A Cultural Feast

I read somewhere that, prior to the Protestant Reformation, there were over 50 feast days in England on which people did no labor (these were in addition to Sundays). If you do the math, it adds up to over seven weeks of vacation per year. The Reformation abolished all but one or two. I have often thought that this was one of the sources of Protestant economic success – abolish seven weeks of vacation and productivity increases! As it turns out, feast days are so culturally important that they eventually found their way back into the calendar. However, they are not the old feast days and serve a different master and a different purpose. They probably have a larger role in your life than you know.

As I write, the feast of Halloween has just passed. Yes, I know its origins as the “Eve of All Saints’ Day,” but not one reveler in a thousand knows that. It’s the feast of scary things, yard decorations, and candy. I’ve pondered its popularity and think that people like the thrill of scary things. Also, who doesn’t like chocolate? As such, its an emotion-based feast – it feels like fun, let’s do it!

Other major days include Thanksgiving (which still retains some elements of its original purpose), Christmas (which often has some minor nods to the Birth of Jesus), Valentine’s Day (the feast of romance), and so on. Someone, somewhere, seems to be declaring various months of the year to be dedicated to special themes. Those themes mostly tell you what is important to one political wing of popular culture. That there is no Free-Market Capitalism Month tells you who is not in charge of the office of monthly dedications.

My computer’s calendar setting includes a notice for holidays. I get reminders for Hindu festivals, Muslim festivals, Buddhist festivals, etc. I have no idea what most of them mean. They serve as reminders that feast days are a universal phenomenon.

My wife and I have a habit of watching one television show each night (well, most nights). She loves mysteries. We’ve watched all of the Agatha Christie’s (only Joan Hickson is acceptable as Miss Marple) and killed off most of Great Britain. Recently, we’ve discovered ways of watching foreign mysteries with subtitles. Our favorites are set in Italy (don’t ask me why). We notice the coming and going of their cultural feasts as the sleuth goes about her work. August 15 is huge! That delighted my soul.

A difficulty with feast days in the Church is the absence of festival. Only Christmas and Pascha (maybe Theophany) have any “festival” attached to them. As such, there is a Church service as feast in which we are likely to have pointed out to us how few people are in attendance as well as a good bit of theological instruction on the feast’s meaning. I think, forgive me, that most of our feast days have long since fallen into the merely academic: Christianity as a perpetual inquirers’ class.

Josef Pieper, a German Catholic philosopher, wrote extensively on the topic of festival iand its place in human life. He saw in it a celebration of our existence under various headings. He saw in the little modern cultural festivals a very sad, shrunken and dessicated version of the real thing. We want to feast but we don’t know why. We don’t know why because we have forgotten why we exist. I commend his work to you. In Tune with the World is a good read.

It is nearly impossible to escape culture – it’s like a fish escaping water. We live as moderns whether we like it or not and we will likely continue to feast like moderns – empty and meaningless. But we will do so as Christians, complaining about what the culture is doing.

A task before the Church (particularly those who imagine themselves to be living in some outpost of the Benedict Option) is the recovery of festival – not just a feast day with the Vigil the night before and a Liturgy on the day (if your parish does that much). Festival is a larger celebration, a break from routine and an entrance into an alternate form of time. I would point people to the Christmas of their childhood, complete with the school holiday and all of the magic that might have surrounded it. It is the innocence of children that allows enough “magic” into the world to make “festival” possible.

As an adult Orthodox believer, I think that Holy Week and Pascha still retain much of this (and, even then, it could use more). When I hear that someone in the parish has taken Holy Week as vacation time in order to be as involved as possible, my heart rejoices. The culture, if all were right, would do the same, or, at least close the shops before the evening’s services. No doubt, we’re going to have problems explaining to our bosses why we need 50 days a year vacation…we can start with less.

How many people clean their homes on the first day of Lent (“Clean Monday”)? It was the origin of “Spring cleaning.” These, and hundreds of other “festival customs” are largely lost in much of modern Orthodoxy (particularly in convert Churches where there is no living memory of such customs).

Festival is a human phenomenon. It’s why Buddhists, Muslims, and Hindus, Jews and Jainists all have festivals. Modern Secularists have festivals, too, and their festivals often have us. God give us grace, in recovering the true faith, to let it recover our true humanity in the world of festival.

Rejoice. Dance. Sing a lot. Take the day off.

 

115 comments:

  1. I would like to invite you and your family to come to Ethiopia and celebrate the almost 33 annual feasts of the Theotokos, the 12 monthly feasts for St. Michael, 12 annual feasts of the Nativity of our Lord, the nine feasts of our Lord, the 50 days of the Ressurection, etc.
    This list doesn’t include the plenitude of local feasts of local saints. Every day in every month there is something and someone to celebrate. Just one more, also Saturday and Sunday are observed and celebrated as the Two Sabbaths.

  2. I have a shameless plug for my talented wife who is the co-creator of The Little Church Planner. Essentially, it is a planner that is centered around the church year with tips for bringing the fasts and feasts into the home and quotes from the Fathers. For feast days, they give wonderful tips on how to make certain dishes, bring specific items from home to be blessed in the services, or traditions that enrich “the little church” in the home. Homeschooling families like ours find great benefit for it, but it also is a great resource for anyone wanting a helpful guide to bringing the feasts home. https://www.parousiapress.com/collections/products-planners

  3. Father, bless.
    This post evokes that magic feeling of meeting with family around Christmas and Thanksgiving: don’t have to work, lots of good food, all in the comfort of a home you feel safe in. This must be similar to the old feeling of church feasts — that is, before industry and infrastructure made possible the all-too-common geographic separation of families. To truly feast *religiously* with one’s own family, in the context of the church community, that must be wonderful. But I would not know; probably most Americans wouldn’t either. Can that “feast magic” really truly be experienced by us among brothers and sisters in the church when our own families live at great distance and, even if they lived near, believe and practice differently than we do? The feast has suffered the western world’s fragmentation. How do we reclaim it?
    Yours,
    Owen

  4. You will be happy to know many Romanians still clean their houses thoroughly during Lent and Christmas fasting periods (whether at home or abroad). Our parish in Ottawa celebrates Palm Sunday with a big fundraising meal, as well as St Hristina on July 24, and St Matthew’s (both of whom our church is dedicated) just before Nov 15 (so we can eat meat! Oh well) We’ve put up an a capella concert of traditional Romanian carols annually for the past 12 years. In our family, we celebrate name’s days (Mihail, Ioana, Ana, Luca, Caterina), and many other Romanians do. And for me, the most marvelous night of the year has been and always will be Pascha. Seeing the Light from candles gradually filling up the air just outside the church doors does not compare to anything. It’s the definite conquering, the ultimate joy – a living testimony that darkness simply cannot overcome it.

  5. Thank you Father!
    Please share one of your Italian shows with us!! 🙏

    I have always wanted to share this series with you and friends on this blog. YouTube has it for free with English subtitles (Prime also has it for purchase, maybe it has English dubbing, but I recommend leaving the original soundtrack, it adds to the experience).
    English title is “Sky Court”, in case the link does not work.
    https://youtu.be/qdQSB8PoAIc

    There is also a second season, almost better than the first one. 😊

    I won’t spoil it for you by saying too much, one of the descriptions had “supernatural court drama”…

    It ties with the theme of Halloween. I wish I could agree with your description of it as a “holiday of chocolate and scary things”. That’s what it was for me 20 years ago, when I made Blues Clues and Bionicals costumes for my sons. Now most costumes (except a few really little kids ones) and decorations seem to need to include “blood and gore”. It seems to be a celebration and glorification of death and violence. I don’t like it any more, at all.

  6. Thank you Father! I was discussing with my husband last night how I would like to incorporate more feasting (and access to sugary goodness for my kids, who live a very low sugar life) into our lives but was stuck on the how. The church feasts are a great way to do that! Entrance of the Theotokos coming right up!

  7. Father,
    Thank you for this reflection about feast days. My heart has been yearning for more careful attention and observance of the Orthodox feasts. Ironically due to COVID last year, I had the opportunity to participate in more services during Lent than I would have in my usual work-day life. Today we have a ‘snow-day,’ and I can stay home rather than face a rush-hour commute from my rural home to an urban university and back. Road rage demonstrated on the streets and highways is a regular occurrence. The pressures and rigors of a university institution in modern times can be difficult–to say the least, especially for students. It is evident that a culture that embraces feast days is entirely absent.

    Whatever we do to celebrate the feasts will be going against the tide and entering an entirely different stream. I have asked for days off when commencement falls on a Saturday on the occasion when Divine Liturgy is celebrated on a Saturday. Admitedly I have to overcome my embarrassment to ask. It is apparent to me that I don’t have a lot of courage. And I, too, and so wrapped up in the daily grind that I fail to observe and say the Jesus prayer when I could. Although in moments of acute stress the prayer comes to my lips and heart.

    When I search for Christ, I remember His words to the Theotokos, ‘did you not know I would be in my Father’s house?” And we are taught that we are the temple of the Holy Spirit. It helps in such moments of stress to remember to be thankful for all things. Christ is amongst us.

    Dear Tihkon, thank you for your plug! I went ahead and purchased a copy. I enjoy supporting small businesses. And the benefit is that I might have a regular reminder of the liturgical days and feast days.

    And indeed, I shall enjoy this day off–so prescient dear Father!

  8. Interesting that there were 50 old feasts plus Sundays – the 2 day weekend is a recent custom, giving us back the 50 (+2) holidays, in a more regular but less meaningful form.

  9. I like mystery/detective stuff too. I used to like watching Inspector Morse, which was slow paced. Miss Marple (Geraldine McEwan; my favourite) is excellent too.

  10. Feasts without some fast of repentance are not only meaningless but preverting. Almost every Orthodox I know fasts to some degree during Great Lent. It is difficult to fast for the right reason, at least for me. My diabetic wife has a real struggle with the fast which trends to make it more difficult fo me.
    My Parish long ago ceased to be a neighborhood parish. Drives of 25 and 30 minutes or more are not uncommon further than that culturally (a big casino is in walking distance from my home) although we do have one family who frequently uses bicycles to Divine Liturgy or even walks on really good days.
    Pascha and even Great Lent to a degree have maintained their other worldly and holy phronema thus are much easier to enter, I think.
    My opinion is that fasts and feasts are generally adhered to better by those who have experienced some level of suffering, repentance and restoration as part of their normal lives and the attendant awareness of the internal unseen that usually accompany such blessings.

  11. Sahlzemikael,
    What a generous invitation! Shortly after reading your comment, I was in my car driving to visit someone, and on the radio, they announced that it was “National Sandwich Day.” I thought to myself: The West endured the Reformation, the Enlightenment, the Industrial Revolution, the Sexual Revolution, and who knows what else, so we could have “National Sandwich Day.” It’s such an empty culture.

    I contrast that to Ethiopia, where the West would, no doubt, consider the people blighted. But you have preserved, against many odds, a rich, Orthodox culture. May God give you grace! Pray for us!

  12. Ioana,
    Among my Orthodox pleasures is feasting in Romanian and Moldovan homes on various feasts (including family feast days). Thank God for the example and the living memory!

  13. Andrew,
    Heresy (on the Miss Marple front). We liked Morse, Lewis, and Endeavor. We joke that we killed everybody in the British Isles. We’ve also noted lots of cultural things in the tv dramas from elsewhere. Scandinavian Noir seems to perfectly represent the Scandinavian culture. A Danish program we watched left me wondering why anyone would care enough to want to solve a murder mystery. German mysteries are, well, quite German and I’ll say no more. The French ones always seem to be nothing more than backdrops for romance between the detectives (male/female). The Italians (my favorites of late – Imma Tattarani) are wonderfully Italian and seem to have a more traditional culture. I tried to watch a German adaptation of Donna Leon’s Brunetti, I’ve read a number of the mysteries as books, but Commisario Brunetti, played by a German (and everyone else is German) just came off as weird. Germans are nothing(!) at all like Italians. It changed the whole thing. I couldn’t watch more than one of them.

    I suppose it’s a “vice” of sorts – but it has the virtue of something my wife and I do together. We frequently pause the program, and discuss what we think is going on. We also have a running joke that after a week’s worth of watching something with subtitles, you get the strange sensation of actually thinking that you can speak the language. I am now fluent in French, Italian, German, Swedish, and Scots, so long as the subtitles are on.

  14. Michael,
    I take your points. What we miss here in the U.S. is the simple fact that the feasts grew up and evolved in a culture with festivals (very few feasts seem to predate the legalization and cultural adoption of Christianity). As I say, they become theologically concentrated but somehow lacking without the accompanying festival. Pascha, Christmas, and Theophany (to a degree), do this better than anything else. But we have lost our sense of religious festival while it has been replaced by the entertainment-oriented pleasure domes of modern holidays.

    Modernity is anti-human.

  15. In times past, we had a conscious demarcation of time, setting aside one day each week as a holy-day (Shabbat). The other holy-days were bonuses added on top of that, manifesting additional spiritual realities, memorialized with specific festivals. My guess is we’ve been on a downhill slide ever since our departure from Shabbat.

  16. Fr. Stephen,

    I will sit in Michael’s camp but with a different take. In The Incredibles, Dash’s mom was telling him that everyone was special. To this he responded, “which is another way of saying that no one is”. The point is that if not a day or week goes by that isn’t supposed to be special, I get burned out with all the continual “new”. As you said, it’s like being a perpetual inquirer or tourist. There is no time for anticipation because the next event is already here. Part of the joy of Christmas was having to wait.

    I suspect the answer is some kind of happy medium. I need a diet of alternated feasting and fasting. That feels like a natural rhythm to me.

  17. Fr. Stephen,
    it seems that you and your wife are connoisseurs of the detective genre. I haven’t had the opportunity to watch any European detective series yet. But I have watched one Scandinavian series, Wallander, which I liked.
    I appreciate your use of the British Isles; it just sounds right. Also yours and your wife’s humour, everyone being killed off🤣.
    For once I’m quite happy to be a heretic.

  18. The loss of feast days also coincided with an increase in Work Ethic and as far as my studies suggest a return to Sabbatarianism. (The one day a week when folk are set free to shop . . .)

    The significance of retirement in peoples lives says I think a great deal about our contemporary relationship to ‘work’
    But without a sacramental participatory Life, I’m not sure it adds up to much.

  19. My favorite detective series is the British show New Tricks about a cold case unit put together of 3 retired male detectives, each with some idiosyncrasies. The leader of the unit is a current female superintendent with some discipline problems. They are given old murder cases that no one has solved. Top brass hopes they will fail (sort of) Its funny and thoughtful and human without going overboard on violence. In its 12 year run it survived an almost complete turnover in cast principles without a loss in fun or quality. The actors in the parts were top British Actors with a lot of experience. Their experience was all across the board: Music Hall, Stage, Screen, TV even the Royal Shakespeare Company.
    Great show.

  20. Fr. Freeman,

    This was one of those things that was sort of confusing coming to Orthodoxy. I asked our former priest’s, wife, how we are to feast on the feast days. She tried but didn’t have a good answer. One thing I have realized though, before becoming Orthodox and thanks to N.T. Wright, is that Pascha should be bigger than Christmas, and at the least, it should not be here and gone when Christmas lasts two months. This Orthodoxy tends to do well and better than anyone else. I’ve long mourned when family wanted our kids to embrace Santa Claus (I mourned the lack of appreciation for Christ and the greater fascination with a lie) and I rejected that, that they are ruining Christmas by creating the co-equal Santa to Christ. They give a crap story that takes the place of the Greatest Story. But, it’s similar here. The feast gets no fest and gets wasted but some football game gets company, food, friendship. This is one good reason only a few people show up for a feast day, there really isn’t a feast. I realize celebrating lavishly every feast day would be quite the project, but we could do better. We’d pour the equivalent of a year’s work by one person (2,080hrs.) into a festival where it’s all work and no feast after all.

  21. To Matthew Lyon:
    Santa Klaus is actually St Nicholas. In many European cultures, he is known to bring gifts to children, particularly sweets and coins (search from St Nicholas story). In all honesty, I love having grown up in the Romanian tradition where December is the month of everything nice: we have St Nicholas on Dec 6th (when kids get sweets and fruits and dried nuts in their boots!), we have Christmas Eve (when we get presents from Father Christmas = the equivalent of the Magi bringing gifts to Jesus), and Christmas when we celebrate Christ’s birth (liturgy, breaking of fast and everything yummy). And then… you won’t believe it… then we have another 2 weeks of celebrations, with Synaxis of the Theotokos (26 Dec), St Stephen (27 Dec), New Year’s Eve (31 Dec), St Basil the Great (1 Jan), Theophany (6 Jan) and St John the Baptist (7 Jan). Since a lot of people are named Ștefan, Cristian, Cristina, Vasile, Ion and Ioana, or have relatives and friends with these names, nobody does pretty much anything between 24 Dec and 7 Jan, no kidding. 🙂 And those celebrating their name’s days get … gifts. Again, I know. It’s really great.
    And there’s SO MUCH good food. Fr. Stephen, I’m so glad you enjoy the Romanian meals, they’re usually made with a lot of love.

  22. Adapting the Church calendar doesn’t seem to get the attention it should, I think. I at one time considered attending the major feasts (taking the day off using PTO) but couldn’t figure out a way to do it. It’s wonderful to think about changing things to align with the Church calendar but very difficult to do. As you mention, there doesn’t seem to be a “feast” to attend (outside of Liturgy). So much of this requires communion–and reflects the loss of it in modern times. As a single man, I could take a feast day off but I’d probably end up at a restaurant, eating by myself for the “feast”. Of course, Liturgy is worth it but even that is hard to attend….

  23. Byron,
    I described all this, if you will, as something we should think about – be aware of our lack of festival – and be more open to its possibilities in our lives. But, I don’t think of it as a “problem” to be solved.

  24. Agata,

    Thank you for linking “Sky Court.” I just watched the first two episodes, and it’s extraordinary.

    My son has a taste for that kind of thing, so I’m sharing it with him in hopes that the subtitles won’t put him off.

    Also, Tikhon, I yesterday added the Orthodox calendar to Outlook but have been looking for a planner for next year. So thanks for the “shameless plug” 🙂

  25. Fr Stephen,
    You made my day! 😀
    My children say I’m a pretty decent cook – hopefully that’ll get me to heaven, ’cause God only knows the sinner that I am.
    Here’s to feasting together in Heaven!

  26. Michael,
    New Tricks, I’d forgotten about it. I haven’t seen it for some years. The Amanda Redman, Denis Waterman, James Bolam and Alun Armstrong series were excellent.
    My liking of the detective genre began when I was a child watching the old Basil Rathbone, Sherlock Holmes films.

  27. Fr. Stephen,

    Please, might you further explain this reference (in parentheses)?

    “A task before the Church (particularly those who imagine themselves to be living in some outpost of the Benedict Option) is the recovery of festival …”

  28. Herman,
    I have no complaint about the notion of the “Benedict Option,” if rightly understood. That to me means that the life of the parish is a slow, long-term solution to the collapse and corruption of the surrounding society. I believe that, when rightly lived, the parish has always been God’s means of healing the world. My dig at “those who imagine themselves” – is, frankly, a dig at paying too much attention to politics and the culture and getting caught up in the imagination. We need to be sober-minded and live ever more fully the life that is given to us in our immediate communities.

    Hope that clarifies. I probably should be so snarky.

  29. Father Stephen, I’m currently leading a book group (study) of – “For the Life of the World” by Father Alexander Schmemann . And we’re about to embark upon the 3rd chapter in which some of what you write about is discussed in depth. In reading your post, it reminds me of a portion of the movie “Mysteries of the Jesus Prayer” where Father John and Norris visit the Kiev Caves and meet Father Cyril Hovorun from the monastery. He describes to them how the monastery is a very old monastery, but due to the challenges during the Soviet era, it is now emerging as a very new monastery. “It’s quite easy to build up new buildings, but it is not so easy to build up new traditions,” Father Cyril remarks when describing how they have begun to re-establish the daily effort of monastic life. I discern echos of this in your post. I serve as a priest of a small Orthodox parish in the St. Louis area. I often find myself on the verge of despair when I apprehend what you write about in terms of the zeitgeist of this worldly ‘festival’ celebrations and how they loom large over attempts in the parish to keep the feast days of the Church. I presently spend quite a bit of internal energy reminding myself that we will not have any Church commemoration if we do not attempt to at least have Vespers and Liturgy for a given feast (let alone vigil). And I couldn’t agree more about the joy I receive when I hear of people taking time off from work to be involved. I don’t know that it might be in the works, but I’d love to hear/read more about how we go about this delicate process and ways we can encourage one another. Thank you for this very timely and encouraging post!

  30. Father,
    I’m going to throw into the conversation a monkey wrench: When I think of feasts it is beautiful to consider the Orthodox feasts. But in experience (outside the Church) it seems feasts usually mean gathering with a family that one might not want to be near. Ideally, getting together with family and celebrating with food and festivities would sound joyful. But if one finds the company manipulative and hurtful and often destructive, then such gatherings are not necessarily something one would look forward to but bear under pressure.

    Having said this, however, I will admit the feast that is actually shared, that is celebrated together with the one I love, is Christmas. Because of this, the season of Christmas for me is especially sweet.

  31. Being Western Rite (ROCOR), we tend to have the best of both worlds. Here in the United Kingdom we have a lot of old festivals and feasts which are still actually celebrated out in country villages (but ignored by the churches). One I always liked from my youth was Mothering Sunday. These days it has morphed into Mothers Day, but originally it was the Sunday when parishioners would go to the Mother Church – which might be the diocesan cathedral or a great church in a central regional Town. So it had nothing to do with mothers, but was the occasion for parishes to worship together.

  32. I have an icon of The Synaxis of the Archangels that always brings festival to my mind and heart–even more when I venerate them specifically. Their presence and activity in my life has never failed to bring rejoicing to my life from small things to major life moments even in the midst of sorrow the angelic presence and aid has always brought hope and love and joy. For others I have known and loved too.
    We are neither alone nor separated as the world would have us believe. In my experience anytime there is three or more Lebanese women in a kitchen, festival is not far away even if it is not on the calendar.

  33. Fr. Nicholas,
    I think we simply chip away as best we can, gathering resources along the way. We didn’t create the modern society, we’re just trying to survive and “thrive” to some extent. I think one bit of advice I would suggest is the involvement of people in the feasts of the Church beyond just attending. One of my favorite things in my parish during Holy Week is the work of the women and girls decorating the tomb on Holy Friday. The young girls then serve as “myrrhbearers” during the service, throwing rose petals on the tomb. It’s one of the best attended and beautiful services of the week. It was a Greek custom that we “borrowed” and to good effect. I think one thing I’ve observed about this is learning to resist being “utilitarian” – that is – just doing what needs to be done to get the job done. The “doing” of the job, with way more people involved in the decoration than are actually needed is because the thing isn’t just about the end point – but about the joint activity involved in producing the end.

    “Festival” is a celebration rather than utility. When I think of a family decorating a Christmas tree in the home it’s certainly not about the tree – but about the common effort. I’ve seen very beautiful trees in home, but they were the work of a single hand – like a work of art. I like messy trees with lots of hands involved. Same with festivals.

    I remember someone complaining one year about several of young altar servers who had fallen asleep during the late night Pascha service. I said, “Leave them alone. They worked hard and deserve a nap.” It’s just part of a festival.

    God give us grace.

  34. Mark, I’ve tried to do it but have not been successful. How did you get the Orthodox Calendar into Outlook? I downloaded an Orthodox Calendar app to my computer that I can open separately, but have found no way to synch them. I see that there is a way to upload calendars into Outlook in the MS software, but when using the Outlook browse button to locate the file, I cannot locate the app that I downloaded suggesting that it’s not the right kind of file. I have a school-based Outlook account that I use on the web rather than downloaded on a personal computer if that information is relevant.–Any suggestions?

  35. Dear Father,
    My favorite Christmas ornaments that I have kept over the years are the unintentionally funny-looking ones made by children’s hands. Indeed it is the messiness of gatherings at Church, especially with children present, that helps to make such occasions so joyful and beautiful. My parish is Greek, and I, too, have so enjoyed the Paschal services you describe. They are indeed a sweet blessing.

  36. Glad you figured it out so quickly, Dee. I just downloaded the English ICS link here:

    https://www.goarch.org/chapel/planner

    Double-clicked on the downloaded file, and it added the Orthodox calendar my Outlook calendars. I have the desktop version of Outlook. The same page has a version it says is for use with online calendars–don’t know whether it works–but you sound sorted already anyway.

  37. Ioana,

    I’m aware of all of those things, but I appreciate that you took the time to write that out. You wrote it in a way that showed your fascination and that is encouraging. What I mean is, for the other feast days, seemingly random ones (which aren’t really random), there is no fanfare. It’s like – and I’m being sort of sarcastic to make a point – an obligation that you wouldn’t voluntarily accept unless you felt pressured. But that is because – maybe – that outside the Nativity Fast and Lent – there is not so much thought put into the others. I’m not saying none, or that priests don’t do enough, that’s not the point, the point is if we’re going to celebrate something it has to feel celebratory, so you do have to know what you’re celebrating, and there must be something humanly celebratory. The liturgy that is there for the feast is of course a celebration as we are brought into union with the Saint whose devotion is to Christ and to Christ Himself and all the Church. But, societally, culturally, this is not all that attends a celebration and the fact that it goes no further often (I don’t have some feast day in mind) makes for an anti-climactic event, often anyway. I’m not saying I want more people to show up for meals (though this isn’t bad), but for celebrations of Christ’s Body who are His trophies and our trophies, but we also are propelled to emulation by celebration, to jumping onto the calendar as a moving thing, both rotationally and in the linear sense. Same Saints each year, only more are added to the rotation, but that rotation also moves forward as a progression.

  38. Matthew,
    The essential problem is this:

    We live in a secularized Protestant culture. As Orthodox Christians, we are seeking to apply our “feasts” on top of their culture. And, it simply fails many times in many ways. Ioana, with experience within an Orthodox culture, will have seen a much more seamless application, where major feasts often have as much of a seamless relationship with the culture as Christmas.

    My intention in the article is to point out the disconnect and to note that the “festival” aspect of a feast day is largely absent. We’re not going to reform this culture. We’re a tiny, tiny minority in America. But we can work, in whatever small ways, to reform ourselves. We can learn (especially from those among us who come from Orthodox cultures) how to add some element of festival to our feasts – or at least some of them. Not enough thought has been given to this. Indeed, during its time in America, Orthodox life has often been pulled in the other direction.

    It will not be everything, nor will it truly be sufficient, but every effort we make towards a bit more festival will be of use in our lives.

  39. Fr. Freeman,

    I was thinking last night for a while, and I thought maybe you would appreciate this as my wife doesn’t want to hear my musings at 11:30 (and I can’t blame her). But I was thinking of Jesus’s oft condemnations of the “generation”. The word generation is almost always negative except when it refers to the Age to Come. But I was thinking also about the interconnectedness of a generation. Even the influences we don’t like still do influence us, our entertainment, our social discussions, our political this and that. We are part of this generation in some way in a very real way. And I was thinking what would it look like if a generation made some progress? There is already the assumption of a higher goal to attain progress or at least the preservation of peace and prosperity and the idea of sacrifice as necessary for a generation to make any progress (and not regress). It would look like ascent, a procession up a mountain, and at the top of that mountain is an altar and there is God. But going up that mountain together requires sacrifice, individually and corporately. The Saint in this sense is a sacrificial offering for the people to be motivated to continue ascending. This is St. Paul’s whole rationale for staying alive here when it’s better to be with Christ. Then I thought about the Psalms of ascent and that this was the idea, and in the middle of the ascent is singing and celebration. So, thinking of it this way, each generation gets a shot at making this ascent individually and as a generation. That reduces the number of “shots” to 50 or less so far which I think is interesting. We’re not really that far away from any event thinking generationally. But the opposite of the ascent is the descent. Then I was thinking that for Christians today, they, we, think that sea level, the zero mark, staying there is just as preferable as the ascending few. But this is condemned as unbelief in the parables. To do nothing is worse than doing at least something, “At least put the money in the bank where it can earn a little interest, how hard is that?” So, the neutral place wasn’t ever really neutral, it was descent, not ascent. Maybe this is the idea behind the “set your minds above”, even above “sea level”, as to set your mind at this “sea level” zero mark, is the same as setting your mind on death as this is where you will descend if you are not ascending (set the mind on the flesh and you get death, on the Spirit: life and peace Romans 8:6). I keep thinking again how so many times Biblically the sign of degeneration (or faith) is that people will not move forward from zero (and the faithful move in obedience). Leave Egypt, leave Sodom, leave Ur, leave Jerusalem, etc. – stated positively, “go to” the land I’ve promised. An ascent is necessary to get from Egypt to Jerusalem. And the proximity of the “city” to the believing inhabitant, as with Lot, where you wonder, why are you living so close to Sodom? Luke 10:30 with the “Good Samaritan” starts with him going down, literally descending, from Jerusalem to Jericho. What’s more interesting is that this parable is set up by the desire for self-justification, and the examples of failed justification are Capernaum who “won’t ascend to the heavens” but will descend into Hades. I mean, verses 25 and forward are paralleling 1-24 it seems. The Apostles are ascending but will be as lambs to the slaughter, it will look like descent humanly speaking. The nations look like they are ascending but they are preparing themselves for destruction. But, from sea level down, with no foot on the mountain, there is death and more death. To ascend then must incorporate the festival, the songs of Zion, movement, sacrifice, and at the top of the mountain is the Lamb and at the bottom of the descent is Legion.

    So, this did all connect to your post. I sometimes look to you for some encouragement that I’m on the right track, even when I feel quite confident that I’m already right.

  40. Matthew, I am in general sympathy with what you write and why but I think you need to be aware that the very word , “progress” is a word that is of modernity. It is tightly linked to the cultural dialectic of the perfectability of man without God as well as the “Enlightenment”, Nihilism, Existentialism, etc. It is wholly linear. There is no place for humility or repentance (the way down so we may be lifted up by Grace).
    When I was first called to follow Jesus, there was a 7 year period in which I was immersed in the study of the idea in many ways. I did not like what I found. At the end of that period, I decided following God was better.

    Take a look at Carl Becker. His work on the the idea of progress is foundational. He even wrote a book titled: ” The Idea of Progress”
    It is a big topic that is culturally embedded so there is no innocent use of the idea.

    If we really want to enter the mystery of festival we will have to, each of us, repent of the temptation to link Christianity in any way with progress. Tough, sweaty work.
    Each of us, by Grace had to learn repentance first and gradually the festivals and celebration will occur.

    Thank you for challenging my complacency.

    Lord, Jesus Christ, have mercy on me, a sinner and upon Matthew and his wife bringing them to Rejoice together in the Lord. May it be so for all of us.

  41. Father,
    I’m reading the book (kindle version) you recommended on the festival topic, the author Josef Piper’s book, “In tune with the World”. It is indeed a revelatory book, and it is serving to enlighten my understanding of what has happened in this culture regarding the nature of any festival and its relation to people’s lives. And it helps to open my eyes to what and how I might do to bring more festivities into my home on appropriate days. I think one of the saddest things in my own habits is trying to conduct work on the day of a feast. Although I avoid this on Christmas and Pascha. Indeed what I like most about reading such books is what I learn from them, rather than just assuming I know what is going on already.

  42. My husband grew up in Canada, and his fondest memories of his childhood are the experiences he had in Ukrainian familial festivities to which he was invited. While the west (especially in the US) has lost its rudder in this regard, I have memories too of places I’ve lived or been where feast days were significant. Among them is a memory of standing on the streets in Montreal on St John Baptist day in Quebec, Canada, and the songs that were sung in Quebecois pubs and the songs sung in Irish pubs (I was there for a wedding) Friday evenings after a hard week of work. The songs were sung in unison sometimes, and sometimes a person would sing alone, and others listened. These were not staged shows, nor were they demonstrations of pride so indicative of the US. They were demonstrations of love and joy, and often the songs themselves told their personal stories.

  43. I should probably add that my reference to St John Baptist day goes back to a time in the 1970’s. The Catholic Church was then still very prominent in the activities.

  44. Matthew,
    It’s interesting to think of the “generation” aspect. However, I think that such global or national sort of cultural measures are always beyond our ability to judge. Even when we think we’ve done well – we do not know what God is seeing. Judgment belongs to God, not us.

    But there is another way to think of our participation in our generation. This is our role as salt and light. We tend to think of this stuff in a sociological manner – but this is also to reduce our reality to a secular measure. Rather, there is the sense in which we take upon ourselves (in union with Christ) the sins of the world, or the sins of a nation. We are the offering of our generation (if we allow ourselves to be such). It is our task to plead for our generation, to unite our sufferings with the sufferings of Christ, and intercede for our generation.

    These are the “measures” that appear in heaven rather than the ephemeral sociological phenomena of this present world.

    Our modern way of thinking assumes that improvement and progress are the best things for all people at all time. God does not think so, but, in the wisdom of His providence, often uses suffering and calamity to achieve His purposes. This is something that belongs to His wisdom – I would never dare to use such a method. But providence should be the dominant aspect of our thought about these things. Progress is a myth – plain and simple.

  45. Dee,
    Your examples point to survivals of festival in Catholic cultures (which is fast disappearing). It serves to point out how banal and empty the fruit of the Reformation was in Western cultures. It was quite unintentional.

    Anyone interested in reading a very careful history of the Reformation’s direct result in a single village (has to be read with patience) should look at The Voices of Morebath by Eamon Duffy. Brilliant work.

  46. Father,
    Please forgive me for making so many comments today. However, you wrote about being salt and light to the world in a previous comment. And it evoked joy in my heart because of the lessons the Lord is teaching me.
    Providentially, I read yesterday in St Sophrony’s book, “His Life is Mine”. On pages 44-45 (recent 2020 edition) he describes hypostatic prayer:

    “The moment the Holy Spirit grants us to know the hypostatic form of prayer, we can begin to break the fetters that shackle us. …. Prolonged and far from easy ascetic effort can open our eyes to the love that Christ taught, and we can apprehend the whole world through ourselves, through our own sufferings and searching. We become like a worldwide radio receiver and can identify ourselves with the tragic element, not only in the lives of individual people but of the world at large, and we pray for the world as for our own selves. …. The prayer of divine love becomes our very being, our body. “

    I note that you and St Sophrony are talking about a way of being rather than engaging in abstractions or discussions about philosophical rigor.

  47. Mark,
    I am so glad you looked up Sky Court. I think it has many great spiritual themes presented in very unusual ways. I hope your son isn’t put off by the subtitles. I am know Russian fairly well and that understanding adds to the experience; there are a lot of subtleties which are hard to translate/relate – but it was done very well for this film.

    Thank you for letting me know that you watched it and liked it. 🙂

  48. Agata,

    I’ve finished season 1 and can only repeat how good it has been. Normally, I don’t watch too much TV–currently I don’t have one in my house, just my computer screen–but had some mandatory “leisure” time for a couple of days, and Sky Court was a delightful distraction.

    Regarding presenting spiritual themes in unusual ways, I think that goes back to something Father Stephen talks about: that we understand such principles more fully in the particular. In this case, the characters of the show (who are so well cast) humanize what might be abstract concepts. For example, I wanted the defendant who had lived contritely in fear for 30 years even so not to get away with his horrible past crime, and yet when he was sentenced and broke down in tears, I was reminded how much I want mercy for myself.

    Thanks again for the recommendation.

  49. Fr. Freeman,

    I already agree with you, my point is if, hypothetically, what would the movement look like, symbolically? And I think it would look like a procession up a mountain maybe. Think of the old clip art where progress is some business guy climbing this black and white triangle. Maybe progress isn’t the right word, maybe success is, in the sense of, if you don’t fall off or purposefully descend this steep mountain you’ll get to the top one way or the other. The narrow path idea is here, the Ladder is similar, Christ’s pioneer-work that paves a trail to the Cross where He ascends the Cross (is lifted up), but also descends to Hades, but then ascends the heavens themselves. But when everything is sort of moving right, the picture is movement to the place where the Lamb is, and it is familial, and it is celebratory, and people suffer on the way while rejoicing, the Pearl is there and the Tresure.

  50. Mathew,
    I’m wary of writing if for no other reason than I do not want to divert from Father’s topic.
    But risking that here goes:
    My interpretation of Father’s comment to you wasn’t about the usage of the word progress specifically nor the new words you use, procession or success, that are the specific issue. You could continue to interchange new words. Still, it seems to me the entire comment you made originally described an action that did not resemble the hypostatic prayer of the kind Fathe Stephen describes. In your recent comment, you’re using the word ladder too, which is an analogy both in a book title and about Jacob’s dream. However, in the context of the previous comment you wrote, it doesn’t appear to distinguish your original thought. It seems all you say is counterpoint rather than congruence to Father’s description, even while you say you agree.

    So my question would be, what is the meaning of the expression hypostatic prayer to you? What have you learned from Father’s comment? Or are you saying that you knew everything already? If so, what is hypostatic prayer to you? I don’t think I see it in your comments. How would hypostatic prayer be seen as a counterpoint to your original comment? Do you see how and why it would be seen as counterpoint? Are you interested enough to address that and acknowledge that?

    There have been times when Father disagreed with my interpretations, and I have learned so much from such corrections because they have helped me to orient my path in the Orthodox Way. But, I don’t recall that you’ve expressed that you’ve had such an experience here, have you? It seems you want to give the impression that you know all about the Orthodox way and are here just for stimulation. As such, I suspect this comment will be entirely unhelpful other than another stimulus. But every now and then I’m hopeful a window might be opened.

  51. Dee,
    Your question about the meaning of hypostatic prayer (what it is, how to enter it seem to be implied) is an excellent question. There are both theological answers and pastoral answers I think. For myself, I have only begun to approach it, I hope, so I will not dare yet to give an answer. It would be wobbly at best. Still it is an excellent question to keep asking.

    The only thing I will venture is that whatever hypostatic prayer is, it is not connected with the societal understanding of progress or associated concepts as one can get.

    Thank you for so clearly expressing that. At least that is what I gleaned. Even if I am wrong, I deeply appreciate your comment. A lot for me to chew on.

  52. Mark,
    I wish I could sit down in a coffee shop with you and discuss the show for a couple of hours! 🙂

    Yes, it’s all about the particulars…
    You say “the defendant who had lived contritely in fear for 30 years” … but did he really? The content of his being was rotten from the beginning, and it never changed, even when he was given the second chance. He cheated to start with, by leaving for himself a reminder about what he experienced (his memories were erased after 8 hours, but he left a note to himself). Then he proceeded to be “good” only superficially, formally. There was no real metanoia – the change of heart. And that meanness inside of him continued into Eternity. That is the most scary thought for me, that if we don’t take that call of Christ to “change our heart” here and now, we may run out of time and opportunities. And we Orthodox know that God does not “punish for bad deeds”, he simply and justifiably turns His eyes away from us when we lack true good deeds… How sobering!

  53. Hypostatic prayer is ontological as it is the natural state of being or existence of the human hypostasis, or maybe all hypostases human or otherwise.

  54. Dee, Michael,

    What I mean is, I don’t believe in progress in the modern sense. Fr. Freeman assumed I used the word in a modern way. GK Chesterton’s Orthodoxy fixed that for me a long time ago. Real progress is stillness in one sense, but it is also movement toward the end for which we were created (the two don’t conflict). Stillness does not negate or make optional corporate worship, and I know you never said that.

    In terms of cultural feasting, which is the topic, the movement towards the feast is processional and familial. Watch people funnel into a football stadium. It’s a procession and has most of the elements of liturgy. If you just think of procession, that originally people walked together to Temple while singing, there was a culmination in the participation in the sacrifice, and after, rejoicing (and before and during) – to me this helps frame the discussion.

    For me, it’s motivational and instructive, to think of life as a Christian as a procession up a mountain. I was not expecting a lot of feedback that would find this controversial since it’s a common motif. Does God mean for you to be still or to process with His people towards His worship? Both, right? Or, not to be sarcastic, but to assume I’ve been presumptive or a know-it-all, to me, I don’t take it personally, I think you’ve missed a theme. When people are functioning normally, they process as a family to the place where God is worshipped. This should be our default position. When we function in an unhealthy manner the image is descent. My desire is to find those “helps” toward a Christian imagination. If you’re not helped by this imagery, I don’t know what to say since it’s Biblical and Traditional, I didn’t make it up.

    I don’t think Fr. Freeman knew what I was getting at then gave an explanation that to me didn’t apply. In terms of “generation” all I meant was, there is a corporate nature to a generation. We as a generation degenerate or generate. If a generation did what they should, they would process towards worship with culturally and spiritually appropriate festival. If a generation did not do what they should, they would descend in festivals of death. To me, it’s a helpful picture. When I need help going uphill, here is my priest or my brother or when my brother needs help uphill, there I am (when I’m not frustrating them). There is an inherent “community project” aspect in our salvation if my brother is my life.

    At the top of this mountain, if we get there and do not die in unbelief on the way, there is rest, and the best rest we will ever know, in Christ. That’s motivating to me, and it provides a logic and an impetus for celebratory festival in that we celebrate the ones who have made it to their rest and are given strong encouragement to find the journey worthwhile when we are tempted to grow tired of doing good.

    Sometimes, I get the feeling, and maybe this is pride I don’t know, that there is a lack of appreciation for Biblical imagery for some reason. Because I rattle this stuff off largely straight out of the Bible and suspicion is the result when I’m expecting my brother or sister to say, “That’s encouraging,” since I’ve assumed we are both taking our cues from the Bible within the Tradition. There’s nothing remotely innovative here.

    I’m not sure where I went off topic since I thought I was pointing out an imaginative break between earlier generations and ours, that of ascent and descent. The Psalms of ascent were sung walking “up” to the Temple. Our processional singing carries that same understanding. We have lost these and so have lost a familial encouragement factor. When you see someone who has picked up an elderly person for church, and they help them out of the car, for a second imagine helping them up the mountain to the place of God’s presence. Think of you helping that person out too when someone gets tired. And someone helps you, etc. And you break out in Psalm/song.

    If you search the page Fr. Freeman didn’t bring up hypostatic prayer, so why would I see it as a counterpoint? Is stillness progress, yes, of course. Does that me we skip the procession? See, to me, that reaction shows a gap imaginatively.

    The end of Fr. Freeman’s entry:

    “God give us grace, in recovering the true faith, to let it recover our true humanity in the world of festival.

    Rejoice. Dance. Sing a lot. Take the day off.”

  55. Matthew,
    Being of service to others, like the good Samaritan, is indeed a form of fellowship in the manner that you describe.
    Father’s response to my comment suggests that hypostatic prayer is what he was talking about in his comment to you. I sincerely believe that Father Stephen did indeed understand you correctly. But it seems to me in your responses to his comment that you don’t understand him. Please forgive me, I’m not yet sure whether it is your intention to understand him.

    You haven’t attempted to answer my question, which is, of course, your prerogative. I tried to point to a way of being that you consistently skirt around in your comments. You assume that your usage of Biblical references is an issue. I am entirely flummoxed by how you came to that conclusion. Do we not all use Biblical references at one time or another? How can we say there is anything wrong with that other than if the use of the Bible is in a manner not conducive to others’ salvation.

    You frequently claim to others’ comments that you already know what they attempt to convey, yet your comments do not convey that awareness. If it were not so consistent, I wouldn’t have thought anything of it. So I ask now only this, what does this biblical reference mean to you?
    Romans 12:14-16

    I hesitate to write this, the sinner that I am. God knows my failures. So I’m not sure why I even attempt to write in response to you, lest in such temptation I fall into sin.

    May God grant us peace.

  56. Agata,

    The most interesting detail is they rely on the camera’s eye (external) in trying to decide the person’s fate. Even in the after life the court (and thus the viewer) do not get a view into the defendant’s heart. I was not bothered too much by his cheating, for what it’s worth, because we have plenty of examples of people in the Bible who were persuaded by signs…as well as plenty of hardened hearts who were not.

    That said, I agree with you that I was unconvinced of his sincerity, and the juxtaposition of his case with that of the fool for God (which the two lawyers even remark upon right before the verdict) made me want to see justice for him, rather than mercy. His sobbing, though….The reason he had been given a second chance was he had repented and prayed immediately after his crime. Perhaps, therefore, had he not written down his memories before they faded, he still would have lived a repentant life? In any case, his tears reminded me that (like Jonah and Nineveh) I should have wanted even a murderer to be saved just as I hope for my own salvation.

    A question that the show has caused me to think about related to the Orthodox idea of the afterlife (that God’s light is warm love to those who seek Him and a burning fire to those who reject Him) is, “Must that be an all or nothing proposition?” Unlike being sent to the “Place of Reflection” or the “Place of Peace” as in the show, it would seem that being in the presence of God’s light might over time gradually produce metanoia for even the hardest of hearts. Or at the very least, that not everyone would feel the same level of discomfort.

  57. Dee, just remember all speech is either an effort to uncover , or bury, God’s unique presence and unity with us, if only a tiny fleck of it. Where He is there is Joy if we have honest contrition and repentance. I know nothing of God except by His Grace in revealing Himself to me a little at a time as I desire and am able to bear Him. Jesus bears all of our sins on the Cross so even those are revealed only as we are able to bear them, if we do so in repentance. The prayer, Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner is a great tool for that. At least it is for me.
    Let us each give thanks to God for the Joy He reveals as we give thanks for His mercy especially in the midst of our sins, misunderstanding and grief at our falling short, which I always do.
    Interestingly enough I find Joy in reading and contemplate what Father has said, ehat Matthew has said and what you have said. And give Glory to God in the midst of the darkness that still abounds. God is with us in that darkness too, if we seek Him. Forgive me, a sinner.

  58. Mark,

    Yes to everything you said in the first two paragraphs….

    Although I am not sure if what you describe as “being in the presence of God’s light might over time gradually produce metanoia for even the hardest of hearts” wouldn’t be considered as the concept of “universal salvation”? I think the Orthodox Church does not agree/speculate about it. At least we are told not to count on it!

    This interesting perspective on afterlife always makes me think how frightening death must be for people who don’t believe in God (it’s frightening for all of us, but at least we have hope). And in life, without God, everything becomes its hollow caricature. For that reason I should warn you that you may not like the second season as much (I was disappointed, although I understand how they had to ‘take it up a notch’ – I didn’t appreciate it). They take some truly Christian themes and ‘abuse’ them, in my opinion. I wonder if you will agree.

    (I am sorry to Father and all others for this, I have only had one other person, a coworker, follow my recommendation to watch this show, and he is a Protestant. His take-aways were so different. So I appreciate Mark’s very much)

  59. My dig at “those who imagine themselves” – is, frankly, a dig at paying too much attention to politics and the culture and getting caught up in the imagination. We need to be sober-minded and live ever more fully the life that is given to us in our immediate communities.

    Father, I recently interviewed for a new job and my (now) manager asked me (one of those silly interview questions): “If you could be anyone in history, who would you be–and why?”. I very quickly answered, “me” and told him that this is the life I’ve been given, the arena of my salvation, and I need to be here and not fantasizing about being someone else. He was obviously surprised and told me so. He also mentioned that “no one ever seems to know how to answer that question”. It was an interesting conversation (and I got the job).

    Concerning the discussion of Feast Days, I am also in a job that provides “unlimited” PTO which, it occurs to me, should allow me to attend the feasts during the year.

  60. Agata,

    Yep, I’m aware of the “universal salvation” aspect of that sentiment, and part of the reason of my broaching it was in hopes of drawing in some comments–perhaps including Father Stephen’s–from those with longer and deeper experience of Orthodoxy than my own. Coming from a Protestant background, I am conditioned against the possibility of salvation after death, although my heart often wishes to believe something like it. The catechumen class previous to this week’s, hell came up, but we did not dwell on it.

    I do hope the second season is not too disappointing.

    To get back to topic, I’ll mention that I received a notice that today is “National Bittersweet Chocolate with Almonds Day.” Who says we don’t have enough celebrations and festivals?!

  61. Dee,

    Your comments/quotation

    “The moment the Holy Spirit grants us to know the hypostatic form of prayer, we can begin to break the fetters that shackle us. …. Prolonged and far from easy ascetic effort can open our eyes to the love that Christ taught, and we can apprehend the whole world through ourselves, through our own sufferings and searching. We become like a worldwide radio receiver and can identify ourselves with the tragic element, not only in the lives of individual people but of the world at large, and we pray for the world as for our own selves. …. The prayer of divine love becomes our very being, our body. “

    What is ascetic effort but ascension? I’ve heard it said that as a Christian you either paddle upstream or you drown and that the job of a priest is to put “ballast in your boat”. The influences on me are likely not the exact same as with Fr. Freeman, but I see them as complementary. I never go tearing down Fr. Freeman but always thank him honestly for his meditations. I was thinking recently how when “the Word of the Lord” appears to someone in the OT (and the NT uses this same wording) it was often visual. Now, this could sound like bare academic Bible reading. But, when this prayer takes hold of the heart, what is the effect? A type of vision that is life changing. I think that the OT and NT describe a process/procession that leads to vision and change. I’m not very far along in that process and don’t claim to be. It is a personality flaw or just plain sin in one sense, and in another sense it is a pastoral concern, that people be convinced that this type of asceticism is worth it (recent topic as well). And then, combining that with the topic here, that of cultural feasting, you see how both go together. Asceticism with no feasting is not normal Christianity. Ascetic endeavor to know God deeply and to become love needs a convincing motivator. For the Christian it should be communion, but that communion is joyful as well as sorrowful, and there is also the incentive of reward, but not reward in the sense of the Powerball but God Himself. And sorrowful in the sense that, ascetic endeavor means facing your own demons and being ripped from your idols, and in the sense of entering the suffering of the world. All the while being joyous, singing Psalms and hymns and spiritual songs. To me you want to emphasize one at the expense of the other.

    “It seems all you say is counterpoint rather than congruence to Father’s description, even while you say you agree.”

    If I feel I am misunderstood, it’s not really counterpoint but elaboration. When I say I agree, I do. I don’t disagree with Fr. Freeman, but it seems you’d like me to admit that I do when I don’t. Progress in the modern sense, because there is no past ideal (like very good Adam) and no future ideal (no true idea of humanity, what it should be as Christ is not their New Adam) is only a giant experiment in idolatry. Progress in the modern sense looks as if a job is getting done when they are just building more towers of Babel. So, if that is my conviction already, how do I disagree? But my welcome has been wearing and that’s okay.

    Romans 12:14-16, the entire chapter is about love and humility and the shared life in Christ, loving and blessing even our enemies, rejoicing (I’m back to the same imagery now of travel uphill) with those who rejoice and weeping with those who weep, Then the humility of “don’t think you know it all” which is also in verse 3. But the whole of the chapter speaks of the interrelatedness of the Christian community. It is complementary in nature. Not everyone is identical as to their place and role except in the common participation of love and worship which includes sacrifice.

    See, I use the word progress in relation to advance towards God, whether in prayer or in the community aspect, and it’s assumed that I mean progress in the secular sense, then I say essentially, “No, I didn’t mean that and we already agree about progress in the secular sense, that it’s a joke, and only serves to fulfill the desire often for self-justification and to cure boredom,” and then I’m told by you that I don’t make the effort to understand others. Kind of weird to me. If you just don’t like me, I don’t blame you. Most of the time someone’s reply didn’t touch or come close to touching the point I was trying to make. Then I say, to their response to something I didn’t mean, “I agree with you,” and go on to try and explain what the intent was.

    My former priest was notoriously bad at, when you asked him a question or made a comment, he assumed he knew what you meant, then would spend half an hour telling you the answer to a question you never asked, and all the while you’re listening and being respectful, you’re thinking, “Yeah, I already know that but you’re not answering my question, or, we’re not even on the topic.” In the end you leave feeling misunderstood and that you wasted 30 minutes when you could have interrupted and said, “No, that wasn’t my question or statement that you’re addressing right now.” It wasn’t just me; several other parishioners have made the same comment.

    It was not an entirely fun experience asking questions and raising objections, in kindness, as a catechumen. There were tons of bad answers, tons of caricatures/straw men that would get torn down, smart questions were treated as dumb questions, etc. Here’s one I asked, “The Body and Blood of the Lord that we partake in, is it Christ’s Resurrected Body or His Body before the Resurrection,” and the response was a sarcastic, “How many angels can stand on the head of pin?” One implies cannibalism, one destroys any such notion, seems like a smart question to me for people coming from backgrounds where you could tell someone who thinks that the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist is cannibalistic or who wonders why this is beneficial to the Christian life – that Christ’s Body we partake of is His Body that exists now. But, that was derided as academic arm-chair theologizing. That’s a weird atmosphere to me. Essentially, shut up and don’t ask stupid questions.

  62. Dee,

    Here is Fr. Freeman’s comment to me:

    Matthew,
    It’s interesting to think of the “generation” aspect. However, I think that such global or national sort of cultural measures are always beyond our ability to judge. Even when we think we’ve done well – we do not know what God is seeing. Judgment belongs to God, not us.

    But there is another way to think of our participation in our generation. This is our role as salt and light. We tend to think of this stuff in a sociological manner – but this is also to reduce our reality to a secular measure. Rather, there is the sense in which we take upon ourselves (in union with Christ) the sins of the world, or the sins of a nation. We are the offering of our generation (if we allow ourselves to be such). It is our task to plead for our generation, to unite our sufferings with the sufferings of Christ, and intercede for our generation.

    These are the “measures” that appear in heaven rather than the ephemeral sociological phenomena of this present world.

    Our modern way of thinking assumes that improvement and progress are the best things for all people at all time. God does not think so, but, in the wisdom of His providence, often uses suffering and calamity to achieve His purposes. This is something that belongs to His wisdom – I would never dare to use such a method. But providence should be the dominant aspect of our thought about these things. Progress is a myth – plain and simple.

    ——————————

    See, I didn’t want to be rude or disrespectful. The first paragraph, to me it had nothing to do with what I wrote. I was just thinking of the helpfulness of using the Biblical imagery of descent into death and madness, and ascent to worship, and asking if he thought that helpful as well, that was my intention anyway.

    The second paragraph was instructive and useful, but not totally on topic for me. I don’t think I have any persuasive power to instruct our generation. But, the comment was helpful.

    The last paragraph stated something I already agree with, and I think I’ve pointed that out.

    Maybe the issue is, you think you understand me when you don’t. Because, when I don’t understand someone, I ask them more questions so that I will.

  63. Are the uses of ascent; mountain, ladder, etc, metaphors? I have realised that for myself, I cannot ascend. The journey appears to be always at the beginning, but new. God changes us from within and as much as we are able, through prayer and asceticism and being open to His merciful and loving grace, the Revelation becomes more of a living reality; through the condescension of the Holy Trinity.

  64. Mathew,
    The agreement you describe isn’t the same as understanding. There is a kind of understanding in all areas of life that is more than a logical structure, it would not be something that one could agree with. Understanding in the Orthodox sense requires love. Understanding is not a pyramid structure where you go to the top. However, it seems you wish to hang on to this analogy regardless. For example, Orthodox saints do not see themselves as getting closer to God. In fact, more often than not, they see themselves as falling further from God. Even while others might ascribe the state of saintliness to them.

    Comments can indeed be questions or reflections. As a reader of this blog, it seems that when people generally ask questions, they get answers in kindness. Because of that, I believe your questions would be welcome here. But I don’t remember you asking a question here, though, have you?

    When true communication occurs, there are open hearts and minds. In fact I think the latter is a requirement for true communication. When there should be a time that a person might ask a question, I believe it is possible to ask such questions without rancor or in a manner suggesting that they think they already know the answer. On occasion, that happens here, too. And when it does, the conversation goes in a different direction than attempting to explain the Orthodox Way. It isn’t really communication, actually. Under such circumstances, it is apparent that the commentator is only trying to challenge others’ beliefs. A kind of bullying of this sort is also common in this culture of multi-denominationalism.

    Some people make comments on this blog and elsewhere claiming that they know the Bible. Indeed in some cases, they can quote it word for word, any verse one might select. However, such capacity isn’t a guarantee that they know the Bible intimately, in their heart, where they are inspired, truly inspired, to love their neighbor. This is a different kind of knowledge.

    Generally, when I was in catechism, those who had the most difficulty adjusting to Orthodoxy were former Protestants. Frequently they were resentful that they had to be in a catechism class or undergo Chrismation or Baptism. They believed themselves already Christian, and they thought that should be enough. If they should stick to it, however, sometimes they would carry on with a chip on their shoulder, frequently attempting to show others how much better they are or more knowledgable than others. And sometimes they experience a change in their heart. Under such circumstances, they find enormous peace.

  65. Matthew,
    Please forgive me for this last statement. Sometimes when I write here and submit, it isn’t conducted as thoughtfully as it should have been. When that happens, I ask for forgiveness. Humility is a great teacher. And I want to learn.

    Generally, I find your writing hard to understand. Not because you choose erudite words, but because you have a manner of writing that resembles buckshot. All sorts of stuff in all directions, often without logical order. It seems the young students I have write in a similar way, possibly it might have to do with texting.–I don’t know what it is due to, to be honest. I have to train them to write to be understood in writing.

    I have no desire at all to be unkind in saying these words to you. But if you have a desire to be understood, you might reflect on this and on how you write. True communication on a blog is really difficult anyway.

  66. Dee,

    This whole situation is quite ironic sense you continue to analyze me. I wholeheartedly embraced, and still do, undoing my Protestantism because I knew it was not Biblical. But if Orthodox answers to real questions are to be respectable, they must rise to the challenge. The analogy is Biblical, Traditional, and you take offense to it.

    Romans 5:3-5 3 And not only this, but we also boast in our afflictions, because we know that affliction produces patient endurance, 4 and patient endurance, proven character, and proven character, hope, 5 and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.

    The product of faith is endurance (including ongoing repentance and willingness to suffer) and the product of that; proven character; and the product of that; hope, hope that is tied to the working of the Holy Spirit. Yep, it’s all a pyramid scheme. Hebrews 4:11 Therefore, let us make every effort to enter into that rest, in order that no one may fall in the same pattern of disobedience. Hebrews 6:1 Therefore, leaving behind the elementary message about Christ, let us move on to maturity. Hebrews 10:23 Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for the one who promised is faithful. Hebrews 12:1 Therefore, since we also have such a great cloud of witnesses surrounding us, putting aside every weight and the sin that so easily ensnares us, let us run with patient endurance the race that has been set before us. Hebrews 12:28 Therefore, since we are receiving an unshakable kingdom, let us be thankful, through which let us serve God acceptably, with awe and reverence. Hebrews 13:15 Therefore through him let us offer up a sacrifice of praise continually to God, that is, the fruit of lips that confess his name.

    One of the common threads here is “let us” be thankful, offer praise, move to maturity, hold fast our confession, so that, we enter our rest.

    Psalm 24:3-4 3 Who may ascend the mountain of Yahweh?
    And who may stand in his holy place?
    4 He who is innocent of hands and pure of heart,
    who does not lift up his soul to falseness,
    and does not swear deceitfully.

    Ephesians 4:10
    The one who descended himself is also the one who ascended above all the heavens, in order that he might fill all things.

  67. Matthew,
    Sorry that you’ve been “picked on” a bit. And I’m grateful for your patience.

    If we were having a private conversation, I would not be as picky as I am over certain words (such as “progress”). But, our comments-conversations are also “blog” material, as much as the actual articles themselves. So, I’m always thinking about what other readers my think or interpret when they see something as well as what is actually said. And my responses are often driven by that larger concern.

    St. Gregory of Nyssa used the equivalent of “progress” wonderfully in his writings describing our eternal movement towards God (or “ascension” as you termed it). However, just as you know and are aware, our culture abuses the term “progress” in a frightful manner. It’s why I avoid the term and push back whenever I see it – not because I don’t understand what’s meant – but because I assume that most readers do not.

    A huge part of my work, viz. cultural criticism, is work towards acquiring an Orthodox understanding, rather than viewing Orthodoxy through a modernist understanding.

    But, thank you for your patience.

  68. Dee,

    I too often describe how I got to a thought or observation and that is confused with the thing itself. But it was linear in this order sort of:
    1. Fr. Freeman’s discussion on the lack of festival with the feasts
    2. The fact that this is also generational
    3. The observation that if we did generationally inhabit a space where feasting and festival go together, we would benefit from the encouragement that it would provide.
    4. The fact that because we don’t generationally feast and festival around movement towards God, leaves a vacuum that gets filled by Santa Claus and football, etc.
    5. The normal movement of Israel and previous generations of Orthodox, literal movement and procession, as normal.
    6. That it actually leads somewhere, not to nowhere or madness like our culture, it leads to where God is present.
    7. Biblically, until Christ, and even after, that was always associated with ascent.
    8. The opposite of doing this culturally is descent to death.
    8 For a Christian to try to live literally on the border between death and life has already put them in the realm of death.
    9. Thinking about this makes you want to ascend and gives motivation for wanting to do it together, and even that, it’s a human necessity to incorporate festival into the feast.

    To me, it’s straight linear, and I usually assume that’s how it will be read, because when I read or listen to others, I try my best to put myself in their situation and am careful not to put words in their mouth or think I can psycho-analyze them. I repeat back to them what I think they’re saying to make sure I’m getting it right. One of the most frustrating experiences in life is being told you mean something you don’t regardless of all evidence to the contrary, because you’re already in someone else’s conceptual box and there is no escape.

    But, my apologies to you as well. I don’t mean to wear people out. I’m going to take a good little break from the site. Sighs of relief…

  69. Matthew,
    if you don’t mind my joining the conversation? I may be wrong, but I have understood ascent, as descent. First to the depths of Sheol with Christ, then rising with Him, being one and the same.
    If I remember and have understood St. Isaac the Syrian correctly; he writes about the tears of ascetics; they weep because they know what the journey entails.
    Some years ago in a conversation with an RC priest (we were studying John of the Cross at the time), he was surprised that I wasn’t too bothered about ascending Mount Carmel. My reasoning was, if He wants to then the Lord will take me there. Not all the Apostles were present at the Transfiguration, but they all (except Judas) saw the risen Lord.

    I do find the language of ascending, making progress, etc troublesome, but that is my problem and not a reflection of your use of such terms; or anyone else’s for that matter.

    It’s all happening wherever we may find ourselves. Waiting for the Lord to come to us and heal us.

  70. Mark, as to salvation after death, I am ignorant. But I do know that one’s Guardian Angel is with you even after death, at least for a time, praying fervently for your soul, even if no one else is. Those prayers can lead you to repentance and even in a holy person, I suspect is part of the transition from this life to the next. Certainly, in the “coma” state.

    The key is humility and a sense of right and wrong. Once the influence of the body is fading away, much can be seen and reevaluated. Especially with an angel right there, praying for you. The biggest mistake the Protestants make, IMO, is to assume salvation is linear and subject to time as we experience it. That is wrong.

    Time has a place, but time from God’s perspective is different from ours. My wife and I were present and praying as our respective spouses lay dying: years before we met. It is an experience we share in common. Miracles occurred in both instances by the Grace of God. Neither was raised up whole form their death, but it was crystal clear that Jesus and His Angels were in attendance as well as we.

    The Grace of God present and obvious at those times led my living wife to the Church and me more deeply into repentance and wonder.

    May God’s Grace and Mercy be with you always.

    An icon of the Synaxis of the Archangels, which I had for a long time, has since become a favorite of mine.

    As Hamlet said, “There is much more in Heaven and Earth than is dreamed of in your philosophy.” His words were quite true in regard to my wife and me. A great blessing of Grace and Mercy in which the Divine interpenetrates His Creation. A mystery to be sure. My wife and I were blessed to see a small piece of it.

  71. Michael,

    Thank you for your thoughts. I suspect that much of the reason we see through a glass darkly is our inability to conceive time as it truly is.

  72. Mark, the nature of time is a mystery too. As a student of history academically, I ran across many attempts to clarify it. The only thing I know for sure is it is not linear. As the Prophets of Deep Space Nine frequently complained: “The Cisco is linear.” The assumption can blind us.

    Time in the Church is not linear it is sacramental. That opens up a whole lot of territory that tends to be deeply experiential and Incarnational.
    Thank you for your openness and faith. It is allowing me to articulate what I have seen and know and making it even more real for me.

    When a dear friend of mine reposed many years ago, his funeral was attended by many non-Orthodox one of whom was hearing challenged and tended to speak loudly. As he was leaving when the funeral was complete, he said so every one could hear: “I’ve never been to an Orthodox funeral before! They are different. They really DO something!”

    We do pray, even then, for the salvation of the person’s soul. The Grace is palpable.

    Over the years my fear of death, as long as I repent, has withered away, swallowed up in the Victory. That is as specific as I can be, but the Victory is not ephemeral. Glory to God.

    Forgive me, a sinner.

  73. Agata,

    If you are still listening, I wanted to chime in on the conversation you were having with Mark, just a little bit. I too understand the Orthodox view of universalism. But if you think about Mark’s comment “spending time in God’s presence bringing about a metanoia to even the hardest of hardest of hearts”, from the standpoint of the River of Fire article, then it makes sense. Those who are experiencing God’s love as burning flames would over time come to repent/change so that they receive it as peace rather than torture. At least it sounds like a very plausible scenario. How it actually works, all we know is that it will be good.

  74. As a wife and homeschooling mom to three kids with myriad gifts, neurodivergences, learning disabilities, and mental and physical health challenges among them, I promise that feasts and festivals are NOT times where people set aside labor. Women often do twice as much work during these times. Kids’ schedules are wrecked (which is fine for kids who “fall asleep anywhere when they’re tired” and “try whatever new food is placed before them”…not so much with, say, an autistic child.) And gathered extended family can be delightful but can also be toxic and exhausting, depending on who your gathered extended family is. Early in my Orthodox journey, as a mom who converted without my husband, I exhausted myself trying to put on all the “traditional” Orthodox fasts, feasts, and customs (none of which were traditional to me). At the same time, I felt I had to continue to put on all the traditions of the extended family—who were all secular. I had a new Church cycle —major feasts, Holy Week, name days, fasting—overlaid atop the cycle of Santa and Halloween consumes and Easter eggs and gift-giving expectations and Fourth of July barbecues. I’m just one person. What I came to see is that living into the rhythm of Orthodox feasting and fasting is ONLY possible in the context of community. All the beautiful traditions people are citing in these comments—days of feasting, gift giving, singing, dancing, gathering, etc.—they are all largely produced by a vast network of women who have learned how to do these things since the time they were tiny girls at the sides of an older generation of a vast network of women. You can’t have the feasts and festivals without the vast network of women, cooperation, and living memory. (Call it a Benedict Option if you want.) I also learned that embracing these beautiful but incredibly costly (money, time, planning energy) practices means relinquishing a LOT of other things. It’s the fast/feast reality, except as a convert you fast from visiting secular grandma for dinner Christmas Eve and opening presents on Christmas morning because you’re going to services for hours instead (as just one example). A LOT has to die—and there will be real grief over it—for the beautiful Orthodox practices to live. I don’t work for money, and I can never “take the day off.” The struggle to embrace these practices fully is not about that for many women and/or converts.

  75. Kassiani,
    Very good points. My thoughts as I read through your descriptions was to reflect on the vastness of what was lost in the reform of Western culture from its integrated Christianity (prior to the Reformation) to its gradual march towards secularization. It’s not just a theological loss – but a huge culture’s worth of interconnectedness, tradition, family, etc. As these cultural items were lost, so we also moved towards increasing isolation in our individualism. The possibility of a lone woman/mother sustaining what was once sustained by the whole culture is pretty much next to nothing.

    The point of my article was not to chide us for doing too little – but to remind us of the fulness that we properly should think about. As a priest, I know the temptation is to think only about what I can control (services at Church). But it is only the tip of an iceberg while what is beneath the water (outside of the church service) is a larger, vaster, thing that supports the weight of that iceberg tip.

    In my parish, through the years, it became clear, for example, that many of us had no larger family nearby during the Thanksgiving holiday. Many traveled “home” to be with family, but many stayed behind. We began to change our “home” feasting to include others who were isolated, such that the feast also became a large “cover dish” event involving lots of families and children. Frankly, it reminded me more of my childhood when a vast extended family would gather for these things.

    If I am encouraging anything – it is for “us” (the collective us) to give thought to the larger life of our communities – not how to “pile on” more work for each individual – but to make possible that which none of us could reasonable do alone or in isolation.

    May God give us grace.

  76. Dear Kassiani,

    Oh how I appreciate your comment!!!

    Of course I understand Father’s points of this wonderful main article, about the how festivals and celebrations connect us as communities and families.
    But as Mark stated in one of his comments “we understand such [principles] more fully in the particular”…

    I totally hear your “particular”. I lived in a similar family environment for years, torn between what I expected from myself (with respect to the East European religious feasts traditions I grew up with) to continue and ‘tradition’ to my children, and the American traditions of Christmas parties, gatherings, present-opening-schedules…. And trying to squeeze in (often force) the participation in church services… And cooking the (fasting) dishes which no-one in my family would even like… These were not the traditions my (now ex) husband would help with, be interested in… It was all exhausting, disappointing, sad – it seemed pointless and certainly unappreciated.

    I hope God will count that as some small offering to Him – those rituals did not take root in my family.
    Was it even worth all that effort?

  77. Drew,
    Thank you for chiming in, you know I always love your comments and stories…
    [Did I tell you my recent favorite is “The truth is simply too long, too boring and too real. I submit that God set it up this way on purpose…] 🙂

    But I think to say “all we know is that it will be good” is dangerous, self-reassuring. The Church does not teach that. We need to strive to fulfill the commandments and persevere in our repentance and sincerity till the end. Repentance is only possible in this life, and we better get to it before our heart stops beating.

    One of the main ‘spiritual’ themes of the show we were discussing with Mark was this: “everything we do in life, every deed, even the smallest, is a reflection of our personality, and has eternal consequences… and every one can become the last one”.

  78. Kassiani,
    I’m also a convert and made adjustments and, in hindsight, made mistakes. Originally I went to Christmas evening vigil services. But that meant that I would not be with my non-Orthodox family on Christmas eve evening. (It’s just the two of us at home away from other family members in the region) At first, I went to evening Christmas services alone. But COVID shed a different light on that decision. Because I couldn’t go to Christmas eve evening services, I spent more time with my family on Christmas eve. From now on, I will go to the morning services on Christmas eve but not the evening, God willing.

    Pascha is a different story–no associated non-Orthodox activities are conflicting, and God willing, I will continue to go to all of these services.

    I have grown children– no children at home. It hasn’t been as difficult for me as it has been for you because of that.
    And I, too, am grateful for your words. May God bless all the work that you do!

  79. Robert,

    I’m not trying to make too much out the picture, just that it is helpful imagery, and that the practical nature informed what you were doing (literally, you went up or literally, you processed towards). But of course, the least will be first, so the Saint probably knows best their place in the procession: at the rear, and later they find they were first in line. But the whole picture is motion towards God that has both struggle and joy, and it is “for the joy set before Him that He endures and ascends the Cross”.

    Mark 14:26 And when they had – sung a hymn – they went out to the Mount of Olives. 27 And Jesus said to them, “You will all fall away, for it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.’

    I believe the hymn was Psalm 118, which includes the verse (what was made into a popular children’s song, This is the day that the Lord has made;
    let us rejoice and be glad in it.

    It’s instructive to read the whole hymn, and quite encouraging. But there is this picture, already of corporate Israel processing, the Church processing, and here, Christ processes back to, back up to, Jerusalem, and on the way He’s singing. So, there is no contradiction. “If I am lifted up” really means to die by crucifixion while elevated but carries a deeper meaning. His Exaltation which looks like humiliation, is actually taking place. And the same is true of us. The inversion process/recapitulation is underway. Interestingly, the stories of martyrs who request this inversion in humility, being crucified upside down. I think of Thomas, John 11: 16, So Thomas (called Didymus said to his fellow disciples, “Let us go too, so that we may die with him.” And, Hebrews 13:11-13, 11 For the bodies of those animals whose blood the high priest brings into the sanctuary as an offering for sin are burned outside the camp. 12 Therefore, to sanctify the people by his own blood, Jesus also suffered outside the camp. 13 We must go out to him, then, outside the camp, bearing the abuse he experienced.”

    And following:
    14 For here we have no lasting -city- but we seek the city that is to come. 15 Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, acknowledging his name. 16 And do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for God is pleased with such sacrifices.

    Revelation 21:9-11
    So he took me away in the Spirit to a huge, majestic mountain and showed me the holy city, Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God. 11 The city possesses the glory of God; its brilliance is like a precious jewel, like a stone of crystal-clear jasper.

    Micah 4:
    And in future days the Lord’s Temple Mount will be the most important mountain of all;
    it will be more prominent than other hills.
    People will stream to it.
    2 Many nations will come, saying,
    “Come on! Let’s go up to the Lord’s mountain,
    to the temple of Jacob’s God,
    so he can teach us his ways
    and we can live by his laws.”

    Last, and really cool to me,

    Ezekiel 47
    47 Then he brought me back to the entrance of the temple. I noticed that water was flowing from under the threshold of the temple toward the east (for the temple faced east). The water was flowing down from under the right side of the temple, from south of the altar.

    6b Then he led me back to the bank of the river. 7 When I had returned, I noticed a vast number of trees on the banks of the river, on both sides. 8 He said to me, “These waters go out toward the eastern region and flow down into the rift valley; when they enter the Dead Sea, where the sea is stagnant, the waters become fresh. 9 Every living creature that swarms where the river flows will live; there will be many fish, for these waters flow there. It will become fresh, and everything will live where the river flows. 10 Fishermen will stand beside it; from En Gedi to En Eglaim they will spread nets. They will catch many kinds of fish, like the fish of the Great Sea.

    It’s quite the picture, New Jerusalem, river flowing from the Temple to the Dead Sea making it alive, streams/flows of people going up to the Living Water/Real Food.

    I’m just convinced this imagery is supposed to be part of the Christian imagination, and that we’ve lost it for whatever reasons, need to recover it, and “cultural feasting” is part of that recovery. That was the point all along. Thanks!

  80. Meant to address, Andrew (my mistake and apology),

    Fr. Freeman,
    I promise not to belabor my point any longer (that this) but your comment, “The point of my article was not to chide us for doing too little – but to remind us of the fulness that we properly should think about.”

    That’s my goal as well, whether executed well or not. I want these things for myself, my wife, my kids, my fellow Christians, and often, it takes someone like you, a Bishop, somebody people listen to, to draw awareness to a need. But to feel a need, you need to feel it. To me, it’s felt in part by recognizing the disconnect. Once a Biblical picture is formed, I generally keep it if it’s honestly Biblical. Realizing some of these obvious themes that get reduced in our imagination to poetic, that are in actuality, more concrete, I think those themes are important. Jesus as Rabbi is an important theme that doesn’t get a lot of attention, and what the life of Rabbi/disciple looked like, that you were expected to emulate, not just pick the brain of the Rabbi, and eventually, you were supposed to fill their shoes when they were gone. All interesting and helpful.

    This is on the personal side. My grandfather is near passing. He is and has been the stable, reliable, Christian influence done well in our broad family. None of my other relatives are Orthodox or attend church but have some nominal Christian beliefs. I told my mother recently, that I wished we did all attend the same church, saw each other at church each week, celebrate Christmas as Christmas, etc. I highlight the practical, communal nature of life in the Church. But I also said, that aside from our family, with the caveat that I have no guarantee that I or my wife or kids are going to persevere – and that I should be first in line to enter hell – that Christianity will die out in our family this generation, apart from conversion/rebirth. She took me seriously and knew I was speaking as though mourning and not judging. So, the topic, and as holidays start to roll around that feel empty often when celebrated with family who do not celebrate the feast, but only the fest, is current to me.

    I’m not without hope, but just as catechism is a means to confessing the Faith well, feasting is a means in a very similar way. We show who are heroes really are, and they are not pop-stars or Tom Brady(s). We emulate our heroes, so our heroes must be displayed, and anything less ((like turning them into museum exhibits) runs risks worth taking seriously.

  81. Matthew,
    Good points. There is a particular pain in our current world that the cultural breakdown of Christianity has reached down to the level of extended family (and frequently into the immediate family). Those of us who are converts, I think, often have left family behind in order to enter Orthodoxy. It’s terribly painful.

    I find it hopeful to think of ourselves as something like a “tithe.” If the whole family will not come, then we make of ourselves an offering on their behalf. I pray for my family, immediate and extended, living and departed, as part of my prayer rule. I also remind myself that I cannot see the effects of that offering in this lifetime, for the most part. Even the pain of all this becomes something we can offer to God.

    God give us grace!

  82. Matthew,
    thank you for your reply. Just lately I have been thinking, that it is God who comes to us; most importantly in the Incarnation and ultimately in the new heaven and earth; the New Jerusalem descends and God comes to live among us.

  83. Especial thanks to our women/mothers who comment. Kassiani, my heart too goes out to you and family. Mothers have the most important job in our society, bar none.
    Agata, what you have done with your 3 sons is worthwhile, believe me. As the saying goes, you can take the boy out of the country, but you can’t take the country out of the boy, so with your sons. You raised them in church, they received your love for them. What they observed, learned in church will always be with them. They have been indelibly marked by God’s Spirit.
    Dee, it is a struggle as a convert to Orthodoxy with non-Orthodox family, eased now with your older children not at home.
    We have felt the same pressure through the years. But, we love our daughters, their husbands and our grandchildren. They are all fine people, most Christians. God is faithful. To Him we give glory.

  84. Andrew, even more particular: He comes to each of us in our hearts if we humble ourselves(repent), pray and seek His face. It is not far in the indefinite future either.
    2 Chronicles 7:14
    Forgive me, a sinner

  85. Dean,
    Thank you for your kind reassurance. You know my struggles, and I am so grateful for your prayers for my boys.

    And I hope Kassiani will not be discouraged by my words, in the end my comment did not came out as I intended – it was rather negative. I did not mean this, I want to encourage her to continue even if it seems hard. Best to do it with a Jesus Prayer in your heart.
    We try our best in all circumstances – to be real and authentic – so that our conscience is as clear as possible (that we did what we could, no matter how hard it was). Hopefully it will plant the right seeds in our children’s hearts, as Dean said. That is the only ‘particular’ we have control over.

  86. Andrew, I understand but it is closer than hands and feet and with you more than is frequently realized. Just the Grace to perceive Him in others, in community life, in the folks who contribute here is all a part.
    Glory to God for All Things.

  87. Dear Mathew your last comment was wonderfully clear and edifying. Thank you for your reflections.

  88. Andrew, I will give you an example: I went to the doctor today. The young lady who checked me in did so in a relaxed and way with a genuine smile. Friendly in task that can become mind numbing. I sat down but then was moved to get up and go over and thank her for how well and professionally she did her job. She was moved and appreciated the “praise” as she called it.
    It was a moment that enlarged both of our hearts.
    In that moment, Jesus was there and I thank Him for moving me to do that. Joy continues in my heart as I remember the moment.

  89. Michael,
    thank you. To be honest I’m finding it difficult to see any light at the moment. I don’t want to go into the full details here, but I have been stuck in an ongoing process for the past four years. It is getting nowhere and I feel trapped between a rock and a hard place.
    The only way out I can see, is for me to go back to the UK to live, but that would mean my wife and I having to live apart.
    I am really at the end of my tether.

  90. Andrew, I cannot really imagine such a situation. You and your wife have quite a Cross. You have my empathy and my heart felt prayers and I am sure that is true for everyone else om this blog
    and everyone whom they ask to share some of your and your wife’s burden. I would that I was there with you.

    Forgive me. My story must seem a bit like coals being heaped upon you.

    Lord let this cup of sorrow and grief pass from Andrew and his wife. Strengthen and save them by your Grace and mercy that all sickness, pain and sorrow may fade away.

  91. Andrew,

    I’m very adamant that God is always first in the order of things and never want to imply anything less. Synergy is never a 1:1 equation and it never can be as we are created and God is not. And it takes a ton of work on God’s part for any synergy to be possible and even then there is no merit but there is reward. To me, every instance of Christ’s work is a “coming down” but creates “living waters” in us. John 4:14 The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” The picture from the verses I included show the stream/river/Living Water coming down from the Temple (Christ calls His Body the Temple) touching the deadest/most inhospitable to life places and making them alive. In return, or simultaneously but not first in order, people flock to the Living Water, up the Mountain of the Lord where Christ’s Body is present.

    To me it all looks like liturgy, but the imagination would make you eager to be in the liturgy.

    Thanks,
    Matthew

  92. Michael,
    your comments and prayers are greatly appreciated and welcome. Your story did not heap coals😊. It prompted me to share something of our difficult situation, which I have been keeping to myself and am finding difficult to bear.

  93. Matthew,
    thank you for your comments. I understand what you are saying. There is no Orthodox presence near me. As much as I hope and desire to become Orthodox one day, by the Lord’s mercy, at present it’s not possible for me; so there is no possibility of attending liturgy. I have to trust in God’s mercy and that He sees me where I am. I have the Psalter and the Jesus prayer to keep me going for now.

  94. Andrew, you are kind. Thank you. I am going to activate my ad hoc prayer chain for you and your wife.
    The Psalter and the Jesus Prayer are fantastic tools.
    Just remember you are alone. That is an illusion of the Evil One.
    I have found sometimes in my life that if Jesus serms absent it is because He is closer than I think.
    God is with you.

  95. I meant to say: “you are NOT alone… ” ever. One 9f my favorite places is the Flint Hills of Kansas. Not many people live there because the top soil is too thin to support farming. Lots of history though and beauty. It would make a great place for a monastery.
    Andrew, in my initial prayers for you I gravitated toward St. Raphael of Brooklyn. He was the shepard of a wide spread flock that needed to he herded together over vast distance and brought into good pasture. My parish has the first icon of him written at the time of his glorification in the year 2000. I always honor him when I am there and offer petitions to him. I will ask for his intercession for you from now on. God is with you.

  96. Andrew,
    What Simon said sometime upstream in these comments is so true and worthy of reflection and I’m thankful for his contribution. I’m also very thankful for your contributions here, Andrew.

    Echoing what Simon said with my own reflections: Our very existence is dependent on God and our life comes from the Trinity, God the Father, Christ and Holy Spirit. With the love of a willing heart, this alone keeps us close in Christ .

    A beloved Irish Catholic sister-in-law, memory eternal, gave me a gift when I last saw her in Ireland. It was a loving gift from one soul to another, a poem handwritten on paper given to me when I was about to embark on my journey home. Because you speak of a possible journey, I’ll share it with you:

    May the road rise to meet you. May the wind be always at your back. May the sun shine warm upon your face the rain fall soft upon your fields. Until we meet again may God hold you in the hallow of his hand. (A well known Irish blessing)

    None of us know where our life path will lead us. We, who call upon the Lord in truth, all pray for our Lord’s guidance, His love in our hearts, and the shelter of the Theotokos’ veil.

    May the Lord keep and preserve you! Indeed the Psalms and the Jesus prayer are our shields.

  97. Forgive, me Andrew, I don’t know if my last comment is helpful. But you have my prayers too. I’ve been in pretty terrible situations due to external circumstances that threatened separations in my family as well. It was deeply heartbreaking and difficult.

    May the Lord strengthen you and bring you peace.

  98. Dee,
    thank you; your comments are helpful and prayers are most appreciated. I have not adjusted very well to living in Nigeria, so there is a part of me that wants to go home; irrespective of the rest of the situation.

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