The Long-Range Option



In 1981, Alasdair MacIntyre published his book, After Virtue. He offered a historical analysis of the breakdown of moral conversation, essentially noting that a once classical agreement about the grounds of moral thought and action had been shattered into many conversations, most of which were incompatible and mutually contradictory. To make matters worse, he noted that a single speaker was likely to change moral horses in mid-stream. His conclusion was that our society had lost its ability to hold a meaningful conversation about the nature of the good or even how such a thing could be known. We are now a culture in which virtue has become a near impossible reality.

Today, his book is gaining a new fame based on its final paragraph. It is the basis of the present conversations regarding the “Benedict Option.” The paragraph is worth quoting in full:

It is always dangerous to draw too precise parallels between one historical period and another; and among the most misleading of such parallels are those which have been drawn between our own age in Europe and North America and the epoch in which the Roman empire declined into the Dark Ages. Nonetheless certain parallels there are. A crucial turning point in that earlier history occurred when men and women of good will turned aside from the task of shoring up the Roman imperium and ceased to identify the continuation of civility and moral community with the maintenance of that imperium. What they set themselves to achieve instead— often not recognizing fully what they were doing— was the construction of new forms of community within which the moral life could be sustained so that both morality and civility might survive the coming ages of barbarism and darkness. If my account of our moral condition is correct, we ought also to conclude that for some time now we too have reached that turning point. What matters at this stage is the construction of local forms of community within which civility and the intellectual and moral life can be sustained through the new dark ages which are already upon us. And if the tradition of the virtues was able to survive the horrors of the last dark ages, we are not entirely without grounds for hope. This time however the barbarians are not waiting beyond the frontiers; they have already been governing us for quite some time. And it is our lack of consciousness of this that constitutes part of our predicament. We are waiting not for a Godot, but for another— doubtless very different— St. Benedict.

His book can be read on a popular level, if you are serious about the subject and willing to work hard. For anyone thinking about current issues in our culture, it is essential reading. My own instinct, if I am in a serious conversation with someone who has not read it, is to suggest we stop until they have. It’s that central.

A primary value of MacIntyre’s work is to bring the topic of virtue into focus. His thought is grounded in Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas who are the giants in this realm. Orthodox teaching, itself rooted in a classical understanding, is very much at home in this conversation. Here is a brief overview:

Morality asks questions of right and wrong. What constitutes right action and why? Virtue asks an even deeper question. What kind of person is able to think and act in a right way? In terms of the gospel, we can see virtue as lying at the heart of Christ’s statement, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” For someone who lacks virtue (is not “pure in heart”) even their reason and perception will be distorted. They will not only fail at doing the good, they will not even be able to see what the good is.

To suggest that we live in a culture in which virtue is absent is thus a very serious charge. It means that we are unable to agree on even the most mundane matters about what is right and wrong. Worse still, we have become the kind of people who are unable to even know the answer to such questions. MacIntyre’s next book, Whose Justice, Which Rationality, pushed his analysis even further. His work sits like a prophetic word over the modern landscape of moral discourse.

But After Virtue’s last paragraph remains. The Benedict Option has passed into current religious conversation, at least among those who think his analysis is correct. If virtue itself has collapsed, and our ability as a culture to understand and agree about the moral project has disappeared, how do we even begin to recover? Or, more poignant still, how do we even survive such a disaster?

The problem can be stated in terms of a circle. Virtue itself is a requirement for right action. How can people who lack virtue ever come to know what virtue itself is, much less go about creating a community of virtue? I’ve always thought of this under the guise of “take’s one to know one.” Obviously, something from outside is required in order for virtue to be nurtured.

This, actually, is one way of understanding the gospel itself. If no one is pure in heart, then who can teach us about God? The answer is, Christ Himself. Christ is the one who is pure in heart. He Himself is the man of virtue. And so it is that Christ establishes the Church. Human beings do not actually live as individuals (despite all the modern rhetoric to the contrary). We belong to communities. If the communities to which we belong no longer know or are capable of virtue, then we ourselves cannot become virtuous.

The Church, however, is the living and abiding remembrance of virtue – the character of Christ Himself. The Church is the birth, in the world, of the living presence of the character of Christ. This is the heart of the “Benedict Option.” The monastic communities of Late Antiquity (the “Dark Ages”) were formed and shaped according to the character of Christ. “Character formation” was at the very heart of their life. In broader terms, we describe that formation as salvation itself.

It is worth noting, however, that these communities were not the result of people looking around and saying, “Gee, the Empire has fallen and the process of forming virtue has collapsed. Let’s start some monasteries and survive this thing.” The Benedict Option, in its original form, was God’s work, not man’s. This is necessarily the case.

American culture is enamored of the great “can do.” If there is a problem, we want to fix it. Indeed, part of our culture’s problem includes this notion of the ability to “fix.” A people who are clueless about virtue cannot create a virtuous fix. But we desperately want to! This includes well-intentioned Orthodox thinkers. The Church itself already is, and always has been, the “Benedict Option.” It is the means by which God is saving the world and the people within it. Sometimes, as in the case of the Benedictine Monasteries of Late Antiquity, that option has a profound and long-lasting effect on its surrounding culture. Of course, the result of those first monasteries across Europe gave rise to Medieval Latin Europe. A form of virtue was better understood, but did not prevent the rise of the Borgias or any number of corrupt Churchmen and rulers.

Today, the parishes of Orthodoxy remain as treasure houses of virtue. There is within them the remembrance of virtue and the fullness of the Divine, life-giving energies. But they are also a mixed-bag. For though all of the treasure remains present, the culture has very deep roots in the lives of many of its members. Their formation is far more driven by the moral confusion and consumerism of the mainstream than it is by the liturgical and dogmatic life of the Church.

I remain convinced that only a major increase in the level and quality of the monastic presence in Western culture will make much of a difference. But, “making a difference,” is God’s business. We ourselves can never really measure such a thing.

The Benedictines of the 7th and 8th centuries were not terribly aware that the culture had collapsed and that virtue had gone with it. They were aware of their Rule of Life and that is what occupied their days. They had no conscious plan to rescue civilization. Rather, they sought to rescue their souls from the fires of hell.

The true and ever-present Benedict Option remains whether anyone thinks about it as such or not. It is the long, slow, patient work of acquiring the virtues (theosis) by actually living the fullness of the Tradition as we have received it. It’s success is not for us to know or to foresee.

Go to Church. Say your prayers. Teach your children. Shop less. Share your stuff. Keep the commandments as we have received them. Pray for the grace to suffer well. Help those around you who are suffering. There is no need to wait for someone else to do it.

Those who plant olive trees know that they will not yield a crop for at least 25 years.

But I am like a green olive tree in the house of God; I trust in the mercy of God forever and ever. (Psalm 52:8)

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.


47 responses to “The Long-Range Option”

  1. Alan Avatar

    The true and ever-present Benedict Option remains whether anyone thinks about it as such or not. It is the long, slow, patient work of acquiring the virtues (theosis) by actually living the fullness of the Tradition as we have received it. It’s success is not for us to know or to foresee.

    Go to Church. Say your prayers. Teach your children. Shop less. Share your stuff. Keep the commandments as we have received them. Pray for the grace to suffer well. Help those around you who are suffering. There is no need to wait for someone else to do it.

    Thank you Father! These two paragraphs in particular are pure gold.

  2. Paul Avatar

    Great discussion Father!

  3. Jeremiah Avatar

    I realized this lack of virtue in our culture first hand when leading an open spirituality forum in downtown Asheville. For the first few years, I was partially blind to it. But as I entered into the Orthodox faith, and my own eyes began to be opened, I realized most people simply don’t have the ability to see what is virtuous.

    One of the last discussions I ever led was on the topic of evil. I started with what I thought was a straightforward question: “What is evil?” The answers I got blew me away. About half of the people didn’t think evil actually exists, even when bringing up modern examples such as ISIS ruthlessly slaughtering people.

    Where it leads troubles me: if we can’t even condemn the slaughter of innocents as evil, then what thin barrier is holding us back from delving deeply into evil ourselves? My mind turns to the atrocities that were perpetuated during the Bolshevik Revolution by many “ordinary” people.

  4. Alan Avatar

    Thank you Jeremiah. Great comments.

  5. Carol Sadosky Avatar
    Carol Sadosky

    My church, St. Stephen, is starting a Benedictine lay monastic group. First meeting is tonight. This post is right on time for me as we will be endevoring to live out Christianity with each other in community. I am excited as I believe this will help us as we struggle together toward theosis. You have encouraged me in this post Fr. Stephen not to lose hope for this world if the church will just be the light in the darkness!

  6. Byron Avatar

    Thank you for this, Father! I, too often, get caught in the need to organize (life, community, etc.) instead of simply live life and thank God. This reminder is both timely and timeless. God bless!

  7. Albert Haddad Avatar
    Albert Haddad

    Great discussion Fr. Stephen. Thank you. Let us pray for the World, keeping in Mind our Lord’s Prayer He thought us; “—- Thine will be done —“. Amen.

  8. Randy Evans Avatar

    Much appreciate the post, as is most always the case with your blogs. Thank your for your continued faithfulness to this written ministry. I will definitely read MacIntyre’s book.
    Along the same lines, a book I very much appreciate and would recommend is Peter Kreeft’s “Back to Virtue”, copyright 1984. He is head of the Philosophy Dept. at Boston College and a C.S. Lewis scholar. I am befuddled how little he references any of the Eastern Fathers, but, as with most books, we learn to read with filters, gleaning the eternal Christian truths therein. I also very much enjoy his “C. S. Lewis for the Third Millenium,” copyright 1994, for any who might be interested in further cultural analyses from a Christian perspective.

  9. Nicholas Stephen Griswold Avatar
    Nicholas Stephen Griswold

    I am reminded Father of the pressure from Evangelical circles to pursue the Social Gospel in which the members of the faith are to right the world’s wrongs. As I worked my way through Seminary and sat under an Evangelism professor who espouses this daily I saw the futility of us trying to “fix” the world. I spent a great deal of time doing various forms of Prison ministry and I have seen first hand the lack of virtue in our society. I felt near despair as I watched the system drive people deeper into lives of crime and the entire lack of interest in the system of rehabilitating these people so they would not come back. I was backed into the corner one day by a group of prisoners I had known for a few years about how I was going to fix their problems so they could go straight. I had to admit, I did not have the time, talent or treasure for such a task, but I had an answer. I told them I could not fix the world and that was not my job. My job was to introduce them to He who fixes the world one heart at a time. As I read your excellent post I saw clearly that the Benedict option is the solution and social welfare is not. Thank you Father for reminding me.

  10. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    I’ve met Kreeft. He was impressive.

  11. Mark Avatar

    “In those days there was no king in Israel and everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” Judges 21:25

  12. Gene B Avatar
    Gene B

    I agree, Father, everything is here to lead a Christian life. It takes prayer work and fasting, and most of all bring thankful for the great blessings we have been given. I don’t think the original Chritian communities separated themselves out. They were a part of the world and transformed it with their examples.

  13. Michael Lynch Avatar
    Michael Lynch

    “The Church itself already is, and always has been, the “Benedict Option.” It is the means by which God is saving the world and the people within it.”
    A good thing to remember when the mass media and our surrounding culture are trying to tell us that this politician, or that organization, will solve our nation’s problems.

  14. Randy Evans Avatar

    Father, yes, Peter Kreeft is impressive; what I thank God for is that he shares the same gift you do in that you both have an ability to draw from your extensive erudition and write grace-filled Gospel truths in a concise, readable, and pastoral way. In an ever-darkening age, much encouragement and needed clarity comes to us from the “Lord and Giver of Life” through your faithfulness to Him at your keyboard. Continue sharing as you have time and energy!

  15. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    One point you make Father that I find interesting is that the original Benedict’s were not necessarily aware of darkness around them, they just followed their rule.

    In our age it takes tremendous discipline to be unaware even more not to fall into the trap of “fixing”.

    To see light and be thankful and not despair is quite a lot I think.

    A friend of mine wrote a little ditty years ago: What to do, trouble everywhere, life is such an awful mess. What to do, I’m pulling out my hair…. I could fix every problem, every disagreement too, if I just knew what to do!

    Shoot, I can’t even fix simple things in my own life without a lot of grace.

  16. Dean Avatar

    A reformed Christian named High McCann, had long conversations on this site with Fr. Freeman. I looked back quickly and found some in Feb. of this year. However, the conversations lasted over several months. I’m sure that in Father’s comments many of your questions would be addressed.

  17. Thomas Avatar

    Randy Evans,

    I’m afraid the reason Kreeft largely ignores the Eastern Fathers is the same as why MacIntyre, in the quote Fr Stephen provides at the beginning, refers to ‘the epoch in which the Roman empire declined into the Dark Ages’ — when it was only the western portion of the Roman Empire, overrun by the Germanic tribes, which ‘declined into the Dark Ages’: almost all Westerners are blind to the East.

  18. Janine Avatar

    I’m afraid one problem of the “third millenium” that is beginning is also isolation. I fear isolation is a bigger problem now than it has been before. We have so many communities changing or breaking up. Migration around the world seems to be at an evolutionary high, and we can look to our own societies of the West to understand isolation within our local communities and in greater communities. Warfare is another great destabilizing influence and one that breaks up communities, societies and traditional inclusion. I feel that the Holy Spirit has an answer for this, and see around me people being brought to Christ (eventually) through all kinds of disparate experiences. We cannot rule out the long-term solution of the Spirit. Christ’s sacrifice applies not only to those in community, but also to those in isolation, whom I feel are increasing. So many young people in the West are raised without a slightest knowledge of Christianity or any other religious tradition; for them it is an equal playing field smorgasbord — often of great sophistry.

    I heard one young woman (approx 19 or 20) speak about what she thought was an alien encounter, but what sounded to me clearly like a “guardian angel” guidance. She was told that she had to make good choices for herself, and not just follow crowds. This same “alien” came back to her a year later to discuss her progress. Another young man from China described a “goddess” who came to him and made sense of the love of his family, helping him to leave behind his heroine addiction. To me these sounded so strongly of the hallmarks of spiritual guidance, and I have confidence that people are reached where they can be reached by the Spirit, interpreting in what they know, but being led toward Christ. It may shock people or seem entirely silly, but I don’t think we can safely underestimate the need for guidance in isolation and the work of the Spirit in the long road of life.

  19. Janine Avatar

    *heroin addiction (ironic spelling error)

  20. Maria Avatar

    Janine, you are thinking outside the box or Church. Spirit is everywhere! How is this Orthodox?

  21. Janine Avatar

    Maria, exactly. Spirit is everywhere. We cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. I would bet there are many who read this blog who have come from all kinds of places to get here, and on quite roundabout journeys. My point is the love of the Spirit is going to reach to wherever it can start with people, and I think we shouldn’t be surprised about it given the conditions we’re seeing arise.

  22. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    O Heavenly King, the Comforter, the Spirit of Truth, Who art everywhere present and filling all things…

    The Holy Spirit is uniquely in the Church – but He is everywhere. God is working all things together for good (drawing all things towards His Church). If this were not true none could be saved. But ultimately, there is no salvation outside the Church, because the Church is salvation.

  23. Maria Avatar

    Fr. Freeman,
    But ultimately, there is no salvation outside the Church, because the Church is salvation.
    There are many things that draw me to Orthodoxy the Church, and many things I have trouble accepting. One is the Statement, that the Church is Salvation, and not God/Christ/Holy Spirit the agent or the Redeemer who is present everywhere, anytime and anyplace. That the Church holds symbols of this intimate fellowship with the spirit, and supposedly also with one another as a people, is understandable to me as a safeguard to/for the continuum, but not that it is the saving agent itself. History has shown otherwise, but it is still the struggle to be the temple of temples (persons) and ongoing. When one hears the call internally and can’t find the resonance or place outside, then I feel the struggle of keeping the spirit in the temple among temples. Christ said I am the way the truth and the light and no one cometh to the father but thru me and whom God draws. He did say, upon this rock I will built my church=a continuum of life following his teaching/precepts. But it has changed from then to now in unspeakable ways. How do I find the peace that the world can not understand. I did not loose my salvation outside the church, but I must admit, I lost my peace among the many Churches, when at one time I only knew one and had peace. (a Baptist) Now I know many, and all the many different teachings, all in His Name of Christianity, I am hurt and lost my peace. God have mercy.

  24. Robert Avatar

    The value of Dreher’s project is much less any plan or need of “doing” as it is a waking up of Christians to the fact that Modernity is anti-Christ. We are so deeply (and unknowingly) formed as Moderns that coming to see ourselves as Church is going to be a rather radical and embarrassingly self-aware project. Your writing this past year has been much the same work.

  25. Alex Volkov Avatar
    Alex Volkov

    Maria, the Church is the Body of Christ (Rom 12; 1 Cor 10, 12; Col 1). Because the Church is the Body of Christ, it is also the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit.

    The Church is also called the Ark of Salvation. Our union with Christ is only possible in the Church, i.e. when we are aboard His Ark. In other words, our salvation is only possible if we belong to His Body.

    St Nikolai Velimirovich says:

    “Wayfarers, behold the ark! When the flood came, Noah was saved in a secure ark.

    The flood of madness and sin continues incessantly. Therefore, the Lover of Mankind constructed the ark of salvation. Ask for His ark, and you will soon be entering it. Do not let yourselves be led astray by the multitude of variegated vessels, decorated and adorned on the outside. Ask about the power of the engine and about the skill of the captain. The most powerful engine and the most skilled helmsman are to be found in the ark of Christ. This is the all-seeing, all-powerful, Holy Spirit himself.

    Neither let yourselves be led astray by those who invite you into their tiny and new rowboats, or those who offer you private rowboats just for yourselves. The journey is distant and the storms are dangerous.

    Neither let yourselves be led astray by those who say that on the other side of the ocean there is no new land, no new world, and that there is no reason to prepare for a distant voyage. They invite you to go fishing on the shore. To such a little extent do they see or know. Truly, they are setting out for destruction, and are inviting you to destruction as well.

    Do not allow yourselves to be deceived, but rather ask about His ark. Even though it may be less dazzling to the eyes than others, nevertheless it is strong and secure. Even though it does not have many variegated banners, except the sign of the cross, know that your life is safe aboard it.

    And on a sea voyage the first and primary concern should be that the life of the passenger is safe. If you believe in Christ the Savior, O Christ-bearers, you also believe in His work. His work is the Church, the Ark of Salvation. Aboard it are sailing the hosts of the saved and of those being saved.

    The Lord founded this work of His on faith, as strong as rock. Just as He said and prophesied: ‘On this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it’ (Matt. 16:18). And truly, up to the present day they have never prevailed, nor will they from this day forward.

    The Church is called the body of Christ. ‘You are the body of Christ’ (Rom. 15:5; 1 Cor. 12:27). Therefore, there is only one Church. For there cannot be two bodies under one head, and Christ is called the head of the Church (Col. 1:18). Therefore: one Christ, one head, one body – one Church.”

    (Bishop Nikolai Velimirovich, The Faith of the Chosen People, pp 69-71)

  26. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    My parish IMO had a poignant example of “The Benedict Option” last evening. We buried a member of our parish who, at 86, had been serving God all his life in our parish yet many people probably did not know his name. He was most obvious on Sunday at the bengarie handing out the weekly bulletin. I suspect I received from him around 1000 times over the years. Our bishop eugolized him as being everywhere something needed to be done (and he was, much as the Holy Spirit). As pure in heart because he had no agenda in what he did; no intent or desire to draw attention to himself.

    Bishop Basil also talked about the Church as the Body of Christ, not an institution, organization or club. As such all that is done in and for the Church with pure heart remains as part of the tapestry of the Church, forever woven in forever.

    The act of burying him with prayers, tears, smiles, thanksgiving and even laughter is a demonstration of God in the midst of insanity. The acts of the man himself within and for our parish family even more so. Davie Kahlail, may your memory be eternal.

  27. Dee of St Herman's Avatar
    Dee of St Herman’s

    May your memory be eternal, Davie Kahlail.

    Michael, there are similar great souls in my parish too. A blessing to all of us.

    Alex Volkov thank you so much for these beautiful words to Maria. So helpful for me today.

  28. Victoria Avatar

    Maria (and Janine!)

    What you both have said resonates with me. What I have been taught by our priest at a small mission parish (and I have been in the Church for 16 or 17 years before hearing it put the way he says it) is that our salvation is only rightly worked out within the ark of the Orthodox Church. And that when Christ comes again, He will judge within the Church first, because we have the fullness of Faith and the Tradition. For me this was a comfort to hear – and I might add that, this priest, I regard as a very holy man.

    What he is saying is that we have been entrusted with much, and therefore much will be asked of us. (Luke 12:48) That doesn’t mean as Orthodox Christians that we have to fix the problems of the world, because this priest would also remind us is that we simply do not know the fate of those outside of the Faith. That is in the hands of God – and only our merciful God, Who knows all things can rightly judge – not us.

    (He is not talking about universal salvation – but allows that we do not know.)

    I have pondered his words often, particularly because I have a great extended family outside of the Orthodox Faith – and indeed there are many in the world living in darkness. But yes, Maria – the Spirit is everywhere! God can not be put in a box.

    Most certainly we can expect the Light of Christ to be most visible amidst great darkness, and we can have hope that those with eyes to see, will follow.

    It is reminiscent of first candle lit in the alter during the service of Pascha, and how bright the light of that candle is in the darkened Church. Yet, as the light is passed, lighting candle to candle, at some point it isn’t as easy to tell when another candle is lit.

    So among other Christian denominations, the Light of Orthodoxy will reach a seeking eye and heart, but it is not for us to know the path that one seeking will take to get here.

    But the Light shining in the darkness, well like that first candle on Pascha, it is very visible. Last year I went to a retreat given by the Abbott of Saint Tikhon’s monastery, during which he relayed the following story. It is one that I have pondered often in the past year since hearing it – it is extremely uplifting, at least it was to me.

    The retreat was the morning after the shootings in Paris.

    The story is about the conversion of a Muslim ISIS terrorist, who was found dead on the eastern border of Syria by two monks. These monks were far from their monastery and came upon this dead terrorist. This dead man had the blood of many innocent Christians on his hands (and soul). These monks, in the truest most beautiful Christian witness decided this man needed a burial. They carried – the literally dead weight of this man – 26 kilometers – back their monastery for burial. That’s a long walk.

    I am struck by the similarity to the Parable Good Samaritan and I can only surmise that the burial would have included prayer for this man’s soul. At some point before or during his burial, he was brought back from death.

    His testimony is that in death, his soul stood before the gates of hell. God told him that he failed miserably as a human soul and that he would be banned from Heaven if he chose to die, but that he if he chose to live, he would be given a chance for repentance.

    In the time he was dead, the terrorist had to relive the deaths of all those he brutally murdered through their eyes. He says it will haunt him for the rest of his life. Ultimately, he very quickly converted to Christianity and is living out his repentance in that monastery. His soul stood before the Light and he came to his senses, and realized all he been taught as a Muslim was false.

    I can not help but also contrast this to the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus. I am struck that this Muslim terrorist was allowed to come back to the world, perhaps so that beyond his repentance he might give a testimony to other ISIS fighters for their conversion. Because everything they are taught is wrong.

    We know, that the rich man in the parable however was not able to send a testimony to his brothers because since they already had Moses and the Prophets, why would they be convinced by someone rising from the dead.

    To me this bears out what our priest said, that we simply do not know the fate of those living outside of the Church, but that ours is a God of mercy, Who searches the hearts and examines the minds of men. Certainly there may be some who are not saved (within and outside of life in the Church) and yet there is always hope for mercy!

    There are also other accounts of Christ appearing to Muslims – in the Middle East – in their dreams . I was told this by a local iconographer who was also at that retreat I mentioned above. For him this was a powerful witness, brought home when a family member went on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. Their tour guide was a Muslim. They asked the tour guide if he had ever heard of Christ appearing to Muslims, and the man began to weep. The Muslim tour guide explained that he, himself, had visions of Christ in his dreams – but that conversion to Christianity scared him because he feared being killed.

    These stories bring a peace to my heart – that we should not be troubled by dark times. It seems to me that in troubled times, the Light shines through the cracks of the most darkest of places.

    On a personal note, I have so many family members outside of the Faith – either completely rejecting the Church (any Church) outright, or that are members of another Christian denomination.

    In some ways, I recognize myself to be the Rich Man in the parable. Having been in the Church for more than 20 years – and in the past this has troubled me – because I expected results. Many of these family members of mine are miserable, and yet all the morsels of Faith I sought to share were rejected. My extended family has not converted, nor shown any interest in walking that path – despite many meaningful conversations, books shared, icons gifted, Pascha’s celebrated with us, times visiting the Orthodox Church with me (Weddings, Baptisms, Funerals, Memorial Services) have not led to conversion.

    It has given me pause to reflect on what it is to throw pearls before swine. Father Maximos, in The Mountain of Silence, says that before speaking to anyone about God, “you must pray for that person so that Grace may proceed ahead of you and prepare the ground. But even so, people who’s heart is shut can not experience the light, no matter what.”

    So I put it all the apologetics with them down, and sought only to pray for them. And it is there that I have found peace, confident in the knowledge that the good work which the Lord begins, He will carry onto completion until the day of Jesus Christ. (Phil 1:6)

    Perhaps as Christians, our greatest task is simply live the faith, raise our children in the Faith, and work out our salvation in the Church. In my extended family it has been most prudent to communicate this way, (and we are certainly far from perfect!) so that I might not be an impediment to “the Comforter, the Spirit of Truth, Who IS everywhere and fillest all things” that it may blow where it will and touch the hearts of those whom I can not penetrate.

    This ended up longer than I intended…. I think the short version is simply that we must stay hopeful, be grateful and live our life in Christ within the Church. This is the only way and it is the way of “peace”. 🙂

  29. Gregory Manning Avatar
    Gregory Manning

    Back in the mid 70’s, when I was still an Episcopalian, the Presiding Bishop issued a pastoral letter in which he redefined evil as being racism, classism, sexism, and elitism. The rector of the church I was attending at the time, inspired by what he called the Peeb’s “awesome revelation”, got up in the pulpit the following Sunday and proceeded to suggest that we as laymen might do our part in bringing this “awesome revelation” to fruition by changing the words we used (surprise!) and instead of talking about “good” and “evil” we should consider “OK-ness” and “Not-OK-ness”. I left the episcopal church then and there and wandered in the desert for 20 odd years until I was led right to Orthodoxy’s front door.
    Some years later, a commentator whose name I’ve forgotten observed that if you’re trying to manage and regulate a society it’s hard to pass laws against evil. But classism, sexism, racism, and elitism are ideal candidates. Besides, “evil” has religious implications and religious beliefs are a no-no.

  30. Victoria Avatar

    I think it goes without saying that we really need to support our monasteries in this country. Especially the ones that are newly forming. Saint John Chrysostom says that the health of the Church can be measured by the health of monastic communities.

    For our monasteries to thrive, they also need to be established and many hands make light work. Find out where your nearest Orthodox monastery resides and visit them, support them monetarily. Just imagine if every Orthodox Christian were to make a $10 donation a month to their local monastery. This is a light to the surrounding Churches, clergy and laity.

  31. Byron Avatar

    Memory eternal, Davie Kahlail.

    So true, Victoria!

  32. Janine Avatar

    Thank you for all the comments, everybody who has posted. So many good things to ponder. Victoria, thank you especially for all you have written (and directed to me)! How I love the quotation from “Mountain of Silence.” I too have had to learn the hard way that you can’t cast pearls before swine, that I am not the Savior, that to be wise as serpents and simple as doves means there is a lot I need to learn.

    Maria, my prayers are with you and may the love of God root you in the place you need to be. In disparate experiences, it seems to me the one thing that distinguishes the voice of the Bridegroom is his steadfast love, which includes true discipline and guidance. I think love is a great mystery, something we are always learning. But even we who may have imperfectly experienced it in the world have a receiver within us, whether we can put it into words or not. In Alex Volkov’s quotation from Bishop NIcholai (thank you Alex) I read, “Even though it does not have many variegated banners, except the sign of the cross, know that your life is safe aboard it.” I think that intuitive sensing of this particular safety is an important sign of the presence of God’s love.

    Memory eternal, Davie Kahlail!

    And I agree that the work of the Spirit must be coupled (another synergy?) with the planting of communities for those who will be led to them and will need the support and nurturing they offer. I am preaching to the choir to say that the work of the Spirit through the monasteries does all kinds of things nobody can ever predict. The treasure of the Church must be present and living, for the life of the world.

  33. Maria Avatar

    Thank you Janine, Victoria and Alex for sharing your story and your kind thoughts and prayers. I will continue to seek and find clarity. As a five year old, Jesus was my Hero, and Church was the most beautiful place, learning and growing and felt and knew all my life his presence and guidance. Maybe angels, but nevertheless I was never left orphaned when everyone in my family had forsaken me. They chose not to continue in the faith of our fathers, but I did and can not do otherwise, because I know that I know.
    I am living here in the US in a foreign culture, it is not native to me and having a hard time belonging and blending in anywhere. Perhaps I am not supposed to looking back at my life, feeling like a stranger in a strange land most of the time.
    Thank you so much again for your thoughts, sharing and kind words.

  34. Janine Avatar

    Moses was a stranger in a strange land (Ex 2:22). Perhaps you are right where you need to be. God bless, Maria!

  35. Kelly Avatar

    I have been telling my husband for years we are in a dark age, and I
    believe it is one of the darkest ages we have ever seen to date.

    ” This time however the barbarians are not waiting beyond the frontiers; they have already been governing us for quite some time. And it is our lack of consciousness of this that constitutes part of our predicament.”

    A lack of consciousness IS the totality of a dark age.

    Lord have Mercy

  36. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Since the subject of economics comes up occasionally here with the last mention concerning distributionism, I recommend Wendall Berry’s book: ‘What Matters? Economics for a renewed Commonwealth”

    I have just begun reading it but can already tell it is exceptional.

  37. Margaret Avatar

    Just now reading this on July 9th 2016 and especially recommending this: Go to Church. Say your prayers. Teach your children. Shop less. Share your stuff. Keep the commandments as we have received them. Pray for the grace to suffer well. Help those around you who are suffering. There is no need to wait for someone else to do it.

    Those who plant olive trees know that they will not yield a crop for at least 25 years.

    But I am like a green olive tree in the house of God; I trust in the mercy of God forever and ever. (Psalm 52:8)

    to myself.

    Thank you Fr. Stephen! Glory to God for All Things

  38. Alan Avatar

    Forgive me.
    Victoria – excellent comment about supporting the monasteries. Thank you.

    Gregory Manning – I always look forward to your comments. Thank you again.

    Lastly, Nicholas Stephen Griswold……Yes, A thousand times yes. I’m reminded by this post, and by your comment, that Fr Stephen has stated more than once that when people set out to “do good” on a large scale, they invariably end up causing more harm. I also always remember a great comment made on this site by Dino: “We’re hesychasts, not activists.”

    Thank you Father Stephen and to your many excellent readers/commentators here.

  39. Karen Avatar

    Very timely comments…. I have been learning for a couple decades now not to throw pearls before swine (not always successfully), but this past week, I was feeling ornery and failed to take the wiser path (in a comments thread on Youtube). The results were extreme and instructive. Pigs do terrible things with pearls! We need to guard our hearts and leave room for the Holy Spirit to work. Thank you Victoria and Janine for that reminder.

  40. Sally Iloff Avatar
    Sally Iloff

    It is wonderful article, and very interesting discussion. I enjoyed a lot reading! Nevertheless people refuse to accept the fact the all empires and civilizations have raise, apogee and fall-down. The global is victim peripatetic neocolonial civilization of hiper-consumarizm is coming sometime in some near future to the end. The virtues of that Western empire are questionable already. If the empire is falling the questions of virtues always surface. Good point made by Fr. Freeman about the parallel with the Dark Ages and the role of Orthodoxy! I like it!

  41. Chris Avatar

    I initially missed this post. Glad I found it. It’s a topic I have been thinking a lot about. What’s happening around us is very discouraging, but not surprising. I realize that all I can really do is pray and follow the rest of your recommendations. I have been leaning that way for a while.

    On a side note, I went into a Orthadox Church for the first time. Absolutely stunning. Beautiful with all the icons. Can’t help but to contemplate the world we cannot see. It was a Greek Orthadox Church here in Maine that was having a summer festival opened to the public.

  42. Chris Avatar

    Please forgive my misspelling of ‘Orthodox’ in my previous post.

  43. Zorica Avatar

    On and off I have been practicing inconsistency, and indifference towards the church. I watched my faith fading and I saw the sharp teeth of pride and self absorbency gnawing at me. I fell in sin and I liked it, but my soul was definitely searching something else. One night I had a dream: I was walking in a dark tunnel desperate in search for an exit. After what felt hours of desperate and exhausted search, I saw a light, and I began to ran towards it. When I looked around, the exit to light was through my church.
    Please pray for me, Fr. Stephen.

  44. Sunny Avatar

    Father Stephen,

    I inter-library loaned “After Virtue” and tried to read it because my husband and I are actually serious about the Benedict Option. Only a couple chapters in I was so bewildered that I gave it up and just skipped to the end to get “the point” which I still couldn’t ultimately discern. It seems like you have to be highly educated historian and philosopher to follow the logic of his arguments, otherwise it seems pretty convoluted. I would love to know more about the topic of virtue, if you would be willing to explain Macintyre’s work more or recommend some reads easier for lay people I would really appreciate it.

  45. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    I’ll give it a try. MacIntyre is indeed a true academic. There are thicker reads than After Virtue, but it’s tough going as it is.

  46. Sunny Avatar

    That would be great!! I was especially confused by his seeming prejudice against therapists, as one of the “characters” of modernity.

    I saw somebody recommended some of the works of Peter Kreeft. I LOVE Kreeft and will definitely be checking those out! We used his textbook on Socratic Logic for a logic course in college, and it is one of the things I treasure most from my education.

  47. Dan Avatar


    It may not be much help. I have taken a different path and still have many miles to go, but the most important insight for me so far was that faith is not intellectual. It is not primarily in the mind. It is not a mental formula that produces salvation, but a relationship. I’m a terrible “spouse” but I’m trying to improve. The devil wants us to dispair, and feel isolated, and more powerfully so as we draw nearer to the ark. Sometimes most powerfully so in Liturgy (in my experience)! Additionally, Orthodoxy can sometimes feel like a culture shock, which is a challenge in and of itself.

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