Around the Corner

Among the most appealing aspects of CS Lewis’ children’s fiction is at the point that I would describe as “turning the corner.” It is not that he creates a fantasy world, but that the fantasy world he creates somehow intersects with the world in which we live. It is the discovery that at this moment, quite unexpectedly, the back of an old wardrobe is a door into another world. 

You turn the corner, and…

It certainly intersects with something every child feels – the sense of surprise and the encounter with the unexpected. 

Some years back when our parish was just beginning, we occupied a storefront location next to a dime store. The space where I parked my car was hidden by a head-high bush. One morning, coming in to the parish, I could hear a young girl playing on the other side of the bush. Based on her fantasy monologue, I could hear that she was somewhere in a Harry Potter novel. As I stepped around the bush, she turned and saw me. I was wearing a gray cassock, was bearded, and even wore a pony-tail at the time. Her mouth opened wide and her eyes wider as she stared at me. I smiled.

“You…you’re beautiful!” she stammered.

I have never been more delighted to be an object of wonder. It was a reaction far removed from the fairly frequent looks of consternation on the faces of adults who are clearly disturbed that something so strange should be walking freely about their city.

The child’s reaction is not a mark of immaturity – but a mark of a human being still capable of belief.

In a secularized culture expectations are reduced to a minimum. Whatever occurs, nothing will be “out of this world.” Whatever corners are turned, what awaits is always more of the same. But there are exceptions.

Charles Taylor in his magisterial work, A Secular Age, writes of a sense of “fullness”:

In this case, the sense of fullness came in an experience which unsettles and breaks through our ordinary sense of being in the world, with its familiar objects, activities and points of reference. These may be moments, as Peter Berger puts it, describing the work of Robert Musil, when “ordinary reality is ‘abolished’ and something terrifyingly other shines through”, a state of consciousness which Musil describes as der andere Zustand (the other condition).

Even more surprising is the recent case of Sam Harris (a noted atheist and writer) describing an experience he had by the Sea of Galilee. In his book, Waking Up, he relates:

As I gazed at the surrounding hills, a feeling of peace came over me. It soon grew to a blissful stillness that silenced my thoughts. In an instant, the sense of being a separate self — an ‘I’ or a ‘me’ — vanished.

Harris does not come to the conclusions of a believer, but he recognizes experiences that point towards something often overlooked.

My personal reflection is that Harris sold the experience short and could have gone further (deeper). But, in many ways, his experience fails precisely because he turns back to the self (ego).

In either case, there is and always has been an aspect of human experience of that which is “just around the corner.” I prefer Taylor’s term of “fullness” on account of its place within the Christian tradition.

It is one thing to speak of an experience of God, quite another to speak of an experience of the “fullness” of God. In the apprehension of fullness, the self recedes, even to the point of disappearance, while the fullness “fills” everything (hence the language of fullness).

This is, interestingly, language that is associated with the Holy Spirit. In the New Testament, the Spirit “fills.” Persons not only receive the Holy Spirit, they are “filled” with the Spirit. The prayers of the Church address the Holy Spirit as “filling all things.”

It is difficult to describe the sense of “fullness,” other than to say that it refers to a completion, to a superabundance, to something of which there cannot be more. This is in contrast to the experience of emptiness and lack, the nagging disappointment that accompanies our adult existence and our encounter with the world.

In our family tradition, our youngest daughter always seemed to summarize our Christmas experience with, “This is the best Christmas ever!” Of course, as a parent, it is almost never the “best Christmas ever.” The time of year is too fraught with contradictions and concerns. The magic of a child, however, sees a fullness:

“You… You’re beautiful!”

This brings me back to Lewis’ intuition with a simple question: Is there anything of note just around the corner? Jesus’ parables surrounding the Kingdom of God suggest that there is.

Again, the kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and hid; and for joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking beautiful pearls, who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had and bought it. (Mat 13:44-46)

The Orthodox tradition points to this deeper reality as a quality to be found everywhere (the fullness is “everywhere present”). It is not a quality, or a reality that forces itself on our awareness. Instead, it is a quality of which we are normally not aware – and we are not aware because the lacking is within us.

This lacking is the very aspect of our lives that is addressed by repentance. The cry, “Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand!” is not an enjoinment to moral improvement. It is a call to recognize the very emptiness, the lacking within ourselves. Repentance is the personal recognition that Christ’s word is fulfilled in us: “Apart from Me you can do nothing.”

Oddly, it is the very border of such an experience described by the atheist, Sam Harris: “a blissful stillness that silenced my thoughts…. the sense of being a separate self — an ‘I’ or a ‘me’ — vanished.” His experience falls short of repentance in that he fails to admit that the experience is true. His thoughts, his “separate self,” is indeed, nothing, or bordering on nothing. He thinks that he is something, a man among men, an author, a thinker, a knower, one who considers the universe. He could have gone further had he sung, “All we are is dust in the wind.”

But the emptiness of self, the knowledge that we are but dust, is known by many. That we are nothing does not immediately reveal what is around the corner. That fullness is a recognition given as a gift. It can come quite unbidden. Treasures hidden in fields are most often discovered without maps.

The Orthodox life is the purchase of the field, the buying of the pearl. Finding the treasure and the pearl of great price is the gift of God. Around-the-next-corner just reveals itself to us. Then we labor and pray, sell what we have, share with others, forgive enemies, and repeatedly acknowledge the dust of our existence that we might live around the next corner in the fullness that is God Himself.

I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith; that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the communion of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Therefore let us, as many as are mature, have this mind; and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal even this to you. (Phi 3:8-15)

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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159 responses to “Around the Corner”

  1. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Father, you are beautiful. Thank you!

  2. Shawn Avatar
    Shawn

    Father Stephen,

    Thank you for this article!

    “The child’s reaction is not a mark of immaturity – but a mark of a human being still capable of belief.“

    I honestly have regret in this mid-point journey of raising my kids. I spent many years teaching them “how the real world works” when they were wanting to live in fairy land. This last Christmas was the first that my youngest faced the news that there wasn’t a real Santa Clause (not from us though). It seems that part of our modern approach to raising kids is slowly killing their capacity for belief.

    How do we turn and begin nurturing this capacity for belief, both for them and for us? How can it be revived?

  3. Fr Serbhan Avatar
    Fr Serbhan

    I second Michael. I rarely comment on Blogs and the like ( I am no academic) but your Blogs are always “beautiful” which probably reflects your soul. Thank you.

    Orthodox monks are not a common site in the UK and as the Psalmist said, “My beauty is far gone” but there was one wide-eyed child who mistook this old monk for someone else as he tugged on the sleeve of his mother’s coat and said excitedly, “Mummy, look, is he a Wizard?”

    Many Years Dear Father.

  4. Alexandra Avatar
    Alexandra

    It doesn’t always happen, but there are moments after receiving the Mysteries when everyone is just beautiful, beautiful. I love that so much. It’s a lot like Christmas Eve when you’re a kid! You’re not worried about yourself, because everything is beautiful and magical and God has come so why be troubled anymore?

  5. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Shawn, I may be wrong but maybe the answer to your question is in the article–Mt 4:17: “Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.”

    How do I instill belief in my children? I demonstrate– something I did not do well with my son. I taught too much.

  6. Deacon Nicholas Avatar
    Deacon Nicholas

    Nice Kansas reference, Father! “Nothing lasts forever but the earth and sky” has got it backwards….

  7. Laurie Marvin Avatar
    Laurie Marvin

    I wonder if Harris is becoming somewhat “buddhist” in a sense and sees physical reality as more of an illusion or “maya”. I think his speciality, neuroscience, may have led him out of pure angry atheism into a more open position. It doesn’t seem that consciousness is very well understood even by neuroscientists.

    Is our lack of fullness a blindness on our part or is there something about our current reality that makes it hard to perceive God? As western societies secularize and wild spaces are harder to find, perhaps it takes more work these days to believe?

  8. Janine Avatar
    Janine

    You remind that lost in a small corner of a garden or park was always a place of wonder for me as a child. Something would happen, and a deep stillness that made me want to keep still and listen in the hush was delicious, like drinking in clear water that fit a perfect thirst. Gardens and spots under trees remain for me a place that renews at least memories of that wonder. Beauty just does it, doesn’t it? A seaside, a jewel, our Creator speaks through a delicious beauty. It’s such a wonder. There were times when I sat with my dog after walking in a park, that kind of stillness appeared and I was convinced that for a moment or two my dog somehow was part of that communion. Thank you so much for this reminder of what so many seem to angrily insist must be stripped away. In fact we were created to take on that beauty, like the Theotokos’ deep red cloak in our icons

  9. Simon Avatar
    Simon

    Janine,

    When our bearded dragon recently died my son asked if it was in heaven with Jesus and I said, “I don’t know. I think so” and of course he was willing to believe. At the time I thought to myself “It might not be true, but it’s worth believing.” And then later on I thought “Salvation is all things or it’s nothing.” Not because I know that is true because I don’t know anything. But it seems to me that is what is at the heart of communion: A reality that is penetrating all things, even the blades of grass.

    Father, I needed this very much. It is deeply appreciated.

  10. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Laurie, we tend to believe that consciousness is only of the brain, it is much more than that.

  11. Fr. Stephen Avatar

    Fr. Serbhan,
    I was in Oxford some years back, and as I walked about campus in my cassock, I was constantly being stopped by Asian tourists who wanted my picture. I realized after a while that they were not thinking about the Church but about Harry Potter…wizards, indeed!

  12. Fr. Stephen Avatar

    Laurie,
    Yes, I think it takes more work to believe. But, fwiw, it can be nurtured by attending to beauty, awe, and wonder.

  13. Fr. Stephen Avatar

    Janine,
    Dogs and young children nurture wonder in the soul. Well, some dogs…

  14. Janine Avatar
    Janine

    Simon, “for the life of the world.” I’ve always thought it significant that the Greek is “kosmos.” All of creation, as you say.

    Father,
    That dog was really a wonder!!

  15. Laurie Marvin Avatar
    Laurie Marvin

    FWIW, I had a friend like Sam Harris (or at least the old Sam Harris) in graduate school. He had lots of angry atheist books and he was quick to tell you about his lack of belief. He was also into some pretty extreme behavior

    I follow his instagram and years later, he self-described his atheist period as nihilistic and self destructive. He’s become a massage therapist and has beautiful hiking pictures. I don’t think he believes anything quite like Orthodox Christianity, but I find it interesting that people just have a hard time living with angry atheism. It doesn’t seem to offer much after a while.

  16. Andrew Avatar
    Andrew

    Michael:

    “How do I instill belief in my children? I demonstrate– something I did not do well with my son. I taught too much.”

    This is me I fear. I have a strong sense of needing to verbally instruct and correct my children when, as you say, I need to focus more on demonstrating. Easier said than done.

  17. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    It is not easy but I know woman who’s ex was abusive; 5 kids, my late wife and I her main friends. She and her children are each Orthodox. She was RC but converted when she experienced the support my wife received as she lay dying…

    My own son chooses to suffer outside the Church..in part because I taught too much…he wants to teach me.

    May our Lord bless each of us..

  18. Ook Avatar
    Ook

    “the sense of being a separate self — an ‘I’ or a ‘me’ — vanished”
    When I had such an experience, in a more urban setting, it was disconcerting to say the least and I found myself yearning for the ego again.
    I’ve often thought that this speaks to my lack of spiritual development. I have a long way to go apparently.

  19. Cathy Avatar
    Cathy

    I would love to know the other side of that “magical” encounter you described. I wonder how she relayed, remembers, and was changed by it. God Bless You.

  20. Jeff Avatar
    Jeff

    There’s a lot of anabaptists in my part of the country (Lancaster County, PA), so women with head coverings are not unusual to see. I’ve always heard in my Protestant circles head coverings explained in the context of women submitting to men.

    I’ve read some Orthodox ideas about women wearing head coverings as a ‘’courtesy’’:
    Because the glory of a woman’s hair becomes so intense as she approaches the chalice, the angels in attendance can hardly bear it. The covering of her head is a kindness shown to the angels. That is certainly a more ‘’wonder-full’’ explanation, and speaks to the things that we cannot see, but are going on around us.

  21. Fr. Stephen Avatar

    Jeff,
    As someone who “vests” when in a Church service – my experience is that various items of clothing can be an aid to prayer. For example, Schemamonks (the “highest” rank among monastics) wears an additional vestment that includes a hood (it is the same for men and women). I’ve often thought the head covering for women is an aid to prayer (it serves as a sort of “shelter” under which to pray). Interestingly, Jewish men do something similar in some of their traditions. I suspect that the interpretations viz. women’s submission to men, etc., is a later and secondary interpretation – reinforced these days by popular feminist notions. There is no actual requirement that women cover their heads in Orthodox Churches – it’s just common and wide-spread. In my parish you see a variety of practice.

    But, typically, the interpretations are almost always secondary rather than the “reasons” something is done.

  22. Simon Avatar
    Simon

    I was wondering how close Harris may have come to experiencing Schweitzer’s ‘reverence for life’, which I think resonates with Jesus noting that God is present to even falling sparrows. No life is so small it is insignificant: “You love all things that exist…you love the living for your immortal Spirit is in all things” (Wis of Sol).

  23. Janine Avatar
    Janine

    Re head coverings:
    As a girl I loved wearing the veils common in my church at that time. It made me feel “reverent” — a word I had no idea about at the time, but that is the feeling. The shelter, as you say, makes a difference. Somehow the veil made things special, like that quiet mystery in the corner of a garden.

    I often don’t wear a head covering now just because others don’t in the parish where I usually worship. Seems silly, I know.

  24. Janine Avatar
    Janine

    Simon, that is beautiful. Thank you

  25. Walter Kennick Avatar
    Walter Kennick

    Father bless,
    May I recommend a wonderful read?
    Elements
    The Transfiguration of Elijah
    St. Patrick Press
    It is a two volume set. The first is “Earth & Water”, the second is ” Fire & Wind”.

  26. Dana Ames Avatar
    Dana Ames

    Michael B,

    I just learned today about Fr Moses, and am very sad to hear it. The Church has been blessed to have him as a priest. Taking this space to offer condolences on the loss of your dear friend – although in Reality he is certainly not lost to us. May Christ grant him rest in a place of light and make his memory to be eternal.

    Dana

  27. Fr. Stephen Avatar

    Dana, Michael, et al
    I have noted Fr. Moses’ passing as well. I know he was deeply important to Michael’s life – as well as to many others. I have rarely met a more gentle spirit nor a kinder man. I pray that his rest will be in paradise!

  28. Dee of St Herman Avatar
    Dee of St Herman

    Memory eternal Father Moses.

  29. Drewster2000 Avatar
    Drewster2000

    Shawn,

    “How do we turn and begin nurturing this capacity for belief, both for them and for us? How can it be revived?”

    I believe the first step is what Michael suggested. Sit with God, talk to Him about what you regret, let the tears flow, list your fears and ask for a way forward. He is good about answering those prayers in a visible way over time.

    The second step is to be a good example of what you want to encourage in your children, but this can only be done through honesty. Where in your life do you practice belief in things other than what can be seen? Discovering that is part of your repentance. But at the same time, play games with your children that require imagination. Read or listen to stories involving dwarves and elves, and then have a whimsical conversation about their possible existence.

    Take the risk of journeying with them, you from a vantage point of repenting of your limited worldview and them from a place of recovering whatever they might have lost due to your earlier teaching. Not only will all of you be learning about the unseen world but also that adults can be wrong, can be forgiven, can change. Very valuable lessons for their future.

    God’s response is usually not “shame on you!”, but rather “it’s never too late; let’s get started”. And He means it!

  30. Shawn Avatar
    Shawn

    Thanks you Michael and Drewster. I appreciate the advice tremendously. I often pray each morning that God helps me to see him more clearly in all things. I can tell that I am improving in my sight, but it is slow which challenges my modern desire for “the lights to fully turn on”. We’re entering the middle school years, so activities are numerous and I often feel pulled in so many directions. However, as you say, part of my repentance is to make time for prayer and reflection. Thanks again.

  31. Fr. Stephen Avatar

    Shawn,
    FWIW, nurture their capacity for awe and wonder – at all things. Don’t be a stranger with nature.

  32. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Thank you. If I may: Fr. Moses lived the title of Fr. Stephen’s site here. I knew him for 50 years and what I remember about him most was his smile and his laughter–never fake. The Joy was with him even as he waited in the hospital to have each leg amputated and the last time I talked to him a couple of weeks ago. Glory to God for All Things.

  33. Owen Kelly Avatar
    Owen Kelly

    Concerning Santa Claus, my wife and I decided to emphasize Saint Nicholas to our kids. “Yes, Santa Claus is real!” But how he gives his gifts is the wonderful part, I think. The Catholic theologian Karl Rahner said that when a person dies, the universe becomes their body (cf. Ephesians 4:10). As such, St Nicholas reigns with Christ as part of the “great cloud of witnesses” surrounding us, like icons surrounding us in the temple. This is the Risen Life of Christ’s cosmic Body, the Incarnation writ large. Now all the gifts of life come through Christ to Christ (Matt 25). I see St Nicholas as an icon of this Risen Life, embodied in anyone who gives “golden coins” to children.

  34. Fr. Stephen Avatar

    Owen,
    Interesting…think I take exception to Rahner’s interpretation of Ephesians…but. The stories of St. Nicholas are quite specific and personal, rather than generalized in “anyone who gives…” So, for what it’s worth.

  35. Simon Avatar
    Simon

    FWIW, I am keen to speculate and I am not seeing a connection between Rahner’s speculation and Ephesians 4:10.

  36. Byron Avatar
    Byron

    I think the final sentence in your last paragraph is incorrect or incomplete, Father?

    that we might live around the next corner in the fullness that God Himself.

    “that God Himself…” what? or perhaps “of God Himself”?

  37. Fr. Stephen Avatar

    Byron,
    Thanks for the catch! I have fixed it.

  38. Dee of St Herman Avatar
    Dee of St Herman

    My personal reflection is that Harris sold the experience short and could have gone further (deeper). But, in many ways, his experience fails precisely because he turns back to the self (ego).

    Father I greatly appreciate this topic and insight. Your words and reflections in this article bring to my mind how grateful I am for the Lord’s mercy to hang on to me and me Him as I entered the Church. Without preconceived notions of what should be a door opened. It is heartbreaking when this doesn’t happen for someone entering the Church. But as St Sophrony says, there can be no forcing for authentic experience. It begs the question for me then how healthy it is to attempt to make Orthodoxy pleasing to Western taste by constructing a modern Rite. Please forgive me it seems to be that some converts never could turn the corner.

  39. Fr. Stephen Avatar

    Dee,
    There are significant questions surrounding the Western Rite – but, to be fair, there is nothing in it that attempts to create a “modern” rite. There has been some significant historical work involved. These are questions that I leave in the hands of Bishops (thank God!).

  40. Dee of St Herman Avatar
    Dee of St Herman

    Dear Father,
    I suppose it boils down to how one defines modern. I believe I’m being fair. Nevertheless it is in the hands of God and the Bishops, as you say.

  41. Fr. Stephen Avatar

    Dee,
    I only know a very little about the Western Rite. I’ve skimmed some books. I’ve never attended a service. Having, of course, been an Anglican in my past, I have experience of that. I do not think of it as antithetical to Orthodoxy. My only real question would be how capable is it of sustaining the fullness of Orthodoxy – or communicating it. Again, my experience is simply insufficient. Both ROCOR and Antioch have a Western Rite. Again, I don’t know what the difference are in those, either. Generally, it’s a topic I avoid on the blog because I lack the knowledge to offer any observation that would be of value. Again, thank God for bishops.

  42. Dee of St Herman Avatar
    Dee of St Herman

    You have expressed my concern fairly well Father. Whatever is or becomes antithetical however will be shown in time by God or not, if it is the Lord’s will. I’ll say no more on this. Please forgive me, it weighs on me sometimes.

  43. Fr. Stephen Avatar

    Here is an article that pretty much carries my thoughts (even though it was written over a decade ago). https://glory2godforallthings.com/2009/09/29/healing-the-religious-tragedy-of-the-christian-world/

  44. Dee of St Herman Avatar
    Dee of St Herman

    Father,
    Though it may seem tangential, I believe I can say I am anti-western (it is not my roots but intercut by graft) while no doubt I am influenced by it—as you say, seemly schizophrenic (in your beautiful linked article) because I wish to ungraft what is diseased. But this no doubt must lie in the hands of God and His help to empty my heart of all that is not His. Nevertheless I need to persevere in the delicate balance (western -not western). I am a role model for many who are Orthodox yet are not of western culture inheritance, who both fear and need to navigate the western culture with their faith and well being intact. Christ in me is their Road, and I anxiously pray for His guidance to be what He wants me to be, for my sake and theirs.

  45. Owen Kelly Avatar
    Owen Kelly

    For the record, I don’t know if Rahner read Ephesians 4:10 to make the point he did. The biblical reference was my own.

  46. Fr. Stephen Avatar

    Dee,
    You are what you are by God’s grace and His providence is at work in you. I work at not being too anti-Western lest it feed a monster within me…I like Florovsky’s generous take on it.

  47. Dee of St Herman Avatar
    Dee of St Herman

    Amen, Father!

  48. Simon Avatar
    Simon

    I happen to be a big fan of the West. It has its strengths and weaknesses just like the East.

  49. Fr. Stephen Avatar

    Simon,
    I come from a long line of Men of the West. 🙂

  50. Dee of St Herman Avatar
    Dee of St Herman

    Since I live in Alaska, the people who are my students are also the children or grandchildren of the Alaska Native children of whom western Christendom, Protestants, and Catholics alike absconded and put in boarding schools. Those Orthodox children, now elders, are those I speak to and am accountable for how I teach their children.

    We speak of indigenous ways of knowing, learning, and disseminating knowledge, which is as familiar as Orthodox ways of knowing, but specifically, Eastern Orthodox and Alaska Native ways of knowing. How ironic it would be to stand up in class and announce that I’m a big fan of the West. How would this be interpreted? Needless to say, I wouldn’t do it, not just because it would be callous but simply not true. Nevertheless, how ironic it is that I am asked to teach chemistry, what the West thinks is theirs and theirs alone (at least, this is how it was taught to me until I entered a course taught by a Canadian-Chinese person).

    I haven’t said that the Eastern Church doesn’t have weaknesses. But I am aware, both in my family history (both sides) and those in the communities where I live in Alaska, of what Western Christendom has done on this continent. I hung on to the Orthodox Church where I was received (even with its frailties); within it, I found Who was waiting around the corner. It seems some do not. But I still wonder how to interpret what had happened in their case. Certainly, it isn’t my experience or something I can talk about.

    Our Eastern Orthodox parishes (speaking from experience in the US) have problems, some of them pretty intense and difficult. And yet, I would not propose making it more Western as an answer to our problems. To me, that’s going in the wrong direction. But I’m no Bishop and no one is asking for my opinion.

    Please forgive me, Father. I said I wouldn’t go further, and here I go again!

  51. Dee of St Herman Avatar
    Dee of St Herman

    I apologize. This topic is a sore spot for me. I could elaborate to explain the circumstances and history further, but I believe it’s best not to do so in blog format. Last but not least, the Lord found me and not vice versa.

  52. Fr. Stephen Avatar

    Dee,
    This is me speaking as a priest who knows and loves a number of you that have been part of this community. We have varied histories – and in those histories are wounds and broken places. Those very things are also used by God as He re-creates us in His image and saves us. Your experience, which encompasses the native American experience (and more), bring a deep richness to us, including the wounds that are part of the darkness of our Western history. Simon, on the other hand, has his own brokenness for which West-bashing is problematic (not the dark stuff – but, too often, the baby goes out with the bath water).

    The late Vladyka Dmitri of Dallas (whom I believe to be a saint), who received me into the Church and nurtured me in the infancy of my Orthodoxy, used to say (to us converts), “Don’t speak ill of where you came from – it might very well be the place where you first learned Christ.” And so it was for me – my Baptist childhood (which seemed immune to the dark God of Calvin) – and certain periods of my Anglicanism – as I felt my way forward, rather blindly, for the historic, Orthodox Church. If I stripped all those things away, I would not be who I am. But St. Paul’s Phariseeism, though he counted it as dung, still formed and shaped much that was in him, because God is good and not wasteful.

    I have had to learn across the years to fully understand the roots of the Baptists (for good and ill) and to carry that with me before the Throne of Grace when I pray). The same is true of my Anglican years (which have many scars and painful memories – as well as joy). Indeed, my Orthodox years are not without wounds.

    The point is, there will be no payback, no recrimination, no punishment (that is not self-inflicted). Instead, I think we are to gather all of these things within ourselves and weep and pray and forgive and love beyond measure. This, I see in Christ crucified.

    Beyond everything – I stand amazed. I am aware of my roots and where I came from and the darkness within it. I am also aware of a goodness that rested there as well. What I see in myself is the mercy of God who does not discard us. Fr. Florovsky expressed an incredible generosity and willingly opened doors for the West. He was one of the pioneers without whose work there would have been no open doors for the many converts we see today. It is a great work of providence. May God save whatever is good, lovely, and of worth, and refine us in fiery side of Christ.

    May He give us grace now and always!

  53. Dee of St Herman Avatar
    Dee of St Herman

    Dear Father,
    Your history is a blessing to us all.

    ” But St. Paul’s Phariseeism, though he counted it as dung, still formed and shaped much that was in him, because God is good and not wasteful.”

    Amen, Father.

  54. Mark Spurlock Avatar
    Mark Spurlock

    Dee,

    “I am aware, both in my family history (both sides) and those in the communities where I live in Alaska, of what Western Christendom has done on this continent.”

    We do not forgive our enemies because they did nothing wrong, but because we wish to be forgiven ourselves and because Christ says that is what we are to do.

    As a Protestant brought into Orthodoxy, I personally do not wish Orthodoxy to become more Protestant. In this sense, I may differ from Matthew in that I have no desire to “manage” Orthodoxy. To me it is a relief to have lost the sense of having to figure everything out for myself “in the name of searching for the correct kind of church.”

    That said, had my only options been to join a Greek Orthodox congregation or a Russian Orthodox congregation, that would have made my conversion more difficult. My first Divine Liturgy was in a ROCOR church, and it was the encounter I needed, but I do feel more at home in St. Anne. Given contemporaneous world events and that I was only just being introduced to Orthodoxy when those events occurred, I’m not sure I would have finished turning the corner.

    “This no doubt must lie in the hands of God and His help to empty my heart of all that is not His. Nevertheless I need to persevere in the delicate balance (western -not western). I am a role model for many who are Orthodox yet are not of western culture inheritance, who both fear and need to navigate the western culture with their faith and well being intact. Christ in me is their Road, and I anxiously pray for His guidance to be what He wants me to be, for my sake and theirs.”

    For what it’s worth, that sounds right to me.

  55. Dee of St Herman Avatar
    Dee of St Herman

    Mark,
    If I came off as unforgiving, I wrote very clumsily indeed. I do not wish to give that impression whilst saying I prefer that the Orthodox Church not go in that direction, having seen/had the experience of the impacts and influences of Western Churches of various stripes. Ultimately, it is the impact of one culture upon another, using the ethos of Western Churches (esp. their form of forced evangelicalism) as a vehicle for subsuming one culture by another–not by accident but by design.

    Nevertheless, I cannot take such influences (including those that might offend our Lord) out of myself without the help of God, His mercy, and love. No doubt such influences are expressed without my awareness and are likely very apparent to those I teach who are much less inculcated into the Western culture than I am. I’m grateful for their openness and patience with me.

    Last, as a side note, they have taught me about very positive experiences they have had with the northern peoples (Sami) of Europe.

  56. Mark Spurlock Avatar
    Mark Spurlock

    Dee,

    I did indeed misread the antecedent for “this” in “this no doubt must lie in the hands of God and His help to empty my heart of all that is not His” and–consequently–what you mean by “all that is not His.”

    After your most recent comment, I think I better understand.

    Please forgive my misunderstanding; it was not so much clumsy writing as my anticipating your meaning, based on my own frames of reference.

  57. MWS Avatar

    I think it’s important to keep in mind what part of Western Christendom we may be talking about. There is much that I have found problematic about its myriad of scholastic and philosophical directions to be sure. Nevertheless, if Orthodoxy is about following a way of life, then it’s important not to denigrate a Western Liturgy for nothing more than it’s origins, and instead, rather focus on it’s fidelity to encouraging and promoting unity within the Christian life.

    The reason we have a plethora of “Western Liturgies” from which to draw is because, from what I understand, Liturgy was far less standardized before the schism.

    For what it’s worth, I have a particular fondness to English Hymn-tunes. The Music of Ralph Vaughn Williams speaks to me in a way nothing else does.

  58. Dee of St Herman Avatar
    Dee of St Herman

    MWS,
    I not as versed in the history of the Orthodox Church as I believe I ought to be, particularly in the area of the development of her Liturgy other than knowing one form began with St Basil and the other with St Chrysostom. I am fortunate to be within driving distance of Orthodox Churches in three different jurisdictions. It is indeed a joy to visit one parish or the other and feel and hear differences. And I have no fixed idea (although this may come as a surprise) what form Orthodox America should become over the next hundred years or more. However, I believe I understand healthy growth and development that seems to emerge from the nature of a person or an organismal body. I hope for healthy growth of the Orthodox Church in the US, like that of a child to an adult. This truly entails a nurturing and loving foundation. But when a management mentality appears in the form of ‘fixing’ a direction of the development of that ‘child,’ I experience a form of deja vu. And since the “fixers” have come in this society with a history not conducive to loving the natural condition of a child, I have expressed my concerns.

    One of my personal pleasures has been learning about the history of the Orthodox Church in Ireland. Because of my own Irish ancestors, I took the name of an Irish saint. I mention this just to say that there is more nuance to what I mean than perhaps what I can say well.

  59. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Dee, et al.; In my journey to the Church I found goodness and strength in both the Protestant and the Catholic explanations. I also see great holes in each. I was looking for something more complete and whole that would facilitate a dynamic knowing, loving and living within Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior.

    A way of the heart infusing my mind with life and substance.. I look to proper theology as a fence beyond which we do not go allowing us to know Him correctly and safely. Especially in the Holy Sacraments. This practices such as The Jesus Prayer: “Lord, Jesus Christ, have mercy on me a sinner.,’ Makes no sense except in the Orthodox faith. Yet it is through practicing it under the guidance of a spiritual Father that I have begun to learn the Joy is in His Mercy.

    So much more in that one prayer, IMO, practiced correctly with diligence, than all of Protestant and Catholic meanderings combined. It only took me 36 years after being received to actually open to it. I am a bit slow that way.
    May our Lord lead each of us to deep and lasting repentance so we might enter into His Kingdom through His Mercy.

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

  60. Fr. Stephen Avatar

    MWS,
    There is not, as far as I understand, a form of Orthodoxy in which the music of Ralph Vaughn Williams is used (or other such hymn writers), nor do I think there will be nor should be. Orthodoxy is not just an Eastern form in a manner that has a Western form as a counterpart. Much was lost in the Western Church across the centuries. For example, there is no Western form of Hesychasm – the Orthodox practice of the healing of the soul and its illumination in Christ. Using Orthodoxy as a lens, it’s possible to see elements, one thing here, another thing there, that is a value within and among the non-Orthodox, thus in Western Rite Orthodoxy, nothing has been lifted whole and intact from the West and used without refinement and reflection. It’s extremely important to note that this current practice is still in its infancy and exists by “economy.” I have not heard any serious Orthodox thinker who imagines that a Western Rite will be the instrument of a major return of Western Christians to the Orthodox fold. It has provided a shelter from the storm (so to speak), but remains a shelter rather than a map for the future.

    In my own journey, I spent time thinking about the various options (like the Western Rite). In the end, I concluded that the last thing I wanted was an ersatz approach to my spiritual life. What I did not want to do was “manage” my life in Christ. It was quite difficult to abandon what I had known and enter what I did not know – but it was a Baptism that was wholly necessary. I became silent (not writing for the first eight years of my Orthodox life). The most difficult thing, I think, in becoming Orthodox (particularly in its inner fullness) is knowing how much you don’t know.

  61. Owen Kelly Avatar
    Owen Kelly

    Father Stephen,

    As always, thank you kindly for your feedback to my comment above. I was wondering if I might ask a couple of clarifying questions.

    1. What is your understanding of Ephesians 4:10 in terms of Christ “filling all things”? My own reading is that the universe is the body – or, another metaphor, the clothing – of the Word. As some have said, the world is a burning bush. Likewise, Christ’s universal presence would seem to imply a similar (maybe identical) experience for those in Christ. As Saint Maximus says, theosis means we will even become uncreated.

    2. What should we make of the patristic tradition when it speaks about the faithful as becoming a Moses, or becoming an Elijah, or becoming a Zacchaeus, etc.? The more creative creative biblical exegetes often made this move. (I think of Maximus and Origen in particular.) I take this to be true of Saint Nicholas as well. It’s sort of an imitative participation in the saintly (holy) spirit of the person, based on our mutual share in the mystery of Christ.

    Thanks again, Father.

  62. Fr. Stephen Avatar

    Owen,
    Good questions.

    1. I take the “incarnation of the Logos in creation” to mean that the logoi of all created things reflect the Logos. It would not, however, mean that He had become the created universe in the sense that He became the God/Man Jesus of Nazareth. Proof of this is that we do not worship the created universe. We may discern or perceive His presence – but that’s not the same thing. If the world is a “burning bush” it is the fire that is Christ, not the bush.

    2. To “become a Moses” or “becoming an Elijah” or “Zacchaeus” is becoming that “role.” We could even say, “like a Moses.” I think in our modern period, the writings of St. Sophrony on hypostatic existence say the most about all of this. I must say that he “stretches the bounds” as he expresses these realities in that he describes what is beyond the experience of all but a few. He does not disparage what he calls “psychological experience,” but recognizes that this is the common experience of most of us. With purification and illumination, that psychological experience can begin more clearly to reflect the true hypostatic existence of the saint but even that is not widespread.

    With personal existence (hypostatic existence) we are walking on holy ground of which it is hard to speak accurately…which is why it is mostly shrouded in silence (“silence is the language of heaven”). There are many ways to misunderstand it. What level of participation/communion a saint (say Nicholas) might have in another (say Moses), is, frankly, his business rather than ours.

    It’s especially tricky in that the language of participation, if not carefully shrouded in various caveats, easily sounds like something that it’s not – sort of passing over into the errors of New Age stuff and the like.

    The Fathers surround certain topics with silence or with hints and such for very good reasons. It is a practice, I’ll note in passing, that DBH openly despises in his writings which, for me, has led him to excessive speculations and, ultimately, error. The iconostasis in the Church serves to remind us that walls, doors, and curtains exist not just in the Church but in the heavens and in the human heart.

    I think that there is a temptation in St. Maximus and others who write similarly. The fault is not theirs but ours. That temptation is for us to read and appropriate intellectually rather than to know, participatively, what they are saying. They are like salt…it only takes a very little bit.

    When, for example, I read Fr. Maximos Constas, or listen to his lectures, I can hear the voice of a practiced hesychast. I listen or read very carefully. Others splash St. Maximus around in a manner that reveals that though they speak certain ideas, they don’t “know” them. To know something is already to be like it.

    Those are my thoughts as best as I can speak them.

  63. Matthew Avatar
    Matthew

    Dee: Any information you have about Orthodoxy in Ireland would be of great interest to me. I have only found one Greek Orthodox Church in Dublin and a Romanian Orthodox Church in west Ireland (I think). There are some Orthodox nuns (Romanian I think) living in a monastery that accepts guests in central Ireland. Other than that, my research yields very little about Orthodoxy in Ireland. 🙁

    Fr. Stephen: To what extent are Bach´s masterpieces a lesser art form than compared to, say, an Orthodox icon? My wife and I had this discussion a few weeks ago as I was attempting to explain what I am learning about art from the book “The Art of the Icon: A Theology of Beauty”. The author, Paul Evdokimov, seems to suggest that art which is not birthed out of some sort of relationship with the Church and its Tradition is lesser art or even demonic art. He goes to great lengths criticizing western art forms and the overall western analysis of what constitutes art and beauty. My wife took this as meaning “So … I´m not supposed to listen to Bach anymore?” Her point is, Bach wrote music that glorifies God specifically and is suitable for playing in the church more generally, but Evdokimov sees Bach´s compositions as lesser art and as not worthy as being part of the Church´s liturgy. This troubles my wife and raises some important questions about art in general for me.

  64. Matthew Avatar
    Matthew

    What is the difference between “psychological experience” and “charismatic experience” and “hypostatic existence”?

  65. Simon Avatar
    Simon

    Matthew,

    Psychological experience is to hypostatic existence what a shadow is to a real body: Something insubstantial by comparison.

  66. Fr. Stephen Avatar

    Matthew,
    Sometimes there’s an “apples and oranges” problem when speaking about art. Icons, generally belong in a category by themselves, rather than being group with other things as “art.” And, even when we speak of “art” it’s a huge catch-all term that is so broad as to be almost useless. Icons have a liturgical purpose and function in Orthodoxy that set them apart from other such things – and are best discussed by themselves.

    The evolution and development of religious art in the West is another matter. It moves from having an original “iconic” purpose to becoming its own thing – in which what it might reference (say a painting of Christ) is subsumed by the art itself. Icons are “windows” and are “about” what is made present. Most often, the artist is anonymous or known only to a specialist. Western art begins to be either about itself, or about the artist, and less about what is depicted, much less anything holy.

    Music is quite another thing as well. Bach, I think, should be held in high regard. His work is both beautiful and even transcendent. I could add any number of other composers to that number. Many great composers have been Orthodox (Rachmaninov comes to mind).

    It’s possible for an author to go too far (or be misunderstood about all these things). Everything in an Orthodox Liturgy serves the liturgy – it serves to reveal God. Thus, though there is much creativity, and even a variety of forms (Russian liturgical music differs greatly from Byzantine liturgical music, for example), nonetheless, it is still primarily concerned with the liturgy itself. I think it’s possible for music (or even certain icons) to cross a boundary in which they begin to be too self-referential rather than having their reference beyond themselves. But that is for the judgment of bishops and such. I have been in a parish or two where the choir is magnificent, but that magnificence becomes the “show-piece” of the Liturgy. I find it distracting in such cases and would discourage it were I the priest in charge.

    I think it begins to be problematic to make general statements aabout the relative value of Bach and such (Evdokimov may have said a bit too much).

    It’s all quite interesting. I was traveling with a monk once, and wanted to play some music in the car. So, I put on some liturgical music (I thought he’d like it). He asked me to turn it off. We were in a car, not in the Church, and thus the music sort of carried him away from where he was to somewhere he was not. He found it jarring somehow. I’ve thought a lot about that.

    Bach, et al, have their place. It will not be in an Eastern Liturgy, but that’s not because Bach is somehow bad. People also forget that Orthodox cultures produce a large variety of art, not just icons, and lots of music, not just Byzantine chant. On the place of art in a culture, we are in a much, much larger conversation.

  67. Fr. Stephen Avatar

    Matthew,
    I’d put those questions on a shelf. It’s more than I can go into in this space.

  68. Byron Avatar
    Byron

    Matthew,

    I don’t presume to know, but “beauty” draws us to God and “art”, in any form, can be part of that. But the Liturgy is a communion of worship with God–like Icons, it opens the “windows of heaven” and allows us to participate within (to an extent, at least).

    I would say there is no issue with listening to Bach. It is the same, so to speak, as listening to the joyful exclamation of a loved one; of watching a child at play and being uplifted by it. It is not a “window into heaven”, but may be a point of thanksgiving in life. There is a certain participation in both, although they are different. We should be discerning of what we participate in, but I don’t think music, in general, is an issue in that regard. Just my thoughts.

  69. Matthew Avatar
    Matthew

    Thanks Fr. Stephen. In his defense, Evdokimov didn´t criticize Bach specifically but rather western art more generally. I used the Bach example because Bach is a favorite of ours and is who my wife brought up when we had our conversation. Sorry if my first comment was unclear or misleading. I´m not very good at leaving questions on the shelf Fr. Stephen :-), but I will take your advice.

    Byron: My wife would strongly disagree. She thinks Bach´s music is an absolute window to heaven.

  70. Mark Spurlock Avatar
    Mark Spurlock

    Hi Matthew,

    Can you quote the text from Evdokimov that you are paraphrasing (“seems to suggest that art which is not birthed out of some sort of relationship with the Church and its Tradition is lesser art or even demonic art”)?

    In contrast, I read his saying the following in the section “V. Culture and the Kingdom of God” (unfortunately the PDF copy of “The Art of the Icon” does not have page numbers):

    [quote]
    Van Gogh’s suns or the nostalgia of Botticelli’s Venuses as well as the sadness of his Madonnas will find their serene fullness when those who hunger for the two worlds will be filled. Even music, the purest and the most mysterious element of culture, at its highest perfection faints and fades away leaving us face to face with the Absolute. In Mozart’s Mass or Requiem, we hear Christ’s voice, and our elevation acquires the liturgical value of his presence.
    [end quote]

    To me, it is a similar view of art / music that I find expressed elsewhere in Orthodoxy (including on this blog): any work that causes us to feel gratitude (thanksgiving, as Byron says) toward God for the experience of it is blessed. Where we err is to try to experience the thing in itself and without any transcendence.

  71. Fr. Stephen Avatar

    Matthew,
    I would agree with you wife viz. Bach. Definitely a window to heaven.

    Please note that I included some icons and some liturgical music that can be found in Orthodoxy that are likely problematic liturgically. And that’s a subtle thing, and I would hesitate to make categorical statements. What I would point to would be art that has somehow lost its “window” capacity and become self-referential, or overly self-referential, or overly about the artist, etc.

    I was in an icon painting workshop once with the late Xenia Pokrovsky. She showed an “icon” depicting a martyrdom. “This is not an icon,” she said. “It has hate. An icon cannot have hate.” Thus, an icon is not a political statement, for example. We might “like” such an icon if it agrees with our politics – but then we have lost the point and are enclosing ourselves in something less than heaven.

    Some are highly critical of “Western-style” icons in Churches, something quite popular in certain centuries in Russia and elsewhere. It’s sometimes called the “Italian School” in that it sought to copy the realism of Italian art. It was often, frankly, quite cheap and badly done. Nonetheless, we have examples of such icons “weeping” and being miraculous, just like any number of more traditional Byzantine icons.

    The first “weeping” icon I saw was in a monastery (I was an Anglican visiting an Orthodox monastery). The monk who was my host said about the icon, “I prefer not to believe it.” I was shocked and said, “Why?” He said, “Well, it’s not an icon. It’s a print.” Then he went on. “It’s not Orthodox. It was printed by a non-canonical group.” I was still in shock. Then he added, “But it weeps. What can you do?”

    I learned a lot about the heart of Orthodoxy that day.

  72. MWS Avatar

    Fr.

    I would have been extremely surprised if there had been an integration of music like Ralph Vaughn William’s music into a Western Rite liturgical service. It doesn’t really fit – it’s biggest flaw is that it’s significantly outside tradition, and very modern in that sense. However, English hymnography is something I still enjoy.

    I only mentioned it as a cultural touchstone – Orthodoxy has its Mesopotamian Frescos, and its Byzantine Mosaics, I’m just wondering what an Orthodox English Tapestry might look like.

  73. Fr. Stephen Avatar

    MWS,
    Fr. Aidan Hart, English Orthodox iconographer, designed the screen for the Royal Anointing used at King Charles’ coronation. He could answer the question better than me.

  74. sgage Avatar
    sgage

    Matthew,

    You may want to get in touch with Paul Kingsnorth, who is a member of a (the?) Romanian Orthodox Church in Ireland. He is a fairly recent (I think about 3 years now) convert, and I think he has looked into Orthodoxy in Ireland in some depth. A very articulate and interesting fellow.

    His website is https://paulkingsnorth.substack.com/

  75. Matthew Avatar
    Matthew

    Mark: I didn´t quote nor did I really paraphrase. My statement was a synthesis of my understanding of what I am reading currently. If I have misrepresented the author, then I ask both his forgiveness and yours.

    Fr. Stephen: I discovered Fr. Aidan Hart´s website this past weekend as I spent most of my time at the convent reading about icons. There was also an icon painting class going on. His work is absolutely, without words, beautiful!

    sgage: Thanks so much. I recently emailed Paul (before Christmas) and haven´t received a response yet. I assume he probably has a lot of people trying to contact him.

  76. Dee of St Herman Avatar
    Dee of St Herman

    Matthew,
    I’ll try to find some resources for you. My memory is that archeological evidence and writings indicate the Irish converted to a Christendom that was Byzantine or Northern African, not Latin, as we are usually told. I’ll see what I can find. But what was particularly striking to me was there were still walls standing with Orthodox iconography plastered over to hide their (non-Latin or non-Protestant) history.

  77. Matthew Avatar
    Matthew

    Interesting Dee … thanks SO much!

  78. Matthew Avatar
    Matthew

    Also Dee … I am not explicitly denying your report about the kind of Christianity the Irish converted to, but I have never heard such a claim. Where did you find your information? I did a quick search online and found nothing.

  79. Mark Spurlock Avatar
    Mark Spurlock

    Matthew,

    No worries. Reading further, Evdokimov does seem critical of a lot of modern/contemporary art (particularly abstract art)…but then many people of deeply held religious beliefs are.

    [quote]
    If we try to imagine the wall decoration of hell, certain works of contemporary art just fit the bill. The “artful Deceiver” of the Bible, whom Luther called “the One who wrinkles his nose,” has made of his very existence the bitter profession of ridiculing human existence. People can ridicule human existence even with a good conscience and with taste, in an artistic manner; they and others may not
    even be aware they are doing it. What we are in fact dealing with is a refusal of the “image and the likeness of God,” even more, a refusal of the God “who loves mankind,” who makes the human face radiant with his light. By its very nature, abstract art has nothing in it that allows us to know “the Word that became flesh.” What can this type of art say about the eucharist, the transfiguration of the
    body, the resurrection of the flesh? It is the Taboric light without Christ, the luminescence of the saints without the saints. It is nothing but a ray captured in a magic mirror, the hellish sign of impotence and lack of fullness.
    [end quote]

    Again, however, the distinction he seems to make is based on the reaction the artist elicits (and intends to elicit) from the audience.

    “De Do Do” by the Police with the lyric “the meaningless is all that’s true” he would more likely call “lesser art or even demonic” than some of the great composers we’ve been discussing 🙂

  80. Fr. Stephen Avatar

    Matthew,
    Dee is correct. There are a number of “primitive” practices within Irish Christianity that are more Eastern (Syrian, etc.) than Latin. Here’s a sample article: https://christianhistoryinstitute.org/magazine/article/celtic-way-from-patrick-to-cuthbert

    The North African element is through its monasticism – with lines to the Desert Fathers, especially through Egyptian-style monasteries in Southern Europe. Here’s a quick article on St. Patrick: https://www.eighthdayinstitute.org/st-patrick-the-monk

  81. Fr. Stephen Avatar

    Mark, Matthew, et al
    I think that art/architecture/music, etc. can be used to diagnose the spiritual health of a culture. With that in mind, I would make a huge contrast between almost all “traditional” cultures and the culture of modernity. We are spiritually diseased in a manner that is pretty much unprecedented. There are many bright spots – many creative people who continue to do good work. The commericalization of almost everything is, no doubt, a factor in our spiritual disease. We do not thrive as consumers. “Man does not live by bread alone.” When art, music, etc., become consumables, we discover that we ourselves our being devoured. And, we know who it is that seeks to “devour us.”

  82. Lynne Avatar
    Lynne

    Matthew,
    Here is a quote taken from From the Holy Mountain, by William Dalrymple, in the section when he was visiting the Monastery of St. Antony in Egypt:

    “The reason for my particular interest in the icons of St. Antony was that during the Dark Ages the saint was also a favourite subject for the Pictish artists of my native Scotland, as well as for those across the sea in Ireland. The Celtic monks of both countries consciously looked on St. Antony as their ideal and their prototype, and the proudest boast of Celtic monasticism was that, in the words of the seventh-century Antiphonary of the Irish monastery of Bangor:
    This house full of delight
    Is built on the rock
    And indeed the true vine
    Transplanted out of Egypt.
    Moreover, the Egyptian ancestry of the Celtic Church was acknowledged by contemporaries: in a letter to Charlemagne, the English scholar-monk Alcuin described the Celtic Culdees as ‘pueri egyptiaci’, the children of the Egyptians….
    There are an extraordinary number of otherwise inexplicable similarities between the Celtic and the Coptic churches which were shared by no other Western churches. In both, the bishops wore crowns rather than mitres, and held T-shaped Tau crosses rather than crooks or crosiers.”
    (2012 edition, pages 418-419)

    Dalyrmple goes on to describe similarities in a particular icon on a Pictish stone near Dundee and one in the library at the monastery. pp. 420-422

  83. Owen Kelly Avatar
    Owen Kelly

    Father,
    I get what you’re saying. Totally. My personality is bent toward the intellectual approach. I’d be a horrible Orthodox priest. Please forgive my splashing as I learn how to swim.

  84. Fr. Stephen Avatar

    Owen,
    I totally get it.

  85. Fr. Stephen Avatar

    Lynne,
    That’s priceless!

  86. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Lynne, thank you. .It was something I was told along time ago but had put aside.

  87. Fr. Stephen Avatar

    Owen,
    There’s a fine line between an intellectual approach and a mystical participation approach (for lack of a better phrase). I remember years back when I was studying with Hauerwas at Duke, he would push us with the question, “How is that displayed?” He never let us get away with a great idea. He was far from Orthodox, but the question, or something like it is still correct.

    St. Maximus, I believe, was writing about something he knew (which is why questions had been posed to him for answers), and he knew it experientially. He had that rare combination of experience and knowledge. It was said of St. Sophrony that he had that same rare combination – the depth of a true saint and Athonite elder combined with a theological vocabulary and ability to express it.

    It is a question that always dogs me: “So what?” What do I know? What do I truly know?

    The second article I ever wrote for the blog speaks about this: https://glory2godforallthings.com/2006/10/19/what-matters/

    It’s been on my mind since the start.

  88. Dee of St Herman Avatar
    Dee of St Herman

    Matthew,
    I tried to find a few of my sources that were attainable online 8 years ago but now no longer available. Instead, I’ll mention a couple of sources that a priest sent me at about the same time period:

    http://orthodoxinfo.com/general/irishorthodoxchurch.aspx

    Another is a text that may still be available is called: “The egyptian desert in the irish bogs The Byzantine Character of Early Celtic Monasticism” by Father Gregory Telepnef

    In correspondence with an Orthodox priest who studied Irish Christianity, I learned that a Pope blessed the Norman invasion of Ireland in 1170 for the purpose of bringing them under RC rule. The Irish at that time were not obedient to Rome and had ‘their own’ (ie Eastern Christian) practices. The reference is in this source: from “The Story of the Irish Race”, by Seumas MacManus, Konecky & Konecky, 1921., p 319 ff.

    Apparently the Irish were the last bastion of the Orthodox in the West at that time after the East-West schism.

    Last, I found a recent video by Fr Seraphim Aldea describing the “beehive” construction of monastic cells in Scotland, indicative of the Egyptian practice of the period.:

  89. Dee of St Herman Avatar
    Dee of St Herman

    Matthew,
    One more source is “Eriugena Medieval Irish Philosopher, Poet, and Translator”. The text points to his contribution to the western court of Emperor Charles the Bald, where he translated Greek (Christian) texts to the local language (I’m not sure whether it was French or Latin), supporting the palace program for the promotion of Byzantine literature and culture, which placed him at great odds with the western clergy at the time. It seems likely his training and proclivity had come from his native Ireland. Later, he was condemned as a heretic–by western clergy. see page 205 for this reference

  90. Dee of St Herman Avatar
    Dee of St Herman

    Matthew,
    One more source is the St Gallen Stiftsbibliothek (750 A.D.) which depicts iconography stylism suggesting a Coptic (Egyptian) influence (see page 208):
    https://www.europeana.eu/en/item/9200211/en_list_one_csg_0051

  91. Lynne Avatar
    Lynne

    Dee,
    Thank you for the article, A Brief History of the Irish Orthodox Church.
    I’m glad to learn the explanation for the similar place names–Galatia (Asia Minor), Galicia (northwest Spain), Galicia (southern Poland, where my roots are), and related names like Gaul, and the land of the Gaels, who spoke Gaelic.
    It clears up a mystery for me.
    And I had no idea that the influence of the Gauls was so far-reaching.

  92. Dee of St Herman Avatar
    Dee of St Herman

    Lynne,
    I appreciate your contribution also to this topic! We have been given a history of Ireland and Scotland from the perspective of the Western Church, and it’s exciting to learn that there are other takes on that history from the East’s perspective.

  93. Dee of St Herman Avatar
    Dee of St Herman

    The first “weeping” icon I saw was in a monastery (I was an Anglican visiting an Orthodox monastery). The monk who was my host said about the icon, “I prefer not to believe it.” I was shocked and said, “Why?” He said, “Well, it’s not an icon. It’s a print.” Then he went on. “It’s not Orthodox. It was printed by a non-canonical group.” I was still in shock. Then he added, “But it weeps. What can you do?”

    I learned a lot about the heart of Orthodoxy that day.

    Father, I really enjoyed this story! Thanks for sharing it. Indeed it does teach us something fundamental about Orthodoxy. Glory to God!

  94. Matthew Avatar
    Matthew

    Thanks so much everyone. It looks like I have a lot of reading to do!

    For a number of years now I have been a friend of an ecumenical Christian community that has its roots in the Celtic Christianity that flourished in what is now Great Britain. Interestingly, Celtic Christianity was very different from Roman/Latin Christianity in form and practice. It wasn´t until the Synod of Whitby in 664 that the kingdom of Northumbria (now northern England) was brought under Roman ecclesiastical control. That said, I was not aware of the apparent Eastern Christian influence in the British Isles … so … again … I have a lot of reading to do! It will be interesting to see just what links existed between Celtic Christianity and Eastern Christianity prior to all the Romanization.

    Fr. Stephen: About icons … I have just read a great chapter in Evdokimov´s book about the uniqueness of the icon artistically speaking. It really is in a class of its own.

  95. Matthew Avatar
    Matthew

    Fr. Stephen said:

    “We do not thrive as consumers. “Man does not live by bread alone.” When art, music, etc., become consumables, we discover that we ourselves our being devoured. And, we know who it is that seeks to “devour us.””

    Yes.

  96. Matthew Avatar
    Matthew

    Something more about icons …

    Ivanka Demchuk is an extremely talented iconographer from Ukraine. I received one of her works last Christmas (The Resurrection). That said, her icons are modern and not painted the same way a typical Orthodox icon is painted. Does that make a difference? I think she told me in an email that one needs to check with their priest or bishop.

  97. Fr. Stephen Avatar

    Matthew,
    Demchuk uses the “language” of icons, but the grammar is changed somewhat. It’s always a question whether an icon pushes the boundaries so much that it becomes its own subject rather than pointing to its prototype. But, it doesn’t mean it’s of no use.

    I have a framed print of the Raphael Sistine Madonna in my bedroom. It’s not an image I use in prayer, but it reminds me of some other things…for example: https://glory2godforallthings.com/2021/11/20/i-will-go-into-the-altar-of-god-2/

  98. Owen Kelly Avatar
    Owen Kelly

    Fr. Stephen,
    Thanks for those thoughts. I think what you say about knowledge and experience applies across the board: those who have life experience and an ability to speak, do so with a certain authority. I also think personality plays a big part in how inner experience communicates to others. Some relay their experience in a way that meets “everyday” people where they are. Others transmit truth in hard-to-understand ways. Pastors are rarely philosophers, and vice versa. Yet both may have true interior experience of “passing over” in Christ. And both draw listeners/followers who resonate with their way of communicating. As you said, like calls to like.

    It seems there are certain geniuses in the spiritual life who can combine metaphors and symbols – since that’s all we have – in a powerful way so as to engender participation in their listeners. It’s close to poetic genius, I think. They know well how to phrase the ineffable, drawing us into the realities of which they speak. What a gift. I agree: there is a fine line between an intellectual approach and that of mystical participation. Both have “seen” something powerful. The difference, I think, between the sheer rationalist and the mystical philosopher is the latter realizes the realm of intellect is a room without a ceiling.

    Maybe it’s worth noting too that the true seer often runs afoul of institutional authorities. Thus, they not only experience a overwhelming sense of mystical unity with God, but also, paradoxically, sometimes experience a sense of forsakeness, by God and by the official “tribe.” A death, as it were. They’re accused of error and of leading the majority astray. As Jesus said, “few will find it.” Those few who follow them seem to resonate with the message experientially. I don’t know, perhaps only long-term “fruit” can distinguish this kind of true prophet and shepherd from a charlatan.

  99. Dee of St Herman Avatar
    Dee of St Herman

    Owen,
    For whatever it’s worth, when I was a catechumen my priest kept reminding me about the heart when I kept asking him questions of a sort that some might term emerged from ‘intellect’ or philosophical in nature. The remainder wasn’t a rebuttal or rebuff. It was encouragement to go deeper. I’ll admit it was hard because I resisted and I resisted because I had long been taught that the philosophical understanding was a higher plane or deeper understanding. I haven’t stopped my speculative approach altogether. But when I manage to let go of reaching with my mind (a rare event) I begin to understand what is meant by knowledge through the heart. Usually this comes about through crisis, with me. And I tend to want to avoid crises. So with me, again for whatever it’s worth to share here, gaining such depth is a slow, glacially slow it seems, movement that comes about by accident (or Providence). Please forgive me I know too little of what I’m trying to talk about.

  100. Dee of St Herman Avatar
    Dee of St Herman

    Reminder not remainder— dang autocorrect!

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