Suffer the Children


In 1994, Jonathan Shay wrote a ground-breaking book on war and PTSD, Achilles in Vietnam. Those who have read Timothy Patitsas’ The Ethics of Beauty will be familiar with some of his observations. Shay worked directly with veterans who were struggling with the emotional consequences of their war experience and the process of their healing. PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) is not restricted to those who have endured the trauma of combat. Indeed, Shay’s work pointed to a perhaps more subtle and devastating aspect of the problem – one that extends (and explains) a wider experience that is all-too-common.

It appears that human beings are not hard-wired for war. Despite various attempts to describe us as a violent species, as given to violence and in need of control, in point-of-fact, killing brings visceral reactions that mark the soul and leave a tell-tale damage that manifests in any number of ways. Shay’s work pointed to a fascinating aspect of this damaging experience: moral trauma. And it is children that I will use as a lens to think about this.

There is an inherent moral sense within a child. If you have two children, then you will likely be very familiar with the word “fair,” as in, “It’s not fair.” It often takes very little moral violation to invoke that cry from the lips of a child. However, there are deeper, yet more fundamental notions of what is moral. One of these is: “it’s not right.”

A famous scene in Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment portrays a crowd beating a horse to death. The scene stretches on for five pages. Interestingly, it is based on something that Dostoevsky himself witnessed as a child. No matter how you approach it, to beat a horse to death is not right. A child knows as much.

I had a neighbor when I was a young child who (like my father) was a veteran of World War II. He was in the infantry and part of the Italian Campaign that saw a lot of house-to-house fighting as the Allies drove the Germans up the spine of Italy. At some point, he was in a small town and turned the corner with his rifle at the ready. He came face-to-face a young German, who was equally at the ready. Both young men hesitated. Then, my neighbor fired. As he recalled, had he not fired first, his opponent surely would have. His reaction saved his life. However, every night, he awoke in a cold sweat with the same dream: he saw the face and fired again. Today, we would say that he had PTSD. It was not the stress or noise or the fear that haunted him through his many nights. It was the face. He described it as that of a young man who looked like someone he knew. The haunting reality, never truly subject to later reasoning, is that it’s not right to kill a person.

Over the course of a lifetime, adults (who remain children on levels they may not acknowledge) encounter many moments of de-moralization – times when we are thrust into the middle of things that are not right. Circumstances often drag us into the midst of such actions and make us partakers of their moral failure. Trauma (PTSD or otherwise) is a common result.

Christ draws attention to children any number of times in the Gospel. They are given as examples: “For to such belongs the Kingdom of God” (Lk 18:16). We are warned not to make them stumble (a specific reference to their “demoralization”). And yet, children stumble over moral provocations all the time – and it continues into our adult lives. The great contradictions that things are not right always abound.

In the Gospel, all of this reaches a crescendo in the arrest, trial, and execution of Christ. This is the Great Thing that is not right, but it is also the Great Thing that enters into everything that is not right. Every moral outrage is there on the Cross – all of them. There, we are crucified with Christ, but the world is crucified there as well:

“But God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.” (Gal. 6:14)

St. Paul described the Cross as “foolishness” to the Greeks and a “stumbling block” to the Jews. It seems to have satisfied neither group nor their understanding of the world. I suspect that it remains both foolishness and a stumbling block for many today. It is not the answer the world is looking for. Modernity wants utopia – a world without suffering, and would likely condemn God for having allowed it in the first place.

There is a mystery in suffering – by which I mean to say that there is more to it than meets the eye. This is evident in the crucifixion of Christ. It is evident in how the tradition speaks of it. The story in Genesis, all that we call the “Fall” points to an understanding that there is something within suffering that begs for an explanation. The book of Job is perhaps the most complete example in the Old Testament that explores the topic – though it does not exhaust it or complete an explanation.

In the Gospels, there is a different approach. There is no attempt to explain (even as our imagination thinks that explaining solves things). In the Gospel, we are presented with a different central point: the loss of communion with God. In the Genesis story, that loss of communion is the beginning of suffering. In the Gospels, the restoration of communion does not end suffering – it transforms it. The crucifixion gathers all suffering into one, and in that one, becomes the means of communion with all.

In Christ’s teaching, suffering is not abolished – it is communed. The Bread we eat is a communion in the broken Body of Christ. The Cup we drink is a communion in the shed Blood of Christ. It seems clear that without the Crucifixion, there is no communion. Suffering is never described as a good. However, as communion it is a (the) nexus of love.

It would seem possible to posit a “non-suffering” form of suffering – that is – some manner of unfallen suffering that could have been a point of communion and love. But that is mere wonderment. What we do not see in the world as we know it is love that is not suffering-love: “Greater love has no man than to lay down his life for his friends.” Christ names the sick, the hungry, the thirsty, the prisoners, the naked (all sufferers) as the points where He is present and uniquely to be communed: “if you have done it unto the least of these you have done it unto Me.”

I return to the children. They live in a fallen world, one in which they will invariably suffer. It is their de-moralization that becomes most tragic – that is – that they should suffer alone, without communion, without the love that transforms and transfigures. Christ bids us let the children come to Him, which requires that we embrace them within our co-crucifixion with Christ. We hear a foreshadowing of this communion of love in Christ’s words from the Cross:

“Woman, behold your son”….and “Behold your mother.”

It is in such suffering arms that all the children will find their souls comforted and the demoralization of sin healed.



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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59 responses to “Suffer the Children”

  1. Robert Avatar

    I would be forever grateful if someone could recommend a practical and understandable approach to PTSD for those in the law enforcement profession. That does so much to a person that healing often seems a hopeless wish.

    Maybe the source of the trauma isn’t particularly relevant. I don’t know. It’s all so complicated and exhausting.

    Lord have mercy.

  2. Andrew Avatar

    I’ve been captivated by a quote I stumbled across from Elder Aimilianos a couple years ago, that keeps returning to me over and over:

    “The soul has to make a choice, and the outcome will either break it into pieces or enable it to sail to its destination in God. And the choice comes down to this: Will the soul accept or reject suffering?”

  3. Dino Avatar

    Thank you Father once again!
    I recall those words, they refer to a very particular stage upon the progression of a soul towards total union with God, they are perhaps easier to gestate when coupled with the elders other, more general words such as, “cultivate wholehearted affirmation of all situations (simply because “there is a God!” and “He nevers makes mistakes”)”. That “all” contains acceptance of suffering too.

  4. KS Avatar

    Breathtaking how after a lifetime of thinking myself a normally thoughtful person, I encounter an insightful interpretation as if for the first time of what I do every Sunday:

    “In Christ’s teaching, suffering is not abolished – it is communed. The Bread we eat is a communion in the broken Body of Christ. The Cup we drink is a communion in the shed Blood of Christ. It seems clear that without the Crucifixion, there is no communion. Suffering is never described as a good. However, as communion it is a (the) nexus of love.”

    Combined with Elder Aimilianos’s comment (see Andrew’s post above), this post can help us make peace with the inevitability of suffering. Many thanks for this post and comment.

  5. Rev. Dr. Emanuel S. Chris, M.D., M. Div. Avatar
    Rev. Dr. Emanuel S. Chris, M.D., M. Div.

    Great reflection, Fr. Stephen. I had the priviledge of training under Dr. Jonathan Shay during my Psychiatric Residency through the Tufts New England Medical Center along with the Boston Department of of Veteran’s Affairs Hospital and health system in the late 1980’s and did a rotation at the VIP Program directed by Dr. Shay for treatment of severely impaired Vietnam Veterans with PTSD from the war. Talk about shame and suffering. This in particular was quite the enlightening and eye-opening experience of my post graduate medical training in Psychiatry, well prior to my have gone on to Seminary and Ordination to the Priesthood, and its lessons have been with me throughout my professional career as a Psychiatrist and as a Greek Orthodox Priest. We all do certainly live in a fallen world in which we all invariably suffer in which we must base our hope and salvation on Christ and His love and sacrifice for us all. Kalli Dynami, kai Kallo Pascha, Adelphe.

  6. Andrew Avatar


    Thanks for the added context !

  7. Janine Avatar

    Thank you for this Father. There is a lot of food for thought. I would simply like to add that from Vietnam onwards, I have seen so many return with the damage to the soul you speak of, and I feel that we share in putting them in the position to make such choices — when we know the damage it does even in the most just of circumstances of self-defense. Once upon a time, the church brought home returning warriors with care for the soul, in special ceremonies to help them adapt back to community life. I wish we would bring those back. (Again, if too political, my apologies and feel free to delete.)

  8. Fr. Stephen Avatar

    Generally, I’d recommend a therapist who has good training and track record with EMDR. It’s been an effective tool in treating PTSD.

  9. Fr. Stephen Avatar

    Our whole culture suffers from deep wounds – particularly if you think of them under the heading of “de-moralization.” We have seen so much done in our name that was to our shame – things we know should not have been done, regardless of how many times we been told that they were necessary. We’ve all become cynics – except for those who are either in terrible delusion or those who are still naive. Everything has become ironic.

    I do not pray for collapse (though I suspect that such a time will come). I pray for better things, better people, better hearts. But only the Cross makes any sense of the world – and the sense it makes is not of this world.

  10. Brandi Avatar

    Robert, you in particular will be in my prayers tonight.

  11. Janine Avatar

    Father Stephen wrote:
    I do not pray for collapse (though I suspect that such a time will come). I pray for better things, better people, better hearts. But only the Cross makes any sense of the world – and the sense it makes is not of this world.

    Amen, Father, Amen.

  12. Janine Avatar

    Peace, Robert. It might not be helpful but I imagine just acknowledging the trauma is the first step.

  13. Sophia Avatar

    Bless, Father.

    How do we suffer well? How do we suffer without de-moralization? Without de-moralizing our children? What do we do when suffering de-moralizes our children?

  14. Janine Avatar

    Father, I’ve been thinking about this subject in the context of what you describe as “modernism.” That is, with its nearly pure materialist focus. What use is suffering in such a model, esp where we think of everything in terms of accumulation (including the creation of a “perfect” life)? It’s just something to be discarded, avoided. And yet, as perhaps a flipside of the same thinking, there are aspects of victimhood that have become identity markers, needing no redemption but valued for itself somehow, and carrying entitlement. The nature of sacrifice in the Christian sense is somehow eradicated in this perspective (foolishness and stumbling block?). My thoughts are muddled but perhaps you can enlighten.

    BTW speaking on the same topic as above (war and its effects), the ancient Church also had a medicinal practice of penance/excommunication for a time even on occasion for emperors returning from war, and even if that warfare was considered absolutely just and in self-defense. This is because the soul damage of killing was recognized as needing pastoral care, and also for return to community life. But again, you and others can enlighten more on this subject. I surely wish we could have a pastoral care model return in that sense that could realistically assess and help to approach such things.

  15. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Probably no way to avoid the suffer. We each suffer from sin — even children.
    The best way, I think, is to learn repentance. When and as appropriate, you teach your children the same practice. Mt. 4:17 “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.”

  16. Fr. Stephen Avatar

    Michael, Sophia
    I think your response to Sophia could be very misleading. I respect your deep appreciation for repentance – and its importance in your own experience. However, for many, “repentance” means to “turn away with sorrow from something they have done wrong.” Many (most) times that we suffer (particularly in the case of children), the suffering is the result of something someone else has done – in which case counseling “repentance” can be not just misleading but confusing.

    Sophia, Michael is correct that there really is not a way to avoid suffering – it is our common lot. Innocent suffering, as is often the case for children, but others as well, can be difficult to bear, even nurturing resentment and such.

    For our children, I think it is important that we suffer with them – that we comfort them, encourage them, and help them. They will earn much from how we ourselves deal with suffering. Learning bitterness and resentments or hopelessness are oftentimes very silent lessons that we teach without noticing that we’re doing that. Love is absolutely the greatest healer of all things. Understanding that suffering is not a sign of failure or disfavor is important.

    In my experience, children often bear suffering “better” than adults. The “support system” for adults can often be quite thin – no one being there to encourage or comfort or just accompany us through something hard, etc.

    Above everything – we need love.

  17. Sam Avatar

    Dear Fr Stephen

    Thanks for another great reflection. I am so glad you have raised an issue that I think is crucial to our current age.

    Have you come across any of the work of the Jewish philosopher Emmanuel Levinas on the ethical phenomenology of the face to face encounter? He essentially argues that ethics begins as a pre-metaphysical encounter with suffering in the human face of another, a face that has written into it the command “thou shalt not kill”. He says that moral codes come afterwards to explain this pre-metaphysical sense of ethics (eg “it’s just not right”). This meshes well with bioethical thinking (eg many women change their minds in regard to abortion if they see the face of their baby on an ultrasound and a Christian group was forced to remove a sign showing the face of an unborn baby during a period when abortion when being debated politically). In fact, it could be argued that this all finds its fulfillment in the face of Christ, the face behind all faces, the Logos spoken by every face. As well, I have noticed many of the modern culture war issues involve an assault on the human face, or face to face encounters (the face being the sacrament of IDENTITY and communion). During pride celebrations in my city a couple of years ago, I noticed that dancers officially celebrating the “festival” in public places were all masked, and I’ve noticed that patients who have gender confusion seek primarily to alter (after genitalia) the appearance of their faces. And this in an era where face to face communication is supplanted by digital means of communication more and more. In my medical work, I have often noticed that sometimes it is the nurses and junior doctors, who spend the most time in face to face communication with patients, are less likely than senior doctors (who would spend a few minutes a day at most talking to the patients) to devalue patients. Indeed, Christ allowed His risen face to be recognized in the the setting of eating with Him so that man’s hiding from God’s face because of eating in contradiction to Him could be reversed.

    Father, I would love to hear more on this, especially on how you think it may mesh with the theology of the Face of Christ.

    God bless


  18. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    When I speak of repentance, I mean offering thanksgiving for Our Lord’s Mercy which flows from the Cross. It is an act of praying for Jesus’ Mercy when I become aware of sin and darkness in my heart AND praying for His Mercy for others instead judging or condemning.

    Forgive me for creating burdens.

  19. Fr. Stephen Avatar

    When stated like that – it makes much more sense.

  20. Fr. Stephen Avatar

    Your comment is quite rich itself! The face is the primary place where we register emotions (and where we read them, as well). It is, indeed, the primary place that we identify with the “person.” Indeed, the word “prosopon” (person in Greek) means “that place in front of the eyes” (or something like that). It refers to the face.

    I like the suggestion of the “pre-metaphysical” sense. I concentrated a great deal on issues of the face in my book, Face to Face. The face is a primary place of experiencing shame (we “lose face” and become “shame-faced”). It is by far the primary means of bonding with parent (primarily mother) for an infant. I have had long, fruitful meditations on the reality of the Theotokos gazing on the face of Christ for hours each day as she nursed Him. She sat in paradise! I think again of the verse from Hopkins’ “As Kingfishers Catch Fire”:

    Í say móre: the just man justices;
    Kéeps gráce: thát keeps all his goings graces;
    Acts in God’s eye what in God’s eye he is—
    Chríst—for Christ plays in ten thousand places,
    Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his
    To the Father through the features of men’s faces.

  21. Janine Avatar

    Sam, thank you for your comment. You wrote:

    “In my medical work, I have often noticed that sometimes it is the nurses and junior doctors, who spend the most time in face to face communication with patients, are less likely than senior doctors (who would spend a few minutes a day at most talking to the patients) to devalue patients. Indeed, Christ allowed His risen face to be recognized in the the setting of eating with Him so that man’s hiding from God’s face because of eating in contradiction to Him could be reversed.”

    I frequently have occasion to ponder upon the empathy of those who do work face to face. In a world that is often hard, that surprising empathy peers out so often in beautiful surprises, but especially in those who in some way work caring for others — and as you say in perhaps the more lower strata positions. I never associated it with the “face to face” aspect before. You have also made me consider the power of Christ’s face-to-face with Judas at the Last Supper. It makes the profundity of betrayal (and hardness of heart) so much more clear.

  22. Fr. Stephen Avatar

    I saw this and thought it might be of use: Mother Siluana on Suffering

  23. Matthew Avatar

    “It´s not right”

    How can we know what is “right” and what is “wrong”? … and if we can indeed know these things, how can we avoid becoming moral legalists in our attempts to tell others how “right” we are and how “wrong” they are?

  24. Fr. Stephen Avatar

    We obey the commandments of Christ as best we can (they’re not complicated). I don’t remember a commandment that we should tell others about how wrong they are. Fr. Thomas Hopko (55 Maxims) said: “Don’t try to convince anyone of anything.”

  25. Byron Avatar

    It seems clear that without the Crucifixion, there is no communion.

    Is there not communion in the Incarnation itself, Father? I don’t deny the poignancy of the Crucifixion, I simply wonder at the black-and-white nature of the statement. Is it meant to communicate the fullness of Christ’s communion into our humanity within the Incarnation (after all, how much “fuller” can one enter into humanity than by suffering and dying as human)? Please forgive my lack of understanding; I do not mean to be difficult….

  26. Dee of St Herman Avatar
    Dee of St Herman

    Sam, you said:

    Indeed, Christ allowed His risen face to be recognized in the the setting of eating with Him so that man’s hiding from God’s face because of eating in contradiction to Him could be reversed.

    I’ve never heard this expression before, but it is beautiful. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts today.

  27. Kenneth Avatar

    Fr. Stephen,

    Thanks for the reminder about that maxim. It comes as a balm to my soul. The noise in my own mind frequently consists of trying to convince someone (e.g., the Protestants in my life), which are mostly conversations that have never actually happened. I can let it go now.

    Small note on a different topic: The Presanctified Liturgy this week included prayers about both Lazaruses, the one raised from the dead (whom we commemorate Saturday) as well as the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. I had not realized that Orthodox liturgy sometimes discusses these Lazaruses together, which was quite interesting.

    I’ve also noticed that the KJV sometimes (perhaps often?) uses the word “judgment” in a positive sense (e.g., “He executeth judgment for the oppressed” in both Ps. 146 and 103). I wonder if this is an idiosyncrasy of translation and how the English language has changed since then, or if it reveals something about the nature of judgment that is truly positive.

  28. Fr. Stephen Avatar

    My primary thought is that it our communion with Christ is given in and through His “broken” Body and His “shed” blood. Even in John 6 and the Feeding of the 5,000, He speaks of eating His flesh and drinking His blood (which makes no sense to His hearers). But, inasmuch as the Lamb was “slain from the foundation,” we don’t have an “unslain” Christ with whom to have communion.

    Fr. Alexander Schmemann says that in a sacrament, we do not make something to be what it is not but reveal it to be what it truly is. I would go so far as to say that the crucifixion reveals Christ (not changing Him, but revealing Him). He has always been the crucified – the One who is broken for us, whose blood is shed for us. I do not mean to make anything less of the historical event and moment of the crucifixion. Nevertheless, there is a timeless, eternal reality in Christ.

    Interestingly, the icon of the Nativity of Christ has clear elements in it that look to His Pascha. His swaddling cloths are definitely like the winding sheet. The cave is like Hades, etc. It is very intentional.

    John 12:27 “Now My soul is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save Me from this hour’? But for this purpose I came to this hour.” He was always the Crucified.

  29. Nathan Fischer Avatar
    Nathan Fischer

    > I would go so far as to say that the crucifixion reveals Christ (not changing Him, but revealing Him). He has always been the crucified – the One who is broken for us, whose blood is shed for us.

    Father, how does this relate to what St. Maximos writes, when he says that when Christ was on the cross He was creating the world? (I have inklings of thoughts, but nothing firm coming to mind. But it seems related.)

  30. Fr. Stephen Avatar

    Fr. Georges Florovsky wrote: “The mystery of the Cross begins in eternity, in the sanctuary of the Holy Trinity, unapproachable for creatures.’

    St. Maximus and also St. Irenaeus clearly hold this “eternal” understanding of the Cross. Creation exists in a cruciform manner. Here is an interesting article.

  31. Fr. Stephen Avatar

    “Judgment,” particularly in the Old Testament, generally describes someone acting to “put things right.” We should think in terms of civil law. Someone takes your property. Restoring your property would be an act of judgment. In America, crime is almost always seen as being “against the State,” rather than persons, and it’s the State who punishes, etc. It distorts things for us.

    Judgment is good news for the oppressed.

  32. Matthew Avatar

    Thanks so much Fr. Stephen.

    The Roman Catholic priest in the church near our home said to us that although the chief command of Christ is to love God and love neighbor, the practical working our of that command numbers 80 commands of Christ. I am not sure how he came up with that number, but it did show me that (if he is correct) I have enough to do without telling others how wrong they are!

    The question in my initial comment was simply to help underscore how often I say this or that “is not right!”, but then wonder if I should be making such a judgment. Is what I am judging as “not right!” really a question of absolute morality? I am usually, of late, criticizing my extended family for acting a certain way or for being certain kinds of people. I think our shared friction has more to do with culture and upbringing than it does with questions of absolute morality.

    I suppose what I should be doing is living the commands of Christ in their midst rather than so often complaining about them and judging them.

  33. Fr. Stephen Avatar

    When you think about what our brains are doing when we judge – it’s of note. There can be elements of fear, of shame, and stuff like that. I think only love, and a strong trust in the providence of God allows us to set such things aside in our relations with others. “Love covers a multitude of sins,” the Scriptures say. Mostly our own!

  34. Sam Avatar

    Thanks you for your reply, Fr Stephen. That is a helpful insight about the person and the face (prosopon). I’ll have to read your book.

    That’s an amazing thought about the gaze of the Theotokos and Christ, a true representation of paradise. Thanks.


  35. Sam Avatar

    Thanks Janine. Yes, there is some interesting literature on the idea of the therapeutic gaze (eg as exemplified in the parable of the Good Samaritan) in medical ethics and how it meshes with the ethics of the face.

    That’s an interesting insight about Judas and the betrayal of Jesus. I suppose we all betray Jesus in our abuses of those made in His image.

  36. Mark Spurlock Avatar
    Mark Spurlock

    Father Stephen,

    (I am not a lawyer, but as I understand it in US law crimes are, indeed, always against the state, whereas “tort” is used to describe a civil violation against another person. Many acts, of course, can be both crimes and torts. For example, OJ’s being charged with both the crime of murder and the tort of wrongful death.)

    I really enjoy this thoughtful post and the discussion it has wrought. Also, in reading the article you just linked on Irenaeus, I think often we try to hard to get at an exact meaning when a more “impressionist” meaning suffices. You mentioned Hopkins’ poetry twice recently, and, as with poetry, the allusive expression of a thought can be much more profound than any attempt to explicate it.

    Specifically, “Since he who saves already existed, it was necessary that he who would be saved should come into existence, that the One who saves should not exist in vain” is wondrous and inspiring, whereas all the lengthy explanations of its “true” meaning and attempts at translation were to me…more like a stumbling block.

    Perhaps Irenaeus–and we–when we try to say something about God and eternity and time can be like little children babbling with sincere exuberance over some joyful discovery that we can’t quite articulate. That’s fine and often seems preferable to the older, more rational child who comes along and explains “how it really works.”

    This is not to knock reason or learning, but to observe that sometimes it seems the “heart of the matter” lies more deeply than human reason can reach (which seems in tune with the overall message of your post).

  37. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Mark. Insightful comment. Thank you.

  38. Matthew Avatar

    Thank you Fr. Stephen.

    Would you support the old adage:

    Live and let live


  39. Janine Avatar

    Thanks for your reply. Yes, it sets out perhaps a perspective that gives us insight into the difference between Judas and Peter. Historically in the church it has been linked to the capacity for repentance as this difference. This seems to be on a kind of spectrum, where there is a stage of the mind that has gone so far in rejection of God / Christ that this is rendered next to impossible. It’s a sort of mystery that belongs that belongs to God’s judgment but so also angels’ rejection of the Lord seem to be understood.

  40. Fr. Stephen Avatar

    I think I’ll leave that question alone…

  41. Janine Avatar

    PS Sam,

    Something just dawned on me — I wrote, “Yes, it sets out perhaps a perspective that gives us insight into the difference between Judas and Peter.”

    I forgot about this passage: And the Lord turned and looked at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word of the Lord, how He had said to him, “Before the rooster crows, you will deny Me three times” – Luke 22:61. Luke the beloved Physician tells us the story!

    I had always wondered how the Lord looked at Peter in the courtyard while He was on trial in the house. Was there a window? But Luke is truly telling us the story! Thank you for that amazing insight of the face and the gaze

  42. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    “This is the day the Lord has made! Let us rejoice and be glad in it.” …and the resurrection of Lazarus

  43. Sam Avatar

    Janine, that’s a terrific insight. I’ve never thought of it in those terms. Meditating on the Holy Face opens up so many treasures. Yes, it would be interesting to know more about how the Lord looked at St Peter (and to compare this with Judas’ kiss of Jesus and whether he was able to look at the Face that cast the soldiers to the ground in Gethsemane).

  44. Janine Avatar

    Sam, amazing — it seems your comment (and Father’s) is an enormous source of insights, and it tells us something very deep about icons too I would say! (Maybe it tells us something about hostility to them too)

  45. Janine Avatar

    Stunning — Gethsemane

  46. Dee of St Herman Avatar
    Dee of St Herman

    Janine and Sam,
    As we reflect on Peter’s response in the courtyard, I sometimes wonder what was happening in Peter. Among the disciples, he was the one who would jump into the sea and had courage in those moments, but then the courage receded. It is told that he was ready to fight, raised his sword, and cut off an ear on the Mt of Olives, only to be told to put down his sword by the Lord. It seems to me Peter’s faith was strong, but it wavered when events unfolded that he did not understand, when the Savior was not conducting Himself in the manner of the King he anticipated. Seeing miracles in Him, by Him, but yet seeing Him capitulate, offering Himself to His enemies, falling (in Peter’s eyes perhaps) willingly into the hands of His murderers.

    When Christ looked at him, I imagined a room opened to the courtyard, but I don’t know the architecture of the times/culture to know if that is accurate or even necessary. Sometimes, I believe we can see the face of the Lord whether or not we stand before an icon. This is one of the reasons I love Father’s Stephen’s title of his book. The appearance of the face of Christ in our hearts and souls echos and reverberates down to our very foundations. We could crumble down to dust, but His Love holds us up. I believe this was in that look, and I have witnessed it and cried many tears too.

  47. Janine Avatar

    Thanks for that Dee. Yes, Dee, I believe so too about the face, but both icons and the heart are not mutually exclusive – and I think one is intended to help facilitate the other.

    About St. Peter, I always see his exuberance — which sometimes needs checking. A friend commented on his ability to take such a great rebuke from Christ, “Get behind Me, Satan.” It’s that capacity for humility that saves and I think protect him, and allows the profound work of the Holy Spirit in him. (My 2 cents.)

  48. Fr. Stephen Avatar

    Dee, Janine, et al
    I am very interested in the small, personal details within the gospel accounts. I believe they are very important – not in a doctrinal sense – but in the very personal sense – things that were remembered within various parts of the earliest community and included within the gospels for us. Peter is the first of the Apostles to have seen the risen Lord (as St. Paul tells us in 1Cor. 15, in what is a very primitive (perhaps the most primitive) account of the resurrection witnesses). But these details – Peter’s denial, the look from Christ, his outrunning John to the empty tomb, his conversation with the risen Christ on the shore of Galilee, etc. – all give an interesting picture. First, though he denies knowing Christ, he doesn’t despair. He doesn’t leave or abandon Christ. There’s so much in that.

  49. Janine Avatar

    Thank you Father. Yes, he’s steadfast in that no matter what transpired… I suppose this is “salt of the earth.” My friend who made the comment about St Peter being able to stand even with a rebuke like that from his Lord is a Jewish convert to Orthodoxy. He sees in St Peter (and especially that story) a persona distinctive of Jewish working class (in his words). Considering who Christ chose as disciples I think that’s significant. And you are right about the personal details. They do something for us, don’t they?

  50. Janine Avatar

    My apologies for likely posting too much (!) but it just seems to me there is a malevolent gaze as well (besides the therapeutic), which can be called the evil eye in Scripture. Usually linked to envy. I suppose it is a reason why above all we seek the gaze of Christ first, and the saints

  51. Matthew Avatar

    Fr. Stephen said:

    “It seems clear that without the Crucifixion, there is no communion.”

    Fr. Stephen … how do the Incarnation, the life and ministry of Christ, the Crucifixion and the Resurrection all come together to offer us the opportunity
    and ability to have communion with God?

  52. Fr. Stephen Avatar

    This is a “big” question. A problem in thinking about it is in our tendency to think in a linear, historical fashion. In that manner, something was impossible and then something happened and it became possible (or some version of that). It’s necessary, instead, to bear in mind the eternal quality and aspect of the Incarnation-Cross-Resurrection. They take place in history and are manifest in history, but what takes place and what is made manifest is what is also eternal true (the Lamb slain on the Cross is also the very same Lamb slain from the foundation of the world).

    Thus – communion, of whatever sort, in whatever time, has always been in and through the Incarnation-Cross-Resurrection. This communion (participation, mutual-indwelling, etc.) is possible because God became what we are – took us into and unto Himself. He became what we are that we might become what He is. This is not just a “spiritual” reality – but even physical as well. We eat Him, etc. “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in Me and I in them.”

    And the nature of Christ’s life and ministry, His death, demonstrate that there is nothing to separate us (Ro. 8:35). Not even sin (2Cor. 5:21). Not suffering, not death…nothing.

    Our response is: to live into that communion.

  53. Kenneth Avatar

    Fr. Stephen,

    Many thanks for your earlier reply. If I have understood correctly, “judgment” seems to be synonymous with “justice.”

    Your replies to Byron and Matthew are also very helpful and illuminating:
    “Inasmuch as the Lamb was “slain from the foundation,” we don’t have an “unslain” Christ with whom to have communion…” “Thus communion, of whatever sort, in whatever time, has always been in and through the Incarnation-Cross-Resurrection.”

    I’ve heard Protestants deny the Real Presence in the Eucharist by asserting that when Jesus said “This is my body” at the Last Supper, it must have been symbolic because his body was not yet broken (i.e., the crucifixion had not yet happened). I assume this is the same misunderstanding that you were addressing in your comments?

    Blessed Palm Sunday!

  54. Fr. Stephen Avatar

    Protestantism (in its modern form) is sort of schizophrenic. On the one hand, it is anti-mystical, denying the Real Presence or that anything actually happens in Holy Baptism. On the other hand, many Protestant groups have strong thoughts on evangelical experience (being “born again,” etc.). History is the main explanation. The early Reformers (Luther in Germany and the Anglicans in England) did not seek to deny the Real Presence, even as they criticized its Catholic formulation. However, the radical reformers (Puritans, etc.) were rabidly anti-Catholic and pushed interpretations that tried to erase anything that even remotely smacked of Catholicism. They left a strong imprint on the Protestantism that populated America and its culture. They “threw the baby out with the bath.”

    The teaching of the Church (both in the Scriptures and in other 1st century documents) clearly held to the Real Presence – “truly the Body and Blood of Christ” and never taught otherwise.

    The implications of that teaching point towards not just the Eucharist but the nature of creation itself and its relation with God. The whole world is sacramental. FWIW, my book, Everywhere Present, is a short, easy read (or listen), and goes into this a lot.

  55. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Matthew, my way to approach your question is to assume that Jesus’ life and ministry are what we have been given to us as Communion. Indeed that Commune is the natural state of things except for my sin.

    I live and move and have my being in Him. Thus my favorite Scripture, Mt. 4:17 “Repent for the Kingdom Heaven is at hand”; becomes possible.

    My life becomes much more simple in that all I have to do is learn repentance. The Church even gives us a simple way to learn: Participate in the Sacraments and Community while learning to pray the Jesus Prayer: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have Mercy on me, a sinner.”

    Learning to live a life of repentance is not easy but it is more comprehensible to me than the How.

  56. Janine Avatar

    Kenneth, more 2 cents, but on judgment.

    In the LXX and in the NT the word is the same and it is just neutral in the sense that it means “to judge” as in a judge rendering a verdict which can be positive or negative; or the noun meaning a “judgment” — again in a neutral sense, either positive or negative. To condemn has the same word in it as root but it is compounded with another word meaning “down” (like thumbs down”) so it literally says “down judgment.”

    To Father’s point (and please correct me if I am mistaken Father) a judge can also be a “deliverer.”

  57. Kenneth Avatar

    Thank you, Fr. Stephen and Janine, for the helpful comments!

    Fr. Stephen, communion through the Incarnation-Cross-Resurrection (as in your comments to Matthew and Byron) might be a good topic for elaboration in a separate post sometime, if you’re ever so inclined. The way this ties the Incarnation together with the Cross & Resurrection is quite illuminating.

    Blessed Holy Week!

  58. Matthew Avatar

    Thanks so much Fr. Stephen and Michael.

  59. Anne Avatar

    Suffering has been a part of my journey. This path has made sense of my life. I would highly recommend EMDR for any sort of trauma afflicted on our senses. It helps desensitize but confession and communion finish up with peace of mind.
    Love to all

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  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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