An Unnecessary Existence

In Dostoevsky’s The Demons, the character, Kirillov, is insanely fascinated with freedom. He cannot bear the fact that he did not choose his own existence. Life is a “given.” In what must be seen as a parable of the radical thought of the 19th century, Kirillov determines to kill himself, the only act of true freedom he can take.

His insight about the necessity of his own existence and its lack of freedom was correct. We did not choose existence for ourselves – it is given to us. I must eat. I must breathe. I must work. I must suffer. These are unavoidable necessities. The nature of created existence is marked by such necessity. It is, of course, possible to embrace our necessity and make peace with it. However, Kirillov’s intuition, that such necessity is at odds with freedom remains true.

Freedom is a major theme within the gospel and the preaching of Christ. His promise concerning the Truth, is that in knowing it “shall make you free.” And He adds, “If the Son shall make you free, you will be truly free.” St. Paul tells us that “where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty (freedom).” Freedom is a key characteristic of the life in Christ.

But how do we live a life of freedom within a necessary existence? What can we say to Kirillov?

The free life of a human being is what the Tradition describes as Personhood. Our personal existence is our existence in freedom and love. Our life as a Person cannot be identified with the summary of memories, experiences, reasonings, feelings, etc. Who I am as “person” is not the same thing as the “story of me.”

It is not correct to think of the Person as creature, a thing. It is not a thing of creation. It is a dynamic existence – that which is as-I-am-towards-the-other. My self as person is not something within itself – it is a movement outside of the self. It is a gift that exists in the act of love. As such, there is no necessity in its existence. It is free because love only exists in freedom.

The Scriptures refer to this existence in a manner that transcends time. The Person is referred to both before our biological existence and as something yet to come.

Before I formed you in the womb I knew you (Jer. 1:5).

It does not yet appear what we shall be. But we know that when He appears, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is (1John 3:2).

That God knows Jeremiah before he was formed in the womb is not at all a statement of a pre-determined existence, or a life without free will. The Jeremiah whom God knows is the Jeremiah who is coming-into-being moment by moment as he freely fulfills the life God has always known.

The life that is mine in Christ is also a Cross that is taken up and freely accepted. It doesn’t yet appear to me who I shall be, but rather I am promised that the person that I am even now fulfilling is like Christ.

On the daily level, I think we generally spend our time trying to reform the “old man.” We try to improve the ego and control the body. But the call of our life in Christ is not towards improvement but towards a new existence (“if any one is in Christ there is a new creation”). The commandments of Christ point us in the direction of that manner of living.

Forgive everyone for everything.

The forgiveness of our enemies (everyone for everything) is an act of pure freedom. It is not a necessity. It is not a road towards moral improvement or the betterment of society. It is releasing the chains that bind us to necessity. Forgiveness means I no longer have to hate. I no longer need live in shame. I am able to love.

Do not be anxious for anything.

The things that we experience anxiously are experienced as necessities. We fear that we will be hurt or suffer because of events beyond our control. We treasure the ego and value our natural existence above all else. “He who seeks to save his life will lose it.” When we lose our “life” (that which we can control), we gain true freedom (that which is pure gift).

Give thanks always for everything.

The offering of thanks does not come as a necessity. If thanks were a necessity it would have no value. God would have “bought” our gratitude. Rather, it is an offering freely given. Because it is freely given and carries no necessity, the giving of thanks can be offered for all things – even those things we dread or despise. For what I dread and despise do not own me. My freedom becomes visible in the act of thanksgiving.

To live as a person in union with Christ is to enter the freedom of an unnecessary existence.

Kirillov’s insane intuition was insane because it was pointed in the wrong direction. His “freedom” was to be bought by denying himself existence. He falsely assumed that suicide would result in non-existence – annihilation. What he did not see that true freedom is only found in the loss of self that comes through love. If we love Christ, we shall be like Him. God is love. We, too, are able to enter into such an existence. “Freely you have received, freely give.”

About Fr. Stephen Freeman

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



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74 responses to “An Unnecessary Existence”

  1. Moniek Spoor Avatar
    Moniek Spoor

    Thanks for the reminder. In a world where there are people who see my existence as something that should have ended in the womb, who judge it not worthwhile as it is, it is very hard sometimes to remember that’s not reality.

  2. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    The existence which so many have sought to deny to children in the womb, is God’s free gift. They reign with Him in glory, having endured suffering with Him in this world. They sit upon the thrones of judgment – before which all the world will stand.

  3. Deacon Nicholas Avatar
    Deacon Nicholas

    Father, bless. I’m not sure you intended this, and I’m no expert on the arguments regarding universalism, but this reflection seems to argue against it . The fact that existence was given to me as a gift, without my say-so (and unlike Kirillov, I’m grateful for my existence), leads me to the conclusion that God would not impose a second time and save me no matter what. What do you think?
    Deacon Nicholas

  4. Agata Avatar

    Thank you Father, what a beautiful and much needed reminder.

    Your words
    “Kirillov’s insane intuition was insane because it was pointed in the wrong direction.”
    go so perfectly with something I read in an article about St. Matrona (who I mentioned yesterday).
    I hope Christopher sees it too, since it is a partial answer to his thoughts the other day….

    “The life of St. Matrona reminds us that all of us are called to a life of holiness and that this is possible for all of us. She was not a nun, never attended a seminary, in fact was an illiterate, peasant woman yet was so filled with the grace of the Holy Spirit that she was able to see people’s needs and sins, predict the future, and perform countless miracles even after her death. The Bible teaches that when a person is cleansed of their sinful passions and is filled with the Holy Spirit the presence of the Spirit produces certain “gifts” or “fruit”. These include the ability to read the hearts of people, perform miracles, predict future events… (see 1 Corinthians 12:4-11) as well as characteristics of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness… (see Galatians 5:22)
    Why is it that we do not have people like her among us in America today? Where are these people who can predict the future and perform miracles? St. Matrona was immersed, she was “marinated” in the divine services of the Church, spending countless hours in her village church along with hours daily of her own private prayer. What are we in America immersed or marinated in? To what do we devote our time? Television, internet, Facebook, movies, magazines, shopping…. The Bible also describes the “fruit” of this type of immersion: adultery, fornication, hatred, jealousy, selfish ambition, dissension… (see Galatians 5:19) Which do you prefer in your life, the fruit which St. Matrona had or the fruit of this world?”

    (from Fr. Edward Pehanich)

  5. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Deacon Nicholas,
    I don’t think it changes the arguments one way or another. It says, for me, in that we are “not yet what we shall be,” that true existence is something we do not yet have. A number of the fathers (Nyssa, Maximus) work with the understanding of being, well-being, eternal being as a description of a movement towards true existence (in the image and likeness of God). St. Paul describes our full redemption as the “glorious liberty of the sons of God.” If God saves me – it is a salvation that is, by definition, that glorious liberty – for, ultimately, that is the truth of existence. I do not believe in annihilationism. I do, however, believe that God wills to save us. It is the final disposition of that – how it all turns out – that I do not feel I can express any more than as a hope.

  6. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    To Fr. Edward’s question, “Where are these people…” I would respond, “In hiding.”

  7. George Coman Avatar
    George Coman

    Thank you Father for your words!

    Having been a former Orthodox Christian apostate for the last 25 years, all this time I have struggled to understand (or rather to accept) the words of Father Nicolae Steinhardt (the Romanian Judaic convert turned Orthodox Christian monk Nicolae Delarohia): “The opposite quality of sin is not virtue, but freedom.” (he originally wrote it in Romanian). He notes that it is a quote from Soren Kierkegaard, although it seems to be a misquote, as SK originally uses the word “faith” instead of “freedom”.

    Father Nicolae Steinhardt thought this is the most important idea outside the Gospel. After experiencing the depths of Modern despair, I have been blessed by God with the self-emptying required for understanding the irreductible opoosition between freedom and sin (or better said between freedom and the fallen nature). Glory to God!

    George Coman,

  8. Agata Avatar

    Thank you Father, I share you optimism and conviction, having already met some… 🙂

  9. Alan Avatar

    George, thank you for your comments. Glory to God indeed!

  10. Esmée La Fleur Avatar
    Esmée La Fleur

    Thank you Agata for that wonderful quote!

  11. Esmée La Fleur Avatar
    Esmée La Fleur

    When speaking of freedom, most people believe that it is related to outward factors. True freedom, however, is an inner attitude and does not depend on the environment, the State, the Law, or other people. It depends solely on the relationship we have with ourself… When you feel that you are not free… it means that you are a slave to passions. Some people say, “I am free. I take account of no one. I earn all by myself and I spend all by myself.” In essence, however, dear friend, you are in great bondage; for you are not free from yourself. You have desires, you have needs, and – above all – you make discriminations. Now if, with God’s help, you want to free yourself from all such things, you should take the Gospel and make it your Precept of Life. Then, little by little, you will begin to subdue your passions.

    For example: You feel that you are attached to money… [Then] don’t forget to put aside for others the ten percent mentioned in the Old Testament. Above all, give impersonally. Do not expect thanks for what you give, for then it would be better not to give at all… Unless you reach the point where you feel that you and the other are ONE – any other: the Black man of Africa, the Indian, the Chinese, the Moslem, the Jew, the Christian – unless you become conscious that we are all children of God, unless you feel like that, Truly, with a capital T – then you are still a slave [to your passions]…

    You cannot feel free, and take no notice of what other people say and do in relation to you, unless you first set yourself free from yourself. To gain freedom from yourself, you must… reject whatever you have done through pride… Freedom can only be felt with the Grace of God. Yet, you cannot receive the Grace of God if you have not cleared yourself of all these things… Freedom can come only… when we have put an end to our pride and when we love one another. Christ gave us this as a new Commandment because only thus shall we find perfect freedom; for God is Love, the True Freedom.

    ~Mother Gavrilia, The Ascetic of Love, p. 208-210.

  12. Esmée La Fleur Avatar
    Esmée La Fleur

    What is man’s destination? “I give you a new commandment: Love one another.” The destination is, again, Love. Nothing else. Do nothing else… When you see a person, make yourself non-existent, really, as an entity, and enter into that person’s soul, even if he is a wrong-doer or someone you do not understand… You must do this! For he, too, has in him the Breath of God, the Spark of Christ, and a heart that beats like yours… Unless you do that, you cannot help the other person. And what is the purpose of loving only God, of raising our hands vertically to the Lord, and not extending our arms also horizontally to take in the whole of humanity… and so turn our body into the Sign of the Cross… Saint Augustine said, “Love, and do anything you want,” because, if you love, you cannot do harm! …When man ceases to love, it is as if he ceases to breathe. Love is like our breath. We are made, we are kneaded so-to-speak, with love… love, love, love.

    ~Mother Gavrilia, The Ascetic of Love, p. 260-261.

    Q: Mother Gavrilia, please tell us how we are to practice the “I do not exit ” which you keep telling us about.

    A: …When a person comes to tell you what troubles him and, at that time, your mind is distracted by something that concerns your own self… then you will not be able to help that person. But if you forget that you exit, and you become that person… without judging him, without condemning him, without hating him… in this way, you have become one with this person. And even if that person has come to you full of despair, he now leaves cheered up, for he knows that Christ is with him and that he will be able to face his problems.

    So, when you become the other, one person leaves, the next one comes, then a third, a fourth, a fifth… At the end of the day, you ask yourself, “Who am I? …No one! I am no one!” How funny! Then I say, “Let me behold Christ, even if I do not exist!” …People ask me, “Are you cold?” Who is cold? How can I feel cold since I do not exist! “Are you hungry?” Who is hungry? How can I feel hungry since I do not exist! “Does pollution affect your health?” How since I do not exist!

    Well, they thought I was a little off my mental balance… Then on day, turning the leaves of a Church calendar, I found the following saying by Saint Nilus, “He knows himself best who believes himself as not existing.” “The Lord be praised,” I said. “I’ll take that and paste it up on the wall. From now on, I will not say, ‘I do not exist,’ but will tell them that Saint Nilus says so-and-so…”

    Q: How can we train ourselves in this “I do not exist”?

    A: …By thinking all the time of the other and not of yourself. For example: “Whew! It’s so hot today!” …or “Ah! I feel dead tired!” …or “Oh! I am so hungry!” …[in other words], thoughts that have to do with us all the time.

    Q: But, Mother, what if you really cannot stand the hot weather?

    A: Don’t say it! By saying it, you do not get rid of the heat; you only feel it twice as much. Do you understand? You magnify it, you give it entity, you turn it into… Her Majesty the Heat, Her Majesty the Tiredness, Her Majesty the Hunger! What’s all this fuss? As for myself, not even the person who stays with me knows anything of what I go through. Never. I may spend the whole night in pain and no one will know of it in the morning. Why should I speak of it… since there is nothing you can do about it?

    ~Mother Gavrilia, The Ascetic of Love, p. 288-289.

  13. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    Thank you Father…another thoughtful and encouraging article.
    How I need so much to remember that who I am as a person is not “the summary of memories, experiences, reasonings, feelings”.
    I think it would help significantly if I would really lay hold of your words that personhood is not a thing of creation, that it is not a thing within our self but a movement that comes from the outside. I had to go back and think about personhood as uncreated. I hope I understand correctly what you mean by this…
    you say that it is uncreated because it exists over and above time. It exists over and above time because it is the image of the Life of the Persons of the Trinity, Who is over and above time. So our Personhood is the free act of love toward the other that reveals our (eternal, unnecessary) likeness of God, such as we are meant to partake of as created (in necessity) in His image and likeness; having fallen from, that which we are moving toward. So our eternal image and likeness in God as Trinity is why you can say that Personhood is not a thing created, and that it releases us from the necessity of a created being.
    It is the same thought behind saying the soul/spirit of man is uncreated, as after creating Adam God “breathed” His everlasting Spirit into him.
    Thinking of it this way, I can see how “the story of my life” is not who I am as a Person. I am simply (not merely) made in His image and by His grace, moving toward His likeness, to be known ‘as I am’ in the age to come.

    These are very hopeful words you give us, Father. And needful. Thank you so very much.

  14. Jp Esnouf Avatar
    Jp Esnouf

    I love this – “To live as a person in union with Christ is to enter the freedom of an unnecessary existence.”
    I felt the chains fall off with the weight of those words!

    Ah!The simplicity of Christ in us and us in Him, so deep, so wide! Blessed be His name! Jesus the chain breaker!

    The Necessary removing the unnecessary

    Thanks Fr. Freeman

  15. Jonathan Avatar

    “Forgive everyone for everything.”
    “Do not be anxious for anything.”
    “Give thanks always for everything.”

    Thank you, Father, for the most timely reminders. If I were to be told that every morning when I got up, at every meal, and when I went to bed at night, I would still need to be reminded of it more often.

  16. Adam Avatar

    Thanks Fr. Stephen,
    Would you say that forgiveness, trust, and giving thanks in every present moment are actions of vulnerability/Christ-Crucified and eradicate shame?

  17. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    I do not think anything “eradicates” shame. Instead, it is lessened and can become bearable instead of toxic and unbearable. But these actions are among the best means of dealing with it.

  18. Janine Avatar

    Perhaps in some sense we can say that we are defined by what we love.

  19. Dino Avatar

    From the Orthodox hesychastic perspective, what you say is accurate. It might traditionally be articulated in slightly different ways – i.e.: “where my nous/attention is directed comes to define me” or “whereyour treasure is, therewill your heart be also” [Matthew 6:21] – but, it’s similar.

  20. Blagica Avatar

    Dear father Stephen,
    ‌I follow your blogs almost on a regular basis and always find a delight after which follows a profound perception and a mere joy that someone of our time have come to conclusions so close to many in love with Christ,in other part of the world, but close to the heart. I had to write this sentence in the begining, as having so much to say through all those writings of yours given as a real treat, I wanted to present my great appreciation and thankfullness for the same.
    ‌I was so enthusisastic to give a comment on your writings in many occassions and haven’t done it and now I just think I can’t skip it, as the themes are of such a great Importance because they rise awareness of the personal existence and the battle in everyones’ heart.
    Maybe I belong to an orthodox church,which is an inconvenience,that is not fully recognized by other churches and for mostly political reasons, although many orthodox appreciated authorities recognized the fullness of its orhodox living and the evident fruits that our orhodox church in Macedonia has.
    I write this way to inform you of my background and the continuation that I have in the orthodox church, so it won’t be necessary to explain that everything I read is for the purpose of enlightening the path of orthodox living which I fully agree can not be done only individually but also institutionally, in communion, having the existence of all the men in Christ.
    Whenever I read something you wrote and your inspiration is a Dostoevsky character, I read it so eagerly, with an open mind and heart . Dostoevsky himself was my first motivation and inspiration to always trying to do my best in my voyage in the orthodox way of life.
    I continually admire the life of many characters from the first time I met them,characters like: knyaz Mushkin,from the Idiot, the youngest brothers from Karamazov and the Elder Zosima in the same novel, Sonia and Raskolnikov and many others.After Dostoevsky,there was Dr. Scott Peck with his -The road less travelled (and beyond) -books,-People of the lie (especially the part about Methodology of love which I had the joy of translating it as a seminar paper during my studies in English language and literature) and of course if you’re familiar with -A world waiting to be born and at last there was a moment of a great experience in my life, always thanking Christ for this, when it was enough only to hear the title of -In Heaven as on Earth- when my heart grasped it I as the most essential orhodox way of living,not necessarily the book only the meaning of the expression itself.
    As a crown of all my friendships I made with many great authors are the orthodox writers, of course, and that is because without any other literature marks you just get to the point of the core of living in Christ and the meaning of it in your everyday life. Maybe,because of the language but I find those writings in English close to my heart and here I would like the mention Anthony Bloom and the connection he brings for the everyday life to living in Christ. I am really sorry for this long writing as an introduction, because as I have read people that write comments are mostly from your church or at least from English speaking countries and that is why I think this explanation won’t be so useless because it will prove again the universality of othodoxy.
    And now finally I can get to the point😃
    About this last theme you wrote, the freedom and its connection to unnecessary existence, as it comes so natural to me to translate your works into Macedonian, I would ask about the possibility of the translation of necessary here, with this meaning, I don’t think you mean something needed or sth. that it’s a must, but sth. that you are obliged to do it as an obligation, that is the translation I would give into my language. In this way we understand freedom in Christ as sth that is not an act of obligation but a decision of the free will to love Him. There you have the full freedom of the person that is yet to come in fullness in Christ Himself. With this I would continue to my second question which is connected to the new person that will be born, as the scripture says: you can not put new wine in old bottles, you similarly mention,if I am not mistaken, using these words- ‘But the call of our life in Christ is not towards improvement but towards a new existence’. Whenever I read these words I immediately ask myself about the life in Christ as the taste of meeting Life itself with the best version of you now standing on its own with Christ next to you and being the only version of you that survived the challenges, the only version which can exist next to God Himself, now improved and ready to be upgraded in a way to be a totally different person known only to God.
    I am so sorry if I disturb you in any way father with all these thoughts and words of mine, maybe they seem chaotic in a way, but if that is the case it is only because of the joy of encouragement I feel to write to you in a hope of having a correspondence full of understanding and rejoice of trying to live a better orthodox life in Christ Our Lord, Amen.
    Greetings from Macedonia,

  21. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    I think your way of rendering “necessary” captures what I mean. There is obvious a connection and continuity between who we are now and who we shall be. There is a new creation, but that which is new is the renewal of that which is old. The Person whom I shall be is already beginning to be present now, and will be fully revealed at the end of all things. That seems to be the sense of Romans 8.

    Blessings on your good work!

  22. Byron Avatar

    Perhaps in some sense we can say that we are defined by what we love.

    So important! Much of our (Western) society today is simply about reducing everything to “just love”. While admirable on the surface, if our love is not first and foremost for God, it will be distorted and (eventually) cast into our own image of corruption and sin. Love is the most abused of virtues in our society. Just my thoughts.

  23. Janine Avatar

    Dino and Byron, thank you for your comments

  24. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    I would add that we are defined by what (or Whom) we love God, and as difficult as it seems, the image of God in our enemies.

  25. Blagica Avatar

    Thank you Father for the answers and especially the direction with Romans 8,of which only segments were introduced to me before.
    Reading the Apostle talking about the life of those born in Christ was the real answer,as you mentioned, the sense of the Person in the process of becoming to the one fully revealed.
    I hope you won’t mind if there is a chance for this article to be published on one of our orthodox portals,translated into Macedonian and I will make sure first to be read by some of my friends, priests from our church.
    I hope to many other occasions of correspondence about writings and sharing of hopeful and joyful moments of reading.

  26. Blagica Avatar

    Byron and
    Dee of StHermans
    defined by what/who you love.
    Especially,the real freedom is gained,as fr. Stephen wrote, in Christ,and I often ask myself how can this be recognized and achieved in you everyday living.Under spiritual guidance and the Jesus Prayer,maybe we develop a thinking heart,a heart that recognizes the real food that is feeding him and here is the great importance of the Eucharist and Liturgy.
    I love comparisons with movie characters and themes and have some that left impression,like Narnia- Father mentioned it in one of his coloumns and in this sense I would try with the first part of the Matrix. Here, people are shown how they feed the matrix and they think they love and are fed spiritually or phisically,in every way,even they think they are free and happy. But what happens after Neo swallows and chooses the right pill, which is his first step to freedom in fact. By taking the right food,he sees reality and if you remember he underwent even physical changes,because every part of his body is freed from the chains of the matrix.
    So , translated into everyday life, either you feed the matrix or feed your heart with proper food,this is where freedom lies in fact. In the taste of that Freedom,Neo wins the battle over the Matrix by letting it pass through him,voluntarily taking the ultimate step of freedom – Sacrifice for Love, voluntarily facing death and a spiritual jump into the unknown,into God’s Hands totally surendered with mind,body and soul.
    I don’t know if this makes any sense, but it touched me once in a specific and original way and when you mentioned love as the act of freedom,I just thought I could share it.
    Thank you for the inspiration and good thoughts❤️
    Glory to God for everything

  27. Dino Avatar

    It is perhaps worth guarding against an extreme person-nature bifurcation when speaking of the genuinely ‘free life’ of a human being and of how this is “traditionally described as Personhood”.
    Our personal existence (as an existence in freedom and love) is also our natural existence, in fact, St Maximos reminds us that the sole reason human nature becomes tied to sin and corruption is our ‘personal gnome“.
    The clarification that ‘Person cannot be identified with the summary of memories, experiences, reasonings, feelings, etc.’ is most valuable; to which we could add that the law of the “logos of man’s nature” directs one towards true freedom, “traditionally described as Personhood”. [It’s also worth noting the theological use of this Hypostastic/Personal language in this sense, is relatively recent]
    Ascesis (as the purification of our personal-gnomic will), which, to confuse things further, we traditionally acquiesce to call “violence against nature” [John Climacus], is but the dynamic path towards the freedom of love, “described as Personhood”.
    So to the degree that we turn towards God, according to our nature and it’s logos we become personally defined as truly free in love and in Christ.

  28. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    I’ll admit these concepts seem abstract, Dino. In my usual day to day interactions with others, it’s the best that I can do to pray to God and say “Thy will be done”, while knowing how easily I fall and fail. I’m not sure I’m able to grasp the gnomic will idea sufficiently to have that understanding serve to follow God’s will more easily or effectively. Perhaps this has to do with the culture I’m in or perhaps some stubbornness or both. Lord have mercy on us.

  29. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Btw I also want to thank you for your comments Dino, they are always stimulating and encourage me to reflect more deeply into Fr Stephen’s writings.

    Blagica, you made an interesting comment and it sounds a lot like what Fr Stephen writes about ‘modernity’ and how deeply modernity affects our perceptions. — very much like the Matrix movie you mention. It is a cultural perspective that undergirds our thinking and even influences our capacity to see what is ‘real’. You might find reading the book ‘The unintended reformation’ interesting. Fr Stephen recommendated it in previous articles.

  30. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    “So to the degree that we turn towards God, according to our nature and it’s logos we become personally defined as truly free in love and in Christ.”

    Dino…I just read an article about St. Maximus:
    Having read your comment my mind returns back to the article and how it describes St. Maximus’ teachings. Here’s a couple of quotes…

    ” [St Maximus’] larger theological vision centered upon the love of God for his creatures and the creaturely struggle to return his love.”
    “…the body of every human an eschatological destiny and the opportunity for the full reception of divine grace together with the soul in a state of eternal-being. This state is achieved through a hierarchy of participation in which the soul participates in God and body in turn with the soul… to the extent that the soul receives immutability and the body immortality, the entire man being deified by the grace of the incarnate God .
    [The being] remains entirely man, soul and body by nature but becomes entirely God, soul and body, by grace.”
    The point here is the potential, or the possibility, for theois, to the degree we participate with Christ in acts of love that are true to our nature, as we were originally created.
    Your concern about “an extreme person-nature bifurcation” if I understand you correctly, is well taken. All our actions (past, present, future) God sees, and I never hesitate to say He works them for our good. And there is most assuredly an active participation on our part that will determine the extent of our participation.

    Just trying to piece together your comment with my thoughts, Dino!

  31. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    Dee…funny you should mention The Unintended Reformation. I just began reading it. It is one of those books that is hard to put down.
    Blagica, I second Dee’s recommendation!

    (BTW, ignore the typo in my previous post…I meant theosis!)

  32. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Thank you Paula for that link. I haven’t completely finished it (just started to read it actually) but will do so next. However I wanted to address a question I have that I believe continues the theme that Fr Stephen introduces here and engages the conversation further regarding what Dino and you are saying.

    Listening to a talk by Fr Sergius Bowyer, and reflecting also on the title of the book “Our thoughts determine our lives”, by Elder Thaddeus, I’m still attempting to learn what is meant by this phrase, “Our thoughts are not our own”. By this I understand Fr Sergius to mean that we do not “own” our thoughts in the sense that this culture rewards and attempts to protect “intellectual capital”. One way I obtained a ‘toe hold’ in this society to obtain a salary was through increasing ‘my’ (so-called) intellectual capital. Indeed such ‘capital’ is weaponized in my field of endeavor (science) to devalue or undermine other ‘contenders’.

    Such perspectives provided to us by our Orthodox Elders and Fathers suggest that our thoughts indeed reveal the field of spiritual warfare. But I have yet to understand (and desire to understand) what is meant by such sayings as “our thoughts are not our own”. My best understanding is this: some thoughts are of God, some are logismoi and some are from ‘our nature’. But how do I use this information to live a life closer to God with my focus on God and doing His will?

  33. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    In general, I do not give much thought to person/nature, etc., in my daily doings. It’s like trying to watch yourself walk…you’ll wind up falling down before you know it. 🙂

    What I think, instead, is gathered mostly in the act of thanksgiving. That action (and the heart it forms and shapes) is a recognition that what we are, what we have, etc., is a gift. It is not of our own making.

    There is an “I” in the act of giving thanks, and, in the understanding of person/nature, there is a recognition that this “I” has a potential that is far greater than any of us imagine – for such is the desire of God. It is difficult, however, for us to go wrong in giving thanks. It sees both the gift and the giver – and makes the recipient present in the voice of giving thanks.

    I’m not sure that anything ever exceeds the statement we make to God, “We give you thanks…”

  34. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Thank you so much for your response, Fr Stephen! –I’m relieved, actually! I stubble enough as it is : ).

  35. Dino Avatar

    Discovering how our illuminated guides all agree & resonate with each other on the topic of thanksgiving – especially its culmination in the mode-of-being of ‘offering Thine own of Thine own’ – is such a joy…!

  36. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    Dee…I appreciate your question about our thoughts. I agree that our thoughts are influenced by spiritual forces, good and evil, as opposed to originating solely from our mind, as if our mind itself, and not the Logos, is that which connects all things together.

    Father…yes, we will fall down if we think about what we’re thinking about all the time! It’ll drive you a bit crazy. But when I’m not going about my daily doings, I find reading about our faith, etc etc, a great help…when it is done freely, without constraint. I try to be patient and let things I have read build upon each other.
    Your repeated reminder to give thanks, Father, does not fall on deaf ears…a little dull sometimes, but not deaf! “It sees both the gift and the giver.” Yes!
    And in regards…I thank you, and Dee as well for asking that question!

  37. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Indeed I stumble in my ‘stubble’ with joy! 😊 (and tears of repentance) Glory to God for all things!

  38. Blagica Avatar

    Dee of St Hermans,
    I hope you won’t mind if I try to see this from my point of you,which I really carefully base on the writings of Elders and practical orhodox way of living among my brothers and sisters in Christ.Elder Thadeus talks about thoughts molding our lives( It is in fact another version of the translation from Serbian-a language very similar to my native-Macedonian,in fact not far from the meaning of the one you mentioned). According to the many appreciated writings of our Metropolitan Naum,who came from the Mount of Athos in the 90ties back to his homeland Macedonia, based on the doctrine of isihazam (as the genuine orthodox practise)he presents the orhodox life as neat and in order,not at all chaotic and random.Degrees of spiritual growth can explain the matter of the development of thoughts. If accepted, thoughts enter the heart and the danger of sin finding roots or on the other side, the good soil for the fruitful prayer of the heart, there, in the heart takes place.But, something is very important in all of this,we can talk and share knowledge and different experiences, but the real direction for a fruitful orthodox life is in the Jesus Prayer,The Divine Liturgy, The Eucharist and of course-of a great importance the spiritual guidance to guide us in the practise of all of them. Following these simple and most important ways of living with/in Christ can give us the wonderful experience of recognizing thoughts and develop as I earlier mentioned the thinking heart,the wisdom of heart.It is simple,we have to taste the right Food-Christ Himself in order to recognize what is good for us and what is not. If you ask me, there is no other way , we can not rely on ourself to recognize thoughts and their nature.We need the right Filter😉 to recognize them and clean and get rid of that which is of no use to the well-being of our Christian soul. I would end in a manner to match all of this again to theme of freedom gained through unnecessary existence. You choose the Liturgy and take part in the Eucharist and undergo the spiritual Guidance as an act of free will and in that way get freedom of thoughts,not guided by some anonymous patterns, but secretly are revealed to us, the thoughts which will mold our life into a Godlike image.

  39. Blagica Avatar

    Thank you Father for reminding us, giving thanks for everything is really the act that really makes us God’ s children.
    Giving you so much and you say thank you and return back to Him,as there isn’t anything that you own,you are relieved and simply thankful.

  40. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Blagica, your words bring much joy! Thank you for your helpful contributions! These are good lessons.

  41. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    Boy…sometimes I answer too quickly! You mentioned “intellectual capital” and briefly described it. I never heard that phrase. I’m kind of amazed that this is an actual product, so to speak! Here’s one of the definitions I came across:

    “Intellectual capital is knowledge that can be exploited for some money-making or other useful purpose. The term combines the idea of the intellect or brain-power with the economic concept of capital, the saving of entitled benefits so that they can be invested in producing more goods and services. Intellectual capital can include the skills and knowledge that a company has developed about how to make its goods or services; individual employees or groups of employees whose knowledge is deemed critical to a company’s continued success; and its aggregation of documents about processes, customers, research results, and other information that might have value for a competitor that is not common knowledge.”

    So skills, knowledge and ‘brain-power’ are reassembled to fit into a “thing”…to fit neatly into and benefit our consumer society. Now even “capital” has an intellect! Like it is a manifest entity. I tell you…back in the day, we would have exclaimed “that’s demonic”! And now I see more clearly why you saw a link with the Elder’s book, Our Thoughts Not Our Own. In the case of ‘intellectual capital’, they are not! I can understand why you liken it to spiritual warfare too.

  42. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Yes indeed, Paula. This culture has the means, it seems, to make a commodity of just about anything or any process. Even water is now a commodity and next air, I suppose. And it’s one reason why I have (unfortunately) some amount of chagrin towards denominations that attempt to make a commodity of Christ.

    BTW, Elder’s book title is “Our thoughts determine our lives”. I just reopened it a few minutes ago and here are the first words I read in the foreward by St Isaac the Syrian:

    “Make peace with yourself, and both heaven and earth will make peace with you”.

    –Good words I need to remember.

  43. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    oops…yes, Our Thoughts Determine Our Lives” ! I can at least see how they have an effect on my life. If they determine my life, that makes it even more compelling to act upon them. I shall by that book, then!
    I love St. Isaac the Syrian. Such a gentle soul. I too, need to remember his words!
    Thanks Dee.

  44. Esmée La Fleur Avatar
    Esmée La Fleur

    Dee – from my reading of both Elder Thaddeus and Saint Paisos, it is up to us to ignore thoughts that incite our passions, and to actively choose thoughts that are good, positive, and loving. Saint Paisios spends quite a bit of time on the importance of having good thoughts in volume 3 of his Spiritual Counsels titled “Spiritual Struggle.”

    Here are a few excerpts:

    The first thing is for a person to interpret everything with good and positive thoughts; only then can [they] be helped… then they can proceed steadily in the right direction…

    Someone who has good thoughts, even if struck unjustly, will say, “God has permitted this in order to redeem my old faults. Glory be to God!”

    On the other hand, someone who does not have good thoughts will imagine you are trying to hurt him even when you try to caress him…

    The best enterprise is for someone to establish a factory of good thoughts. Then even bad thoughts will be transformed into good ones by his mind.

    For example, when you look upon a person as a soul, as an angel, you can ascend angelically to Heaven and your life becomes a festival. But if you look upon a person in a carnal way, you descend into hell…

    When working alone, try to follow this rule: sing psalms [or] doxologies, and [practice] verbal or silent prayer of the heart in order to avoid the murmur of thoughts. In other words, try to turn your thoughts to God.

    +Saint Paisios, Spiritual Counsels, Volume III: Spiritual Struggle, p. 29, 64-66.

    Question: Geronda, do good thoughts come on their own, or do we have to cultivate them?

    Answer: You must cultivate them. Observe yourself, scrutinize yourself, and when the enemy sends you bad thoughts try to expel them and replace them with good thoughts. When you struggle in this manner, the disposition of your soul will be cultivated and become positive and good. Then God, seeing your good disposition, will condescend to help you and the evil thoughts will find no place in you to dwell. The evil thoughts will be expelled and you will naturally have good thoughts. You will acquire a habit toward what is good; goodness itself will come into your heart and then you will provide hospitality in your heart for Jesus Christ Himself. But this does not happen overnight; it takes time and a constant struggle for the soul to receive the crown of victory. Eventually, the war will end for good because such battles result from a disorderly inner state, which is exploited by the propaganda of the enemies (i.e. demons).

    +Saint Paisios, Spiritual Counsels, Volume III: Spiritual Struggle, p. 66-67.

    Question: Geronda, I am troubled because I constantly have sinister thoughts. I do struggle, but I cannot make myself think aright.

    Answer: Being able to recognize which thoughts are not pure, being troubled by them, and struggling to dispel them, is progress in itself. If you wish to make spiritual progress, when the devil attacks you with sinister thoughts… turn away from him and ignore him. Try to have good thoughts… All spiritual life is based on thoughts. Progress in spiritual life depends upon our thoughts.

    +Saint Paisios, Spiritual Counsels, Volume III: Spiritual Struggle, p. 63.

    Just as the enemy, before going on the offensive with the infantry, will use the air force to bomb the fortifications and destroy them, in the same way the devil will first bomb a person with thoughts and then attack him directly. He will not attack until he has managed to break down the man’s thoughts, because a person can defend himself with good thoughts, which are his basic protective trenches. A sinister thought is a foreign substance that a person must try and reject. This is a battle that all of us have the power to undertake. No one is justified in saying that he is weak and unable to wage such a battle… It’s [not] a difficult thing to see and take everything in a positive way.

    +Saint Paisios, Spiritual Counsels, Volume III: Spiritual Struggle, p. 62.

    A person’s spiritual state is indicated by the quality of his thoughts… Each person interprets [things] according to his own thought. Each thing can be seen from its good side or its bad side… People judge things according to their hearts’ spiritual content. If they do not have spiritual content, they will draw the wrong conclusions and do wrong to other people. For example, one who is doing charity work at night so as not to be seen will never think evil if he should see someone late at night out on the street. But if a person who spends his nights in sin sees someone out on the street late at night, he will say, “Who knows where that bad fellow is spending his nights?” because he himself has such experiences… Do you remember how the two thieves who were crucified with Christ addressed him? They both saw Christ on the Cross, the earth quaking, and so forth. But what a difference there was in the thought of the one and the thought of the other! (Luke 23:39-41) … One was saved, but the other was lost.

    +Saint Paisios, Spiritual Counsels, Volume III: Spiritual Struggle, p. 33-35.

    One can have fault-finding thoughts about everything and everyone… When someone loves himself and is selfish, he interprets everything in a way that suits his inner self… he interprets things… in a sinful manner… in whatever manner suits his ego, and gradually these irrational interpretations become second nature to him. No matter how I behave, he will be scandalized… If a man does not have good thoughts, he will be harmed by both my faults and my virtues… he will interpret everything the wrong way. Such a person does not have spiritual health, and is not helped even by the good; he is tormented even by the good… If a man does not have a good thought… Not even God Himself can help such a person.

    +Saint Paisios, Spiritual Counsels, Volume III: Spiritual Struggle, p. 24-26.

    People can have all the good things in life except good thoughts. They are tormented simply by not facing up to things in a spiritual manner. For example, someone sets out to go somewhere but has a little car trouble and is a little late getting to his destination.

    If he has a good thought, he will say, “Perhaps the Benevolent God brought this delay in order to prevent a possible accident. How can I thank You, my God, for this?” So he praises God for the delay.

    On the contrary, if he does not have a good thought, he will not face the incident in a spiritual manner; he will curse and blame God, “What a misfortune, what a useless delay! And where is God in all this?”

    When we accept whatever happens to us with a good and positive thought, we are helped; while on the contrary, we are tormented and come apart at the seams emotionally and physically when negative thoughts prevail.

    +Saint Paisios, Spiritual Counsels, Volume III: Spiritual Struggle, p. 22-23.

    These are just a few of his wise words.

  45. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    For what it’s worth:

    There’s a neurobiological explanation for negative thoughts. They tend to be “filed” in a part of the brain that is, more or less, separate from the more pleasant thoughts, and certainly distinct from the pre-frontal cortex (where we choose and decide). I’m not a brain expert, so my terminology is not so accurate. But, negative stuff tends to be placed in what I call the “lizard brain.” It’s old, it’s primitive, it’s not rational. It’s reactive, etc. When it makes noises (and it does this a lot – triggered by anger, shame, etc.) they come out as very negative phrases and thoughts.

    I’ve been with stroke patients, for example, who cannot speak, but can curse and be very angry (it’s in a part of the brain unaffected by the stroke, but clearly revealing that it’s somewhere else in the brain). I think that if you “feed” that part of yourself, then you get a lot of it back. We need to “feed” other parts of ourselves, nurture goodness, etc. That’s just the biology of things – of course there’s more to it than that.

  46. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    Well Father…with my nursing and psychology background, I can relate to what you are saying.
    But oh, “the lizard brain”… I think if anything will help snap me out of those moments of dark primitive thoughts, it will be to recall the lizard brain analogy! 😀
    Really…thanks Father!

  47. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Dear Esmee and Fr Stephen,
    I’m so grateful for what you both have written.
    This evening I’ve been with my husband and didn’t have time to check or write. But I’m very grateful for your words.— just to say briefly for now, thank you.

  48. hélène D. Avatar
    hélène D.

    A big thank you to all of you for these comments / reflections, and even prayers ….
    What good stimulation, what a joy, on the narrow way, arid often, but also carrying such a light …. It is this mysterious light, fine and deep, which allows to advance …
    As it is demanding to put the “leaven” of prayer in every thought, every action ; ask for the blessing of God first and foremost, with every breath, every heartbeat ! … What vigilance ! What a fight ! But God help …. through the saints, the wise people, burning with the desire for the love of God ….
    Thank you father Stephen for this remark on the “lizard brain” ; I had read one day that
    this primitive “reptile” brain leads to stereotyped, pre-programmed behaviors. The same situation, the same stimulus, will always result in the same answer. An immediate response, similar to a reflex. The behaviors induced by the “reptilian” brain can not evolve with the experiment, can not adapt to a situation, because this brain would have only a short-term memory, therefore, everything falls back into oblivion and does not can evolve ….
    What grace to be able to be aware of it, to see it in the light to be less and less dependent, and to water the living seeds, positive, with the words of prayer, with the desire of God alone …

  49. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    helene D,
    You have a wonderful way with words! Blagica too has this.
    “What vigilance ! What a fight ! But God help …. through the saints, the wise people, burning with the desire for the love of God ….” Amen Helene!
    Oh I am so glad you mentioned the “lizard brain”. After my initial reaction to that phrase (yes, my strange sense of humor), like Dee’s mention of “intellectual capital” I had to look further, mostly to draw closer to an answer to my many “whys”…why this why that, and so on. They never seem to stop!
    It is very interesting to consider how this primitive part of the brain has an impact on our emotions and how, like you and Father said and Esmee gives an example of, healthy nurturing is a means to healing this part of the brain that seems to over-ride rational thought.
    I couldn’t help but notice this little observation as well: It seems, once again, that even neuroscience is hijacked for the advancement modern consumerism. A quote from a piece I briefly scanned:
    “While scientists now concur that assessments of long-term economic rewards are processed by the “rational brain,” perceptions of short-term rewards (impulse buying) are governed by the limbic system, the “reptilian” sections of the lower brain where emotions are processed. There is general agreement in the industry on this claim and an understanding that it is the “reptile” brain that must be targeted in order for an advertising message to sneak through our consumer defenses.”

    Interesting stuff!

    Thank you all for your thoughtful comments!

  50. Blagica Avatar

    Love you my friends
    This communication has been such an inspiration that I found myself writing without even taking a breath😀
    Practical and useful questions,honest remarks and openness.Let’s be thankful in the first place for this chance to communicate in this way given by the efforts and hardwork filled with love by Father Stephen and his guidance through the questions and answers being simple,humble,loving,and caring.Thank Christ for people like him in our lives who so willingly lead an unnecessary existence,bringing meaning to each and every existence that touches theirs, just for Love,just for Christ.
    My native language is Macedonian,but I have a degree in English language and literature and not only for that I really feel English language as my own, although I often give myself remarks on my grammar and expressions. My country knows orthodoxy from the time of the Apostle Paul, we have churches built in the early periods of Christianity, but the gap of communism made things harder from my generation born in the seventies, superstition prevails among people, but there is a great hope for the authentic orthodox living when the monastic life was renewed and many Saints were canonised by the church as there are Relics and many miracles were performed.
    I mentioned the really old church we have just to get to the point I want to tell you about. I am amazed by the way people in the orthodox church in America are so practical and devoted. I
    am talking about the authors I read, priests I listen to and all the believers there on your soil are really hungry for the life in Christ. Talking to my friends, orhodox priests in Macedonia about this,they too mentioned that the practical points of view of the nation is in fact the atribute which makes believers and spiritual guides in the church in America building an authentic life in Christ. One of them even said,you tell them-prayer is good for you and they don’t talk about it,they get to work and pray.
    Another point I want to mention in this direction is the following:
    The first book I read talking about faith was:’ Youth of the Apocalypse: And the Last True Rebellion’ and then I thought of the life as a part of the American culture for many years focused on material survival. Maybe there was a turning point when the materialism got its peak, there came othodoxy to fill in the spiritual emptiness, Christ Revealed and Came among you because you were Blessed, as you were looking for Him as nothing filled the emptiness and cured suffering from the materialistic living threatening to take away the will to live. You were Blessed and still are, with many spiritual leaders as you wanted Christ. I read some of their works and always have a great appreciation and find them very close to my heart, as the articles in Fr.Stephens’ blog and sharing views with you my dear friends. Miles away, but so close to heart. As our Saviour said: “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there I am in the midst of them.”
    I hope I did no harm by taking the liberty to be a part of this blog activity and especially to give my aspects on some matters, I understand it as sharing and for good. If that is not the case,please forgive me my friends.
    My writings are mostly verses,it is the state where the heart writes,and there is one that goes like this:

    In Christ we meet,
    In Christ all our journeys end
    In Christ with His
    And our own strength
    Alone, but together we stand.

    Glory to God for everything.

  51. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Blagica – far from doing any harm – you are a welcome and joyful presence.

    I’ve been in conversation tonight with a friend about America and the spiritual life. Your insights are very instructive. In one manner, America is incredibly bound by its Secularized Protestant history, in which success, ingenuity, excitement, newness and invention are deeply enmeshed in a strange version of the gospel, wrapped up in an American flag. And, because it truly is a culture, most people are blind to what they are doing – and assume themselves to be normal. Americans believe without any question that this is the greatest nation on earth. That is patently absurd, even as a concept. But we believe it.

    Probably starting in the 60’s and forward, there have been movements that questioned all of this. The “Jesus Movement” which overlapped the 60’s and 70’s was a strong influence. I know many priests of my generation (I’m 65), particularly convert priests, whose roots were in the Jesus Movement. The authors of Youth of the Apocalypse were certainly formed in that milieu.

    What I have noticed as I read and write, and as I travel and speak and listen, is that converts in the American Church get here because they were asking questions. They asked questions because they sensed something was wrong. They wind up in Orthodoxy, I think, because there is a clear trail of answers that leads that way. Indeed, they are often surprised by it.

    Myself, I was exposed to good Russian Orthodox thought beginning when I was in college in the 70’s and it became something that I continued to explore. Whether the classic stuff such as Dostoevsky, or 20th century work such as Solzhenitsyn, or the theologians of the diaspora, all of it spoke of a Christian world that was simply removed, historically and culturally from everything I’d ever known. Solzhenitsyn’s critique of the West is the most accurate thing I’ve ever read. He saw us for what we are.

    I’ve also seen that what I saw as “Russian” is much larger than that – Russia is merely one case in which the faith had a formative role in the culture – a role that even Communism could not, or did not destroy.

    But I love your accurate observations about America’s practicality – we are quite practical, for good and for ill. I heard one priest say that if America is put to death, it will be on a Cross of practicality. We are learning very slowly – but we are drinking from the same well that our Orthodox brothers and sisters across the world share with us.

    I smile when people ask me, “When will the Orthodox Church become truly American?” I smile and tell them that it already is, “I tell jokes in my sermons and we laugh out loud.” This would be unheard of elsewhere. 🙂 Please stay in touch and keep sharing your thoughts and comments.

  52. Blagica Avatar

    Fr. Stephen,
    the observations I presented are done naively and honestly as a joy of understanding the phenomenon of flourishing of the orthodox life in a country where this faith isn’t as old as that one in the East. I had a chance of visiting your country and stayed for couple of months at the end of the eighties and although I was young some impressions were really genuine.
    Thank you for sharing so honestly your perceptions on this matter as they are first hand experiences which makes them valuable.
    The most valuable thing from everything is again the proof that no matter the culture, orhodox life gives totally different perspectives to anyone willing to try it(Him😀). It goes beyond earthly matters and that is why the sharing and understanding is simple and without boundaries.Viewing things and people from another angle of existence is all you need and simply you understand each other. The view is always fresh as Christ is always up to date.
    Thank you Father for the encouragement and possibility
    I am thankfull to Christ and His wonderful Ways of bringing people together

  53. juliania Avatar

    Father Stephen, I was reading your words about Kirillov’s attempted freedom, his failure to succeed since he could not annihilate himself, as I looked into the final speeches of the dying Stepan Trofimovitch in the same novel. I hope very much that this only adds somewhat to your eloquent answer to Kirillov on the subject of freedom. Stepan indeed says something very similar, but with his own Dostoievskian twist:

    “My immortality is necessary if only because God would not wish to do anything unjust and put out the flame of love once it was kindled in my heart. And what is more precious than love? Love is higher than existence — love is the crown of existence, so how can existence not be subordinate to love? Since I have come to love Him and am happy because of this love, how could He extinguish me and my happiness and turn me into a zero? If God exists, then I, too, am immortal! Voila ma profession de foi –“

  54. Karen Avatar

    “The Person whom I shall be is already beginning to be present now, and will be fully revealed at the end of all things. That seems to be the sense of Romans 8.“

    Father, your comment here is consistent with something I just read this weekend. My recent FB post explains:

    From the wee hours yesterday…

    I’m sitting in my mother’s room in a hospital ICU. My mom, nearly 88 years old, is fighting for her life. Something has attacked her lungs. I am keeping vigil here. It’s 3:00 am. I picked up the small book by Fr. Alexander Schmemann, O Death, Where Is Thy Sting?, and have been reading.

    Here is what he says about the Resurrection of the body:

    “In essence, my body is my relationship to the world, to others; it is my life in communion and mutual relationship. Without exception, everything in the body, in the human organism, is created for this relationship, for this communion, for this coming out out of oneself. It is not an accident, of course, that love, the highest form of communion, finds its incarnation in the body; the body is that which sees, hears, feels, and thereby leads me out of the isolation of my ‘I’.

    “But then, perhaps, we can say in response: the body is not the darkness of the soul, but rather the body is its freedom, for the body is the soul as love, the soul as communion, the soul as life, the soul as movement. And this is why, when the soul loses the body, when it is separated from the body, it loses life; it dies, even when the dying of the soul is not a complete annihilation, but a dormition, or sleep.

    “And so, indeed, every form of sleep, and not only the sleep of death, is a kind of dying of one’s organism, for in sleep it is precisely the body that sleeps and is inactive. And here we find no life except the one that is suspended, unreal—there is nothing but sleep. If this is the case, then when Christianity speaks about the resurrection of the body, it does not speak about the vivification of bones and muscles, for bones and muscles and the whole material world, its whole fabric, is nothing more than certain basic elements, in the end—atoms. And in them there is nothing specifically personal, nothing eternally mine.

    ”Christianity speaks about the restoration of life as communion, it speaks about the spiritual body that over the course of our whole life we have developed through love, through our pursuits, through our relationships, through our coming out of ourselves. It speaks not about the eternity of matter, but about its final spiritualization; about the world that finally becomes truly a body—the life and love of mankind; about the world that has become fully communion with Life.”

    (Pp. 42-44)

    Then there is this sweet video that came across my FB feed which has apparently recently gone viral—enjoy!:

  55. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    Isn’t it amazing how in the midst of suffering (here, the emptying of yourself for the sake of your mom) there comes moments of profound clarity! There is something special too about the 3 a.m. hour when things are very still, yet very alive. It seems to allow one to “see” more clearly God’s gift of life. Oh indeed, death where is thy sting!

    Thank you for sharing Fr. Schmemann’s words. He’s always so deep! And that video is just too sweet!
    God’s blessings and peace to mom, you and your family, Karen.

  56. Byron Avatar

    Father, not to be contrary but with all this discussion of “our thoughts determining out lives” how do we not go overboard with this? Our society is going to unimaginable extremes with the idea of “I am whatever I think I am”.

    I understand that our thoughts are certainly highly impactful and formative, even from a biological standpoint, in our lives. But I also think some care must be taken in order to not fall into the “I think, therefore I am” trap. We are corrupted by sin throughout and certainly our thoughts and desires share this corruption. Where is the balance?

  57. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    You are correct. It’s good to remember that in reading the Elder Thaddeus or St. Paisios on the topic that they are were not speaking from within our culture. Like everything, we have to thread our way through a terrible maze. We can hear a good word, but always hold some kind of reserve – a watchfulness, if you will – as we apply it in our lives.

  58. Byron Avatar

    Thank you, Father. Forgive me if I was being a bit too reactionary.

    Karen’s quote from Fr. Schmemann concerning the resurrection of the body as “…the restoration of life as communion” was quite wonderful. I think, upon further consideration, it very adequately outlined the balance I was seeking in this discussion.

  59. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Byron, indeed you describe an underlying current of hubris, pride, and selfishness that can and often distorts Gospel. — It proposes a form of idol worship.

    Not long ago I was in an interesting conversation in a group of people made up of Native Americans and non-Native Americans in an academic setting. We were working together to form a ‘purpose statement’ (not uncommon for non-native but not so common in the native-traditional way of life). The word “pride” was solicited by the non-Native people to be included in the so called ‘mission statement’ but the Native American people wouldn’t have it. The non-Native people had a lot of difficulty understanding the objections.

  60. Dean Avatar

    Thank you for sharing that precious video.
    Yesterday an 83 year old nun whom I have known for 16 years reposed in the Lord after a struggle with brain cancer. She will be buried in a few hours on monastery ground. As a reader, I had the privilege of being with her and Fr. Michael (of blessed memory also) in the altar for some 7 years. What blessed memories! What blessedness also to know that now they are in our Savior’s presence, with the Panagia and all the saints. My heart right now is saddened with her passing but lightened with this hope we have in the resurrection…O Lord God, glory to Thee!

  61. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    “My body is my relationship to the world…it is my life in communion…” thank you for the quote. Excellent.

  62. Byron Avatar


    The “purpose statement” is a fascinating story! How did the communication turn out?

  63. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    The Lord says “Peace be unto you”.

    And it seems that as the grey hairs increase on our heads and death comes ever closer that we tend to think and sometimes despair of our coming ‘end’ of our life.

    However it isn’t the ‘jewel’ of my soul but The Jewel in my soul, the Noetic Pearl, that comforts me. And this gift is not of my making. I have come to receive it voluntarily and accept this Gift with gratefulness. And it is, still, the Cross that I receive— not ‘giftedness’. Humility is God’s blessing. And I rejoice when the Lord allows me to see the Jewel of God’s image in my neighbor and in my enemy’s heart.

  64. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Byron, the word ‘pride’ got left out, thanks be to God, and the desire of all who were participating to learn what ‘sharing’ means.

  65. Karen Avatar

    Paula and all, yes it seems I always have the best moments of clarity when all is in deep crisis. The chapter from which I quoted was a gift indeed—a charism of grace I could not have planned for. I feel myself upborne thru this by grace—so many are praying for us…There is no other way I could be bearing the burden, and my brother is also shouldering the lion’s share also being executive of the estate. Pray for Phil (my brother) as this is pressing him, too—close to the breaking point. My Mom who we thought might die (and she still could) is now making motions toward recovery, but she’s got a long road ahead of her and burdens too great for her shoulders to bear (a husband in cognitive decline needing memory care, a daughter now homeless in psychiatric care). Pray the Lord to guide and bless our efforts.

  66. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Karen, I know from your writing that you have received God’s peace in these times of crisis. And most certainly you have our prayers. You are not enduring these circumstances alone or just with your brother. We support you in prayer.

    But as strong as I know you are, I understand that you also care for a needful (I’m not sure I recall her circumstances well) situation with your daughter, and this is a lot to have on one’s plate. For your sake and those of your family I hope you (and your brother) obtain and accept practical (as well as spiritual) help and relief, from your parish and/or professionals as needs be. There is a lot going on in our society and economy that build enough pressures on us as it is, let alone with health crises on top. And yet we attempt to endure them alone, as individuals. It is my hope someone in your parish is with you, physically near you, and walks with you through this.

  67. Karen Avatar

    Dee, thank you. ❤️ Yes, my husband is doing his best to care for a special young lady who needs her mom right now when I can’t be there. To pile sorrow on sorrow, it appears at this stage of her life (19 about to graduate high school) on top of autism/adhd, she is developing a thought disorder akin to that of my sister who had her first psychotic break at about this stage of her life as well.

    All I can think is I must have recently in my folly prayed, “Lord, whatever it takes, I want to be like You. I withhold nothing!” And He took me at my word! (I take it back, Lord!) Grace prevails. I’m probably just too tired and sleep-deprived to come unglued yet. Many are praying. Yes, we have enlisted help from parish family and friends. I feel His love through those who care. God will provide. Lord, have mercy!

  68. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    And may the Theotokos embrace you and keep you as well! She too, as the Mother of our Lord, is with you and intercedes for you, Karen.

  69. Karen Avatar

    She is a great comfort!

  70. Byron Avatar

    God bless and hold you and yours close, Karen! We are praying for you.

    Humility is God’s blessing. And I rejoice when the Lord allows me to see the Jewel of God’s image in my neighbor and in my enemy’s heart.

    Dee, this is wonderful. Thank you.

  71. Karen Avatar

    Thanks, Byron! That means a lot.🙏🏻

  72. Dino Avatar

    Forgive me, but being authentically Greek Macedonian, I have to bring attention to something I noticed in your comments. Before I do so, I will bring to people’s attention that the renaming of the Yugoslavian area of ‘Vardaska’ to ‘Macedonia’ by Tito and Stalin in August 1944, led today’ s inhabitants of FYROM (Former Yugoslavian Republic Of Macedonia) into imagining that they are ‘Macedonians’ -even the descendants of Alexander the Great. It also led to ecclesiastical complications… This topic was one of Saint Paisios the Athonite’s great complaints regarding the Marxist rewriting of history he witnessed happening during his days, (which continues). It pained him.
    It was a rewriting similar to the way Hitler, in order to establish the Nazi regime, kept declaring that the Germans belonged to the Arian race: it was in the same way Tito, in order to take control of the Aegean and support the expansionist plans of the Soviet Union, renamed Vardaska to Macedonia, aiming towards the extraction of the great northern part of Macedonia (which includes Athos) from Greece.
    So, being a Greek myself, specifically from the birthplace of Alexander the Great as it happens, I get ‘cognitive dissonance by what you mean “by translating Fr Stephen’s into ‘Macedonian’.”
    I assume you mean the form of Bulgarian used in FYROM? and not a form of Greek? But if so, to anyone who knows the area’s history, calling the language ‘macedonian’ sounds most misleading.
    Forgive me! May God bless you.

  73. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Dino, Blagica,
    My grandmother used to say, “Now, Ya’ll play pretty…”

  74. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    “Now, Ya’ll play pretty…”
    Ohhh Father….another “cachination”!

    Man, I’m not saying another word……

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