Thanksgiving as Mystical Communion

“This is good. This is bad.” In one form or another, we divide the world into light and dark. It might take the form, “I like this. I do not like that.” What we find easy are the things we see as good and the things we like. If a day is filled with such things, we are likely to be happy. If the day is marked by things we do not like, then we are unhappy. We find it easy to be thankful for the good things. Everybody is grateful for things they like. Indeed, it is something of a tautology to be thankful for things we like – even the gentiles do the same.

Of course, our days are not filled with good things that we like. Our days are often a mix – good and bad – liked and unliked. This reality defines the path of modern persons: we seek to maximize the good and minimize the bad. Ronald Reagan, an icon of modern America, liked to quote a song from the 40’s:

You’ve got to accentuate the positive,
Eliminate the negative,
Latch on to the affirmative,
No room for Mister In-Between.

This is modernity in its prime. The modern myth is bound up with the “better world,” the notion that through proper management and applications of science and technology (and all of the so-called “sciences”), we can make the world a better place – meaning that we will be able to eliminate the negative and maximize our pleasure. Pleasure is equated with the good, while suffering is seen as inherently bad. Modernity seeks to turn the world into a candy store (without diabetes).

The most bizarre outcomes of modernity’s false philosophy can be seen in today’s campus cults who demand “safe places” – defined as a world without discomfort or contradiction. “You must not say this, think that, wear this, eat that, drink this, and on and on, because these things are bad, because these things create pain (my imagined pain), and you are evil.” It’s a brave new world that is being “bettered,” but I suspect very few will want to live in it.

My continuing critique of modernity has nothing to do with technology, medicine, science, etc. None of those things are “modern” in and of themselves. Modernity is a set of ideas, not a time in history. One of its most subtle bits of propaganda is to pass itself off as a historical period, and, even, as the inevitable outcome of everything that has gone before. To be “unmodern,” is therefore, to be “out-of-date,” “backward,” “Neanderthal,” “positively Medieval,” or some such descriptive. Modernity is propaganda parading as history.

It is also ungrateful.

There is a classic Orthodox prayer set for the morning:

O Lord, grant that I may meet all that this coming day brings to me with spiritual tranquility.
Grant that I may fully surrender myself to Thy holy Will.

At every hour of this day, direct and support me in all things.
Whatsoever news may reach me in the course of the day,
teach me to accept it with a calm soul and the firm conviction that all is subject to Thy holy Will.

Direct my thoughts and feelings in all my words and actions.
In all unexpected occurrences, do not let me forget that all is sent down from Thee.

Grant that I may deal straightforwardly and wisely with every member of my family, neither embarrassing nor saddening anyone.

When I first encountered this prayer, I found it impossible to say it. Instead, its un-prayed presence, for me, constituted wrestling with God.

Is God at work in all things and are all things being brought to a good conclusion? Are the terrible things that happen to me or to another devoid of God or, are they, somehow the work of the Cross within history? This last question proved to be an open door for me. God does not stand outside of history manipulating, controlling one thing or another, aloof and judging. The Cross of Christ is not a single event of three hours duration, a mere payment for sin. The Cross is the revelation of a mystery-at-work that has been hidden from the ages but has always been true. Christ is the “lamb slain from the foundations.”

Christ reveals to us that He not only loves those who suffer, but He becomes those who suffer (Matt. 25:40).1 Christ becomes what we are, uniting us to Himself, that we might become what He is. On the Cross, we see, not only the suffering of God, but the suffering of the whole world, everywhere and through all time.2 Like Joseph the Patriarch, we are able to say of suffering, “You meant it to me for evil, but the Lord meant it to me for good.” (Gen. 50:20)

With this in mind, we are able to give thanks always and for things, not because we think suffering itself is good, but because the One who alone is good has Himself become our suffering. By the same token, when we ourselves do good to those who are in need, and unite ourselves to them, we also unite ourselves to God whose providence cares for all at all times and all places.3

Thanksgiving, particularly with this understanding in mind, is a continual act of offering and sacrifice, the very heart of a Eucharistic life. “Thine own, of Thine own, we offer unto Thee, on behalf of all and for all.”

No doubt, Christians will continue in doing good. However, in spite of every modern mythology, the world will not be a “better” place. Evil things will continue to happen (many of them done in the name of a better world). Modernity, however, cannot bear suffering, which is truly tragic in that suffering is an inevitable part of every life. The modern world’s absence of a meaningful narrative with regard to suffering – other than to eradicate it – perpetuates and cultivates a heart that is frequently unable to be grateful. Of course, if sufficient steps are taken to shield someone from the reality of suffering, a make-believe “better” world can be maintained for a space of time. This, in large part, is the origin of the cult of prosperity (in its many guises).

The Christian heart, on the other hand, is manifest most prominently in the giving of thanks. The central act of worship is itself the giving of thanks (Eucharist is from the Greek for “giving thanks”). In the very first paragraph of St. John Chrysostom’s anaphora, we hear:

For all these things we give thanks to You, and to Your only-begotten Son, and to Your Holy Spirit; for all things of which we know and of which we know not whether manifest or unseen,

The central act of Christian worship gives thanks for all things, to which the people say, “Amen.”

The mystery of our salvation is found within the Cross of Christ, His suffering, death and resurrection. The fullness of that salvation reveals itself to us as we come to know that all things, known and unknown, those we see as good and those we see as bad, have been gathered together by God into Himself. It is there in that union (and there alone) that “all things work together for good.” And there we give thanks.

Footnotes for this article

  1. This particular understanding is emphasized by St. Maximus in his Mystagogy, 24.
  2. Mystagogy, 24, op cit.
  3. This same point is also emphasized by St. Maximus, op cit.

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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46 responses to “Thanksgiving as Mystical Communion”

  1. Dana Ames Avatar
    Dana Ames

    Thank you, Father. That prayer has hung me up, too – and I think the door that opened it for you will also open it for me. The Cross is indeed the Center of All Things – which often leaves me speechless and in tears.

    Blessed Thanksgiving for you & family.

  2. Robert Chiles Avatar
    Robert Chiles

    Ah, theodicy, that’s the nub of it. Being grateful does take the edge off.

  3. Paul Avatar

    Thank you for this meditation.

  4. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Father Bob,
    No. It does not take the edge off – unless you’re still pining for a modern, painless world. It’s an invitation not to theodicy, but the mystery hidden in all things. Theodicy is the playground of philosophers. It has no Cross.

  5. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    “Follow Me” >
    “take up your cross and….”

    “Abide in Me and I in you” >
    ” and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit.”

    “I am the Resurrection and the life” >
    “unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much grain”

    “I am the bread of life” >
    “Take, eat. This is my Body, given for you… this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.”

    “I am the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last” >
    ” …that in the dispensation of the fullness of the times He might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven and which are on earth—in Him.”

    The list is endless. Suffering was not meant to be, but is the evil that God works for our good, for those in Christ, the Suffering, and Risen Servant – for our salvation. Imagine that.

    It is no surprise that the world utterly rejects Christ…because the foolishness of God is the wiser than men.
    It is not about ‘if I follow all the rules then all will be well’. But rather if I follow Christ, in union with Him – He Who created us, the works of His hands – because of His solidarity with mankind, will carry us through the pains and sorrows. He bears all with us. And in Christ we find peace that the world can not in any way give.
    Now I can’t help but to stop right there and wrap my head around this very thought – that God Almighty Himself condescends to those He created – from dust and yet in His image – took on our human nature. Then to realize the extent of our sinfulness, unable to go one day without falling short – and yet He still continues to say “come to Me all you that are heavy laden and I will give you rest”. Now, I don’t know, but I too (as Dana said above) am left speechless and many times in tears.
    Indeed, ‘what is man that you are mindful of him…’ !
    So its not just about following a set of rules…it is following Christ.
    Do we love Him? Well, to the extent that fallen human beings can love, we do. Do we want to please Him? To the extent that we love Him, we do.
    But we fail. And He still loves us. And He always will.
    It took me a long time to get this through my head. (Shame can be deadly) So I look to Him. That is my understanding of “follow Me”. Trusting not in myself but in Him. When in doubt, follow Him. When confused, bitter, angry – follow Him. When in despair, follow Him. When I embitter my brothers and sisters, and after a long time of “stewing”, and finally muster up the will to ask for forgiveness – yes, I follow Him. It is He that ‘creates in me a clean heart. I fail miserably in my efforts.

    THIS is just a fraction of why we would be thankful. After all, He has given us His creation, its beauty and perfection. He has held nothing back. We have a lot to be sorrowful for in our falling short, and at the very same time, ever so much to be grateful for, in His salvation. It is a love incomprehensible.
    He literally carries us though every moment, in a perpetual breath of life.
    I could spend the whole Thanksgiving day giving thanks and wouldn’t – couldn’t – even touch the surface.
    Because then there’s the gift of everlasting life, in the age to come, to contemplate.

    So we give thanks…always, for all things.

    So Father, may I say, many many thanks and blessings to you, this Thanksgiving…and forever more!

  6. ScottTX Avatar

    “Modernity, however, cannot bear suffering, which is truly tragic in that suffering is an inevitable part of every life.”

    Isn’t it fair for a whole race of broken eggs to ask, “Where’s the omelette?”

  7. Nancy Avatar

    An omelette doesn’t fix the broken eggs. They are still broken. We have to deal with that brokeness and I think if it’s God’s Will we will see an omelette, but I do think sometimes He needs us to wait to see it. Maybe not even this side of heaven……I guess those are the times that we think about Peter walking on water out to Jesus. I love that icon!! However, I do think thankfulness is an important part of dealing with our brokeness. If we always got omelettes I am not sure we would pay much attention to the broken eggs….so to speak. I think the trouble in our lives causes us to stop and pay attention to the good stuff to be thankful for. Atleast for me that seems to be the case. The new Mr Rogers movie is coming out and I am reminded of something he said to the children who were scared because of the 911 attacks was ” When scary stuff happens look for the helpers.” Not sure if that is an exact quote of his but you get the idea. Looking forward to seeing that movie this week sometime.

  8. David K Avatar
    David K

    Thank you Father Stephen for this reflection and for your continued commitment to this work throughout the year!!

  9. Yannis Avatar

    The problem is that the eggs are not asking “Where’s the omelette”; rather they are asking “Where’s the glue?”

  10. Jp Esnouf Avatar
    Jp Esnouf

    Thank you Fr Stephen, and by that thank you it is my “nous” speaking, because my flesh and mind suffers at this Truth! LOL, like golden chains, i assume they have worth cause they are gold, but they are chains non the less.

    Oh man, this is a hard post!but “hard” in the sense of Christ being the Rock i guess. Like a wise rebuke being oil for my head. I know it to be true in every fiber of my being, even the fibers in suffering after reading this, desperately trying to scapegoat its reality “realness”. What can i say except Lord have mercy on me!

    I have no questions, because every question that seems to pop up tries to justify its lies. I will just say thank you, thank you for speaking (writing) true words. It seems truth is not easy, but it is freedom.

    I love this:
    Christ reveals to us that He not only loves those who suffer, but He becomes those who suffer (Matt. 25:40).1 Christ becomes what we are, uniting us to Himself, that we might become what He is. On the Cross, we see, not only the suffering of God, but the suffering of the whole world, everywhere and through all time.2 Like Joseph the Patriarch, we are able to say of suffering, “You meant it to me for evil, but the Lord meant it to me for good.” (Gen. 50:20)


  11. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Forgive me. Your comment is clever, but I fail to see how it says anything more than that we experience the world as unfair. And, strangely, that would involve suffering. So, I said, “suffering is an inevitable part of every life,” to which you’re responding, “But that involves suffering.”

    The Cross is foolishness and weakness. If you want the kind of rational answer that somehow takes the pain away, the Cross isn’t it. It’s asking a modern question of a non-modern problem. There’s a world of Christian experience that says that the “answer” can be found in union with the Crucified Christ. I don’t think it can be see very well from outside of it.

    In my experience, it is often the case that our own experience of pain (brokenness, etc.) can be overwhelming. When it is overwhelming, it is sometimes so loud that it cannot hear the answer. I think only grace ever gets us past that point. I’ve seen it – but it’s a very hard place to be.

  12. ScottTX Avatar

    “suffering is an inevitable part of every life”

    This is a global truth to which there can be two thoughts: There’s a point, or there’s no point. The view that there’s no point, so one can try to lessen suffering, is just as old as The Cross. Buddhism and Stoicism say suffering exists in the space between wanting and having. Shrinking that space by wanting less is a treatment for suffering. What’s modern is the attempt to shrink that space by having more, not by wanting less. Only the very very rich could try that until recently. Even medieval kings lacked indoor plumbing, climate controls, and painless dentistry.

    So I would say the antithesis of The Cross isn’t modernity, but the old idea that suffering has no point and it just happens to you. Why not relieve it? There’s no cosmic narrative, or if there is, it happens so far above your grade of being that your suffering is collateral damage.

    So does the good news of the gospel consist in saying suffering has a point, or in the age to come there will be an omelette?

  13. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    ” it is often the case that our own experience of pain (brokenness, etc.) can be overwhelming.”
    Yes Father, it is. Another way to describe it is ‘all consuming’. Thinking straight is impossible. Because you are overwhelmed with pain.
    “it is sometimes so loud that it cannot hear the answer. I think only grace ever gets us past that point.”
    Definitely positively absolutely without doubt that grace only gets us past that point.
    I will never forget a most significant turning point, where I was unable to speak, my body so heavy that walking became a shuffle, muttering only “God help me”. I then heard, within myself, but myself certainly not the source, “you’ll find it in church”. It stunned me out of that stupor. That moment was the beginning of a new life. I did not question what I heard. There was no thought even to do so. I just abruptly turned back to my house (I was outside at the chicken coup!) and ran to the phone (I think I ran, anyway) and started calling churches.
    Pretty significant words “you’ll find it in church”. Didn’t realize fully the significance until many years later when I experienced my first Divine Liturgy. Then to live and learn the meaning of Orthodoxy…yeah, The Church. God in heaven…those five words! He knew!
    Since that time I have not heard so distinctly, so clearly and so directly from God (hard to describe hearing words in your head, but not coming from you, but that’s what it was)…but I tell you, such grace at that time most definitely lifted me right out of a pit. And if I never hear God that distinctly again, just the remembrance, living that over and over, be it a “drop” of grace, that drop is infinitely more than enough to sustain me!!

    So Father…now really…where would we be if we would be alleviated from suffering? Would we have any notion of Christ at all? Would He have taken on our nature? This is where the push against suffering gets very muddy. If Christ is the Lamb slain before the foundation of the world, then suffering would have had to be inevitable! This is where the mind of God enters into the picture. There comes a point where I can not question any further. Others have a much greater sense of this stuff than I do.
    I think it was Ezekiel who said “Thou knowest”, when God asked him if these dry bones can live. One of my favorite stories in scripture. Anyway, when I exhaust my questions to God, when my mind comes to a standstill, then I say “Thou knowest, Lord”. So with the why’s of suffering. Mysteries stand. Christ is Risen.

  14. TE Avatar

    “Shower upon him every earthly blessing, drown him in bliss so that nothing but bubbles would dance on the surface of his bliss, as on a sea…and even then every man, out of sheer ingratitude, sheer libel, would play you some loathsome trick. He would even risk his cakes and would deliberately desire the most fatal rubbish, the most uneconomical absurdity, simply to introduce into all this positive rationality his fatal fantastic element…simply in order to prove to himself that men still are men and not piano keys.”
    Fyodor Dostoyevsky

  15. Maria Avatar

    From my experiences of self and others, I see that we all have our times of suffering and endurance. When we are not, then it is our responsibility to pray for others who are, while encouraging them to continue on the path staying close to Christ and His Cross. It is as though He is on the front and we are on the back…..however always united to Him. Jesus said to “pick up your Cross and follow me” so, we must expect this on our journey home to Heaven.

    Thankyou and God Bless! Have a Happy Thanksgiving – from Canada!!

  16. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    “Why not relieve it?” which is why modernity’s ultimate solution is always murder (in the name of ending suffering).

    I have an abiding respect for Buddhism and Stoicism and think of them as seriously worthy of respect. The conversations with them are not a waste of time.

    Modernity is not the antithesis of the Cross (it’s not big enough). It is, in fact, a Christian heresy – we invented it. It has just enough truth about it to be appealing. It works best if you’re middle class or above. My job isn’t to fix modernity – I write – largely to other Christians, even mostly Orthodox Christians. Since we live in a world in which modernity is the dominant philosophy of the culture – then understanding it is necessary to living anything different at all. It’s necessary to thought. If you don’t think, then modernity will think for you.

    But, as a Christian believer, I do not start at the problem of suffering. I start with the death and resurrection of Jesus. I believe and am convinced that Jesus rose from the dead. The rest is just working out what that means. The rest is the Orthodox Tradition – the path that flows from the fact of His resurrection. Whatever the cosmic narrative is – that is where it begins. But, I couldn’t begin to think about that narrative apart from that event.

  17. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    In my experience, it is often the case that our own experience of pain (brokenness, etc.) can be overwhelming. When it is overwhelming, it is sometimes so loud that it cannot hear the answer. I think only grace ever gets us past that point. I’ve seen it – but it’s a very hard place to be.

    Fr Stephen, my own experience affirms the truth of these words.

    In the midst of this experience of pain and brokenness, I called out to Christ, not asking for relief but for perceiving His presence in it. The grace of our Lord comes and is perceivable in the pain. However, I know also from experience, it is perceivable when I’m capable of not looking for a god or a person to blame in anger. Paradoxically, this grace of the Holy Spirit comes as we embrace this pain and accept our weaknesses. This I have seen only in the small bits and pieces of experiences, when by the grace of God, my heart was emptied of it’s toxic shame and of the fear of being seen as I ‘really am’.

    I think that it is only in this ‘self-emptying’ we are capable of receiving the grace of God to enter into the life of mystical communion within Christ and within our ‘friends’ and our ‘enemies’.

    I don’t think ‘self-emptying’ is an ‘American’ trait however. Neither is it valued. At best it might be seen as a ‘trite’ expression of meaninglessness. And in this culture it is difficult to enter into such a ‘place’ without authentic confession or frequent participatory experiences within Holy Liturgy within His Church.

  18. Maria Avatar

    Additional Comment: When Jesus was walking on the water, he was passing by the Apostles in the fishing boat – only when they “called out to Him” did he come toward them. This has always remained in my mind, that we must “call out to Jesus” in our time of trial and suffering – then He will respond. I suppose I took this very literally.

    God bless…..

  19. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    “Whatever the cosmic narrative is – that is where it begins. But, I couldn’t begin to think about that narrative apart from that event.”
    Father…I think the coin is about half-way dropping. I think it’s coming down the chute.
    So…you can’t get the answer to ‘the problem of evil (pain, suffering) apart from the Cross, because the Cross subsists in the Godhead? As He told Moses “I AM” – it would be like trying to undo I AM. It would be as absurd as that.
    Christ God Himself suffers.
    You’d have to take away the Cross (God) to take away suffering.
    (I’m asking, Father)

    I had long wondered what *you* mean when you refer to the ‘cosmic narrative of the Cross’, as the ‘center’, the locus – that which gives meaning to our struggles, our existence. Please, if you would, correct me where needed.

  20. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    This is very close to how I think and understand this. The Cross (in history) is not just something God did as a response to a problem we created. The Cross is also revelatory – it reveals God in a manner that nothing else does. The Cross reveals what it means that God loves us. Not just “that” He loves us, but “how” He loves us. Christ crucified is the “wisdom, word and power of God.”

    This, I think, is hidden when we are just speaking of the Trinity. It’s possible to think in such abstract terms – imagining God as Trinity before anything is created. We know nothing – whatsoever – about what that means. It’s pretty much none of our business. But, whatever it is that constitutes God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – it is revealed in the Cross of Christ. It’s why St. Paul can say that the only thing he was going to preach among the Corinthians was “Jesus Christ and Him crucified.” St. Maximus says that anyone who understands the mystery of the Cross, understands everything.

    That the “Lamb was slain from the foundation of the world” is probably the most outlandish, revelatory statement in all of Scripture. Part of me says, “Where did they get that from?” But, it doesn’t matter – it is clear that the first generation of the Church knew this. It’s not a later invention.

    Even in Paradise, before the “fall,” there is the Tree of Life in the Garden – and we understand that to be a type of the Cross. So, the Cross has always been there. I’ve also done talks on the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil (the other tree) as the Cross (all trees are the Cross). That Tree, and its fruit, stand in the Garden as “no.” It’s the only “no” in the Garden. I also think that this “no” was the one thing required in knowing God. If there were no boundary (a “no”) in the Garden – how could you know God. God is God because He alone can set the true boundaries. He alone knows them. The first thing required in knowing God is to understand that “you’re not Him.” That Tree and its forbidden fruit were the only thing that said, “You’re not Him.”

    More could be said…

  21. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Father, modernity is just a mask of Nietzsche’s ubermensch. The way to relieve suffering is to kill everyone who suffers and take control.

    Caring for others is a bit like fasting– it is obedience to Jesus. In the act of being obedient we are changed. When we care for others out heart begins to be transformed and others pain is mitigated or we take on a bit of that pain ourselves out of empathy.
    Like all acts of communion it just is.
    The explanations for why we do it and how such things “work” are usually insufficient.
    If I refuse to fast, I am being disobedient. If I refuse to give alms with a merciful heart I am even more disobedient perhaps.

    If I love God, I will do His commandments. Fortunately, He is merciful beyond my comprehension. He sends His mercy to me in great abundance every day in every minute with each interaction. Even if I do not like it. Especially if I do not like it.
    That is what praying the prayer you mention everyday for years has begun to open my heart to.
    Modernity requires that everything be changed so I can rest in my sins.

    ScottTX is right–modernity is not new. It is the articulation of the lie of the evil one: “Surely you will not die”

  22. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    Father…for your very helpful elaboration, thank you very much. It is good to know I am tracking correctly.
    These words…”whatever it is that constitutes God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – it is revealed in the Cross of Christ”… brought to mind a classic post that addresses this as well as the other points you touch on:

    It takes a long time for your teachings to sink in Father, but it is such a joy along the way to indulge in these riches. I am very grateful.

  23. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Thank you for the encouraging words! I do not have any original thoughts – what I know I’ve learned from others. And it’s sweet to share. (CS Lewis said, “In theology, novelty is not a virtue.”)

  24. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Father, you may not be writing anything original but you put in ways that can be heard. I am deeply grateful for you.

  25. Margaret Avatar

    Fr. Stephen, thanks so much for this article and your comments here, especially the comment beginning “Paula,
    This is very close to how I think and understand this. The Cross (in history) is not just something God did as a response to a problem we created…” I also agree totally with what Paula AZ and Michael Bauman state in their latest posts here before mine. Thank you for writing and sharing what you have learned! Glory to God for All Things!

  26. Buck Avatar

    Fr. Freeman,

    Your writing has and continues to be life giving, a source of discernment that leads my heart to God. For that I give thanks!

    ”The mystery of our salvation is found within the Cross of Christ, His suffering, death and resurrection. The fullness of that salvation reveals itself to us as we come to know that all things, known and unknown, those we see as good and those we see as bad, have been gathered together by God into Himself. It is there in that union (and there alone) that “all things work together for good.” And there we give thanks.”

    I have been pondering this, perhaps trying to wrap my head around it as a “concept” and not as the mystery as you have introduced it. This is an important light for me as my first reaction to suffering is to run, fast, so I want to unpack this a little more in my heart. Are you saying that in Christ’s union with our human suffering it now has the possibility to be transformative for our healing in an ontological way verses seeing suffering in an extrinsic, objective way that then lacks meaning and purpose, something to be avoided?

  27. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Yes, indeed. At Pascha we sing that “Christ tramples down death by death.” I think we tend to hear, “Christ tramples down death.” We forget that He does that “by death.”

    This describes the very life that is in us for our salvation. It is a trampling-down-death-by-death life. Romans 8:16-17 says,

    “The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.”

    We tend to read this passage thinking that being glorified with Him is a sort of reward for suffering (very non-ontological). In the Greek, the “suffer-with-him” is a single word, and the “glorified-with-him” is a single word. We tend to read this saying, “If you suffer, you’ll be glorified as a reward.” But it means “if you suffer WITH HIM – you’ll be glorified WITH HIM. It’s about our union with Christ.

    When my suffering is transformed into His suffering – His glory transforms it into His glory. There’s also Phil. 3, where Paul says he wants to “know Him,” the “communion of His suffering,” “being transformed into His death,” so that “somehow, I might attain to the resurrection…”

    The whole thrust of these thoughts is the same.

  28. Buck Avatar


    Many good words from you and others that I had not read when I wrote my earlier question. Much more to ponder. Thanks for this post,


  29. Dean Avatar

    Fr. Stephen,
    I have read some commentary by Catholics on this verse in Col. 1. But little from Orthodox.
    “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, that is, the church….”
    Would you shed some Eastern light on
    this, please.

  30. Beakerj Avatar

    How I wish I had the faith of you all here! I’m asking God to build up my faith & to help me truly , truly, know his love, & to see suffering transformed.
    I’m currently in one of those places where I’m overwhelmed (mental health issues – anxiety) and just can’t see a way through or out. I have been in places like this before & last time I woke up one day with 2 verses in my head out of nowhere ‘He who began a good work in you shall continue it until the day of Christ Jesus’, & ‘He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world’which made me feel God hadn’t given up on me – please pray that God finds me a way through that leads me out rejoicing in Him. I am getting mental health care, but still feel overwhelmed. A need to move house kicked off this anxiety, the level of which has been entirely unexpected.

  31. Maria Avatar

    Beaker J: Know you are in prayer…..also pray to St Nektarios to intervene for you; a marvelous Saint for everyone or another Saint you feel drawn to. Light candles at the Church too.

    The Verse you heard is telling you that God was always with you and still is, so don’t give up but stay close to the Cross and God’s Word each day.

    God bless you today and always!

  32. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    As someone who labored for years beneath an anxiety/panic disorder (though I’ve known a freedom from it for the last blessed 8 years), I deeply appreciate the struggles with mental issues. Sometimes their greatest difficulties is that, unlike some physical pain, the pain is in the very thing where we would normally enjoy strength and faith. We discover ourselves battling on empty (or worse). But, first – God utterly knows and understands the nature of this condition – so it’s important not to let it get on top. That’s to say, do not condemn yourself for the failings it might bring in your life. There were days when I was in that shape that I simply dragged myself to the altar, showed up at appointments, worked at writing, whatever, and did the best I could. There was nothing else I could have been doing that would have made it better – so why not be miserable in the altar instead?

    By the same token, we do well when we drag ourselves through the right things (if possible). What I believe to be the case is that such sufferings work for us an “eternal weight of glory” even though we don’t see it at the time. There are many saints that are “hidden saints” and they are more hidden from themselves than from anyone.

    The Elder Thaddeus is a likely saint of the Serbian Church. He had a nervous breakdown, suffered from terrible anxiety, and had problems with smoking. I found him inspiring. The book, “Our Thoughts Determine Our Lives,” describes his life and teachings.

  33. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    I second Father and Maria’s words.
    God love you (an exclamtion!), and we, in a special way, do too.
    Surely, in our prayers…

  34. Beakerj Avatar

    Thanks everyone – I am doing the very best I can.
    Elder Thaddeus has one of the kindest faces I have ever seen.

  35. victoria Avatar

    Good morning everyone… I hope you all had a happy thanksgiving!

    Father Stephen, the prayer you shared is the Prayer of the Optina Elders, it is such a beautiful prayer. These are prayers that crack the heart open and very good to memorize. Another such prayer is the Prayer of Philaret, Metropolitan of Moscow. Very very simple prayers – arrows going right to the heart.

    My Lord, I know not what I ought to ask of Thee.
    Thou and Thou alone knowest my needs.
    Thou lovest me more than I am able to love Thee.
    O Father, grant unto me, Thy servant, all which I cannot ask.
    For a cross I dare not ask, nor for consolation;
    I dare only to stand in Thy presence.
    My heart is open to Thee.
    Thou seest my needs of which I myself am unaware.
    Behold and lift me up!
    In Thy presence I stand,
    awed and silenced by Thy will and Thy judgments,
    into which my mind cannot penetrate.
    To Thee I offer myself as a sacrifice.
    No other desire is mine but to fulfill Thy will.
    Teach me how to pray.
    Do Thyself pray within me.

  36. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    In the midst of all our existential sorrows, temptations and challenges it is good to remember 2 Cor 12:9. His strength is made known in our weakness. When all seems to be breaking apart and we seem to be sinking, He is there. As He did with Peter disappearing into the waves, He reaches out and lifts up calmly in the midst of the storm.

  37. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Fr Stephen,
    I frequently encounter a critique about the ‘utility’ of religion. “What’s it good for” ie ‘is it user friendly?’ And ‘should I ‘buy’ it?’.

    This thought sounds to my ears as the voice of the ‘discerning consumer’.

    Eastern religions seem to an appeal to some Americans who look for the ‘real deal’ predefined by them by what they think is oldest — therefore when it is perceived as such, it is an object (or philosophy) desired because of its perceived ‘precedence‘.

    There are several lines of modernist philosophy (can it be called that?) embedded in this thinking. And I’ve heard expressions of wistful desire to go ‘back to our roots’ within Naive American spirituality as well.

    The succinct differences I have learned recently regarding eastern religions is the desire for transcendence vs that which is offered in Orthodox Christianity—through the Cross there is transformation.

    I’m stopping here because I’m not much of a philosopher.

  38. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Dee, much better than you give yourself credit for. The Cross is the stumbling block. There is great wisdom in Native American spiritual understanding but it is not complete. The Cross, the grave and Resurrection of an incarnate God-fully man and fully God without mixture or confusion.

  39. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Thank you Michael for your understanding! I just noticed the typo — indeed I was referring to Native American spirituality.

    Please forgive me I frequently write on my phone in this blog, which doesn’t lend itself to writing well in my case.

  40. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Dee, I read it Native. That is the way the mind works.

  41. victoria Avatar

    As always your post strikes (a rather beautiful) chord with me.

    You write:

    Is God at work in all things and are all things being brought to a good conclusion? Are the terrible things that happen to me or to another devoid of God or, are they, somehow the work of the Cross within history? This last question proved to be an open door for me. God does not stand outside of history manipulating, controlling one thing or another, aloof and judging. The Cross of Christ is not a single event of three hours duration, a mere payment for sin. The Cross is the revelation of a mystery-at-work that has been hidden from the ages but has always been true. Christ is the “lamb slain from the foundations.”

    In the world people suffer and – as you often say – it certainly is okay that we try to minimize the pain of those around us – or minimize our own pain.

    In some cases pain is a barometer to get out of a terrible situation – in other cases there is unavoidable pain and either type of pain can be transformed and become salvific to those around us.

    But suffering happens. Bad things do happen.

    And when i think of the ultimate suffering— besides Christ – Job comes to mind. A righteous man who suffers beyond my comprehension – loosing all of his children all of his posssion and livestock in one day. In a sense he looses his Community of faith too because he gets sick and covered with sores and sits alone outside the city.

    We all know that his friends come to him to lecture all that they do not understand and to find out what he did to deserve this. (His wife gets a bad rap but very few people stop to consider that she lost everything in one day too… truly she needs her husbands faith for her salvation )

    Ultimately I always think of Jobs account as more of an account of his Faith and gratitude and relationship with God and also of Gods faith and relationship with Job too.

    But related to the post – is Jobs eventual audience with God. Because suffering – especially that kind of pain which is out of our control and out of our hands happens and even Job wanted to make sense of it. Sometimes in our lives we even think we have made sense of it.

    And yet listen to Gods answer to Job –


    That answer should blow our minds.

    Some could say it is not a very nice answer – like it sounds like God doesn’t care.

    but really, it is the most beautiful answer.

    Because I can’t possibly comprehend it.

    God is giving Job a glimpse of the Cross and the work of salvation through eternity.

    For it tells me truly that to understand my / your suffering would be for me to comprehend the mind of Christ. The church encourages us to acquire the mind of Christ- through active participation in our faith and that is a struggle.

    Truly the Cross is a mystery – even our own at times

    Some of the answer to our suffering and our salvation is to have in our heart that my brother truly is my life – throughout eternity :: from God laying the foundations of the earth. And that our brother is our life is not just limited in one space and place in time —- because all of our lives touch the lives of others even through the generations. I think the book “Laurus” explores that beautifully.

    It’s not anything we can truly comprehend . That God – the Father and the Holy Spirit – has been pouring Himself out for His creation through His Son from the foundation of the world.

    And yet – we want answers – why did one person with cancer venerate the Kardiotissa Icon of the Theotokos receive healing and another dies of cancer leaving behind a large young family. Why did my child die in a car accident while all the others survive (example).

    And we need to be deeply kind in solidarity to those who are suffering (that means rolling up your sleeves and getting close / standing in reverent solidarity with them) rather than just offering platitudes“this is Gods Will”.

    Being in communities of support and friendship definitely make suffering more bearable. Americans tend to lack that fellowship of community – the modern world has helped the decline of community and increased isolation and also the pain of suffering feels even worse when one is alone / without faith. (Frederica Matthews Green has a very good three part podcast on Ancient Faith on pain that I highly recommend)

    God is the Alpha and the Omega. So no, he is not a manipulative capricious puppeteer or magician but rather a God of Love Who Is and has always been drawing all things unto Himself. And all lives / all the good and the bad in this fallen world are inextricably linked to one another even back to the creation of the heavens and of the world and redemptively so.

    This borders on things that are “ too great and marvelous” for my mind and yet…

    cultivating silence, prayer, patience, gratitude, thanksgiving, joy and acceptance through prayers like the Optina Elders or the Prayer of Philaret help one discover a multitude of blessings rather than continuing to wish for a divine magic wand to just fix everything.

  42. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Victoria, beautifully said.

  43. Maria Avatar

    Yes Victoria – lovely thoughts from your heart of love and compassion. I also believe when we suffer and offer these sufferings to God, at the same time it is giving those around us the opportunity to serve God and work out their salvation by helping, caring, nursing, providing for us. Then our turn comes to do the same – we are all in this together, but all the while serving God in one another fullfilling His purpose which we cannot fathom.

    God bless!

  44. Janine Avatar

    Just wanted to add my 2 cents to others’ helpful comments. You write (if I understand correctly) that the need to move your home triggered current difficulties. May I simply say that moving is, generally speaking, one of the most stressful things we do? Don’t feel alone. I suggest from experience starting with the one thing you can think that seems do-able, like one single small or large box of X. That’s it. Just the one do-able thing. From there, you will see what is the next. Pray for God’s help in this. Give yourself time in this if possible. Ask for help! If you can afford it, let the professionals help you pack, whatever you need. You have ours prayers, and don’t worry how it comes together. You would be surprised how the one do-able thing can lead in turn to the next, and so on. God bless!

  45. Beakerj Avatar

    Thank you so much Janine, that’s exactly my issue, & my heart sees it as a big loss & so is reacting that way. My main problem is that I haven’t found anywhere suitable yet to take my little dog with me, which is breaking my heart, & also I’m so stressed I’m not eating much & feeling nauseated which is making me feel secondarily rubbish. I also need to be around good people so I won’t get too isolated.
    I feel very ashamed of my overreaction to all of this, & have to resist the urge hourly to slap myself upside the head. I’m doing my best to trust God for His provision, but am not always brilliant at that, though I do try. I know this is very small for Him, but weirdly big for me. People are being very kind, which is a sign He is with me.

  46. Janine Avatar

    Thanks for your reply. I’m so sorry you are going through such a stressful time. I would not be too quick to say overreaction, since you explain that a deeper issue than simply moving is a place for a little dog, whom you no doubt care for and feel responsible for. How much we love our pets is deep indeed! I will be praying, and a loving God no doubt understands!
    God bless you with love & help
    And peace … praying

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