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.



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

  1. Dino Avatar
    Dino

    My prayers, though entirely inept, are a given.

  2. Esmée La Fleur Avatar
    Esmée La Fleur

    The biography of Saint Silouan was the first biography of a Saint that I read. I recently found out that it was also the first biography of a Saint that my cradle Orthodox priest read. It had a profound impact on both of us.

    And I, too, thank you very much, Dino, for all of your wonderful comments.

  3. Simon Avatar
    Simon

    “This is why sorrowful and isolated souls cannot delight in God. Will they be
    saved? As through fire (1 Cor 3.15). We don’t know. It depends on different things. But
    that is another question. In any case, we’re not talking about that kind of pain. To
    repeat: it’s absolutely essential that these two elements are not found within us. When
    we experience spiritual isolation and a heavy heart, it means that we’ve turned our
    backs on God.”

    So, now I guess I have turned my back on God?? Is that it, Dino? On top of everything else I’ve supposedly have done wrong–on top of all that–now I’ve turned my back on God?? Dude, yer god is just sitting around waiting to be offended by human weakness. It is like he is just sitting around waiting for some excuse to withdraw as the means to motivate you to work harder: ‘If you REALLY love me you will forget about everything else and love ONLY me.’

    We can maybe discuss The Progression of the Soul offline if you want…but I’m not impressed. It says exactly what I would expect it to say.

  4. Dino Avatar
    Dino

    Simon
    I also struggled for.a very long time with Elder Aimilianos (and kept coming back for direct clarifications of scandalous words of his in good faith).
    But it’s best to remember that this is a pedagogically strict teaching that is then alternated with very comforting interjections. Carrot and stick. Being pedagogical means it does not here describe “yer god” but what is within our own powers to struggle and do rather than struggle to not do. It is a key difference.
    Jesus’ words are often like that too and I don’t think specific examples are needed…
    Have you read St Silouan’s experience that is like yours in some parallels?
    God bless you my brother.

  5. Simon Avatar
    Simon

    Dino. I you want to discuss this offline…I will be more than happy to discuss it with you. I just am not comfortable discussing my impressions on the blog.

  6. Dino Avatar
    Dino

    Ok. I understand.
    I could only do that if Father Stephen blesses it.
    Although I firmly believe he is infinitely more qualified to discuss it…

    Here’s a small excerpt of St Silouan’s experiences:

    St Silouan was granted the rare gift of unceasing prayer of the heart while still a novice. This was followed by a fierce struggle against thoughts of pride and of despair over his salvation, to which he was subjected by the demons. One night, while he was praying in his cell, he was suddenly filled with an unusual light which passed right through his body. His soul was in turmoil. Even though the prayer continued to work within him it had lost its contrition and the novice realized that this was a case of Satanic delusion.
    He fought against these demonic attacks for six months praying as hard as he could, wherever he found himself, and he plumbed the depths of despair. Sitting in his cell, he thought: ‘God is implacable’. He felt utterly abandoned and for about an hour his soul was enveloped in the hellish darkness of indescribable despair. At the hour of Vespers, while he was saying the Jesus prayer and gazing at the icon of Christ on the iconostas in the chapel at the mill, in a manner passing all understanding, he was suddenly illumined by a supernatural light- joyful and sweet this time – and beheld the living Christ, gazing back at him with ineffable gentleness. Divine love entered and spread through the whole of his existence and caught up his spirit in the contemplation of God. For the next forty-five years of his monastic life, he constantly confessed that, through the Holy Spirit, he had known Christ Himself, Who had appeared to him and had revealed His Grace in all its fullness. That Christ is all mercy, humility, love and joy. The vision altered his soul, to the extent that his insatiable spirit, focused night and day on his beloved Lord, cried: ‘My soul thirsts for the Lord and I seek Him with tears. How can I not seek You? You sought me first and gave me a taste of the sweetness of the Holy Spirit. And my soul loved You completely’.

    However, fifteen years after the Lord had appeared to him, when Silouan was engaged in one of the many nocturnal struggles with devils which had come to torment him again after the lessening of the perceptible grace of the ‘honey-moon period’ (after encountering the Lord in the Uncreated Light). No matter how he tried, he could not pray with a pure mind. At last he rose from his stool, intending to bow down and worship, when he saw a gigantic devil standing in front of the ikon, waiting to be worshipped. Meanwhile, the cell filled with other evil spirits, Silouan sat down again, and with bowed head and aching heart he prayed,
    ‘Lord, Thou seest that I desire to pray to Thee with a pure mind but the devils will not let me. Instruct me, what must I do to stop them hindering me?’
    And in his soul he heard,
    ‘The proud always suffer from devils.’
    ‘Lord,’ said Silouan, ‘teach me what I must do that my soul may become humble.’
    Once more, his heart heard God’s answer,
    ‘Keep thy mind in hell, and despair not.’
    This he took as the foundation of how to learn true humility at last, the quality that makes one like Christ.

  7. Dino Avatar
    Dino

    I could only do that if Father Stephen blesses it.
    Although I firmly believe he is infinitely more qualified to discuss it…
    Here’s a small excerpt of St Silouan’s experiences:
    St Silouan was granted the rare gift of unceasing prayer of the heart while still a novice. This was followed by a fierce struggle against thoughts of pride and of despair over his salvation, to which he was subjected by the demons. One night, while he was praying in his cell, he was suddenly filled with an unusual light which passed right through his body. His soul was in turmoil. Even though the prayer continued to work within him it had lost its contrition and the novice realized that this was a case of Satanic delusion.
    He fought against these demonic attacks for six months praying as hard as he could, wherever he found himself, and he plumbed the depths of despair. Sitting in his cell, he thought: ‘God is implacable’. He felt utterly abandoned and for about an hour his soul was enveloped in the hellish darkness of indescribable despair. At the hour of Vespers, while he was saying the Jesus prayer and gazing at the icon of Christ on the iconostas in the chapel at the mill, in a manner passing all understanding, he was suddenly illumined by a supernatural light- joyful and sweet this time – and beheld the living Christ, gazing back at him with ineffable gentleness. Divine love entered and spread through the whole of his existence and caught up his spirit in the contemplation of God. For the next forty-five years of his monastic life, he constantly confessed that, through the Holy Spirit, he had known Christ Himself, Who had appeared to him and had revealed His Grace in all its fullness. That Christ is all mercy, humility, love and joy. The vision altered his soul, to the extent that his insatiable spirit, focused night and day on his beloved Lord, cried: ‘My soul thirsts for the Lord and I seek Him with tears. How can I not seek You? You sought me first and gave me a taste of the sweetness of the Holy Spirit. And my soul loved You completely’.
    However, fifteen years after the Lord had appeared to him, when Silouan was engaged in one of the many nocturnal struggles with devils which had come to torment him again after the lessening of the perceptible grace of the ‘honey-moon period’ (after encountering the Lord in the Uncreated Light). No matter how he tried, he could not pray with a pure mind. At last he rose from his stool, intending to bow down and worship, when he saw a gigantic devil standing in front of the ikon, waiting to be worshipped. Meanwhile, the cell filled with other evil spirits, Silouan sat down again, and with bowed head and aching heart he prayed,
    ‘Lord, Thou seest that I desire to pray to Thee with a pure mind but the devils will not let me. Instruct me, what must I do to stop them hindering me?’ And in his soul he heard, ‘The proud always suffer from devils.’
    ‘Lord,’ said Silouan, ‘teach me what I must do that my soul may become humble.’ Once more, his heart heard God’s answer, ‘Keep thy mind in hell, and despair not.’ This he took as the foundation of how to learn true humility at last, the quality that makes one like Christ.

  8. Dino Avatar
    Dino

    Simon
    I distinctly remember hearing the eminent spiritual figure of the 20th century, elder Sophrony, after so many experiences of Grace that one could claim were rarely matched, exclaiming assuredly that the only way for the healing of people like you describe yourself (as well as for certain addicts -not all), is not so much Grace filled experience but total obedience to a good spiritual Father. The outsourcing of one’s self management to him in trust as-if-to-God.
    It seems you have been given this in Father Stephen. Why ask for other things here? These are my thoughts.

  9. Simon Avatar
    Simon

    Dino I wasnt asking you to be my confessor. You recommended the article and I wanted to discuss the article with you. That’s it.

    As for the kind of obedience you are referring to Fr Stephen feels very uncomfortable with it. Ive already asked.

    But as it stands Im very confident trait absorption explains what I have been seeking to understand.

  10. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Dino, Simon
    Simon is correct – I could never take on such a spiritual responsibility – it is not within the range of gifts God has given me. I also am highly cautious about such a practice at any time. It would seem appropriate in certain settings for a monastic – but I do not think it has a proper place within life outside a monastery – for married people.

    I trust God’s grace and His providence – it’s the only way I’m being saved.

  11. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Simon,
    I just googled trait absorption. You have an intensity when it comes to religious experience that is not common. My own thoughts are that it has to do with your background and experience. But, I can only think about it and ponder. The whole of it is more than I understand – it’s not simple (very few things about us are). I think your own instincts in this are worth paying attention to – particularly if they slow you down a bit and allow something less intense. I remember sharing with you about a friend who was bi-polar, who had to give up religion, because it “made him crazy.” He’s done much better in that mode. He believes in God, but he stays away from much more than that – because it’s just not healthy for him.

    In our contemporary world, we are confronted with a vast array of choices – which God, which religion, which philosophy, etc. It’s kind of crazy itself. If we lived, for example, in a traditional Orthodox society, one could be Orthodox without a lot of thought and only use or take what seemed healthy. I know any number of rather skeptical Orthodox believers. Not everybody cares much about flying monks (to use our conversation’s example).

    My own early experience in the Charismatic Movement “burned me out,” and left me quite skeptical. Oddly, it was that skepticism that first drew me towards Orthodoxy and the Tradition of the faith. It actually has a very strong critique of delusion and a healthy questioning. Often, it gets very overlooked in “Internet Orthodoxy.”

    I don’t mind miracles – so long as no one treats them like they’re important – that is to say – I can take them or leave them. When I’m with Orthodox folks who are mostly caught up in that sort of thing, I find a way to excuse myself and go somewhere else. It’s like a distraction from sanity.

    I believe in the death and resurrection of Christ – for many, many reasons – beginning with the historical argument (which I think is quite solid). For me, if that is true, then all is well. I take the rest of the Church and the Tradition as that which has been handed down, and the life of the Church through the ages – warts and all.

    I have, over time, become very immersed in the sacramentality of all things – but, I would not describe that perception as anything “miraculous” or “spooky.” Everything simply points to the goodness of God as made known in Christ’s Pascha. I’m not very intense…I’m very ADHD which is a Cross I bear…with growing patience.

    At one point in my life, I took a few months off from God (that’s how I thought about it) and told Him that’s what I was doing and asked for His protection. But I needed not to think about everything for a while. This was when I was coming out of the Charismatic movement. I simply wanted to breathe and be left alone for a while. After that, I found my way back to the Episcopal Church and quietly attended the early Eucharist service, took communion and went home. People gave you space and it wasn’t the weirdness that it has become today.

    I still like the quiet of a service when possible. But I neither need nor want strong experiences. Life is already a strong experience. I want to actually live it.

  12. Simon Avatar
    Simon

    Fr Stephen I want God so bad its crushing me on the inside. It is all I have ever really wanted. Remember the story of the camouflage clothes my dad made me wear? Remember what I did? All I have ever really wanted is God’s presence. That’s it.

    I understood what you said about your friend and I accept how you applied that to me.

    Sometimes to say goodbye the person you are leaving has to become devil. Its the only way to create the distance.

  13. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Simon,
    I very much understand what you’re saying. I think (and don’t know) that some of the intensity, if not most, is something that is driven by your experience – a need for healing, for an end to estrangement and abandonment (?) the being alone – i.e. communion. Oddly, I think the intensity gets in the way of the goal. It’s possible to experience the “intensity” so “intensely” that it overwhelms everything else.

    In that sense, I think is it good to relax the intensity, to allow things to develop slowly – naturally.

    In general terms, intensity, like speed, etc., is discouraged in Orthodoxy – because it breeds delusion and confusion. It is a thing in itself. It’s why I (frustratingly) suggest people go slow when they first come to the Church. If it’s possible to put the intensity in some sort of “parenthesis” – where it’s set aside and ignored to an extent – and get on with life – with or without acknowledging God – it would be helpful – I think. God is with us no matter what we do. Communion with Him is also communion with the self and the revelation of the true self. Our intensity, I think, is not the self, but an artifact of something else.

    It’s in that context that I think life and faith best go forward.

    The need to make something “become the devil” in order to lead it – is just as destructive and delusional as anything else. I would work quietly to say goodbye to the intensity – either way. A good reason for this is that the intensity will not leave you alone. It’s not really controllable when it’s roaming free. It must do “something.”

    Just some thoughts.

  14. Simon Avatar
    Simon

    I understand. It seems that the presence of God is for the people who with quiet reserve leave their families and friends and shuffle off to a monastery where they finally see God after having purged the heart of all impurities which–if that’s true–means that chumps like me are out of luck. God will for all intents and purposes always be somewhere else. Just the idea of it makes me resentful.

    But I feel like this “conversation” has allowed me to unearth something I can take back to a counselor.

  15. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Simon,
    I think you’re taking this in a wrong direction. What do you expect in the “presence of God”? How do you know that He is not present? What if there is something within you that makes it somewhat problematic for you? What if that something needs attention, even healing?

    If you spoke with monastics – would they all have some sense of the presence of God? – in the manner you imagine it to be? Or is it something different?

    My thoughts are that He is indeed present – always and everywhere – and not in some sort of “tailor-made” thing. Though, I’m not certain what you mean by His presence. I’m not sure that it would be something that is part of my life – depending on how it’s described. It’s not intense particularly.

    It seems that you grasp at words or thoughts from others and turn them into something to resent. It also sounds like you imagine any of this to be easy for others and only hard for you. It devalues everyone’s experience other than your own. It’s imaginary.

  16. Erin Avatar
    Erin

    Simon, I happened upon a two part talk by Father Christophe Lepoutre that he gave at a Russian Orthodox Church, St. John the Baptist, in Washington DC. It was on healing addictions and you can find it on You Tube. He talks about things, traits we have inherited from our families and how these influence our lives. He also has a podcast of the same name on Ancient Faith radio. I think you might find it encouraging. I cannot underestimate the damage I experienced in being a JW. Before that, I didn’t feel like I fit in but I could still connect with people. Since then connection has been an issue due to not trusting my own judgment and how gullible I was which now makes me very skeptical. There’s really nothing anyone can say, no matter how well meaning. That is just where I am at. I no longer expect anything from people in that way.

    I too was drawn to Jesus as a young child. I remember saying after my JW experience to God how few people wanted Him. I was searching with all my heart for the truth and He didn’t seem to want me. What was I left with? Making a success in the world? Empty. Even the emptiness I feel is more endurable than the alternative. I believe enough. I remember Jesus said to his disciples when many others stopped following him, “will you leave me too?” They responded, “where would we go? You have the words of eternal life.” That is where I am at. There is nowhere else. No one else. If the rest of my days continue to be the dark night of my soul so be it. Time here is so short. One day we will close our eyes and wake up in another place. I believe God is good. I wish I had the sense that I was saved or could be sure I would end up with God in heaven. I do not. But I trust that God is good. He desires all to be saved. I want to be saved. I want to be with Him in heaven. He is my creator. I will go to sleep tonight and I may wake to see another day. I will keep taking in some spiritual food. Avail myself to the resources of help that there are.

    Which is why I think the podcast I mentioned might be helpful as well as watching his talk on You Tube. It helps to understand how and why we feel and act the way we do and what we can do. You are in my prayers and you are not alone.

    Erin

  17. Dino Avatar
    Dino

    Father, Simon,
    A clarification on obedience when outside monasticism…The way I understand ‘outsourcing’ one’s self-management through trustful obedience to a good spiritual Father (as advised by Elder Sophrony for some ‘special cases’) clearly cannot be in the absolute manner that the monastic way of discipleship affords, especially when one is married…! But we have to remember that these ‘special cases’ (that can be healed by obedience) are, principally, people in need of turning into a psychologically balanced, healthy human first, i.e.: prior to turning into a spiritually discerning saint (in other words, we cannot jump from psychologically disturbed states to sainthood ‘directly’, we will be deluded by our neurosis rather than by the demons). So such persons (it might be the majority nowadays…) need this trusted guidance, whether married or monastics, because even though they think they need God, God has to come to them slowly, through a combination of things, mainly including, through this human guidance first…
    So, there are some simple things that can be ‘extracted’ from the monastic absolutes, always with discernment :
    For example, a person with the authority and seal of God’s blessing (the spiritual father) telling you to not pray as you do, but only if you can muster all your childlike innocence in an imageless, memory-less, worry-less, expectation-less, simplistic repetition of the Jesus prayer, one that shuns all intense experience, for so and so amount of time, and after this much reading, and no more, means that you can have this prayerful part of your day that is given over to a new father, not our biological one, who in turn reveals Christ’s desire for you, voiced as a simple request that you can understand and keep.
    Such small things in obedience are transformative deeply. Besides, it shifts our focus and activates our good-will to do God’s will/desire (as voiced by the spiritual father’s suggestion to us, a suggestion we can take or leave and always discuss with our guide, but taking it is available for us now, when we were inventing arbitrary ways beforehand), instead of doing our own will which has a proven track record of being unable to detect certain types of delusion, no matter how good it is at detecting others.
    If, for example, he says he thinks it’s a good idea I have a daily half hour at the gym, then I do it in a different spirit to how I would have done it of my own accord, I am obeying another will to my perverted one and this becomes a joyous window to spiritual health (via the psychological health of something like a “re-embodiment of my biological existence” through this new ecclesial fatherhood given me by Christ’s Church).
    I mustn’t then react that: ‘Hey! I want God so singularly, and he (the spiritual father) sends me to the gym!’ No. I will think thus: God wants me to go to the gym for whatever reason, let me obey Him. Wow! I can obey him by just doing that?! Fantastic…!
    If he tells me to go to therapy, my natural distrust of it evaporates and my trust of his counsel liberates me to go. “I am within God’s will by just going to psychotherapy! How easy?!”
    It also has other benefits: if he tells me to try to say so and so to my mum or manager or my child, and I actually was going to say this same thing to them already, anyway (or I have confessed that I want to say so and so and asked what he thinks), the assurance I have when saying it is greater.
    Or when I counterattack out of weakness at a perceived threat to my new secret obedience from a person in my family, I go ask if that was a bad idea and when my father tells me he would rather I meekly accept the harsh words in silence and momentarily give up the obedience for the sake of that family member, then I instantly alter my reactions.
    Nervous dispositions can learn to calm down through this and many otherwise torturous experiences for them, will stop holding such a torturous effect on them – they will be able to accept them as just part of life in meekness and trustfulness and they will start to discern God’s secret hand of providence more and more.

    I remember someone being told by their spiritual Father, after a torturous few days of black spiritual and psychosomatic dread that thrust them violently into unbending demands for God’s felt presence and Light (which they knew of from childhood)–as the only way out of their unendurable hell–, : “God’s presence, his uncreated light is enveloping you right now, I see it though you are clearly not seeing a thing other than your agony, trust my words and forget about demanding God to do something about your experience. See it as a cloud over your view of the sun that will soon pass.”
    I admit that, it is as if someone tells you that there is actually a way of learning to relax your breath and thoughts so that you can be buried alive for 5 minutes without losing your mind, when you want to just see the daylight immediately as your palpitations and panic are unbearable and 5 seconds seem to feel like 5 hours… However, if you have built that blessed trust into that someone’s authority, your trust in them can enable your soul to shift focus from panic and abruptly think: ‘it’s only a 5 mins! Easy! I will just relax…’ and when you are taken out after five minutes you thought it was only 5 seconds.

    Gradually acquiring this internal flexibility is a new thing that comes from such obedience, and such obedience has a foundation of a healthy kind of genuine distrust of self though.

    Erin,
    Looking forward to hearing that talk!

  18. Esmée La Fleur Avatar
    Esmée La Fleur

    Simon – I frequently hear you say that other’s comments show you again and again that you do not love God. But how, according to Christ, do we know if we love God? By keeping His commandments. If you are doing your best to keep His commandments, then you are loving God. In the modern world, I think we want to make love all about emotion, but that is not how Christ defines love. Love is an action. The way we love God is to Worship Him through Liturgy and participation in the Sacraments and practicing our own prayer rule at home, and through serving Him by serving the Church and our neighbors. It’s all very tangible stuff, not some emotional state that we must achieve. When we first start trying to fulfill His commandments, we may not feel a darn thing. But by practicing His commandments consistently and diligently, over time, our love for and faith in God grows. Ultimately, it’s a Mystery which cannot be explained by the mind, but only experienced in the heart. God is with you always.

  19. Dino Avatar
    Dino

    Esmee,
    Indeed.
    We start with the commandments rather blindly, and end with the commandments most lucidly.

    The daring leap of faith (prior to proof) quickly reveals to us that there is nothing that we can do that will make God stop loving us.
    It eventually results in the verification (beyond any doubt) of God’s ‘secret hand, waging war against our opponents’(Exodus 17:16) in our life, and this activates our loving response to God’s love in a more earnest way.

  20. Agata Avatar
    Agata

    Erin,

    Thank you for recommending the talk of Father Christophe. It’s really really good, and pointing to a lot of things I think many people have little understanding of (regarding addictions and family influence). I certainly don’t (I had no idea ‘codependency’ is considered an addiction).

    I just want to say that it was good to hear him say how important prayer is – Father Stephen said earlier that promising results is not appropriate, and I apologize to Simon for that. But I am still a great believer in prayer, especially to the Saints and to the Mother of God, who intercede before the King for us. I loved how Fr. Christophe says our prayers influence the past (generations of our ancestors), the present and the future – and how we can help to break down the patterns in our lives by praying (even if it is only a simple, disciplined, scheduled reciting of words)… It is a mystery reaches depths we cannot being to understand.

    So please know you are all in my prayers, those who have read this blog in the past, who read it now and who may read it in the future. Please forgive me where I wronged you (you especially Erin ❤) and those who I offended with my comments in the past. May God repair the damage and bless you.

    And may He grant us all healing and to know Him in His mysteries in His Holy Orthodox Church. Let’s all of us offer our prayer for the Church in this difficult time.

  21. Erin Avatar
    Erin

    Agata, thank you for your comment. I too was encouraged by the talk and can’t improve upon what you’ve said. We really are all connected. Jesus said what we do to the least we do unto Him. It really is all a mystery and very sobering. And how like God to allow our feeble attempts at prayer to make a difference. And nothing to forgive…..I know I don’t always react to things as well as I could. Please forgive me too.

  22. Ted Avatar
    Ted

    Esmée La Fleur,
    “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 am seeking to find the right actions towards my neighbour. In the physical world, what is the right way to act and react towards my neigbour. For example, I used to live in one of the nice areas of Chicago. While driving I was forcefully rear ended. I got out of the car to talk to the other driver. His car had no licence plates. My sence was that something was odd/not-nice about him. He told me “let us pull over, not to block traffic” then as I was pulling over, he sped off. I still have a scar from that accident. We both lived in the same city, but we had completely different backgrounds and upbringing. He was probably a poor person on government support but he was physically strong healthy and active. Also some of my neighbours (i.e. the citizens of Chicago) would carry guns and kill each other rather frequently and I had suspicion that if I tried to physically stop this (“poor”) person from fleeting the scene of the accident, he might have pulled out a gun and shot me. I am looking for action, what is the right action. “Everyone, without exception, is my neighbor.” is too nebulous. (Also in the communist countries everyone, without exception , was each others neighbor/comrade and that was a horrible decline to the lowest common denominator accompanied by a vicious dictatorship.)
    Does the Church have teachings on the right actions in the physical world? Perhaps, one has to talk one-to-one to a priest (much like talking to a lawyer) to aquire guidance for his individual actions?

  23. Esmée La Fleur Avatar
    Esmée La Fleur

    Ted – my understanding, again based on the teachings of Christ in the Gospels, is that right action toward our neighbors is loving action. Christ tells us that when someone wrongs us, we are to turn the other cheek, and that if someone takes our cloak, we should give them our tunic also. He also tells us to pray for our enemies. I am currently reading a wonderful book called “The Sunflower” by Saint John of Tobolsk. It was originally written in the mid-1600s by a German man (a former Lutheran who converted to Catholicism) and was discovered by Saint John of Tobolsk who then translated into Russian. Amazingly enough, it was only just translated into English this year! The subtitle is, “Conforming the will of man to the will of God,” and it explains in a hundred different ways using Holy Scripture from both the Old and New Testament how EVERYTHING in our life happens according to either the permission of God or the will of God. And this has been the same message of virtually every contemporary Elder or Eldress that I have read, from Saint Paisios to Mother Gavrilia. I highly recommend the book.

  24. Esmée La Fleur Avatar
    Esmée La Fleur

    And of course, I would always love to hear any thoughts you might have to offer on this subject Fr. Stephen if time allows.

  25. Agata Avatar
    Agata

    Erin,
    Thank you for your reply to me.
    My invitation to Vespers is always open, when you are ready… 🙂

  26. David Waite Avatar
    David Waite

    Ted – Sounds like you took the right action with the guy in the car wreck. Hope you have let it go.

  27. Ted Avatar
    Ted

    David,

    Well I suppose and hope that psychologically I have let it go but physically I have a scar. I am a “middle class” highly educated young professional involved in a cutting edge high tech business. I feel like I am getting hit from all sides. I relate to Alexis de Tocqueville writtings where he describes the conditions of Americans in the middle, namely that they are fighting a war on two fronts from the people above and the people below. That was the 18th century, I feel right now its worse and the middle class is disapearing. As for the Church, looking from the outside my (perhaps ignorant) sence is that the Church is outside the mainstream and confined to its little corner with its esotheric and abstract concepts that have little to do with the reality which I am facing and with wich I have to deal with. I seem to live in an upside world where education (which takes a lot of hard work and dedication) is not valued by the Church or the public at large and the poor Lazaruses are actually well fed (by the Government which takes my money) and with a big entitelmen attitudes and they may be armed with the potential to rob and kill me.
    Perhaps I should just quit what I am doing, go on Government assistance, find a busy street corner (the police wont touch me because they will be fired/punished if they do), urinate and deficate freely and harrass passers by for money etc. and when I show up at Church in such a condition then I will be loved and be in good standing.

  28. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    Ted,
    Have you talked with your Priest about what you say here? Hopefully he can guide you as to what it means to love God and neighbor and how to apply that in your life. The basics of the “how’s and why’s” are pretty straightforward. But it is important to confide in someone you can trust, who is able to understand your difficulties and guide you with love, patience and acceptance.
    If I may add, when you pray, pray from the heart, just as you speak from the heart to us here. Tell God your needs, your frustrations, your desires. Yes, He knows these things already, but tell Him anyway! If possible, to the best of your ability, trust that He is with you, knows you better than you know yourself, loves you like none other and is working for your good.

    God bless!

  29. David Waite Avatar
    David Waite

    I hear your anger, Ted. My own anger probably caused me more pian than anything else. I pray that you will be freed from yours.
    God bless.

  30. Byron Avatar
    Byron

    Ted, I’m not sure you are angry but there is a good amount of frustration in what you say (I know this because at times I get frustrated by the things you describe as well). But there are some things worth considering.

    First is that the Church is not in it’s own corner. Rather it defines the situation we find in the world. That the world wants to define itself and disregard the Church and its teachings is irrelevant. Ground yourself in the Church, Her teachings, Her calendar, Her sacraments, everything. This is the foundation of Truth.

    As for the pressure you feel, it is real. The world is unkind to many and the middle class is, in fact, under assault(s) on many sides. Will it disappear? I don’t know. I expect it will survive in some form. But the trials of the middle class have nothing to do with salvation and salvation should be the focus of our lives. This entails a great many things, but chief among them is humility and self-sacrifice. Trust in God. The paths of our lives are rarely straight but He guides us down them.

    As for our neighbors, live humbly and with as much love as you can. My priest once told me to give to the beggars on street corners, whether they are “professional beggars” or actually in need. The good that is done is done for my salvation. I give away money, which I count as very valuable when I should not. I learn humility by being willing to be cheated. My money will not save them from poverty or greed. But giving it away will save me from dependence on manna. Live humbly, give thanks, and (this one I’m learning is very hard) learn to correct no one. If your voice is requested, present the view of the Church but do not present it in opposition. Let it speak its own Truth. When all else fails, be silent and trust the lives around you to God with thanksgiving. Pray always.

    Just my thoughts.

  31. Esmée La Fleur Avatar
    Esmée La Fleur

    Ted – Based on the Holy Gospels and Epistles, the teachings of the holy Father, as well as the writings of ancient and modern Saints. I have come to understand that everything – without exception – is either willed by God or allowed by God for our salvation. Sometimes this is hard to swallow, but it doesn’t make it any less true. I recommend reading the newly translated The Sunflower by Saint John of Tobolsk if you wish to explore living in God’s will in more depth.

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