A Beautiful Heart – The Acquisition of Grace

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Phil 4:8


Some people tell me that they are scandalized because they see many things wrong in the Church. I tell them that if you ask a fly, “Are there any flowers in this area?” it will say, “I don’t know about flowers, but over there in that heap of rubbish you can find all the filth you want.” And it will go on to list all the unclean things it has been to.

Now, if you ask a honeybee, “Have you seen any unclean things in this area?” it will reply, “Unclean things? No, I have not seen any; the place here is full of the most fragrant flowers.” And it will go on to name all the flowers of the garden or the meadow.

You see, the fly only knows where the unclean things are, while the honeybee knows where the beautiful iris or hyacinth is.

As I have come to understand, some people resemble the honeybee and some resemble the fly. Those who resemble the fly seek to find evil in every circumstance and are preoccupied with it; they see no good anywhere. But those who resemble the honeybee only see the good in everything they see. The stupid person thinks stupidly and takes everything in the wrong way, whereas the person who has good thoughts, no matter what he sees, no matter what you tell him, maintains a positive and good thought. – St. Paisios

America in the 19th century was a hotbed of new ideas. The nation was moving quickly from its original agrarian roots towards becoming a great industrial giant. It was the land of invention and the creation of wealth. Seemingly inexhaustible resources invited the world to its shores to join the great modern experiment. America was not Europe and it felt no need to uphold the past. New was good, indeed, new was better.

Among the “new” things of that era were new religious ideas. An interesting group of those ideas fall under the heading of the powers of the mind. It was the great century of electricity and it seems only inevitable that such a force would become a power image for spiritual energy. Already in the late 1700’s, there arose “electrotherapists.” One such physician, T. Gale of upstate New York, who used electricity for the cure of mental and physical diseases, described it as the “soul of the universe.”

For Gale, his fellow electrotherapists, and their numerous patients, electricity was a material current of divine love; matter and spirit, nature and grace, were different aspects of a single reality. God, for Gale, was the “spiritual sun” whose love was “spiritual nutrition”; electricity was that spiritual substance in material form, “participation of the same element as the natural sun diffused through all the natural world.” There was, in Gale’s view, “no animation in the natural world” except by the heat of the “ethereal fire.” Echoing [Jonathan] Edwards, Gale believed that the discovery of electricity and its divine healing properties augured a worldwide Christian millennium. (McCarraher, The Enchantments of Mammon, p. 136)

Another figure of note was Phineas Quimby (1802-1866). He was fascinated with electricity – but also with “mesmerism,” and “positive thinking.” He is considered one of the founders of “New Thought.” Among his patients were Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of Christian Science. The historical threads that connect such figures to healing ministries (such as John Alexander Dowie, the founder of Zion, Illinois) as well as various movements (including Pentecostalism and the various “revivals” of that century) are an interesting trip through the backroads of American culture. Most of the present incarnations or inheritors of these movements have cleansed their histories and present a very different account of themselves. Nevertheless, when a televangelist throws the Holy Spirit like a baseball, knocking rows of people to the ground, he stands firmly in a tradition that goes back to these very roots.

It is with this background in mind that I offer some observations on the importance of thoughts in the Orthodox spiritual tradition. The small story from the life of St. Paisios points towards the importance of good thoughts, as does St. Paul’s admonition in Philippians. There is also the book on the life of the Elder Thaddeus of Serbia entitled, Our Thoughts Determine Our Lives. Heard in the wrong way, such admonitions easily sound like an Orthodox version of positive thinking. However, the object of such admonitions and examples is not on the thoughts themselves, but on the heart.

I often think that in our contemporary times we are tempted to become “electric Christians.” We “send out thoughts and prayers” as though they were radio signals. We gather as many people who will agree to join us in prayer as though its power and effectiveness were somehow increased if more people “generate” it. It is a powerful image, and our thoughts in that direction are not intentionally wrong. But prayer and matters of the Spirit are not electrical forces (nor even like electrical forces). The Holy Spirit is quite silent for the most part (Jn. 16:13). Nevertheless, the Spirit is a person – not a force to be used. It is not for us to create such false images in an effort to explain what cannot be known.

The admonitions regarding our thoughts are not about the thoughts as such. Rather, they are about the state of our hearts. The heart that is filled with beauty, that considers God above all things, is an oasis for a world thirsting in ignorance. The presence of an abundant heart creates a possibility for those around it, a resource of grace if they choose to receive it.

We have many examples of the opposite. Angry words beget angry words and actions. Hopelessness and suspicion easily spread across a population. Scandal and slander, gossip and dark thoughts towards others, all create a heart that becomes a home for darkness. Such things do not radiate out like a force, but, in our globally-connected world, they are shared all too often and find welcome homes within others. All of us are far more easily prey to such things than we might imagine. As such, we do well to pay attention to our heart and to the things that we nurture there.

St. Paul is quite clear: naming what is true, honorable, just, pure, and lovely, he says, “Think on these things.” This is a conscious effort that often proves to be a battle. A number of the Fathers even suggest that we “make excuses” for our enemies so that we might think well of them, also.

Christ said:

A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart brings forth evil. For out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks. (Lk. 6:45)

St. Macarius noted:

As the eye is little beyond all the members, and yet contains the heaven, the stars, the sun, the moon, cities, and other creatures; for all these are seen under one, are formed and imagined in the pupil of the eye. Thus also the heart is a little vessel. And yet there are dragons, and there are lions, the poisonous beasts, and all the treasures of wickedness, and there are rugged ways, and precipices. In like manner there is GOD, there are the angels; there is the life and the kingdom; there is the light, there are the treasures of grace: there are all things. (H.18.9)

There are 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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45 responses to “A Beautiful Heart – The Acquisition of Grace”

  1. Allen Avatar

    This is a subject with which I struggle greatly. In my modern mind growing up in the protestant world, when I see words on positive thoughts, my mind goes to the typical Norman Vincent Peale “The power of positive thinking” along with its descendants in the late 20th century. Yet, it seems the Fathers and Saints are talking of something very different.

  2. Kay Harkins Avatar
    Kay Harkins

    I so appreciated this message today, Father Stephen. Coincidentally (or not) I also ready this quote from St. Porphyrios that offers another fresh perspective on these desires to share the love of God through our prayers.
    “The secret is our prayer and our devotion to God so that His grace may act. We, with our love, with our fervent desire for the love of God, will attract grace so that it washes over those around us and awakens them to divine love. Or rather God will send His love and will rouse them all. What we are unable to do, His grace will achieve. With our prayers we will make all worthy of God’s grace.” St. Porphryrios

  3. Paul Avatar

    Father, I fear that heresy of positive thinking has been replaced by heresy of total hatred. The dominant American focus seems to now be negativity, total hatred. America is now the oppressed versus the oppressor. One side must “win” and “then everything wil be good”. Of course good is personal, totally subjective, as is the truth. Each person has their own truth, but all share in a common hate. Carl Schmitt, Antonio Gramschi and Paul-Michel Foucault are the apostles of the new secular relgion that dominates the political and social landscape. I say religion because these philosophers have “true believers” whose lives are dominated by these beliefs. It guides their decisions, it frames how they see the world and themselves. It is demonic.

  4. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    The various versions of critical theory are rooted in an analysis that says everything is about power. In that line of thought, anger can be useful as a way of projecting power, etc. It is an insidious set of theories that acts as poison in the heart and in the wider culture. It cannot be out argued because arguments are only seen as tools of power. I first encountered all of this years ago when I was in grad school at Duke. At the time, it was not yet dominant. Today, it is, and has spread to the wider culture.

    On the other hand, the media magnifies any of its aggressions because it serves the need of the media for everyone to be stirred up (pro and con). All of our passions create money. Make no mistake, it’s all about money. Not yours, but someone elses.

    The best thing to do for a Chrisian life is, as much as possible, withdraw from these conversations, withdraw from worrying about these things (they are beyond our control). As many paraphrase St. Paisios, “Be the Bee.” Always hold before your mind the image of Christ’s Pascha. He descends into hell to get us out. Even though certain forces in the world seek to build hell among us – it is not immune to Christ’s Pascha.

    Give heed to St. Paul’s words. That it is a very, very hard thing to do only tells you that it brings us to the place where the real battle is enjoined. It’s easy to be angry. It’s difficult to think on the good, the true, the beautiful. Do the difficult thing.

  5. Nancy A Holloway Avatar
    Nancy A Holloway

    I wish you would write about intercessory prayer for others. I know and believe it is not sending out electrical energy but aren’t to ask others to join us in prayer for those we love? I”ve seen miracles result from asking God to enter the hearts of loved ones and move them closer to him after asking others to join me in prayer.
    Please discussion this further. Thanks.

  6. Marjorie Osterhoudt Avatar
    Marjorie Osterhoudt

    Father, thank you for this reminder this morning; it is balm for my heart.
    I am re-reading The Hiding Place, and I think Corrie ten Boom’s sister, Betsie, is a good example of a Bee, and remarkable things “happen” as a result.

  7. K Avatar

    Thank you for these beautiful thoughts. It reminds me also of the writer to the Hebrews’ words to “consider Jesus”… reflect on, take joy in, give thanks for, place our hope in, commune with Jesus … so that we properly understand and imagine and live our lives in hope, praise, thanks, confession, trust, service…. I like your point that reflecting on true things is not simply our thoughts but our hearts, we might say joining our thoughts to thanks and heart worship in our places of need.

  8. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    I will give some thought to writing more at length on this. Christ promises “where 2 or 3 are gathered, there am I in the midst of them.” When He said this, He was, in effect, lowering the minimum number for collective prayer. In Jewish practice, the minimum number (a “minyan”) was 10 males. Christ lowers this to 2, without gender distinction. This is interesting because its instinct is just the opposite of getting as many to pray as possible.

    It has become a common, pious practice to get more and more people praying. Interestingly, the Scriptures point to a single righteous person: “The prayer of a righteous man avails much.” James 5:16

    I have long been troubled by the notion of the need to get many people praying for something. Every way I think about it – it seems to imply something that is incorrect. But, I’ll give more thought to a longer, more considered article.

  9. Panayiota Avatar

    Thank you for this article Father Stephen. I chuckle when someone tells me to think positive thoughts. Admittedly, my natural disposition can side on a more depressed one. I must however admit my curiosity regarding energy. Is it right to think about a person radiating a certain energy?

  10. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Father, even though St. Gregory Palamas speaks of “the energies of God” it is a mistake to equate such energies with essentially disembodied force. Everything in our interaction with the Three Persons is Incarnational, I think. Embodied in some way. Faith is substance according to St. Paul.

    Mercy, grace and other Godly energies are actually of much greater substance than anything in the physical world. They certainly are not just feelings, even less sentiment. Even electricity has mass.

    It is critical to realize that all of the Science of Mind type stuff and the Pentecostal phenomena have the occult as foundation. The occult, for all its hype, histrionics and promises is without substance. It is illusion. The insubstantial promise of power. Even at its most terrible, it is wholly unreal. Nonetheless, if we give the occult reality through our own desires, it can do great damage. The indulgence in The Will to Power has indeed brought about the Transvaluation of All Values as Nietzsche hoped. Still Jesus Christ has trampled it all under foot. The war is won for those who choose life, even if that substance is not yet fully manifest in my heart.

    There is nothing occult about prayer, but there is temptation to confuse it as such. Prayer, even for others, that is without the substance of mercy in my own heart is not fully real.

  11. Hal Freeman Avatar

    Appreciate your thoughts and observations so much! It was one of those “Divine Coincidence”moments for me. I am currently re-reading, “Turning the Heart to God,” by St Theophan the Recluse. My chapter for tomorrow morning is, “Acquiring the Gift of Awakening Grace.” When I saw your title I thought, “Wow.”

  12. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    I think there’s something to a certain radiating of energy, but I would be hesitant to make too much of it.

  13. Panayiota Avatar

    I like that you said ” there is nothing occult about prayer, but there is temptation to confuse it as such. “

  14. Nancy A Holloway Avatar
    Nancy A Holloway

    I’m really confused about your saying only one or maybe two/three should be praying for something.
    OUr priest every Sunday puts in the bulletin a list of people who are sick/needy who need the prayers of the entire flock. Also the deacon (maybe you would consider him the one?) offers up prayers for peace, the churches, the union of all, etc . Shouldn’t the flock be joining him in these prayers?

  15. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Sorry to have created any confusion – but you misunderstand my meaning. When we pray as the Church – obviously the whole Church prays (for the whole Church is “one”). I have in mind a kind of anxious take on prayer where we work to gather as many people, far and wide, to pray for something, as though having more people pray is somehow more effective than a few, or even a single, righteous one.

    Even on Sundays, as the whole Church gathers and prays as one, it is not our numbers that make the prayers effective (else large parishes would be more effective than small).

    The larger issue in our common prayers is our life together as a single communion in the life of Christ. It is not that our common prayers are more effective (for the point of prayer isn’t to get what we ask for). The point of prayer is communion in the life of Christ. In that communion of life, we unite ourselves with one another, with the saints, and with Christ. In that, we commit our whole selves and all that concerns us. We offer those concerns up, in love, to the love of God in Christ. And we give thanks for all things, always, and everywhere.

    So, our commonality in prayer is important, but not for the reason of convincing God, or exercising power. It is for the purpose of our common life in God, the Giver of every perfect gift.

  16. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    I have found that there is a community that forms around special common prayer for someone that is, in a sense, a parish of sorts.

  17. Brandon Avatar

    Father – thank you. I’m also reminded of the Lord’s word to St. Silouan (Keep Thy Mind in Hell [and the heart] and Despair Not)). “Archimandrite Sophrony believed that the word given to Silouan was a gift of God’s divine providence. The Lord deigned to provide mankind with a spiritual counterbalance to the danger of complete annihilation contained in Einstein’s scientific discovery. These two events approximately coincided in time. That is to say, the providence of God gave Einstein the formula by which all matter can be transformed into energy (E = mc^2). But this also implies the danger of complete destruction of the universe. At the same time, God gave Silouan this word that counterbalances this danger and this fear. That is to say, a man who is ready to place himself in the downward way of the Lord, will not even be affected by this fear.” – Archimandrite Zacharias – The Enlargement of the Heart.

    And concerning the number of people praying together – we can also remember St. Silouan for being able to pray for the entire world by himself, in the truest sense. Silouan’s way is about the opposite of sending out signals, but rather a de-signaling, which brings forth a true signal – that of the Holy Spirit.

  18. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Your comment provides an interesting reflection on the juxtaposition of self annihilation and communion with Christ and His Church.

    I sense the urgency with which we see these things. Also, it seems we have been on this tack of unintended death for some time beyond the events of this past century. Beauty remains nevertheless. And while sometimes it is very difficult to do (despair not), with God’s help, I’m grateful to God for all things.

  19. Maria Avatar

    Thank you. This was balm to my heart in the current state of things.
    Father Stephen can you further elaborate on Christian Science? I have a friend (very intelligent person) who is very attracted to it and it would help to know what it is and why it is a problem. I know it is one of many religious ideas cooked up by individuals.

  20. Patricia Avatar

    Michael . . . to quote you, ” . . . Science of Mind type stuff and the Pentecostal phenomena have the occult as foundation.” I don’t look back on my 20 years of Evangelical wanderings and believe for a second that I was involved in the “occult.” Some of my most precious experiences with the Holy Spirit , albeit as a young Christian, drew me closer to Christ, not further from Him. If anything, it was the Evangelical quest for power that turned my spiritual journey towards Orthodoxy. Having now been Orthodox longer than I was an Evangelical, I look back on these moments with acknowledgment of God’s Grace and Mercy in my life . .. maybe He was entertaining my illusions or participating in them in some way, to give me a glimpse of something more. And that something more was found in the truth I found in Orthodoxy. I am grateful for my many evangelical experiences and “phenomena” . . . and more grateful for being able to see and live beyond it. But, I was not serving the occult during that time . . . never have and never will. God’s Grace and Love has covered the multitude of my wanderings by leading me to TRUTH.

  21. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Patricia, I may have the identity wrong, forgive me. Certainly typical evangelical denominations do not fit the bill. I am referring to those that claim personal ‘power’ over demons, serpents and special knowledge due to spiritual attainment.

    Jesus Christ certainly has authority and saints and others are given gifts but it is not expressed the same way. Only as a gift of which the saint is not worthy. The healing through the intercessions comes frequently through people who were martyrs in this life. St. Nectarius for instance died of cancer in a cancer ward. The nurse cleaning his bed after his body had been removed placed his sweater that he wore while dying on thr occupied bed next to his. That lady was healed.

    Any time personal power is promoted especially through attainment, the occult is a part. Where you see repentance, humility and suffering, that is more apt to be “of The Cross.”

    I learned the hard way.

  22. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Michael and Patricia,
    I think Michael overstates his case. When I see the word “occult” I take that to mean “of the devil, or having to do with demonic powers.” That’s simply untrue of Pentecostalism. There are many Pentecostals whom I’ve known who are fine Christians – as I would say are Evangelicals, as well. What I would say is that both have particular temptations towards certain errors – Pentecostalism has a long history of delusional claims about certain things and does not “police” those claims at all well. Evangelicals have their own tendencies, but that is such a broad category that it’s too large to elaborate on.

    Having said that, I would quickly add that Orthodox Christianity is not immune from problems. All of the great classical heresies came out of Orthodox Christianity (particularly when we were the only form of Christianity). There is no promise to us in Scripture that we cannot err, nor that we will be free from schism, etc. In fact, the Scriptures warn just the opposite.

    Delusion is not uncommon in Orthodoxy. Indeed, it is so common that St. Ignatius Brianchaninov wrote his famous book, The Arena, in order to warn monastics about various common delusions.

  23. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Among your readers, Father, I’m one who probably holds the strongest negative visceral reaction to Protestant behaviorisms and expressions as those found among Pentecostals, Evangelicals, Reform, etc. In my encounters with those who openly (and more often than not, aggressively) made their confessions known, there have been few who exhibited what appeared to be a ‘true’ Christian life. Perhaps this was due to the trajectory of my life (I would not step into a Church of any sort for a very long time) or for whatever reasons, in the path of my life such encounters of what I might now call authentic Christians were very few. It seemed to me that their beliefs and lives based on them were about miles wide and an inch deep.

    But having said this, it doesn’t mean that the Orthodox get an easy pass either. It seems that some Orthodox fall into the same traps (or into their former traps) into which the Protestants are vulnerable. I’m in no position to judge, I’m a sinner. Indeed I have enough work ahead of me to get the log out of my own eye. It is my hope and prayer that I might, with the help of God, be more like the bee and less like the fly.

  24. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Our reactions in these matters is drawn from our experiences. Having been an Episcopal priest for nearly 20 years, I suppose I have more background on some of this than others who comment. There was good and bad. It was Anglicans who pointed me towards Orthodoxy. It was a British Methodist who guided my studies at Duke. It was in a small, country Baptist Church that I first learned about Jesus. I could cite my own difficult experiences – but – I have to say that I’ve had more personal unpleasantness at the hands of Orthodox brothers or sisters than almost any other group – but, I’ve spent the most time among them, and also in a very visible and public form.

    I’ve known profound Christians and shallow alike from every sort of background. I believe that the Orthodox Church is the true, historical Church in full communion and continuity with the Church of the Apostles. But, as I often note, that only makes it what it is, not what it should be.

  25. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    This article also applies to what we seek on the internet. If we look for [bad things], we’ll find it.

  26. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Please forgive me Father! I’ll be more circumspect next time.

  27. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    It was the fly in me talking! 😊

  28. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Forgive me if I was overstating things. I have been through a lot of errors just to get to the Church. Each of them hurt, many of them deeply or hurt people I loved. Some in the Church Herself. I have stayed the course for two reasons: I am stubborn and I have experienced mercy in the Church because of the actual presence of Our Lord in the Church. The presence and mercy are not based on personalities which are often difficult as anywhere else– mine especially. What I have begun to experience is my willingness to repent, as shallow as it is, covers many sins. So I do mean it when I ask forgiveness of those here and our Lord, Jesus Christ

    Hurt, confusion, even betrayal will occur, but He is always there and available through prayer, devotion and participation in the Sacraments.

    My stubbornness has helped me to return to Him and to the Church many times. I have not yet learned to give thanks for all the people and all the errors yet. By His Grace, that may come. Depends on how soft I allow my heart to become.

    Please do not allow my personality to stand in the way of coming to the Church.

  29. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    God strengthen us all!

  30. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    … and He does.

  31. Ioana Avatar

    So father, that you should be a bee when it comes to the outside world, that is quite clear. Our only responsibility is to love, not to sort out or fix all the imperfections of the world. Simply because I’ve noticed that we often get things wrong and what seems bad to us is in fact good. And the other way around. But how about our own hearts? Should we be bees, flies, both or none of the above? Some people, in their effort to clean their hearts, tend to be very active in identifying passions and sins, sometimes true, sometimes imagined, as you would expect from modern people. Others have the gift of ignoring the filth until it explodes. Others, only God knows how, manage to do both these things and get all confused. 🙂

  32. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Yours is an extremely good question. As far as our own selves go – foremost, we should give thanks always and for all things, even, in what might seem strange, to give God thanks that we fall (not that He is the source of our falling, but that He receives our repentance). That, if you will (the giving of thanks) is the great “honey of the soul.” The devil hates the very sound of thanksgiving (for he will not or cannot give thanks). So, when we give thanks it is a great victory.

    It is possible to spend time searching for our faults – and I think that can create a sort of morbid soul. In general, it’s good to let God be the one in charge of fault-finding. In my experience, it seems that circumstances tend to work in such a way that they reveal my sins to me, and then I can repent and confess them. It’s good to have a healthy routine of regular confession (however that works out with your confessor). But fault-finding is not the right or primary work of the soul. Giving thanks is our primary work – always and at all times.

    Also, it is the case that this doesn’t always seem to work well. We “explode” as you describe it. Or, we fail in some other way. But, since God is good and He is the joy and anchor of our souls, we do not have to let such failures de-rail us. If you will, we should be fools for Christ. It’s the wise who are taken in their own conceits.

    I pray that all that isn’t confusing.

  33. Ioana Avatar

    No, not confusing. Or at least I hope not. I heard: “give thanks, get up, keep walking and let Him show you the way”. Don’t run around like crazy. Also thanking you, father. 4 am in Romania and birds have been up for a while.

  34. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Is there a difference between “good” thoughts, Godly thoughts and repentant thoughts? It seems to me that to live a life of repentance I must clearly recognize the evil thoughts and actions in my life and those that are simply sinful or wrong.

    The “positive thinkers” seem to say: “Ignore all that, it is not real.”

    Certainly the ultimate reality of such things is questionable, in our day to day lives, evil and bad thoughts exist and have influence.

    Repentance demands that I recognize that limited reality and that, often, I am powerless to bring life into their midst. In confession, I often do just that.

    The life of God is both real and infinitely greater, by His mercy, but there is, for the moment, a real existence of evil.

    Too much of “positive thinking” ignores that. Both the fly and the bee are correct. If I become a lazy gardener, the flies and other beasts of destruction can overwhelm and drive the bees out.

    Do we not still have to recognize the existence of garbage and act, in hope of mercy, to limit their spread?

  35. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    The Scriptures tell us, “Overcome evil by doing good.” The difficulty in fighting thoughts (bad ones) is that you cannot have “no thoughts.” Not thinking something is an exercise in futility. The only way to overcome tempting thoughts, or sinful thoughts, is to put healthy things in their place.

    The simple fact is that the vast preponderance of the world around us is good. Creation is good and teeming with life. It is only goodness that sustains existence (evil can contribute nothing to existence). Given that we are surrounded with things that exist, we are thus surrounded by goodness. Evil, including evil thoughts, are always parasites. Nothing more.

    “Positive thinking” is not a wrong instinct – but it’s an insufficient description of the Christian life.

    I hear, forgive me, in the work to “recognize the existence of garbage and act, in hope of mercy, to limit their spread” mostly echoes of the culture wars. Make a list of the commandments of Christ. It’s all pretty positive and directs our attention towards the doing of the next good thing. Since we do so badly with our own thoughts, how do we imagine ourselves to be able to deal with other people’s thoughts? To say that flies and bees are both necessary is tantamount to saying that there must be evil in the world (using St. Paisios’ analogy). Let the bacteria do their job. Make honey instead.

    Frankly, I have seen almost no life-giving come from the work of those who attend to the garbage. I have used the image of “border collies of Orthodoxy” before. They pay such attention to the borders that they never manage to live in the sweetness of the middle. They are anxious, angry, distracted, and fearful. It’s not a healthy way to live. If we attend to that which is good (as in the commandment given by St. Paul in Philippians) the battle will take care of itself.

  36. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Father, you would be right on “the culture wars” if I were talking about exterior action, I am not. I am talking about the act of repentance, both Sacramentally and in daily prayer and supplication. What is The Jesus Prayer but a recognition of my own powerlessness over the sin that inhabits my life and the actions I too often take in accord with that sin or in reaction to sin, not to mention the daily pain of those closest to me, physical pain.

    In a sense does not all pain emminate from my arrogance and sin?

    I have little power over it. Some of it appears to reside in my very DNA–generational sin that I inherited and, unfortunately, passed on.

    God’s mercy covers everything, transforming all, if I allow it to. I saw my late wife forgiven as she died and Ressurrected by Jesus Christ. It is His mercy that overcomes the darkness and His mercy alone. But I, for one, find great solace in submitting my garbage to that mercy. A mercy which has more substance than anything else I know. But to avail myself of that substance fully, I cannot just ignore the ultimately insubstantial evil that is in me and around me. Especially as some I love seem to be inundated by it in such a way that it seems more real than life many times.

    An innundation that I am partly responsible for. So, I cry out in the middle if the night imploring the substance of His mercy won for us on The Cross around which I am sure there were many flies.

  37. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Oh, by the way, I know that somewhere in the midst of the unavoidable garbage and flies is Joy. Why, because of the Ressurection that I saw in my wife’s garbage encrusted death. Many people do not but it was a gift Jesus gave me.

    Christ is Risen, trampling down death by death and upon those in the tomb bestowing life. In this life, to a certain extent, we are all entombed. The miracle is that, as real as the tomb is, He overcomes it, sometimes even if I resist.

    The priesthood in which you share is a central part of that miracle and mercy. “Blessed is the Kingdom” indeed.
    By your prayers, Father!

  38. TimOfTheNorth Avatar

    Your words have been a balm this morning.
    “Creation is good and teeming with life.”
    As I struggle with anxiety and shame today, I look outside and see chickadees, finches, sparrows and robins. And I hear a cardinal somewhere nearby. I force myself to give thanks for these “easy” things, and by God’s grace I also begin to give thanks for the hard things that oppress my soul at this moment. It is a terrible struggle, but I recognize that it is truly the only weapon with which I have to fight back.

  39. Dino Avatar

    I always appreciate the advice to focus on thanksgiving for everything, and how this is profoundly, ontologically transformational, even if it seems like something pretty trite at first glance.
    Besides, we do not save ourselves, Someone else does!

  40. Writer Silouan Avatar
    Writer Silouan

    We are to be the bee not think like the bee. And I don’t doubt that the bee sees and smells the garbage on his way to the honey. Just maybe the fly will then follow as he sees enough bees bypass the garbage.

  41. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    I think it is possibly to put far too much nuance on all of this. But the Scriptures are pretty straightforward and simple in the matter. St. Paul has this:

    “Rejoice always,pray without ceasing,in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (1 Thessalonians 5:16–18)

    My experience is that simply trying to remain steadfast in this commandment (which is the will of God for us) will bring us face-to-face with whatever garbage needs to be attended to. And we attend to it by rejoicing, praying, and giving thanks.

    We are a deeply psychologized culture – meaning – we think too much. We are a mentally/emotionally challenged culture – meaning – our normal way of thinking and doing things is quite unsuccessful much of the time.

    Our “bee-ness” consists in rejoicing, praying, and giving thanks. Mind you, giving thanks also encompasses the actions of alms-giving, indeed, it is often hollow when it is not accompanied by that.

  42. christa Avatar

    “let God be the one in charge of fault finding …..thanksgiving is honey of the soul.” Grace comes when we are thankful and extends to others through that same thankfulness. bathe in thankfulness!! My brother Mark, home today from a bleed out and 5 vessel bypass 6 days ago! thanks for prayers ! God is glorified and will be glorified in ways we know not!

  43. Senu Avatar

    Thank you father & all for this inspiring message. My soul leaped when I read
    « The giving of thanks is the great “honey of the soul.” The devil hates the very sound of thanksgiving (for he will NOT or CANNOT give thanks). So, when we give thanks it is a great victory. »
    Thank you for putting that forth.

    « I cannot just ignore the ultimately insubstantial evil that is in me and around me. Especially as some I love seem to be inundated by it in such a way that it seems more real than life many times. »
    Whenever I feel like I am too weak to deal with my sins/wounds, I am reminded of David’s assurance: « He will blot out my inequities… »
    God is good !

  44. Síochána Arandomhan Avatar

    I enjoyed this blog a lot. Your comments on prayer and matters of the spirit not being like electrical forces did remind me of the Roseanne Cash song “50 000 Watts of Common Prayer” teeheehee. It’s a pretty song and I heard it on the radio the day I found out I was pregnant with my first daughter (quite miraculously following a series of upsetting and disappointing events). I also think of all the support and kindness we received in that highly anxious time. I suppose a lot of it was electric in the technical sense since it came over the internet. Anyway I appreciate your lovely thoughts and the memory they brought to mind.


  45. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    I was reflecting the last couple of days about why I love Shakespeare. The answer is: he wrote beautifully. Even when he was incorrect or dealt with the darkness of the human soul, the beauty shines through. Sometimes to experience the beauty, it must be spoken aloud. “Speak the speech, I pray you, as I pronounced it to you, trippingly on the tongue.”
    In a certain sense speaking it out loud gives it a substance it would not have otherwise.
    Beauty is critical to salvation. It is generally quite simple too, reducing the chance for delusion. Beauty also brings joy. As my wife, Merry, often says: “A merry heart doeth good. “

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