Love Has No History

St. Nikolai Velimirovich’s Prayers by the Lake are a theological feast. St. Gregory the Theologian wrote wonderful theological poems – it is a form deeply suited to theology but too little used. I first heard this poem on a broadcast from Ancient Faith Radio – it came at a very timely moment and allowed me to see and pray. Images such as “wandering through my soul like a wayfarer in the night,” has no counterpart in prose.  Worth pondering in wonder is: “Aimless wanderers and loveless people have events and have history. Love has no history, and history has no love.”  I offer this today with prayer that by God’s grace “love will meet love,” and that no events will befall you. 

XV

White doves fly over my blue lake, like white angels over the blue heaven. The doves would not be white nor would the lake be blue, if the great sun did not open its eye above them.

O my heavenly Mother, open Your eye in my soul, so that I may see what is what–so that I may see who is dwelling in my soul and what sort of fruits are growing in her.

Without Your eye I wander hopelessly through my soul like a wayfarer in the night, in the night’s indistinguishable gloom. And the wayfarer in the night falls and picks himself up, and what he encounters along the way he calls “events.”

You are the only event of my life, O lamp of my soul. When a child scurries to the arms of his mother, events do not exist for him. When a bride races to meet her bridegroom, she does not see the flowers in the meadow, nor does she hear the rumbling of the storm, nor does she smell the fragrance of the cypresses or sense the mood of the wild animals–she sees only the face of her bridegroom; she hears only the music from his lips; she smells only his soul. When love goes to meet love, no events befall it. Time and space make way for love.

Aimless wanderers and loveless people have events and have history. Love has no history, and history has no love.

When someone makes their way down a mountain or climbs up a mountain without knowing where he is going, events are imposed upon him as though they were the aim of his journey. Truly, events are the aim of the aimless and the history of the pathless.

Therefore the aimless and the pathless are blocked by events and squabble with events. But I tranquilly hasten to You, both up the mountain and down the mountain, and despicable events angrily move out of the way of my footsteps.

If I were a stone and were rolling down a mountain, I would not think about the stones against which I was banging, but about the abyss at the bottom of the steep slope.

If I were a mountain stream, I would not be thinking about my uneven course, but about the lake that awaited me.

Truly terrifying is the abyss of those who are in love with the events that are dragging them downward.

O heavenly Mother, my only love, set me free from the slavery of events and make me Your slave.

O most radiant Day, dawn in my soul, so that I may see the aim of my tangled path.

O Sun of suns, the only event in the universe that attracts my heart, illuminate my inner self, so that I may see who has dared to dwell there besides You–so that I may eradicate from it all the fruits that seem sweet from the outside, but smell rotten in their core.

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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72 responses to “Love Has No History”

  1. Valerie Yova Avatar

    Extraordinary book. I find I have to take it in small, daily “bites.” So rich. One sentence is enough to chew on for hours. What an extraordinary man St. Nikolai must have been.

    Good strength to you as we gear up for autumn. A new season. It brings its unique beauty. New liturgical year. Many things start dying, and yet it feels like a fresh start.

    Thank you for your blog. May it be blessed.
    Valerie Yova
    St. Athanasius OC
    Santa Barbara, CA

  2. Catherine Avatar
    Catherine

    Blessed Father, thank you for this gentle prayer with great meaning. May love always meet love in your life.

  3. John Carter Avatar
    John Carter

    Nice love poem with the parabolic excesses of a love poem. For Christians, the Incarnation is central to our worship. God matters in time and space and that is why Holy Orthodoxy is not unrooted neo-Gnostic Protestantism. History is where we work out our salvation, cooperating as we are able with the work of the Holy Spirit within us. While the apophatic points us onward toward the cosmic dimensions of the Christ, we never leave behind the dear history of our Lord’s life and journey in this world which is the means by which our humanity may be raised with Him. Any Christian spirituality must point to the incarnate Lord Jesus Christ of the Gospel. It is our inability to understand God’s creation and our meeting Him here in fullness that the apophatic remedies – not that matter and incarnation and history are meaningless or don’t exist. God’s Word is proven true in time and time is not lost but transformed at the destination. And sure, we do not worship creation, time and history any more than we worship mortal life. We worship Life Eternal and we meet that one Lord and Master in history, we know Him in history and the Parousia is gathering history according to the mystery of His providence and weaving the tapestry of mortal creation for the Kingdom of God where His presence, His power and His sovereignty is all. Perhaps there is no history for angels but we are not angels but mortal. If history does not matter, neither do its occupants, now or later. Our destination is beyond this world but the full realization of the Kingdom is not yet. When we try to set aside mortality, we set aside the second greatest commandment and blinder ourselves with a foreshortened eschatology.

  4. Albert Avatar
    Albert

    Holy smoke (I mean, incense)! What a wonderful poem. I’m going to read often, and look for more. Thank you Father Stephen. Thank You God.

  5. Owen Kelly Avatar
    Owen Kelly

    John,
    Take this with a grain of salt, but I give a more metaphorical reading to the poem. The images have power to carry us over, beyond a literal reading. After all, what is matter? What is an event? Even modern science is catching up now to show that discrete, perfectly separable entities do not really exist. Sure, distinctions are helpful: there’s the stream and there’s the lake. But one flows into the other. The point, I think, is to lead an “aimed” life in smooth continuity and not get “blocked,” as St. Nikolai writes: “When love goes to meet love, no events befall it.” This might be why Jesus warns so often of stumbling.

  6. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    John,
    I consider the fact that the poem is the work of St. Nikolai, so, I don’t worry so much about neo-Gnostic Protestantism (not really even sure what that means). But, I guess you’re were somewhat concerned by his statement of “no history.” I think that it’s possible to misunderstand history – and the Incarnation. The eschaton resides among us in Christ – and any number of statements in the liturgy and the Scriptures make this clear – and it often feels odd and out-of-sync. To be told that our “citizenship is in heaven,” or that our life is “hid with Christ in God,” or even as St. John Chrysostom speaks of the Second Coming in the past tense in the Divine Liturgy – all of these are examples in which the historical (citizenship, our life, Second Coming) are also spoken of in terms that seem to shatter time and place. It is a poetic use of paradox and contradiction that is utterly common in many of the Fathers (I recommend Fr. Maximos Constas’ The Art of Seeing: Paradox and Perception in Orthodox Iconography for a very pleasant look at some of this.

    But, as I understand the gospel, the Kingdom of God is ultimately the marriage of heaven and earth, not the arrival of a historical kingdom as many of the Protestants think. Romans 8 points towards a liberation of all creation in which that consummation would seem to be just such a marriage.

    I understand that some seem to worry that there’s an attempt out there to make history of no importance – which would be utterly absurd to my thinking. Nonetheless, history does not and cannot bear the weight of what God is doing. History is the arena of death and decay. The resurrection of Christ lifts history into that marriage with eternity that is promised to us. We eat it in the Divine Liturgy.

    St. Nikolai does not say, I think, that history doesn’t matter – but, I think, that history does not matter in-and-of-itself (that would be secularism). It is the secular temptation that is abolished in his poem.

  7. Simon Avatar
    Simon

    Sometimes to say one thing clearly we have to reduce the dimensionality of many other things. Which is what makes analogy and metaphor work in poetry.

    What I read in the poem is that the first and the second derivatives of the slope are both positive…unless you reverse direction then it’s all negative.

  8. Dee of St Herman Avatar
    Dee of St Herman

    Simon that was a good one!!!

  9. Dee of St Herman Avatar
    Dee of St Herman

    Father,
    Since I work in a secular culture (it is not a secular world), sometimes I have to work hard not to see the world through a secular lens. That is why I’m so grateful for words such as these as you have given us this day.

    This poem is utterly beautiful.

    And I’m grateful also that when even the secular culture dives into the depths of time, it too, must acquiesce to the mystery of its workings.

    History, as we make of it in our secular culture, has a way of obfuscating such depths with its focus on specific events without lifting the eyes of our souls to see the workings of love and grace of Providence. In the secular culture, the Real is made miniscule and digitized, fragmented into pieces subject individualized analysis, isolated from the whole, without context. I believe that is how it goes without love.

    But with love, even the deepest mysteries may be opened through the Grace of God.

    Sometimes I think the big ballyhoo is all about the grace and power given to our Mother, hidden within other said objections.

  10. Dee of St Herman Avatar
    Dee of St Herman

    I meant: subject to individualized analysis

    Sorry, I was writing too fast–another aspect of the world I live and participate in.

  11. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    I have been avidly studying the nature of history since 1965 when my high school teacher assigned me a book written by Hegel on the nature of history. .
    History does not connect us and, as Father noted, is of both the fallen world and political ideologies of secularism.

    Yet, by Grace, Jesus still reveals Himself and His Mercy in history.

  12. Owen Kelly Avatar
    Owen Kelly

    Those are nice insights, Dee. Especially concerning isolation from the whole. We live in an age lacking context. Some have called it a meaning crisis. We need to — continue to — wake up. I think you rightly point to love as the proper context. This is God’s world.

  13. Susan Avatar
    Susan

    Re: “Truly terrifying is the abyss of those who are in love with the events that are dragging them downward.”
    One might apply Proverbs 8: 35…..”those who hate me LOVE death” — and see that terror as an actually desired, even sought after, dimension of the temporal attractions and imaginations which translate as “love” of death. So called ‘adrenalin junkies’ also assorted addicts appear to know the rush. The flirtations with pain and corruption, the resurrections of escapes, the mysteries of all-accepting darkness, ecstasies of fear, with comforting promise of extinction. The love that rejects love, rejects God; yet it’s actually still love and actively loves. And the love that is God is so absolutely faithful to love that it allows the love that chooses an other to ultimately be one with its true beloved, Death, the nothingness of nothingness. Love never fails, honoring love ever and forever, only evil being lost and that by choice. So if and so, (and if that’s not nuts), am left with the question: Are we, till death and hell are destroyed, actually free to love, or since existing sustained by the love of God, are we not inseparable from it, so really only free in this life to decide and choose how, what, why, and Whom to love? (as if that isn’t plenty [insert smiley] )

  14. Owen Kelly Avatar
    Owen Kelly

    Michael,
    Wow! Reading Hegel in HS. My how times have changed.

  15. Dee of St Herman Avatar
    Dee of St Herman

    Owen thank you for your kindness.

    I’m regularly tempted to analyze in the fashion that I critique. I’m trying to unlearn those habits and it isn’t easy! With help of the Theotokos I pray for the eyes to see the lake ahead!

  16. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    The teacher had her Master’s on Hegel. I was her favorite. As a senior in college, I was assigned Nietzsche. The Thesis, Antithesis, Synthesis approach has some utility as long as their ideology is put aside especially the Nihilism of Nietzsche.

    Ultimately, I was led to the Person of Jesus Christ and the reality of His Incarnation, Crucification and Ressurection

  17. John Carter Avatar
    John Carter

    It is certainly possible that I am responding to voices not present in Prayers by the Lake. I may still have that book somewhere but I may have given it away. My recollection was that the cover was printed in a different direction to most of my books although that is not a useful memory. Anyway, my words come out of a historical context where I am expressing concerns I heard Alexander Schmemann address in 1970 to a Protestant audience. My concern has nothing to do with buried objections to the Theotokos but to those who would diminish her humanity as I suggest as an aside Origin’s work On Prayer may, my concern amplifies Mary. Piety may mislead as did Manichaeism and as can the imagination. I don’t mean to diminish Origin or St. Nikolai in saying so. I’m taking as given that reading this work is a hygienic plaster akin to spiritual practices in Holy Scripture and commendable.

    Honoring the Theotokos is akin to honoring the altar and the earth upon which our Lord’s blood was shed. This does not diminish theological poetry but we strive to die to sin, not to die. After all, we have the words of St. Ephrem the Syrian: “Blessed is He who has appeared to our human race under so many metaphors!”

    I will conclude and say no more but I will leave you with a few small words given to me along the way. “Get your feet firmly on the bottom rung of the Ladder before you attempt to soar with the likes of [insert your favorite saint here].” And also I recall a warning attributed to Cassian concerning our pilgrimage being waylaid and delayed by the Pernicious Peace, a floating blissful lethargy. In light of that concern, I’d add the usual advice that it is good to keep our feet on the ground, our prayer rope in hand, the Jesus Prayer on our lips and in our hearts, and walk today’s steps up the mountain of God through this tragically mortal, wounded life, God with us. We remain a pilgrim people. We are not, as Pope Innocent III imagined of himself, mostly already in heaven and looking back for the sake of others like a Roman Bodhisattva.

    I do not say any of this to diminish refreshment of spirit with somberness but only to temper with sobriety and a caution about respect due. History is not death and decay, that was the belief of Plato. History is the annex, perhaps, of eternity and it is here, in history, in time, where we hear the call to worship, where we respond to grace with metanoia, receive forgiveness, enter into communion. This shall pass but we honor the body, living and dead. We give honor to the Theotokos and to God’s creation which He called good.

    A vision such as that of T.S. Eliot’s Wasteland based on his wife’s dream speaks to the whitened sepulchre of idolatry and indeed, that is a strange fire and no true worship. When I say it is right to honor history, I’m not saying we should worship boards but we do not eschew iconography. This is why we wash the bodies of our dead. Piety may insist that the Theotokos did not die but was lifted up bodily but more than poetry is demanded of understanding. In order for Jesus to be fully God and fully man, Mary had to be mortal and to be mortal means that we, along with Mary, the mother of God and her son, will die. It doesn’t mean that the Theotokos is death and rot. Be of good cheer, Christ is Risen in this same world where He died. In Him that is our hope. For myself, I tend toward the restraint on the topic of the Theotokos that we see in Ignatius of Antioch. She is our mother also, we receive her into our homes when in prayer we encounter her at the Crucifixion. Concerning the death of the body of our family members, some restraint is in order – so also with this world and history.

    Michael, as to Hegel, I would say, somewhat abusive of context, that his “world historic characters” are a kind of idealization that yields whitened sepulchures like Napoleon but that does not take away from Beethoven’s 5th written in his honor before the composer repented of that honor. There is some painful irony in Hegel’s notion that freedom is the slaughter-bench of history. It was certainly the freedom that Napoleon offered Europe. It is not the freedom of the Lord. See you Sunday, God willing.

  18. Gretchen Joanna Avatar

    I love St. Nikolai! His “Akathist to Jesus Conqueror of Death” is one of my favorite of long prayers, full of theology, as you say, and matters of Life and Death. Especially LIFE. He composed it on Pascha, seemingly as an oracle of God. Glory to God!

  19. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    John,
    On the whole, I think you’re hearing or inferring things to be said that are not being said. For that, I take responsibility for not writing or commenting with enough clarity and insight. May God forgive.

  20. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    John, the intent of my teacher was to engage my historical imagination. She succeeded. I never read any Hegel again because, even at 17, I could see the emptiness. Hope to see you Sunday as well.
    May God’s mercy allow it.

  21. Mark Spurlock Avatar
    Mark Spurlock

    John,

    The poem (for me) echoes 1 Corinthians 13. For example, giving all to the poor without love accomplishes nothing, but that does not mean giving alms to the poor has no meaning.

    “When someone makes their way down a mountain or climbs up a mountain without knowing where he is going, events are imposed upon him as though they were the aim of his journey. ”

    Events cannot provide meaning, in and of themselves. It is the aim of the journey that gives events their significance. Nor can we even fully know the meaning of an historical event when we first encounter it: “For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears.”

    Love, however, abides.

    I also think that for the poem there is a distinction between the history of our own journey (our life) and “the dear history of our Lord’s life and journey in this world which is the means by which our humanity may be raised with Him.” That is, we experience the latter within the body of believers and through other believers. We have received it, rather than lived it firsthand. It exists outside us and (like love) does not pass away. I don’t think, therefore, it is of the same kind of history that the poem diminishes. The “events” of the poem are (to me) of the present moment in our own lives that can seem overwhelming in importance until placed in the eternal context.

    Father Stephen’s explanation is very clear to me, but then one of the most attractive eye openers for me from Orthodoxy was this more reconcilable view of time and eternity. I offer the addition of Corinthians only because I think one might hear some of the same echoes in it, but because it is scripture, we might not infer it to be “neo-Gnostic Protestanism.”

  22. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Mark,
    Well said.

    Further thoughts: St. Nikolai is not writing a treatise on the nature of history and the incarnation, and it is improper to force his poem into that argument. He deals with a problem that assails us all: the tyranny of “events” (as he names them) – the things that happen around us that distract us from the one thing needful and the proper goals of our attention. Poetically, he describes these “events” under the heading of “history.”

    St. Nikolai lived in the midst of a great “swirl” of events: everything from World War 1, World War 2, Nazi occupation (he was imprisoned in Dachau concentration camp), etc. It would have impossible to live a sane life if those “events” governed his inner being. His problem is like our own, though our own is a thousand times more distracting. It is not anti-historical to suggest that the “events” of such distractions are just that, distractions, and that, aided by grace, and the prayers of the saints (the Mother of God particularly in St. Nikolai’s poem), we turn our attention to the providence of God and His work in our lives and the proper goals of righteous living. I think that is nothing other than the teaching of the Church.

    St. Nikolai’s language regarding the Mother of God is very striking in his poem (it’s something that poems do), but in a Church that sings hymns to her as “Champion Leader of the Heavenly Hosts,” or of her “sovereignty,” there is nothing that is out of the way in his poem.

    I was personally struck by the observation: “When love goes to meet love, no events befall it. Time and space make way for love. Aimless wanderers and loveless people have events and have history. Love has no history, and history has no love.”

    God is love. When we rightly love, we are in communion with God, in union with the Divine Energies, and we see and know things as they truly are rather than as we fear them and imagine them. The “events” and “history” St. Nikolai references are things-as-they-are-seen-apart-from-love (they are seen by the “aimless and the wanderers.” They are happenings without meaning or purpose – the stuff of our daily madness of anxiety. Love banishes fear – it “cast it out.” When we see things rightly – in the light and lens of love – then “history” (which is not a Biblical word, or even a particularly patristic word) becomes “providence,” something quite different, indeed. It is much more accurate to say that we live in Divine Providence than that we live in history. The academic definition of “history” is inherently secularist – assuming no Divine intervention whatsoever. The Orthodox teaching is that all things are in the hands of God, are sustained by God, and that “all things are sent down from above” (Morning Prayer of the Elders of Optina). Christ speaks of God’s care for “the sparrows,” etc., even as the hairs of our head are numbered. This is not “history” – it is providence.

    Of course, we speak in a culture in which “history” is a popular term, and there’s nothing wrong in using the word (I use it myself all the time). But it easily lulls us into its notions of secularism – or the great secularist creed that we must act in certain ways in order to control the outcome of “history.” Only God is in charge of Providence – not us. Our life is not lived by managing history – but by keeping the commandments of Christ. The outcomes belong to God.

    It is only a fool (and we are all fools from time-to-time) who thinks he can manage history. He worries over events and looks for patterns and meanings where only God can answer such questions. In such madness, love is seen only as an extravagant emotion, a luxury, where power and planning are the real stuff of life. St. Nikolai points us to love – and tells us that it is love alone which sees and understands. The modern boogie-man of “history” and “events” disappear in the light of love – as it cast out all fear before us.

    To have a heart such as St. Nikolai describes is the sort of thing that keeps you alive if you’re living in Dachau and its like. I’ll take his poetry any day, and pray to see the mystery that he saw – and know it is true.

  23. Dee of St Herman Avatar
    Dee of St Herman

    It is much more accurate to say that we live in Divine Providence than that we live in history

    Well said Father.
    Indeed Father, we live in Him or we do not live at all.

  24. John Carter Avatar
    John Carter

    In many things, we have found agreement. I don’t know anything about how a staretz who is far advanced or perfected in Theosis lives but I take this poem as one kind of remedy for disordered living that today we might call neurosis. “Managing” is certainly prone to control issues that are more akin to the concerns of the Pharisees seeking their blind way by putting Jesus to the test than the freedom of the spirit and trust in God demonstrated by Jesus’ parable of the Flowers of the Field. More than just medicine for wrong-headedness, it offers refreshment to our spirits. Sure, we still need the medicine of anamnesis as demonstrated in the Liturgy.

    It can be hard to charitably read words that interrupt us but ministry is often discovered in the interruptions. Please consider my words an opportunity for ministry towards me and not a virus to be eradicated with a hermeneutic of suspicion. Perhaps I have done that in treating words against “history” with comparison/contrast to the pax perniciosa which stands in the Cassian reference as an opposite to the pax Christi. The danger I attempted to address is not simply the floating peace offered by some forms of meditation but also unjust coercion for it interrupts the flow of love towards the beloved. I return now to my customary silence here.

  25. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    John,
    May you be blessed in all things.

  26. Dee of St Herman Avatar
    Dee of St Herman

    And Christ, Son of God, condescended to become a babe in the arms of Our Mother. He ran to her as a toddler, enfolded in her veil of protection. He loved her. And she loved Him. As we live in Him, we long to do and be the same. Love meeting love.

  27. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Ahhhh, Dee

  28. Chris Avatar
    Chris

    Thank You Father,
    I have had this book, Prayers by the Lake, sitting on my book shelve for many years but never really read much of it until now. You have done me a great service in awakening my interest. God Bless

    Chris

  29. Eduardo Valentin Avatar
    Eduardo Valentin

    St. Nikolai’s Prayers by the Lake is one of the most important Christian texts I have ever read. Re-reading it here, and looking through your explanations in the comments, my understanding of St. Nikolai of the “Mother” here isn’t so much the most Holy Theotokos, but of God himself. I find this line in particular to reflect that “O Sun of suns, the only event in the universe that attracts my heart, illuminate my inner self, so that I may see who has dared to dwell there besides You–so that I may eradicate from it all the fruits that seem sweet from the outside, but smell rotten in their core.” The “other” dwelling there being the self, highlighting the deep continuity of the inner man and God, that it is no longer I who live but Christ who lives within me that the deepest “me” is in some sense the brightness of the Father. This seems to track with the feminine biblical imagery of God as a hen who gathers her chicks under her wings or as the paps who gives suck to Israel. Perhaps this poem is meant to have that level of multi-valence, at once referencing our Lady, at another the Tri-irradiate Divinity shining from the very center of our hearts.

  30. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Eduardo,
    Perhaps. Though I think it is the less likely explanation. There might, of course, be something within the Serbian original that would provide a clue and a suggestion. I have a few Serbian readers out there and would welcome any suggestions they might make (particularly if they’re reading in the original Serbian).

    Prayers by the Lake was published in 1922 – long before the strangeness of our own times (though they had their trials).

  31. Dee of St Herman Avatar
    Dee of St Herman

    Father,
    I’ve just begun listening to a series of podcasts generated to preserve Fr Schmemann’s lectures on the Theotokos given originally at St Vladimir’s seminary.

    Since I’ve just started it, I don’t have a lot to mention here. But he makes a few points. One is the lack of Orthodox theology on the Theotokos relative to the extent of her hymns and prayers and praise given to her in Orthodox services. And the lack also contrasts strongly with RC whole libraries of literature regarding her.

    Next point is ‘her place’ of prominence in her heavenly role in earthly matters. Father Schmemann makes a point of highlighting that we do not ask for her prayers as we would with the saints. Instead, we ask that she saves us. This distinction he says deserves theological attention. He developed his course for the purpose of starting the filling of the gap- that is the lack of theology concerning her.

    Father, the recordings are not the best by current standards. It would be easier for me to read the transcript or book of his thoughts/theology on the Theotokos.

    Is there a book he wrote that presents in full the contents of his lectures on the Theotokos that you know of?

  32. Byron Avatar
    Byron

    Pardon my aside: there was a post here that included the earliest recovered prayer to the Theotokos (“Beneath thy compassion”). Does anyone here know which post this was in? My searching has been fruitless.

  33. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Try this: https://glory2godforallthings.com/2016/11/19/beneath-her-compassion/

    BTW, I used the search box in the right column and searched on “compassion.” Turned it up first thing.

  34. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Dee,
    I’ve not started listening to that series but I’m intrigued. St. Vladimir’s would have to be the ones to turn recording into book – a worthwhile project, it would seem to me. But I do not know of a book that has done any of this.

  35. Joey Avatar
    Joey

    Thanks for the post, I’m going to need to get my hands on the whole thing. It reminds me of the passage when Elijah speaks to God as a tiny voice(1 Kings 19:11-12). but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. As far as this seems to read, He’s not in the events either, great though they may seem.

    First time posting, forgive me if i’ve done anything wrong. Thanks for the work so far
    God bless you all

  36. Mark Spurlock Avatar
    Mark Spurlock

    Dee (and Father Stephen):

    I found this…

    https://svspress.com/celebration-of-faith-vol-iii-the-virgin-mary/

    Also available on Amazon for a few bucks less.

    I’ve not read it, but it sounds like it might be what you’re looking for? The reviews on Amazon praise it.

  37. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Mark,
    Thanks. I’ve ordered it.

  38. Dee of St Herman Avatar
    Dee of St Herman

    Thanks Mark! I don’t think it’s the whole content of his lectures but I’m buying it also.
    Once I get through the whole lecture series (there are nine parts each about 50 minutes) I’ll compare with what’s written in this text.

  39. opsomath Avatar
    opsomath

    “Time and space make way for love.” This is one of those lines that has imprinted on me, the way its ancestor did from the Song of Songs. “Love is as strong as death, jealousy more powerful than Sheol.”

    Father, I, too, took the Mother language here to be God addressed as the feminine, although if it expressed great devotion to the Mother of God I think I’ve recovered enough from my Reformed upbringing to not be scandalized! I am quite interested to hear a native Serbian opinion if one can be found.

  40. Dee of St Herman Avatar
    Dee of St Herman

    “…Grant me the forgiveness of my sins–Be my refuge, protection, helper and guide, and lead me to eternal life…(III)

    You are the glory, the boast, and the ineffable delight of the angels–
    You are the door of revelations and spiritual mysteries–the fountain of life–the entrance to eternal life–the everflowing river of mercy–an endless sea containing all the divine gifts and wonders–It is to you that we pray, and it is you whom we beseech, the compassionate Mother of the compassionate Lord….
    Heal the wounds of our souls and bodies–Destroy our visible and invisible foes, who ceaselessly wage war against us–Be a shield–a strong army–a general– and undefeatable fighter against our enemies…(XIII)

    You are higher than the heavens–You are brighter and purer than the brightest radiance rays and beams of the sun—(XI)

    Grant me, O Lady true compunction and tears of repentance–Cleanse my soul thoroughly of its many stains, and grant me forgiveness, for you are a God-bearing woman, and you gave birth to a man-bearing God. (VI)

    “…for you have delivered me from numerous illnesses, misfortunes, despair, and dangers of body and soul–I bow down to you, and I cry out loudly, offering to you a hymn of thanksgiving, for you had mercy on your servant, O Most Blessed One.

    You who are the bright cloud of the spiritual Sun, shine your intelligible light into the gloomy darkness of my mind, and break through and dissipate the dense fog of my evil thoughts–In the peace and joy of your light, I will offer you a perfect and acceptable sacrifice…”

    These are snippets from the book “Mother of Light Prayers to the Theotokos” translated by Archimandrite Maximos Constas, NewRome Press. I’ve placed the roman numerals of the enumerated prayers. I’ve lost the place of the last two and I’ll try to find them again, if needed.

    In the Introduction, the translator writes:

    “To understand the Theotokos is to understand the mystery of the Church. Those on the other hand, who misunderstand and distort or ignore her role and significance, fundamentally misunderstand and distort the Christian faith as a whole.”

    I write this only to reveal that the language the poet uses in this article is not that far flung from the devotional language that is used in Orthodox prayers and praise of the Theotokos throughout the long life of the Church. The collection in this book include cannons which have been obtained from St Theodore the Studite, St Methodios of Constantinople, and St John of Euchaita. And the prayers are taken from a group of writings attributed to the fourth-century Church Father, St Ephraim the Syrian.

    The translator writes:

    “Popular in the Byzantine period, these writings are not in fact the work of St Ephraim, but were written in Greek by patristic and Byzantine writers, whose names for the most part have been lost or never recorded. Today these writings are described as the work of “Ephraim graecus” or the “Greek Ephraim”, to distinguish them from the authentic works of St Ephraim written in Syriac. These writings for a vast number of works that, in their most recent edition, fill seven volumes, and are second in number only to the works of St John Chrystostom. Though these writings are difficult to date, many of them were read by the learned patriarch, St Photios of Constantinople, and thus we can safely assume that at least some of the texts in the collection are at least as old as, and in some cases likely older than the ninth century.

    The prayers to the Theotokos tranlated in this book are deeply embedded in the life and experience of the Orthodox Faith, and express some of the Church’s most fervent devotion to the Mother of God….”

  41. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Dee,
    The language soars to the heights – requiring both theological understanding and depth of heart. What is misunderstood by many (outside of Orthodoxy) is that we absoltely do not worship her – but our love for her has no bounds. Secondly, the depths of the Incarnation and all that it means for us – that God has become man, is so much more than most ever ponder, and, that, for the Orthodox, there is no mentioning of the depths of the Incarnation that can be described apart from her without, indeed, destroying both history and truth.

    Lastly, the language of love utterly requires a poet!

  42. Dee of St Herman Avatar
    Dee of St Herman

    Apologies for the typos— they were not in the original.

    Another important Orthodox teaching concerning the Theotokos, distinct from Roman Catholic teachings is that the Theotokos’ birth was not “immaculate”.

    While I had long accepted this Orthodox teaching, for a long time I didn’t realize how important that distinction is.

    She is beautiful and beloved all the more for this reason, and for this reason also, we show gratitude to and venerate her parents as well.

    Expressing love to her is pleasing to Christ, and is not distorted faith.

    Similarly it is pleasing to Him that we love one another and our enemies.

  43. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Dee,
    To be more precise, Orthodoxy does not formally teach the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception regarding the Theotokos. That doctrine (a RC dogma) holds that she was conceived by Joachim and Anna without any stain of original sin (by a miraculous intervention). Orthodoxy has not held the notion of original sin in the same manner as the Catholic Church (in which it is inherited from the parents). There is not “inherited guilt” from Adam in the most common presentations of Orthodox teaching. Rather, we are born into a state of “mortality,” and find that we are unable to fulfill the truth of our nature. The result of that is certainly “sin” but it’s not thought of in terms of an inherited guilt. We are not all born guilty and deserving of hell, for example.

    What we do hold regarding the Theotokos is that she was (by grace) sustained without any action contrary to her nature. We proclaim that she is without sin. It’s the “mechanics” of all that – that we differ with the RC’s on.

    I suspect that the average Catholic is not deeply schooled in all of this and that most of their priests have little to say about the matter.

    I tend not to present the Orthodox teaching in terms of opposition. We believe and teach what we do – not in opposition to someone else – but simply in terms of the truth as it has been received in the Tradition of the Church.

    It is worth noting that the classical Catholic teaching on original sin is pretty much the same as classical Protestantism – though it’s darned hard to find classical Protestants anymore either.

    I have preferred to speak and write about these matters in terms of life and death (sin and death are more or less synonymous). The problem with a juridical approach (sin in terms of guilt and punishment) is that it tends to locate the actual “problem” with sin in the punishments meted out by a just God. It fails to really see evil for what it is and what it does other than in the terms of its legal consequences (hell). I think there are many problems with that approach.

    All of this was greatly highlighted in Protestant/Catholic debates, and it’s always a danger that Orthodoxy gets drawn into a debate that we were historically not involved in. That can sometimes force us into saying things that we’d rather leave unspoken.

    I would rather venerate Mary and ask her prayers than to comprehend the mechanics of any of this.

  44. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Father, I have seen folks get caught up in the mechanics of ‘things’ and forget that as Jesus is both fully man and fully God, the saints (including Mary) are fully human by Grace.
    The more I repent, the more human I become.

    When I give tours of the Cathedral sanctuary, I always emphasize the humanness of the saints made accessible by icons. Over the years, my approach seems to lessen the fears some folks have that we worship idols or however they think.
    I have seen folks suddenly start nodding their heads in recognition.

  45. Dee of St Herman Avatar
    Dee of St Herman

    Dear Father,
    I sincerely appreciate your wise counsel not to present Orthodox teaching in a form of opposition. I hope I didn’t come off like that. If so, I appreciate the correction.

    I’m in a place, geographically, where there are several Orthodox Churches. Some of the RC (and Protestant for that matter) laity where I live are taught that RC=OC-Pope. I’ve been surprised by this in the past. In my last comment, I intended to only point out a theological distinction, but your wise counsel shows that what I left out in that description may lead to misunderstandings.

    All of this was greatly highlighted in Protestant/Catholic debates, and it’s always a danger that Orthodoxy gets drawn into a debate that we were historically not involved in. That can sometimes force us into saying things that we’d rather leave unspoken.

    I appreciate your clarifications. I’ll say no more on the matter (lest I get into hot water!)

  46. Dee of St Herman Avatar
    Dee of St Herman

    I’m laughing at myself:
    RC-Pope= OC
    That is the equation I meant to write above, a perception which I have encountered among RC, in particular. I do not want to elaborate further. But I think it might be needful to make these distinctions for various reasons, at least where I live.
    Please forgive me Father!

  47. Nikolaos Avatar
    Nikolaos

    Fr Stephen

    I found “The Orthodox veneration of the Mother of God” by St John Maximovitch, translated in English by Fr Seraphim Rose, very helpful to understand our theology regarding Theotokos. Is this a book you have come across and recommend ?

  48. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Nikolaos,
    Yes, indeed. It’s excellent.

  49. Dee of St Herman Avatar
    Dee of St Herman

    Nikolaos and Father,
    St John’s book was recommended to me when I was a catechumen. From reading this book I obtained greater understanding from reading chapter 6, “Zeal not according to Knowledge” concerning the error in the dogma of immaculate conception of the Theotokos. What I clumsily referred to in my prior comment was how such teachings “denies her virtues” as St John Maximovitch writes.

    I apologize for any confusion I may have caused.

    Thank you Nikolaos for bringing up St John’s book. It was indeed helpful for me. And it still is.

  50. Nikolaos Avatar
    Nikolaos

    Dee

    There is a very apt quotation of St Ignatius Brianchaninov in the book, which in a few lines describes the quality of Orthodox Theology:

    “Truth is foreign to all overstatements as well as to all understatements. It gives to everything a fitting measure and fitting place”.

    The book is freely available on the web if anyone is interested to read it.

    https://pdfcorner.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/The-Orthodox-Veneration-of-the-Mother-of-God-Pdf.pdf

  51. Simon Avatar
    Simon

    I’ve been thinking about the picture heading this post. Why this picture? Here is what it brought to my mind. We have a race problem in America because of a lack of love and lots of media memory. However, if we could love each other as Christ loved us, we wouldn’t see race. Historical hatred would disappear through forgiveness. And then children of different races would love one another naturally having been saved from historical hatreds through love and forgiveness. History at least in terms of generational sin could be healed. Just thinking out loud.

  52. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Simon,
    When Christ died on the Cross, the rulers who crucified Him probably thought, “He’s history.” The Resurrection is the triumph of love over history (in that sense). The “tyranny of history” (i.e. there’s nothing you can do to change it) is abolished in the Resurrection of Christ. It does not mean the abolition of the material world, but its obedience to the Liberty of the Sons of God (Romans 8). The only way I can change the past is to love it – to forgive it.

  53. Simon Avatar
    Simon

    Do you mean actually changing the past or just changing the effect of the past?

  54. Simon Avatar
    Simon

    I ask because I sometimes entertain imaginings that my uncreated self is pulling me into eternity…

  55. Dee of St Herman Avatar
    Dee of St Herman

    Apt words indeed, Nikolaos! I bought the book years ago, but good to know and share it’s available online free.

  56. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Simon,
    I do not know the answer to that question. However, I will be bold and suggest a speculation. When we pray for the departed, we say, “May his memory be eternal,” understanding that our existence beyond this life depends utterly on God’s “remembrance.” God’s “remembrance” holds us in existence. And, lest we think we have a more substantial existence in this life – our present existence is equally dependent on God (“in Him we live and move and have our being”).

    But, the Scriptures say of our sins, “He will remember them no more.” We tend to think of history as if it had some sort of self-existence. But this is not so. So, if God remembers it no more, how does it exist? That’s one line of thought that would lead to changing the past. But, as I said, I do not know this.

  57. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Simon,
    Another quick thought: Fr. Alexander Schmemann once suggested that in eternity, all moments are present at once. But, if that’s the case, I think certainly that those moments will have been changed. I think to myself, “What if Providence (God’s secret hand) were utterly manifest – revealed. What a great apocalypse it would be.

  58. Simon Avatar
    Simon

    Romans 4 says that “God calls those things which do not exist as though they did.” We often think of that as something that has a strictly future tense. Perhaps there is room for a preterite sense as well.

  59. Justin Edge Avatar
    Justin Edge

    “In eternity, all moments [and places] are present at once.”
    I think the Scriptures (and Tradition) are replete with this. Christ never stood before the Pharisees and uttered “Before Abraham was, I WAS” but “I AM”. Christ was both many miles and many millennia apart, staring both the Pharisees and Abraham in the face at once. And He was AWARE of it.
    The transfiguration on Mt Tabor was the SAME moment/place that Moses received the Torah and the SAME moment/place that Elijah heard the still small voice. I think we impoverish ourselves when we read the 3 events as if they were separate, reading Tabor as if the presence of Moses and Elijah were simply alluding to some other previous “historical” presence and not those very moments in the OT themselves, experienced through the transfigured being. Pre-figuration is merely veiled Trans-figuration.
    With regard to changing the past, I have sometimes mused on the rather bizarre nature of our view of time – we seem to believe that time does not have a single nature, but rather alters its nature when contacting humanity. Before contact with us, time is quite mutable by nature (the “future”), and then after contact with us, it alters its nature to immutability (the “past” – or so we believe). Anything created (including time) has but ONE nature, and that nature CANNOT alter. If the “past” is fixed, so is the “future”; If the “future” is alterable, so is the “past.”
    Time does not seem to work the way we think it does – “the Lamb was slain from the foundation of the world.” We are even said to pre-exist our own creation (“BEFORE I formed you in the womb I knew you.”)
    Ponder this – if we were, as St Paul asserts, “crucified with Christ”, and Christ was crucified “from the foundation of the world” as St John reveals, then WE were crucified with Christ from the foundation of the world! When He became what we are, we became what He is. In Christ, we are everywhere (and every-when) that He is. There aren’t 2 Christs – one who created the world and will come again at the Parousia and the other one that we are united with. We are with Him and in Him (as Him) NOW at both events (and all else). We “HAVE BEEN raised up with Him and seated in the Heavenly places” – the Second Coming in the past tense!
    When He became us, we became Him. “Truly I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to the least of these, you did it to ME.” Not “somebody like me” or “I’ll count it as if you did it to me.” We are His very body – “The eye cannot say to the hand, nor the head to the foot, ‘I have no need of you!’ ” Has it escaped us that “The head of the body [and hence also the eye] is Christ”? Christ cannot say to us “I have no need of you” because He cannot say “I have no need of myself.” Note well that we are specifically said to be the “hand” and the “foot” – the very receptors of the nails as we are “crucified with Him.” And if we are crucified with Him then we both “will be” AND “have been” raised with Him. Both our personal past and future have already been lived in Him and with Him, even before we were born (and both our personal past and future will be lived in Him and with Him after we die).
    “O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out!”

  60. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Justin,
    You have given this more than a little consideration. Thanks!

  61. Simon Avatar
    Simon

    “In eternity, all moments [and places] are present at once.”

    I have had my own speculation about this in terms of theosis and becoming uncreated. For example, when Jesus says to his disciples “You are the ones that have been with me from the beginning” does he mean “from the beginning” as in John 1:1 “beginning”? If the apostles have since become uncreated and they are without beginning in Eternity, then in eternity could it be as if they have always been with Christ? And from this position of Eternity can the saints recreate history until the whole of it has been made eternal? I am thinking about the parable of the woman kneading the lump of bread with leaven. Perhaps the woman is the Church–the Eternalized saints in particular–and leavening is the gradual process of creation becoming uncreated, eternal?

  62. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Simon,
    It’s a possible meditation – but beyond my understanding. I’ll chew on it…

  63. Justin Edge Avatar
    Justin Edge

    Simon, Fr Stephen:
    I don’t think we become uncreated, but somehow we become both created and eternal simultaneously in Christ. By that I mean that we do not cease to be contingent and created beings, yet in Christ we become eternal and somehow, in a mystery, transcend our own created nature (while remaining created). Perhaps I’m splitting hairs and being overly semantic, but I think it is important to bear in mind that we are NOT the “head” (Who is only Christ) but we are the “hands” and “feet”.
    To put it another way, the Head by nature sees, knows. The hand by nature cannot. Yet the hand, via its living organic connection to the Head, knows and sees everything the Head perceives, yet remaining a hand which by nature cannot see or know. The Head is both Essence and Energies, the hand is Energy but not Essence.
    Just to be clear: I do not think that Simon meant to say or imply that we cease to be created contingent human beings. Language fails when attempting to communicate such things. I have heard this reality described on occasion via the language of “becoming uncreated”, but I think that language is prone to misunderstanding. However, I will concede that IF we also firmly hold that we do not cease to be created, then the phrase “become uncreated” can be a shockingly accurate descriptor.
    When Christ became what we are, He did not cease to be what He already was – and so with us. When we become what He is, we did not cease to be what we already were.

  64. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Justin,
    Actually, St. Maximus the Confessor teaches that we become “uncreated by grace” (but not by nature). So, that is the patristic witness – as outlandish as it seems. The teaching is that we become by grace what God is by nature. You might find St. Sophrony’s work on personhood (We Shall See Him as He Is), to have a similar theme within it.

  65. Justin Edge Avatar
    Justin Edge

    Fr Stephen – yes, we linguistically have to focus the distinction somewhere. When we use the language of “uncreated” – which is fine – then the distinction finds linguistic expression as “by grace” vs. “not by nature.” No doubt, were we to use the language that we become god “by nature” (As St Peter did in his second epistle), then other language would emerge that we are god by nature “in energy but not in essence.” And if we began saying we become god by essence, then 2 other terms would emerge to describe the distinction. Language can be so sticky.
    Thank you for the specific reply – now that you mention it, I do think I recall reading something in St Maximus to the effect of our being “uncreated.” And St Sophrony seems rather replete with it as well, even if the specific term “uncreated” seldom appears (or my deficient memory can’t recall it at the moment).
    What an unimaginable existence we have been bequeathed!
    I suspect it will forever seem “too good to be true”, and yet it IS!

  66. Dee of St Herman Avatar
    Dee of St Herman

    Justin and Simon,
    I have enjoyed your musings on time and life in Christ.
    I saw the icon of Christ’s Resurrection in the Higgs field phenomenon some years before I understood what an icon was. When I first encountered it (I wasn’t yet a Christian), what confused me the most was the life in Christ aspect of time you’re both discussing.

    Reading your comments and Father’s reference to St Maximus’ and St Sophrony’s work on personhood has been very edifying.
    Thank you!

  67. Byron Avatar
    Byron

    However, if we could love each other as Christ loved us, we wouldn’t see race.

    Simon, a quick thought. We have so many self-created boundaries in seeing ourselves and others as truly human (re: as Christ sees us). Not only race divides us but every other label that compartmentalizes, or categorizes, us into different groups (or tribes). I’ve began to say that “our humanity is defined not by our desires” as a way to remind myself to not see the labels and categories that divide us. It tends to move me away from the labels society imposes upon us.

  68. Byron Avatar
    Byron

    Woops! I meant to write, “our humanity is not defined by our desires”. My apologies. It came out a little jumbled.

  69. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Byron, et al
    I do not think race divides us – race is just part of the human reality. What divides us is the content of our heart. I would not want to say to someone, “When I look at you I do not see your race,” it would imply that their race is a problem – and it’s not. It’s not a “color-blind” society that we need, it’s a society that doesn’t hate or fear or judge, etc., based on color and such distinctions.

    The vision unveiled on the day of Pentecost was one where people of many nations were present – it was a reversal of the Tower of Babel. It is interesting that Simon of Cyrene was black (according to tradition). He was also present with Barnabas and Paul in Antioch, and is held by Tradition to have been sent forth as an Apostle to his homeland. The Church has been composed of all people, all races, all languages, since the beginning.

    Cf. Acts 13:1 “Now there were in the church at Antioch prophets and teachers, Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen a lifelong friend of Herod the tetrarch, and Saul.” The “Simeon” mentioned here is Simon of Cyrene. “Niger” is the Latin for “Black.”

    We can see their boldness in this small snippet from Acts 11: “Now those who were scattered because of the persecution that arose over Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia and Cyprus and Antioch, speaking the word to no one except Jews. But there were some of them, men of Cyprus and Cyrene, who on coming to Antioch spoke to the Hellenists also, preaching the Lord Jesus. And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number who believed turned to the Lord.” (Acts. 11:19-21) Interesting stuff.

  70. Simon Avatar
    Simon

    There is “white” as in the perception of color and then there is “white” as in the perception of “race”. Race in this sense is a social construct and not a very good one at that. When I say we would not see race, I do not mean that we would be color blind–I mean we would be race blind. Race is associated with so many things that have absolutely nothing to do with the actual physical differences and everything to do with how the media conditions and forms perceptions and associations. Race doesn’t really exist. You know what does exist? Africans that migrated out of Africa. For example, Africans that migrated to Europe, didn’t see any sun for days and days, and eventually lost their melanin. Thousands of years later we have to listen to pundits lecture us on the importance of race differences. The physical differences reflect time and geography that is all there is to it until the Marxists come along and force you to say “White, not hispanic or latino.”

  71. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Simon,
    I take your point. I don’t think that Simon of Cyrene (called “the Black”) in the early Church was seen as having a different “race” in our modern sense. Sadly, race as we now know it was invented as a tool of oppression and degradation by so-called “whites” (which was frequently meant to mean “Northern Europeans”). So, we’re in agreement. Thanks.

  72. Byron Avatar
    Byron

    Forgive me. I meant to expand on what Simon said–we need to stop “seeing” desires, as well as race, as distinctions in our humanity. The oppression of which we are speaking actually expands beyond “race”. I apologize for the confusion.

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