Saved in Weakness

repentanceWe are not saved by our talents and gifts nor by our excellence – we are saved by our weakness and our failure. I have made this point in several ways in several articles over the recent past – and the question comes up – but what does that look like? How do I live like that? The question can be somewhat urgent for some because the message is so utterly contrary to cultural assumptions that have been drilled into our minds. We are consumers and producers in the modern world. If I am not producing then I am being consumed – and so we rush to find a way to produce whatever is demanded. Just tell me the demand so that I can produce it!

How frustrating it is to be told that weakness and failure are the fulcrum point of salvation. For though we are all experienced in failure and weakness (who is not?), we have learned both to downplay those deficits (even to hide them) and to get on with our success no matter what. Occasionally (and not so rarely), someone finds their failures and weaknesses to have overwhelmed their lives. We give them medical treatment (where appropriate) or sadly watch them pass into a dependent stage of life, and quietly thank God that our own lives are not like theirs. We may have deep compassion for them – but we absolutely do not care to share their lot.

It is absolutely essential, however, that we understand that Christ voluntarily chose to share their lot and announced it as the very pathway to salvation. The Cross is not a transaction that takes place apart from our lives. It is not a moment between Christ and the Father, the settling of an account that was owed by us: it is something that also takes place within our lives and in the most intimate and profound manner. Uncomfortably, we must say that Christ Crucified is only effective when He is crucified within us and when we are ourselves are crucified with Him. If Christ is not crucified in you and you in Him, then there is no salvation.

So what does this look like in our daily lives?

It begins within the Church with Holy Baptism. In Baptism we are united with Christ in His death. This is the heart of repentance. Acknowledging and confessing our sins is the recognition of death in our lives. A man/woman confesses their brokenness, their failures to live by the commandments, even their lack of desire to live by the commandments. This is sealed in Baptism and becomes the pattern by which we live. Repentance (confession and absolution) is called a “second Baptism” by the Fathers.

How do we confess? I include here a remarkable passage from The Way of A Pilgrim that describes a good sense of saving confession and repentance:

The Confession of an Interior Man Leading to Humility

Turning my gaze at myself and attentively observing the course of my interior life I am convinced, through experience, that I love neither God nor my neighbor, that I have no faith, and that I am full of pride and sensuality. This realization is the result of careful examination of my feelings and actions.

1. I do not love God. For if I loved Him, then I would be constantly thinking of Him with heartfelt satisfaction; every thought of God would fill me with joy and delight. On the contrary, I think more and with greater eagerness about worldly things, while thoughts of God present difficulty and aridity. If I loved Him, then my prayerful communion with Him would nourish, delight, and lead me to uninterrupted union with Him. But on the contrary, not only do I not find my delight in prayer but I find it difficult to pray; I struggle unwillingly, I am weakened by slothfulness and am most willing to do anything insignificant only to shorten or end my prayer. In useless occupations I pay no attention to time; but when I am thinking about God, when I place myself in His presence, every hour seems like a year. When a person loves another, he spends the entire day unceasingly thinking about his beloved, imagining being with him, and worrying about him; no matter what he is occupied with, the beloved does not leave his thoughts. And I in the course of the day barely take one hour to immerse myself deeply in meditation about God and enkindle within myself love for Him, but for twenty-three hours with eagerness I bring fervent sacrifices to the idols of my passions! I greatly enjoy conversations about vain subjects which degrade the spirit, but in conversations about God I am dry, bored, and lazy. And if unwillingly I am drawn into a conversation about spiritual matters, I quickly change the subject to something which flatters my passions. I have avid curiosity about secular news and political events; I seek satisfaction for my love of knowledge in worldly studies, in science, art, and methods of acquiring possessions. But the study of the law of the Lord, knowledge of God, and religion does not impress me, does not nourish my soul. I judge this to be an unessential activity of a Christian, a rather supplementary subject with which I should occupy myself in my leisure time. In short, if love of God can be recognized by the keeping of His commandments—“If anyone loves me he will keep my word,” says the Lord Jesus Christ (John 14:23), and I not only do not keep His commandments but I make no attempt to do so—then in very truth I should conclude that I do not love God. St. Basil the Great confirms this when he says, “The evidence that man does not love God and His Christ is that he does not keep His commandments.”

2. I do not love my neighbor. Not only because I am not ready to lay down my life for the good of my neighbor, according to the Gospel, but I will not even sacrifice my peace and my happiness for his good. If I loved my neighbor as myself, as the Gospel commands, then his misfortune would grieve me also and his prosperity would bring me great joy. But, on the contrary, I listen with curiosity to accounts of my neighbor’s misfortune and I am not grieved but indifferent to them and, what is more, I seem to find satisfaction in them. I do not sympathize with the failings of my brother but I judge them and publicize them. My neighbor’s welfare, honor, and happiness do not delight me as my own; I am either completely indifferent to them or I am jealous or envious.

3. I do not have faith in spiritual realities. I believe neither in immortality nor in the Gospel. If I were firmly convinced and believed without a doubt in eternal life and in the consequences for our earthly actions, then I would be constantly thinking about this; the very thought of immortality would inspire me with wonder and awe and I would live my life as an alien who is getting ready to enter his native land. On the contrary, I don’t even think of eternity and I consider the end of this life as the limit of my existence. I nurture a secret thought within and wonder, “Who knows what will happen after death?” Even when I say that I believe in immortality, it is only from natural reasoning, for down deep in my heart I am not convinced of it and my actions and preoccupations with earthly cares prove this. If I accepted the Holy Gospel with faith into my heart as the word of God, then I would be constantly occupied with it; I would study it, would delight in it, and with deep reverence would immerse myself in it. Wisdom, mercy, and love hidden within it would lead me to ecstasy, and day and night I would delight in the lessons contained in the law of God. They would be my daily spiritual bread and I would earnestly strive to fulfill them; nothing on earth would be strong enough to keep me from this. But on the contrary, even if I sometimes read or listen to the word of God, it is either out of necessity or curiosity; I do not delve deeply into it but feel dryness and indifference to it and I receive no greater benefit from it than I do from secular reading. Further, I am eager to give it up promptly and go to worldly reading, in which I have greater interest and from which I get more satisfaction. I am full of pride and self-love. All my actions confirm this. When I see something good in myself, then I wish to display it or brag about it to others, or interiorly I am full of self-love even when outwardly I feign humility. I ascribe everything to my own ability and I consider myself more perfect than others, or at least not worse. If I notice a vice in myself, then I try to excuse it or justify it; I pretend to be innocent or I claim that I couldn’t help it. I am impatient with those who do not show me respect and I consider them incapable of judging character. I am vain about my talents and cannot accept any failure in my actions. I grumble and I am glad to see the misfortune of my enemies, and my intention in doing anything good is either praise, self-interest, or earthly comfort. In a word, I continuously make an idol out of myself, to whom I give unceasing service as I seek sensual delights and try to nourish my carnal desires.

This is a 19th century Russian expression of such a confession, but represents the character of our self-examination and repentance. It is an acknowledgement on a deep level of our weakness and failure.

When we come to such a realization – in a deep manner – our instinct is shame. It is an appropriate instinct. We feel vulnerable and we want to run from such an admission as soon as possible. We want to know what we can do to change – and change quickly. Worse yet, we may want to excuse ourselves and make explanations for why we are as we are. But our weakness has to begin with our own patient acceptance of what is true of ourselves.

And it is at that point of truth, the point of our failure, that we “bear a little shame,” in the words of the Elder Sophrony. If we will accept that little shame, we will meet the Crucified Christ at that very point, for it is He who bears our shame. It is not in our strengths and wonderful qualities that we meet Christ. Our egos are so impregnable at those points that such a union is impossible.

But the vulnerable point of shame is the place where the ego can give way and break and where it can admit the presence of another. This, too, is difficult because the instinct of shame is to cover itself and hide. Thus, we are asked to “bear a little.” 

Shame is the ego’s deepest instinct (and the first recorded reaction of man after the Fall). It is the fear of being seen for who we truly are rather than who we want to be or pretend to be. But there is a self that is deeper than the shame – and it can be found if we are patient and dare to stay put for a short time. This is hesychia and nepsis, stillness and sobriety.

This self is also described as the “place of the heart,” and in some places as the “deep heart.” In that place we cease to judge, to critique, to measure, to compare. We are aware and observe but in a manner that doesn’t separate the self from other people or other things. It is a place where we will find union with God and the ability to pray. It is also the place where the tears of repentance can be shed.

All of this is the patient inner journey of repentance and the gateway into the Kingdom of God. The bearing of a little shame is our own crucifixion. It unites us with Christ’s bearing of the whole Adam’s shame (the shame of the whole of humanity), which is His crucifixion.

I encourage anyone who undertakes such repentance to be moderate in their approach (a “little shame” is enough at any time). It is good to do this before an icon of Christ and His Cross. This helps us to hold ourselves together with Him rather than be consumed in our ego. If you “fail,” then don’t despair. Use that failure and its “little shame” instead.

All of this is better undertaken with a good spiritual father and his encouragement and help. A requirement in this way of things is safety. If you do not feel safe sharing such shame with your spiritual father, then it shouldn’t be pushed. I will add a note of caution to priests who hear confessions. It is incumbent upon priests to be a reliable place of safety. There is no call for berating or controlling or causing shame in a penitent. Generally, such behaviors in a priest constitute spiritual abuse.

I will both lie down in peace, and sleep; For You alone, O LORD, make me dwell in safety. (Psa 4:8)

Hesychia requires a measure of safety.

The practice of such regular repentance strengthenss us for spiritual warfare, for it teaches us a way of life that is deeper than the ego and promotes true humility. In time, we become “unassailable” by the hostile powers. The “find no place in us.” I pray these thoughts will be found useful.

About Fr. Stephen Freeman

Fr. Stephen is a priest of the Orthodox Church in America, Pastor Emeritus of St. Anne Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He is also author of Everywhere Present and the Glory to God podcast series.



37 responses to “Saved in Weakness”

  1. KC Avatar

    These thoughts are very useful, indeed. The passage from “Way of a Pilgrim” also seems to answer a question I asked on a previous thread about spiritual complacency. If I have understood correctly, our complacency is part of our weakness and failure and a very point where we can “bear a little shame” and meet Christ.

    Thanks for your forbearance with a seeker who hardly knows how to ask the right questions.

  2. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    I have found patience to be an ally here but I have been neglectful thanks for the reminder.

  3. Peter Avatar

    KC, thank you for this:

    “The passage from ‘Way of a Pilgrim’ also seems to answer a question I asked on a previous thread about spiritual complacency. If I have understood correctly, our complacency is part of our weakness and failure and a very point where we can ‘bear a little shame’ and meet Christ.”

  4. LI Avatar


    if this is a “little shame”, what’s the big one then? 🙂

    The first time I came across this confession advice in a prayer book my mum gave me (now I know where it is inspired from, thank you!) I wanted to gather all the blankets in the house and hide for at least a week. Literally.

    The only way I could process this was by analogy with a physical disease (thank God for the matter), let’s say a venereal one like syphilis. I could stay away from the doctor because of my shame, but then I would die for a very stupid reason, or gather myself together and shame or no shame, go show myself to a specialist and be cured and live. Now who wants to be that stupid and choose death when the price of life is a bit of shame (I keep telling myself)?

    Many thanks for your advice on safety, I somewhere gathered the wrong idea that I should confess where I find myself, not browse around for a priest whom I like best (= I trust more). Through God’s providence I’m now in the hands of a very wise and kind confessor, but I’ve known worse experiences.

  5. Dino Avatar

    But there is a self that is deeper than the shame – and it can be found if we are patient and dare to stay put for a short time. This is hesychia and nepsis, stillness and sobriety.

    In that place we cease to judge, to critique, to measure, to compare. We are aware and observe but in a manner that doesn’t separate the self from other people or other things. It is a place where we will find union with God and the ability to pray. It is also the place where the tears of repentance can be shed.

    reminds us of many passages in the Philokalia. It reminded me of a little passage by Saint Kalistos Katfygiotis in the fifth volume of the Philokalia (I think this has not yet been translate in English unfortunately, even though it is perhaps perceived as the most sublime by many):

    5. The entire movement of any creature, but principally of the intellect (nous) itself, tends to, and aspires towards stasis and serenity. To cease from its movement and become still is both target, and repose, for the creature. But the intellect, being a creature, is unable to achieve its stasis and serenity when it moves inside created things… […] …Therefore, it is not reasonable for the nous to find serenity, or to stop, when it finds itself in created things. Where then will the intellect utilize its characteristic, to stay still through perpetual motion, and to thus calm down, and to pacify, and to receive the undeniable feeling of respite, if it does not find itself inside something uncreated and unlimited? Well, that is God, who is the true and supra-cosmic One. So the intellect (nous) must arrive with its movement to that boundless One, so that it finds, as it should, its natural serenity inside noetic rest. Because it is there that spiritual stasis is found, the peculiar rest and the eternal end of all; and movement is not missing at all from the nous found in that One…

  6. Margaret Avatar

    Thank you, Fr. Stephen!

  7. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Father Zacharias said to me that “you cannot think of two things and weep at the same time.” Tears come at that place of the heart, where sobriety and stillness are free of distraction (we mind only one thing). He said that on the Holy Mountain, when a monk is grumpy, it is said, “He did not weep enough last night in his prayers.”

    For us poor souls in the world such tears are rare indeed. Little wonder that we’re so grumpy. My own experience is that the place of “bearing a little shame” can often be extremely unpleasant – and that every instinct is to avoid it – to simply think, “I’m having problems and need to stop this…or something to that effect.”

    The word, “Do not react,” comes to mind. Just observing the noise, the problem, not solving it or attempting to, but beings present and still, can allow us sometimes to see a little through the fog and find that place of stillness. Things do not have to be “ok” for us to be still and quiet. I think many make this mistake, and in the noisy world we therefore have almost no opportunity for quiet. But if we bear a little shame, bear the trouble and problem without running or trying to resolve or fix, just bear it for a little while, almost as an outside observer (although we are observing from a deeper inside), then we can be quiet in the middle of the storm. There we find a place to pray.

  8. Benjamin Avatar

    Fr. Freeman, I have been a follower of your blog for the past couple of years. Your article, “Christianity isn’t Morality” (or something similar), has been a real eye opener for me and has lead me on the path these past two years on the road towards the Orthodox Church.

    This article really stirred something up in me and I feel like I have never known the Gospel before. The fact that it takes our weakness for us to know God, is still boggling my mind. Too easily I despair after feeling shamed and weak and so too quickly I make excuses and blame others. These past few months, it has been easy for me to fall into despair, but today God graced my heart to feel in a slight way the joy of martyrs eager for death. It always seemed like they were running to death like suicides. But now I see that they were running towards the freedom living in their weakness and feeling God, uniting themselves with Christ’s death, dying with Him.

    Thank you Fr. Freeman for all of your reflections. You have been a guide in my spiritual life. Glory to God!

  9. Dino Avatar

    Modern living can make us very unaccustomed to silence and stillness.
    The repeated invocation of the Holy Name is the finest recommendation we know of in order to become truly human (we are not yet speaking of becoming saints as we have been called to be…)… Both speaking It and listening to It (most especially in silence), makes as capable of seeing ourselves as God’s children. As someone once said: “Man is what he does with his silence.”
    Stillness for humans is ‘God awareness’ – and this, for a creature, is it’s initial purpose of existence, the all the rest is derived from it-; deprived of it we remain not yet truly human.

    Cultivating watchful attention requires that we recruit everything at our disposal in order to somehow acquire and retain a fervent yearning for this. It is the only way we can overcome the ruthless temptation of sloth that is bound to keep assaulting us along the way. Without this ‘zeal’ it won’t be feasible to ignore the constant distractions that chip away on our focus while invoking the Holy Name. We soon, in fact, catch ourselves playing with God rather than becoming martyrs in our resolute descent of the mind into the heart for God’s sake. Discovering that place where our nakedness and shame is revealed in the face of God is simultaneously the encounter of His infinite mercy, which truly passes all understanding. Yet it is the recognition of our shameful need for Him that must not be covered with leaves but admitted openly –inside- so that we too might never tire of entreating: “Abide with us: for it is toward evening and the day is far spent” (Luke 24:29). Our chief enemies of slothful despair and conceited pride cannot be overcome without this awareness. Inside us however there is a thin, invisible line that wavers between yes and no and never stays on the yes. We have learned to play with God and not abandon ourselves to God. The tiny stylus of our will can not stay put on loving God, because the magnet of our heart’s inclinations dominates our thinking and our awareness. So we carry on playing and cannot possibly become Christ’s martyrs.
    Yet the first step that is required is to merely pursue more of this stillness that reveals both God’s mercy and my nakedness to me – as well as more beneficial to this silence/sobriety “non-stillness” time.

  10. dobergirl Avatar

    Dino, I hear what you are saying in your latest comment, but it seems you have laid the stakes for the highest goal. What about an ordinary housewife with a sick non-Orthodox husband thrown into the mix and my brain keeps telling me “you haven’t had enough quiet time with God today” or “you haven’t read enough Psalms today” or “You didn’t say enough Jesus Prayers today”. Should I listen to those thoughts, or just try to find a monastery that will accept me (after I divorce my husband and get rid of the dog)—just kidding! But seriously, this is the story of where I’m at right now, plus I am newly Chrismated in the Church. I haven’t the luxury of living in an ivory tower.

  11. Dino Avatar

    Same here…
    Yet St Nikodimus in his introduction to the Philokalia makes it explicit that this is for everyone – not just for monks.
    Obviously, complete hesychia and the purity of mind and heart that is accessible through it, does indeed require special circumstances – those lay people who had famously achieved this seem to all have had pretty special ‘contexts’, with considerable time for silence. Yet they made that those ‘contexts’ through their sincere and often obstructed yearning for them… However, God has also granted this stillness as God awareness in great measure all sorts: to people persecuted in jail, to people with seven children and a job who still sacrificed part of their sleep (with the interruptions that little ones often bring to that night-time sacrifice) for the practice of the Jesus prayer in silence (often in the bathroom – where else?) while also trying to combine it’s invocation with the other tasks during the rest of the day. There have been kings as well as hermits that have (all in their own very different contexts) not given up on their hope and God has honoured it.
    We start with joy, hope and childlike faith and the obstacles in our path -peculiar to each person’s situation – are then all seen, and they all somehow become conducive…

  12. Dino Avatar

    Yet they made those ‘contexts’ through their sincere and often obstructed yearning for those contexts… However, God has also granted this stillness-as-God-awareness in great measure to all sorts of people

  13. Dino Avatar

    If “he who is faithful in one little thing is faithful in many things” (the most accurate translation of Luke 16:10) then doing whatever little is accessible to us in our individual circumstances and in accordance with Church tradition must –and certainly does- have a titanic influence. Working on, for instance, our childlike faith in God’s presence, His power, His mercy – a simple little thing, an increase of our attentive trust, feasible in all circumstances – can even lead to the granting of greater internal focus, at all times –as described in the Philokalia. And if God soon afterwards deems us worthy to see the crushing darkness festering within us through this childlike faith, trust and subsequently bestowed vigilance, [in order to heal it of course], it will be in the face of His presence – a great thing. And recognizing the numerous dark shadows, addictions, ties, attachments, distractions (of internal or external manifestation) in God’s brilliant presence – the passions -, which is to “descend into hades with the Logos” (as St Maximus says) “not in order to remain there but to rise” from that death undoubtedly is a very great thing indeed…
    Our disordered and scattered mind which is prone and even addicted to distraction, will eventually find the “body within the body” (the heart) through being “faithful in the little thing” of focusing and re-focusing not on all that, (striving to ignore it all as far as we are able to) but focusing on “another distraction”: God’s eyes upon me. It’s a great start.

  14. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Dobergirl, If you have time to read a small little book that I have found quite encouraging in ‘ordinary prayer’ (if there is such a thing). “An Inner Step Toward God” which is a compilation of the teachings of Fr. Alexander Men. He was teaching people who lived under persecution and official oppression of their faith to pray daily and pray often. Quite practical, rooted in the full tradition of the Church, but not laying any heavy burdens.

    One thing he stresses are the small times between things when we can begin to practice focus and even silence.

    It has encouraged me to practice prayer in a much more manageable and approachable way.

  15. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    We work with what we’ve got. For those of us in the world physical stillness can be hard to come by. So we work with what we’ve got (priests included).

  16. dobergirl Avatar

    Thank you all, brothers and Father Stephen. It is very encouraging to know that you care enough to take time out to try to help me, and you have–greatly!. God bless you all. Dobergirl

  17. Nancy Ann Avatar
    Nancy Ann

    Dear Fr. Stephen,

    Thank you always for your words and teaching. What about despair? What about constantly feeling the wrong one does and not doing the things they should? I am reminded of St. Paul in Romans chapter 7: 14-25 where he is talking about knowing what he should do but just can’t. This is how I feel so much of the time and I have no relief. Daily I am struggling and getting up and my endurance is waning. I struggle with eating healthy to be a proper weight, I struggle with the needs of my family and educating my children and attending church. I feel like I never do anything right.

    Also, on a side note when the bible and church talk about not holding onto worldly things does that also mean children and spouse? I struggle with that distinction as I am not sure how to love my children and my husband loosely. When people say don’t think on earthly things my first and only thought are my children and husband. Is that the same?

  18. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Nancy Ann,
    This sounds like a description of depression – in which case it is important not to neglect medical attention (it can be dangerous). I would put thoughts of what must be done, etc. at a distance, much less worrying about proper concerns for children and husband.

    When we are sick or infirm, we should take it easy and rest – even monasteries have an infirmary. Our first concern when we’re not well, is to get well. That includes when we’re assaulted by depression.

    It’s like I tell the young people I work with who battle addictions – job one is sobriety. Our salvation is not in jeopardy. God is for us.

  19. Dean Avatar

    Years ago I read Elizabeth Elliott’s book, “A Basketfull of Crumbs.” I only recall one thing from the book. She said when you’re not sure what to do, do the thing at hand. It might be sending a note, mowing the lawn, washing the dishes. Most of us will be saved surrounded by the mundane.

  20. Dino Avatar

    Nancy Ann,
    I recall the elder Aimilianos often counselling that we mustn’t ever worry about such things, trusting that our salvation is in God’s hand and that it is a given that –no matter what we do right or wrong- we must (and always hopefully will) have the vision of our inadequacy, yet all this without any lessening in our joy due to our God-focused trust. The fact that the rest (the thoughts) is all self-preoccupation mustn’t self-preoccupy us yet again in worry… of course it is, we are fallen and it is He Who is is our utter salvation. Therefore, that we are saved in weakness has no ‘depressed overtones’, rather it is all joy and trust.
    God knows that we do wrong, what matters is that we nevertheless make efforts to pay no heed to the thoughts that separate us from trusting him joyfuly (in our wrongness).
    The same effort towards God-centeredness is the answer to the other question: we love our husband and children because that is God’s will and then there is no more ‘earthly’ in this.
    We can even become saints by merely not worrying and thanking Him…!

  21. Dino Avatar

    And if I am one of those people that cannot possibly stop from worrying, then I can stop worrying about my automated worrying, and if not even that, I can stop worrying about the worrying of the worrying… there is a layer somewhere where one can demonstrate their joyfull, watchfull struggle to do “be faithfull in the little things” and God will surely provide the bigger ones…
    The same goes for depression, for anger, lust etc…
    We do not therefore give up

  22. Constantina Papakyprianou Avatar
    Constantina Papakyprianou

    Thank you, Father Stephen

  23. Dino Avatar

    have you come across this study on “The Dialectic of Communion and Otherness in St Maximus’ Understanding of the Will” -it’s fascinating (though not for everyone due to its density).

  24. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    I had not. But I look forward to reading it. Skimming it – it looks interesting.

  25. Margaret Avatar

    I have been reading the comments to this article and would offer a comment on the comments as follows: I had first heard of “give thanks to God and do the next thing” when I was mother of a 3 year old living in another country where I did not speak the language, my husband was getting out and working and I was home all day, and it took awhile to meet people even through the Anglican church we attended. Oswald Chambers was who recommended this idea of “do what you can when you can to keep your mind with God and do the next thing — washing clothes, etc., — with a thankful/grateful heart. God answered my prayers with comfort and peace, but I also noticed (again probably God pointing out) that when I was tired or stressed that I worried and grew very protective, concerned and focused on my relationship with my husband and child and depression followed, cloudy days where lived also fed this feeling. All this is to say that I appreciate your words, Fr. Stephen, in the comments of “we work with what we’ve got, even priests” I also wanted to comment that although there is much love for God and much instruction on Life in Christ with the books, The Philokalia is something we were discouraged from picking up and reading when we became Orthodox, our priest recommended that we read the writings of other church fathers and of course, read the bible. On my own I have found “The Path to Sanity” and “Becoming Human” (And the Two Story Universe) to be books that have helped encourage me greatly to live in peace and continued struggle in this Life. Much of the “nagging voices” — am I doing the right thing? am I doing God’s will? what am I missing? am I a positive, optimistic person? — of Christian Protestant (and I think Western Christian thought and teaching in general) have subsided/faded over the last 10 years of Orthodox Christian worship and I do believe it has been the attending of services and living with the Truth of God who is the Lover of Mankind and is everywhere present and filling all things. My prayers are with you all and all of us. Lord have mercy on your servants

  26. Dino Avatar

    to “give thanks to God and do the next thing” and to pay no heed to the “nagging voices” that demand our attention -in the guise of our conscience- is very wise indeed. Unfortunately, the second thing (ignoring what masquerades as one’s conscience) would ideally need an experienced guide…

    As far as the invaluable Philokalia goes (most of which is about the ‘one thing needful’):
    There’s an unwritten yet very traditional order to start the reading of the Philokalia –certainly not the chronological order of the book itself, which is absolutely ‘random’ from a spiritual point of view; that is not the way it is ever meant to be read… (remember this being talked of in “the way of the pilgrim”?)

    Here goes:
    First we read the (vol. 4 work) from “Nikodemos of the Holy Mountain: A handbook of Spiritual Counsel” chapter: “on guarding the mind and the heart”. (An invaluable Orthodox anthropology basis) Next Saint Nikodemos’ “introduction to the Philokalia” (the best framing for what is to come). Next, the first item to really start on the Jesus prayer in this unwritten yet definitive order is Saint Nikephoros the solitary “on watchfulness and the guarding of the heart”. (A mini Philokalia in itself) Next Kalistos and Ignatius. (a way more ‘monastic’ text, hesychastic even, that needs some discernment in its application but goes deeper still) Next Hesychios the Solitary (who finally really starts to discuss thoughts by now). After that you can read as you like.
    One could never really start with something like Maximus the Confessor though…!

  27. Dino Avatar

    I commented earlier that the tiny stylus of our will can not stay put on loving God, it wavers between ‘yes’ and ‘no’, because the magnet of our heart’s inclinations and passionate fixations still dominate our thinking and our awareness. i.e.: we continue to will sin, we continue to welcome distraction.
    So our salvific movement (in a beautiful image I particularly like, which combines St Augustine with St Maximus) “from the primordial garden of Eden to the eschatological garden of Paradise, is of necessity via the garden of Gethsemane” –“Yet not as I will, but as thou wilt”…
    And this is also the first step that is required towards the healing of our schizoid will (Romans 7:23),: merely to ascetically pursue more of this stillness that reveals to me -through the Jesus prayer- God’s mercy on the one hand and my nakedness on the other, and ultimately heals my previously wretchedly self-divided will by uniting it to His.
    (Which in a very real sense is our main problem.)
    When someone -understandably- exclaims that they don’t have time for such stillness-as-God-awareness in their hectic living, they must be extremely wary that they are not actually somehow admitting that they don’t believe in the possibility of their own transformation, since the transformative seed (pregnant with potential) of the Spirit is already buried inside the depths of their heart awaiting its cultivation, its actualization, that only properly occurs in stillness, and through the constant invocation of the Name of Jesus.. This leads to the healing of the will

  28. Margaret Avatar

    Thanks to Dino for his comment! I had meant to say that my husband and I were directed away from reading the Philokalia immediately upon becoming Orthodox Christians and yes, that meant picking it up and reading it from start to finish like a book and yes, someone I know and love tried to do that, but we did listen to our priest and we do know the recommendation for reading from the Way of the Pilgrim, thank you.

    Thank you also for your comments concerning worrying and your comment concerning the healing of the will, as I agree with all you have said here. However, when one is a young mother with a young child and just enjoying the Orthodox Christian faith from a more protestant Christian background, much encouragement beyond “be still” is needed, and much reassurance, and you offer both here and I am grateful. I am especially grateful that you encourage the Jesus prayer and the assurance that God is with us and in our hearts. God bless you!

  29. Margaret Avatar

    In case I am unclear in my posts, our priest does not discourage reading of the Philokalia, only the “routine” reading like you would start with book volumes. Dino states the recommended order in his comment above and our priest certainly agreed to that. Also the recommendation of Kalistos and Ignatius first. We had actually been doing a study of the Early Fathers of the Church when we began attending orthodox Christian services 10 years ago and so had recently read Ignatius, Athanasius (only some writings) and I’ll have to ask my husband what other Fathers he was studying. God has certainly blessed us in so many ways!

  30. Dino Avatar

    May God bless you and all those around you Margaret.

  31. Another Anon Avatar
    Another Anon

    Thank you so much for these words, and all the encouragement you share, Dino. God bless you! There are so many of us with similar struggles and we find much help and guidance here. I wish I had time to read the comments of this blog every time.

  32. Alan Avatar

    Dino, regarding your comments here on reading the Philokalia:

    ” First we read the (vol. 4 work) from “Nikodemos of the Holy Mountain: A handbook of Spiritual Counsel” chapter: “on guarding the mind and the heart”. (An invaluable Orthodox anthropology basis) Next Saint Nikodemos’ “introduction to the Philokalia” (the best framing for what is to come). Next, the first item to really start on the Jesus prayer in this unwritten yet definitive order is Saint Nikephoros the solitary “on watchfulness and the guarding of the heart”. (A mini Philokalia in itself) Next Kalistos and Ignatius. (a way more ‘monastic’ text, hesychastic even, that needs some discernment in its application but goes deeper still) Next Hesychios the Solitary (who finally really starts to discuss thoughts by now). After that you can read as you like.
    One could never really start with something like Maximus the Confessor though…!

    I’m bit confused. Are all of these topics that you list in Volume 4?

  33. Dino Avatar

    No, just the first one. The second one (the introduction) should have been in the 1st Volume, yet has not been included in the original translation for some crazy reason…

  34. Greg Lowe Avatar
    Greg Lowe

    Fantastic. I am so thankful to have found this website. Thank You Lord God for taking away my shame. Thank you for sharing truth with us Father Steven.

  35. gaudium Avatar

    “All of this is better undertaken with a good spiritual father and his encouragement and help. A requirement in this way of things is safety. If you do not feel safe sharing such shame with your spiritual father, then it shouldn’t be pushed.”

    So if you don’t feel safe sharing such things in confession with your local priest, what are you supposed to do? Our priest is very wonderful in many ways, but when I try to confess to him, his words either utterly baffle me (90% of the time) or fill me with despair (10%). I know that is not his intent, one look at his face shows that he perceives what he is saying as full of clarity and hope, but our personalities, backgrounds, and life experiences are so radically different that it is like we are speaking different languages. Like LI, I’ve always thought that “I should confess where I find myself, not browse around for a priest whom I like best”, so as to avoid the risk of “shopping around” to find someone who will tell me “what my itching ears want to hear.” And how do you even find a priest you can trust? I live close enough to a medium-sized metropolitan area that there are maybe six or seven parishes within a two-hour drive, but I have no idea how I would go about getting to know their priests.

  36. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    My intent is not to suggest that we go looking for a priest – rather than we not feel compelled to venture into shame if we don’t feel safe. Not all circumstances in life are ideal – it’s part of its messiness. And so we make the best of what we have and always cry out to God to have mercy on us.

    There will seemingly never be ideal circumstances in which to work out our salvation. And yet God works it out in our lives. If circumstances permit entering the area(s) that I’ve described, I’ve suggested some ways to take that path. If they don’t, then just be patient and make the best of what you have.

    As a priest, it’s hard for me to get to my confessor on the kind of basis that I would like. So, sometimes I’m creative. God give you grace. Our patience sometimes just has to wait for the unforeseen opportunity to present itself.

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