Rest for Your Soul


Among the most alluring ideas in our lives are the notions of cause and effect, performance and award. Nothing seems more soothing than the simple promise that doing one thing leads to the reward of the other. It is predictable, subject to control, clearly delineates the rules of reward and punishment and makes obvious who deserves what. Nothing could be neater.

The limit to this idea comes when we encounter living, sentient beings. We are, to a certain extent, irrational. We do not behave predictably at all times. We respond in unexpected ways and initiate unexpected activities. We can add to this limit the vast amount of what we do not know. We take precautions not to get the flu – but we still do. You drive carefully and are hit by the truck you did not (and could not) see. The life of cause and effect is simply inadequate as a fundamental position.

The spiritual life is no different. God is free and cannot be expected to behave in a predictable manner (known to us). We can expect certain things according to His promise, but even those things remain largely hidden. For example, we can trust that He is always at all times and in all things working for our salvation, our true communion with Him and healing from the ravages of our brokenness. But we are creatures who dream of being gods, though entering by a false door. Rather than being raised up and conformed to God’s image by the ineffable working of His grace, we prefer to make little god-lets of ourselves and becoming masters of our lives. Cause and effect is the demon that ever waits at that very point.

We most often experience cause and effect as a sense of control. Our failures haunt us while we obsess about what might have been. Some seek to partner with God, looking for ways of praying and living that rig the game in their favor. Much of this is utterly contrary to the purposes of God in our life. We seek for success and accomplishment. We look for rewards and things we perceive to be desirable and good. Surely no one prays and asks for difficult things. And yet the difficult things are precisely the place where the refining fire of God’s grace burns brightest and best. No one is saved by success and prosperity.

Among the greatest difficulties faced by Orthodoxy in the New World has been the relative prosperity of an immigrant Church. Prosperity makes for a Church that is nicely comparable to denominational America, but it does not produce saints. Christ warned his disciples that the rich find entry into the Kingdom nearly impossible. Nothing has changed since then. There have been wealthy saints in the past, but they were often forged in the fire of radical generosity.

We are indeed saved by grace. However, the Protestant meme that interprets this as mere judicial kindness is an egregious error. Grace is the very life of God, the Divine energies, the fire by which we are transformed into the image of Christ. We do not earn it, but we can certainly shield ourselves from its action. Christ describes this in terms of a seed sown among thorns:

Now he who received seed among the thorns is he who hears the word, and the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and he becomes unfruitful. (Mat 13:22)

Prosperity (American-style) can increase our anxiety as we get caught up in the delusion of cause and effect. We imagine ourselves as the source of wealth. And though Christians pay lip-service to virtues like humility and meekness, we frequently overlook the examples that dwell among us. More often, celebrities and the successful are singled out for honor, even among the Orthodox. It fits well in American culture, but it rankles in the Kingdom of God.

It is said that humility is like a magnet with regard to grace. “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6). And in a similar manner, “He guides the meek in judgment, and teaches the meek His ways” (Psalm 25:9).

How do we live with such realities? For one, it requires an ethos of meekness. Our culture is inherently competitive. We not only want to do well; we want to do better than others. A noticeable presence in American culture is created by the measures of American standards. I cannot think of how many times I have heard people speak about the Amish as obscure dropouts who seem destined to have no impact on the world. And yet they are people of meekness and humility. I would covet their prayers and suspect they are viewed well from heaven.

Virtually none of the measures that hold value in our American culture belong to the virtues of grace. I have said in a previous post that we are in great need of monasteries and monastics. I would broaden that and say that we are in need of the prayers of the humble and the wisdom of the meek. They alone understand that cause and effect does not belong to the Kingdom of God.

We worship the God who causelessly causes and Himself reigns in humility. He has put down the mighty from their thrones and has exalted the humble and meek.

Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am meek and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. (Mat 11:28-29)



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.



46 responses to “Rest for Your Soul”

  1. Margaret Avatar

    Thank you, Fr. Stephen, for these true words and the balm they bring to my heart during these heavy days.

  2. Scott Campbell Avatar

    Thank you for this. I’m not orthodox but find myself increasingly influenced and comforted by your work, and the work of other orthodox Christians on line. Good words today.

  3. Dean Avatar

    Father Stephen,
    For the last 3 weeks a homeless lady, age about 50, has attended our liturgies. Thankfully, our mission has been very accepting of her. We know she’s present when we see her grocery cart out front. She models for all of us meekness and brings forcefully to mind how truly bereft she is of life’s basic needs. Yet I truly believe that God smiles upon her in her poverty and brokenness. She stays in the back of the church. Since I’m in the choir I can catch glimpses of her during liturgy, standing arms upraised to Christ. I know that Christ accepts Shirley’s worship, much as He accepted and praised the widow’s mite.

  4. Agata Avatar

    Thank you Father for this article.
    As Margaret said, your words brought consolation for my heavy days and seemingly impossible situation. It reminded me that God knows what He is doing in my life, even if I sometimes feel like He tests me beyond my strength, and even sometimes taunts me – I use this word because sometimes it feels more than even a test…

    Could you please explain a bit more the phrase “He guides the meek in judgment”?
    Does it mean He helps the meek when they are under judgement? Or does it mean something else?

  5. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Father, even our Lord’s injunction to repent is not pure cause and effect. He does not say “Repent and br saved” or “enter the Kingdom”. He says, ” the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.”

    Something else is required on our part to partake of it.

  6. The Ethiopian Avatar

    Dear Fr. Stephen,

    I always enjoyed listening and sharing your podcast on Ancient Faith. I listened and listened and still listen to some of your podcasts. I think, I can even claim that I have listened to every single one of your podcasts on Ancient Faith.

    Can you please record these wonderful articles also?

    Thank you!

  7. Dee of St Herman Avatar
    Dee of St Herman

    Dear Father,
    I ask for your prayers for those of us caught up in the cause-and-effect game. It’s a structure we’re inculcated to believe. And intermittent reward/satisfaction based upon it reinforces the false notion.

  8. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    I’m working on it…

  9. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    How fortunate you are! She comes as a blessing from God, providing an opportunity to encounter Him in the sacrament of the poor!

  10. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Typical of Hebrew poetic structure, the two phrases are statements that carry parallel meanings. To “guide the meek in judgment” means to direct them in thinking through a situation or problem – which is paralleled by “teaching them His ways.”

  11. Agata Avatar

    Thank you Father.
    That is so meaningful, for me, today.
    Maybe the ‘tests’ I am experiencing are indeed an opportunity to learn the right thinking – and actions (or restraint from actions) – through the situation and problems. He already gave me enough to know that way, I just have to follow it.
    Thank you.

  12. Laurie Marvin Avatar
    Laurie Marvin

    Hi, Fr. Stephen. One of the prayers we pray is for abundant seasons. Another is to be delivered from all necessity, danger, wrath, etc. It seems like we are praying for lives of blessing and abundance. I try my best in my day to day life to make decisions that are productive and associated with positive outcomes. It’s hard to imagine building a life or a system on failure deliberately. Most of the people I’ve met in poverty do not have a the mindset of Christ. Often there was addiction, mental health, or family trauma. It was not conducive to the overall well being of those involved. The people at the church I go to currently tend to be wealthy, well educated, and stable.

    I’m just not sure how to square these things.

  13. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    What else is needed after sincerely entering a life of repentance in humility to enter the Kingdom?

  14. Agata Avatar

    I have heard that too, that being poor does not mean you are good or tender-hearted. Poor people often have a lot of resentments and anger towards others. And the opposite is true, rich can have generous and kind hearts.

    I always think in these terms: as long as I do my best with what I have (what God has given me) and share cheerfully with others (as best I can), God will see my heart and appreciate the good intentions. That is the best I can do. Others will have to answer for themselves.

    I like this one phrase I heard long ago: Last Judgement will not be ‘grading on the curve’… It will be the content of our heart standing before God, naked. (Father Stephen had a wonderful article on this theme years ago, maybe someone knows how to find it?)

  15. Byron Avatar


    We certainly pray for good things. It is important to do so for all people as well, not just ourselves. Temptation and ruin can come upon all people; rich or poor.

    My Priest told me we give to the poor not to help them out of poverty (they will be poor again, likely very soon, regardless of our gifts…) but to shape our own hearts to give as God gives. I try to not begrudge anyone their riches or judge anyone in their poverty. We are not called to “square these things” so much as to do what we can do in love. Our trust (hope) is in God; we’re not going to fix the issues we see in another’s heart anyway (we may work on the ones in our heart though…). I hope this may be helpful.

  16. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Agata, I would only add I am sure that for any of us at the last judgement, a chance to repent, even assistance to repent will be there as well. Otherwise it would be the Law and none of us should see salvation.

  17. Agata Avatar

    Michael, may we persevere in the openness to that assistance, and not stumble on the final portion of the race. There are so many stumbling blocks to disorient us these days.

  18. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    First – the prayers. We should bear in mind when and where these prayers were written. Imagine somewhere in 4th-6th century Byzantine empire. Life is very fragile, many times. In the 6th century, for example, the Emperor Justinian was fighting three wars on three different fronts, there was the first occasion of the Black Death, and, at one point in the century, Krakatoa blew up in the Pacific, plunging Europe into a 3 year-long winter, causing massive famines. Even wealth wouldn’t shield from such things.

    The prayers are essentially “survival” prayers. We pray to have enough (to “prosper”) – not to be wealthy – but to not be pressed into poverty (“necessity”). Such prayers, of course, have to be interpreted in order to “fit” them to the needs of modern, middle-class citizens of our bloated Republic. Often, our poverty is spiritual rather than material.

    The poor among us, are often driven there by bad “choices,” which circumstances have often rendered them incapable of addressing alone. The fundamental structures of our culture (available health-care, etc.) are damaged and warped.

    The wealthy, educated, and stable often fail to see that much of their well-being is not really the result of their choices, but more the result of the tilt of our playing fields. And with that, we fail to be generous, thankful, much less just.

  19. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Father, I have come to much the same answer–reaching out in faith. Even so it shocked me this morning when I read your words about the lack of cause and effect. Repentance alone could leave some folks in a self satisfied state not realizing our salvation is still a Gift. No matter what I do, it is still a Gift.

  20. Dee of St Herman Avatar
    Dee of St Herman

    Dear Father,
    Thank you for your answer to Laurie at 4:46.

  21. Laurie Marvin Avatar
    Laurie Marvin

    Hi, Fr. I certainly don’t believe poverty is all of the individuals fault. I liked Chris Arnandes book Dignity, where he talks about some of these structural causes. I just found from my own and others experience that it included a lot of degrading and inhumane elements, from which people rightly fled. Perhaps this is more poverty in the United States, rather than uniform poverty. The meritocracy has its own cruelties; it pretends everyone can succeed equally. This was part of the “college for all” mentality when I was growing up. After a while, its become clear that is not the case.

    That’s a good point about the prayers. We shouldn’t assume we are the star of every prayer or that they were written with our exact circumstances.

  22. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    U.S. poverty is particularly pernicious in the context of our cultural mythology. The book, White Trash (Isenberg, 2016), though largely Marxist in its point-of-view, also had some very good historical materials regarding the nature of certain elements of American poverty.

    In modernity, by its very nature, we want to “manage” poverty, and manage poor people, in the belief that good management solves everything – and that the refusal to be managed is evidence of being incorrigible. My own life has had some close associations with the poor (more at certain times, less at others). What I know is that Christ has not given us an analysis of poverty, nor even a command to eliminate it, but clear commands on how to meet and serve it. It is one of the most shame-bound realities in our culture, regardless of its causes. Christ has “sacramentalized” the poor in Matthew 25.

    I suspect you and I are in agreement.

  23. Mark Spurlock Avatar
    Mark Spurlock


    I tried to find the article you are looking for, but, as Father Stephen has written on similar themes many times, it’s hard to know which you might mean 🙂

    This has the phrase “grading on the curve”:

    But this seems more to the subject of the importance of the content of one’s heart:

    In the comments as well.

  24. Panayiota Avatar

    “Lip service…”
    Lord help my unbelief.

  25. Agata Avatar

    Thank you so much for trying, it means a lot that you did. 🙂

    And you are right, even I don’t know which exactly quote I meant, but this one comes close:

    Sometimes Father’s most precious gems are in these replies. It’s wonderful to re-read these conversations. Thank you again.

  26. Mark Spurlock Avatar
    Mark Spurlock

    I agree…and you’re welcome, Agata 🙂

  27. Dee of St Herman Avatar
    Dee of St Herman

    Humility is not inculcated in this culture. To experience it has associations of disparagement, of shame. We are not even conscious of how we avoid it. I read on a back car window, “__________ pride”. You can fill in the blank with all sorts of nouns.

    I have been in deep poverty. I don’t know whether I would describe the state as the result of bad choices. The circumstances were part of a tenacious web of events. And I was ashamed of being in such a state.

    I have been in a state of non-poverty–by most global standards, wealth. And I don’t think it would be appropriate to say this resulted from good choices. Again, this is a result of a series of events that people don’t control. If I gave the details, most might observe such events as miraculous. I’m not supposed to be “here”. In this country, the US, such is the stories we read about how great America is. But “America” was not in control of these events either. Neither did it set up the circumstances for it to happen. In fact, the opposite is the truth.

    I am becoming accustomed to being in a culture that I’m not supposed to be in. And actually, I pray that I don’t become accustomed to it. But I am. And I see it as a sin. I see in myself the boastful nature that would write on a car window “_______ pride”.

    I ask for your prayers.

  28. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    I think humility is difficult in many cultures – but America is a culture of winners, of boasting, and such. There are many examples of kindness on the part of many (I don’t overlook that). But we’re not at all trained in true humility.

    One of the reasons I felt it important to write my book was to educate on humility and the role of healthy shame. I’ve been encouraged by the feedback so far.

    On poverty – so often it seems intractable, or that the poor often live in the midst of a Catch-22. It seems to me that the bureaucracy of poverty efforts outweighs the poor by a great deal. Those who have been poor know this is the case. The great work, of course, is within our own hearts. This is consistently the message of Christ.

  29. Dee of St Herman Avatar
    Dee of St Herman

    Dear Father,
    Indeed I have seen such kindnesses:

    As a kid participating in a car wash for charity, I noticed that the most generous people often had beat-up jalopies–not so generous as those in the posh cars.

    As a teenager, an African American man, a dump-truck driver in his ragged and dirty overalls, helped my family in a car wreck–not so much the people driving by in their posh cars, who turned their heads to look but not help.

    BTW I now own a “posh” car. It isn’t the car that makes the person. But kindness appears to thin as one apparently goes us the economic ladder. –At least, this has been my experience.

    The eye of a needle is indeed small — and my rear end is not so much.

  30. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    As to the end of your comment, one of my favorite mystery series is set in Africa, The Number One Ladies’ Detective Agency. The detective describes herself as a “traditionally shaped woman.” What a delightful phrase!

    As to the rest, I have seen the same when it comes to generosity (as Christ did in the Widow’s Mite). If you are poor and have a need, ask another poor person. Their generosity (if they have it at the moment) can be astounding. However, those who have more are very likely to want to manage what you do with their generosity as the cost of receiving it. On no other subject can I think of as many sayings by Christ. He’s very clear.

  31. Dee of St Herman Avatar
    Dee of St Herman

    “traditionally shaped woman” –that’s a keeper!!!

    Thanks for the smile dear Father!

  32. Agata Avatar

    To add something to this theme of “traditional women”, I would like to share a YouTube channel of a beautiful woman – she is probably 1/2 my age, but I am enjoying her videos so much, and am actually learning from her.
    I know there are many traditional mothers and fathers of young women reading this blog. I came across her by accident (and I only have sons, no daughters), but if I didn’t, I would want someone to help me find her.

    She is now Orthodox, which was so so wonderful to learn. May God bless her work!!

  33. Dee of St Herman Avatar
    Dee of St Herman

    Father I apologize for all the typos.
    I meant to say:
    not so generous *are* those in posh cars.
    *up* the economic ladder.

    It looks like you understood my intent all the same and had patience. Thank you once again!

    I’ve had several days without much sleep–obvious in many ways.

  34. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    The world has gone crazy over the past 70 years or more (earlier than that, if we push it). Many unproven ideologies have risen to the surface, been happily pushed by the powers that be (often looking to use them for economic gain). The ideologies were embraced (like this year’s latest fashions) as our culture became the testing grounds for untested ideas. The result has been damaged generations, damaged families, the loss of wisdom (by jettisoning the past as “oppressive”). It is refreshing to hear voices that push back – who say that they will no longer live by experimental ideologies. Thanks for sharing this.

  35. Agata Avatar

    Thank you Father.
    I am so grateful you allowed these videos to remain. If even one person benefits, it will be my great joy.

    Yes, of all people in America, I have the most personal experience of these changes which are happening. I grew up in a communist country during its most repressive years, and that didn’t come close in comparison to the oppressive unnatural things I hear and see here and now in this wonderful country, of freedom and opportunities. The hardest for me is the hypocrisy and double standards – what is allowed to some, and forbidden for others, based only on their ‘subscription’ to one ideology or another.

    But the most painful thing to see for me is this assault on the human nature itself. No other ‘revolutionaries’ of the past had that opportunity and technology, to interfere with the human being.
    But without God, anything is allowed (I think Dostoyevsky said that). The godlessness (and fake godliness) has reached its unprecedented levels.

    But as we read your work on this blog, and continue our life in the Orthodox Church and in Christ, we have hope and reassurance that God will make things work out for Good in the End. That is one thing we have over these poor blinded people out there: we know how it all ends. Glory and Thanks to God for giving us this knowledge.

  36. Cliff Avatar

    Father you know of my past experiences with authority figures. I have lived a life of having more than one controlling narcissist calling the shots. When I didn’t, God’s Spirit lead me to the Church. It is for this very reason I have decided that becoming a monk would not be for me. My trust in the Lord and His Bride has remained true, but not perfectly. Even then they have taken me by the hand to reveal things, I could have never imagined, as a child growing up. But there are some leaders I trust, and you are one of the few. You were a gentle Spiritual Father to me for many turbulent years in my life. For this I give all glory to God!

  37. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    May God continue to hold you in His palm, and give rest to your soul!

  38. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Father you say: “No one is saved by success and prosperity.”

    That is shockingly against the world and most “spiritual” teaching with which I am familiar. One must demonstrate “spiritual attainment”. Even the spiritual practice of the Church is sometimes presented that way. After all Spiritual Warfare must have a winner.

    And all of our politics and business, social theories, and entertainment posit coming out ahead in a Darwinian “survival of the fittest” and evolution posits that the best adapted organisms survive and prosper. Although recently it is being recognized that balance is required.

    Still everything is about winning. Even salvation is presented that way often…

    Very tough to be in the world and not of it especially for non-monastics. We each have needs that must come through the world. It is easy to fall into avarice and gluttony, etc…

    It seems that the only way is through constant repentance BUT being willing to accept Grace when it comes. Is that not success?

    What am I missing?

  39. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    I rarely see “success” that produces humility. God “gives more grace to the humble.” It seems that in the gospel stories, Christ consistently gives grace to very unlikely, unsuccessful (spiritually) sorts. The good news about all of it is that the “successful” and the “excellent” are pretty rare breeds. Their situation has more to do with “luck” than “effort,” oftentimes. But failure can be pretty universal. Everyone is capable of failure. In failure, we can find the “poor in spirit.” They are the ones finding the Kingdom of God.

    Our failings, faults, downfalls, bad luck, etc., can easily produce shame. If we bear such shame patiently, we will discover that we have acquired humility – the Mother of all the virtues. St. Sophrony said, “The way of shame is the way of the Lord.”

  40. Dino Avatar

    Perhaps it is the inverted Logic of the Cross that we are missing so much in our (secularly-infiltrated) thought processes, making us slightly incapable of employing the ‘winning’ language of the sacred tradition correctly or effectively: a language stirring up the most “natural” [as in, God-aligned] excitement for the soul, while being firmly based upon the mystery of the Cross –and not of secular notions of “success”.
    We do however see this very language with stunning clarity, in the description of the martyrdoms of the early Church.
    The ‘inverted logic’ of the Cross is there, and the Holy Spirit had guided the holy witnesses of these martyrs to use such a language.
    They understood the mystery of the Cross that transforms shame into glory (in Christ), death into eternal life, martyrdom (in order to not deny the Lord) into unassailable Victory (sometimes even admitted as such by the very persecutors and torturers witnessing the indomitable holy marvel of the unflinching tortured victors [whom, despite their outward predicament, they could not come to see as victims after witnessing their unflinchingness]). Even a tiny portion of this fervent spirit has the most profound transformative power, and without it, Christians cannot lastingly inspire anyone, may our Lord grant this fire to our hearts!

  41. Mark Spurlock Avatar
    Mark Spurlock


    Father Stephen’s examples of the three men in the fiery furnace and of Jonah near the end of his book make that very point.

    Father Stephen,

    I have not read “The Crucifixion of the King of Glory.” Can you expand on what you mean by *misunderstanding* Christ’s words on the Cross? I am aware that they are from Psalms 21/22, but what do you see as the correct understanding of “My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?”

  42. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Constantinou’s The Crucifixion of the King of Glory treats Christ’s words (“My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?”) as the first words of Psalm 22. Indeed, the first words of the Psalm are also it’s title (they weren’t called by their numbers as we do today). In both Mark and Matthew’s gospel, those are the only words on the Cross that are quoted. You have to read the whole Psalm to see that Christ is referencing the fact that what is happening to Him is a fulfillment of prophecy, and affirming (as the last verses of that Psalm make clear) that He will triumph, be raised from the dead, and that all the nations will gather to Him.

    The notion that He is in a state of despair, or that the Father has abandoned Him and cannot look on Him because He is being punished for our sins, is simply mistaken. It’s really bad Trinitarian theology, for one (as is the entire Penal Substitutionary Atonement theory).

  43. Mark Spurlock Avatar
    Mark Spurlock

    Thank you.

  44. Janine Avatar

    Father, I had occasion recently to read a little about the psychological study of compassion (yes there is such a field). I noted — and thought of you when I did — that it has been conclusively proven in some studies that the lower the income, the more the person is correlated with compassion (more generosity). This is so even with a number of adjustments for various factors. Of course there are various factors that add to this outcome. But I really do agree it has a lot to do with shame, and appearance. I don’t think there is anything that is more of an awe-producing boundary than class boundaries. It is hard to imagine how intimidating this can be for the poor. I don’t even think we can overestimate that.

    Yes, in our country there are other factors like addiction, for instance, that are coupled with homelessness, and what might go with that. But all of my immediate ancestral family very poor genocide survivors, even lucky to have their skins. I am not going to say that everybody was a saint. But there were truly saints among the generation of those who survived that experience. It is a particular kind of compassion that comes with such experiences, that we find lacking so much in our society. People are just ignorant about misfortune and humiliation.

    I also hesitate to say, and with shame, that I frequent one parish (in one place I live, during the year I am in different places) that did not treat a homeless person well. She had mental problems, and yes would make people frightened and could be abusive in her anger. She was a very bright woman but I think had burned all of her bridges. But still, it shames me to think about it. I tried to steer her to help from various parts of local govt but I was certain that was insufficient. I still pray for her every day but I fear my response is totally inadequate. But I post this to indicate that it is truly as you say in some of our churches. I mourn for her.

  45. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    People do not realize how powerful class is in our culture – despite all of our protestations. And it is, indeed, about shame.

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