The Loneliness of Shame


…shame thoughts are quintessentially alone thoughts. They are produced by the felt impossibility of communion, and they produce realities that have no primary communion in them.

Patricia DeYoung, Understanding and Treating Chronic Shame


What does it mean to be lonely? We could pool our collective experience and quickly generate our own Wikipedia entry on the topic. There is probably no one who is a complete stranger to loneliness. The definitions that point to the failures of social structures, however, fail to treat the fact that we are often victims of loneliness even when we are with our closest and most intimate friends. In that manner, I suggest that loneliness is what you get when all the distractions have been removed. So what is it?

At its very heart, loneliness is the absence of communion. Human beings are not created to be alone. However, we are created for something far greater than merely keeping company or spending time with others. Communion is a way-of-being but is frequently disrupted in some lives and almost completely absent in others.

Sin is accurately described as the “rupture of communion”. The story of Adam and Eve in the Garden, who experience their nakedness as shame, is also the story of ruptured communion. The presence of God, prior to their sin, is unutterable joy-in-communion. Afterwards, it is perceived as a threat, something that exposes them, causing them to hide. God’s description of the relationship of the man and woman after their sin is filled with the conflict of broken communion:

To the woman He said: “I will greatly multiply your sorrow and your conception; In pain you shall bring forth children; Your desire shall be for your husband, And he shall rule over you.” (Gen. 3:16)

We were not created to be alone. God had said of Adam, “It is not good for the man to be alone,” and creates woman. Ideally, the goodness of what it is to be human is found in communion.

The experience of shame, on the other hand, is the experience of being alone, of being disconnected. Some theorists posit that we first experience this brokenness in infancy, in the imperfect relations with a mother. No matter how much care and love is given to a child, the pain of separation will first be felt in its early months. In many cases, that pain will rise to the level of trauma, either then, or later. For a child, it is a pain that they are powerless to change.

Even for adults, the pain associated with shame creates a form of powerlessness. We feel confused, unable to think or to reach out. That feeling is the most unbearable of all human experiences. As a result, we substitute other feelings that are more bearable: anger, sadness.

Our alienation and loneliness are greater indicators of the brokenness of our lives than any moral measurement that might be applied. Our salvation begins with an act of restored communion: we are baptized into the death and resurrection of Christ. His death becomes our death; His resurrection becomes our resurrection. Communion becomes the very ground and source of life.  The restoration of communion in Christ is the only thing that can heal all that has been lost.

What I have been describing is the psychological impact of sin/shame. It would be correct to think of this psychological experience as an “icon” of what has taken place on the spiritual/ontological level. The Scriptures equate sin with death. It is our mortality, on the most fundamental level, that is the primary consequence of sin. The things we do wrong (what we often refer to as “sins”) are merely the symptoms of that deeper reality.

One way to think about the death that is at work in us is in terms of disintegration – particularly as that word serves as an antonym of communion. Our first disintegration is on the level of the spirit. Alienated from God, our hearts (nous) become darkened and we lose our spiritual sight. On the level of the soul, we become alienated from our spiritual life and the soul is dominated by the body and the passions (desires, habits). Then the soul becomes alienated from the body in physical death. Lastly, the body itself becomes subject to disintegration as it lies in the grave.

Loneliness is simply the emotional echo of this disintegration, a pattern that dominates much of our existence.

For much of our lives we avoid loneliness not by its cure, but by distraction. We avoid that inner pain by pursuit of the passions. Certain encounters, however, plunge us back into the nether regions of our disintegration – particularly those that can be described as shame.

I do not think I have been aware of shame most of my life. As such (and it is not uncommon), the entire topic of shame would seem to be beside the point. However, this is based on a misunderstanding of shame itself. The core experience that is referenced in shame, is a very painful affect in which we become aware of ourselves as exposed and vulnerable, unsafe and disconnected. It is hard-wired in our bodies, like the affect of surprise (the startle response) or dissmell (you wrinkle your nose and instinctively turn away from certain smells). It is only in time that this basic experience of exposure becomes associated with various scenes and events and develops into the emotion we name as shame.

This same affect is not inherently bad. It is the basis for our awareness of boundaries, and of people as “others.” Indeed, without this affect we would not experience humility, awe or wonder. Thus, like all things, shame (in the negative sense) is simply a distortion of something good and useful. God has not created us for evil.

However, what should be nothing more than an appropriate signal of “otherness” becomes an overwhelming experience of alienation and exposure. In a very short time this painful experience comes to be attached to the thought that “it is because of me.” This becomes the essential voice of shame: “There is something wrong with me. I don’t belong here.” This is only one of the many dark thoughts that emanate from this place of disintegration. These ideas are not correctly described as “thoughts,” the result of reason within the frontal cortex: they are “noise” an artifact of something much deeper. As such trying to reason with such thoughts is often useless. We are broken on a deeper level.

The pain of shame is frequently transformed into other things such as anger and sadness, with the noise of its darkness adding color. So, though we might not be utterly aware of shame, we are easily aware of anger or sadness. We are aware when we are depressed, and experience loneliness on a regular basis. We are sometimes overwhelmed by feelings for which we have no name. We are sometimes isolated and disconnected. All of these are voices of shame, or of this fundamental disintegration within us.

It is worth thinking about the great movements of monasticism within the early Church. Although there were many communities of monks and nuns, the primary experience included “aloneness” (the actual meaning of the word “monastic”). When all of the distracting noise that masks our inner world is removed, we come face-to-face with a more frightening adversary. That inner alienation, as noted earlier, is also the place where we encounter humility, awe and wonder. It is thus understandable that lessons of humility are primary in the sayings of these great desert figures.

Of course, there are often toxic, chronic problems rooted in our shame, resulting from various forms of abuse. Some of these experiences are so painful that they are blocked from our awareness. The journey towards humility and into the presence of God is likely to reveal them. It is in this, and many other ways, that the path of salvation is synonymous with the path of healing. The connection of humility with the mechanism of shame also adds meaning to the saying of the Elder Sophrony, “The way up is the way down.”

Our healing begins on the ground of our spirit. “…he who is joined to the Lord is one spirit with Him.” (1Co 6:17) In Holy Baptism, Chrismation and the continuing life of Communion, we nurture this foundational union with God. Its grace supports the healing of the whole of our life. This work is generally not within our daily awareness. The struggle that is most within our consciousness is the psychological struggle. That can be a long, slow process, depending on how deeply we are wounded.

The healing within our lives is rooted in communion. In our relationships with others that communion requires vulnerability – something that can only take place where there is safety, honesty and love. Those practices, by grace and with time, can heal our deep injuries. They also form the basis of a communion that is the antithesis of loneliness. God is with us.

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.



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99 responses to “The Loneliness of Shame”

  1. Nicholas Stephen Griswold Avatar
    Nicholas Stephen Griswold

    Thank you Father for further drawing out the true depths of how we are separated from who we should be. I see by bearing our shame, a little at a time, we acknowledge and disarm its effects on communion.

  2. Carol Avatar

    Thank you, Father.

  3. Dino Avatar

    The experience of “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (I think), could be safely described the most unbearable experience for a human if we were to try such a sweeping generalisation. Would you have any insights on the connections of that specific type of hellish abandonment -the ultimate test to fidelity/love/obedience/trust, upon which the Son of Man triumphed eternally- and shame in the light of this fascinating article ?

  4. Debbie Avatar

    A little at a time in dealing w/ shame. Seems guilt and shame are similar and perhaps even interchangeable at times or mayhap the same. A thought and not a form of insight. Seems guilt squeezes in with anger and sadness. At times a long arduous journey. One traversed on different levels. One endeavoring to not be so analytical of my own feelings. Acceptance is oft difficult.
    Thank you again for some more insight into shame.

  5. Eric Avatar

    Fr, I don’t mean this to be off topic, but I am troubled by diseases like Alzheimer’s, dementia, other forms of brain/body degregation. What becomes of a soul when the very source of dignity, their very capacity to asses and confront shame, is ripped from their soul?

    I think your ideas about shame here are very helpful in diagnosing the true “root” condition of our unhappiness, but I am disturbed by the prospect of those things which make these kinds of conversations out to be completely irrelevant. Part of this comes from fear, which I wonder… might stem from shame

  6. Gregory (William) Manning Avatar
    Gregory (William) Manning

    “…something that can only take place where there is safety, honesty and love.” You didn’t mention where a place of “safety, honesty, and love” is to be found.

  7. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Ideally, they could be found in Church. Alas, we are sinners, and that is not universally true. So, we kind of have to look around sometimes.

  8. Allen Long Avatar
    Allen Long

    Thank you, Father Stephen. I too wonder about Alzheimer and dementia.

  9. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Eric, Allen, et al
    Re Alzheimer’s. I think that in this life many things are “unfinished” or their completion is not at all obvious to us. With Alzheimer’s, for example, it is possible that there are deep things that may indeed continue but cannot be shared or known by others.

    The verse from Exodus (Septuagint Translation) “For with a secret hand the Lord wages war upon Amalek to all generations.” (17:16) is a verse that is very dear to me (I quoted it earlier this week in the comments). The Apostles became witnesses of the Resurrection. However, they were not witnesses to the Harrowing of Hades, which was arguably far more important than anything that was happening anywhere else in the universe. How did they know it? I suppose because Christ told them (what a story that must have been!). But is was indeed a great work of God’s “secret hand.” That hand continues…”to all generations…”

    Second, there is another verse, from Wisdom: “…like gold in the furnace he tried them, and like a sacrificial burnt offering he accepted them.
    In the time of their visitation they will shine forth, and will run like sparks through the stubble.” (Wis. 3:6-7) The “time of their visitation” is a reference to the Last Day. That Day on which everything will be revealed. Alzheimer’s itself may indeed be part of that “furnace” – a sacrificial burnt offering of suffering –

    A few years back there was an extremely moving letter written by a priest who was entering the eclipse of Alzheimer’s. It was a confession of faith and trust in God’s goodness. God will be with us…even there.

    God will not abandon us…regardless of the dark places into which we enter. He is there.

  10. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Father, is it not important to remember that as important as our brain is in dealing with the world, it has little significance in communion.

    There is a place within where real communion occurs especially in the dark moments. Or so it seems to me.

  11. Byron Avatar

    One of the things I was surprised to find when I moved into being Orthodox was that Despondency is a passion. It had never occurred to me that such a thing was sinful or could lead to sin. Instead I saw it as a weakness of character, an inability to take the strength given one by God and triumph over myself (I was, of course, still a Protestant at the time). I could see no good reason to be despondent, although I often became so due to my loneliness.

    Since coming to Orthodoxy, I still grow despondent at times and loneliness is still the primary reason. Throughout my life, the loneliness I feel has been turned back onto me as a method of self-criticism (rooted in a form shame, I expect) and I use that to justify my being alone. I am simply not worth being with; that explains it quite easily. It is difficult to break that mindset but it is slowly happening, I believe, although I honestly cannot see it. I just recognize small changes in my life from time-to-time.

    I occasionally have a desire to drive away. Just go away from where I am for a good amount of time. I am more and more aware though, that I am home and where God wants me in the parish I attend. My family (the Church) is there and I find prayer and healing, even when I cannot seem to stop turning towards sin and seeking the passions in my life. I don’t know how this will end, although at times I cannot see myself doing anything but failing. But I know that humility, prayer, and repentance (at which I am terrible; my heart seems harder than ever) are keys to my growing closer to God. May He be glorified, even a little, by my weak efforts. Of late, I have found so many reasons to pray as the thief did, “remember me, O Lord, in Your kingdom”. O Lord have mercy.

  12. Agata Avatar

    Thank you Byron for this beautiful comment (and to Father for the article, and all commenters of course).

    Happy Mother’s Day to all mothers on this blog!!


  13. Bruce Avatar

    Father bless!!!
    I find this post a gift from God. Thank you for delivering it!!! I believe your comment was referring to Father Alexey Young’s very poignant message posted below. This provides some insight and background on who he is and how he is dealing with his AD. I have also included a link to a the full article this extract was taken from.
    [Father Ambrose Young (Fr Alexey Young before his monastic tonsure) is a dearly loved spiritual friend, teacher, guide, and author. He is the God-son of Hieromonk Seraphim Rose, and among other books, published a book of Father Seraphim’s letters to him over the years, Letters From Father Seraphim. He also wrote The Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia: A History and Chronology, Teachings of the Holy Fathers on the Body, Teachings of the Holy Fathers on the Passions, Teachings of the Holy Fathers on Illness, The Great Divide, The Rush to Embrace, and other works. Many of us have been blessed to know Fr Ambrose personally, to have heard him speak, to have sought his blessing and guidance. He was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease a few years ago, and when Father John wrote him, recently, Fr Ambrose sent him this reply, and he granted permission to post it here.

    This is a copy of a message I sent to good friends here who were inquiring about the status of my Alzheimer’s Disease and were wondering if it is even even appropriate to ask. After I wrote it I though I would share it with you and a few others, and you may share it with anyone you think might also be interested. Here is the message, below:]

    It’s quite all right for you to ask. I am very open about my illness, as is Gerondissa, and we do not hide anything or keep any secrets. And I have very little false pride about my limitations any more—I’ve already been through ‘that phase’ and have been able to embrace my disease in the shadow of the Cross. More than that, I have begun the slow process of climbing up onto the Cross with our Lord, and sharing now in His Passion. This is incredibly sanctifying; I don’t know how else to describe it. So although I don’t talk much about my illness, it’s not out of secrecy or pride or sensitivity, but only because I am keeping the Lord on the cross as close to my heart as I can. And He will get me through. It has frankly become as much a spiritual experience as a mental one.

    So, I want to take this opportunity to share with you, since we haven’t really talked about it much. I have discussed it on several occasions with some friends, and they are wonderfully and appropriately sympathetic and helpful. They are more than relatives; they are good friends. I will talk more about it with my other siblings when we have a family reunion this summer. My children are completely on the same page with me already, but for them it is too painful to talk about much.

    This illness is the oddest feeling of being somehow detached and experiencing a slow metamorphosis from being one person into another; not dramatic, but disconnected, and yet still able to pray, read, do email, recognize others (although my short term memory and my malapropisms have gotten worse over the last week). But at the same time it’s oddly not depressing. (I went through the depressing stage last year.) In fact, I woke up this morning with Finn having crawled up and curled into my left arm, and at the same time I had the most intense longing for heaven, which made me very happy.

    The neurologist told me some time ago that there is a small percentage of AD victims who in some way consciously ‘know’, all the way through, what is happening to them, and he thinks I am one of them. I don’t know if that’s a blessing or not, but I do think it’s a blessing that I can share with others the various stages of this illness as long as possible. That sharing is helpful to me, and perhaps for others if they see that there is a spiritual way to ‘do’ something that is otherwise so awful.

    As you know, Alzheimer’s is a long and slow process, for which reason it’s called ‘the long goodbye’. But I read Patty Davis’ fine book about her father, President Reagan, ‘The Long Goodbye’, and she said that he remained cheerful, happy and polite as a three year old, right to the end. And I also know about the Alzheimer’s of some great and holy Elders of our time, who were able to serve Liturgy and say the Jesus Prayer right to the end, even when they no longer recognized anyone else. So Alzheimer’s doesn’t have to be grueling and ugly, the way it is so often portrayed. I think that the perceived ‘terribleness’ of this disease is at least in part a reflection of our incredibly morally and spiritually bankrupt culture.

    With drugs and medical help, and very good care from Mother Theadelphi, I have had three years of relatively slow deterioration, and I think that ‘slowness’ will continue yet for some years. Right now is a different phase, though. I am very blessed to be in monastic life and here with Mother and the Fathers and Brothers just down the road, who also stay in contact and are very affectionately supportive. I feel safe and well cared for. There are many in my condition who cannot say that. Mother is a good friend, caretaker, intellectual and spiritual companion, but you and Tim will have to help her to harden her heart as time goes on and my symptoms become worse. I have already spoken to her about this, too. She is very tender-hearted and quietly suffers over my illness, although she’s no drama-queen about it, as you can well believe. That’s not her style. She only quietly says, ‘I don’t like it’, and that, coming from her, actually says a great deal.

    From a purely spiritual standpoint I want to share with you the insight I believe God gave me from the time of my diagnosis. My greatest and overriding sin—indeed, even vice—has always been pride. Pride of mind, of ‘knowing better’ and judging others inappropriately, sometimes thinking of them as being less than I am. This is a most grievous sin, and one that many people don’t even recognize in themselves, but it is the one sin that will, above all, consign us to hell if we don’t overcome it! It was the sin of Satan, the sin of Adam and Eve.

    I understand fully how I got this way. I have throughout my life been inordinately proud of my mind, my intellect, my ability to think clearly about difficult and complicated things, to speak and write well, understand, process, and explain difficult things, etc. Growing up, I wasn’t good at sports, I wasn’t attractive to the ladies, I couldn’t dance, I was an intellectual bookworm and loner, I had no other skill than my brain, and I used it and developed it as far as I possibly could, although actually I wasn’t particularly academically brilliant, as all of that just seemed like some kind of superficial ‘game’ to me. But that was my path in life. And although I have put these gifts to the service of Christ and the Church, as best I could, the pride has still been there.

    Now the Lord has offered me a chance to mortify and humble down that pride, by accepting without complaint the slow crumbling of my mind. And I do accept this, with my whole heart, even if with the occasional tear, as a gift from Him for my salvation. So it sometimes ‘feels’ as though this dying of various parts of my mind is also a dying of self, a dying of ego, a dying to pride. And isn’t that the purpose of spiritual life, after all, anyway? The Lord looked down and saw that I wasn’t going to do it any other way, and so, because He loves me very much (unworthy as I am) and wants me to be with Him forever, He offered me this incredible opportunity to die to self. I see this as a great, if sometimes painful, blessing!

    Well, these are my few thoughts about it. Never hesitate to ask me how I’m doing. I will tell you honestly. But never feel sorry for me, or pity, as I do not for myself, but rather rejoice for me that I am on a sure path to the Kingdom of Heaven. I believe this with all my heart. —Fr A

  14. Eric Avatar

    Thank you for sharing that, Bruce. And thank you for your response too, Fr. I greatly fear confusion, disorder and deterioration, but it is a story like this that reminds me God’s saving hand is often invisible and unknown to us. Pray for me. God bless you all.

  15. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    I think this is true…but the place where the brain goes is not a path I’ve walked. So, it’s mostly a “hope” that writes in my thoughts.

  16. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Father it is a veiled part of the journey to be sure and unique for each of us I suspect but in this case I think we can say that faith is the substance of things hoped for.

    It can be a dark forest full of monsters or a darkening land sunken into prayer.

  17. Jane Avatar

    Father Stephen,
    I am interested in what you said about healthy shame being what makes us aware of boundaries. Could you unpack this a little more?

    Also, if a person demonstrates poor boundary awareness, might that be because they are emotionally dissociating from an experience of toxic shame such that healthy shame is not much felt either? Or perhaps sometimes it is simple thoughtlessness due to stress or temporary overwhelming life issues?

  18. Bruce Avatar

    My favorite pre-communion prayer was written by St. Symeon The New Theologian. It has a very interesting sentence which says:

    “Accept my supplication, O my Christ, and disdain me not, neither my words, nor my ways, nor my shamelessness”

    It would seem like he is suggesting in this sentence that shame is a desirable and natural state for us as we approach Christ and our lack of shame (our shamelessness) is something we should recognize as, in some way, an indication of our confusion and lack of clarity. Perhaps, this is consistent with the ‘healthy shame’ that Father Stephen is referring to in his post.

  19. ELM Avatar


    Thank you so much for posting that letter! My Nana has Alzheimer’s, and I looked for it a while back, but the original link no longer works.

    Two of the big reasons Alzheimer’s challenges us so much seems to be because: 1) it tests our understanding of rationality and what it means to be human, and 2) because it defies our notions of progress.
    We, in the present-day, largely associate our brain/intellect/ability to reason with our rationality. Now that I am pondering this, I wonder if that is even the only or the truest understanding of the rationality that God gifted us which sets us apart from the animal world. Couldn’t our conscience be a part of that as well? Alzheimer’s patients don’t seem to lose their consciences.
    As people age, we expect them to grow wiser, kinder, and more loving. Yet with Alzheimer’s and dementia patients, instead we see what seems like a breakdown of reasoning and -to some extent- self-awareness and self-control. This is truly tragic. And it appears to be senseless and purposeless.

    I also found this article recently which was very helpful as well:

  20. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Before shame (as emotion), there is first a neurological reflex, which is called an “affect.” As I noted in the article, there are 9 of these that have been identified. Another is the “startling” reflex, or the reflex when we are afraid, etc. It is a muscular-neuro-brain reaction that can be measured and described. With the affect that is part of shame, we feel our face flush and we instinctively lower our eyes, or want to hide. All of this happens quite quickly, without rational reflection. It’s a reaction. The shame affect very early on gets associated with various events or situations which build up the complex emotion that we experience.

    But this same reflex is also the reflex that simply recognizes the “Other” or a boundary. For example, you’re in a friend’s home and you’re looking for the bathroom. Someone else has gone in, unknown to you, and forgotten to lock the door. So you innocently open the door and immediately react. “Oh! I’m sorry!” you back out and close the door. When next you see them, you’re likely not wanting to look them in the face. It’s “embarrassment” a very, very mild form of shame.

    But that first response, was part startle, but also something that told you “there’s a boundary.” If you had opened the door and seen a cat sitting in the room, your response would have been completely different (we don’t have many boundaries with cats). The same reflex is part of the response we call “awe” or “wonder.” In the Scriptures there are encounters with angels or other holy moments and the person falls to the ground. It is not a carefully thought out rational response. The person does not say, “Oh. This is very special. I think it would be appropriate for me to lay flat on the ground and hide my face.”

    When we go in the Church to venerate the icons, we’re pretty rational about it and are thinking. But there can be an encounter, say, with a weeping icon, in which you really cannot think at all. You can’t think because that’s part of this same affect that is connected with shame.

    When Isaiah has his vision God in the 6th chapter, he says, “Woe is me, for I am a man of unclean lips and I live amidst a people of unclean lips.” That is a long verbal expression of something that probably had no words at all. Instead, he would have fallen down, acting out the “woe is me!” It’s faster than thought. It’s hard-wired into us.

    Isaiah is not here particularly thinking about his sins. Instead, it’s an expression of utter nakedness, of existential unworthiness in the presence of the Holy God. It’s not a moral problem. If you lived a perfect life you’d still react that way most likely.

    But if that response was not present in our body – this hard-wired affect that is connected with shame – we wouldn’t react at all, except in a rational manner and it would just be inadequate.

    It is probably correct to say that there is no “healthy” shame, unless we’re using shame in a broader sense to include all of our responses that are generated by this musculo-neurobiological reflex. I’ve seen different authors treat it in different ways. One of my beloved daughters tells me that it’s confusing to speak about healthy shame…perhaps she’s right.

    But, it is important to see the direct connection between the experience of shame and the experience of awe and wonder and the experience of humility – an emptiness in the presence of something truly great.

    One reason why it important to see the direct connection is because humiliy, awe and wonder can be things that are avoided because they trigger a different kind of shame response in us. It’s simply part of learning to make our way in the spiritual life. To identify what’s going on within and work with it.

    I hate feeling shame (we all do). But as I’ve come to understand this better, I am less afraid of it, can talk more about it (which is the only way to begin to be healed) and work towards a pure heart in the presence of God.

    Boundary issues, as we call them, are, I think, clearly tied up in shame issues, whether consciously or not. Because this response is hard-wired, much of it is unconscious – it happens too fast – and the response itself makes it very hard to think.

  21. Michelle Avatar

    Are all human beings, from Adam down, possessed in some measure by pride, which is often pricked by this perceived aloneness and disjoint from others? Is pride the main barrier to healing? Is pride what makes repentance, and thus salvation, so hard? Does pride make us blameworthy of our prolonged disunion?

  22. Michelle Avatar

    I ask about pride’s role because you speak of shame as a purely ontological problem, which is potentially is a completely amoral approach to our plight, but I cannot fathom how to speak of pride in purely amoral terms. And yet pride and its inescapably moral implications seem like an integral character in Adam’s story, and thus ours as well.

  23. sbdn andrew Avatar
    sbdn andrew

    My grandmother was an accomplished organist. She played in many eastern American churches and cathedrals. Alzeimer’s took every memory as treasures to await her arrival in heaven, but she could play beyond belief every hymn almost perfectly without a single sheet of music while streams of tears poured from her silent and stricken lips. It is this memory that God gifts to us in the midst of our losses and brief abandonments as “holy voids made bottomless by mountains of love.”

  24. sbdn andrew Avatar
    sbdn andrew

    Ummm, sorry for this embarrasement…I should have written, “…while streams of tears poured over her silent and sticken lips.” I wrote that through very tear ladden eyes.

  25. Justin Avatar

    Fr Stephen, Eric, Allen, et al:
    Regarding Alzheimer’s:
    I have seen this “secret hand” show through on many occasions. I spent a number of years as a caregiver for advanced Alzheimer’s and Dementia patients. Here are a couple enlightening accounts from my own personal experience. Remember that these folks were far gone. I mean FAR gone. We’re talkin’ G-A-W-N gawn. As in they didn’t even know their own names (much less their family). Or what food is. Or what their own #2 was. Or what clothing is. Some had forgotten language entirely (how to speak or what the speech emerging from other’s mouths meant). Many were oblivious to the existence of other people in any form or capacity. You get the picture. Here are a couple of personal experiences of my own glimpses into their inner sanctums where the “secret hand” of God dwells:
    1. An old man one day exclaimed “Next week on Pentecost Sunday I’m going to be with the Lord!” Now, this guy had no idea what a “week” was, or what the days of the week were. Ask him “What day is it today?” and he doesn’t know what the words “day” or “today” even mean. Kicker is, it actually WAS going to be Pentecost Sunday in a week. This guy had never said nor done anything religious. His family said he wasn’t religious (as far as they knew, he was agnostic). Well, the day came and he scooted his chair back from lunch and said, “Well, I’m going to be with the Lord.” He promptly went out on the porch and sat down in a rocking chair. A few minutes later it was discovered that he had peacefully passed from this life.
    2. One of the worst cases we had was a woman who had spent the better part of her life as a missionary in Guatemala. I have seen very few as far gone as her. Yet one evening, when I went to give her her medications, she removed her neck brace and lifted her head up (medically impossible). What ensued was an hour long conversion between me and a female version of a clairvoyant elder straight from Athos. It shook me to my core. She ended by praying for me, immediately after which her head slumped back down and she became her “old” self again. But I had seen behind the curtain. And you can’t unsee that. I hadn’t merely seen “Christ is Risen” – I’d seen the Harrowing of Hades. Scripture says no man has seen what we shall be…but in her case I’m convinced I’ve seen something awfully dang close.

  26. Michelle Avatar

    Amazing. Thank you for sharing.

  27. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    I confess to not being very moral in my thinking and understanding. I understand moral to be the matter of right and wrong. But those categories have little meaning to me in an extrinsic sense – any sense that requires reward and punishment – it seems to fall short for me. So, I tend to press things to the ontological level because it’s only in that way that the struggle makes sense to me.

    I have occasional troubles with my lower back. So, I’ve been taught about the “right” and “wrong” ways to pick something up. Though we use those terms, it’s pretty ontological – if I do it wrong, I will hurt my back. My back’s hurting is not punishment – it’s just the consequence of a “wrong” action.

    When I think of pride – my first question is “what is it?” We could say it’s an attitude, or a disposition of the heart. But where does it come from? Do I sit down and choose to be proud? I don’t think it works like that. Indeed, I think pride is a function of shame on some level. It is an attitude and disposition of the heart that so fears the shame that it has erected this wall of “pride.” In the Greek it is “philautia” “love of self.” It is, of course, a perverted love of self. It’s the love of a false self because the true self requires bearing some pain that, for what ever reason, we have become unwilling to endure.

    That’s sort of what’s in my head when I’m thinking about this. It is helpful to me.

  28. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Yes! I have seen many stroke patients and dementia patients where the music is untouched. Your story is probably the most moving and profound one I’ve heard. And knowing your grandmother in the music must have been amazing. May her memory be eternal!

  29. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    My mother had mild dementia in her last year or so. She awoke one morning and told my father “I’m going to die today.” He ignored her but she persisted. When he asked how she knew she said, “God told me.” He asked, “What did He say?” She said, “He said He was going to take me home at about 7 this evening.” She told my father that she would like to spend the day discussing anything “between” them (making peace). At just before 7, she said to my father, “Jim, I have to leave you but I have to go home.” She sat down and was gone.

  30. Allen Long Avatar
    Allen Long

    Thank you, Justin, for sharing. Thank you, Fr Stephen for sharing about your Mother.

  31. Jane Avatar

    Thank you for the thoughtful and detailed response. I think I am understanding the difference between healthy and toxic shame. . . healthy shame is at work in a kind of modest, trusting receptivity before God, accompanied by gratitude. Shamelessness might be, in a religious context, taking things carelessly, casually, or as a matter of course? And toxic shame is identifying with one’s sin or failings, to the extent of feeling that one is irredeemably bad. The way these issues seem to be tentatively, cautiously sorted through in the pre-communion prayers (as a poster above noted) has become fascinating to me, and touching.

    Thinking about how spontaneous affective reactions and boundary matters tie into this is also interesting and provides food for thought. I’ve had some stumbles along those lines in a couple relationships recently- deeply embarrassing and regretful, in hindsight. Perhaps attuning more to “healthy shame” responses, if I can, would be helpful.

  32. Byron Avatar

    Powerful, powerful stories, all. Blessings to all!

    Father, if I may ask, how does this all tie into repentance? What happens when one feels numb; unashamed yet not prideful? Is this itself a shameful response? How does one move past it to repentance? I ask because I often feel numb when I sin; my heart is not hard but neither will it break. It is almost separate from me. I find repentance to be almost impossible because of this separation. How to pray?

  33. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    I may expand on this in a future article…but…I think that I am trying to “complicate” things a bit for people. I do not mean this in a negative or bothersome way. Rather, the typical model that most of us have taken in so deeply is the intellectualist/voluntarist notion that we are thinkers with free wills. And that model makes us think of all kinds of incorrect simplistic approaches to our lives and to God. We get information and then we decide and act. But, in truth, it’s so terribly much more complicated!

    The receiving of information is far more textured and complex than the “reasoning” of the frontal cortex. It’s not pure information, but filtered, mixed, altered, etc. The memory can be changed in such a way that we actually “remember” things that never happened to us, etc. The will is exceedingly complex – or the action that we call “the will” is far more complex. I appreciate that in St. Maximus, at least the will is broken down into some component parts, the natural will and the gnomic will. And when you see what he means by the gnomic will, you get to the complex mess that I try to make us see.

    All of this complexity is one of the reasons I oppose what other people call “morality.” What they mean by “moral” is largely based on this exceedingly simplistic reduction. Frankly, it is Augustinian/Calvinist nonsense that has found its way so deeply in our culture that people fail to question it. I have been using lots of neurological science simply to critique that simplistic model and provide some hard evidence for the more complex views of the Eastern fathers, particularly, Maximus.

    That said…

    Repentance is the very complex work of the change within the nous – metanoia. And it happens in so many ways, and largely as a work of grace. I’m going to suggest something that sounds simplistic (surprise!). The best way to foster repentance is to give thanks. Always, for all things. When you sin, dust yourself off and give thanks. Slowly learning the giving of thanks as a habit of the heart is probably the deepest work we can do. The Elder Sophrony said that if we would give thanks always and for all things we would fulfill the saying, “Keep your mind in hell and despair not.”

    Giving thanks is the most perfect act of humility. It acknowledges that everything that comes to us is a gift, and it acknowledges the Giver. It is the primary action of communion with God.

    I think that what you are describing, the numbness, is indeed a product of shame. The shame response definitely “numbs” many aspects of our mind and emotions. It will pass. Sit with it patiently, and pray, “O God, comfort me” (this instruction I have from Fr. Zacharias of Essex). And begin to give thanks.

    How can we give thanks for our sin? We don’t give thanks, obviously, for what we have done wrong, although, even there, we give thanks because Christ “became sin” that we might become the righteousness of God. We give thanks because God has not abandoned us. We give thanks because God is greater than our sin. We give thanks because the devil hates the very sound of it.

    If you will, giving thanks is the very heart of repentance. Give thanks even when you don’t feel like it. It will help heal the feelings.

  34. Dean Avatar

    Fr. Stephen,
    Thank you for the story about your mom. Most of us know that people can also will themselves to die. My wife’s uncle, now long ago, asked me, “Dean. can you change the beneficiary on my life insurance?” I told him I could. When the name change came back, he walked down to J.C. Penny and bought a new suit. Two weeks later, he died. As far as we knew he was not suffering from any visible disease. I believe he simply willed his death. He had divorced his wife years before and though they had many children, he was not close to them. His remaining years had been lived with my wife’s parents.
    I remember reading once that we lost quite a few of our POWs in Korea. The soldiers would curl up in a fetal position and be gone in just a few days. By contrast, our Turkish allies did not lose one POW in this way, if I correctly remember the article.
    As a couple of commenters have mentioned, with dementia, poems and songs often remain. I used to bring my guitar to a convalescent home and sing hymns. I would sometimes enter into a patient’s room who suffered with severe dementia. They could not or would not speak. However, if they had been church goers, when I began a known hymn, they would immediately begin singing word for word with me to the end of song. Then again grow silent.

  35. Karen Avatar


    Wow! Just wow! Thank you (and Subdcn. Andrew and Fr. Stephen) for sharing those stories. I needed to hear those today.

    My own is slightly less dramatic. My grandma had a massive stroke and spent the last 7 1/2 years of her life in a nursing home. The last half of that she had dementia. I was single and had visited her only together with my family a couple times a year, but one day I got an unshakable conviction I needed to visit her to share the gospel with her the upcoming weekend (I was not Orthodox at the time). I would need to go alone (a couple hours drive), and though I was really nervous I did. I took my Bible and went. At first when I arrived in my grandma’s room, I thought I had come for nothing. No matter what I tried I could not rouse her from sleep! It was clear she was not long for this world. I finally decided to just read to her from my Bible. I started with the first chapter of the Gospel of John. By the time I got to the end of that passage and looked up, I was startled to find my grandma wide awake and looking at me intently, agitated even! I greeted her said a few things and kept looking up passages to read. I remember reading from John 14 and Psalm 139 and Jesus’ teaching He is the resurrection and the life. I could not guage how much she was tracking with me, but I never lost her full attention. At one point, still agitated, she asked, “Can you help me?” But I couldn’t ascertain what it was she wanted help with. It reminded me of the beginning of her stay in the nursing home, when she frequently asked for help to go home because of her unhappiness. I finished reading, expressed my love for her and some fond memories of her from my childhood, and said my goodbye. I did not believe I would see her alive again, but I felt assured I had completed the task for which the Lord had sent me, and she was in His hands. She passed peacefully a couple of weeks later. The funeral service in her Episcopal church contained nearly every passage I had read to her during my visit.

  36. Byron Avatar

    Thank you, Father Stephen! This is immensely helpful. Glory to God and His blessings on all!

  37. David A Foutch Avatar
    David A Foutch

    I appreciate your comments on morality. As you say there is a gross reduction of complexity that makes the person a mere vehicle for the moral imperative. We are more mystery than we are awareness and so we have much need for grace.

  38. Michelle Avatar

    I've tried to examine and thoughtfully observe my own pride in an attempt to better understand what exactly it is and where it comes from. One thing I've found is that it has to do with self awareness of the hierarchy of persons; I examined that I am a being with boundaries that others cannot cross. It is impossible for another person to have my consciousness, and posses my person (body, soul, and spirit) in a way that they can posses my life and experience it as their own. This realization sets up innumerable boundaries for myself also, in that I cannot be some body else. Another realization is that I did not choose which 'being' I got to be when I was conceived. Presumably,  God chose this.  So, by these realizations of my ontological being I become aware and can conclude that there is a hierarchy of persons in existence.  All human persons are equal in their circumstancial existence, and God's Person is above and beyond us. Now, I am not jealous of something that is equal to me in the hierarchy; I have never wished to possess the uniquely personal experience of 'being' that is solely possessed by another human (not that this can't happen. It's just never happened to me. And if it did happen, it would be because of some perceived status of hierarchy).  But, after examining the dark region of my pride, I have become aware that I am jealous of the One who is truly Greater than I. I am jealous of the fact that I am determined, and God is the Determiner. That I am caused,  by no choice of my own, and God is the Causer, the sole chooser and sustainer of my existence. Christ had a human, personal  experience of being someone in particular, just as I do, but His boundaries close His experiential existence off from me. I can only be me. I cannot be Him. And why this circumstance is the way it is seems to be quite arbitrary; I did not choose to be me. Did God choose to be God? No, He just is. Why aren't I? How is it not random chance that God is God, and I am me. It's not fair!(Commence the whining, and gnashing of teeth.)

    This is what the snake pointed out to Eve.  Did God create everything in the garden, while you are powerless and purely dependant? Well, the only reason He forbids you to eat of the tree of knowledge is He doesnt want you becoming His equal. What about you, Eve? Why does God get to be God and not you? Isn't it an arbritary and unfair hierarchy? And so she ate.

    Yes, the shame of realizing our ontological nothingness apart from God is compensated by erecting a false person of superiority and status in our stead and identity with this fabrication. But feeling this need to compensate in the first place comes from a desire to be something by our own right, independent of God. You speak as If for some mysteriously unknown reason facing our nothingness and potential nonexistence apart from God (which is an impossibility, due to His ever existing presence) simply gives us the willies, and thus causes a grasping after compensations. But the source of our  fear is known -we desire our self (i.e., self love, or pride) in opposition to desiring God.  If we loved God we would not fear this nothingness that pursues us apart from Him, knowing that He is everywhere present and will never annihilate us. No, the fear and despair of shame (bad shame) comes from knowing our demise in His absence while simultaneously, murderously pushing Him away. And inversely, the humility, thankfulness, and awe of shame (good shame) comes from knowing our demise in His absence and the welcoming desire of His forever constant and penetrating presence.

    Your back hurts because it is out of alignment, so don't turn it this way or that way? It becomes "wrong" for the healing of it to turn it this way or that way? Sure! But did you not know that you yourself wrenched your own back out of alignment because you resented the fact that your back was fashioned and given to you by someone else, and it is they who sustain it even now? You wrenched it out of alignment in a vain, pitiful attempt to take control and claim it as your own possession.

    Is it a matter of morality to be ungrateful and resentful of a gift given to you from someone who loves you, deforming and perversely twisting it out of its original shape so as to claim it as a better gift made and given to yourself? Maybe reward and punishment are not the most fitting terms to ascribe to such an act, but it seems to add an element of indignation and disgust rightfully directed towards the ontological circumstances the sinner has contorted for himself.

  39. David Foutch Avatar
    David Foutch

    When Christ became sin in our behalf he removes any fear that we might have of sin or any other obstacle that might be in our way–even if that obstacle is ourselves. It is a much more healthy view to think of actions entailing consequences rather than to thin of ourselves as “good” or “bad” depending on whether we did something we think is “right” or “wrong”. As the scripture says, “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap. For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life.” Actions entail consequences that follow as a matter of course.

  40. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    I cede your points. There are choices that we make, resentments that we cling to, and, sometimes a fundamental desire to be self-creating. Facing our nothingness does more than give us the “willies.” It can do lots of things – I think those things (including the reaction of pride) is a reaction to that nothingness – and that is shame. It is interesting that loving God also means loving the gift (the existence He has given me). It takes me back to giving thanks.

    It’s wrong for me to write about this in a way that subsumes everybody else’s experience of this encounter. It is intensely personal.

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

    I wanted to express my gratitude for the commentators here who have shared their experiences they have had with others who have had AD. These experiences definitely show the ‘hidden hand of God’ for me.

    Frequently we might read descriptions of the mind that would relegate to it no more than the work of a functioning machine (or a machine not functioning too well). Alternatively, sometimes ‘the mind’ is ascribed the functions of a brain, a collection or organization of cells and molecules. These descriptions may not necessarily be ‘wrong’ to the degree that they might help us to ‘model’ and from a model, understand mind/brain function. But some scientists or medical doctors make the mistake, I think, to believe that science is capable of describing ‘all that there is’.

    An operational definition of our experience (such as an operational definition of love or sadness or shame) is useful to help penetrate a phenomenon to help us with the framing of our questions. And to help us create a theory. But sometimes scientists/medical personnel go to far (over the boundary of appropriate application of science–and into a sphere of non-validity) to make a claim that their operational definition circumscribes ‘all that there is’.

    These stories are a testimony that science has not, nor is it likely to be able to describe, ‘all that there is’ of the human experience and indeed life itself. I say this not to disparage science, but what I would call the misuse of it, and even the application of the word ‘science’ to that, which is not at all science. In other words, not all “research” is science.

    I really appreciate Fr Stephen, the path you have taken to search for the ontological expression of the experience of shame. I believe this helps us ( and perhaps I just should stick to express how it has helped me) to engage in the process to disentangle it, the source of defensive actions, from the enormous amount of self protecting actions I go through, to not be so vulnerable.

    It seems in my vulnerability, I ‘crumble’. And as I crumble, I make disparaging remarks to myself about myself. This article, and others you have written on this subject, helps me to be able to see the work of the evil one, while the darts are being thrown. And in the moment, throw out to God my plea, Lord have mercy! And at the same time feel the gratitude for being able to see the process as it unfolds. Thank you so much for this ministry Fr Stephen!

  42. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    I will be repeating some of what I wrote earlier. My earlier submission is in moderation (software issue). I just wanted to express gratitude for all who participate in this blog. Your submissions and conversation have been so helpful to me. I live in a rural place, and for reasons of my circumstances, often work alone for most of the day. This blog and those who participate in it are engaged in a form of communion, (even if vicariously in this ‘virtual’ world) for which I’m very grateful.

  43. Michelle Avatar

    ” I think those things (including the reaction of pride) is a reaction to that nothingness”

    What moves one person to react in the face their nothingness to sin, and another to humility? What inside us is the determining factor? It seems the devil and the angels whisper in our ears to entice us, but why do some find the evil suggestions more appealing than the holy one’s?

  44. Theodosia Avatar

    Dear Father, bless,
    Thank you for the reminder that repentance is connected to giving thanks. I can relate to this.
    The first time I experienced confession was during a stressful period when I was feeling tired, depressed, with no joy, and no love to offer. I went to a hieromonk whose wisdom and godliness I heard about. After hearing me for some time, he started saying how much he thanks God for my virtue. This made me laugh, not seeing any virtue in me I could offer thanks for. Then, he said something I could never forget: “the virtues we do not give thanks for, we are bound to lose”. With this, he left me for some time, to attend to some other business.
    It was then that my eyes were opened and I could see what was lacking in my life: “giving thanks”. I always considered myself a loving and joyful person, thinking that I was made this way. It was not until I lost these traits that I had my wake-up call. It was the key to a deep repentance: repentance for the pride that made me think I was loving and joyful because of any merit in me. This was a real turning point in my life.
    Glory to God for all things!!!

  45. Karen Avatar

    Hi Michelle,

    I find I react to what I perceive as the excessive voluntarism of your suggestion the person with a back injury initially injured himself by willfullly and pridefully not accepting his back’s limitations. (Have I understood your comment’s point correctly?) That may be true for some (or even all of us) on a certain level, but seems to me only pushes the question back a step: why did I not recognize and respect my back’s limitations?

    As I understand this, the Scripture and the Fathers acknowledge all of us subsequent to the Fall of Adam are subject to death and corruption because sin is already in the world because of the Fall (Psalm 50/51:5, Romans 5:14). According to traditional Christian teaching, we come into the world with our proper perception of and orientation to ourselves, others and God already injured and not functioning properly. We also have passages like Romans 7 where Paul distinguishes between his (true) willing self (which is good) and the sin within him which causes him to do that which he does not want as two separate operators at work within.

    Could you speak to how this may relate to what you wrote to Fr. Stephen?

  46. David A Foutch Avatar
    David A Foutch


    I think it is interesting that in Roman’s 7 several times the apostle says “It is no longer, but the sin dwelling in me.” Those are interesting words…”no longer I.” Assuming that the apostle wasn’t just dodging responsibility it leaves the question “How is it that human agency (free will, autonomy) has come to be so thoroughly subdued?” I think it is also interesting that in another passage the apostle says “It is no longer I that lives, but Christ that lives in me.”

    I sometimes wonder if our freedom may be more constrained than we would like to believe.

  47. Karen Avatar

    In answer to Michelle’s question, my answer would be that the difference in the extent and depth of injury from sin from one person to the next relative to the measure of grace they have received (which also differs from one person to the next) determines whether or not they continue to sin or become capable of humility, but likely there’s more mystery to it than that. It does seem to me that the moment we suggest it is within the human individual of themselves, and not solely courtesy of the opportunity for the entrance of grace (in which we are mutually dependent on one another as well as all ultimately dependent on Christ), that makes the difference at any given point in time from one person to the next, we are on the slippery slope to Phariseeism. This may make me sound like a bit of a a Cavinist, oddly enough, except that I would never allow God withholds His grace from anyone, nor predetermines any to perdition.

  48. Karen Avatar


    Yes, exactly. Great observations. In response to your final observation, I would venture the suggestion that one operational definition of pride might be the chronic tendency to overestimate the power of our own will apart from Christ.

  49. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    How much sin does one do? How would we quantify and what criteria would we use for comparison? If we look around ourselves and then come to a conclusion that ‘someone’s sin is worse than another’s we may be in for a surprise where the Lord might place us in such a scale. Personally I don’t think the Lord holds such a yardstick. Though I would admit that I do have angst about someone else’s ‘wrong doing’ sometimes. But the Saints keep reminding us to keep our focus on our own sins. If we’re troubled by the ‘rocks in our garden’ (how my own pride/anger has been described) why not pray for gratitude that at least we know we’ve got rocks?

    Theodosia your comment is very helpful thank you!

  50. David A Foutch Avatar
    David A Foutch

    Dee of St. Hermans,

    I’m not sure that we should be concerned about the gravity of sins. I would suggest that we should be more concerned with cultivating a life characterized by a deep sense of awe, beauty, wonder, and thankfulness.

    It is more worthwhile to spend our time being thankful for the salad we ate, than fighting the urge to eat a cookie. We don’t even need to think about if it is “bad” or “how bad cookie eating behavior is.” When you feel the logizmoi of cookie eating, then immediately praise God for carrots and eat a carrot.


  51. David A Foutch Avatar
    David A Foutch


    I’m sure that it is for good reason that the scripture says that we are like clay in the hands of the Potter.

    “Does the thing made have a right to say to the one who made it, ‘Why did you make me this way?’”

  52. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    David, I believe I agree wholeheartedly with you about worrying about the gravity of sins. I believe it might put focus in the wrong place. Once I read St John of Damascus who writes that sins are more like ‘accidents’.
    I find this description helpful. (Although since I’m a still young in the faith, I’m usually a little on edge whether I understand the topic at hand well enough to put in a comment about faith, sin or spirituality). The first sentences I wrote were intended to be ‘tongue in cheek’. But doing that can be a little tricky in blog where people don’t really know each other.

  53. Karen Avatar

    The fact is we don’t know anyone’s heart, mitigating circumstances, or the grace given them better than our own, and Scriptures like 1 Corinthians 4:4-5 make it clear we don’t even fully know ourselves. I like the reference you make to St. John of Damascus’ observation sins are more like accidents. If you can find the passage in which He says that, I’d enjoy reading it.

    Jesus used lots of agricultural metaphors (organic processes) to explain spiritual realities. Organic processes of healing or growth are not directly dependent on our wills at all. Many times where there is disease (in a plant or other organism), there are two possible approaches to healing. The first is to cut out and remove what is diseased, and leave only healthy parts behind. The danger here is that there won’t be enough healthy parts left once the diseased areas are removed to adequately support the life of the organism. The second method is to shore up the organism and nurture the healthy parts until the healthy parts crowd out and remove the need for the old diseased structures. The latter approach is often the best approach. Similarly, it’s more effective to substitute good habits (salad) for old (cookies), not just focus on eliminating the bad.

  54. David Foutch Avatar
    David Foutch

    I appreciate your reference to Jesus use of agricultural parables and organic processes with respect to the will. One of my favorite scriptures in this regard in Mark 4:26-29 “And He said, “The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground, and should sleep by night and rise by day, and the seed should sprout and grow, he himself does not know how. For the earth yields crops by itself: first the blade, then the head, after that the full grain in the head. But when the grain ripens, immediately he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.” Here we have your organic growth and transformation that is perceptible, but the ‘mechanism’ behind it is imperceptible to the sower–he doesn’t know how it happens! But, I do believe that the spirit must be willing. In other words, to the extent possible we use our “freedom” to simply say “Yes” to God’s work in our lives. I think that is about all we can do. God calls to us and says “May I proceed?” and we say “Yes.” Everything that I have learned about Orthodox prayer so far has taught me one thing: Yes. All of our prayers, prostrations, candles, incense and icons are a way in which we make ourselves present to God to affirm our “Yes” to His presence and will.


  55. Michelle Avatar

    The pride I have described, inwhich the devil whispers the question in my ear “Why is He God? Is this fair?”, and inwhich I afterwords become quite jealous, is not a hypothetical reflection. This is my real experience. I can only examine this pride within me for extremely short periods of time (just moments) because it is a very dark place to go. Then I get some tea.

    Don’t worry, I also feel awe, and thankfulness, humility in the face of God, but the other place is so dark I wonder if it is even my own voice. Its hard to distinguish the voice of the demonic intrusion trying to entice me from my own voice’s actual accent. Either way, Im being appealed to. But if I do not already get tickled by such flashes of pride, feelings of entitlement to fairness, and passionate jealousy, then how could it possibly appeal to me at all? And what’s more, I thought I detected this theme in the story of the snake and Eve. He was enticing her, but how could she possibly find his suggestions the least bit appealing if she did not already get tickled when stroked by these sorts of things?

    Eve is an archetype of us all, so it’s important to know if this is an element in her story. And if it is, does it have moral implications? How can the taste of jealous hatred of God being sweet to the palet when enticed not be an issue of moral depravity? (Not to be confused with “total” depravity, mind you.) Remeber, the snake was whispering these sweet nothings into her ear BEFORE her ontological disunion with God. Is not her intrigue towards perversity itself perverse?

    The suggestion that the world I was born into was already fallen may seem to answer for my experience at first, but it does not answer for Eve’s. And since she is the archetype under which I fall, then it ultimately does not answer for me either.

    Thank you, all, for your responses!

  56. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Father, how much of the abyss is being aboe to face our own pain and that of others without trying to paper it over even if only for a moment? Is that not a big portion of Jesus’ agony on the Cross? He face all of the pain of us being separated from God?

  57. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Michele, I must remind that I speak more from my experience rather than theological knowledge.

    What happened to Eve I believe is something that Fr Stephen I think referred to as two heartedness. (A condition that I’m familiar with.) As soon as the serpent presented an “alternative option” therein was the introduction of the two directions, and the moment of wavering. My best understanding of the story is that ontologically Eve was the personification of innocence before that. I think of it as a story about what happened ontologically. If one wants to read into the story the details of how the temptation happened, what was in her heart to see another option as attractive, may be it is as simple as putting candy in front of a baby. Perhaps only curiosity and not really understanding the consequences of death (which would have been unknown to her). It seems shame appears in the story after the first sin, but may not be a condition of the sin itself.

    Fr Stephen has written about this before. I’m not sure I’m doing his words justice.

    Michael, yes, sometimes I worry that talk (or blog commenting) is what we do when we want to find a way to avoid pain and loneliness. I’ve heard it said as I have heard it said by Fr Stephen, that it is best to embrace suffering. Within that embrace is also love.

  58. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Actually, It’s probably not appropriate to say “two hearts” but a “divided heart”.

    Karen, It’s in the “Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith”. I think it’s in the area of a discussion about human nature, but I need to look it up first and let you know where it is.

  59. Maria W Avatar
    Maria W

    A general question and thought on this subject. And what makes this connection with our “Other” cohabitants of this world, or just two people so, so difficult, so we can connect and not left with this sense of aloneness, or why is there shame? Who says what is good and bad for me and who puts or lays shame on me? Yes, it is always in relationship. I sometimes think it comes down to the things we collect, form false (ego) identities, stack them in our psyche, unload them here and there on people and say this is good or bad, smart or ignorant, because it does subscribe to my collected norm and identity of a specific form, values and so forth, and hopefully agreed upon in Church, culture, Nation etc. So the only connection you sometimes can form is with likeminded and conformists. As for the Church, we should have the same long-term goals and rules that we all agree on. Shame comes from the “other” who has different roles, models of identity, and survival strategies who will finds yours or mine unacceptable. If we find the other in us, then we have internalized the values, do’s and don’ts of the other and we are in conflict perhaps feeling guilty. What sin or shame is to one is no sin or shame to another. That has baffled and troubled me my whole life, because it leaves one vulnerable to be shamed into all kinds of things that may be quite natural, normal and healthy to you.
    Connecting to what makes us all human and connecting from the center of our common humanity is the link and Center of were Christ lived, walked, spoke of, shared, healed, taught, forgave and gave his life for, so we may all be saved in that connection to him. It was the God-Created-Man. To become fully HUMAN, Man, or Woman in his/her full humanity I believe is truly Christ’s msg to the world, that means learn to discern, judge justly, awaken to all what we collect to shape our identities, put shame on others, separate and increase isolation and otherness in ourselves and the rest of the world.
    The best strategy for the Church’s survival comes unfortunately not without pain, collectively or individually. But as the saying goes: NO PAIN NO GAIN—-it is human, Christ was human….period. Paul took his innocent death to the next level. Don’t we do this now too. Like Amber Alert etc. Where is the recognition of our broken heart (separated) for our broken world ( humanity) individually and collectively in what ever Church or Group?
    But then God did not want sacrifices, he wanted obedience to that connection so we may live. I guess I messed up. I am so sorry, very sorry ! = ( a little mental self-help), but God can reach down and roll that rock/block away. I will or would never be able to remove it myself. (a stumbling block, blindness, a lost faith) I stand at the door and knock ……1956 written in my first bible and still own it…..Peace to who ever reads this and may it bless you…… Jesus shamed no one.

  60. Baker Galloway Avatar
    Baker Galloway

    Did Jesus experience shame?

  61. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Karen, I found one reference so far: in the Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith. In Book four Chapter 20:
    “…For evil is not some sort of substance, nor yet a property of a substance, but an accident, that is to say, a deviation from the natural into the unnatural, which is just what sin is.”

    The general context was to get to the point that God made the world “good”. And that evil did not arise from the good. And that human nature was created as good. That is it’s ontological reality. But that reality is now subject to disintegration, as Fr Stephen describes above. In St John’s work, I believe such disintegration would be described as “unnatural”. But we experience it as inevitable and shameful. We attempt to resist it (or at least find ways to avoid thinking about it) with our passions.

    I like and learn much from what Fr Stephen says above, that the psychological state that we experience as shame or sin can be described as an icon of what is going on at a deeper ontological level. That sin is a rupture of communion with God and death is the inevitable consequence. Christ overcame that consequence by transforming death through His Death and Resurrection.

    I personally see this as part of the physics of our world. There too is an icon of our ontological reality, and the Death that transforms (tramples down) death can be seen. The physical world speaks the Gospel.

  62. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Not sure on that. Certainly what is called “healthy shame” would be as normal and without sin as thirst. The other – “I did not turn my face from the spitting and the shame” – it would seem that He experienced as a wound (like a nail) but without sin.

  63. Karen Avatar

    Thank you, Dee! I do have a copy of that work, so I can look it up, too.

  64. David Foutch Avatar
    David Foutch

    “But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; The chastisement for our peace was upon Him, And by His stripes we are healed.”

    ” For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”

    If the wounds Jesus suffered went no deeper than the flesh, then I’m not sure how it can be said that ” For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin.”

    Although the sin he bore was not his, he became the sin of all.

  65. Nicholas Stephen Griswold Avatar
    Nicholas Stephen Griswold

    Actually Dee, two hearts is not a bad way to express what Saint James really said for he phrased it “two souled” so depending on your meaning of “heart” you could be spot on.

  66. Karen Avatar

    Thanks, Michelle!

    What you describe of the temptation to pride you have experienced, does not seem to me to rise to the level of a moral choice (which would require conscious rational premeditated deliberation). Rather, it has all the hallmarks of the battle with the logismoi (sub-rational intrusive thoughts) described in the Fathers and the more or less knee-jerk visceral emotional reaction to them Fr. Stephen describes. It seems this is one area you are led into the second stage which is entertaining the thought and then perhaps partly into owning it as yours (though in its origins it is not). There is a nice, brief description of this here:

    One counsel of the Fathers I do remember reading is that it is a mistake to try to argue with these thoughts because that is how they eventually trap us. (I remember this because this is a trap I am prone to fall into.) Rather we are simply to ignore them and replace them with the Jesus Prayer, or some version of it.

    With regard to Eve as archetype, I believe the archetype comes into play only in the sense that we are all confronted with commands we transgress and where we pass from a state of relative innocence to one of true moral guilt for the transgression, sowing more death into our own lives. The disjunction between us and our first parents is also real in that we did not start out unwounded and in Paradise! Looking at the woundedness and the part our infirmity that is not in its origins the result of our own personal transgression and how that impacts how we handle and respond to subsequent assaults and the temptation to sin is what this series on shame addresses.

  67. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Thank you Nicholas! Honestly I’m still learning the meaning of “heart”. So I really appreciate what you shared.

    The verse that had me second guessing whether my words were appropriate was something I had read a few days ago in the Wisdom of Sirach 1:25: “Do not disobey the fear of the Lord, and do not come to Him with a divided heart.” (Orthodox Study Bible version)

    Would there be a distinction in these meanings or are they essentially saying the same thing?

  68. Nicholas Stephen Griswold Avatar
    Nicholas Stephen Griswold

    I would think that they were getting at the same idea. I would have to look at the actual words in the Septuagint to be sure, but generally it fits within the thought pattern of the Hebrew mindset and world view which is markedly different from our “modern” one we were born into and educated in. “Swimming the Bosporus” is more than a cute little phrase. It means to have one’s mind totally renewed, which is what Saint Paul was referring to.

  69. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Your inner experience is of note. It reminds me, to a degree, of some of the things George MacDonald attributes to Lilith (Adam’s apocryphal second wife).

    In my own thought it would seem that the first moment of shame comes when the serpent says, “You will not die.” That can carry several concurrent reactions. There is this: “God has lied to me?” which would provoke shame by thinking that God has judged you to be unworthy of eating the fruit. And there’s this: “How dare God lie to me!” which is similar to the thought you are describing as pride.

    And, of course, God did not lie. Interestingly, St. Paul does not attribute a willful sin on Eve’s part, but rather that she was deceived (1 Tim. 2:14). He says that Adam was not deceived…which would put the far greater sin on Adam. He knows what he’s doing and does it anyway.

    Just thoughts…

  70. Karen Avatar

    Contemplating the Genesis account of the entrance of sin into the world is rich with layers of meaning. It seems to me with our deeply ingrained modern mindset, we may be rather too prone to only notice the moral implications of the story and to seek application only on the surface literal or horizontal level (in terms of its implications for male – female relations, for example, or humankind’s moral guilt before God). Here the question of what it means that Eve was deceived, whereas Adam made a deliberate choice to disobey (based on his assessment of the risk, perhaps, in that Eve had already served as guinea pig in the experiment?) is an interesting one. On the literal horizontal or moral level, we are confronted with the power both of deception and of our influence on one another in the mutual fall into sin of man and woman.

    Looking at the possible deeper spiritual meaning, would it be appropriate to understand Adam in his role as husband of Eve and father of the human race as a “type” of Christ, and Eve as a “type” of all humanity or the Church? Would it be correct then to understand that spiritually-speaking this passage teaches deception is a spiritually significant mitigating factor for all humanity (regardless of gender) in our fall into sin? I raise this question also because I remember reading that certain of the Fathers appear to have partially exhonorated Adam for responsibility in the Fall and placed greater blame on Eve by saying he was not deceived but (somewhat nobly) freely chose solidarity with Eve, rather than leave her to suffer the consequences of her weakness and deception alone! It’s not hard to see how this sort of interpretation, given a merely horizontal meaning and application, could set the stage for culturally ingrained and religiously justified misogyny, as it apparently did in the first century Jewish community. But given the typological layer of meaning, might such Fathers have been seeing “Adam” not merely as the male human in this interpretation but rather as the type of Christ, who was not deceived but rather became voluntarily incarnate for our sakes and bore our sin in complete solidarity with us in our fallen state, yet blamelessly?

    I also tend to believe our modern mindset encourages us to discount or downplay the way the origin of sin/evil and temptation is externalized from our essential humanity (our core identity as human beings) in the Scriptures (in spite of humanity’s obvious vulnerability and weakness), starting in the Genesis account and in places like Romans 7. Following this aspect of the Scriptures, I have read sayings of Elders and Fathers to the effect that mankind is not to blame for sin, but rather the devil is, and that since even Adam & Eve are redeemed by the action of Christ (as the harrowing of Hades icon shows), then we sinners, no matter how great the gravity of our sins, need never despair of our salvation because our sin is always going to be less (less culpable) than that of our first parents, and consequently we are going to be easier to save than them!

  71. David A Foutch Avatar
    David A Foutch

    I’m wondering: Is sin necessary for the fullness of God to be known? In other words, when I read comments about sin they assume that there was this Golden Age of sinlessness in the Garden. Then there was the Fall, next sin entered the world and sin has been ‘stirring the stink pot’ ever since. If Christ truly is “the lamb that has been slain since the founding of the world”, what does that imply about sin? Without getting into where sin comes from, the scripture says that “He [God] subjected all things to futility on the basis of hope.” Perhaps it is better to think of sin as futility, emptiness, nothingness. And that this futility becomes the background against which God gives fullness to all things. Love, compassion, goodness, joy, thankfulness are experienced with a deeper meaning in a world subjected to futility. There is a wisdom in this. For any person anywhere who out of love and compassion turns away from futility…of necessity turns towards God.

  72. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    I do not think we can say that sin is in anyway necessary. “God is not the author of sin.” I think that things become troublesome when we try to think of them in a linear fashion. The Lamb is slain before the foundation, but that is not the cause of sin. It belongs to what is eschatological – which is both at the end and at the beginning – (and in between).

  73. Byron Avatar

    Perhaps it is better to think of sin as futility, emptiness, nothingness. And that this futility becomes the background against which God gives fullness to all things.

    David, Father has often written that sin is indeed “nothingness”. I don’t think sin is necessary for the fullness of God to be known though. Indeed, sin is an ongoing distraction from the fullness of God. It constantly points us away from God and moves us in the wrong direction. Just my thoughts.

  74. David Foutch Avatar
    David Foutch

    I didn’t intend to mean to imply that the lamb slain from the founding of the world authors or originates sin, but it certainly anticipates sin. (I understand what you’re saying about temporal nonlinearities.)
    Where I would either lay emphasis or posit a question is around the idea that there was a Golden Age of Sinlessness and then a cataclysmic Fall followed by a Dark Age of Sinfulness. I am merely suggesting that dichotomy isn’t very useful. If Jesus sacrifice is a “Plan B” that restores a failed “Plan A”, then that implies that the Cross was a solution waiting for a problem to arise. However, if the Cross is “Plan A” that would imply that there is a greater continuity between the ‘slain lamb’ and the created order as we know it.
    Certainly the Tradition of the Fathers point to sin as nothingness. Several references from the Philokalia come to mind. But, what does it mean for sin to be “nothingness”?

  75. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    I hope I don’t divert the conversation too much. I found a little more in St John’s writings.

    Karen there is also more about what St John of Damascus means by “accidents” in Book Three Chapter 5:

    “…Thus, persons are said to differ in number but not in nature. The substance, moreover, is predicated of the person, because the substance is complete in each of the persons of the same species. For that reason, persons do not differ from one another in substance, but rather in the accidents, which are their characteristic properties–characteristic of the person and not of the nature. And this is because the person is defined as a substance plus accidents. Thus, the person has that which is common plus that which is individuating, and besides this, existence itself. Substance does not subsist in itself, but is to be found in persons. Accordingly, when one of the persons suffers, then, since the whole nature in which the person has suffered is affected, this whole nature is said to have suffered in one of its persons. This, however, does not necessitate all the persons of the same species suffering together with the one that does suffer….”

    My own translation that helps me to understand St John’s use of the word ‘substance’ is human DNA: Human DNA indicates the material reality of the human being but is not equivalent to the whole human being in substance (does not subsist in itself). We might also say that about the entire molecular structure of the human being is not equivalent to the human being, in the way that we might mean the whole is not equal to the sum of its parts. There’s something going on synergistically, that the mere description of the molecular or cellular structure doesn’t give us.

    I think of St John’s meaning of ‘accidents’ as the bodily characteristics, hair color, etc, but also the life lived and the internal/external circumstances of that life.

  76. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    David, I’m learning here too, but I think by “nothingness” sin is being described as a state, rather than a thing. As Fr Stephen mentions above, what we might experience as a psychological state of sin/shame is an icon of the ontological state of disintegration from the rupture of communion with God towards non-existence. Having said that, however, doesn’t mean I really have a grasp of it.

  77. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    It’s more proper to describe sin as a “drive towards nothingness or non-being.” That’s the terminology that I’ve used, generally following St. Gregory of Nyssa, St. Maximus the Confessor and a number of other fathers. There is not anything that can be called “nothingness” or “non-being.” If there were, it would be something instead of nothing! But, it’s a movement and a direction (or mis-direction).

    On the golden age thing, St. Maximus, in at least one passage, posits an almost instantaneous fall on the part of Adam and Eve. Another pious saying has them in the Garden for 40 days (of course).

    There is no necessity in the Christian account to posit a golden age of creation in which the world existed in an “unfallen” state prior to the Fall of Adam and Eve. They are in “paradise.” That is a very peculiar thing. St. Basil actually describes them as falling “out of paradise and into this world.” St. Paul describes the world not as fallen, nor as having fallen as a result of our sin, but rather “having been made subject to frustration” by God Himself in light of our fallen situation. Creation could always have existed in that manner, in light of the Fall that would happen (when we fell “out of paradise”).

    Don’t anybody ask me to explain St. Basil’s phrase. I have no idea what he means. There is an Origenist version of it that would be heretical (and St. Basil probably got the phrase from Origen’s writings). But St. Basil clearly has an Orthodox understanding of what he means.

    Sometimes the “mystical” in “mystical theology” is more deserved than others.

  78. Karen Avatar

    Dee, the language of “substance” and “accidents” is also used in Roman Catholic teaching to attempt to explain the nature of the transformation of bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ in the Eucharist and to explain how it can still have the material properties and appearance (“accidents”) of bread and wine though it no longer really is (mere?) bread and wine, but rather has become the Body & Blood of Christ, etc. (Knowledgeable Roman Catholic readers please correct me if I’ve not explained that properly and clarify for me, if you know this, whether the qualification of “mere” ought to be in my statement of this RC doctrine.)

    It seems to me St. John is conversant with this Scholastic vernacular and using it in his work–here in a different context than that of explaining the Eucharistic Mystery.

    (As you may realize, other than to affirm a real change occurs in the Eucharist, the Orthodox Church declines to explain how the change occurs from mere bread and wine to also be the very Body and Blood of Christ, preferring simply to recognize that reality as ineffable Mystery. Similarly, apart from affirming the concrete events of the Incarnation of the Word in the womb of the Virgin in its full implications, the Church doesn’t presume to be able to explain in human philosophical or scientific categories how it could happen that One who is God in essence (=substance, =nature) could equally become human in essence without also ceasing to be God. How could we mere mortals expect to understand a thing so far beyond the scope of human experience and existence? We only know that it is true because God in Christ has revealed this to us, but we cannot know how, except that this is the work of the Holy Spirit. As with the Incarnation, so also with the Eucharist it seems to me and to the Orthodox.)

  79. Karen Avatar

    P. S. Pardon the digression. Talk about putting the “mystical” in mystical theology, though, eh?

  80. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Karen, Dee,
    The substance/accidents language is actually Aristotle and was part of the general intellectual vocabulary of the early Church and its theologians. In the Middle Ages, there developed a style of understanding known as Scholasticism that adopted Aristotle’s work as the guiding norm. It became dominant in the Latin West, and was the primary form of Roman Catholic theology until the 20th century. There was a presence of Scholasticism in the East during the same period, but it did not gain a dominance. Indeed, the controversy in the 14th century surrounding St. Gregory Palamas was something of a “peak” for Scholasticism in the East – and it lost the argument – with Hesychasm winning the day.

  81. Michelle Avatar

    Thank you, Fr Stephen. I will check out Lilith. I’ve never read it.

    Also, I’ve never sat and thought on shame in connection to Adam and Eve’s story. I like your thoughts on it. Sometimes a little perspective is all that’s needed.

    But about Adam and Eve being our archetype. Karen mentions that one way Adam and Eve are different than us is that they started out in paradise, and thus, unlike us, were unspoiled. I could be wrong, but I do not think of their story as having the purpose of explaining their’s, nor our actual history, but rather a story that is meant to be a mirror of our existential state. If the Genesis account mentions Paradise as Adam and Eve’s original home, then it is a lesson for us that Paradise is somehow our original home. Not that we, nor two person’s named Adam and Eve ever really lived in an actual paradisal garden. And if it is explained as to how Adam and Eve lost this perfect home of ours, in which they walked with God, then it is showing us how we, too, have lost it. If Eve was decieved, then we have been deceived. If Adam knowledgably and purposefully sinned, then we, too, have been knowledgeable and purposeful. Where shame or pride enter in for them, it also enters in for us. They are a mirror for us to look at, and this is the story’s purpose. Not some literal historical account to explain in linear time the state of the world we find ourselves in. Yes, it does explain our existential state we find ourselves in, individually and communally, but by being a window into our own hearts. Not as a historical textbook. Am I wrong? Because, to me, saying that Adam and Eve were literally different than us in some fundemental way, as a means to expain our reality, nessarily throws them into the realm of historical reality, being two actual historical people of linear consequence and indelible importance.

    But, maybe I am wrong. Maybe they are both a historical lesson of the state of the world, as well as an existential one. Then I guess it would be significant to say that their lot was different than ours, in that they were paradisal people, unspoiled and perfect. Maybe in this respect they are not our archtype.

  82. Karen Avatar

    Thank you for that clarification, Father.

  83. Karen Avatar

    Actually, I think it is probably a misstatement to claim RC doctrine of the Transubstantiation of the Eucharist attempts to explain the “how” of the change. It seems to me, they were just trying to be more precise about the “what” of the change.

  84. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    I tend to think in a manner similar to you on our existential state. The actual historical issue of Adam and Eve are of little concern to me (and that will be quoted somewhere and someone will shout that I’m a heretic). St. Paul, especially, uses Adam in a universal sense – Adam is “mankind” to a degree. In the same way, Christ is the Second Adam, and all of mankind in another way (healing the failure of the first).

    And though Christ is utterly historical, nevertheless, He is the father of a new mankind by some genetic and biological manner. I do not think we have to posit a genetic/biological chain when we think of Adam either – existential works fine.

    In Orthodox thought, we all are born “innocent.” However, we are born mortal. It is mortality that is the problem. Sin equals death, not as a moral payment or punishment. It’s simply an existential/ontological reality. Sin rupture communion with God who alone is the source of life, so we die.

    The world that Adam and Eve enter in leaving paradise is the world of mortality. We enter that world, virtually from our beginning, and it is expressed and experienced in many, many ways. I am fascinated by the fact that secular scientific literature identifies the affect of shame as a rupture in communion. Amazing, actually.

    Christ is our archetype. He is the Second Adam, the first having failed to fulfill his archetypal purpose. Adam, in that sense, is the archetype of our failure and our shame.

    The final image of wholeness is in the icon of Pascha. There we see Christ, our archetype, rescuing Adam and Eve. Perfect.

  85. Michelle Avatar

    I suppose you could say their paradisal perfection is neither historical, nor meant as an archetype of ourselves, but just a story that serves to explain our fall. But then I fail to see where it’s truth lies. If it is foundational to our fall then it must be an absolute truth of some kind. But if not a historical truth, or a truth of discernment of our own hearts, then what kind of truth is it?

  86. Michelle Avatar

    I posted before I seen your last comment, Father. I will read through it and see if it answers my question 🙂

  87. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    I think there is something more real than history – or what we call history. History, this world, is an icon.

  88. Michelle Avatar

    “The world that Adam and Eve enter in leaving paradise is the world of mortality. We enter that world, virtually from our beginning, and it is expressed and experienced in many, many ways.”

    We are born innocent, but not immortal. Adam and Eve teach us the truth of how humankind went careening from immortal to mortal, but not as a historical fact, nor as an existential fact of our own personal being, since we start out mortal from our conception (we are born into a fallen world not of our doing). So historically human’s have always existed in this earth as mortals. Adam and Eve weren’t historically real people, really expelled from paradise down to earth at some historical moment. In what way, then, human kind never actually, historically resided in an immortal paradise? God did not create us on this earth as mortals though, right? He did not create death, right? This is confusing, lol. Unless the fall from immortal to mortal actually, literally happens within us, as explained per Adam and Eve, then I cannot figure out how we were created good (immortal) by God from the beginning. But if the fall happens within us, then we weren’t born into a fallen world and effected by it, we ARE the fallen world, the cause and effect of it. So confusing.

  89. Michelle Avatar

    “I think there is something more real than history – or what we call history. History, this world, is an icon.”

    I’ll take your world for it, because thinking about this is starting to hurt my brain, lol.

  90. Michelle Avatar

    My above sentence, “In what way, then, human kind never actually, historically resided in an immortal paradise?,” is as confused as I am, so I’ll fix it:

    “In that way, then, humankind never actually historically resided in an immortal paradise.”

  91. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    I take the account in Genesis to be true and utterly revelatory of the truth of our existence. However, I cannot make the connection to what we call “history” simply because it’s not information that we have. It is the manner that the Christian tradition has given us to think about our beginnings and the nature of our existence.

    The problem comes, I think, in trying to reconcile two disparate traditions. The tradition of modern science/historical worldview and the tradition of Christian theology. Modern Christianity, particularly from the Reformation forward, has sought to make of those things a seamless, single truth. In point of fact, it has meant either to subjection of the tradition to history, or the subjection of history to the tradition. In both cases the result is less than helpful.

    There are a number of icons that place Christ within a “mandorla,” a particular shape that frames Him and separates Him in a special way within the icon itself. They are always icons in which what is being presented is both true but outside what we would call pure history. They are transcendent moments: the harrowing of hell, the transfiguration, the Ascension, etc. Here’s an article on it.
    I think of the account of Genesis within a mandorla, if you will. I simply cannot make the seamless connection with history and theology in a way that does not do violence to one or the other. So, the mandorla. It works for me.

  92. Michelle Avatar

    Thank you for the different perspective and the article! This is helping me to step out of my usual way of thinking about these things.

  93. Agata Avatar

    Your question reminds me of something I once heard Fr. Tom Hopko say, that “there is actually no record of ‘sinless humanity’” (which I imagine could be equivalent to the state of “immortal paradise”)…
    Humans sinned (separated themselves from God) as soon as the first opportunity presented itself. And we sadly continue in this state…
    (Fr. Tom’s lecture “Sin-primordial, generational, personal” is really wonderful, let me know if you have trouble finding it, I can email it to you :-))

  94. Karen Avatar

    Michelle, I tend to get uncomfortable with historical treatments of the Genesis account, too. That approach seems to lead to all sorts of conundrums — one thinks of the endless rounds of “creation vs. evolution” debates. The archetypal/ existential spiritual meaning makes more sense to me, too.

    I stress the seeming disjunction between our world/state and that in the account of our first parents before sin in response to what I perceive as the overemphasis or overestimate of the role of our own willfulness and culpability in our own sin in many modern conservative Christian treatments of the story, which seemed to me to be reflected somewhat in your comment on your own struggle to understand the nature of pride. I find the treatments of some of the Fathers that mitigate this culpability and emphasize that sin is something external, not intrinsic, to our own nature (that I mentioned earlier) to be ultimately more helpful to me. This may be because I have proclivities to an excessive sense of shame and self rejection reflected in a tendency to attempt to take responsibility in situations and relationships that really belongs elsewhere, and to try to remediate things over which I really
    have no responsibility or control whatsoever. The mitigating treatment of human culpability also agrees more fully with my own intuitive sense of spiritual reality. Finally, the observations of modern psychological studies showing behaviors that we define as pride/defensiveness and anger typically have roots in deep-seated shame and fear, and we do not overcome these negative surface behaviors and reactions (which are also more knee-jerk than well thought out, willfully chosen approaches to life) apart from finding healing for those deeper issues, which the true meaning of the Cross and the Resurrection address quite powerfully,

  95. Larry Jones Avatar
    Larry Jones

    I wasn’t able to read through all of the 94 comments, so if this has been discussed already, please forgive me. Since I am a catechumen I have wondered how the sacraments, especially the Eucharist, will function in the healing of unhealthy shame.

  96. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Larry, not a theological answer but experiential: the sacraments help you realize who you really are and bring you into wholeness. It is gradual and that is a mercy in and of itself.

    The Eucharist brings joy. Joy is always a gift from God and has nothing to do with happiness. The greatest joy I have ever experienced was in the Paschal Divine Liturgy a few weeks after my wife of 24 years had reposed.

    Christ is Risen you see.

  97. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    I think the real temptation Satan puts before us is there is existence apart from God. “You will not die” We have been trying to analyze and justify our lives as if we owned them ever since.

    That brings chaos and Satan’s lie that we are autonomous seduces us into death. That is what modernity is all about. Chaos, destruction and death under the illusion of autnomy, choice and progress. Satan is the ultimate practioner of Orwellian Newspeak.

    The Cross, the grave, the glorious third day ressurection is life.

  98. Debbie Avatar

    Thank you again Fr. Stephen. What hurts the most is when a person uses the scriptures as weapons. I think these people mean well. God forgive me for my own ignorance. Shame has destroyed many and continues on. How is it that God’s people have the license to shame with the Word of God?
    I receive help and encouragement when I come here.

  99. Debbie Avatar

    Shame is a tough one. Cannot see overcoming shame. Those old messages from early years…

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  1. Janine said: “How do you know God is not looking at you the same way you see your son?” Man…

  2. Thank you SO much Carlos! I really appreciate your thoughts and your prayers. Thanks also Fr. Stephen and Simon. Do…

  3. As I re-read the post and the comments, one word comes to mind as the fundamental reality and substance: Mercy.…

  4. Carlos, thanks for your reply. Even if the prayers are first person singular, they are for all of us to…

  5. Janine, Yes! I’ve read about the ancient corporate sense and its interpretive power in scripture, but I’m hesitant to apply…

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