As the End Draws Near – Silence

St. John the Baptist said of Christ that His “winnowing fork is in His hand.” (Lk 3:17) That farm implement is a tool for separating the wheat from the chaff, that is, to separate the edible part of the wheat from the husk that is to be discarded. It is, in that sense, an instrument of judgment. The character of Christ, who is the Image according to which we are created, is such that human beings are more fully revealed to be what they are as they draw near to Him (or as He himself draws near to us). There was a point in time when the eleven disciples did not know Judas to be a traitor-in-waiting. Indeed, they trusted him enough that he served as their treasurer. Christ, we are told, always knew Judas to be what he was, but patiently bore with him until he was revealed as a betrayer.

In a similar manner, I think, there is evidence that Christ also saw the other disciples to be what they were to become. Simon is named “Peter” long before he evidenced anything of a “rock-like” character. He was loud, opinionated, capable of trying to correct Christ at any number of points. There’s nothing rock-like in such behavior. Nevertheless, I suspect that, in the presence of Christ, Peter felt some stirring of the rock within himself. In His presence, those who could not walk felt the stirring of strength in their limbs, just as blind eyes strained towards the light of sight. Unbelieving individuals discovered an ability to believe they would have thought impossible. Christ’s presence reveals us.

That the winds and the seas obeyed Christ’s voice was not contrary to their nature – it was the fulfillment of their nature – as they at long last heard again the voice of Adam (now the Second instead of the First) command them. They groaned and travailed across the ages, waiting for the glorious liberty of obedience. At the voice of Christ, the winds and sea became their true selves.

I have no words of wisdom about those who are revealed to be “lost” in some manner, those for whom the presence of Christ seems to reveal their alienation from God. In my experience, this has not been a common thing. Goodness, though it seems fragile, is, in fact, quite strong and frequently victorious. That which has been alienated from God has no grace to sustain it. Nothing “energizes” it. Nevertheless, there is something of an ontological entropy that sets in from time to time, a “falling” into nothing. I recall, in the face of that, Christ’s descent into the lowest Hades so that in the furthest reaches of that dark entropy a redeeming light shinesl.

On any given day, I dare not think long or hard about this entropy. The very remembrance of it can come as an invitation to join its downward spiral. Christ warns in Scripture that the “last days” will be so difficult that very few will retain faith. I suspect that the culprit will not be pain or suffering, but simple despair. Even now, I hear its fearful, tired voice in the complaints of many.

Are we in the “last days”? In the first week of Great Lent, we sing:

My soul, my soul, arise! Why are you sleeping?
The end is drawing near, and you will be confounded.
Awake, then, and be watchful, that Christ our God may spare you,
Who is everywhere present and fills all things.

+ The First Week of Great Lent, Kontakion, Tone 6

The “end” that is drawing near is Christ Himself. It is not the machinations of governments and hidden cabals that mark the last days. That evil becomes more manifest is a secondary effect of the “drawing near” of Christ. Human events in no way determine God’s timing. If we are watching such events, our eyes are being distracted and we are likely living in delusion. Writings about such things are usually accompanied with the admonition to take care for our soul.

St. Paul’s last letter was written to the Philippians from prison. He is hopeful that he will be released, but he is also uncertain about the outcome that awaits him (he was executed). (Phil. 1:20) It is of great note that this is called his “epistle of joy.” As the end is drawing near, the brightness of his soul is increasing. He offers this advice:

Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things. (Phil 4:8)

This admonition is far more than the Apostle urging us towards pleasant things. There is nothing naive within his spiritual life. This is a direction for the heart, a specific instruction that allows us to prepare ourselves for the end. Those who think on the ugliness of the world, or the rumors of terrible things and intentions, are, in fact, sleeping. It is a sleep that lulls us into a despair that will make shipwreck of our faith in ways that we cannot imagine.

There is a great spiritual battle that is being waged in the human heart. It is the battle of the true, the noble, the just, the pure, the lovely, the good report, the virtues, and the praiseworthy, all of which have true being and are upheld by the hand of God, versus the lies, the fears, the imagined danger, the ugly and the dark, all of which ultimately have no substance and will pass away like the wind. This battle is the true struggle of our time. These adversaries are the “spiritual wickedness in the heavenly places” that St. Paul describes in Ephesians 6.

There is a reason that St. Seraphim of Sarov says, “Acquire the Spirit of Peace and thousands around you will be saved.” We have, in large part, exchanged the true spiritual warfare of the heart for the ideological struggles of our age. As such, we place ourselves on a level playing field with every secular argument and action. Political temptations abound because we remain within the delusion that things of great value are being established in that process. The delusion is that so long as our goals are noble and stated correctly, the result will be equally noble and correct. St. Paul warns: “For the kingdom of God is not in word but in power.” (1 Cor. 4:20) The power (clearly referenced by St. Seraphim) is not in our arguments but in the quiet victory gained through union with the in-dwelling Christ.

It was this same power that raised Christ from the dead.

But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you. (Rom. 8:11)

This is the life that saves thousands around us. I find that every time I write in this vein, there is a pushback from some that accuse me of “Quietism,” which is an odd critique from the Orthodox. “Hesychasm” is the Greek form of the same word, and is seen as the very heart of the faith – in belief and practice. The history of “Quietism” in the West is not the same as Hesychasm in the East. Still, it seems to be an easy target for criticism. We believe in our politics.

Here is a word that is worth pondering. It is from Alexander Kalomiros, the author of the article, “The River of Fire.”

Hesychasm is the deepest characteristic of Orthodox life, the sign of Orthodox genuineness, the premise of right thinking and right belief and glory, the paradigm of faith and Orthodoxy. In all of the Church’s internal and external battles, we had the hesychasts on one side and the anti-hesychasts on the other.

The very fabric of heresy is anti-hesychastic.

Again, Hesychasm is found in practice, not in rhetoric. I believe that it was Hesychasm that parted the waters of the Red Sea. It caused the walls of Jericho to fall. It has raised the dead and cleansed lepers. Demons tremble in its presence.

The Lord is in His holy temple. Let all the earth keep silence before Him.

111 comments:

  1. Thank you, Father! This is what I need. I find that, as you say, too much thinking about the “secondary effects” does not engender faith. After thinking much about them, I begin to worry, and it seems that my subsequent prayers begin with anxiety. But the prayers, especially the Psalter, soon take my mind into my heart, where are the things that “have true being and are upheld by the hand of God.”

    Happy New Year! May God help us.

  2. My priest in his sermon yesterday told us that temptation frequently follows the gift of Grace, as Jesus being driven into the desert after His Baptism.
    1 Cor 13:7 tells us to bear, believe, hope and endure.
    None of those words indicate action to initiate “change” to me. Rather they indicate the state of heart needed to avoid temptation after being granted grace and mercy.
    Words of Heschasm if I am not mistaken as is Our Lord’s conversation with the Evil one in the desert.
    Even the root of the word obey means to listen and hear.
    Perhaps we are all in the desert now as evil seems to metastasize around us if we listen to the news.
    Indeed in my life I can easily see “action” as associated with the nihilistic will. A will that destroys. Yet such acting is quite tempting “to make things better”
    The Apostles were told to wait until the Holy Spirit came upon them.
    We can still serve others as we wait — loving and giving thanks.

    Watch and pray.

  3. Forgive me. The sermon was Sunday, not yesterday. His words however seemed to have created a watchfulness in my heart along with a quiet joy that made the struggling day I had yesterday seem less immediate.

  4. Father,
    can we not say that hesychasm is reliant on others potentially using military force to allow it to continue.? There are problems with using force for sure but I’d guess that even Mount Athos could fall to Turkey if Greece didn’t have military force. I find it difficult to know how to resolve this problem

  5. James,
    Nothing of eternal value requires military force for its existence. Mt. Athos was under Turkey for quite a few centuries and managed to survive. If Mt. Athos ceased to exist tomorrow (if all the monks were expelled), then they could simply go somewhere else. Either the Kingdom of God is not of this world, or Christ was mistaken.

  6. Fr. Stephen, thank you so much for this post. It is a powerful message worthy of deep reflection and meditation that sparks us toward the practice of hesychasm. “For God alone my soul waits in silence; from him comes my salvation. God alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress: I shall never be shaken” (Ps. 62:1-2).

    I also will note that reading “River of Fire” was a key turning point in my exploration of Orthodoxy (from a Protestant background). Learning that the love of God follows us forever and ever, even to the depths of hell, made me realize that I could do nothing else than become Orthodox. Your quote by Alexander Kalomiros is also amazing. It makes me want to learn more about him.

  7. Father, you say: “Nothing of eternal value requires military force for its existence.” That statement requires significant contemplation: especially for me in my knowledge of history and the delusions of history of which I so easily partake. A history that, as studied and written, denys the Incarnation, Crucifixion and Ressurection.
    Life without God is Hobbsian: “Nasty, cruel, brutish and short” and requires military force for anything of value. Nihilist in essence where power is the highest virtue and the will to power the highest good.
    God forgive us.

  8. Kenneth,
    I’ve got another book by him on the Mother of God that is quite sweet. He’s an interesting character. He was a Greek Old Calendarist, but I found him surprisingly different than that background suggests. For example, he engaged in a long correspondence and debate with Fr. Seraphim Rose in which Kalomiros argued that Rose was misreading St. Basil on the nature of creation – and defended the idea of an evolutionary process. Others may know more about him.

  9. Michael,
    Although there is something of a “permissive” use of violence across history (OT, etc.), I am theologically unable to grant it anything like a “necessary” existence. I will get pushback on this from various quarters. Somehow, it simply runs counter to the gospel as far as I can say.

    There’s a sort of approach that says, “Well, only a little Hobbesian, but we really can’t do it without violence..” and then will go on to justify the violence by citing this story and that. I find it wholly unsatisfying. Frankly, all of the arguments in that direction undermine the faith as far as I can see – and support the various machinations of godless men and their armies throughout history.

    Once we agree to it (and take up the mantle of history’s guardians), we have agreed to madness and anxiety. I’ll take my company among the fools. Violence is not the tool of God.

  10. A very strong word for these times. Thank you so very much for this post. Amen and amen.

  11. Father, a complete look at force within the Christian is way beyond a few blog comments. I tend to think that pacifism, for instance, is just another worldly ideology. The key, as you suggest, lies in the practice of Hesychasm and a life of repentance.
    All I know is that God tends to reply when I call out to Him despite the sinfulness and struggle of my life. Psalm 141/142 is indicative of that (one small example). By the logic/premise of the world that is crazy.
    So much I do not know.
    “This is the day the Lord has made! Let us rejoice and be glad in it!”

  12. Michael,
    I think abstract pacifism is, as you say, an ideology. I do not profess to be a pacifist, nor to argue for pacifism (ideologically speaking). Nevertheless, the nature of the Kingdom of God is clear to me. That there might be exceptional cases in which violence is given a purpose, I leave to the hands of God.

    What I see, however, is that violence quickly gets picked up as a “way of things” and, those who begin to advocate it (as an ideology, no doubt) give themselves over to a secular spirit. Our adversary was a murderer from the beginning. I generally find that conversations with persons advocating a blessed violence is a conversation with someone who is not, in fact, a Hesychast.

    In our present time, for example, there are many, many people whose hearts and minds are enslaved to false ideologies and not a little madness. There are also many who advocate what amounts to violence and force against them. We came into our present madness not because of the lack of violence but because of the lack of Godly souls (Hesychasm, if you will). I have no dreams of making the world a better place (as is well known). But I know that violence will not change human hearts and it is just such a thing that alone can heal the madness of our times.

    We need to become sane (not violent) with the sanity of God. We need to acquire the Spirit of peace. Instead, I find that people imagine themselves to be locked in an ideological war that will (they think) inevitably lead to a real war. If so, the murderer will be very happy to help us. He never cares what the reasons are for killing – he simply likes the killing.

    I leave God to judge those who take up arms in defense of family, country, etc. Many Orthodox have done so through the ages. But it is utterly contrary to the faith to imagine that we can further the Kingdom of God by violence, much less change a single heart.

    I would to God that the energy that so taxes our souls were spent in prayer, the giving of alms, and repentance. There are so few souls of brightness among us.

  13. The outpouring of the Arts that springs from Orthodox spirituality can be an antidote to so much of the bleakness that wants to take our attention. A Pan-Orthodox Festival of Orthodox Christian Arts is being held in the Dallas area February 18-20 to celebrate that Beauty. It is free:
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    Come and see…

  14. Thank you, Father, for this post. I feel I have been blessed to read it.

    I also thank you all for the comments, and Father Stephen, for your replies. This makes your posts even more of a blessing for to see the interaction, and to see the answers to questions asked!

  15. The real opposition to violence frequently seems to result in martyrdom of some type. Even the quiet martyrdom of being perceived as a coward.

  16. Father – It often baffles me the way modern folks tend to view the “judgment” type parables involving separation as if one of the things separated was thrown away or worthless. Goats are just as valuable (and necessary to human surviving and thriving) as sheep. Chaff (husk) is just as necessary and useful as wheat (for example, chaff was used as fertilizer, livestock feed, tinder, brick strengthener, mortar strengthener, etc. – it was hardly thrown away or useless). Doubtless much of this is due to our not living pre-industrial holistic lives, but rather modern lives of hedonistic waste. It becomes very easy to fall prey to viewing these parables as “good guys vs bad guys”.
    I think the real difference of the things separated lies in their near equality. I say “near” because the thing the parables tend to point to as better (for lack of a better word) tends to do “one thing more” than the less-good thing. Sheep and goats are (in all ways relevant to humans) equal (both giving milk, skin, meat, etc.) with sheep giving one thing more above the goats – wool. Wheat and chaff can be used for all the same purposes (as listed above), but the wheat is good for one thing more – human food.
    Viewed in this manner, the separation only occurs for the collecting of that “one thing more”, not for the punishment of that which has one thing less. When it is time for milk, or leather, or meat, there is no separation, sheep and goats give these equally. But when it is time for wool, the separation occurs.
    I think these parables should be viewed through the lens of love. Imagine the joy that both human-sheep and human-goats share in giving milk to the Lord. Now imagine the deep sorrow the goat would experience when it is time to give wool to the Lord and he failed to grow that virtue in this life.
    I think this is easy to miss since the parables, in order to make their point, tend to begin in the middle at the “one thing more” separation moment, taking for granted that the ancient hearers/readers are already aware of the substantial and joyous contributions made by both parties. For example, both the wise and foolish virgins had already made the same massive contributions to the wedding prior to the point at which Christ picks up the parable – both sets of virgins had already given their “meat, milk, and skin” so to speak. Christ picks up at the separation point – the wool (oil).
    The goats joyously gave milk with the sheep, and the Lord joyously accepted the milk of both. But they never developed the virtue of wool. “You should have done the former without neglecting the latter”, as Jesus said to the Pharisees. They were not being punished for doing the former. Christ joyfully accepted their dill, mint, and cumin. They were not even being punished for neglecting the latter: justice, mercy, kindness. They were simply separated out because it was shearing-time, time for kindness, and they had grown none of this wool. They were not the right “shape” to enter fully into the depths of the Kingdom – they could not swim, and thus had to remain in the shallow end of the pool.
    Any thoughts?

  17. Michael Bauman, Fr,

    I think the problem with violence has been well-characterized: the issue is not just ideological violence, but ideological non-violence. I was reading through some of St John Chrysostom’s homilies (On The Statues), where an Antiochian mob had broken into a local government building and desecrated multiple imperial statues. For this alone, the government doled out execution. The sermons are in the context of the aftermath, when the city was wondering whether or not the Emperor would massacre them all. St John Chrysostom calls the Emperor “humane and merciful” (4.9), calls previous incidents “justifiable slaughter” (6.6), and said that, because by insulting the Emperor the people insulted God, they should (on St John’s own authority!) find any “blasphemer” and “smite him on the face; strike his mouth; sanctify your hand with the blow…” (1.32). So when we hear someone say the Fathers spoke very little on violence, that just is not true. Nor was it “just St Augustine” or some limited group speaking outside of mainstream Tradition.

    It would be more accurate to say that the Fathers did not treat violence ideologically. The “violence as a last resort” ideology traces back to pagan Greek philosophy (maybe further, but at least since Aristotle). Violence for the Church is seen more as a fact of life, like cooking food, one that has to be submitted to the liturgical life of the Church, like we do with fasting. And that is a much better place to start contextualizing Christ’s own statements on violence. For example, we’re told not to be non-violent (excepting Sermon On The Mount, in the same figurative way we’re told to gouge out our eye—ie, the non-violence is not literal), but rather take up violence voluntarily, and do it without sadness: “take up your cross daily” (Mark: 8.34), “when you fast” (Matthew: 6.16), and so on. So the violence is understood to have a liturgical place, and that it is first and foremost something we begin with in ourselves. A very different starting point for the conversation!

  18. Justin,
    Fr. Sergius Bulgakov had an interesting treatment of these parables (sheep/goats) in which he viewed them as descriptions of every human heart (rather than separation between individual human beings). In that sense, the judgment is a separation between the sheep within the heart from the goat within the heart (or wheat and chaff). It is, I think, an interesting take.

  19. JBT,
    I find St. John Chrysostom’s treatment in this matter to be one that simply accepts the Emperor’s use of violence as a fact of life and that he proceeds accordingly – and does so in a very violent world. I leave the judging of Emperors to the hands of God (as well as the judging of Imperially approved bishops).

    What matters, it seems to me, and is of interest in the conversation, is Hesychasm.

    Our present world differs greatly from that of St. John’s. Modern democracies are built on the sham of advertising and propaganda all of which consistently seek to ensare every human being in some form of complicity with the violence of our world. To a large extent, it is built on conscious lies and the manipulation of the passions. It is something to be tolerated as a “soft tyranny.” What it is not, is something to be “believed in,” much less justified theologically.

    As such, I prefer not to be drawn into conversations viz. the present political world using conversations from the Byzantine Empire as a model. The greater question is, “Is it possible to be saved in the modern world?” The answer is Hesychasm (in the fullest sense). Can the modern world itself be saved? is a little like asking if, in the end, the devil will be saved. Modernity is built on heretical assumptions, fueled by an unparalleled technology, and directly aimed at the manipulation of the passions. Hesychasm is directly aimed at the right-ordering of the passions and their submission to Christ. Everything else, I think, is madness.

  20. In the present conversation, I am reminded of the many saints and martyrs who were soldiers by profession. I think we are speaking of what was considered facts of life. I am also reminded of the fact that even emperors were occasionally subject to excommunication for a period after having fought even in what were considered to be necessary wars of defense — and of an ancient service for the return of soldiers to community in which the armor/military dress was removed and left outside the community, civilian clothing donned. I think our modern soldiers could greatly benefit from such these ancient treatments and responses to having killed, even when considered necessary for defense.

    Regarding sheep and goats, I have always looked quite simply on that parable as teaching us that ultimately the factor that matters most is simply compassion. I am afraid that the modern dictum of entitlements based on some categorical criteria will wipe out the capacity for the practice of compassion

  21. Father, the internal dichotomy you mention intrigues me. The contrast between the miasmic mind of the world that is violent by nature and the joy of God at war in one’s heart could be confusing.

    Even saints seem to have difficulty with it given St. John’s example.

    Only His mercy, which endures forever, overcomes that confusion it seems to me.

    The temptation to “take arms against a sea of troubles and by opposing, end them” is quite real.

  22. Fr. Stephen,

    I agree with you concerning violence. While it can occasionally be judged a necessary evil in particular situations, it is still evil and should not be deemed either a norm or a part of God and His world.

  23. Michael,
    I’ll go a bit darker. I think what we often see that passes for Orthodoxy is just political conservatism with a Christian veneer. This is a modern temptation – when our critique or deconstruction of the political world is too shallow theologically. It is always suspect to me. Killing should always astound us and shock us.

  24. Father, you bring to mind the play, ‘Murder in the Cathedral’ by T. S. Eliot. Becket when contemplating his potential martyrdom says: “To do the right deed for the wrong reason is surely the greatest treason.”

  25. I love this so much! You always comment on what is lingering in my heart! True evidence of the constancy of the Spirit. Thank you for your boldness in the post and for saying something that many stay silent on. A voice in darkness, a comment in a time of delusion, and a view to shed light on the world.

    May the Lord continue the works He prepared for you.

  26. Fr. Stephen Freeman, Can you comment on Dr. Dr Alexandre Kalomiros’, River of Fire or direct me to expositions of this key note address? Am I to think that after all my reading of Scripture, the Church Fathers, Aquinas, Augustine, et al., all my years as a Roman Catholic have been for naught and that I have been not only outrageously wrong but sinfully wrong? It is like the world has been turned on its head and I have been living in an asylum. Whew, help me out here.

  27. Christopher,
    Welcome to a hard-core Orthodox critique of “the West” (and, hence, Roman Catholicism). I think Kalomiros overstates his points in a number of regards, but, if it’s the first time you’ve run into this kind of critique, then it’s of use to think about it. I often get questions from friendly Roman Catholics about “when do you think Rome and the Orthodox will re-unite.” The answer would be “probably never,” and one of the reasons is that Kalomiros’ critique is closer to an Orthodox reading of Church history than anything you’ll find in a Western author.

    Of course, it makes mistakes of treating Orthodoxy as though we don’t have problems (we do). But reading Aquinas and Augustine without realizing that their names are villified by many in the East is to have missed out on something.

    One example would be the importance in Orthodoxy (particularly in our modern period) of the doctrine of the Uncreated Grace (viz. St. Gregory Palamas), which was classically condemned as heresy in the West – while it lies very close to the heart of Orthodox thought.

    I will say that, of the Orthodox, Greek writers are often more likely to write in a very stringent manner, while Russians seem more pacific (don’t let the current battles between the Patriarch of Moscow and the Patriarch of Constantinople fool you). But both can be very critical of Rome. Dostoevsky’s chapter on the Grand Inquisitor sums up 19th century Russian thoughts on Catholicism quite well.

    Try reading Vladimir Lossky’s Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church.

    I think a difficulty with first encountering the Eastern critique of Rome (and the West) is that Catholicism has been in an argument with Protestants and ignored the East, and, therefore, didn’t see its critique coming. To the Orthodox, Rome and Protestants are more alike than not. If that seems strange to you, then you might have been living in an asylum.

  28. Your observation that hesychasm has had a very different reception in the West, and Kalomiros’ quote that “The very fabric of heresy is anti-hesychastic,” is itself an important critique of the West. I will look for Lossky’s book that you referenced.

  29. Christopher,
    All that is to say – that though there are legitimate critiques of Roman Catholicism from an Orthodox perspective – Kalomiros overstates things a bit. Though I think the critique of the “evil God” of various Penal Atonement accounts is pretty spot on – certainly on the level of popular theology.

  30. “Christ warns in Scripture that the “last days” will be so difficult that very few will retain faith. I suspect that the culprit will not be pain or suffering, but simple despair.”
    “Those who think on the ugliness of the world, or the rumors of terrible things and intentions, are, in fact, sleeping. It is a sleep that lulls us into a despair that will make shipwreck of our faith in ways that we cannot imagine”

    Father, what about the ugliness I see within my own heart? The darkness within my soul? When despite our best efforts we find ourselves uglier and darker………it is extremely difficult not to despair……..

  31. Sofia,
    I agree that the ugliness we see in our own heart and the darkness of our souls can bring about despair. A couple of helpful thoughts:

    First, it requires a great measure of grace to be able to see the ugliness within our heart and the darkness of our souls. It is a gift from God. He has not forgotten you, nor handed you over to either the ugliness nor the darkness. As much as possible, call on the name of Jesus and ask for grace. He does not withhold grace from us – and it is there within you even now. Run to the sacraments – confession, communion – resist despair. Our hope is in the mercy of God and not in our own goodness. Being able to see these things within – again, is a gift.

  32. This is an astounding article and a fascinating, multifaceted conversation!
    Regarding the ‘violence vs hesychasm’ quandary (in the face of evil), I think that a further problem to ‘solutions’ through violence (an extreme act of ‘activism’), is that they end up being, ever so similar to the aftereffects of the realisation of a poor man’s daydreams; specifically: a poor man who regards money as a solution to more than just material issues – an answer even to his spiritual problems*

    ‘Solutions to external evils’ through hesychasm, on the other hand, are like the poor man regarding God’s Grace – the Grace that warmed St Seraphim of Sarov in the snow–, as utterly capable of warming and feeding and sustaining him in every way, first spiritually and internally, but secondly even way beyond that…
    The first is closer to our secular mindset, the second is scandalously close to the heart of hearts of the radically transformative Faith of the Cross and the Resurrection.
    Nevertheless, between external action and ‘activism’, and internal action and ‘hesychasm’, one can say that a certain balance is required. I have to accept that.

    *Clearly, riches would solve problems and perhaps make the poor man permanently grateful to God’s providence for liberating him from previous hardships, but it might also reveal there is ever so much more depth to what it really is the soul actually thirsts for, and how this underlying spiritual privation can starts to possess more ‘soul territory’ in the permanent absence of material privation.
    So, admittedly, a destitute pauper would be outwardly relieved through material resources, but might also easily muse that riches would help with non-material things too, (e.g.: that they can help him be spiritually joyous or even holy – especially if his current experience shows him that he’s often driven to steal, despair, or do various shameful things he’d rather not, or hang around with petty criminals, or repel others with his stench while seeking solace within the walls of the Church etc.) So, when he becomes unexpectedly transformed to a decidedly rich man –from some immense inheritance–, he might come to notice that his indifference for the spiritual life grows exponentially, his interest in the godless world’s pleasures is titillated, his new associations tempt him, and the emptiness of another order is tasted. This aftereffect is surely there, I think, to be found with any solutions-to-evil that come about through violence.

  33. I’d imagine that the right balance between activism (verging on violence) and hesychasm might not be 100% towards hesychasm, but something rather close, and that such a spiritual discernment acknowledges the exception.
    In some of what life throws at us, there might be very exceptional occasions for the use of “action” containing elements of outward violence upon another [the internal violence upon our ‘old self’ ought to be quite constant], however, this can only be done correctly, if it is firmly established upon, and springing up from, an undeviating (‘default’) condition of internal hesychasm. (and even then, i.e.: even if done with spiritual discernment and perfect alignment to the will of God, it would still warrant a certain contrition after)

  34. Dino,
    The example of wealth as an analogy to violence works quite well. Indeed, wealth itself carries a great deal of hidden violence. It ultimately presumes that the world is a Hobbesian construct in which, if life is “nasty, brutish, and short,” then being rich provides a hedge of protection. There is, no doubt, a connection between the voluntary poverty of monasticism and its relative non-violence. That connection is Hesychasm. Hesychasm is the belief in God – violence and wealth are how we express our latent atheism (covering our bets).

  35. “Hesychasm is the belief in God – violence and wealth are how we express our latent atheism (covering our bets).” <– brilliant! I have printed this one out, and I understand this issue more clearly now. Thank you. God forgive me, a sinner, and help my unbelief.

  36. Father,
    what you say is extremely apt. Hesychasm, lived out, internally and externally, is certainly proof of faith in God’s providence,(it cannot remain without this). It is also the very heart of lived out Orthodoxy. On the other hand, violence and wealth, so often seem to be just expressions of an atheist (as well as of a ‘Hobbesian’) frame of mind.
    But to avoid complete generalisation, and to appease some concerns, what would you say regarding certain exceptional situations in which, one could legitimately object that, “God requires your action at times too”.
    The classic ancient Greek proverb “Along with Athena, you have to move your hand”, is often recruited by some Christians criticizing inaction that can masquerade as hesychasm. I know this is rarely our problem, at least nine out of ten it is the opposite, but I thought I’d just mention it regardless.

  37. Father what you say is extremely apt. Hesychasm, lived out, internally and externally, is certainly proof of faith in God’s providence,(it cannot remain without this). It is also the very heart of lived out Orthodoxy. On the other hand, violence and wealth, so often seem to be just expressions of an atheist (as well as of a ‘Hobbesian’) frame of mind.
    But to avoid complete generalisation, and to appease some concerns, what would you say regarding certain exceptional situations in which, one could legitimately object that, “God requires your action at times too”.
    The classic ancient Greek proverb “Along with Athena, you have to move your hand”, is often recruited by some Christians criticizing inaction that can masquerade as hesychasm. I know this is rarely our problem, at least nine out of ten it is the opposite, but I thought I’d just mention it regardless.

  38. Dino,
    Because violence and non-violence should not be treated as ideologies – there are always exceptions. How we live with exceptions is, I suspect, a matter of prudence. Prudence is in rare supply.

  39. Father, you wrote:
    “I’ll go a bit darker. I think what we often see that passes for Orthodoxy is just political conservatism with a Christian veneer. This is a modern temptation – when our critique or deconstruction of the political world is too shallow theologically. It is always suspect to me. Killing should always astound us and shock us.”
    True, just as the opposite is also very true in this day in age – What often passes for Orthodoxy is just political liberalism with a Christian veneer.
    “Killing should always astound us and shock us.” Amen to that Father. Almost 70% of our Congress voted for the war in Iraq, which left half a million Iraqi children dead. Then former Secretary of State Madeliene Albright went on national TV and said it was worth it. Lord have mercy.

  40. Dino,
    Because violence and non-violence should not be treated as ideologies – there are always exceptions. How we live with exceptions is, I suspect, a matter of prudence. Prudence is in rare supply.

    Prudence would keep us anchored in Hesychasm, while permitting the exceptions to be considered case-by-case. In today’s world, I often distrust action like an alcoholic telling me he’s thirsty.

  41. Thanks for the Dylan quote Fr. I’ll have to remember that one.

    “There is a reason that St. Seraphim of Sarov says, “Acquire the Spirit of Peace and thousands around you will be saved.” We have, in large part, exchanged the true spiritual warfare of the heart for the ideological struggles of our age. As such, we place ourselves on a level playing field with every secular argument and action. Political temptations abound because we remain within the delusion that things of great value are being established in that process. ”
    These lines in particular, along with the entire paragraph that preceded it, are pure gold. Thanks Father.

  42. Thanks for this conversation.
    I agree that it is true on ‘both’ (or ‘all’) sides. All too true. I worry about what we are watching unfold, not only on a national level. Gives us all the more reason to focus on ‘hesychasm’ (as I think Father is using that term) really. We must.

  43. Personally, I do not look at Hesychasm as “inaction”. Although it is often criticized as such.
    To repent and allow the Holy Spirit to transform and transfigure one’s soul is activity of the highest order.
    Each of us is interconnected with everyone else. That is a spiritual and physical reality. Connecting to God by His Grace and Mercy changes(transforms) everything — eventually.

    As my heart is strengthened by God, it is able to consciously bring others before His throne. Not in any vainglorious way but simply as a natural consequence of His love.

    His grace and mercy are real, not mere ideas or sentiments. His grace and mercy have a substance that is beyond what we see, touch and feel in our bodily existence. It is sin that is without real substance except what I give to it.

    Then we have to be on guard for the temptations that will surely follow. For even Jesus was tempted.

    Indeed we live in a world which tempts constantly. Tempts us to believe that what we see, touch and think is more real than our Incarnate Lord.

  44. Yes, if only it were inaction then I would be really good at it. I agree with Michael that contrasting Hesychasm and action as opposites does not sound quite right.

  45. I heard a priest say the other day that we are born into a battlefield, into a battle.

    Prayer is spiritual battle isn’t it? And gifting the earth back to God is what we’re supposed to be doing, seeking God’s way for life. In this sense we also give up our “debts” to God as well IMO. And all of this is part of prayer it seems to me

  46. “… reading Aquinas and Augustine without realizing that their names are villified by many in the East is to have missed out on something.”
    Father, please, why are their names vilified by many in the east? I ask this as a cradle Catholic (about to become Orthodox) who was taught to revere these names.
    Also, regarding Hesychasm – is it not (somewhat) similar to the meditative practices of the eastern yogis? I know Mercia Eliade, who was a devout Orthodox, spent time studying at an ashram, which strikes me as a natural extension of his desire to experience God.
    Thank you Father.

  47. Essie, Heyschasm can seem similar to some meditative practices of the east but there is one hugh difference. Hesychasm is focused on our Incarnate Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

    Eastern mysticism is not. It is fundamentally anti-Incarnational. Non-Sacramental focused on liberation from the physical.

    Both the means and the end are wholly different.

  48. Father – thank you for your thoughts. I’ll have to “chew” on that for awhile – the idea that the sheep/goats are both within the same person. It makes good sense. And I must admit I rather like that interpretation.

  49. Essie, my take (as a Catholic) is that though there is some value to the Orthodox critique, the real problem is not with Augustine and Aquinas themselves but how their teachings were prioritized above all others. With Augustine (who the Orthodox are said to consider a saint) the problem was that we did not take the good and leave the bad, or even take the good with the bad, but focused on the worst aspects of his theology. Whereas with Aquinas, although I believe the scholastic method can be helpful for understanding theology, they tried to make it the only way to do theology, and began using hyper-scholasticism, where rather than using reason to help understand revelation and show that revelation is reasonable, they started substituting reason for revelation.

  50. Fr. Stephen,
    regarding Sofia’s post and your reply. Having no access to the sacraments of confession and the Eucharist, my not being Orthodox and having left Roman Catholicism; what can I do?

  51. Matthew, I will leave it to Father to answer properly. I just would like to say I think your intuition is correct. Also, so much comes down also to our notions of the Fall and is rooted there

  52. Matthew,
    this is an over simplification, but Roman Catholicism in a sense largely abandoned acseticism and repentance for a false intellectual certainty and superiority; relying more on rhetoric and philosophical categories.

  53. Essie,
    Aquinas was a giant intellect and, by all accounts, a man of great holiness. But, there are some, who, in their zeal, are critical of things in the West will find fault with him on one thing or another (and villify him). I think that we should be learning in these days that it is possible to disagree with someone and not villify them – and, if possible, find something commendable about them. I was simply being honest in my answer.

    As to Augustine, he is venerated as a saint in the Eastern Church, though with something of an asterisk beside him questioning his thought on a couple of points. But, again, in an atmosphere of zeal, it’s quite possible to find someone to villify him.

    Eliade was Orthodox, but I would not characterize his life and writings as examples of the faith. Studying at an ashram would normally be outside the pale.

  54. Pray, and do the best you can (keep the commandments, etc.). That sounds like very “thin” advice. I would say that in such a situation, you have to be patient. There’s much good to be found in patience.

  55. Matthew,
    I think you’re pretty correct in this. The sad truth is that over a period of some decades, within some circles, there was a very unconstrained critique of the West. Some of this should have been expected if you study the history of the Eastern Church. It had suffered long and hard at the hands of the West, either directly or indirectly. It’s a nasty bit of history. But it did not begin to emerge from what is now sometimes described as the “Western Captivity” until around the late 19th century. So, there’s been a sort of flexing of spiritual muscle and exploration of what exactly had been lost or suppressed and exactly what was needed for its recovery.

    I would describe us today as in something of a second or third generation with this and things are not quite as sharp-edged. On the other hand, the “West” has since been going crazy. Mainline Protestantism has largely lapsed into heresy and the madness of modernity seems to have got its camel’s nose into the ecclesiastical tent, even in Rome. So, there’s an uneasiness.

    I am Orthodox because I believe the Orthodox account of the Church to be correct and true. But I’m also aware that our 2,000 year history is filled with problems, many of which are still with us. I simply believe, however, that they are the “right” problems and I’m committed to living with them, praying for their solution and bearing my share of the burden that they cause.

    On the other hand, it the midst of an increasingly hostile secularized world, I’m glad for the friendship of anyone who names Jesus as Lord. Orthodoxy has been the beneficiary of many kindnesses through the years that we do well not to forget.

  56. Father Stephen wrote:
    On the other hand, it the midst of an increasingly hostile secularized world, I’m glad for the friendship of anyone who names Jesus as Lord. Orthodoxy has been the beneficiary of many kindnesses through the years that we do well not to forget.

    I will just say Amen to that!

  57. Thank you Father, and also Michael and Matthew, for responding to my question. I name Jesus as Lord, and I’m glad to be among friends on this blog!

  58. Fr. Stephen,

    This is one of the best things I’ve read in a while, so simply, thank you. That, not the following, is primarily why I am commenting.

    Referring back to if the East and West can ever be unified again (and here I am speaking of the Orthodox and Catholic churches, and not the Protestant denominations within the geographical West) I would simply add that all things are possible for God, and Christ’s prayer that we may be one still resounds. I don’t mean to imply that you would state otherwise, nor do I mean to put words in your mouth that you would agree, I simply mean to point out why I am personally hopeful even if I do not come to see the fulfillment within my lifetime.

    Also, the conversation on Aquinas, and essentially scholasticism, many great points. I can especially resonate with your words that people can (or should be able to) disagree without vilifying the one who they disagree with. That’s quite possibly one of the biggest challenges of our day.

    I would also add, that other examples exist in the Catholic Church that may come much closer to hesychasm even if that word isn’t used to describe it. Some Benedictine monasteries and the Carthusians to name a couple witnesses. Also, the Roman Catholic cardinal Robert Sarah has written on essentially on this topic (I say essentially because I am sure there may be points of distinction), most notably his book, “The Power of Silence.”

    Last example, St. John of the Cross, one of the great saints of the West, who was held in suspicion by the Church authority for suspected “quietism” for some period of time (not suspect of hesychasm but more of a Protestant pietism). Don’t quote me on that, but I do believe that is true from what I remember about his life.

    All that is to say, that while I am sure the scholarly treatises of theologians may find places of disagreement I do think examples of closeness, in fact near unity of heart, can be found if truly sought. I do find that as yet another cause for hope, that more hidden unities may eventually become visible (and dominant). Much humility is needed for that to happen, humility on both sides to hear the other and not hold the other suspect. May Our Savior’s prayer reach fulfillment.

    Please pray for me, a sinner.

  59. There are important distinctions between Western mysticism and the Hesychasm. I point this out for the sake of Orthodox Catechumens and those who have converted to Orthodoxy.

    When I led a discussion group for Orthodox Catechumens, I recommended reading this article:
    https://orthodoxwiki.org/Prelest

  60. Dee,
    It is an important point. Visions, etc., are generally frowned upon in Orthodox thought. For example, there is a paucity of Orthodox stories that parallel any of the Marian visions (Lourdes, Fatima, etc.) that are a common part of Catholic piety. Orthodoxy is also quite critical, on the whole, of the charismatic movement and such experiences, seeing them primarily as delusional (or very subject to delusion).

    I have great reservations about elements within Orthodoxy that make a big deal out of “prophecies” and “revelations” for similar reasons. All across the landscape of Christianity, such movements carry lots of problems (to my mind).

    Patience, sobriety, keeping the commandments, etc., seem the more sane path. Experiences do come – and can be quite important. But, I do not think they should ever be sought.

  61. Dee,
    Understood, I didn’t mean to imply there were no differences to be found, only to highlight some sources of commonality. Odd as it may sound, I happen to be a Catholic who has many difficulties with Aquinas and Augustine, while appreciating and acknowledging the good I see in each of them (particularly Aquinas’ hymns, and Augustine’s story of conversion). I tend to truly admire certain saints that are much more within the hesychastic tradition (St. Isaac the Syrian, St. Therese of Lisieux, St. Silouan the Athonite, etc.).

    I do however think it is important to be able to listen to the other without suspicion, and while prelest/delusion is always a problem, I do not think a conversation can be had and a divide healed if prelest is assumed in the other from the outset. From my vantage point there is much “us against them” from many corners, and perhaps I am overly eager to emphasize points of commonality, not to push aside distinctions but to allow each person to see the other. I apologize if I misunderstood your comment and incorrectly associated prelest to be in reference to all of Western “mysticism”. Please don’t take my comments here as an attack or criticism, I hate to comment on anything online because it is so easy for context and tone to be misconveyed.

    My understanding is admittedly very shallow on this topic, but unity (primarily between Catholic and Orthodox) is something near to me, and I do believe that the world needs that unified witness. I see the division as an extreme scandal, and I presume neither side to be wholly innocent. My son once asked me why the Orthodox and Catholics are divided (in the way a young child would ask, he has a friend who is Orthodox). I told him the following: “suppose mommy and daddy started fighting, and eventually we had a really big fight and each of us refused to budge or say sorry. Let’s say half of the children agreed with daddy and half agreed with mommy. Tell me, would the children who thought mommy was right still love dad? And would the children who thought dad was right still love mom? And should the children love each other?” After saying yes to all of those questions, I told him, “so the mommy and the daddy need to act like grown ups and say sorry to each other so the family can be together.”

    Personally, I think that despite the challenges and the distinctions that exist, and I understand that they really do exist, I also think things are somehow that simple. And the scandal is that mom and dad left each other (East and West), dug in their heels (exaggerate perceived differences), and to this day sides are taken, with each side not entirely willing to forgive the wounds inflicted by the other and allow healing to take place (personally because I think there is a fear of losing a sense of identity by all parties involved). And I think we tend to lose sight of the other and create barriers that tend more towards demands to satisfy our ego than true differences. I think that if we took the time to understand each other, we might find that more often than not we are expressing similar realities through different words, and language will always prove insufficient when trying to speak of He who transcends our own understanding. Here I greatly appreciate the East’s willingness to keep silent and allow the mystery to be (if I understand that correctly) as opposed to the scholastic tendency to try and over define things.

    I apologize if this serves as a distraction to the conversation, that isn’t my intention. Thank you Fr. Stephen for this wonderful article, thank you Dee for your wonderful comments (not just here but I truly appreciate your comments in each posting), and thank you to everyone for the wonderful grace filled comments – Justin your comment on the judgment parables was especially enlightening.

  62. Dear Daniel,
    I’m I’ll and do not have the energy to write much. If my last comment was so terse that the tone seemed confrontational, please forgive me. Indeed tone is sometimes hard to decipher. I hold love to those who adhere to Christ’s teachings and God willing that my heart is loving to those who do not profess Christ as Savior.

    If I have hurt you please forgive me.

  63. Dee,
    Not at all! I’m sorry if my comment came across that way in the slightest. I always read this blog, I very rarely ever post anything, mostly I worry that I will unintentionally come across as confrontational. Please forgive me if that has been the case, it was not my intent.

    Father Stephen, please delete my comments if I have caused any harm or distraction.

    Dee, I’ll pray for your health.

  64. Father this article was a real blessing to me.

    This maybe my favourite scripture verse,
    Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things. (Phil 4:8)

    Rather touching excerpt here,
    In a similar manner, I think, there is evidence that Christ also saw the other disciples to be what they were to become. Simon is named “Peter” long before he evidenced anything of a “rock-like” character. He was loud, opinionated, capable of trying to correct Christ at any number of points. There’s nothing rock-like in such behavior. Nevertheless, I suspect that, in the presence of Christ, Peter felt some stirring of the rock within himself. In His presence, those who could not walk felt the stirring of strength in their limbs, just as blind eyes strained towards the light of sight. Unbelieving individuals discovered an ability to believe they would have thought impossible. Christ’s presence reveals us.

    I received the name Elpidios (the one who hopes in God) for my baptism into Orthodoxy. Apart from your wisdom above it seems paradoxical as most of my life I have been swimming in fear or drowning in despair.

    I used to comment on this blog as Anonymo. I wish everyone well, and thank those who commented with me in what was a precarious time! By the grace of God I have grown in hope in the year I have been in Orthodoxy, and I pray I may one day be worthy of my name.

  65. Dee,
    thank you for putting up the link to the article on prelest; very interesting and sobering.

  66. Prelest is a real issue, though a lot of the more modern (post-17th-century) stories concerning it have gotten caught up in everything from the aftermath of St Nikodemos’s teachings to anti-Roman-Catholic polemics. We have countless stories from pre-Schism saints—especially female martyrs—who had very intense visions of Jesus as Bridegroom—and more than a few were martyred not because of their Christian faith generally, but specifically because they wished to refuse marriage in order to save themselves for Christ. We also have plenty of monastic stories (eg, Dessert Fathers) where wild and spiritual experiences were almost a daily occurrence—the other Abbas were not in the habit of beating down the door of the one with the vision, “helping” or “correcting” said brother, or even thinking too much of the experiences one way or the other—it was just normal life for genuine Christians. And many of the more problematic elements of the stories of post-Schism Western mystics are actually later embellishments—the primary sources do not have St Francis Of Assisi, for example, having problematic visions and pridefulness, despite claims from a very modern (and not well-sourced) “Ortho-famous” contrast of him to St Seraphim Of Sarov. That we instead have an almost two-storey universe in some modern monastic stories—where even the slightest incursion of anything “spiritual” is frequently met with an authoritarian imposition of supervision, fear, and the derision of anything that isn’t strictly physical and thus manageable—is rather what is quite outside of the mainstream of Orthodox teaching, not to mention a distortion of classical spiritual fatherhood.

    I’d recommend looking at pre-modern sources if one is looking for a more holistic, Orthodox teaching regarding delusion. Indeed, just as obsession with demons and sins usually indicates a spiritual problem, certain tendencies to find prelest everywhere—especially in others—are themselves frequent signs of prelest. And, in my experience working with everything from canonical situations to abuse victims, I’d say that fascination with prelest/delusion/etc is #3 on my list of top signs of a spiritual abuser. So yes, watch out for prelest, like any other sin. But the answer to all sins remains the same: supernatural grace from Jesus Christ.

  67. JBT,
    The statement: “certain tendencies to find prelest everywhere – especially in others – are themselves frequent signs of prelest.” Is problematic, and, I think, unnecessary in this conversation. We should, as you say, watch out for prelest (delusion) like any other sin. That’s enough.

  68. In re-reading the article in light of today’s Gospel I am led to thinking that the fear of the end times or anything unpleasant frequently does more harm than good. Fear is what the evil wants to inculcate in us. All politics is based on fear. As we fear, we look for someone to take away the fear.

    The reality is that fear evaporates in the presence of Christ. As today’s Gospel proclaims: the ten lepers.

    One of my spiritual heros is St. Damien, the Leper. The most joyful day of his life, he wrote, was when he contracted leprosy as the people for whom he cared.

  69. Michael
    Your comment makes me think how nuanced things actually can get even when we would love them to be reduced to the simplicity of that absolutist life enjoyed by a novice monk/disciple.
    The right discernment is rarely found, as the balance often goes off on either side here – due to fear as well as denial.
    Especially when one considers those in position of public office of any sort – similar to the difference between the life of an obedient disciple monastic and a responsible guide or Abbot.

    I don’t think it is an either or, but a “both” in the right balance : fearlessness and trust with perspicuity and responsibility.
    “innocent as doves and wise as serpents”
    Once Godless fears grip us we lose touch, but those in responsible positions are often called to proclaim warnings too. How one processes them varies hugely however.
    I recall an address to the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations in New York in 1975, by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn: he warned his audience against Western complacency by asking:

    ‘Can one part of humanity learn from the bitter experience of another or can it not? Is it possible or impossible to warn someone of danger? . . . But the proud skyscrapers stand on, point to the sky, and say, “It will never happen here. This will never come to us. It is not possible here” . . . But do we really have to wait for the moment when the knife is at our throat?”

    One of the reasons few people see how a crisis, time and again, can be used as cover for the ushering in of a totalitarian system before it happens is given by him and at a later address.
    Solzhenitsyn, this time speaking on BBC radio in 1976, identified this phenomenon, calling it a riddle of human nature that suffering often tends to bring a fierce determination to fight for freedom, whilst untold years of unmolested freedom tends to send a people in the opposite direction:

    ‘How is it that people who have been crushed by the sheer weight of slavery and cast to the bottom of the pit can nevertheless find strength to rise up and free themselves, first in spirit and then in body; while those who soar unhampered over the peaks of freedom suddenly appear to lose the taste for freedom, lose the will to defend it, and, hopelessly confused and lost, almost begin to crave slavery?’ Or again: ‘Why is it that societies which have been benumbed for half a century by lies they have been forced to swallow find within themselves a certain lucidity of heart and soul which enables them to see things in their true perspective and to perceive the real meaning of events; whereas societies with access to every kind of information suddenly plunge into lethargy, into a kind of mass blindness, a kind of voluntary self-deception?’

  70. Dino,
    Solzhenitsyn, interestingly, when he mused on why everything that happened in the Soviet Union had taken place had a simple answer: “We forgot God.”

    The world of the 1970’s seemed so much clearer, so much more black and white. There were the “evil” Communists, while the West represented “freedom.” Solzhenitsyn surprise the West by pointing to its spiritual emptiness. His critiques were poignant. I think he was right – but I think none of us (or very few) realized how far the disease had spread and how deep its roots went.

    The present crisis in the world and the apocalypticism that seems to accompany it, are actually quite vague in their analysis. There is posited a “one-world order” and dangerous all-encompassing Babylon, controlling and monitoring us, marking us with the sign of the beast and such. What it does (the apocalypticism) is create a theoretical black-and-white world so that the faithful can resist it and feel they have done their part. In the 70’s, there were any number of things that people could point to as “tending towards Communism,” resist them, and congratulate themselves or doing their part. The loss of that great giant of the “evil empire” robbed the West of its whipping boy and its chance for self-congratulatory righteousness. What remained was the naked spiritual vacuity that revealed the emptiness of our own system. We had built a civilization whose primary goal was shopping.

    Of course, today, the West is busy trying to re-create the evil empire, demonizing Putin without ever really being able to describe what it is that he’s doing that is so evil. It is especially embarrassing the his regime keeps building churches. Also embarrassing that Solzhenitsyn is read in his schools.

    If the pandemic disappeared, and every government and civil restraint lifted, we would still be the society that Solzhenitsyn described as spiritually empty. The danger then, and now, is “we forgot God.” And that, is a Hesychast problem. Hesychasm is the constant remembrance of God in all things, and most especially in the heart, in the depths of the soul.

    My professor in grad school, Stanley Hauerwas, once said that the most damning thing about liberalism was that it could not keep its children. By that, he meant that liberal churches (and liberal Christianity) had nothing to offer its children and that they tended to die on the vine. Today, I would suggest that conservative churches are often in the same boat. Unless we ourselves become true Hesychasts, people in whom the Spirit of God dwells richly and in whom the beauty of Christ has formed and shaped the soul, we will lose our children as well.

    At present, “wokeness” is the closest thing to a religious awakening in our youth culture. It offers belonging, meaning, ideology, enjoys the full support of pop culture, and can be as mean as a Grand Inquisitor. It has no visible temples, but worships online. It gathers on TikTok, Instagram, and apps that I’m sure I’ve never heard of. Of course, all of this tends to happen out of public sight.

    What we have not acknowledged is that the spiritual vacuum of modernity (its vacuity) was begging to be filled. It has been, but not with gods of our own choosing. We “remember God” now – but our faux hesychasm is remembering the gods of culture (the “woke gods”). Human choice, love wins, no one can tell you what to do if you do what we tell you, etc. are the new prayers. Of course, all this is so vague and nebulous that its possible to become quite paranoid and shrill as you try to oppose it. It is “legion” on the level that the Gadarene Demoniac would be simplicity itself in comparison.

    In the face of all of this – apocalyptic warnings seem rather silly and simplistic. A really healthy Soviet-style persecution of Christians would likely yield far more focus and clarity than we’re ever going to see. It’s the wrong image of the Beast (but its still the kind of Beast that apocalypticists keep warning about). The Beast has long been among us and makes its home in the cozy emptiness of our souls and fills them with nothing.

    Hesychasm is not the choice of inactivity – it’s the choice of the only activity that matters – the activity whose absence invites the Beast, whether as the iron fist of dictators or the soft stupidity consumerism. If we forget God, nothing else really matters. If we remember God, nothing else really matters.

    What we fail to see is that a Christian TikTok (which is all that our online apocalypticism amounts to) is just as vacuous as a Woke Tiktok. It has the same emptiness that gnaws at us, but with fewer catchy tunes. It is the fierce and constant remembrance of the name of God that alone fills the emptiness of the soul. An empty Christian looks the same as an empty non-believer to a demon. They both make comfortable shelters.

    During the early 70’s, I was surrounded by the circles of Evangelicals who were deeply enamoured with Hal Lindsey and other sorts of apocalyptic prognosticators. The Communist states of Eastern Europe were on their radar. In time, they became the friends of politicians, particularly those who found political comfort in their warnings. Indeed, they helped (and continue) fuel a number of Middle East wars. It’s all extremely hollow. The “right to life” has been a rallying cry for many, ignoring the reality that Evangelical, Catholic, and Orthodox Christians have abortions at roughly the same rate as unbelievers in our culture. We do not have a “political” problem (a problem solvable by politics). We have the same problem that Solzhenitsyn warned of: we have forgot God.

    The end of the matter (for me) is this. Fr. Tom Hopko, when he went off to seminary, said his mother told him three things: “Go to Church. Say your prayers. Remember God.” What a dear Orthodox mother! Solzhenitsyn’s mother could have said the same. It was harder and more dangerous for him to go to Church. The real danger is that we would be too distracted (or angry) to go to Church. We would be to lazy to say any prayers. And we would forget God.

    That’s it. The “action” required is a robust Hesychasm because, without it, there’s nothing left to save or worth saving.

  71. Fr. Stephen,
    I had a conversation back in the 1990’s with an RC deacon in my parish at that time. He worked in the local hospital and told me that quite a number of Roman Catholics had abortions. An RC permanent deacon can only preach, by permission of the parish priest and would preach, maybe, once a month. The said deacon, when it was his turn to preach wanted to highlight abortion and the fact that Roman Catholics too were having abortions. The parish priest however refused to let him preach about this; thus engendering the misconception that it’s only non-believers who have abortions.

  72. Father,
    I deeply appreciate your profound answer. It succeeds in organising and compactly presenting a very complex issue. Neat and orderly thoughts are becoming quite vital in such matters. I often struggle with this, conceptualisation being one thing, clear expression another.
    The entire ‘package’ of the new godlessness and its gods that come to possess the nihilistic, ignorantly blissful emptiness, (or worriedly stressed vacuity), which it creates, is indeed summed up as: ‘forgetfulness of God’. And verbal warnings and prognostics that actually imply nothing other than that the ‘princes of men’ will be ‘saving us’ (political thought as you say) are clearly part of the very same package. (Even if not part of the monophony of the public worldly narrative)
    But that is not to say that Hesychasm, is not without a loud voice and without confessional warnings… Even the prophetic charisma you profess to be wary of (rightfully so when we consider its frequent abuse) seems to typically arise from the most hesychastic individuals/saints in our tradition, that is, at least, my own evaluation. But, of course, their warnings, even though they can be misrepresented as utterly conspiratorial, prompt towards repentance and a disregard of the godless and secular hierarchies underpinning most conversation, for the sake of fully attending to God.
    The fire of true Hesychasm, is, in fact, such that, in practice, it seems to create a sort of double life (easy to misunderstand by witnesses). In its true practitioners (we see this time and again in them) we have this two-way branching: in simple terms, you have a ‘secret life’ on the one extreme: a life lived in the mystical ‘night-time’ of prayer, tears, repentance, praise and exclusivity ‘in Christ alone’, while it also makes the same practitioner, have a ‘day’ of watchfulness, joy, charity, confession, and often, [or at least when asked by people (who so often have the tendency to ask about these things)] an anti-worldly “narrative”.

  73. By the way, I think the use of the present crisis is no different to the ones before it and the ones after it, they invariably –all of them– become exploited in the service of the further establishment of antichristianity. And I couldn’t agree more that the absence of Hesychasm is the thing that ‘invites the Beast’, (“whether as the iron fist of dictators or the soft stupidity consumerism”).
    But what I am trying to explain is that there is a certain kind of “word” that shows we have forgotten God, and another kind of “word” that shows we remember God. The first ‘word’ is lacking more and more lately (where you would expect to encounter it normally) – and my evaluation is that this is far more in those who align themselves with the worldly ‘narrative’ than those who oppose it.

  74. Yes, it is certainly most difficult -if at all possible- to measure such things, especially in the general sense.

  75. Father,
    Your words are sobering, and I assume (although you know what happens when you assume…) that you likely catch some heat for providing such a sobering account of things. But thank you for it, because there are few places that provide this sobering account and advice. There are a few no doubt, but sadly only a few.

    Perhaps this is my cynicism breaking through, but I suspect that the reason that what you have articulated (hesychasm/constant remembrance of God) is so often dismissed is that it doesn’t promise quick and noticeable results. It doesn’t provide the allusion of improvement, nor does it provide a plan to manage anything, and is inherently anti-modernist. In short, it’s a narrow and difficult path.

    Michael, I too really like and admire the holiness of St. Damian of Molokai (the leper). Remembering Christ to the point of seeing Him in others and becoming Him to others didn’t fix their leprosy, but it healed hearts. Nothing “got better”, in fact Damian ultimately succumbed to leprosy. It’s a really good example, thank you for highlighting it.

  76. Daniel, yes St Damien succumbed to leprosy but when they disinterred him many years later his body showed none of the scars of the disease. Indeed, he appeared to be incorrupt.

    I have long been partial to the 1935 short cartoon, The Sunshine Makers, for its strong Christian symbolism despite being a stealth add for Borden’s milk.

    The work of the Christian life seems to lie in submitting one’s own darkness to the mercy of Jesus (both in private and in common worship). Then, and only then, can I hope to spread the Good News: “The Cross, the Grave and the Glorious Third Day Ressurection.”

  77. Father,
    Thank you for your response to Dino’s comments.

    Your sobriety is deeply needed in the Orthodox.Church.

    Would that we take a pause to actually listen to your admonition and to Fr Tom Hopko’s mother’s words to pray, to go to Church and to remember God.

    May God grant us such clarity.

  78. Dear Daniel,
    Thank you for your prayers. I’m not “out of the woods” yet but feeling better than I did initially.

    I appreciate your presence here.

  79. Father, you wrote in one of your comments:

    > I have great reservations about elements within Orthodoxy that make a big deal out of “prophecies” and “revelations” for similar reasons. All across the landscape of Christianity, such movements carry lots of problems (to my mind).

    I agree with this wholeheartedly, but had a question related to it, as well. When I was first looking into Orthodoxy, and then in the process of becoming Orthodox (both before and after my chrismation) I was greatly influenced by authors such as yourself, Fr. Alexander Schmemmann, Bishop (then, simple Father) Irenei, and Fr. John Behr. I was, and still am, especially interested in the idea of seeing the world as a pre-modern person: as a One-Storey Universe.

    This has been difficult for me. I grew up Lutheran in the Bible Belt. I was taught to be wary of visions and prophecies and the like – but also to be wary of miracles, relics, and saints. If I had read your book growing up, I would have thought there was little distinction between the One-Storey universe you describe and the charismatic experiences my Pentecostal friends described.

    I see a distinction now, though I still at times struggle to put that distinction into words. Mostly, when people speak of their experiences (whether Orthodox or not), I just say, “Glory to God,” and not much else.

    But for a time, as I tried to adjust my “vision” to seeing the world around me as something other than what modernity says it is, I found myself rather fascinated by the very things you (and now I, as well) have reservations about. I was so used to seeing the world as a dis-enchanted (or mis-enchanted) place, once I started trying to see it as something else, it became rather overwhelming. Everyone seems to be having an “experience” of some kind or other – even within Orthodoxy.

    How do we regain that vision as modern people without sliding into dangerous territory? When, for so long, we’ve intentionally blinded ourselves, how do we come to see the world as an enchanted place, a One-Storey Universe, without going off the deep end? What advice would you give to converts in that regard? This may be a bad way of phrasing the question, but I’m not sure how else to phrase it: How do you walk the line between miracles associated with relics and icons, visions the saints have of Christ and the Theotokos, or experiences like the ones you describe in your book (saints appearing in monasteries); and ecstatic or “vision-related” experiences that people claim to have (or, perhaps, do have)?

    I cannot help but feel that my wariness of these things is part of my identity as a modern person (operating as though the world is an inherently secular place). I don’t want to look at the world that way. I don’t believe secularism is reality. But it’s hard to know how to treat these issues or experiences sometimes.

  80. Nathan, some good measures are: solid Incarnational theology; submitting any “spiritual experience” to a trusted and qualified spiritual guide, patience and Scripture.
    Any genuine spiritual experience creates humility.

  81. Nathan,
    This is an excellent question (one of the best that I can remember)!

    I going to begin to answer it with something of a “negative.” I do not think it is possible, for example, to walk out and see the night sky in the manner of most ancient people. We see the sky and think of it stretching across nearly infinite space. The stars are little “suns” and we know some of them to be whole galaxies, etc. It’s the kind of modern information that, once known, can’t be unknown.

    A delightful book to take a look back at things is CS Lewis’ The Discarded Image. It’s not one of his “Christian” books, but is pure academics. It is an introduction into the medieval mind (Western). Indeed, I think there are things that are revealed in that book that might very well be something of a “hidden message” across his Narnia books (particularly based on the planets). Though that’s another thing altogether. It’s an eye opener in that most of the things involve a world-view that we can understand, and sort of insert while we’re reading, but will never be part of our own mind.

    I personally think that seeing the night sky as a near infinite universe on display is perfectly wonderful and in no way a diminishment of revelation or Scripture. But we’re stuck with it. There are other such things about our lives. We cannot, for example, imagine a world without microbes (bacteria and viruses). We’re stuck with them. And, if we say that somebody is in good humor, we will always think it means they’re cheerful, and never that the bodily humours are in good balance. We do not believe in bodily humours.

    I get the impression as I read a bit (I do not listen to podcasts much at all), that when some speak about “re-enchantment” of the world, they have spent too much time play Dungeons and Dragons or some such thing. They want a world with elves, and sprites, or something out of Tolkien. And, in fact, the world is not like that. Such novels as Tolkien’s point towards something that does exist and is real – but his work is, at best, but a baptism of the imagination to use Tolkien’s own phrase.

    There are two things that come to mind. The first is an enlargement of our mostly secularized worldview, and the second is a healthy practice of natural contemplation. I’ll explain both.

    Enlargement: When Christ speaks to the “winds and the seas” and they “obey” Him, I do not believe that the gospel writer is using mythological language. I believe that the winds and the seas literally obeyed Christ – and that creation literally groans and travails as it awaits the “glorious liberty of the Sons of God” (Romans 8). So, how is it possible to speak of things “obeying” “groaning and travailing?”

    This, I think, is an “angelic” component to nature that is overlooked in modernity. We think “angels” and we think things with wings, etc. But such appearances are quite rare, and seemingly only for our benefit. There are other things within the ranks of the angelic world that are quite different than we imagine. Some of them such as the “stoicheia” fit a certain bill in this question. The word is translated “elemental spirits” in some English Bibles (Gal. 4:3, 8-9). It posits that there are angelic spirits of some sort that have a ministry function attached to stuff – to how things work. That there is a physical universe that is connected to a spiritual universe. I have no trouble thinking about this alongside a fairly materialistic view of material. They are not exactly “free” spirits, doing whatever they want. But it says that the physical universe has layers about which we know very little.

    This works for me in “making room” for phrases and experiences such as the winds and seas obeying. I’ve seen a few nature miracles and need more than our mechanistic worldview to make room for them. It’s hard (and unnecessary) to think of whether we should think of the stoicheia as personal or not. If they are, it might not be in any way that we’ve experienced “personal.”

    Natural Contemplation: This is, classically, in Orthodox thought related to contemplating the goodness of God at work in creation, His Divine Providence. It also relates to the contemplation of the “logoi” of all created things – which pretty much amounts to the same thing. What I do not do (myself) is waste time thinking about creation as an inert, blind, machine. That is too reductionist.

    It’s like dealing with human beings. A true materialist would reduce us to chemical reactions. It just doesn’t work. We lack the imagination sometimes to see how wonderfully beyond all that that human existence is. But it truly is wonderfully beyond all that. It is the same with the universe.

    I’ll stop there and get your thoughts in return. Is this helpful? I’ll say more about it in a bit.

  82. Yes, very helpful framework for beginning to understand this. I can’t speak for Nathan, but I too am interested in his question and would love to hear more. I was unfamiliar with stoicheia.

  83. Thank you so much, Father. This is indeed helpful. If I’m understanding you correctly, then we have something of a foundation from which to start answering these questions, by way of the wonder and awe we sometimes feel toward creation (like the night sky), regardless of our “updated knowledge” of the cosmos? And perhaps if that knowledge increases our wonder and awe, it can even serve us in this regard? I don’t need to try and pretend like I’m a pre-modern person. I need to contemplate God’s works in the creation I already know.

    Your comment about Tolkien hits pretty close to home. But it’s not so much that I want a world with sprites and elves; rather, it’s the hope that perhaps regaining the capacity to see the world with sprites and elves might in some sense help me see it as it really is. It’s that “capacity” that I feel too often I’ve lost. I think you wrote about this once in regard to fairy circles. Though I’ll be honest, I’m still not always sure what that “capacity” even is that allows us to view the world in a non-modern way. If I’m understanding you correctly regarding wonder, then maybe we haven’t lost as much of that “capacity” as it feels like we have. We just have a misguided imagining of what that “capacity” might be?

    Like so many others, I grew up reading the Scriptures and creation “literally” – how many wasted hours spent listening to those who wanted me to see that the Grand Canyon was carved by Noah’s flood? It neither helped me know the truth of the Grand Canyon, nor the Deluge. But then we would have read the “groaning” of creation as metaphor, not literal. We flipped everything upside down. It’s ironic, in a way. In the attempt to “preserve” the miracles contained within Scripture, we destroyed our capacity to see miracles in the rest of creation.

    When I was converting, it felt suddenly as though the floodgates had opened. I was finally “allowed” to believe in modern-day miracles. But I didn’t know how to see them, so in some sense, I “lived vicariously” through those Orthodox who did see them (or at least claimed to). And in that way, I was enamored at times by the things we ought to have “great reservations” about. I try not to do that anymore, but it’s hard to find the line between “wariness” and acceptance of the miraculous.

    I suspect I’m not alone in this regard, either. Being Orthodox has, at times, felt a bit dangerous. I have a much greater sense that the world is “more” – but I also feel like I’m a blind man walking through it.

    In October, you wrote in another comment, “I take for granted that the world is as permeated by the presence of angels and demons as I do that it is permeated by cosmic rays, and neutrinos, etc (though I’ve never seen a cosmic ray or a neutrino).” I’ve wondered a bit what you meant by that, and if I’m understanding correctly, your comments regarding the enlargement of our secular worldview provide a fuller explanation. I haven’t thought about angels / spirits in this way before, but this is very helpful.

    I’m trying to think of a good analogy, and what’s coming to mind is the relationship between Spirit/breath in the Scriptures. We want to translate pneuma as one or the other (and sometimes fight about which it should be, or which aspect of the word to give weight to). But we also live in a Hollywood world, where I can view computer generated images of people with a “light” coming out of them and pretend like that light is our spirit, and I can explain what “air” is in terms of molecules, and how “wind/breath” moves. But in reality, my spirit probably looks a good deal more like my breath than the “light” in the movies. Is that a way of “seeing” the One-Storey Universe, and the world as miraculous, akin to the “elemental spirits” layered within creation?

    Thank you for recommending “The Discarded Image” – I’m actually reading Lewis’ “Studies in Medieval and Renaissance Literature” – I’d like to read more old literature in the hope of getting outside our modern context a bit, and I thought Lewis might be a good guide in that regard. I’ll add “The Discarded Image” to my list!

  84. The unseen aspects of creation are a fascination for many people these days, even among the wealthy and famous elites. The Burning Man festival being a prime example of this. Pop culture has in a way become a quasi religion. Since the 1960’s, singers, film stars and tech elites have become new high priests of the prevailing culture. The shapers and shifters of so called reality.

    Shamanic ceremonies involving the use of ayahuasca are very popular around the world, as is the use of peyote and other psychedelic substances, mushrooms, etc. People are seeking visions and entry into the spiritual realm, in no small numbers.

    A neo paganism reimagined for the modern world, involving the merging of man and machine is quite a popular notion, as well as human hybrids. It is expounded by some as part of the evolutionary process of the human species to a higher, more spiritual level of being.

    Prelest; how deep does it go? Are we all in prelest to a greater or lesser degree?

  85. Nathan,
    Your question does make one think! How to look at the cosmos without falling pray to the secularist ‘reading’ has undoubtedly always been problematic, although that difficulty is surely increasing with the intensification in counterfeit, pseudo-spiritual “readings” offered to us, as life’s complexity evolves with the times.
    The simple answer (perhaps of little help) to how to ‘see’, would of course be, “through the action of Grace”. [To the degree of the action within one’s being of the ‘Uncreated Light’ the answer is given]. But how does one acquire that wisdom-imparting experience of this Light which fills you with the right knowledge, that is indeed a lifelong problem and pursuit.
    And when we have –as you discerningly say- Hollywood-style emulations of such experiences in our imagination’s memories, or perhaps LSD/psychotropic type memories of ‘visions’ of the permeation of the world with love and light and reiligiousness etc. (or any other such counterfeit of actual Grace), things get more tricky and muddled. And only the taste of the real reveals their difference.
    But, I think nobody is utterly bereft of some ‘taste’ of that Grace (even if buried deep in a memory before you could even yet speak).
    It is ultimately, only through that Grace, which shows the ‘eye of the soul’ that all is ‘swimming’ in God’s Light which is fanning the flames of love in the ‘see-er’ that the question becomes answered fully.

  86. Nathan,
    Wonder and awe are probably the essential gateway into seeing the world as it is. The “stoicheia” or simply the “logoi” of created things is an item of theological understanding that pushes us beyond the mere mechanistic view. But, even the mechanistic view is awesome and wonderful, though diminished.

    I often think that we imagine the angelic realm to be somewhat static – that is – that demons do what they’ve always done and so we wonder why they seem to have become relatively quiet (as compared to 1st century Palestine). I think this is poor reasoning. If New York City suddenly had an outbreak like 1st century Palestine it would look like Ghostbusters and worldviews would start changing immediately. They are not a “force of nature.” They are “rational” beings who are at war with us. Wars change their shape over time – tactics evolve.

    It is interesting to contemplate Dostoevsky’s novel, The Demons. A modest town becomes the subject of an anarchist/socialist uprising that spreads like madness resulting in a number of deaths. Dostoevsky, in his typical style, is interested in the psychology of a number of the main characters. It is quite enlightening. But he named the novel, The Demons. Without ever mentioning a demon he reveals the madness of their work. Frankly, I’ve seen many, many parallels to this in our last few years. Nothing is as full of madness as the uprising of people to violence. Of course, this is not new – modernity has seen these since its earliest days – 17th century England was filled with such dangers.

    I would be so bold as to suggest that the internet is a lively haunt of demons. Of course, it can be used for good, even by Orthodox bloggers! But it has lots and lots of dark corners – some quite unmentionable. No doubt, a large part of their work is delusion. And, based on the world at present, I’d say they’re more effective now than at any time in history.

    One of my own concerns viz. delusion in the spiritual life is simply to “keep it simple.” I pray, I concentrate on what is at hand, I contemplate nature as it is at hand (and I go for long walks in order to facilitate this). I focus on doing the good that is at hand. Given that the internet and other such things seems to want us to spend our time thinking about “global” things – the “big picture” – I avoid that. I see very little good that can come of it.

    I have so few years left in my life (relatively speaking). In the time that I have, I want to learn how to live and to become truly human. “The glory of God is a man fully alive,” in the words of St. Gregory of Nyssa.

  87. As others have done, I thank you very much for this deeply significant post, Father Stephen. In my youth I was thrust by Providence into a Catholic high school setting, and I now consider that experience to have been the first step on my road to Orthodoxy. What I retain is the memory of sung mass – how joyful I was to find that every Orthodox liturgy is sung, every one a breath of Easter in which one can participate. A Southern Baptist black lady who was blind used to come to our church (where her son was a member) loving the singing – it echoes for me that one time she said when asked “We pray for when we can’t pray.” Thank you for taking us to Saint Paul’s letter to the Philippians.

    From the Catholic sung mass: ” Ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est.” The nuns would sing that so beautifully. We sing for when we can’t sing, and it is even more beautiful and holy then.

  88. Thank you, Father and Dino. I could not agree more with you regarding the internet. I don’t engage with any social media or online forums and rarely any news sites anymore. I know, as a Millennial, this makes me weird. I work in IT, and it’s interesting to note that many (though certainly not all) of my IT counterparts have adopted a similar point of view: stay offline as much as possible. It’s a dangerous place, and we delude ourselves into thinking that we’re somehow immune from its dangers.

    I was not aware of Dostoevsky’s “The Demons” – another one to go on the book list. I worked for an investment banking firm around a decade ago; coming out of that, I walked away with a rather adverse view of capitalism. It feels like a very similar madness to the one you’re describing, utterly dehumanizing, if more “civilized.” Of course, the response is “uncivilized” by comparison. Neither seems rooted in the truth of man (or nature). I have to thank you for recommending “The Enchantments of Mammon” this past summer. It fit the historical pieces together better than I ever could have, and it provides a good corrective to both capitalism and opposing Marxist/socialist thought.

  89. “How do we regain that vision as modern people without sliding into dangerous territory?” Nathan, my apologies if you have had a better answer from Father Stephen, but your question resonated with something further I had in my thoughts, specifically that memory is an important key.

    In your early childhood experiences of Lutheran Christianity you will have had beautiful moments — hold fast to them. We are all Orthodox as children, of that I have no doubt! It seems to me that is the greatness of Dostoievski’s “The Brothers K”. Alyosha has a memory of his mother, just a fragment of a page as it is described, deep in his heart, that perhaps unknowingly separates him from his nearest brother Ivan, who doesn’t seem to have such a memory, but which, unspoken, permeates his soul. He in his last speech impresses this upon the children gathered around him that whatever they become in later life, they should hold the memory of the moment they have at that particular time, a moment of love for one another.

    It’s perhaps part of what makes hesychasm a different process from mere meditation.

  90. Nathan,
    It occurs to me that the prayer, St. Patrick’s Breatplate, is a good example of an Orthodox view of the natural world and certain possibilities within it. By the same token, many of the thoughts in the modern Orthodox hymn, Akathist Glory to God for All Things, are similar. It is of note to me that the Russian editor of my book (it was published in Russia a couple of years ago), asked permission to include a chapter with a Russian translation of St. Patrick’s breastplate. An excellent idea.

  91. Nathan,
    Thank you for initiating this interesting conversation!

    One more book for your reading list, in reference to your ” capitalism and opposing Marxist/socialist thought” corrective. It’s called “the-demon-in-democracy”, by a Polish author Ryszard Legutko (I am Polish and experienced these processes as a Polish Orthodox person, now living in the Western world).
    This book description is really good – it even references, a bit, our human nature and to what it is reduced without God…

    “The book is written from a perspective of someone who after having lived for many years under communism and then for more than two decades under a liberal democracy has discovered that those two political systems have a lot in common, stem from the same historical roots in early modernity, and accept similar presuppositions about history, society, religion, politics, culture and human nature. Moreover both political systems have some similar objectives. What communism tried to achieve with the use of most brutal measures on a massive scale has been to a considerable degree achieved in a liberal democracy through a more or less spontaneous development and more or less humane social engineering – an almost total identification of man with a political regime, politicization of culture and social relations, omnipresence of ideology, and a peculiar combination of a utopian impulse with the insistence of human mediocrity. Both systems reduce human nature to that of the common man who is led to believe himself liberated from unnecessary obligations of the past, unaware that he shackled himself with other chains which dramatically narrowed his perspective. Both the communist man and the liberal democratic man refuse to admit that there exists anything of value outside the political systems to which they pledged their loyalty and both refuse to undertake any critical examination of their ideological prejudices.”

  92. Juliania,
    You make an interesting point regarding ‘holy’ memories and their spiritual assistance for the soul. But this would be an action that is Spirit-led, (along with the mutual assistance of the soul’s ‘consciousness’).
    So, because of this, I wouldn’t go as far as saying that such memories might be a part of what makes ‘hesychasm a different process from mere meditation’.
    (Since, Hesychasm, in its purity, aims at the complete uprooting of all subconscious in a person.)

  93. Thank you Father Stephen. Your words seem to bear more clarity each time I read them
    In many regards these subjects have been much on my mind of late, not least as the readings in my own tradition often seem to be ‘cut up’ to keep in tune with the current spirit of the age. So this coming Sunday we hear Christ’s ‘manifesto’ at Nazareth andno more. We finish hearing how everyone thought well of him, yet ignore the fact that within minutes they take him to throw him off a cliff. This reading seems so resonant with what you have said, and my apologies for I haven’t read your thread, but this Sunday I shall be preaching on ‘too close to home’. for every time he comes near ‘home’, be it Nazareth, or the House of His Father, his presence disturbs. Given that the House of His Father is the Human heart, it is indeed htis close approach which we find hard to bear. We want ‘the world out there’ put right, but ‘don’t come knocking on our door’. As a friend once put it in a poem, ‘don’t come to close, Jesus’. Thank you once more

  94. PS Doing the good that is at hand, as you put it, is of course ‘closer to home’. We easily stray in these hyper-connected days far from home, as I know all too well. Kyrie Eleison

  95. “I also will note that reading “River of Fire” was a key turning point in my exploration of Orthodoxy (from a Protestant background). Learning that the love of God follows us forever and ever, even to the depths of hell, made me realize that I could do nothing else than become Orthodox. Your quote by Alexander Kalomiros is also amazing. It makes me want to learn more about him.”

    Father,
    I started to read this lengthy River of Fire article not knowing what expect, only that it must be enlightening for Orthodox christians. I got several pages into it before I realized I was not grasping it, I will not give up but try again another day.
    However, is it possible that this information for me may “be bread when I am only able to digest milk” ? I am a curious and voracious reader, I have plowed easily through much longer articles and books. I can research him and see what else I can find.
    I love your Blogs and look forward to the comments, enjoy and learn from them, and your endless patience to answer questions. Thank you for all you do 🙏

  96. Christina,
    It’s quite possible. One thing I have learned over the years regarding reading: it’s only useful if it answers a question. The harder and more important discipline in the spiritual life is to recognize our questions.

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