Into the Heart of the Capitol

The love of truth is similar (and related) to the love of beauty. The truth is not found through suspicion, anger, hearsay, or such things. The truth ultimately is a gift from God and strengthens the heart. It is better, when we cannot arrive at the truth because of suspicion or such, to say, “I don’t know,” than to grasp at things we suspect or imagine.

The origin of conspiracy theories begins in a heart that cannot bear the shame of its own ignorance.

I wrote the short thought above for a post on Facebook last week as passions swirled and the various competing stories carried people along. The response was, on the whole, positive, though I was assured any number of times that conspiracies are real and that we must resist them and stand ready to fight. I was even reminded of what the Bolsheviks once did to innocent people (etc.). For myself, I remembered trying to calm an anxious/angry/crying child. Telling them to calm down is rarely effective.

Conversations on the blog are far less explosive. In the world of social media, a blog can be like a quiet meeting in a lecture hall, or seminar room, with questions, answers, and comments largely measured with self-control and thoughtfulness. Facebook is often like a shouting match in the town square. Nonetheless, if you are a preacher, you speak where people gather. St. Paul ventured onto the Areopagus, found a small audience, and left as he was derided with laughter and disbelief. He gained at least one convert – who later became a bishop.

I wanted to revisit this short post in the relative quiet of the blog in that it seemed to me to deserve greater reflection.

As far as I can gather, most people in our culture who are struggling with the passions (anger, anxiety, fear, etc.) are convinced that others are to blame. We do not believe the dividing line between good and evil to be within our own heart. Rather, it is between them and us. I was staggered this past week when things reached a crescendo at the nation’s Capitol building that, after but a moment, all of the passionate voices resumed, only at a louder pitch. We are enthralled – in the true meaning of that word – “locked in” with chains surrounding us. To my mind, this alone constitutes the present danger in our world.

The shame of our own ignorance is also coupled with the shame of our impotence. The things we fear seem beyond our ability to control, just as the things we don’t know seem to defy the transparency that alone would reassure us. As such, we are left with our fantasies.

Bearing shame is in very short supply. I can recall years ago, in attempted arguments with my devout, Baptist, Father-in-law, his amazing patience with me. His standard rejoinder to my well-honed theological critiques was, “Well, I don’t know about that.” And, he meant it. I can see now that I was always trying to draw him into my own fantasies and speculations. He tended to prefer steady, solid ground. He would have claimed to know very little – though, he was utterly consistent in walking faithfully in all he knew. It took years for me to realize that I was witness to a very profound Christian heart.

I remember that he was interested in government (as opposed to politics). He watched CSPAN for entertainment. He also attended every City Council meeting in his small town and sought to know and understand the issues of his time. He always had a small Bible with him, but also had a pocket-sized copy of the Constitution. He wondered, he told me, about capital punishment. He signed up to be a witness (12 are required at an execution) at the rather common executions of that time. He was, I think, seeking to discern what he should think. As I recall, he came to oppose the practice.

I think of such sobriety in the face of our present noisy world in which we not only boast of our opinions, but constantly repeat information that we do not actually know for ourselves, apart from having seen it on a site whose sympathies we like (or heard from someone who heard from someone). Our actions reveal the unredeemed shame of our hearts. Ignorance and impotence are rarely acknowledged. We imagine that we know when we don’t, and we think we are making a difference when we are not.

Our lives, for all of their angst, are often without substance. And for all that, we still do not weep and repent. The passions never give substance to our lives. They are like parasites on the soul, giving rise to a false self. They do not give us peace. We cannot rest in them. They contain no beauty and never satisfy us. Oftentimes, they simply leave us empty, even when the object of our passions is obtained. None of the passions represents true eros, true desire. The soul desires beauty, truth, and goodness (all of which find their utter and complete fulfillment in God Himself).

It seems to be common in our present cultural circumstance to hear that the crises confronting us are of too great a moment to pay attention to the quiet of the heart. The issues seem overwhelming in the immediacy or their goodness. That, I think, is among the great fallacies of the modern world. There are, no doubt, enormously noble ideas that people can pursue. The danger, however, is that noble ideas only take shape in very particular contexts, and that context is always the human heart.

My counsel regarding the heart was dismissed as “Quietism,” an apparently discredited version of Protestant pietism. Orthodoxy, however, is grounded in Hesychasm (a Greek word that would translate as “Quietism” or “Stillness”). It is not the discredited Protestant phenomenon, but a profound teaching that human action proceeds from the abundance of the heart (Luke 6:45) – both good and evil. It is a recognition that my heart is the source of all evil in the world. If you actually care about the world, then it is your own heart that must be addressed. This can only be done through hesychia (stillness).

I noted to someone recently that I was raised as a racist, in a deeply racist culture. I cannot exaggerate how serious this condition in the world of my Jim-Crow-South childhood was. It was horrific and evil. I can remember, however, how I came to see that it was wrong and to embrace a different way of seeing the world. That change only came about when I encountered the beauty of a heart that was free of this enchantment. It is desire (eros), drawn to beauty, that brings us to the truth and gives birth to goodness. This is the way of the Fathers.

If Orthodoxy is nothing more than an anxious voice among many, begging to be heard and believed because its description of its fears are persuasive, then it will, in the main, disappear. Alasdair MacIntyre, in a paragraph on modernity that has become famous, said that the world is waiting for a new St. Benedict. He is wrong. God is already sustaining the world by his hidden saints, and holds all things in existence through their prayers. The Orthodox faith bears witness to this and invites her children into that great reality.

I can think of no Church Father who spoke more forcefully or critically about the moral failings of his time than St. John Chrysostom. He did not hesitate to call out the Emperor, or problems within the larger Church. Eventually, his words brought about his exile. Banished to the very edge of the empire, he died in isolation. Writing to the Deaconness Olympia, his closest friend and confidant, he expressed the very heart of Orthodoxy in troubled times:

“Therefore, do not be cast down, I beseech you. For there is only one thing, Olympia, to fear, only one real temptation, and that is sin. This is the refrain that I keep chanting to you ceaselessly. For everything else is ultimately a fable – whether you speak of plots, or enmities, or deceptions, or slanders, or abuses, or accusations, or confiscations, or banishments, or sharpened swords, or high seas, or war engulfing the entire world. Whichever of these you point to, they are transitory and perishable, and they only affect mortal bodies; they cannot in any way injure the watchful soul. This is why, wishing to express the paltriness of both the good and the bad things of this present life, the blessed Paul stated the matter in one phrase, saying, ‘For the things that are seen are transient’ (2 Cor. 4:18).”  From Letter 7, Saint John Chrysostom’s Letters to Saint Olympia.

True to his own admonition, his last words before dying were: “Glory to God for all things!”


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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60 responses to “Into the Heart of the Capitol”

  1. Byron Avatar

    Thank you, Father. I have struggled, these past days and perhaps weeks (time is hard to track), with various passions. While they are unrelated to the political happenings of this time, they never-the-less produced great anxiety in me, even when fulfilled or obtained. I had no peace. This past night, as I sat and read quietly, tears of repentance came to me and God lifted these things from my heart. I cannot say how peaceful–and immensely stable–I am now as I sit and type. The quiet of the heart in God is nothing but grace. I am most thankful and greatly appreciate this post, which is very timely.

  2. Thom Bales Avatar
    Thom Bales

    Yes indeed!

  3. Dean Avatar

    Yes, the shame of my own ignorance and impotence is often hard to bear. I at times spout off to others as if I really know what’s going on in the world, or what the world needs. Your words, Father, spoke to me. Evil, as well as good, both criss-cross my heart. It truly is only in quietness and rest before Christ that I am at peace. There I am able to bear a little shame.
    And thank you, Fr. Stephen, for mentioning again your father-in-law. Your notes on his life and profound Christian heart speak to me.

  4. Brandon Avatar

    Father – thank you. ‘The origin of conspiracy theories begins in a heart that cannot bear the shame of its own ignorance.’

    I came across an anecdote by an economist years ago that I continue to meditate on – he responds to a supposed angry email correspondent who wonders ‘how he can sleep at night carrying water for corporate America’ or ‘why he does not spend his energies exposing McDonald’s greedy refusal to stop serving nasty killer foods’ and finally how he can ‘stand by idly while corporations manipulate customers needs and demands with advertising and marketing budgets bigger than most African countries’. … The economist responds by posing the question: ‘if corporations can so easily manipulate customers’ needs and demands with advertising and marketing why doesn’t McDonald’s simply serve raw celery? It would slash the company’s costs and with its nefarious ability of using advertising to hypnotize consumers into buying whatever it peddles even nasty killer foods, the fast food behemoth will keep consumers spending as much on McCelery stalks as Happy Meals and Egg McMuffins. Their profits would zoom upward.’ (essentially, it’s because we are who is buying the nasty killer foods, and we would not buy the McCelery.

    Which all brings me back to your point of the article and conspiracy theories. Perhaps they are true in one sense, in that such speculation is possible due to certain appearances, but not true in that they are consciously pre-meditated (by some big greedy moguls in the above case). In reality, the confusion lies in the many fragmented starting points we choose to speculate from, other than our own hearts. This is not to ignore the extortion of human vulnerabilities that surely exists in marketing and consumerist culture. But it is to recognize that we contribute and co-conspire, a participation of which we are generally ignorant of. But once we can recognize the false dichotomy of conspiracy (one side sees total conspiracy, the other sees nothing but normal behavior or good intentions), we can transcend it, only by descending into the heart and see that we who ‘build’ the world share the same human condition, by which the line separating good and evil runs right through every human heart.

  5. Fr. Cyprian Craig Avatar
    Fr. Cyprian Craig

    Beautiful and sober words, Fr. Stephen. The deceit we see in the world always starts with the self-deception lodged in our own hearts. Thank you for continuing to be a lighthouse.

  6. Liz Flowers Avatar
    Liz Flowers

    Thank you so much Fr. Stephen for this incredible post. It is medicine for my soul. As an Anglican Christian I feel deep grief for the tidal wave of falsehood that has arrived on our shores. The people of God entangled in confusion, anger and conspiracies theories will be swept away.

    Your remembrance of your father-in-law was beautiful. Today I am choosing the encouragement and wisdom of God in stillness. And yes, I whole heartedly agree that all the hidden saints in prayer sustain all things!

  7. Hal Freeman Avatar
    Hal Freeman

    Amen! Thank you for those thoughts.

  8. Matt Avatar

    This was exactly the commentary to today’s epistle reading that I didn’t realize needed until I read it. Thank you Father.

  9. Dan Avatar

    Thank you for this clear and good word. This is very much appreciated.

  10. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    What balm Father. By the Grace of God I have been led to the threshold of repentance and gladly testify to all that you say. Especially the pushback from friends when I testify to the Grace.
    I must say though that the tears have not been bitter but sweet and healing absent any shame.
    Yet the support for what I have been given is also being spoken. My priest on Sunday and now you.

    I want to reiterate that repentance is not confession. They are interrelated but not the same. In my experience repentance leads to confession and absolution but they are not the same.
    Jesus showed me His mercy during a 3AM bout of pain when I took up my prayer rope and began saying the Jesus Prayer.
    Joy began to bloom in my heart, tears flowed. The physical pain lessened.

    My sins are still woefully present and tearing at my person, but I am much more aware og His mercy and that it is closer than hands and feet.
    Once again, His mercy is a total gift of which I am unworthy. Yet it is real and healing.
    Reading the short essay above instigated my search for repentance.

    But over the years your words and your person have been a constant reminder of His Goodness. Thank you.

  11. James Isaac Avatar
    James Isaac

    A very timely and welcome reminder which I needed to hear! Thanks Father Stephen.

  12. Kathleen Hughes Avatar
    Kathleen Hughes

    You came to my church some time ago. I told you how much I appreciate the Midnight Song to the Theotokos, where we ask her to raise us far above the world’s confusion. I thank you for your blogs, and especially for this one. They are a great help as I seek that quietness of heart that will indeed lift me above the world’s confusion!

  13. Joseph Barabbas Theophorus Avatar

    There are lots of warning signs when we have crossed into black-and-white thinking and externalization (which is at the root of conspiratorial thinking, having more in common with co[s]mic book heroes an villains than reality), such as “Side X will fix everything!”, “Side Y just needs more power and then they will do what they said they will do [but still haven’t attempted yet]!”, and “Side Z is incapable of goodness and will never repent!”. But the battle starts *within* us, not against “them”. To that end, I developed 3 rules for debate in my micronation years ago; here is an abridged version:

    1. Keep Christ first: pray before beginning and seek Him out in the debate above all else.
    2. Hear and respect each other: give each other the time, space, and emotional support needed for the debate (and the relationship behind it!), even if it requires many years and breaks.
    3. Be honest, especially with yourself: know what it will take to change your mind and heart and be ready to accept new evidence.

    Those have so far provided a great starting point for discussion, particularly the first: a commitment to Christ is necessarily a commitment to truth, to beauty, to the messiness of the world. Goodness is found only inasmuch as something partakes of Him. I find it very telling that the Fathers speak of natural revelation (which we see a shadow of in the sciences) as a very religious experience, one that depends less on our ability to measure and understand than our ability to accept what is right in front of us, messy and misunderstood and even maddening as it may be, and offer thanks for it.

  14. Jason Seta Avatar
    Jason Seta

    Thank you, Father. I really needed to read these words today! Blessings!

  15. Mark Pendleton Avatar
    Mark Pendleton

    Dear Fr. Stephen
    First, I hesitate greatly to write what will become a “public” post. A confession, if you will, an admission. I can’t really tell you how exposed I feel. I don’t often read your blog any more and comment even less because I’m not sure how “orthodox” I am any more.
    Nevertheless… . Hesychasim sounds like a great idea, but is it is possible for “quietism” to become complacency?
    I believe that we, we humans, are in some mystical way, icons, image bearers of the living God. All are fallen, broken, the image has been marred-I don’t want to speculate on when or how (I’m exposed enough). It does seem to me that there has been an assault on us all as image bearers for ages (Henry Morris referred to it as the long war against God) and further, the the specificity to that attack has increased.
    Many of the things now before us in the public square seem to be aim at a further degradation of that image. Does quietism mean that we should not notice? Does it mean we should not oppose?
    I know of a parish in which “political” discussion was forbidden during coffee hour. Suffice it to say that politics in general isn’t a good place to look for theological ethics. Bluntly put, how can orthodox people revere icons (on the wall) and support destroying them in the flesh?
    (I have no doubt that God in His great compassion, has an eternal solution)
    Hebrews 12 speaks of pursuing both peace with all men as well as “ the sanctification without which no one will see the Lord”. I’m not a Bible scholar, but I’ve taken this to mean, not some future apocalyptic seeing, but rather a temporal one. That is to say so the Lord can be seen by means of us. Through us bearing an image being progressively restored. In other words, “not conformed to the image of this world, but transformed by the renewal of our minds”.
    I fear I’ve said too much, but I can only hope you have a sense of my dilemma.

  16. Margaret Avatar

    Thank you, Fr Stephen.

  17. Andrew Avatar

    Thank you for your words Father. I saw your post on Facebook with the quote which also concludes this article. I’ve read it several times, and will most likely read it several more. I shared it but it occurred to me almost immediately how easily misunderstood the word ‘sin’ is in our times. It seems to most often be thought of as merely some kind of moral failing, or failure to keep some rule vs. death and movement away from God. I hope I read it aright as, “For there is only one thing, Olympia, to fear, only one real temptation, and that is [turning away from God – who is Life].

  18. Dn. Silouan Avatar
    Dn. Silouan

    Where was that picture taken, Father?

  19. Dakota Baker Avatar
    Dakota Baker

    Fr. Stephen,

    I normally don’t post comments, and I wasn’t going to this time either, but I felt drawn to at least mention that I found this post very profound–if not the most foundational post of the Christian life I have read in a while.

    I say this because I was in the same place you were when arguing with your dad. I was the zealous Protestant–trust me when I say that. My name is somewhat well known in all the Christian groups at my college, but not necessarily for good reasons :). My life was built on my opinions/speculations/personal interpretations and not the wisdom handed down since the beginning. With this in mind, I challenged everyone and anyone. I was always debating (and perhaps still do a little too much. Lord have mercy). I would have “chats” with people in High School, I would debate pastors, I had the idea that it was me versus the world.

    By God’s grace, He led me to Orthodoxy and I finally got a glimpse of genuine humility and love. As you mentioned: “It is desire (eros), drawn to beauty, that brings us to the truth and gives birth to goodness.” That happened to me. When people ask me why I became Orthodox, I often can only say that I was searching for genuine Christianity, genuine humility, genuine love; and I found it in the lives of the saints and the heart of Christ’s Church: Orthodoxy (though, the theology seemed to fit my soul like a good glove. That helped too…). I have been Orthodox now for nearly 2 years and what a blessing it has been for God to slowly (and sometimes painfully) unknot my soul. By God’s grace, I’m learning when to keep my mouth shut and to be ok with not knowing something or having someone not agree with me. I find it funny because I recently went on a long hike with a buddy of mine (another zealous Protestant) and he was coming at me with the same ferocity that I used to do to him when we were both Protestants. For some of his demands, I merely stated I didn’t know. I laughed and joked with him: “Aren’t you glad I’m Orthodox? If I were still a Protestant I would be the one attacking you.”

    I’m not trying to ridicule Protestants here as 99.9999% of all people I know are Protestants (being a convert has its quirks) and probably most are more humble and righteous than I. I’m also not saying that there can’t be knowledge that some people call conspiracy and others fact; for, (just as a very basic example) Christ’s resurrection was a conspiration in the eyes of the leaders/government (Matt. 28:13). I also recognize that making this post isn’t necessarily following the example of hesychasm but may simply be me trying to “voice” my opinion and adding more noise… But, at the very least, I felt I wanted to write these words out whether anyone reads them or not.

    May we acquire the Spirit of Peace (St. Seraphim) and know when to keep our mouth shut (Sayings of St. Anthony 18) but also when to Speak the Truth in Love (Fr. Thomas Hopko).

    Lord have mercy.

  20. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Indeed, Father, thank you for these needful words.

    I echo Fr Cyprian’s comment.

    Let him who has ears hear!!

  21. Julianna Avatar

    Thank you for this. With all the muck swirling around, one feels sometimes tossed about not knowing what to think about all that goes on in all the “crazy”. This post is centering. I needed to hear it.

  22. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Joseph, a good check list. I have a simple rule that I am trying to follow everywhere too: Don’t argue.

    To argue requires that I think I know better. It requires force on my part to “overcome” the other and to ramp up the intensity of the force I am using to “win”.

    Arguing also means I am not listening and, at base, I have no respect for the other person. Instead of arguing I ask questions to find out how I miscommunicated. I do not increase the energy of my replies to “top” the other person, if fact I will intentionally lower my energy, my intensity a bit.

    If I can do it, it seems to work.

  23. Adrienne Pendleton Avatar
    Adrienne Pendleton

    Calming and steadying words in a tumultuous time. Thank you!

  24. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    The passions never give substance to our lives. They are like parasites on the soul, giving rise to a false self. They do not give us peace. We cannot rest in them. They contain no beauty and never satisfy us. Oftentimes, they simply leave us empty, even when the object of our passions is obtained.

    Father, I often think such avidity is a form of addiction. Similar to violent movies or gaming, we want to pump up our self importance and adrenaline—perhaps as an anecdote to our impotence, despondency, shame, and/or faint heartedness. Then we fill the air with our words and try to convince ourselves that what we say is righteous and that we are full and complete.

    And yes, I was that silly mother who idiotically tried to ‘tell’ my child to calm down. I lack patience. They were learning from me alright— but not what I wished them to learn.

    How do we open our minds and hearts to one another without trying to talk down or at one another?? We seem to be abound in cynicism.

    I am grateful for your sober reflections.

    May God help us that we seek our Lord in the stillness of our hearts. There is no other way to receive the peace of Christ. May the Lord have mercy and help us. And indeed, it is good to be thankful and to give glory to God for all things.

  25. Esmee La Fleur Avatar
    Esmee La Fleur

    I’m so glad you decided to expound on your Facebook post here in greater depth.

  26. Calvin Williams Avatar
    Calvin Williams

    “,,,abstain from the passions of the flesh that wage war against your soul.” – 1 Peter 2:11 RSV

  27. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Dn. Silouan,
    On Mt. Athos, just outside of St. Andrew’s Skete.

  28. Dino Avatar

    While I confess aversion to the recurrent usage of the term ‘conspiracy theorist’ (as a negative term) lately, (I’d have to consider Noah and all the Prophets as negative goes my reasoning here), I deeply appreciate your insights. They echoe the wisdom of several of our contemporary saints, particularly regarding the critical precedence of the guarding of the peace of our heart before all else. The moment that’s lost, sin, ego and faithlessness has started taking over.
    I also love how your devout Father-in-law combined a kind of ‘right’ hesychasm (and the profound faith that’s only ever rooted in such internal ‘hesychia’/peace) with the ‘right’ action (which sound like some sort of traditional, responsible involvement/’activism’) while living in the world. It sounds as if he knew that nothing which occurs in this world, is ever outside of God’s will – especially in the having that trusting sense that the ‘bad things’ that are permitted are permitted because God has foreseen something good coming out of them.
    He reminds me of both opposites of a saying Saint Paisios (a saint with a striking prophetic charisma) said more than once and many people like quoting these days. The saying is that: “in older times, if a believer became involved in or spoke much of the affairs of this world (rather than staying securely fixed upon the things of Heaven) he would be considered crazy by genuine believers. However, the times ahead”, he said, “are such that, if a believer does not become involved in or speak out on the affairs of this world he ought to be considered crazy by genuine believers”. It is clearly a difficult discernment these days, requires knowing what really matters, the depths of our impotence and yet also the depths of our benign effects when we stay unaffected by this world.
    But a figure such as you describe your Father-in-law seems to have had a bit of both of these done right.

  29. Athanasios Avatar

    @Mark Pendleton,

    While I’m not Fr. Stephen, I wanted to briefly reply after seeing your comment, as I know your struggle all too well. This past summer, I reached a breaking point. I didn’t know what to do about everything going on in our country or world, and I was casting about for some kind of fix or solution or at least hope (of a worldly kind).

    It was returning to Father’s blog and remembering why I became Orthodox in the first place that helped to center me. It was painful. I realized I was looking in all the wrong places – but it felt like they were the right places to look. I felt like I was on the “cause of rightness.” And I just wanted to see people stop suffering. I would say things like, “If I don’t do something, then I’m implicitly supporting the status quo.” Without revealing where I stand on any particular issue, I imagine we all can feel that way.

    None of this is true, though. Christ overcomes the world by being put to death by the status quo. One might even say that it is complacency that murders Him – a people who did not want what He offered to them, were afraid of it, and thus put Him to death. Yet he overcomes such things precisely by His loving endurance.

    These past six months, as I’ve tried to regain myself, have been a struggle. But there is nothing complacent about this struggle. It is a struggle to see the world in God’s hands. To pray for those around me. To love everyone I meet (even those I’m tempted to view as my enemies). To see Christ in them. To know that He is the One who sets all things right, and nothing will be set right until we give all things to Him.

    I fail constantly at these things. Hence the struggle. But it’s either Christ in all, above all, beneath all, through all – or it’s all a lie. I don’t want to spend anymore of my life participating in a lie. And I don’t believe that’s complacency. I have come to believe that it is the ultimate work that God gives us.

    I hope that helps in some small way.

    Some words of Father that helped me a great deal:

    “In truth, what is really going on is the Kingdom of God. Everything else is largely a matter of make believe. If we go and visit a graveyard, we can see the end of the public narrative. They all believed it, and now, they lie in the grave. And at this point nothing of the public narrative matters at all. There are no democrats or republicans in the grave. No rich men, no poor men. Just dead men. And the dead stand before Christ – who alone can make any difference at all. In the end, the only narrative that matters is that of the crucified and risen Christ. For, in the end, if that narrative is not true, then everything else was not worth the bother.”

  30. Albert Avatar

    I sometimes wonder why anyone puts anything on Facebook except family pictures and stories. I understand and respect the “preacher” part, and maybe if Paul were here he’d try reaching people through every possible medium– so this is not a criticism of you, Fr. Stephen. I just fear that much of our communication. technology has become “toxic” ( if I may use a term that reveals a bit of confusion on my part, or maybe as one commenter pointed out I too am addicted to internet gazing, though fortunately not posting– much). I value all of your public communications, Father, and wish I could visit your church someday. You provide lots of support as I try to live “Orthodoxicly” without being able to join in communal worship and prayer.

  31. Michelle Garrison Avatar
    Michelle Garrison

    Thank you for the beautiful words and the timely reminder. I keep hoping for more words of wisdom to help guide us through this very difficult time in history, and this is on that track. I strongly feel that your words are a perfect reminder for us as we are so tempted to allow our passions to overtake us and look outward in order to try to fix things over which we have no real influence or authority. And it distracts us from where our true power lies–with our own heart. However, like Mark Pendleton appeared to question, I am trying to process the flip side of the equation as well. It is also too easy to want to put our head in the sand, stop seeking our responsibility to stand against injustice, and become complacent especially when we fear that by doing so, we may be ridiculed, shunned, or even lose our livelihood and freedoms (which is beginning to feel like a real possibility to many of us). I think some may be consumed by supposed conspiracies because they do not want to be guilty of abetting lies or injustice especially when so much of what we are seeing does not make logical sense and feels like a lie, but we cannot explain what feels “off” about it. So we seek for some logical explanation. And on the other hand, some refuse to even entertain supposed conspiracies (even if they could be true) because they don’t want to be seen as stupid and uneducated. I know we must seek the Lord and He will give us all we need to live holy lives, and that is what I am praying for. I hope that makes sense. Again, thank you for your words. You often clarify and confirm using actual words to my mind what the Lord has already spoken to my heart in a voiceless impression.

  32. Chuck Avatar

    Thank you, Father Freeman. I am an Orthodox inquirer and was battling listlessness and despair this morning and by the Lord’s mercy, this was just the medicine I needed today.

  33. Sebastien Avatar

    Thank you Father

  34. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Not to be too didactic but the literally the word conspire means to breath together. It has taken on the meaning of plotting evil by two or more people. That actually happens. People’s acquiesence to the mind of the world and the will to power makes them inevitable. Historically some have been large and influential. The problem comes when people allow the natural occurrence of such things to dominate their social thinking instead of submitting personally and together in humility to the mercy of Christ.

    I am a bit disappointed that the Church has not declared a time of repentance and fasting in response to COVID instead of just following the prescriptions of the world. It would make discernment easier and work to reduce the fear and isolation we are feeling.

    Evil conspiracies do exist even if groups are only highly influenced by the demonic will as our political parties seem to be. But there is no worldly recourse.

    Only repentance as the Church and Father Stephen teach will overcome the world.

  35. Cleverson Avatar

    Hello, apologies in advance Father and everyone for the off topic.
    Dear Michael,

    Do you have any means of talking privately? It’s about a subject you wrote in another blog, regarding Higgs Field experiments and Our Lord’s resurrection. I tried to comment there, but apparently my comment hasn’t been approved.


  36. Esmee La Fleur Avatar
    Esmee La Fleur

    Michael – The Church Herself may not have official declared this a time of prayer and repentance, but many voices from within the Church are certainly urging us to see it as such. This recent post by Hieromonk Gabriel is one recent example.

    And much to his credit, my own priest Fr. Lawrence Margitich has been consistently offering the same message through his weekly homilies and private email epistles to our parish. He posted these powerful words just a few days ago (hopefully he won’t be upset at me for sharing them here with you!) …

    “Last week was without doubt one of the most disturbing weeks in modern times. I don’t need to offer you any commentary on this, or make so-called eloquent statements of condemnation and shock.”

    “Our response as Orthodox Christians? First, and always, pray–not because God is on “our side” or whatever, in that secular sense. We pray because “God is with us” — God incarnate in Christ the Word, destroying death and sin and the tyranny of the devil by means of the Cross and His resurrection. But we have to enter into that victory (the word “Gospel” means a victory), and enter into it DAILY with our love for God, for our neighbor, for those who hate us, by prayer, fasting and works of mercy. Yes, write your congressperson or senator, certainly, but, goodness, if you’re looking for wisdom, consolation and direction, don’t get sucked into social media—the very nature of it is manipulative!”

    “I recommend that we all spend as much time (more!) reading the Scriptures and spiritual books and praying as we do looking at the news and offering our own opinions. Keep in mind that we read the Scriptures, not for “information,” but as part of praying, [art of our communing with the Lord, in that reading we allow Him to speak to us. However, also keep in mind that our minds, hearts and soul, our “nous,” needs to heal from all the distraction, noise and fragmentation caused by our modern technology and spiritual ADD—only THEN can we hear what the Lord has to say. We have all experienced the numbness of soul, you know what I mean, I think. Christ can heal that, but let Him.”

  37. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Good words to read this morning, thank you Esmee!

  38. Ethan Avatar

    Hello Father Stephen,

    First off, thank you for your posts. They’ve been an important guide for me for a long time now.

    Second, do you mind if I use a few statements you make in this blog post for a fiction book I’m writing? They articulate something I’ve been trying to get at for a bit.

  39. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Whatever you find useful!

  40. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Indeed Esmee. Thank you.

  41. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Cleverson, ask Dee. Her testimony shared here continues to thrill me and touch my heart. I am deeply grateful to her.

  42. Cleverson Avatar

    OK, so dear Dee, since you have posted some comments here, I supose you are reading this? Can I write you privately by an e-mail or other channel so as to stop off topics here?

    Obs.: I’m not a native Ennglish speaker, so forgive any mistake please.


  43. Joseph Avatar

    You said “Our lives, for all of their angst, are often without substance.” Or as Shakespeare said:

    “Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player,
    That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
    And then is heard no more. It is a tale
    Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
    Signifying nothing.”

    That comes from “Macbeth”, which is about a general who kills a king in his castle after inviting him in. I think there are parallels that can be drawn between the rioters, Macbeth, the castle, and the Capitol. We ourselves are the greatest thing we must work on. John Chrysostom saw that I think, because of the fallen human condition. We oftentimes can’t see past our own selves. Our heart leads us to wickedness, to thinking that rioting and hurting others will solve anything, but truly it’s only God who can save.

  44. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Dear Michael,
    I’m grateful for you and your words that you write to me and others here on this blog. I learn a lot from you but I don’t always express my sincere appreciation for your words openly.

    I’ve communicated with Cleverson because of your encouragement. It’s interesting when I first starting writing on this blog a few years ago, I was more at ease to write about the Higgs Field than I am now. This is not to say that I have stopped loving the physics–from from that. Over these years I’ve been immersed in Orthodox theology as much as my time allows. And it seems now, more than ever, the longer I have lived in Christ, the more the Lord reveals to me that this life is a Mystery that we can hardly fathom. Indeed glory to God for all things. As we say in the Trisagion prayers, He is in all places and fills all things.

  45. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Dear Father,
    I also want to say that I enjoy this picture of you! There is an element of bemused surprise your expression.

    The “real” capitol is on Mt Athos isn’t it?

  46. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    That is, it might be the real capitol after ‘the heart’!

  47. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Dee, I can say the same thing for you. The centrality in creation of the death and resurrection of our Lord is a glorious thing. I get so tired by the folks saying variations on the theme that “science” show that “religion” is false. Particularly Christianity.

  48. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Dee, I also understand why you are reticent to share the experience. There is this idea prevalent among certain Orthodox that one does not share one’s direct experience of Jesus, Mary, the angels and saints. There are times when they are right but if there were a blanket ban on such things, we would not have a Church.

    The sharing of such experiences should not be used to exalt the recipient or contradict Church teaching. Such experiences should always be submitted to one’s priest following what Saul/Paul was told to do.

    God is with us. Blessed be the name of the Lord.

  49. Ethan Avatar

    Thank you, Father!

  50. Anonymo Avatar

    Dakota Baker,

    Thankyou for writing your comment and sharing this in particular, “May we acquire the Spirit of Peace (St. Seraphim) and know when to keep our mouth shut (Sayings of St. Anthony 18) but also when to Speak the Truth in Love (Fr. Thomas Hopko)”. I myself feel led to err on the side of prioritising speaking the truth in love. I can see this is largely because of my life experiences and acquired wisdom. When you speak of your life experience it makes sense you might prioritise the other two. God knows best how to prune us to bear greater fruit.

  51. Tatiana M Fisk Avatar
    Tatiana M Fisk

    Oh, Father, thank you so much for this. My heart has been suffering, the anxiety has been so bad. This blog says much better than what I’ve wrote and said recently. It’s not just “them”, we need to remind ourselves it’s us too. I’ve fallen many times in pride. I got rid of Facebook a while ago, so I don’t know exactly what people are saying. but I do hear a lot of it isn’t good. I have had to remind myself many times that good and evil do go down the heart of every human. And I must repent, If any good has come of any of this, I have been doing everything I can to get closer to God, trusting in him fully.

    Your words are a great comfort in these trying times.

  52. Tatiana M Fisk Avatar
    Tatiana M Fisk

    We cannot stop evil until we stop the evil that resides in our own hearts.

    “It is not an external enemy we dread. Our foe is shut up inside ourselves. An internal warfare is daily waged by us.” ~ St. John Cassian

  53. mary benton Avatar
    mary benton

    Thank you, Fr. Stephen. It is challenging to find inner quiet these days. I feel a responsibility to stay informed (because of my profession) but then I descend into the world of many words – instead of resting in the one Word.
    I need to paint icons so that I can silently enter into beauty and truth.

    (I haven’t commented here in quite awhile. So wonderful to “see” all of you. I wish everyone peace. +Please pray for me as I pray for you.)

  54. Janette Reget Avatar
    Janette Reget

    Thank you this post, and thank you to all those who posted comments. As I read these things, it occurred to me that maybe discernment is needed to find the truth and stillness is needed to meditate on the truth. Conspiracies do exist, yes, but discernment helps us recognize if they are true or not.

  55. hélène d. Avatar
    hélène d.

    I thank you, P.Stephen for this “vitality” which emanates from your meditations and which always opens up areas for research. What joy to be carried by this !
    What a blessing to read these words of St. John Chrysostom at St. Olympia !
    Having already read them several years ago, they strike me hard today !
    I was also touched by these words, a few days ago, from Bishop Onuphry, from Ukraine, who said this :
    “The Truth does not cease to be the Truth, even if it is confessed by one person. The power of the Truth does not lie in the number of people who stand up for it, but the Truth itself has power. When a person confesses the Truth and everyone is lying, this person is stronger than everyone “.
    Let us immerse ourselves in the Truth, which is woven with Beauty and Goodness !

  56. Nicole from VA Avatar
    Nicole from VA

    my son very rightly pointed out that ‘there is no number even near infinity’

    when you think you’ve gotten close to it you have made a mistake. The immeasurability of it makes everything else seem small

    I love the theme of assymptotics in math, to be able to get closer and closer to without ever touching. For a specific equation there can be asymptotes either above or below, a trend towards a fixed bar above or below

    The graph of 1/x endlessly gets closer to the value 0 as you put in larger and larger values of x. It moves closer to but never touches 0, for example getting smaller from 1/6 to 1/7 to 1/8 for the x values 6, 7, then 8. As the values of x get larger the values of 1/x get smaller. It asymptotically approaches 0

    And politics looks like the highest aspiration for a human life, and is not. It is like a large number that itself is really no where near infinity. The tragedy of seductive politics is that the work of the heart for a human life is exceedingly abundantly more valuable, yet it can be forgotten as we are invited to design and control instead

    I have my hypothesis about St. Nathaniel. I had heard there was a Hebrew saying (approximately) ‘for every man his own fig tree’ for contemplation, for sitting under at rest and learning about God. I think Nathaniel had come to terms with never getting to be high up in the religious class. I think when Jesus said to him (approximate quote again) ‘This morning I saw you under the fig tree’ it was that Nathaniel had realized there was one in his heart that he could access while he did his work as a fisherman, and that Jesus must have seen his heart and knew his desire to be with God in this life. It gives me hope

  57. Dan Avatar

    I very randomly reread Father Stephen’s article “With envy and justice for all” (the link above). I don’t know precisely how, but it does seem to fit with this article. Perhaps it is because much of politics and the world seems to be envy in action, and that the natural tendency seems to be to hold the other in suspicion – at least in our current times. Anyways, my thoughts aren’t all that important… Thank you Father for the good word.

  58. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Dan, your thoughts are important because you are, at least to God. They maybe right or wrong or sinful but they are important.

  59. Chuck Hill Avatar
    Chuck Hill

    That view of the last temptation is completely new to me. It seems as if Satan kept his most powerful and deceptive temptation for last.
    Thank you for this perspective Father Stephen.

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