Keeping It Simple

A comment yesterday asked for greater simplicity. I am entirely sympathetic to the concern expressed and offer here an earlier posting which draws our focus to simple things.

I have written and posted numerous times that “I am an ignorant man,” which is to say that I do not consider myself a great source of wisdom and insight and that what knowledge I do have is indeed limited.

It is also true that wisdom and insight are in short supply these days. We do not live in a land that has monasteries everywhere within walking distance (or even a short drive). We do not have centuries of unbroken, living knowledge of the way of Christ in many places.

What we do have is a commercialized Christianity that panders to our culture and its passions at least as much as it considers the gospel. We do not thus produce a profound Christianity, but a passionate Christianity in which the impulse to consume remains unchecked and unnamed.

But to travel towards the Kingdom of God and to make true progress in the spiritual life is not necessarily dependent upon a holy culture or hordes of holy people. Indeed, it depends upon the grace of God and the very little that we know (if we put into practice that same “very little”).

In Christ, in the true light of the gospel, what do we know?

  • We know that God truly loves the world and gave us His only begotten Son that we might have life, true life, communion with the true and living God;
  • We know that this life is marked by love and forgiveness; even including and especially including the forgiveness of our enemies;
  • We know that giving is more blessed than receiving – thus we already have the means of being blessed;
  • We know that the Way of the Cross is the Way of Life and that following Christ on that Way means freely laying down our lives for others.
  • We know that we have been commanded to give thanks for all things, thus affirming God’s goodness as the true ground of our existence;
  • We know we are not alone – that many have walked this way before us and that our success in following Christ is of concern to them;

I certainly could add to this list with some further thought, though I find it is easy to state some things that not many of us know. What I believe is that, even in the absence of great and holy men, we can take the little that we know and live.

  • It is better to live seeking communion with the true and living God than to believe that God is somewhere at a distance;
  • It is better to forgive and to love even if it means we make ourselves victim to the hate and cruelty of others;
  • It is indeed better to give than to receive, even if I can give but little. No one can keep me from giving.
  • It is better to die for others than to die alone.
  • It is better to give thanks for all things than to be eaten alive with regret and bitterness;
  • It is better to have the saints as friends than to be famous or popular with those of this world.

I know that these things are small (though they are truly large). But such small things, lived and acted upon with prayer will make the way for paradise in our heart and write our names in the Lamb’s Book of Life.

He who is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much… (Luke 16:10)

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.





14 responses to “Keeping It Simple”

  1. epiphanist Avatar

    Thank you Father. I am getting a lot from this series of posts. Of particular interest was the theology that our nature has become opaque which is bound to have a slow impact with me. The thread of mystical theology in contrast to a more secular world view is welcome. I remember commenting on this post before, you come close to describing some of the things that we both know and this is comforting.

  2. Abob Avatar

    Amen, Father.

  3. To Be or Not To Be Avatar
    To Be or Not To Be

    I remember enjoying this post very much the first time around. My heart aches for the man who posted yesterday-he seems so troubled I could literally feel his pain and anger emanating from the computer screen. I too love the acronym KISS! However, I think in your defense (as if you need any, Father!) that your concepts are quite simple, but are often dissected to the point of making my head spin in the subsequent discussions in the comments. Your advice to him was spot on-I just pray that his priest is helpful to him, as mine has been to me on numerous occasions. Sometimes one needs to just ask-I have learned people, even priests, can’t read your mind (seems obvious, but I have spent alot of wasted time waiting for people to read my mind!). In asking for help, humbling as it is, you may just find that the insurmountable obstacles can be faced, dealt with, and overcome. I will pray for you, whoever you are!

  4. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Father, you may be an ignorant man, but I am even more ignorant. I know only one thing about God–He forgives. That forgiveness was pronounced from the Cross in the depths of His suffering.

    The extent to which we are called to forgive is what always tests me. I am a prideful and arrogant man.

    I turn to the icon of Extreme Humility and the icon of The Bridegroom often in my thoughts.

    I also have found this quite helpful and inspiring:

    My own sin is revealed by God’s forgiveness and it can be extrodinarily painful. I find it really difficult to accept love, even from my amazing wife, let alone from God. When someone loves me, I tend to see my own inadequacy. When God loves me, I tend to experience the opaqueness of which you speak. I have often cried out in the pain much as Jon experiences it. My only effective recourse has been and continues to be confession.

    Yes, I repeatedly confess to many of the same sins, but I have found it to be a bit like weeding a garden. Some weeds have deep roots that take continual and repeated weeding to keep out of the garden. Others are just take a quick pull and they are gone–at least for a time. When I allow myself to be overrun with weeds, the confusion and pain really become intense.

    My response to Jesus words, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do” has come to be, “How right you are my Lord, I know not the depths of my own sin or how I have damaged others, have mercy on me”

    The longer I am Orthodox, the more often I find myself saying such words and acting upon them. As He has forgiven us, so must we forgive others, of course. That is the effort that begins to make us a little bit Chrisitan I think.

  5. Nike Avatar

    Your blog has been very edifying for me, Fr Stephen. I’m not a regular visitor but I am always grateful that I’ve stopped by. Thank you for writing.

    I am a convert from a non-Christian upbringing. I can understand “To Be Or Not To Be” and also the young man requesting simplicity and a break from hair-splitting theology.

    Keeping it simple is keeping it good. Jesus spoke in profoundly simple terms -for everyone- yet contained in His words is a depth that one can ponder for a lifetime. That is profound simplicity. He didn’t use very convoluded technical language or an abundance of complicated words! He didn’t split hairs-but He got out the knots!

    He spoke beautifully. He LIVED the faith.

    He spoke so that even someone like me might understand!!!

    The dread judgement will be based on whether we lived the faith, not how well we debated it.

    When I married I got a cradle Orthodox Greek YiaYia. This woman will never sit around and debate the Gospel…but she lives it more than most anyone I know. She won’t talk about “loving your neighbor” and cross reference it to multiple other places in scripture…I am not even sure if she could. What I do know is that she “loves her neighbor”, and she practices forgiveness. It’s not easy to do!

    That is the challenge ~ Living the faith!! It is a worthy and wonderful challenge!

    God Bless You!

  6. Shane Kapler Avatar

    This is beautiful, simply and absolutely beautiful. Glory be to the Father, to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit

  7. Jon Neely Avatar
    Jon Neely

    Father Stephen,

    Forgive me for my arrogance in yesterday’s comment.

    I am having a tough time. Thank you for what you wrote in response to my comment and your post today. Once again, please forgive me.


  8. fatherstephen Avatar

    God forgives us all. Tough times are common to us all – and a bit of venting comes along with it. You are indeed in my prayers and always welcome here. We are fellow-strugglers.

  9. Social comments and analytics for this post…

    This post was mentioned on Twitter by istologio2: Keeping It Simple: A comment yesterday asked for greater simplicity. I am entirely sympathetic to the concern expr…

  10. Elizabeth Avatar

    Dear Father,

    Thanks for this post. Perhaps when time permits you can expand on point 2-about forgiveness, especially towards our enemies. It’s the second part of that phrase that I need the most help with. Up to this point in my life the people I’ve needed to forgive are essentially the same people that I need forgiveness from- my family, my friends, people whom, in the end, I deeply love.

    But about a month ago, while taking an early morning jog, a man tried to rape me. I’ve never experienced such cold, calculated evil. Since this point I can thank God for sparing me from the worst, I can thank the angels for protecting me, I can pray for the many women in the world who face this kind of violence routinely, but I have nothing to say for the man that attacked me. I don’t know where to begin.

    I live in a foreign country right now-France-where I’m not connected with a priest. I’m starting to get connected with the Orthodox community here, but my french isn’t great. So that’s why I ask you for some “simple” tips on where to begin- so that I can forgive, and so that I can heal. Perhaps you even have a past blog you can point me towards?

    Many thanks.

  11. fatherstephen Avatar

    My heart trembled as I read your comment. There are evils which assault us that make our lives beyond difficult. And yet, your very comments on this are evidence of grace at work in you. I know that this is very hard, and forgiveness of such an enemy will not come quickly nor easily. Such a thing is, indeed, a miracle. I have a small article that might be of some use. God’s grace alone makes this possible. I will pray for His mercies to continue to abound in you. There are many very good Orthodox in France. May God bless your time among them.

  12. Theo1973 Avatar

    “When the spirit wanes, the form appears” Bukowski.

    When we become angry, all things lose their meaning, life loses all substance, our mind grow heavier, our hearts are poisoned, in short we dwell in hell.

    A year ago, my friend Laz who became a monk met up with me in Melbourne and we went fishing. HE told me that we should memorise a line from the gospel, a saying of Jesus’ and recite it continuously. I like the line in John, “WIll I not do my Father’s Will”. These words Christ uttered to Peter when he went to fight off the temple guards who were arresting JEsus.

    I sometimes think that we, the sinful we, were in Christ’s mind while He suffered and that His suffering was perhaps endured more peacefully knowing He was doing it for our sakes and the will of His Father.

    Father, forgive them, they know not what they do. Truly divine.

  13. Elizabeth Avatar

    Thank you father. That does help. The first two suggestions seem particularly “doable.” Simply going to church and standing in the peace and beauty of Christ is very healing as well. You’re right that there are many good Orthodox in France.

    When I first arrived I was discouraged that I could not find an Orthodox church in Paris where French was spoken, and it made me very upset to feel like I needed to explain why I’m at church and am not Greek, Russian, Serb etc, so I started going to Catholic services.

    But a very beautiful thing happened a couple of weeks ago. I went to vespers at a Russian church on a random Wednesday night, and was invited to stay for dinner because there was a special Serbian tradition that was being celebrated that night. There I met a very international group of young people who study Orthodox theology in Paris, and found out about a wonderful church where French is spoken. This wednesday night the Romanian church is hosting a pan-orthodox vespers for young adults that I’ll attend with some of my new friends.

    This experience really affirmed that God is with me, and can lead me to the right place and the right people. I do feel blessed by them already.

    Thank you!

  14. Micah Avatar

    I cannot thank you enough for this post Father Stephen. Thank you and Amen!

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