What Exactly Is Changing?


The Catholic theologian, Hans Urs von Balthasar, in his magisterial work on St. Gregory of Nyssa, offers this observation:

The journey towards salvation is marked by a successive elimination of all that we “have,” in order to reach what we “are.” The safest path and surest refuge is not to be deluded and fail to recognize ourselves – who we truly are. We should not believe that we are seeing our Selves when we are only seeing something that surrounds us – our body, our senses, the idea that others have of us. ‘For anything unstable is not us.’

It is a passage that struck me deeply in my recent work on my book regarding shame in the spiritual life. It is significant for me, in that it asks the question, “What is changing when we speak of spiritual transformation?” Our modern tendency is to think in terms of self-development. It’s a very popular idea, no doubt fueled by the fact that self-development can be monetized. It seems to me that very little in our culture receives much attention if it cannot be marketed and sold. The self-help section in any bookstore seems to dwarf many others.

This quote represents something of a distillation of St. Gregory, particularly the statement, “For anything unstable is not us.” Its import is, “Anything that can be changed is not who you are.” That concept flies in the face of our most common understandings.

Consider this from St. Paul:

For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each one’s work will become clear; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one’s work, of what sort it is. 1 Cor. 3:11-13

We associate (rightly) this passage with the effects of the Judgment on our works. I would suggest that the single greatest “work” of our lives is the work of our soul. The distinction between hay, wood, straw, and gold, silver, and precious stones, is found in their destructibility. Gold, silver, and precious stones cannot be destroyed by fire(at least in St. Paul’s science-world). Put them through fire and they are revealed to be exactly what they are. They remain. Fire can only purify, not destroy.

Most modern views of the self are centered in those features best described as “personality.” If something happens that causes a change to the personality, we are quite likely to declare, “He’s not himself.” This is quite disturbing when applied to dementia patients. “That is not my father,” someone declares as they grieve the memory-loss and personality changes of a parent. It might well be the case that what we come to treasure about others is not quite them at all: anything unstable is not us.

One thought I have had in this direction is to think of the personality as a “fractal” of the soul. In math, a fractal is not a copy of something – but a line that mirrors something to a certain extent. It is not a copy – but something of a reflection. I have three adult daughters. Each of them resembles their mother, and each other. But, each of them is unique. What is it that we see when we say, “She resembles her mother?” It is a “fractal” – a “resemblance” but not a “copy.” By the same token, the personalities we encounter in one another are not detached from the soul, but they are not the soul itself. They resemble it, even though they do not duplicate it.

I’ll give an example:

Some of the people I’ve loved most deeply in my life have suffered from addictions. One of them was my father. There were many times that the effects of alcohol stood between us (particularly in my childhood). I loved him fiercely, which was also a source of pain. One of the great joys of my life was that I knew him through the whole course of his life, including the later years of sobriety. Knowing someone over a significant portion of their lives, it is possible to observe “something” that does not change. What I saw in my father over those years, was a slow “stripping away” of superfluous things, problems, habits, thoughts. As those fell away (some I might even describe as “purged in the fires”), something that I intuited as a child (despite every contradiction) became ever more visible.

Balthasar offers another summary of St. Gregory:

…the soul is purified in this way, as she lays aside garment after garment. Thus the ideal will appear as that supreme instant wherein the soul, having been disencumbered of all her “corporeal [veils], presents herself naked and pure in spirit to the vision of God in a divine vigil”.

I particularly like the imagery of garment after garment being laid aside. The garments of our daily lives follow the “outline” of our bodies, and, sometimes, in the creative efforts of our culture, seek to reveal something of our inner life that we want to display. But, at best, such garments are only poor “fractals” of the body itself, even as the body is, perhaps, but a poor fractal of the soul.

The Christian life is, properly, a life of spiritual asceticism in which we seek to shed that which is not truly ours. This is not always obvious (by any means). It is also not entirely private. The “mirror” of the soul is Christ Himself. Were we only looking within ourselves the journey would be nothing more than “anybody’s guess.” Instead, we become like Christ as we steadily gaze at Christ. He is the “measure” of the soul and the singular measure of what it is to be truly human and “who we are.”

The approach of iconography to this mystery is worth noting. In the icon of the Dormition of the Theotokos (the death of the Mother of God), her body is pictured lying on a funeral bed. Her soul, however, is pictured as a child, wrapped in swaddling clothes, in the arms of Christ. I have not found a commentary on this portrayal, but find it to be an interesting approach. How do you picture the soul? The innocence and purity of a child (“for to such belongs the Kingdom of God”) seems to be an excellent answer. Psalm 131 describes the soul in terms of a “weaned child.”

Following St. Gregory of Nyssa, it is possible to understand that we do not yet have true or complete knowledge of “who we are.”  We are probably “closer” to that reality in the innocence of our early childhood. It becomes far more opaque and obscure to us as we move into adolescence and adulthood. Christ’s command that we should become like children seems to indicate this very thing.

St. Gregory of Nyssa’s thoughts on the work of salvation are among the most positive takes to be found in the early Church. While many aspects of this speculation (observation) are not a part of Church dogma, they are, nevertheless, very instructive.

May God nurture our souls and help us to “lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us…” (Heb.12:2)

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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43 responses to “What Exactly Is Changing?”

  1. Xenia Avatar

    The way the soul of the Theotokos that is represented in the icon is the same way it is presented in a beautiful icon of the Guardian Angel. I splurged on handpainted icon by Hannah Ward from England. When browsing, I found this icon and it pictured the soul just as I had it pictured in my mind – wrapped in swaddling clothes within a bubble in the arms of the Guardian Angel. As one priest described the soul to me recently, the soul comes from God and will certainly return to God, as what comes from God naturally returns to God. When it returns, I understand that the soul will have the option to say “yes” or “no” to God. I found this extremely comforting in my aging years.

  2. Fr William Keebler Avatar
    Fr William Keebler

    Saint Benedict in his ancient Rule described change as “conversion of manners” which for him was fidelity to monasticism which in turn he describes as a school for the Lord’s service. The Ten Commandments and the stages of growth in humility set the stage for the change into the New Man filled with Christ.

  3. Michael Hooper Avatar
    Michael Hooper

    Your observations lately have been very profound. Fr. Freeman. Thanks, XOC Michael

  4. blind bartimaeus Avatar
    blind bartimaeus

    Thank you for this. I was very moved by the Icon of the Dormition of the Theotokos. So much of this post echos a dream my father and law once had, and I’d like to share it here. I don’t quite know how the dream or it’s connection to this article all fit together, but I think the sentiment will be clear.

    Some backstory: My father in law told me this dream a couple years ago. I’ll just call my FIL Bill for the sake of the story. Bill’s own father was an alcoholic and was not often a good or present father figure. He died long before I met my wife or her father. Bill seems to be at peace with his own father’s failings. Every time I’ve heard him talk about his dad, it’s always been very measured. “He had his flaws, and he let us down a lot, but it wasn’t all his fault, he also had a lot of good in him,” that type of stuff. I’ve also heard Bill say that he just doesn’t think about his own father very often as an adult. He genuinely doesn’t seem angry or resentful of father, and in fact seems pretty unconcerned with that fractured relationship.

    This next part gets pretty heavy, so here’s a warning warning. Bill was married to my mother-in-law for 30 years, the last 10 of which were plagued by her intense mental health struggles. Drug addiction, alcohol abuse, suicide attempts. Much of this was during my wife’s formative high school years. For the sake of the story, I’ll call my mother-in-law Rachel. Rachel took her own life in May of 2019. It was kind of a perfect storm of intense family stress during that season and a particularly opportune time. She was 60.

    I’m going to skip ahead a year to May of 2020. My wife’s nuclear family got together to remember Rachel a year later. During that get together, Bill shared a dream he had with us. He had this dream on the one year anniversary of Rachel’s death. He described how in his dream, he was frantically looking through a street crowded with people. I imagined something like an urban market area. He was looking for someone, and his late wife Rachel was with him. But it wasn’t Rachel as she was when she died. As he described it, it was like Rachel as a child. She was her small, innocent, childhood self, and Bill was holding her hand, guiding her, searching for someone in the crowd.

    All at once Bill turns from the crowded street into a doorway, and finds himself in the midst of a crowded room with a man at the center. The man is Bill’s father, the alcoholic, the deadbeat. But like Rachel, he was different. As Bill described it to me, “It was like he was finally whole.” Bill said it was like this crowd was full of people who had come to his father for wisdom. His now-whole father was not the drunken absentee parent he was in life, but was now wise, kind, and present. And as Bill tried to make his way through the crowd, he caught the eye of his father, who stopped and parted the people to greet him. They didn’t exchange any words, but looked at one another and knew, all was right between them. Everything was okay.

    And then Bill told me that his father looked down at the little girl holding Bill’s hand, and he reached out for her. Bill guided her to him, the childhood “soul” of his late wife Rachel, to the arms of his now-whole and holy father. He said his father picked Rachel up and held her in his arms, and then he looked back at Bill one more time, and again without exchanging any words, Bill knew exactly what he meant. “I will keep her safe. I have her safe in my arms, I promise. She’s okay.”

    That’s where the dream ends. I don’t know what comments to offer, the dream doesn’t seem to need much interpretation. But I cannot shake it. It just seems so clear, so dare I say “Biblical,” I almost don’t know what to do with it. It speaks to me of the eschatological “now and not yet” of Paul’s highest heights. Bill’s own father, having shed all the withering garments covering his soul, meeting the lost, broken, and crushed innocence of Bill’s late wife, and promising to hold her safe and tight for him. His own failings as a father made new as he holds Rachel tenderly. Rachel’s lost childhood, her life taken from her by grief, addiction, and mental illness, all held safely in the arms of a loving father who will never let her go. And all of Bill’s grief and regret—that he could not keep Rachel well forever, that he couldn’t protect her from herself forever, that he couldn’t keep his children’s mother alive— all seen healed in the arms of his own father, made new. Even just the loose similarities to the Gospel stories—stories of people desperate for healing, fighting through crowds to meet a mysterious miracle worker, only to be shown forgiveness, reconciliation, and newness too.

    I don’t know what else to say other than that Bill’s dream is maybe the brightest glimpse of heaven I will ever see in this life, and that’s more than enough to hold me over. It speaks to me of the things which cannot be lost that you unpacked here, Fr.

  5. Eric Avatar

    This is so helpful

    We are most truly ourselves in our Union with God (I hope I understand correctly)

    I think of Jesus words about streaks of living water
    In revelation they are in a sense ‘seen’ as the emanation of God’s life
    To be part of that river of living water is to be United to its source

  6. Eric Avatar

    Regarding the weaned child, Jesus asleep in the boat
    He is our Life
    Not the noise of the wind and waves

  7. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Jesus said, of course, to become as a little child. Matthew 18: 1-6 lays it out directly, I think. Does the Pentecostal experience perhaps begin that conversion in the Apostles and the early disciples? Certainly the Biblical account indicates that there was no shame on display. Does the joyful surfeit of the presence of the Holy Spirit by Grace perhaps have a result similar to dedicated ascetic prayer, fasting and almsgiving? Or do they some how go hand in hand? One making possible the other in a wonderful synergy of Grace? Somehow revealing the wonder of Creation in the midst of degradation? Shame ruling no more except only to drive us to our knees in contrition when needed?

  8. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Blind Bartimaeus,
    Thank you for this wonderful story…I’ve heard others in this pattern and believe them to be revelatory.

  9. Byron Avatar

    I wonder at the balance of the body and soul in the creation. Will we not be resurrected bodily? There is certainly some importance in the material, the changeable. How is it balanced with the importance of the soul?

    Modernity idolizes the human mind over all else. While at times delusional, does the mind not also carry import in our salvation? I don’t deny the importance of the soul but I wonder about the importance of things more impermanent.

    “Anything that can be changed is not who you are.”

    If what is I cannot change, how can I ever “become holy”? Forgive me for all my questions but this post causes me much confusion.

  10. Donald Avatar

    Hey Fr.,

    A couple of quick questions:

    1) Is this the book you were referencing? https://www.amazon.ca/Presence-Thought-Religious-Philosophy-Communio-ebook/dp/B00A0XX1YY

    2) What practically, then, do you suggest as an alternative to tools and techniques offered by the personal development sector?


  11. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Yes. This is a problem with much of the language that we use. The Scriptures will speak of mind (nous), spirit, soul, body, etc. Generally, soul, as St. Gregory is using it, is “who” we are, viewed spiritually. The body and the soul are united. Death separates the soul from the body, and so we await the resurrection of the body (the change of the body to a “spiritual” body and its reunion with the soul).

    The place of mind (nous) when used by the Fathers, generally means a “faculty” of the soul, and ability, etc.

    If I lose an arm, my body is impaired, but not my soul. At a certain point, the body can become so sick that it dies and the is separated. This “mortal” body must become “immortal” according to St. Paul. It cannot “inherit the Kingdom” fully in its present state. It is mortal and the Kingdom is immortal.

    But, like you, I don’t want to denigrate the body or dismiss it – that’s not our faith.

    What about the impermanent things? I’ll use my father’s addiction as an example. It was impermanent and deeply troublesome. It affected all of him. But it became like a grain of sand in a pearl – something that was overcome and that overcoming, if you will, accrued to the glory of who he is (and even who he was in his later years).

    The mind, like the body, plays a role in salvation. But, again, when someone is not able to access their mind fully, as in Alzheimers, they are still fully there, and fully human, and fully a soul. The mind is very much part of the body, to some degree, though with the soul as well.

    What I take away from St. Gregory’s words are that there is a true identity, a true self, which he is calling “soul.” This has a kind of eternal permanence about it. Though not yet glorified, nevertheless, it has something about it that is secure, that has a permanence. I think of my changing (if I’m thinking in St. Gregory’s terms) as a movement through many things towards the unchanging. It is a changing that is being more and more conformed into the image of Christ (which St. Gregory would say is mirrored in the soul). So, there’s a changing, but a change with a goal that is “built in.” Thus, you become truly you. Mind, perhaps body in some rare instances (in some of the stories of saints there are amazing things about the body).

    But, it’s useful working through these various terms. There’s wisdom in them and insight. Frankly, the tradition had a better vocabulary for all of this than we do. So, it’s good to walk around in it for a bit.

    If the article becomes to bothersome or problematic, just set it aside.

  12. Maria Avatar

    Fr John Romanides said man must be cured of his personality. Perhaps once the personality is cured (not removed, not killed, but correctly apportioned ), the person will appear.

  13. Simon Avatar


    My humble opinion is that “becoming” is used much in the same way as the word “setting” is used when we say “The sun is setting.” The sun isn’t really “setting” but that is how it is perceived. And, as descriptions go, from our perspective it isn’t an inaccurate description. I think this is true for “becoming” language. We may use language that reflects a perception of change in the spiritual life, but what what is really happening is as Fr. Stephen has pointed out: We are removing layers, and as layers are removed more of what is unchangeable is revealed. That looks like changing and becoming, but it is probably more accurate to understand it as revealing that which is hidden and unchangeable.

  14. One who knows mercy Avatar
    One who knows mercy

    My late wife, of blessed memory, led a troubled life full of shame as her father was a cruel alcoholic and abusive. My late wife sheltered her younger sister to the point that her sister denies the abusiveness of her father believing her sister made it up.
    Living in shame as she did and despite her many gifts, she often shamed others. Including our son. She also was in great physical pain often. She died because she took too much of her medications. I know it was not suicide because I heard her initial response to the ER doctor as she was still conscious. It took hours for her to repose mostly in a coma as the drugs off set each other. During much of that time our priest, a senior reader and a fellow parishioner were with us chanting hymns and prayers. For about the last hour I could perceive an angel standing at her head intently focused on her. When she reposed, the angel vanished. A non-Orthodox friend of ours was also with us and shared in the perception to some degree and vowed to become Orthodox that day. My son also “saw” but later denied it in anger and shame eventually leaving the Church. But there is more. ..three weeks later was Pascha. I went (my son did not). As we began singing Christ is Risen From the Dead.. there He was with my wife somehow fully recognizable but quite different, glowing and rising with Christ up to the top of the Sanctuary and disappearing.
    I went to the service out of duty full if grief. That grief was transformed into a transcendent joy that some how, when I allow Him, the Holy Spirit keep adding to ss I am able. I am still a sinner and rely heavily on the mercy of our Lord but not from total ignorance.
    God is good because it seemed to ne that my dear wife was granted the mercy to repent fully as she lay dying and she did
    The mercy of the Lord endures forever. We can trust that even in the midst of great pain and darkness.

  15. Byron Avatar

    Father and Simon,

    Thanks for your explanations. It makes sense but my day has not been a good one and I struggled with too many distractions to absorb this properly. I think laying back and considering it later is good for now. God is good though and during Vespers tonight I finally came to peace. Thank you all for your patience!

  16. Simon Avatar

    I’m rereading these last two articles and it reinforces in my mind the depth of insight in the Orthodox faith. These things are not trivial. The reason that Fr. Stephen understands these matters as clearly as he does is not because of his academic acumen. The insight comes from decades of experience as a confessor and priest. What is expressed in these articles isn’t theoretical, but the fruit of a sensitive soul translating the breadth of his experience into knowledge. If Fr. Stephen didn’t do that, if he didn’t ‘publish’ his thoughts, they would in some sense be lost when the old man goes the way of all the earth. But, publishing these insights on the blog makes it possible for others to benefit from his experience and his contemplation of his experience. All of which is non-trivial.

  17. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    You are very kind. I think I’m getting closer to the way of all the earth lately…at least in the mornings…

  18. Justin Avatar

    Fr. Stephen,

    As I’ve gone on this “journey toward salvation,” so many times the discovery of my true self in Christ seems like a digression, a “de-maturing” so to speak. Coming to Jesus like a child–trying to have a childlike faith–has required me to throw off very old things in my life that I have held on to since my childhood, and it feels like I’m left back at that spot, almost starting over. It’s weird and hard to explain. It is like being undressed–it’s like that dream I’ve had [I assume many others, also] where you’re naked at school, or work, or somewhere public while no one really notices, you feel awkward and only want to hide or cover up. It’s like that.

    In my life I’ve realized it’s about comfort. Who and what have I sought comfort from? It’s uncomfortable to be naked before God, at least at first.

  19. Chris Avatar

    This reminds me so much of the themes brought out in CS Lewis’s classics, _Till We Have Faces_, and _The Great Divorce_. The idea of how our own self-concept can obscure and tie knots around who we really are, and how it is often unpleasant to allow those knots to be untied (since they’ve usually been put there as a defense mechanism, sometimes because of real trauma, other times just to protect one’s ego/delusion of not being mortal, etc).

    “Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when He shall appear, we shall be like Him; for we shall see Him as He is. And every man that has this hope in him purifies himself, even as He is pure.”

    “When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known.”

  20. Ben Nye Avatar
    Ben Nye

    Blind Bartemaus,

    Just extraordinary. It brought tears to my eyes. Thank you.

  21. Michelle Avatar

    This article of seeing the true self reminds me of what I have learned as a teacher of children, many from troubled backgrounds. Also, a foster parent to a child whose psychologist diagnosed him as a potential sociopath and other diagnoses abounded. In my work with these children, I realized no “management system” or form of discipline fully helped even if they were a support. Real change began to take place as I stopped seeing them as an object to control defined by their issues, but a fellow human to love, enjoy, and be in relationship with. Suffering with them in patience during their meltdowns and failures, showing abundant grace, and seeking the face of Christ/Image of God in their eyes. When I would view others as their “true selves” I saw them change and their neuroses lose power.

  22. Simon Avatar

    In terms of my understanding, this summarizes the truth of the self and theosis: “We shall be like Him; for we shall see Him as He is.” It seems to me that this means that we shall know ourselves to have been given hypostatic likeness to Christ since baptism , but the fullness of that knowledge will not be experienced until we come to know ourselves as we are known through seeing Christ as he is.
    And then there is is this “And every man that has this hope in him purifies himself, even as He is pure.” The hypostatic nature, for there is no “who” without a “what”, given at baptism is perfectly pure. But, for that to be revealed, we must remove the layers and layers of what is not real in order to reveal the unchangeable reality of the hypostatic.

  23. (another) Elizabeth Avatar
    (another) Elizabeth

    Justin and Chris’s comments together beautifully embody the vulnerability required to stand “naked before Christ” in that wonderful scene in C.S. Lewis’s ” The Voyage of the Dawn Treader” where Aslan tells the en-dragoned Eustace Scrubb that he can’t shed his dragon skin on his own but must let Aslan undress him.

  24. Santosh John Samuel Avatar
    Santosh John Samuel

    Father, yet to read the article. But the photograph, what beauty, what joy to run on that track and at that age.
    And is it a rail track next to the trail?

  25. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    I think it’s a rail track, yes. The picture is from Killarney National Park in Ireland.

  26. Simon Avatar

    Fr. Stephen,

    Could you comment on what your understanding is between the soul of the person and his or her hypostasis? I know there is only so much good to be had by thinking about such things. But from my contemplation of what you have written here and in connection with other discussions and readings, I feel pressed to think that apart from baptism we are exist as ‘natural beings’ and as such we exist as proto-hypostatic beings. However, at baptism we are spiritualized by the Holy Spirit and are made ‘spiritual beings’ possessing ‘hypostatic being.’ Or, at the very least, is it within the grammar of Orthodox theology to think of baptism in this manner. Also, it could be that you or someone else has said as much somewhere else and in thinking through this I simply have failed to keep track of that. So, if that is true or at least permissible, then would you say that the human soul is spiritualized by being hypostatized by the Holy Spirit? What is the relationship between the human soul and the hypostatic new birth? I know that this is probably not an important question and certainly not a question on anyone’s radar, but I would appreciate if you might share what you think on the matter.

  27. Matthew Lyon Avatar
    Matthew Lyon


  28. Randy Myers Avatar
    Randy Myers

    Thank you for the great post.
    In recent years, I’ve become more aware of the mystery of the soul. It makes me consider the statement of our Lord, “What shall it profit a man to gain the whole world but lose his soul?” It’s a haunting thought. I think especially of the citation in A Man for All Seasons.

    Randy Myers

  29. Matthew Lyon Avatar
    Matthew Lyon

    Fr. Freeman,

    Was thinking about this through the morning today. On one hand these quotes can sound a tad pantheistic. But when – and again – here’s the OS thing – we realize that the natural state of a person is union, is the faith of a child – and the natural state of a person is not inherited evil – then peeling back the layers of really protection and security reveals what is natural/normal and it’s not that you become God or realize that you are part of God, but that you were meant to be a god, a child of God. When you peel back the layers in the OS mindset, you find deeper depths of evil. And here what looks/sounds like pantheistic tendencies in Orthodoxy are actually there in OS system instead. When, as I’ve said before, if God and all that happens due to His will are equivalent, what difference is there between God and the world? The OS system and the pantheism actually share the greater commonality. But I really feel that every system besides Orthodoxy is ultimately pantheistic. I didn’t mean to go off topic and of course I don’t think I am, the layers peeled back don’t reveal us to be God but are recapitulatory. My concern was to give some short explanation why these quotes from St. Irenaeus are not pantheistic.

  30. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    My thoughts mostly follow those of St. Sophrony who has written perhaps the most on this of anyone. He particularly speaks of us as moving towards a truly hypostatic existence. But, viz. the soul, it is certainly our “life,” it is “myself.” And it moves from its “natural” existence into this greater, fuller, divine existence as true person/hypostasis. I’ve got a passage in St. Sophrony’s, We Shall See Him as He Is, that I’m still chewing on in light of your question. I’ll say more in a day or so. One reason I look to St. Sophrony on this is that he writes very much from the tradition and from experience. When he talks about a hypostatic existence – he’s walking in it. Quite interesting.

  31. Leigh Frank Avatar
    Leigh Frank

    Thank you Father Stephen!

    This brings into more a reality for me of a vision I had recently. I saw the Lord as my inner child.
    I am very thankful to have 28 years of sobriety. Your description of your father is a familiar portrayal of my journey as well. For me, alcohol and other substances were used to hide anything that I thought others and myself shouldn’t see. In my path of destruction, I hurt many people along the way, more severely the ones closest to me.
    I’ve used this time in sobriety to shed the veils that keep me from being authentic in the Lord.
    I was reminded recently of some work I did early on in sobriety looking for my “inner child”. It may sound ethereal in a worldly sort of way, but back then as well as now, when I look to the little girl in me, I’m brought into a more thoughtful approach. It’s as if I look to Christ in her innocent eyes.
    It’s still something useful for me today to identify with the child within me. I told my sponsor of whom I’ve had a relationship with since then, that I envision my inner child to be the Jesus in me.
    I hope this doesn’t seem too out there. Your description of the icon brought clarity to my vision and I’m grateful to the Lord.
    Your thoughts?

    Bless you Father Stephen and your commitment to helping us to draw deeper into the healing of our souls.

    I had the pleasure of meeting you recently when you visited St. Matthews in Cleveland.

  32. Andrew Roberts Avatar
    Andrew Roberts

    The child can become many different personalities and adopt many different roles depending on what catches its attention and influences it ; maybe?
    Losing who and what it is, because of outside pressure to be and conform to a particular narrative .

    We can tend to conform everything to our own image and likeness; even God!


  33. Leigh Frank Avatar
    Leigh Frank

    Yes I am aware of that happening. It’s not as if it doesn’t take discernment to identify. I guess I’m not meaning to speak in a generalized way either.
    What sparked me several weeks ago was when I was talking to someone at work (a Christian counseling group), where one of the counselors was talking about inner child work and how she employs it with some of her clients.
    I immediately felt the love of the Lord and imagined Him placing upon my heart that He was that little girl.
    I want to make it clear that I don’t believe I am God, or that He is conforming to my own image. I pray I am doing the conforming to His.
    I say all that and place it at His feet with hopes that He teach me what I may learn from your feedback as well as from others.
    I do appreciate it.
    By the way. I am an Orthodox Christian in the making.

  34. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    There is a very rich insight within the Scriptures and the Tradition on the innocence of the soul – it’s child-like quality. I’m aware of the “inner-child” meme within modern psychology – and – like all things – admits of good usage and misuse.

    I am increasingly certain of an inner “stability” within human beings – in contrast to various efforts to re-define us as almost infinitely malleable. The latter serves unspoken political motivations at the expense of children and the vulnerable. Indeed, as the world becomes defined as malleable, what is enshrined as stability is only the will to power.

    With that in mind, I find it all the more important that we work to stay grounded in what is most stable: the near, the present, the neighbor, the known, etc. God give us grace during these days.

  35. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Father, is the ‘malleable’ theme of the world because the only way stability is through humility and repentance? Both of which under cut the will to power.

  36. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Humility and repentance have a relationship with stability – in that both have the aspect of acceptance – embracing the givenness of the world and the givenness of certain things in our own lives. The will to power has the inherent danger of no boundaries, always something to be wary of.

    What are the boundaries of the self, for example? The self without boundaries is narcissism.

  37. Leigh Frank Avatar
    Leigh Frank

    Thank you Father,

    I wholeheartedly agree with living in the present, with stability and grounding of my surroundings.
    In essence it is with hopes of seeing with the innocence of that child the beauty that God is providing at any given moment.
    Anything, and there are many, that takes my attention away from that stability of His presence is a time of repentance.
    It’s all very rich indeed.

  38. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Father, I have seen in some people a kind of spiritual narcissism– spiritual attainment masquerading as humility but actually founded in pride even among some Orthodox. It can be tempting but is self-destructive. I don’t really know how to pray for folks I know who seem to have fallen prey. Myself, I understand, but for others, not so much.

  39. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    What more do we need than, “Lord have mercy”?

  40. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Thank you Father. I agree with Simon above. God grant you and your wife many years. Forgive my density.

  41. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    May the Joy of the Lord and His mercy be with all here, especially Fr. Stephen.

  42. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    As to “What is Changing”: When Jesus threw the money changers out of the Temple, the temple did not change. It was cleansed. Returned to what God intended. What it truly was. Is that not the same with us?

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