With Envy and Justice for All

evil_eye_by_vintagexxrose-d5fxqy8We use many words and concepts in our daily lives without bothering to consider their true content. In my experience, few words are less examined than “justice.” It is a word that is foundational in the modern world with deep roots in religious tradition. Most people would agree that the desire for justice is virtually innate in human beings. However, it has a dark side of which very few seem to be aware.

In the religious tradition, justice is usually grounded within God Himself. Some associate this justice with God’s demand for right conduct from His creation. There is also the sense that justice has a way of “balancing the scales.” An evil done brings an evil reward (punishment) while good brings blessings. In theory, at least, justice plays a role in the legal systems of almost all cultures. We desire to make things right.

Or so we tell ourselves.

There is a darker desire that masks itself as justice – and I would contend that it is this desire that most people experience when they speak of justice. It’s name is envy.

Envy is not the desire to have what someone else has – that desire is named covetousness. Envy is the desire we have for the other to “get what’s coming to him.” It does not mean that things will, in fact, be made right. But there is a feeling that wants the other to suffer, to be deprived, to be shamed, to be punished, to be plundered or suffer loss. All of these things are the work of envy.

In the Tradition, envy is considered by some to be the primary sin. The Scriptures say that Christ was put to death on account of envy (Matt. 27:18).

Envy is also associated with what is popularly called the “evil eye.” Though many of the things associated with the “evil eye” are purely superstitious, the evil eye itself is quite real. It is referenced by Christ Himself (Matt. 6:23). Pagan cultures of antiquity believed that the eye emitted something like “rays” or “influence.” Thus a wrong look could cause harm to another. This was rejected by Christianity and Judaism. Christ describes the eye as something which “receives” rather than “projects.” Thus the “evil eye” does its primary harm to the one who is doing the looking. Nevertheless the envy of others is quite dangerous and we do well to pray for protection.

Our instinct for equality (even children complain when someone is not sharing) is easily translated into envy. We no longer look for equality. If you will not share with me, then I will at least be satisfied if what you have is taken away from you.

In the course of our day we see the world through this lens of envy. Someone annoys us and we quietly, even secretly wish them harm. A pro-football player makes public remarks that seem arrogant. We quietly think that it would be quite fitting if he would fail in his game and be shamed before all.

This desire for the failure and shaming of others, however, is often interpreted as “justice.” When we say that someone has gotten what they deserve – we perceive this as justice and we do not see ourselves as doing anything wrong in having such thoughts.

Here is the full quote of Christ regarding the evil eye is worth noting:

The lamp of the body is the eye. If therefore your eye is good, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eye is bad [ἐὰν δὲ ὁ ὀφθαλμός σου πονηρὸς ᾖ], your whole body will be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in you is darkness, how great is that darkness! (Mat 6:22-23 NKJ)

How we see the other is essential. The only manner of seeing the world that is commanded by God is to see the world with blessing. Everything else is born of sin. And sin, when properly understood, is not about the breaking of rules and legal or moral debt. It is always about death – our own death – physical and spiritual.

When we see the other as the object of our desire (other than the desire for blessing) that desiring quickly becomes envy. We want them to get what they deserve. We want them to do what pleases us. Even our desire for others “to behave” is frequently still a form of envy. And these desires darken the eye. They harden our hearts.

The eye is the “lamp of the body.” The look of envy darkens the soul and makes true discernment impossible. It is in this lack of discernment that people fall into the delusion of “justice.”

Those who call for the “justice” (or “wrath” etc.) of God to fall on others only succeed in darkening their own eye. I have noted that few in our culture refrain from such pronouncements – they differ only in the nature of the crimes for which they call for justice to fall.

The path to the light is difficult. We refrain from judging not simply because it’s “wrong.” We refrain from judging because it darkens our very soul. I would suggest as well, that Christians who ground their view of our relationship with God in ideas of justice to seriously reconsider. It is a theological pathway that will darken the soul. Rather than revealing the true and living God, it will distort our understanding.

In the words of St. Isaac of Syria: “We know nothing of God’s justice.”


About Fr. Stephen Freeman

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



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57 responses to “With Envy and Justice for All”

  1. Nicholas Stephen Griswold Avatar
    Nicholas Stephen Griswold

    Father Bless,
    This post is spot on. I think modernity is filled with the envy you describe. I have seen many posts on the ubiquitous Face Book where people gloat over another’s fall and demand harsh punishment. I also many a radical reformation believer that gloats over the sinners of the world writing in the flames of perdition. I think we have missed the point of God’s justice. It is restorative not punitive.

  2. Byron Avatar

    Since I became Orthodox, I’ve really come to see the word “justice” in a negative light. Yet it is so prevalent in scripture that it is not possible to completely ignore. Many thanks for a proper perspective concerning this troubling term, Father.

  3. Esmee La Fleur Avatar
    Esmee La Fleur

    This is so timely and so very enlightening for me, Father Stephen. Thank you!

  4. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    I think that justice is real – and, when it is understood as “putting things right,” is deeply expressive of the heart of God. Justice is even a good things among human beings. What I think people fail to see is that only a “just” person can be trusted to do “justice.” There are very, very few of us who can be entrusted with any part of that task. Also, the “drive for justice” that is, in fact, envy, is without limit. It actually becomes a desire to destroy and do murder. Almost all great revolutions, in their bloodiness, began under some banner of justice.

  5. Basem Avatar

    Excellent article Fr! Isn’t that offensive doctrine of “penal substitution” the epitome of that very despicable sin projected on God?

  6. Paula Avatar

    Thank you ,Father. I physically flinch when exposed to hard hearted moral condemnation coming even from Christians.. my first reaction is to wonder if this person and I are hearing the voice of the same Jesus. My second, later , reaction is to realize that I am also condemning others, even by noticing their condemnations! Lord help us develop an eye of light.

  7. Brian Avatar

    Father Stephen, thank you for your writing on this topic. I’m currently in an evangelical-Reformed church where multiple times every Sunday we’re told that we really deserve wrath and damnation, and the only thing that stops us from going to hell is that Jesus absorbs the Father’s wrath in our place on the cross. With Good Friday coming up they’re beating that drum even harder than usual. This is one of the reasons I’m seriously looking at Orthodoxy, as it seems like the good news of the gospel just keeps turning into bad news about us (and worse news about our unbelieving neighbors!).

    If I may ask a question…how can we help those stuck in the “legal paradigm” to see things from a broader perspective? Where I come from, penal substitutionary atonement = the gospel. So how do we begin to show people how inadequate this understanding is, without it sounding like we’re apostatizing?

    To give an example, here’s a snippet from the New City Catechism, which we’re working through as a church. Keep in mind this is considered a mainstream evangelical catechism. “Question 29 – How can we be saved? Only by faith in Jesus Christ and in his substitutionary atoning death on the cross; so even though we are guilty of having disobeyed God and are still inclined to all evil, nevertheless, God, without any merit of our own but only by pure grace, imputes to us the perfect righteousness of Christ when we repent and believe in him.” I’m trying to come up with a gracious way to push back against this, but it’s hard to know where to begin if I’m disagreeing with the way they define the gospel.

  8. Cyneath Iann Avatar
    Cyneath Iann

    “Yea, O Lord and King, grant me to see my own transgressions, and not to envy my brother.”

  9. Allen Avatar

    I just realized after reading your post, it is tragic to notice how much social media is amplifying envy.

  10. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    Thanks so much, Father.

    It takes a lot out of you, I mean, it is exhausting, to pursue thoughts of getting even. I find it totally consuming. “How great is that darkness”….Oh, very great!

    But what is God’s sense of justice, but sacrifice. On the Cross, He made things right. Even the ancients knew that to make things right meant sacrifice. It is said that their sacrifices were not toward retribution, but to set the “cosmos” back to its proper order. Well, that is exactly what Christ did.

    In Christ, may God help us to set things right as well…

  11. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    How one could “push back” would vary according to circumstances. Ultimately, it’s sort of a losing proposition. It is an “orthodoxy” for many Christians that will not budge. A great freedom occurred for me (before my reception into Orthodoxy) when I realized that I had no responsibility to “save the Church” (reform it, etc.). The Church exists to save me. I have found that salvation in Orthodoxy, despite all of the flaws that mark our life.

  12. Jimmie Avatar

    Thank you , Father. I needed that.

  13. Esmee La Fleur Avatar
    Esmee La Fleur

    I think the reason that I and most other likely misunderstand the word envy as a synonym for jealousy or covetousness is because that is the definition given in our modern dictionaries. However one place I looked said that obsolete synonyms were malice and spite, which goes along with what you are saying Father Stephen, and is how the holy Fathers must have understood the word.

  14. Alan Avatar

    Brian…..forgive me for replying after Fr. Stephen already answered your question. But having come out of that same background into Orthodoxy (Thanks be to God), let me just heartily agree with Fr. Stephen. You ask, “how can we help those….to see things….”? In short, you can’t. Most converts, myself included, want so badly to prove to our friends and family the truth of Orthodoxy and to show them why they are wrong. But that’s actually the wrong path to venture down. My wife and I have friends from our former Reformed church who think we are no longer Christians. Ironic, to say the least. So, we pray, we seek Christ, we love others.

  15. David Waite Avatar
    David Waite

    “A great freedom occurred for me (before my reception into Orthodoxy) when I realized that I had no responsibility to ‘save the Church’ (reform it, etc.). The Church exists to save me.”

    So my great friend Chris Woodhull told me many years ago. That led me from Roman Catholicism to Eastern Catholicism and, in turn, to Orthodoxy. Thanks be to Chris but, especially, thanks be to God.

  16. John D. Kemp Avatar
    John D. Kemp

    I have been thinking a lot lately about “justice” & the difference in what is ABBA Father’s justice & how perverted humanity has redefined it. Setting things right is just, punishment, retribution, vengeance are destructive. We must look at what we mean when we use the words deserve & don’t deserve. We judge with flawed perspectives, Abbas judgements are restorative.

  17. Lina Avatar

    Years ago I was in a Bible study in which there was a blind couple. We really struggled with those verses. Any thoughts about the matter. I always think of them when I come upon that verse.

  18. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    Dear Lena…I had an aunt who was blind. God provides in those circumstances where the other senses make up for it. Her perception was uncanny. She was clairvoyant. I would bet the blind couple would understand this somehow.
    I do not think Jesus meant that you must have actual vision to have a body full of light or the dread of darkness, if you consider the “eye of the heart”. Yes?

  19. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    Sorry Lina…I misspelled your name!

  20. juliania Avatar

    Thank you, Father Stephen. What I love about the story of Saint Mary of Egypt is that Saint Zossima pursued her in wonder, and in their first encounter each bowed to the other at length, being convinced of their own lesser status before one another. It’s such a lovely moment, he being the one to have persisted in encountering her and she out of humility having avoided him as best she could. It might so easily have been otherwise.

  21. Paul B Avatar
    Paul B

    That is not so easy. When I hear about guys who kill their entire family, I want vengeance. I want the perpetrator to get ten times worse than what they did to their little kids.

  22. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    This is not theoretical for me. Over the years, I’ve had two of my family members murdered. Not carrying that in my heart is important. What you are describing is “news” (it’s real, it happened), but it’s theoretical – not your family, friends, etc. That is to say, what you are experiencing are your passions. Those passions, regardless of well-intentioned, are like “handles” on the soul, making it quite easy for our adversary to manipulate. Frankly, the stories of such tragic murders are not stories of evil, most often, but of the tragedy of mental illness. When you think about such things, go stand at the foot of the Cross (or before an icon of the Crucifixion) and talk to Christ about it. He was surrounded with murderers that Day.

  23. Joosua Avatar

    This analysis brings to mind Tammsaare’s (Estonia’s Dostoyevsky) book Truth and Justice, which just recently got a film adaption.

    The main character of the book starts out as an admirable man – hardworking, honest, kind to his wife, reads the bible daily – but who is then blessed with a vicious neighbour. At first he tries to approach the situation as a man of honor, but the neighbour is just too crooked and malicious, and he himself (regularly) ends up as the guilty one before the eyes of the law. And as the years pass and the frustration grows that the neighbour has still not received his just punishment for all the evil he does, the main character becomes more twisted and harsher.

    It’s a slow process, with a heartbreaking culmination. His home that he worked so hard to build, is now a joyless and crushed place. When his eldest son is drafted into the army, the last words he says to his father are: “You often said that with hard work eventually comes love. But love never came.” And the final moments depict a broken old man crying bitter tears over his bible.

    Being a Dostoyevsky like writer, he also gave his characters a lot of wonderful philosophizing that this summary can’t really convey, but maybe an honorable mention goes to one simple uneducated man who ponders on the nature of the Bible and why it makes men so callous. His deduction is as uneducated as he is, but also somewhat insightful.

    Paraphrasing (a lot!): “God’s word is like a strong vodka, a pure spirit. When you get too used to it no lighter alcohol will do. When a man gets too used to God’s strong words, he won’t think much anymore of men’s words. I’ve heard that ministers never read the whole thing, they always skip some parts. But a simple farmer is stupid, he reads it all.”

  24. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    Joosua…Oh I love your paraphrase! God in Heaven…I can relate to that ‘simple stupid farmer’ 🙂 !
    Thank you and thanks for the comment. It is true, bitterness will eat you up.

  25. Donna Schwieder Avatar
    Donna Schwieder

    Thank you so much, Father Stephen! Your commentaries are so refreshing. Reading about justice was so very interesting. A few minutes after reading and considering your commentary, “with liberty and justice for all” from the Pledge of Allegiance to the American Flag came to my mind. Would love to see you comment on “liberty and justice for all” and how mankind wishes for something only God can accomplish. Enjoyed all the comments on this topic. May God bless us in trying to understand His ways, which are certainly not ours as creatures of dust.

  26. MamaV Avatar

    Forgive me, but it seems a lot of parenting ends up being fueled by envy. I mostly say this based on my own experience as a mother. Lord have mercy.

  27. Paul Beil Avatar
    Paul Beil

    Thank you Fr Stephen.

  28. mary benton Avatar
    mary benton

    Wonderful article and discussion. Thank you, Fr. Stephen, for clarifying how readily we corrupt the notion of justice to make it coincide with our passions.

    I read once in the autobiography of St. Therese of Lisieux that she was so grateful for God’s justice because it meant that He would understand how small she was and would not be harsh with her in her weakness – anymore than a loving father would be toward his child. In her little way of spiritual childhood, she experienced no distinction between God’s justice and His mercy.

  29. Vasilia Avatar

    I have had opportunity to see the envy in myself this Lenten time, masked as justice, and it is humbling. Inside I want to make it “”right” and struggle with next steps, with internal arguments of not wanting to be “taken advantage of” or be “respected.” My quiet struggles are interesting and I often smile when I watch my thoughts. How far do we go to “feel” we’ve been treated correctly? Can I do anything in anger without wanting to shame the other who hurt me? These are tough practices. I struggle. God bless and thank you for this timely writing.

  30. Byron Avatar

    In her little way of spiritual childhood, she experienced no distinction between God’s justice and His mercy.

    Mary Benton, I think this (and Saint Therese of Lisieux) hits the nail on the head; there is no distinction between God’s justice and His mercy! He is a good God who loves His creation and works through everything to make it right; to bring it to Himself!

    Vasilia, my personal notion of “justice” seems to always be fueled by passions; and always requires violence to others in order to “correct” them…. Lord have mercy….

  31. David Waite Avatar
    David Waite

    MamaV – I hear you. When I read:

    “We want them to get what they deserve. We want them to do what pleases us. Even our desire for others ‘to behave’ is frequently still a form of envy. And these desires darken the eye. They harden our hearts.”

    I immediately thought of parenting. May God have mercy on us all.

  32. Brandon Avatar

    Father – thank you. I read this yesterday. This morning I was driving to work, and a car was attempting to quickly pass me and few others by use of an illegal lane. I found myself thinking ‘don’t let him over!!’ until I was struck by a pang of conscience. These road games are a common experience for many driving to work, and it’s not uncommon for me to react in the way I initially did. What is uncommon is for me to realize the damage even these small thoughts are doing to my soul. An even smaller thought (yet bigger) would be ‘bless him’ or ‘keep her safe’. Thank you again.

  33. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    “How far do we go to “feel” we’ve been treated correctly? Can I do anything in anger without wanting to shame the other who hurt me? These are tough practices. I struggle.”
    Thanks Vasilla…you should know how timely your comment is.
    Seriously….how far do we go? If we don’t “go far”, does that guarantee improvement? Tough is not the word…I find it darn near impossible to “change”. I am so far from St Theresa it is not funny. Am I to compare? In the midst of a struggle, it makes me angry to do so. And I say to myself, I can not live up to her! I am no saint. No…far from it. And please, do not read this as an excuse. It is nothing but tension….

    OK…so what do you do when you are outright shamed? What do you do with the insult? Now I mean in the coarse of everyday real events and not just upon reflections of our passions. Do you say nothing? Nothing?! Is it out of the question, without slander, to address the insult?
    No longer than 5 minutes before I began this comment, I, the ‘simple stupid farmer’, sent an email to academia,edu to ask them why they are no longer allowing me to access their articles. I was passionately very annoyed. Shamed?…undoubtedly. Did I shame them in response? Yes. And my anger was fueled when I found that I was not able to even submit a comment unless I had published a paper or some such thing. It wasn’t until I received a computer generated email from them saying they “saw” my name, that I was able to respond. And I did. I addressed the email to “The Intellectually High Minded at Academia.edu”. I described their decision as puny, stunted, separatist, arrogant, dismissive, inconsiderate. mechanized and blind. Over the top, of coarse. Then I come here and read the last several comments. So I mean, what do you do? You’d have to dismember my head from my neck to keep me from expressing my shame…because that is what it is.
    It’s the ‘right vs wrong’ thing…it would have been nice, to say the least, if I would have held my peace (which I didn’t have in the first place) and thought it through, to come to understand “how small” I am and that is exactly where God wants me. But I didn’t do that. It is always in hindsight that I realize these things, and not without the comments at this blog, and especially our host, Fr. Stephen.
    So I repent…again and again…and again and again. And finally go and stand before Christ and beg for mercy.
    I’ll probably die just like that. Improvement? Change for the better?…I don’t see it. No way….well, maybe in blips of incidences, but it doesn’t last….

    All I can say right now is, in all its agony, in all its difficulty, Lent and all it means and Who it points to, is the most needful time of life lived in the Church where we are given ample opportunity to reflect upon our sins and the call to repent. Should I ever tire of it, and not turn back to God, again and again, it would be then that I suffer defeat.

  34. Vasilia Avatar

    “OK…so what do you do when you are outright shamed? What do you do with the insult? Now I mean in the coarse of everyday real events and not just upon reflections of our passions. Do you say nothing? Nothing?! Is it out of the question, without slander, to address the insult?”

    Paula, I do not know the correct answers! I seem to not have the capability to respond, without wanting “justice,” and when I consider my responses, they all feel like I’ll be shaming the other. This time I chose to say little (I had to respond some, due to direct confrontation), but what do I DO if I’ve been treated badly? What if I’m right? Is getting stepped on acceptable? For now, I’m choosing to be quiet, to not address it (if I can) and consider the options. And all of them, played out, point to my own need to put the person down! I’m awful! So, quiet is good for me, for now.

    It reminds me of a practice I did at work years ago – the “no complaints” challenge: no gossiping, complaining or criticizing for 21 days straight was the goal. For all of us doing it, eye-opening. I think we spent the first week in silence realizing everything out of our mouths was one of those.

    Thanks for your responses. This is truly tough!
    God bless,

  35. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    There is an interesting aspect of our reactions to being shamed. Oddly, when we shame someone else (as a response, for example), we actually experience shame ourselves. When I call someone “stupid,” assuming they will feel shame – I also feel shame. Shame is “sticky” in this sense. The children’s taunt, “I’m rubber and you’re glue – everything you say bounces off me and sticks on you,” is actually only half true. We’re all glue when it comes to shame.

    This makes shaming the least effective behavior that we ever engage in. And note, the vast, vast majority of all anger is actually rooted in an experience of shame.

    So, what do we do? In Christ, we bear it, without retaliation. If we need healing – we seek healing, support, etc. There are forms of shame that I have experienced (as do we all) that really hit me in very vulnerable places – and I am very weak in regard to them – being reduced to a puddle of weakness in some cases. We do not have to do this alone. I’ve slowly gained a few places (persons) that are reliable supports where I can find help in either bearing shame, or in regaining my feet in the aftermath. The very least effective thing is to shame in return – including the infernal voice in our head that says, “Oh yeah?” and then goes on the attack – sometimes lasting for days.

    Christ on the Cross is mercilessly shamed…without a word of response. Being reviled, He blessed. I find that very hard. It is only possible if Christ does it in me, even if it’s very slow.

  36. MamaV Avatar

    Vasilia; I suspect a “no complaints” challenge is in order for me. My husband and children will wonder where their silent wife and mother came from. I expect they’d all be happier.
    Father, I have been thinking a lot about shame, judging, and the voices in my head. I have a bad habit of having imaginary conversations in my head with people who have hurt me. Recently reading the writings of St Paisios of Mt Athos I realized that engaging in those exchanges is actually arguing with demons; great sport no doubt for them, and incredibly shame producing for me. It’s like an echo chamber of shame. I am practicing ignoring those taunts to begin the arguments in my head. It’s a little harder (for me) to ignore things that happen on the outside. But I am beginning to realize that most of the damage comes from how I respond, and not necessarily what happens on the outside.
    Thank you.

  37. Steve Avatar

    Dear Father Stephen and esteemed commenters,

    This essay and the subsequent conversation have been wonderfully illuminating to me (like so many before), and I want to express my great thanks. And so I will – thank you all!

    “Christ on the Cross is mercilessly shamed…without a word of response. Being reviled, He blessed. I find that very hard. It is only possible if Christ does it in me, even if it’s very slow.”
    So simple. So hard.

    I am in my mid-60’s, and sometimes my reading here (and elsewhere) makes me feel like a child. I used to think I was pretty smart, but now it seems more like ‘clever’. But there comes a time when you realize you’ve spent your life working diligently and with good intent, but it was the wrong project all along that you were working on…

    May the Lord have mercy on us all…

  38. Debbie L Avatar
    Debbie L

    The path to the light is difficult. We refrain from judging not simply because it’s “wrong.” We refrain from judging because it darkens our very soul”

    My internal ‘ parent’ learned the ways of shaming myself very early on, and I have experienced the deep darkness that follows…shame is indeed sticky, especially when I do it to myself. Trying to argue with shame is like arguing with demons…silence as a response , blessing as a response, Lord illumine our darkness.

  39. Vasilia Avatar

    Here is the site and rules: https://www.willbowen.com/complaintfree/
    Sorry to go off topic!
    Yes, Steve, agreed. And thank you all, too!

  40. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    Thank you Father and Vasilia.
    Vasilia, first I apologize for misspelling your name earlier.
    I do not discount the value of keeping silent when angry. It is a good start. One that I haven’t even begun. But the few times I have managed to keep silent, my thoughts only proceed to get louder. Something more is needed. I’d say it is patience and trust. Like for instance, how Father says there are people God places in our life that are a ‘fit’ for us and who can offer support. I remind myself not to give up. It is apparent that the 21 day trial at your workplace was a step in the right direction, as it helped open your eyes to see more deeply into the darkness of these types of sin.

    Father, it is no coincidence that I come across this conversation almost immediately after sending that email. I know that your words about shame are exactly true. All the anger and shame I have returned to others has not helped one iota . It only makes matters worse.
    Two things you say that I grab onto:
    “In Christ, we bear it, without retaliation.” Keep quite, despite the loud and incessant thoughts that will follow. Words spoken matter much. As a good word heals, a harsh word wounds. Better to deal with the thoughts.
    ” seek healing, support…I’ve *slowly* gained a few places (persons) that are reliable supports where I can find help in either bearing shame, or in regaining my feet in the aftermath..”. You mention “forms of shame”, which I take to be “triggers”. Many times these triggers are completely unknown to the person in whom I took offense. Another good reason to not retaliate. You also frequently mention that the path of healing is long and slow. I think that includes finding a person that would offer helpful, one-on-one support. Sometimes it has to be shown that not everyone you think is well meaning is well meaning or even simply the proper ‘fit’.

    Again, I thank you both. I am especially grateful for the kind consideration…and support.

    Just now noticed the incoming comments…such a blessing. As well, I give my thanks to all.

  41. Esmee La Fleur Avatar
    Esmee La Fleur

    The third lecture in this series by Bishop Irenei Steenburg titled “Saint Symeon the New Theologian On the Temptation to Cast Blame for Our Sin” might be relevant to this discussion for some.


  42. Matthew Avatar


    To you, and all the rest of us who still commit to our Protestant churches in spite of ourselves. I want to encourage you. For whatever reason I think we have chosen the loneliest road imaginable, caught between the familiar and the foreign. Something that I think of as “the corruption”, verses “life”. It’s hard. I try to think of myself as a missionary. broken as I may be. Conflicted. not even fully Orthodox. And yet, Orthodox theology gives me life. Hope. It is Good News. I serve in my congregation, I try to support where I can, offer a word of encouragement where I think it might help. Hoping that by my small witness, others may see what Christ was truly about.

    In truth, it doesn’t really matter exactly what specifically happened at the cross forensically, what matters is that because of what happened, I have new life. Maybe that is the way to minister to our congregations outside of Orthodoxy. I can only hope.

    I thank Father for his earlier article on Fasting during Lent outside of the Church. It was helpful.

    Again, thank you all for the commentaries, and especially Father for his words and insights.


  43. Vasilia Avatar

    In my quiet this Lent I keep repeating a phrase: the radical acceptance of God’s Providence (which I think was in Fr. Stephen’s podcast on depression). Reflecting on what Byron said, my attempts to “correct” have a violent intent. Maybe not everyone’s has this behind it. Trying my best to hand over the reigns of bringing about what I believe to be “just.” This post and discussion is a great help.

  44. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    Dear Vasilia,
    It is a blessing when you can grab hold of a certain phrase and with an intentional remembrance it speaks deep in the heart. I can surely see how repeating “the radical acceptance of God’s Providence” would help fend off these unwanted temptations we’ve been speaking about here.
    I think I understand what Byron means by “violent intent”. It is the desire to give back the anger and offense that was originally directed toward you…or…that you have misinterpreted as directed toward you. It is not so much that I start out thinking “I am going to be violent”. Worse, it just comes out that way, as if it were natural (though we are told this is not natural as ones created in His image). This is kind of reaction not good. Nothing about it is good.
    As for blaming….I take full responsibility for my sin. There is no blaming going on. It is as if the anger is a base emotion…it is just there. I know as well as the nose on my face that I am to blame. It really doesn’t help to insinuate otherwise. You know, its like Father said, “[to bless when reviled] is only possible if Christ does it in me”. So I look to Christ.
    Vasilia, I would very much like to listen to that podcast Father gave on depression. I shall look for it…
    In much appreciation, Vasilia. Thank you…

  45. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    Well…I think I found it. I recognized the title because I have the post in my bookmarks!
    Thanks Father for sharing these difficulties with us. It is such a great help and very encouraging.

  46. Byron Avatar

    Recently reading the writings of St Paisios of Mt Athos I realized that engaging in those exchanges is actually arguing with demons; great sport no doubt for them, and incredibly shame producing for me. It’s like an echo chamber of shame. I am practicing ignoring those taunts to begin the arguments in my head.

    Even at last night’s Liturgy, my head was full of arguing and violence! It came out of nowhere but I recognized it as a personal reaction to a news story I read a very long time ago. It fed upon itself and I only gained any respite through prayer for stillness in my head. I have never before considered this to be “arguing with demons” but that is actually very enlightening as I could not understand how to turn away from it, as I imagined it to be myself. Many thanks for sharing this insight, MamaV.

  47. Byron Avatar

    For the dealing with shame conversation; a quote from Rich Mullins, a protestant singer who has fallen asleep.

    I had a professor one time… He said, ‘Class, you will forget almost everything I will teach you in here, so please remember this: that God spoke to Balaam through his ass, and He has been speaking through asses ever since. So, if God should choose to speak through you, you need not think too highly of yourself. And, if on meeting someone, right away you recognize what they are, listen to them anyway’.

    Perhaps this (Giving reverence to God and the Image of God we see before us) is a place to begin when we encounter someone attacking us? “This person is an ass! But God is speaking so I had best listen.” Perhaps changing our focus to the Image of God may quiet our soul somewhat (although discernment is still required, of course)…. Just thinking out loud on this.

  48. Esmee La Fleur Avatar
    Esmee La Fleur

    Paula – On blaming… I wasn’t “insinuating” anything and I certainly wasn’t singling you out. Please forgive me if it felt that way. I was simply offering the podcast as more food for thought. As far as anger towards others is concerned… For me personally, if I’m angry at someone else because of their words or behavior, then I am – in a sense – “blaming” them for the way I feel, otherwise I wouldn’t be angry. But that’s my experience and yours may be quite different. Again, please forgive me.

  49. Esmee La Fleur Avatar
    Esmee La Fleur

    Paula – in the emails I receive for comments to these posts, there is a reply button and it’s what I click on to make a further comments myself. I just realized that whatever reply button I click will then quote whatever the comment is that I am “replying” to, but I’m not really always replying to that specific person or their comment, it’s just the most expedient way to respond to the conversation at large. So I can understand how you may have thought my comment was aimed directly at you, but it was not.

  50. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    Thanks Esmee for taking the time to clarify. It helps.
    Forgive me too. Sometimes I just don’t see clearly. Thank you for your patience.

    Just a bit more of my thoughts on blaming:
    If blaming others for our sin presents itself as a personal affront, that would be in a very real sense, blaming them. For the attack is directed toward them personally. I have a great deal of trouble separating the issue at hand from the person. To agree to disagree. My anger has no boundaries, in other words. As someone said earlier, I rehearse in my mind a very heated conversation. All to satisfy the ego. It is a blindness that perpetuates on itself. And as Byron said, the only respite is through prayer and stillness. As well, along with our inner conflicts, we have our culture’s insistence on “tolerance”, newly defined as “it is unacceptable to disagree”. Yet the anger out there looms. Oh do we need the covering of the Church and Her people!

    So I am grateful for your effort to clarify, Esmee. I understand. Too, about the technical issues that enter in this blog-type of communication. It’s like Father’s “dashboard”. I did the same thing not too long ago and railed at him for being so harsh to me! Oh…if I didn’t laugh now, I’d cry! It’s embarrassing. God help us!

    Speaking about laughing…Byron, I love your thoughts about donkeys. “This person is an ass! But God is speaking so I had best listen.” Indeed , and made in the image of God…lest we forget!
    I have a donkey. His name is Al. Been with us over 30 years. That boy “knows His masters crib”! In his nature…stubborn, as they say…he still knows his place in the pecking order among the horses. It is at the bottom and he will not cross the line. I’m saying…you’d think I’d learn from him. God really does “speak” through His creatures!

  51. Cyneath Iann Avatar
    Cyneath Iann

    I may be totally confused and out of my mind (please God!), but …
    In all this blame/shame-shifting are we not establishing ourselves as god? It seems to me the only God-given right we have is to love Him. Do we not pray, at least in every Divine Liturgy and service, ‘for the Peace of the the world’? Does our Lord not proclaim that those who make peace will be called ‘sons of God’?
    Of course we want justice. That is innate in us as God-spawn. It is His will. Yet, we are ignorant domiciles on this sin-wracked planet: Have we the wherewithal to determine what True justice looks like? Have we not earned our own death-sentence?
    Lord, have mercy (40 times) is en-toned throughout our services (and hopefully our prayer-life). ‘Do unto others as you would have them/God do unto you.’
    Be gracious unto me, O God, a sinner!

  52. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    “In all this blame/shame-shifting are we not establishing ourselves as god?”
    Well, yeah…kind of. Only we don’t establish ourselves, but only by God’s grace.
    In our conversation here I think it is a means of trying to work these things out. Sometimes we grope.
    We belong to Christ and want to be like Him. That’s what it means to love Him and to love others as He loves us.
    I mean, what better place to share our difficulties and our desires than with those who understand! After all, even here gathered together, we are the Church.

  53. Vasilia Avatar

    Esmee, I meant to thank you for the link to the series. I listened to the 3rd and am going to listen to the rest.

    MamaV, like Byron I found that your reference to the readings and the arguments in your head being an argument with demons startling and enlightening. I have done this quite a bit, too even though it always ends destructively. Thank you for pointing out why. It also gives me a means of recognition and observation.

    For me, justice , envy (and probably shame) become bound up in layers of psychological justifications, boundaries, acceptability. Conversation like this helps. Knowing other people have the same feelings, helps. Maybe the next time it surfaces I will remember to pause.

    God bless,

  54. Byron Avatar

    Have we the wherewithal to determine what True justice looks like?

    Cyneath Iann,

    You are certainly correct in urging caution in this conversation; it is easy to overstate things regarding this subject (and many others). Please forgive me if I have done so. I firmly believe the justice of God is His mercy; it is Him “setting things right” at the Cross.

    My thinking in my last comment was that we need a place to start. And there are times when we need to start in what is not a perfect spot. I found the quote enlightening in that respect. My initial reaction is often very negative–“That man is an ass!”–but perhaps one can, in humility, turn that over even as we react–“But God is speaking, so I had best listen!”. I was simply mulling this over; thinking it through. Again, please forgive me if I have been abrasive in any way.

  55. Diana Christina Avatar
    Diana Christina

    “When you think about such things, go stand at the foot of the Cross (or before an icon of the Crucifixion) and talk to Christ about it. He was surrounded with murderers that Day.”

    A wonderful meditation for Holy Week.

    Thank you Father!

  56. Petra Avatar

    This blog was slaying me with every sentence…it made me weep, like many of Fr. Stephen’s posts on shame. Years back, a priest at our old church lovingly told me I needed to read Nouwen’s “The Return of the Prodigal Son” because he (accurately) saw the older son in me and he knew I sought healing from that. I would have never connected that book to this blog, but now, tonight, after reading the above, I realize that the older son’s/my problem wasn’t covetousness or jealousy, because he didn’t want what his brother was living, but rather envy, because he wanted “justice” since he was the “good guy”, and the “bad guy” was getting away with something. All my life, I have been one of the “good girls” – a People-Pleasing Christian Sally Sunshine – partly because that’s just who I really was inside, LOL, and partly because that’s who I wanted to be. I liked being good. I wanted to be good. I didn’t fight intense desires to go along with the crowd, be rebellious, be “bad”. But while I was busy being myself – not drinking or smoking in high school, getting good grades, going the speed limit, trying to do things right in God’s eyes because I really wanted to do so, making dinner from scratch, trying to serve my husband and Asperger child in a sacrificial way, whatever – I was also always wondering when someone would finally acknowledge me in my striving for goodness and say “well done”. All I frequently saw was other people “doing it wrong” and “getting rewarded”, and that was (!) frustrating. At nearly 56, I have only recently come to understand that my mother being an (actual, clinical) narcissist exacted a heavy toll on me in that her actions left me seemingly permanently wounded and living in perpetual fight or flight mode. Add having a husband who has been deeply depressed and frequently filled with rage our entire 17 years of marriage, and all of it has left me feeling like the stress is crushing me and that I will never have a normal life, not to mention the sorrow I feel for my son essentially growing up without a father even though that father is right here. After reading this tonight, I now understand that my frequent desire for the “justice” of a “good life” and my constant need to see “justice” in life around me in people who are “doing it wrong” is actually a dark eye – a self filled with envy. What a painful and heavenly enlightenment. May God help me and have mercy on me in my brokenness. I welcome any suggestions of books, practices, prayers, etc., to cultivate the light-filled eye that I need.

  57. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    You were given a gift of grace. The simplest practice is to cultivate thanksgiving. God is with you and will give you strength – be patient with yourself. I’ll try to think of something useful to read.

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  1. Greetings, Father Stephen, Thank you so much for this reflection and all of the tremendous amount of work you have…

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