Shaming Silence

The phrase has been quoted frequently: “silence is violence.” It is the demand that some form of political speech or action, expression of opinion, meme-sharing, and the like, is required of every person or they are guilty (or at least complicit) in violence against a racial minority. There are any number of careful analyses of the depths intended by this phrase, examinations of the nature of violence, the nature of systemic prejudice, as well as the creation of justice. As much as I loathe political discourse, the present case serves as an excellent example of the nature of modernity and its subtle demands in our lives. No doubt, many have been persuaded to take up the chants that have become familiar of late. Others have probably been provoked to anger by such demands, even when they personally oppose racial injustice. What is going on?

First and foremost, the statement, “silence is violence,” is an attempt to shame those who do not join in the public outrage. There is the clear implication that anyone who remains silent is complicit in a crime. They are less than good people. That is the nature of shame: it tells us that we are bad. Anytime we are shamed, we are provoked to anger or to some form of inner misery. We want to either placate the accuser or to crush them. We’re wired that way. It is, and always has been, a powerful means for controlling human behavior.

Throughout much of Western history (both Medieval and the early modern period) public shaming was perhaps the most common form of punishment. The two most frequent forms were the stocks (where a person was simply locked in a wooden platform and put on public display for a time) and the pillory (where the head was held in place by an iron contraption so that a person could not move, nor turn the face away in shame). There were other cruelties added, including nailing the ears, or cutting them off, or whipping the individual as well. The point of these punishments was not so much the suffering involved – it was the public display of the suffering. It was common for the public to ridicule an individual in the stocks or pillory, throwing rotten food, spitting, and the like. The crucifixion of Christ was simply an early, more cruel form of this very thing.

The death penalty has been in place through most of history, and only ceased to be a public form of punishment in relatively recent times. Crowds gathered to watch and jeer as a criminal was hung. The hangman’s noose, the pillory, and the stocks, were a form of social media in their time – the Facebook of a village.

There is a long history of public demonstrations and riots. Crowds have sought to overthrow emperors, change policies, single-out and execute individuals, etc. Indeed, the sorry history of racial lynching in America belongs in the darkest corner of such actions. The passions of crowds often seem to empower a group to do something that a single individual would never dare or even wish. There is an anonymity that comes about in which personhood begins to be obscured and lost. It is a dangerous episode in the life of any nation, regardless of the cause.

Sadly, it also seems to hold great promise to many. In terms of the passions, it feels like something is being done (when “something must be done!”). Of course, in America, as a news-cycle fades, so the crowds thin, and whatever “must be done” likely languishes or morphs into something else entirely.

I have voiced my skepticism about the “modern project” time and again, with the argument that it represents a distortion of classical Christianity, while, at the same time, being a disingenuous collection of slogans that provide cover for the true work that goes by its name. It is not building a better world. It is more accurate to say that modernity is always building a bigger profit.

There is some level on which democracy “works.” It is, however, not nearly as transparent nor obvious as it would seem. The history of nations demonstrates time and again that the “powers that be” are, primarily, “powers.” They are not philosophical or theoretical entities. Unmasking the powers is always difficult, and sometimes quite frightening. On some level, there is always something “demonic” at work. In the Scriptures, the distinction between the government of the empire and the “principalities and powers” of the demonic anti-hierarchy frequently seems blurred. Though Christ was “officially” put to death by the Roman state, St. Paul also describes the crucifixion as an action of the “rulers of this age” (1 Cor. 2:8), a clear reference to demonic powers. By the same token, Christ’s death and resurrection are a defeat of these same powers.

Democracy does not represent a new age in which these powers are no longer at work. That which was at work in Rome, in the Middle Ages, in the Soviet Union, in the European Union, is that which is at work in all of the states of the present time. There is no such thing as a “secular” state.

The real question for Christians is not “how should I vote,” but “how should I live?” There is nothing wrong in voting one’s conscience. But there is much wrong in imagining ourselves to have power in the manner in which it is often told to us. This is the simple truth: steadfast, sacrificial prayer is of far greater worth than every so-called political action. God sustains the world through the prayers of the saints. Not even a modicum of justice is sustained by the votes of a majority.

We cannot, through voting, make the world to be a place any better than our own hearts. If we cannot rightly govern even so little, how do we imagine ourselves to be governing so much? If God could turn the wicked heart of Pharaoh towards mercy, can He not do the same in our own day? St. James wrote: “…for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.” (James 1:20)

Many people would agree that they have rarely seen as much anger and hatred in our public lives as we are seeing at the moment. Righteousness, the true godly relationship between people, is a profound work of peace-making. We cannot make peace with anger. “Acquire the Spirit of peace and a thousand souls around you will be saved.” That is simply the truth regarding any righteousness in this world. Such peace flows easily from silence, if the silence is wrapped in prayer.


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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186 responses to “Shaming Silence”

  1. Albert Haddad Avatar

    Ameen! Thanks Abouna!

  2. Ryan Avatar

    …did you really just claim that protesting police violence is akin to killing Christ, Fr. Steven?

  3. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Ryan, I did not. I did, however, place it at an exteme end of the spectrum of public shaming. Public shaming has a long and dark history. The present examples have already killed over 12 innocent people, just to cite its darkest results. Modernity is utilitarian – the ends justifies the means. Thus, the end of racial justice is used to justify the use of public shame, destruction of property, and, possibly, the killing of innocent individuals. I described it as dangerous stuff.

    I do not believe that public shaming will bring about justice. But, I would appreciate if what I’ve said is read for what it actually says.

    For the record, I have been committed to racial justice for the whole of my adult life – and have lived it. I would maintain at present, that a life of prayer and even silence is also a profound work for justice.

    But just to be precise – I included crucifixion in a paragraph on public shaming as a means of public control. It is perfectly accurate. That said, there is a distinction that can be made between protesting police violence and making of protest an extended exercise in public shaming. That has sort of become the fad in recent years, with chants of “shame! shame! shame!” and other tactics. One of the distinguishing elements of MLK’s demonstrations were his careful thought about what that would look like when done in a Christian manner. It was a very different creature from what we see at present.

    MLK taught and practiced non-violence. Shaming is inherently violent. Non-violent demonstrations fit well within the Christian tradition. I think there are many who show up at present demonstrations, and find themselves deeply uncomfortable with what they are being asked to say and do. That discomfort should be a red flag for them.

    Of course, the difficulty with a crowd is that you lose your individuality and any nuance you might intend. If it turns violent – you are in a violent demonstration, etc. But coercing people to demonstrate through public shame is just another form of violence. Its history speaks for itself.

  4. Joan Avatar

    Thank you so much Father! I needed that more than you know !

  5. Robert Attaway Avatar
    Robert Attaway

    Thanks, Father, for the post. A very good word. Hope things are well in Tennessee. All is well in Greenville, SC.

  6. Mother Olga Avatar
    Mother Olga

    Thank you, Father. This is the best I’ve read regarding the current situations in our country and in the world. I’ve been having trouble keeping my emotions from getting away from me – anger, fear, etc.

  7. Andrew Avatar

    “Silence is violence” is referring to the act of staying silent when we are in the presence of and/or are bearing witness to a crime or injustice. Yes, it has been used to shame people into protesting at a cultural level, but this is an incorrect use that has been co-opted. Let’s not forget the why the phrase developed and its true meaning. The phrase is spoken by those who are actually oppressed as a plea, to those who can, to speak up. When we see a child who is abused and say nothing, we are committing violence toward that child. When we see a woman who is being assaulted, saying nothing is participating in her violation. When we see a black person being called a racial slur, saying nothing commits a violence toward their character. These are the most obvious examples and we can discuss how this applies to less obvious examples. Certainly, the phrase can be used a means to coax people into a group think. But it can also be used to wake people up to a collective injustice. Perhaps it is time to be shamed into a cultural repentance.

  8. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Andrew, you make a good point. It is, however, nuanced. It’s hard to hear a nuance when it is shouted and spray-painted and then used to mean something else. Again, the argument that insists that “inaction is action” can be misused quite easily (and often is). For example, not voting is often used in that manner – when it can often be the only option of integrity that is permitted.

    If I think that someone is trying to coerce me into things that I do not intend – then I choose not to participate – and accusing me of therefore being “on the other side” is simply another form of coercion. I’ve been around a long time and seen lots of demonstrations and lots of causes – and been in a few myself. I think long and hard about it and have regretted my participation on a number of occasions.

    Interestingly, a week or more before the demonstrations began, my first public reaction (in social media) to Mr. Floyd’s death was to say that the proper question was to focus on police violence and judicial reform rather than the broad topic of racism. It’s true that blacks suffer disproportionately from police brutality for a variety of reasons – including racism – but we’ve long had a problem with the militarization of the police and nurturing a culture of violence on the part of the American judicial system.

    The very people who have presided over this process happen to be the very ones still in charge (in both parties). I’ll be skeptical about their response until I see something different. We were chanting about police brutality in the 60’s. It has not changed – in many ways it has gotten worse.

    The examples you gave seem to me to call for more than speaking – an abused child, an abused woman, etc. I think it is required that we seek to place ourselves been the abused and the abuser. If need be, suffer the blows.

  9. Christine Scrantom Avatar
    Christine Scrantom

    I can’t think of anyone who spoke more in his silence than Christ……..

  10. Deborah Avatar

    Thank you, Father. My heart has known what you have said is true, but my head keeps hearing otherwise. I feel my heart and head have come together as I’ve read this post.

  11. mary benton Avatar
    mary benton

    Hi Fr. Stephen,
    I think there are times when we should feel angry. One of the most emotionally and spiritually destructive things that I accidentally learned as a child was that anger is a sin. I was too young at the time to understand what was meant by the passions (or “deadly sins” as we Catholics were taught to call them). From this, I learned to repress and spiritualize all angry feelings to the point that it made me mentally ill with anxiety. I learned to disown a significant part of myself, believing that my emotions were inherently bad (which made me bad for having them).

    Scripture tells us that there is “a time to be silent and a time to speak” (Ecclesiastes 3:7). I do not feel shamed by having my silence challenged. I find myself struggling to integrate my prayerful silence with my responsibility to fight evil when I see it at work. It’s not always an easy combination.

    I understand that to write of fighting evil is treading a fine line, as much evil can be justified on the basis of fighting someone else’s evil. I must always begin with myself – and end with myself, because the battle with self is ongoing. However, even though I do not embrace politics as the solution to anything, in the battle between good and evil, there is no neutrality. Silence can pretend neutrality but, in the end, it is may be more a sin of omission.

    If I lived in the time of Hitler and knew what was happening, could I remain silent? Not every “speaking” is done with words but it is still a speaking, i.e .a message. Franz Jägerstätter was an example of such a speaking out – with his life more than with words. Corrie ten Boom was another. While some may say that our times are nothing like the times of Hitler, I would not agree. Evil is still evil, however it manifests itself. Many during Hitler’s time had no comprehension of the extent of the evil operative. The same could be said of our times. Many people’s eyes are starting to open and they are speaking.

    Prayerful discernment is needed for each of us to know how and when to “speak” but, again, there can be no neutrality in the face of evil. Anger is not always destructive. Indeed, it can have a creative energy if we place it in the hands of God.

    Forgive me.

  12. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Mary, good words. I agree that there is a time to be angry…and as St. Paul says, “Be angry and sin not.” Interestingly, I think one of those times is precisely in the face of injustice. The emotion of anger is a gift from God and serves to motivate us to action. It is important, having said that, to find Godly ways of acting regarding injustice. And there is some of that taking place.

    I am deeply concerned, however, with the widespread use of a public shaming culture – this has been going on in university settings and some cities for quite a while now and is passing into a more mainstream use. I do not think it is healthy or helpful.

    I like action. I like non-violent action best.

    In high school, we had a visiting Catholic priest on campus one day who was a very well-known anti-war activist. There was a classroom debate. I got involved in the debate – I was strongly opposed to the Vietnam War. I made a very strident point and was very passionate. At the end of the class, Father took me aside and said, “Stephen, there’s more than one way to do violence to a man.” I was a very angry, even violently angry young man.

    I hear the echoes.

  13. Janette Reget Avatar
    Janette Reget

    I agree with Andrew and his interpretation of “silence is violence”. I gave up shame long ago, so it is rare that I am shamed by something like this. We have to rely on the Holy Spirit to give us words and courage to speak up when we must. I agree as well with you about prayer. That will change more than any politician could. Thank you for your wonderful and thought provoking posts always.

  14. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Father, I have been a friend of Father Moses Berry since 1973. I have learned a great deal from him concerning the reciprocal shame of slavery and racial interrelations in this country. It is at the heart of all current racial animosity. You mention lynching but that is not all of it.

    It is a reciprocal shame that keeps the animosity going. No public demonstration will do anything to lessen the shame.

    Three things will (for all not just white folk): 1. Repent giving your heart to God in tears not so much for any overt acts (although those too) but simply to allow yourself to feel the shame. I first recognized that reality when I stood next to him in his now closed museum of slavery as he was wearing the slave collar that his great-great uncle had worn when freed by Union soldiers. I then got to put it around my own neck. Heavy (25 lbs), rough iron. A true instrument of shame and control. Even with no force making me wear it and having the ability to take it off any time I wished, I knew and still know that the shame of that for both black and white–the tears still come as I think of that 10 years ago. Only God’s mercy is capable of healing that;
    2. Forgive: perhaps self-explanatory, but forgiveness is not a one way street. Since the shame is reciprocal, the forgiveness is both inward and outward;
    3. Serve others with kindness even if you have little material goods yourself. Fr. Moses family has done this since his great-great grandmother, Ellen, was freed by Nathan Boone. Of the many works she did one was to establish a cemetery for freed slaves, Indians and other undesirables so that they could be buried with no shame.

    That cemetery exists to this day, The Cemetary of Theotokos, Unexpected Joy. Under Fr. Moses care and his Matushka Magdelena it has been restored to an active, consecrated Orthodox cemetery. There are many other acts of charity and kindness that have been done since.

    The Repentance, Prayer and acts of kindness are all wound together in a prayer rope of sorts imploring
    God’s mercy to heal our mutual shame so that the degradation of our humanity and the consequent violence will cease. Pray for the intercession of the Holy Theotokos and St. Moses, the Ethiopian aka as St. Moses, the Black.

    Search for Father Moses Berry, Fr. Paul Abernathy and Albert J Raboteau on the internet and read with an open and prayerful heart.

    May He have mercy on us and heal our human hearts, a place with no pigmentation.

  15. Skip Avatar

    Thank you, Father! God Bless you for these words.

    You are so very right about the shaming going on – Friendships already strained by the politics of the last decade are sundering, often because one person or another demands not only a lack of silence on a matter, but absolute affirmation of a particular causus belli in extremely particular language, and if that language is not correct to every iota, then one has still more shame heaped on. Nuance, compassion, empathy – all seem chucked out the window, and in the face of that, silence really is often better.

  16. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Michael, shame is a damaging thing, that leaves the soul scarred. It is, hands down, the single most powerful emotion that human beings deal with. Psychologists have dubbed it the “master emotion.” Because it is so strong it does carry violent energies with it. In the hands of a crowd, human beings at their least rational and most suggestible moment, it is particularly dangerous. It is the stuff of true demogoguery. It was used to great effect in the last presidential campaign (negative effect). It is passing into a very dominant cultural mode of interaction and will fuel fires that might prove hard to extinguish.

    Justice, goodness, wholeness, love, all that is truly valuable, is hard to build and takes true patience and the work of good hearts. We do not have good hearts at present. At present, we are a very mean people, even if we’re sometimes mean about the right things.

  17. Sophia Avatar

    Bless, Father.

    I have never registered to vote. I have been shamed many times because of it. Lately I have slowly been succumbing to “silence is violence,” but mostly because I never truly realized the plight of our African American brothers and sisters. (Watching Selma had me wondering if voting might help, since they were willing to die for the right.) I’ve been deeply saddened by the actions and words of people that claim to love Jesus. But it’s just as bad among those that don’t. So, again, I’ve begun to wonder if voting may truly help. I have three days to decide. I still don’t know for sure, but this blog was both timely and illuminating. (If any of that was confusing, it comes from a confused person. Sorry.)

  18. Alex Avatar

    Father, thank you. This is a much needed reminder that much greater powers are at work here. Re: public shaming, I wonder if you followed what happened with JK Rowling. She voiced her concerns with erasure of biological women by the mainstream, and suffered a tremendous backlash, public shaming, violent threats, even calls to burn her books (?!). I’m afraid the anti-racist sentiment malignantly mutated into an anti-woman one.

  19. Walter Kennick Avatar
    Walter Kennick

    “The language of God is silence. All other is simply a poor translation.” Saint Isaac the Syrian

  20. Loo Avatar

    I think there is a misconception in some of the comments here about how “silence is violence” is being used in this moment. It’s not being used to call out to people who are ACTUALLY standing by viewing these things happening in which they had an opportunity to stop somehow, but as a bludgeon in which to bully people into falling into line with a narrative that has gone beyond what it is on the surface. Almost no one thinks what was done to Mr Floyd was neutral or good; most out there can see that we have had a festering issue with an ever-more flippant and uncaring police presence in the United States and that it’s beyond time to do something about it. But what has been happening on social media, especially in regard to any public figure or company is that there is now a cry for them to fall into line with the zeitgeist or face social and economic consequences.
    Now, social change can come with some degree of peer pressure, but I don’t believe for a hot minute that most of what I’m seeing out there is from a truly changed heart. Much of it is from the avoidance of the public shaming and pitchfork-wielding mob, and much of it is from those who have given into the intoxication of feeling like part of a movement and the fun of holding those pitchforks themselves. This reflects in how some of the worst of those accusing others of their silent racism aren’t even those who are or have ever been negatively affected by racial inequality or police violence.
    Anyway, thank you for this post Father. I’ve been mulling on what’s been striking me as wrongheaded about the rhetoric I’ve seen on the internet for the past few weeks and your thoughts have helped.

  21. Helen Avatar

    Thank you Father for this post. I couldn’t before understand why I felt so conflicted. The meanness was so subtle-cloaked in righteousness. And it’s almost cult-ish.

  22. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    The first time I was aware of the shame involved with race I was a young child. My mother was a skilled contemporary dancer and dance teacher. She helped bring to my town, Wichita, Is a black dance troop who preformed African tribal dances. The members of the troop were not welcome in any Wichita hotel circa 1955. So, my mother arranged lodging in private homes. We put up Alphonse Cimber, the troops drummer. A Haitian and an absolute master of his craft. A gentle man who was deeply grateful for my mother’s kindness. They remained friends for the rest of his life. I was taught an indelible lesson too.

    When I was a high school we had a black lady who helped my mother clean our large Victorian house, Lacy.
    We got on well,. I invited her to the performance of a play I was in, not really understanding what it would cost her to come–but she came and made her way to the stage afterwards to tell me she enjoyed it. Even though she was shabbily dressed and a little tipsy. I was so happy to see her, I threw my arms around her and gave her a hug. Probably scandalizing some folks. Shame was overcome though by love. She told my mother later how much it meant to her
    Shame was overcome at least in that moment. Many other such moments in my life, by the Grace of God. Yet now, politically I am called deplorable and racist.

    I have two rational choices; anger or forgiveness — not always an easy choice.

  23. Maria W Avatar
    Maria W

    I can hardly live a day not getting sucked into yesteryear or centuries old historic grievances of which I never was a part of or lived. I struggle just to survive here and try to remain a decent human being. I find the world and narratives exhausting, of constant repeats, and exploiding it for gain or profit to what ever extent. Reminds me of,
    there is nothing new under the sun.
    I agree, shaming in what ever manner is evil. Good and wise counsel here. It is not my war. Thank you Fr. Freeman

  24. Byron Avatar


    Father has said many times that there is nothing wrong with voting. But it won’t change the world. Politics is incapable of changing the human heart and that is where the change must happen.

    I find that the argument of “silence is violence” is as skip has described it above: a demand for absolute affirmation of a particular cause, in extremely particular language. It always belittles prayer and the providence of God in our lives. Prayer does not preclude action; it is the most important action we can take because it is the only real action that changes the human heart. Prayer requires a level of love, self-emptying, and humility that the mob mentality of our time simply cannot practice.

    One can be angry, but we should call out to God for mercy (justice) in our anger. The following is from another of Father’s posts. I think it instructive in this situation:

    Abraham “stands before the Lord” (the essential work of the priesthood). And there he begins his prayers. While he prays, the judgment of Sodom and Gomorrah waits – it hangs in a balance. Will the Lord spare the cities for the sake of 50 righteous? 45? 40? 30? 20? 10? It is with fear and trembling that Abraham is bold to bargain with God. It is with fear and trembling that he asks, “Will the Lord destroy the righteous with the wicked?”

    …The Elder Sophrony saw in this verse the description of the essential work of the priestly Christ, the very work that is given to us in our priesthood.

    Abraham’s intercession reveals the very heart of the Church’s prayer. The righteous man lives side-by-side with the wicked, but he doesn’t despise them or pray for their destruction. Instead, he recognizes the coinherence and communion of all humanity – “Will the Lord destroy the righteous with the wicked?” We are with the wicked. We do not have a life apart from them, for we are with them. And this presence becomes the fulcrum for the salvation of the world. “I will be with you,” Christ promises (Matt. 28:20).

    Only with a spirit of peace, trusting in the love of God, may we walk with the wicked (however one may wish to characterize us and them) as intercessors, in communion with humanity. Just my thoughts.

  25. Nell Avatar

    MLK may never have preached shame, he didn’t need to. The marches he organized or inspired were on nightly TV news and the way they were put down by the police shamed us all. I’ve never forgotten the shock of seeing dogs and water hoses set on peaceful marchers.

  26. Allen R. Avatar
    Allen R.

    Wendell Berry wrote a great little essay you can find online called In Distrust Of Movements. He’s covers the issues that are dear to him in it. I’m in agreement with his observations and sentiment.

  27. Esmee La Fleur Avatar
    Esmee La Fleur

    Thank you. Much appreciated.

  28. Ioana Avatar

    Father, if silence is violence, then this is a violence-free society, as nobody is ever silent these days. Silence is not violence. Somebody mentioned Hitler. Hitler was a product of democracy. A lot of people voted for him. They had the right to speak out and that is what they spoke. Schindler did not speak out, on the other hand. He quietly did what he could to save some people. When we witness injustice, we need to do (not just say) something about it. I am not on Facebook or any social media, but somebody recently added me to a WhatsApp group. In Romania it’s fashionable right now to shame the Orthodox Church for various things such as building too many churches and not enough hospitals or orphanages. One day somebody made the comment that the church does not get involved enough in giving social assistance to those in need and so the people in that whatsapp group “should do something about it”. “Our own initiative” they said. I replied that the Orthodox Church is the biggest philanthropist in Romania right now (numbers suggest so) and there are hundreds of organisations, institutions, charity initiatives struggling to make ends meet. I gave them two or three concrete examples in the nearby area and offered to give them the contacts of those in charge. I was worried for 3 seconds that I will be overwhelmed with requests and I am not much of a Martha. How many do you think wrote back? None. They did what they “felt” was important: they spoke out. We speak out and do nothing. It is a way of keeping our conscience clear, without doing anything that involves spending long hours, days, months, years or lives helping the others. We have good intentions, but let’s just look at the language that we use. It’s about us. Not the suffering in the world. It’s about how we feel and what we think. That is the real emergency. And that is why things don’t change. Because once we are done expressing our feelings, we calm down and move on.

  29. Ioana Avatar

    I guess what I meant was that we are angry enough to write things on fb or even to go to a protest every now and then. But not many of us are angry enough to offer free math tutoring to a school from a poor neighborhood. Every week. Sometimes we are not even angry enough to spend time with our own children and to teach them to be kind. I’ve seen enough of communism and enough of capitalism not to trust any ideology. We might not be aware of this, but initially ideology (the science of ideas) was meant to replace theology. And so it did…

  30. Cristi Avatar

    Living in a communist state (Romania) when I was a child I remember one thing very vividly (other than the endless queues for bread and food in general) – the fear to say something, anything, that might be even in the most remote way possible critical of the status quo. The communist party organized a lot of marches in which people where granted the opportunity to “march for the people”. One night, a day before 23 august, when a march was planned (to commemorate when the russian army entered Romania and liberated it), I heard my father whispering his complaint with my mother, and both of them were livid that I had heard them and I might say something to some other child on the playground, who might say that to his parents, who might tell “someone” (I was about 5 at the time)… so they had a serious talk with me that was basically: never ever tell anyone anything that you hear spoken (many people just dissapeared, entire families).
    What I see happening in the US is the beginning of that: not in with the ideology, you should not exist. And silence is violence is nothing more than a cry for power for a few (my father participated in a LOT of marches because … well, you did not go, you might have had problems (lose your job, home, kid, life)). So silence is violence in my view has NEVER meant anything more than: give X more power

  31. Dino Avatar

    Thank you very much for this article Father,
    I have been prompted to reflect on the cunning manipulative-ness of numerous current ‘slogans’ recently: such as the co-opted ‘silence is violence’ (and others). Their duplicitousness makes conversations about them speedily digress towards impassioned polarisation.
    I also cannot help but philosophise that their basis is the ‘formal’ Anti-Christian ideology that covertly dominates the public sphere (an ideology that has never been actual ‘Satanism’, as one might assume of ‘Antichristian’, but rather, it is typically a variation of ‘Secular Humanism’).
    This worldview seems to be able to easily come to possess the minds of entire people-groups of late. Its ‘sway’ is such, that it collectively dupes people-groups, even into radical events and paradigms (evocative of Lucifer’s warfare on Heaven) in the name of some assumed ‘good outcome’. It is a sway of such power that one could assert that it rivals the power which actual satanic delusion normally has upon the spiritually deluded.
    Of course, for those who flout genuine Christianity, which proclaims that the Kingdom of God “has been inaugurated into the world and the outcome of history has already been determined” by Christ (as you once said Father), such radical events and violence-justifying-cries might appear as noble. But they are quite the contrary.
    It also strikes me –when I hear discussions involving the two polar opposite camps– that an extreme bias against dis-confirmatory evidence is required for this new ‘wokeness’ to avoid acknowledging the many fibres of delusion mixed into it.

  32. Ziton Avatar

    here is much one could say on this topic. I’ll break up any comments I make into individual posts, partly in the interest of length, and partly to make it easier for Father to delete offending bits if he sees fit.

    To start (point 1), surely there are different kinds, or modes, of silence, and silence can work in different ways in different circumstances? Here are some examples, set out in a kind of spectrum.

    Silence and stillness can truly be the most profound thing. Hesychasm is at the heart of our prayer traditions. Be still and wait for the Lord and all that.

    There is waiting silence. Neutral to positive attentiveness, waiting, almost choosing not to invest oneself in a situation.

    There is listening silence, which is so topical I’ll devote a point on its own to it below.

    There is active silence, which is in effect a comment, and speaks a different language. I think of our Lord’s injunction to turn the other cheek as being partly in that category (it is more, of course.)

    There is uneasy silence where ambiguities run riot and anxieties grow.

    And then silence can also be completely toxic. One example at a personal level is indeed shame itself, because shame feeds off silence. It is in silence that it metastasizes into horrors and sin. This is one reason that Father’s articles on “bearing a little shame” are so powerful and necessary. They are calls to bring shame into the light – carefully, and sensitively. In that sense, the political slogan “silence is violence” is (ironically ?) sort of right, or at least has resonances to something real.

    But more topically, silence in a group context can also be toxic. The three other police officers who stood around while Derek Chauvin was strangling George Floyd were not calling out their buddy (for whatever reason) despite the growing unease of the crowd. Their silence almost certainly contributed to his death, and has now resulted in accessory to murder charges. It will be interesting to see how those go up against a “beyond reasonable doubt” standard of proof, but whatever the legal issues that really was a powerful image of why and how not speaking up can result in violence, and death. I think that if the social media had shown just one of those other officers saying something like “hey buddy, that’s enough” to Chauvin, there would be a very different national conversation happening now. So So there really are times when silence is violence!

  33. Ziton Avatar

    Point 2 – slogans and where they go.

    “Silence is violence” starts life as a slogan. Maybe it gets used to start with because it resonates with some people, maybe for the reasons described in point 1.

    The problem with almost any political slogan that gains traction because of a real underlying problem and which is supported by a tide of emotional energy is that it starts getting hijacked and starts morphing into other things. The idea that if you are silent you must be complicit in violence is such a morphing, and from there, particularly if you have other agendas it can easily become a tool to bludgeon others, and yes shame is always on the table as a key tool.

    With the unleashing of all of this pent up anger and rage there are undoubtedly probabilites that it will all veer off in weird directions as people try and harness the runaway horse to further their own agendas with, yes, ‘virtue signalling’ shaming being a key mechanism.

    But let’s remember it is not just “progressives” who are doing this (and that is the problem I have with singling out this particular slogan/symbolic meme for special attention). My biggest ‘symbol’ choking point was a bible being held up by a power as a ‘law and order’ (and dog whistling) prop after peaceful protesters were been cleared in a very conscious show of force which also resulted in the rector of the church (also treated as a prop) being cleared out. All very deliberate and theatrical to make the issue about “law and order” and cynically designed to provoke partisanship and a ‘pick a side’ mentality, but using Christian symbols as props.

    (Father, all that is not intended as a political statement, but just to broaden things out – I do worry that by picking examples ‘from one side’ might come across as being partisan. Also, as a Christian I really do just gag on what I see as a probably demonic bastardization of Christian symbols and inversion of the gospel – it’s the one thing that will get me to speak out!)

  34. Ziton Avatar

    Point 3 – Listening silence

    I remember hearing a talk 20 years or so ago which described an advert in the UK from a social services agency that showed a boy that said “All I need is a good listening to.” I do wonder whether that is the kind of silence that the current situation is calling for, and something that Christians can do.

    Not a passive silence or even just a waiting silence, but a real listening silence. One in which we go silent in order to try and listen deeply to what is happening for people and going on. That of course includes the range of what is being said, but also what is not being said. Being there for people’s hurt, and indeed their shames.

    That does not mean being naive. That talk twenty years ago also made the very good point that there is something quite intimidating about being around really, really good listeners as it dawns on you that the listener has heard all the things you did not want to say, or were trying to hide …

    The classic gospel example is the paralytic in Mark where Jesus forgives him his sins, when everyone else was expecting him to be healed of his paralysis. Really good listeners get to the bottom of the real problem.

    And it is from such listening there real peacemaking (and ongoing repentance) is born. And we are called to be peacemakers.

    Also, in such listening silence maybe we can hear the Word being spoken to us through the current situation, which whether we in our grief and anxiety, is providential.

    “All I need is a good listening to, indeed.”

    I could go on, but I’ll stop there, for now. Sorry for the length, but as usual Father, you have pressed buttons. (How do you always do that?? 🙂 )

  35. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Yes. His non-violence revealed the violence of the world at the time. It provoked some to repentance – which is healthy shame.

  36. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    My father-in-law, of blessed memory, was a man of deep prayer and uprightness. He rose early every morning, went down to the church in order to pray. Every day. He also attended every city council meeting in his city. Every meeting. He was not one to speak much, but his life and his actions had an integrity about them. He carried a copy of the Constitution in his pocket – also a Bible. (He was a Baptist). He was, for me, a model citizen – who, as much as possible made democracy a participatory form of government.

    My little city of 25,000 has been my home for 30 years. I’ve belonged to civic organizations (Rotary for a time), served on local boards (for a time I was president of the local Victim-Offenders Reconciliation Program). I’ve been involved in local actions – helped found our county’s Habitat for Humanity – supported our local Crisis Preganancy Center (pro-life) – and been involved in some advisory roles. Our local schools are a single district with only one high school. You can directly interact with the board and be very involved. This, to me, is the primary place of peace-making. It is personal, face-to-face. A week or so ago there was an entirely peaceful march supporting racial justice. A young local man organized the march, with the support and participation (from the beginning) of our police chief. It was extremely well-attended. I suspect that it took place as it did because of the nature of our city and its local culture that supports such engagements.

    Solzhenitsyn wrestled long and hard with the question of Russia’s future. If communism were to end – he wondered out loud and carefully – what shape should government have? He strongly supported the development of local government (Zemtsvos). His thoughts were, I think, significant, though they have not been the pattern that was followed.

    When I think about our local encounters – I can see how important not shaming is. The people around me, including police officers, government officials, etc., are my neighbors. I shop with them, eat with them, and see them repeatedly. When I say that the most important thing we can do is “learn how to live,” it means learning how to live where I am, in peace and justice, and embodying the light of Christ.

    Too often, we live in front of our screens where everything is impersonal and lives on the level of opinion. That’s not government – that’s make-believe. Acting out our make-believe on the streets is just street theater. “Justice” is more than fairness – it is “Dikaiosyne” – rightness. It is not right to live isolated from our neighbors wrapped in our opinions.

    But, all of that is hard work. My thoughts return again and again to my father-in-law. He began to ponder the death penalty at a certain point. And, so, as a citizen, he signed up to be a witness at an execution (I didn’t even know that was possible). He watched, and he left with his heart settled that it was not right. But when he spoke about it – it was not an abstraction. He was not a stranger to death, having been in the infantry in France in WWII. He did not treat an opinion as an abstraction – but sought to actually engage a matter.

    I am not someone who advocates passivity or disengagement. Rather, I would encourage more and right engagement. Our life is not a consumer product. It is meant to be lived.

  37. Father Alban Avatar
    Father Alban

    A timely and courageous post, Father. I very much echo your concerns about the growing use of public shaming, and your cautions on anger.

    I wonder, reflecting on my own experience in life, it there is a link between our collective fear, anger and shame at this current moment in time?

    Anger can be a ‘primary’ emotion, that is, an emotion which arises in situations which present an immediate threat or challenge to us or others, and which then energises/motivates us to act, usually to maintain the safety of ourselves or others. In these situations anger is, of course, healthy, and a natural emotional response to the threat we/others are experiencing. The key points for me are that ‘healthy’ anger is triggered by external events, generates commensurate responses to those external threats, dissipates when the threats are gone, and does not seek to shame or denigrate any other whom the anger was aimed at.

    However, anger can also be a secondary emotion, and here it is much less healthy. Here anger is not protecting us from external persons or events, but is, rather, protecting us from an overwhelming existential threat posed by deeper ‘primary’ and more distressing emotions which we are experiencing, but want to avoid and hide from at all costs – because it is just too distressing to tolerate them. Here, anger can become the antidote, the way we escape from, or mask, how we really feel. More often than not, the emotion that human persons find most distressing to experience for any length of time is shame – because shame is how we feel about ourselves, and stems from the negative, debilitating perceptions we have about ourselves. In situations where we are really experiencing deep, intolerable shame, anger can become the emotion that overlays this, and hides what we believe about ourselves and how we feel about ourselves.

    In my own past, I have used anger to conquer fear, but also, sadly, to mask the shame I felt when I was being exposed by others as weak, broken, or worse. Thus, I have spent a large portion of my life being angry at God, the church, politicians, historical figures, various ethnic and/or religious groups, etc, etc, pointing out their faults and failings (as I saw them), when, in fact, the real issue was how I felt in myself about myself – my own shame over feeling powerless, being afraid, weak, or whatever – and my need to hide my own failings.

    With that in mind, I do wonder about current levels of anger in society: which aspects of that anger are healthy and will lead to healthy action , and which aspects are being driven by our own shame, the need to hide aspects of ourselves from self and/or others? The easiest place to hide is in a mob, it seems to me.

    Either way, Father, your sentiments ring true: if we, as Christians, cannot work with the Holy Spirit to allow Him to effect changes in our own hearts, how can we possibly work with politicians to effect [good] change in society? Perhaps part of the answer lies not so much in trying to shame others, as in learning to bear a little of our own shame, as you so often suggest.

    May God have mercy on the soul of Mr. Floyd, and on the police officer to took his life.

  38. Mike Kostich Avatar

    Thank you for clarifying the context, 3 other police officers complicit and now accused; your 1st point. It’s too easy for us to exist, in our own individual bubbles with contented ignorance of the lives and very vital concerns of our neighbors.

  39. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Fr. Alban,
    Thank you for this. Our current situation is burdened by the unattended brokenness throughout our culture. There are many signs of just how profound this is. As I noted, we cannot vote to make a society that is better than our own heart. Inevitably, a society reflects its citizens. Our injustice is an accurate picture.

    The larger picture is quite overwhelming – leaving us feeling powerless. That same powerlessness often provokes us to inappropriate actions. Becoming whole, becoming just, is slow, painstaking labor – mostly in the garden of the heart. Having watched a lifetime’s worth of this stuff – I find no other route than attending to the most immediate problem – that of my own soul.

  40. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Of course it is quite easy to practice retrospective hagiography on those who are victims of violence. It is usually not warranted. This world runs on violence. “Non-violent” protests do not exist. Any group act of public protest involves some level of violence. At the very least, it tends to create an atmosphere of violence in others. That is not always bad. Jesus provoked the ultimate violence. However I think it is a mistake to take a sentimental attitude. An attitude I see developing in this discussion.

    The power of government is based on the threat of violence. Thus Mao’s dictum that all power grows from the barrel of a gun. Nihilism 101.

    Paradoxically the more violence is actually used, the less authority and power government has. Classic “Non-violence” is designed to provoke violence from the government in order to show the weakness of the government. The reverse is true as well, when protest moves to insurrection ,as seems to be happening, force and violence is loosed and we cry havoc. Then “change” happens. Or so we believe. But no healing.

    May God have mercy on us and forgive our sins. 2 Chronicles 7:14 KJV.

  41. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    I am deeply touched by the experience and stories of those who endured the communist regimes of the recent past. They draw very dark lessons for us all. Beginning in the 1970’s, through the writings of A. Solzhenitsyn, I developed a deep interest in (and prayers for) those who were in situation. That witness also played a very major role in drawing me to the Orthodox faith. I owe so much!

    It is with alarm that I hear echoes of those regimes in the shouts and slogans of many protestors in our time. The ideology that is being placed in the most visible position was born and nurtured on American college campuses over the past 50 years and is nakedly and unashamedly Marxist. Racism matters. However, a Marxist analysis of racism is a dangerous thing (as is a Marxist analysis of pretty much everything). The shaming and cancel culture are taken directly from Marxist theory and practice. The millions of lives lost through the oppression of that ideology are a lesson to us all (or should be).

    However, I do not see all of this in a binary fashion (Marxism versus Capitalism). Again, I point to Solzhenitsyn who had profound things to say to the West when he lived among us. The right path is that of the life in Christ, lived in integrity. Political solutions are really only helpful when they truly reflect the life of a people. Just people make just laws. Unjust people make unjust laws. Laws do not make us just or unjust. Laws are secondary and reflect the heart of a nation.

    May the many martyrs of the communist yoke pray for us.

  42. Gavin Campbell Avatar
    Gavin Campbell

    We all know you’ll never lament about how people get shamed into opposing abortion or same-sex marriage. That you’ll never adjure conservatives to stay silent.

    Or maybe you will now out of the interest of consistency.

  43. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Your criticism is a point worth taking seriously, and I do. The last several years, I chose not to join in the March for Life locally. For one, I knew that there were local Nazis choosing to use it for their own ends and I did not care to be with them on anything. Second, there were no guarantees that the march would not engage in shame as a tactic. So, I have chosen to participate in other ways regarding the support for unborn children and the struggles of women in their pregnancies. And, the consistency question has been a part of things as I try to think of how to live authentically. I mess it up from time to time.

    As for same-sex marriage – yes, I do not support it. No doubt, all questions of morality get tied up in shame. I have tried to write dispassionately on that topic – not using shame. But, others will have to judge. Simply not approving something or disagreeing with it will be perceived as shame by some.

    I write what I know and understand. There are limits. No doubt, I have my share of hypocrisy. Fortunately, there are people who are kind enough to point such things out to me. However, I think my consistency is that I’ve pretty much never adjured anybody, including conservatives, to speak out loud. It’s not something that I’m prone to do. I’m trying to think of when I last wrote suggesting political speech and can’t remember anything.

  44. David Waite Avatar
    David Waite

    Thank you Father, as always, for gently steering me back to The Way,

  45. Sophia Avatar

    Bless, Father.

    I would absolutely love to read your father’s-in-law biography.

  46. Anonymous Avatar

    The string of comments brings to my mind a beautiful story I came across years ago. In 2013 or so I believe, the miraculous icon of the Theotokos, the Black Madonna of Poland, which has tradition tied to St. Luke writing the original copy upon the Holy Family’s table, visited America. I recall a blessed story of this icon being brought in front of an abortion clinic, while on it’s pilgrimage from one coast of the United States to the other, gracing the American lands and people, and protecting the unborn.

    That day, as people prayed in front of the abortion clinic with the icon, two hearts transformed towards the light of Christ. One was a women who had walked in seeking an abortion, and walked out with tears, desiring life for her child. Street counselors wrapped her with love, prayer, and resources. That day, another women, a nurse who had worked there for many years, came back out of the clinic and before the icon and those in prayer, told everyone she just could not do her job anymore. She deeply repented.

    Turning towards Christ one heart at a time seems to me where true healing takes place, and from there it is a life long journey. I think what we are all longing for is this grace that those two women felt that day, the grace of our Holy Mother, and of Christ. But it is probably a slow and steady work of grace and prayer, and loving our neighbor as ourself one heart at a time. Most importantly, the work for me is in my own heart.

  47. Reader Christopher Avatar
    Reader Christopher

    I’m not attempting to offer an argument per se for or against any particular person or perspective, but I did want to offer a few thoughts to the conversation.

    I participated a protest a little over a week ago. I was there primarily to listen, to witness along with others to the open wound of racism and the terrible effect of a militarized civilian policing force in particular on black communities, and most importantly to pray for those present, for the nation, and for my own repentance. I didn’t chant or carry a sign although I am not dismissing those who did. I listened and I prayed the Jesus Prayer punctuated with specific appeals and mourning within myself. Those around me offered little in the way of public shaming in the manner being discussed here. The chants mostly reflected grief, anger, the remembrance of the dead, and the simple fact that without justice there can be no peace.

    A law professor a Georgetown recently reflected in an interview that more than likely some legislative changes and reforms would come out of these protests, and that if some of those changes saved lives then that was a good thing. However, he also said that he was not certain, in that moment of confrontation at least, that Derek Chauvin was able to see George Floyd as a human being, and that there were no reforms or policy changes for that. In his opinion it was a matter of faith regarding whether such a change in the hearts of human beings is possible.

    It is obvious that most people in our society are not going to understand genuine justice and the proper ends and healing of man and the cosmos from an Orthodox perspective. Still, even if protesters mean something different by “no justice no peace” they speak truth nonetheless. There is a grave disordering in our hearts individually and collectively in regards to race (and many other matters) in the country, and the result is a lack of peace and terrible violence. I place no faith in policy, even if I grant that sometimes policy has good effects in the moment, but I have great faith in the power of the grace of God to transform the heart of a human being who embraces humility and repentance. I also think back to Nineveh and the embracing of humility and repentance by a whole people at the witness of a reluctant (and even spiteful) prophet and remember that such things are always possible even in the present time.

    Finally, I have in the past been an ardent critic of “modernism” (and its failings) within my teaching in my parish, but recently I have begun to soften within myself, speaking more carefully, and spending more time in reflection. First, this type of criticism easily converts to pride which is something I do not want to encourage within myself or others. Second, regardless of how much time and meditation I spend reading and meditating upon the Fathers and the Scriptures I am a product in many respects of my own time and place. Third, I have decided that this is actually a good thing in that I am not called to witness to the love of Christ in Byzantine Christendom, but in the current hour. This is not a side swipe at Father Stephen whose teaching I frequently parallel, but just something I remind myself of on a regular basis, especially as I wade into a conflicted, violent, and tormented world as a person who constantly wrestles with those forces within my own heart. Even the shortcomings of many of our modern patterns of thought and orientation are simply variant themes within the dirge spooling out of the human condition, and thank God we have been given the opportunity to live in these times and work in these fields.

  48. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Reader Christopher,
    Thank you for your thoughtful response. I think that modernity requires careful thought – I’m not an advocate of any earlier period and I think my writings bear that out. The Church is its own “time period” its own “philosophy”, etc. Articulating modernity and its challenges is, for me, a way of exploring how to speak accurately to the culture and live authentically in it as well.

    I’m working on a book (how I’ve struggled!) entitled, “Healing the Soul of Modernity.” It’s not an overthrow or destruction that interests me – it’s how to heal our souls in that context.

    One of the fathers said that “prayer is struggle to the last breath.” That pretty much sums up the Christian life as a whole.

  49. Nancy Ann Avatar
    Nancy Ann

    Many comments by people have been troubling to me. I am not interested in arguing, but this whole situation from COVID, stay at home restrictions and now these protests and political unrest. It seems unpopular to say but my heart goes out to many of the police who are being criminalized. It’s not that I don’t care about others, but I do think of them as well. The tough job it is to be a cop and how so many right now must feel pretty low, even though they do a good job. Anyway, my heart is just breaking with all of this stuff and I see no relief anywhere. I pray every day but no relief. Even here in California our churches are not open, the ones that are have such steep restrictions it’s uncomfortable to go. I am tired of the constant debate and intellectual chatter, the constant shame that my struggles don’t matter because my skin is white, and I want to understand how do I get myself and my family through this time.

  50. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Nancy Ann,
    I think most people must share your sense of exhaustion with the events of this year – I certainly do. The life of the Church, in particular, is the most nurturing place for many of us, and for it to be hindered through the virus restrictions makes everything that much more difficult.

    I’ve also thought about the police at present – all of them. It’s a very hard job – often times stepping into very dangerous situations where everyone else is afraid to go – domestic disputes not the least of them. The culture of shaming that is becoming so loud at present tends to group people together, with collective guilt and labeling, etc. And shaming is debilitating.

    God give you grace as you pray, and relief from these difficulties.

    The world is never anything other than an uneven playing field. Some are rich, some are poor, some are smart, some not so much, etc. If every trace of racism disappeared tomorrow, the unevenness of life would remain. “Privilege” takes many, many forms, only some of which have color attached. But the secret to living cannot be the eradication of all unevenness, all privilege, all unfairness. Only a bulldozer could attempt such a thing, and every one of us would become a plowed-under victim.

    It is the gospel of Christ – in which we love as He loved us – that makes it possible to get through each day. God give us love above all else.

  51. Nancy Ann Avatar
    Nancy Ann

    Thank you father,
    We have been blessed to have an opportunity to go to a cabin in the mountains for 4 days. I hope that will be refreshing and help. I suppose it seems odd that in a time like this to seclude oneself even more is counterproductive, but for me and my family nature is not a seclusion by any means! When you live surrounded by concrete and have a chance to be surrounded by green trees and grass and mountains it is very special!

    I recently finished Luke and plan to move on to the other gospels. However, I know I am suppose to give, and I know I am suppose to love but I am so empty

  52. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Nancy Ann,
    In this time, allow yourself to receive – and breathe!

  53. Ryan Hill Avatar
    Ryan Hill

    Reading through the comments here has been an exercise in pushing myself, as an attempt to read Fr. Stephen charitably is not my first instinct, for various reasons.

    Reading through Father’s clarifying responses here, it seems clear to me that he is not necessarily advocating an approach of do-nothing quietism. I am quite alive to the criticism of modern American civil religion’s response to tragedy as consisting of ‘thoughts and prayers’, and consider such criticism warranted in many cases (for example, the ‘thoughts and prayers’ offered after every incidence of gun violence, with no attempt to address such violence in policy). Moreover, this is not a Christian approach – in Nehemiah 4 we read that the Israelites prayed to God, *and then built their wall*.

    There is a time and a place for action. One of my favorite saints is Mother Maria Skobtsova, for this reason. She was an activist. Her activism was rooted in a profound life of prayer, but she still put her life on the line for the love of her neighbor.

    Unfortunately, what I see in Fr. Stephen’s piece is an inversion. The shame of our nations’ racism (and, though I’m Canadian, we have our own share of racism to be ashamed of and to repent of – indigenous people make up 4% of Canada’s population and yet 30% of the prison population are Indigenous (men in particular) – that can’t be just chalked up to individual differences in criminality. Study after study has identified systemic factors, and even identified instances of straight up police *murder* of Native men – google the term “Starlight Tour”).

    I believe that if we were to take Father Zosima’s advice, and bear the shame of our forefather’s sins, and repent on behalf of all, and learn to see our brother as God made him – a man or woman made in God’s image who has been broken on the wheel of the principalities and powers of this world – maybe we could finally begin not only to bind up our brother’s and sister’s wounds, but to break the wheel that inflicted those wounds in the first place.

    To be frank, though, I am nearly done with the Orthodox Church, as the amount of pushback I get, including complaints of ‘shaming’ when I call people to help me with the work just mentioned, makes me think you all don’t really care about this. Maybe Orthodoxy really is synonymous with quietism.

    I’m hoping somebody can change my mind, because though I’m heartbroken over it I’m almost ready to walk away.

  54. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Thank you for pushing through! You’re right, I’m not quietist. However, I think that action does not have to be dictated on the terms given within modernity. I think the gospel calls for something deeper and far more radical. My earlier piece this week on the Violence of Modernity spoke clearly about Fr. Zossima’s advice and our need to truly bear the burden of others. What that might look like is often a very creative thing. Mat. Maria and Fr. Dmitri acted creatively – forging documents and helping those endangered by the Nazis. What living into justice in an unjust society is always requiring creativity. My point in this article is that I do not think the political playing field is the necessary battleground – though if someone feels called to that – let them have at it.

    My reasons regarding the political playing field is that you’re usually co-opted immediately into someone else’s agenda and discover that, in the end, you have been used and not always to the ends you were intending. I personally believe in non-violent action – which includes not shaming. The present situation has been marked by violence, though it seems to be calming down. The anger and bitterness of many remains quite violent.

    But, I simply do not know that we can expect to be effective in our efforts, regardless of what they might be. That remains in the hands of God. Ultimately, Mat. Maria’s efforts put her in the death camps. It could have happened before the first person was helped. She could not know. The difficulty in being drawn into schemes of effectiveness, is that, in the end, we have to agree to match the violence of the state with our own violence and I do not think that is the right path forward. Some (many) Christians would disagree with me on that.

    But, there are very, very few Orthodox in our culture. How and what we can do might seem very small. And, I’m not sure what it is that you insist others must do with you. You may need to do it alone until others are drawn to you.

    I believe the right path is to do things because they are right regardless of the outcome or success. Doing the right thing and putting the work and ourselves in the hands of God is the only way that I know how to live. Everything else feels like leaving the path. St. Herman took care of native orphans. It was the right and good thing to do. And almost no one helped or even knew of his labors. It certainly didn’t make a dent in the overall social problems of Alaska.

    I have written critically about modernity’s drive to make a better world. First, I think it’s idolatrous. Second, I think it creates all kinds of schemes that wind up doing quite the opposite of their stated goals. Colonialism was invented by those who claimed it was in the name of a better world. Marxism was the same. Capitalism makes the same claim. Etc. None of these is the gospel of Christ.

    A frustrating thing about the gospel of Christ is its weakness in the face of evil. Christ resisted the temptations that consisted in that kind of power. The Cross is a mystery that has to be lived. Thinking out loud about what that means is what I’ve been trying to do here on the blog. If someone doesn’t find it helpful, then it is what it is.

    But, I am not suggesting quietism. I suggest the noise of the Cross. Precisely what that looks like at the moment will vary a great deal – according to the gifts of each one. I do not think, however, that shaming others will yield the fruit many seek. There is a better way.

    But, I’m only a single voice, and there are and will be plenty of others, including priests, who disagree with me on this. Someone rebuked me today and told me that what I’ve written is not Orthodoxy and that I should consult my confessor. So, apparently, there are other opinions. I have only shared what I understand.

  55. Ryan W Hill Avatar
    Ryan W Hill

    So, bind up our brother’s and sister’s wounds, but maybe don’t expect to break the wheel any time soon?

  56. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    I think we’re never sure about breaking the wheel. But, I think Christian action can sometimes have profound effects. For one, the Church needs to truly be the Church, to be the kind of community that nurtures Christians in the necessary virtues that action requires. MLK spent much more time training people for non violence than in protesting. He was helping people become true martyrs…witnesses to the love and character of Christ and not just driven by their passions. It was an amazing work.

  57. Esmee La Fleur Avatar
    Esmee La Fleur

    Ryan – I ask your forgiveness if I am wrong (and please feel free to correct me Father Stephen if that is the case), but it’s my understanding that we are not here to break the wheel so-to-speak or to fix the world. That is not something we can accomplish. The world has been broken since Adam and Eve ate of the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of good and evil. Christ has died and risen. He has trampled down death by death. I don’t believe there is anything left for us to do except to follow His commandments, most notably to love God by loving our neighbors in whatever way we can in this moment.

  58. Reader Christopher Avatar
    Reader Christopher

    Ryan, I would encourage you in your continued attempts to read comments with charity and assume the best. It is a worthy struggle and will probably yield an understanding that is much closer to the mark. Also, you are not irrational in calling out how clear the problem of systemic racism is. The push back you are feeling in your attempt to reckon with your own feelings and place in this problem is almost ubiquitous though. It is not an Orthodox problem, a religious problem, or a problem with people who are politically conservative. I am hearing and talking to people of all confessions and affiliations, even those who are among the most politically liberal/progressive I know, pushing back on this sense that they are being shamed. None of the black people, or anyone for that matter that I have met, seems particularly interested in shaming anyone. There was no talk of that at the protest I attended. It was painfully and viscerally straightforward.

    I would encourage you not to grow weary of the good you feel that God is setting in front of you or to abandon Orthodoxy. Pray, remember how we begin the journey of Lent, recall your own weakness, and struggle against the desire to grow angry with your brother or sister, especially one who you hope to win over to greater compassion. Furthermore, if you set yourself on a path of humility and repentance you can be sure that it will be replete with suffering and will frequently require the bearing of hurts and burdens. We all struggle with compassion, and I think many people respond best to being gently and firmly spurred on to do the good things they already know inwardly ought to be done.

    Anyway, I offer that by way of encouragement and not criticism. Fight back against discouragement and don’t fear for the outcome. The victory is already accomplished, but far from leading us to placidness in the face of evils, I tend to feel that the victory of the Cross unchains us to offer ourselves freely, unreservedly, and with all the grace we need to bear the cost.

  59. Anonymous Avatar

    I think we have to be aware also of two different uses of words often playing out. For example, “silence” and stillness, hesychia in the Orthodox Tradition, is the beginning and end of prayer. We cannot know God, and therefore, we cannot know ourselves, without this needful silence. We need silence within our lives and within ourselves to hear the voice of God. Without this silence, we cannot reach our centers, and therefore we can become directionless. The Jesus Prayer can help bring us back to our center, can purify our hearts, and can center us on Him. We can listen to God inside of the Jesus Prayer. Jesus is the giver, and most importantly, the gift. He fills our hearts, He gives His grace, His light, His Spirit, Himself. We are but empty vessels that can become conduits of fire of Christ’s grace. But we must receive and wait upon God. We must live in prayer. Prayer is the hardest work. Anyone who thinks differently has not yet begun to pray. By the Jesus Prayer we can also wrap our brother or sister in the name of Christ. We can love them in this way. We help our own hearts and souls, and we help our neighbor. This is a safe and good and hard path. Again, silence being the beginning and ending of prayer. I have taken much of this from Dr. Rossi’s book, “Becoming a Healing Presence”, and hopefully have done justice to the truths he presents….but they ring so true. Silence is necessary so we can pray sincerely, the prayer for the mercy of our Lord.

  60. Ziton Avatar

    Ryan, I sympathize a lot with your reactions. I think like you I was very grateful for Father Stephen’s later comments in response to several posts, and the sharing of that story about his Father-in-law. They all had that hallmark of lived experience, including that feeling that any type of engagement with integrity is always going to be underpinned by a feeling of un-satisfactoriness. Yes, that is the way things are.

    I thought Reader Christopher’s comments are spot on – that is what listening silence looks like. It is not passive. It can be powerful. Sometimes with engagement you have to be in the right place at the right time for grace to make use of you. Just like in conversations there is often a lot of relationship building and deep listening and then sometimes the conditions are just, well, right to say or do something that matters. That, I think, is the way the Spirit uses us.

    That said, I do think there are things we can do to prepare, the most important of which is always repentance (which was also Christ’s message). Repent, repent, repent always and in all circumstances.

    In case it is of any help, this is my little four stages approach to thinking about peacemaking and repentance in parallel, which personally I sort of see as being in practice are the same thing, with the one being on the outside and the other on the inside (moving towards inner peace). If we can do it on the inside, then we should get better at it on the outside. Doing it on the outside well (and there’s the rub) then it can help us inside. As we listen to each other in love, we get better at listening to God. As we listen to God, we get better (or should get better – maybe that is a kind of feedback) at listening to each other.

    Stage 1 Ceasefire peace. When John the Baptist called people to repent, he was not solving all their problems then and there. I hear it as a call to stop what you are doing and take stock. Like a cease fire. The (external) advice at that stage was practical, and pretty simple : if you have a spare coat, give it to someone who needs it, soldiers stop extorting people (note : not stop being soldiers). etc. That applies internally too – keep it simple. Even ceasefires are hard. In our personal lives just pressing the pause buttons on our babbling minds and anxieties and programmed activities take a real effort. One can’t turn around until you have realized the path you are going down is a problem and one has created enough space to work at it.

    Stage 2 Getting at the underlying causes and conditions. The next stage of both peacemaking and repentance is the long, slow and difficult work of actually figuring out what is going on. Why do I keep on behaving like this? Why are these groups in society so intractably at loggerheads (or better, what is going on for these particular individuals in front of me all of whom have their own life stories and backgrounds)? Often this will be long, multilayered and hard as we uncover what is really motivating us, and others rather than what we or they think is the problem. As Fr Stephen points out, deep-seated shame or conditioning is a good example. Peacemaking externally works the same way. The peacemaker has to be willing to work with both sides as they are and get them to see what the issues are (and that they have issues) to get change to occur.

    Stage 3 Health. Real peace is not just an absence of conflict (nice though that is). It is actually a state of good health in which things can start to flourish. That gets built on the previous two stages. It is when we really are walking back down the pathway. It is the place of hope. While MLK often spoke about stage 2 issues, what sets him apart from many other activist types is that his speeches were grounded in a stage 3 vision of where things should be. It is very Christian. It is not what I see much of in activist rhetoric at the moment. For me personally, it is where I see love start to bloom – like crocuses in the desert, to paraphrase Isaiah.

    Stage 4 Transcendent peace. In the nativity stories the star shines above the scene of balanced health in the crib where the Christ Child, the perfect innocent new centre of being now lies in manger because there was no room for him at our busy inn. Surrounded by animals, wise men, and his mother and father. A true icon incarnating and foreshadowing stage 3 health. But the star is what really makes the scene. That star that is far above the world and points beyond it, but points also to the child. Whatever happens in this world, there is another layer to reality beyond the current storms. Yes, we need to be present and to try and do our best (knowing that we will often fail). But in the end I find it always oddly sustaining to know that while the world is real, and it is ‘life’ (in the sense that Fr Stephen uses that word), it is also far from all there is to reality. And lasting transcendent peace, while it comes from God, is also built on the three previous stages.

    While I have presented those “stages” in a linear way, they do not of course occur in real life in such a neat fashion. My own experiences is that I often move between them, and backslide, and heck often just go all over the place. Which is also what happens in real world peacemaking with the parties involved, especially in stages 1 and 2. Which is why forgiveness is such an indispensible element No lasting progress can be made with either repentance or peacemaking without a lot of forgiveness happening along the way. And the building of trust. Etc.

    Sorry for that long exegesis. But I offer it in case it is of any use as you contemplate your own pathways both with Orthodoxy and with wanting to make peace around you. May every blessing be with you on your journey wherever it takes you, my brother.

  61. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    Father Stephen,
    Some thoughts and questions:
    Do you see this gathering together in protest as a type of liturgy? If so, what are your thoughts about this, in a liturgical perspective.
    and …
    can those who hate injustice, lies, and deceit, and oppression, yet have no desire to protest ‘in the streets’, take up the cause for injustice through prayer, giving alms, giving our time, even just offering our ‘ear’ and ‘shoulder’ to the other, without being criticized by those who choose, in addition to prayer etc, a public form of demonstration?
    I ask this because I see a nefarious force at work to keep us divided. What else could be at work where some of us find the need to defend ourselves against accusations of detachment when we are in fact united to others through their suffering , yet prefer to fight the battle from a different angle ? There seems to be a form of coercion undermining this call to gather together publicly; and shaming certainly is a very effect means.

  62. Nancy Ann Avatar
    Nancy Ann

    Dear Ryan,

    I hear the pain and frustration in your words. You have a loving heart that wants to help and sees such infliction going on. I wonder though, what wheel is to be broken? Right now we are talking about racism, but what about all the other hurts and injustices in the world, The unborn down syndrome babies being aborted at alarming rates, the huge increase in suicides which are predominantly white male, domestic abuse, drug and alcohol addictions, The list goes on and on of the hurt and struggle and inflictions of the world. Do we prioritize which comes first? How is one person suppose to take on all these troubles of the world? Why choose this struggle of racism over abortion or domestic abuse? Suffice it to say it can be extremely overwhelming.

    One problem I have with activism is that the focus is too narrow. Who doesn’t struggle and hurt in this world? I forget the Saint this is attributed to but I am constantly reminded of his words. ” Be kind for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle.”

    I belong to an online group of moms and so many are overwhelmed right now. How to manage their families, their jobs, their churches. One poor mother had her 12 year old son try to commit suicide because of the stress of all that is going on. It breaks my heart, I have known her for years this is not a family you would think this would happen to. I guess what I am trying to say is that it is not for lack of caring, it’s not that people don’t care, It’s a matter of being overwhelmed with the stuff in our life and how do we make time for all of those things outside our immediate life. It takes so much energy to care for ones family, ones church and friends, jobs and schools. Not to mention any groups one may belong to. Our family belongs to Boy Scouts and American Heritage Girls, we also have a homeschool group. I cannot imagine taking on so much more. The only thing I can do is pray and be loving and kind to each and everyone I meet to the best of my ability. But to be an activist in the sense that people want requires so much more and more than most people are able to give. There is so much to be done just in the small life that each of us leads.

    The bible talks about the Body of Christ and how we all have a part. We cannot go an yell at the foot for not being a hand. Or yell that the pinkie toe is not more useful!

    1 Thessalonians 4: 9-12 addresses this small life and brotherly love.

    I do think prayer is extremely powerful and should not be marginalized. I don’t know exactly how it works but I know that it changes things. I know that it makes things better or can make the hard more manageable.

    I am a simple mother, homeschooling my children. I am Orthodox and I find peace when I go to church. Church to me is not a place to move and shake the world, but a place to rest, to replenish. I was protestant for many years before becoming Orthodox and if there is such a thing as peace on earth it has come to me through the Orthodox church and sitting there during service, looking at all the icons of people who have gone on before, and resting in the quietness of the Holy Spirit. Bringing this church in my home with a home altar of icons, prayer books and akathists, holy oil and holy water. So on those tough days I have all of this around me to draw from.

  63. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Yes, I think the protests are a form of “public liturgy.” I also think that riots and pogroms, public executions, etc., serve as “public liturgies.” I was thinking about this a couple of weeks ago, when I had posted the article on shared repentance (The Sins of a Nation). And, mostly, I was wondering how Americans could have a public liturgy. Now, mind you, the games in the arenas of antiquity were public liturgies and served a kind of civic/religious purpose. But, because we are not a Christian nation, let along an Orthodox nation, we are not very well-suited to a national Christian liturgy.

    So, we have protests and even riots. And, when we have done those things, we have a sense of catharis (at least some do). There is a scapegoating, perhaps accompanied with a bit of burning and looting, and we feel cleansed. Those who are shamed (the police, the politicians, the “racists”, whoever) serve as the scapegoats. Our sins are placed on them and they are “sent away.” We are cleansed.

    It is worth noting that a preponderance of the protestors are not themselves black. So, there is a sort of collective white presence that assumes the “burden” of the sin of racism and casts it upon someone else and, after enough is done, they experience a kind of catharsis.

    There are legitimate political demands for a reform of the justice system in the US. How that happens will ultimately be in the form of legislation. So, all of this will continue in some form, reduced or otherwise, until something is seen to have fulfilled the demands.

    Now, please note that I think and have said there are legitimate demands. It is astounding that real reforms have not taken place. The last presidiental election cycle had a candidate or two who spoke very well about the needed reforms in the justice system. It got lost. In truth, the problems surrounding “systemic” racism are complex, involving drug laws, sentencing guidelines, laws that tend to dismantle families, and a host of other things. We’ve been writing bad legislation for a long time, making bad things worse. It’s good that they are going to get some attention.

    But, the larger problem of human hearts will remain untouched. There are very, very few who would ever give lip service to racism, but there are levels upon levels of shame (all around) that surround the subject, making it very difficult.

    I think that only Christ can heal and unite us. There is more of that taking place than gets reported in the news cycle (it doesn’t fit the narrative). But it’s there. I can say that the world is very different from that of my childhood. But the human heart remains a battleground. That is where the line of good and evil runs.

    I have taken the awkward position of writing about the abuse of shame in all of this because I think it will not heal anything, but only create new wounds. Monasteries have the practice of mutual forgiveness almost daily (at Compline) which is to say that there is a liturgy for repentance all the time in Orthodoxy – indeed, the Divine Liturgy should be such a liturgy each time it’s celebrated.

    But, we need to acknowledge before God the true character of our heart and bring it to Him that He might bear our shame and heal us. No doubt, everyone, where appropriate, and as God gives open doors, should advocate and support efforts of justice. That is never-ending.

    The language of protest is often utopian and demands absolute success and absolute results. That is dangerous rhetoric because there never is any such thing short of paradise itself.

    Crowds are dangerous things – and their behavior is unpredictable. I would prefer protests that have very clearly stated goals and purposes and a bit of discipline – but that’s not the nature of things at the moment.

    I have thought of you and Dee recently – in that both of you have native American backgrounds. I have wondered about your thoughts.

  64. Phil Avatar

    In the current environment silence may be many things. Violence truly is one. Others are: apathy, humility, ignorance, incomprehension, bravery, cowardice, wisdom, and many more. Beware the simplistic narrative and, especially, those who wield it.

    Fr Stephen has very gently touched on why this moment is difficult. There is real injustice in both our nation and in our actual local communities and we are in need of–we yearn for–healing and brotherhood. However, that desire for justice and change is being used and twisted by Marxist ideologues to push their ideology into unsuspecting heads and into our social, civil, and economic governance. It has been greatly distressing to see some of my most loving and caring Christian friends–young and old–“not being silent” by naively giving voice to the poisonous ideology that has so quickly spread from college campuses.

    I’ve spent most of my adult life, nearly 30 years now, in academia. I’m looking for an exit. The ideology that has emerged in the last ten and is sweeping the establishment is deeply dangerous. It poisons souls, divides communities, causes great neuroticism, and, if given power, will be totalitarian. Where it holds sway it is already becoming so. Those of us who are under its boot know well that “silence=violence” really means that anything but complete adherence to the ideology will mark you as an enemy to be purged. Many of those who lived in the Soviet bloc are warning us about the principality that is trying to rise. We need to listen. We also need to learn about it because the reactionary movements that will emerge should this ideology gain more control will be just as soul-destroying and many of our people will be susceptible to them.

    Work to fix and heal the real problems in your community and, especially, in yourself. Know this enemy that is emerging and steel yourself against it and work to keep both it and its reactionary counterparts out of the life and mind of the Church. Build and know a real Christian and Orthodox alternative vision.

  65. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    Thank you very much Father, your thoughts on help me a great deal in understanding what exactly is going on in our country today. The catharsis you speak about, that makes sense. And that by white folks taking on the burden of the sin of racism and placing that sin on a scapegoat – the ‘haters’ – in order to ‘cleanse and make pure’ our ‘space’. Yes, I see…

    It is very interesting that you got the impression that I have a Native American background, Father. But I don’t…my ancestry is Italian. And funnily, even back home in NY many thought I had Native American blood. Here in AZ I have been approached by Native Americans who asked me what tribe I belong to. Besides my dark complexion, it must be my close identification with Nature and my spirituality….I don’t know…but it’s interesting you say that.
    I love Dee as a sister and in our diversity of culture I know a unity in Christ that sees a great beauty in her ‘person’ amid the diversity. I see no essential difference between her and I. I just do not look at people that way. Never did.
    We also share a burden of woman-kind that is very misunderstood by a lot of people because of the profound division between male and female. It is the first division of five St Maximus says that needs to be healed. It is very hard to explain this, but I think you understand, Father. It can add in large part to separation and loneliness if it is not understood that Christ takes on this burden with us, and no less too, our Blessed Mary Theotokos . This burden is also a great opportunity to maintain a life of forgiveness and repentance…repentance for a great deal of frustration and anger.

    But as far as this public liturgy of protest…while I do not condemn gathering together in peace for a righteous cause, I am very much not a public person like that. You said it well, Father…”I think that only Christ can heal and unite us. There is more of that taking place than gets reported in the news cycle …”. Yes, that includes those of us who pray ‘in secret’, and those of us who work the ‘good’ in doing good to others…in kindness, and in much patience and tolerance of our brokenness, showing as best as we can the love and compassion of Christ.
    I, of course, totally agree with you that only Christ can heal us. So that is where I place all my effort. I do not get involved in the kind public political movements (liturgy) we have today. It would be out of my character to do so. On the other hand, I am greatly affected by the beauty of Divine Liturgy, as we all are. It is from there we carry with us that which is necessary to ‘depart in peace’ where by the grace of God this peace is extended to others.

    So thank you Father, for taking on the awkward position you speak of and forge onward in writing about shame. I like that you get to the root of our problems. Thank you for your courage to do so. Shaming is like a lethal flesh wound to the soul. Outright, or insidious, both are lethal. Only in the Risen Christ can we arise from such a state of death.

    Lastly, I just want to say that I also agree that it is good to make demands on our legal system for just laws. I also will say, again, that not every adult person is going to, nor needs to, get out there and publicly voice these demands. The argument that ‘if everyone demanded, then things would change’ is a ‘what-if’ that simply is not going to happen.

    Again, thanks for providing a safe place for all of us to come together, express ourselves and receive beneficial feedback in these difficult times. This is a great part of the healing we so very much need. Many thanks. And many blessings, always.

  66. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Sorry about my flawed memory. I had thought I heard you mention a Native background. But, Italian, well…

    In 1966, I was 13. I was attending a Baptist Church that my older brother drove us to (my parents mostly didn’t go). That year, there was a controversy surrounding the racial integration of the local Baptist University (Furman). There was a guest preacher speaking against it. My brother stood up and quietly said, “You’re crazy as hell,” and walked out. I went with him (he was my ride home). It was my first introduction to racial issues. I was raised in an environment that was blatantly racist – in a Southern redneck version, and had been taught at Church camp (for example) that black were racially inferior. Jim Crow was in full effect. It was bad. I was confused and working at coming to terms with my brother’s understanding.

    Two years later, he took me to an Episcopal Church. It was my first exposure to beauty, liturgy, tradition, etc. It also had some black members and racism was simply not tolerated.

    In 1969, the school system was integrated fully. There were race riots in my school that made the national evening news. We were tear-gassed. I was actively involved in friendships with black students and was seen as “liberal.” I was appointed to a county-wide committee of students to work on proposals for bringing us together. Most of our suggestions were ignored. But, we came together, slowly. (The movie, Remember the Titans, told the story about a school in Virginia that same year). I would like to say that it was like the movie. It wasn’t. We were mostly strangers to each other. But some of us tried.

    The next summer, I was asked to help organize a summer concert series in the downtown park that would bring races together. I helped out. I remember a wonderful Saturday when the black R&B performer, Moses Dillard, asked me to do a set and jam with him on stage. It was magical and went over well (I was a folk singer). Later that year he called me and we repeated that event on stage at the Memorial Auditorium in one of his concerts. 5,000 people! I was thrilled.

    Through the years, I’ve tried to be involved in the communities where I have lived. I’ve been in civic clubs, served on local boards, etc., and sought to be of use. I love the little town I live in today – Oak Ridge, TN. It’s an amazing place with an interesting history. I was the local Episcopal priest here until 1998 when I converted. But, I’ve continued many relationships in the town that pre-dated that conversion.

    Race relations here are fairly good – though there is always the legacy of the past.

    One local thing I was involved in was serving as president of the Victim Offenders Reconciliation Program. There, victims of crime met those who had victimized them. They talked, worked out reparations or restitution, and worked towards reconciliation. Out of that, I got involved with families who had suffered a murder (I’ve had two of those in my family). That was a profound experience – listening to the trauma – trying to be a force for healing. That is tough stuff.

    I’ve also served as a volunteer in local drug and alcohol rehab programs, working with those in recovery on spiritual issues.

    A suppose a lot of that is just par for the course for a priest. Things come up (I never looked for them) and you say yes and do what you can. I do not have imaginations that we make the world a better place – because I think it’s the wrong question. It is a distraction that can interfere with doing the right thing simply because it is the right thing.

    All of the things I’ve mentioned are things that other people were also involved in – I was never alone. There was often a wide variety of backgrounds (religiously and otherwise). But there was a commonality of work. I’ve seen parishes I served do wonderful things. We built a school in Haiti. We founded the local Habitat for Humanity chapter. We started a program to support teen mothers and their babies so they wouldn’t abort and could finish school. We started a program for teens in one town – to give them a safe place to go and avoid drinking and driving. I could go on and on describing these things. My first year out of seminary, I founded the first Food Bank in South Carolina with a couple of Catholic nuns.

    I’ve never had a plan about things like that. You just do what God brings to you. Feeding the poor, saving babies, helping women, creating housing, starting a school, on and on. Jesus told us to be salt. He did not tell us to design and manage salt mines. The modern model wants to manage the world. When people talk about issues of justice – I think, “What has anybody asked you to do?” Just do that and don’t worry about what you have not done. Just do whatever God gives you. We’re not managers. We are workers.

    In my experience, managers mostly want to work for themselves, and “help” people for their own reasons. Lots of people resent being “helped.” Become what Christ wants us to be. Be salt and light. It’s not any harder than saying yes to God. It’s God’s job to find the work for us. We are not in charge.

    Sorry for such a long, autobiographical ramble. But, I wanted to give an example of what I think doing justice looks like. At least, that’s how it’s been for me.

  67. sgage Avatar

    Dear Father Stephen,
    If you were 13 in 1966, you are just a couple of years older than I am. But our backgrounds could not be more different. I grew up in a coastal New England town of about 50,000 souls, where we had no racial problems whatsoever… for the simple reason that virtually everyone was white! The janitor of my elementary school was black. I had a drafting (mechanical drawing) teacher who was black. In my high school class of 600, there were two black students.

    ‘Racism’ for us was mostly about Anglo-Saxon vs. Italian vs. Polish, vs. Irish, vs. whatever. You probably know some of the jokes. But it was really pretty good-natured in my time, even if it might have been serious in the past – we all hung out together, played together, etc. On my quiet residential street we had all of the above – even a Jewish family if you can believe it! And nobody cared. Our parents didn’t admonish us to stay away from those Italians, even if they were… Catholic! The biggest problem I had with Catholicism was that my Catholic buddy had to go to catechism on Saturday, so we couldn’t play.

    Oh, and not one black family.

    Well, the years go by and of course now I am quite aware of our nation’s real history, and I’ve been around a lot since my high school daze! (Father, we’ve seen a lot of history – stuff we remember is history now!) But when I meet people of any shape, size, or color, my primary thought is ‘who is this person, are they pleasant, do they seem to have integrity?’, not their ethnicity or such. Of course, this is of NO merit to me, it’s just that I was raised in a situation that allowed that to happen.

    I just had an idea – what if we judged our fellow human by the content of their character rather than the color of their skin? Whoops, I think someone beat me to it. 🙂

    No, it has become very clear to me where that line between good and evil exists, and nothing will change without a change there, and only one thing can effect that change. Not one thing, one Person. Lord Jesus, please help us!

  68. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    Oh no problem about the flawed memory! I can relate! It is just interesting because I have heard that so many times before.

    Very much enjoyed your bio! You describe an activism that is natural, I mean, what we are naturally called to do among our neighbors.
    So, your path was being paved for you at an early age. Even beginning by growing up in the South. But it sounds like you knew instinctively what it means to perpetrate injustice, despite it being ‘think in the air…lived and breathed’. Makes you wonder what a preacher was thinking, being against integration. Integration, the very condition of a fullness in a human being. It seems to me that knowing this is just instinctive.
    And so your involvement in one event, led to another, and another…with others alongside. The concert with Moses Dillard … yes Father…music is magical that way. How cool that must’ve been!
    You folks in the South most definitely worked in the trenches. Up North racism was not as blatant, but it was there. The blacks and whites were still separated in clear and distinct neighborhoods, segregated by not by law, but by attitude. We tolerated each other but only to a certain point. There were clear lines you did not cross. Us young ones were told not to ‘fraternize’ with the blacks. And those that did were deemed ‘trash’. So growing up during the turbulent 60’s, we rebelled against this. If this could somehow be defined as a type of activism, that is what I was in the midst of.

    But the point you make, that you never had a plan, but did what God brought to you…yes, that is exactly it. You do what you can with what is presented to you. There is plenty for each of us to do, the minute we walk out the front door. Receive with gladness those who God sets to cross your path.
    Well Father, He very well prepared you for the day you would become a priest – in the South – where you can speak of what it was like then and now, and be thankful for the opportunity remain with people in a place thoroughly familiar to you – your good, but temporary, home!

  69. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Dear Paula,
    Always such sweet words, I’m so grateful for your comment about who (Christ) and what we share in experience! Indeed!

    Dear Father Stephen,
    All I can say is that you’re hoeing a tough row with grace and courage and I thank you for this.

    On silence: Well, I’m going to write a fair bit here and it’s not going to look much like silence with all the verbiage. Nevertheless, succinctly within this sentence, I agree with what you have written.

    I have been outspoken in the past concerning issues of race (earning various nick names as a result) and was involved in attempting to make changes in an institution (academia) that wasn’t ready for such changes. One man who was himself, of color (but not African American), told me at the time it was a huge mistake “to play the race card”. What ended up happening was that my employment position “no longer had funding” (ie that they couldn’t fire me without getting into legal hot water, so they diverted funding somewhere else).

    What someone in my circumstances usually does is move on to a similar position in some other institution, usually in another state. But rather than do that, I stayed put in the community. And I became even more of a “public figure” (non-political, very low key, visible and silent) in the wider community. No trumpeting about what had happened to me. Within six months after my position closed, all four key figures involved with my circumstances in the hierarchy of that institution resigned. This is just my speculation but I believe that my staying put in the community with a low key but public profile was enough pressure ‘of presence’ that they resigned. I hadn’t anticipated this. Perhaps they didn’t either. They moved on to other institutions out of state. And now I’m still in the community, in another academic institution just a few blocks away where I had formerly worked.

    It is years later now after those events and I’ve said very little if anything at all about the current national circumstances. Rather, I’ve spoken about my own racism here in this blog. And in my community, I’ve mentioned a few things I’ve witnessed here and there where I live. But I have no raised voice, I make no protest, I do no marching. And yet I have seen the violence in the videos on the internet. I have been grieving a deeply about the police brutalities that I’ve seen reported in the news. What I’ve seen brings me to tears and it’s hard to bear. I have no words of response to this madness…just deep sorrow.

    As you repeatedly say, Father, and I agree wholeheartedly, is that we need to reflect in honesty and truth what is in our own hearts. Doing that with guts and honesty is really tough. We’re too ready to point our finger at someone else, that’s not being change, that’s putting the onus of change onto someone else’s plate. Shaming someone will not fuel change but will deepen the divide. And that divide eventually will be felt in our own hearts if we have the guts to take a look. Of course, I want murderers prosecuted appropriately through the justice system. But it will take much more than that, prosecution is not enough in this situation. It is a Band-Aid on a cancer. And the complexity of these circumstances and the horror begs true repentance, for each of us, in each of our own respective lives. But we do this repentance because we love God and neighbor. Father, I too, noticed what you noticed about the large proportion of white Americans involved in the protests. And I believe your reflections on the scapegoat phenomena are spot-on.

    I reflect on what St John the forerunner said to the people who asked him what they should do. (Luke 3:10-14) My interpretation of his answer aligns well with what you have done in your life which you described in your autobiographical comment. You do what God gives you to do. And you do your best with love. And be prepared for outcomes that you didn’t anticipate because things usually don’t go as planned. And the best work that anyone does, in my experience, comes out of love. Love of God and love of one’s neighbor, whoever they are. Usually we don’t get to see the end results of such love. One loves because one wants to love, to have a heart full of love, to be self-emptying, to fully embrace and support one another, heart and soul. We are not able to do that without God’s help because it is authentic and real only when it is a life-long commitment that begins with sincere repentance.

    It is enough to love and to do what you can and stay humble (not a common trait in the US, I fear). I believe it’s quite hard for an American to say at the end of the day in humility: ‘We are unprofitable servants. We have done what was our duty to do.’

  70. Rojeena Avatar

    Hi thank you father and all the wonderful thoughts written with Christ in mind. I read today Herbrew 12:1-3 and to me summerized the orthodox Christians views toward shame silence inspired by the Lord! AMEN

  71. Ziton Avatar

    Father Stephen – Just wanted to add my thanks and how much I have enjoyed the several personal history vignettes you have given us in the comments on this article.

    While the article was great, it did focus more on the the potential problems of “Activism” (capital A intended). I have found pretty much all the later comments to be very useful in progressively fleshing out and rounding out in a very constructive way what a practical, authentic – because it has been lived-out – engaged alternative to “Activism” (capital A intended) might look like. Obviously we need to tailor versions to the realities of our own lives.

    But perhaps even more for me they have just been darn interesting personally. You are a great raconteur as well as divine theorist! I feel I was looking through windoes into the life of someone who has been living a rich and textured life shaped that is both engaged with the real world, while being shaped by Christ and a grounded spirit of service, and realistic.

    You are blessed and a blessing. This blog is an important ministry.

  72. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    Dee, my dear sister! Thoroughly enjoyed your story on taking a stand for what is good and right. It is another story of great courage. Your response to corruption can only come through beholding the beauty of the crucified and risen Christ. It is clear evidence of His presence within those who have said yes to Him. He is there in every instance, in every moment of our life. It was inevitable that in knowing His beauty, that you would reject and oppose an ugliness within the very area of your vocation. An area that He Himself prepared you for. I do not think you’d be able continue with a clear conscience, had you not stood for truth. Universal Truth that has its potential do Its work within every single circumstance, within every single event that takes place on this earth. It is that rather than one particular incidence of a calculated moral decision. We see Truth because we see true Beauty and true Goodness. When we turn away from that for convenience sake – “I don’t want to be troubled by getting involved…too risky… I have other things to do” – what we then experience a lack in the turning away from this triad – Christ – and we begin to shrink. It the wage of sin -death. But your choice, I believe, was not calculated in this way either. You just did what you knew was right. Because Righteousness dwells within you, in Christ. I believe that’s how it all “works”… for each of us who can not turn away from His face (at least not for very long!)…that alluring gaze, that wondrous presence….pure, unselfish Love. Yep, you are correct Dee…love of God and love of neighbor are fused together, as one can not exist without the other.
    Your story is a great witness, Dee. And look! You are still in the community where you were planted! As is Father Stephen.
    I never tire of these stories! They glorify our great God!

    I woke this morning with this thought, after thinking about Father’s story and how he related it to “doing justice”. Doing justice is saying yes to God because it is our participation in the restoration of order out of chaos. Look at the Creation narrative. After the Logos of God spoke, immediately chaos responded by turning to Him, and the natural order of creation ensued…and God said it is good! This restoration is also contained within St John the Forerunner’s words you reference in Lk 3:10-14.
    We say yes to Law and Order! It is life in its fullness. And for ‘goodness’ sake’, we ought not to settle for less. I really believe deep down we do not want to settle for less. We desperately need to be taught how to nurture this beauty so we can say yes to the proper things and not be deceived by selfish motives that sound “right”. This so very important, to pray for God to send us people we can trust and therefore imitate. He most definitely does this. And where we go off course and follow deception, He will wait until precisely the right moment where we will “see” the error, and will point us back onto the Way.
    Dee, thank you. A beautiful witness! Very edifying.

    ” …a practical, authentic – because it has been lived-out – engaged alternative to “Activism” … Obviously we need to tailor versions to the realities of our own lives.”
    An excellent summation…thank you! I think this goes hand in hand with freedom. Freedom to respond to God in the very place He comes to us. There is no coercion in this picture.
    Americans lean heavy on practicality…we need to know the ‘how’! I think another way to describe us is pragmatic. I have to laugh…but it is true! Doesn’t make any less possible God’s work in us!
    Like yourself, I also enjoy the personal side of a story. By sharing his own story, Father has a great way of drawing this out in those who are willing to divulge within proper limits. It seems to put distinction to the ideas, the abstractions, we encounter in our discussions. Plus, we are created as ‘personal’ beings!

  73. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Paula, Dee, etc.
    I think the experience of my childhood, when racism in the South was also the actual law (there was a $50 fine for a person of color if they refused to sit in the back of the bus, for example), and was simply a casual part of life in which no one was embarassed or hesitant to express a racist thought in any given situation, has played a deep part of my thinking. I watched how the casual racism began to disappear, the “N” word was no longer spoken aloud, certain jokes weren’t told, a sort of “politeness” settled over our culture. The South is a deeply polite society, historically, with its roots back in England. But, I was also aware of how what was not spoken aloud might very well get spoken in private in areas or with friends where it would not be called out or flagged.

    What I know is that what was once quite public went quietly into darker parts of the heart where it took up plausible deniability. I will say that I think its public disappearance also made it weaker in successive generations such that young people today would be shocked if they were suddenly transported back to 1960.

    But, it is all that that makes me come back, again and again, to the heart as the true field of battle. I know that’s where the battle is because that is my own inner reality. True repentance is the healing of the heart – and this is difficult. Mere shaming only makes it worse. This is a difficult spiritual thing. There are also forces that do not get discussed (because few understand them or have the language for them). There is such a things as ancestral sin – not just that of Adam and Eve. There are spiritual burdens of sin that make true holiness difficult. Most of the saints of North America seem to have lived on a “spiritual capital” that they brought from home rather than found here.

    St. John of San Francisco urged the return of traditional Orthodox saints of the West into the prayers and veneration of the Church (there are many, many of these in the British Isles). He said that Britain would not be brought back into the Orthodox fold until its saints were honored. I see America as having a bit of an extension of that. These early saints are a spiritual patrimony and a wealth of holiness that we need to draw from for the cause of our salvation and healing.

    There is much more to be said about this, but I think I’ll save it for another day. Be blessed!

  74. Nicole from VA Avatar
    Nicole from VA

    Hi Father, first, thank you for explaining to me about St. Basil the Fool as the patron on St. Basil’s in Russia a few months ago. I did not know that. I also appreciate the comments you have made to me over the years.

    Michael Bauman, thank you for cautioning me against use of the word autonomy. I agree and continue to reflect on it. Paula AZ, thank you for your kind words. I do consider you a sister. I was also happy to learn that story about driving you shared.

    I will share a few more thoughts now. One of the profound gifts I received from my mother was her repeated statements ‘Talk to everyone’ and ‘beware of mob mentality.’ Through this message and God’s grace I was able to be friends with many diverse people in high school and also avoid some of the herd mentality mistakes related to alcohol, etc, that young people make. I consider both miracles. I have long tried to share these messages with others, the high school students I have taught have heard these phrases and the grad students I taught as well.

    The essence of my thought is that mob mentality is such a distortion of personhood because of that fusion effect. It falls deeply short of God’s image because it blurs the lines of separate personhood existing among separate people.

    In David Walton’s excellent book ‘Get smart about emotion’ he includes a specific case of a well raised boy swept up into mob behavior of rioting and cites quotes from him and he describes kind of losing himself (I’m sorry, I have the book right here but can’t find the page)

    But more to the point of protesting, I stood outside the Sudanese embassy around 2006, and for what good? Networks, Crowds and Markets has an extensive section on Cascades, both how misinformation diffuses and how the ‘lower quality technology’ gets more widely adopted due to choices people make before you. It also has sections on protest. I have had to think about it a great deal over the years and after advocating for it, I now see that shared silence and prayer is better.

    From Fr. Hopko’s lecture on the Pur Father I learned that the two elements necessary for validating an encounter with God include a sense of God’s power and our own unworthiness. When we sense a feeling of empoweredness alone, it is a red flag. It is seductive, bit it is a red flag.

    Feom Archbishop Paul of Finland’s ‘The Faith We Hold’ a quote I love:

    ‘Should we try to pray in such a way that our feelings accompany it? The only suitable feeling is that of contrition and our unworthiness.’ (Page 79)

    We are being invited to share suffering by sharing anger, when we should express contrition in prayer instead. This contrition is both for the victim and for the perpetrator, who is perhaps an even greater victim

    My mom once share with me a comment from a police officer back in the 90’s. He said, ‘if I could find a job that paid $40,000 I would quit.’ The sadness and the trappedness of that comment have resonated with me for years. He had to witness terror and violence over and over, and would have chosen something else, but we are in a country where forms of slavery abound. When you can’t find a job to pay the bills sufficiently and have time for rest I do not see how that is different than slavery.

    My coach in college, a black man, took us to Mississipi college for a cross country running event. I learned so much from him. One thing he did that was so brilliant was pull over by the side of the road and say to my teammates and I ‘go walk through that cotton field. Come back whenever you are ready.’ I think we can come to know and come to grieve with prayer rather than rage.

    Thank you for this article Father. My last thought is that I think the faithful in America are stuck because we are told that we are rich economically, when many of us are quite stretched to the limit. Mother Theresa said she never saw poverty like she saw in America, and I think that refers to our social isolation and toxic shame. When the faithful are told they are rich, along with confusion and shame, I think it pushes them towards the build a better world mentality that is so dangerous.

  75. Agata Avatar

    Thank you for reminding us about St. Basil as a symbol of Russia.
    I recently heard it explained that there are three symbols of Russia: St. Basil’s Cathedral, Andrey Rublev’s icon of the Holy Trinity and Dostoevsky.

    I already had Fr. Stephen connected in my mind to the last two (because of his love for Dostoevsky and the fact that the very first post of this blog had the icon of the Holy Trinity as its theme picture). Now you added St. Basil’s Cathedral…. (I did not remember reading those comments, if you have a link, would you post it?).

    Dear Fr. Stephen, for me, you are now officially the Russian Apostol to America ! 🙂

  76. Reader Christopher Avatar
    Reader Christopher

    The community that contributes to this blog’s discussions has always struck me as one that earnestly emphasizes humility and generosity of spirit, and so I wanted to recommend two readings that may be insightful to those who have not read them or to those who have not read them in a long time. The first is Frederick Douglass’ “Narrative” and the second is W.E.B. DuBois’ “The Souls of Black Folk”. Both are available for free online.

    Douglass was a Christian, although fiercely critical of much of American Christianity, and DuBois was most certainly not a Christian; however, both works contain undeniable spiritual power and insight. They are worth reading and re-reading. Given time and meditation I expect that many of you might find that the spiritual insights of our Orthodox Fathers brings even greater clarity to not only the horrors, but also the yearnings of heart contained within those works. Both works have not lost their power to open the eyes of the heart and are still very relevant in my opinion.

  77. Robert Avatar

    By any chance have you read Dreher’s recent post? It’s a reflection I think you would appreciate.

  78. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Reader Christopher, good suggestions.

  79. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    Reader Christopher,
    Thank you. Both are bookmarked.

  80. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    I had not read Dreher’s piece, so thanks for the link! I’ve met Rod, when he lived in Dallas, in the home of Abp. Dmitri. We have a number of mutual friends (writers), but we don’t interact much. I often like his stuff, though I would probably finesse it one way or another. This piece on his Southern home and the legacy of slavery/Jim Crow is quite poignant. I was born in the Jim Crow era. My first conscious awareness of black/white came when I was 4 years old. I drank from the “wrong” water fountain at the local Department Store (they were labeled, “Colored,” and “White”). My mother snatched me up (I either couldn’t read, or I simply didn’t know what the words referred to). She explained the difference but gave no explanation why we drank from separate fountains. The only thing a 4 year-old could make of that is that Blacks must have some sort of disease or cleanliness problem – they were the only reasons I could think of for not drinking water. I remember spending the rest of the day quietly, wondering if I was going to turn black.

    It’s actually a tragic story. It communicated an unspoken sense of biological problems associated with race – the sort of thing that inculcates as sense of disgust – a very deep affect – in the mind of a child. I had to work hard to overcome this insanity. That in the 1960’s, when Captain Kirk on Star Trek kissed Ohura, being the first white-black kiss on television (and it was news, and shocking) is a story of just how deep white insanity carried all of this. It wasn’t just economics and opportunity – it was a visceral disgust and has been slowly disappearing. But walking around in a surrounding culture that sees you as an object of disgust is simply beyond comprehension. This is the deeper and more evil side of racism. And it’s real.

    I have found it important to speak about this, to tell this real history to my children and to other young people when I have the opportunity. They do not realize how frightfully sinful it all was – it was poisoned souls. It is healthy for us to share these stories and to think about them, and to repent.

    Mine is the last American generation to have lived any of this (officially). It’s legacy, particularly as an unspoken, or unspeakable, inner poison that is too often not acknowledged. Unconfessed, unrecognized, it poisons the soul.

    Sometimes it has been good for me to read histories of other peoples, other lands. I have no “skin in the game” in those lands (what an apt expression). It allows me to examine things from all sides and think about them. Then, transposing things as can be done, it allows me to rethink my own life and world.

    I have no particular sense of personal guilt when I think of these things. Nor do I think I should. I do, however, have a sense of an inherited burden to be acknowledged and repented of and to be ended in me – in my heart – as best as is possible through grace. Mostly, it means not to lie.

    I got caught up in some of the debates about removing the confederate flag from the State Capital in South Carolina several years ago. Many spoke about history. I had an uncle in the Senate when the flag was place there in the 60’s. It wasn’t about history. It was about defending segregation and everybody knew it. I spoke out about it because I thought it would be a lie (and agreeing to a lie) to let people claim it was something it was not.

    I am personally astounded that “June-teenth,” the anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, is not an American holiday. It certainly would be if it had been a white event. It’s not just history – but it is the single most important thing in American history since the founding of the country, I would think – at least as important as the abolition of serfdom in Russia, for example. But, most whites have no idea what “June-teenth” is. Never heard of it.

    Dreher’s article struck a chord and resonates with so, so many stories that people my soul. I prefer sharing them here in the comments. Some of this is so deeply personal, occasionally painful, certainly it triggers shame. But it is good to tell the truth and to hear the truth.

    We have a young black member in our congregation. When he first started attending his mother came to check us out. We arranged an evening together. She’s a little younger than me. But, we met, and I shared a lot of my stories, and she shared hers. I wanted her to know that her son would be safe and loved in our parish. When the evening ended, she said, “I’ve never heard a white man speak like this.” My own thought was, “It was long overdue.” The shared common experience of black and white, particularly in the South, is extremely important.

    All of the things that are seen as uniquely American – blues, jazz, rock, gospel, country music, etc. – are blends of different elements of European and African contributions. There is no American culture that is not Afro-European. That’s who America is. But we do not have this consciousness of ourselves – strangely. We should. It’s who “we” are. I think that, should such a consciousness evolve among us, we’ll be stronger and healthier for it. But, such things are in the hands of God.

    Pardon my wandering along…

  81. Sophia Avatar

    Bless, Father.

    Your more “autobiographical comments” have meant more to me than I can say. Thank you.

  82. Reader Christopher Avatar
    Reader Christopher

    Father Stephen thank you for offering so many of your personal experiences. They are not wandering at all, but meaningful and welcome. One of my assignments in a class last year was to interpret a quote from Lonnie Bunch, the Founding Director of the National Museum of African American History and Culture, which read “The African American experience is the lens through which we understand what it is to be an American.”

    I spent a lot of time meditating on that idea and one of the paragraphs from that paper in my mind mirrors your experience and thoughts:

    America as a nation, which has so often viewed itself through the false myths of manifest destiny and exceptionalism, or the modern doctrine of exporting the good of American democracy to the world, has failed to grapple with its own inner life and therefore what makes America both tragic and unique. The piercing insight of the African American experience provides “the conceptual space for us to imagine an ideal of justice” (Johnson 22), that is not simply the rectifying of social and political imbalances, but the orientation of American life toward its proper ends, “the What, then the Why, underneath the everlasting Ought” (qtd. Johnson 43). Such a justice must embrace the tragic in the black soul and in all of human experience. With this lens America can clasp hands with the totality of its own soul, and find in its tangled skeins a woven garment.

    The quotes are from Terrence Johnson’s “Tragic Soul-Life”. He’s a talented young professor at Georgetown University.

  83. Ziton Avatar

    I have just finished reading (well, listening to via audiobook) Brene Brown’s book “I Thought It Was Just Me, But It Isn’t” which seems like a good primer to her thoughts and work on shame theory. (That I am reading this kind of book is already a tribute to Fr Stephen’s hammering of this theme. Thank you.) I have been finding it very interesting and helpful, with lots to ponder.

    While there is much that is quotable in the context of the current thread In the last chapter titled “Creating a Culture of Connection” (which perhaps in itself alread qualifies as a much better slogan than “Silence is violence”) I thought this might be interesting. Apologies for length. Father if you think it is not worth it, please cut.

    “How do you help people believe they really can make a difference without overwhelming them with responsibility or patronizing them with clichés? Most of us haven’t dedicated our lives to world peace. We aren’t convinced that we have what it takes to change the world. In fact, sometimes it takes every ounce of our energy just to unload the dishwasher.

    Well, I have to say that on this particular night, I was moved. Mavis Leno nailed it. She looked at the audience and simply said, “If you want to make a difference, the next time you see someone being cruel to another human being, take it personally. Take it personally because it is personal!” It was the single most inspiring call to change I’ve heard.

    We all know how to take it personally. In fact, when we witness cruelty, it’s human nature to take it personally. If we choose not to get involved or pretend it’s not happening, we’re going against the very sense of connection that makes us human.
    If we want to transform our culture of shame into a culture of connection— we need to take what we see, hear, witness and do personally. Shaming is cruel. When our children are watching reality TV shows that rely on shame and degradation as entertainment, we turn them off and explain why. When someone uses hurtful and demeaning stereotypes, we find the courage to explain why we’re not comfortable with the conversation. When someone shares her shaming experience with us, we make the choice to practice compassion—we work to hear what she is saying and to connect to what she is feeling.

    Taking it personally means changing the culture by owning our experiences and holding ourselves and others accountable. Too often, when we experience shame we stay quiet. If we do find the courage to tell our story, we are often told that we are “too sensitive” or that we are taking it “too personally.” I’ve never understood that. Should we be insensitive and detached? The culture of shame feeds on insensitivity and detachment.

    Caroline is a great example of the power of taking it personally. In the Introduction, I shared this snippet of her story:

    One day I was driving down the street in our neighborhood and I stopped next to a car full of young men at a light. They were looking over and smiling. I smiled back and even blushed a bit. Then out of nowhere, my fifteen-year-old daughter, who was sitting in the backseat with her best friend, snapped, “Geez Mom, stop looking at them. What do you think— they’re flirting with you? Get real!” I could barely hold the tears back. How could I have been so stupid?

    Caroline was in her early fifties when we first met in 2003. She told me this story in 2005, when I interviewed her for a second time. She explained that her handling of this shaming moment was a turning point for her. Here’s Caroline’s story of ordinary courage and resilience.

    It’s not this experience that changed the way I feel about myself, it was how I handled it with my daughter. Rather than yelling at her or sulking, I decided to use what I knew about shame resilience. I dropped the girls off, came home and called my neighbor. We’ve been friends for a long time. I told her what happened and how ashamed I was. I told her that I was ashamed for smiling at the young men and I was ashamed of how my daughter treated me in front of her friend. When my friend asked me why I was ashamed for smiling at the men, I told her that I had actually thought, for one split second, that they were smiling at me. I explained that I forgot that I’m old and that doesn’t happen anymore. She understood my shame. She didn’t try to make it better. She just listened. Finally she said, “It hurts when they don’t see us— the boys in the cars . . . our kids . . . they just stop seeing us.” She understood.

    My husband picked up my daughter from her friend’s house and my other daughter from softball practice. When they got home I was in my room. I came out right away and asked my daughter if I could talk to her. She responded by saying, “Oh, God—are you menopausal again?” The rest of the family laughed. This time, rather than laughing with them or pretending not to care, I said, “No. You really hurt my feelings today and we need to talk about it.” On that note, my husband and younger daughter flew out of the room.

    I sat down with my daughter and explained how ashamed I felt when she made that comment and why. I even explained how hard it was for me as a woman, not as a mother, but as a woman. I told her that I understood that it was very important for her to be cool and have her friends like her. However, it was unacceptable for her to be hurtful to others in order to make that happen. The entire time I was talking she was making faces and rolling her eyes. I finally reached out and took both of her hands and said, “What you said made me feel very ashamed and hurt. I’m telling you this because I know you love me and our relationship is important. I’m also telling you this so you know that you should not let people shame you or put you down so they look cool or popular. I won’t let you do that to me and I hope you don’t let anyone do that to you.”
    As Caroline told me her story, I waited anxiously to hear about her daughter’s heartfelt apology and the tender mother-daughter embrace. Of course, it never happened. Caroline said that her daughter responded with a resounding “Oh, my God, can I please go now?” Caroline told her daughter that she needed to apologize, and she did. Then she went to her room, shut the door and turned on her radio. We will never know what impact this conversation had on Caroline’s daughter; however, based on my professional and personal experience, I believe these conversations can be life-changing.

    Caroline took it personally, and if all parents lived by these beliefs and had talks like this with their children, we would start to see the culture change. If the children who heard these talks expected more from themselves and their friends, we’d see a cultural shift. It doesn’t take momentous events—it takes critical mass. If enough of us make small changes in our lives, we will see big changes.”

  84. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    It is striking that Brene Brown frames this story in terms of “making a difference” and later “culture change.” Unfortunately (and it’s a good story), that is a measuring-stick that really never works. It is how we are trained to think in our modern culture. But, it’s sufficient to change something in yourself or in one other person. That has a value that, whether or not it is multiplied, is sufficient and good. “Making a difference” and “changing the culture” make us think wrongly about ourselves. We do not need to be “important” to be important. A single sparrow garners the attention of God.

    That was something that came to mind as I saw those phrases (almost obligatory in every modern account).

  85. Charles Avatar

    Bless, Father. I came to Orthodoxy rather late in life. One of the most difficult things related to my conversion experience (something I would say continues to this day), is understanding that there were some things (baggage, you might say) that I had to leave at the door of the church. One of those things was my understanding of right and wrong from a political or social perspective. As I’ve said, I still struggle with that to this day, but although I haven’t completely rejected all my former beliefs, I have never had the impression that I could hold on to them with the thinking that the Church just hadn’t somehow caught up with me yet. As such, I continue to look to the Church, and to the wisdom of these and other writings, for some necessary, if difficult, reminders.

    There will always be troubles, but every new trouble I hear about seems to be a reiteration of something that has come many times before. We pride ourselves in whatever we do to address these things, while ignoring the only trouble that ultimately can be resolved with any success — of course, that has to do with the line dividing good and evil as Solzhenitsyn so aptly found it.

    I am learning that there are things that I have long treasured, things that we have traditionally labored and sacrificed greatly to maintain, things that we might actually do well to continue to honor and uphold, but never substitute them for even greater things. I am reminded of the words of the late Archbishop Dmitri: “For man’s freedom is an Icon, an image of the Divine Freedom itself.”

    Kissing your right hand….

  86. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    I’ve been thinking over the past number of days of how a nation could move forward. I could well imagine a national day of reconciliation (or some such name), done annually, that recognizes the pain and even evil of our past (without completely demonizing everything), the unjust suffering that came about in those actions, and the legacy that such a history burdens us with – all of us. And, in some manner, lay it aside, ask God’s forgiveness and each other’s, with prayers for new beginnings and the freedom to move forward as a single people, however we got here. Of course, the temptation to turn such an event into an opportunity of partisan grandstanding or scoring political points would be overwhelming. Thus – I think if there were such a day and an event – it would have to be surrounded with borders that prevented such things as a violation of the day itself.

    If we could do such a thing, each year, it might be good for us. That we probably can’t says volumes. But, it’s something that I’ll be thinking about.

  87. Nicole from VA Avatar
    Nicole from VA

    Hi Agata,

    Fr. Stephen explained to me about St. Basil the Fool in a comment linked to his post from Jan 29, 2020

    Title: “That Which is Lacking” — Is Jesus Enough?

    His comment is from Jan 30 at 8:45

    I send a warm hello to you! Glad to learn about the three images of Russia

  88. Sh. Priscilla Avatar
    Sh. Priscilla

    Father, Bless! I hope your idea of a national day to acknowledge our need for repentance takes hold. In a letter to my grown children last week, I wondered about that as well. What if we actually did institute a National Day of Fasting and Prayer for Reconciliation? For what it’s worth, I copy parts of it here:

    “This morning on my walk I reflected on the place of fasting and prayer in the Judeo-Christian heritage. It came to mind as I pondered what we can do as individuals and a nation to “repent” of the individual and collective sins of commission and omission which have led us to this time of sorrow.

    In the time of Christ, the Jewish people had quite a number of public and private fasts. It was customary then for the Jewish people to fast on Mondays and Thursdays.( Early Christians adopted that custom, but changed the days to most Wednesdays (remembering Judas’ betrayal of Christ) and Fridays (remembering that an innocent man, Christ, was tortured and killed).

    In general, fasting and other acts to help us be more humble and mindful of our part in the suffering of others have fallen on hard times (kneeling, prostrations, prayer, confession of sins, etc.)

    What is left to remind us of our interconnectedness with God and one another…and our part in the healing of all things?

    In the Episcopal Church the weekly confession in church was to acknowledge “things done and left undone.” In the Orthodox service, we are called weekly to confess transgressions “voluntary and involuntary, of word and of deed, of knowledge and of ignorance…as well as regular private “examination of our consciences” and confession to a priest.

    The public acts of sorrow and contrition we are witnessing now are doing their part to heighten our awareness of sins. But, for the most part, they don’t have a cosmic dimension.
    What will sustain our personal mindfulness in the long run?

    Alexander Solzhenitsyn famously says,
    “The line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either — but right through every human heart — and through all human hearts. … And even within hearts overwhelmed by evil, one small bridgehead of good is retained.”
    I don’t expect a sudden rush of people returning to fasting and prayer on two days of the week. But, it certainly couldn’t hurt…and might lead to humbled hearts softened by tears of repentance. And from such hearts? Transfiguration. It’s my heart that needs to change. Lord have mercy.

    “Aquire the Holy Spirit of Peace and a thousand souls will be saved.” St. Seraphim of Sarov.”
    Thank you for your steadfast spiritual fatherhood for us.

  89. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Father, a national day of reconciliation would require a monumental shift in awareness. As it is now the”problem” is 100% the fault of the other which brings me back to the approach Fr Moses taught me. Repentance, forgiveness and caring for others in need. Repentance and forgiveness seem to be closely linked each allowing and potentiating the other. As one’s heart enlarges, as Elder Zacharias teaches, the mercy of God flows easily to others.

    In the secular world everything is a cost/benefit analysis–a zero Tom Lehrer’s old song National Brotherhood week comes to mind:. “O the white folks hate the black folks and the black folks hate the white folks, to hate all but the right folks is an old established rule…”

    So we live in rememberance of wrongs constantly inflaming one another stock piling wrongs for the future. How hard it is, even inwardly in my own closet trying to approach repentance to lay greater blame much like Adam:’This woman you gave me…”

    Yet, God is unfailingly generous and long suffering. His judgement on my own heart is that he gives good despite my lack of humility.

  90. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    I think you’re probably right. Mostly, I wanted to imagine out loud for myself what it might look like were it possible. Even to ask if it were possible. I think (while I’m doing it out loud) that we’re too noisy to do this sort of thing. It would take some quiet – something to “stun” us into reflection. I could imagine a day set (still thinking) of prayer, fasting, acknowledgement and reconciliation, without politcs. It would be prepared by a three-day silence of all news programming – in solemn recognition that only silence could provide the proper frame.

    Those 3 days alone would be worth the whole thing!

    Of course, there’s difficulties. Who could declare and lead such a thing? There is no person of sufficient stature to pull it off. I could imagine a Hollywood type like Morgan Freeman having sufficient gravitas to explain it. But I’ve got a million noises telling me why this sort of thing won’t happen.

    America is a deeply conflicted country with too little that binds us together in a single identity. But, all these things are in the hands of God. I can always imagine a better world – but I do not know how to make one. We can pray.

  91. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    Father, and all…
    After reading the comments over the last couple of days, the emphasis on silence and prayer, and how a great many of us grieve over our sins, our lack of unity, and the recognition that the problem lies primarily in our own souls…and realizing that the likelihood of even a significant amount of people coming together to repent in unison, I mean, as a nation and in a public arena, is quite small…could it be that just this heartfelt desire, which I do believe has led to many of us to petition the Lord daily in prayer, can actually be the effectual movement that God hears and accepts? In other words, doing this apart from an ‘organized’ movement? Surely God does not need a ‘blueprint’ plan in order to establish such a synergy between us and Him.
    I have in mind Father Abraham’s prayer to save Sodom and Gomorrah. There was no organizing, but rather just Abraham’s grand petition. Would God hear us each individually like that, considering each prayer singularly, yet coming forth from a multitude of voices, as a whole?
    What do you think, Father?
    I hope you can decipher what I am trying to ask! I’m sure you could.

  92. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Dear Paula,
    Thank you again for your question. Indeed it begs us again to question our motives.

    It’s interesting what each of us are thinking. My initial thoughts before reading your post was that of Nineveh, where there was God’s prophet, Jonah, sent to the city to warn them. And against all odds, they put on sackcloth and fasted. And they were saved for a time but eventually the city was destroyed. The lesson didn’t stick perhaps.

    And the story you refer to in your comment is indeed a sobering lesson. Because we don’t want lives destroyed, we want to see a change on a grand scale that effects a ‘good life’ (however that might be defined) for all. And yet this is indeed a conceptualization out of the philosophy of modernity that we have the power to create and manufacture such a thing. And so I’m interpreting your writing to mean that perhaps that’s not the way. Perhaps we need an Abraham.

    But if what we are is some kind of culture of Sodom and Gomorrah on steroids, what does our future look like even if we have an Abraham among us? It seems this culture of the US has a long history in its philosophical and sociological foundation stemming from the heresies of the Western Church, which historically enabled and sanctioned what it is now so good at doing.

    The Lord planted the Orthodox Church here, nevertheless. What will She do? How will She teach Her children, the truly young, and the young in the faith regarding these issues? Does the Orthodox Church have in Her catechism lessons that direct children and adults to a more complete understanding of the history of this nation and how it was forged on the martyrdom of African Americans (and yes, Native Americans and Chinese Americans)? When someone says “Black lives matter”, how many Orthodox will mutter some kind of rebuttal such “All lives matter”? Such a rebuttal doesn’t look like we’re ready for self reflection, does it?

    Are we able as the truly Orthodox Church to create a fast and commemoration worthy of a Lent to comb our hearts and minds of our own offences and to ask for forgiveness and lead a life of repentance? I’m not talking about something that is generic, but specifically a repentance of the history of murder against the specific peoples that this country has committed, and is by some accounts, still proud to have had.

    Regarding complexity and diversity, I see silos not mixed communities in the Orthodox Church, here in the US. That again can be attributed to the history of how the Orthodox Church began in this country. But it seems to be perpetuated. And I suspect this has a lot to do with the social culture in each parish. Should this this be looked at and atoned? What would that atonement be in action and in hearts?

    St Peter was absolutely convinced that he would be the one to stand up for Christ, when it came to an arrest of Christ. But what did he actually do? Yes indeed in a burst of protest, he cut off someone’s ear at the moment of arrest–a passionate and very brief outburst. But afterward as Christ would be condemned to die, what did he do? It is apparent that even the apostles didn’t know their own hearts all that well. He denied Christ as we all know. And then after that what did he do? He repented, sincerely, and became a martyr himself.

    Regarding a Samaritan village that would not receive Christ, His disciples asked (paraphrase) do you want us to command fire to come down to consume them? Christ Himself answered, “You do not know what manner of spirit you are of…”

    So I come back to the original question about us Orthodox and specifically about each of our respective parishes. Do we know what spirit we are of? Have we even begun the reflection in our own hearts how we contribute to and perpetuate this horrible mess? Are we Orthodox ready to repent specifically, pointedly of these sins?

  93. hélène d. Avatar
    hélène d.

    As “only one sparrow attracts the attention of God”, how much more will he hear our fervent prayers, which are already a “plan” without “plan”, each of our prayers gathered in the great choir of the prayerful, because we cannot whisper anything to the earth without Heaven hearing it, each of our words comes before the assembly of the angels of God …
    In this time of commemoration of all the Saints, of whom we are spiritual children, thanks to their faith, their prayer, and our veneration towards them, we are “begotten”, we are in this divine filiation which is “grafted” on Christ and we can truly “act” in this way thanks to the powerful intercession of Saints. In my weakness, I can not think of “modes of action” in the world, without rising many “blinks” that do not allow to think with certainty and clarity … but it is very interesting to hear the different thoughts on this subject and they help me a lot.
    How many good thoughts and good testimonies make this blog already filled with prayer and so alive … and I have a deep gratitude for it.

  94. Marianne Avatar

    Fr. Stephen,
    I’ve enjoyed reading your blog ever since a friend introduced me to it several years ago. Thank you for your sensitive and thought-provoking article on such a timely subject. I also enjoy reading about your personal history.
    Like many of your readers, my soul is weary of all the chaos and division. It seems we have to be so careful of what we say and how we say it, afraid of being shamed and therefore, ostracized. I am a student of History and Genealogy and have learned a lot from my research. One thing I have learned, it is complicated.
    I’ll try not to make this long. We are about the same age. I’m sure, like many Americans, I view these events from many different angles, based on experiences I have had. I, too, remember racism from my childhood, but I was a military brat and grew up mostly on military posts, here and overseas, where race did not appear to be as big an issue. We had black neighbors and rode the school bus together. I have two law enforcement officers in the family. They are men of integrity and would never have condoned what happened to George Floyd, but are frustrated by what is happening.
    I have also had two family members murdered by black men in random acts of violence. One never got justice…the two men got away. And yet at the same time that my brother-in-law was murdered, another black person came to render aid.
    I worked in a predominantly black neighborhood for 15 years and got to know many people of different walks of life in my profession. It was in customer service and I had few negative experiences, but one encounter several years ago stayed with me. A young man that I had waited on asked to speak to my manager. I was puzzled and asked him why. He surprised me, because he said that I deserved a raise for treating him with the kind of respect that he was not used to. I didn’t know what to say, except, “Thank you, I try to treat everyone the same.”
    I think that is what is missing today….true conversation.
    Thank you for your wise words and I am glad you are still writing this blog.

  95. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Sobering thoughts and questions. To a degree, I think it is helpful to think of oneself as an Orthodox Christ, first and foremost. I do not think of myself as an American very often – in that it is not something that registers much with me, except in definitions that I do not want to take part in. My “audience” (and thus, “friends”) is so much more far-flung than America that my conversation and thoughts would feel strangely disconnected if they were confined here. Of course, American is the dominant cultural force in the world today, so that others elsewhere understand us about as well (or better) than we understand ourselves.

    But simply thinking as an Orthodox Christian can be a healthy thing. Why are we here? Why has God put us here? There are so many good questions to ask.

    Thank you.

  96. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Honestly, Father, I don’t think of myself as “American” either.
    I have had a short life as an Orthodox Christian, and perhaps the longer life I have lived regarding my heritage reveals itself when I attempt to speak as an Orthodox Christian.

    I suppose I seek speaking the truth of what has happened, here, against that narrative that is a false history. But it is also true that the same false narrative that the US perpetuates about itself, concerns places beyond its borders as well. And to put that false narrative into an ever larger picture, perhaps it should be called the voice of modernity rather than the voice of America.

    Then to revise what I said above, attending to such an awareness and repentance, expressed in fasting and reflection specifically to these issues of brutality against race, might become part of Orthodox Church parish life, wherever it is. I’m describing something along the lines you’ve already mentioned, but within the Orthodox Church across all lands. I’m not hoping for a national repentance day in the US. I honestly don’t think it’s possible. With God all things are possible, I tell myself. But I also have a broken heart.

  97. Joseph Barabbas Theophorus Avatar

    Glad to see how this thread turned out: stories can be very healing. We need more good stories.

    On fasting for America, we forget that there was so much diversity in Orthodox practice that, for various reasons (and not just “Western captivity” but the hegemony of Constantinople for 1000 years, etc), has been lost, suppressed, or simply ignored. Having received blessings to move into some unique (and yet Traditional) areas of study and practice, I was able to observe a different fast between Ascension and Pentecost: no oil. Instead of merely doing a generic, gradated type of fast using the fish/wine/oil scale (which originated near Jerusalem, in my understanding, but after many centuries became “default” elsewhere across the Empire), I was able to give up just oil, having the interesting task of making sure the meat had not been fried in oil, the sauces didn’t have oil, the cookies didn’t have cocoa butter, etc. It changed the whole character of the period: instead of just being about “fasting” itself, the fast changed to adapt to the character of the season, just like our colors, our hymns, and most else already do. The yearning for oil matched the joyous feasting of Christ’s Ascension to the sorrow at his absence and the desire to receive The Holy Spirit. It was amazing. Even in reevaluating something that seems such a “big T” tradition (but which really isn’t), there was room to explore, adopt a different perspective, and gain Grace.

    I think something similar could work for a fast for America. There are plenty of foods which are New World but which few realize as being so (not just the 3 sisters but tomatoes, peppers, potatoes, pecans, walnuts, blueberries, and so many more). I wonder if the native foods of the continent couldn’t be the basis for the fast? It would almost be like American Thanksgiving (including both the origins as a day of prayer and the newer traditions related to the history of the continent) but greatly expanded. Not sure how to get more people on board but this is very similar to what I already do here in the anti-modern “project” I have alluded to (first Thursday in November every year). We carry and enforce so many traditions of the wrong sort but Orthodoxy is really full of creative and beautiful traditions and practices like this if we’re willing to dig for them.

  98. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    Dee…what I hear you saying , speaking as first and foremost an Orthodox Christian (thank you Father for that), is that you would like to see this discussion begin take place within the Church. Perhaps formally, as within a meeting, as well as informally, as discussion for instance, over a cup of coffee. Either way, these questions you bring up could be introduced and discussed. Of course we pray that such discussions would bear good fruit, but that remains to be seen, and is in the hand of God.
    So Dee, there is nothing stopping us from going to our priest and presenting these concerns. We can do that within our parish. Further, if this concern bears itself out and a formal meeting is called, all who attend would be there not because it is mandatory, but because we agree that it is needful that the Church respond in some way to the injustice we have seen…now and in the past.
    There is great benefit in us coming together and discussing these things.
    Since March of this year, we have been in this most difficult situation of social distancing. It has affected all of us, to different degrees maybe, but by this time, not much of a difference. It has been difficult. And even though we are slowly returning to attend Divine Liturgy, the chaos continues. Before we are tempted to retreat even further from each other (the flight instinct), I think also for this reason, to reinforce our unity in these difficult times, that meeting together would be beneficial.

    Yet there is this: you ask, Dee, “what does our future look like even if we have an Abraham among us”…us being Sodom and Gomorrah on steroids. My thoughts went back to Abraham, that he even though he saw such destruction, he believed and looked forward in hope: “Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day: and he saw it, and was glad.”
    As well, in another place: “By faith Abraham…waited for the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God.”
    I think if we keep these things in mind, to fan the flame of longing for Christ’s return, in which He will usher in our eternal home, that our faith in Christ will be our firm foundation as we now gather together and determine what we might be doing as Church.
    And one more thing please. When I hear the word ‘justice’ I see the Cross. If I were to attend a meeting, I would very much like to hear what that means to us in this current crisis. I think we addressed that here in this post and comments.

    Thank you Dee, Father Stephen, hélène d., Marianne and Joseph for your comments in this current thread. So very helpful…

  99. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Dear Paula thank you for your patience with me. Your thoughts and suggestions along with Joseph’s gives a practical dimension to how to begin to do this prayer of repentance. Whatever we do must begin with our love of God and our neighbor. The thought of a fast on New World food actually sounds very appealing and purposeful. Thank you for this suggestion, Joesph.

    Among the things Father Stephen mentions in his articles is the value of silence, which can open a heart to self reflection.

    The following link is not Orthodox. And because of that, it can be seen as having limited applicability to Orthodox practice. Yet it might have practical offerings regarding the beginning of a fast with a silent prayer, in which we might say the Jesus prayer together, yet in silence?

    The writing is entitled “Stop Talking”, it is a recording of a workshop held by a panel of Alaska Native people, for educational purposes among a group of academics— a group of people, I’ll remind, who love to talk. 😊

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