The Poetry of God

8384433007_2862d161e5_zWhoever wants to become a Christian must first become a poet. – St. Pophyrios of Kavsokalyvia

St. Porphyrios made this statement in the context of love and suffering:

That’s what it is! You must suffer. You must love and suffer–suffer for the one you love. Love makes effort for the loved one. She runs all through the night; she stays awake; she stains her feet with blood in order to meet her beloved. She makes sacrifices and disregards all impediments, threats, and difficulties for the sake of the loved one. Love towards Christ is something even higher, infinitely higher.

This is a rich image of the poet – or what can drive us to poetry as well as theology. In the history of the Church, a number of the greatest theologians have been poets. St. Gregory the Theologian, St. Gregory of Nyssa, St. John of Damascus, St. Isaac of Syria, St. Ephrem of Edessa – the list goes on and on – all joined theology to poetic endeavor. When we include the fact that the bulk of Orthodox theology is to be found in the hymns of the Church, we have to admit that the heart of the poet and the heart of the theologian are much the same thing. This is true in the manner described by St. Porphyrios – the image of the suffering poet. But it is also true of the manner in which the poet seeks to give expression:

…nothing which we are to perceive in this world equals
the power of your intense fragility: whose texture
compels me with the color of its countries,
rendering death and forever with each breathing

(i do not know what it is about you that closes
and opens;only something in me understands
the voice of your eyes is deeper than all roses)
nobody, not even the rain, has such small hands

(from e.e. cummings, “somewhere i have never travelled, gladly beyond”)

“I love you,” would state the simple facts. “…rendering death and forever with each breathing…,” wins the smile.

The lover speaking to the beloved is seeking words for what cannot be spoken. The very inexpressible quality of thought and emotion demands words in the irony that is poetic expression.

Theology easily transcends the boundaries of romance – theology seeks to speak the unspeakable.

I have railed from time to time about various “literal” and “flat” approaches to the world as well as to Scripture. “Literal” is obviously not the correct or sufficient word. When I complain about this – it is a complaint that tends to see the world in a one-to-one correspondence in the realm of an empty thing that we imagine to be reason. Prose (“just the facts, Ma’m”) is insufficient to the human experience or to the reality in which we live. The English language (to mention only the largest human language) is estimated to have around 250,000 words (though some counts go as high as a million) when far fewer would suffice for simple prose. How many times have you ever thought to yourself that the weather felt, “salubrious?”

I have repeatedly pressed this point because I think that mystery is not only an aspect of the divine, but part of the nature of all reality. Everything is far more than it appears.

With the heart of a poet St. Gregory of Nyssa asserts, “Only wonder understands anything.” The role of wonder is (among other things) to slow us down, make us quiet, and help us pay attention. The “flat-landers” sail prosaically through life and miss most of what is true, drawing only the most obvious conclusions, even when what is obvious is incorrect. It is the things that are “out of place” that are easily ignored (they’re so bothersome!), while they are most often the clues that reveal the mystery.

The reduction of the world and its “history” are the tools of those who lack the imagination and patience to find the truth. The Fathers tell us to “pay attention.” This is true with regard to the heart, but it is also true with regard to the world around us. Attention does not solve the mystery, but it at least acknowledges its presence and gives rise to enough wonder to make understanding possible at some point. Those who prosaically analyze history and the present as the simple march of freedom (for slaves, for blacks, for women, for gays, for whoever is next-in-line) miss most of human history, its complexities and the mystery that still awaits discovery. The same reductionist model being applied to the present serves the forces of our own misery and the suicide of our culture. Any society that manages to believe the story that giving birth and nurturing children is less than the most challenging, fulfilling and noble activity of human beings does not deserve to survive. It is the society of the anti-Christ.

Evil is never creative. It is destructive and occasionally diverse in its activities. But creativity requires energy and commitment. Evil’s own entropy always reduces it to banality and boredom. It prefers prose: poetry is too much work. The cold record-keeping of the 20th century’s murderous regimes echo with the rhymes of bureaucracy. The efficiencies of 1984 and Brave New World have the poet’s loathing of control and predictability.

Aldous Huxley was not a believer. But he had the heart of a poet. In his novel, Brave New World, the Savage is confronted with the cold efficiency of a comfortable regime. People need no longer suffer. He confronts the triumph of utility with a poet’s rage:

But I don’t want comfort. I want God, I want poetry, I want real danger, I want freedom, I want goodness. I want sin.

It is not unlike St. Porphyrios: “You must suffer. You must love and suffer–suffer for the one you love. Love makes effort for the loved one. She runs all through the night; she stays awake; she stains her feet with blood in order to meet her beloved.”

Just so.


About Fr. Stephen Freeman

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



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68 responses to “The Poetry of God”

  1. Dean Avatar

    Well, Father Stephen,
    your words and those of St. Porphyrios make my heart both ache and soar! What a glorious way to start my day. I will not only pay heed to my heart today but to all that occurs around me. Yes, to soar…and if I do crawl, to even note the lowly ant before me.

  2. Sally Brower Avatar
    Sally Brower

    I needed to hear this. Yesterday listened to two poets Padraig O’Tuama and Marie Howe talk about poetry in the context of healing trauma and the ability of poetry to say the unspeakable. He is also a theologian and worked with Corrymelea peace and reconciliation group for many years. Thank you for showing me the connection between poetry and theology. For me it was the Spirit whispering.

  3. James Avatar

    Beautiful words, Father, thank you. If I may ask, do you perchance know where that Gregory of Nyssa quote – “Only wonder understands anything” – comes from? I love that quote, and its extended version about concepts creating idols, but I have long had difficulty tracking it down in his writings. Do you know where he said it?

  4. Byron Avatar

    Healing balm for a wounded soul. Many thanks, Father.

  5. Randall Herman Avatar
    Randall Herman

    Thank you, Father Stephen. This can’t be said often enough. It reminds me that in seminary we we often reminded that pastors need to read poetry and fiction more than current events. Paying attention to God’s creation is why I’ve made it a discipline to learn haiku and write at least one a day. A good way to focus on the Divine Presence in our lives.

  6. Susan Cushman Avatar

    “Attention does not solve the mystery, but it at least acknowledges its presence and gives rise to enough wonder to make understanding possible at some point.” Yes. I think we must pay attention in order to experience wonder. I try to read one poem every day. For my soul, but also to help me navigate what’s going on in our world. Thanks for this.

  7. Innocent Green Avatar
    Innocent Green

    This is wonder-full.
    Needed, today; tomorrow.
    Indeed I love it.

  8. Greg Avatar

    Any essay the pulls together Sts Pophyrios and Gregory, e.e. cummings, and Aldous Huxley has got to be worth reading…

  9. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    I did an unfruitful search some time back, including digging around in the passage cited in the Patrologia Graeca. I was about to write it off as an “urban legend patristic quote.” But, I think it’s there, in a rather free-flowing translation of the passage. I’ll have to dig around again to come up with the citation.

  10. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    I recently went for a walk in the local arboretum with my local grandson (age 4). I had in mind a leisurely walk, in which my mind would wander. Instead, we stopped every few feet as he would look at the tiniest details in wonder and imagination. “Look, Grandpa. This is a crater on Mars!” (as he would dig a hole in the gravel path.) We spent time studying a dangerous, stinging caterpillar. When we first got to the Arboretum, he burst into a run shouting, “A sitting tree! A sitting tree!” and headed for a small grove in which a boy could comfortably sit and hide in its shade.

    It was a theological feast.

  11. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Sally, we fail so many times to hear the poetry of things. In our Orthodox services, most of what takes place are Psalms and little hymns (Troparia, Kontakia). Though we sing them in English, the poetry of the original is missing in translation. Still, singing is half-way there.

  12. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    I see what you did there, Innocent.

  13. Darrell Rentsch Avatar
    Darrell Rentsch

    Thank you Father. Slowing down, taking time to look beneath the prose, to understand is not something we take to easily in this culture. Yet, many of the books of the Old and New Testament and the Liturgy itself are full of the language another world. I am coming to appreciate the writing/poetry of St. Gregory of Nyssa and some others about their non-literal interpretation of the scriptures. It is taking some time to develop the “eyes” and “ears” to see , to hear, to truly understand what lies beneath. Your writing continues to help me in that endeavor. Thank you again!
    Deacon Peter

  14. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Those who see their own version of progress in history always end up sending anyone who disagrees to a cruel death.
    I love the poetry of Richard Wurmbrand’s stories from prison. Particularly the one of the priest cut off from his vocation, his family even the beauty in the world who was nevertheless joyful. He said that he would rejoice with those who were receiving the Body and Blood, who could see and enjoy the colors and beauty of the natural world and those who had their children, spouse and family around them.
    It is easy to forget the incredible poetry of life.
    My late father was a local public health director and a doctor. He lived by and taught that all of life is inter-connected. Therefore everything we do or refrain from doing has an effect on every other thing and being in creation. Likewise we are each impacted by what others, not just humans do or do not do.
    Thus when we sing out: This is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it! That lifts all hearts even if unmeasurable.
    Likewise it explains to me why no matter how often I confess my besetting sins, I fall into them again. I am not alone in my sins or my joys or my repentance. Thus a hermit unknown to the world because he is known by God and continually offers up prayers for us, saves us.
    All of creation, particularly our hearts was made to receive God and thus Jesus Christ became Incarnate and went to the Cross.
    Thus the poetry of salvation and victory in the Bridal Chamber where we can each don our wedding gown bright and new.

  15. Ioana Avatar

    Just so, father.

  16. Paul Hughes Avatar

    This was awesome.
    Poets and Priests and …
    Use it everywhere; struggle with it ever.
    And for me both are more ‘amateur’ and less official.
    And don’t think I’ve seen another quotation quite so similar [yet] to [very] dark pulpy noir king Jim Thompson’s ‘There is only one plot: things are not what they seem’ as ‘Everything is far more than it appears.’
    Which is, as some say, just so.

  17. Dean Avatar

    Father Stephen,
    Your story of your grandson was precious! I love kids’ spontaneity. From one grandpa to another here’s my story.
    I used to drive over the bridge at the Kings River with our middle grandson. He was 3 or 4 when this occurred. I’d say to him, “Kyle, that’s where I was baptized. ” On later trips I’d ask him what had happened to me there. He’d respond, “That’s where you were baba-tized.” Well, we hadn’t crossed the Kings in several months. But upon crossing it I again asked Kyle, “What happened to me there?,” wanting to hear his “baba-tized.” He was silent the longest time. (Now, his mom would take him and his brother to Burger King’s drive through. This must have been part of his thinking too.) Finally he blurted out…”Papa, that’s where you were ‘king-sized!’”

  18. Lina Avatar

    Goodreads says that quote is from The Life of Moses. Only wonder grasps anything.

  19. Nancy Ann Avatar
    Nancy Ann

    Words and poetry have their place, an important place. Sometimes we can speak beautifully but miss what is right in front of us and sometimes we can contemplate and think too much and we don’t live. I am disheartened by the way the Orthodox church has handled all of this during COVID. I see so many people suffering from job loss, loss of our freedoms, many of us still can’t go to church. The quietness of the church is so loud it’s painful! I watched some videos put out by a Protestant by the name of Sean Feucht. They are going around the country having worship and singing. Just this past weekend 100,000 people came to Washington DC for a prayer March. The video is beautiful and made me cry. I couldn’t help wonder, where are the Orthodox? Did they not march with Martin Luther King? Did they not stand between the police and rioters in the Ukraine years back? Religious freedom is being denied to many. A plane can fly with people wearing masks and all sitting side by side but people can’t meet inside church? There are churches that can hold 3,500 people but are only allowed to have 100 meet. These churches can’t possibly have 35 services each week to accommodate! People can go to casinos but not to church. In my 12 years of being Orthodox and loving the church I am now ashamed and disheartened.

  20. Virginia Chryssikos Avatar
    Virginia Chryssikos

    Thank you, Father Stephen. This is wonderful. (I have long appreciated your talks on you tube.)
    And “The Poetry of God” has just helped me in the “journey” we often refer to as “coming full circle.”
    My beloved earthly Father was at heart a poet. Any intense, whether pleasant, sad, or joyous, event in his life always led to him writing a poem. He “observed” my struggles in youth and later would always say to me, “You must learn to read poetry. You must try to express your thoughts and emotions in poetry.” Believing I did not have that “talent,” I did not adhere to his admonitions and advice. Reading, however, what St. Porphyrios said and what you have articulated in “The Poetry of God,” gives more credence (food for thought) to fatherly advice, and, as noted, brings me closer to “coming full circle,” if only I will what God wills!

  21. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Nancy Ann,
    The current restrictions are clumsy, and handled poorly, no doubt. The Orthodox Church and her leaders are responding in meekness and prayer during one of the most stressful and confusing times in modern memory. More voices on the streets will likely only add to the noise of the world and the confusion that will give fuel to the enemy (the devil). If we are suffering at present (and we are), then we are suffering as Christians. Count it all joy.

    This season will pass and things will slowly return to normal. What damage that will have been done will largely have been done by ourselves and to ourselves. As much as possible, put the noise of the streets and what others might or might not be doing from your mind. In your comment you said much about what you see and admire or what you see and feel ashamed of. I hear in your comment the pain of what we are going through – and I think that is felt by us all.

    I have written repeatedly about the weakness of the Church, even the incompetence of the Church. I write those things never to suggest that the Church should be mighty and learn to be competent. Those are the voices of modernity. Competent Churches don’t need God – they have their competence. The shame you’re feeling is brought about by comparing your Church to that of others. The others will always be more “excellent” in the eyes of the world because they are thinking in worldly terms.

    Our present distress is a time of purification – God alone knows why – though I suspect it prepares us for something yet more difficult. Scripture repeatedly calls us to a life of patience – patient endurance. I personally trust the bishops of the Church (which isn’t saying that I think they always know what to do and do it perfectly). What I trust is that they love me, they love God, and are trying to patiently move forward as shepherds caring for the flock. The same is true of our priests.

    What if the people in the casinos and massed in the streets are wrong? What if their demand for unfettered gatherings is mistaken? It’s their passions that demand these things. I have children who work in public settings (health and education) and many others in my congregation as well. If we counsel caution and patience, how are we not acting wisely?

    Consider, patience, meekness, quiet, prayer, and those kinds of virtues. If you envy those in the streets, then pray for them that they be protected from potential danger. All that is happening here is seen from “above.” God sees our suffering – and knows whether it is warranted (medically) or not. But, more than that, He sees our meekness. “As a sheep led to the slaughter, or a blameless lamb before his shearers is mute, so he opened not his mouth.” That was God’s own action in the midst of the greatest injustice the world has ever seen. Our patience is a sweet-smelling sacrifice ascending before His altar.

    It is difficult. I am very tired myself and I long for this to be finished. But it is such a small thing we are being asked for such a short time (in the larger view). The disciples could not watch with Him for a single hour. This, I know, is a much, much longer watch. But He is watching with us, suffering in us, longing for us and in us. Unite yourself to Christ.

    Pray for each other.

  22. Barbara Avatar

    Dear Father Freeman, Your words are a healing balm to my soul! We are being bombarded 24/7 by the message of the “flatlanders.” Your strength and perseverance in continuing to publish messages of hope for us, your “extended flock,” are so appreciated and of immense importance. Thank you and God Bless you!

  23. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Thank you! I paused yesterday, thinking to myself, “With so much turmoil and distress, who wants to read about poetry?” But, these are the things that are actually necessary. The noisiness of America – everybody is shouting (emotionally, at least) – is just noise. It is saving no one, in no way making God manifest in the world. We only need Christ. Without Christ there is nothing. The streets actually need a poet, or, at least a Holy Fool. I think that as we listen to our Bishops, we allow ourselves in this time to be Holy Fools – acting as though God knows what He is doing and patiently trusting in Him. Our quietness looks so foolish. In quietness and peace we should serve the Liturgy that is given to us. Feed the poor, encourage the brokenhearted, do the small good works that are permitted us.

  24. William Avatar

    “What if the people in the casinos and massed in the streets are wrong?”

    The point is that it is our political leaders who are telling Christians to be “cautious and patient” even as they praise and encourage mass gatherings in the streets (so long as the demonstrators align with their political opinions). And the CDC’s recently-released survivability numbers point to a certain over-abundance of caution.

    And, forgive me, but many Orthodox priests are shaming their parishioners for pointing out this obvious hypocrisy. It is the abiding in the vine that is Christ’s Body that gives Christians the strength to patiently endure. And it is the pain of being separated (dis-integrated) from that vine that causes Christians to cry out. Meeting this cry of pain with the retort that you “did not see in your comment what you see God doing,” adds to the pain and dis-integration.

    What if–try as we might–we don’t see what God is doing? What if it will take years of hindsight to get a handle on what He was up to in this moment? What if you gave permission for Christians to lament and tell the truth?

  25. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    I understand the pain and the lament. I take your point and did not mean to shame. My feeble attempts to suggest patience are inadequate, no doubt. I’ve edited my comment and appreciate your thoughts.

  26. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    No doubt many priests (myself included) get a bit ham-handed in efforts to respond to the various voices coming at them. Frankly, unless you are sitting in their position it’s difficult to judge. I’m retired so that most of what I see and do is in this internet format at present. But the parish priests are currently inundated with the various voices out there – getting advice from every corner – and being criticized for every move – every move! And, to a great extent, their hands are tied. If you could spend a day in my email inbox and see what I will not allow others to see – you might understand my own missteps in responding from time to time.

    I keep pointing us back to the heart – and away from the streets and the news cycle and politics, etc. The passions are destroying our hearts which is far more lasting and dangerous than the virus.

  27. William Avatar


    Thank you for your kind reply. You show me a needed example of repentance.

    I believe my own parish priest has handled things incredibly well–much better than I could have done. And our parish, even with varying opinions on the Gordian knot that is 2020, has remained largely unified, relative to other areas of the country. Many of my fellow Orthodox are wearied of feeling shamed from all sides (the mobs, the elite, the civil authorities, HR departments, etc., etc.), for immutable “accidents of birth”, so to speak, even as this unified front accuses us of having power we don’t in fact have, being modern peasants and all. That and the viral response and the passions combined with the inability to sing together in church–not to mention the unique struggles we all of us bear–has made for a hard time, which hard time makes hard words even harder to hear.

  28. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Well-said. You repent very nicely!

    I have largely concluded that the present distress makes it impossible to “get it right.” 2020 has been a perfect storm, Left and Right, and in a time when technology and such magnifies our distress to a very high pitch. It’s mostly why I keep trying to put “oil on the waters” to calm things, to counsel patience and to quieten the passions. There are many evils that are easily committed in the throes of passion that would never happen otherwise.

    When I look at my own heart – there is such a storm! A chance conversation after Church on Sunday, as we sat around in our chairs outside, I could see that my light-hearted comments on a particular topic caused pain to someone, who quietly got up and joined a different conversation. I later went and apologized and checked to see what has caused the problem. I was so moved as they simply stated that their own passions made it hard to hear certain things without pain – and then added – “I love you.” And we parted as the dear friends that we are. But, if such moments happen between dear friends, how easy is it for much worse things to come between those who are not already firmly grounded in their love for each other. There are topics that I would hesitate to discuss with my own children –

    But, if this is the nature of our times, how is a person to live? My own thoughts are that we do well when we calm our own passions and seek to calm those of others as much as possible. Still, they may shoot us all in the end.

  29. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Father, is not prayer for each other the ultimate poetry? The interconnection, rythm, beauty and pathos reaching up to bring down grace. As long as there is one Divine Liturgy being served we are all participants.

  30. Byron Avatar

    I think it’s worth noting that we cannot “lose our freedoms”. The State, regardless of whatever dictates it makes, does not own them and cannot take them away (I am reminded of the scene in A Hidden Life where the prisoner is asked, “Don’t you want to be free?” And he responds, “But I am free.”). The imaginary “rights” given by man are always fleeting; we must abide in God’s love and our value in His sight. Our only real freedom is there and it cannot be taken away.

  31. Byron Avatar

    One other thought: when I think of the marches, the noise in the streets, and all the turmoil, I am reminded that it is only Satan who “roams about like a roaring lion”. The voice of God is still and small. At these time, I take heart in Father’s encouragement to, “…do the small good works that are permitted us” and do my best to not react, as difficult as that can be. May God grant us all mercy.

  32. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    As long as we live we can always pray for others and rejoice with others who are less restricted

  33. Nancy Ann Avatar
    Nancy Ann

    Is meekness a state of being at all times in our lives? Is showing strength a sin? Can we not show humility but also strength at the same time? Can we not defend the practice of our faith and also be meek, also be humble? I think meekness can be confused sometimes with apathy and cowardice. Just like sometimes a person can think they are being humble but in actuality they are simply expressing self-pity or even pride. In the same way one can think they are being meek but in actuality they are being apathetic or frightened and cowardly.
    I feel the leadership in the church has been one sided. There has been an overabundance of expression for this disease and those who are harmed by it. But not enough leadership has been to help those suffering from these lockkdowns. We are constantly bombarded with everything COVID, but the minute our voices and pain caused by the extreme restrictions we are silenced and no one in leadership really addresses it.
    Here in California; Metropolital Gerasimos did write an open letter along with the Archbishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of San Francisco. It was all rejected, but I was so thankful they did that. I was so thankful to feel like someone is at least trying. Not just cowering to these ridiculous demands that are put on churches. Here in California for the few short weeks we could meet indoors we could not sing, not supposed to have communion but we did as I think we were able to work around that, and a whole host of restrictions were put on churches to meet indoors. Only recently some churches have been able to meet indoors again, most are still outdoors, even though the heat can still be bad through October and also the air quality because of all the fires. I don’t think Orthodox need to take to the streets, though I think it could be uplifting. It was uplifting for me to see the 100,000 in Washington DC standing and singing worship songs. However, it would be nice to see some Bishops and leaders speaking out and defending our rights and calling attention to the inconsistencies and unfairness of these rules. Right now they are cowering to the demands in such an apathetic and complacent way it hurts those who are hurting for all the reasons about this pandemic that are being ignored. The ones fed up and exhausted from the restrictions and over reaching governments some of us have to deal with. The job losses, the depression, anxiety, all the things people are suffering from are just as important as this virus, that is being highly politicized in my opinion. The church is not helping with that part of all of this.
    I have firsthand knowledge from a CEO of numerous hospitals here in California that they are inflating COVID numbers so the hospitals get money from the government. Even according to the CDC you can mark a person down as COVID by just their symptoms and not an actual test result. This was going on early in the summer when hospitals had no income coming in because all services were shut shown. It’s hard to get on board with these restrictions when you are constantly hearing stuff like that. Hard to respect the church for not standing up and defending opening churches when you know things are not being honest about this virus. When you see so much damage being done emotionally, spiritually and physically because of these lockdowns.
    I hear what you are saying Father, but there is also something wrong and missing in what you are saying that I can’t quite vocalize well. I think there are times for quiet endurance, but there must be times for other things of the church would not have grown. St Constantine did not sit and endure, God moved through him and others to bring about the church and the many years of good things that came from the Byzantine Empire. It was not all perfect but the church did experience a reprieve from the oppression they endured. But they did have to fight to get to that point, there was action. Here in America we are at a precipice in our freedom that is given to us by the constitution. Yes, it’s man made, and yes this world is fleeting. However we still have to live here, we still leave this county to our children and grandchildren. To think that we don’t ever have to act or do something in order to keep that freedom is hubris. Voting does matter, it does count. It’s an action that is important and can make a difference. This year in particular in my mind there is only one political party and presidential candidate that is standing up to protect religious freedom and the lives of the unborn. His name starts with T and ends with P. I think being meek, enduring and suffering does not also mean apathy and doing nothing. Just as we participate with God in our lives, we participate in the country we live. We don’t just have our freedoms, we do have to keep them and we do that through informed voting.

  34. Nancy Ann Avatar
    Nancy Ann

    I don’t know what you mean about how we cannot lose our freedoms. I am not sure Christians in Russia only a few decades ago would agree with that. Or Christians who live in some Muslim countries where they are put to death. We do have earthly freedoms. I do agree with Saint Paul that nothing can be taken away from us truly. So if that is what you are saying I agree. But I don’t know why that would mean we should not try to keep our freedom to go to church, or to not be killed for professing Christ.

  35. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Nancy Ann, you are of course correct. But, I do not there is a right/wrong dicotomy. T. S. Eliot in his play ‘Murder in the Cathedral’ has Becket reject the tempter that suggests to him a death that glorifies himself rather than God. It is a subtle temptation. Becket rejects that temptation by saying: “To do the right deed for the wrong reason is surely the greatest treason”.
    That is what you point to Nancy. If we react out of fear, frustration and dislike it will surely be the wrong reason. If we act out of self-will rather than rhe spirit of devotion it is the wrong reason.
    The reality is much more layered and complex than is easy to discern. The ideological politics push all of us to think in dichotomies.
    I know for a fact that by praying for others and acting in obedience even when I disagreed with a penance brought much grace into my life at a time when I was excluded from the Cup.
    There are Divine Liturgies being celebrated by Orthodox both here in this country and around the world. We are connected to those . Perhaps if we consider this a time of penance ? But the time for direct action may also be at hand.

  36. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Nancy Ann,
    It helps to know that you are in California. I suspect my thoughts might be closer to yours were that my setting. We are, apparently, allowed far greater latitude here in Tennessee – with a state government that is largely sensitive to most of what you are saying. (We’re a very red state). That said, the bishops are responding in different ways in the various jurisdictions, which makes things a bit different as well. I’m in the OCA rather than the GOA and that might also color my experience.

    You’re correct. Things have been highly politicized. The Church (in particular, the OCA) has been quite vocal, and marched every year, supporting the Right to Life (with an absence too well noted from some others). But, that said, I know that the Bishops prefer, when possible, to steer clear of politics (it’s a losing battle). For example, if you criticize the strictures – you’re thought to be for Trump – and vice versa. I suspect that in the current climate, they’re keeping their powder dry – not out of cowardice, of that I’m sure. I cannot speak to the situation in other jurisdictions – frankly, it’s none of my business.

    I see the political side of the modern world differently than you, I think, and have tried to express that understanding as cogently as possible in many earlier articles. I certainly prefer to have a pro-life president and a pro-life Congress, for what it’s worth, though I do not think that will make us a pro-life country. That will be a long, slow work that must be accomplished in the hearts of us all.

    For reasons of conscience, I do not plan to vote in the presidential race, though I will vote in the remainder. I’m willing for God to tell me otherwise.

    There are so many voices out there, Orthodox included, that have a very different counsel in all of these matters that I do not doubt that anyone can find some that are more agreeable than mine. I write what I write as I understand it. I don’t write infallibly. May God bless you.

  37. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    A brief explanation viz. my “politics.”

    I am not a “Quietist” that is, I’m not one who believes that no action is always the right thing. I think, however, that the present political parties are deeply corrupt and mostly run the country based on slogans while they both are enthralled to forces of money and power, and are glad to use violence to achieve their ends. Even when what they say sounds “Christian” I am loathe to believe them – the actions of spoken far louder than their words.

    I do not think we live in a “free” country. As one pundit said, once upon a time, “If voting changed things, they wouldn’t let us do it.” I have a personal rule of conscience. I decided never again to vote for the “lesser of two evils.” It seems to me like a devil’s bargain and I do not wish to play that game. The elections will take place with or without my participation.

    The Soviet Union was invoked earlier. How did they gain their freedom? They surely did not vote it into place. American tanks did not give it to them. It was a gift from God, and perhaps only for a time. Christians have lived under every known form of government. Our life and our existence has been able to flourish beneath them all – though sometimes with many martyrs.

    I have written a fair amount about democracy. I think that modern democracy is largely a marketing scheme with little to nothing to do with governing.

    One of my children said that I was cynical. I told here, “I’m not cynical, I’m old.” My “thought experiment” viz. poltics has been this: If there is no hope in politics or political action, then what hope is there. How should I live? My answer to that question is how I now live at present. I live in, of, and through the Church. God is my hope. The nation we live in is in deep corruption not because our politics are corrupt. Our politics are corrupt because we as a people are corrupt. So, I work at repenting. Long, slow work. We will ever be free from such corruption? God alone knows. But He is able.

    I do know that our passions are not going to defeat evil. Conservative evil and Liberal evil are just sides of the same coin. I do not care for either.

    That is about as much as I want to say on this topic – and is already more than I normally like to say.

    BTW, I recommend the new book by Rod Dreher, Live Not By Lies. It takes a deep look at the Christian life under difficult cultural situations. I think it was just published this week. Many know him from his previous book, The Benedict Option.

  38. Dean Avatar

    Thank you, Fr. Stephen, so much for your openness and wisdom in speaking to our current situation. I had just written a long comment addressing some of the issues raised by Nancy Ann. I am glad that I read your last response before I sent it. It is now in delete oblivion.
    Your note about our politics being corrupt because we as a people are corrupt is right on target. You may not be pastoring a local church now. However, your pastoring continues through this site!

  39. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Dear Father Stephen,
    Indeed it is the poetry of love that brings peace and joy to the heart. I’m grateful for this article and its reminder. I’ve just finished reading Romans chp 14. Having never truly been taught a mindset from other theologies but Orthodox, I read this chapter as a guide post for these circumstances we live where there are such bitter words spoken between people. I’m so grateful for the smallness of the Orthodox parishes, where in their weakness and messiness, in the eyes of those who admire large, well organized and well funded churches, is all so obvious.

    Home is where the heart is and Christ is in our midst.

  40. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Thank you, Dean. I was just getting ready to remove my comment, as well as Nancy’s just to avoid the political discussion. But, I’ll let this little bit remain – for the time being. I will readily admit that my thoughts, viz. modern democracy, are not readily obvious to everyone, and I have wanted to write in a manner that sought to convince anyone. That’s actually just more of the same. I prefer to observe, and share a little of what I myself am doing and let people go about their business and do what they will.

    I have had a long stated policy of not criticizing hierarchs and priests – thus my silence on that topic. I’m sure it’s frustrating for some readers. It’s frustrating for me, sometimes, as well.

    I just bought Rod’s book today and look forward to reading it, asap.

  41. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    I’m for one am very grateful for the narrow path you walk, Father.

    I too hear abundant claims about the falsehood of the COVID reports on the one hand, admittedly media sourced, and I’ve also a personal friend medical doctor in the local ER who has mentioned to me privately that we’re running out of hospital beds locally. But his experience is not in the local news, I suppose, because I too live in a red state.

    I hesitate to say much, because of the fastidiousness we have in this culture to brand each other.
    The political regime we have in the US, and for me there is only one political regime, is using our passions to encourage us to take sides and fight one another. Whatever works for that purpose is what will be used. Indeed inflaming passions are the key to usurp our hearts’ and minds’ freedom.

    Dear Father I pray for you and for what bombardment comes your way (for which I’ve contributed also, please forgive me!).

    I’m not voting for the presidential race either, for me it is completely meaningless.

  42. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Father you make an important point: we live ‘in’ the Church not ‘by’ or ‘under’ or ‘through’ the Church. As a child of the 60’s I participated in a few marches. I found them narcissistic and empowering to the passions even though I did not know exactly what those were at the time.
    To live ‘in’ the Church means that we are formed by her teachings, sacraments, hierarchy, history and fellow parishiners but each of us is unique. As Fr Moses’ grandmother put it, each a flower in God’s garden.
    A fellow parishoner recently wrote an article addressing a situation in our national politics. I disagreed entirely and I was upset until I paid closer attention to the first part of his article in which he detailed his cultural experience growing up. We have almost nothing in common. Yet we both live in the Church. How is that even possible unless God called us. Our elemental conscience was formed quite differently. How is it possible for us to be fully in agreement on any thing? Yet we are, by His grace.
    He was probably unknowingly expressing a great deal of shame with regard to race.

    Repentance, forgiveness and prayer for one another are much more effective that any kind of politics. Even genuine marytrdom rarely effects immediate long lasting political change.
    I want transformation that is real. I want my wedding garment to be clean and bright.
    Ideological politics are aways corrupt and always lead to totalitarianism regardless of the flavor.
    May our Lord grant us mercy and wisdom.

  43. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    A note to various commenters and readers:

    I have a set of blog rules – sorely tested from time to time. Here is what they say:

    This is a private site, so that freedom of speech is not the rule. Comments are welcome but only if they are kind to others and show mercy. God, Scripture tells us, is kind “to the unthankful and the evil” (Luke 6:35). We are commanded to be like Him in these very things. The internet is full of judgment and unkindness (so is the world around us). If people have a need for that sort of thing, they do not lack opportunities – but they will not have the opportunity for it on this site. I believe that we are able to say, with St. John Chrysostom, “Glory to God for All Things,” because God is good and His will for us is good. If something troubles you, there are kind ways to address it and merciful ways to treat any subject. Such comments, even if they are disagreements with postings, are welcome. I do reserve the right to remove comments that seem to cross bounds or give offense to God or the faith. I hope in my postings to be edifiying and thought-provoking, in the best sense, and at least worth reading. If that is so, then this blog will be worth taking time to create and to read.

    If these groundrules are observed (kindness and mercy), we will all have avoided some sin and temptation and that itself is a good thing.

    I would add that I do not post assertions of heresy against Orthodox clergy. That is a formal charge, and there are ways and places to make such charges. But to publish such things on my blog is slanderous and a sin. I cannot do so.

    May God bless you as you visit, and forgive me if I give offense at any point

    Now, here’s a reflection on those rules. I try to abide by the rules myself. I do not criticize nor allow criticism of hierarchs or priests on the blog. That doesn’t mean that they don’t deserve it from time to time. It means, that it will not be part of our conversation here. I could have a very popular blog that did nothing else than that – but, it was precisely to avoid the poison of that sort of thing that I began this writing project back in 2006. I’m not going to abandon it now.

    If you’re having a hard time with your priest or hierarch, you have my sympathy and prayers. But you’ll have to air the problem somewhere else, and I’m sorry if that seems insensitive.

    One of my personal rules for writing (without which I’d go crazy) is to write only about what I know. I don’t know very much about anything, which accounts for my small range of interests on the blog.

    I have theological observations that apply to the political world, just as they do to the whole of our culture (and modern culture is highly political). But, that’s the most that I care to say viz. politics.

    There might be many things out there, even in the realm of the Church, that are true and worthy of consideration. But if I don’t know them, or they are outside of what I understand and can discuss reliably, then I tend not to allow the comments to go down those roads. How can I moderate a discussion on a topic outside of such boundaries?

    For 14 years I’ve maintained this ministry and it has been of some help to some people. That’s more than I ever imagined, and I’ll continue to do that as God gives me grace and I have my bishop’s blessing.

    I respond better to questions than to counter-arguments. I do not like to argue and find disagreements often to be very painful. So, that’s how I manage things here.

    Please keep me in your prayers as I do you in mine. But, also, remember that I work within self-imposed boundaries and will maintain them for the sake of us all.

  44. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    I think that, at heart, I’m probably a Monarchist. In that sense, I believe that God is in charge of everything. There are good kings, bad kings, saint kings, and wicked kings. The problem with a democracy is that we keep voting for new kings while the other half of the country is voting for a different king. In the history of the world and nations – it means that we are always living in a state of revolution – looking forward (at least half of us) to overthrowing the present king. In the history of the world – those are bad times.

    We imagine that the window-dressing of public office is the “government.” In fact, the government consists of largely faceless, nameless functionaries in relatively high office who actually run things. Watch a few episodes of Yes, Minister to see the comedy within what is the truth. We are governed by Civil Servants. A vast army of them.

    That would have been true even under a King. But, there are ways that Christians have lived under wicked kings. I pray for a good king – but we’ve been taught to pray for the wicked ones as well.

    My soul is deeply weary of all of this.

  45. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    BTW thank you for the heads up on the book Rod Dreher’s, Live Not By Lies.
    I’m looking forward to reading it also. It’s on Kindle for those on a budget.

  46. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Father, my soul and everything else is also weary of such things. As Shakespeare said, “We do pray for mercy, that same prayer teaches us to render the deeds of mercy” Unfortunately, we all too often, myself included, think mercy coincides with “my will”, i.e., what I want. The Church is a monarchy even today. Yet we tend to live in Her as if She were a democracy. That makes tough times, tougher. We no longer have generational memory of what living under a King is actually like–good or bad.

    I am blessed, I have a good local Bishop. I do not expect him to act in accord with my will and preferences. He is an obedient man. I am sure he would not stand for anything he felt was a serious detriment to the faith but he will not lead a revolution either. I send him information that I think is relevant. He does with that what he thinks is prudent.

    May our Lord guide us and strengthen us and lead us into repentance. Personally, I thing we ought to have a month of prayer, fasting and repentance for the nation in this time of sickness and turmoil.

    At the very least we should implore our Mother for her intercessions and blessings more. And remember the Cross. Bearing one another’s burdens as our own.
    “Before thy Cross we bow down in worship O master, and thy holy Resurrection we glorify”

    There has been little of that in my own heart, God knows. Yet, I find it refreshing when I do.

  47. Margaret Avatar

    Dear Fr. Stephen, I appreciate your restating your blog guidelines for comments, as the comments on this blog titled “The Poetry of God” has tried to go into the current times we live in. Thank you for your blog! I believe my husband and I have followed it pretty much from its beginning. Today I really appreciate what you say here in the comments: “..How should I live? My answer to that question is how I now live at present. I live in, of, and through the Church. God is my hope. The nation we live in is in deep corruption not because our politics are corrupt. Our politics are corrupt because we as a people are corrupt. So, I work at repenting. Long, slow work. We will ever be free from such corruption? God alone knows. But He is able.
    I do know that our passions are not going to defeat evil. Conservative evil and Liberal evil are just sides of the same coin. I do not care for either.
    That is about as much as I want to say on this topic – and is already more than I normally like to say…”
    I realize these are personal comments, Fr. Stephen, but the really represent the way I feel also, thank you. Glory to God for All Things

  48. Nikolaos Avatar

    Below a translation of a story about St Porphyrios, which I came across in

    When I was 20 years old, my dear teacher, I was an anarchist. I had long hair, I had earrings, I had given a hard time to spiritual people, my teachers. They sent me to a Christian boarding school and I turned it upside down!

    One day, at the urging of one of my uncles, I decided to visit Father Porphyrios. I thought I would meet a naive old man, but I was quickly proven wrong ! As soon as he saw me, the Elder said to me:

    “You do want to believe, but your strong mind does not let you ! But what can you do ? Christ loves you and is waiting for you and one day He will win you over! Come tomorrow and let’s let’s talk about everything! ”

    I went the next day to talk…

    As soon as the Elder saw me he said :

    “Do you like poems?” For, I too am a poet! Shall we go to the forest to recite some poetry to you? ”
    He took me by the hand and began to recite poems…!
    I was listening and eventually I was overcome with tears and cried. Why…?

    Because, these poems, which were recited by the Elder, were my own poems! My poems, which I had written and hid in a notebook, believing that one day I would publish them. I was totally shaken.

    This young man became a professor in two Universities and a priest !

    Professor G. Kroustalakis

  49. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    The poetry of God, as the story above shows is not external. It is the love dong He composes in our mind and pur heart. It is no wonder the talk turned to the angst we are all feeling right now. We are reaching to find His voice. We want others to assure us but this particular angst, while shared, is also deeply unique. We each experience it differently depending on our locale and our personal culture.
    So we have to work more to hear our Lord’s love poetry in our own hearts.
    It is there.
    In my case, I find it in short sung prayers like Lord God of Hosts, The Troparian to the Cross and the Bridegroom Hymn.
    On 9/11 I was seeing clients driving around to my various appointments. My first client of the day was a young Muslim man. We had a good appointment. He was just as shellshocked as I was.

    When I left suddenly Lord God of Hosts welled up. I sang it off and on the rest of the day. In reading the various posts here what had begun to sound in my heart is: Before Thy Cross we bow down in worship, O master and Thy Holy Ressurection we glorify.
    Interestingly two slight changes in the words also keep hanging around. For master, I hear sovereign. For glorify, I hear magnify.
    The sovereign links to the fact that He is King over all, not just me. The magnify means to me that our shared but unique suffering magnifies the the life giving power of the Cross.
    I take that to mean that we will be fine but not without pain. Look for moments of beauty, they are their. Rejoice in the fact that He has not abandoned us either personally or as His Body. He too is suffering.
    This is the day the Lord had made, let us rejoice and be glad in it.


  50. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Excuse my fat fingers and poor proof reading

  51. Dean Avatar

    Don’t feel too bad. Yesterday I mentioned in a comment that Father Stephen was still pastoring on the site. Spell check had changed it to “pestering.” Glad I caught that one on time!😊

  52. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Dean, I don’t know. It seems to me that good pastoring involves significant pestering.

  53. Rob Holter Avatar
    Rob Holter

    Funny – most poets I have known – and know married or unmarried all seem to have an aesthetic struggle – needing company – communion as it were with the subject and the audience – and yet also solitude to contemplate the nature and reality of the relationship of the very same. Poetry by its nature uses concise precise language to distill an essence of a reality to create communion with another. It is salvation’s struggle made visible and “comunible” for “anyone who has ears to hear! “. Thank you for the topic – bear and dear to my heart!

  54. William Avatar

    “To The Wonder” ~ Terrence Malick

  55. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Rob there is a beautiful Orthodox mother, Alana Asby who is a poet. Her blog is a haven for those who love poetry:

  56. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Thank you for the beautiful story! It was the bread I needed today.

    I’m trying to find more stories that he’s written, but haven’t been able to come up with more. I see he was involved with pedagogical studies. I was too once upon a time, that is, with regard to the research for my PhD dissertation. Then and now I’ve been interested in how we model the unseen. My interest started first with pedagogical applications in Chemistry and now in Orthodox theology, with regard to the theology of iconography.

    Thank you so much for your contributions here!

  57. Dino Avatar

    Nancy Ann,
    Regarding earthly freedoms (and their defence) and “true freedom” (internal, in Christ), I believe we need to discern, what, (as well as where, how and when) to do, and to be asking about this. I am not the one to answer these specifics, but I do trust having this conversation with Father Stephen here.
    I would also first and foremost try to constantly remember that the foundation must always be “true freedom”, if we loose site of that we we will be deluded in some measure, even if we might otherwise naturally have tons of discernment.
    So, first and foremost, we must never forget that the devil’s most intense war on us at all times is to convince us that God does not love, care and provide for us. This is why he is called the devil (in the original Greek, it more or less means: the slanderer of God’s love towards Man).
    Whenever there are tribulations and injustices occurring, he finds an alibi to assault us with great force, and we get to prove we truly believe in God’s goodness with great force too.
    “True freedom” is found to the degree that we have this complete trust-no-matter-what: “Not my will, but Your will be done” (with utter faith in His goodness and might opposed to our weakness.)
    The current predicament is one of these cases where the devil will try to slander God’s providence.

    What you described earlier reminded me how back in my homeland of Greece there has been indeed great pain in the faithful, when the upper echelons of the Church seemed to be siding with the secular powers-that-be, especially when very traditional priests were secretly Communing the faithful (when the Churches were shut – unprecedented in Greece for Easter) – and a loud protest was absolutely expected of the Hierarchy by the people (remember Greece is not California) yet they outwardly seemed to rather be consistent with the secular authorities who arrested the priests. Things got worse when a hierarchical decree somewhat ‘quenched’ the protesting voices of parish priests and monks (unity was given as the justification), who clearly voiced (even though some times very unbecomingly and irately) their many objections. But remember this is in a country where the Church used to have a very privileged position; this would not be possible elsewhere like this.
    Now, back to the ‘earthly freedoms’ and their defence, our contemporary Saint Paisios of the Holy Mountain, though a hesychast, had actually gone into the big City to join protest marches at special occasions: he though this would encourage the faithful and that this might put “a bit of a brake” (his words) to an apostasy gaining ground. He clearly perceived the developments he protested against as agendas desiring permanent establishment in people’s lives, and not as ordeals that you could say about: ‘this too shall pass’.
    Now I very much appreciate Father Stephen’s gentle yet firm discernment here. He displays both awareness of the various dangers, as well as avoids falling into any excessiveness. When, for example, he reminds us that: “All that is happening here is seen from “above.” He warns us of the danger of the aforementioned assaults of the devil, (this is of primary importance) how our adversary is exploiting this potentially unjust situation. He then hastens to continue with this addition: “God sees our suffering – and knows whether it is warranted (medically) or not.” This is deeply encouraging to the faithful of course. It acknowledges the very real possibility of unwarranted and unjust measures (rather than disparagingly denying those who speak of this) while simultaneously, and more importantly in the face of this, still advises faith in God’s providence. This possesses far more power than what the same warning would otherwise possess if it was lacking this addition.

  58. Dan Avatar

    Father Stephen,
    I have read your blog for a couple years now, and I am deeply grateful for your ministry and that you share your gifts and talents with us all. Your writing is deeply edifying. I have never posted a comment, nor have I ever intended to do so; with that said, the recent conversation surrounding this article has led me to share the following. I hope this is edifying to others, as I have received MUCH from this blog and the conversations over the past couple of years. I apologize in advance for the long post.

    Politics – and I don’t think this is necessarily new today; however, it does seem to be more obvious and transparent – has deeply divided people into an “us vs. them” mentality. I cannot fully explain this, nor do I wish to try to explain it, but it seems that political victories are replacing the victory of the Cross (not in reality, but within the minds and hearts of people) with greater frequency these days. With that observation (right or wrong) I share the below words of St. Isaac the Syrian:

    “Let yourself be persecuted, but do not persecute others.
    Be crucified, but do not crucify others.
    Se slandered, but do not slander others.
    Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep: such is the sign of purity.
    Suffer with the sick.
    Be afflicted with sinners.
    Exult with those who repent.
    Be the friend of all, but in your spirit remain alone.
    Be a partaker of the sufferings of all, but keep your body distant from all.
    Rebuke no one, revile no one, not even those who live very wickedly.
    Spread your cloak over those who fall into sin, each and every one, and shield them.
    And if you cannot take the fault on yourself and accept punishment in their place, do not destroy their character.”

    How desperately do we all need these words today? They do not pretend that evil and sin do not exist, but these words provide the most Christ-like response to evil and sin that I have ever read. In them is found both action and restraint; how to act and where to draw the line in terms of action. It occurred to me the other day, that if the words of St. Isaac only contained the restraints (ie: do not persecute others, do not crucify others, do not slander others, etc.) that most (if not all) would easily and whole-heartedly agree with these words. However, St. Isaac ties an action to every single restraint; he tells us to not only restrain from persecuting others, but to ourselves be persecuted. I don’t understand this as intentionally going about one’s day in search of persecution, but striving to accept the afflictions of life, and the burdens of the day. I am reminded of the words of Solzhenitsyn, “The line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either – but right through every human heart”; and also, “If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”

    Why St. Isaac’s words seem so necessary today (and all days) is that there is such a thirst for “justice” today, but it seems that few are truly seek Justice. It is easy to see what is wrong with the world – oftentimes at the expense of overlooking or forgetting the evil within one’s own heart, as it seems increasingly difficult to focus on both external and internal evils at the same time. In the face of all the evil in the world, it would seem to me that the most important thing for one to remember is that each and every person is an icon of Christ. Forgive me if I am misunderstanding that concept, but I heard you refer to that concept in a talk you gave regarding icons (which I found on YouTube). “Then God said, ‘Let Us make man in Our image, after Our likeness…” (Genesis 1:26) – what I fear more than the current afflictions and politics of this time and age is the forgetting of this very reality. I think St. Isaac is pointing us to reset our sights upon this reality.

    It is the loss of this reality that is more terrifying to me than any virus, political outcome, etc. The loss of this reality seems to lead to the mindset that “the ends justify the means.” You don’t have to look very hard – in fact, despite one’s efforts in trying not to look for it, this seems to be inescapable – to find examples of this principle manifesting itself in our present times. And its manifestations seem to be legion. This comes from both sides of the political aisle, and politics seem to have gained a stronghold within our churches (for the record I am Roman Catholic, with a deep appreciation – yet shallow understanding – for the Eastern Churches; however, from reading and listening to people this seems to be true with regards to both the Catholic and Orthodox Churches). Often times the ends seem to be very good (either objectively or subjectively); however, when we use this principle to justify the means through which we obtain our end, it seems to me that the Good is not really achieved. My mind goes to the temptations of Christ in the desert; in each temptation Jesus is tempted to bring about a good through evil mean (similar to the temptation of Eve in the garden – “you will be like God, just take for yourself”). In each and every temptation, Christ rebukes Satan and the temptation that is presented to Him (satisfy hunger, win over the crowd by dazzling them, and winning over all the kingdoms of the earth). And it is this example, this difficult but straight path, that we need to walk.

    It is not my intention to sound unsympathetic towards anyone or the difficulties of present circumstances. I simply believe that while doing the good that we can – or at least desiring to do the good, and striving despite our failed attempts – we must remember our shared humanity, and pray that we see Christ in each and every person. Icons accumulate dust, given enough time they fade, and in time they are subject to the elements and are worn away (ie: the Vladimir icon of the Theotokos). However, despite the effects of this world upon the icon, the icon remains an icon; and mysteriously, the “wounds” which the icon suffers add to the mystery and the very reality of the icon.

    Thank you for allowing my to share these thoughts. I hope that to some small degree these words are found to be edifying, as I myself have received much edification from this community. And please forgive me if at any point I became preachy.

  59. Nikolaos Avatar


    Many books have been written about St Porphyrios, I am not sure how many have been translated to English. With these recent Saints one has to be careful what to read, as not all accounts about them are reliable.

    I have listened to many homilies of Fr Evangelos Papanikolaou, a missionary priest in Cameroon. He is a captivating speaker and has recounted his experiences with a number of recent Elders, like Porphyrios and Paisios. I think all his homilies can be found in, in Greek.

    I found his story about travelling with Elder Porphyrios to Mount Athos fascinating. I summarise it in Fr Evangelos’ words:

    “I was blessed to travel with the Elder on what I realised later was his last trip to Mt Athos. We boarded a medium sized boat whose captain was a man named Iordanis, a well known to the monks, experienced captain. They placed the Elder in the small cabin below, wrapped up in blankets. He looked like a ball !

    The weather was getting quite rough and Iordanis quickly declared that he was not going beyond the skete of St Anne, which is on the western side of the peninsula, just before the tip. Some of the passengers complained but Iordanis was firm that in this unsettled weather they would capsize if the went around the tip of the peninsula where it was the roughest sea. Elder Porphyrios was heading to Katounakia, the place where he started his monastic life. He uttered in his low soft voice “let’s go Iordani, we’ll be fine”. Iordanis was unmoved, telling the Elder: “Porphyri I know the the sea better than anyone and will not risk anyone’s life. You will have to come down”.

    Finally, he docked at St Anna and got everyone out of the boat. They carried the Elder out too. I was heading to Elder Ephraim of Katounakia and I did not want to stay there, as I had to walk for around two and a half hours. I asked the Elder if I could leave and he said: “Vangelako we will go to Katounakia”. I was not sure what he meant and I finally got his blessing and set off to my destination. I had to climb a steep slope and when I got to the top I looked back. What did I see ? Iordanis’ boat had left and was sailing south towards the tip, where it was expected that the sea will be at its roughest.

    I was breathless at the spectacle. The sea was very rough behind the boat and calm like “olive oil” ahead of the boat. It was an unnatural phenomenon like I had never seen or imagined before. The clouds had opened up and the sun rays were coming through, like spotlights on the boat. The Elder was sitting near the edge in the middle of the boat and was dipping his hand in the water. Around 20 dolphins were following, touching his hand and swimming around the boat. Initially I felt disappointed not to have stayed and be with him. I quickly appreciated that I could see this “cosmic” image in front of me, a miracle that I could appreciate in its entirety, looking from the outside. This is the kind of experience that we in the world recount with much excitement and sentiment. I shouted to myself, “you ARE a Saint!”.

    The fathers in Athos, however, are a lot more measured in their response. When I met Elder Ephraim in Katounakia and told him about it, he crossed himself and said, “may we have his blessing. He came to Athos without intention to come out again”.

    A few months later Elder Porphyrios fell asleep to the Lord and like Moses, no one knows his resting place. This was his wish and it is different with other Saints. Elder Paisios’ grave is in the world to provide consolation to people”.

  60. Ziton Avatar

    Nikolaos, thank you for Fr Evangalos’ story. Marvellous in every sense of the word.

    For some reason, I particularly liked the image of the Elder in the back of the boat with his hand dipping in the water and the 20 dolphins following. Now there’s a truly poetic image for you!

    In St Mark’s version of Jesus calming the waters (with which your story has obvious resonances – particularly in the Elder’s reassurances), I find it interesting that when the seas where at their roughest, the disciples’ question is “do you not care that we will drown”. Yes, they are scared that they might drown. But they seem even more perturbed by the fact that Jesus is unperturbed – and maybe that at the end he may not care about them. I mention that in light of Dino comment about the Devil trying to convince us God does not care. In crises that is a perhaps natural but unfortunate response. After Our Lord calms the storm, his two questions to the disciples are “why are you afraid? (i.e. look inwards – the crisis is maybe telling you something interesting about yourself), and “how is it you have so little faith?” (in Mark it is a question, not a Matthew admonition). Good questions as we respond to troubled times, and ponder their significance.

    Thank you again.

  61. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Dear Nikolaos,
    That was so beautiful! Thank you so much. My heart is bursting with joy!

  62. Nikolaos Avatar


    I also perceive the existence of Saints, like Porphyrios, as the proof that “Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever”. Furthermore, one cannot possibly comprehend the humility of Christ, who enabled those who believe in Him to do greater things than Him.

    The division of the sea into a calm half and a stormy half, is greater than the calming of the stormy waters by Christ. The healing of the sick by St Peter via his shadow, is greater than the healing of the woman who touched Jesus. The beheaded St Dionisios Aeropagite, who we celebrate today, picked up his head, walked 2 miles and handed it over to a pious woman, according to tradition. Our God is truly wonderful in His Saints.

  63. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Miraculous in His saints. Indeed it is as you say Nikolaos, the humility of Christ. This story about St Porphyrios was breath taking because of the experiences of my past life enabled me to visually “see” the scene that was described. Somehow, as you say, the Lord can and did make such an experience even more real for me, than His own walking on the water.

    Glory be to God, He is clothed with majesty.

  64. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    I am like the one who says I believe, Lord help me with my disbelief. And yet with the story of St Porphyrios there was no hesitation. Father Stephen has written before about the mindset of the West. I believe he has described it as a kind of “Anglo” sensibility or something similar. Would that I could be more childlike in awe and wonder as a witness of God’s presence.

  65. jacksson Avatar

    Thank you, Father, for this one. I read it earlier today (actually yesterday now) and mulled over it all day, the subject of poetry in all aspects of our life; later I read most of the comments and especially was moved by
    Randall’s mention of haiku (Japanese poetry) and came to the realization that everything in life can be expressed in haiku, the 5-7-5 beat being the primary limitaion. For instance, the Shema, the holiest verse of the Jewish Old Testament readings and the one that (traditionally) they quote two times a day with right hand shading their eyes (I suppose to not be blinded by the effulgence of God). Reducing the Shema to haiku in my pitiful attempt would be (I like to use commas):

    Hear O Israel
    Love the Lord our God, One God
    Heart, Soul, Mind, Being

    Which reminds me of the story of the Chief Rabbi of ‘to be’ modern Israel:

    There is a story about the Chief Rabbi of Israel , Rav Herzog after the second World War searching for Jewish Children in Church -operated orphanages in Italy . The Pope and the Priests did not want to identify the Jewish Children , so Rav Herzog asked to assemble all the children in the orphanage and loudly began reciting the Shma and when some of the children automatically put their hands over their eyes, Rav Herzog then said, those are mine!

    Heart, Soul, Mind, Being

  66. jacksson Avatar

    On the subject of poetry. One time when I was much younger I asked a question of my father. He originally went to sea on the New York Nautical School training ship, the USS Newport, a square rigger and he spent 45 years as sea. I had been reading books on clipper ships, the greyhounds of the sea. and I asked my father, “Dad, did you ever see a clipper ship at sea?” His reply was in pure poetry, it was so beautiful. He said (not his exact words); “Yes I saw one, one time, beating out of New York Harbor. She was a French clipper painted completely black including the sails; all of her sails were set with sailors swarming in the tops; her ropes were so tight, she sounded like a boatload of screaming women, she was a clipper running before the wind.”

    Later when I was taking second semester English in college, I wrote a poem based on his statement following standard practice where endings rhymed. The professor said that it was the best poem that he had ever read by an undergraduate student. But, it was easy to do because my father had actually spoke in a poetic fashion.

    I just recently finished a book, “Smoke on the Mountain: a.n Interpretation of the Ten Commandments” by Joy Davidman. Joy was of Jewish descent, born in the United States into a extremely socialist family (communist), but later in life she began searching ultimately onverted to the Christian faith by reading the writings of C. S. Lewis because she was so impressed by his exposition of the faith.,Then she moved to England to meet him. He was impressed with her and she became his wife for a short time before dying of cancer. The reason I mention her is because, as a young woman, she wrote poetry (on socialist subjects) and won quite a few national awards in poetry. Her book is so well written, it is almost poetic in its composition; she doesn’t waste words.

    I will finish this post with and excerpt from Rudyard Kipling’s “Ballads of the Barracks’:

    Oft comes yon wise God
    Telling tales of Edens newly made,
    They stand to their feet as He passes by,
    Gentlemen, unafraid.

  67. Anita Avatar

    I am so thankful for this blog. I, too, am weary. I seek solace in nature walks. I take my grandchildren on outings and encourage them to notice the world around them. The poetry is all around us, not in the current events or in mindless activities.
    I enjoy reading the comments, too. I recently watched one of your speeches on Youtube. I do like your sense of humor.
    Thank you.

  68. Joann Avatar

    Once again Thank you Father!
    You are an ace at this.. .your words mean so much today.

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