The Collapse into Chaos – Where Only God Makes Sense

Nothing is more traumatic than the onset of chaos. Predictability breaks down, goodness seems to disappear, and the madness of sheer survival takes over. In chaos, everything seems plausible since reason itself has become unreachable.

A recent spate of reading took me down the rabbit hole into the madness of the 14th century. For all of the “structure” and stability of the Middle Ages, a society where everyone seemed to have a place and all of the places were arranged into a meaningful pattern, brutality and greed often bared their teeth with a rapacious grin. Wars and violence were common, as were famines and worse. The Catholic Church of that time (for all of the pageantry and beauty of its buildings) was frequently governed by a corruption that would make our modern scandals seem but a minor thing.

The early part of the century saw the strange phenomenon of the “Avignon Papacy,” where, under the domination of the French kings, the papacy was moved from Rome to Avignon, France. It was only one symptom of the turmoil and struggle that marked Church-State relations. Into the middle of a messy century, the Black Death struck, killing anywhere from one-third to one-half of the population of Europe over a period of eight years. To read detailed descriptions of that plague is a fearful gaze into the worst scenarios in human experience. We did not handle it well.

One of the most immediate victims of the plague was the reasonability of the world. The cause of the plague was unknown and unimaginable in a world without knowledge of bacteria and viruses. Everything that comprised the medical knowledge of the time was useless – nothing worked. At the same time, theories of how God managed history and interacted with the world seemed equally useless. Prayers, fasting, repentance, every suggested action left the contagion unfazed. The pious died as horribly as the sinful.

It has been suggested (and not without merit) that the seeds of modernity were sown in the years of the plague and their aftermath. If that is so, then it would be correct to say that among the victims of the Black Death was the so-called “enchantment” of that time. One reason for that early disenchantment was the simple fact that it did not work. Its failure left a fissure between the Medieval Church and the popular imagination. It was an empty space waiting to be filled.

With a distance of of nearly 700 years and a bit of science, it is possible to read about such events and such a chaotic time with both a sense of detachment as well as a sense of understanding. We know what caused the plague (Yersinia pestis), just as we can easily judge the failures of the society of that time. Time and distance create an illusion of omniscience. We bring that illusion into our own experience and expound to one another about the failures of our own age as well as what would count as a solution.

For some, the religious failures of the 14th century serve to bolster a general critique of religious belief itself. One of the blind spots of modernity is to imagine ourselves to be in a non-religious, secularized world. I describe it as a blind spot inasmuch as the modern mind-set is itself thoroughly religious in its make-up. No medieval theologian had a “theory of everything” anywhere as complete as the mind of modernity. The modern world is not “disenchanted” so much as it has a “modern enchantment.” We have faith in market forces, medicine, government, democracy, technology, algorithms, and the march of progress. We think we know the meaning of history. The human mind is not compatible with “disenchantment.” It is, and always has been, an enchanted space.

I have seen a microcosm of the 14th century. It happens all the time. However, in our days, it happens in an isolated family or community. Everything seems to going smoothly until it doesn’t. The loss of a job, the closing of a factory, the onset of disease in a family, an unexpected accident, and similar events, sometimes seem to cascade in the life of a family or a community, leaving its members in stunned silence and the chaos of meaninglessness. I have sat with such families as a pastor or counselor. There are no words to be spoken that will fill the emptiness that has become their world. You can pray, but the words are carefully chosen, dancing around the yawning maw of banality that threatens to swallow prayer itself.

Where is God?

It seems to me that God is either in the chaos or nowhere. That He seems nowhere for many people suggests to me that our explanations (whether Medieval or Modern) are simply inadequate – our religions are often too little and beside the point. The rationality of our own reasoning becomes a substitute for the rationality of the Logos, the only Reason that matters.

My years as a priest, particularly as they have forced me to sit any number of times in the midst of chaotic moments (including those of my own), have frequently pressed me towards the God-in-the-chaos just as they demolished my many idolatries. The Orthodox faith has championed “apophatic” theology since its earliest centuries. This is the confession that we stand “speechless” (“apo-phatic” = “apart from speech”) before the mystery that confronts us. We can see the beauty and the wonder of the world in which its well-ordering astounds us while just as easily being crushed under the senselessness of senseless evil. We confess that the Word (Logos, Reason, Meaning of All Things) became flesh and dwelt among us, even as we remain speechless about the fullness of what this means. We confess that He “died for our sins” even as we grapple with what that means (and argue endlessly about it).

It seems utterly critical to me that we understand that Christ (the Logos) is Christ Crucified. As St. Paul says, “I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.” (1 Cor. 2:2) This is not just the Logos, the Lord of order and reason, but the Logos Crucified, the Lord of chaos and unmeaning. We confess that He “tramples down death by death” (smashes chaos by chaos). In doing so we refuse to exclude chaos from our faith and understanding. We confess that this chaos is that chaos. This death is that death. This suffering is that suffering. All suffering is His suffering and we proclaim Christ crucified so that nothing is excluded.

Then comes the end, when He delivers the kingdom to God the Father, when He puts an end to all rule and all authority and power. For He must reign till He has put all enemies under His feet. The last enemy that will be destroyed is death. For “He has put all things under His feet.” (1 Cor. 15:24–26)

Christ crucified sweeps away our false religions (both Medieval and Modern), our feeble efforts to enchant the universe with explanations and understanding. All the false religions are represented in St. Paul’s rebuke:

“…but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.(1 Cor 1:23–25)

I have come to the conclusion that all wars (even and especially our culture wars) are religious in nature. They are wars of opposing religions – or, more accurately, opposing idolatries. They seek to impose order in the face of chaos. Our actions, it would seem, despise the wounds of Christ, before which we should stand in awe and silence.

The Lord (of order and chaos) is in His holy temple. Let all the earth keep silence before Him.

162 comments:

  1. The ideologies of the Left and of the Right are utopian idolatries.

    The wisdom to understand it all is found in theosis.

  2. I don’t regularly read your entries, so am not fully acquainted with your understanding of the gospel. So I will try to formulate my concern as a question. It sounds here as if you understand God the Son, Jesus, as well as God the Father, Creator, as embracing both order and chaos—that the chaos we witness as evil is part of the mystery of God, and that we just must accept this as beyond our understanding. Is this what you mean?
    If so, I think you would be terribly wrong. The Scriptures make it crystal clear that God is the source of all things, and brings order—not chaos—to His creation. He stands against chaos in every form. Jesus has defeated the enemy once and for all. He in no way makes room for chaos. Yes, we are still in the “not yet” period, in which we await and participate in His restoration of the creation. But our calling is to stand against evil in its every manifestation until that day. There is real evil, and we who follow Jesus as Lord are called to fight alongside Him against every form of chaos.

  3. Thank you for this, Father. I live in Ethiopia as a foreigner in the midst of a sad civil war. Chaos is developing and these words encourage my heart.

  4. Thank you Father for sharing this. For some reason chaos has been in my thoughts lately about the present times. Seems as if the primordial chaos over which the Spirit hovered is always breaking through in some way. But our God is in all of it.

  5. Elizabeth! What a blessing to see you here. It has been a long time. May the blessings of our Lord bring you mercy in all things.

    There are two actions of our heart that Jesus gives us as antidote to chaos: Give Glory to God for all things and repent for all things. They allow the mercy of God to interpenetrate all things. Especially the chaos of life. We each wound others and ourselves. How could we not? We cannot prevent those wounds from happening either personally or corporately. The fact is that in the healing of the wounds is only possible through Christ.

    Historically, as I have recently been reminded the “solution” in the US jas been the formation of cults. Each worshipping its own false God to deny the chaos and end it. Most have lasted only a few years but the cult of rationality and freedom has persisted.

    Father is correct in his assessment of war. One hundred years ago we fought “The War to End All Wars.” War metastasized. Our culture wars are not new, they began at the foundation of the Republic of the United States.
    The only solution is revealed in the Cross, the Grave and His Glorious Third Day Ressurection. Christ is Risen!

  6. Elizabeth! Wonderful to see you here. It has been a long time. May God’s mercy and healing be with you and infuse your heart.

  7. Father, when I see a new blog from you in my email folder my heart leaps because I know I am going to have the respite of your clear mind and boundless heart. You have an uncanny way of addressing precisely what I have been wondering about – I too have been reading about the 14th century, and taking odd comfort in the realization that the ugliness and chaos of the present world that so frightens and depresses me is nothing new, and that the only way not to get swept up in it is the same way as ever, through prayer and devotion to the crucified Christ. Thank you for your beautifully articulated insights.

  8. Business as usual; ‘Nothing new under the sun.’ Well, except for the Incarnation, death and Resurrection of the Lord Jesus.

  9. Deborah,
    Good questions. I’ll try to clarify what I am saying.

    I assume, for example, that the “chaos” of the Cross – when the soldiers nailed Jesus to it – could be described as “evil.” But that which the soldiers intended for evil, God, in His mercy, intended for our good, though that was hidden until the resurrection.

    The Cross is what God does with chaos, whatever its source (and we can spend a long time with each other speculating about the sources of the various kinds of chaos that afflict our lives).

    To say that Christ has “defeated the enemy once and for all and in no way makes room for chaos” – could be misunderstood since, as you say, we are in the “not yet” period. And, I agree, that we are to stand against evil in its every manifestation. But, we need to look carefully at what Christ the Crucified is doing.

    He points us (Matt. 25) to the poor, the sick, the hungry, the naked, the prisoner, etc. – and doesn’t just say “fix them” of “fix the system.” There’s a greater mystery. He says that wherever they are, He is there. That He IS the hungry, the naked, the prisoner, etc. He has made the chaos of their life to be His Cross. So our task is not simply to fix the world (indeed, I think that kind of political project is often a delusion). We are to love Christ in the world, including and especially in those places where He is wounded, sick, suffering, naked, etc.

    When you say “we who follow Jesus as Lord are called to fight alongside Him against every form of chaos,” it would be easy to take this to mean that chaos (suffering, sickness, nakedness, etc.) are somehow “outside” of Jesus and we stand “against” it. But Jesus has made those things to be “inside” Him through the mystery of His Cross.

    If that seems confusing, then just let it be. Nevertheless, St. Maximus tells us, “He who understands the mystery of the Cross understands all things.” The mystery of the Cross is not just a story about a single event that happened 2,000 years ago, but also about the great mystery of the suffering Christ. The “Lamb was slain from the foundation of the world,” the Scriptures say. And, St. Paul continued to preach “Christ Crucified.” Even saying, “I am crucified with Christ.” And, “The world is crucified to me, and I am crucified to the world.”

    The Cross can be encountered in chaos – because God is good (not because chaos is good).

  10. Thank you for this helpful response. I think we’re on the same page. The way of the Cross is indeed the way of going through suffering, in Christ, with Him, and for His sake. Thanks be to God for His mercies.

    I do believe that right now we are witnessing fierce spiritual battle. We need every bit of light the Lord gives for this time, for this battle.

    Thank you for your steady efforts to shine His light upon these questions and our struggles.

    Under His mercy–

  11. Deborah,
    We are indeed going through a difficult time. I like how Solzhenitsyn described the battle:

    “The line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either – but right through every human heart…even within hearts overwhelmed by evil, one small bridgehead of good is retained. And even in the best of all hearts, there remains…an uprooted small corner of evil.

    The battle at present is not, I think, about any of the “issues” of the day. The battle is always in the human heart (beginning with mine). If, for example, the “issues” won a great political victory – what would be left would simply be about half the population holding to the other side of the “issues,” just waiting for their chance to strike back. Until hearts are actually changed, there will only be battles, battles, battles, etc. We will continue to eat each other up until everyone has been devoured.

    In point of fact, our adversary, the devil, doesn’t actually care about any of the issues in our day. He can destroy the heart that is “right” about all of the “issues” as easily as he can destroy the heart that is wrong about all the “issues.”

    I have watched more Christians turn into demonic forces in this world through their drive to be right. The only “right” drive is the drive to be one with Christ. The modern world is, sadly, the creation of a “Christian” world (as opposed to a Buddhist or Hindu or Muslim world). It has been our failures as Christians that have created and unleashed the chaos that is our present world. We did not attend to our hearts – and we allowed the adversary to establish his beachhead there.

    I do not know how our time in history will turn out. The outcomes of history are solely in the hands of God in His Divine Providence. It is for us to keep the commandments of Christ (all of them) and to unite ourselves with Him in all things. I’m pretty leery of language about “standing against evil” mostly because it can presume that the evil is somewhere other than in my heart. It is certainly elsewhere, but until I clean the inside of the cup, the outside is of little consequence.

  12. Dear Father,
    Thank you for this article and for your responses in these comments.

    In the years past, I have succumbed to the perspective that we need to ‘stand against evil’ as if we have the wherewithal to be able to do such from the strength of our own will. Even more have I succumbed to the idea that taking such a stance is perceived rightly. I have succumbed to the identity politics and the culture wars. When we look at the world through such a prism, we do not see the world through the eyes of Christ. He loved Judas as He loves us. Too often we are ready to see evil in another and not take a good strong look at what is in our own hearts. There in our hearts is all the chaos that we need ‘contend with’ and still, our wills are too weak to suffice.

    May God enter our chaos and heal us, God willing.

  13. Dee,
    These are common themes of our time (“standing against evil, etc.”). It’s certainly a good thing, though easily taken captive by the adversary before we know it.

    If I were to write and article and say: “We need to become the State Church and take over the government of the US,” there would probably be a bit of push back. But, in a certain sense, when the Church takes up the cause of “defeating evil” it can easily (without noticing it) agree to become a political force in this world. I am convinced that such political forces are not of God (or certainly not “of the Cross”).

    It is the Cross, Christ Crucified, that defeats evil. If I say, “We must defeat evil,” then you should ask me, “How do you plan to be crucified with Christ?” Only being crucified with Christ matters. Nothing else ever defeats evil. Only the Cross – ever.

    That is the great testimony of the saints, “They loved not their lives unto death.” The saints were crucified with Christ.

    I have intended in this article to bring “chaos” (at least as an idea) into the realm of the Cross, understanding that the only “order” (Logos) is Christ Crucified. The world has its own definition of order – and it regularly kills and murders lots of people in order to bring about its own order. It is not the order of Christ. No state has ever brought forth the order of Christ (contrary to some Orthodox mythographers).

    I’m pushing a distinction here – for the benefit of our hearts – and I hope it is helpful.

  14. “…the only “order” (Logos) is Christ Crucified.”

    Indeed it is helpful, Father. It is very healing to cast the chaos we encounter, whether in ourselves or others as part of the Cross. Christ is the Victor, the Holy Spirit the Person who compels the work of salvation. Yet we attempt to supplant His salvation work as though He needs our help. Instead, we need Him indeed to enter our hearts for their healing, as He is the Physician and not us.

    God willing we humbly, willingly enter the chaos of the Cross as Christ did, abiding in His love.

  15. Thank you Father
    You seem to have an uncanny knack of putting into words what i know, but can’t explain.

  16. I remember watching a documentary some years ago about the few men still alive at the time who had fought in WW1. One of these men was called Harry Patch and he spoke about the horrors of war and young men dying crying for their mothers. He also spoke of the propaganda that glorified war and how the Anglican Church which he belonged to encouraged young men to go to war. He said that after that he lost all faith in the Church. He did however reconcile himself later with Church before he died.
    Much of European and British history is that of war and bloodshed. Sometimes people look back on the past as some sort of age that was better than our own; St. Augustine talks about this. We don’t change much. There never was a Christendom in the real sense; of the heart.

  17. Christ does not bring the chaos, but He allows it. Chaos does not originate in Him, but He enters into it to transform it. The cross is the entering into…the fullness of the Incarnation of God into humanity (into the very corruption of our sin, our death). The resurrection is the fullness of humanity entering into deification. This is why there is Peace, even in the midst of the storm. There is so much Hope in this understanding (unless I have misunderstood it all)!

  18. These themes keep surfacing in my reading, and they are an anchor for me in my daily trials. Your blog, Father Stephen, helped me get past the ideological battles and chaos of our times to see the Lord in our midst. Thank you.

  19. Father, wonderful.

    I don’t know if this is related, but I have a sense it might be. Perhaps I am just conflating coincidences. But it seems to come up for me repeatedly now what an incredible, gigantic difference it makes to the world (and our perspective) that Christ preached that God is Spirit, and worshiped in spirit and in truth. (I’m not sure what should or should not be capitalized there, but I did my best.) I mean if there is chaos, is God missing? When we forget this really and truly revolutionary shift made by Jesus, it’s easy to think that God is missing. But God is within us/among us and that’s where God can go missing and we need to do what we need to do to find God and wait on God.

    My grandparents survived the most horrific experience I’ve ever read about, the Armenian Genocide. But somehow thanks to their faith they still knew who they were. Yes, events conspired to help them survive. A Turkish woman, a widow of a military officer, saved my grandmother and her mother by hiding them in her home. American missionaries turned a school and hospital into an orphanage and saved my other grandmother. My grandfather survived in a gang of boys on the streets who’d wait until families threw out their trash to eat, so they wouldn’t have to change their religion from Orthodox to Protestant at the orphanage. This is real chaos, I won’t describe the hideous unthinkable violence. Anyone can read that, hopefully, if they want to find out.

    I have been in family chaos. The only thing that I believe helped was constant prayer. It was the one thing that gave me guidance for what to do and how to put things together as best I could when, being perfectly honest here, nobody else in the family was doing so. It just fell to me to take care of things, and that was the only place I could find both strength and that subtle direction that comes when you think you’ll never have any idea, because you know that of your own personal resources, nothing covers this. As for the chaos, part of faith meant I had to let things fall where they will, and learn that too! Of course, one learns also how incredibly even one other person, just a little mustard seed of faith, contributes under such circumstances. The prayers of the church, every service I could read on my own, the support of my priest at a difficult crisis moment of choice, and others also were like water for a person dying of thirst.

    Anyway, thank you again very much for this. I agree with what you say, we need to understand Christ Crucified.

  20. Father, it seems to me that your thesis here is the foundation for the Russian understanding of podvig. Am I correct in that? Podvig is peculiarly Russian and I have had approach/avoidance issues with it since first hearing about it as I first approached the Church.

    I have taken many good lessons from plays I have read or been in over the years. Today a new one occurred from Arthur Miller’s play “The Crucible” set im the time of the Salem witch trials as his protest against the then current McCarthy trials.
    Only one character comes off clean im the play, minor character modeled on an historical victim of Salem trials, Giles Corey. He was accused of witchcraft and put to trial. He, in the play and in life, he refused to enter a plea. He was tortured by pressing (heavy weights on his chest) to force him to plea. If he pleaded guilty he would be hanged and his property confiscated. If he plead innocent he was sure to be convicted, hung and his property taken away.
    The last thing he said as they demanded he plead one way or the other was “More weight”. Chaos lost.

  21. Michael,
    I’ll give this another try:

    I think that we tend to think of God as managing and correcting things for us. He helps us with good things, and saves us from the bad. But, when something like the Black Plague comes along, and strikes a population of pretty much nothing but Christians, as in the mid 14th century, nothing seems to work. One-half to one-third the population dies (horribly). Those who survive can point to nothing that explains why they survive rather than others. Nothing makes sense to them. The “managerial” theory of Christianity is simply inadequate.

    I leap forward to our own times. I cited people whose private lives are striken in a dumbfounding manner that no amount of “managerial Christianity” can explain. Indeed, every explanation is generally little more than an insult. If we describe it in terms of God “destroying evil” then there’s sure a lot of evil not destroyed or even touched. That kind of “management” theory – which frankly differs hardly at all from ancient pagan thought – is bankrupt. It doesn’t work and doesn’t hold up to human experience.

    Instead, we are presented with the Cross, the Crucified Jesus. The Cross is God’s answer, plain and simple. It is God’s answer, in that we understand that Christ, in His crucifixion, has taken into Himself all human suffering, all suffering even of creation itself. God unites Himself to His suffering (chaotic) universe. And, in Christ, it dies. In Christ, it is raised from the dead. We “do not yet see” all things raised from the dead – we do not yet see the chaotic universe as dead and raised – but it will be made manifest. But, we “do see Jesus.” And in the Crucified and Risen Christ we see the promise, an the “down payment” of the hope that is to come. Our attention is therefore focused properly on Him – and even on Him as He has united Himself to the suffering universe.

    The problem is, that I was addressing, we seem to be deeply attracted to the management of the universe and to religious explanations that are managerial in nature. Our modern governments are “religious” institution that seek to manage the universe (and do a terrible job of it). And, our Churches often try to do the same. We fail inasmuch as we do not teach Christ Crucified.

    I loved Janine’s example. How could anyone survive the Armenian genocide and remain sane, much less remain a God-believer? Because they knew God, and found Him in the midst of the suffering, suffering together with them, in them, through them, etc. No other way.

    There is much silliness afoot in our days as various people spin theories out there of this evil and that evil and this thing that must be done or that thing that must be done – with prophecies, ideas, etc. Everything but Christ Crucified.

    Everybody’s going to die. Get over it. Quit worrying about it. Quit being afraid. Since we have already been crucified with Christ (if you were Baptized) then why do we act with fear and spread fear? Live a crucified life and nothing can touch you. “No pestilence will come near your dwelling” (if you are dwelling in the Crucified Christ). If you’re not dwelling in the Crucified Christ – then why call yourself a Christian?

    I’m just preaching (writing) the Crucified Christ. Foolishness, Weakness. I’m a dead man.

  22. Janine,
    Thank you for your reflections. Indeed they help to bring personal contexts to the ideas Father puts forward.

  23. Fr Stephen

    Your reflections on chaos remind me a story which is found on many Greek sites, you may have come across it. Translated here:

    In 1952 a German, Earhart Kestner, visited Crete and the German cemetery, where the German soldiers who had lost their lives during the occupation were buried.

    There, with a Cretan woman dressed in black, lighting candles at the graves of the Germans killed in the war and going methodically from grave to grave.

    “I approached her,” says Kestner, “and I asked her, ‘Are you from here?’ “Then why are you doing this? “These people killed the Cretans”, I told her.

    “My child, from your accent you look like a stranger and you will not know what happened here in ’41 to ’44. My husband was killed in the battle of Crete and I was left with my only son. He was taken hostage by the Germans in 1943 and he died in a concentration camp in Sachsenhausen. I do not know where my child is buried. But I know that all of these were the children of a mother like me. And I light candles in their memory, because their mothers can not come down here. Surely another mother will light the candle in my son’s memory.

    Memories from Malame cemetery in Chania, Crete

  24. Father, I agree with everything I think you are saying. I assume I will agree when my rational mind catches up to what you are really. The ‘managerial mind’ is difficult to give up. Still, does not Jesus mercy unleashed on and through the Cross heal our wounds? Yes, I go on to wound myself and others.
    I still think Giles Cory, a real person who died just as Arthur Miller described, refused to participate in the chaos that surrounded him and died.

    Is that not similar in microcosm to St. Paul saying, “I die daily.”

    Forgive me for exasperating you. I am slow sometimes.

  25. The definitions of order and chaos are debatable, because we see such a small picture and have such small hearts. St Paul’s rebuke is the key here: even the most “chaotic” thing of God is more certain than our greatest attempt at order. That doesn’t free us from understanding and rationality, but rather shows us just how far we are from those things.

    Michael Bauman,

    In one of my high school classes, we compared The Crucible to Sophocles’s Theban tragedies and had to perform various analyses on them. Based on the formula for tragic heroes, I realized that Giles Corey was the only one who really fit that definition in The Crucible, and I wrote a comprehensive paper to that effect. I was the only one who concluded that.

  26. Great article Father, Christ in the midst of chaos.
    I read recently an article on the writings of St Ignatius Brianchaninov, on the law of spiritual life. Concerning “Correct Thoughts” he said, ..”everything Good comes from the acceptance of correct thoughts, while everything evil comes from the acceptance of deceitful thoughts.”

    This sounds obvious, but is not that simple. The safest thing we can do is to pick up our own cross, and follow Him, and keep our eyes on Him Crucified all the time. To get up again when we fall, which one does frequently in my experience, and call for His help.

    The Saint also said, “The beginning of conversion to Christ consists in coming to know one’s own sinfulness and fallenness. Through this view of himself, a person recognises his need for a Redeemer, and approaches Christ through humility, faith, and repentance. He who does not recognise his sinfulness, fallenness, and peril cannot accept Christ or believe in Christ; he cannot be a Christian.”

    “Of what need is Christ to the person who himself is wise and virtuous, who is pleased with himself worthy of all earthly and heavenly rewards?”

  27. Michael,
    Of course the Cross heals our wounds. Cory maintained his integrity and did what he knew to be true. He refused to give in to the insistence of their false narrative.

  28. That was uuttet brilliant Father.
    Especially the talk of our Lord being in the Chaos where we cannot see, in the Plague…
    It really reminded me of how a person on his death bed or simply extremely ill, seeking healing, is given Holy Communion, and the sweetness of God’s presence, irrespective of healing of his body or not, changes everything. He knows he has the Lord of meaning and of mea inglessness, he has been touched..

  29. JBT,
    “Chaos” is a relative term (certainly as I’ve used it in this article). In point of fact, the Black Death was not “chaotic” at all. It moved in a completely “rational” and “predictable” manner according to the circumstances of that biological reality. It could be placed under the heading of “He makes His rain to fall on the just and the unjust.” Or, we could say, that God only has one rule for weather and applies it to all. We could also say, the rules of virology or bacteriology hold true everywhere. A physicist would rightly say that the universe has always behaved in a “rational” manner – unfolding according to the laws of physics, etc.

    As Christians, we confess, however, that Christ Himself is the “Logos” of creation. The order of Creation is a reflection of Who He is. Saying that, I think it’s important to go a step further and recognize that “who He is” – has been made known to us as “Christ Crucified.” The mystery of the Cross unfolds such that the terrible thing (the crucifixion) turns out to have been the good thing. This is not because of the “thing” – but because God is good, and it is God who has humbled Himself and united Himself to us in this terrible thing.

    Our feeble narratives are often bound up in various religious management theories. “If I do this, then God will do this.” Of course, those narratives can get very complicated. But I’m simply writing that the narrative given to us, by which we should understand all things, is Christ Crucified.

  30. Father, what a tremendous gift this reflection is to me at this moment.

    I too have reflected on the truly terrible Yersinia pestis this past year–as I suspect many have. I have a longing to recover Lewis’ “Discarded Image,” so vividly portrayed in Dante. It’s tempting, and sometimes fair, to blame the rise of the Enlightenment, the corruption of faith leaders, etc., for our present situation of Iron Secularity. Yet the terrible scourge of the Black Death must have, as you so well point out, fundamentally dislodged core assumptions about reality and the Cosmos.

    Just yesterday I was puzzling over the total extinction of the Native Americans through diseases such as Smallpox and other foreign pathogens brought by the European colonists. I come to the brink of faithlessness, but say instead that God must be in the whirlwind. But the beating heart must be Christ, and him crucified.

  31. This is one of your posts I will need to come back to a few times (as well as the comments). If I don’t forget in my state of distraction. I feel like maybe I experience an echo of what you are saying in the fact that as I get older, I find there is almost no experience that I’m not grateful for somehow. This includes the ones that were chaotic, unpleasant, and seemed to be turning my world upside down and/or tearing it apart. It’s not so much that “there is good and bad in everything” as that there is a good that operates (usually) outside of my ability to understand it, and it always outlasts the “bad.”

  32. “…the rules of virology or bacteriology hold true everywhere…”

    Fr Stephen

    We have experienced a phenomenal split in the Orthodox Church during Covid. Whilst the Ecumenical Patriarchate declared the Holy Communion will be given as always, we saw hierarchs and priests on opposite sides regarding our participation to the Divine Liturgy.

    Some priests advocated the use of single spoons and masks, some refused to give communion to people wearing masks, some people believe that virus and bacteria can affect us in the Church, except Holy Communion, some believe nothing can affect us inside the Church as the Liturgy is one whole, outside time and space.

    Is this chaos inside the Church ?

  33. Ben Nye,
    I think I know what you mean by “total extinction” yet I think you overstate the matter. I owe my own direction toward Christ to a blessing given my mother 100 years ago by a Native holy man. My wife, after her late husband died, received great comfort from a Native American Church–Christian in orientation but including a tribal consciousness and appropriate Native ritual. We were married there while she was catechumen and O was under penance. That community is a great blessing. There culture, belief and ritual has wisdom from before the technocratic revolution and still persists.

  34. Joseph, you perceived correctly. Did you ever discover what Arthur Miller thought about the person who he imported into his play directly from historical accounts.

  35. Nikolaos, I would say “Of Course” but it is in the Church not of the Church. The COVID Clans are of a cultic nature. Cults form from perceived chaos with the mindset of fixing things. That managerial mindset that God requires our expertise. It is the mindset that Job railed against from his dung hill, particularly in Chapter 12.

    I look forward to Fr. Stephen’s answer.

  36. Michael –

    Yes, you are correct. Better said *almost total extinction.* Although considering what a lot of modern estimates are concerning the death toll makes such wording seem academic/trivial.

  37. Thank you for this article. Chaos can be viewed as providing the elements out of which new creations can arise. I often think of God as acting in the ferment of chaos to bring about new things – whether personally, in physics, in political trends, in creation generally. Chaos is not necessarily a negative thing; there is a “chaos theory” that explains various things – there is an order in chaos if one looks from a certain perspective. To me, the perspective is everything. Having the perspective from and about the Cross is everything. I love physics, because it delves into the mysteries of how things come together, out of apparently nothing – at the smallest level we know about, particles are coming into and going out of existence, existing in two places at the same time, and all manner of other marvels. Every time I think to myself that something makes sense, physics comes up with another theory or experiment that is a wonder. It is helpful to me to know that I really have no idea what the elements of the chaos I am viewing are going to be turned into over time, and that time itself is sort of a construct. One can get lost in the wonderment; humility is in order. I feel a great affinity with Job – in the end, after every form of suffering and chaos known to people of his time, he could only bow in humility and unknowing before the one God. . . . I think the thing that is hard for me about chaos, suffering, loving those who are doing evil, fighting evil, is that if I have an open, loving heart, it hurts to feel with those who are suffering or affected, whether people, nations, creation – there is only so much suffering I can bear at a time, my own and others’, so I retreat into anger at the evil to avoid the intense pain of identification and knowledge, and desire for the chaos to be resolved earlier than it would be. When it gets to the suffering of whole nations, the suffering can’t even be grasped; maybe even the suffering of one person cannot be grasped, and only held in love. It is the bearing of that suffering that is the crucified state in my life, and it is a real struggle to stay in the posture of Job with it. Loving those who do evil is the greatest suffering, if one truly loves, to see the damage they are doing to themselves and others, and I am not up to it with some folks. I am trying. I know there is a whole secular teaching out there about not being identified so much with other people, but having a compassion that is at a sufficient distance, or at least that is how I interpret it. I don’t know how one can truly love with the love that loves unto death, unless one is personally affected by the suffering of others, so I am not persuaded that a distant, objective compassion is sufficient or Christian. Anyway, I am trying to find ways to live with the chaos. . . . As to the Native Americans who are gone, I am thinking that their great love and respect for the Great Spirit must be honored by a loving God, and I wonder whether the cloud of witnesses has a sizable Native American component. My heritage includes the Native American, and otherwise, it is too much to think about the loss of so many people to genocide, some at the hands of other people in my heritage. Some things may not be reconcilable in this life.

  38. Ben, the history of the war against native populations by “Christian” invaders is deeply sad. Not only in North America, but Africa and Australia as well. Repentance is deeply necessary. Despite our depredations a core of goodness and mercy still remains in those cultures. God has preserved it somehow.

  39. Fr. Freeman,

    You often use the wonderful Solzhenitsyn quote about the line between good and evil running through every human heart. It’s an important thing to keep in mind. It’s also important to realize–lest we think Solzhenitsyn’s position was “we’re all bad, so we should not put up any resistance”–that he also made this famous statement from the Gulag Archipelago:

    “And how we burned in the camps later, thinking: What would things have been like if every Security operative, when he went out at night to make an arrest, had been uncertain whether he would return alive and had to say good-bye to his family? Or if, during periods of mass arrests, as for example in Leningrad, when they arrested a quarter of the entire city, people had not simply sat there in their lairs, paling with terror at every bang of the downstairs door and at every step on the staircase, but had understood they had nothing left to lose and had boldly set up in the downstairs hall an ambush of half a dozen people with axes, hammers, pokers, or whatever else was at hand?… The Organs would very quickly have suffered a shortage of officers and transport and, notwithstanding all of Stalin’s thirst, the cursed machine would have ground to a halt! If…if…We didn’t love freedom enough. And even more – we had no awareness of the real situation…. We purely and simply deserved everything that happened afterward”

    I say this not to encourage or discourage resistance–only to remind those, who may be tempted to interpret Solzhenitsyn as a total pacifist, that the man himself was more complex than any particular ideology.

  40. Nikolaos,
    The chaos that infects those of us within the Church is simple and straightforward: It’s called sin. It is multiform. It is why I have consistently through this past year tried to direct people to pay attention to their hearts. Frankly, all of our attention directed outside of ourselves, trying to make sense of what is going on, has been an arena for sin (pretty much no matter where you came down). For me, I determined at the beginning to just obey my bishop and the authorities over me – understanding that all human authority is incompetent (and I have not been disappointed in that regard) and to pay attention to the state of my soul.

    The devil has made fools of us – not by how reacted or didn’t react to the pandemic – but because we wallowed in our sin and imagined ourselves to be righteous.

  41. Is this chaos inside the Church ?

    Nikolas, it is chaos in the human heart. We see this in priests and laity at times; it is nothing new. To focus on it is simply to focus on our own weakness(es) and be in danger of casting judgement. Focus on Christ and love your neighbor, regardless of the situation. The Church is steadfast and her people will heal, when they turn to God.

  42. William,
    You are correct. He was, for example, very proud of his war service (he won medals for bravery, etc.). I have observed problems within various “resistance” movements (and they come in all shapes and sizes and orientations). It is the allure of management. We tend to “think large” even though we necessarily “live small.” In the name of the large, we do violence to the small. In the name of what we take to be a “large” commandment (that thing that makes our resistance seem justified and necessary), we violate many small commandments. And the effect, very quickly becomes the violation of our heart and its submission to the prince of this world (who promises us all the kingdoms of the world).

    It is why I speak of “doing the next good thing,” and “keep the commandments of Christ.” The fact is that the “large” picture is always imaginary – like Solzhenitsyn’s “what if everyone resisted?” Most of modernity is spent in the imagination, I think. God alone is in charge of the outcome of history. I am not a pacifist – I’m a “crucifist” (the Crucified Christ is in charge of history). I made that term up.

    The religion of modernity is the belief in the efficacy of management.

  43. This post and discussion bring to mind the controversy Father Hopko of blessed memory courted when, IIRC, he boldly stated that “God is NOT in control” – a statement that, even as I type it and perceive to some small degree the profound truth of what he means, makes me shudder. Love never exerts control over the Beloved. Love may and does influence – it works with what is, perhaps sometimes works around what is, sometimes it disciplines by withholding, withdrawing, etc. – yet it always respects the freedom of the Beloved to accept or reject it.

    Love doesn’t “stop the chaos” by force, but brings peace simply by BEING who he is, being truly present with and in the Beloved.

    Please pray for me, a sinner, in my weak and feeble efforts to love as God loves.

  44. Fr. Stephen,

    Well said, and I agree to an extent.

    However, I would say that, for many, the consequences of an evil that is only now beginning to take shape have crossed from the imaginary into reality. Others, who have never been scapegoated by a world leader or had their children stripped from them by “the authorities” or faced social ostracization and job loss for simply existing, will continue to minimize the very real consequences that people are currently facing.

    If the minds of those who contemplate resistance are very tiny, it is because very privileged people–great souls, much higher in the hierarchy than the vast array of unwashed and tiny minds–have consistently failed to sacrifice themselves for those who they serve and, instead, dumped on them, demonized them, and set them up to be the scapegoats sacrificed for a better world.

  45. Father, thank you again.

    I first read the Solzhenitsyn quote in one of your posts, many years ago I suppose. I can read it again and again and again. It is such a beautifully succint and accurate summary of Church teaching. What if we could magically get rid of those parties!

    All the sayings and preachings of the Fathers that I’ve read say the same thing. I’ve been very slowly opening and closing Elder Paisios’ books over the past few months, and this is all I see. Just beautiful.

  46. As the killing of Christians here in Nigeria is gradually creeping nearer to my doorstep, my tiny mind has entertained ideas of how I may resist. I came to the conclusion that any resistance I could offer would be futile.

  47. As to “the large”: John Stuart Mill one of the founders of that quintessentially modern philosophy said we must do “the greatest good for the greatest number”. Leaving aside his hedonistic concept of “good” the large is all that is important. It has morphed into the truly evil that any action taken for the “greater good” is virtuous.

    Every modern dictator, despot and corrupt politician has rationalized their evil and sacrificed millions of people on that altar, including the destruction of Native populations, etc.

    Father is right to emphasize the small as Jesus did. I can only repent if my own sins but since everything and everyone in interrelated God’s Grace can magnify that.
    “If you have done it unto one of the least of these, my brothers, you have done it unto me.” Mt 25-40

  48. My father was the local community health director here in Wichita/Sedgwick County during the polio epidemic. A time if great fear. Part if his job entailed enrolling children in clinical trials if the Saulk Vaccine. My wife just told me the story of meeting him in that context. She was in first grade at the time when my dad came to her class personally and talked to all the children to let them know what was going on and about the vaccine and the trials. She remembers him to this day over 60 years later for his kindness and the way this hugh man got down on her level and talked to her– person to person. Part of the class got the Saulk, part a placebo. Not long after, the placebo kids were called in to get the real vaccine.
    He did not make my wife afraid nor “pull rank” or any of that.
    He always thought of each of the 350,000 people under his care as a person. He always thought small. The big took care if itself.

  49. William,
    when push comes to shove, the powers that be have little care for the ordinary people. They’re more interested in building pyramids for themselves, to sit atop.
    The captains of industry are still quite content to make a killing out of wars. Little has changed through history; the scenery and stage props have changed, but the same play continues on the stage that is the world.
    God is our only hope and salvation; ‘In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world’ (Jn. 16:33).

  50. Father Stephen, Nikolaos,

    From the very start I have been concerned with the new ‘covid chaos’ that is found within the Church. Extreme words (that do not contain a sense of God’s providence) sometimes get hurled from both sides and, from both sides, the self-entitlement often goes unnoticed by the voices.
    I do not think there is an easy or clear solution.
    My reason for this is that it is not just scientists of high calibre that are to be found on both sides. (And a great evil has been perpetuated by the widespread censorship of questioning, making people suspicious that there is ‘no smoke without a fire’, if it wasn’t for censorship things would have been far better, and mandating is obviously another huge issue here).
    My reason for saying there is no easy or clear solution is that there are saints on both sides! And they have extreme words to say! How can that be?
    All you need to do is look at the most respected abbots and Elders we have on Athos and you have support for both sides. But even they have very strong words to say! “My” usual Athonite monastery which is one of the few that quite follow the mainstream is slightly split even. And of course, the unbalanced representation in media makes suspicious people more suspicious.
    Metropolitan Nikolaos of Mesogaias has tried to sit on the fence – to keep a true balance- and he shows a clear awareness of all sides. He is both intimate with those smeared as ‘conspiracy theorists’ (like Abbot of Saint Pavlou Parthenios, or St Paisios’ successor Efthymios, or Archibishop Makarios of Nairobi) as well as all the others who fully follow the mainstream assessment of all things covid, he IS a key part of the synod with chief responsibilities on these type of matters due to his scientific background.
    But all I can say is: live every day thanking God and awaiting His solution.
    I also think that, due to the soldiering on of this extreme globalisation, every crisis that comes from now on, whether real, inflated or whatever, will have inevitably more and more apocalyptic overtones, and it is mentally healthy to stay as much as possible in the “small life” spiritually finding the strength towards thankfulness as the worrying is always a door opening for the adversary..

  51. All,

    Thank you for your helpful comments.

    In response to the “from both sides” perspective, I would agree that there is fault to be found on both sides. But there is also a clear and massive power differential: one side enjoys the benefit of backing from the most elite and powerful world rulers, corporations and industries; the other is silenced, demonized, scapegoated. One side requires patient suffering and courage; the other is free to remain complacent and ignorant of the suffering of the other side.

    I realize that the vagueness in my comments lends itself to being misinterpreted, but I feel compelled into vagueness. Others are free to be clear.

  52. Father, you write:
    I am not a pacifist – I’m a “crucifist” (the Crucified Christ is in charge of history). I made that term up. Me too! Only I didn’t make that term up 🙂

    Andrew Roberts:
    I’m so sorry for the horrible circumstances right now in Nigeria (and also elsewhere in Africa). In the US, we do have lobbying organizations. I express my conscience on this matter by pushing such organizations to lobby our govt for sanctions on those who would fund genocidal activities. That is my step-by-step possible contribution of the moment.

  53. Michael,

    I understand what you’re saying and why you’re saying it. I agree that people should be free to receive or not receive various ethical medical procedures, including the hot topic issue at hand.

    My point is that when you hear from people (who you trust) who live in Australia, for instance, that children are currently being stripped away from their parents in order to be forced into receiving a certain controversial thing (again, pardon my vagueness), it’s difficult to see how “not taking either side” is anything but cowardice from people who refuse to look at what is actually happening. Call the parent (who wants to keep their child) a “very tiny mind” if you wish, but I think such a statement does nothing but add insult to injury for a very powerless and marginalized people–and does so at the behest of tyrants.

  54. William,
    For what it’s worth. I happen to think government mandates are stupid and counter-productive. How they should be resisted isn’t clear. As I stated, I believe governments and even Church authorities will largely prove themselves incomptent – and I think mandates are an example of incompetency. Force is one of the most useless things I can think of.

    Those who find themselves in situations where resistance seems required – may God be with them.

    My “tiny mind” comment was meant in the context of your analysis of Solzhenitsyn – and was not directed at a particular oppressed group. My intention was to say that violence and fighting occurs to many people (even most). I suppose the tiny mind comment could be taken amiss. Lest it be misunderstood, I’m going to edit our conversation.

    I do not care to put salt in people’s wounds.

  55. Fr. Stephen,

    Your statement regarding “very tiny minds” was belittling of people who would consider resistance. My only point is that for people under tyrannical regimes resistance is a natural thing to consider. I understand that–on a totally abstract level–it’s theoretically possible that any person who considers resistance may actually be the one with power over others. But I would say that in the crucible of the concrete reality many people are facing today, such abstract thought experiments are at best unhelpful.

  56. Fr. Freeman,

    Just to be clear, my comment at 3:31 pm was in response to the unedited version of your 3:18 pm comment, which comment had considerably sharper words than the version that exists now–though it’s unclear to others that this comment has been changed.

  57. Thank you Byron and Janine. Things are back to normal in this part of Nigeria for now. The curfew has been lifted and things have calmed down and it’s relatively peaceful.
    The attacks against Christians were mainly in outlying areas, but are getting closer to the city in which I live. It’s incremental.

  58. William,
    If we are in fact moving towards some great global time of oppression then that is in the hands of God. Resistance, to my mind, comes best in the form of keeping the commandments of Christ. And, I assume the time will come that we will be killed. We are already “dying all the day long.” I do not belittle that nor do I mean to do anything other than to speak the truth of the Cross.

    I have sat many times with those whose lives have been wrecked – job loss, disease, accident, etc. – nothing is abstract about this. I have sat with those who have lost jobs already through our cancel culture. That’s not abstract for me. I walked out of a Church career 23 years ago because of the truth. That’s not abstract for me.

    Still, the only comfort that I know, is not in any promise of “winning” or “taking back the world.” I believe it is found in the Cross of Christ. And that has a power – the only true power. Solzhenitsyn was able to imagine what might have been had there been a resistance. But only a belief in the Crucified and Risen Christ could have given him hope that the oppressor would fall (as he did).

    I’m sorry that my choice of words (tiny minds) was easily taken amiss. I did not mean it in that manner.

  59. Andrew Roberts, my prayers are with you, and I will continue to draw attention to this matter where I can. It is actually another global problem as far as I can see, considering actors involved — as Dino and Fr. Stephen have remarked on other subjects. (But this is not a place for me to discuss politics so I won’t go further here, except to remark on another aspect of “global” nature.)

  60. Thanks Father.

    For clarification: the abstraction I’m talking about is the idea that “theoretically anyone who wants to resist *could possibly* also be the one with the power.” To which I’d say, again, yes. This is theoretically true but also an unhelpful abstraction to tell someone who is dealing with concrete suffering. I assume, for instance, that you did not say to the person who lost a job due to cancel culture, “Well, keep in mind that you could actually be the oppressor here…”

  61. William, although in no way close to embodying it, I lean toward the instruction of our Lord im Matthew 5:38-48. Resist not evil, do good, etc. Hard sayings. But I have seen the corruption and futility of too many resistance efforts. Years ago, I and a few friends decided to have a small unpublicized prayer vigil in a local town as the White Train passed through. The White Train was the train that carried nuclear bombs from their manufacture in Texas to various assembly points. It was painted white to reduce heat build up snd had manned machine gun turrets on every other car.
    After hours of waiting, we saw it coming up the tracks. Ad we formed a circle of prayer, two cars full of FBI agents came roaring up the street, made perfect Hollywood sliding stops. Agents jumped out ready to “defend the train” by any means.
    Earlier, the county Sheriff and and FBI guy had stopped by to interview us. Since we were on public property and had no guns and there to pray they simply asked us to disperse. We politely declined. Still they were quite ready to use deadly force.

    As long as resistance is ideological, it never achieves good. A pure heart and mind is necessary.
    Personally I am drawn to men like Giles Correy and Thomas More. They were not assimilated.
    A man was attested at a school board meeting because he confront the board about the sexual assault of his 13 year old daughter im the school bathroom by a “gender fluid” person.

    The Church is no stranger to child marytrs either. The readiness is all
    What form resistance will take I have no idea but placing myself on a “side” does no good. The FBI already knows where to find me, if they want to.

  62. Just to throw a big fireworks into the middle of everything, I will confess that I asked my priest (and also a Metropolitan) why we could not use brandy (or even tsipouro, for you Greeks out there) in the Eucharist. My rationale was that then we wouldn’t even have to worry about the rest of this anymore due to the alcohol content. (Yes, some do meet the percentage required.) I mean, if it’s made from wine, I wondered, doesn’t it still fit within the proper configuration or rubric? Okay, go ahead, laugh, everybody else did 😀
    I confess, I still wonder about this

  63. Thank you Janine. Your prayers are much appreciated. It is a global problem and I don’t want to get into politics here either. One think I will say is that Christianity is getting squeezed in many different ways, depending on which country one finds one self in; from open persecution and violence to more subtle forms of government policy.

  64. On one more serious note, it seems to me — from my very limited observation in life — that there is a way that God brings things to a crisis point. And from there all kinds of outcomes are possible. There are still random factors in everything; nothing is absolutely managed.

    We know of course that there is evil in the world; what we don’t know is what God will help us to make out of the evil in the world and despite the blindness and darkness that will never comprehend. So, we can’t forget that the injunction to follow the commandments, to endure, to be “wise as serpents and harmless as doves,” works with a power that we can’t see and can’t predict (like the wind, as Christ said). It doesn’t mean persecutions don’t happen, or that we won’t “be hated by all for My name’s sake.” It never did. But opportunity for testimony we are also promised.

  65. Fr. Stephen,
    I appreciate what you are saying and doing in preaching Christ Crucified. You speak from experience and not from some nebulous ivory tower.
    I will admit that your remark about tiny minds did touch a raw nerve in me also. I know it was not your intention to cause offence to anyone. For me it perhaps showed forth how little faith I have, in that it touched on my fear of death and my inconsequential musings of how I may resist it.

  66. Janine,
    Yes. One reason I counsel people to live small and keep the commandments – do the next good thing – is that we do not, in fact, see the larger picture or know how God will deliver, or if He will deliver. He may well intend us for the Cross.

    What I also think is that the mind of modernity is driven towards management – to “see the big picture” – even when it’s just imaginary (though it might be real and true). What I have heard a lot of in the past year or two are narratives and explanations of what is happening…and…therefore, being told how I should act and speak because that narrative is “true.”

    I do not believe that is the correct way to live. The correct way to live is to follow the commandments of Christ, day by day, thing by thing, person by person. I do not know the larger pattern – and I suspect that others do not either. I’ve been condemned to hell more than once this year because I was not writing and proclaiming that the end of the world is coming. Over the years, I’ve been condemned to hell for being a racist, a homophobe, a misogynist, etc. I’ve heard it all. I suppose being in the position I’m in, it comes with the territory.

    What I believe, however, is the reality of the Cross. God has promised me a Cross. Perhaps the name-calling is part of it. The Cross of Christ is the outcome of history. That – is the plain teaching of the New Testament. Because this is true – we should encourage each other. We encourage each other to take up the Cross and not lose heart. We do not overcome the evil one by outsmartting him or knowing what his plans are ahead of time. We go to the Cross. We overcome him “because we love not our lives unto death.”

    I suspect that some people might need to flee. Interestingly, I’ve done some ministry (by Zoom) among the Coptic Christians in Australia this past year. They represent a community that has seen fit to flee oppression. And, like others in Australia, they’re dealing with fairly strict regulations regarding the pandemic (which I pray will end soon). In the past year, I’ve met a number of families who have fled California and come looking for a better place to live as a Christian and raise their children. I have grandchildren, so I think a lot about what they are encountering in their daily lives. I suspect it will be much harder than anything I have known as a Christian.

    The most important lesson I can teach them, I believe, is how to live well and to die well. Those two are connected. The dying well sets the framework for the living well. I’m still working on it. But, I believe that the Cross is central.

    This article was a thought-piece, occasioned by reflecting on a terrible time in human and Christian history. The only thing that I could have said in that setting would have been the same: to point towards the mystery of the Crucified Christ.

    It is a difficult topic to write about – it easily sounds like “caving in” for some. The Cross is foolishness and weakness. If I’m sounding like a weak fool, then I’ve probably said it correctly.

  67. Yes, Father, I agree with you, and I don’t think you sound like a fool. I suppose so much depends on perspective and what people are dealing with and have already been through. You remind me that when Jesus was sending out the apostles, He also said, “When they persecute you in this city, flee to another.” That is also a part of the tools we’re given for what is best in a circumstance. It’s comfortingly sane and rational, we don’t seek out conflict for its own sake, but rather opportunity for what is best. They would also be preaching in the other city, fleeing does not stop the work of being a disciple (or apostle).

  68. Father,

    In my former career as a Lutheran pastor (which I too gave up for reasons that sound similar to what you have described), I had a wise mentor who used to say that as long as he was taking criticism/judgment from both the right and the left (i.e. seeming too “liberal” to some and too “conservative” to others), he felt at peace in his conscience that he was charting the narrow path.

    What I’m taking from all this is that we really do need to excuse others (not their sin, i.e. pretend that nothing wrong is being done), pray for those who are persecuting Christ (whether outside or inside His body), and accuse ourselves wherever we are failing to do that “small thing” at hand. (For example, if we know someone who has lost their job due to political reasons, and we are able to help them financially, let’s do so. We’re not called to “fix the system” for that is beyond anyone’s capacity at this point – and would be besides the point if we take the modernist management-of-outcomes approach.)

    I’ve tended to lean in all this towards the conspiracy camp, I confess, which led me to compare what I am tempted to believe about some hierarchs and the like with the actions of Metropolitan Sergius, whose cooperation with the anti-theistic Soviet State led to unimaginable amounts of Christian blood being spilled in Russia. I read all sorts of condemnation of him and “Sergianism” from various sources (usually among the “true” Orthodox types), but when I came across what St. John of Shanghai and San Francisco’s attitude was, it gave me holy pause. He did not excuse the behavior, but he made excuses for the man himself, considering Met. Sergius’ behavior to have arisen from weakness and not from prideful, self-serving malice.

    Such, I believe, is the nature of love – to cover over even unimaginable shame, and see the image of God that truly exists in even someone who could be easily seen as one of the most infamous of traitors, liars, and apparently self-serving men in Church history. There may be a lesson in there for us all as regards our perceived enemies.

  69. Father,
    Haha just from one fool to another fool’s ears maybe! (If I could aspire to that! :-D)

    James Isaac,
    Thank you for that reminder of St John of Shanghai and San Francisco. Obviously there was layer upon layer of subtlety he had to deal with in the circumstances of his times and places.

  70. A few thoughts as I read through all the above thoughts

    At every liturgy we are given the opportunity to give our hearts to God. The priest says,” Lift up your hearts,” And we are to respond, “”We lift them to the Lord.” Do we? or does the phrase slide by? I try to focus on an icon of Jesus at this point and say “Clean it up, Lord, please. ”

    At the crucifixion Jesus was in the middle of the chaos of two lives, as it is normally depicted. This scene has long taught me that He is in the chaos of my life and in the chaos of life in general. All we have to do is choose.

    We live in a society which thinks it can fix everything and often without the help of God.
    I think He allow us to be in situations where He is the only solution.

  71. James,
    Early in the pandemic, I made a few public videos (short ones). Among the things I said, and have maintained, was that we should expect incompetence from government, and even from the Church. I have seen both. No doubt, there’s some power-grabbing evil-motivated people in government. However, within the Church, I have seen, with almost no exceptions, well-intentioned hiearchs working to respond thoughtfully and well to a novel situation. Some of them over-reacted, and some under-reacted. In both cases, there was a fair amount of incompetence because, well, human beings are incompetent. I sure am.

    The over-reaching accusations that I have encountered, however, were not incompetence – they were failures of love, I think, and revealed troubles in our hearts. That didn’t surprise me. I’ve been a priest in pastoral settings for over 40 years and have been eaten alive often enough through those years not to be surprised by how venomous we can be to each other.

    For the 20 years I served as an Anglican priest, I have to confess that I was angry most of the time. There was plenty to be angry about. My Orthodox godfather (a priest) once said, “You were never an Anglican. You were just an angry Orthodox guy in the wrong place.” What I can see in hindsight, however, is how poisonous my anger was to my soul. Really poisonous.

    Your counsel in this is truly spot on, and consistent with the Fathers (and, as you noted, found in the thoughts of St. John of San Francisco). When I was in the process of conversion, there was a terrible, very angry schism within my diocese. I was sadly aware of just how sick the setting was into which I was converting. So, that underscored all the more the need to guard my heart. I’ve not always done it well.

    The great trial that I see right now – far more serious than any outward persecutions or difficulties – is the trial taking place in the hearts of Orthodox believers. That battle is fierce, unseen, and too much disregarded. Only the Cross can protect us and heal us in this.

    Thanks for your words!

  72. There is this prayer of St Philaret of Moscow. Its words direct us toward the right disposition of the heart:

    My Lord, I know not what I ought to ask of Thee. Thou and Thou alone knowest my needs. Thou lovest me more than I am able to love Thee. O Father, grant unto me, Thy servant, all which I cannot ask. For a cross I dare not ask, nor for consolation; I dare only to stand in Thy presence. My heart is open to Thee. Thou seest my needs of which I myself am unaware. Behold and lift me up! In Thy presence I stand, awed and silenced by Thy will and Thy judgments, into which my mind cannot penetrate. To Thee I offer myself as a sacrifice. No other desire is mine but to fulfill Thy will. Teach me how to pray. Do Thyself pray within me. Amen.

  73. James,
    some people find it very confusing when they encounter a person who tries to avoid the extremes of left and right. From my experience many people view their faith through their particular political lens. I have heard often, people describing themselves as either a conservative or a liberal. There seems to be little consensus and Christians can become very polarised.
    Church politics, like politics in general can become very divisive. I have found that by not taking sides and speaking as truthfully as one is able, you need to get used to keeping your own company.

  74. To check myself and to make sure I knew more precisely the traditional meaning of chaos, I looked up the roots. It does not mean, as I tend to assume, a unordered turbulence. Rather it means a vast emptiness.

    For me that lends a deeper meaning to Jesus statement that He is the I Am.
    It also gives me perspective on the impossibility of bringing order out of chaos.

    It seems to suggest that outside of communion with Jesus Christ there is nothing.

  75. Dear Father,

    …The correct way to live is to follow the commandments of Christ, day by day, thing by thing, person by person. I do not know the larger pattern – and I suspect that others do not either. I’ve been condemned to hell more than once this year because I was not writing and proclaiming that the end of the world is coming. Over the years, I’ve been condemned to hell for being a racist, a homophobe, a misogynist, etc. I’ve heard it all. I suppose being in the position I’m in, it comes with the territory.

    At least to this Orthodox Christian (sinner that I am) you do not appear to be “caving in”. I am grateful for your patience with us (however undeserved).
    As for the constant reference to Armageddon and regarding people who feel certain that they know what is going on and what is going to happen next, I recall these words of Christ:

    Luke 17:20-23
    King James Version
    20 And when he was demanded of the Pharisees, when the kingdom of God should come, he answered them and said, The kingdom of God cometh not with observation:
    21 Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you.
    22 And he said unto the disciples, The days will come, when ye shall desire to see one of the days of the Son of man, and ye shall not see it.
    23 And they shall say to you, See here; or, see there: go not after them, nor follow them.

    I know I need to temper my responses here, given I have a strong reaction to most comments expressed that contend with you. This no doubt is the surfacing of my own passions. But I will end by saying that I’m grateful for our Bishops and Metropolitans and the work they are trying to do in very trying times. Would that we listened more carefully to your lessons on modernity.

    Dear Father thank you for your ministry.

  76. Lina, Andrew, James, Michael, Dee, Father (and anybody else I may have inadvertently left out),
    Thank you so much for your words, very powerful and edifying!

  77. Father, Glory to God for all things, even my feeble and weak words, if they were edifying. I can so relate to what your Godfather said…when I was a Lutheran pastor, I was either angry or anxious 95% of the time…I suppose I too was Orthodox in some sense but still in the wrong place. Amazing to me how the Lord used the agony of those years, as well as my subsequent wanderings into “New Age” spiritualism and hedonism to lead me into His Church!

    Dee, forgive me, a prideful sinner. I like to think myself erudite when I truly do not know what pressures our bishops are dealing with…though I can imagine…indeed they are deserving of our heartfelt prayers and their office of deep respect, some scandalous behavior which I personally have witnessed aside. It is my own scandalous behavior I must take full responsibility for in view of God’s unfathomable, audacious mercy.

  78. Father, James Isaac,

    When I first became Orthodox I considered the priesthood. I quickly came to the conclusion that I don’t have the love for it. I cannot imagine loving the people of a parish enough to be a guide of any sort for them. When I consider our Bishops, I am amazed at anyone who can do as they do. I tend to think that their prayers are deeply rooted in their hearts (while mine fly carelessly off my lips). God have mercy on us all.

  79. Father
    I don’t know about the others, but, for me I have searched far and wide and do not know of a sweeter voice out there than yours. The fact that I can even be very bold with you in private also helps of course. However it is your returning to the crucified and exhalted Lord Jesus at the end of all (in gratitude) that “informs” my heart of the Spirit channelled through You. I sincerely thank you from the depths of my being dear Father!

  80. I as well. Other teachers have important things to say, of course…I suppose all the parts of the Body have their function. And perhaps those of us who have frequented this blog for some time now are kindred spirits (like attracts like, I still believe from my “Law of Attraction” days, may God heal me further). Yet I too know of none other in the “Orthosphere” who – in my opinion, at least – expresses the real heart of Orthodoxy quite so pastorally and eloquently as our dear Father Stephen. Fruits borne of deep and profound ascesis of the heart and soul, I am sure.

    And thank you also, Father, for exemplifying a good – perhaps the best – way of responding to gratitude: to return thanks as well. Thank you for your kind words to me, and thank you to others who expressed appreciation to me as well!

  81. It’s all good here; a challenge at times, but the truth isn’t about comfort. Thank you Fr. Stephen and all who contribute.

  82. https://www.nytimes.com/2021/10/13/books/albert-j-raboteau-dead.html

    Dr. Raboteau was a treasure and his works speak eloquently of the Cross of Christ lived out in the Aftican American experience and how different that is from the approach to race today. He also inspired the work of The Fellowship of St Moses, the Black which was founded by my friend Fr. Moses Berry and currently led by another friend, Mother Katherine Weston.
    The Fellowship exists in the chaos. Mother Katherine recently told me that racial reconciliation would occur naturally if we lived out the Orthodox life of prayer and repentance in each of our parishes.
    I intuitively understand her to be correct even though I have no direct evidence.
    I suspect doing that would also heal many other false divisions.
    I keep coming back to Mt 3:2 “Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.”

    Jesus is in our midst.

  83. Father, you said up stream on the 12th that chaos an be a disordered system. Something did not sit quite right so I have been contemplating that. A system can be managed, reordered, made better, etc. At least theoretically.

    If we are not to be managerial, thinking of chaos as at least the tendency toward nothingness because of sin. (There have been philosophical arguments about the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics invalidates evolution and progress because of that observation) He formed us from nothing. To nothing we may return.

    So what I trying to say is that the Incarnation, Crucifixion, Death and Ressurection do not reorder but radically save us and all of Creation from that descent into nothing. If not that, it could be fixed.
    Puts a new perspective on Hamlet’s “To be or not to be”

    When I look into the abyss of my own soul, there is nothing there without Christ and Him Crucified.

    That used to be a gloomy prospect for me…not so much any more. Because Christ is Risen.

  84. Michael,
    that’s an interesting observation. After reading your previous post on this, I have been thinking along the lines of chaos as the word is mostly used these days, as being serious disorder. The effects of human sinfulness and the influence of the demonic. As you refer to above disorder could theoretically be managed and re-ordered. After the chaos/disorder of WW2, there has been a relative peace and economic progress in the UK and Europe, due to countries having to rebuild their infrastructures and economies; which began with the Marshall plan. In worldly terms it was managed quite well.
    In Biblical language, the sea is often used as a symbol for chaos/disorder. Jesus calms the stormy sea of chaos/disorder with a word; even the demons obey Him. Only Christ can bring peace and calm the chaos/disorder that is within us and save us from the ultimate chaos of nothingness.

  85. Except for natural disasters and accidents due to human error or technological failures, all chaos/disorder is caused by us men and women. We often look at the world and see the disorder/chaos and think that something must be done to stop it; hence as Fr. Stephen often refers to, new crusades and managerial strategies are proposed and taken up with gusto.
    As Fr. Stephen has said quoting Solzhenitsyn, the battle between good and evil runs through each of our hearts. But we do not have to take Solzhenitsyn’s word for it (even though he is right in what he says.) However as Christians we do have to take Jesus’ word for it and He has told us that all wickedness; murder, adultery, lying, stealing, etc, comes from the heart of a man. We can neither manage it nor stop it.
    As I am learning Orthodoxy does not see sin in the legalistic crime and punishment manner that much of Western Christianity sees it. It is more a matter of seeing our own need of healing and forgiveness and only then by turning to Christ can the transformation of our hearts begin. When we are healed and forgiven then their is less chaos/disorder in the world.

  86. Michael,
    Strictly speaking, the tendency towards nothingness is a good definition for chaos. Of course, nothing achieves the status of “nothingness.” It is a movement and a direction. Being (existence) is the gift of God and we cannot make it disappear. We can only take it in the wrong direction – towards non-being. That’s pretty much the thought of the Eastern Fathers on that.

    There’s been a lot of thought around the word “chaos” over the past generation or so, inasmuch as Genesis uses a word that reflects the Mesopotamian idea of a chaos monster (“tiamat” “the deep”). “Chaos” doesn’t appear as a term in Scripture – but it’s been popular for modern thought. God does not create the world out of chaos – but from nothing (utter non-existence). St. Athanasius raised this understanding to the point of settled doctrine in his writings and teachings.

    My own thoughts on “chaos” are simply in terms of our experience of things happening. When things are going as we generally expect (and give us the semblance of a pleasant and predictable order) versus when everything seems to be going wrong and we lose even the semblance of control.

    In this world, there is order, even when we don’t like it. God’s providence is at work in all things (for our good). Sin moves us against that and “disorders” our lives or the lives around us. But the Cross gathers the disorder (sin) into Christ, and, in Him, death tramples down death. Only the Cross “honors” the suffering of a disordered (sinful) world, on the one hand, while healing it, on the other.

  87. I do understand that Father(through a glass, darkly), it is just helpful to me to understand chaos as a movement toward nothingness, affecting everyone and everything all because of sin. Confession and repentance make sense that way. Somehow the love and mercy of our Lord is more accessible and the temptation to manage less of a problem. Plus, it fits my experience over the years.

    I am sure God has order. It is likely sacramental in quality The Cross draws all men to participate in that Order. Even as I say that I sense that what that Sacrament is…way beyond me.

  88. Then there is Handel’s Messiah. Singing portions if it in high school awakened me to His Glory: “For the mouth of the Lord has spoken it.”

  89. There is a young person in one of my chemistry classes who has children, and a job as a security person working in a hospital and trying to take courses at the university. This person is available to conduct life saving work for people coming into ER and does this work even while they had not been officially hired for this work. The hospital needs the workers and will take whoever might be able to help. Perhaps this crest of cases will diminish soon. But the case loads are still high enough where I live to keep the student I have in my class involved in work that they are not fully trained to do.

    I ask myself what I can do to help them? I provide as much flexibility as I can to ease the pressure of due dates in school work. But I can’t help but also say publicly, here, that the main reason they come to school and likely to work, dog-tired, is because of the proliferation of misinformation.

    Perhaps I’m stretching the bounds here, and I ask Father for his forgiveness as I might be doing so. But when I hear such misinformation broadcast in this blog, I have a gut-wrenching reaction. The best I can do for my students is to let them know that I’m ‘here’, for them. To listen and to show I care for them because many if not most of them are in the health sciences and currently doing part-time work to ease the case load in the hospitals during this pandemic.

    I’ll say briefly, that while the science is still growing regarding learning how this virus is mutating and how to effectively help the population medically, that “prominent scientists” are not situated on “both sides” of the medical perceptions of the threats involved. But I do see very less prominent names in the medical field throwing their hats into the political arena and they help to confound the necessary information needed for the next best thing to do.

    My student who had intended to be a security person, is now seeing death at a level they never anticipated and comes to class in a fog unable to focus. All of this could have been handled differently. But simply stated, it was not handled differently and we have what we now have.

    I ask for your prayers for this student. I apologize for not giving names or gender, it would be inappropriate in my role as their professor.

    Dear James Isaac, you have a gentle voice in this comment stream. You have no need to ask for my forgiveness. If anything I should ask for yours since I frequently reveal my passions in this blog.

  90. It helps me to remember what I believe is the consensus of the Fathers, which I came to see very well expressed in St. Gregory Palamas’ clear teaching. The passions we have – the desiring, incensive faculties – are not themselves evil, but are good, just that they are misdirected such that chaos (little or large) results in our psychological-spiritual state of being. Our passions need to be redirected, put in proper order, which corresponds to healing from sin. In other words, properly speaking our passions are not the problem, merely their “chaotic” disorderment. (And it’s not something we ‘manage’ to do, but which God by grace, by His Spirit does in us.)

    The trouble I keep running into is the ‘dualistic’ mode of thinking/perception which corresponds to both the materialistic, secularist way of thinking AND Western Christianity is so embedded in me (in all of us, I reckon) that it takes much time and ascesis to overcome it – especially when all around us are subject to this delusion, yet their hearts know there is something more. Kyrie eleison!

  91. To all,
    A note of caution. I do not want to host a debate over covid/vaxx issues on the blog. Please refrain. I allowed a comment yesterday that touched on it, and I’ve allowed one today to expressed an opposition to what was said. I do not think any further comments could add anything of any use.

    Pray. Consider the Cross. The Cross alone redeems any of this.

  92. James,
    I was brought up without any religion and it was only later in life, that I realised how much influence Protestantism has had in the world; both secular and religious.

  93. The culture we are in produces cults at every single possible opportunity. Every cult I have known or studied has a similar approach: “We are good, everyone else is bad and We have knowledge no one else has and that knowledge will bring the world into heaven.”

    The U.S. Declaration of Independence and the Constitution are cultic in style and 19th Century US was an explosion of cults (all founded on pretty radical Christian heresy). Our politics have always been evangelical in nature with the eschaton always in sight. Always to our sorrow.

    The main casualty of cults is the truth. One of the main tactics of cults is to push fear of “the other” often as nebulous as possible. Anytime I see high emotion around “sides” along with absolute truth claims I suspect cultic behavior and distorted (at best) truth. Even though I know this, guarding my heart is difficult. I want to jump into the fray and proclaim righteousness. Which side depends on how my passions lead.

    The inevitable result is loss of faith, a hard heart and fear. It becomes more difficult to pray or practice any spiritual discipline with humility. Rather I seek God’s justification for my passions.

    The only activity that allows me to guard my heart and not be swayed to either “side” is repentance as close to the foot of the Cross as I can come. Their the passions pass away, at least for a moment and I can “lie down in green pastures” and have my soul restored. Even Mercutio’s “a pox on both your houses” is just more passion on the fire leading to more nothingness.

    Father Stephen has to be particularly careful because people actually listen to him as many posts in this thread attest and many other posts through out the years.

    God forgive me a sinner and Lord have mercy on us all. Strengthen our host and teacher, Fr. Stephen, in all righteousness and truth.

  94. Dee, no need to apologize either! I’m still learning healthy, rightly ordered boundaries so sometimes I tend to take unhealthy ownership of things which aren’t really mine to own (even though there is a healthy, holy sense in which we can take others’ sins and shame upon ourselves as Christ and the Saints did and do).

    Last night, I came across a fascinating Wikipedia article summarizing an aptly-titled book from 1977 by a German-British (how’s that for a paradox in light of WW2) economist-turned-philosopher named E.F. Schumacher, “A Guide for the Perplexed”. He disentangles and deconstructs what he calls “materialistic scientism” which is still the dominant paradigm in academia, to my knowledge, and which has taken on an increasingly cultic force, it seems to me. His main critique rests on what he elucidates as the “hierarchy of being” which is analogous to a hierarchy of consciousness/perception. He argues that what is popularly known as “science” can only rightly concern itself with the lowest levels of being, i.e. material things (which we know as Orthodox are also truly alive in some sense!) and yet considers itself a superior (and in the cultic expression, only) means of determining truth. Which of course leads things like religion to be seen as separate and scornable, and Christians who subscribe to this implicitly (due to over-exposure in the culture) have the whole “two-storey universe” as the only recourse. It over-extends itself into fields such as psychiatry and medicine, viewing the human being (including consciousness) as a product of strictly materialistic processes which then necessitate strictly materialistic interventions (which happen to make a lot of money for pharmaceutical companies in the case of psychotropic medications, for example).

    What I felt really pertained to the initial thread and core of this blog, and indeed of life, was his distinction between “convergent and divergent problems”…the proper domain of materialistic science deals with convergent problems where there is one basically-ideal solution (e.g. human-powered vehicle –> bicycle). Whereas divergent problems – such as most if not all of our interpersonal, intersocial ones – have multiple possible solutions/resolutions. (I think one of my main failings has been tending to misapply the convergent, scientific methodology to divergent problems such as relationship issues, including with God…just gotta find the “right thing” to think, believe, or do right? No, wrong question.) An example given is the classical dichotomy in education/parenting: does the child need freedom or discipline to learn best? Crucially, he argues that the only way to resolve divergent problems is to actually transcend the problem; in the education example “the” answer is neither one or the other; what the child really needs is love (which of course incorporates and subsumes both).

    Obviously this is but a metaphor or philosophical lens through which to view things, and God (nor ourselves as His image-bearers) isn’t/aren’t constrained by any such thing, I just found it very interesting to view the hesychastic and “Crucifist” approach to our problems and those of the society we live in in this light. We are drawn into the debate of two forcibly opposing sides, each clamoring to be “the truth”, and forcibly cajoled into choosing one side or the other…when the real solution is to transcend the problem with inner silence/stillness and self-emptying love.

    So in other words, what Father Stephen said and keeps saying. 🙂

  95. I haven’t really read the thread deeply or well, but I comment here to tell Dee that I am praying for her student. Thank you for asking for prayers, Dee.

    I would like to add, apropos of nothing, that while our faith is in the Cross and its work in us, let us not forget that it also includes Resurrection. Either one without the other is not the truth. (In my not so humble opinion! Forgive me)

  96. Alleluia! Thank you Janine for your comment about ‘Christ’s Glorious Resurrection.’ If were not careful and keep the balance of the Cross and Resurrection, we can become like the flagellants during the time of the plague.

  97. Correction of my mistake; If were not careful and do not keep the balance of the Cross and Resurrection.

  98. Janine and Andrew,
    There is no “balance” between the Cross and the Resurrection. They belong together, ultimately as a single thing. Indeed, they were originally a single feast. Nonetheless, St. Paul said to the Corinthians (2:2) that “I have determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.”

    St. Sophrony said that when standing “at the edge of the abyss” to stay there until you cannot take it anymore, then step back and have a cup of tea. Taking a long, unflinching look at the depth of the Cross does not constitute forgetting the resurrection. If you need to take a break, have a cup of tea, but I think it is inappropriate to suggest that we not look unflinchingly at the fulness of the Cross, or that in so doing, we are somehow forgetting the resurrection, much less bordering on flaggelentes.

  99. Fr. Stephen,
    thank you for that😀. A cup of tea would be nice. Perhaps I have taken things out of context and imposed my own idiosyncrasies into this. I was having poke at the sort of, oh woe is me, I’m so wicked I’ll punish myself ascetism
    Inappropriate as you say. I apologise for that.
    I’m off to make a cuppa now.

  100. A welcome and helpful aspect to the discussion. It’s tempting (and often lately I have given in to the self-flagellation too, which is a false spirituality)…important to realize the Cross is never something we “go out and find” of our own will, but that which comes to us by God’s gracious will as we struggle towards Him. And joyful is the reminder that as we partake voluntarily in whatever way the Cross comes to us, we certainly shall share willingly and gladly in the Resurrection in whatever way it becomes manifest in us now and in the age to come.

  101. With my wife’s surgery, her slow recovery and the death this week of her 17 month old grand-niece of SIDS, making amends with a woman who felt I had broken her heart 48 years ago and my own struggles, I am seeing the Cross at least from a distance. Then there is the grave within made initially deeper by awareness of my own sins. If I allow myself to go deeper yet in repentance, the Joy of Ressurection.. Not a linear process exactly. Somehow God’s mercy is there in and through each “step”
    This is the day the Lord has made. Let us Rejoice and be glad in it with all our friends and brothers and sisters among the saints and the Holy Angles.
    Christ is Risen!

  102. James, et al,
    I have to confess that an initial impetus in writing this article was to draw our attention to the Cross as present in the various chaotic and suffering scenarios that confront us these days. What I have seen, largely, have been huge efforts to “manage” the situations (from one angle or another). That is the great temptation of modernity. I should say that “management” is pretty much a middle-class thing – the poor often can’t manage, don’t know how, or are deeply frustrated with everyone else out there that seems to want to manage them.

    All of that is to say that we pay lip-service to the Cross (often as a theological construct or an historical object) but do not embrace its incarnate reality. It has been very important for me in the past year to “embrace” the madness and insanity of our world (and the Church) not in order to fix it, explain it or even understand it – but embrace it within myself and from that position to pray.

    There is resurrection. There are moments of deep comfort in the prayers from within the Cross, in which God offers a small glimpse of the glory that is to be, as He reminds us not to despair. But I think we are called to true “sympathy” (co-suffering) with the world, inasmuch as Christ does that very thing. He does not stand outside of our chaos – but inside it. There is no resurrection from the outside. Even creation (rocks, trees, bugs, etc.) groan and travail, St. Paul says. I take that groaning and travail to be creation’s own “sympathy” with the Cross.

    We will be raised together. No doubt. And the glory will infinitely eclipse the suffering. But there is no understanding of the mystery of Divine Love without understanding and entering the mystery of the Cross. So, I’ll keep writing in this vein.

  103. It is one thing to enter into the depths of the Cross and to realise our sinfulness and to embrace whatever cross we may have to carry in this life, without which there is no resurrection; it is another thing to misunderstand the Cross and use it to beat ourselves into submission with. As you have pointed out James to engage in a false spirituality. The Cross is the source of the joy of the resurrection.

  104. Andrew,
    Western Christianity tends to associate the Cross with our sinfulness (so that we use it “against ourselves”). In Orthodox thought, sin is not nearly so much something I do, as it is something that oppresses me, attacks me, overwhelms me. There’s no Calvinistic sense of “badness” about being human. So the Cross is much more about Christ trampling down death by death, overcoming suffering by entering it, etc. I suspect that it takes a while to hear the Orthodox take in all of this.

    The services of the year have several major feast days that focus of the Cross (Third Sunday of Lent, August 1, September 14). We have a kind of “love affair” with the Cross. We sing to it. We kiss it at the end of every service. We make the sign of the Cross probably over a hundred times (or more) in every service. It has this place in our devotions in a manner that is not found in the West. In Russian tradition, the Hymn (Tropar) of the Cross is sung at the end of every service (usually with the tune made famous in the 1812 overture of Tchaikovsky):

    O Lord, save Thy people!
    And bless Thine inheritance!
    Grant victory to the Orthodox people,
    Over their adversaries.
    And by virtue of Thy Cross,
    Preserve Thy habitation.

    I have perhaps overlooked the fact that this devotional attachment to the Cross is missing in the experience of other Christians. It has a way of changing the conversations about the Cross.

  105. Fr. Stephen,
    thank you for that 😊; Most helpful. Without the actual practice of Orthodox worship and life, it is difficult to really have a proper understanding. I do get my wires crossed at times and perhaps jump to the wrong conclusions all too easily. If I have caused any offence to anyone here by any of my comments; I do apologise.

  106. I have a cross that was given to my mother about 100 years ago by a Native American holy man named Adam. It is hand made of silver with an oval of turquoise at its center. My mother gave it to me when I went away to college.
    It is iconic in nature. I can sit quietly and contemplate it and it draws me into the mystery of my greater life, our interconnectedness and the power of the Cross itself. The longer I am Orthodox the more I sense a certain oneness with the Cross.
    If I want to be closer to God, I must enter into the mystery of the Cross. Not just theoretically or theologically but enter into and allow the Cross of my life embrace me..

  107. Father,

    I recently contemplated these lines,

    And by virtue of Thy Cross,
    Preserve Thy habitation.

    and it occurred to me that to be “preserved” by the “virtue of Thy Cross” is to enter into our temptation and sin and transform it. It is God incarnate. The statement had never made sense to me before (the Cross being considered only as a symbol of suffering and defeat).

  108. Thanks for the discussion, and Father for further elucidation. What I meant by my comment is the sort of thing that Father and Michael Bauman alluded to. That is, we go “through” the Cross but we also come out the other side, to some new state. I think that is probably not too clear. But to put it simply when we go through things that try us, create change in us, in the times when we must die to something, *and* there is also on offer a new life in this process. It’s like the metaphor of the woman in birth pangs in John 16:21. There is the other side. It might be a continual process. Or possibly when we think we’ve worked through one thing, then some new challenge is coming up (that’s the way the Gospels work). I just think that is what discipleship is all about. But part of the story is Resurrection, that new thing we’re transfigured into. St. Paul also wrote about our hope. And I personally believe Resurrection is a kind of archetype, for want of a better word, that works in the here and now in our faith journey, if you will.

  109. Gosh, I don’t mean Resurrection is *only* an archetype. I meant it is also a reality at work in our lives like the Cross is also and is a personal cross as well (Luke 9:23).

  110. Indeed Byron, these words are beautiful and remind us of the peace and joy in the Cross that passes all understanding. Thank you for your comment and reflections.

  111. I think also we cannot forget, when thinking about the quotation Byron mentioned, that the Cross is the ultimate weapon against evil. As the Easter Resurrection hymn goes, Christ “trampled down death by death.” It’s the only way, in the bigger picture of things.

  112. Thanks Janine for explicating what I was weakly attempting to say…as we incrementally more willingly accept the Cross in our lives and say from our heart and soul “Glory to God for all things” we manifest the peace and joy of the Resurrection. I think of the profoundly smiling and beautiful faces of those holy ones we have photographs of such as St John of Shanghai, Blessed Elder Thaddeus of Vitnovika, St Paisios, Archimandrite Aimilianos and so many others…that joy is the first fruits of the Life of the Age to come in our lives, and is possible no matter how “bad” things around us get, I am increasingly convinced. 🙂

  113. Fr. Stephen, are you familiar with Julian of Norwich? Your post reminded me of her story.

    The first thing I ever heard about Julian was her most famous quote: “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.” From that, I dismissed her as a shallow, look-on-the-bright-side sort of person. That was far from the truth.

    Four years ago, I participated in a book club organized by a Protestant group called Renovare. (Though it was unintentional on their part, this group was a significant influence on my journey to Orthodoxy.) We read Julian’s book, Revelations of Divine Love, and one of the group’s leaders did an interview with an expert on Julian’s life. https://renovare.org/podcast/episode-95-mimi-dixon-julian-of-norwich

    Forgive me, I may be getting the details wrong, but these are some of the things I remember that stood out to me in relation to your post, Fr. Stephen.
    Norwich, where Julian lived, was a major port in the 1300s, so they were hit especially hard by the bubonic plague. 75% of the people in the city died. As if that weren’t bad enough, the plague came back 10 years later, when Julian was 19. This time, it killed almost a quarter of the population, mostly the elderly and infants who were too young to have been through it before. In fact, during her lifetime, Julian saw SIX different waves (roughly every 10 years). Each time it re-occurred, the plague took the lives of the most vulnerable.

    I can’t even imagine the devastation. Apparently, Christians came to believe that God was going to wipe out the human race through illness this time instead of a flood. Julian became seriously ill when she was 30, and she had several visions. The expert in the interview, Mimi Dixon, describes how she related to Julian because Julian had questions for Christ even as she lay on her deathbed. For example, Julian wanted to know why God even created humankind if He knew we were going to sin and die.

    As I remember it, Christ didn’t answer her questions the way we might have wanted. He didn’t explain Himself. Her first vision was of Christ on the Cross. She saw His suffering in gory detail. In fact, all her visions were of God’s love for us.

    When I think of it in the context of the extreme chaos of Julian’s life, that’s particularly powerful. God didn’t explain Himself, and the plague didn’t end in her lifetime. Christ reminded her of the Cross and the suffering He voluntarily took on for our sakes.

  114. Father, am I right to link the Cross and Ressurection tightly together? No Ressurection without the Cross?

  115. Abigail,
    What I believe most profoundly, is that the Cross is a revelation of the love of God – that nothing else could have made it known. It’s not “Cross is the bad suffering stuff and resurrection is the happy ending.” The Cross is what the love of God looks like. To love another human being, for example, is a cruciform action, it is the loss of self and the gain of self. In a manner of speaking, the Cross reveals to us the love of the Trinity, of the Father, of the Son, and the Holy Spirit. The resurrection is itself a manifestation of the cruciform love of God as much as the Cross.

    There is much more to say in this. Julian is a very interesting character. She was misused, I think, by a lot of well-meaning Protestants for a variety of ill-thought-out reasons. It’s kept me away from paying much attention to her. But that’s another long story.

  116. I love the idea of leaving the “edge of the a(A)byss” to go have a cup of tea. This reminds me of some non-Christian teachers, i.e., Buddhist, and the idea of upon enlightenment, still chop wood. Jesus’ life was characterized by this very down to earth quality while being totally in God — going to weddings, fishing, having beach picnics, healing leprous people, hanging out at the local well, really every interaction except the ones in the synagogue and at the end happened in this very every day reality, while bringing God into it. I aspire to that and have thought this is one of the qualities about Christianity I appreciate. The quotidian is exalted in every moment. I do wonder whether a cup of tea is sufficient, however, if one has really stood at the edge of the Abyss. I don’t know whether a cup of tea would have been sufficient for Job, but, of course, no one was offering even that to him. At the very least, we should be offering a cup of tea to others who are suffering. I love Julian for the same reasons – she appears to have been a gentle soul, feeling and acting out of great love for others even when trying to live in solitude, appreciating and loving the smallest things and events in life and finding God in them. Her reflections on a walnut, I believe it was, come to mind. I did not know about all the plague experiences she lived through, but that puts her gentleness of soul and unconditional love in much greater perspective for me. Her “all is well” comment appears in a new light, then, more like Job’s bowing down before the one God in humility at the end, and then all became well.

  117. Lovely words, Seraphima! I agree, I think sometimes one needs a stiff draught of some single malt whisky after being at the edge of the abyss more than a cup of tea…

  118. James – Indeed! I like Glenmorangie myself, preferably imbibed in Scotland next to the moors. . . . I can’t indulge, unfortunately, so a smoky black tea is also good.

  119. All this talk of whisky and I don’t have a drop in the house. I’m making do with a British working class classic. What we call builders tea; strong black tea with plenty of milk.

  120. Father,
    I’m reading St Maximus (Fr Maximos Constas trans) letters to Thalassios and recently read a paragraph (from the introduction providing a kind of synopsis of St Maximus) that seems to correspond to the notion of chaos, that you write about and points to how we might inadvertently self inflict such chaos on ourselves. I quote it here:

    The disordered movements of the passions, to the extent that they impel the mind to attach itself to the material surface of the world, create the conditions for a profound hermeneutical crisis. Fixed on surfaces now rendered opaque to the divine presence, the passions impede insight into the intelligible structure of phenomena and their inner unity.

    And later in the same paragraph:

    With respect to Scripture, the same passions limit the mind to the literal level of the text, concealing the deeper meaning inherent in the letter. Both result in a hermeneutical failure to understand the meaning of what is given in creation and revelation, a failure that inevitably leads to the abuse of both nature and Scripture.

    I bring up the passions because I believe we are experiencing conditions that would entice Christians to engage in them. The mindset of the US materialist culture has and is being inculcated both politically and economically throughout the world, although some cultures might resist. Very often I hear in the voices that call for political action (whether of state or church) express their opinions in a churlish tone of hatred (albeit not self-perceived).

    Such strident voices also maintain a rather literal interpretation of the Scripture, and especially of Revelations. The chaos that they attribute to the “world”, whether of state or church, is more of a reflection of the chaos created by the passions within their own hearts but they attribute their internal condition to causes outside themselves.

    While I do not deny the difficult conditions that we have, nevertheless, we seem to have a propensity not to look inward to check and mitigate (through opening our hearts to the grace of God) possible passionate reactions.

  121. Dee, you are right. Inner works better although it seems impractical and illogical or worse to the world. Which includes my own passions often.

    The main drive of the passions, it seems, is to create war both within oneself and with everyone else. Yet the inbuilt drive for communion leads the passionate man to form cults: religious, financial, political, hedonistic (sex and drugs) and violent . Some cults embrace all of the factors.

  122. I can’t remember who wrote this, it was included in the second reading of the Office of Readings in RC Liturgy of the Hours; you get angry with your brother and blame him for putting it there, when the anger is already inside of you. Those are not the exact words, but the gist of what is said.

  123. Andrew, I as well will have to make do without a fair draught, though methinks to have a nip of some gin tonight. England has given a few good things to the world…

    Dee, Father, et al, many thanks again for your wise words…they are immensely helpful to my passionate soul. May we always take the plank out of our own eyes before we dare assist our brother in removing the speck from his. Kyrie Eleison!

  124. James,
    once I got to a certain age and stopped disliking the English (being Welsh it’s a sort of default setting for many people) I came to appreciate much of what is English. A good gin and tonic is hard to beat. My favourite is Plymouth Navy Strength. Hendricks is rather nice too and if you substitute the lemon for cucumber, it’s a refreshing alternative.

  125. Andrew, being both Canadian and of predominantly English descent I’ve had to overcome a sort of innate, traditioned cultural schizophrenia of English imperialism and Canadian “inferiorism”. But all these isms don’t really mean a thing, do they. (It helps that I’ve got a red beard so I can trace my more ultimate ancestry back to Irish Celtic roots.

    And for gin I heartily recommend Boodles Proper British…that’s how to properly maintain the stiff upper lip. 🙂

  126. James,
    I like the cut of your jib sir😀. Your quite right all of those isms really don’t mean much at all. I am proud of being Welsh and I love and miss my home country, just as anyone should, but without national superiority and all that that entails.
    I haven’t even heard of Boodles Proper British. My daughter is an avid gin buff I’ll ask if she has tried it. When I a can hopefully get home next I’ll definitely get a bottle. Keep the gin flag flying😀.
    Here in Nigeria there are some really dodgy gins on sale, but I can get Bombay gin.

  127. James,
    I have been thinking about what you said about having to deal ‘the schizophrenia of English Imperialism and Canadian Inferiorism,’ Which we both agree isms don’t amount to much.I wasn’t going to post this, I will and if Fr. Stephen wishes to delete it; I’ll take no offence.
    Not long after coming to Nigeria a friend of my wife’s stayed with us for a while. She has a brother who is an RC priest. He came to visit us during the stay of his sister with us.
    The conversation to that begin was in Hausa, which I can’t speak. So I just sat quietly next to my wife. When there was a lull in the conversation, the priest brother of my wife’s friend started to berate me in English for being English and about colonialism and slavery. That usually would have been a red rag to a bull. How I remained calm, God alone knows.
    I replied with, let’s get a few things straight. I am not English, I am Welsh. Nigeria got independence from the UK two years before I was born. As bad as colonialism and slavery are concerned I wasn’t born then either and I have never personally enslaved anyone. I don’t come from a wealthy or landed background, so it could be most probable that my ancestors didn’t make a fortune out of the slave trade. Now go and research what life was like for the common people in what was then Great Britain, during and after the Industrial revolution. He didn’t stay long and I have not seen him since. I apologise for going on a bit and if this has no relevance for you please ignore. But I refuse to feel guilt and shame for being white and for things I have not done.

  128. Thanks for sharing Andrew. The thing is here in Canada the new woke thing which catches a lot of Christians in its net is to drag up the past alleged abuses of the Anglicans and Roman Catholics in the residential school systems both groups were involved in running over a hundred years ago for Indigenous Canadians. While atrocities were no doubt committed, the only reason to drag this stuff up now – and the manner of it – seems to be to incite hatred against traditional Christianity and people of English or Western European ancestry- in fact several churches have been burned in the wake of “new revelations”. And the virtue-signalling and on and on…anyways my call is to pray for those who slander my ancestry and the spiritual heritage, however flawed, of this land…which is now almost completely deconstructed. More room for Orthodoxy to flourish in the long run though 🙂

  129. Thank you James,
    we do live in strange times. Very wise and charitable to pray for those who, slander your ancestry and beliefs. There are too many Christians traditional and liberal manning the barricades and indulging in the so called culture war and opposing each other over what the world does or does not dictate.
    In the late 1990’s and early 2000’s in the UK I had many derogatory remarks from friends and other people because of the child abuse. When it turned out that the majority of the sexual misconduct of the clergy was either pederasty or consensual same sex with adults, people stopped talking about it and the media went very quiet, when once they were shouting about it at any given opportunity.
    People tended to go back to the old chestnuts of the Crusades and the burning of witches.
    All of this raking up the past and blaming people in the present is not helpful at all and is destructive.
    Some groups in the world get a free pass for what happened in the past. Janine has mentioned her Armenian heritage and the suffering of her forbears. I don’t know that much about it, but I think the Armenian’s have not had an easy time and there are still deniers of the Armenian genocide.
    Two other things from my previous post that I didn’t mention that I had said were; what about the collusion of Africans in the slave trade and what about the Arabic slave trade; no one will touch it, yet again a free pass is awarded.

  130. James, Andrew,
    Sin is universal. There is an error (so many) in Modernity that imagines that the great sins are in the past, while they are universal and timeless. Strangely, for a world in which information is so immediately accessible, more and more people actually know less and less and are more subject to misinformation, prejudice, and bias in many forms. Ideas are only fashions and come and go.

    In the midst of this, we live. It’s very difficult to defend the faith against these fashions. It’s like boxing with figures made of smoke. It is, again, why I urge people to withdraw their attention from these things, as much as possible, and take up the small life of repentance and the keeping of Christ’s commandments.

    What we do not see – is that such a life has enormous power. The prayers of but a few righteous souls sustains the world.

  131. Lord, Jesus Christ, have mercy on me a sinner.

    It is of note that Christianity has long sustained those under oppression and slavery. When it is studied, as Albert J. Raboteau (an Orthodox convert) did, a whole different understanding emerges. My dear friend of 50 years, Fr. Moses Berry founded the Fellowship of St. Moses, the Black to teach and encourage a different understanding of slavery and our Lord’s place in it and in the culture of the U.S. and the Church here.

    Unfortunately, prejudice of the specific variety still exists in our parishes, including mine. I have spent the last several years holding on, by the grace of God, to a dear friend in my parish who suffered from such thoughtlessness and deep sinfulness and has not yet been back to the Church, which he loves, because of it. The details are irrelevant but real nonetheless.

    It cannot be dismissed simply as a relic of the past. Would that it could.

  132. Fr. Stephen,
    you are spot on as usual. Your insistence on the small life of repentance and keeping Christ’s commandments is beginning to sink in. Focusing on what we can do nothing about, just leads to frustration and anger and weakens prayer considerably; as you say ‘boxing with figures of smoke,’ which will wear a person out.

  133. Dear James and Andrew,
    I personally know Native American people (I am generalizing their specific background) who suffered from being torn from their families and forced to attend such ‘church’ schools. In some places the history is more recent than what you might realize and is as sad and tragic as is reported. And the cultural and ‘religious’ antecedents that support such oppressions are still with us. I speak for what goes on in the US. Let us not be blind to them. The people I know are in their 60’s in age and have shared their stories with me.

  134. Michael,
    prejudice of one form or another is ubiquitous. I was taken aback when I first came to Nigeria of tribal and state prejudice. My wife who teaches in an RC girls school, has had to struggle against some of her superiors for certain rights she was being denied because she was born in a different state to the one in which she has lived since her family moved here in 1972.
    Class prejudice in the UK although it’s much better than in the past still exists in some circles.
    As I mentioned in a previous post I was prejudiced against the English, until I realised the stupidity of it.

  135. On the lighter side of things dear James Isaac and Andrew, my favorite is either the most stout Guinness I can get my hands on or the American made “Irish Death”. Or a stiff cuppa (strong enough to hold a spoon upright) of Lyons tea.

    May God bless you dear brothers in Christ! I enjoy your comments here.

  136. Dee,
    the same story in Australia and New Zealand in the past. By my refusal to not feel guilt and shame for what has happened to people in the past, I am in no now way trivialising the cruelty and suffering.
    I like draught Guinness; it’s not available here, but I can get bottled Guinness Foreign Extra. I too like a stiff cup of tea; my favourite is Yorkshire tea, but that’s not available here either.

  137. Dee, I always enjoy your honesty and gracious comments too. I like to think of this blog and many regular commentators and though it’s unlikely we will meet up in this life, it will be a blessed “surprise” to meet each other in the coming Kingdom by the grace of God. What Father said and Andrew reflected on as far as us needing to choose the lesser-seen path is spot on like a stiff cup of London Fog. (Well, minus the fog that is…)

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