The Power in Thought – It’s Not What You Think

 

Among the dark little corners of the Orthodox world, particularly in its ethnic homelands, is a left-over trace of witchcraft (I don’t know what else to call it). It consists of a collection of superstitions, often mixed with semi-Orthodox notions. There are concerns about the “evil-eye,” “curses,” “spells,” and such. These things are “left-overs” in that they likely predate Christianity, having never disappeared from Europe’s earlier pagan past. These are not practices associated with dark powers, but simply folk practices rooted in bad theology.

It’s not just the Orthodox. My ancestors, Scots-Irish (certainly with a Protestant pedigree) were no stranger to such things. My mother’s mother was said to be able to “talk fire out of a burn,” and to “stop blood.” I was told that these little practices were based in the Scriptures, but they had a slightly occult feel about them. My great-grandfather could “remove warts” in the same manner. The hills here in Appalachia are home to many such things.

There are, however, more popular, modern versions of all this, cleaned up and mainstreamed. Much of it goes under the heading of “positive thought” and “successful living.” All of it is about exercising power over the world around us. It is contrary to the Christian faith. This is not a modern problem: it’s as old as it gets. But it is also wonderfully American.

The mid-19th century (that most formative of all American eras) saw writers such as Horatio Alger (author of numerous “rags to riches” tales), and Samuel Smiles (author of Self-Help), begin to popularize the American power of the mind. The opening line in Smiles’ work, “Heaven helps those who help themselves,” borrowed from Ben Franklin, sounds a key sentiment in the American mythology of the time. Modernity was about progress, both as a society and as an individual. The formula was to be positive, work hard, be honest and patient. Of course, the great mass of self-help men rushed off to the gold fields of the Wild West and lived lives that were everything but honest. We self-helped ourselves to Native American lands and any exploitable wealth that could be found.

The desire to succeed, to move up the ladder, became a major theme in the American psyche. We became the “land of opportunity.” Those who failed had only themselves to blame. Of course, all of this was marketed (particularly in books). The 20th century saw the “positive thinkers”: Dale Carnegie (How to Win Friends and Influence People, 1936), James Allen (As a Man Thinketh, 1902), Napoleon Hill (Think and Grow Rich, 1937), and Norman Vincent Peale (The Power of Positive Thinking, 1952). Peale’s book has been a perennial best-seller. These “pioneers” held that our thoughts make us who we are, and have the power to shape the world around us, attract money, love, success, etc. They are the foundations of today’s “prosperity gospel,” the Evangelical world’s version of popular witchcraft.

Some, like Peale, were “Christian” teachers, others holding to something like a Divine Universal Mind that could be drawn on for benefit. Most of these same ideas are gathered today under the banner of “New-Age Teaching,” and carry a cache of “spirituality.” But it’s the same spiritualization of the American Dream and mythologization of magical power.

The heart of magic (and witchcraft) is the desire to control the outcome of the world around us. In that sense, the entire modern project is magic by brute force. We bend the world to our will.

Many people are unable to distinguish between this and Christianity. For them, God exists in order be persuaded to meet our needs (and our desires). Heaven itself becomes but one more desire (the thought that my enjoyment might never end). Social media abounds with prayer requests, often under the heading of “sending out thoughts and prayers.” Good luck charms of every sort are as common here as in any place at any time. Just examine what hangs from rear-view mirrors in cars.

There are several things worth noting:

  1. Your mind does not influence or control events. You are not a Jedi Master.
  2. Thinking positively feels better than thinking negatively.
  3. Thinking negatively often leads to “self-fulfilling” prophecies (not by making something happen but by nurturing a tendency within ourselves to cooperate with our fears)
  4. Jesus did not come to remove suffering. He has entered suffering and united it to His Cross.

The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs– heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together. (Rom. 8:16-17)

The various versions of mind power are all antithetical to the Cross. They are not only not Christian they are anti-Christian. At the heart of sin is our desire to consume, to turn the world into an object of desire and master it. It breeds death in us and in those around us. At the heart of righteousness is the Cross, the willingness, for the sake of love, to unite ourselves with Christ and give ourselves to the Providence of God.

The simple fact is that we do not know how to manage the world. We do not know what constitutes a good outcome. We do not have the knowledge to see the future, to understand and comprehend the collateral damage of our management. The only guarantee of the outcome of history (and our lives) is the goodwill of God.

The thoughts that lead to life are those of thanksgiving, always and for all things. This nurtures within us both faith and love and slowly carries us into the mystery of the Cross. In the words of St. Maximus the Confessor:

He who understands the mystery of the Cross and the Tomb knows the meaning of all things.

Among the more popular contemporary Orthodox books is Our Thoughts Determine Our Lives, built on the life and teachings of the Elder Thaddeus (Serbian). Read wrongly, it would seem to be an articulation of an Orthodox New Age doctrine. It is nothing of the sort. It is, instead, a lively account of the practice of Hesychasm (“silence”) in which we renounce our passions and acquire the Spirit of Peace. There is nothing within his teaching that suggests that our thoughts control the world around us. His practice can be seen in this short story:

As he related many years later to one of his spiritual children, at the time of this inner battle he suffered two nervous breakdowns as a result of the warfare against the temptations of fear, anxiety, and worry. His whole body trembled and he was, overall, in a very bad state. He took this as a warning from God and resolved to change his way of life and drop all earthly cares and worries. “I realized that we all worry about ourselves too much and that only he who leaves everything to the will of God can feel truly joyous, light, and peaceful.” Thus, having learned to leave all of his cares and those of his neighbors in the hands of the Lord, he patiently bore the cross of serving as abbot at the Patriarchate of Pech for the next six years.

If someone came to me and stated that they had found a method for controlling the world around them through disciplined thought, my first reaction would be, “Why would you want to do that?” This is the path to becoming like a demon – they seek to control us by whispering their thoughts in our minds.

This is the Christian path:

Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. (Phil. 2:5-8)

This alone is true life.

About Fr. Stephen Freeman

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



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153 responses to “The Power in Thought – It’s Not What You Think”

  1. Dino Avatar
    Dino

    David,
    Regarding the ‘self-preservation’ instinct, our true inner motive is the thing: is it ‘Thou’ or is it ‘I’? our Lord states: “I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you”, and this demonstrates clearly that what we perceive as ‘our nature’ (if it includes the commonly understood self-preservation instinct) is not, in fact, our true nature, or else God is unequivocally asking us to go against it here.
    [As an aside, in Greek we do actually use the term ‘fallen nature’ (to describe the instinctual feel of falleness and its ‘inevitability’) while at the same time expounding that this is ‘unnatural’, as our true nature is something else to that which we conventionally experience. -a bit of a strange freedom in our use of language that one comes across in the saying of most saints on these matters-
    We also use the term ‘above nature’ to describe, for instance, the experience of not-just-using-the-goods of the world according to nature (i.e.: not abusing, with temperance, measured fasting etc), but some supernatural conditions sometimes given to saints (a taste of an existence free from even food, sleep, locality, etc like the resurrected Lord)]
    A person who approaches illumination (according to the classic purification-illumination-theosis patristic notion) starts to be truly ‘natural’, ‘healthy’ (the definition of which psychologists endlessly strive to pin down), and is on the way to becoming ‘above nature’. The love of enemies is a signifier of the genuiness of this health.
    That’s why St Paul clarifies that “Love seeketh not her own” (1 Corinthians 13:5). A maxim that essentially defines what freedom from the so-called self-preservation law should be understood as.

    Agata,
    I would assume that the last phrase of the Revelations is constantly living in genuine believers, so that ‘Come Lord Jesus’ is their only response whether its the Last Day or not.

  2. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Tracey Thekla,
    Thanks for the comment. Just a note: All “first time” comments are held in moderation until they are cleared (I didn’t see yours until this morning-was in bed early). After the first comment is cleared, later ones are not moderated. Sorry for the inconvenience.

  3. David Avatar
    David

    Dino,

    I think that it is confusing to equivocate between a basic survival instinct and a misdirected self-interest that emerges from an unillumined sense of oneself. Of course, apart from the illumination of Christ we are blind, ignorant, and in darkness. As I am now painfully learning, how could it be otherwise? But, we still bear the image of God. All humans are icons of God illumined or otherwise and the self-preservation instinct can serve to preserve that image.

    If I understand what you’re saying correctly, because human nature is fallen, then even the self-preservation instinct is fallen, and therefore it stands in the way of our accepting the cross. I just dont see that logic. God saw that everything that he made was good. As far as I know God hasn’t changed his mind about that. That we are fallen doesn’t mean that human nature isn’t good. It is corruptible, but at its core it is still good. We still bear the image of God. I think your distinction between ‘I’ and ‘Thou’ is important. Like every other human quality motives matter, direction matters, intention matters.

  4. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Dino,
    I am sorry to hear that Greek has picked up the language of “fallen nature.” It is theologically inaccurate and, at its worst, is part of the darkness of Calvinist error. What is being called “nature” is not natural – it is simply the habits of the passions – something that is correctable by grace.

    But, the “nature” of something, by definition, is its truth – the very character of the thing that it is. That’s why Calvinism is so pernicious. By saying that man’s nature is fallen – it says, and indeed teaches, that human beings are inherently evil.

    The casual use of “fallen nature” is a modern sloppy expression that does not give careful regard to the theological understanding of nature. And so we have recourse to “above nature,” etc. This same language affected Catholic thought as well – and the pietism that came along with the Jansenists.

    I take care when I use the word “nature” in order to help people clarify what is actually going on. Common parlance is misleading in this regard – even when it is spoken in Greek. Forgive me.

  5. Dino Avatar
    Dino

    Father,
    Yes it would be far less sloppy if ‘the other law at work in me’ was used in place of “fallen nature”, and ‘nature’ was reserved only for our true “logos” … but it is liberally used like that even by some of the greatest who are clearly not unaware of this sloppiness.

  6. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Dino
    It is unfortunate. The English word “supernatural” corresponds with “above nature.” The abuse of that word points to the error in misusing the term “fallen nature.” In an English context where Calvinism has held such sway, it is important to speak with greater care.

  7. Dino Avatar
    Dino

    Father,
    it is unfortunate indeed, it confuses things, but language often does… And the expression is not even used as ‘fallen condition’ but clearly, as ‘fallen nature’, (“πεπτωκυία φύση”) albeit, without calvinistic undertones…!
    Metropolitan Kallistos Ware famously uses it in English in his book The Orthodox Way too, in a somewhat “Nanzianzenite” way though:

    “Christ shares to the full in what we are, and so he makes it possible for us to share in what he is, in his divine life and glory. He became what we are, so as to make us what He is. … Christ’s riches are his eternal glory; Christ’s poverty is his complete self-identification with our fallen human condition.
    This notion of salvation as sharing implies—although many have been reluctant to say this openly—that Christ assumed not just unfallen but fallen human nature.
    … If Christ had merely assumed unfallen human nature, living out his earthly life in the situation of Adam in Paradise, then he would not have been touched with the feeling of our infirmities, nor would he have been tempted in everything exactly as we are. And in that case he would not be our Saviour.

    Obviously, it is a nuanced use and is probably somewhat informed by the pervasive Greek language teaching of “below”, “according to” and “above ‘nature’, which is very useful, without distorting the understanding of ‘the “nature” of something as its truth and character of what the thing is’.

  8. Dino Avatar
    Dino

    Perhaps a marginally better expression might be what the English rendering of the prayer to the Theotokos we repeat every night in the small Compline uses: “the apostate nature of our race”?

  9. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Dino,
    Yes. I used to get very confused by such passages and wrestled for years trying to get a handle on the matter. In many ways, all of the larger theological questions are about “anthropology.” The Trinity was a cakewalk compared to the anthropological questions surrounding the Christological Councils. It has not gotten any easier. I avoid the phrase of fallen nature because of its poor associations.

  10. David Avatar
    David

    I think that “fallen nature” is appropriate when qualified. I appreciate Father’s description of the “habits of the passions.” But, “apostate nature” that seems to only get in the way. What does that even mean? What is mean to be an apostate? To be frank, I have no memory of apostatizing against God. Was I born an apostate? How did I get this “apostate nature”? We say these things like they mean something, but it isn’t clear at all what is intended. I was born into a messy world. I have lived a messy life, and it continues to be messy. In other words, I KNOW what it means to be ruled by and to struggle against the habits of the passions. But, I don’t equivocate between that and what I am in my very nature and I would hope that no one else would do that either. It seems very natural for early Patristic sources to describe humanity as having ‘acquired the contagion of sin’ and to follow up by using a medical narrative to describe the solution for the human condition. In my understanding human nature is not fundamentally altered from what it was in the beginning. However, now it is SUBJECTED to futility: Entropy, decay, disintegration, confusion, and alienation, and the emergence of the passions. But, the truth is that the Kingdom of God is within us and all things and is at hand. God is closer to us than we are to our very selves. Whatever it is about us that is “fallen” is the rind…but our core, our nature is yet to be revealed.

  11. Dino Avatar
    Dino

    David,
    agreed, but we ought to remember that expressions such as ‘the apostate nature’ are part and parcel of Orthodox hymnography (that specific one is from the daily Compline, one of the most ‘official’ services and there’s ample more examples of this liberal use of such expressions – for good reason), careful clarifications of these expressions are admittedly extremely beneficial to some, but for others can seem like splitting hairs and of no use to personal application of living the life of faith.

  12. David Avatar
    David

    Regardless of where the language “apostate nature” comes from that needs to be explained rather than glossed over. How we talk about humanity and the human condition is of upmost importance.

  13. Christopher Avatar
    Christopher

    Father and Dino,

    In my opinion it is important to remember that the “nature” of God and a creature created in His image is not static – freedom (and will) in relationship to both good & evil and other Persons is a “nature” and character that is inherently dynamic. Yes in Calvinism and other strains of our theological inheritance nature is dialectically defined, but even an aristotelian such as Thomas Aquinas offers a dynamic/nuanced view of “nature”.

  14. Dino Avatar
    Dino

    David,
    To the question ‘What does it mean to be an apostate?” or “How did I get this apostate nature?” and what is good reason for the use of such expressions in hymnography, one might perhaps respond that it is (as you yourself has perfectly described) all due to this compunctionate experience of “the being subject to futility”, especially once we come to the self-effacing recognition that we ourselves have consciously conceded to this futility and enslaved ourselves in our lives, whether continuously or even if only once. Also, another answer is the seemingly endless encounter of my all-pervasive self-absorbed proclivities that go against my very nature –which, however, I can only properly know and encounter in Christ–. Also, yet another similar answer is because it appears extremely ‘natural’ to me (this ‘sinfulness’), especially once I start to interpret it against the backdrop [that I gradually start to comprehend –in the Light of Christ–] of how deeply unnatural this ‘natural’ actually is…
    It is not theological language so much but experiential.

  15. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Christopher,
    Thanks for the wrench. 🙂

  16. Agata Avatar
    Agata

    Dino,
    Your last comments remind of the words of one of the morning prayers (or maybe it’s in the evening prayers?… David: see? here is a great example of how my apostate nature manifests itself: I have wanted to memorize these prayers for the past several years [nothing stands in my way, other than my own laziness], and still haven’t made a proper effort to do so!).

    I can’t quote the prayer exactly, but it says something about “growing old from senseless sins…”. Those words have hit my especially hard last year since I had that over-the-hill birthday… On that historic occasion, I tried to look objectively at my past life in the light of the words of this prayer, and those senseless sins are very obvious – and they only came from me, nobody else (no need to blame the “messy world I was born into”, if I am honest about it).

    Father,
    your commented above on how Calvinism says that “man’s nature is fallen – it says, and indeed teaches, that human beings are inherently evil.”….

    I often wonder how people remain in churches that teach them such things, and beat them up constantly with such ideas?

    One of the most inspiring things I recently heard from an Orthodox teacher is that evil originated in the angelic realm and we humans are only victims of it not authors (thank God!). We can choose to participate in evil, but we are not its source.

    Why are so many people fascinated by and attracted to evil (I mean: on the global scale of humanity), and so few people have interest in and Love for Christ…. ?
    Seems like this is the most important message we should be extracting from the “theological language”, the things we can make “experiential” to draw closer to Christ….

  17. David Avatar
    David

    Dino,

    Forgive me, but I don’t know that I could disagree with you more. You say that “we ourselves have consciously conceded to this futility and enslaved ourselves in our lives, whether continuously or even if only once.” I don’t buy it. I didn’t choose this world. I didn’t choose to be the way I am. What choice did any one of us ever really have growing up? Were you baptized as an infant, raised in Orthodoxy, married an Orthodox partner, and are raised Orthodox children? How very fortunate for you. How many choices were made for us? How much of what we are and how we are was determined by EVERYTHING that came before us? On the other hand, how many memories might someone have of being burned by one’s parent, of being whipped with a belt until the whelps bled, or had paint stripper thrown onto them? Not so fortunate. We spend our formative years saturated in an environment THAT WE DIDN’T CHOOSE. No one chose this. Even the language in scripture refers to the human condition as being in “captivity” sold into “slavery” and “subject to futility.” This is the language of a will that is restricted in its ability to choose. Certainly we act like slaves, like we are in captivity, and that we have been subjected to futility. But, how else are we going to act? And if we cannot act in any other fashion than as captives, then whose fault is that? But, none of this occurs at the level of our nature. It is at the superficial level of our behavior.

    Yes, I have sinned. I have sinned and passed my fair share of crap onto those I love. Sadly, I may have already passed something of my father onto my son. He is 15 months old and all he does is absorb and imitate what he sees. Is that his fault? No. No one is at fault. We are all in a captivity and a darkness that none of us chose.

    All we can do is confess our behavior, repent, and beg for the mercy of God.

    I’m sorry, brother. But, I must disagree.

  18. Dino Avatar
    Dino

    Christopher,
    yes, the ‘dynamic’ aspect of this, the “becoming” aspect, if you like, is key.
    United to the Lord, becoming “one spirit with Christ” (1 Cor 6:17) – a “chosen vessel” (Acts 9:15) –, man becomes divine.
    Uncreated grace does not originate from anywhere within creation though, but from God himself. Our created nature, however, is a nature that has the capacity to be transformed by this uncreated grace, (and is called to this).
    Nevertheless, of its own, it becomes something entirely ‘fallen’, (for lack of a better word),
    while at the same time,
    united to God (and wholly detached, not just from the ‘mind of the flesh’ (Rom 8:6–8) but from all created realities),
    it achieves its ultimate “logos” – through the uncreated energy of God.
    This is what is witnessed in the saints: a human existence ontologically fulfilled in being overwhelmed by God and transformed by divine grace, caught up from the present aeon into the Kingdom of Heaven, even while still walking this Earth, ( and far more once it is “born into the beyond” through its blessed death).

  19. Dino Avatar
    Dino

    David,
    I cannot see what you are saying as something that I would disagree with. But I must also hasten to add that the ‘whose fault it is’ question, is something that we humans have a freedom to use either as a type of self-justification (and this can be most convincing) – though it is of the ‘philosophy of the old Adam’ – or as God-justifying: “Against Thee, Thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in Thy sight: that Thou mightest be justified when Thou speakest, and be clear when Thou judgest” (Psalm 50/51 : 4).

  20. Dino Avatar
    Dino

    David,
    Also, it is certainly worth balancing what you have said by remembering that the context of whether one was dealt good cards or bad, “baptized as an infant, raised in Orthodoxy, married an Orthodox partner, or alternatively, was burned by one’s parent, whipped with a belt until the whelps bled, or had paint stripper thrown onto them”, makes no difference to a just and loving divine judgement that essentially looks at “how we have dealt with the cards we were dealt”…

  21. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    I may be reading this stream too quickly. If what I add here is unhelpful please forgive me.

    But the question of ‘human nature’ or the ‘essence’ of human being was addressed well by St John of Damascus (and reading his book Exact exposition of the Orthodox Faith was recommended to me by my father, confessor priest as a way to understand the subject of the questions being raised here). He asserts human nature as ‘good’ and anything other, such as sin (movement toward non-existence), as ‘accidents’. I found the use of his language helpful. I believe the reference to what Met. Ware wrote was more in keeping with the ‘loose’ or casual use of the word nature. I agree whole-heartedly that the use of ‘fallen nature’ is to closely tied to the history of Protestant thinking in the west, and I personally find it difficult to separate the words ‘fallen nature’ from that historical meaning as it has been developed and perpetuated in the west and particularly in the US culture. Even if there are historical texts that use those exact words, I don’t think the current understanding in the US fits the original meaning.

  22. David Avatar
    David

    Dino,
    Why do we need to justify anyone?? You seem to be saying that at any given time we are either justifying ourselves or God. To me that seems like a false dichotomy. Self-justification is just the symptom of a problem. AND nothing you or I say or do can justify God.
    We need mercy.
    Humanity needs mercy. God says that he has mercy for our ills. If the condition for receiving that mercy is that I have to bring the symptoms of my illness (confession) to the physician (my priest) and ask for medication (absolution/eucharist), then that is what I will do. I want to be well. I want us to be well. That’s my choice. But, I have to be honest. I didn’t make this mess. Neither did you or any one else. At this point the mess is self-perpetuating and it is just kind of out there.
    We need mercy.

  23. Dino Avatar
    Dino

    David,
    Yes, “the mess is kind of out there”. Indeed, we need mercy! And the ones who will attract the greatest mercy are those holy souls that – though they are the least ‘creators of this mess’ – consider themselves as the ones making the greatest mess and wouldn’t even consider it as being out there. (1 Timothy 1:15 ) As St Isaac the Syrian reminds us, what is needed the most is to see one’s own sin.
    We generally do ourselves a disservice through seeing it elsewhere.

  24. David Avatar
    David

    Dino,
    “The context…makes no difference to a just and loving divine judgement that essentially looks at “how we have dealt with the cards we were dealt.” First, of course the context makes a difference. Second, it assumes way too much. How would a person even learn how to deal with the cards they have been dealt?? You are dealt a hand, but then where do you learn to play that hand?? People in theological discussions always act like it is always so obvious to everyone how they should be acting and it is only because they are so evil that they refuse to do the right thing. To me, that view is out of touch with reality. Third, Jesus rendered his judgment on the Cross: Father, forgive them for they know not what they do. That is the judgment that Christ pronounced. That is what is true of all humanity. Even when the sins of the world were being place on his soul he looked at those who were killing him and he said ‘they do not know what they are doing.’ Yet, all the armchair theologians act like ‘knowing what to do with what you have been given’ should be obvious. It isn’t obvious, not at all obvious.

    I really should back away from the conversation at this point because it is becoming a trigger for me.

    Forgive me.

  25. David Avatar
    David

    All of what you are saying, Dino, is from a certain perspective. A perspective that comes AFTER illumination. AFTER maturation. AFTER having received grace after grace. AFTER having suffered for the faith. It is not a perspective that is even possible apart from the work of the Holy Spirit. So, you are right. As one progresses, one does NOT see the problem “out there.” One sees that the entire problem, the whole of it, lies within. And a person with grace can present the whole of it to God for healing. But, that understanding and grace only comes as a matter of time, with repentance, prayer, and perseverance. It doesn’t say anything at all about the human condition and how it is experienced outside the faith.

  26. Dino Avatar
    Dino

    Indeed it is from that perspective… It’s the perspective that the Fathers always use and the only one that is truly free from delusional interpretation of things. And I really couldn’t call the Fathers who used the ‘how you deal with the cards you’ve been dealt’ notion armchair-theologians (even if others like myself might be proven to be no more than that).
    Saint Paisios uses a valuable image (that originally comes from Saint Dorotheus – of two twins who had been abducted and separated early, and one raised up as a holy nun while the other as a debauched prostitute, and both died in their respective contexts). He says that the potential for ten miracles of the first, diminished to five is ‘damning’, whereas the potential for ten sins of the second diminished to five is ‘salvific’ in the eyes of the Lord. I find it a useful image to make the notion of ‘how one deals with their cards – and not the cards themselves – is the thing in the eyes of the Lord’ more obvious.

  27. David Avatar
    David

    If your view is correct, Dino, then I may have made huge mistake. Thank you for taking the time to clarify your position.

  28. David Avatar
    David

    Theres no way I can teach what youve said to my child.

  29. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    David,
    I think you are right about the conversation becoming a trigger. I think you have proper inner questions and observations – not known to Dino who is writing and reflecting a certain point within the tradition (and Greek to boot) – that are simply not connecting. It’s not only not connecting, but injuring and a bit painful.

    Let it be – or we can discuss it together offline. I think it is a conversation better had in that manner.

  30. David Avatar
    David

    Let it be is probably best.

  31. David Waite f/k/a learningtobestill2016 Avatar
    David Waite f/k/a learningtobestill2016

    Father, Dino and David – I can see why it might be wise for y’all to discontinue the discussion, but I want to thank you for it. You have raised wonderful questions, David, and Dino and Father have provided very helpful responses. Their exchange about what is a Greek and what is a (presumably) Russian understanding of fallen man has been especially enlightening.

    You have also asserted thoughtful challenges to the response you have received, David, that have been very helpful to me as a fellow learner. Thank all of you, so much, for a most enlightening discussion. Discussions like this are why I try to keep up with the comments to Father’s blog.

    Christ is risen, y’all!

  32. NSP Avatar

    I would like to second what David Waite said above. Reading the discussion was helpful to me.

    -NSP

  33. David Avatar
    David

    Agata,

    Thank you for that. It is truly appreciated.

    However, ideas have consequences and these consequences can exert an influence over the course of a person’s life time. What I’m not going to do is introduce my son to ideas that create distortions about us or God.

  34. Agata Avatar
    Agata

    David,
    May God help you in raising your son. You are in my prayers.
    My “baby” (seems like he was 15-months old just yesterday) is now 17 (and correcting my driving abilities, LOL!!)..

    His two brothers are staring and finishing college. I cannot even talk with them about God, and they were “baptized as an infant, raised in Orthodoxy”… If either of them marries an Orthodox wife, it will be a true miracle… (for which I pray!)
    Like you, I thought I had much influence over how my children had been raised. I did the best I knew how. But our influence is an illusion, in time I saw how my sins hurt them, and how they suffer now because of me. No wonder the Saints tell the parents that the best thing parents can do for their children is to work on their own salvation… and pray…

  35. David Avatar
    David

    Agata,
    I agree with that. He needs to see a Godly life not hear about one.

  36. Paula Avatar
    Paula

    David,
    I am interested in what you mean by “ideas”. From what you have said in previous posts, especially where you said you’d like to see some change within yourself, (please correct me where I misunderstand) I take that as ‘if this Christian life is all it’s cracked up to be, then why am I still a mess?’. Possibly adding, why is the church so divided, why do we not “act” like Christians’. We talk the talk real good, quote scripture and tradition, the Fathers, the Saints…is that what you mean when you say “idea”? The idea doesn’t seem to pass over to action most of the time and thus become part of us as evidence of, as we say, the “new man”. If that is what your saying, I agree with you totally….then they are all mere ideas. How can an idea have substance? It doesn’t.
    Of coarse we know Christ Himself is not an idea nor the sacramental life of the Church. But that knowing may now be only by a thread, in trust to be further woven tightly.

    It is sad that when we express a reality that seems contradictory to taught Tradition, that when such an understanding is rejected, we are told we do not “will” enough to conform. Or when we can’t get past the struggles of the past, we’re told not to put personal experiences and modernity into the equation, that we ourselves are to blame. And if we do, it is a sign of a ‘cop-out’…not taking responsibility. That to me is a lot of presumption, to say we are doing such a thing. It is a big misunderstanding and can be harmful in the long run. If God’s judgement is based on what we’ve done with the cards we’ve been dealt, then His judgement will be purely, totally, 100% merciful, considering our utter weakness. Is this way of thinking a ‘cop-out’?

    Agata, you may have made mistakes in the rearing of your boys that led to some undesirable consequences…but do you actually believe that they suffer because of you? You only? In this sea of modernity? (now you see, this is a perfect example of my inability to relate as a parent! My parents blamed all my rebellion not on themselves, but on my friends! Didn’t give me credit for any of it, and I still got whipped!) I have no idea of your true situation, really. I just hope you don’t carry this “its all my fault” indefinitely. And I wonder, if your boys happen to marry Orthodox women, is that when you’ll give up the guilt? I don’t think our Lord holds these things over your head, Agata! Father once said we take ourselves too seriously. I agree!

    David, you are blessed to have Father Stephen to guide you through all these difficulties. I’d give my right arm for such a mentor. Many of us don’t have that…it is just not available to all. So we do the best with what God has given us and trust that He is our ultimate guide. So I agree, much more is needed than the ‘armchair’ theological approach. They are not out here in the ‘down and dirty’. They bless us in teaching dogma and tradition, ‘ideas’, but we need practical guidance to put these ideas to work. Father is really good at that.

  37. Agata Avatar
    Agata

    Paula,

    Thank you for your thoughts to David, I hope he reads them.

    This thread of comments is interesting, even David admitted along the way that some of the ideas he read called him to “re-examine” his views. I have been reading this blog for some time now, and I know that what Dino presents (which comes from the most authentic and deep Orthodox sources) is very challenging to many people. I am always grateful for his words, I call them “the higher standard” (which half the time I don’t even know exists, and I have been Orthodox all my life: born into it, raised in it, with Orthodox parents and grandparents…)

    But then I married an American, not Orthodox (he became one eventually, but that did not last). So when I talk about my sins influencing the life of my children, there are many aspects of it. It’s more along the thoughts from St. Paisios, that the sins of the parents affect (maybe infect?!) the children… I could not summarize it well here, I was just made aware of this way of thinking after reading St. Paisios. Of course my children were influenced by their peers, school, TV. There is no way to shield them from everything, no matter how much the parents try. And many parents don’t even try – my kids meet them everywhere… As David said, “it’s a mess out there”… and I would add “and it’s getting worse”… But somehow we have to keep going, strive for holiness as best we can… At least those of us who know, who have heard about Christ and His Gospel. And His Church… We can theorize about how God will deal with these or those, but in the end, after we die, we will only be asked about our own selves… Well, as a mother, I may have to answer for how my kids turned out too…

    So now that my kids are grown up (practically), I just pray…

    I am sad to see that the prayer I posted disappeared… It’s a very beautiful prayer. I can share it with anybody who emails me (I shared my gmail here before many times, “agatamcc”).

  38. David Avatar
    David

    Agata, I must apologize because I think I left you with the wrong impression. There are some things my conscience will not allow me to reconsider.

  39. Paula Avatar
    Paula

    Thank you Agata. You indeed have a very great responsibility as a parent, and an added burden being single. I can not imagine what that is like. But thank you for explaining yourself…I see now where you say you’ll have to answer to God about your boys. Yes, the sins of a parent affect the child. I don’t know, Agata, but doesn’t He see you doing the best you possibly can? Your love for God, your boys, and others and your good intention is so obvious to me, even on a blog site!! I can safely assume you ask for forgiveness for the times you fail…and you don’t take these things lightly. Lets put it this way Agata…I respect your thoughts and would not expect you to think any differently. But I can, at the same time, believe, hope and pray for the best for you and your boys. So that is what I’ll do !!
    I agree with you that we keep moving forward and strive for holiness. I would say, because of our varying character traits, experiences, backgrounds, cultures, the ones we learn from must be a proper fit. Like they say for a spiritual father…you have to find the right one where both can work together. I appreciate Dino’s comments here and want to learn from them, but I stumble over his strictness. I am not “a fit”. I do not bend easily either. Neither does he. Many times he has a comeback that that is lofty, yet settles hard! I like being challenged, but not that way. No, I’m just not a good fit!
    That prayer you posted was beautiful. Your email, I have it in my file…so you just may hear from me one of these days…at least for a request from your “treasure trove” of notes and articles!
    Thanks again, Agata for your patience! God’s blessings to you!

  40. Dean Avatar
    Dean

    Agata,
    Yes, we love our children and pray for them, as I know you do. Yet, when they stand before God they will answer for the own life, no one else’s. Of course our life has a major impact on one’s children. How could it be any different? I once read that a child learns trust of others by age 2. And that the base of their character is formed by age 7. Don’t know if thsee numbers are completely accurate, but they seem plausible.
    I believe God only allowed godly adults to enter the promised land (Canaan) and youth below the age of 20. Those 20 and above were held responsible for {their} own actions. I think it is good to remember that God Himself gave freedom to His own children, and they rebelled against Him, the perfect parent…though later, at Christ’s resurrection were brought forth from Hades (gotta be one of my favorite icons)!
    So Agata, be encouraged in our good God! He sees every tear.

  41. Agata Avatar
    Agata

    Paula and Dean,

    Thank you for your kind words. I probably come across too serious and too pessimistic.

    Dean knows me more than Paula, and I wonder if Paula (like David) is just very young and some of these words of experience/thoughts/worries of us old people is sounding different in her ears… 🙂

    I am very happy to have learnt (be reassured) from Father Stephen and Dino (even if he sounds otherwise to most of us most of the time) of how great, loving and forgiving our great God is. The strictness of the Church has to be there for the pedagogical purposes of all, while the confessors, spiritual fathers and the Saints themselves are always most kind and forgiving to each specific. But I like to learn about the “high standards”, even if I am not able to keep them.

    Since being a mother is the most important role in my life at this time, I may be focusing on this too much in my comments. One Greek friend recently related a saying of an Elder who said something along the lines: “Mothers must either present their children saved before His Dread Judgement Seat or appear with their knees worn out from the prostrations they had been doing for them”…. Well, most people will find it depressing, but I love it, and it inspires me… 🙂

    Thank you both again Paula and Dean, and to David for engaging Dino, it’s always most wonderful to see how he answers the tough questions that we all have.

    To the young David I would just suggest to examine whether it is your conscience or ego that is not allowing you to reconsider… If you learn that early on in life, it will be a wonderful lesson. I recently heard a priest say that it’s easier to learn this difference in younger age, by the time we get old our conscience is so silenced and pushed back, it’s mostly quiet. True repentance is not easier, it’s harder with age… That was an eye-opening thought for me.

    Blessings to all of you, no need to reply to my comment (if it is allowed to remain here :-))

  42. David Avatar
    David

    I think its interesting how in the name of god and truth almost any evil can be justified. That I experience this way of thinking among the Orthodox is more than a little confusing to me.

  43. Dean Avatar
    Dean

    David,
    I appreciate your comments…and that you are now in the Church! Catholics speak much of how many among them need to be converted. The same can be said for the Orthodox. As the old saying goes, living in a garage doesn’t make one a car…you get my drift. Hang in there, brother!

  44. Christopher Avatar
    Christopher

    “I think its interesting how in the name of god and truth almost any evil can be justified. ”

    David,

    Where is the tree of the *knowledge* of Good and Evil located?

  45. David Avatar
    David

    Dean,
    That comment is very much appreciated. Good metaphor as well! Thank you.

  46. David Avatar
    David

    I would say that the tree of the knowledge of good and evil is still in paradise in the inwardmost parts of the human heart.

  47. Christopher Avatar
    Christopher

    “I would say that the tree of the knowledge of good and evil is still in paradise in the inwardmost parts of the human heart.”

    Yes, still there – always there from the beginning to the end. Good AND Evil. Is this the same as Good vs. Evil, which can only end in a Manichean triumph? Neither I, nor Dino, nor St. Paisios can *justify* the mystery of good and evil (rather couched in terms of “nature” or in any other way). Not only can we not (we are created by Him who put the tree in the middle of creation and us right along with it – we don’t have the perspective), we don’t have to because good and evil is in some mysterious way subsumed, justified, and carried forward in the mystery of the Tree of Life. We only experience this mystery through the Cross, which is death, which is suffering. Through the Cross is Life and a justification – but not yet!

  48. Paula Avatar
    Paula

    Agata,
    You are 100% correct…I am young, an infant, in the Faith…and as much as I hate to say it (ego!), immature spiritually! That is why I thanked you for your patience with me. It is indeed very hard to “teach an old dog new tricks”, but in no way impossible.
    If anything, maybe us young ones simply are a good reminder and offer a chance to consider what it is like to be in our position, because in some respects we do have a different, albeit now changing, view of things.
    That said, you have no idea how helpful it is to be here among all of you!..the young and the old. And of coarse that includes Dino! The problem is with me, my condition, not his. I am sure in his wisdom he understands this and hope for his forgiveness. Dino, forgive me!
    God bless you Agata, and your worn out knees 🙂

  49. David Avatar
    David

    Christopher, sophistry allows for the justification of anything. There are things that people believe about God that I find loathsome, but they see it as a deep mystery. A mystery so profound they would never dare challenge it with their puny human reason and understanding. The fact of the matter is that for true believers the appeal to God/mystery/truth card is the ultimate trump card. I dont buy it. If that is the argument being used, I ignore it completely because anyone can use that argument.

    If your God torments children in hell because they didnt believe in Jesus, that is not a deep mystery that is beyond human reason to plumb that we will only understand “on the other side.” That is simply an abhorrent idea justified by an appeal to the God/mystery/truth language. And this is a problem.

    First, once you undermine the authority of human reason and conscience, then how would anyone know who to listen to? These faculties are here to help us, and part-and-parcel of that help is to prevent us from buying into the tripe of every other scam artist and charlatan blathered about.

    Second, it keeps us human. Too many unconscionable beliefs, too many irrational ideas, too much suffering, too much of our humanity has been sacrificed in the name of what is good and holy.

    If there is a system of rules established by God where people burn alive forever for the decisions they made in a few short decades here on earth, then the god that made those rules IS NOT GOD. That God is not worthy of our worship. How could you ever tell the difference between that god and the devil??

    With all of my heart I tell you I would rather burn in hell than worship that god. I am as sincere about that as I can be. So, if I have offended you, please, forgive me.

  50. Christopher Avatar
    Christopher

    David,

    I thought we were talking about what I, Dino, and St. Paisios believe (if I might be so bold to casually group us together)? Who do you trust? Ask them of their experience of the knowledge of good and evil.

  51. David Avatar
    David

    We are talking about what you believe. And I am drawing an analogy between what you believe and how you talk about with how I have heard others talk about their beliefs. In other words, I have covered analogous topology before. I read here that people assume that if something is difficult to accept it is due to the limits of their ability to understand. And I dont buy that either.

  52. Christopher Avatar
    Christopher

    David,

    It’s a horrible analogy. No, (Orthodox) Christianity is neither a fideism nor a rationalism, so nobody in this conversation is buying that either…

  53. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    David, Christopher,
    I think we’ve moved a fairly good way beyond my poor little Hobbits. David, I think there is such a thing as mystery – that which we do not “understand” and yet might know. The sacraments come to mind. But I think pressing this point (for heaven’s sake – burning babies is over the top) to argue to a resolve is just too much and beyond the scope of the conversation. Surely there are things too wonderful for words. But I would request that you all (David, Christopher) drop this thread of the conversation.

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