Leaving the Secular Life – Part 2

theophanyicon.jpg

It is one thing to describe the cultural mix in which we swim and quite another to swim in an opposite direction. One of my favorite icons is a Theophany icon (Christ’s Baptism). In it you can see fish swimming in the water. All of the fish are swimming downstream except one. A single fish, just beneath the hand of Christ, is swimming in the opposite direction. The first time I saw this icon a priest said to me, “With the blessing of Christ, we overcome the world.”

The same is true of us – fish as we are. With the blessing of Christ we do not have to be conformed to this world. Our minds can be transformed (Romans 12:2). A large measure of this is to be found in availing ourselves of the grace given to us in the Mysteries of the Church. Confessing our sins, striving to make a good communion, the simple ascesis of attending services with their attendant struggle to turn our hearts to God.

But there are many more opportunities in the day (for most, the Mysteries of the Church are far from daily opportunities). I think of two particular opportunities that offer themselves with great frequency. The first, of course, is prayer. Simple prayer, such as the Jesus Prayer: “Lord, Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” Or simple phrases from the Psalms: “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless His holy name,” or the hundreds of other possibilities. Such prayer turns our heart to God and moves us towards the “constant remembrance of God.” Such remembrance allows us to see the world as it truly is and to see others as they truly are. With such true sight comes the Kingdom of God.

Another opportunity, which I think is akin to the first, is to practice obedience to the commandments of God. I have suggested before in my postings the simple obedience: Today I will be kind to all whom I meet. Kindness is more than the absence of rudeness or malice – it is a positive act of generosity of spirit towards all whom I meet. Such an obedience, simple to state, is full of struggle. But the struggle also reveals to us the state of our heart and also reveals the world around us in a clearer light. As we struggle towards mere kindness, we see that our own hearts are darkened – and not as the result of the actions of others but from the depths of our own selves. And so the struggle helps to beget repentance as well.

There are any number of such obediences – drawn simply from meditation on the commandments of God.

Today I will seek to deceive no one.

Today I will not refuse an opportunity to do good.

Today I will speak ill of no one.

The list can be lengthened quite easily. It’s not unwise to discuss such an undertaking with a confessor or a trusted spiritual friend. In my own experience, it’s almost impossible to take on such a thing for more than a day at a time (our Lord enjoins us to live one day at a time) or to take on more than one such obedience at a time. Of course we should strive to keep all of God’s commandments at all times – but having said that – such a statement quickly passes into banality – indeed it becomes an abstraction, part of the murky waters of our secular world.

We should be wary of generalities – not because they aren’t true – but because they are often true in a very vague way – a way that is too vague to practice. We are very concrete beings and it helps to put things in concise and concrete terms. If you feel tempted to point out that this paragraph is a generality, I noticed it already. Its antidote is to be found two paragraphs above.

Tonight I will turn off my computer and go to bed. God’s peace.

About Fr. Stephen Freeman

Fr. Stephen is a retired Archpriest of the Orthodox Church in America, Pastor Emeritus of St. Anne Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He is also author of Everywhere Present: Christianity in a One-Storey Universe, and Face to Face: Knowing God Beyond Our Shame, as well as the Glory to God podcast series on Ancient Faith Radio.


Comments

8 responses to “Leaving the Secular Life – Part 2”

  1. Ian Avatar
    Ian

    My Theophany icon doesn’t have that fish: I need a refund.
    🙂

    Seriously: thank you for these two reflections in particular Father. Helpful, and challenging. My prayers.

  2. fatherstephen Avatar

    A friend found the icon, and I have edited the post. Many thanks.

  3. Ben Avatar

    Father,

    I find what you speak of concerning “good in general” as opposed to a very specific good to be so true. Good in general just loses its meaning. But to do this action, on this day, for this Lord is full of so much more grace – even when we fail!

  4. Barnabas Powell Avatar

    “Today I will seek to deceive no one.

    Today I will not refuse an opportunity to do good.

    Today I will speak ill of no one.”

    To do these today would transfigure me into a Christian.

    By your prayers, and the grace of God, may I have the courage to make the attempt! If I fail, perhaps I will have the strength to attempt again tomorrow.

    B

  5. fatherstephen Avatar

    Barnabas,

    What did the monk say when asked what they did in the monastery all day? “We fall down and get up, fall down and get up, fall down and get up again.”

  6. Ryan Avatar
    Ryan

    Thank you Fr. Stephen for your last two posts.

  7. The Scylding Avatar

    Father Stephen – a wise man once told me that it is not how often we fall that matters, but how soon we get up. We may have differences, but I value what you write here.

    God Bless.

  8. Kerry Avatar

    I don’t think any comment is sufficient to answer to this posting, but in saying that, I am making a comment. I am humbled and humbled further by this posting.

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  1. Greetings, Father Stephen, Thank you so much for this reflection and all of the tremendous amount of work you have…


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