The Temptations of Identity

“Who am I?”

The question of who we are is deceptively simple. When we begin to press the question, almost every answer that we can give is something other than the self. When we leave the (ideally) intimate communion of our early years and begin to forge our way into a social setting, an uncertainty begins to be our social companion. This questioning of identity (which is fairly normal) becomes the seedbed of shame as well as a life-long habit of seeking self-made “identities” to mask the nakedness of “who we are.”

The dynamics surrounding all of this are ever-present. Family often plays a powerful role. They name us. They may nickname us. They may repeat stories of our actions or compare us to other family figures. We slowly acquire a “brand.” The years of adolescence often bring something of the same process from our peers. Among the youth of today, hours spent on internet and phone interactions can intensify this process.

In the course of our lives, our “identity” is never assumed to be truly natural, that is, a revelation of who we “truly are” (except as a name for yet another false self). Rather, our identities are marketed to us relentlessly. Everything from automobiles to hairstyles are seen as a means of “making a statement.” In a consumer culture, a primary driver of marketing is the acquisition of an identity (something temporary, at best).

All of these various acquired identities serve to provide cover for our nakedness and shield us from unwanted attention (or, in somestances, attract it). At certain points in our lives they can even serve as a God-given protection. None of them, however, should be confused with the truth of who we are. That truth is synonymous with our salvation.

St. Paul is an interesting example in all of this. We know more about him, in many ways, than any of the apostles. In his letter to the Philippians, he cites a Jewish pedigree second-to-none:

“…circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews; concerning the law, a Pharisee; concerning zeal, persecuting the church; concerning the righteousness which is in the law, blameless.(Phil. 3:5–6)

But he has this to say:

But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ. Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ…”(Phil. 3:7–9)

St. Paul’s “excellence” as a Pharisee was clearly an “identity.” It drove him to a zeal that included persecuting Christians. This is typical of the “hollow” character of acquired identities. They do not represent true self and are easily undermined by various challenges. St. Paul’s persecutions are a tragic attempt to maintain a false version of himself. To this, Christ will say, “It’s hard to kick against the goads” (Acts 26:14). The truth of our existence goads against the many false identities which we create. Our own efforts leave us empty, unfulfilled, anxious and frequently angry. We cannot be satisfied, truly satisfied, by being someone other than who we were created to be.

St. Paul can be quite practical in how we live an authentic Christian life. In his own life, he noted that he had suffered the “loss of all things” (and he is not talking about wealth or property). What he has lost, he came to see as “rubbish.” All of the false versions of ourselves that we create – our well-crafted fig leaves – are just rubbish. We ourselves, however, are not.

St. Paul offers this advice:

If then you were raised with Christ [in Holy Baptism], seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory.(Col. 3:1–4)

I will rephrase this. The truth of our identity is not known to us. You do not know who you are. An identity is not something of our own making – it is the gift of God. We come to know it as Christ makes it known to us. We can only know the truth of ourselves as we find it in Christ. Christ (“who is our life”) is the truth of our existence. We should never settle for less.

St. Paul’s struggles with his identity as Pharisee were particularly difficult and powerful. In his early life, to be a Pharisee was to be a righteous man. The original meaning of the term “Pharisee” meant “to be separate.” It was a position in which a man set God and His Law above all else and separated himself to it. Its deep alure was in its call to the heart. Who doesn’t want to be separated and set apart for God? How can it not be a good thing?

We have similar struggles as Orthodox Christians. We hear correctly and repeatedly that Orthodoxy is a “way of life.” Unfortunately, it can be diminished from way of life to mere identity. How this works can take many forms. In all of them, Orthodoxy becomes our “clothing,” but not the transformation of the soul. All of the hallmarks of shame-driven behavior (anger, defensiveness, aggression, social cliques, perfectionism, etc.) accompany Orthodoxy as identity. I think some of this is to be expected, particularly in personalities where shame has not been addressed (which is quite likely a near majority of personalities).

I am deeply aware of this in my own life as a priest. A priest inevitably carries an “identity” as a priest. The priesthood is, indeed, like a suit of clothes. The act of vesting a priest is part of his ordination. His public identification (as in the cassock, traditionally) is a matter of canonical requirement. Beneath it however, is the “hidden” life of a man, a reality that can, at times, be alienated from the priestly identity (and other suits of clothes), feeling like an imposter. He knows he’s not worthy of the honor that comes with the priesthood. There is the temptation to hide behind the identity and lose the sense of his own self. Fortunately, he is not alone. His confessor knows the same temptation, as do other priests as well. We call one another forth from the grave of identity and into the light of Christ. The priesthood belongs to Christ, not ourselves.

For each of us, the identities we acquire over our lifetime serve as temptations. Their worst aspect, I think, is that they are not hidden. As such, they tempt us to settle for something less. The Kingdom of God is like a treasure buried in a field, Jesus said. We should not cease the work of selling all that we have (including the false, temporary identities) and buying the field. Nothing less than the treasure will do.

I am becoming an old man. I’m “retired” from being in charge of a parish. My days are mostly filled with mundane activities – household chores and the like. Of course, I still write. But I have long hours in which to ponder my life (and my sins). I can see a “sifting” taking place in my heart. Who I am is not who I’ve been or what I’ve done or what others think. “Who I am” is hidden with Christ in God and can only be known by finding it in Christ. Some of my daily reflections turn on this “end of the journey.” When Christ appears, then we appear. When we see Christ in His glory, then we find ourselves with Him in that glory.

There’s much about this that I wish I had known earlier in my life – but that is in the hands of God. St. Paul leaves us with this:

Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.(Phil. 3:13–14)

Higher up and further in.

The photo is of one of my grandsons, caught in a moment of wonder…

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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168 responses to “The Temptations of Identity”

  1. Mark Spurlock Avatar
    Mark Spurlock

    Beautiful and timely reading to start my Monday.

    I pray, Father Stephen, that my appreciation for your work encourages you as much as it encourages me.

    Great photo as well (as well as one appropriate to your subject)!

  2. Sally Brower Avatar
    Sally Brower

    A great reflection on our identities throughout our lives. I think the families we grew up in can sometimes thrust an identity on us that is not truly who we are. Our marriage partners can fail to see us for who we truly are. We can reject them or they us as we begin to grow into who we most truly are. Therapy helps us shed identities no longer useful to us. I believe what you said at the end: “Who I am” is hidden with Christ in God and can only be known by finding it in Christ.”

  3. Owen Kelly Avatar
    Owen Kelly

    It amazes me (1) how far this kind of thinking is from my everyday, most-of-the-time awareness, and yet (2) how close the actual reality is to me: “more inward to me than my inmost part,” St Augustine wrote.

    Fr Stephen, you wrote, “…the truth of who we are. That truth is synonymous with our salvation.” Is this truth discovered as an inherent gift of human nature, a gift always present but buried under the rumble of falsely acquired identities? Or is the gift (grace) given de novo, from scratch, newly arriving where it was not preset before? In other words, does a new believer come to realize who they truly are or do they receive a sort of “self” transplant?

    It’s probably an impossible question to answer, but I’d appreciate your thoughts. The answer, I think, influences the way we share our faith. For instance, could we legitimately say to the unbeliever: “We can only know the truth of ourselves as we find it in Christ. Christ (“who is our life”) is the truth of our existence.” Is this statement true of all men, even though many don’t realize it yet? Some days I definitely don’t realize it…

    Many thanks,
    Owen

  4. Dino Avatar
    Dino

    There is one thing that can heal all this, or to be more correct, start the healing process (since complete healing only comes through blessed union with Christ upon beholding His inconceivable love and His pre-eternal “concept” [logos] of ourself): it is the holy gaze of a saintly spiritual Father in Holy confession, not any old gaze, but the one that perfectly mirrors Christ’s inconceivable love, which somehow sees past the sinful surface, His pre-eternal “concept” [logos] of ourself in us, and, like lightning, zaps the soul with healing Grace. It is unfortunately rarer than it ought to be!

  5. Simon Avatar
    Simon

    Wisdom! Let us attend!

  6. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Owen, I’ll try to answer your questions.

    Is the [truth of who we are] discovered as an inherent gift of human nature, a gfit always present but buried…or is it give de novo, from scratch?

    Owen, it is given from the beginning of our existence – and is the gift of God. It is our true life. It is indeed hidden and buried under the rumble of falsely acquired identities. As such, it can be sometimes experienced as an emptiness or an unanswered question – many things.

    Our life in Christ is, properly, a living into the truth of who we are (our true life) which is an ongoing gift of grace. I can posit the understanding that at some point in the life of grace a believer could come to know in a very full sense “who they are,” but this is speaking about the inner life of a saint. For most, we have glimpses, at best.

    St. Paul gives us hints. He says things like, “Eye has not seen, ear has not heard, nor has it entered into the mind of man the good things God has prepared for us.”

    All of this is for all people. How all of this unfolds in the life of an unbeliever is something only God knows – but it is not something that can or will occur apart from the active grace of God. There simply is no goodness apart from the active grace of God (inasmuch as God’s active grace is goodness itself).

    The truth of who we are is a communion (for that is the very nature of life itself). Frequently, what is presented as the Christian life (the gospel) seems to know very little of this.

  7. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Dino,
    I suspect it’s even rarer than that.

  8. Simon Avatar
    Simon

    In Matthew the Kingdom of God is likened to treasure that is buried in the field (that which is sought) and it is also liked to a person seeking fine pearls (that which is seeking). So, in the parables, the Kingdom of God is simultaneously like ‘that which is sought’ and ‘that which seeks’, which implies that ‘that which is sought’ and ‘that which seeks’ are in some sense the same. What is it we have really lost? We have lost ourselves. Luke 8 says that the soils on which the seed falls is a quality of the heart. The mystery of all things is buried within the noetic field of the heart, and that which we are truly seeking–true hypostatic life–can only be revealed within. Again, as Luke says, “The Kingdom of God is within you.”

  9. Dean Avatar
    Dean

    Thank you Fr. Stephen,
    I am also in my waning years. I’ve struggled with shame and feelings of inadequacy most of my life. But in my retiree years these feelings have lessened as I have much more time for prayer and reflection. They’ve been wonderful years with our grandchildren too. (Thank you for your photo!).
    Yes, my true self lies in Christ, in hiddenness. I feel most whole while in liturgy and in early morning prayer. God knew how desperately I needed Him and His blessed Church in the last half of my life.

  10. Owen Kelly Avatar
    Owen Kelly

    Thanks for the response, Fr Stephen. Especially that part about communion. Realizing we exist *because of* relationship — rather than as disparate, autonomous substances which may or may not exist in divine relationship — provides a whole different ontology than the modern materialist one. Indeed, I wonder if the “self” could be simply defined as just that intersection of real relationships with Being and beings that we embody as personal processes of creation. Is there anything else? That question’s been bugging me lately.
    Thanks again.

  11. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    It is both rare and ever present “The Kingdom of Heaven is within.” Luke 17:21.
    Matthew 4:17:”From that time Jesus began to preach and to say: Repent! For the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” (KJV)
    Any sense of real identity that I have comes through real repentance. Usually alone in the middle of the night suffering from physical and/or spiritual pain. Feeling alone and separated, defeated, I cry out for Jesus Christ. “Lord, Jesus Christ! Have mercy on me a sinner!”
    Yet even my identity as a sinner is transitory, but in accepting that AND His mercy that goes with it, much more is hinted at…

    In the day to day life I am,at times, comforted and challenged by the words of the Christian playwright, Christopher Frye: “Shall we laugh? For the sake of laughter for it is surely the surest touch of genius in Creation. Would you have thought of it, I ask you
    If you had been making man, stuffing him full of such hopping greeds and passions that he has to blow himself to pieces as often as he conveniently can manage it, would you have thought of it. The phenomenon of cachination is an irrelevancy that almost amounts to a revelation.”

    Good clean laughter creates communion and destroys a lot of my self importance. A mystery to be cherished.

    May God’s Mercy be with all and each of you.

  12. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Owen,
    St. Sophrony has written a great deal about our “hypostatic” existence (which is something fuller than a mere existence). As such, his theology of what it means to be “person” is more developed than you see almost anywhere. But, he doesn’t write about it in a concentrated form. If you want to dig into it, his book, We Shall See Him As He Is, is a good one to read. I suspect that only a saint could speak about what he does (with knowledge of what it means). But his speaking and writing about it allows the non-saints (like you and me) to be able to see more clearly what is going on within ourselves.

    Orthodox anthropology – scattered as it is across a number of patristic writers (Nyssa, Dionysius, Maximus the Confessor, etc.) provide a lot of insight. What is interesting about St. Sophrony is that he is a contemporary of ours, having reposed in 1993. He is aware of our questions and conundrums.

  13. Simon Avatar
    Simon

    “I wonder if the “self” could be simply defined as just that intersection of real relationships with Being and beings that we embody as personal processes of creation. ”

    Owen, there is something about this I like. It rhymes with the communion in the sense that processes aren’t static and processes can be can be ‘mutual participating’, i.e. communing. Like the creation story a process involves time. Also, it is easy to see that the ultimate truth of the personal creative process would have to lay in Divine Being.

    All in all I like it.

    I wonder if Fr. Stephen would be interested in weighing in on a somewhat hypothetical note.

  14. Simon Avatar
    Simon

    I guess I am late to the party…

  15. Jordan Avatar
    Jordan

    When I think about “who I am” I feel an emptiness at times profound and desolate. I can see in many of my behaviors an attempt to fill that emptiness, and behind it a longing for a stable identity. I find it hard to sit in that emptiness, even though I do not just want to fill it with falsehood. A lot of self-contempt and envy comes rushing in. But I prefer the emptiness to the falseness. It does make me wonder if God ever gives us a feeling of satisfaction or or being filled.

  16. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Jordan,
    In my own experience, the emptiness comes as we turn our attention inwards (apart from the false images). It is “the abyss” in the words of St. Sophrony. He says that we should “Stand on the edge of the abyss and when you feel that it is beyond your strength, break off and have a cup of tea.” I must confess that, when visiting the monastery in Essex, my favorite part was tea time.

    But, what we want is not an abyss as the expression of the true self – but the light of Christ. We find the self, I think, in seeking Christ rather than seeking the self. The true self is revealed “in Christ.” We will not see ourselves truly – if it is apart from Him.

    So, Christ says that whoever loses his life will find it.

    Be sure to keep lots of tea on hand.

  17. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Jordan,
    In my book, I have a chapter on the Holy Fools. I suggest that they are an example of Orthodox Christianity drawn with crayons. The “death of self” that we experience when we stand at the abyss (turning inwards apart from the false self), does bring a kind of emptiness and sadness. The Holy Fool, though, seems to find a joy through abandoning himself to that loss. He bears shame in extreme forms. He mocks any false pretentions in himself, and frequently in others around him, in order that we can see more clearly.

    The modern world nakedly attempts to sell us false versions of the self. It creates empty narratives about the world we live in that are generally nothing more than well-told lies. Abandoning these things for Christ is a long, slow death to the world and the false self. That we might be alive to God in Christ Jesus.

  18. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Jordan,
    A last thought. Some of the emptiness and pain can also be ripples from early trauma in life. That is a pain that can be brought into the light and healed. My experience is that it’s like the layers of an onion.

  19. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Father, if, even at the edge the abyss Jesus is there with me, why break off for a cupa?
    Is there a way of retaining that reality here in “the real world”?

  20. Dee of St Herman Avatar
    Dee of St Herman

    Indeed, like layers of an onion. Or using the analogy of soil, digging into the soil, finding the rocks, laying them aside, and watering the seed the Lord has planted. Then take a break with tea!

    Dear Father, I love reading your book. I have been frustrated by the rocks I have found in my soul’s soil. When I come across them, I wish they weren’t there. Some of that experience has everything to do with the experience of shame, wanting ‘good’ soil, realizing the reality is far short what it needs to be. What it needs to be is also different from what we want it to be. Our Lord Jesus Christ is Life itself. And it is the life we need, not usually the life we think we want.

  21. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Michael,
    More likely to create a delusional existence by trying. St. Sophrony’s advice stands.

  22. Jordan Avatar
    Jordan

    Thanks for your thoughts. It was actually really helpful just to name the experience in the comment.
    I have struggled for years with prayer because of its inwardness. I feel like I pray better on the outer edges of my life, not the inner, because I am almost obsessive about my “self”, trying to guarantee its persistence through constant self-vigilance. I have described good prayer for me as moving from self-consciousness (which is a 3rd-person view of the self) to being a conscious self, which is a 1st-person self – seeing and experiencing with agency and liveliness..
    I have your book, and have read the first few chapters – there were a few sections that really connected with me. I am grateful for the extended meditation on something that resonates with my own experience.

  23. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Thanks, Dee. I wondered how the reading was going. I like the image of the soil and rocks. I keep thinking I’ll strike gold…

  24. Owen Kelly Avatar
    Owen Kelly

    Fr Stephen and Simon, thank you kindly. Not one hour after I read your comments, I received the following quotation by Saint Sophrony in my inbox. Apt, to say the least.

    A free, non-pre-determined hypostasis can only be created as pure potentiality, intended to be actualised subsequently. So, then, we are not yet entirely hypostases: we are going through the more or less lengthy process of becoming–of converting an ‘atomised’ into a hypostatic form of being. The concept of Person [hypostasis] must not be confused with the concept of the individual–(in Greek ἄτομον, the result of the fall of man). They are actually two poles of the human being. One expresses the last degree of division, the other indicates the ‘image of God’ in which Adam was made, in whose entrails all mankind was potentially enclosed. This is the pattern manifested to us by the Word made flesh.

  25. Simon Avatar
    Simon

    Owen.

    Thanks for sharing. That is a killer quote and it rhymes with your idea of personal creative process.

    Lots to think about there!

  26. Matthew Porter-Valbracht Avatar
    Matthew Porter-Valbracht

    Is this perhaps some of the deeper meaning of “and they realized that they were naked” in the third chapter of Genesis? And the “garments of skin” would be the provisional identities we have to use in this world, which are not our true identity?

  27. Dino Avatar
    Dino

    Father,
    Rare though the healing-confessor’s-gaze may be, it’s curious how it hangs on both the ‘guide’ and the guided. It’s evident when you observe the circumstances under which it’s occurred most. And we spot two things: one’s that there’s definitely something about the spiritual guide (since a seriously prodigious number of confirmations -of said experience- concerns certain ‘guides’ – like Paisios the Athonite or Aimilianos of Simonopetra). The other’s that there’s something just as primary to do with the one confessing (since it does not happen always).
    It is certainly the model of the perfect confessor.

  28. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Matthew,
    That’s one of the meanings (there are many). It’s an amazingly rich way of telling the story and the Fathers have mined it for its wealth through the centuries. But, given that shame is invoked in the Genesis account, I think this particular meaning is very much on point.

  29. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Dino,
    It is of note. Such confessors rightly have “St.” in front of their names at some point.

  30. Sophia Avatar
    Sophia

    Bless, Father.

    I loved your book. I have been researching feelings and emotions for at least two years at this point. Currently the answer to the question “who am I?” is “mom,” and child development has told us to pay more attention to their feelings for the past several decades. I can’t help but question the validity of this approach. Any ideas/tips?

    I pray every day that “who am I?” will be answered “Christ’s” so that my mom mask could be properly influential.

    Your prayers.

  31. Byron Avatar
    Byron

    I’ve struggled with shame and feelings of inadequacy most of my life. But in my retiree years these feelings have lessened as I have much more time for prayer and reflection.

    It occurs to me that finding one’s “cell” is very important in life. This jumped out at me:

    St. Paul can be quite practical in how we live an authentic Christian life. In his own life, he noted that he had suffered the “loss of all things” (and he is not talking about wealth or property).

    I think for so much of my Protestant life (and beyond) the idea that St. Paul’s losses were of a material nature stuck with me. Turning those losses inward paints with a different stroke (so to speak).

  32. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Sophia,
    There are many roles we all play (in the best sense of that word). There are times as parents (and as a priest) that the role can nearly swallow us up. Above all else, love is the key to working our way through this.

  33. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Byron,
    And I think it is a correct reading in that he has just referenced those things.

  34. Dana Ames Avatar
    Dana Ames

    Thanks for this, Father, and a repeated thank-you for the photo – priceless!

    This year I asked my Pastor/Confessor to assign me a book for Lenten reading – first time I’ve thought to do that… He gave me Mother Gavrilia (which is scarce as hen’s teeth to find used at $250, but a copy of which is in our church library). I’m still making my way through her life, not having come yet to the “Mother Give Us a Word” section. But oh, if there was ever someone who knew herself in Christ, it was certainly she! As I read, I have had to chase away the perfectionist/shaming idea that I’m such a failure in comparison, and embrace that what happened in her is what Christ wants for each one of us uniquely as we continue to receive the grace to lay ourselves open to him. My walk will be different than hers, and yet it is the same Christ to Whom I turn. Her claim to “not exist” belied her complete uniqueness and unforgettable impact on people as Gavrilia Papayannis, as her identity in Christ was revealed more and more. As Christ increases, his goodness sees to it that we do, too, though not in a way we expect or can quantify or, most of the time (to keep us in humility, as Met. Kallistos of blessed memory wrote), can even apprehend – and of course not the way the world teaches us to strive for.

    When I think about this, a help for me is C. Yannaras’ description of hypostatic life as life “in another mode”. This reminds me of the modes on a remote control, when you switch from one “way of acting/being” to a different one, depending on the apparatus you want to make function. All analogies have limits, but this also helps keep me from denigrating the mode in which I find myself – it is sufficient for the moment, and one day I will be changed. Not as prosaic as having a cup of tea, but I find it useful – though I do like tea very much and have a lot on hand 🙂

    Our parish bookstore has ordered you book to sell, Father. Very much looking forward to it, as are others who know it is on its way.

    Much love to you-
    Dana

  35. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Dana,
    The Mother Gavrilia book came back into print this year…I bought 2 copies. My wife has been reading it, so I’m waiting my turn. I’ve never heard anything but good about the book – and her – and always in the key of love.

    Thank you for the kind words!

  36. Janine Avatar
    Janine

    I had an unusual experience this Sunday, that really illuminated the “split” in me between one identity and another. In the church I currently attend, there is a professional singer who constitutes the choir, almost like a chanter. She does a good job, but I love to sing (and have studied in my past also). So, I was encouraged to go up there, put on a choir robe, and sing with her. Now I’m in my 60s, have sung in church since I was about 12, so what was new was just yours truly as the body of the choir. I was a bit apprehensive as it’s been a lot of years since I sang on a stage, and I was never professional as a liturgical singer.

    Lately I have been struggling with a relationship with one family member who, for reasons I don’t know, really does not want me around. I’ve tried appeasing, pleasing, and all the rest of it. Lately I just decided I can’t *fix* this so I let it be, and I admit I feel pretty humiliated by it, and even ashamed although I can’t figure out what I’ve done that merits that. Let’s just say that some of my family are experts in shaming.

    So here’s the strange thing. I prayed about singing in the choir box instead of my pew as I have of late in this church, and went up where I might have been embarrassed by hitting a wrong note or some such. But, encouraged in prayer, and by others in church, I did so. Well, it went well. But here’s the thing, after decades of my life singing in different churches, I was absolutely flooded with gratitude to serve in God’s house. That kind of feeling didn’t happen before. Just flooded with elation, and humility too. But the reason I’m posting this is because it worked as a strange *antidote* to the identity of being a despised relative. It was balm. It helped me experience this dual identity: the one given by “family” and the one given by the Lord’s house. I’ve never experienced those two things so strongly as dichotomy.

    I know I’ll still struggle with this, but it was just such a clear differentiation. I wonder what you might make of that Father, and I would love to hear comments about this if you desire to make any.

  37. Janine Avatar
    Janine

    PS Father, I have started reading your book in Kindle form (so grateful for that). It’s a bit like a balm, too, but I know I will struggle with the different threads of the issues as I read. I really liked the Introduction and I’m only about halfway into the first chapter, so stay tuned :-).

  38. Dana Ames Avatar
    Dana Ames

    Father, where did you find the Mother Gavrila book?
    Dana

  39. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Janine,
    I think that kind of affirmation proved to be good medicine!

  40. Janine Avatar
    Janine

    Haha, thank you much Father! 😊

  41. Chris Avatar
    Chris

    Thank you Father for writing about the true problem with which we all struggle from the time of our transition from childhood to adolescence. Who are we? In order to feel comfortable in our surroundings we have this need to identify with something, be it ethnic, religious, political, intellectual, philosophical . All this tends to lead use away from our true God given identity. As a result, we spend a good portion of our lives in regret and remorse, trying to make amends and corrections to our behavior. We, as Christian know that the kingdom of God is within us., we just fail to realize it. Your picture of your grandson speaks to Christ point, unless we become like little children, we will never see the Kingdom of God. We need to experience life with that child like amazement and innocence once again.
    May the good lord have mercy on us all

  42. Jan-Peter Avatar
    Jan-Peter

    Thank you Father! Helpful article.
    I came to feel for some time the modern ‘selfconsciousness’ is pretty fake. Psychology has given me for a certain an amount of years the false impression ‘I knew myself’. Its quite sophisticated but Orthodoxy is so much more!

  43. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Chris,
    It seems to me to be of note that the few times a “soul” is depicted in icons, it is seem as that of a child or infant (cf. Dormition of Theotokos). Also, in Ps 131, we read, “I have calmed and quieted my soul as a weaned child with his mother. My soul within me is like a weaned child.” I develop this with some attention in my book.

    I am watching a couple of grandsons grow up with an eye to all of this. There is a clear sense that we move from comfort and joy to a self-awareness that inhibits and creates cares and concerns. I’ve watched any number of children go through this in my years as a parish priest.

    Our culture’s emphasis on the individual (which is especially important to its cult of consumerism) and the lack and fluidity of structures, puts terrible burdens on each person. It is little wonder that American adolescence is in the current state of cultural disintegration and dysfunction. We are driving children crazy. That said, it calls for extreme care and love on our part.

  44. PJ Avatar
    PJ

    “The truth of our existence goads against the many false identities which we create. Our own efforts leave us empty, unfulfilled, anxious and frequently angry. We cannot be satisfied, truly satisfied, by being someone other than who we were created to be.”

    As a transgender person who has spent many decades in denial, suppressing my nature and cultivating an elaborate false identity out of fear and shame, this strongly resonated with me– although probably not in the way you intended.

    Should I wait for my identity to be revealed only in death? Why? What purpose does it serve to live a lie in the meantime?

  45. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    PJ,
    It’s a complicated matter, no doubt. Gender dysphoria is real (as a problem), but I think that transgenderism is but one more effort at identity creation. My answer to your question is found in Christ Himself – Christ is the truth – we live Christ. The “lie” is when we make anything else the “truth” of our life. It is possible to live a life in which you’re honest about your gender dysphoria and the struggle (and suffering) that it creates for you without proclaiming that the “truth” of your life is a different self-created identity. But, I understand your question and will keep you in my prayers. All suffering has to be honored. Christ suffers in us and with us. For what it’s worth, I suspect that the suffering will not disappear by adopting a new identity – though only time would reveal that. God give you grace in all things.

  46. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    PJ, having known a lot of people in my life with similar dysphoria and seen their pain deeply, I have genuine compassion for you.
    I also know how mass culture creates false memes for each of us that make who we really are obscure, impossible and dark while promising freedom.
    I have, in my life, seen many classes of people selected for the aggrieved class. It is a lie. But the mass mind of our “culture” is an intelligence superbly good at lying. It led me astray for a long time and often still does. I am 75.
    Jesus’ Mercy is a real, palpable expression of His Person coming from a deep almost inscrutable love for each of us, not “in general” but specific to the pain and dysphoria of each of us.
    Know that He is real, He knows you better than you know yourself and, as trite as it sounds, He loves you beyond anything.
    I am a stubborn, opinionated person. It has taken me 50 years struggling through my own stubbornness to begin to realize what beauty and Grace He has for each of us revealed at the heart of my struggles.
    I have made it difficult. Jesus is still there, reaching out from time to time as I will allow and accept.

  47. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    PJ. the prayers and compassion of my wife are with you, through the intercessions of Mary.

  48. Deacon Nicholas Dujmovic Avatar
    Deacon Nicholas Dujmovic

    The Mother Gavrila book is also available through this Greek church’s bookstore:
    https://stspyridonchurch.org/bookstore/

  49. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    “This is the day the Lord has made! Let us rejoice and be glad in it.”

    For myself and everyone,

  50. Simon Avatar
    Simon

    I know this is NOT the forum to discuss gender identity issues and what they may entail. In fact, I am glad that Fr. Stephen keeps that trash off the site. But, I am also aware that to a person who may actually have neuroanatomy that is diverges from their gross anatomy that their identity as trans is more than a cultural trend. With FR. Stephen’s permission I would like to offer a few thoughts of my own that I hope adds perspective.

    Here’s a thought experiment. If my brain was removed and placed inside my wife’s body…I would NOT be my own wife. Everything about my self-understanding as a male is neuroanatomical and grounded in biology. That is a fact. The idea that it would be purely a social construct does NOT help people who actually have strong biological grounds and essential reasons for their self-understanding. The idea that gender is a social construct is a deconstructionist project and in reality it doesn’t work. If everything is a social construct, then whose construct are we going to use? There is absolutely nothing to guide that decision but power. And that would be true of everything once we travel down the road of liberal arts departments and their deconstructionist agenda.

    We live a chemical rich environment where our food is highly processed and that may be creating significant problems. For example, no one understands why peanut allergies is killing kids. Is our environment too sterile? Has the chemical ecology changed and created this phenomena? No one knows. But it is a phenomenon that occurs predominantly in Western countries. That much is known. Peanut allergies are not a social construct. Something in our environment is affecting our biology. How deep that goes is a legitimate question, but one that we are poorly equipped to answer.

  51. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Simon,
    I will note here that Simon is a scientist and I have respect for his thoughts on those subjects. We are at a strange place in our culture viz things like gender/trans, etc. issues. For one, science itself has been “tilted” by a preference for desired outcomes and pressure against contraindicative studies. The research money goes to a particular gender narrative. It is clearly the case, it seems, that what is taking place among youth on these issues has the hallmarks of something like social hysteria rather than any sort of biological cause. The numbers just don’t add up to biology.

    I will say though, that what I have been describing in terms of shame and identity and the true self, is far deeper than the question of sexual/gender identities. It is simply the case that we do not at present know our true self (it is hid with Christ in God, St. Paul says). No amount of tampering with present identities will bring us any closer to it. The mystery that is the truth of who I am is only found in Christ. As St. Paul says, “Forgetting those things that are behind…I press forward…”

    I believe that our modern world lacks the ability to bear suffering. We are deeply driven to fix everything, to relieve all pain, that it even drives us towards increasing use of euthanasia. We cannot bear our pain. The drive towards a painless existence is generally a guarantee that the world and our lives will become increasingly distorted and dysfunctional.

    The Christian gospel has a very different account of pain and suffering – grounded in the Crucified Christ. PJ asked of his own suffering (or “living a lie” in his words), “What purpose does it serve…” The answer to that question is difficult – not because it is hard to say – but because it is hard to hear, and a heart has to be prepared to hear it. So I don’t spell it out here.

    The present morass and confusion within our culture (no doubt complicated by our increasing poisoning of the environment and food chain) will not be solved on our culture’s terms. The narrative of modernity (as an explanatory story) is largely responsible for how we got into our present mess. It is not the result of Christianity – at best – it’s the result of heretical forms of Christianity. Or, as GK Chesterton said, “The virtues run wild.”

    My ultimate thoughts on this (which is not a debate about science and such) is that the only way forward is through the Cross. I can preach that and offer that, but I cannot force it – and cannot make of it a political agenda. It is for us to live it and let God do with His Church what He will.

  52. Simon Avatar
    Simon

    Fr. Stephen, thank you for your response.

  53. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Simon thank you. We each and all see through a glass darkly. As a student of history, I have been hoodwinked more than once by “social constructs” being passed off as “,The Truth”.
    Fr Stephen’s critique of modernity is, as far as it goes, quite telling. Unfortunately, that includes most of what we call “modern science”.

    As I age I find that without The Holy Trinity, The Incarnation and the Cross, I am ignorant, at best, of Truth. The Cross is far away from me most of the time, Lord forgive me.

    Father, are not acceptance of Our Lord Jesus Christ as Savior, learning to Repent and accepting both censure and forgiveness personally the beginning of the Life of the Cross?

  54. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Michael,
    You could say it that way – but each of those terms needs to be explained and enlarged on. The Christian life is a life-long journey and there are points where different things come to the fore. I’m loathe to reduce it to a formula.

    I also want to respond to your statement viz. “modern science.” There is “science” and then are narratives that come from the world of science. Real science, actually working with real stuff, experiments, etc., the math, whatever – is not really a question. It’s as “solid” as the stuff it works with. Scientific narratives are secondary and can have more to do with culture than the hard facts themselves. It’s also where things become controversial.

    When a narrative is developed to support eugenics, for example (as it was in the late 19th and early 20th centuries), it is not “science.” It’s a cultural narrative hiding behind science. Modernity likes to pretend that it “knows” what it doesn’t know, and that it is based on the “facts.” It’s a way of shutting down conversations and questions (which is actually anti-science).

    There is no contradiction between science and the Christian faith, just as there’s no contradiction between nature itself and the Christian faith.

    All of that said, I think it’s inaccurate to bash “modern science” when what you actually mean are “modern scientific narratives…”

  55. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Father, all of what you say and more is included in the word “modern” — a word that has long been a pejorative in my mind. Forgive me for not making that clear.
    The gift of the Christian faith is always about, in my experience, a revelation, or rather a series of revelations followed by learning in more concrete forms including worship, practice such as Repentance, Confession and formal Forgiveness.

    As befits an interrelationship with a Living Being. May He have Mercy on me, an inadequate and arrogant sinner.

  56. Simon Avatar
    Simon

    The very fact that the liberal arts community refuses to consider the legitimacy of objective, biological factors–what they term “essentialism”–is telling. In my opinion it rhymes with a refusal to admit to the possibility of truth. After all, if everything we say that we know as “truth” is really a social construct, then the question becomes “Whose truth?” At that point all bets are off. It’s chaos. We can only move forward once we have assumed that truth has an objective reality and that truth matters. If we can’t agree to that then it’s just power struggles. It is an implicit attack on the possibility of bedrock truth.

    The way that question “Whose truth?” gets shamelessly belched out loud is also very telling.

    Fr. Stephen I really appreciate the importance of the distinction you are drawing.

  57. Dino Avatar
    Dino

    Father, Michael,
    Perhaps one problem with modern scientific narratives and modern science is the fuzzy distinction lines. And I do not mean the obvious distinction Father alluded to, but, that there can often be a sort of (kind of eye-of-the-beholder, Heisenberg-uncertainty-principle type) of infiltration of the narrative upon the findings. A bias towards seeking facts supporting one narrative (and away from facts invalidating it) is possible, their establishment can even go unnoticed.

  58. Margaret Avatar
    Margaret

    I also appreciate your drawing a distinction you are drawing, Fr Stephen;, and I appreciate your directing us to Christ and His Cross and His Resurrection even more. Thank you for keeping a vigilant eye on the comments to your blog articles. I have always appreciated this, but I do not believe I have thanked you before.

  59. Simon Avatar
    Simon

    I have had my own struggles with identity and continue to do so. We all struggle with the fragmentation of sin to one degree or another. It’s not a unique struggle. My priest frequently and deliberately calls me by my baptismal name. That has been comforting to me on more than one occasion. At least I have that. I also understand that regardless of whatever else I might think of myself, I take comfort accepting that the truth of my existence has yet to be revealed. And this is true of all of us. We are all in this proto-hypostatic mess together, and the fullness of what that means is a matter of revelation. As Fr. Stephen says it’s something we see more clearly in the rearview mirror.

  60. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Dino, I find in my self it is worse. Not just a bias toward my own belief, but the certainty it (I) am true. Simon, forgive me.

  61. Simon Avatar
    Simon

    Let’s be clear: Science has paradigms…it does not have narratives. Science is not the art of argument. It is the art of measurement. That’s it. If the bulk of what you are doing isn’t taking measurements, then you’re not doing science. I, personally, don’t take measurements. BUT, every piece of data I kill myself on is a measurement. And, statistics is a kind of measurement that allows researchers a common language for discussing and evaluating certainty, that is, the certainty they have about the significance of their results. Another point I would like to add is that there are entire careers built on the falsification of previous results. The idea that science does not invite evidence to the contrary isn’t true–not as a field. Yes, there can be resistance and appeals to authority, but all that is poo-poo-ed, complete with finger wagging and head shaking.

  62. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Simon
    I appreciate the view from the inside.

  63. Simon Avatar
    Simon

    Thank you, Fr. I really shouldn’t speak as if science is monolithic. Of course it’s not. And it is dominated by egos and personalities. Of course it is. That naturally lends itself to adversarial and antagonistic cross-examinations. I have never known it to be any other way. Also, if we aren’t careful we will persistently reify science, when we shouldn’t. Science isn’t a thing. It is a way of doing a thing, like making observations.

  64. Dino Avatar
    Dino

    The claims of scientific paradigms or narratives characteristically rest upon certain ideological foundations. And we hardly find a natural science nowadays free of some “scientistic” narrative tenets of various kinds. We very often see that an entire worldview claimed to rest upon so-called ‘hard facts of science’, can in fact, rather easily be scientistic to its core.
    Just as (regarding the truths of our faith) we cannot maintain, that what we believe does not affect everything else and merely stays in its own little corner, so too, the secular set of beliefs and narratives held, are of huge consequence in everything, including the collection, prioritisation and interpretation of scientific measurements etc.

  65. Mark Spurlock Avatar
    Mark Spurlock

    “Out of the crooked timber of humanity, no straight thing was ever made.” — Kant

    As I recall, there is a principle in science that a thing cannot be measured without being affected by the act of measurement itself.

    The major problem I run into with statistics is having to remind those who quote them to me that a statistic tells you nothing about an individual, only about a population sample. For example, a co-worker of mine given to greater expression of anger than I am and also someone who enjoys confrontation advised me that scientifically it had been demonstrated that not expressing one’s anger and avoiding confrontation was bad for you.

    I said, “You mean statistically.”

    “No, scientifically.”

    The two are not equivalent because confrontation does not make me happier. I am made miserable by it. I do not dispute that a study might show for *most* people in the sample my co-worker is right, but it would not help me to “trust the science” in my own case.

    Perhaps a related question: Father Stephen, does not a belief in miracles mean that faith has to usurp science in some instances. I cannot think of a meaningful way to define those two words, miracle and science, which can avoid their coming into conflict. A miracle that does not violate the laws of science would hardly seem an actual miracle.

  66. Simon Avatar
    Simon

    Dino, there are many religious people in science: Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, etc. It is a myth that scientists are necessarily secularist. These gross generalizations verging on conspiracy thinking towards people who gave us air-conditioning never ceases to amaze me and generally the people most suspicious are the people who understand it the least.

    There is an Orthodox physicist and mathematician names Alexei Nesteruk. His books The Universe as Communion and The Sense of the Universe are fantastic reads.

    There is one necessary assumption to make in order for an observation or measurement to be scientific: It must be replicable. Replicability entails the observation of an objectively generalizable mechanism. And people of all spiritual stripes voluntarily make that assumption because if you do n ot make the assumption that the universe is rational and lawful (ergo mechanistic), then where do you start?

  67. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Mark,
    I think a a miracle is, first and foremost, what it seems in Scripture: a sign. Simply breaking the laws of science would be meaningless in and of itself. It is – an act of God. As the troparion says (in a certain place) – God “does whatever He pleases.” If He pleases to say, “Peace be still,” to the winds and the waves – it is so. And a scientist might puzzle at it.

    But, I do not forget that God made everything that is (including the scientist and me and you) and that everything, when understood, is a sign and sacrament and a means of communion with God. So, I don’t worry or think much about contradictions. I do know that science doesn’t and cannot know everything. It works in a convenient manner and it does convenient things. And that is enough.

    It is not and cannot be a means of explaning the universe or its purpose or its meaning. I have seen many signs through the years – the fingerprints of God. I have a respect for science, because I know a number of scientists for whom I have respect.

    Frankly, the arguments between religion and science seem terribly 19th century (rather than, say, 4th century).

  68. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    I will observe at present, that we’ve strayed quite a bit from the article – and I think it would be better to return to it. Also, Simon, I would not have used the word “mechanistic” – for me it conjures up images of cogs and wheels and such. I would rather say that the universe shows that it is rightly described as reflecting the Logos. It is “logikos.” It is reasonable after a fashion. But, I’m trying to be poetic.

  69. sgage Avatar
    sgage

    Simon, I believe you start by accepting that not all phenomena are amenable to scientific understanding. I say that coming from a deeply scientific background.

  70. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Dino,
    I don’t think you’re describing science. You’re describing “some people.” If I were to draw conclusions about Christianity based on my observation of Christians, I don’t think the conclusions would be at all flattering. And I would be reaching wrong conclusions.

  71. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Sgage,
    In Simon’s defense, I think he was simply trying to respond to what was seeming like a failry broad dismissal or denigration of science. Like the rest of us, he stands before the mystery of God and wonders. What else can we do (well, worship and give thanks, of course).

  72. sgage Avatar
    sgage

    Father,
    I completely understand – I was a scientist for much of my life, and I suppose I still am in many habits of thought. I just think it’s important to make a distinction between denigrating science, and pointing out that it does not hold all the answers for all things.

  73. Bruce Avatar
    Bruce

    Father bless!!!

    I love your book and the challenges it frames so clearly for us all.

    On your first page, you make the point that “shame is rarely absent from our lives. Described as the ‘master emotion’ , it accompanies us and shapes our social interactions, both for good and ill.”

    Can we also say that whatever identity we take for ourselves apart from God .. in ‘broken communion’ … will have shame in its root?

    And if that is true, can we also say that shame is a Cross .. and how we respond to it … can we embrace it and find Christ in it … or will fight it, run from it, or be paralyzed by it … can we find our Resurrection in the reality of this Cross?

    The work you’ve done in differentiating healthy and unhealthy shame in an Orthodox context is (I believe) ground breaking and monumentally both necessary and valuable. This paragraph so accurately captures much of the work I have found necessary and useful:

    “One way to think of toxic shame is to see it as a severe loss of boundaries. Adults recovering from such shame often need to undertake the difficult task of creating boundaries. They need to find the self that lies beneath the various shame-induced strategies and begin to affirm and nurture it in the inherent dignity given to each of us by God. At the same time, they need to establish inner and outer rules that govern what and who will be allowed to enter into relationship or conversation with them. Often, establishing boundaries involves the painful work of dismantling the habits of a lifetime. It cannot be done alone—we need assistance.”

    I also think you linking our work with shame as a “repentance” is crucial and perhaps not intuitive to many of us. This paragraph beautifully captures this journey of repentance to salvation:

    “There is a ‘me’ beneath the encrusted and obscured versions of the self that are generated by the dynamic of shame in our lives (as well as by other factors). It tells us that as we do the difficult work of healing, unlearning, discovery, and such (the content of repentance in the spiritual life), there is a goal that awaits us. We journey toward the true self, the image of God, the place of His true reflection, and in that place we discover that who we are stands before Him without shame or fear. This is the place of our salvation.”

    Let me know if this identification of shame and the Cross makes sense to you?

    May God bless you and this important work!!!

  74. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Bruce,
    Thank you for your insightful comments. It is indeed a Cross, one that Christ has made His own. We don’t do this alone.

  75. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Sgage,
    Yes. I don’t think anyone here was suggesting science holding all answers.

  76. Simon Avatar
    Simon

    This will be the last thing I will share on the topic of science. My priest has been way more helpful to me personally than anything else I have come across–and that’s a fact. Forgive me in advance, but let’s put that into perspective. I have worked at one national laboratory performing comparative genomics research, two biomedical informatics laboratories (both related to pharmacogenomics), and I have an MS in Genomic Science. My thesis was applying concepts from graph theory (a branch of mathematics) to protein structure ensembles generated by molecular dynamics simulations. The idea was to use network analysis to identify surface accessible regions on proteins and potential allosteric pathways that could be developed as therapeutic targets. I think it’s fair to say I know something about science. But none of that compares to what I am learning here about the hypostatic communion we hope to attain with God. None of it compares to what I have learned with my priest about hypostatic identity–and I have had my fair share of troubles with identity. I don’t hope in science. I hope in Christ. I don’t look to science for anything other than a pay check. Having said that when I “go to work” I think in terms of mechanism and I think about data mechanistically and I try to do my job professionally. No one at work wants to waste their time with this debate because it doesn’t contribute to productivity. And that’s the truth. In my experience, researchers who are bar stool theologians, only want to talk about the lab when they are in the lab. There is no other way to do it that makes sense. But, to be clear, I am an Orthodox man. And that is what is important to know about me.

    Please, forgive me, for ranting.

  77. Janine Avatar
    Janine

    I read a prayer tonight that went in part:
    “Heavenly Father, true God …
    receive me as the prodigal son,
    and clothe me with my former garment,
    of which I was deprived by sin.”
    It struck me that this could be a prayer about original identity, almost Adam speaking.

    On a second theme, Father what do you think is the cause of our inability to suffer or bear pain?

  78. Janine Avatar
    Janine

    Simon that did not seem like a rant, and it made sense to me.

  79. Dino Avatar
    Dino

    I appreciate faithful scientists like Nesteruk, or John Lennox,… Such brilliance goes all the way back to St Basil. They do approach it from a different angle however, clearly. But so do the multitude of others. Wolfgang Smith had a perspicuous analysis of the topic some years back.
    I should want to be as wary of conspiratorial leanings as I am of naivety since our Lord advises something like this re serpents/doves.

  80. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    I had a scientist father(Harvard educated) and an mother who danced with Martha Graham’s Company and with Miss Graham. I was shown great humanity in science and great mathematical precision in art. In my home they were never in completion. I took the road away from science in 1968 for two reasons: 1. My history professor made history fascinating; 2. My Chem professor made Chemistry both pedantic and strictly about math and not about people.

    Other layers: my mother challenged me to go more deeply into my being in a positive way My Dad was frequently angry in an abusive way. At best emotionally distant and confusing yet man of high intelligence and depth of soul he never realized during his 99 years.

    When I was 18, my mother sat me down in the “creative” room of our house gave me a copy of Huston Smith’s “Religions of Man” and a small handmade silver cross that will always be the most beautiful, living Cross in my life (recently passed on to my niece for her son).
    Along with the gifts my mother told me: “God is real. He is described in this book somewhere. You need to find Him.”

    My Dad was a pantheist. A pantheist who had great insite to the manner in which Creation works and it’s irreducible beauty, but a pantheist at best.

    So, just before my 20th birthday, in the midst of an academic and personal crises I said a prayer: “Jesus, if you are real. I need to know it!”

    Alone and outside at the time, I received a deep inner assurance from Jesus as to His reality and saw the shimmering outline of a man about 25 feet away and off to my right confirming the Truth of His word.

    The next day I changed major’s from Chemistry to American History and “the adventure began” as they say .

    In 1973, I had one more choice after writing a short research paper my history professors thought should be presented before the Kansas State Historical Society because of its quality.

    I took off to “follow Jesus” instead. That led me to a small, outwardly dark Antiochian Orthodox Church in Wichita one Sunday in 1986. When, during the Great Entrance, I saw the priest carrying a Chalice full of brilliant, non-physical fire, my course was set. I was home.

    The problem I have with “science” is the same problem I have with “religion’: the tendency toward idol worship and cultural Gnosticism in both: Idols of the mind, heart, soul and form. Same can be said of History and any other human endeavor since our Creation.
    When one is blessed to enter into the mystery of our Incarnate Lord, God and Savior through a fascinating and rewarding discipline, it is only natural to proclaim the value and beauty of that discipline.
    There is no conflict. Just different facets of our interconnectedness with God and each other.

    Glory be to God.

  81. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    It’s not science, it’s the culture. The same is true of religion, sports, etc. Some of my readers might have become familiar with the work of Paul Kingsnorth (as he’s become Orthodox). Some of his thoughts on what he calls, “The Machine,” (which he recently said is just “modernity”) often dovetail with things I’ve written as well. His background and experience are different from mine and colors his work. I enjoy reading him.

    The dominant place of modern culture in our lives is, I think, the proper place for critical examination (rather than the various constituent parts that are, more or less, held captive).

  82. Simon Avatar
    Simon

    Science is a hammer and a pair of pliers. If you think of it as any more than that then you’re thinking more of it than many scientists do. Can we just drop the science thing? Fr. Stephen was being polite earlier.

    Regarding hypostatic identity/ hypostatic existence I have been wondering to what degree non hypostatic or “merely” psychological beings can enter into communion. In my understanding communion is the “nature” of the Trinity and the Trinity “consists” of three hypostases. Hypostatic life and communion go hand in hand. The Trinity guarantees that hypostases do not exist in a vacuum. To be hypostatic means to be in communion with the life of the Trinity. Theosis, or salvation, is hypostatic communion in the life of God.

    I believe that in reality Christ is in full communion with all that exists, but that reality is not revealed in all that exists. As Christ’s communion with all that exists is revealed in us, then we, like Christ, can become a eucharistic offering of communion with all things.

    Here is an example of what I mean, I recently restored a relationship with a family member that was quite broken. I would like to believe that my forgiveness of wrongs is more than mere psychological dismissal of harm done and mere restoration of a former relationship–although that may be all that person is capable of experiencing. I would like to think of the forgiveness as drawing that person into my meager capacity for communion with Christ.

    Maybe the communion that is made possible by Christ in us might become the many onions that will save the life of the world.

  83. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    I had a beautiful antidote to the culture last night: Pre-Sanctified Liturgy.

  84. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Simon,
    In a number of the Fathers, the Cappadocians particularly, there is the schema: being, well-being, eternal being. We are created as being (having existence), and move towards well-being through the grace of God (which is moving into the reality of “hypostatic” existence, in the language of St. Sophrony), with the final goal of eternal being (full hypostatic existence in communion with God – i.e. theosis). It’s a useful model.

    And, I think there’s something of a continuum in this. To experience communion is already some level of participation in hypostatic existence. The consequences of that are as you’ve suggested – and more.

  85. Simon Avatar
    Simon

    Fr. Stephen, thank you for the response. It is appreciated.

  86. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Simon, for me and my house, it is dropped. Rejoice in the Lord Always

  87. Janine Avatar
    Janine

    Michael, I prayed that same prayer. I was 22 and supposedly fully educated. God has not stopped showing me since. I have had so many things He has had to give His answer to. And the list keeps going. For me metanoia has been a very long process of change and reeducation.

    FWIW I’m married to a mathematical economist. Every proof has assumptions in it. That’s faith. Every scientist should know that. And there is no science without hypothesis. Any scientist who rules out the “unproven” or “unknown” as if it couldn’t possibly exist is doing moron science.

  88. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Simon, however if you are ever in Wichita, Ks, after worship we can sit down together and have cup of tea.

  89. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Janine, of course. Wonderful prayer! He is, mercifully, still answering it in ways both small and large.

  90. Simon Avatar
    Simon

    Janine, thank you for that. We all need grace in what we do .

  91. Janine Avatar
    Janine

    Simon, yes we all do, don’t we? Sad, but maybe that is what is missing. So many don’t seem to be aware they need it, or maybe are looking in all the wrong places. I suppose that is life, and we have so many distractions to take us on so many detours.

  92. Dino Avatar
    Dino

    Simon,
    it is indeed not science, (as an absolutely independent entity), as has been said that is a ‘problem’ [of course], it is as Father says, a broader culture and a worldview narrative issue. Far more, what is key, is that it is the fact that nothing exists in the secular understanding of ‘absolute independence’ from everything else.Science included.
    So when we sloppily say with broad strokes that ‘science’ (or ‘art’ for that matter) can be recruited by evil, (eg.: it will be the sine qua non for evil according to Revelations 13-17) we are indeed being exceedingly sloppy with our words, (as it can be said that ‘science’ is also the prerequisite for building God’s Temples too) but I hope you see what the point that is being made is.
    The story of Cain’s lineage’s later “technical progress”, as opposed to Abel’s predisposition for unsophistication is quite telling here. This sort of stuff has a rather solid patristic grounding I find, although, indeed, it is fertile ground for misconceptions too. Greater care in precise expression is indeed required to avoid this.

  93. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Dino,
    Respectfully, I note Simon’s request: “Can we just drop the science thing?”

  94. PJ Avatar
    PJ

    Simon, you wrote:

    “I know this is NOT the forum to discuss gender identity issues and what they may entail. In fact, I am glad that Fr. Stephen keeps that trash off the site. But, I am also aware that to a person who may actually have neuroanatomy that is diverges from their gross anatomy that their identity as trans is more than a cultural trend.”

    First of all, I’m personally grateful to Fr Stephen for allowing “trash” such as me to post here. Thank goodness you are not in charge of content moderation.

    More to the point, there is no evidence of neuroanatomical differences among male, female, and intersex people; nor between cis and trans people. Put simply, there appears to be no such thing as a “male brain” or “female brain”, just human brains.

    “Everything about my self-understanding as a male is neuroanatomical and grounded in biology. That is a fact.”

    As a scientist, you should know better than to say something so dogmatic and categorical. Is your physical body somehow more valid or grounded in reality than your spirit, or your soul?

    Christ himself proclaims “in the resurrection they neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are as the angels of God in heaven,” and St Paul further clarifies that “there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.”

    The Lord’s human body was physically male (as far as we know), but his human nature encompasses all of humanity. Was his sacrifice ineffective for non-males, because he incarnated as a man? Of course not. Every human being possesses the FULLNESS of human nature, while each human person EXPRESSES that nature uniquely.

    Biological essentialism is not a Christian doctrine.

  95. Simon Avatar
    Simon

    PJ…pray for me. Take that energy and put it into prayer for me. I mean that with all my heart.

    I’m as confused as they come.

  96. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    PJ,

    You said,”Biological essentialism is not a Christian doctrine.” Neither is the rather Gnostic account of human gender that we find of late – which is neither good science nor good theology. It has been driven by ideology and social conversations more than anything else. Biology matters, and whatever is said about it, biology should and must be taken seriously. The present cultural confusion is unprecedented in human history. The confusion is a reflection of a culture in serious decay, the evidence of which is all around us.

    I think we can take each other seriously – particularly acting with compassion towards all forms of human suffering. Nevertheless, gender ideology that undermines the centrality of biological realism is not part of Orthodox Christian tradition.

    FWIW, The one statement I’ve seen in the Fathers viz. gender, was attributed to St. Maximus the Confessor, who describe male and female as “energies” of the human person. They are thus “expressions – active expressions” of the unique person who instantiates the one human nature. We could thus describe gender dysphoria as a dysphoria in the “energies” of a person. But that dysphoria is not grounded in biology (in the extreme vast majority of cases) but in the mental health of an individual. That said, most of us suffer from one mental disorder or another. So, we treat each other with patience and kindness.

    I will add that the theology (anthropology) of human nature/person/essence/energies, etc. is much more sophisticated that what you are describing. Modern conversations on the topic (including among most Christians) are generally off the mark.

  97. Simon Avatar
    Simon

    Dino, please, take that intensity and focus and direct into prayer for me as well.

    I need all the help that I can get.

  98. Janine Avatar
    Janine

    Well, um, okay, but there really are anatomical differences between female and male brains. Having said that, there is no difference in Christ in terms of the value of each person which is quite a different thing. Even if there be no “difference” between Jew nor Greek in terms of value in Christ, there remains a difference between Jew and Greek, but in particular ways that are not diminished. In fact, in Christ each one may be brought to its fullness in whatever way Christ has for that to be expressed. And I think that is theosis in a nutshell.

    So what we come down to is what Father has started in this conversation to begin with: who are we in Christ? How do we make that journey? What does it teach us?

    I tell the truth, every single day in this journey there is something else I have to learn, and something else I have to change my thinking about. Every day. It’s an adventure, a journey.

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