Glory to God for All Things

There Are No Opinions In This Article

HesychasmThere is a name for the Orthodox way of life: hesychia. In Greek, the word means “silence.” It could also be rendered “stillness,” or “quiet.” Far more than simply refraining from speech, it is the quiet of the heart, the stillness of the mind at rest in God, dwelling in peace. It is in this place that we primarily encounter God. God certainly makes Himself known even in stormy circumstances. But when the soul is in a storm it does not see what is being made known. All it sees is storm. The Orthodox way directs us and gives us the means of stilling the storm.

The mind is a noisy place – for some the noise is an artifact of brain dysfunction. But for everyone, the noise seems to increase with our involvement in the modern lifestyle. As consumers we are constantly prodded one way or another, towards one desire or another. And the consuming model extends into almost every area of our lives. Christians consume their religion (how do you like your church/priest/congregation, etc.?). We also consume one another and the ideas that float through our world. The 24/7 news cycle shuttles hours of “talking-heads” (and arguing panels) on any subject that can hold our attention. And as soon as one topic fades, another is found to take its place. “How do you feel about…” has become the word of the moment.

The message which is not so subtle, is that we should feel something about everything. An informed person (thus an “intelligent, discerning person”) will have an informed opinion (feeling) about any topic at hand. We are being trained to feel.

What journalists call “feelings,” the faith calls “passions.”

The passions are not matters of sexual desire per se (“he was filled with passion…”), but are the energies of the soul and body wrongly directed and in an unruly state. Both body and soul are created with desires – desires are necessary to our well-being. But the desire to eat in no way tells us what to eat, when to eat or how much. When “what,” “when” and “how much” tell us what we are doing, the desire has been high-jacked and becomes a passion. We are enslaved. Any desire can be taken captive (and most are). A primary goal of spiritual struggle (ascesis) is freedom from high-jacked desires (passions), a return to sanity and a properly ordered existence.

Fr. Dumitru Staniloae wrote:

The passions represent the lowest level to which human nature can fall. . . In fact, they overcome the will, so that the man of the passions, is no longer a person of will; we say that he is a person ruled, enslaved, carried along by the passions. (Orthodox Spirituality, p. 77)

Most people readily understand the nature of the passions when we speak of gluttony or sexual promiscuity. However the passion of opinions is unknown. How can opinions be passions? Aren’t they just what we happen to think about any given thing?

The fact that we can use the word “feeling” for an “opinion” does much to explain its passionate character. The thoughts that are saving thoughts – thoughts that are of benefit to the soul and its salvation – generally need no level of feeling in order to bolster their value. But our culture, driven by consumerism, majors in the means of motivation. Advertisers and politicians, the shapers of public opinion, learned long ago that reasoning based on the facts is the least reliable motivator. Getting someone to feel that they are reasoning based on the facts is much better – but getting them to feel is the key.

These feeling/thoughts, regardless of how noble or innocuous, are simply noise in the soul. In their presence there can be no hesychia. Prayer is overwhelmed, and true prayer rarely reaches the surface: it is drowned in the sea of passions.

Passions are also described as habits – they are addictions of the soul and body. In service to its own economic interests, the culture has found it useful for people to be addicted to feelings. They are easily the most malleable aspect of the soul, particularly vulnerable to manipulation. The addiction to feelings is a hallmark of the modern soul. We think that we are our feelings, or that they somehow express something important. In truth, our feelings are so distorted through addiction and manipulation that they are generally only barometers of the cultural pressures that surround us.

Ascesis (such as fasting and prayer) in the modern world necessarily includes fasting from feelings, particularly of the sort that comprise opinions. We not only do not need opinions, they are a cancer on the soul. We do not have opinions – opinions have us.

Conduct an experiment. Watch a news program or spend an hour on Facebook, and try not to react. Watch a news program on the network you do not like and try not to react. Such news programs are to feelings/thoughts what pornography is to sex. When the experiment is complete, consider the nature of the fast. If you want peace, hesychia, the decision will be obvious.

A hermit advised, “If someone speaks to you about a controversy, do not argue with him. If what he says makes sense, say, ‘Yes,’ If his comments are misguided, say, ‘I don’t know anything about that.’ If you refuse to dispute with his ideas, your mind will be at peace.”

52 Responses to “There Are No Opinions In This Article”

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  1. Allen Long says:

    Fr. Stephen,

    This is the best explanation of the passions that I have encountered. As a convert of 5 years, I still have so much to learn and unlearn. This article really puts into focus for me repentance and fasting. Thank you!

  2. davidp says:

    The Hesychia live-style has been the spiritual study and warfare that was first focused couple years ago after reading Orthodox Psychotherapy by Metro Hierotheos Nafpaktos. I had to read it twice after first understanding the Greek terms. Then making notes on the side of the page of what they meant.

    The spiritual battle continues almost every day trying to stop, at the door-step of my mind, these passions…the over-whelming feeling and emotions that may flood in at any time. But, by the grace of God and through the strength of Christ and the Jesus Prayer, these thoughts of passion and emotions are defeated. One writer mentioned that these passions come from “our memories” of past events in our lives. The warfare comes when they are stopped in their tracks from entering into our mind.

    This life style was what the early monks learned in the desert. We do not have to be monks, but they are for all christians to live and be conquerors. Praise be to God…at my age of 74. (some Orthodox websites that deal with this)

  3. davidp says:

    1 On the Necessity of Courage for Healing our Heart
    Thu Mar 27, 2014 7:32 pm (PDT) . Posted by: “Dynamis”
    For 3-28-14

    To heal a deadened nous takes courage. The Fathers lay great
    stress on the importance of
    courage for the spiritual life….A courageous soul resurrects his
    dying nous….It is only courage
    that gives a man heart to revive his nous, dead from sin. 3-28-14

    Hierotheos Vlachos, “Healing of the Nous,” Orthodox Psychotherapy,

    (The “nous” is our mind)

  4. Dino says:

    This is such an outstanding article!
    It is a joy to read such wisdom that we would almost only get to hear in mount Athos some decades ago, coming from the USA…!
    :-)
    Glory be to God and his unsearchable providence…!
    It deserves more than one read.

    The watchfulness over feelings and not just thoughts, – even over the minute, virtually undetected changes of our internal disposition- seems, indeed the heart of Spiritual Warfare and the key to its success. How can we achieve complete Christ-centred love and humility, of any staying power, without it?

  5. Kristofer Carlson says:

    I have no opinion on the matter.

  6. Dino says:

    Our ‘Opinions’, whether as outside influences from the world or any other power, as understood here, require a definite measure of self-centredness.
    Freedom from them, requires a continuously renewed Christ-centredness.
    We cannot ever call the resulting ‘phronema’ an opinion (while it remains free from delusional admixtures -outside of an argumentative context that is).

  7. Dear Father,

    I believe that the contest between thought and feelings makes us fully human. The hermit has no wish to enter the fray of human affairs. My man is Blake:

    Bring me my Bow of burning gold;
    Bring me my Arrows of desire:
    Bring me my Spear: O clouds unfold!
    Bring me my Chariot of fire!

    I will not cease from Mental Fight,
    Nor shall my Sword sleep in my hand:
    Till we have built Jerusalem….

  8. Michael Bauman says:

    It always takes courage to submit to love, release oneself from fear and eschew control.

    I doubt it can be done unless led by the Holy Spirit.

  9. Paul says:

    Thank you for this wonderful post Father Stephen. Our society has become obsessed with choice and having more choice. I grew up in a Presbyterian household which was God loving and God fearing. We were taught to love our neighbors as our ourselves. I first felt God’s love in that church and will always be thankful for that. But I left that church and converted to Catholicism 10 years ago because there was something deeply wrong and missing with the church I grew up in. Your words are so poignant to be borderline offensive. Jesus was offensive to many during his time.
    An uncle of mine is a scholar of Eastern religion and he taught me the truths of Buddhism. If I remember correctly, Buddhists believe that all suffering originates from desire and that the path to nirvana is to eliminate desire.
    Thank you again for sharing this Father. I really appreciate it.

  10. Dino says:

    I think our desires, feelings reactions and actions, can all be transformed in Christ, Charles. They will not cease but will be changed. The heightened watchfulness in which the spiritual life of hesychia trains us in (even if practiced for short breaks), along with the vision of our sinfulness, incapacity and slavery which this watchfulness gradually brings about, is the sine qua non for this to happen.
    I share this somewhat classic and traditional ‘opinion’ :-)
    (which can be verified practically)
    that for this life to be maintained, a minimum -ideally- of half of the 24 hour day for a monastic (12 hours), and a bare minimum of a tenth of the day for a lay person (2 to 3 hours) needs be spent in the presence of the Lord in watchful prayer. Scriptures, or even our life’s happenings, our joys and our sorrows as well as our illnesses and difficulties and what goes on in the entire world will never make full and proper sense without this bare minimum…

  11. Jeremiah says:

    I think we would all do much better to sit with and understand our feelings. The fathers that I have read teach that our human nature is inherently good. However, sin has brought corruption/distortion into what was once wholly good. That understanding is an important starting point.

    Feelings are not representative of Truth, but are (as Fr Stephen points out) a barometer that indicates something is going on inside of us. They are a natural part of our humanity, and suppressing them will only lead to further distortion of our nature.

    We should work with our spiritual directors to find the root of our feelings; it is not always easy, and certainly isn’t glamorous when we identify something, but it is healthy.

    I mention all of that because I have seen some people jump to an unhealthy extreme and assume all anger and emotions are sinful in themselves and therefore should be suppressed. The psychological and spiritual damage that results from repressed issues is devastating.

    We do better to sit with these things and not pay so much attention to the object of our passion, but rather to the passion itself and why it has been aroused within us. As the Orthodox Celts sing, “The devils you are safest with are those that you know best.”

  12. Dallas says:

    I grew up with a Pentecostal minister for a father.The way in which I was taught to pray was more talking at God, from a place of desire.

    In my teens, I eschewed Christianity, and drifted aimlessly through life for over a decade. Then I discovered Buddhism, and through Buddhism reconnected with Christian faith in a more willing and self-determined way.

    I think this concept, which you have illuminated, lies at the heart of Buddhism, and also at the heart of Christianity. I am reminded of 1 Corinthians 6:19 – Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own. Being temples of the Holy Spirit, we are that place through the the Shekinah glory of God may shine. But when our temple is filled with our own passion, our own limited viewpoint, desires, feelings, ultimately all of these make profane the temple, and the Shekinah glory will not be present.

  13. davidp says:

    Ancient Faith Today podcaster, Kevin Allen, couple weeks back at a long podcast on Buddhism and Orthodoxy. It is worth listening to:

    http://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/aftoday/buddhism_and_orthodoxy

  14. John in Denver (but not John Denver) says:

    This article makes a great point, one you might only encounter in an Orthodox monastery if you weren’t reading the right stuff on the web or in books.

    I remember one thing the abbot of the Hermitage of the Holy Cross told me when I was visiting them for the Nativity Fast a few years back: He said, “If anyone is arguing about anything, or discussing facts about anything, and you happen to be in the vicinity, don’t respond or say anything. Even if you know you’re right, don’t get involved. Agree with whatever is said and don’t try to prove your point.

    This is actually harder than you think.

  15. fatherstephen says:

    Jeremiah and Paul,
    Hesychasm (the Orthodox Way) does not seek to repress or suppress. But the desires we generally experience are disordered. Our nature is indeed unfallen. But our persons (which have to put the natural drives into play) are very disordered.

    Short theology lesson a la Maximus the Confessor.

    Our nature always wills the right thing – it’s inclination is always towards God. But what we experience, generally, is not so much this “natural” will, but the “gnomic” will, i.e. deliberation. We simply don’t see things clearly, thus we “fall back” on deliberating. This is what we often mean when we say “free will” but this is not accurate. Indeed, the Councils teach that Christ has no “gnomic will” i.e. He does not and did not deliberate. There is manifest in the Garden both of the natural wills in Christ, human and divine, the human will does not desire to die. But the human yields to the divine for the sake of love, “nevertheless not my will.” The fathers say this passage in the gospel is given to us in order to reveal the two natures in Christ, but not that we was deliberating in the way we experience as fallen creatures. He willed as a man, in agreement with the Father (with whom He shared one nature).

    But our persons are deeply distorted. We do not live or see in accordance with our nature. We are confused. The feelings and thoughts are complex, compounded and confusing. And so we deliberate and do the best we can.

    But Hesychasm points us towards Christ. Through prayer, fasting, etc., we still the mind and the flesh (this is called “purification”). And we begin to see clearly, and then we cease slowly to deliberate. We begin to act in accord with our nature. This is “illumination.” Our nature and person begin to have a harmony rather than constant interior struggle. In union with Christ God, we are increasingly illumined, and enabled to act in accord with our nature. The end of all that is “theosis,” conformed to the image of Christ, who is the first to have lived fully in accordance with human nature. He is the first “fully man.” We are “fully man” but cannot yet live like it.

    If we give ourselves over to the passions, these disordered sounds, thoughts and feelings, we simply yield ourselves to a lot of noise. A lot of the noise might be religious and spiritual, but it will always come back to frustration because it’s just noise and not the primary work of purification.

    Hesychasm points us first to purification – still the noise of the passions. Renounce them where necessary. Fast in obedience. Pray, etc. There are no holy opinions – even when they are correct. There are no good deliberations, even when we choose to do the “right” thing.

    For true salvation, we not only do the right thing, but do it in the right way. It is for this reason that the saints are light in the world.

  16. fatherstephen says:

    Dallas,
    It is not Buddhism. We do not give up desires. Our desires become rightly ordered. The inner world of Orthodoxy is, in its depths deeply different than Buddhism, though there are many surface similarities.

  17. Niphon says:

    Father,

    What does one do when one is enmeshed in news/opinion as a matter of profession? I work in government, and the news cycle affects my professional environment directly. I do have a spiritual father and attempt to live an Orthodox life, but what can one do in that situation?

  18. Paul says:

    This is something I have been thinking about for some time.
    I know a man in Broome, Western Australia, where a controversial project to build a huge gas plant was dividing the town because of the pristine nature of the proposed site.
    I asked him his view on the venture and he said: `I don’t have an opinion’.
    This left me gobsmacked – I could not recall the last time anyone had said to me that they did not have an opinion on an anything.
    Since then I have made a point of not forming a view on the 90 per cent of `issues’ that are really not worth wasting time on.
    We can know the pros and cons of even the weighty matters such as this Broome gas plant without having to come to a conclusion, simply because we don’t know enough.
    It is very liberating, especially when you see the astonished look on someone’s face when you say `I don’t have an opinion’ in response to their question.

  19. Michael Bauman says:

    To really be able to say: “Thy will, not mine” is a something I find quite difficult. Decisions must be made but…

    May the Lord have mercy on me and us all.

    “This is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it”.

  20. yes it is we all are Orthodox silence is A great blessing

  21. fatherstephen says:

    Niphon,
    Working in the belly of the beast (so to speak). Be realistic. I would suggest that there needs to be some space between your heart and what you hear. The news cycle is largely geared to produce a reaction in the passions. If possible, work at not reacting. You might note information (which, of course, will be slanted and stacked for reactive purpose), but work at not engaging on the level of the passions. And, as much as possible, try to tell the truth and be honest. Do not lie (or spin) for anyone. No job is worth that.

    That’s hard advice. How would an Orthodox Christian accept a position in a White House staff (any party or president)? With great reservation. We would readily agree that a Christian might refuse a position in a Nazi White House. Any White House (or other place) that expects us to practice lying, or prevaricating, or fudging (whatever we choose to call it) for some end that is perceived to be justified, is simply asking us to do evil.

    It’s black and white. We don’t want it to be black and white, but it is.

    Stay close to your spiritual father and pray for honesty in your soul. God will keep you.

    Now, strangely, I will say some of the same things about being a priest. Leading an organization (a parish) can easily tempt a leader to “finesse” things. To put a good spin on anything. When I was an Anglican, that temptation was constantly around me – and I did badly – as I reflect on it. By the time I converted to Orthodoxy, I felt I had done my soul great damage. It has taken time for that to heal.

    The temptations are always there – for almost anyone – but being honest is essential to our souls. Being quiet (inwardly) is equally essential.

    In your case, where the news cycle is important – I would choose my vendors. Any useful “digest” of the news is not a bad idea.

    God give you grace.

  22. Dino says:

    Niphon,
    you bring up a hot topic in the spiritual life.
    There are many such conflicting situations in life, some are even more of a ‘tight rope walk’, with very little underneath as a safety net sometimes.
    The situation you describe can be greatly helped by one’s advancement in watchfulness. As a rule, one who regularly (daily) finds enough time (or even very little time) and joy in practicing attentively staying in God’s presence with the Jesus prayer (at some convenient time of their own -such as first thing upon waking in the morning), tends to have a sort of “cloud of protection” following them for the rest of the day. Really. It has been proved time and again in the Orthodox tradition. It is as if a divine protective bubble surrounds such a person who knows (at least once a day, every day), what really matters…
    It is – as Father Stephen described it – “some space between your heart and what you hear”, and perhaps what you even feel, even a sinful fall due to previously cultivated weaknesses can feels like no more than a marginal -rather than a central- affair to your soul once this little time is established.
    And the sober joy it spawns helps all of our personal encounters.

  23. ofGrace says:

    The thoughts that are saving thoughts – thoughts that are of benefit to the soul and its salvation – generally need no level of feeling in order to bolster their value.

    Some of the most impassioned and spiritually disordered Christians I know are those who like to insist we need to believe and act based on “reason” following the “facts” and not based on “feelings.” However, they are more impassioned about the opinions they form based on what they perceive to be the “facts” and more caught up in fearful and angry judgmental passions around culture war issues than anyone else I know. As your post so accurately states, this is precisely because they pay more attention to the opinions of others (the propaganda that masquerades as “news” through various mass media sources–even Christian ones) than they do to God Himself.

    My experience is when we pay attention to God in worship and prayer, He directs us into the depths of our own hearts and to a deeper understanding of the true nature and source of our own feelings and beliefs. Owning our true feelings and beliefs in a responsible way (not repressing, denying or suppressing them) and confessing their true nature to ourselves and God is the first step to seeing them rightly ordered and transfigured by Christ.

    What your post begins to illumine is that genuinely being guided by the Holy Spirit through our “nous”/heart/reason (i.e., not merely our “reason” in the sense of logic, but in the full-orbed Orthodox sense) is different than what most modern people think of as “reasoning according to the facts.” What I am learning is the goal of this process in Orthodoxy (finding stillness and discernment that we may be transformed from the inside out into the image of Christ) is also different than the worldly form of “reasoning” by the external man, where the misguided goal is to “believe” (and try to propagate) “truth,” where that is understood as holding “right” opinions.

    Great post, Father.

  24. Karen says:

    Watch a news program or spend an hour on Facebook, and try not to react. Watch a news program on the network you do not like and try not to react. Such news programs are to feelings/thoughts what pornography is to sex. When the experiment is complete, consider the nature of the fast. If you want peace, hesychia, the decision will be obvious.

    I have to confess, this is where (with guidance from my spiritual father) I was to focus my fast this Lent. Not unsurprisingly perhaps, I have succumbed to temptation in this area more than normal over the past couple of weeks! :-( Time to get up and try again. Prayers appreciated!

  25. How do I unsubscribe? I find this kind of quietism disturbing— even to a former Quaker— and I believe my earlier comment was deleted. I sincerely hope that not only certain kinds of opinions are acceptable in response to the Father’s remarks on opinions.

  26. Dino says:

    Charles,
    I was answering to your earlier comment before which I cannot see either. I don’t know what has happened to it… I think you might be misunderstanding this notion perhaps as ‘quietism’. It is nothing of the sort. Maybe check out some of the background on Orthodox hesychasm if you have an interest in finding what it really is properly. It is, really, in a nutshell, a heightened awareness for the sake of encountering God as He is, according to the psalmic “be still,
    and know,
    that I am God”

    and for the better following of His will.

  27. Dino, thank you for your reply and engaging with me. Based on what you’ve suggested, I will look deeper into Orthodox hesychasm. Skepticism is an honest way to greater understanding. I hope my remarks weren’t deleted because I (pardon) played the devil’s advocate.

  28. fatherstephen says:

    Dino is quite on point. Hesychasm is not quietism. Orthodoxy has a very long history of the active life – they invented hospitals, for example. But on the inner state of a human being – it is quite insightful. It recognizes that there is something disordered within us, such that what we do hear, is not useful or saving, but just distracting noise that doesn’t help us, or anyone else. The world of crashing Christian egos is not the gospel.

    Blake is interesting. But the Jerusalem hymn, is really just Christian socialism (which has a delightful Anglican history). But we’re not actually called to build Jerusalem in England or anywhere else. It’s a false gospel. The Kingdom of God is a reality, already present and breaking forth within our midst, inaugurated by Christ Himself. We cannot build it, and we cannot stop it. It’s not from man, it’s from God.

    But in the name of great ideas (“Kingdom of God” as utopian justice, etc.) some terrible things have been done.

    Stanley Hauerwas at Duke, whose writings I like a lot, says that whenever Christians agree to take responsibility for the outcome of history, they have agreed to do violence. (He’s a pacifist, as, ultimately, is the gospel). Violence for the sake of “good” things is a contradiction.

    St. Seraphim of Sarov said, “Acquire the Spirit of peace and a thousand souls around you will be saved.”

    You cannot change the world until you change yourself. But the battle between thoughts and feelings does not make us more “human.” To be more human is to be like Christ, the only example of what true humanity looks like. The battle you describe, as I understand it, just makes us one more noisy ego in a world of noisy egos.

    Your comment has been restored. It was initially removed because I thought it was a sort of “in your face” noisy opinion, that I thought would too easily derail the conversation towards opinions – a rather pointless exercise.

    Skepticism can be useful – but a few questions being asked before leaping to conclusions is even more useful. Skepticism, it seems to me, is very useful when dealing with people who are trying to “put one over on you.” The Orthodox way of life has been around for 2000 years and is well documented. It’s not a new technique or fad. I’m not sure that skepticism is the right attitude to the question at hand.

  29. William Gall says:

    Thanks! I need to be reminded of this!

  30. Michael Bauman says:

    I may be mistaken but what Father is warning against is engaging in a bunch of haggling: doubtful disputation if you will.

    If the Holy Spirit gives you utterance, speak and argue not nor defend what you have spoken. Waiting in quiet before you speak on any matter is an interesting discipline.

    One I would do well to practice. Course the threads here would be much shorter.

    I suspect we would do better if we were to greet each other with a holy kiss, praising God .

    Thank you all for adding so much to my life.

  31. Jeremiah says:

    Thank you, Fr Stephen, for the informative reply. I continue to have much to learn. I mentioned sitting with ones thoughts, feelings, and passions in order that we might better know ourselves. I certainly didn’t say it to contradict you.

    In one particular instance of working with my spiritual father, we were able to get to the root cause of one of my biggest struggles in life. It took us months of prayer, but understanding myself has helped incredibly. I guess I just didn’t want anyone to think that Orthodox Hesychasm was a form of repression.

  32. fatherstephen says:

    Jeremiah,
    I think you are quite right. As someone who has ADHD, I have had to learn how my brain works in order to deal with how to quiet it. The deeper issues, memories, wounds, etc., take even longer harder work.

    I find it again interesting, that Orthodoxy takes quite serious and “literally” things that others treat in a cavalier manner. The verses concerning “peace” are too often treated as though the writer was simply saying something pleasant and polite.

    One reason this is often neglected outside of Orthodoxy is the lack of true Tradition elsewhere (with a few exceptions). Thus, many Christians simply do not know that there is another way to live, to think, to feel, to know. The disordered interior life is simply thought of as “normal.” It is such a lack of knowledge that has made “morality” the carnal man’s substitute for spirituality.

  33. h west says:

    thank you so much for this, Fr. Stephen. i have been contemplating this entire idea since you mentioned it a few posts ago. it gives me much to percolate about and i am still working it over in my mind. the ideas brought forth here are so foreign to anything i have every thought for more than 2 seconds about. thanks again for listening and taking more time to expand on previous comments. i am very grateful for this.

  34. davidp says:

    http://www.assumptionaz.org/studies_in_orthodoxy/studies_orthodoxy/passions_1

    This is a study on the passions and their healing from the Assumption Greek Orthodox in Az. Brief outlined study.

    Blessings.

  35. Dino says:

    Jeremiah,
    I guess the key difference in the language used by the ancient Greeks and the Orthodox Christian tradition is that the former would call it ‘knowing oneself’, whereas the latter ‘paying attention to oneself’.
    There is nothing of beauty to ‘know’ outside of Christ,
    and our watchfulness must use Him as the yardstick,
    as if we are kind of -it’s tricky to articulate this, (as if in a constant cycle) watching His ‘eyes’, watching our heart, watching Him, round and round etc.

  36. Eric says:

    Father Stephen,
    Thank you once more for a truly helpful post and discussion. I have recently been looking as it were for a language to describe my experience, particularly with regard to the noise of the world, when contrasted with the peace that the Lord gives.

    This post and the ensuing converse have helped me tremendously to ‘name’ that which I am experiencing, and that is most helpful

    Thank you again

  37. Brittany says:

    Father Stephen,

    I love your articles. But I’m somewhat confused by this one!

    I’m not sure what is and is not an “opinion” exactly. Could you maybe clarify this with a few examples? I feel like there is almost no way to not have a reaction to something. If I see someone being physically hurt in a news story, I am sad for them along with a mixture of other feelings. It doesn’t seem right to me to *not* have at least some of these feelings. Even Jesus wept when he found out Lazarus was dead, right? How do I know if a feeling is passionate and leading to sin or if it is right and just?

    Thank you!

  38. Steve says:

    Thank you for this wonderful post.

  39. Dino says:

    Brittany,
    when a reaction, a thought, a feeling, (an ‘opinion’ that becomes adopted at a fast or a somewhat slower rate) takes out attention away from the Lord, away from peace, away from faith, we know it is not good. Whether this happens nebulously and unclearly or sharply and suddenly matters not that much to someone who tries to remain watchful and attentive to God’s presence and Man’s calling. The problem is that it happens and we can easily guess where it is leading us if we are honest with our conscience.
    Of course the adversary will come up with far more refined and hard to decipher lures as one progresses on the path of the Jesus prayer, however, if we stick to God’s name and His help rather than our own, with fervent trust, we will discover both our own weakness (as well as the adversary’s) and God’s omnipotence and providence. It is as if the devil makes us wiser against his will through this struggle…
    It is easy for even an apparently good reaction to make our mind’s attention budge from that specialplace of holy watchfullness though..

  40. fatherstephen says:

    Brittany,
    This is pretty classical, Orthodox stuff. A good exposition (including about reacting) can be found in this article by the former Metropolitan of the OCA, Jonah.

  41. Brittany says:

    Thank you, both Dino and Father Stephen, for your responses. The article will take a little time for me to digest, but I look forward to reading and understanding it in its entirety.

    Although I have been practicing Eastern Christian spirituality for almost 4 years now, it is within the Byzantine Catholic church, and our catechesis is somewhat lacking, or at least it has been in my experience, and so some of the basics continue to elude me. I grew up Roman Catholic, and that makes heyschasm especially foreign.

    Thanks for the help!

  42. dino says:

    I find it is very very true that the only free-from-delusion path to knowledge of God will always contain Orthodox Hesychastic overtones and undertones Brittany.

  43. h west says:

    I SO hear you, Brittany. Figuring out what things are opinions and what things are not is challenging. Thanks for the additional link, Fr. Stephen!

  44. fatherstephen says:

    Brittany,
    On the response to someone being physically hurt (as an example). We are supposed to be moved by such things. Even a well-ordered mind and heart will be rightly moved to anger at certain things. The purpose of such anger is not to form an opinion (for such a thought/feeling is in itself useless – who cares what you feel?). The purpose is to provide a burst of energy that moves us to do something. Thus moved by wicked injustice, we leap in and intervene, often without care for our own safety. Such is the right action to protect a child, for example.

    In the gospel of John, when Jesus hears Mary of Bethany and friends weeping for her dead brother Lazarus, we’re told that he “groaned in his spirit” – the Greek word for “groan” here is embrimoomai. It’s a very unusual word, in the “middle voice” (a wonderful thing in older Greek). It describes something happening within oneself. But the root of this word is the sound that a horse makes when it “snorts.” Thus we’re given the picture of Christ being deeply moved and “snorting” within His spirit like a horse. And, we’re told, He wept.

    This is entirely appropriate and without sin.

    But these entirely appropriate, God-given reactions, are manipulated and used by a callous and wicked media (often unwittingly now), simply to get us to react (not to do something, but to feel something). And we’re told that feeling something, and even engaging in token acts of sympathy are valid and important – but they are deep and sad distortions of what our feelings are for. We’ve been duped and become emotional puppets to be exploited by people who only want our money or to use us for their own power and gain.

    Christians should be exceedingly skeptical (even cynical) about the words of politicians, sales people, manufacturers, and the media (of almost all stripes), etc. We live in a world that has raised lying to an art form.

    Kafka said, “The Lie has become the world order.” “Die Luege sind die Weltordnueng gemacht.” And this is correct.

    And this is far more true and accurate today than at the time of the writing of the New Testament when St. John said, “The whole world lies in the power of the evil one.” 1 John 5:19

    We must learn to guard ourselves and to become sober (watchful). It is not the evil one that we need to watch, however, but ourselves. We watch our reactions and learn to guard our heart so that we do not become the tools of those who are trying to deceive us and manipulate us.

    When our hearts are rightly moved (by legitimate encounters with injustice, etc. and not just the images of the news cycle) then we should act. If we cannot act, then the chances are we are simply being manipulated.

  45. Dino says:

    Father,
    I hadn’t thought of that example which seems extremely apt to what you have been saying concerning the control of our impulsive feelings. The most immediate understanding of “ἐμβριμώμενος” is indeed that of one who is earnestly censuring oneself, I remember it being used as an example of Neptic self-control (of a nous that controls rather than is controlled) in the Philokalia somewhere.

  46. Michael Bauman says:

    The deceased author Michael Crichton wrote an action-adventure book several years ago centered on global warming.

    Before he began writing the book he was not skeptical of the idea that there was proven to be man-made global warming and we needed to do something about it quickly.

    But, he was a trained medical doctor used to both researching and evaluating evidence while keeping somewhat emotionally detached during that evaluation. The subject of the book is immaterial. His conclusion is quite material to this discussion.

    He wrote in the afterward to a adventure-suspense novel that during the course of doing research for the book he had come to the conclusion that the evidence for man-made global warming was thin and over-hyped (despite his original premise)Peace now.

    Further (and this is the important part)–he came to the conclusion that the government-media axis work quite hard to keep us in a “State of Fear” (the title of the book) so that we can be controlled and that they were doing so with regard to global warming. He implored all of his readers to guard against it falling into such a state because of the damage it did to genuine human response.

    Even if you don’t want to read the book, even if you disagree with his specific conclusion about climate change, the afterward is an excellent, non-theological, exposition on the manipulation of opinions and passions. He does not have the tools with which to practice the nepsis he recommends however.

    The Church does.

    Reading it began to free me from the reaction-cycle that is so easy to fall into. It can lead to cynical apathy or, using the tools of the Church to genuine apatheia forgive my spelling.

    The physiological side is that it could lead in some cases to adrenaline exhaustion. News junkies beware.

    For instance, what is happening in the Ukraine is causing real human suffering. The opinion-reaction cycle is to immediately lay blame on the ‘bad’ people ‘causing’ the suffering(conveniently identified by the media and our government). Since, there is little or nothing that I can do to help physically, a sense of helplessness sets in which can lead to (more or less) blindly supporting the actions of our government of (more or less) blindly opposing them–or just confusion, guilt and trying to bury it the back of one’s mind.

    The more mature response is to note the happening and then pray first for my own sins (quick to anger, xenophobic control freak) and then to ask for mercy, forgiveness and healing for all involved. If the opportunity arises to give genuine physical aid in an responsible manner at a later date, open my purse with joy and thanksgiving.

    Having been through similar things within the Church (God forgive me), I know it can happen here too.

    My bishop gave me spiritual direction at such a time: “Hold on to your peace. Don’t let them take it.” (whomever ‘them’ is). Just the mere attempt to be obedient to his direction has produced some substantial fruit in my life.

    Does that describe what you are getting at Father? I hope I have not gone beyond my bounds. If so, just delete this.

  47. fatherstephen says:

    Michael,
    Yes. I think so.
    I consider it in this manner:

    Were I to die tomorrow, as I surely will on some tomorrow, they would lay me in the ground and the world would continue with little to no notice. Such an event will have no more impact on the day to day events of the world than my being live right now. But we think it is important. That thought is largely a passion and a delusion.

    So what is important?

    God alone is important. All of those alive now will be dead as are all those who lived before us, but God abides. What matters is God and what I do with Him and allow Him to do in and with me.

    Whatever there is of me that will transcend my death is of some consequence, for me and for the world. And that consequence for the world will, at that time be only through my prayers. Thus my present prayers are of very great consequence indeed.

    Every action that I take in cooperation with God’s grace that draws me closer to His fullness, and that withdraws me from every work of darkness is of consequence, for not the works, but their consequence will continue and abide.

    Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal. (2Co 4:16-18 NKJ)

    People who become thus-minded begin to become people of consequence and people of true “weight.” They sustain the world through their prayers.

  48. Dino says:

    If I may add something that many God-trusting father’s (Elder Paisios and Elder Aimilianos repeatedly used this) also say [add it to the: "Were I to die tomorrow, as I surely will on some tomorrow" and Stanley Hauerwas' "whenever Christians agree to take responsibility for the outcome of history, they have agreed to do violence"]
    “God is behind the wheel”, the ‘wave’ that might worry me and make me take my eyes off of Him (Matthew 14:22-33) is “His concern”

  49. Pauline says:

    This is a beautiful and thought provoking article. My priest recommended it going in to Holy Week, and I’m glad he did.

    I’m a stay at home/homeschooling mom; I also work online in social media marketing and content development. It’s gotten far too easy to get sucked into the opinion-driven world of Facebook as a result.

    A little over a week ago, I had the benefit of attending a retreat given by Fr. David Hovik. I’ll admit that going into the retreat I was a bit worried about how quitting FB cold turkey for 48 hours would feel.

    Afterwards, the profound stillness was extraordinary. I lasted a whopping 48 hours after the conclusion of the retreat before getting re-addicted to FB but I was very aware that each time I picked up my phone, there was a tiny bit of space there in which to realize that I really didn’t want to spoil the quiet by immersing myself in the chaos and noise again.

    Thanks for the reminder of the benefit of fasting from opinions in this way also!

  50. Elizabeth says:

    “Leading an organization (a parish) can easily tempt a leader to “finesse” things. To put a good spin on anything. When I was an Anglican, that temptation was constantly around me – and I did badly – as I reflect on it. By the time I converted to Orthodoxy, I felt I had done my soul great damage. It has taken time for that to heal. ”

    This resonated very strongly with me. Coming from a Protestant background, there was strong pressure to do this, in the name of Christianity (being a good example of optimism to attract the non-believers), keeping the peace, etc. I’d be interested in hearing more of how this can be destructive, and, especially, the cure for it. Twisting things to put the best spin on them seems like a kind of dishonesty about the world/people/situations around us that was encouraged as being Christlike in fortitude, cheerfulness, seeing only the good and never the evil in people, situations, etc. It’s hard to shake off. Thank you!

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