Glory to God for All Things

A Life of Thanksgiving

Everyone capable of thanksgiving is capable of salvation.

Fr. Alexander Schmemann

 

I have just completed a week in New Mexico, visiting a monastery and leading a retreat in Santa Fe. One of the retreat participants reminded me of this post on giving thanks and shared how helpful it had been for her. We are coming to a season where Americans think of thanksgiving – though our holiday is often expressed in a large meal and a family reunion. I will not say that this year I have much for which to be thankful – for as you will read – everything is the proper object of thanksgiving. But in the course of the past year, I have learned yet again and more deeply than ever that the life of thanksgiving is the life rightly lived. 

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I do not believe it is possible to exhaust this topic. I have set forth a few suggestions of how we might build and maintain a life of thanksgiving. Particular thought is given to those times when giving thanks is difficult.

1. I must believe that God is good.

I struggled with this for many years. I believed that God was sovereign; I believed that He was the Creator of heaven and earth; I believed that He sent His only Son to die for me. But despite a host of doctrines to which I gave some form of consent, not included (and this was a matter of my heart) was the simple, straight-forward consent that God is good. My father-in-law, a very simple Baptist deacon of great faith, believed this straight-forward truth with an absolute assurance that staggered my every argument. I knew him for over 30 years. When I was young (and much more foolish) I would argue with him – not to be out-maneuvered by his swift and crafty theological answers (it was me that was trying to maneuver and be swift and crafty) – but often times our arguments would end with his smile and simple confession, “Well, I don’t know about that, but I know that God is good.” Over the years I came to realize that until and unless I believed that God is good, I would never be able to truly give thanks. I could thank God when things went well, but not otherwise.

This simple point was hammered into me weekly, even daily,  after I became Orthodox. There is hardly a service of the Orthodox Church that does not end its blessing with: “For He is a good God and loves mankind.” A corrollary of the goodness of God was coming to terms with the wrathful God of some Western theology (or the misunderstandings of the “wrathful God”). At the heart of things was a fear that behind everything I could say of God was a God whom I could not trust – who could be one way at one time and another way at another.

This is so utterly contrary to the writings of the Fathers and the teachings of the Orthodox faith. God is good and His mercy endures forever, as the Psalmist tells us. God is good and even those things that human beings describe as “wrath” are, at most, the loving chastisement of a God who is saving me from much worse things I would do to myself were He not to love me enough to draw me deeper into His love and away from my sin.

The verse in Romans 8 remains a cornerstone of our understanding of God’s goodness: “All things work together for good, for those who love God and are called according to His purpose” (8:28). There are daily mysteries involved in this assertion of faith – moments and events that I have no way to explain or to fit into some overall scheme of goodness. But this is precisely where my conversations with my father-in-law would go. I would be full of exceptions and “what ifs,” and he would reply, “I don’t know about that. But I know that God is good.”

As the years have gone by, I have realized that being wise is not discovering some way to explain things but for my heart to settle into the truth that, “I don’t know about that. But I know that God is good.”

2. I must believe that His will for me is good.

This moves the question away from what could, for some, be a philosophical statement (“God is good”) to the much more specific, “His will for me is good.” Years ago, when my son was a child, he encountered a difficulty in his life. As a parent I was frustrated (secretly mad at God) and my faith shaken. I had already decided what “good” was to look like in my son’s life and reality was undermining my fantasy. In a time of prayer (which was very one-sided) I found myself brought up suddenly and short with what I can only describe as a divine interruption. I will not describe my experience as an audible voice, but it could not have been clearer. The simple statement from God was: “This is for his salvation.”

My collapse could not have been more complete. How do you reply to such a statement? How am I supposed to know what my child needs for His salvation (and this in the long-term sense as understood by the Orthodox?). I had prayed for nothing with as much fervor as the salvation of my children. Ultimately, regardless of how they get through life, that they get through in union with Christ is all I ask. Why should I doubt that God was doing what I had asked? In the years since then I have watched God’s word in that moment be fulfilled time and again as He continues to work wonderfully in the life of my son and I see a Christian man stand before me. God’s will for me is good. God is not trying to prevent us from doing good, or making it hard for us to be saved. Life is not a test. No doubt, life is filled with difficulty. We live in a fallen world. But He is at work here and now and everywhere for my good.

My father-in-law had a favorite Bible story (among several): the story of Joseph and his brothers. In the final disclosure in Egypt, when Joseph reveals himself to his brothers – those who had sold him into slavery – Joseph says, “You meant it to me for evil, but the Lord meant it to me for good.” It is an Old Testament confession of Romans 8:28. The world may give us many situations, and the situations on their surface may indeed be evil. But our God is a good God and He means all things for our good. I may confess His goodness at all times.

3. I must believe that the goodness of God is without limit.

I did not know this for many years and only came upon it as I spent a period of a month studying the meaning of “envy.” In much of our world (and definitely in the non Judaeo-Christian world of antiquity) people believe that good is limited. If you are enjoying good, then it is possibly at my expense. Such thought is the breeding ground of envy. The ancient Greeks and Romans believed this to be true to such a degree that they feared excellence lest it provoke the jealousy of the Gods. We do not think in the same metaphysical terms, but frequently on some deep level, we believe that someone else’s good will somehow lessen our own. Within this the worm of jealousy, anger and envy devours us. The good which someone else enjoys is not at my expense.

To bless God for His goodness we also need to bless God for His goodness towards everyone and to know that He is the giver of every good and perfect gift – and that His goodness is without limit.

4. I must believe that God is good and know this on the deepest personal level.

God has manifested His goodness to us in the revelation of His Son, Jesus Christ. In Christ, we see the fullness of the goodness of God. The goodness of God goes to the Cross for us. The goodness of God searches for us in hell and brings us forth victorious. The goodness of God will not cease in His efforts to reconcile us to the Father.

My father-in-law had another favorite Bible story (I said he had several): the story of the three young men in the fiery furnace. This story is, incidentally, a favorite of Orthodox liturgical worship as well. It stands as a Biblical image of our rescue from Hades. In the midst of the fiery furnace, together with the three young men, is the image of a fourth. Christ is with them, and in the hymnography of the Church, “the fire became as the morning dew.” For my father-in-law it was the confession of the three young men before the evil threats of the wicked King Nebuchanezer. To his threats of death in a terrible holocaust they said, “Our God is able to deliver us, O King. But even if He does not, nevertheless, we will not bow down and worship your image.” It was their defiant “nevertheless,” that would bring tears to my father-in-law’s eyes. For much of our experience here includes furnaces into which we are thrust despite our faith in Christ. It is there that the faith in the goodness of God says, “Nevertheless!” It is confidence in the goodness of God above all things.

I saw my father-in-law survive a terrible automobile accident, and the whole family watched his slow and losing battle with lymphoma in his last three years. But none of us ever saw him do otherwise than give thanks to God and to delight in extolling the Lord’s goodness.

Many years before I had foolishly become heated with him in one of our “theological discussions.” I was pushing for all I was worth against his unshakeable assurance in God’s goodness. I recall how he ended the argument: “Mark the manner of my death.” It was his last word in the matter. There was nothing to be said against such a statement. And he made that statement non-verbally with the last years of his life. I did mark the manner of his death and could only confess: “God is good! His mercy endures forever!” For no matter the difficulties this dear Christian man faced, nevertheless, no moment was anything less than an occasion for thanksgiving.

I have seen the goodness of God in the land of the living.

78 Responses to “A Life of Thanksgiving”

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  1. Robb Thurston says:

    King James Version (KJV):Psalm 118
    1 O give thanks unto the Lord; for he is good: because his mercy endureth for ever.

    2 Let Israel now say, that his mercy endureth for ever.

    3 Let the house of Aaron now say, that his mercy endureth for ever.

    4 Let them now that fear the Lord say, that his mercy endureth for ever.

    5 I called upon the Lord in distress: the Lord answered me, and set me in a large place.

    6 The Lord is on my side; I will not fear: what can man do unto me?

    7 The Lord taketh my part with them that help me: therefore shall I see my desire upon them that hate me.

    8 It is better to trust in the Lord than to put confidence in man.

    9 It is better to trust in the Lord than to put confidence in princes.

    10 All nations compassed me about: but in the name of the Lord will I destroy them.

    11 They compassed me about; yea, they compassed me about: but in the name of the Lord I will destroy them.

    12 They compassed me about like bees: they are quenched as the fire of thorns: for in the name of the Lord I will destroy them.

    13 Thou hast thrust sore at me that I might fall: but the Lord helped me.

    14 The Lord is my strength and song, and is become my salvation.

    15 The voice of rejoicing and salvation is in the tabernacles of the righteous: the right hand of the Lord doeth valiantly.

    16 The right hand of the Lord is exalted: the right hand of the Lord doeth valiantly.

    17 I shall not die, but live, and declare the works of the Lord.

    18 The Lord hath chastened me sore: but he hath not given me over unto death.

    19 Open to me the gates of righteousness: I will go into them, and I will praise the Lord:

    20 This gate of the Lord, into which the righteous shall enter.

    21 I will praise thee: for thou hast heard me, and art become my salvation.

    22 The stone which the builders refused is become the head stone of the corner.

    23 This is the Lord’s doing; it is marvellous in our eyes.

    24 This is the day which the Lord hath made; we will rejoice and be glad in it.

    25 Save now, I beseech thee, O Lord: O Lord, I beseech thee, send now prosperity.

    26 Blessed be he that cometh in the name of the Lord: we have blessed you out of the house of the Lord.

    27 God is the Lord, which hath shewed us light: bind the sacrifice with cords, even unto the horns of the altar.

    28 Thou art my God, and I will praise thee: thou art my God, I will exalt thee.

    29 O give thanks unto the Lord; for he is good: for his mercy endureth for ever.

  2. dinoship says:

    The man who chooses to consider God an avenger, presuming that in this manner he bears witness to His justice, accuses Him of being bereft of goodness. Far be it, that vengeance could ever be found in that Fountain of love and Ocean brimming with goodness! The aim of His design is the correction of men; and if it were not that we would otherwise be stripped of the honour of our free will, perhaps He would not even use reproof to heal us…
    St Isaac the Syrian

  3. George Engelhard says:

    Father, thank you so much for this post!!
    I have neurological proccessing problems from being an Rh baby that prevent me from accomplishing what I intellegently and physically should be able to accomplish.
    And this has worked out for good for me.

  4. David Brent says:

    This post is truely wonderful.

    I have heard the statement made by a lot of people that “God is good.” My impression has been that it is trite. I hear others toss this statement about when something goes the way they want it to . . . a job promotion, a healing, a success story for one of their children, etc. . . . and they will blurt out that “God is good!” I normally cringe when I hear the statement.

    I think the reason I cringe is that I don’t expect to hear that “God is Good” when the job promotion doesn’t go through, when a loved one dies on a hospital bed, when a child strays from faith. I only hear that God is good when people like what is going on . . . “Isn’t it great that we have a god that is so good? . . . right now . . . since things are going the way I want them to? Let’s just bask in the goodness of God since we like how things are!” Yuck.

    This post has renewed my faith in the statement. I hope to hear it in my own heart more often. And somehow, I hope to live it out, so that others will see that God is good . . .all the time. But I’m not going to throw the statement around when things go the way I want them to. I pray instead that God will help me live it . . . to his glory . . . so that others will know it before I ever say it. Maybe like your father-in-law.

    You have blessed me again.

  5. dinoship says:

    I remember Elder Aimilanos saying (and most certainly living out this kind of saying…):

    ‘Believing in God means this:
    if I now leave this room in order to go take Holy Communion, and on the way there, I have a fall and break my leg (or any similarly “ugly surprise” befalls me);
    instead of saying “why oh why Lord?” or “why know?”, as people often say, I say “Glory to thee oh Lord!”, in the most utterly unshakeable confidence that this (seemingly “chance calamity” bereft of any meaning) is, in fact, EXACTLY what I need right now.’
    He hammered it in again by recounting St Paul’s experience of not being ‘heard’ -concerning his illness- (“My grace is enough for you, for my power is brought to perfection in weakness”) and explaining that God’s apparent “deafness” to him and to all: actually means: “you cannot be saved another way my beloved !”…

  6. Katie Katherine says:

    Thank you Father for reposting this. It is interesting that David Brent mentions job promotions as an example of something easy to thank God for. When I first read the post 3 years ago (yes, I was the participant who spoke to you), I was struggling with having been turned down for a promotion for the third time. The young man who recieved the promotion was certainly worthy- he just had not been doing the job as long as I. I was gracious on the surface, but undernieth going back and forth between the unfairness of management and thoughts that I had not prepared myself well enough for the oral interview. It was a great comfort to me to concentrate on how good God had been to my co-worker.

    The rest of the story is this: when the promotion came around again I prepared rigorously for the interview. My clothes were neatly pressed, I wrote practice answers for the types of questions they might ask, and I practiced out loud with my husband. I wanted to know for sure that it was God’s will that I not get this promotion and not a failure on my part. And- an employee who had been on the job for 7 months got the promotion.

    At the time I was content with having finally gotten the message. As I re-read the post, I realize that I missed an important point- that it was for my salvation! Through this process I have begun planning for a new vocation (working with Elders). I don’t know where the journey is leading as yet, but I’m so thankful to you for helping me understand, and for God’s patience.

  7. John Michaels says:

    Great post Father.

    One question — how do you reconcile the idea that God is always working what’s best/good in our lives with the idea of free will? If it is our destiny to achieve something, will God’s plan triumph over all? Or can our own incompetence stop God’s workings? I hear a lot of old ladies in Church always talk about how everything is God’s will, no matter what happens, but I’m never able to actually believe that. Thoughts?

  8. Karen says:

    Wonderful repost, Father. I love this account about your father-in-law. This area of life is a perennial struggle for me. The story of Joseph in the OT as well as that line from the story of the three Hebrew children in the fiery furnace (“nevertheless”) are real touchstones for me as well.

  9. Theodossia says:

    Dear Father,

    Thanks for re-posting this. It means a lot to me. I have a friend who, like your father-in-law, has a motto in life to thank God for everything (not in spite of everything), quoting Romans 8: 28 : “in all things God works for the good of those who love him”. Even when his wife, who was still fairly young, had a brain tumor that led to her swift death, he was thanking the Lord, knowing that even that was for the good. Amazing faith…

  10. Mark Basil says:

    Father Stephen,
    would you kindly comment on how this posture of thanksgiving is not meant to falsely replace our natural human responses to life’s tragedies?
    Though our emotional responses are often misplaced and distorted as passions, there is a place for genuine sorrow at the world’s tragedy yes?
    I am particularly thinking of Jesus response to the whole ‘phenomenon’ of the human response to Lazarus’s death, where we read, “Jesus wept.” (John 11:35).

    What are we to weep about (in the face of “Lazarus’s death,” or the world’s tragedies)? While maintaining thanksgiving?

    Thank you;
    -Mark Basil

  11. George Engelhard says:

    HAVE YOU EVER WEPT FOR THE WORLD?
    BY
    George W. Engelhard
    C 2012

    Intro
    Has your heart ever ached out of control / beyond your control?
    The way that Christ’s ached in Gethsemane?
    Have you ever sorrowed deep in your soul / in the depths of your soul?
    The way that Christ sorrowed on Calvary
    Have you ever wept for the world?
    The way He wept over Jerusalem
    The way He wept at Laz’rus tomb
    Have you ever wept for the world?

    Verse
    Have you ever wept for the hungry, the oppressed?
    The homeless, the imprisoned, the ill, the obsessed
    For offenders, fugitives, gangsters, transgressors
    For victims and sufferers, the innocent bystanders
    Have you ever wept for the world?

    Verse
    For those who are lost without faith, hope, and love
    Without prudence and temperance and fear from above
    Without knowledge and strength and the wisdom of God
    Without blessing, and mercy, and the grace of God
    Have you ever wept for the world?

    Verse
    Those who worship the world instead of the Lord
    Who will do anything not to be bored?
    Caught up in the hustle and bustle of life
    The daily grind and the daily strife
    Have you ever wept for the world?

    Verse
    The haters, perpetrators / berraters, the obnoxious and loud
    The angry, the jealous, the lustful, the proud
    Those who sin in thought, word, and deed
    Living for power, pleasure, and greed
    Have you ever wept for the world?

    Bridge
    A wayward world in need of the Way
    A dying world in need of His Life
    A world living a lie in need of the Truth
    A darkened world in need of the Light
    A world in need of Jesus Christ
    Have you ever wept for the world?

    Tag
    You and I are part of this fallen world, too
    So weep for me and I’ll weep for you
    Let us all weep for the world

    Have you ever prayed for the world?
    Lord, have mercy, Lord have mercy!

  12. fatherstephen says:

    Mark Basil,
    The confession of God’s goodness in the face of tragedies, and even giving thanks are frequently deep mysteries – a confession of what is not seen. Of course we weep with those who weep, get angry at injustice, etc. We should not confuse the perception and confession of God’s goodness with feeling ok about something. It’s also ok to weep, get angry, etc., though we confess the goodness of God and offer thanks.

    It is the demand that the world (and God) conform to what feels good – or that goodness is defined by what makes me feel good – that we refuse in naming Christ as Lord.

  13. fatherstephen says:

    My will is certainly “free,” I am able to choose. But I trust God to be greater than my will – to still work my salvation despite many of my choices. At some level, our will has an awesome power. On another level, our will seems almost useless.

    I think that the inability to see God’s hand at work in all things is problematic.

  14. John Michaels says:

    But wouldn’t that then mean that God’s hand was at work in the fall of Adam? Was it God’s will that Adam eat from the tree? Surely not, He says so himself.

    I would love to read something that addresses this topic in depth, particularly because it has such far reaching consequences. Is it important to work hard in life, or can you rest assured that The Lord will provide?

  15. mary benton says:

    I think we humans get ourselves into a lot of trouble when we start talking about “God’s will”. Because the Divine nature is so far beyond our comprehension, we tend to imagine that God’s will is equivalent to God “wanting” something.

    This becomes a major problem when the well-meaning try to comfort others in their tragedies by urging that they accept their fate as “God’s will”. This leads a good many people to question how God could be good if He willed for a child to die, for example. (It has also lead some to unfortunately conclude that perhaps God is good but not powerful enough to avert tragedy – in which case, He’s not much of a God.)

    God’s hand is always at work, though often we do not see it at the time. He does not have to “want” the sin or tragedy to occur to bring forth beauty and salvation from it. Without the fall, there would be no “need” for the Christ. How good God is!

    A wonderful post, Father. Yet another thing to give thanks for…

  16. PJ says:

    “Is it important to work hard in life, or can you rest assured that The Lord will provide?”

    It’s not an either/or. We are free, but God’s providence guides all things. This tension — the tension between divine sovereignty and human freedom — has been evident to the Christian mind from the start. Yet attempts at resolving the matter typically end in heresy, be they one extreme or the other (Pelagianism, Calvinism, etc.). I’m satisfied to savor the mystery of the wondrous dynamic.

  17. George Engelhard says:

    We fight the battle, but God provides the victory.
    Also, I read a quote from a saint that said we must struggle spiritually but when we arrive we find that we have been there all along.

  18. Ioann says:

    Thank you for the wonderful post, Father.

    I have a question concerning the practice of thankfulness. How do we combine the good of perpetually giving thanks with the need for perpetual repentance (as is practiced in the Jesus Prayer)? I have found it difficult to be both perpetually soberly repentant and joyously thankful. Is it possible to be both at the same time, or do we alternate?

    Or perhaps in other words, where is the middle ground between going about the tasks of the day with cheerful thanksgiving and going about them with the remembrance of repentance?

  19. George Engelhard says:

    Being thankful that we are able to repent. Being thankful that we are able to be humble.

  20. drewster2000 says:

    Mark Basil,

    I hear what you’re saying. I think the hardship here is not the grieving done in response to tragedies or anger due to injustice, but what we do with it. It is good to manifest reality by mourning when something terrible happens, but do we then get up off our knees with tears in our eyes and look upon God with fear or anger? Or do we keep our full trust in Him, and no matter what responses we bring to Him about the situation, never question the this truth: God is good and He does love mankind.

    We should wrestle and grieve and question and fight injustice, but always in the background knowing that no matter how much this hurts or how wrong it seems, God is really and truly good.

  21. dinoship says:

    Ioann,

    How do we combine the good of perpetually giving thanks with the need for perpetual repentance (as is practiced in the Jesus Prayer)?

    the answer I was once given was: through the realization that “God’s mercies have been and are constantly being poured out on me”.
    This feeling of being “mercied” (blessed if you like) beyond comprehension simultaneously combines and motivates gratitude as well as further repentance. The servant who “owed God ten thousand talents” and was freely forgiven, realizing God’s love towards him and his unworthiness of it, somehow ‘praises’ and ‘thanks’ through using the words “have mercy on me the sinner”, as if saying “have mercy on me the unworthily yet utterly forgiven and blessed”. You are not ‘resting on your laurels’ by saying this, but, instead, realizing your extremely high calling…
    As if saying “make me the unworthy, worthy of your love”.

  22. dinoship says:

    Or better still: “make me the unworthy, worthy of the love You have shown me, the love I can never thank You enough for”
    (all this -and much more- is contained in “Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on me a sinner”)

  23. Ioann says:

    Thank you, dinoship, that is very helpful counsel.

  24. Michael Bauman says:

    To live a life of thanksgiving one must cultivate an attitude of joy (not the same as happiness or contentment). Joy is a gift from God that is, somehow, linked to the Resurrection. I don’t believe it would be possible to experience joy if the Resurrection had not happened, is not happening, will happen.

    The time of most transcendent joy in my life occured when I was still deep in mourning at the repose of my late wife during the Pascha celebration that came about a month later. It was not existential joy because my existential pain was still present and deeply felt. Yet, somehow, there it was. It took several more years for the existential sorrow to begin to really break (a gradual occurence).

    It is in this joy that the victory of our Lord can be/is experienced, in my arrogant opinion. It is a sure sign of the interrelationship of our soul with our Lord as in Matthew 25:23.

  25. R Sullivan says:

    I love this post. I’ve been a pastor for 17 years and every week I come to realize the truth of what you’ve written, more and more. But it is often a truth earned through blood, sweat, toil, and tears.

    The only thing I question is the phrase “losing battle with lymphoma.” I’ve come to believe something different about terminal illness. This is what I said last year about a dear lady in my congregation who died. (I’ve changed her name.)

    “Now, I want everyone to hear clearly what I’m about to say.
    If you’ve ever lost a loved one or friend to cancer, listen closely. Let it not ever be said that Mary ‘lost her fight with pancreatic cancer.’ I’ve said stuff like that before, but never again.

    “Why, when somebody dies of cancer, do we say they ‘lost their fight’? Do you think that, looking back now from glory, Mary sees herself as a conquered victim? Do you think her last thoughts were, ‘I’m dying … I’m losing the fight’? Friends, are people who die losers? Everybody dies. Even our Lord died.

    “I hope today will be the last time you ever think — when somebody has died from cancer — that cancer has somehow defeated them. Cancer didn’t win this fight; Mary won.
    She died at peace with God and with her family and with herself. She left this world with acceptance and grace.
    This simple, ordinary woman lived a long, good life and she died a good death.

    “What happened to her, while unpleasant, was neither unusual nor unnatural. Dying of cancer doesn’t make you a hero. Her life in Christ, lived for others, is what makes her a hero.

    “I think we give cancer way too much credit when we say somebody ‘lost their battle.’ Cancer didn’t win Tuesday night at the hospice. The cancer died when Mary died – so how did it win? Because it caused her death?

    “Is the beauty and integrity of her life diminished in any way because her death was caused by cancer? Not one bit.
    She’s gone on to glory because cancer overcame her body, but it didn’t touch her soul.

    “Today, I pronounce Mary Nelson the winner over cancer.
    The disease that ended the life of her body is dead. The pain that wracked her body is dead. Her suffering is dead. All of that stuff is gone forever. But in Jesus Christ — and in our hearts and memories — Mary will never die.”

    Anyway, my two cents. I thoroughly enjoy your blog, Father Stephen. More than enjoy — I am enriched and edified by your words. Thank you, and God bless.

  26. Karin says:

    Not only was I blessed by your excellent post, but by the comments as well. I’ve often said to folks, when they declare that God is good because He healed, He supplied a job, finances, etc. , “So, tell me, is God not also good when we are ill, when we’ve lost a loved one, or a job?” God is good, all the time! All the time, God is good!

    Thank you George Engelhard for those lyrics and R. Sullivan for your comments. Want to keep those in my notebook!

  27. Jessica says:

    There is much to ponder here. I think I have often thought of God’s will as something less than really good.

    One thing that helped me first begin to think of God as good was starting to pray the table prayers before and after meals. If I gave thanks for the food and ate mindfully, I found myself aware of being loved and cared for by God, and it shocked me. I can be so full of worry or drama or something that I am oblivious to the care of God that is there all the time.

  28. Michael Bauman says:

    Father, I’ve been reading your blog since 2007 and I was quite skeptical of this type of post at first. You writing and the grace of God have softened my heart.

    Thank you.

  29. John Shores says:

    R Sullivan: Good reply. Even when I was a Christian, I have always been baffled by Christians who look at the death of another Christian as a tragedy of some sort. That rather seems to me like crabs in a barrel pulling down any crabs that may be close to getting out. Isn’t the death of a Christian rather to be celebrated like cheering for one who has crossed the finish line? I understand the whole separation thing and the biological reaction but philosophically, you know what I mean.

  30. John Shores says:

    Dinoship: I have such a hard time with things like this:

    The aim of His design is the correction of men

    It’s impossible to read the OT and come to a conclusion that god is devoid of vengeance and wrath and that he’s simply correcting people. Some passages in the NT tend to support that god is not to be messed with. (He did off Ananias and Saphira for trying to be clever with their finances, after all.)

    When I read stuff like what you quoted, I get the same sense I get when the daughter of a mob boss thinks her daddy is the kindest, gentlest person on Earth but doesn’t want to know about what he’s actually done. I’m not calling god a mobster. I’m just saying, he’s not always shown himself to be without vengeance and wrath (or dispassionate genocide).

    I have a very hard time taking people seriously who don’t take the whole of the Scriptures into consideration when talking about gods character or intentions.

    The man who chooses to consider God an avenger, presuming that in this manner he bears witness to His justice, accuses Him of being bereft of goodness.

    I completely agree. This is part of what I was saying to Marc in the other thread. It’s hard to take the premise “god is good” and read, well, anything in the OT and still think this.

  31. PJ says:

    It’s not a matter of disregarding parts of Scripture, but rather a matter of reading them correctly.

    It also goes without saying that, by definition, God is totally beyond the judgment of man. Man can no more judge the actions of God than an amoeba can judge the actions of man. Indeed, the amoeba has a better chance of understanding us than we have of understanding God. A divine action may appear unjust or even wicked to us, but we are hampered by our limited perspective, our fallen intellects, and our sinful passions.

    Furthermore, God is the lord of life. He giveth and He taketh away — we can only trust in His goodness and holiness, which are revealed first and foremost in Jesus Christ, the Word incarnate.

    All this said, I readily admit that there are parts of Scripture which confuse and shock me. Even a few sections which repulse me. Thus I try always to remember by own smallness and relative ignorance, and I humble myself before those holy and wise men who have grappled with these “dark verses,” that I may listen to their counsel and profit from it.

    Just my two cents.

  32. PJ says:

    This essay, “The River of Fire,” might help you, John: http://www.orthodoxpress.org/parish/river_of_fire.htm

    It can be a bit polemical and melodramatic and generalizing at times — indeed, flat unfair — but it contains much wisdom.

    ” The “God” of the West is an offended and angry God, full of wrath for the disobedience of men, who desires in His destructive passion to torment all humanity unto eternity for their sins, unless He receives an infinite satisfaction for His offended pride.

    What is the Western dogma of salvation? Did not God kill God in order to satisfy His pride, which the Westerners euphemistically call justice? And is it not by this infinite satisfaction that He deigns to accept the salvation of some of us?

    What is salvation for Western theology? Is it not salvation from the wrath of God?

    Do you see, then, that Western theology teaches that our real danger and our real enemy is our Creator and God? Salvation, for Westerners, is to be saved from the hands of God!

    How can one love such a God? How can we have faith in someone we detest? Faith in its deeper essence is a product of love, therefore, it would be our desire that one who threatens us not even exist, especially when this threat is eternal.”

  33. Brian Van Sickle says:

    “The aim of His design is the correction of men.”

    This is true, but it must be acknowledged that this correction sometimes includes the destruction of human beings (as well as created things that human beings have thoroughly corrupted by misuse) in order to correct those remaining. This “destruction,” however, is temporal, having to do only with life lived in the flesh; their eternal destiny is in the hands of a loving, merciful Creator.

    It will likely be unconvincing to some, but even death (in the flesh) itself can be seen a gift of His goodness, for we suffer from corruption more than we can possibly know. I know I wouldn’t want to live forever in my current state of existence. Even the healthiest and richest of us suffer far more than we will ever fully realize until we are released from “the body of this death” which “groans…eagerly awaiting the redemption of our body.”

    It will also likely be unconvincing to some, but it is possible – and even quite reasonable – to read the OT and see the supreme goodness of God that Fr. Stephen describes. Much depends on the perspective of the reader.

    I would strongly encourage anyone who has a perception of the God of the OT as wrathful and vengeful to re-read it in its entirety with Fr. Stephen’s perspective (the perspective of all Orthodox Christians) in mind. Some questions may still remain, but when read in light of the truth of the goodness of God a vivid portrait of a good, loving, merciful, patient, compassionate God emerges. It is a portrait of the Christ to Whom it testifies, and it is contrary to wrath or vengeance as we understand it.

    I would also encourage them to bear these thoughts in mind when it comes to God’s ‘judgement’ in general.

    God is judge because of WHO HE IS. For example, St. Paul does not say that Christ will actively seek to destroy sinners at His coming. Rather, he says that they will be destroyed “by the brightness of His coming.” Like fire that ‘judges’ materials exposed to it simply by BEING fire, some are refined, and some are consumed. Those who share His likeness are refined. Those who do not are consumed. Innumerable references of this kind are found in the OT as well. Nearly every reference to God’s judgment and His coming to judge the earth in the Scriptures (both OT and NT) is framed in these terms if one has the eyes to see it. Even the Scriptures that do not directly frame His judgment in these terms have reference either to our refusal to share in His love (“For I was hungry, and you gave me no food. I was thirsty, and you gave me no drink…”) or to putting an end to evil that has become irredeemably entrenched (something only God knows). Examples of the latter are the Great Flood, the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, the destruction of Canaanite cultures, and consciously unrepentant mankind in the last days. God is judge because of who He is. His very existence constitutes His judgment, and His unmediated presence is the future judgment.

  34. John Shores says:

    …a matter of reading them correctly.

    Words mean things. I see little ambiguity an any of these:

    Numbers 31:3 “So Moses said to the people, ‘Arm some of your men to go to war against the Midianites so that they may carry out the LORD’s vengeance on them.'”

    Deuteronomy 32:41 “I will take vengeance on my adversaries and repay those who hate me.”

    Deuteronomy 32:43 “Rejoice, you nations, with his people, for he will avenge the blood of his servants; he will take vengeance on his enemies and make atonement for his land and people.”

    Jeremiah 50:15 “…Since this is the vengeance of the LORD, take vengeance on her; do to her as she has done to others.”

    Ezekiel 25:14 “I will take vengeance on Edom by the hand of my people Israel, and they will deal with Edom in accordance with my anger and my wrath; they will know my vengeance, declares the Sovereign LORD.’”

    Jeremiah 42:18 “This is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says: ‘As my anger and wrath have been poured out on those who lived in Jerusalem…'”

    Romans 9:22 What if God, although choosing to show his wrath and make his power known, bore with great patience the objects of his wrath—prepared for destruction?”

    Colossians 3:6 “Because of these, the wrath of God is coming.”

    These are in addition to things like:

    Gen 6 “I am going to put an end to all people, for the earth is filled with violence because of them. I am surely going to destroy both them and the earth.”

    Gen 19 “Hurry and get out of this place, because the LORD is about to destroy the city!”

    Consider the entire first part of Exodus wherein god plagues people into submission, kills a ton of children then wipes out the adult Egyptians…

    Deut. 20 “However, in the cities of the nations the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance, do not leave alive anything that breathes. Completely destroy them—the Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, Termites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites—as the Lord your God has commanded you.”

    (Others may be added)

    ———————–

    God is totally beyond the judgment of man.

    So, if god commits genocide or tells political or religious leaders to commit genocide, that’s OK. (So the Jihadists are right then.)

    God killing infants and cattle (what did they ever do?!) is OK.

    God killing an infant because his father committed adultery is OK.

    It seems to me that if god is the one who sets moral laws, he ought to abide by them if for no other reason than to set a good example but more so because humans will use absolutely any excuse whatsoever to do horrible things to one another and it’s altogether too simple to say that “god told me to.” If god has such a track record, there is no reason to doubt anyone who makes this claim. And yet when someone commits an atrocity and claims god told them to, we consider them to be insane. That makes no sense to me. There is absolutely no reason to doubt such a person if you believe that god is like this.

    ———————–

    River of fire

    Oh my. I don’t even know how to respond to this without appearing to be disrespectful and contrary. The assumptions and claims are decidedly uninformed. I think we’d better leave this alone or discuss it via email. I don’t want to pollute Fr. Stephen’s house here.

  35. PJ says:

    John,

    I can only reiterate my previous thoughts.

    I don’t know if God really spoke thusly, or if the Israelites simply projected God’s approval back upon their actions (i.e. “Our troops were victorious by the grace of God”).

    But maybe God did commanded those wars and exterminations. If that is the case, then, as I said, I don’t see what I can say against His decisions: He gives life, so He can take it away. Our lives are not our own. This is a basic tenet of our faith.

    And, again, we cannot see the “big picture,” so our judgments are deeply flawed.

    You say, “He ought to abide by [the rules] … because humans will use absolutely any excuse whatsoever to do horrible things.” This is a problem for Jews, not Christians. We believe God’s revelation is fulfilled and completed in Jesus Christ. And Christ announced a new commandment: Love one another — enemies included. This is what dictates Christian behavior, not various scenes from Numbers or Chronicles.

    “Oh my. I don’t even know how to respond to this without appearing to be disrespectful and contrary. The assumptions and claims are decidedly uninformed. I think we’d better leave this alone or discuss it via email. I don’t want to pollute Fr. Stephen’s house here.”

    Come again? Does this mean you’ve read the essay and dislike it? If you haven’t read it, the title might be misleading …

    Either way, if you have something to say, feel free to e-mail me: pprimeau -AT- bryant -DOT- edu.

    Have a good day.

  36. PJ says:

    “Let no, one then, run down law, as if, on account of the penalty, it were not beautiful and good. For shall he who drives away bodily disease appear a benefactor; and shall not he who attempts to deliver the soul from iniquity, as much more appear a friend, as the soul is a more precious thing than the body? Besides, for the sake of bodily health we submit to incisions, and cauterizations, and medicinal draughts; and he who administers them is called saviour and healer, even though amputating parts, not from grudge or ill-will towards the patient, but as the principles of the art prescribe, so that the sound parts may not perish along with them, and no one accuses the physician’s art of wickedness; and shall we not similarly submit, for the soul’s sake, to either banishment, or punishment, or bonds, provided only from unrighteousness we shall attain to righteousness?

    For the law, in its solicitude for those who obey, trains up to piety, and prescribes what is to be done, and restrains each one from sins, imposing penalties even on lesser sins.

    But when it sees any one in such a condition as to appear incurable, posting to the last stage of wickedness, then in its solicitude for the rest, that they may not be destroyed by it (just as if amputating a part from the whole body), it condemns such an one to death, as the course most conducive to health. “Being judged by the Lord,” says the apostle, “we are chastened, that we may not be condemned with the world.” 1 Corinthians 11:32 For the prophet had said before, “Chastening, the Lord has chastised me, but has not given me over unto death.” “For in order to teach you His righteousness,” it is said, “He chastised you and tried you, and made you to hunger and thirst in the desert land; that all His statutes and His judgments may be known in your heart, as I command you this day; and that you may know in your heart, that just as if a man were chastising his son, so the Lord our God shall chastise you.”

    And to prove that example corrects, he says directly to the purpose: “A clever man, when he sees the wicked punished, will himself be severely chastised, for the fear of the Lord is the source of wisdom.” Proverbs 22:3-4

    But it is the highest and most perfect good, when one is able to lead back any one from the practice of evil to virtue and well-doing, which is the very function of the law. So that, when one fails into any incurable evil—when taken possession of, for example, by wrong or covetousness—it will be for his good if he is put to death. For the law is beneficent, being able to make some righteous from unrighteous, if they will only give ear to it, and by releasing others from present evils; for those who have chosen to live temperately and justly, it conducts to immortality. To know the law is characteristic of a good disposition. And again: “Wicked men do not understand the law; but they who seek the Lord shall have understanding in all that is good.” Proverbs 28:5

    It is essential, certainly, that the providence which manages all, be both supreme and good. For it is the power of both that dispenses salvation— the one correcting by punishment, as supreme, the other showing kindness in the exercise of beneficence, as a benefactor. It is in your power not to be a son of disobedience, but to pass from darkness to life, and lending your ear to wisdom, to be the legal slave of God, in the first instance, and then to become a faithful servant, fearing the Lord God. And if one ascend higher, he is enrolled among the sons.

    But when “charity covers the multitude of sins,” 1 Peter 4:8 by the consummation of the blessed hope, then may we welcome him as one who has been enriched in love, and received into the elect adoption, which is called the beloved of God, while he chants the prayer, saying, “Let the Lord be my God.”

    The beneficent action of the law, the apostle showed in the passage relating to the Jews, writing thus: “Behold, you are called a Jew and rest in the law, and make your boast in God, and know the will of God, and approve the things that are more excellent, being instructed out of the law, and are confident that you yourself are a guide of the blind, a light of them who are in darkness, an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of babes, who hast the form of knowledge and of truth in the law.” Romans 2:17-20 For it is admitted that such is the power of the law, although those whose conduct is not according to the law, make a false pretense, as if they lived in the law. “Blessed is the man that has found wisdom, and the mortal who has seen understanding; for out of its mouth,” manifestly Wisdom’s, “proceeds righteousness, and it bears law and mercy on its tongue.” For both the law and the Gospel are the energy of one Lord, who is “the power and wisdom of God;” and the terror which the law begets is merciful and in order to salvation. “Let not alms, and faith, and truth fail you, but hang them around your neck.” Proverbs 3:3 In the same way as Paul, prophecy upbraids the people with not understanding the law. “Destruction and misery are in their ways, and the way of peace have they not known.” Isaiah 59:7-8; Romans 3:16-17 “There is no fear of God before their eyes.” “Professing themselves wise, they became fools.” Romans 1:22 “And we know that the law is good, if a man use it lawfully.” 1 Timothy 1:8 “Desiring to be teachers of the law, they understand,” says the apostle, “neither what they say, nor whereof they affirm.” 1 Timothy 1:7 “Now the end of the commandment is charity out of a pure heart, and a good conscience, and faith unfeigned.” 1 Timothy 1:5

    Clement of Alexandria, The Stromata, Book I, Chapter 27

  37. drewster2000 says:

    John Shores,

    I certainly don’t have all your answers, (but then again neither do you (grin)) but all the comments and conversations you’ve generated brings me to this reflection:

    You yourself are giving us a trial by fire. Without putting too much weight to your influence here, you are causing all of us to go through the furnace. Nice but unsubstantiated thoughts about God are being burned away. What’s left is becoming refined. By seeking your own salvation (for that’s the way I think of it), you are causing us to further find our own!

    If you were bitter, divisive, talking but not listening (like Doug), pie-in-the-sky, totally apathetic, or came forward with other characteristics of the evil one, we could easily write you off! But you aren’t, and we can’t. You carry within you hope, curiosity (a sign of life), eagerness, compassion, generosity (compliments toward others), guilelessness, and a desire for the truth – among other things.

    If God will allow this loving and earnest atheist to stick around and keep “bugging” us instead of just letting us continue with mutual admiration, some might in fact be tempted to wonder just how He can be good! Why would He bring such strife into our online lives!?

    I realize you might think I’m greatly stretching the parallels, but God doesn’t change. If He allows minor annoyances (like people, mosquitoes, the common cold) for reasons we sometimes cannot fathom, is it so hard to imagine that He would allow death (which releases us from the pain of this world), suffering (which is His megaphone to a deaf world concerning the fact that we won’t find home or euphoria here), and all those other things that seem to make our lives so terrible?

    If you can start unquestioningly with the premise that God is good, then slowly you will see that everything is unfolding as it should – even if it doesn’t always make sense. If you can’t with that, then no amount of logic or discussion will be able to show you a good god.

    Yes, Catch 22. But it is true nonetheless.

  38. fatherstephen says:

    John Shores,
    You cannot insist that the Orthodox read the Scriptures like Protestants or Jews because we do not. If I was relegated to their methods of exegesis, I would probably join you in your agnosticism. It is quite clear in the NT, that Christ and His disciples read the OT in a manner very unlike that of those around them.

    I daresay that if you came to faith in an Orthodox manner, part of that journey would be learning to let go of a manner of reading the Scriptures that not only creates problems for you, but created spiritual abuse in the lives of those with whom you lived for years.

    PJ,
    I’m not sure that long passages from Clement and the like are actually all that helpful or clarifying. Better to sum it up and make reference to it.

  39. PJ says:

    Father,

    Sorry, didn’t mean to go overboard. It is pretty long I now see. It’s just that I’ve always liked that chapter. Clement helped me to understand the Old Testament. Thought it might be of use to John. Anyway, the whole thing — The Stromata, I mean — can be found at New Advent or CCEL.

  40. John Shores says:

    PJ:

    I don’t know if God really spoke thusly, or if the Israelites simply projected God’s approval back upon their actions

    That’s a slippery slope. The same could then be said of the NT as well. (“Perhaps Paul’s conversion experience was actually a seizure”… see what I mean? Where does one draw the line?)

    drewster: LOL. Well, this is certainly not the first time I’ve been a pain in the arse. “Disturb the comfortable. Comfort the disturbed.”

    is it so hard to imagine that He would allow death (which releases us from the pain of this world), suffering (which is His megaphone to a deaf world concerning the fact that we won’t find home or euphoria here), and all those other things that seem to make our lives so terrible?

    There is a huge difference between “allow” and “cause.” I am all for assisted suicide for people who are suffering and wish to push on. And I really don’t have such a problem with the fact that suffering exists. Humans need to be motivated and idle hands are the devil’s playground so I’m not really in favor of everyone being comfortable (until humans can be comfortable without causing trouble).

    As one who grew up under the idea that you can “beat the hell out of your child”, I tend to look at plagues, genocide, floods, fire from heaven, the ground opening up, and being dragged into exile by the latest enterprising military leader as over the top as far as correction goes. (God could have put the nation of Egypt into a deep sleep while his people trotted on to Canaan etc.)

    I tried for years to start with “God is good.” It started with the teaching “God is not mad at you” (which shook me to the core). But I found I could not maintain the idea without writing off most of what is said about god’s actions (past and forthcoming) as well as a large portion of the Psalms.

    If there is a god, I hope he is good. Otherwise we are all in really big trouble.

    If you all want to vote me off this island here, I’ll completely understand and respect your wishes. There’s a lot to be said for having a place for mutual admiration. Life is hard enough. We all need some place to feel cozy.

  41. PJ says:

    “That’s a slippery slope. The same could then be said of the NT as well. (“Perhaps Paul’s conversion experience was actually a seizure”… see what I mean? Where does one draw the line?)”

    I admit that it can be a slippery slope. Indeed, for some it is. The line is occasionally blurry. But, ultimately, if you take as your first principle Christ’s life and teaching, His death and resurrection, and if you live and breathe the tradition of the Church, then things tend to be relatively clear.

    Look, I’m not a fanatic: I have doubts, questions, hesitations. That’s just how it goes: A mirror darkly and all that. All you can do is live quietly, humbly, and charitably in Christ, offering praise and thanksgiving to the Father. What else is there?

  42. PJ says:

    “If you all want to vote me off this island here, I’ll completely understand and respect your wishes. There’s a lot to be said for having a place for mutual admiration. ”

    Why do you keep saying this? You’ve been welcomed over and over again. Don’t worry about it.

  43. drewster2000 says:

    John S,

    If we’re smart, we won’t vote you off the island. The whole idea that we somehow deserve to be comfortable has a lot wrong with it. At peace, yes. But peace is a thing that rests in the heart where mosquitoes don’t sting and colds don’t rob us of our treasure.

    If we want to be unmolested by theological debates, for most of us it’s as easy as taking a break from the blog. This reminds me of taking a philosophy class where the professor was debunking my religion with all the usual ploys. It wasn’t until I emerged from the classroom that I realized talk (his or mine) hadn’t changed anything about the actual universe. The birds still sang and the sky was still overhead. No matter how confused I feel, true reality has not been shaken.

    God made you. You’re here with us. Those things are real. I would be wise not to interfere with that and to ask Him to be open to whatever He has to teach me through this exchange. If I need a break, I’ll get off the computer and sit quietly with no stimulus – unless it’s 5 minutes with a picture/icon of Christ.

    As many have already said, it is a blessing that you are here.

  44. PJ says:

    This is random, but this is an amazing rendition of the Great Doxology in Greek: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IF1FATlYGjk

  45. John Shores says:

    Why do you keep saying this?

    Partly because it is not my intention to cause a “trial by fire” and when that was mentioned I wanted to be sure that I am being sensitive to the needs of the community. I mean, honestly, the normal adult dose of JS usually does not exceed three posts or ten minutes face to face. Side effects are usually very unpleasant.

  46. John Shores says:

    PJ: In the “River of fire” thing, the first thing to which I object is the statement “The reason is the cooling of love.”

    Here is just a small sampling of why this idea is so off-base: http://www.ted.com/talks/hannah_brencher_love_letters_to_strangers.html

    Note the vast responses described here. People’s love is not cooled. We are as passionate (and compassionate) as ever.

  47. mary benton says:

    John S.

    If I have a vote (I might be considered an interloper here myself), you stay on the island.

    Can you not see how much your presence enriches the rest of us, leading us to reflect and share many of the hard dilemmas of believing? I doubt I’d keep coming back here if it was just a place for mutual admiration.

    We are all students of life and we learn so much more together than we would alone…

    Blessings.

  48. Rhonda says:

    If you all want to vote me off this island here, I’ll completely understand and respect your wishes. There’s a lot to be said for having a place for mutual admiration. Life is hard enough. We all need some place to feel cozy.

    What?? Vote you off the island?! Never-Ever!! This place would be very dull without our resident skeptic :-P Mutual admiration society–BAH }:-( Again, Never-Ever!!

    When I want to be “cozy” I’ll go snuggle up with either hubby & the cat on the couch in front of the fireplace. Just add wine for me, popcorn for hubby, tuna for the cat & you have the perfect recipe for instant Heaven on Earth :-D

  49. Rhonda says:

    Oops! that should be

    …either hubby &/or the cat!

  50. Lou. says:

    Father Stephen —

    I find growing in thankfulness to be a great challenge to our spirits. It is hard for children to appreaciate what they receive in these times. Our culture’s narcissism takes hold early. And yet as a parent and grandparent I have seen astounding feats of thanksgiving from “little ones.” They know better than we can teach.

    On a like note, I have been looking forward to — and am thankful for — Philip’s fast. There is a continual and physical reminder of weakness, far outweighed by the glory to come/that has come into the world. You have remarked about your pre-Orthodox days — how you could not share the cup but could share the fast. I speak myself as an Episcopalian — not trying to be faux-Orthodox but just trying to be faithful and obedient.

    Your passages about fasting have been helpful. I had not known of a way to observe other than complete absention. I remain a very ignorant man.

    Thank you.

  51. John Shores says:

    Thank you Rhonda, Mary and PJ. It’s nice to be wanted (except by John Walsh).

  52. John says:

    Hello,

    I really need some help, please…

    I really wanted to ask. What can we do if our family does not perceive God’s goodness? If they cannot escape the thought that God is doing them harm, by letting them suffer from disease and poverty and wickedness of others? If they were to know we, who believe in God and perceive His goodness, give Him thanks for every single thing, they would feel we are thanking Him for the fact that He is doing them evil… This question is one of the toughest for me because it refers to a Christian life lived in an “Christian-atheist” (as Father Stephen so well characterized this phenomenon) family.

    How does a Christian live in a Christian-atheist family?

    For example, this is my current situation. I try to be at all times honest, fair and faithful to everyone (I’m not even close to loving everyone…). This usually brings me trouble and ruins my chances to have a “normal” life (the life this society promises: money, success, a home, a car, a job, fame etc.), because no one in their right minds even thinks of fair competition: life is considered a fight for survival, and everyone is fighting to support their family. If I try to follow God’s path, the narrow one, my family will lose that “normal” life because my following of the path will result in having a harsh life. The problem is that, although I am not so worried about losing the “normal” life, because I know that God wants more beautiful things from us and offers us plenty more, my parents, on the other hand, do not understand God (and I am not able to simply convince them, through conversation, because I am very young and they are older and have “seen what life in this world means” – a battle for survival in which to try to always be good is social suicide), although they are quite “moral” (they raised me to be good and even to believe in God, but now it seems that they have forgotten what they taught me when I was a child, and I can see that they also have many misunderstandings regarding God). They raised me to be kind but now, after very many years, consider kindness a social suicide, and reject it because it hurts to be kind in this world. (The cruel irony is that the world of survival and unfair competition of which I spoke above is populated by fellow Orthodox Christians… or so they have been baptised at birth; my family is also Orthodox). What can I do?

    As I said above, my problem is with my family. I am reminded every couple of days that my belief will hurt them… They are not prepared for that “nevertheless” of the three young men in the fiery furnace (when they said to King Nebuchanezer: “Our God is able to deliver us, O King. But even if He does not, nevertheless, we will not bow down and worship your image.”). They are not prepared to believe and to not be “rewarded” in this life by God. They are not prepared for loneliness and difficulty, for struggle, and complete devotion to the path of Christ… What can I do? If I chose His path, my parents will not agree, and if I go over their will, they will probably feel obligated to follow me and will be miserable because of the illusions this society offers them. How can I make a choice that brings them misery?

    I have already made a step in His path (I gave up on some considerable amount of money and chose a life of poverty by choosing to follow a university which will lead me to a career in teaching – in my country, honest teachers are among the poorest nowadays, and are also not accepted in other jobs – they are committed to life of sacrifice), and some people consider me irresponsible and mean, selfish and wrong, a failure waiting to happen, for rejecting the “normal” life (a better job, with a bigger wage) and “dragging” my family into this. My family also barely understands my decision and reminds me every now and them that I was a fool to choose poverty and honesty and that I will ultimately fail, most probably.

    I really need some help here…

    Thank you in advance…

    God bless you all.

  53. Michael Bauman says:

    John, my son has taken a path in life that is similar to yours. It is a challenge for me at times because no parent wants to see their children struggle or be hurt by the world. Plus, as one who lived almost 40 years in the world before coming to the Church, I am surely infected with the “success” model. God forgive me.

    That being said, perhaps the best way to impact your family is to live your life with humility and simplicity while praying for your family. Don’t argue, agree with them as much as possible or at least express understanding for their view.

    Thank God for them too, they are a blessing in your life. It is quiet likely that when they see the fruits of your life, they will be thankful and proud even if they never tell you.

  54. Dino says:

    John,
    It is trickier if, by “family getting in the way”, we mean wife and kids – although it is part and parcel of being a Christian in this world… If however, you mainly mean parents by ‘family”, (trickier though that may sometimes seem), there comes a point where a certain, very polite yet very firm, renunciation is entirely in order…
    All this, most certainly, must be according to your Spiritual Father’s advise!

  55. John says:

    Thank you Dino and thank you Michael for the reply,

    Sorry is I’m bothering…

    Michael,
    I’m glad you reminded me… I forgot to think about how my parents feel. They surely suffer if I suffer… But I only wish they would believe in God and understand that it is in Him that I want to put my faith and that it is only He who can help us obtain peace, love, hope and all good things that are not material, things that matter most.
    I really want to pray, to be humble, to really change and become myself a bearer of God’s will… But I feel all alone… I feel weak… I don’t know if I’m doing things right. And I truly need a Spiritual Father, as Dino says. I really need someone to talk to…

    Dino,
    Yes, I was mostly refering to my parents when talking about those problems…
    The fact is that I am always asking questions here, on this blog, because I do not have a Spiritual Father… I really hope I will be able to find one that can understand things just as Father Stephen and you all do… I have to try harder. I feel very alone in this “spiritual warfare”… I’d love to have somebody to talk to about these matters. I currently don’t, sadly…

    Thank you, both, for taking the time to say something to me. It means a lot. God bless you!

  56. Michael Bauman says:

    John, do you not have an Orthodox Church where you can attend?

    Other comments:
    My parents were not Christian in any formal sense and they did not understand it when my brother and I started into that life, especially when we joined the Orthodox Church. They did nothing to hinder us outwardly, yet there was always that lack of understanding. No amount of explaining did anything to move them. It caused a rift of sorts, a lessening of intimacy or so it seemed.

    After they reposed, I did a retrospective on them, what they believed by their actions as well as their words. Although they would never have gotten it, I saw with great clarity all of the gifts they had given me and my brother that moved us in the direction of Jesus Christ and the Church, gifts that came from their hearts which they rarely associated with Jesus Christ or His Church but in fact were.

    I pray for them in thanksgiving and hope.

    Trying too hard to get those you love to agree with your path in life is often a distraction. Live the path to its fullest, pray, attend Divine Liturgy. Jesus calls you to follow. He calls your parents also, but they have to recognize and follow that call. It is the Holy Spirit who converts, not us.

  57. Dino says:

    These are indeed questions for your Spiritual Father as you yourself acknowledge.
    Lacking one we might drown in less than an inch of water, whereas with one we easily realise we can swim through at least a kilometre in one go.
    Lacking a great Spiritual Father, I would go to the closest available priest, just like I would do when I really need to be seen by a doctor quick.
    I hope you find someone soon…

  58. mary benton says:

    Hi John

    I will pray for you – may God strengthen you and help you find a spiritual father so that you do not feel so alone in trying to discern God’s call to you.

    On another level, I would like to remind you that you are not responsible if your parents find misery in your decision to follow God. Even if you were making a poor decision (and I’m certainly not suggesting that you are), their reaction belongs to them. They have choices about how to respond to what you do and you have no control over what they choose.

    Pray for them. Pray for yourself. (And keep reading Fr. Stephen!)

  59. John says:

    Thank you all,

    Michael,
    I avoided to say something about this… I do have Orthodox Churches all around me; my country is Orthodox, officially, as I understand things… But the people’s mentality makes me feel unsafe (and I fear that most priests – those that do not live in a monastic environment for example – are also dragged in this secular trap): it seems as if most people (they are almost ALL Orthodox Christians by Baptism at birth) are either simplifying faith, integrating it in our secular world, either lacking an understanding of God’s love for the ones who want to repent. In other words, God lives at the second storey and does not intervene in this secular world; or worse: if I am not successful in this world, it means God is angry at me and has abandoned me. Another example: people consider some very important traditions as lost in history (like Fasting for long periods of time – like for fasting for Pascha – like Confession and Eucharist every week, or as often as we feel we need them – of course, with proper fasting). Having a Spiritual Father, again… I do not know of people who have one… I fear people will laugh if they see me confessing often at my local parish (where I live, where people know me); they say: “Who did you kill? What did you do so wrong?”, but all I want is to fully obey Christ’s teachings, to be worthy of His love; for example, if I would tell someone that I am fighting the dreadful, deadly sin of pride, they would not understand why being proud is a sin, as if only killing is a sin. Because this secular world crushes men that are not proud, and strong and confident in their strengths.

    This is my “universe”… it is quite secular. Of course, I am worthy of blame because I didn’t have the courage to seek more believers… I feel spiritually alone now. As horrible as it is, I do not trust my fellow “Orthodox Christians” any longer… some of them hurt me (they judge and lack understanding, they say things that make me feel sorry for trying to follow His path), and the rest are mostly far from loving their neighbour (it’s a world of harsh competition…). The ones who are true Christians are “invisible”, far from my reach… I am probably not worthy of them. I have not yet met a man who comes even close to understanding Orthodoxy as Father Stephen and others contributing to his blog (or others around him, or those who comment on this blog) do. I really feel I would have become an atheist if I hadn’t discovered the Father’s blog right when I most needed it. Glory to God because, although I had lost faith in Him, He didn’t lose faith in me…

    Michael, surprisingly, your situation with your parents (may God rest their souls and bless them for raising such a son) is very similar to mine. I also feel that I should really thank my parents for moving me in Christ’s direction; they did this, they raised me to be kind; and they are Orthodox Christians, but only formally… I cannot blame them: most of the people surrounding us, all Orthodox formally, care more about money, job, house and other comforts – Orthodoxy is left aside, remembered only in times of danger. God is optional, He lives in His second storey. Apart from not understanding, my mother really pushes my faith to the limit (I never passed her “tests” until now): she looses faith quickly and passes blame on me and others, sometimes on God and wants answers: “Why did this happen to us? Why aren’t you more successful (financially)? Why is X better than you (financially speaking)?”… This really discourages me… If I cannot speak about God to her (because she considers Him far away), I do not have answers to these questions and I am very weak. I did not expect this. And my father also thinks this way at the end of the day, although he tries hard to not upset me and to understand what this world is doing to us.

    Yes, I will try to take care of Christ’s path, find peace in the Liturgy (although it upsets me that this world pressures me to not have time for God; I have to study at all times just to be able to fairly compete with those who are dishonest and have lots of time for other distractions; I guess this is the way of the Christian, to always do everything to be faithful to God Who is love, whatever it takes).

    Dino,
    Yes, it is as you describe. I am drowning in an inch of water; I am sometimes aware that my problems are nothing compared to others’ trouble. Although I have been through spiritual torment that felt far worse than physical death… But I am aware that my problems, how small they may be, need attention and require a proper change in my spiritual life. I must find a Spiritual Father. I delayed this search out of commodity, and I have lost a lot because of my foolishness and commodity and fear. I was afraid to speak to people (even to priests; read my reply to Michael, if you wish…), because I felt hurt.

    Mary,
    Thank you. May God bless you.
    What you said is true. I must pray for my parents.
    Regarding my choice… I went through several options… I first wanted to go to a monastery and become a monk (I could not stand living in this secular world… I felt horrible). This was Sci Fi for me and I dropped this option… I thought of going to a Theology University… I felt I wasn’t strong enough to lead others to God (and I feel I was not mistaken; I am weak). So my choice, after much thinking, was to become a teacher (in mathematics; it’s what I can handle best overall). I was hoping it would be a good way of being of help to others; I thought that if I managed to follow Christ’s path, I could set an example for children and grown-ups alike, I could offer them hope, courage, by helping them know God, His love and all His beauty. I hope I will not fail; I am falling now… the people I wanted to help are rejecting me, without thinking too much… I have to learn to love everyone… which I am far from now… I need to offer God more of my life to achieve this…

    I am sorry for what I have said above, for judging my neighbour. I beg forgiveness…
    I thank God that people like you Michael, Dino, Mary, Father Stephen and more, exist; people like you are the hope and beauty of this world. May God bless you all.

  60. Dino says:

    John,
    the others are God’s. They are not yours. They are His concern. They mustn’t be ‘your anxiety’ -that undermines your trust in God’s ability to save… Their sinfulness must not be something I notice, only my sinfulness should concern me, nobody else’s – they are all God’s concern and this trust in Him is the most powerful ‘prayer’ for them at this stage… I only walk in an error-free path as long as others seem like Saints to me!, as long as all sin inside others seems excusable, seems like it is ultimately my fault. “Anxiety” for them is at this stage a distraction from these two preconditions for Grace to come to your heart: Joy and Peace…
    Acceptance of my difficult surroundings, as a test that God wants me to patiently and trustfully endure in order to bestow the next stage of Grace, is absolutely necessary.
    Your perception of the world’s futility is indeed a most common call to monasticism, a path you have obviously not ruled out – I mean you have not married. That is a blessing that needs great care for it to continue to illumine your life with an eschatological Joy rather than degenerate into a pessimistic cynicism.
    The part of the the world (and of those you care for) that you have power over is yourself. Take great care of that. Allow others the freedom to be faithless if they so wish. God does this very thing Himself. He has ways and means of bringing them towards salvation in time.

  61. Karen says:

    Hi John,

    This morning, I just read these words of Fr. Maximos, Abbot of the Panagia Monastery in Cyprus (in The Mountain of Silence by Kyriacos C. Markides, pp. 202 & 204):

    “You will be surprised to realize the incredible power of the Jesus Prayer on ordinary people. . . . It may have been invented by saints but it is for use by everybody–monks, hermits, and ordinary people. This is particularly true today when people feel isolated and cut off from each other. I have realized, based on my experiences with confessions, that people somehow have difficulty relating and communicating with their children, their spouses, their neighbors, their fellow human beings. They feel psychologically abandoned, deprived of personal intimacy. It is really very sad. . . .

    “The Prayer is the best antidote to this sense of disconnectedness, whether you live in Cyrus or in the middle of New York City. . . .

    “So, the best way for someone to practice the Payer . . . is to focus on the words with humility. This is a safe approach that protects the layperson from possible pseudospiritual experiences and delusions. What’s important . . . is to get into the habit of praying. And if one has access to a spiritual guide, so much the better.”blockquote

    I’m not sure why monasticism seems “sci-fi” to you, other than perhaps you are referring to the surrounding skepticism in your culture. I wouldn’t like to see you rule out this as a calling, but pursing the path you are on can be a stepping stone in that direction. Put seeking Christ in your heart through prayer first, and I believe the rest will open to you when you are ready. Seek humility, do your best to love your friends and family members, but leave their salvation to God (as others have advised in this thread). May God strengthen and guide you. Don’t worry, He is surely with you (and all whom you love)!

  62. Michael Bauman says:

    John, my son and you seem to suffer in a similar way and it seems to be distressingly common: a feeling that you are alone in the faith.

    You are not alone. You are connected with others in so many ways and the internet is the least of these.

    The evil one creates the illusion of being alone to foster despair, anger and even rage. The illusion of being alone also plays on ones pride. It is the nihilism of elite despair.

    Veneration of the saints through their icons can help overcome the illusion of aloneness, at least it has for me. Prayer for others in humility in general–not praying at people for what you think they need but offering you heart to God for their salvation.

  63. John says:

    Thank you for your very kind words and thoughtfulness, Dino, Karen and Michael,

    It helps me a lot to hear these words… I hear them from actual people very rarely (it’s not the same for me if I just read articles… I lack the actual participation of people…). Thank you all for this… It means a lot… I have to pray to find a Spiritual Father… I have to search. It helps a lot to hear some advice when feeling all down… And if the advice comes from knowledge of God, it is perfect (I mean that any hope of mine is related to God, and not to some chance or coincidence or luck or impersonal justice that others have tried to use to encourage me)… Thank you all very much for your kind words.

    Dino,
    You are right. And I know I have issues with pride and faith in God… I beg forgiveness… I ruled out monasticism because… it seemed to me that it would be for the best. My parents (will) need my presence, and would most likely feel even more abandoned by God if I would leave them to “follow” God. It might destroy them… I wouldn’t have their blessing, and so I wouldn’t consider I am doing God’s will. Moreover, I have a girlfriend, which believes in God but is in the same situation as me: helpless… Me and my girlfriend both want to follow in His path, but do not know what to do… And it would be best indeed if I would find a Spiritual Father… (I’m 20 years old; that might explain my inexperience with everything…). It’s a must…
    It gets even more complicated when a young couple tries to follow Christ’s path… Me and my girlfriend want to marry in Christ’s Church when we will have a means of living (job and hopefully a place to live) and until then we struggle to stay in His path. But people will judge us for being utterly poor for the rest of our lives… And our parents will also suffer for the same reason and for the world’s judgement, because, as I said, they do not understand God’s ways (neither do I as you can all see… I am quite foolish).

    Hi Karen,
    I’m sorry. When I said monasticism is sci fi for me, I meant that it would be… unbelievable for me to be a monk… I never thought about it seriously until I had some serious problems… It would be a great, massive feat in my life… It’s like from another world. I have never been at a monastery (sadly…). I have great respect for monks, for saints… Monasticism seems like living next to God in my opinion… It may be just an opinion of mine; I know I am too weak to live such a life.
    And yes, most people would really consider me nuts and irresponsible if I went to become a monk (I do live in a former communist country… this might explain the attitude.)… Becoming a teacher is a radical decision in most people’s opinion in my country… becoming a monk would probably scandalise people… It would look like I’m abandoning the “duties imposed” on me by this secular world…
    Anyway, this wasn’t my reason for not going towards monasticism… I told Dino above why I didn’t above…

    Michael,
    Yes, I myself thought about the nihilism of elite despair… I bear contamination with this attitude, unfortunately… I do struggle with pride… I beg forgiveness. As for veneration of the saints… I don’t know, I feel that I am not worthy of their help… And also of the most holy Theotokos’ help, and even Christ’s… This is why I really need a Spiritual Father… I read a lot about God’s love, about the most holy Theotokos’ love, about the saints’ love towards man, but I cannot “feel” it, I feel unworthy and miserable. I feel unfit for Their love… I do not fully understand God’s love towards man, and, from this perspective, I am not an Orthodox Christian… :(

    May God bless you all. You have no idea how much it helps me to be part even of this virtual Orthodox community… My despair and anger against this world’s ways seem to disappear (and seem completely illogical) when I hear kind words from others, from you. Glory to God for all things.

  64. John says:

    And… Me and my girlfriend’s best descriptions would be that we are, usually, both losers from this world’s perspective (in our everyday lives, in our interactions with other people). We do not strive to “win at all cost”, we do not step over bodies, we do not hurry to take what others also have the right to have… We are “losers” unless we meet other true Christians who would realise that me and my girlfriend also need to live; most people ignore the others’ needs; it’s painful. And it is my fear that this constant losing will bring poverty in our family. I am not sure what will become of us… But we are already judged by many people and our parents sometimes because we constantly lose (our parents probably suffer because we suffer, as Michael well said)… Because we are not like the others. May God bless us all.

  65. Michael Bauman says:

    John, none are worthy but you don’t have to ask for help, just honor them with sincerity and humility. Just cross yourself and do a metania with an open heart and mind. For me it is part of my discipline of thanksgiving.

  66. John says:

    Thank you, Michael. I will try to learn this with my heart. God bless you and your family.

  67. mary benton says:

    Hi John

    Try not to worry about how people judge you. I know that’s hard, especially when the judgments come from people you love. Jesus Himself underwent a lot of judgment – there is a line in the Gospel that says people thought He “was out of His mind”.

    Give thanks to God for allowing you to suffer in your desire to love and follow Him. If you allow Him to strengthen you and accept the loving support of the eternal community, He will teach you what you need to know. (He will also help you find a spiritual father.)

    Even if you are very weak (aren’t we all?), the first and most important step is wanting to follow God. Blessings to you and your girlfriend.

  68. John says:

    Thank you, Mary,

    Indeed. I feel very weak… Thank you for your words and blessings. Great thought: “Give thanks to God for allowing you to suffer in your desire to love and follow Him. If you allow Him to strengthen you and accept the loving support of the eternal community, He will teach you what you need to know.” May God bless you and your beloved!

  69. Karen says:

    Hi John,

    Thanks for clarifying your comment. I’m sure most people in my culture (which has never been Communist) would think one nuts to become an Orthodox monk or nun as well! :-) The Christian way of life will always be countercultural (since man’s culture is corrupted by sin). I share your love of Orthodox monastics and Saints. It is also true that most of us will work out our salvation in the context of marriage and family (for which also none of us are worthy–all our strength and worthiness must come from Christ whether for a God-glorifying marriage or monasticism), Proverbs 18:22. God’s peace to you and your girlfriend!

    Your English is excellent. I don’t know what language is your first, but the book Everyday Saints (by Archimandrite Tikhon (Shevkunov), Abbot of Stretensky Monastery in Moscow) would likely be a great encouragement to you as well. It is available in Russian and in English.

    More here: http://everyday-saints.com/book.htm

  70. John says:

    Hi Karen,

    With pleasure! Thank you for your reply.

    My mother tongue is Romanian. On this blog I could see that native speakers of English are so delightful, in that they keep the charm of their mother tongue – it expresses their innermost lives. :)

    And I thank God that I know English… It is beyond my dreams that I can speak to Orthodox brethren from across the Ocean. It’s marvelous, really… :) If I didn’t speak English, maybe I would not have reached the Father’s blog and this community. I thought I was Orthodox, but I was slipping into atheism (not that I am very far from it now… I need to dig deeper into Orthodoxy). I’m just as the Father described some people… I believe in prayer, but I do not pray (I have some weird feeling telling me I am not worthy of praying… I understand the thought of any of us being worthy is a work of the delusional ego… It has to be, it harms people. But it still defeats me very often lately… I need to seek a Spiritual Father as soon as possible, as I said. I am waiting to leave my hometown and start university…). I believe in God but I do not attend Divind Liturgy (again with the unworthiness…). I chose poverty but my soul is not poor, it is full of pride. I say I love God, but I hate my enemies. May God have mercy on us…

    And I just thought of it yesterday, while being very angry at this world ( :( ) Most of the people around me (the ones of my parents’ age) lived during Communism. There was no one around them to show them Who God is. I myself might have been an atheist if I lived back then… So this would be a reason for not judging people: God knows our pains, our sufferings, our sorrows, our falls, our lives, our thoughts, our souls, our past, our present and our future. I do not and cannot; never. And I am nobody compared to God.

    You are right, whatever shape culture might take, monasticism is a different story.

    Great words: “It is also true that most of us will work out our salvation in the context of marriage and family (for which also none of us are worthy–all our strength and worthiness must come from Christ whether for a God-glorifying marriage or monasticism).” I have not read words like this, not that I can remember…

    “Just a year earlier, each of us had firmly believed that the only people who ever entered a monastery nowadays were fanatics or complete failures in life. Losers, in short—or else victims of unrequited love.” (from the link you gave me). This is what I too thought…

    “One had graduated with highest honors from university with a degree in mathematics (…)” Now this is quite funny for me… (I’m starting a mathematics university… I hope I also finish it…).
    I cannot believe it. All the people in this description in your link – they had wonderful careers ahead of them. And yet they chose a monastic life. It’s modern society’s worst nightmare. :) Glory to God for all things!!!

    “And that world had turned out to be boundlessly more attractive than the one in which we had previously lived our young and so-far very happy lives.” In my case, sadness would have pushed me to go to a monastery (they said they lived happy lives…) That might have been wrong for monasticism.

    I hope I’ll be able to purchase the book some day. To my shame, there probably are a lot of good Romanian books about Orthodoxy… but I am not sure where to start from. I am also afraid of reading something I might not understand and lose faith.

    Thank you again, Karen (and thank you all)! God’s peace to you and your beloved ones! Glory to God for all things!

  71. John says:

    Found this. It it of great help for what I said about judging this world… Selected by Father Stephen Freeman from the writings of the Elder Sophrony:

    “Spiritual weeping is an abundance of life springing vigorously from potent love, whereas ordinary weeping prostrates mortal man…. The ascetic Fathers did not weep because they were deprived of temporal goods but they do insist on the necessity for spiritual weeping without which man’s stony heart is incapable of love as taught by the Gospel. The mind of the Christian who weeps is totally directed towards the sphere of Divine eternity. The commandments of Christ refer exclusively to this. A whole multitude of circumstances unacceptable to those living the banal life of this world are disregarded by him who weeps according to God’s commandment. Poverty holds no terrors for him, he will not be dismayed by insults or slights from the sons of this generation, nor by blows of any sort, because not only his mind but his feet, too, are lifted high above ground. He feels compassion for people, sorrow over them before God, but he does not share their interests, inspired as he is by his striving after immutable Truth.”

    From “We Shall See Him As He Is”

    “May God grant us to weep”!
    http://glory2godforallthings.com/2009/03/21/may-god-grant-us-to-weep/

  72. Dino says:

    You might be interested in this John: http://siluanathonitul.wordpress.com/

  73. John says:

    Thank you, Dino. :) May God bless you!

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