The Walls of Paradise – and the Fire of God

I love walls. Perhaps the most charming aspect of medieval cities are their use of walls. Some surrounded the city and served as protection. Others surrounded smaller areas and prevented easy access and egress (perhaps understandable in a world with lots of animals present). There were other walls that signaled “higher” boundaries. In a medieval world, the “order” of things was thought important: kings and commoners, high-born and low-born, masters, yeomen, and apprentice, etc. The whole of the universe had an order (hierarchy) that included the angels, human beings, and all creatures. The point was not oppression or suppression, nor to “keep people in their place.” Rather, the order of things served the purpose of union with God. The entirety of the angelic ranks, though imagined to be “higher” than human beings, actually existed for the service of human beings, who would (according to the Scriptures) eventually judge them. Indeed, the Mother of God was hymned as “higher than the Cherubim, more glorious beyond compare than the Seraphim.” Nevertheless, the “hierarchy” (literally, “holy order”) remained.

Walls were part of the holy order. Within the Church, railings, fences, or walls, separated the Sanctuary (“holy place”) from the general body of the Church. There was something of an order about who stood where (even among those in the sanctuary).

Walls have an inner reflection that has not entirely disappeared from our world. Psychologically, we describe them as “boundaries.” These demarcations note the “space” of another personality, or, even the “rights” of which we seem to be so fond. In a highly democratized world, external walls are often removed, while every internal wall struggles to maintain its existence. This adds to the confusion of an already confused world.

It is only walls and boundaries that make meaning possible.

On a page of text, each letter consists of boundaries between the blank whiteness of the page. If there are no boundaries, there is nothing to be read. The most frightening existence I can imagine would be to float in an empty black space in which location is meaningless and without reference. It is the stuff of a nightmare.

But, we indeed live in a democratized world. We challenge walls of every sort and shout approvingly whenever they come tumbling down. In a strange manner of speaking, democracy is the maximization of narcissism. Where there are no walls, everything is me and mine.

The medieval world’s intuition was not the product of a perverse culture. The heavenly city, described in Revelation, has walls. That highest vision of human happiness is de-fined – surrounded by mystic walls.

One of the modern expressions of un-bounded democratization is the doctrine of Sola Scriptura and its caricature of the “literal” reading of Scripture. People forget that Sola Scriptura gained its footing in a period that was committed to the overthrow of the medieval culture. If the Scriptures are easily accessible to everyone, then scholars, priests, and Church Fathers, will be reduced to equals. We want no mediator between us and God, and no mediator between ourselves and the meaning of Scripture. Of course, when every ploughman becomes a preacher, the confusion that ensues is more than predictable: it becomes ridiculous.

St. John Cassian expresses the mind of the Fathers in this manner:

To penetrate to the very heart and marrow of the heavenly words, and to contemplate their hidden and deep mysteries with the heart’s gaze purified, can be acquired neither through human science nor through profane culture, but only by purity of soul, through the illumination of the Holy Spirit.  Conferences, XIV,9

St. John knows, as do all the Fathers, that the truth of the Scriptures has its own boundaries, the first and easiest of which is the letter itself. To understand more than that requires something that is not merely common.

The same understanding was voiced long before by Origen, in a sentiment shared by many early Fathers:

If you try to reduce the divine meaning to the purely external signification of the words, the Word will have no reason to come down to you. It will return to its secret dwelling, which is contemplation that is worthy of it. For it has wings, this divine meaning, given to it by the Holy Spirit who is its guide … But to be unwilling ever to rise above the letter, never to give up feeding on the literal sense, is the mark of a life of falsehood.

None of these boundaries are created in order to separate us from God. They are, instead, a means by which we may come to Him in the right manner. From the moment of our expulsion from the Garden, an angel was set at the gates to prevent our entering in the wrong manner (and so create an even worse destruction for ourselves). The hiddenness of God, and of the things of God, are everywhere and always for our salvation. If hierarchy plays a role in our salvation, at the very least it is an effort to heal our demand to be equal to God.

There is no accident in God’s decision to enter our world through the most humble of all gates: the womb of the Blessed Virgin. The mystery of her womb is sometimes described as fire (she is the Burning Bush, who bears God in her womb – “our God is a consuming fire”) and yet is not burned. Our own rebirth and renewal in Christ comes through immersion in the same fire.

The Mother of God is a “boundary,” against a misguided rationality. The very phrase, “Mother of God,” or “Theotokos,” is an impossibility, a contradiction in terms. And yet, it is true.  Those who dismiss her, or refuse to honor her, reject the saving mystery within her. By the same token, she can be embraced mindlessly in a manner that refuses to acknowledge the contrary nature that she represents.

Throughout our day, we are met with many contradictions – events that shatter our happy expectations with disappointment and suffering. These events are walls that interrupt our impeded progress towards self-destruction. They carry, beneath the contradiction, the fiery providence of God’s love, inviting us into the feast that lies within them. This, I think, is the most difficult of all trials. When St. James and St. John approached Christ, asking to sit on his right and on his left in the Kingdom, He answered, “Are you able to drink the Cup that I drink?” To this day, our pre-communion prayers say, “Burn me not as I partake…” The eucharist is a fiery Cup.

The whole of our daily experiences is Scripture of a sort, an epistle being written on the fleshy tables of the heart. It is, without a doubt, the most difficult epistle to read. The Elder Cleopas used to greet those who came to him by saying, “May paradise consume you!” We are surrounded by paradise, though a flaming sword guards its entrance.

I think that it is only in giving thanks always and for all things that we are able to pull back the veil and enter into the fiery mystery of God-in-the-world. This action is often taken quickly, in order to survive the difficulties of a day. There are some brave and holy souls who linger over the Cup long enough to drink a proper draft. It is done in order to get past the things for which we give thanks and to find the Giver Himself.

And this brings me back to walls. A world without walls would be a world without meaning. I have discovered, over time, that there are walls-within-walls in the human heart. Some of them hide frightful secrets. Even there, paradise hovers ready to consume us if we linger long enough in our desire for God.

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.






74 responses to “The Walls of Paradise – and the Fire of God”

  1. nancy Holloway Avatar
    nancy Holloway


  2. Janine Avatar


    By coincidence I was just reading about fire in iconography at this page :

    Thank you. Probably there is no such thing as coincidence here and you are telling me something I really need to hear at this point in my life! In fact, I am Armenian and my people are going through a crucible for their faith right now where there are no clear answers but faith.

  3. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Ah, Father, a paradox: Both of my parents experienced God on and in the vast plains of central and eastern New Mexico where on can stand and look in all directions and see no walls, no boundaries–only the sky. The vastness is impossible to take in. One survives by leaning to nuances of life so subtly everywhere around but difficult to discern.
    Both saw that the lack of walls required them to perceive and enter into the interconnectedness of all things in creation. That, in a certain sense, even the perceived walls of time and space were but not impenetrable.
    There is a certain kind of awe and humility required to live in that land. Without that, one can easily go insane or die.
    The sense of one’s smallness and vulnerability indescribable.
    Both built creative lives on the knowledge of interconnectedness: my father a influential public health officer and my mother a dancer and dance teacher. Both refused to acknowledge many walls.
    They passed on their life and quest to both my brother and me. We both came to the Orthodox Church at least partially to fulfill the gift our parents gave us.
    Now as I pray inwardly I see a similar landscape — vast and humbling. Once again, as my parents before me I can survive only by finding and nourishing the interconnectedness of my life with all of Creation, my Creator and Incarnate Lord but in that the vastness is not lessened. Indeed my heart expands.
    Yet, somehow I feel we are describing the same reality.

  4. Paul Hughes Avatar

    Certainly there are always excesses, perversions, but two points —
    1. It’s not that there aren’t specific, demarcated ways, it’s that they’re open to everyone. St John Cassian’s words, e.g., are for all; not just for the capos
    2. Too many made men in ‘higher’ offices have become the opposite of what the angels know about service. People in them assume they’re in place *because* they’re higher, better, etc. and people below contribute to that — tho it’s the *office* and the order that’s the hierarchy, not the guy in it.
    We see this in an inability to do nearly anything, even in practicing one’s faith, without some ‘higher’ someone’s say so … or as witness what happens when a manager [almost never a leader] ‘falls’ [from where do they do so?]
    Of course, one problem is that noted here — the people’s predilection to democratizing impulses and … no walls.
    Another is the upper division’s tendency to take on the trappings of authority, false beliefs about how they got it, and a comfy chair approach to living in it.
    Paul Hughes

  5. James Isaac Avatar
    James Isaac

    This post confirms to me what I and a dear brother were discussing over the weekend: Western society really started heading for hell in the wake of the French Revolution. Democracy as an ideology and even as a practice is unnatural yet purports to be free. Hierarchies are natural and yet human (and fallen angelic) pride leads to abuses of the natural order, with a violently imposed egalitarianism the cultural response. Good thing the darker the night, the brighter shines the true Light!

  6. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    As I was in the throes of thoughts about photochemistry, I read this current post. I’m inspired by your reflections. The walls and boundaries we encounter in life and in the small world of atoms, are frequently ‘steps’ to a ‘higher’ state state of being. However the “how” (as you say ‘the manner’) of the “up” often becomes a “way” of going “down” into a deeper well of life. The seeming obstacles force us to pause, to slow down, to see with our inner eyes and through our hearts. The experience in this unfolding indeed is a burning away of what encumbers, to free the heart to face and love God and our neighbor.

    The manner: Matthew 7: 7 “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. 8 For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. 9 Or what man is there among you who, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent? 11 If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him!

    Yesterday, I encountered such a wall within my heart. And I’m still mulling over its meaning. I knock on this door in my heart and listen as carefully as I can. God willing, that all of us to have an open heart to God’s providence and to love as He loves us.

  7. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    You are describing a false hierarchy – that of the world. The holy order is something different.

  8. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Sadly, the medieval hierarchy (of every sort), served badly and opened the door to the modern darkness. What I think to be the case, though, is that the hierarchy beneath this world (the unseen hierarchy) abides. It is poorly reflected in our present visible reality.

    How this plays out is interesting. The visible “archons” of this world (just to use a rhyming term) are not always the actual “archons” of this world. There is, I believe, an earthly reality that is often hidden and unseen.

    It is always ideal when the seen and the unseen coincide and coinhere. But, this has rarely been the case, in all of history. To some extent, the life of the Church itself has been flawed more often than not. Nonetheless, that which is unseen abides and continues its work. It preserves even the present visible order (or enough of it that the world doesn’t collapse).

    When we pray for the powers that be (such as presidents and such), we’re really asking for things to live according to their proper order, coinciding and coinhering with that which is unseen.

    I could say much more, but I’ll leave it at that, for now. What I should note in closing is that modern democracy isn’t inherently the problem, just as medieval hierarchical order proved to be corrupt as well. It is righteousness that we lack – the “rightness” that comes from true coinherence. Democracy would never be a solution unless the “people” were righteous. We are very far from that at present.

  9. Marie Avatar

    So, is it that we have the ability to walk through walls, rather than break them down? And before that, do we need to ask permission from our creator and fellowman to walk through them?

  10. Janine Avatar

    “When we pray for the powers that be (such as presidents and such), we’re really asking for things to live according to their proper order, coinciding and coinhering with that which is unseen.”
    I wish more people understood it this way

  11. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    I think there’s a need to recognize what the wall is for, and have permission to enter in. Walls have doors, and gates. St. John Cassian alludes to our purification and such as a way of moving past certain walls (as in the wall of the surface of Scripture).

    The greatest wall of all is the hardness of the human heart (and the shame that often surrounds it or constructs it). Only repentance, coupled with grace, can dismantle that wall – and it often takes help and even guidance.

  12. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Knowing that the unseen order is “ok” is, I think, important in maintaining our peace in the face of the many various forms of unrighteous governance. When we cease to believe in that, then we truly become secularists and have removed God from the world (in our minds). In this, we begin a slow path towards violence (in some form or other) and murder.

  13. Dean Avatar

    “To linger over the cup…and find the Giver Himself.” Yes, a person cannot rush into God’s presence and expect to find Him. It takes the lingering, the thirsting, the all out pursuit of one who must have Him, who longs for His presence more than life itself. “Thy loving-kindness is better than life.” Only then does one see, perceive, apprehend, know for bedrock certainty, that His Life is beyond anything that this life can offer.
    Janine, yes our brothers and sisters in Armenia need our prayers every day.
    Thank you for your words.

  14. Janine Avatar

    Thank you, Father, for your reply.

    Sometimes it seems that the “seen order” is so at variance with the unseen, such as when there one sees a lot of corruption or the acceptance of lies, or terrible violence. Recently I have had this experience where it just seems like the Devil has been allowed to come close in various ways; and for that I think of death. But at those times I suppose the best way to respond is by trying to strengthen faith and also the faith of others in the unseen?

    When I study the Gospels and especially the Passion, it just seems to me that that is a similar time, when at every juncture where justice or righteousness could have been served (in terms of the world judging Christ), it was instead marked by the unrighteous: Judas, the trial, Pilate, etc. So that is a particular time of the Devil at work, corruption and evil “close” by. Of course it was all defeated. But the question remains when we are faced with such a time, or so it seems to me. What do you think is our way to respond, esp when others around us may be responding with fear, anger, panic, hopelessness, the drive to just go along and be a part of the corruption, or even rejection of the unseen? I guess we have been warned about the need for endurance in our faith!

  15. Chuck Hill Avatar
    Chuck Hill

    I appreciated this thought. “We are surrounded by paradise, though a flaming sword guards its entrance. ” I built a model of Solomon’s Temple and carved the cherubs to hold swords. When the gold paint catches the light just right, it looks to be on fire. Sometimes I can almost imagine in my heart the beauty of God’s presence as I work my garden, or in line at the grocery store, or in other mundane situations. The thought that the Lord and His ministering angels are present everywhere is a joyful and sometimes fearful thought. “Burn me not . . .” indeed!

    I never really had such thoughts until I immersed myself in studying the Temple. There was an academic, or literal aspect to it, but as I began to “see” the Temple I began to “see”the presence of God everywhere. It was such a different experience! In the Baptist Church we aren’t taught to think like this, so I was sort of an oddball. It is only as I have approached liturgical worship that I have had a present context for such thoughts.

    Thank you for your writings, Father Stephen. They have . . .well . . . opened a door in the wall so to speak to a way of understanding the faith that I have only touched upon in my journey.

  16. Byron Avatar

    Recently I have had this experience where it just seems like the Devil has been allowed to come close in various ways; and for that I think of death. But at those times I suppose the best way to respond is by trying to strengthen faith and also the faith of others in the unseen?

    Janine, pray always and give thanks as best one can. Pray for me, I will pray for you.

  17. Janine Avatar

    Janine, pray always and give thanks as best one can. Pray for me, I will pray for you.

    Thank you Byron. I am certain that is the best solution

  18. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    St. Paul said this about the Cross and the powers: None of ithe powers of this age understood this, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. (1Cor. 2:8). That which is hidden is, ultimately, victorious. For that which is hidden is “eternal” and abides. When we practice patience and endurance, it helps to remember this. St. Gregory of Nyssa described this aspect of Christ’s death in terms of a “fish hook” as if Christ was like a worm dangling on a hook enticing the powers to swallow Him – for in Death’s belly – He would work His wonderous atonement.

    In the midst of our own suffering, or harder still, the suffering of those we love, this might even be poor comfort. But, God is destroying the works of darkness in this strange, hidden manner. It is very important, I think, that we never strike a bargain with evil (particularly of the “lesser” variety) in order to achieve a perceived good. Better to let the unperceived good work our salvation than to ever make an alliance with evil. It is always and only the Cross that defeats evil.

    God give you grace!

  19. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Thank you for your word of encouragement. I needed to hear it today.

  20. Janine Avatar

    Thank you so much Father Stephen! I am going to copy and print out your words to me as they are words to live by, and — echoing your response to Chuck — I really needed to hear that today!

    I am now in a sort of process to figure out or understand my path to keep focusing and magnifying that unperceived good!!! And you are right, it is about exchanging that vision and focus of “fixes” that are not the right ones, for the focus on the “unseen” one.

    Again, many many thanks for your considerate and illuminating reply.

    I would like to echo Chuck’s affirmative encouragement!

  21. Anonymo Avatar

    Dee, Matthew 7: 7-8 is one of my favourite bible verses “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. 8 For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. I think it is a deep spiritual verse, I must look to what the Fathers say soon.

    Father I liked your comment at December 14, 2020 at 5:10 pm. Probably your most ‘woke’ comment I have seen. Woke is one of those words that may have plurality of meanings in our current context but I think you know what I mean. Also I appreciate that you emphasise not fighting evil with evil, this is encouraged in a society which has an emphasis on utilitarian ethics instead of the deontological approach. Lets hope this doesn’t seep into the Church.

  22. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Sure there must be a better term than “woke.” 🙂

  23. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Actually, Father, I would describe your comment as the opposite of “woke” which to me signifies ideological and emotional support for the current modern insanity of the most passion filled emotions leading to death and destruction. I would say your comment is profoundly unwoke, praise God!

  24. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    I think if I was “woke,” I would go back to sleep.

  25. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Father, that is a perfect T-Shirt. Priceless. You ought to copy right that and sell the shirts as a fund raiser.

  26. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    It is a subtle version of Death to the World

  27. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    I should copywrite, and then sell the shirts in China. That way, I’d not only be a Capitalist, I’d be a Globalist.

  28. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    “Laughter is surely the surest touch of genius in Creation.” Christopher Frye

    I feel so much better. Laughter also increases your immunity.


  29. Drewster2000 Avatar

    Fr. Stephen,

    While reading all these comments and especially your cryptic ones about archons, this thought struck me: Christ said all will be revealed in the 2nd coming and the next life. But the common image is that I will ask God, “So what was the deal with the Bermuda Triangle?” or “Tell me about the Leviathan and the Loch Ness Monster.” and all the answers would be forthcoming.

    But what I just realized is that in reality, it will probably happen more like the traditional Orthodox “both/and”. Some answers will be given immediately and others will illicit a “come and see” response. Instead of Heaven being a guided tour after which we sit around on clouds somehow without getting bored, it will be a continual journey of further up and deeper in. And instead of us looking down into Hell and saying, “Gee, that’s too bad,” we might be like the angels in The Great Divorce who went back to Grey Town and looked to bring old earthly relationships along with them. So far from being a glorified retirement home, the experience will be so charged with life that it wears me out even imagining it.

    And then we can understand archons and powers and atonement and so on – but not all of it right away. God is very much about fun and adventure, though we only have a dim understanding of what those words really mean in His way of thinking.

    Anyway, thanks for encouraging this insight with all the ways you seek out the truth and try to explain it.

  30. Dino Avatar

    I have an observation which might always be mistaken. It stems from the interpretation and application of “maintaining our peace in the face of the many various forms of unrighteous governance” and the danger of “moving towards violence when we don’t”. I have lately come across numerous ‘complaints’ –strictly from my Greek brothers and sisters in Christ– against the official expressions of the Church’s voice and its ‘passivity’ (a passivity that is clearly not an ‘inner peace’, but rather, an external, quite flagrant secular compliance –which strictly speaking, goes against the Church’s own cannons). Greece, please keep in mind if you are reading this, has been ranked one of the strictest in draconian measures at this moment (second I think only to Mongolia) on the planet. This is doubly poignant considering the Church’s unique prominence in Greek culture, something other cultures would perhaps struggle to conceive of. The key objections from the believers, mainly concern Church-closures (again),–especially considering disproportionally strong police presence guarding Church’s peripheries during the numerous saints’ feasts of December (Churches where their relics etc are kept, -as in Saints Andrew’s, Nicolas’, Spyridon’s) and the high fines issued to laity and priests, all, while other areas of life enjoy astonishing impunity. God’s providence, it seems, allows this greater provocation to see how many (as a growing number are lately) will actually react ‘patristically’ from within the hierarchy to some of this. The believers are deeply distraught lately (from what I hear from a distance -as I do not live home). But what we also have seen is some dazzling exceptions of Chrysostomic bravery –even in a few exceptional Hierarchs– displaying the calm, discerning courageousness that does not give in when it knows it oughtn’t. This does not “do violence”, (to get back on subject) although it might invite violence upon itself from its enemies. For now, it has proved a most invaluable spiritual encouragement to the distraught. They are at the very least, deeply consoled by it. I hear this a lot, being in constant contact with many back home whose greatest issue was the deafening silence against the unfair [secular] governance from their own [ecclesiastical] governance. Interestingly, it is the clergy-persons that would most likely “turn the other cheek” (and who do not accuse others -as some biased zealot might) in their personal relations, that are proving the ones that have not “given in”, knowing (as it was explained to me yesterday) that ‘the secular beast does not stop once it has smelt blood’ from its victims. These are also men of prayer -rather than of politics. On the other hand, the ones who might not be so inclined to turn the other cheek in their personal relationships, (who also accuse the aforementioned, and all who question things these days) seem to be the ones that have no limit to how much they are willing to comply in order to not disrupt ‘the secular beast’. Please keep in mind this is purely Greece we are talking about here, and a powerful hierarchical voice we are talking of (in that country) that is expected to speak in accordance with the believers no-matter-what, and with millions of faithful who cannot attend again over there. It does make one think considering it is so relentless and so extreme there.

  31. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Perhaps the government in Greece is acting badly and with ill-will towards the Church. I suppose you could also be wrong, as you noted, and they are simply acting incompetently, trying to figure out what the best measures and safest measures might be. Not only do I not know what the actual case is, but I’ve become increasingly skeptical about the quality of discernment I hear from some. I’m always willing to listen to claims of charismatic gifts, though I’ve seen so much nonsense from Pentecostals and Protestant and Catholic Charismatics that I sometimes wonder why we don’t extend the same skepticism to extreme claims among our own. The proof, of course, is only when things are made manifest.

    Extreme claims have been made viz government officials (and against many hierarchs). Time will tell whether they are correct.

    For myself, and anyone who cares to listen, it is for us to obey the commandments of Christ, without a lot of nuance or artifice. The directives here in the US by our hierachs have been moderated over time (we’re back on the single spoon for communion, for example). Of course, at the same time, the virus is at its highest level of infection and deaths here as well. Today, we were told by Dr. Fauci (the lead on the virus efforts) that even masks will not be needed before the end of next-year. So, now, with the vaccine, etc., being distributed, an end is actually being discussed (for the first time).

    In my experience over the years, when the present danger recedes, those who warned that the danger was the tip of an iceberg that is of apocalyptically evil intent, will not be held accountable for getting it wrong. Somehow, those voices always continue with impunity.

    I pray that we are not in such an evil situation. If we are, then keeping the commandments of Christ is still the proper behavior. At present, the only effect I have seen of dire warnings has been to make shipwreck of the faith of a number of innocent people, lead others astray, and hurt a number of otherwise decent parishes here in the US. Some parishes have benefitted from this when their shepherds have taken advantage of the situation.

    I am sorry, but I have yet to see any good fruit being borne from the corners of warning.

    I am in close, personal touch with my hierarch, his advising priests, as sell as other hierarchs in my jurisdiction (and a few others). We’ve very small here, so it’s quite easy to have a very accurate picture of what is actually going on. Of what I know, I have good confidence of their good will, level-headedness, and proper intent. We’ve (OCA) largely followed the pattern of Moscow. Of course, even with that, the lists of hierarchs and priests who have died of the virus is significant. I just lost a good friend, an archpriest in the diocese, just this morning from COVID. I understand that numbers of infections are increasing in Greece as well.

    We’re at a critical health moment – and not far removed from genuine relief. Time will tell.

  32. Dino Avatar

    I don’t know how much the situation in the states relates to Greece, if at all in, practice. I did see that the number of monthly ‘all cause deaths’ (arguably the most reliable statistic) is similarly no higher there than that of the last 6 or 7 years as is also in Greece and most countries . This is significantly telling. If we have just incompetance in the overreaction that has caused such unimaginable collateral damage for the usual expected amount of deaths, (this damage is such that suicides have already reached unheard of heights in Greece), then it is like a general who saves a city from a swarm of locusts by bombing the city. If on the other hand we have governance of middle managers for predatorial globalists (the accusation certainly is not unfounded) things are worse. In either case however, the ecclesiastical as well as other officialdoms would be hopefully expected to be able to distance themselves from the dominant mindset and direction of the world (steeped in lies) a great deal more than they seem to be able to do, in order to avoid a (to use R. Dreher) sleepwalking into a totalitarianism.

  33. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Father, I’m grateful for your responses to Janine and now to Dino. They have been helpful for me and give me hope.

  34. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    When you quote numbers have you have done, here, Dino, without reference to the source, the capacity for the reader to judge the quality of the information is hampered. Undoubtedly you got it off the internet and you trust the source. Nevertheless, because of the political volatility of these circumstances, I’m far more cautious of such reports.

    There is at least one clergy person I know of here in the US who has their own social media megaphone loudly expressing cynical sentiments, which helps to undermine the faith of parishioners in the decisions of their bishops. Perhaps there is more.

    But the medical doctors I know, and other doctors with whom I am in contact with, who work on the front lines in the local hospitals, tell a very different story. I live in a place where there have been few restrictions relative to other places such as Greece or California, yet the death rate here has been consistently escalating and the beds are near full capacity filled. These are circumstances that make me wish that our local government did more to curb this situation.

    And I wish that more is done on this side of the pond to muffle US clergy (I’m thinking of that one Orthodox clergy person in particular) who publicly express and apparently enjoy the attention that they garner, when they sow such cynicism and divisions among Orthodox Christians. These melodramatic public proclamations that spur divisiveness doesn’t help parishes either, especially as they allude to some sort of collusion or weakness among the Hierarchs or among parishioners who are doing their best to attend services when they are allowed, in obedience to their priests and bishops.

  35. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    I have plenty of contact with “front-line” personnel in hospitals in our area. They are maxed-out. I know of cases being turned away that would otherwise be admitted for hospital care because there was no room – and no room anywhere else. We are in a very critical situation that will pass. But, at present, it is quite dangerous.

    We do not suffer well as a people, apparently. Our culture is not well-suited to suffering. Thus, suicides, etc. increase because we do a poor job of caring for one another. I mistrust the use of statistics that try to suggest that nothing is particular bad going on – that it’s all an over-reaction. On-the-ground evidence is quite another thing. Most people will have a mild case and survive well. But, it can be quite deadly, and not just for those who are most at risk.

    At completely unslowed pandemic, as we would have had without any measures taken to slow it, would have indeed been overwhelming. That we have “barely” managed it is not a failure, but a success. We’re not quite done, though an end is in sight.

    Throughout this, I have sought to be measured in my comments, and to be supportive of the hierarchs and for those who (whether competent or not) are trying to deal with a terrible problem. I make no apologies for that. I have suggested to the priest who is now Rector of my parish, that when the troubles come to an end, there will be an adjustment period – a time for people to need to recover with a sort of PTSD from the whole thing. After that, I think there will come a renewal in the Church’s life. Beyond that, we face other struggles that will test us. But this trial has been allowed us by the Providence of God (including incompentence or even the evil intentions of some). He has also allowed some priests to be bothersome. 🙂

    Thus, I rejoice. And I encourage you to rejoice with me!

  36. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Dear Father,
    Indeed, thank you so much for your words!! It is good to rejoice!!

  37. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Although the full life of the Church may be restored but we can and should retain the basics:
    We can only face the peril, real and imagined if we do. All else is futile and indeed often adds to the peril has an excellent resource guide for using effective non-hospital based care and prevention. I received this from an Orthodox doctor I know who is quite knowledgable and evidence based.

    Fear not.

  38. Dino Avatar

    It would turn into a series of inflammatory sounding links if I started adding CDC, J. Hopkins, WHO etc links. (Or worse still, WEF, ones…). Besides, I have clearly witnessed how the most trusted sources – which I have in mind- do are questioned and doggedly ignored by those who would. So it would become like a Facebook tit for tat perhaps.
    Coming from a family of doctors myself there would be little point trying to establish a different light of what other persons with front line experience interpret casting their own different light. Online parsing of it all can then become a digging of heals for each side and a growing list of evidence and counterevidence . One person brings up a variety of reasons why things are justified now – showing the gravity of the current situation and the manageability of collateral effects– while the other piles on more evidence to the contrary – showing the forgotten equal gravity of previous years that didn’t make such news or the unmanageability of the collateral damage etc. I don’t see it will be allowed for a start by Father Stephen . Not because of the famed ‘censorship’ & ‘deplatforming’ here (although, elsewhere, this is a considerable force swaying upon much biased naive assessment that is worldly-aligned) but simply because it is not the place.
    This is also why we traditional Greeks and Russians value rare charismatic discerning spiritual guides so much. It is one in a billion (unlike what pentecostals might think?) but from laity to patriarchy we seek their guidance and guaranty.
    But indeed the covid narrative debate /assessment will not work or be allowed here for much of a stretch

  39. Dino Avatar

    I don’t know if, when and who might be held accountable. It is natural for the human soul to desire justice (not retribution but fairness) as a hoped for quality in practically all worldviews I think. I also don’t know about the other few things you mention, for instance how do we know a vaccine worked here?… : does survival rate jump from 99.7% to 99.8%…? And as you say only time will reveal some things – hopefully. A key thing however is that for those in responsible positions (whether in this crisis or the following ones) the luxury of not heeding potential “direction” of events is not afforded without culpability. I state “direction” because the aforementioned notion of totalitarianism (I think I quoted Dreher’s idea of sleepwalking into a soft version of it) is not something static (like tyrannies are) . The notion of totalitarianism is one of a continuously evolving direction. So the call to stand firm and to ‘watch’ is even more relevant. Granted, paranoid alarm has no place in a Christian soul that knows the victorious light and soars high like an Eagle or an innocent dove basking in that glorious assurance, but simultaneously, the lack of deep discernment of a wise serpent has equally been asked of us by our Lord, quite emphatically so.
    So I cannot feel comfortable with either extreme if not properly balanced with its diametrical opposite.
    This balance is what we have finally seen in the aforementioned few radiant Chrysostomic hierarch in Greece and Cyprus.

  40. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    It is, indeed, futile to tit-for-tat on statistics and authorities,etc. The level of trust for institutional authority has broken down (world-wide) to a large extent. Some of that is well-deserved as a response to misdeeds and abuses of power that have become known. The result is chaos in information – everybody’s a doctor, an epidemiologist, a bishop, a president, etc. It’s a disease of the modern world. It won’t be fixed.

    A continuously evolving direction – becomes a narrative, or a meta-narrative. In that case, it is the lens through which the world is viewed. Simple incompetence becomes nefarious evil. Perhaps the narrative is true, perhaps not. My comment viz. charismatic figures is that I am leery of such leadership. It requires a scrutiny that is generally not engaged in. That, too, has a narrative beneath it.

    I do not know the situation in Greece as I do that in the US. Here, the leading figures who cite charismatic sources, and who major in the narrative of the continuously evolving direction that you describe, have proven themselves to be untrustworthy in other regards, many times. So, my skepticism in our situation here is driven by the rule of a tree – what kind of fruit has it produced in other situations?

    In general, it is a bad practice to ignore the directives of hierarchs, and to impugn their integrity, much less to encourage such a behavior in others. I think that rather than cherry-picking favorite hierarchs (this one’s a Chrysostom, this one’s a Judas, etc.) we ought to weep for the lack of unity among them and offer prayers of repentance on their behalf.

    You mentioned Dreher (as from our private correspondence). He writes about a “soft-totalitarianism” that is coming. He is likely correct. The drift of the secular world as it is adopting a worldview that is alien and hostile to traditional Christianity definitely seems to be moving towards an “orthodoxy” that it will enforce in a manner that rhymes with the thought-police of previous Communist regimes. His latest book follows on conversations he had with Christians who survived that oppression.

    I think he is taking a very reasonable approach to things – essentially thinking out loud about how to be more Christian in a world that is becoming less Christian or anti-Christian. In the meantime in the US, there is also a movement among Christians that is born of their fear, marked by so-called prophecies from known charlatans and such, that are creating chaos on the other end. That kind of insanity provides just the sort of excuse that will feed the narrative of those who would suppress religious freedom.

    There is a lot of chaos.

    St. Paul urged us repeatedly towards unity, towards peace, towards respect for the Church, etc. The Apostolic period was followed by a century of chaos and false teachers (just as the Apostles warned).

    I am cautious and slow-to-accept the claims of charismatic voices, unless and until they are filtered by the authorities to whom I owe obedience. I do not know how to live any other way. I have seen (and experienced) unquestioned acceptance of charismatic voices. The result has been uneven, at best, and less than good and harmful, quite often. I think much of that problem lies in the lives of those who value that above all rather than in the voices themselves. The disciples of an elder are often where the problems are to be found. I see the same thing, quite often, in the abuse of Scripture, or the abuse of “the Fathers.”

    It is why I have been trying to turn our attention to the state of our own heart. Only purity of heart can ever see anything clearly. We will need that more and more as time goes on – whether the oppression is soft or hard. These trying times serve to “reveal the thoughts of many hearts.” So, first, I’m trying to pay attention to the thoughts of my own heart – and, secondly, trying to keep things within the peace of Christ so that others might learn to see their own hearts as well.

  41. Dino Avatar

    I always find myself agreeing with Dreher’s assessments.
    What you here say also makes complete sense to me -from within an American context.
    I marvel at the extent to which America is prone to taking things and re-fabricating these things as extreme versions of themselves.
    So whether this is leftism or conservatism or charismatic adulation or anything else, it seems to recreate versions of them “on steroids”, enhanced with extra delusional grandeur.
    I reckon this has a great deal to do with its deeply ingrained secularity. A secularity, not not be found just on the “atheist side”, but also, just as much on the “theist camp”. (Always looking to create a utopia here on Earth, forgetting we here have ‘no abiding city’).
    When you throw in the typical cringe-worthy showmanship of the States, you tend to get a caricature that is unable to reason, just extremely good at consistent misinterpretation of what it sees in other cultures.
    Traditionally, (at least in the Greek tradition I know –even more so perhaps in that of Simonoptera, which I am most familiar with) a consultation with a charismatic figure, would be the diametrical opposite to what seems to be understood of such a thing in America. For a start, both the guide as well as the listener would need to have a spiritual “counterweight” to any words or actions (as in a ‘counterbalance’ of authentic, mystical life: a counterweight of silence for the words and of hesychasm for action). This needs to be almost ten times greater to produce an equilibrium. So, I do not think the activistic ‘charismatics’ that do not have ten hours of prayer to show for one hour of talking can enjoy the credibility many assign to them in America (from what I hear).
    I am clearly not speaking of such voices myself when mentioning Chrysostomic voices.
    Indeed, as you continuously advise, we ought to turn our attention to the heart first, once that has become unperturbed through God’s abiding Grace, then (on all levels and ranks), the word emanating thence can be trusted. This of course, also means taking all other words with massive ‘pinches of salt’.

  42. Byron Avatar

    Reading through all of this discussion, this thought jumped into my mind: Wisdom is not shrill. And it is Wisdom that should guide our hearts in all of this. Where we lack Wisdom, let us be silent and not wring our hands. Where we have concern, pray constantly. May God grant us peace in our hearts and love for our neighbors. Just my thoughts.

  43. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Dear Byron,
    Wonderful words as usual.

    Thank you so much for your edifying comments once again!

  44. James Isaac Avatar
    James Isaac

    Appreciate the discussion. I was recently reading somewhere (I think the writings of St Paisios – in which he predicted the vaccination program which *may* be underway as a means of Antichristian control) that prophecies of doom are meant to rouse us to deeper repentance i.e. as Father says, draw nearer to God and possibly escape what is predicted. And I believe those who portent some nefariousness on the part of governments, multinationals, medical celebrities, etc – whether extreme themselves or more humble – do the service of warning people that we might possibly escape the fate which otherwise might befall us. In other words, the true prophet of woe hopes that his words are never realized, but if he does not speak to warn others, they will. God knows His servants.

  45. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    My own thoughts are that people should make reasonable health decisions, based on good information. Prophecies are interesting – but also far from infallible. They are not the basis for health decisions.

    Repentance is always the order of the day for the Orthodox. I am very dubious about the accuracy of some reported prophecies. It’s like prophecy that’s first been run through a rumor mill. This is not the proper life of the Church.

  46. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Father am I correct that to understand prophecy requires my repentance first?

  47. Ziton Avatar


    One thing that came to mind as I was reading this article, even more strongly than when I read your previous one about walls, was the idea of labyrinths, and how I am not aware of them being mentioned much in Othodox Christianity, although they seem to have been a real pilgrimage feature of the high middle ages in the West. Despite their now being sort of co-opted by New Agey movements, I have to say that my experience of walking the Chartres labyrinth (e.g. see especially for the picture) path a few times feels genuinely useful in a kind of embodied version of some of the things you seem to be talking about in this article.

    As you will find if you even trace your finger along the pathway (to some extent, walking is much better though) you always move forward, although you are always bounded by walls, or by the conceptual equivalent – certainly by boundaries that guide you in a direction and prevent you going in another. (I suspect there is a difference between a real wall and a conceptual one in a labyrinth walk though, but I have not had that experience yet).

    As you walk – with the aim of getting to the center – you often do appear sometimes to be getting close to the center, only to find yourself then often being thrown outwards. Indeed this happens right at the start. And towards the end, you seem to be circling right around the heart of the labyrinth only to then spend a short while at the outer edge before finally making it into the rose in the middle. All the while all you actually have to do is to keep moving forward, one step at a time, and trust that the path will eventually bring you to where you need to be even if many times it does not seem to be doing that, and seems somewhat … long! And when you stand back from the pathway and look at it from a top down perspective it is beautiful In its own way it kind of teaches simplicity and trust of the designer and an odd kind of beauty. I think one of the points of it is so that by the time you do reach the rose in the center you are, as you say father, ready having approached it in the right manner. At least that’s my experience.

    All those are things that seem to resonate with what you have been saying, so I thought there may be some value in jotting them down. However, I don’t know what the proper Orthodox perspective is on them, and I am genuinely interested to know.

    One other possibly relevant feature in light of your article is the way that labyrinths differ from mazes. Labyrinths only ever have one path forward. Mazes are deliberately designed to confuse and distract and prevent the poor schmuck who enters from ever finding their way out (and that is usually the aim). Work of the enemy! Throw in some mirrors and mazes can become truly confounding … Mazes almost always deliberately have high walls to block any kind of true perspective. Walls under those circumstances are definitely not friendly. I often feel that the modern west seems to have been something that has turned into a maze – complex and full of dead ends and something that entraps. Maybe what people are really looking for though, without even realising it as they feel drawn to the complexity, is something much more like a labyrinth kind of path?

  48. Anonymo Avatar

    If we work with God’s providence then we experience life as a labyrinth otherwise it is a maze. Order is integral to God and the angels, meanwhile devil and the demons generate chaos. Thankfully God is the Lord of the Spirits! We only need to continually repent and God will keep us on path of salvation.

    Father Freeman the breakdown of trust in society strikes me as a consequence of modernity, have you done much writing or thinking on this?

    Another question how much of your work is analysis of post-modernity and its interaction with modernity?

  49. Anonymous Avatar

    I have been contemplating the deeper meaning of this miracle of the Panagia at Simonopetra Monastery, lately, after listening to this short podcast on Ancient Faith the other day.

    Somehow I find a beautiful connection in this post about walls, as I contemplate hidden miracles of grace that can lie inside, when we fully turn to God. Then this grace can be distributed outside of our own walls to the healing and union of others towards the Lord. Grace contained inside walls, to flow outside of walls, to unify in God again inside of walls (the hearts of people).

    The two large clay jars referenced in the podcast were hidden deep in the cellar: a place underneath and very hidden inside of walls. The miracle was revealed once the jar lid was opened, another type of wall. But particularly on the day before the Feast of the Entrance of the Theotokos who herself gloriously entered what was considered a normally “walled” entrance.

    The large clay jars themselves needed “walls” to contain this gift. Also, the gift of the oil was miraculously placed despite the closed lids. Again, I think this is a great gift of the Lord so often, when He acts beyond walls.

    Then the Monks went down inside the underneath deeper walls of the cellar (like the deeper heart) to sing thanksgiving and praise after receiving this gift. The gift was distributed as further gifts unto the healing of God’s children.

    In my contemplation lately, I find walls can be great gifts as well. Places of containment of grace, places of miracles when the Lord acts beyond walls, hidden thanksgiving and praise, hidden flowing healing. Hiddenness of walls can reveal grace and miracles. This particular podcast was very healing to my heart.

  50. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    There is no Orthodox tradition regarding labyrinths. They became quite the rage back in the 90’s or so among so-called liturgical churches, including American Catholics. Generally, I have seen them in a very negative light – with a use that is typical of American narcissism. We want experience but not ascesis.

    I once described it thus: Americans want the inner life of Mother Theresa and all of the shoes of Imelda Marcos.

    Those references date the statement – but it is still true. I also know a few stories in which people had some very nasty spiritual experiences while walking a labyrinth. I do not recommend them.

    It is also my understanding that no one actually knows that labyrinths in Gothic Churches were ever used as part of a devotional exercise. Even the interpretation (as your article notes) is up for grabs. As such, “walking a labyrinth” is an entirely novel idea and invention without guidance in the tradition.

  51. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Anonymous, there is another wall that is taught in rhe Orthodox spiritual Tradition. The wall around pur heart that we must build to guard it. The dragons wish to breech that wall and it must be defended. The foundation for the wall is repentance.

  52. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Ziton, I have not heard anything about labyrinths since I was involved in the New Age movement 50 years ago. Like many “spiritual practices” of that collection of self absorbed folk, it has a tinge of the darkness to it.
    The Orthodox way is the same as Jesus: Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.

    Doing that and persisting in it can raise a lot of dragons. So, we have Confession and all of the other sacraments plus icons, prayers and the writings of the saints. It is a community.

  53. Anonymous Avatar

    Yes a foundation built in repentance. When I need help with this, I am always helped by St. Porphyrios’ wisdom in this.

    “Let all your strength be turned to love for God, worship of God and adhesion to God“, are his words I truly need every day. Along with his further, deep wisdom.

  54. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Anonymous, yes.

  55. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Ziton, I want to thank you first for asking your question, I have wondered this too.

    And thank you Father for your response to Ziton and to Dino above.

    I am deeply concerned about what I have encountered recently where Orthodox priests (I’ll add that they tend to be young in years) gravitating to and adoring their charismatic Orthodox rock stars. (I want to soften these words but it seems to be thus)

    1 Corinthians 13 comes to my mind when I hear people talk of charismatics, prophets, prophesies, and the ease of making references to ‘repentance’.

    —how many can honestly say that they *know* what that means? Perhaps by comparison I show myself to be the sinner that I am, but I’m not sure that I know repentance is, and that’s not without fervent seeking and prayers.

    (BTW I sincerely appreciate what Byron said about repentance in a previous post.)

    The last words in this scripture: “ but the greatest of these is love.”

    When we read what St Paul says about love do we say to ourselves ‘yes that is me, I love all!’?

    Do we *know* the cross of love? How hard is that rule to love? And who can be saved if that is the the first commandment?

    I’m saying all of this in reference to this yearning we have to follow some charismatic. What is it in the US that we see such a phenomenon? Undoubtedly there will be the person who will see this comment as secularist. However who among us discern the spirits so easily?

    Father your words about wanting experience than ascesis was spot on. We seem to want the glory of Christ for ourselves without the cross. We do have a problem in America, even (I hope only a few) our priests jump on the ‘charismatic’ train, mistaking it for faith.

    For this reason I pray for our priests. My faith rests with Christ. And as you said before, I rejoice, for God is with us and in this Church. And all is in His providence.

  56. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Dee, repentance can be tossed off without thought or understanding and that is sad because it makes it seem false or unatsinable. It is neither. It is a gift that takes love to give and love to receive. It cannot be accomplished outside that love.
    It does not automatically end sin or even ameliorate it necessarily.
    It does open one’s heart so that prayer, real prayer, is possible for oneself and for others because it brings us closer to Jesus.

    But that is just scratching the surface.

  57. Ziton Avatar

    Thank you father for that very clear answer. Helpful.

    I also am going to pocked two quotes from it

    “We want experience but not ascesis.”

    “[I] want the inner life of Mother Theresa and all of the shoes of Imelda Marcos.”

    Alas, sadly both very true in my case. (Well, maybe not the actual shoes, but yes a more tasteful 🙂 equivalent.)

    They will join with a line I also particularly like (and also identify strongly with) from Frederica Mathewes-Green along the lines commenting on why we modern western types are not attracted to real repentance “everyone wants to be transformed, but no-one wants to change”.

    I still think, though, that the metaphor of a maze with mirrors has some merit in talking about our western culture though. It’s a kind of sad variant on pure narcissism, and captures a bit why it is linked to nihilism in that it breeds a sense that deep down the point of the exercise is simply to escape the maze … (which does contrast with the labyrinth idea of getting to the center).

    I was also thinking along these lines that the virtue of walls depends on who has built them and what purpose they are serving. If they do indeed represent true hierarchy at play then they are necessary as you suggest. But if someone else has built them, they can be a grievous barrier. Knowing which is which is hard. Much of the anger that seems to be floating around might be characterized as people wanting to knock down walls that they perceive to be blockers. The trouble is that they don’t know which walls are really which and knocking down random ones could just make the already complex maze even more complex.

  58. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Dee, Ziton, Dino,
    I should offer a quick clarification on “charismatic elders.” That God gives us such is clearly true and they are of great value in the Church. They also come, quite often, with strong cultural “flavors” about them. First, my own tendency is to pay attention to what is local, if at all possible. The Church is one, and universal, but God has also seen fit for its governance and life to be local, with local hierarchs in a local synod. That synod is responsible for the well-being of priests, parishes, monasteries, etc., in their jurisdiction.

    Many times in America, we have been troubled by someone from a different jurisdiction, even a different part of the world, and local hierarchs have no authority over the situation. I know of a fair number of personal and ecclesiastical disasters from this “loop-hole” in Orthodox ecclesiology.

    Generally, I think that we are given what we need locally. First, in our parish, then our diocese, then elsewhere. I can only submit to one group of hierarchs, which, for me, is the OCA. I deeply rejoice, when invited to speak in a different jurisdictional setting, that the priest (or whoever) tells me that they are asking for their hierarchs blessing in order to invite me. That’s the good order of the Church.

    People often seek a holy elder as if they were going to get better advice and direction than from their local priest. Generally, this is nonsense. We are not so special that our life of repentance needs some special attention in order to be effective. Were that so, God would have placed charismatic elders in parishes instead of local priests. Most often, when I read the teachings of Holy Elders, they are simple, straight-forward, with advice and teaching that could come from anywhere – that is – they simply teach the Orthodox faith.

    When it starts getting a little odd, or something “special” is being said – frankly – we should likely run in the other direction. I have known of some who doubted the efficacy of their Baptism or some such matter because of something they heard from someone who heard from some Elder a criticism, etc. God has not set the Church under Elders. He has set it under Bishops. No if’s, and’s, or but’s. When you doubt something, go to your priest, or to his bishop. And there it is.

    We should strive to be simple, un-special, with our attention on good deeds and innocence. The Church today is not in difficulties because of a lack of Holy Elders. It is in difficulties for lack of simple, un-special, innocent good-deed doers.

  59. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    We should strive to be simple, un-special, with our attention on good deeds and innocence. The Church today is not in difficulties because of a lack of Holy Elders. It is in difficulties for lack of simple, un-special, innocent good-deed doers.

    Thank you Father for this and several other additional helpful words in your comment. The existence, guidance, purview and decisions of the hierarchy and the local synod are deeply reassuring to me. And, lest I be misunderstood, I dearly love our priests (bothersome ones too). It has been trying times.

    Michael, please forgive me if it sounded like I was being dismissive of repentance. That was certainly not my point. God in His providence has given me a difficult cross of particular importance, I believe, in my spiritual growth and salvation. And this cross is a reminder to me that all depends on Him and Him alone. It is Him that I follow (even if I should see Him going down to Hades). In Him is my faith and my hope. And from Him comes the only good, all wonder, holy love that fills my heart.

    There is no life without His love in our hearts.

  60. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    I suppose I should make it clear that when I speak of Him going down to Hades, etc, I speak of Jesus Christ. Perhaps I’m being too careful. But leaving that out could be misunderstood, too.

  61. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Dee, I did not think you were being dismissive. I was describing myself for many years. The key thing you said was about love. Repentance is impossible without love.

  62. juliania Avatar

    Father Stephen, forgive me, but I shall, not saying well, propose an alternate understanding of walls that is not in opposition to what you present, but a difference that I hope is still allowed to be Orthodox.

    On walls, my first thought was from a poet I love for his American simplicity – “Something there is that does not love a wall…” I think it goes, and the poem ends rather intimating that walls are not always good things in themselves. And the medieval – well, it reminds me as a one time Latin scholar that the language had been used rather to remove Scripture from the understanding of the common people, and that to the Orthodox early teachers that was the first thing they did not do- they translated Scripture so that natives could understand and love it. This was not ‘sola Scriptura’ – and it’s sad that the Latin texts were over-compensated for because those who did not experience this freedom to understand the words broke down more walls than they needed to.

    There is something about the Orthodox experience that is more immediate than the experience of a Catholic who has an absolute papacy standing between him/her and Christ – our priests come back to stand naturally with the people and beside each of us as we confess. They count themselves humbly as among the worst sinners, as did Peter and as did Paul – our Scripture readings tell it. And, they also do make mistakes sometimes; they are human beings.

    Something there is that does not love a wall… only so that neighbors could come together to rebuild them.

    I was in a Catholic nunnery-highschool. The sung mass is very beautiful; the nuns are dedicated, dear women. In many ways I loved the experience. But I did not join them; I joined Orthodoxy.

  63. Dino Avatar

    Father, James et al
    Things can get confusing with much disinformation when questioning a dominant narrative. Forget charismatics for a minute.
    There is delusion in the uninformed as well as the misinformed analyst even from a secular common sense. And the one who digs their heals most out of the above two will outdo the other in error.
    The dogged position of a ‘coincidence theorist’ assessing current situations – only ever seeing chance dynamics & ruler incompetence in their assessment- is at least as delusional in its naivety,
    as the “conspiracy theorist’ s” assessment can become in its paranoia. So anybody assessing the global ongoing measures and proposed alterations to life, while (internationally or unintentionally) ignoring the underlying aligned paradigms of key drivers such as the WEF’s etc: “Great Reset” /”Fourth Industrial Revolution” lies in the first camp.
    [this is the World Economic Forum’s CEO’s ref:

    (UK and Greece for instance have many official government documents outlining the move to the Fourth Industrial revolution)
    Awareness of this is crucial in any assessment and a complete lack of it would discredit the assessment.
    Of course we know that historically, God’s providence allows for the eventual demise of man’s babelic towers. That is another conversation But that also, does not mean we do not warn against them in a measured way. The fact that those who warn us can range a gamut ‘spanning the wacko to the prophet’ is of course quite unfortunate, but we cannot throw away the the baby with the bathwater because of this…

  64. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Walls could certainly be given such an interpretation. The failure, for example, to translate the Scriptures into the language of the people in the West, was a false wall (and not Orthodox). The opposite of that was (and is) the notion of “soul competency”, a version of Sola Scripture, in which it is held that each individual soul is competent to interpret the Scriptures for themselves.

    In each life there are false walls – those that shut out proper communion with our neighbors and God – and there are healthy walls – those that establish healthy boundaries and actually promote proper communion with others.

    The article is only meant as a meditation on a particular aspect of walls – a way of thinking about other things.

  65. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Dino, some thoughts in response:

    The difficulty in constructing narratives of any sort is simply lack of information. There is some information – some that is very troubling. I offer no denial of that. The Church has repeatedly (even at the council meeting in Crete!) denounced globalization as contrary to Orthodox understanding and teaching. I suspect that many hierarchs do not understand that denunciation nor think about it. At the same time, the primary leaders of the major economies are all globalists. There is no doubt that the major holders of wealth are globalists (it’s how they mostly got rich). Because this is true, there will be (and are) many “plans” on a globalist effort towards economies, social policies, etc. Which one prevails is yet to be seen.

    For others: Why does the Church oppose globalization? Globalization is a term that describes the system of global trade in which multi-national corporations, in tandem with governmental powers, seek to maximize their efficiencies and their profits. It has the track record of destroying local production, displacing workers, disrupting and even destroying local cultures. It depersonalizaes the landscape in the name of profits – most of which are so unevenly distributed as to be ludicrous.

    These various global agencies (such as the UN and its many fingers) generally measure everything in terms of income and health outcomes. Almost every other measure of human existence and the moral life is suppressed. It was for this reason that a UN paper several years back described the people of traditional Orthodox countries as the “most unhappy” religious group in the world. What it meant was they were the least interested in those two topics.

    This description – with much detail added – represents an unmasking of the powers and should be pursued vigorously. At the same time, our pursuit of life within the bosom of the Church should continue without interruption, in whatever manner is possible. Under persecution and oppression, that life becomes more difficult. As that life becomes more difficult, it is increasingly necessary to become more virtuous rather than less, which is to say that our true enemy is the passions and their use against us by the demons.

    Anger, fear, envy, greed, and such are more dangerous than any conspiracy will ever be. They are tools of a conspiracy that has been going on since near the beginning.

    The balance, it seems to me, is this: to be aware and discerning of the denounced efforts of the globalist powers to reshape the world according to a demonic model (no matter how wonderfully they describe their intentions), while at the same time to continue, unabated, our age-old struggle against the heavenly powers that rages within our hearts.

    And above all else: not to substitute eating one another for either of those activities.

  66. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Father, Re your post on Dec 17 to Ziton, Dino and Dee: certainly the Church is built on the fullness of the local but there is also the reality of pilgrimage for a specific thing. There is bit of that here I think in addition to the evangelism going on. Of course this sort of pilgrimage does not require any effort or hardship but you certainly add a lot to my local.

    Which brings to mind the English practice of having a local pub. A place that is familiar, warm and a center of community. With our local there should be that plus hearing the Word of God preached(not just written) and being able to receive the Body and Blood of our Lord and the other Sacraments.

  67. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    The absence of local pubs in American culture is probably the source of many evils. 🙂

  68. Dino Avatar

    Thank you for the response Father, as always: pure gold, especially the last tip 🙂

  69. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    I don’t know what it’s like in Ireland now, but when my brother was married there a couple of decades back, much of the after work activities happened at the local pub. Whole families were there. The kids playing in one area drinking their pop, and the adults laughing, singing, playing instruments or discussing with their pints. It was an eye opener. America missed out.

  70. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Father, I have been watching several English detective shows particularly New Tricks. The pub is a key to sanity un those shows. They seem to understand the wisdom of Psalm 104 that wine makes glad the heart of man. My wife and son work in the winery that my brother-in-law owns. They make excellent nob-grape wined especially their Elderberry Dry Reserve. Wyldewood Cellars. I know when ever I have a glass it seems to help.

    The lack of locals seems to be part of our Calvinist legacy.

    Have you ever preached a sermon on the various ways Scripture shows how to make glad our hearts?

  71. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    I have not. I’ll file it away…

  72. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Father thank you for your level headed response to Dino’s comment. Few voices are like this and we need more.

  73. James Isaac Avatar
    James Isaac

    I wholeheartedly concur with your words of advice regarding the present distress, Father…and with your erudite analysis of things, brother Dino. The truth of things is somewhere in between full-blown coincidence and conspiracy theory. Unfortunately many seem to see others as *being* either “one of the dumb sheeple” or “a crazy conspiracy theorist” – the sad polarizing and labeling zeitgeist of our day. May God grant us grace to view all with mercy and not unrighteous judgment.

  74. James Isaac Avatar
    James Isaac

    And ranking second on the scale of “lockdown lamentations” behind the closing of churches in my neck of the woods is the closing of pubs 😢 – in my heart, at least.

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