“That Which is Lacking” – Is Jesus Enough?

The average Christian, reading his Bible in happy devotion, stumbles across this passage:

Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church… (Col 1:24)

The passage is particularly disturbing for a certain strain of Protestant thought that emphasizes Christ’s sufficiency for all things. Christ has accomplished all things necessary to our salvation and we are thus able to “rest” in His completed work. For many, this is at the heart of grace. God has done for us what we cannot do for ourselves. What remains is for us to trust that this is so. Christ declares, “It is finished.” There is nothing left for us but trust.

This sentiment recently came crashing into a discussion of the Russian novel, Laurus. I attended (and spoke) at the Eighth Day Symposium in Wichita, Kansas. The presenter, Jessica Hooten Wilson, had spoken on the Russian novel, Laurus, in which the lead character enters the long, arduous life of a holy fool following the death of a woman and her child, a result of his own inaction. Wilson made mention of a review by Alan Jacobs (Baylor University) that described its spirituality as “Hindu,” and castigated its approach to Christianity. He wrote:

…though I know that Eugene Vodolazkin is a Christian, I remain uncertain about just what vision of the Christian life is being held out to me in this book…. In Laurus…long, hard spiritual labor pays for sins, as it does for the world…1

Vodolazkin nowhere characterizes Laurus’ labors as a payment for sin. Indeed, the concept is foreign to Orthodox thought. It is an absence that is so profound that a Protestant professor of literature felt the need to supply it, and with it, distort a beautifully Orthodox novel. In the discussion at the conference, a Protestant participant agreed that the novel seemed strangely unable to “rest” in Christ. Inasmuch as I am often not in dialog with Protestant Christians, I was caught off-guard by these observations. I forgot how foreign all of this is. Happily, it is also foreign to the New Testament.

Whatever one might think of grace, the work of Christ on the Cross in no way removes the work of the Cross from the lives of believers. We are baptized into the death of Christ, and continue to say throughout our lives: “I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless, I live” (Gal. 2:20). It is Christ who taught that we ourselves must take up the Cross and follow Him. There is no “resting” Christianity made available by a substitutionary work of Christ. The work of Christ is a matter of participation (koinonia) – we are baptized into it, live through its presence in us, and do not cease to share in that work, ever.

It is always difficult to listen to what is actually being said and not try to hear a conversation that is not taking place. Salvation, in Latin Christianity, was made captive, rather early on, to the language of “grace” and “works.” Within what would become a dominantly juridical framework, grace and works were easily externalized, raising questions about who was doing the “saving.”

When St. Paul says that he is filling up “that which is lacking” in Christ’s afflictions, he is either subscribing to some form of Pelagianism, or he simply has no notion of a juridical salvation. No doubt, the latter is the actual case. When he says that he is crucified with Christ, St. Paul means precisely what he is saying. Indeed, it is the deepest cry of his heart:

For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— that I may know him –  the power of his resurrection, and the communion of His sufferings, becoming like Him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. (Phil. 3:8-11)

This has nothing of the language of earning, much less external grace and works. It is the language of the most intimate, mystical communion.

We know a little bit about this experience, for it is common in relationships marked by intense love. The coldness of a conversation regarding who did what, or what is owed to whom, has no place in such intimacy. Love speaks in terms of union. It wants to share in the deepest manner possible the life of the beloved.

There appeared a rift in Protestantism within its first two to three centuries. That rift, to a large extent, represented a deep dissatisfaction with a cold, sterile presentation of the life of grace. Early Protestants almost universally held to a doctrine of “cessationism,” teaching that miracles ended when the New Testament was completed. What remained were the rather mechanical/intellectual doctrines that assured of salvation. Dry as dust.

The reaction to this was the birth of Pietism, in a variety of forms and places. At its worst, Pietism’s emotionalism led to extremes of belief and practice. At its best, it produced holy lives and gave heart to what would have been little more than a dry death to Western Christianity. Inasmuch as Western Christianity survives our present difficulties, it will be the heart born in Pietism that saves it (or so I think).

The transformation of the Pietist conversion experience into the doctrine of being “born-again” has tended to confuse Pietism and classical Protestantism, framing the experience of the heart in the rigid language of doctrinal necessity. Like many aspects of Protestantism(s), fragmentation in doctrine and experience has been a continuing and dominant feature.

Classical Christianity, in its Orthodox form, is very rich in its vocabulary and stories of the human experience of God. It is always “ontological” in its approach to doctrine, meaning that doctrine is always about “something-that-is” and not about a theory, or a juridical arrangement. Because “something-that-is” is capable of being experienced, it is always seen as quite natural that the work of God has a describable, experiential component. If I am being crucified with Christ, it is inherently the case that such a thing is experienced in some manner. In the case of a holy fool, it might look a lot like the Laurus character. He must be contrasted with the middle-class American who sings happy songs on Sunday, perhaps even moved to tears, satisfied and assured that Jesus has taken care of everything such that he can safely return to the banalities of his life. Isn’t Jesus wonderful!

The simple truth is that the Kingdom of God “suffers violence, and the violent bear it away.” (Matt. 11:12) The gospel engages the whole person and assumes that we will love God “with all our heart, all our soul, and all our mind.” That such an engagement might be described by some as “works righteousness” is merely indicative of a bifurcated Christianity that has placed God in a second-storey doctrinal reality, while the secular party rages here below.

Thank God for the Lauruses sprinkled across the historical landscape. The unity of faith and experience exemplified in their sometimes stormy lives whispers hope that God dwells among us and loves us, willing Himself into the messiness of our crucified existence, ever-straining Himself into the depths of our being, while we strain to respond in kind, enduring “that which is lacking in the afflictions of Christ” – our own response to His love.

Footnotes for this article

  1. “Russian Brahmin,” First Things, April 2016.

About Fr. Stephen Freeman

Fr. Stephen is a priest of the Orthodox Church in America, Pastor Emeritus of St. Anne Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He is also author of Everywhere Present and the Glory to God podcast series.



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159 responses to ““That Which is Lacking” – Is Jesus Enough?”

  1. Jonathan Avatar
    Jonathan

    Coming from a Protestant background myself, I will have to add Laurus to my reading list. It sounds like I could learn a great deal from it.

  2. Greg Avatar
    Greg

    Stranger still on the Jacobs review: he originally used the term Brahman, not Brahmin suggesting he is not particularly familiar with Hinduism, let alone (historical) Christianity: works vs faith aside, the model of purification, illumination, theosis is fairly hard to miss in the Greek tradition.

  3. William Avatar
    William

    Thank you for this, Father.

    Obviously, I have a long way to go and easily–even without my noticing–fall into the trap of pitting works against faith, law against grace, etc. I often feel trapped by my Protestant theological training, which sees everything as coming from some system of thought, but Orthodoxy can’t be systematized, as you show, only lived.

    Excuse me, I have some living to do.

  4. Randall Herman Avatar
    Randall Herman

    I read Laurus a few months ago and found it nothing but wonderful. As an ordained Lutheran, I have always found Prof. Jacobs brand of Christianity foreign.

  5. Josh Kimbril Avatar
    Josh Kimbril

    Fr. Freeman,
    I love this! Thanks so much for this article! It really gets to the heart of Christ in me and I in Christ, I think.

  6. DAVID WAITE Avatar
    DAVID WAITE

    I believe this, Father, yet he has showered me with so many blessings I cannot begin to count. I must learn to obey and sacrifice more. Blessed be the name of the Lord.

  7. Maria Avatar

    Yes, we look like Holy Fools to others…..however just a few short phrases in your article tell me the meaning and worth of this manner of living in Christ.
    *Something that IS
    *Being experienced
    *I am crucified with Christ
    *Happy songs; moved to tears
    *Kingdom of God suffers violence and the violent BEAR IT AWAY
    *Endurance is our own response to His love

    Thankyou and God bless!

  8. Robert W Attaway Avatar
    Robert W Attaway

    Thanks, Fr. Freeman for this teaching. I’m still carrying a lot of Protestanism inside, and sometimes my mind gets clouded with these false concepts, all of which I must die to. This helps to understand where I’m going in my following Christ.

  9. Dean Avatar
    Dean

    Thank you, Fr. Stephen.
    A couple of months back I had requested that you look at Col. 1:24 from an Eastern Orthodox perspective. I was so pleased to see what you have written here. When I was a Protestant, I sometimes felt like I was living Peggy Lee’s song, “Is That All There Is?”
    Lately I’ve been acutely aware of Phil. 3 and Mt. 11 which you quote. In these Christ calls us to a deep mystical union with Himself, as well as in many other places in the NT…”that they may be one, as you Father are in me and I in you, that they also may be one in us….” Jn.17. I have memorized these passages…still somewhat reticent to pray the Phil. 3:10 passage. Yet I do pray that I may, like St. Paul, count all things loss so that I may more fully realize the surpassing worth of knowing Jesus Christ.
    Yes, experiential knowledge of the Beloved. Thank you again, Father. Your words expand my heart and yearning.

  10. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Father, you were the delight for me at the conference, Jessica Hooten Wilson was amazing as well but you enlarged my heart. She fed my mind. Good food but not quite the same. Thank you.

  11. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Father your post also reminds me that whatever intellectual and even experiential templates I have there is always more to the truth.

  12. Merry Bauman Avatar
    Merry Bauman

    Fr. Stephan, Meeting you again in person, and sharing the time we did and the talks you gave last weekend, made this post even more significant. We must at times appear as fools, when we reject so much of what so many believe to be absolute truth. In my 72 yrs, I have gone to, studied, or been a part of – a great many religions or belief systems. From Quaker to New Age – looking for what I knew of God to be true. I was raised Episcopal; became Catholic in college; and was a part of many protestant churches. I even taught Sunday School in a small town Methodist church when my kids were young. I found something lacking that somehow inside myself I just knew I needed to find. I was told, when discussing what I knew and believed to be true – “You are Orthodox, you just don’t know it!”. This happened several times, and I always felt drawn to St. George Orthodox Cathedral, but never knew anyone there, so I never entered. God intervened in 2009 and sent me an Orthodox husband, who attended St. George. The first time I went inside the narthex and looked into the sanctuary, I felt the most wonderful sense that I was finally HOME! The Jesus I met as a young child – was depicted exactly as I saw Him – above the sanctuary. Mary was there too, and the icons of her reflected the loving mother who appeared to this grieving mother in 1971 – holding my baby son. I knew I had found where I belonged. My grown children think it is odd, and still worry a bit that I have joined some kind of cult. They had seen me go to many places thru the years, so trying to explain to them the difference has become a long term project. They expected that I would change again to something else – but becoming Orthodox is not like joining a protestant church. When you are chrismated – you are transformed. You are changed. I did not join the Orthodox faith, I AM Orthodox now. My faith is a part of me forever. It was a surprise, to discover how much wrong information I had been taught thru the years. My husband Michael is a very learned and well read Orthodox, who has been my mentor. God loves us beyond anything we can understand, and asks things of us sometimes that I suppose do make us look foolish to some, but there is always a reason. I believe that strongly. It is both a blessing and very humbling. My comfort zone is frequently breached. Thank you for sharing so much wisdom with us!

  13. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Robert, et al
    I have not meant here to be overly critical of Protestantism – it is what it is – and most of what it is came about in a largely unintentional manner. The sterile Protestantism, exemplified in the extreme of Cessationism, has almost disappeared. What remains is a wide spectrum that is very hard to quantify. There was a very critical comment that I did not post that seemed both defensive of Protestantism, as well as critical of the Orthodox experience.

    I have no doubt that the Orthodox deserve all the criticism we receive. We’re a mess and frequently get messier. But what I have written is not to be understood as some sort of comparison between Protestantism and Orthodoxy – except to describe Orthodoxy in its classically stated form. That classical form is, and should be, a highly integrated reality of doctrine and experience.

    At present, what exists (particularly in the internet versions so many people encounter) is a highly immature Orthodoxy, necessarily the case when Orthodoxy has only spoken English since about 1970. We think too much, talk too much, and pray too little. As such, we fit right in to the American scene!

    We are all very impatient. God is saving us – glory to His name.

  14. Maria Avatar

    Aware your comment is not addressed to me, I would like to respond though, saying that perhaps it is best to remain within the Orthodox topic and not make comparisons although they can be helpful at times, they might still offend those who have transitioned from another denomination to Orthodoxy. I have heard in my own personal life, comments about my former denomination that are so entirely incorrect and it was offensive to me even though I was in the midst of conversion and I took the steps to correct it as well as prove it. We have to remember (and I am not saying you are doing this,) that just because one converts, does not mean he or she is in total disagreement with all of the teachings of his or her former denomination. I am only mentioning this, because I have seen this happen before where offense is taken – not taking sides – merely an observation from my own experiences. God bless!

  15. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    ““that which is lacking in the afflictions of Christ” – our own response to His love.”
    Thanks so much, Father.
    Never heard this teaching back in the days of “Is That All There Is”. And the tying in of Mt 11:12…now I see what is meant… the afflictions that are inevitable with our response to participate. Yes Father, it is “something-that-is” experienced.

    Still thinking about that “intense love” you spoke of. That it can only speak in terms of union. Surely this kind of love finds its eternity in God.

  16. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Maria,
    Given that we live in a culture that has been largely formed and shaped in the world of Protestant thought and practice, it is impossible to speak of Orthodoxy without reference to that context – without shrinking the topic to a level that no longer speaks to our lives. I served 20 years as an ordained Protestant minister and did professional theological writing in that context. I don’t write with uninformed opinions, nor as a mere polemicist. Most Protestants, in my experience, have very little knowledge of Protestant history, even the origins of their own denominations.

    I try to write responsibly on those topics when a subject requires it – as does this topic.

    Given the very brittle nature of everybody’s feelings these days – it’s also impossible to write in a manner that avoids offense. So, I just do the best I can. I will note only that I have a fair number of very loyal Protestant readers who find my work to be helpful to them. Not a few are themselves in positions of leadership and ministry.

    Thanks for the advice and observations.

  17. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    In Orthodox America, where the majority are converts, it would be kind of hard not to make comparisons of ‘before and now’. Conversations would be insincere and quite dull if you couldn’t share your experiences unless you use just the right words so as to not offend. I’m talking about a reasonable conversation. But reasonable is relative now, isn’t it…
    Sorry Father. You just finished saying “we are all very impatient”. Yes, I am.

  18. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    In my journey toward union with Jesus I have been immeasurably helped by many Protestants because of their love of Jesus. Protestant theology is, forgive me, deeply flawed in many ways. Yet, I have met many Protestants who shine with His presence. Those are the people I remember with Thanksgiving and joy even as I continue to object strenuously to how that is described. I came to Christ experientially long before I came to the Church knowingly but every true encounter with our risen Lord is of and through the Church.

    That is why my wife and countless others feel at home when they first enter an Orthodox Temple. It is why I did. The theology I have learned since then has served to give substance and context and understanding to what I have seen.

    If formal theology gets in the way of that put it aside.

  19. Makedonka Avatar
    Makedonka

    We think too much, talk too much, and pray too little.
    This is sadly true. Coming from a traditionally Orthodox environment I must say we often take it for granted that our faith is the true one but unfortunately do very little to endeavor to participate in God’s grace. In a way, we lack the violence of the prayerful manner. Our arguments are abundant in human logic We seem to be neglecting the foolishness as well.

  20. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    God is with us and loves us. That’s what the Laurus’es, in their holy foolishness, impart to us.
    Where’s the Laurus’es today?
    Are we filling that which is lacking?
    Father…what can we glean from this unexpected turn of conversation?

  21. Maria Avatar

    I personally have been surrounded by Protestants in both my personal life and social life as I was growing up. However the topic of their faith never came up although some did attend Church. I was raised Roman Catholic and coming into Orthodoxy was a deepening and straightening of the path I was already on. I already knew before my conversion to Orthodoxy that some things were misinterpreted even in prayers and rituals, as well as being cut out altogether. In Orthodoxy, this was not going on and I cherished what they seemed to cherish – the faith and Tradition as handed down from Jesus to the Apostles. These are the only 2 influences I had in my life in terms of denominations and in speaking with a Monk not that long ago, he said, “When we have found the Truth, why do we need to compare?” Getting on a path we trust as Truth and staying on it is important – the old paths can become challenges and a distraction and that takes us away from the H Spirit because it can cause confusion. I realize my experience may not be someone else’s – but God does call us each in His own way for His own purpose. God bless…..

  22. Maria Avatar

    I personally have been surrounded by Protestants in both my personal life and social life as I was growing up. However the topic of their faith never came up although some did attend Church. I was raised Roman Catholic and coming into Orthodoxy was a deepening and straightening of the path I was already on. I already knew before my conversion to Orthodoxy that some things were misinterpreted even in prayers and rituals, as well as being cut out altogether. In Orthodoxy, this was not going on and I cherished what they seemed to cherish – the faith and Tradition as handed down from Jesus to the Apostles. These are the only 2 influences I had in my life in terms of denominations and in speaking with a Monk not that long ago, he said, “When we have found the Truth, why do we need to compare?” Getting on a path we trust as Truth and staying on it is important – the old paths can become challenges and a distraction and that takes us away from the H Spirit because it can cause confusion. I realize my experience may not be someone else’s – God does call us each in His own way for His own purpose. God bless…..

  23. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    “When we have found the Truth, why do we need to compare?”
    Because it helps identify our journey, the many facets that impact our lives.
    Father’s works on modernity point out to us the effect of Protestant ethic. We swim in it and do not realize its depth. Several comments reflect this realization.
    There is no need to censure this type of dialogue. That is why we come here Maria, to grow in the Faith and to have our eyes opened to reality.

    You give advice to Fr Stephen on how you think he should write? You think that’s needful? I find that quite presumptuous and disrespectful.
    That, Maria, was my initial reaction and what fuels my thoughts.
    Lastly, the monk’s statement you quote should not be taken as a universal “rule”. It does not fit well with this discussion. We need to talk…and we need to know when not to. It’s a process.

  24. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    I too have had relatives whom I love very much who are/were Protestants or Roman Catholics.

    Nevertheless the theology from these Christian groups is heretical.

    In addition to this, most encounters in my life with people (mostly from Protestant persuasions) who attempted to evangelize others did and said reprehensible things. A extremely few of these many and varied experiences of my 65 years were helpful toward bringing me to Christ (and actually was unintentional on their part).

    Fr Stephen’s blog is helpful as a teaching source for catechumens coming into the Orthodox Church. There isn’t a way to clarify the Way than to point out the problems with these pre-conceived understandings, especially for those who enter from these backgrounds.

  25. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Father Stephen,
    This topic on faith and ‘works’ is something that I’ve encountered in my own conversations with catechumens. It goes back to an understanding of what sin is ontologically and what the cross is in Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection.

    What does ‘take up the cross’ (Matthew 16: 24) mean ontologically? The non-Orthodox translation I have heard is that Christ ‘takes up the cross’ so that others don’t have to.

  26. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Maria,
    Comparison, as such, is of no use. Comparison as a means of clarifying and teaching is not only useful, but necessary. Indeed, pretty much every theological writing of the fathers is filled with comparisons. Not only is the truth declared, but what is not true is demonstrated as false. When we raise children we do the same.

    I’m glad you seem to be having a peaceful journey, untroubled by surrounding errors. As you note – there are a variety of experiences.

  27. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Dee,
    The notion that what Christ does is done so that we don’t have to is pretty much a pernicious lie – at the very least, a great delusion. All that Christ does in and through Himself is done so that it might be done in us and with us as well. He died, so that we might die with Him, so that we might live with Him. Secularism, to a certain extent, is born out of the notion that Christ has done it all so that I don’t have to.

    If we removed every verse from the NT that described our shared work in and through Christ, there would be almost nothing left.

  28. Maria Avatar

    I am not saying the topics should be censured; only that there will be different views on it with people coming from a variety of backgrounds and personal experiences. Their personal experiences are also what they thrive on more than a written article – at times. When one writes articles publicly, of course there will be comments that are liked and at times not liked. Sometimes digging and searching or re-searching, can be draining and meaningless – for some. I personally am very happy in the Orthodox Church and know why – I don’t need to rehash anything else and find the articles on Orthodoxy, feed and deepen my faith. If the Protestant topic fits well for some, so be it – but it might not for all – we have to understand that. God bless!

  29. Maria Avatar

    Yes of course Fr Stephen we need to compare to get to the Truth. I am pretty sure when the Monk said to me, “When we have found the Truth, why do we need to compare?” – he is referring to becoming obsessed and once you learn or know or come to understand, let it go. Someone instructing or earning degrees will of course be more aware of these differences and speaking of them more often. One who is living a simple faith day to day, may not be thinking that way – it really isn’t part of their life. Now, this is not to say – one should never read or listen to something with comparison if they so desire – but it does mean, they might not feel the need to know it – they have already reached a point in their faith journey and receiving grace, to know what they need to know and continue living it. Sometimes God will lead and give us what we need to know in a very profound way too, for our own safety and precaution as well as deepening our faith. God bless…..

  30. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Maria,
    Good point. More than once I’ve seen people get stuck in various intellectual pursuits – trying to figure out where civilization went wrong is a common example. In the long run, at some point, all of us have to come to a place in which we are simply going deeper into the truth without distraction. It is a great blessing if someone has made their way to such a place.

  31. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Yes indeed, Father, and with that mindset exists an intentional blindness to the delusions that lie in our own hearts. I’d rather have open eyes to my own delusions. But peeling back these layers off my eyes is hard work. This culture and it’s religions make such endeavors a hard work. Hence the ‘violence’ that is referenced.

  32. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Btw my last comment to Fr Stephen was in reference to his prior comment to me.

  33. Maria Avatar

    You see Father – even with all this added chatter, something good came out of it – it was all a learning experience for me and I believe we found a common ground! It helps one to know themself.

    Thankyou and God bless…..

  34. Fr William Keebler Jr Avatar
    Fr William Keebler Jr

    An excellent presentation on the application of Grace, the Pauline teaching on the individual persons unity with the atonement of Christ is rightly presented as a mystical union with the Trinity, the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Saints and Angels as well as the Holy Souls in Purgatory and the Faithful. Far from any quid pro quo (pelagianism) or merit system on the one hand or faith alone on the other, grace as described by Saint Peter in the New Testament is a “…participation in the divine nature of God who is love.”

  35. Dino Avatar
    Dino

    Father,
    The fact that many get stuck, as you say, in various intellectual pursuits – the example you reference (trying to figure out where civilization went wrong) is good illustration of yet another distraction impersonating a spiritually respectable pursuit.
    But the blessing “to be going deeper into the truth without distraction” is so infrequent, that I can think of but a handful of people, mightily exhibiting this; and to complicate things further, they are primarily monastics.
    The quintessential specimen for me would be Aimilianos of Simonopetra.
    Due to his unceasing and exclusive remembrance of God, as well as his relentless vigil, was observably blessed from a youthful age with a “pillar of cloud to guide him on his way by day, and a pillar of fire to give him light by night” (Exodus 13:21).
    This can, of course, be considered from the outside as a ‘no-win’ situation. Equally it can be seen as quite the opposite: a ‘win-win’ one, as well.
    As an expression we say in Greek (often to kids disinterested in food) goes: “the eating generates the appetite” (when clearly, we all know that the appetite is what drives you to eat)…
    What I mean is that it can seem like a frustrating catch-22 that the Elder’s (and by extension our own) daytime and nigh-time undistracted appetite for God alone, comes from a daytime and nigh-time undistracted appetite for God alone…
    I assume this frustration (of seeing the ‘no-win’ in the situation) is felt when we’re prompted without desiring to be prompted, while when something, somehow touches us and inspires us, we easily see it as a ‘win-win’.

  36. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Dino,
    I don’t think anyone, whether monastic or not doesn’t struggle to the very end (at least from within their own perspective). Wouldn’t you agree? The dwelling in the Truth ‘without distraction’ involves a persistent ‘violence’, I believe.

    Father please correct me if I’m off target. I just don’t think the path gets any easier as we grow, in fact I think it becomes more difficult.

  37. Dino Avatar
    Dino

    I certainly wouldn’t know if a ‘plane sailing’ spiritual life can be achieved on those levels. Certainly, even the living saints who entered the spiritual sabbath still had struggles until the very end.
    However, despite their continual ascent involving continual struggle, what I see in those spiritually supersonic souls is that once they broke the spiritual sound barrier, they don’t so much struggle with distractions… as we do, but have a struggle we know little of, namely the struggle of going deeper into the Truth.

  38. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Loud laughter! “Where did civilization go wrong”. Easy, when Adam and Eve hid from God. Nothing has changed. Everything falls apart and the center does not hold when we hide from God, or worse worship the idol of our own mind as God.

    Each time my heart breaks and tears are brought forth in my contemplation of God, He is there. Each time I think to myself how clever I am, He is not as close.

    I had a moment of tears this last weekend. My mind has no remberance of what induced the tears but I know that healing is occuring because if it.

    The practice of repentance and celebration of the Lord’s Holiness is what the Orthodox Church has. I have encountered nothing else like it anywhere else in my journey through the New Age; the Reformation and the Church of the Papacy.

    Of course, the Orthodox Church quite often looks like a tumbling down shack full of strange things and stranger people. Why would anyone enter such a place? Only if Jesus Christ Himself invites you and blesses your presence. He does that in myriad ways usually quite intimate and often hidden. Frequently in the midst of great personal pain.

    If He does that strange decrepit shack will open out into a glorious home where He can be known to the degree that each of us can handle. Be forewarned however, He does not leave you as He found you. There is always an opportunity to go higher up and further in. Fortunately He has provided us with wise and knowledgeable guides.

  39. Maria Avatar

    Michael Bauman: Your comment was very lovely and touched me very deeply….Thankyou & God bless!

  40. Dino Avatar
    Dino

    This worthy of contemplation: He does not leave you as He found you.

  41. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Dino, indeed for therein lies the struggle to make it to at least the foot of the Cross and perhaps, by Grace, enter into the Bridal Chamber with a new garment worthy of the feast to which we, the maimed, the halt and the lame from the highways and by ways are invited.

    May His mercy be on all of us.

  42. Maria Avatar

    Fr Keebler: Beautiful – and God bless you today and always!

  43. Michael Avatar
    Michael

    “In the long run, at some point, all of us have to come to a place in which we are simply going deeper into the truth without distraction. It is a great blessing if someone has made their way to such a place.”

    I find as a catechumen of the Orthodox Church, this idea seems difficult to find support for. I have had no lack in theology, which I do love, and liturgical services, which are wonderful, but rarely have a chance to talk with clergy about how to interpret personal experiences in an Orthodox context to understand how to move forward(inward?/apperception). I have been a catechumen over 6 months now and have only had this sort of conversation once with a priest. It seems like the ontological message of the church sometimes is, ‘sink or swim!’, which is probably a little cynical on my part, but it’s hard to sort out my internal divisions on theology and liturgical services alone. At least for me.

    I most likely don’t have proper expectations, but those have been hard to determine as well. How often should I expect to speak with a priest regarding my inner life at the church? Are catechumens given less consideration because, who knows if they will stay? In many ways it’s the friends we have met that keeps me going, not the fact that I have learned much about how to integrate Orthodoxy into my being. I would say my catechumenate has been harder than I had anticipated in this regard. That might be normal, but I am not sure on that point either.

    Thank you Fr Stephen for your blog. It has been continually helpful

  44. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    Fr Keebler,
    You come to an Orthodox blog and speak of Purgatory. You know we do not believe in Purgatory. And I suspect there would be disagreement on your view of atonement as well. What is on your mind?

  45. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Michael, it was not until I was had been Chrismated for about 14 years that I began to get some Orthodox understanding of my experiences. Time in the Church is quite different than outside the Church.

    My dear wife frequently describes her entrance into the Church as being thrown into the deep end of the pool but contrary to what it seems at times there is always someone (seen or unseen) looking after you. The saints are quick to respond if you call upon them as is our Mother, the Theotokos.

  46. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Michael,
    Hang in there. Part of the difficulty lies with the distinction between the Orthodox life way and the modernist life way (which is nearly invisible to us). When I was a catechumen I did ask lots of questions. Nevertheless worshiping in the liturgical services on a weekly basis provides experiential learning, which is quite hard to describe. I was a catechumen for about a year and a half before my baptism. But still ever learning and yes still find distractions hinder my prayer life, though I persist to return my focus to Christ and His mercy.

  47. Fr. Peter Andronache Avatar
    Fr. Peter Andronache

    I remember listening to Fr. Thomas Hopko in a podcast where he was telling his story of struggling with this quote and going to ask one of his professors what is lacking in the suffering of Christ. The answer has stuck with me: “what is lacking is your participation in it.”

  48. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Paula, wow. I appreciate Fr. Keebler posting his comments regardless of their inclusion of Purgatory or not which I am sure he knows is not accepted by the Orthodox Church.

  49. Alan Avatar
    Alan

    “The notion that what Christ does is done so that we don’t have to is pretty much a pernicious lie – at the very least, a great delusion. All that Christ does in and through Himself is done so that it might be done in us and with us as well. He died, so that we might die with Him, so that we might live with Him. Secularism, to a certain extent, is born out of the notion that Christ has done it all so that I don’t have to.

    If we removed every verse from the NT that described our shared work in and through Christ, there would be almost nothing left.”

    The above comments that you wrote Father are pure gold. Thank you!

  50. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Paula,
    Easy does it. Fr. Keebler is obviously a Catholic priest responding positively to an article, not trying to pick a fight. He is most welcome.

  51. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    My apologies, Father, Fr Keebler, and all.

  52. Dino Avatar
    Dino

    Michael
    What I have learnt is that those personal experiences in an Orthodox context of moving forward and inward require a vivid ‘personal life’. This term makes no sense in its own in English (apart from the wrong one) I guess. However, what it means is the vivid face-to-face with the Lord in the loneliness of the quiet night/morning, as opposed to the communal services or the more active life of the day. If we want to sincerely know what is within our own power the most, (so as to do it) it is this: regularly putting oneself under His gaze like this, it has the greatest transformative power in one’s spiritual life of going inwards, forwards and upwards.

  53. Michael Avatar
    Michael

    Dee, Michael, and Dino thanks for the replies. They are all helpful.

    Dino I have been trying this for some months now, getting up earlier and trying to make that connection in my prayer corner. This has been when I have had the most striking moments of consciousness, usually during repetitions of the Jesus Prayer, that are difficult for me to understand. I have felt both anger and hopelessness there in morning hours. It is hard for me to understand what I am to do with that. I still don’t know. But I keep going back every morning. I try to keep an evening prayer rule too but sometimes I am weak and fall asleep.

    Thanks again.

  54. Fr William Keebler Jr Avatar
    Fr William Keebler Jr

    Response to Paula. Dear Paula, Both the Catholic and Orthodox funeral services pray for the repose of the souls of the departed. Before churches/fixed altars existed Masses were said over the tomb of the martyrs thus the unity of the Church with the communion of saints, meaning we do not pray for the Saints, rather we ask for their prayers. The point of a funeral is to pray for the repose of the soul of a deceased person which is applied to one who is on the way to Heaven accelerate their entrance into the communion of Saints. The term Purgatory is simply a description of the temporary state of the soul on its journey to Heaven.

  55. Dino Avatar
    Dino

    Michael,
    Have no expectations.
    It is not your time.
    It’s God’s time.
    Let Him have some expectations (of your childlike appearance before Him and nothing else) even though He needs nothing.
    Just ‘be there’.
    Good human fathers have unimaginable patience and understanding with their little kids’ frustrations.
    How much more does our Father in Heaven?
    Although a hope-full hopelessness is good, a healthy dose of praise and thankfulness can inject more of the hopefulness in place of the hopelessness in your Jesus prayer. Freely intersperse these in there…!
    May God bless you.

  56. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Fr. William,
    I understand this description of Purgatory. It has not always been described in this manner – cf. the debates at the council of Florence in which St. Mark of Ephesus opposed the union and was highly critical of Purgatory. What you’re describing is not unlike an Orthodox understanding. Catholic teaching (from an Orthodox perspective) often seems like a moving target. 🙂

    Interestingly, Orthodoxy will pray for the souls in hell (and does so on the day of Pentecost). The mechanics (to use an awful term) of life after death have very different language between East and West – even when the intention agrees from time to time.

    Peace

  57. Fr William Keebler Jr Avatar
    Fr William Keebler Jr

    Dear Michael. In my thirty years as a priest I would guess when one adds it up I haven’t spent thirty minutes talking about the papacy or the pope. People around here (Central Illinois) are parish focused. If the pope wanted to show up around here (he did! St. Louis 1999) people then talk about him and actually go see him, otherwise he isn’t a single thought in people’s minds.

  58. Nicole from VA Avatar
    Nicole from VA

    I am glad to see the theme of clarifying how Orthodoxy is not at all Hinduism

    Another gentle reflection on what saddens me about what I have noticed within Hinduism, as many of my family members are Hindu:

    It is like there is no anticipation that within a struggle a greater unexpected good might occur

    It is like each moment is a p.h. test, a strip of paper dipped into time, and if there is pleasure then you are good and if there is pain you are bad

    In Ravi Zacharrius’ book ‘Walking from East to West’ he describes an experience as a teenager, seeing an older man on a bike fall from the bike, hit his head and immediately die. He saw the crowd of people spread out around the body and no one touched the dead man and hours later, as he was on his trip back home, the same scene. No one had touched the man. Mr. Zacharius describes how this gave him the sense that ‘life is cheap.’ In India today there is no 911 for car accidents. I was told ‘the best you can hope for’ is for someone to locate your cell phone and call your relatives.

    Years ago I broached the question ‘why do we have bodies?’ with a group of teenage members of the Pure Love Club at a Catholic High School. One of the kids, a young man, answered perfectly. I remember my own heart lighting up when he responded. He said it was like a candle, and it was so that we could have something to direct our love towards.

    When I saw the selected picture above I had to look twice. It looked a bit Hindu to me and I just base that on an episode of a TV show where there was a rather emaciated and not sane looking Hindu priest interviewed.

    But when I think of St Julianna sharing with the poor it is very much an attitude of ‘I would rather you have it than me’ that I see in the saint. Love directed towards other. The vulnerability of the recipient, who is sick or poor, becomes an opportunity to know God’s providence and love.

  59. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    Fr Keebler,
    Thank you very much for your explanation. That was very helpful…and thoughtful.
    Fr Stephen, interesting reply you gave.
    I have learned a lot today. Thank you both.

  60. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Nicole,
    Interesting thoughts. I had heard similar things – and it makes sense within what I know of Hindu thought – but I would hesitate to say them because it is really outside of my personal experience. The painting, btw, is Russian, and depicts St. Basil the Fool (St. Basil’s Cathedral in Moscow is named for him – not St. Basil the Great).

  61. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Fr. William,
    The culture of Central Illinois Catholicism seems quite different than that in East TN. Here Catholicism is a minority and tends to have to think of itself in a challenging religious context. That’s true for Orthodoxy as well.

    In Orthodox lands, there are doubtless many things that are taken for granted that we in America give a lot of thought to. Context.

  62. Fr William Keebler Avatar
    Fr William Keebler

    Father. No doubt. I am from North Florida and I suspect the culture isn’t altogether different from East Tennessee. I was in third grade when President Kennedy was shot and remember the baby sitter coming over and asked why we were home from school and when my mother told her she clapped and said, “ Good! Serves him right.” I will never forget that. Also the little Catholic church was built in 1913 and the priest came from Saint Monica’s in Palatka; definitely a minority.

  63. Karen Avatar
    Karen

    Michael,

    Some thoughts on the catechumenate….

    In the parish in which I was received, my catechumenate was rather unstructured as well. The Priest just asked me to attend as many services as I could and when he saw after several months I wasn’t going anywhere, and knew I had done a lot of reading and study on my own, eventually asked me when I would like to be Chrismated. (Our backgrounds were also similar.) This approach would have been fine in a healthy parish, but that one had some issues, so the lack of specificity and direction left me feeling insecure and overly concerned about “correctness”, not sure if I was fitting in.

    My present parish now has monthly adult education and Bible study classes as well as inquirers’ classes from time to time on request.

    If I were a catechumen now and no regular classes were offered in my parish, I might try to schedule more regular meetings with my Priest or a catechist (one of our Deacons serves in this way) to ask questions as they come up. Your Priest may just be waiting for you to ask. On the other hand, it is probably often the case those of us coming from Evangelical backgrounds need to do less studying and rational exploration and more participating to get a real feel for Orthodoxy. I hope you are able to get to vespers/vigil and/or orthros/matins in your parish. A lot of the theological interpretation is in those hymns.

    I’ve found there’s no substitute for actually becoming Orthodox—the learning process is lifelong (12 years for me). I can’t tell you how helpful it is that all the Feasts and Fasts keep going through their annual cycle again and again. It doesn’t get old. There’s always something more to notice and contemplate….

  64. Ziton Avatar
    Ziton

    Father, your article nicely, and perhaps too gently, points us to the central deficiency in post-Anselm Western Christian thought (it’s not just some Protestants) – the greatly devalued notion of what salvation means. If one thinks it is just, or even mainly, a binary decision about whether or not we go to hell in a devalued notion of linear time, and indeed that this is the main thing that matters, then it’s not surprising that all the rest of the theological mess arises. While many serious Christians in the West personally, and even corporately, can’t help but develop or have broader notions, this particular thorn of ‘narrow’ salvation continues to cause almost nothing but trouble on a wide range of fronts. It really is a pity that the protestant Reformers did not throw out that notion of salvation at the same time as they were taking on “works”, but I suppose it is hard to win an ideological battle without a simple (if dangerous and simplisitic) idea (heresy – which then sprang other heresies?).

    I can’t help but think if we can help realign the eschatological landscape that shaped those ideas, then real salvation may then start to flow – like a river in a dry land even … Stories like Laurus are great, but do you know of a pithy and compelling explanation of the broader Orthodox notion of salvation that might be of use both in clarifying these matters for ourselves, and/or in talking with our Western Christian brothers and sisters?

  65. Karen Avatar
    Karen

    Ziton,

    You might try the video by Steve Robinson titled “Orthodox View of Salvation” (YouTube).

  66. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    Father Stephen…I have an odd question regarding the painting of St Basil. Do you know anything about the contents in the basket the man to his right is holding? It looks like miniature animals. But still hard to make out when the picture is enlarged. If it is animals, do you know what that is all about?

  67. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Paula,
    I’m afraid I can’t help. The painting is by Vitaly Grafov. The woman on the left is selling pretzels (of a sort). The man on the right is selling some sort of food (I doubt it’s animals). It’s unclear.

  68. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    Oh, pretzels. I was wondering about that too.
    Thanks Father. It figures I would imagine and see animals in the basket!
    I’ll see if I can find anything further…thanks for the artist’s name.

  69. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Ziton,
    I’m glad I managed to be gentle! I’m sometimes tempted in the other direction.

    I was thinking about this at the end of the day, yesterday. What I was pondering was the question of hell as the controlling idea within the narrative of salvation. Did Jesus die on the Cross to save us from hell?

    I think, given the narrative of Pascha, that I would want to say “Yes.” But, that only makes sense when hell is understood in a Pascha/Passover context. When hell is switched over into a juridical narrative, the sense of things changes radically.

    Imagine Pharoah’s Egypt as a penal colony to which various Israelites (but not all) have been sent for violating the Law. That changes everything. Pharoah can’t even be cast as the bad guy – just a manager of the Gulag. “Just doin’ his job.” In the PSA, hell has been changed into just such an image.

    The “mechanics” of hell and heaven that seem to fascinate so many people are simply lost on me. They either baffle me with imponderables or disgust me with toleration for the intolerable.

    I work hard within myself (and in my writing) to maintain a discipline that, I suppose, is a sort of “agnosticism.” I refuse to go where those questions want to take us. I stop at Pascha itself and try to think, pray, and live within that image, drawing on the texts and hymns of the Queen of Feasts. I remain willfully ignorant of what hasn’t not been told to me.

    Now, it is the case that plenty of fathers did not remain silent on this (one way or another). But what little they have said is quite tiny indeed when compared to the rivers of ink (or its digital form) that have issued from lesser lights.

    In a culture with the largest prison system in the world – in which the daily lives of its inmates are a living hell – it’s hard to expect anything different in the religious imagination of its people. We like punishment. We like it a lot. As I listen, I think most people seem to think that we haven’t punished nearly enough people.

    When I look at what seems an abject failure in cultural terms, it seems to me that such a construct would be woefully worse if were extended into an eschatological landscape. And, of course, it is. Middle-Class America is pretty much heaven for most of us.

    All of that is to say that I think this imagery and narrative are horribly wrong. However, I do not, and cannot make the leap into a narrative that contains more than I know, or more than I can say with full conscience. So, I say what I can – repeating the refrains of Pascha – and suggest that others do the same.

    The problem then, in talking to others, is how to have the conversation when they are fascinated with what they do not know, and cannot know?

    I think some who write and speak about the apokatastasis are trying to talk back to the stupidity and banality of the dominant Western narrative. But, I find that they say more and speak more than I can, and that I cannot join the chorus.

    There are a couple of moments in Scripture that remind me of how I feel (and how I try to feel). One is Christ’s answer to the disciples who asked if he would (at the time, after the resurrection) restore the Kingdom to Israel. He basically told them that it was none of their business. The other is His answer to St. Peter when queried concerning St. John: “What shall this man do?” Again, Jesus says, “What’s it to you?”

  70. Dino Avatar
    Dino

    Father
    That ‘what is it to you’ is often hard not to protest, especially when our hearts are typically governed by deep attachments masquerading as pure loves.
    Just recently in the comments of another article, a quirky quote of St Paisios (which basically describes the overwhelming light of the eternal Sun eclipsing the other stars in our full eschatological perception of the afterlife) was misunderstood (very understandably so) as but a ‘blessed lobotomy’.
    So our Lord’s word to St Peter is certainly one of the hard sayings in many ways.

  71. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Dear Fr Stephen and Ziton,
    I sincerely appreciate your conversation. Ziton, I’m grateful your comment elicited Fr Stephen’s response and agree wholeheartedly with you.

    Father, your response to Paula Jan 30, 4:32: “Easy does it”, could have just as easily been said to me, because I too rankled that someone couched a Roman Catholic doctrine into a compliment to your writing. My priest rightly accuses me of being almost ‘over protective’ of you, so I held back and expressed gratitude to God that Paula spoke up.

    Then the conversation took an interesting turn in which the notion that purgatory, a word historically used to represent a doctrine that the Orthodox do not believe, now represents something similar to that the Orthodox do believe. I’ve also seen similar treatments among the Roman Catholic writers on the Filioque. And even more recently, I’m hearing claims that Orthodox iconography and it’s history has always belonged to Roman Catholic worship, and that the meaning of the Eucharist is the same. I’m even hearing that the Roman Catholic and Orthodox history is the same, ignoring everything post 1054.

    All of this seems to be an easy way to make an argument that the Orthodox and Roman Catholic have more in common than what they have different. In my parts of the world, they are even claiming (last couple hundred years) Orthodox history in the US as their own.

    None of these obvious acts to obfuscate differences (sometimes described as acts of “peace”) is helpful for describing the Orthodox life way, whether to catechumens, or to someone I love who is not Christian, and from what he hears (apart from me) ‘they’re all the same’.

    Indeed we are all the same. We’re all sinners.

    Fr Stephen, please forgive me. You indeed have a gentle heart. God bless you in your work!!

  72. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Dee,
    I appreciate the instinct towards protection. It’s a kindness.

    I mentioned to Fr. William that Roman Catholicism often presents a “moving target.” There has been a quiet revisionism in popular Catholicism – about which I don’t know enough to write authoritatively. It’s just something I see. Fr. William’s example – a sort of “kinder, gentler” purgatory without much of the legal baggage that surrounded it for so long, is an example.

    In truth, many of the arguments and points that Orthodox (and some Protestants) have made for years have quietly influenced popular Catholicism, and even magisterial Catholicism to a certain extent. More than that, I think, there has also been a bit of influence from modernity itself that has smoothed some of the edges, etc.

    That said, it’s very difficult to discuss anything with moving targets. A softening and a smoothing (and such) are not at all the same thing as officially renouncing certain false ideas. It’s more like becoming fuzzy enough that co-existence becomes ever more attractive. That is a thoroughly modern approach.

    The ecumenical movement masks a very dangerous set of ideas. If the doctrinal differences do not matter so much – what does matter so much? What is the point of unity if it is not a unity in the truth? There is an answer to that question and the answer is where the danger lies. The false unity creates a toothless, rather meaningless institution, that ultimate serves the dominant powers of this world.

    Orthodoxy has, in a number of official documents, condemned globalization for a variety of reasons. I wish these would be better fleshed out. If we were to forget the fictions of the nation states and just look at the global economy – we are very close to a one-world government that many have wrung their hands over for so long. I believe that such global arrangements are exceedingly dangerous and vulnerable to the demonic. I will add that I’ve become increasingly interested in the ideas associated with Distributism – When Tolkien, Solzhenitsyn, and Chesterton all think something is a good idea – I tend to want to listen!

    The truth is never fuzzy. Sometimes its so particular that it is impossible to articulate. God is the least fuzzy thing of all. He is transcendently particular – which is why He is ineffable. Modernity wants Him to be ineffable because He’s so general and fuzzy.

    All that’s to say that I prefer not to engage fuzzy versions of Catholicism, or Protestantism, or Orthodoxy, for that matter. Nothing is all the same, btw. We all sin in very unique ways.

  73. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Thank you Father Stephen! Your kind words have helped smooth the bristles. And your last words about sin made me smile. Indeed we do sin in very unique ways. Please forgive me.

  74. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    At the risk of over stepping: we and the RCC agree on almost nothing these days especially when like words are used. The rift is getting wider not narrower. That being said, I think it is critical to separate the person from the doctrine and dogma.
    I have gained respect here for the actual piety held by RC believers who have posted here.
    Purgatory is one of those concepts that fit into the unknown that Fr. Stephen wisely brefuses to speak about. The RCC version rather over defines the mystery and mercy of our Lord as we approach the Dread Judgement Seat. It is as much a juridical metaphor as PSA. It is massively linear. Talking about it tends to drive the conversation into a juridical/managerial mode which is not fruitful.

    Jesus’ mercy is not our mercy. I do not comprehend His mercy but I am grateful for it. That is why we pray: Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God have mercy on me, a sinner. Especially the best of us. A complimentary pray is: “Fmather forgive them, for they know not what they do” which can be prayed for me pretty much any time. I am an unfruitful servant of my Lord. I suspect, thelogy aside, that Fr. Keebler is much more fruitful.

  75. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Forgive my fat and unruly fingers for how they mess up the words.

  76. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Father Stephen I hesitate to ask more questions. I don’t want to go off topic.

    Since I haven’t read all the authors you mention, do they all speak favorably about Distributism? I ask only because I know very little and don’t pay enough attention to the global scene, which you describe. I’m grateful for your pointing to these larger influences which play into the discourse between RC and Orthodox. The context you bring to this discussion is very helpful.

    Michael Bauman, you give others the benefit of the doubt, which is a good thing. Obviously I’m not so inclined and I do pray about this. I do separate the person from the doctrine. But I don’t know the people who contribute here, and much less those whose contributions are new or rare. My ‘witness’ if it can be called that, involves behavior not words. And for me, behavior speaks much louder than words.

  77. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Dee,
    The authors mention all champion the local over the larger, more distant. I’m not an economist or political theorist, so I don’t write on this stuff. But, essentially, the theory of Distributism favors ownership – lots of it – everybody – and more localized economies rather than national/global economies. There’s something fundamentally wrong about going to a grocery store and all of the fish you find being from China (that happened to me a few years ago). That’s nothing about China – but the further removed from the local anything is, the more power is concentrated at higher levels (and wealth, etc.). It can, indeed, produce an abundance of cheaper goods – but it also masks a lot of things. What can I possibly know about fish in China?

    Of course, all of this is far removed from anything I (or any of us) have power over. I suspect the time for this sort of thing has passed (at least for a time). But it might be something to bear in mind for future generations. As God wills.

    But, there is a sort of “Distributism” in our daily lives worth considering. Live local as much as possible. Pay attention to what and who are around you. Try to resist the temptation to think about larger things (that is things that are far away and such).

    We get stirred up about political things as they are made known to us – but the information is filtered and spun so that we think only about stuff that someone wants us to think about – and not of our own choosing. At the same time, a bill will pass congress with over a thousand pages, creating laws you never hear about (until it’s too late). The system is too large and removed to even be spoken of in the same breath as democracy or republic.

    But, Christians have lived, and thrived(!), in much worse circumstances. What matters – for real – cannot be touched by the hands of these sinful people.

  78. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Thank you Father Stephen for your explanation. Indeed you describe my sense of things but I really find it difficult to speak about it, lacking the vocabulary, etc. I should read these authors.

    But your mentioning the influences of globalization also provides a helpful context for the drive to obfuscate the differences between RC and Orthodoxy. The bigger picture is helpful.

  79. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Dee, you are too kind. If I “give others the benefit of the doubt” it is simply because when I frequently don’t I end up with a hard fast boomerang to the face. I tend not to like that very much. Just the other day a gentleman opined to me that he felt I was hard core. I do try to give others the courtesy of expression of opinion as I really like the same. Fact is, what anybody who believes in Purgatory or PSA is irrelevant to me. I am less inclined to be accepting of ideas and beliefs within the Church that go against the grain of the faith delivered to me. Mostly, I try to be obedient to the rules of the blog.

  80. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Dee, I love the theory of Distributionism but the problem with it is the greed that lies in our hearts. In practice it would require a lot of regulation. There is the rub. It also tends to ignore the historical reality of even tribal societies seeking to expand trade and influence over larger and larger areas.
    There is something about it that simply will not work as a system. Nevertheless what Fr. Stephen says that each of us can practice a sort of personal Distributionism. It is not easy.

  81. Byron Avatar
    Byron

    That said, it’s very difficult to discuss anything with moving targets. A softening and a smoothing (and such) are not at all the same thing as officially renouncing certain false ideas. It’s more like becoming fuzzy enough that co-existence becomes ever more attractive. That is a thoroughly modern approach.

    This was the first thing I thought of when I was reading this conversation. The “smoothing of the edges” is not a good thing; it is a thoroughly modern thing that is about conformity (within a Nominalist approach) and “equality”.

  82. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    Father, Dee, Michael, etc….
    Well, wow. Talk about an unexpected turn of events. I wanted so much to forget about yesterday that this morning I commented on miniature animals and pretzels in St Basil’s picture!
    Father…it must be the protective mothering of the woman that causes us to protect that which we love. I’m not sure, but I think Dee would go to the extremes that I am famous for…that is, to protect at all costs and with all the risks and repercussions. It is like a whirlwind. I knew I was overstepping my bounds in my comment to Fr Keebler, but call it what you want, I couldn’t let it go, for the reasons Dee so eloquently said. Even after I apologized I asked God to forgive me, but not for what I said, but because I really wasn’t sorry! I was miffed way before I saw Fr Keebler’s comment. Mercy!
    Michael, my comment was not meant to be a personal attack. I can and I do separate the theology from the person. I have said similar things in the past, in an SSA discussion. And regarding ‘face to face’, person to person, communication.

    Father…you are a gem. And this blog community is like none other. Thank you for telling me to take it easy. I will listen. But I can not guarantee it won’t happen again. I try my best to tone it down, but sometimes…..

    Dee, your comment and Father’s response about ‘particulars’ is so very true. Many thanks! In turn, I can so much better understand your defense of Orthodoxy (incl the blog) in light of your instruction to catachumens, as your students. I can understand your challenge – how to properly teach ‘exclusion’ (hard word, isn’t it), while at the same time everyone begs for total common ground. It’s the same issue with closed communion. And imagine if all non-baptized had to leave the Liturgy at the exclamation “The Doors The Doors”!

    Thanks Dee. Yesterday was pretty tough. When I read your comment my first reaction was to simultaneously laugh and cry. Talk about healing the passions.

    Father…I learned a new word. Distributism. Briefly, it sounds much like globalization. Another ‘ism’ I will look into. What you said about the one world govt and all, is that not what is referred to in Revelation. As a Protestant, we covered every inch of those teachings. What you said sounds familiar.
    I’ve learned a lot from you on this blog, Father. You have the patience of Job, as they say!

    Thank you all. Very interesting day. God is good.

  83. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Michael,
    You’re, no doubt, right. Oddly, I was thinking about all of this in light of the latest virus to come out of China. AIDS came out of Africa and largely spread first, through a human vector who worked as an airplane steward, and therefore traveled a great deal, as well as through the bath house culture within the Gay community that encouraged thousands of sex partners – ridiculous levels of promiscuity. The result was millions of needless deaths – from a virus that, under earlier circumstances, would have likely never left its obscure corner in Africa.

    Of course, the Black Death is thought to have originated in China as well, and to have traveled along trade routes until it reached the West – killing 1/3 of the population at its height.

    China, and some of the peculiar circumstances of its culture, has been a breeding ground for new flu strains. They have been on-guard about these things because they have been expected. The world is poised for a world-wide epidemic at some point – as an inevitability. Time will tell.

    Those virus stories are simply tiny examples of the effects of global trade – and, I know someone could write at length about the benefits of global trade. Historically, many things such as the expense of infrastructure and such, tended to keep capital in its place. Now it is nothing for foreign capital to buy up local things. Good? Bad? I’m not sure.

    I do respect the notion in Scripture that God has set the people “within boundaries” and that boundaries are, on the whole, good rather than bad. Of course, I do not suggest that as an absolute.

    I minor thing – I feel very good about the fact that I live and serve in a part of the world to which I am native – Appalachia. It means I’m tuned in, somewhat, to local needs in a way I could not be in, say, the Northwest. Those lessons can be transferred – but not absolutely.

    Southern culture has been seriously diluted over the past 4-5 decades – perhaps for the better – I don’t know. But it does matter. Just thinking out loud a little today.

  84. Andrea Lowry Avatar
    Andrea Lowry

    Hello everyone. 🙂 New reader here. Fuzzy protestant and not offended. 🙂
    The martyr’s story in A Hidden Life shows us the path of suffering for Jesus. His wife and family also suffered. That is one kind of suffering for us to bear up under. And then there are those sufferings we cause upon our own heads (Laurus losing Justina), the sufferings others cause to us (Like Laurus walking away from the widow and her son who so desperately loved and needed him) and then the sufferings we don’t choose (perhaps a terrible cancer or a virus; Laurus losing his friend Abrogio to the thives) and then there is just the banal sufferings of being in relationship with other humans. We know this as the nagging spouse who makes it better to live on the rooftop, the 11 year old sister who calls older brother a jerk and the tattling brother, the overtired toddlers who cry for no real reason, the husband who is gone for work for days on end and leaves the tired mama of many children at home alone. If we were willing to take on suffering, even for these banal, everyday, unavoidable things, what would that look like?
    I’ve been thinking about suffering differently since reading Kristin Lavransdatter and Laurus, reading the Brothers Karamazov, the Eighth Day symposium and watching A Hidden Life. This teaching about suffering has to impact how I look at the small irritations and big stresses of my life. It has to impact how I help my children learn how to bear up under the things that bother them.
    I’m just wondering if there are others who’ve thought about bearing up under the weight of ordinary daily struggles.

  85. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Paula, G K Chesterton wrote about it. It is also often called The Third Way. Lots of different approaches and ideas about. There is a bit of global Distributionism going on if that is not an oxymoron with mircoloans and the various businesses that week out locally crafted items and agricultural goods to sell world wide.

    Like all economic systems it is filled with many internal inconsistencies and external hypocrisies and dreams. All economies get messy really quickly in practice. All economic systems are pretty irrevocably paired with a particular form of government too. That is why the study of them is often called political economy.

    Distributionism in practice would require a stable and dynamic confederation. Few historic examples of such. The Iriquois Confederation is one of the longer lasting ones. Matriarchal by the way. That is not irrelevant.

  86. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Andrea,
    “Fuzzy” can sometimes be endearing. Good to hear from you.

    St. Therese of Lisieux wrote about her “little way,” which consisted of precisely suffering with patience the little things. It is she who said, “If you can bear serenely the trial of being displeasing to yourself, then you will be for Jesus a place of refuge…” one of my favorites.

    Her book, The Diary of a Soul, is a great spiritual classic.

    Since I’m not a martyr – I only get the daily irritations, most of which are inside my head. Oddly, my most displeasing thing is the noise of my ADHD. I still struggle to bear it serenely. It causes embarrassment from time to time, even though I probably would not be who I am without it. The children are all grown and gone, so I don’t get to have them torturing me (smile). And, now that I’m “Pastor Emeritus,” I am even somewhat removed from the normal irritations of parish responsibility.

    Of course, when life becomes to calm, I can turn on the TV for about 5 minutes, or look at a page of news on the computer and find enough irritation to save a monastery full of monks!

    Do you know Fr. Tom Hopko’s 55 maxims? They are priceless gems for the little life:

    Here’s a link: https://holycrossoca.org/newslet/0907.html

  87. Dino Avatar
    Dino

    Michael
    in a sense there’s a kind of localised Distributionism with a stable and dynamic central confederation on Athos for centuries.

  88. ScottTX Avatar
    ScottTX

    “do you know of a pithy and compelling explanation of the broader Orthodox notion of salvation”

    I’m also looking for this. But I also think there’s merit to “understanding through obedience” per George MacDonald.

    The problem in modern society is that most people’s basic needs are met, so religion gets focused on “what comes next?”. My life is under control, but what about the afterlife? I want a model I can manipulate and end up in a good place.

    Maybe Christianity makes more sense as a way of life only if you’re poor. At a homeless encampment or prison for example, sharing things in common and forgiving your enemies isn’t for Sunday only. The poor’s choices have more import. The widow’s mite is greater than the burgher’s tithe.

  89. Alan Avatar
    Alan

    Dino,
    “Just be there.” So simple….so true. Thank you! Reminds me of a great line Fr. John Oliver wrote in his great book “Touching Heaven”: “Don’t just do something, stand there!”

  90. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    Michael…ok, the Third Way, trying to enliven the dying smaller towns. I do believe I’ve witnessed some of that in my small town. What I have seen is the ‘town counsel’ wants very much for the town to grow. They try to promote new businesses, but they can not thrive in this economy. There is no insulation from big govt. There are more empty storefronts than there are local stores. The exception is the two large corporations…Safeway and Walmart. Then you have the locals (like me) who do not want the town to “grow” because we moved to a small town for that very purpose. Yet, if you live simply, you can buy what you need locally. Rarely do I go to the city for an item I need.
    Another thing you see is that the counsel members are very eager for the construction of new homes. So these developments are built (by out of town developers) and the luxury homes barely sell. In the meantime, there is a substantial number of houses that have been foreclosed or are simply for sale that can be bought at a lower price. And even if the new homes were to sell, where would they shop for their home furnishings? Not here. This is largely a ‘yard sale/thrift store’ town. They will arrive from the city, and continue to work in the city, and buy in the city.
    So if that’s what you mean by some of the inconsistencies, I understand!

  91. Byron Avatar
    Byron

    Welcome Andrea! The Symposium was a wonder (to me)! I very much hope to make the entire weekend next year.

    Maybe Christianity makes more sense as a way of life only if you’re poor. At a homeless encampment or prison for example, sharing things in common and forgiving your enemies isn’t for Sunday only. The poor’s choices have more import. The widow’s mite is greater than the burgher’s tithe.

    There is much to this thought, Scott. The world thinks of itself as rich because of material possessions and (arguable) economic stability. Christ and His Church tend to consider those things somewhat unimportant (I don’t want to say, or imply, “absolutely”, as that is not correct). Poverty is “desirable” (as far as that word goes) only in the sense that it furthers communion, which is the greater of our needs. Just my thoughts.

  92. Byron Avatar
    Byron

    Paula,

    I will recommend the blog “Granola Shotgun” for insight into why the economy you’ve described is set up in that manner (build new, etc.). It is an interesting, and bizarre, economic system we live within. And it is not healthy.

  93. ScottTX Avatar
    ScottTX

    Thinking about poverty, maybe it’s Grace that makes you smaller against your will so you can turn more easily. The Rich Young Ruler was too big to turn.

  94. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Scott,
    I would think that the difficulty of getting a rich man through the eye of a needle (proverbially) is based not on his past actions so much than his present state of mind (heart). Of course, living in a culture where most people are rich by any traditional measure means that very, very few can reach the place where they can speak reliably about the Kingdom (since they are not there yet).

    I’ve been pondering, the last several days, how many people are quite comfortable with the abortion of babies – indeed, many of them believing that it’s a good and compassionate thing to do. What astonishes me is that these are often “good” people by American cultural measures. I would suggest that anyone capable of reaching the conclusion that these are not really human lives and that they are disposable is capable of believing almost anything that makes our way of life more convenient – if they are told it often enough by the right people.

    That means I have very little trust in anything in our culture at all – because there’s not much that separates the anti-abortion folks from the pro-abortion folks – not much more than a tweak, here and there. That’s sort of alarming.

    On the whole, the poorer nations of the world value high birth-rates and see children as a gift from God – while the wealthy see it as a danger.

    The poor have the gospel preached to them. The rich are sent away empty. The lessons in all this are pretty obvious – and pretty easy to find in the gospel. We fear poverty. We should fear wealth.

  95. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    Thanks Byron. I will definitely check out “Granola Shotgun”. I do recall you and Drewster mentioning that site.

  96. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    “The poor have the gospel preached to them. The rich are sent away empty.”
    Father, you’ve quoted those words recently in another post. They are similar to the beginning lines of a mealtime prayer in the Ancient Faith Prayer Book:
    “The rich have been sent away poor and hungry, while those who seek the Lord will not be deprived of any good thing”…..
    So few words but so rich (!) because it is true. It is one of my favorite prayers.

  97. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Stanley Hauerwas, theology professor at Duke whom I quote a fair amount, was once invited to the richest Southern Baptist Church in Texas. He was asked to speak on “business ethics.” He shocked them when he said that there could be no possible “business ethics” within that congregation’s membership, unless and until everyone there declared publicly how much he was worth.

    Made me smile.

  98. Dino Avatar
    Dino

    All riches, material, intellectual, emotional etc, tend to become tremendous obstructions to our heavenly ascent. It is always a sobering thought.

  99. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    Andrea…Hello! Cute intro you give!
    I like what you said about how to look at small irritations and big stresses. As a compliment to our Christian lives, we are provided with books and films that skillfully present the subject of suffering where we have the opportunity to consider what it is all about. You mention the suffering that is bound to happen in close relationships, such as family, as well as that which we cause “on our own heads”.
    Now it is strange, but you’d think that someone who has been single (like, forever), who has not had to deal with the fracas (fracas? 🙂 ) of those daily family irritations you describe, would be at an advantage in peaceful and quiet surroundings. But I have found that not so. Because since you are the only one around, you find the ‘self-caused’ suffering amplified ten times over. It is true, and I think our monastics can attest to this, that the war as well as the peace largely…I’d say…exclusively exists, within the soul. You have a troubled soul, you will be troubled in the most joyous place among the most joyous people…and visa versa.
    The quote Father gave from St St. Therese of Lisieux…”If you can bear serenely the trial of being displeasing to yourself, then you will be for Jesus a place of refuge…” ,
    would be a monumental achievement ! Serene? When I sleep, maybe. But seriously, St Therese speaks the truth.

    Glad you commented here, Andrea. I will remember to consider….
    Thank you!

    Father…very witty, Mr Hauerwas!

  100. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Dino, your are correct I suspect. Unfortunately, Athos is far from my awareness. It is both stable and has controlled access and an active sense of sacramental Providence which is a core virtue necessary for Distributionism of any kind to work. Traditional monasteries are all a bit like that.

    Paula, you are experiencing more anti-distributionism I fear. But your story does illustrate some of the difficulties. Without a common and dedicated love of God it is not possible. The Amish also come to mind but they are slowly being crushed.

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