Living with a Calendar

The human relationship with time is a strange thing. The upright stones of neo-lithic human communities stand as silent reminders of our long interest in seasons and the movement of the heavens. Today our light-polluted skies shield many of us from the brilliant display of the night sky and rob us of the stars. The modern world is not only shielded from the stars but from many aspects of time itself. Artificial lighting has made the setting of the sun into an unremarkable event and extended daylight into whatever hour we might wish. And though the seasons are worth noting, it is primarily their effect on clothing choices that seem important – foods have become omni-seasonal (for a price).

With all of that, the Church’s calendar becomes an intrusion and a disruption and almost an antique artifact. On the secular calendar, days of the week are but markers for which television shows are showing,  a fact which itself is increasingly irrelevant in the digital world of delivery-on-demand. Days and years have importance only for writing a check correctly (something that is itself disappearing). But the Church calendar colors days, marking some for fasting and others for feasting and makes of time a complication that demands attention.

The Church calendar was once described to me as the “sanctification of time.” In this part of the modern world I would describe it not only as the sanctification of time, but the insistence that there even be time.

This is a common pattern within Orthodox Christianity. To outsiders, the calendar may seem exotic – but it represents nothing more outlandish than an affirmation of what it means to be a human being. Our humanity is a tradition. I can only learn what it is to be a human being from another human being, someone who has successfully fulfilled that reality. Animals are no different. Birds do not suddenly fly – their flight is traditioned to them. Human beings learn to walk in a traditioned manner as well. Your computer or your phone will not teach you how to be a human being.

So many things that modern people see as strange or unusual within the traditional life of Orthodox Christianity are no more than the encounter with the living memory of what it is to be human. And time in its traditional form is one of them.

What is time? Science describes time as a function of space. Space describes an expanse and time locates something within that expanse. And although this description of time is not “traditional,” it nevertheless works. Time helps us to locate ourselves. To be human includes time and space. I cannot be human everywhere – but only at a particular place and a particular time (which are the same thing). It is this aspect of our humanity that our jettisoning of time seeks to ignore.

As we entertain ourselves to death, we become more and more abstracted from both space and time. Wandering in a digital world we have forgotten how to return to ourselves and simply be present to a particular point. Tragically, that particular point is always (and only) the place where we meet God. The calendar is thus something like an “appointment device.” This feast, this day, this time in my life, if I will keep the appointment, I can meet God.

The feasts on the calendar are not appointments with memorials, the recollection of events long past. They are invitations to present tense moments in the liturgical life of the world. In those moments there is an intersection of the present and the eternal. They are theophanies into which we may enter.

The events in Christ’s ministry that are celebrated (to use one example) are of little importance if viewed in a merely historical manner. It is not enough to say and remember that Christ died. The Christian faith is that I must become a partaker of Christ’s death. Christ is Baptized, but I must be a partaker of His Baptism. This is true of all the feasts and is the reason for our liturgical celebrations. The Church is not a memorial society – it is the living presence of Christ in the world and the primary means by which we may share in His presence.

There is no time like the present for only in the present does time open its riches to us and bestow its gifts. Only at the present moment do the doors to eternity offer us union with what would otherwise seem lost.

For He says: “In an acceptable time I have heard you, And in the day of salvation I have helped you.” Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation.” (2Co 6:2)

 

Photo by Hulki Okan Tabak on Unsplash

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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88 responses to “Living with a Calendar”

  1. Margaret Avatar
    Margaret

    Dear Fr. Stephen, thank you for this beautiful and timely writing — by that I mean I will print this article and keep it close throughout Advent. God bless you for the comfort your provide when you share the Truth with us as you do throughout this article. My heart needs this reminder specifically:
    “The Church is not a memorial society – it is the living presence of Christ in the world and the primary means by which we may share in His presence.
    There is no time like the present for only in the present does time open its riches to us and bestow its gifts. Only at the present moment do the doors to eternity offer us union with what would otherwise seem lost.”

  2. Matthew Avatar
    Matthew

    This is beautiful.

  3. Reverend Nicholas Finley Avatar

    Thank you, Father Stephen! I greatly enjoyed this post. For some reason, many of the descriptions of time brought me back to my experience of living on board a nuclear submarine (which I did for a little over 4 years in service in the U.S. Navy). I’ve been an Orthodox Christian all my life, and even in this context (sub duty), I sought to live my faith while serving my country. The aspect of time truly was unique in this setting, as I’m certain any could imagine. While at sea (often for several months at a time) we had 18 hour days. The day was determined by 3 watch sections at 6 hours a piece. So this essentially meant that each watch stander (the time reference could be altered if there were not sufficient people to cover a shift, but this is merely a further complicating factor) was on for 6 hours and off for 12 hours, and then the cycle repeats. I was very grateful to God that the Command (the Captain in particular) permitted me to use the Wardroom to hold Orthodox Typica Services each Sunday. I also took huge swaths of time to read the Holy Scriptures, the lives of the Saints, and other Orthodox Christian materials that were a great help to me, after I finished my service in the military and matriculated at St. Tikhon’s Seminary (time at sea in the submarine service gives lots of time to read). Even though, there were many instances where the ‘time’ of a given ‘day’ felt very artificial in that setting, the Church life helped provide a definite Reality that I think I’ll never forget. I’m very grateful to God and the prayers of my family and fellow parishioners and other Orthodox brothers and sisters who helped me during this experience. In fact, most every Sunday of the Octoechos when we re-visit Tone 6 (as we did this past Sunday) the Stikerah that echoes Psalm 138 (“O Lord, You test me and know me; You know my sitting down and my rising up; You understand my thoughts from afar; You search out my path and my portion, and you forsee all my ways. Where could I go from Your Spirit? Or flee from Your face? If I should ascend into heaven, You would be there; If I should descend into Hades, You would be there [You have trampled on death – from the stikerah]; If I should take up my wings at dawn and pitch camp at the furthest part of the sea, even there Your hand would lead me, and Your right hand would hold me.) When this cycle revisits these words, I’m instantly reminded of this experience and my shipmates, and of the hope that God has for each person as well as His deep and all encompassing Providential care! Glory to God!

  4. Myrna Martin Avatar
    Myrna Martin

    Father, Stephen.
    Thank you! I just happened to set my calendar to follow the Nativity fast. Ironically, I made it a time to spend time with God.
    I’m looking forward to seeing what I should discover with those moments.
    I will copy and paste your words if I may.

  5. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Sin seems to lock us into a particular time in an unhealthy way does it not?

    Is that not partially why repentance frees us and allows us to see God with us in the moment?

  6. Fr. Stephen Avatar

    Fr. Nicholas,
    My mind boggles at the thought of that time beneath the waters! I love your witness of liturgical time in that setting and the Psalm reference!

  7. Matthew Avatar
    Matthew

    What a story Fr. Nicholas! Thanks.

  8. Laurie Marvin Avatar
    Laurie Marvin

    This is why I’ve always been a bit bothered by Orthodox pamphlets which say something to the effect of “come see how ancient Christianity was celebrated.” It makes us sound like a tourist attraction instead of a living church.

  9. Janine Avatar
    Janine

    Fr Stephen,
    Thank you for this very thought provoking article. I have found for myself that following the calendar, periods of fasting, etc. somehow just blesses my life and helps me to get my life together and shapes me in a better way than I was in the “normal” chaos world of too many choices and options with none really helpful. I couldn’t explain how or why that works but I just know it does work in both subtle and palpable ways.

    Fr Nicholas,
    That almost sounds like time in a monastic cell. Sometimes I have found, such as in times of sickness, that periods where we are in some way limited down to certain choices can turn into very fruitful experiences with God’s options such as you chose.

    Michael, that’s a very interesting comment, and I think you are right about that

  10. Hélène Avatar
    Hélène

    Thank you Fr. Nicholas ! So much interesting !

  11. Katia Avatar
    Katia

    Thanks so much, Father! I was just thinking about this after watching “Loki.” It’s a good indication of how modernity views time: as something to control or fight against. The concept of a destined, sacred timeline and the man who created it (He Who Remains) are highly criticized, while free will and multiplicity (the multiverse) are celebrated. It’s amazing how normal this line of thinking has become.

  12. Fr. Stephen Avatar

    Katia,
    Freedom is the great delusion of the modern world. We imagine that freedom is the source of happiness and all good things, imagining that we could be free to invent a whole new nature. It is a great source of misery in that it is largely a lie. We refuse to accept the yoke of our gifted existence and communion with God. Time and place are among the givens of our life.

  13. Simon Avatar
    Simon

    I could not agree more, Fr. The single most significant realization of my life is that there is no freedom outside of particularity. There is no tabula rasa.

    The emerging Marxism in the West assumes that if we could throw off the shackles of power we would realize that our identities, even as males and females, is part of a system of oppression. Once we have freed ourselves from the system we will be free to become our authentic self, to recreate ourselves: a marble statue that carves itself into existence. That doesn’t happen. What happens is that in absence of culture there is confusion. The bottom line is that to be human means two things. One, the rigid structure of a skeleton. Two, the bounded existence of a membraned enclosure. Is it limiting to have a particular skeleton? Yes. But it is the limitations imposed by that structure that makes us something rather than nothing. Culture serves the same purpose.

    My prediction is that in 20 years after young people have become fed up with with Marxism and age-related existential concerns set in, there will be a rapid influx of converts into the Church…or at least I hope so. This is why I hesitate to press anyone about their beliefs. First, we have to trust that God’s grace circumscribes everyone’s life. If not, then there is only despair and trying to convert people from a place of despair is dangerous. Second, I am relieved to meet people who belong to and are active in a community of faith. Especially when the whole family is involved. Good for them. I am grateful for it.

  14. Simon Avatar
    Simon

    Katia, I think those are very good observations.

  15. Fr. Stephen Avatar

    Simon,
    I was in Greenwood, SC (about 60 miles Southwest of Greenville) this past weekend, speaking at a conference introducing Orthodoxy to part of the state. There was a mix of Orthodox folks from the Upstate (and beyond) who came for the speakers, and locals who came out of curiosity. I was not unfamiliar with the area from much earlier in my life. To be in a room of over 120 people in that location, speaking about Orthodoxy (my topic was on “How God will save the world through beauty”), was among the more surprising things in my life. It’s very early days in that county – but I am encouraged.

    May God keep us safe in the journey!

  16. Matthew Avatar
    Matthew

    I went to Clemson University (Clemson, SC near Greenville) and had friends in Greenwood! Thanks for the memories Fr. Stephen.

  17. Matthew Avatar
    Matthew

    I have a question:

    What exactly are we saying about freedom and how modernity views said freedom? I´m still confused. Freedom in general? Free will? ??

    Also … I´m afraid I´m much more pessimistic, Simon. Where I live the waves of secularism are crashing very hard against the Church. My German nieces and nephews who are all in their 20´s and 30´s have no use for what we are proclaiming. I see the Church (both eastern and western streams) becoming more and more marginalized. I must admit, though, I am speaking about the Western European context I live in. In America things may indeed be different, but from the stats it seems America is not far behind Western Europe in this regard.

  18. Fr. Stephen Avatar

    Matthew,
    “Freedom” is an abused word and an abused concept. We imagine that our problems consist in the lack of freedom – and that overthrowing all conventions or even necessities that infringe on our freedom is the proper goal of our society. This has been something of a continuing notion ever since the Enlightenment. It is, of course, nonsense. The kind of freedom it imagines is just absurd. We cannot be anything we want to be. If someone decides to identify as a dog, it will not make them a dog – no matter how much money is spent on the transformation and no matter how many coercive laws are passed to support their delusional fantasy (just an example).

    It is a ticket to chaos and destruction. Every culture where this has run amok has resulted in wanton deaths and insanity. Revolutionary France was only a first example – the Bolshevik Revolution was another.

    If a person is born with two, healthy, functioning legs, then their best life-course is to learn to walk, run, etc., and be good at it. If, on the other hand, they decide that two-legged life is confining and a misery, and what they really want is to fly, then they will create for themselves a life of misery, and, finally, death.

    True freedom does not consist in absolute liberty (because that is absurd). It consists in the freedom to be what we truly are – which ultimately is living in accord with our nature. But “human nature” has been denied and dissed as a limiting concept in favor of unlimited freedom.

    On the future: it is in the hands of God.

  19. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Matthew, secular freedom comes down to the proposition: “If it feels good– DO IT.” If anybody objects ignore them or silence them.

    The Church teaches the real freedom. Freedom from the bondage of sin through repentance, prayer and service to others, understanding the Holy Scriptures and worship which gives thanks for the sovereignty of the Holy Trinity and His grace and mercy.

    Recognizing and participating real freedom is a bit like tearing down one’s prison cell on brick at a time–with tremendous outside help which also dwells within.

    So much of modern “Christianity” has lost any semblance of the community (seen and unseen) of grace which is the Church.

    May God protect you, guide you and deliver you.

  20. Laurie Marvin Avatar
    Laurie Marvin

    Recently, I visited Lancaster County where the Amish have a high presence. I got interested in their seemingly contradictory existence and am reading a book called the Riddle of Amish Culture. They are opposed to any technology that interferes with family or community life and they have gone great lengths not to modernize. However, the Amish way of life is sustained by a high degree of conformity (unthinkable to moderns) and a willingness to shun and reject those who refuse to follow the Amish way (the Ordnung). What do you think Fr. Stephen? Is this sort of insularity necessary to refute modernity? I find myself thinking about this topic more and more these days since I will have two children and want to give them access to genuine human goods.

  21. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Matthew, I forgot one big attribute of real freedom(anathema in the world): obedience to the Holy Trinity and our spiritual fathers. Easy to abuse but a real freedom if participated in appropriately. May the Holy Spirit embrace you and guide you.

  22. Fr. Stephen Avatar

    Laurie,
    I do think that the Amish example is not without merit – though it is taken to extremes. We fail to understand or take seriously the enormous power of culture – particularly with the tools it has in its hands in our present time. I listen to people discuss how the Church can change the culture – and think that they are mostly dreaming out loud and not taking seriously what is actually happening around them.

    I remember a time when it was popular among pastors to talk (and preach) about not “going along with the crowd.” For teenagers, that’s like asking them to commit social suicide. The Amish have taken that reality seriously and created a sub-culture for their lives. To some measure, the Church should be a “sub-culture.” St. Paul says that our “citizenship (politeia) is in heaven.” This could be translated as “our culture is in heaven.”

    70 years ago, American secular culture, in many places, seemed rather benign. There was enough dominance from various Christianities that we were able to be lazy and tolerant. For example, the first Psalms I memorized were public school work (Psalm 100 and Psalm 23). If you hand a child over to the public schools today without careful monitoring, you may receive a young Marxist in return.

    Apart from that, the many ideas of modernity that are simply false and contradictory of the Orthodox faith permeate our culture – everywhere. I think many Orthodox thinkers and writers fail to examine themselves sufficiently and unknowingly pass along culture myths with Orthodox dressing.

    If we are not presently feeling an abiding tension with the surrounding culture – then I think something is lacking. But we should not be overwhelmed in this. Christ is sufficient. We are going to suffer – that much seems clear. Our children are going to suffer. The question for us is: How can we be the kind of community that can support one another in the suffering of our time? We can’t do it alone.

    God give you grace.

  23. Mark Spurlock Avatar
    Mark Spurlock

    Matthew,

    I would say part of the modern illusion of freedom is expressed this way: “You should be free to do whatever you want, as long as you don’t hurt anyone else.” I encounter that statement very often (particularly from young people). The implication, moreover, is that it states a virtuous creed–the very basis for what is good (what is right and wrong).

    The Christian sees it as lacking because it is self-directed: there is no loving of God or loving of one’s neighbor in it; we are required only to leave our neighbor alone. Requirements definitionally restrict freedom.

    On a purely secular level, however, this definition of the good based on freedom does not work in practice because it relies on the illusion that a human can exist in isolation from other humans and exercise any real freedom without affecting others. Those espousing it may claim otherwise, but the slightest experience with real life evidences that it solves no actual problems (i.e., those in which human wants and needs come into conflict).

  24. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Father, I would add that the transformative Grace of Jesus Christ through the Church and our Sacraments is still alive and strong, IF, one avails oneself of an of the many avenues. Personally, I have found Confession properly approached to be quite beneficial. Of course it took me about 36 years to learn a bit. And only then by the grace of some good teachers and the support of friends in the Church.

    I have seen others turn away at offenses they see and experience. I have experienced some myself. It breaks my heart when folks leave.

  25. Matthew Avatar
    Matthew

    Thanks so much Fr. Stephen, Michael, and Mark. It´s becoming clearer now.

    Fr. Stephen said:

    “If we are not presently feeling an abiding tension with the surrounding culture – then I think something is lacking.”

    Man … this immediately reminded me of something I said to my wife some months ago. I viewed a TED talk given by Fr. Richard Rohr. When he concluded his talk, the audience applauded rapturously. I said to my wife something is very wrong when a supposedly Christian minister and thinker receives such applause from what I assume is a largely secular audience adverse to religion — especially Christianity.

    Where was the tension? No pushback? What??

  26. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    My problem when encountering the evil and wrong headedness in our culture is often anger which is undergirded by fear and feeling impotence–both appropriate without God. Two pieces of Holy Scripture have helped me in this regard

    Matthew 4:17
    From that time Jesus began to preach, and to say, Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.

    and Romans 12:14
    Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.

    This applies anytime I feel anger might be my response.

    I went through a McDonalds drive through this morning and the lady taking money was asking God to bless all those that came through.

  27. Matthew Avatar
    Matthew

    We see evil. We see wrongheadedness. We want to do something. We become angry. The media wants us to take sides. They tempt us to become part of their narrative of rage and fury in whatever direction it is all pointed. If you are not with us, you are against us. Us versus them. I just felt the anger boil up as I considered the horror going on in the Middle East right now. Something must be done! I attempted to articulate solutions.

    Alas …. sigh …. deep breath.

    Can I really change the world? Me … a simple man? Should I even try to change the world … or is all this stuff way above my pay grade? Would any of these world leaders even hear my cry if I was given an audience with them? Would my words even make a difference?

    Deep breath.

    Maybe I simply need to direct my efforts toward being that small bit of leaven hidden in some flour. The dough rises slowly, but eventually the work of my yeast is done. Then I will hear well done good and faithful servant even though I may have not changed the world in any significant way … and that´s O.K.

    Lord have mercy.

  28. Fr. Stephen Avatar

    Matthew,
    When I was fresh out of seminary and newly ordained as an Episcopal deacon, I had an opportunity presented to me. A couple of Catholic nuns introduced me to the concept of Food Banks and proposed that we begin work to start one in our city (the State Capital). They taught me a lot. I served as the President of the Food Bank for a year and we got it off the ground. Today, it gathers and distributes over 20 million pounds of food to the needy each year. I suppose it made a difference for many people in that area – a practical way to combat hunger.

    As to wars. Sadly, they are not accidents. They are not mere problems in systems of distribution. They are not malnutrition. They do not just happen. There are particular personalities, with particular responsibilities and powers, who start them on purpose. They benefit from the wars. “It’s complicated” in that the actors who created and perpetrate wars hide their work behind a curtain of excuses and narratives that are spread by others who have a stake in their actions.

    It is a great evil – but it’s not the sort of evil that one can easily organize, resist, and change. It is the work of “princes” (in a modern sense). Tragically, terrorists use innocent civilians human shields. But, in truth, the princes across the world use innocent civilians as human shields. I make no moral equivalence arguments – I simply observe that is the case. War is a demonic activity. Guard your heart.

  29. Dee of St Herman Avatar
    Dee of St Herman

    It’s interesting, Father. In most cases, when I hear that a war breaks out, the media coverage emphasizes the preferred princes’ stories of who started it–(never mind the back stories never told). The stories of the people impacted by these wars, the ones who are much lower in their hierarchies (Jesus’ “least of these”), are sifted to bring out their expressions of suffering, which the media uses to amplify the preferred prince’s story. No wonder when we listen to these stories, our hearts and heads ache in real pain.

    I tell the people who tell me these stories I don’t want to hear anymore. I have no doubt of the suffering. But I have no control of what these princes do. Even worse they should claim to act in the best interests of anyone but themselves. I do not support war in any form. This has been the stance of my family (on my father’s side) for generations. And yet I pay taxes and other payments/investments of commerce. And where do they go?

    In contrast to the media’s agenda, I so appreciate very much your story about the local Food Bank. This work is real. And the love from the heart to conduct such work is real. And the mouths fed and the hearts made glad are real. There is immediacy and even intimacy when someone turns to someone near and gives love and beauty from the heart in all its possible forms.

    This is how we combat evil.

  30. Dee of St Herman Avatar
    Dee of St Herman

    Father,
    Another reflection on your words, “Guard your heart”.

    St Sophrony writes that after having perplexities and delusions, he had come to a conclusion about the meaning of history of the world and humanity. He speaks of “personal knowledge” rather than “objective knowledge” and says “objective knowledge” is not real. And he also says “personal” is not the same as “subjective”. Furthermore, he says that Christ’s commandments do not have limits but is disclosed to us in His love not in abstract philosophy. Last, he says that in his prayers he has lived the history of the world, having stormy conflicts that clashed within him, sometimes assuming a tragic character. And when he drew his attention from the ‘outward’ events to the inward events, he realized the parallel.

    {My thoughts on St Sophrony’s words: I believe this is indicative of all our lives, we are intimately connected and what happens across the world also happens inside our hearts}

    He says:
    “In the past my attitude toward myself was full of irony. Following the commandment of Christ “Take heed that ye despise not one of these little ones” (Matt 18:10). I cast away my foolish manner of mocking myself. I know that I am nothing, but the Almighty knows me in His infinity, and the greatness in Him of these little ones. Whatever my nullity, my life is not a joke; my soul is unceasingly turned to the Face of my heavenly Father…”[The Mystery of Christian Life, Chp 11, pg198-199]

    May we all guard our hearts and souls, this beautiful gift of the image of our Lord.

  31. Fr. Stephen Avatar

    Dee,
    This a staggering passage from St Sophrony!

  32. Matthew Avatar
    Matthew

    Thanks so much Fr. Stephen and Dee.

    I enjoyed your food bank story Fr. Stephen. Both of your thoughts (Dee´s included) on war are also insightful and helpful.

    So … food bank manager good. Christian peacemaker in a war zone not so good?

  33. gregory brassington Avatar
    gregory brassington

    One of the key texts in Scripture regarding time must surely be Ecclesiastes chapter 3, specifically verses 1 to 8 which begin:
    “There is a time for everything,
    and a season for every activity under the heavens.”

  34. Fr. Stephen Avatar

    Matthew,
    Christian peacemaker in a warzone is certainly good. During the Maidan uprising in Ukraine, as street-fighting threatened to break out into terrible violence, there were numerous pictures of Orthodox priests standing between crowds and the armed police holding up a Cross and pleading for peace. They put their bodies on the line. I could multiply those actions by many stories.

    In Gaza, the Christians (mostly Orthodox), are a small minority. But they have sheltered people and worked for peace consistently – including bishops who refuse to leave their flocks.

    I have not suggested that making peace is not so good. I have, however, noted that war is deeply imbedded in money-making enterprises and is very often not at all about what it advertises itself as being. There are a number of Orthodox saints whose actions in WWII in resisting the Nazi’s work of killing Jews is well-known. St. Maria of Paris and St. Dmitri, her priest, are two such examples. They did not “make peace” in the sense of ending the war – but they made peace by risking their lives rescuing others. Both of them died in the concentration camps.

    The distraction, if you will, is to be caught up in mass media’s cause-of-the-moment. There are two aspects of “peace making.” One is to change the hearts of those engaging in violence (and “changing a heart” is a very mysterious thing). The second is to resist becoming part of a crowd.

    I will also add that I generally avoid political discussions on the blog – for the simple fact that readers (and myself) too quickly become caught up in the passions and the conversation goes to hell. I make some carefully considered observations regarding the delusions of modernity’s politics in an effort to help us discern and struggle against political passions. That effort is often misunderstood as “doing nothing” or “not caring.”

    I maintain a presence on Facebook (for a variety of reasons). There’s no moderation on Facebook – people do their passions all the time. Mostly, I see lots of people yelling at each other (in a Facebook way) and signaling whatever virtue currently captures their heart’s fancy.

    A priest friend in a town north of me, recently held an all-night vigil of prayer for his parish (or it’s this weekend, can’t remember) for peace in Ukraine and in the Middle East. That seems a very worthy activity. It is prayer with “labor.” It will not be discussion of issues or signing petitions. It will be the hard work of repentance and prayer.

    The closest war-zone for most of us is found in our own heart. St. Seraphim said, “Acquire the Spirit of Peace and a thousand souls around you will be saved.”

    Make peace where you can.

  35. Matthew Avatar
    Matthew

    Thank you so much for this Fr. Stephen. More food for thought.

  36. Dean Avatar
    Dean

    I was listening to a Lutheran Palestinian bishop. He said that as recent as 30 years ago 12% of Palestinians were Christian (mostly Orthodox). Since then it has dropped to one percent as most have fled the area or have immigrated.
    Yes, so many prayers are needed. Lord have mercy!

  37. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    I visit a Libertarian web site. I was struck by the title of one of the essays: “War: Organized murder and nothing else” by Donald Jefferies. I doubt I will read the article itself.

  38. Matthew Avatar
    Matthew

    Are Orthodox Christians generally opposed to war? Does Orthodoxy spirituality and teaching generally move one toward a posture of peace – both spiritual and literal?

  39. Simon Avatar
    Simon

    I apologize in advance if my comments seem a bit harsh.

    It is hubris for anyone in the United States of America to believe they understand anything about anything that is happening in the Middle East. Frankly, we in the States neither understand it nor do we know what to do about it. And that goes for almost anything we are hearing in the news. We are too far removed from what is really happening on the ground.

    Frankly, when it comes to the news, “do nothing” is exactly what we are going to do because that is all we can do–nothing. It is only an illusion that we can do anything. It is an illusion created by the media and scaled by all that free time we have and don’t do anything productive with.

    You know who might know what is going on in the Israeli conflict? Our fellow Orthodox that are there. If we want to know what is happening ask them. However, it sounds like to me that they did the one smart thing that anyone could do: Get out of there and stay out of there. It isn’t indifference. It is reality.

    Matthew, as far as I can tell, violence of any kind is a sin. If someone broke into my home it would be my obligation to protect my family against harm. If I ended up taking that person’s life, it would be a sin. I would confess it to my priest. I would seek his counsel. I would respect his directions regarding the cup. I think that scales to national concerns, i.e., war. But, in that case I would really seek the direction of the Church. No matter how well intended we are mistakes will be made, sins committed, and children will suffer for it. That’s the reality. I understand that there are times when this world leaves us with no choice and we have to act. But, I think my own perspective is to seek out the direction of the Church, confess to my priest, follow his counsel, and respect his directions regarding the cup.

  40. Fr. Stephen Avatar

    Matthew,
    The canons of the Church are clear: the taking of a human life is sin (regardless of the circumstances). That does not mean that there are no circumstances in which we might not kill: self defense, defense of family, defense of the weak, etc. But, even in those situations, we are participating in sin and confession and sometimes a period of fasting or abstaining from communion might be required. Someone who has taken a human life is barred from the priesthood (though this can be set aside by economia in certain circumstances). A priest who even accidentally takes a life is suspended and may not enter the altar until he is blessed by the bishop and fulfilled any requirements placed on him.

    Of course, Orthodox are also citizens of their countries and, no doubt, serve in the armies of those lands. In some cases, the Church might well go too far in endorsing the war-aims of a nation – usually with serious push-back from other Orthodox elsewhere. But, the position and canons of the Church have not and will not be changed.

    It should be noted that for large portions of its history, Orthodoxy has been under persecution and not in charge of nation-states. I think there are greater temptations placed before us when we do have such power. Americans are so used to being in charge of the world that we hardly know how to think without assuming we can fix and run everything.

    As Simon noted, many Orthodox have become refugees from dangerous places (our American Churches have many of them among us). Many of them have seen family and friends slaughtered by those around them (this has particularly been the case for those in some of the Islamic countries). It’s dangerous out there.

    But, the teachings of Christ are clear. When St. Vladimir of Kiev (Kyiv) converted to Orthodoxy – though he was a Viking prince – he tithed all of his property, he outlawed capital punishment. He even considered freeing all prisoners but was advised that this might bring danger to his people. His instincts were correct – and very Orthodox.

  41. Simon Avatar
    Simon

    Fr. Stephen, have there been times when Bishops have directed Orthodox to fight? It seems like that is hefty decision to make and individuals or an entire country may seek guidance on what to do.

  42. Fr. Stephen Avatar

    Simon,
    Famously, there was at least one Greek Metropolitan who was a leader in the uprising against the Turks back in the 1820’s. There are other examples as well. They are not very common. St. Sergius of Radonezh famously blessed St. Dmitri of Moscow in his battle against the invading Tartars. There were also two “warrior monks” from his monastery as well.

    St. Alexander Nevsky defeated the invading armies of the Swedes who came as Crusaders (blessed by the Pope) at the Neva River. He was a secular prince at the time. Near the time of his death, he became a monk and lived in holy repentance until his death.

    There are other cases. Some have suggested that Orthodox stories of this sort are generally about defensive actions. There is no great story of “So-and-so-the-Conqueror.”

  43. Susan Avatar
    Susan

    Fr. Stephen,
    This will likely sounds simplistic, and no way do I claim to have entered into its beauties, but “Today, if you will hear His voice” and “This [today, this day, always] is the [singular] day the Lord has made” come to help when my vain imaginations start offering an exciting free taxi ride away from this present. Isn’t it always and only this immanent ‘today’ when one is listening to/for/and, even (all things being possible with Christ), with, God, time being His? That we can hope to participate in redeeming any of it is a miracle of Divine mercies. Time becomes grace to us, condemnation to the enemy. On the other hand, my get out of jail [jail, yes, no kidding] card, when the horrors of my sins rush to eclipse the light of Christ’s love, are all the ‘new’s within this immanent day, gloriously bright now with the light of the Resurrection. One might see that as transcendence, provided for by time. So, rightly enjoyed, the Orthodox Calendar then would be the doors to the realm of (maybe this is the wrong word?) an hypostatic peace? (hatred, war, sin, constraints outside, dead to it) where we can, despite this world and our evils, be lovingly instructed, truly free, renewed, and rejoice in one moment for all of time. To rise up before the gray head then becomes not an affirmation of feebleness or decline, but, for believers, could be a recognition of the gracious efficacy of God’s time and humbling salutation before the beauties of the world to come. (If this is not making sense, please don’t hesitate to say. Am commenting from quite a wretched distance.) Thank you for the comforts and wisdom of Christ through your super good column.

  44. Matthew Avatar
    Matthew

    I have said it before, but it is worth saying again: You all are so helpful. I know how much time and effort goes into typing these comprehensive responses. Greatly appreciated!

  45. Matthew Avatar
    Matthew

    So … can the path of salvation be explained in the following way?:

    -Enter His Church
    -Partake of His sacraments
    -Recite regularly the Jesus Prayer
    -Cultivate humility

  46. Fr. Stephen Avatar

    Matthew,
    Those are all good practices and proper. I don’t think that I would use them to frame a “path.” Orthodoxy generally avoids systematizing.

  47. Matthew Avatar
    Matthew

    How would you describe salvation Fr. Stephen?

  48. Matthew Avatar
    Matthew

    What role does theology play in the spiritual life of the average Orthodox believer?

  49. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    The important activity is to reach out to Him in all things. In that way, if I read the saints aright, your whole life becomes sacramental in quality.

    It is possible to do all the activities you mention and get no closer to Jesus. Lord, forgive me, a sinner and bless Matthew.

  50. Matthew Avatar
    Matthew

    Thanks Michael.

  51. Simon Avatar
    Simon

    Hi, Matthew.

    Fr. Stephen’s reply of “Orthodoxy generally avoids systematizing” is worthwhile. For example, I am highly neurotic and can be monomaniacal. There are times when a question comes into focus and it becomes all I can see. Once I decide on some sort of rule the neurotic takes over. It’s horrible. So, I would say that for me reading theology is probably not in my best interests. It activates too many counterproductive tendencies. I read to find quotes that inspire me. Quotes that remind me that I have a heart that I need to keep peace with. Maybe one day it will be different or maybe it won’t. I am only speaking for myself. But I can say from experience that we need consistency however little or much that might be.

  52. Mark Spurlock Avatar
    Mark Spurlock

    Matthew,

    To speak of “the average Orthodox believer,” I think, loses the particular. As my children have heard me say many times, if human beings were all to be exactly like, then why would God make so many of us? Children are themselves examples of this truth: our relationship with each is unique and we would not want our children to be indistinguishable.

    Regarding theology, I have on my Kindle “Orthodox Dogmatic Theology” and hard copies of two other Orthodox theology books at home, plus the book by Frederica Mathewes-Greene all catachumens had to work through. I find that books with a more personal take are more meaningful to me than any systematic laying out of theology. The latter always seem to me inevitably dry.

    I think you mentioned you had read Father Kallistos Ware. I am still enjoying Father Schmemann’s journals. For that matter, Orthodox or not, I value Mere Christianity immensely.

    I think it’s the difference between trying to study a person (God) and trying to know Him. It also seems to me that if in Orthodoxy if I do have theological questions, I can (properly) ask a priest. To use the soul-body comparison, I (average Orthodox patient) ask my doctor medical questions and need only follow the prescription given, without necessarily understanding all the mechanisms of the drugs involved.

    To extend that analogy, not all physicians always agree. As a layman, it would serve me ill to get hung up on arguing with the physicians over the details rather rather than actually following a prescribed treatment.

  53. Dee of St Herman Avatar
    Dee of St Herman

    Matthew,
    I suspect that many of the Orthodox who are regulars on this blog have a prayer rule, read the Bible, read theology or the lives of the saints, light candles, venerate in prostrations and metanoia in prayers, on a daily basis or near-daily basis and then fast when appropriate and observe the feasts when appropriate. Many will be coming to the services whenever they are offered. Some will be coming regularly but not every service.

    My priest catechist recommended coming to as many of the services as I could to become enriched and inculcated into the Orthodox religious culture. I’m very indebted for this advice.

    With three words “Enter His Church” you described a process in my life that took three years, just to physically enter the doors of a local parish. During those three years I read Orthodox theology and read the Bible, and prayed in my own manner which included the Jesus prayer.

    When I finally literally walked through the doors, participated in the first Orthodox service, and then quietly tried to duck out as fast as possible unnoticed, someone did notice and asked me to attend coffee hour. From that point to the day I was Baptized was almost 2 more years as a catechumen. I regularly attended most services, was taught how to pray, and learned how to shed the traits of a culture that rewards pride and self-aggrandizement.

    I believe if one is living the life of an Orthodox person, one is ever learning how to pray.

    Salvation is communion with Christ in the Body of His Church. True communion in prayer. Those are four words. But so much is in those four words.

  54. Matthew Avatar
    Matthew

    Thank you Mark. When I entered evangelical Christianity after having left the Roman Catholic Church I felt set free. I could know spiritual things all by myself. The words of the Bible belonged to me. I could lift my hands in praise and worship. I could sing contemporary Christian hymns. I discovered (at least I thought I did) God´s grace for the first time in a real way. I felt the Father´s love for me in a personal and intimate way.

    But after years of running down that road, I became exhausted. Was I on my own to figure everything out? It appeared as such, since wherever I turned I received a different opinion. Where was my spiritual physician who could prescribe to me the medicine of spiritual transformation — truthfully and confidently? This is just one example of course. I could share more.

    I love books Mark. Especially theology books. I have read more books about Orthodoxy than probably a lot of people. I say that not to brag, but to help you understand the predicament I find myself in. One more or two more books won´t do it. That I know.

    I am not sure if Orthodox believers pray for Christians of other confessions or even for non-Christians, but if you do please keep my German sister-in-law Steffi in thought and prayer. She is struggling with a serious health issue and she is not a believer.

    Thank you.

  55. Matthew Avatar
    Matthew

    Thanks so much Dee. Very beautiful words indeed.

  56. Mark Spurlock Avatar
    Mark Spurlock

    You’re welcome, Matthew, and Orthodox Christians do pray for everyone: “Grant our brethren and kindred their requests that lead to salvation and everlasting life; visit the sick and grant them healing.”

    In fact, that is one book I would recommend, even if you say you have already read so many: an Orthodox prayer book. I use the one by Archimandrite Vassilios Papavassiliou.

    As Dee mentions, I have a prayer rule: once as soon as I can get to it in the morning depending on how things are going, and once before I go to bed. I don’t know that I’ve missed since I started it, and I now use my phone to make sure I don’t. I also have a prayer corner at home, which is standard Orthodox practice, but I didn’t have it when I started.

    Unfortunately because of distances, I can’t attend as many services as I would like, but I almost never miss Sunday’s Divine Liturgy. Occasionally I am able to go to Vespers (always feel good when I do) and confession as well. It’s like playing a musical instrument in that more practice is better, but the regular habit, however minimal, is essential.

  57. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    As I have said before, I am have always tried on experience before theology. Following an experience zI always check with my spiritual father .andy priest to make sure it is in bounds. I find reading very difficult these days — so I pray. worship and go to confession. My experiences have, so far, been within bounds and I have grown in His Mercy with every one–unworthy though I am. His mercy endures forever. It is a real energy from a real person. It has tied me to the Church from the moment I stepped intoy first Orthodox parish even though many people did not want me there and the priest was a mess. God forgive me.

    Trent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.

  58. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    I cannot type today. Repent, not Trent. My apologies to every Trent out there.

  59. Dana Ames Avatar
    Dana Ames

    Dear Matthew (this is a bit long, forgive me, everyone),

    I also left the Roman Catholic church for Evangelicalism, at the end of my college days way back in the 1970s. My interest, even as a Catholic, had always been in Scripture and worship, and as a perfectionist the idea that God had to accept me because I had “accepted Christ as my personal Lord and Savior” gave me a lot of assurance. I’m not sure I felt and experienced the same things as you have, but there came a point for me – also as a serious reader, and, I hope, Holy Spirit-aided thinker – that Protestantism didn’t “work” for me anymore, on multiple levels, as I entered my 50s. What a relief to have Orthodoxy as an option – and for me, at that point, the only one. “Relief” doesn’t even describe the depth of consolation it gave me, even as I flailed around as a convert. Back story to speak to your question about salvation.

    For me, the idea of salvation became the opposite of a list of things to do – it became so expansive, and yet gave focus to my life like never before. It’s simply being in communion with God (who actually doesn’t demand any kind of payment from us) and experiencing the twin definitions of the Greek word soteria: deliverance and healing. Because of our situation, we can’t deliver and heal ourselves. Christ delivered us from death and the fear thereof (Heb 2 – a marvelous chapter!!!), and opened the door to healing on every level (which also involves kinds of deliverance at times), so that we can, as we continually turn to him as he renews our innards (repent), become more and more the human person he created us to be. As Father S. has written, much of that remains hidden because of our blindness and hardness of heart, but if we keep orienting ourselves toward him – only on the basis of what Christ has done – the Holy Spirit will continue to work that healing in us, even if we can’t apprehend it in any given moment. I’m not worried about the particulars of how this works – it is God’s gift, along with so much else.

    So, being in the Church and taking up the tools the Church gives us – prayer, sacraments, calendar, the whole shebang – puts us in the “place” in our hearts and lives to be able to keep opening ourselves to Christ, getting up when we fall, being reminded to remember God and helped to do the next good thing. It’s very organic.

    And another wondrous thing to me is that Orthodox theology is expressed in its fullness in the worship services. If you want to know Orthodox theology, read the hymn texts for the Feasts. Near the end of my seeking the answer to whether I could actually become Orthodox, being able to hear the hymn texts and the Scripture readings of the Vigil of the feast of the Dormition cured me of my “Mary problem” (hangover from both RC and Evangelicalism).

    If having an Orthodox prayer book isn’t possible right now, there are good on-line sources for the morning and evening prayers. Pray Orthodox prayers as much as you’re able, with regard to both time and conscience. God will help you!

    Dana

    p.s. I studied at the U. of Heidelberg for a year as I was working on my BA in German. One of the best years of my life!

  60. Dana Ames Avatar
    Dana Ames

    Father, I just read in the newsletter of an Orthodox church in England that the Romanian Church intends to glorify Fr D. Staniloe in 2025.

    Dana

  61. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Three deep experiences in 36 years.
    The first one showed me the Orthodox Church really serves the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ 1986
    The second 19 years later the depth of His Mercy as my wife lay dying
    in 2005.
    The third as I turned to prayer as the pain in my body woke me up every night at 3AM. 2022
    A recent 4th one as I am striving to be obedient to a penance my priest gave me after a recent confession.
    If s lowly sinner such as I can be given such mercy–s
    anyone can
    The Person of Jesus Christ is real and He will come to you in Love
    .

  62. Fr. Stephen Avatar

    Dana,
    Outstanding!

  63. Matthew Avatar
    Matthew

    Thanks so much Dana. I so appreciate your story and some of it closely resembles my own story. The explanation about salvation is also very helpful. Might we say that sometimes we have to repent of not accepting God´s love and mercy; of not believing that God is actually good?

    This is an open question:

    How can we talk to people about the importance of the Church when they say things like “I love God” and “I read the Bible” but “I have massive problems with the Church as institution”? A work colleague shared with me that she got married last week and what I just shared was her reasoning for avoiding a church wedding.

    I need to clarify all this by saying I assume her cultural experience is within western Christianity. I know the Church in the east doesn´t have the same history and baggage as we do here in Western Europe (maybe not as much to be mad at?).

  64. Dee of St Herman Avatar
    Dee of St Herman

    Matthew,
    It isn’t only the historical baggage but the very theology itself and the life it encourages damages the soul. I’m speaking of the human juridical imposition into the relationship between God and man and the substitutionary atonement. The perspective that God needs to be appeased. I can’t think of anything more destructive.

  65. Matthew Avatar
    Matthew

    Dee … I could NOT agree more. Thanks!

  66. Matthew Avatar
    Matthew

    Oh yes Dana … I wanted to add that I have a prayer corner that I try to use everyday with three icons and candles. I am one of those Protestants who keeps Orthodoxy very close to his heart and who incorporates a lot of Orthodoxy into his spiritual practices.

    Schönes Wochenende!!

  67. Dana Ames Avatar
    Dana Ames

    Matthew,

    yes, that type of repentance is really basic, probably the most basic. The reason Orthodoxy was the only option left for me is that, taken to logical ends, the portrayal of God everywhere in the west is that of a deity who is most emphatically Not Good. In Orthodoxy, God is truly good and loves mankind, all the time. At that point, I needed a Truly Good God so much that I felt like my life depended on that being the case.

    As for the Church as an institution, Fr Stephen has written on that; do search the archives. A person has to be convinced about the Church being “the pillar and ground of the truth” and all that goes with that, and sometimes that takes time. For myself, one of the things that actually attracted me to Orthodoxy is that most Orthodox I met were able to admit, “Yup, we’re kind of a mess.” Orthodoxy has real problems, but the presence of Jesus seems to be able to come through anyway, quite unlike any other Christian institution. Remarkable. The problems are indications of where and how people are not following Christ, not that there’s something wrong with the Church itself. (And the following Christ thing is the same in western churches, too.)

    I was also impressed with the maxim, “We know where the Church is, and we don’t pass judgment on where it isn’t.” God, being Truly Good, is working for the salvation of everyone. It does matter that there is a Church; I believe Orthodoxy is the continuation of the Church Christ established, and is the safest place for people who really want to follow Christ to be. But as the newly glorified St Gavrilia expressed, we simply need to love people the best we can, and then leave them to their consciences and their God-given freedom. There’s no pressure to convince. Christianity in general is not in a “normal” state; again, see Father’s blog posts. And – God is always at work to seek and save.

    Vielen Dank, Dir auch!

    Dana

  68. Holly Avatar
    Holly

    Matthew,

    To your open question —
    I too have a lot of spiritual trauma. I didn’t step foot in a church for almost 25 years, and yet tried to live the life of a Christian without any of the institutions or supportive community. The loneliness of this pursuit is disheartening and it can be easy to fall into a place of desolation, where the love of God feels too distant to fathom.

    When I finally found myself stepping into a church that had sacramental practice, I felt the love of God in a way no words could ever describe. It helped me, and I finally was able to glimpse the truth of God’s love. But the church was not a healthy place, I was re-traumatized, and I was left again without a spiritual home or sacramental practice.

    I have recently started attending an Orthodox Church, and it is a true blessing, but it is also hard. The feeling I have at church sustains me, but when I try to encounter the teachings of the church and dip my toe into a deeper practice, I find myself in being triggered.

    I cannot even begin to encounter the Jesus prayer, nor the language of the morning and evening prayers. The idea of a life confession terrifies me. I think the only reason I am able to keep attending services right now is because they are in a language I do not understand, so I am not distracted by the words. I yearn for the sacraments so deeply, and it is sometimes hard to watch everyone else receiving them and feeling excluded.

    I had to write my own version of the Jesus prayer, because I needed to pray:
    “Lord, help me to remember your unceasing love.”

    The advice I can offer about your friend, or anyone else is this:
    Pray for them in private, but never tell them you are praying for them.
    Don’t bring up Orthodoxy, or encourage them to read about it.
    If there is an opportunity, invite them to join you at Vespers.
    Be patient and be gentle.

  69. Fr. Stephen Avatar

    Holly,
    There are many people who, for various reasons, have suffered from what can be called “spiritual trauma.” Very sorry that this has happened for you. But I admire your persistence and pray God’s grace to sustain you and protect you.

  70. Matthew Avatar
    Matthew

    Thanks so much Dana.

    “But as the newly glorified St Gavrilia expressed, we simply need to love people the best we can, and then leave them to their consciences and their God-given freedom. There’s no pressure to convince. Christianity in general is not in a “normal” state; again, see Father’s blog posts. And – God is always at work to seek and save.”

    This takes a lot of pressure off.

  71. Matthew Avatar
    Matthew

    Hello Holly.

    Thanks for your frank and honest response. I have attended a few Divine Liturgies at the Greek Orthodox Church nearby and I too have an “excluded” feeling from time to time. It is so hard really. Trying to untangle years of bad theology and spirituality while at the same time trying to step into something I perceive to be wonderful (but at the same time foreign and scary) is not easy for me. There are aspects of Orthodoxy that I love so much, but there are other aspects that make me fearful. I am also having problems with the priest at the Greek Orthodox Church nearby. He seems unwilling to allow me into a catechism course and he doesn´t answer my messages. It´s all so confusing and difficult.

    All I can do right now is be as Orthodox as possible while attending our local Baptist church. They offer communion only once per month, but when I partake of the elements (as they call them) I believe it is the body and blood of our Saviour. For evangelical Protestants it´s the sermon that takes center stage. It is their sacrament, though many would not admit to this.

    If it wasn´t for this blog, I would be very much alone in my spiritual pursuits. Thanks again all of you.

  72. juliania Avatar
    juliania

    Thank you for this theme, Father Stephen. It allows me to put in a small word for the Old Calendar in Orthodox time — my little church in Santa Fe stayed on it, and I always thought that the stretch of time between its observances and the new ‘accurate’ calendar represented the stretch of time from the early displacement (in my mind) to the Gregorian. Not a biggie because continuity is what felt most important to me – I liked that the old stretched further back that way, incrementally observing a gradual lengthening. . .

    I am most fortunate to live where it is possible to see the stars in all their glory. The north polar star hovers above my front gate – we do have street lights but they are purposely on low beam. And my sunroom has no artificial light, so every sunset is magnificent. I keep it that way for the sake of my little canary. He isn’t flying freely out in the garden, but he has views of it and is often deeply contemplative as the sun goes down. A wise little bird. And I remember an old movie, Italian I think, where poor people brought out their chairs to enjoy sunsets as you would a movie. We, my canary and I, do that, thanks be to God. (I love that your illustration here comes on my screen as larger than will fit – – magnificent!) November always brings particularly intense and beautiful sunsets. I wish everyone could see them.

    Anyway, old calendar!!

  73. juliania Avatar
    juliania

    Matthew, keep on keeping on. You can set up a corner chapel and have time you set aside there if the official church seems alien. I know that is swimming against the Orthodox stream, but I find I have been pressed to do that, so I take Saint Mary of Egypt as a good guide on that. Also, the Orthodox in Alaska are often living very remotely and do have to wait sometimes before there can be a priest available for services. For me, when our little community had to disband, I found myself to be lost when attending elsewhere. I always put my mind back in the small, familiar place I loved simply by closing my eyes and it is right with me. Also, I paint icons – not very good ones and they wouldn’t fit in any church but they speak to me and to some of my non-Orthodox friends. I don’t stray from the traditional way; I just am not a perfectionist.

    I think Saint Gregory of Nyssa had some good words about having a simple faith. I never had catechismal training, just read what I could. A lot is still available online, so I am still learning. I love Orthodoxy; it is so very beautiful.

  74. Matthew Avatar
    Matthew

    Thanks so much Juliania.

  75. Fr. Stephen Avatar

    Juliana,
    My most profound encounter with the sky was in New Mexico – at St. Michael’s Skete in Canoñes. I take no thought about which calendar I use – I’m just a priest – calendars are the business of Holy Synods and Ecumenical Councils. Such matters are too high for me. 🙂

  76. Bill Hobbs Avatar

    Fr. Stephen – what a wonderful reflection on the Christian year and the calendar. Would you allow me to share this with our constituents of the Jesuit Retreat House in Parma, OH. I think they would appreciate this as we get ready to enter into Advent.

  77. Fr. Stephen Avatar

    Bill,
    Please feel free to use it!

  78. Holly Avatar
    Holly

    Thank you, Fr. Freeman for your words, your ministry, and your prayers. They are a true blessing in my life.

    Thank you, Matthew, for your kindness and support and all your comments. Reading your words helped give me the strength to share my own struggles, and for that I am grateful. (I have been reading this blog for many months, and even written comments — but never posted until now.)

  79. Matthew Avatar
    Matthew

    I thank you Holly as well as the others. This blog has not only allowed me to share my own spiritual and theological insights, but has also greatly helped me as I move closer to becoming Orthodox. The articles and the comment section, together, have proven so valuable for me. I process things much better when I can discuss what is on my mind and am allowed to ask questions.

  80. Mark Spurlock Avatar
    Mark Spurlock

    On the subject of calendars, we’re reading the daily devotions of “Behold a Great Light” in observance of the Nativity Fast. As we reach the end of the week authored by you, Father Stephen, it, too, has been a blessing.

    Right before I read the entry about Joachim and Anne, a Protestant piece passed through my Facebook feed with the theme of how little Christians know of the mother of Mary. It mentioned “we don’t even know her name.” The overall point it was making was a good one–that anonymous Christians may be doing God’s work unawares of its or their own significance–but I still had to smile, everything considered.

  81. Fr. Stephen Avatar

    Mark,
    Glad you could smile about it.

  82. Alan Avatar
    Alan

    Mark, Sorry I’m late to the game here but which FMG book did you “work through as a catechumen?”

    I love all of her writings.

  83. Fr. Stephen Avatar

    Alan,
    He was a catechumen at my parish (of which Fr. Daniel Greeson is the Rector). I think Fr. Daniel uses Frederica’s Welcome to the Orthodox Church as the basis for his classes (no doubt with supplements).

  84. Alan Avatar
    Alan

    Such a great post and so many great comments. Thank you all!

    Dana, your lengthy comment from 11/16….wow! Great stuff. Thank you very much! That was very helpful to me.

  85. Alan Avatar
    Alan

    OK, great. Thank you Father Stephen!

  86. Anna Avatar
    Anna

    Hello Father,
    Several years ago I am very ashamed to say, I wrote a comment here in anger that I should not have. I quickly regretted it and often wanted to return to apologize and seek your forgiveness. It doesn’t matter why I said what I said, but I do want to be specific so I can seek your forgiveness in specific. I’m a farm wife who took offense to true comments you made about farming practices to illustrate a greater point you were making about something else. Please forgive me. I was unjustifiably sensitive. Many orthodox Christians understandably seek out right eating like they seek out right worship- we want to live righteously in Christ in all things. At the time, I often wrongly felt like our family was doing all we could do, without reward, and my husband’s efforts and children’s sacrifice’s benefited others but weren’t appreciated by the people we served. I was wrong to take offense where I could have taken instruction and practiced much needed humility. I read into your remarks sentiment that was not intended, but that was nonetheless accurate. We are attempting now to be better stewards.

    In addition to your forgiveness I’m going to have the audacity to ask for your prayer. Our only son died in an accident this March. Jack, known in the church as John (the Theologian) was 23. Please, of your charity, please pray for his soul and maybe that God will help his dad, sister, and me. Thank you.

  87. Fr. Stephen Avatar

    Anna,
    Please know that you were forgiven at that very time – but I gladly re-affirm it now.

    I’m so sorry to hear of your son’s death – as a parent, I can only imagine such a loss with deep sorrow and anguish. I will pray for the servant of God, John, (may his memory be eternal), and for your family – your husband and daughter. God give you strength and comfort your sorrow!

  88. juliania Avatar
    juliania

    You are welcome, Matthew; and thank you, Father Stephen — I am glad to have your response; I do agree! I haven’t been up to Canones, but one of the monks there started his New Mexico journey in our little church. I remember him fondly, and his dog. Old calendar puts Saint Nicholas’ feast pretty close to general Christmas, and Old Christmas close to Theophany, so this time of year feels a lot like Pascha when all unite. And Santa Fe has some lovely customs – Christmas Eve there is a street lighted with paperbags and votive candles called farolitos that crowds now walk up and around. Plus one year our choir was able to sing Orthodox hymns near Christmas time in the Santa Fe St. Francis Cathedral. It was packed with people, such a memory!
    Have a blessed Christmas, all!

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Latest Comments

  1. Carlos, thanks for your reply. Even if the prayers are first person singular, they are for all of us to…

  2. Janine, Yes! I’ve read about the ancient corporate sense and its interpretive power in scripture, but I’m hesitant to apply…

  3. Kenneth, thanks for that reminder about John the Baptist. Carlos, I kind of think that we are confusing ancient forms…

  4. Janine, Thank you for replying! I understand what you’re saying about unworthiness and I totally agree, it is absolutely by…

  5. Father Stephen, Thank you for zeroing in on the shame and recommending your book. I look forward to reading it!


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