Falling Between the Cracks

... human nature is created and so, is unavoidably mortal; with death man’s entire psychosomatic being comes to an end. All of his psychological and mental functions cease to function: his self-conscience, reasoning, judgment, memory, imagination, and desire. Man is no longer able to function through the parts of the body in order to speak, to call to memory, to distinguish, to desire, to reason, to be impassioned, and to see”  St. Anastasios of Sinai (Odigos, Migne P.G. 89, 36).

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The first time I read the words of St. Anastasios, I felt like my life was falling between the cracks. To think of my self-consciousness, reasoning, judgment, memory, imagination, desire, etc., ceasing to function seemed pretty much like the end of existence. If I were to lack such things what or who would I be? Doesn’t the immortality of the soul promise the continuation of such things?

Time passes and many things begin to happen within self-awareness. I can begin to see that my memory is not so reliable. I understand that I remember the big things, and I’m not concerned with the small things – that I can’t remember why I originally came into a room doesn’t disturb me. What disturbs me comes more commonly from what I do remember. I like to tell stories. The point of an event has often seemed more important than the event itself. But careful reflection reveals to me that sometimes the stories are not quite accurate – and for the life of me – I cannot really tell whether the story that I remember and the event which occasioned it are the same thing. Worse still, I cannot recall the differences.

And what of desire and thought? They change from moment to moment. The desires that I carried to bed are never the ones with which I wake. Where is the center of the self? And what of eternal life?

But someone will say, “How are the dead raised up? And with what body do they come?” Foolish one, what you sow is not made alive unless it dies. And what you sow, you do not sow that body that shall be, but mere grain– perhaps wheat or some other grain. But God gives it a body as He pleases, and to each seed its own body. (1Co 15:35-38)

There is a drive to distance ourselves from the body – for we recognize that the body’s dissolution in the earth will betray us. It will cease to be “me,” and become some other dust. And so we put our hope in the soul, though we cannot fathom what we mean. But it lingers as a repository for the future, the guarantee of my continued existence.

Of course, I am troubled when I watch the occasional dissolution of the brain in this life – a friend who has suffered a stroke – a family member with dementia – and I see that a small insult to the brain removes almost everything I imagined to be the person. So what is the job of the soul and how does it relate to the frailty of my flesh?

Apparently what I really want is something to which I can point and proclaim that its survival guarantees my survival. Some speak of the soul and its immortality in a manner that makes our identity itself inherently immortal. But though the Church teaches that the soul is immortal – it does not teach that the soul is immortal by nature. Like all that is not God, the soul is a created thing. As created, it comes from nothing. Its nature would be – nothing.

The answer to these perplexing questions can be found only in God.

If then you were raised with Christ, 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 3:1-5)

Apparently, I am already dead. Thus I am concerning myself with the wrong thing. If, in Christ, I am already dead, then what and who is my life that is now “hidden with Christ in God?”

I stand in a strange position. The identity I know, the memories I wish to retain, my self-consciousness, reasoning, judgment, imagination and desires, apparently belong to a dead man, while there is a stranger bearing my name whose life is hidden with Christ in God.

The Cross is the destruction of the ego. The memories, an edited selection of events assembled to tell a “story of me,” are apparently insufficient for the construction of a life. At present they construct a simulacrum, an inferior and insubstantial version of the real thing. The same is true of the desires and imaginations, the faulty reasoning and mis-judgments. They are not the treasures of an identity to be preserved at all cost. It is not the disappearance of these ephemera that will be marked by a tombstone. They were only feeble noises and sterile protests that longed for true existence. That ego wanted to belong, to be loved. It judged itself as wrongly as it judged others. It imagined injuries where none existed and desired lives that were never to be. The truth, were I to admit it, is that I would not want an eternity as such an ego. Just the few short years I have borne with it have been torture enough.

Eternity cannot be anything to be desired if it does not come with freedom. The ephemeral ego is not freedom – it is an impossible past and historical embarrassment.

Jesus answered them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, whoever commits sin is a slave of sin. And a slave does not abide in the house forever, but a son abides forever. Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed” (Joh 8:34-37).

But what about me? What will become of me? If the ego is lost what is saved? Who is this new life?

To him who overcomes I will give some of the hidden manna to eat. And I will give him a white stone, and on the stone a new name written which no one knows except him who receives it. (Rev 2:17)

If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God…(Col. 3:1).

For whoever desires to save his life (τὴν ψυχὴν = soul) will lose it, but whoever loses his life (τὴν ψυχὴν=soul) for My sake will save it. (Luke 9:24)

The hidden stone is the great treasure buried in a field, the which, if a man finds, he sells everything he has and buys it. So why do we labor for that which is perishing?

Addendum: The orientation of our life towards the past – the remembered self – is a sort of anxiety – a fear of death itself. The truth of our existence would seem to be in something that is yet to come – something towards which we are moving. Heaven is not the recovery of the past but “behold I make all things new.” It is rushing to meet us.

 

 

 

About Fr. Stephen Freeman

Fr. Stephen is a priest of the Orthodox Church in America, Pastor Emeritus of St. Anne Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He is also author of Everywhere Present and the Glory to God podcast series.



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77 responses to “Falling Between the Cracks”

  1. Fr. Barnabas Avatar
    Fr. Barnabas

    Father, maybe it’s my age or the chronic pain in my back, but this is such a significant gift to me today. Thank you.

  2. Owen Kelly Avatar
    Owen Kelly

    Father, this is excellent!
    I think every temptation to sin (to miss the mark of love) comes from clinging to egoic “life” (ψυχὴ). Christ is the treasure and the field is the heart. He lives in me and in my neighbor too. So, I can love my neighbor as myself, knowing Christ says, “inasmuch as you did it to the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.” We are meant to let our lamp shine, but so often we hide it under a bushel of ego. It’s such a blessings to die, to cease seeing death as an enemy.
    Glorious feast!

  3. Brenda Avatar
    Brenda

    Dear Father Stephen……..so good to read these truths! I was hoping you would address the idea of reincarnation. It seems to be everywhere . I find comfort in affirming, like in the Creed, “I look for the resurrection of the dead and of the age to come.” Not reincarnation.
    I’ve read that some of the Early Church Fathers actually believed in reincarnation.
    Could you please add your thoughts?
    Thank you,
    Brenda

  4. Randy Evans Avatar

    I’m sure I had a good comment about your blog 5 minutes ago, but it now escapes me … I do remember feeling so much of what you described as also my 75 yo experience…trying hard to accept aging with thankfulness to God for every moment I do live in this veil of tears, especially the ability to be encouraged by the continued grace of your writing Father. We geriatrics need to know we’re not the only ones going thru life’s winter.

  5. David Avatar
    David

    Thank you for this Father Stephen! It pinpoints why I feel so repulsed by nostalgia, a feeling which I couldn’t put into words. I’ve come to see nostalgia as a destructive thing, and how our “memories” can lie to us. Phillip K. Dick explored this in his work (as all the good sci-fi of that era did in varying themes).

  6. Brenda Avatar
    Brenda

    Sorry…I meant to add this…
    Is it an either/or….resurrection OR reincarnation …..or somehow both kind of question?
    Thank you again

  7. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Brenda,
    There was a notion of reincarnation that floated around in certain philosophical schools in the Hellenistic period of the early Church. So, it’s not surprising to find it in some early writings – but they are quite rare. Orthodoxy does not hold with it, but rather with resurrection. I really don’t think I’d want to do this life more than once!

  8. Barry Avatar
    Barry

    This blesses me; can’t find the words to share why. Thank you!

  9. Anne peugh Avatar
    Anne peugh

    Thank you,
    Anne Peugh

  10. Christina Avatar
    Christina

    I love these words, they are comforting

  11. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    As a 75 year old who is slowly disintegrating I know the pain but I have also an inkling, in prayer, that there is a wholeness of being and person that comes after death that benefits from being in the body.
    We are created and fallen so in one sense everything we are and think and do partakes of sin. That sin becomes an opportunity to submit to our Lord’s Mercy–totally.
    His Mercy is a substance and energy revealed deep in one’s soul and the promise to make all things new seems to be a possibility.
    Such mystery is covered over by our power seeking in the world, our fear of death and the tendency to allow the pain to dominate. Yet….
    This is the day the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it!

  12. blind bartimaeus Avatar
    blind bartimaeus

    Fr. Stephen

    Thank you for this post. Very moving and much to think about. I did find myself feeling anxious towards the end though. While there is such much of my ego I am anxious to shed in eternity, I do feel afraid of what that will cost. What of formative memories and experiences that seem to transcend my self-obsessed ego? My wedding day, my children’s birth, their first steps, or memories of my sweet mom reading the Bible to me as a child? Part of me cries out that surely these moments are worthy of “memorialization” in eternity. But I do not know. I trust that the Lord will hold dear whatever it is that is true in me, but the thought of those moments (which feel close to eternity in themselves) fading into darkness frightens me.

  13. Jason Peter Seta BSG Avatar
    Jason Peter Seta BSG

    Thank you, Father. This is really beautiful
    Br. Jason Peter.

  14. Byron Avatar
    Byron

    blind bartemaeus, I think the beauty of our communion with God and each other is at least part of what makes us truly human! If our salvation results in becoming the reality of our humanity, I expect these things will remain with us in some manner. I speak with no knowledge, but hope and trust in God.

    Father, thank you for this writing! It is beautiful.

  15. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Bartimaeus,
    My thoughts on this have changed over time. An example for me is the relationship I have with my parents, both of whom have passed away. They are very much a part of my prayer life and I would especially describe the relationship as “on-going.” I have thought that my relationship with them is much better now than ever before (during their lifetimes). I know that they are now in a context of blessedness that makes whatever I say to be no longer fraught with danger or accompanying by eggshells for careful walking. I look back on things of the past and see them as being “winnowed” and “refined” into the reality that is now their true existence. The dross is being burned away, while the gold, silver, and precious stones are being polished and are ever-more radiant. It doesn’t abolish the past – but it fulfills it.

    And I think of the past in much that way. It is something to offer to God for the refining fire. It is not so much the moments of the past, but who is present in the past. The beauty remains.

  16. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Br. Jason,
    Thank you.

  17. Dean Avatar
    Dean

    Fr. Freeman, Blind Bartemaeus, Byron.
    D. B. Hart writes this in one of his books….
    “…there must be some sort of continuity of identity between the soul as it exists during its wanderings in this vale of tears and the soul as it shall be when it is raised up into God. And such continuity is impossible apart from those we love, because we are, as persons, the creatures of our loves.”

  18. Drewster2000 Avatar
    Drewster2000

    Wow…this is a rare peak into the heart of a man of God. Thank you for sharing, Fr. Stephen.

  19. Chris Avatar
    Chris

    Father Stephen,
    Excellent article! As we old timers ponder our lives during our waning years, there is a real danger in becoming depressed and anxious about the afterlife. One needs to remember that as we leave this world and travel to the next, the afflictions of this world are insignificant compared to the reward given in the other world. As soon as the eyes of the flesh close, the eyes of the soul open. Here we perceive Christ with the feeling of the soul. There, we will see him face to face.
    Many Thanks, God Bless
    Chris

  20. PJ Avatar
    PJ

    This raises a lot of very interesting questions, but no answers. “Your personhood will be annihilated, but in a good way” isn’t very reassuring; still less the unspoken “…unless you’re not one of the few who are chosen to be saved, in which case enjoy eternal punishment, you abomination.”

  21. PJ Avatar
    PJ

    If our bodies and even our identities are nothing but dross to be discarded or burned away, why does the Church also maintain that bodily things like gender are spiritually fixed and unchangeable? If nothing we do in this life matters after all (because it’ll all evaporate with our deaths), why give us such a plethora of rules and guidelines and strictures and proscriptions?

  22. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    PJ,
    I don’t think you’re understanding what you’re reading. I have not said, “Your personhood will be annihilated.” For one, “personhood” is not really what our modern world means by the term. I certainly believe that who or what we are as “person” persists. It is certainly the case, however, that it is changed – St. Paul speaks of it as being “tried in the fire” that suggests a refining of some sort. But it’s not annihilated.

    And, I have no idea, certainly from my writing, why you might think that there is an unspoken “Unless you’re not one of the few who are chosen to be saved.” Sounds to me that you’ve picked up some notions from Calvinist theology that have no place whatsoever in Orthodox Christianity. You’re arguing with a straw man – thinking that I am something that I am not and that my Christianity is something that it is not.

    On your second comment – ” If nothing we do in this life matters after all (because it’ll all evaporate with our deaths), why give us such a plethora of rules and guidelines and strictures and proscriptions?” – who said nothing in this life matters after all? Again, you’re arguing with a straw man.

    Much in this life matters – and I think it matters in terms of who/what we are as persons. There is, in this life, a refining that takes place. We are moving towards becoming who/what we truly are – the image and likeness of God. If that’s not something someone wants to pursue, then no one is making them. But why condemn me if, as a Christian, I write to other Christians about the nature of our life in Christ?

    Again, what teachings we have (moral and otherwise) are all geared towards the healing of the soul – the refining of the person in that spiritual sense – our transformation into the image and likeness of Christ. This relates to the first part of your second comment. The Church maintains that things like bodily gender are spiritually fixed and unchangeable because it’s true.

    No one is asking you (or making you) do any of this. The Church is not mandatory, nor are its teachings required of anyone. If some Christians are concerned politically to oppose certain practices or teachings in public schools and such – it is likely because they have a concern for how other people are trying to raise their children. Parents are protective – as they should be.

    Lastly, if someone in the name of Christ has suggested to you that you are an abomination – then I apologize. That is a sick teaching. You are loved by God as are all of us. We all have our struggles – and a bit of kindness and mercy help a great deal. It is a terrible thing when someone misrepresents the love of God and tells someone that they’re an abomination.

    I hope my answer is of some use.

  23. John Mark Lamb Avatar
    John Mark Lamb

    Fr. Stephen, these words are like a balm to my 70 year old “soul”. Please offer your thoughts to my question. I assume, Jesus assumed the likeness of sinful post-Fall Adamic flesh, yet without sin. When his body died, it did not undergo decay. In his resurrected body he ate food, retained his scars, yet was not limited to the laws of physics. Did Christ ascend with this same corporeal body? Is he now in the same body? Will we assume a likeness of the same in our resurrection?

  24. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    John Mark,
    The resurrected body of Christ is the only answer we have to all of those questions. It is, according to the gospel record, something for which we have nothing to compare. He eats – He is touched and “handled,” the Scriptures say. He also appears and disappears and isn’t always recognized in the manner we would expect is present-day sort of flesh body to be. St Paul uses the term “spiritual body” to describe it – which is a sort of paradoxical phrase (intentional, I think).

    According to the teachings of the Fathers, the souls of the righteous are in paradise prior to the resurrection – which is at the end (fulfillment) of all things. Our eternal existence is like that of Christ. Christ ascended with His resurrected body. Of course, His body is also the Eucharist which we consume. Mystery upon mystery.

  25. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    What is difficult for me, even though I know it is true, is the seeming paradox of growing more whole in Christ even as we loose bodily functions as we age. A wholeness that embraces what we have lost offers joy in spite of the loss if I am honest. It is tough for me to remember some days.

  26. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Michael,
    I recall the decline and passing of Archbishop Dmitri of Dallas. It stretched over a number of years. My last conversation with him was about 2 weeks before he died. He was mostly confined to bed – but his mental faculties were intact. My impression about him across those years was not that he was dying, but more like he was fading into a greater existence. Probably rare, but a glimpse at an amazingly holy life (and death).

    His incorrupt body now rests in the chapel built for it at St. Seraphim Cathedral in Dallas.

  27. Arlyn Kantz Avatar

    Our special needs son teaches me much that prepares me for my own eventual unraveling. If I can trust Christ with him who perceives life on a different wave length, then why fear my own foolishness and loss of control? There are acquaintances that feel sadness that our boy will never gain a degree, establish a career, marry, procreate, or any number of the markers of “success”. Those who are long time friends learn (sometimes slowly) that there is nothing to be sad about. What a wonderful life to not compete or envy or feel shame or grasp at straws for a sense of worth. He simply loves and is loved. He worships enthusiastically and is learning, like the rest of us, what it is to live in community.
    Thanks for your article, Father, I had not put into words before how my son prepares me for my own disability and death.

  28. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Father, even for the rest of us there is a blessing of wholeness that comes if we embrace
    the Life in Christ even as our earthly life fades and our bodies get recalcitrant. Quite difficult for me as my bodily will rebells.

  29. Todd Moore Avatar
    Todd Moore

    Christ is ascended! I appreciate your thoughts (so this is not an attempt to refute your reasoning from Scripture). However, just off the top of my head, a few New Testament examples come to mind that would seem to give reason to pause (at least me) before entirely excepting too much discontinuity between the now and the not yet of our life in Christ. I assume, over the years, you probably already considered the following counter-examples that could be understood to demonstrate thoughts and memory in the after-life. Yet, I would certainly appreciate your response. Thx.
    Luke 16:25
    ‘Child, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner bad things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish.’
    Rom. 2:15-16
    They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them
    on that day when God will judge the secrets of men, according to my gospel, by Christ Jesus.
    Rev. 6:9-10
    When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the witness they had borne.
    They cried out with a loud voice, “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?”

  30. Allen F Long Avatar
    Allen F Long

    Father Stephen,
    This article is a comfort to me as I start my 72 year with chronic diseases (lupus and arthritis) as my newest companions. Thanks for writing these thoughts.

  31. Dino Avatar
    Dino

    Thank you Father once again. Sublime.
    Perhaps we can also add a word regarding the “fading into a greater existence” which additionally comes from one’s increasing union with the saints. Some people have exhibited this vividly and without a shadow of a doubt.

  32. Elizabeth Avatar
    Elizabeth

    This is wonderful! Thank You Father Stephen.

  33. Michael Avatar
    Michael

    Father,
    Your posts are always so edifying . As I’ve read them regularly through the years, I can’t help but feel that, especially exemplified by today’s meditation, we are “growing old together.”
    Thank you not just for your reflections today, but for the gift they’ve been over the years.

  34. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Todd,
    Not actually sure how those verses suggest a greater continuity. My reflection began with a quote from a saint who spoke of what it lost with the putting off of the body. Obviously, I have no idea of what continuity God will gift to us. The great continuity, I think, is that of our “person.” I would recommend reading the works of St. Sophrony for reflections on personhood. What I would use as a summary of what I want to say is that much of the extreme continuity that marks the popular imagination would make us less – it would be a diminishment. It is in contemplating the expanded greatness of what it means to truly exist as “person” that suggests a transcendence that swallows up our concerns.

  35. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Arlyn,
    Over the years, working with various non-neurotypical people, and perceiving the fullness of their personhood, has stretched my understanding and made me less fearful as I age.

  36. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    The continuity is of personhood… and what a gift that is. Does not repentance restore and reveal our personhood?

  37. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Michael,
    I would say that it moves us in that direction. When we speak of true personhood, we’re describing something that is rarely seen, but is sometimes seen “as through a glass darkly.” For myself, the two or three persons whom I’ve encountered that I think were/are probably saints, I had small glimpses of it. To see someone in their fullness of their personhood – would be – I think – to behold a glorified saint.

    “It does not yet appear what we shall be – but we know that when He appears, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.”

    Think of St. Seraphim in his conversation with Motovilov – where his face was brighter than the noon-day sun. That’s a glimpse of personhood.

    We can think of ourselves as moving in that direction. Mostly think about transfiguring, transcendent love…with a face.

  38. Dino Avatar
    Dino

    Father,
    All this talk on continuity or not etc has made me think how remarkable it is that, within our sacred Tradition, seemingly disparate notions, coexist relatively effortlessly.
    I am especially contemplating how the above-cited words of St. Anastasios (and a few others with like statements) rub shoulders with statements of other saints, apparently asserting the contrary:
    More recently, contemporaries such as St Porphyrios, St Paisios, and others for instance, would unequivocally state that, there’s: ‘hardly any death at all’, so to speak, it is just a matter of ‘one minute’s transformation’ into another state of being, in which one’s ‘spiritual senses become fully enlivened’.
    The breadth of outlook, considering all these saints (in contrast to what rationalistic reductionisms would have us think), actually somehow harmonize, is rather fascinating.

  39. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Dino,
    I suspect the variations in their answers would have much to do with the questions and context.

  40. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    St. Gregory of Nyssa compared our death, etc., to a mud encrusted rope being drawn through the gunwale with the mud being scraped off. There is great continuity for the rope, little continuity for the mud. The greater question would be what constitutes the rope of our personhood and what constitutes the mud. I suspect that much of our life (anxieties, neuroses, etc.) is generated by our stubborn marriage to the mud, or the mud’s stubbord adherence to us.

    I remember when I was laying on a table during my heart attack some years back, with a heart-cath procedure and stent placement going on, I had pretty much no concern for the “mud” of my life – but was focused on prayers of repentance. I’ve recalled those moments many times since then – in order to remind myself that everything comes back to that sooner or later.

    I was once at the bedside of an elder lady (a hospice patient) who was Pentecostal (from the mountains nearby). She had almost no breath – but with every fiber of her being, she was engaged in enthusiastic praise and thanksgiving to Christ. I suspect the “rope” of her person moved rather seamlessly towards the larger life. It was a very profound passing.

    If I had my druther’s – I’d like to drop dead in the altar during the Pascha liturgy. I’ve told the altar servers that if such a thing should happen (I’m just the assisting priest these days), please just prop me up in the corner of the altar and carry on. 🙂

  41. Dino Avatar
    Dino

    Thank you Father, I always love these clarifications of yours, to me and others, comments are the hidden gems…

  42. Laurie Marvin Avatar
    Laurie Marvin

    God grant you many years, Fr. Stephen! Your blog is always a breath of fresh air on the internet.

  43. Pierre Leppan Avatar
    Pierre Leppan

    “For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. ” Father Stephen would we be pushing the limits of scripture if we interpret the above as All Men and All Creation is now hidden with Christ ” ie this does not only apply to those who are on the “Way ” ??

  44. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Pierre,
    I can only ponder the goodness of God in wonder. I don’t know the answer to your question.

  45. Judith Lahore Avatar
    Judith Lahore

    Dear Fr Stephen,
    Thank you so much for this post. With some trepidation, I shared it with a non-Orthodox friend who is dying. I have not yet heard back from her, but this morning I happened on a passage from St Isaac the Syrian, in his Homily 37, that I thought to share with you: “For when He made ready that other wondrous age, so as to bring therein all rational creatures and to keep them in that infinite life, what indeed was the cause for Him to fashion this world first, to extend its borders, to enrich it with such a multiplicity and abundance of species and natures, and to place in it the causes, materials, and conflicts of the many passions? And how was it that in the beginning He set us in this world and instilled in us a love for longevity here, and then He suddenly translates us from hence by death and keeps us for no small time in insensibility and motionlessness? How is it that He thus causes our form to perish, pours out our constitution and mingles it with the earth, permits our structure to dissolve, perish, and melt away, until the human frame completely ceases to be? And then at a time which He wills and has decreed by His adorable wisdom, He will raise us up in another form, which He Himself knows, and will bring us into another state. . . . ‘This creation waiteth for the manifestation of the children of God, so as to be delivered from the bondage of corruption in the liberty of the glory of the children of God,’ after the total dissolution of this age from its entire constitution and the restitution of our nature to its primordial state.”

    In Christ,
    Judy

  46. Patricia Avatar
    Patricia

    Father, I am LOLing right now at your statement “I’d like to drop dead in the altar during the Pascha liturgy.” I, too, hope to pass during the Paschal season, my most favorite time of the year. However, are we not to pray to not be taken suddenly? To have time for saying goodbye to our loved ones and to say our final confession? Just a thought..

  47. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Patricia, it amazing what happens in comas. Both my late wife and my wife’s late husband had profound experiences of Mercy during their passing, as did those around them. If God grants Fr. Stephen his wish, I can only suspect it would be a glorious death.

  48. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Judith,
    He certainly didn’t shy away from the tough questions!

  49. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Patricia,
    I’ll confess that, when I made that statement to my altar servers, I had in mind the common saying (especially among the Greeks), that those who die on Pascha through Bright Week are not judged, but go straight to paradise. Thus, were I to pass suddenly at such a time, my family would surely forgive me and rejoice at my good fortune and God’s mercy in calling me home at such a time. But, otherwise, I would certainly prefer a death that gave time for repentance and leave-taking.

  50. Chris S Avatar
    Chris S

    ‘Prop me in the corner and carry on.’ Amen!

  51. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Father,
    Is there a succinct way to explain how the dynamics discussed here apply to the bombardment of advertising we all suffer under AND how it might countered with discernment?

  52. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Michael,
    I don’t think I’m following how your train of thought is running viz. this article.

  53. Simon Avatar
    Simon

    I like the imagery presented in the continuity of the wall stretching out in both directions. It suggests that there is a continuity of our lives that exists despite the fact that our experience is broken up over discrete moments, episodes, and events. The compartmentalization of perception is difficult to shake. It is reinforced by the subject-predicate-object structure of language along with the temporal conjugation of verbs. It seems to me that this reinforced by the cause-effect dynamics we observe and depend on everyday. Yet on reflection I believe this continuity must exist and it must exist in a way that doesn’t leave the past erased. This is extremely hypothetical but I am frequently left with the impression that consciousness is distributed over time, but the limitations of the brain-mind correlation leaves our experience hopelessly collapsed to a stable point in a field of vastly greater continuity.

  54. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Simon,
    FWIW, the picture is of Hadrian’s Wall. I like the image as well.

  55. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Father buying “stuff” for stuff’s sake can be a way to insulate facing one’s mortality, not unlike politics and political theology, i.e. we are not really mortal, we have power and control we do not have even though some buying is necessary.

  56. Patricia Avatar
    Patricia

    I dear friend of mine passed on Great and Holy Saturday. He had endured a lifetime of physical challenges that he carried with such Grace. So to lose him during Pascha was an unexpected blessing that he so deserved in that his burial during Bright Week was so glorious and uplifting! So full of the Glorious Joy of the Resurrection. I can only hope for such a blessing for myself, may God have mercy on my soul.

  57. george Avatar
    george

    “looking to Jesus, the founder, and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” – Hebrews 12:2

    Dear Father Stephan,
    Christ, the perfecter of our faith, despises the shame He encounters on the cross so we may forgo it; Not the Cross but the shame.
    To despise shame as opposed to forgoing shame speaks to sin. Christ did not sin. Our aversion to futility leads us all to this shame. He does not need to decline that which He has given for us: by virtue given us in the futility in creation we have been subjected to in hope. – Romans 8:20
    Shame is our springboard, not His. He endures so we may forgo; the shame is in each of us and for every one of us. Other than the shame that rings oneness for Christ, we may be one with Christ.

    Forgo-

  58. David Waite Avatar
    David Waite

    As someone with terminal cancer, this post resonated with me.

    “Apparently, I am already dead.” Indeed. But, oddly, that does not bother me. I rather like it. There is a wonderful freedom in this. I get to choose what I am going to bother with, what I am going to pay attention to. So much of what seemed so important is no longer important at all, so I just ignore it.

    They say that a brother came to Abba Macarius the Egyptian and asked what he could do to be saved. The old
    man said, “Go to the cemetery and abuse the dead.” So the brother went to the cemetery, abused the dead, and threw stones at them. When he returned the old man asked the brother how the dead reacted. They brother said, “They did nothing,” so the old man told the brother to return and praise the dead. He did so. When he returned the old man asked him again how the dead reacted. “They did not react,” said the brother. “Be like the dead,” said the old man. “Care not for either the scorn or praise of men and you can be saved”

    It is good to be dead.

    “The Cross is the destruction of the ego.” Amen. It is also the throne of Christ. I want to climb up on it and be with him so we can be dead to the world together.

    “For whoever desires to save his life (τὴν ψυχὴν = soul) will lose it, but whoever loses his life (τὴν ψυχὴν=soul) for My sake will save it. (Luke 9:24)”

    I do not know what my resurrected life will be, but faith is trust, so again I say, amen.

  59. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    David,
    Recently, when I saw your face in the choir at Liturgy, I rejoiced. I pray God will take His time about calling you home, and preserve you from suffering. But, I will see you in the Liturgy, one way or the other.

  60. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    George,
    You have added the word “forgo” to the Scriptures (without any warrant). That Christ “despised the shame” of the Cross means that He did not let it turn Him away from the good thing He was doing (dying for our salvation). The Cross was an instrument of shame – terrible, public shame – but as you rightly note, Christ was/is free from sin, so that shame had no claim over Him. Nevertheless, He endured “our death” that we might share in His life. The shame of the Cross was, if you will, an extension of Hades itself, which He voluntarily entered in order to bring us out.

  61. George Avatar
    George

    Thank you, Father Stephen.
    I realize I am asking a question without asking.
    What was meant as an ask came out as a statement. Thank you for seeing this and addressing the content and delivery of my post. The gentle correction and insights are greatly appreciated.

    With Love and Gratitude
    George

  62. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    George, I’m so sorry! I misunderstood. I’m pleased, though, if my reply clarifies things.

  63. James Avatar
    James

    Dear Fr Stephen,

    Have you seen the movie Arrival? It’s about aliens, but like all good sci-fi movies, it’s not really about aliens. If I’m understanding a little bit, I think the movie illustrates eschatology to some degree. In the movie, the viewer gradually realizes that the end of the events of the plot are sort pulling the characters forward, while the past and present are still affecting them in the “normal” way we seem to be aware of on a daily basis. Sometimes it seems easier to see a scaled down model of something like eschatology in a movie, than it is to believe that my true self is also wrapped up in God’s Providence, as I stumble along through the day.

    It seems frightening to contemplate losing what I think of as “me”, but the lives of Saints who eagerly run towards bodily death for something better at least makes me think twice. I’m not sure what my question is, but do you have any advice on moving closer to the true self? Doing the next good thing and trusting in God and participation in the Sacraments?
    Thank you.

  64. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    James,
    I have seen, and enjoyed, the film, Arrival. I first watched it while flying on a plane. 🙂

    Perhaps a useful meditation when confronting questions of our identity and the future – are many of the characters in the Scriptures. St. Peter is a good example. Christ “knows” him already when He calls him and consistently helps Simon become Peter as he makes his way forward. The same is happening to us, though we do not yet have a name attached to it.

    I suspect that we fail to notice that the past is constantly being changed by our present. For example, I spent 20 years as an Episcopal priest. It is a “memory” of sorts, but, in point of fact, much of what I now remember is being shaped by the 25 years that I’ve been Orthodox. Things that seemed important back then don’t seem important now – while small, seemingly insignificant events at the time, now seem prophetic and large. I think this is always happening. It is not “losing” the past – it is “redeeming the past.”

  65. Dino Avatar
    Dino

    “Redeeming the past” is sublimely reminiscent of CS Lewis’ genius quote from the Great Divorce :

    ye cannot in your present state understand eternity… That is what mortals misunderstand. They say of some temporal suffering, “No future bliss can make up for it,” not knowing that Heaven, once attained, will work backwards and turn even that agony into a glory. And of some sinful pleasure they say “Let me have but this and I’ll take the consequences”: little dreaming how damnation will spread back and back into their past and contaminate the pleasure of the sin. Both processes begin even before death. The good man’s past begins to change so that his forgiven sins and remembered sorrows take on the quality of Heaven: the bad man’s past already conforms to his badness and is filled only with dreariness. And that is why…the Blessed will say “We have never lived anywhere except in Heaven, : and the Lost, “We were always in Hell.” And both will speak truly.”

  66. WAITE DAVID Avatar
    WAITE DAVID

    Thank you for your comments, Father. Is not liturgy the telos of our lives?

  67. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    David,
    Yes. I think that is utterly true.

  68. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Dino,
    That’s always been one of my favorite passages in one of my favorite books.

  69. Simon Avatar
    Simon

    I like that quote from Lewis. I recently restored my relationship with my father who I haven’t spoken to in 25 years. I know that I have genuinely forgiven him. It has been a real joy to me to hear him tell me that he loves me and wants to see me. The pain from everything that happened is gone. The consequences are still there, i..e. the PTSD. I am still dealing with that. But my father is my dad again. And the pain of the past seems to have genuinely lifted. Regardless, the body and the brain follow their own rules and I just have to cope with that. However, I can say that the pain of the past does not have final say. There is a beauty so awesome that when we see it all the suffering will seem momentary and light. I know that is true. I’ve seen it in my own life. Although I am not always capable of seeing during the ‘hard times.’

  70. Dino Avatar
    Dino

    Father,
    That’s indeed a most special book by Lewis.
    Your aforementioned image of St Gregory of Nyssa, describing a mud encrusted rope being dragged through the gunwale, is, in fact, echoed in the book’s preface where Lewis states: “If we insist on keeping Hell (or even earth) we shall not see Heaven: if we accept Heaven we shall not be able to retain even the smallest and most intimate souvenirs of Hell.”

  71. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Dino,
    Lewis was deeply influenced by George MacDonald (who was a committed universalist). It is MacDonald who meets him when he gets off the bus from the gray town (and into the outskirts of heaven). They discuss the issue a bit in the book, and Lewis (who is the writer) more or less gets the better of MacDonald. But, there’s no doubt that Lewis held him in high regard – and felt the need to address the questions.

    If anything, the book is Lewis’ creative answer to MacDonald’s universalism – in which he has a way of poetically demonstrating the possibility of salvation for all – but not without their cooperation. It is the River of Fire set in a pleasant land that any Englishman should enjoy. 🙂

  72. Dino Avatar
    Dino

    Most insightful critique of the book I’ve ever read!

  73. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Dino,
    I surprised even myself!

  74. WAITE DAVID Avatar
    WAITE DAVID

    “ It is the River of Fire set in a pleasant land that any Englishman should enjoy.” 😆😁😆

  75. juliania Avatar
    juliania

    Thank you, Father Stephen, and especially for this blog wherein we post our thoughts. One of mine is of the power of memory, which we celebrate in the beautiful departure hymn ‘Memory eternal’. Such mystery is involved in it; heaven touches earth. The beloved priest of our very small church passed at the beginning moment of the feast for which our little church, (which had only a brief existence in time,) was named, which was the Holy Dormition of the Theotokos. I have heard it said that the Russians call that feast ‘Little Easter’. And in the antipodes, where I was born, that feast is celebrated in springtime.
    It must be that moment of each of our passings in time is meaningful for every one; sometimes we who are still here can take note; other times He does. Always, He does.
    A wonderful lady whose life touched mine (she was blind) once said to us “We pray for when we can’t pray.”

  76. Margaret Avatar
    Margaret

    I recently re-read “The Great Divorce” by CS Lewis and appreciate both the above quote and comments by Fr. Stephen. I also agree that Fr. Stephen’s remarks are the most insightful critique of this book I’ve ever read. Thank you!

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