Forgiveness for All the Sundays to Come

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I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word;  (John17:20-21)

The Elder Sophrony, together with St. Silouan, wrote about the “whole Adam.” By this, they meant all the human beings who have ever existed and those yet to come. For Silouan and Sophrony, this was something known in the present tense, a “hypostatic” knowledge of the fundamental unity of the human race. Sophrony described it as a necessary component in the Christian life of prayer. We have not been taught to pray, “My” Father, but “Our” Father.

This primal unity is completely present in Christ. His death on the Cross is not His alone – He dies the death of every single human being – bearing the sins of all. The insight of the saints tells us that this same reality must be ours as well. Christ has not done something for us in our absence. The Cross He endured is the same Cross He invites us to take up. And that Cross is also a universal Cross (the Cross of the whole Adam). We do not go there only for our own death, but for the death of everyone (and thus the resurrection of all).

The privatization of our religious faith has obscured this fundamental reality. We hear the command of Christ as directed solely to ourselves as a private matter. But the nature of that Cross includes its universal aspect. The Cross cannot bear my sins if it does not bear the sins of all. It is one of the primary meanings of Christ’s title, the “Second Adam.” For He is not a mere repeat of the First, but the recapitulation of all, just as the First Adam was the head of all. (Romans 5:18-19)

I am often aware of the burden of sin that we inherit (ancestral sin). Most of the problems that infect the world are not of this generations’ making (as is always true). We do not enter the world as a blank slate. Our DNA, our cultural inheritance, the vast sum of what will be our existence is given to us in a deck that has already been stacked. As Fr. Alexander Schmemann once said, the spiritual life consists in “how we deal with what we’ve been dealt.” And it is even more complex than that. We are sitting at a table in which every hand in play has this same givenness. We are all playing in a game that we might not have chosen for ourselves.

I am also growing ever more aware of those who will come after me. As a grandfather, I observe the inevitable inheritance within my own family, to say nothing of the world they will inherit. When I think of the generations to come my mind is also drawn to the vast multitude of those whose lives have been destroyed in the silent violence of our modern world. This is a bitter planet and one that gives too little thought to such things.

But when we pray as the whole Adam, then we must give thought to all of these things. Is it any wonder that the Church teaches us to cry out, “Lord, have mercy!” over and over again? I think of the advice given to Raskolnikov, the axe-murderer in Crime and Punishment. After confessing his crime to Sonya the prostitute we read:

“Well, what to do now, tell me!” he said, suddenly raising his head and looking at her, his face hideously distorted by despair.

“What to do!” she exclaimed, suddenly jumping up from her place, and her eyes, still full of tears, suddenly flashed. “Stand up!” (She seized him by the shoulder; he rose, looking at her almost in amazement.) “Go now, this minute, stand in the crossroads, bow down, and first kiss the earth you’ve defiled, then bow to the whole world, on all four sides, and say aloud to everyone: ‘I have killed!’ Then God will send you life again. Will you go? Will you go?” she kept asking him, all trembling as if in a fit, seizing both his hands, squeezing them tightly in her own, and looking at him with fiery eyes.

He was amazed and even struck by her sudden ecstasy. “So it’s hard labor, is it, Sonya? I must go and denounce myself?” he asked gloomily.

“Accept suffering and redeem yourself by it, that’s what you must do.”

We take a burden far greater than Raskolnikov’s into Great Lent. Bow down, kiss the earth you have defiled, then bow to the whole world, on all four sides, and say aloud: “Forgive me!”

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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73 responses to “Forgiveness for All the Sundays to Come”

  1. Janine Avatar
    Janine

    Thank you Father. Even this great burden of sin, that which we’ve been dealt, is such a great mystery. I also find it present in what I experience as the tricky process of forgiveness. I mean I do tend to see the violent roots of some bad behaviors that have impacted me in a hard way, even if I don’t want to re-engage those behaviors somehow (the persons who want to continue them). I think I’m not expressing myself properly: I see the impact of things not their fault on those who practice the behaviors that I find hurtful. Your words on the same Cross we all share are inspiring and profound, and contain a great mystery I think.

    Actually I hope you will not mind if I share a prayer from a Lenten service of the Armenian Apostolic (Oriental Orthodox) church. It’s Prayer 23 of 24 by St. Nerses Shnorhali (“the Gracious”, 12th cent) of a work called “I Confess with Faith.” I find it helpful for me .

    Have mercy on all those who believe in you; on my beloved ones, and on those who are strangers to me; on all those I know, and on those unknown to me; on the living and on the dead. Even forgive my enemies, and those who hate me, forgive the trespasses they have committed against me. Relieve my enemies from the malice they bear towards me, so that they become worthy of your mercy.

  2. Kenneth Avatar
    Kenneth

    Thank you. The truth of this message is so moving and profound that it brings tears.

  3. David Waite Avatar
    David Waite

    Amen.

  4. Subdeacon John (Walter) Kennick Avatar
    Subdeacon John (Walter) Kennick

    Janine, thank you for sharing that prayer. It is most helpful. God bless your Lenten journey.

  5. Janine Avatar
    Janine

    You are welcome Subdeacon John! It was very helpful to me too, and may God bless your Lenten journey also!

  6. Margaret Avatar
    Margaret

    Thank you for this post, Fr. Stephen! I am always glad to be reminded of Sonya’s advice as you have quoted here (and very grateful to my husband who introduced me to the author Dostoyevsky). Excellent aide to prepare for Forgiveness Sunday, as well as preparing for Great Lent!
    Thank you for sharing this prayer in comments, Janine. I plan to share this prayer and will give credit as you have here.

  7. Joy Avatar
    Joy

    You taught a forgiveness prayer years ago that has helped me more than anything else in dealing with old bitterness and anger. It is this: “Lord, on the Day of Judgement forgive them for every sin they’ve committed against me.” I add these words, “…and forgive me for my unforgiveness.”

  8. Chis King Avatar
    Chis King

    Thank you Father Stephen in bringing awareness of Jesus, the second and New Adam. We are called to become greatly aware of our personal sins and humanity’s sins but with hope also. I write this message from Krakow Poland which I seem to be called recently. Tomorrow, I travel to Auschwitch-Birkenau to witness one of man’s (Adam’s) sin.
    I would not have been prepared for this without first visiting the shrine of Divine Mercy outside of Krakow. The shrine is a witness to God’s everlasting mercy. In the visitors log I left the following message: Lord have mercy (shortened Jesus prayer) and “Jesus I trust in you”.
    Saint Faustina, the Apostle of Divine Mercy helps me with God’s message to her and the world, the prayer: Jesus, I trust in you”.
    As you stated in the article, Jesus is the Primal Adam who brings healing and forgiveness. We, too, are witnesses to humanity’s sins and are to become healers with God’s forgiveness.
    May the Holy Spirit guide us with the Father’s mercy and love through Jesus’ sacrifice and redemption. Amen
    Please pray for me and all of us who are on different paths of life on our journey toward the beatific vision of God.

  9. Dee of St Herman Avatar
    Dee of St Herman

    “…and forgive me for my unforgiveness.”

    Joy, Thank you for your comment. I have prayed similarly. May God grant us a loving and forgiving heart.

  10. Dee of St Herman Avatar
    Dee of St Herman

    Relieve my enemies from the malice they bear towards me, so that they become worthy of your mercy.

    Janine, I echo what others have already said. Thank you so much for what you’ve written. Of course, I don’t know what you have alluded to in your personal circumstances, but it seems very similar to situations I have encountered. And perhaps we all do to some extent. Such circumstances have generally impacted my behavior toward others. While I have relationships that some might call friendships, I’m personally difficult to get ‘close’ to, now. I’m like an old hurt dog. I may not bark or bite but I do have certain avoidance behaviors. Such avoidance extends to people at Church, work, and to family members who have had jealousy issues for years. In this culture we attempt to ‘resolve’ or work through such situations. My healing, to the extent that I able to open my heart to Christ, seems to only come in prayer.

    May God grant us such healing and capacity for forgiveness.

  11. Eric Avatar
    Eric

    Amen and Amen
    Lord have mercy

  12. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Dee, I am much the same way. My wife is exactly the opposite. She connects to everybody with real sincerity, even empathy. I find that almost impossible even as I watch her do it.

  13. Stephen Gage Avatar
    Stephen Gage

    Dee,

    We are all “old hurt dogs” (at least I know I am). On the other hand, I am easy to get close to, to befriend, because I really have nothing to lose, nothing that someone can take from me – I’m that broken. I am that unthreatening.

    I have been hurt in so many ways, but I’d rather risk being hurt than just cut off my openness.

    Surely this is why we love Jesus, seek Jesus, need Jesus. Yes?

    Help me Lord, please help me.

  14. Janine Avatar
    Janine

    Margaret, you are welcome.
    Dee, I hear you loud and clear. I think what Father is saying is that we all share in this same Cross and healing, and so we can pray for one another in this. We are all in it together. For myself, I think when I was young I developed a kind of “cover” persona that was a form of protection and that pleased others who didn’t like my sensitivity (or hurt). I find healing comes from finding really who I am in Christ and accepting that — even our love of Christ (or at least mine) seems to be part of that hidden self, not the one that needed to please others. Know that I am praying for you and others here.
    Thank you everyone for subsequent comments also.

  15. Janine Avatar
    Janine

    PS I think that prayer kind of lays it all out and makes it easier to pray

  16. Simon Avatar
    Simon

    Sonya is one of if not the most profound character in Dostoevsky’s literature. The fact that Dostoevsky could imagine a such profound character testifies to his understanding of love in the character of a saint. Her statement to Raskolnikov “Accept suffering and redeem yourself by it, that’s what you must do.” These words are not mere sentiment. Sonya the prostitute understood these words because her character lived those words. She redeemed herself through suffering as a prostitute in order to save her siblings from starvation. That suffering was her salvation. In Dostoevsky’s world–though he does not say it explicitly–Sonya becomes something like a saint redeemed through her suffering from prostitution in order to save her siblings.

  17. Simon Avatar
    Simon

    Redeeming ourselves through suffering–even if it is the consequences of our own ignorance, or worse–is the kernel of the Orthodox faith. The truth is that it is possible for suffering to be transmuted into salvation. That’s what happens when suffering is accepted and brought into communion with Christ. When Sonya says, “Accept suffering” she is saying ‘Accept the cross that is before you.’

    I forgot how much I loved Sonya.

  18. Dee of St Herman Avatar
    Dee of St Herman

    Stephen,
    I believe the main motivation for my behavior is more simple–peace of soul. There’s not a lot of deliberation nor judgement behind it in most cases. But when judgement is involved, I ask the Lord for forgiveness, knowing my sins should be my focus.

  19. Simon Avatar
    Simon

    Mitya’s ecstasy is also worth noting. After accepting the suffering set before him in the possibility of spending 20 years working inside a Siberian mine he exclaims, “I’ve found a new man. A new man has risen up in me. He was hidden in me, but would never have come to the surface , if it hadn’t been for this blow from heaven…How I want to live now, what a thirst for existence and consciousness has sprung up within me within these peeling walls.” And then Mitya exclaims several times afterwards “‘I exist!’…’I exist!’…’I exist!’…’I exist!’” His suffering became for him his redemption and in that arose a ‘new man’ and for the first time in his whole life–Mitya was himself. His acceptance of suffering was his redemption. There is an inexplicable mystery in that. But, there it is nonetheless.

  20. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Simon,
    Importantly, Dostoevsky had found the truth of his own existence during his four years in penal Siberia. He lived it. There is so much authenticity in his novels.

  21. Simon Avatar
    Simon

    Fr. Thank you for bringing that out. His characters are reflections of his own inner experience. That is important to recognize.

  22. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Dee, Forgive me.

    I was talking with my wife yesterday about what she did in being able to open to others and how she did it. Possibly unique. She is able to connect but still protect peace of her heart too. Because of the abuse she suffered as a child and finding a way to deal with it she, not common, developed a clear sense of herself and her boundaries. It is an example I am going to try to learn from.
    Thank you for your honesty, it helped me a lot.

  23. Mark Spurlock Avatar
    Mark Spurlock

    If I recall correctly, Dostoevsky was informed that he had been pardoned and would not be executed only after receiving a blindfold and standing before the firing squad. He describes the sensation caused by knowing of one’s imminent doom in The Idiot (and possibly elsewhere that I’m forgetting).

    He wrote to his brother afterward: “When I look back on my past and think how much time I wasted on nothing, how much time has been lost in futilities, errors, laziness, incapacity to live; how little I appreciated it, how many times I sinned against my heart and soul — then my heart bleeds. Life is a gift, life is happiness, every minute can be an eternity of happiness!”

    That reprieve–and I imagine those moments spent thinking he was about to meet his Maker encouraged some heartfelt prayer and repentance–echo to me in Mitya’s ecstasy.

  24. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Mark,
    Indeed, he was sentenced to be shot – and was waiting his turn (didn’t get as far as being blindfolded, etc.) – but it was just as “good as.” And the reprieve was an enormous moment of grace and realization – confirmed during his time in Siberia. (He was sentenced to 4 years hard labor rather than being shot – considering he was involved in a treasonous plot – it was quite generous and merciful).

  25. Elizabeth Avatar
    Elizabeth

    Amen. Thank you Fr. Stephen and to others. Your moving messages are a reminder of the love and grace in forgiveness.

  26. Drewster2000 Avatar
    Drewster2000

    Fr. Stephen,

    I’ve been reading Fr. Gregory Boyle, the founder of Homeboy Industries, the largest gang-intervention and rehabilitation program in the world. I’ve been enjoying his first two books, Tattoos on the Heart and Barking to the Choir.

    I believe his message is very much of a piece with your sentiments here. He appeals for kinship: “no kinship, no justice; no kinship, no peace”. To paraphrase another quote: “We must stand in awe of what our brothers and sisters carry rather than in judgement of how they carry it.”

    As you say above, “The Cross cannot bear my sins if it does not bear the sins of all.”

    Thanks again for your ministry and the way you gently expose us to the raw truth of the purpose of our existence in this life: repent…and forgive everyone everything.

  27. juliania Avatar
    juliania

    Dear Father Stephen, I too love Dostoievski because it was through his words that I came to consider more deeply the Gospels and so too was taken into Orthodoxy, I think on the very Sunday you commemorate here, but that simply felt like coming home, and there I’ve stayed.
    This morning I was thinking about the early culmination of antiphons at the beginning of the Liturgy, that we there are reminded of the three crosses on the hill through the words that crown the Beatitudes: Remember us . . .
    I say ‘they crown’ but it is that they come first of all, at the top of all the blessings. To remind us, if we suffer — it seems to me — of our closeness, as well as our distance from , Our Lord’s sufferings, since we are as the thief, so very imperfect.
    And at the same time, we can understand how important the words of the thief must have sounded to Him on His Cross. All the thief is asking is to be remembered. I think that is so wonderful. And our fathers in the church put that at the top of the list! I really do thank them for doing that. Because that brings to mind the other place where our memories of Him are being requested — same words slightly changed — do this in memory of me. The thief hadn’t heard those words spoken to the disciples at the Supper — yet he asks, and receives the promise. And the last is first. It is wonderful.
    As you have said, for all our Sundays to come.
    Glory to Thee, O Lord, Glory to Thee!

  28. The Priest Nicholas Young Avatar
    The Priest Nicholas Young

    Father, you say : “We take a burden far greater than Raskolnikov’s into Great Lent.” Do you mean the burden of sin carried by the human race? Forgive me for not understanding. I don’t say that I am not burdened by the memory of my sins (lying, being selfish and lazy, typical sexual sins…) None of us should stop repenting of the sins we have committed, but I don’t think that I can repent of my neighbour’s sins? Is it that you mean that we all suffer with the burden of the consequences of all sin? But then how is this greater than Raskolnikov’s burden, a man who is a (fictional) murderer?

  29. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Fr. Nicholas,
    I am comparing the burden we carry (in union with the Crucified Christ) to the fictional burden of Raskolnikov (murder, theft). In the Brothers Karamazov, Dostoevsky’s fictional Elder Zossima speaks of “each man being guilty for the sins of all.” In saying this, Dostoevsky was merely following a common teaching among the Elders of Russia (he was particularly attached to the Optina Elders). Also, if you read St. Sophrony as well as his relating the teachings of St. Silouan, we hear the same thing under the heading of the “Whole Adam.”

    Obviously, each of us is responsible uniquely for those sins which we commit, but there is a shared burden of sin that we cannot dismiss as belonging to someone else. Examples such as the Prophet Jeremiah can be seen as someone who repents on behalf of his nation. I cannot repent “in place of” someone else’s repentance – but I can repent on their behalf (and, I think, lighten their load).

    Think of a parent praying for a wayward adult or teen child. You simply cannot separate yourself from them as if you do not somehow have a part in their waywardness. Indeed, the Scriptures teach us to say, “All we, like sheep, have gone astray.” It is spiritually unhealthy when we imagine that we are somehow disconnected from the sins of others. We can imagine that we ourselves are righteous while others have sinned. But our prayers teach us to name ourselves as the “chief of sinners.”

    This line of thought is, I believe, one of the more “mystical” takes within the teaching of the Orthodox faith – but has many representatives within the Tradition. My experience as a priest has been that taking this understanding to heart strengthens the bond of love, weakens the temptation to judge others, and follows the example of Christ of whom we are told, “For our sake [God] made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.”

    Good strength in your Lenten Fast!

  30. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Father Nicholas: Bless Father. Forgive me.
    “On behalf of all and for all”.

    I have begun to learn that my repentance is incomplete if I can see, even be subject to the sins of others and do not ask the Lord’s mercy for a similar darkness in my own heart.
    As an intrinsic reality of our being each of us is interconnected with each other. That property of being is made more vital in our Union in Christ.
    When I or you repent “of the usual sexual sins” we repent not only ourselves but for each other as well, by the Grace and Mercy of Jesus. It is, I believe, intrinsic to the Life of the Cross.
    Blessed Mary, intercede for each and all.

  31. Simon Avatar
    Simon

    It also rhymes with the grammar of the Eucharist, the Trinity and the local Church as the Universal Church.

    I lean toward garment metaphors for humanity over marbles in a box.

    That isn’t intended to help…I’m just reflecting…

  32. Michelle Avatar
    Michelle

    I hope it is ok if I ask here for prayers from any of you led to do so. Foster care has been the most eye opening experience to me of what it means to bear a cross because of and on behalf on the sins of others and it brings to light my own need for repentance. It causes me to cry out “Lord, have mercy on us (foster children and parents, the state representatives, the biological patents, etc.” And definitely been the place where I have found the “enemies” whom I must love and pray for and forgive. Please pray for the Lord’s will to be done concerning our foster care situation. Heard some pretty serious stuff today that will come up in tomorrow’s meeting and decide some big things for those of us involved. Thank you!

  33. Dino Avatar
    Dino

    The ‘law of communicating vessels’ is rather suitable vis-à-vis the matter of such a repentance as discussed here, namely, where one’s repentant heart is somehow ‘enlarged’ by the Spirit of God, as St Sophrony expounds well, and comes to the apprehension that it contains within it –in Christ- the entire cosmos, and then prays (“hypostatically” as this saint calls it) as embodying ‘all Adam’ whenever he utters “have mercy upon me” (without even the necessity to pray the plural “have mercy upon us“, according to Saint Porphyrios and Elder Aimilianos).
    Another saint, (St Paisios) voiced numerous beautiful and simple thoughts on this very thing, he would say things like: “it is my fault that so and so sins on the other side of the world because, because, if I was the saint that I have been called to be in the pre-eternal counsel of God for man (as the saint had beheld “man” upon seeing Christ himself in the Uncreated Light), then such extreme holiness would virtually have the power to save anyone, anywhere, but it is me who falls short of it”. (In fact this saint had miraculously appeared in remote places on the either side of the world from where he lived and had saved some, from various predicaments. Of course we can start parsing all this with a typical western theological reductionism, but this saint was cut from a very different cloth to that mind, and his thoughts were ever so traditional…

  34. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Dino, great examples. Especially about Tradition. In the modern mind Tradition is a prison depriving humans of their true selves and rejecting “Progress” . In fact Tradition is the road to holiness complete with rest stops and aid stations and guides, etc.

  35. Dee of St Herman Avatar
    Dee of St Herman

    After so many good comments about hypostatic prayer (I love the saying “law of communicating vessels”–thanks for that Dino!), I don’t know if it’s necessary to pipe up at this point. But for what it is worth, when I was a catechumen, I was taught this characteristic of Orthodox love, prayer, and repentance embodying ‘for all adam’, such that I thought it was common knowledge among all the Orthodox. It seems to be part of our pre-communion prayer as well (and for those sins I do not know). And I was so edified by such a revelation that it brought about an ever-deeper appreciation of Orthodox theology. Over time, this understanding was even more deepened by readings of St Siluoan, St Sophrony, and Fr Zacharias. Last, while I fail, I beg our Lord for such a capacity because I know it will bring me ever closer to Him.

  36. Margaret Avatar
    Margaret

    Dear Fr. Stephen, thank you for your comment in response to Fr. Nicholas above here dated February 28, 2023, 12:48 PM, I am sharing the exact quote of this comment with others outside of this blog and will give you credit. Please let me know if you had rather I did not do this. You state so well the encouragement for parents to pray for adult children and also for us to pray for others outside of our family, and this is so good to read as I endeavor to pray during Lent. Thank you.

  37. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Margaret,
    Please feel free to use it!

  38. Dino Avatar
    Dino

    Dee
    A little more theologically speaking, the law of communicating vessels applied to man, is just another way to describe our “consubtantiality”. And since we proclaim the same of God [far more explicitly], knowing that when He created man, it was so that man would not remain what he initially was, but to become god by grace, then, our consubtantiality, if moving towards greater union with the Consubstantiaal Trinity, sounds like it has the potential of greater and greater increase…

  39. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Dino, when I talk to folks about the Grace you describe, I say “Jesus, our Father and the Holy Spirit are not ideas they are each persons. We derive our personhood from them and our communion with them..
    Does that fit the theology you are describing?

  40. Dee of St Herman Avatar
    Dee of St Herman

    Beautifully said, Dino! You make a very good point! I appreciate it!

    Moreover, corroborating what I believe you’re saying about consubstantiality is written in the Epistle:
    1 Corinthians 7:14 For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband; otherwise your children would be unclean, but now they are holy.
    1 Corinthians 7:16 For how do you know, O wife, whether you will save your husband? Or how do you know, O husband, whether you will save your wife?

    I beg that if I’m off base that I would be corrected.

  41. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Dee, Dino, et al
    Consubstantiality, even the mere possibility of it, is at the very heart of the Church’s teaching (as seen in the various Councils). It is something that is overlooked in many forms of Christianity (where legal models or “relationships” are substituted for the more organic understandings of consubstantiality and mutual in-dwelling, etc.). Those sorts of models often find their ways into our thoughts (they permeate our culture).

    But, when we think about Orthodox teaching, and spirituality, we should always have it uppermost in our minds. Especially, it’s important to have it there when we’re thinking about the Scriptures. It permeates them.

  42. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    To be clear: Our culture is permeated by legal models and so called “relationships” not on the understanding of consubstantiality, correct?

    Is that why the very understanding of being human is under attack in our culture? Creating such bizarre caricatures and enforcing those ideas politically?

  43. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Michael,
    I don’t think I would try to draw the line in such a direct cause-and-effect manner. GK Chesterton observed that in modernity it’s not that there is no virtue, but you have all of the old virtues run wild. The things we see as bizarre are sort of caricatures of individual freedom. There’s a secularized version of human freedom, disconnected from the classical Christian story of freedom (which is rooted in human beings created in the image of God) beneath a lot of stuff. Right now, there are many “identity crises” out there, fueled by shame (ultimately) and an adolescent culture dominated by the presence of an out-of-control social media world. There’s other factors as well.

    “Becoming human” is a major part of theosis. Modernity has turned that into “becoming whatever I want to be” (but, of course, it’s not really what “I want to be,” but, “what seems like an attractive place to hide from shame”). It’s tragic. It requires our prayers, patience, and, as much as possible, faith and trust in God. The “genie” has been let out of the bottle in our present culture crisis – and it’s ever so difficult to put it back.

    Have you ever tried arguing with a 16 year-old?

  44. Dino Avatar
    Dino

    Michael,
    I think that, in this world, the notion of what being human is – knowing as St John exclaims, that “the whole world lies under the sway of the wicked one” – is bound to be far from the truth. Modern reductionism fails to even discern basic overarching patterns of meaning, patterns inherent, even in non-Christian traditions regarding such notions as what it means to be human. So caricatures more than abound.

  45. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    But surely, Father, our loss of what it means, in even a rudimentary sense, of knowing each of us is created in the image and likeness of God is also the fundamental root of our shame. A God who is real, a Person. Something I have been blessed to know since I was 20.
    Yea, I have tried arguing with a 16 year old who was fine until he turned 18. and discovered sinful sex. For the last 18 years he has been struggling in the shame and lack of personal human identity and gradually becoming someone I can only try to love and forgive as I struggle for genuine and solid repentance myself as I get closer to my own end of struggles (if there is such a thing) In Christ, something devoutly to be wished for in patience and hope.
    I may be reductionist, but that does not mean I will remain that way. The dynamic interconnection of we humans with God,, each other and the rest of Creation leads, almost irresistibly, back to our Incarnate Lord God and Savior in Who’s image we are created which means I cannot remain that way. The Glory and possibilities are simply too great, at since my foundation is in Christ and Him Crucified (also part of our consubstantiality, if I understand rightly,)
    Still, I have to have a starting point that is not static but firmly founded on Truth.
    Is my hypothesis not of that? I have difficulty, given my own experiences since becoming Orthodox going that far In the beginning….
    God forgive me a simner

  46. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    I also tend toward the belief that we, in all ways, would be better off had Rene Descartes said “I am, therefore I think” rather than the other way round.
    Reductionism is only reductionism if I stop building with the layout of the foundation .
    Is not our deep and abiding shame (as multifaceted as it is) rooted in a denial of being created in the image of God and His Incarnation? So we resort to all manner of idolatry and debauchery in order to attempt to cover our shame.

    Is not the current “identity” war simply a new and complex idol worship complete with persecution toward those who do not fall down and worship the idol? Is not idol worship rooted in the denial of our God and His consubstantiality in Himself and with us?
    .
    As ubiquitous and destructive as toxic same is, cannot that also become reductionistic?
    My current Lenten struggles (already failing) seem

  47. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Dino, when do caricatures become idols? Seems to me we are there. I certainly see that in my own son(a microcosm of the situation). What is the appropriate response?

    In spite of it all, especially my own brokenness, as I contemplate, in repentance my Image and Likeness (despite my own shame filled rebellion) uncreated Joy starts to flood my being and reconnect me to our Lord, showing the Truth in Mt 4:17. “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.”

    Mt 4:17 is a statement that seems to encapsule all of my shame, dishonor and sin — and all of human fallenness destroying the power of it(reductionist?).
    Of what am I repenting?–my own denial of who I really am and who you are and everyone else with whom I am inextricably and dynamically connected throughout all dimensions of being. The Birth, the Cross and Ressurection is t⁰he perfect revealing of both my denial and the healing of my denial. Repenting with as much specificity and actual contrition as I can manage especially as the priest’s stole covers my head and he asks, simply what I have to confess. At that point there are no more generalities, or theories but I must face the reality of my own falleness or lose who I am.
    Forgive me, the sinner broken and in darkness except for the Love and Mercy of our Incarnate, Consubstantial Lord and Savior

  48. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Michael,
    Of course, there’s lots of people who believe they are created in the image of God but who misunderstand what that means. The failures are many and they are complicated. But, many of the people who are suffering today in the identity issues are adolescents. A disproportionate number of them are “on the spectrum” as they say. They are not philosophers or theologians – they are young, largely innocent, and victims of a culture that is collapsing.

    As much as we get caught up in disgust or anger about various things – we should remember that we are surrounded by people who “know not what they do.” Those who do “know what they do,” have the greater burden. We should pray, weep, and beg for the mercies of God for all of us.

    None of this is an argument – we won’t win many arguments. Only the love of God as shown forth in the crucified Christ will make a difference.

    Things will get much worse before they get better (if they get better). All of that is in the hands of God. For us, there are the commandments of Christ and doing the “next good thing.” God keep us.

  49. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Father, for me, my prayers for myself and others, regardless of age is that I recognize more fully my own participation in the mass delusion and the particularity of my own son. (Shame abounds)
    The degree to which I depart from who I am (A person made in the image and likeness of God) negatively effects everyone else, especially the young. I believe and hope my honest repentance helps them. The fact that Christ on the Cross does not sway some is not lost on me. Or even a minor example that my son participated in yet still rejects. An event that occured 18 years ago in but 3 days.
    God forgives all the time and even teenagers are able to perceive and decide whether or not to enter into the proffered Kingdom. If they are aware of it.

    My own level of participation is so low, I make a poor example. Ask my son..

  50. Laurie Marvin Avatar
    Laurie Marvin

    Hi, Fr. Stephen. This was posted on Facebook- I know its meant to be encouraging, and I understand its point. But whenever I see these things, I can’t help feel how far off from being a true Christian I am, and not only that, but I don’t know if I know many true Christians (or any) by this standard. How do you understand these quotes? I don’t think its point is to induce despair at our lack of saintliness. Thank you, Laurie

    The first duty of a Christian, of a disciple and follower of Jesus Christ, is to deny oneself. To deny oneself means: to give up one’s bad habits, to root out of the heart all that ties us to the world, to be dead to sin and the world, but alive to God.
    A Christian’s second duty is to take up one’s cross. The word “cross” means sufferings, sorrows and adversities. To “take up one’s cross” means to accept without complaint everything unpleasant, painful, sad, difficult and oppressive that may happen to us in life. In other words, to bear all laughter, scorn, weariness, sorrow and annoyance from others; to bear all poverty, misfortune, illness, without regarding yourself as offended. And if, when you are bearing your cross according to the will of God, a proud thought suggests to you that you are not weak like others, but that you are firm, pious and better, root out such thoughts as far as you can for they ruin all your virtues.
    – St. Innocent of Alaska

  51. Simon Avatar
    Simon

    Hi, Laurie.

    I would NEVER presume to speak for Father Stephen. However, having had such feelings myself after having read something from the saints I would like to share my experience with you. First, let it go. Things that the saints have said that made me angry previously I either understand better now or it is still just sitting on the shelf. Maybe I’ll get back to it or maybe I won’t. I just let it go. I take it as lightning just hasn’t struck yet…and maybe it won’t and that’s okay, too! Second, pay attention to that which gives you a sense of peace and a sense of what is beautiful. An Orthodox writer once wrote that we frequently see beauty in the world first and through that we find beauty in ourselves second. Beauty is in fact a way to salvation. Three, be patient with yourself, others, and everything else. Something that I have learned in my Orthodox journey, and would not have have expected coming into it, is the time factor: Everything takes time–years even. Even in the vespers the Deacon announces “Let us complete our evening prayers!” and thirty minutes later we’re still going. It has nothing to do with your lack of spiritual development. It has everything to do with the way our experiences in life affect the differing ways the scales fall from our eyes. In the spiritual life what matters isn’t so much what we do, but how we do it.

    I’m sharing what I have only recently come to understand and appreciate after years of working closely with my priest.

    I hope this helps.

  52. Dino Avatar
    Dino

    Saint Innocent of Alaska sounds very much like Saint Symeon the New Theologian there. I think that the denying of self and the taking up of the cross might have two, qualitatively very different, stages.
    The first being a ‘light’ version, more ‘psychological’ and rather accessible to many; and the second more absolute, being utterly spiritual.
    The first is the sort of thing that even amateur athletes or musicians might experience in some sense, i.e.: self-discipline, some self-denial, some suffering to achieve some objective. Our mollycoddled modern life has made even this sound like quite a tall order for sure.
    The second however, is so much more sublime that I am quite sure it is preceded by some experience of the Heavenly, and it is this that then makes one utter things like Saint Innocent’s words above (or Saint Symeon’s very similar ones) with such absolutism.
    However, it is worth noting that these words spring up from an experience of beholding God that is of an intensity we, ourselves have not even imagined.
    But within our small limits we can emulate them a little without falling into despair.

    {St Symeon for example, clearly seems to admit that he has known God better than he has known anybody else, and then, afterwards he utters the strict-sounding absolutist words (similar to St Innocent’s) regarding self-denial and taking up one’s cross.
    He says things like this in other parts, for instance: “God takes the form of an incomprehensible, inaccessible, and formless light… He is consciously known and clearly seen, though He is invisible. He sees and hears invisibly and, just as a friend speaks to friend face to face, so He who by nature is God speaks to those whom by grace He has begotten as gods.” [The Discourses, 35 (Thanksgiving 1), p. 365. SC 113, p. 322]. And then he utters words like St Innocent’s. There is clearly a sense of rare and life-changing encounter of God as the source of rather absolutist advise. Also, these were said centuries ago, it was easier for man to self-deny then.
    My point however is that their insatiable desire to live in God alone (after having encountered Him) is what makes them renounce even their own will.}

    Also, we must remember that, for example, a father who has a 20 year old Olympian athlete son, used to extreme athletic discipline, surely finds his 7 year old brother’s tiny & erratic efforts (to bear a little pain in order to run faster and for longer) rather cute and would never want him to be disheartened realising how much more serious his older brother’s regime actually is.

  53. Dee of St Herman Avatar
    Dee of St Herman

    Laurie,
    It is good to ask questions when you read something that seems to disturb and destabilize your hope in Christ.
    I live and work in an environment that almost for every word of St Innocent’s quote, would deny its soul-healthy intent.

    I was brought up in a culture (in home not outside home) where the first inclination was to share not to take for oneself. When this behavior was induced as a child, it felt like I was being ‘denied’. On occasion I received a scolding on behalf of a younger sibling to teach both me and the younger sibling. Modern, seemingly healthy terms such as “self-care” would be interpreted as extremely self-centered within the culture that I was inculcated in within my home life. Such thoughts would have been discouraged with words similar to St Innocent. My home as a child was not Orthodox Christian, but a mixture of indigenous and perhaps Morrano-Christian influences (Florida Seminole).

    I mention these things because within the culture that I had been brought up within my childhood home, such statements as is seen from St Innocent, do not seem so extreme.

    Our culture, that is the modern-secular culture of the western-european origins, do not at all inculcate such preferences as that seen in St Innocent’s words. And further, it is inculcated that if one hears such words, they are received (interpreted) as words of disparagment and denigration–inducing shame.

    Our Lord, Jesus Christ, was Himself, self-denying, humble, holding no interest to preserve his life for self-care reasons. On the other hand we are extremely encouraged to do the opposite in every which way that we can (and can get away with). Furthermore, this culture teaches to the extent that we if fail, whenever we fail, however we fail, we are not “good-enough”. Such words of toxic shame and such thoughts that this culture intends to inculcate (among the weak, unpowerful, unentitled) belong to the modern culture, not to St Innocent’s intent. St Innocent is attempting to put forward a counter-culture of Christain charity (of the old meaning of charity), not to take a specific person and say, “see here how much you have failed”. If St Innocent had such thoughts, I dare say he wouldn’t be speaking from an Orthodox heart.

  54. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    By doing what is a good thing, those who’s hardness of heart is such that hatred is the response,will find us if that is God’s will

    My point is that as a body we have yet to attract serious attention here in the US. If the direction of the political demands of the world do not change — the Church and each of us who remain doing the next good thing will attract attention.

    We need to be aware and prepared. It is far closer than we think.

  55. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Laurie,
    The Scriptures say “ A word in due season, how good it is!” When we hear or read a word that is not spoken at the right time for us, it can crush us. When you find yourself crushed, just it aside and say to God, “If this meant for me, then bring it back when it is the right season.” In our modern world where we have access to virtually everything, it’s hard to avoid these crushing moments. In humility it’s good for us to admit that some things are not meant for us yet. Simons word in his comment was spot on.

  56. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Michael, we don’t know what time it is. It’s not useful to speculate on such things. It easily leads us into delusion. The next good thing is enough. Whatever trials might come, God will give us the grace required. “Sufficient to the day are the evils thereof.”

  57. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Father, I keep telling folks whon I love and love me but who are highly resistant to and willfully ignorant of the Church that they will come twice in their lives: my funeral and my wife’s funeral. They might as well get used to it now.
    When my late wife reposed, some Catholic friends of ours did that–17 years later the children and grandchildren are here.

  58. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    In all things God’s penetrating and transforming Love is present in the core of our beings. Deeper than any sin can reach. That, I think, is the essence of being made in His image and likeness.
    It is also the reality of Mt 4:17 “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.”
    His mercy endures for ever and is abundant, patiently waiting for each of us.

    I thank each of you for your patience with me.

  59. Dee of St Herman Avatar
    Dee of St Herman

    Dear Laurie and Father,
    Please forgive me for my presumptuousness.

    May our Lord grant you peace.

  60. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Dee,
    On the contrary, I thought your comment to be helpful and insightful. I’ve been tucked into a small monastery in Texas this weekend where I was giving some talks. I’ve had almost no access to my laptop to respond on the blog, so I was particularly grateful for the helpful thoughts of others to Laurie’s question. It’s now about 4:30 in the morning and I’m in the middle of the night wakeful period. I’m heading back to sleep, quietly thankful for our community of commenters. Good strength in the Fast!

  61. Simon Avatar
    Simon

    Regarding forgiveness I wanted to share this thought. Sometimes when pain includes trauma it is inappropriate for the injured party to extend forgiveness even if the offender asks for pardon. The reason this is so is that our culture has almost made forgiveness mandatory if it is requested. In this situation the offender remains in control of the injured person’s well-being: You have to forgive me because I asked; you have to give me the get-out-of-jail-free card. This would only do more damage to someone who has been traumatized and probably only makes the offender more callous. Also, that doesn’t mean there aren’t consequences just because a person is forgiven. Forgiveness does not mean release from consequences. I mention this because forgiveness, like everything else in the spiritual life, may take time. Patience with this process is important for restoring the offender as well as the offended. Having said that, a genuinely repentant offender should be able to find reprieve with his or her priest. At any rate, it would be a horrible burden to foist onto someone to compel forgiveness when the person is still in a process of recovery.

  62. Laurie Marvin Avatar
    Laurie Marvin

    Hi, thank you for the answer. I have another question based on your answer to Micheal. Do you think there are people capable of discerning the spiritual times? Jesus said You know how to discern the face of the sky, but you cannot discern the signs of the times. Matthew 16:2–3 . Bob Dylan said you don’t need to be a weatherman to know which way the wind blows. Is this a gift given to some?

  63. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Laurie,
    I personally think it’s a lot rarer than many people make out. It is true that the pure in heart shall see God…so I think it might be possible to see the “signs of the times,” were that the case. But I think purity of the heart is far more rare than we might think.

    Christ would not give the disciples date and time of His return – but we still want to ask the question. You hear of prophecies here and there, but, strangely, no one ever seems to be held accountable when their prophecies and predictions turn out to be false. That is a judgment on our hearts. We so want someone to give us this information.

    In the modern world, everyone thinks they are in management. We imagine that if we have information, then we can manage what needs to be done. This is simply not true. We are not saved by information. That said, if we had the kind of predictive information that we imagine would be helpful, it would be nothing of the sort. We ourselves are not changed by such information.

    The better prayer is to ask to become the kind of person who can face whatever God allows for us in our lives. We should remember, that, in the end, all of us die. We will die, our children will die, all that we love will die. What matters isn’t avoiding trouble – but knowing and loving God. These are difficult words, but other words (like predictions) simply direct us toward our imaginations, anxieties, and such. Better to learn how to live each day nurtured by the grace of God. This is the truly hard thing.

  64. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Simon, the cultural sickness you describe is, I think why I have been led to repentance. Repentance can be more focused. With all of the inter-connections, real repentance, ends up showing the proper path to forgiveness. Especially if third parties are involved.
    .

  65. Kenneth Avatar
    Kenneth

    If salvation means union with God, how should fasting be understood in this context? Does it help us learn to control other desires so they are more properly directed toward God?

  66. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Simon, the cultural sickness you describe is, I think why I have been led to repentance. Repentance can be more focused. With all of the inter-connections, real repentance, ends up showing the proper path to forgiveness. Especially if third parties are involved.

  67. Dee of St Herman Avatar
    Dee of St Herman

    Dear Father,
    Please get rest, water, and lots of it. May God grant you a fast recovery!

  68. Mark Spurlock Avatar
    Mark Spurlock

    To return to Laurie’s question that was the catalyst for this discussion, the verse after the two she quotes continues, “A wicked and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; and there shall no sign be given unto it, but the sign of the prophet Jonas.”

    Moreover and subsequently, Jesus talks about the leaven of the Pharisees, and his own disciples do not understand the meaning until he explains it. Finally, when Jesus addresses the events of Holy Week to come, Peter speaks as though he (Peter) is just not going to let that happen–as though knowledge grants one the power to change true prophecy.

    If the disciples (as Father Stephen also referenced), who were in Jesus’s actual presence and daily teaching could misunderstand prophetic meaning so completely, then I think that is a caution for us all.

    Part of my adjustment from Protestantism to Orthodoxy has been the need to respect and defer to priest and church authority, rather than, as Father Stephen might say, thinking of myself as “part of management”–that my relationship to God is based only on my personal understanding. One advantage of that, however, is not thinking I do need to know and have a settled opinion about everything.

    When I was quite young, I very much tried to understand the book of Revelation, for example. Given recent world events–political, social, cultural–it’s sometimes hard not to return to that habit, but I think that kind of desire to deny my own ignorance can very much arise from my own ego. The knowledge of God I think I personally will be held to account for (in my opinion) is of a different nature.

    In that light, I find Father Stephen’s “The better prayer is to ask to become the kind of person who can face whatever God allows for us in our lives” reassuring.

  69. Simon Avatar
    Simon

    Fr. Stephen I am sorry to hear that you are down with a fever. It must have made the monastic labors that much more difficult as well as giving your talks. How are you doing today?

  70. Dino Avatar
    Dino

    Some valuable comments (of yours Father) seem to have just disappeared, I don’t recall any of the deleted comments being unduly inflammatory either.

  71. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Mark, the proclivity of folks to apocalyptic thinking is getting worse.

  72. Mark Spurlock Avatar
    Mark Spurlock

    Michael,

    It can be difficult to know what is our personal perception versus reality. My daughter has begun driving a Kia, and now I see Kias everywhere.

    In my individual experience, the thinking you describe has never been fruitful or brought me closer to God. If I understand what is meant by nous, then my nous feels more where it should be when relinquishing as many worries as I can to divine will. For me trying to figure out such things has also been a distraction that comes about from my introvert’s preference for intellectual, solitary work, rather than intimacy and communion.

    During Lent we add the prayer of St. Ephrem the Syrian, and this prayer is one I need to pray year round:

    “Give me not a spirit of sloth, idle curiosity, love of power, and useless chatter. Rather, accord to me, Your servant, a spirit of chastity, humility, patience, and love.”

    I actually was a bit delighted this year to start saying it again. I need it that much 🙂

  73. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Mark, wonderful. May God continue to bless you.

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