Strange That Our Money Says: In God We Trust

 

There are two great money problems in the Scriptures: too little and too much. The theme of the poor is a constant throughout both the Old and the New Testament. They tend to be cast as victims – easy prey for the rich, often exploited, and particularly beloved of God. He is the protector of the “widow and the fatherless” and clearly favors the poor. The rich come in for scathing treatment and dire warnings. Christ’s own words regarding the rich and the difficulty of their salvation almost drove the disciples to despair. And yet, most people in modern culture imagine wealth to be the solution to problems. Half of all lottery tickets in America are bought by the poorest third of the population.1

Perhaps more shameful is the fact that, today, the rich judge the poor to be foolish for such behaviors.

The most powerful creation of modernity is the Middle Class. Largely unintentional, many components of the Industrial Revolution served to nurture and increase the size and importance of those whose income exceeded their necessities with an increase in the market for luxury goods and practices. In time, that same class managed to increase the voting franchise, eventually extending it to include the whole population. With this prosperity came a shift in how the culture of Christianity perceived wealth itself. From a suspect burden to be shared, it became a mark of success to be enjoyed.

At present, our culture has been so transformed by the ideal of the Middle-Class phenomenon, that it has become synonymous with what is “normal,” “moderate,” “standard,” and “expected.” While there are debates within the Middle Class about the right way to think about the Upper Class and the super-wealthy, no one seems to question the desirability or normalcy of the Middle Class itself.

Among the most striking changes in the Christian attitude towards money has been the evolution of understanding regarding charging interest: classically known as “usury.” Today “usury” is used only to describe outrageous percentages on borrowed funds. Originally, however, “usury” referred to all use of interest on borrowed funds. It was a forbidden practice in Christianity in its early centuries, a violation of the teachings of Christ. This remained the case until the early Reformation when its modest practice began to be allowed.

With the standardization of the Middle Class within Christian consciousness came a standardization of Middle-Class attitudes towards wealth and property. The notion of “private property” became enshrined in Christian thought, replacing the concept of stewardship (in which everything belongs to God, and we are each accountable for our use). Individualism, as we know it today, requires the Middle-Class world as a standard: the poor simply cannot afford such independence. Individualism also requires a strong sense of private property so that each of us may pretend that we are self-sufficient. It may well indeed be the case that the greatest delusion of the modern age is that associated with our economic consciousness.

Consider these words from the opening paragraph of St. Clement of Alexandria’s Who Is the Rich Man Who Shall be Saved?

Those who bestow laudatory addresses on the rich appear to me to be rightly judged not only flatterers and base, in vehemently pretending that things which are disagreeable give them pleasure, but also godless and treacherous; godless, because neglecting to praise and glorify God, who is alone perfect and good, “of whom are all things, and by whom are all things, and for whom are all things,” they invest with divine honours men wallowing in an execrable and abominable life, and, what is the principal thing, liable on this account to the judgment of God; and treacherous, because, although wealth is of itself sufficient to puff up and corrupt the souls of its possessors, and to turn them from the path by which salvation is to be attained, they stupefy them still more, by inflating the minds of the rich with the pleasures of extravagant praises, and by making them utterly despise all things except wealth, on account of which they are admired; bringing, as the saying is, fire to fire, pouring pride on pride, and adding conceit to wealth, a heavier burden to that which by nature is a weight, from which somewhat ought rather to be removed and taken away as being a dangerous and deadly disease.

For Clement, wealth is a “dangerous and deadly disease!” I recall hearing someone remark about this, “I wish I could catch it!”

St. Clement is not unusual in his attitude towards money. He is an exemplar of pretty much everything written on the topic in the first ten centuries or more of the faith. Like Christ, he gages his thought by what money (property, etc.) does to the soul.

“What does it profit a man to gain the world and lose his soul?” Christ asks.

This is said regarding money and property, specifically, rather than just “sin” in general. There is something about money/property that has the power to utterly corrupt the soul. A key, I think, is found in Christ’s aphorism regarding “Mammon” (money): “You cannot serve God and Mammon.” Wealth has a power within it that draws us into idolatry. We begin to place our faith and trust in what wealth can do while remaining distant from God. God may have “top-billing” in our intellectual universe, but runs a distant second when it comes to what we most desire.

This takes us back to St. Clement’s diagnosis of money as a “dangerous and deadly disease.” It should not be surprising that the dominant force within a secular culture is economics. The pretense of the world’s self-sufficiency can only be maintained by the delusions created by wealth. Agnosticism and Atheism are the religions of the rich (or the Middle Class). It is a philosophy that safeguards the inherent power of their position. I should add that secularized Christianity can be described as “Christian Atheism.” [footnote] Those who would challenge this analysis by pointing to the Communist revolutions of the last century, fail to note that the ruling class within those regimes quickly adopted both the power and wealth of the class which they overthrew. A new ruling class claimed to govern in the name of the poor, but its identification with the poor was in name only.

Historically, the most significant group to maintain some semblance of sanity (outside of the poor) were the monastics of the Church, although any number of monastic establishments actually became quite rich. Institutional battles over monastic property have almost always been won by those with money (in Russia, the Possessors triumphed over the Non-Possessors, and, in the West, the Franciscans became sufficiently reconciled with wealth to pass under a dangerous Papal radar).

Virtually all the modern arguments regarding wealth (certainly among Christians), presume that we have some say in the matter, that is, that wealth belongs to us and that it is our responsibility to arrange its disposition. We place ourselves into the realm of management and move one step closer to the practical atheism of secularity. The poor are generally lacking in economic theories.

The great tragedy, however, is the perversion of the gospel in which, as managers, we decide how best to run the world. This represents a radical shift away from both Old and New Testament. It will undoubtedly be argued that we are commanded to be good stewards and that proper management of wealth is a God-given commandment. Jesus did not offer the parables of the Kingdom in order to create a responsible Middle Class. When the stewards of the parables are transformed into the managers of this world, Christ’s teaching has been tamed and made to serve the Prince of this World.

No matter our thoughts on the subject, the general landscape of a certain portion of the world is utterly married to wealth and property. Christians who live in such societies will most likely continue to find ways to accommodate the gospel. And this, I think, is our great loss. The managers of this world will find that the Kingdom of God is not compatible with their goals.

“He has exalted the humble and meek and the rich He has sent away empty.”

My own take regarding this is that we should pursue a persistent generosity and resist our urges towards ever greater ownership. A simple means of renouncing wealth is to confess that we own nothing, but only have the use of our goods for a short time. The Christian attitude towards wealth in the early centuries threatened the very halls of empire. The gospel has not changed.

 

 

 

 

 

Footnotes for this article

  1. Lotteries: America’s 70 Billion Dollar Shame

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.



Posted

in

, , ,

by

Comments

231 responses to “Strange That Our Money Says: In God We Trust”

  1. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Ted,
    It seems to me, in your response to Esmee, that you are laboring under some kind of literalism, unable to grasp the “Lazarus-like” quality of what Esmee is describing. That the government should do something different is, no doubt, true. But, even if it is so, it does not absolve me of anything. It really doesn’t matter what the government does or doesn’t do – to be a Christian is the same regardless – everywhere. The Orthodox faith has, for most of its life, suffered under persecutions and governments that were fairly wicked in their own way. None of that changes who we are or what we should do.

  2. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Also forgive me for misspelling your name, Esmee! I want to write the accent too. Is there a way in this textbox? What are the key strokes?

  3. David Waite Avatar
    David Waite

    Ted – By the merciful grace of God, I have come to understand that the “the feces covered drugged up people” in my town are Lazarus and I am the rich man. As a result, the parable scares the hell out of me. Another result is that I now talk to Lazarus, in his many incarnations, and share a shamefully small portion of my wealth with him. I cannot begin to describe what a joy this has been for me. I have gotten to know many wonderful people. The experience has also brought me closer to Jesus, just as He said it would. I pray the He will give you the same joy that He has given me.

  4. Ted Avatar
    Ted

    Dee of St Hermans,

    “Out of curiosity, did you miss what Esme wrote?”
    Yes sir, I did.

    “Are you attempting to critique Fr Stephen’s article from the standpoint of your personal philosophy rather than from a Christian view?”
    I would like to further my understanding how I should view life and live life in America from an Orthodox Christian view point.

    Regarding the homeless, walking by them I have felt a range of emotions. Where am I? Who am I? Who are they? Initially I have tried to help only to be met with bizzare reactions (they were mentally ill and or under the influence) and the possibility of violence, police presence and false accusations. They were people, my fellow human beings but they were agresive beligerent and decieving liars. Also they were not hungry the government fed them. This is not derogatory, these are facts I observed

  5. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Ted,
    Lazarus and the Rich Man are a parable, not an historical case history. Lazarus can be found in many forms and situations. If the homeless is not where you find him, then pray that Christ will help you see him somewhere – or even to find where he lives in you. And then do for the Lazarus He gives you what you can. And may God bless it.

  6. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Ted, A word of wisdom from my mother who was a dancer trained by Martha Graham. “In performance sometime you will fall. The question is whether you fall and just fall, or fall and pick dasies.”. All the talent, training and practice will fail.

    We each have different gifts and talents and we use them well or use them ill, but in and of themselves they end up in the dust as we do. Only by recognizing the source of the life we share due to Christ’s Incarnation and giving thanksgiving to God for what we are given and the fruit produced is anything fulfilled and completed. That only comes by embracing the Cross.

    We do not need to change anything, the victory has been won. We just need to learn to participate in it. What ever small fruits we produce will rot and become poisonous if we do not learn to offer all in thanksgiving.

    History is not linear nor dialectical nor controllable. History is Providential, a gift and a miracle story of death and Ressurection.

  7. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Thank you Ted, I believe I have a better understanding now.

    Fr Stephen writes a poignant response to you that I will take to heart (and because of your participation I have benefited, and for that I’m grateful) –to find Lazarus in my own heart. Indeed I know I do have an impoverished heart. And I know what I need to do to ‘give to it’. But I don’t always do what I know to do. May God help us.

  8. Simon Avatar
    Simon

    I just wanted to say that I understand Fr Stephen’s concern for the content of blog’s comments. He has an international readership and it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that although he has a large of stable, maturing followers that what he is doing is much more broadly visible than that. His concern for what is healthy dialogue is legitimate. In addition, if I was Fr Stephen, I wouldn’t want my blog to become the dialogical equivalent of a WWE main event.

    I have learned much from the people here in terms of who I am, what I am willing to believe, and what I am willing to share with my son. Fr Stephen once told me that baptizing my son while my wife and I were still very divided religiously over how to raise him would be unwise. He described a strongly religiously divided home as schizophenic. I began to see that. I began to see how that vast difference could actually make my son schizophrenic with respect to religion. He was right. The divide is just too great for a child’s mind to bridge. So I quit taking Micah to worship. I didn’t want him being tortured by the same kinds of questions that have tormented me. Im glad he isnt baptized. It was smart. Then I quit coming to worship. Now I feel like I am waking up from a dream.

    I have been watching from afar and I want to confess to everyone that I tried. I really gave my heart to this. But in the end there is nothing here that has filled the void, there has been no healing. No voice has been heard. As always…I am alone.

    Paula I think you are the coolest of the cool beans. And I wish you the best.

  9. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Simon,
    The wounds which you carry, I think, stand between you and a lot of what you desire, and those wounds do not respond very easily to what might seem a desired solution: “If I find the right Church/God, I will be healed.” I think the healing will require therapeutic attention, or therapy of a sort that is generally beyond the reach of a parish priest (certainly this one). I think it’s ever so much worth the effort and the work it requires – whether it leads to a resolution with God or not.

    My prayers are with you daily, weak as they are. My door and the door of the Church remain open – always.

    I know that you feel alone – you are not.

  10. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Ted,
    Thinking about “further my understanding of how I should view life and live in America, etc.”

    I encourage you to read Fr. Thomas Hopko’s “55 Maxims.” They are a collection of very practical things that are the embodiment of the commandments of Christ.

    Christ says in John’s gospel: “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free. (Jn. 8:31-32 NKJ)

    Most people quote the second part of that without the preface. We will come to know the truth as an outcome of “abiding in His word,” that is, by walking in His commandments – do what He asked us to do. The way reveals the way.

  11. Simon Avatar
    Simon

    Im not wounded. I dont need therapy. I have intense personality that many find offputting and that’s fine. Not everyone needs to fit within the first standard deviation of the mean. I like achievement. I like the feel of being consumed by purpose. But to be that person means you’re going to have a less than laid back personality. The healing I seek is not from childhood trauma. What difference does anything at all make without life? The disease for which I once sought a cure is the same disease for which I first began seeking a cure back 1980–disconnection.

    I don’t know when I first became aware of alienation. But my first articulation of something like that was when I was eight or nine years old. For most of my life I have been aware of how alone we are inside our minds. Even as a child I never EVER sought to heal that alienation with anything other than prayer. I remember the first time existence itself felt miraculous–we are alive and we aware.

    For over thirty years I have sought connection. I have sought for wisdom and understanding. I have sought for truth. I have sought for God.

    As a child I thought that my heart had been gouged by God and that the gouge was getting deeper. But there is no God for that gouge. The desire for God even the desire for salvation and enlightenment is the desire for the deepest imaginable connection.

    Orthodoxy is beautiful in so many ways. But, so is a sunset and sunsets dont exist, not really. They are an experience of EM perceived from a certain point of view. Orthodoxy is like our sunsets: Beautiful, but there is no one who is dwelling in the setting of the sun. It’s just us.

    I have spent hours and hours in prayer seeking God’s face, seeking for the connection that we all long for, ‘but there was no voice; no one answered, no one paid attention.’

  12. Dean Avatar
    Dean

    Simon,
    Reading what you wrote made my heart ache. You remind me of a couple of verses in Psalm 102. “I have become like a pelican of the wilderness, like an owl in the desert…I am like a lonely bird of the housetop.” 6,7
    After describing this person and his desolation it goes on to a praise of God. Looking at myself…despair. Looking to God…glimmers of hope/peace. My prayers are for you, Simon, your little son and for your wife. I still see you as a brother.

  13. Dino Avatar
    Dino

    Simon,
    I think I might have some experience of what you mention.
    They say ‘once bitten, twice shy’, but in prayer terms, this mustn’t ever be applied as: once seeking and not finding, blaming God’s apparent silence/deafness…
    Rather, it is applied like this: I stop having an internal demand from God to answer, as and when my soul might want it (“always and fully” our souls would normally respond…).
    This very demand, is the best footing for the serpent to be heeded by a poor soul, and the Fall to follow.
    Man wants communion with God above all, the serpent uses precisely that, but makes of this God-given desire, an apparatus towards perdition, he turns a God-given desire into a selfish demand and then (by suggesting a different method to the one God suggests – a seemingly faster one) helps man interpret paradisial Eden (pregnant with God’s presence) as some sort of cursed Hell (bereft of Him and heaving with man’s lonely ego.)
    So, in prayer terms, once seeking and not finding, accept that God might not give in to you, maybe not even until after your death, for reasons that only He knows are to your benefit. [Acceptance in this sense, at times, is the quintessence of St Silouans’ “Keep thy mind in hell and despair not” as well as Chrysostom’s “Glory to God for all things”]. Keep this utter trust of acceptance, and put all effort into this strand of humility. In fact, have this demand instead: a demand of yourself and nobody else, a demand to make yourself seen by God at all times, a demand to “do your part”, to present yourself to Him, and not demand Him to present Himself to you.
    These are the sort of words I had received from holy men on this. I hope you find some use for them brother.

  14. Dino Avatar
    Dino

    Simon,
    Did you ever get round to reading this? :
    https://www.academia.edu/10385858/Elder_Aimilianos_The_Progression_of_the_Soul_Chap._1_of_The_Way_of_the_Spirit_
    The topic you describe poignantly is covered insightfully well in it. It also demarcates this topic’s critical ‘place’ within the long progression of the soul.
    p.s.: when it mentions ‘prayer’ it implies the “non-demanding” invocation of Christ’s name in the Jesus prayer.

  15. Simon Avatar
    Simon

    Dino, you have revealed more of myself to me than perhaps anyone else on the blog. I do not love God. And the corollary to that is I do not know God. And the corollary to that is God is not present to me. And there is probably a very good reason why all of that is true. Dare I say that it’s almost as if God isn’t there??

    I thought in the beginning that perhaps what was missing was baptism and the sacraments. Its not. It’s just me doing things for whatever reason it is that I’m doing it. That’s the truth of it. We do things for reasons we barely understand. It’s easy to equivocate between the idea of mystery and our own.

    Please I hope you know that I had hoped for better.

  16. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    Father, Simon,…
    Although Father has the wisdom to detect where a problem is and what would help (after many years as a parish Priest, and a compassionate one), forgive me, but I don’t think there is a therapist on the face of this earth right now that would be able to connect to you, Simon. You’d run circles around them. I’m trying to picture…where would you begin to find therapy? Looking in the phone book…or go to the nearest clinic? Not in my world.
    Simon. I understand the “alone”. This is the crux of the matter. While others (not talking clergy here) lovingly give advice, what it really is, is them affirming their own convictions, hoping with all sincerity that it will help you. But when alone, all you want affirmation of yourself…not to hear what someone thinks you need. Sometimes best is silence.

    You know all too well the wounds.

    I also understand where Father says we are not alone. But something has to happen in the soul where you know you are not alone. I honestly do not think I am going to “know” this before the Lord takes me. Perhaps the same with you.
    I can only declare that it is Christ Himself that is the reason I keep on going…not Orthodoxy, nor even other people (I have yet to truly “commune” with another human being), but Christ Himself. And it was to be that I realized this through the Church. Really there is no final chapter in life, like an ending of a book. Simon. You will carry that Cross to the end of your days. If not before, it will be then when you will see The Lord.

  17. tess Avatar
    tess

    Simon— You said, “Im not wounded. I dont need therapy. I have intense personality that many find offputting and that’s fine.” My heart goes out to you in empathy, brother. I am a Christian, but the part of me that is not yet converted is positively an existential nihilist. 🙂 It’s an interesting set of ears to live between.

    Have you ever read about the work of Kazimierz Dabrowski? He was a brilliant Polish psychologist who developed a theory of personality development called the Theory of Positive Disintegration. In it, he posits that what we experience as psychoneuroses (depression, anxiety, unhappiness, distress, etc.) need not be viewed as pathological. Our psychoneuroses are the results of different levels of development of our personality coming into conflict with one another (cognitive dissonance– both can’t be true!). He also wrote a lot about intensity in personality and what he called “over-excitabilities” and “factors” of personality. Unlike many psychological theories which end up viewing intrapersonal religious conflict as just another psychoneurosis to be cured from, TPD validates everything you are experiencing as an essential part of your growth that need not frighten or dismay you.

    I, too, know how alienating it can be when people in society react to my intensity as if it’s something that should be fixed. Learning about the work of Dabrowski gave me an extremely useful model that has reaped enormous benefits for my mental life and my spiritual life. The model of TPD allows me to exist within the tension of nihilism and Christ with patience, and even sometimes joy and thanksgiving. 🙂

    Also, I’ve grown up rather intimately right alongside a community of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Some of them were among the few in the community who made the loving gesture of attending my mom’s funeral. I don’t claim to understand it, but I have observed over the years that being raised JW creates a particular set of spiritual burdens that are nearly unrivaled in their intensity.

    I can’t tell from your comments, but I really hope you aren’t leaving the gtg4at comment box community! I have been challenged by and learned much from your contributions.

  18. Simon Avatar
    Simon

    Paula, and that is why you are the coolest of the cool beans, sister. Thanks for your understanding.

  19. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    Simon…I do understand. There are actually others that do too! Like Tess.
    Tess….thanks so much. You do get it. Dabrowski…never heard of him. I’ll check it out.

  20. Simon Avatar
    Simon

    I just saw Tess’ comments.

    Tess…did you know I was raised JW?

  21. Dino Avatar
    Dino

    Tess
    The little I remember reading of Kazimierz Dąbrowski felt right. I have no idea whether his insights were always compatible with our tradition but at least they weren’t obviously opposed in any way.

    Simon
    I would dare say that none of us loves God. And the more aware we are of that, the closer we are to becoming the kind of vessels that will be filled with the Grace that (alone) can bestow the power of loving God as our God, instead of (the default position of fallen man) loving our ego as our god.

  22. tess Avatar
    tess

    Yes, Simon, I remembered from your previous comments. Your struggle has always resonated with me and recalled to me different friendships I’ve had over the years. I wish I knew what to do or say that would truly offer you relief and resolution.

    Dino– While Dabrowski is, of course, human and prone to failings, I’ve found his insights to be very compatible with the Orthodox view of theosis, just couched in more modern psychological language, rather than ancient theological language. 🙂 For that reason, he can be very helpful when hagiographic language becomes a barrier.

    Paula, I do hope you can get your hands on some good material, and that you benefit from it! There are more free resources on the web today than there were ten years ago, but there are also a few books published by his students that pop up when you search for him. I’ve enjoyed and learned from those I’ve read, but they are meaty and use some technical language, so that can be a hurdle.

  23. Dean Avatar
    Dean

    Dino,
    Is it not right to say that none of us loves God completely or perfectly? I certainly do not. Our Lord Christ Jesus said, “If you love me you will keep my commandments.” I fail to keep them in many ways but I strive to. St. John in his 1st. epistle notes, “…if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.” And just one more of many that could be named. Jn.17:26, Jesus is praying to the Father…”I made known to them Thy name, and I will make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.” Jesus is asking His Father that the very love by which He has loved His Son Jesus may be in us. That’s truly amazing! The question I have for you Dino is…knowing the tradition as you do, bounce off for me these verses that I’ve quoted with teachings of the elders you’ve known. Thanks.

  24. Agata Avatar
    Agata

    Dear All,
    I see that the previous conversation was replaced by a much more beautiful one. Thank God (and Father Stephen for moderating – although many things you said Father, trying to calm things down, were very beautiful and worthy of remaining, especially the part about asking our own heart to direct us – I wish I saved that one! ) 🙂

    I don’t have time to read everything in detail, but look froward to doing it later.

    I just wanted to share something that got deleted, I think, in relationship to “Lazarus” in our midst…
    And repeat my thanks to you, Tess (hopefully you will see it), for the suggestion to carry cash to give to the poor (it looks like that comment remained, but you may not have seen it).

    This is how Mother Melania commented recently, I found that reflection helpful and beautiful. May we all be granted generosity towards those we can help.

    https://www.holyassumptionmonastery.com/files/Newsletters-2018/Calistoga-Newsletter—September-2018.pdf

  25. Dino Avatar
    Dino

    The homily of Elder Aimilianos I just referenced above does that much better than I ever could Dean! Check it out.!

  26. Dean Avatar
    Dean

    Thanks Dino,
    Print is very small. I’ll try text-to-speech.

  27. tess Avatar
    tess

    Agata,
    It’s kind of you to remember my comments! ☺ I’m quite sure, though, that that one wasn’t an original thought. I think I was just repeating some of Father Stephen’s advice– a piece that I continue to struggle to keep. When I have implemented it, it has changed my life for the better every time. Glory to God!

  28. Dino Avatar
    Dino

    Dean,
    it just downloads a PDF that you can enlarge to your heart’s (and eyes’) content!

  29. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    Tess,
    I’ve been reading at the Positive Disintegration website and further, a long excerpt from a book at googlebooks written by one of his students. I am finding it very encouraging.
    You mentioned some books written by his students. Would you give me a recommendation or two? My background in Psychology and Nursing may be of help with the meatiness you made note of!
    Thanks so much.

  30. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Simon,
    My heart aches regarding your circumstances. In many respects my life is similar. But I hadn’t had the infusion in another church as you have had, if infusion is the right word. I can only surmise it must be additionally more difficult. But I’m also aware how difficult it is not to have a spouse who joins you in the Church or in your religious life. This too has been my life since I have joined the Church. There is indeed a kind of schizophrenia of the heart. I love my husband very much, and my child is now grown and there too with both is also a heart ache of not being able to share my life experience in the Church. I share and talk about it but there is a gulf present in the conversation. It was most difficult in the beginning when I first joined the Church. Slowly my husband has become accustomed to the icons and morning prayers. Now he wakes me if I’ve over slept and will be late for Church. The tides apparently do change, but ever slowly.

    My hope is that you stay with us here. I’m ever grateful for your participation, dear brother Simon.

  31. Sue Avatar

    Last evening I listened to the podcast , “Secular Worries” by Fr. Serafina Aldea, linked by Mark Basil. It was so good–excellent in every way. I plan to share it with my family. Thank you so much for linking it, Mark.

    Also, I have really appreciated the conversation between Simon, Fr. Stephen, Paula, and everyone else. I am grateful to Fr. Stephen for providing a safe, welcoming, space for us to discuss matters of faith, share our individual experiences, and ask hard questions. Fr. Stephen, you are a very gracious host and moderator. Thank you, too, for linking Fr. Hopko’s 55 Maxims. I’ve printed them off and prayerfully circled the ones I struggle with most.

    Simon, I have been thinking of you and what you wrote all day. I hope so much that you will continue to comment here. Your perspective has shone a light into some of the dark areas of my heart. I think many of us have similar struggles but just haven’t voiced them as openly and humbly as you have.

    As far back as I can remember, I have felt an inner (and sometimes outer) alienation/separation/ disconnection from others. I think maybe we begin to lose our sense of connectedness the moment we leave the security of our mother’s womb and our cord is literally cut. I remember feeling as a young child that no one really knew me and understood me–or could know me. Those feelings grew to a crescendo when I was in my mid-thirties. By then I had spent a lot of time searching for God and trying to connect through Bible study, various churches, etc. I longed for a sense of God’s presence and connection.

    I wanted.

    And I still do.

    A person much wiser than me said, “We want completeness of self, and so we go in search of that completeness. Although believing in God leads to completeness of self in the end, we don’t (necessarily) get to feel that on earth, otherwise what is “faith” then?”

    The same person said, “feelings are involuntary responses to your experience through life. If someone says a nice thing to you, you tend to feel happy or glad, not because you want to feel that way, but because it’s just the way your body/emotions respond. Same thing if someone starts to yell at you, you start to feel angry, maybe sad, and even defensive not because you tell yourself ‘this person is mad at me, I’m also gonna be angry’ it’s because it’s a natural response to being yelled at. So this emptiness or hole that a person *feels*–everyone feels that way. It is natural to being human.”

    (That person, by the way, is my seventeen year old daughter.)

    My desire to feel closeness (connection) with God is really the same as any of my other self-desires. I may think it is different because it has to do with God, but it is still something I want in order to feel better–more comfortable in myself and in the world. In letting go of my attachment to this desire (a long, ongoing process!) I, ironically, begin to feel my alienation less.

    While I know that Christian tradition focuses on the metephor of disease and healing, sometimes it gets in the way for me. Especially since, all of us still get physically sick and die. So what changes when one becomes a Christian? Nothing. Everything. Christ is the difference between standing in a room in the middle of the night and standing in it in the morning. The room doesn’t change at all, but your view of it has changed completely. And, so everything has changed, because now you see. But that doesn’t mean we still won’t shout when we stub our toe or that we will suddenly feel a deep and meaningful connection to All Things. It just means that we see–begin to see–how things really are.

    What I love about Christ’s twelve apostles is how different they are–twelve different personalities. We need everyone in order to see more and more clearly.

  32. Dino Avatar
    Dino

    That’s a very apt image Sue. It reminds me of CS Lewis’ expression that our faith is like the sun, not so much because you see it but because, by it, you start to see everything.

  33. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    “My desire to feel closeness (connection) with God is really the same as any of my other self-desires. I may think it is different because it has to do with God, but it is still something I want in order to feel better –more comfortable in myself and in the world. In letting go of my attachment to this desire (a long, ongoing process!) I, ironically, begin to feel my alienation less.”

    Well now Sue…that got my attention. Would you please explain “letting go of my attachment”? I assume you speak of an unhealthy attachment. What did you begin to do?

  34. Sue Avatar

    Hi Paula,

    I was attached to a false idea of how God should be. I needed to let go of my desire for God’s presence to feel a certain way to me–the way I imagined it should feel. MY way. Full rather than empty. Connected rather than alienated.

    Anything we place above God is an idol or heart attachment. Jesus tells us over and over that God will provide everything we need in this life and the next–that we are not to worry about anything, but rather trust in our Father.

    Perhaps our biggest attachments in life are our own plans for how things should be for us and for our loved ones. It is a hard thing to accept, but this can even be the case in spiritual matters. Some of my favorite Catholic saints have spoken eloquently about this (I’m sure there are many Orthodox saints that have, too, but I am just beginning to learn about them).

    You asked me how I began to let go of my attachment. Letting go was (and continues to be) a process. For me it began with consciously simplifying my faith: closing many books–spiritual books–because they were hurting/discouraging me rather than helping me; shutting out many voices that talked about a God who granted wishes rather than one to be approached in humility, gratitude, and love; and making a disciplined effort to “get out of my own head” by engaging my mind (training my thoughts) in other ways. Praying the Psalms and other scriptures has slowly become more important to me than praying from my own faulty voice and selfish concerns. As St. Therese of Lisieux wrote:
    “When I read some spiritual treatises which show perfection as difficult to attain and liable to many illusions, my poor little spirit tires very quickly; I shut the learned book which is giving me a headache and drying up my heart, and I open the Holy Scriptures. Then everything seems clear: one word opens up infinite horizons, perfection seems easy. I see that it is sufficient to acknowledge one’s nothingness and to abandon oneself like a child to God’s arms.”

    But we must understand that abandoning oneself to God’s arms is not a “feeling”, it is a fiat. It is not the feeling that you are close to God that makes you close to God; it is your prayers and your actions which truly show your love for God, and where the deepest connection to Him can be found. This is what the Church has always taught, and what we must believe.

  35. David Waite Avatar
    David Waite

    Simon – You have been in my prayers and you always will be.

  36. Esmée La Fleur Avatar
    Esmée La Fleur

    Sue – In the beautiful biography of Mother Gavrilia, “The Ascetic of Love,” she states that when we decide to stop reading everything EXCEPT the Gospels, that is the day we will begin to make real spiritual progress. For someone who is a voracious reader of “learned” books, I must say that this got my attention and made a real impression on me.

  37. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    Sue,
    Thanks so much for thorough answers my questions!

    Avoid attachments, yes…to ideas, or I would say, expecting “results” from God such as “feeling better” or improvement of circumstances, when He is already working for my good. Giving thanks for all things can not be overstated!
    Attachments to books…oh, that’s a tough one. But I understand your point about engaging the mind in other ways. I like the quote from St. Therese encouraging us to read often and be blessed by His Word.

    Thanks again Sue. Much appreciated.

  38. Dino Avatar
    Dino

    Sue, (and Simon)
    It is just as you say! ‘Abandoning oneself to God’s arms is not a “feeling”, it is a fiat’.

    It is not the feeling that you are close to God that makes you close to God; it is your prayers and your actions which truly show your love for God, and where the deepest connection to Him can be found.

    Especially, might I add, your consistent, steadfast, daily actions towards the ‘inaction of stillness with Him’ – exceptionally so when you perceive God as deaf, invisible, distant, etc. [i.e.: you don’t perceive a thing and yet remain steadfast].
    (Besides, His providence towards us is infinitely more one sided the other way round.)
    And when He cherry-picks times to visit, envelope, possess and transfigure you, you must be ready for a far greater increase of tribulations too! This is a spiritual law while we are still upon this Earth, without exceptions. And the constant ups and downs of this law eventually make seasoned veterans of spiritual warfare go from heaven to hell and back again, just as easy as we go from kitchen to toilet and back again. Moreover, knowledge of such laws can be of real help in a certain sense. Knowing that every inch or mile of height that is added to our being’s ‘tree’ –[a height extending into the paradisial heavens]– requires another inch or mile of depth of roots –[reaching into the desolate depths of hades]– can make us far more accepting of whichever manner God chooses to stir the wheel of our spiritual progress.
    Let us leave everything in the hands of our good God and trust His ways without worrying about anything at all, it is the route to holiness.

  39. Sue Avatar
    Sue

    Hi Paula,
    I should also mention that I stopped watching the news, most TV programs, and gave up my cell phone (I mean, I no longer have one). Most people might not need to do this, but I am an HSP (highly sensitive person) and an introvert, and I realized that they were a source of anxiety for me and contributing to my feelings of alienation. I had to pluck out that eye, so to speak. I don’t miss these them at all. My brother visited us for a week recently, and it is his habit to watch the news every morning. I deeply felt the interruption of silence and peace. The noise, violence, commercials and cacophony of other peoples stories are just not good for me.

    Esmee,
    Thank you for telling me about “Ascetic Love”. I will look for it!

    Dino,
    Your comments are always very helpful to me. In your last comment you said,
    “Knowing that every inch or mile of height that is added to our being’s ‘tree’ –[a height extending into the paradisial heavens]– requires another inch or mile of depth of roots –[reaching into the desolate depths of hades]– can make us far more accepting of whichever manner God chooses to stir the wheel of our spiritual progress.”
    Thank you so much for this! I remember learning as a child that a maple tree’s roots need to grow as deeply and spread as far below the ground as its branches do above the ground–almost symmetrically so. Your metaphor of a tree just “clicked” for me.

  40. Simon Avatar
    Simon

    There are two ways I make my love for my son felt: I care for his needs and I make myself present to him. In caring for his needs he has no clue what we as his parents are doing in order to make his life safe. He has no clue. But, what good is all of that if we never make ourselves present? My presence with my son is to him the greatest expression of my love. His sense of well-being is more connected to the immediacy of my presence (hugs, play, etc) than paying the bills. Yet God remains elusive. You have to be prepared to show God how much you love him with no expectation of having any sense of God’s presence even until death. What’s the difference between being devoted to a god that isn’t present and being devoted to a god that doesn’t exist? Human beings are capable of rationalizing anything.

    I could say more, but I understand that psychological certainty is powerful. It exerts an influence over all of our perceptions. Toss in the very human ability to rationalize anything and what you have is a mind set that is fully innoculated…genuine dissonance is a nearly impossible.

    If I had something else to go on beside hearsay and legends of time traveling monks, then sure. But I don’t. All I have is my experience. And my experience says that regardless of the beauty in the liturgy, chanting, prayer, and iconography…there’s nothing else happening that isn’t explained by the human mind being deluded by it’s own desire, by the ‘will to believe.’ I can’t look at my son in the eyes and honestly tell him that there’s more here than meets the eye. But I know in my heart of hearts that my mind is as vulnerable as any one else’s. If I truly want to believe that this is true, not only will I succeed in convincing the mind that this is true, but the mind will reciprocate the favor by experiencing the believe as an independent reality in its own right. I have no desire for that kind of delusion whatsoever. But I know it’s possible.

    And I am certainly not going to subject my son to this either.

    I am so sorry. I had truly hoped for better.

    Peace.

  41. Esmée La Fleur Avatar
    Esmée La Fleur

    Simon – I am an extremely left-brain rational thinking person with lots of education is deconstructing everything (Anthropology major). The thing that finally helped me to fully embrace Christ through the Orthodox faith was the contemporary saints I read about initially in the book The Mountain of Silence. However, it was not their miracles of bilocation and time travel and healing that captivated me, though of course that is all very interesting. Rather, It was their unconditional love for every human being that came to them for guidance. That kind of love is simply not encountered in “normal” human beings in this world. Everyone is selfish to one degree or another. And I wanted this unconditional love for others in myself. So, I concluded that these saintly men and women must know something I don’t know and that if I want what they have, then I need to trust that the path they followed is true and real. I hope this makes sense. Ultimately, it is all about faith until we do have our own experiences that confirm this within us. It’s not easy, but I don’t see any other way.

  42. Dino Avatar
    Dino

    Simon,
    The PDF I referenced earlier of Elder Aimilianos (on the progression of the soul) covers that subject insightfully and authoritatively.
    If you are genuinely interested it’s a gem worth studying. I obviously assume that you are one looking for answers (and not just posing questions), which makes me assume you would devour it…
    More help can come through such readings sometimes, even than through prayer – at first. This is also a classic counsel: that the beginnings of spiritual life require more (of the right type of) reading even than prayer.
    It fights distraction better.
    We are far more imbued in distraction (internally and externally) than we suspect.
    When a child has its father before it or stooping over it, and still does not recognise him –because it only just took its headphones off and closed its tablet and all it has zooming relentlessly through its little mind (in this rare stillness) is images and sounds from what it had just been doing like a maniac–, then, the father would simply allow it to stay more time undistracted, before gracing it with a more intense version of his presence – like a hug. Otherwise even the hug might be shunned, the child is too self-engrossed.
    These anthropomorphic images are extremely limiting however, and their analogy misleading. However, this traditional image is often used: of the baby enjoying a greater degree of the father’s gratifying presence at first while the older child involuntarily experiencing his painful absence later, in order to mature into independence…

    Also, as Christ explains in his words to the disciples before the Passion, to the extent that we make ourselves sons of the Father (by “keeping the commandments”), to that extent God will come and abide in us as Father, and we will be given eyes to see Him and ears to hear Him.
    As a rule, we are still too drenched in passions though, blatant ones and refined ones, to be able to become aflame with God’s fire.
    Wet wood doesn’t ignite , Isaac the Syrian often repeats.
    Christ explicitly tells us that only the pure in heart shall see God.
    Our overburdening ‘demand’ to see, that very thing in itself, can become a ‘brass wall’ between ourselves and God, whereas our acceptance of our current darkness is the first step to purity that starts to make the mucus of our eyes clear away. Turn away from the first method and its reasonings, and give the second some time!
    Besides, we are still in the womb, the parent’s presence is felt a different way before we are born. [into life eternal with our death might I add].

  43. Agata Avatar
    Agata

    Simon,
    I recently heard this answer to objections similar to yours:
    People who say the things you say have absolutely no personal experience of prayer. Of true prayer, of sitting (for a long time, with the mind and the heart emptied out a little bit of your own thoughts and presumptions) in front of God and actually speaking to Him, asking Him to speak to you and really listening to your conscience/silence/your own heart.

    And not once (in the spirit of doubt and indignation), or twice, but making that effort with some and sincerity, until you get something back… And you will, I promise you!

    Have you tried that? Have you tried what Dino suggested (in many of his past comments, and others confirmed with their experiences) to get up in the middle of the night and give half an hour of your sleep to this effort? Try this for a month (yes, it’s hard, it’s an ascetic struggle) but isn’t it worth it? Your eternal destiny is at stake… and now also the eternal destiny of your child, it seems to me… May God be with you and help you… forgive me.

  44. David Waite Avatar
    David Waite

    Simon – Your posts frustrate me. We share so much, from nightmarish childhood experiences to suspecting that the experience of God in the liturgy is nothing more than delusional wish fulfillment. I hear myself in you, over and over again. So I am frustrated. I think I should be able to “show you the way.” But I cannot.

    William Faulkner wrote a wonderful short story called “The Bear.” In the story, a young Southern boy finally becomes old enough to go hunting with the men. At first, he is only allowed to stay at the campsite, Then he is allowed to go along with the men on the hunt. As the years go by, he learns how to find his way through the forest, how to track, and how to shoot, and he becomes a hunter himself.

    Even before he went hunting with the men, he heard stories about a great bear. An ancient, wise old bear who was rarely seen and impossible to hunt down. There were stories of men who were killed by the bear as they tried to hunt him down.

    Eventually, the boy began to hunt on his own. One day, he catches a glimpse of the bear, who seems to look straight at him, and then disappear. The boy becomes obsessed with the bear. Whenever the men go hunting, he strikes out on his own, searching for the bear. Sometimes he finds tracks, or even a carcass of some animal the bear has killed. Usually, he finds nothing.

    As time goes by, he becomes so accustomed to the forest that he begins to leave his maps behind. Then his binoculars. Then his compass. At the end, he even leaves the dogs behind and goes out on his own with nothing but his knife, his rifle and the clothes on his back.

    It is only after he leaves everything behind and strikes out on his own, that he comes face to face with the bear.

    I love that story. I think it is a great metaphor for the spiritual journey. Not that I have met the bear. And not that I am venturing out on my own with no maps or guides. But I have glimpsed the bear. And, after fifty years of hunting, I am able to venture out a little ways without guidance. But not too far. Not yet.

    I have frequently abandoned the hunt, sometimes for years, often after convincing myself that the bear does not exist. But I keep coming back.

    I don’t know if I really love the bear or not. Sometimes I think I do. Sometimes I don’t. Sometimes I don’t care one way or another.

    But here I am.

    Years ago, a great spiritual teacher told me a story about a dog who sees a rabbit.. He takes off after the rabbit, barking and yelping and making all kinds of noise. Other dogs hear him and join in the hunt. Soon there is a whole pack of dogs chasing the rabbit, but, one by one, they grow tired and leave the race, until there is only one dog left. That dog is the dog who actually saw the rabbit.

    I suspect that you have seen the rabbit, Simon. I hope you get to see the bear.

    You are always in my prayers.

  45. Dean Avatar
    Dean

    David,
    Wonderful analogies about the bear and rabbit! Made my ears perk up and to be more serious about the hunt/chase. I have been in the hunt some 50 years also this January. It’s said at times that the journey is better than the destination. Well, as I get closer to the finish line I am wanting the bear to dig his claws into me and, by force if necessary, drag me across to the other side.

  46. Agata Avatar
    Agata

    And a word for us from Fr. Zacharias:

    By Rev. Archimandrite Zacharias (Zacharou)

    God cannot be forced by anyone; neither does He impose His will on His creatures endowed with reasoning. Likewise the man with the gift of God does not want to impose power over any mortal… He imitates Christ Who overcame the world through His humble love and drew unto Him all who freely desire to follow Him.

    The word of God quietens our nature. The love of it keeps us on the path of His will, so that we may put ourselves second and honour others more than ourselves. It is always the word of the Cross that guides us into the abundance of divine life and gives us the freedom of sinlessness.

  47. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    Simon,
    I am currently reading Andrew Louth’s Discerning the Mystery. From what I can see so far (I’m at the beginning) he is slowly but precisely leading the reader to an understanding of the mysteries of God…mystery, as hidden, veiled, not obvious, as the material world is in front of our eyes. There is a section where he describes the difference between objectivity involved in scientific study (the study of nature; static, unchanging in its reality) and subjectivity in the study of humanities (the study involving people over time; dynamic, changing).
    I think Louth makes a good point here which in a way addresses your thoughts about “experience”…and I quote (sorry for the length):
    “Science is concerned with objective truth, that is, with truth inhering in the object of knowledge. Such truth is
    independent of whoever observes it, and it is precisely this that the use of the experimental method seeks to achieve.
    As we have seen, the experimental method seeks to elide the experimenter by the principle that experiments must be
    repeatable by other experimenters. Objective truth, in this sense, seeks to be detached from the subjectivity of the
    observer. In contrast to such objective truth, subjective truth is a truth which cannot be detached from the observer
    and his situation: it is a truth which is true for me, and which cannot be expressed in such a way that it is true for
    everyone. Put like that, it seems at first sight obvious that objective truth is real truth, and subjective truth falls short
    of such ultimacy
    But further reflection suggests that so to suppose is to over-simplify. When Kierkegaard claimed
    that all truth lay in subjectivity, he meant that truth which could be expressed objectively (so that it was the same for
    everyone) was mere information that concerned everyone and no one. Real truth, truth that a man would lay down
    his life for, was essentially subjective: a truth passionately apprehended by the subject. To say, then, that truth is
    subjective is to say that its significance lies in the subject ’s engagement with it; it does not mean that it is not
    objective in any sense: indeed if it were objective in no sense, if it were simply a collection of subjective impressions,
    there would be no engagement, and consequently no question of truth at all. If, then, we concede that the humanities
    are concerned with subjective truth, as opposed to the objective truth sought by the sciences, this need not
    imply that they are concerned with what need not be true, what is not absolute, but it does imply (and this is the
    most important sense of subjective truth) that the humanities are not primarily concerned with establishing
    objective information (though this is important), but with bringing men into engagement with what is true. What is
    important is engagement with reality, not simply the discerning of reality: and if it is reality, then it has a certain
    objectivity, it cannot be simply a reflection of my subjective apprehensions.

    Again, he stresses here “engagement with reality, not simply the discerning of reality”. According to Louth (and the teachings of the Church) this is what occurs with those who believe in the one and only true God. Now how, when, where that engagement occurs is ultimately in the hand of God. I know by what you’ve said that you deeply desire this engagement. Oh I pray for your desire to endure in these difficult times!

    For those who are interested, here’s a link to the book:
    http://pstgu.ru/DATACENTER/DIR_FILES/DIR_ZIP/Andrew_Louth_Discerning_the_Mystery_An_Essay_on(BookSee.org).pdf

  48. Simon Avatar
    Simon

    I love my son.
    I always make myself as present to my son as possible.
    My great fear is that I will die and my son will not know how much I loved him.
    I want my son to know everyday how much I love him.
    But this is not the god of the Orthodox whom the Orthodox call father.
    The god of the Orthodox is a god who hides.
    A god who hides is no different than a god that does not exist.

    The danger in all your suggestions is that they follow the formula: time*(repetition + rationalization) = psychological certainty = “true believer.”
    I don’t want to be a true believer.
    I would be obedient, but I need a voice to be obedient to.
    And I will not obey yours, which sorrowfully means I have no other choice than to obey mine.
    I wish you the best. I want to walk this road with you. But, as far as I can see the only road there is to walk is the one in our own minds.

    I could not care less about the anecdotal reports of time traveling monks, healing, or oil exuding icons. I don’t need or want flashing lights. I discount it as irrelevant.

    I cannot tell you how much it pains me to say these things. I had hoped to have more to say to my son. Now to spare him any schizophrenia I have refused my son any exposure to religion at all, which brings me into conflict with my wife and her family. I don’t want him to have these struggles. That’s it.

  49. Esmée La Fleur Avatar
    Esmée La Fleur

    God has made Himself present to us through Christ in the Gospels.

  50. Simon Avatar
    Simon

    Thank you, Esmee.

  51. Ted Avatar
    Ted

    Fr. Freeman thank you for the 55 maxim link https://holycrossoca.org/newslet/0907.html,

    If I may ask further,

    1) Does the church/priests teach not only spiritual/abstract things or practical/physical things as well?

    For example, when driving an automobile, it is not enough (and may be dangerously irresponsible) to “just make the sign of the cross and pray”. It is extremely helpful to learn the rules of the road, signal lights, gas/break pedals.

    Reading “Democracy in America” opened my eyes about the world I live in and brought me into closer understanding and communion with my fellow citizens. “Love your neighbour as yourself” but who is my neighbour in modern day America. According to Tocqueville, had I been born in monarchist france, I would know exactly whom my neighbour is and where I stand in society, but in America? Our Lord gives an illustration of whom my neighbour is but I personally have not encountered people that have been beaten half to death. So how does the Gospel apply to the unbeaten people I see around me?

    2) “Hagia Sophia was not built by two men”
    Why? Who wrote the “1812 Symphony” ? I would submit it was one man and one man only. If it was not for him, “1812” (at least as we know it) would not exist. There is individualism in creation. There are no mathematical theorems, symphonies, poems, novels etc. that were concieved by a team that I know of.

  52. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Ted,
    I am traveling today and will have to postpone an answer…probably sometime Sunday afternoon or evening.

  53. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    All (regarding Simon),
    I’m traveling again today and so I’m mostly away from the conversation. I have some thoughts, but it will likely be in the form of an article and posted on Sunday or Monday.

    I respect Simon and take seriously how he perceives his situation. I do not think it is correct to say, “Do this and God will speak,” as did Agata a little earlier. You can’t make such promises.

    But, I know Simon’s heart and I trust the goodness of God. So, I pray that God will do good things, and that His goodness will, in time, become manifest for Simon. Of that, I’m patient. Do remember one another in your prayers…and remember me as I travel.

  54. Esmée La Fleur Avatar
    Esmée La Fleur

    Ted – I literally just read this story, and it may partially answer your question about driving skills veraus making rhe aign of the Cross and driving without any training.

    “Once they had to draw some blood from me. There were four nurses. The first came and tormented me, but couldn’t find a vein. The second nurse had the same trouble. The third nurse was more experienced and she tried, but again with no results. At that moment, a fourth nurse came by. She noticed how the others tormented me and also tried. First, she made the sign of the Cross, and immediately she found a vein to draw my blood because she had asked for God’s help. The others, in a sense, relied only upon themselves. It’s a great thing to put oneself into God’s hands… We must entrust ourselves to God and allow Him to direct our life, while we do our duty with philotimo (selfless love).”

    +Saint Paisios of Mount Athos, Spiritual Counsels, Volume II: Spiritual Awakening, p. 305.

    What I take away from this story is: all four nurses had the necessary training and skills to draw Saint Paisios’ blood, but only one succeeded because she asked God to help her. Both aspects are necessary. Now if it was an emergency and you had to do something to try and save a person’s life, God alone would be enough if He wants that person to live and you ask Him for help. Otherwise, I think it behooves us to acquire the skills we need to do a job properly.

    Regarding “who is my neighbor?” – as understand it – everyone is my neighbor. The rich and poor, the healthy and sick, the happy and sad, my relatives, my physical neighbors, the checker at the grocery store, the driver in the car next to me, the other commentors on this blog, the members of my parish, the homeless on nearly every street corner, etc. Everyone, without exception, is my neighbor.

    I look forward to Fr. Stephen’s input when he has time.

  55. Simon Avatar
    Simon

    I mean this sincerely, think that Fr Stephen thinks more of me than he should. I am little more than a shadow of what I had hoped to become as a child. Im sure that if my childhood version of myself could meet me…he would mourn his future and wonder how things could go so wrong.

    My sincerest apologies to all and thank you for allowing me to explain myself and do some thinking outloud…which sadly demanded more than a little hijacking.

    Peace

  56. Byron Avatar
    Byron

    Simon,

    Continue to love your son but be careful to allow others to love him as well. Hard dictates rarely reflect love as much as fear. May God bless you and your family in your journey.

    One other thought: the mind is certainly deceptive but the Nous, that by which God is revealed to us, lies in the heart. Continue to love in all things. Your mind may not see God’s revealing before you do; it may have to follow the reality that lies in the heart.

    I apologize that these are not very pragmatic thoughts but I pray they may be helpful for you. We will pray with love for you and your family. May God bless!

  57. Esmée La Fleur Avatar
    Esmée La Fleur

    You and me both Simon. And I thank God for that every day; for if I had become what I had hoped, I never would have found Christ. Glory to God for All Things!

  58. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    This might seem to be a weird thing say at this point in this stream. But here goes: I’ve never demanded molecules to do what I expect them to do but hoped that if I pay attention I might learn what they are or at least notice what they do. The ‘pay attention’ part is what is hard to learn. David’s stories are helpful cues. I’ve been at this work for a long time and yet molecules take me by surprise, particularly when I’ve convinced myself I’ve figured them out. Perhaps this is why I became a chemist. I’m a conventional person but with molecules, I’m ready and waiting ‘for bear’.

  59. Matthew Avatar
    Matthew

    This may be relevant, maybe not, but I offer it as a testimony and an observation.

    I was driving down the freeway, pondering life, and I asked myself – “What if this is all there is? What if this is it?”

    My mind went to Ecclesiastes. Everything would be meaningless. The great works of man that have been preserved? Useless. Unremembered past either the self-orchestrated or cataclysmic destruction of humanity. Morality would have no purpose other than control. Why would I worry about fitting into a society, why would I worry about anything other than my own narcissistic pleasures, followed by a suicide, once I hit a point where I realized I wouldn’t get my way anymore. Why shouldn’t humanity just kill itself off with mass anarchy. Everything meaningless, nothing mattering…

    I believe in God because I need him. I don’t like the alternatives I envision. I expressed my idea with others who felt differently than I do. That’s fine. They aren’t me. For me, I needed something transcendent, and for me that was a God I could believe in. My quest took me to many interesting places, and ultimately, here. Maybe I’m delusional. Who knows? But I’m happier in what some would call my delusion, than I am without it. (Wonder-working monks might have helped).

    I may fail myself and I may fail him to my own destruction; but I am sure of this… God, he loves me and will never fail me.

  60. Sue Avatar
    Sue

    Wow. I have just been so blessed by everything that everyone has written in these comments! ♥

    The illustration Fr. Stephen used at the top of this post alludes to the Rich Young Ruler’s encounter with Jesus, so this morning I read the passage (Mark 10:17-27) and pondered it throughout the day. I made the following observations (although obviously there is much, much more to be gained from this passage and I am not a Greek scholar):

    1. The young ruler greeted Jesus by calling him “Good Teacher”. Jesus responded by directing the man’s attention to God, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone.”

    2. The young ruler wanted to know what he must do to inherit eternal life. Jesus replied, “You know the commandments”.

    3. The way to life was and continues to be: to do God’s will (expressed in the commandments). It appears that the young ruler kept the commandments without comprehending their purpose. Otherwise, he would not have asked his question.

    4. The young ruler’s question was really all about himself: What MUST I DO to inherit eternal life? Jesus said, “One thing you lack: go and sell what you have and give to the poor and you will have *treasure in heaven*; then come follow me.”

    5. The rich young ruler went away sorrowful when Christ revealed that he still lacked one thing. What was it he lacked? A desire for God above all things.

    6. The Lord turned to his disciples and said, “How hard it will be for those who are wealthy to enter the kingdom of God!” And then, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” The disciples were astonished (the Jews of that time believed that wealth was evidence of God’s favor, and poverty was evidence of His curse), and they said, “Then who can be saved?”

    7. Surprisingly, the Lord’s answer was not “the poor”. His answer was, “With people it is impossible.”

    8. Then Jesus said the most wonderful thing: “But all things are possible with God.”

    This brought to mind G.K. Chesterton’s famous quote, “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult; and left untried.”

  61. Matthew Avatar
    Matthew

    BTW-
    You Scientists probably understand confirmation bias.

    If you anticipate an encounter, it happens. Dreams. Voices. “Hugs” for lack of a better word. God is real, and he comforts those who live in the “one-story” universe.

    To the rest? Proof is demanded, and all the “still small voices” (1 Kings 19:12) in the universe won’t convince.

    Sorry.

    Matthew

  62. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Matthew,
    Being a scientist isn’t in itself an obstruction to experience God or Christ. And one needn’t be a scientist to live in a 2 story universe or to want “proof” of God. The experience and quality of that experience is a matter of the heart. And that isn’t always something that one can “control”. And if one attempts to control such experience, therein is the beginning of delusion. Perhaps my use of metaphorical language was too shallow or trite. And I can accept that. But it is an interesting and thought provoking thing that as I look back on my life, the times I believe I was closest to God, was in those moments that I railed against Him, and did not call myself a Christian. There is a certain paradox in this life. A mystery. Love in it’s purest form is Christ in action. Those of us who claim not to know God but truly love, I suspect, are not that far from the Kingdom of God afterall.

  63. Simon Avatar
    Simon

    Dee, Is it really too much to ask that God do something ANYTHING so that a person can distinguish reality from psychological certainty?? If we take seriously the the vulnerability of the human mind to its own desire, if we understand the degree to which the human mind is susceptible to delusion, then is it really too much to ask that God do something to let a person know they’re aren’t praying to the air???

    Imagine this short conversation between a person and their priest:

    Zeus worshipper: I pray to our father every morning and evening. I pray with sincere fervor. Yet I am only ever aware of my solitude. It’s like Zeus isn’t listening. It’s almost as if he isn’t there.

    Zeus priest: You are mistaken to expect the mighty Zeus to appear to you or to give you a sign. Just pray humbly to Zeus and do this faithfully. Even if you die without any manifestation of the presence of God know that God loves you and after you die you will enter God’s presence. But as for this expectation for Zeus to be present to you so that you can ‘know the truth’ this is true delusion.

    Dee, with all due respect, do you see why someone might take issue with what you said?

  64. Dean Avatar
    Dean

    Yes, Simon, something has to “click.” Otherwise, it is as you say. Jesus once said, “If anyone wills to do my will…” He knows what that willingness looks like. In another place Christ says, “He who has my commandments and obeys them…I will love and show myself to him.” There is reciprocity. Yet Christ has gone and continues to go that extra mile with us if we but start down that path. We do not have to wait until death for Him to show His sweet presence to us. Keep on asking, knocking, seeking. You’ll be found by Him in some sudden unexpected way.

  65. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    Dee, dear sister,
    While I am probably being over-sensitive, I hope you do not think that behind the excerpt from Louth’s book I posted that I am being critical of scientists.
    Perhaps I should have explained that Louth was beginning to explain the error in postulating results based on the use scientific methodology when the body of knowledge known as humanities is being investigated. He explains that this is the error that is behind the historical-critical method of investigation/study. It is there where he begins to make the point on how certain truths can be properly determined both objectively and subjectively.
    I do not get the impression that he undervalues or trivializes the hard sciences. From what I gather, he is leading the reader in the end to understand the mysteries of God, which he is trying to show can not be determined scientifically.

    BTW, I am looking forward to your answer to Simon!

    Simon, if you’d have asked me only your initial question…I’d say what you ask from God is between you and God. It is not anyone else’s business but yours…and what you share with your spiritual father. (you are so blessed with Fr. Stephen!).

  66. Esmée La Fleur Avatar
    Esmée La Fleur

    Simon – please forgive me if this is not helpful, but here is another story from Saint Paisios that might shed light on your question. The context is that Paisios was a young boy and he had been reading the Lives of the Saints and trying to follow their Ascetic practices since the age of 11. His older brother didn’t approve and tried to stop him many times. Finally, the brother asked a friend of his to try and disuade young Paisios from his “crazy” devotional practices.

    “One day… Kostas said to my brother, ‘I will make him change his way of thinking, throw away those booklets he is reading, and give up his fasting and prayer.’ Kostas found me – I was about 15 years old then – and he started to talk to me about Darwin’s theory. He started talking and went on and on and was making my head spin. In my haze, I headed for the forest, to the Chapel of Saint Barbara. I went in and began to pray to Christ. ‘My Christ, if You exist, reveal Yourself to me in some way,’ I kept saying, while constantly doing prostrations for a long time. It was summer. The sweat was running down my body, and I was drenched and completely exhausted. But I didn’t hear or see anything. Nor did God help me in any way with even a small sign, some sound, some shadow… Nothing, nothing, nothing!

    “Exhausted from the many prostrations, I sat down for a while. Then I thought, ‘All right, when I asked Kostas what he thought about Christ, what did he tell me? He told me that Christ was the best, the most righteous man Who proclaimed righteousness and had so offended the Pharisees that they crucified Him out of envy.’ Then I said, ‘If Christ was such a good man, so righteous, and no other man had ever appeared like Him, and others killed Him out of envy, then it is right of me to do for this man far more than I have done, even to die for Him.’ As soon as I looked at it this way, Christ appeared to me in great light – the Chapel was full of light – and told me, ‘I am the Resurrection and the Life. He that believeth in me, though he die, yet shall he live.’ These same words I could also read in the Gospel which He held in one hand. There was such an inner transformation in me that I found my self saying, ‘Come here now, Kosta, to discuss if there is or there isn’t a God.’ You see, for Christ to appear, He waited for my philotimo (selfless love) filled response.”

    +Saint Paisios, Spiritual Counsels, Volume II: Spiritual Awakening, p. 296.

  67. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Paula, I didn’t respond to what you wrote. And I honestly skipped over comments and responded to Matthew. Also I’m not sure I have anything helpful for Simon and wasn’t attempting to respond to him mainly because his situatuan is complex and I don’t have the chops, and don’t know him, to engage in philosophy or Orthodox theology.

    Simon the very last thing I would have wanted was to insult or to prescribe to you. Please be careful. And I will be more careful too. I was not responding to you.

    Simon, I’m not at home and write on my phone and fear this will be overly succinct. In some respects it looks like you want me to respond. Perhaps it is only to acknowledge that someone could take issue with what I have said.

    Life doesn’t give to us what we demand does it? In that case do we want something to blame if we don’t get what we want? I don’t blame nature for not giving me what I want. My saying that in this culture it will be understood that I’m talking about the inanimate world. For me that is not the case. And I don’t say there is something wrong with struggling with God. I attempt to use the words demand and expectation carefully. They are quite different. My guess is you took offense of what and when I described there is delusion. I’m not talking about you. Neither am I a psychologist.

  68. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    In the second paragraph—the prescription of the priest that you wrote in a conversation is not what I’m saying to Matthew. In fact it is almost the opposite. But if you’re talking about the ‘molecules’ comment, it is taken wrongly. I’ll stop writing I’m not able to engage this conversation.

  69. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    Dee…thank you. I appreciate your response. I also understand the difficulty in communicating our thoughts. It is a challenge face to face. Even more so on a blog. Assumptions easily arise and beg clarification. So, thanks again.

  70. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Simon,
    Something within me says, yes, it’s too much to ask – primarily because we don’t know what we’re asking. I can imagine a large number of ways in which the request is answered but that we do not or will not hear it, or see it. In my life, I cannot think of any performance demands that I have made of God that turned out like I asked. My experience and knowledge of Him have come in very different ways.

    I’m uncertain what kind of a sign/response would do the trick. I maintain my life with Christ, day by day, on the event of Christ’s death and resurrection. The experience end of things comes and goes. I pray because He is raised from the dead and promises to hear me. I could imagine that a requested response might easily become a distraction – and not at all a thing that “saves” us. I do not know the mind of God in this matter – but believe that Christ has died and is risen. I think it is better ground for supporting the weight of our life and prayer.

  71. Sue Avatar

    Hi Simon,

    In your last response to Dee of St. Hermans you asked, “Is it really too much to ask that God do something ANYTHING so that a person can distinguish reality from psychological certainty??” And we are all here answering: He has done something! Look around you! You got up this morning, didn’t you?

    I wish I were a better writer so I could express my thoughts more clearly.

    The first thing is: LIFE is the evidence you are seeking. The “something” God has done is called creation. God is everywhere. The difference between those who have faith in Christ and those who do not is simply a matter of acknowledgment and rejection. The life of the Christian physically carries on the same as anyone else’s with problems, feelings, sufferings, celebrations, yada yada. My twenty year old daughter who suffers from a debilitating chronic disease drew a picture the other day: it showed a city street on a sunny day with people walking back and forth. From “above” (where the Father and Son are now) hang lines down to earth. There were enough lines for everybody. Some people were holding onto them, others weren’t. There was no apparent difference between the lives of the people who held onto a line and those who didn’t.

    I have to wonder why you responded to Dee’s comment and not to Matthew’s (his more directly answered your “question”). In your comments you have expressed that as a practicing Christian you don’t “feel the love”–you still feel alone/alienated and without consolation from God. You also stated that even if you were to receive a miracle of some kind, you wouldn’t accept it as evidence of God’s presence with you, because it could just be a delusion. You have concluded that there is no way for you to reliably apprehend God’s presence, so therefore God does not exist.

    My heart aches for you, Simon, it really does. And why should it? You are a complete stranger to me, someone I don’t expect to ever meet in person, someone who has nothing that I want and no interest in my life. I stand to gain nothing by engaging with you. In fact, I stand to lose something very precious: my time on this earth. Yet, I (and Fr. Stephen, and the other commenters on this blog) are doing just that. Why? if God doesn’t exist, as you say, *why do we care*?

    How do I know God exists? Because goodness exists. Because beauty exists. Because morality exists. Because there are trees…but also a forest. Because I don’t know everything…but everything exists.
    (For a much better explanation than I can give, I recommend the following short article by Yujin Nagasawa, who is the Co-Director of the John Hick Centre for Philosophy of Religion at the University of Birmingham, England, called, “Is there definitive proof of the existence of God?” https://blog.oup.com/2017/11/definitive-proof-existence-god/

    How do I know that faith in God is not a delusion? Because I cannot even dream or hallucinate apart from what exists in actuality. What I “see” or “hear” might not be in front of me, but I cannot hallucinate something that isn’t real “somewhere” or even imagine something that does not have its basis in reality. My hallucinations might not be real, but they point to something that IS real.

    As Matthew clearly explained, life without God would be nothing but chaos–irrational. There would be no beauty, no truth, no goodness, no morality, no meaning, no reality without God (read the above linked article to understand why). “Life” (if we could call it that) would be reduced to an endless, ugly disunity/disagreement.

    “This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, belssings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the LORD your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the LORD is your life…” Deuteronomy 3O: 19+20

  72. Matthew Avatar
    Matthew

    Dee,
    This may be a little late, but for what its worth, my point was simply that confirmation bias will support your belief.

    I made no jabs at science, scientists, or anyone else.

    If you believe that “God is Everywhere Present, Filling All Things”, your confirmation bias will support that, if not , it won’t. Period. Nothing more was implied.

    I suppose my point in making the comment was to point out that it is difficult for the unbeliever who wants proof to make the leap. But it is also difficult for the believer, who feels that they’ve experienced something special to articulate that to the world. Because to the world it appears to be nonsense. Perspectives, as I said before, are fascinating.

  73. Simon Avatar
    Simon

    It occurs to that I could reply. But, I know I know I have come to a place where the sidewalk ends. Reports of miracles are not unique to Orthodoxy. Mysticism is not unique to Orthodoxy. Beauty is not unique to Orthodoxy. And as far as beauty goes there is also ugliness and cruelty. There are charlatans, cheats, and crooks in every religion. I don’t buy that monks fly or that angels bring them food or that they travel through time and space. That there are people that find that easier to believe than the possibility that those things were made up…that is the danger in being a true believer. That is the proof that the mind is deluded!!

    It isn’t what I want Micah exposed to and I don’t want to risk becoming a person who can’t distinguish fantasy from reality. Now Fr Stephen tells a story about a priest who made a mistake in the liturgy and he asked the angel who served with him behind the curtain, ‘why didn’t you say something to me?’ and the angel said ‘who am I to correct a priest?’ I just don’t believe these stories have any basis in reality.

    I would rather embrace the cold realities of a harsh world with no hope than suffer as a person chose fantasy to pacify their existential discomfort and fear.

    Peace.

  74. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Simon,
    I well understand you and your reasoning. I would interject, however, that it is a mistake to assume that someone might do other than you in order to pacify their existential discomfort and fear. It is a reductionist and false assumption. Be who you are – but do not universalize your experience.

  75. Simon Avatar
    Simon

    Fr, that’s a fair point.

  76. Erin Avatar
    Erin

    Simon – I was raised Catholic but was never familiar with the bible though I was pretty devout. As a teenager I started asking questions about the faith – I asked my parents, the priest, read books – but never got the answers I was searching for. I went to high school with a very nice girl who was a JW. Her father was an engineer at NASA. She had answers for me. There was a lot of very tough things going on in my life and I think I was also very vulnerable. When I was around 20, I agreed to study the bible with her. I ended up believing that she had the truth as a JW and became one myself. My family wanted nothing to do with me as a result. I was an embarrassment. They thought I was crazy and should have been locked up in a mental institution. I married a JW (formerly he had been at Bethel). I trusted God re becoming a JW and in marrying this person. Since I continued to search for truth and kept asking questions, I learned that the JWs did not have the truth and that my husband was leading a double life. Ironically, it was in my discovering that the JWs did not have the truth that “freed” him. So then I lost all my JW friends (many who were very decent people) and my marriage.

    I cannot even speak to the pain that I have experienced. I had gone through many painful things in life but had always believed in God. Now I felt betrayed on a level I cannot articulate. How could God allow me to be so deceived – first by the JWs and then by the man I trusted and married? It has taken years to find my way back from the edge and down so many other roads (believing in God but not that He cared about me). Despite all this and even where I sit today, I recall what a pastor said to me when painful things happen in our lives or others – that we need to anchor to God’s character – and God is always good. Seems so simple but is really profound.

    I’ve been reading this blog since 2008. I struggle. I deal with depression and despair at times. I close myself off and then I come back. I don’t comment. But you are not alone. I don’t understand why or why not. I just do my best to anchor to God’s character. “His invisible qualities are clearly seen in His creation.” I see it in the personalities of my dogs. I’m sure you must see this in your beloved son. If you feel love or compassion towards your son…anchor to God’s character for He is love and compassion. He is all good things.

    When the time comes for me to die, I doubt there will be much that is visible to anyone about my having lived a good or godly life. My family thinks I’m a failure – that I do know as their ostracism continues to this day. Only God knows how deep the pit and yet I still continue to show up. I don’t know. I’ve done “all the right things” so many times before and I was deceived. Maybe this Orthodox faith is the truth, maybe not. I know being sincere about believing something doesn’t make it the truth. But I’m going to trust again. I’m going to keep anchoring to God’s character. It’s been 30 years since I left the JWs. Our time on earth is so very short and it seems to me why didn’t I have an Orthodox friend in high school when I was searching. What a waste of years and all the “good” I could have done. I have no answers at all. But I will keep anchoring to God’s character and God is always good. I must admit that I only see through a glass darkly. You will be in my prayers Simon. I do understand and think that God is so far above what we can conceive and sometimes we just need to surrender and believe. I don’t pretend that I can say anything that can help. But I am showing up for you and I am a very private person.

    Erin

  77. Simon Avatar
    Simon

    Erin, how long were you a JW?

  78. Erin Avatar
    Erin

    Simon – about 10 years (22-32). I stopped associating. I read “40 Years a Watchtower Slave” and had even contacted the author to discuss.

  79. Simon Avatar
    Simon

    Erin, I was raised in the Truth. My first wife and I were preparing to go to Gilead and were pioneers. I was appointed as an elder. I had trouble submitting to theocratic headship.

    When you know deep down in your guts that something is the Truth…and then you learn it isn’t and that all that confidence was unjustified, that makes confidence in any other claims to Truth difficult to accept. Don’t you think?

  80. Erin Avatar
    Erin

    Simon – yes – that is what I was trying to say. It’s one thing to suffer the loss of all things for the “truth,” but when you realize it was all a big lie and you were deceived….but I am making my way back. I used to tell my ex when he was going down a certain path – “what does this have to do with Jesus?”

    And now I find that question before me. Yes, I was deceived. Yes, I was sincere. Yes, I lost my family, etc. But what does this have to do with Jesus?

    And so I anchor to God’s character – relating to the good I see in the world believing it all comes from a Creator and I go from there. One day at a time and often chunks of hours at a time.

    I do understand.

  81. Simon Avatar
    Simon

    Erin, I am regarded as an apostate in three congregations and by people in many others. Like you I also lost my family…what little there was to lose. Im wondering do you attend liturgy? Have you been baptized in the OC? Are you considering it?

  82. Erin Avatar
    Erin

    Simon, I am sorry for what you have suffered. I have not been to liturgy yet. I am still dealing with some fears. I do watch online and have been listening to Father Barnabas Powell and reading this blog. I am taking it one day at a time. God knows me and my fears.

    How about you? It takes courage to do what you did.

  83. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Erin, Simon
    It’s very important, I think, not to put Orthodoxy in the category of modern denominational Christianity. The JW’s were invented in America, and smack of late 19th century ideas and nonsense, and are able to maintain themselves only by cult-like teaching and control.

    Orthodoxy has teachings – and they give a sort of “grammar” for our understanding of God. But, it is also a 2,000 year-old argument, with lots of give-and-take, and, in many ways, a level of freedom that most assume to be absent. Orthodoxy is what it says it is – the Church founded by Christ. It is a historical fact. It also comes with lots of historical baggage. And the baggage, I think, is important, because human beings don’t ever exist as fully human without any.

    It’s interesting, Simon, that you quoted my telling of the story of the priest and the angel. For you, the story was a miraculous story about an angelic appearance. For me, the story was about the nature of the priesthood. That particular story, for example, need be nothing more than a parable.

    At the same time, I know a fair number of people, otherwise quite normal, who have had encounters that seem undeniably to be an angel. Together with my wife, I had such an encounter (auditory), with a group of angels back in the 90’s. Heard them, but didn’t see them. And, interestingly, it was a shared experience. I know a priest, quite sane and sober, without an hysterical bone in his body, who saw the late Metropolitan Leonty elevated a foot in the air in prayer. I have watched an icon with myhrr streaming from it in amounts that are simply impossible in terms of physics. And it does this almost all the time.

    This stuff is not common, and it is not Orthodox practice to use such things as “proofs.” Proofs never work, in my opinion. Belief is ultimately a matter of the heart and a sufficient proof is whatever is sufficient to that heart.

    Whether God makes Himself known to you in a manner sufficient to your heart is utterly beyond my control. So I pray, and just assume that God knows what He’s doing and that it is good.

    I have not heard any credible first-hand accounts of flying monks.

  84. David Waite Avatar
    David Waite

    I never ask God to do anything and He always does everything.

  85. Simon Avatar
    Simon

    Erin, I was baptized into the OC in March of this year. I have been thinking of God exclusively in Orthodox terms since about March or April of last year. The mysticism in the OC is a mysticism that I had already been discovering in the NT for over a decade. Well, I guess part of the reason why I left JW is that I had begun to see that there was such a thing as mysticism and it was entirely absent from the JW theology. In fact, I started marking the verses in the OT and NT (that I understood to be mystical) like it was a treasure map and and in my mind if somebody else found the Bible and read these verses and put it together then they were meant to put to find the treasure. I started doing that in 2004?? Thirteen years later I discover a church that interpreted those verses in the exact same fashion as I had been doing. It was staggering to me. What I was reading in Orthodox literature and the confirmation from my priest was that the mystical interpretation was really the only proper way to read the scriptures. For the Orthodox this is fundamental. For me to find that the OC had been teaching for 1600 years what I had learned on my own prior to coming to the church left me with the overwhelming feeling that God had prepared me to recognize the church when I found it. And the energy of that carried me for a long time. Then my son couldn’t get baptized and that threw me for a loop…that was really hard for me to accept. I attacked Fr Stephen’s character for that and said things to him for which any decent person would be ashamed. After Fr forgave me for attacking him he agreed to baptize me. And for two weeks I’m telling you that it was the cleanest I felt my entire life. I have been baptized now four times and this was the only time I can say that the next day there was a perceptible difference in my internal environment…and the day after that…and the day after that. But, it lasted two weeks. The crudest way to say it is that I missed a mile stone in my graduate program that dimmed my future in the program–and consequently my graduation prospects. The following six weeks were such that I was bracing myself for the rupture of my marriage.

    So here is what I mean by religious delusion. One night I went to the church to pray. As I was praying in the church I experienced the most peaceful loving embrace I have ever felt. I felt at peace. But almost immediately after that I saw a large demonic appearance in the carpet I was praying on such that if I finished the prostration I would have touched my face to this demonic face. At first it scared me. I was startled and alarmed. That’s one thing. After that my son and I were at a vespers service and all on his own he approached the icon of Mary and he hugged it with a big ol’ hug. He was giving the icon shoulder pats and everything. He would step back lean over and kiss the icon over and over again, and then he would lean forward and hug. It struck me as the oddest thing…why is he doing this? And the thouht occurred to me…is Mary reaching out to my kid through the icon?? And in that moment another thought struck me…is this how the magical thinking begins…this is how religious delusions set in? I didn’t quit attending liturgy right away. First I quit bringing my son. And then the silence and absence of God became so deafening that along with other factors, it made me wonder…why is this so hard? Where is God at in all of this? Am I becoming delusional? And it wasn’t long after that that all the beauty of the liturgy and the excitement with which I used to feel for the faith turned to disappointment.

    Looking back to those early times I wonder how much of this was just my mind finding what it wanted to find, seeing what it wanted to see.

  86. tess Avatar
    tess

    Simon and Erin,
    Please forgive me if I overstep; I have no intent to offend or hurt. When I said earlier that the JW’s I’ve known over the years share a particular spiritual burden, I didn’t get into detail. But what both of you have said here– about wrestling with the nature of authority, how to trust it, whether or not it is even possible to trust any authority– these are questions common to all JW’s I’ve known who have either left a congregation or are struggling to find a place in it when they have found an unassailable reason to doubt.

    Much like Calvinism seems to breed a particular kind of spiritual anxiety (How can I know if I’m saved? Does my doubt prove that I have no faith and God is far from me? If I were truly the elect, wouldn’t I feel differently?), The Watchtower seems to misuse authority in such a distinct way as to destroy a person’s ability to parse it. You may feel alone, but I absolutely assure you that you are not. The struggle to find a safe authority is very poignant for people who have suffered the spiritual abuse that you have.

    I have issues with authority with origins different from yours. Had my experience with Orthodoxy begun with the kind of “authority” one is liable to find on the Internet, I probably would have run screaming. Luckily, the grace of God worked through my very first parish priest, who told me in no uncertain terms that I should stop reading Internet fanatics and learn to be patient with the Holy Spirit. Over the years I have learned that Christ’s Church is a safe place to be. But it has taken years and sometimes mistakes on behalf of well-meaning clergy have sent me reeling. I think I’m confident in saying that it does get better.

    Simon, your demands of God remind me of George MacDonald’s “Unspoken Sermons,” one of my top ten books of all time. I think it’s in the sermon on Job where he says that God made us, His children, with a legitimate claim upon His fatherhood. 🙂 MacDonald would even dare to say that the cries of your soul deserve an answer.

    Again, forgive my ramblings if they aren’t helpful.

  87. Erin Avatar
    Erin

    Father, thank you for your reply. I do not put Orthodoxy in the same category as the JWs. I was raised Catholic and went to Catholic school. My grandfather was an Episcopalian minister in Scarsdale, NY and a regular on a radio show called “Meet the Author.” He was a published author and through his own journey ended up converting to the Catholic Church. He had six children so lost his livelihood. I was very close to him. He wrote and published a book called “My Road to Certainty” regarding his conversion to the true church. As a Catholic, bible reading was discouraged as anything could be taken out of context so I was told. But I wanted to know. The only person I knew who ever shared the bible was a JW in high school. She showed me proof in the bible and I believed and became an avid student of the bible. I sincerely believed it was the truth. To learn I was deceived and lost my family over it to this day…well it is hard to put into words the trust issue.

    I believe the Orthodox Church is the true church due to history. However, I am still healing from all the consequences of being deceived. I haven’t been involved with the JWs in 25 years. Have since gone to the Baptist Church, back to the Catholic Church and here I am now. Not jumping in like before but now testing all things. I used to think that only when I die will I know the truth. Depression and despair so painful that I thought of hastening it. I am at a better place now. I keep showing up and immerse myself as much as I am able in the Orthodox faith. He is the God of tender compassion when so many have been so hard on me – perhaps myself most of all. Even as a little girl, I was always drawn by Jesus. I never dreamed that it could lead me down such a path of deception. But here I am by the grace of God. I am still afraid but He leadeth me. It has been a long, long road. But I have not given up.

  88. Simon Avatar
    Simon

    Erin, I have a reply to you a few posts back. I was hoping you would read it. Perhaps we should correspond offline.

    I think I have done enough hijacking. And the conversation is just becoming redundant I think strong claims require strong evidence for acceptance. I think that if God wants me to believe that he is a loving father then he should act like a loving father. The response I’m basically getting is that I’m arrogant and prideful for insisting on those things, and frankly I’m not interested in subjecting myself to that. Because there is no pride or arrogance in it. I’m just keeping my mind and the things that go into my mind grounded in reality. There have been many sympathetic well reasoned responses that I am thankful for, but I also don’t want this to devolve into something stupid where I’m insulting the kindness of others by finding fault with their words of compassion. Does this make sense? So, I haven’t responded to many people because I don’t want to disrespect them. It has been implied that I’m arrogant and prideful and now I’m triggered so I have to back away. Fr knows that what I’m saying is true.

    Erin, may we speak offline?

  89. Simon Avatar
    Simon

    Tess, I heard what you have to say and I agree. When you are a JW the degree of psychological certainty they induce is tremendous. I remember when I finally made the step to question the existence of Jehovah God. A part of me died. After that I lived on a scorched earth, man. I was the king of a pile of cinders. Very little of what I held to be true since a child survived. I don’t ever want to live that way again. In fact, i take that degree of certainty about anything in religion to be a bad sign, like something is going horribly wrong. It makes me feel vigilant and sometimes even threatened.

  90. Erin Avatar
    Erin

    Simon, I did read your post and appreciate your response. It is a lot to think about. I think if I am honest that is part of why I am hesitant. I do understand too your desire for a loving father. I clung to the scripture “when my father and mother forsake me, the Lord will take me up.” And then the Lord seems so distant, the one I have sought my whole life. I have cried to him that if I had a loving human father I would know he loved me but here my creator seems so distant. I don’t have answers but I believe that He is good and that there is something in me, perhaps damaged and my sinful nature, that is causing me to feel so disconnected. And yes, Father Stephen can feel free to provide my email address to you.

  91. Simon Avatar
    Simon

    Erin, those are my feelings exactly. I have never felt like ‘the lord has taken me up.’ Even though stories abound about how God magically appeared to this person or that one AFTER they did prayed just right. It just seems like anecdotal stories that people tell just like all religions have anecdotal stories and legends that they tell.

  92. David Waite Avatar
    David Waite

    Simon – Given your description of your spiritual experiences, only a spiritual director can help you. Fr. Stephen is as good as they come. Trust him. And do not pay any attention to anything I might say. I am terribly lost and in desperate need of direction myself. The blind leading the blind is always a bad idea. And with all due respect to all of the wonderful commentators we have on this blog, ask yourself if they are really helping you. Perhaps we are only adding to your confusion.

    You are always in my prayers.

  93. Simon Avatar
    Simon

    David, I think you are right about that.

    People here have made an effort to help a fellow human understand his experience of the world and his place in it. I don’t think that is wasted effort. I often find myself surprised by the unexpected insight that emerges from chance encounters. However, it occurs with such a regularity that I seek it out. I just never know when it is going to come.

  94. David Waite Avatar
    David Waite

    Simon – Give me a call if you ever want to talk. Fr. Stephen has my number. (In more ways than one, 😉 )

  95. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    I’m just amazed how things transpired today. Erin, out of the blue, and then Tess adding to the JW experience. Simon, I had been wondering what drew you to Orthodoxy in the first place. I received an answer and much much more. Erin, Simon…thank you. My prayers, always….

  96. Dino Avatar
    Dino

    Simon,
    Please do not assume a personal culpability or that there is individual accusation of pride regarding human “demands” of God. It is a problem of every human. I, You, he, her, we, then, have it type of thing.
    The fact that we need someone to tell us to chill out and cool down (when we are experiencing a hot hell) is, of course, fraught with danger. But we do need it because it only this that is something in our power ¬– and not another’s.
    Of course we want “Another” to respond! But this cannot be forced.
    Remember however this image again (as it is perfectly descriptive of your experience and of most spiritual progression that we find difficult as we do):
    A Father (God) holds our hand when we are still babes at the very start (we feel his loving embrace, or our inner transformation at a degree that is beyond what can be explained away psychologically). However, he later has to remove this hand for us to start walking on our own…! The stumbling, the falling, the bruising (and even the fact that we can now explain away psychologically that his now tiny touches, his now increased hiding and decreased appearing are maybe even figments of our imagination [that is inhabited by far more ‘amounts’ of a world without him]) is painful and treacherous. But it is the only way we will ever walk.
    Read Saint Silouans’ life. His experience in prayer is just like yours (and many others) and perhaps to the ‘Nth ‘ degree so…
    The demonic is allowed to tempt us in this phase in so many ways and it carries on and on. But the experience that comes from it is even more precious than the indescribable comforts of the grace filled encounters that we long for.
    Silouan’s cries to the Lord to appear in his hell were also (despite being one of the greatest saints of our time) described as a pride of sorts (there’s nothing ‘wrong’ with that –as we say- but we ought to recognize it to overcome it). But eventually he was given to learn the humility of Christ as only the greatest of the greatest ever have.
    You never answered me whether you have read St Silouan’s book or even Elder Aimilianos’ (much harder) PDF…
    They were foundational to many people who have had your experience and came out the other way.
    God bless you and keep you!
    You have Father Stephen as a representative of Christ for you!

  97. Simon Avatar
    Simon

    Dino, I don’t believe for a moment that anything I’ve “experienced” is anything other than the vulnerability of my mind to religious delusion. That is it. That is all. Truthfully some of the most profound things I have ever felt were in prayer. But they are suspect. For example, one Friday I had the night off and all to myself. My wife and son were out of town. My plan was to relax and watch a movie. But a strong desire to pray took hold. So I went to my corner to pray. Towards the end of my prayer I felt that I was starting to cross a boundary where I felt that everything around me was joy. Deep joy. That the physical world was more like a curtain than something rock bottom. And as soon as I became aware that I was having this experience it faded. It took some for me to process what had happened. And when I looked at my clock four hours had passed–FOUR HOURS. The mind is susceptible to delusions. I am evidently very susceptible to religious delusion and without God to show me the difference between reality and the fragmented perception of my own mind…then I am just throwing it all out. I dont want anything to do with any of it. It isn’t safe.

  98. Simon Avatar
    Simon

    Absorption, hallucinatory experience, and the continuum hypothesis!! That’s what I have been looking for! That is the self-understanding I needed. It explains so much…to finally have a satisfying understanding to such nagging concerns!!

  99. Dino Avatar
    Dino

    Simon,
    I mentioned this earlier and in response I might once more: As validation is necessitated, it is safer to study/read the right material (and then consult with your spiritual Father) in the beginnings, it is more valuable than even prayer (which will never normally depart from one’s day anyway).
    You still dindn’t answer me re Elder Aimilianos and St Silouan though?

  100. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Dino,
    Thank you for these suggestions to Simon. We don’t know whether they will be helpful for him but I will corroborate that my parish priest suggested that I read St Silouan’s biography.

    In those circumstances that I have had undesirable experiences I’ve come to learn to share them. And I have done so with my priest. In my case his answer was simple. Ignore them. Being ordinary is part and parcel of humility. I’ve dodged some bullets but not others. I pray for us. I ask Dino that you pray for us too.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Subscribe to blog via email

Support the work

Your generous support for Glory to God for All Things will help maintain and expand the work of Fr. Stephen. This ministry continues to grow and your help is important. Thank you for your prayers and encouragement!


Latest Comments

  1. Matthew, Christ said, “…For indeed the kingdom of God is within you”. (Luke 17:21 We don’t bring it on. We…

  2. Fr. Stephen … I want to better understand the kingdom of God … what exactly it is, has it already…


Read my books

Everywhere Present by Stephen Freeman

Listen to my podcast



Categories


Archives