Sentiment, Suffering and Death

I awoke in the middle of the night to a strange thought. It did not seem to come out of a dream but was simply there in my mind. The thought was something like this: “They will have parties to celebrate suicides.” What the thought meant was that a day is coming in which people will gather for something of a “send-off” party, to celebrate someone’s decision to die. Euthanasia parties. It has probably already happened in a few places. The thought was not a speculation about the future. Rather, it was something like a realization: “this is going to happen.” It will seem normal and good, an example of the kindness of friends. That such a thing is possible, that my waking thought was both plausible and likely, reveals something about our present world. Dostoevsky famously said, “If God does not exist, everything is permitted.” What he did not see is that unless we are quite specific about who God is, everything is still permitted. Indeed, everything is not only permitted, but we will imagine it to have been blessed by God. There is a word for this God: sentimentality.

It is a word I’ve borrowed from the theologian, Stanley Hauerwas. It fittingly describes the God who is a cipher for a set of feelings, of sentiments. It describes a God who is “love,” when the word “love” has no specific content other than how we feel about something. In the scenario of my middle of the night thoughts, we will celebrate killing each other because it will feel good. This killing will be blessed by “God,” because what feels good is understood as love.

One of the dangers within sentiment is its inability to suffer. We do not generally choose to suffer. Thus, when guided by our sentiments, we choose that which allows us to avoid suffering. Modernity is a society largely constructed in a manner to minimize suffering (at least for many). Even if pleasure is not always maximized, it is nonetheless the primary product sought by consumers. “God” is no exception.

Suffering is the boundary of our existence, though to say it seems strange. We naturally withdraw from suffering, while we seek to make pleasure our own. Though we do not like suffering, it is also an essential element in our existence, at least in its mildest form. That form is constituted by being told, “No.” In our interpersonal relationships, “No” is essential in understanding boundaries. The other person is not me and there are boundaries that may not be crossed. Others do not exist for my pleasure.

In the Garden of Eden, there is a “no,” a Tree from which we may not eat. Everything else is given for use and enjoyment. But, oddly, that Tree alone serves as the primary sacrament of God. (There can be no eating from the Tree of Life, if the forbidden Tree’s fruit is consumed). For everything that is eaten, pleasure has its way. But the Tree whose fruit may not be eaten insists that God has spoken. The first recorded theological conversation takes place in the presence of that Tree (and turns out badly).

The primary suffering of our lives can be described as “legitimate suffering.” It is not necessarily painful so much as it is annoying, a way in which the world confronts us with our limits. A healthy life, indeed, the only path to a life of love, must embrace these limits and bear its legitimate suffering. Anything else is ultimately an expression of a narcissistic existence – a hallmark of the modern world.

The larger part of what passes for “ethics” in the modern world can be described as the avoidance and effort to abolish suffering. On its surface, such reasoning is always difficult to argue against. Only a heartless beast would refuse to relieve pain when he could (we reason). Indeed, relieving pain brings its own pleasure. But this reasoning also refuses to acknowledge the presence of the “Tree.” Even as we seek to relieve suffering, there is a “no” that confronts us. The pleasure of such a satisfying undertaking has a limit. “You shall not kill,” is one in particular.

There are other limits, but they are only apparent to someone who allows his life to be shaped and formed by the Cross of Christ. To be a Christian necessarily means to embrace a life within limits. We have a God who is not the product of our imagination or sentiments. He has revealed Himself in the God/Man Jesus Christ and taught us how we should live. Various contemporary Christianities that have embraced the God of sentiment can make no true claim to be Christian. Christ becomes window-dressing, a God whose function is to bless the modern way of life.

That we do not think about a life within limits is evidence of the disease (sin) at work within us. The collective narcissism of modernity, in its boundless consumption, slowly transforms the world into a deformed, poisoned and spent version of itself. We harness technology in order to extract more pleasure from the world, only to be enslaved to the technology itself. For example, our present economy could not exist unless technology is harnessed to control sex and procreation. We can no longer afford to live within the natural bounds of our biology and so unleash the limitless appetite of our sexuality onto the world. We consume one another.

The frightful experiment that was the Soviet Union has left examples of the unlimited life. It was the first nation to legalize abortion, freeing women into the marketplace and the economy. In the 1980’s, estimates say that there were 115 abortions for every 100 live births. The Russian population plummeted, creating an economic crisis – a shortage of human beings! Post-Soviet government policy, supported by the Church, has reduced abortions 8-fold over the past 25 years. Since 2007, the number of births has exceeded abortions by 2-to-1.  But the Russian state is currently seeking to implement an older tradition, a Christian vision rather than a purely modern vision. Time alone will tell how well it succeeds (and this is not meant to say that there are not many problems within contemporary Russia).

The classical virtues taught within traditional Christianity all presuppose a life of limits, self-discipline and the ability to embrace a God who can say, “No.” The traditional life within the Church intends to form and shape those virtues within its members. In contrast to this, contemporary Christianity, driven by a consumerist ideology, forms only the vapid pseudo-virtues of a shopper. When a Church member becomes unhappy and begins to search for a better Church, he is only exercising the “virtue” he has acquired. Those who live by shopping are bound to die by it as well. In time, the Mega-Churches will, undoubtedly, stand as empty as the shopping malls of the 80’s that have now been left behind. I have no hesitation to say such a thing because the desires of shoppers always change.

“We must learn to embrace change,” is a modern slogan, meant to underwrite the constant destruction of the present. “Take up your Cross and follow me,” is an older saying, one that suggests the need to embrace God-given limits in a life of self-emptying love.

We are not commanded to end suffering. We are commanded to be the kind of people who can stand with those who suffer and bear their burdens with them. This is a description of what Christ called, “The Church.”



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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76 responses to “Sentiment, Suffering and Death”

  1. Margaret Maines Avatar
    Margaret Maines

    This is a very sad scene for which we are headed! It will take courage not to fall into this trap and intimidation. Thankyou! God bless.

  2. Katy Avatar

    Lord, have mercy on our society.

  3. Byron Avatar

    Wonderful, Father. Many thanks for this.

    I am realizing more and more how important it is to give thanks for the difficulties, and even the suffering, in my life. But as I grow healthier (I have had two major surgeries this year and am recovering from both) it becomes more difficult to give thanks for the limits my body has experienced due to the need to heal.

    I think it is reflective of the difficulty of the rich to be humble before God. But how does one not be rich in health? It’s an odd dilemma of the spirit.

  4. Robert Avatar

    Such things are more common than you may be aware. Wesley J Smith writes and speaks about such things. A simple google search of his name will lead you if you’re interested.

  5. Dino Avatar

    Once again I find myself agreeing with every word although I couldn’t get the words to ever pour out like that. To use an image from Lewis, it’s as if someone’s pouring out a bottle of wine into the air (your articke) and yet an invisible glass is formed by it which is now containing the poured out liquid. (This reader’s mind)

    St Isaac the Syrian advises that we bring to memory the great sufferings of those who bore the biggest ones in order to assist ourselves to give thanks for our smaller sufferings.

  6. Margaret Maines Avatar
    Margaret Maines

    Your comment interested me especially today being that I only a few hours ago, responded to a dear friend living in a very poor country at the moment who said, “It is so hard depending on others for money and food, not being able to purchase anything at all.” I responded saying, “This kind of dependence is very humbling, and keep in mind and prayer, the people who are hungry with nobody else to depend on at all! Think of the little children in these conditions and you will be thankful for yours.” God bless you…..

  7. Kevin Avatar

    Lately, I’ve been wondering–how would our society be different today had Western Europe never abandoned Orthodoxy? Would we still have monarchs? Would there still be a Roman Empire in more than a metaphorical sense? Would we have had a scientific revolution? The same philosophical stream that has destroyed our moral foundation also led to great advances in medicine and technology that alleviate a lot of suffering. We rarely die from dumb things like getting pricked by a sewing needle or from a bad tooth. Granted, we do fall off cliffs while taking selfies. That’s pretty dumb. Cholera, famine, and bubonic plague don’t regularly ravage our cities these days and children have a pretty good chance of surviving to adulthood, which makes having a dozen of them less of a necessity. Would the Orthodox mindset have always tolerated these things as normal and spiritually beneficial for us, or would it have accepted the notion that if it’s in our power to improve something, then we should?

  8. Margaret Avatar

    Lord have Mercy! And He IS — thank you for this post, Fr. Stephen. It is so difficult to have young adult children in this society that you describe! Knowing that you, as a priest of the Church, can say these words and expose this type of thought and way of life (non-life) is a great comfort. God be praised.

  9. Margaret Avatar

    And by my comment I am referring to this post and especially your final lines: We are not commanded to end suffering. We are commanded to be the kind of people who can stand with those who suffer and bear their burdens with them. This is a description of what Christ called, “The Church.”
    Thank you!

  10. Nicholas Stephen Griswold Avatar
    Nicholas Stephen Griswold

    I thank our Lord for every difficulty that has tripped me up through my life. By the suffering caused by my bad choices I have come into the fullness of the Faith. I cannot see how alleviating or limiting the pain that my poor choices (sin) created that I would have ever come to where I am now. I am grateful to the pain and suffering for forcing me to abandon the pursuit of pleasure to seek the Face of God.

  11. Fr. Paul Yerger Avatar

    In the absence of faith, we govern by tenderness. And tenderness leads to the gas chamber, — Flannery O’Connor

  12. Andrey Avatar

    Kevin, that’s a very good observation and you got me thinking of that as well. At first I thought of Mendeleev and the periodic table, but that discovery came about after huge shifts in the West. However, one can also point to Greek fire, something which no one has been able to reproduce! That was invented before any schism and points to a “scientific” mindset present among Orthodox.

  13. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    It is impossible to truly or accurately imagine what might have been, though it’s always a tempting train of thought. Orthodoxy has never opposed science – the foundations of modern medicine are directly traceable to Byzantium. But we can never know what might have been. Rather, we should be aware that God’s Providence is at work in all things and live faithfully.

  14. Kevin Avatar

    It is interesting how the Crusaders came back from the Orthodox and Muslim East and within a couple centuries, the West revolutionized its science, mathematics, and architecture and ran with it in a way that the East may never have gone.

  15. ELM Avatar


    You’re right: euthanasia parties have already started happening in the past 10 years. If you read this article : and scroll down to the end of the section “From Birth to Death: A Doctor’s Gift” one lady literally says that it felt good to support someone as they committed suicide.

  16. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    For what it’s worth, there are a lot of rabbit holes to fall through in these kinds of speculations. They are fascinating, but, ultimately, only an exercise in imagination.

  17. Kevin Avatar

    I guess so. On a more practical level, then, how should I pray regarding someone who has had a minor stroke and a diagnosis of early-stage dementia? If I were in her shoes, I would just eat more fried chicken and ice cream because treating cardiovascular disease just to live long enough to completely lose my mind would be pointless. Her dad had Alzheimer’s, so she and her husband know what’s coming. Suffering when you don’t even know what’s going on anymore? I can see why some people might prefer a euthanasia party, instead.

  18. Aaron Avatar

    The idea of embracing suffering and finding God in the midst of trials has been on my mind a lot lately.

    What the modern project fails to recognize or admit is that pleasure and pain are inextricably linked. These never ending pursuits of pleasure seem always to be followed by pain, which we immediately flee from again in search of more and more pleasure. This is a path of destruction, which leads to death.

    Alternatively, when we embrace the suffering and pain we experience and bear the burdens of our neighbor, we learn to say no to our self-will and begin to understand the finitude of our existence apart from God. Seeing our efforts, we open our heart to the infinite love of God, in whom we “live and move and have our being.” Only He Who Is can transform our pain into pleasure for Christ is our true hope, our joy.

  19. Scott Weatherhogge Avatar
    Scott Weatherhogge

    “We are not commanded to end suffering. We are commanded to be the kind of people who can stand with those who suffer and bear their burdens with them. This is a description of what Christ called, “The Church.””

    There it is. Post it the wall!

  20. S Hodges Avatar
    S Hodges

    Tons of suicide party stories are available for the googling. Here’s one:

  21. Eleftheria Avatar

    Father Stephen,
    Euthanasia parties which are attended by only one person, the one who is dying, were already featured in Huxley’s Brave New World. It is astounding that how much of what he had written then in the 1930s has become today’s tragic realities!
    Suffering has been largely removed from the American household, beginning with the advent of funeral parlors. Living in a Southern European country like Cyprus these past 15 years, with its culture of extended familiall relations and households has taught me that when it comes to suffering, we Americans have shed far too much of what life was meant to be…living for our neighbor and God.
    In Christ,

  22. Dino Avatar

    I would pray that God grants me the vision of the “other side”. Without it we fail to discern His greatest providences in our lives: the crosses of sufferings that will become our salvific trophies on the other side (and assist us spiritually in hidden ways on this side too).

  23. Santosh John Samuel Avatar
    Santosh John Samuel

    Thanks again Father and for reminding us again that the Cross is the only way. How much of my own cross i willingly and gratefully bear is a sure yardstick of how much i love Christ and what He means to me. (On that count i happen to be a huge failure — yet hopeful.)
    Also reminded me of an article about two contrasting deaths:

  24. Ivan Avatar

    I think a modification of the modern idea of God, the even less Christian God that unbelievers think about, not only never says “No,” but also does not expect any praise or religious relationship from people (while some corporations do want promotion from their customers on social media, so the atheist God is not based on the model of a social corporation). A friend once said she thinks God does not mind her leaving her childhood Church (not an Orthodox one). I was surprised, but modern people can wonder, “what’s the point of organized worship”?

    I think one aspect of atheism is that some atheists do not see religion as theoretically meaningful from God’s perspective. I don’t understand this, but a God Who does not say “No” does not want to hear “Yes” either – if His boundaries are not followed, then consent to His authority will not be honored either. For some years, I attended but struggled to take the Church’s services seriously, as I wondered how hymnography can have anything to do with God and what He wants from us. It’s a wonderful mystery that sometimes takes years to learn. Surely it is easier to accept God’s “No” when saying “Yes” to Him in general.

  25. SC Avatar

    Father bless.
    Thank you for your wise words, which I found very relevant to Australia currently. Euthanasia will be allowable in an Australian state for the first time in January 2019. The head of heart transplantation at a hospital here said he would like to see patients euthanized by organ harvesting to increase the pool of available organs (which, if available, could easily spread to becoming a system of enforced “altruism”, I suspect). I fear we have scary times ahead. Lord have mercy.

  26. honingbij Avatar

    Euthanasia parties have also taken place in the Netherlands and here in Belgium.

  27. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Yes, I understand your point. Forgive me, but you’re describing a very modern spiritual life. I well understand the suffering (of a sort) that you describe – I’ve seen a very beautiful descent into Alzheimer’s by a monk, who, fully understanding it, embraced it in Christ. He wrote a public letter that I’ll look around for. It is hard as well for those who love someone to see them pass into dementia. But, we do not despair when we see a baby who does not yet “understand.” A person is fully present even in Alzheimer’s, though we cannot interact as we did before. We labor for love to overcome grief and to be with them in this new manner until their struggle is ended by God.

    Nothing is pointless, unless the point is to live a happy, modern life without suffering. Murder, even self-murder, is never the answer.

  28. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    I sat and watched a lecture by Hauerwas yesterday (I studied with him years ago). His analysis on this was utterly spot on. One thing he said about the modern God (whom he described as the “American God” – in that America is the great exemplar of the modern project) – was to note that the modern God is so vapid, etc., that He cannot even produce an interesting atheist. He particularly said that atheists in America are uninteresting. If you’re interested the lecture begins in the second half of this video:

  29. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    Your blessing, Father.
    Thank you for these valuable and timely words.
    Last evening I read this post after settling down from a day’s work. I was particularly burdened by a conversation with a woman who I know from our community. When I first met her, her negativity and anger struck me. There is something about her though, where she does not take any measures to hide the anger, yet she is quite approachable. Her responses are forthright. She tells it as she sees it, cussing and all. But she does not demean the person she is talking to. This is how I know it is “her anger”, in that it is not her intent bring everyone else down with her. But she is not one to put on a false front.
    Yesterday, after about a year of acquaintance, she finally opened up a little, which was a lot for her. She cried. No need to go into detail, but she has suffered bitterly. There is no way this woman would have accepted platitudes to relieve her pain, and my discomfort. She mentioned several times “this is my story”…my pain, and no one else’s…as if to say. so don’t tell me ‘oh, it’s going to be all right’, or, ‘oh, I know what you’re saying, so-and-so went through the same thing’. No they didn’t! ‘They’ are not her. To hear someone else ‘went through the same thing’ is to hear a denial of her pain and suffering, as if to say it is not as bad as you think.

    When we as Christians are told to bear each other’s burdens, and when the time comes when you have an actual experience of this, face to face, with another person, it is a heavy burden to bear. It is very tempting to avoid. It is difficult but I think it best that we ‘be quiet, listen, and be attentive’, withhold advice unless asked, and be receptive to the proper time (if it comes) to offer additional help, and avoid, due to our discomfort (in bearing their shame), trying to fix it. There are no explicit rules except to accept that person whole cloth…and understand that we really do not know that person’s pain and suffering. We don’t have to know. This, to me, is a way of loving our neighbor, as Christ loves us.

    On another note, Father….I think this is the link you were looking for in your response to Kevin:

  30. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Thank you for the link, Paula. I read it again and found it very comforting.

    I think, regarding your experience that you describe, that we Americans (exemplary moderns that we are) do not know very well how to bear suffering. So, our idea of “ministering” to someone who is suffering is to make them feel better. That effort often backfires and we say and do very stupid things that are more painful than the suffering itself.

    When I served as a hospice chaplain (’98-’00), I learned a lot of things not to say. Your patient is dying – you cannot and should not take that away from them. Slowly learning how to suffer with someone (the root meaning of the word “compassion”) is a skill and a virtue not taught in our culture. It is counter-instinctive for us.

    God give us grace!

  31. Xenia Avatar

    I am reminded of a wonderful story told by Fr. Tom Hopko, may his memory be eternal! One day a woman came to him and told him that she did not want to have some illness that required her to be dependent upon her children, that she was too proud and independent to allow that to happen. Fr. Tom replied, (to the best of my memory), “How do you know that your salvation does not depend upon you becoming humble enough to accept the care of your children? How do you know that their salvation does not depend upon them learning to be patient and caring when you are unable to care for yourself? Yours and their salvation may just depend upon this one thing.”

  32. Drewster2000 Avatar


    You bring up a good question, but not one we can answer. In fact these kinds of questions are so tricky for human beings. That’s because they start out as a muse: “I wonder what would have happened…” but they don’t end there. We decide that the answer is important to our beliefs – and by extension to our actions. It might go something like this:

    If the world had remained Orthodox, many medical advances and cures would never have happened. And because of our Orthodox mentality everyone would have counseled the sick and hurting to simply look at their ailment as another chance to grow and deepen through suffering. So in many ways we would still be in the Dark Ages…

    Well I have no control over the past, but since I have a heart condition and am definitely headed for dementia, I see no point in following the same path. I’m going to start living in whatever manner makes me happy – while I start organizing my euthanasia party. Because I simply don’t see any point to the suffering.

    This is where we stop living our life as it was given to us and start playing God. The bottom line is that we’ve been given a life – and suffering is a default part of that life. A person is smart to eliminate unnecessary suffering (i.e. don’t walk off cliffs or play with fire), but actually not smart if they try to avoid normal suffering (learning to walk, going out of their way for others, getting regular exercise). We were born with weaknesses and deficits that can only be cured by suffering.

    It is God who imparts life and it is He who should take it. I’m not saying there is never a place for allowing death (deciding when to turn off life support), just as there are hard cases where abortion seems permissible. The problem is that we take these hard cases and make laws out of them – because they suit our desire, which is to stop suffering. This is not really our decision to make. We are called to take the gifts we’ve been given – including suffering – and see what can be made with them.

  33. Chris S Avatar

    Thank you Fr. Stephen,
    A friend of mine shared a story from his childhood with me about suffering. Some traumatic event happened in his life and for the first time he experienced real pain. He described it as soulical pain that made him despair. He could not see who he could live with the future prospect of such suffering again. Up until that time he said he had been right as rain, knowing God, but now he was dashed upon the rocks. In the depth of his pain he said he raised his arms and called out to God, “give him all his pain now.” He said God’s answer to him was “No, it must be eked out over the term of your life.”
    I have experienced that if we give God thanks in our suffering we can at times experience the greatest consolation and joy in the midst of our sorrow.
    Glory to Thee O God, Glory to Thee!

  34. Evangelia Avatar

    Thank you so much for posting this father Stephen.
    I have to admit I was quite unaware of how much this issue has progressed and after having read the nytimes article that ELM posted it really makes me sick.
    This lukewarm ‘feel good’ modern stance is to alleviate suffering with the notion that we are somehow assisting.
    As Orthodox Christians we must pray for discernment and strength as this will be something we will be up against in our times.
    Glory to God for all things,

  35. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    Thank you Father Stephen for your response to my comment. I agree, we are not taught in our culture how to bear another’s burdens. I fear for people who have no hope. Even Christians whose hope in Christ recognize our weakness and the need to cry out to Him, if not at all times, during the times we hang by a thread.

    Just some more thoughts…
    The woman I referred to in my last comment repeated several times “I don’t know what to do”, as if talking to the air. She is suffering a loss that was part of her identity. I fear she sees no further purpose. I fear she does not understand the meaning of Life. Of a Creator Who is Being beyond all being, Who gives life, and sustains all. Of suffering, even death, here in this life (that seems senseless apart from the truth of the wages of sin), but actually is the means to everlasting Life…given freely by God Himself in His suffering, death, and Resurrection.
    Who can understand this? The modern world has been deceived and has been drawn away from Truth…from knowledge of God, where now Philosophy has trumped Theology, where Theology is now just another area of academic study. God has been relegated to take a position. A low one at that.
    I fear for those with no hope, who ‘don’t know what to do’, may do what many others have done…put an end to their life by their own means…like those very sorry people who have been lured into the deception of euthanasia. This is a lie from the father of lies himself. This is what subjection to the powers of darkness (who were told “No!” as well, when they wanted to be on par with God) looks like. They deceive us into thinking killing oneself is dignified and cause for celebration. They not only hate God, but hate of our image of Him. The biblical sense of the word ‘freedom’ or ‘free choice’ has been manipulated to infer ‘no constraint’. Yet the fact is that our birth is utterly devoid of our own will. But our death? No…we shall be in control…not God. This is confusion…a lie that in our birth we have no say, but we do in our death. By pleasing the senses in avoidance of suffering, a desire within all human beings, Satan uses the horror of death itself, dresses it up with words like ‘dignity’ and ‘euthanasia’ with the use of pain meds and anesthesia to end a person’s life. Not only that, but he makes sure the world (he is prince of) is fully unaware of the implications of the resurrection of the dead. Oh….! Yes, they speak about dignity. They do not see the dignity of The Cross…the dignity of Christ our God, God Himself, bore our shame and suffering by hanging in the midst of the earth on a Tree. They see no dignity in that. But that is exactly what dignity looks like. Self-emptying love. He did not turn His face from suffering, but went to the Cross joyfully. This is dignity.

    One more thing, if you will….at some point in time we legislated euthanasia for animals. Millions are put to death. Ones that are not even ill. To the point where some know it is wrong, so they now have ‘no-kill’ shelters. To me, it is not such a far cry from this to killing human beings. It is taught now that humans are not exceptional…so it makes it easier to put our lives on par with animals and simply to do away with life when it is no longer “productive”.

    Oh God, have mercy on us…Lord…have mercy…..

  36. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Yet, something innate in most of us values life. I work in an area in which there are a lot of homeless people. Were I to have one day as they live, I do not know if I could go on. Yet they do. I marvel at that and try to ease a little of the burden when I can, but that is not often.

  37. Dino Avatar

    Indeed Paula
    The greatest image of true dignity that remains with me is of certain people in their last hours who accepted “Thy Will Be Done” while being stripped of all strength (and secular ‘so called dignity’.) Their spiritual strength (in their utter weakness) haunts you in a good way and you are given to experience assureness of their salvation the second they fall asleep in the Lord.

  38. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    Michael….thank you for the balance. Yes, we do value life, because we are created for eternal life, in His image. And yes, I too marvel at the homeless people. Interestingly, most of them I have conversed with have a reverence for God. You can “see” it.

    Dino….thanks for your response. I was ‘on the edge’, so to speak, when I posted my previous comment, after reading that NYT article from ELM.

    Now we enter a week of celebration…of Thanksgiving to our good God. We need so much to remember that He remembers us and is with us in every moment. There is much to give thanks for, even in our weakness as He carries us through.

  39. David Waite Avatar
    David Waite

    The modern [American] God is so vapid, etc., that He cannot even produce an interesting atheist. – Fr. Stephen Freeman

    Oh, Amen to that! Amen, amen and amen. I have not encountered an interesting atheist in years! Decades, perhaps. And I sorely miss the discussions we used to have. Taught me so much about my faith.

  40. Joseph Barabbas Theophorus Avatar


    You hit on a *big* one with animal euthanasia. It is extraordinarily evil. As wrong as euthanasia is, there is (based on a wrong understanding of “free will”) still some concept of consent (for now) and, often, still hope of an afterlife. But with an animal, it is all imposed and the theologies of how they fit in in Heaven are mixed, to say the least. Thus, in some ways, animal euthanasia is an even more direct attack on The Cross Of Christ, a statement that His work is the ultimate evil and that death is our salvation(!!), even if it means giving up all memories, all hope, all existence forever. It is perversity beyond description. And as Fr’s recent podcast about sacrifice reminded us, worship involves sacrifice. So really, I put euthanasia, including animal euthanasia, in the same category as “literal” idol worship, offering sacrifices to a false god/demon/whatever. This is not an action that can be “discussed”, not an action that might even get a “little penance” or something. No. If you do that, you are outside of The Faith. I won’t bring in the canons and all that, but it is deadly serious, beyond almost anything else a person could do.

    And I think that, like most of the issues in modernism, we bear lots of very direct responsibility. I can’t think of a single Orthodox article I’ve ever read on animal euthanasia. And, further, I don’t recall hearing anyone formally speak out against it, much less treat is as what it is. So, once again, this is on us—and human euthanasia is on us. (I take it even further and do not even allow children’s books with anthropomorphic animals—the fruits of that are consistently bad.) If we had some hierarchical firepower behind this one, we’d be shocked at how that would reverberate not just though The Church, not just through Christianity, but through the world. People would see that there is an alternative. Right now, we haven’t given them one. And if we’ve lost our saltiness, then where else can they go? Last times indeed.


    I would very much appreciate more discussion—at least an article!—on bearing another’s suffering. We talk a lot here about bearing our own little shame, but we’ve got to love our neighbor as ourself and I think that would be a very, very fruitful avenue. Love has to be lived and taught—teach us more about it.


  41. juliania Avatar

    In some ways this was a troubling post for me, Father. I most certainly agree that euthanasia, like abortion, is in general an offensive activity – we are given God’s gift of life, and His must be the ultimate decision about it. Which means that, for us, life is very precious and not to be cast aside as the alternative to suffering. Yet, when it comes to the pain of others, I don’t think it is enough for us to simply ‘share the burden,’ if it is possible to allay the suffering of others, even in the smallest sense. And even if we do the wrong thing in our effort to help, as can happen. I think we need to try.

    I couldn’t find a Scriptural passage about sentiment, though of course in Dostoievski a clear example is Mme Hokhlakov’s ‘comforting’ of Dmitri when he’s at wit’s end seeking ready cash. However, there is also the example of Fyodor both rejoicing in his wife’s death and weeping for her. Dostoevski has a wonderful sentence describing that: “In most cases, people, even wicked people, are far more naive and simple-hearted than one generally assumes. And so are we.” Then later, he says again about Fyodor, “He was sentimental. He was wicked and sentimental.” And I think of one who is not sentimental as one in whom all sentiment is dead – Stavrogin perhaps.

    I just wonder about us being too critical of such sentimentality. ( Please feel free to object to my observation on this.)

  42. juliania Avatar

    To add to my comment above, life being precious, I think the emphasis is wrong when it comes to end of life care. Most certainly the agony of approaching death can be muted by drugs which take away or diminish the pain to supportable levels by medication. It seems to me that is a life-supporting measure, even if the side effect may be a weakening to death of the heart. The person being given such medicine doesn’t wish to die but to live. That, to me, is not euthenasia.

  43. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Having once been a hospice chaplain, I am very familiar with end of life care. Indeed, the hospice movement, historically, has been deeply opposed to euthanasia (though who knows anymore?). The medication for pain, etc., might inadvertently shorten a life, it is true. So could an operation. But those are not efforts of euthanasia, as you rightly said. Much of the argument in favor of euthanasia is undermined if there is good and sufficient hospice care.

    Of course, euthanasia is a great money-saver, since more money is spent in health care in the last stages of illness than anywhere else. I cynically suspect governments to be increasingly in favor of euthanasia for financial reasons.

    But, sentiment being what it is, it is easily manipulated. Good sentiments, feelings, etc., are normal and healthy. But sentiment that is not grounded, or poorly grounded, is a dangerous thing.

    The entire argument viz. the transgender “movement,” is based in sentiment rather than reality, for example. It is madness, driven by well-meaning people who “care.”

  44. tess Avatar

    Paula and Joseph Barabbas,

    I don’t disagree with your conclusions about the importance of cherishing even animal life. However, I am a bit uncomfortable with the blanket generalizations about animal euthanasia simply because I know of a number of farmers and others involved in animal husbandry who would take offense at the way your defense is worded, and would argue that their decisions are, in fact, quite humane. Do you think culling the herd, or euthanizing for similar reasons, falls under the auspices of what you’re talking about?

    Of course, in a perfect world, there would be enough money and resources to care for every animal in a loving way. But I fear that we might be painting with too broad of a brush when we malign the decisions that are involved in husbandry. Do you disagree?

  45. David Waite Avatar
    David Waite

    Father – Thank you so much for the link to the Hauerwas video. He is scandalously funny! I must watch more, even though I do not always agree with him. (Ordination of women, for example.)

  46. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    I readily agree re:Hauerwas. When his ideas are at their best, they are on target, I think. But, every so often, you realize that you’re still listening to a Protestant. When I studied with him, I often challenged him on various things – indeed, I thought then that his “project” would probably only make sense in an Orthodox context. My chairman was Geoffrey Wainwright, a British theologian, who was/is interesting in his own right.

    But, I’ve never listened to anything of Hauerwas that did not make me think. Even when I disagree, I think I come out of the encounter with greater clarity and understanding.

  47. Byron Avatar

    But our death? No…we shall be in control…not God.

    Paula, you’ve hit the nail on the head here. The studies I’ve read show that most people who choose suicide/euthanasia do so because of loss of autonomy, not because of unbearable pain (or other causes). It is a result of our sin of pride and reflects the lack of humility in Western Society as much as anything else. It is certainly not compassionate.

  48. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    You ask a good question. Thanks for the opportunity to think about this.

    Understand, I am not a farmer or a rancher. Matter of fact, I did not know what ‘culling the herd’ meant! I looked it up…and it immediately reminded me of OT Jacob working his and Laban’s herds, separating the speckled…etc. And I thought, well I don’t think Jacob or Laban killed the undesirable ones…at least it doesn’t say that in the biblical story. Anyway, I thought that was something to take note of.
    As for your question…again, having never lived the life of a farmer or rancher, I have no experience of that way of life. Interestingly though, I live in an area founded by ranchers and farmers…my property even borders a dairy. Over the years I have come to understand their way of life, as an ‘outsider’ (I don’t mean this in a bad way). Their animals are the means to their sustenance (and our nourishment!). I get that. My animals are my ‘family’, plain and simple. So my conscience would not allow for killing the ‘undesirable’ animals, as is meant in ‘culling the herd’. In other words, I’d make a lousy farmer, unless I could do it Jacob’s way! And Tess, there is nothing I can do about those who “would take offense at the way [my] defense is worded” because I do not in any way mean to offend. I’m not even sure what words I said you are referring to. Know too that I am not at odds with my rancher/farmer neighbors, either. I’m sure they think I’m a little odd…and I wouldn’t argue that point either!!
    That’s all I can say, Tess. You know, I am not a vegetarian…so, I mean, the meat I eat is from an animal that has been killed. These things Father speaks of often…that we do things we would not, in the best of situations, do. This world is what is given us now. The best is yet to come. Then they’ll be no killing of anything.

  49. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Fr Stephen, after your response to Juliana, I think it would be helpful to hear more about how the current wave of transgenderism is a form of sentimentality. I believe I understand what you’re saying but I think I need (and perhaps others too) more elaboration to learn and understand this phenomenon. Is this an appropriate question in this thread?

    I’m in circumstances that aspires to be a “safe zone” for people who exhibit this phenomenon. And I desire to be a loving presence (as Christ would be), but coincidentally I’m discovering that small indications of my Christianity seems to have the effect of being challenging. My interpretation of these responses to my expression of my Christianity, is that I might be perceived as a participant in the political arena of the “Christian Right” which openly expresses condemnation of others who do not fit (one way or another) in that political group. I’m not sure I’m expressing my question well. Please forgive me as I attempt to understand the sentimentality aspect of transgenderism. Is it that it is about how one feels about their orientation and therefore an aspect of sentimentality?

  50. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Paula, Tess, Joseph,
    I am not aware of anything in the Tradition that forbids the killing of animals. Obviously, their treatment should be kind, without callousness and with great care. Nonetheless, I’m loath to head down a discussion path that creates a moral demand that is not particularly present in the tradition.

  51. Joseph Barabbas Theophorus Avatar

    tess, Fr,

    Yes, there is quite a large difference in killing an animal for meat, for fur, or for some other use and killing it to “end suffering”. It is quite interesting, I think, that many cultures have such certainty about not killing/eating certain animals (eg, cats—and I say that having a cat) but, when euthanasia comes around, we have the opposite tendency: protest—even outrage and violence—if we perceive that the “right” of animal euthanasia may be threatened and that suffering might be given legitimacy in The Cross. That said, yes we should still reflect the love of Christ towards animals. I wouldn’t use the word “humane”, though—it is regularly used to justify all kinds of atrocities. And I would not equate butchering some animals of a flock as euthanasia—not would I call it that off-handedly, because euthanasia is such a grave thing. All of that husbandry is quite typical, normal, even in the lives of saints; I am certainly not against violence or killing, to a degree that might bother a number of people here. But I would caution that managing a flock can be a very different than shepherding one—the managerial mindset can bring us down into some very dark valleys, even when we’re not talking about managing history. We have to live The Cross not just in our “spiritual” lives but in our professions, and that is not an easy thing. Are we representing Christ to the animals, and to those we’re giving/selling them and their meat to? Or are we managing numbers? There is a large difference.

  52. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    ” I’m loath to head down a discussion path that creates a moral demand that is not particularly present in the tradition.”
    Appreciate your lead here, Father. You are right about a moral demand not present in the Tradition. My original thought was about the gift of life, its disregard and I used our treatment of animals as an example. It has become a hot button issue with the advent of ‘animal rights activists’. You well say that it is with kindness and great care would we regard animals, as with all of God’s creation. God knows well our heart and our circumstances. All things, whether we see it or not, He works for the good. It is the wonder of Providence. At least that’s the way I see it.

    JBT…your comments are well thought out. I appreciate what you have said. Thanks for that.

  53. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    I have to confess being reluctant to say too much on the transgender issue – having noticed that it’s a very strong emotional “trigger” for some – particularly among the young. Nevertheless, I will speak my peace.

    Historically, there have always been some cases of gender dysphoria, people who, for whatever reason, feel “out of place” in their malesness or femaleness. These cases, I believe, are a complex mental issue, and, in even more rare instances, possibly having a root in a biological anomaly. That said, what we are seeing today has little or nothing to do with this historical reality. Rather, we are seeing widespread instances of gender hysteria (my term for it) in which transgenderism has become a psychological fad.

    This does not mean that the people who are caught up in this hysteria do not genuinely experience what they say they are experiencing. But such hysteria is not at all uncommon – particularly in the modern world. Anorexia, bulimia, suicide, cutting, indeed, a whole range of behaviors have tracked on this path. All of them are real, and even deadly. But, looked at as an epidemiological phenomenon, these things can be seen to have a strong social component – not unlike “communicable anxiety.”

    The rise in the number of transgender related cases among the young clearly exceeds anything that could be described as biologically based (unless it were caused by a virus – which it is not). This is made extremely complicated by the simple fact that science-based discussions have given way to political/ideological concerns, making even asking questions into an “unsafe” act of hatred (sic).

    Added to that is the equal hysteria of some on the political right and left that help guarantee that this will remain a political football rather than something our culture will come to grips with in a sane manner.

    Tragically, this whole matter is pushing into earlier ages and is becoming increasingly confused and confusing.

    The psychology of sexual identity is not as simple as chromosomal biology. There is nothing in our biology that puts some in dresses and others in pants, or that creates highly refined social roles. There is an obvious role of socialization that has always played a major part in the formation of our identities. It is, I think, a natural part of the fact that we are social beings.

    Just as socialization has always played a key part in nuturing (even defining) social identities, of which male and female are obviously essential, so, too, culture is currently (and always) still playing that key part. What has changed in all of this is culture – not its role, but the culture’s own understanding.

    As recently as 2008, no presidential candidate in America supported the concept of same-sex unions. This is to say that, even on the Left, there was great uncertainty in the matter. By 2015, a mere 7 years, this had not only changed, but with the Obergefell v Hodges decision, actually became to law of the land. A psycho-social tsunami has swept away the history of sexual identity and relationships and left a very changed, uncertain, and mine-filled landscape.

    My last Anglican parish often thought I was extreme in my warnings about the coming embrace of same-sex unions (this was in the 90’s). They thought I was overstating the case and simply being alarmist. They were traditional, but did not want to be reactionary. Last month, there was a same sex “marriage” at their altar, without comment. Today, I would be seen not only as having been alarmist, but simply mean, homophobic, etc.

    We are in the middle of a culture shift, the depths and likes of which have no precedent that I can recall in history. What is the nature of the shift? I believe the nature of the shift is one of insanity. The culture no longer has confidence in the socialization of men and women. Largely, the only remaining confidence is in the notion that the culture should have no confidence in the socialization of men and women.

    But the culture will always have this socialization role – it is simply and unavoidably a fact of life. What is quickly being set in place is a newly created role, rooted in radical academic thought (not in science or in carefully considered discussion and debate), and enforced with a vigor rarely seen outside of the old Marxist regimes of political thought crimes. Law suit averse corporation-based human resource culture has guaranteed that the workplace will accept the newly defined roles. Schools, for much the same reason, are embracing it as well. Universities have long been a breeding ground for the new radicalism – I’ve heard consistent stories for a couple of decades of people being bullied into silence when trying to criticize this wave in academia. I do not see it getting better or changing anytime soon.

    I take this as a symptom of cultural decline and self-destruction. It belongs to the same cultural madness as abortion and euthanasia in that it represents a claim that individuals can invent themselves in whatever form, by whatever means possible, and then demand that their invention be accepted by the culture as a whole, and that any resistance be punished. This is a deep sickness of the soul.

    Like all sickness, it leads to death. We are living at the end of an age during the wholesale collapse of a culture. The theological/philosophical/ideological assumptions that underpinned Western Civilization (for good and bad) are disappearing – more deeply and profoundly than at any time previously. What is left, I think, is a culture of the will to power. Because the rising norms are frequently at odds with “nature” (however we might define that term), they cannot be allowed to simply assert themselves. Unlike gravity, they do not make their own case. Because they cannot assert themselves, they will only be successfully put in place and maintained by force – emotional, political, legal, etc. Free thought and free expression of thought will be early victims, even though they gave rise to the very madness that will kill them.

    Where are Christians in all of this? We are more than conquerors through Christ. We should have no fear, nor should we give ourselves over to fear and anger. “The anger of man does not work the righteousness of God,” St. James says. If I am right (and I believe wholeheartedly that I am), “nature” itself will guarantee that this madness has an end. But, as Christians, we are not in charge of the madness of culture. As long as we are allowed, we must speak the truth with love and patience, expecting to pay the cost. We must teach our children.

    In the worst of the Soviet period, Christianity existed and was maintained quietly in an underground manner. Even V. Putin was baptized as a child – quietly. One of my parishioners told the story of being punished for singing Christmas carols. What he learned after that, in the home, was to continue singing, but to learn to practice more careful secrecy. He said that within 3 years, the Soviet Union had fallen and his silence was ended. He could sing to his heart’s content.

    There are some who urge that Christians must take up the battle in the “culture wars.” I’m doubtful about that. For reasons that are unclear to me, what constitutes the “mainstream” of our culture will not take up a conversation on this topic, leaving the conversation to the most shrill and angry voices on both sides, making the “wars” much more like “wars.” I have any number of friends, for example, who no longer identify themselves as “conservatives” simply because the term has become associated with certain extremes – their point-of-view has not changed – but the cultural landscape has.

    I think the Christian struggle is simply to be Christian – to live rightly and in accordance with Christ’s commandments – regardless of what the culture around us does. I think this is the only path of spiritual sanity. Wars make us crazy.

    When sentimentality (thoughts, feelings, ideas whose existence does not extend beyond their mere assertion) governs a culture, we can expect insanity to result eventually. At some point, things will change. No one can predict it, but some event, or series of events will swing sentimentality in a different direction and things will change. The Christian hope is that what we believe is itself in agreement not only with God’s revealed understanding, but with creation itself which was formed and shaped by that same understanding. As I’ve said before, gravity is an eloquent argument for gravity. The reality of the ground of male and female is not psychological – but biological. It argues for itself in the long run.

    It is also true that we may have to sing our songs quietly for a while. That God and creation are singing along with us should give us some comfort – and courage when required.

    A note to readers: I would appreciate no one taking statements from this long comment out of context and posting them separately on social media. I cannot prevent that – but I would prefer not to be used as an agent to provoke more sentiment in the stupid conversations of the culture war. Thank you.

  54. tess Avatar

    Paula and JBT–
    Thanks for your patient responses. I completely understand the distinction between the ways we relate to animals when they are our pets as opposed to when they are being raised in a flock or herd. I didn’t mean to accuse you of feeling otherwise, I just got a bit tripped up over the words. 🙂
    And thank you, Father, for your pastoral caution. 🙂

  55. Dean Avatar

    Father Stephen,
    I was speaking to some people at church yesterday who are into conspiracy theories. You mentioned that anger does not work the righteousness of God
    (St. James). I cannot dwell on these theories as they can breed anger/fear in me. As Timothy writes, “God did not give us a spirit of fear, but of love, power and a sound mind.” I have none of these qualities listening to the news or to conspiracists. Better to let the peace of God govern my heart.
    (St. Paul)
    Btw…your comment above is a keeper. I’ll re-read it.

  56. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    I believe the present anger we see at work in people is evidence of a deep demonic assault. It is poisoning some parts of Orthodoxy and should be the subject of profound repentance. If the Spirit of Peace will save a thousand souls all around you, the spirit of anger will drag even more into hell.

  57. Kevin Avatar

    Fr. Stephen,
    Fr. Seraphim Rose addressed much of these social/philosophical issues back in the 1960s even before the “revolutions” happened. His little book, “Nihilism,” is on my to-read list, but I’ve read his lecture notes tracing Western culture from the Great Schism to the present and they’re quite an eye-opener. I don’t think many aspects of Western “values” are worth defending by Orthodox Christians because they are unorthodox at their roots. Fighting against cultural decline requires adopting the culture’s terms of debate and Orthodoxy existed outside the theological and philosophical stream of Western Europe until very recently. Stepping in on a particular side presents the temptation to become “relevant” to that side, which requires some kind of compromise. The Protestantism of American conservatives is steeped in individualism and democracy, which ultimately lead to personal and national disorder, so how can there be an Orthodox defense of traditional culture on American terms? I don’t see how that works because “traditional culture” in Orthodoxy looks very different. Orthodoxy should be the shelter in the storm for people who see that “Rome” is crumbling and wish to separate from it–a kind of “Benedict option.”

    As for euthanizing animals, note that Abbot Tryphon recently had a very old cat euthanized to end its suffering from cancer. The suffering of an animal doesn’t have a salvific purpose, so to shorten what in nature would be an agonizing process with no real point seems acceptable and good.

  58. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    Father…your response to Dee’s question is a post within a post. So very helpful is your clarity on these matters. Thanks so much. And Dee, thanks for asking.

  59. Byron Avatar

    The Protestantism of American conservatives is steeped in individualism and democracy, which ultimately lead to personal and national disorder, so how can there be an Orthodox defense of traditional culture on American terms?

    Kevin, it is often helpful in any discussion to point out that we (re: Orthodox) do not even begin at the same foundational point(s) of reference that modern Western culture does. We are literally talking in a different language. The presuppositions they take for granted, we disavow.

    I have found that it is very helpful to point this out quickly, not to throw anyone off-balance (we are not trying to “win”), but rather to make them aware. I have also found that people tend to listen more carefully when I point this out. It helps the conversation, when the other person is honest in their attempts to converse (and realizes that you are the same). In all things, be kind.

  60. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    American culture is itself the first and finest example of the modern project. It cannot be described as a traditional culture at all. What has appeared “traditional” for many years has been a sort of Protestant synthesis, based in an older “common sense” philosophy, that assumed that what seemed like “common sense” was actually somehow supported by secular, rational realities. Time has proven that to have worn thin. Orthodoxy, for many, I suspect, is simply seen as a conservative version of this same common sense – a defense of what has been.

    Orthodoxy is not, in fact, a common-sense philosophy, but something else – a true tradition. My personal beef with Fr. Seraphim is that he looks to the European Enlightenment (Nietzsche) as some pervasive force in American modernity. I do not think it is the case – or, at least, not historically the case. He can be forced into that role, but he has never had much of a following in America, just as America never had much of a real Marxism. Be that as it may, it’s probably a moot point. We’ve got a lot of both these days – but mostly a bunch of inconsistent sounds of a disintegrating culture. I do not think America can be fixed. Orthodoxy is certainly not in a place to have any affect at all.

    Orthodoxy is a place to live because it is true – but we already live as a minority (and when we don’t, we lose our Orthodoxy). It is learning how to live as a minority that is so difficult for people who have no such experience to draw from. American Orthodoxy historically worked very hard to move out of the minority into the mainstream. It must be frustrating to some to hear so many of us calling for abandoning that effort. I have lived and served among the ruling class. I left it on purpose and am slowly learning to live in a different manner.

  61. Kevin Avatar

    The European Enlightenment was a good century or more before Nietzsche and its philosophy animated the founding principles of America. Europe took a dark path toward nihilistic chaos and destruction. America took certain aspects of nihilistic thought and built an empty, pleasure-seeking culture. Fr. Seraphim would probably say we’ve created a kinder, gentler nihilism. Our political system and our preference for having fun and making money have kept us from a destructive climax so far. I’m not sure what another great economic crisis will bring, though. We are entering the demagoguery phase of our political evolution in a “good” economy. It can only get worse from here.

  62. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Fr Stephen,
    Thank you so much for answering my question with so much care and detail. I sincerely appreciate it. Sometimes it is hard to articulate what I sense is happening regarding the political and cultural stream that play into this phenomena. Your pastoral insight is very helpful.

    In reference also to your answer to Kevin, I too am grateful for Orthodoxy’s “minority” stance. To be honest, I’m often leery of “mission and evangelical” goals among the Orthodox. These messages seem to me to be attempts to become a religious mainstream, oriented toward ‘American-style-success’. Perhaps it may sound odd that I’m grateful for its “messiness”. But in this culture where organization, movements and activism are engaged to pit one group against another and to create ‘forces’ of societal change– such messiness appears to be the hallmark of what it takes to sincerely maintain the Tradition–that is through the Holy Spirit rather than anything man can do. I pray that it shall always have the movement and strength of the Holy Spirit among the weak and poor.

    I greatly appreciate your words:

    I have lived and served among the ruling class. I left it on purpose and am slowly learning to live in a different manner.

    Your circumstances resonate very much with me. I pray that I too will learn to live in a different (Christ-like) manner.

  63. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    This is very much a part of what I mean when I urge people to get out of the business of trying to manage history. We barely manage ourselves, and that very badly. It is for us to follow Christ in His commandments and allow God to take care of the work of Providence. I believe in His good will, and think I make a bad mess of things when I work on improving it. Repentance of the heart is very difficult and a hard business.

    The Church has been a major part of several civilizations. We don’t know what the future holds for us. I find it important to pay attention to Christ and the Apostles’ words about how difficult the last days will become and how few of us there might well be. That does not sound like an outcome arrived at by managing history and running the world. It doesn’t even look like success. But Christ Himself understood that this would be the outcome of things in the end and told us so. I’m just surprised that we forget that and work so hard to keep it from coming true.

  64. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Father, I think you are wrong on the Nietzchean influence. I read all of Nietzche and studied him quite throughly for a solid year in college. I was quite surprised when my son was reading Ralph Waldo Emerson as a young man and noticed a marked similarity of substance.

    They both had a root in neo-pagan Platonism and we’re reacting to what they considered Protestant hypocrisy and inauthenticity.

    There is also quite a long history of proto-fascism in the US that goes back to at least the early 19th century. My grandmother, a medical doctor, and my great aunt were a part of it in the early 20th century promoting eugenics including creating “better baby contests” at state fairs judging white babies like cattle. Not to mention the actual Fascists who arose at the same time that included members of Congress.

    Again no direct connection but much more than you give credit. I think Fr. Seraphim was perceptive on this in significant ways. Since my own reading and study of history had suggested many of the same ideas before I read his book, I found him to be quite credible.

    Of course, I could still be wrong as there are a lot of wholes in my reading and largely self-directed study. Nevertheless I think there is a great deal more to the theory.

  65. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    I could be wrong on the matter. I’m almost always skeptical about too narrow a focus on historical causes, mostly because I think it oversimplifies. Inasmuch as Nietzsche can be grouped with other forces – I have no doubt that he can be cited as having a role. But, primarily, I do not think that he had as great an impact in America as Fr. Rose credited him with. I will note that Fr. Rose was a graduate of Berkeley, which put him in some circles that were more elite, less mainstream than most of America that I know (at least until recently).

    But, I may very well be underestimating all of this. I think I tend to see things less in terms of a force driving them than of their own collapse. That said, the neo-Marxism on campuses and in many academic departments is quite real.

    When I was at Duke in the late 80’s, one of my good friends and neighbors was a member of the philosophy faculty at the University of Beijing. He was doing a second doctorate in philosophy at Duke. He once said to me, “I never met a Marxist until I came to Duke.” We both got a good laugh out of this. Later that year, Tiananmen Square occurred. His family was recalled to China, and he was afraid to have any more conversations. Apparently, the Marxists had not all disappeared from China.

  66. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    It has been a long time since I read the book but what I remember was not so much Nietzche himself as the Nihilism of which he was the prophet-that he epitomized. That is a strain of thought that has a strong strain in the US. It is the dark underbelly of the Enlightenment. The cynicism.of Voltarire and others magnified and deepened in the guise of pre-Christian truth recovered and invigorated. But it does not really matter. It is all of a similar denial to the Lordship of the Incarnate Christ. Realizing that such thought no matter where it came from was deeply wrong was a critical part of Jesus leading me to the Church.

  67. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    …especially as I see the Nietzchean vision being played out everywhere around me and in the souls of so many.

    For me, Fr. Seraphim was someone who.awakened me to that. He was a significant figure in my journey to the Church. I am in no way a disiciple of him but he struggled with the same milleau I struggle in. By God’s grace I believe he conquered. For that I honor him. I like his idiosycratic approach that deepened over his life. One of his last lectures recorded in the book “God’s Revelation to the Human Heart” is of an entirely different type. The scope has narrowed to God’s grace in our hearts. The full antidote to the rebellion he chronicled earlier in his life before he was in the Church.

  68. David Waite Avatar
    David Waite

    Despite the fact that I am an intellectual professional, I have striven all my life to live among the middle and working classes. My wife and I prefer their company and their lifestyle. From my perspective, it would appear that Oral Roberts, Ralph Reed and Joel have been more influential than Nietzschke and Marx.

  69. David Waite Avatar
    David Waite

    I meant to say Joel Isteen. Sorry.

  70. David Waite Avatar
    David Waite

    I give up

  71. juliania Avatar

    Thank you, Father Stephen, for your response and for the extension on the subject of sentimentality when a question was asked about its application. I shall copy it down, along with your advisory not to promulgate it. (Sometimes our Lord would do the same.) I was reminded in your words about Christianity under communism, that there was a program in depth on tv back in those days, wherein a Moscow resident simply said “There is hope so long as every household has an icon in the corner.” That same program showed a monastery in, I think, Romania, where the abbot went around giving the Easter greeting “Christ is Risen!” all through the year, to everyone and even to the animals.

    Those two instances are all that I remember from the program long ago. How longlasting!

  72. Chris S Avatar

    Thank you everyone for your comments, as always they are thought provoking.
    I did want to comment on euthanasia: Man needs to repent animals do not. A cat, a dog, or an elephant or whatever animal it may be is perfect in the sense of being a cat, a dog or an elephant, they are not in need of repentance. Where as mans only hope is to repent and come unto the Spirit of truth.

    Lord have mercy

  73. Nicole from VA Avatar
    Nicole from VA

    Hi Father, there was a movie in the early 1990s about this, a send off for Euthanasia, called ‘It’s My Party’ I watched it as a teenager back when there were no therapies for HIV. I think it captures a moment in history

    I see this happening more broadly

  74. Matth Avatar

    Can you explain what you meant when you wrote that the primary sacrament of God was the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil?

  75. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Yes. Good question. Boundaries are necessary in order to know or encounter anything/anyone. If there is no boundary, then I am just absorbing things into myself (or being absorbed). The only boundary give in the Garden was that which surrounded the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. As such, that alone allowed them to encounter the first thing we need to know about God: “He is not me.” Respecting the no, not eating of the tree, is a yes to God. So, strangely, it is God’s no to us, in order for us to say yes to Him.

    That Tree, of course, should not be seen as a kind of wicked tree (it’s odd that people seem to think of it that way). It was meant to accompany the Tree of Life. Both trees, somehow are gathered together into the Cross. One gives death, the other gives life. In our human reality – we ultimately come to know life through death – we trample down death, by death. The death by which we come to know life is the death of Christ – His death becomes our death, so that His life might become our life as well. But He has not made a path to life for us that goes around or avoids death.

    How all of that “would have” played out, had there been no fall is not given to us to know (though some fathers speculate on it).

  76. Matth Avatar

    Father, thank you for the reply. I understand what you mean now.

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