Candlewax and Hedgehogs – Groundhog Day

Candlewax and Hedgehogs—a peculiar way to entitle an article, I’ll admit. But both have their associations with the second day of February. The first is more important so we’ll begin there. The second day of February is one of the 12 great feasts, and is also celebrated by Christians in the West. The feast is the Presentation of Christ in the Temple, described in the second chapter of St. Luke’s gospel.

There we are told that the Christ child was brought by his mother into the temple in fulfillment of the law, 40 days after his birth (February 2 is 40 days after December 25). The Old Testament Law commanded that “every male that openeth the womb (the first born child) shall be holy to the Lord.” Thus the child was brought to the Temple in Jerusalem and an offering made on His behalf in thanksgiving to God for his birth.

The Most Holy Mother of God certainly kept this teaching of the Law. We are told that she brought her child to the Temple to make offering (and to receive her purification—another required rite of the Temple). There she was met by two people, one a woman, another a man, and both of them prophets. The woman, Anna the Prophetess, spoke to her concerning her child. The aged prophet Symeon, saw the mother and Child and exclaimed in words we repeat at every Vespers:

Lord now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace. For mine eyes have seen Thy salvation which Thou hast prepared before the face of all people. To be a Light to enlighten the nations and to be the glory of Thy people Israel.

This prophecy of St. Symeon has as its key phrase the description that Christ would be a “light to enlighten the gentiles.” It is the emphasis on light that brings these words each evening to the service of Vespers, when we give thanks to God for the Light He has given us. It is also for this reason that candles are blessed on this holy day. The candles of the Church (and especially those to be taken home and used by the faithful) are blessed on this day, because they remind us that Christ is the “light of the world.”

The associations of this feast with light is also where the hedgehogs come in. Christian cultures have usually never let the feasts of the Church stay within the Church itself, but have exported them to the house and farm. So it was that in Europe (particularly Germany) there arose a folk custom that on the Feast of the Presentation (also called “Candlemas” because candles were blessed on that day) that if a hedgehog [badgers in some areas] should come out of his burrow and see the light (and thus his shadow) he would return to his burrow because winter would last six more weeks.

German immigrants brought this folk custom to America in the 1800’s. There being no hedgehogs in North America, the groundhog was drafted to take its place. Thus the secular calendar in America celebrates “Groundhog Day.” But only the faithful Christian knows and understands the secret of the Light that shines on February 2nd. Not the light of the sun, frightening a furry creature back into his hole, but the Light of Christ, which frightens all the evil powers that would do us harm.

For an interesting theological meditation on Groundhog Day, I suggest you rent and view the movie by that title. Bill Murray finds redemption as he lives his way through a near eternity of Groundhog Days. But I will spare you.

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.






40 responses to “Candlewax and Hedgehogs – Groundhog Day”

  1. Arnold Karr Avatar
    Arnold Karr

    At some point I did the arithmetic and discovered that 42 days from Feb 2 is Mar 23, a day or so after the vernal equinox. I think the folklore makers were playing a little joke: if the furry critter sees the sun, there will be six more weeks of winter; if not, spring is (six weeks) around the corner.
    Thanks for the connection with church history. I always like to see such things.

  2. Dean Avatar

    Fr. Stephen,
    Your article had me look up groundhog. It’s also known as a woodchuck, or in the South, as a whistlepig.
    They are part of the marmot family of large ground squirrels. I love the name, whistlepig! We spent a year in Alabama in the 60’s. Another southern name we like is for a dachshund… sausage dog…here in Calif a weeny (weiner) dog.
    I really enjoy observing marmots and badgers, wonderful creatures of God’s creation. Gotta watch those marmots though. They love to chew the insulation off engine wires!😊

  3. David Waite Avatar
    David Waite

    Hate to be a spoilsport, but I used to own a .22 with a scope for the sole purpose of shooting groundhogs. Livestock fall in their holes and break their legs. They also destroy root crops. But thank you for the fascinating story, Father. Just wish I had remembered to go to liturgy. Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

  4. Laura Avatar

    Fr. Stephen, as a freshly-minted catechumen, I am at times overwhelmed with the deep and rich dive into Orthodoxy. Would you help me with the following questions from the Biblical passage:
    1) would it be unusual for a prophet/wise man to speak directly to Mary, with Joseph as the observer?
    2) Joseph was there with Mary, though his role while mentioned as “parent” seems very diminshed in scripture. Is this to emphasize the exalted role and nature of Mary?
    3) Is more known about Anna, the Prophetess, given this was before the ‘wave of newcomers’ that would know Jesus and his teaching in years to come?

  5. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    It’s always problematic to analyze gospel stories from a strictly historical point of view. They are almost always constructed with a theological point in mind. But, that said, I think there would have been nothing unusual in speaking directly to Mary – he spoke as a prophet – and they had a way of breaking all the rules.
    You’re quite right about Joseph. The Tradition tells us that he was an old man, a widower and that he died before Jesus took up his ministry. He is not mentioned as much as Mary emphasizes her theological position. She is Theotokos – and the Church saw the importance of this from the beginning.
    I’m not sure if more is known about Anna the Prophetess. I will do a bit of research.

  6. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    So, the groundhog came out to see his shadow and you shot him. Always winter and never Christmas.

  7. Jeff Avatar

    And yet, Aslan is on the move.

  8. Jason Avatar

    Please, don’t shoot groundhogs that speak. Try to negotiate with them.

  9. Dino Avatar

    The tradition regarding the Righteous Simeon the God-receiver stretches our literal-historical sensibilities (if taken literally). Only as a miracle can we conceive of it as being literal. Not that such a thing would be any more incredible than the Virgin Birth.
    He was meant to be one of the seventy scribes/scholars who came to Alexandria to translate the Septuagint (O.T. into Greek). Tradition says he died at the incredible age of 360 (and was still able to walk). The youngest a (young-ish) scribe involved in the Septuagint translation could ever be (by Jesus’ time) would still be over 160, which I still think can only be taken as a miraculously old age (I consider anything over a hundred – like a monk I once met, with complete lucidity of mind [!] – as pretty miraculous…!)
    Tradition holds that when St Simeon was translating the book of Isaiah, he read the words: “Behold, a virgin shall conceive in the womb, and shall bring forth a Son” (Is 7:14). He thought that “a virgin” was erroneous, and attempted to correct the text to say “a woman.” But an angel appeared to him and held back his hand, saying: “You shall live to see these words fulfilled. You shall not die until you behold the Christ, the Lord born of the pure and spotless Virgin.”

  10. Maria Xiourouppa Avatar
    Maria Xiourouppa

    As tradition says Simeon disbelieved that he would see the savior. He took off a ring from his finger and threw it into the Nile, saying if I find this ring ever then I will know that I shall see the savior. Many years later while seating eating fish with friends he opened his fish to find the same ring realizing God would fulfill his wish to see the Lord before he died.. If you visit St Simeon’s monastery in Katamona Jerusalem where his tomb is you may be given a blessing of a little fish with a ring in its mouth by Father Theodoritos.

  11. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    “So, the groundhog came out to see his shadow and you shot him. Always winter and never Christmas.”
    Oooooo Father…those words just “shot” through me (I hang my head).
    It is terrible what we do.
    I have had to “eliminate” critters that have killed my birds and their chicks. Once they do that they don’t go away. The barricade I built around the hen house did not keep them out. I reinforced it and so far so good. I am not making an excuses here.
    Matter of fact, I have just purchased an icon of St. Tryphon (keeper of geese/birds) to place in the hen house…and…one of St. Modestos of Jerusalem (Saint for animals) to place in the horse barn. I also pray they pray for me. I have asked for forgiveness. Don’t know what else to do….

  12. Dino Avatar

    thank you,
    St Simeon’s Katamonas… and all those remarkable places there! I don’t know if I’ll get to ever visit them!

  13. Agata Avatar

    Dino and Maria,
    Thank you for sharing about St. Simeon and the monastery in Jerusalem. I had a blessing to visit it long ago (I pray for all who read this blog to have this blessing once in their life), and we were told that St. Simeon lived on this site as a hermit for 270 years (after finding his ring in the fish), until the Holy Spirit inspired him to go to the Temple of Solomon for the Meeting of the Lord. Apparently, he “went slowly”…. 🙂
    A little more information on the monastery:

    I really loved the prayer which was read at the blessing of the candles yesterday. I will share it here with you:

    “Do Thou bless and sanctify these candles… and be pleased to lighten them with the light of Thy heavenly blessing, that we who are offering them unto Thee… enflamed with Thy sweetest love, through their flame, may be counted worthy also to stand in the Temple of Thy glory… that as these candles, kindled with visible fire, drive away the darkness of night, so may our hearts, kindled with invisible fire, and illumined with the brightness of the Holy Spirit, banish the blindness of every sin, that, by the cleansing of our spiritual eyes, we may be able to see that which is well-pleasing unto Thee and necessary for our salvation…. pour out the grace of Thy blessing upon these candles, that as brightness in born to the people outwardly, so by the gift the brightness of the Holy spirit may shine inwardly in our thoughts…”(From the Order for the Blessing of Candles on the Feast of the Meeting of the Lord)

    When Christians pray, from time immemorial they have lit candles. The candle is a sign of the fire of the Holy Spirit. Their cheerful radiance (especially if at the time of prayer one dims the lights a little) becomes a little sacrament of the resurrection grace of Christ. The flame also serves to remind us of how pure and heartfelt our prayer is meant to be, even if, at times, we are praying in a doldrum and may hardly feel any grace at all. The candle reminds us that Christ and his Holy Spirit pray in and through us, unfailingly. They see the heart’s intent and always draw close in time of prayer. Their prayer (in us, through us, over us) is never dim, always luminous.
    – Fr. John McGuckin in Prayer Book of the Early Christians (2012)

  14. David Waite Avatar
    David Waite

    Fr. Stephen and Jason – You cannot survive on a farm if you sentimentally anthropomorphize animals. My dog is different, of course 🐶

  15. Dean Avatar

    As I mentioned above, I enjoy watching animals in their natural habitat. Yet most live pretty harsh lives. Here I’m thinking of deer. Probably few die of “old age.” Between natural predators, accidents, hunters, disease, cars, etc., I would think their average life-span is fairly short. I’m not a hunter or animal expert, so many of you probably know more than I in this area. And David, I think I am guilty of looking at our wild animals through rose-colored glasses. Farmers, such as you, have a difficult row to hoe.

  16. Christopher Avatar


    In Father’s defense, the incarnation is not just a symbol – the Real being communicated – of Christ becoming “human”, but it is also a symbol of Him becoming “flesh” and in this becoming what ALL creatures and creation is so that ALL (everything, from every human being to every irrational creature , even every grain of sand on the beach) may be saved. Through His incarnation, He sanctified *every-thing*. By doing this, every-thing (i.e. every creature, every piece of dust, every act of will, every-thing that happens under the sun in/through time) is His, and thus calls from us a recognition of its inherent sanctity. This Orthodox Christian understanding is not in any way “anthropomorphism” – unless Saint Maximus and St. Gregory Palamas were fools 😉

    In your defense, as you till the ground and labor as commanded by Him, you will be the priest and sacrifice – animals and other creatures will give their flesh for our food, and their lives, as we “seek our food from God”. You will kill, rightly. I traveled this weekend and listened to more of Fr. Michael Oleksa and his explanation of Alaskan native culture. They hunt and kill, but they have a spiritual relationship to that which they kill. So it’s really about you. What is your relationship to that which you kill?

  17. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    David, Christopher:

    There’s so much that I like about CS Lewis. Among my favorite things is his science-fiction trilogy (which is lousy science but great fiction). When he writes of “Malacandra” (Mars) he posits an unfallen planet. But it’s an interesting sort of unfallen place. There is hunting, for example. They hunt the “hnakra” which seems to be something like a shark. The hanakra hunts them as well. Lewis describes it in a way that somehow (heart-wise) makes sense.

    It is very misleading, in my opinion, when we use the language of a “fallen” creation. This has become so intertwined in our thinking that we impute sin where I’m not sure any sin is taking place. What we actually have in Scripture is a reference to a creation “made subject to futility” (mataiotes) in Romans 8. This “futility” is an emptiness or vanity. I think we can understand it is the creation being subjected to death and decay – a “bondage” in St. Paul’s language.

    But this bondage does not have a “moral” component, other than being subject to death (it is an ontological matter). We’re so accustomed to thinking in moralistic terms that it is difficult to simply think in ontological terms. We kill, we eat. This is not a question of morality – it’s just how things are. God says to Peter, “Rise, Peter. Kill and eat.” Acts 11:7. Peter has objections, not to killing and eating, but to the fact that what is shown to him in the vision are a collection of unclean animals.

    We are to take proper care of our fellow creatures. Sometimes we kill them. Sometimes we eat them. We should be good stewards of such actions. Never killing needlessly or wastefully, nor merely exploiting (like killing an elephant for its tusks). We are so deeply bound to all of creation that misuse of it eventually comes back to poison and kill us. We are reaping this whirlwind at present and it looks only to get worse.

  18. David Waite Avatar
    David Waite

    I apologize for throwing this discussion off track. My comment about shooting groundhogs was intended to be a casual comment – a little joke. I had no idea it would arouse such a discussion! Perhaps I should have known and, for that, I apologize.

    And thank you, Father, for your comment. It never occurred to me there was a moral issue involved in shooting groundhogs. They were (I have not lived on a farm in many years) a threat to crops and livestock, so we killed them. Not wantonly, I assure you. I never went out into the country looking for groundhogs to shoot. Some folks did, but that was so they could take them home and eat them. (Too greasy for me.)

    It’s just life and, honestly, I do not see much difference between killing a groundhog and sanitizing my kitchen counter. The groundhog dies because he threatens the farm. The bacteria die because they threaten my health. If I am going to continue to live, other living things are going to have to die. I accept that as the way Creation works. I am a lay Christian, not a Tibetian Buddhist monk.

    I apologize in advance for any new offense I have (almost certainly) caused. I mean no harm.

  19. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    It wasn’t what you said that got my attention, but Father’s short response which struck a chord.
    “Futile”….great way to describe it the killing of a critter to save my own.

  20. Christopher Avatar

    David and Father,

    I don’t know about apologies and offense, and I have hunted. I do wonder about our mixed narratives. On the one hand we have have the Traditional narrative (from both Christian and other traditions, such as the native Alaskans) that inform us of our our relation to God and His creatures/creation. Father in a way summed this up in the first 3 paragraphs of his last post. On the other hand, we have a modern or secular narrative. This narrative is harder to characterize, because it is internally inconsistent, varies in important aspects from Reality, and is characterized by passion(s). For example, someone on the last thread noted how our modern North American cities will most likely contain *both* a no-kill animal shelter and an abortion “clinic”. So in the last paragraph or your post Father when you speak of a “whirlwind” and misuse, what (and what data) is a reliable? Honest question, I don’t know. I strongly suspect the secular panic over climate change, species dieback, ‘human impact’ and the like is just that – panic (based in unexamined morality). Still, you point is valid, in that all of us are aware (or should be) of change from “farm” to “modern/industrial farm”. We can be aware of this in our own lives and small circle of influence. Sometimes I say to myself “lord have mercy” when I step on a bug, or drive over a rabbit. Do I say this when I sanitize my kitchen counter? Never even thought to do so but David would be right to ask why not.

    In any case I am not sure this is even worth talking about, but even if we did not live in a secular age – one where each of us “lives” multiple narratives at the same time – our relationship to other creatures and creation itself would be difficult enough. Circling back to your essay Father, that is why we try to see the His Light.

  21. David Waite Avatar
    David Waite

    Christopher – I try to avoid stepping on bugs or driving over rabbits. (Where I live now, squirrels are bigger problem.) That would be wanton killing.

    Begs the question: what is wanton killing and what is not? I don’t know. I just do the best I can and leave the rest to God.

  22. Dean Avatar

    The above comments have me thinking about the juxtaposition of life and death.
    All that we have/are comes from death, doesn’t it? We live because of the Lamb slain before the foundation of the world. Everything that we ingest was once a living organism and is now either dead or soon will be after it is eaten (I think most yogurt bacteria dies in the gut). Life comes from death. The emphasis of Jesus in John 6 has long intrigued me. It is nothing less than a paean of praise for life. But, this life only comes because of death, that of Christ our Lord. “…and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh.” It is the same for us. We die to self to live for Christ and others. “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies it bears much fruit.” St. John quoting Jesus. This truth is part of the fabric of our life. Life from death…billions of small “resurrections” occurring constantly in our world.

  23. Agata Avatar

    Christopher and David,
    You may enjoy watching this Russian film (I have always wanted an excuse to share it with my friends on this blog, I hope Father allows it). The first few minutes of this “supernatural legal drama” touches on the very subject of killing an animal. The general theme of this film and (mostly secular) ideas about the “Heavenly Judgement” are also very interesting… (English subtitles can be turned on with the settings button).

  24. Jeremias Avatar

    The film Groundhog Day captures so much about modern life and false modes of meaning. Truly God’s mercy is new every morning, and it is not until we can see this day as a day worth living—choose it even as a day worth endless repetition (cf. Nietzsche perhaps), that it can ever be tomorrow. Murray demonstrates almost every way of avoiding/replacing that truth, and after (who knows?) years of that one day, he discovers the heaven in what he took to be a private hell, and he is now prepared to dwell there. Beautiful.

  25. Diana Christina Avatar
    Diana Christina

    It’s okay to kill to eat. It’s not okay to factory farm or battery cage IMHO. Buy meat from a local farmer that humanely raises and slaughters their animals.

  26. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    There is a book called “Chew on This (everything you don’t want to know about fast food)” by Eric Schlosser. The thing is, his bare-boned description of fast food processing (meat and dairy) also extends to the foods we purchase at the local store. In its truth it is meant to disturb, and it does a good job.
    Also, thanks to Christopher, I’ve been watching Fr. Oleksa’s You Tube video’s. He lives and ministers among the Alaskan natives. Their respect for animals, and all creation for that matter, is one of the “holiest” I have ever heard. And they are not vegetarians…the issue is not political. It is a respect and gratitude toward the animals who die for them that they may live. Sound familiar?!
    Wonderful videos….

  27. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    I’m glad you’re enjoying them. I am too— thanks Christopher for mentioning this. Another layer in the creation is to see it all— the world, the entire cosmos— as a place where the Kingdom of God enters. Not just in our hearts alone.

  28. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    Yes Amen Dee…in “all— the world, the entire cosmos..”including our hearts. Macro and micro! “Blessed is the Kingdom……”!

  29. Christopher Avatar

    Paula and Dee,

    My hope was that Fr. Michael’s explication of what a “culture” is (and his innate sensitivity to it), via his particular circumstances around the contrast between the native Alaskans and the Russians (and later Americans), would help us understand what a “conflict of cultures” looks like. Particularly, how the “conflict of cultures” I am (if I am not mistaken) most of the posters here in and living as (Orthodox or traditional) Christian’s *in* our modern secular culture.

  30. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    Thanks…because I was wondering what it was you wanted us to glean from Fr. Michael’s talks. But….
    Would you elaborate a bit more? Not sure about needing to know what a conflict of cultures looks like. I think we know that already as traditionalists living in a secular world.

  31. Dino Avatar

    Possibly, the classical notion of Christianity being profoundly counter-cultural, and its diametrical opposite notion: of it having formed certain traditional cultures (that are deeply counter-secular) ought to be balanced somehow, so that we don’t tend toward one-sidedness? There will always be some inevitable, yet blessed, “tension” there (unless obviously we are of those who have it in them to run off to the deserts). Just thinking out loud here…

  32. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    More thoughts, Christopher…

    We carry our culture with us into the Orthodox Church, which exists in the midst of our secularized culture. Not only that but we carry with us all our personal baggage, a heavy load.

    Fr. Michael spoke about how the first missionaries from Russia sat for six months with the native Alaskans to learn their culture. In a real sense they entered into their culture, and in doing so were able to keep it intact as they introduced the Gospel to them, drawing out the stark similarities of their story of origin with the Christian version. The story may differ in description but the meaning is the same.

    Certainly there were great hardships and suffering among the natives. But we do not hear the missionaries admonish the people for not living up to their cultural standards. Rather they embraced them and entered into their suffering, healing when they could, burying the dead (I think of St Herman’s story of the multitude that died when a certain disease struck the people), taking care of the orphans, mending broken relationships, building schools, churches, homes…in short, showing them what the gospel of Jesus Christ looks like by emptying themselves as Christ does for all of mankind.
    It is no different for us in our American secularized culture. I don’t know what the stats are but I think in America most of the Orthodox are converts. We enter into the Church “diseased”, broken relationships, broken families, in isolation from any meaningful community (we have “made our own world”). We come from churches that have made their own self-fulfilling, feel-good version of the gospel, where Christ became whatever we wanted Him to become ….and here, entering into this very Church, we find healing. We are accepted as “diseased” rather than punished to the point of shame that we can not bear. God sets before each person certain people who will help. We are embraced in compassion. We are shown the Way…through example. We are taught the Tradition unchanged from the beginning. All the while, shedding the baggage (healing) little by little…which is not a “little” matter, but in fact a turn towards our intended purpose. But the missionaries guide in this way in every culture they encounter. The cultures differ from each other, but the missionary method is the same. We are not taken out of our culture but we learn how to live as Christians within it. And as Dino has said, there will always always always be a tension as long as this age persists. And yes, it is a “blessed” tension because Christ Himself, through the Church, is carrying us through. Carrying us through for nothing other than to enter into the joy of the Lord. When we “have been faithful over a few things”, things given in measure according to what we can endure (even as secularized Christians), not to leave us “without increase”, but knowing what we need to draw closer to Him. I believe God, rather than destroying the demonic root of secularism, is, for now, using it to draw all to Him.
    That’s my take on it Christopher. So far, anyway…..

  33. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    I believe “saying ‘no’ to secularism”, as Fr Schmemann says, is a moment to moment process of recognizing what the secular actually is. We are essentially born into it— ‘secular perspectives’ are invisible to us. Sometimes it might be surprising to learn how science (referring to sub-atomic level stuff) reveals realties—at the very least indicating that this cosmos isn’t what we casually think it to be,—as this culture might have us think—because it doesn’t neatly fit into ‘our’ logic.

  34. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Sometimes our attempts to understand what lays right under our own noses resembles throwing a plate peas into the air.

  35. Christopher Avatar


    Here in the west, this dialectic you mention between “Christ against culture” (e.g. how we usually think of the early church or the monastic life) and “Christ and/with culture” (e.g. various post Constantine circumstances, such has “Holy Russia”, traditional Greek village life, etc.) is the normative way of thinking about this subject. What I want to emphasize is the inadequacy of the dialectic itself in the face of secularism. This is what I believe was Schemman’s, Flovorsky’s, and such men’s insight: that the dialectic itself, if not exactly a secular creation, is “swallowed up” as it were by a secular life/culture and mind (nous). To put it another way, the secular nous has a way of subordinating *both* sides of this dialectic in it’s own (hidden to the person/culture/Church) synthesis! This synthesis is hard to describe – I have been thinking about it for years and I am still at a loss in large part – the fruit of it is everywhere to be seen/tasted in the life of Christians here in the west. For the last year or so, I have been thinking that the secular nous innate ability to be “multicultural”, as described by Charles Taylor (i.e. modern people, secular people, can hold together multiple “construals” of reality in a unique way specific to them – past peoples/cultures did not do this) is central.


    The narrative of Orthodoxy *in* our 2018 North American (secular) culture which you so well describe, for lack of a better word, is “normative”. It’s what St. Herman did right?! However, is this narrative actually playing out – is it a good description of what is really happening? Notice that the whole narrative begins with St. Herman being *conscious* of his own culture and its heart/mind, then ‘studying’ (as it were) the culture, heart, and mind of the Native Alaskan, and then rightly evangelizing/missionizing from there in a true synthesis of the Holy things in each. We however are not the native Alaskans, and our secular culture might not even be the same kind of *thing* as a traditional, indigenous culture (of any sort). So our St. Herman(s) are going to be doing something quite different (or so I am asserting) than what St. Herman himself did, which leads me to Dee…


    Yes, we are “born into” secularism – *We* are secular and this is (largely) invisible to us. Just as Fr. Schmemann saw, we are still trying to *recognize* what this even means. Our St. Hermans are still in the studying phase, only having arrived on this secular island a few weeks ago metaphorically. We are not yet at the point where we know what it means to be (ontologically) Orthodox in our secular circumstances, and the usual response(s) of the past (the dialectic of which Dino speaks) are not “working”, as it were. This is not to say there we are not Christians, that there are not Saints amongst us, that the Church is not the Church, etc. It is to say that Orthodoxy as a ‘cult’ has not quite worked out what to do yet,

  36. Byron Avatar


    I think Orthodoxy does what it has always done: live the life of the Church, as God has given it to us. Orthodox parishioners may not be clear how they can effectively do that in our secularized culture, but the Church preserves the Tradition and the people take part in it by living it. It is a slow process, no doubt, but it reveals our lives to us in Christ even as it reveals Christ to others. We can be ignorant of God’s work in the world, but He still works (as Father indirectly pointed out in his latest blog post).

    I don’t think that “our St. Herman(s) are going to be doing something quite different (or so I am asserting) than what St. Herman himself did”. St. Herman simply acted in love for the people he was with. We do the same, as we can.

    Forgive me if I am simplifying too much. I know you think on a deeper level than I and I may not be addressing what you actually see/think.

  37. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    OK Christopher…thank God…I think I finally understand your conundrum! I may not agree with your conclusion simply because I have not come to my own conclusion…kind of.
    As I stated earlier, although the missionaries encounter different cultures, the method of witness is the same…you get to know the culture, unite, and work things out together. The same with us, despite all being “infected”. You are right to say secularism is fairly new on the scene. It flourished in early America. Fr. Schmemann does not hesitate to say Orthodoxy has long been westernized/secularized. But in his book ‘Historical Road to Eastern Orthodoxy’ he describes how even those in the Byzantine period did not get it right! … that the Church lost her vitality due to undue collaboration with the Monarchy. In the hope of having a united Church and kingdom on earth, Byzantine fell. But Orthodoxy survived in the land. It was brought into the Slavic lands, and survived, in the midst of kingdoms rising and falling, factions and wars. It survived in Russia despite the Revolution and the atheist yoke. Each of these lands have a different culture. Were (are) all the faithful of these lands “ontologically” Orthodox? Even though their missionaries were conscious of their Orthodox culture, once the Church was established, troubles persisted. Even to this day!
    So here we have our missionaries, our St Hermans, born into a secular world themselves. You say secularism goes largely unnoticed, and this is true. But the work of the Spirit goes largely unnoticed as well. And that includes in our secular St Hermans who lead and guide us. Orthodoxy as a ‘cult’ may not have quite worked out what to do yet, but God certainly has.
    So, you know…in the meantime, we press toward the mark…encourage one another and walk circumspect. Yes?

  38. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Christopher,, et al, the Providential life in the Church is not dialectic in nature–ever.
    It is always antinomial. Not a synthesis a both/and wherever possible. In the process something greater is revealed–God filling all of His creation and bringing it and all to ultimate fruition. We can never know the how much less control it.

    It is the arrogance and reductionism of modernity that we can know and control the how and the what and the why makes no difference.

    Thus we must realize that nothing is linear least of all what is commonly called “history”.
    Yet most study and explication of history, even in the Church, persists in in the false belief that it is. Such is the sand on which modernity is built

  39. David Waite Avatar
    David Waite

    I am studying the Old Testament again, relying on Fr. Stephen DeYoung’s podcasts. We are just starting to read Kingdoms II. Everything in Joshua and Judges was about the failure of God’s people to follow the instructions given by Moses in Deuteronomy. The biggest sin committed by the ancient Jews is their intermingling with pagan cultures through intermarriage and idol worship, just as the Orthodox are intermingling with modern secular culture today. Still, David eventually became king . Then the the temple fell and the people fell away again, but Isaiah and the other prophets came. Then our Lord and Savior came, followed by the Apostles and His Oly Church. So don’t worry so much, Christopher. Take the long view. God is King. Everything is ok. You think things look bad now? Imagine being a Jew in Egypt before Moses! Looked pretty dark for the Children of Abraham then, I should say. But Jesus came anyway. He will again. In fact, He is here, with the Holy Spirit, in us and in His Church, today. God is in all things and He is, as always, in charge. I am not in the least bit worried. God is King. What could possibly go wrong?

  40. Dino Avatar

    I think I agree with you that the “Providential life in the Church is not dialectic in nature but always antinomial”. Any unresolved contradictions that befall us are – or ultimately can be– not unlike the [Grace-filled] experience of holy martyrs: those who though being tortured were yet joyful, in pain and yet possessed by spiritual delight. It is a kind of ‘supra-logical understanding’ that cannot be reduced to rational forms, but, nevertheless can be lived and verified through God’s Grace. The binary / dialectical (either/or logic) – although clearly being experienced, is transcended into an antinomial (both/and logic) through the ontological transformation of our mind in Christ “filling all of His creation and bringing it and all to ultimate fruition”.

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