Tolkien’s Long Defeat and the Path of History

“Actually I am a Christian,” Tolkien wrote of himself, “and indeed a Roman Catholic, so that I do not expect ‘history’ to be anything but a ‘long defeat’— though it contains (and in legend may contain more clearly and movingly) some samples or glimpses of final victory” (Letters 255).


History as a long defeat – I can think of nothing that is more anti-modern than this sentiment expressed by J.R.R. Tolkien. It is a thought perfectly in line with the fathers and the whole of Classical Christian teaching. And it’s anti-modernism reveals much about the dominant heresy of our time.

We believe in progress – it is written into the DNA of the modern world. If things are bad, they’ll get better. The “long defeat” would only be a description of the road traveled by racism, bigotry, and all that ignorance breeds.

And our philosophy of progress colors everything we consider. 19th century Darwinian theory wrote a scientific version of progress into his theory of evolution. Of course, using “survival” as the mechanism of change gave cover to a number of political projects who justified their brutality and callousness as an extension of the natural order. 

The metaphor of improvement remains a dominant theme within our culture. A few years ago a survey of young Americans revealed the utterly shocking conclusion that for the first time in recorded history, the young did not expect to be as well off as their parents. It was a paradigm shift in American progressive thought. It remains to be seen how that will play out.

But Tolkien’s sentiment bears deeper examination. For not only does it reject the notion of progress, it embraces a narrative of the “long defeat.” Of course this is not a reference to steady declining standards of living, or the movement from IPhone 11 back to IPhone 4 (perish the thought!). It is rather the narrative of Scripture, first taught by the Apostles themselves, clearly reflecting a Dominical teaching:

But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come: For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying its power. …Now as Jannes and Jambres resisted Moses, so do these also resist the truth: men of corrupt minds, disapproved concerning the faith; but they will progress no further, for their folly will be manifest to all, as theirs also was. But you have carefully followed my doctrine, manner of life, purpose, faith, longsuffering, love, perseverance, persecutions, afflictions, which happened to me at Antioch, at Iconium, at Lystra– what persecutions I endured. And out of them all the Lord delivered me. Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution. But evil men and impostors will grow worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived. (2Ti 3:1-13)

This is Tolkien’s warrant for the “long defeat.”

 And the thought is not that we wake up one day and people are suddenly boasters, proud, blasphemers, etc. Rather, “evil men and impostors will grow worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived.”

It was a common belief among the Desert Fathers that successive generations of monks would become weaker and weaker, unable to bear the great trials of their predecessors. Indeed it was said that in the end, the simple act of believing would take greater grace than all of the ascetic feats of the earliest monks.

This is not a Christian pessimism. If history tells us anything, it is that this is a very honest, even prescient reading. The evils of the 20th century, particularly those unleashed during and after World War I, are clearly among the worst ever known on the planet, and continue to be the major culprits behind all of our current struggles. That first war was not “the war to end all wars,” but the foundation of all subsequent wars. May God forgive our arrogance (“boasters, proud”…). However, the Classical Christian read on human life contains the deepest hope – set precisely in the heart of the long defeat.

It is that hope that sets the Christian gospel apart from earlier pagan historical notions. For the “long defeat” was a common assumption among the ancient peoples. The Greeks and Romans did not consider themselves to have exceeded the heroes who went before. They could model themselves on Achilles or Aeneas, but they did not expect to match their like. The Jews had no hope other than a “restoration of the Kingdom,” which was generally considered apocalyptic in nature. All of classical culture presumed a long decline.

The narrative was rewritten in the modern era – particularly during the 19th century. The Kingdom of God was transferred from apocalyptic hope (the end of the long defeat) to a material goal to be achieved in this world. This was a heresy, a radical revision of Christian thought. It became secularized and moderated into mere progress. It is worth doing a word study on the history of the word “progressive.” 

But Tolkien notes that within the long defeat, there are “glimpses of final victory.” I would go further and say that the final victory already “tabernacles” among us. It hovers within and over our world, shaping it and forming it, even within its defeat. For the nature of our salvation is a Defeat. Therefore the defeat within the world itself is not a tragic deviation from the end, but an End that was always foreseen and present within the Cross itself. And the Cross itself was present “from before the foundation of the world.”

Tolkien’s long defeat, is, as he noted, of a piece with his Catholic, Christian faith. It is thoroughly Orthodox as well. For the victory that shall be ours, is not a work in progress – it is a work in wonder.

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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50 responses to “Tolkien’s Long Defeat and the Path of History”

  1. Thomas B Avatar
    Thomas B

    “ For the victory that shall be ours, is not a work in progress – it is a work in wonder.”

    Father, you could retire after writing this, if you were ever allowed to retire! Beautiful.

  2. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    How good of you to say so. As a matter of fact, I am “retiring” this January, meaning that I’m stepping down as Rector of St. Anne and will become a pensioner (I think that’s the British term). I’ll still be assigned to St. Anne and will assist when asked.

    I will be continuing to write, travel and speak – indeed, I hope to do more of those! The parish has been in a transition – the new Rector has been in place for over a year and we’ve been gradually transitioning. So, I’ve been slowing down – and he’s been speeding up.

    It’s being a bit of a mental adjustment, a new model of living day to day. I suspect that many of my reflections on the small, the present, etc., are being fed by this experience.

    All in all, I think I’m going to like it.

  3. Mihai Diaconu Avatar
    Mihai Diaconu

    “For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and forfeits his own soul?” The words our Lord Christ ring all the more true to me at this moment having just finished Fr Seraphim Rose’s “Nihilism” a few moments ago, and now reading your article, father. God grant us all discernment.

  4. Byron Avatar

    For the nature of our salvation is a Defeat.

    Father, would it be correct to say that the Cross was a defeat–the very death of God–but was transformed into the instrument of salvation (you have said this latter part before)? Is the “work in wonder” that is victory (salvation) the work of transformation, by God’s grace, into the fullness of our humanity?

    I think the answer is kind of obvious but want to ask anyway. The things I consider “obvious” often turn out quite different than I expect….

  5. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Yes. The victory of the Cross is foolishness and weakness. I think that we too easily forget this and want to jump past it to the victory. In some presentations of the faith, the Cross is treated as a one-time thing that has now made a victory so that we no longer need to deal with defeat. But the Cross is a “path to the resurrection.” We only reach the victory by sharing in the defeat. This is at the very heart of Baptism. If we live our Baptism, then like St. Paul we can say, “I die daily.”

  6. Robert Avatar

    Thoughts such as these help me so much to deal with the tension between believing things will be good if more people believe in God to actually accepting the reality that this place we live is far more broken and despairing that I care to admit. Accepting reality over idealism seems in my mind to be an ascetic feat.

  7. Sunny Avatar

    The New Age teaching of the “Age of Aquarius” is the most subtle version of the progress narrative I have heard because it also repudiates the “progress” of the modern world. They see the last couple thousand years, and the religions and institutions of those millennia, as an expression of an cosmic imbalance in the masculine principle, characterized by force, domination, and disempowerment. Before that, according to their teaching, there was an imbalanced feminine at the time of the goddess cultures. But now this age of “Picses,” as they call it, is coming to an end, it’s religions and forms and institutions are hopelessly crumbling in the light of a growing awakening of consciousness around the planet, and we are in the midst of a planetary shift into the Age of Aquarius, where there will be global peace and love and harmony and everyone will be essentially their own god. It’s subtle because there is something alluring and even convincing about this interpretation of history and current events. But when examined in the light of Holy Tradition, I can’t help draw parallels to what we know of the end times.
    “Then if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or ‘There!’ do not believe it. For false christs and false prophets will rise and show great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect.”

    We need to become very sober about these things. Father Seraphim Rose argues convincingly, I think, that we have arrived at a global demonic outpouring that is decieving people all over the world. People think that we have finally come to a time where man will become god without the cross. May God preserve his Church.

  8. Richard Gargiulo Avatar
    Richard Gargiulo

    As a neo-evangelical with Roman Catholic roots the Long Defeat resonates with me. Somewhere in Scripture it says that”the love of many will grow cold.” And Jesus asked if toward the end “would the Son of Man find faith on earth?” A spirit of deception has blanketed many churches, tricking us and making us feud with one another instead of seeing the real Enemy (Ephesians 6). What should be our response in these postmodern, postchristian times? “Let us look to Jesus the Pioneer and Finisher of our faith,” (Heb 12:1), sowing seeds of faith, hope, love, creativity, and craftsmanship. Pointing to the City of God and its King.

  9. Ian McPherson Avatar
    Ian McPherson

    I think that this passage from The Way of the Hasidim by Martin Buber also speaks of the “long defeat” but also of the Heavenly hope that genuinely arises from an acceptance of the “forgetting” of which the story tells….

    “It is told that in every generation there are times when hope threatens to leave this world. At such times, the Baal Shem Tov, the great Jewish mystic, would go into a secret place in the forest. There he would light a special fire and say a holy prayer speaking the long-forgotten most sacred name of God.The danger was averted and hope stayed alive.

    In later times when disaster threatened, the Maggid of Mezritch, his disciple, would go to the same place in the forest and say, “Ribono Shel Olam, Master of the Universe, I do not know how to light the fire, but I can say the prayer.”

    And again the danger was averted and hope stayed alive.

    Still later, his disciple, Moshe Leib of Sasov, would go to the same place in the forest and say, “Ribono Shel Olam, Master of the Universe, I do not know how to light the fire or say the prayer, but I found my way to this place, and that must be enough.” And it was. Hope stayed alive.

    And later when Israel of Rizhyn needed intervention from heaven, he sat in his chair with his head in his hands and say, “Ribono Shel Olam, Master of the Universe, I no longer know how to light the fire, nor how to say the prayer, I can’t even find our way to that place, but I can tell the story and that must enough.” And it was.

    And it still is. As long as stories are told, hope stays in the world

  10. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    What is too little recognized in these thoughts is the way of life it suggests. The modern way of life is always geared towards management and improvement – both of which assume we actually know what we’re doing and where we’re going. The spiritual tradition of the Church (and the Scriptures) suggests that we do not know what we are doing (the “big picture” is not given to us to know – only the Father knows), nor do we know where we are going. We are pilgrims following a path, not trail-blazers making our own way. That holy ignorance, and the willingness to accept it as a given part of true human existence, is a humility that actually invites God into our lives, or cries out for whom. “Lord, how can we know the way?”

    It is in that context that things such as the Maxims of Fr. Hopko make the most sense. How do I learn to live as a human being in this world rather than as a modern man-god? For one, we have to come to our senses. Fr. Tom essentially describes what coming to our senses looks like. I think this is important to understand.

    Of course, there’s nothing sacrosanct in Fr. Tom’s list. We could create a little philokalia with excerpts from the fathers that say the exact same thing. Fr. Tom drew them up, over time, from his rich experience within the tradition and as priest/pastor/teacher. Just some thoughts this morning…

  11. Rand Avatar

    As I read this, I was listening to a song from the Rock band Anathema (I’m very cracked up by this irony) that quotes the following:

    From “Defending Middle-Earth Tolkien: Myth and Modernity” by Patrick Curry:

    “Despair is for people who know, beyond any doubt, what the future is going to bring.
    Nobody is in that position.
    So despair is not only a kind of sin, theologically, but also a simple mistake, because nobody actually knows.
    In that sense there always is hope.”

    Nowadays, I try to share when there are small moments that appear to, perhaps, have the stamp of providence on them. I find there are more of these moments than I would expect, and I wonder at how many I missed before.

    Thank you, Father, for this. And for your last several, which I have not commented on but perhaps should have. Things are moving here in ways that have revealed more of God’s hand in the past, present, and future. The seeds of victory have truly always been contained in the soil of defeat. Glory to God for all things.

  12. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    You mentioned “holy ignorance”.
    I pray I be holy ignorant and not wholly ignorant, as I feared I may be in my simplicity!
    Well, as we say, trust is the key…

  13. Merry Bauman Avatar
    Merry Bauman

    Father, in our church right now, we are doing a study on a film about the number of people who don’t believe or have no real affiliation to a belief system. The number is increasing and is part of exactly what you are talking about. The many false teachings out there are so confusing to people they don’t know what to believe, or if there is really anything that they can believe in. What has been illuminating is how many different paths each of us that are converts have taken in our journey to becoming Orthodox and finding what we believe to be truth. Just as the faith that strengthened the generations for centuries has weakened in the younger generations it seems, so has the economic possibilities and expectations? The trend of children or grandchildren living with parents or grandparents is becoming overwhelming, as the younger ones discover they cannot afford to live on their own. Between low wages and high living costs, or good wages and high student loans, they are not able to afford the kind of life they grew up with. Many cannot even afford a place to live or the basic needs. It is frightening and frustrating. Perhaps a reason for the lack of faith as well. The generations since the Baby Boomers have never known war, deprivation, or had to do without and work hard for everything they got. They have always known prosperity; credit cards; cell phones; computers; color television; and so much that was not there during WWII or even VietNam.
    Society has taken so many things that were considered abhorrent, disgusting, and wrong, and by force and legislation – made them not only acceptable but legal – and it is illegal NOT to consider them good now. Society in these times teaches that the Bible means nothing and whatever you want to do or believe is fine – as long as it is in line with whatever the current trend is. Sin is not sin because society says it is ok now. Don’t pay attention to what God says. No wonder these people are so confused as to what to believe or who to believe. False teaching is everywhere, and it is forced on people. In some cases by our own government. How wonderful it is that God prepared us for this in the Bible, and told us this was coming. I wish we had a way to get thru to all these people that are seeking the truth and the way to live. Suicide is in the largest numbers in history, and I think this is partially why. Even children are killing themselves! Such fear and insecurity is everywhere. Nothing to hold onto and believe in – for SO many. Lord have mercy on them all, and on all of us. Some of these people are in our own families, and it is our constant prayers that they will find their way to God again. And to believe in what the Bible teaches. Let us pray for them and for all the lost children of God that are wandering in this wilderness of unbelief, fear, and false teachings. My heart hurts for them.

  14. Sunny Avatar

    Father, so you are talking “improvement” on a macro scale here. In light of that, I am wondering about “improvement” on a micro scale. I know you’ve talked a lot about the Christian life as amoral, but I’m thinking of the practice of healthcare specifically. We are having a national crisis in health care right now, where we literally will not be able to afford as a country how sick we will continue to get in the next couple generations because of how mismatched our lifeways have become with biology. I do not doubt that God is at work behind this. However, for those of us who do not wish to be at the mercy of conventional medical practices which I believe cause more harm and expense than good, “improving” on a certain level becomes a requirement. Is it possible to try to have a healthy lifestyle (and most of all healthy offspring, which was the goal of ancestral health practices) while still maintaining humility? It seems like the opposite–unquestioningly going with the flow of every norm of our culture with impunity–can itself be fraught with problems spiritually. How can I discern my way through this?

  15. Janine Avatar

    I needed this today, as I struggle with some hard things. I’m taking a class on Christianity and Violence. You remind me that the original victory of the Cross showed in martyrs like Blandina. But boy does that struggle get hard (even when the violence is metaphorical). But it explains a lot.

  16. Robert Avatar

    I think perhaps this one has gone over my head though I truly desire to get it.

  17. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Well, there are lots of people across the world with poor medical support – it’s not a human guarantee, though an advanced culture should be able to have it. I think “balance” is a good idea. Try to live healthy – in a reasonable manner – but also know you’re going to get sick and something will kill you sooner or later. My parents died in their 80’s – I might make it there – another 20 years would equal them. As much as possible, try not to live in fear. Some people seem to spend more time focused on health practices than they do on living. That itself is not healthy.

  18. Xenia Avatar

    Fr. Stephen, You will love retirement! When you are physically rested, you will be surprised at the turns that your life will take. I have been looking for the time that you will retire and praying that you will continue writing, blogging, and speaking. We need your voice, your turn of phrases, your insights that put everything into the proper focus and perspective. May you enjoy your last few months of being “active” and we all pray that you enjoy many years of health so that you can continue to be a light to us!

  19. Michael Yates Avatar

    Do not be surprised when the world hates you. It has hated Jesus first.

  20. Sharon Avatar

    Dear Father Stephen,
    Xenia expresses what my heart speaks: ” We need your voice, your turn of phrases, your insights that put everything into the proper focus and perspective. May you enjoy your last few months of being “active” and we all pray that you enjoy many years of health so that you can continue to be a light to us!”

  21. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Amen Xenia

  22. Dino Avatar

    Merry Bauman,
    I hear what you are saying…
    It appears that the secular-humanist ideology of the primacy of rights over (eternal)-values,
    (fundamentally, a self-centred relativism – certainly not some God-inspired [or ‘good-inspired’] fair-mindedness), guides cultures to an Orwellian/Huxleyan tyranny.
    When sin becomes legislatively established, as you described in your comment, this kind of decline becomes almost foreseeable.
    I am reminded of the discerning aphorism of D.Eisenhower that,

    “A people that values its privileges above its principles soon loses both.”

    In one way or another this ‘spirit’ has always been around, and will be advancing further too. (1 John 4:3)
    However, our Spiritual warfare, our tighter clinging unto our Lord, is first and foremost internal, and, as Saint John Chrysostom proclaims: “even a single person with the holy flame in his heart is able to change a whole town!”.

  23. Ook Avatar

    I see here an echo of normal patterns of life, in which glorious summer is followed by a long autumnal descent into winter, a long defeat. Followed by spring.
    This cyclical existence used to be considered normal before we were all taught that everything has to grow and get better forever.
    However, I get stuck at the “final” part of the “final victory”. I would be grateful for some help in understanding the “final” part in this context. Am I on the wrong track relating this to cycles in general?

  24. Dino Avatar

    What comes to mind is the” eschatological”, final victory described in, [1 Corinthians 15:28]: “And when all things shall be subdued unto him, then shall the Son also himself be subject unto him that put all things under him, that God may be all in all.”
    Or in, [Revelation 21:4]: “And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.”

  25. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    As Dino notes, the “final” speaks of the End – the battle against evil and our struggle towards God is not an eternal thing – a never-ending process. There is an end. We can speak of it in terms of the Second Coming of Christ – and the many aspects that surround that. Rev. 10:6 says “and time will be no more.”

    If you were to compare this to cycles – “Spring” would be the ending of the cycle – with no summer following.

  26. Dino Avatar

    on a side note: I don’t know if you’ve heard this, but there’s a certain ‘pious tradition’ I have heard mentioned (one can glean various things from), that Christ’s Second coming will take place during the season of Spring/Easter – as did His Pascha…

  27. Dino Avatar

    Speaking of the final victory, and particularly of its ‘breaking into’ our present
    (transcending our interpretative analysis of the world),
    Chrysostom has another informative statement, (beautifully combining optimism and solemnity) :
    “I consider the Pilot governing everything, who prevails over storms, who calms the raging gale, not through skill and artfulness, but with a single nod. It is not at their beginning – not immediately, when they first arise – that he customarily obliterates evils, but when they increase, when they come to their furthest point, when most men fall into despair, then he does wondrous things beyond all expectation, demonstrating his own power, and training the patience of those who have fallen.”

  28. Ook Avatar

    Thank you Father and Dino,
    “Transcending our interpretive analysis of the world” is certainly how it feels to me!

  29. Jacob Avatar


    «But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only.»
    ‭‭Matthew‬ ‭24:36‬ ‭ESV‬‬

    This is not to say that our lord mightn’t return in spring, but we will know only at the end of all things. This piece of tradition reminds me of that which informs the burial of Christians in my tradition—head in the west, so that they might stand up facing the East when the everlasting morn dawns.

  30. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    It reminds me that in the Church, the altar is always in the East, even if the compass says something else. We call it “liturgical east.” Ideally, we try to make them concur, though it’s not always possible. Thus, perhaps it is the case that when Christ returns, it will be Spring. He was conceived in Spring, died, buried and rose in Spring. Not coincidence. Isaiah calls Christ “the East” (the Orient from on High). So, wherever He is, there is East.

  31. shannon Avatar

    Father Stephen:
    you wrote, “Indeed it was said that in the end, the simple act of believing would take greater grace than all of the ascetic feats of the earliest monks.”
    Could you share a reference to that or those, please?
    I agree with you and Tolkien completely. What thinking, observing person could conclude otherwise? If I had not this hope in Christ (and His explanation), I don’t believe I could stand the chaos, foolishness, degradation, waste, and wickedness currently ascendant. I don’t understand why the suicide rate is not 100% among atheists….

  32. Merry Bauman Avatar
    Merry Bauman

    Dino, Yes, thank you. You did hear me, and you put it so well. I could totally relate to everything you had to say. It summed it up perfectly. I worry about these lost little lambs that are so frightened and fearful and don’t know how to find their true shelter and Shepard. Perhaps if we all keep that light burning inside us as long as we are on this earth – we can help some of them find their way. I do believe the time is getting shorter each day. Not just for us, but for this world as we know it. The end times as described in the Bible seem to be happening all around us. Standing strong and praying for others is something we must all do I believe.

  33. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Fr Stephen,
    I truly appreciate this article and the words you wrote for Jacob. Your description of Spring and ‘the East’ being wherever He is, describes well for me how every beautiful thing I have witnessed in this earth points to God, Who (I might add) is also the ‘North Star’ of ‘our compass’.

  34. steven Avatar

    Hi, Father,
    I read quite a bit about modern people being spiritually weak, pampered, useless, etc and I find it deeply distressing, frustrating and discouraging. It’s not like I can be born in any other time. It’s not like anyone can.

    It makes me question if I can even be saved sometimes your average christian in 1200 was so much greater and still had to struggle. We have enough despair in our society as it is.

  35. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    shannon @ October 10, 2019 at 10:44 am,

    Found an answer to your question:

    i knew I heard that saying before, but I couldn’t remember where. Your question compelled me to search!

  36. Agata Avatar

    One of the most helpful things I once heard from a confessor were these words:
    “We were born in this time and place because God chose them as the very best time and place for our salvation.”

    So if we remember this truth, it changes everything.

    That we were born here and now is not a reason for despair, but for joy (for many reasons!) and as a challenge for ourselves, how this can be true in our life. It is only us who choose this excuse of “being born in this society” to be weak, pampered, useless. We can be faithful in all circumstances, as the Saints teach us.

  37. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    I certainly can relate to your dismay. When in a certain frame of mind, the topic of the ills of our modern culture sound as if all the blame is placed on each person born in this age, and all are responsible for its plight. You hear a lot of ‘you must’s’, as if its as easy to do as turning on a light switch. You come away with the impression of defeat and a very low view of humanity.
    And for some odd reason, when I become clouded with such thoughts, instead of finding something edifying to read and contemplate, I keep on entertaining those thoughts and continue to read that which depresses me! Not to wise on my part.

    Recently in our church we began ‘adult Sunday school’ classes. Fr Gabriel, our priest, began with this statement: “Everything in the Church begins and ends with Jesus” (from Fr Hopko’s essay The Mission of the Orthodox Church in North America Our “homework” was to read the Gospel!! , beginning with Matthew…and to pay attention to the Beatitudes. Read it slowly…but read it every day. Doesn’t matter how much or how little you have read it already, because each time, without end, the Word speaks to you…and, Steven, edifies!

    Aside from protracted issues with depression and despair, I think most of us go through stages. Pretty hard to find consistency in peace. But this simple practice, reading and contemplating the life of Christ, is truly the beginning and the end…of all things. I encourage you, like Fr Gabriel encourages us, to begin and end there. I believe, then, you will find what people are saying about our plight these days just may make more sense and that it really isn’t a low view of humanity, but our “dis-ease” so to speak and the dire need for healing. Indeed Steven, salvation throughout all ages, has come in the Alpha and Omega…the beginning and the end, Our Lord Jesus Christ.
    Be encouraged, Steven. As Fr Stephen told me recently…”It’s not all that bad” !

    Oh, and p.s. … it helps a lot to surround yourself with people who uplift. You quickly sense a spirit of peace in them. Observe and stay in close vicinity! And also, when you see a person downcast, if eye contact is made, nod or smile or both. That really does go a long way, and it is good for the soul.

  38. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Do not despair. We were appointed to live in this time, and have all of the grace required to live faithfully. Yes, it will be hard, but it has always been hard. We should not ever wish to have lived at a different time. This time is ours and God is with us. But salvation is always in and through the Cross. And we never bear the Cross alone. Whatever we suffer or endure, Christ suffers with us and in us and endures with us and in us. We are His.

  39. Merry Bauman Avatar
    Merry Bauman

    Steven, NO! Please take heart and listen to all they are saying! It is such a joy to know you are here and you are seeking the truth and all that so many have for thousands of years. God, Jesus, Mary, the Bible, faith, and salvation – most of all – are here for all of us, in all generations, in every century. YOU get to carry the light on into the next generations. Far from useless, you are the carriers of the light into the future. You take the words of the Saints, The Fathers, the Elders, and all that has been given to you – on to the future generations. You are in this time by God’s plan. It is, as Father said, NEVER easy, but it is so worth it. Our lights will go out on this earth, as we pass on, but you will be here to carry them forward in our stead. Your generations are the hope for the future, and the chance for salvation for the generations to come. But it takes the faithful to lead others to God, and out of the confusion of what society wants them to believe. There have been times in history when it was forbidden to even speak of God or Christ, so at least your time is better than those early times. There are many things that are hard in society these days, but you can choose the good, the positive, and remember that life itself is a priceless gift – one that all the money in the world cannot buy once it is gone. Thank God for everything – even the bad – for it teaches us lessons. YOU are the future, and my heart is filled with such joy that you are here. You are exactly where God planned, and in the time He chose to place you to do what He wants you to do. May God bless your path.

  40. Matthew W. Avatar


    The patristic reference comes from the Vitae Patrum. There is an online version that I consult frequently. starting at VI.i.14

  41. Matthew W. Avatar

    I might suggest that, not only does Christ suffer and endure with us on a daily basis, but that so too does his body and his bride – the church, however I might understand that to be. Just as none of us are saved alone, neither do any of us suffer alone.

    Sometimes it may be hard to see that, especially if you don’t get along with someone in your church community – but the church isn’t an individual, and especially in this world of sin, no one is going to suffer and endure with you in the way you need them to all the time. I just try to keep in mind that no matter what I’m going through, there are other Christians suffering far more than I, and that they need whatever insufficient prayers I can give in support.

    I might also add, that even though I come from a tradition very weak on the Saints, or any idea of life after death, even I can appreciate the fact that both my ancestors and my descendants at the great resurrection will not demand that I make an accounting of myself, but will rather instead be praying to God fervently that I too will be among them. For those that view the church as a body, the cacophony of prayers raised on our behalf should be a marvel.

  42. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Stevan, the greatest most holy saint in history relied on the same grace and mercy that we do. They needed it just as much as each of us needs it. The question is how much I trust His grace and mercy. I know people who have been beaten, raped and betrayed, left in near impovrished conditions to raise their children because of it. Despite that they love God and do not despair knowing that God provides no matter what and they rejoice in His presence. St. Mary of Egypt can teach us a lot. Repentance is the key to joy. We are not nor can we be responsible for “the sins of the world”, only our own. Even in a perfect world we would still be called to pray, worship, give alms, repent, worship and forgive.

  43. Dino Avatar

    Would you agree that one of the latest, ‘external’, challenges regarding our propensity to surrender to God’s providence (rather than trying to ‘manage’ the world) on the large-scale that mass media encourage, is the actual witnessing of the large-scale ‘management of the world’ by antichristian forces?

    To explain this with an example, wouldn’t one be prodded to be “greatly distressed” (Acts 17:16) when noticing that systematic large-scale indoctrination of children is promoted? and then (especially those who have personalities of a certain “activist” [rather than a “hesychast’s”] “proclivity”) reason in themselves that a counter-action of the same ‘dimension’ might need to be ‘organised’?

    I know of one God-fearing politician in Greece who clearly thinks this way, and, given his position, I can understand his frustration. The humble recognition of the unknown outcomes of his ‘management-efforts’ does not preclude their sense of responsibility to react in the way they do.

  44. Dino Avatar

    And this ‘sense of responsibility to react’ in this (loosely described as) ‘managerial manner’, is usually somehow manifested in one’s immediate cycle of influence (or whatever they assumes this may be, e.g.: family, friends and often nowadays including modern technological communications.)
    (Of course, we cannot deny that the loss of one’s peace is at stake in this manifestation.)

  45. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    There’s no doubt that the “evil” management actions will provoke thoughts and efforts to act in the opposite manner. To some degree, I would think there’s a measure of health in that – the instinct to protect the innocent and the weak (“widows and the fatherless”). Those who hold the responsibility of office (in whatever kind of state) are commanded to do righteousness – and that includes protecting the weak, etc. I think that the state, even at its best, can only be the “garments of skin,” provisional matters that protect to a limited measure. Goodness has to be married to wisdom. Sophrosyne – or something like that – is called for. How do we save our souls without losing them in the process?

  46. Dino Avatar

    Thank you very much for your answer Father. Indeed, “How do we save our souls without losing them in the process?” sums up this particular conundrum perfectly.

  47. Diana Christina Avatar
    Diana Christina

    A wonderful and thought-provoking post, Father. People might identify as unbelievers but I think it was William James who famously said, “Deep-down in every man, woman, and child is the fundamental idea of God. It may be obscured by pomp, by worship of other things, but in some form or another it is there. For faith in a Power greater than ourselves, and miraculous demonstrations of that Power in human lives are facts as old as man himself. “

  48. AR Avatar

    Father, your common comments on progression have me curious: what’s your take on psychotherapy/psychoanalysis or counseling/therapy in general?

  49. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    I’m very supportive of counseling/therapy in general. Obviously, healing is a reality – and even a natural tendency in our human life and the world around us. There is always change in the world (and always has been). Progress, as a metaphor for historical analysis, is where I part ways on the topic. I think it is a false narrative – or – it is nothing more than a narrative, a value judgment that only holds up if you agree to its terms. What modernity likes to measure is economic wealth, health (longer life), pleasure (the sense of being entertained or “happy”), and such. There are lots of subjective or merely cultural biases in these measures. That’s a very dubious claim.

  50. David Waite Avatar
    David Waite

    Do not despair. We were appointed to live in this time, and have all of the grace required to live faithfully. Yes, it will be hard, but it has always been hard. We should not ever wish to have lived at a different time. This time is ours and God is with us. But salvation is always in and through the Cross. And we never bear the Cross alone. Whatever we suffer or endure, Christ suffers with us and in us and endures with us and in us. We are His.

    I think that just about says it all, Father. Thank you.

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