What Is Beneath the Universe?

In the beginning was the Logos, and the Logos was with God, and the Logos was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made. John 1:1-3


Throw a blanket over a chair. In all likelihood, you would recognize immediately that there is a chair beneath the contours of the fabric. The blanket is not the chair, but the chair gives shape to the blanket. This is a possible image for thinking about a certain aspect of creation – the shape it is given by the Logos. For the Christian, the shape of the universe, and everything in it, points towards something beneath, within, and throughout it. The universe is not just a lot of things; the things make “sense.” And, not surprisingly, “sense” would be one of many possible translations for the Greek word, Logos.

In our world of secular materialism, we would not tend to think that “sense” is anything other than something our thoughts do. But this begs the question: why do our thoughts make “sense” of things. Where did their “sense” come from?

The Logos does not belong to the categories of “things.” It is not a mathematical principle, nor a law of physics. But both the principles of mathematics and the laws of physics point towards something else. In Christian theology, both are just blankets covering a chair.

The witness of St. John’s gospel, and the faith of the Church, is that Jesus of Nazareth is the incarnate Logos of God, eternally begotten of the Father. Though St. John begins his gospel with this affirmation, it is not the place where our Christian faith, or theology begin. That place where what is hidden (like the chair) is revealed is in the suffering, death and resurrection of Christ, His Pascha. The proclamation, “Christ is risen,” is the affirmation of the mystery hidden from before the ages. It is the revealing of God’s good will and the definitive manifestation of His good will towards us.

When we turn from Christ’s resurrection towards creation in efforts to discern the Logos, it is Christ’s Pascha being manifest in all things that is the proper point of our attention. The Logos is not some inert principle, or property of physics, and we do wrong to examine things from that angle. If we were to pull back the blanket to see what is beneath, we would see only the risen Christ, the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.

This “shape” of the universe, or the dynamic of its shape, is called the Providence of God in Christian theology. If we look more carefully at the tradition, we will see that Providence is understood to be the Divine Energies, the “doings” of God. When human beings act, we think of ourselves as one thing and our actions as another. Indeed, sometimes we act in a way that seems to contradict our identity. We wonder, “Why did I do that?” With God it is different.

It is the teaching of the Church that God’s Essence and His Energies are one. The God who makes Himself known in His energies, is the God who is beyond knowing in His very being (essence). The manner of knowing God in His energies (actions) is one of discernment. I can discern the shape of a chair, though I do not see the chair.

Now, it is also possible for others to suggest that what we see is not a chair at all. Perhaps it is a set of boxes stacked in a chair-like manner. Perhaps it is an evil robot that is sort of shaped like a chair. Perhaps the blanket has simply landed in a manner that suggests (accidentally) the shape of a chair. All of these would represent competing narratives. Some of the suggestions are more plausible than others. The narrative of modernity would likely favor the accidental blanket account.

What is clear, however, is that debating the narratives, based on the observation of shape alone, is a no-win exercise. We see the blanket. What’s beneath it can be argued any number of ways. We do well, then, to remember that we do not start with the Prologue of John’s gospel. Had Christ traveled around Israel proclaiming, “I am the Logos through whom all things were created!” He would likely have been ignored (or worse). He does say, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life,” but that remains a rather opaque statement until after the resurrection. Indeed, apart from Christ’s Pascha, everything about God is opaque.

That the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world is also the eternal Logos, is a matter of revelation. It is not a result of a logical process of deduction. It is an assertion, a declaration of the nature of God and the nature of all that He has created. I often think of it as the most outrageous proclamation of the gospel possible. It flies in the face of all absurdity and meaninglessness. The Christian argument is simple: “Christ is risen.” To every objection that can be raised, we respond, “Yes, but Christ is risen.”

We do not live our lives gazing out at the universe. We are tiny things, less aware of the blanket and more aware of tiny fibers. Many times we cannot even discern the weave. We argue about the material. It is little wonder that many cannot fathom the reality of the Logos, or even grasp that shape of things. That they deny the Christian narrative is not an example of perversity: it reflects their experience. I think that many have only ever encountered arguments about blankets and chairs. Christ seems just as abstract. This is a failure in our Christian proclamation.

Our life, and our proclamation need to mirror that of the Apostles. They bore witness to Christ’s Pascha. They not only bore witness to it as an event, but accepted His way of life as the consequence of that event. We love our enemies because Christ is risen from the dead. We forgive everyone for everything because Christ is risen from the dead. We share what we have with others because Christ is risen from the dead. If, in our leisure, we ponder the shape of the universe, we do so that we might know the risen Christ. That is the end of all things.



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.






69 responses to “What Is Beneath the Universe?”

  1. Byron Avatar

    I am reminded of a priest in Russia during Soviet times, who, after a Soviet “delegation” gathered him and his parishioners together and explained to them all numerous arguments against the existence of God, responded something like this: “I can see you are all learned men and what you say makes perfect sense.” Then, turning to his parishioners, said “Christ is Risen!” to which they responded, “Indeed He is Risen!”.

    Thank you for reinforcing this point, Father. It is good to be reminded in a world that wants only to wear one out by argument.

  2. Geri Priscilla Avatar
    Geri Priscilla

    I have lately been praying that we would all “come to our senses.” Like the Prodigal Son. Coming to sense True Reality and turning from illusion.

  3. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Fr Stephen,
    I greatly appreciate this article. I will keep it on hand to offer someone who seeks to understand what I mean when I refer to “observing Christ’s Pascha at the ‘sub-atomic’ level”.

    Originally, I described what I saw as the ‘reality of resurrection’. (Actually I didn’t even have the courage to say that much originally–I just said I think I see a possibility of life after death) Initially, I wasn’t at all ready to accept the truth of Christianity. The ‘christian’ theology I had been exposed to was too repugnant to be entertained as a possibility– let alone be ‘real’.

    It took years of study (to understand the phenomenon through the lens of Orthodox Christian theology) before I entered an Orthodox Church. And more time after that before I had the courage to mention my initial revelation to a priest and then a couple years more, before I was ready to mention it on this blog. Even then, I wouldn’t dare go into the physics (the material of the blanket) only because I suspected I’d wind up in an argument that only visited the ‘outskirts’ of current physics. Getting into the depths of physics would be counter-productive. Furthermore, I reasoned, to explain what I saw using physics alone would not have been helpful to anyone not inclined to physics.

    I’ve never seen a better description of Christ’s Pascha than what I have read in the Gospels. Full stop.

    The only reason I would bring it up is to discuss the ontological reality of Christ’s Pascha (only necessary to discuss, I think, in a culture hellbent toward a two storied universe—and a conversation that Fr Stephen has far more experience and eloquence than I could ever muster). It is a way to describe this world, this very cosmos, as an icon of that reality, Christ’s Pascha. This is what I have learned through Orthodox theology (albeit I’m still very much an infant in the faith). It is through the Orthodox theology of the icon, that I have come to a better, fuller understanding the initial discovery. (the initial discovery is what I now call revelation, and Providence ‘took’ me there.)

    On occasion I attempt to describe or explain the initial circumstances in two very different languages. But the revelation cannot be understood in its full meaning outside of the Gospels.

  4. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    Thank you Father Stephen.

    In a previous post I had asked you why you said “we can forgive our enemies because Christ is risen”. Your response was “…if Christ has triumphed over everything, then I don’t need to curse anything. To bless my enemies is another way to say, “Christ is risen!” ” Very helpful. Now here, I am having trouble carrying that over to “If, in our leisure, we ponder the shape of the universe, we do so that we might know the risen Christ.” Why do we say the risen Christ instead of “that we may know Christ”?
    Actually I can better understand the statement “I am the Logos Who created all things”. I wish I could, but I would not be able to say “To every objection that can be raised, we respond, “Yes, but Christ is risen.” , not because I don’t believe He is the beginning and the end, but because would not be able to verbalize why that is so. I am definitely missing something…

  5. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Paula AZ,
    I think I use this language because it is only in His death and resurrection (and all that goes with it) that we see who Christ is. I would also add that this is especially important when talking about Christ as the Logos of creation.

    The Logos whom we know – is crucified, suffered death, was buried and rose again from the dead – this, for me, is essential. We’re not talking about a universe that has some sort of existence that makes sense apart from Christ’s full Pascha – crucifixion, suffering, death, etc.

    Be patient about these things. The coins will drop at the right time.

  6. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    Thank you Father.
    Yes, I see it in bits and pieces…thank you for your confidence that there will come a time when I’ll “get it”. I will be patient!

  7. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    My thoughts about “getting it” are because it’s not really an entirely rational thing. If that were the case, we could each just “learn” it. But the “getting” part is really about the pieces beginning to fit together. My experience is that is just happens – it happens after a time and as we attend to “Christ and Him crucified,” as St. Paul says.

  8. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    Yes Father…not rational as in trying to figure it out, but it will come. I hear you Father. I trust it will come together. Thanks again.

  9. Blagica Avatar

    Father Stephen,
    This was a real inspirational work of Art, as usual- the state of the heart writing. Such an inspiration leads to not thinking, just reciting:
    No coincidence and randomness
    Just lovely, accordingly revealed Sense❤️
    Not you,but another one hidden:
    Waiting to be born,
    Getting close to birth every day,
    As you accept Christ
    With a blessed “hunger” for Him.
    That same
    Hugs the Sense without logic,
    just hungry for Christ’s Love.
    The same inner you
    teaches you with whisper-
    do not ask,
    you don’t need answers, just – Repent and prepare the way of the Lord!
    No human sense
    Rely on God’s Providence

    Once I heard a verse:
    My mind flourished into insomnia
    When the circle becomes the arrow.

    We share what we have with others because Christ is risen from the dead. 

    Indeed He Is Risen!

  10. Jp Esnouf Avatar
    Jp Esnouf

    Thank you Fr. Stephen,

    What an incredible teaching! Like Paula i struggle to “get Things” yet i love the mystery of God in Christ and His Pascha – It is comforting even exciting in a sense that we cant just “learn God” like He was part of the “things”.

    It brings so much freedom to not have to try prove everything all the time. Now i realize i cant and never will be able to because God is “Discerned” – wow! So simple yet so profound.

    Thank you

  11. Jeff Avatar

    Father Bless,
    In these last few posts I sense a thread and connection. It’s thrilling. As deep calls to deep, held by the loving Hand, this thread is woven into a net that gathers pigment from all throughout my being, from all corners of my heart, mind, from every extremity.

    A dynamic image, emerging and growing, is being revealed. There! I see the earth. There! I see God, riding a donkey. There! Mary holds You. There! I’m in the crowd with the 5000.

    His hand, moving the brush, dipping it in oil. Now the knife, great globs smeared on linen, etched and carved to be rocks, trees, you, myself, His universe. All of this deep, within me, within Him, within it all.

    Some of the threads from you, Fr. Stephen, some of them from my parents, some of them from friends, some of them from Church, some of them from other authors, all of them from God. He is a net gathering me together and creating my participation in His life.

    Glory be to Him. Glory to God.

  12. Jeremias Avatar

    This is a superb analogy. Thank you.
    It makes me think, too, of Andrew Williams’ remarks in his AFR podcast about Masks and Veils in Till We Have Faces. To put it briefly: masks distort, but veils reveal—even in the act of hiding what is beneath.

    Such important reflections for our world.

  13. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    “If, in our leisure, we ponder the shape of the universe, we do so that we might know the risen Christ.”
    Yes…I’m still thinking on this, Father Stephen!
    Along the way, one of the thoughts that came to mind is where St Paul says “all creation groans”. Didn’t answer my initial question (why the risen Christ) though. Then, reading the ‘related articles’, I came across this:
    “And so the Church hymns believers as God’s “rational sheep” (logiki provati). It is a title of honor. The sheep return the honor by recognizing the Logos in all He has made (“all things were made by Him and without Him not anything was made”). We hear the song of creation and the voice of its groaning. We hear rocks sing and the harmonies of sub-atomic particles. And in the sound and grammar of all these things we hear the Word of God and sing to Him, his rational sheep.”
    I don’t know if by this you mean to literally hear sound coming from rocks and trees. Though I would not doubt you a bit if you said yes. I can only say for myself, God would have to prepare me for that one. I do not think you mean, for instance, being in some beautiful place and while admiring its beauty, the rocks begin to speak. Or groan. I think you’d say they’ve been speaking all along. (See, this is my ‘calculating’ rationality, as you describe in the related article). I think you have to “see” something in the rocks and trees, that you, up to that time, never “saw”. It is a connection of some sort. The connection, of coarse, is Christ…the Logos of all things.

    Now I will tell my experience of “connecting”. The desert out here is beautiful. It is especially full of all manner of rocks…and they are, to me, magnificent. I wanted to beautify the space outside my house with them. I went further out into the desert and found some washes where they were plentiful. I collected a bunch. With each trip, before returning home, I took my favorite rock and set it in a special place as an offering, knelt down and thanked God. I felt that should be done, as I was altering the space where those rocks laid, taking them away from where they “lived” so to speak, in order to make my space at home more pleasing to the eye. It is a trade-off. I felt I should thank God for these beautiful things He has given us for our pleasure.
    No talking rocks, but a connection.
    But Father…not Christ, but the Risen Christ? I don’t know…but I think, like you said, the coins will drop.

  14. Tikhon Avatar

    Where does that leave reason? For what purpose is it? I have heard of other ways of “knowing” (through the heart), but confess that the only thing I can relate that to is a “gut feeling.” Also, what of the competing narratives? Where does that leave the struggling human trying to make sense of a cacophony of different points of view of reality? How are we to perceive what is the truth, what is real?

  15. hélène D. Avatar
    hélène D.

    Thank you father for your post … it stimulates my sleepy thoughts on the blanket of laziness …. leaving the imagination to frolic in the absence of a real thought …
    This blanket, although it reveals a certain “form”, is still woven with my own constructions, often messy and above all full of sufficiency … In fact it is very heavy, despite appearances, and out of this entanglement, also came to me the image of the veil, of a very different nature, since it is arranged by the Spirit himself, which thus gives all necessary protection before the incandescence of the Divine Reality, of risen Christ.
    More free on the way those who have abandoned all proud attempts to understand, to grasp and to construct, even subtly, the spiritual reality with their own dry mind, they will perhaps be given the soft light radiating from the protective veil that will lead them, according to their own abandonment of themselves, to true vision …
    From far away, I look, but I am consoled by listening to these words : happy those who, without seeing, believe ……. because Christ is risen!

  16. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Reason is very useful for those things that suit it. It chooses, weighs, measures, etc. Reason can “infer” based on what it weighs, measures, etc., but that is not quite the same thing as discernment. When the Tradition speaks of the “nous” it is certainly something more than reason. The things of God (and the Logos’ work in creation) are noetically discerned. I think that we have a very narrow range of language when speaking about how we know – a range that has shrunk the human experience to the mythology of economic utility.

    There is no means of settling the struggle in such a way that does not also change the person who is struggling. It is altogether of a piece. We see, we change, and being changed, we see. How does it begin? That will vary according to the grace given by God. But there is nothing whatsoever by which can compel one another to the truth, or to compel ourselves.

    I suggest that someone start small. Work with what they do know, and with the measure of grace they have been given. That might mean leaving a lot of stuff unknown for a long time. That would be very good for the soul, frankly. Too many people want to know everything when they cannot, and therefore chase after phantoms of explanations that inevitably lead them into error and sin.

    If we want to be great, we have to first be small. Much of our cacophony comes from the false greatness foisted on us in our culture. The managers of this world (and those who seek to become managers of the world) will not be able to discern the Kingdom of God.

  17. Byron Avatar

    Where does that leave reason? For what purpose is it? I have heard of other ways of “knowing” (through the heart), but confess that the only thing I can relate that to is a “gut feeling.” Also, what of the competing narratives? Where does that leave the struggling human trying to make sense of a cacophony of different points of view of reality? How are we to perceive what is the truth, what is real?

    Tikhon, reason has its place; it is not anti-Christ. It is, to my mind, much like conscience. Properly understood (discerned?), it leads us to God, helping us to determine His Will. But it is also possible to subvert our conscience to our own pride and, like a gnomic will, it will no longer be directed to God. It is the natural use of our faculties that draws us to God. Our domination and control is our own destruction in such cases.

    I also think we struggle with a world of “too much information”; it is murky and difficult to sort through. But revelation is not. God reveals Himself and, in the cases of those who struggle to see Him, we should offer prayer and trust His Providence in their lives. As Father has pointed out, we cannot force the “coin to drop”.

    It strikes me that “Christ is Risen!” is an affirmation not only of God Himself but of all His Creation, including the people struggling. It is the hope in which we all live.

  18. Byron Avatar

    Woops! My comment posted before I saw Father’s response. Forgive me for stepping on toes.

    Father, you may want to delete my reply.

  19. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    In a recent post you offered encouragement to ask questions. In this post you take it further and remind us that there is something greater in the things we observe and may question. You warn us to start small and work with what we do know. Good and sound guidance Father.
    By what you are saying, there comes a time when we, for our own good, should leave the unanswered question rest? But you are not saying not to ask questions, right? As you say, God will give according to the measure of grace.
    I ask because I always seem to have questions.

  20. Joseph Barabbas Theophorus Avatar

    Questions and reasonings belong to a certain domain. They are not wrong, but they have a place and a purpose. The same with feelings. But deeper than both is a knowledge that is not subject to reasonings and feelings. Sure, we’ll still reason and have feelings, but this knowledge transcends them. This knowledge is what is iconified when The Scriptures say, for example, “Now Adam knew Eve his wife…” (Genesis 4.1). There is a connection so deep that the needs and desires of the other are known ahead of time, every action and reaction felt and embraced as one’s own, and every motion a liturgical dance that presupposes and makes present both the unique otherness and yet natural oneness (which is yet by Grace) of both people. And that is just talking about marriage! The knowledge we need to have of God—and which is opened up to us by baptism and chrismation and The Eucharist—is much deeper. Again, this knowledge does not destroy our reason or our feelings—it is actually the true source of them, distorted though they may get—but it is so utterly different than them and beyond them it is indescribable. As to the purpose of reason and feelings, they reveal and manifest this knowledge, but also reveal to us when we have fallen away from it and help us see the path back to it; in this the questions are good, but their asking nonetheless reveals something that is incomplete about our union with Him. When we are in union with Christ, it is less that there are no questions and more that He Is The Answer—and all of our questions find meaning and fulfillment in Him. And, ultimately, we find rest in Him too. And in this rest, we die to both our thoughts and feelings (in a way beyond mere “control” of the mind that we find in other religions, and even beyond “natural” death) so that He Is Risen in us and they cease to have a life of their own, a draw of their own away from Him, and simply reflect His Resurrection to our brothers and sisters and to all creation.

  21. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    That’s good JBT…quite clear. Thank you.

  22. Byron Avatar

    When we are in union with Christ, it is less that there are no questions and more that He Is The Answer—and all of our questions find meaning and fulfillment in Him. And, ultimately, we find rest in Him too.

    Very wonderful! Many thanks for this!

  23. Christopher Avatar

    I hope I don’t offend, but it appears everyone answered Tikhon’s question “what of the competing narratives? “, by emphasizing, explaining, and reasoning *from* one of the narratives.

  24. Tikhon Avatar

    Father Stephen, thank you for your insights. I have been struggling with this topic for around 8 months, but don’t seem to be able to resolve some fundamental questions.

    One struggle (for me at least) becomes that the Christian narrative, while wonderful, hopeful, and magnificent, is altogether separate from my actual experience of Christianity. While I understand that this would be explained by my lack of holiness (the pure in heart shall see God) and my lack of faith, I have not experienced any of what the saints describe. While I do not expect a miracle, I can’t help but wonder why God (if real) seems to be so absent from my life. Now, my friends exhort me that it is not God that is absent, but I. However, through decades of prayer, I can never say that God has “spoken” to me, or that I have had any “experience” of Him in the way that Scriptures describe or that is described among the saints.

    My second struggle is the role of faith. Why does God (again, if real) “hide beneath sheets” and require faith of us? I don’t understand why there is a demand for faith in someone whom I have never met or seen. If God is our Father, then why does he hide from his children? Why does he demand faith when he could reveal himself personally to each and every individual? Again, these are larger questions with the Christian narrative that I don’t understand and likely come from a misunderstanding of Christianity. Please correct me and help me understand better!

  25. Dino Avatar

    If i believe the saints and elders that have had the supranatural experience of Grace that made them “see” what others can only long to see, then the greater blessing – of those who “have not seen and yet believed” – is promised me by Christ. It is the best first step one can take…

  26. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    I have a few thoughts related to your questions – I don’t think of them as answers, but hope they will be helpful thoughts.

    I wonder what constitutes the “Christian narrative” for you. There are many versions of the Christian narrative that I would have trouble with myself. The primary narrative, I think, is the suffering, death and resurrection of Christ God. My “faith” is that I believe this to have happened and to be true. In addition to that, and this I think goes to the heart of what faith actually is, the loyalty of my life is wedded to the suffering, death and resurrection of Christ. Good days, bad days, dark days, bright days – my loyalty is to Christ’s Pascha (shorthand for suffering, death and resurrection). His Pascha makes sense of the world – mind you – His Pascha includes suffering and death.

    My thoughts on God’s hiddenness are that this alone gives us the possibility of freedom and love. God could manifest Himself in such an undeniable way, that all doubt would be swept away, but so would freedom (after a fashion). We would be like the angels (including the bad angels). Something else is going on in us – a formation of sorts in which the dance of hiddenness and revelation play an essential part.

    I also think that the modern heart is so attuned to a kind of obviousness – that it cannot see much that could be seen otherwise.

    The God who “hides” Himself, has become one of us. He made Himself known to us in becoming human. Of course, it is the nature of human history that a single historical event is not present in the same way 2000 years later. But He is constantly giving Himself to us in the sacramental life. There are certain miracles, visions, etc., but primarily we encounter Christ in a sacramental manner and in the life of prayer.

    My small suggestion is to focus on small things, starting with the sacramental life. Be faithful to commune, to pray as you can, to be generous, and to do actions of love. I think God will make Himself more clearly known as we learn to pay attention to these small things. My own experience sounds more like yours than you would perhaps imagine.

  27. Tikhon Avatar

    Again, my gratitude for your words! As for what constitutes the Christian narrative, I’m focusing on the core beliefs of the death and resurrection of Christ and the narrative of the first Man and the Fall. I am an Orthodox Christian convert (likely the worst!) and my understanding of this Christian narrative comes from this perspective.

    The ongoing struggle is that of the truth–how can I know that Christianity is true? With everything else in my life, I have some sort of understandable interaction, and yet with the MOST important thing in the world, there is this demand for faith in the unseen (whether it is Christianity or another religion). I disagree that this hiddenness you describe gives us the possibility of freedom and love. Take for example my wife and children–I see them, I love them, I experience them, I know them. God I do not see, experience, or know and yet I freely love them. My family whom I know, I love. The stranger in a foreign country whom I have heard a story about and see a picture of, I do not know.

    As for encountering Christ in a sacramental way in the Mysteries of the Church, what does that mean? I have received the Mysteries of Baptism, Chrismation, and Holy Communion. And yet, I cannot say with any certainty that I have seen Christ or that I have experienced Christ or that I have encountered Him. I feel as though it is like the emperor’s new clothes–everyone is talking about how lovely they look, and I feel like I am the only one who is being honest about what I see (or rather, don’t).

    Please forgive me and pray for me.

  28. Jeff Avatar

    This is why I will become Orthodox. If I had not discovered what you’ve just described, I would chuck it all and just live however it worked out…or not. It wouldn’t matter. The Christian Life I was given set me on the path to Orthodoxy, but if it didn’t, it would all be for naught; be dry bones.

  29. Jeff Avatar

    *it would

  30. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Tikhon, an additional thought. Under the heading of “purity of heart”: I have said in an earlier article that we only know God to the extent that we know our true selves (and vice versa). Sometimes, the journey begins within the self. That has how it has largely been for me. As the detritus of shame, injuries, various kinds of brokenness give way to healing, the sense of God’s presence has become more palpable. I’m an old man, and much of this has taken years – both to understand and to do. It’s why I talk about patience. This is about the whole of our life, and, ultimately, takes the whole of our life.

  31. Aust_Orthodox Avatar

    I understand what your saying on some level as it echos my own similar struggles . I have been trying to work through them for years but in the meantime like Father said I just pray , fast , commune etc…. I decide to follow this path . My wife has an unshakable faith that is worlds away from the complications within my own mind and I whilst we love each other dearly and are involved in the church together we don’t talk much about our faith because she reads the lives of Saints and is encouraged by their experiences whilst I read apologetics and blogs to find some certainty .
    In the meantime I have decided that whatever we choose everybody is a follower in some way . Atheism is not so straightforward and requires faith of its own in the findings , teachings and direction of others .
    When I have heard people state “ I don’t believe in that stuff
    ( God) I’m an atheist “, I ask them “ so tell me about your Atheism “? They generally have no idea why they believe and what it even means . Rarely is there an answer and the question itself is puzzling to them .
    The church has withstood 2000 yrs of questioning and challenges but at least it is specific in its answers .
    My friends deny it all but cannot give me any specifics on what they believe and why . It’s all just so vague.
    It is indeed crushing when I am in front of the icons praying and this thought comes to me whispering “ is there really anyone listening “?
    It’s like I have just glimpsed into the abyss of eternal emptiness at that point and it’s frightening . I wonder if God allows me these moments to give me a glimpse into Non existence . It’s horrid and I just continue praying to get away from that dark empty void
    but it is definitely a choice at that point to choose something specific and Hopeful.
    I have had similar thoughts to what Father stated in relation to God revealing Himself and the overwhelming and over riding effects that would have on our freedom .
    Also If God revealed Himself and I believed without any doubt then what would I do with my passions? Could I just say I have seen God now I will be different i will change . I doubt that . Maybe God wants to give me enough space to choose and work through them so as to not overwhelm me all the while working away in the background in mysterious ways for my good .
    My passions enslave me as they did the Iraelites fleeing from Pharoah . They saw miracles and still carried their passions with them through the parted sea into the dessert for decades to follow . I think that God needing to be found like the hidden treasure , points to a greater truth itself . like the mystery of the incarnation and resurrection which are written into every atom. It’s in the structure of reality that Seek and you shall find .
    It’s not easy .

  32. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    This has been a wonderful conversation. I appreciate everyone’s comments and questions.

    Tikhon, I have no pearls of wisdom such as those already offered here. But perhaps I should clarify regarding my own comment above, that the phenomenon I refer to as “seeing Christ’s Resurrection”, –at the time I would have said I see the physics for resurrection. I would not call such a statement a ‘Christian narrative’.

    At the time I had already believed in God but flatly refused the possibility of Christ. But the phenomenon was sufficiently substantive that I could no longer flatly refuse Christianity without flatly refusing what I saw. Since I believed what I saw, eventually I sought to understand it through ‘a’ Christian narrative. But that certainly took awhile, and included a lot of self doubt and struggle. It was an important finding to discover a Christianity that had a theology of iconography. That helped me a lot.

    The struggles are not over. When I enter doubt it helps me to go back to the physics (as odd as that might seem). It’s just the place I’m most comfortable (like a playpen for an infant) and ‘safe’, because that’s where I first encountered the indication of the reality I speak of. (I’m sorry this might not be helpful, but it is truthful)

    I’m not referring to a ‘vision’ regarding that ‘phenomenon’. Such experiences are well beyond me, and would likely terrify me. What I refer to is actually more mundane, and Fr Stephen’s own account seems solid. But I say this only from from my own experience in the faith (what there is of it, that is, being a relatively recent convert (a few years now)).

    I’m grateful for your questions and thoughts.

  33. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Also forgive me but I’m not comfortable with how I wrote the comment to Tikhon. It almost makes Orthodoxy sound like a brand, which it is not. But I did have to wade through a lot of garbage (strong word, I know) before I found the precious pearl.

  34. Eleftheria Avatar

    Father Stephen,
    I thank God for your insightful writing; it, along with the other comments provided by you and your blessed readers are truly helpful.
    In what you have written, I sense an overwhelming amount of self- constraint, almost as if you are overly forcing yourself…I must pray; I must become holy like the saints; I must… it almost sounds as if , for you, praying is done out of a sense of military rigour. And done equally, with an expectation of divine Grace, again, almost as if you seem to be constraining yourself to expect that heavenly visitations will be granted. My intention is not to wound you, so please forgive me for speaking so boldly. I pray that you will be able to stop constraining yourself and especially, that you will be able to pray from within your heart.
    Begin as Father Stephen has said, with small things and without any expectations. Even Saint Paisios advised people who said that they felt unable to pray to do the bare minimum just before they go to bed: say the Trisagion, read Psalm 50; say the Jessus Prayer and make the sign of the cross on their pillow…all of which will probably take any of us worldly folk approximately less than 5 minutes. A dear friend of mine always reminds me, that the “be still” in “ Be still…and know that He is God” refers to our capacity to make our minds still. I pray that we can all become still.

    Father Stephen, if anything I have written is inappropriate, please delete this comment.
    In Christ,

  35. Eleftheria Avatar

    I completely forgot to say, Tikhon, that it was what you had written… through decades of prayer, I can never say that God has “spoken” to me, or that I have had any “experience” of Him in the way that Scriptures describe or that is described among the saints… that made me think of a passage I had read in one of the books about Saint Paisios. Mind you, both his comment about the type of prayer that seemed military to him and his advice were to a monastic! If it is tough for them, how much tougher must it be for us!

  36. Blagica Avatar

    As a reflexion to all your recent comments,
    A friend of mine prepared to visit Mount Athos. I was always a kind of sad because as a woman I will never be granted to visit this place, but there was a truth I was so sure about throughout all the years of faith. Being Orthodox means that you prepare for life in Christ wherever you are, I don’t even think that Christ looks at our hearts according to the way of our worldly presentations.
    All we need to do is learn the way of the Liturgical life having the Eucharist as the essence and try to live it every moment,not strainit, not by force but calmly, full of understanding for the old men in us- addicted to sinful ways in life.
    You understand and not support ,but expose those sins and I truly believe that every our effort will be a real joy to Christ who sees that we are trying. In this way, He will reveal accordingly to our Person in Him. How can we not believe that He Knows the proper measure!?
    So we are given the recipe and we can enjoy in creating the New Man in Christ together with Him.
    I am not a theologian by vocation, but I always considered lines in the Bible are speaking not only about the Apocalypse and New world in a general way, but also about the personal journey in faith – having your alpha and omega, apocalypse and the Birth of the New Man in Christ.
    The following parts of the Bible seem impressive in that way:

    Matthew 24
    17Let him which is on the housetop not come down to take any thing out of his house.
    40 Then two men will be in the field; one will be taken and one left. 41 Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will 
    be taken and one left. 
    42 Therefore, stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. …
    44 Therefore you also must be ready,for the Son of Man is coming at anhour you do not expect.

    I can not but finish with a verse once sincerely wrote in a hope – comforting and encouragingly promising that He truly Is and that We can really Be in Him, Christlike, for Him, in Him, for all Eternity.

    One lovely day,
    Out of the blue,
    Unexpectedly- as all the stories say
    From the ashes
    – there came
    a Flame – a heart’s pure joy
    and happiness unseen.

  37. Dino Avatar

    Doubts are a necessary part of our struggle and spiritual testing. There are various levels of that warfare all the way up to “Why hast Thou forsaken me?”. Their demand for clear formulation and solving is, far more often than not, nothing other than a serpentine way to attract our attention. The wisdom therefore, of the small and simple life of devotion, is not small or simple.

  38. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    Dino…forgive me, for my maternal instinct here, but I would like to add something…
    The ‘serpentine’ you speak of wars with each and every one of us, every single second of the day. We have protection in the power of Christ, in His holy angels and the prayers of Our Mother and the Saints. That is what Tikhon needs to know in addition to your warning. He is having a hard enough time as it is.
    Tikhon…hang in there. We struggle with you. And we know:
    Christ is Risen!

  39. Dino Avatar

    Paula AZ
    that’s a very good point. Taking hold of our attention [that is being led astray towards the (serpentined-bad) “clearer formulation of our doubts” in order to – supposedly – “solve them”] indeed, means re-directing it towards the good: That is “Christ, in His holy angels and the prayers of Our Mother and the Saints”.
    However, when we happen to be confronted with stronger experiences of emptiness, blindness, deafness etc. in our turn towards the Good, then we are also confronted with a simultaneous internal discrediting of the value of the small and simple (the healthy, patient and slow movement towards healing), as our need for the big and intense takes on a pressing urgency. This is why we do very well to respect, trust and believe in the wisdom lying behind the saints’ counsel to not discredit the value of the small and simple and slow.
    Not heeding our own multifaceted thoughts and sentiments is a key part of the art of arts and science of sciences of ‘neptic’ unceasing prayer.

  40. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    Dino…yes, your point to not discredit the small is well taken. I am all for ‘small’, especially in America where it is in our face that ‘bigger is better’.
    Too, your point to not heed our many thoughts and sentiments is well taken. I think it is safe to say when we do heed them (after all our thoughts are very much present) to gently set them aside and refocus.
    My concern for Tikhon is to focus on Christ. Yes, to be aware (neptic/watchfulness) of the warfare, yet to know that evil is overcome. I do not know if this is the case with Tikhon, but sometimes when we are in the midst of a struggle, the thought of demonic subterfuge, without knowing the surety of Christ’s victory, can easily lead to more despair. Without knowing that surety, our weaknesses will be used to destroy us. Confess the weakness, and cling to Christ. I trust He is fully with Tikhon. Christ knows exactly what is going on with him. All we know is what he shared with us here.
    I also believe we all mean well in our comments.
    Tikhon…it sounds like I’m talking past you. I don’t mean to do that. You know, in all that you’ve shared I can’t help but think that despite the hardship you chose to enter the Church and there you remain! To me, that is quite significant. It must be a terrible struggle.
    I pray God’s peace to you.

  41. Tikhon Avatar

    @Fr. Stephen–I am grateful for the many comments and encouraging words. Please forgive my lack of understanding and poor articulation. While I don’t know how all this will shake out, your continued writing on this blog is a very welcome change from the tenor of dialogue in the public sphere! I would love it if you could expand on what you mean by how if God revealed Himself to us that it would take away our freedom. How so? No more than the fact that the sun shines and we all agree that it shines, or that the earth is beneath our feet. Please help me understand!

    @Aust_Orthodox–Wow, thank you for this! If anything, I feel it is at the very least comforting to know that others have these thoughts and struggles as well. I still don’t understand how you and Father Stephen believe that it would take away our freedom if God appeared to us. If either of you would be willing to further explain this, I’d be grateful. Finally, I don’t know if the reality of an experience of God would change my (or others’) behavior. I think it would remove one more obstacle–doubt. However, to put it in more mundane contexts, those who find out that they have a fatal disease often change their lives and behavior.

    @Dee of St Hermans–Your experience sounds much more approachable to me, as I do find wonder, mystery, and awe in science and the natural world. I suppose this is perhaps what Father Stephen was talking about when he said, “I think that we have a very narrow range of language when speaking about how we know – a range that has shrunk the human experience to the mythology of economic utility.” All that to say, I am a VERY small person whose vocabulary is very much lacking, grappling to understand competing versions of the “Truth.” If I could figure it out, it likely WOULDN’T be the Truth! However, there are some things that give me solace and assurance that I am on the right path. I just wish that those things were more direct and tangible.

    @ Eleftheria–Wound away! It will only be good to smash my pride! I agree–not having a context for my comments makes it sound this way. However, I don’t think this has been my approach, just an observation in retrospect. I think the “I must” part comes from more of a sense of duty and discipline. While I have never really had any expectation of response from God, I think that recently I became aware that my experience of God did not reflect what I had read in the Bible or in the saints. Granted–I will be the first to say that I am not worthy to receive any such manifestation of God–however, it did prick my questioning as to why God does not reveal Himself more to his creation when He so easily could.

  42. Drewster2000 Avatar

    Wow…for me this was of your best posts. I love analogies and this was an awesome one.

  43. Dino Avatar

    Tikhon, those little things that give us “solace and assurance that I am on the right path” and which we “wish were more direct and tangible,” are, solemnly, as Jesus said:

    “Moses and the prophets; let them hear them […] If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead.”

    What good is it if I get to see God (especially when the residual transformation this might actually have on my default state, potentially, is not what it ought to be)…? Is it not far better that I trust in the small and simple things, stay devoted, hoping not so much ‘to see’ God in this life, but, as the saints wanted, to be seen by Him instead…? Man’s hidden demand in wanting to see God before it is time, as an object of his perception, is hugely dangerous for a large variety of reasons and we are therefore protected from it. It is the foundation of the fall. We should be grateful for His current hiddenness. Demanding of ourselves to be present before Him is altogether a far more noble stance. One that attracts God’s notice. How much more profound would it be ‘to be seen by God’, rather than to see. Once this awareness is cultivated, and we walk under His eyes, then we will be ready to see the One who sees us, not as object, but as Subject.

  44. Byron Avatar

    I hope I don’t offend, but it appears everyone answered Tikhon’s question “what of the competing narratives? “, by emphasizing, explaining, and reasoning *from* one of the narratives.

    Christopher, I find this confusing. Our answers, as far as I can tell, all rooted in the statement “Christ is Risen”. To see that as simply as another “competing narrative” seems to me a very secular way of viewing the answers given (if you consider it as such, then all answers will be given “*from* one of the narratives”) .

  45. Drewster2000 Avatar


    You struggle with knowing and loving with things you cannot see and touch. You want God with skin on. I sympathize. I’ve been there. In fact I think part of us is always there. So what to do about it? I would start with Fr. Stephen’s advice:

    I suggest that someone start small. Work with what they do know, and with the measure of grace they have been given. That might mean leaving a lot of stuff unknown for a long time. That would be very good for the soul, frankly.

    Work with what you know. So what do you know? You mentioned your wife and children. That’s one VERY good place to start. Lay down your life for them in a million different small ways. Practice being Christ to them. Practice the virtues and commandments on them. Don’t look for all kinds of revelations or gratitude or any kind of payback for this. Simply consider yourself to be God’s servant.

    And what goes along with this is the second part of his advice: drop the need to understand everything. You’re a servant. That enlightenment is not important and in fact could be harmful to you right now. Just be obedient. Do your job. If you are diligent in this task, all else that you need (and more) will be added unto you. Until then you’re not going to get any answers.

  46. Drewster2000 Avatar

    Sorry, got the italics wrong. Fr. Stephen’s quote was only the first paragraph.

  47. Dean Avatar

    sometimes God goes beyond our expectations. I was an agnostic, I wanted to believe, but could not.
    One evening I said, ” God, if you are there, please let me know.” Well, He did something to my heart while I slept. No bells or whistles, just a profound sense of His reality upon awakening. I awoke from sleep and God awakened me from my spiritual stupor. It far surpassed anything I had expected. This was my experience. I know it cannot be normative for others, any more than most are not knocked off a burro by a blinding flash of light as Saul/St. Paul was. Yet, sometimes we have not because we ask not, or ask amiss… St. James. Tikhon, God is with you even in your questioning and quest. Keep thirsting, God will quench.

  48. Cyneath Iann Avatar
    Cyneath Iann

    I would like to take us back to the opening analogy that Fr. Stephen used of the blanket over the chair, for I think it directly points us to our redemption unto being that which God intends in His creation of us.
    First off, we, as humans, are that blanket that is thrown over the Chair, the Life. Christ is the First Blanket in that He is fully conformed to the Chair. And it is through the Gospel(s) that we can see His conformation, and it is through continually practice of His Logos – Word and Deed – that we may approach that conformity.
    This is where some of the ‘must-iness’ of religious practice enters. We know very little of the Chair, its ways and means, especially of structures beyond the physical. Yet, to be fully-conformed goes way beyond the chair-shape, but to conform to the essence of the Chair. Now, when we look at what Christ does to exhibit that conformance, we find it “is revealed is in the suffering, death and resurrection of Christ, His Pascha.
    These events are not just an isolated incident, but extant from the foundation of the world. So, just as He has endured them since that foundation, we, too, in order that we become fully-conformed will continually endure suffering, death, and resurrection on a until: Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when He shall appear, we shall be like Him; for we shall see Him as he is.”
    One catch that has been observed in this conversation is that most of us have not experienced the Essence of the Chair, thus we doubt the reality of the Chair. The horrible conclusion of that perception is that such denial may result in being devoid of that Chair, Life itself.
    Let’s turn to another version of the catch which observes that since being our particular blanket we cannot get out and observe it objectively. This creates in us doubt, especially without witness from the Chair to the contrary, whether we are, or even can, come to resemble the Chair. I am reminded that Job through all his sufferings, and especially of the repudiations of his ‘friends’, never considered heeding their doubts, but remained loyal, faithful. Yes, he did get struck by Lightning at his belittling God, but nevertheless received renewal of earthly life for his conformance to Him in all his ways.
    Let us not, as the Chair informs us, consider how WE are doing in conforming to our Chair-concept, but to actively engage in being the Chair.

  49. Christopher Avatar


    Sorry for the confusion. Based on Tikhon’s original post I thought he was essentially secular – caught, frozen, ‘in between’ competing narratives. Turns out I was wrong and he is fully immersed – wounded by love – in Christianity.

  50. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    Regarding your question why would our freedom be would be taken if God appeared to us, I wonder if this is part of it:
    I think of the Theophany of Christ on Tabor. The disciples closest to Him could not endure being in the presence of His glory without falling to the ground. There are other encounters in the Bible that are similar. I think we are shown that being in the actual presence of God does not leave room for choice…your knee will bow, your face will hit the ground, or you will fall ‘as if dead’. in worship and in dread. I think this is what Father means by it will take away our freedom. Father said “We would be like the angels (including the bad angels).” They are directly in God’s presence. They are either holy or unholy. Their freedom is strictly either/or…worship God, or rebel against Him. So by remaining “hidden” but yet revealed in His Son we are given the opportunity to freely love, without constraint, as He freely loves us.
    So it is not that an unbeliever would not be able to love, it is rather that a believer loves the love of Christ. Big diff….

  51. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Tikhon, et al
    I have been attending a conference for the past few days, and then traveling on the road, with little time to respond as quickly as I might on a normal day. That absence has invited a lot of answers that, though helpful, miss the point of why God’s presence is largely hidden.

    The revelation of God’s presence would be coercive were it given to us without mediation, or attenuated in its hiddenness. God as “undeniably God” quickly becomes the God-whom-I-cannot-escape-and-with-regards-to-whom-I-have-no-choice. There is the loss of freedom. We are being nurtured towards true freedom. What we have now is a very broken form of freedom, something that hinders the true freedom of our nature. What is broken about us is being healed – slowly – with our cooperation – gently (on the whole) – with love and compassion. “We shall then see Him face to face.” Were we to see God face to face right now, our own brokenness would overwhelm us. Instead, St. John says that when we see Him as He is, we will be like Him. St. Paul says that “we will know even as we are known.”

    In the meantime, there are other ways we know Him and ways that we grow in that knowledge. Those ways (I’m going to write a much longer article on this soon) are themselves part of our healing. The “nous” is largely non-functional for most people – but is the actual organ of sight with regard to spiritual things. We are being drawn towards noetic knowledge in the life of the Church.

    Many forms of Christianity that are not Orthodoxy have simply abandoned the nous (or have never even heard of it) and substituted things that are inherently inadequate. Reason will not be sufficient. The emotions actually cloud the nous when they are disordered. The means of noetic encounter are readily at hand in the Orthodox faith and life – but the “nous” is largely missing in the lives of most people.

    So, I’ll say more about that later. It’s time for a cup of tea, having survived the traffic jam that they call Atlanta and the miles between there and Tennessee.

  52. victoria Avatar

    Hi Tikhon
    You are not first person on this blog to lament what is God’s hiddenness. Someone else did in past six months, but I have not had the chance go back and see who was that commenter. I have only practical advice – One thing is stop thinking about it. The other thing is I want to encourage you is to just stop focusing on the hiddenness of God – its like a trap of sorts – because it sounds like that phrase has become more important than necessary in your walk of faith- and may have become a stumbling block.

    Hiddenness is just one way to describe God.

    There are others, straight from the Bible. And what follows is what I mean by being practical or simple… God is never truly hidden to any of us. An encounter with God is as simple as opening our Bibles – because I think you are being really hard on yourself. The list that follows is not to suggest that you are not reading your Bible, or don’t know the Bible – but just words that describe God which are meaningful to me. Many are from the Old Testament – where I have played hide and seek within the pages – leaving me in awe of how much God loves us. They are also descriptions other than hidden.

    -“The LORD,is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness (Exodus 34:6)
    -He is jealous for us (Deuteronomy 4:24) (Exodus 34:14)
    -He is a Mighty Warrior (Jeremiah 20:11)
    -He is a shield and a fortress ; He is our Rock, a Refuge (Psalm 18:2), (2 Samuel 22:2-3)

    -He is the “One who goes before us” in any of our trials and tribulations (Deut 9:3) but HE is also “a Lamp unto our feet and a light to our path” (Psalm 119:105) Tikhon you are in a battle , an aweful – trial if you feel that you have never experienced the Lord in your life, but even if you don’t feel it, I know that He is going before you in this battle and He is a lamp to your feet – maybe that’s why you are on Fr Stephen blog – He lit you the way here.

    -He is gracious, and compassionate (Psalm 145:8)
    -He is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast in love (Psalm 145:8) (Joel 2:13)
    -He is the God whose mercies and love are new every morning (Lamentations 3:22–23 ) (💜)
    -God is Love (1 John 4:16)
    -God endures forever (Daniel 6:26)
    -His mercies endure forever (Psalm 136)
    -God heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds ((Psalm 147:3)
    -God is our help and the One Who sustains us (Psalm 54:4)
    -God is our portion forever (Psalm 73:26)
    -For God is not a God of disorder but of peace. (1 Corinthians 14:33)

    – He is a God for Whom you are the apple of His eye ““Keep me as the apple of your eye; hide me in the shadow of your wings.” (Psalm 18:8) “for whoever touches you touches the apple of his eye” (Zechariah 2:8) okay- I really really love that description God has for his children- that we are the apple of His eye.

    -He is the God to Whom YOU are the beloved “You are God’s chosen… You are holy and dearly loved.” (Col 3:12)
    -God is a tear wiper (Revelation 21:4) (Isaiah 25:8)
    -God is the Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6)

    -He is the God Who knows you better even than you know yourself, even the number of hairs on your head “You are God’s chosen people. You are holy and dearly loved.” (Matt 10:30) (Luke 12:7)

    -He is our first love (Revelation 2:4)

    -He is the God who is so tender toward us that He knits us together in our mothers womb (Psalm 139:13)

    -He is the God who choses us, even if we don’t chose Him (John 15:16) He sets His love on us and choses us ( (Deuteronomy 7:6–8)
    _-He is the Good Shepherd, He calls us by name and we, His sheep, know His Voice (Isaiah 43:1) (John 10:14-15)
    -He is the God who will die for you, even you were the only person on the earth, He would died for you. He is the God who goes into Hell to find you, me, any and all of us

    This is not an all inclusive list – but it is practical. My advice, and I don’t know you, but I feel for your lament- deeply – focus on another attribute of God. It’s like your stuck on it… and its clouding your vision.

    On another practical level – you don’t have to love people you haven’t seen – not like you love your wife, your kids. It’s okay…. love the people you are with. Have you ever forgiven someone, or been forgiven? If you have, and you were face to face in that forgiveness, then you have seen or experienced something of God. Have you ever prayed for someone who wronged you? Then you have seen or experienced something of God.

    So my advice, is shake it up a little. Don’t worry how you feel. Forget about this description of Him being hidden. He is so much more than hidden. Start small like Father Stephen says. Expect nothing…

    I hope no one thinks me silly for finding all those Bible references… my experience a dry time like Tikhon’s, is its best to be practical. Sometimes you’re just not feeling the love, its okay. If its any consolation, Mother Teresa did not feel the love or presence of God in her life – yet she was his faithful servant – a saint. Look at how she was His arms and legs and heart on this earth.

  53. Jeff Avatar

    This conversation is quite nourishing. I had a thought earlier this evening and I think it was spurred by your article and your comments about freedom, Father, along with the discourse in response to your questions and comments, Tikhon.

    The thought was this: It seems the exceptions are what get the “press,” i.e., they get the most notice and attention. When I first had this thought, I wondered what it meant. (I’m beginning to learn this about myself, that thoughts seem to come out of nowhere and then upon further pondering, I tease out their meaning. It’s an interesting phenomenon.)

    One example of how the exception gets the press, is the nature of the the universe’s beginning. Was it the Big Bang? Was it exactly 7 24 hr days? Was it some other way? Whatever it was, it was cataclysmic. It was a big deal, and God did it. However it went down, God did it. I’m glad He did it.

    Thing is, we can’t seem to move on. I would contend that, because we’re so impressed with this “big show,” we somehow have concluded that this kind if activity defines God, that He is the God of the big, the powerful, the exception…which we then have been convinced should be the norm. But if the exception we’re the norm, we wouldn’t think anything about earthquakes, hurricanes, tall mountains, double rainbows, long droughts, brilliant hummingbirds, or anything that stands out. If the exceptions were the norm, they wouldn’t be exceptional.

    What is truly intriguing, and something that I am now only beginning to get a dribble of in my concsiousnes, is the way in which “normal” life works. It’s steadiness is remarkable. It. Just. Keeps. Going. Slowly. Surely. Life unfolds as regularly as you breathe. And the God who, seemingly, smacked this universe into being, like a home run hit out of the park, is the same God who sustains the ever steady, breathing universe that is steadily, and steadfastly expanding all around us, right under our noses without a bump or a throttle (at least that we notice).

    That right there is the freedom. Yes, the wind, the fire, the rumbling, are all of God’s making, but the stillness, the silence, the wide open expanse of His presence is so steady and sure we don’t even know it’s Him. And He gives us the freedom to wander around in Him, with not a worry that we will miss Him. He is patient and kind and knows that we will find him as we learn to also be patient and kind…the very image in which we are made.

  54. victoria Avatar

    Also Tikhon

    -He is the God Whi will NEVER leave you or forsake you (Deuteronomy 31:8)
    -He is the God Who is with you wherever you go (Joshua 1:9) and is with you to the end of the age (Matthew 28:20)

    – He is the God who strengthens you, upholds you with His right hand, He is the God who says ‘Fear not, I am the one who helps you” (Isaiah 41:10-13)

    -He is the God who searches our hearts (Jeremiah 17:11 and Romans 8:27 )and who guards our hearts and minds in Jesus Christ (Phillipians 4:6-7)

    -He is the God who cares for us and takes on our anxieties (1 Peter5:7)

    – He is the God who has loved you with an everlasting love and has drawn you to himself with loving devotion and unfailing kindness (Jeremiah 31:3)

    I will keep you in prayer

  55. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Fr Stephen I look forward to hearing more about the nous.
    I think there might be a tendency to translate it as a psychological state rather than what it actually is. I pray that your reflections might help us to learn how to let it flower. Can we see with our nous purposefully? I think the answer is yes, but want to hear your thoughts.

  56. Dino Avatar

    The ‘nous’ is rather untranslatable in English. We might define it as “the internal locus of attention of our apperception” – which definition hurts your hair just to read! Or simply, think of it as our heart’s and mind’s direction. It’s what we mean when we ask: ‘where did your mind just go?’
    It is the highest and fastest faculty of the soul, which, when (noetically) directed towards God, can perceive the unperceivable One, through the communion of His uncreated energies and our created ones.

  57. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    “The “nous” is largely non-functional for most people – but is the actual organ of sight with regard to spiritual things.”
    ” the “nous” is largely missing in the lives of most people.”

    Father Stephen,
    Dee put it nicely…” I pray that your reflections might help us to learn how to let it flower”.
    Now for me, forgive me Father. I speak in frustration. What is the use of learning about the nous if we probably will never have it fully developed? Like only those who see “the Light of Tabor”, you can count them on one hand. I have heard this before, that our nous is virtually dead…and being healed within the Church …over time…slowly….ever so slowly….
    I’m good with that. I’m like Victoria….practical. Maybe to a fault.
    With Lent right around the corner, our call to fasting, prayer, repentance…that this should be a joyful sorrow….I think if we can take one day at a time and move through this Great Feast, our nous imperceptibly will heal. Yes? The challenges in Orthodoxy can take you to the edge sometimes…you know? I suppose it is meant to be that way.
    Forgive me…
    You know I am going to read your article anyway….!

  58. victoria Avatar

    I think all this talk of the nous and wondering whether it will fully develop might be similar to talking about the heart and wondering whether it will pump. It’s pumping – if we quiet ourselves we may feel it pump – with our breath with our prayer. But it pumps whether we realize or not. Maybe that’s why Christ through the Churches guides us toward silence – be still and know. Maybe that’s how it is with the nous too. It functions imperceptibly but we have not quieted ourselves to feel it’s beating

  59. Dean Avatar

    I once read that our nous can be likened to a mirror. For most of us it is covered with soot and debris of all sorts. Yet this darkened surface can begin to be cleaned through the sacraments, prayer, repentance, showing mercy, etc. These all help to burnish the surface so that it may be more receptive in its apprehension of Christ. At least this way of looking at the nous doesn’t make ones hair stand on end!
    I think of the myriad of peasants through the ages who prayed with the nous without ever defining it let alone hear of it. Most of our life is like that. We use electricity without understanding it or we use our liver at every moment without comprehending its function nor even thinking about it. So, I think we need not overthink this. By focusing on the above, prayer, sacraments, etc., God slowly does His hidden work in us. He does the cleaning, and work of transformation.

  60. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    I’m grateful for these thoughts and reflections. Thank you all.

    Getting back to what Dino wrote may I ask this question, I want to understand this saying:

    Locus of attention of our apperception

    Is this an act of putting our attention on our apperception? In other words directed to our apperception to build awareness? Something like using our capacity for metacognition (applied without attempting to rationalize) but directed towards God?

    I apologize for asking for more information to understand it.

  61. Victoria Avatar

    what I’m wondering is if it’s best not to understand it all – seriously. Like just to let it be and for ourselves ist to be We are a very – perhaps overly – intellectual Church in this country. And I’m not seeking to offend anyone. Please forgive me if I do. It’s not a judgement.

    a pot of water will boil whether we understand the mechanics of it or not. A snowflake will form a beautiful unique array of crystalline patterns whether we understand it or not. But maybe we do ourselves disfavor with all our dissection of every movement of the heart – the snowflake melts on our fingers the minute we hold it in our warm hand – and the time waiting for the water to boil seems forever taking away any wonder – of living in the moment.

    I have been attending at a bible study led by a bishop of the Orthodox Church. Often he has said that there once was a time when knowledge was not handed out to all. It was understood that we need to wait. We shouldn’t read everything just because it’s available – because that wisdom may be too great and burst the wine skins of our heart our mind – in some way too great and too marvelous (Psalm 139:6). Stories of elders who wondered whether their novice monk would be saved because they read Saint Symeon the new theologian before the proper time.

    Just wondering out loud. Mostly because of Tikhon – also because I myself have known a quieter time with God – earlier in my faith walk – before the mechanics of it all were laid out for me. Before I started wondering about the mechanics of the passions – I knew if I had sinned – before I had learned about the nous – etc. I had been told simply to say the Jesus Prayer and out ignorance – out trust – did. Like really did. That was a simpler time when the only book I really had was the Bible.

    I’m grateful that Father Stephen has a simple perspective – seasoned with age – and salt and mercy.

    It’s why I say to Tikhon – stop thinking about it. Just stop. Put spiritual progress out of your mind because it can be a latent hidden pride of sorts. Just be. Just smile. Just laugh. Hug the people you love and look for every good in them. Find a humble confessor / spiritual father. Someone older, someone kind. You will know that person when you meet them. But stop worrying. The days trouble is simply enough. And God has no desire for you to be in this kind of a knot.

  62. Cyneath Iann Avatar
    Cyneath Iann

    Let us lighten up on Tikhon! He hasn’t said a word since midday yesterday. I pray that all these directed thoughts and opinions have not run him off.

    I am curious as to whether the nous is not analogous to the conscience which, at least in ‘modern’ culture, is put to sleep by at least the induction to public school. Is it not the faculty essential the raising of compunction and continual repentance? I am in desperate straits to restore it as I am in woeful need of God to eliminate my passions.
    Yes, we can ‘talk’ of descending the mind into the heart in hesychaia as the monastic Fathers do. But we ought remember that their audience was also monastic, distanced from the distracting requirements of being in the world, from spouses, and children, and earning a living, and the constant environmental turmoil in which we find ourselves.

    Be kind to your self, even as your Father who is in heaven is kind unto you.

  63. Christopher Avatar

    Victoria & all,

    Some (but not all) of what is being said comes across at least, even if this is unintended, as a kind of anti-intellectualism. Neptic “action”, if I may put it that paradoxical way – the quieting of our mind in a humble submission to God and his Creation which surrounds us and of which we are a part, is not anti-intellectual, a kind of dialectical opposite of the discursive and reasoning mind. If it were, then it would be dialectical – something essentially tied to something else by virtue of it being its opposite. The noetic “faculty” of our being in a sense “contains” discursive reasoning, but at the same time is larger than this single gift.

    This is a delicate subject obviously. There are lots of anti-intellectualisms in this world, but our ascetic/neptic tradition is not one of them. Somewhat ironically, the countering of an mind attached to its Self – its conceptions, thoughts, feelings, anxieties- can itself be done vainly by yet-another self conceptualization: the mind “thinking” of itself as quiet, descending into the heart, even of itself as loving and kind…this is to remain in “dissection of the heart” as you say Victoria.

  64. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    We are all different in that we each have a different bend to things we favor. This is good. It is God’s diversity in us.
    I think it is obvious that we are here to help and support each other.
    I happen to resonate very much with Victoria’s reflections…so…
    Victoria…thank you. You speak from the heart. I will remember your words here because I am sure I’ll need them in the near future.

  65. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    I appreciate the many well-intentioned comments. It might be helpful to refrain from the topic until after I’ve posted a promised article.

  66. Senait Avatar

    Bless father,
    What a wonderful insight. Your post is God’ Providence in my life -one of many.
    “There is no means of settling the struggle in such a way that does not also change the person who is struggling. It is altogether of a piece. We see, we change, and being changed, we see. “
    The struggle and the transformation are intertwined within an intricate process. May the Holy Spirit help us yield ourselves and our lives to it by faith. It is a long journey.
    His mercies.

  67. Matthew Avatar

    I do not know if this will help, or even if anyone will see its relevance, but as I’ve been reading through the comments, some things come to mind.

    Isaiah 55:8 states that, “Indeed, my plans are not like your plans,and my deeds are not like your deeds, says the Lord”, and further 1 Corinthians 2:16 says, “For who has known the mind of the Lord, so as to advise him? But we have the mind of Christ.”

    John 12:37 states, “Even after Jesus had performed so many signs in their presence, they still would not believe in him.” and Jesus himself says in the parable of Dives and Lazarus that, “If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.”

    In my mind, God is so transcendent, that for me to try to formulate an understanding, or determine a reality of his existence, is equivalent to trying to explain to a fish that it is wet. It cannot understand, and neither can we.

    If God is life, as I understand him to be in the Orthodox tradition, every breath I take is a miracle. I am a fish, alive in God, not seeing the miracle surrounding me. I am looking for proof, given the parameters of my secular mileau, and not seeing the daily proof in every breath.

    There have been times in my life when I was so depressed that I wanted to just… Die. At least that’s how I felt.
    My dad would say, “Good Morning!”
    I would respond, “What’s so good about it?”
    “You’re still breathing.”
    “Don’t mock me.”
    “You’re alive!”
    He got it when I didn’t. Those breaths. Soldiering through the pain and anguish of my life even when I didn’t want to. That is a miracle that the secularists cannot, and will not, understand. Very smart people have tried to explain to me how life could form out of entropy, and I do not understand. God is life.

    How could a transcendent God make himself known to men? In a word? Christ. Emmanuel. God with us. And what did we, as people, do to him? Even his disciples couldn’t understand him.

    Now imagine this, every poor person you meet is a theophany of Christ, for we are told on the Week of the Last Judgement that, “Truly I say to you, Inasmuch as you have done it to one of the least of these my brothers, you have done it to me.” When every person you meet ripples with the image of God, it is hard to ignore his all consuming presence in every moment of life.

    For me, proof of God is less about observing something out of place, and more about accepting the everyday miracles of daily normalcy.

    I hope this is useful to someone.

  68. victoria Avatar

    Thank you Matthew – for reasons that would not be appropriate to write in a blog comment forum.

  69. Matthew Avatar

    You are so welcome Victoria.
    – Matthew

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