Glory to God for All Things

A Modern Lent

carnivalFew things are as difficult in the modern world as fasting. It is not simply the action of changing our eating habits that we find problematic – it’s the whole concept of fasting and what it truly entails. It comes from another world.

We understand dieting – changing how we eat in order to improve how we look or how we feel. But changing how we eat in order to know God or to rightly keep a feast of the Church – this is foreign. Our first question is often, “How does that work?” For we live in a culture of utility – we want to know the use of things. Underneath the question of utility is the demand that something make sense to me, and that I be able to ultimately take charge of it, use it as I see fit and shape it according to my own desires. Perhaps the fast could be improved?

Our modern self-understanding sees people primarily as individual centers of choice and decision. A person is seen as the product of their choices and decisions – our lives are self-authenticated. As such, we are managers.

Of course there are many problems with this world-view from the perspective of Classical Christianity. Though we are free to make choices and decisions, our freedom is not unlimited. The largest part of our lives is not self-determined. Much of the rhetoric of modernity is aimed towards those with wealth and power. It privileges their stories and mocks the weakness of those without power with promises that are rarely, if ever, fulfilled.

Our lives are a gift from God and not of our own making. The Classical Christian spiritual life is not marked by choice and self-determination: it is characterized by self-emptying and the way of the Cross.

When a modern Christian confronts the season of Lent – the question often becomes: “What do I want to give up for Lent?” The intention is good, but the question is wrong. Lent quickly becomes yet another life-choice, a consumer’s fast.

The practice of the traditional fast has been greatly diminished over the past few centuries. The Catholic Church has modified its requirements and streamlined Lenten fasting (today it includes only abstaining from meat on the Fridays of Lent – which makes them similar to all the other Fridays of the year). The Protestant Churches that observe the season of Lent offer no formal guidelines for Lenten practice. The individual is left on their own.

Orthodoxy continues to have in place the full traditional fast, which is frequently modified in its application (the “rules” themselves are generally recognized as written for monastics). It is essentially a vegan diet (no meat, fish, wine, dairy). Some limit the number of meals and their manner of cooking. Of course, having the fast in place and “keeping the fast” are two very different things. I know of no study on how Orthodox in the modern world actually fast. My pastoral experience tells me that people generally make a good effort.

Does any of this matter? Why should Christians in the modern world concern themselves with a traditional practice?

What is at stake in the modern world is our humanity. The notion that we are self-authenticating individuals is simply false. We obviously do not bring ourselves in existence – it is a gift. And the larger part of what constitutes our lives is simply a given – a gift. It is not always a gift that someone is happy with – they would like themselves to be other than they are. But the myth of the modern world is that we, in fact, do create ourselves and our lives – our identities are imagined to be of our own making. We are only who we choose to be. It is a myth that is extremely well-suited for undergirding a culture built on consumption. Identity can be had at a price. The wealthy have a far greater range of identities available to them – the poor are largely stuck with being who they really are.

But the only truly authentic human life is the one we receive as a gift from God. The spirituality of choice and consumption under the guise of freedom is an emptiness. The identity we create is an ephemera, a product of imagination and the market. The habits of the marketplace serve to enslave us – Lent is a call to freedom.

 A Modern Lent

Thus, a beginning for a modern Lent is to repent from the modern world itself. By this, I mean renouncing the notion that you are a self-generated, self-authenticating individual. You are not defined by your choices and decisions, much less by your career and your shopping. You begin by acknowledging that God alone is Lord (and you are not). Your life has meaning and purpose only in relation to God. The most fundamental practice of such God-centered living is the giving of thanks.

Renounce trying to improve yourself and become something. You are not a work in progress. If you are a work – then you are God’s work. “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in” (Eph 2:10).

Do not plan to have a “good Lent” or imagine what a “good Lent” would be. Give up judging – especially judging yourself. Get out of the center of your world. Lent is not about you. It is about Christ and His Pascha.

Fast according to the Tradition instead of according to your own ideas and designs. This might be hard for some if they are not part of the traditional Church and thus have no fasting tradition. Most Catholics have differing rules for fasting than the Orthodox. If you’re Catholic, fast like a Catholic. Don’t admire other people’s fasting.

If you’re Protestant but would like to live more traditionally, think about becoming Orthodox. Short of that, covenant with others (family, friends) to keep the traditional fast. Don’t be too strict or too lenient, and if possible keep the fast in a manner that is mutually agreed rather than privately designed. Be accountable but not guilty.

Pray. Fasting without praying is called “the Fast of Demons,” because demons never eat, but they never pray. We fast as a means of drawing closer to God. Your fasting and your prayer should be balanced as much as possible. If you fast in a strict manner, then you should pray for extended periods. If you fast lightly, then your prayers may be lighter as well. The point is to be single – for prayer and fasting to be a single thing.

To our prayer and fasting should be added mercy (giving stuff away, especially money). You cannot be too generous. Your mercy should be as invisible as possible to others, except in your kindness to all. Spend less, give away more.

Eating, drinking, praying and generosity are very natural activities. Look at your life. How natural is your eating? Is your diet driven by manufactured, processed foods (especially as served in restaurants and fast food places)? These can be very inhuman ways of eating. Eating should take time. It is not a waste of time to spend as much as six hours in twenty-four preparing, sharing, eating and cleaning up. Even animals take time to eat.

Go to Church a lot more (if your Church has additional Lenten services, go to them). This can be problematic for Protestants, in that most Protestant worship is quite modern, i.e. focused on the individual rather than directed to God, well-meant but antithetical to worship. If your Church isn’t boring, it’s probably modern. This is not to say that Classical Christianity is inherently boring – it’s just experienced as such by people trained to be consumers. Classical Christianity worships according to Tradition and focuses its attention on God. It is not there for you to “get something out of it.”

Entertain yourself less. In traditional Orthodox lands, amusements are often given up during the Lenten period. This can be very difficult for modern people in that we live to consume and are thus caught in a cycle of pain and pleasure. Normal pleasures such as exercise or walking are not what I have in mind – although it strikes me as altogether modern that there should be businesses dedicated to helping us do something normal (like walking or exercising), such that even our normal activities become a commodity to consume.

Fast from watching/reading the news and having/expressing opinions. The news is not presented in order to keep you informed. It is often inaccurate and serves the primary purpose of political propaganda and consumer frenzy. Neither are good for the soul. Opinions are deeply destructive to the soul’s health. Opinions are not properly considered, necessary beliefs. They are passions that pass themselves off as thoughts or beliefs. The need to express them reveals their passionate nature.

I could well imagine that a modern person, reading through such a list, might feel overwhelmed and wonder what is left. What is left is being human. That so much in our lives is not particularly human but an ephemeral distraction goes far to explain much of our exhaustion and anxiety. There is no food  for us in what is not human.

And so the words of Isaiah come to mind:

Ho! Everyone who thirsts, Come to the waters; And you who have no money, Come, buy and eat. Yes, come, buy wine and milk Without money and without price. Why do you spend money for what is not bread, And your wages for what does not satisfy? Listen carefully to Me, and eat what is good, And let your soul delight itself in fatness (Isa 55:1-2).

“Let your soul delight itself in fatness…” the irony of Lent.

 

 

 

 

 

53 Responses to “A Modern Lent”

Author comments have a tan color background for you to easily identify the posts author in the comments

  1. fatherstephen says:

    Picture: The Battle of Carnival and Lent – Bruegel 1559

  2. mary benton says:

    Fr. Stephen,

    This is an extraordinary article! And very well-timed for me personally this evening.

    As a minor point of clarification: the Catholic Church fasting rules do include abstaining from meat on Fridays (which is no longer required the rest of the year) AND eating less on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday (one regular meal and two very light meals, with nothing in between). People are also encouraged to pray and give in various ways.

    It is hard for me to feel that I am “fasting” within my own tradition because the rules are so minor and I am already vegetarian (making abstention from meat meaningless).

    Get out of the center of your world. Lent is not about you. It is about Christ and His Pascha.

    Of the many words of wisdom you offer here, this is the one that really is working in me at the moment. It is so very easy to fall out of focus.

    Some of your other words had the effect of helping me see what is to be my fasting experience this year. (I had only partially seen it before now, despite it being rather simple and obvious.) Thank you so much.

  3. John says:

    What would a typical day look like for one observing Lent, hour by hour? That would be interesting.

  4. fatherstephen says:

    John,
    Good question. Today was a Friday, which is stricter than most. I got up early, skipped breakfast, went to Church, did preparation prayers and served the Liturgy of the Presanctified Gifts, during which I took communion. Then I went and had a light breakfast. I volunteered at a Rehab center after breakfast until about 12:30. Then I ate lunch, a Peanut Butter and Jelly sandwich. I worked in the Church for the afternoon and wrote a little. Then I served Compline at Church for a little more than an hour, and offered a Pannikhida (a prayer service for the departed). Then I came home, took a long walk with my dog and ate a light supper, posted an article and am getting ready for bedtime prayers and sleep. I get up in the morning and go serve a Saturday morning Divine Liturgy (most Saturdays in Lent are called “soul saturdays” and we offer special prayers for the departed – a fitting preparation for the great feast of Pascha).

    Church-wise there are lots of extra services in Lent. They will be attended sporadically by the faithful. I’m never there alone, but this evening there were four others in the Church beside myself. We don’t think of the service is being aimed at those who attend. I would do the service and its prayers if it were only me. The Divine Liturgy (Eucharist) is different, a priest is not allowed to serve that alone, there must be at least one other in attendance.

    But a day is fairly normal, with smaller meals, no meat, fish, alcohol or dairy. We pray more. We try to pay attention more. I don’t have regular tv, but I stay away from news stuff most of the time. I hear a lot more confessions during Lent (that’s normal).

  5. Graham says:

    Dear Father Stephen,

    Thank you for your timely article. Like Mary Benton, I too do not feel like I’m fasting within the Catholic tradition what’s left of it). I decided before Lent to follow the Orthodox fast, so your comments to ‘fast like a Catholic’ and not ‘admire other people’s fasting’ have confused me a little. I assume you wish to emphasize that one’s mode of fasting is not another ‘consumer choice’. I made the decision in the context of considering conversion to Orthodoxy and attendance of Divine Liturgies once a week. I suppose there is also the danger that even conversion can be a consumer act, part of a desire for self-fulfillment. Your article has given me a lot to think about.

    By the way, I’d be interested in hearing more about opinions, and their connections to the passions, should you like to address the topic in future (or perhaps you have already at some time in the past).

  6. fatherstephen says:

    Graham, having set your hand to the plow of an Orthodox fast, keep it up …

  7. jrj1701 says:

    Father Bless,
    Your post always are a very needed reminder of what it is really about. I keep forgetting and that is why there are need for fasts, these times to forget the idea that it is about me, me , me.

  8. Anglican Peggy says:

    In the Anglican church there is a both a common discipline and then there is individual acts of self-denial. So we fast in common (eat less food, lighter meals) and abstain from meat on Fridays together. Then we each select something personal to “give up” as a matter of self-denial. Its not as willy-nilly as it might seem for a bunch of so-called Protestants.

    But I have seen a lot of confusion among Protestants of other denominations that do not have a particular teaching or any teaching about Lenten fasting. Many people grasp why the Lenten fast is a good thing to observe but so many are like sheep without a shepherd and the results are predictable. Lets just say I do a lot of explaining during Lent. The worst of it is that so many don’t realize that the idea is not just to give up but to gain, to replace unnecessary things with life giving things. How many people just give up things without understanding that the idea is create more room to allow God into our lives?

    Now having said that, I have to admit that while I may understand how to do Lent and I can explain it well to others, I am very bad at actually doing Lent. I confess I ate way too much today and played on the computer way too much. Please pray for me.

  9. Anglican Peggy says:

    I should have read all of the comments before posting. Going by what Mary Benton reports, I think that the Catholic observance of Lent must have fallen very far indeed if we Anglicans are more strict than the Catholic Church in this regard. We abstain from meat every Friday of the year but in Lent, this then becomes a common meatless meal on Friday with Stations of the Cross after. Ash Wednesday and Good Friday are strict fasts from morning to evening unless you are sick or have a medical reason for needing to eat. I had no idea that Catholics did any different. I say this not to brag but just to express my surprise and to drop some knowledge. I think most people do not know that the Anglican church is like this. Much like I didn’t know the practice of the Roman church.

  10. Michael Bauman says:

    Best primer on the Lenten fast I’ve read. Only way I can do the fast is as an obedience. Being obedient helps me figure out how to be human.

  11. h west says:

    this is great. i was wondering if you could expand a little bit on your statement with regards to having ‘opinions’. i have a LOT of, what i think are, opinions. for instance, i homeschool, have six children, and have tons of thoughts on how to raise children, how to educate, etc. and, i like to think that they’re ALL right! ha! ha! ha! when does something cross over from ‘opinion’ into ‘right belief’? and when should something be said and when should it be kept quiet? this is a HUGE struggle for me.
    thanks!!!
    heather

  12. Dino says:

    I marvel at the perspicaciousness of the advise in this article!

  13. Michael Bauman says:

    Opinions are conclusions you have come to for myself that I think everybody ought to share . Sometimes share OR ELSE!

    Homeschooling, which my late wife and I did with out son, can be the source of many opinions concerning the rightness or wrongness of other people’s actions.

    Opinions are rarely clothed in love, kindness, humility and mercy.

    Lord forgive me.

  14. Michael Bauman says:

    Opinions are not crucial to one’s salvation. In fact often are blocks to one’s salvation.

  15. This years lent is a great blessing to me and my family as I medidate upon my pilgrimage to The Holy Land last year.Let us glorify the Lord.Amen.

  16. To add on today is my birthday and Iam happy to have seen this another great day in myn life.

  17. Brian says:

    Happy Birthday, Ronald. Many years!

  18. Dean says:

    I did a quick word search for “opinion” and came across this in a Catholic word search version: “Thou shalt not follow the multitude to do evil; neither shalt thou yield in judgment, to the opinion of the majority, to stray from the truth.” (Ex.23:2) Sounds like sage counsel especially when daily we are bombarded by the media to follow the multitude in its headlong rush to consume, be distracted continually, thus forgetting Him in whom we live and move and have our very being.

  19. fatherstephen says:

    Anglican Peggy,
    I want to be careful in my response and not give offense. Some of what you’ve described as Anglican practice is precisely the “modern” Lent, or has the character of how modern Christians “fast.” It is a “chosen” fast, not actually set by tradition in union with others. I spent 18 years as an Episcopal priest, so I am well aware of Anglican practice. There is no “practice,” just different ways it’s interpreted and taught in parishes – and then becomes one of the many “adiaphora,” “all may, some should, none must.” Forgive me, I’m sure you strive to teach some form of asceticism – but Anglicanism, as it exists today, is simply not Classical Christianity. It has a form of liturgy when it wants to, but the variations allowed, as in so much else undermines any possibility of a traditional Christian life. On very large issues (depending on the jurisdiction), gaping holes are created in the tradition – women priests, blessing of same-sex marriage, etc. – make the practice of fasting “straining at gnats, while the Church is swallowing camels.”

    I read recently that Lent is getting to be more and more popular – as such – it is a consumer’s choice. “I’ll take a little Lent with my Christianity.” But the modern versions of Christianity (which Anglicanism chose, ultimately, to ally itself with) only have what they choose to have. If next year the preferences have swung away from Lent, then that, too, will disappear.

    At the heart of this is the question of the Christian relationship with modernity. We should think long and hard about the question. We cannot serve two masters. We cannot serve modernity and the Tradition (even if we like a bit of Tradition with our modernity – that’s an essentially modern approach – its only consistency being “what I like”). Which brings us to the heart of the article – repent from modernity – it’s destroying our souls and our humanity. We cannot re-imagine Christianity.

    Again, I do not mean to offend – but this goes to the very heart of the article. May God give us grace.

  20. fatherstephen says:

    I will indeed think about an article in some detail on “opinions.”

    I am working here at the margins of the English language. There are beliefs – rightly considered, authoritatively taught and faithfully received. These are rooted in the dogma of our faith. Or they are rooted in other more or less immutable principles – such as math or solid science, etc.

    Then there are opinions: What we think about all kinds of things – politics, food, culture, art, clothing, music, how to raise children, etc. We hold them lightly, with a heavy dose of “perhaps.” Or we hold them strongly! Often these opinions work as “affinities.” They group us with others who hold similar opinions. Thus we are “conservatives,” “liberals,” etc. And these thoughts are in fact passions. They are closer to “feelings” and often have a great deal of emotion attached to them. They can be flash points of anger or judgment if riled. They are, in fact, occasions for sin and do little good.

    As passions, they are useful in our consumer culture – for we consume, not on the basis of belief or need, but on the basis of passion. No one “needs” anything like as much as most of us own. We “wanted” it, and even later often regret having bought it. Advertising is geared towards manipulating the passions. Almost all political work is rooted in the passions. The passions enslave us and make us servants of the wicked one.

    If we want to be saved, daily, it is good to work at renouncing opinions. If you vote, then vote in a considered manner – but renounce political passions (this is hard). Think about all the opinions you have – how they set you up so that others “mash your buttons.” Renounce them. They are generally not helpful in our lives. The culture (especially the modern media culture) wants us to have opinions, lots of them. They do not care what your opinions are. So long as you have them, you can be manipulated. They are handles that the enemy uses to lift us (they are on the hand baskets in which we are all riding to hell) :)

    If you want any peace of mind, there will be none whatsoever so long as you entertain opinions.

    Opinions, “what I think,” are a by-product of the democratic myth, inherently modern. “What I think is important!” Why? Only because you think that you are self-created and self-determining and that your opinions are useful for shaping the world around you. It’s modern nonsense and essentially atheist.

    In my experience, we have more opinions than God.

  21. John says:

    “We try to pay attention more.” Jesus – Watch and pray that you enter not into temptation. If you will, comment on paying attention, watchfulness.

  22. fatherstephen says:

    John,
    Of course there are a number of kinds, or levels of watchfulness, depending on your situation. There is the larger watchfulness, looking for the larger sorts of temptations. These can be dealt with, to a degree, by a rule of life and obedience in some form. For example, if a man has not settled in his heart that he is going to remain chaste, either faithful to a wife or celibate, then he is subject to many serious temptations. Being married, as I am, and having simply reckoned in my heart my faithfulness, there are some temptations that are mitigated. They don’t disappear, but they are seriously mitigated. Many things are like that. The less formed, the less “married” our lives are, the more vulnerable we remain. We are like a “fortress” with no walls. The enemy just walks over us. Tradition, for example, provides this wall in many ways. Many things are just settled, and I need only submit myself to them – obey them – to have greater protection. To be watchful from a strong tower on a wall is much easier than out in the open.

    Speaking of that, Scripture, laid to heart, provides a similar wall. If we have “hidden God’s word in our heart” then it prevents us from being simply out in the open.

    As matters draw closer they become more difficult, the battles more fierce. Here we begin to stand guard against the passions. And it can take a lot of effort – first to understand the nature and the power of a passion (say anger). Then to understand ourselves and why this passion might have such power over us. My experience tells me that if I try to deal with these things without understanding, just by brute force of the will, I’m going to lose. This requires penance, reflection, and, often, good counsel. Penance, recognizing that is our own selves that gives such power to the passions. Reflection – looking at a situation where we fell (or stood) and examining it. What happened?

    The reflections I’ve offered on opinions as passions, is a form of that reflection. We have to learn that our thoughts are extremely powerful, and that we should take care with them. Why do I need to have thoughts about so many things (along with opinions)? I can remember my Father-in-law wonderfully withstanding my youthful arguments with him with the simple word, “I don’t know about that.” It was as if he really didn’t need to engage with my arguments. It frustrated my young hot head. Over the years I came to admire it. So when we got together, I stopped wasting time trading opinions. Instead, we encouraged one another and regaled each other we conversations on the goodness of God. To my everlasting benefit!

    When matters get extremely close, as in when we’re trying to pray, I find that it is very useless to pay attention to stray thoughts. Paying them any attention, arguing with them, is losing the battle, because inattention is the enemies victory. Thus, in such a situation we act very positively, we keep watch, by watching for Christ. To “remember the name of Jesus,” as the fathers say. Learning to practice a certain “mindfulness” is good. There’s a lot of psych stuff out there these days on mindfulness – most of it is pretty good. Older Christian practice simply called it watchfulness or being “collected.” It means to keep your mind centered in the heart (Christ in the heart) and not on anything else – as in not on tomorrow – not on yesterday – not on anything but right now.

    There is much to be learned and practiced in this last matter.

  23. Michael Bauman says:

    The less I seek to control and shape the interactions of my daily life, the easier it is to offer thanks to God. The more I attempt to bend others and things to my will the more angry and passionate I become.

    This world is insane — attempting to order and control irrational even demonic behavior around me only draws me into it. The only response that is freeing is one of kindness and forgiveness with the idea of how to help those around me right now and embedding myself in prayer and forgiveness.

    I fail most of the time.. but He is always there when I return.

  24. mary benton says:

    Anglican Peggy (& others)

    Just to clarify (not offended and certainly not wanting to give offense) – what I listed were the “rules” regarding fasting in the Catholic Church. People are encouraged to do much more – personal choices to enhance prayer life, help the poor, practice asceticism and so on. And many people take this very seriously.

    However, as Fr. Stephen noted, with so much left to personal choice, I feel there has been a notable loss of structure in which to practice one’s faith. I suspect that much of this came at time when the “modern” secular culture was rebelling against “rules” and there was some pressure to move away from a rule-bound church culture.

    I do not doubt that some in the church genuinely believed that choosing something personally meaningful would deepen faith. And I believe that it has done so for some people. The unfortunate side effect, however, was that for many people it seemed to render many rules within the church superfluous. Hence, many people began to take more lightly their obligation to attend Sunday and holy day liturgy, etc.

    My sense is that the problem for the RC church began before the easing of fasting rules, however. Although I was relatively young at the time, I believe that many people may have lost touch with why they were following rules in the first place, e.g. Fridays had become a time to eat fish (hardly a sacrifice to tame the passions – unless, of course, you don’t like fish). So, with the rule taken away, for many people there was nothing left and the importance of church rules in general became questionable.

    And rules for their own sake ARE superfluous. When united with prayer and offered with a deeper spiritual understanding of their meaning, they have the potential to liberate us from ourselves and unite us to God and one another.

    Of course, these are just my opinions :-)

    (Fr. Stephen – it would be great if you wrote more about opinions in a separate article – I’m afraid that some may lose out on this important topic if it is only in the comments section.)

  25. mary benton says:

    More importantly – I left this out – we lost the concept of obedience. What is there left to obey – except ourselves?

    We find ourselves having come full circle back to the original sin of wanting to be gods rather than obey God.

    May He have mercy on us.

  26. Anglican Peggy says:

    Father Stephen,

    I didn’t mean to suggest that all of the churches in our Communion follow the same rule each Lent. My point was to point out that 1) there is a Anglican tradition of observing Lent 2) Many churches still teach it with authority 3) The people of those same churches follow the common fasting tradition as a rule not as an option. If there is an individual component it is as an addition to the mandatory part that everyone is expected to follow as a group. The observation of the fast is done in common and is not a suggestion that each individual may take or leave. As I said it is not as every man for himself as some of the other Protestant traditions which are very optional if there is any tradition at all. Even if there are parishes that don’t teach the tradition properly, that doesn’t mean that tradition doesn’t exist or that it isn’t being taught properly in other parishes. I was actually taught the vital importance of all the members of the parish following the same rule of fasting, that it was emphatically not about me as an individual. Any individual act of self-denial that I choose to add on top of that would be up to me but that was not the whole point by any means. The common fast was the important thing.

  27. h west says:

    thank you for replying, Fr. Stephen. i think part of the problem also involves the fact that, in the modern day, EVERYTHING is JUST an opinion. i can say, ‘the sky is blue’ and someone can say, ‘well, that’s your opinion’. i can talk about Orthodoxy with someone and they’ll just say, ‘that’s nice, but that’s your opinion’, etc. you catch my drift. there are very few ‘right’ things anymore. everything is just an opinion. it makes it hard for me to decipher which things in my head i need to treat as ‘opinion’ and which things i can hold on to without clinging to them as ‘passions’. anyway, i appreciate your response, and as usual, it gives me a lot to chew on. but, that’s just my opinion.

    i look forward to a future article on the subject.

  28. fatherstephen says:

    h west,
    Yes, it is common these days to hear that there are only opinions. I would say that there are a multitude of opinions – one reason being that people are extremely lazy intellectually and existentially. There are ways and means of knowing beyond opinion but they can be difficult, arduous, and require great cost and commitment. Most people, having settled into consumption as a life-style, defend their laziness with nostrums such as “that’s just your opinion.” They may be right, but their lives have been reduced to insipid batteries in somebody’s Matrix.

    It is quite possible to wake up from such delusion and actually know something. To enter the life of true knowledge is to live in union with God Himself – to know as we are known. It is to return to being truly human. It’s why we renounce opinions and begin the journey of learning to know. I will write on this soon if I can. I’m still searching for some words. Your prayers will be appreciated.

  29. Gene B says:

    In the last years I have found it extremely helpful to remove myself from all standard American political debates. I no longer vote in major elections and this has helped me stop categorizing others as “liberals” or “right wingers” or any other description. It is liberating to no longer have to fight anyone. Indeed, it has made it easier to be friendly with everybody on the same level. The political establishment is masterful at manipulating and dividing us Christians and we are better off not succumbing to their intellectual warfare. It is better to simply love everyone and not judge – and don’t define yourself as any thing else other than the Christian that you are. The danger is that you feel obligated to buy in to the same arguments your party (or group or whatever) are making. I genuinely feel you can use your energy to pray and serve Christ on a local level much more effectively.

    An Orthodox elder (I forget which one) once prophesied that the Antichrist would be voted into office. I feel it is better to simply keep watch.

  30. Ralph Williams says:

    Thank you! Very useful thoughts.

  31. Dean says:

    “If your church isn’t boring, it’s probably modern.” I drove by a church marquee the other day. It read: “Come to……..church, where worship is fun!” No kidding. And definitely not funny. Modernity. You can hear its empty, shallow ring.

  32. Lou. says:

    Father Stephen:

    Not as a wisecrack, but with seriousness, let me ask what you mean by this post and in related topics.

    I have read you as recommending the virtue or stability, as in “bloom where you are planted.” I am in the Episcopal Church. I recognize that you have been through that process, and I have read and listened to your explanation of your journey. I do not wish to discuss the problems of that Church. Suffice it to say that the problems are deep and grave. (I expect Anglican Peggy may enjoy the Continuing Church tradition or a more recent variant thereof. Of course, this is familiar territory for you ).

    All this being said, I am trying to be obedient in my current place by practicing the Lenten fast. As in Acts, I find there no one to teach me. (Being an American equivalent of an Ethiopian eunuch strikes too close to home . . .).

    So it comes back to a practical question: what should I and others like me do? (It is not obvious how the Orthodox fast is kept, though I appreciate the recommendation of peanut butter and jelly ). Is stability fidelity?

    Willing to listen to your opinion . . .

  33. fatherstephen says:

    Lou,
    I appreciate the question and I’ll be as honest as I can. I did indeed wrestle with something like this when I was an Episcopalian. There were questions like “stability” (which I valued then as well), as well as my responsibility to the people for whom I was a priest.

    One important aspect of all this – is that no one is a Church alone. We were not meant to discover all of this for ourselves and do it alone. Not even hermits pursue Christ alone. There is a time to flee and a time for stability.

    I “fled” where I was, recognizing that I was largely alone, even in the congregation that I served. I was liked (my sermons were pleasant, etc. and I was a caring pastor), but I think I was also tolerated, much like a dear old uncle who’s gone a bit funny in the head. Worse by far, was the fact that we are in communion with the whole Cup – and that meant with a panoply of heresies beyond description (and beyond denominational boundaries into who knows what). It was simply false.

    To accept Christ means to accept the whole Christ – the Creed mentions the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church (it’s not optional). I came to believe and accept that the Orthodox Church is that One Church. Conversion was not optional for me – it was simply a matter of being obedient. And there I could be stable, at last.

    There is no stability in modernity – it is married to change as a principle. Conversion is something that an individual has to be convinced of themselves, despite the fact that individual conversion (making a choice) has all of the hallmarks of modernity as well. But rightly done, it is not a modern act – but the most primitive and foundational of Christian actions.

    Stability can be fidelity – fidelity to Christ. Fidelity to a denominational construct that is rooted in various errors is not a virtue, except in some vague way.

    These questions create crises in people’s lives and are extremely disruptive. Recovering normalcy is quite slow after conversion. I have told people before that the only reason to become Orthodox is because you believe it to be the truth. If you don’t believe it to be the truth, you would likely come to hate it. Many, of course, do not believe that anyone should says “it’s the truth.” They are casualties of the modern project’s destruction of Christianity. Denominations who do not believe themselves to be the truth (how could they) simply confess that they are not the Church and should not be identified with what the Creed describes. Now, they will, of course, refer that creedal phrase to some abstraction, but that is a 19th century idea, an invention of modernity itself. As Christian teachings go, being invented in the 19th century excludes the possibility of being correct.

    If you want to know more about how the Orthodox fast – here is a link to my parish newsletter with a couple of articles on the fast that describe the practice.

  34. Karen says:

    Prayers appreciated for my mom, Betty (83), who undergoes open heart bypass surgery & valve repair early tomorrow morning.

  35. fatherstephen says:

    May God protect her.

  36. dcnjameselliott says:

    The best take home for me was the reminder, “Our lives are a gift from God and not of our own making.”

    Why do we dare think we can fix a gift, especially one from God? Lent is not about our attempts at fixing the gift, it is about facing the Giver with a thankful heart. Thankfulness begets humility. The aroma of humility attracts the Holy Spirit.

    Fr Stephen, thank you for the reminder.

  37. Dave says:

    Beautiful thoughts; some of the best are in the comment section. Thank you Father. I ask your blessing.

  38. deacon john vaporis says:

    I know what you mean Father Stephen, worship in the Orthodox Church is perceived as “boring” but as you know it is anything but “boring.” Compare it to breathing. Breathing and worship are both essential to life. I don’t think about breathing very often and other times I do. Some times each breath is a sweet and fragrant experience as worship in the Orthodox Church is.

    For me, often modern worship is “boring” – I can’t help thinking here comes another electric guitar song about making God in my image. Worship within a restless consumerist mindset.

    Marriage is a good example of worship in the Orthodox Church. Orthodoxy sees marriage as a vehicle for salvation. Think wedding at Cana in Galilee, think Christ the Bridegroom. “Moderns” think being married to the same person for thirty or more years is boring. But the reality is the opposite. Like the Church, a marriage finds new ways, year after year to warm, to soak, every fiber of your being with Love. I’ll take “boring” any day.

    Thank you Father for this article. The timing is impeccable. Everyone take a deep breath “Help us, save us, have mercy of us, and protect us God by Your Grace.”

  39. Michael Bauman says:

    Like the Church, a marriage finds new ways, year after year to warm, to soak, every fiber of your being with Love.

    Beautiful.

  40. Karen says:

    Thank you for prayers for my mom. Surgeon was pleased with what he was able to do (quadruple bypass and mitral valve repair). Mom is making good progress today in ICU. Not out of the woods yet, but God has definitely made and continues to make His presence and care felt.

  41. mary benton says:

    Karen – so glad to hear it. May your mother continue to heal in God’s loving care…

  42. leonard nugent says:

    I found this on an Orthodox web site. It seems like good advice

    Obviously, many Orthodox do not keep the traditional rule. If you adopt it, beware of pride, and pay no attention to anyone’s fast but your own. As one monastic put it, we must “keep our eyes on our own plates.”

  43. “Then there are opinions: What we think about all kinds of things – politics, food, culture, art, clothing, music, how to raise children, etc. We hold them lightly, with a heavy dose of “perhaps.” Or we hold them strongly! Often these opinions work as “affinities.” They group us with others who hold similar opinions. Thus we are “conservatives,” “liberals,” etc. And these thoughts are in fact passions. They are closer to “feelings” and often have a great deal of emotion attached to them. They can be flash points of anger or judgment if riled. They are, in fact, occasions for sin and do little good.”

    I think this is what I was trying to get at in a recent post I wrote about “Knowing and Believing” for OCN’s Sounding Blog. When we cross over from the lightly-held opinion we believe to a passionate assertion that we ‘KNOW’, we can find ourselves in dangerous territory. I have been wondering how to write posts without them being simply ‘opinions’ of this passionate kind! I find, for instance, that I have entirely lost my taste for reading the ‘rant’ style of writing found in such a lot of Christian blogs and sites these days. Often they are addressing some serious issue that needs dealing with, but it seems to me the rant approach often does more harm than good.

  44. fatherstephen says:

    Matushka Donna,
    Blessings! If we are being watchful, when we entertain certain thoughts (opinions) or conversations, we can often quickly tell that they come within the range of mere opinion (and passions). We can feel and urgency or an anger, a “need” to express it. That “necessity” is almost a hallmark of the passions. What we know and rightly hold, has no necessity within it. It does not compel us. We can even keep silent with it.

    If it “needs” saying, then we would probably do best to remain silent.

  45. Michael Bauman says:

    There are some things I know, but the older I get those seem to become fewer in number. However, it is often the manner in which one communicates what one knows.

    One of the great things about participating on this blog is that my participation has helped me to become a bit more irenic in how I communicate (most of the time).

  46. mary benton says:

    Matushka Donna,

    I certainly do not claim to be a great blog writer or a person free of passions.

    However, a couple of things help me and most likely they are obvious. One is to pray before I write – or even to pray as the urge to write is developing in me. If God wants me to write, He will give me something to write.

    Sometimes I find that things simply come and fall into place and there is a sense of grace. Other times, I struggle and cannot make an idea work. Sometimes something happens that works it out later – usually an experience that humbles me enough to allow God to speak. Other times I abandon or delete a post when my struggle lets me know that I have gone in an improper direction. Perhaps this is a naive way to discern but it seems to help me.

    Michael – like you, participating in this blog community, with the gracious guidance of Fr. Stephen, has helped me. I realize how useless many of my opinions are, fueled as they are by passions. I have learned to delete some of them before I submit them. (Glory to God for all things!)

  47. Alexandra says:

    Great post again, Father!
    I too would ask you to please write at length about “opinions” and thoughts soon. In this world where everyone seems to have opinions about everything and where debating for the sake of debating (not for reaching a consensus or for finding the truth; maybe because we don’t really think there could actually be a truth) and challenging everything for the sake of challenge — these being seen as great virtues and signs of intelligence — a different take on things would be refreshing and help some get out of the hamster wheel of their own spam.

    I loved this article and wanted to share it with my “online friends” but then I thought, wow, sharing the bit about opinions with these people in 2014 — this would be revolting to them and social suicide on my part :)

  48. Michael Bauman says:

    Opinions are generally immune to any contradictory evidence.
    Mutually contradictory opinions can easily be held by the same person.
    When one’s opinion is challenged irritation/anger and dismissiveness are come reactions.

    Love and blessing are usually far away.

    God forgive me a sinner and lead me in the path of righteousness.

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