A Cruciform Providence

The entire mystery of the economy of our salvation consists in the self-emptying and abasement of the Son of God – St. Cyril of Alexandria

Trust in the providence of God is much more than a general theory of how things are arranged in our lives and in the world. We tend to discuss the notion in the abstract, wondering whether this action or event is to be properly attributed to God. There is a much deeper matter, however, one that goes to the heart of the Christian life and the nature of salvation itself. Providence is not a theory about how things are – it is the very nature of salvation.

A proper place to begin in thinking about this is with Christ Himself.  Jesus says, “I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me.” (Joh 6:38) This is a clear declaration of His self-emptying and abasement, a kenotic action that is consummated on the Cross.

In a similar manner, trust in Divine providence is a form of self-emptying on the part of the believer. Such trust has a very traditional expression: the giving of thanks. To give thanks always, everywhere and for all things is the fullest form of self-emptying. The Elder Sophrony once said that if one were to practice thanksgiving always and everywhere, he would fulfill the saying to St. Silouan, “Keep your mind in hell and despair not.” Fr. Alexander Schmemann said, “Anyone capable of thanksgiving is capable of salvation.”

The common objection to trust in God’s providence is similar to the objections for thanksgiving. We fear that such trust and thanks will result in non-action, an acquiescence to the reign of evil. If the Christian life is rightly understood (and lived), this result is not an issue. This fear, understandably common, is intensified within the mindset and narrative of modernity.

The modern narrative tends to claim that human problems were largely left unattended and uncorrected until the advent of modern social science and political efforts. It fails to recognize that the very period of time that is marked by “modern,” has also contained many of the most egregious human rights violations known to history. Racial slavery, as practiced in America, for example, was maintained and justified almost exclusively on the grounds of very modern reasons.

The fear of inaction is a charge that can easily be brought against the Cross itself. The weakness of Christ Crucified appears (on the surface) to be the acquiescence of God to evil. This is certainly what the powers of evil thought:

…We speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God ordained before the ages for our glory, which none of the rulers of this age knew; for had they known, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. (1Co 2:7-8)

To trust in providence is not the same as inaction. Rather, it is a description of the form and character of action. The death of Christ on the Cross is in no wise involuntary – it is not passive. A life lived in union with the providence of God is in no way passive – it is the action of the Cross within the world.

The Cross should not be relegated to an event that accomplishes our salvation as an isolated or unique transaction. The Crucified Christ reveals the very nature and character of God and the nature and character of the life of salvation. The Christian life is the process of increasing transformation into the image and likeness of Christ. That image and likeness is specifically that of the Crucified (Phil. 2:5-11).

We are told to keep the commandments. Those commandments include care for the poor, the homeless, those in prison, etc. Indeed, the Cross teaches us to radically identify with them, rather than simply to offer a helping hand. Our concern for justice all too rarely engages anyone face-to-face, nor does it leave us with substantially less money. We fail to understand the true nature of violence, and refuse to acknowledge its inherent role in “making the world a better place.” Modernity is married to violence and pleads that it is all in a good cause.

The justice of the Cross is a way of life – one which makes no sense apart from the resurrection. I once heard it said that a Christian should live their life in such a way that, if Christ had not been raised from the dead, it would be absurd. That absurdity is nothing less than the foolishness of the Cross. In arguments with modernity, the way of the Cross will always lose, will always seem to fall short of solving problems and fixing things. Every human plan is better.

However, if the preaching of the Cross carries with it no foolishness, then something less than the Cross is being preached. Those who have reduced the Cross to a pagan sacrifice, appeasing an angry god, have made of it a wise investment and a safe bet. Such “faith” is beside the point.

Within our daily lives, if we confront the day with thanksgiving, the Cross will quickly reveal itself. The first moment that the giving of thanks becomes difficult, we have reached the wood of the Cross itself. We stand in the very gates of Hades. If, in that moment of difficulty, we persist in giving thanks, then Hades trembles and the dead are raised. This is our personal kenosis, our self-emptying in the presence of the good God. “Nevertheless, not my will, but thine be done.”

This same heart will indeed feed the poor and clothe the naked. It may very well give away everything that it owns. It will not make the world a better place, for it is the place where a better world has already become incarnate.

I would like to add a thought to this re-posted article:

As we look around the world in 2020 and see a growing tide of apparent chaos, we do well to remember that the cruciform character of God’s providence is found not just in what we see as “good,” but in what is crucified. The agony of the Cross itself appears to be chaos and the very incarnation of injustice. The love of God is made manifest in that injustice as it is patiently borne by the Son of God. In Him, the Cross is manifest in its transformative goodness, that which tramples down death by death. We should take courage that we are living in a time in which so many opportunities are presenting themselves for our own abandonment to God’s cruciform providence. In this, we should find ample opportunity to preach the gospel of Christ. 

About Fr. Stephen Freeman

Fr. Stephen is a retired Archpriest of the Orthodox Church in America, Pastor Emeritus of St. Anne Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He is also author of Everywhere Present: Christianity in a One-Storey Universe, and Face to Face: Knowing God Beyond Our Shame, as well as the Glory to God podcast series on Ancient Faith Radio.



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109 responses to “A Cruciform Providence”

  1. Byron Avatar

    One of my favorite posts, Father! Many thanks for reposting it and for your further thoughts.

  2. Stevan Avatar

    Thank you, Fr Stephen. This exactly articulates the antedote to some thoughts bouncing around my head right now, at a time here in Britain when the government has voted itself power to break the law, even laws of ts own making. One should be able to see these things, unthinkable a few years back, happening, and realise that they have nothing to do with us, other than as opportunities truly to trust, to commit to divine providence, to live the words we have so often heard merely as concepts.
    I had concluded that, here, things will get worse before they get better. Your post reminds me that that should not interest me, that I have been given the graces needed for the now.
    Your post is also a reminder that hope does not spring from the same well that sought to remove hope in the first place.
    Thank you. May I be able to live this.

  3. Bethlehem Avatar

    Glory be to God for He has permitted us such life-giving words from Fr. Stephan. The comment above by Stevan echoes my sentiments, but more eloquently. God bless you both! May our Lord have mercy on us!

  4. Innocent Green Avatar
    Innocent Green

    From now on when people say to me, “Ah, so you’re a pacifist!” I am going to reply, “No, I am a providentialist.”

    Wonderful article. Thank you for reposting it as I had not read it previously.

  5. Ken Seigneurie Avatar
    Ken Seigneurie

    I missed this previously and am grateful for the reposting. Very timely.

  6. Joan Avatar

    Brilliant, timely and deep . Your insight – the way you describe the truth of Christ is so helpful at this time. Thank you Father!

  7. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Reply to All,
    I am not going to post comments on who is suffering, etc. There’s just too much of the passions in that line of conversation, apparently. Sorry for the deletions – but I don’t know another way to deal with stuff.

  8. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Dear Father, thank you for your patience with us! May God help us.

  9. William Avatar

    Fr. Freeman,

    I would email this to you, but I don’t know of a way to do that, so here it is. I’m sure you’ll end up deleting it.

    In your book, Everywhere Present, you write that to only say “God is everywhere” is tantamount to saying “God is nowhere”. This must also apply to other universalizing statements that come at the expense of particular statements. In which case you may as well say nothing.

    It is interesting to note, again, whose comments are labeled as being passion-filled and whose aren’t. I see that my mention of my particular suffering is unacceptable here, and I read between the lines that your version of God must not care about my suffering–maybe even due to the color of my skin. So should I teach my children that to call out in pain to God or His priests, saying “I’m suffering!” is driven by wicked passion and so they should shut their mouths about it? “Bear other people’s pain and shut up about your own. God doesn’t care about your suffering, only others!”

  10. Karen Avatar

    Beautiful! Thank you, Father.

  11. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    I’ll let your comment stand so that I can reply.

    First, I don’t think I labeled your comment as passion-filled and not someone else’s. So, you’re mistaken about that and suggesting a motive on my part that is not true.

    Second, we’re not keeping score here on who suffers the most, whose suffering is valued, whose is not.

    Third, my management of the blog is about the possibility of a helpful conversation – not a place for everyone to air their opinions or grievances. That place is called Facebook and, like most of social media, it’s a hell hole. My blog serves a different purpose.

    My suggestion, viz. bear other’s people pain would cut both ways, would it not? It is the nature of the Cross – that we follow Christ who bore our pain. Indeed, the pain He bore was ours – He made it His own.

    But, at present, people seem to be unable to have civil conversations – that is – conversations that do not quickly move towards partisanship and inflicting pain. When I remove a comment, or choose not to post it, sometimes the reason is not so much what the comment itself says – but what kind of “storm” I’ll have inundating the comments as a result. My kind of moderation of comments tends to keep things from getting very controversial. Again, I don’t really find the controversies interesting or helpful. The whole nation is heading to hell in a handbag with its interminable controversies.

    But, I said, “sorry for the deletions.” I meant it. All I can say to anyone is try walking in my shoes for a while as the moderator of a blog – or at least think for a few minutes about what that’s like – and then give me a bit of a break.

    For what it’s worth: I’m a white guy. A Southern white guy. I’ve had murders in my family committed by Blacks. I’ve also had members of my family who were KKK. My family also owned slaves. So, I could play my cards if I wanted to, but I don’t think they’re particularly interesting or germane. Everybody suffers. God suffers in all. Racism is real and history is real. Only the Cross gets us through it. But I do not see a conversation comparing and contrasting suffering to be of any use to anyone.

  12. Burt Noyes Avatar
    Burt Noyes

    Thank you Father once again.

  13. Margaret Avatar

    Dear Fr. Stephen, thank you for this blog post — all of it, and especially the way you end it with these words: “We should take courage that we are living in a time in which so many opportunities are presenting themselves for our own abandonment to God’s cruciform providence. In this, we should find ample opportunity to preach the gospel of Christ. ”
    I pray that I have the wisdom to “preach” and really believe that a lot of what I must do is pray, attend liturgy and attend to my family and neighbors, I have appreciated your encouragement to do these things. I also appreciate your encouragement to my faith to believe in Our Lord, the Crucified Christ, as the Lover of Mankind, who is everywhere present and filling all things. I appreciate your response to William here above. God bless you as you moderate your blog, it has been a blessing to our family over the years.

  14. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    May I add that everybody’s suffering is unique to them. Other people can help you bear it even share it to a degree but only Jesus Christ can heal and transform suffering. Any social and societal structure that includes human beings will cause suffering. No amount of societal engineering will change that. Societal change only rearranges the deck chairs on the Titanic. Only my repentance will ease my suffering and allow my Lord to transform and heal the wounds on my soul. Fortunately His mercy endures forever. For everyone. Even the ones who seem to have instigated pain in my life. In my experience, my greater pain always comes from my reaction which is almost always sinful itself.
    Lord, Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner. That is the only way to justification.

  15. Edward Hara Avatar
    Edward Hara

    I ask this in honest confusion regarding evil, the will of God, and submission to that will. Does a believer have the right to self-defense and if so, at what point in an attack? It seems to me that a submission to God’s will via not responding in self-defense is an invitation to martyrdom. Is that what we should be doing – living our lives in readiness to die (both to self and bodily) in an act of submission to God’s will?

    If so, why the military in a Christian country? Why the police? I’m not trying to be cute here with these questions. It seems like in the Old Testament, self-defense was acceptable, but with the Resurrection and the promise of eternal life, we should be willing to let evil have its way.

  16. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Orthodox canon law (an expression of the Church’s teaching) does not have a political or juridical understanding about these things. First, the taking of a human life is always seen as a sin, requiring repentance, confession, and the healing of the soul. Obviously, the circumstances surrounding the taking of a human life can vary widely – even bordering on an innocent or noble action. Nevertheless, it can never be done without incurring damage to our own soul (and that of others around us, possibly). Thus, in canon law, a soldier returning from war who has taken a life is, under the canons, required to make confession and do penance. St. Basil’s canon suggest a maximum of three years abstaining from communion.

    There is no concept of “rights” in Orthodox Christian thought (it’s certainly not a Biblical idea). Self-defense is understandable, and the peace-making and order-keeping role of the police is certainly considered “lawful.” As a priest, I’ve dealt with those who have taken a life in the line of duty. Believe me, no matter how justified, there is still a deep sense of remorse and sadness in a person (if not, they need to not be a soldier or a policeman). That remorse is healed in the sacramental life of the Church.

    It is true, though, that anyone who takes up the Cross and seeks to live fully within it, might very well find themselves martyred. I think Christ promised that much to us. Not all seem able to bear the Cross to such an extreme measure. For example, Fr. Roman Braga, who suffered severe tortures in the death camps of Communist Romania, said that many of the Christians broke under torture (especially since one terrible form of torture was to be forced to torture another prisoner) and renounced their faith. They would later be restored through the prayers of the other prisoners. During the worst of it, he said, this had to be done daily. The greatest danger, he noted, was the temptation to suicide.

    That terrible spiritual trial was also productive of many saints.

    In a Christian country, it is proper for the military to function only in a defensive role – interestingly – that was its role in Byzantium. But even that defensive role had the limits under canon law that I’ve described.

    Orthodox thought is not legalistic in its approach. Rather, it is more like “medicine” (that’s how it’s described in the canons of the 6th Council). There is not an Orthodox doctrine of “just war” though I’ve seen at least one priest who argues otherwise.

  17. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Father, I know the priest of whom you speak, spoken personally with him and have read and contemplated his work (at one time he was a pacifist and wrote on that as well) with my son at great length. Not to pick too many nits, but the priest of whom you speak does not argue for a “just war” theory exactly. Rather he argues that war is sometimes necessary and can be prosecuted in a virtuous way. i.e., it is not evil per se. Sometimes war is justifiable and within he Christian paradigm. He served as a military Chaplin for many years in the field.

    He never excludes the necessity for repentance nor is salvation obtainable through war. His argument is restricted and far more narrow than the typical just war approach. That makes it challenging to read and understand precisely because one’s mind tends to fall into preexisting categories and make assumptions that are incorrect. At least mine did. Making a dogma of either war or pacifism is a mistake in his books, even his work on pacifism. He calls it the “Zero Sum Dilemma”. Fundamentally it comes down to no matte what action we take (to fight or not to fight) people will be injured and killed because of my decision and repentance is required in either case.

    My son’s conclusion was that there were times when evil was so egregious and organized that one had to meet it on the physical as well as the spiritual battlefield (the Orthodox faith is an incarnate faith) because of the harm that would be done otherwise. But one has to be totally willing to lay down one’s own life for others in doing so.

    When Jim Forest gave a presentation on the pacifist approach many years ago at my parish, I asked him about the two swords that Jesus says the Apostle’s must have. He was honest, he said he did not know what to do with that verse but it gave him pause.

    The longer I live, by God’s grace, the more strongly I gravitate to first words Jesus spoke to begin His ministry and are central to the practice of the Orthodox faith: “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand”. Indeed, closer than hands and feet.
    May the peace and the presence of our Lord be with you and all here. His mercy endures forever. Of my own self, I can do nothing except repent. Forgive me, a sinner.

  18. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    That’s a very helpful relating of the priest’s writing and treatment of the subject. I’m afraid I had misjudged it (without having read it). It sounds like he has a properly “messy” approach – which is where I think the truth is to be found. It’s not that the truth itself is “messy” only that it transcends the tidy ways we tend to like – all of which have a way of reducing things to less than they are. It is the nature of the Kingdom that it makes things larger – ourselves included.

    It is one of the things that I think is deeply missing in our culture’s discussions regarding various aspects of justice. Most of the conversations are simply too small – not large enough to include the whole of who we are. And so, we become caricatures of ourselves dancing about in a caricatured society, which is always so much more complex and personal.

    I remember noticing among my early post-Soviet Russian friends. There was no “them-and-us” in their accounts of the past. It seems everyone had someone in the family who had been in the Camps, while they also had someone in the family who had been a Party member. Solzhenitsyn himself was a good communist when he was arrested – and he was arrested for criticizing Stalin in a private letter to a friend – criticizing him for not being a good-enough communist! Of course, he lost his communism and regained his faith while he was in the Gulag, but he gained the wisdom to understand and write that the line dividing good and evil runs not between people but within each human heart.

    And that is the deepest truth I know.

  19. Steve Gage Avatar
    Steve Gage

    Dear Father Stephen,
    “but he gained the wisdom to understand and write that the line dividing good and evil runs not between people but within each human heart.
    And that is the deepest truth I know.”

    Amen! When I first encountered that simple line it was life changing for me. I don’t know how else to put it. “And who wants to destroy a piece of his own heart?”
    When Solzhenitsyn was living in the US, he attended the Holy Resurrection Orthodox Church in Claremont, NH, not all that far from me. I think at least one of his children still lives in the area.

  20. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Father, I think ‘messy’ is a good word. He is a moral theologian not a theologian of doctrine and he engages the world. Messiness is bound to occur. Let me also say that in my engagement with him he has shown a deep and genuine desire to know the truth.

  21. ook Avatar

    Father, on this blog I often see the expression of St. Silouan, “Keep your mind in hell and despair not” quoted. Would it be possible to link or reference anything that would explain this phrase more clearly? To my (perhaps faulty) mind, the phrase “keep your mind in hell” sounds like “keep your mind in the gutter”, ie St Silouan is encouraging us to obsess and identify with the various evils of our society, such as pornography, generalized violence, etc.
    I am sure that can’t be what he means. Apologies for what is most probably a very basic misreading but even after reading this blog for years, the phrase still confuses me.

  22. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Indeed the context helps a lot. Father will likely say more, but when I read it in the book about St Silouan’s experience, he was about to pray to an icon and was blocked by a vision of the adversary. He fell into despair and prayed to God, and God spoke these famous words to him. He relates that after hearing this, he no longer feared death.

    In essence it suggests that we embrace our cross willingly and without despair. Christ is in our midst in all circumstances.

  23. Mark Northey Avatar
    Mark Northey

    Michael, Father;

    There is no room in Orthodoxy for “armchair pacifism”. I’ve spent much of my life in this ideological posture. I still have the bedsores and atrophied muscles to show for it.

    However, as a follower of Jesus Christ whose incarnate response to the root cause and greatest evil was not to “fight it with his body” but instead to give his body over to it freely in death as the defining act of perfect love, and who told us to go and do likewise, I do believe we must not kill (for our enemy is an icon of Christ), but die (for Christians death is gain).
    This is the incarnate response to evil Christ models for us. It is the only “other-worldly” response (violence makes sense; you dont need Christianity to teach you that). Anything more “reasonable” is simply not a revelation of the Kingdom of Heaven that is not of this world. The weak, foolish, and despised things of this world God has chosen. Violence is simply not one such.

    For Orthodox we can even understand why this is: The whole purpose of our lives is to unite ourselves to Christ. We do this by taking up our own cross and freely going where Christ went: loving our enemies in perfect imitation of our Father’s love- which is equally good even to those who are wicked. God loves our fleshly enemies the way we love our toddlers. We are invited to the sort of spiritual transfiguration of heart that we too can love them this way.
    Who are the sons of God? Only those who make peace in this world by bearing its violence in their own person without returning violence, thus breaking the chain of violence in their own broken bodies. As the Only Begotten Son has shown us.

    My disappointment with your analysis is not that it highlights the “messiness” of violence, but that it fails to highlight the commandments and example of Christ as the icon we strive for, even when we fall short and become messy in our use of violence. (His commandments are clear: love your enemies. Peter, put your sword away. If my kingdom were of this world then my servants would fight, but it is not of this world. Take up your cross and follow me. He who saves his life will lose it. We do not battle with flesh and blood. Etc.)

    Orthodoxy’s genius is holding the ideal of Christ before us as image of our true selves , while still dealing with exactly where we are at (our constant missing of this mark) in economia and pastoral care. We do not need to justify the violence to explain why good Christians do it. Terrence Malick’s recent film, “A Hidden Life” dramatically outlines all the ways in which this world clearly knows violence is a more reasonable option than self-giving love (which accomplishes nothing in this world order, and appears only to leave our loved ones to suffer for our folly).
    My disappointment with your analysis is that it’s like looking at marriage foremost through all the manifold ways in which marriages can get ugly, messy, distorted, and ultimately understandably should be terminated in divorce as reasonable and even ostensibly the best course of action.
    But Christ says instead, “what God has joined together let no man take apart.” So rightly Orthodox hold this up as the icon, and deal with all the many ways in which a tragic dissolution of the union is “the only realistic option” as actions of economia and pastoral care.
    Nationalistic millitarism (a big problem for us Orthodox) has blinded us to this same way of explaining why Christians use violence.

    In the work of becoming gods by grace, we are served by living not according to the logic of this world, but making our enemies into friends and laying down our own lives for them, as God has done for us when we were his enemies. In Christianity everything is upside down. Even our enemies become friends.

    This is the path we Orthodox should aim for, and I must repent daily for knowing such a beautiful Way and still sinning so egregiously as I do. But the solution is not to look somewhere lower than Christ ascending His throne on the Cross.

    As for why Jesus told his disciples to buy a sword, a quick and dirty exegesis for you: well the whole moment is a prophetic commentary not a literal word (believe me two swords weren’t about to help the disciples for what they would face as followers of the crucified Lord! Think of how the later-illumined believers *did not* begin mobilizing to defend each other after ProtoMartyr Stephen’s death).
    As always Christ’s disciples dont understand him (more “bread” Lord?), which is why he tells them, “enough!” after their misguided response. When he is later found in the garden by his betrayers, he is indeed “numbered among the transgressors”- Peter pulls out one of those swords in defense of the innocent. Christ heals his error, tells him- and you and me by the way- to put that sword away because that worldly solution only perpetuates the violence: violence begets violence Christ teaches us. There is a third way: Only the cross ends it (for our enemies are not these flesh and blood men, but the spiritual powers that have enslaved them).

    I wont debate this topic (you’ve heard enough from me over the years 😉 This is my first and last comment on this topic in this thread.
    I want only to at least represent Orthodox nonviolence for those whose hearts are open to it. Hello out there, We do exist! 🙂 There is nothing “passive” about us; we are squarely focused on actively joining Christ in his life-creating death.
    It is in the end all about your heart. So what does your heart tell you is more Christ like? This you should heed and do not be afraid.

    If like me you’re not strong enough to do any of this, dont worry. We live and move and have our being in the providence of God. One day at a time, and let’s make repentance our bread and butter.
    Also let’s pray for each other. The world needs peacemakers and God can turn the stone in my chest into love with his weapon of peace.
    -Mark Basil

  24. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Mark Basil,
    That is well-said. I don’t think I have any argument with what you’ve said. Sorry that my own feeble answer disappointed you. I think I have been saying the same thing for many years. However, my experience of it seems to be something that encounters a lot of messiness. I should add that what room I might be giving to violence (self-defense, etc.) is nothing that is free of sin, but an acknowledgement of the whole story of Orthodoxy and how the matter has been handled through the years.

    I failed to voice the positive side of the transformation of the world through voluntary union with the suffering of all. Yesterday was a difficult day, and not marked with a lot of enthusiasm for me. I note that you admit to not being strong enough to do any of this. That, it seems to me, had an element of messiness about it.

  25. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Fr. Sophrony describes this in his book on the life of St. Silouan. Silouan had been in a torment of despair – actually for a period of 15 years – on Mt. Athos. He continued his work and his prayers. One day, when he was praying before the icons, a demon appeared standing in front of him (so as to make him be bowing down before a demon). Silouan cried out, telling God that this was getting impossible. God spoke to him and said, “Keep your mind in hell and despair not.” The answer, for him, meant that regardless of circumstance, even in hell, God was with him. It does not mean to think about evil things or evil beings. It means, in another interpretation, to unite yourself with all those who are lost – the least of all creation. St. Sophrony once wrote, “Christ has entered into the very depths of hell and is waiting for his friends to join him there.” Again, this is the assurance of the extent of Christ’s love in the strongest possible terms. Both Sophrony and Silouan had a great burden and depth of prayer for the souls in hell. St. Silouan described humanity as the “Whole Adam.”

    Psalm 139 says, “Lo, if I descend into hell, You are there.”

  26. Dino Avatar

    Mark Basil,
    I cannot disagree with anything you have written concerning always opting for being crucified – or else you will be crucifying somebody else, there is no third option. It is Christ’s way par excellence.
    I generally adhere to such absolutism myself. It is the purest form and it is of the perfect.

    However, as with the example of marriage you have provided, so here too: the complex reality of certain predicaments makes me also defend those who have had to do a sort of “Phinehas” due to unique circumstances… I think it is why we have the patristic saying “above ALL virtues is discernment”.

    One strong example of such stalemate circumstances I can think of –which I heard when I was very young in Greek School– was of a monk’s obedience to defend against Janissaries -stolen shortly after birth and grown up, returning to rape their own mothers and to steal their little brothers- (something that occured during the Ottoman “Devshirme” (‘blood tax’) child collection), in order to turn them into future Janissaries too. God had allowed such difficult, ‘stalemate’ situations to actually occur in the past, and the obedience required by the said disciple had been unambiguously to defend, using a measure of bodily violence, even if he also sacrificed himself in hiding and defending those children.

    So, although I agree with the absolutism and its clarity, I also understand Father’s special sanction that would still require confession etc.

  27. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Mark Basil, may our good and merciful God bless you abundantly. Forgive me if I caused you pain. My response was simply to clarify the position of the priest in question as Father’s characterization lacked accuracy.

    My position is simple. If we fight physically repentance is necessary. If we refrain from fighting and respond to evil through prayer, fasting and almsgiving giving glory to God for all things, repentance is necessary.

    I will say only this: of the thousands and thousannds of icons ever drawn and venerated there is one (only one as far as I know) that shows St. Demetrios on horseback spearing a Persian soldier. The soldier is wearing Persian armor that is of the type that would have been worn by actual Persian soldiers at the time of St. Demetrios. The icon is given to us by the Church and blessed for veneration.

    Clearly, you have chosen the better way. May God bless you and strengthen you.

  28. Innocent Green Avatar
    Innocent Green

    I’m amazed at God’s Providence in articles and thoughts and such.

    Yesterday morning I woke up fully agreeing with what Mark Basil said — even before he said it. In fact I still fully agree with it but since yesterday morning my mind has changed some in regards to myself.

    It began with this article.
    Then went into our priest (Father Nikolay) talking about protecting your family during our book club (the book is currently “Everyday Saints.)

    I used to be a gun owner. Then, when I began my journey into Orthodoxy my mind went to the passive reality that “I couldn’t take a life if I even needed to” side of love.

    I brought up my thoughts during book club and then even talked to my priest later and he explained the Church’s stance on gun ownership and self defense and defending your family. It was like a shot of illumination! I told him, “It’s like I finally see this differently and more clearly now.” He laughed and said, “That’s to be expected.”

    Before I was Orthodox I was a “get off my property now!” type of person. I saw that you were either Polly Anna or The Punisher and Polly Anna needed to grow up. I lament my old self in more ways than just that but it seriously bothers me to even admit that is what I thought. I’m ashamed of myself. (bear a little shame)

    Here’s an article that says basically exactly whatmy priest said; which is also basically what you said above, Father Stephen. If you’re curious.


    This quote sums it up, “I think that if you must use the gun, then the most you can claim is that it is the lesser of two evils to be prepared to defend yourself, your family, and those around you.”

    I do not wish to harm anyone or anything! Indeed I’ve stopped killing flies; except one that kept biting my wife. Now, however, I can be okay with protecting my family.

    Pepper spray is another great option.

    Lord have mercy.

  29. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    My wife is a former Kansas Champion Black Powder Rifle shooter. We have lots of guns. All locked up. She once shot a rabid skunk to death since it was attacking her dogs. My Dad growing up on the high plains of eastern New Mexico before it was a state, had to shoot game to survive. He could literally shoot the eye out of a rabbit from the back of his horse. He and his family needed the food.

    In fact, I would be amazed if I could actually shoot another person even in protection. What I would do or not do is immaterial. Neither is it about “rights”. We all have a natural right to life. Our time has made such decisions much more difficult than they need be. Our culture both glorifies and condemns violence of any kind when most of us, until recently, would never face any real violence or the possibility of using guns to protect or to feed our families. Everything is intellectualized and moralized the further from God we get. Good arguments can be made on both sides of the question(s). All types of scenarios can be constructed.

    It is not about much of anything really. As I said, either way repentance is required. Salvation is not about moral choices. We all fall short. “In the course of justice, none of us would see salvation.”

    So choose, be consistent and repent when you fail giving thanks to God along the way. We have life only because of God’s mercy.

    So, I cry out for His mercy and the forgiveness of my brothers and sisters in Christ.

  30. Byron Avatar

    Well stated, Michael. I recall it being said that not everyone is strong enough to be a Martyr (or to allow their family to become Martyrs). The Church is the platform for repentance in whatever weakness we find.

  31. Ook Avatar

    Thank you Father and thank you Dee of St Hermans for your explanations. They are very helpful.

  32. Nikolaos Avatar


    “Who are the sons of God? Only those who make peace in this world by bearing its violence in their own person without returning violence…”

    I am not sure how absolute this statement is. In the history of the world God chose many people to be the instruments of His will, who were soldiers and fought for the defence of their nations. In the Old Testament we have David, a man chosen by God despite being involved in wars (“I have found David the son of Jesse, a man after My own heart, who will do all My will.- Acts 13:22) and many others. For reasons of economy Israel had to survive.

    The same in later Christian times. St Constantine fighting with the sign of the Cross, the intervention of Panagia during the seige of Constantinople by the Avars, the blessing of the 1821 Greek revolution by the Church with priest fighters, the appearance of Panagia during the Greek war against the Italians in 1940.

    We venerate soldier saints like St George, St Demetrios, St Theodore, St Minas and many others.

    I don’t think it would be right for a Christian to refuse enlisting in the army, to defend his faith and country on the basis that it goes against God’s will. St Paisios enlisted and prayed to God to protect him from ever having to kill a man.

    Those who accepted voluntary death for their faith, are martyrs and venerated as Saints. Those who died fighting to protect their faith and country, are not venerated as martyrs but they are still sons of God. In the Liturgy we pray for the Christ loving armed forces.

  33. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Modern warfare with abundant use of long distance killing and “surrogates” aka cannon fodder does give me pause.

  34. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Those are important examples. Thank you.

  35. Ivan Avatar

    Blessing our enemies includes respecting them and seeing the good in them, like Christ loves us. St. Elizabeth (Romanov) the New Martyr taught this ascetic, forgiving love.

    I am reading Harbor of Our Hope, a book of translated letters by St. Ignatius (Brianchaninov), that explains how to be humble and patient. The way to love others that St. Ignatius counsels is to focus on repenting of one’s own sins, to get the figurative log out of my eye, as Christ said in a parable.

    I am hopeful about the future because “Christ is in our midst,” and He is much kinder and stronger than the world’s sins. I agree with historians who teach that America has suffered worse times, and will resiliently recover. One such book is The Soul of America: The Battle for Our Better Angels, by Jon Meacham , but I haven’t read it and it has a partisan bias. I like Meacham’s focus on national healing, though the progress he describes is questionable.

    As for the “growing tide of apparent chaos,” I try not to worry about it. I feel inspired by Fr. Stephen’s addition to his article to thank Christ for His Crucifixion and Pascha. Learning to trust God is a lifelong adventure.

    I think we need education in how to preach the Gospel gently and simply. Fr. Daniel Sysoev trained missionaries, and specialized in outreach to people who are far from the Church. Very few of us will be martyred like he was, but the many books he wrote are a great legacy from which we can learn. The key, as St. Ignatius wrote in his letters, is to love Christ and our neighbor with tender but not dreamy feelings.

  36. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    I have some chagrin, there seems in the comments tendency or tone toward readiness for war and justification for war. And it seems that the intent to introduce the topic of venerated soldiers is to hold them up as examples for their (the commentators’) justification for war and as examples for the ‘righteous act of killing’.

  37. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Dee, I understand that you think that. However, I don’t think that is the case. At least in my case it is simply showing the balance that exists in the Church. Pacifism is subject to quickly becoming an ideology as is use of force. The Church does not lend herself to any ideology because ideologies are not true. There is clearly a preference in the Church for non-violence and martyrdom but it is not exclusive. Apparently even soldiers can be sanctified. It is a conumdrum. Somewhere in that conumdrum is a key to salvation in a violent world. There are layers.
    As I alluded to before the nature of modern warfare makes everything problematic for a military option. However violence on a personal level is closer now than in any recent time.

  38. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Something to take note of is the fact that some of these thoughts come from non-American sources. When an American Orthodox wrestles with the gospel’s commandments of non-violence and forgiveness, we hear it in the context of a nation that has only not been at war for 17 years during its entire existence, with most of those wars only being marginally related to any notion of self-defense (“national interest” and self-defense are in no way the same thing). In contrast to this would be the perspective of an Orthodox believer living in Greece where the history is one of resisting an overwhelming and evil oppression from a nation that seeks to conquer and obliterate. It’s just a different experience. The gospel is the same everywhere – but the messiness that accompanies it is quite different depending on where you live.

    Admittedly, in our American context, the discussion about war is often a disguise for our own private use of violence. However, in some nations and circumstances, it is, and always has been, a much different question.

    When I respond to these things – I’m trying to bear in mind the context of where the question is coming from. Nikolaos, for example, is Greek, if I’m not mistaken.

  39. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Indeed Father, context is relevant. And the context of the speaker/commentator is relevant. I don’t deny the relevance of violence against the Greeks and the response to it.

    I’m in a Greek Orthodox Church in America and I sincerely love this parish and its culture.

    On the wall is an icon of a saint on horseback with his spear pointed to the chest to someone on the ground. Admittedly, when I look at this icon, I see myself as the one lying on the ground. And I pass by it and venerate the other icons. This is not a comment about the situation in Greece or Greek history. This is a comment of what a person born to one parent of color bears, in the US.

  40. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    That makes complete sense. Sadly, our American history at many points, is closer to that of Turkey than it is to that of Greece. I say that with pain and embarassment. On the other hand, I think it would be great if the Turks felt that way about their history. Our American culture has used violence as a means of resolving problems over and over. That same culture of violence is celebrated under the heading of patriotism. It’s not healthy.

  41. William Avatar

    “Admittedly, in our American context, the discussion about war is often a disguise for our own private use of violence.”

    I’ve had many discussions with people regarding the justification (or not) of violence in various hypothetical situations, but I’ve never known any of these people to use the discussion as a disguise for their own private use of violence. In fact, even the neocons I’ve talked with (who, by the way, I vehemently disagree with) are generally non-violent people on a private or personal level. Instead, what I’ve seen in these discussions is the desire to know that God will not reject them if the time comes for them to defend their families, even as they pray that such violence be unnecessary.

    Unless I misunderstand you, this statement seems to be cynical in the extreme. Perhaps you are talking about politicians and others with the actual power to use this violence on a larger scale?

  42. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    My comment was probably too cynical. Point taken. I think that most of us are able to avoid personal acts of violence. Most of our violence is done by proxy – and it is there that we seek justification. I suspect that most people would use some form of violence, either to protect themselves or family, if push came to shove. We have, on the other hand, by proxy, come to accept violence all too easily.

    I was born not long after WWII. My father and all the men around me when I was a child, had been in the war. The films of that war were a constant part of the tv diet. It was a kind of patriotism, more or less inherited from that great struggle. Rarely has a war seen as clear-cut as that war – the enemy drawn from central casting. Hitler is easy to despise (and rightly so).

    But the pattern of patriotism set in WWII also became the pattern of patriotism that was used ever after, even when the wars were far less clear-cut and the enemy far more vague. For example, we responded to the 3,000 deaths on 911 with a war in Iraq that killed upwards of 500,000, half of whom were civilians. And still, on the anniversary we get photo after photo saying “never forget.”

    One thing I have not forgotten is how such a tragedy was abused by the truly cynical for their own ideological and material ends. It has, I think, begun to make some people sort of bleary-eyed when the patriotism machine cranks up at various moments. I no longer trust it. Though, I watched a John Wayne war movie last night with my wife and ended choked up with tears in my eyes. I do love my country.

    On the other hand, I do not think that we consider violence and killing (including in war) with enough seriousness. It has become so commonplace for us. That it has become commonplace is probably an example of our hearts being hardened in that they have been misused in our information culture.

    But, more to your point, I think when violence becomes upclose and actually personal, we are not hardened about it – we are frightened and repulsed by it. We would do well, I think, to speak to each other honestly about our fears. That a number of people fear encounters with the police is a reality and its tragic. We should not want it to be so. I have long felt that we were nurturing a militarized culture in the police force. Just the police cars in my small town are scary – they’re dark, you can’t see in the windows, they are made to look menacing. My personal experience with the police is not bad – I’ve been let off twice with warnings in the last year for driving offenses (even when not wearing my clericals!).

    By the same token, people (myself included) are frightened by scenes of riots or of crowds intimidating customers in a restaurant or people on the street. I traveled to Seattle a couple of years ago, and based on videos that I had seen, I was frightened about encountering what is apparently the rather constant presence of Antifa in the streets, even then. I don’t like being bullied.

    As far as I can see at the moment, everybody feels frightened by something at the moment. Fear is not good. I pray that it will have a peaceful resolution. I pray that whatever reforms need to take place within the police forces will happen smoothly. I pray we don’t have a civil war trying to get past our fears.

    I know that I do not always see the world through the eyes of those who are not like me – and that I too easily forget the nature of their experience. I hope my over-stated cynicism was not too much of a problem.


  43. William Avatar

    Fr. Freeman,

    Thank you for your response. You’ve managed to express precisely my own feelings, which feelings I’ve always struggled to articulate.

    I came on the scene awhile later, though I did grow up hearing stories of my own WWII relatives. 9/11 and its aftermath defined my experience of American patriotism and, like you, the “patriotic” use of 9/11 to justify seemingly endless (and largely unrelated) wars continues to repulse me. So, like many of my generation in contrast with previous American generations, I grew up in a low-trust society, and I think that must deeply influence my view of the world–wars and police and riots and protests included. I don’t see much hope in any of it.

  44. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    My personal, lived, experience exemplifies Aleksandr Isayevich Solzhenitsyn ‘s words about the proverbial line cutting through my own heart.

    My mother a Florida Seminole, married my white father, in hopes that her children would have “blue eyes”. It was less about love and more about survival of her children. Her life was lived in fear, particularly when my white father needed to be away for his work. She cautioned me and my brother not to look a policeman in the eye. This goes back to more than 50 years ago. Eventually there would be a time when I would have to look down the barrel of a “peace officer”, albeit not because I was a protestor nor an agitator, nor was there any contraband on me, while I was searched. But unlike mother’s advice, I did look him in the eye, and lived to tell the tale.

    If I were to be honest here, and I will be honest, the reason I believe I survived is that my mother got partially what she wanted. No I don’t have blue eyes, but they are grey.

    I sincerely dislike social politics. In fact I can say I despise it. But the violence in my memory is no abstraction on my part. I live in a country in which it’s ills are blamed on race and not on it’s philosophy of modernity, it’s biases and economic disparities. And as I have said before, I also believe the police are being used as scapegoats for all our sins. Nevertheless, police arbitrary killings are not acceptable and need to be prosecuted.

  45. Ivan Avatar

    Rarely has a war seen as clear-cut as that war – the enemy drawn from central casting. Hitler is easy to despise (and rightly so).

    Fr. Stephen, I hesitate to question your comment because the topic is so sensitive, but can we despise evil leaders without judging them? Christ said I will be judged if I judge, so I am reluctant to despise Hitler, though I am of Jewish ancestry and feel deeply hurt by the Holocaust, as well as the many other deaths during WWII. When I was younger, even last year, I felt encouraged by my ancestors who fought in WWII (for the Soviet Union) to consider military service, but then I continued to read the New Testament and decided to go to college and prepare for seminary education instead. How Christ faced the woman who had committed adultery without condemning her taught me that He humbly resists the crowd’s anger and forgives despised sinners.

    I am grateful that the Church showed me how to forgive the Holocaust and love all people. St. Sophrony wrote beautifully of universal love, and I try to follow his teaching. Because centuries of segregation and recent genocide causes inherited trauma and resentment, I would struggle to be friends with non-Jewish people if I hadn’t reconciled with Gentiles (I mean that respectfully – I think it’s a nice word). Perhaps most people feel they must despise Hitler and the Nazis – but I don’t feel angry with them anymore because I forgave them over many years of difficult therapy and Confession. I want to be a peacemaker, so I need to respect society’s most sinful people. I can’t and shouldn’t apologize for the Nazis, and I know I’ve been severely hurt by their hate and violence, but I am no longer bitter about it (or any trespasses I’ve personally suffered). I seek humility about sin and justice – “let God avenge,” as St. Paul wrote.

    In case it seems like what I wrote above is merely historical, I also remember how kind and wise the prison inmates I previously mentioned meeting last fall were when I visited them with my college class. They taught me a lot about repentance and reconciliation that inspires me to love Christ more. Several inmates told the story of how they had killed other men, and I found these guys lovable and human. I don’t want to despise them either – my goal is to focus on the positive in everyone and work towards healing and repentance. If I scorn historical figures, then I will probably scorn today’s despised people too.

    I couldn’t love the prisoners if I didn’t earlier choose to pray for Hitler and all of my enemies, past or present. And I think I am ‘resisting’ fascism and hate better since I let go of anger and learned how to love universally. This relates to how Dino sometimes quotes Elder Aimilianos – if we are “hesychasts, not activists,” then we must pray for all of creation, not just our allies. This is why I left social justice activism in the last year – I want to cooperate with God to serve all of His children, not just politically correct people.

    I don’t want to defend evil or criticize your anger, Fr. Stephen – rather I think we need to face the 20th century’s evils in our hearts, and respond to the сonsequent angst and ahistorical revisionism in our communities with foolish love and a commitment to respect everyone. It is natural to disdain Hitler, but to scorn a human being can cause hurt feelings, and I don’t want to offend anyone. To reject sin and yet tolerate evil people, as creatures of Christ, is rewarding and serene. I don’t mean to say anyone ‘must’ forgive – rather I share my great joy in God healing me of anger because I think this story is mostly aligned with your teachings, but more specific to my personal situation. My ultimate concern is that merciful love can heal abusive people, as Abbot Tryphon writes, so we need to be polite always, as Fr. Tom Hopko wrote in his 55 Maxims.

    Popular disdain for Hitler cannot advance safety in our society for vulnerable people (meaning everyone, as you say and history shows us) and minorities, whether Jewish or Romani, gay or disabled, because it does not solve the problematic passions that motivate hate. And more deeply, stigmatizing hate does not discourage it, as sick people can seek stigmatized things to express their identity with toxic shame. As a wise friend who is a Navy veteran told me, killing terrorists does not end terrorism. Instead, waging war radicalizes even more people to fight against us. I don’t know if that’s entirely true, but if it is, then war is futile. Perhaps meek love is the only answer to the problem of evil.

    I appreciate your candor and courage in discussing these difficult issues.

  46. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Father, it will be helpful to provide more context to my last comment.

    It was in the middle of a stormy night that sunk a handful of fishing boats in the Juan de Fuca Straights. I was single-handling a 52 ft overall, steel-hulled gaff-rigged schooner and was forced ashore by the storm onto the Makah Reservation. It wasn’t a ship-wreck but not far from it. I was about 30 years old blacked-haired, and relative to the average white, ‘brown-skinned’. There had been violence between the Macah Nation and ‘authorities’. My arrival alive was nothing short of a miracle.

    The next morning I called customs to declare my arrival because I had come from the Canadian shores. Customs sent an armed reception. And they were the ones who held I gun pointed to my head, while the other searched my boat.

    Meanwhile, members of the Makah reservation began to congregate on the docks.

    The one searching for contraband found a pickle jar of alfalfa and brought it out accusingly and asked me what it was. Meanwhile, I dared the man who held the gun to my face to take off his sunglasses. The man holding the jar of alfalfa told me not to talk to the man holding the gun and to raise my hands over my head. Meanwhile the man with the alfalfa went back down to search more deeply. And more Makah people began to congregate on the hillside.

    The man who was searching found a crumbling dandelion that my son had picked for me that I had forgotten I had left in my pocket. Then the man who was searching found a piece of paper and brought it out. I was surprised to see tears in his eyes. Then he excused the man with the gun and told me that he was going to get into trouble for not bringing me in under custody. The paper he was holding was a picture that my son had fingerpainted. It said “mommy, I love you”.

    Before he left he warned me that his boss will continue to pursue me. And he was not wrong. I was fortunate also to have landed in Makah country.

  47. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    That, forgive me, is more excitement than I think I’ve ever encountered in my sheltered life (with a couple of close calls excluded). I do not think that those who belong to the majority white world of America/Canada can put themselves in the shoes of the various minorities who live with a constant suspicion and sense of possible danger – and the knowledge that the danger might go unheeded because of the color of their skin or their heritage.

    Now, I can imagine and put myself into the shoes of a Celtic ancestor, once-upon-a-time, and how he might have felt towards the invading Anglo-Saxons (who were also destined to become my ancestors). The word “Welsh” – in Anglo-Saxon – meant “slave.” “Wales” was a nation of slaves. They had a different name for themselves. And, these settings have been repeated in one place or another throughout human history – a history that is, after all, the common history of us all. We are all the descendants of slaves and masters – mostly from times and places that were never known to history.

    That said, the reality should make us more empathic towards those who have to endure these indignities now and want to see them changed sooner rather than later. My own childhood awareness (upon reflection) of the deep tragedy that was the Jim Crow South – and sins of my own within that world that I would prefer to keep to myself and my confessor – makes me deeply sympathetic to what is going on – and it’s not make-believe. It is real.

    I recall as a 16 year-old boy, I was wearing my hair below my shoulders in the fashion of hippies (in would have been 1969). My father demanded I cut it or give him my driver’s license. His argument was that my hair would make me a target of the police whenever I was in public or in my car. I refused and the demand disappeared. But I can say that for about 2 years I did go about with an eye to who was around. To be in upstate South Carolina with such an appearance was not “cool.” It was dangerous. I did catch some grief at school.

    I am glad that God kept you safe. I grieve for those who were not kept safe – and there are many of them. These are not the tales of distant ancestors but of family and friends and for numbers of generations before. We should pray for one another and for the well-being of all.

  48. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    May God continue to give you grace. I think, of course, that it is possible to love Hitler, first, perhaps out of pity for such a wretched soul. It is, on the other hand, a virtue that a person is reviled by the words and actions of his life. There are still those who admire him – and they are dangerous to themselves and others. But, ultimately, to find in our hearts the capacity to love even the wicked is a great gift of grace. All of them are human beings for whom Christ died.

    Dostoevsky spent time in prison – indeed, it’s where he recovered his faith (The House of the Dead reflects on that experience). Part of the genius of his writing is that he did not view souls, even wicked souls, from afar, but from within. And he wrote of their redemption. May God bless your studies and give you the grace to love all whom he leads to your ministry in the coming years!

  49. Margaret Naftel Avatar
    Margaret Naftel

    God have mercy on me a sinner

  50. Anonymous Avatar

    There is a little museum in Gettysburg, PA we have visited a couple of times that has some interesting historical artifacts. There is a section on artifacts from Hitler’s personal life, interestingly right after a glass case where a tiny relic of the Life Giving Cross is held. I have asked the owner of the museum about the authenticity of the relic of the Cross, and he says with much certainty it is a true relic from a Church in Belgium that had been destroyed during WWII. It is interesting, because I believe it is true because I can spiritually perceive it’s power. I contrast this to the section of the museum with artifacts from the Third Reich, as well as a few of Hitler’s personal belongings, and from that section of the Museum I simply feel emptiness. Not even coldness, but emptiness. I have left from that Museum before with a profound feeling that the Life Giving Cross swallows up all evil, and in God’s time evil comes to nought.

  51. William Avatar

    In the critical race theory Victimhood Olympics, everyone loses. And everyone loses sight of the personhood of other people. You can see it in which words are capitalized and which aren’t; who is labeled “people” or “person” and who is labeled merely by their race. Murder is always justified by the pain–real or imagined–caused by the murdered person who, for the murderer, has come to represent their pet abstraction.

  52. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    The various “critical theories” out there are rooted in academic Marxist theory – filled with problems. It obscures the real issues (and there some very real issues). Sadly, the rhetoric of the critical theorist becomes ascendant giving people at large an easy way to dismiss the problem itself. That is truly sad. For the victims (and there are real victims) are not the loud theorists. All that being true, I would prefer that we not go down the road of political commentary on the present chaos – it’s a minefield of uselessness.

  53. hélène d. Avatar
    hélène d.

    P.Stephen, if you find this comment inappropriate, remove it, and forgive my poor English.

    When one of the leaders of Nazi Germany, Hermann Goering, was asked at the Nuremberg Trials : “How did you get the German people to accept all this?” – he replied that it was not at all difficult, because it is not related to Nazism, but related to human nature. It can be done under any regime : Nazi, Communist, Socialist, Monarchist and even in a democracy. … To enslave people, you have to scare them. And if a way is found to scare people, they will do whatever you need to do. ”
    I remember an experience, many years ago, in a natural place, I was suddenly invaded by an immense “wave”, which came from all over space, a wave which was entirely from fear to life. raw, and literally forced me to squat on the floor. I stayed maybe a minute like this and I was able to get up when the “presence” disappeared … I could not tell anyone about it, but when I read, later, what says holy Antoine on the reality of the Enemy like a net which encloses the earth, I thought that this net is made of different “layers” of which fear is one … It’s very particular to live “realities” spiritual demonic which subjugate man, on the scale of the world, of the cosmos. On a human scale, they are like a grain of sand but effective enough to try to bring us to nothing. And I also realize what Anonymous says in the above message, that “the Cross that gives life swallows up all evil, and that in God’s time, there is no evil. It really is the wonder of wonders ! Glory to God !

  54. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Father, are not all of us “victims” of sin? Are we not all perpetrators of offenses abhorrent to God that murder our own souls and those of others?
    Which is the worse crime to kill physically or to mame your own child’s soul through arrogance and anger?

    Is that not we cry out in the middle of the night: Holy, Holy, Holy art thou O God. Through the Theotokos have mercy on us?

    I injure everyone close to me on a daily basis. That is multiplied and redirected at others less powerful.
    God forgive me, a sinner if we say it often and with sincerity has enormous healing power.

    I have seen racial injustice and crimes from a very young age. My mother showed me the remedy. Be compassionate to those of other races with whom you come in contact.
    One experience along the way that I will never forget. In 1974 I went to see a Bill Cosby movie with my friend Karl Berry (now Fr. Moses Berry) in downtown Detroit. It was a large theater, 1000 seats probably and full. I was the only white person there. Fr. Moses looked at me at one point with a twinkle in his eye which said to me “Welcome to my world brother”

  55. Byron Avatar

    One of the things that is indeed difficult to obtain is the humility to not only not reply but to love those who speak so loudly, with so much confidence in lies.

    Last night I posted a rebuke to some modern nonsense on a social media platform, but quickly realized that I was being uncharitable and needed to remove it. It took me over an hour to do so as I wrestled with my pride at “having the final word” and “ably” refuting the other person’s statement. In the end, it came down thanks to the intercession of the Theotokos.

    These things are very hard on the heart because they require violence in our own hearts in order to attack the other person(s), even in the ridiculously small manner that I did. Everything leaves a wound, it seems. I have found that forgiveness is the only thing that allows us to love again.

  56. William Avatar


    I remember being surprised to read in Metropolitan Anthony Khrapovitsky’s small book, On Confession, that he believed it is a grave sin to hear someone speak against Christ or His Church and not speak up in defense of your faith. I believe he said it is tantamount to denying Christ! I recall, too, the story of St. Nicholas slapping arch-heretic Arius in the face.

    That said, I don’t believe this is a license for seeking out tiffs on social media. In fact, I find it strange when I discover that anyone is still on Facebook. (Why would you do that to yourself!) But I do think the kind of WASPy niceties that pass these days for some sort of heroic restraint are totally worthless. American culture is in such a weird place: people will say terrible things to each other online, but call foul if you dare express an opinion that would have been commonplace less than 100 years ago.

    I love reading GK Chesterton’s free and liberal wit as a breath of fresh air in these suffocating times of moral preening.

  57. Byron Avatar


    I do not disagree. But the comment I replied to had nothing to do with the Church (it was, however, in line with the “WASPy niceties” you mention). Our response to anything must always be given in love (not meted out pridefully as mine was). Without that love, we wound both ourselves and the other. Our defense must always be to gather the person in to Christ. The Church is big enough to stand on its own; we need not fear overmuch for it. I like this quote from Cato:

    “A church is not the less sacred because curs frequently lift up their leg against it, and affront the wall: [That is just] the nature of dogs.”

  58. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    We lack both Chesterton’s brilliance and his charm. Most of what we today think of as brilliant is merely sarcasm, and rudeness has replaced charm. Every year on the feast of St. Nicholas, Facebook et al, blows up with various depictions of St. Nicholas slapping Arius – apparently it has become everyone’s favorite story. He was deposed for that action, and only restored through the intervention of the Theotokos.

    On the whole, we are enthralled to our passions – and the refusal to acknowledge it leaves us trapped in our sins. No doubt there are millions of provocations out there every day – but the provocations only have power because of our passions. And that’s the name of the game.

    I highly recommend to one and all this youtube (it’s quite old) called “The Century of the Self” – and think of how these forces play out in your own life. I write here, again and again, urging people not to mistake their neurosis for God – much less to think of it as virtue. The push back never seems to stop.

    Do take time, everyone, to read the Ground Rules for the Blog referenced on the sidebar – and give it thought before commenting.

    The Youtube: https://youtu.be/DnPmg0R1M04

  59. William Avatar


    Great Cato quote!

    Your comment regarding love made me think of a tradition of martial arts I came across recently. While the videos I’ve seen look a little fake to me, I liked its philosophy, which distinguishes it from other martial arts traditions: always see your opponent as beloved of God and always pray for them, even as you defend yourself against them if you must. That kind of thinking could be the foundation of a patriotism I could get behind. Unfortunately, the US doesn’t have much experience in praying for its enemies. Dylan’s “With God on Our Side” comes to mind.

  60. Byron Avatar

    No doubt there are millions of provocations out there every day – but the provocations only have power because of our passions. And that’s the name of the game.

    Absolutely, Father. My struggle with pride surprised (and saddened) me. Even something as simple as removing a comment was a huge struggle! Please forgive me if I violated any blog rules and remove any posts that are problematic.

    I highly recommend to one and all this youtube (it’s quite old) called “The Century of the Self” – and think of how these forces play out in your own life.

    It’s so good, I bought the DVD! Well worth rewatching from time to time.

  61. William Avatar

    Fr. Stephen,

    Forgive me if I have overstepped the bounds of your ground rules.

    When I brought up the incident with St. Nicholas, I do it from the context of having once belonged to a progressive mainline denomination that utterly demonized any and every expression of masculinity. When I found out about the St. Nicholas and Arius story, it felt liberating–not in the sense that I felt free to start slapping heretics, which isn’t in my nature anyway. But I felt like I could breath a sigh of relief that God was angry that I could not always behave like a woman. I’m not exaggerating. Probably people who have not attended a mainline seminary post-2015 have no idea how bad things have gotten there. How damaging it all is to any sense of normalcy.

    That said, I can see how the St. Nick story could easily be misused as a way to justify violence and hatred, etc. Forgive me if that’s how my bringing it up came across.

  62. William Avatar

    That should read, “…that God was not angry…”

  63. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Byron, et al
    I have a substantial presence on Facebook (I guess that what it would be called). I’ve got nearly 5,000 “friends.” Mostly it means I’m a public figure. I first got on the platform because it was suggested by my publisher (Ancient Faith) as a means of increasing visibility for its authors. Over the years, I’ve had to create rules for myself: for one, not political comments. I can’t tell you how many times I have to bite my fingers in order not to comment or post. My passions are as bad as anyone else’s. And, sometimes, I blow it (similar to your experience, Byron).

    Every so often I make noises about dropping that platform and usually get a storm of comments asking me not to. Generally, I post links to new articles on the blog, and the occasion spiritual nugget. And, since it’s also a place of family and friends, a bit of personal news from time to time.

    I’ve also learned to use a filter and to “unfollow” people (though remaining friends) who just mash my neurotic buttons all the time.

    I’ve recently planted a “garden” in a washtub in my back yard (I’m growing Mustard Greens). I like take breaks now and again and to go outside and talk to my little plants. They’re doing well. That, and my writing and doing chores and errands are pretty much my day in retirement.

  64. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    An informative and helpful video, Father. Thank you for posting it here.

  65. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    I share your dismay at what has taken place in mainline protestantism. One of my first great tasks after converting to Orthodoxy was to work at gettting over my anger. Twenty years as an Episcopal priest provided plenty of wood for the fire! To make matters worse, there was plenty of complicity on my own part from time to time and a soul that was simply being damaged the longer I stayed there. Time is helping – but I think I’m far from being healed.

    In large part, I’ve tried to restrain myself from dwelling on those terrible grievances. For one, I think I was angry for them not actually trying to be the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church they claimed to be. But it was difficult for me to finally admit that it was simply liberal Protestantism. When I did – I realized that I should have known it to be true all along and not have tried to pretend to myself that it was otherwise (sort of the Anglican mythology).

    On the other hand, after becoming Orthodox, in time I came to see how broken we are as well – by different forces and in different ways. All in all, it’s realizing that “we have met the enemy and he is us” is a decent motto. So, I keep pointing us back to our hearts – where there is a fierce battle raging at all times.

    God give us grace – these are such difficult times.

  66. William Avatar

    Thank you, Father.

  67. Byron Avatar

    One of my first great tasks after converting to Orthodoxy was to work at getting over my anger…. Time is helping – but I think I’m far from being healed.

    I am also working through a great deal of anger directed, not so much at mainline Protestantism, but at people who have wronged and hurt me during my life. I have found that I hold a grudge quite well. It is only in the last year or so that I’ve suddenly been given grace to forgive them (and myself). I too, though, am far from being healed but it is good to know God is at work in me in a way that I can literally recognize! Glory to God in All Things, indeed!

  68. Dino Avatar

    During these difficult times for all, and considering how the world is accelerating its prior sleepwalking into an ever more established enslavement into secular Godlessness, and remembering that the ‘real enemy is us’, we, each of us, wrestle internally with two opposed problems:
    1) The one (which you have stated before) is the avoidance of an over-intensified sense of conspiracy (which can make us imagine ourselves living in times that we may not be in, and therefore makes us overreact – making a bad situation worse).
    2) The other (which has sharp scriptural warnings [Revelation 3:16]) is that of secular acquiescence, becoming lukewarm (“neither hot nor cold”) and complying (even in the name of retaining unity) with the prevalent, Godless worldview.

    I note that, any official ecclesiastical voice that entirely ignores (or tries to even discredit) one of the above considerations for the exclusive sake of the other, will not be followed by the genuine faithful, they will “run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice.”
    [John 10:15]

  69. Dino Avatar

    And this last point is what makes many warm to your voice here. Thank you.
    I imagine good spiritual Fathers have to continuously balance people coming to you from either of the two extremes, and it must be like walking on eggshells …
    May God give you discernment in all!

  70. juliania Avatar

    Father Stephen, I remember having difficulty with the concepts in this essay when I saw it last, and apologies for my very feeble brain, but I don’t remember if I commented or what I would have said – that’s providential, I think!
    Recently after you had mentioned him I went to see what I could find online of Saint Maximus the Confessor. It quite shocked me what had been his treatment at the hands of those who disagreed with him, but I thought his teachings significant . Here is the saying from Saint Maximus that I found helpful:

    “As God, he[Christ] approved that salvation [death on the Cross/Resurrection] along with the Father and the Holy Spirit; as man he became for the sake of that salvation obedient to his Father unto death, even death on the cross.”

    Saint Maximus was upholding the concept of separate wills, human and divine. I won’t go into all that entailed but it impressed me that Christ’s human will expressed its perfection in his perfect relationship with his Father. The comparison for me is like the test of Abraham with Isaac. Isaac, the child doesn’t have the wisdom of his father Abraham who tells him that ‘God will provide the sacrifice.’ Still, Isaac doesn’t break and run away because he believes his father. It’s that obedience, I think, trust in a good father, a good Father, that Our Lord in his humanity exemplifies, while in his Divinity he knows this is leading to our salvation. So, I see what we face is that same emptying out of our will, on any test we face, the same as little Isaac, only towards our Father in Heaven. And forgive me, Father, but I can’t put my mind willingly in hell in order to do that.
    I’m not in any way a perfect human being. I think I’d go there kicking and screaming if I had to. I just hope I’d have the sense to call out to my Father even so, on the way down.

  71. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    I cannot imagine, nor guess, what “going to hell” would actually be like (who could?). And, I daresay being willing would be beyond me as well. Mostly when I think about these things it comes down to this: I wouldn’t want to suffer such things. My prayer, though, is that if this is something that must be, then I ask that Jesus not leave me alone. The only unbearable thought is to do anything or be anywhere without Him. With Him, everything would finally be bearable. These things, of course, have a sort imaginary aspect and fall into the realm of the theoretical. But Jesus’ presence is neither imaginary nor theoretical. I simply want to cling to Him. That, I think is a safe way to think of things.

  72. christa Avatar

    once again, smiles through tears and gratefulness at God’s mercy made manifest.

  73. juliania Avatar

    Indeed, Father Stephen, thank you. I may be a bit older than most commenting here, and I often feel that I’ve led a very sheltered life, though in having a family there are always stresses and strains. I often revisit my childhood in New Zealand and marvel that even as small as I was during WW2 I somehow knew that terrible things were happening somewhere else to the north out the livingroom window. And because of it, my father was out ‘there’ and we only had his photo till I was five. So, I was raised by the womenfolk, and it was a gentle time. But war and all its horrors were far away, only beautiful American soldiers came and brought me candy and a doll – they missed their own families. And some of them died. I was baptized by my father’s army chaplain when I was 2 weeks old, as he was leaving. I don’t know what denomination but it’s very precious to me, that. And I think of Christ’s words to Peter who asked, what about this man? – we each have such different early memories!

  74. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    The American soldiers treasured the hospitality and kindness of the New Zealanders – as they were often headed towards such fearful and fierce fighting. Those days were apocalyptic in their own way. On the other hand, there was a deeply unifed effort and focus in general, a comfort that is largely, if not entirely, gone in these days of stress. I think almost anything is easier to bear when there is a commonality in the struggle.

    When we were first shutting things down here in my area, back in March, each night at 8, people (by no means all) stepped out on their porches and barked like dogs. I have no idea who started it, but it continued for a few weeks, then stopped. I think it stopped at a point that became weary, and we became argumentative about the whole thing. In hindsight, those were the easiest weeks of all.

    What we do not realize, I think, is that no virus, no external enemy, is ever as dangerous or devastating as the one who lives within us – manifest when our common human kindness and true community break down. Loneliness is death. Loneliness caused by a fragmented human community is perhaps worst of all.

    I woke up this morning, pondering these things. Your note brightened things a bit. I will re-doubled my efforts towards a common homeland of the heart for us all.

  75. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Dear Father your efforts are clear and warm the heart for all those who have ears to hear in their heart!

    Indeed it seems that the divisions and separations were already in place— I believe the pandemic only made these divisions more overt.

    It’s true also that in the Orthodox Church there seems to have always been some kerfuffles even among the holy ones. Nevertheless it pains me to see the adulation of violence. For me that seems off target, if we’re shooting for holiness.

    There was a civil war in the US. For some families reading this blog, there appears to be echoes of that war in the angst manifested in the current political issues.

    These wounds of war apparently haven’t healed, possibly because the original and true source of these issues were not addressed.

    And even as you, Father, attempt to deal with them, there is push back and surliness.

    Would that they we truly knew and accept what you meant when you said “we have met the enemy, and he is us”.

    The effort and capacity to grapple with our passions in this manner is not valued nor encouraged in this culture.

  76. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    In the mystery made known to us in Christ, it is clear that our personal struggle with the passions is of benefit to all. The most profound and lasting action of a Christian in a time like this is to engage the war within the heart and to gain a share in Christ’s victory. As we pray for the world, that victory will be made manifest there as well, in some measure. And in all things, to trust in the Providence of God is to proclaim the sufficiency of the Cross.

  77. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    “Proclaim the sufficiency of the cross”

    Such good words!

    Thank you Father, for your response. May God grant me such strength and focus!

  78. Nikolaos Avatar


    I have not experienced what you have and how it has shaped your understanding of the Orthodox participation in wars in history and the veneration of soldier Saints.

    I ponder over your reference to “adulation of violence” in your last comment and “righteous act of killing” and “justification of war”, in an earlier comment. I am not sure you appreciate the economy that is involved in God’s providential acts. I hope I have not misunderstood you.

    I would not expect any Orthodox Christian to engage in an aggressive war. Defending one’s family and country is a blessed act and a responsibility. Sometimes it can be done in a bloodless way. The supreme example is Pope Leo who stopped Attila the Hun from pillaging Rome, by putting on his holy vestments and leading a procession of priests in hymns as if in Liturgy.

    Not all wars could be avoided this way though. The Jews has to fight and win wars against the various nations they neighboured in the Holy Land, because if they got exterminated, there would be no Mary ever borne to enable Christ to incarnate.

    In a few days we celebrate St Sergius of Radonezh, a prime example of a chosen vessel of God. He blessed Great Prince Demetrius and the Russians in their fight against the Tatars, under whose yoke they suffered and prophesied his victory. A Christian heart does not take delight in killing the enemies. In the life of the Saint it is mentioned that during the fighting he and his monks stood at prayer and besought God to grant victory to the Russian forces, praying for the souls of those killed in the fight.

  79. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Dear Nikolaos,

    I sincerely believe Father made a very good response to my comment.

    Let us both consider his words. Also please consider that I was not writing in response to your comment.

    There is indeed a battle of passions in my heart and I ask for your prayers.

  80. Nikolaos Avatar

    You are right Dee, Father’s comments have been more than sufficient . I only responded because your comments are always instructive and worthwhile too. May the prayers of St Sergius support you in your battle, so you will be victorious.

  81. NSP Avatar

    Fr. Freeman,

    Sorry for resurrecting an older conversation.

    In the past month, I have been going through your archives re-reading your posts on the theme of the Cross. It has been most illuminating. Thank you very much for these posts. Please continue to write on this theme.

    However, I find in myself an irrational obstacle in the path of following the way of the Cross in my daily life.

    Intellectually, I am able to understand that as a Christian, the way to approach life is to take up my cross daily and follow Christ (as opposed to the perspective of personal accomplishment). But I notice that functionally, there is a sense of discouragement that prevents me from taking up my cross daily with zeal. This sense of discouragement largely has to do with thoughts like, “It’s too late. The damage caused by missed and misused opportunities of the past is irreversible. Even if you work your hardest now, you’ll never catch up to what your idealised self would have achieved if he had not made the mistakes you have in earlier years (principle of compound interest). So why bother trying?” (I suppose this is an instance of what Cardinal Newman was trying to explain when he talked about Notional vs. Real Assent.)

    And from here, I have found that it is appallingly a very short step to thoughts such as, “All you can hope for now is to look for some temporary gratification to numb the pain within you. Anyway, Providence ensured other people had their ducks all in a row while leaving you to fumble and mess up important chances. So maybe God doesn’t really care about you anyway. Who knows?”

    I suppose, if I were to use the imagery of C.S. Lewis in “The Abolition of Man,” I would describe this as a failure of my head to rule my belly through my chest in the matter of taking up my Cross every day. I feel like I am stuck in a no-win situation. In order for God’s grace to have any effect in my life, I need to co-operate with His Grace. But in order to co-operate, I need a “strong chest,” so to speak. But since I have a weak chest, what sort of co-operation can I expect from myself, and thus what good is God’s grace to me? Sometimes I feel like I am in an out-of-control car speeding towards a wall knowing exactly well I am going to crash into it and unable to anything to stop it.

    Also, given that you are opposed to any notion of success or improvement in the spiritual life, is there any hope for one such as me to “get better at” taking up my Cross everyday and holding on to it? Or is “sucking at carrying my cross” part of the cross itself?

    (At this point I recall your having quoted St. Therese several times when she wrote to her sister Celine saying something like “bear with serenity the trial of being displeasing to yourself and you will be for Jesus a pleasant place of shelter.” Now, as a Catholic, St. Therese is one of my favourite saints, but my mind can’t help remembering that there was one thing she wanted very badly – to enter Carmel at age 15 against the convention of that time, and instead of bearing patiently the refusal of the superiors to take her in until she was 21, she tried every avenue open to her, even going so far as to personally speak to Pope Leo XIII [And this after being told explicitly that it was the Pope’s wish that no one speak to him during the Papal audience!] to beg him for a exception so that she wouldn’t have to wait until she was 21 to enter Carmel. And she was given this exception! In biographies of her, this attitude of hers is often described as “Holy Audacity” but I am sure that if almost any other person did it, they would have been reprimanded for lack of the spirit of obedience! How can one escape the conclusions that life is not fair and that God plays favourites?)

    Do you have any suggestions that might be helpful in my struggle?

    Yours in Christ,

  82. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    First, my reticence about “progress” in the spiritual life is mostly that it’s the wrong question to ask. The point of our life with God is God, not “our life,” more or less. St. Therese was pursuing God (relentlessly) when, as a teenager, she refused to take no for an answer, at least that’s how I read her.

    I think that what I hear in your question is – your pain. As such, it would be most useful to know and understand what the nature of the pain is. The easiest and simplest way to take up our Cross is to give thanks for all things. There are lots of reasons why we can find that to be very difficult. We can be angry, disappointed, ashamed – lots of things – any of which make it difficult to simply give thanks. It is useful, in my experience, to find the right words to describe what is going on that prevents the giving of thanks and to look at it and see what can be done with it. Do you have anyone at hand for you to talk about these things?

  83. NSP Avatar

    Fr. Freeman,

    Thank you for your continued kindness in replying to my repeated questions on this topic. Please bear with me a bit more.

    You say, “The point of our life with God is God, not “our life,” more or less. ”

    I have read this idea in several Catholic & Orthodox spiritual works over the years. I really want to live in this way, but I desperately wish for someone to explain this in a concrete fashion. I have been trying, for almost two decades now, to understand how to implement this practically. Sometimes it feels like I am up against an infinitely high and infinitely hard granite wall.

    In order to illustrate practically, here is a (let’s say, hypothetical) situation: Let’s say I wake up in the morning when the alarm rings. My mind immediately swings into action and starts reminding me of everything I have done wrong in my life. It reminds me of the repeated cautionary tales about never being able to make up for lost time since future accomplishments are supposed to be cumulative and compounding, building up on past ones. It tells me that today is going to be another day when I try to overcome my weaknesses and yet fail miserably as usual, prey to my own sinfulness, distractedness, and weakness. It reminds me of all the people who have mocked me and says, “Who knows, perhaps they were right. You’ll end your life as wasted potential. You’ll never amount to anything, and what’s more, you’ll drag others down with you.” Further, my mind reminds me of my poor social skills, what others have called my “naiveté” and tells me this will further ensure I never reach mastery or even competence in the skill of living.

    All this, my mind has finished whispering to me even before I have turned off the alarm.

    Now, at this point, if I were operating from an accomplishment or improvement mindset, I would know what “baby steps” to take next. For example, I could attempt to practice a bit of cognitive defusion from my fears, remind myself of my goals for life, I could use something like the 5-Second-Rule (à la Mel Robbins), jump out of bed, get started on time-blocking my calendar and planning out the day, remind myself of the principle of Compound Interest which Einstein reportedly described as the Eighth Wonder of the world and assure myself that small sections of daily Deep Work repeated consistently over time will build up into an outcome that seems unbelievable now, but might be possible some three or five years or maybe even a decade down the line as long as I don’t break the chain and maintain consistency. In this fashion, I push myself to stick to my moral code, to decline the temptation towards cheap dopamine (all forms of instant gratification and procrastination), try to stick to my time-table for the day, spend some time working on my weaknesses, and hope that I am able to reach the end of the day such that when I review how I did I am satisfied that I tried to improve by at least 1%. And then I go to bed hoping I can repeat the battle the next day.

    Now if I were to operate from an “it’s not about my life, it’s about God” mindset, what would I do differently? At present what happens is that I start to tell myself, “It’s not about me, it’s about God” and my mind replies, “But God is said to work ‘with a hidden hand,’ remember? That means you might spend your whole life stumbling in darkness, wallowing in failure and frustration, and never know till the last moment of your life whether you were actually walking with God or working against Him. What use does the infinite God have for a weakling like you? Can’t he accomplish His plans just as well without you? Do you think you are capable of co-operating with His grace? What makes you think that in His inscrutable plans, He has any important role for you in the drama of life?” And after this kind of discouragement sets it, it becomes all too easy to reach out for the nearest available avoidance mechanism to numb myself. Or if I have been a bit wary and have taken care to alter my environment so that distractions and avoidance mechanisms are not easily available to me, then I stumble through the day in a half-hearted manner and go to bed at the end of the day at which point my mind is telling me, “Tomorrow will be just the same, or worse, and every subsequent day after that too.” Trying to live in this way feels like groping through darkness and very little more.

    So I guess what I am desperately looking for is some concrete methods to practice the “it’s not about me, it’s about God” way of living. I really wish you could write some articles expanding on this theme. In your articles you do a great job critiquing the “improvement/progress” mindset, then you point out the alternative – that the spiritual life, the way up is the way down, to give thanks for everything, to sit with one’s shame, to accept one’s brokenness, to keep one’s mind in hell and despair not, to stand at the edge of the abyss, to acquire the spirit of peace, which is really great and eye-opening for me, but this is the cliff-hanger-like point at which most of your articles end. I would really like to know what that kind of life would look like in a concrete step-by-step fashion.

    Sometimes it’s very frustrating to read things like “the Good Thief is our model for repentance and the spiritual life” because my mind cannot help thinking that St. Dismas never had to wake up and face a new day for the rest of his earthly life after his moment of repentance.

    This is why I once mentioned in a comment here that it would be great if someone could write something titled “One Day in the Life of a Saint.” so that we could get a picture of what the moment-to-moment spiritual battles in a saint’s life look like. Since then I have completed reading “Laurus” by Eugene Vodolazkin (I picked it up based on your recommendation of that book here) and I have found that this book comes closest to what I have been looking for. I especially like that point where the elder met the main character at the Sepulcher in Jerusalem and said to him something like, “Why are you looking for a general direction? Isn’t Christ enough of a general direction?” But I wish someone would write a novel about someone trying to live as a holy fool while performing his duties of state in the midst of a life in today’s world, (as opposed to living as a wandering holy vagabond without family ties or social obligations trudging through Russia).

    I have more to say, but I think I’d better stop here for now. I have tried to express why I feel stuck. I hope I have made myself clear. I beg pardon if anything I have written sounds bitter or incoherent, and I am extremely grateful for your kindness and patience.


  84. Byron Avatar

    In this fashion, I push myself to stick to my moral code, to decline the temptation towards cheap dopamine (all forms of instant gratification and procrastination), try to stick to my time-table for the day, spend some time working on my weaknesses, and hope that I am able to reach the end of the day such that when I review how I did I am satisfied that I tried to improve by at least 1%.

    NSP, I would say that you are not trying to “improve by at least 1% each day”. Live the commandments of Christ in your daily life and practices. Live within the life of the Church (fast, pray, etc.) each day. This isn’t a competition; it’s a life.

    My greatest personal goals each day are to live humbly and love my neighbor. I fail them every day. And yet I can look (back) at my life and see that God has worked in it. That is really all the struggle: let God work. We normally won’t even realize it is happening until/if much later. It’s just not measurable, even in hindsight.

    Perhaps one of the greatest struggles we have is to trust that “He Who began a good work in you, will complete it….”

  85. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    NSP, keep it simple. Simple things in the life of God are not always easy. Fr. Stephen says “give thanks for all things” simple, but not easy. The first step for me some 53 years ago was to recognize Jesus Christ is a real person. A real person who cares for me. That was enough for a long time. Now it is about recognizing that I am a sinner. AND my sins are all that really matter. As I ask forgiveness for them, Fr. Stephen’s simplicity seems to happen more easily. Also the incredible tomato plants in my garden boxes outside. Then yesterday as I opened my front door to take my dog our and there was a deer foraging along our tree line 40 feet away. My dog and I stood transfixed in wonder for awhile.

    Beauty is literally everywhere. All around us. I can see the beauty and give thanks for it and that gives me impetus to repent in simple ways. As much as I can. That too has its own beauty.

  86. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    I’ll give more thought to your very practical questions. Forgive me for asking, but have you ever been diagnosed with a mental/emotional disorder (such as OCD or similar things)? The doggedness of certain patterns of thought can be associated with such conditions – making it more difficult than usual to do many things (I don’t expect that you should say more about this than you wish). But, for myself, there are certain patterns of thought and tendencies that are directly related to ADHD. I take that into consideration each day – and give myself a pass when I think about my life. It creates some frustration, but so do my frequent problems with my lower back. If I were crippled in some way, I would not want to waste time thinking about how to not be crippled, but how to get on with my life in some modified fashion. We are much easier on ourselves when it comes to physical problems than mental problems – we seem to assume that the right spiritual discipline should result in no mental problems. I have not found that to be the case.

    God is the center of our life. That means, on a practical level, that we do not ask so many questions about ourselves, but direct ourselves towards God. I am going to fail miserably today. I pretty much assume that as a matter of course. However, today I will give thanks to God, for all things, even for my failures (because God is good). Certain thoughts will, no doubt, dog me. For example, an aspect of ADHD, is “rejection sensitive dysphoria,” meaning that occasions of rejection are felt far more intensely by those with ADHD than by most others. So, some event in the day “triggers” that response, and I’m suddenly lost in a cascade of a self-defense shame storm. I can either be overwhelmed, or I can call it by name, ask for help, and just sit down for a bit. But I do not want to waste time thinking, “Oh know! I’ve done it again!” Of course I’ve done it again. It’s a handicap and there’s nothing to be done but to live through it, ask for grace, and not expect a mental life that has no problems.

    If you watch the handicap Olympics – you see some people doing incredible things despite their problems. But, you don’t compare them to NFL athletes. There is more heroism in their achievements. For some, the mere giving of thanks to God might well be a greater act of sanctity than martyrdom for others. Only God knows.

    So, concentrate on doing the good you can do and not on the bad that dogs your life. The failures are not how our life is measured.

  87. Dean Avatar

    I hear echoes of modernity in what you write…of “progress,” always and in every way getting better. We hear this message constantly and it seeps into our very pores. Yet, it is a vacuous call that only stresses and never heals.
    One of my favorite verses, since a very low point of despondency in my life in the mid 1980’s, has been one found in the prophet Joel, “I will make up for you the years that the cankerworm has eaten.” It’s the multiplication of God we see in Christ. Two equals five thousand
    (fish). It is not self-help. It is God doing in us what we cannot do ourselves.
    Most of the world’s saints have remained hidden. Why? Because they did nothing especially great or “splashy.” They simply lived, doing the next thing at hand. Fr. Freeman’s
    father-in-law was such a person; my mother-in-law was such a person. She only had a third grade education yet was one of the holiest persons I have ever known. She never spent time in introspection. She just lived her simple life. For this saintly woman a day was spent serving her family by cooking, sewing, washing, ironing, listening, helping a neighbor in their need, etc. She prayed quietly throughout the day. I can still hear her humming hymns as she went about her daily chores. I never heard her complain, yet she lived with a very, very cantankerous husband. Oh, and she raised 10 children, half of which are Christians today.
    The cross you bear sounds like a heavy one. I pray Christ will lighten it for you through the Holy Spirit and by way of a godly friend(s). Btw, if you can, visit a monastery. There you will see this kind of simple life fleshed-out before you.

  88. NSP Avatar


    Thank you for replying.

    Please forgive me if the following sounds childish:
    No matter how much I meditate on this, I don’t get the point of giving thanks because God is good. (St. Francis of Assisi famously had a similar insight [during a period of great despondency when the Order of Friars Minor he founded grew large while St. Francis was in the Holy Land and many influential members chose to deviate from the original “Holy Foolery” of extreme poverty he wished to characterise the Order and thus reject his spiritual leadership] in which he said that “Deus Est” was what made him grateful and happy, no matter how many things were internally or externally going wrong. I first read that around three years ago, and I have thought and prayed about it often, but I still don’t get it. [This incident has been described beautifully by Eloi Leclerc in his book “The Wisdom of the Poor One of Assisi.” I can dimly sense that something immense is going on here when I read this book, but it is beyond my grasp] .) God is good, and God is self-sufficient in Himself. But I am neither good nor self-sufficient in myself and I don’t seem to be growing in goodness. So what do I have to be happy or thankful about? I really want to understand this and practise it, but it is for now beyond my reach.

    I was once diagnosed with possible Anxious Avoidant Personality Disorder but was told not to hold on to the label too tightly. (Not exactly sure what was meant by that.) I have spent a lot of time and energy dealing with anxiety and learning to live with it (largely through CBT & ACT) that it never even occurred to me to find out if I had other things like OCD or ADHD, but it wouldn’t surprise me if I did. I suppose these things have some overlapping areas.


  89. NSP Avatar

    Byron, Michael & Dean,

    Thank you very much for your kind replies too. It means a lot even simply that someone has taken the time and effort to reply to my overwrought blatherings. I will meditate on what you have said.


  90. NSP Avatar



    I’d gladly settle for being a handicapped Olympian rather than an NFL athlete in the spiritual life. Because even the handicapped athlete has some objectively quantifiable metrics that define his personal level of competence/mastery as well as his competitive ranking among his peers, and can observe himself bettering his personal record in terms of these metrics as long as he is faithful to his regimen. 🙂


  91. NSP Avatar


    Your description of “rejection sensitive dysphoria” intrigued me because it seemed very close to my own experience, and I took an online test for ADHD (Then, knowing that an online self-test is not a clinical diagnosis, I decided to take some more tests online so that there could be a chance for any imperfections or outliers might be averaged out and I ended up taking around ten different online self-tests.) All the tests I took consistently showed around 90% or greater probability of my having ADHD. If this is true, then I guess this should explain a lot about my issues and I need to factor this into the way I approach my life. To be sure, I shall try to obtain a clinical diagnosis at the earliest possible opportunity.

    Thank you very much for being the catalyst for my finding out this.


  92. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Well – I pray it’ll be a useful bit of knowledge. I was not “formally” diagnosed until I was 58 years old. But my children (all of whom have ADHD) laughed when I told them of the diagnosis and said, “Everybody knows you have ADD. You didn’t already know that?” Interestingly, ADD or ADHD, present very differently in different people (there are about 7 or 8 different identified forms) and it’s particularly different between men and women, boys and girls.

  93. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    The trouble with such labels no matter the truth behind them is that for many people both those labeled and care givers is that the label becomes the person. That is a trial I have seen many times. That is why I appreciated your comment, Father, to NSP not to be overly concerned with the label.

  94. NSP Avatar


    That is undoubtedly true. However, what I have noticed is that people are going to give you labels anyway. E.g., lazy, abnormal, dim-witted, retard, lacking inner strength, immature, unmanly, pathetic, naive, never-gets-out-of-comfort-zone, just-needs-to-try-harder, in-need-of-kick-to-rear, never-listens-to-others, etc.

    I would rather take a clinical label over such vague labels any day, because at least it would indicate that some professionals have studied the phenomenon objectively and have hopefully come up some strategies to help one live with it.


  95. NSP Avatar

    Dean & Byron,

    Yes, I understand that trying to estimate how far we have traveled in our spiritual life is something that many spiritual writers discourage us from doing.

    But then what is one to make of occasional exhortations like the following:

    If each year should see one fault rooted out from us, we should go quickly on to perfection. But on the contrary, we often feel that we were better and holier in the beginning of our conversion than after many years of profession. Zeal and progress ought to increase day by day; yet now it seemeth a great thing if one is able to retain some portion of his first ardour. If we would put some slight stress on ourselves at the beginning, then afterwards we should be able to do all things with ease and joy.

    – The Imitation of Christ by Thomas Kempis, Book I, Chapter XI

    If you put that down to the influence of Western theology, what do we make of passages like the following even in the books of authors respected in the Christian East?

    May each one of us discover where he is, that is how many milestones he has gone past on the road. We should not only study ourselves each day but also over an interval of time, each month, and week. “The first week I was prey to a certain failing, but how do I look now?” Likewise over an interval of time, “Last year I was overwhelmed so much more by a certain fault, but how about now?” And similarly we should study ourselves with each of our failings, if we have made a little progress or are in the same state, or have become worse. Because so long as we have not removed our evil inclinations, we must rely on God to provide us the strength not to give them free rein but rather to master them.

    – The Discourses of Dorotheus of Gaza, “On Following God Soberly and Carefully”

    In many books, the counterpoint to such exhortations is often the story from tradition of the Desert Fathers about Abba Joseph where he tells Abba Lot, “If you will, you can become all flame!” I have meditated on that story often, but I still don’t understand it. What exactly must I will? In what way can I become all flame?


  96. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    A difficulty in taking such passages as the ones you’ve cited and applying them to your own situation is the “apples and oranges” problem. Both St. Dorotheus and Thomas Kempis write in cultural settings that are quite stable and structured. In our modern settings where individualism abounds, there is very little that is stabled and structured. Indeed, the cost of inefficiency created by less than immediately adaptable realities is placed directly on the individuals so that corporations do not have to suffer it. In the name of maximizing productivity and sort, individual human beings are the disposable elements of the process. Not only are we disposable, but we are then told that we ourselves are to blame. It is one of a number of lies on which our present “wealth and prosperity” are built.

    But the private individual in our culture is forced to create stability, etc., alone, and then make progress. Any failure is judged as incompetence or worse. It was said among the Desert Fathers that in the last days, simply continuing to believe in God would be a greater accomplishment of grace than the might feats of the Desert Dwellers.

    It’s always difficult to measure progress at any time, however, for the simple reason that we often look at the wrong things.

  97. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    I mention two 19th century writers and one early 2Oth century historian on progress: Henry Adams in his little essay “The Law of Phase as Applied to History” saw the end of “progress” as the breaking apart of everything as a dynamo without a governor, Carl Becker wrote a book on the Myth of Progress and Charles Dickens character saw progress as necessitating the reduction of the surplus population. That is a pisition if a recent nominee to the Environmental Protection Agency. To “save the environment, we must breed fewer consumers.
    Actually progress is a Nihilist doctrine.

  98. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Michael, NSP, et al
    Good examples on the myth of progress. One example I might use would be the advent of Walmart. It enters a community and the “progress” is cheaper goods, largely imported. Thus, the global system has made it possible to save 10 cents off some item in a store. But the “progress” forces several local businesses to close, as the larger global forces also shut down jobs and move them overseas, etc. Some guy on Wall Street brags that it’s creating efficiencies in the market. Those efficiencies are only on his bottom line, the ability to fund the next yacht, or, to make our 401k’s sweeter.

    But the suffering caused by dislocations, etc., are paid by individuals and their local communities, often lasting for generations. Slowly, the landscape of America shifts and changes. Manufacturing cities become ghost towns while bright urban hot spots show up – funded largely by the tech boom. Farming is corporatized. Larger cities become crime hovels, etc. In many ways, the last 50 years have been slowly hollowing out the country. Much of the damage is reported in individual stories (which serve to demonstrate that the media “care”). But the aggregate picture is reported in numbers and wealth, failing to note the vast inequality in distribution of this efficiency boom. As the culture is hollowed out it is told repeatedly that it’s making progress, citing various issues of concern to be hallmarks of humanity’s march to freedom. Nevermind the fact that most of those markers are actually symptoms of a culture in free-fall.

    It is the nature of hollow trees that they eventually topple under their own unsupported weight.

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