Judgment and Apocalypse – The Tale of Two Parables

“He came to himself.”

These words form the turning point in the story of the Prodigal Son. They are words of judgment, apocalypse, and revelation. When the younger son demanded his inheritance from his father, he was not himself. When he traveled to a far land and wasted everything in wild pleasure, he was not himself. Only when everything was lost and what was in front of him became disgusting do we hear, “He came to himself.” The unfolding of that reality took time.

Disgust is not the revelation of the self. Disgust is the reaction that makes us want to spit something out. It is tasting something horrible and wretched. As unpleasant as the sensation is, it remains a guardian and protector, a shield against poison and disease. Disgust is a discernment of something that is “not the self.” Still, knowing that something is “not the self” is not the same thing as seeing the self as it truly is. For the younger son, the revelation of the self begins when he says, “I will go to my father.” It is his recognition that he is a son, and that “who he is” can only be known in that context that constitutes “coming to himself.”

St. James writes:

“For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror; for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was.” (James 1:23-24)

When the younger son forgot that he was a son, when he left his father in search of pleasure, he “forgot what kind of man he was.” He no longer knew himself. When he “came to himself” and said, “I will go to my father,” he turned toward the mirror in which alone his true self could be observed.

St. Gregory of Nyssa said, “The soul is a mirror.” The proper function of the soul is to reflect the life of God (we are His image). It is striking that the emptiness and disgust of the son is met with the welcome of the father (who only sees him as son). He is welcomed, clothed, honored, and feted. He was created for this. It is the revelation of his true self.

This is the purpose of repentance – not to achieve some level of self-disgust and loathing, but to “come to ourselves,” to clear the mirror of every distraction and to see ourselves for what we truly are. St. Gregory, in The Soul and the Resurrection, describes judgment with images drawn from St. Paul: the burning of “hay, wood, and stubble,” but goes on to describe that purifying fire of judgment as something that destroys things which have no true existence. It is not the loss of self, but the recovery of self. As St. Paul says, “If anyone’s work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.” (1Cor. 3:15)

Christ invokes different images of the judgment in Matthew 25. There we have sheep and goats and the encounters with the sick, the naked, the hungry, and the prisoners. In this scenario, the judgment takes place moment by moment as Christ-in-the-needy is either served or rejected. Very striking in Christ’s parable is that when the final judgment is announced, both the “sheep” and the “goats” are surprised. Neither sheep nor goat professes to being aware that it was Christ whom they had encountered in all of these situations of need.

Day by day, we are “mirrored,” to some extent, in the lives of those around us. The crucified Christ is always immediately at hand, allowing us to unite ourselves to Him whether we understand this or not. St. John has this:

“We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love his brother abides in death. 1John 3:14

Our culture has taught us to see the world through a lens of the individual will. We assume people are as they are because they have, in some manner, chosen to be as they are. Our economic system presumes this to be the case (and rewards those fortunate enough to have “chosen” a winning hand). It is, I think, a very flawed lens. No doubt, our choices (as they are reflected in our actions) carry consequences with them. What we do matters. However, it may not matter in the manner we imagine. There is within it all, a secret mirror, known only to God.

Dostoevsky tells the story of an old woman who was mean and stingy. When she died she went to hell. Her guardian angel was disturbed by this and searched diligently for anything that could be brought for her salvation. He found a single, rotten onion which she had once given to a beggar. He brought the onion to hell, extended it to her, and began to pull her out. The story, unfortunately, doesn’t end well. But I have always been struck by the imagination that sees so much value in a single act of miserly kindness. It is as Christ says, “A single cup of water, given in my name, will not go unrewarded.”

The more time I have spent with people, particularly in hearing their inmost stories in confession, the more I see the complex world of desire, failure, choice, and circumstance that can never be quantified in a simple manner. Fortunately, in confession, the priest’s stole is placed over the head and God’s mercy covers everything.

Frequently I think to myself that most people imagine themselves to be worse than they are and undervalue many things within themselves. We do not see clearly. Thus both the sheep and the goats were surprised when the truth of their lives was revealed to them. However, the purpose of this life is (to mix parables) the return to the Father, the return to the truth of our existence and the flourishing of life within and around us.

“I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.” John 10:10

O God, the world is wandering far in a land that is waste. Help us to come to ourselves.

About Fr. Stephen Freeman

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



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84 responses to “Judgment and Apocalypse – The Tale of Two Parables”

  1. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Ah…..the priest’s stole! Under it is a place of refuge. Peace. Even joy. There times I wish it never to be lifted. Then the words that begin to bring me back to myself: “Know that you confess not to me, a sinner, but to Christ Himself. “.

  2. DeLynn Avatar

    I have just started reading your posts and they are amazing. I was raised in a very strict protestant church but as an adult I do not resonate with it so I am spiritually searching. I am interning for my mental health counselor degree and have learned so much about how as people we bring more judgement than presence so this statement spoke to me as well as the rest of the blog. “We assume people are as they are because they have, in some manner, chosen to be as they are.”
    I am looking forward to reading and learning more!

  3. Byron Avatar

    I find myself miserable in my sins. But this morning, as I prayed, I also found that God’s mercy is most evident not when I pray for my own forgiveness but when I pray for His mercy to be given to others in need. I both know and don’t know what to make of this. I have a hard time not recognizing myself as being “disgusting” and lamenting my own sins. My priest is wonderful but I think there are times he can only throw up his hands and council long-suffering and patience. “Don’t lose heart!”. My life is a mess; our world is a mess. How can someone so much a part of the mess pray for it?

  4. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Byron, even saints are “part of the mess”. Plus, we do not pray alone but He who loves us prays with us. Your words remind me of the prayer of the publican.
    Thank you for your players.
    As my wife and I say at the end of our morning prayers: ” This is the day the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it!”

    May the joy of the Lord be with you.

  5. Elizabeth Alexandra Innes Avatar
    Elizabeth Alexandra Innes

    I really enjoy your essays. Thanks so much for doing this. It gives me hope which I must admit I am losing in these difficult times.

  6. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Sorry for the typo: Thank you for your prayers.

  7. Annette Graves Avatar
    Annette Graves

    Father Freeman,
    You have excelled yourself in this post. Thank you for it.
    Annette G.

  8. Byron Avatar

    Thanks Michael. It’s been a hard few days and weeks. Please pray for me, my friend!

  9. Susan Cushman Avatar

    Very interesting observation, Father, that DISGUST precedes “coming to ourselves” . . . . When we are physically ill, sometimes our body rejects the cause and we end up nauseated and vomiting out the parts that are “not ourselves.” Art mirrors life, and as James Baldwin said, “All artists, if they are to survive, are forced, at last, to tell the whole story; to vomit the anguish up.” Perhaps in writing that way a writer gets the “bad stuff” out and onto the page. To make a spiritual segue, maybe this is partly what happens during the sacrament of Confession. In order to get to our real selves, we must vomit up the sin that is keeping us away. Thanks, always, for inspiring me with your words and your heart.

  10. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    When I was doing research for this present book on shame, I learned about the “Nine Affects.” Shame is one of them, but also disgust and “dissmell.” We are hard wired for these. You do not have to teach a baby to spit out something that tastes bad. A baby will wrinkle its nose at a bad smell, etc. But these hard-wired affects become far more complex as they are interwoven into our very complex emotional life. Thus, some ideas and actions can be “disgusting,” even though we didn’t eat them. We say, “That made me sick.” And it’s literally true. It is disgusting.

    At the same time, we can carry within ourselves a sense of personal disgust (and it’s sort of related to our shame response). I think a lot about the holy fools in this context (I’ve got a whole chapter on holy fools in the book). They often do disgusting things, or become dirty, smelly, literally disgusting, dissmelling, shameful – all for the spiritual reality that they are embodying.

    We, too, have to sometimes tolerate our disgustingness in order to come to ourselves. I am a mess, perhaps. But I am God’s mess. I am a mess to the glory of God. I wish I were not such a mess, but I will not let my disgustingness stand in the way of returning to the father. The father said nothing to the prodigal about his messiness. Not a word. No blame. Did not ask him, “Are you going to do that again?” Just a hug, a ring, a robe, a fatted calf and a party.

    Pascha is coming. Everybody’s welcome. The fatted calf has been slain. A robe and a ring are waiting for us. Come as you are!

  11. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Byron, by all means. May God’s Mercy and kindness abound in your heart and life.

  12. Allen Long Avatar
    Allen Long

    Fr. Stephen, these words:
    But I am God’s mess. I am a mess to the glory of God. I wish I were not such a mess, but I will not let my disgustingness stand in the way of returning to the father. The father said nothing to the prodigal about his messiness. Not a word. No blame. Did not ask him, “Are you going to do that again?” Just a hug, a ring, a robe, a fatted calf and a party.

    Are what I needed to hear today. Thank you!

  13. Byron Avatar

    Agreed. Those words are balm; very helpful. Many thanks, Father!

  14. Todd Moore Avatar
    Todd Moore

    Fr. Stephen – You told the story from Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov several times in this blog.
    Yet, since others may never have heard it:
    Once upon a time there was a woman, and she was wicked as wicked could be, and she died. And not one good deed was left behind her. The devils took her and threw her into the lake of fire. And her guardian angel stood thinking: what good deed of hers can I remember to tell God? Then he remembered and said to God: once she pulled up an onion and gave it to a beggar woman. And God answered: now take that same onion, hold it out to her in the lake, let her take hold of it, and pull, and if you pull her out of the lake, she can go to paradise, but if the onion breaks, she can stay where she is. The angel ran to the woman and held out the onion to her: here, woman, he said, take hold of it and I’ll pull. And he began pulling carefully, and had almost pulled her all the way out, when other sinners in the lake saw her being pulled out and all began holding on to her so as to be pulled out with her. But the woman was wicked as wicked could be, and she began to kick them with her feet: ‘It’s me who’s getting pulled out, not you; it’s my onion, not yours.’ No sooner did she say it than the onion broke. And the woman fell back into the lake and is burning there to this day. And the angel wept and went away.

  15. Andrew Roberts Avatar
    Andrew Roberts

    if you haven’t already read this, it may be worth a read: How Much Mercy Does One Person Really Need? on Lynnette Horner’s Walking An Ancient Path blog.

  16. Ziton Avatar

    And yet when the younger son tries to come home the elder son is waiting there, still full of reproach, not just for the younger don, but now also for the father, in whom he now seems disgusted. And by he’s the legal owner of the estate which happened when the father divided it to give the young er one his” inheritance” (though as a second son it’s hard to see how he was entitled to much). I’ve always thought with that parable that we never really hear how it turns out. How do the three of them end up living together while the elder brother is so hostile. He’s the real problem, at least in my inner world, and seems pretty impervious to softenings.

  17. Byron Avatar


    My priest made the observation that the parable ends as it does to differentiate the Father’s forgiveness with the elder son’s lack. He posed the question of “what will we do?”, forgive as God forgives or wallow in our bitterness and sin as the elder brother?


    Thanks for the blog post. It is very good (although I was aware of mercy in the OC thanks to Frederica’s posts on it)! I think the difficulty is in focusing prayer on God and not on my sins! Being rather selfish, it is a reoccurring issue for me….

  18. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Interesting dilemma you mention regarding the focus of prayer. I don’t know if it is possible to pray selfishly as long as one is not asking for things.

    The standard prayers of the Orthodox Church are focused on the inter-relationship between God and Man. Incarnate Creator and us.

    I may be blowing smoke but it seems to me that following the pattern of the Church greatly reduces selfish prayer. Of course, deeper and more humble is always possible but actually praying is what leads to deeper, less selfish communication.

    At least that has been my experience. Entirely different when I make up my own prayers. That is where you are spot on, I think.

  19. Andrew Roberts Avatar
    Andrew Roberts

    it is difficult to focus on God. We cannot see Him and He can seem very distant at times. I have found an Orthodox prayer book and the Jesus prayer helpful, because the focus is on the Holy Trinity.

    Of course there is still much distraction and intrusion of thoughts going on; self trying to take precedence. The rebellion goes deep. Also the attacks of the enemy are a hindrance.

    We can often get caught in unhealthy patterns of thinking, which can become the focus for our attention. I went through a phase of thinking that God wanted to crush me for the things I have done and for being the person that I am; for being a sinner, for being one of those our Lord died for. Not to make light of my sins, nor to make an excuse to do as I please, but God’s mercy is greater than my sins.

    I have learnt from reading this blog and other Orthodox writings that sin not only needs forgiveness, but also healing. Repentance being the key that unlocks the door, so to speak.

    I have found this prayer from St. Sophrony helpfull: ‘Lord, heal my mind. Lord, heal my heart. Lord, heal me whole. Amen.’

  20. Ziton Avatar


    Your priest’s explanation of the contrast in forgiveness stances is no doubt part of it, but surely it goes deeper. The elder son doesn’t just not forgive his brother, he actually attacks his father, who seems to be the main object of Cain like resentments. Father Stephen points out the turning point in the story for the younger son. The turning point for the elder one is when he starts his tirade against his father with the disrespectful command “Listen!” And then proceeds with his litany of injustices to him. Forgiveness isn’t even in a consideration in play. The father makes his plea for mercy to the elder son but we simply do not hear how he responded. Part of the power of the story for me is that unresolved tension and whether this is a viable household. There is the natural tendency to think the sinner is the younger son (and indeed it gets called the parable if the Prodigal son). I think it should be called the parable of the two sons. It’s the elder one who has the most deep seated and unrecognised problem. It is he who does not have a way easily to come to himself. His reactions are the opposite of self disgust, they are Cain’s of wounded pride maybe going into shame territory.

    Whether or not my musings on this are right, I think we’re meant to keep chewing on this stuff. It runs deep.

  21. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    It’s a parable and should not be asked to do more than it has done.

    There is, however, a clear reference within the context of its setting. The prodigal son are the sinners and harlots, publicans, etc., who seem drawn to Christ. The elder son is the Pharisees, those who have never “strayed.” If the audience contains both (which it likely did), then the parable served as a mirror for the listeners to see themselves (and be provoked to repentance). We know that pharisees such as Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea were brought to repentance. No doubt, there were some others. Also, we should hear in the parable an illustration of the Father’s love and compassion for the Pharisees and the “older brothers” through the ages.

    How does the story turn out? It depends on each actor who hears it. For some, the older brother “comes to himself” and goes to the party (like Joseph of Arimathea who bought a ridiculous amount of myrrh for the body of Christ after His crucifixion, gave his own new tomb, etc.). Others persisted in their anger and envy and stood by the Cross mocking Christ as He poured out His blood for them.

  22. Zoe Avatar

    Ever since I read “Mere Christianity” by CS Lewis, particularly the part I will quote below, I search in my heart and say to myself as often as I can “you are nothing without God the Father”. The Prodigal son came to his senses and knew he is “nothing” without the Father. Adam and Eve felt certainly “naked” which I will translate “nothing” without the Father. To me only this “nothingness” can bring us back to our senses.

    Here is the quote from Mere Christianity by CS Lewis: “Every faculty you have, your power of thinking or of moving your limbs from moment to moment, is given to you by God. If you devoted every moment of your whole life exclusively to His service you could not give Him anything that was not in a sense His own already. So that when we talk of a man doing anything for God or giving anything to God, I will tell you what it is really like. It is like a small child going to his father and saying, “Daddy, give me sixpence to buy you a birthday present.” Of course, the father does, and he is pleased with the child’s present. It is all very nice and proper, but only an idiot would think that the father is sixpence to the good on the transaction.” …

    Pray for us Fr. Stephen, and thank you for your inspiring blogs.

  23. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Thank you for the Lewis quote.

    The Scriptures say, “In Him we live and move and have our being.” (Acts 17:28) That verse can be the basis of a fruitful meditation. Inasmuch as I live or have being – I am in God. He is my being and my life. He is my movement. He is my breath.

    Many times our imagination runs in a kind of “sky god” direction, where I am here and God is there, when, stead, our very existence is proof of His existence (as is all of creation, or all of existence). Our modern notions of individualism, of a kind of two-story universe, are just bad theology.

  24. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Father, what of those who do not see God but only a mindless process or worse sheer chance?

  25. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    I suppose they miss the joy of seeing past a mindless process and sheer chance – for the time being.

  26. Drewster2000 Avatar


    I believe even the dwarves in the stable are given their sight so they can make a true choice before the end.

  27. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    That’s a very nice thought in a work of fiction. In the real world, I’m not certain it’s always that clear. What I do think is that there are many “choices” which are known to God alone and which are simply hidden from us (thus we cannot judge). If “choice” plays a significant role, then it is certainly many times a hidden role. And if it’s hidden, it is for God’s own purpose, and I’ll let it be.

  28. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Let me rephrase: how does one effectively communicate with folks who seem to deny the reality of Scripture?

  29. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    “The reality of Scripture” would seem to be an odd place for someone to begin. At a certain point (in the past), culturally, the Bible had a kind of “self-evident” authority that was granted to it that really is only a cultural reflection. I grew up with the Scriptures around me but they were just the Bible, a book that adults talked about, and abstract.

    It wasn’t until I was 15 years old and a series of events conspired together (I’ll not list them all), but I read the Sermon on the Mount for the first time (for myself) and listened to what Jesus was saying. It simply blew me away. For one, I read it and was drinking it in as a literal guide for life. I think at the same time I was reading some essays by Tolstoy and he was arguing in that direction. It was 1968, Vietnam was raging. And here was Christ saying the most sublime things about love of enemies, etc. It changed me. I became a “Jesus freak” at that point. For a couple of years my relationship with Scripture was just the Sermon on the Mount.

    But that’s a unique experience. I wasn’t even thinking about the Cross or the Resurrection. Just the Sermon on the Mount.

    But, I think we effectively communicate with people when we stop trying to tell them what we think and listen to what they think and actually converse with them. There are many starting places in the life of every human being – the question is to find it. All true questions lead to God. The difficulty for anyone is ever find the right questions. We spend too much time trying to give people answers without ever hearing their questions.

    The Scriptures are great – but the life of the Church is not Scripture-based so much as the Scriptures are interwoven in the life of the Church. I would pretty much think that no one can ever really understand or study the Scriptures without being permeated by the liturgies of the Orthodox Church. So, if someone comes to the faith “through the Scriptures,” it’s a sort of miracle in itself and not because they understood the Scriptures.

    As St. Paisios said, “A man can come to faith in God by just seeing a fox cross the road.”

  30. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Or with folks who propose an unreal ‘reality’ ie a literal interpretation of all parts of the Bible?

    I find this the hardest to speak to or have a discussion.

    But I also find it hard to understand in many places, myself, and frequently rely on the interpretation provided by our saints and spiritual fathers and mothers.

    Sometimes the words just go over my head.

    Father it seems I’m ever the prodigal and wishing I wasn’t. I’m grateful for your words to Susan. They helped me too.

  31. Andrew Roberts Avatar
    Andrew Roberts

    I have at times been drawn into conversion by people who adhere to sola scriptura and have been surprised by how little they actually know the Scriptures.

    I was criticised for being a Roman Catholic and was told that I shouldn’t listen to the priests. The usual suspect being quoted at me; ‘You only have one teacher, the Christ.’

    I asked the said person, if his pastor taught them anything about the Scriptures and mentioned the Ethiopian eunuch and St. Phillip in the Acts of the Apostles; end of conversation.

    I agree with Fr. Stephen about trying to meet people where they are and answer the questions they are asking. Over the years people have asked me questions about Christianity and the Scriptures. Some are genuinely interested and have valid questions, while others think being a Christian is the height of stupidity and gullibility and try to make you look so in a group setting.

    I don’t know the Scripture anywhere near as well as I ought, but I do welcome any questions put to me, for whatever reason. I also learn from the exchange, because someone might be asking a question that hasn’t occurred to me.

  32. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Interesting. By ‘Scriptural reality’ I meant the entire life of the Church which, the longer I blessed to be part of Her, the more I find Her to be “written”.
    Indeed, the longer I struggle in the Church, the more I find the formal Scriptural canon describes that life in toto somehow.
    Forgive me for being so unclear.

  33. Andrew Roberts Avatar
    Andrew Roberts

    I understood what you meant about Scripture being part of the life of the Church. I take it for granted that most people go along with Scripture according to their tradition. There are exceptions to this within and without the various Christian denominations, where people decide for themselves what they think the Scriptures mean.

    As a former Roman Catholic, most questions put to me were either a criticism of Roman Catholicism, or were a desire to understand certain things about it. So, when speaking about the Scriptures in those days, I would be using an RC context and interpretation in my answers.

    Now I am endeavouring as best I can in my present situation to learn about the Scriptures in an Orthodox context; which I am enjoying.

    I miss being able to attend liturgy and therefore without this, I am not fully able to appreciate the Orthodox context. Although it is important to read the Scriptures privately, there is the danger of taking them out of their proper context, which is within the Church.

  34. Joseph Barabbas Theophorus Avatar

    Along with the Theophany post, this is the best thread all year. And good comments, especially concerning the true nature of Orthodox confession. Just like all other sacraments, everything that occurs in confession is not supposed to be “editorialized”, but is to be an unchanging expression of God’s love and forgiveness.

    I was also thinking about parables in general. If the cross is the “language” of the Church, I think parables are the language of the Kingdom Of God.

  35. Drewster2000 Avatar


    I’ll try another approach here. I always the St. Paisios quote about the fox crossing the road. For me all this goes along with things like St. Francis saying, “Spread the gospel everywhere. When necessary, use words.” Our best witness is voting with our feet and being willing to say no with our bare hands. And as Paul says, be ready to answer for the hope that lies within you.

    More than this and we start trying to do God’s job, figuring out how to accomplish some kind of big picture. Not our job. As Fr. Stephen is fond of saying, just do the next good thing in front of us and we have done more to speak the truth and open the eyes of those around us unknowingly than we ever could on purpose.

  36. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Drewster2000, et. al
    Thank you for the tips. I am a highly verbal person so I tend to think im terms of what I and speak/write. My question was prompted by the situation of a close friend/fellow parishoner who’s father is a committed atheist. Fro their I was thinking about other first degree relatives for whom the observation option has not worked.
    The conclusion I came to initially is to read the written Scripture. I am starting with The Gospel of Matthew using The Orthodox Study Bible and W. E. Vine’s Dictionary of New Testament Words.

    The way I was trained to read the Bible was to pay attention to what the words actually say. Interpretation comes last. Still tend to try to take that approach.

  37. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Some random thoughts,

    When I think of folks who are not believers, I have some thoughts that have guided me over the years. One is – not trying to convince anyone of anything. The most unstable Orthodox Christians are those who have arrived there through argumentation. They’re always just one argument shy of leaving. I do think/believe that everyone is drawn towards God but may not know it or be aware of it. If, somehow, that conversation arises, it’s always a gift of grace. So, I leave them to the hands of God, pray for them, a wait for an opportunity. When the Scripture says we should have a “ready answer for the hope that is within us,” it clearly presumes that there was a question.

    The great failure of any time or age (in the Church) is that we live in a manner that raises no questions for others. That our lives give little evidence of the crucified and risen Christ. If someone has never seen an actual, practicing Christian/Church, how would they be drawn to it? And that actual/practicing Church, to my mind, will be made most evident as we embody the crucified Christ. So, on the one hand, that will look like weakness and foolishness for the sake of the gospel. Too often, in our modern mindset, we want the Church to be excellent and to take its place among the “managers” of this world.

    I knew one woman, an atheist, who visited our Church with her husband for a number of weeks. No one tried to convince her of anything. But, one Saturday evening, she came to faith in Christ while looking at His icon. She said to Him: “Why don’t I know You?” And then she did.

    Another woman, a Russian friend, visited the new Church in her city (the first Church ever in that Soviet-built town). She was curious. When she got there, all she saw were women cleaning. She said, “But they were glowing.” And she meant that she literally saw light coming from them. She became a believer.

    In both cases, I presume that what happened was in answer to a question inside them – and God answered it. Only the mystery of grace can create such questions. I do not believe that anyone is ever converted through “objective” knowledge – simply because it’s so incredibly unreliable, and even coercive. We may see many things that confirm our faith – but the faith is something that somehow a part of us rather than an object that we see.

    St. Paul writes to the Galatians praying that “Christ be formed in you.” In another place he speaks of God revealing Christ “in me.” Somehow, that inward revelation is, ultimately, the basis that allows for us to perceive Christ elsewhere, or to read Scripture with some benefit, etc. The spiritual life is unstable, to a lesser or greater degree, without that inward revelation.

    I think this is part of the path of hesychia, to be quiet enough within so that we can begin to discern the heart and to see Christ in the heart. So much in the practice of Orthodoxy is geared away from words (towards the visual, smells, tastes, movements of the body, etc.) because these sorts of things have a much deeper “wiring” than mere words and thoughts. Indeed, singing words is far more effective than thinking them. St. Augustine says, “He who sings prays twice.”

  38. Matthew Lyon Avatar
    Matthew Lyon

    Fr. Freeman,


    “Our culture has taught us to see the world through a lens of the individual will. We assume people are as they are because they have, in some manner, chosen to be as they are.”

    And yet the OS paradigm [moderator’s note: “OS” stands for “Original Sin”] or some other deterministic model (likely derivative from OS) means, when people will, and they are stuck economically, socially, morally – that there is no way out for them, they are consigned to poorly will, likely forever. And the atheist and the Calvinist with the pantheist and the deist and so on, all tend to share this sort of idea. The will of those who do thrive were determined to, biologically, theologically, etc. The overlap between OS and caste systems seems to me, quite uncoincidental. I know it’s my usual operation to point where OS ruins Christian theology, it’s a project of mine and all. But recently I have read The Body Keeps the Score, I’m not sure if you’ve read it but I suggest it highly though it is gut-wrenching, the stories of abuse.

    The “nature versus nurture” dialectic, where OS would fall on nature, and maybe the Pelagian on nurture, forgets about death and Satan. See, where does death or Satan fit? And my contention has been they don’t, only nature or nurture, black and white, like OS or Pelagianism. So, with the Prodigal, the demoniac, many others, they are not restored to their right mind via regeneration/election/applying PSA/imputing righteousness, they are freed from fear of death and Satan. The nurturing of the demoniac by the devil and death is undone, and what does he want to do? Follow Christ. The “natural’ part of him was back. I was just arguing this, this natural state of the will, in reference to infant baptism. We don’t baptize babies to remove their sin nature or their OS, but to bring them into union with Christ contra the devil and death/this world and to grant them the gift of the Holy Spirit and every means of Grace. So, when someone objects that the infant has no will to will baptism, I ask, what would make you think that a child would not naturally will to be united to Christ? You have to assume that their will is already fallen or at best, agnostic/blank and both of these are obviously antithetical to the Scriptures as you must have the faith of a child and neutrality/agnosticism/blankness is never a category in Scripture. Now the Catholic who baptized their child in order to remove something evil (unless death is rightly understood as evil without the moral category of evil) is acting against the child’s will in Adam, whereas, we would not be, we would be cooperating with it, and allowing it to have what the child desires.

    But back to the book, while the author talks trauma and abuse that impairs someone due to coming into contact with their own death or that of someone else, he has no real resource as a secular writer to deal with death itself let alone Satan. But what is does make clear, is that for trauma victims, which includes everyone to some degree or another, there are ways back to your right mind, to feeling safer in your body and the world (though, this is the major flaw of the book, eventually everyone dies still and there is no solution offered, it still feels like pretending to me – like when as a kid, you mom tells you it will be a very, very long time before your parents die).

    What I was trying to get at though was this, for those who are stuck in whatever area of life, the OS deterministic model offers more a forced vaccine (the analogy has nothing to do with COVID)/drug model of, “you’re hopeless until outside monergistic therapy comes to you” which doesn’t actually heal you, it makes you tolerable to others – maybe. Then there is the, what is surely, an ascetic model of facing down fear of death. Anyway, the author expresses his frustration at the drug model, which carries the most profit (if you don’t have a diagnosis in the DSM your insurance won’t pay) but it was obvious to me, the drug model (as the sole model) is based on determinism. The therapy model is not, the ascetic model. How this relates to Lent is surely relevant.

    Anyway, I went on long, but after the book, and I know you have some interest in mental health, it was so evident. He does mention at one point that his father was a Calvinist, go figure. I’d love to see a post on Lent as therapy for fear of death and the destruction of demons.

    Matthew Lyon

  39. Andrew Roberts Avatar
    Andrew Roberts

    Interesting random thoughts Fr. Stephen. I recall a conversation with a nun and her telling me about a group she belonged to as a young woman, which was involved in apologetics. Her conclusion was apologetics are not convincing.

  40. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    The original sin model, particularly as it has become a sort of reductionist narrative, is very inadequate as a means of describing human reality. Augustine made mistakes in this direction in his inordinate focus on the will (no doubt driven by his obsession with Pelagianism). What we’re left with is an individualist voluntarism in which each human being is defined by a set of choices. We are “consumers” shopping in the world of ideas, actions, etc. This utterly trivializes the human experience.

    St. Paul is far more nuanced. In Romans 7 he thinks out loud about how it is that he actually does the “thing he hates,” etc. He concludes by saying that it is “sin that dwells in me” which is not at all the same thing as “original sin.” It’s much more the rabbincal “yetzer ha ra” (“the bad impulse”).

    In my years as a confessor, listening to people wrestle with themselves (occasionally at great depth), it is obvious to me that “free will” alone is inadequate as a descriptor. It’s one of the reasons that I’ve been doing so much work on shame (which is very much written into the neuro-biological experience of the world).

    Orthodoxy is capable of giving a mature account of all of this – though many fall into the trap of the individualist/voluntarism. It’s easy (like all reductionist accounts).

    Every deterministic account is just so much b.s. to me. We are certainly free – but “free” must be highly nuanced. It’s why the widow’s mite and the mean old lady’s rotten onion have value. The “big picture” for me – is almost impossible. I cannot go back and explain how and why everything is as it is. “But we see Jesus.” And I start there at the Cross. I move out by doing the next good thing. And then work to meet everything and everyone with mercy and kindness.

  41. John Avatar

    Have you written an article on the Psalms or any of the individual psalms?

  42. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    I don’t think so. Have you seen Fr. Patrick Reardon’s Christ in the Psalms?

  43. John Avatar

    Thanks. I bought it.

  44. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    We are definitely “in the world” and I am often “of it”. About a week ago I spent most of a day there and even managed to drag my wife in with me. Yet at the end of the day God’s mercy was greater and closer than hands and feet. Both He and my dear wife forgave me.

    It began “within” me as I began to come to myself. A bit like the Prodigal Son.

    I put “within” in quotation marks to indicate that within is a very large place that extends in all directions beyond imagining, at least for me. The mercy seat, I think.

    Strange that I am so verbally expressive and yet Our Lord seems to teach me in non-verbal ways with which I cannot argue and can barely describe or communicate even to those close to me.

    The I AM.

    Everything else is put in its proper place. I can even begin to perceive dimly the reality of Romans 8:28: “All things work together for good to them who love God, to them who are called to His purpose.”

    His mercy endures forever. May it be with all of us.

  45. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    I struggle with repeating the same sins. And as I have understood it (or as I have been taught), the repetition is due to a lack of true repentance or pride. But as I read what you’ve written I ask myself is this so? Is this repetition due to lack of true repentance and due to pride? Or might we have true repentance and fail again and without pride being a factor?

    Or is such a question only resolved in the particular case?

  46. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Each particular person is different – but there are many commonalities. I disagree, for the most part, with those who suggest that “beseting sins” are the result of a lack of true repentance or pride. Again, there’s a sort of notion that if we only “willed” it, really “willed” it, we would be different. Therefore, we must not be truly willing. That, I think is counter to Romans 7, and counter to our actual experience.

    Just this morning I was reflecting with my wife on the fact that I quit smoking in Lent of 1988 (when I was 35 years old, after smoking for 20 years). Prior to that I had failed so many times as to be ridiculous. But, that Lent, I decided to quit. I later said, “If I’d known I was actually going to quit, I’d have never quit!” But I did, and I’ve never smoked again. Ever.

    The process was like a series of things, even crazy things. Once, I was angry, and very tempted to smoke. I was standing in the doorway of my house, at the bottom of a big hill. Suddenly, I broke into a run up the hill. I was wearing heavy, wing-tip shoes (Florsheims), and my black suit. I must have looked a fool. But I thought, I’ll run up this hill until I can’t breathe and then see if I want a smoke. It worked. Many things were like that.

    So, why did I quit? How did I quit?

    There was some willing, but no more in the many times I had failed. What was different? Earlier that year, a couple who valued my ministry, said to me that they thought I would be more effective if I didn’t smoke. And told me that they were going to take on a project of fasting and praying for me each week that God would make it possible by His grace. I thanked them, laughed, and told them “Good luck!” They were not pressuring me, shaming me, etc. Just offering a helping hand.

    I credit their prayers. It’s as simple as that. I utterly did not deserve it.

    I’ve seen others struggle with besetting sins and have sometimes wondered if God was simply allowing it to continue that they might gain some humility (those are unique cases).

    But, back to my example, someone repented for me (with prayers and fasting). I think there was great virtue and power in their prayers. I might have wanted to quit in order to “be a better man” – but it was far more powerful that someone else wanted me to be a better man and begged God for it. My role was to thank Him. Also, I’ve never been able to take any credit or boast about it as some sort of feat of the will.

    Probably the most difficult feat of the will – is the willingness to bear a little shame. For those who have sinned – there is more value in truly bearing the shame of that fact in the presence of God than there often is in “willing” to do differently. The difference between Peter and Judas is not in the character of their sins – betrayal versus denial. It’s that Peter didn’t despair or run away. He faced the resurrected Jesus. Think of the great agony as he heard those healing questions: “Peter, do you love me?”

    Just some thoughts.

  47. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Father, my own experience with besrtting sins echos yours, I think. The “will alone” approach seems to deny the fact that we actually have bodies. When I have gone down that route in the past, I also veered toward a dis-incarnate theology as well.
    I think the “will alone” also denies that we together are part of His Body. A cell perhaps. I am not, nor can I ever be autonomous.

    The intercession of the Saints is an actuality because of the Life the interconnects us all: Body, mind and soul.

    My fall into the nastiness last week began because I did not eat when I needed to. From there my body started demanding I pay attention to it. My poor brain twisted it into all sorts of other things. All based in sin.

    Dee, The idea that we can overcome sin by will alone is a pernicious lie. Just writing that sentence helped me become more free of that lie.

    Still, the words of St. John the Baptist and our Lord remain true: “Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand. ”

    There are many people in that Kingdom who, like your friends, Father, pray for us and mercy is at hand.

  48. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman
  49. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    I sincerely appreciate your thoughts. I’ve had a long struggle (which for now I’ll not elaborate) and sometimes it just seemed that my struggle, which included self-blame and self-deprecation for my failure, fed into the repetition of failure. By some chance (and by the grace of God), recently, I’ve experienced relief from such failure, but it had nothing to do with being a better person, it had more to do with someone else realizing the circumstances of my failure. (Similar to the couple desiring to pray for you) Just their recognition, their understanding and sympathy, was enough to help me see more light, and served to take some of the cyclic-failure-load off.

  50. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    And thank you too for your words of support too, Michael.

  51. Dino Avatar

    i have often wondered and reflected upon what Elder Aimilianos describes as ‘the repentance we lack’, which he goes on to succinctly describe as, essentially: ‘never sinning again’. St Sophrony said that when he was younger he was deeply perplexed by ‘how one can achieve such stable sinlessness’. It is clearly difficult with addictions, but perhaps more difficult with the extremely small, daily sins of omission. These saints do speak about it with authority however, so even though I completely side with all you describe myself, I cannot help but wonder about that thing they proclaim as accessible, (irrespective of whether it is connected to ‘the will’ as much as Elder Aimilianos seems to say, or not) : “complete sinlessness after repentance”! St Symeon even calls the unbelief in such a dispassion as a great heresy. But (one could remark), you’d need to be almost bathed in the Uncreated Light at all times to acquire such a thing! And St Sophrony would even say that one cannot function on the top levels of Grace for long, so God has to give us only a ‘medium level’ if we are to remain in this life…
    Anyway, I am thinking out loud here but, what I reflect is that it is the combination of deep acceptance and awareness of our vulnerability with utter Godwards gratitude that probably gets us there most securely.

  52. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Dino while evidently possible, unlikely for us living in the world. A deep grace even for great ascetics.
    I was reminded this morning of the hymn from Bridegroom Matins:
    “I behold the bridal chamber, richly adorned for my Savior. Make radiant the garment of my soul; O giver of life and save me. “

  53. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    I accept that such a thing is possible (as it is described by saints). However, I think it can easily be misunderstood, and simply become soul-crushing for many people who are striving under circumstances of soul-wounds and haunting torments of perfectionist thoughts (which are a form of toxic shame). Occasionally, there are reasons why some things that saints say are better left for the very few instead of the many.

    I should add that here in the American South, there was once a very strong heresy in revivalistic Protestantism that taught “sinless perfection” as the true mark of grace. I’ve met a few folks from that world-view.

  54. Matthew Lyon Avatar
    Matthew Lyon

    Fr. Freeman,

    My point was, and maybe you saw it, that even when people are blamed for their choices, the blame comes across the same way OS assigns blame genetically, neurologically, deterministically. Why is the drug addict still a drug addict? It doesn’t matter to the person who writes them off whether they were determined or if they chose that life because they both essentially mean the same thing. Choice and determinism to many are the same thing. In this way, you can just as easily blame someone for sinning in Adam, and for their continuation in poor choices. This leads to the assumption that people who are “stuck” somehow in life are beyond help – or – that opportunity will grant a better life. What is ignored is the trauma of death and Satan. As I was telling a friend recently if we give a diagnosis for a person that doesn’t actually exist, they won’t get much help. They won’t “come back to themselves” they’ll have to have outside>inside intervention. Now, I don’t deny God’s grace in the Prodigal’s return. If the Father was not good likely there was no reason to go back home. Restoration to natural state of the soul is healing. Oddly enough, most therapy deals with parental issues that kept you from feeling safe as a child. And with the Prodigal, analogically as I know this is a parable for the Elder Brother, the Father had never wavered in goodness to the Prodigal. I guess, I know, it is therapy to realize the Father is good, that He is the ideal Father.

    And I was thinking, this is probably the most impassioned plea from Jesus to the Pharisees to be like the Father and rejoice over the prodigals coming home. They could not imagine the Father this way because they had already consigned the prodigals and Gentiles to damnation or annihilation. But Jesus brings a picture of the Father they did not recognize, the running Father. But the announcement to the Elder Brother, that “You were always with me” and “all I had was yours,” this is a real gesture of grace to the Pharisees. This reinforces all the more to me, that the major theme of the Gospel is reconciliation and forgiveness – not – undoing OS/OG. There is the fallout from Babel. The fallout from Satan’s activity. The fallout from Israel’s unfaithfulness. And what doesn’t fit? Genetic determinism in Adam. The sinners and prodigals were kept outside the Covenant by those who traveled land and sea to convert to make “children of hell” when they were to be the light to the Gentiles. And this is the sin Jesus goes after in the parable and many other places.

    This got off the topic of your post. But the reason it seems the sheep and goats are unaware in both cases is that one group has had a dedicated commitment to healing selfishness: they actually love people, and the other does not have love. Add on 1 Corinthians 13, 1 John (you can do a bunch of stuff and never love, you can’t love God if you don’t love your brother – there again is this restoration/return to normal theme) and you get basically people who are selfish and people who have love.

    I think the assuring part to the struggling Christian is this, that though we know our love is weak and fickle, is that God alone knows our particular difficulty to be loyal and sees our desire and overall loyalty. The one who always comes back home as the Prodigal without turning into the Elder Brother seems to be in a much better position.

  55. Kenneth Avatar

    Fr. Stephen,

    Can praying for the troubles of the world, even some that are raging somewhere far from me (like the war in Ukraine), be part of what it means to “do the next good thing”? Someone’s comment on a prior post suggested that the answer to disturbances in the world is in the phrase “Not my problem.” A generous interpretation of this could be that we should not attend to distant problems but instead focus on the “next good thing” that is close at hand. However, it’s hard to see the news from Ukraine and not feel completely heartbroken by this fratricidal war. Is praying for such problems or “weeping with those who weep” part of doing the next good thing?

    I’ve been reading St Sophrony’s biographical account of St Silouan, which is one of the most amazing books I have ever read. He says St Silouan “lived the suffering of the people, of the whole world, and his prayer knew no end. He prayed mightily for the whole world.” Interestingly, however, he also notes that St Silouan avoided newspapers. “When the soul prays for the world, said Father Silouan, she knows better without newspapers how the whole earth is afflicted. She knows what people’s needs are and feels pity for them.”

  56. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Essentially, everything is our problem. So, such prayer is a good thing. On the other hand, frequently our attention is directed towards the suffering that mosts interests the networks, which also means the suffering that most interests various political interests. As such, the emotions that accompany things are often just our passions being toyed with. We should pray, understanding that the problems of anyone are the problems of all. But, tragically, the foolishness of war is frequently not obvious. The evil beneath it is seldom what is shown to us.

    We do not need to know the details of the evil beneath things – but we do well not to believe the constant messaging that drowns our senses.

    I appreciate when I’m in Essex, hearing the Jesus Prayer in this version (for some portion of each prayer rope): “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on us and on Thy whole world.” I’m certain this was the example given by St. Sophrony. When troubled about the world, it is a useful way to pray.

  57. Kenneth Avatar

    Thanks, this is very helpful. I am glad to learn that version of the Jesus Prayer!

  58. Kenneth Avatar

    OCA (oca.org) is collecting donations to send to the Orthodox Church of Poland to help with refugees. About 800,000 Ukrainians have fled to Poland so far.

  59. Dino Avatar

    there is so much wisdom in what Father said to you.
    In the past, (well almost 30 years ago now), I struggled very much with your question. Having spent a long time in the Essex Monastery, where, despite the warnings about the dissipation of our attention (the most precious thing we have, if understood as virtually synonymous with our “Nous”), warnings similar to St Silouan’s on reading newspapers, they practiced a balance between “have mercy on me” and “have mercy on us and Your whole world”. I then spent an even longer time in Athos. More than a year in Simonopetra. It was most challenging to constrain my attention back down to “have mercy on me”, which was the new advise there, I kept wanting to (at least as a noetic conceptualisation), ensure (as St Porphyrios often also said which I liked) make the “me” be the same as the “us and Your whole world” (the ‘cosmic Adam’ idea in St Sophrony’s terminology if you like). But Elder Aimilianos’ advise in that monastery would be very strict: that our dissipation, spiritually, goes far deeper than we can ever suspect or imagine. He’d say that, when we are standing before God’s presence in prayer, (he meant the Jesus Prayer at night), and suddenly we think of our mother who we just recently out got cancer, or that orphan in Africa that somebody informed me two hours ago got kidnapped, or the fact that my attention just that second got ‘stolen’ by a memory of some captivating eyes I once saw and my prayers becomes a petition for forgiveness or release from slavery, and then my “have mercy on me” turns to “have mercy on my Mum”, on “that orphan”, or “forgive my captivation to the memory of those eyes”, he’d say that all those, are but proofs of what is my god: other things and my self, not the God I stand before. All I need is to be with God alone. It is not time to bring other things in. The advise was that there ought to be designated times of the day to do that kind of prayer, and also, that there comes a time when God enlarges the “exclusively consecrated heart” to ‘contain’ all those others inside it in a non-dissipated way -at a later stage.
    That sounded ever so ‘harsh’ (almost selfish) to my sensitivities initially, but, the problem was, it also sounded like he really, REALLY, knew exactly what he was advising. St Porphyrios was sort of similar, and in fact, St Silouan himself (my initial attraction to all this stuff, and St Sophrony, did actually advise that beginners need to be more ‘selfish’ [he used the word ‘selfish’ with poetic license here], initially in their prayer because their attention gets stolen through their deep caring for things “outside” when they have not discovered how to go ‘inside’, in the holy place where the meeting with God takes place, in the “holy here and now”, ie: not in the “somewhere else and some other time”.
    Of course, a balance comes later on, and St Sophrony, having gone through such deep, lazer-sharp internal focus on God alone in his earlier repentance, could later, (through the action of the Holy Spirit rather than through his gifted mind’s philosophical conceptualisation), have all people of all times in his deep heart as well as particular ones he knew were currently suffering, without it meaning a dissipation away from God in the name of human (rather than Spirit inspired) love for neighbour.
    Essentially, you come to this richly pithy image: you realize that the Cross has two pieces of wood: the horizontal one –stretching out to all in the second commandment of love for all– and the vertical one representing the first commandment of love towards God. You can have no Cross without both of the pieces, but it is the vertical piece of wood, securely planted in the Earth, upon which the other one balances, (not the other way around). The longer vertical piece might not even be visible for those standing close to the hole in the Earth in which it is planted, it is the other piece of wood that is the more visible one, but the vertical one is the second commandment and there is some reason why the vertical one is the ‘first’ rather than the other way around, even if both pieces are required to have the mystery of the Cross.

  60. Kenneth Avatar

    Dino, many thanks for those words. I appreciate hearing about your experience with this and Elder Aimilianos’ teaching. I have lots of spiritual dissipation and much work to do in the vertical direction, so I will take this seriously and greatly appreciate your and Father Stephen’s advice.

  61. Kenneth Avatar

    Dino, just one more question. You said:

    “St Sophrony, did actually advise that beginners need to be more ‘selfish’ [he used the word ‘selfish’ with poetic license here], initially in their prayer because their attention gets stolen through their deep caring for things “outside” when they have not discovered how to go ‘inside’, in the holy place where the meeting with God takes place, in the “holy here and now”, ie: not in the “somewhere else and some other time”.”

    Where could I read more about this advice from St Sophrony for beginners? His writing about St Silouan is so amazingly insightful and tender.

  62. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    I appreciate your description of your history and experiences in the monasteries you lived in. Indeed it must be very edifying and life forming.

    On the Jesus prayer: I have heard various advice on the application and versions of the Jesus prayer. And as you say sometimes our thoughts can go flying away and be distracting from our presence in Christ. In my own experience, when I say the prayer, and in the fleeting moments that I know I stand before God, sometimes a thought comes, often concerning a person with whom I have had difficulty, and in that moment, I pray the Jesus prayer “for them”, that is I pray “…. have mercy on_______”. And then I ask God to enlarge my heart in love and continue as best as I can and as grace will allow, with the Jesus prayer as I have been taught.

    I personally follow very much in the vein of St Silouan, St. Sophrony, and now reading Father Zacharias’ words (of the Monastery at Essex). Their piety and spiritual advice have been a constant blessing in my personal prayer life. In my own practice, I usually follow the ending with ‘have mercy on me a sinner’. I do this mainly because I’m all too aware of my sins (and the sins of the world) and know they keep me from deep prayer. Nevertheless, as I mention above, sometimes it seems right in the presence of God to pray for others and for the world, in the way Father Stephen describes with the prayer rope. I sincerely believe our Lord in His love hears such sincere prayers in us and helps us to enlarge our hearts. He will not let go of our hearts in such prayer. And through such prayers, the ‘roots’ of our prayer life grow more deeply into the deep waters of the Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

  63. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Dino will likely know more of the literature viz. St. Sophrony that is out there. The small books by Archimandrite Zacharias that have been published are very useful and practical applications of St. Sophrony’s teaching – as is his more comprehensive Christ, Our Way and Our Life.

  64. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    As I reflect on the spiritual life of St Sophrony and his words, I am reminded by your response to Kenneth. St Sophrony emphasized the importance of the Trinity, even more specifically, the communion in the Trinity. He believed that it is in the theology of the Trinity that distinguishes the Orthodox theology from all other confessions. Furthermore, it is in the communion of the Trinity, that our life in God becomes an image. Toward reaching such communion with God in our prayers, it makes sense, then, to pray for God’s world, His creation, for He sent His son to save it. We strive to live such communion in God and in love with our fellow humanity in the world and to bring the life of the world to God, as much as we strive for communion with our Triune God. I believe, in fact, this is the point of our sacraments, as described by Father Schmemann in his book, “For the Life of the World”.

    Father, if I’m off track in this thought, please correct me.

  65. Dino Avatar

    I don’t think that due to parsing some of this quite technical advice on the Jesus prayer here, we ought to get too caught up in what are the ‘best’ ways to pray it. I’m sure God will lead each person to what they need or what they can cope with best etc. Then again for those who start seeing they have started to need that detailed understanding for some reason, or just find themselves desiring to delve deep into those specialist traditions because of their practical experiences in the life of prayer, then things are different, they will certainly look into such things genuinely and encounter some of the conundrums that others don’t see as conundrums.
    I think it is extremely similar to sports training or musical instrument training. In those disciplines, there are also such problems that certain practitioners at various levels of practice, of injuries, of propensities, of circumstances, are not bothered by or cannot imagine while others need urgent solutions to or refined advice about.

  66. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Indeed Dino, I’m not parsing. Neither am I trying to give advice on the prayer life. That is the role of the spiritual advisor, a priest.

  67. Kenneth Avatar

    Fr. Stephen, thank you for the recommendation. I’m just now learning the connections between these 20th century saints and their disciples, which are quite interesting. I’ve heard you and others recommend Archimandrite Zacharias’ “Enlargement of the Heart” before, so perhaps I will go there next (my heart could use some enlarging).

  68. Dino Avatar

    of course, you’re not, I was doing that parsing, and on the personal level, the final say can only come from one’s spiritual guide, ‘their priest’ as you say. But in the higher levels of practising the Jesus prayer, the spiritual guide ought to have personal experience of the stages ahead, or he will NOT be able to guide without great danger. Also, such God-bearing guides are not necessarily priests ( eg: the spiritual guide in the most populous monastery of Athos, for decades, was not a priest -Elder Joseph in Vatopaidi, the disciple of Saint Joseph the Hesychast who again was the spiritual guide and head of his flock, but not a priest, even though he had almost exclusively priests under his discipleship).

  69. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Indeed, Dino, I try not to speak of what I do not know. As far as spiritual advisement goes, we do have priests who are ordained as teachers and confessors. That is their ordained role. This is from where and from whom we begin. Many of us in the US are converts and need gentle guidance. All too often we take initiatives on the basis our own thinking, elevating our personal preferences, thinking we have the spiritual maturity for making such decisions on our own, and on top of that, giving advice to others.

  70. Dino Avatar

    I recall those words of St Sophrony were somewhere in the first part of his St Silouan big book. Prob where he describes Silouan’s temptation in the earlier parts of his life

  71. Dino Avatar

    You make a very valid point there which Father also makes. Context and timing is important.

  72. Nikolaos Avatar

    An inspiring prayer recommended by Bishop Neophytos of Morfou in Cyprus:

    O Cross, you are the guardian of the whole world
    O Cross, you are the height of the Church’s beauty
    O Cross, you are what strengthened the Emperors
    O Cross, the believers’ firm support
    O Cross, the glory of Angels and the defeat of the demons
    Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on us for You are Good and Lover of mankind
    Most Holy Theotokos save us
    Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on us
    Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on Your whole world
    Lord grant us the patience and faith of the Saints
    Most holy Cross of Christ save us by your power
    Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth cleanse us from every stain
    Great Archangel of The Lord Michael protects us
    Great Archangel of the Lord Gabriel enlighten us

  73. sgage Avatar

    Thank you for posting that prayer. Inspiring indeed!

  74. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Dear Nikoloas,
    This a beautiful prayer by Bishop Neophytos of Morfou in Cyprus, and it is indeed inspiring. Thank you for presenting it us. It reminds me very much of the prayer of St Patrick. I’m making a print of it for my prayers.

    May God grant to all Orthodox who read this blog a blessed Lent and a good fast!

  75. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Yesterday was Forgiveness Sunday. In that Spirit I ask each of you for your forgiveness knowing too that God forgives and His mercy endures forever.

  76. Kenneth Avatar

    God forgives and I forgive! Forgive me too, a sinner.

    The Orthodox teaching on forgiveness and communion of all is so incredibly deep and beautiful, that I am blown away by it. I just read the following from St Sophrony, who was responding to the objection that “I am ready to answer for my own sins but certainly not for the sins of others.” St Sophrony replied, “We do not realize that in reacting thus we are repeating in ourselves the sin of our forefather Adam, making it our own personal sin, leading to our own personal fall. Adam denied responsibility, laying all the blame on Eve and on God who had given him this wife; and by so doing he destroyed the unity of Man and his communion with God. So, each time we refuse to take on ourselves the blame for our common evil, for the actions of our neighbor, we are repeating the same sin and likewise shattering the unity of Man.” – From “Saint Silouan the Athonite”, ch. 5.

  77. Nikolaos Avatar


    I also like to “collect” prayers and one of them is St Paisios’, which I translated from Greek.

    In brackets are my own additions, which I hope St Paisios will forgive…

    Our Lord Jesus Christ,
    Do not forsake Your servants who live far from the Church, let Your love act and bring them all to You.
    – Remember, Lord, Your servants who are suffering from cancer.
    – Your servants who suffer from small or large illnesses.
    – Your servants suffering from physical disabilities.
    – Your servants who suffer from mental disabilities.
    – Remember those who govern and help them to rule as Christians.
    – Remember, Lord, the children who come from troubled families.
    – The troubled families and the divorced.
    – Remember, Lord, the orphans of the whole world, all the suffering and the wronged in life, (the defenseless, the slandered, the mourners) and those who have lost their spouses.
    – Remember, Lord, all the prisoners, the anarchists, the drug addicts, the murderers, the criminals, the thieves, (the homosexuals, the pedophiles, the misguided, the deceived), enlighten and help them to be corrected.
    – Remember all those who live in foreign lands (and the immigrants).
    – All those who travel at sea, on land, in the air and guard them.
    – Remember our Church, the Fathers -clergy of the Church and the faithful.
    – Remember, Lord, of all monastic fraternities, male and female, the abbots and the abbesses and all the fraternities and the Mount Athos fathers.
    – Remember, Lord, Your servants who are in a time of war.
    – Those who are persecuted in the mountains and in the plains.
    – Those who are like hunted birds.
    – Remember your servants who left their homes and their jobs and are suffering.
    – Remember, Lord, the poor, (the hungry, the unemployed), the homeless and the refugees.
    – Remember, Lord, of all nations, to have them in your arms, to cover them with Your holy Protection, to protect them from all evil and from war. And to have our beloved Greece day and night in your arms, to cover her with Your holy Protection, to protect her from all evil and from war.
    – Remember, Lord, the afflicted abandoned, wronged, tried and tested families, and give your mercies richly to them. (Also those families with many children).
    – Remember your servants who suffer from mental and physical problems of all kinds.
    – Remember those who are in despair, (depression),help and give them peace.
    -Remember, Lord, of Your servants who asked for our prayers.
    -(Remember, Lord, those who pray for us, my God children and my spiritual brethren).
    -Remember all those who have fallen asleep in all ages and give them rest.

  78. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Your translation is a marvelous gift for us. Thank you!

  79. Dee of St Hermans Avatar
    Dee of St Hermans

    Dear Nikolaos,
    I completely agree with Father Stephen. Your translation is a dear gift to us. Thank you for this.

  80. Byron Avatar

    I’ve had a long struggle (which for now I’ll not elaborate) and sometimes it just seemed that my struggle, which included self-blame and self-deprecation for my failure, fed into the repetition of failure.

    Dee, forgive me for coming so late to this conversation! I have struggled with this as well and my priest gave me the advice to not worry so much about it: practice long-suffering and thanksgiving (all things are allowed by God for our salvation).

    I have found it helpful to not focus as much on my (ever-repeating) failures as on God’s grace and love in forgiving them. Considering the parable of the Prodigal Son has been very helpful in this. Indeed, I’ve become more and more aware of the periods of great grace that He gives when it seems I am ready to despair over my frailty and weakness. When, by his grace, no temptation or trial can reach me. I’ve come to the conclusion that these times are the fulfillment of the scripture:

    My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.

    Thanksgiving is the appropriate response to His firm hands placing a ring on my finger (even as I try to wallow in my sin). I pray this is helpful. Pray for me also, please!

  81. christa Avatar

    “I found it helpful to not focus on my ever repeating failures as on God’s grace and love in forgiving them.”
    I too.
    “So each time we refuse to take on the the blame for our common evil, for the actions of our neighbor, we are repeating the same sin and shattering the unity of man”
    Much food for thought, prayer, and growth.
    Thanks for the prayer Nikolaos. It’s good to have a prayer calling to mind and heart the whole of our dear world.
    Yesterday I recognized anew that my resentments are in fact due to my not being able to acknowledge that I have persons to forgive and I am in fact not loving them if I hold on to my not forgiving them. And of course I am not fully accepting of God’s forgiveness of me, because I do not forgive them. This cloud of despair has been swirling about me for many years. I have asked forgiveness but resent ment has built with no response. How do we move from resentment to forgiving others so we can receive the love and forgiveness God gives us. Prayer, confession and acknowledgment, renewed fasting of the heart, mind, and body, worship, doing the next good deed in the present. It’s hard living in the present with resentments rattling in the mind. I am slothful, confused. May my will lean into God’s will. May it be a blessed lent. Thanks to all for your encouragment to “Hold to the plow. Hold on. Hold on.”

  82. Andrew Roberts Avatar
    Andrew Roberts

    It can take years of struggle and confusion to be able to forgive and let go of some things. The pain and resentment can be very deep. Healing is a long and slow process.

    ‘Out of the depths I cry to you O Lord…’

  83. Byron Avatar

    How do we move from resentment to forgiving others so we can receive the love and forgiveness God gives us.

    christa, I have had to go back and forgive many people with whom I no longer have any contact but for whom I still held bitterness in my heart. The need to forgive is a need for the cleansing of my own heart, not for their agreement. If they are unavailable (or refuse) to forgive, it is a condition of their heart. Do not let it wound your heart with anger or bitterness.

    Pray for the best for them and, when you think of them, wish them well in your thoughts as well. Your own heart will be cleansed and you will no longer think of them spitefully or with anger. It takes time but this focus on forgiving and not necessarily being forgiven will bring healing.

    As a connected thought, it occurred to me some time ago that the command to not take communion if you have a difference with anyone is a command for me to go to them and forgive and ask forgiveness. But It does not mean they have to forgive me. Their grudges do not stand between me and the Cup. Only my heart can bar me from communion with God. That said, we must be careful to make every effort, in our heart and in our communion with others, to not only forgive but to heal any divide.

  84. Christa Avatar

    Thank you Byron.
    Do you think one can ask forgiveness too many times in that it can make the other person feel guilty.? I do not want to do that. That’s not love and that’s not forgiveness. I ask God to give me the right words to write, the right words to say. to teach me the right time to speak. and much patience.

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