reading, fasting, and giving, which support prayer—and gives light to all the senses and faculties. Of course, there are noetic experiences which do not come from God, as the angelic powers are the inhabitants of the noetic realm and not all have remained faithful, but that is quite a topic by itself.

  24. Andrew Roberts,

    Language is very interesting, and so much is cultural and biological, not about the words themselves. As an autistic person (among much else), it is still like speaking a foreign language when I interact with most people. Every day, I get better and better at translating and speaking it “on the fly”, but it always remains a second language. On the other hand, I have an intensity with written words—not just vocabulary but layers of meaning, patterns of numbers, etc—that others perhaps do not even perceive to be there. I find that defining terms and working logically really helps, but it is exceedingly difficult to find people who are able—or willing—be be consistent and honest about their thoughts and feelings. Interestingly, I find just about anyone with “Saint” in front of their name to be simple to understand. Most of the more recent stuff, particularly on the web? Nope. It either makes little sense to me, or does make sense—and feels like they have a very different understanding of the Fathers. It used to be that we could not read about Orthodoxy because there was not enough published in English. Now we have the same problem, but for the opposite reason: far, far too much has been said.

    I’m not sure if you read much fiction, but my best friend got me going through a number of authors (Robert Jordan, Brandon Sanderson, etc) which she believes write well. Recently, I struck out on my own and am reading the second book of the Foreigner series by CJ Cherryh. In it, there is another species which does not just speak differently, but is so biologically distinct that concepts like friendship and trust do not exist—they *cannot* exist for them. I haven’t found too much that I already didn’t know, living that life everyday in some way already, but it is so far a really engaging picture of how misunderstanding can be both subtle and catastrophic. Much patience is required, along with a constant “sanity-checking” of one’s own conceptions of the other while maintaining a willingness to be open to different ways of seeing.

    Michael Bauman,

    I recall Abp Dmitri had lots to say about the Great Entrance, as it has taken on some improper significance in some places through a long series of misunderstandings. It is still a necessary and important part of the Liturgy, and Christ is definitely there—just not in the same manner as after the consecration, when He is really present in the Eucharist and even more reverence is due! That said, there is much to be learned from the Great Entrance, and plenty to enter into.

  25. Father, as always, thank you for your thoughts and comments. I re-read your original post and I feel that it hits at the heart of where I am. I am reminded of two C.S. Lewis books which touch on the same theme. There’s a scene in The Last Battle, where, towards the end, the faithless dwarfs find themselves in Aslan’s country, but cannot see it. Instead of seeing “Paradise,” they see instead the inside of a dark, dark stable. And Aslan explains that without faith, they cannot see his country, and even he cannot help them. In another Lewis book, Till We Have Faces, there is a similar scenario where Lewis retells the story of Cupid and Psyche. I remember a vivid scene in which Orual goes to rescue her sister from the gods and finds her in a barren place. Her sister is content and happy, and claims to be in a lush, verdant place. However, her sister cannot see any of it and tries to get her to leave.

    I think my prayer is, “O Lord, I want to believe–help my unbelief!”

  26. Joseph Barabbas Theoporus,
    indeed words, meanings and concepts are difficult to grasp and we do need trustworthy guides to help us understand; hence the importance of the Christian tradition; particularly Orthodoxy.
    The world is a very confusing place. There are many voices shouting for attention and telling us they have the answers, or the way, or the promise of a bright new future. Words and concepts can be twisted to suit anything. It is no wonder that Jesus said, that the people didn’t know their left hand from their right hand.
    Atheism and agnosticism are easy options, as are the multitude of pseudo spiritualities on offer. But once the decision to take Christ seriously is taken, then we enter gradually into reality. Christianity is no pie in the sky opiate.
    You say you are autistic. I am not, but at times I have experienced dialogue difficult and have been ostracised for speaking my mind and find it hard at times to have conversations with people. It too for me seems at times that a different language is being spoken. Some people do avoid conversing with me, if the can. I am aware that I can be be very awkward and blunt. Part of my personality and partly due to where I grew up in Wrexham, North Wales.
    Before I came to live in Nigeria, I worked as a support worker in the UK, where I am from. I worked with people with extreme autism. I was amazed when some of my fellow workers said that in some ways we are like them, because we are all autistic to some degree. My stock reply was, we are like them and they are like us because we are human. We all therefore have commonalities and differences.
    Reading? One of my biggest enjoyments in life. ‘Literature is a luxury; fiction a necessity.’ – G.K. Chesterton. However what we take for granted in the western world, for example the abundance of and ease of buying books, is not so here in Nigeria; therefore I am not able to read as much as I was used to. There are only so many stories, but a story well told is worth hearing a number of times. There sheer joy of the written word applied by an adept pen wielder (I don’t suppose many may people write by hand these days).
    Thank Joseph for engaging with me. May the good Lord bless you abundantly.

  27. Joseph, I knew almost nothing theological in my first Divine Liturgy. I was convicted nonetheless. I was/am convicted of the fact that The Person of Jesus Christ is physically/spiritually present in The Divine Liturgy. The Silent Entrance during The Liturgy of the Pre-Sanctified Gifts makes that even more clear. He was present in the heart of Margaret Laham of blessed memory when she shared her Holy Bread with me.
    Is there really more or less Christ or is it a question of the degree to which He reveals Himself and how He does that?

  28. Janine,
    Socrates famously said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” I find it to be true that many people leave the culture in which they live “unexamined,” in that, at most, they complain about problems of morality. What they do not do is examine the deeper roots of things and confront those thoughts and patterns in their lives. The “marketing” of things is endemic in our culture – and is embedded in our consciousness. It is difficult for people, unless taught clearly and urged forward, to confront something that is so universal.

    I will say that Orthodoxy seems less “market” driven than many others – if only because we’re so “unmarketable.” 🙂

  29. Michael, JBT,
    If I were pressed on the question of the Great Entrance – “Where is Christ?” I would probably answer – “He’s carrying the bread.” As the priest enters the altar, bearing the “unconsecrated” Gifts, He is Christ making His entrance into the altar of heaven. It’s also, of course, very misleading for us to think of the bread as “unconsecrated.” At the moment of the Great Entrance, the bread has not yet been revealed to be what it is, but it becomes almost “magical” for us to be too concentrated on moments of consecration and such. The Liturgy is not many things – but one thing. And, being creatures of time, that one thing must be spread out over a couple of hours for us, when, in fact, it is one single thing.

    The same is true even of a human life. Our lifetime is one thing (“me”) but it is lived in moments over decades. But it is one thing, not many. This, for me, also makes it tricky to think of “moments” of conversion, repentance, and such. Such moments belong to a whole that is one thing (and it has not yet been revealed what it truly is – that only comes “when He appears”).

  30. Father,
    Thank you the comment to JBT and Michael regarding time and the “one thing” conceptualization. I often encounter among young Native Americans, who are in science, to use a kind of saying, the “two eyed” approach of participation in science. But this stance seems to be taken, in my understanding (and personal history), to be a kind of compromise, engaging the outlook of two cultures while conducting science. When I hear young people taking such a stance, I present no philosophical deliberation with them. I see it primarily as a kind of coping mechanism that I had myself. The issues that I believe that sometimes result however is that the ‘two-eyed” might inadvertently assume ‘two things’, because the same thing might look sufficiently different through the prism of each, very different, cultures.

    Last, in these days within the US, the predominant culture is so ubiquitous, that it is a rare community that is sufficiently isolated that would have to engage the predominant culture as separate from them own. In the latter case, they are always in the ‘one world’ of their birth culture and with both eyes in unity they see the world and this culture through that prism.

    For me this is what becoming an Orthodox Christian has given to me, a kind of wholeness. Orthodox Christianity teaches a capacity to observe and to participate, or adhere, in the multiple layers, three dimensions, lets say (for want of a better description), of our existence.

    Christ penetrates through all the layers and meets us where we are, regardless of our capacity to see or observe in the depths. However, this culture has a way of parsing our existence and insists on the existence of one layer and denies what lies beneath. This is what I believe, Tihkon refers to when he mentions the exert from CS Lewis’ book, “Till we have faces”. In this regard, Father, I find your references to the observance of the hand of God, or the Providence of God and to the “one thing” to be helpful sign posts, pointing to the depths. I believe it can be healthier and helpful, if we can observe such things with a “one-eyed” approach. Christ and His Pascha, is the point, the beginning and end of all things. And as you have mentioned before, we don’t often see the Providence of God in our lives, until much of our life is in the “rear-view” mirror.

  31. Father, thank you so much for your reply. And it is so true — it’s true of myself as well. I had a long roundabout way of coming back home where I began, only to find there was such a gigantic enormous treasure that I didn’t know was there, and I’m still exploring.

    I will say that Orthodoxy seems less “market” driven than many others – if only because we’re so “unmarketable.” Haha, true. I think at this very moment I’m a little fed up to here with certain mad approaches :-). I do believe that things work on that other level that takes a certain kind of perception — whether it is perceived or not. It is at work behind the scenes anyway, one way or another. And, let’s face it, that is exactly what Christ said was going to happen (John 16:8).

  32. Father, when you say “Where is Christ? He is carrying the bread.” That is exactly what was shown to me. I have not thought of it in those terms before. Thank you for the clarity. From that moment, I have also had a deep and abiding respect for the priesthood even when particular men have disappointed me.
    The Chrism of the Priesthood is explicitly revealed in the Sacrament of Confession when the priest says: “Know that you confess not to me, a sinner but to Christ Himself.
    I love that.

  33. Dee, you said: “Christ penetrates through all the layers and meets us where we are”.
    That is a wonderful truth.
    He is also quite patient.

  34. JBT,
    an after thought; the relativism of this present time, does cause difficulties in dialogue due to personal opinion being elevated to the level of truth.

  35. Andrew Roberts,

    Interesting you brought up relativism, which itself is a term with very different understandings. Renaissance philosophy basically rediscovered objectivism, but it did not have the positive connotation of today: it was the elevation of objects—facts, ideas, and even physical phenomena—to the place of truth—even to the place of Truth. Some of us are therefore “taking back” the term relativism, understood as relative-ism, where truth is always understood in terms of relationship, not object—for God is not object, but Tri-Personal.

    The elevation of one’s own opinion is thus a problem that predates modernism (ie, the progress narrative) and cannot be solved even by philosophies that deconstruct modernism (eg, postmodernism, which has many useful tools but unfortunately boils down to the application of Marxism—another objectivist creation—to the inner life). Here, it is more necessary to undercut objectivism itself, and show that the world is far bigger than that which is measurable and quantifiable and even physical. It is just as critical to move beyond even the non-physical created world, too, beyond objects thought-centric and ideal, as the early Greeks often got stuck on—that just takes us back to the Renaissance and we’ll do everything from Reformation to modernism all over again, probably more violently. As far as logic goes, one object—or idea—cannot be said to be any “better” than another. One fact, indeed, cannot be said to contain more Truth than another, though some systems (eg, logic itself) create results that are more *self-consistent* than others. But for Truth, we must go beyond object, beyond objectivism. We must enter into relationship—relationship with Christ.

  36. JBT,
    an interesting exposition. I was unaware that people like yourself and others were taking back the meaning of relativism; truth being understood as relational.
    Philosophy is not one of my strong points. Much of it is incomprehensible to me; for example Heidegger and Hegel to name but two philosophers. Also logic is beyond me to a degree, as is mathematics and other such constructs for understanding reality. I understand their usefulness to a degree, but not in the context of my lived experience and relationship with the Holy Trinity and my neighbour.
    As you say it is about entering into relationship with Christ Himself and all that that entails.

  37. JBT,
    as regards the renaissance and the reformation. I am aware of their influence and effects within western Christianity and beyond. However I am not aware of how much they have impacted upon Orthodoxy in the various countries and situations Orthodoxy is present.

  38. JBT, fascinating. I would take it one step further: life, indeed all of creation, is inter-relational. God made it that way to begin with. “Male and Female created He them. ” Gen 5:2″ The Incarnation and all that entails restores that. The Creed affirms that. Also The Cross, the grave and His glorious third day Ressurection is an expression of the same Spirit. Indeed every practice and teaching of the Church.

    My Dad learned that homesteading on the high plains of eastern New Mexico and preached the essential reality all his life( his words still ring loudly in my heart and mind) as did my Mother. Unfortunately, neither made the connection to Jesus.

    That inter-relation is the foundation for the Noetic Life.

  39. I wish our churches would quit thinking in marketing terms and more in faith terms.

    Janine, I am sometimes more annoyed at how poorly they do their marketing!

    But I am happy that Orthodoxy is so “unmarketable”, as Father said. It is interesting that, in my parish, we have a number of young men that have visited (consistently) over the last few months. I often wonder where they come from! But God brings them as He will. And I give thanks.

  40. Bryon and Janine,
    I have frequently said that if I was wanting to start a parish I would use my wife. Case in point: she was in surgical rehab recently and during a group physical therapy session she met a young man. They saw each other as “of God” because of the brightness each shone with. It so happened that their rooms were right next to each other so my wife went next door and sat with him and they prayed together using the prayers from the red Pocket Prayer Book and the small dyptich of Jesus and Mary that my wife had with her. They did that for a few days until my wife was discharged. The young man was fascinated. His condition being more serious he had to stay but my wife left him the prayer book and the icons and contact info. He said when he is able, he wants to come to worship with us.
    BTW, my wife is also a professional marketer for her family’s winery, Wyldewood Cellars. http://www.wyldewoodcellars.com/

    She says she “just plants seeds” . In marketing terms it is known as “puppy dogging”. Giving small really attractive gifts so that folks want more.

    But my wife is exceptional. She radiates Christ most of the time.
    I saw it when I first met her 12 years ago. I married her to make sure she would become Orthodox. There are times when I look at her and want to get a pair of sunglasses.

    Little children are her favorite people and she is a “kid magnet”. But she loves talking to people, connecting empathically as she does.

    Moral of the story: don’t hide your lamp under a blanket.

  41. Janine,
    here are two Roman Catholic perspectives that I thought appropriate, that you may, or may not find interesting, re: marketing Christianity.

    ‘True reform is one that strives for what is truly Christian but hidden, that lets itself be challenged and formed by it; false reform is one that runs after man instead of leading him and thus transforms Christianity into a general store that is not doing well and has to drum up customers.’
    – Joseph Ratzinger.

    ‘Even today our pastoral strategies without any demands, without an appeal to conversion, without a radical return to God, are paths that lead nowhere. They are politically correct games that cannot lead us to the crucified God, our true liberator,’
    – Robert Cardinal Sarah.

  42. Caveat: those quotes, although not specifically about marketing Christianity, are I think applicable.

Leave a Reply

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