Providence, Freedom, and Love

I was married at age 22 (my bride was 21). Both of us were believers and sought to ground our lives in the life of God. I remember that my wife was quite clear that “God had brought us together.” For a variety of reasons at the time, I chafed at the expression. I had a sense that God would bless our marriage, but that we were making our own decisions. Anything that impinged on my freedom was unwelcome. We did not argue the point (and so the marriage survived). We have now been married for nearly 49 years – and like so much else – I have to admit my wife was right. Providence is real – God works in all things for good. The mystery of such a statement is also real – which is to say that there are far more ways to misunderstand it than not.

In modern culture, we are very comfortable with the idea that things are “going somewhere.” We think of “progress,” and economic growth, etc. The root of such notions were borrowed from Christian tradition and “secularized.” Classical Christianity teaches that there is, indeed, movement and growth – a change that is taking place in all things. Creation is not static. However, modernity’s notions of “progress” (largely undefined) are a deviation from this teaching. Modernity has obscured the true doctrine of providence – God’s work in all things – leaving Christians at the mercy of business and politics.

I offer a couple of Scripture verses as a starting place in considering God’s providence:

St. Paul writes:

 …“work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” (Phil 2:12-13)

And

“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” (Ro. 8:28)

Both verses speak about things “working.” It is a word that has the same root as the divine “energies.” In both cases, what we see is a description of God working for our good – for our salvation.

It is possible to go yet deeper into this mystery. St. Maximus the Confessor wrote of three “incarnations” of the Logos (Word). There is the incarnation of the Word as the God/Man, the Word-made-flesh, Jesus Christ. There is the incarnation of the Word as “word” in the Holy Scriptures. There is also the incarnation within creation itself through the “logoi,” the “words” or “principles” that indwell all created things that are their purpose, their telos (end), and inherent drive. We can hear the sound of this “incarnation” in St. Paul’s description of creation “groaning like a woman in child-birth” as it waits for its final fulfillment in the revealing of the “Sons of God” (Romans 8:22).

St. Maximus described Christ as creating “from the Cross.” Thus the Crucified Christ shows forth the image according to which all creation is moving – it is the image of consummated love. St. Maximus says:

Until the end of the world Christ always suffers with us, secretly, because of His goodness according to [and in proportion to] the suffering found in each one.  (Mystagogy, 24)

What we see in Divine Providence is not the divine management of a universe full of billiard balls. It is not the management of choice nor a making things behave in this way or that. It is not God’s impinging on the human will. Providence is “built-in.” It is all of creation moving, inexorably, towards the end for which it was created. All things work together towards that “good,” the image of the crucified and resurrected Logos. Christ resurrected is Christ crucified.

Fr. Alexander Schmemann famously wrote that, in the sacraments, we do not make something to be what it is not. Instead, we reveal something to be what it truly is. This is the very nature of a sacrament, and it is the very character of a sacramental universe. Baptized into Christ, we are “baptized into His death,” which is to say that we are plunged into the truth of what we already are. Christ, crucified, dead, and risen, is the image of what it means to be human. The human is the image of the whole of creation. St. Maximus describes being human as the “Microcosmos,” the universe in miniature.

In our own lives this “working within us to will and to work for His good pleasure” is not experienced as something alien or contrary to the truth of our existence. It is the truth of our existence. However, this experience is not accessed as a series of events – for the events themselves are not the stuff of our existence. Love is the ground of our being.

To have true, hypostatic (personal) existence, is to exist in communion – with God, with other human beings, with all things. Communion itself is the existence in and through love. Adam’s exclamation, “This is now bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh!” is far more than a material proclamation. It is a declaration of love (and its definition) – that this “life of the other” is “my life” as well.

St. Paul describes this life-in-the-Other when he says:

“I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.”(Gal. 2:20)

“It is no longer I who live…” Of note is his grounding of this communion in the crucifixion of Christ. My suffering is His suffering. His glory will also be my glory. This is the mutual life that we know in the Eucharist even as we day-by-day come to know that everything at all times is the Eucharist – the Marriage Feast of the Lamb. The whole of creation is thus the unfolding in time of the life of Christ in all things. All things “work together for good” for they are the life of Christ unfolding.

Our thoughts on things like providence tend to be bound to linear history with notions of cause-and-effect. We have mental models that are simply inadequate for the reality of the life of grace. There are clues we tend to ignore. We are not told, “God loves.” Rather, we are told, “God is love.” And though the love of God is transcendent, beyond anything we can think or imagine, it is not beyond our participation.

St. Seraphim of Sarov famously said, “Acquire the Spirit of Peace and a thousand souls around you will be saved.” That acquisition requires our active participation in the life of Christ extending through all things. “Inasmuch as you do it to the least of these…you do it unto Me.”

Christ in us – the hope of glory.

About Fr. Stephen Freeman

Fr. Stephen is a retired Archpriest of the Orthodox Church in America, Pastor Emeritus of St. Anne Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He is also author of Everywhere Present: Christianity in a One-Storey Universe, and Face to Face: Knowing God Beyond Our Shame, as well as the Glory to God podcast series on Ancient Faith Radio.



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Comments

46 responses to “Providence, Freedom, and Love”

  1. Matthew Avatar
    Matthew

    Fr. Stephen wrote:

    “Fr. Alexander Schmemann famously wrote that, in the sacraments, we do not make something to be what it is not. Instead, we reveal something to be what it truly is. This is the very nature of a sacrament, and it is the very character of a sacramental universe.”

    I am so thankful for this. I can lament the fact that I lived a very long Christian life without understanding and appreciating the sacramental, or I can rejoice that I have found the sacraments … all of them … once again.

  2. Andrew Avatar
    Andrew

    The quote from Fr. Alexander Schmemann reminded me of this quote from St. Seraphim Zvezdinsky:

    “For the sake of the Divine Liturgy, the sun shines by day, the moon by night, the stars shed forth their calm light, and the earth offers forth bread, that it may become the Holy Lamb upon the alter.”

  3. Jonathan McCormack Avatar

    Father Bless,


    
There seems to be a conflict I cannot resolve, between self-emptying and self fulfillment; surrendering to divine providence and actively pursuing ones desires, ego development vs ego denial.

    
For the first time in human history perhaps, society will not lead naturally to friendships, marriage, or community, but actively leads to isolation.

Psychologists will say now you have to plan, intentionally set up a network of friends, work to maintain them, and you need a relationships in life, not to give ultimate meaning, but just to feel secure and regulated and develop a healthy ego.


    Paul Tournier, a brilliant Christian psychologist, argues that untold damage is done in Christian communities by curating “premature renunciation.” 


    He sees the necessity for self-actualization and self-fulfillment to come *before renunciation – first you need a healthy sense of self and self-assertion.

    First you need a place. He says,


    “It is readily understandable that to be denied a place is to suffer a serious moral trauma. It is a sort of denial of one’s humanity.”


    Without A sense of place the church’s language of renunciation to “deny oneself” becomes painful and confusing.


    It is to this person that the church says, “Give yourself to the service of others, for in the service of others you will find yourself.” 


    Tournier responds in a resounding, “No!” for he understands that since the client “has not been loved, or not loved well, he can neither love nor believe in and accept love.” 


    Tournier notes, the type of person it was who God “called” in Scripture; ones with a well-formed sense of place. 


    Abraham was well-established in Ur of the Chaldees when God called him. Moses was asked to leave Midian, where he was tending his father-in-law’s flocks. Jesus called Simon and Andrew to leave their well-established fishing profession etc etc all well-situated in society.

    I put it all in a blog, below, thanks you.




    https://disfiguredpraise.blogspot.com/2024/06/what-about-single-how-to-live-without.html

  4. Fr. Stephen Avatar

    Jonathan,
    I appreciate your pondering of Tournier and seeing how that might affect our understanding of the gospel. For myself, I am very aware of the utterly impossible situation of those who were in the Soviet Gulags – suffering under various regimes of torture. Even there, where almost the last semblance of humanity was stripped from them – the gospel was practiced – the Cross and self-emptying – love itself – was present and salvific.

    St. Vladimir’s has recently published Journey to Simplicity The Life and Wisdom of Archimandrite Roman Braga. Fr. Roman was known to many here in America and died only recently. His story is one of many that comes from that place of horror. I would add this film (interviews) with more details.

    I cannot fathom the depths of the suffering that was endured. I can, however, attest to the beauty of some of the souls that emerged from that living hell. The Cross and the gospel are possible – even there. And, if there, then I would suspect that nowhere can be excepted.

  5. Owen Kelly Avatar
    Owen Kelly

    Another big fan, here, of Fr. Alexander’s quotation. So wonderful. But I have a question about it.

    How widespread is his understanding in Orthodoxy? In my experience, many actually do believe the bread and wine become something they were not before, “making the change by the Holy Spirit.” Likewise with baptism. Few Orthodox, IMHO, would describe it as being “plunged into the truth of what we already are.” To be fair, most lay persons probably wouldn’t “describe” it at all. But perhaps if pressed, do you think even many clergy would espouse Schmemann’s sacramental view?

    Thank you for the article, Father Stephen.

  6. Fr. Stephen Avatar

    Owen,
    I think you’re probably right. Fr. Alexander’s statement is a profound exposition of the “mystical” teaching of the Church – perfectly consistent with St. Maximus or St. Dionysius, for example. It is easier, of course, to go around such depths and speak of the world in perfectly secular terms (especially in the sense that Schmemann used the term “secular”) with dibs and dabs and dots here and there or divine interpositions of “holy” things, “holy” moments, etc.

    Of course a “change” is made in the elements of bread and wine. However, St. Basil’s prayer, instead of saying, “making the change,” says, “And show this bread to be…” We get some of the same language in the service of Holy Baptism (which had St. Sophronios of Jerusalem as its author, I’m told).

    I’ve always assumed that understanding St. Maximus, etc., was not necessary to salvation and that a ‘simple” understanding is sufficient. I have no argument with that. However, there is a reason such Fathers are regarded in the manner that they are. Schmemann’s little book, For the Life of the World, may well be the greatest spiritual classic of contemporary Orthodox thought – though it is a very “simple” book.

    It’s very easy to fail to understand what his “make something to be what it truly is” – means. To oversimplify it rather than to expound it. I’ve been pondering it for better than 30 years, and I think it’s more important to me now than ever before.

    Most clergy? If they understood it, they would agree. Would “most Orthodox clergy” understand it? That I don’t know. It would depend on their training and what they have been exposed to. It’s a perfectly Orthodox statement. But we’re not perfectly Orthodox people. Alas.

    Afterthought: It occurs to me that all Orthodox clergy would agree that, in the Eucharist, the bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Christ. That’s universal. What would be less common is an understanding of what the sacrament says about the nature of the world as it is – the “truth” of things. On the other hand, we have no less a person than the Ecumenical Patriarch saying “the whole world is a sacrament.”

    My first encounter with Orthodox thought was V. Lossky. The “mystical theology” of the Eastern Church was my first heart-attraction. So, I just keep singing the song that I was taught…

  7. Owen Kelly Avatar
    Owen Kelly

    Thank you, Father. It is a sublime statement indeed.

  8. Owen Kelly Avatar
    Owen Kelly

    Just by the bye, Father, I have a British printing of Schmemann’s book, with the title, The World as Sacrament (1966). I haven’t done any research to see which title was original.

  9. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Owen, IMO, life and therefore history is sacramental in form and and content–at least that is how I was brought up by my mother, a dancer who knew a fullness and continuity of life that required God to be at the heart of everything and everything of God.

    She introduced me to the understanding of “history” as interacting spirals begining and ending in infinity. The renowned historian, J. B. Bury, gave it a professional presentation in his book, The Idea Of Progress or explicitly proclaimed by the great artist, dancer, Geoffrey Holder–[deep musical voice with Caribbean accent] “I have seen God, baby! …and He is right here (pointing to the center of his body that is often described as the location of the nous) and every time He wants to talk to me, He starts my body moving” Then using his 6’6″ body to illustrate a impressive variety of human beings and their life. Or Shakespeare: “There is much more to heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy, Horatio!”

    …and so it is in, through, by and for all things. Our Holy Sacraments are the doors by which we are allowed to enter all the beauty and mysteries of life that Horatio, Holder and others only dream of.

    This is the day the Lord has made!! Let us rejoice and be glad in it!”

  10. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    …oh, Dee, as I was praying tonight it came back to o mind that my mother’s understanding of the spirals came from Martha Graham’s dance technique which was based explicitly on the Fibonacci Sequence.

  11. Janine Avatar
    Janine

    “Indeed the hour is coming, yes, has now come, that you will be scattered, each to his [a]own, and will leave Me alone. And yet I am not alone, because the Father is with Me.” John 16:32
    If we participate in His life, it may also include this. We are not ever truly alone in this sense.

    Thanks Father or mentioning Fr. Roman Braga

  12. Colin Reeve Avatar
    Colin Reeve

    “What we see in Divine Providence is not the divine management of a universe full of billiard balls. It is not the management of choice nor a making things behave in this way or that. It is not God’s impinging on the human will. Providence is “built-in.” It is all of creation moving, inexorably, towards the end for which it was created. All things work together towards that “good,” the image of the crucified and resurrected Logos. Christ resurrected is Christ crucified.”
    This is honestly the best paragraph on Providence that I have ever read in my 65 years. Divinely inspired, poetic and profound. Thank you.

  13. Matthew Avatar
    Matthew

    “For the Life of the World” …

    I am reading it for the second time. Wonderful is an understatement! I think I read it too fast the first time through. I am chewing more slowly now. 🙂

  14. Fr. Stephen Avatar

    Colin,
    Thank you very much!

  15. Fr. Stephen Avatar

    Matthew,
    It’s quite interesting to me that For the Life of the World was originally so insignificant…it’s mostly a collection of articles/speeches. It is not a systematic treatment of the topic. And yet, I think it is by far Schmemann’s most influential and widely-read work. Perhaps unnoticed by most is the Orthodox Church in America (OCA) itself. Fr. Schmemann was probably is most important architect and the most influential figure during the time it was negotiating with Moscow for its autocephaly and giving thought to its own unique structure (the Statutes). Given its small size, it is quite influential in other ways. His was a life well-spent. I only met him briefly one time – and that when I was an Anglican seminarian.

  16. Mark Spurlock Avatar
    Mark Spurlock

    Hi Jonathan,

    I was not familiar with Tournier before reading your post, so I cannot judge whether he is as critical of the Church elsewhere in his work as you have implied. I did, however, try to read what he meant by “premature renunciation.” From my admittedly brief reading, it seems that the worry is the client (to stick with your post’s terminology) will make a *shallow* renunciation. That is, without first achieving actualization and understanding, the client will think it very easy to give up what he or she does not perceive as having.

    The reason I think this clarification is important is that the description of “untold damage…done in Christian communities” and “the Church’s language of renunciation…becomes painful and confusing” is misplaced in that I don’t really think that is what the Church says. To be sure, some Christians can be judgemental, but the Gospel distinguishes between hearers who are afflicted and hearers who are comfortable. (I followed the link to your blog haha.)

    Not all are called to be Abraham or Moses. I would compare those whom Jesus healed or the Woman at the Well. (For that matter, I don’t think John the Baptist fits a template of ever having an established life of full self-actualization he renounced.)

    Something of “premature (shallow) renunciation” is covered in John 6, when Jesus says, “Ye seek me, not because ye saw the miracles, but because ye did eat of the loaves, and were filled. Labour not for the meat which perisheth, but for that meat which endureth unto everlasting life, which the Son of man shall give unto you: for him hath God the Father sealed.” This is soon after the crowd tries to take Jesus by force and make him king.

    I agree, therefore, that not everyone encounters Christ from the same place. The prescription for someone with no sense of self worth is not the same as for someone comfortable with their station in life.

    The Gospel and the (true) Church, however, proclaim this.

  17. Fr. Stephen Avatar

    Mark,
    Reading your response to Jonathan, I thought of the verse, “The well have no need of a physician.” There’s a sense in which Tournier is suggesting that only the well can practice Christianity. My experience has been almost entirely opposite.

  18. Owen Kelly Avatar
    Owen Kelly

    Michael,
    Thank you. I second what you said about dance. From what I’ve read, the art of sacred dance has been used for a long time, and worldwide, as a human means to soften the narcissistic self, making the ego (false self) more transparent to spirit. The Sufi whirling dervishes first come to mind. My guess is that the Native peoples practiced sacred dance to facilitate the same experience of ecstasy (ek-stasis, “to stand outside” the isolated separate self). Even King David danced before the Lord (2 Samuel 6:14). This universal practice just gives evidence, I think, that we truly inhabit a sacramental universe.

  19. Matthew Avatar
    Matthew

    Fr. Stephen,

    It may be just a collection of articles/speeches, but it reads like something so much more spiritually cohesive … as though there is a larger, even more beautiful thread running through it all keeping it all together.

    I love what Fr. Schmemann teaches about time. It is not something “bad” that needs to be escaped from, but rather something that has been redeemed by Christ which is sacramental in nature.

    My question is, how do we fufill our priestly duties in the realm of redeemed time? If time is indeed sacramental, and we are all in some sense priests, what then are we offering back to Christ?

  20. Fr. Stephen Avatar

    Matthew,
    My default answer would be to give thanks always and for all things. We give Him (offer to Him), all that we have, all that we are, etc.

  21. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Owen, to pray together is to dance. This is the day the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it.

  22. Mark Spurlock Avatar
    Mark Spurlock

    Father Stephen,

    My personal experience is similar to yours in that it is when the world is providing me with happiness that I find it easiest to neglect the source of that happiness.

    The Parable of the Prodigal Son illustrates how fundamental to Christianity is this idea–particularly in how the son who stays at home reacts to his father’s forgiveness toward his brother.

  23. A reader Avatar
    A reader

    Fr. Stephen, can you help me out with this:

    God’s providence is “built-in.” And God is love. So when we orient and re-orient our lives towards God to the best of our ability moment by moment, we are cooperating with providence, participating in God in communion with Him and all of creation, and by His grace loving all things and all “other” – to the best of our ability (or as we are able to receive or able to bear) at that moment. We are working toward that pure heart, transformed by love and which has no room for sin.

    Am I understanding that in a right way?

  24. Matthew Avatar
    Matthew

    That is the answer I thought you would offer up Fr. Stephen. 🙂

    Man … I have learned something since last September! 🙂

    For that I am THANKFUL!

  25. Fr. Stephen Avatar

    Reader,
    Yes. So it seems to me.

  26. Fr. Stephen Avatar

    Matthew,
    I sometimes think that people are disappointed with an answer that points to the giving of thanks – it seems so normal rather than “mystical,” or something. But it truly is pretty much the most profound thing we can do – and it can be entered into in ever deeper levels. When I stand at the altar and offer the Eucharist – the most profound thoughts are those that follow the words with full meaning and intention. And…it comes down to giving thanks: “Thine own of Thine own, we offer unto Thee on behalf of all and for all.”

  27. Matthew Avatar
    Matthew

    Thanks Fr. Stephen. What does this mean?:

    “And…it comes down to giving thanks: “Thine own of Thine own, we offer unto Thee on behalf of all and for all.”

    ??

  28. Byron Avatar
    Byron

    Christ resurrected is Christ crucified.”

    Forgive me, Father, but this statement confuses me. Would you expound on it some?

  29. Janine Avatar
    Janine

    Jonathan et al,
    A small observation. To give ourselves to others is, I think, a kind of theoretical abstraction out of the life of Christ. He did not just give Himself to others. The first great commandment is the fullness of loving God with all we’ve got. Jesus did not just give anything to anybody that wanted anything. Everything was guided and grounded in love and loyalty to the Father. There was His identity and from there came the sacrifice “for all.” And from there, that love, that first great commandment and also our own understanding of how we serve and what we renounce to be in even deeper communion.

    Yes we are to love neighbor “as ourselves.” But we learn love from God. Or so is my experience.

    In a world of broken relationships, abusive power, frail and false boundaries, and all the rest including a fractured sense of self, we need that grounding.

  30. Fr. Stephen Avatar

    The whole central prayer of the Eucharist (the Anaphora) is a prayer of thanksgiving. It reaches its climax, in the Orthodox service, with the elevation of the Bread and the Cup with the words, “Thine own of Thine own, etc.” So that, having gathered everything together (which is gathered in the Bread and Wine), it is consecrated, asking God to bless it, etc., and then it is elevated with the words, “Thine own of Thine own, we offer unto Thee, on behalf of all and for all…” We are offering back to God what God has given to us (everything).

  31. Fr. Stephen Avatar

    Byron,
    I was trying to underline that the resurrected Christ is still the Crucified Christ. There’s this tendency in Protestant thought to see the crucifixion as a “one and done” and then it’s filed away as a historical event – important, but done and gone. That is not the witness of Scripture or of the Fathers. The Christ who appears to the disciples in the resurrection still bears the marks in His hands, feet, and side. Slain from the foundation of the earth, He is ever and always also the Crucified Christ.

    I am especially struck by the quote from St. Maximus that I used: Until the end of the world Christ always suffers with us, secretly, because of His goodness according to [and in proportion to] the suffering found in each one. (Mystagogy, 24) St. Maximus specifically had in mind Matthew 25 (“the least of these” passage) as the basis for his assertion. It means everything to me to be able to understand that Christ has and always unites Himself to us in our suffering. St. Paul can say, “I am crucified with Christ.” But Christ can say, “I am crucified in all of you…” And, of course, the resurrection is the revelation of where all this is headed. The resurrection is Romans 8 with a specific location.

  32. Byron Avatar
    Byron

    Thank you, Father. Very helpful!

  33. Stephen H Taylor Avatar

    Thank you once again Fr. Stephen for these meditative inspiring thoughts!

  34. Jonathan McCormack Avatar
    Jonathan McCormack

    Thanks Mark! And thank you Father, I will begin reading Journey to Simplicity.


    Tournier says there are two Gospels which seem in opposition to each other.

    The gospel of psychology is one of “self-fulfillment” and “self-assertion,” while the Biblical gospel is “self-denial” and “renunciation.” 



    He says renunciation is only possible for those who first possess, premature renunciation denies and suppresses fundamental human drives, leaving people frustrated with life.



    His example was a patient, a young woman with a sick mother, her Priest told her to renounce her aspirations for college and marriage and care for her mother; providence will give her a career and husband if it’s meant to be.

I

    n theory, I assume, she would do so out of a greater desire- to please God etc




    Only with healthy self-assertion can one make a true commitment of faith and renunciation, he says, after self-actualization….otherwise it’s “shallow.”


    With society so fragmented, isolating, and man-made, I wonder if relying on providence made more sense in the past, as society naturally led to connections.

  35. Fr. Stephen Avatar

    Jonathan,
    I’ve not read Tournier. However, the modern gospel of self-fulfillment does not seem to have produced a healthy society. We’re a bizarre collection of very broken people. In many ways, with various schools of psychological thought, that field can be as confusing and confused as Protestantism. On the whole, I would prefer the culture of the gospel as proclaimed by classical Christianity. Much of what today passes for “frustration with life” is simply the failure to realize the American Dream – which is as false a gospel as has ever been preached.

  36. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Jonathon, any partial reading of American History (look up 19th century Am. historians) and read any of them. I was considering becoming a practicing Am. Historian but Jesus changed my direction. There is no theological or psychological truth based on American thought. Sanitized pagan Greek thought.

    The Russians and Syrians and their saints had to bring the reality of what it means to be human.
    Saint Olga of Alaska, teach us to dream correctly.

  37. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    On the other side, Francis Parkman, is one to investigate as a creator of the American Dream. I warn you, he wrote long before the academic conceit of “the monograph” had been invented.

  38. Kenneth Avatar
    Kenneth

    I agree with Colin’s comment that this the best description of Providence I have ever read. If I understood correctly, Divine Providence is the cross and resurrection working in and through all of creation. Thank you, Fr. Stephen, and glory to God.

  39. Luke Nieuwsma Avatar
    Luke Nieuwsma

    Jonathan, having just come through a significant amount of therapy while recovering from a traumatic brain injury, I can see the attraction to what Tournier is saying. Therapy feels very comforting, and part of the therapy I had to go through was training me to take better care of myself. In order to be a healthy feeling and regulated person, to feel like we can function, we do require a certain amount of self-care, to some extent.
    But to say that anyone who isn’t giving from a place of self-confidence and self-satisfaction is only giving in a shallow way to me seems completely backwards. It is easy to give when our pockets and bellies are full.
    When Jesus saw the rich giving to the temple fund out of their abundance and the destitute woman giving everything she had left of her poverty, who did Jesus say gave the greater gift?
    Not the rich…
    when we read the lives of the Saints, even modern Saints like Saint Porphyrios and Saint Paisios and Elder Thaddeus, we see that they grew the very greatest in likeness toward God when they poured out themselves for others, even though they were deeply suffering, Both through their willing asceticism and through very painful health conditions. And as a result, God poured out many gifts of the Holy Spirit on them, from miraculous healing to the perception of thoughts to the knowledge of the past and future, to equip them to heal others.

    Father Stephen can correct me, but
    self-comfort, self-esteem, self-confidence, and assertiveness as we define them in modernity seem very much part of the world, not the Spirit. And gifts given by the suffering are among the greatest of all, for they transform both the giver and the gifted.

    In Him,
    Luke

  40. Janine Avatar
    Janine

    Jonathan wrote:

    His example was a patient, a young woman with a sick mother, her Priest told her to renounce her aspirations for college and marriage and care for her mother; providence will give her a career and husband if it’s meant to be. 

In theory, I assume, she would do so out of a greater desire- to please God etc




    I have not read Tournier, so you will have to pardon me. But if I may, this example seems very abstract and theoretical. Are there not nuances to every story like this? Ways to understand how to discern what is the best course for this daughter? How she could possibly combine both or look for other help, for example? But what is missing here is discernment and prayer. These decisions — in my opinion — cannot be made in theory, like a theoretical idea of what would please God. They take discernment, prayer, patience, compassion, and what we call humanity. They need “economia” as one would say in the Church. To my mind, the problem is abstraction within an experience of deeper communion/prayerful living. It takes that mystical component to learn discernment IMO.

    I was faced with circumstances of needing to help my own mother, who lived across the country. My two brothers would not do it, she would have been very unhappy. It simply was not possible at all without prayer and discernment every step of the way, but amazing help did appear for me and happened. Abstract ideas of obligation alone cannot solve such problems as far as my experience goes. Everything needs ongoing prayer — and here is where Father’s expression of what Thanksgiving is comes in. All goes back to God for God’s guidance in how to navigate it all, and this is an ongoing “work” of prayer.

  41. Janine Avatar
    Janine

    PS re Luke’s comment (thanks Luke), in my own example I found that my confidence only came from my prayer and discernment and what followed through that. Prayer was necessary to build my own sense of self through a distressful situation I felt I was not prepared for through experience or training or formal expertise. But prayer helped me find those resources and the energy to do so

  42. Janine Avatar
    Janine

    Regarding discernment and “giving,” I’m always put in mind of the teaching in the Didache (chapter 1), which quotes from Matthew 5, but adds this final admonition: “But also now concerning this, it has been said, Let your alms sweat in your hands, until you know to whom you should give.” This is not abstraction or principle, it’s personal, and it’s about love that is not blind.

  43. Dee of St Herman Avatar
    Dee of St Herman

    Janine,
    Thanks for the quote from the Didache. I haven’t heard of it before, but I find it helpful.

  44. Janine Avatar
    Janine

    Thanks, Dee. I’m so glad you found it helpful

  45. Owen Kelly Avatar
    Owen Kelly

    If all Jonathan means to say is that we must first have an ego in order for the ego to finally die, I would have to agree. It’s like saying that we must sin before experiencing forgiveness, that we build a sense of separation before knowing the joy of reunion. This is why some, I think rightly, have called the Fall a “blessed fault.” Or as Julian of Norwich said, “First the fall, and then the recovery from the fall, and both are the mercy of God.”

    If I am misreading you, Jonathan, please let me know.

  46. Jonathan McCormack Avatar
    Jonathan McCormack

    I just wanted to thank everyone for the feedback, it’s quite clarifying, thank you!

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