Words for a Wounded Heart

You cannot be too gentle, too kind.
Shun even to appear harsh in your treatment of each other.
Joy, radiant joy, streams from the face of him who gives and kindles joy in the heart of him who receives.
All condemnation is from the devil. Never condemn each other…
Instead of condemning others, strive to reach inner peace.
Keep silent, refrain from judgment.
This will raise you above the deadly arrows of slander, insult, and outrage
and will shield your glowing hearts against all evil.

St. Seraphim of Sarov


On October 19, 2006, I launched this blog. It came out of some writing I had posted on a friend’s blog, and at his suggestion. That first day, I posted three short articles, one of which had as its theme, “This Blog Doesn’t Matter.” That remains true (I’ve reprinted that article a number of times over the years). The next day, I published these words from St. Seraphim under the heading, “Words for the heart.” They sound a theme that was, and has remained, within my mind for these last 16 years. It is the simple understanding that who and what we are (as well as what we do) flow from the abundance of the heart. Only by attending to the heart will we attend to the truth of ourselves and find union with God.

I first met St. Seraphim of Sarov through Valentine Zander’s small biography of him. It was given to me by an Anglican monk back in 1976 when I was making a retreat at a monastery. It was a window into a world that sank deep into my heart. The echoes of that encounter continued for years, playing an abiding role in my life, culminating in my reception into the Orthodox Church in 1998. St. Seraphim’s words (and others similar to them) are touchstones of deep Orthodoxy for me. They are the voice of authentic Orthodoxy, in which I hear the voice of Jesus, our true Shepherd, resounding.

I have found it to be the case that when something sounds different from this, regardless of how well-reasoned or argued, alarms go off in my heart. I know that over the years, I have sounded different from time-to-time. The temptations to control and manage the world around me, to find the right leverage that will persuade all adversaries, never leaves me. And then, there is the voice of St. Seraphim:

Acquire the Spirit of Peace, and a thousand souls around you will be saved.

St. Seraphim lived an obscure life: a hermit in the wilderness of Tsarist Russia. He became famous in his lifetime as he never wrote a word. One hundred and forty-three years after his death, lying in bed, awake all night, reading about his life in a night of anxious insomnia, I became aware of the Spirit of Peace. I did not acquire it (I don’t think I have yet). I was one of the many thousands (millions?) of souls that were being saved in the penumbra of the light of that great saint.

There is an Orthodox monastic “folk-saying” (I’m told it comes from a letter by St. Barsanuphios) that holds that at any given time, there are three or four hidden saints by whose prayers God sustains the world.1 I believe this to be true. I believe that St. Seraphim was one of those in his own generation. We have no idea who stands in that place of intercession for us at present. But, I notice that the world around us is being sustained and I give thanks for the hidden prayers that make it so.

When I write about “modernity” (in such constant fashion that many must be tired of even hearing the word), it is this same word of St. Seraphim that lies behind it. The secular world tells us that by voting, by politics, by engineering and technology, by science, by violence and war, the future will be saved. I believe this to be a lie. I believe it to be a very seductive lie – one that seems obvious to many – such that questioning it makes many people think that I must be making some mistake.

There is no mistake. My mistake has, from time to time, been not to keep St. Seraphim’s words firmly in my mind and heart. You cannot be too kind, too gentle. Acquire the Spirit of Peace. Strive to reach inner peace. God, raise us above the deadly arrows of slander, insult, and outrage.

St. Seraphim pray for us!

Footnotes for this article

  1. The letter was included in an influential anthology by the Constantinopolitan abbot Paul of the Theotokos Evergetinos monastery (10th c) which accounts for its wide dissemination.

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.



85 responses to “Words for a Wounded Heart”

  1. Jill Avatar

    Are you saying here that voting is not good for my soul? In the large country I live in, voting for my representative in government is my way of contributing to a peaceful society.

  2. A Reader Avatar
    A Reader


  3. Mary Ellen (Photini) Avatar

    Father, bless. When I was led into ACoA 12 step recovery by an incredible Orthodox priest, he used the words of Saint Seraphim to convince me that I could do nothing for anyone else without allowing myself to heal from trauma. (acquiring the spirit of peace) I have felt for a number of years that I was called to a small and hidden life but the temptation is always there to think this focus is irresponsible. I am still asking for discernment but this article strikes such a chord that it brings tears. Thank you a million times for your gentle spiritual fatherhood to so many(my guess is that you have no idea how many are impacted by your peaceful spirit )

  4. Catalina Avatar

    My 6 yo son is battling cancer right now. How can i hope for his salvation when my prayers are nothing. do my prayers matter? do my supplications of saints matter? It already seems God turned away from us as all these horrible things acost the entire world. How can i make his life matter? Do i search for the 3 or 4 saints whose prayers are heard?

  5. Renata Avatar

    Father Stephen,
    Thank you, thank you for this posting. It is a great blessing to me as I am struggling with feelings of anger with some family members. I needed this posting and am so grateful. It will help me to forgive and stop this resentment.

  6. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Voting is not a sin – absolutely. However, it is not the means by which a society becomes peaceful. Given that the US has been at war for all but 17 years of its history does not suggest that peace has been a governmental priority. I am suggesting that we should look at this more carefully and think about the truth of our lives. Did Jesus come to give us democracy? Democracy is fine – but it’s not the means to a better world. It’s just a way of picking a government – no more, no less.

  7. Basem Avatar

    Thank you for sharing Father! Even the sheer mention of St. Seraphim of Sarovi is sure to bring peace and joy! His carried the authentic fragrance of our Lord passion to the full Glory of Mount Tabor!

    Indeed silence is the ultimate humility! St Seraphim echoes the ancient words of St. Anthony the Great, “‘I saw the snares that the enemy spreads out over the world, and I said groaning, “What can get through from such snares?” Then I heard a voice saying to me, “Humility.”’

  8. Mary Ellen (Photini) Avatar

    Catalina, there is an akathist to the Mother of God, healer of cancer that is in a little booklet. Also, Saint Nectarios. I will pray for you. Find a friend or two and a priest to pray for and with you. Please know that you and your son are loved beyond measure.

  9. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Ask the prayers of the saints. We who read this will pray as well. May God give you both strength!

  10. Jordan Avatar

    Reading this blog the past several years has brought me no small measure of peace and comfort. Thanks for passing it along !

  11. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    Dear Father,
    What a powerful turn of thought, to instead see that God is sustaining the world, right now. Sustaining, always.
    A beautiful example, perfectly true, of why we give thanks to God at all times. Now. Especially now.
    It is no small thing that you realize this subtle yet striking truth, Father. I picture a quiet search on your part because I noticed a guarding of the heart (this is important for me to see). And there St Seraphim comes forth! With his timeless message of a spirit of peace. I am glad you said that his message lies behind your teachings on modernity. It counters the darkness with Light, because the darkness can not comprehend It. The darkness can not ‘sustain’ (anywhere, ever) in such a Presence. That’s good Father. I will remember that as I tirelessly read your needed teachings on modernity!
    It is noteworthy that St Seraphim never wrote a word. Must be that Gods Spirit of peace in Itself spoke volumes.
    Thank you for reminding us that kindness and love can never ever ever be exhausted. Christ our God, just look at Him. A bruised reed He does not break.
    Well, thank you Father for a cool drink at the well. And for the example you yourself give to us.

  12. Michelene Avatar

    Thank you for this, and for all of your writing. As someone who is often almost overcome by anxiousness, I found these words very calming.

  13. Grace Small S Avatar
    Grace Small S

    Fr. Stephen Freeman
    How many black people are in your church? Silence is good but how would you know what is going on in the country? Perhaps you have been comfortable in USA for now but after the blacks are slaughtered, maybe orthodox will be next

  14. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    We have several black families. And I am well aware of what they have to put up with. We have a wide diversity of ethnic people, including Asians, Europeans, Arabs, etc. There is a time and place to speak up, and I have done so throughout my life and my ministry and will not cease to do so. But, I’m not sure what it is that you imagine going on in America, or how “speaking up” is actually going to change things? Things will change as hearts will change. There are ample laws on the books protecting everyone, and special laws protecting minorities. The police officer involved in this latest killing have been arrested and charged. But there is no government program of going out and killing families of any sort. And, if they start killing the Orthodox, I hope they start with me and let me be enough.

    I am dumbfounded by what you must be imagining. There are problems in America – who has denied such a thing or suggested that we must be silent about it? But, when you turn the television off, and your heart is pounding and you cannot sleep and you have screamed til you are hoarse, eventually, we all must find a way to peace. I have offered nothing more.

  15. Karen Avatar

    Amen! St. Seraphim pray for us!


    I think voting is good, but it seems to me it is only on the local level it is a possible means for good in this country for many reasons. On the state and national levels especially, I believe the deck is stacked, and democracy is an illusion. We live in an elite kleptocracy, and we always have. Nobody knows this better than the most disenfranchised and powerless among us, so it especially struck me recently when I read a commentary by Richard Townsell, a black Christian leader in the Lawndale Community in Chicago, on his FB page, on the riots and protests now happening. There he cited voting as the “lowest form of democracy” and listed it first, followed by protests and marches, as among those things that are NOT real answers to the systemic injustice in our nation . (I encourage you to look that up.) The gospel never changes and is the only means of living rightly with the Lord, ourselves, and others in this world. I keep trying to remember Saints have been produced out of all manner of cultural and political conditions.

  16. Cheryl Ruffing Avatar

    Thank you, Father Freeman

  17. Margaret Avatar

    Catalina, I am so sorry to read that your young son is battling cancer! I will pray! I have found comfort and peace in saying the Akathist to the Mother of God Nurturer of Children and also the Akathist to the Mother of God Healer of Cancer. I will add your son to our prayer lists. God is with you.

  18. Grace Small S Avatar
    Grace Small S

    Dear Fr Freeman
    Thank you for your prompt and kind reply. I trust it is all in my imagination and there is no plan for mass genocide of minorities in the USA.
    When you are not in the frame the picture differs. I thank God that the answer to all issues rests with Him alone and do recognise that man can kill the body but no the soul . Alleluia.

  19. Mother Olga Avatar
    Mother Olga

    Father, for some of the reasons you stated, monastics are not allowed to vote. Most people are not aware of that. We are not to get involved in politics.

  20. sgage Avatar

    Dear Father Stephen,
    “When I write about “modernity” (in such constant fashion that many must be tired of even hearing the word), it is this same word of St. Seraphim that lies behind it. The secular world tells us that by voting, by politics, by engineering and technology, by science, by violence and war, the future will be saved. I believe this to be a lie. I believe it to be a very seductive lie – one that seems obvious to many – such that questioning it makes many people think that I must be making some mistake.”
    I was brought up and groomed to be a ‘modern’ – science, math, fix things, progress! My older brothers were engineers and technologists. My father (who died when I was 6) was an engineer and technologist. I was well on my way along a similar trajectory. But then, when I was 15 I had a sort of epiphany (that was in 1970, that’s starting to be a long time ago). I suddenly realized, I mean I knew it in my bones, that the problems we were having weren’t because we weren’t working hard enough on The Project. It was because it was the wrong project – a dead end, in more ways than one. I began to ‘identify’ as a biologist and ecologist.
    My life since has been an effort to unlearn my conditioning, and every time I think I’m getting somewhere, some habit of thought pops up that lets me know I’m still in thrall in some ways. Your writings have helped me to see these things, to no end.
    Here is the truly odd and futile thing – my original ‘epiphany’ was devoid of any religious connotations. I’ve been trying to work stuff out all these decades on my own. And all of this time, the Fathers were there, Orthodoxy was there. And more recently, you are here.
    When I read serious books, I am in constant dialog with the ideas. I’ve read ‘One Storey Universe’ many times, and have been encouraged and uplifted over and over again.
    I guess what I’m blithering on about and trying to say is, first, thank you for your wonderfully clear writing, and please don’t stop writing about ‘modernity’. I think you’re writing another book…

  21. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Only from a point of peace and joy can one speak anything but violence and death.

  22. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    sgage, what a wonderful story you have lived thank you for sharing. The picture oat the top of the article depicts true ecology–the interconnectedness of all life and the rest of creation. It is the ecological fruit of the Incarnation I think. God has been merciful to me for all the times I violate His natural order.


  23. sgage Avatar

    Thank you Michael,
    Yes, true ecology is the interconnectedness of all life and the rest of creation. In fact, that’s pretty much the definition of ecology, as far as I’m concerned 🙂
    God has been amazingly merciful to me for my sins, most of which are goofy banal not-so-shocking transgressions (at least at first glance), and some that I am sorely ashamed and deeply repentant of. But as gentle as He has been, it always comes with a lesson.
    I have recently had a powerful feeling that there is an awful lot that I have to learn. Please believe me when I say that it has been humbling…

  24. Grace Small S Avatar
    Grace Small S

    S gage, I found your post interesting and your mention of “one storey universe” brought to my memory that I read that book a year or so ago. Perhaps it is time for me to read it again.

  25. sgage Avatar

    Father Stephen’s book merits (and rewards) several re-readings. For that matter, it might just be time for me to read it again! 🙂

  26. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Sgage, Grace,
    You know, it’s available as an audio book – with me doing the reading. You can fall asleep to theology… My wife, in years back, when she’d have trouble going to sleep, would say, “Read me some theology.” I could put her to sleep in no time…

  27. sgage Avatar

    Father Stephen, you are a caution! 🙂
    I may just have to get the audiobook edition, for those rough nights…

  28. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Mother Olga. Smart prohibition. Passions abound. In the course of justice none of us should see salvation

  29. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Father, when my lovely wife and I were first married and I was trying to impart a few of the simpler theological understanding of the Church, it would not take long before she was out like a light. She has a higher tolerance 11 years in but it still happens from time to time. What a wonderful thing for me. Helps my humility a little.

  30. pantaleimona Avatar

    Thank you, Father, for this reminder.

  31. Timmy Avatar

    Fr. Stephen,

    The humble wisdom that you constantly share on this blog is a point of light in our country that seems to be getting darker by the day.

    Thank you for your abiding loving encouragement. I, and I assume many others as well, find it to be a soothing balm for my vexed heart.

    Orthodoxy is parodoxy: May we all learn to die to ourselves & in doing so find the peace of Christ that my patron saint, Seraphim of Sarov, spoke of. The cross accepted in humility & faith truly is our invincible weapon & the door the paradise.

    Glory to God for all things!

  32. victoria Avatar

    Fr Stephen

    My mistake has also been from time to time not to keep St Serapheim’s words rooted deeply in my heart and before my eyes and my ears and my mouth.

    Thank you for writing this article. And we can be glad that we fall again and again and again, because then we have yet another opportunity to get up again and repent.

    God is at work through all of this, this has to be the prism through which we view it all. He brings order out of chaos – in individual hearts that are not as easy to spot on a national scale. Yet I have seen it unfold in little ways always in individual interactions. The situations that are rarely picked up by the news because it does not incite fear or anxiety or division but calms the soul.

  33. Timmy Avatar


    Thank you for your insightful comment. It rings true in my heart & echos the essence of Fr. Stephen’s recent post “Remembering The End”, which is full of wisdom.

    Glory to God for ALL things!

  34. hélène d. Avatar
    hélène d.

    Valerian Kretchetov, a village priest, who is the oldest preacher of the Eparchy of Moscow said:
    “At home during the so-called “Soviet” era, we experienced persecution, and it seemed like it was all over. But that was only the external aspect of the situation ; there were still faithful. Saint Seraphim of Sarov announced it very well. He used the example of the Prophet Elijah when he said, “Lord, they have killed your prophets, they have overthrown your altars, I am left alone, and they want my life. »(Rom11,3). The Prophet Elijah, endowed with the look of the eagle, no longer saw any faithful around him ! But the Lord answered him, “I have reserved for myself seven thousand men who did not bow their knees before Baal. »(Rom.11,4) Seven thousand ! There were still so many faithful, and the Prophet Elijah had not seen them. And Saint Seraphim then said : “And with us, how many will remain there ?”
    He also said that during the time of the persecutions there was the secret church, made up of many believers. It was hidden from the world in order to preserve the Faith.
    We have in us deeply the “fire” of Faith, of invincible Hope, what a wonder ! Glory to God !
    Thank you father Stephen for your words, your fight, your presence, like a scent that keeps you awake, vigilant …. how many invisible people, drink at the source of your blog, even here in France, it’s very gratifying and full of life !
    (Forgive for the rough translation)

  35. James Avatar

    To Catalina,
    Remember God is good. God loves. I have lost a son-in-law, a daughter, three grandchildren and by lost I mean they have passed from this life to the next….they are not lost but truly found. But we suffered loss for a time. My daughter’s priest reminded us while we were keeping vigil by her bedside as the life ebbed away, “a broken and contrite heart God will not despise” I will pray and hope your son recovers, overcomes, gains remission. But as God wills. We must put our trust in Him, let Him use every bit of this to soften the hard paths so that seed may take root and bear fruit.

  36. Patricia W Avatar
    Patricia W

    Your comment is such a blessing to me, Helene D. Thank you. Glory to God in all things!

  37. Peter Avatar

    We’re in such chaotic times that some current cultural messaging is saying “silence = violence”. What an inversion of the eternal wisdom reflected by St Seraphim of Sarov.

    When I struggle with my silence, I find it helpful to remember a rule I once heard Fr Thomas Hopko of blessed memory, transmitted to him by his Mother. He says that unless what you want to say is true, kind, and necessary, it’s best to not say anything at all. All three conditions must be met.

    St Seraphim & Fr Thomas, pray for us.

  38. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    I have known a man for 47 years now who bears the burdens of many in his heart and, I think, also in his body. It began when he was 19 and peddling drugs. He is a black man who lived in a southern town. The police there had a habit of surrounding black drug houses and setting them on fire. He got caught in one one night and he promised God that if God got him out, he would serve Him. God did and my friend has remained true to his word. He has taught me so much about bearing the sins of others with patience, mercy and repentance while revealing to me the essential humanity of us all in ways that are deeply cathartic while somehow being gentle and even humorous too. Yet the Cross is always there. Our Lord’s wounds healing ours. Our Lord’s shed blood giving life.

  39. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    Peter, my mother used to tell me “if you don’t have anything good to say, don’t say it at all.” Mother’s had their maxims, didn’t they. Old school. They just knew.

    Blessed Pentecost!
    Beauty, Good, Truth.
    “I will send My Spirit”
    For the wounded heart
    Gathering all things unto Himself

  40. JOHN Avatar

    These words ring true deep in my soul. My father, a church going man, always thought political causes to be a waste of time. I only started voting when a ballot showed up in my mailbox. I have realized through your writhing that modernity promises so much and delivers so little in the way of inward peace. I am currently reading a little book called searching for and maintaining peace. It’s been a blessing in our troubled times. Please keep writing, you are a blessing to many. Today I will offer mass for the child with cancer and yourself.

  41. Basem Avatar

    “ Thy bridal chamber I see adorned, O my Savior, and I have no wedding garment that I may enter. O Giver of Light, enlighten the vesture of my soul, and save me“

    I thought I understood what that paschal hymn meant however the challenges of our days brought new meanings the “bridal chamber” for me! Lord have mercy!

  42. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Basem, indeed

  43. Cathy Avatar

    Father Stephen you will never know the power of your words. They are a constant calm in this troubled world. God Bless and Keep You!!

  44. Byron Avatar


    Thank you for your comment. Just yesterday I lay in despondency and tears, wondering if the faith would simply die out or be changed into something anti-Christian as we go from generation to generation. I had not been that despairing in many, many years. God brought me to the thoughts of which you wrote. God will preserve. I must trust Him and not fall into the passion of despondency. Sometimes that is difficult to do but God is good.

  45. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Bryon, I know we’ll the temptation to despair. It can be powerful. It has always helped me to remember that it is a temptation, therefore a lie. I am not responsible for the Church. It is up to me to respond to the presence of God that is all around me and in me as well.
    I realized the other day that I do not believe in God any more than I believe in my wife. He exists as my wife does. He gifts Himself to me. When I respond in gratitude, life is better. Sometimes much better. He draws us all to Him whether we believe or not.
    I do not need “belief” I just need to acknowledge who He is. Lord, God and Savior. The Person. The Church. Faith.

  46. juliania Avatar

    Thank you, Father Stephen. In humility is joy.

  47. juliania Avatar

    Father, your post has brought to mind a thought about repentance, that occurred to me when I was reading elsewhere about sins needing to be repented with the practice of exclusion from the community, that being described in the Old Testament. In the Greek, the word simply means “to think again”. I had supposed this not to be so for many Gospel situations, and specifically the Samaritan woman. But clearly, she has re-thought, (and it goes without saying,) because she acts.
    Here she came to the well at high noon, when no one else would see her, being ashamed, and there she runs to tell the people what has happened – “He told me all things whatsoever I did!”
    Repentance has many guises!

  48. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    Byron…have you considered purchasing the book Fr Stephen recommended, The Ethics of Beauty, by Timothy Patitsas? I am only on page 62 (of 700+ !) and already see the truth of my recent despair. A truth I simply did not see. I refer to Dr Patitsas’ words on the Jesus Prayer.
    We know a lot of things intellectually. Dr Patitsas’ words go right straight to the heart. I thank God that Dr Patitsas has such a love of Christ that he shares with us a very pressing issue on his own heart…how exactly is the soul of man healed. 700 pages, this book. I can see he put much care – love – into it.
    Here is a link to the second chapter of the book:

  49. Dino Avatar

    Byron et al,
    One of my favourite passages from Elder Aimilianos on deep trust in God’s inconceivable providence, (which I have to reiterate regularly these days when the despair regarding “these times” attacks) is this one:

    Undeniably, a human who cannot become a Saint does not exist. You only need to be but a little stalwart, natural and humane, have some peace and acceptance –trust and accept anything that life brings you– to not fret about anything at all, neither yourself, neither the Church, neither society, nor the times. Us Christians have a tendency to examine all sorts of worries and then we rightfully feel as if we are threatened, endangered. But is Christ ever in danger? Even while asleep He commands the waves of the sea, the whirlwinds of the heavens and the pounding of our very hearts. At any point he can effortlessly command them to “be still!” (Mark 4:39) So, it would be inexcusable if we were not to become saints.

  50. Dino Avatar

    Besides, it somewhat noteworthy, that times of relative calm and prosperity (as straight after St Constantine’s ‘Edict of Milan’) generally produce fewer saints than more tempestuous ones seem to.

  51. Anonymous Avatar

    I am reminded how important truly listening is, to extend our hearts in love. To give no condemnation, but to truly listen to our neighbor, and then to offer Christ‘s love in our hearts, our prayers, our thoughts, and our actions….in our beings. Christ is love. Christ is light. In Him is no darkness at all. A light that transforms the world, one heart at a time. Christ’s peace that is a true abiding peace in our very depths and center, where we find God. In learning to abide in this center, I am enjoying a book by Dr. Rossi from St. Vladimir’s Seminary called “Becoming a Healing Presence”. He has a podcast of the same name. His chapter on the Jesus Prayer alone makes the book completely worth reading for me. It is so profound and yet simple, kissed by the words from the Holy Spirit and the prayers of his spiritual father, +Fr. Hopko of blessed memory. Listening is an act of love, I believe, so our hearts can offer prayer. We must listen to others made in the image of our God, one heart at a time, and then return Christ’s love He freely offers us. I believe Fr. Seraphim of Mull Monastery is one of those who helps sustain our world by his prayers. I appreciate his words about speaking in love, and maybe even more importantly I am learning, listening in love.


  52. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    Dino…thank you. What Elder Aimilianos says is true. I like the word ‘stalwart’, Old English for ‘place’ / ‘worth’. We will defend with vigor that which is worthy. Well, that would include our life in Christ. But behind what Elder Aimilianos says, and what you refer to in your following comment, is that it is through suffering we align ourselves with Christ.
    Here is the place that hit me in Dr Patitsas’ words on the Jesus Prayer: he says we suffer with the inability to keep from sinning, to the point where some can hardly say the version that says ‘”…have mercy on me, the sinner” . You would think that it would be easy, for the very truth is that we can not keep from sinning. And that’s the point. Dr Patitsas concludes the very same thing as Dostoevsky, and the very thing the Lord Jesus shows us, but yet for some reason escaped me. It is that our cross is not only our personal sins, inconsistencies, failings which lead to suffering and repentance, but most important is the bearing of the sins of others, including those who sin against us, and repenting on behalf of all. And it is precisely in this solidarity with our ‘neighbor’ (in our sins! And God’s love…), our fellow human beings, that we will find the peace of Christ. Right there!
    Repenting for all is the very message of Fr Stephen’s post on the Sins of the Nation. Dr Patitsus reminds us that Christ who knew no sin became sin for us. This is why He died our death, that in the death to self (forsaking the ‘ego’; emptying ‘the self’; bearing others’ burden of sin) we may have life. Of course it is not in us alone who effects such acts of grace, but us ‘in Christ’.
    And since I am not sinless, my very own sins have a bearing on why others behave wrongly, including the one who deals harshly with me. We are all responsible for the continuing fallenness of this present time. It is God’s desire that we be like His Son, to bear the sins of others. Because it is **there** we will find Christ’s peace.
    Dino…I am not doing any justice to Dr Patitsas’ words. And also, I realize that this particular section of the book may not be near as meaningful for others. But the coin dropped for me in a time of despair, and I would love if it would drop for others.

  53. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    The more you read in Patitsas’ book, I think you’ll see many reasons why I like his work and recommend it. It’s one of those experiences for me in which I keep saying, “Gee, I wish I’d said that.” Or “I said something like that, too.” Actually, is very affirming, and very well put throughout.

  54. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    🙂 Yes Father! You have said ‘things like that’ ! This is how all that I am learning and experiencing falls together. It helps greatly that I’ve heard these things before. No doubt I can see why you recommend his book.
    You know, I have this ‘thing’ about ‘the face’. In that link I posted above there is a picture, full facial view, of Dr Patitsas. You can just see the love and peace of God beaming in his face. It is people who have such Beauty in them that draw others to Christ. That picture captures the essence of his book. It is the very thing that Beauty does. Well, I want to be in their sway.
    I mean, that’s why I am one of your readers. You ‘got it’ too, Father. As we say, like attracts like!

  55. Erin Avatar

    Hi Paula – I’m so sorry to hear what you’ve been going through but alas I can relate. I don’t comment much at all but I’ve been a reader for years. With all the craziness in my life and in this world, especially now, I come and read Father’s blog looking for sanity and soundness and I am never disappointed. Thank you and Dino and Byron and the many others who share their pain and insights and thoughts. I have become so distrustful of religion or beliefs but yet I always come back here. I’m not Orthodox but still drawn to it. I just ordered the book you mentioned in this blog and look forward to reading, meditating, thinking. I live in the St. Paul Midway area of St. Paul and very close to the hundreds of buildings that were burned down or demolished that stand today all boarded up. I see boarded up businesses outside my window as of today and all up and down the street. I had to leave the Twin Cities and drive 4 hours north as I felt unsafe and so I could see only trees and grass and not businesses to be looted and burned. I don’t feel safe anymore. It seems that any veneer of civility has been stripped away. I just read a quote attributed to Martin Luther King, Jr. “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” It makes me want to sob. Because that’s what I’m experiencing too…silence. And not the good silence the bible advocates. Thank you Paula. I was encouraged when I stopped by today. May God bless you and comfort you. Erin

  56. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    Thanks so very much for such thoughtful words. I deeply appreciate them.
    It is a profound thing that it takes so long for Christ’s so very unconventional ways to sink in, but it is truly through our suffering together that brings the very hope we need…because Christ, He is the Hope of the nations. So it is not by the sword, as He says, but by humiliation, by suffering. Hard, hard words. But there’s an infinite supply of love in all this. This is the fuel of life in Life Himself, Jesus Christ.
    So very glad you still are one of Fr Stephens readers. I remember you from a while back.
    I am sorry you are in the middle of the turmoil up there. By your description, I can understand your troubles. And even though I we are miles apart, I can relate to the isolation, as you kindly acknowledged.
    These are very tough times. I believe all this will pass, and am encouraged by Fr Stephen’s similar thoughts. We will endure, even if it is on the backs of others.

    So glad you bought the book! You will very much appreciate it, I’m sure. He talks about recovery from trauma. He speaks of PTSD from war and abuse, but also says in a very real way we all can relate to trauma. This is true.
    Be blessed, Erin. Stay safe.
    Stay close to our Lord. Glad you are here.

  57. Joseph Barabbas Theophorus Avatar

    I’ve just about finished the link of Dr Patitsas—much closer to how my own models and systems work! I actually put the appetitive passions in the middle (and link them with philia, not eros) and diverge in some other places: I have a document detailing 7 different models of the human person (Israelite, Platonic, etc) and then a table linking the passions, virtues, events of Holy Week, etc—it took me 15 years+ (I got a lot of help from Met Hierotheos but started on this project before I was [baptized] Orthodox) yet it has been very fruitful. Even with all that experience, there is much in his words that I agree with and haven’t read elsewhere in contemporary literature.

    I very much concur about the importance of the appetitive passions: they’re not little or unimportant but they are the very battles which shape us. Even the use of the F word (f-u-n) is a barometer of this; it is no wonder it was universally fought by the American holy men who spoke on it (St Seraphim of Platina, Pr Alexander Schmemann (he continually puts it in scare quotes—go look!), etc). Play? We must—it is human! But cultivate appetitive idolatry? No way. And I’m glad to see his analysis of the Jesus prayer: it is what we get here on the blog, in the saints, and our own experience but it’s nice to see it in one place, concisely stated, so we can share it. That what he said seems so unusual, so foreign, so new is a very pointed commentary on our time.

  58. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    ” …and haven’t read [Dr Patitsas approach] elsewhere in contemporary literature.”

    Joseph…probably because the long-standing approach to therapeutics has been ‘truth-first’ rather than ‘beauty-first’. As an example, here’s a quote from the book that is in Father’s May 12th post, “The Quiet Centrality of Healthy Shame”:

    ““Beauty-first approaches always strengthen healthy shame. Truth-first approaches [as in fixing the past or getting correct information] always seem to blunt healthy shame. And therefore the real goal of Orthodox Christian soul development is that the soul become…orthodox. The soul only develops through a correct and healthy response to God’s pure Theophany – that is, by feeling the right kind of shame in the face of God’s glory….The great hospital of the soul is liturgy because in liturgy we are invited to fall in love with what is most Beautiful.” (pg.201) “

  59. juliania Avatar

    Further to my thought about metanoia, repentance, I will just add that any heartful re-thinking we do is good, as I am often rethinking the story of the Samaritan woman – it reminds me of the story of the blind man, having so many twists and turns. It must be that is one reason why it was chosen as one of the special feast days of the Easter cycle, so we would have time to dwell on it. And I am struck that Jesus simply says to her, “I who speak to you am he” when so many other times he says something different, or asks his interlocutor “Who do you say I am?”
    It’s the ‘who speak to you’ that I, this time, find to be marvelled at, as she herself did at first, and as indeed the disciples do marvel. While for the woman it is now a joyous marvel as well, even such a release, that he ‘told me all that I ever did!’ All so radiant in that ‘never condemn each other’ spirit of Saint Seraphim. (I should add that it was on the feast of the Samaritan woman that I received my chrismation.)
    Thank you again, for taking us to Saint Seraphim’s expansive and inclusive mind in heart words. They are truly food for the soul.

  60. Mary Ellen Avatar

    I have been listening to a series of recent interviews on The Brotherhood of Saint Moses the Black website. So full of grace and truth as are Father Stephen’s words.

  61. Byron Avatar


    It occurs to me that the Samaritan Woman’s “joyous marvel” and “release” may be considered an aspect of confession. The release of the burden of our sins and the grace of the Church are marvelous indeed. Just a thought.

  62. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Mary Ellen. I have known the founder of the Brotherhood of St. Moses, the Black ,Fr. Moses Berry since 1973. He is a remarkable man and his testimony that forgiveness, repentance and service to God and Man is the way 9f healing needs to be listened to.
    Plus, he needs your prayers as he is experiencing some serious health problems right now.

  63. Mary Ellen VanMarter Avatar

    I will pray for him and all of us. This has been the hardest couple of weeks for all of us. Thank you Michael for your kind and thoughtful response.

  64. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    I do not intend to seek to untie the Gordian knot of our culture’s present turmoil. It has layers and complexity – not being just one thing, but many things. I had asked earlier that we refrain from political comment – which is not to say that political comments have no truth.

    However, the blog is not “social” media, per se. It’s my blog – and – as such – my conversation. It includes listening (my listening as well). But, it has boundaries. For one, I want it to be a safe place – where, if possible, we refrain from shaming one another.

    So, I continue to moderate, and cut a comment here and there. Please forgive me in that – I mean no offense – but it is a public space.

    I will also remind all of us as we comment – that “children” are present – not in terms of age – but in terms of the spiritual life.

    I will reiterate what I try to teach – viz. modernity. I understand that various issues are important. I do not, however, agree that “silence is violence.” That’s simply a political slogan voiced by children who imagine that the political theater that marks our country is, in fact, changing things. Things might change – things always change. But the changes are simply finding various ways to arrange the chairs on the deck of the Titanic that is modern society. Moving people from steerage to the top deck is not, ultimately, a solution.

    I am not a secularist and I do not imagine for a minute that the secularized culture of modernity is about to make fundamental structural change that creates justice. Caesar is not getting ready to fall on his sword.

    There is the Christian gospel – and it is not a mere “religious” hope, a sideshow to the main entertainment that is provided by the governing powers. So long as we agree to live in that manner – chaplains to a secularized world – we’ll live as strangers to the Kingdom of God.

    I will keep bearing witness to the reality of the Kingdom of God, already inaugurated in Jesus Christ. Time will reveal the emptiness of even this present moment in our culture’s history. Time also reveals the fullness of the Kingdom. It reigns regardless of Caesar.

  65. sgage Avatar

    Father Stephen,
    “It reigns regardless of Caesar.”
    Mostly I remember this, feel this. Sometimes I get distracted. Thanks for the reminder…

  66. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Psalm 68 KJV always lifts my spirit.

  67. Esmee La Fleur Avatar
    Esmee La Fleur

    You words always make it easier for me to breathe. Thank you.

  68. Stephen Avatar

    Father Stephen,
    I was comforted by these words yesterday. I am a soldier who was activated in response to the riots in my state and shortly after coming off that duty I’ve been placed on quarantine for a while. The things I saw and experienced along with the media I was seeing were bothering me. Thank you.

  69. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Stephan, may God restore your soul. It is a shame that you had to do what you did, but thank you for doing it. May He shield you from evil.

  70. juliania Avatar

    Byron, yes, thanks! I think so too.

  71. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Given the recent mild kerfuffle even here, I comment to bring this post to the top again. It is telling that there were close to 200 comments on shame, but only 70 here. Yet, reading this post — just reading it allows the shame in my own life to recede and joy to rekindle.
    When I first was led to this blog back in 2008, I was recovering from the death of my wife of 24 years just three years prior. I had no joy, I had no primary relationships even in my parish. I had been received 15 years earlier.
    Since then I have learned a modicum of joy, been gifted with a wonderful wife and allowed the spirit of this blog settle a bit in my soul.
    What matter shame and failure; philosophy and progress in that light?

    Glory to God and Thank you Fr. Stephen

  72. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    I also think it behooves us to remember that this blog has a person behind it. A person who is enormously kind and long suffering to put up with us…and the load of nonsense that we do not see.

  73. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Like everyone else, I’m out in the mix of things in the culture. Despite my “retirement” as Pastor of St. Anne (I’m now “Pastor Emeritus”), I still serve, and, of course, write, listen and observe. To some extent, I’m an empathetic person – I feel what others feel. Sometimes it is intentional, many times, it’s just a matter of being wired that way. I grew up in a house that was marked by dangerous emotions and occasional violence. I was the second-born son, and small for my age. I think I was forged into an empathy as a survival technique. I wanted to know what others felt – and, sadly, as a child I wanted to manage those feelings for the sake of safety. I became a “rescuer.”

    All of that has been the fodder of other things in my life – many of which have changed and become healthy things. But, of late, the intensity of emotions and the passions of our culture, have been deeply disturbing. I have found it increasingly difficult to find the place of peace – and it is only in that place of peace that we can know God and truly live. But, there is grace for us in all of this. This morning I’ve been lifted up from a depressive episode (brought on by a diverticulitis attack). Getting old is not always a lot of fun!

    Only a concerted meditation on the providential care of God and His working in all things for good can withstand the present noise and confusion. This, I think, is a good description of the “shield of faith.”

    God give His grace to all of you. I deeply appreciate your prayers.

  74. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Thank God for your recovery. I must say however that what you describe sounds quite a bit like The Cross.

  75. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    I found this: http://anothercity.org/pray-for-our-loved-ones-who-are-beyond-canon-of-supplication-to-st-varus/ while looking around this morning in my retirement. It reminds me that the Martyrs are wounded, but those wounds, like the wounds of Christ are healing.

    Since my wife and I have many friends and family who are not in the Church or even “believe” I plan to incorporate the Canon into my own devotions which need to increase now that I no longer work outside the home.

  76. Kristin Avatar

    I am coming to this post a little late but on the very day I needed to hear St Seraphim’s words and the encouragement from all of you. Today I encountered a situation in which I wanted to choose to not judge another, to respond with kindness, yet also not get run over by another’s anger. It was hard, but I tried it, and although I succeeded in part, my pride chides me as I realize I still lack love for the other person.

    Orthodoxy tells me to repent and pray, Jesus says to love God and love my neighbor. When the hardships of others reduce me to helplessness I wind up thinking all I can do is pray. Why don’t I start there? Jesus says prayers can move mountains! I resonate deeply with Catalina and her post brought me to tears. The ache of wondering if our prayers mean anything, or if God hears us, maybe does God even care, all this can lead to despair. This blog helps me remember and look at all of you as examples, who also fall down, but get up again and point me to Christ.

    Catalina, I am not alone here in praying for you and your boy. May God heal you both. My tears are with you.

  77. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Kristin, prayer is not magic or occult. The mountain I find that it moves is in my own heart eroding the mass that stands between God and me-drop by drop.

  78. Kristin Avatar


    Just last week it occurred to me that there are mountains in my heart, and perhaps these are the ones to which the scriptures refer. Your comments encourage me, thank you. These mountains seem impossible to move yet maybe they can, drop by drop as you say!

  79. Byron Avatar


    I’ve been going through a rough patch of late and found that 1st and 2nd Peter are amazingly uplifting epistles. I was very surprised, going back and reading them, as I had not read them in some time.

  80. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    The end of St Tikhon’s Morning Prayer requests, almost in passing, for Jesus Himself to pray in us.
    My wife and I have said that prayer together for years.
    Then it hit me: He actually does that. He loves us so much that He actually comes to each of us and prays in us.
    “…and became man” is real in its fullness. He not only understands whatever pain we have and whatever joy…He shares it and, though we don’t know it most of the time, makes it lighter. As St. Simon of Cyrene help Him, so He helps us.
    He helps us bear with whatever the Adamic separation from God has brought us. He experienced the while weight of that cosmic wound in The Garden.
    Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

  81. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Excuse me, the Morning Prayer of Met Philaret.

  82. Maya Bushhouse Avatar
    Maya Bushhouse

    Father Stephen, I have been perusing your words, blogposts and podcasts, since early this Winter (amidst the beginning of the pandemic and many tragedies in our world this year). I was baptized and chrismated by the grace of God this January, and as someone who is learning to battle intrusive and scrupulous thoughts as a new convert, your words have been such a source of comfort to me and always help me find peace in drawing me back to Christ. I would like thank you overflowingly however I will just leave it at a simple ‘thank you’—your words touch my heart deeply and remind me of our Savior’s love and constancy.

  83. Lina Avatar

    There is a wonderful verse and response in the Liturgy. I first encountered it in the Episcopal liturgy and it is in the Orthodox liturgy

    .The priest says to us, “Let us lift up our hearts!” We are to respond, “We lift them up unto the Lord.”

    As was explained to me many years ago by a wise Episcopal priest, “This is the time we give God permission to clean our hearts: The good stuff , the bad stuff, the hurts, the wounds, everything, so that He can work on them . He has something better than Clorox and soap. And the upside of doing this is that then we are free to worship Him without our baggage holding us down. “

  84. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    I returned to this first thing today as I was going through old bookmarks. It is a salutary moment in the midst if horrible things. I was talking yesterday with a woman monastic, a long time friend, yesterday. We talked about how to address evil in the world, especially racial evil. She wanted to hear from me, as someone out in the world more than she, what I thought( ironic given my own bad behavior here recently for which I am sorry). What came out of our conversation was that addressing the evils in the same manner as the world is falling prey to the demonic miasma that has become the lingua franca of this world. Demons responding to demons.

    The only proper answer is mercy. Not the feeling or the romantic sentiment, but real mercy. The voice of the world (demonic remember) cries Justice! The result is havoc, destruction and death (of the soul as well as the body).
    Our Lord tells us, “I will have mercy, not sacrifice”

    I have long pondered Shakespeare’s meditation on mercy in The Taming of the Shrew, especially
    “Though justice be thy plea, consider this, That in the course of justice, none of us should see Salvation. We do pray for mercy and that same prayer teaches us to render the deeds of mercy. ”

    Mercy is the only way to overcome evil. There are countless times each day when we can do deeds of mercy. The next ” good thing”.

    There is an old cartoon (1935)” The Sunshine Makers” which is a Christian parable in disguise https://youtu.be/6je1eIhbVvg
    even though it was meant as an advertisement for milk fortified with vitamin D.

    Christ is Risen, trampling down death by death and upon those in the tomb bestowing life.

  85. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman


    My conversation with my monastic friend yesterday was healing and invigorating for us both. A sign of God’s mercy but also a reminder that the battle is closer than hands and feet.

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