The Seeds of Love – Orthodoxy and the World

I saw a news story recently in which a student was asked for their thoughts on the recent campus turmoil. Her response, “History teaches us that only disruption brings about change.” No doubt, it is a common thought for many. The various mantras and slogans of revolution, as well as the myth of revolution itself as a force for benevolence, have been around for several hundred years. It is a notion that frequently shapes the way we tell the story of history. It is also not true.

Many of the myths of nation-building as well as the construction of modern civilization turn on various notions how history works. However, theories of “how history works” are themselves a modern invention. Those living in prior times did not make huge distinctions in historical periods, nor did they spend time pondering the construction of a “better world.” Modernity has been fascinated with various notions of management – how to make the world behave in a desired manner. Interestingly, despite widespread growth in prosperity and social mobility, the past few hundred years have been particularly marked by violence. Modernity is war-like.

Much of our present world assumes that power – the ability to “make things happen” – is the ultimate force within the world. Indeed, many modern conversations assume that only the use of power can “save” the world.

I believe that the single greatest temptation in the Church’s history occurred not during it various periods of persecution, but during its periods of official recognition and approval. When the Emperor wants to destroy you, it’s easy to remember who you are: you stand with Christ before Pontius Pilate. However, when the Emperor summons you to his side with words of flattery and approbation, and asks your advice for running the empire, we easily forget who we are.

The Emperor says: “My people are starving. How can we turn these stones into bread?”

With Emperors and Bishops, the problem is almost a cartoon – drawn in crayon. In the modern world, where the myth of democracy invites everyone to “own” the stones and turn them into bread, it is easy to miss the fact that we are yielding to the same temptation.

I have heard various naive Orthodox opine that we need jurisdictional unity in the United States so that we can have a stronger voice and a more visible presence. It would seem that they have yet to renounce the world and are still thinking about the stones/bread problem. Unity is good because the Church is One (as is affirmed in the Creed). But it is not good because it is “useful.” Indeed, I suspect that God has allowed our disunity for His own purposes – including saving us from ourselves.

Of course, this is a problem that runs much deeper than our relationship with governments – it is our relationship with the world itself. It is quite possible to view the world through the lens of power. However, it changes what we think of the world itself, and it changes our self-understanding. When the world and the people in it become the objects of our exercise of power, they are necessarily de-personalized and reduced to something less than they truly are.

Our modern world, it would seem, has won the debate concerning turning stones into bread. We imagine that Christianity’s superiority lies in the fact that it would somehow make better bread. Christ did not rebuke Satan’s temptation because he was demanding enriched white rather than stone-ground whole wheat. It was the suggestion that bread (and stones) be defined by our full bellies. Rather, Christ tells us, we live by “every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” Christ has made an eternal alliance with the stones, later telling us that the stones would proclaim His messiahship if the children were made to be silent.

We have become so permeated with the modern message of stone management, that we are often unable to imagine any other way of being. We assume it to be the “way of life.” It is instructive to turn our attention to the Church prior to Constantine to consider other possibilities.

For nearly 300 years, the Church lived under periodic persecutions. During that time it managed to hold local councils, addressed problems of nascent heresies, preached the gospel (including beyond the bounds of the empire), fed the hungry, rescued babies, and quietly grew its presence. Monasticism came into existence during this period. (It has become a trope to consider monasticism as a response to the tempations of the imperial Church, but it came about more than a generation before that trial). Though unable to access the wealth of the empire or its organs of power, Christians, nonetheless, became widely known for their radical generosity (even becoming the butt of jokes). Quietly, the gospel prospered. So far as we know, the Church and its leaders never harbored dreams of imperial preference.

In contrast to turning stones into bread, Christ offered the imagery of seeds.

“The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground, and should sleep by night and rise by day, and the seed should sprout and grow, he himself does not know how. For the earth yields crops by itself: first the blade, then the head, after that the full grain in the head.” (Mark 4:26–28)

Regarding stones, He said this: “Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone?” (Matt. 7:9)

Of seeds, it is strikingly said that the seed sprouts and grows, but “he himself does not know how…for the earth yields crops by itself.” The modern mind imagines humanity as makers – we not only know “how” the seeds grow, we modify the seeds to make them grow in the manner we desire. This extends beyond literal seeds into the metaphorical “seeds” throughout our culture. Indeed, in the late 20th century, churches began teaching “growth” as something of a planned event, complete with techniques.

In truth, Christ has given us the Church, together with its sacramental life, as the “seeds” of the Kingdom of God. It is faithfulness to its life and Christ’s commandments that provide the sufficient presence of the Kingdom’s divine work. There is no “plan” or “project” beyond that simple reality.

That description, historically faithful in its accuracy, is deeply frustrating to our modern minds. We believe in management rather than God, or, at least management in God’s name and on His behalf. As such, we fail to take seriously the commandments that direct us towards the true life of the Church.

In the Orthodox life, only love “works.” Whether it is the vibrant life of a parish, a diocese, a nation, or even the lofty world inhabited by patriarchs, only love allows the gift of God’s life to be fully manifest among us. The Church is only revealed through love. If we attend to the words of the epistles, the specific messages to Churches, we see the constant refrain and reminder to love one another, to let love be genuine, to be steadfast in love.

Love best expresses the seed of the Kingdom. When planted, it grows. We do not know how. It moves mountains, raises the dead, casts out demons, feeds the poor, heals division, forgives sin. Love endures.

Image by Annie Spratt from Pixabay

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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48 responses to “The Seeds of Love – Orthodoxy and the World”

  1. Laurie Marvin Avatar
    Laurie Marvin

    Where love is lacking, is that a church? Even if its creed is Orthodox? I confess I struggle with this lately. What if you take the sacraments or attend church regularly but you aren’t loving more? It seems easy to just start going through the motions.

  2. Fr. Stephen Avatar

    Laurie,
    I don’t think we can go so far as to say that it ceases to be a Church, just as we cannot say that a human being without love ceases to be human. But of both, we can say that they have an impaired existence. And, sometimes, we are just going through the motions – which calls us to repentance.

  3. Byron Avatar
    Byron

    I am told by my Priest that “if I lack love for someone, do the things of love for them anyway–and God will give me love for them.” I expect that some living “motions” are necessary for us to move from an “impaired existence” to a true, human existence. I suppose these may be considered repentance in action, so to speak.

  4. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Modernity is a fascinating concept especially as the rise of modernity coincides with the decrease in the acceptance of and communion with the unseen. Not as some wo-wo experience but as the Kingdom. The substance of things hoped for.
    The Orthodox Church is the only Christianity which still embraces the unseen as a healthy, Divine and life giving way. Sacramentally and devotionally.

  5. AR Avatar
    AR

    Father, forgive me if this sounds like/ is a dumb question, but what do you mean that “going through the motions” calls us to repentance?

  6. Matthew Avatar
    Matthew

    I understand that as a Christian if there is to be any “changing of the world” it is to be done not through raw power (political or otherwise), but rather by doing the commands of Christ. I also agree that the Church must avoid being swept up into the Zeitgeist so as to lose focus on its true function: being the steward of God´s salvation through Jesus Christ.

    All that being said, what are we to expect of those who do not share our views about the Church? Those who believe in the modern project and who want to “change the world” for the better (even if by dong so they make things worse)? They have to do something with their lives.

  7. Dee of St Herman Avatar
    Dee of St Herman

    “They have to do something with their lives”. Matthew, I read more nuances in Father’s words than this. I’m not suggesting that I read him better, only that I have a different take.

    Love is expressed in so many ways. One way is ‘clean up’, for example. You have a home, a place where your loved ones live, perhaps where infants live. It needs to be a healthy and safe place, a refuge. This requires the very simple practice of keeping it clean and tidy. Each person lovingly (as much as they have in their hearts) support the very physical actions needed to keep the home in such a fashion. Say one person is perpetually grumpy and doesn’t want to put out the physical work. How do we approach the needs of all, in our home as a whole? Should we attempt to ‘manage’ the person who doesn’t want to pitch in? In our culture, it would be to say yes and ‘make’ them do the work. More than likely, that would build resentment and likely even less cooperativity. So, how does one approach this situation? We are taught that is only by love that provides us the path (Christ’s Way), and that is such a narrow way that most people don’t even try to take it.

    So, what does love in action look like in the above scenario? Might it be to talk–and by that, I don’t mean to talk to persuade but to truly talk and listen–the latter the most important. Listen to be present to their thoughts and their feelings.

    Yes, people in the modern world will do what they think is best. Perhaps they will think that they can change the world for the better. I would not bicker with them, but I agree with what Father Stephen says. Such management has led to violence. What would love in action look like? Is feeding the poor so boring? Is visiting the people in prison a chore?

    How ironic it is that I am myself engaged in activities that some might say are activism (e.g. researching/detecting contaminants in the environment and drinking water). But I don’t have the same “research stress” as others might because whatever becomes of it, I do what I receive to do, the rest is in the Lord’s hands. In other words, I’ve been asked for help, and I might be able to provide the help in a very specific place for a specific people who have few others who might be able to help. They asked me first for my help with the specific problems they witnessed. In other words I did not go out to manage what I think is their problem. I’ve written a grant to purchase the instrument(s) to do the job I’ve been asked to do. The competition for such grants is very high, and I may not receive it. I will not stress (though I hope it is successful) about it. I will receive/do what the Lord gives me. I pray each day that I love the way He loves. To do His will, not mine.

    If I receive the grant, I will be called successful. But the truth is, anything that is substantive in me is not of my doing or making. Anything good in me comes from Our Lord. And honestly, most of the time, I fail. Thanks be to God He raises me up, often by the hands of a loving person.

  8. Dee of St Herman Avatar
    Dee of St Herman

    AR,
    Your question is to Father Stephen, but if it’s ok, I would say that “going through the motions” is not having your heart in it. In this case, repentance is simply turning to the Lord and saying, “Lord, my heart isn’t in this, I know. Please fill this gap of love in my heart and let me abide in you”.

  9. KS Avatar
    KS

    We’re given lenses from an early age now (before university) that everything — literature, history, philosophy, politics, law, gender relations, science, culture, religion — is about power, and it’s often difficult to think outside the straitjacket of power’s three phases: dominant, residual, and emerging.

    I’m going to pin this post in my heart: Love and its organic development works, like germinating seeds, into a Christ-centered life — that’s a strong and courageous response to the power-mad society we’re living in. Many thanks!

  10. Matthew Avatar
    Matthew

    Thanks so much for the comprehensive response Dee.

    What is love anyway?

    What I mean is, if it´s not about power, but rather about love … whose definition of love wins the day?

    There are lots of people where I live who embrace the idea of love as the absolute highest of virtues. They make the form of the heart with their two hands as a sign of their committment to the virtue. The hippies in the 60´s were all about love. Many secular people think it´s possible to love fully without God and the Church … and they are the ones (among others) attempting to “make the world a better place”.

    I think love grounded in Christ is the only love that wins the day, but then again I don´t want to sound triumphalist. Also … even the unbelieving carry Christ with them in the form of the imago Dei. It is impossible to love without God´s power in some form I think.

  11. Fr. Stephen Avatar

    AR,
    I was responding to Laurie’s question. “Going through the motions” – I take to mean that one’s heart is not in what they are doing. When we find ourselves just “going through the motions” – just performing actions without our heart truly being part of things (or being somewhere else), then I would take it as a call to repentance. Dee described it very well – we stop and call on God for help. “Lord, my heart isn’t in this, I know. Please fill this gap of love in my heart and let me abide in you”.

  12. Justin Avatar
    Justin

    Following on what Fr Stephen said, it would seem that if we see or recognize others as “going through the motions” then it is a call to ourselves to be repenting.

  13. Fr. Stephen Avatar

    Matthew,
    “What is love, anyway?”

    I remember one of my professors (Stanley Hauerwas) saying, “Who isn’t in favor of love?” And went on to say that it was often a fairly meaningless word. It depends on how it is used.

    An Orthodox answer, however, would be that love is nothing less than the life of God – the cruciform life of God acting in us, with us, and through us, laying itself down for the life of others.

    But, love is not an argument. I am not trying to put forth an argument with modernity – an argument to convince the world that I know a better way and that the world should quit what it’s doing and do what I say. I am writing to fellow Christians (or to those who are interested in being fellow Christians). To live the life of Christ, or for Christ to live His life in us, is, quietly, the most subversive thing possible.

    A few years back I did an article reflecting on the film, A Hidden Life. I recommend the article, but, even more, I recommend the film.

  14. Matthew Avatar
    Matthew

    Fr. Stephen said:

    “To live the life of Christ, or for Christ to live His life in us, is, quietly, the most subversive thing possible.”

    And one of the hardest things possible.

    Thanks so much Fr. Stephen.

  15. Erica Gee Avatar
    Erica Gee

    I’ve often heard common sayings throughout my life. We’ve all heard them. Time is money, for example. As well as, cute as a button and cash is king. As well as evil is as evil does and what goes around comes around. Birds of a feather flock together is another one. Okay. I get it. But what about, “love hurts.” I must admit when I hear people say it, it actually “blows my mind.” (pun) Long story shorter, that has never, ever made sense to me- Love Hurts (huh?) I’ve never discussed it with anyone but in the space in my head I’ve always rallied against the ridiculousness of such a thing. How the hell(o) can love hurt? My guess; the special relationship dynamic that ‘A Course In Miracles’ speak of in this fallen world we’ve gotten ourselves into and because of our free will must get ourselves out of is where this oxymoronic love persists. Not the true definition. Not God’s definition. Pure and unconditional. One son.

  16. Fr. Stephen Avatar

    Erica,
    I’m not really sure I understand your complaint. “Greater love has no man than this – that he lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). The suffering and death of Christ on the Cross is the fullest expression of love that we have…and…it is clear that dying on the Cross hurt. Additionally, Scripture tells us: “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
    (Romans 5:8) It makes the same point.

  17. Matthew Avatar
    Matthew

    Hello again Fr. Stephen.

    About A Hidden Life:

    My wife and mother-in-law watched it. I opted out. I thought is might be too violent. Your article about the movie, though, was very good. Thank you.

    Maybe I should try and watch it …

  18. Fr. Stephen Avatar

    Matthew,
    It was certainly poignant, but I don’t remember it as too violent. My wife has not watched it, however, being concerned about its violence or tension…so there’s that. I do recommend it, nonetheless.

    I spoke at an Eighth Day conference in Wichita several years back (an amazing event each year), and, at a small evening gathering, met a couple of men involved with that movie…a producer and a musician. Very interesting conversation. Interestingly, the encounter was about one week after I wrote that article…evening more surprising…they had read the article. Malik works out of Austin, TX…which is not Hollywood (yet).

  19. Byron Avatar
    Byron

    A Hidden Life is a truly wonderful film. I do not remember it as violent at all. Perhaps others may disagree….

  20. Janine Avatar
    Janine

    While some may say that Christ paid a debt we owed/owe, I will say that what Christ did on the Cross was pay love forward. When we’re ready to receive His love, it’s there for us, and to return His love, it is there. It’s typical of Christ’s teaching that so many are proactive: you become a neighbor by being a neighbor (Good Samaritan); we’re to ask and seek and knock; we need to “take care how [we] hear,” etc. The Cross was the proactive initiative action of love for a whole universe, a cosmos, even for eternity if I may be so bold.

  21. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Erica, in my experience, love requires that I share the pain of those I love, physical, emotional and spiritually in imitation of Our Lord. Surprisingly as one’s faith depends that pain is healed by Christ Himself the more I accept the pain of my loved ones as my own.

  22. Stella Avatar
    Stella

    Blessings 🙏 beautiful experience with you. I need some help for our church

  23. Janine Avatar
    Janine

    Unrequited love is painful. I often wonder how Christ could stand the pain of loving so much when so much was not returned. It seems to me this might often be the life of a saint, to love others who often do not return that love.

  24. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Janine, what an observation. Beautiful

  25. Janine Avatar
    Janine

    Thank you Michael. To the point you made above, I just think about how much the Theotokos would have been in pain because of her love for her Son, and seeing His suffering. Even the Gospels point this out more than once; even Christ seemed to warn her. In Patitsas’ book on Beauty, he points out that at the wedding at Cana, Jesus responds to His mother’s prompting that they’ve run out of wine by quoting the widow of Zarepheth. He quotes the words of the Septuagint spoken by the her, when she asked Elijah what is between them, that she should help him and then her son should die. In the Greek the words are identical.

  26. Matthew Avatar
    Matthew

    Thanks Fr. Stephen and Byron.

    I know that a Protestant pastor from my past who was also a committed pacifist was absolutely enthralled by the film.

    We´ll see …

  27. Janine Avatar
    Janine

    Father Stephen,
    Thanks for recommending the book by Serge Schmemann (in the previous post). I’m reading it now and I find it very good for the reasons you say, a window onto a life/lives, showing me a world to know.

  28. Sinnika Avatar
    Sinnika

    “It is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all”.

    Love hurts!

    Last year I lost my beloved husband of thirty years, the pain has been unbearable! The cost of love, as our Lord shows, is pain and sorrow, and the more we love the greater is the pain.

    A man and a woman becomes One in marriage we are told, as a consequence when one half goes to his/her heavenly rest, then the other half is left with a huge open wound that bleeds and hurts.
    I had no idea of what spiritual pain was until I lost my beloved, it hurt so much that the only thing I could do was to scream loud to the Lord for mercy, it was like being burnt in a fire and I felt totally and utterly deserted, I have never felt so abandoned by everyone before. Like I did not even exist.

    A year on, I still grieve, but “Life goes on” , God is good and I believe He wants me to trust and love Him more and more every day.

    “Seeds of love” they grow without us doing anything, it is good to know that it is God who water and tend His seeds, for I have only tears to give for my love.

  29. Dee of St Herman Avatar
    Dee of St Herman

    Sinnika,
    I’ve been married for almost 40 years, and I wonder how it would be for me to lose my husband. Like you describe your beautiful words, I know it would be so painful. Your beloved husband is still with you in another way. He prays for you as I know you pray for him. Your mutual blessed love is still intact. May our Merciful Lord continue to bless you both.

    Love in Christ,
    Dee

    Christ is Risen
    Truly He is Risen

  30. Byron Avatar
    Byron

    In Patitsas’ book on Beauty, he points out that at the wedding at Cana, Jesus responds to His mother’s prompting that they’ve run out of wine by quoting the widow of Zarepheth. He quotes the words of the Septuagint spoken by the her, when she asked Elijah what is between them, that she should help him and then her son should die. In the Greek the words are identical.

    Janine, do you remember the page reference for this? It is amazing.

  31. Byron Avatar
    Byron

    Stella, I will pray for your Church. God be with you.

  32. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Sinnika, my wife of 25 years reposed in 2005. She was in a coma for several hours as our priest and a couple of chanters prayed along with our son and my wife’s best friend. Near the end, she and I witnessed an angel praying intensely for/with her. Then she passed in peace.
    The loss was real and deep but it was a joyful sorrow. Her friend committed to becoming Orthodox on participating in my wife’s death and movement to the unseen(mostly).
    My wife needed all of those prayers for her salvation and she got them by Grace. Her friends grown children and families are parishioners with me.

  33. Janine Avatar
    Janine

    Byron, you are so in luck that I found it again in that giant book :-).
    It begins on pg 123; the passage titled “Mysterious Words at the Wedding in Cana”

  34. Fr. Stephen Avatar

    Byron, it’s also found in the teaching of Fr. Zacharias of Essex (and I’ve cited it a number of times in articles, I think).

  35. Nick Avatar
    Nick

    Fr. Freeman, I have the upmost respect for you and truly appreciate the edifying wisdom you regularly share here. I am eternally grateful to have discovered Holy Orthodoxy 8 months ago, as through the doctrine of theosis, ascetic mandate, veneration of the saints, and the beautiful reverence of the traditional liturgical practices, it has given my family and I so much hope and renewed spiritual vigor. However, I must say, that one area where I am really struggling is the acceptance of what seems to be the pervasive pacifism in Orthodoxy. I hope you don’t mind if I elaborate.
    In regards to the anecdote you provided of the student advocating “disruption” to bring about change, I agree with your premise insomuch as revolutions born out of youthful utopian idealism have rarely if ever been what anyone could objectively consider “benevolent.” They are rarely more than, as Dostoevsky put it in The Brothers Karamazov, wanting to build another tower of Babel, “not to mount to Heaven from earth but to set up Heaven on earth.” This idealism demonstrates a fundamental misunderstanding of the fallen nature of man, and nearly always results in those who deserve power the least wielding the most. When motivated by what Chesterton referred to in Orthodoxy as secular misguided “old Christian virtues gone mad”, power is fundamentally poisonous. However, as Solzhenitsyn put it in The Gulag Archipelago, “If only no one were ever to acquire material power over others! But to the human being who has faith in some force that holds dominion over all of us, and who is therefore conscious of his own limitations, power is not necessarily fatal.” Per the last point here, when I see demonic pathologies that define our current zeitgeist in which newborn babies desperate for the comfort of their mother are instead handed over to trans/homosexual men and attempt to suckle breasts that will never lactate, the medical and pharmaceutical industries prioritize profits over the well-being of our youth by capitalizing on the confusion sown in our public schools and proceed to mutilate their bodies in irreversible ways, wall street/private equity gleefully enslaving our youth with debt and ensuring most will never own shelter, etc, I cannot understand any proposition that power in the hands of a truly pious man would somehow be malevolent, or at least not “benevolent,” when the world is so violently sick.

    On the topic of revolution (actions) more generally, I am of the opinion that revolution and counter-revolution are very different. As Ivan Alexandrovich Ilyin wrote in On Resistance to Evil By Force, “Enmity to evil is not evil.” As Solzhenitsyn wrote (also in The Gulag Archipelago), “in keeping silent about evil, in burying it so deep within us that no sign of it appears on the surface, we are implanting it, and it will rise up a thousand fold in the future. When we neither punish nor reproach evildoers, we are not simply protecting their trivial old age, we are thereby ripping the foundations of justice from beneath new generations.” St. John Cassian wrote that no one can be deceived by the devil but one who “has chosen to yield to him the consent of his own will.” If we are to be ever vigilant to strengthen our will against evil internally, it stands to reason to me that we should practice compulsion toward good when encountering external manifestations of evil, even while doing so with love, prayer, and discernment, in hopes of transforming the hearts and the minds of those perpetrating it.
    While I embrace the ascetic subordination of my earthly desires and reason to the faith and the church, this has been a major sticking point for me, as I am sure it has other men, in particular those with children. Simply put, while I innately yearn for peace and stillness, and prefer the seeds of love above any compulsion or coercion, I do not feel convicted to passively accept dangerous external manifestations of evil, and cannot see this changing. Hopefully there is room for people like me with disagreements such as this in the Orthodox faith.

  36. Sinnika Avatar
    Sinnika

    Thank you Dee and Michael, your kind words means a lot to me.

    Yes, I pray for my beloved every day, but I do not know if he prays for me.

  37. Fr. Stephen Avatar

    Nick,
    I appreciate your point of view. I will note that you have quoted Solzhenitsyn, whom I love and hold in great esteem. I am less sanguine regarding Ivan Ilyin.

    I do not believe that it is “pacifism” that you encounter in Orthodoxy – though were such a thing absent from the faith, and not noticeable, I think it would be evidence that we had abandoned Christ. It is Christ Himself who taught us to “take no thought for the morrow.” It was Christ who said, “Resist not evil.” And even when he did recommend “two swords” – he only recommended two and even then made Peter put his sword back up and he healed the man’s ear that had been severed.

    I utterly agree with you in your citation of the evils being done in our world – though those are only the most salacious. Such terrible things surround us and we live in a time of madmen. So, no arguments there. However, I think the far greater struggle (requiring sometimes an inner violence to seize the Kingdom) is within us – to live a life in which we courageously trust in the providence of God and move forward in prayer and good works despite everything around us.

    None of this is to “passively accept” anything. In my own life (which is a poor example), I have struggle with others in order to establish parish churches, so that there would be an Orthodox presence in my part of the world. It has cost so much – more than I would dare describe. But these precious “arks” now house the souls of many (including their precious children) while all around us whole denominations have sunk into the madness and thrown away Christ.

    Our monastics across the world (the front line of spiritual warfare) are “prayer warriors” who man holy Arks of hospitality and sanity. They are not military training camps, however. Our warfare is not against “flesh and blood,” St. Paul tells us. It’s far greater and more dangerous.

    Nonetheless, I would caution anyone to beware the spirit of revolution and counter-revolution, particularly those that are armed. This is part of the spirit of the age, the vanguard of modernity.

    No doubt, there will be (and are), those within the Orthodox world who would argue with me about all of this. All I can say is, “Peace be with you.”

    Thank you! Christ is risen!

    An additional thought:
    I certainly believe that the Providence of God has placed governments and such in the world to restrain evil and to reward the good. However, we also live in a time when the governments are largely the forces who are the source of much of the madness. There is a reason why the Church prays for these powers in virtually every litany of the Liturgy! It does matter. Nonetheless, it is God who causes the nations to rise and the nations to fall.

    We can be certain that the present madness will collapse – evil has no substance of its own and cannot abide of itself. However, we are warned that there will come a time (at the end) when things will become so bad that even the elect will hardly be able to stand (and this is from the lips of Christ). I do not know if our present time belongs to that period or merely rhymes with it. That is known to God alone.

    Regardless, the Ark of safety is the life of the Church, nothing less. It will be of ever greater importance as times worsen. Don’t lose heart! God is at work and has not forgotten us – nor has He given us over to the might of men. May the Mother of God speak to our hearts and whisper what we dare not say ourselves.

  38. Fr. Stephen Avatar

    Sinnika,
    One of my closest friends, a former Episcopal priest and a long-time member of my parish, Jim Tilson, has been widowed twice. His first wife (of only 3 years) died in a car crash three days after the two of them were chrismated and received into the Church. The second wife, mother of their two teenagers, died suddenly several years back with an aneurism. He has been an unusual resource in thinking and talking about the pain of grief. He recently started a blog to share some of his insights. You might find it of interest.

    The Joyful Widower.

  39. Andrew Avatar
    Andrew

    “Byron, it’s also found in the teaching of Fr. Zacharias of Essex (and I’ve cited it a number of times in articles, I think).”

    Father, would you happen to recall any specific articles where this was discussed? I would love to read more, but haven’t been able to find anything. Thanks!

  40. Mark Spurlock Avatar
    Mark Spurlock

    Nick,

    Three comments:

    * I do not think that a “compulsion toward good” is exactly the same as punishing or (at least) reproaching evil doers. It seems to that as one moves along the line of reproaching evil, punishing evil, and (finally) compelling good, a person is more and more tempted by power and that the ends justifies the means.

    * The quotation from Solzhenitsyn refers to the crimes of Stalin’s purges and is prefaced: “We have to condemn publicly the very idea that some people have the right to repress others.” When read in that context, he is arguing much more for reproaching evil and much less for compelling good (i.e., to compel the Good would itself repress others). In the preceding paragraph, he also says that it is less important that the people who participated in the purges be put on trial than that their crimes be put on trial and denounced. If Solzhenitsyn believes in showing a kind of mercy even for those who committed that level of evil, then those of us who deal with such mundane yet omnipresent evil in our daily lives should indeed be circumspect about how much it stirs us to vengeance.

    * To choose the path of the martyr rather than resist evil with violence is not a path everyone can take, but I think it impossible to be a Christian (i.e., follower of Christ) and not believe that the path of the martyr is preferable. If forced to use violence to protect my children, I suspect I would. Whatever each of us most resists changing to accept God’s Will that we conform ourselves to Christ’s example, however, is also that which we should (I suspect) most often examine.

  41. Byron Avatar
    Byron

    Janine and Father,

    Thanks for finding the reference!

  42. Nathan Fischer Avatar
    Nathan Fischer

    Nick,

    I am someone who has, at various times, tried to “resist evil” (as I understood what I was doing), even as an Orthodox Christian. I’ve joined various movements and tried to fight for a better future for our children (I have six).

    It took me time to see that it doesn’t work. Christ’s response to evil is the Cross. The early Christian response to evil was often martyrdom. Joyful martyrdom, at that.

    I would be lying if I said I don’t still worry about my children and their future. Our modern world is a place of madness. But the rock my family stands on isn’t founded by me or my resistance. The rock upon which we endeavor to stand is Christ and His Church. The best I can do to “resist” is to repent, and to implore God to teach us to pray, to believe, to hope, to be patient, to forgive, and to love.

    I would also add that, in my own life, looking too long and too hard at the evils of this world has a tendency to lead me into delusion and despair. The evils of the world seem more immediate to me than God (even though I know the opposite is true), and so it starts to look more powerful than God. God’s power is found when He lays His life down for His creation.

    Sometimes the desire arises to “take action” once again. But I have to believe that if God wanted me to do something, He’d make it rather clear to me what precisely I ought to be doing. Instead, the actions I imagine myself taking too often arise out of my own fears and desires. The actions that I have from God are found in His commandments. Until/unless He tells me otherwise, I have come to the conclusion that this has to be enough.

    If my children have Christ, they have everything, whatever the world might do to them. It took me time to learn that this is not pacifism. It is the work to which we’re called. And it is the very nature of the battle set before us as Christians.

  43. Byron Avatar
    Byron

    Nick,

    Pacifism, violence, and the Church have a difficult history. But, in my own life, I have come to the conclusion that God does not coerce us and we should not coerce, or try to put ourselves in a position to coerce, others. As Mark said, it is difficult to be a martyr. Grace and mercy to ourselves and our own, as well as to our enemies, is very much needed.

  44. Fr. Stephen Avatar

    Andrew,

    Here’s one.

    In truth, I think my mind is mostly remembering the many times I’ve used this when I was giving a talk (it all runs together for me sometimes). But that article is an example.

  45. Andrew Avatar
    Andrew

    Many thanks Father!

  46. Nick Avatar
    Nick

    Thank you Father for the encouraging words. I sincerely appreciate your time in providing such a thorough and insightful reply. I freely admit that accepting providence in all things is a challenge for me, and your words have given me a lot to think about. You were the first spiritual leader a member of our church pointed me, if I were to want to learn more about the faith. I am extremely thankful for this fact.

    Glory to God!

  47. Fr. Stephen Avatar

    Nick,
    Divine Providence is, in my experience, the single most difficult aspect of faith. It is particularly difficult in our modern period in that everything around us in the culture proclaims that we ourselves are the lords of history. I wrestled with this for years. My first reaction to reading about Divine Providence was a deep sense of revulsion, fearing that it was impinging on my freedom (it does not). And then, there is the great challenge that comes from pondering the so-called “problem of evil” (“why does God allow all this bad stuff to happen?”). When we add to that the very specific evils that seem to threaten the very fabric of society and endanger our children – “providence” becomes nearly impossible.

    I would suggest that it is precisely at this point (the impossible) that we come face-to-face with God and can begin to wrestle (like Jacob of old). A key for me was when I came to see and understand that the death and resurrection of Christ was the beginning and the end of history – of all things. He, indeed, is the Alpha and the Omega. His crucifixion is the sum total of all the terrible and evil things that have ever been. They have been gathered into Him and into His suffering death on the Cross. By the same token, His resurrection is the “first fruits” of His total victory and setting right of all things.

    St. Maximus the Confessor said, “He who understands the mystery of the Cross understands the mystery of all things.”

    That, however, is only on the level of “understanding.” For that understanding to work its way into our lives and begin to heal and transform us, it must find active expression in our lives. Faith must become “works.” The “work” of faith is, on its most fundatmental level, the giving of thanks. The giving of thanks, from the heart, is the confession of the Cross – the profession of faith that, in Christ, God has gathered all things together in one and made them whole. The Cross is the end of history. Everything has already worked out – and we see but that brief moment that is Christ Crucified and Risen.

    I will also add some thoughts on a practical response to our present evils. The wickedness that has seized many of our institutions (agencies, universities, etc.) presumes that if they control those things, then they will control the world. We are already seeing some very useful and healthy responses. If they take over the schools – start new schools – homeschool, etc. There are creative, healthy ways to simply do things that “ignores” their pretensions to power. I’ve been surprised, for example, to see several start-ups of sane universities. They have so corrupted the present system that starting over is pretty much the only solution. In point of fact, the corruption will bring about the collapse and failure of the old. Who wants a hollowed-out Ivy League? Who cares? In time, it may come to that.

    The truth – what is good and true – is ultimately self-revealing. What is false also reveals itself. The Soviet Union collapsed because it was built on lies. America – significant parts of it – will eventually collapse as well. There may come a time of great turmoil and trial as the old order (“modernity”) collapses under the weight of its own lies. You always lose when you fight against gravity.

    But, in a time of trial and turmoil, there is ever greater need for those who know the truth and are at peace with it. There is greater need for those who understand beauty and are willing to live and work in such a manner to build beauty around them. St. Seraphim (who utterly embraced Divine Providence) said, “Acquire the Spirit of Peace and a thousand souls around you will be saved.” There can be no acquisition of the Spirit of Peace without a firm embracing of Divine Providence. But there will be those who have acquired such peace, and there will be many thousands of souls around them who are saved, and what is good and beautiful will be revealed in them and through them. It is the way of the Cross.

    And, so Christ tells us (repeatedly), “Fear not.”

  48. hélène d. Avatar
    hélène d.

    Dear P.Stephen, thank you for your various responses to Nick (whom I thank for his comments!) ! You have very lucid and clear views which help and give strength, joy, deep hope, a greater and greater desire to let yourself be “permeated” with the absolute life of our Savior and God !
    Much gratitude…
    Unwavering faith and prayer…more and more…
    (I appreciate many other comments here)

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