The heart itself is but a small vessel, yet dragons are there, and there are also lions; there are poisonous beasts and all the treasures of evil. But there too is God, the angels, the life and the kingdom, the light and the apostles, the heavenly cities and the treasuries of grace—all things are there. (H.43.7) St. Macarius
If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. A.I. Solzhenitsyn
These quotes are among the best known (ancient and modern) Orthodox statements on the heart of man and reveal the fundamental character of our spiritual struggle. There is not even a hint in these statements of human beings having a “legal” standing before God or that the Church should have any concern with such notions.
Man, as a fallen creature, is better described as diseased or broken (St. Paul uses the term “corrupt” phthoros in the Greek). The corruption which St. Paul describes is again not a legal term (as “corrupt” often means in modern English usage) but refers instead to a corruption that is similar to the rotting of a dead body. Indeed it is death that is at work in us that manifests itself as sin in our lives. The death that is at work in us is our falling back towards non-existence, or nothingness, whence all of creation came. God alone is the Lord and Giver of Life and true existence is only found in communion with Him. That communion is made possible through Christ Who became what we are, that we might become like Him.
It is the heart, the very core of our existence, that the Fathers dwell on when they look at the work of sin and redemption in our lives. Thus Orthodoxy is extremely “realist” in its understanding of the spiritual life rather than being concerned with legal standing or “debts owed,” etc. It is possible to use such relational language in a metaphorical manner, but the truth of our problem is to be found in the very character of our existence: Is it being transformed into the image of Christ or is it falling deeper into corruption and death?
This concern for the reality of our existence changes the focus and understanding of every action of the Church. Thus in Baptism, the focus is our union with the death and resurrection of Christ and the Gift of the Holy Spirit given us in Holy Chrismation. St. Ignatius of Antioch (2nd century) referred to Holy Communion as the “medicine of immortality.” Penance (confession) is occasionally described by the fathers as a “second baptism,” meaning that it restores the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives.
A priest hearing confession listens intently for the state of the heart (if possible) rather than simply categorizing and subjecting to legal analysis what he hears. Indeed, it is considered a sin to judge someone whose confession you are hearing. As a good pastor, however, a priest must always be concerned with the state of the heart within any of those for whom he is responsible before God. He cannot change anyone’s heart, but with whatever skill God may have given him, he can counsel and nurture each soul towards the path of healing in the heart and, most importantly, he can pray constantly for his flock and for the heart of each of its members.
By the same token, it is important for every Christian to pay attention to his own heart. Christ makes this abundantly clear when he interiorizes the commandments on murder and adultery, warning:
You have heard that it was said to the men of old, `You shall not kill; and whoever kills shall be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that every one who is angry with his brother shall be liable to judgment… (Matt. 5:21-22)
You have heard that it was said, `You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that every one who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart (Matt. 5:27-28).
It is not that our outward actions do not matter, but that they are only manifestations of the state of the heart:
The good man out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil man out of his evil treasure produces evil; for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks (Luke 6:45).
Most of my writing in this blog (as well as my preaching and teaching in the Church) concentrates on this inner life. Learning to open our eyes to the source of our actions and the absolute need for the grace of the Holy Spirit in order to change our hearts is the most fundamental understanding in our daily life before God. There are a myriad of other things to think about in our faith, many of them serving as religious distractions from the essential work of repentance. It is easier to argue points of doctrine than to stand honestly before God in prayer or confession. Doctrine is important (what Orthodox priest would deny this?) but only as it makes Christ known to us. But the knowledge of Christ that saves is not the knowledge one gains as mere information – but rather the knowledge one gains inwardly as we repent, pray, forgive, and humble ourselves before God. The promise to us is that the “pure in heart shall see God.”
Doctrine is not known until it becomes united to the heart in a continual act of communion with God. Thus, if we are honest, we will profess ignorance and pray for true knowledge.
Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.
A quote from St. Silouan:
The heart-stirrings of a good man are good; those of a wicked person are wicked; but everyone must learn how to combat intrusive thoughts, and turn the bad into good. This is the mark of the soul that is well versed.
How does this come about, you will ask?
Here is the way of it: just as a man knows when he is cold or when he feels hot, so does the man who has experienced the Holy Spirit know when grace is in his soul, or when evil spirits approach.
The Lord gives the soul understanding to recognize His coming, and love Him and do His will. In the same way the soul recognizes thoughts which proceed from the enemy, not by their outward form but by their effect on her [the soul].
This is knowledge born of experience; and the man with no experience is easily duped by the enemy.
God grant us such true knowledge and the healing of our hearts.
This article was written and first appeared in 2008. I’m pleased that so little has changed over the years in my writing.
I’m not sure where the source of this quote is from, but it’s been reverberating in my being of late:
“Only he who loves knows anything.”
And yes, it is very reassuring that I read this article and it sounded so fresh as though you just wrote it for me today! The timelessness of Truth. Glory to God for your work, blessed Father!
Thank you, Father, for this beautiful and instructional writing. I just recently learned of a book, Don’t Give the Enemy a Seat at Your Table by Louie Giglio. Although not written by an Orthodox writer, the message is very similar.
Thank you for your continual pastoral work which I always forward to.
We so appreciate your work Father. Thank you for all you do.
Amen! Thank you Father for sharing this again. I am not sure I knew your blog in 2008 😊, so, yes, thanks a lot!!!
“This is knowledge born of experience; and the man with no experience is easily duped by the enemy.”
Yes because experience is inter-relational even Incarnational.
At the same time, the evil one can manufacture emotional states that are counterfeits of the true reality but with a twist that takes someone the wrong direction. Thus the admonition to submit any unusual experience to one’s priest or spiritual Father.
Doctrine, theology and maturity are needed.
I was reading a short biography of Fr. Seraphim Rose on ‘Another City’ recently. A quote from him really stood out: “Don’t blame others. Blame yourself. Don’t justify yourself. Always look at your own sins. Do not judge your brother. ”
That discipline is of the heart for sure. I suspect that if practiced it would be a bit like dying AND being resurrected.
I find it difficult to remember that if I am to be resurrected, I have to die first.
Matthew 28:20 also comes to mind.
Thank you Father. That our faith is actually a struggle within the heart is a truth that needs repeating (and is so far from the marketing approach 🙂 )
I am very grateful for this repeated article!
That’s the heart of the matter. Thank you Fr. Stephen.
The Solzhenitsyn quote is something that comes to my mind repeatedly these days. It is a statement he made during the Soviet period – which is extremely important to bear in mind when considering it. I find that it is a statement to which people frequently say, “Yes, but…” because they believe that they have discerned some important line that separates them from others, and that, unless they rally the troops and raise the alarm, evil will overcome the world.
We live in a time, and in a nation, in which the madness of modernity’s political promises have largely subsumed the whole of Christianity (as well as unbelievers). Those political promises are bound up with the notions of democracy and “making the world a better place.” We “believe” these shameless promises, and though we find ourselves failing again and again, we remain convinced that one more crusade, or even a dozen more crusades will yield the desired result, and that if the crusades are not joined, then the forces of evil will triumph. That has been sold to us for ever so long now.
It is actually not true, and I find that very few people believe that to be the case. When I say such things I am accused of abandoning the world to evil, etc. I have done no such thing. Instead, I am proclaiming the coming of the Kingdom of God in the Cross and Resurrection of Christ – and I’m saying that there’s nothing that anyone can do to make that not true. Not only has the Kingdom come in Christ Jesus, but the false promises of modernity serve, not as a handmaid to that coming, but as a pretender and an opponent.
Our “political” battles represent the abandonment of the heart and the substitution of a false narrative. I frequently believe that Christians who imagine their political agenda to be “radical” (in its opposition to the evil in this world) are simply not radical enough. They are not radical enough to believe in the reality of what has happened in the death and resurrection of Christ. At most, they take those events to be nothing more than moral guides to what is essentially secular action. Jesus did not die to improve the world. In His death, the whole world died, and there is no life accept in union with His resurrection.
How’s your heart? When we stand before the judgment seat of Christ, I’m not sure that anything else will have mattered.
Father, the drive of which you speak actually has a phrase for the ideology: “Immanentize the Eschaton”.
It is an ideology that Jesus specifically warns us against in Luke 17, esp v. 20 to the end. Yet I still suffer from and encounter the belief that “I can fix things” and “Prepare the way”, etc. All I have to do is say the right thing or do the right thing. I sometimes think it is the greatest block to the contrition that is the doorway to the Kingdom within.
So all I can do is try to be obedient to Luke 17:3-4
… and implore our Lord frequently to forgive me, a sinner.
The logic of politics seems very appealing – like a form of common sense. But it repeatedly fails. People do not see that if they were to “win” on any of the major issues of our time, that would still be living with about 50 percent of the population in opposition to their win. And, to have a vast chasm between the hearts of so many people is, ultimately, an untenable position.
I have various extended family members, for example, with whom I would have large “political” divides were I to have that conversation with them. I choose not to have it, because I choose to simply love them. We speak of other things – and I pray for our hearts. I cannot fix them. I can only love them. Only love understands anything…we were reminded shortly ago.
For us Christians, there is nothing to fear: neither of death, nor of the devil, nor of hell. All these things exist for people who are far from Christ… For us Christians who do His will… these things do not exist. That is, they exit, but when one kills the old self, along with the passions and the desires, one gives no importance to the devil or to evil. It doesn’t concern us. What concerns us is love, service to Christ and to our fellow man.
+Saint Porphyrios, Wounded by Love, p. 90.
Father, amen. And I think what you say applies no matter what side of the political divide one is on, or used to be on! I personally have always been all for dialogue, but there comes a point when that isn’t a solution either because listening doesn’t happen anymore.
Frankly if you ask me, a lot more exorcism and holy water would be more effective (and I’m not kidding). But then we need real faith for its effectiveness. Think of the one in ten thousand that would spare a city. That is a testimony to the power of faith, even when the faithful are not perfect. These divides have become very up close and personal for me on a number of fronts, and we remember what Christ said about he who lives by the sword. The political battle is endless, it needs something deeper. Dealing with corruption is a tricky business, and that is what it comes down to.
“For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12). This remains so.
I want to add that (for me personally anyway, like everything else I post) prayers to the Theotokos are especially helpful when dealing with issues “in community”
God allows evil, I can’t stop it other than with God’s help, root it out of my own heart.
You are so right Father! The complex goes way beyond politics though. The spiritual delusion that “if I just say the right things and do the right things then the person will see the truth and be all better”.
I have fallen into that delusion and I have seen some priests there as well. It can be quite subtle but deadly too. It is founded in myself in my will in both arrogance and pride. It seems to include praying ” at” someone rather than praying in humility for someone.
As a private matter, such thoughts and actions are merely sinful. I think, however, that on the level of politics, it should be seen as a cult. Modern politics is religious cult, a heretical offshoot of Christianity. I could unpack that sometime later.
Father, I get that. It is something I have known for awhile, but not really investigated to my own sorrow. Proclaiming the Eschaton without the need for God, indeed as a replacement for God. More than a bit demonic I think but as you say, it is a burden that is in the heart of each of us.
With my wife I am watching the old 1968 movie Becket. A tragedy of similar proportions. Who is to rule in England, The King or The Church? I think T.S. Eliot’s play “Murder in the Cathedral” treats the subject better however. Making the battle much more internal than external.
It has played itself out in the microcosm of my own heart at different times in my life even though in reality there is no such dichotomy. I have always found wisdom in Portia’s speech from The Merchant of Venice on mercy. Particularly “In the course of justice, none of us should see salvation.”
Still it seems to be the struggle of our time. The only solution lies in contrition and giving up one’s sin to our Lord. Privately and (I hope) corporately.
May our Lord and Master so move our hearts to contrition in all things.
Thank you Father.
Politics often causes more division than unity and human pride and hubris really come to the fore in the public and private sphere, as recent and historical events testify.
What effect does political or religious power and wealth have on people? A good example from the past is Pope Boniface VIII’s dispute with Philip the Fair of France over temporal and ecclesiastical power.
Boniface VIII in his Bull Unam Sanctum (c 1302) which speaks for itself, states; ‘This one unique Church, therefore, has not two heads, like a monster, but one body and one head, viz., Christ and his vicar, Peter’s successor, for the Lord said to Peter personally: ‘Feed my sheep’ [Jn 21:17]. ‘My’ he said in general, not individually, meaning these or those; whereby it is understood that he confided all his sheep to him. If therefore Greeks or others say that they were not confided to Peter and his successors, they must necessarily confess that they are not among Christ’s sheep, for the Lord said in John: ‘there shall be one fold and one shepherd’ [Jn 10:16].
Furthermore we declare, state and define that it is absolutely necessary for the salvation of all human beings that they submit to the Roman Pontiff.’
The “last temptation” (the Kingdoms of this world) have been the longest and most protracted struggle within the life of the Church.
it is still going on today; both Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism are experiencing problems and division caused by hierarchs.
I cannot speak for the situation in the RC Church. In Orthodoxy, our ecclesiology simply requires love – a mutuality and synodality – without which things start to fall apart. It is an aspect of Orthodoxy that I particularly treasure – that, at present, there is no external coercive authority – only synodality. It is like a marriage. No marriage can survive apart from love – nothing can coerce it. The troubles of our present time in Orthodoxy, like all other times of trouble, are the failure of love (whether on the part of one, many, or all).
I believe that God has so constituted creation that only love holds it together (His and ours). True, hypostatic existence is the manifestation of love. It is why we so rarely experience it or see it.
I am quite blessed. I personally know the authority of love in the lives of two bishops. My own, His Grace Bishop Basil, Antiochian Bishop of Wichita and Mid-America and my brother’s Bishop, His Eminence Met. Joseph, the Bulgarian Prelate of the Diocese of the US, Canada and Australia. Even better, they know and love each other.
Two specific examples: Bp Basil does not usually remain after Divine Liturgy on Sunday, understandably. A few Sundays ago, the first one since my wife’s back surgery that she had been able to attend, he was leaving as usual but he saw Merry and turned around and came back to welcome her and give her a blessing. That is just the most recent act of love from Bishop Basil that I have witnessed in the 35 years I have known him as priest and bishop. My experience with him is far from unique.
I have been blessed to meet Met Joseph on several occasions. He simply radiates the life of Christ. I sent him an e-mail the other day expressing my gratitude for his care for my brother, one his priests. He replied to me personally to acknowledge my e-mail telling me how highly he regards my brother.
As long as we have hierarchs such as these, we are blessed.
One last story: Bp . Basil was a reluctant bishop. He was added to the candidate list because our canons require three men. No one expected him to be chosen. He was not Met. Philip’s (Antiochian Metropolitan at the time) candidate and he was just a simple priest here in Wichita. Despite the political handicapping, he was chosen. Everyone was shocked, especially him.
The love of the Holy Spirit is still active in the Church.
For all the times we think love fails remember that there are thousands more where it does not.
I come back again and again to this quote from St. John Chrysostom (Which I think you may have shared Father):
“Therefore, do not be cast down, I beseech you. For there is only one thing, Olympia, to fear, only one real temptation, and that is sin. This is the refrain that I keep chanting to you ceaselessly. For everything else is ultimately a fable – whether you speak of plots, or enmities, or deceptions, or slanders, or abuses, or accusations, or confiscations, or banishments, or sharpened swords, or high seas, or war engulfing the entire world. Whichever of these you point to, they are transitory and perishable, and they only affect mortal bodies; they cannot in any way injure the watchful soul. This is why, wishing to express the paltriness of both the good and the bad things of this present life, the blessed Paul stated the matter in one phrase, saying, ‘For the things that are seen are transient’ (2 Cor. 4:18).”
Andrew, thank you for the reminder. Important for me to remember that the struggle is not engaged by oneself. Jesus is always there to help , indeed carrying much of the burden through The Cross.
Thank you Andrew for the St. John Chrysostom quote. Sobering words.
Father, I believe the political currents are driving the cultural ethos, encouraging hard-heartedness, and churlishness in behavior. We leave communion somewhere in our church when we walk out the doors. We inflate our egos and complement ourselves as wise in that we perceive within ourselves a ‘needful’ skepticism. But our hearts, from the start in their own precondition generated by this culture, are vilifying, ungenerous and unforgiving toward anything that contrasts to the politics, theories and schemes we hold to be ‘true’ and as exemplary. An unbending focus on such things does indeed cloud eyes, hardens hearts and minds to the extreme, and snuffs out the flame of love.
St Silouan’s words are so illuminating in these circumstances as you have quoted:
The ‘take home’ message for me from St Silouan: if we find our soul is vexed, disquieted and distracted, such an undertow is the work of the adversary. But the unfortunate irony is that it seems we entertain these adrenaline-laden thoughts and feelings for the roller-coaster rides they give us.
I think the worst part is that we sometimes take our disquieted soul as a sign of virtue – that we know better than others, etc. Most of the people in hell are “right” about things. This is not me endorsing some sort of moral relativism. Rather, it is saying that the true moral battle is much deeper than we imagine. In that battle, most of us are vanquished in a matter of seconds.
Dee, we entertain the adrenaline laden thoughts because, as the quote from St John Chrysostom indicates, we are subject to sin with its accompanying shame. The remedy is simply stated but difficult except by grace: repent. Look to one’s own sins first and do not judge your brothers. Exactly opposite of what the world teaches.
Pray for the Grace to repent always for all things. Especially if you are “right” in an argument or contention of some kind.
George Washington famously said he feared for the time that “party positions” would overtake the truth. If that happened, he felt it would be the end of the Republic of the United States. He was right. All worldly discourse is ideological thus even much talk of God and Jesus Christ is tainted.
My repentance is the foundation of Communion, love and service. It cannot be tainted as long as the focus is on one’s self not the lie that “other people” should repent but I do not have to.
I am trying to live by Mat. 3:2 The Baptist calling for repentance in order to prepare for the coming of our Lord.
Indeed, Father, we see the moral battle as “out there”, externalizing it, perceiving our vexation as virtue, And at that point, without our realizing it, we are already vanquished.
Michael, I see true repentance as a kind of letting go and waiting for God, and letting God be the judge, not us. Few are the sincere exhortations to love, because we unintentionally build contingencies for such love and place our expectations on others. Indeed grace is needed for repentance and love to take hold. But we also have the responsibility and need to open and empty our hearts (especially of the angst we want to hold onto) for the grace of God to enter, and to receive and give such love. Perhaps we get locked into such mindsets due to toxic shame or, alternately, pride. And perhaps in this culture, these two are sufficiently related that they are not easily parsed.
Dee, it us letting go, I think. Being honest enough to open oneself to our Lord’s mercy. Is that not the Kingdom of Heaven. But holding on to sin through pride, shame or a false sense of identifying with my sin whatever the reason, God will not use force to overcome my will. I think though, that He rejoices when someone gives up their own will to experience His mercy. Luke 15:7 suggests as much.
Yet, self-will and attachment to sin are hard to let go of it seems. The essence of the human tragedy, when the heavenly mercy is so near?
Lord, Jesus Christ, have mercy on me, a sinner. Some versions have “the” sinner. Others leave out the any mention of being a sinner because none have existence except for His mercy and we all fall short.
Indeed, a human heart deeply transformed by His mercy candi all things. Mark 9:23
So much pain, fear and death I have allowed in the stubbornness and pride of my own will. Yet, His mercy endures forever.
“As much as you can, focus on how to comfort the other and leave yourself in the hands of God.
This is the spiritual work you have to do. And however ascetically you live it does not help, because one who does not do this, he works in a frequency other than the frequency of God. ( Elder Paisios was in wireless communications in the army and used “frequency” often in his counsels ).
Everything goes to waste, both prostrations and fasting … I do not say that these should not be done, but that no one should think that because he does that, and that … is okay!”
Saint Paisios of Mount Athos
Dear Michael and Dear Nikolaos,
Both your comments are gifts of very edifying words and I sincerely appreciate them.
Dee, Praise God! Nikoloas, thank you.
I was reminded tonight of how important The Holy Theotokos is to healing. I found the prayer above.
May we always remember her constant intercession for us in patience and love.
“Modern politics is religious cult, a heretical offshoot of Christianity. I could unpack that sometime later.”
Amen to your above statement Father. I’m old enough to remember the 1976 US Presidential election. Last fall, the one thing that jumped out at me more than it ever had before, was how many voices were urging us to vote. NFL players were seen wearing shirts that read “make sure to vote.” Everywhere one turned, we got this same message. Sure, it’s always been there, but last fall the message was there on steroids. I wasn’t entirely sure what to make of that, until I read this great line from you and it all made perfect sense. Modern politics is a religion (more accurately as you said, a cult) and for someone to declare that they simply weren’t going to participate, is to announce that they don’t believe in the religion.
I look forward to an upcoming post from you Father, in which further unpack this truth.
Thank you. It’s a good example. There’s some sense in those public urgings that voting is an inherently “good” thing to do – a morally good thing. By the same token, we speak about democracy as though it were inherently good (as though Hitler was not the product of democracy). Indeed, we imagine ourselves to be morally superior to all earlier ages for the simple fact of allowing more people to vote than ever before. To a great extent, the “religious” aspect of American democracy has grown ever greater – sort of in inverse proportion to its corruption. The religion of our politics provides a smokescreen for the corruption of our politics which is pretty much all that remains (which is to say that I can imagine some naive politician who holds office and thinks that its about the constitution, or the public good, etc.). Modernity is a religious movement (and was born as a religious movement).
It’s of note, for example, that we can see that around 5% of Britain continues to attend Church, and say of it that it is a “secular” nation. In fact, Christianity did not fail, or lose out. Christianity was replaced by modernity (with its concomitant democracies) as a religion. Modernity is a Christian heresy and always has been. It is the most successful rival to Christianity that has ever existed.
Thank you Father for your most insightful comments on democracy and modernity. I find these very helpful as I try to “process” and make sense of our society.
My dear wife is fighting the collapse of her incision for back repair into a large wound on her back: wide and deep and long. It us a battle we are winning by the care of wound care specialists and the intercessions of St. John of San Francisco and the Theotokos.
I am seeing a fascinating correlation between the healing of her physical wound and living in the Church, healing my heart.
The physical wound is easier to identify and the consequence of death if left untreated easy to see as well. The wounds in my heart and the consequences of leaving them to suppurate not as clear. The healing process is quite similar though and we have been dealing with both.
1. Identify the wound. 2. Seek expert help to heal it. 3. Submit in obedience to the ascetical discipline prescribed to heal. 4. Entreat God and His saints daily for mercy. 5 Be thankful for all things.
I learned this week that we can be thankful that the collapse of my wife’s incision happened so quickly (although that was a challenge to me initially). The rapidity with which it came apart led to both earlier treatment AND less chance of infection.
God is good.
To make one point clear: there is no healing of any wound that does not involve both what we call the physical and what we call the spiritual. We are, as human beings, fully physical and fully spiritual and they are united. That is why The Holy Sacraments are so efficacious in healing. The partaking of His Body and Blood, the cleansing, anointing, laying on of hands, the offering up of ourselves in contrition, thanksgiving and faith to the God who created us in love.
In this context, regarding religion, modernity and politics, it is easier to see how our responses (even holding opinions) to the political sphere can be a form of participation in it. And it also seems so ubiquitous in this society that it seems hard to extract oneself out of it. I think of Christ’s temptations after His baptism and desert fast. He repudiates the adversary , and He does this by resisting participation even to entertain the ideas presented to Him.
I find it interesting that angels came to minister to Him *after* the adversary left. It seems to imply this is a sort of fight for Christ alone. Also to say we might not know how much might be at stake when we are also tempted.
I listened to a YouTube video by a person who claimed to be Orthodox and insisted that engagement in politics has always been a part of Orthodoxy. To me it seemed similar to endorsing sin because it always present in the Church. It wasn’t very edifying to watch. And yet, it still took me several minutes of viewing before I stopped myself.
May God Grant your wife Merry health and healing. My comment came after yours but I hadn’t read your before my last submission.
Indeed, I too pray, weep and rejoice in God’s mercy with you and your wife, Michael! (I screenshotted your derived healing “process” for myself as well.)
Regarding politics and the cult of modernity, I wonder if we are not conflating the two when part of the reason for the seeming inseparability of them in Western culture is the progressive dissociation of a classical Christian (much more Orthodox) phronema. There have been good examples of Church-State symphony in the past (and bad ones too, to be fair)…much no doubt owes to the relative piety of those holding powerful positions in Church and State, which itself may be a reflection of the overall relative piety of the people.
My belief in this notwithstanding, I am of the opinion that the corruption in Western government is of such a systemic level now that it’s most likely going to require the house to burn down for anything better to emerge. (And I’m very leery that this in fact is what many “elites” are attempting to enact…only what they propose will sound good but be very destructive to the Church and therefore to Man.)
I think that we tend to view history through the lens of modernity. In that sense, when we think of Church-State relationship, we import a lot of our modern experience into a setting where things were, in fact, quite different. Sometimes, the acquisition of an Orthodox phronema includes “forgetting” a lot of things that we think we know and allowing ourselves to listen carefully to what is being said (in historical writings) without our importations.
We have, for example, a notion of “government” that is quite modern, and would not have an ancient counterpart – or what counterpart existed was something quite different. Also, there is a world of difference between the “state” when the “state” is actually a monarch, and the “state” when it is a secularized, faceless abstraction. The “state” as we think of it, is a thoroughly modern construct.
It’s all quite interesting!
Dear sister Dee, thank you with all my heart for your prayers. There have been times when we have been in near despair but the overwhelming mercy of God has always restored us. You are in that mercy to.
Under modernity we each have become our own little “state” so we echo the arrogance of Louis XIV of France. “I am the State”. All the easier to be ruled by our passions and herded by technocrats.
The process of repentance seems to involve a renunciation of my “statehood” in surrender to God’s mercy.
Dee, the Orthodox involvement in politics claim can only be accurately be made id one discerns and articulates the definition of politics as Father notes.
Bless, Father, I thought of that after I posted it (our modernized concept of the State which is essentially fictitious). However I still believe God may call certain folks to act prophetically in the “political sphere” (if there really even IS such a thing).
all this makes me wonder just how deep and far the unlearning goes…
Thanks as always for the good discussion and my love, weak as it is, to you all!
Dee, are you familiar with St Luke of the Crimea? I find him fascinating. Before being elevated to the Episcopacy he was a medical doctor of international repute in diseases of the eye. He researched and wrote papers on eye disease treatment that were leading edge at the time. He also practiced medicine and surgery and was stalwart witness for the Church under Soviet rule. He, along with St. John of San Francisco have been strong intercessors for my wife and me as she recovers.
Both reposed in the 1960’s. St. John in 1966 and St. Luke in 1961.
If you do not know him, I think you will be fascinated by his story.
what an encouragement; hearing of your wife’s set back and how you are both dealing with it; with faith and courage. God bless you both.
Politics, what a circus it all is. I have been castigated many a time over the years, by friends and RC clergy for my refusal to vote in elections.
Andrew, it has not been easy some days. Merry has done better with than I have. But that is not unusual. I have also had incredible support. Still, God’s mercy seems to be prevailing when I allow it to.
Fr, James Isaac,
There is much to unlearn about state and church both. I think the word “church” has suffered even more from abstraction, which may be the more pertinent point here. Pr Alexander Schmemann went so far as to say “And again it is the sacred duty and the real function of the priest not to ‘serve the parish’, but to make the parish serve God—and there is a tremendous difference between these two functions.” (Problems Of Orthodoxy In America: 3.6). That is a very strong indictment of how the parish is not, in and of itself, either church or an expression of church. And that sobriety should underly any discussion of state and church, lest there be a tendency to turn one into the sacred and one into the profane—that dialectic is a dead end.
So, even if we don’t start with a definition of what state is or what church is, I think we should be careful not to mistake it for what it is not. And we might also consider what we mean by “faceless abstraction”. For instance, are we speaking of levels of government, bound by various rules and procedures, that one is required to progress through (either in terms of an outside petition that has to be forwarded 3 different times or one’s own particular positional climb through the chain of command which is based upon pre-defined offices)? Well, I was actually describing the [Roman/Byzantine and offshoots] canonical church there. It may be better to start there, and describe—even if we cannot uniquely identify—what church is. If we start with state, it is likely to become a baggage train carrying all our fears and anxieties—or looking at a specific State in the same way one could look at a specific Church/jurisdiction—not an uplifting look at the Trinity’s work upholding order and nomos in the world.
I join in prayers for Merry and you. May God provide healing and comfort in this time for you both.
I got behind on reading comments. Merry and you continue in my prayers. It is impossible to reach 70 without having suffered. And in our older age the body starts barking and complaining more! Glad the Psalmist reminds us that God remembers us even to the graying of our hair…my gray is now mostly white!
I’ve met some women in different situations in my life, that have great inner strength and courage; women of Faith. Although I have not met your wife, I am sure she would be counted among them. I will add that none of them were feminists.
Andrew, Merry’s faith and courage is amazing. It only needed the Church to be completed. By God’s grace, I got the honor of introducing her to the Church. Somehow, we just seem to fit together. She is a throwback to the archetype of the pioneer woman. In her prime she could literally out shoot and out ride most men and still sew most of her kids clothes cook all the meals and work jobs necessary to keep her family going. Her only fault is that she tended to collect strays as husbands. I got to end that trend. A pure gift. I marvel at the incredible stupidity of two of her husbands.
She has had a lot of tragedy too. We are blessed beyond measure despite my tendency to act like the dwarfs in the Chronicles of Narnia.
God’s mercy is so abundant.
Thank you for sharing that Michael. It put a smile on my face. You are indeed both blessed to have each other. It’s a good job that God knows what He’s doing, because we don’t most of the time. How many blind alleys and odd tangents we can go off on and God travels with us, calling us to Himself. It is when we realise that we are lost that we are willing to listen Good Shepherd.
It is lovely to hear your story about Merry and your lives in Christ. This is one of the reasons I enjoy coming into this blog and reading the articles and comments. It is the community. No matter how remote we might be physically our hearts are close. Thanks be to God for all things and for this blog and Father’s ministry.
Also Michael, Thank you mentioning St Luke. He did indeed lead an amazing life. I sincerely appreciate your introducing him to me!
Dee, as I was reading his life several years ago I got a kick of how he dealt with people brought to him for possession. He had a table in front of him with two small glasses of water. One glass was regular water, the other was Holy Water. Even he did not know which was which. The person thought possessed was instructed to drink both glasses. Those people actually possessed could not/would not drink the Holy Water. The others were referred for normal medical help.
St Luke the doctor is very popular in Greece with many churches built in his name. A good film about his life is available in YouTube https://youtu.be/MfgdmL-si6c
That is wonderful! St. Luke, in his person, is a witness to the lie of modernity.
The best known prayer for the sick to St Luke in Greece, is the one I tried to translate below. Perhaps Fr Stephen can make corrections (https://www.dogma.gr/diafora/thavmatourgi-efchi-tou-agiou-louka-tou-iatrou-gia-tous-astheneis/59817/)
Holy hierarch, confessor, teacher of truth and unmercenary doctor Luke, we bow to the knees of our soul and body and falling on your honorable and healing relics, we ask you, as the children ask their father.
Hear us sinners, honourable father, and convey our petition to our merciful and charitable God, as one who stands before Him with all the Saints.
We believe that you love us with the same love you loved your brothers during your life in the world.
Practicing the art of medicine, you often healed the sick with the help of Grace.
And after your venerable falling asleep, the Master of all has revealed your graceful relics, as a source of healing.
They cure various illnesses and give strength to those who reverently embrace them and ask for your divine intercession.
For we entreat thee, and beseech thee, the bearer of the grace of the physician; for the sick and severely suffering brother of ours (….) Visit and heal him from his continuing illness.
Most honourable and blessed, Father Luke, the everlasting hope for the healing of the sick and the bereaved, forget not to grant our brother (….) The healing and all the joys.
So that we may, together with you, glorify the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, the one God and the Kingdom, now and forever and to the ages of ages.